The other day, my daughter was excitedly expressing her admiration of the teachers and helpers at her school. I usually resist the temptation to to ask my kids what they want to be when they grow up because at some point in my life I began to HATE that question. But this time I gave into typical adult blathering and decided to gauge if the long, exhausting, underpaid hours of a teacher was something Avilynne was naively looking forward to as a career.

school girl party average advocate

Our conversation went something like this:

Me: “Do you want to be a teacher when you grow up?”

Avi: “No, of course not!”

Me: “Oh. Okay then.”


Me: “So, what do you want to be when you grow-up?”

Avi: “Mom, I want to be nothing, just like you!”

My mom overheard, and started laughing hysterically.  Meanwhile I sat stunned, although chuckling because I know she didn’t mean it that way. Great. Thanks, baby. Of course I am nothing.

Honestly, my daughter hit a nerve. Or more like a major artery.

Commence Identity Crisis #3467.

welcome down the rabbit hole alice wonderland

For whatever reason, I am one of those overly thinking and in-touch, emotional people who analyze anything and everything obsessively. If you have read my blog very much at all over the years, it will be obvious that one of the trending topics in my brain’s status feed is that of identity- the how, what, and whom defines me.

I wouldn’t say I have self-esteem issue. Really, I wouldn’t. I like myself. I think I am pretty cool. My kids need me. My baby adores me. My husband’s got a thing for me. My friends laugh with me. (Oh wait, unless they are laughing at me?)

Sometimes I can’t help but define myself through my relationships.

But I have convinced myself I am not actually abnormal as I obsess over who I am. I just believe that everyone else is too consumed with life, too scared, or maybe even too soulless to consider deeply who they are. Or maybe they just don’t talk about it. Surely I am not the only one having continual identity issues, right? So many people act like it is a weird thing. They act fine, as if I am the only broken one.

But it seems everyone is always labeling, always trying to define themselves. If not by the relationships they have, then by what they do.

I wanted to do everything when I grew up. For awhile I had my traditional fifteen answers (actress, nurse, firefighter, CIA agent, mom, wife-of-airplane-pilot, missionary, storm-chaser, artist, rockstar, teacher, prophet, writer, postal-worker and counselor).  I couldn’t think of one occupation that would mingle all I wanted to be into one known identity.

(cue actress profile head shots #1.-4.)

Then there are those stupid tests that try to tell you what career you should choose. They always recommended I become either a singing news reporter or clergyman lawyer. (Something like that.)

All except for the test given by the military. Somehow, after I managed to thoroughly bluff my way through a scantron, I ended up with almost a perfect score. For years I was called by the Navy or Air Force, and asked if I would please, please, pretty please consider being a mechanical engineer for them. Trust me, they should be oh-so-very glad I denied them each and every time. The military might have thought they perfectly pegged me, but I know if there is one thing of EVERYTHING I should not be, it would be an engineer. Unless I became a social engineer, which sounds ridiculously fun. (*Insert maniacal laughter here.*)

Seems those tests were stumped, too.

I might not want to be everything (career-wise) anymore, but I still want to be everything to everybody. I want to be the opposite of nothing. I want excitement, adventure, and most of all I want everyone to like me, maybe even watching my every move, borderline stalker. And then, I want to INFLUENCE THEM! Control ALL the people! Mold them into a massive army of people to take over the world with sweet goodness, spreading hope for new life.

end slavery red hair girl average advocate

Maybe I have just a few control issues.

Thank God I am not everything to everyone, because that would be a terrible and impossible job. But I still have a hard time seeing my worth despite what I do.

So, I can’t claim to be the president (or otherwise famous) when I have those awkward introductory conversations. Instead I do a weird tango of trying to succinctly express who I am and grasp a context for the person I am with.

Sometimes it arrives earlier in the conversation, sometimes a little later.  But always, like rain in April (unless you live in, like, the Sahara or the other 57% of the world it doesn’t rain in April) the fundamental question blows in: “So what do you do?” And then I stumble over it EVERY TIME like a clown. Maybe if I smeared spaghetti sauce all over my face before the conversation I wouldn’t feel like I was having to make a case for my self-worth.

Because, career-wise, I really do do nothing, just like Avi said. But in actually I’m pretty sure I do and am a lot more than nothing.

motherhood 24/7

First, I am an on-call and in-demand mom 24/7.

There. ‘nuf said.

But I am also a wife, which really takes up a bunch of energy too if I want to stay more-happily-married-than-not. Then technically I’m supposed to clean the house, which I have almost no motivation to do and always falls to the bottom of my priority list. And there is those never ending piles of laundry because I haven’t instated a “you wear the same thing everyday for a week” law that I am seriously considering making a household policy. Also, food, as the little monsters eat (we are working on enjoying the green cuisine of asparagus). Then there is the 5-30 volunteer hours I never get paid for as a confused version of Mother Theresa, whether for NoVA Human Trafficking Initiative, J10 Church, L2F needs network, or my daughter’s school. On top of which I am always with people (luckily these are two things I can do at once)! And I even do somethings I enjoy, like taking walks or exploring, maybe reading, writing or taking an occasional bath.

henna and asparagus

So, when someone asks me what I do, all these things flash before my mind, and I hem and haw and wish I had a simple answer like “I’m an engineer.” Because that is what they are expecting me to say; to give a nice easy career title.

But, because I can’t do anything succinctly, I usually I start off with something like “Well, technically I watch my kids at home. But I am not usually at home because it can be suffocating. Actually, I am not that good at watching my kids either. So really I spend my time . . .” then I am interrupted and they say “My mom was a stay-at-home mom too! (Back in the dark ages!)” before I have a chance to continue my soliloquy.

ERGH! Don’t peg me as a stay-at-home-mom! (This is a major issue I have, you’d know if you examine identity crises #202-#2902.) I hate being defined as “just” a stay-at-home-mom. Because, obviously us stay-at-home moms know how much we are and want to be seen for what we are worth. But, in addition, I feel I have so much more worth when I am not “just” wiping butts (even if the raccoon butt is oh-so-cute).

raccoon butt baby

Sue me. I do.

I know I just blasphemed the whole philosophy of a stay-at-home mom because I know how hard this job is. But, I feel like we could also climb mount Everest AND wipe booties, thereby changing the world at the same time! Am I right?

We are so much more than this label of stay-at-home-mom! We are defined more individually by our passions and dreams than by what we do. And so are the engineers, sales-clerks, dance teachers, accountants and real estate agents. We should be so much more than our title.

I guess it is obvious I expect the whole world to have a desperate desire to be known fully by themselves and those around them. The truth is, I’m usually struggling finding my worth in the “just.” The “just” raising kids. Identity crisis #3467 is a small piece of my continual struggle to remind myself that my worth isn’t in what I do, it isn’t in who I am friends with, and it really my fault that people are still hurting around the globe- that I haven’t eased their suffering.

Because I am not God. I belong to God.

Essentially, because I’m just a mess but have chosen to follow Jesus, I’m forgiven, made new, and have worth regardless of what I do or do not do. So when it comes down to it, the most freeing thing that ever happens to me when I have my countless crises, is that I finally recognize the beauty that comes from messy me – because only then can I finally accept help from others and God to see my worth. I’m not left to struggle alone.

Elisa Johnston Director NoVA HTI human trafficking 101

This all again has come to head because recently I decided to step down from a position I so dearly love, directing the NoVA HTI. It seemed that God just might be saying “Baby, you have got to stop. doing. everything. Trust me that I can take care of everyone else- even with out you sometimes.”

This makes me cry. God knows me so well that He knows I try to be God and He still loves me anyway.

After a lot of internal battling, I submitted to the reality that it is ridiculous to think I can continue heading this up with a new baby and no daycare/nanny. And not only does my family need me, but in this season I am more effective investing in a smaller circle.

So you see, Identity Crisis #3467 is just part of a bigger transition back to the home and the value there-within.

So right now, I am just little ol’ accepted me in this context of my messy but beautiful life. I feed my baby at the crack-of-dawn. I kiss my husband as he goes off to work. I play imaginary race car games with my son on his “ipod” (i.e., broken half of a phone) and then I chat with friends as they come and go from my door-step. Finally, I wait in the afternoon sun for my loving daughter to come home and talk annoyingly non-stop about flowers, what she learned in school, that babies don’t come out of your toes, and most importantly, how she wants to be nothing when she grows up, just like me.

Sunny rainy day


This blog post is part of the Messy, Beautiful Warrior Project this week with Glennon Melton’s blog, Momastery. You can share your own too by going here. Glennon (which rhymes with Lennon, as she informed me in our first awkward introductory conversation many years ago before I was a stay-at-home-mom but she was) is renown for her raw, honest, and beautiful transparency. Her book Carry On, Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life just came out in paperback, so go get a copy!

(Or win the copy I have to giveaway at by commenting on this post below. Be the first person to tell me where I met Glennon AND what is messy and beautiful about your life.)


Glimpses of My Messy Beautiful Life

(This is actually rather deceiving because it doesn’t show about 76% of my life, which is with my friends, other family, and church and community. Considering, I guess my life is even better than it looks!)