A few months ago I attended a women’s conference here in New York City. The theme of the conference was hope. On Saturday, we had the opportunity to attend one of about 20 different breakout sessions offered. One title caught my eye. I wanted to go to it, but felt I didn’t really belong there. I was sure the other women attending would see right through me and label me an imposter immediately. As my eyes wandered to other session titles, I let fear drive my feet away from the room where women were gathering for the session I wanted to attend. Then the emcee walked back on the stage and grabbed the microphone.
“I just want to encourage you for a moment. What is the one session you are too scared to attend?” I froze as my eyes darted back to the scary title. “Would you consider going there today? Don’t let fear or embarrassment hold you back from where you should be.” I was certain she was talking directly to me. I gathered up some confidence, and turned around. My heart raced as I walked back in to the session titled “Hope as an Artist”.
“Hope as an Artist” turned out to be a popular session, of course. This is New York City after all. The more it grew, the faster my heart raced as I sat there feeling totally out of place.
“Let’s go around and introduce ourselves quickly,” the facilitator said. “Why don’t you tell your name, what kind of art you create, and something you’ve seen lately that inspired you as an artist.” My hands were sweaty as my time drew near. This was surely when they would ask me to choose a different session, seeing as I’m not an artist at all. There were women in this session who wrote plays performed in New York City, painted pictures they sold (like for real money), taught classes on the type of art they created, performed in theaters for thousands of people, and traveled the country directing and producing art. Me?
“I want to be a writer,” I uttered trying my best confident smile on.
Across from me the facilitator, a beautifully confident yet vulnerable woman, gave me an encouraging and knowing smile. “Do you write now?”
“I do,” I tell her. “I mean, kind of. I have a blog I post on sporadically and I submit essays to various sites. Some of them have been published.”
“If you do a thing, you are that thing. You just said you want to be a writer. You write, so you are a writer.”
Why is this so hard for me to say out loud? I have no problem telling people I am a mother. Or I am a wife. Or I am a teacher. Yet I do spend time writing every day.
Every other title has some kind of accomplishment or training to go along with it. I have two degrees to prove I am a teacher. There are marriage and birth certificates, a ring and a curvier body, and living, breathing souls who share my last name to prove I am a wife and mother. The only thing I have that makes me a writer is a dream and tug on my heart that’s gotten stronger and stronger as I’ve let other things go and stepped in to seeing what writing might look like.
In one of the talks on Saturday morning titled “Hope in Shattered Dreams”, the speaker gave me such a great reminder that my dream is just as powerful as my Masters degree. She said, “We have responsibility for the dreams God has given us. They are for His glory – a great purpose.” Yes! I can get behind that. If my writing has the potential to bring God glory, then hand me a pen, because that is my greatest joy. I’m learning how to get out of the way of my words so the actual Author can be seen in my story.
I have struggled in the past with letting the things I do define me. Perhaps that’s why I’m having such a hard time saying out loud, “I am a writer”. I do not want that to define who I am and I do not want to claim that title with an ounce of pride. When I was teaching, my identity was wrapped up in my career. There were several things that broke me of that, but it wasn’t an easy process. Breaking is never easy. When I stepped away from teaching to become a stay-at-home mom, I guarded myself fiercely against anything that would encourage me to claim my “mom” title as my sole identity. I resisted going to mom’s groups and reading parenting blogs. I made sure to have lots of time set aside for my husband so our marriage would still be our first priority. I did a lot in my own power to resist a label covering me.
It wasn’t until I offered all of these struggles to Jesus that I was able to walk in the only identity that gives me freedom. I am a child of God. It is out of my identity in Christ that I can say I am a teacher; because He is the one who called me to that holy career. It is out of my identity in Christ that I can say I am a wife; because it is Him who we stood before when we recited our vows to love each other as He loves us. It is out of my identity in Christ that I can proclaim that I am a mother; because it is He who knit my children together in my womb and gave me the strength to bring two of them earth side while He holds our third one until we can one day.
It is out of my identity in Christ first that I can also proclaim I am a writer, because He is the one who tucked that dream in my heart when I was just a child and it is Him I pray to before putting any words on a page, asking Him to breathe life in to them and send them to the hearts who need them. Sometimes it is only my heart that needs these words.
God has already equipped me to do what he wants me to do. Any gift I’ve been given I want to offer fully back to him. I want to use those gifts to point others to Him, not to me. Because the reality is that God doesn’t need me. He doesn’t need to use me to bring Himself glory, but He invites me to partner with him in the work He is doing. God wants to spend time with me more than he wants to use me, and the more time I spend with Him, the more I want to use the gifts He has given me to bring Him glory. When I try to access these gifts before spending time with Him, they feel more like burdens. It is only when I do things out His love that I feel the joy and the blessing that they bring.
My identity doesn’t change with my title.
During one particular season of struggling with my identity, I asked Brett what he would think of me if I was still staying at home when our kids are in high school.
“What if I never go back to the classroom or never pursue that doctorate or never publish another word? What if I never earn another dollar to help support our family?”
His response was immediate, which shows me his true heart. “You’ll be supporting our family no matter what you do,” he answered. He doesn’t see the labels I put on myself first. He just sees me. Kind of like God just sees me. He doesn’t need to use me in order for me to remain His.
The freedom I find in the love from Brett and from God enables me to create freely. There is no expectation or obligation. No pressure to perform or make money. His love is supportive and gives me confidence. I love writing. I think I always have, but it’s never been something I have prioritized. It’s either felt indulgent or like something for people who have earned the title of “writer” through degrees, publications, or some magical writing society I never found out about. I know that my desire to write is from God, so I am going to claim that gift with more confidence.
I am a writer. I love to write.
Shying away from that or giving in to the imposter syndrome feels like I’m telling God He created me wrong. I am a writer because of Him.
I want to live in a world where people are claiming the ways they are uniquely gifted. I want to live in a world where we are celebrating the dreams in our hearts – not hiding from them. I want to live in a world where my children will not hear the question, “What do you do?” and feel the pressure to answer the hidden questions of “How have you been trained? How do you make money?” I want them to hear “What did God put in your heart to do?” and then answer with confidence, not to impress. There should be no guilt in claiming the gifts our Father is aching for us to use.
As I’ve been grappling with all of this, I have been comforted most by this truth: God calls me by name. Isaiah 43:1 says, “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.” He doesn’t call me Teacher Jodie, Mom Jodie, Writer Jodie. He just calls me Jodie. He has redeemed me because of who He is, not because of what I do.
Who I am is His. Every other title is a gift, not an identity. Being a writer is not a new identity in a new season of life, it is a gift I am slowly unwrapping.
This morning I am up early with the pink cotton candy clouds and a silent city. As my coffee brewed I prepared my heart to edit this piece one more time. I opened my Bible to 1 Samuel and read how the Lord cared about Samuel’s words. “And Samuel grew, and the Lord was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground.” (1 Samuel 3:19) This is my prayer. That the only words from me that find air would be of Him, and that those words would not fall to the ground.