Blog | Lindsey Smallwood

Opening the Thin Envelope

Lindsey SmallwoodComment

It is such a pleasure to write with my friends over at Middle Places. If you haven't taken the time to read some of the other bloggers there, I encourage you to poke around. This months theme of being (re)Routed has lead to some really great writing. I'm sharing a story about dreams and rejection today - and praying you find hope to take your own brave steps. 

No one wants to get the thin envelope.

You've been there. Checking the mailbox everyday, hoping and dreaming and planning for the future, and then it comes, addressed to you. The return address is right, it's the school you want to get into or the company you hope to work for. But the slim profile betrays the news hidden inside.

"We regret to inform you..."

Rejection. Hopes deferred. Dreams stopped in their tracks. Usually softened by language about the talented applicant pool or hopes that you will reapply in the future. But the disappointing view of a longed-for possibly closing it's doors is never easy to take in.

In my final year as an undergraduate, I applied to a national teaching program. Honestly, I was not sure what I wanted to do. I clerked at a law firm as a part time job during college and considered law school. I found community in a campus ministry after I returned to campus from treatment for an eating disorder and thought about working in ministry as a full time job. One of my classes required community service hours tutoring at an elementary school and I'd enjoyed working with kids, which lead to my application to the teaching program.

It wasn’t just paperwork, I prepared a lesson plan and taught it to the interview panel. I answered questions based on case studies. I sat before a group of current teachers and responded to their queries about my experiences and motivations. I left the interview day tired and confident; going through the process left me sure that I would be a great teacher and optimistic that I would be selected.

Until the thin envelope came.

“Dear Lindsey, We regret to inform you…”

For a few days, I felt deep disappointment. I knew my application hadn’t been lost in a pile; they had really looked at me, asked me personal questions and watched me teach, and had decided I didn’t make the cut. I wasn’t sure what to do next.

My pastor encouraged me to consider ministry again, reminding me of how my gifts of teaching and connecting with people could be useful in that setting. I prayed for an open door, and, finding one, decided to pursue vocational church work. That opportunity lead to another and then another and for six years I worked in full time ministry.

As that season drew to a close and I was trying to decide what to do next, I felt drawn again to classroom teaching. But, having already applied and been rejected many years before, I was afraid to pursue that dream again. The door had closed. It seemed foolish to bring that hope back to life.

Heeding the counsel of some close friends and family, I decided to face the possibility of rejection and go through the process again. The pre-tests, the lesson plan, the group interview – I did it all. And six weeks later, to my surprise and delight, a big fat manila envelope filled my mailbox, welcoming me to the program and outlining my next steps.

My dream of teaching wasn’t lost when I was rejected from that program in college. It was rerouted. I just didn’t know it at the time. But in order to find the way back to my dream, I had to take a risk.

Most things worth doing are scary. Our dreams are worth risking rejection and failure. If you’re in the middle of a reroute in your own life, I challenge you to think about what brave steps you might need to take to find your way back to a dream long dreamt. Remember sweet friends, this is still just the middle of our stories.