Note: This post is part of the “Share Your Story” project by the lovely folks at IncitingIncidents.org.
I was 9 years old when my elementary principal in a small farming community in northern Indiana called me into his office. “As you know, Dana, Mrs. Fleming has passed away. I’d like you to do a reading when we hold a memorial for her later this week on the lawn.”
Mrs. Fleming had been my kindergarten teacher three years earlier. In fact, she’d been the kindergarten teacher for nearly all the children in our community for a generation. She’d succumbed to breast cancer and our school felt a great loss.
I was shocked by Mr. Russell’s invitation and hadn’t seen myself as a communicator until that time. My head was full of questions.
“Why had my principal asked me to read in front of a few hundred people? There would be teachers, parents, and (gasp!) kids who were three years older than me listening! I’d have to know how to pronounce all the words. I’d need to practice. It would be important to honor Mrs. Fleming and not mess up…”
I have no idea how it happened, but I recall shaking off the thoughts and looking into Mr. Russell’s eyes to say, “Yes. I’ll do it.”
What followed were a few days of gulping down the fear every time I thought of the upcoming memorial. Each time I looked out my classroom window I could see the lawn where we’d soon gather as a school. Fear struck my heart. I imagined myself falling on my face while walking up to the podium to speak.
(I think you’ve probably been in a similar situation before. That’s why you’re still reading.)
The big day came. Our entire school gathered outside on a sunny Spring afternoon. Our janitor, Mr. Handy, had dug a deep hole into which some of our teachers planted a new tree in Mrs. Fleming’s honor. I watched, touched and amazed by the whole experience. Then my awe turned into a cold sweat the moment I heard Mr. Russell use his booming voice to invite me to come forward. He held a microphone out for me for what seemed many minutes as I skipped over classmates’ criss-crossed legs in the grass and veered around all those lucky kids who got to sit and watch the ceremony without a care in the world.
I took the mic from my principal’s hand. I cleared my throat and read “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten” by Robert Fulghum, and I looked up to see the newly planted tree as I read the final words.
Then something amazing – daresay miraculous – happened.
I realized I’d not fallen in the wet grass. No one had laughed at me. Mr. Russell even gave me an encouraging pat me on the back. I realized I’d just done something that would’ve made Mrs. Fleming smile her big toothy grin had she still been around.
…And I’ve never been the same. Learning to be grateful for the opportunity to honor others, to speak on behalf of others, to share my art with others – was a journey that began that day on the manicured lawn at Fowler Elementary. Since that time, there have been many days on which I think it enviable to sit in the seats and observe, but I know true joy comes in communicating even when I feel unqualified, lacking sleep, ugly, a novice, or ill-prepared.
You have been asked to do something that scares you, and someone believes in you. Say yes and let the miracle unfold.
What memories do you have of events that changed your life and how you live out your art?
Dana Byers and her family are passionate about adoption and online ministry, and they sold all they owned in 2007 to live a mobile lifestyle overseas and expand online ministry practices globally. She’s the author of “The Art of Online Ministry” and recently moved to Oklahoma to become the Community Pastor for LifeChurch.tv Church Online.