Room to Speak

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"You must do the thing you think you cannot do." —Eleanor Roosevelt

The call was unexpected. A major university was planning its annual theological forum and was asking me to be this year's keynote speaker. Holding the phone and still in my flannel pajamas, I thought perhaps the event coordinator had called a wrong number.

Yes, I write and speak professionally. And for more than ten years, I've led retreats and facilitated groups. But a theological forum at a theological university where speakers' names follow with M.A.s or Ph.D.s? With the phone in my hand and lingering adolescent insecurities running through my head, a familiar and incongruent voice said, "Oh, yes, of course I'm interested."

Breathe. Think about this! Stall. Buy time.

The school's coordinator agreed to send detailed information. I poured another cup of coffee and headed to my prayer chair.

God, I put you in charge of what opportunities came my way, but this? Can I do it? A theological forum?

I thought of Moses and his "Who-me-you-must-be-kidding" argument with God. I remembered that when God calls, it's not about what we feel qualified to do; it's about what God qualifies us to do.

Okay, God, I’ve got six months to prepare. I've been writing, reading, researching, and reflecting on this topic for ten years. I'm not lacking in material, knowledge, or presentation skills.

Putting aside Moses-like arguments about my lack of theological degrees, I said yes. A date was set, a contract signed, and a bio and photo sent. But into the six months I had to prepare came the stuff of life: family illnesses, unexpected travel, urgent deadlines. My deadlines to prepare came and went. The six months shrank to six days of fragmented hours, interruptions, and nonnegotiable family realities.

What professionalism I had possessed when the university called six months earlier had long evaporated with my confidence. So what did I do? I did what every experienced writer does at a time like that. I panicked. I froze. I looked at my blank computer screen with one repeating phrase: What was I thinking?

If I don't show, what's the worst that could happen? I think I have a fever. The flu! Yeah! Debra, get a grip. You don't have the flu. In the midst of the conversation with myself, my husband walked into my office and casually asked how I was doing.

"Not so great," I said, and tears welled. "I'm not going to make it. It's down to the wire, and the words aren't coming."

"Honey, I'll tell you what you've told me countless times. You've been preparing for this all your life. Everything you need is already in these notes and in who you are. Get away from the computer. Take a walk. Clear your head. You just need to be you."

I clicked my laptop to sleep, walked outside, and prayed for divine intervention, or at least a little clarity. After a while, I returned to my computer.

And the words came. Confidence returned. I drove to the lecture hall and stood behind a podium; and for 45 minutes, an audience at a theological forum laughed, listened, reached for Kleenex, and laughed some more.

Preparation comes in many forms—sometimes in what we do, sometimes in what God does in us. Most often, perhaps, it comes in both.

Most of the material on The High Calling is available for reuse under a Creative Commons 3.0 license. Unfortunately, work by Debra Klingsporn is not available for reuse. If you are interested in reprinting work by Debra Klingsporn, please contact her directly.

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