“You’re just not cutout for this…” The stout woman with chocolate skin and tightly curled peppered hair sighed as I stood on the large wooden stage before her. The auditorium was filled with several hundred children in every corner and down each aisle rehearsing the lines of songs and poems for our annual denominational youth gathering.
Two lines. All I needed to say was two lines and during the last sentence that I drummed into my head at least a thousand times over the last few days, I had to look at my hand for the cue that I had written just in case this very thing happened and I forgot my words.
“Can I try again? I really do know it.” With my arms down at my sides, I began to nervously tap my fingertips against my slacks.
“Look at you. You’re a nervous wreck. Look chile, public speaking just ain’t for you. Loosen up—where is your charisma? Next!” She shouted onto the stage as the next nervous little brown child stood on the chalked X under the bright, hot lights.
Devastated, I left the auditorium to find my grandmother who was leading a workshop in the arena. I sat quietly in the back of the room with the hundred or so other participants and I tried to listen to the last half of her workshop but I couldn’t shake my feelings of failure and rejection. At 12, this was the last year I was able to be in the children’s production and I blew it.
As the room emptied and my grandmother’s workshop came to a close, I made my way to the front of the room. As I had become accustomed to doing each time my grandmother taught a class or led a workshop that I attended, I turned off the overhead projector lamp, unplugged the projector, tugged on the cord dangling from the end of the projection screen so that it automatically rolled up into its self, and began to carefully stack each one of the marker covered, clear plastic slide sheets into a manila folder.
The last participant was gone and the silent room echoed my grandmother’s voice, “So, how did it go?”
“I didn’t get the part, Granny. I’m not cutout for public speaking.” I hid my face with my hands.
“Who told you that you’re not cutout for public speaking?” My grandmother’s voice was sharp as she made her way through the rows of chairs retrieving the leftover handouts from the seat cushions of the empty chairs.
“Mother White did. She said I need charisma. I only looked at my hand once! If she would’ve given me another chance, I could’ve gotten my lines right.” I blinked hard through my tears and the disappointment.
“Now look here chile, there is no need to cry. Come here.” I made my way over to her and stood next to the sturdy woman who was a head taller than me and a foot wider than me. Not a particularly affectionate woman, she placed her arm around my shoulder and pulled me close. “We will work on your charisma but first we need to work on your confidence,” she said smelling of coffee and peppermint hard candy.
“How do we do that?” A few single tears burned down my cheek as I took deep, calming breaths.
“First you need to understand that no one single event defines you. That woman was wrong for telling you that you’re not cutout for public speaking; and you best be sure that her and I will have some words about this later on because no one talks to my grandchild or any child that way. Sure, you need work, but she had no right to try and kill your spirit. She’s a grown woman and should know better…words have power and we must always choose our words carefully. But you can’t let someone else’s thoughts about you shape how you think about yourself. You are a child of God.” Her voice vibrated through her chest as my head now rested against her bosom.
“What does being a child of God have to do with this?” I breathed in the cool of her silk, white blouse.
“We all need to work on something, but God made you and God doesn’t make junk. There is something that God put inside of you that no one else has and that makes you special. There will be plenty more opportunities to speak but did you stop to consider that maybe the children’s production isn’t where you need to be?”
“What do you mean?” I asked as I pulled away from her just enough to tilt my head back and look at her beautiful, caramel face.
“Well, we still have 4 more days of this annual conference and I could definitely use some help teaching this class. You see all these chairs—you were here—you saw all those people.” She turned around and threw her hands up as if she was overwhelmed.
“Saying two lines in front of one lousy woman seems like a big deal, but an even bigger deal is a 12-year-old leading a workshop at a national church event.” My grandmother’s eyes smiled as she returned to meet my gaze.
“We will work on your charisma, but you need to always remember your value. Just because one thing doesn’t work out doesn’t mean that you are a failure or that you are less valuable. All the stuff we do while we are here on earth—these are just experiences. We are not our experiences but we can be masters of how we handle our experiences.”
Happy Mother’s Day, Granny. Thank you for raising me well and for always reminding me of my value. ♥