Posts Tagged ‘failure

11
Oct
21

A Strange Set of Tools

I’ve got this dilemma on my hands. Maybe you can help me with it.

On the one hand, I don’t like to fail. I mean I REALLY don’t like it. At all.

At the same time, I really like trying things I haven’t tried before.

Therein lies the dilemma. Because the things I try are new to me, I am highly likely to fail at them… at least at first.

Last winter, for example, I decided that a fitting way to engage the wonders of my newly adopted state of Colorado would be to get up on a pair of skis and head down a snowy slope. 

Because hey… EVERYBODY out here skis. Even little babies.

So, I rented some skis and boots and bought goggles and ski pants and found myself an instructor. After an hour of struggling and straining and falling and failing, I decided skiing probably wasn’t for me. God – in God’s infinite wisdom – gave me feet that point toe-outward. Standing correctly on a pair of skis really requires toes that point INWARD… or at least point STRAIGHT.

So, there we had SNOW SPORT FAILURE #1.

Which led me to my next adventure. As I looked around there on the mountain, I noticed that snowboards seemed to accommodate people with feet like mine a whole lot better than skis did. So, it was back to the rental shop to be outfitted with a SNOWBOARD!!

Another hour of falling and flailing and sweating and swearing and I was ready to declare myself a miserable failure at snowboarding. That led me to admit to…

… SNOW SPORT FAILURE #2.

It is embarrassing and more than a little depressing to start looking back and cataloging all the false starts, missteps, bumbles, fluffs, and swings-and-misses I have racked up over my considerable years on this planet. 

Thanks to my clumsy efforts, toes have been stubbed (mine and others), feelings have been hurt, opportunities have been squandered, and lives have been damaged.

And it now appears that Joan and I together will add “failure to become passionate RV owners” to that growing list of failures.

I know, I know. I hear the voice of Bill Gates saying, “It’s fine to celebrate success but it is more important to heed the lessons of failure.” And right beside him there is Albert Einstein (who failed MASSIVELY before changing the history of quantum physics, I’m told) saying, “You never fail until you stop trying.” 

I know all that rah-rah, motivational stuff. I’ve preached it a thousand times to eager, listening ears.

But it isn’t until I turn my gaze to the cross that I really, truly understand the divine power found in failure. You see, God decided to become flesh for the express purpose of re-orientin the hearts and minds of human beings. Jesus came to live among us as the incarnate Word of God… here to facilitate the kind of spiritual transformation that stone tablets could not. 

And yet, what happened? After three years of wandering the Galilean countryside, healing, preaching, feeding the hungry, raising the dead, and bringing hope to the hopeless, Jesus was arrested and executed for his efforts. He was pronounced guilty of rebellion by Rome and heresy by the Jewish religious leaders. 

In other words, his mission failed. 

It failed, that is, until the redeeming, restoring, overwhelming power of God stepped in and turned that apparent failure into a fresh new beginning for human history. 

And as the Genesis Creation story reminds us, from chaos, God made a universe.

From dust God made us.

So we should remember that from the ashes of failure, God can build something new, unexpected, fresh, and life-giving. 

In a very real sense then, the broken pieces of today’s failure just might be the strange building blocks God is looking for to build something new in your life. 

So, keep trying. Keep failing. Keep giving God new tools to work with.

Abundant blessings; 

15
Oct
20

Where the Nutrients Are

A couple of years ago, I was driving from Point A to Point B, listening to the radio. As is usually the case, my car radio was tuned to the local National Public Radio (NPR) affiliate.

By Jeremy Nelson – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=70921545

The host of the show was interviewing a young musician named Josiah Wise who performs under the name, serpentwithfeet. His musical style is described as “neo-soul,” whatever that means. (As an aside, that is one of the reasons I enjoy listening to NPR so much; they put me in touch with people I might never seek out on my own.)

As Mr. Wise told his story, he talked about his upbringing in the church, and his early interest in classical music. Many of his friends told him that he had an opera-quality voice and should pursue music education at the conservatory.

The point in the interview when my ears really perked up was when Wise talked about applying to multiple conservatories and receiving rejection after rejection. 

Those rejections ultimately led him to exploring his own unique musical style and put him on the path to what has now become a very successful musical career. [In the interest of full disclosure, I have not heard Wise perform. But he has been on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, so he’s clearly no slouch.]

When asked how he felt as he was hearing “NO” after “NO” after “NO,” in response to his applications, Wise (appropriately named, as it turns out) said this, “I learned to love NO. Because NO is where the nutrients are.”

Take a minute with that. Let it percolate. Connect it with your own experience.

Think back on the times in your life when you have resolutely pointed yourself in a particular direction – full of vinegar and conviction – and then run smack-dab into a brick wall of NO!

What did you do? How did it affect you?

In my case, one of the biggest “NO’s” I ever received came in the form of the failure of the small advertising and public relations firm I had started. I never could find the sweet spot between actually DOING the business and going out and FINDING NEW business. And so, after five years, I had to face the facts and shut the doors. 

That gigantic NO then led me to God’s YES of seminary and a life in ministry.

When we dive into it, we find that the Bible is chock full of stories of God’s people encountering life-shattering NO’s: the Great Flood, the fall of the Tower of Babel, the enslavement of the Israelites, droughts, plagues of locusts, suffering, disease, pestilence, crucifixion, and death. 

And as we see in each of those stories, each of those NO’s produced a rich field of nutrients that nourished astounding New Beginnings.

A new world… a new people… a new land… a new destiny.

But I have to admit… I am not sure I have EVER heard a “NO” in my life, smiled, and thought, “YUM! More nutrients!” I still regularly catch myself wanting MY plans to succeed… wanting MY blueprint of the future to triumph.

Someday I hope to be as wise as a serpentwithfeet… finding nourishment in the NO. 

Until then, I guess I will just keep listening and learning.

Abundant blessings;

21
Apr
20

Someone to believe

“Since you are precious and honored in my sight, and because I love you, I will give people in exchange for you, nations in exchange for your life.”
Isaiah 43:4, NRSV

George MarshallIf you know the name George Catlett Marshall, you know him as the general who led the U.S. Army through World War II, or as the man who served as the U.S. Secretary of State, or as the man who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1953, in honor his plan to rebuild Europe following the devastation of that war.

You may not, however, know him as a poor student whose academic ineptitude was a source of great shame to his father and older brother. As Marshall wrote in his autobiography, “The truth is, I was not even a poor student. I was simply not a student, and my academic record was a sad affair.”[1]

Marshall had his sights set on following in his older brother’s footsteps and attending VMI – the prestigious Virginia Military Academy. But his heart was broken one day when he overheard his brother Stuart talking to their mother. He was begging her not to let George go to VMI. Marshall wrote his brother did not want him to attend VMI because, “… he thought I would disgrace the family name.”[2]

So how does that happen? How does anyone make the journey from hopeless academic underachiever to Nobel Prize winning diplomat in the course of a single lifetime?

Marshall wrote that one of the things that proved to be the key in turning his life around was the extreme nature of his brother’s negative attitude. It drove him not only to prove his brother wrong, but also to OUTDO his brother’s performance at VMI.

Some of us are wired similarly. We hear aspersions being cast on our ability or character and we respond with a defiant, “I’ll show YOU!” surging on to greatness. Others among us might hear those attacks and cave in, whimpering, “You know, they’re right. I really am a schmuck.”

But Marshall had something else going for him. Although his father was disappointed and embarrassed by George, his mother, “… rejoiced in him, offering unconditional love and support.”[3] She even sold the last of her family’s property – including a lot she had hoped to eventually build a house on – to raise the necessary money for Marshall to attend college.

How about you? Do you have someone like that in your corner? Someone willing to tell you how much they love and believe in you? Someone who will go to extreme lengths to show you just how much you mean to them, even when you continue to fall short and miss the mark?

Before you hasten to say “NO,” go back and re-read the Bible verse at the top of the page. These words were originally spoken by the prophet Isaiah and were intended to convey the heart of God. They were addressed to the Israelites living in Babylonian exile to help them understand – even though their future appeared bleak and hopeless – that their Creator considered them precious and valuable.

George Marshall’s mother gave up a valuable piece of real estate to ensure her son’s future. In this passage, God says he will give up NATIONS for you.

We are in the middle of a time that has become incredibly difficult for many people. You may know people who have lost jobs because of this virus. You may know people who have become sick or even some who have died. As the days of isolation stretch into weeks and months, it is hard to see any light on the horizon.

Even on the bright days a cloud seems to have parked itself permanently overhead.

Today, however, we should all stop and take a moment to remember this unchangeable fact; we each have a very powerful SOMEONE in our corner who believes in us. We have someone who will go to outrageous lengths to give us a future with hope.

That SOMEONE loves you more than you will ever know.

 

Abundant blessings;

[1] The Road to Character, by David Brooks. Random House, New York. 2015. Page 106

2 Ibid, p. 107




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