BRAVE: What I Learned from Failing

“The truth is that falling hurts.  The dare is to keep being brave and feel your way back up.”  Brene Brown, Rising Strong

It might be the fact that I’m in my forties. Or maybe it’s dealing with the lies I have believed for so long and finally giving them the heave ho. Perhaps it’s because I’m tired of being defined by something for over twenty years. One failure does not a person make. It’s taken way too long for me to understand that. But I kinda do now and maybe that’s why I’m at the point where I can take it apart and dissect it.

All I ever wanted was to be a journalist. Make a long story short. I got into university to study journalism and graduated with an english degree. It wasn’t because I didn’t bust my butt to get good grades either. I did. I was so close. To say the disappointment was deep and cutting is an understatement.

Gr. 4.  I knew where I wanted to go!
Gr. 4. I knew where I wanted to go!

The day I graduated from Carleton University with an English degree instead of a Journalism Degree was bitter. I remember handing my degree over to my parents after the ceremony, telling them I didn’t want it. All it symbolized to me was one thing: FAILURE. Four years of nothing. That’s what I thought.

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That defeat defined me for a very long time. It didn’t help that life circumstances added to the lie I was believing. But as I sit and look at it now, two decades later, I realize that I actually learned a lot from it. And if I could, this is what I would tell my much younger self but more importantly, what I am learning to tell myself, today.

Dearest;

1.  Don’t let a piece of paper or the absence of one, tell you what you can and can’t do. This was reiterated for me recently as I was listening to Michael Hyatt interview one of his friends for the Impact & Influence Summit. For far too long, two pieces of paper have kept me from doing things I love. It’s true that I have not gotten jobs because I didn’t have a degree in journalism. I can’t do some dance training because I don’t have a certificate in teaching dance. On the other hand, I have used those as an excuse to not do something rather than get creative and find a new way.

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2.  Take risks. I did and it didn’t work out. I went after a childhood dream, far away from my small town home and family. After  it didn’t turn out the way I wanted it to, I wouldn’t take any more risks when it came to writing and employment. Today, I would tell my younger self to get back up – I was brave once. Do it again. Risk. Repeat.

3.  Don’t be afraid of failure. Mistakes happen. Lick your wounds. But get back up and try again. Learn. Move forward. Don’t sit paralyzed. Don’t let the failure be a negative in your life. Use it to move to a positive outcome. It’s all about mindset.

4.  Talk to lots of people about what they do for a living. Network. Don’t be afraid. People generally like to tell you what they love to do. The work they do. Ask a lot o questions and people will generally be generous in their answers and with their time. Learn from them.

5.  Don’t be afraid of changing your mind. Maybe this isn’t the path for you. Don’t be legalistic about what is right for your life because you might miss out on something great. Things change. YOU might change and mature and discover some new passion. Or maybe the path is different than you imagined. There is nothing set in stone! Follow that path and see where it goes. It might lead you to your promised land.

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6.  Share the journey. Unfortunately in the world of journalism, we were taught to keep things secret because it was such a competitive program. You did not want someone stealing your ideas or story. The writing world was that way for me for a long time. Too many people you couldn’t trust. It’s taken a long time to get over that. I’m glad I have because I have discovered some wonderful people to travel with. I wish I knew that a long time ago.

7.  Let yourself off the hook once in a while. We are our worst task masters. Learn to extend some grace to yourself.

8.  Accept the gifts God has given you and then give them back to Him. It’s called freedom. Then you really can go out and use them to change the world.

9.  Know that you are so much more than what you can do. It’s all about who you are. The people who really love you, don’t care what you do, they just enjoy your presence. That would include God.

10.  Finally as I heard Mark Buchanan say once at a writing conference, “You’re not sick, you’re a writer.” Or whatever that blank is for you. Believe it.

PS: I did eventually get my degree back. It took about ten years. I even hung it up.

Provision, Even When We Don’t “Deserve” It

It’s Monday morning, the sun is shining and the air is crisp. A perfect October day. I got back yesterday from attending a conference in Rochester, New York. I went with a friend and it was a time of laughter, some really amazing moments and not having to make a single meal. Swag. Lots of good swag. And not a whole lot of sleep.

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Chandeliers in the main lobby of the hotel. So cool!
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Sunrise – a view from the 15th floor!

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By Friday evening, I was feeling a major brain drain as well as the effects of only four hours of shut eye. I went down to the dining room but could feel my anxiety start to escalate. Coping mechanisms were barely functioning. The large room full of people, the smell of the food and the loud noise drained any last sense of peace from me. I sat at my table and told myself to suck it up. I could get through it. I had done it many times before and survived.

This time was different. I did’t want or need to suck it up. There are times we have to, this wasn’t one of them. The only consequence of leaving was me being hungry later. My friend had already given me permission to do what was best for me. I leaned over and told her I was leaving. She let me go. It’s what friends do for one another.

I went upstairs. Honestly I was not only tired but a bit homesick. I hadn’t been able to communicate with my husband or kids since the day before. My oldest son had been running at a province wide cross country meet and I was wondering how the day went. My husband had been attending another local conference and I wanted to know what he thought about the speakers he’d been listening to. My biggest desire was to hear their voices.

I decided to tell God and I hadn’t even breathed “amen” when my phone buzzed with my son wanting to Face Time with me. The Face part of it didn’t work but I could hear their voices and the world righted itself. After, the silence of the room soothed this introvert and I felt peaceful once again.

It was what I needed. God provided.

It was a weekend of provision where I was wanting. I had doubted because I figured I probably didn’t deserve. How often do we do this to ourselves? Because we haven’t been perfect or even close to that unnatural state, we count ourselves out of any divine contact. “God isn’t going to reveal Himself to me because I _____________.” Fill in that blank. Sadly, we can make a long list to fill that space.

We think we aren’t worthy for our Dad to show up and love us because we haven’t done enough to warrant that heavenly presence. We didn’t earn it. We aren’t good enough. We are too far gone. He doesn’t care about what we need or want.
I found out this past weekend, it’s just not true. He was there all right. He gave me all that I needed and more. Not for just a day or an evening but all weekend long.

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Listening to Holly Gerth

The only thing I had to do was go with an open heart. If something is open, it can be easily filled. An open heart meant I could receive what He was giving: Himself, His blessings and His provision. He wants to give us these things.  Sometimes we have to learn to open our hearts and hands and take of it. If my heart had been closed, it all would have bounced off me and I would have been blind and closed to His whispers to come close. To enjoy the gifts He wanted to give me.

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Instead all that was abundantly offered and what I so desperately needed, was poured into and filled me.

Wrestling With Community

I cry when I read the Acknowledgement page in a book.

I know it’s weird. Most people, if they are going to cry, sniffle at the storyline, but I always get teary-eyed reading that page at the end of the book, fiction or non-fiction.

If you’ve ever wanted to write a book, the acknowledgment page means you’ve made it. In your hand is the published word. The real deal. Dream become reality.

It makes me emotional, because if you’ve ever written anything of substance, you know you didn’t do it alone. It’s takes a village to bring about a book. And a tribe to launch it.

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It’s this concept that brings me to pause. I resist community. Moving around a lot, makes it hard to establish or find a group of people where you fit. You always feel like the outsider. It’s exhausting trying to find new friends and relationships. When you are an introvert, well, it makes it much more difficult.

If you’ve been hurt by a community, doesn’t it make you want to run the other way? To hold everyone at arm’s length. To trust no one.

It’s so much easier to stay inside with your cup of coffee and a good book.

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A year ago, God began to nudge me about my attitude towards community. I felt He wanted to have a chat about it but I wasn’t interested in engaging in said conversation. Instead I got mad.

It started one Sunday when my husband preached a sermon on this very topic. He was so positive. I was so angry. It made me furious that he could still believe after all the years of experiencing dysfunctional community. What planet had he been on for the last fifteen years?

His positive attitude contrasted with my own negativity. Obviously I hadn’t dealt with a few issues. I stuffed them back down and told God I wasn’t interested.

I felt it was an unfair request. You know the kind, where God’s asking you to do something that goes against every fibre of your being. He knows your experience and still He’s asking you to put yourself out there. Again. How many times do we have to give of ourselves? How many times do I have to tell Him, He made a mistake?

You may recall a bible story about Jacob wrestling with an angel who was in fact God. They struggle all night long until the break of dawn when the angel tells Jacob to let him go. Jacob says he won’t until the angel blesses him. The angel puts his hip out of joint because Jacob won’t let go. God renames Jacob because he had “wrestled with God and come through”. (Genesis, 32:22-32, The Message) He blesses him. Spares his life. Something that is not lost on Jacob as he names the place Peniel because he had come face to face with God and lived to tell about it.

I think the interesting thing here is that Jacob didn’t shy away from the wrestling match. He engaged and fought hard. He wouldn’t let go. On top of that he had the audacity to ask for a blessing. God gave the blessing and spared his life. It makes me think that maybe it’s okay for us to wrestle some things out with God.

Honestly up to now I have been skirting the issue. To actually wrestle something through, you need to be engaged and participating. God doesn’t let it go.

So here I am, reading the acknowledgment pages of my novels, thinking about community. Realizing I have a group of people surrounding me who have continually supported me in my writing endeavours. They are flung far and wide but it is a community nonetheless.

It’s not the communities God wants to talk to me about. I haven’t been ready to go there. Instead our creative, patient, imaginative God serves me up the Acknowledgement page and says, ‘Think about this.”  I have.

At some point there will be a fight. I’m just not sure who it’s against – the fear that surrounds and prevails around the idea of community or with God. Maybe both. We need to take a lesson from Jacob and not let go of God while we struggle through the thing. To hang on until we figure it out and see the blessing of it all.

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In the meantime, the Acknowledgement page from the next book, blinks at me. A silent reminder that this journey we’re on is full of battles, but the One who leads us, knows us intimately and won’t let us go.

Why It’s Important to Tell Your Story

What did you want to be when you grew up?

From at least the age of ten on, I wanted to be a journalist. I’m not entirely sure where that desire came from. I know I read about Nellie Bly early on and found her story fascinating. I loved the idea of travel and seeing my name in print. I was a voracious reader. I would get lost in a book for hours at a time.

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I loved stories and from early on I was intrigued with them and their storytellers. To this day, I wonder how people come up with stories like The Hunger Games, Little Women and Narnia? Where do these stories come from? What kind of a mind comes up with these ideas?

Deep down, I wanted to be a journalist to tell stories. Other peoples stories. For me, I thought journalism was the route to do that. Things don’t always turn out like we thought. But the desire to tell stories never left.

As an adult, not only do I still want to tell stories but I see the impact a good story can make on an individual. Think about it. If you go to a workshop or seminar or connect with a good friend. What do you remember most about that time spent? Usually it’s a story someone told. And if there’s a lesson attached even better because you probably remember it as well.

Families and friendships are often bonded over stories. There was a popular TV show a while back that was about some friends. The one would try and get his friend to do all this wild stuff and he would convince his friend to do it by telling him it would be “Legendary.” It’s those legendary stories that we tell over and over. That become a part of our history. Listening to those stories, makes the younger generation want to have their own stories as well. It’s motivating. Hopefully in a positive direction.

There is great power in storytelling. A powerful message told through story can make people change. The world change. We see it happen every day. Someone sees a news story and things change. It’s been going on since the beginning of time. How does God communicate with us? Mainly it’s through His Word, which is made up of people’s stories. Jesus told parables. I know you know this. I had forgotten it.

Storytelling can be scary and exhilarating. It’s hard. Sometimes you just have to get the story out. It will literally pour out of you. Other times we are afraid of how the story will be received. Will it be stomped on or embraced? Maybe no one will care. Maybe no one will but the story must still be told because someday with someone, it will make an impact.

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We all have a story to tell. I believe we all have many stories to tell. Can you tell your story if someone asked? We tend to think that means talking to a lot of people. For some of us, that might be true. But for most of us, telling our story means talking to our kids, our friends and those in our spheres of influence. It’s being able to answer why we do what we do or why we believe what we believe. What makes us tick. It’s important to be able to tell your story no matter who you are. Telling our stories is the foundation of community building.

We build relationship through story. In letting people into our stories and listening to theirs, communities are created. Knowing someone’s story is getting to KNOW them. It can be deeply personal or maybe you like their humour, their cleverness. It makes you want to know more.

Telling your story is opening your heart. If it’s done authentically, it invites others to see the good, the bad and the ugly so they can be free to do the same. It makes us equals and can transform us all.

Journey To Hope

Hope: a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen or want something to happen or be the case. (taken from Google online dictionary)

What are you hoping for? Who or what do you put your hope in?

I heard somewhere that the absence of hope equals despair. If you have no hope, there is no point. Why do anything? There is no purpose. It’s hard just to get out of bed.

Have you ever been in that space where hope slid away into nothingness and life had a hollow feel to it? The emptiness was an abyss that mocked you. Definitely not in the fuzzy warm feeling category! Some people might not get it if they’ve never been there or they might think you’re lazy or selfish.

Let them judge. I think it’s something we all experience in some form or another. We have to lose our hope to find it. To begin to understand it and own it. I know you’ve heard that from someone, somewhere. I’m just starting to realize the implications of that statement.

Some people know their hope from day one. But for others of us, it’s a journey (sometimes a really long road trip) to finding our hope. I’m not sure it ever finishes. It’s no surprise that our hope, is really Someone. Getting to know Him, the author of our
souls and trust Him, that’s the journey and it doesn’t happen overnight.

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Like any good relationship, it’s going to take some time. Some travel time along the high points of life or the mudslides that trip us up and threaten to drown us, that binds us together. It’s how all friendships are moulded and are shaped over the years. Those friendships that stick to us through thick and thin. Why do we think our relationship with Jesus would be any different? Why do we treat it so foreignly?

We try to replace Him with other relationships in our lives. Spouses, BFF’s and the opinion, praise and thoughts of other people. We switch out Him, for houses,careers, promotions and things. These things can add to hope, but they are not the main Hope.

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If we push Him away, there’s gonna be a void. Without God there is no purpose or hope to our lives. We live out a selfish existence that ends in meaninglessness. What was it all for? With God as our Hope, life takes on purpose. I’m just starting to really understand that as well. I guess there’s just a little too much pride rolling around in this head. There’s still a part of me that thinks I can get along just fine without Him, thank you very much.

But what if you feel like He’s let you down? Abandoned you. Hope fled out the door along trust. Unfortunately in my experience, there’s no magic solution. It’s a hard journey back. It’s not optional if you want to find Hope. It’s like driving with a child who
is motion sick. You think you’ll never get there and when you do, you can’t get out of the car fast enough. All you want to do is plug your ears, close your eyes and scream. (Not that I’m talking from experience or anything!)

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Sunrise from our front window. His mercies are new every morning.

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However God in his grace and wisdom, He lets us find our way. I’m not promoting we ditch our hope or our trust just because. Certainly not. But if we find ourselves on this particular road, I believe He understands that sometimes we have to go on this journey to discover Him. To go into an even deeper relationship with Him. Isn’t it the people in our lives, who wisely gave us the long leash, the grace and time, to search and find the answers to our questions, that we sing the praises of? Aren’t they the people we respect and love the most? These people are reflections of God’s grace, love and wisdom. He allows these detours because it’s part of the refining process for some of us. He knows that when we come out the other side, we’re going to be golden. Shiny. Bright. Reflecting His glory. Singing Hope.

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What are you hoping for?  What kind of hope journey are you on?  Love to hear your stories.