I’ll never forget moving into our first home. Our new neighbor came out to greet us as I stood barefoot in the front yard holding our infant son. I learned that she was only a few years older than me and a seasoned mom of four. She was incredibly warm and invitingeverything you would hope for in a neighbor. She smiled and began to tell us all about our new neighborhood, where the other young families lived, playgroups she knew about, all the good stuff.

She looked down to shoo an insect off her pant leg and caught a glimpse of my bare foot. All of the sudden, there was a visible shift in her demeanor, and I knew what had happened. She saw that tattoo on my foot. She politely ended the conversation, welcoming us to the neighborhood one more time before she retreated back to her house.

To be fair, she wasn’t the first, nor would she be the last.

Living in a small, conservative Christian community, I was keenly aware of the stigma that followed tattoos, but those snap judgments still stung when they happened.

I was 18 when I got my first tattoo. I remember it vividly. My mom was out of town on business, so my twin sister and I made an appointment at a local tattoo shop with some friends. We were going to get matching ones, to represent our twin bond—this felt like an obvious decision. Something small and tasteful. We decided on a cross made of two infinity symbols, somewhere hidden, probably on the side of the foot.

RELATED: Why I Let My Teenager Get a Tattoo

The tattoo artist was young, he couldn’t have been more than a few years older than us at the time. We told him what we wanted, but in hindsight, were severely lacking some key details. Since my sister was the oldest (by four minutes), we decided she would go first, obviously. So, she went to the back while I waited in the lounge area. I remember being excited and a little nervous, and then a lot nervous, and then the wave of second-guessing crashed over me. Maybe this wasn’t a good idea. No, this definitely wasn’t a good idea.

But I quickly talked myself back into it because the tattoos we were getting were meaningful and symbolicall the qualities of a tasteful tattoo, according to my 18-year-old brain. Plus, it would be small and easily hidden.

As I wrestled with my thoughts, my sister came out from the backroom, the entire top of her foot covered with a white bandage and some clear tape.

Although a little confused about the sheer size of the bandage, I shrugged it off. “Let me see, let me see!” I shouted excitedly.

As she peeled back the bandage, my stomach dropped. The entire top of her foot was covered with a cross and the words Ad Infinitum–Latin for what we thought was “without end” but translates directly to “to infinity.” Semantics, but important ones if you’re Buzz Lightyear.

I must not have been able to hide my emotions well because she immediately stated, “You like it, right?” And I say stated because it was one of those loaded, gritted teeth, you-better-say-yes, not-really-a-question questions.

“Oh yeah, so cool, really awesome,” I squeaked. And being the loyalist I am, I made my way to the back of the tattoo shop. I decided to keep my promise of matching tattoos. I mean, I couldn’t just walk away from our sister pacteven though my entire right foot would now be real estate to an awkwardly placed cross featuring old school, prison-style writing, and half of Buzz Lightyear’s catchphrase.  

I remember that night we had all our friends over. We both wore high heels to showcase our new tattoos and raved about how much we loved our matching ink. Fake it till you make it, right? You’d think after that experience, it would have been my one and only.

You’d think. But not for this girl. Not even close. In college, I would go on to get not one, not two, but three more tattoos.

I’ll spare you the details of the rest. All you really need to know is that there was a lot of “on a whim” involved, along with the following Google searches:

– The best Bible verses

– How to write a Bible verse in Roman numerals

– Words with significant meanings in the Bible

– How much does a big tattoo cost

That last one? It ended up as a 15-inch replica (and I use that term very loosely) of my deceased grandma’s rosary down the entire right side of my body. And believe me, the irony of getting four Christian-based tattoos while obviously rebelling against my parents is not lost on me.

Just last week, my mom asked me if I regretted getting my tattoos (like she said I would) now that I’m in my 30s. While the rebellious teenager in me will never fully admit she was right, I don’t think that regret is the right word either. For me, these tattoos are more like scars.

On the surface, they’re remnants of a past life. But deep down, they carry even more significance today than the day I got them.

The stories of acquiring those tattoos are lighthearted and funny, but at that time in my life, I was completely lost. I was raised with Jesus and believed in Him, but throughout my college years and into my early 20s, I lived as if He didn’t exist. So those tattoos that I was permanently marking myself withat the time, they felt hypocritical.

RELATED: To the Christian “Bad Girl” Who Wonders if She Belongs

But now, over a decade since my last tattoo, I see what that lost girl was doing. She was leaving a trail of breadcrumbs behind, knowing one day she would find her way back to His grace and mercy. Since then, I’ve become a teacher, a wife, a mother, a business owner, and a writer. I’ve matured and grown up in ways I never thought possible.

So, do I regret my tattoos? I really don’t. Do I wish a little more thought and tact went into their execution? Absolutely. 

While the millennial generation accepts tattoos far more openly than our parents’ generation did, there’s still something to be said for the conservative Christian community.

I know, I know—I said it. Do you feel it? A slight shift in the atmosphere—I feel an argument coming on. Kidding!

But to be totally honest, I have no interest in debating what the Bible says about tattoosthat’s really not the point of this article.

The point is, as writer Amy Weatherly would say, love your neighbor, the end.

So here it is. The next time there’s that gut-check reaction to judge a fellow mama with tattoos, remember this: Tattoos are complicated. Sometimes they’re like mine, scars of the past. Other times they’re a tribute to someone, a commemoration of a life event, a trophy of overcoming, a significant message, a meaningful memory, a love for the arts, and the list goes on.

There’s more than meets the eyebecause under those tattoos is most likely a kind-hearted mama with a story, probably a really good one. And if you’re willing to give her a gentle, compassionate ear, she might just share it with you.

Alyse Bressner

City girl turned farm wife & small town mama, anxiously and faithfully stumbling through life, marriage, and motherhood one word at a time.