Where I Play and Find My Voice

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G_Nicole

When I was asked to be a regular contributor to SheLoves, warmth bloomed from deep within me. I was thrilled that I was asked, but terrified at the same time.

Then the expected happened: silence. As the deadline for this post loomed, so the silence grew. I tossed and turned at night, wondering why on earth I accepted Idelette’s invitation, trying to decide whether I had the capacity, as a new mom, to actually fulfil the commitment I had made.

But as I chewed and chewed, I realised capacity is not actually the issue.

My need to please, my unrealistic expectations of myself, my fear of others’ expectations, my fear of being rejected and my ridiculous need for perfection were the actual reasons for feeling mute. These voices were so loud, I could not hear my own.

***

At a parent-teacher meeting, my English teacher spoke words to my mother that burned themselves into my brain, and onto my heart. “Nicole will never get more than 65% for English, so she need not bother trying.”

My mother was furious; I was just embarrassed. But I agreed with him, because I hated the subject and even though I applied myself, my results concurred with his assessment and I consistently achieved an average grade.

***

My new Accounting teacher walked into our class in the middle of my Grade 11 year. Without fail, no matter how hard I studied, I scored an average of 67%, for four or five exams. So when he asked us to write down what grade we thought we would get for our final exam that year, guess what I wrote?

67%

He looked at what I had written and said, “That’s not good enough. Why such a strange number? Choose another goal.” After explaining that it was what I had averaged for so many exams, he challenged me to aim for a higher grade. I chose a ridiculous grade—95%—sincerely believing it was out of my reach.

***

I can still access the emotional residue of those years, particularly the sense of worthlessness with which I struggled.

And yet, I did not end my high school career as an average student. I completed high school, having achieved the fifth highest academic results of my year. In my final year, for English, I averaged far higher than what my English teacher predicted I would attain, and in Accounting I reached the goal I thought to be unattainable.

***

Nine years ago, I received an infertility diagnosis, which plunged me into a really dark space. My definition of motherhood was restricted to a child conceived by my husband and I, and so I mourned the loss of a deeply held dream of becoming a mom.

But over time, as I journeyed with processes that brought healing, and as I engaged in conversations with people who challenged my narrow view, I found my definition of motherhood transforming and expanding. What seemed impossible so long ago, was now a reality as I relish being a mom to my beautiful baby girl not conceived in my body, but most definitely conceived in my heart.

***

I wanted to make a difference in church, particularly from a teaching capacity, and when I shared this burning passion with influential people in my life, they challenged me to enter the priesthood. I was urged to consider the fact that in order to have a voice in the church I needed the credibility that ordination would afford me. I decided to enter a discernment journey, and engage with theological studies, as was required.

My theological studies led me to an expanded understanding of God and church. God was no longer knowable or predictable, and church was no longer confined to a building or denomination.

God became far more than merely a male “I AM WHO I AM.” God came to embrace both male and female, both mother and father, king and gardener, judge and nurturer. God became “I WILL BE WHAT I WILL BE” (Exodus 3:14, alternate translation).

“Church” has moved beyond a denominational or Sunday worship understanding. Church now includes these definitions as well as embracing any gathering where people do theology together and where people engage the world in transforming and healing ways.

With ever-expanding understandings of God, God’s purposes for church, its engagement in the world, and church itself, I am continually exploring and engaging in ways of making a difference with my teaching and hospitality gifts far outside of ordained ministry or a tenured academic position in a theological college.

***

As I reflect on these three journeys–the academic, mothering and vocational aspects of my life–I see a common thread, one that has birthed and developed grit within me. Courage and resolve have carried me beyond my initial situation or understanding to unexpected, beautiful, fulfilling, results. I have faced, and pushed through, what sometimes have felt like crippling fears and expectations.

The common thread that birthed and developed grit feels like space—a sacred space—where God has brought healing and transformation, and then endowed me with what I’ve needed for the journey. This is space where God leads me to look beyond the limits I place upon myself. These are vast open spaces where the Holy Spirit fires up my imagination and I can run wild and play. And as I play, the Holy Spirit enables me to learn what I need to learn. I can develop the muscles I need to do what needs to be done.

One teacher voiced a ceiling that not only confirmed what I believed about myself, but could have limited me; another teacher gave me permission and enabled me to expand the limit and my expectations to the sky. Where infertility threatened my dream of becoming a mother, an expanded understanding of motherhood enabled me to embrace adoption. When my desire to be obedient to what I believe was God’s calling on my life was limited to ordained ministry, my theological studies opened the doors of my mind to an expanded understanding of God, church and my vocation.

I do not, however, automatically inhabit and enjoy this sacred space. Too often, my first response is to shackle myself within my fears and unrealistic expectations. When my focus is purely on results and achievements, and when I am overly concerned with what I think others expect of my, I feel caged in, limited, silenced.

But when I dare to try, regardless of what the outcome could be, when I dare to trust God’s Spirit with the process, then I give God permission to lead me into that sacred space, where I can run free and play.

Sometimes playing is not fun, and results in falling and hurting myself.

Sometimes playing results in failing to complete a task at hand.

Sometimes playing means simply enjoying and exploring the ground around me, and sometimes playing means I soar and reach great heights.

Playing always brings a deeper understanding of what I’m good at and what not, and I can leave that space having a deeper, richer understanding and experience of God and myself.

***

I sat down and started typing. I rewrote this piece three times. In doing so, I learned that grit is an aspect of my character.

I played and found my voice, and walk away with a deep appreciation for the gift that writing is for me, thankful for the gift of a deeper, richer understanding and experience of myself and the God who leads me in this process.

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