“Experience is what you get when you didn’t get what you wanted. And experience is often the most valuable thing you have to offer.” -Randy Pausch, The Last Lecture
So, let’s be honest. Twenty-twenty didn’t exactly start out like we initially hoped. And if we’re all being really honest with ourselves, our lives haven’t exactly gone like we hoped either. As the saying goes, “Things never turn out the way you think they will.” And boy oh boy, isn’t that true?
At this point in my life (27) years old, I thought I’d be married, have some sort of “set career path” and be making a huge difference in the world. Ambitious? You bet I am. But that isn’t how things have gone thus far. Quite the opposite, in fact.
So why in the world am I telling you this? And why am I about to get even MORE personal with you? Is it for pity or your opinion on my life? Quite the contrary. I don’t need it. It’s easy for people to put bandaids on other people’s pain. “It just wasn’t God’s best.” “God won’t give you more than you can handle.” Or my personal favorite, “You’re young, you have so much time left.” Although some of these may be true, when will we stop undermining people’s pain and just be empathetic towards them in the midst of it? Just because your pain is different than mine, doesn’t mean it isn’t valid (and vice versa).
I’ve always felt the desire to be vulnerable and transparent with people because I feel there’s a strength in it. A strength that helps me overcome and a strength that lets other people know they’re not alone in their struggles (even if it might look different than mine) and guess what? THERE’S NO SHAME IN TALKING ABOUT IT EITHER!
We all have hoped, lost, dreamed, given up, etc. etc. When it comes to pain, we can find a friend in one another. So I hope in expressing some of my personal experiences, it encourages you in some way.
In the past 4 years, I have also experienced a mental breakdown, losing friendships, falling in love with a culture and leaving it, the death of my father, a painful breakup, and feeling absolutely directionless. I won’t go into the details of every single situation (I’ll save that for my future books.) But all these really brutal situations have led me to go to counseling and learn how to process and talk about my pain. Which is probably why I am able to write about it to you now.
Again, WHY AM I SHARING ALL OF THIS WITH YOU? This isn’t about me bragging about all the hard things I’ve gone through. And I definitely don’t want to encourage you with an insufficient covering, making your pain small. But if I may, I’d love to continue to share with you some of the deep lessons or gems that I’ve learned through it all.
One of those lessons being, don’t hold your pain in. It wasn’t until 2017 that I realized my unresolved/buried pain was making me extremely anxious, depressed, angry, and hopeless. My core was thick with blackened trauma that was dying to come out. When I started to expose the lies and talk about all the craziness, I started to become more and more free. There’s a famous line that Christians use regularly, “Just give it up to God.” While, I’m sure people mean well, there’s an unspoken thing that happens in the midst of this…..we bury it, thinking God’s got it all. All-the-while, God wanted to process it with us. Let’s not make that mistake. Let’s let it out. There’s strength in that. For us and for the world.
As most of you know, I have had the privilege of traveling all around the world and doing a lot of ‘ministry’. I won’t for a minute say it wasn’t beautiful, or life-changing, it absolutely was! I have witnessed, first hand, the Kingdom of God across the earth! Blind eyes opened, deaf ears restored, food multiplied, radical financial provision, salvation, deliverance…and the list goes on. If you have never gone overseas and sat with another culture, I pray you get the opportunity one day. The impact of someone else’s reality will absolutely teach, stretch, and pull colors out of you that you never imagined possible. I would do it all over again if I could.
However, on a personal note, I have struggled throughout the last 9-10 years with finding my identity in what I’m doing. If I’m not “the missionary” or the “radical, zealous, Christian” then who am I? I, unknowingly, so many times have put all my worth in my title and every time that’s left me broken in my “off-seasons.” It’s taken me a lot of wrestling, to finally say, “I’m just me. I’m Janea. I’m a daughter.” I don’t have to perform. I don’t have anything to prove. And God loves me whether I’m doing things or not.
If you are in a season of feeling invaluable, unworthy, or just in midst of a plain ole identity crisis. I want to encourage you that you are not alone! What you’re feeling is valid and understandable. So much of what society teaches us, is that we are not someone until we’re “doing something.” CAN I JUST CRASH THAT LIE RIGHT HERE AND NOW? If you didn’t do another thing for the rest of your life, YOU ARE STILL LOVEABLE AND VALUABLE! P.s. I’m not telling you to be lazy and not go after your goals, but I am telling you, you’re enough without any strings attached.
A quote from one of my favorite books, states,
“We cannot change the cards we are dealt, just how we play the hand.”
-Randy Pausch, The Last Lecture.
Like I mentioned above, I would have never in a million years expected my life to go the way it has. Who could anticipate any of it? But something I have to tell myself daily is, I AM NOT A VICTIM. WE ARE NOT VICTIMS. WE. ARE. NOT. VICTIMS. Not to our circumstances or relationships or ANYTHING! We cannot help the families we’re born into or the household we grow up in, or the tragic things that happen to us. But we can help how we respond and how we go from there. Perhaps it feels some people have had it easier in life than others but that doesn’t mean we can’t defy odds and overcome it. Every situation is a situation for us to learn, heal, grow and become better versions of ourselves.
This is a touchy topic for many. I’ll start off and say, I believe we do all need to go through seasons of accusing and validating the pain that some people’s actions have caused in our lives. However, this isn’t a good place to build a house on. Eventually we have to come to a place in our hearts where we realize that hurt people, hurt people and there’s probably no earthly way these people can take back the pain they have caused us. Some of those people might not even be alive anymore. Some might not see the fault in their ways and some might just be too prideful to own up. We have to ask ourselves, “Who’s losing sleep over this at night? Me or them?” If the answer is, unfortunately, me, then I think it’s time we try and walk through the forgiveness process. And that’s exactly what this is….a process.
Don’t get discouraged if you’re still raging months later. I still constantly have to take my unforgiveness to the Lord, and ask for His help and perspective. We’re humans and we can’t understand true forgiveness without the Lord’s help. And as we apply the Lord’s truth and heart over the situation/relationship, I think we will find ourselves accusing less and loving more.
Lastly, who’s in your corner? No one’s meant to fight alone. We need to have each other to lean on in the good times in bad. If it weren’t for my awesome family and friends, I would not be here today. We all need the people who will befriend us in empathy and not just itch our ears but tell us what we need to hear. The type of people that call us higher but also walk with us through it. Psalm 68:5-6, states, “…God puts the lonely in families…” I pray that if you’re lacking family/community, God would place the right people in your life to walk with.
If I would have never gone through any of those things I mentioned above, maybe I wouldn’t know the Goodness and Faithfulness of God, of the kindness of strangers. Maybe I wouldn’t have a new, found revelation of my worth and value, and I definitely wouldn’t have empathy towards my brothers and sisters. I am NOT perfect. FAR FROM IT! And I still have so much to learn. But I want to milk the lessons and joys of life in every way that I can. I want to be thankful.
“Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” Romans 5:3-5 (NIV)
I don’t want to go through life unhealed, bitter, carrying pain of the last season into the next, victimizing myself and being miserable. I think we can all agree, life has so much more to offer than that. A quote that constantly hear in my head and I’m sure one that rings out from the core of all of us, by Solomon Northup,
“I don’t want to survive, I want to live.”