I opened a letter that made me ask myself a hard question about goals for the future and the possibility of reinventing myself without being an utter failure at it.
Snail mail is one of my love languages particularly while serving with Mercy Ships. “Out of sight, out of mind” holds some truth, even from those that love me the most. It’s just part of life abroad. The distance makes it feel like people forget about me, but snail mail reminds me they really miss me! When someone writes a note, slaps on a stamp, and drops it in the mailbox, it delivers a good day in an envelope. I feel thought of, cared for, and acknowledged. I never expect anyone to send me mail, but when they do, I really love it!
As I opened the envelope, I found not one, but TWO cards filled edge to edge with the handwriting of a dear friend. Among good news, life updates and curious questions about long-term life on the Africa Mercy, was a burning hope for something I relate with: a fresh start with the possibility of reinventing herself. Her written confession reminded me of myself (maybe this is why we’re soul sisters, twins even).
I haven’t changed
I remember growing up and always being a bit awkward. I doubted my words; I questioned my looks; and I over-thought my interactions with my peers. I hate admitting it, but I was insecure and trying my hardest to be myself and avoid looking too weird. Every new school year, every new start, every new retreat or conference was a chance to start over, to be who I really wanted to be, and re-invent myself.
Yet my identity hasn’t radically changed over the years. What makes me Ivanna is found deep within. The good and the bad have roots. Yes I’ve grown and improved and learned lessons, but I can still make the same mistakes. I can be extra friendly because I want people to like me. I’m not good at socializing at most large gatherings or parties. I still finish things and wonder why I wasn’t intentional with my friendships or go deeper with my relationships. I still hope, just like my dear friend, that next time I can really be the Ivanna I want to be.
I’m just being honest. I trust you won’t judge me, because I know you have things about yourself that turn ugly occasionally. We all do. Most of us have dreamed about running away and reinventing ourselves once or twice.
Next year I start a new position on the Africa Mercy. I’ll be one of two Ward Educators in charge of orienting nurses new to Mercy Ships, facilitating in-services and educational opportunities. This is really exciting for me because I love meeting new nurses. I love encouraging others and I’ve walked the hard journey of ward nursing with Mercy Ships. I remember clearly what it’s like to feel like a flopping fish out of water, and to wonder if I made the right choice. I’ve also walked the path of working through those challenges and learning from those around me to get the most out of this time and place.
This has all led to lots of thought about new beginnings. New job, new country, new seasons are coming for me. These are times ripe with fresh starts. Can we ever really and truly re-invent ourselves? I think it’s what we crave when we fantasize about dropping everything and moving to a different country alone to start over. Most of us can’t do that, but we dream about it because the tangled mess of our current lives has a strong hold and how can we ever start fresh without a fresh start entirely?
I don’t want to drop everything and move to a different country. Been there, done that. My life still has plenty of room for improvement. I still encounter regret just like I did in Rochester, NY. In fact it seems like the common denominator is ME.
So, it’s hopeless? I’m thinking of reinventing myself for nothing? I can’t believe that! If we have no hope, then we have nothing. (That’s the short story behind my Arabic-inspired “hope” tattoo on my back.)
My gut clings to the hope that there is a better me waiting to come out for next year, and my faith affirms me:
Anyone united with the Messiah gets a fresh start, is created new. The old life is gone; a new life burgeons. (2 Corinth. 5:17, MSG)
I’d venture to say that for 99% of us, the “new life” grows over the course of our life. The fruit doesn’t burst forth the second the seed gives way to new life. For most of us, this new life in Christ grows over time. Therefore, I have assurance that next year has potential to be better than this year.
Here are a few things I’m trying to remember to temper my expectations:
- Every season is unique. This field service in Madagascar came with specific challenges. There were aspects I didn’t anticipate that really threw me. Some of the hardest things weren’t even clear until afterwards, like my depression. Some things that were easy last year were hard this year and vice versa. So, as I think about what next year will include, I’m trying to hold my plan loosely. I would love to spend more time in the wards next year with the patients, but if I hold that idea too firmly, I’m setting myself up for disappointment. Next year might have a different way I can get to know the patients, and I’ll miss it if I’m looking for something that fits my preconceived ideas.
- Accept myself without giving up on progress. This year was all about accepting myself. I gave in to my reading, my writing, and my hair wrapping. I learned how to better sit with myself and be by myself. However, I focused so much on myself, that I became paralyzed with fear of stepping out. I would freeze out of fear of others not accepting me, or not really wanting to spend time with me. I didn’t reach out to others in the way I felt compelled to because I was too timid. This quote by Sally Hogshead balances the need for self-acceptance with the need for forward motion:
“Once you identify what makes you different, concentrate on it. To be successful you don’t have to change who you are, you have to become more of who you are.”
This year I spent a lot of time accepting myself, and not enough time pushing myself to try new things.
3.Christ works through my weakness. I’ll never understand that. It really is the strangest thing. In spite of my deep depression for 3 months of 2016, in spite of the distance I held between me and others so I couldn’t get hurt, in spite of my selfishness in my relationships, God will still use me and has used me. He says repeatedly in the Scriptures that he works through our weaknesses and uses the foolish, the unschooled, and the unsophisticated to teach lessons to the kings and wise of the world. There is nothing I could do to squelch his purpose for my life.
What do you think? Are attempts at reinventing myself made in vain? Can a fresh start allow us to shake off excess baggage, or do we carry those things with us forever? Comment below to join the conversation.