The Story of a World Changing Failure

Welcome!  So glad you're here!  This is the first post in my Thriving Thursdays blog.  Would love to hear what you think!  If you don't see the comment box right away click on the title above and then look again.


I don’t remember exactly how it all started.  I know that as a white, middle-class sophomore in high school my favorite poem became Langston Hughes’s “Theme for English B.”  I know that before that, as a shy 10-year-old military “brat” living at Ft. Campbell, Kentucky I became fascinated by a set of cassette tapes about Martin Luther King.  I remember that the librarian seemed to think my interest was strange. 

I remember how uncomfortable I felt the first time in my life at age 15 when I moved to a new school where I was one of only three white students in a class full of African Americans (life of white privilege - anyone?  I was used to being "normal," not standing out.)  But I don’t remember thinking much about how it was that this school was clearly so much less challenging than the one I had attended the previous year in a different state, one that had a very few African American students in it.

Those questions would come later.

I was brought up in a loving, conservative, evangelical Christian household where I was taught that service to the less fortunate was expected.  “To whom much has been given, much is required.”  I went off to a conservative evangelical college somewhat resistant to total servanthood—God seemed to have been a bit of a killjoy in relation to life in high school and I kinda wished I could have had a bit more fun before being saved from hell—but still I had a profound sense of moral responsibility, and perhaps some resignation about my role.  I didn’t want to go to Africa to save the world, but God would probably drag me there kicking and screaming because it was what I least wanted to do and what I most feared.

After all “to whom much has been given much is required.”  You get the idea.

I wouldn’t go to Africa until decades later (and, it was a great joy to do so, but that’s another story), but I I found an even scarier place to go—THE INNER CITY.  For many people, scary is being OUT of the city, not in it, but in my world at the time cities were places to be feared and avoided. I tutored a few kids in “the projects,” one night a week, then I applied for a summer of “urban ministry.”  

As I remember it, I actually stated in the application process that my main reason for applying was to face my FEAR OF THE CITY, a fear that caused me to avoid it. 

My father’s words echoed in my ear: “You be the boss of Fear, don’t let Fear be the boss of you.” I didn’t want to be controlled by Fear—even if my father himself, along with the U.S. media and multiple other sources no doubt—had contributed to my generally negative view of “the City.” (And to my father's credit, he didn't try to stop me.)

Flash forward 3 years or so and I was moving into Chicago to teach at the Good News Educational Workshop—a small private school that paid its teachers very little in order to provide a warm, safe highly creative educational environment for very low tuition.  The images that come to mind when I think of my first year teaching are of chaos, failure and many, many tears.  After having received stellar grades when I student-taught in a predominantly middle class suburb, I was clearly not prepared.  I pretty much cried all the way home each day, then curled up in a ball in my bed until I could force myself to get up and plan for the next day all the while chastising myself for having trouble staying within my $15/week grocery budget work and feeling sorry for myself because I couldn't afford new clothes.  After all, so many people around me had much less. 

In the midst of yuppie culture at its highest point, I was committed to being “downwardly mobile.”  I was going to sacrifice everything and save the world.

But here’s the thing.  I couldn’t do it.

And all those messages I believed about how I SHOULD sacrifice and serve, all the shame I felt about the riches and privileges I had and have—they didn’t help me to do what I longed to do—to make a difference, to bring healing and justice, to relieve suffering, to make the world a better place. They also didn't help me to recognize the strengths of my students and their communities. It wasn't my job to be their savior, but it would take me awhile to figure that out.

Later I tried the stay-at-home mom thing, also highly regarded in my cultural context—same problem.  I could't do that either.  

It seemed I was a bit to fragile, too inclined towards depression, perhaps too selfish, to do what a REALLY GOOD person.

As it turned out these failures were gifts, because they forced me to look for new ways to live . . . and I've found some.  That's why I'm here.

I haven't given up. 

I just no longer believe that one has to STRIVE and STRUGGLE or just try to SURVIVE to bring more equity into the world. 

In fact, for me at least, none of those options is even possible.  I’m pretty sure I would have committed suicide, literally, if I’d stayed on those paths.  So in this next chapter of my life I’m experimenting with THRIVING FOR EQUITY. 

If this sounds good to you too, join me here on Thursdays (Thriving on Thursdays - cute, huh?). If you want more, watch for announcements about my coaching programs.

Looking forward to connecting. 

Deb (aka Dr. Valentine, for my favorite SJU students, which is all of you!)