A New Chapter.
I’m turning thirty this year. Part of me feels like I’ve been thirty for awhile already… I think something about having two kids will do that to you ;) But another part of me feels a sweet anticipation. Thirty! It feels like a whole new chapter.
I think something about leaving your twenties and approaching your thirties makes you realize that you know nothing. Right? In my early twenties, I thought I knew everything. I was learning so much about my newfound faith, and it all seemed really straightforward and clear. Looking back now, I think God was equipping me for the difficult journey ahead. Like… it’s one thing to read about doing something and another thing entirely to live it. I thought I was living a life of following Christ before, and I was in a lot of ways! But I don’t think I’d really begun living.
If you’ve followed me for any amount of time, you know that my early twenties was spent in Dallas while my husband was in law school. We were newly married and had recently begun to experience real relationship with Christ. We ate. It. Up. We signed up for everything at church, we devoured books on theology, I even organized and lead a weekend women’s retreat. I think I was 24 at the time. We were crazy, in the best way. Then we moved, for Chris’s work opportunities, and spent a year in Austin and a year in Jackson, Mississippi. We had our first daughter, Grace, while we were in Jackson. And it was there that the, I’ll say “nasty stuff,” hit the fan. After our year in Jackson, we moved back to Dallas, to a permanent job for Chris and becoming a stay-at-home mom for me. We now have another daughter, Julie, who is currently two months old. What a delight she and her sister are to us.
I think it is only just now that I can truly begin to appreciate what we’ve been through. For the past couple of years, I’ve felt like I just came out of the rock tumbler. I did not want to go through the “refining fire” that God had for us in our journey, and I went through it kicking and screaming. Even when it was all over, I was still kicking and screaming. In fact, I still have days when I am kicking and screaming :) Does that ever end as a follower of Christ? I suppose there are many facets to the metaphor that we should be “children of God,” ha ha!
I was talking to a friend this past weekend about spiritual gifts. Now, I’m not getting into charismatic-type giftings, but what we discussed was the giftings that we see in one another. I affirmed what she had heard before about herself. And she affirmed to me that mine is the gift of empathy. Now, this is a pretty broad word that might conjure up a lot of ideas of what it could be, so here’s some helpful examples of what I think this looks like in my life:
This past week, I sent out a Google form to the ladies in my small group. Many of them have been a part of my life since those early “crazy” days, and some of them are still new to me since I moved back to Dallas. This Google form I titled “Our Favorite Things” and they had to answer questions like “What’s your favorite dessert?”, favorite movie, go-to Starbucks order, favorite flowers. Then I made the answers available to all of us so that when we’re sitting in the Starbucks drive-through on our way to, say, Rachel’s house, we can go ahead and grab her her favorite drink. These were things I wanted to know about these women so that I could love them better, and I figured everybody else wouldn’t mind that, too. Another example is that I put together a some-what “last minute” trip to visit a close friend a couple hours away this past weekend just because I missed her and wanted to check in on her, and had a feeling that she needed that, too. Chris affectionately calls these instances times where I get to “be Brittany.” When I get to go out of my way to really love on someone else.
There’s also a thing I do when I’m with someone where I feel their feelings. If you know anything about the very popular enneagram, this all might be drawing you to the right conclusion… yes, I am a two :) If you’re not familiar with the enneagram, it is a group of nine personality types that is loosely based on Christian principles. My husband and I were introduced to it a few years ago during a really difficult season in our marriage. It was one of the first times we wondered, “Who is this stranger that I’m married to?” (Those of you who are a few years ahead of me in marriage are probably chuckling at that, because you understand that question.) The enneagram really helped remind us of the qualities in each other that made us first fall in love, and helped us to understand where those strengths had gotten off-track and become dangerous in our lives. My empathy was definitely one of those qualities.
An enneagram two is often called “the helper.” I am generous in my love and affection for others. I am incredibly other-oriented, to a fault, in that I often can’t name my own needs and tend to deny them completely. On an average day, I give of my myself subconsciously expecting love in return and finding my value in how valuable I am to someone else. I live for deep relationships, for building up and supporting others in the intimate spaces of their lives, and thinking of ways to encourage others comes like second nature to me.
After a few hard years, I had veered into dangerous waters with my empathy. We had up and moved twice in three years, and for someone who really only does deep friendships, I had given so much so quickly in that time, had had to leave my place of belonging multiple times, that I was burnt out. That might actually be an understatement. And, on top of that, I had lost connection with my husband as well. I was giving so much of myself and denying all of my own personal needs, that I had unknowingly told myself that I wasn’t important enough to have needs. In fact, God was orchestrating these circumstances, and He was the only one who knew what was going on inside of me, so, I reasoned, because He wasn’t changing the circumstances, that I was unimportant to Him. What He was really doing at the time was teaching me a hard lesson that I really didn’t want to learn.
You may be reading this because you’ve seen me write about my struggle with depression and suicidal thoughts. I think you can see how my gift of empathy can get me in a lot of trouble. I didn’t realize until recently that, upon moving back to Dallas, I had shut off my gift of empathy. I felt dead inside and I couldn’t explain why. I’ve been searching for the past few years why I haven’t felt like myself. I’ve most often blamed it on becoming a mother – because being a mama is hard. So, maybe, I thought, I just have to “tough it out” until these years with little babies is over and then I can get back to being myself. I questioned if I needed to go back to working in some capacity in order to feel like myself again. What was going on? I had stopped “being Brittany.” I had decided, somewhere along the way, that giving of myself the way I love to do is dangerous, and I need to protect myself and my family from that going off-track and driving me into depression.
Chris was the one who said something revolutionary to me. He said, “I think in those years before things got bad, you were living out ‘extreme empathy.’ You had gone a bit too far and given too much and gotten burnt out. And in the past few years, you’ve shut off that part of yourself, so you’ve gone to the other extreme. You don’t have to live in one extreme or the other. You can give of yourself, the way you were born to do it, with healthy boundaries, and God can teach you how.”
Boom. Light switch. Mind blown.
God immediately gave me a visual of a line, and it looked like this:
On one end, there’s a little section called “too little.” And on the other end of the line, there’s a little section called “too much.” And then in the middle, there’s the huge section called “HEALTHY.” I don’t have to walk this fine line that I had imagined. I don’t have to live in fear. God has life abundant for me in the middle, where I will still mess up, I will teeter close to the extremes and likely fall into them again, but He has this huge middle ground for me to play in with the gift He has given me. I can be challenged, I can grow, I can practice, I can train. Lord-willing, I have many, many years ahead of getting to “be Brittany.”
I used to think my trajectory was writing, teaching, and public speaking. Maybe getting to lead worship. I’ve told only those very close to me how much I miss writing. I don’t know what that means for my future or the future of my family, I don’t know if it’s a “career,” but I do know that God has put writing on my heart. I’ve been afraid that it’s selfish to pursue. Why would I make time, away from my precious babies, to do something that may not benefit anybody else but me? (Can you see that two-ness coming out?) But God is not surprised that the longing is there – He put it there. And He’s reminding me to keep knocking and I will find Him. It may look nothing like what my naive 23-year-old self had imagined. But it will be everything rich and lovely and good from my Savior. It will be healing to my heart. It will be challenging to my soul. It will be nourishment for myself and others. Whatever He has for me, I am finally finding myself as moldable clay in His hands again.
So here’s to approaching thirty, a whole new chapter, where I still know nothing. But I’ve got Him… and that’s really something.