(Original post date February 2020)
I had no idea it was possible to have a full-on identity crisis at 42.
At work, our desks are in rows so we can work together in cells. The co-worker who has the unfortunate luck to be squashed next to me is a husband and father who’s oldest child is 15. He’s kind enough to chat while we work, as I’m not a cozy-with-silence kind of person (especially if I’ve had caffeine). As we talk and laugh about the joys of raising teenagers I often find myself feeling a little freaked by how our kids' current feelings/situations are so similar to my own.
What the what???
It’s true. In sooo many ways I feel just as naive and clueless as I was at 15.
* Thought I was wise only to find out I really knew almost nothing? Check
* Unsure of the future? Check
* Freaked out by dating? Check
* Trying to figure out who I am, where I’m going, and what I want to do with my life? Check, check, CHECK
For 23 years I defined myself as wife and mother. Which is good right? That’s supposed to be our top priorities. The trouble is I wasn’t very good at defining who Kelly was in all of that. I didn’t understand that wife and mother are roles—they aren’t who we are. Who we are is what we bring to our roles—what allows us to be who we were created to be. And it goes beyond just our talents and abilities.
Once my role changed to “divorced single mom”, I lost a big part of my identity, a big part of how I defined my everyday life, defined myself. These past months I’ve looked in the mirror and not recognized the person I see there—who is she? I look at her and I have no idea. Her life is almost unrecognizable. Almost nothing like it was before. So often I feel like I must be living someone else’s life—a life that is sometimes a dream other times a nightmare. At least a dozen times a day, out of the blue, a frightened little voice in my head pleads to know—
Who am I?
I was Kelly Hamilton for 19 years. I was Kelly Parkinson for 23 years. I’m Kelly Hamilton again, but I’m not the same Kelly Hamilton I was at 19. Who is this version of Kelly? Who the heck is she??? This reoccurring thought continually gave me panic attacks.
Until I had a m-o-m-e-n-t….
You know what I’m talking about. One of those ah-ha! moments—epiphanies. I heard once that an epiphany is when you fully accept something you already, inherently, know to be truth. That’s why it hits so hard. You ALREADY KNOW it's true. I used to love these. But I’ve learned something recently, ah-ha! moments usually follow with a come-to-Jesus meeting with my subconscious—or rather the light inside me, my soul-fire. And these meetings usually result in the requirement for action—action that scares me because I feel sooooo much weaker than I once was.
I call my soul-fire Moxie because, well, the definition of Moxie is force of character, determination, or nerve—and Moxie sounds like a name you’d give a fiery, strong willed girl. Here’s a typical conversation with my soul-fire after I’ve had a m-o-m-e-n-t:
“Hey Kell, how’s it goin?” Moxie asks, a knowing look in her eye. I think her eyes must be purple, because purple is cool. And her hair is black—jet black. And spiky. Me with purple eyes and spiky black hair. Don’t ask me why.
“Pretty good, thanks.” I say. I know where she’s going with this so I’m trying to find other things to think about—My socks are too tight. I swear the blood to my toes is being cut off. When I take my shoes off after work will all my digits still be inside? If I drink two Dr. Peppers in a row will my heart explode? More likely I’ll start dancing on the tables and be committed to the loony bin. A toe-less Dr. Pepper-aholic who entertains the other patients with non-stop chatter and table dancing—clothed table dancing.
It doesn’t work. Moxie is reeeaaaalllly persistent. She can be super annoying.
“Soooo, what’re you gonna do about it?” She prods, a little too innocently.
Moxie raises an eyebrow.
I search my desk drawer for a half a stick of gum—I know I stuck one in there. It probably got pushed the black abyss at the back and has now joined the other lost half sticks of gum and contraband peanuts I drop when I try to dump trail mix in my mouth when no one is looking.
I start humming random show-tunes (in my head, so as not to annoy my co-workers), but I can feel her purple gaze and it’s starting to get scary. She’s going to distract me from work until I finally give in. I know it. She does it alllllll the time! Since I really need to attach these wires in the right places I give up. “Accept it.”
Moxie’s lips twitch up. “And then?”
I sigh, but I also feel the build of fire and power that comes when I let the m-o-m-e-n-t morph into action. “Use it. Share it.”
An all out grin covers Moxie’s face. “You’ve got this girl.”
You’re now questioning my sanity right? Kell’s having conversations with herself—maybe it’s time we call in the guys with white coats. Seriously, I’m fine. I may need to limit my caffeine intake, but I’m fine. My conversations with Moxie help me find the courage to bring out my light. And if sharing my moment can help your Moxie, or Beth, or Sally June—whatever you call your light, your soul-fire—shine a little brighter, bring a little more joy into your life, then questions on my sanity are totally worth it. (Just make sure wherever the white-coats take me they have Dr. Pepper, okay?)
Here’s how my m-o-m-e-n-t—the epiphany I’m going to use and share—came to be.
Recently, I sat crying on my therapists comfy couch, squeezing a pillow to death, as we discussed my identity crisis. She said I needed to find what anchors me—the pieces of myself that have not been broken or lost. It took some coaxing before I was able to figure a few of them out.
My love for God. My relationship with Christ. My love for my boys. Those things have only strengthened since my divorce. They have not been lost or broken.
She said that was beautiful—my anchor is LOVE.
I’m a crazy visual learner (eh-hem see above paragraph on Moxie…) and as I was sitting there I had an image of myself standing there, a statue burned to ashes. Only one foot remained anchored to the ground. The other pieces of me were floating away and with no arms I couldn’t stop them.
Carly (my therapist) said there’s new things up there, new pieces I’ll build myself back together with. Some of the old me will come back into me eventually, but it will still be different.
I could see that. I could see it in my art and in my writing. It’s the same, but so very, very different.
She then said the process of discovering my new identity could be a beautiful thing. I wanted so desperately to believe her. But it’s just so terrifying not knowing who you are. She said the first step is to stop focusing on what I think I “should” be—stop holding onto the weight of other people’s expectations—and start finding the things that light my soul on fire and go after them with all my heart. The problem is my heart is broken too…
What lights my soul on fire?
And it came to me. The most fire I’ve ever felt in my life was standing in front of a room full of women or youth—despite how terrifying it can be—sharing my difficult life lessons, and watching hope light up their eyes. At the conclusion, listening to their stories, accepting their hugs and gratitude for the peace I’ve somehow helped them feel. Nothing lights up my soul like knowing I’ve helped someone else feel God’s love for them—get a glimpse of their worth and beauty.
But through my months of pain and heartache I’d forgotten this. And even though I said it in that session with Carly it didn’t hit me as TRUTH until a few weeks later. I was invited to go with a couple amazing ladies to a conference where Christian singers and speakers shared inspirational messages geared toward women. The theme was Take Courage My Heart.
At the concert the first night the embers of my soul-fire were sparked back to life. A m-o-m-e-n-t that still burns inside me and is propelling me forward with excitement, a bit of fear (but courage isn’t fearless), and joy.
The performer was Calee Reed. A beautiful human being, not just a beautifully talented singer. It began with one sentence she spoke that hit my soul like a match to dry tinder.
“If you aren’t sure who you are, remember this—YOU ARE A CHILD OF GOD, and that’s enough.” -Calee Reed
For the past six months God has been telling me over, and over, and over, “Everything is going to be okay.” Some days I believe Him, but other days it’s a battle with myself to trust Him, and not just him, to trust anyone or anything. Moxie and I go the rounds until we’re both on the ground bruised and bloody.
Whenever a painful, or even a happy memory hits, or a new fear rises, or another step into the dark of the unknown is required… I have to trust that everything will be okay—even though I have NO idea how it’s going to be okay. How do you decide anything, do anything when you don’t know who you are???
Who am I?
I am His child…
And that’s enough.
What more beautiful starting point can I possibly have? I remembered the truth I’d been teaching to hundreds of women in inspirational speeches before my divorce. It came back to me in Moxie’s voice—the most powerful version of me. The person I feel like when I’m sharing my message of hope and light. “God made you and He does not make mistakes. He knew everything you would ever face in your life. He created you with everything you would need to not only survive but thrive in every single thing you do. You just have to trust Him enough to let him show you who you are…”
“There’s nothing as unstoppable as a freight train full of f***-yeah.” -Jen Sincero
Sorry gentle eyes for the f-bomb. But that’s how hard this hit me. Just like a full on f-bomb. A lightning fast freight train loaded with—KELLY YOU KNOW THIS!!! YOU’VE BEEN TELLING OTHER WOMEN THIS FOR YEARS NOW!!! COME ON!!!!!!!!!!
The tears started to fight their way free from my eyes. Then Calee Reed told us about a Japanese art form called kintsugi which is: The art of repairing pottery with gold or silver lacquer and understanding that the piece is more beautiful for having been broken. And then she sang a song, Broken and Beautiful, that turned the trickle of tears I was kind of managing to disguise, into a full-on raging river down my cheeks and a total fight to hold in the sobs that hitched in my chest. And guys, I was sitting next to the mother of the guy I was dating at the time!
Broken and Beautiful...
Fire in my soul—a truth that I already knew but had forgotten, a truth that had become buried in pain.
“I’m not perfect, but I was never meant to be…. Keep your view of your perfect world, I was never meant to be that girl. Broken…and I am beautiful. He’ll use each piece, to make a masterpiece.”
My anchor isn’t just my love for God—it is His love for me.
He loves me even when I can’t love myself. Even when I don’t know who I am. Because He does. He knows exactly who I am. And if I’ll let him, He will take those broken pieces of me floating up there—those pieces that are still meant to be in me—and he’s going to grab them for me. He’ll fuse them back inside me with golden threads of His love and grace. And then He’s going to touch other things in the sky. Beautiful things that were meant to be a part of me all along. He’s going to light them up so I can find them. They will be my most beautiful golden pieces.
He’s going to help me find me.
“The same God that delivered and rescued me in the past is the same God that will rescue me now.” Emily Freeman
I knew Him before my divorce, and I tried in everything I did to help others know Him too. He is the same God I knew before, I am the one who’s different, but just as He was there for me then, He is here for me now. Exactly as I am. And He loves me exactly as I am—broken, but still beautiful.
I don’t know exactly who I am—and I’m still so very, very scared—but one thing I do know… I am His daughter and right now that’s enough.
It’s enough to keep me trying. To keep putting one foot in front of the other. To keep battling and siding with Moxie. To keep my faith strong. To remember that I’m actually waaaaaay stronger than I once was—and way more compassionate. To accept that the discovery of who we are is a life-long, terrifying yet BEAUTIFUL process. Pruning our life gardens will never end, which means growth will never end—thank goodness!
Even though I don’t recognize the woman in the mirror, even though my life terrifies me, I have a starting point, I have an anchor of truth, a truth so powerful it will guide me to other truths, other beautiful things that will become me.
I am God’s baby girl, and everything is going to be okay… No, it’s going to be more than okay. It’s going to be beautiful…