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Identity Crisis

I am 36 years old now, rapidly approaching middle age.  The lines around my eyes are growing deeper,   but the laughter is deeper too.  There is a depth that comes with wisdom and error, joys and sorrows, loving and living.

Only two years ago I felt that I was having an identity crisis. I didn't know who I was anymore.  All of those goals and dreams I had 10, 15 years ago - well, they weren't materializing like I had hoped.  Life looked a lot differently than I had planned.

For one thing, I thought I would have a daughter.  Instead, God blessed me with two sons - of whom I could not be happier or more blessed with.  But it did take some readjusting to my original "plan."  I thought we would be living somewhere else, less "city-like," similar to where I grew up, surrounded by trees and space.  I thought we would own a sprawling two-story home, decorated to my heart's desire.  As for my job, well, I thought I would be working in ministry- getting paid for it, of course - and traveling with my family for fun speaking engagements.

Instead, life happened.  And it was good, but it was different.

With my husband and two boys, we have a small, rented house, paying thousands of dollars each year with no investment.  They share a humble room, go to sleep in bunk beds each night, with toys sprawled everywhere.  We live in the city, where the traffic never stops, the houses are close together, and we have to drive to find nature.  Our furniture is 15 years old, much of it from Craigslist or given to us by friends.  We drive two older cars that always seem to need a repair.  As for my job, well, I didn't intend on editing photos instead of getting paid for ministry - but it does pay the bills.  And the traveling?  Well, once a year we try to go on a road trip.

Life has happened.  And it is good, but different.

On good days, I realize I am so incredibly blessed. I see the hand of God on our lives, and I am thankful and content.  I know He has led us here, I trust that He has a plan, and I follow His leading.

On other days, I sulk and pout. I wonder if I'll ever get some of the things I have dreamed of. I feel frustrated, limited.  I wonder where God is in all of this, if I got it wrong somehow.

One perspective is of the Giver, and all we've been given.  The other perspective is of the Getter, and all I haven't gotten.

I think we have identity crisis' when we're focused on ourselves - on our identity - and how it is different than what we hoped for.  But that shows that our identity is wrapped up in all the wrong things- our position, our title, our image, our accomplishments, what we have or don't have.  And don't get me wrong - I still have identity crisis' every few weeks or months.  The second I start thinking about all I don't have yet, and how much everyone else has, and how disappointed I am, I feel like I'm having another identity crisis.

My challenge is to keep my identity so wrapped in Christ that I am no longer disappointed by what life hasn't brought me.  The "Me, Me, Me" won't be a focus, but the "You, You, You, Jesus" will be the focus.

I hope that in my next 36 years that I will have finally found the key to being content, to finding my identity in Him.

Those dreams I had for my life?  They weren't wrong, but some of them were definitely self-focused.  I'm asking God now to give me His dreams instead.

When the World is Falling Apart

Sometimes, when we hear of something terrible happening in the world, we want to know more.  We want information. We want to know why. We want to empathize with the people who are suffering.

So we turn on the television, the news, the radio - anything where we can get the latest updates, to stay informed, to be aware.

Our hearts ache, we long to help, we wish we were closer to offer a loving embrace and some assistance, even in a small way.

 ABC News
But it can also be distracting.  The very things we turn to in order to help us feel connected can turn against us. The pictures can get lodged in our minds, the cries for help can haunt us at night.  And we begin to fear....and to fear....and to fear.

How we respond is crucial, for little eyes are watching us. Little eyes that trust, that believe in good, that want to live life with freedom.

So is the answer to shut everything off and just shelter our children, and never let them know of the evil going on outside?  Would that be helpful?

As tempted as I am to turn on the news (because I am an information addict), the house is eerily quiet today.  My children do not know what has happened yet.  They are still at school, hearing stories and reading books, their minds in far-away lands of fairy tales and make believe.

What I do with this situation will also stick in their minds forever. How do I tell them?  How much should I say?  Should I show them the truth?

Yet I know that as a mother, it is my job to guard their hearts, to protect them, to shield them from evil as long as I possibly can.

So today, while they are 5 and 7, I will prayerfully consider these things. I do not want to instill fear in my children, but faith that the world can still be good, that people can still be trusted, that God will protect them in their comings and goings.  There will still be many occasions for them to learn about evil in the world. But for today, I may just shield them one more time.

And maybe, with the silence of the television and news being off, I can use that time to pray, because often I spend more time getting informed than I actually do praying for the situation.

If your children already know of this situation or you plan on sharing it with them, head over to Beth's blog at Home Stories A to Z to read her advice on How to Talk to Your Kids About School Shootings. As a former school counselor, she knows.

Becoming Mary

Mary, the mother of Jesus....We picture her as quiet, serene, with gentle eyes and a compassionate soul, depicted to us through paintings and pictures, through Christmas plays and nativity scenes.

Mary could have been all of these things. But I believe she was also a strong woman.  As a woman in ministry, I like to think of Mary as the ultimate woman in ministry. Not only was she meeting Jesus' physical needs, she was preparing Him for his future. She was meeting his emotional needs, training Him up the best she knew how. She was ministering to Jesus. 

Mary had to walk a fine line between telling Jesus what to do and also listening to Him. He had to obey her, but she also had to obey Him. She was to meet his earthly needs, while He would grow up to meet her spiritual needs. How does one learn to be the mother of the Savior?  There was no training manual, no mentor, no mother who could teach her the ways of raising a King.  I wonder if she ever wondered if she was enough?  If she could complete the task that God gave her?  If she had regrets?

Mary was so different from you and I, yet also probably so alike.

One of the character traits that stands out to me the most about Mary was her ability to block out fear and focus on Jesus.  

As a young girl, likely 14 or 15, she could have been afraid when the angel appeared to her and told her she would become pregnant with the Messiah.  She could have been afraid that Joseph would reject her, as well as her parents and society as a whole. She could have been afraid the whole pregnancy- of the unknown, of the labor pains, and of what would happen to her.  She could have been afraid when she was traveling, nine months pregnant, with no place to give birth.  She could have been afraid when the decree was ordered that Jesus be found immediately- his very life was in danger.  And Mary knew from early on that her baby boy would grow up to be murdered viciously.  She could have tried to shelter him, hold onto him too tightly, to shut him up inside her home, knowing that there would be people out to get him around every corner.  She could have become paralyzed by her fear.  But instead she trusted.

We don't know a lot about Mary or about Jesus' childhood. We first read about Jesus when he was an infant, and then again when he was 12 years old and was found teaching in the Temple.  But what we do know are the circumstances surrounding his birth; they were volatile times.  We also know from Luke 1 that when Mary was first approached by the angel and was afraid, she then immediately decided to obey instead of listen to her fear: “ 'I am the Lord’s servant,' Mary answered. 'May your word to me be fulfilled.' Then the angel left her." (Luke 1:38).  

In contrast, there are dozens of examples of Godly men who tried to run away from God when He told them what they were called to do. Mary, however, did not run, made no excuses, and simply obeyed.  She trusted her God.

For me, as a woman and as a mother, I want to become like Christ, first and foremost. But I also want to have this character of Mary - this steadfastness, this ability to put aside my fear and focus on my Savior. I want to be so transfixed on Him that all of the situations around me fade away because I trust Him so much. 

Also, as I minister to others, I also have to remember that my first priority is to minister to Jesus.  It can be easy to focus on ministry issues, task lists, projects and deadlines. But when those things overshadow the very One they are intended for, then my gaze is no longer on Him. 

This Christmas, as the busyness fills our days, let us remember to keep our eyes fixated on Him, and to put aside our fears as Mary had to do, because her love and trust for the Savior was stronger than the fears that could have distracted her.

Living In the Moment

I was recently talking with a wise friend who shared this with me, and I wanted to pass it on:

"Depression happens when we're living in the past. Anxiety happens when we're living in the future.  We need to live 'present-tense' in the now, fully immersed in whatever it is we're doing."

That statement really rang true for me.  We tend to live either in the past or the future.  For me, it's the future.  I'm continually thinking of things that I need to do, goals I want to achieve, or things that could happen.

Others live primarily in the past, wishing they could change things that happened, or feeling guilty.

It can be hard to live in the present.  Sometimes I feel like I'm living with adult ADHD, barely able to focus on the task right in front of me.  On one hand, I thrive on multi-tasking - but it becomes a problem when I can no longer focus on one thing well.

She went on to say,

"If you're doing dishes, do the dishes (focus on doing that to the best of your ability).  If you're in a conversation, be in the conversation (focus).  If you're doing laundry, do the laundry."  Focus, focus, focus.  For me, when I'm working, I need to work. When I'm mothering, I need to mother well.  When I'm studying, study.  Distractions will never go away, but I can still work on being focused on what is right in front of me. 

If we somehow learned the art of focusing, we could avoid so many spiraling thoughts.  We wouldn't worry so much about what people are thinking about us. We wouldn't dwell on our mistakes as much.  We wouldn't fret about the future so often.  Our minds might just be open enough to hear that still, small whisper of God that longs to speak to our hearts.

Jesus even teaches this concept in Matthew 6:33-34:  But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

This video for Ann Voskamp's 1000 gifts illustrates this so well. Take a moment to watch.

Mom Talk: Kids & Technology

How much technology should our kids be exposed to?  Do you set limits with your kids?  If so, what works for you?

Here is a short video of what has worked for our family:

Kids & Technology from Jaimie Bowman on Vimeo.

View Mom Talk Episode 1: Loneliness in Motherhood