I know I can be kind of a downer when it comes to inspirational speeches (or the lack thereof). I love you and I think you’re amazing, but I don’t actually think you can be whatever you want to be. I think you have special gifts and a unique calling and you can be whatever God wants you to be, but I’m not going to give you the “Follow your dreams” nonsense. Sometimes dreams have to die to make way for a better reality. I once dreamed I’d go to Broadway because I thought that’s what happened to the girl who played “Marian The Librarian” in her high school musical. Turns out, I can’t dance, I don’t really like performing and I don’t want to live in a big city. And come to think of it, I’m pretty sure I got the lead not because I was exceptionally talented, but because the director knew I was a hard worker and would show up to rehearsals with my lines memorized. Let that be a lesson to you– what you lack in talent, you can usually make up for in hard work.
So no, I am not and will never be on Broadway although that was once my dream. It was a dumb dream for me (although it could be precisely the way God chooses to use someone else to change the world) and I like being your mom way more than I would have liked that life. But just because I don’t think you can be whatever you want to be and I may not encourage you to follow your dreams doesn’t mean I don’t want big things for your life. I believe you can do the biggest thing out there.
I believe you can change the world.
There are people out there who see problems in the world and they feel sad and they say, “We live in a broken world.” and go on about their day. I’ve never been able to be that kind of person. When I see those problems, I want to find a solution. When I find a solution, I want to communicate that to people who can help. I have come to learn that some problems are just one caring, powerful person away from being solved.
This means sometimes I’ve written a Letter to the Editor or two (or five). Sometimes I’ve called lawyers and advocacy groups. I’ve gone to public hearings about issues that matter to me. I’ve contacted the directors of agencies that needed to hear how agency philosophy was being translated into practical policies. I’ve testified at committee meetings for bills that were close to my heart. I’ve worked with state senators to help them get a “boots on the ground” perspective. I’ve bothered principals and school board members. And one time I took a foster toddler to meet with a state senator because sometimes senators need to be reminded about the very real consequences of their decisions.
It has been exhausting and frustrating and disheartening at times. But it’s also given me life to be able to be a diplomat on behalf of people who can’t express their needs. Sometimes I have wanted to quit and I’ve wished I could blind myself to the problems I saw around me. And sometimes I’ve wished I was less encumbered by the requirements of my daily life so I could just spend all my time being an advocate. It can be hard to be someone who believes the world can change because it requires something of you to try and change it. But I don’t feel like I have another choice.
Girls, the road to world changing begins with diplomacy. Sometimes I wish that wasn’t true, but it just is. You’ve got to convince people you know what you’re talking about and that you are willing to listen. I have yet to convince someone by shaming them, scolding them, or threatening them. But that doesn’t mean I’ve been meek, either. I’m not intimidated about being a woman in what sometimes feels like a man’s world of influence and power. Sometimes I remind myself that most every powerful man had a mom he listened to. I’m going to come into those meetings with the power of motherhood on my side. I can be nurturing, warm, smart, and no nonsense. I’m not going to apologize for my womanhood even if that means sometimes a cause goes straight to my heart and my voice gets choked up and I think I might cry. But I’m not going to try and manipulate with my emotions either. It’s a tough balance, but motherhood makes tightrope walkers out of all of us. We learn how to balance our personal feelings with our need to instruct and explain– not shaming, but not denying our own personhood either.
My sweet girls, I so hope you always speak up for the voiceless. I want you to know that you were ALWAYS worth the advocacy done on your behalf. I hope you feel strong even in your weakness. I want you to be women who see the problems and don’t just complain, but use whatever influence you’ve been given to try and fix them. The world needs people who are willing to be hurt, willing to fail, but willing to try because WHAT IF YOU SUCCEED?
My dreams were selfish and pursuing them would have been disastrous. But my reality? It’s painfully beautiful. It’s hard, but I love it. I am a fighter. I don’t know if you’ll be fighters too, but I hope you know that if you choose to fight, you may be more powerful than you think. Learn how to fight with courage and gentleness. Be willing to be wrong and to learn. Realize that the first person you talk to may not agree and may shut the door in your face, but maybe the fifteenth person will take up your cause. You’ll never know until you get to that fifteenth person. Be willing to unite with people you might otherwise disagree with and don’t assume you always know what someone’s answer might be before you’ve talked to them. Surround yourself with friends (and a spouse, if that’s what God gives you) who understand and support your desire to help change the world.
World changing doesn’t have to be big. The world is a big place and sometimes the change it needs starts small. Sometimes it’s just changing the world for the one person God brings into your path. The child who needs a voice. The adult who needs a second chance. The organization that needs support. Whatever it is, be willing to be the small change that makes a big difference in someone’s life. And don’t be discouraged when your efforts at Big Change don’t go the way you wish they would. It matters that you tried. It matters that you fought. It matters that you showed up. I know this, because I know how much it has mattered to me when other people have been willing to try, to fight, to show up. The lawyers, the advocacy groups, the agencies that were willing to listen and support us even when we didn’t get the outcome we wanted. Those moments mattered and communicated that our voice counts. So we keep fighting.
I am excited to see how God might use you to change the world. And I hope that I will never grow weary in doing good. I want to continue to be a fighter until I can’t fight any longer. You girls have inspired me so much to fight to make the world a better place for you and for the kids like you. I know that over the years, as busy as we’ve been, that passion has only grown and I’m excited to see what it looks like another decade from now. Today I fight your battles, but I look forward to the day you can fight your own or fight alongside me for justice and the voiceless.