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The taste of success in the face of failure


When I was 15 my High School Biology teacher talked me into becoming a Ski Instructor. I’ve skied since I was 3. I’ve been a member of this organization for 12 years. In comparison, there is nothing else in my life I have been doing as long. This past weekend, I finally earned my Level 3 Certification. For those not in the know, this is the highest level of certification, statistically less than 15% of all ski instructors ever achieve this. The certification levels are established by examinations to “validate skills as an instructor, progressively require more depth of knowledge, skill at applying this knowledge, and demonstration of a greater range of skiing skills on more difficult terrain and snow conditions.” It’s a 3 part test- Written, Skiing & Teaching. For many years (ok, so 10 years since I passed my Level 2) the desire to ‘some day’ go for my 3 has been there. So how did I get talked into it this year? That’s a story for another day, for this post (warning) I have already gotten really long winded. Yes, it has been a big commitment and a long journey. Honestly, I went into it expecting success. While I knew the possibility was there, and while I convincingly talked to myself and others that it wouldn’t matter either way, I didn’t expect to fail.

But I did.

And it did matter.

This experience has stretched and grown me in so many different ways. This journey has allowed my family to ski, and grow to love skiing, to love this organization we are a part of, and to love the people we are doing this alongside. This year we have skied 7 different mountains in 3 different states and our girls are now Pass Holders at two different resorts.

I started this journey filled with optimism. I hit a point of despair, confusion and uncertainty when I failed the skiing portion of the exam at Schwietzer Mountain in Idaho nearly a month ago. I hadn’t really grasped how much of myself and my identity was wrapped up in the status of achieving this. I hadn’t really understood that I have never really failed at something before. I spent a few weeks unsure how to proceed out of failure, or if I even should.

When faced with failure shame takes center stage, we often see ourselves as a source of degradation. When courage fails shame blinds the possibility we are anything other than unworthy. When courage wanes in the face of failure it is hard to consider getting up and beginning again. And when we do not begin again, not only has courage failed but failure has won.

Have you ever failed at something? Have you ever known the hot tears that failure shed? Have you ever run from anything because the fear of failure that mocks your hope overshadows your ability to succeed?

Failure has won because what could have been an opportunity to learn and grow becomes a hole out of which I do not come. What can we do when faced with our own failure? We must recognize that as long as we are humans, as long as we are on this globe, we are subject to fail. But that’s not the end of it. Through this I continue to remember that the one who loves us and calls us to follow him says, ‘I knew you would fail. I have protected you by allowing this failure so that I will use this experience as a time of growth.’ My strength to keep going, to hammer it out, work on it, improve it, get up and try again, comes from the utter trust that Jesus wants my whole heart, my experiences, even my failures because they make me who I am, and I am his, and he has work to do. Nearly 1000  years before Jesus died, words came through Isaiah- When the waters are high, you will not drown. When the fire is hot, you will not be burned. For you are mine; don’t be afraid for I am with you.

Driving to Mt. Hood Saturday morning, my second attempt at the skiing portion of the exam (I passed the teaching several weeks ago at Stevens), I riddled with far too much anxiety, doubt and uncertainty. I plugged into my iPod, trying to get into the zone, blasting Red Letter with my eyes closed. There was a moment in there where I became overshadowed, thinking this was a mistake, why was I here? Is this even worth it? Worth the stress, the effort, the travel, leaving the kids with Matt so I could be removed for a day to get out there and very possibly not have my performance be good enough? Then, just for a moment, the sun popped out, shone it’s warmth and light on my face, radiating through my eyelids. In that moment, it was so stricken with the realization of the wholehearted, utter satisfaction and desire to feel the radiance of God’s face in my heart. He’s enough. Dude, he is enough. That morning had been reading (from the Logos software on my new iPad) a series of Sermons I’ve been going through from John Wesley (ok, so I dig dead British Theologians):

“First. The love of God. For thus saith his word. ‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength.’ Such a love is this, an engrosses the whole heart, as rakes up all the affections, as fills the entire capacity of the soul and employs the utmost extent of all its faculties. He that thus loves the Lord his God, his spirit continually ‘rejoiceth in God his Saviour.’ his delight is in the Lord, his Lord and his All, to whom ‘in everything he giveth thanks. All his desire is unto God, and to the remembrance of his name.’ his heart is every crying out, ‘Whom have I in heaven but Thee? and there is none upon the earth that I desire beside Thee.’ Indeed, what can he desire beside God? Not the world, nor the things of the world. … The great question of all, then, still remains. Is the love of God shed abroad in your heart? Can you cry out, ‘My God, and my All’? Do you desire nothing but him? Are you happy in God? Is he your glory, your delight, your crown of rejoicing? … But cry to him day and night, until thou knowest in whom thou hast believed, and remember, til thou canst lift up thy hand to heaven, and declare to him that liveth for ever and ever, ‘Lord, Thou knowest all things, Thou knowest that I love Thee’.”

Yet even Wesley was a man perpetually riddled with self-doubt, even to the point he wrote his brother doubting his own salvation.

Is the effort worth the investment in the face of adversity? On the brink of failure? What about on the brink of success? In that moment, my heart calmed in knowing, no matter what, I desire the face of God more. I am secure in my position in Christ more. I am satisfied in the knowledge he is worthy and therefore the fear of failure should not keep me from continuing this pursuit. The object isn’t to be perfect, or to achieve something on my own. The goal isn’t to hold back or forge forward until I’ve created my own achievements thinking I’m beyond reproach. Our nature is to fail and fail often, but in failing to search for something bigger than we can imagine. Anything else would be to waste it all.

Facing and admitting our failures, shortcomings and mistakes is one way Jesus teaches us what the Gospel is. Failures show us what we really are. I know if I would have sailed through and passed this, all upon my own accord and self-sufficiency, I would remain there, in my puffed up prideful state I am so prone to. I had, at one point in my younger life, boastfully wanted to achieve this goal of passing my Level 3 by the time I turned 21. That possibility expired 7 years ago. I know, I know if I would have done it that way I would have gotten nothing out of the process. It would have been such a waste. It would have been only boasting in myself and my own abilities. You see, nearly everything I do comes far too easily. It is very hard to challenge myself and far to easily to receive praise even when I know my efforts have been mediocre.

But this path, the one chosen for me, not by me, the path that leads through the realm of failing, has led to immense opportunities to really work hard at something. To really improve my abilities in something I have simply taken for granted. The fruit of this success is so much sweeter, the Gold Pin so much more meaningful this way. It has come out of immense refinement on so many different levels. It holds a far deeper symbolism of how I have come to experience God caring for me in new ways and areas of my life I have often felt are too strongly tied to the Natalie of the past where I have found too much identity that I am too afraid to give it completely over. I won’t deny that walking out of that test, this Gold Pin in my pocket, it was hard to get out of the Zone. It was hard to actually have fun in the heat of it (though I did), and even after it took a long while to feel the joy of passing and burden of this exam lift (I think I concerned a few people into thinking I didn’t pass with my reaction to their asking). Still, I am utterly amazed what God has been working out through this process. I have made many new friendships. I am a better skier because of it. I am a better teacher. A better parent. A better wife.

Doubt can still remain. That morning in the car, before the test even started, as I sat and enjoyed the warm rays on my face– as soon as I opened my eyes, the clouds had covered the sun. It hit me. I still have to endure through this, muddle in a world cast in shadow, degraded, difficult and obscured from the brilliance of truth. It’s still toil. It’s still hard. The difference is we are told those who are in Christ will never walk in Darkness. I have been prone to thinking I still have to shake off the darkness, that I am still stuck in the same propensities I have always struggled with. I don’t want to do this to fuel my pride. I don’t want to do this so people will praise me with how good I am. Why do I still feel how I can once again subtly beginning to put my faith in myself, or compromise, or half-truths, or expediency, or my own self-sufficiency? All the while I can still be so keenly aware that I’m utterly fallible and prone to self-justification and liable to deception, so that I may think I’m walking by faith when I am, perhaps, in fact becoming more callous to the truth. But those are lies that sometimes lodge themselves very deep in my heart as thoughts and intentions seemingly unshakably true because of the hardness of deception that encloses them like a dark, sealed casket.

On Thursday before leaving for Oregon we attended a funeral of our dear, sweet neighbor who has been struggling, but improving, from having a stroke 5 years ago. It was the first open casket funeral I have attended, the first actual dead body I have seen. It struck me how obvious physical death is. I was not prepared to be so keenly hit with the reality, the permanence of death. She was obviously not there, what made her her, gave her life, was gone. It was simply a shell which remained. Too often I have thought past issues, past pieces of me were simply slumbering in submission, in restraint. I have failed to truly believe that to be alive in Christ is to really be dead to sin. Just like that body. Dead. Not just sleeping. Sin truly is a beast to slay, not a pet to tame. In that condition unbelief has the upper hand. If we’re not fully believing in the promises of God, we are still trusting in the promises of sin. And in those moments the most important thing is this: am I trusting God?

So yes, I passed. And I’m excited for what further opportunities this Pin will hold in the future.

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