How Moana Guided Me Through An Identity Crisis

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“Can I ask your name?”

I told the woman who I was and saw the click as she registered why I looked familiar.

“Oh! I know your sisters!”

Even with date night makeup, strangers who know my big, busy family recognize me. My maiden name explains a lot; my history, my education, even guesses at my religion. 

If only identity were that easy. Then even Disney’s Moana wouldn’t ask herself “Do you know who you are?” She’d just say, “I’m the daughter of the village chief.” I don’t know if you struggle, or you if define yourself by your family or career or position. It can be a process, even if you don’t cross an ocean to figure it out, like Moana and I did. 

I’m a Writer…I think

Eleven years ago, I moved to France as a confident young bride, saying “I’m a writer!” 

Despite some articles being published, it was difficult to start a career. I sent proposals to magazines and websites across the world, over unstable Internet, while I navigated a new culture and language, during our first years of marriage. With minimal career success, I began to feel dishonest calling myself a writer.

Friends started asking, “Yes, but have you finished the book? When will it be published?”

I’m a Mom…is that all?

Then I became a mother; a self-explanatory title that clicked with me in a primal way. The questions about what I did and who I was, were answered by this tiny person. 

After a second baby, I was deeply dissatisfied with myself. I felt lost in a world of educated, career-driven people. I only felt qualified to converse about children.

But one evening, a conversation with friends turned to literature, poetry and a debate of the importance of studying them. Something in my soul clicked. Words. This is who I am, and I had things to say.

I’m a Journalist…for a while

Later we moved our little family from France back home to Kansas. I contacted several local newspapers, and despite my doubts, the editors reviewed my published clips and immediately contracted me as a freelancer. I loved meeting people, participating in my community, writing the articles. I felt that wonderful click again. Once again, I knew who I was; I became a homeschool mom AND a freelance journalist. 

Then for two years, I lost my words. I was recovering from the sudden, tragic death of my father. When I tried to write, it felt like taking a pick ax to the frozen layer around my soul. When words came out, they were stiff and bloody with pain. I wasn’t a writer anymore. Writers can write. 

I am Myself

Last year, I cuddled my daughter as she watched Disney’s Moana. I was scrolling through Facebook, humming along during a song. The line “Do you know who you are?” suddenly stood out. 

Moana lists the things that she loves, who her parents are, what she has learned. I set my phone down. All those of those things DO identify me. To my daughter’s surprise, I full on ugly-cried as the music swelled and the young girl leaned over the ocean, declaring, “I am Moana!”

Click.

It is enough to be called by my name. It’s a process, but I’m learning that I don’t have to work so hard, I don’t have to prove myself or define and identify myself to anyone. I am loved, I am me.

Like Moana, I just have to follow through on being me, with my own heart-restoring journey.

I will always have various titles: daughter, sister, wife, mother. I’m writing again, my words thawed out, like spring flowers. I’m still mama to four gorgeous children and I persevere in homeschooling.  

But knowing who I am is still as simple as saying, “I am Jenna.”

I don’t know what titles you have or what positions you hold. Whenever you need the reminder, sing the Moana song and know that you are enough when you are yourself.  

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