Facing the Facts of Failure

We all have things in our lives that we need to process. For me, as of late, that thing is South Africa. It’s no secret to you, as my blog readers, that I’ve struggled with feelings of failure centered around our experience as missionaries there. 

Recently, my wonderful brother coaxed me to think through my feelings by answering some interview style questions he’d written up for me: 

“If this is overwhelming to you, I totally understand.  But it seems like you want to process this, and get it off your chest.  I read a quote this morning I think applies to this 
If you genuinely have something to say, then there's someone out there who genuinely needs to hear it.-- Arnold Patent 
And I think I maybe you have needed to say this.  And I have wanted to hear it for a long time.” -Colin

What exactly is the dream you had for your life?  How did you picture it?  How did you picture it bringing you joy?

Ever since I was young, I dreamed of being a missionary. I suppose you could say that I idealized that label extensively, but at the end of the day my heart and motives were true. I honestly desired to love the “unlovable” and to share the light of Christ with those whose lives demanded hope. I knew that I was fortunate to have been born in America, and a trip to the third world when I was 11 ignited a restlessness in my young heart. I knew that I could not live my life the same way—not now that I knew how my fellow human beings lived. I had to do something for them, when I had been given so much and they had been given so little.

I always pictured my missionary experience as a life long “career” and I even romanticized the notion of going it alone… just myself, my message and the people I was sent to. I honestly believed that there could be no greater joy than living wild and free, attacking life by facing odds that would cause most Americans to squirm in their seats. My iconic picture of missionary life was a hammock and a hut, running barefoot, digging wells and building bridges. To my eleven year old dreaming heart, nothing sounded more thrilling. But as I matured, I suppose the dream did as well. I realized that I could still have impact on this world as a married woman—and in fact perhaps my impact could actually double in that role. (I also realized that a hut and hammock are not actually commonplace for twenty-first century missionaries.) I had always dreamed of going somewhere remote. Papua New Guinea was the country I’d dreamed of most. But I still remember the night that my eyes fell to South Africa on the map. I’d never considered it before. It was too close to home, you could say. (My mom is a South African) 
Design I created for a classSotu project on South Africa
 But when I did a class project in college on the AIDs crisis and post-apartheid economic shift in South Africa, I found myself wondering how I could not turn my sights toward this country whose own blood runs in my veins. In an instant, I knew, that was where I was to go. All my dreaming, and all my hoping to help change the world would one day take me there.

What did if feel like for you in the months leading up to going to Africa, the months leading up to living out your dream?

I felt excitement. But I also felt uncertainty. It’s one thing to “wish upon a star”—to dream and hope and wonder. But to plan…to buy tickets, to secure housing, to exchange currency…those are the things that quicken your heart. I remember standing in our garage, marking all of our belongings with price tags as we prepared to sell the majority of what we owned. I wondered where this would all lead. What were we thinking? I questioned as I watched people pick through our things, selecting their purchases from our possessions. But every time I wrestled with doubt, I remembered the words from Hebrews chapter 10:  “So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what He has promised. For, in just a little while, he who is coming will come and will not delay…but my righteous one will live by faith. And I take no pleasure in the one who shrinks back. But we do not belong to those who shrink back and are destroyed, but to those who faith and are saved.” How could I question this calling when those verses rang in my ears? How could I shrink back in fear when faced with the opportunity I had dreamed of my entire life? So I moved forward, with my trembling excitement.

During this lead up time, were there any warning signs that you disregarded, any hints that you might run into obstacles later on?  If so, what were they?

To be honest, just answering this questions makes me want to hang my head in shame—because yes, yes there were. We had only raised about 50% of our budget about a month before we were scheduled to leave. I was pregnant which we knew would only increase our costs, and we had already cut out every “extra” expense we could possibly dream of. Our whole life savings was included in that amount, and we had exhausted our list of potential supporters. We were skyping with our team mates, Andy & Leigh one night when Andy made a statement that still rings in my ears to this day: “We would rather you come join us later in South Africa and stay with us for the long haul, than come with us immediately and have to leave after only a few months because of funding.” How uncanny to rehash that moment and realize that Andy spoke out an exact prediction of the future. We knew that we were under-funded. But we also knew we could get by on the money we had—as long as we didn’t lose any supporters. In fact, we thought if anything, we would surely gain supporters once we reached the field. Well, the opposite was true. We lost supporters, expenses rose, and the rest is history. Three months after landing, we were forced to leave because we couldn’t afford to stay.

When you were in Africa, were there moments when you started to realize it wasn't going to last?  How did you react to those moments?

No, there weren’t. We were honestly blindsided. One month, our report came in from our agency saying we had more than broken even, and the next month was barely enough to survive on. Couple that with the fact that an expense report had come from the local hospital listing how much it would cost to have our baby that was due in only 3 months and we had a very large problem on our hands—one that we only could see resolving by leaving the field.

You used the word "failure."  Do you remember when this adventure cut short first started to feel like failure for you?

To be honest, it was the night we broke the news to our team mates. Up until that moment I felt more like we were making the responsible move for our little family. But when I saw the disappointment, pain and hurt on the faces of our team, I felt as though I had let them down. It was only worsened by the fact that they weren’t just team mates—they’re family. After that moment, I couldn’t shake the feeling of failure. Of embarrassment for screwing up. And I couldn’t pray without asking God, “why?” why would He lead us this far, only to let it all come tumbling down so quickly that it would seem it never even was. I remember driving along the roads in South Africa and wondering what had happened there. It was as if our lives there had been lived in the blink of an eye—in the span of a breath. We had landed there only months earlier, honestly believing we wouldn’t be leaving for a very long time.. yet here we were… all our promises proved empty and all our plans disintegrated.

If you knew then what you know now, what things would you have done differently?

I would have been patient. I would have waited for the rest of the money to come in before we left.

You talk about never picturing your dream coming true and then ending in failure.  What is it like to live the part after that?  After the dream?

I can’t even read that question without crying. To be honest, it’s frustrating. My whole life became about becoming a missionary… and now here I am at 22 years old, with that dream already behind me. Everyone who knew me knew that was what I wanted—to go to the ends of the earth and be a missionary. But now, it’s just this blip on the radar of my life. The most radical change I have ever been through sounds to a stranger nothing more than a brief vacation. I can’t help but wonder what now. When all my energy, passion and vision had gone into this one thing—this one thing that is now over—I often wonder what I have left. I know that I am not rendered useless in the wake of all of this. I know that this too shall pass and that vision will return to my soul. But I cannot help but grieve the loss of not only my dream, but also a part of myself. When one purpose drives you for over a decade, and then that purpose simply disappears in a matter of days, you can’t help but be staggered by it.  

What is your life like now?  

My life now is about picking up the pieces. It’s about re-claiming lost time. It’s about re-discovering myself, and re-acquainting myself with my own heart. It’s about stepping back in time and asking that 11 year old girl what it was that opened her eyes and broke her heart in the first place. Because there, buried in the moment where my vision was conceived is the place where I will find the true dream—the one I didn’t see at first. You see, my circumstances may have changed, but I have not. I am still the dreamer—and the dreamer is never ruled by her dreams—not once she wakes up. I’m still the same girl, only now I’m older, wiser and fully awake.



Beka said...

There is a little chorus I love to sing.....

Here are the lyrics...

"Something Beautiful, Something good, all of my confusions, Jesus understand.... when all I had to offer him was brokenness and strife, but he made something beautiful out of my life. "

Thanks for being REAL on this blog!!
Thinking of you guys!

Hannahsmommy said...

Don't feel alone in a future that seems uncertain... I have been down on my knees crying out to God with everything that is inside me, begging, for direction in this life. I attended a funeral last week for an old family friend. A man who was in and out of jail, addicted to drugs, broken by this world's definition of "a good time". I realized amidst a congregation of lost hopeless souls that called this man friend, that I'll do whatever possible until God decides to give me direction, I know one thing-God has called me to be a fisher of men...

Stephanie M. Page said...

oh friend! I wish more than anything we could have coffee. At 22 your dreams aren't behind you they are just beginning. you have only seen a smidgen of the plan God has for you. He is our REDEEMER and he will redeem this situation and use it for his glory. you just watch. It will be so beautiful. You are so beautiful. Your life does and will display his splendor everywhere you go.

Truly His said...

Love your open heart, Claire. Believing and praying for you and your family. "Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but when DREAMS come true it brings a tree of life" I am believing that tree of life is coming....God knows your desires. :)

Anonymous said...

as a daughter to Dad and I, and as a mother to Peyton and Britany - you are nothing short of an amazing success!! In God's eyes, you are a "child of the King!"

Rachel Flores said...

This post made me cry. Your so honest and hashing out all these things is a process that will and is taking time, but I am glad to see you diving into the pain instead of running from it.

Anonymous said...

There are many stranded missionaries whose dreams are unfulfilled, who cannot obey God's calling to "go into all the world..." because most Christians in America (who are called to support them) are too self-centered to obey! Perhaps it is not you who has failed?

Lindsey V said...

Oh, Claire! Thank you for being so brave to share this! We haven't met, so I don't know if you will remember me, but my husband and I were in SA for 3 years and left last September as well for lots of reasons that didn't feel very "spiritual" and I have battled and battled and battled feelings of failure since then as well.

I love how you talked about RE-DISCOVERING yourself...I am there too!

Just wanted to write to let you know...that I SO get it...I, too, was the girl who wanted to CHANGE THE WORLD, and sometimes, NOW, I wonder...who/what am I now?

So...when people write and ask me how I am...the best answer I have to give is...walking in grace. THAT has become my anthem!

Thinking of you!!