Blog | Lindsey Smallwood

Ministry

When Learning Looks Like Failing

Best of...Lindsey Smallwood

Over at Middle Places, we're thinking about learning this month. Turns out, my own learning hasn't been pretty lately...

Learning looks a lot like failing right now.

Like when I tried to teach a new song to kids at our church's VBS program last month. I hadn't practiced the motions before I started and ended up tripping myself and tumbling dramatically to the carpet. Much to the delight of the assembled four-year-olds watching my slow motion dance-tastrophe. 

Or the long strange silence reverberating through the sanctuary on a Sunday in June. The room should have been filled with the sound of the congregation reciting the Apostle's Creed. Except I assisted in worship and forgot what came next. Just totally forgot, even though I held the program in my hand. The silence might have gone on forever had the choir leader not stood up from his seat in the loft and prompted me that now would be a good time to affirm our faith together. In my flustered state, I called for the offering instead.

Nothing like standing up in front of 500 people and getting it all wrong.

Sometimes the failing looks less embarrassing and more endearing. Like this picture I snapped of my two-year old last month. Those sweet little shoes are on the wrong feet, but they’re on at all because he did it himself. He’s learning, figuring out a new skill one piece at time.

That’s the thing about learning anything that matters. Most of time making mistakes is part of the process. Experimenting and trying and failing and trying again.

I didn’t know this when I was younger. A lot of things came easily to me, especially academics. In fact, school was so easy for so long that when I began to struggle with upper level math and science courses in high school, I just assumed that those were beyond my abilities, that I wasn’t a science person. The truth is I hadn’t yet learned to persevere when things didn’t come easy to me.

But God in his great grace has given me a lot of opportunities to learn to persevere since then, challenging jobs, a long-term relationship and especially parenting  have all been spaces of learning how to fail — and try again. In all of these contexts and more, I’ve noticed the best and most important things in my life require carrying on even when it’s hard, even after you fail.

In Paul’s letter to the Galatians, he reminds them of the calling to grow in our understanding and bear with each other. He writes:

Let us not become weary in doing good,

for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.

Galatians 6:9

 

Don’t give up! Keep on doing the right thing even when you’re weary, even when yesterday you made a spectacular mess of things. When we’re building toward what really matters, we keep our eyes on the final result, the harvest God has planned, not the ways we get tripped up on the way there.

Like the sweet VBS kids who managed to learn God’s truth through music despite my terrible dance moves. Or my son, who’s continuing to build skills allowing him to fulfill God’s purposes in his life someday.

And me. I’m signed up to assist in worship again next week. You better believe that I’ll be practicing in front of the mirror in hopes of avoiding another thundering silence. But ultimately I know I’m learning to lead, that the opportunity to work on a church staff and serve our congregation is a way that God’s growing me in this season.

Learning sometimes looks like failing. But as we persevere, even when we’d rather sit in the back row and not risk embarrassment, we move closer to the good things God called us to do.

This post originally appeared at Middle Places. 

Listen & Learn: Philemon & Colossians Weekly Talks (Audio Files)

Lindsey Smallwood

Last week I announced the publication of my new Bible study guide book - Philemon & Colossians: In Christ Alone. It's been so fun sharing it with all of you. There are still copies available with special discounts and free shipping for small groups.

This week, I'm thrilled to share a bonus component for the five week study on Philemon & Colossians - audio files of the weekly talks you can stream or download to use in your small group. Each talk is 10-20 minutes long and contains insights into the chapter, along with some personal stories and other Scripture connections. 

Thanks for reading and listening along!

Note: You're welcome to listen along even if you're not doing the study. Just know that on week 1, I spend the first 5 and 1/2 minutes tackling some study-related administrative stuff - so if you're only looking for Scripture talks, fast forward to 5 min, 30 seconds into the Philemon message and you'll be good to go!

Want to know more about the book? Check out Philemon & Colossians: In Christ Alone here

Note: You're welcome to listen along even if you're not doing the study. Just know that on week 1, I spend the first 5 and 1/2 minutes tackling some study-related administrative stuff - so if you're only looking for Scripture talks, fast forward to 5 min, 30 seconds into the Philemon message and you'll be good to go!

Want to know more about the book? Check out Philemon & Colossians: In Christ Alone here

Liturgical Dancing, A Bike Light, & Enya {Kari Wilhite}

Lindsey Smallwood

Oh you guys - today I get to bring you something special. Kari Wilhite is a writer whose words seem to dance and sing. She and her friend Holly collaborate on a blog I always enjoy reading called Dreadlocks and Goldilocks - go check out their pictures to see which one is which. Today Kari is sharing about how God used a silly moment in her living room to turn her heart. 

We were at a definite low-point in ministry, if not the lowest.  At our church for 13 years we were at a leadership stalemate that was tearing us apart.  For the bulk of our marriage I had been a fan of ministry but the situation we were in brought me to the point of wanting to hit the button that said “just forget it.”  My husband and I were not in agreement and the leadership conflict was taking weeks to mediate instead of just one simple evening meeting.  I gave my husband the silent treatment par excellence for the first time in our 20 year marriage. I would not budge.

One particular evening 3 of our 4 children engaged in a theatrical dance.  It was an out-of-the-ordinary experience and one I could not have anticipated; it must have been birthed in God’s heart. I am sure the kids felt the tension in the household between their father and I, although they had no idea what was going on with “church” stuff.  It was as if their movements were giving physical witness to what was happening within us.

And we just watched...

///////

I wanted to just
get them in bed
so I could too
hoping
tomorrow he would be
closer
to an answer.

I was just done.

Instead, God escorted me
to watch them,
our children,
dance
in an hour of
spontaneous theatrics.

I sat in darkness
arms folded
trying
to muster up
smiles of encouragement
for the cast
as he sat
across the room
in frame similar.

Enya played
beautifully loud
drowning out my
inner discourse
the shoutings of
“I’m just done with this church!
Just make a decision!
Let's make a change!
We don't have to be in "ministry" to serve Jesus!
Why won’t he listen to me?”

Bike-light became
strobe light
in-sync with deep, dark notes
past play-times it annoyed
but that night
its pulsating
soothed my nerves.

And they danced.

They took turns.
They danced alone.
They danced together.
They watched their
        silhouettes flash on the
        wall behind them where lonely fiddles hung.

They moved with the force
        of the strings
        and the drums.
They embraced one minute.
They dramatically, gently
        shoved to the ground
        the next scene.
They shadow-boxed,
        laughed, gave commands.
They switched roles of
        nurture, angst
        rescue, celebration
        respite, safety.

My agitated soul
God just held still
for that hour
as we watched this
play from heaven
from the innocence
of my babes.

At the time
I could only receive
half-heartedly
and now
I see it with
grace-clarity
with
extreme
gratitude.

This unexpected
gift from
another dimension
echoed my pain
nourished my depths
strengthened my moment
in a most
beautiful display.

///////

We made it through that leadership dilemma/opportunity/challenge and we are still at our church. It took time, prayer, vulnerability with friends and even some therapy. I am grateful and overwhelmed by God’s grace and provision in bringing my heart back around to falling in love again with where we are.  

///////

Kari Wilhite used to be a "pastor's wife" and now wholeheartedly enjoys being "Kari" who happens to be married to Steve, who happens to be a pastor. She loves befriending the disabled, solitude in her backyard, watching the Brady Bunch with her kids and doing spoken word at a local coffee joint. Kari lives in Bonney Lake, WA with her husband and 4 children. Find more by Kari at her blog, Dreadlocks and Goldilocks.

///////

Lindsey again. Don't you love how Kari paints us a picture with her words? Is there a season you need to "dance through" this week? Hop on down to the comments and to share your story (and thanks) with Kari.

Do you have a story to tell? Check out my guest post guidelines, I'd love to hear from you.

Naked Among Friends

Best of...Lindsey Smallwood

You guys, I am totally stoked to be writing today over at You Are Here Stories, a collaborative blog featuring some pretty incredible writers. Each month they take a theme relating to concepts of place and identity and craft stories around that theme. In June, the stories are about travel and place. 

My story is one of my all-time funniest. Seriously. I'm reaching back to 2007 when I met some other pastors for a day of jet skiing on the lake. Hilarity ensues. 

Pelican photo by Lars Plougmann, Edited by Lindsey Smallwood

Pelican photo by Lars Plougmann, Edited by Lindsey Smallwood

This story was originally published at You Are Here Stories.

The day of the trip was gorgeous, sunny and warm. I arrived at the shoreline nervous and hopeful, wanting to make a good impression. Sarah had invited me to the lake, and Sarah would understand how I felt. She was a female pastor, like I was. We both knew what a struggle it was to feel out of place in a profession that tends to be mostly male and mostly older. I didn’t get invited to golf games or men’s retreats, and so I wanted to make the most of this day–connecting with colleagues while inner tubing and water skiing.

After setting up lawn chairs and drink coolers around a barbeque pit, Sarah asked if I’d like to try jet skiing. I’d never ridden a jet ski before, but watching people zipping around the lake inspired an unusual confidence to try something new.

I watched as Sarah took the jet ski out onto the lake, the handlebars parallel to the footstand as she floated on top of it. Then, as she picked up speed; she came up to her knees. Finally, after going even faster and taking the handlebars up to a perfect 90 degree angle against the footstand, she happily stood tall on the tiny machine cruising along the top of the water.

It looked easy, as hard things often do when done by an expert. When she handed the jet ski over to me, I made my first attempt, revving the engine too soon and losing control before I got the chance to raise to my knees. I tried again, same result. Over and over I held the handlebars, floating on the surface, coming close but always losing my grip and letting go before I could stand up.

Without fail, as soon as the the handlebars slipped out of my fingers, the jet ski would begin to circle, zipping around and around in the cool black water like an eager puppy hoping I would play its favorite game, waiting for me to regain control. Frustrated and embarrassed that everyone on the shore was watching me get schooled by this tiny plastic machine, I tried to keep smiling as I adjusted my swimsuit and climbed back on, sure that I had it in the bag this time, only to feel the jet ski power away from my tired hands again.

On my ninth attempt, I felt it. I was going to get up this time. I had the handles firmly gripped and as the motor began to pick up speed, I was ready. And then – whoosh – the force of the motor blew back into the water and took the bottom of my black tankini with it.

I was naked from the waist down.

I motored forward, trying to slow the machine as I bobbed behind it, holding the handlebars horizontal on the water. Each second put me farther away from my now missing bathing suit. Even if I could have stood up, I didn’t want to show off my exposed lower half to everyone enjoying their afternoon at the lake. As it was, the force of the motor was pushing that most buoyant body part to the surface, effectively mooning every passing boat.

Not knowing what else to do, I decided to cruise into the cove where our group was eating lunch. I thought if I explained the situation while staying a little way out from the shore, I could ask someone to throw me a towel and possibly save myself the humiliation of this new group of friends and fellow ministers seeing my backside.

I held steady in the water at the edge of the cove.

“You guys,” I yelled. “The jet ski blew off my bathing suit bottoms. Can someone throw me a towel?”

After a few moments of confused looks from the shore, I yelled again, hoping someone would take pity on me.

A guy in his lawn chair stood up and yelled back, “Um, we don’t know you.”

I looked again and realized that indeed, this was a different cove and a different group of people than I had come with. I waved and began to motor away, my rear end floating to the surface as the strangers on the shore began to cheer.

I found our friends two coves down. I tried yelling for help but before I could even begin my story, they applauded, laughing, and threw me a towel, telling me that they’d heard me yelling to the strangers down the lake.

The camaraderie the rest of that afternoon was rich, the ice having been clearly broken by my lake-wide display. Instead of being embarrassed or feeling alienated by my escapade, I felt the welcome and affection that comes with shared experience. I lost my bottoms and with them my nerves, finding instead a place among friends.