Identity is a scary thing. To be defined by a career, job, position, activity, place in this world, and a name can be claustrophobic. To simplify who we are in a few short words can be demeaning.
Daughter. Mother. Wife. Friend. Unpublished writer. Playwright. Artist. Ex-chef. Ex-teacher. Former foster mom.
Ouch. Some of those hurt. Former. Ex. I.e. failure.
If defining our identity scares us, then loss of identity is downright terrifying. Change. Ugh! There are mountains of self-help books and articles about change – changes brought on by new life, death, moves, loss, and new beginnings. Change is a part of life, right? So, why do we always find it so hard to accept?!
This won’t be a surprise to anyone: I’m weird when it comes to breaking normal molds. Including accepting changes. haha. I grew up embracing changes. I’d grown accustomed to moving every few years. I’m not afraid of new beginnings. I’m not afraid of making new friends. Fresh starts. Leaving spent situations behind. Like dropping an ex-boyfriend instead of remaining in a toxic friendship. Like saying goodbye to the snowy north so I can lay in the sun in January.
But leaving a dream? Saying goodbye to an identity that defined me? That’s different.
I’m as vulnerable and human as anyone else. I have no superpowers when it comes to changing who I am. I can’t shapeshift. I can’t morph into a butterfly overnight. (if you are one of these superhumans, please show me your awesomeness!)
Sometimes, it’s those of us with the hardest shells or biggest smiles who struggle the most. We need to put on brave faces to mask the insecurities we struggle with in private.
This year, I said goodbye to a multi-fold dream I’ve had for my entire adult life. This dream turned into my identity. It was how I introduced myself. This identity got stripped away two months ago. I’m referring to being a foster/adoptive mom, a mom of multiple children, and mothering a girl. (You can read all about this dream in my May 2022 blog Don’t Say It, Do It)
I loved that little girl in our home so so so much. I still do, of course. But things change. Seasons change. And sometimes events happen we have zero control over. (I hint and release some of these horrible moments in my last blog/poem, Fostering In Verse)
I’ve had a short time to process this. To pray. To mourn. To ask God for understanding. To ask why. To seek clarity. Sometimes we’ll never know God’s true reasons for events. Sometimes He asks us to live in faith. Trust His perfect will.
I don’t know why God gave me this dream only to have it lived out over 3 short months. I don’t know why it had to end the way it did. How it ended hurt me and my family so much that it erased the chance of continuing our adoption journey. It killed the identity I held as a foster/adoptive mom. I no longer have two kids. I no longer relate to half the friends I have. I’m no longer a mom to a daughter. And I probably never will be.
I hope I’m not depressing you. I’m not saying all of this to wear you down. I’m trying to paint the base of a picture. A stripped figure climbing a mountain. A person in only a bathing suit, lacking the gear to make it to the summit. They’re lacking because they just came from one destination – let’s say swimming a pool – and waiting to be given boots, a backpack, and pulling ropes so they can march ahead. Waiting to be given a new identity. Is this person a swimmer or a hiker?
This figure loved to swim. She’d dedicated her life to swimming. But it was time for her to stop. Not because the water was cold. Not because of lightning and thunder. Not because she’d prune from exposure. It was simply time for her to get out. Maybe she needed to help someone else. Maybe she needed to walk so her muscles wouldn’t become water-logged. Maybe there was a storm coming she didn’t know about. Maybe she simply needed to leave the pool because God has something greater for her on the mountaintop.
Even though I’ve lived many places and held several careers in my life, I find it difficult to let go. I’ll still talk about my life as a chef even though I haven’t been one for seven years. I call myself a playwright even though I haven’t written a play in two years. I reference my time living in New York City even though I only lived there during culinary school. And I still say “I have one son, but I used to have a foster daughter…” when I meet new friends. It’s okay to remember. But I need to take my own advice and not let my past define who I am at present.
Our past shapes who we are, but our past doesn’t belong in the future. Swimming helped shape my muscles to climb, but if I remain in that wet bathing suit I’ll slip and fall on the rough mountainside. And catch a cold on the snowy peak.
I encourage you all to read Ecclesiastes 3. ALL of chapter 3. So many preachers quote the “A time to live, a time to die, etc. etc.” portion of Ecclesiastes 3, but there’s so much more the author, Solomon, had to say. He goes on to write how hopeless time and loss look to the human eye. How on the surface we can’t see what the future holds. “What does one really get from hard work? … Who knows if the human spirit rises upward and if the spirit of the animal goes down into the earth? … For who can bring people to see what will happen after them?” he asks. His laments close with these beautiful statements:
“Everything is appropriate in its own time. But though God has planted eternity in the hearts of men, even so, many cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end.” (verse 11)
“I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. God does it so that people will fear him.” (verse 14)
“So I saw that there is nothing better for men than that they should be happy in their work, for that is what they are here for, and no one can bring them back to life to enjoy what will be in the future, so let them enjoy it now.” (verse 22)
Read the whole chapter right now if you’re struggling. I know it helped me to understand that God has a purpose even when we don’t see it – and may not see it in this lifetime. It’s okay for me to enjoy the seasons as they come, and it’s okay for me to let go because “no one can bring me back to life to enjoy what will be in the future.” I can’t enjoy the mountaintop if I’m still longing for the swimming pool.
And who knows what’s on the other side of the mountain? It might be the ocean where I can use my swimming skills once again! But in a completely different and new way. Because I’m different. I’ve grown. I’ve conquered mountains with God’s mighty help. The past has helped make me anew. But it doesn’t hold me back either.
So, what am I?
Am I a mother? Am I a chef? Am I a writer? A swimmer? A hiker?
I’m Laura. I’m a woman destined for whatever God plans for me. I used to be many things, and I currently am many things, and I will be many new things. But those things don’t define who I am. Because if I let those words define me, I’ll have identity crisis after identity crisis when new seasons come and go.
Instead, I’ll let my God-given identity define me:
I’m a daughter/child of light (Ephesians 5:8). I’m a light and city on a hill (Matthew 5:14). Called by God with everything I need (2 Peter 1:3). Chosen by God (Revelation 17:14) A saint (Romans 1:7) A servant and witness (Acts 26:16) A steward to help others (1 Peter 4:10) A soldier (2 Timothy 2:3) A powerful witness (Acts 1:8) Christ’s handiwork, created to do good works (Ephesians 2:10) I’m victorious (1 Corinthians 15:57). I have a glorious future (Romans 8:18). A citizen of heaven (Philippians 3:20). An ambassador for Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:20).
What identity have you let define you? What season of your life do you need to let go of? Just because it was good for your past, doesn’t mean it’s good for your future. Please join me on this journey to enjoy whatever life God has given us. Because THAT can be our defining moment. No longer lost, but found.