Tattoos and Messes

I was more nervous than I thought I would be when I walked into the shop. I have been thinking about this tattoo for twelve years and talking about it for the last two. Leave it to 18-year-old Abby to decide to wait till 30 to get her first tattoo.


I sat down on the table and Danielle got four lines in when I sat up. “Hang on, I think I am going to puke.” I’ve puked for every major transition in my life, both babies, my wedding, and now my thirtieth birthday. It was fitting in a way.

But I didn’t just puke. I had been having some stomach issues the entire weekend. When I puke, I lose total control. Like, total bodily control. You can probably guess whats coming. On my thirtieth birthday, in front of my husband, two very close friends and a tattoo artist (I guess now my tattoo artist), I hit a milestone no one ever wants to hit. I crapped my pants in public.  I pooped while I puked while I puked in a garbage can.

I suppose that could have meant I was out. I could have walked away with four lines on my foot and a promise to come back later. I don’t know that anyone would have blamed me. I mean, I crapped my pants in public. Instead I went into the bathroom and took off my leggings. I rinsed out my underwear and put them back on. No one cared. Everyone knew and no one cared. It wasn’t even that they pretended I didn’t, it was just that no one cared.


I feel like this is the lesson I have been learning forever. I feel like it is one that perhaps I finally learned on that table. No one cares about my messes as much as I do. People love me in the mess, but I have to let them. I have to deal with the mess, I have to move past it, but people still want to be there.

People can handle me, all of me. I just need to let them.


About a week ago, I responded to someone on Facebook: Sometimes Holy Ground make you shit your pants. Step on it anyway. God is so hilarious sometimes. In the next thirty years I hope he uses less of my words against me.

I don’t know how to explain everything that happened in my heart, as this image was carved onto my foot. But I feel like a lot of the lies that I’ve been grappling with finally died.


It hurt more than I thought it would. It hurt a lot more than I thought it would. But I did it, and if pushed could do it again (Although I have no plans of ever doing that again.) I sometimes tell myself I can’t do things because they are hard things. It is a lie I have been hanging on to despite the truth of my life, of my career, of my parenting, my book and now of the tattoo on my foot.


Abby does hard things. When things get hard she stays, she finishes.

I like to have a lot of people around me when I am doing the hard things, the things that hurt, the things I feel called to. I always thought this was because I am not as strong as the lone wolf. That lie died with the photos my friend Jennifer sent me. Two close friends, my sister, my husband, a story sessions representative and her husband. All of these people I love, all of them I want with me. It doesn’t make me weak, it is simply the way that I am built. I am a pack animal, I run in a pack. I tried to apologize to the tattoo artist. Danielle smiled back at me, “I’m the same way.”


My pack doesn’t make me weak, it gives me strength. I don’t need to apologize for the way I am built.


One mess, two hours and fifteen minutes, a lot of hand holding, and some deep breathing later it was finished. I carry it on my left foot. An owl, sitting in a dogwood tree, the dogwood blooming both pink and white. The dogwood of my youth is grafted together. It blooms both colors and we would have our picture taken under it for prom, easter, mother’s day. But the dogwood is also a symbol of the ressurection. The story goes that the cross was made from that wood. The symbol of a faith that is wholly mine and also inherited. And owls see into the darkness. There was an owl waiting for me when I got back from walking around my neighborhood when I was in labor with Juliet. It gave me great comfort, made me sure I could be a mom.

I got this tattoo as a symbol of who I am and who I hope to be: someone who lives life like an owl in a dogwood, grounded in the ressurection, seeing into the darkness.



Very special thanks to Jennifer Upton for the beautiful pictures, Danielle of Only You Tattoo who is clearly the best tattoo artist in the world, and the rest of my pack, Tony Upton, Megan and Mindy, my sister Jill and my husband Christian for doing this with me.

19 thoughts on “Tattoos and Messes

  1. I admire how your pack came together for you. The people I love have messes too and it is part of what makes them who they are and some of the reasons I love them. I don’t want to be loved for all the good things I am… I want to be loved for all that I am… the good and the bad; the things I am great at and the things I struggle with. I think your pack loves you that way!

    I like your tattoo and all the meaning behind it. It’s bigger than I thought it would be back when you were talking about it earlier this year.

  2. You ARE awesome, YOU are BAD ASS. I love that line that sometime Holy Ground makes you shit your pants. That’s going to be my new favorite line, my “holding onto as I walk through this mess I am in”
    I love what you were able to hold onto (your pack) as many things were let go of. Like a birth, a death, and a resurrection all at once. This is partly why we are bff’s and you are one of my hero’s.
    And crapping your pants when getting a tattoo…… I am pretty damn proud of you for going forward. They hurt like a mother fucker. I am 11 in, still want more and every.damn.time I say “WHY, Bethany why do you do this to yourself? you know it hurts” But when they have meaning and you carry that meaning with you as a symbol on your skin.

  3. eek, welcome to the tattooed club!! 😉 I love you, Abby, I love that you are pack animal, and you aren’t afraid of it. I love that you love people. ❤

  4. Thanks for inviting us to share this moment with you… that we can be trusted to be your online pack. The photos brought it all home – put us right into the shop with you! I love what God’s doing in your life to give you this kind of freedom. You are beautiful, Abby, and thanks for sharing this tender moment 🙂

  5. “No one cares about my messes as much as I do.”

    Wow. I have been following your blog for a while and love your honesty, but this post, in particular, healed me. Thank you for your gift to the world.

  6. Wow. What a story, Abby. And what a wild tattoo. It suits you. Yeah – it does. Congrats on the brave move, on sticking with it, on hanging onto your people. That’s the best way to do life, in my book.

  7. Hi Abby! I am a lurker but I am trying to stop that. I LOVED this post. You were so brave to keep going with your tattoo after all of that! You are awesome.

  8. Ohmygoodness, Abby. This is such a crazy story, but honestly, the craziest part to me is that you were willing to tell it. That’s the bravest part, and it is beautiful. Love your tattoo – it’s lovely and I love the stories behind it.

  9. Pingback: Be Careful What You Claim: A year of Unashamed | Accidental Devotional

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