Saturday, February 18, 2017

The Proper Time

     One morning around three months ago, I was having a particularly nice start to my day in Togo, having managed to be up early enough that the heat hadn't fully set in yet and I could enjoy a walk without feeling like I was melting. I was walking back from the little shop on the school property, carrying a gift I had just purchased. I was in a particularly good mood because I was excited about bringing this gift home with me, and equally as excited about the person it would eventually be given to. As I walked along, I crossed paths with a young student going in the opposite direction. He had enough sight that he could tell who I was once I got close enough, and as he greeted me in French with an enthusiastic smile, and I was able to form a somewhat proper response thanks to two or three years of French class in high school,  I remember thinking "How is this my life?". There I was, feeling immersed in the new culture I was experiencing, holding this gift I had just carefully selected, being greeted so sweetly by this precious child. It just seemed too good to be real, and yet it was.
     I've thought a lot about that interaction recently, because I can remember it so vividly, and yet the extreme happiness I felt in that moment feels so far away from the way I have felt over the past week or so. "How is this my life?" is a question that has been on my mind once again, this time for different reasons.
     How is this my life, I've wondered resentfully. How am I so far from where I want to be, even though I've tried hard to stay on a path that will lead me to my desired destination? Where did I go wrong? I'm certainly not perfect, but I've always tried to be "good", sometimes to a fault. I have memories of being very young, following my brother around and constantly saying, "But we'll get in trouble!" to most every idea he came up with. I don't even want to know how many fun adventures I passed up in my attempts to stay out of trouble.      Now that I am older, I have my moments, but that little girl who was such a rule follower never fully left me. I think that somewhere in my subconscious, I've always believed that as long as I keep doing what I think is good, what seems right, things will eventually work out in my favor. But lately, I've experienced many harsh reminders that I was misguided in that belief, at least in some ways. Sometimes, no matter how hard I try, things just don't work out the way I would like them to. No amount of trying to be good and do good can completely safeguard me from failure, and that is a hard pill for me to swallow. As much as I have tried to justify my misguided belief, there is no guarantee that as long as I am good, things will turn out to my benefit immediately. I am learning that many times, when I feel like I have been working hard and doing good things for long enough that it must be time to reap the benefits, God has other plans.
     Often, when I have tried to do  what I think is good and it hasn't worked out in my favor. I have been tempted to give up even trying. If being good isn't getting me anywhere, might as well have some fun doing whatever I please, right? But I know that is an incorrect way of thinking, one that will inevitably lead me in the wrong direction.
   So, I am trying my best not to be discouraged, and not to grow weary. And even when life is tough, there are still so many wonderful moments to keep me encouraged, something that I was reminded of a few days ago, when I met the recipient of the gift I bought that morning in Togo for the very first time.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Mistaken Identity

     If I ever wrote a memoir about my life, I think I might title it "It's just Jennie." This is a something I have found myself saying countless times, most often after someone has called me Jennifer. Once during middle school, I became very frustrated when a teacher said he was just going to go ahead and call me Jennifer because Jennie was "too hard to remember". That teacher did eventually start calling me by my real name, but only because I was persistent in reminding him.
It's frustrating to be called the wrong name because I know who I am. Jennifer is a fine name, but it's not my name. Calling me Jennifer is no different than calling me Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth; it's simply inaccurate. Even when I was very shy and not so great at speaking up for myself, I never let anyone call me Jennifer, because I knew that wasn't who I was.
     My name is a big part of my identity. My parents picked it for me when I was born, and it has stayed with me for my whole life. I also have another identity, one that I was given even before I was born. I'm not a theologian, but I know that the Bible talks a lot about our identity being found in Jesus. Today when I was once again mistakenly called Jennifer, I was reminded that I should defend my God given identity just as fiercely as I defend my name.
     Like that teacher who kept calling me a name that wasn't mine, there are circumstances in my life that challenge my God given identity. There are times when I let myself be defined by aspects of my personality, both positive and negative. I have tried to find my identity in my talents and accomplishments, in jobs and in friendships. These things are all parts of my life, but allowing them to define who I am only leads to another case of mistaken identity. I need to start remembering where my true identity lies, and correct anything or anyone who tries to tell me otherwise. It shouldn't be too hard, I've already had plenty of practice correcting my mistaken identity.