Finding my Identity in the Image of “I AM”

I didn’t have to chide myself with, “You got this, girl.” I was decisive and I had that wild look in my eye. I grabbed the buzzers, put them on ¼ inch setting and plunged them into my shoulder-length greying hair. I felt free and powerful as my hair fell to the floor and accumulated in big brown piles of straight chunks. I was screaming my protest to the world. It was a war-cry in my soul and the only voice in my head had no words. It was a battle cry at the peak of battle, the kind that one only makes when they already know in their head that the victory has been won inside of them. This was MY victory and my Declaration of Independence from the social norms that decide that they like long hair and the social norms that decide what roles I get to have as a woman and the social norms that had trapped me in abuse because I wanted to “be good” and “be nice”.

NO MORE!!! You can no longer reduce me!!! I dare you to try!!! I DARE THE WORLD!! Never again!!! I put the clippers down and grabbed the scissors. I trimmed what was left of the top with bold and decisive movements…Then I stepped back and looked at myself. I still had some pieces to clean up and some sculpting to do, but I loved it!!! It was me!! My face was front and center with no hair to hide behind and I was beautiful even with my naked 40 year-old face. It was the face of a victor and a courageous woman with a glint in her eye that made admiration surge within me. Salt and pepper sparkled on the fuzzy parts. I liked my sparkle. I liked my fuzzy. I liked my moppy top and I liked the face of the powerful and victoriously-free woman looking back at me. I was redefining what it meant to be me and I was no longer taking votes from people on what that was going to mean.

So many times I have alluded to this story with my Vietnam Veteran friend who is more impressed with my cliff-jumping than my short hair, but he doesn’t know that on that day, I did more than jump off a cliff. That day, I became a rebel and a revolutionary. I declared my independence, went to war, and this time the battle was won the second I began it. Why? Because the battle to fight through PTSD is not about how you fight, but about who you give yourself permission to be. That is where the war is won.

Who do I give myself permission to be? My mantra goes like this:

“I am a daughter of the Most-High. I was hand-knit and formed by the hand of God who took care to form every fingerprint and every piece of DNA and then breathed His own breath into me and then God looked and me and said, ‘It is good’. God gave me a purpose and wrote my real name that only God knows on the palm of His hand. He knows every secret thought I have and loves every piece of me. I am His beloved daughter.”

Those words resonate with me because I had to search for them. I had to learn to believe again that I had value that wasn’t contingent on my constant performance and I needed to hear words of love and value instead of words that reduced me. Those words brought me hope and worth when I had none and they were words that defined me based on what I am instead of what I am not.…”what I am not”…Oh, you know how it works. It’s all those things that “good girls” DON’T do. It’s the “Thou Shalt Nots” and the that we live under. We are defined by what we are not and by the roles that we have in the way that others want us to live out those roles where we always look to them for validation. That is our whole definition. I think most of us live that way, but maybe mine was more extreme than most. I was part of the whole purity culture indoctrination. I wanted to be a “good girl”, but that really meant that I had to be society’s definition of perfect or I had shame to bear.

My mantra pulled me out of that place and into a place where I could look to God for my identity instead of society, but recently my own mantra stopped resonating with me and it isn’t because I don’t look to God. It is the opposite. I live in God’s grace and I understand it so I no longer desperately have to cling to validation. God’s worth for me is now in a place deeper than wherever it is when I seek externally. Why would that be weird that when I look to God that I no longer cling to a need for validation? Instead I just connect with who God is. Isn’t God residing inside of us? Isn’t it the artist that best knows their own art and wouldn’t I find greater purpose by seeing God when I look out instead of needing to see myself? Perhaps it only makes sense to me, but I believe that to know God is to know myself and I don’t need a mantra to tell me who I am anymore because I know who God is.

You see, Moses asked God the question, “What will I say to them when they ask your name? I need to tell them something.”

“Tell them ‘I AM who I AM,’ tell them, ‘I AM has sent me to you’.”

What?!!!! As a kid, I waited for Him to fill in the blank. “I AM”…????… what???” Heck, Moses wasn’t down with that any more than I was. He wanted a name that would inspire fear in the Egyptians so that he didn’t have to be so scared to stand in front of Pharaoh. I want a name for God that satisfies my stinkin’ curiosity about Him. Yet still, “I AM” remains the most high name for God.

Pause for a VERY BRIEF grammar lesson here: I AM is the perfect tense. It encompasses past, present, and future all at once (Does Alpha and Omega ring a bell?). It translates as “The Existing One”. Grammar lesson done. Whew…we all got through it.

God is so cool! There is a reason that Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson doesn’t go around telling everybody that he’s strong. We’d go from admiration to mockery; right? Strong people don’t have to advertise a thing. It is apparent. Well, God was was already apparent in all of creation, but He was also about to make Himself REALLY apparent to the Egyptians. He didn’t need to be talking any smack. He simply said “I AM” and “Let my people go!” Maybe Pharaoh should have clued in on the lack of smack talk and peed his pants right then and there before he quickly said, “Okay, take ‘em.” I know what Pharaoh should have done ‘cause “I AM” gives me chills.

“I AM” inspires curiosity in me and I think God wants that childlike curiosity from me. He wants us to ask Him and connect and want to know more about him. But what is more is that I am created in the image of “The Existing One”. I am not in the perfect tense. I am only in the now, but “I am”.

Who am I? Am I truly a daughter of the Most-High? Of course, but that is a role and I existed before I had knowledge of the God that hand-knit me. Am I good? Yes, God said I am when He made all of His creation, but that is a value placed on me or a character trait that I sometimes have. I exist without either. WHO am I?

I simply AM. I am. I am present tense and I exist. I exist in the image of the Existing One. I exist in the presence of God and just by being with God, I observe the Light and my reflective being shines God’s glory. I be. In being with God, I see because I exist in the light. Ahhh…so the “I be” is important, but the “where I be” and the “who I be with” is all important.

“Okay, Tif,” you might be saying, “I always knew chicks who took buzzers to their hair are super nuts. I was gonna give you a chance, but you lost me. What the heck?!!”

To which I will say, “Didn’t you know that all chicks named Tiffany are crazy? Look it up. It is a thing.” This crazy chick knows something though. I know what it is to have to perform in order to BE. I know what it means to lose my identity in a role of being a wife and being a mom and a student, educator, artist, humanitarian, writer, youth leader, Christian, Republican, Democrat, Moderate (yes, I have been all three), elite, poor, ADHD, PTSD, intellectual, learning-disabled, complimentarian, feminist, woman, tomboy, fearful, fearless, “good”, “bad”, worthwhile, and worthless. I have identified with all of them, but despite the being-verb attached to those statements, that is not what makes me BE. I am. I exist in the image of my God-Daddy, The Existing One, who breathed vitality into me and makes the Light for me to see.

When I said that the war is won is not in how you fight, but about who you give yourself permission to be, I think that I was wrong. I gave myself permission to define myself by roles outside of the norm, but the real war is won when I see that God gives even greater permission to just be in a place outside of any role or label or description that a human can give. “I am” whatever known identity is written on God’s palm. That freedom to be in the now as I journey to understand God and to understand myself in the context of Him is truly the embodiment of the grace of God. I will look to Him as I enjoy this present tense of being an “existing one” in the presence of “I AM”.

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