I grew up watching my father talk to hundreds upon hundreds of people, off-the-cuff, without notes and with no stammering.
Oftentimes he would show up to church on Sunday morning, prepared with nothing more than a scripture reading, and preach one of the most immaculately intertwined and relevant sermons I had ever heard (at ten years old.)
His ability to hold it together — grace under pressure — while tugging each and every person’s individual heart thread always floored me.
Where did the words come from?
How did he know where they were taking him?
How alive in him must the Holy Spirit be in order to speak so fluidly with no obvious preparation?
And if there was preparation, how did he get from there to here: upfront, with nothing to read from, as confident as a string-tied bean stalk in the August sun?
Of course, I asked myself these questions a little late in the game as I stood last Friday night, in front of a tiny congregation of 30 people, about to deliver my Christmas reflection sans notes.
It was a goal of mine to speak without using paper or pulpit before I signed off for 2015 and so, there I was, microphone in hand, trying to convince myself this wasn’t the most horrific decision I had ever made.
It turns out, it wasn’t. Not even close. In fact, it was so far from not-even-close that it was almost stupid of me to think of it in the first place. Clearly the most horrific decision I have ever made was spending my entire first student loan on shoes. But, we live and learn. At least I hope we do.
The reflection went — from what I can gather and remember — smoothly. I didn’t lose my place. Didn’t stutter. Didn’t skip over anything too detrimental to the story of Christ’s birth (although I may have quoted Isaiah as saying “Wonderful God, Almighty Counselor,” but in the scheme of scriptures to mess up I think that’s OK). I made it out alive and I crossed it off my 2015 bucket list.
I thought to myself afterwards — when all was said and done — a couple of things. For starters, who could have pictured me doing this, three years ago? But more importantly, how on earth did I just pull that off?
I have been a student for long enough to know that this wasn’t entirely normal for me. While I’m more-than-comfortable in front of an audience and public speaking (too comfortable, maybe?) I have only made it through one other presentation without notes before and the credit in that scenario can be given to both PowerPoint images and the fact the entire presentation was on Burning Man.
What was it about my sermon on anticipating Christmas that crawled out of me like a cat trapped in a cardboard box?
I knew when I was preparing to give my reflection that there was a story I wanted to tell. It was a silly story about a band of brothers (and one sister) who had an embarrassing Christmas tradition that the sister’s husband ruined in 2014. It was my story, and it was my favorite of my stories. The story explained everything I was trying to say without actually saying it. It allowed me to be funny. It allowed me to be honest. It allowed me to develop a relationship with the theme that could then inspire others to do the same. It was absolutely perfect, and it was mine.
I didn’t need to memorize anything because the story was already inside of me. I owned it. I told it. I was successful.
Once I realized this was how I had managed the evening, I started to think about all the Brene Brown works I’ve read and how “owning your story” is such a powerful concept when it comes to self-acceptance and self-assurance. I started to apply it to other areas of my life. Why do I think the way I do, feel what I feel, ask questions about the things I ask questions about? And so what?
For the past year I have been waffling around the idea of going back to school to do my Masters of Divinity. That is, start walking down the road that potentially leads to ordination. Ergo, becoming a minister. Like, of God.
If you’ve been reading A&F since I started it in 2008 I hope this brings you the same fit of laughter it brought me when I started considering it. But, once you get over that, know that I, too, have gotten over it. I’ve gotten so far over it that I’ve finally stopped denying the idea that this is what I’m meant to do. Which is why I’m now scrambling like a horse with hot hooves to get my act together to be a part-time Masters student come January.
Because the thing is — I’ve finally owned my story.
When you own your story, you don’t need notes. You don’t need justification, or excuses, or permission, or the right timing, or perfect pathway. You can’t mess it up.
To quote my favorite holiday movie, The Holiday, when you own your story — your truth, your self — you become the leading lady of your own life.
And I assure you, Mae West never used notes. Nor did she ever apologize.