Failure is our Gift

The biggest gift we receive in life is not, first, success. 

It is failure.

Failure is the cruelest disciplinarian.  Failure always shows us our weaknesses.  With merciless honesty and precision it lays us bare for the world to see.  It can feel like failure is our nemesis, mocking our attempts at becoming someone of worth.

  Failure will constantly barrage us with the truth that shortcuts and half-attempts won’t cut it.  Failure will tell us we must be all in or we might as well go home.  Failure indicates to us how hard we must work.  That this isn’t going to be easy.  It constantly nags at us and beckons us to remember anything that we cherish and value comes at an unbelievably immense cost.

  It will cost us our pride.  It will require our vulnerability.  It will crush our false expectations.  It demolishes our time table.  It depends upon complete honesty with ourselves, first and foremost.  It demands our attention, time, and sacrifice.  It stipulates that we be ready to build thick skin, and at the same time, not to lose our tender soul that is still passionate and moved by triumph.

We must not allow failure to make  us cold, bitter, and cynical.  Failure is the fire that burns, scars, and refines the bits and pieces that need to be torn away into ash to reveal the gold, the parts of substance and quality.  Those battle scars become badges to wear with honor, as long as we humbly embrace all the lessons they teach.

And don’t be fooled.  Failure will teach us we are not without flaws.  Those flaws are like buoys, a life raft, that keep us afloat in a sea that we are constantly drifting in.  When we stop fighting failure, those flaws become strengths.  If we chose to stop fighting our failures and hiding them away, perfection is no longer a requirement.  The mask can be thrown to the ground.

  Flaws that are magnified by failure give us a compass pointing directly to hidden treasure.  Like a big X on a treasure map, failure points to our flaw and says, “Dig here, pull it up, use what is buried underneath.”  Flaws can help us face our fears, get up from the place we have fallen, or wandered to, and try again.  Flaws keep us from arrogance, and hopefully we allow the failures to teach us which paths are dangerous and fruitless, and which paths are meant to be cleared and advanced.  Failing teaches us to fight, battle, and pursue what we’re meant for, for what we believe in most deeply.  Failures give us information no one else can give us.  They are personal messages directly piercing our bruised and battered hearts.

Failure, like a rejection letter branded into our psyche, bolsters our foundation.  They soon become an ongoing list of valuable, priceless lessons that shape and define who we are becoming, and where we are going.  Only you have your failures, your personal lessons.  No one else owns those.  They are all yours, and so, you are the only one who takes those unique set of failures and turn them over into something remarkable.  Hang onto them, use them, grow out from the ashes of them and thrive.

Failing communicates to us, over and over again, that it’s not our circumstances that describe who we are.  It’s our attitude, our mindset.

Life is not a shortcut.  Failure cultivates us, sometimes painfully, developing patience, endurance, and character.  We are like growing trees, being pruned to produce better fruit, more radiant flowers.  It is part of a long, hard, and often disheartening journey called Life. No matter how much we wish it weren’t so, failures are mixed with the good, the joyful things in life, all wound tightly, intricately together.  We cannot separate them; we must learn to take both the joyful and the painful as one magnificent inheritance.  A bittersweet reminder that what we cherish is only sweet after tasting the bitter sting.  Without the harsh failure, we cannot emerge with contrasting consummation.

If we do not embrace the painful failures and trials, we will never touch the sweetness of triumph.

Failure takes us to the ground, to our knees, flat on our faces in the grime and dirt.  There are times when we must sit low and take it in, letting it wash over us so we can recieve the lesson it is demanding we learn.  We may need to step back, take a break, stop the cycle of burnout.  But then, we get up, we wear that failure like a badge of honor….I went through this trial, and it made me better.

Failure is our teacher.  Embrace your professor in life, the failures.  Learn from them.  Work through them patiently.  Endure.  Persist.  They will help you see your goals, your ambitions, more clearly.  Your perspective will shift.  Soon, you will welcome them because you’ll know the failures you encounter in the future will mobilize you.

Failures magnify our flaws.  Flaws are the golden strength waiting to be excavated.  A firm, fixed foundation is being laid.  These, my friends, are gifts.

What My Daughter Taught Me This Week About “Starting”

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Scratch, scratch, scratch.  Her scrawling pencil races over the paper, stories pouring from her imagination through her fingers as fast as her little hand can form the sentences.  At nine years old, she is an avid storyteller.

 Paper is strewn about the house: across carpeting, the sofa, the kitchen table….all variations of the tale she’s writing.  “Come pick these up,” I tell her, proud of her determination, but needing to clear the table for dinner and finding places to….walk.

“Oh!” she laughs.  “I started over on different paper,” she collects the scattered sheets and tosses them into the trash can, fresh ideas in her head.  She is editing, slowly, bit by bit.

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“Mama, how do I get to that thing on the computer where I can type the words out?” she inquires one afternoon.

“You mean Microsoft Word?” I ask her.

“Yes!  How do I get to it?”

I show her how to open Word on the computer.  Click, click, click.  The pencil scratchings are replaced by the halted, laborious typing of a determined child-writer, undaunted by lack of speed. After a an hour or so she comes to me again, “Can you show me how to save it?”

She learns quickly.  The next several days she continues to ask permission to work on the computer, typing out each letter slowly with two-finger typing. She opens her saved documents on her own now, adding more to her narratives and dialogue, saving, printing, and reading it out loud.  She invites me to read them.  “How do you like it, Mama?”

She is a writer.

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After school and on weekends keys click and pages are produced.  Crayons and printed drafts now litter her work space alongside cardstock, glue, glitter, and scissors.

“Mama, can I borrow your video camera?  I am making a movie.”

“A movie?  What is your movie about?” I ask her with a smile.

“It’s about my ponies.  I wrote the story and now the ponies are going to act it out.”

“Ah, so you are a screenwriter,” I tell her.

“What is that?”

“A screenwriter is someone who specifically writes the screenplay, or the story, for movies,” I explain.

“Yes, I want to be a screenwriter.  I like to write movies”, she adds.

She takes the camera into her room.  Set up on the craft table and distributed throughout the floor are props: stairways, castles, backdrops, accessories she’s created, colored, cut-out, folded, and glued to enhance her movie.  She has attended to each detail with care and precision.  Ponies line the stage, ready for their debut.  She shuts the bedroom door behind her. “So no extra noise gets in my video, Mama”, she tells me.

She is now a director as well.

She does her own voice overs and employs her younger sister for this task as well.  Later, I hear giggles as they sit on her bed and playback the movie on the camera screen.  The door shuts again.  She starts over, perfecting her scenes.

“Mama, how do they do it on the movies when they show one person’s face and then they switch and show another person’s face, without moving the camera and seeing all the stuff in between? Do you know what I mean?  How there isn’t all that time in between where the camera moves from one person to another,” she gestures with her hands as she talks.

She’s getting technical now.

“That’s called editing.  The camera still records everything, but you have to cut it, or edit it, later,” I clarify.

“Oh,” she thinks for a moment.  “How do you do that? Is there a button on the camera that will edit?” she hands me the device so I can show her.

“No, you have to record everything just like you are doing.  After you are all done, you will load it to the computer and edit the movie through the computer.”

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Resolute, she goes back to her makeshift studio, resetting her props and beginning again.  She is still borrowing the computer, re-writing her script and changing scenes if she doesn’t like how they are playing out behind the camera.

I buy more printer paper.  We have run out.

After tucking her into bed one evening, I sit down at my desk to find Windows Movie Maker open on my laptop. Ponies are mid-scene, camera shots being cut to size.  My husband saves her work, planning to help her navigate the software the following day.

She has become an executive producer.

I’m in awe.  She may have gotten her love of writing and storytelling from me, but she inherited her Daddy’s perseverance.  It has now been several weeks and she is still working to complete her final goal: write a story and turn it into a movie.

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A few months back my daughter and I agreed to keep one another accountable.  We promised to ask, “Have you been working on your story?”  She asks me this week, “Mama, have you been working on it?”

“No, I haven’t.”  I don’t have excuses to give, either.

She is still undeterred by such things as fear of failure, perfection in the first draft, and the response from others.  She doesn’t worry whether or not she can fully develop a character, or how to advance her plot before she starts.  She just….writes.  She practices.  She goes back to edit her work and make changes.  Everyday, she is writing.

“Mama, how do you publish a book? And also, how do you get your book in a bookstore like Barnes & Noble?”

My daughter and I are writers.

She has taught me much more this week than I have taught her:

1) Sit down and write.

2) Sit down and write.

She has also reminded me what every writer must know:

Write from the heart, and push aside all fears.

E.H.

Danger on the Bering Sea

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I have an addiction to a television show, folks.  It happens to be Deadliest Catch.

Unlike other programs I’ve watched, I never get tired of it because it’s real.  It’s real reality television that’s dangerous and tense whether or not cameras are rolling.  The drama factor is present, but not because it’s tweaked for Hollywood.   A group of headstrong guys are thrown together in a super high-stress, I-could-get-killed-out-here job, away from their families for months at a time, so the arguments and frustrations are legit.

The job is a gamble….the fishermen could lose or win big time. If they don’t catch the crab, they don’t make a dime.  They could also walk away with roughly 50k in three months.  It’s high stakes….high risk and rewards.  I honestly just have a lot of respect for men like this who learned through the school of hard knocks and literally pour their blood, sweat, and tears into their work.

In honor of Deadliest Catch’s 9th season, (which is currently airing on Discovery channel, Tuesday nights!) here are 12 random things I’ve learned about crab fishing and about myself over the years of dedicated viewing:

1) If I could choose a boat to crab fish on, it would be the Northwestern.  Norwegian master fishing, all the way!

2) A close second would be the Time Bandit, because they do fun stuff like fire their rifles in subarctic temperatures to remove ice from the ships highest points.  And they use explosives for fun and pranks.

3) Well, I said that I would want to be on the Northwestern, but if that required me to take my turn at biting off a raw herring’s head at the beginning of the season, then I would seriously reconsider.

4) We all know that I could never be a crab fisherman (er…woman…) because women are bad luck on a boat (and they don’t care if that’s PC or not!)

5) I also live in a fantasy land.  If I ever really stepped foot on a crab boat, I’d be barfing in the galley from seasickness, the rank smell of fish, and the fear of being thrown overboard.  If you saw this week’s episode, I woulda been right there next to New Nick, losing my lunch 10 minutes after pulling out of port.

6) Captain Keith of the Wizard is one of my favorites.  He has a temper, but he grows on you.  He also plays a mean harmonica.

7) I like that the producers keep it to the fishing.  At the same time I appreciate the glimpses into some of the men’s lives, but in a way that doesn’t risk overexposure.

8)  I like to picture myself throwing the hook at the rail to haul 900 pound pots from the water.  In reality, it would probably drop out of my hand and pitifully lob over the side and someone would shout, “You throw like a girl!”

9) As they all say, crab fishing is way harder than it looks.

10) Being a greenhorn is a horrible job.  Mostly you get yelled at all day for packing shredded bits of fish into countless containers the wrong way.

11) If you fall into the freezing waters you pretty much have 10 seconds to be rescued.  At any given time the captain could be called on to sew a sliced finger or call for the coast guard to med-evac a seizing deckhand off the boat.

12) Fishermen really do curse like…..fishermen. 😉

Babes on Summer Break

My little pip-squeak, whipper-snappers get out of school on May 31st.  And I have plans.  Plans they do not know about.  Plans to keep their little minds sharp and edu-mah-cated…and to keep me sane when they whine, “Mama, I’m so booooorrrrred!”  Muahahahaha.  

Ahem.

But FIRST.  Let me lament the fact that they are growing up way too fast.  The ring leader used to look like this:

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2006

and this….

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2007

Now she looks like this:

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Natural Bridge Field Trip April 2013

My itty bitty (more like rolly polly) baby used to look like this:

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2006

And like this:

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2007

Now she looks like this:

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 Camping 2012

They used to be two little mischievous pip-squeaks making up all kinds of adventures:

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2007

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2009

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2010

Now they’re just big, mischievous whipper-snappers plotting the take over of the world, I swear:

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The Virginia Photobooth Company 2011

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Camera phone self-portraits – 2013

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Peaks of Otter- 2012

I’m going to have rising 2nd and 4th graders.  Somebody stop time before I have a mid-life crisis.

I’m going to go cry into my coffee cup.

My only comfort is knowing that the baby has informed me she will be living with me forever.

Mother’s Day & Baby Center Email Updates

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~My Mother’s Day flowers the girls and I planted together~

I keep getting email updates from Baby Center. I need to cancel them.  Part of me just doesn’t want to hassle with it.

I somehow got linked to them when I added a handful of pregnancy apps to my phone to track my new little pea-pod growing.

Oh yeah, ya’ll.

I found out I was pregnant at the beginning of April.

(You read that right.)

This week’s email update informs me that I am nearing the end of my second month.  I’m more than halfway through the first trimester.

But I’m not.

The update also informs me that the baby is the size of blueberry and has hands and feet.

But that’s not true either.

This year, I am one of the 20% who had a miscarriage.

So once upon a time, this woman, this underdog…. with a hardworking, man-that-you-adore husband, two joy-giving daughters, and so much to be thankful for…

lost her baby.

Just because I have so much to be thankful for doesn’t make it any easier to lose a baby.

Some days I think, “God, why can’t I just catch a break here?  When can I stop having setbacks?  When can I stop feeling like life is a tsunami that is crashing my little boat against the sand and demolishing it to pieces?  When can I start moving forward?”

I took it much harder than I thought I would.  I took it much harder than I wanted to.

What I wanted was to just push through and move on, because I knew I couldn’t change what was happening.  But my body could not physically do it.  I felt ill.  Exhausted.  My muscles ached.  My head was swimming in nausea.  I was hormonal. I felt so….stereotypical. And I would rationally have to tell myself….”E–you are having a miscarriage.  Stop pushing yourself.”

I listened to this wiser side of my brain.  I put my protective Mama cap on.  I understood that I needed to allow myself to be sad.  To take a breather.  To think and talk it out with my incredible support group of friends and family.  Take the time to heal.  But there is also wisdom in not letting this experience defeat me.  I have a husband (who was AMAZING through all this, by the way), two girls to care for, and life to live.

It’s a tough balance.

For the past two weeks I’ve felt back to “normal” in so many ways.  I have great health, great opportunities, thankful for so many things.

And then I remind myself…I lost my baby a few weeks ago.  It feels very strange.

That is hard stuff to settle on.  Because then I have to give myself some grace and say….it’s okay that I have my up and down moments.

I don’t have golden words of wisdom for all of us who have walked through a miscarriage.  Who have lost babies.  Who have envisioned life with a new little person in their family, brainstorming perfect names, and seeing little onesies dance in their heads.

Roller coaster doesn’t even come close to describing it with justice.

I don’t know what to say about all of it….because truthfully…nothing makes it “better” or “easier”.  I just take one day at a time.

And I receive grace for myself in each day.

My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness ~ 2 Corinthians 12:9

Start.

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There’s this little place inside our heads that we all know.  That place of restlessness that causes us to want something more.  To do, serve, create, love. There is also a place that can defeat us if we let it: we tell ourselves we can’t.  That what we desire is too hard, too much work, too risky, too….impossible.  More often than not, we are our own worst enemy.

And yet, despite all those fears we still have dreams.  Dreams that define our souls and burn within, even if it is just a small flicker that you may never tell anyone about because you are afraid it’s too silly or that you might sound crazy.  But ignoring it never makes it go away.

Restlessness is not our enemy.  It is the feeling that tells us to be on the lookout.  Too look up from our busyness or our tunnel vision and see the broad picture around us that we are a part of.   If it is driving us to reevaluate in order to do something good, something better, to grow, then that is a worthy motivation.  When I am restless, I start to look around.  What makes me restless?  What is clouding my vision or causing me to see narrowly?  Where are my priorities?  What is truly important?

I am often struck with the same response….I have the same dreams I had when I was 8.  I have the same desires to work hard and live a life I’m proud of.  That life of value…anything of value….takes time to achieve.

As time marches on, as life moves and flows, I begin to really internalize that there is one life here on earth to live well.  If we don’t seize it as a gift, an incredible opportunity to love and serve and reach out, no one will do it for us.  We have to want it.  It has to burn so deeply in our soul that it moves us into action, no matter how fearful we are or how unqualified we feel to carry a message.

We have to Start.