I don’t know if ever I have come across a word as painful, demoralizing, or heavy to me as this one.
It doesn’t hurt when it is being used in the typical pop culture manner of the word, but when bestowed upon me as a reward for my actions not meeting the requisite standard… Sigh…
And fail I did.
I have had many people who care about me try to soften the blow. I have had some very encouraging people attempt to encourage me by saying things like, “If you did your best, its not a fail,” and “Your wife and kids still love you, you didn’t fail.” There were a good number of these kinds of statements being sent to me. On the one hand, I really appreciated them. They made me feel good for a moment.
On the other hand, they were frustrating to a deep level.
I felt as though the encouragement that was being given to me was a dismissal of what had happened, a denial of the facts, an enticement to live contrary to reality.
And so I write this now… I’m calling it what it is.
It is a fail.
I failed to meet the minimum requirements to move forward with my training. I failed to accumulate the required minimum number of points on a battery of patient scenarios. I failed to perform my job in a manner commensurate with the predetermined standard which was required of me. This is the simple reality and truth of the matter. There was a standard. I did not attain it. Fail.
I understand what these encouragers were communicating to me. I am not a failure. I felt like one. The weekend after I got the news, I walked around in a strange fog of disbelief.
It is humiliating. It is painful for me. I am heavy hitter, a hot runner. I have been ” they guy that gets things done” for a long time. For me to engage in something this difficult and not succeed is a foreign concept.
I spent a lot of time thinking about failure and how it is handled by the folks around me. I think we need to adjust fire.
I had some folks tell me they were sorry that I failed, that they had faith in my ability to pass, and that they hoped I would get back to the plate and start swinging again. This is the healthy approach.
We cannot redefine a word when we don’t like how it makes us feel. We do not have the ability to redefine the standards placed upon us after we have committed to the task. We do not have the luxury of walking through life sans consequences. We had better not communicate to those around us that we believe we can do these things.
I have started to wonder… how many times have I redefined something in my life, or in the lives of those around me, because the truth was too bitter to swallow. Have I looked at a friend and told him that what he was doing is healthy, appropriate, just, wise, or even “not that bad”, when in fact it is unhealthy, inappropriate, unjust, unwise, or quite frankly “bad”? Has this quickness to redefine what is offensive so that I don’t have to really deal with the source of offense stretched into my beliefs? Or rather, have my beliefs failed to stretch into my daily interactions with others to such an extent that I believe that I am the authority who decides what is a fail, a pass, wise, just, unjust, good, bad, etc., without really understanding that that is what I am doing?
I am not the one to determine a fail. I simply perform.
Those who wrote the course, set the objectives, presented the material, and evaluated my performance are the appropriate judges. It is on their shoulders to define the fail.
Likewise, it is not me who determines what is right or wrong, just or unjust, fair or unfair. I simply discern what I see.
The Author of all life is the one who wrote the course of my life, set the objectives, determined my purpose, presented me with the resources required, and is the only appropriate Judge who determines what is right or wrong, just or unjust, righteous and unrighteous, pure and holy, or sin and… well… fail.
Another thing I got to think about was my struggle with “failure.” I fought, off and on, with feeling like a failure for years. I had such a ridiculous, strict, narrow view of success that practically everything I did failed to measure up. I would recall all the things I “failed” at and would feel as though nothing I did was good enough. I really felt as though I was a failure. Interestingly enough it took a legitimate fail for me to see that I have not legitimately failed at much of anything in my past. I know it is ironic, but a couple weeks after my first fail and I am realizing how awesome I have been in this game of life! (feel free to roll your eyes)
In summary, I failed and I want to call it a fail. Calling it a fail is not the same as calling me a failure. Saying I did not fail is redefining reality and calling “bad” “good”. I am simply the one who failed. After getting the bad news, the Navy went through the required procedure and, in the end, decided to send me back to the beginning of the course with another class. I hear repeating the 8th grade isn’t so bad…
Just Thinking, Life Updates, My Story
confusion, despair, failure, fear, hopeless, insecurity
If you would have asked me about my confidence a year ago today, I would have told you that, though I come across as being very confident, I am really not. I felt as though I was lost in a cloud, flying blind, a lot of the time (and still feel this way a lot). I would make decisions and if they went poorly, I reacted very badly. I tended to pour anger and frustration all around me because I felt as though I was not capable, or was not ready to be in the positions in which I found myself.
Ask me now about my confidence and I will tell you with great assurance that I am no longer as confident as I used to be! I will also tell you that it is okay.
My parents, in-laws, wife, and kids can all tell you about times that things have not turned out the way I had hoped they would because of a simple mistake or oversight on my behalf, and how I feel as though I have failed at so many things. Having come to this school, I have been placed in some very difficult positions. The pace is so quick, the requirements so strict, the instructors so demanding, I have been forced to start pushing the envelope which contains my sense of “everything will be okay.”
Everything will in fact NOT be okay.
I am going to fail and I am going to screw stuff up.
I have been told by past leaders that I am a leader, that the bar I set for my peers is pretty high, and that I outperform those around me. I never saw that. I saw that other people would get worked up a lot more about the requirements, would work harder at their tasks than me, and would spend more time getting their tasks accomplished than I would. My perspective was that they were better equipped and more motivated to succeed than I was, that they understood what was going on better than I did, yet somehow my leadership, and those working around me, started to rely on me as the “go to guy” for things that involved me. I was so afraid of screwing up what I was working on, that I never pulled the trigger on a project or task until I was absolutely, positively, 100% sure that the task was complete and met the standard. By the time I executed my task, I felt absolutely confident that it was right… but I would not act until then. This did not breed in me a sense of confidence though, it simply created a sense of focus, speed, and intensity in me that caused me to work my tasks faster than those around me. While they were still unsure of what to do, I had finished my work and called the shot… confidence in my ability or quickness to finish because of a lack of confidence in my environment?
I would stay at work until 3 AM working on some tasks. Think about that! I would do almost 2 days work at night while my peers were home asleep because I was afraid I was going to miss a deadline or turn in a job that was incomplete. My “confidence” was purely fueled by a true lack of confidence.
I do not have the time or resources to work my current tasks until they are absolutely 100% complete. I am having to turn things in, run reports, finish tasks when I am mostly sure they are okay. That is a long way from 100% complete and correct. I am turning things in that meet the standard but require some correction instead of turning in perfection.
Having worked for so long in an environment where my work was pretty close to perfect, turning in things that simply meet the requirement is really hard.
It got even worse this month. So far I have failed 1 test (made a mighty 64 on it), and have had to redo one of my tasks 7 times before it met the standard! Talk about a death blow to my paradigm of confidence. In the midst of the rework, I had the privilege of writing lines like I was back in middle school in order to correct one of my deficiencies. I am faced with a Gastrointestinal lab, Head/Ears/Eyes/Nose/Throat (HEENT) lab, Cardiovascular exam, and HEENT exam all stacked up next week.
Guess what… my world did not come to an end. I have royally screwed up several things this month now that I am having to perform on a much higher level than I have in the past and it is okay.
I don’t feel as though I have clearly communicated what I am feeling… let me summarize like this…
I was so afraid of failing and having other people see me how I see me that I worked really REALLY hard to make sure everything I did was absolutely spot on.
Now I am in an environment where I cannot do what I used to do.
I was super afraid that I would drop the ball and the people around me would see me for the fraud that I so often feel I am.
I dropped the ball… I dropped it many times!
The people around me, family, friends, co-workers, leaders, looked at me, gave their advice/criticism, and moved on.
I had to do a lot of work because everything is not okay.
Apparently that is life…
And I really am okay!
Confidence is a thing of irony for me now.
What others may see in me and call confidence is really just me learning how to fail, recover well, and live with the grace and mercy that has been given to me.
Everything in life is not okay, but with grace, I can be.
… So Joey, when you ask how I am doing, and I say, “I’m doing really well” and you say, “Awesome… I would like to hear why you are doing well…”… well… this is why.
Thanks for asking!
adventure, Confidence, confusion, emotional security, fear, Freedom, insecurity, value, values
I have typed this first paragraph several times now. I keep trying to work up a metaphor for the pain and bitterness that I carried around with me. A metaphor depicting the way that I hid this the best that I could from the people around me and how I would ignore the sore spot in my soul.
There is no metaphor that I can think of to describe this.
I would ask really good questions when I was around other people and I would tell stories and get involved with their life and their projects without ever really letting anybody else get into mine. I would share my story and my life and I would be “transparent” at the drop of a hat. The trouble is that transparency got me nowhere and I wonder if the fruit produced in the lives of others because of my “transparency” was short lived or actually fruit at all. Just like when my math teacher would work problems on her transparency sheet and the work was projected on the wall, I would keep my problem on the transparency sheet and broadcast it to an audience. They can interact with the problem as though it were projected on a wall, but I was behind the glass. I did not mean to be, I never thought about that, I did not recognize it as it happened. I just now am able to see what was going on.
I have often tried to figure out just when I started to hate myself. I never considered the idea that, should I figure out when and why I started to hate me, that I could spend some time thinking about it and praying about it and see if Jesus would redeem that part of my life. That never crossed my mind. I just wanted to understand me a little bit better.
I got a chance to go to Colorado last summer and met with a really sharp guy from Australia. This guy is really good at helping people get to the root of some of their pain. During my time with him, he had me do some ridiculous things like making a memory timeline. I had to write every memory I could think of down on a timeline, then we talked about them!
One of the memories I had occurred when I was about 10.
My brother was a really wild and rowdy kid. He is a couple years younger than I am and was a lot more aggressive than I was. He would chase me from one end of the house to the other end of the house when were toddlers. He thought it was great fun!
Life was hard for my family at this point in time. We had just moved from Missouri to Louisiana and did not have a home. Somehow my dad was able to arrange for us to live in a house way out in the country. Because we lived so far out, and my dad’s work schedule was not a 9-5, we did not see my dad much during the week. He worked hard and commuted a long way. My mom was left with the task of managing my brother and I on her own during the week.
My brother seemed to be in a serious “boundary testing” phase of his life too. He would pick at me and pick at me incessantly until I would complain to my mom and she would intervene. After one of these episodes she explained to me that my brother was going to keep pestering me until I stood up to him. She may not have said it, but I understood that what she meant was that I needed to fight my brother in order to put him in his place.
I was a good student. I was a sweet kid. I know I had a “little black cloud” that followed me around and I would get moody or upset, but all in all I remember being a really sweet child.
One day while waiting for the bus, my brother was being a pain. He was shoving me and pushing me and I kept taking it. As the bus came into view, he grabbed my backpack and threw it in the ditch. There was several inches of water in this ditch and so I ran to get my backpack before my school work was soaked. As I got near the bag, he shoved me in. I grabbed my bag and jumped out of the ditch while the bus rolled to a stop. It never crossed my mind that I had an option to go inside and get cleaned up. I simply got on the bus and went to school.
That afternoon my brother was still at it. I ran to my mom and started complaining about what he was doing. She picked up my little sister who was really young and told me not to break anything in the kitchen. She then went into another room and closed the door.
Commence Thunder Dome
I was petrified. I had wrestled and fought with my brother before, but somehow I always knew that there were limits. That if I got out of hand or he got out of hand, somebody was going to step in. Not this time. He started in on me and I remember grabbing a broom. The next memory I have is standing over him while he laid in a fetal position crying silently. I had a broom in my hand and was shaking.
I have remembered this fight for a long time. I can see it in my head, I can smell that damp kitchen, I can see the sobs coming from my brother and I can still feel the terror that I saw in his eyes as he laid there trying to protect himself from me.
This is what I did not realize until last year.
I loved my brother. I deeply loved my brother. I cared about him. I wanted to protect him. I was often called bossy because I would tell him what to do, but my heart was trying to guard him.
I would get worked up when he would get in trouble. I hated seeing him hurt and I did not like the people who caused the pain.
And here I was, standing over him, having just completed delivering the beat down of beat downs.
But it was not so simple as that. It was not simply that I hurt my brother and so I was mad at me. I hurt my brother believing that what I was doing was the right thing to do. I had been coached to engage in this manner in order to teach him a lesson and restore order in the house. What I had done in my young perspective was noble and appropriate. I was in the right. I had done the honorable thing.
But I felt so horrible seeing him like that. This is where the root of cancerous self loathing seems to have really developed good roots. I started to feel that I was incapable of doing what was good or what was right. For me to do what is noble, what is right, I would be left feeling like this. If I really were a good boy, then I would not feel so despicable for doing what was good. The only reason for me to feel this way after doing something good and noble is because I was a horribly bad and ignoble boy. No matter how good I behaved or how much people praised me, I knew deep inside that I was an agent of pain and destruction. Those were not the words that would go through my head. What I would hear often is that all I am capable of is hurting other people, letting people down, and ruining things around me.
As I thought about that memory I started to realize that in that moment, watching my brother lay there in pain, something changed deep within me. I lost a part of my innocence and started to believe deep inside that I was worthless. The rest of my life I would hear my own voice in my own head telling me that no matter what I did, my best contribution to my family would be for me to cease existing within it.
None of this was my parents fault. This wasn’t my fault. Kids are great observers and horrible interpreters. This was simply the result of me being in and reacting to a situation that was not so bueno.
And for the record. I no longer hate myself!
I’ll write about that part later.`l
And one more thing… to my brother…
I am very sorry for beating you with a broomstick.
family, fear, hate, kids, suicide
I had to take another look into this Jesus dilemma. It was my understanding of Him and what He wants that got me into this predicament.
In the years that I have been labored for His Kingdom, I had seen some really fantastic things happen in the lives of other people. I have seen a man who was abused for years by his dad call him and forgive him. I have seen a girl who was trapped in an abusive relationship find the means, the courage, and the strength in order to put an end to the abuse and abandon the relationship. I have seen young men and women work through major insecurities in their life and move on to fulfilling careers and relationships. I have seen men who were deeply wounded and responded with anger to everything become peaceful examples of calmness and joy in the midst of strife.
And that is where my problem began.
I have carried deep wounds because of past experiences. One of the easiest to talk about (easy in terms of it being a concise story, not in terms of it being emotionally easy to rehash) is a medevac I was involved with in Ramadi. I saw how my predisposition to an angry manner was exacerbated by combat and produced an uncontrollable simmering rage. As the Jesus I knew healed me, the anger was taken away, but was not replaced with peace, joy, or any such emotion. It was as though the storm had gone but the clouds persisted. I just knew that as I kept doing the things I was doing, Jesus would develop this joy, this peace within me.
It did not happen.
Then one evening while dealing with my kids, I had a flash of rage like I had not experienced in more than a year. After the blinding outburst was over, I felt as though I was not healed at all. That I had swallowed my emotions to a point of numbness, but that Jesus had not healed me at all. If I had been healed, then where did this outburst come from?
I did what I usually do in these times, I evaluated scripture and my situation to determine what happened and what needed to happen next. The Bible seemed to indicate that Jesus loves me and wants me to be healed. I felt like it was pretty clear… I was yet unhealed.
So what is Jesus’ problem?
Is He not as powerful as the Bible says? If He wants me to be healed and I am not producing the fruit that is congruent with a healed life, then He obviously cannot carry out His desires. If He is incapable of carrying out His desires, then He is not all powerful.
Is He a liar? If He says He wants me to be healed, and He is powerful enough to carry out His desire, yet I am not healed, then He must be a liar.
Am I effectively blocking what Jesus wants for me? This could have been an option, but I felt pretty certain that I had maintained my discipline and walked according to the principles of the Bible. I had given an honest, earnest attempt to comply with what I read in the Bible, I saw fruit being produced in the lives of the people who were taking my advice, and I could feel things change in my head and heart… but I was still left with this wounded heart.
Since I had come back to a belief in the Bible and the God of the Bible, this was something that had to be reconciled.
As I spiralled out of control, I remembered a verse from the Bible in which Jesus says to Peter,
“Satan has asked to sift you like wheat, but I have chosen to pray for you, and when you return, strengthen your brothers.”
This was an easy verse for me to dismiss. I have seen so many Christians who start to fall apart and they run to this verse claiming that they are just being sifted. While this may be true, I have found several of them who have not opened their Bible in months, other than when sitting in a Church, and have not prayed in just as long or longer. They abandon the spiritual disciplines in their lives and then try to use this verse to explain why they feel the way they do. This has happened enough times around me that this verse lost its power, and it became more and more impotent as it became more and more cliche. Several weeks into this struggle I got to thinking about this verse again.
And then I saw a Jesus I had never seen…
The cliche part of the verse is that Satan sifts believers.
Let me make something clear. I do not think any verse of the Bible is impotent or cliche. I find that some verses are used in a very cliche manner and are often taken out of context in order either to make a Christian feel better about something in their life or to support a particular argument. Neither of these are appropriate.
The part of the verse that hit me like a brand to an unsuspecting bull was Jesus’ response. Let me put this in my own words for a minute…
“Peter… Satan wants to beat you up… I have decided to let him. I’m not abandoning you, I will be right here through the whole ordeal, but I am going to allow you to feel the pain in the fight. You will survive and when the fight is over I want you to encourage your brothers. Be ready, Peter… life in this moment is going to be rough.”
Who in the world is this Jesus and where has He been hiding? Jesus is a savior, a healer, a righteous judge, a man who got angry and flipped tables in the temple. Jesus, as far as I knew, was not an MMA coach training a young fighter, sending him into the ring against a brute of an opponent, simply to strengthen his understanding of the battle and then use him to motivate and encourage the other fighters. This Jesus is a tactician. This Jesus is a warrior.
While I knew that this was true of Him, this truth did not make its way into my heart.
Could this be? Had I just endured this garbage in my life so that Jesus could reveal another aspect of who He is to me?
Scripture proved to be true. Jesus was powerful enough to heal me. I had not blocked His power in my life. He had not lied… He did want to heal me, but He wanted me to get into a fight first.
I had misunderstood His desire for me.
But why? Why on earth would He allow me to create such caustic damage to His Kingdom in the process?
And why would He choose to sustain my life?
despair, fear, hopeless, joy, loss, pain, suicide
** Disclaimer** or warning… or whatever you want to call it… I have been told that this post has caused difficulty for some readers to sleep… it looks like the scary noises I heard still have the ability to scare folks, so do not read this before bed, or having just finished fish tacos, or if you are particularly sensitive to scary stories…
And she laughed at us for saying that.
I loved her though. I felt like she was a distant step-mom in a way. Her son and I had been roommates for years… and years. We lived in Okinawa together, we deployed together, we did pretty much everything together. I would tell people he was not home while he hid in the bathroom, and he may have done the same for me.
We did a lot of growing up together… and because of each other.
So when his family would come up to North Carolina to visit, it was just natural that I would tag along. He spent Thanksgiving with my folks, I took my wife to spend a week with his family in South Texas even though he wasn’t going to be home. We were family. This guy is my brother… not as in, “He is close to me like a brother”… this dude is my brother. We don’t talk very often because he lives in a state that might as well be a different country from me and our jobs keep us ridiculously busy, but such is life.
So there we were… (the way every legit story begins)
Hanging out with his family, sitting on a screened in porch at a little cottage on a quaint lake in coastal North Carolina on a warm summer evening. So peaceful. Crickets chirping in the background, the animals bedding down, and that warm breeze coming across the lake. Everything felt right in the world. We were just sitting there talking as the night closed in around us and the last tendrils of conversation were working their way out as we started to settle down for the night. The tea glasses were mostly ice in the bottom and the last cigarette was smoldering out.
And then we jumped…
His mom started laughing at us, and then attributed our action to our combat experiences. We looked at each other and said, almost in unison, “Scary Noises.”
And she laughed at us a little more.
I understand. I laughed too. We had both deployed, we had both engaged the enemy, we had both treated casualties, and yet we were spooked by scary noises.
I also understand what noises my brother and I had heard before.
We were both very spiritual and pretty disciplined with our individual faith. His was not mine. Mine was not his. Somehow we forged a bond in spite of our religious differences. I really have no idea how.
I do not believe in Ghosts. I’m not sure what he believed. I am not entirely sure how to explain some of the things we heard. Sometimes it was just little stuff.
Coins falling in the hallway but nobody outside.
A girl talking and then calling for help in the laundry room… with nobody there.
We heard a cat stuck in the air ducts one night and decided to rescue that thing because it was keeping us awake. We could hear it out in the hallway, and followed the sound to the laundry room, and then it went quiet.
One night in particular, we stayed up talking and laughing until sleeping was kind of pointless. We both had to work the next morning and we were going to have to go about our tasks on a fewer than 4 hours sleep. I feel a little embarrassed to say it, but we kept giggling and then laughing and then trying to stop and go to sleep. Then one of us would say a word or make a sound and the other one would lose it again. Just like a couple little kids who share a bedroom and have to have their mom chastise them for not sleeping. Finally we let our fatigue get the best of us and we knew it was time to call it a night.
“Good Night Bro”
And then the conversation got started
From the foot of his bed I heard a voice, clear as can be, speaking calmly and deliberately in a language I had never heard. The voice started, spoke a few lines, and then stopped.
I was shaking…
And then another voice, very similar, answered in the same fashion, but this time from the foot of my bed.
I considered throwing up.
The voice from his bed responded, and then from my bed, and back and forth. The voice from the foot of his bed became more and more agitated each time until I genuinely thought my life was in danger. A response came from the foot of my bed that sounded curt, as though it was finished with this conversation and was invoking it’s authority or superiority. Then from the foot of his bed this voice was furious, made an outburst, and then silence.
I could not breathe. I could not cry. I could not scream. I would have urinated 2 days worth if I could have mustered the courage.
I just laid there.
I have never been that afraid in my life. Not on any of my deployments. Never.
I wanted to know that this was not in my head, but I did not want to wake up my brother because he needed to sleep for his shift the next morning.
As I lay there in my fear stricken turmoil, I heard the shakiest, fear drenched voice I have ever heard come from him.
“Did you hear that?”
That was all I needed. Like lightning I was out of my bed, had the lights turned on, and was in the hallway…
I don’t know what he thinks that was.
Quite frankly I do not care.
Sometimes I think my life would be a lot less complicated if I were not a Christian. Sometimes I think it would be easy for me to reason away my faith in Christ or the Bible since I have never seen anything tangible or concrete to affirm my beliefs.
But I cannot shake those voices. My hair stands up on my arms to this day when I think about that.
If I accept that we both heard this, that it was not a shared delusion, then I have to accept that there is a world beyond the one which I can see. Two plays on the same stage.
My search for answers to define and explain what I heard in that room that night has caused me to evaluate my spirituality and the way in which I practice.
That happened close to 11 years ago but I still remember it and feel it like it was yesterday.
That’s why we jump when we hear scary noises.
angels, brothers, demons, faith, fear, ghosts, spirits, voices