Twenty Nine: Eleven to Thirteen (Alternatively Titled: Why I Got My Tattoo)

I am ashamed to admit how big a deal I made of my twelfth birthday.

I clung to the idea of no longer being 11, of finally being a preteen, of becoming one step closer to the glorious land of teenager-dom. We were camping on my twelfth birthday, and I remember jumping all around, counting down the days - nay, hours - until I turned the glorious age of twelve. I wish I could tell you why I decided twelve was the special one (my family might argue that fifteen was the truly “special" one since I bought myself a birthday crown and wore it around all day…that’s another story for another day). Regardless, eleven year old Hannah was beyond excited to turn twelve. And when she finally did, her mom handed her a card and some presents in Arrowhead Park.

An important fact to know about me is that my love language is words. In fact, last week when I told my mom to guess my love language, she laughed out loud and said, “Oh, I know your love language. It’s words of affirmation. One hundred percent.” I know actions speak louder than words, but it’s always been words that speak loudest to me. I fall in love with people’s words and the way they choose to express themselves. I am frequently googling lyrics, because I need to know what the musician meant. I am always giving words out, and contrary to popular belief, it’s not because I like to hear myself talk. It’s because that’s how I show love, and that’s my favourite way to receive love. Cards are my jam.

All that is to say: I don’t remember what presents I got for my twelfth birthday (sorry, Mom). But I do remember what she wrote in the card.

It had been a hard year, another year of an up and down roller coaster that never seemed to stabilize or let you catch your breath. I remember reading the card at first, not really paying attention to the words because at the time, the card was just an obstacle to my presents. The right hand side was a pretty classic Sylvia joke about how eleven year old Hannah wouldn’t shut up about being almost twelve: “Well, after talking about being almost twelve for so long, you finally are officially!” She said some other nice things, but it was the left hand side that carried some game changing words.

“This verse has meant a lot to me this past year and I hope you will hold it close to your heart too: ‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord. ‘Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all of your heart.’ Jer. 29:11-13.

I read it once, and then I read it again, and then I read it one more time. I remember telling my mom how much I liked that verse, & then - as we embarked on another five year roller coaster ride - that Bible verse became one of my most consistent comforts.

I don’t have a lot of consistent things in my life. Some of that is self imposed and some of that is just the nature of life. Sometimes, I say the most consistent things I know to be true are: Jesus loves me, Mr. Wouda’s hair will always be shaped like a perfect square, my mom and Fred will always be around to love me, Shaun Ono will always ask to have a sip of the beverage I’m drinking, and God knows the plans he has for me.

So when I was crying in my bedroom at the age of 13 when my world slightly shattered, I would repeat this verse, over and over again, in hopes that it would make me believe some good would come out of that.  And when I was crying in that same lime green bedroom at the age of 15, I would repeat this verse, and would sometimes angrily ask when the good plans were coming. It was my grade 8 graduation quote, my grade 12 yearbook Bible verse, and has been painted on my bedroom wall in Jarvis and scrawled on too many post-its & cue cards.

It’s also my first tattoo. I don’t think that’s quite what my mom meant when she wrote, “I hope you will hold it close to your heart too.” But nonetheless, it happened.

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I sometimes do impulsive things: my nose ring is a pretty prime example of that. I walked out the door of my house and thought, “I should go get my nose pierced.” And then I did it. So I think it’s important to note that the tattoo was not an impulsive thing. This was the only thing I ever wanted to get inked into my skin. These are the only words I wanted to always carry with me, even when my skin gets wrinkly. After this last year, a secret and constant reminder that I am not in charge feels too good to be true.

In November, I slept and worked through church (I am every conservative Christian boy’s nightmare at this point). I went home and listened to an old sermon podcast, more to give my mom an answer if she started to ask whether I’d been to church lately than to actually engage with God. Instead, God used the time to gently remind me I am not in charge. Which was a much needed truth realization for someone in the midst of a tug of war with God.

The pastor was talking about the woman who touched Jesus’ cloak in a crowd and was instantly healed after dealing with bleeding for years and years and years. The pastor said, “God’s timing is not our timing, and His plans are not our plans. God is never late. God is never early. God is always right on time.”

I played those words over in my head for the next week: “His plans are not my plans. His timing is not my timing.” And when I got impatient with waiting: “His plans are not my plans. His timing is not my timing.” And when I felt the panic of the many unknowns facing me in the next year: “His plans are not my plans. His timing is not my timing.” And when I walked through the quad, wanting to wear blue robes like everyone else: “His plans are not my plans & His timing is not my timing.” And yesterday, as I sat in a forest on a tree trunk: “His plans are not my plans. His timing is not my timing.”

Last summer, I was already beginning to distance myself from God and I pulled up this verse on my phone. I’d always focused on the plans part of Jeremiah 29:11-13, but then I zoomed in on verse thirteen: “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all of your heart.” And I thought, “I don’t like that reminder and I don’t want that reminder right now, because I am only giving God pieces of my life.” I can be a whole hearted person - I’m getting better at it, little by little, every day. But at that point, I had gotten pretty good at loving people and God with the pieces of my heart I deemed not too damaged.

I was not seeking God with all of my heart: I was hiding away from Him because I was scared of His plans and His timing. I wanted to be in control. I wanted to write the prosperous, hope filled, future plans. It hasn’t been a last year thing, either: it’s been a lifetime game of tug of war and hide and go seek game with God. It’s been a lifetime of crying, “I believe, Lord. Help me in my unbelief.”

And so, I got the verse inked into my left wrist, copied straight from the card my mom gave me when I was 12. The words are in her handwriting, because it’s not just a reminder of consistent comfort, nor is it just a reminder that I am not in control, nor is it just a reminder to live life wholeheartedly. It’s also a reminder to be like my mom: that I am capable of being strong, capable of doing hard things, capable of making ordinary moments beautiful, and capable of always showing up to live with my whole heart.

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I was working my way through a personality test at work yesterday: 240 statements, and you pick if the statement is very much like you, like you, neutral, unlike you, or very much unlike you. The statement read, “I have a plan for what I want to be doing five years from now.” I laughed out loud in my office for thirty seconds, then I read the question again, laughed for another thirty seconds, wrote down the statement so I could laugh about it later, and then - pretty emphatically - clicked, “very much unlike me.”

I don’t have a plan for what I want to be doing five years from now. I don’t have a plan for where I want to be ten months from now. These days, all I know about my future is I want to love people like Jesus did, listen to them, spread some joy, and help people tell their stories, in whatever mixed up way I can. There is no one career path for that. There is no one place I can do that. And I do not know where the road will lead or bend or curve. I do not know what is coming next, what curveballs will be sent my way, what plans will be shifted from what I was expecting.

All I can do right now is empty my hands, seek Jesus wholeheartedly, and remember whatever happens, I have hope and a future.