Who Am I?

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Q_Diana

This is the central question of my long life, one I must ask myself every day. It is a question buried deeply in my soul, and it is the call of God to each and every one of us. No matter what limits we live with—and all of us have limits of one kind or another—each of us has a unique place in the fabric of humanity. Our primary task in life is to find that place and fill it as fully and heartily as we can.

This question is both personal and universal, and the answer can only be found in the unique context in which we live. Finding an answer to who we are requires a deep and growing understanding of where we are. That context can—and should—change over time. The trappings and boundaries of our life will change from stage to stage. But the central question stays the same, and so does the answer.

Brennan Manning wrote:

Do you believe that the God of Jesus loves you beyond worthiness and unworthiness, beyond fidelity and infidelity—that he loves you in the morning sun and in the evening rain—that he loves you when your intellect denies it, your emotions refuse it, your whole being rejects it. Do you believe that God loves without condition or reservation and loves you this moment as you are and not as you should be.  (All Is Grace: A Ragamuffin Memoir)

Do you believe this? Do you cling to it, trust in it, allow it to form and re-form you? Hard as it is for us to fathom, every single one of us is the apple of God’s eye, the one over whom the great God of the Universe sings a song of love and delight. This is the through-line of our scripture, the nitty-gritty of the Jesus-Good-News, the powerful, ongoing labor of the Holy Spirit within us: we are loved.

Fred Buechner famously asked: Do you know where your deep gladness is? What is it that makes your heart sing, that feels right, way down deep inside you? How do your own gifts and strengths converge to both bring you joy and the world in which you live good? As Buechner put it, where do “your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet?”

I love working with other people, reflecting on the word of God, thinking creatively about life and faith, and learning how to help others be their best selves as I work through that same process myself. And those core things about me have shown up through all these years of living, looking slightly different depending on a variety of factors that are age- and stage-related. When I was home with young children, those three little people were the primary place where my deep gladness met the world’s hunger—in this case, the “world” was decidedly limited!

As they grew, my focus shifted outward, to church and community. I worked in women’s ministries, community fund-raising, and worship planning as a volunteer. When my kids fledged—leaving the nest completely—the “world” became seminary and the parish of my local church. After seminary, and a geographical move, my parish changed, the gifts grew and deepened, and the “world” expanded a bit. Now, in retirement, those core truths that define who I am are focused on individuals in spiritual direction and a whole host of unseen friends on the internet, in addition to my aged mother, my husband, kids and grandkids.

The context changed, but the answer to the question never really has. There are definitely some things about me that have changed with time and maturity. The deepest ones are my increased need for solitude and silence and a growing openness to new ways in which the Spirit of God is at work in the world and in the church. Yet each of those changes has served to enrich the core, not fundamentally change it.

Who I am is a woman loved by God and created to communicate, create, encourage and nurture. Who are you? Do you know yourself to be loved, first, last and always? Do you know what brings you gladness? Do you have ideas about how to bring that gladness to a place of deep hunger in your world? Share with us in the comments! Let’s dream together about making 2016 the year of self-discovery.

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Diana Trautwein
Married to her college sweetheart for over 40 years, Diana is always wondering about things. She answers to Mom from their three adult kids and spouses and to Nana from their 8 grandkids, ranging in age from 3 to 22. For 17 years, after a mid-life call to ministry, she answered to Pastor Diana in two churches where she served as Associate Pastor. Since retiring at the end of 2010, she spends her time working as a spiritual director and writes on her blog, Just Wondering. For as long as she can remember, Jesus has been central to her story and the church an extension of her family. Not that either church or family is exactly perfect . . . but then, that’s what makes life interesting, right?
Diana Trautwein

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Diana Trautwein
  • I heard a funny thing inside my head this morning, and it was so strange that it startled me:
    “Remember when I used to be me?”
    Then I came down to the school room, turned on the computer, and here you are, Diana, giving me insight into the “why” of my wonderings. These days of the in-between, parenting past the mid-point, kids out of the nest, kids hanging off the edge of it, kids still cozy. I pictured life happening as you described, in stages, but am finding the boundaries to be smeared and instead of Roman numerals on the outline, it feels more like water going down the tub drain, clockwise whirling.
    Going back to re-read your words, I’m thinking the answer to my ambivalence lies in embracing the fuzzy boundaries. For now, there are days when the answer to “who am I” is: sandwich-making-math-nagger. Then there are days of quiet when the answer is “blogger-with-too-many-books-to-read” or “wife-on-a-date-with-neglected-husband.” God is giving me the opportunity to learn flexibility.
    Thanks for writing words that came at just the right time for me! Partnership with God!

    • pastordt

      What a great question to hear, Michele!!! I remember hearing that question at several points along this journey. And yes, YES — those boundaries are smeared. In a 700 word essay (thank you, Claire Colvin, for so beautifully getting it down to that!), it’s tough to cover even a small portion of the ‘bases’ on this topic. Glad you found these words helpful today, my friend.

  • “The context changed, but the answer to the question never really has.” Such a good question we always need to be asking. It is so easy to feel like we lose ourselves when the context changes. As a wife, as a new mom, when a job or a calling shifts. I have had to “re-find” myself in all of these places. In 2016 I am trying to discover how I can be wife, mom, writer, employee, leader and still be just child of God. I want to bring deep gladness in my writing and my leading and volunteering, never losing the opportunity to bring deep gladness to my family first. It’s a hard balance.

    • That quote stood out to me too … Asking the question in relation to our changing contexts/ seasons/ circumstances. Yes!

      • pastordt

        Thanks, Idelette. Always happy to see your name here.

    • pastordt

      Exactly! And sometimes we DO lose ourselves, maybe especially when we have several very young children to care for. 🙂 It is a very tough balance, Nicole, and I don’t mean to imply that it’s easy. I have just come from a six-hour day of guided prayer offered twice a year at our church. Days like that are REALLY helpful when you begin to feel a bit lost. If you have any kind of retreat center near you and there are others who could watch your children for a few hours (like a husband on the weekends, or a parent/friend/neighbor?) I highly recommend some quiet time to think/pray/journal/read/reflect. Thanks so much for commenting, today.

  • I needed to read this today. Thank you. “Who am I?” is a question that I am learning to ask. And it is surprisingly hard to find an answer sometimes. It is hard to get beyond “Who do I want to be?” “Who do I want others to think I am?” “Who should I be?” “Who will I be when. . .” In the past month or so, I’ve been revisiting the word “be.” And I feel like my step now is to embrace and get to know who I am. Right now. As is. I have been surprised in the deep gladness that has surfaced in this kind of “just being.”

    • pastordt

      It is a tough question sometimes – and, as you have noted so well, it is difficult to sort out the nub of it from all those other semi-related ones that hang around and pester us. I think maybe, ‘who do I want to be?’ might begin to open the door a bit, though. If we can sit in an open space, with a prayerful heart, the list that might result in an attempt to answer that might very well lead us in the right direction. Thanks for your contribution to this conversation, J.L.

      • Oh, I like that. Thank you. Later this morning, I ran across these words in Jan Richardson’s book Circle of Grace:
        “You have looked
        at so many doors
        with longing,
        wondering if your life
        lay on the other side.
        For today,
        choose the door
        that opens
        to the inside.”
        I thought it fit beautifully with what you wrote about here. 🙂

        • pastordt

          She is a new discovery for me this recent Advent. I LOVE every thing I’ve read of hers!

          • I love her. So happy we share her now.

        • Ooo, that is BEAUTIFUL. Jan L. Richardson is my sacred muse. 😉

  • Lynn D. Morrissey

    Diana,

    I love all you write, and this is no exception…and the perfect question to ask ourselves as we turn the annual page on the calendar. So many Christians I’ve met think it is so self-centered to know who we are (in other words that we care so much about ourselves that we make the time and effort to find out). But if we don’t, we will live without direction and drift through our days without meaning and fulfilling all the plans God has for us. Oh yes, just the fact that we are created in God’s image gives us great significance, but to serve Him in the way He designed us necessitates that we know whom He made. I love what you said about who you are at your core not changing. I think (and have found) that to be very true. My roles, my missions, my careers may change (and have) and my knowledge about God, myself, and life(hopefully!) deepens, but who I am at my core is innate and unchanging–who God made me to be. I studied with Christian author Kevin McCarthy, author of The On-Purpose Person (a wonderful little book btw), and he encouraged me to write a two-word purpose statement. You know how verbose I am, so I really balked–and it’s hard to do! But he feels one reason people either can’t or resist doing that at first is that they don’t know who they are. After struggling, I concluded that he was right. My purpose is “encouraging transparency.” I also love Parker Palmer’s book, Let Your Life Speak. His approach is refreshing. Most people assume that by looking at their gifts and circumstances, these things will dictate who they are. But Palmer teaches that who we are will actually shape those things. And this quote by Jean (John ) Calvin is priceless: “Man never attains to a true self-knowledge until he has previously contemplated the face of God, and come down after such contemplation to look into himself.” Nowhere does he imply we should not know ourselves, but rather, we will never truly know ourselves, until we know God. Anyway…..I’m glad that you are staying true to purpose, and I thank you for all you share!! Happy New Year!
    Love
    Lynn

    • pastordt

      LOVE that Palmer book – taught a Sunday school class series using it once, long ago. And I think the Calvin quote is perfect – thanks for that. Hope your new year is wonderful and rich, Lynn. Thanks so much for your encouragement.

  • carameredith.com

    Oh Diana, this really is the most important question of all. Someone once told me that the three questions middle school students ask are Who am I, Who are my friends, and Where am I going? But really, I think Those are the questions every human of every age is asking.

  • pastordt

    I agree, Cara. Totally.

  • Thank you for putting this question before us and in a way only you can.

  • pastordt

    Thank YOU, Idelette, for making room for an old lady.

  • I think it’s amazing that the closer you get to God, the closer you get to yourself. You always put things so beautifully, Dianna. x

    • pastordt

      Thank you, Bev. And your one sentence summary is spot on!

  • This is so good Diana! The best of who you are and one of the best pieces I’ve read of yours. And the conversation here is rich. I’m thirsty for silence and prayerful listening often in this season of life, leading people to deeper faith. But really that desire was there always, even when my kids were little and needing me every blessed moment. I’m sitting with your questions now as I Sabbath. Thanks for the meaningful inspiration!

    • pastordt

      You’re so very welcome, Shelly. And I thank you for your share on FB in addition to these kind words here. I’m sitting under a blanket (hand made by my eldest daughter), in very comfortable, warm clothes, watching the sky build to another much-needed rainstorm on this Sabbath afternoon. Glad these words gave you something to chew on during your own.

  • Heather Miller

    Thank you Diana for sharing your wisdom so beautifully here. This was a timely encouragement as I wrestle with the idea that Jesus could delight in me, that there is a place for me to fill…I am at an In-Between in terms of work, and sometimes that leaves me feeling a little place-less. Thank you for reminding me to cling to Christ’s love for me first and foremost, love that is not dependent on my employment status.

    • pastordt

      Amen, amen, amen. That Love does not depend on us or our performance, thanks be to God. Cling like crazy, Heather. Something good will come, I just know it.

      • Heather Miller

        Thank you!

        • pastordt

          You’re welcome, Heather!

  • DeanneMoore

    I was working out some things out with God over the past few weeks and I answered this way to the question ‘who am I?’ I a pretender who shows up as a different person with different people. (GASP I know.) But I had to face the truth and receiving it helped me reach clarity about some decisions I was facing. I thought about all the nuances of me and as I listened to the Spirit, He showed me my truest self. I asked God to help me have courage to show up in the truth with him and with others.

    You are fulfilling your calling, Diana, from your place on the hill above the mission…I appreciate you so very much.

    • pastordt

      Thank you, sweet Dea! I’ve had quite a few of those GASP moments in my life, too, friend. It’s always good to recalibrate, check in, and ask that old question One.More.Time. Thanks for reading!

  • Rea

    I struggle with this question so much. Most of the time my cry is “I just don’t KNOW who I am.” I think perhaps that is not quite the truth; I know who I am, but it doesn’t seem practical. I know who I am, but I’m afraid. I know who I am, but I don’t know how to connect that to the world’s need.

    (Apparently right now I am popcorn maker…and peace keeper…for an 11 and a 13 year old. so I’m just going to end that thought there.)

    • pastordt

      Ah, sweet Rea – been there, done that! Start journaling or typing about what you LOVE to do, what makes your heart sing, what makes you forget about time passing by, what helps you come back to the humdrum with fresh eyes. When my kids were little, I stayed up late into the night making strange creations out of felt in an attempt to satisfy this creative urge that began to appear in my early twenties (I was too cowed by mom’s extraordinary creativity to even touch that part of me until I was out of her home). That morphed into floral work when my kids were older, and eventually into a very basic kind of photography and home decorating. Those pieces of myself help me to do the other parts better somehow. I can listen to people better if my home ‘feels’ like me; I even read more thoroughly and deeply when I’ve allowed myself some sort of ‘fun’ (check out Ann Kroeker’s Month of Play on her blog – fabulous!). That same creative urge showed up in seminary when I began to learn about preaching and then writing. YOU are you all of your life. But how you express that you-ness will change and flower with time and with your own changing life circumstances. Just make the space now to try and find those things that bring you deep joy, okay?

  • Hannah Kallio

    I love how Jesus used this question, not to let his friends define Him, but to give them an opportunity to know Him better. I ask Him, “Who do you say that I am?” often. I also find it really helpful to ask Him, “Who do you say that I’m NOT?” I has helped me shed so many false identities in favor of a truer one. Thanks for raising this foundational question!

    • pastordt

      Excellent, Hannah! That ‘not’ is so important. Thank you!

  • The context changed, but the answer to the question never really has. There are definitely some things about me that have changed with time and maturity. The deepest ones are my increased need for solitude and silence and a growing openness to new ways in which the Spirit of God is at work in the world and in the church. Yet each of those changes has served to enrich the core, not fundamentally change it. Yes yes…me too… For the past couple of years I have been in a holding pattern …like a plane circling the sky waiting to land…part of the landing is moving…we are settling into a new house…a new season… Part of this is like you, aging parents… Grandloves… But I am in a season of finding and discovering a deeper sense of who God has created me to be…and how I live this second half of life in my new found freedom!!

    • pastordt

      I’m so glad, Ro! There are some definite upsides to getting older, aren’t there?

  • Nancy Ruegg

    Is it possible we’re twins, Diana, separated at birth?! As I read each descriptor in the statement of who you are, I kept responding in my head, “That’s me, too!” 1) I’ve been a communicator as a teacher for many years and now a writer, 2) I enjoy the creative process and wish I had more time to explore painting and quilting (Maybe the next life-chapter?!), 3) I love to encourage others, to build them up so they can press on with greater vigor, 4) And as a grandmother I take great delight in nurturing our granddaughters while we craft, read, play games, etc. But I’m open to new discoveries /possibilities for who I will be in 2016. One is to mentor a young woman in our church, where all four descriptors will come together in one pursuit! Thank you for pushing my thinking, Diana!

    • pastordt

      Twins? Well, who knows?? Thanks for your encouraging words, Nancy. I missed them somehow, but just went in to check today and found you in the thread.

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