Who am I?

IMG_2833Identity – “the fact of being who or what a person or thing is. The characteristics determining who or what a person or thing is.” (Oxford dictionary definition).

If you had to answer the question what is your identity I wonder what you would say? I am guessing that for most of us the answer would be a mixture of family, relationships, faith, beliefs, values, experiences, careers, callings and the list goes on and on.

We build up a structure around us of different things, marriage, kids, work, friendships, sport and those structures define us. We are marked and can be described by the things that we do, the things that we like, the people in our lives – so I am an Appleby, a lawyer, Lucy Forder’s mum, I have awful taste in music (apparently!), I run, I love people, I am over emotional etc. etc. – these things make me who I am.

What happens when those things are taken away, when those structures come tumbling down – who are we then? When the things that we put so much faith and importance in let us down? When we are made redundant or a relationship breaks down? When illness comes? I know when those things have been taken away from me, when my marriage disappeared overnight, when my career suddenly and unexpectedly took a different turn I wasn’t quite sure who I was anymore.

The last few months have been a really significant time for me, in a really positive way, in a way that I cannot fully articulate and in ways that feel too personal to share, even for me, but as I reflect back three particular things stand out all around the subject of identity.

  1. I work for a Christian charity, which works with the vulnerable and marginalised throughout the British Isles. Every day at midday we meet to pray for half an hour, for the world, for those who are unwell, for those we work with, for each other – normally it is just a small group of around 6 people and those times have been incredibly precious to me over the last few months. About 6 weeks ago we were chatting and we were talking about positive thinking and how we handle the harder times in life. One of my lovely and incredibly wise colleagues made a comment about how sometimes we can stay in the valley of death too long because it becomes a safe place, it feels easier to stay there even though it is a place of pain because actually it becomes familiar. Now that comment was not directed at me, as I am not sure he even knew my story, it wasn’t directed at anyone in particular but it was like God himself had come into the room and spoken those words directly to my heart. Something pretty massive shifted in my heart at that moment as I realised that that was me, that I had stayed in that valley of death, and that John’s death and to some extent my dad’s death, had become my identity. It was like a light had gone on and I knew that that was not what I wanted my identity to be any longer – it was like after nearly 9 years a weight had been lifted and a freedom had come. It was incredibly significant for me.
  1. A few weeks ago I was in the pub catching up with a friend. Across the room I spied a senior partner from the firm I used to work for with another person from that same firm. All the familiar feelings of anxiety filled my heart but I manage to talk myself down thinking I could avoid them seeing me and I went on chatting to my friend. A bit later on I went to the bar to get some drinks and they walked past me. They stopped, started looking at me and were clearly talking about me – the senior of the two came over to me. He asked me what I was doing work wise now and as I explained his whole tone and attitude towards me changed and I felt like I was being sneered at. All those feelings of failure filled my heart so I just, in my head, started to remind myself I was God’s daughter, that my identity was in him, not rooted in what I did or how much I earned or who I worked for and a peace returned.
  1. I have always been a daddy’s girl – my dad was one of my favourite people. He was far perfect and in fact a lot of the time could be a pain in the arse but he was a lovely, kind man and a good dad. I used to look forward to seeing him and chatting with him. My dad always had my back, always loved me and was always proud of me, when my heart broke his heart broke too, no one could have loved my child more – he was a good man. He was also a fundamental part of who I am – parents good or bad have a massive impact on who we become in life and the paths we take. So when that parent is suddenly no longer there it does change you – it shifts the world in ways that are hard to explain. I have realised during the last few months that actually because my earthly father is no longer here I am relating to God, my heavenly father, much more as my daddy, I find myself referring to him as daddy and talking to him in a different way – almost like because my dad is no longer here to talk to, to support me and to love me, I have allowed God to fill that space more.

As I sit back and reflect on the last few months and the last year, which has been a crazy, amazing year of massive change I have realised that as tough as the journey has been it has bought me to a point where my confidence in my identity as a child of God is greater than it has ever been. I don’t want my identity to be in anything but Jesus, that actually it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks. Maybe and probably, well actually definitely, I have had to be broken to get to that point, but I am so thankful for the freedom and hope that has come from that brokenness and for those wise angels that helped me along the way!

For five more minutes on the dance floor…………..

So this is something I have been thinking about a lot recently and have started to write about a few times but have ended up distracted or not feeling like it sounded quiet right.

In the last 24 hours I have spoken to 2 of my closest friends who were both exhausted, where life right now just feels too much – they are trying to juggle kids, careers/work, run a home, be a great wife, have deep and meaningful friendships, and throw in bereavement and illness and unsurprisingly it feels like their heads may explode.

I have been there myself – this time last year I was at breaking point and to some degree I did break a little. I had a job that was incredibly full on and stressful, the inheritance of a father and grandfather of unresolved issues and problems, and at the same time was trying to be the perfect mum, daughter, sister and friend. I got to the point where I couldn’t sleep, where I had no peace, felt constantly sick and I wasn’t being a good anything to anyone and in fact spent a large part of each day in tears as I felt totally overwhelmed – I usually have a high capacity and can cope but I had reached a point where it was all too much. I knew as I reached the end of 2014 that I wasn’t enjoying the things that really mattered, the people in my life – I wasn’t properly engaging with my child because in my head I was totally tied into work and worry about my clients, or the outcome of a case, or meeting a target. I knew I had to make changes before I made myself really ill.

God in his mercy stepped in and pulled me out and put me in a much more restful place with time and space but I am still working through that 8 months and the impact it has left.

Recently there has been a video on social media which shows older ladies reflecting on what they see of the younger generation of women who are following after them. This video is incredibly powerful in its simplicity – what these women reflect on is that with all the opportunities and technology we have available to us it should lead to pleasure but what they see is that the younger generations are bowed down by pressure, pressure to be the perfect wife, mother and friend, to be successful, a boss, a leader. They see burn out. That instead of having a “to do list” we should have a “don’t do list” – that if they had their time over again they would extend those bedtime kisses, that they would cuddle their babies more before they are too old for those cuddles, and that they would spend more time on the dance floor whilst their legs were still strong enough to allow them to keep dancing. These gorgeous ladies with all their wisdom and experience were saying to the generations behind them, my generation, learn to be and to let go!

Tied into this issue is comparison and the pressures we put on ourselves – I have this conversation over and over again with friends. We need to have children who are always perfectly turned out, who are impeccably mannered, thriving at school and socially capable. We need to have a house that looks like it should be in “Homes & Gardens” and always immaculately clean. We need to be producing gourmet meals and an amazing social life. To always look perfect. To be creating picture perfect happy memories with friends and family – again the curse of social media. We measure our work success by the size of our wage packets, by our promotions and our achievements in the workplace.

I think we hear a lie that we should always be busy and productive because in some warped way that is a measure of success. I know I listened to that lie for a long time.

For me personally what I have learnt this year is that I have a choice – that it is about being intentional in pursuing the things that matter, even if that is hard. Sometimes, like for my 2 friends, there will be stages in life when everything does come crashing down at once, and there doesn’t feel like there is any choice in it and often there isn’t and during those times we need to survive and get through – for me it was about crying out to God and asking him for a way out, asking him to help me. I made some hard choices this year and I do not regret them one bit but I often still wrestle with them – did I commit career suicide? How will I be able to pay for Lucy’s wedding (my brother pointed out that in all likelihood that was at least 20 years away and I needed to chill out)? Am I not as worthy or successful because of the choices I made? Maybe not in the society’s eyes but I am happier. I am more content. I am enjoying my people more, my child more, and have met amazing new people this year. I have had more space and rest to work stuff through and meet with God. I may not be as financially comfortable and secure but I feel freer and more hopeful.

What can stay? What needs to go? What decisions are being made out of a financial motivation or what other people think? Where is fear holding us back?

Where do we need to ask for help? Asking for help is hard – my mum spent a week in intensive care this summer with severe pneumonia. My mum does so much for me – my childcare, cooks me meals, does my ironing – she makes my life easier and suddenly she was out of action and once the panic over whether she would survive or not had passed I started to panic about how I would cope, as the doctors anticipated her being out of action for 6 months. Who would take Lucy to school? How would I juggle it all with full time work? Within an hour of that panic setting in friends and mums from school were offering help. It felt hard to show weakness and accept that help but I knew that if the shoe was on the other foot I would happily help and so I had to suck up my pride and get on with it.

We need to be helping each other, we need to get over our pride and accept help – because without doubt as much as we may need help at certain points we will have many, many opportunities to give that help back. As we open up to our safe people, and say this is all too much can you help me, we will be blessing them with the chance to help, building deeper relationships – we all get there at some point and we will all get there again and we need each other to get through. Vulnerability.

And last but not least we need to be encouraging each other. I am passionate about loving people – I want people to know how special they are and I try to tell them that whenever I can. I have been accused of being a little intense at times but I don’t care. We need to be kind to each other, to pick each other up, to be hope when people feel hopeless, to believe in people’s futures when they can’t see the way out. To pray. To listen. To push each other forward when there is no strength left. It was my friends who spoke truth into my situation last year, who pushed me to make changes and who loved me through it.

As those wise old ladies said it so perfectly we need to learn to be, to let go and to dance more!