Dei Gratia

Carved into my skin is a flower. A sunflower to be exact, cut in half to resemble the sun rising or lowering on the horizon.

Carved into my skin is the Latin phrase, “Dei Gratia,” which roughly translates to “by the grace of God,” or more simply, “grace of God.”

You might not know this, but I don’t usually go by Hannah. Most people know me as Annie, my nickname, a fact that has confounded teachers, classmates, and the government since I started kindergarten. Hannah is used by people who don’t really know me, or when I’m in trouble with my mom (I know I’m really in for it when she adds my middle name, Hannah Ellen *shiver*).

Hannah is my name, but I’m much less likely to respond to it. Even so, if I get a phone call from a number I don’t recognize, I’ll almost always answer with, “Hi, this is Hannah.”

I’ve never felt much fondness for my full name. Maybe fondness isn’t the right word…more like I didn’t feel much attachment to it. Why yes, it’s a perfectly fine name and I’ve always rather liked that it’s a palindrome—spelled the same way backwards as forwards. Still, it never quite suited me.

When I entered first grade, I thought it was high time I grew up and started using my legal name. However, much to my chagrin, I realized that Hannah is a very popular name for girls my age. In fact, there was already another Hannah in my class, designating her as Hannah G. and me as Hannah S. Hannah S.? How could this be!? I had made a terrible mistake; I had lost my name. I lost my identity. I lost my uniqueness. 

Okay, that’s rather dramatic. But have you met first graders? They’re rather dramatic.

As you may have guessed, by second grade I was Annie again and have been ever since.

I like to think of Hannah as separate from Annie. She’s a little more mature, more professional, and by far less fun. I suppose I’ve always considered Hannah to be the name I’d grow into, like at some singular moment I’ll look around and say to myself, “Yes, I’m a fully actualized human being and therefore am Hannah now.”

But the older I get, the more I’ve realized that singular moment is unlikely to happen…at least not in this world.

Though I may have a complicated relationship with Hannah, I adore what the name represents. Unsurprisingly, Hannah is a Hebrew name, and is a key player in the Old Testament.

A barren woman, Hannah prayed relentlessly to God for a child. She goes to the temple and happens to meet Eli. He sees her tears and her torment and is warmed by her devoted faith. He says to her, “Go in peace. And may the God of Israel give you what you have asked of him.”

By the grace of God, Hannah was able to conceive a baby boy, Samuel. The Samuel. By the grace of God, Hannah—who was barren—saw her prayers answered. Therefore, the name Hannah, comes from the Hebrew word “Channah,” favored one or grace of God.

On a whole, I don’t have much in common with Biblical Hannah. I’m not in a polygamous relationship, nor am I seeking having children anytime soon. What we do have in common is we both forget God’s grace is for us. Hannah felt neglected by God, that he didn’t notice her pain—she forgot she was a child of Israel, forgot she served a God of miracles and ultimate benevolence.

As for me, I hold myself to the highest standard. For most of my life doing so has been a good thing. A lot of the times I was even rewarded for it. But that high standard is destined to fall—and when it does, I do not forgive myself easily. I often marvel how quickly family, friends, and the Lord, can look past my wrongdoings and forgive. At the end of the day, the person I still have issue with is me—the reflection staring back.

When the tattoo artist expertly wielded the needle into my skin, I felt every line he made. I watched as every part of that wonderful phrase was permanently marked onto my ankle. I watched as the flower bloomed across me, a favorite flower, a flower I grew from little seeds as a kid, a flower that follows the Light. I cringed as the darkening ink scraped against me. It hurt.

But when he was finished, and I got to see the image in its entirety, tears welled in my eyes. The pain of not forgiving yourself. The difficulty of holding on to the past. The burden that drags one down. They were washed away. Because a nail was carved into another person’s skin, into His ankles and His hands.

            Tattoos can be controversial and depending on what generation you’re from, might affect how you view them. Regardless of this, all of us believers are marked. And I bet, each of you have some sort of physical object that symbolizes or reminds you of your marking. Of your baptism. Of your relationship with God.

Maybe it’s similar to mine in that it’s wrapped up in the name you were given? Maybe it’s a verse written on a post-it stuck to your mirror? Maybe it’s a little figurine your grandmother gave you? Maybe it’s a ring, bracelet, anklet, or necklace? Maybe you don’t have one at all, and my goodness that’s okay too.  

But you see, carved into my skin is my name. Carved into my skin is God’s grace. Carved into me, and into all of us, is a constant reminder that God’s grace is for us.

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