What made you stand out as unique might be the thing God wants to use to show what He looks like to the rest of the world. What people used to tear you down is something God wants to use to build you up.
-Bob Goff, Live in Grace, Walk in Love, 19
Having that space ended up being a blessing.
It often didn’t feel that way.
It felt like sitting in a deserted park in the middle of the night, my dog curled up on my feet as I stared into the vast reaches of space and felt totally alone in the universe (well, except for Rufus). It felt like watching 95% of my music library vanish due to an iTunes glitch — all the songs I’d spent a lifetime accumulating that sustained me through every other crisis I’d ever experienced. It felt like losing my ability to focus and being unable to read, no longer having the option of immersing myself in other people’s stories when mine became too painful. It felt like not knowing how I’d meet work deadlines or whether I could concentrate enough to get through the day. It felt like thinking I had a community of people who loved me and supported me and would be there no matter what, and finding out that when my problems got too big for me to handle alone, many of the people I thought I could count on found my problems too big, too.
And it felt like looking into the cellar at the worst things that have ever happened to me and finally walking down the dark, creaky steps to confront them. It felt like having everything I’d ever used to guard and deflect and avoid the monster being lifted away from me, and I had to figure out who was left, who that person was under the Goth armor and the stories and the songs, who the naked, raw truth of me really was.
And it was the same girl who touched a unicorn. It was the girl whom God calls “beloved.” Who needed to lose her support systems and crutches to know how truly, deeply, fiercely loved she is. Who felt that love like electricity running up and down her arms one night as she watched wind blow through the trees.
That girl finally opened the trapdoor because she understood that whatever the monster had done, it didn’t define her. It wasn’t who she was. Who she is.
And now that I’ve looked the monster in the eye — now that I’ve named and confronted him and I no longer need the extraneous things to distract me from the fear of what I’ll find in that cellar and, most of all, of who it might try to tell me I am — I’m free to explore my identity.
While I’m not exactly rebuilding from the ground up, I am questioning a lot about who I thought and believed I was — and what’s me versus defensive coloring that no longer serves a purpose. New Orleans feels like a place another person loved in another life. I didn’t celebrate Halloween this year, and now I work out, which I always used to loathe. I’ve started to read again, but in moderation. Mostly, I’m realizing that who I am is a mixed bag: sometimes thoughtless, shallow, and narcissistic; sometimes kind, generous, and loving. I need neither to deny nor to be defined by my worst traits, nor to inflate or downplay the best.
I’m learning not to let other people define me, either. To still all those voices in my head that question and second-guess and gossip and gaslight. To hold to my identity as a child of God, a fiercely loved child of God, even when people treat me like I don’t exist or like my value rests solely in what I can do for them. To know, at the deepest and most primal level, that what I do for a living and which degrees I hold and whether or not I’m in a relationship don’t define me. They don’t reflect who I am.
And I believe that all this reflection and work and healing has left me not just a better person with a clearer sense of self — but it has positioned me to make better decisions. To seek deeper purpose in my career and to have more significant goals than simply to pay the bills while I write my next book. To be a woman capable of attracting the kind of man I want to marry and of being an equal partner in that relationship. To love the people around me, whether they’re friends or neighbors or colleagues, knowing that love requires thought and care and effort and isn’t always easy or comfortable.
And, maybe most importantly, to be able to offer love freely, because I know now that who I am doesn’t depend on who accepts or reflects or rejects or reciprocates that love. Who I am is defined by the God who has known and loved me since before time began, who has shaped the person I’m becoming, who has carved out those empty spaces that felt like loss but were really opportunity, really the places I needed to visit to learn how truly, deeply, powerfully loved I am.
[Grace is] God saying, “I love the world too much to let your sin define you and be the final word. I am a God who makes all things new.”
-Nadia Bolz-Weber, Pastrix, 50
I love bookplates. I bought the ones pictured above a few years ago from a favorite Etsy shop, and then I wondered why: I try to match bookplates to books, and I just don’t read much fantasy. But recently, when I remembered the encounter with my unicorn — who might look like a chestnut gelding to anyone else, but I know better — I realized these are perfect for the books that speak to me about the God who loves me. Not, as some cynic is thinking right now, because God and unicorns are both mythical, but because they both exist, and I know that because I’ve experienced them both, and they have shown me who I am.
How special, how magical, how cherished.
And so are you.
Walk forward into your life knowing how deeply, fiercely, and perfectly you are loved.
Don’t let who you were decide who you’re becoming.
-Bob Goff, Live in Grace, Walk in Love, 16