This last month, our church has been taking about the idea of story. In particular the idea to "own your story." I don't think I could have ended the year with a more powerful concept. I have debated what I want to say to own my story and honestly even debated if it was worth it. I decided that it is important to be able to articulate your personal story so that you can see the progression of the storyline. I've been on the Earth for 40 years now (probably about perfect time for a major self-reflection, right?) and looking at my life, I can see the storyline rise and fall, creating overall a good story. However, it's sometimes easy to forget you have a good story because the falls of the storyline are deep and wide. That's why it's good to own your story, so you remember it all; not just the downs.
A lot of people see me as an optimistic person who is always smiling (or at least that's what they tell me). Ultimately, I am optimistic, but it's not because life has always been easy or pleasant. My story is marked with some of the same sad and ugly spots that many others share. I have experienced bullying, insecurity, anxiety, sexual assault, heartbreak, family issues, abandonment, disappointment. I moved a lot as a kid and I didn't always make friends easily. I was a highly insecure and anxious child. I wanted to fix everyone's problems and usually couldn't so I was frequently disappointed in myself. For many years we didn't have a lot and sometimes it was really, really tight. I had have a small collection of failed engagements, and for a while felt like I was pretty much just a big joke, even to my friends. I have had to watch too many people I care about lose loved ones, and too many people I care about struggle with their own happiness.
However, these less-than-awesome experiences are not the whole of my story. Throughout the struggle, especially my childhood years, I had a mother who loved me dearly and taught me that God is my foundation. She taught me that life is not fair, but that you can't give up. I learned that we don't have to be defined by any circumstance or even series of circumstances. Through pain and heartache and insecurity and anxiety, I have had Christ's love. I have walked through various stages of my faith and struggled at times with questions like "why would you let this happen," but I'm at a place now where I know that the pain of this world is not what God ever intended. I know that I am loved and cherished, and that when I allow God to work in my heart, I am able to overcome. I can find joy, even when I am sad because I know Love.
This brings me to 2016. The year 2016 was not my favorite. I lost an aunt, a young neighborhood friend, my cousin's beautiful boy Radley, experienced some heartache related to extended family issues, and struggled with feelings of belonging. By the end of the year I was wiped emotionally. I didn't feel my heart could give any more, but I still wanted to be there for my family, my kids, my friends, my community. I was trying to do it all myself and find my way out of my personal sadness by being there for others.
January 1st happened to fall on a Sunday in 2017, so we went to church - a new one we were just visiting - and they had a great message focused on finding your word for the year. The idea is that rather than a new year's resolution, you pray for God to put a word on your heart that will guide you for the year. A word popped into my mind immediately but I dismissed it. I didn't write my word that day...it took a few days for me to get comfortable with it, but eventually, I wrote down leadership on my little magnet.
I struggled with it at first because I felt like it was arrogant and honestly I didn't want to lead anyone. Then, as the word wouldn't leave my mind, I starting thinking maybe God was going to give me some kind of opportunity to lead a Bible study in my neighborhood or provide some opportunity at my kid's school, so I wrote it down and moved on. Then, like just about everything in our house, the magnet got misplaced and I didn't think about it much again...till later.
Somewhere during the Spring months, I was asked to serve as a Service Unit Director for our area Girl Scouts. I accepted and have definitely enjoyed the journey, even though I'm still figuring a lot of it out. :) At the start of Summer, I found out about a full-time position at the University were I have been adjuncting and ultimately decided to apply for it. It was a professor of leadership - continuing and building the leadership series that is part of the general education program for the institution. During the interview process, I was sorting through some papers and came across the magnet with my word: leadership. It made me pause and get a little excited. I didn't necessarily take it as a sign that I was gonna get the job (remember the insecurity issues above), but I did take note of the intersection of the word God placed on my heart and what had been taking place in my life.
I end up getting the job and WOW, what a whirl-wind it has been. I love getting to connect with students on a regular basis and really get to know them as individuals. As an adjunct, you don't have as many opportunities to connect with students since you only see them for a few hours a week. But when you are on campus full-time, you run into students often and they pop in your office to visit. You get to know them personally and it is a wonderful gift. While like any job, it can be taxing at times, students have a way of filling your bucket, even when they don't realize it. I was getting the recharge I had been lacking the year prior.
One of the big concepts I am trying to teach through these leadership courses is that leadership happens in many different settings (big L and little l moments) and that being a leader, often means being open to following. My biggest lesson through the year was actually related to followership. What I learned was that when I tried to lead everything and control things, even under the guise of helping others, I was not actually leading well because I was frustrated and burning out. However, as I let go and follow Christ's leading, I have been able to step into different leadership opportunities (some L and some l) with more joy, more love, and more energy. By following, I am a better leader.
The Husband and I have laughed at all the moments this year where a sermon has intersected with something we have been talking about. One intersection was the story concept. We listened to Donald Miller's A Thousand Miles in a Million Years over the summer and really jumped on board with the idea of living a good story. The Husband actually read this a while ago it has become his personal motto. I loved it and started looking for ways to incorporate it into my freshmen course. Then, the last month of the year, the sermon series is about your story.
Owning my story allows me the opportunity to reflect and, gives me the opportunity as a Christian, to see how my story intersects with the story God is writing. God is telling His story through humanity and the free will we have been granted. God knows one cannot force love so He gave us free will. Being given free will means we have the freedom to choose to Love. To understand Love. To give Love. To receive Love. Free will also give us the freedom to turn away from Love. Humanity often chooses to turn from Love, and thereby send ripple affects throughout the world of pain, sadness, hate that often carry on for generations. It is not that God wants these things. We create them. Using our free will to find Love gives us power to overcome the ugly of this world, even if we are not always protected from it.
2017 felt good. It seemed to come full circle for me. I am going into 2018 feeling stronger and happier. I can see the connections and intersections of God's story with mine and it has recharged me.