When I was a little girl, I didn’t want to be a princess when I grew up. I wanted to be Wonder Woman, because girlfriend got it done! One of the happiest days of my childhood was when my Aunty May came home from the garage sale with a little pair of red leather boots. For me! I wore them with pride.
No offense, but the princesses on the big screen or in the toy store back then didn’t look like me at all and they didn’t want what I wanted. (In time, I also realized that some of us preferred our princes FRESH, not charming.)
I loved the grandeur of the princess stories; I wanted to be part of a big adventure, the big rescue. It’s just that I wanted to do the rescuing. To help, to serve, to lead, to fight—get stuck in.
I think there’s something about unfiltered dreams. The ones we had before we were told what we’re supposed to expect. Before we’re told who we’re supposed to be.
I was 9 when I met The Rescuer and our big adventure began.
It’s funny how long it has taken me to feel like a leader, to believe that it was a call and commission, rather than a divine concession or some bizarre accident of circumstance. It wasn’t theological debates that started that. Self-worth didn’t come easily to me; The Rescuer intervened on many occasions to speak to my heart louder than my experiences. I didn’t even believe I was lovable, so I was never going to believe that I was a leader.
Looking back, it seems like I was the last to know that I was a leader. They knew at school, because I was often asked to captain sports teams, or take a leadership role in class, sing a solo. Though I didn’t quite understand why I kept on being invited to these roles (were these teachers trying to cement my social outcast status?), inwardly I relished those opportunities, thrived in them and grew into doing a half-decent job.
And I had these teachers, usually English teachers, who would push me a little harder, speak more candidly about life and work, and paint a picture of the future that hadn’t occurred could ever apply to me. They knew at church too. My youth leaders drew me out and pushed me further. They took me seriously; they took my faith seriously and got me involved. They served me and stretched me to grow, to learn, to sing … eventually even to speak.
About the preaching thing. It was one of those things I’d agreed to during one of those worship times at one of those passionate Christian youth events where you lay down your life and promise to do anything and go anywhere. For Him. Again. And He wanted me to speak. I know for sure that I didn’t! I was someone who felt she walked in the shadows of the playground. Not shy, but incredibly insecure. The frightening thing about speaking was that I would have to stand still and speak, be seen and heard.
It felt different from singing, and even when I sang publicly my voice trembled uncontrollably for the opening 20 seconds until confidence finally decided to get up and join me. It was different from when I did theater at school, because lost in Lorca or Shakespeare and Seamus Heaney or some teenage creation, I wasn’t me. Speaking was different. But as soon as I told my youth leaders, they got me involved. Bit by bit. Talking theology. Sharing my testimony, reading prayers, liturgy, Bible readings.
Sharing a thought with a group of seniors in the church. For months, I got ill every time I was due to speak or read the Bible or pray at the front of anyone. I was sick with nerves and I felt awful. It was awful. But today, I’m grateful for the opportunities they gave me, and the way they invested in me.
Still, as far as I was concerned, none of these things made me a leader. It was just stuff I did. My self-esteem was too low, my sense of purpose too distant and identity too fragile to understand something as powerful as potential. Decades later, as a woman and a mother and a church leader, I hear those early voices differently.
I hear the encouragement, the occasional warning and tough love. I understand the flash of concern in a teacher’s eyes. I see what they were doing now with the extra work, the extra opportunities. It was building something in me. It was all leading somewhere.
These were the years of daydreams and daring, promise and potential. These were the times of wrestling through dark days and self-doubt. Worship and word were my thin places and His words were life-giving. Sometimes He spoke like the roar of a mighty rushing wind and at other times like a whisper’s whisper. Through the tumult of my teens, He was there. He wanted my life and my future and my heart. He was calling, calling me to Him.
What were your unfiltered dreams, the ones that you had before you were told what you should expect, who you were supposed to be?