At the beginning of my internship with TWLOHA, each member of our group had to answer a question: “What three words best describe you?”
I remember my heart racing and my mind drawing a blank as I mentally sorted through my vocabulary, searching for the exact combination of syllables and adjectives to summarize me as a whole. I felt as though it was impossible to choose only three words, but after stretching my language capacity a bit, I decided on “Loving, Traveler, Optimist.”
It seemed like such a hard feat to answer that question, but I suppose it’s something I have actually been doing my entire life. I have always labeled and defined myself in various capacities. We all do this. We feel comfort in establishing our presence with certain characteristics that might allow us to feel secure and possibly known.
Throughout the years, I have identified with many labels: daughter, student, depressed, anxious, loud, compassionate, adventurous, faithful. But after that question was posed to the interns on that summer evening, a new notion began to nag at me: aren’t we more than labels? I mean, aren’t we constantly changing, growing, evolving? Yet, we often still cling to labels for security.
I don’t necessarily think it is a problem to try to define yourself as a person; we all do it, and it’s inevitable. But it can become toxic to a person’s journey toward hope and wholeness when they allow themselves to be caged in by past labels. For example, I no longer walk around defining myself as depressed; in fact, there are days when that characteristic feels so far from the truth of who I am now.
I believe we should use our past experiences and labels to enable and empower us for a more promising future instead of a limited present. We all deserve more. We deserve growth and hope. And it means allowing the grace to utilize our past experiences as fuel for a fresh start and a new journey. It means remembering both the heavy and the light, and then believing you deserve the latter.
It has taken me a lot of time to come to this realization. There are still days when my former self and circumstances weigh heavily on my shoulders, consuming me. But then there are those days when I completely forget about my past struggles because they don’t compare to who I am presently.
Though it may seem incomprehensible at this point in time, the pain you’re walking through now can yield future healing. Your present, whether or not it is ideal, will adjust, adapt, change—and as you go through it all, your story will expand. Another chapter will be added, and I believe when you look back on it, on the various teachings and challenges that catalyzed one another, you’ll realize you would not have it any other way. Growth is there in every moment, embedded with humility and purpose.
Now, having wrapped up my internship and returned to Canada, I would answer that initial question differently. Now I would say I am “Evolving, Changing, Growing”—three words that grant me the grace and freedom to move forward, without restraint, into a future of hope.
—Rachel, Summer 2013 TWLOHA Intern