Stepping Out Of Smallness

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F_Leah

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?

Vision.

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

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Leah Kostamo
Leah Kostamo is the author of Planted: a Story of Creation, Calling and Community, a book Eugene H. Peterson called “remarkable” and Margaret Atwood called “clear-sighted and humorous.” She likes to read (and write) wise and winsome stories that inspire people to be the change they want to see in the world. She can be found online leahkostamo.com and @leahkostamo. She ministers with the Christian conservation organization, A Rocha.
Leah Kostamo
Leah Kostamo
Leah Kostamo

Latest posts by Leah Kostamo (see all)

  • Helen

    Love this on so many levels. Thank you Leah for sharing your story. When those around you call on you to be small it can be so tough to step into the bigger visions but it is such a helpful reminder that even when pursuing those bigger dreams it is not size that matters but the change at the heart of the individuals involved. Much needed words of wisdom today – thank you.

    • Leah Kostamo

      Thanks, Helen!

  • Bev Murrill

    I love that you diminished in order to grow larger, stronger… and as it turns out, greater. Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies…

    Fantastic on every level. Congratulations on your new property. Property is so often a test for faith, and an indicator of breakthrough.

    • Leah Kostamo

      Thanks, Bev. Indeed, become “bigger” does not mean puffing up the ego with strength and bravado, but dieting to one’s false self — only then can new life be born. 🙂

  • HBurns

    Leah…I am grateful to get to peek into your life and hear this miracle story. AMAZING! I can’t help but think of the words in the Message translation from Proverbs 11:24 – ‘The world of the generous gets larger and larger.’ A generous heart is always a heart filled with heaps of vision. Thank you for such an inspiring post here today. Much love and appreciation. xo

    • Leah Kostamo

      Thanks, Helen! I think you know where this new property is, b/c it’s just across the Little Campbell River from the women’s home you’ve been a part of for so long. God is good!

  • Small but multiple acts of goodness. That’s what changes our world and causes others to flourish. Potluck dinners and fairly traded goods. These small things matter.
    I feel so empowered reading this piece, Leah. I’d love to hear what some of your favourite fair trade products are!

    • Leah Kostamo

      Thanks Michaela! YES, small decisions matter. The things I buy fair trade as a rule are coffee, chocolate, and sugar (because of the human rights issues involved with the first two and the land issues with the last). Also, NO shrimp, EVER, unless its locally harvested (spot prawns in our part of the world). Both the environmental and human casualties b/c of shrimp farming practices are staggering. The country of India has actually banned shrimp farms from their coasts. (Sadly Thailand was happy to take up the shrimp farming job). As for gifts, thanks to places like Ten Thousand Villages and our little store at A Rocha 🙂 most gifts can be bought fair-trade as well (though now that my girls are teenagers they are hankering for more variety and in-stylishness, which makes ethical shopping for them tough). Do you have any favourite fair trade products?

  • Sharolyn

    Wonderful news about the property, and a fantastic message. As a part of a small church I think we easily compare ourselves with big churches and think we aren’t being ‘successful’. However I have so much appreciation for the genuine change and growth that is happening around me, and I am actually pretty convinced that small can be more real and authentic and in the end, life-changing – in a real and lasting way. The effects of genuine small change, really ripple out much wider than is first apparent… I’m very excited for what is ahead with A Rocha and I applaud your faithfulness from the small beginning.