Tattoos and Ghost Stories


A few months ago a dear friend asked me if I had anything I’d want to contribute for a collection of essays on Primary that would be both real and uplifting. I recalled a funny and sweet memory of one daughter as a Sunbeam and submitted it. Another friend of ours, Bret Wunderli, also submitted a piece. Both were gladly accepted by the compiler. However, the publisher, whose distributor is Desert Book, found our submission troubling and chose to omit them stating: “With Deseret Book distributing this book, we can’t include anything that hints at questioning Church doctrines. Even if it’s subtle.” This disturbed me. Not because my story wouldn’t be included, but because of the climate of fear that is trickling down from above. There is just so much fear. And it is escalating.  Nobody’s mad about the editorial decision, just really sad when something you intended to be bright and insightful is seen as insidious. So brace yourselves for our expurgated stories:


My husband’s family is very loving, very supportive, and very colorful. Literally. Seven of the ten kids have at least one tattoo.  And not just initials, or some Chinese symbol that is supposed to say “serenity” but actually says “brussels sprout.” They wear tattoos of bulldogs and Spanish skylines, Maori symbolism, and even the Little Mermaid. My kids adore these aunts and uncles and get fairly defensive when Primary lessons lump body art into the list of “no no’s” or signs of apostasy.

When Georgia was a Sunbeam, her sweet teacher taught a lesson on bodies being temples. When she got to the part about tattoos being Bad, Georgia jumped up from her chair and let loose that her family had lots of tattoos and they were good and pretty and in fact God LOVED tattoos and temples had art so why not bodies—so there! Her kind teacher quietly directed these 3 and 4 year olds to draw pictures for the rest of the lesson.

After church, this teacher found my husband and me and told us the story. She handed me the picture Georgia had drawn. It was a very simple sketch of a man in robes, beard, long hair. Clearly it was Jesus…with a large red tattoo on his forehead of a heart. I looked up to see how this teacher was responding. She had a huge smile on her face and told me she loved Georgia because she was so passionate and truly understood that the Lord loves us all.  I hugged her and was so thankful for a teacher who can teach the party line but did not need to shut down the opposition. 

“Why aren’t there any women in the Godhead?”

By Bret Wunderli

Several years ago, my wife and I taught the oldest teenagers in Sunday School. We had prepared a lesson on something else, but when it became clear that the students were unclear about the Godhead, we scrapped our lesson and taught them about the Godhead. (It should be noted that these young men and women were smart; the fault, we’ve always assumed, was in the teaching they’d received. That is, their teachers had always assumed that they understood the Church’s teachings regarding the Godhead. That was our hypothesis, anyway.)

Some years later, I found myself teaching the oldest Primary children. To say these boys and girls were bright doesn’t do them justice. Remembering our experience in Sunday School, I decided to teach them the clearest, best lesson about the Godhead that I could manage when the topic came up in the manual.

At some point in the lesson, Victoria raised her hand. Her question was priceless. She said, “Why aren’t there any women in the Godhead?” Slight pause. Then, with a puzzled face and a tilted head, she added, “I mean, there’s a ghost in there after all.” That class was not only full of smart kids; they were also kind. They respected each other. So when I tell you that everyone (including the teacher) laughed, it’s important to understand that we were laughing at Victoria’s wit and not at her. Victoria was glowing.

Here’s my answer to her that day: “Victoria, there are many people in the Church who will give you many different answers to that question. Here’s the real deal. We just don’t know why there aren’t any women in the Godhead.”

And there you have it.


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14 Responses

  1. Jenny says:

    These are great stories. I don’t understand the fear either. Kids are so innocent and genuine in their questions. Why can’t we as adults in the church also question and search for answers like the very founder of our church did, so that we can have better answers to give them?

  2. Liz says:

    HAHAHA! I love the idea of Jesus tattooed with love on his forehead. There is so much symbolism in that. It’s really a shame that your stories won’t be included – the book would’ve been better for them, I’m sure.

  3. EmilyCC says:

    I have to share a Bea story happened when Heather substituted in Primary and she asked the class, “Who is Jesus?”

    One kid said “Jesus rocks!” Another said, “Jesus is cool!” And, then, Bea said, “Who’s Jesus?”

    I love stories like those above and this one because they show that teaching kids and giving them a moral compass is messy and complicated work–for the adults and the kids.

  4. Anne says:

    I love these all over again. Bret’s very proud to be published on the ExII blog. As he points out to me “I’m a feminist.” Indeed.

    Love you and your colorful family, Heather. Especially Georgia.

  5. Colleen says:

    Many years ago, when teaching the Sunbeams, one of the four year olds in my class asked if Jesus was married. Before I had a chance to respond, another child piped up, “Well, yeah, he’s married to Heavenly Father.” I then proceeded to explain that Jesus is Heavenly Father’s son and our spiritual brother, and we don’t marry our parents. But it got me thinking about how we lump Heavenly Father and Jesus together all the time, omitting our Heavenly Mother while elevating the Son in all our discourse, especially in prayers. No wonder he was confused!

  6. Rachel says:

    Just this Sunday my sister text me that her seven year old son heard a lesson on the Godhead, when he leaned over to her and asked, “Isn’t Heavenly Mother in it?”

    The first story is also meaningful to me, because of another sister I have, who also happens to be quite colorful. She has had some hurtful things said to her by young and old members of the church alike. I wish she had a Georgia to defend her.

  7. Patty says:

    Sometimes it just seems like we are in the thick of thin things (tattoos). The less obedient side of me says, What about a CTR tattoo? Or three pierced earrings (C-T-R)? Never really thought about the godhead before. I have a bad habit of seeing references to men as gender neutral when I read. I can be Frodo, right?

  8. MDearest says:

    Thank you for the uplift, and for reinforcing my avoidance of the priestcrafty nonsense promoted by Deseret Book. You clearly articulated the problem with them as the culture of fear, of anything not promoting correlated dogma, that is entrenched in our church. It reminds me of Talmage’s description of the Pharisees.

  9. Ziff says:

    Oh, holy cow. I’m sorry these got thrown out. Excluding the first is bad enough, but excluding the second seems even crazier to me. Was there a “right” answer the DB people would’ve preferred the story had ended with? Was it the fact that you said “we don’t know” or that you revealed the fact that there might be disagreement among people about something? That is just completely ridiculous.

    I’m glad you shared the stories here, though, so those of us willing to hear of heretical ideas could read them!

  10. Lisa D. says:

    How could they reject a Heather Sundahl and Bret Wunderli story??? You are the best storytellers in the church, full of wit and beautiful symbolism.
    I guess that my story about Alex praying in Meryl Leahy’s class, where he prayed to not hate church so much, wouldn’t have passed muster either! Oh well.

  11. Lisa D says:

    We need to write our own book with true and real stories of our kids. It will be way better than the DB version because ours with be hilarious!

  12. Caroline says:

    Heather, I love this post, and I love these stories. Your one about Georgia and tattoos is priceless, and Bret’s is great as well. Funny, heartwarming, inclusive, spiritual — why, oh why, would Deseret Book not want them? Sigh.

    I agree with the above commenter. Let’s gather these and publish our own book!

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