What Linus Taught Me About Life After Failure

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Linus: You weren’t in school today, Charlie Brown. All the kids missed you.

Charlie Brown: I’m never going to school again as long as I live.

Linus: We had a ball game after school.

Charlie Brown: I don’t care. I’m never going to play ball either. I’m never going to do anything again.

Linus: Well, I can understand how you feel. You worked hard, studying for the spelling bee, and I suppose you feel you let everyone down, and you made a fool out of yourself and everything. But did you notice something, Charlie Brown?

Charlie: What’s that?

Linus: The world didn’t come to an end.

(From A Boy Named Charlie Brown)

It was a Wednesday night. I can’t even remember what the topic was, but in the middle of my sermon, I was mentioning toxic beliefs we can have driving our lives. One of the examples I gave off-hand just happened to be the pithy saying my church used for their capital campaign slogan (think YOLO). Whoops. When words came out of my mouth, I wanted to grab them out of the air and stuff them back in.

As soon as the service was over, I went to my office and crawled under the desk. Literally. Here I was, a grown woman, hiding under my desk thinking that whatever I’d just said was the end of my ministerial career. I swore that I’d never come out from under that desk, never ever show my face at church again.

…But I had to go back the next day. I sheepishly walked into work on Thursday, steeling myself for the conversations to follow, but nothing happened. Coffee brewed. The copier hummed. Deliveries came. A steady stream of people walked in and out of the office and none of them were there to remind me of the night before. When I finally got the courage to talk to the senior pastor, he had nothing but encouragement about how well I’d done. He didn’t even notice.

I tend to specialize in particularly embarrassing mistakes, ones with a microphone attached, in front of a crowd, recorded for the internet to hear for all time. (Yay! /s) The above evening wasn’t the first time I said or did something embarrassing and certainly wasn’t the last. Maybe that’s why I related to Charlie Brown refusing to get out of bed after losing the spelling bee in front of a lot of people. It felt like the world ended, but after Linus encouraged him to get up and get on with living, Charlie saw that life went on as before, right down to Lucy with that vexing football.

Common questions I hear people asking have to do with failure. “What if I try this and it doesn’t work?” “What if I put myself out there and no one responds?” “What if I make a fool out of myself?” Failure is so powerful that even its possibility is enough to stop us in our tracks.

Perhaps the most powerful tool for bouncing back from a mistake is to understand how God sees us. One passage that is particularly meaningful for me is Psalm 103, where David gives us a glimpse of who we are in God’s eyes:

He does not punish us for all our sins;
he does not deal harshly with us, as we deserve.
For his unfailing love toward those who fear him
is as great as the height of the heavens above the earth.
He has removed our sins as far from us
as the east is from the west.
The Lord is like a father to his children,
tender and compassionate to those who fear him. (Psalm 103: 10-13)

Even in our sins, the wrongs we actively choose, the Lord offers forgiveness and restoration. It says he removes them from us as far as the east is from the west. When God forgives us, those sins are gone forever. That’s how God treats the things we choose to do. Of course he can redeem the mistakes we make, too! Because of Jesus, failure isn’t fatal; in fact, it’s usually the first verse in a song of redemption.

When we understand and absorb this knowledge, it gives us a safe place to land when we feel beyond lovable, unforgivable, irredeemable. It gives us the courage to get up again and realize that the world didn’t end. There’s freedom in knowing that you are loved, whether you feel lovable. You can be forgiven, even if you don’t think you deserve it. The same mighty hand and outstretched arm can still reach out, pick you up again, and start a new chapter in your life.

As we start a new week, my prayer is that you would understand the freedom that can only be found in Jesus. May you walk confidently, knowing you are redeemable, even from the most cringe-worthy, heartbreaking moments.

One Small Thing Today to Shape Tomorrow

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I recently took family photos, which is always quite an endeavor: choosing sort-of matching outfits, making sure they’re pressed and ready to go, making sure the kids are clean-ish, making sure I’m clean-ish, and getting out the door on time! It’s always one of the most stressful things I inflict upon myself. As I took my (what feels like) annual shower in preparation for this portrait session, I was bemoaning my persistent baby weight to myself. I thought, “I’m not even close to where I want to be!”

As soon as those words popped into my head, another though followed, “…But I’m drinking milk.” What?! It’s a line from a commercial I haven’t seen in decades (P.S. it’s amazing what we remember sometimes). When I was younger, there was a series of milk commercials where kids who were scrawny and small talking to members of the opposite sex, a football coach, or even themselves in a mirror. They’d always say, “You look at me and see this, but I’m drinking milk. One day I’ll look like this.” Suddenly you’d see a picture of them in a few years. They’d be taller, stronger, and better looking.

As I readied myself for family picture day, thinking about what I wish were different, that line was an important reminder. I’m focused on where I am now, but a better focus is on where the choices I make today will take me in a year, five years, ten years. Change takes time. Instagram stories of before and after shots tell us it’s…well, instant. But that’s a lie. Change is made up of a thousand different choices that culminate in an “after.”

This is true for so many different kinds of endeavors. A rewarding career is typically built through day after day of persevering through not-so-great positions and bosses. A deep spiritual life is fashioned in countless mornings of time with God in his word and silently uttered prayers. Loving relationships are built through shared life experiences and meaningful conversations. Books are written one paragraph at a time. A 401K is built one deposit at a time. So many things happen painfully slowly, un-Instagram-worthy moments at a time.

As long as I focus on where I am and how far it is from where I wish I were, it’s overwhelming. I can easily fall into the trap of thinking this is where I will stay. Instead, when I focus on the steps I can take (have taken) today, I am encouraged that I’m on my way.

I’ve always assumed that Paul was only focused on running quickly when he said, “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it.” However, he goes on to say, “Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air.” (1 Corinthians 9:24-27). Paul is talking about living with focus and purpose, knowing where you’re going and moving in that direction.

Later, as Paul is reflecting on his life, he says, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful” (2 Timothy 4:7). Remaining faithful was the point. Of course, Paul isn’t focused on losing weight, building his 401K, or any other endeavor focused on this world, but on doing the work to which Jesus called him, (preaching the Gospel). He knew that endeavor is far more important than any of the other good things that can consume our attention. 

What is your “drinking milk” in this season? What one small thing can you do today to move forward?

My prayer for you today is for perseverance. May you walk forward one step today in both the good things that will make this life better and the God things that affect the next. As you move towards the future, may it be intentional and prepare you for tomorrow’s steps.

Let Me Tell You A Story

Many months back, a friend came over to my house for a playdate. As she was packing up to leave, I admired her new-to-her car. She was expecting twins at the time and had needed a new car because of car seats, but couldn’t easily afford one. Someone she knew sold her a great car for its trade-in value. It was a huge blessing! I thought of my husband’s dying car, my own baby on the way, and decided that I needed to begin praying that God was provide in the same way he had for my friend.

So I prayed.

And prayed.

And prayed.

Nothing.

Well, my husband’s car actually did end up dying, so the situation became more pronounced. I enlisted my life group to pray, too. I asked friends to pray alongside of me. Sharing a car wouldn’t work for long.

So we prayed.

And prayed.

And prayed.

Nothing.

Last spring, we discovered that my newly-diagnosed autistic son would have to start preschool, speech therapy, and social learning therapy, which meant many weekly appointments during work hours. Sharing a car was no longer an option. At this point, we began to double down our efforts as we prayed and scoured car websites daily.

So we prayed.

And searched.

And asked people we knew.

And test drove.

Still nothing.

One day, I was just finishing up a visit with friends when one handed me an envelope. I asked with a smile, “What’s this?” She told me it was from her sister. Her sister? I was surprised because I’ve only met her sister a few times and barely knew her. Inside I found a note.

letter

“It’s my hope that this small token of God’s incredible love and generosity will give some help to your car search! I feel joy & excitement as I write this check, and I pray that God encourages your hearts with it. We are all his family.”

As I read, tears started to well up in my eyes, but it wasn’t until I looked at the check enclosed that I was speechless. It was a lot.

After months of praying and waiting for God to do what he did for my friend, he worked in a completely different way. He worked in an extravagant, unexpected, are-you-kidding-me kind of way. Here I am, months later, still shocked as I look back on that moment. I’ve had time to grapple with the realization that I will never be able to predict just how God will move in my life, but can be certain that he will, he is.

When I think about the things that worry me right now, I am called to remember. I remember my friend’s story of how God provided for her family (and many others like it). I remember that day when someone prayerfully handed me a check, not knowing what exactly for*, but in obedience to God’s movement in her spirit. I remember Jeremiah looking around at his ravaged home and still declaring in Lamentations 3:22-24

“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
 they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
 ‘The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul,
‘therefore I will hope in him.’”

I am called to remember the Lord who is the same yesterday, today, and forever and yet continues to work in new ways. Following Jesus will frequently surprise me. I can’t predict it, negotiate it, or orchestrate it, much as I try.

I am also called to remember that he is my portion; my hope is in him, not in answered prayers or having the life I believe I need or deserve. Honestly, I can’t be assured that every prayer will be answered in the way I want, and even when they are, it certainly won’t be in my timing. What I can be assured of is that God is powerful beyond measure and that he is good. His steadfast love never ceases. He has new mercies for today, no matter what the day brings (or doesn’t bring).

May we have eyes to see his mercies today.

 

* I should note here that the amount she gave us didn’t even cover our car. It actually covered my son’s preschool tuition for the year, which wasn’t the prayer she intended to answer (but the one God did).

Blessing the Night

Day 2: BLESSING THE NIGHT

DARE: Go outside and count 100 stars. Then make an audacious wish on the brightest star.

I wrapped a wool poncho around my worn pajamas and stepped out onto my porch. The blustery night air cut through the seams of my clothes. “Let’s get this over with quickly,” I thought with a shiver. I looked up to count 100 stars. Nothing. The night sky was hidden by a thick blanket of clouds. My eyes strained for any faint glimmer of light. Still nothing.

I stood in the dark, aware of the cold, the vulnerability in the night, and slowly counted to 100, stars or no stars. I realized that I was counting memories of stars. I’ve looked up thousands of time and have seen stars. I knew they were there, even if I couldn’t see them on this particular night. It struck me that this is the essence of hope: standing in the darkness and cold and being able to count on the light that you can no longer see from your vantage point.

Just before Jesus was betrayed, he gave his disciples one last encouraging message. He knew life would be difficult for them (to say the least!) as they watched him betrayed and crucified and in the years to come. He left them with one important promise, “No, I will not abandon you as orphans—I will come to you. Soon the world will no longer see me, but you will see me. Since I live, you also will live” (John 14:18-19). He told them, “It will look like I’m gone, but I’m there. It will feel like I’ve abandoned you, but I won’t.”

Standing in the darkness reminded me that I even when I lose sight of the light, it still shines brightly. My audacious wish is to be a person of hope who relies not on what I see before me, but on the unchanging, eternal God who promised to be with me in every season. Jesus is there when I’m full of warm fuzzies and in the dark night of the soul. May I continue to store up truth in my heart as I read the Bible and practice remembering answered prayers, divine appointments, and countless blessings so that I will grow in my ability to see Jesus’ faithful presence in spite of clouds, storms, and darkness.

Swell Seasons

[Note: A few months back, after the MOPS year had ended, I found the 28 day challenge MOPS gave last year with their welcome packet. The next couple of posts are responses I wrote to some of those challenges.]

TRUTH: In what ways do you feel out of control in your life?

DARE: Jump into some water. Dip in a pool, swim in a lake, wade in a river. Let your skin touch water that has been coursing over the earth since the beginning of time.

What feels out of control? My kids. I knew they’d have challenges and needs (everyone does), but I hoped it wouldn’t be all at once. This season has been especially hard between my son’s barrage of assessments to determine whether he has a speech delay (or something more pervasive) and my daughter’s rare & unexplained severe tooth decay. I’m worried about my kiddos and there’s nothing I can do at this point but pray for wisdom and wait for the experts to do what they’re trained to do. In fact, even as I fretfully pray, I can hear the Holy Spirit urging me to wait.

With the urge to wait in mind, I turned to the dare: wade in a river. I thought of Naaman (from 2 Kings 5), who had leprosy and wanted to be healed. The prophet Elisha told him that if he washed in the Jordan River seven times that he would be made clean. Naaman was angry because this advice it was simple, too simple. He expected theatrics, something more than “Wash and be clean.” It was only when his servants reminded Naaman that he would have done some something more difficult, anything really, had Elisha commanded it, that Naaman washed in the river. He was healed.

As I walked down to the rain-swollen creek behind my house, I realized that this journey was more difficult than it first appeared. Once I got down to bank, it was muddier and harder to navigate than I’d imagined. Dipping my toes in the water took climbing on a fallen tree and straining my pointed toes to reach the water. I felt foolish. To make matters worse, there was no dramatic epiphany, just icy mountain water between my toes.

I think I want a more dramatic answer than “wait”. It seems too simple, but has proven more difficult than I imagined. I believe the water wasn’t magic for Naaman, just as it wasn’t for me. The miracle came from the Lord. Naaman was healed because the Lord healed him. All Naaman did was step into the water because that’s what the Lord asked.

So I step into the wait because that’s what he’s asking me to do.

Full Circle

A week or so ago, I was starting a load of laundry when the baskets full of clean, waiting-to-be-put-away laundry that I’d been walking around for a few days caught my eye. My son was building something out of Mega Blocks nearby and my daughter was concentrating at the floor near my feet, trying to pick up a single pine needle from the floor to put into her mouth. Surveying this scene, it hit me that my life had come full circle.

In the years after I graduated college, before I started working in ministry, I spent a season cleaning houses for some of the ladies in my church. Many mornings in each home began just like the moment in my hallway that morning: mounds of clothes to put away, piles of toys to sort, and 10,000 other tasks begging for attention alongside very active and darling children

It was a surreal season of feeling like I was going nowhere [I got a college degree and the accompanying student loans to clean houses?!?], but it was also kind of fun. I’d come to clean and end up deep in conversation about life, marriage and kids, and whatever else, over lunch or a cup of tea (after cleaning and before more cleaning). Those women became dear friends and trusted mentors.  Looking back, I can see how it left an indelible mark on my spiritual walk.

I didn’t know it at the time, but my experience mirrored Paul’s command to Titus,

As for you, Titus, promote the kind of living that reflects wholesome teaching…Similarly, teach the older women to live in a way that honors God. They must not slander others or be heavy drinkers. Instead, they should teach others what is good. These older women must train the younger women to love their husbands and their children, to live wisely and be pure, to work in their homes, to do good, and to be submissive to their husbands. Then they will not bring shame on the word of God. (Titus 2:1,3-5)

When Paul commands older women to teach younger women, it’s in the context of teaching doctrine. To Paul, doctrine (beliefs) and actions were inseparable. You could demonstrate how solid your beliefs were by building your life around those principles. He knew that when people with more life experience shared their lives with those younger than them, that it would help the young women and men to navigate different seasons of their lives and persevere in the faith.

That kind of faith walk was exactly what I was privy to as I cleaned houses. Women older than me, further along in their spiritual journeys, were showing me what faith looked like in everyday life, in times of joy and sorrow, in new babies, layoffs, and navigating countless family decisions, conflicts, and challenges. It was discipleship and it was a gift. Even years later, I can see how it impacts my marriage and parenting.

Now that I realize that I’ve come around to be in the same stage of life that my former mentors were, I have to ask myself, who am I pouring into? Yes, Matt and I lead a life group, but this is deeper. Who is coming into my home before it’s polished and presentable? Who is encountering me at the moment I am struggling with difficult news to see my honest reaction and pray alongside of me? Who is watching me as I raise my kids? It’s time to be intentional.

The irony is that I don’t feel prepared to help other younger women grow in their faith. I’m sure the moms I worked for didn’t feel fully prepared either. We just fell into (completely God-ordained) mentoring relationships years ago. The beauty of that is that Jesus used them in my life right where they were, not even having to leave their houses. God really can work through our lives right were we are, even if we think we need a program or formal training. All he needs are people willing to follow him.

As I pray about what my next steps are, I challenge you to do the same. If you are strong in your faith, find people to whom you can model mature faith. If you realize you still have room to grow (hint: this is everyone), seek out others who can walk in front of or alongside of you, spurring you on in your faith.

May each of us live lives that are built upon the solid foundation of Jesus, so that other will know his goodness. Ultimately, may our eyes be opened to the opportunities right in front of us for his glory.

Running My Race

I finally had the opportunity to run in a 5k race at Disneyland last week, one thing that has been on my Disneyland bucket list for ages. I’m not new to running, but this being my first race ever made Paul’s repeated use of this metaphor in the Bible click into place like never before. Honestly, even as I ran, I was writing this post in my head. I learned a lot about myself during this race.

People have asked me my thoughts about this race and I’ve distilled them down to 3.

1. Running through Disneyland still feels like running. I don’t know what I was expecting. Perhaps the fun diversions would take my mind off my tired feet.[Lesson learned: don’t walk around Disneyland for 3 days before getting up to run 3 miles at 5:30am]. I honestly thought that 3 miles wouldn’t feel like 3 miles in Disneyland. It totally did. But as I looked around at all the runners who arrived at the finish line before me, I realized that even the seasoned runners who finished the race in 20 minutes or so still worked hard. Running a race is work that requires energy to persevere, even when you’ve done it many times before.

On a spiritual level, I realized that running the race Jesus sets before us is hard work. Good seasons still have bad days. Good runners still have bad races. I shouldn’t be surprised that continuing to put one foot in front of the other will take all I have (and more) at points. Faith is a long road and there is nothing that can distract us from that fact during difficult times. Races are tiring and require training. Which leads me to my next point…

2. The better I train, the more I will enjoy the course. There were fun diversions on the course, to be fair. They had sound effects and characters you could stop to take pictures with along the way. Even running alongside people with creative costumes was interesting (I ran alongside someone dressed as Darth Vader riding Dumbo the last two miles). Just the simple fact of running through places that I’ve walked through dozens of times was cool. But I, like so many others, was so tired that I didn’t stop to enjoy what was around me. Stopping was for those who had time and energy to spare (and who knew they could/would start back up again after a break).

Spiritually speaking, I’ve realized that people who are healthy and growing as Jesus’ disciples thrive even when the pressure is intense. They can praise God in the face of cancer, job loss & financial uncertainty, or difficult seasons with their kids. They can drink in the small blessings around them even with a long road ahead because they know that Jesus is still at work in their lives. God’s promises are embedded in their hearts, so they can recognize him when he shows up. As I train to learn who God is and live as he calls me to live, I will enjoy this faith walk all the more.

3. I hated my final time, but I finished the race. Someone asked whether I was the last person to cross the finish line. That question gave me immediate clarity that it didn’t matter, since the last person over the finish line got the same medal as the first. [For the record, I wasn’t last]. Disney didn’t even post our final times and standings afterwards for this race. It was just for the sake of running.

Such is true for our spiritual walk. We train so that we can go the distance, but in the end, finishing the race is far more important than being first. Glory awaits all of those who cross the finish line saying, “I have finished the race. I have kept the faith.”

Would I run again? Absolutely! I now have a better sense of how to train and what to expect on race day, so I know the it will be more enjoyable next time. Plus, I want to beat my time!

I hope you, too, will continue to press on in your faith walk. May you train hard, so that you might enjoy the course set before you every day. May you go the distance, so that you will enter into the presence of Jesus and hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”