Last week my husband and I received an email we didn’t expect. Our daughter is entering high school next year, and the college placement team reached out to say it is time to meet. I am not prepared for such preparations. What is expected, of course, is to say that just yesterday I was brushing her hair into a Pebbles-style ponytail right on top of her sweet little head. But it’s true.
What seems especially ironic or painful or some emotion I can’t articulate is that all this transition and looking forward for her comes on the cusp of a mid-life birthday for me. Here I am, looking backward and wondering where life veered from what I expected. It’s not necessarily cliché, nor is it crisis; it’s just real-life awareness that I am not really in control of anything.
I can’t stop my girl from growing up, and for all my own attempts to move upward, including a post-grad degree that took 11 years to complete, I’m in a place where I can choose to be disillusioned or to accept that life happens and circumstances sometimes collide with dreams and I feel as small as ever.
The complicating thing is that I have a really beautiful life. My blessings are abundant, and I know that the lines have fallen for me in very pleasant places (Psalm 16:6).
Here, I am learning that my questions don’t mean that I am ungrateful; they mean that I am human.
Usually when I write, the editor in me gets in the way. Because I am actually employed as a writing editor. It is hard to write without evaluating every.single.word. (Is it grammatically correct to begin a sentence with because? Ugh.) But when I do, I am surprised at what revelation comes out. And so perhaps I need to pay attention to the above paragraph, where I off-the-cuff wrote that I have invested years and money in moving “upward.”
Is upward what I have wanted?
In itself, I see nothing wrong with this. I am for education and hard work and dreaming (and even college placement meetings *sigh*). I want this path for my daughter. My parents and my husband provided every opportunity for me to develop my potential and chase my desires, and how could I not look at this place in her life without dreamy (yet misty) eyes?
But as I grow deeper in relationship with Christ, I’m increasingly moving toward acceptance, even comfort, with a small life.
As an American, I live in a culture where small and upward are seemingly incongruent. But I am firstly a citizen of another Kingdom, where the highest goal is to go small. I think of John the Baptist who, when his followers left to pursue Jesus, said “He must become greater and I must become less” (John 3:30). And of him, Jesus said, “Among those born of women is none greater than John the Baptist” (Matthew 11:11).
I also think of the widow who gave the smallest offering, a mere two coins, and Jesus esteemed her offering – all that she possessed – as the greatest (Luke 21:1 – 4). Even the apostle Paul, who had once relished the utmost in accolades and accomplishment, surrendered everything – counted it as garbage even – in order to move forward with Christ (Philippians 3).
Some of my lifelong goals are yet unrealized. When I set my perspective on God’s grace, sovereignty, wisdom, and the call of discipleship, I’m really okay with this.
I am learning that I never needed those accomplishments to validate me, because who I am in Christ is enough. Perhaps small fits best. (Hey, I always wanted to be a size small).
I should clarify what I mean by “small.” Part of my life mission statement is that I will “speak life.” By this I mean that I want my words and actions to be a voice for the dignity of life, in every stage and status. I am inspired when I see other people doing this in “big” ways, crusading on platforms for justice and equality. I have sat in forums and movies where I was deeply moved by Christ-followers who have, in large-scale ways, been champions for the outcast. I’ve wanted to do that too.
And as I went to special events and heard the stories of young women who were forced into sex slavery or child marriage, I was inspired by the heroes who rescued them. I’d say, however, that I always had one reaction more urgent than any other. As much as I appreciated the message, I couldn’t wait to bolt from those events and go home and wrap my daughter in my arms. It was an expression of my motherly-gut-level calling to speak life to her.
Most victims of human trafficking are deceived into believing that they aren’t worthy of anything else. But they are created by God to bear His image, and that makes them beautiful and worthy. Every person needs to know this about themselves. My daughter needs to know this about herself, and God has gifted her to me for a season. I am telling her that she is God’s hand-crafted, priceless possession.
My calling may be very small-scale. But I am realizing that it is no less significant.
Perhaps you are like me, living a seemingly small-scale life that feels more ordinary than extraordinary. But Christ-follower, it is significant. This day is one ordained by God to move you into His will and His good pleasure (Philippians 2:13). You have a God-given design and purpose to influence your people and your community as no one else can.
You wipe noses and pick up toys all day …
You crunch numbers in a cubicle …
You sit with the lonely …
You spend out of your own salary to supply your classroom …
You write words that you think no one reads …
You stroke the hand of your frail loved one …
You serve in the church nursery …
You take in a child without a home …
You go to your prayer closet where no one sees …
You choose integrity in your job day in and day out …
You are speaking life. You are living your sacred responsibility to help others realize that they are God’s beloved.
So what do I say to my daughter? These years are pivotal, a time for her to dream big. I want that for her. And I want her to be small too, in the way that Christ is greater and she is lesser, and every ordinary day is ordained by Him and for Him.
I want my child to speak life, whether from a platform or a pick-up game with kids from the other side of town. They may seem big; they may seem small; what matters is that there are God-sized plans awaiting her.
And you too.
Every small way is no small thing in the Kingdom.
Such a good word from Jennifer Dukes Lee:
Could we, artists and writers and mothers and fathers and preachers and teachers and ordinary, everyday pilgrims — could we willingly lay down our lives for a life separated with Christ — a life hid in Christ with God?
And there, we would find the only approval that matters.
And we would know it with certainty:
that it’s the approval we always had.
Writers are speaking life with Jennifer Dukes Lee and #TellHisStory.
I’m having Coffee for Your Heart with my friend Holley Gerth