Who am I?
A fundamental, primal trait of the human race is an intense need to belong, to create a personal identity through a social identity. We first identify as a family member: a son, a daughter, a sister, a grandchild. Then we begin searching for our own places to belong. The sports team, the band, the youth group. Sometimes we’re lucky enough to identify with a tight group of friends: a “squad” my son calls it. Sometimes we identify with a group of people who build us up, and sometimes not. We begin to call ourselves those things we become: a runner, a pianist, a BBCHS Boilermaker, a social worker. We are unique in the collage of identities we create for ourselves, some more prominent than others, some we’re proud of, and some we keep to ourselves. Our identity is fluid and evolving. Some we leave behind while we pick up others. Our identity is our foundation, the roots we grow that secure our special place in this world. Like the Dewey Decimal code that allows us to locate one book in a library of millions, we create our own code, and we get to choose who, how, and when we let others know it.
We don’t always get to decide if we take on an identity, nor when we have to give one up. In relationships, we get to be girlfriends or wives, but lose it the second our partner chooses to end the relationship. Sometimes we are suddenly someone who is disabled. These shifts are transformative, rocking our worlds as we make the journey from old to new. Sometimes the journey passes quickly, easily, happily, and other times, the journey takes a long, slow, painful path from which some never really emerge.
Just like most of you, there are many points in my life that were transformative. Becoming a mom was certainly amazing. Becoming a licensed clinical social worker was also a highlight. I remember coming home from the test knowing that from that day forward I was Dawn R. Broers, MSW, LCSW. Becoming the mom of a child with epilepsy 13 years ago was one of those long, slow, painful journeys that is now quite normative for me.
Becoming a divorced mom of two challenged many identities I held dear. Not only was I no longer a wife, but I was no longer a “traditional” family in the church. I no longer considered myself worthy of ministry work, and I gave up my dream of obtaining a full time university teaching position. I was damaged goods. It was this lack of identity that caused me to crave a new relationship, to have someone, anyone, make me a girlfriend or a wife because I wasn’t sure who I was without that. But this craving was also what drove me straight into the arms of Jesus, and a quest to relinquish all earthly needs for identity with another person in exchange for acquiescence that God is the only one I need.
Almost as soon as I handed these needs over to God, He brought me the husband I have today, a wonderful God-fearing man with whom I am proud to identify as a wife again. And four years later, when I received a phone call out of the blue from my alma mater that they would like me to interview for my dream job, a full-time teaching position in social work, I was overwhelmed by God’s grace and redemption. I was not damaged goods. I was still good enough to take on the identity I believed God wanted for me. I became Associate Professor and Field Placement Director Dawn Broers, teaching a subject I loved, to students I loved, and ministering at the same time.
And then two months ago, a text message from the human resources director at 9am on a Monday morning led to me sitting at a table an hour later hearing that my dream job, the job God blessed me with, the career goal I thought I had lost and then found, was lost to me again. The university, in the middle of a flood of position eliminations, had decided that my position as the Field Placement Director, was no longer vital. And almost immediately it hit me: I am that job. I invest everything in that position and my students. I spend inordinate amounts of time being the best professor I can be. I live and breathe that job. Who am I? I am a professor of social work. I’m not losing a job…I’m losing my identity.
Or am I? It didn’t take long for me to realize that no matter what I feel about losing this dream, this part of who I am, it is insignificant compared to what should be the only identity I really need.
Who am I?
I am a child of God.
The titles and memberships of this world are fleeting. Change is inevitable and transitions are hard. We get broken and it hurts. There is an old Japanese tradition called kintsukuroi, or “to repair with gold”. When pottery was broken, they repaired it with gold or silver, understanding that it became more beautiful from its brokenness. We too have this option…though it is a choice. My identity as a child of God will never be taken from me, and I can lay a solid foundation on this knowledge. But when the trials of this world break me, I choose to gild the edges with gold and call myself a treasure. I choose to redeem the parts of the life that break me, the experience that teach and grow me, for something better for me, others, and God. I am not damaged goods…I can create good from my damage.
Transparency has never been a strength for me. I’d prefer to keep my personal challenges close to my heart. I find myself today in a position of great challenges and transitions and my thoughts and feelings outgrow the capacity of my heart and mind. Writing is my therapy. I know that I am not alone. I know, because as a therapist I intimately know that none of us is immune to these struggles, these journeys. And so I am choosing to share mine here, in the hopes that my journey might be helpful to someone else.
We are all broken. Gild the edges with gold and call yourself…a treasure!