Perimeters & Foundations

This is the first post in a three part series of year-end reflections.

  • Words & Movements - Our stories are both an expression of an experience and the lens through which we view that experience and future experiences. In this way, our stories, our words, have the power to manifest things in our lives.
  • Growth (in community) & Tools - Where I want to grow this year and one of the tools I use to make the connection between the struggles and triumphs, responsibilities, tasks, and to-do's that facilitate that growth.

I turned forty-one this month, and like any birthday, this one invited reflection on the past year, both the calendar year from January to December, but also my "birthday year" which happens to follow the same cycle as the calendar year.

My parents had a thing for December babies, or rather, they knew how to beat those March blues, as my younger brother was also born in December.

My December birthday is wrapped up in everything that the holiday season and end of year means to me.

In this last month of the year, amongst holiday activities, Advent meditations, and the general good will and cheer (and busyness) of the season I am also mentally preparing to put closure on this year and anticipating and planning for the next. I am pondering the things I've experienced in the last 12 months and thinking about guiding themes and directions for the year ahead. It's a lot of reflection for one month, but to be lost in that kind of thinking, and then writing those thoughts is one of my deep pleasures, so lucky me in December. It's like a birthday gift.

The end of one year, a new one coming, my birthday, the holiday season they all conflate into this month, that for me, is defined by contemplation and celebration.

I'm supposing, though I honestly don't really remember, that I may have always been bent this way - to reflect a lot on the past. I think it expressed itself differently when I was younger, in my desire to carry forth traditions, which probably influenced my career path as a homemaker.

As an ESTJ I concern myself with how things have been done in the past and generally try to find some kind of successful example to follow in my life. For many of us, myself included, life has veered from a path that we can follow, by choice or by circumstance (who we marry, where we move for work, the stuff that happens to us beyond our control).

It feels like the modern age gives rise to more of this off-the-path stuff (though maybe that's just an illusion on my part). Maybe this is why I have such a compulsive need to write the path, write the story; because my life doesn't follow past generations' experiences very well (who's does?!) and it's non-traditional (based on where I come from) and I have to reconcile that reality with how I'm wired - to align my life with knowns and keep things (relationships and resources) in safe boundaries.

There's got to be a path, and I'll write it after the fact if need be.

By nature, my first response to a problem or pain is to ask "what mistake did we make in our past to bring this upon ourselves? How can we learn to never make that error again."

I'm not saying this is necessarily healthy, and in many cases it doesn't help solve the existing problem, but it is an unconscious and deep-rooted response of mine. As an ESTJ I am looking to make systems and structures that work well and protect people (myself included), based on experience with past situations. And so it's very necessary for me to reflect and bring order to experiences, to dig up the truths to carry forward with me.

I move into the future based on how I process my past experiences.

Let's talk about ESTJ's

I am reminded here of a podcast I listened to recently on the ESTJ personality type by Personality Hacker. I love Personality Hacker, they are one of my favorite places to geek out on personality type stuff.

Because this is my "birthday post" I'm taking the liberty to expound upon ESTJ traits a little. As a "gift" for the ESTJ's in the crowd (though most of you who contact me and have formed relationships with me via the blog are very different from my type, go figure) and for those of you who love an ESTJ.

In that podcast Antonia and Joel talk about healthy and unhealthy ESTJ's (and all the other EJ types). I appreciate that breakdown because for me that's how you up-your-game in self-awareness: you identify and move forward into healthier ways of being. The purpose of self-awareness is to know your strengths and weaknesses, your ways of looking at things and processing information - to build healthier relationship with yourself and others.

The signs of a healthy ESTJ: (highlights from that Personality Hacker podcast)

  • Grounded in a sense that everything is going to be okay.
  • Many ESTJs may experience anxiety because they can’t find enough security and safety around them. The healthier an ESTJ gets the more that fear goes away.
  • Instead of frenetically attempting to force change upon the world, the healthy ESTJ will find a way to create change at the structural level – with institutions.
  • The stereotypical ESTJ is the supervisor, manager, civil servants, or local politician. Their desire to make sure institutions are running well really defines their health. They are grounded and focused.
  • A really grounded ESTJ is a protector. They are reliable. They are making things happen from a grounded place.
  • They can be very protective of their families and ensure the needs of their mates are being met. They secure the perimeter.

The word grounded in these descriptions is particularly interesting to me. I identify strongly with the need to feel grounded and before I had language for that I would have expressed that as resistant to change, not very spontaneous, comforted by routines, all of which is still an accurate description, but the reason for those things is because of what's underneath. My need to feel grounded and secure makes change, spontaneity, and open-endness threatening.

The unhealthy way to lower that threat is to resist change, become more controlling in an attempt to manage my environment. The healthy way to lower that threat is to root deeper in my true source of security.

One of the ongoing challenges of my adult years has been to find that grounding, that security, in a life-sustaining relationship with the Divine.

This three-part series of posts are reflections on the past year. I've been looking through my journal and my writings for dominant themes from the last year and possible directions for the New Year. The importance of being grounded is the theme that flashes neon red.

This is probably a foundational theme in my life because of who I am and what moves me. But this idea has become front and center in my life in the past two years because of the breakdown of 2014.

December 2014 was a very hard season for us, a difficult time in our marriage. My birthday that year was short on "celebration". The salve to that pain was that a new year was around the corner, and that we had 365 days before my next birthday to make changes for the better.

What I'm writing in these posts, my reflections, are the "two years later" to that birthday, and the "one year later" to last year's birthday post.


Two of the resources I used for healing in the past two years recommended making a list of my life accomplishments, as a self-affirming exercise, a list of evidence against false thoughts and wrong thinking (a CBT technique). According to The Wisdom of the Enneagram, type 6's forget their achievements and this is not surprising news to me. When I am in a bad mental space all past achievements are forgotten, or worse, trivialized. And it becomes hard to have hope for the future with such a bleak (& false) remembrance of the past.

But I do believe remembering our accomplishments is bigger than a personality type issue.

So many times in the Bible, the writer/speaker exhorts the reader/listener to remember what God had done for them in the past. Remember and tell, because when we forget, we don't just forget a detail of the past, we forget an identity. This is what testimony is, we bear witness to the hand of God, the work of the Spirit, the evidence of Grace in our life.

I see a list of life accomplishments as a kind of evidences of grace document.

Of course the narcissist could point all the glory to herself in a list of this type. Look at how great I am. But most of us are cognizant that so much grace has been given to us in our birth, in our every breath, in our family of origin or in our friendships. We see the grace in the time this terrible thing almost happened but didn't, or the terrible thing did happen but look where I am now, in the "stars aligning", or the "universe supporting" us, that we know that everything we accomplish in our life is made possible by unmerited grace.

And so my list of life accomplishments is really a document of grace in my life, it's a list of the "big things" that have transpired, written through the lens of grateful heart.

For this post I want to share two points of celebration from that list.

I am thankful for my close relationship with my three teenagers. I am privy to love and loss. Triumph and disappointments. I don’t know everything, there are secrets kept in hearts and amongst the three. (I adore that the three of them share things with each other that I don’t know.) But I don’t need to pry, beg, coerce, manipulate or otherwise use relational gymnastics to understand my children. I’m with them. I know them. I don’t have to ask “how was your day” and get a “fine” response from which I must tease truth. I know their friends. I know their mentors. I have relationships with people who are investing into my children. The structure of our days and our space supports positive and deep relationships with each other. I am a co-creator with my husband in making that space, in securing this perimeter, and my heart is beyond full with the satisfaction and connection I have with my children.

I am so deeply grateful for my evolving and deepening friendship with my life partner and love, Damien Tougas. We have come through some hard stuff but we are both committed to holding in our hearts and mind the best version of the other. We see truthfully what we are and what we aren't but also hope for things unseen and imagined. We are helping each other become the person each of us hopes to be. We are working to see something come to fruition in the other that is seeded and partially hidden, not yet grown, but is hoped for and believed in. Marriage is a kind of faith.

These two things I am most thankful for in my life. I have many, many more. The relationship with my parents, the closeness with my mom, dear friends who know and love me, the connections and community of church family and homeschool coop, experiences I've had, places I've lived, the ideas I have co-created and co-labored (with other people and the Spirit) into reality in the physical world, my list is growing and is more specific than I share here. What a rich, rich life.

The high holiday is almost upon us. My family's most significant holiday celebration of the year. I have two more posts in this series written and mostly ready to go. I will be posting those throughout the holiday, as I celebrate and contemplate the "things" most precious in my life.

If you have some reading and thinking time over the holidays (I hope you do!) I'd love to hear your thoughts.

First, do you know your personality type and what it looks like, internally and externally, to be expressing those traits from a healthy place?

Do you have a dominant life theme that arises from your personality and/or life trajectory?

What are your most precious evidences of grace in your life?

« Christmas Stories: First Day of Skiing
Christmas Stories: Sanctuary »
  • Sarah M

    Sarah M on Dec. 21, 2016, 6:56 a.m.

    Happy Birthday, Renee. I'm so glad I 'know' you from your writings, and I can't believe I've been following your story for at least 5 years now. Incredible. 

    I'm an INTJ and I hadn't heard of personality hacker podcast before, but I'm going to give it a listen. I just watched the 8 minute video on their site about INTJs, and so much of it I hadn't heard before, though I am fairly aware of my personality type strengths and weaknesses (ouch, I didn't know judgmentalism is very common with INTJ, though I would guage myself to be extremely judgmental...not my finest trait...). 

    I don't know if I have a dominant life theme, but if I were to guess, it'd be teaching and/or learning, books/story, art and travel. Those are just the vocational/career trajectories I see patterns of. I often feel I'm in a 'waiting' period of my life, raising and homeschooling children. My ambitions, dreams, etc. feel very much put on hold, which can be tough at times, but I know big-picture thinking I will always look back and say my choice was worth it. 

    I'm a Christian as well and so aboslutely see grace everywhere in my life. Honestly, too much to share--it seems if I ever sit down to write a 'gratitude list', I can practically never stop...and I would count all of those as little graces!

    Merry Christmas to you all. I can't wait to read more.


    • renee

      renee on Dec. 22, 2016, 8:51 p.m.

      I think if you are into personality type stuff you will love Personality Hacker. I have learned a lot from listening to their podcasts (not all, just the ones I'm interestedin). I like listening to stuff about my type (border line estj/istj) and also damien's type INTP. Merry Christmas to you also. 


You can subscribe to comments on this article using this form.

If you have already commented on this article, you do not need to do this, as you were automatically subscribed.