I remember at 17-years-old, feeling possibly the lowest of my lows, being told by an adult that I had a “strong personality.”
I was mortified, offended, embarrassed, devastated. I was trying to cope with the loss of a friend, after months of fighting- as only teenage girls do- and realizing that reconciling had lost its chance. I came to this adult completely empty, desperately needing my tears to heal my broken heart and instead of making me feel better, she brought me down a thousand steps.
Looking back, of course I know now that she was honestly trying to help me find myself, even though it took (and will take) many more years of self-discovery.
At 17, I knew I was obnoxious, loud, and even annoying- but I had no idea how to positively channel that “strong personality” energy. It left me so weak and so insecure. During elementary conferences, my mom was told I was “a social butterfly.” In Junior High I was “chatty” and Senior High, the inevitable, “disruptive.”
By the time I reached my first semester of college, I received an email from my professor telling me that I needed to speak up in class if I wanted participation points. Little did he know I was miserable, digging my fingernails into the palms of my hands, desperate to start new. Quiet, respectful, introverted.
WHY DIDN’T ANYONE EVER TELL ME THAT YOU CAN’T CHANGE YOUR PERSONALITY TRAITS? Well, I am sure they did… I just didn’t want to hear it.
Years later I was asked to complete a Myers- Briggs assessment at a synod CYF (Children Youth & Family) meeting. No surprise. ENFJ- Extraverted iNtuitive Feeling Judging. I raised my hand to the dear presenter, “So… how do you change what you are?” Everyone quietly chuckled. “No, I am serious. Like… can you train yourself into being something else? I want other traits. I want other skills!”
“You use them for good. You don’t change them. You use your gifts in ministry and then you thank God for them.”
Well, shit. That’s not what I wanted to hear and I’m certainly not thanking God for this mess He created.
And still, more fingernails into the palms. ‘Do not speak unless it can be a positive contribution to the conversation.’
I found myself teaching a lesson to my Middle Schoolers a few years ago about gifts- about God uniquely creating each of us, and in my heart I was screaming:
“You alone created my inner being. You knitted me together inside my mother,”
“You made me; you created me,”
“We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand,”
“And the very hairs on your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows,”
“For we are his workmanship,”
“All of you together are Christ’s body, and each of you is a part of it.”
God was using me in ways I couldn’t admit. Using me as a teaching tool. If you’ve seen me teach my middle schoolers (or even if you haven’t), you know I get really passionate. My arms flail around, my voice gets loud and shaky, I say things like, “THIS IS SO AMAZING! ISN’T THIS AMAZING?! ISN’T GOD’S LOVE SO AMAZING?!”
“Okay, God. I hear you.” And after twenty-some years of loathing these pieces of me, I understood the point. In time Anxiety, OCD and Depression diagnoses would come, which came more understanding of the way my brain worked, the way I felt, and the ways in which I could find peace.
“You have a voice I wish I had,” a friend once said to me after reading an entry about Lucy. And it wasn’t until then that I realized…
I did not lose myself in motherhood, unlike many woman. I have found myself in more ways than I ever could imagine. Before motherhood, I didn’t know WHY I had some of these gifts; only to have it be revealed to me that it was out of PRIVILEGE that I am able to be God’s hands and feet. It is out of PRIVILEGE that I can teach people about Autism, about my story, about our story. That I can use what I’ve learned in motherhood to help others in their struggles.
I have been lost before and it wasn’t until I had this amazing, all-encompassing love for two tiny humans that I’ve found out who I am and what I want to be. I’ve never had this drive to be better, to love more, to use my gifts.
I am not going to promise you that at 30 years old I am going to have it figured out. I am not going to promise you that at 30 I am going to love every piece of me. But I do think that 20 is hard. I think 20 is learning how to “adult.” My 20’s was fast-paced– college, marriage, graduation, babies, buying houses, more babies, living, loving and learning (SO MUCH LEARNING.) My 30’s won’t be boring or slow, but I do believe this part of my journey- this right here- feels good. I feel determined to know myself and continue to find myself in the midst of this crazy life. I feel empowered to use these gifts I once hated, to speak up for those who are unable. To be raw and honest, knowing that we each have so much to share with one another. To continue to learn and grow, to be a role-model for my children. To believe and trust in myself.
“This isn’t something that you only struggle with at 13-14 years old. Adults struggle with it. I struggle with it. But I think it’s kind of a good thing- life would be boring if our journey was simple. We can choose to not use our gifts, but that’s being lazy. That’s being complacent. That’s belittling God. Telling him that His work- YOU- isn’t good enough. Or we can choose to use our gifts, boldly and proudly. Understanding that we make mistakes. Understanding that we’re not perfect. Knowing that we are an unfinished masterpiece, while our Artist continues to work on us, we’ll become more beautiful as our picture becomes clear. Our journey doesn’t end as adults. We are in for a life-time of self-discovery. What a gift!”