Memos from the Middle

Smack-Dab in the Middle of Living

Learning to Fail (Part 2)

“If you have the meaning, then you don’t have to have the glory.” Dr. Kent M. Keith

Let me tell you how God has worked in my life: over and over again, I have been brought up to the precipice of personal or professional glory just to ultimately have it fizzle right before my eyes. I attended a church my entire young life only to graduate from high school and not get the same scholarship other graduating members had always received. I earned a $250 award as a leader in the city-wide J.R.O.T.C. only to get home and open the envelope to find it empty. I was a finalist for a prestigious teaching award but didn’t actually earn the final recognition. I was nominated to travel to the west coast to give a talk on improving educational outcomes for black boys only to be passed over by organizers in favor of other presenters and topics. Do you know how amazing and powerful each of these failures (and all the ones I didn’t list) have been?

This world conditions us to expect glory, and when we don’t get it (or we don’t get it like we imagine we should), we walk around like spoiled brats who were told “no” for the first time. We stomp or pout or yell about our perceived wrongs. We criticize or attack others, or we fall into fits of rage or depression with a woe-is-me attitude. All the while, we forget that we are sitting in the midst of immeasurable blessings.

And we’re so fickle, too. I loved J.R.O.T.C., for example. I would show up at 6:45 in the morning for drill practice even if I intended to cut every other class that day. I didn’t care if we practiced in the gym on cold, wet mornings or on the football field with the sun rising to greet us. I didn’t mind shining my brass and shoes or donning that green wool uniform. I got upset when other members didn’t show up because I valued the team and wanted us to do our very best. I never desired that $250 check because I didn’t even know it existed when I was eating hot bowls of oatmeal in three bites before my dad dropped me off at the school. But I remember being so upset when I opened that empty envelope! We never want something so much as when we are told we can’t have it.

This week, I found myself a little stronger in my faith and leadership. I had several tough conversations. Many of them proved unsuccessful as I realized before, during, and directly after conferences that my words would not penetrate and my actions would not be appreciated as immediately and victoriously as I hoped. I understood that walls created years before ever encountering these people would not be torn down in these interactions, but I did what I was called to do anyway. When others questioned my actions or complained or talked about me (or those I was trying to reach), I doubled down in my resolve to lead in the way I was called to lead anyway. I was still unsuccessful, but I was not defeated. I finished the week with joy because my mission is clearing up in my mind, and I’m starting to see Him and His expectations for me more distinctly.

I am so grateful that God has allowed me to fail. I’m so glad that He humbles me time and time again. I am elated that he loves me enough to keep molding me for His glory. I’m determined to live my values more and more each day, and with that comes a certain level of separation from this world and failure in it. But that’s okay. I cannot control adversities or obstacles that are sure to come my way, but I can control how I respond. And every day, I’m trying to be exactly who God wants me to be no matter what comes.

Paradoxical Commandments
by Dr. Kent M. Keith (1968)

People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered.
Love them anyway.

If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish ulterior motives.
Do good anyway.

If you are successful, you will win false friends and true enemies.
Succeed anyway.

The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow.
Do good anyway.

Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable.
Be honest and frank anyway.

The biggest men and women with the biggest ideas can be shot down by the smallest men and women with the smallest minds.
Think big anyway.

People favor underdogs but follow only top dogs.
Fight for a few underdogs anyway.

What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight.
Build anyway.

People really need help but may attack you if you do help them.
Help people anyway.

Give the world the best you have and you’ll get kicked in the teeth.
Give the world the best you have anyway.

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