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>> Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Through the weekend, Jo used stories of women in the Bible to discuss what God intended women - us - to be. On Saturday she covered Rachel and Leah from the book of Genesis, specifically from Ch. 29: "17 Leah had weak eyes, but Rachel was lovely in form, and beautiful." The point here was how labels given to a person can be either simple explanations or identity defining things. These labels on Leah and Rachel proved to be so defining of their self-esteem and identity that it sculpted everything that we are able to see of their lives and their children's lives, resulting in Rachel's son Joseph saving the Israelites from starvation.

When we got into our groups, the assignment was to identify our own labels. Once done, she asked us (no response required) to think about whether they were healthy or unhealthy, and whether or not they played a fundamental role in our personal identity and self-esteem.

The strange thing is that the only labels I could think of that I knew and that were placed on me by others were from my childhood and teenage years. [I will insert here that there are labels given directly by others such as "this is my shy/tomboy/pretty/smart child", labels given by society based on things like where you live or wear, and labels that can be assigned to yourself inside your own head that represent what you think of yourself. In our group we only discussed those labels placed on us by other individuals.] I know exactly who I was understood to be when I was younger, and I think they were mostly good things: outgoing, friendly, self-accepting, resilient, smart, resourceful, talkative, perhaps a bit naive. I've heard all these things lately from people describing me back then.

But then Jo made the point, what happens when "the happy one" has a bad day, "the introvert" who speaks slowly has something to say, or "the smart one" fails a test? What happens when the outgoing, self-accepting, smart, and resilient person feels suddenly abandoned and terrified, experiences PTSD and depression, fails out of school, and begins to realize how angry she is about herself?

What happens is (following some therapy and family support, God's sudden neon-sign pointing to a purpose, and truck-loads of prayer) you get Me, right now. But for whatever reason, I have absolutely no idea what people see me as now. I have no concept of what labels I may or may not have picked up since I was the me I used to be. Whether that's because I'm much more cautious now (a label?) or just because I've been a lot less social in the last few years and not many people know me, I really don't know. But the last time I was able to define myself in concrete terms appears to be Freshman year of college. And frankly, that's really disturbing. I tend to be a very concrete thinker in general, and I feel like if I can't define myself concretely I must be shades of gray... which somehow feels not too far from fading out entirely.

I'm glad that Jo said that labels can be healthy as well as unhealthy. As much as I dislike being placed into a mental box or category and all the expectations that come with it, labels can help clarify and define a purpose. Ask any pretending preschooler: labels can make a random inconvenient stack of wood discover purpose as "table" or "chair" or "baby bed" or "doghouse". The purpose of this exercise wasn't to deny all labels, but merely to identify them and their qualities.

Maybe taking some time to intentionally explore what my current labels are could help me understand better what my purpose is at the moment.

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About This Blog

Life is about changes; transitions from one place to another, from one purpose to another, from one being to another. They say that the person you are today is a completely different person from who you were ten years ago and who you'll be ten years from now. So far, at the age of 33, I've had four major transitions in my life which redefined who I am. Two years into the results of the most recent transition I am again - still - exploring how God is shaping me. Over the next few months I hope to review my past and set goals for the future, and embrace the next adventure of rediscovering me.
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