Love to Live, Live to Love {On Tattoos, Life Mottos & Being You}

Wrist Tattoos

I’ve wanted a tattoo for as long as I can remember — something small and meaningful, but pretty too.

My grandfather had a tattoo on his arm that said his name, Russ, and I can distinctly remember sitting at his kitchen table with him, just studying it. I loved it, and while it was faded and a bit wrinkly, that tattoo was so beautiful to me.

I’ve thought about getting a tattoo off and on since I turned 18 and more often since becoming a mother — a group of birds to represent each of our kids, a flower with the petal outlines made out of tiny letters spelling each of their names, etc. — but Sean’s never really been on board.

However, for the past few months, I’ve really been wanting wrist tattoos.

I knew I wanted words that would really mean something — words that would remind me to be joyful and the type of life I want to lead:

Grace & mercy.
Joy & love.
My word of the year is LIVE.
My favorite sweater, from Old Navy, says LOVE LIFE. in big bold letters.

Nothing seemed quite perfect, especially since one of our daughter’s middle names is Joy and another’s is Grace. As much as I love both of those words (as well as their sisters’ — Faith and Hope), I really didn’t want to end up with just one child’s middle name on my wrist!

And then a few weeks ago our Pastor preached a sermon in which he quoted Amy Carmichael, who’s life motto was “Love to live, live to love.”

The minute he said it, I knew I wanted those words to be my life motto as well, and I knew I wanted them on my wrists.

I brought up the idea of a tattoo to my husband again and asked if he would consider taking me to get them for my birthday.

He didn’t say no, so I started getting recommendations on Facebook for local tattoo artists.

Wrist Tattoos

I’ve since been reminded by several people (who don’t like tattoos in general) that they are permanent. I promise that, at 32 years old, I do realize that, and I finally put my thoughts about it into words the other day when I was chatting with a friend:

I can only hope that I’ll live to 80 and be proud of my wrinkly tattoos and a life characterized by the motto!

You see, I think my 20s were characterized by worrying about what other people think: I was almost always the youngest person in any given situation — the first of our friends to get married (and the youngest in the group to start with), the first to have kids (with 4 by the time I was 27), the youngest in most professional circles — and I thought people were watching and judging me a lot more than they probably were.

I think, however, that my 30s will be characterized by me being me. I don’t find myself worrying about other people’s opinions nearly as much. I’m quicker to admit to my hipster friends that I’m just not that cool, to my conservative friends that I fall somewhere closer to the middle, to anyone who asks that I don’t have all the answers and my life’s not perfect.

So even though I know there are plenty of people — even people I greatly respect — who don’t like tattoos and might judge me for having one (two?), I found that I really wasn’t too worried about it. I love the tattoos — the way they look and what they say — and I got them for me. (My friend Kara recently wrote a beautiful post about being brave and doing what makes you feel like you, and I identify with so many of her words!)

I love that every day I’ll be reminded of my desire to really live and really love. I’m not always good at either — preferring to hide myself in the busyness of work when things get tough and easily annoyed by “people” in general — but I want to keep working on both of them for as long as I live.

I love that I now have permanent accessories for all of those times when I forget to put on jewelry. (Ha!)

I love that they’re unique and my own, and that I didn’t get a tattoo when I was younger just to get one or not get one this time because I was afraid what people would think or say.

Wrist Tattoos

And because I’ve been asked multiple times in 24 hours: Yes, it hurt, but it was a very localized pain and just hurt in little bursts, so it was definitely bearable. Afterward, it welted up pretty bad for a couple hours, and it felt a lot like a bad sunburn last night. Today it just feels like a scrape. And it took about 30 minutes for the actual tattoo(s). (I still can’t figure out if it counts as one tattoo or two separate ones — ha!)

Do you have a life motto? A tattoo? Do you worry about what other people think, or are you comfortable being you?

Mandi Ehman is the blogger behind Life Your Way. She and her husband have four beautiful girls plus one baby boy, and together they live, work and homeschool on a little slice of heaven in wild, wonderful West Virginia. Mandi loves coffee, chocolate, easy meals, beautiful things and minimalist spaces.
  • JessieLeigh

    I do NOT have any tattoos, though I’ve long had an idea rolling around in my brain. :) My husband has a tattoo on the back of his shoulder. He got it when he was 21, back when we were dating. I didn’t love it at first, but I really can’t imagine him without it now. (Oh, and for the record, he only has that ONE tattoo and he’s had it for 16 years, despite all the people who insist it’s impossible to only get one.)

    • http://lifeyourway.net/ Mandi @ Life Your Way

      Yes! Proof that another tattoo is NOT inevitable. (I think my poor husband was worried!)

  • Shaina Olmanson

    I personally love them, and I’m so glad you decided to do them because it felt right to you. I love this, and I hope everyone can find this sense of self and peace with it as they reach 30:

    “I think, however, that my 30s will be characterized by me being me. I don’t find myself worrying about other people’s opinions nearly as much. I’m quicker to admit to my hipster friends that I’m just not that cool, to my conservative friends that I fall somewhere closer to the middle, to anyone who asks that I don’t have all the answers and my life’s not perfect.”

    • http://lifeyourway.net/ Mandi @ Life Your Way

      Thank you — for loving me despite the fact that you’re way cooler than I’ll ever be. And for designing my tattoos free of charge. :)

  • Sara Kilpatrick

    I think your tattoos are beautiful! I have a tattoo that I got in college. Though I don’t hate it, I do regret that it is something that is no longer as meaningful to me as it was then. Had I waited until now (I’m 34), I would probably have a more personal and meaningful tattoo instead.

    • http://lifeyourway.net/ Mandi @ Life Your Way

      I can see how you might outgrow a tattoo, especially one you got in college. That said, I think there’s something to be said for having a reminder of that time and how we grow and change. I’ve also seen a lot of beautiful “cover up” tattoos. Is that something that might work for yours?

  • Brandi Francisko

    I LOVE THIS POST….on so many levels. I think that this year (turning 32, also) it will be the turning point of living my life for me and my family. And not doing too much worrying of what other people think! Love it.

    • http://lifeyourway.net/ Mandi @ Life Your Way

      Thanks so much, Brandi! Yep, I think 32 is going to be a good year…for both of us! :)

  • Estelle

    I love it!!! Them?? My daughter (19 years old) just got a beautiful “There is always hope” tattooed on her left shoulder last month and it is so meaningful to her, to me, to what we went through, to the way I hope she will live her life!!
    I’m 52 ha, and I’ m seriously considering to get a tattoo for myself, something about having a dream and being the change (my own life mottos) ;-)
    I don’t care about what people may think, on the contrary, I hope they’ll read it and think about it… And it will be one more way to get even closer to my daughter <3

    • http://lifeyourway.net/ Mandi @ Life Your Way

      I love that, Estelle, and I love that your daughter’s tattoo is meaningful to her individually and to your relationship. I hope you get yours — it sounds lovely!

  • name

    My issue with wrist tattoos is that i can’t figue out which way they are supposed to face. I see from your picture that you have them faced so you can read them – just wondering if anyone will stare at your wrists trying ot figure out what they say! A freind of mine got a tattoo when her grandson passed away at 3 months old. Her’s says ‘Seth Anthony’ which was his first and middle name. The one on her left wrist faces her, and the one on her right wrist is ‘upside down’ so someone looking at her could read it.

    • http://lifeyourway.net/ Mandi @ Life Your Way

      You’re right — they’re “supposed” to face the other way. But since I was getting them for me, I decided to get them facing me instead. What a sweet memorial for your friend; I love that she got two facing in opposite directions.

      • Diane

        I got mine facing me, too, so I could see it.

  • http://www.Littlehousebigworld.com/ Lindsay S.

    I love seeing well thought out and meaningful tattoos. I think those words are lovely. I’ve wanted one the past few years now that I’m in my 30′s as well.

    • http://lifeyourway.net/ Mandi @ Life Your Way

      Thanks, Lindsay!

      I’m curious: what’s holding you back from getting one?

  • http://christinashaw.com TinaShaw

    I’m 38, have 3 kids (oldest will be 19 this summer & youngest will be 9 next month), have been married to my (16 years older than me) husband for almost 10 years, and have been debating a wrist tattoo for quite some time now. Ran it by my husband and his response? “Only if we get matching tats!” (What?!?!?) By the way, he does have a faded rose on his right upper arm from his army days in his 20′s and I haven’t had any yet! LOVE THE TATS!

    • http://lifeyourway.net/ Mandi @ Life Your Way

      How fun! You’ll have to come back and tell me what you get if you end up with matching tats! :)

  • Wendy

    Beautiful Mandi!

    • http://lifeyourway.net/ Mandi @ Life Your Way

      Thanks, Miss Wendy!

  • Amy Kennedy

    love them! When I graduated from college (2nd time) at 40, my gift to myself was a tat od a nautulis shell on my wrist. I planned it for over 3 yrs. One of the oldest animals on the planet (enduring, survivor), gains value with each whorl added (more valuable with age) and, although it continuously grows throughout its life, it closes off its past but carries the past with it while living in its (present) chamber. LOVE it and look forward to the day there arefewer negative sterotypes about ink.

    • Becky

      I so love the nautilus. So beautiful.

    • http://lifeyourway.net/ Mandi @ Life Your Way

      Oh, wow – I love that!!!

  • Becky

    I have been toying with ideas lately. I will admit, I am scared – will I like it in a year or ten. I do have many that keep coming up, mainly a puzzle piece – for my autistic son and a lightning bolt for my husband and son. Maybe you will prod me to get one. Thanks for sharing

    • http://lifeyourway.net/ Mandi @ Life Your Way

      I love both of these ideas! I definitely understand the fear that you’ll change your mind about them down the road. Whenever someone points out that they’re, my husband likes to point out that actually they’ve gotten pretty good at tat removal, especially for a small, thin-lined tattoo.

      But more importantly, even if your feelings about the tattoo change, I think we’re less likely to regret a meaningful tattoo than one gotten spur of the moment just because it’s pretty, you know?!

  • karen

    I do have a tatoo that i got in mi mid twenties, in the middle of an 8 year battle with burnout and depression. It is a happy face on my big toe. So if ever i am walking this earth with my head down, at least one ‘person’ will be smiling up at me! It s been there for over a decade and i still love it!

    • http://lifeyourway.net/ Mandi @ Life Your Way

      I pretty much love this – thanks so much for sharing!

  • kaye Herbert

    beautiful tattoo, meaning, & your transformation in shining the light God gave you! the Spirit did not open my eyes about Jesus being Lord until i was 21, & before then i was a wild child & got 2 very meaningful tattoos at 19. one is a small symbol my sister & i created to remind us of our infinite bond, similarities, yet also strong differences. we got them on our ear, toward the top. we still love them & are still bff. i usually only get positive comments (i live in Austin) & i tell people it was quick & little pain, just LOUD! :)
    my other tattoo is much larger & visible. it’s a design similar to henna with vines, a flower, paisley like leaves, & the ‘om’ symbol worked into it. it starts on my right hand & goes up & around my arm to mid forearm. it’s beautiful & people love the henna look & reddish brown color, & no one ever notices the om symbol. but, i do. when people ask me if the tattoo means anything, i tell them my testimony (usually the short version when in a checkout line! our the longer version if we are new friends over coffee.) at 19, it was a symbol of my beliefs & now at 30 it’s a reminder of my past, my sin, my struggles & how Jesus rescued me. i have thought of getting a new one that is meaningful for my life in Christ now, but so far God has not lead me on the right idea yet. inns also like this one to be visible & maybe a scripture. i just haven’t pinned down the prefect thing yet. my husband & want to get matching tattoo wedding rings for our 10year anniversary coming up & also want like a tattoo that goes together with each others. we live by this Dutch saying (my husband is Dutch) that translates as:’ no you have, yes you can get’ but we’d get it in Dutch, with him getting the first line, & me getting the last one. i jokingly said we should get it on our butt cheeks (haha!) & i think he actually likes that idea! we have some other ideas of tattoos but haven’t done one yet because they are expensive. we are pretty frugal & are saving for a van right now, which we desperately need. but one day!
    i can really relate to what you said about being more comfortable with who you are now in your 30′s. I’m still a mom of little ones & hoping to have more, so my identity has been thrown in the air, kicked & tested over the past 4 years & I’m sure that will continue as i surrender myself to the shaping of motherhood. but when i take the time here & there to get to know my current self & allow myself to like & think & west new things without unnecessary judgment, i find that I’ve changed & that i like who i am today even if its radically different from who i thought id be. im free in Christ & he made us all different to glorify him uniquely! thanks Mandi!

  • mackenziefoust

    I love tattoos, I have a lot of them. My favorite is of an angel holding a baby and it has a banner that says “it’s a child, not a choice.” It reflects my strong pro-life beliefs and it reminds me that God has intrusted my sweet children to me on purpose and He has a plan for them. I’m so proud of you for getting the tattoo you wanted without worrying about what others think. I think we all waste too much time worrying about what someone else may think about us. Blessings Mandi!

  • Brandy

    I have two my first was at the age of 34 a tribal on my foot & of I had a lot of backlash from family members about getting it! My second I truly wanted to be a conversation starter to share Christ or at least leave people thinking when they say it & a seed was then planted so I now have on my right wrist Saved By Grace.

  • Cinda Gillispie Brown

    I got my 1st tattoo at age 44 (I think). I love them. I had said to my brother one day how I’d love to get a tattoo. He said..for your 40th birthday I’ll take you to get it as a birthday gift. I couldn’t decide what I wanted and then unfortunately, my brother is in the Army, he was sent overseas. So after he got back….we went. I got birth flowers for my girls, my husband and myself. Turned out beautfiul. Then I had a granddaughter and I went back to Jay (my tattoo guy) to add her birth flower to mine. My grandma passed away so I went back to Jay and added a beautiful hummingbird to represent my grandma. Last year, my husband was facing some major surgeries. I went back to Jay and got FAITH, Heb. 11:1 put on my forearm. I just had a new granddaughter born 2 weeks ago so I’m going back to Jay to add her flower to my family of flower. (Flowers & hummingbird are on my calf).
    I have a few more I’d like to get. I want to get wrist tattoos done, on my other calf interlocking rings for my grandfather, my sister-in-law wants to get matching crosses. She wants me to design them and for my sister, niece, and my mom to all get). My mom hates them and hollers every time she sees mine. Everyone has their own opinion. :-)

    • Diane

      What a creative idea to have a bouquet for your loved ones so you can keep adding to it!!! I also want a hummingbird tattoo!

  • Sami

    My dad was a police officer and and very anti-tattoos. I have always found them intriguing. However, I just spent 2 days in children’s court for our little foster baby and I now see exactly why my dad was against them and I know I’ll never be able to do it. Sadly they do have a very strong assciotiation with gangs and crime and now it feels very personal. A nose ring, though, I might do. ;)

    I find yours tasteful and pretty though!

  • rosi59

    So funny that this came up just now. On Easter Sunday, the most important of all Christian holy days, our Pastor decided to preach on being Inked in Red, he even invited a tattoo artist to sit in our soundproof drum enclosure and tattoo in real time one of our members who volunteered. We have been receiving a little flak from members and nonmembers who felt this was offensive, who felt we overstepped our boundaries that the Bible calls for us not to tattoo ourselves, Pastor followed his heart and delivered an awesome message and the message was clear, we are marked indelibly by our Savior. I think Jesus would laugh at the hoopla. Anyway, I got my one and only tattoo at the age of 42, on my first Mother’s Day, see, I thought I’d never be able to conceive a child and I DID! So, her name is the only name I would ever want forever on my body so I have her name, Leah, around my ankle and at 45 I pierced my nose just cause I wanted to, I am now 55 and still wear my little nose ring as my little badge of chutzpa,

  • Paige Greene

    I am also 32 years old. I am a mom of 2 who works full-time as a school-based O.T. I have had this tattoo for about a year & 1/2 and I love it to pieces! It reminds me of why I am here & the lense I wish to use to view my every interaction. I have two others that I also love. My favorite of the three is in my right forearm and reads “My Sophia” also in my cursive writing. This one means more than I can explain here…but aga, it inspires me to live every moment of my day with love & intention. Happy living & loving, Mandi! Thank you for sharing!

  • Diane

    I got my first tattoo 4 years ago (when I was 57) and I love it!! Mine is an Irish Claddagh tattooed around my right wrist like a bracelet for my Irish heritage. I’m going to get two more for my Dutch and German heritage, but haven’t decided where to put them yet. Both my sons and my daughter-in-law have tattoos.

  • Sarah

    I have several tattoos that I got when I was younger but then had a ten year gap before my next one, which is my favorite. It’s a Christian fish on my foot with Romans 10:15 written underneath it. “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach Good News!”

  • Erin

    This is too funny. Just TODAY I finally decided I wanted one on my wrist, then panicked thinking it may not be Biblical. And also, may hurt. Ha! Thoughts?

  • Disquisitive Chris K.

    We have many adages in our house…and I have a few for me. The one that runs through all we do is “Live a life that counts.” Love the post. Thank you!

  • Stephanie

    I love them, Mandi. I’ve been thinking about it on and off since I was 21. I also want something small, beautiful, meaningful. Don’t know if I’ll ever do it or not, but I do love the idea and most of all, I 100% agree about being YOU. I feel the same way about being in my 30s, how much more comfortable I’ve become with being who I really am and caring less about what other people think. So good. :)

  • Mocksoup

    It’s about 2 inches down from my wrist. It pretty much means “Close mouth, Open eyes”

  • Cynthia Groussman

    I will be 58 next month. For the last 5 years I have had the same persistant urge to get a tattoo on my inner forearm. It will be three small whispy birds, signifying my three grown children flying off in their own directions, trailing the words, Dhamma Inicca. Meaning, Nature Changing. I went to a Vipassana meditation retreat and those words hit home, and went with my birds vision. While there, I looked into the sky and saw EXACTLY the same 3 birds as I had envisioned my tattoo will be. I cried, of course. :) I hope to get the tattoo done this summer, my daughter will draw the design for me. <3 ~Cynthia