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Embracing a New Year

I was doing a spiritual exercise where I spent time reflecting on my childhood. I was really struck by how much those initial life challenges still play such a role in my life. I remembered the easy-going, natural confidence I had early on in my life, and how it slowly eroded away. The alcoholism and unhealthy relationships, the discipline that bordered on abuse, the big move that led to new kids in new neighborhoods that didn’t like me much. So many, many challenges.

I went from the darling of my school community to nearly the lowest kid on the food chain. I was teased for everything you can think of, including how my English was “too good.” It all lead to a sense of inadequacy, of never quite feeling like I was enough. Of feeling like other people had normal, happy lives but I was just an actor, struggling to suppress my emotions, to play a role so I could fit in. Except I never quite felt like I did fit. Can you relate?

Fast-forward to this moment, right here. Wow, has God healed me. My life is so vastly different! Those ugly, hard moments are now like a faint scar. While I remember how the wound happened and the pain I experienced in the moment, the wound has long since healed. I shake my head in awe at how far I’ve come through faith. Yet what also jumps off the page of my past is how the lingering roots and tendrils of those early wounds branched out to become such a part of my adult experiences. The feelings of inadequacy, of not being enough, of needing to do and be something in order to feel accepted and valued. Of my deep need to feel like I’m doing something that matters. All of it stems from the struggles that little girl faced.

But the surprise for me today? I don’t think I ever really learned how to handle defeat. Oh, I “overcame” feeling inadequate in that I fought my way back up the high school food chain, becoming popular again because I associated that with happiness. Only here’s the thing. I wasn’t happy. I was miserable! I missed the friendships I left behind on my all-encompassing mission to “arrive,” only to discover there was no one there I wanted to arrive with.

Fast-forward to my adult years, and I’ve succeeded in almost everything my hand has touched. Oh, I’ve definitely had serious setbacks and challenges, as you know. Brutal ones. But I’ve always more or less achieved what I’ve wanted to, and become a leader in whatever I’ve done, even when I’ve tried to avoid that role. Until now. 2020. A year like no other, a year that has revealed so much for so many of us.

For perhaps the first time I see my fragility, my inability to control with crystal clear clarity. Sure, I’ve known those things, but not to this depth. I also see my lack of adaptability and sometimes of talent. I see all the areas I fall short in more than any other year of my life. Even the early ones. And that’s what strikes me this morning. I’ve always thought I was a 5 talent person (see Matthew 25:14-30). This year I’ve learned maybe I’m only a 2 or 3. Yet I share this not from a place of discouragement or defeat, but from a place that acknowledges I’m okay. That perhaps defeat isn’t in acknowledging the weaknesses, but in letting those weaknesses define who I am. I am an ongoing work in progress, and I suspect you are, too.

I don’t have to be the best speaker, the most talented writer, the kindest, wisest, best or most loving mom/wife/sister/daughter/employer/employee/volunteer to have value. I don’t have to make seven figures, receive accolades or change the course of the world to matter to God. Or to the people who love me. Nor do I have to do those things for God, as if God needed me to do anything.