The Seed of Beauty

In our church growth group tonight we learned about and discussed how we grow as a result of the various trials in our lives. God uses our experiences to shape us as individuals and to move us closer to Him.

My life is a testament of how good things can arise from bad choices. It’s never easy and the journey is usually an endurance of hurt, pain, guilt, and shame. But surviving it makes us stronger, and trusting in Him is what allows us to get through it all.

One of the greatest figures in the Bible, Peter, had perhaps the most epic failure of all time: he denied three times knowing Jesus. Peter went on to found the Christian church.

Tough times happen. Tough times will continue to happen. Mistakes will be made. But when they are, remember that failure is simply a platform to growth.

Padre Pio

 

 

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.” 

-2 Corinthians 1:3-5

 

 

Why We Fail

As the month of January would have it, there are many blogs, magazine articles, talk shows, etc. centered on the topic of resolutions. “New Year, New You.” Now is the time to start fresh with all those things we all have been meaning to do, and I know I have my laundry list of resolutions for 2013.

And with each list of resolutions made comes a list of resolutions not achieved. It’s normal. You can say it’s par for the course with every New Year.  Still, it got me to thinking about all the times, both big and small, that I have not managed to reach my goals.

I’ve written before about how movies have a way of touching our lives and correlating our real world experiences to what we see on the screen. I recently sat down with Lee to watch The Adjustment Bureau – a very underrated movie about an enduring love story – and there was a part of the film that really struck a chord with a particular moment in my life.

[SPOILER ALERT] In the movie, the character of David Norris, played by Matt Damon, is asking the love of his life Elise to trust him and go with him through a door. “I can go through this door alone. You’ll never see me or the people chasing us again. Or you can come with me, and I don’t know what’s on the other side, but you’d be next to me and that’s all I’ve wanted since the minute I met you.”

I lived that moment. Well … something very similar to that moment. A love induced plea to someone, asking them to take a leap of faith and hold my hand all the way through it. It didn’t happen and I went through that door by myself, landing flat on my face, devastated and heart-broken.

I failed.

I will admit it took some effort to bounce back from that event. The road back to normalcy was not a fast or easy one, and it was one that was littered with pain and mistakes that all stemmed from that failure. It was a time at which I stumbled, fell, and stayed down.

What I realize now is that it’s okay to fail.  After all, what is failure if not the building blocks of future success? As I correlate that moment, and all the other difficult experiences in my life, to what I continue to learn in my spiritual journey with God, I find that it’s not about the stumbles we take. Rather, what’s important is our willingness to get back up. What truly matters is our readiness to be redeemed after we fall.

Even Jesus, who chose to put the weight of my sins and my selfishness and my flaws on his shoulders, fell three times on his way to be sacrificed for me. To me, there is no greater or more telling example of ‘getting back up’ than that of Jesus. Beaten, bloodied, and broken, He stood back up to fulfill His promise and redeem me from my sins.

Having the luxury of looking back, now more than seven years removed from my personal rock-bottom experience, and being able to apply the context of hindsight and lessons learned, I know that I would not be where I am today if not for that moment of failure. That door being shut turned out to be the opening to another door that has yielded thousands of wonderful and exciting memories.

Accomplishing your resolutions for the New Year is great, and it’s something towards which everyone should diligently strive. However, it’s important to be reminded that it is not the end of the world if we don’t achieve those goals. The important thing is that we try, and when we fail, we get back up and try again.

Keep on Keep’n On

In the spirit of the Martin Luther King holiday, this week’s prompt for Random Writers is about overcoming adversity.

As I reflect back on all I learned about Dr. King and those involved in the Civil Rights Movement, I can’t begin to imagine the resolve each of those individuals had in order to continue to press forward the way they did. I think about the images of protestors beaten by police and assaulted with water from fire truck hoses. I try to understand a life in which there were separate doors and water fountains for blacks and whites. I think about the pride they must feel to look back at what they had to overcome in order for their children and grandchildren to live the lives they have today.

As I look back on my own life, I can’t think of any adversity that remotely comes close to those faced by African-Americans in the Sixties. By comparison, my life has been a breeze. Growing up in Miami, being Hispanic was never an issue. If anything, it’s perhaps one of the few cities in the United States where Anglos can be considered – by perception if not statistics – as the minorities. If I was discriminated against in college, it surely wasn’t overt or direct. I can’t think of one time in the six years I lived in New Orleans where I had a problem simply because my last name ends in E-Z. Since moving back to Florida in 1996, there have been only two times I can specifically recall being offended by something someone said or did because of my race.

So I don’t even know where to begin when it comes to writing about overcoming adversity. Anything I can think of pales in comparison to the struggles, battles, and suffering those who made up the Civil Rights Movement had to endure. Even though my parents didn’t have a lot of money, we never really went without. Sure, we didn’t go out to restaurants or movies, but there was always food on the table, new clothes (well … if you can call hand-me-downs new), and a roof over our heads. Today as an adult, I still find I have lots to do in terms of bettering my fiscal responsibilities, but nothing that can be considered an adversity.

What I can write about overcoming adversity is what I learned from the lessons of the Civil Rights Movement.

  1. Begin in faith. Faith in God and faith in the power of perseverance. The problems in front of us won’t be resolved overnight, and the distance from here to there is always made shorter with every step that’s taken.
  2. Compassion is the greatest weapon of all. Violence and negativity, be it physical actions against someone else, hatred in the words we direct at others, or even self-destructive tendencies we may use to cope with a situation, are never productive in support of the end goal. Through kindness and grace, the strength to stand firmly against any particular adversary can be found.
  3. One person can make a difference, but a community of people can change the world. Dr. King didn’t change the culture of our country all by himself. He had millions of individuals who chose to stand by his side, protest the injustices they were forced to endure, and affect change for themselves and all those who followed. When faced with personal adversity, we should always remember we do not have to face it alone. Family, friends, community;  they all make a difference in carrying us through the tough times, and the seeds of perseverance are found in the hearts of anyone willing to help you overcome a struggle.

I’ve written time and time again how fortunate and blessed I am for the life that I lead. The work of Dr. Martin Luther King is a reminder of those blessings. It’s a reminder that no mountain is insurmountable, and that darkness cannot hide from the light of truth and goodness. In summary, I believe Dr. King said it best.

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”

Offsetting the Gravity of Failure

Failure. The word itself is filled with weight.

I used to live in a world where the gravity of failure could be paralyzing. The idea of not succeeding or not attaining my personal goals was unthinkable to me.

It’s not as if my life was perfect and did not have its share of setbacks. Still, I feel I always lived a blessed life, and, for the most part, I had always been able to achieve that which I set out to do. This is, of course, until life served up a healthy dose of reality that allowed me to open my eyes to the truth. I guess that’s what maturity is: the clarity of vision that’s achieved with the passing of time and the accumulation of experience.

My closed door begins with a love story. It’s the tale of a young lad who falls head over heels for a princess, a princess betrothed to a knight and living comfortably in her castle. The young boy, who himself is committed to someone else, is so blinded by his love and infatuation that he forsakes the bond he once held true in order to pursue the princess, a woman he knows with absolute certainty is his ‘one true love’. The princess returns his affections in kind, and the two of them dream of a happily ever after together.

The story, however, does not conclude with a fairytale ending. Rather, just as the boy is running to the castle gates to claim his princess, she orders the gates be slammed shut. The boy is left to fall into a cavernous mote and anguish as he’s consumed by the metaphorical beast that is failure.

(Aside: Creative liberty and dramatic flair are probably my two favorite things about being a writer.)

So you get the point. I went all in on what I thought was a winning hand, and I ended up losing it all. As I look back on the pivotal moment that changed my life, I still remember the numbness I felt in my body at the realization that what I believed with all my heart to be absolutely true turned out to be false. It was as if a bomb had gone off, and I could hear a ringing in my ears that was literally blinding.

The door to my dream had been slammed shut.

In keeping with the theatrical writing, I would like for you to imagine a movie scene you’ve seen a million times. The hero takes a fall or is ambushed and hit in the back of the head. The screen goes black. Next, you see the hero groggily opening his eyes and trying desperately to find his orientation or figure out where he is. That’s what happened to me.

Following my life changing failure moment, it took me a while to figure out what came next. Yet once I was able to open my eyes to see and understand things from a new perspective, so many things became clear to me.

I’m nearly forty years old and I can say without equivocation I’ve lived more in the last six years since that life changing event than I had prior to that point. There is no doubt in my mind that moment of failure was the best thing that ever happened to me. I would, in all likeliness, not be writing at this moment if not for that event that crushed my heart and left me emotionally dead for a period of time.

To put it into better perspective, that moment was not a closed door that lead to an open door. It was a closed door that lead to a million open, wonderful, amazing, unbelievable, and exciting doors, and it’s been an absolute blessing to have been able to walk through them all. Just about everything I have today which I cherish and which makes me complete as a person stems from the people I’ve met as a result of that one door being slammed shut in my face.

The saying goes, “This, too, shall pass.” I admit it’s very hard to see down the road when all you can see is a closed door. But when you find yourself in that situation, remind yourself that failure is not an ending but rather the beginning of something new. Failure is indeed full of gravity that can pull you down, but success is measured in your ability to get right back up.

For additional perspective on this posting, please see my older posts “The Great Debate” and “untitled“.