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Failure is Not a Detour

Lori peers over her shoulder at all that failed to thrive in her life, despite her clear intentions and decisive actions. Though many of her dreams have not been realized, she is reaping where she did not sow. -Editor

This is a theme I have been sashaying with for a long time now. I am only in my fifties but the view over my shoulder has a trail of broken dreams that I believed in with my whole being. Many of them died.

John and I articulated a plan of planting a church congregation in New Mexico in the 80's. I do not remember any space parceled out for doubt that we would succeed. We had prayed about this. John had studied the demographics until he could recite them by heart. We had no gap between our clasped hands for The Goal to slip through. But after three years of living and breathing it, we let it go like a trapped bird and watched it fly out the window. Yet in the silence that stayed behind to keep us company I learned that there is life after failure. I have more respect for John for reaching and losing, not less. There are gray and white memories of our family of six hovering below the poverty line, reminding me that I have lived with less than I have now. Failure made me stronger, insulating me from entitlement.

We have had a convoluted relationship with schooling for our children over the thirty years they have been ours to make mistakes with. Homeschooling was the glue for our family for decades. Then we explored public school, private school, charter school, distance learning, boarding school and an alternative high school. The last of those choices crumbled under the weight of failure, when the director went to jail for abuse. If I had begun parenting with shiny bright aspirations of protecting my children, there was little evidence that I had succeeded. I can apologize to them for flawed choices, or try desperately to make good ones from now on. Yet in the churned up soil left behind from those ripped up dreams, I see young adults who have grown in compassion, who have no words of blame for me. I wanted to avoid all imperfect conditions so that my children would thrive. But it seems that God can work with imperfect ones too.

I wanted to give my children a vibrant relationship with my own parents, but for many years we lived thousands of miles away. Finally we moved closer, and it looked like it would be possible. But on the day that we climbed into the packed truck to drive across the country, my mother lost everything she owned in a flood. Failure thudded like a rock around my neck. We built an apartment for her on our house, and I held on to the wish that my children would feel close to their grandmother. But then I realized that I was pregnant with twins, and that our son has autism. Those years were intense, and there was little space for grandma. Then as I was climbing out of what I can only barely believe I survived, I realized my mother had stage four cancer. She died in two weeks.

The dreams I had for our life were good ones. It is hard to hold them like empty shells in one hand and in the other hold the living proof of what actually came true. We wanted to plant a church. We failed. But instead we recalibrated our own hearts. We wanted to give our kids an ideal childhood. We failed. But they are emerging as people who learned forgiveness not as an exercise but as a way home. I wanted my children to feel close to their grandmother. They don't. But they are close to her in that she lives inside of me every day. Without her physical presence to distract me I listen more intently to the part of her that is still very, very much alive.

Those who trust in the Divine are altogether different. Though concerned about the morrow, yet are they unconcerned, in that they are not anxious, let alone worried, when they give thought to the morrow. They remain even-tempered whether or not they realize their desires, and they do not grieve over their loss; they are content with their lot. If they become wealthy they do not become infatuated with wealth; if they are promoted to important positions they do not consider themselves worthier than others. If they become poor they are not made miserable either; if lowly in status they do not feel downcast. They know that for those who trust in the Divine all things are moving towards an everlasting state of happiness, and that no matter what happens at any time to them, it contributes to that state. (Heavenly Secrets 8478)

Lori Odhner

Lori Odhner is married to John. They share a ministry for marriage as well as one for music. You can learn more about that at where Lori publishes poignant stories called Marriage Moats.