In elementary school I was the second smallest kid in my class. The only person smaller was a pinched-face boy with the nickname “Mouse.”
Even my identical twin had a 1-½ inch advantage on me from the day we were born. Our height discrepancy was the only way some knew how to tell us apart. My shortness was the clue to who I was.
As a child I learned to stay small, not only in size, but presence. Small people are better at ducking and weaving–avoiding responsibility and attention. I am now middle-aged and middle-sized, but the psychological symptoms of smallness are not shed with added inches.
Not all short people strive for a smallness of influence, of course. One’s influential presence is much more a symptom of personality and resolve than size. A roll call of the vertically challenged easily shatters the myth of a size-equals-influence corollary: the Calcutta missionary Mother Teresa, the abolitionist Harriot Tubman, founder of the American Red Cross Clara Barton, anthropologist Margaret Mead–all women who never made it past 5 feet tall. All women who changed their worlds.
Rosa Parks was 5’2 when she refused to relinquish her seat to a white passenger on a Montgomery city bus, thereby breaking segregation laws and helping start a movement.
What did these small women have in common, besides their size?
And the courage to take the next small step toward that vision.
I don’t like controversy and I don’t like limelight, so starting the first Christian Environmental Centre in Canada (with the ministry of A Rocha) at times has felt like a job for someone stronger and bigger. A Rocha started out so small and so humbly–in basements, with meetings attended by only handfuls of people–that sometimes I forgot to be scared. But those humble beginnings have led to some expansive places. And I’ve learned to take small steps toward a bigger vision.
Just this month the donation of a three million dollar property–a property we’ve been stewarding and operating out of for the past five years–will be complete. A Rocha will own the Brooksdale Environmental Centre. It’s been a 13-year journey from an office in our basement to this place that looks like a cross between an English Tudor village and Shangri la.
While I rejoice in this gift and want to fall to my knees in gratitude, I also want to acknowledge that being big and successful hasn’t been our goal. The value of A Rocha’s newest Environmental Centre lies not in its stunning aesthetics, but in the change it creates. If I’ve learned anything from being small it’s that big does not necessarily equal better.
The thing that matters is change.
Our visitors have left the farm with a vision to take the next step toward making our world a more compassionate and sustainable place. Former interns are now urban gardeners, providing food security to those on the economic margins. Some are scientists, working with government agencies and non-profits, advocating for the needs of often over-looked species. Others are educators, inspiring children to care for the world that cares for them.
They have caught the vision that if we are to truly care for those less-fortunate, then we have to look after our planet. They are making choices that value community and sustainable agriculture. They want to see all of God’s creatures flourish, even those that are undervalued. This is requiring small, but multiple acts of goodness: from potlucks with isolated neighbours, to choosing fair-trade over conventional products, to resisting the temptation of a bigger house when the small one will suffice.
At the start of our A Rocha journey, I had to choose between the smallness of who I felt I was and the bigness of the vision Markku and I felt called to. I agreed to sell our house, move from our town, settle for an insecure salary, and share a home with a revolving door of guests and interns. These things led to change–in myself, not least of all. If I’d gone for security, if I’d played it safe, or if I’d decided to match my influence to my stature, somebody else would have gotten the joy of helping start the first Christian Environmental Centre in Canada.
My seemingly small steps into a bigger vision have enlarged my life.
Image credit: halfrain