Ham, Shem, and Jepath

I pull into a parking space and turn off the car. Flipping the visor down, I smooth a flyaway hair from my face, and reapply a bit of lip gloss. I make eye contact with myself, and start my weekly pep talk.

You’ve got this. You were invited here. They value your opinion. You deserve to be here as much as anyone.” I’m heading into a women’s leadership meeting at my church. I’m nervous. Groups of intelligent women intimidate me. I never feel like I measure up.

You have been enjoying these meetings, remember? It won’t be like childhood.”  

It is a memory I recall easily. I’m sitting in a semicircle with a dozen girls in spring-colored dresses and shiny patent leather shoes. The girls opposite me are giggling about something. I watch the bows in their hair bob and weave as they huddle together, wondering what they’re talking about.

“Ok girls. We are going to play a Bible trivia game,” our Sunday School teacher says, clapping of her hands to get our attention. She is a kind woman with a helmet of curled, white hair. “If you get enough questions right, you can have free time outside.” A ripple of excitement runs through the group. It is a beautiful spring day.

The teacher gathers her stack of trivia cards and begins. I relax when I realize she isn’t going to make us take turns. Anyone who knows the answer can guess. Shy and uninterested in attention, I stay quiet throughout the game. We cover the bible basics. The ten commandments. The disciples. A few parables. We are sensing victory.

“You only need one more correct answer to earn your prize,” she says, smiling at our anxious faces. “What were the names of Noah’s three sons?” We look at each other, hoping someone will know the answer. No one is willing to guess.

“Anyone want to give it a try?” she eventually asks. I look down at my shoes and play with the hem of my dress, hoping to go unnoticed, knowing I probably won’t.

“How about you Sara? Your dad is the pastor. Do you know the answer?”

Everyone turns to look at me with hopeful eyes. The question is obscure. The teacher probably can’t even answer it without turning the card over to see the solution. But since my dad is the pastor, I’m often expected to know trivia answers, lead worship songs, and, in general, behave more piously.

I wipe my hands nervously on my dress. “I don’t know,” I mumble.

“Oh,” she says, surprised, flipping the card over to see the answer. “Ham, Shem, and Japeth,” she reads. “Let’s repeat that together.” My disappointed, stuck-inside, classmates do as she asks, but I’m lost in my thoughts.

“I should have known that. I let everyone down. I need to study more. This always happens. I need to be better prepared so I don’t have to feel this way again.” I glance at the bible sitting on the table next to her, overwhelmed by its size and wondering with despair how I will ever memorize it.

Now, as an adult I feel sad for “little me” in that situation. I am angry at the teacher for her unfair pressure. At the same time, I can see the situation from another point of view. I see a teacher doing her best, trying to help our class earn a prize. I see classmates hopeful but not passing judgment at an incorrect answer they also didn’t know.

And I see “little me,” sad and hard on herself when she didn’t need to be. She was every bit as beautiful and smart as those around her. She had lots to offer. She simply didn’t know the answer to an obscure trivia question.

The shift in perspective makes me wonder if my negative and anxious thoughts this morning are also untrue. If I will one day look back on this moment and see it with greater clarity. Feeling encouraged, I grab my purse off the passenger seat, slam the car door, and head for the building. Hearing my heels click as I cross the pavement I smile, remembering “little me’s” shiny shoes.

Screw Ham, Shem, and Jepath. We both have lots to offer,” I say as I grab the door handle and head confidently inside.