Two weeks ago, I wrote the following: ” Failure is always inevitable for a successful life.”
When I first penned this conviction, I wondered if it would ring true for you. Have you ever felt the same way?
Failure Example #1: When I was about 8 years old, my sisters and I spent the summer at my grandparent’s modest home in Wisconsin. One day, playing at the end of a shallow canal, I noticed crayfish crawling along the muddy bottom. Many times I had watched my older sisters catch these beautiful, rust-colored creatures with their bulging eyes and claws held wide open. On this particular bright, sunny day, I thrust my hand into the cool, still water and made a grab for the largest one. Brave one moment and cowardly the next, I yanked my hand out of the water with a crawfish dangling firmly from the index finger of my left hand. With adrenaline pumping and heart pounding, I shook my hand violently, and the tiny lobster landed on the sandy shore. As it sat there stunned, I seized the empty coffee can next to me and threw it at the terrifying monster. Suddenly, its shell split open and blue blood mixed with yellow slime oozed out. Just as quickly as it had coursed through my veins, my fear transformed into remorse. My pumping heart stopped: I had killed a living creature.
The lesson: Fear is often the catalyst to violence.
Failure Example #2: As a Sophmore in high school, I wrote a science fiction piece for my Creative Writing class. Looking forward to my teacher’s feedback, my jaw dropped open as I read the notation at the top of my paper: “Grade: F. See me after class.”
Waiting for my classmates to slowly filter out of the room, I approached him – paper quivering in my outstretched hand. My brain scrambled to make sense of the words that tumbled out of his mouth. Finally, I heard “plagiarized.” I protested and asked him to tell me what story I had copied.
“I don’t know, but you could have not come up with this story on your own,” he replied with unfounded certainty.
He went on to tell me in great detail his perception of me. I was quiet and did not participate in class. My previous assignments were uninspired. As a result, he decided that I could not have created the story on my own because the paper I submitted was imaginative and beyond anything I could have written. Thus, he concluded because I had plagiarized, I deserved the failing grade.
Hot tears welling up, I left the room and called my mother. She had been in the kitchen when I had written the piece at the table, and she offered to come to school to give witness. Not wanting to bring any further attention to myself, I refused her help. Failing to pursue the matter with the school office left me with no recourse at the end of the school term: that one undeserved, unfair, prejudicial, failing grade impacted my final grade in the class.
The lesson: Perception is often incorrect. People are capable of more than you think.
Failure Example #3: As I grew older, I became concerned about performance – doing a good job, being a good parent, or having a good appearance. Sadly, my focus on performance was not confined to me, but I applied the same strict benchmark of achievement to others. Even though I cared about people and what they were facing, I secretly sat in judgment of the decisions they made. My previous lesson caused me to swing too far in the other direction. I believed that anyone could do anything if they tried hard enough.
During my clinical rotation as a nursing student, I encountered patients that compromised their health with continuing questionable behaviors. One experience was the time I spent caring for a middle-aged man who had a permanent trachea as the result of throat cancer. The first time I met him, we sat in the Family Room at the end of the corridor. As I reviewed his medical history with him, he enjoyed smoking a cigarette via the trachea opening.
When I went home that night and reviewed my day, I found an unsuppressible anger welling up inside me. My young husband had died just six short months earlier from cancer. How could Mr. Patient X continue to smoke? He had throat cancer, and he continues to smoke! Why doesn’t he just quit?
Because it was easy for me to live a disciplined life, I expected everyone to be able to do the same. I lacked compassion for those who had a difficult time making changes when it came to life-choice decisions. When I decided to quit smoking, I quit. No struggle; no backsliding. As I encountered people who tried but failed to quit smoking, I failed to empathize. I even failed to realize that I failed to empathize.
The lesson: Compassion is more important than perfection.
“I have failed over and over again in my life and that is why I succeed.”
I know that I will continue to fail for it is the way of life. Often, failures are the main theme of our stories. They are the interlocking threads that make up the fabric of our life. In many ways, our failures serve us better than our successes.
Failures are destabilizing, and the resulting disequilibrium demands attention. Maybe that’s the point: We learn from our failures. They teach us valuable lessons. To fear failure is to fear life.
Welcome failures. They are the stepping stones to your destiny.
We don’t seem them much anymore in this era of digital time, sand clocks. As a young woman, I bought one on a whim. It wasn’t one of those big hour clocks that you see in movies. (Remember the one in The Wizard of Oz?) Mine was a minute timer. A simple, tiny, glass and wood device meting out seconds with a stream of white sand. Fascinated, I turned over the timer and would watch the flow. And, even though I knew that it poured at the same speed, it seemed as if time passed more quickly the closer the top portion was nearing the end. Then, I would turn the timer upside down and start the flow all over again. Time was endless.
I feel as if my life has become one of those sand clocks. Time being measured out – with most of my sand now sitting in the bottom half. Each grain representing days spent carelessly without a thought about the stream, about the passing. Sometimes I even wished time would hurry along. Anxious for the future to arrive. It’s different now.
As I lie in bed – those early mornings that are still dark – I wonder if it really is morning or if I have entered some other time continuum. For in those moments, I can feel time standing before me, not still, but shifting. I can hear it pouring out, and I wonder how it happened so quickly. No longer carefree, I caress my clock in my hands and watch time shifting from space to space, moving faster now.
Pushing against gravity, I struggle to sit up and to take hold of what time is left. Each grain is precious. If only I could scoop up some time and put it back in the top half, or turn it over just like I did with the minute timer. Even to have another minute added to my stream. But, I can’t.
There is no stopping the flow. Days slipped into days, months into months, and years into years. Until, finally, each hour stands alone. Time is no longer measured. It is treasured.
It all started simply enough. Jasper wrote a post (An Amazing Choice) about a young man, Marshall, with cerebral palsy. As typical for him, Jasper piece was insightful and thought-provoking. At the end of the piece, Jasper offered his readers the opportunity to contribute to his post.
As someone who has made certain discoveries and choices with how to live with a chronic illness, much of what Marshall had to say vibrated within me. So, I made the following comment:
“Jasper, thank you for sharing this post. Just recently, I have been formulating a concept that there is the Gift of Suffering. In its most basic form, the idea is that our suffering adds to our spiritual maturity. As we continue to add to our faith, we grow in our relationship with Christ. Once we trust God with our lives (and, we, who are disabled, know the meaning of this), we can move forward in our appreciation of God’s plan for us. One gift: tribulation develops patience; and patience, character (maturity). Another gift of suffering: we can then comfort others with the comfort that we received from Christ.”
Having the opinion that there can exist such a thing as a Gift of Suffering does not dimish the hardship that suffering brings with it. Do not misunderstand me, please. suffering is not a preferred way of life, but it can change us into more compassionate, patient, thoughtful, kind, loving, enthusiast, insightful, creative, and respectful people. There are other ways that these attributes can be added to our lives, but disabilities have a way of hurrying along the process.
Again, do not misunderstand me, please. I am not saying that if you have a chronic illness, you will automatically join the club of those who have found the secret of being content with their situation. It is a choice – always and daily. Jasper made that choice.
In a more recent post, he wrote:
“I was in awe when I realized how my experience and gradual understanding of the suffering surrounding my ABI reflected the comment you made a few months ago. I would reflect on your comment at times and anticipate a blog post in which you had developed your thoughts further. Talk about mutual inspiration and support. . .”
To read more of what Jasper shared, please click on The Gift of Suffering
An essential concept in design theory is the use of negative space: the area around and in between the subject matter. Basically, the idea is that what you leave out is as important as what you put in. For example, if I decided to paint a landscape, the spaces of sky and the deep shadows help support the shape of the trees. Even though the object (the positive space) is what people tend to notice, the negative space is what keeps the eye moving through and around the painting. The cooperation between the positive and negative spaces make the painting continually engaging.
The same can be said of the mind.
This past month, I found myself on an unexpected journey of fascinating concepts about the fundamentals of my beliefs. As I struggled to examine my mindset about God, love, humility, relationships and suffering, I become acutely aware that I needed to challenge my every thought. My mind moved through negative space where I struggled to write for I could not articulate the inner quest. What I held as foundational was as important as what I did not hold as foundational. The question What is left out? kept my mind engaged. As I transitioned from being the object to being the space around the object, I found myself on the precipice of reorientation of assumptions and beliefs.
Those negative spaces in my mind helped to form positive thoughts:
Let us begin to experience the world through our neighbor’s eyes; let their sorrows be our sorrows and their joys our joys.
Not everything is worth saying, much less repeating. In fact, we should probably spend a lot more time thinking before we let words tumble from our tongue.
A few days ago, I read another FaceBook rant. Yes, I confess, I try to read everyone’s post. It is a character flaw of mine. Somewhere along the way, I developed the belief that if it is worth putting down on paper, then it must have some value, some weight. After all, it takes initiative to articulate concepts. Big mistake on my part.
At one point, there was an effort to writing. Grammar, sentence structure, word choice, spelling – all the old rules of written communication. While I will acknowledge that there are new ways of communicating and that rules do morph to reflect current trends, I still am stuck on the idea that giving life to words should mean something – something of value.
Instead, we have devolved into a multicultural, international mess of inarticulate, hotheaded, screaming mass. In this tumultuous time of insanity, an eruption of control grabbing is spewing acidic hate around the globe. Chants of peace and love have been married to war and hate. Oh, and yes, we (whomever that might be), we are right.
What does all of this have to do with me, a handicapped woman trying to thrive in her Midwestern town? Everything. There are people struggling each day to “cope” with pain, disease, and despair. All the while, physically healthy people are wasting their time – and mine – finding ways to bash or belittle another person.
So, before, you write another rant about some topic that happened to fall into your mind, take a moment to think.
Wha’d ya say that was worth my time?
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Phil. 4:8
(Photo courtesy of DeviantArt.com)
I was standing at the very edge of a pool – the kind used in ancient days – a healing pool. Suddenly, children were walking toward me. Each one reaching out a hand for me to pull them out of the water. They ranged in age from 2 years to 18 years old. As I grabbed them, they stepped aside and stood behind me. No one spoke – not even me.
With the last one lifted out of the water, her hand in mine, I turned to survey the sea of children. The older ones held little ones in their arms.
We all understood that each one was responsible for the other. But, I knew that ultimately I was to care for all of them. Somehow, I needed to find a safe haven. They needed food and clothes and a place to stay. How can I feed all of them? I wondered. There must be at least a hundred children.
Flowing together, I lead the river of lives as we streamed down the crowded streets. Even now, we made no sound. Not knowing where to go, I wandered – each step with the weight of a hundred souls. As if it were the line from a psalm, the words How can I feed them? kept cycling in my mind.
Winding our way through unknown streets, I became disoriented, but the children continued to follow me unheeded. Where will these children be safe? I can’t take care of them. Look at how the older ones care for the younger ones. What am I going to do?
We came to a clearing – a piazza akin to the kind in Rome. At the far end stood a Cathedral. I headed there. Certainly, they will help me. As I drew closer, the lines across my brow disappeared, and I smiled at the children nearest me. I nodded my head in the direction in which we were headed, for an orphanage stood 300 yards away.
Nuns dressed in the traditional habits worn in the 1960s or earlier stood in the courtyard of the orphanage. Brushing dirt from her skirt as if the swiping action of her hand could remove the stains from a garment that had been worn beyond its useful years, one of the nuns approached me. Her clear, brown eyes scanned the children and came to rest on me.
“Good afternoon,” she said with a voice as pure and clear as her eyes.
“Hello,” I replied – hoping that my panic was not too evident to the children. “It seems as if I need some help. We need food and a place to stay. Actually, the children need food and a place to stay. I am not asking that you care for me, also.”
Tears flooded her eyes. “We have no food, and we are at full capacity – beyond full. There is no room for more.”
“I understand.” As I reached out my hand in farewell, she closed the short distance between us and hugged me. The embrace felt natural as if she were my sister, and I hugged her in return. Then, I pulled back and looked once more into her eyes. She understood, also. No words were necessary.
Turning away from the orphanage, I noticed the faces of the children. They calmly stood before me, waiting to follow. They understood, too. They always had.
“We have not found home, yet. Let’s continue onward,” I called out to them.
They said nothing in return. Their silence was a comfort to me. It was at that moment that I knew that my search was over. There was no other place for them; they were my children. Hadn’t I pulled them out of the healing pool?