Yep, I jumped on the bandwagon and got a tattoo. Don’t worry, I waited, per my parents instructions (demands? threats?), until I was financially independent to make the decision to put permanent ink on my body. I’ve had quite a few people ask me what it means, the “I AM Mountains” tattoo, so here’s my attempt to explain at least one side of the story.
Really, it begins with a little girl named Alyssa Jane. Alyssa and I were best friends. She was my neighbor for three of the greatest years of my childhood. She even became an honorary Trotter Court Kid, despite technically living on Sulky Court. Together, our imaginations were free and beautiful and untamed. Fear had no place in our world of Lizzie McGuire dance parties, custom designed beanie baby sleeping bags (which my mother taught us to sew), and many, many sleepovers filled with laugh attacks and late night whispers about our fourth grade crushes.
Alyssa taught me so much in those three years. She forgave me after I said or did unkind things. She introduced me to the world of imaginary friends. She reminded me about Jesus and how much he loved me. And she lived life with so much joy that I decided I could never live any other way.
At the end of fourth grade, I found out that my family would be moving to Germany. On nearly my last day in Virginia, Alyssa and I ate peanut butter and honey Ritz crackers. Her mother took a polaroid photo of us at the table, put it in a little frame for me to take with me, and then we said good bye.
Just like that I was off on another adventure with my family, certain that even the entire Atlantic Ocean was not enough space to end our friendship, or any of the friendships I was leaving behind.
A few months after settling into my new home in Nattenheim, Germany, I got the news. I still remember my mom asking me to come back to her bedroom so she could share something with me. I can’t even imagine how hard that was for her, to have to figure out how to tell her ten-year-old daughter that her best friend had cancer and was probably going to die.
For the first time in a long time I felt afraid. My beautiful Alyssa, the sweetest, most loving, caring, genuine girl I had ever met, had a disease I couldn’t even comprehend. And I didn’t know if I would ever see her again. Ever.
We talked on the phone often. I don’t even want to know what our phone bill looked like (this was before the days of FaceTime or Skype). We laughed and cried and shared our lives together from a distance, whenever Alyssa was well enough. I asked a lot of questions and Alyssa always answered them if she could. She taught me about chemotherapy and radiation and IVs and hospitals and nurses. Alyssa always reassured me that she knew that God was fighting this fight for her, and that she would be healed, one way or another. We talked a lot more about Jesus and his love.
I can’t pretend that any of this was easy. Some nights I would hang up the phone and cry after pretending to be okay so I could encourage Alyssa. I remember screaming in my pillow at times. Asking God a million times why he was letting this happen. Telling him that I actually hated him for letting this happen. Wishing I could take her place because she deserved to live. Wondering if I would ever get to see her beautiful, joyful face again.
My mom is a collector of wonderful, meaningful things. She has this wall hanging with a poem on it, a poem I don’t think I noticed most of my childhood. I remember clearly the moment I first really read the poem, it’s words touching a part of my heart that hadn’t needed touching until I discovered I lived in a world where best friends get cancer. I wrote down my favorite section of the poem on an index card, folded it up, and put it in my wallet (which at the age of ten was filled with…not much).
I was regretting the past
And fearing the future.
Suddenly my Lord was speaking:
“My name is I AM.” He paused.
I waited. He continued,
“When you live in the past
With its mistakes and regrets,
It is hard. I am not there,
My name is not I WAS.
When you live in the future
With its problems and fears,
It is hard. I am not there.
My name is not I WILL BE.
When you live in this moment,
It is not hard. I am here.
My name is I AM.”
My name is I AM.
The God of the universe called himself I AM in his meeting with Moses to communicate his power and authority over all things, but, I think, also his presence, his omniscience, his love for his people, and his determination to be with us. His love for me, and his love for Alyssa, is great. He remained with her through the pain, the sickness, the treatments. He stayed with me as I lost my best friend to this horrible disease. He is. He is here. He is with us. His name is I AM.
This poem offers me the same comfort today as it did thirteen years ago (I still carry it in my wallet). It has been a constant reminder that God is near and with me, enduring it all and rejoicing in it all by my side. He isn’t far off, he isn’t distant. He isn’t stuck in the past or waiting for me to catch up in the future. He’s just here. With me. His name is I AM.
He walked through Alyssa’s front door with me when I (finally) got to visit her in her home on Sulky Court after returning from Germany. He sat with me when my mom had to tell me that Alyssa had gone to be with him in heaven only a few weeks later. He comforted me when I didn’t know how not to tell Alyssa about my day. He cried with me when I felt lost in sadness.
And he has never left my side. He never will. His name is I AM.