Speech Class. 1999. I’m sure I was wearing my big black combat imitation boots and a dress. A trend I thought was all the rage and and in my mind unequivocally “in.” I confess, it might not have been my most brilliant fashion moment. But it was 1999, so cut me some slack.
In a short break in-between speeches my friend leans in over my desk.
“So, you going to try out for the play?”
Another friend chimes in, “Yeah. You really should.”
“Umm, well, I don’t know. Hadn’t really thought about it.” I stammered with a somewhat failed attempt to conceal my genuine shock at the question being posed. I was a volleyball player. I was the pitcher of the softball team. I even dabbled in some triple jump and pole vault. But I was not a thespian. Or so I thought.
Fast forward to later in the week. My palms are sweaty. I can feel perspiration dripping down the center of my back. I’m a bundle of nerves because for some strange reason, at this particular moment, completely unbeknown to me, I am auditioning for the fall play, “Our Town.” “Our Town,” I have no idea what “our” they are referencing. Mine, yours, the President’s of the United States? “What am I doing here?” is the final thought I have before my name is called.
To be honest, I still couldn’t really tell you who’s town it is. We did it the round and there was a narrator but everything else is fuzzy. What I do know for certain is that I had the time of my life. One line in one play, that was all it took, I was hooked. For life.
If I never said it, let me take the chance to thank my two friends M and B. You know who you are, for asking me that question that day in speech class.
I am 5’4” so as you can probably infer, my volleyball career never took off. I didn’t make it to the Olympics for pole vaulting either. But I am writing right now and I know for a fact I wouldn’t be without that play.
It’s not because I turned out to be the next Julie Andrews. Although Mary Poppins is my dream role. I admit my Tony award winning career has been halted by the fact I cannot carry a tune. AT. ALL. I couldn’t carry it even if it had large plastic handles. When our bedtime routinelaunches me into “Twinkle, twinkle little star” my kids ask me to stop singing and get dad. I wish I was kidding. Needless to say, I am not.
I usually was assigned a spot in the ensemble, it generally involved me taking on a male role. I played a pirate on two separate occasions. Apparently a beard looks good on me. But the fall of my senior year was different. I got called back, and then called back again for the one of the lead roles in, “A Miracle Worker.” If you know nothing of this play than all I need to say are two words, Helen Keller. The play follows the story of Helen, no I did not play her. But I did manage to win over the role of Annie Sullivan, Helen’s spunky and no nonsense teacher.
You ever have those kinds of experiences? It’s kind of like you’re trying to cross a rushing river, you jump from stone to stone. You don’t really know why your foot is drawn to that particular stone or even why you land there. But when you get to the other side it becomes clear that without that foothold you would not, could not, be standing where you are now. Annie Sullivan gave me that.
About two weeks in I was sure my director had made the wrong choice. Three acts, I did the majority of the speaking, if you think about it for a minute you will understand why. And, on top of all of that, Annie Sullivan was Irish. One practice in particular early on I can remember vividly, not because it was exceptional, but, on the contrary, because I was so terrible. I came face to face with my own sharp sense of incompetency that day. On top of how bad the acting was, I sounded like native Australian who had grown up in Japan. It wasbad. Really bad.
I knew it. And I knew my director knew it.
“You can do this. “ he encouraged me at the end. “I know it doesn’t feel like it, but you will get it.” He said it like he meant it.
The greatest compliment anyone gave about that role came from my Dad, “I was watching you, and you’re my daughter, but for those two hours, you were somebody else entirely.”
I guess I figured it out, at least enough to fool him.
Annie and my director taught me one single and life altering lesson that I have not, nor will ever, forget.
Sometimes the greatest gift you can give someone is believing in them more than they believe in themselves.
Helen sure had the odds stacked against her. Born deaf and blind with no way to communicate she was trapped insider her head and utterly miserable. Her parents had no idea what to do with their daughter and in Ms. Sullivan’s words, “All these years you’ve felt so sorry for her, you’ve kept her like a pet.” They hired Annie to housebreak her but what she unlocked in Helen, no one expected.
What my director unlocked in me, I did not expect. I didn’t think I had it in me, but he knew I did.
When we pour our lives our for the sake of others, giving our time and energy tirelessly, believing and keeping faith even when no one else does, EVERYTHING changes. And the impact is exponential and profound.
The story of Jesus is ultimate proof of this. If you remember, the night before he was crucified he takes some bread and breaks it and the cup and passes it.
This is my body broken for you, my blood poured out for the forgiveness of sins.
He gave His life so we might have life. When we enter into the sacred tradition that is communion we commit to do the same thing. Our body broken and our blood poured out for the sake of the world. Our life laid down so that others might truly find theirs.
I think that’s why the roles I play today, that of a wife, a mother, a director, a teacher, a writer, to name few, bring me the greatest joy. I get to give of myself, often beyond what I think I am capable of. I get to cheerlead from the side lines. I get to speak words of affirmation. I get to see beyond what’s there to what could be. And when I do this I get to tap into the heart of Jesus himself. It’s hard and humbling and beautiful and altogether too wonderful for words.
So who today needs you to believe in them? And what could God unlock in them because you gave of your life so they might find theirs?