Beautiful. Confident. Strong.
I look at myself through my glimmering oversized mirror and nothing has changed. The mirrors are more extravagant now, but it doesn’t change what I see when I look at myself. Beautiful, confident, and strong are all words that never come to mind when I see my reflection. They aren’t even scratching at the surface. Those words are buried beneath years of rubble. I look at myself and wonder, “how did I get here?” That was a dumb question. I know exactly how I got here…
The idea of Neverland always intrigued me. Innocence, adventure, immortality, and bliss define this island, but life has never been that kind to me… or most likely to any of us for that matter. I always thought of Neverland as an escape from reality and a way away from my trouble. When I was young, Peter Pan and Wendy’s adventures made me want to be more bold and brave.
Much older now, in my COVID quarantine, I re-watched Peter Pan. I have always examined the literary symbolism in this movie, and each time I do, different things stand out or change their meaning. This time around, I saw that Peter’s shadow served as a reminder of the past. Like Peter’s shadow, my past also lingers. I can never get quite a good look at it, but I know it’s there, leaving a trail behind me and ensuring there is always a dark cloud moving in unison with my own steps. My past is like a parasite, eating away at my identity and reminding me that my innocence was lost long ago.
This all sounds very abstract and ambiguous, so let me give you a summary. When I was in high school, something was done to me that altered the course of my life forever. It is not an uncommon story, I’m sorry to say. This act of another yanked me out of my innocent bliss and burned a memory so deep in me that no amount of time could heal… not completely anyway. The details are unnecessary, but the repercussions have echoed throughout the years. This one day kickstarted the battle of taking back my identity and redefinining it; to restore it from what one man’s actions made me believe about myself to what He tells me about myself.
That brief paragraph does almost nothing to communicate the years of pain, but it is all to say that I now see Peter Pan’s shadow and can relate. For many years now, I too have had something dark following my every footstep. This thing influences my decisions, my emotions, my behaviors, my relationships, and especially the perception that I have of my self-worth. My life and my image are now defined by what happened to me. This shadow manifests itself in many different shapes and sizes but no matter what, I can see its silhouette in everything I do and even who I think I am. The connection between this past incident and my identity is bonded through my own wielding and reinforcement, but for me, removing that memory from who I am and from who I see myself to be is like, most things, much easier said than done.
I wish that I had 5 easy steps for you to take to avoid the turmoil that I’ve experienced from linking my past to my identity, but I don’t. I don’t have some super revolutionary epiphany or moment where time stood still and God reminded me of who I really am. But I do have mere moments sprinkled throughout the years where I can see God working to repair the damage and remind me of my true worth. I most often have moments like these in music. Songs like Who You Say I Am (Hillsong Worship) and You Say (Lauren Daigle) are anthems for me now.
I am chosen
I am who You say I am
You are for me | Not against me
I am who You say I am
You say I am loved when I can’t feel a thing
You say I am strong when I think I am weak
And You say I am held when I am falling short
And when I don’t belong, oh, You say I am Yours
I speak these words over and over again so I will never forget that:
I am chosen.
I am loved.
I am strong.
I am not forsaken.
I am held.
These aren’t just sentiments to help me through a difficult day. These are declarations and definitions of who God says I am. Despite what happened to me or what may come in the future, I can lean on these truths to define who I am as God sees me. I am not what was done to me and I am not the mistakes I have made.
Funny thing about reflections and shadows… they each show me versions of myself. Neither shadow nor reflection can exist without me. Most often, one follows me around while the other is something that I face head-on. My shadow moves as a result of my movement, but my reflection moves intentionally, directed by my movement. One is an outcome and the other is a decision.
The past doesn’t go away, just like how a cloudy day doesn’t mean my shadow is gone forever, and my reflection doesn’t magically whisper back to me that I am beautiful, confident, and strong. It’s a constant battle for me to remember and actively pursue the identity and worth that God gave me before my birth.
My identity isn’t defined by the lies and repercussions of my past. My identity is defined by my choosing to believe what HE says about me. If believing I am chosen means that one day I have to listen to those songs on repeat all day, then so be it. If believing I am loved means going through another day where I have to write down those lyrics several times a day, then so be it. If believing I belong means that the next day, I will stand in front of the mirror and recite those words to my reflection, then so be it.
My shadow will behave how it chooses, but I get to choose what my reflection shows me.
I choose to let His words shape my identity.
I choose to believe who He says I am.
Lisa TerKeurst’s book Forgiving What You Can’t Forget
Our last KNOWN post, THIS REALLY HURTS: Forgiveness, trust, and reckless vulnerability. & the subsequent IGTV series “This Really Hurts”
Live Original’s blog post Labels Don’t Define You
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Sarah Padgett does her best thinking after midnight and cannot survive without at least one cup of coffee a day and a book within reach. She is an aspiring author of several unfinished novels (likely to stay that way), but she can’t spell a word if not for spell check and autocorrect. She is the definition of a cat lady, and oh yeah… Sarah is an unwavering believer in Bigfoot.