Wednesday, January 15, 2014

So You're 40. And Having an Identity Crisis. Awesome.

I've spent the last couple of posts wading through deep matters of the heart. Openly discussing the recurrent struggles of shame and perfectionism and failure and cluelessness in my life is no picnic. 

It's cathartic and needful. But it's no party. 

I've decided that January is kind of a bully like that. If ever there's a month I'm prone to descend into the pit, it's January. Perhaps that's why the god of serotonin sends the Golden Globes in January. 

Can awards shows be a means of grace? Probably not. I might be excommunicated from my church just for typing that. I'm not gonna lie though, couture gowns and cheesy interviews and funny people are therapeutic. Anybody?

Can this post just be about the Globes? Can I just be an entertainment blogger or lifestyle blogger? Food blogger? 

I'd love to jump genres right now. I really would.

But alas, I'm a things-of-the-soul blogger. Sometimes I wish I wasn't. Food and fashion and being funny sounds more appealing right now.

As I've been writing and thinking in recent weeks, as I've waded through messy introspection and prayed about what God has in this season for me and for my family, He has been kind to make some things clear. Not in a here's the instant answer to your prayer kind of way but in a the answer to your prayer has been here all along and now I'm giving you eyes to see it kind of way.

When you're teetering precariously on the edge of a pit, it's easy to focus on your shortcomings. It's easy to feel overwhelmed. It's easy to waffle between striving harder and giving up altogether. This is where I've been.

I simply haven't had the eyes to see or the clarity to comprehend much of the good that my life has yielded. January introspection has a way of narrowing my vision and only pointing to the good that's been left unfulfilled. 

Writing that out for others to read makes me want to run and hide. It reveals just how ridiculous and twisted and overdramatic I really am on the inside. Unfortunately it gets worse.

In the midst of all of this woe is me stuff {because all of that isn't enough grossness on which to ruminate} I've been seeking and searching for what I'm supposed to do with my life. 

Apparently I am twenty years old again. 

Don't misunderstand, I have plenty to do. In fact, I don't even get to all of the stuff I'm "supposed" to do. I am constantly overwhelmed with all that there is to do and yet? I feel the need for "purpose." Go figure. 

As if a husband and a home and three kids and a dog and kids at two schools and church and living in real-life community have no purpose.

But compared to what some of my former seasons of life have looked like, this season sometimes feels small and insignificant, even though I know that's not true. Still, on many days I have felt insignificant. I've oscillated between wanting to do more and wanting to stay hidden and safe. I still do. Maybe you do too. 

In October I read the loveliest book called A Million Little Ways: Uncover the Art You Were Made to Live by Emily Freeman. I say it's lovely because of its gentle voice and beautiful message. It's not a battle cry to get out there and do what you were made to do. It's more of a winsome invitation to live out your God-given design, whether it's in the darkness of night as you rock your sick baby or whether it's on a stage in front of hundreds of people. I've written about the book before and months later, I'm still rolling it around in my head. 

These questions of purpose and design and calling have always had a way of haunting me.

And so I wonder and pray, What does it look like for me, right now, in this little corner of the world, to live like an "artist," to carry out all of my roles and relationships in a way that's honest and unique and open-handed and underpinned with grace? 

I know that it first means doing battle with the voices of shame and failure and letting go of the idea that there is even a real "wagon of awesomeness" to begin with. It means filtering bad news truth through the greater lens of good news truth. 

Because I'm a Christian, it also means that I have to know who I am in Christ and because of Christ. This is a daily reorientation. Daily. Usually many times a day. But assuming I'm standing in this Truth, then what? 

What am I supposed to do with my life today? Tomorrow? In this season where I am no longer consumed with diapers and babies who don't sleep and lesson plans and lectures and homeschooling? 

God, what do you have for me?

It's not that I'm on a mission to find the will of God, nor am I afraid of missing it. I know that God isn't wringing his hands while pointing to all the clues and hoping that I don't miss his direction or mess it up. 

I believe He is sovereign. I believe all is grace. I believe nothing is wasted. I believe that our roles in each season of life help define our purposes.

I've simply felt floundery. {Dare you to tell me that's not a real word.} I've sensed a lack of intentionality and conviction in the everyday. I've not wanted to rush into opportunities but have instead wanted to proceed slowly and thoughtfully.

But in this slow and thoughtful process, I'm doing battle with fear and insecurity and doubt.

There are some things I know, priorities that are obvious. I am a wife. I am a mother. I am a manager of my home. And so thankful that I can't get fired for this one because y'all, I should so be fired. We should totally be under new management. I am a neighbor. And in all of these things I am called to love and sacrifice and offer what I have.

But that's kind of the rub. What do I have?

It's the weirdest thing, not having an annotated "job description" in black and white. I'm a fan of job descriptions.

Remember how I said earlier that God has opened my eyes to answers that were already there?

I received an e-mail from a dear friend.

I received another one from a stranger.

I received some unexpected messages from others I know but not all that well.

One after another over the course of the week, they came and with each one, I cried. 

They all carried the same message: Thank you. Thank you for what you've shared with me. It's made a difference in my life and I wanted you to know.

I told my husband that at another time in my life, this would have puffed me up a bit. But at this point? In this season? It brings me to my knees. I've cried a lot. I've marveled and thanked God because this one thing is crystal clear: God works in spite of me.

I'm a mess. I'm half-crazy on any given day. 

If you only knew. 

Yet even as I've lived and moved in my everyday life through my everyday mess and sometimes my epic mess, God has been living and moving with me and in me and through me.

Emily wrote a free companion guide to her book and on Saturday morning I read these words from the introduction of this guide, Seven Little Ways to Live Art. As I read it and re-read it, the answers to art and purpose and plans began to come together in my mind:

Learning to live like an artist means opening your eyes to where you live right now, to see who stands around you, and to uncover how you might offer what is most alive in you today into the life of someone else--for their benefit and for God's glory.

Those kind words of gratitude I received from others, they revealed that I was living as an artist without fully knowing it.

  • In the conversations with those around me that I never considered noteworthy.
  • In the books I recommended to a hurting friend.
  • In the posts I labored over and doubted but published anyway.

These things came about without fanfare. They flowed out of the everyday me in the same way that the things you do flow out of the everyday you. 

I wish I could just stop there but the truth is, that only answered part of the question for me. 

What about the stuff that comes less naturally? What about the bad stuff that flows out of the everyday me? What about the relationships and circumstances that tend to showcase the worst in me instead of the best? What about when your gifts seem to be nowhere in sight and you just want to climb out the escape hatch and let someone else take over?

I have a tendency to compartmentalize who I am. It's not intentional but it's a pattern that's been in the making for many years. I often save my best words or heartfelt encouragement or diplomatic responses for others but tend to dish up complaining and general slackness with my husband. It's easy to be funny and crazy with my friends but way too serious with my kids. 

Simply put, I tend to bring my best to those outside the walls of my own home and serve leftovers for those who mean the most to me. It pains me to write this but the life I live at home with my dearest ones is usually less. Less than artful. Less than the life I give to others. Less than I long for. 

Now that's a post in and of itself but let's just admit that confession is a needful thing. It lays bare our weakness and inability and invites God to provide. 

Like the scant offering of loaves and fishes that Jesus used to feed a multitude, this same Jesus says to me and to you: 

Bring what you have. Just show up and let me supply your needs. I am sufficient even though you're lacking. Your weakness is an opportunity for me to display my power and compassion. I am a God of change and healing and courage.

I long for a simpler approach toward living out my purposes. Not "simpler" in the way of easy because we're definitely not promised easy. But simpler in the way of grace and openness and letting who I am seep into every compartment. Simpler in the way of bringing what I have and acknowledging what I don't have and trusting God to work in me and through me.

So, back to Emily's quote. What does that look like exactly? It looks different for all of us, but I've tried to break down what it looks like for me. You can break down what it looks like for you. And by the way, Emily's companion guide takes you through this process over the course of seven days. I've just started my seven days but here's how I'm beginning to flesh out that introductory quote.


Opening my eyes to where I live right now. 

Right now I am a tired mom living with kids who need me. I'm a wife living with a husband who needs me. I'm a reluctant owner living with a dog who sometimes pees inside when it's raining and therefore needs me in ways that are wholly unpleasant. I'm a homemaker living in a house where meals are made and clothes are folded and counters are wiped.

I live in my neighborhood. I move in and out of places in my specific community. I worship and have fellowship at my church. I'm at my kids' schools. I type out thoughts at my writing desk. 

These are the places where I live and they help define my purposes, my "art."

Seeing who stands around me. 

My kids. My husband. My neighbor. My friend next to me on the bleachers. My extended family. My child's teacher. Depending on the day, it could be anyone. 

These are the people who stand around me and they help define my purposes, my "art."

Living who I am in a way that means something to them. 

Writing heart-felt words for readers who show up to receive them. 

Sharing books and stories with my own kids. 

Singing a crazy, made-up song as I brush his teeth and knowing that I helped turn his frown into laughter that sprayed the sink with tiny toothpaste bubbles. 

Being honest with a friend who knows me, telling her that I'm struggling and asking her to please pray. 

Remembering that the girl my husband fell in love with 20 years ago was prone to frequent outbursts of hilarity and being mindful to bring that back a little more. 

Knowing that I have to watch TV in order to fold laundry so that my most loathsome task becomes an excuse to binge-watch Parenthood and still yields clean clothes for the family.

French-braiding her hair late at night even though I'm tired. Because having pretty hair the next day means something to her and I can offer this.

Helping my neighbor hang pictures on the wall. 


Can it be that simple? 

Can a job description be this open?

Can I simply translate who I already am into the everyday I already live and let the mixture of the two paint my life's canvas?

It hit me over the weekend: I have let perfectionism and impressiveness and my own opinions sabotage my purposes, my "art." 

Nothing is small to God. And it may not be small to others either. What we offer is only small in our estimation of things. 

A few days ago I erased "Merry Christmas" from our chalkboard and wrote this instead:

I wrote it with the kids in mind. But perhaps it's more of the daily reminder their mom needs.

Our big expectations and big selves have a may of making that which is sacred feel insignificant. But God says whatever we do is sacred and significant. As we offer ourselves into the world around us each and every day, we offer ourselves to Him too.

So here it is, the prescription for my "identity crisis." {And maybe yours too?}

Show up as you are.

Bring what you have and also what you lack. 

Embrace what comes: the dreamed-for project and the disappointing results, the stuffed-up kid and the tear-stained neighbor. 

Give God your epic and your everyday. 

Step into your real life and live your story.

Related Books

Seven Little Ways to Live Art {a free downloadable companion guide} by Emily P. Freeman

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  1. epic and everyday...what a profound challenge to one who is having an identity crisis years before 40! :) thank you for your words, reminders to live today with excellence in a manner worthy of our calling as children of a great God!

  2. Again, I find myself wanting to cry at your glorious words. As I read this I could identify with so much of what you said. Most of it actually. This blog of yours is also your "Art" me at least. Thank you for an amazing post. Beautiful, heartfelt, truth in these words.

  3. I am having an identity crisis of sorts. Like you, I have children in school after homeschooling. But I still have one more at home for at least the rest of this school year. But those questions have been rolling around in my head, making me dizzy because I feel I no longer have a calling or purpose. I know I need rest right now, but I also will need money for my kids private school come fall. I am trying to be patient while I wait on the Lord to show me what He wants me to do. But I am so attached to my do-er lifestyle. Thanks for the reminders.

  4. Your words are encouraging. I especially like what you said at the end about "Give God your epic and your everyday" So good! Thanks so much!

  5. As I read your post, a verse I read just this morning came to mind: " . . . stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God." ~ Colossians 4:12. This can be applied to what you're talking about in this post. Sometimes as wives, mothers, friends, neighbors, co-workers, wherever our place is right now, we struggle with our purpose. And sometimes that purpose seems so, well, not so purposeful. But we must remember that wherever HE has placed us - changing diapers, monitoring homework, shuffling kids from appts. to practices or wherever, cooking dinner, helping a neighbor, encouraging a friend - this is where HE has called us. May we all stand assured in HIS will today wherever that may be.


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