Every year my church hosts a fall festival on Halloween. And every year we welcome close to 1,000 visitors. These are not people from our church. They’re people from our neighborhood. Some of them aren’t wearing very much clothing. Some of them try to steal extra candy when you aren’t looking. And some of them dress up like the devil.

Every year I am so glad they’ve come.

This year I manned the temporary tattoo booth. I dressed up like a tattoo artist, displayed my pumpkin and bat tattoos, and welcomed child after child.

What I hadn’t thought about when I’d signed up for tattoos is how intensely intimate it would be. See, as the tattoo artist, it’s my job to place the tattoo on the customer’s body. I lift my sponge to his cheek or forearm, push against the tattoo and her skin, water dripping, Halloween makeup running. I put down the sponge and place my palm against his hand or neck. And I hold it there for twenty long seconds.

For twenty seconds I held a child’s hand (a hundred children’s hands), a grandmother’s neck, a baby’s face. I touched complete strangers. I told them how beautiful they looked. How tough or scary. I laughed with their friends standing by. I looked in two hundred big, brown eyes and smiled. Every time I smiled.

Because it wasn’t awkward at all. It was beautiful.

I talked to a friend later that night; she’d taken over after my shift. I said, “It’s so personal, right? Putting those tattoos on people’s bodies?” And she’d smiled and said, “I loved it.”

Me, too.

Recently I heard a real tattoo artist talking about his craft, about how so much of what he does is relational. About how he spends hours with strangers, touching their bodies, making art of their most beautiful, tragic stories.

And I thought of God. God sitting beside me, me watching His hands, Him touching me, making art of my joys and hurts.

A long time ago God told the prophet Jeremiah to go to the potter’s house. God told him, “Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, Israel.”

I’ve felt that hand.

It’s the personal, lingering touch of love.

I’ve felt it in joy. In long lists of thanksgiving. In warm words from my husband’s lips. In hugs from my girls.

But most often I feel it in suffering. When I’m suffering the consequences of my own bad choices or the consequences of someone else’s. When I’m enduring what I didn’t think I could endure but find I can with Christ. When I’m pushed to the very edge of my comfort zone or fuse or patience. 

It’s in those moments I feel God’s hands pressed against me, shaping me, changing me.

And it’s in those moments when I experience God most powerfully.

Lately I’ve been walking through easier days, and truth be told, I’ve missed the intimacy I experience in trial. The other day I prayed about the house I’m selling, and I told God, “Obviously I’d like You to sell the house right now. But if You don’t, if it takes a long time to sell and the money gets tight, I’ll enjoy our time together.”

I don’t want trouble or hardship. But I rarely cower when it comes. Because I’m in His hands.