The Dude Ranch Diaries: Tattoo

“I will never get a tattoo.”

I spoke those words adamantly as his BMW sped along the curves of the northern California hills. They fell somewhere between my “I love Jesus,” spiel and, “I don’t mess around, so don’t mess with me,” speech. It was approximately an hour drive from the airport, due north towards the ranch, and our conversation (steered by me) covered all my essentials. Meanwhile, I observed with clear caution the large green pot leaf tattooed on his right arm with the cursive, bold, black words scripted, “God’s Gift,” as I shared my I don’t care what you do, but this is how I live beliefs.

“You’ll get a tattoo by the end of the summer,” Mr. Chef replied quite confidently.

“I’m sorry, but no, I will never get a tattoo,” I replied with gusto.

I was so sure of myself at the beginning.

Yeah, things clearly changed.

I shared an A-frame cabin with two other girls, or was it three? By the end of the summer, I had the place to myself because the other girls had either left, or moved into the cabins of their boyfriends. The cabin was one room, with high ceilings and a small deck out back overlooking the stables. Each of the four corners had a twin-sized bed, with a ragged old couch and a couple worn out shelves and dressers scattered along the available wall-space. Our front door didn’t fully close, which I positively accounted to the rustically, “roughing it” experience. Living. The. Dream. I must admit I was somewhat relieved when I had the place to myself because we all had to share a tiny bathroom.

In this tiny bathroom, there was small plaque that was push-pinned into the wood paneling. Squished beside the small shower, and toilet cubby space, and above the sink and dirty mirror were these influential words, that would absolutely affect the way I lived out the summer.


“If you don’t do it, you’ll never know what would have happened if you had done it.”

-Ashleigh Brillant

Ever since the moment I muttered the word “Never,” I knew I’d live to regret it. Because early into the adventure, early into the craziness, I realized that I kinda, really wanted a tattoo. Not just that I wanted one, but I had a sense that I needed it. Back and forth, back and forth, I prayerfully struggled with my “no tattoo” beliefs. And each morning before work, and each evening before bed, those words would inch their way closer to my heart.

Until I let go…

I started thinking of ideas. Rustic. Cross. Horseshoe. Something to commemorate the dude ranch experience, and the things that helped get me through. And once my creativity took way, I knew I was a goner. I knew I needed this tattoo of my dreams.

I sent my ideas to my best friend back home, because I wanted her to draw it! It would add to the “meaningful” part of the experience. She sent me a few designs…


Then I responded to her revisionary ideas… and then she sent THE ONE. It. Was. Perfect. This tattoo would be more than ink etched into my skin. It would be proof that if I could survive this ranch experience, then surely I could survive anything!


The day after my 20th birthday, Mr. Chef to whom I proudly proclaimed that I would never, ever get a tattoo, not only drove me to the tattoo parlor near the ocean, but he also purchased it for me as a birthday gift!

I really enjoyed the experience. My dear (I say that sarcastically) friend, decided that he would describe the pain as similar to a couple hundred bees stinging me all at once. However, for the hour or two that the tattoo artist was working on me, the most pain that I felt was having to lie on a metal table in the same position for that amount of time. The monotonous buzzing sound would have eased me into a sweet slumber, had I not been so uncomfortable. Though, much to the tattoo artist’s excitement, I jumped a bit as the ink tore into my ankle bone. “Oh I got you there!” he stated satisfied.

Next to me was a sociable lady being tattooed for the who knows how manyth time. The current tattoo was a black outline of two coffee stains. She told me the story of how she and her significant other met in a diner, and the intertwining coffee stains resembled their love story.

The only negative detail about the tattoo experience was that I got it with a few weeks left in the summer – which meant a couple weeks without hot tubs or swims. We also poorly planned our trip, because we went to the ocean after I was tatted. So it was all looks and no feels with Mr. Pacific Ocean.

Originally, I had planned on keeping the tattoo black and white, like the image my friend had drawn. That would keep it nice and affordable for the wallet of Mr. Chef. However, while the tattooist was sketching out the actual tattoo, he recommended creating a larger image, as well as adding shading and color. Generously, he offered to stick to his initial quote in price, and with that information, Mr. Chef and I were sold! Here’s how the finished product turned out with a glistening coating of Walgreen’s A&D ointment:


  • Cross – Jesus, my center, my everything, especially through the terrible times.
  • Wooden – To fit to the rustic, ranch theme, and as the cross was – two wooden planks that our Savior was nailed to.
  • Flame – A combination of two songs that helped me survive the summer – “Consuming Fire” recorded by Hillsong UNITED and “Consume Me” by DC Talk.
  • Barb-wired heart – God, as my consuming fire, is the true lover of my soul. And though I didn’t know it at the time, it is also a reminder of God’s ability to redeem us from our painful memories and experiences. Can I get an Amen? Plus, do you see the cool “S” at the bottom? Yeah, that was on the bone…
  • WWJD – I know some people think it is cheesy, but really, “What Would Jesus Do?”
  • Horseshoe – To commemorate my love of horses, line-dancing and the ranch experiences. It is facing upward so that the luck won’t spill out. Which is one of the better lessons I learned from my boss.

Oh… You’re wondering how my mom felt about it all? Apparently, I told her it was going to be smaller. But, don’t worry, after the shock wore off, she eased into enthusiasm about it, and its message.

And I must say, I have not ever regretted it. I knew, like the grand message of the small plaque in our miniature bathroom, that had not done it, I never would’ve known, how much I would adore it.

So what’s your story: “If you don’t do it, you’ll never know what would have happened if you had done it”?   

Lakeside Cheers

Last weekend, I found myself helping my roommate cat-sit for one of her friends. And by “helping”, I mean “mooching”. You see, the cat lives in a cabin on a lake… Need I say more?

I’d been excited for this weekend since I knew of its possibility. Though house-sitting with this cat usually means sleepless nights lulled into alertness by its broken meow, to me, nothing beats days spend pondering life on their dock. It also means a few day escape from the “real world” where I still don’t have a job. Somehow, worries subside when seaside (or in this case, lakeside).

In preparation for this weekend, last week, I felt God urge me to bring one of my cherished bottles of wine to celebrate. But my Kentucky wine God? What do I have to celebrate? I asked frantically, not willing to minimize my Kentucky stash from three bottles to two. It’s not what I have done, but what I have yet to do, God responded boldly. Ah yes, one of those risks I get to take, I responded with slight sarcasm. So, basically, I’m going to trust that You’ll provide even when the job-world seems like a desert? And then I’m going to celebrate what You’re going to bring even, and especially before You bring it to me? Yes. Okay, I agreed, somehow comforted by His confidence, As long as we’re on the same page… Packing my sole bottle of Talon Winery’s Equestrian VI, I prayerfully prepared for God’s special celebration of trust.

It happened on Saturday. Spending much of the day switching from reading on the couch, to writing on the dock, I felt God okay the opening of the bottle once I finished the book I was reading. (It was cheesy, and terribly, terribly, written, so a reward was very much necessary.)

Around 5pm, the perfect “somewhere” time, I reached for the $23 bottle of Equestrian VI, momentarily pausing as I realized its representation in my life. For the nearly six years I spent in the land of the horses, Kentucky, I will now take a moment of silence.


After a minute of respect for my past, and an epic product-placement photo opp. outside, I opened the bottle, and poured me a glass… Well more rustically so, a mug (classy, I know). I swirled it, sniffed it, and then let the dry’n’sweet Kentucky aroma flood my senses.

Making my way to the end of the small, wooden dock, I sat down at the end, dipping my feet in the icy cold, refreshing lake water. Raising my glass Heavenward, I cheers’d my beloved Maker, “To all the people nearby, who think I am crazy cheersing the sky, outloud, and by myself… To this summer, for helping me survive… No… For surviving me, is that a thing? I couldn’t do any of it without You. Thank You for all You’ve provided so far, and this really tasty wine! Finally, thank You for the job You will provide. You know, the one I want – the $17 an hour one in Moose Lake, Agency-Wide Advocate – the one I’ll be good at – yeah, to that!”


Raising my glass slightly higher, I cheers’d, and then took a generous sip. The wine warmed my heart and soul as the tannins danced deliciously amongst the aromas of pepper, cherry, and spicy cocoa. To me, I’ve always tasted a red wine base soaked in a french oak barrel, with essence of cigar spice, deep berry, and the warmth of Kentucky love, but that’s just my wine inexperience talking…

After this short, soulful indulgence, I raised my glass again Heavenward, “To the jobs my friends want, that You will provide.”

Raised glass cheers and delicious sip.

“To the relationships blossoming in the lives of my friends. May You bless them, and may they bring glory to You.”


. . .

And then it hit me.

What if we prayed in cheers?

You may consider me crazy, or slightly sacrelig. for this idea, but nonetheless… What if?

Slowly, but surely, I continued to empty my glass to the praising of God – of all the things He’s done, and especially those He has yet to do!

. . .

Isn’t this how we’re supposed to live our lives? Taking the mundane tasks and directing them Heavenward? What if we took the activities we use to bring ourselves pleasure, and instead used them to bring pleasure to God? Do you think, perhaps, if done in the right spirit, that our blessings would multiply not just to ourselves, but to those around us as well?

I think so.

I’d like to see a ripple of cheers breakout from around the lake, to around the world. God knows we enjoy it already, so why not take it, let Him shape it, and celebrate God – for all that He has done, and all that He has yet to do?

I can cheers to that!

Can you?


Full Circle

This weekend, I found myself at the Woolly Worm Festival in Beattyville, Kentucky. It was my second frequenting of the festival, and one of many visits to Lee County. Beattyville is the location where I first fell in love with Kentucky, and where seeds of passion and service were planted into my heart and soul.


My junior year of high school I made one of the best decisions of my life. It was a hard decision, as it was to quit an activity that I had enjoyed in a life-altering way the previous  two years, however said passion had began to fade because of extenuating circumstances [which are not of importance at this instance]. I didn’t like the idea of quitting. Perseverance was more my go-to choice, but something in my heart said it was time.

It was probably one of my first “adulting” difficult conversations as I told the director that “it just isn’t for me anymore.” She was disappointed, but grateful that I told her about it – and supportive of my future ventures. You see, since I quit New Wine, I was able to go on my church’s Kentucky mission trip! One decision to quit, to end something – however good it may have been in its time – radically changed my life for the better.


Two trips to Lee County, Kentucky, my summers after my junior and senior years of high school, planted seeds that were nourished and grew during my college years. The desires of service helped me persevere through the mundane life of classes, homework, work and research papers. Many times in college, I felt blah, because I just wanted to be actually helping someone.

Towards the end of my senior year of college, one of my high school youth group friends [who I grew closer to through our Kentucky mission trips] and I were researching what to do after we graduated. She was looking into being a long-term volunteer with an organization in Kentucky. Thinking I might be interested in it too, she shared it with me. What’s the name of this organization you ask? The Christian Appalachian Project (CAP).

I probably procrastinated my discernment process, as college taught me well, but God didn’t let that stop him. The August after my college graduation, I found myself moving into a volunteer house with approximately ten strangers ready to invest in community and to serve God in Appalachia. I requested to live in the Jackson County house because it was the closest community to Beattyville, where part of my heart was already planted.


The first month or two were quite difficult for me. I didn’t immediately transition into loving Kentucky. You see, the summer after I graduated Bethel (or Beth-hell, as I called it – clearly I wasn’t a big fan…) I found myself in a place of comfort. I moved back home, close to Duluth, Minnesota, where I was close to several friends I grew up with while still able to keep in contact with the friends I acquired in college. I didn’t have a steady job, but I occupied my time with leading a Bible study, investing in friends, and taking my Gma shopping. Life was good. Life was comfortable, and it’s difficult to trade comfort for something new, but it is also necessary.

. . .

A couple weeks in to my new Kentucky/volunteer life I wrote about “Trusting God with the what ifs” in my journal. These were my fears at the time:

My what if fears:

  • Grandma will die while I’m away?
  • I’m not good enough for this position?
  • God makes me stay a second year when I’m already homesick now?
  • What if I drive off a cliff?
  • I’m not a good enough housemate?
  • I never get over this homesickness?

Some of them were quite valid, while others were less rational. I ended up getting over my homesickness at orientation a couple weeks later. This is also when I started to invest more in my community and became a great housemate, for the most part. Practice makes perfect, and I have yet to drive off a cliff… ::knock on wood:: #racecardriver  Not only did I stay a second [and a half] year, but I also connected with my friend/twin on a dock who also had an inkling that she would stay a second year. (We both now work at CAP, and have been housemates and apartmentmates in and outside of CAP volunteer life. #justkeeptwinning) I was definitely good enough for the position, and the position planted seeds for future career opportunities. And finally, Gma did pass away in the spring of my second year. Though by that time I was so deeply rooted in my community that such a loss only brought us all closer together. Those months before and after her passing are when I felt the most connected to my community, and felt God’s love more fully than I ever had before.

God is so faithful.

. . .

Watching the Cumberland Mountain Outreach (CMO) float pass by, at the parade on Saturday, I clapped and hollered, and felt a rush of emotions overwhelm me. I could hear my voice choke back tears as I told my friends about the organization and the missionaries that inspired my love of Kentucky and my desire to serve here. This is where it all began, and that lady on the float, Cindy, was who I wanted to be when I grew up. However in this instance, they were more of gratitudinous feelings – as if things were wrapping up.

Mission trips to Kentucky consisted of so many things I loved. We stopped at horse farms, did touristy things and ate Fazoli’s along the way. Kentucky sunrises and sunsets were magnificently pressed into my memory. We square-danced and had a clogging lesson. I line-danced to a local bluegrass group (a key “falling in love with Kentucky” moment for me). We played tennis and swam. We led a day camp for local youth, and did home improvement work at the mission center as well as on participants’ homes. I made friends with people that I thought were too cool for me, and some of them became life-long besties (ahem Jordan 😉 #bunfactory #fruitfighters). We grew in faith and fellowship. #ephesians2:10  We shared and listened to testimonies. And as we listened to the story of Cindy and Bruce, I felt a similar rush of emotions, except these were of a new beginning, a heart-pounding desire to serve.

. . .

It’s funny how life works. In the middle of my CAP journey, I found myself at a meeting at Natural Bridge State Park. This was while I was the volunteer host for our groups during my second and a half year(s) as a long-term volunteer. CMO had used this facility as well, a couple times a week to take a our day-campers for a refreshing dip in the pool. We also hit Hoedown Island on Saturday nights to partake in the square dancing fun.

There, I experienced a full-circle moment. While on break from the meeting, I looked down from the lodge to the pool below. I saw my high school self looking back, proud that I had made it. Glad that though it all, my dreams had come true. I survived college and the rough patches, and I was actually doing it – I had given up my comfortable life, and became a missionary in Kentucky.


. . .

In Karen Kingbury’s The Bridge (the movie version), at the end of the first movie Molly tells Ryan that it is snowing, and he asks her what it’s like. She says hopefully, “It makes all the lights feel magical. Makes everything feel like… Like a blank slate. New and promising.”


That’s how felt at the parade. Like my Kentucky journey had come full circle. As the CMO float passed, I felt my Kentucky journey wrapping up, as my heart is opening up to a new door, a new dream… Ready to harvest another seed that was planted awhile ago… A new circle, a fresh opportunity, and an exciting adventure awaits.