Happy New Year!
Don't worry...this isn't another one of those "new year's resolutions" posts. I think setting goals is a great idea, but I've learned the hard way that I don't actually know what the coming year holds.
Plus, I confess: I'm a teensy bit intimidated by all those resolutions about losing 50 pounds or running a marathon or writing the next great American novel. Around here, my personal goals are more like "keep the kids alive" and "try not to run out of coffee."
So instead, I'll just tell you about something that's been percolating in my heart for about a week. Let's call it a "new year's perspective" post. Better?
* * *
I was blessed to have my kids for Christmas break again this year, and we kicked off our bevy of Christmas Eve traditions by attending candlelight service at The Village Church with my family.
The kids and I arrived early to meet my sisters and save rows for our clan. As the clock ticked toward 1:00, I ducked out of the sanctuary, weaved through the lobby, and peeked outside so I could escort my elderly grandfather to his seat.
Amid the throng coming through the front doors, I heard someone call out, "Jenny Haney!"
I love when people call me by my childhood name.
I turned to see my college friend John. After exchanging delighted greetings and "great to see you"s, John introduced me to his lovely daughter and filled me in on his post-college life--a decade in the military, a wife and kids, and a successful career as a surgeon.
Then it was my turn.
I told him about my kids. That I'm still editing books. And that I'd spent most of my post-college years in ministry, planting churches with my husband...but then he left us, so now I'm a single mom.
"I'm so sorry," he said sincerely. "I heard about that."
As we wrapped up our conversation and parted to find our respective family members--it hit me:
Why do I define myself by that?
I'm so much more than The Pastor's Wife Who Was Abandoned.
* * *
It's strange how tragedy brands you, at least for a while.
I remember those awkward weeks during my sophomore year, when I was The Girl Whose Dad Died. Fifteen-year-olds are supposed to be getting driver's permits and going to the mall and giggling at movies, not grieving the death of a parent. The shock of it reveberated through the school halls in whispers from friends and faculty alike who weren't sure how to treat me.
But I've long since put away that nametag. I no longer identify myself by my father's death. It affected my life profoundly, of course, but it's not something I feel compelled to tell people anymore.
My father's death shaped me, but it doesn't define me.
And, like you, I've weathered my fair share of trials and tragedies since then. But I haven't let any of those things define me. If you and I met at Starbucks to catch up or to get to know each other, I wouldn't mention those circumstances in the "who I am and what I've been doing" part of our conversation.
So why was I letting this particular trauma define me?
* * *
To be honest, part of the reason my scarlet D seared so deeply was that my situation was so scandalous. The shock of it reverberated throughout our community from church members and neighbors alike who, too, felt betrayed.
But the biggest part was that I hadn't yet chosen to put away that nametag. Maybe deep down, I wondered, without that label, who would I be?
For fourteen years, I had defined myself as a pastor's wife. Bible study teacher. Church planter. For many of those years, I was the sole or primary provider for our family of five. My life was a cyclone of ministry and mothering and editing and marital issues and making ends meet. I was having babies and birthing churches, trying my best to nurture them and help them thrive.
It's been a long, long time since I was Jenny Haney--girl who loves God, hangs out with friends, plays spades, and can find the fun in almost anything.
But you know what? It's long past time for me to set aside the cumbersome labels of "single mom" and "abandoned wife." I don't have to define myself by those circumstances anymore.
Yes, I've grieved. And yes, my life has been profoundly and permanently affected by the situation. But honestly, I'm much healthier and happier and, well, more myself now than I've been in years.
So after setting aside the nametag of "single mom," who am I?
I'm Jennifer Haney Stair--woman who loves God, hangs out with my friends, plays the Wii with my kids, and can still make almost anything fun.
Yes, the divorce has shaped me.
But it no longer defines me.
* * *
And you know what, sweet friends? Whatever you're going through doesn't have to define you either.
You don't have to wear that nametag of The Woman Whose Husband Has Cancer or The Man Who Lost His Job or The Parent of a Special-Needs Child. I don't know what your nametag says, but I know what's it's like to feel so wrapped up in that identity you feel compelled to bring it up in conversation--as if you've been so branded by your pain that you have to wear it on your lapel.
Yes, the circumstances we face in this life shape us.
But our identity is something else entirely. It comes from our Creator, not our circumstances.
So no matter what your new year's resolutions may be--or whether you make resolutions at all--remember, the ultimate goal is not what you DO. It's who you ARE.
"You’re kingdom subjects. Now live like it.
Live out your God-created identity.
Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you.”
--Matthew 5:58 (The Message)