I woke up this morning foggy with images and emotion; I dreamed, crazy stuff. I think it’s Whole 30 related, because I’m sleeping so much better these days. Then again, I credit (or blame) Whole 30 for pretty much everything these days. To be honest, it’s not a far stretch from the truth; what we eat really matters.
But this is not a post about that. This is a post about a conversation I had today with a smart, talented woman, one just a bit older than my eldest daughter. A friend in common connected us and she reached out to ask for some time. We set a date and met for coffee.
She asked me about my work, my leadership role, my musical abilities. I gave her the short version of How I Got Here, and then asked the same of her. We have much in common.
The groundwork laid, we began to talk about our experiences in leading, especially as females leading teams often predominantly made up of men. We talked about influence and ability; about how to coach and guide. We shared examples and anecdotes; essentially, we took an hour to paint pictures of our lives for one another – to listen and notice and reflect back. I was impressed by her attentiveness and focus.
I was honored by her interest.
She asked a couple of specific questions: Do you have any thoughts about how I could do this part of my work better? How do you navigate this part of working with people? How do you build these relationships more effectively?
Quite honestly, some of her questions made me uncomfortable – just for a moment – because I had to answer, truthfully, I don’t do that very well. While sitting across the table from someone who has asked for your time because they want to ask you some questions, it feels pretty crappy to come up blank. Or, worse; to say, Well, I pretty much suck at that.
But those were true answers, and in return I think I was able to learn a few things from her; and dialogue is always a better deal than a monologue, isn’t it?
As we finished, she asked, What is one book on leadership you would recommend? I followed with a question about how she defined leadership, and then I asked what season of life she was in. What area, what passion currently fuels her imagination and inquisitive nature these days?
I expounded, which brings me to the heart of this post, because I was surprised – albeit pleasantly – by what I heard coming out of my own mouth. I often use the word evolving as I describe my faith and my emotional and spiritual health, and I have friends who hate that I use that word – but it’s the truth. The definition reads
To come forth gradually into being
and I cannot think of a better way to paint a concise picture of my life – certainly most recently, but really, the entire length of it. My 20’s, 30’s and early 40’s were more like fits and starts of energy, combusting somewhat erratically within the boundaries of my emotional and geographical state. But more recently, perhaps with the advent of ‘middle age’, there is no better descriptor than evolving to portray the state of my soul.
Anyway….she asked about book recommendations and I replied with, basically, Well, where are you these days?, and she talked about wanting to claim her own, unique leadership style, and to lean into what it means to pour into other people in a meaningful way. My response was less specific to those places in her and more about how I see the bubbled, buoyant areas of growth that my reading and praying and soul-searching and creating have created. They align with the passing of years and changing family and relationship situations, and together they make up something akin to How I Am Being Formed. Without going into deep detail, I did share a few book recommendations and ideas with her.
But I couldn’t stop thinking about the questions and reflection she prompted in me, and isn’t that the sign of a terrific investment of time? I walked out of Starbucks reflecting and considering what it meant to be in possession of this raw, ragged, grace-filled existence – this thing I call my life, this thing that a young woman wanted a glimpse of as she navigates her own.
I kept thinking, and as I drove home, I thought Well, I should really write about this, and so here it is. The areas of growth – the current focal points for all that I gather in my experience and contemplation – seem to divide into Theology and Scripture, Creativity, Leadership, and Gender – specifically, my own.
When it comes to theology and scripture, there is no substitute for reading theology and scripture itself. But a few years ago, I finally understood (thanks to some patient, experienced teachers in our local church) that context and perspective direct understanding of religion and the Bible in a way that always impacts understanding. If I was not reading the Bible with clear perspective, it’s influence would be subject to a variety of not-always-positive factors. So, I began to look for insight apart from what I had been reading for most of my rather sequestered, “Lifeway Christianity” life – which felt risky at times, but highly profitable. It has been somewhat disruptive to my soul, but the proof is in the pudding; these days I am more in awe of the Creator, the Sacred, and the Savior than I have ever been.
Creatively, there are great, adventurous talents doing inventive, visionary things in all areas of culture. I look for inspiration these days in various corners – but mostly, the ones that are off the beaten path, and most often outside the easily accepted and understood. Having avoided visual art for most of my life, now I lean into that part of my own creatively, and I seek out beautiful things that exist simply because they are beautiful, or because somebody made them so.
On the topic of leadership, I read and I listen to many voices, but mostly I am trying to look around me. The pithy statement about a leader being simply someone who has followers has a measure of truth to it. Rather than try only to develop leadership concepts and principles, I am trying to pay attention to the people I am charged to lead, and let their growth and success be the arbiter of my own.
And finally, on the issue of being a female in an male-dominated field – or just being female in general – I find myself gravitating these days towards women who are creating. Books, music, art; whatever the arena, I am drawn to find out what women are saying. I also find myself drawn towards women in my daily interactions; right now, I can easily list 30 women I know as friends or acquaintances who intrigue me, who are doing good, interesting things, whose thoughts and opinions I value; women I am watching – with fascination – as they navigate their own lives from whatever window they might offer to me. This is new to me, and as of yet I have no idea why – but it is refreshing and encouraging. So many of the women I know – including the one I met today – represent hope to me; not for an abstract, conceptual dream, but in the very real, authentic, literal place they have in my life.
In days to come, I think I might blog about some of those specific influences – the writers, creatives, leaders (and followers) and women that are in and around my thoughts these days. But this is the truest thing I know today: I am, indeed, gradually coming into being. It has taken the village – and then some – to raise me, and it is far from complete. But I’m beginning to wrap my hands around this precious, wild gift of life; it becomes, daily, better than it’s ever been.
And that, my friends, is grace.