Someone asked me today “What defines you?” I thought about that for a while, because many people have told me that what others have done to them or for them has “Defined them” and I found that odd and began to consider the question for myself. In the world we live in, people often define themselves by what has been done to them; “I’m homeless,” “I’m jobless,” “My childhood was terrible.” To be sure none of things were their own choices, but how they define themselves within those circumstances is still their own choice. “I want to be an architect” can still be a self-defining ideal even if circumstances don’t permit you to follow that dream.
People allow themselves to be defined by victimhood, or circumstances but often fail to understand that what truly defines who we are is so much more than that.
In my childhood, my stepmother was a vile, evil person who revelled in torturing me and my two sisters. We suffered 8 years of that abuse, during which two of us attempt suicide. Unsuccessfully, thank God.
As I sat in my father’s room with his rifle in my mouth at the age of 16, I had no hope, my belief in myself and my God torn apart by those who were supposed to protect and nurture me. I defined my life at that time as being worthless and without hope.
Does that define me? It most certainly affected me in a dramatic way I’m sure, but it does not define who I am today. It may have defined me at that time, but only until I made the decision to put that rifle away and begin to make the choice to define myself.
Does it hurt that my father could not bring himself to see the evil his wife was doing to his own flesh and blood? It did, yes of course.
Did it damage me? Most definitely, that kind of abuse can have long lasting affects on anyone, if they allow it to… I, like millions of other people, eventually chose not to allow myself to be defined in that way.
Choices. It all comes down to choices… Sometimes extremely difficult and life-altering ones, but choices nonetheless.
We all can choose to become the victim or to take responsibility for making our own way. We all have the power to rise above our past and become the people we want to be despite what others try to make of us.
In my case, both my parents abandoned me at critical points in my life, and as a child, that did in fact define me. However, when my life became my own and I began to make my own way, it was my choices that began to shape and define who I was and who I was to become. I chose to return to my faith, I chose to make myself responsible for my own actions. I chose to enter the Army and I chose each and every path my life has taken since that day when I became responsible for my own life.
There are no excuses in life. “It is what it is until it isn’t.” Kind of stark, I know but at its core this statement defines the nature of life itself. You live, you walk the walk you decide to walk, whether that’s guided by faith or by something else, you get to choose. You choose what you put up with, you choose what affects your mood and your outlook and you ultimately choose who you become by virtue of your collective choices and experiences.
My father at first chose to love his family. He chose to guide and nurture his children in the love of God and in in the belief that we are responsible for our own choices. He chose at some point that assuaging his loneliness was a priority and he married a woman who chose to despise and torture his children behind his back. He began to ignore the pleas for help and estranged himself from his children and devoted his life to his new wife and her children.
Many years later he chose to attempt to reconnect with the children he had abandoned, acknowledged his bad choices and made an effort to begin to atone for them mere months before he died. What defines us all are those things we choose. A challenge only defines us if we embrace it and make it a part of who we are; again by choice.
And by no means are these choices easy or simple; they are by their very nature difficult and often life-altering. If they were easy they would not have the power to define us. We define and redefine ourselves by our choices, our actions and by what we hold dear to our hearts…
So what defines me? Here’s my answer:
My choices in life define me.
My children define me.
The challenges I take on define me.
The friendships I value define me.
My ethics define me.
My wife’s smile defines me.
How I respond to life’s challenges define me.
How I treat other people defines me.
My skin & outward appearances merely keep me from falling onto the floor into a collection of assorted parts…
Interestingly enough, I cannot say my faith defines me, it guides me… God has given all of us the power to choose our own path in life and as such, we are held responsible for it.
What’s your answer? What defines who you are?