After Sunday Thought… I See Failure; God Sees Success

Have you ever failed at something? Made a mistake? Messed up a project?

Of course you have. You’re only human. That’s why I loved yesterday’s scripture from Mark where Jesus returns to his hometown to preach only to find that he isn’t warmly welcomed. On the surface you can say that he was a big flop.

Soon after the synagogue debacle, though, we don’t see Jesus rethinking his life’s call, giving up on the mission of radical love and welcome. Rather, we see him move forward. This time, sending out his friends, two by two, to go to the towns and stay in homes to share the good news. And knowing that sometimes life brings rejection, he tells his friends, don’t let it get you down. You have something to offer. You have been called to do a job. You are part of God’s bigger plan. Just shake off the dust from your sandals and move on. There’s no time to waste; there are others to reach.

There really isn’t time to waste wallowing in our failure or rejection, for when something doesn’t go the way we had hoped or we don’t the results of our labor, it isn’t the end of the world. In fact, it could be God’s way of redirecting us — for example, those in the synagogue won’t receive you, then go out to those in the streets.

I have a chicken coop I’ve been trying to build for a year now. My father began the project last summer, but it was put on hold in the fall because of my indecisiveness as to how to side the walls. I wanted weathered barn boards, but they are wicked expensive to buy and I haven’t come across any old barns that have fallen down lately.

During this time of searching for siding alternatives, two major windstorms blew the coop over. By the second storm, I felt crushed thinking I would probably have to give up on the dream of having chickens. I really thought about dismantling the structure, but something urged me on. Once again, I cajoled my husband into helping me hoist the sad looking coop upright. And there it sits.

Somedays I stare out the kitchen window at this “failure” and I get down about it. Other days, though, I see these delays in finishing the coop as blessings because the reality is I  don’t have time to tend to chickens. The failed chicken coop is starting to look more like a rustic shed for my garden tools.

I have always joked in my life that if Plan A doesn’t work, I am okay because there was a Plan B, a Plan C, a Plan D. I vowed I would never fret until I got to Plan Z. Why? Because I have learned that God has a beautiful way of guiding us. All the times I thought I have failed, I actually found myself stepping onto a new and better path.

And here’s the other thing with “failure.” It really isn’t what it seems to be because God sees things differently. God, who is a redemptive God, can take a mess and bless it.

I overheard a conversation on a shuttle bus to the airport recently. A woman asked a man sitting next to her what he did for a living. He led Christian retreats at a conference center. The woman was excited because she had attended that center years ago. She then went on to tell how one speaker she heard changed her life forever. It led her to give her life to Christ, to go into Christian publishing to spread the good news and, subsequently, because of the path she was now on, her sister was so inspired that she became a missionary. The woman was quiet after sharing the story and then said, “Now that I think about it, that retreat saved me.”

I was startled when I saw the man getting teary-eyed and wondered what was going on? I soon found out as he replied, “I led that retreat and I thought it was the biggest failure of my life. I was so depressed afterwards and found myself rethinking everything.”

A failure isn’t a failure — with God. Just take a look at Jesus. It seemed to everyone — even his friends — that his ministry failed that day he was nailed to the cross. But it didn’t. It was just starting.

So the next time you think you really screwed up or feel you are a hopeless cause or start believing you have no worth at all in this world, think again. God sees things differently. God sees blessings in messes. God brings holy successes out of our human failures.

Now, shake off the dust. You have a beautiful life to live — and I have a chicken coop, um, I mean garden shed, to finish.

IMG_0646

Failures aren’t what they seem. Take for instance, my chicken coop. Blown over by high winds twice and still not finished, the delays have made me realize, I really don’t have time to raise chickens. I do, though, need a place to store my garden tools.

 

This Way of Life Lenten Journey

A Little White Church Lent

When the cold of winter turns into the bleakness of mud season, hope is hard to find. Yet beneath the hard ground and in the midst of life’s muddiness, there is always new life waiting to bloom. Join Pastor Donna as she reflects on the transforming power of Lent and takes you on a 40-day journey of discovering God’s message of hope and renewal that she discovered in a little white church and in the hearts of the people who call that church “home.”

 

Day 2: A Snag in the Fabric

I was worried, perhaps even a tad bit apprehensive. Okay. Truth be told, I was being overprotective of my big brother.

Even though there were many months to go before my summer wedding, I was already dreading what the reaction might be to my brother from the children of the little white church—as well as from the rural village I served as pastor—whom were all going to be participating in “Pastor Donna’s big day.” I was marrying one of the village’s hometown boys and so this wedding was going to be a community celebration—one in which my brother would be coming to.

Growing up I was always told my brother was “different,” which didn’t help me understand why other kids were being mean of the very things that made my brother “different.”

“Don’t worry about him,” my parents tried to tell me whenever I dared to broach the subject of my brother at my wedding.

Still I worried—a selfish kind of worry. While I didn’t want to see my brother hurt by remarks or stares, I didn’t want the pain of witnessing those remarks and stares. I learned early in life when you truly love someone you can’t help but to feel the pain they feel and shed the tears they shed. So I was bracing myself for what might come.

“Something wrong, pastor?” I heard being asked as I sat at one of the church’s big old folding tables that, if dropped on your foot, would probably take off a toe or two. The table was set up for a meeting in the sunny chapel that did double duty as the fellowship hall/meeting room.

“No,” I said as I pretended to organize papers for the meeting that was to start in 15 more minutes. The person asking the question, a man who I could see was clearly on some spiritual journey, didn’t buy my answer.

“Come on, I know something’s up. What’s going on?” he prodded some more.

Not one to hide my emotions very well, I fessed up about my worry, apprehension and overprotectiveness of my brother and the upcoming wedding. I even fessed up that all of this was rooted in my own selfishness because I was the one who didn’t want to hurt.

With one huge smile and warm laugh, this man wiped away all my selfish worrying. He then went on to tell me how his wife and him took in special needs kids years ago and how everyone in the village welcomed and watched out for those kids as one of their own. He then told me of this person and that person who had either a special needs child or knew of someone who did.

“Your brother is going to be welcomed by us with opened arms. And these kids in this church, these kids in this village…they are not going to make fun of your brother or stare at him or be afraid. That’s not who we are around here. We look out for one another and try to care for one another the best we can,” he said.

Tears filled my eyes and soon my smile was just as huge as his.

The following day I made a not so quick trip to one of those big box stores that carried everything. I needed some fabric for a Lenten prayer table I wanted to create for our prayer circle. I found the fabric in the store and stood waiting and waiting for someone to come along to measure out the yardage I needed. A manager whizzed by assuring me, “Someone will be over to help shortly.”

Shortly became not so shortly and before long there were three more women standing behind me with bolts of fabric needing to be cut.

Finally that long-awaited someone came.

Even though I was first in line I could see the eye rolls happening among the women behind me. The someone who came to help was a young man who was “different.” His coke bottle glasses and slow speech didn’t incite confidence in the others. But it was his deformed hand that really made the women behind me wonder if this young man was capable of unfolding, measuring and cutting the bolts of fabric. They watched closely to see what he would do to my fabric.

I handed over the bolt of purple fabric (perfect for the season of Lent we were in) and told him what I needed. With some struggle he unfolded the fabric and began slowing measuring it out. The eye rolls turned into huffs and puffs. It was then I knew this young man was not suffering from hearing loss. His body language told me he was taking in every hurtful huff and every painful puff. And I took them in with him.

Still he continued on with unfolding the fabric to the correct yardage I wanted. All of a sudden he stopped. There in the middle of the fabric was a huge snag. He looked at me and said, “This will ruin what you are making. Let me cut this off and start over again.”

Another hurtful huff.

Another painful puff.

“You don’t have to do that. The snag is okay,” I assured him.

“But it’s ugly and totally different from the rest of the fabric,” he said.

“I think it’s pretty. Not everything in life is perfect, right?” I smiled at him, not telling him how the snag made this fabric even more special for the draping of our Lenten prayer table.Unknown

What a reminder this will be for us as we pray, I thought. Jesus, who walked to the cross for us, also taught us that along the way to take time to embrace the beauty in the imperfect. Jesus, who taught us to love one another, meant for us to love even the snags that we are so quick to disregard.

“Yep. This fabric is perfect,” I reaffirmed, thinking about that Lenten prayer table.

With a shrug of his shoulders, the young man went back to painstakingly measuring and cutting and folding the fabric before finally handing it over to me.

I turned to leave and did my best not to glare at the women who huffed and puffed behind me. It was then I noticed a manager of the store staring at what just took place. As our eyes met she said to me, “You must not be from around here.”

I just nodded.

She was absolutely right.

I’m from a little rural village an hour away from this big store. It’s a place where our wilderness journeys are not journeyed alone. We reach out to one another.

I’m from a place where those who have “snags” are not cut out but are incorporated into the fabric of community.

I’m from a place where a little white church taught my heart not to worry or be apprehensive or be selfishly overprotective about what others might think of my brother who is “different.”

I’m from a place where when someone cries, we all cry.

When someone hurts, we all hurt.

That’s just what happens when you truly love as Jesus wanted us to love.

This Way of Life Lenten Challenge: Snags in the fabric can be beautiful. Today open your eyes to that in which the world is so quick to throw out or toss aside or make fun of and see God’s beauty and purpose.