Who am I?

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

I was almost a yoga teacher.

I hate that word – almost. It taunts me.

But if I’m truthful, that is what I am. You see, when I was almost finished with my training six years ago, the final evaluation required all students to lead a full-length class, subject to review by every classmate and professor. When it was my turn, I sat on my mat in front of a crowd much like this, and taught with all the heart and courage I had. I’m actually quite good at teaching yoga, with the exception of a single important detail.

In the week following my evaluation the emails poured in with observations and reviews. The majority were positive, but all can be summed up by the final sentence from my lead professor.

“Channing, your teaching is gentle, loving, and encouraging,” it read. “but no one can hear you when you speak.”

I was so ashamed by this flaw I could not face my classmates or teachers. I never returned to deliver my final submissions for grading. I never received a certificate despite completing all the required coursework because I tripped over self-doubt at the finish line.

The question I was left asking for years was this:

Who am I?
Who am I to try, to teach, to inspire?
Who am I but a young girl with a voice so small it can’t improve on the silence in a room of strangers?

In preparation for tonight’s program, I spent many hours attempting to write a poem about the Nativity. I tried to imagine how the different characters may have felt. In my writing, I kept imagining them full of doubt.

The angel asked, “Who am I to sing praises to the King?”
The shepherd girl asked, “Who am I to attend the Lord?”
“Who am I to mother the Savior?” asked the favored handmaid.

Try as I could to solve their imagined self-doubt, I was never satisfied with the results. One day, I sat reading over my notes and laughed upon discovery of a pattern. All my characters were asking my question – who am I? I realized that the pattern of doubt came from me. I knew the poem would never be finished. Why? The answer is simple.

There is no story in self-doubt.

For years, I convinced myself that a quiet voice really means no voice at all.

I understand now that God works in stillness, not silence. The Spirit is soft and small, but it is not quiet. The earth herself is full of voices – the wind whispers through shivering aspen leaves. The birds sing for nothing but the sake of song. The rise and roar and swell of the sea show me each voice is an essential component to the composition of creation.

If the same One who created the soft muffle of snow and the sweet drizzle of an Oregon summer rain thought the world needs the sound of me,

Who am I
To be silent?

I have learned the beauty of staying soft in a hard world. Though I may still be soft-spoken, I have found a way to speak. I enjoy writing and I am passionate about sharing my thoughts. But my favorite gift is that I have a talent for loving people. Once I fully embraced this as my purpose I became bold in sharing, because my message is love – pure, unconditional love, best known as charity. This is where I find my strength to speak.

When my message is love
And my purpose is love,
And my words are love,
Who am I to be silent?

I share these tender experiences with you tonight as my personal example that sometimes the qualities that we fear are the worst things about us, the things we think make us
too much,
or not enough,
are sometimes the very things that give us purpose.

So the next time you find yourself asking my question,"Who am I?" Remember, there is room for every voice here. Your gifts and interests, that thing that makes you weird and different, that is your calling in life.

A lesson I have learned poignantly over the last two months is that people are watching. People are waiting, but not for us to fall or fail. The world is waiting for kindness, authenticity, for courage, strength, and bravery. Though we may be called in different things and different ways, we can be united in message and purpose.

We are called to love.
We need you.
So, rise.
Be a single flame or an entire forest fire,
be a star, a moon, or a sun.
It does not matter,

So long as you shine.

I matter.

Friday, December 15, 2017

I haven't always taken very good care of myself.

Sure, I do my best to keep healthy habits like exercising regularly and eating well. But I often come up short. I went to the gym this week for the first time in months. I often skip meals, justifying the hunger by telling myself there's no time to eat. Six hours later I'm snarfing down cookies and junk from my pantry.

This isn't new behavior for me. I've always tried to make myself smaller in every way possible.

That is, until last month. I had a really traumatic experience in my church community. I was manipulated and falsely accused of wrongdoing. So hurtful and shame-producing was this experience that I had one of my worst-ever panic attacks. Eventually the situation was resolved and I was returned to good standing in my church. What was most surprising to me was how transformational this experience was.

Instead of letting my shame silence me, I took to Facebook and shared the experience publicly. I refused to be quiet about such a hurtful misdeed, as it affected not only myself but others in my community. Some may argue that the posting was immature and made the problem worse. A month later, I still stand by my actions. It was empowering for me to do and say what I did. 

I refuse to take ownership of other's judgments of me.
I will not sit down. I will not shut up.
I refuse to make myself smaller.
There is room enough for everyone, 
including me.

In addition to sharing publicly, I also took my concerns to church leadership. I was met with love and understanding. But what was more valuable to me than receiving validation was the strength and inner knowing that was growing inside me. 

I faced unimaginable opposition and handled it with grace. 
I stood up for myself to an authority figure in a terrifying situation.
I used my voice in ways I had never thought I was able to. 
I voiced my anger, my sadness, my fear in real time instead of months or years afterward. 
I walked away from this incredible experience with two words that have followed me ever since.

"I matter."

I think about skipping breakfast until I remember, I matter. So I grab a granola bar on my way out the door to take my daughter to preschool. Every day, I take a break from mom life and read a book. I schedule my dental appointment to get some cavities filled. I brave the yoga class I've been craving.  I still question myself. I still sometimes hesitate to share my thoughts, or to write a post, but those words are etched on my heart. I hear them whispering to me all the time now. 

I matter.

This is no small victory. Loving oneself rarely is. 

I am Woman - a poem

Sunday, December 10, 2017

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