A good fail

'step 1' photo (c) 2009, Robert Couse-Baker - license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/The year after I graduated from college, I moved back home and my dad deployed to the Middle East for the third or fourth time. Things in the house always went wonky when Dad was gone, because that was just the way of things. So, when our garbage disposal started gurgling things back up into the sink, none of us were surprised. I convinced my mom that she should let me handle it, and I promised to call the plumber if I couldn’t fish the crud out of the pipes. Of course, I couldn’t fish the crud out of the pipes and I didn’t call the plumber. I called my friend Sarah and we went to Home Depot and we bought a new disposal, and after bit of fidgeting and a small incident where I took some moldy gunk to the face, we took out the old disposal, installed a new disposal, and ground up an orange peel with no problem.

It was, if I’m being honest, one of the more empowering moments of my life. And it absolutely convinced me that I could do these kinds of physical labored tasks without the aid of professionals.

This is, eight years later, how I found myself in my drive way this morning trying to change my own brake pads.

And it was such a fail.

I managed to get the car jacked up (because my dad did it for me with his hydraulic jack) and get the wheel off. But, that was the easy part. Getting the piston to compress to get the caliper off to get to the brake pads that needed to be changed is not as easy as the YouTube videos make it look, just for the record. After three hours and two trips to Sears, I was the proud owner of a new set of sockets and a couple of c-clamps, but the piston refused to budge and the bolts refused to loosen.

And like any self-respecting grown woman, I took to Twitter and bemoaned the rain and my crappy brakes. Because Wednesday, I was over you.

Over. You.

But then my friend called, and he asked a couple of questions and he said, “Well, it sounds like you know what you’re doing. For what it’s worth, this was a good fail.”

And those were exactly the words I needed to hear.


At the conference last month, one of the writers said that what gave him the freedom to be a writer was the realization that if he failed at it, it didn’t change that God is still God. He said that even if his book never sold or never found a publisher, at least he knew he took a risk to tell a story that was important to him and to God.

Then he wrote a book about poverty and war and children in Africa, and Oprah really liked it and made it one of her Book Club selections in 2009. And a lot of people read that book and started thinking about poverty and war and children in Africa.

I wouldn’t exactly call that a fail.


I wonder sometimes if I have an expectation problem. I read and I study and I research and I buy the right tools and I lay everything out, and the stupid piston should compress and the stupid bolt should loosen. I read and study and bust my tail in school for a Master’s degree and the stupid state of Maryland should give me my license and a job. I say hi to cute boys in Barnes & Noble and Starbucks and church and I even put up an online dating profile, so one of those stupid nice boys should want to take me out to dinner and then stick around for the rest of his life.

I mean, isn’t that how it’s supposed to work? We do all we can do to make things happen, and then isn’t God or the universe or life or whatever supposed to give us treats for putting ourselves out there? Aren’t there supposed to be rewards for all the freaking risks we have to take?


No. That’s not really how it works at all. Sometimes the pistons don’t compress, the bolts don’t loosen, the jobs don’t come, the nice boys don’t call, and the books don’t sell. And there’s nothing you can do to change this.

Sometimes it’s just a fail, and sometimes the only solace you get is that you took a risk, tried something new, and gave it your best shot.

And that’s okay. Because between you and me, for what it’s worth, that’s a good fail.

 “…and then he told me,

My grace is enough; it’s all you need.
My strength comes into its own in your weakness.

Once I heard that, I was glad to let it happen. I quit focusing on the handicap and began appreciating the gift. It was a case of Christ’s strength moving in on my weakness. Now I take limitations in stride, and with good cheer, these limitations that cut me down to size—abuse, accidents, opposition, bad breaks. I just let Christ take over! And so the weaker I get, the stronger I become.”

-2 Corinthians 2: 9-10, The Message

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