Kimberly Smith
August 22, 2023

“He tattooed me.”  This is a statement that a mother wrote to me in a sympathy card after my son Ryan’s death on March 22, 2021.  It had been a 19-month battle with leukemia amid Covid that left an imprint on many hearts and minds. Why would this mother write such a statement? Well, this story does actually start with a tattoo.


In early July 2019, my son Ryan Smith finished an incredible freshman year at East Stroudsburg University.  He was a stand-out basketball player due to his sheer size of 6’11”. A vital part of his success was due to his strong work ethic and desire to better himself daily in the weightroom, on the court, and in the classroom.  It took me a little by surprise one day when he called me from ESU and asked if he could get a tattoo.  I kind of chuckled and said, “Ry, you are 19 years old.  You are an adult, so you can make your own decision about that.  I just hope you really think this through before you go and make a decision that will alter your appearance forever.” 


Both of my parents died way too young of cancer, so he chose the cancer ribbon as a backdrop for the tattoo.  A tiger held onto the cancer ribbon to reflect Philippians 4:13. “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.”  This happened exactly five weeks before Ryan was diagnosed with cancer; little did we know how this tattoo would morph into his legacy.   


Ryan imprinted onto this mother’s heart his strong love for his Lord and his family as he battled cancer, and this is why her card stated, “He tattooed me”.  Though our situation may be bleak, God is still with us.  Philippians 4:13 provides encouragement because in our own weakness God’s power is the strongest. The “tattoo” of his love for Jesus in all circumstances of life lives in the hearts and minds of all who knew Ryan.


Another “tattoo” learned from Ryan: “1% better each day”.  Ryan became very sick with multiple infections and ended up in the ICU for 3 weeks early on in his treatment.  While there, he battled a rare condition that attacked his muscles and caused nerve damage. His chance of survival was 10%, and we prayed for a miracle.  God chose to show us the 1% better each day.  Ry’s daily goal was: 1% better than the day before.  His strength and will to fight came from God. Ryan “tattooed” a 1% better each day mindset on those who knew his battle.

BE Relentless

Another major “tattoo” that was forever imprinted on our minds was Ryan’s motto of “Be RelentlesS”.  When Ryan was diagnosed with leukemia in August 2019, the motto his college basketball team embraced was RelentlesS with an upper case “R” for Ryan and an upper case “S” for Smith.  Ryan’s cancer was relentless, but so was his work ethic and positive outlook on life. Included was Ry’s humble way, his lack of complaining or feeling sorry for himself, and the grace he gave to others.  His quiet faith was sprinkled throughout his journey. Ry fought relentlessly until the bitter end, and his RelentlesS strength has forever been “tattooed” onto many hearts.

tattoo his promises

Ryan’s journey left a spiritual & emotional tattoo on the hearts of those that knew him. We all need an eternal tattoo: God’s Word on our hearts.  Tattoo His promises so that the storms of life, like the one Ryan went through, don’t destroy you. A spiritual tattoo that honors God daily is to be grateful for what you have. Don’t take anything for granted.  Instead of saying, “I have to go to work” say, “I get”.  “I get to go to work.” Changing one small word can change your whole mindset.

ink up your heart

Years ago, Father David Jacobs was giving a homily at a kid’s camp.  He encouraged each child to etch Bible verses onto their hearts.  His suggestion was to start with just one verse such as 2 Corinthians 12:9 which states, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.”  Repeat it, meditate on it, and memorize it.  This is the beginning of how to tattoo scripture on your heart.  The goal is to “ink up” your heart with scripture.  “Ink up” your heart because you never know who you might “tattoo” along the way, just like Ry did with this mother’s heart. 

Share This Post:

Related Posts: