Who Am I?

We often get asked identifying questions when we meet people, even in the Christian community.

What do you do for a living?

Where do you live?

What church do you go to?

While none of these questions are inherently bad, as they help us get to know a person, we have to be careful to not identify ourselves by our job or our location and instead by who we are in Christ.

This Wednesday, I didn’t publish anything. It wasn’t on accident, but it also wasn’t entirely intentional. Thanks to Tuesday’s small group, I was thinking. I was thinking about who I am and how I define myself and how I want to define myself.

For five years, I identified mainly as a wife. While that isn’t a bad thing, I lost a bit of myself when I failed to see the other parts of me. I’ve always thought I had to identify myself by my job, which is why I sought out “high level” positions–I didn’t think I’d be taken seriously if I didn’t have some sort of title. These things ended up clashing, because it ended up appearing I was choosing a profession over my relationship. When this storm hit, I felt like I had lost every aspect of my identity and I didn’t have anything to fall back on. Who was I?

A failure.

Incompetent.

Worthless.

But as I worked to pull myself out of my depression I realized I had to recreate myself (or go back to the base of who I was, really). And as I invested in my faith and my church, I began to identify myself differently.

Christian.

Loved.

Daughter of the King.

I started investing in myself then, more than I had before, finding out what I am passionate about, what my hobbies are, and how I see the world. When I did that, I saw that the person I had been wasn’t entirely who I really wanted to be. So I began identifying myself in other, new ways.

Writer.

Blogger.

Editor.

Pet parent.

Hufflepuff.

Friend.

Runner.

Beachbody coach.

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Belle & I on a stop along our road trip to Georgia.

All these new ways of identifying myself, from my faith to my external identifiers, have changed me for the better.

I was recently asked how my new job is going, and I gave the most honest answer I could: I have more confidence. It’s not just that I don’t have anxiety about always doing something wrong, though. It’s also that I am more comfortable and confident in who I am and my abilities. The job just made me see that this type of work is what is fulfilling for me and is what God has designed me to do.

So who am I? I don’t have a solid answer for that, but I’m figuring it out. So far, I like what I’ve discovered.

. . . . . .

Who are you? How do you define yourself? What brought you to that definition?

I Want A Refund

Adulting is hard.

If I had known it would be this hard when I was kid, I wouldn’t have wanted to grow up so quickly. I wouldn’t have desired the responsibility and “coolness” that came with being a grown up. If I had really known what awaited after college, I might not have been in such a hurry.

If I had really known what having a full-time job was like, I might have enjoyed my downtime more. I might have gone more places, done more things, on my days off. Now I feel like I have such a limited amount of time to do all the things I want to do. Now I’m tired all the time.

There’s a lot of things that if I could have known the future, I would have done things differently.

If you had told me this season, this hardship, would lead me to a new church, I would have never believed you. If you had told me it would lead me to new friends, I would have laughed (then cried) in your face. If you had told me it would allow me to grow in myself and my faith, I would have never believed you.

And yet…here I am. This season has caused me to do a lot of firsts and a lot of discovery (and re-discovery). That is how I know God is there–because even in this storm, He has blessed me.

If I had really known what all this was going to cost, would it have really changed anything? I don’t know. We can’t live in hypotheticals and unanswerable questions. But I do know this: I may not have known what it would cost, but I think I got more than I thought I would.

So maybe I don’t want a refund after all.

What Is Strength?

“Strength comes from doing what you thought you couldn’t do.”

Okay, so this is actually from the trainer with the Beachbody exercise program I’ve just started. She uses it to push you to give a little more in your workout, but it rings true for life.

If you had asked me a year ago if I would make it through this storm, I would have said “no.” Beyond that, if you had ever before asked me if I could handle this type of devastation, I would have said no. But the year and a half has changed me.

Because I was thrust into (extreme) discomfort, God had an opportunity to pour into me in ways I had not before imagined. It caused me to draw near to Him. A year ago was the first time I truly cried out to Him, and I have felt Him with me ever since.

This time last year I was a complete mess. I was so depressed I could barely function. I wanted to sleep all day, wishing I could just sleep away the problems. But sleep didn’t solve anything, and, in fact, it started to make things worse. So I pulled what my pastor once referred to as a “Hail Mary”: I called out to God more sincerely than I ever have in my life. And then I started going to church.

And that’s when I started to gain strength.

I was suddenly surrounded by people who I felt comfortable opening up to. I was talking and socializing, something I didn’t think I was capable of. (I had even told a friend of mine I didn’t want to make friends at the time because I couldn’t be a good friend because I was struggling too much.) I started thinking about leaving the job, and then I did. I gained confidence as I began writing more. I was talking more than I had in weeks. I still remember the first real smile I had after everything, and do you want to guess where it happened? At church.

A friend (let’s call her A) recently told me her boyfriend had expressed to her that he thought A and I would become close because we are both so social. I looked at her for a moment, laughed, and said, “I’m really not that social.” But it was then I had a realization: God had given me the strength to keep pressing on and to socialize when I had never thought I could.

So here I am.

A year ago today, I couldn’t even think about lasting all day outside let alone beginning a new exercise or health regimen. A year ago today, I was so distraught I thought I would never smile again. A year ago today, I couldn’t tell you who or what I was. A year ago today, I was not who I am today.

Today, I proudly call myself a writer. Today, I make plans with girl friends to go do things. Today, I can leave my phone at home without having anxiety. Today, I sleep because I am exhausted from a job I enjoy. Today, I don’t always have to force a smile or a laugh. Today, I can breathe.

I never thought I would be able to get through this. I am by no means saying my storm has passed, but I know I can stand firm in the storm because God is my strength. I have a mental picture of myself standing in the midst of a tornado, as it is swirling around me, but I am unmoving.

We battle what we do for a reason. I believe that reason is so God can use it to strengthen us, to make us turn to Him, to enhance the relationship we have with Him. If you’re in the middle of a storm, know that you will get strength as you press into God and He walks you through the darkness.

So, sure, strength in exercising is important, and you gain muscle by pushing yourself. But you strengthen your faith “muscle” by believing even when it seems like your world is crumbling. It can be scary, and it is not easy at all, but it is worth it.

 

Math Lessons

My dad is really good at math. Like can-do-it-in-his-head good. And of course he is–he’s an engineer. I, on the other hand, am not cut out for the subject. And it shows when I have to calculate grades.

When I was little, daddy would try to help me with my math homework. It usually didn’t turn out too well. I didn’t understand the material so I would get really frustrated, and then he would get frustrated with me because he didn’t understand why didn’t understand. But there’s one particular homework that I still remember.

In elementary school, every class would learn to count to 100 and then we would throw a big party. Well, of course, after we learn to count to 100 we continue on. I had brought home this homework, moving on from just 100, but little me couldn’t wrap my head around what came after 100. To me, it was 200. My logic was simple for a child: 2 is after 1, so 200 must come after 100.

My dad kept asking me: “what comes after one?”

“Two!” I would yell.

His response: “No.”

And I just kept repeating that 1 does come after 2. At some point, I ended up beginning to cry, and I stomped up to my room and curled on my bed. My mom explained to my dad that I didn’t understand what he was asking because my logic was different.

Honestly, I don’t remember what happened in between, but I remember daddy coming up to my room and the lightbulb eventually going off in my head.

. . . . . .

I passed a sticker on a truck today for the 101st Airborne and, though a particular person passed through my mind first (for unrelated reasons, really), this instance of doing math with my dad followed quickly. And for some reason I just thought: “if he had said what comes after zero, maybe I would have understood it quicker.”

My point is that we all see things in this world differently. We come to our conclusions in different ways. Sometimes we can take a “shortcut,” and sometimes we can’t. Because we all have different ways of understanding, it means we have to be patient with others when they don’t see things the way we do or understand things as quickly as we might.

I recently wrote a post about how we cannot place our expectations on someone else. This is similar–we cannot expect others to comprehend or process in the same manner, or even the same pace, as we might.

Sometimes–like in the above instance with my dad–we need to walk away from the situation, take a breather, and then come at it from a different angle. It may take time to come to a solution. What’s important is that you are eventually on the same page. It doesn’t necessarily matter how you get there.

Daddy has taught me a lot of lessons, and he may not even know it. Heck, I didn’t even realize this was a lesson until this afternoon. And then it hit me. He may not have meant to do it, but he taught me something that resounds through the years.

. . . . . .

I don’t know why this came to me so suddenly today or why it resonated with me so much. I do feel, though, that it came at this time for a reason. This knowledge wouldn’t have served me well as a child because I wouldn’t have understood it, and it wouldn’t have been relevant even a year ago because I hadn’t grown in the way I have now.

Maybe it came to me now because God has a plan for it.

And that’s the thing: God has solutions for every problem we encounter. But sometimes we are too busy yelling “logic” and “reasoning” and “reality” at Him to really hear what He is trying to tell us.

Maybe what He is telling me now is to be patient and start simple. And for once in my life, I am content with that solution.

Whoever You Are

Why are you so far from me?
In my arms is where you ought to be.
How long will you make me wait?
I don’t know how much more I can take.
I miss you, but I haven’t met you.
Oh, but I want to. How I do.
– To Whom It May Concern 
by The Civil Wars

. . . . . .

Anytime I watch The Hunger Games I end up on a binge-listen of the band The Civil Wars.   Their music is hauntingly beautiful. They have 2 songs on the film soundtrack, one with Taylor Swift and one on their own, and I love both of them.

So as I began my binge-listen, their song “To Whom It May Concern” off their Barton Hollow album played, and it really stuck with me this time more than any other. While it could have a few meanings, the one it had to me is probably fairly obvious.

. . . . . .

Telling someone you recognize change and want to get to know them as they are shows understanding and grace. It can take a lot of emotional energy and patience. In the end, though, it’s worth it. You learn to love someone for who they are, not who you think they should be or even who you think they are–but who they have created themselves to be.

This is something I am learning and trying to practice. I had a terrible habit in the past of telling people what I think they should do, how they should act, who they should be. What I’ve realized is I was placing my own expectations on someone else, and that isn’t fair. Because we are different people. I cannot expect another person to do what I would do simply because they are not me.

I want to stop doing that.

I realize this means practicing patience. It means showing grace. It means constantly checking in with myself to see if these expectations are realistic or not. But it’s something I am willing to do.

. . . . . .

So, wherever you are at in life, whoever you feel you are, do not be afraid to be yourself. Allow others in. Do not make the decision to cut them out of your life for them, even if you think that is what “should” happen because of whatever predicament you are in. Allow them to get to know you so they can make the decision for themselves.

They just may surprise you.

. . . . . .

Dear whoever you might be,
I’m still waiting patiently.

I’m not the same person. And that’s okay.

“A lot has happened…I’m not the same person.”
“I’m not either. And that’s okay.”

I very recently had an opportunity to speak my truth, and I learned something about myself in the process.

I’ve changed; I’ve grown. And that’s okay.

We can’t expect people, especially those we love and who have shaped us so deeply, to stay the same. We can’t even expect ourselves to stay the same. Life changes us; experiences change us. Our faith changes us.

A year ago, I would have been screaming and crying. Now, I can calmly respond with genuine interest. And I honestly found my interest was genuine. For the first time in a long time. I apologized for the way I acted in the past, because the things I said and did were not okay. This time, I said it out loud. And I realized my apology itself was genuine.

I had previously made excuses about my behavior–I was angry, I was hurt, I wasn’t feeling well, whatever. The truth is, no matter how I feel I have the ability to control my reactions. In an odd way, I’ve learned to do that. I’m not saying I’m perfect at it–I most certainly am not–but I’ve improved.

I have had students tell me they have Googled me and have informed me, usually in a tone suggesting nervousness at even mentioning it, they found my writing and/or my blog. I have had students tell me they have seen my Writer Interview with the writing group I write with and edit for, Coffee House Writers. A year ago, this type of conversation (if you could call it that) would have stopped me in my tracks, freaked me out so fully I would have been thrown off the rest of the day. The thing is, though, God blesses us all with gifts, and writing and editing are mine. Why should I deny a gift He has given me? I’ve now had an opportunity to hone that gift and to use it to speak to others. Isn’t that what His gifts are all about, connecting to others?

A year ago I would have told you I have faith, and things always work out, that I’d never had reason to doubt God, so I don’t. Here’s the thing I’ve learned, though: it is so easy to have faith when things are going fine, but it’s hard to maintain that faith when you don’t see evidence of hope. I have doubted–big time. I have yelled at God. I have cried out to God, literally sitting in a ball, tears spilling down my cheeks, speaking out loud. I have silently prayed. I have written my prayers. I have started and stopped (and started and stopped) Bible studies in an attempt to bring something, some feeling, back to my heart. I admit that in these moments, I have lost faith. But I have also found a church that has been helping me to slowly restore that faith through community, connection, and honesty. I have realized brokenness is real–painful, but real–but that God can guide us through it. I have realized we pray and worship in different ways, but God hears all of it. He designed us; He knows how we function. Because of that, He knows not only what will break us, but also how to heal us.

“I am, by nature, a positive person. I can’t change that about me.”

That much has always, and probably will always, be true. Even in the midst of pain, I hold dear to the things I choose to see as positives. Even small victories. I managed to feel well enough to give Belle a longer walk today? Yay, me! I wrote something for my novel? Score! I worked myself up for the absolute worst case scenario, including inducing tears, and the worst case scenario didn’t happen? Yay! (Don’t you love anxiety? Not!)

The point is, I may not be the same person I was a year ago–I may have experiences that have changed me, been able to reflect on things more fully, been able to dig deep and look at myself honestly–but the core of who I am has not changed. I’m a reader, writer, editor, crazy cat lady, crazy dog mom, crazy animal lover, Harry Potter nerd, lover of education, enjoyer of the outdoors. I indulge in afternoon naps and too many sweets. I love coffee and tea (I know, weird!). And a whole slew of other things. But I’ve also learned new things about myself. I used to hate running, but, now, it’s not so bad, especially running with Belle (though it still brings a bit of knee pain). Exercise isn’t entirely ugh-worthy (though winter definitely adds to the ugh-factor). I want to travel. In fact, I wouldn’t mind not being entirely stationary. I want to experience things. I want to write articles for magazines, I want to publish a book, I want to take lots of pictures…I want to have adventures. And I’m okay being by myself sometimes.

I’ve spent time getting to know this “new me.” I’m not entirely sure who she is yet, and I’ve had moments that I’ve been scared to death about it all, but, again, we can’t expect anyone–even ourselves–to stay the same forever.

So, if you’re worried you’re not the same person, don’t be. There’s always an opportunity to get to know the new you. (And be sure to let others get to know that new you, too.) If you’re not worried you’re not the same person…well, you’re braver and more advanced than I am, and more power to you.

Day 5: Learning to Navigate the Water

How did it go?

Today was meant to be a day of relaxation. For me, that means taking Belle somewhere fun for us to run off the last bit of the weekend. So, we went to a dog beach in Annapolis. And, boy, did she have fun!

This time we brought one of the new Chuck It balls I bought after the last time and a Frisbee. She didn’t care much for the frisbee, and I found she doesn’t like when other dogs try to take her ball (though she has no qualms about stealing theirs).

As I watched her run into the water and play with the other dogs, everything else in my head seemed to just stop. As the waves came in and out, I let the water wash over my feet, and I let myself feel it’s warmth. As I went out deeper to get the ball (because Belle was too intent on playing with another dog’s tennis ball), I found I didn’t care that I was wading in above my knees wearing my workout shorts. As her sandy paws hit my stomach when she jumped for the ball in my hand over my head, I found I didn’t care I was getting water and sand all over me.

And right then, I knew I was just in the moment and enjoying it.

I read an article today I found a little helpful: “Having Anxiety Does Not Make Me a Loser.” While I am by no means in the tech industry or a high-ranking official in an organization, something about this resonated with me. Maybe it was the idea that I often feel judged when I mention my anxiety or that I can’t handle a certain psychological stressor due to my depressive symptoms. I liked the concept he mentions about being an observer.

This idea came from the post “Dealing with Anxiety” by Karen Young. While I am sure I won’t get this right the first time around, it’s definitely something to try. It also pointed me in the direction of another article to help me cope.

What did I learn?

I learned that it is far easier for me to be present in a singular moment when I am with Belle. She makes me focus, and she helps me to see the freedom the world has to offer—because she sees things so simply.

In reading Young’s post, I also found one of the hardest lessons I need to learn: let go of the need for certainty, even if it’s just for a moment. I am praying for strength to let go of the need for certainty and to trust in God’s plans and His time.

But what keeps coming back to me as a lesson is that small change is okay, and it’s good. “Think of these strategies like drops in a bucket,” Young writes, “The first time you try them, you might not notice much…Eventually, though, the more you experiment with them and the more you use them, the more capacity you will have to harness the strength of your wild and beautiful mind and make it work more in your favor.”

“You will learn that you will always have what it takes,” she continues, “and that anxiety is a feeling that comes and then it will go, just like a bad weather day.”

And maybe that’s the best reminder: anxiety and depression will come and go like waves, but, like boats in the ocean, I will learn how to navigate the rough seas.