Voice Lessons for Today Blog » Insights from Atlanta therapist Mazi Robinson

Masthead header

You Have a Seat at the Table

Ten years ago this week I left my job teaching high school history and went back to grad school. One week later, I started a Masters of Professional Counseling program feeling equal parts excited and anxious. It felt like such a leap to leave the security of the classroom for the unknown of a new profession. I wasn’t entirely sure what life would look like upon graduation, but I knew that whatever form my life as a counselor took, I wanted to walk alongside women in their journey from brokenness and to wholeness, from heartache to redemption. I wanted to help women discover, or rediscover, their voice. I felt that desire deep in my bones.

Over this past decade, I have been privileged to hear so many beautiful and powerful stories. There is truly no greater privilege than holding someone’s story as they wrestle and search and mourn and surrender. I’ve had the honor to witness women come to life, take giant leaps of faith, give hard no’s and hesitant yes’s.  Often, I sit in awe of the courage and strength I see demonstrated in my office.

But what I have consistently noticed over these years is our continued struggle with question Am I enough? This question can take so many twists and turns, but I feel like for so many of us the question of being enough is closely tied to how we see and feel about ourselves as women. What does it mean to be a woman? What does that really mean??  And… am I enough as a woman??

recite-3ex5in

 

Our minds have been flooded with messages and images as to what it means to be a woman. A short surf on the internet can tell you how you can and should have a curvy figure like Kim Kardashian, how you can and should have it all, how you can’t and shouldn’t try to have it all, how to get a date, how to keep a man happy, how to be high school skinny, how to climb the professional ladder. We’re given all of these messages, and they create a very black and white view of life and womanhood- you either are or you aren’t. You either are these things that make you a woman- scratch that… make you a “better” woman- or you aren’t.

In wrestling with this question in my own life, I’ve always felt like I was vying for a seat at the table… as if life was nothing more than a giant middle school cafeteria and the table where you sit determines everything about you. If I could just figure out the right steps of what it means to be a woman then I could sit at the table… then I’d be accepted, I’d be okay, I’d be enough.

I have tried on many hats trying to earn my seat at that table.

I have tried to become some sort of distorted version of a Steel Magnolia where I stuffed all my feelings. I have tried letting all my feelings hang out and saying whatever came to my mind.

I have tried being hip and trendy attempting to emulate the pages of fashion magazines thinking that would answer my question. I have wanted to be the granola girl with a free spirit hoping that was the key.

I have lost my voice for the sake of a relationship because I believed the lie that there is nothing worse than not being in a relationship. (Sidenote- there is something worse than not having a boyfriend, partner, spouse; it’s not having a voice.)

I have ridiculed myself for not being sweet enough, thin enough, pretty enough, thoughtful enough, quiet enough, content to let others lead enough, cooking enough, not having enough children.

I have downplayed my intellect, my curiosity, and my ambition because I didn’t think they were feminine.   I have shouted that I’m right, I have railed against stereotype, and I have tried to act like one of the guys thinking that would make me strong and finally heard.

I have tried on many hats in this department of what does it mean to be a woman and I have come to one conclusion- trying to be the woman other people want me to be and I think I should be in order to gain approval and acceptance is exhausting.

Trying to become the woman God created me to be is freeing.

unnamed

 

How do I learn to become the woman I was created to be? Maybe a more accurate way to look at that question is how do I learn to give myself permission to be the woman I was created to be?

If you’ve read some of my other posts, you know that my faith plays a giant role in my life. As much as I rely and lean on my faith, if I am honest, what I have heard growing up in the four walls of the church has sometimes only frustrated my efforts to discover these answers. Growing up Southern and Christian, it has sometimes been challenging for me to identify what descriptions and expectations for women are cultural and which ones are scriptural. In the South, it is easy to confuse and combine the two.

When I think about what it means to be a woman, I think of words like strong, multitasker, highly capable, intelligent, caring, leader, loving, hard working, outgoing, creative, and introspective.

But if I am vulnerably honest with you there is a whole other list I think of that often has hung over my head like a guillotine blade. Sweet, quiet, soft, unassuming, pretty, thin, married, mother of multiple children, peaceful, self sacrificing, a great cook, always happy/pleasant, never angry, never sad, not too opinionated, not too ambitious, not taking up too much space, secondary.

Now, is there anything wrong with some of the descriptors on the second list? No. Absolutely not.

Are some of the descriptors on the first list “better” than some of the words on the second list? No.   Absolutely not.

There’s nothing wrong with being sweet, with being attractive, with being a great cook. We cannot stigmatize qualities just because we fear we don’t have them or they intimidate us. That is bullying.

It is not better to be an outgoing leader than to be a quiet mother. One is not better, more worthy, more valuable than the other. The problem is we fall into the trap of thinking one list is better than the other and some of the words on both lists become sources of identity and worth- there is no flexibility, there is only have to be, must be, if you’re not then you’re less than.

But here’s the thing… giving yourself permission to be the woman you were created to be does not involve checking items off a list. It does not require you to perform for your seat at the table or play a part like an actor on a stage.

Your place at the table is not determined by whether you’re a Ms. or a Mrs., whether you have 0 children or 10, whether your resume has thirty years of corporate experience or no college degree, whether you are Betty Crocker or Sheryl Sandberg.

You have a seat at the table. You don’t have to earn it. You don’t have to pay for it. You don’t have to act for it.

You have a seat at the table because you are you and that is enough. You have a seat at the table because you are a daughter of Creation. You were knit together and set apart well before the world could tell you otherwise.

The roles in your life will eventually shift. The job that gives you worth will eventually go away. The relationships that give you identity may change. But WHO YOU ARE- who God created you to be with that grace-infused worth- that is unshakable.

recite-sai5pc

Just because your reality may not fit a certain picture, that does not mean that you are less than. You are a beautiful creation put here to fulfill a unique role and purpose.

So pull your chair up and claim your space. Use the sense of humor God gave you, the intellect He gave you, the sensitive and nurturing spirit, the quick thinking, the opinions, the skills, the talents. Use all the gifts and life experiences and be you.

My friends, that is what it means to believe and live as you are enough- to live as you were created. Created with purpose and for a purpose.  Go ahead… take your seat. It’s been prepared especially for you.

recite-mhsg0e

How have you struggled and made peace with the question Am I enough? How have other’s expectations negatively impacted your view of yourself as a woman? What does being a woman mean to you?

Carter - Thank you, Mazi, thank you. I read a quote by a retired Episcopal priest named Martha Sterne (good friend and kindred spirit of Barbara Brown Taylor) just the other night, and it brings to life much of what you’ve expressed so beautifully here:
“The deepest truth you can know is what your real name is. And that name is Child of God.”

AMEN.

Ginny Peck - Thank for this beautiful, vulnerable, hopeful post

Beth - Love this- I keep re-reading! Thank you! ❤️

mazirobinson@gmail.com - Thank YOU, Beth!

To My Voice Teachers…

As I mentioned oh so long ago in my very first post, I used to be a singer. I guess technically I can still sing, but I haven’t sung in public in years so using the past tense really seems most appropriate. One of the things I loved the most about being in the music world was the unique relationship between teacher and student and getting to experience first hand the expertise of truly talented teachers.

A really good voice teacher can literally bring tones and techniques out of you that you didn’t know were there. With their words and examples, they can change your vibrato, sweeten your tone, or elongate your phrasing. In the world of singing, a voice teacher literally helps shape your voice as you discover how to use this instrument that is 100% you.

See, that is the difference between the voice and other instruments. You can buy new reeds, you can have your violin restrung, you can play a different piano, and all those changes are going to influence the sound, texture, and feel of your performance. But the voice… well, you are born with only one voice and it is up to you to discover the full capabilities of that voice. It is up to you to discover the varying tones and dynamics and how to communicate sadness, joy, and fear all with that one voice you have been given. It is up to you to discover all of this about your voice, but you do so under the faithful guidance and direction of numerous voice teachers who help you uncover the various aspects of this amazing instrument.

Recently, I was reflecting on this unique relationship between voice teacher and student, and I realized that I have not just had voice teachers in my life as a singer but rather my life has been filled with voice teachers. These voice teachers didn’t necessarily teach me to sing… they taught me to live… and think… and love.   These individuals helped me discover and rediscover parts of my voice that had been buried and lost. The voice teachers of my personal journey poured into and invested and shaped this voice I now use. And I am so grateful. So here’s to my voice teachers… thank you.

 

Mama– You were the first. You were the first teacher and your lessons were held everyday and in every way but most especially each afternoon and evening when we read together. You helped develop my love of reading and learning, my insatiable curiosity, and my unquenchable thirst for information. Our nightly devotionals created the foundation of my faith, which now serve as the sources of comfort, encouragement, and truth everyday in my life. You planted the seeds from which everything else has grown.

Mrs. Dykes, Mrs. Edwards, Mr. Baker, Dr. Harris– You taught me to think. You challenged me. You believed I could do things I did not think I could do. Your lessons and classrooms were safe havens for me. You provided a space for me to learn and question, and you taught me one of the most important lessons I could learn as a woman- playing dumb is neither productive nor helpful. Intelligence, trying, dedicating yourself to an endeavor… these are the things that matter.

Joanna and Kim– You gave my voice color. You taught me it was okay to be loud. You taught me to laugh and, most importantly, to laugh at myself. You gave my voice an edge that I didn’t always know how to correctly use but realize now has allowed me to be bold and brave professionally and personally.

Patty– You gave my voice depth and balance. I couldn’t have found my true voice in a brown paper bag before I met you. You added self-awareness and knowledge, peace and introspection to my voice.

Annie– You lightened my voice. You are the instructor of fun in my life and whenever I am trying to decide to go with the colorful or the basic, I still ask myself, “What would Annie do?”

John, Charles, Louisa, Tony, and Dave– You taught me to teach. You showed me that my voice was not for singing, but for teaching. I came to you at 22 years old very lost and you helped me discover my purpose and passion. You faithfully taught me for the next four and a half years. You taught me to prepare, to lead, to facilitate…. You literally changed my life.

Courtney, Andi, Jess, Matt, Dr. Hardy– You shaped my voice into that of a counselor. The list of things you taught me and the ways you showed me how to use my voice are endless. I sat at your feet and soaked in every ounce of wisdom I could, and there is not a session nor a talk that goes by that does not have some element of your teaching in it. Your voices are heard through mine everyday.

Jay– You have taught this often frantic and out of control voice to rest and be calm. You have slowed my pacing and brought peace where there are often racing thoughts. But most of all, you have daily modeled what true humble servant living looks and sounds like. My voice is more gracious and thoughtful because of your loving teachings.

Jack– You have given me back my giggle. You are by far my youngest teacher but in the end will probably have the most profound impact on my life. You have softened the hardness that started to develop around my voice in my adult life. I am more compassionate and empathic because of you. I have more play and joy in my life because of you. My voice is sweeter because of you.

 

Each of these voice teachers shaped and helped me discover my true voice. Sometimes we spend our days trying to sound like someone else. We adopt a false voice by trying on different traits, careers, or relationships hoping that will create the voice we think we should have. But the reality is we were each given one voice and it is up to us to discover the full power and richness of that voice. We have to discover our true voice so we can live out our true passion and calling. As we said above, thankfully we do not do that alone, but we do it under the guidance and direction of the many voice teachers that come in and out of our lives.

Who are your voice teachers? Who are the individuals that have helped you discover elements of your voice that you did not know were there? Who are the teachers that have helped you rediscover parts of your voice you thought were lost forever?

Take an opportunity to thank your voice teachers today.   I would love to hear the stories of how the teachers in your life shaped your voice and how you are using that voice today.

Barbara Exley - Such a poignant, profound reflection on all who shape our voices our very selves. Thank you dear Mazi for your voice teaching for orders including me

August 2000, Crying in Church, and My Personal Saturday

Philip Yancey, in his book Disappointment with God, says that Good Friday, Saturday, and Easter Sunday, represent “the three day pattern- tragedy, darkness, triumph-… (that) can be applied to all our times of testing.”

There is the unthinkable loss and tragedy of Friday, followed by the questions, grief, and despair of Saturday, and then the redemptive healing of Sunday.

We can talk about being bold and bright. We can talk about believing that we are worthy and that our worth comes from grace. We can talk about living brave and stepping into the arena. We can talk about all those things, and all those things are fine and well, but when you find yourself stuck in Saturday, when you’re in The Middle, that stuff doesn’t really matter.

I agree with Philip Yancey that the pattern of tragedy, darkness, triumph is one that is found over and over in our lives. The Fridays are so painful and the Sundays are so joyful. It seems over our entire life we cycle thru this three-stage period, but sometimes it seems like we spend a lot of our time in Saturday.

Years ago, I found myself in a prolonged Saturday. My life had slowly been tumbling downward until January 2000 when everything crashed. Over the course of 10 days my entire life changed… I withdrew from grad school, moved home, made a decision to leave my life in music, ended an almost four year relationship that left me lost and broken, and enrolled in a new university. The next 12 months were my Middle… they were my Saturday… and they were bleak. I was depressed; I was anxious. I rarely went out with friends. I stayed in my apartment, thought, and watched old episodes of Beverly Hills 90210 and Dallas.

I wrestled with God in a way that I had never done before. I went from being angry- very angry- and wondering where He had been over the past four years and why He hadn’t stopped this out-of-control-train-of-chaos that had become my life. I wondered how He could pay me back like this for those years of faithful church attendance, praying, and living a life that was above the norm.

Then after some months of being angry and realizing that was getting me nowhere, I realized that God had not necessarily abandoned me, but baby step by baby step I had abandoned Him. I had ignored the red flags. I had refused the help. I kept pushing against a brick wall wondering why it wouldn’t move and then getting mad that I was battered, bruised, and tired.

It was during this period that it was hard for me to be with God. I felt that I had ruined everything. The relationship was damaged beyond repair. You can only ask so much of God, right? And then He eventually throws His hands up in frustration, right? And then He takes everything away, right? It’s the twisted version of the parable of the talents.

All I wanted during this time was to be free. I did not know what freedom looked like, and a large part of me believed I would always be damaged, but there had to be some sort of freedom from this Middle.

One Sunday morning in August, I was standing in church and a song came across the screen:

You are beautiful beyond description
Too marvelous for words
Too wonderful of comprehension
Like nothing ever seen or heard
Who can grasp you infinite wisdom
Who can fathom the depth of your love
You are beautiful beyond description
Majesty enthroned above




And I stand, I stand in awe of you
I stand, I stand in awe of you
Holy God to whom all praise is due
I stand in awe of you.

And when I started to sing the words of the chorus, I just stopped. It was like someone was squeezing my throat and I couldn’t sing. I stood there, hung my head, and started to cry. All I could think was, “I am not in awe of you right now. I’m not. I’m hurt and angry and broken and I just want this pain to stop.”

We go through phases with God during the Saturdays of our lives. We wonder where He is. We rail against Him. We shake our fist and blame Him for our plight. Or we blame ourselves. We don’t feel good enough to come to Him. We don’t know how to come to Him because we don’t know what to say.

What we discover, though, when we get to the other side is that Saturday, The Middle, changes us. There is no going back…thankfully. There is only moving forward.

I drove home from church that day numb not really knowing what to do or where to go from there. As I drove home I had the strangest feeling that I was not alone.   And later I realized that I was not the only one crying that Sunday morning.

In the Gospel of John, we read that shortly before the Crucifixion Jesus received word that his dear friend Lazarus was sick. He made his way to the home of his dear friends, Mary and Martha, where he learned that Lazarus had died four days prior. Mary and Martha were grieving; others in the town were grieving. Jesus knew what was going to happen. Jesus knew he was going to bring Lazarus back to life. He knew the end of the story. Yet we have that most famous, shortest verse of Scripture: Jesus wept.

Jesus wept, not over the top, demonstrative tears, but the translation says silent tears as he saw his dear friends sadness and grief. This image tells us we have a God who loves us to the point that He aches for us. It’s like a parent who sees their child sad and brokenhearted but knows that there will be another tryout, another boyfriend, another opportunity. But their heart aches because their child’s heart aches regardless of the fact they know this disappointment is temporary. God’s love for us is similar… times a thousand.

I think God weeps with us. I do not think He sits idly by, unemotional, untouched. I think His heart breaks when we feel we can’t come to Him, for whatever reason, and we want to. I think His heart breaks when we mourn and grieve even though He knows the rest of the story. And I think on that sunny August morn, God wept with me.

I take great comfort in that thought… that I was not alone that day or in those months and years. I was not alone that Sunday in August, but yet not fully able to take hold of that which was being offered. That would come a few months later. The redemptive healing of my Sunday came one October morning when I finally surrendered and let my old self die so that my new self could be born.

I learned in the months and years later that I had not damaged by relationship with God. I had not pushed Him so far away that He never wanted to come back. He had never left me in the first place. I was not broken beyond repair.

I realized that no matter how long your Saturday may seem the redemption and restoration and resurrection of Sunday always comes. You are never left. You are never alone. That is the promise and the hope of Sunday.

Have a blessed Easter, friends.

Julie - Thank you for this beautiful post. It is your truth, but it is the truth that is available to every single person. And it is absolutely beautiful. Thank you so much for sharing it with us!

Martha Bonn - Thanks so much for sharing today…so well said. I loved the Friday, Saturday ,Sunday analogy….

Is It Safe? (Six Characteristics of Emotionally Unsafe Relationships)

“Sweetheart, that’s not safe. Be careful. You might hurt yourself.”

I, along with countless other parents, have said many variations of the above statement. As a parent, one of your main jobs is to keep your little one safe. You point out the things that may be a danger- the sharp edges, the deep holes, the hot surfaces. Sometimes kids instinctively know what is safe and what is not safe, but often they have to be taught either from their own life experience (yep, the stove is hot) or from someone who has already walked the path. That is how children learn what is safe.

Adults aren’t much different. Only in adulthood, hot stoves and riding too fast on our bikes aren’t the only causes for concern. Relationships can be the real danger lurking around the corner, and they can do all sorts of damage to our hearts and minds. In adulthood, are hearts can be as easily broken as our wrists and ankles. To heal our hearts and to protect them, we need to know what is emotionally safe and unsafe. It seems like this would be common sense, but in reality it can be very difficult to know what is safe and unsafe behavior in a relationship. Love has a funny way of disguising the unsafe people in our lives. So we end up wondering Is this normal? and staying way too long in drama filled relationships only to find our hearts tattered and our voices silenced.

Do you know what makes a relationship emotionally unsafe?  Do you know when you are in an emotionally unsafe relationship? If you find yourself feeling that you’ve lost your sense of self, are always walking on eggshells, or wondering if a relationship is supposed to be this stressful, then chances are you are not experiencing the safety and security you need and deserve in your relationship. Here are six characteristics I have observed in my years as a therapist that create an unsafe environment in a relationship.

 

  1. “Me?? What about you?”- Defensiveness

We all get defensive, but defensiveness in a relationship blocks any vulnerable communication. It is difficult to share anything with someone who reacts defensively. Such a reaction immediately changes the course of the conversation. Defensive people need to be right, which also creates a power struggle in the relationship. If the defensive person needs to be right, then you are wrong… you are always wrong. This is so dangerous to our sense of self because it leads to doubting our own thoughts and feelings. We lost touch with our intuition and gut. When we have been in relationship with a defensive person too long, we eventually stop speaking up and are riddled with self doubt.

 

  1. “You think your day was bad. My day was much worse!” Lack of empathy/always making it about them

It is hard to feel emotionally safe enough to be vulnerable in a relationship if the other person is always making it about them. This can occur in a variety of way- the person doesn’t give empathy but instead one-ups your experience, he takes on your emotion and makes your experience about him, she always focuses on her life without learning and knowing more about you. For example, let’s say you try to share something that is going on with you- you’re feeling sad, you’re frustrated with work- and then your loved one may talk about how much worse his situation is than yours OR he may become annoyed with your emotional expression. This type of pattern of communication leaves little room for sharing and vulnerability. When you are on the receiving end of this dance, it can feel like there is no room for your feelings or experiences because it always comes back to the other person. Overtime, we share less and less of ourselves because we are afraid what we say 1.) is going to be dismissed, 2.) is going to be twisted, or 3.) it is once again going to be about the other person.

 

  1. “You didn’t ask so I didn’t think I needed to tell you the whole story.”- Dishonesty

Unsafe people in relationships often don’t see the danger in dishonesty/half truths. They may say they didn’t tell you because they were trying to protect you or didn’t want to make you mad. And then when the truth is revealed, they will often minimize the event writing it off as “no big deal” or “you’re overreacting which is why I didn’t want to tell you in the first place.” These types of rationalizations for dishonesty are highly controlling and manipulative, and they put you back in the position of feeling you are wrong for being upset that the person you care about withheld information from you.

 

  1. “I apologized! What more do you want?”- Apologizing without action to back it up

Apologies are important but meaningless if they aren’t backed up with a change in behavior. An unsafe person may apologize but they will be reluctant to follow through with changing the behavior that caused the hurt in the first place. A healthy apology is one in which the wrongdoer acknowledges her actions, how her actions impacted you, and follows that up with committed behavior change. This sustained (that is a key word… one week is not sustained, by the way) change in behavior shows there is true recognition of the harm done. It is the changed behavior that rebuilds the trust that was broken.

 

  1. “You should trust me!”- Demanding trust rather than earning it

Where there is drama and unsafety in a relationship, you are also going to find broken trust. The two just seem to go together. In repairing a relationship, you must repair the trust, but trust CAN ONLY be repaired with time. An apology is a step towards repairing trust but it does not/should not completely restore trust. Feeling entitled to someone’s trust is an indicator that the person is not willing to do the long, hard work to rebuild trust. If entitled trust is an issue in your relationship, ask yourself shouldn’t the person who is demanding your trust be more concerned about why there is a lack of trust (in other words, why you feel unsafe around them) rather than immediately wanting your trust back.

 

6. “If you weren’t the way you are, I wouldn’t act this way!”- Holding others responsible for thoughts, feelings, actions

Unsafe people often do not take responsibility for themselves. Instead, they blame others for their feelings, thoughts, and actions. If you would just do this or that, THEN I wouldn’t get angry, have to have a drink, etc. When the unsafe person blames you for their actions, this creates yet another cycle of guilt and manipulation. Over time you begin to believe that the other person’s anger, drinking, feelings, etc. are your fault in some way, and if you just do this or don’t say that, then everything will be okay. You begin to feel responsible for the other person’s emotions and you work harder and harder to keep the peace. This pattern is the ultimate control and manipulation tool. It is how you find yourself walking on eggshells no longer knowing who you really are.

 

See, that’s the dangerous thing about an emotionally unsafe relationship. Yes, it’s stressful. Yes, it’s hurtful. But the long term danger is that you lose you. You lose your voice. You lose sense of your needs, likes, dislikes. The relationship, and trying to keep the peace, trying to be who the other person finds acceptable so that you can win his/her approval, buries your true self.

On the other hand, emotionally safe relationships invite us to be all that we were created to be. They are equal and reciprocal in terms of their love and care for one another. Vulnerability is a strength rather than a liability. In an emotionally safe relationship, you feel known and seen… you feel it is safe to be known and seen rather than thinking you need to be someone else.

It is so easy to stumble into an unsafe relationship. Many of us have done it. Like we said earlier, love blinds us. Love blinds us because we innately want to love and be loved. And that is a good thing! It is a good thing to want love in your life. But inviting love into your life at the cost of your own self and voice is a dangerous exchange.  Like hot stoves when we were little, we end up learning about unsafe relationships either through experience or trusting someone who can see more than we can.

If you find yourself wondering Is this normal? Is this right? or wondering if there is something wrong with you, you deserve to start rediscovering who you really are separate from whom your relationship has convinced you that you are. You deserve to share your story and let someone come alongside you to speak truth and love into you life. You deserve a safe, reciprocal, life-giving relationship.  You deserve healthy love.

 

unnamed

Barbara Exley - Good concise reminders of why boundaries are needed!

Danni Sullivan - Thank you! Just ended a relationship with an unsafe person. I am a very confident woman with high self esteem so when I started to feel insecure in the relationship I knew something was wrong. I wasn’t allowed to be concerned about the relationship, he would always get defensive and want to break up if I had an issue. Zero patience with me. My feelings were invalidated, he told me if he didn’t agree with the reason why I felt a certain way then he doesn’t have to fix anything. Then he finally told me that I want security from him that he just doesn’t feel like giving to me. Of course, things ended very quickly after that. It hurts a lot when you’re in love and being vulnerable with an unsafe person. Makes you second guess yourself; you loose yourself and you loose your voice. Next time I’ll be much more careful about who I open up to.

Five Questions For Discovering Your Purpose

There are certain questions I’ve discovered that make people feeling really uncomfortable:

What are your strengths?
What do you need?
Tell me about yourself.

That last one technically isn’t a question but the question is implied. Who are you? I bet you groaned a little bit just reading it.

I don’t know… I’m a wife, a mother… I’m an accountant… I’m the oldest of four… I’m single… I grew up in Cleveland.

Whenever we have to answer this question it is usually initiated with a sigh and then a listing of the roles and tasks in our lives. And while our roles and the things we do within any given day do make up a large part of who we are, do they really satisfy the deeper meaning of this question?

Who am I?
What is my purpose?
What do I want my life to be about?

Sometimes this question can be so daunting that we don’t even bother to wrestle with it, and instead we make our roles and our tasks our identities. That works for a while, but eventually all relationships shift and all jobs end. Then you are left back where you started contemplating the ten million dollar question: Who am I?

Whether we are in our 20’s or our 70’s, we all have to tackle this issue of identity and purpose. Here are some questions to guide you in your wrestling.

 

What is your story?

Do you know your story? Do you know the positive and negative turns? Do you understand how those negative turns have been redeemed? Do you know the greater theme of your story? Do you understand the reoccurring patterns that have led to good and those that have led to heartache?

You have been given a story and your story matters. The events of your life have greater significance because it is out of those events that you will find direction and purpose. If you never take the time to learn your story you will miss out on those direction signs.

 

What did you enjoy doing when you were younger?

Think back to your younger self… think back to your playing-on-the-floor-at-the-foot-of-your-bed-self? What did that little girl like to do? What brought her joy? What activity completely captured her time and imagination?

So much of who we really are is represented in that little girl who is somewhere still inside of us. In some ways, our little girl selves are the purest versions of ourselves because they are who we were before our hearts were broken, our self-confidence was dashed, and our thoughts were overridden with doubt.

A couple of years, I was asking myself this very question and I remembered two things about myself that had gotten stuffed way into the back of my mental closet.

One, when I was a little girl I loved playing with my baby dolls. Those dolls were my full time job. I loved feeding them, changing their clothes, pushing them around in their strollers. I loved those dolls.   I had forgotten how much I loved those dolls until I had my son. I think out of self-protection I had stuffed those particular memories deep down because for several years I did not know if motherhood would be part of my story. But then I had my son, and one day while changing his clothes, it struck me that in an odd way this felt so familiar. That little seed of happiness felt almost nostalgic, and I remembered how much joy I had as a little girl taking care of my beloved dolls.

Second, when I was in the second or third grade I wanted to hold a bible study for my friends. I planned the lesson (it was going to be on Zaccheus), I got out my felt board with the accompanying felt figures, and I made refreshments. Now the sad part of this story, that we won’t dwell on here, is that no one came. Yeah that was unfortunate. But when this little memory came back to me some time ago I was fascinated by it because I could remember planning it and getting everything so clearly. And in so many ways that little girl was a mini-me of today.

It is not lost on me that the two things that bring me the greatest sense of joy and spiritual, emotional, and mental connectedness in my adult life are my son and speaking/teaching and both were present to some degree in my childhood.

What did you love to do as a little girl? Before the world got to you, before disappointment clouded your vision, what did you love?

 

What are you good at? What are your strengths?

Yep, this is the question we really hate, but if you want to discover your purpose and true voice you do have to go through the vulnerable exercise of naming and claiming your strengths.

I discussed in an earlier post why we as women struggle to name our strengths. I think so many things keep us from embracing this truth about ourselves. We’re afraid we’re not good at anything. We mistakenly convince ourselves that to be good at something means we need to be the best at it. We don’t want people to think we are arrogant because we believe we are good at something. Or maybe we truly do not believe we are good at anything.

When we ignore or minimize our strengths, we let our roles and jobs define us rather than letting who we were created to be shine for all to see.

 

What is important to you?

What is important to you? What are the values that create the foundation of your life? What are the values that you want your life to be about?

Values serve as flashlights in the dark when we start to feel lost and uncertain in our journey.  They let us know when we’re straying from the path or encourage us when things get difficult. When you are doing something unknown or scary, when you are having a tough conversation, when you are making the hard choice, knowing your values gives you that extra ounce of support and direction to keep moving forward.

The decision may feel uncomfortable and may be unpopular, but if you know you are choosing it because you want the foundation of your life to be rooted in courage or faith, for example, then it will make it more possible to stand by your decision. It won’t be easy, it won’t be fun, but you will be able to do it.

 

What are you passionate about?

What do you always want to read about? What topic(s) stirs you? What do you have a curiosity or thirst of knowledge for? What topic brings tears to your eyes because you are so moved by it?

Years ago when people actually went to bookstores (oh I miss those days… sigh), my husband and I loved to go to Borders. He always looked at magazines and searched through the music department, and I headed directly to the relationships/psychology/religion department. Inevitably, I always left with a stack of books on topics such as abusive relationships, healing your emotional wounds, finding your purpose. My husband frequently had to responses to our bookstore field trips: I bet that check out person things you are a really troubled person and Do you really enjoy reading all that stuff?

Yes, I do. I really do. I love learning about what I do for a living. I could read about relationships and healing our shame and living brave and overcoming disappointment ‘til the cows come home. It excites me, interests me, holds my attention for hours. I feel completely alive when I am learning and then communicating to other women how to heal and discover our true voice and be our best selves.

Most likely the things that way heaviest on our hearts or intrigue our minds the most are somehow connected with who we were created to be and what we were created to do. Usually we care about something because it speaks to us or we identify with it in some way. We can’t discount these facts about ourselves. It isn’t a coincidence. Things excite and move you for a reason. Listen to that voice. Listen to that yearning.

 

Who am I? What is my purpose? What do I want to do with my life? Oh these are such big and important questions. The answer to these questions is found at the intersection of our story, our joy, our ability, our values, and our passions. What does your intersection look like? What direction does it leave you facing? What would you like to explore based on your answers?