Students’ tattoos express love, hope, and a desire to be marked as belonging to God

Tattoos have been around since the Stone Age. They’ve indicated tribal affiliation, decorated warriors, and marked the passage from childhood to adulthood. Some commemorate a celebration, and others, a tragedy. Among today’s young people, tattoos are commonplace. An increasing number of Northwestern students regard them as just another way to express what’s important in their lives.

Praying hands
Kori Heidebrink, Spirit Lake, Iowa, already has the Luther rose on her ankle and is thinking of getting “Pray” tattooed on her wrist. She says, “Writing on my hands has always been my way of reminding myself to do something.”

Strong connection
“He must become greater; I must become less.” Brianna Hobbs, Kingsley, Iowa, and her mentor, Jess (Regan ’08) Knecht, Omaha, have matching tattoos of the Scripture reference, John 3:30. It reminds the sisters in Christ—and future personal training business partners—of who matters most.

Spread the love
A quote by St. Teresa of Avila, “It is love alone that gives worth to all things,” inspires Samantha Bender, Coon Rapids, Iowa, to cherish God’s love and spread it around. When she decided to get a tattoo after months of thought, she inked the saint’s words into her shoulder.

Armed with encouragement
The “3” on Isaac Horigan’s index finger reminds him that he’s third, behind God and others. First Corinthians 2:9, inked in Greek on his forearm, helps him remember to trust God. The tree on the back of his arm is carved with Jeremiah 17:7–8, encouraging the Ventura, Calif., native to remain rooted in his faith. “Be a moon” on his bicep reminds him to reflect Christ’s light.

Showing Jesus
Psychology and religion major Taylor Culver, Sioux City, inked an optical illusion of “Jesus” on her wrist after hearing her pastor wonder why Christians don’t advertise Jesus the same way they advertise Nike. “My tattoo reminds me I’m called to imitate Christ and be him to others.”

Body paint
Possibly the most tattooed student at Northwestern, Daisha Richardson, an art major from St. Louis, sees her body as just another canvas. Among her 10 self-designed tattoos is a word search on her shoulder that includes the names of her immediate and extended family members.

Symbol of commitment
After drawing a Jesus fish on her ring finger, Jennie Jansen, Oak Harbor, Wash., decided to make it permanent. “It’s a symbol of my commitment to be faithful to God,” she says.

Savoring life
Meghan Schuster, Yankton, S.D., never wants to be controlled by an eating disorder again. Her foot tattoo—the National Eating Disorder Awareness symbol behind a cross—reminds her of what she’s overcome with God’s help.

Goal tending
Before transferring to Northwestern, Tyler Schwarz, Antigo, Wis., attended a state school where his shoulder tattoo—a cross with “HH” (for “Honor Him”) and a basketball—got a lot of attention, especially on the court. “A teammate would ask what my tattoo stood for, and it would turn into a 15-minute conversation about my faith,” he says.

Keeping Grandma’s faith close
Rachelle Cole’s grandma said, “Oh my!” when Cole told her she intended to honor her grandma’s faith with a tattoo on her ribs. Her grandma’s handwritten “faith” is incorporated with several other words and symbols that guide the Council Bluffs, Iowa, education major.

Wrestling with doubts
Isaac Ruiz, Comer, Ga., feels he proved himself to doubters who didn’t believe he could make it as a college student-athlete. The wrestler tattooed “Philippians 4:13” on his side so he’d never forget where his strength comes from.

Royal stamp
Theatre majors Katie Shepard, Des Moines, and Emily Wohlers, Denison, Iowa, begin and end every production shouting “To the King!” The phrase comes from a book theatre professor Karen Bohm Barker shares with every student who participates in theatre at Northwestern. “It’s a reminder of the reason behind everything we do,” says Wohlers, “not just in theatre but in all of life.” The friends got their shoulder tattoos together. “I know you should never get a tattoo you might regret someday,” she says, “but I’ll never regret—or forget—my Northwestern theatre family.” 

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For Mama
Brothers Pedro and Mario Ruiz got matching tattoos to remember their mom, who died just before Mother’s Day in 2001.

Heemstra legacy
Seniors Taylor Biggs, Lincoln, Neb.; Isaac Hendricks, Grinnell, Iowa; and Bryent Slagter, Lake Lillian, Minn., met as freshmen in Heemstra Hall. Even though the beloved residence hall is no longer standing, they’ll remember what they learned there about brotherhood and true community every time they look at their matching “h*” tattoos.

Intercultural communication
Taylor Bodin got the Japanese symbols for determination, courage and strength inked on his back when he was in high school, and their meaning continues to motivate him as an athlete and a Christian. The education major from Clara City, Minn., may get a wedding band tattoo when he marries next year.

Mom knows best
Frankie Eszes’ mom said “No tattoos!” when she sent her daughter from Santa Maria, Calif., to Iowa for college. But during a trip to New York, Eszes and her sister decided to ink something else their mom said on their feet: If it’s the last dance, dance backwards. “It’s from a book my mom often read to us when we were little,” she says. “My mom even wrote, ‘Remember, Frankie, always dance backwards,’ in my senior yearbook. Now she knows I won’t forget.”

Seize the day
Tiffany Hach, a theatre major from Dysart, Iowa, has three tattoos, including “Carpe Diem” on her foot, which reminds her with each step to make the most of every day.

Faith, hope, love
Among Alli Halter’s six tattoos are “love” on her foot, “creideamh” (Irish for “faith”) on her wrist, and “Hebrews 6:19” and an anchor (representing hope) on her collarbone. The Littleton, Colo., freshman’s “creideamh” tattoo also connects her to her sister and mom, who have the Irish words for “hope” and “love” inked on their wrists as well.

Intentional ink
Heather Heilman, Mound, Minn., enjoys spontaneity, but her guiding philosophy is to be intentional—about decisions, relationships and her faith. She’s so set on being intentional that she inked the phonetic version of the word, “in-‘ten(t)-sh?-n?l,” on her wrist. “Getting a tattoo is, itself, intentional,” she says, “and seeing it every day reminds me of how I want to approach life.”

Brotherly love
Jeffrey Hubers, Platte, S.D., and Nate Johnston, Williamsburg, Iowa, sometimes say, “Agape, bro,” as a greeting that reminds them to try to love others unconditionally, the way their heavenly father loves them. When they go their separate ways after graduation this spring, they’ll have their matching “AGAPE” shoulder tattoos as a permanent reminder.

Be still, and know that I am God
A week after Kelsey Martinez inked Psalm 46:10—her aunt’s favorite verse—on her heel, her aunt died from cancer. The verse, which comforted her aunt, continues to give peace to the Sibley, Iowa, junior.

Heartfelt art
One of Jesse McCann’s three tattoos is the Chinese symbol for “twin” over his heart. It’s accompanied by 2 Corinthians 4:16–18 and the name of his twin brother, who died when they were born. “It makes me feel like he’s still with me,” says the education major from Greenfield, Iowa.

Lasting impression
Sophomore Ricky Ortiz, Covina, Calif., has a cross tattooed on his bicep, strewn with a ribbon that memorializes Lupe Hinojos and Fidel Senteno, two great-grandparents who had a big influence on him while he was growing up in Covina, Calif.

Forever love
Newlywed Megan (Bruxvoort) Pingel will always remember the Scripture read at her wedding, Romans 12:9–21, because it’s tattooed on her foot, along with the infinity symbol and the word “love.” [photo]

Conversation starter
When people notice Alyssa Ronchak’s wrist tattoo—the word “Remember” in Greek—it sometimes sparks a conversation. The Eagan, Minn., psychology major chose the word because it comes up so often in the Old Testament. Like the Israelites, “I often forget God’s faithfulness,” says Ronchak.

Grand gesture
Mandi Sahn’s grandmother always wanted a tattoo but never got one. When she died, several family members, including the Lakewood, Calif., sophomore, got tattoos to honor her. Mandi’s, on her waist, is a cross with a musical note to remember her grandma’s strong faith and beautiful singing.

A blessed memorial
The first part of Proverbs 10:7 says, “A good and honest life is a blessed memorial” (The Message). The verse reminds Caiti Shaw, a junior from Oceanside, Calif., of her late grandma and her best friend, Kylie, who died in junior high. “I’d been thinking of getting a tattoo since Kylie died,” says Caiti, whose lower back is inked with a cross, the verse and purple daisies (Kylie’s favorites). “I feel like my grandma and Kylie are always a part of me now.”

Permanent marker
Maria Stanton, Antigo, Wis., wasn’t planning to get a tattoo. But while working as a camp counselor one summer, she allowed a coworker to draw a Jesus fish and cross on her arm with a Sharpie. As it started to fade, Maria kept retracing it. After camp, on impulse, she decided to make the symbol permanent, moving it to her foot.

Faith at work
Taylor Studer’s “Let go, Let God” tattoo on her foot matches the words her dad has painted on the back of his work trailer. “I feel like my dad’s display of his faith has gotten him a fair amount of business,” says the Spencer, Iowa, social work major.

Tough as nails
Jennifer Van Dyk’s tattoo on the back of her neck—the Jesus fish made from bent nails, surrounding “Phil. 4:13”—is a daily reminder to the Sioux Falls education major that she can do all things through Christ who strengthens her.

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