Yesterday I made my first visit to my daughter’s prospective new school. Founded in 1938 by the formidable Katherine “Kitty” Cathcart Hamm, the embodiment of the best in Southern gentility and herself the mother of a deaf son, the Atlanta Speech School is now one of the Southeast’s oldest therapeutic educational centers for children with hearing, speech, language or learning disabilities.
I had blinked back tears when I watched the video, which shared in the words of parents and their children how the Atlanta Speech School helped students find their voice. I cried because that is what I most want, too, for my daughter- that she find her voice in a world of many other loud voices all competing for her attention or drowning her little one out.
Finding one’s voice in life is no small achievement, with or without a speech impediment and regardless of one’s gender: it is one of the great challenges that goes along with being human.
A couple years ago I submitted an article for consideration at a particular magazine. The article was rejected, but one of the editors wrote a very kind, helpful response- something to the effect of, “we would like to see you develop your own voice more clearly.”
Nearly a dozen years ago in a drama class, I was a shy young woman in her early 20′s trying to become more comfortable with the sound of her own voice. I hadn’t yet preached my very first sermon. I still often grew nervous raising my hand in class or being called upon to speak or give an opinion. I felt uncomfortable at least unconsciously with my identity as a woman now being called to lead the church.
The drama instructor may have seen this better than I at the time, because one day he conscripted me to do what “nice”, “well-behaved”, church-bred girls are never taught to do. He challenged me to cuss him out.
Like I really meant it.
In front of the whole class.
The first try was a wash. I tentatively, with embarrassment, said the words about as convincingly as your average customer service rep when they sign off with the script, “It was a pleasure serving you, Mam.”
The second time?
“F_k you!,” I yelled, summoning my boldest inner resources for the project at hand.
This time it worked: my audience stood transfixed by the admittedly crass but persuasive transfiguration before their eyes.
Finding one’s voice is, I suspect, a life-long process- and maybe especially for women in the church. If we’ve come a long way in encouraging women in the church to find and use their voices, I suspect we have a long way to go.
Finding your voice means learning to decipher what you want in alignment with what glorifies God, and then saying it loud enough for others to overhear, in just the way that God would have you- uniquely you- say it.
So many of us women, especially women in the church, I suspect, have grown up being told what we should do, often at least implicitly cloaked in terms of what God says we should do simply because we are women. It takes some time discerning what it is we really want, and then doing it, even if it scares the hell out of us.
In a post from a couple years ago, Damaris Who?- my daughter was two at the time- I recalled a visit to the grocery store on a day when Sam was being especially talkative in her rather garbled way. She was introducing herself very loudly in the latest dialect of English (if you could even call it that) to anyone in the dairy section who might listen. “She’s making herself known- and that’s a good thing!,” someone had exclaimed- and yes, I had to agree, it was a good thing.
But what I hope most for Sam is not just that she will learn to make herself known. What I hope most for Sam is that she will make known in her own unique dialect the God she encounters in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It’s also what I hope more and more of us “nice,” “well-behaved,” church-bred women will do, too- both in the church and in the world.