Monday, December 17, 2018

So I Have This Tattoo (a post about regrets)

I would like to blame my sisters-in-law for the weird, lopsided, kind of scary sun that permanently resides on my very-low back.  I would like to say that it's because they all got tattoos that year, and said, "You should get one too, Joy!"  I would also like to say that is my husband's fault because he said, "You should get a sun!"  I’d had an idea for what I wanted, but it involved Bengali writing, and everyone made me think the tattoo artist would get it wrong and I’d have some Sanskrit obscenity permanently imprinted on my skin.

But the truth is, I can't blame anyone but myself.  I was the one who drove downtown with my sister-in-law, the one who picked out the design and signed the waiver, who paid (ugh) the money and sat through the completely voluntary pain of it.  At any of those junctures, I could have put a stop to it, but I didn't.  Not even when I saw the artist who would be putting that ink under my skin, and I was pretty sure he was stoned.  He wore his sunglasses almost the entire time, but during the brief period he removed them, his eyes were completely bloodshot.  And anyway, how else do I explain how the sun isn't exactly a circle but kind of a sideways oval?

I had picked its location because I wanted a place that wouldn't stretch out if I had another baby (my wisest decision in regards to my tattoo because I've had three babies since then), or sag, and would typically be covered by my clothing in case I was in the company of people who might frown on such things (yet here I am now, talking about it in the internet. Oh, the irony.).  But then a friend called it a tramp stamp, a term I hadn't even thought of, but it makes me blush furiously every time I think about it because that wasn’t what I’d intended, and my kids like to tell random people that Mommy has a tattoo on her butt.  It’s my very-low back, guys!!!

Apparently you have to think of everything when you're going to do something permanent like a tattoo.  Who’d of thunk.

There are definitely worse things I could have done.  It's not that big .  And I have scars on my body — chicken pox scars everywhere, acne scars on my face, a giant scar that curves up the side of my leg from falling on a hike — that I didn't choose and yet will be with me forever.  On the one hand, I can laugh (a lot, honestly) about my tattoo.  But do I regret it?  Kind of.  Okay, yes, for sure.

I try to make decisions that will lead to a life that is free of regrets.  Sometimes I spend so much time considering decisions, I live my life with such intention, you'd think it would be impossible to make a poor decision.

And yet I do. Again and again and again...

I've found myself regretting many things.  A few years ago, when we still lived in Hawaii and Annalee was a new baby, we made a trip to California, and I honestly regretted most of it.  We saw our family (good), and made it a point to view some colleges (necessary, especially since Jayna ended up at one of them).  But we had Disneyland passes that were about to expire, and we built the entire trip around that — which backfired because those two days were unseasonably hot and unexpectedly crowded.  We had fun, but there were so many friends I didn't get to see, including an older friend who was battling cancer, and I wondered if I would ever get to see her again, this side of heaven.  I stewed about it for months, honestly, wrestling with my regret, and I still kick myself about it every now and then. 

Of course, there’s a lot more than that.  I regret silly things like poor fashion choices I made (so many of them).  I wish I hadn't cut my hair super short when I was nine years old because people thought I was a boy.  I wish I could take back a million things I've said, and countless times when I lost my temper.  I wish I'd known sooner what makes my face break out because that would have been a whole lot less painful, not to mention what it looked like and that it left those unsightly scars, and everyone was always offering advice, most of which only made me feel worse about it.  I regret the ways I've let my focus be shifted from God, my husband and children, sometimes, because I will never get back that wasted, narcissistic time.  

I'm not done yet... But I think you get the idea.  It seems that there are times in my life when I can admit my regrets and move on, but there are other times when these regrets clump together into an awful, ugly monster and shadow my life, making me feel incapable of making good decisions as I dwell in the past with wishes of how to go back and make it all better. I mean, basically just picture Uncle Rico from Napoleon Dynamite.  

As we come to the end of another year, all the things I did wrong this year are coming to keep me awake at 3 am.  As I've been thinking about this, some thoughts have occurred to me.  I'm writing them down as reference to myself for future battles with the Regret Monster, but I’m sharing them with you as well, just in case you can relate.

1.  Regrets aren't all bad.  We say, "No regrets!"  We pin inspiring quotes about living a life free of regret — but to never regret anything, at least the way I see it, means to shut down our conscience, to disavow our mistakes.  That's not necessarily a good thing.  If we don't dare label things as "mistakes", we are more apt to repeat them.  Acknowledging them is key to growing.

2.  That being said, dwelling on regrets won't make them better.  Living in Regretville doesn't fix anything.  Instead of replaying the scene ad nauseum where I said the totally wrong thing or lost my temper, I need to say, "Here's what I did wrong, so next time I will..."  I do plan to get my tattoo fixed someday (because it's fixable).  And most of my other mistakes also give me a chance to repeat them and this time, hopefully, do better. 

3.  Sometimes, regrets point is to apologies we need to make.  As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that the only thing that hurts worse than some of the bad things that have happened to me is that those who did them never apologized. I don’t want to be like that. When I’m regretting a choice I made or or words I said and I feel like I was wrong, I take the time and energy to apologize — if it’s at all possible.   

4.  It's important to distinguish between a true, regrettable mistake and a lack of perspective.  Tell me I'm not the only one who gets crazy hard on myself?  I want to be perfect and beautiful, and hilarious and kind and likable 110% of the time... And if I'm not?  If I realize I'm just a goofy dork with crazy hair and imperfect skin, and a smile that shows too many teeth (a dentist once actually told me that)?  ...I start to regret things.  Almost everything.  And that just gets exhausting.  Seriously, try regretting your smile and trying to change it.  It's almost impossible.  Just because my home doesn't look like a Pinterest-worthy mini-palace, I shouldn't beat myself up about having friends over.  I should still be able love and accept myself the way I am. Because ultimately, I should be grateful.  I have a wonderful home with plenty of clothes and good nutritious food on hand, as well as friends who love me generously in spite of my flawed skin, smile, hair and personality, and the best family in the world.

5.  Along these lines, when facing regrets, I need to believe truth, not lies.  I need to believe I'm not defined by my mistakes, that I can change things, and that I'm not doomed to repeat failure again and again.  Ann Voskamp writes in The Broken Way, “You are the most loved not when you’re pretending to have it all together; you are actually the most loved when you feel broken and are falling apart... when we’re rejected and abandoned and feel beyond wanting, Jesus cups our face: ‘Come close, beloved.’”  I am still loved in spite of what I’ve done wrong.  And if something really needs to not happen again, then with the help of God’s amazing grace, I can do that.  I have done that.  And the broken, imperfect things about me are places for His strength to be shown and His light to shine through.


I’d love to hear your thoughts about regrets.  What are some things you regret?  What have you learned?