I have a senior trumpet player this year. Last year, my first year of teaching band, he was also in my music theory class. This kid is smart and awesome and I’m so proud of him. He’s also in men’s quartet. Last week the quartet was reading a new piece. After class he came to my office, pointed to a double flat, and simply said ‘thank you’. Some days are stressful and difficult, but that makes it all worth it.
I don’t know exactly who you are. Maybe a young woman, just now stepping out into your life. Maybe a mother or a crone, entering a new phase of your authority. Maybe just my beautiful dominant four-year-old, who is ready right now to start setting the world to rights.
But I know something. I know this. You are called.
You are called to stand up, speak up, use your voice. You are called to the front of the room. You are named. And you are called.
The darkness does not want you to use your voice. You are so full of light. The darkness will tell you that you are too much.
Too loud. Too greedy. Too masculine. Too angry. Too emotional.
Sometimes you will believe this. Sometimes you will try to make yourself small, and quiet. Sometimes you will hurt yourself trying to be small and quiet.
Do this with me. Walk outside and look up to the sky. Reach your hands up to the wide, expansive sky, far above the crowdedness and the jostling. There is room for you up there. There is room for every bit of you up there.
That place is yours.
There is enough space for all of you. I swear there is, I promise. Even for all your noise, opinions, intelligence, even for the pure size of your frame. Even for your passion and force of will and love of justice.
This fight, to claim your right to be, is on the inside. But when you are a woman who leads, the world will try to tell you otherwise.
Oh, sweet girl…I could wish for you an easier path than this.
You will not often be the pretty one. Pretty is one part what you actually look like and two parts not being a threat. Learn to wear your beauty like a lion, or a tall tree. Learn to wear boots, and jackets. Learn to wear whatever you want.
You will not always know what you are doing. You will lead in the dark, with your eyes closed. Sometimes your mistakes will cause harm, and that will make you question your calling. Don’t. Don’t question the calling. Question your skill. Get better. Work harder. Learn to do your work well.
You will have trouble with friends. Sometimes this will be your fault. You will practice power instead of leadership. This is a trick of the darkness. You will have to learn to trust without controlling.
Sometimes it will not be your fault. A strong woman will be threatened by you. A weaker woman will betray you. Someone that you care about will tell you that you are being selfish. This will hurt like hell, and there is not a darn thing that I can do about it.
Baby, I am so sorry.
But it will help you to understand this, and this is maybe the most important thing of all. There is no woman in the world – I don’t care how brave, how beautiful, how wildly fortunate, or how questionable her values – There is no woman in the world who needs you to cut her down.
Please, lean in to other women. We have heard that we women aren’t very nice to each other, that it is our nature to cut and compete. If so, it is only from living in too-small boxes, and competing for too-small parcels of air. It doesn’t have to be that way. Make it not that way.
It will happen, too, that a man is at your side to help you. Look for that. He might be there when you are just about to lose control of the wheel and you are also trying to hold a crying baby. Listen to me, now, this is important.
It is okay to ask the man to hold the baby.
Listen to this, too. You may find that someday you need to leave your babies in someone else’s arms. Probably this will hurt you. But beyond the hurting there is a darkness, too, that tells you this is wrong. It tells you that you should feel ashamed. Resist it. Don’t let that darkness drown out your call. Like the Buddha, turn your hand to the earth. They are all your children.
And you will see your own children soon. Again and again, you will be called back home, like Ulysses, in your time. There will be time for Sabbath, when the call is quiet and the task is rest. You can rest from the world. But you can’t rest from yourself.
Be true to yourself.
And, women, there may be a hard thing about food. If you are a woman who leads (or any other woman…or some men), you may find it hard to feed yourself. If that happens to you, please, look for the friend. She is the friend who shares her French fries with you when you won’t order food of your own. He is the assistant, or the husband, who rolls his eyes and says, “She never eats when she’s working.” She is the midwife who brings you peanut butter toast after you have given birth. She is your sister, your mother. She will save you. Please, let her feed you.
Sweet girl, I will not tell you that this road is easy.
But one day you will slip into your skin like it fits you, and you’ll look around and you won’t know what you were fighting all those years. I can’t wait to see it. I’m going to be so proud.
“Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter—tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther… . And then one fine morning—
So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”—
-F.Scott Fitzgerald from The Great Gatsby
The green light is my first tattoo. I chose it for a number of reasons. Firstly, it is one of literature’s greatest symbols of hope. It also reminds me to consider what I am chasing and expecting to make me happy. And finally, it’s a reminder that my past does matter and influence my future, but that does not have to be a negative thing.
“our task to create foretastes of [kingdom of God] on this planet–living glimpses of what life is meant to be, which include art and music and poetry and shared laughter and picnics and politics and moral outrage and special privileges for children only and wonder and humor and endless.”—Robert McAfee Brown
Moreover as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by ceasing to pray for you; and I will instruct you in the good and the right way. Only fear the Lord, and serve him faithfully with all your heart; for consider what great things he has done for you.
This is a verse that has challenged me in my teaching. First, Samuel considers it a sin not to pray for the people under his charge. I need to take praying for my students just as seriously and continue to pray for them.
Samuel’s next step is to teach. Much of Samuel’s teaching come from the way he lived, and this calls to mind the ‘unwritten curriculum’ in the classroom. My students not only learn about band and music from me, but also how to treat others and how to deal with difficulties. I need to be aware of how my actions influence my students. Samuel was never afraid to confront others when they were not living the right way, and I need to take this approach in teaching as well. My students will learn disrespect if they are not required to treat others with respect.
Next Samuel exhorts his people to worship and follow God. This is what allows us to live ‘in the good and right way’. My students need to understand the importance of worship and regular time spent with God, and I can show the importance of that with my actions more than my words. This is a place where my students could be encouraged.
Finally, Samuel recalls his people’s dependence on God. Often we forgot what God has done. We don’t take the time to remember his faithfulness. The missing piece is an attitude of thankfulness and worship, both of which are qualities in my own life that I have been challenged to develop.
As a teacher, I am constantly reading, studying, evaluating to be a better teacher. I love my students, both band and Bible. And in Isaiah 50:4, I find a very different description of teacher than what I normally expect.
"But the Lord God has given me the tongue of a teacher, that I may sustain the weary with a word. Morning by morning He awakens, he awakens my ear to hear as one who is taught."
I find this verse both challenging and encouraging. On my own, I never would have thought of my responsibility as a teacher to be ‘sustaining the weary with a word’. That’s a big expectation, and does put a lot of pressure on me as a teacher. My students, though often exuberant, face weariness all the time as they are trying to figure out how to grow up. I recognize my power and responsibility as a teacher, the wrong comment or sarcastic tone with the wrong kid can do some serious damage. I want to be the sort of person that is kind, gentle, and respectful to my students. And I want my words to be Life-giving.
An interesting side note—the word used for teacher in this verse can also mean student or disciple. I think the connection between the words student and teacher is important. As teacher, is it so important that we keep learning and keep growing. Not only does this allow us to know the best ways to teach, it also helps us to relate to our students. My students cannot learn humility from me unless I am able to model humility as a student myself. There is so much still that I don’t know about both Bible and band, but if I can show myself to students to be a lifelong learner, I can encourage them to pursue learning as well. Really, that’s the whole point of what we do anyways; work ourselves out of a job by training students to be active learners.
The second sentence of Isaiah 50:4 doesn’t flow easily with the first. But the best I understand it is that I am only able to speak Life into my students if I am first seeking Life through my own time with Jesus. Maybe there is nothing more crucial to my success as a teacher than my commitment to spend time with Jesus, learning and growing, so that I become more like him. I want my students to see Jesus in me.