Wednesday, November 29, 2017

The Year of Failure


“I’m tempted to declare 2017, The Year of Failure.” 

This is what I messaged to a friend minutes after opening a long-awaited email informing me I was no longer in the running for a coveted job.  My emotions were high; melodrama rose with ease. Looking back over the year, I identified a series of significant failures that lined up month after month in a neat and tidy row: 

• the book proposal and draft I spent months writing and was rejected.

• the library job I thought would be a good long-term fit, but wasn’t.

• the chaplaincy job I spent two months applying to and interviewing for and didn’t get.

The longer and harder I looked, the more failures I found.  Each failure represented energy spent without any easily identifiable reward; each failure was followed by a significant period of disorientation.  Why not chalk it all up as a miserable, frustrating disappointment?

Slapping a label on the entire year offered a tempting satisfaction, and the word ‘failure’ simmered with an oddly appealing blend of self-pity and shame. 

I’m not accustomed to failure. 

Partly because I’m amazing (wink wink), but mostly because I avoid significant risk like the plague.  If you only ever attempt what you know you can accomplish, failure is rarely an issue.  But, then again, neither are surprising successes or the experience of being comforted and carried by those who love you anyway after a difficult fall from glory. 

My friend replied, “Oh, I’m sorry.  That is so hard.”

She didn’t push back.  Her response left space for me to move around a bit, and I quickly realized other names might apply to this year as well.  Like, The Year of Risk-Taking, for one.   Opening myself to the possibility that other labels might just as easily apply helped me identify my real struggle:  I wanted to understand what had happened and to know whether my energies had been misdirected.  If I could figure those things out, then maybe I could make 2018 The Year that I Finally Do Everything Right (or something like that, only with a little more finesse).

I wonder whether, in all of this, it might be better in the long run (although, perhaps more intensely uncomfortable) to just say, “I don’t know what happened or why things happened as they did, but I’m committed to continuing to show up, to ask the hard questions, to look and lean and leap.” 

Still, sometimes, I feel that label – Year of Failure – hovering like a shadow in the periphery of my vision.   I sense it most when I feel uncertain and insecure.  But, for the most part, I’m resisting pinning it to my lapel or scrawling it across the front of my now-almost-finished 2017 planner. 

Even now, as I’m writing, other possible labels continue to present themselves.  Like, The Year of Withholding Judgment or perhaps, best yet, The Year of Believing There is More Happening Than I Can See, by which I mean, of course, The Year of Faith.  

That has a better ring to it, don’t you think?

Thursday, November 16, 2017

The Kingdom of Heaven is Like a Tree



What is the kingdom of God like? And to what should I compare it?  It is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in the garden; it grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air made nests in its branches. Luke 13:18-19  

A large, brown seed sat in our cupboard for a good month or more.  Sealed in a zip-loc bag, surrounded by moistened paper towels, it was my husband's experiment, the result of a moment of possibility. 

It seemed, at best, forgotten.  

Then one day, after an online search for instructions, he planted it shallow in a white ceramic pot.  He watered it and placed it on the windowsill. 

Something maternal in me must have kicked in then, because I watered it faithfully along with my violets and ivies.  I watered it too little.  I watered it too much.  The sun came and went and, still, it sat there just the same - half-buried and silent, like a stone sleeping in the barren brown dirt. 

I can't tell you how long it took - weeks? months?

I watered.  I watched.  I waited and forgot to wait.  Inside the seed, secret life stirred, hidden, invisible.

Then the seed split.  It cracked open, right down the middle, and out curled a small green shoot, bent but rising, like a head that had been bowed in prayer for such a long, dark time, but now lifted to take a look around.  

//

The kingdom of God is like this, Jesus said, and then later also he added, "the kingdom of God is within you."  

//

Maybe we too are like that seed, like trees planted and growing, seen and unseen, in the midst of a busy and barren world.  We are watered, too much at times, or not, and the roots grow first, hidden, pressing down blindly, like worms in the dirt and secret places of our lives. 

Then we too are cracked open, split right down the middle of our lives.  We are the shoot that rises, the seed splitting, the roots rooting down deep.  We are the ones drinking in light and water and growing, always growing, into trees of every shape, color and size.  

And the birds of the air - those lonely, wandering, homesick birds - make their nests in our branches.  

May it be so.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Discipline & Struggle


We go up to heaven and down to hell a dozen times a day - at least, I do. And the discipline of work provides an exercise bar, so that the wild, irrational motions of the soul become formal and creative. 
- May Sarton in Journal of a Solitude


Seated in the corner of my office, I close the internet window on my laptop and hunker down to write.  With just a half hour left before I leave to meet a friend for lunch, I ought to have enough time to squeeze in my goal of 500 words for the day. 

I need to write something for the week’s blog post and, hopefully, for my newsletter too.  Neither need to be very long.  The problem, though, as I begin, is that, well, I don’t know where to begin.  I don’t have a story to tell, not even the faintest glimmer of an idea to explore.  I had a couple of ideas flitting around last week, but failed to capture them and now one is stale, like bread left out overnight, and the other is shrouded in fog too dense to be explored in this limited amount of time.

Still, I close the internet, sit in my chair, and begin. . . . (pop over to author and editor, Andi Cumbo-Floyd's place to read the rest of this piece).  Leave me a message there, then take a few minutes to look around at all the lovely tools and supports for writers Andi has going on.