I thought they would be my knightesses in shining armor.
A connection had led me to a small female–led company with promises of increasing my non-profit’s capacity. As the founder of a 5-year-old organization, I was relieved to hear that help might be tucked away in the basement of this little home-based business. I unloaded the files in my brain and they color-coded and circled on the white board and my heart swelled. I felt hope.
Until the dreaded topic of finances surfaced. The topic I loathe. How much is this vision worth? How many dollars will you equate with your dreams? And when my answer was a pittance, far too low to warrant their help, the meeting’s abrupt conclusion lodged spurs in my brain. I am still sorting them out. “Come back when your vision is larger. Come back when you’re ready to build an organization. Come back when you’re ready to value your time and not work for free.”
I have not been back.
But the spurs were lodged nonetheless. I was afraid to dream bigger. Why? I’ve clung to this vision for 5 years with little compensation or motivation to fundraise. Why? I doubted whether I could do the job if people were really paying me to do it. Why? And then the really tough question: If I’m so compelled to do this work, why won’t I trust it to God?
A few months later, determined to face my fear and step out in faith, I “hired” an employee. With no money to pay her, I cast a vision for the role she could play with the grants we would write, she would write, to grow our capacity. To grow this organization.
I was ready to grow something. At least, I wanted to be. Ready.
The hard came fast. More budgets. Financial speak. Numbers and data and assessments and all things creatives and dreamers despise. Crystalize the objectives. Define the strategies. Capture the growth. This is what I had carefully avoided for 5 years.
Week after week we wrote grants and I prayed. And then one day the first one responded. It was a grant for a specific area of expansion that was more of a hope than a plan and I dreaded the response: If they say yes, I really have to do this.
I actually dreaded the fulfillment of my dream.
And I knew. When I read the letter and felt the relief, I knew. This was not fear-based dread. This was shame. Hello there, familiar friend. Now I recognize you.
Shame. That ugly little companion that has had me believing I’m too much or not enough most of my adult life. Funny how it hides behind other emotions, distracting and confusing me from getting at the source.
It shows up as gut-wrenching angst when a friend is disappointed in me. Days later I realize the gnawing is shame: I was not enough for her.
It looks like anger when I am rejected from a job appointment until, after nights of tossing and turning, I name it properly. Shame took me out again: I was not enough.
It appears to be anxiety when I speak at a women’s retreat, replaying every word. Weeks later, after rehashing every talk multiple times, I finally see it. Shame: I was too much for them, overwhelmed them surely.
And now dread. Dread if my dream is realized because shame is lurking at my door. There it lies in wait. Whether I get the grant or not. Because surely I am too much—do people even want the programs I’m offering? And surely I’m not enough—I can’t possibly grow this organization sustainably.
Shame threatens to immobilize me. And almost every woman I know. So I will keep praying:
“O persistent God
Accentuate my confusion
until I shed those grandiose expectations
that divert me from the small, glad gifts
of the now and the here and the me.
Expose my shame where it shivers,
crouched behind the curtains of propriety,
until I can laugh at last
through my common frailties and failures,
laugh my way toward becoming whole.”
(Ted Loder, Guerrillas of Grace)
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