Taking up space in 2019

I am 4 feet 10 inches tall. Though I know many a short person who would trade bodies with someone tall in a hot second, my small size has rarely bothered me much. Sure, I get irritated when imperceptive people decide my age based on my height and thereby dismiss me, and there are times when I’d like to be able to reach the top shelves in the grocery store without doing my Spiderman impression. But in terms of simply being fun-sized, I generally like it. What would be the use of bemoaning my stature? I haven’t grown (upwards) since elementary school, so it’s not like I can will myself into a midlife spurt.

Plus, there are advantages to being small. I could hide in my locker as a high school student and jump out to give friends walking by a boost to their heart rates. My tiny fingers can reach lost objects in places where adult-sized digits would get stuck. I can sit comfortably in preschool furniture, and I can easily climb in restaurant play places to fetch my obstinate child when needed. And speaking of children, I tend to relate well with them because it’s no strain to make eye contact. (Also, I think they believe I’m one of them, because I regularly hear children stage whispering to their parents, “Is that a kid or a grown-up?”) Honestly, I wouldn’t trade these perks to be tall and svelte.

I have realized this past year, however, that there are times that I tend to make my presence as diminutive as my body. I often don’t ask for what I need, and I hold back on my opinions (sometimes) or feelings (often). I hesitate to make decisions that involve others for fear of inconveniencing someone. I abhor having people wait for me, even if there’s a good reason I’m the last one ready. This kind of shrinking is not so healthy as being at peace with my height.

I didn’t realize what I was doing until I was reading a prayer by United Methodist clergywoman Kerry Greenhill in We Pray With Her. In her “Prayer of Blessing to Be Who You Are,” Kerry writes, “May you take up space in the world” (169).

Oof. That was a much-needed kick in the pants.

Every time I don’t spell out what I need, I am not taking up my allotted space. Every time I bite my tongue, withdraw into my head, refuse to state a preference, or become frantic so as not to worry others, I am not taking up my allotted space. And space cannot tolerate a vacuum; someone else – likely a someone who has already annexed more than their fair share of space – will swoop in and fill up what I do not.

So in 2019 I am going to take up more space – not more than I am due, but the proper amount. I am going to use my voice. I am going to own what I feel. I am going to trust my gut. I am going to reclaim my time. I have already started making micro-expansions, and I am getting better at recognizing when I’m not taking up the space that I could.

In addition I will be looking for ways of coming alongside people who have either ceded too much territory or had it stripped from them. I am not alone in shrinking where I could be growing, or at least holding my ground. Let’s do this work of claiming our space – which really means living into the fullness of God’s image within us and God’s call to us – together.

Deep breath in, expanding our lungs. Exhale out, blowing our innovation and wisdom and beauty into the world. Let’s do this, 2019.

Photo by Jeffrey Hamilton on Unsplash.

Five lessons from 2017 and five hopes for 2018

The turning of the calendar provides a natural opportunity for looking backward and forward. Here’s some of what I learned about myself last year:

I’ve been a complacent citizen. In the past, I have either taken for granted that others with concerns like mine would speak up or believed that my lone voice would not make much impact. This year circumstances compelled me to – for the first time – call my members of Congress, canvass, phone bank, write letters to elected officials, march for causes, and poll watch.

I have internalized more bigotry than I realized. The unmasking of white supremacy in the culture at large prompted me to do some inner examination, first as a Lenten discipline, then as an ongoing process. It turns out that forty years of insidious messaging had done more damage than I realized, and I continue actively chipping away at my biases through listening, reading, and interacting.

Scarcity is a self-fulfilling prophecy. (This is not to deny that some people live in dire poverty through no fault of their own.) Sometimes the sermon is as much for the preacher as for the congregation. I often refer to the dangers of a scarcity mindset from the pulpit and in my writing – pointing out that time and again God has done much with little – yet I have fretted over pennies myself. I’m in an online book group that has challenged me to think out of an abundance framework, and when I’ve been able to do it, it has given me a sense of freedom and opened my heart to the dramatic and barely-detectable ways God is showing the way forward.

40 rocks. Many people dread turning 40 years old. I didn’t, and so far my new decade fits me well. The age I feel matches the age I look like on the outside. I see the need less and less to justify my perspectives and my work to those who would poo-poo it. At the same time, I want to remain open to new ideas, new people, and new ways of doing things.

The act of prayer is changing me. I have been more angry and afraid this year than I have ever been. When I’ve caught myself heading down one of these paths, I’ve stopped, taken deep breaths, and confessed my feelings to God. Over time, some of my attitudes have shifted. God is working in me, and I think that the process itself of being honest with God has also made a big difference.

As I anticipate this new year, here is what I am working toward, with God’s help:

To be more generous. I want to grow in my ability to practice what I preach when it comes to the abundance of God’s love.

To be more fierce. There’s no going back to complacency. Lives are at stake. And my voice matters.

To be more vulnerable. There’s a time for privacy, but less often than I have typically exercised it.

To be more resourceful. I want to leverage my creativity and intelligence for good.

To be more connected. I tended to distance myself last year from people who had different commitments than I did. That is neither faithful nor practical.

May your new year be filled with peace, love, and hope.