Scrolling through Instagram, I see one of my favorite photographers. Her images aren’t created and staged to impress others, but are captured because life as it is is beautiful. I don’t know her “in real life,” but we have a number of mutual friends and we share similar life experiences. Raising little ones on the mission field is simultaneously filled with much joy and many struggles. Her images display it well.
I see her photos, with a style much like my own, and a phrase pops into my head: “That used to be me.” It hasn’t happened just once; it’s been a regular thing, so common I didn’t even notice. “That used to be me,” I lamented. “That used to be me,” I would say with melancholy resignation. “That used to be me,” said in a whisper with a sigh deeper than seems appropriate. For weeks now, those five words have occupied much of my thinking.
I used to be her. I was the mom with the sweet little ones, figuring out how to juggle homeschooling, constant transition, and cultural expectations and frustrations. I used to be her: the mom with creativity oozing out, making home and happiness intertwine in a beautiful display of God’s goodness in the mundane. I was the Pinterest mom before there was Pinterest. I used to take pictures of everyday life and show how beautiful the little moments are. Yes, that used to be me.
It’s been a while, though, since I’ve seen that old version of myself. Sure, she comes up for air every now and then — birthdays and holidays and vacations. But the joy-filled little moments I was determined not to take for granted gave way to a heaviness unbearable and I surrendered.
As my body has failed me these last two years, and I have become ever so thankful for promises of a new body and a lack of sickness and tears in my eternal home, I have forgotten who I used to be—who I am. That mom, the one who delighted to serve up tea parties and breakfast on the lawn and spur of the moment trips to the park, has faded into photo albums. That woman, the one ready to host visitors for dinner or bring a plate of cookies for someone just because, is but a distant memory. Amidst doctors appointments and tears and learning what fighting for faith looks—and feels—like and coming to grips with the agony of being asked to offer sacrifice of praise, the woman I was—the woman I want to be—dissolved ever-so-slowly and one day I woke up with a new phrase: that used to be me.
The doctors appointments are fewer these days (though the meds are more). There are no long hours of me spewing my verbal vomit on someone too kind to tell me to just. stop. talking. The glimmer in my eye is—at times—shining once again. But still I see those images on Instagram (a social media platform I resisted for so long) and think, “That used to be me.”
It’s been too long. I don’t even remember how to be her, the woman I once was. I don’t know how to be the mom I worked so hard to become. Sure, my kids are still loved and doted on. They still are amazing to be around, their smiles brightening the days of those around them. They don’t question my love and they aren’t lacking for affirmation. I have stayed in control of my words and and almost never does my anger find it’s way out in yelling or belittling. And yet, I am still a shell of who I once was, so desperately wanting to fill what has faded away. It’s like I knock on the door to my old self and I know someone is on the other side—I can hear her and make out a faint outline—but the door just won’t budge. I’m here. I’m ready. I’m knocking.
Tactics of survival took the form of habits meant to preserve energy and protect a mind raging. Even if it meant hibernation rather than hospitality, even if it meant sleep over socializing, and even if it meant rest instead of running, I was holding on to a fraying rope and habits of self-preservation kicked their way in and made themselves at home.
Once formed, habits are hard to break. I read a lot of “brain books.” The way the human mind was created and how it functions is utterly fascinating to me. What I have learned is that much of what we do happens not out of a conscious choice, but rather, by habit. We don’t think about it; we just do it. Our brain was designed to conserve energy and anything it has done on a regular basis is moved to another part of the brain, one that specializes in automaticity. By moving oft-repeated thoughts or actions, the premium location of working memory is made available for new things. It takes repetition to form a habit, but once formed, it is grafted in so impeccably that you barely remember that it didn’t use to be.
Habits can be broken and new habits can be formed, but not simply from wishful thinking. It takes work. Lots of work. Our brains are so amazing and so adept at conserving energy that it will always choose what it knows best. Most of the time, this works to our advantage. It’s a good thing we don’t have to give much thought to reading, driving, or walking. But in other situations, habits we don’t want burn deep ruts in our minds, and like a well-worn path down the mountain rain is required to follow, these habits show themselves superior to our good intentions. The path chosen is almost always the easiest, not the one we want the most. Our mind, without direct defiance from our resolve, will always take the path most traveled. Choosing a different trail means blocking the old path and blazing a new one.
Some say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results. Honestly, though, that’s not insanity. That’s habit.
And my habits now run deep. What was once meant for self-preservation has become self-centeredness. Rest and retreat have evolved from what is best to what is easiest.
I have my excuses. My rationalizations. My justifications. But I know better. I have a storehouse of God’s word and I know that our God is a God of order. The fight of this world will always be for disorder—of priorities, praise, and promises. Satan doesn’t mind us wishing and wanting to obey as long as we don’t actually choose to obey.
But I am choosing to engage in the battle: to fight against what is in favor of what was and what is to come. I am going to work, harder than I ever have. I am going to have to make difficult decisions and drastic changes in order to find my way back to the trail God was taking me on as He was carrying His good work unto completion.
It isn’t about the beautiful photos or the Pinterest parties. Finding my way back to me means blocking the path called surviving and taking the machete in my hand and clearing the overgrown trail called thriving. It’s called the Abundant Life. Finding my way back to me means taking my eyes off of me, and placing them instead on the One who can lead me to a rock that is higher than I.
I don’t want to see photos and think, “That used to be me.” I want to see my own beautiful life and photos of a home well tended and a life well lived and think, “That is me.”