On Losing My Labels and Finding My Identity in Christ

I like personality profiles. I’m an INTJ, enneagram 1, C (on the DISC scale), and a beaver, so that shouldn’t surprise anyone. I like labels and boxes and people who have labels and fit into boxes.

I’ve lost some of my labels lately, parts of my identity. I was an adoptive mom, then I wasn’t. I was a pastor’s wife, then I wasn’t. And now I’m changing yet another label—homeschool mom.

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None of these changes have been easy, but this one stings because it’s so recent. Being a homeschool mom is something I’m proud of. I’ve even told Lee I would change anything in my schedule I needed to change to keep doing it. Because James requires so much of my attention when he’s home, I feel like homeschooling David gives us the time I need to focus on just him.

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But on a road trip early this month, we got to talking (our best talks often come in the car). David said he’s lonely. I get that. We moved from PA to TX a year ago and left lots of good friends behind. The church we attend doesn’t have Sunday school or Awana like our church in PA did, so he sees his friends before church and after, but that’s really it. And as we transition away from there to focus on Journey, he’ll see them even less. He has theatre friends but only when they are doing plays together. We don’t know any kids in the neighborhood. And he is the best big brother I know, but his relationship with James isn’t a true friendship.

So off to school he will go in the fall. At least for one grading period. We’ll see how it goes and make future plans from there.

I’m excited for him, truly. But I’m sad for me. We’ve homeschooled through major difficult life events and it’s the anchor I rely on each day at 1:00, when David and I meet to start off our time by both reading.

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When my emotions get big, I try to figure out why. What is making me saddest about this? I think it’s because I’m losing part of my identity. Because I’m stepping out of a box I stepped into seven years ago when we were learning B is for boy, ball, and button. Stepping out feels like I’m quitting. It feels like I failed. Again. It feels like yet another u turn in the plan I had for our family. If I’m not a homeschooling pastor’s wife, who am I? 

Paul may have been like me. (I’m 95% sure he was an INTJ at least.) He lists some of his labels in Philippians 3:4-6

If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.

But as we know, those were actually Saul’s labels; the labels Saul was known for before he met Christ and became Paul.

But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. (vv 7-11)

We don’t know Paul as a Pharisee or a Benjamite. We know him as a Christ-follower. That was the most important way he identified himself. After gaining Christ, nothing else mattered. None of the labels or accomplishments. He only lived to please God and be worthy of his calling.

That’s my goal through this too—to focus on Christ and how He calls me to rest in Him. To remember when everything around me feels like it’s changing, He is my anchor.

I may be losing a label, but my identity in Him will never change.

‘But If Not,’ I Will Still Find Hope

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered and said to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.” Daniel 3:16-18

God hasn’t answered the biggest prayer I’ve been praying for over a year. And this request is coming months after another situation when He didn’t answer a prayer we’d been praying for five years. (And when I say He’s not answering, of course I mean He’s not answering the way I want Him to.)

I remind myself of God's sovereignty, and in Him alone I place my hope. - sandrapeoples.com

 

We had a plan. The next two years were laid out for us with timelines and budgets and t-shirts. And even though we followed the plan and stuck to the timeline, it isn’t working out that way. We followed God’s guidance and expected to be rewarded. Instead, we are suffering. Every one of us. It’s heavy and hard and I don’t like it.

Last week, after days of thinking and trying to understand how I was feeling (we INTJs aren’t so good with understanding our feelings), I finally came up with a name for it—hopelessness. I can’t see a solution. People are making suggestions and coming up with contingency plans, but I’m not convinced. When I lay my head on the pillow each night, all I can think is “This isn’t going to work.”

Almost two years ago I was on the phone with a therapist who was not helpful. I closed my door so the boys couldn’t hear me gasping for breath and raising my voice through my tears, “You are taking away our hope and we cannot live with out hope. It’s the only thing that gets me out of bed each morning.” Right now the only thing that’s getting me out of bed is the to do list.

So how do I find hope again? How do I learn to say with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, “God will answer our prayers, but even if He doesn’t, I will still worship Him”?

I remind myself of God’s sovereignty, and in Him alone I place my hope.

I don’t want to remind myself this is all from God. I bet Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego didn’t either as they faced the furnace. (Or Joseph in jail. Or Moses in the wilderness. Or Ruth and Naomi as they walked back to the home Naomi had left. Or David as he mourned the loss of his son. Or Jeremiah as he wept for his people. Or Zechariah and Elizabeth as they spent decades praying an unanswered prayer.) We like to give God credit for the results but not don’t always acknowledge His love and mercy in our suffering.

I want to blame someone else. If only he had come through. If only she would have said yes. Then plan A would still be working out. But ultimately what is happening is God’s will for us. What I currently view as suffering is God’s will for us.

He isn’t thwarted by detours or surprised when dates on the calendar come and go without goals being met. He is working all things out for our good. And our good doesn’t mean we are going to have success (just like having enough faith isn’t going to mean James will be healed of his autism).

I don’t know why I keep forgetting this lesson. My whole life has been an example of it. The book of James speaks of every good and perfect gift being from above, but who gets to say if what we’re experiencing isn’t a good and perfect gift? From God’s perspective it must be. As we know, His goal is our holiness, our sanctification. And through that comes hope.

Though we speak in this way, yet in your case, beloved, we feel sure of better things—things that belong to salvation. For God is not unjust so as to overlook your work and the love that you have shown for his name in serving the saints, as you still do. And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness to have the full assurance of hope until the end, so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises. Hebrews 6:9-12

Houston in July feels a lot like a “burning fiery furnace.” And as we walk through it, I’m going to keep praying for exactly what I want to happen. Even when I don’t see any possible way for it to work out.

It’s not the results I have hope in, but God. That is why I can have “the full assurance of hope.” Why I won’t grow sluggish in my love for God or others. Why I will fight for that hope with faith and patience.

What Is Your Faith in Today?

We need faith. Faith that His purpose and will for our lives and the lives of our children will be fulfilled. Faith that when doctors, therapist, teachers, and even friends and family members fail us, He never will.

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When we have meetings about James, I bring a binder full of information. Copies of therapy evaluations, results of blood tests, a list of medicines and supplements, his IEP, and more. It is obvious to others that we are serious about helping him thrive. That we want him to reach his potential. That we take our care for him seriously. Like this woman, we have been to many doctors and therapists and have spent lots of money. Some of these doctors have helped and others haven’t. But we continue to have faith.

What is our faith in? The medical community? The most recent study? The newest therapy trend? To a degree, yes. Or we wouldn’t keep going there for answers.

To read more, check out my post at Key Ministry for the Special-Needs Parenting blog …

Posts on Special-Needs Ministry

I’ve been the guest blogger this month at Key Ministry’s blog, Church4EveryChild. I wrote on special-needs ministry, specifically in smaller churches.

Family in love

Here are the links and excerpts:

Eight Outreach Events to Target (and Bless) Special-Needs Families:

We see special-needs families as an unreached people group we plan to target. And like missionaries, we are taking the “go and engage” approach instead of just “come and see.”

Special-Needs Ministry Should Minister to the Whole Family:

Special-needs ministry doesn’t only take place in a classroom on Sunday morning. It happens in the parking lot, in the hallway, during the service, and even during the week.

The Biggest Challenges Small Churches Face in Special-Needs Ministry:

We don’t have to have a plan in place for every person we can imagine walking through our doors. We just have to love and serve the ones who do. And churches of every size can do that.

What we mean when we say our new church is “special needs-friendly”?

We’re excited to see how God will teach and stretch us in the coming months as we are sent out from our supporting church, build a launch team, serve our neighborhoods, and start preview services. We hope to spread the message that all churches should be special-needs friendly and show it can be done even in the smallest of churches. Knowing what we mean when we say our church is special-needs friendly is a good place to start!

Steps to Take When a Family in Your Church Receives a Special-Needs Diagnosis

The days after parents hear their child has a disability or special need can be difficult days. They need an anchor to help steady them. Their church should be that anchor.

Plan B Summer

We’re in week three of summer break so far, and having lots of fun! This is the first summer James hasn’t had summer school, therapy, or church activities to keep him busy (those would all be on my Plan A!). We have found plenty to do though!

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He went to a camp put on by Easter Seals and had lots of fun! He’s still asking for “cam, cam” each morning when he wakes up.

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We found a snow cone stand in a neighboring town and are trying as many flavors as we can.

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Bowling is always on James’s summer time list! Even though we aren’t going every week like we did in PA, we did find a place that has a dinosaur ramp like he’s used to using (the place we went also had laser tag and mini golf, so David and Lee had lots of fun too!).

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He’s spending lots of time in our pool in the back yard.

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We got some temporary hair dye and everyone went pink for a day. James was pink for longer than a day since his hair is so thin and the dye was on his scalp for much longer!

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We spent one day last week at the beach, but saw a report this week that an alligator was found on the same beach! Since I can’t swim, we don’t go to the beach without Lee or without wearing lifejackets. We’ll be sure to stay close to the boys when we go again.

What have you been up to this summer?