The tattooed garden on my arm is a celebration of the women who made me—a growing collection of flowers to honor the ones who have tended my heart’s soil in its many seasons.
The Queen Anne’s lace for the woman who gave me life and reminds me daily that it is worth living. Who taught me love in its purest form. She taught me the importance of having roots, about dependence and independence, and navigating the precarious balance between them. She taught me to notice need and work to meet it. To grow wings but also to have a place to land. To appreciate a quiet evening at home. I have her smile, her natural tendency to question and wonder, her loyalty, her elbows, and her love for knick knacks, dogs, and garage sales.
The ladybug nearby for the sister who I love more than anyone in this world. She teaches me about joy, about caring for others above yourself. She teaches me that the bond between sisters is likely among the most complicated and beautiful this world has ever known. She reminds me not to take myself too seriously, that not everyone wants hugs as long as I do, and of the power of a good sense of humor.
The violet for the matriarch that raised my strong and steady father. She taught me about consistency, about patience, about showing up. She taught me the importance of giving back and giving much—of yourself, your time, your treasure. She taught me to appreciate the gift of knowing where you come from, and of spending time with your people. To follow your heart. To appreciate tradition. To trust.
The gardenia for the grandmother I never got to meet, but who’s taught me that the love of a mother, of a grandmother, can transcend the line between life and death. That a legacy is made by kind and true words coupled with kind and true actions, and that loving others to the point of exhaustion is the most beautiful way to live.
The forget-me-nots for the aunts and grandmother who have worked to keep my family sane and safe. They taught me the power of a home-cooked meal and a well-wrapped present. They teach me that faith grows and changes, and that tradition can be deep and beautiful, not just routine.
The gerbera daisy for the mentor and leader turned friend, who took a confused and emotional crew of middle-school girls and formed a tribe that still feels like home. She taught me to apologize when I am wrong, but never for who I am. She taught me that a woman who loves Jesus does not have to be a church mouse— she can be a proud and fierce warrior for the Kingdom. She gave me permission to be myself before I knew who that was.
The wild prairie rose for the girls who grew up alongside me, who taught me about family. Not the kind you’re born into, but the kind you build. The kind that knows you when you’re a chunky middle schooler and loves you anyway. The kind that knows you when you’re in the middle of your seven-year crush and loves you anyway. The kind that holds your hand when you walk away from bad relationships and toxic friendships. The kind that will always be home.
The fireweed, often the first flower to bloom after a wildfire, for the most resilient woman I know. A mother of two who has held more sorrow than life should bring for any one person. She teaches me to turn to Jesus even when life makes no sense, and to use everything life brings to bring God glory. She teaches me that no length of distance or time can lessen a friendship formed at summer camp while singing Silent Night to our campers. That hospitality, when it’s done well, is welcoming the stranger into your home and convincing them they’re family. I am better for every hour spent with her.
And all of the ink flowers yet to bloom—for the awkward middle-schooler turned grown-up friend who inspires me to chase after my dreams and Jesus always. For the coworkers who became best friends and make Wednesday afternoons safe and sacred. For the friends who made Grand Rapids home before I was sure I even wanted it to be and who have consistently joined me in dark places until I was ready to reach for light.
To the women who made me—the permanent ink on my arm and a million thank yous will never be enough compared to the gifts you have given me. You teach me about Jesus even when you don’t mean to. You show me love when I cannot find the strength to love myself. You bring me truth when I feel surrounded by lies. You have built up this soul and this heart so that I can reap the joys of this life more fully than I could have imagined without you. I love you.
Written by Caroline Sterr
The Women Who Have Made Us
In celebration of Women’s History Month, we’re using this space to reflect on, remember, and celebrate the women who have come before us—church leaders, role models, mothers and mother-figures, and every other superwomen who have influenced and impacted us. Who are you celebrating this month?