2017 was very good to me, though nowhere near easy. I ran a marathon, participated in the women’s march, met my fitness goals, and opened a business, two goals on an unclear horizon that came into shape this year. I’d always had the dream to open my own business, but at the onset of the journey I knew that to successfully achieve this I’d have to develop an entire new set of skills and evolve to a new place mentally/emotionally.
A year prior, I had made a serious choice to take an unpaid sabbatical for 3 months in order to step back from the daily grind and reevaluate my life. Since the opportunity of acquiring a business was a head of me, I also used this time to learn the essential skills needed to run it. I sought wisdom from business mentors and those closest to me whom I respected, and received unanimous confirmation that this short season would be seminal in preparation for ownership.
As in most things counter-cultural, I got a colorful array of negative push back for taking a sabbatical. It came in many forms- lighthearted joking, general disdain, or outright opposition. My hope was that even though not all opinions were favorable, at the very least my unconventional example would inspire others to reevaluate their own career trajectories. Ultimately, it didn't faze me what other people thought. I knew with every fiber of my being that I needed this sabbatical, and it was liberating. I felt very fortunate to be in a place in life to be making choices out of growth and not survival.
In those three months, the Lord grew me in areas I didn't even know I needed to acknowledge. Breaking mental obstacles I didn't even know I was subconsciously living into. Focusing my scattered thoughts and energies. Discipling my rhythms of rest. The first lesson I had to learn was to quiet my thoughts and in turn, simplify my routine. Acknowledging how noisy my daily routine had become, and what responsibility I played creating that chaos. Peeling back the layers of my motives, as to stop oscillating between activity and exhaustion. Once my thoughts were quieted and routines were simplified, the Holy Spirit then brought up my next lesson:
"It's not who you are that holds you back, it's who you think you're not"
This meant challenging my own personal assumptions about who I was and what I am capable of. It meant not allowing weaknesses to define me more than strengths, such as telling myself "I'm bad at math", "I can't write well", or "my Spanish is terrible, why bother", etc. Granted, there is a semblance of truth to those statements. You probably wouldn't want to select me as your CPA, and as someone raised in a bilingual household grammar/writing has always been a personal insecurity of mine. I've never felt qualified in my mastery of either language in writing or speech. Because of this, the words "I can't" gave birth to a multitude of excuses to not engage in numerous projects or responsibilities in life.
But, I was tired of abdication by way of excuses. If I were going to grow as a child of God, a wife, a friend, or an entrepreneur, I needed to engage every area of weakness with a fresh, open, and gracious heart. In my prayer times, the Lord really spoke love and healing into deep areas of of perceived lack. Any area where I felt or encountered lack, I felt God passing his loving hand over and healing. The Holy Spirit renewing my mind to say that my weaknesses don't define me, it's God who defines me. That everyday He reminds me that I am more deeply loved and known than I can ever comprehend by the God of the universe. And so...
I worked out. I researched. I entered meetings, negotiations, classes, and realms I didn't know I was prepared for... and pleasantly surprised myself. It's an amazing thing to surprise yourself, like meeting a new and familiar friend. There was a beautiful wedding, then a peaceful funeral. My family lost a great light this year, my Abuela. She was an amazing woman of God who left a legacy of faith and grace, and her funeral, like her life, was full of light and healing. Reuniting our family in the place we call home before the island was hit by Hurricane Maria two weeks later.
As I was approaching the end of my sabbatical several major unforeseen decisions came into play that would significantly alter which direction Michael and I would take in our life. I can say now with confidence if I hadn't taken the time to pull back and pray, I would not have been able to make wise, thoughtful, and intentional decisions- not based on feelings/others’ opinions/desperation, but on facts and foresight.
The last major lesson of this sabbatical:
Releasing what others thought of me.
"There is only one way to avoid criticism, do nothing, say nothing, and be nothing." -Aristotle
If God is growing you into any major arena in life, He will test your need to seek out people’s approval for the things He himself has put before you. I can honestly say that relationships and people are my #1 priority, and it is both a blessing and a curse. I’ve often operated out of not wanting to upset others, stir the pot, or be misunderstood. God has been shedding layers of these fears for years, and now in my 30's I stand firm deeply knowing my goodness comes from God alone. I am only responsible for myself and everyone else is responsible for their own joy. I've learned to embrace that no matter how much I communicate, I will risk being misunderstood. I know now how to take feedback seriously and not personally.
In the end I can’t care anymore about what others think. I don't need to source my goodness or approval from others. And I sure as hell can’t seek approval or permission for my personal and career goals.
Scripture says "bad company corrupts good character.” For most people, they've heard this in the context of bad people vs good people. But scripture is clear that all of us are sinners in need of grace. So what does this verse mean? When you are seeking to grow spiritually and fully embrace your humanity, you will need to make wise choices as to who you will grow with, because the reality is that many people are not seeking spiritual/emotional/personal growth. There are even spiritual seekers who are stunted in cycles of negativity, cynicism, and laziness. There’s a few that are even predators posing as house pets. I decided two years ago to take serious inventory of those relational influences in my life and the result was freeing. I now choose to surround myself with people who choose growth (creativity, personal goals, etc), joy, and personal responsibility; Who demonstrate grace to themselves and others, and are energized by deep sense of gratitude and not entitlement; Who choose to view others through compassion and understanding when they can very easily choose judgement.
I see that the choices I made two years ago with my closest community has born much fruit, and Michael and I could not have walked out this year without them.
I am so personally proud of the woman God has grown me into this year. As a wife, a child of God, and proud business owner. My greatest encouragement to you is to be obedient to the call God has placed over your life. He will stretch your faith and your comfort zones, but that is what is needed to flourish.
Photo: Jeremy Mercado