I’ve often heard that if you want to know what God has called you to do look at what is in your hands. What I’ve learned this year is what can happen when you’re willing to give God all of what is in your hands, even the parts you don’t like.
I don’t know how I missed the earlier posts about Keep A Girl in School. Way back at the beginning I read about Megan’s goal to raise enough money to cover a whole school and I remember thinking, “$10 000, we can do that.” But somehow the first I heard of Sweating for Sisterhood was Megan’s post on the morning of the event. I remember reading about the girls in Gulu, how a lack of sanitary napkins cost them their education and how $40 – just $40 – could hand it back to them.
I was so excited thinking about who I could bring with me and what might happen. Then I got to the description of what we were going to do and. . . . oh no. “Sweating for Sisterhood” did not mean that we were doing a service project together. It was a workout. Megan was a professional trainer. I started to close my laptop.
I remember thinking, “I’m going to drag my not-small body into this room full of tiny yoga women with perfect butts and I’m going to look like an idiot.” The excitement drained right out of me. The thing is, this wasn’t the first time I’d had a chance at world-changing and it was my weight, or more specifically my feelings about that, that made the decision for me.
Many years ago Idelette invited me to join Gathering Eve – a series that would eventually blossom into what is now the She Loves community. I had met Idelette when we worked for the same organization. She was a writer I looked up to (someone I was a little intimidated by if we’re being honest). She encouraged me, stretched me, dreamed for me. I remember being so honored that she invited me. And I remember, all these years later, exactly why I said no.
I probably told her I was busy, or the timing wasn’t right but none of that is true. The truth is that had been awhile since I last saw her and in that time I’d gained weight. I was embarrassed so I said no. I told myself that I didn’t belong even though Idelette had just said exactly the opposite. I was invited but I listened to fear instead. I carefully clipped my own wings and told myself I was doing it to keep me safe.
The truth is that it kept my life small. One of my high school teachers used to call me Hamlet because he said that I refused to make a move until I had considered every possible outcome. That’s much easier to do if you keep your borders tight. If that makes you sad to read, it makes me sad to remember it too, but I am hopeful because God is teaching me to choose differently.
I turned a corner back in October with that invitation to sweat. In public. With the tiny yoga women.
I had just about decided that Sweating for Sisterhood was not for me when God whispered, “Are you willing to look like an idiot for an hour if that’s what it takes to help? Will you hand over your pride and step into an area of weakness to loan a girl on the other side of the world your strength?”
Who could say no to that?
So I went. And yes, there were tiny yoga women, with bodies they have no doubt earned and carefully maintained. There were also not-yoga women, and recently-delivered Moms and people who were somewhere in the middle. Megan, professional that she is, had not designed the torture chamber I’d imagined. She carefully, lovingly, put together a circuit with options for all sorts of fitness levels. She set us up for success, not failure. We worked out together – all our different shapes and sizes – without judgment, without a running commentary. It was beautiful.
I surprised myself. I completed all 24 stations of the circuit. I did arm curls with more weight than I thought I could handle. In the final 15 seconds of the second round of the plank station, I got off my knees and stretched out on to my toes and my body, my incredible, miraculous, squishy body held.
I had no idea it could do that.
I had no idea I could do that.
The end of October rolled around and we got the news. We did it. Sweating for Sisterhood was part of a month-long campaign that raised over $10 000. That’s enough to give every girl in the school, all 240 of them, the supplies and underwear to stay in school for a whole year and mentoring to help them along the way.
I had no idea WE could do that.
As I look back over 2013 having a little part in keeping those girls in school is a personal highlight. It could have so easily slipped through my fingers. A few moments of listening to “not for you” or “you can’t” or “it’ll never work” and I would have missed out, and so would my Mom who came with me that night, and so would the people in my carpool and the friend from work who all contributed and got to join in the celebration.
I can’t go back and say yes to that invitation to Gathering Eve, but I can say yes now. There’s a beautiful song from the musical Rent that says:
There’s only us
There’s only this
Forget regret– or life is yours to miss.
No other road
No other way
No day but today.
As Christians we know that there are in fact other days – there is eternity and it’s important not to lose sight of that. But I cannot reach back and change yesterday or stretch forward with my best intentions to try and shape tomorrow. I can only choose today, decide today, forgive today, love today and pray today for the grace to do it again tomorrow.
I don’t know what questions 2014 will ask, but do know that we’re in this together. There’s a great word in Danish “hygge” (pronounced “hYOOguh”) that NPR tells me is often translates as cozy but it more accurately described as “cultivating togetherness”. It’s the belief that community is utterly vital and that when we’re willing, community is really easy.
For much of my life that hasn’t been my experience. Community has been hard to find. But just a few weeks ago I saw an example of how quickly it can be created. I’d gone to the Santa Shuffle (on one of the COLDEST days of the year I might add) to cheer on some friends who were running to support the Salvation Army. I was standing there at the finish line with the volunteers who were getting ready to great the runners with medals. Uncharacteristically I turned to one of them and asked, “Hey do you need some help?”
The next thing I knew I was standing there among the official volunteers, handing out medals, cheering and clapping and yelling, “Great job! Come on, strong finish! You’re almost there!” It was really fun.
I had stepped into this community of runners and fitness enthusiasts, just like that.
We gathered to sweat in church in Langley and changed the future for 240 girls on the other side of the planet. Just like that.
I wonder what we’ll say yes to in the days ahead?
PS If you’re not familiar with “No Day But Today” do yourself a favour and listen to Idina Menzel’s stunning acoustic version.