The Story Behind My Tattoo: Learning To Have A Lover's Quarrel

The Story Behind My Tattoo: Learning To Have A Lover's Quarrel

I hope I did right by my family in the end.


"I hold your doctrine of Memento Mori. And were an epitaph to be my story, I'd have a short one ready of my own.I would have it written on my stone: I had a lover's quarrel with the world."

The above quote is the final stanza to my favorite poem, Robert Frost's "The Lesson For Today." The last line of the poem is Robert Frost's epitaph, the line that goes on his gravestone. The words were so powerful and inspirational to me that I thought about my own mortality back in April, and, for an English project about Robert Frost, wrote my own epitaph for what will go on my own gravestone.

During the summer, I thought about getting a tattoo for the Latin phrase and creed of memento mori. Literally, the phrase means to "remember that you have to die," and sometimes I waver between that definition and my own misinterpreted and distorted one, which means "live like you're about to die." That interpretation is perhaps just a fancier way of saying "you only live once," but the true story goes deeper, much deeper than that. The decision to get the tattoo, in itself, was, oxymoronically, an impulse that was deeply contemplated. The actual decision to get the tattoo was made on a whim. I approached my roommate on Thanksgiving Day, and said "come with me to get a tattoo," rushed him and myself out of our house as soon as the tattoo parlor opened the next day.

The tradition and history behind memento mori is in Latin Christian theory. Reflecting on death, in traditional memento mori tradition has been a means of considering the vanity of wordly life and worldly goods and pursuits. We can take the interpretation to mean that, as Christians, we should focus more on the holy spirit rather than gratifying the flesh. Contemporarily, that means instead of trying to please others, our jobs, as Christians, are to please God. Memento mori signals to us that we should tune our identities and our character towards the soul, rather than towards earthly pursuits. The skull, a common symbol of memento mori, was commonly used in early European Christian to emphasize "Heaven, Hell, and salvation of the soul in the afterlife."

The Latin message of carpe diem is considered, in Christian art, to be a pagan idea that made people focus on many of the worldly pleasures of life. The message of memento mori the early Christian tradition seems to be this: by focusing on death and our mortality, we can be more moral creatures.

The early Christian model of memento mori, however profound, does not mean much to me. I instead take my lesson on memento mori from Robert Frost and "The Lesson For Today," and memento mori in that context is more practical. It means that to be be a "Christian disciplined to bend his mind to thinking of the end," we have to be "unhappy yet polite." That is what it means to me to live under the creed of of memento mori.

To be unhappy yet polite has been a doctrine I have lived through my whole life, because I differentiate between happiness and joy. Happiness is worldly and happiness fades. Nothing is more transient than being happy for a couple hours on one day and then proceeding to the next as if everything is wrong because you don't have the same happiness. Joy, however, is everlasting. Joy is an everlasting happiness you can have even when all the circumstances in life are terrible. According to the pastor John Piper, joy is "a good feeling in the soul, produced by the Holy Spirit, as he causes us to see the beauty of Christ in the word and in the world." Joy is much more realistic in allowing the broad range of human emotions. You can be joyful and be depressed. You can be joyful and anxious. You can be joyful and ill. You can be joyful and tired, and all these emotions are meant to be felt not despite joy, but in conjunction with joy. Joy is a good feeling in the heart and soul, not in the mind and body.

I digress, but the point is that how we view joy is also the relationship we should have with God and with others, as Christian doctrine declares the two greatest laws being to love God and love others. To love God and love others, we have to have "lover's quarrels" with those people.

I can picture the words forming in your mind. "What? Ryan, what is thist?" you may ask. A lover's quarrel is a deeply oxymoronic term. We shouldn't quarrel with the people we love, after all.

In the words of Reverend Sarah Brouwer at the Minneapolis Westminster Presbyterian Church, is that in a lover's quarrel, "The quarrel is not about winning or losing an argument - it's a quarrel that spurs ur toward working on our relationships...and making sure that they are good and honest, and eventually, whole." To have a lover's quarrel, and to live under the creed of memento mori, means to strengthen those relationships, and even focus much of our lives on them. Many things in life are earthly, worldly, and vane, from possessions to accomplishments to everything in between. Relationships are not. I know, for certain, if there is one thing that I will carry with myself at the end, it is those relationships, with my family, community, and God.

The last part, to have a lover's quarrel with God, is an important message to have. Mark 1:11 is where God proclaims us as his lover, and us as his beloved. "You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased." To have a lover's quarrel goes two ways. God will break our world, at times. He may break us in the flesh. And sometimes, we will wrestle with our faith and be angry with him. Sometimes, we may doubt. He has his beloved children's' best interests at heart, but we may not agree on everything. I know for certain that I won't agree on everything with my future wife on how to raise a child, and will not be well pleased with those disagreements. That, simply, is how most loving relationships are, and none more so than our relationship with God.

Reverend Brouwser's sermon on the role of justice and social justice, in particular, concludes that to be just, we must engage in "God's love and quarrels with the world." But the part that struck out to me most in the sermon is that to minister to others means "not to afflict the comfortable," but to "comfort the afflicted." I believe that every person is afflicted deeply in some manner, and the more you know and love people, the more you realize how messed up they are, and the more they realize how deeply afflicted and messed up you are.

To live under the doctrine of memento mori means to have a lover's quarrel, in all those relationships, with others, with God. I know that my greatest strength in these relationships is my ability to be open and vulnerable, and break the power of shame's hold over our lives as we hide ourselves, as Adam and Eve did, from God and from others. As such, I will re-state my epitaph and what my tattoo of memento mori reminds me of as my life mission.

"I hold your doctrine of memento mori. And were an epitaph to be my story, I'd say: "My name is Ryan, and I loved people by trying to break the power of shame. I hope I did right by my family in the end.

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12 Bible Verses For Faith In Hard Times

Remind yourself that God is always with you.

Lately, I have felt lost at what God wants for my life. Ever since I've come back to UWG everything has been horrible. It seems that I can't catch a break. I'm trying my best to focus on school, work, and extracurricular activities. But it's hard when I'm having issues with my apartment/roommates and knowing my family back home is struggling and needs many prayers. All, I keep thinking is maybe Carrollton isn't where I belong anymore. I've asked God if He can guide me in the right direction. Below, I have found Bible verses that have helped get me through these rough, past couple of weeks.

1. Isaiah 43:2

"When you go through deep waters, I will be with you."

2. Psalm 37:5

"Commit your way to the Lord. Trust in Him, and He will act."

3. Romans 8:18

"The pain that you've been feeling, can't compare to the joy that's coming."

4. Proverbs 31:25

"She is clothed in strength, and dignity, and she laughs without fear of the future."

5. Joshua 1:9

"Be bold. Be brave. Be courageous."

6. Ecclesiastes 3:1

"There is a time for everything and a reason for every activity under the heavens."

7. Isaiah 41:10

"Don't be afraid, for I am with you. Don't be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand."

8. Isaiah 66:9

"I will not cause pain without allowing something new to be born, says the Lord."

9. Psalm 91:4

"He will cover you with His feathers, and under His wings, you will find refuge; His faithfulness will be your shield and rampart."

10. Psalm 62:1-2

"My soul finds rest in God alone, my salvation comes from Him, He alone is my rock and my salvation."

11. Philippians 4:13

"I can do everything through Christ who gives me strength."

12. Jeremiah 29:11

"For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."

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If You Can't Bring Him To Church On Sunday, He's Not The Man For You

If you cannot bring him before God, you should not be with him.


I was raised in a strict, Catholic household and I wouldn't have it any other way. I remember always seeing the older girls in church coming in with their boyfriends, who for the most part usually broke up some time after. A few of those girls actually married those boys they brought to church with them, and it always made me so excited to think that I could be that girl in the future. Well, future me is here without a boyfriend, but I do have a clear marker for any guy I do begin to date.

If he won't come to Sunday mass with my family and me, then he is definitely not the man for me.

God is an important part of my life and always will be, and that is something that will be incorporated into the lives of my future children. I am not requiring my future husband to be Catholic, all I can ask is for respect towards what I believe in. Coming to church with me is super important, because it shows he cares about me and what I believe in, and I will always support him and what he believes in. God created each and every one of us in his image, and I would not be living up to the standards set for me if I put the church on the backburner.

I can't imagine being with a guy who refused to go to church with me unless of course, he was of an entirely different religion, which I would understand. By bringing my boyfriend to church, I am showing those around me that I think I've found worthy to show to God as someone I see a tangible future with. Any relationship I ever bring into the church is one I want to turn into marriage at some point because marriage is the ultimate goal.

God has chosen who I am supposed to be with, whether this is someone who I've been with before or an entirely new person who I'm still in the process of finding as my life moves forward. Whoever this person is, I know they will be worthy in the eyes of God, and hopefully in the eyes of my family and friends as well.

Taking a boy to church is the ultimate test for any relationship. In church, you tend to face scrutiny from just about every regular there is, from the gossiping old ladies to the middle school kids. If your person can survive coming into a church filled with people they likely don't know, they can survive any future family gathering.

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