I’ve always been small in the literal sense. I’m five feet tall exactly and it’s been that way since middle school. Because of that, adults and peers alike would assume that I was insignificant and I allowed it in a lot of ways. I mastered the art of being invisible. I would be in a classroom full of kids and my teachers would forget that I was there. I was quiet. I kept to myself. I didn’t want to be seen. I didn’t want to bring attention to myself. As far back as I can recall, it’s been that way.
In middle school, I remember going through the lunch line on a particular day, as I did every day. At the register, the lunch lady asked me, “Who are you here to visit today?”
I looked around, confused. “I go here,” I told her, trying to straighten my shoulders a bit to look taller.
Her eyes widened and she laughed a hearty laugh, slapping her thigh. “Oh, I thought you were visiting your big brother or sister! You’re so cute.”
In high school, I felt wearing colors would make people notice me in the hallways, so I avoided them. I wore long sleeves most days, even in the summer I wore jackets or sweatshirts all day. I sat in the back of my classes and didn’t speak unless I was spoken to.
It wasn’t until I started to pack for college that I realized how sad of an existence I had made for myself. I opened an empty box and took several pairs of pants out of the closet and off of their hangers – five pairs of khaki pants in various shades, three pairs of jeans and six pairs of black pants. I didn’t have any shorts because I didn’t want people to look at my scrawny legs. For the same reason, I didn’t wear dresses or skirts. My wardrobe was a reflection of my attitude about life; there was no color and there was no excitement.
In college, I walked into a popular intimate apparel shop in the mall near my parent’s house. I was on break from school, bored and looking to kill some time on a free afternoon. I browsed for a few minutes before I was approached by a saleswoman.
“Where are your parents?” She asked, without offering an appropriate customer service greeting.
I didn’t understand the significance of her question at first. “They’re at home…?”
“They let you come to the mall all by yourself?”
“I’m older than I look,” I told her as she starred at me in disbelief. “I’m in college.”
I don’t remember her response after that, but I was so embarrassed that I left. I couldn’t even buy a pair of panties without judgment! It would be another three years before I mustered the courage to enter one of the stores again.
In my mid-twenties, I went to a pharmacy to pick up over-the-counter cold medicine. Due to the local law, it required a signature at purchase. The older male pharmacist looked past me and over my head at my husband who was standing off to the side and asked, “Are you the father?”
He laughed and shook his head, “No, this is my wife!”
The pharmacist looked at me for the first time and offered a weak apology, but no smile. He begrudgingly rung up the medicine as if he didn’t believe me.
This has gone on for long enough. I accepted it at first because I considered myself small. I saw myself as a grain of sand in the world with little to contribute and nothing much to offer. I didn’t believe that behind my small stature and little voice there was a purpose. I didn’t believe anyone would want to hear what I had to say. I didn’t believe that what I had to say was of value. I was wrong!
Not only do I contribute to the world, but I have a beautiful family who love and depend on me. When I speak, people actually listen. I’ve had the responsibility and privilege to sow into the lives of so many people that I can’t count them all. I am a woman of faith, a teacher, motivator, an encourager, mentor and leader.
I am a person who matters in the world and so are you.
Don’t consider yourself small. Don’t allow the issues of life to knock you down and then just resolve to stay seated until it all blows over. The power of change is in your hands. You deserve to live a peaceful, happy and fulfilled life, but that requires your participation. My desire is to see you emerge from the shadows and corners of life and find the seat at the table that was made just for you.
It won’t happen all at once. It won’t happen overnight, but if you work at it, it will happen. And when it does, you’ll look back at the disappointing times in your life and laugh at how much has changed. I look back now at the little girl with puffy hair, wearing hand-me-down clothes two sizes too big, lugging around 10 pounds of books, concerned about being teased in the hallways and I wish I could share with her what I know now. I would tell her that it gets better and she shouldn’t take life so seriously at such a young age. I would tell her that she will impact the lives of millions. I would tell her to believe and not to lose faith in the goodness of life and the kindness in people, because it still exists.
I would tell her, like I am telling you – you are worth it! You matter. You have purpose and your life has meaning.
Stay encouraged. Don’t give up. Get to know the sleeping giant inside of you. You aren’t small. You are just beginning.