Just who do you think you are?!

Recently I’ve had opportunity to follow an interesting line of thinking.  A close friend gave me a glowing compliment on my adult children and how well they “turned out”.  His compliment was accompanied by another comment, expressing surprise that they had were successful and well-adjusted.  I wasn’t offended, but I was amused.  I wanted to say, “Well, of course they turned out great!”  All my friend meant was that they had some obstacles and hardships that they worked through while growing up.  Children of divorce often have problems with self-esteem and usually carry some emotional baggage as a result of their broken home.  And I’m sure both I and my children do carry a little extra “baggage” but I choose to believe we’re in better condition from lifting those weights.

I discussed this with one of my sons the other day and he mentioned that someone had mentioned to him that he had “come a long way.”  That friend was referring to the years when my son was driving a beat-up old truck and struggling to make ends meet.  That son is now following his dream as an architect, experiencing a fulfilling life with his new wife in Chicago.   I laughed with him about the old truck that is barely a memory now.  I told him, “You were more than that truck!  What you drove did not define you!”

That conversation started my thoughts in a direction that is so exciting!  Most of us go through life being defined by one thing or another.  Or by many things.  Through the years I have often introduced myself (and still do) as Gene Huff’s daughter.  For years I was Bill Zawko’s wife.  Forever I will be the Zawko kids’ mother.  And now I have a new label….I’m Ella, Danny, and Harper’s Grammy!  That’s one of my favorite designations!  But I am more than any of those.  I’ve also been “defined” by circumstances…many of them were out of my control.  Even now, I hate to fill out forms that ask marital status because I have to check “divorced”.  By the way, why don’t those forms just let you choose between “married” or “single”?  Why do people have to mark “divorced” or “widowed”?  It’s enough to live with the situation without having to testify to it every time you fill out a form!

But, back to my subject of being defined by circumstances….   The things that I have faced or am facing are not what defines me.  I am not defined by my marital status, my salary, or my abilities (or lack thereof).  I am not defined by the car I drive, the house in which I live, the job or career I hold, or even by the way I look.

So what does define me?  Who am I?  I think the answer is two-fold:

  • I am who God says I am!
  • I am who I believe I am!

And who does God say I am?  Well, there is no way I have space in this limited blog to enumerate all that God says I am (and you are).  But just to name a few…God says:

I am a Child of God.   I am free from sin’s power over me.  I am holy.  I am a new creation.  I am a victor.  I am an enemy of Satan.  I am saved and called by God.  I could name many more but these can give you the idea of who God says I am and you are.  When I look in the mirror, it’s God’s will for me to see myself as He sees me….a child of God, and all that accompanies that designation.

If God says I am all these, and scores of other things, then why does the second part matter?  Does it really count who I believe I am??? Yes!  It matters!  It’s not enough that God says you are a victor if you don’t believe it yourself and step into and live the victory!   So when God says I am “more than a conqueror” I only put into practice and fulfill God’s plan for me when I agree with God and affirm in my own mind and spirit that I am who God says I am.

So, let’s stop being defined by our circumstances.  Begin to believe what God says about you!  I’m not a teacher who encourages the easy-believism doctrine of “name it, claim it”, but I do know that God’s will for His children is that they know what God says and that they agree with what He says.  I love that chorus that cries, “Whose report will you believe?? We shall believe the report of The Lord!”   Life is a series of choices.  I choose to allow God to define who I am in Him!

My Journey to a Better Me

Early in the summer I began a new journey. Although I’m pretty well traveled, this was a journey I’ve needed to take for a long time. It’s a journey of self-knowledge, self-development, and self-improvement. You might be thinking, “Well, there’s a lot of SELF in there!” And it does sound that way. I’m trying to think of a more spiritual way to express this project and the old Army slogan comes to mind….”Be all that you can be!”   It might be a result of having another birthday at the end of June that spurred this thinking and these new goals. I turned 62 this summer and that sounds pretty old! Whatever the cause, my mind has been drawn to new habits and goals and I’ve become very introspective, reviewing where I am on this road map of purpose and accomplishment.

I also reached another milestone this past year: my youngest child left home permanently and got married. After 35 years of raising children, this task is complete. I live alone and am no longer actually responsible for the support and care of another human being. That’s huge! Also, I can no longer blame anyone else for my shortcomings in any area. If my house is messy it’s my fault. If tasks are undone, there’s no one else to point at. Although this fact could be depressing, to me it’s very freeing. I can do anything I want/need to do without asking another person if it’s okay with them. I can say that after 62 years of asking permission or at least checking in with someone.

So what am I doing? Well, the changes I’ve noticed are these:

  • I’m developing and embracing new daily habits along with my long-standing old habits. One resource that really helped in this area is the trilogy of Happiness Project books by Gretchen Rubin. Her books, The Happiness Project, Happier at Home, and Better Than Before, are a tremendous treasure of information on helpful habits and include many ways to create and develop new beneficial habits.   Some easy habits that are part of my life are morning daily devotions, making my bed and “staging” my bedroom daily, making sure the kitchen is clean every evening, doing an evening walk through of my house to deal with any mess or clutter, and listening to uplifting or educational audio books and podcasts every single day. Some of these are old habits but some of them are new.
  • Another powerful area is to “know myself”. For years I’ve been saying “I’ll let God be God, and I’ll just be Arlene”. But often I have looked at myself as somehow lacking and I’ve recently begun embracing my own individuality. I used to say, “I’m too talkative” or “Why do I feel compelled to always look for the positive…I should be more realistic”. But I’m making a true effort to be me. I am who I am and I realize I actually like me. It’s enjoyable to analyze myself and see things like: I don’t really like having a lot of stuff but I love the “hunt and gather” experiences of life. So it’s fun for me to volunteer to be the person at church or at work who purchases supplies and organizes events.
  • I recently began taking inventory of my finances and as a result I’ve been reading books and studying personal finance. I have set up a new budget and I’m loving it! Because I’m the only one in my family, I have total control. I can set up my budget to include getting my nails done, even if it means spending less on groceries. There’s no one to complain! And having my finances under control is extremely liberating. When money isn’t leaking out into unknown areas, it’s amazing how much more I have! In this area, I suggest Dave Ramsey’s “Total Money Makeover” as a beginning guide. I also listen to Dave’s daily podcast and it keeps me encouraged and engaged in the process. His Every Dollar online budgeting tool is wonderful!  My pastor encouraged me in this area when he asked me to host the “Financial Peace University” at our church this coming January, 2016.
  • I don’t want to exhaust my readers but I want to mention that the core of all these new efforts and habits is my desire to embrace a bigger life. For me that’s a really big life. I’ve always had a big life due to the opportunities God has given me. But I’ve had this life because I took/accepted those opportunities. I was willing to leave my security behind and move to a foreign country as a missionary…more than once. Now that I’ve been here at WYGE for more than 20 years, my life hasn’t felt as BIG. But even here in my hometown, I’m embracing the bigger life. Two years ago I volunteered to begin teaching little girls at our mid-week service at our church. I wanted to invest in their young lives and tell them things that I feel young girls need to know. It’s been a wonderful experience. Exhausting, but wonderful. It’s part of my project to embrace a bigger life. I also am making the effort to reach out more to the community, attending and supporting groups and events that I deem worthwhile and valuable. And I’m setting aside money and time to do things that I want to do while I still have the means to do them. I’m planning a trip with a dear friend this fall. We have tickets to go to Israel for a week, and then on to Rome for another week. At the end of the trip, we arranged to spend a day in Amsterdam. I have wanted to visit Corrie Ten Boom’s house in Harlaam, Holland for all of my adult life! And we are planning to do just that!

As I was making plans for this trip; booking flights and hotels, checking out sight- seeing tours and restaurants, my youngest son encouraged me by saying, “YOLO – you only live once!” And truly that is accurate. At the longest, life is still short. Every moment and day is a gift from God. Once it is gone, it’s gone. Readers, my advice to you is this “Be all you can be. Embrace the opportunities God gives you. Reach out wherever you are. Bloom where you are planted. Choose the bigger life. You only live once! YOLO!”