Women Looking at Sky

Do you believe what Jesus said in Mark 10:27, that with human effort alone, things are impossible, but with God, all things are possible?

Not long ago, I lived out a dream and spent a month in Florence, Italy. Having an apartment in the Piazza della Signoria, I was surrounded by world-famous art in world-famous museums, namely, the Accademia Gallery, home to Michelangelo’s “David.” It is said that Michelangelo claimed his job was to free the human form trapped inside the block of stone. Standing at the base of that towering sculpture, I can attest: he did his job.

I’m no sculptor, but I imagine a stone carver has an image before he begins work—an idea, a goal, a dream. Approaching the block, he’s prepared with tools to “free the human form trapped inside.” There are different tools for different purposes. For example, in the early stages, the master artist might use a mallet to knock off large chunks of unwanted stone. Once he has the desired shape, the sculptor selects finer tools for more precise detailing before sanding and polishing to a smooth finish.

Voilà! After painstaking effort, time, and discipline, a dream is realized. The craftsman sees tangibly before him what he saw only in his mind’s eye at first.

My friend Haydee, who passed away in 2008, was a different kind of sculptor. She sculpted living, breathing humans. Born into a Guatemala City barrio, Haydee overheard someone tell her father, “Don’t waste your money sending your girls to school.” Beating all the odds, Haydee rose from the harsh realities of Guatemalan misogyny, put herself through college, inspired and supported her four sisters to do the same, and became a successful businesswoman. In 2005, Haydee teamed up with her husband, Bill, and bought a hillside property overlooking downtown Guatemala City, and there they built the beautiful new International Medical Assistance (IMA) school that still thrives today. Haydee’s dream was to free the human form—the little girls who would graduate from IMA against the odds—from the block of stone that is Guatemalan culture.

Haydee’s brilliance was in her resolve. She used to say, in her slightly broken English with a heavy Spanish accent, “You make a plan. And then you do it.”

So what about you? What’s your plan?

  • Visualize the prize. What sculpture do you imagine?
  • What tools will you need? What are the practical things you can put in place to help you attain your goal?
  • Write down your plan; make a vision board; have daily reminders to keep you on track . . . do what works for you. Chip away the chunks you don’t need, that distract you from your goal.
  • Have an accountability partner and set regular times to check in so you can track how you’re doing. Surround yourself with those who cheer you on.
  • Believe in your dream. Sort it into steps. Then make it happen.

For me, I talked about writing my book for years, yet I was distracted by other, smaller interests. It wasn’t until I made a decision to chisel away the excess, use my tools, take practical steps, and set achievable goals that anything changed.

Yet, it wasn’t quite that simple. There was another, more subconscious “chunk” that needed to come off, and it was perhaps the biggest saboteur to writing a book: my fear of what people might think, the fear of vulnerability and of being judged by critics.

In a story in my latest book entitled “You Do the Math,” I write about an “unconscious knowing” that had informed some of my decisions. I had been operating with this silent knowledge right up until the moment I was able to begin writing my book.

Here, I reflect on that indelible memory from a math lesson in second grade:

“Go to the chalkboard,” the teacher said. With the wide eyes of my classmates on me, my seven-year-old skinny legs stood rickety at the board. An oversized, dark, dusty eraser in my left hand, a thin stick of pure white chalk in my right, I didn’t know the answer to the arithmetic problem. What’s more, I didn’t even know how to begin to do it.

None of my classmates made fun of me. It was the adult who did.

I can’t recall her exact wording. Mostly what I remember was the way the tone felt in my ears, falling down into my heart.

The message was clear: I was bad for not knowing, not understanding. I sat down.

In the days and months and years that followed, I allowed myself to be limited in specific ways because of that very day. I absorbed the shame; I believed the lie. I made real-life choices because of her imprint. And sometimes I catch myself, still, believing her lie. It was a powerful day. She was a powerful person.

My sad little story is not an uncommon one. It doesn’t add up why someone entrusted to teach and nurture would write such awful things on the chalkboard of young hearts.

I’m thankful for good teachers who love what they do; for big erasers, new sticks of chalk, and for brilliant quotes like this:

“Well, another day has passed and I didn’t use algebra once.” (Unknown)

And here’s what I write on the chalkboard of my little heart these days:

“Don’t let anyone else be that second grade teacher.”

When the unconscious became conscious, all things became possible. Once I realized I was allowing people to be that second-grade teacher regarding my writing, the “chunk” fell off and I was able to get to work.

I made a commitment to write five hundred words a day, or write for two hours a day—whichever came first. Life happens, and there were some days that I couldn’t accomplish either. But even when I had a glitch in my schedule, I didn’t let it deter me from my goal. I wrote I Punched Myself in the Eye in nine months, which was three months later than my target date, but who cares? I made a plan, and I did it.

How about you? Are you allowing a “second-grade teacher” to sabotage you? Remove that piece of stone that’s prohibiting you. Believe all things are possible with God. And then start chipping away at who you will be. What human form will you and God free, trapped inside your block of stone?

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