I have been many things in my 40 years. I’ve tried on many different hats.
I have been a fashion-forward retail worker in New York City and an avid runner who defined herself by her race times and lap splits. I have been a stay at home mom, priding myself on my perfect children, successful husband, and well-crafted athleisure attire. I was a homemaker, a make-it-from scratch smug cook who relished in making my own baby food and feeding my family straight from the farmers market. And this was long before being “organic” was a thing.
I was constantly searching for something, an identity, my sense of self. I didn’t realize it at the time, but it was a function of low self-esteem. I didn’t feel secure in who I was, in fact, I’m not even sure I knew who I was, and I was searching through all of these identities, trying on these different hats, to figure it out. (Check out this podcast episode from This Grit and Grace Life to hear me talk more about this!)
I Was Dying For Encouragement and Affirmation
While my marriage was filled with a lot of things—love, laughter, and good times—encouragement was not one of them. I wasn’t told I was good at my job. I didn’t hear “thank you” or “we appreciate you” or “you’re beautiful and smart and capable.” I needed to hear these words, my sense of self was delicate… craving affirmation like water… yet it never rained.
So when my kids were moving past the toddler years and onto preschool, I got a job, hoping it would give me confidence and make me feel like I mattered.
It was one of those things, through a friend of a friend, that was flexible and easy to do from home. At first. But, like many things in my life, it became my identity. And what began with working from home slowly evolved into a few in-office hours here (plus a long commute) and a few in-office hours there. Within the span of three years it morphed into full-time, with long hours and travel.
I Found What I Was Looking For… In the Wrong Place
It happened subtly but it also happened fast. The job became my identity. The job became my life.
In retrospect, it’s not hard to see why. I was starving for feedback and love and appreciation. I was desperate to know who I was in the eyes of other people because I didn’t have a lens of my own. And the company, a good, solid company, was smart and knew how to treat its people. I was filled with positive reinforcement, told I was amazing, given raises and bonuses, and called wonderful and capable. These are all incredible corporate tools and when used wisely, they spark loyalty. In my case, they sparked obsession.
Obsession for anything is not healthy. We know this, right?
I was very good at my job. I don’t say this to be prideful. I say it because it’s the truth. But what I wasn’t good at was keeping myself afloat outside of my job. An enticing and fun corporate culture quickly swallowed me up whole. I was not a good mom at this time and I was not a good wife. I engrossed myself in my workplace life and reputation and began to make poor decisions, decisions that put everything I love second, third and, sometimes, dead last.
I burnt myself down to the ground… eventually forced, with a heavy line drawn in the sand, to leave my job or lose my family.
For many people, leaving a job is nothing. You pack up your desk and you move on. No harm, no foul. For me, because my entire identity was wrapped up in my title and the culture and the world I had created there, it was devastating.
My Next Identity Crisis Led Me Somewhere Unexpected
I was lost. I had no one. I felt isolated and alone. I felt like an empty shell of a person, wracked with guilt over decisions that seemed alien to me. How could I have chosen anything over my children? Who was I?
But, like He is wont to do, God showed up in those dark moments. I spent months, one entire summer, spending hours in prayer. I would sit on the back porch before my kids woke for the day and pour over the books of Samuel and Isaiah. The Psalms taught me how to feel. The Gospel taught me about grace. I can’t remember exactly how He found me, or what prompted me to turn to Him after years of putting Him aside to worship the god of my job. But God was the only one there and He became, for the first time in my life, a real Savior.
In these months I was healing. I don’t think I realized it at the time, but I was. I was going to therapy and learning about unhealthy patterns of abuse and trauma that had shaped my decisions and my life so far. I was spending hours in the Word. I had cut ties with nearly everyone in my contact list, whittling down to a very few and isolating myself. I lost friends over this, and still to this day exist in a much smaller circle. But I was finally, after 38 years of life, learning who I was without the outside noise of the world shaping my identity with dust and wind.
And then, out of nowhere, I began to form a dream. I remember it so clearly, yet I’m not sure even now if I’ve romanticized it or imagined it. I was sitting on my porch, Bible open and journal out, and I began to dream of a food blog. It seemed alien to me and preposterous (like God even cares about food blogs), but a quiet voice urged me on. A spark was lit in my heart that day and it grew and grew, first with silent nurturing (I still keep the private Pinterest board filled with Pin after Pin of my “research” on how to build a blog), then with careful conversations and gentle encouragement from the few close confidants that remained in my life.
And from there, BeautyfromBurntToast was formed. This, for the first time in my life, was a God voice I chose to obey.
My New Beginning Started With BurntToast
When I started BurntToast, I had no idea what I was doing. The idea of food in particular made sense, as I had been obsessed with cooking and baking and sharing my love of food as long as I could remember, but the blog part was downright insane considering I had zero idea how to build, manage, or grow one. If I’m being honest, I was even a terrible photographer. The idea of taking an appealing food picture was as far away from me as the East is from the West.
I kept plugging away. I worked and grew and improved and shared and shared and shared, despite my deep-seated insecurities and fears of rejection and ridicule. I kept going. I heard this tiny voice saying stay. And I stayed, often to an audience of two, just my mom and one loyal aunt commenting or liking or even taking the time to read.
It was humiliating at worst and discouraging at best.
But I kept going.
And little by little, BurntToast grew. My pictures improved. And I wrote and wrote and wrote. What started as stories about the food began to grow into stories about life, pain, family, heartbreak, and God. Always God.
And by the grace of God BurntToast grew.
After some time I found Grit and Grace, this online community of women speaking my language, urging me to find my strength, and I submitted a piece to be a writer… honestly thinking I didn’t stand a chance because I wasn’t nearly “religious” enough. But if you know anything about the visionary behind Grit and Grace, Darlene, you know she values real over religion any day and I was welcomed with open arms.
A writing career began to form, one I never expected. And before I even realized it, I got a second writing opportunity, this time more food-focused with a local magazine and was offered the chance to work on the editorial development side of Grit and Grace.
And still, BurntToast chugged along and I stayed the course. I kept going.
I Could Have Never Dreamt Up My Life Now
So here I am today.
If you had asked me five years ago, when I was knee-deep in corporate culture and business professional attire, if I would ever be sitting here dressed in sweatpants on a rainy Wednesday morning writing out my story to you, I would have laughed. It would seem preposterous; I had built a life and an identity that was working. I was good at it, after all. People told me so all the time.
But the thing I learned, looking back now, is that being good at something doesn’t mean you have to do it. It doesn’t even mean it’s your gift. It simply means you’re good at it and it works for a period in your life. It doesn’t mean it will be your path forever, or even that it’s what you’re supposed to be doing.
When I look back at that period in my life, I am unrecognizable. I don’t relate to the person I see; I don’t identify with the decisions, the desperation, the emptiness. I am a stranger.
And I’m completely at peace with that.
Do I feel proud of the poor decisions I made? Or my desperate need for an identity and sense of self?
I do not. But I also know that without those decisions, without that desperation and the eventual breakdown of my carefully concocted house of cards, I would never have found grace. I would never have met God right where He was, patiently waiting for me to turn back to Him. BurntToast wouldn’t exist and I wouldn’t know the love of my Savior, the love of a whole family, the love of my children, the way I do today.
I wouldn’t have any of this. And, for whatever reason, in order to get here I had to strike a match and light fire to the very life I thought I wanted.
God works in funny ways. I don’t even propose to know the end of my story or why it couldn’t be neat and pretty and tied up with a nice bow. I might never know why I had to make it so messy or why I couldn’t get my act together sooner. But I do know it was my path to walk and it brought me here, and I am grateful, yes grateful, for these scars and this pain and this rebirth.
Because when I think of these past few years, I think of a burnt and barren field, one decimated by fire and sin and death. I see this and know it was the life I built. But right in the middle of all of that darkness and ash, there grows one small green shoot of life. That shoot was God. That shoot was grace. That shoot would be my lifeline, it would be my strength.
Watering it and nurturing it, even when it was hard and I felt invisible and unworthy, is what brought me here. God can take us from our darkest, from our worst, and make amazing things if we let Him.
I am living proof of His grace and I will spend every last breath of my life shouting grace from the rooftops. Because without grace, I am nothing. God really does make Beauty from BurntToast, my friends, He really does.
He will give a crown of beauty for ashes, a joyous blessing instead of mourning, festive praise instead of despair. Isaiah 61:3
(To hear Meaghan share more of her heart and story, don’t miss her on this podcast episode of This Grit and Grace Life: Answering the Question “Who Am I?” With Meaghan Dawson – 116!)