When I reflect on my almost 32 years, I cannot help but see the changes to my identity that have occurred as I have added new titles, names, or professions to my repertoire.
My first identity was 'Ben and Marg Dueck’s daughter' or 'oldest child'. Then, while in school, I discovered hobbies, activities or talents that were added to my identity list: reader, artist, runner, piano student, youth group/church kid, friend… to name a few. Some of those identities stuck around beyond high school and of those, most became entrenched in how I viewed myself in early adulthood.
I started dating a very tall young man in my early twenties, who eventually helped me add 'wife' and 'Hudson & Gemma’s mom' to my list. While I have navigated being a girlfriend/wife/mom, my creative pursuits and hobbies increased and decreased in significance with demands of those roles. Parts of my identity had to be let go of for a time – sometimes with me not knowing if I’d ever pick up those pieces again, or when I would return to that 'me' if it was a temporary season.
Recently, I’ve rediscovered books that don’t rhyme and are found outside of the kid’s area of Chapters. I’ve started running (and stopped and started again) to help manage my anxiety. I have had periods of time where my time is filled photographing my family (and/or other families), and other times when my notebook, pencil or brush pens are never far from my hand. I’ve put acrylic paint on canvases while my children use watercolour on the other half of our dining table and I’ve helped glue/tape/write/draw some spectacular mixed media projects with my littles. Some of these life-giving activities look the same as they did before, but it has been necessary to alter most to fit within my current life stage. There have been days when I haven’t been able to claim any identity besides ‘dish-washer’, ‘toy-picker-upper’ or ‘laundry-do-er’. I have had days when I feel like I’ve mastered those titles and others that I fail epically at them. More often than I like, there are days when my mood is incredibly grumpy in response to these thankless jobs, when I fail to acknowledge the hidden blessings in the life of a stay-at-home-mom.
'Friend' is one role that I have always needed in my life. I have found solidarity in it when nights with babies were sleepless, support when life as a farmwife feels lonely, and wisdom, encouragement and prayers when the weight of a life season feels too much. It is in this role that I laugh until I cry, love and feel loved. It is also in this role that I have experienced hurt that bruises or, in some cases, breaks my heart. There are relationships that dissolve slowly and amicably, sometimes ones that can be difficult but maintain equilibrium if kept at surface depth and some that result in hurt so profound, it is life-altering.
In the same sense, my identity as daughter doesn't feel as straight forward now that mom has been diagnosed with a terminal disease. I will forever be ‘Ben and Marg’s daughter’ but because of MSA, I know that identity will one day not be referred to in present tense. In fact, there are some aspects of that identity that I have felt shift to past tense already. For most of my life, my mom was the one who took care of me but since the diagnosis, the roles have changed so that I am the one extending care instead of receiving it. While in the young baby years and even now in the young children years, that is a very disorienting change to experience. While I will forever be a daughter, sometimes it feels like in 'real life' that role of being mothered isn't mine so much anymore.
As different roles have come together to define who I am and I've experienced the 'ebb and flow' of many of those identities in recent years, there have been anxieties and fears to confront in the process. I've done some HARD work and continue to do the hard work in speaking truth into those fears, anxieties and issues. Becoming a mom and having a small human require so much of me 24-7 made it easy to channel everything towards them and lose sight of my other roles. When you come up for air, from those tiny baby years (and I'm not that far out of them so my words can't hold a lot of weight), it's hard to reconcile who you were pre-baby with who you are now, post-baby. It's not just our bodies that change through pregnancy and childbirth, there's a shift in priorities and values that can be an obstacle in re-claiming parts of ourselves. When grief is added to your identity, it feels as life-changing and confusing. My pre-MSA/grief identity is one that I wish for so desperately some days, but this current identity... it is bittersweet at the best of times, character-refining and just as heartbreakingly beautiful as those early days with a tiny newborn, running on a few hours of sleep and a whole lot of love.
Through the past year, I've been confronted with the truth that the only identity that matters, the only identity that never changes and is constant through every season of my life is I belong to God. My heart will only continued to be battered, bruised and broken if I place my value, worth and identity in being a mom, wife, photographer, handletter-er, runner, daughter, friend, sister, or any other role I find myself in on this earth. These things are not eternal - they do not last and they are not reliable. These things, relationships or abilities will change and reach an ending. They will never hold up to the weight of my expectations and, as a result, let me down.
1 Peter 1:3-9 has been encouraging to me while I have wrestled with my identity - the fears and insecurities that have shown themselves through grief and this identity crisis have been difficult to face. To admit that I had been trying to find my identity in relationships with others or in talents I have been given or in duties that I preform, instead of rooted in Christ and who He says I am... it is humbling. It takes constant effort to refocus where I find my identity and sometimes I feel like I take more steps backwards than forward. The process is messy, compounded or complicated by grief and young children and marriage and everything else I encounter during my years here on earth. But my God is patient, He loves me (and my mess) and I belong to Him.