My name is Laura, but that is just a title that I answer to. It is not who I am. It is not how I define myself. If you ask me to describe myself I will throw out words. Words like… overachiever, tenacious, stubborn, artistic, logical, and so on. I will stick more titles, more names, more badges on myself. You may think that I am doing it to introduce you to who I am. I’m not. I’m labelling myself to tell ME who I am.
I watched a show recently that was about a dancer. She was a ballet dancer who made it all the way to her audition with the biggest company there was. She was a shoe-in for the position. The named favourite. But part way through her performance, she slipped on a loose bead from a costume and found herself wondering if she would ever walk, let alone dance, again. A friend told her, “It’s okay if you never dance again.” And she replied, “Yes, but then I will have to find another dream to define myself.”
This is who I am. I am the girl who looks for a goal or a dream to define her. As a child, I looked to my parents’ approval to define me. If I was the perfect daughter, then all was right with the world. This was measurable. It was measurable by my parents’ attitudes towards me and by the grades on my report cards. I thought it was “who I was”. I was wrong.
Then I found God, and I used Him to define me, but not in the way I should have. I used my success at my “Christian walk” to define me. I raised up walls of strict behaviour and used them as measuring sticks to condemn the world around me. Surely none of my friends were “as good of a Christian as I was”. The world was black and white. I was on the white side of the line. And they were all grey and tainted. This is “who I was”. Wrong again.
Next I found music. People viewed me as some sort of prodigy. From middle C to an A.R.C.T diploma in less than 4 years. I was not gifted in the art of music. I was gifted in the art of determination. I practiced 6 hours a day for almost 4 years straight. Do the math. That’s the equivalent of 3 hours a day for 8 years. Or 1.5 hours a day for 16 years. Or 45 minutes a day for 32 years. That is not prodigy material. I have students that practice 15 minutes a day and are moving at a faster pace than that, and they’re not even my so called “gifted” students! I used to become paranoid with fear that I would get injured and lose it all. In fact, later on, in my determination to never fail, I ironically dropped out of music at University because I was giving my all, driving my arms into the ground with injuries, and going to get only a B+. High standards much? But surely, THIS is who I was. “The amazing pianist”. Wrong again.
Next up, marriage and making a home. I felt like I was under a heavy weight of failure. What sort of girl would move away from her parents, her home town, a rent-free 4-bedroom home for life and choose instead a struggling film student, debt and 400 sq. ft. of rented space? Not to worry. I would show everyone. I would show the world what kind of girl would do that. It would be the kind of girl that landed successful job after successful job, started her own businesses on the side, paid off debt and an entire mortgage in 6 years (still working on that one…). She would be a wife with a perfectly tidy home, volunteer at church, have a social life, and work 2-3 jobs at all times while pursing violin lessons and photography late into the night. Is this who I am? It’s what people see right now when they look at me. There’s Laura and her million jobs and half a dozen hobbies. Oh, and she has a kick-a** marriage as well (which I do, but that is because I married the most amazing man you could ever dream of). Is this who I am? If you ask me, I will say “no”. I am supposed to say that. Please don’t be offended that I’m lying to you. I am lying to myself as well.
And the latest and greatest ambition? Photography. I would master it. I would get good. Really good. Hang my stuff on the wall and be proud good. Am I there yet? Some think so. Some don’t. Could I get there quickly if I dug in and really put my mind to it? Sure, I could. It’s what I do. I conquer things. I’m reaching a place where I know I have so much to learn still, but I actually feel I have a style and a voice. There’s Laura. The photographer. She’s really good. Is that what I want? I’m supposed to say no, you know. But I want it because it’s a label and I collect labels. I pin them to myself in false humility and embrace the sense of peace that comes from knowing “who and what you are”.
These are the headline labels, but there are hundreds of others. I’m introverted. I’m wounded. I’m strong. I’m whatever the heck I need to be in the moment to place myself on a pedestal of honour or a pedestal of pity. You know what I actually am, though, right? I’m normal. Everything I just typed can apply to every other human being on the planet. Our labels are different, but our subconsciouses are the same.
I do have one true label, though. The only one that is legit. The only one that is real or truly meaningful. I am going to tell you what it is. When I do, old saints will smile and nod their heads approvingly. The younger generation will perhaps do the same. Or perhaps they will throw out a more enthusiastic “amen!” Others, will gloss over it as commonplace “Christianese”, the obvious “Jesus” answer that we joke about. But I’m going to say it. And then I’m going to take it one step further and tell you what most people won’t.
Here is who I really am. Here is the label I know to be true. I am a sinner redeemed by what God has done for me, and I am now one of His children, dearly loved, tremendously forgiven.
Good job, me. I said the right answer. Now the part no one really says. What the HECK does that even mean? *Cue the part where I stop typing and stare at my screen while I decide how real I want to get online.
You want a few more labels? I have trust issues. I have trust issues with God. I have no problem with the “God of the universe, King of everything, Lord of all” part. I get that. I understand He came and died for me and that I’m one of His children now. But I obviously don’t really get that down in my heart because if I TRULY did, I’d stop collecting labels like they were going out of style. I get authoritarian. I get respect. I get holiness. I don’t get unconditional love. I don’t get this God that is willing to take me stripped of every label I’ve ever collected. I don’t get this having an identity APART from my titles and accomplishments. I mean, I get the CONCEPT. But I don’t get the reality of it. But I want to. I want my relationship with God to be so present, so real, and so encompassing that I don’t need a single old or new label. I’m not talking about the religion I so enthusiastically embraced as a teenager. I’m talking about the real deal. I’m talking about being a Christian in the truest sense of the word.
Being a Christian means you can stop. You can stop building your own identity and lying to yourself about who you really are. We are more than what we do. We are more than who we know. We are more than ourselves and our labels. Or at least, we are if we allow God to make us that. I am a Christian. I am free from all of this. But it’s time to actually step out of the cage. The door has been standing open for a long time, but I don’t think I’ve ever stepped through. Do I still have trust issues? Sure do. But as a wise family member said to me recently, sometimes trusting is just a decision you make whether your heart is ready to believe it or not. And I’m really good at choosing to do things. So this year, I’m choosing to trust.