WHOLE: from Failure … by Mary Southerland

We are currently featuring guest posts from a several of the women who are leading breakout sessions at WHOLE.

Today’s post is from Mary Southerland. Not only is Mary an author of multiple books and devotionals and a highly sought-after speaker to women, she is also my (Crystal’s) pastor’s wife. I consider it a great honor to call her my friend! She is leading the breakout session for women called “Coming Out of the Dark – How to Get Past Your Past” at WHOLE.

It’s important to know that at WHOLE, every woman who leads a breakout has personally experienced the topic she’s addressing. These are real women who have found wholeness in their specific area of brokenness. There’s hope for whatever you’ve faced or are currently facing and for that friend, sister, mother, etc. that you don’t feel equipped to help today.


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Breakout: Coming Out of the Dark – How to Get Past Your Past
Leader: Mary Southerland

“At least there is hope for a tree. If it is cut down, it will sprout again, and its new shoots will not fail” (Job 14:7, NIV).

I have never met a single person whose goal in life was to fail but failure is a reality of life. The key to success is not avoiding failure; it is learning how to handle failure.

  • Beethoven’s music teacher once told him that he was a hopeless composer.
  • Abraham Lincoln campaigned for a seat in the Illinois General Assembly and failed. He then opened a general store which failed after only a few months.
  • Walt Disney was fired by the editor of a newspaper for lacking creativity.
  • The Ford Motor Company was Henry Ford’s third business. The first two didn’t work out.
  • A teacher told Thomas Edison that he was too stupid to learn anything.
  • Babe Ruth struck out 1,330 times.

I remember the first time I failed a test. I was in first grade and my teacher, Mrs. Martin, decided to test us on the names of the states and their capitols. We had been studying them for what seemed like an eternity. I did not like Geography and tended to daydream my way through class. Why did I need to know the names of states I would probably never visit? And what was the big deal about state capitols? As far as I could tell from the pictures in my Geography book, they all looked pretty much the same to me – boring.

Even though I did not like Geography, I had to make 100 on the Geography test. Why? I was only six-years-old, but I knew the unspoken rule that failing a test meant I was a failure.

When Mrs. Martin told us to clear our desks except for one pencil, I panicked. A quick glance at the assignment board revealed nothing. The look of confusion on the faces of my classmates told me that they were just as clueless as I was.

“We are having a little test to see how you are doing in Geography,” Mrs. Martin explained. I had three problems with her statement. First, there is no such thing as a “little” test. Second, no one had said anything about having a test, and third, I did not know the names of the states and their capitols. When I voiced my complaints, Mrs. Martin smiled and said it was a “pop quiz.”

Sidebar: That might have been the moment when I decided to become an elementary school teacher, vowing to never subject my students to the terror of “pop quizzes.”

My stomach dropped and I broke out in a cold sweat. My mind raced as I frantically searched for my Geography book. Maybe I could learn the names of a capitol or two while she handed out the tests. “No books allowed,” Mrs. Martin warned. I was doomed.

When the blank outline of the United States appeared on my desk, I dissolved into tears. Mrs. Martin immediately dropped to her knees beside my desk and gathered me in her arms. She asked the student teacher to take over as she gently ushered me out of the classroom and in to the nurse’s office next door.

When I finally stopped crying, Mrs. Martin said, “Honey, what is wrong?” I could not believe my ears. “I don’t know the names of the states or their capitols,” I wailed out what seemed to be a ridiculously obvious explanation. “Do you know some of them?” she asked. I thought for a moment. “I know some of them but not all of them and that means I’ll fail the test,” I responded. “Why don’t you just do your best and see what happens,” she said. I did my best … and I still failed the test.

Guess what? The world kept spinning. I passed first grade and elementary school with flying colors, graduated from high school with honors, attended college on a music and academic scholarship and eventually became an elementary teacher. And I failed a lot along the way. So did a lot of people in the Bible. Adam and Eve blatantly disobeyed God and then lied about their sin. David committed adultery with Bathsheba and then plotted the murder of her husband. Peter bragged about his commitment to Jesus but denied Him – not once – but three times. In fact, it is hard to find Biblical characters who did not fail at some point, but those who learned from their failure and used it as a tool of growth were often used by God to accomplish great things.

I have come to believe that failure is a necessary part of our growth and maturity as a follower of Jesus Christ. Failure can interpret the unconditional love and forgiveness of God like nothing else can – if we let it. Desperation can be our friend if it makes us crave God and long to see His power unleashed in our lives. Failure is not final but God’s grace is

By Crystal Renaud

Crystal Renaud is the Founder & Executive Director of WHOLE Women Ministries whose projects include Dirty Girls Ministries and WHOLE Women’s Conference. She is also the author of Dirty Girls Come Clean (Moody Publishers), a speaker and student who lives in the Kansas City area. Follow @crystalrenaud on Twitter and visit her website for info on coaching and speaking at http://crystalrenaud.com.

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