freedom

versions of me

WHAT IF MY LIFE LOOKED DIFFERENT?

It started in elementary school. My kindergarten teacher recommended I skip 1st grade, but my mom didn’t want my younger sister and I to be farther apart in school. I always wondered, if I were a year ahead, would I be more motivated? If I tried harder, would I have a better work ethic? I graduated valedictorian in high school, but it was something I expected, something to which I felt entitled.

My early 20s were haunted by the “what ifs?” surrounding my college decisions. What if I hadn’t taken two years off to go to Bible school? What if I hadn’t been afraid of failure — if I kept auditioning for women’s choir, even though I didn’t make it the first time, because I love to sing? If I took an English class, even though I was intimidated, because deep down I wanted to be a writer?

And the “what if” that was my greatest struggle, the crossroad that held the most obvious divergence in life direction, the internal conflict that started this blog: what if I had accepted my Fulbright to Bulgaria instead of getting married and moving to Florida to join a church I had never heard of?

HOW DO I DEAL WITH IT?

I don’t regret my decision in the least, but at the time, I couldn’t move on. I tried different strategies to intellectually convince myself to “get over it,” unintentionally ignoring how my heart was still crying, begging to be noticed, validated, embraced without shame. I assumed that by recognizing the reality of my present circumstances, I was fine. I wasn’t aware my heart was filled with pain, bitterness, and anger.

There were so many things from my past I thought I had taken care of that didn’t actually need handling — they needed healing. But I didn’t know how to grieve — solely because I never learned to sit with my emotions. I was taught that my heart was not to be trusted, that being emotional was weak, that logic and reason were the only way to process anything. But my feelings are part of me, and to deny how I felt was to deny my whole self.

WHICH VERSION OF MYSELF IS THE “RIGHT” ONE?

In my mind, there were numerous “potential versions” of myself that could have been and still might be. But even if those versions were legitimate possibilities, they didn’t exist. Sure, I could have been a woman who chose career over family, travel over stability, cynicism over faith. But that isn’t what I chose, so it isn’t who I am. Owning my decisions empowers me to take responsibility for my life and everything it holds.

It was only after I got connected to my heart that I discovered which “version” was the most “me.” I wanted adventure, but more than that, I wanted love. I wanted independence, but more than that, I wanted intimacy. And a decision I recently made: I want my master’s degree, but more than that, I want to spend time with my children. But it’s no longer a battle within myself; it’s a liberated choice in agreement with myself.

Years ago, it was difficult to make decisions because I was so detached from who I was. Knowing myself makes it easier and easier to determine what is best for me. It’s still sad to let go of a dream, but as I sit with my sorrow and let it take its course, after an hour, or an afternoon, it passes. By nurturing my heart — my core, the deepest part of me — I become more and more myself.

I am whole, healthy, and free. And I like this version of me.

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Inspired after reading Laura Barnett’s Versions of Us. It was disheartening to watch her characters accept lies, betrayal, and turmoil in order to make sense of their lives. I realized I didn’t think that way anymore, that I’m no longer confused about who I am. I chose this version of myself and I’ll keep choosing it.

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love letter to my daughter

Dear little Phoebe,

You are so loved, so wanted. I have been patiently waiting for you to enter this world at the perfect time. Your name means “bright, shining one.” In a season of hiddenness for our family, you come at a time of transition to hopefulness and light.

It took a lot of work for me to love being a girl. But I don’t want it to be as hard for you to embrace who you are. To love yourself. My heart longs to share with you what I have learned and to walk alongside you as you discover your own way.

Even now, though you are so little and do not yet understand, I speak truth and love over you — truths I never heard from my own mother, truths that took me years to grasp. That it is possible to be both strong and feminine. Both logical and emotional. Both powerful and gentle. Both independent and reliant on others. Both ambitious and content.

I want you to see me look in the mirror and smile at my reflection. To see me comfortable in my skin. I want you to see me put on bright red lipstick and a fancy dress for a date with your dad, but I also want you to see me feeling just as beautiful and confident in chapstick and leggings.

I want you to see me excited about my birthday. I want you to see that life is a blessing and every year is worth celebrating. I want you to see me go back to school. I want you to see that it’s never too late to start something new. I want you to see me practice yoga in our kitchen. I want you to see that it’s important to take care of yourself.

Growing up, I was often reprimanded, “Don’t be too much Bethany.” It hurt me to think that being myself was a bad thing. But oh my darling, it is impossible to be “too much Phoebe!” My hope for you is that you would increasingly become more and more yourself. Being you is the best thing you could ever be.

I want you to be free. Free to be a little girl when you are a little girl and not have to rush your childhood. Free to pursue the dreams in  your heart no matter what stands against you, because I will always stand beside you. Free to explore all the wonderful ways to be a woman. Free to create a path that empowers you.

I want you to see me free in my motherhood. If it is something you choose one day, I want you to know that you can find freedom in it, too. That staying home with your children is a powerful choice when you are already a powerful person.

I place my hand over my belly and feel you move. I am overwhelmed with how proud I am of you. You are my favorite daughter. My bright, shining star. You are full of life, full of radiant brilliance. It is your name, it is who you are. My dear little Phoebe.

<3

finding my purpose

Dear younger self,

I know you are obsessed with finding your purpose. You say you don’t care about making friends, getting married, having kids — I admire your focus and conviction, but you don’t have to sacrifice relationships in order to be successful.

In fact, there is one relationship in particular you need more than anything, and you have ignored it your whole life: your relationship with yourself.

Before you can find your purpose, you will need to find yourself. 

You will discover self-connection is your first purpose. That giving your life away before you know its value rejects your worth and the worth of anyone you want to impact. That the most powerful knowledge you could possess just might be the knowledge of who you are.

One day, you will believe God loves you, personally and intimately. That he sees you and speaks to you and just wants to be with you. That there may be accidental parents but there are never accidental children. That with his love, anything is possible.

You will learn to process pain, to forgive, to release. As you become whole and free, you will start to dream. You haven’t really dreamed before, but you will uncover so much of your heart in the process. You will realize relationships are what makes life worth living.

One day, you will have a husband. He will choose you again and again. He will show you that you don’t have to be strong all the time, that you can let your walls down and still be safe. He will love you so well that you will learn to love yourself.

You will fall in love with yourself. You will be content that you are enough, so you won’t need to prove yourself to anyone. You will want to take care of yourself, so you will learn to say ‘yes’ to what is helpful and ‘no’ to what is harmful.

One day, you will have a child. You will be fulfilled as a mother not because of anything your child does, but because his existence creates in you the purest love you have ever known. This love will inspire you to lead a life worth imitating, a life worth celebrating.

You will watch your child grow and change so quickly that you will want to grow and change as well. You will want to be brave. You will take risks to live more authentically, more intentionally, more passionately.

Pursue love, and you’ll find freedom. Pursue your dreams, and you’ll find your calling.

Getting there won’t be easy. You will sacrifice ambition for the sake of love. You will decline your dreams and wait for the right timing. Some nights you will cry yourself to sleep and wonder if it will ever be your turn. You will whisper your dreams into the darkness and hope beyond hope that one day they will become your reality.

Your calling will come as you go. When your purpose calls you, it will be a call you can’t ignore. Your spirit will taste eternity and know it is just the beginning. Your heart will confirm it as you sing a prayer, as you feed your squishy baby, as excitement wells up inside at the prospect of a new opportunity. Your days will be full of life and possibility.

I know you are afraid you have missed your prime, that it’s too late for you, but that is a lie. You are not behind. You are exactly where you need to be. Your best days will come as you become more and more yourself.

You have yet to find your purpose because you have yet to find yourself, but once you do, you will understand that finding your purpose happens through living on purpose. Through embracing each season, owning your choices, listening and trusting and trying.

You will find your way as you find yourself, and I’ll be here every step of the journey.

With love,

Your older self

a letter to my future daughter

To my daughter,

“I have always loved you.”

Those words I heard for me, but as I prayed to break the generational stronghold that had been passed down from my mother’s birth mother, I knew those words were for you too.

Your grandmother’s biological mother abandoned her as a baby. Your grandmother’s earliest days were spent in a crowded orphanage in Seoul, underfed and underloved. She was adopted by an American family and grew up in New York. Although she was raised with love, she unknowingly carried a spirit of abandonment, rejection, and death with her that had been given to her from her birth parents.

Unknowingly, it was passed to me.

I am responsible for my actions, just as we all are, but I have been learning that there are spiritual forces everywhere, which encourage us to act in one way or the other. I am still new to discerning spiritual things, but I will teach you what I know.

Although my mother decided for herself to reject me, she doesn’t realize there are powers in the spirit realm lying to her and justifying her choices. She doesn’t realize that she inherited a spiritual genetic heritage from her birth parents that provokes her to hurt others because of the sin committed against her.

My struggle is not against my mother. The battle is not against people. 

My precious, beautiful daughter: I want you to receive all the blessings I have to offer, all the blessings from my parents and my parents’ parents that are in our family line. I am not ignorant enough to think you will not have mommy issues of your own, but I firmly believe that you will have fewer issues than I have, and that your children’s children will have even fewer than you. I have faith that from whatever hurts you encounter, you will receive complete healing and freedom sooner than I did, and that the pain of rejection and abandonment will not be among them.

I believe that even though the darkness gets darker, the light grows brighter. I believe that you are blessed because of the work God is doing in me, that it will make a difference in the life you live, that it alters the paths of future generations to rise up higher. Because of the love and truth I am learning to receive, you will be loved with greater capacity and more tangible hope. You will hear my voice and hear my heart’s intention, and in turn know the Father’s heart for you. You will experience the love of God and feel his words resonate inside your being:

“I have always loved you.”

<3

post-wanderlust

Soon after we moved to Florida, we looked around our newly-Ikea-furnished apartment, small, simple, and happy, and observed how surprisingly easy it was for people to settle down. To create a safe place, grow roots, get comfortable.

Originally, all I wanted to do was be abroad. I planned to live overseas for the next five years, teaching and traveling. I planned for excitement and adventure and spontaneity, figuring out my identity, learning about other people and places to learn more about myself and what was most important to me. I wanted to be uncomfortable, to know Jesus in other cultures, to know love universal. I wanted to take risks, avoid familiarity, to know who I was at the core, regardless of environment and circumstance. Was it even possible?

My dreams of flight keep me grounded, the part of me I have always lived, the only part I have always known.

Originally, the last place I wanted be was in America. When I got married in July, one of my fears was that we would become like another of those couples who genuinely desired and planned to go abroad but got trapped in white middle-class suburbia.

But somehow, traveling does not hold the same personal exigency it once did. It no longer represents the path to finding myself; I’m discovering who I am right now in part by pausing long enough to explore inward. It is no longer the journey of carving a new life into an unknown community; now, wherever I go, I will be part of an already shared life with Noah. It no longer entices me to be everywhere but nowhere, ready to be uprooted at whim, since now I have stability and belonging to someone.

Leaving was not about running away. Direction mattered less than the ability to go. Maybe the fulfillment in serving others overseas can be found here. It was never about a specific place for me, and maybe it is not really about that at all. Maybe I am learning to be still. Maybe there is more freedom in choosing to stay. Maybe movement happens and paths unfold more within myself than I used to think.

Footsteps echo in the memory
Down the passage which we did not take
Towards the door we never opened
–T.S. Eliot

Are my desires shifting? Or am I falling into the very trap I wanted all my life to escape?

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Related posts:

On the biggest change in plans of all

On pilgrimages of the soul