Failure is Never Forever
I was empty.
My house was empty
My heart… well, I’m not sure “empty” is quite empty enough to describe what had happened to my heart.
Hollowed is better.
What had happened to my heart was something akin to the process we put pumpkins though every fall to turn them into decorations. Yes, that’s closer… it felt as if someone had opened me up, scraped away the fleshy parts of me, separating me from myself, and left me with a hollow core and an obnoxiously carved mask that allowed passers-by to peer directly into my naked interior.
The life I had craved…. the one that was full of safety and security and white-picket fences… it was dying, and I was keeping vigil as it drew its final breaths.
This death vigil literally brought me to my knees.
Alone in the middle of our empty home, watching the sunlight filter in through the dining room window.
The dining room that had held birthdays and family dinners and the dissolution of our marriage.
I remember the sound of my heartbeat in the silence. I remember surveying the structure that surrounded me, considering the possibility that it was only being held together by the crushing weight of the gravity that always accompanies grief.
I had lost my home. Our home.
I had lost my husband.
I had failed this family.
I wasn’t sure that I would ever get up off that floor. Like I remember counting breaths, promising myself that I would get up on the count of three…
One, two, three….
Nope. Still kneeling in the middle of my beautiful living room, the one with the gold accent wall that had taken me days to paint. My mind started to wander. I thought about all of those HGTV episodes I’d watched about foreclosed homes, the ones where the new owners take over and gut the whole damn thing.
I thought about someone gutting my accent wall. How appropriate, really.. this house, this extension of me… gutted.
Just three more breaths…
One, two, three…
This went on for an hour. Hours, maybe.
I remember wishing that it would all just end in that place.
Not really wanting to die, but really not wanting to live.
Not like this
I could not imagine living with this sadness. This hollowed core. This kind of failure following me around forever.
And then, in the middle of my counting, I got up.
I drug myself to the door, turned the handle, and walked away without looking back.
Trudging toward my newly emptied life. Incapable of understanding that it would ever feel full again.
Out of all of my failures, this one has been the most haunting. Foreclosure tends to feel like a pretty clear failure, the forever kind of failure. And while I know that the responsibility did not rest solely on my shoulders, I still cannot shake the sense of shame I feel when I walk past that house.
Pro tip about shame (a sensation I know intimately): I’ve come to understand that shame, like grief, washes over me like ocean waves. And we cannot stop the ocean from being the ocean. It's best to just let the waves work, and later walk the shoreline to discover the treasures uncovered by the tide.
But back to failure.
After I walked through that threshold on the day I left our home for the last time, I went on to fail at many more things, many times over.
Don’t believe me? Let me run out the details for you:
My car was repossessed. I took my three tiny babies, and moved all four of us into one-bedroom at my dad’s house. I took a job making $10 an hour. I relied on food stamps to feed my family, and could not afford clothes for my children.
Failure. Failure. Failure.
And I didn’t stop there.
I failed at other things, too.
I failed at keeping secrets, and after three decades of hiding my attraction to women, I came out to my children and my family when I was 33 years old. This was a failure of the truly magnificent sort. While my children adjusted with ease and grace, my revelation to my family was devastating, and it took many years to put the pieces back together.
I failed at the career I carved out of that $10 an hour job - a career that provided a paycheck, a prestigious title, and endless promise for the future. It was a great career, but I couldn’t find a way to perform at my work and still be present to my life. So I left, halting my upward mobility, and requiring that I piece together work that pays the bills and allows me to be me, with all of my quirks and creativity.
I could go on and on.
I failed to make my body into the most ideal version of itself. I’ve failed to keep my kids connected to church. I wake up every single day and wonder how I’m failing as a parent.
Every. Single. Day.
But there is one thing I know about failure with absolute certainty:
It is never forever.
Do you know how I know this?
Because as I sit here typing these words, my children are asleep in our three-bedroom home - a home that is kind of small, but is also full of love and hope and possibility. My wife is at work, being a pastor to people who love to hear her preach. She will be home later today, and will certainly greet me with a “Well, hello there beautiful” and a kiss. After spending too much time cajoling the kids into doing chores, we will find our way to Sunday family dinner and a movie, the one evening during the week that allows me glimpses of who my kids are becoming, relieving my parenting panic for just a little while.
Do you see?
Failure is not forever.
But it is fracturing.
It breaks us into a million pieces that are later rearranged into something new.
And if we only deal in perfect pieces, we miss the mosaic. We become blind to the way the light bounces off the imperfections, casting new color into our world.
And I don’t know about you, but I don’t want a world without color.
I crave the way the light bends when it moves through me now, creating something entirely unexpected when it bounces off my jagged edges.
And so, if I have to be fractured to keep the color, I’ll spill out all the broken pieces I can find within me.