Failing Forward

I had a discussion with my dad this morning and the topic of failure came up. I was retelling him some things I’d mentioned in my Publisher’s Weekly interview earlier, and one thing I’d said that it’s okay for teens to fail. I decided early on in my teens that this was the time of my life to be trying new things and not worrying about what would happen if they didn’t work out. Anyway, my dad brought up an interesting point. He told me that it’s never a bad thing to “fail forward”.

“Failing forward” means messing up. It means making mistakes, or bad decisions. It allows room for error and regret. But “failing forward” is all about moving on despite our failures. There are going to be times in life when you put yourself out there and your wildest hopes don’t come true. You don’t get into an ivy-league college or publish a book or start a successful business. Your dreams don’t come true and whatever it was you wanted doesn’t work out. But you know what? You have to learn to move forward in spite of it.

Too many young people put off reaching for their dreams because they are afraid of failure. It’s embarrassing to admit defeat! No one wants to be that person that started off with such high hopes only to have a bucket of cold water poured on them a little too late in the game. But the reason why I’m writing this post isn’t to scare you into quitting on your dreams. The reason why I’m writing is to kick you in the butt and make you get out there and chase your dreams anyway!

If you’re a teenager, chances are you still have pretty long life ahead of you. There’s a time to be cautious and fearful. That’s probably when you’re past your thirties, and have to start worrying about feeding a family and providing for your children. That’s the stage of life when it starts to get complicated as you balance following your dreams with balancing reality. And it’s a stage of life that’s really far away right now.

The teen (and post-teen!) years are a time for adventure and taking chances. There really is no better time for trying out new things. If you’ve always wanted to be a professional photographer, why not try starting a photography business? Who’s going to care if you fail? Or why not write that novel or start that jewelry company? Even if nothing comes of it, you have lost nothing. I mean, you literally have nothing to lose. If that thing you want doesn’t work out, then try something else!

Don’t waste this time in your life on video games and babysitting jobs, hoping that someday in the future you’ll be able to do what you really want to. Do that thing now. Try it. You just might succeed, and find yourself the happiest kid on earth. Or you might fail. Who knows? But one thing’s for sure: Succeed or fail, at this point in your life, either one is a step in a good direction. Because it’s the direction of doing what you want to do, and finding what makes you happy. And like my dad always says: “If you can find something you enjoy doing and find a way to make money at it, you’ll never work a day in your life.”


P.S. My dad is obsessed with this video and had us all watch it a few months back. If you have time, it’s really an incredible picture of what not giving up looks like. Always push forward, even if you feel it’s impossible. And let your failures shape your successes.

Just Beyond the Riverbend

When I was a little kid, probably around ten or even younger, I remember once hearing someone say, “It’s tough being a teen.” To my ears, this sounded like the biggest piece of bologna (I can’t believe that’s how you spell it!) I’d ever heard. Being a teenager sounded great. Slumber parties, makeovers, driving in cars with friends blasting Hilary Duff on the radio. (Although, looking back, I don’t think any self-respecting teen would blast Hilary Duff on the radio. Or the Dixie Chicks, whom I also adored at the time) No cares, no worries, and perfect hair.

Then I became a teenager. Thirteen. Braces. Ick. And then fourteen. High school. Algebra. Biology. Double ick. And then fifteen, and all the responsibilities that come with that. And before I knew it, I found myself saying aloud to someone, “It’s tough being a teen.”

Whoa. Hold on there. When did all this become tough? When did worrying about driving and college and what my life was going to look like beyond the next two years become so important to me?

Reflecting on all of these questions led me to a whole new perspective on the life of the American teenager, and caused me to rephrase my original sentence. It’s since been amended to this: “It’s scary being a teen.”

Because, when you come right down to it, it really is scary. For the past fifteen years, I’ve basically been living in a bubble, so to speak. The most pressing thing in the world is school. The most annoying thing is chores. The most exciting thing is when you’re done with school and chores and can actually do something else. That is life. That is how my world operates.

But there’s a whole big world out there beyond school and chores that I know almost nothing about right now. The world of work and house payments and medical insurance and love and pain and other words that make me cringe when I hear them. A world that will suddenly come crashing down on me two years from now, in the summer of 2013, when I’m finished with school and chores and finally an adult.

That’s what’s scary about being a teenager. It’s not just having do deal with mood swings and no one understanding it’s no one’s fault but your own if you fail miserably at it.

My mom was encouraging me yesterday to look beyond the scope the next few years and pray about what God wants me to do with my life. What are his plans for me in the next five years? The next fifteen years? The next two decades? It’s time for me to start looking at the bigger picture. Not just what’s coming around this riverbend, but what the whole river looks like. How can I use my life, and my time, and my talents to sail down that river as a champion for the Lord?

It’s tough being a teenager. It’s really, really scary being a teenager. And I’m sure things don’t clear up any once you’re an adult. But, until then, I guess I’ve just gotta keep praying that God will make things clearer for me. And if any of  you figure all this out, please send me an email and let me know. Cause I’m still scratching my head most of the time. :)


A Startling Epiphany

The other night I had an epiphany: I am getting old. (So old, I actually know what “epiphany” means!)  Now, mind you, I’m still haven’t reached twenty or the nightmarishly old age of thirty or even sixteen yet. But I am fifteen years old and I feel ancient.

This astounding fact dawned on me as I watched my younger sister’s worship dance class a few nights ago. There were eleven little girls, aged six to nine. The room was filled with giggles and sneaky smiles, lopsided ponytails and sillybands. Together, they jumped up and down to the music, singing along and running each other over to get to their spots in time. And as I sat on the side with my five-pound copy of Norton’s Anthology of English Literature perched on my lap, I realized: I am really old.

When was the last time I ran around with braids whipping all around, singing at the top of my lungs, “Every move I make I make in You! You make me move, Jesus!”? Or clipped on neon pink braids in my hair because my outfit just wasn’t pink enough without them? Or, realizing my friend was going to be in my little group at dance, grabbed her hands and jumped up and down screaming, “Yes!!!!! Yes! Yes! Yes!!!!!”?

I’ve got to tell you, it’s been a while.

I do remember acting like a kid. Vaguely. I was always mature beyond my years, and the American Girl doll went in a box when I was about ten. But before that, I do remember doing crazy spontaneous stuff. Like running around in the sprinkler and having pretend swordfights with sticks and racing to see who could eat a popsicle the fastest without getting a brain freeze. But the days of sticky fingers and scraped knees seem so far gone, that I sometimes I forget I ever had them.

In my mind, I see the innocence and beauty of childhood as something that escaped from me a long time ago and that I can’t seem to find anymore. I know that I’m only fifteen, and that I’m still a child in many ways. But I can’t remember how to be mischievous and obnoxious and sweet and utterly adorable all at the same time anymore.

For some reason, this is a thought that really bothers me. Why can’t I be a little kid? Why can’t I go back to when Tom Sawyer seemed like exactly the kind of guy I’d like to marry and Anne Shirley was my bosom soul mate in so many ways?

As I was standing by the door contemplating this after dance class was dismissed, my friend Beth walked over and hugged me. I sighed and announced to her my newly discovered tragedy. “Beth,” I said, “I realized something tonight. I am so old! Every year, I forget another thing about what it’s like to be a little kid.”

Beth rolled her eyes and, with all the sensibility and dry humor that only Beth possesses, told me exactly what I needed to hear. “Well, Rachel, you just need to play more.”

Agh! She was right! I do need to play more! I need to have more fun and get crazy sometimes. To put down my book or close the piano and do something spontaneous. To remember that life is short and there will always be plenty of time to be sensible and adult-like when I am actually an adult.  To seize the day.

There are plenty of fabulous grown-up-ish things about being fifteen. I can drive. I can work. I can cook a three course meal and (sort of) clean it up afterwards. I can pass geometry. I can watch my mom’s friend’s six children for several hours.

But, you know what? There are also a lot of great kid stuff I can do if I want to. Because, no matter what people may say, I can still search for elephants and pandas with the pastor’s kids at church. And I can still watch Disney movies and get all of the cheesy jokes. And just test me to see if I don’t know the words to every Taylor Swift song!

And I can still play. My imagination is still active. And I hope it will still be when I’m twenty, and thirty, and the ripe old age of eighty-five! It’s just like George Bernard Shaw once said: “We don’t stop playing because we grow old; We grow old because we stop playing.” May I always be a ten-year-old at heart!


Happy Happy Joy Joy

Or: How to Find Joy in Your Teens

Ah. The teen years. That wonderful, hormonal time of angst and anger. No one understands you; no one tries to; oh, and by the way, how are you supposed to cope with all this? Yeah. I can definitely relate. There are mornings when the sun is shining a little too brightly for my dim mood and the sound of my little sister’s chirpy voice rings a bit too harshly in my ears. When all I want to do is roll around, stick my pillow over my head, and moan in my best drama-queen voice “Just leave me alone.”

The perfect conditions for a joyful attitude, right?

Okay, okay, all joking aside—if there’s one thing I do understand it’s this: It’s tough being a teen. I know it shouldn’t be, I know God doesn’t want it to be, but some days it really is. The problem is this: Sin. I haven’t seen any statistics yet, but I am almost ready to argue (see, I really am a quick arguer—gotta fix this) with just about anyone that the temptation to sin is at its peak between the ages of thirteen and nineteen. My ideas on this might change once I hit twenty, but right now I am ninety nine perfect confident in this fact.

Perhaps the hardest thing about being a teenager, or any age for that matter, is the lack of joy that you find in your life sometimes. Everyone and everything seems to be trying to tell you where to find that contentment and satisfaction. Try this skincare wash! Drive this car! Wear this dress and be a guy-magnet! The world tries to tell us that these things will bring us joy, and the sinful craving in us really wants to believe it, but the truth is: they won’t.

I’ve thought a lot about the following list. It’s things that I struggle with. Things I wish I had, or maybe once thought would bring me satisfaction. But it’s all a bunch of lies. Well marketed, glossy, and promising lies, albeit. But, well, you know what they say about lipstick on a pig. :)

Where not to look for joy in your teens:

  • Relationships – With your boyfriend, girlfriend, best friend… you name it. True, there is merit in a godly mentoring relationship with a strong Christian in your life, but for the most part your buddies aren’t going to fill you with deep, satisfying joy.
  • A Good Education – Yes, God wants you to get good grades. He wants you to do your best in school and work hard to grow in wisdom. But trust in earthly knowledge is not going to make you feel any more complete or joyful in yourself. Rather, the more you learn, the more you will realize you do not know, which, rather than bringing joy, has had the opposite effect on me!
  • The American Dream – Everyone tells us to succeed. To push on and challenge ourselves and sacrifice for our hopes and wishes. Oh, and by the way, those wishes should include a 2.5 million dollar home, brand new pickup truck, and vacations in Maui every year. To put all of your time and effort into making these dreams come true is only going to result in emptiness at the end of your luxurious life.
  • Self-Esteem: There is a fine line between embracing yourself as a wonderfully made creation and worshipping your own body and traits. Yes, your body is a temple, but to obsess over fitness, beauty, and popularity is not God’s intention.


By contrast, the following is a list of things that God has placed on my heart to accept as true joy-givers. And while I may not feel them every single day, I do know that the following traits are gifts from God that will linger in the Christian’s life no matter what the circumstances.

What joy looks like from the Bible—in your teens and forever!

  • Gratitude: Who woke you up this morning? Okay, okay—it may have been your mom or little brother banging on your door, but it’s God who fills your lungs with air every second of every day. He gave you another day that He very well may have taken away, and aren’t you thankful for it? Aren’t you thankful for the opportunity to laugh and talk and glorify Him through your daily life? If you recognize each moment as the gift that it is, you won’t be able not to be joyful!
  • Peace: One of my favorite hymns is “It is Well With My Soul”. In the first verse, Horatio Spafford writes “When peace like a river, attendeth my way/When sorrows like sea billows roll/Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say/It is well, it is well, with my soul.” This is one of the fundamental truths of the Christian faith. If we are believers, God has given us a peace that passes all understanding, and will be with us forever. No matter the trial—whether a bad hair day or the realization that your dad lost his job—nothing can take away the peace and joy that comes with understanding that God is in control.
  • Trusting: Nothing will ever happen to you that God did not already plan. Good or bad, God already has a purpose for it. This is called God’s sovereignty. Sovereignty means that God is in charge. He isn’t our “co-pilot” (for which I am thankful because, given my driving skills, I’m not sure I could very well direct the plane of my life :) ), but the main driver. The one in charge. There’s nothing you can do to change this, so why fight it? Psalm 9:10 says “And those who know your name put their trust in you, for you, O LORD, have not forsaken those who seek you.”
  • Reflecting on the Cross: I could write a whole entry on the importance of the cross. Never, never forget what Christ has done for you. He has given his own life as a ransom for yours. Nothing you could ever do would be enough to pay Him back for it. But that’s what’s so wonderful. It’s the fact that you and I would have never been able to purchase our own salvation, but He has given it freely anyway. Every time I meditate on this, I feel joy bubbling up inside of me at the amazing love and mercy I see in the cross.
  • Chilling out – Sorry, but I had to say it. Just chill out. Maybe you’re a control freak like me and this may seem a little impossible, but trust me on this one. Your life will be a whole lot easier—and more joyful—if you just let some things go. Forget about grudges, overlook the unkind gestures of others, and don’t stress about what you feel you’re not getting done. Instead, read your Bible. Pray for someone. Go for a walk and work on one of the above character traits. Hang out with your family. Bake a cake or do some service for a widow or senior citizen at your church. There are all kinds of little things in life that will bring you joy if you just chill out and do them.


Well, I’ve lectured you for quite some time now, but there’s really not much more I can say. Because I am a teen, after all, and not the next Doctor Phil. However, writing this blog entry has convinced me that I can no longer carry on with my previous plans for this afternoon (starting fires, getting into brawling fights, etc.), so maybe I’ll chill out and go bake something. :)