The Surprising Beauty of Failure

I just spent the winter hibernating after opening a business and closing it within six months.

Ma Spa had fulfilled my dream to host mothers in a lovely space, to teach biblical principles about family, and to promote self-care. Christian Moms want to apply the Bible to family life, and we typically put ourselves last on the family priority list. Besides that, who doesn’t love the idea of a perpetual women’s retreat?

This dream was so powerful that I almost entered a contest to win a bed and breakfast. I could just see mothers and daughters staying overnight, drinking tea and scones, and relaxing in beautifully decorated rooms. Ma Spa was the next best option to this incredibly noble and unselfish business idea.

But the realities of owning a business hit right away when I realized I had to market myself. Sure, my retreat space was lovely and a huge selling point, but I hated trying to convince people to come and learn from me.

I hated figuring out what to post on Facebook and Instagram.

I hated tracking likes and shares, and the roller coaster of feeling followed or ignored.

I hated figuring out what to blog that would draw in more readers. Blogging to attract customers took the fun out of writing.

I also hated silencing the social justice side of me for fear it would hurt my business. Suppressing my voice was especially unbearable during the 2016 election cycle.

On top of that, my identity in Charlottesville was Director of Annual Giving for the local Christian school. It was hard to balance my role soliciting donations with my new profile as Christian Entrepreneur. It felt dirty to co-mingle my professional connections, so I refused to compromise the former for the latter, even though it meant my business could fail.

Over time, canceling classes due to lack of interest was distressing and embarrassing. Since I had prayed for God’s guidance before opening the business, I questioned my ability to hear from him and do his will.

It was also financially tough, so much so that I had to look for full-time work, rent out my  house, and move back into the home provided through my husband’s job.

So I closed Ma Spa. Everyone who attended loved the classes, learned a few things, and forged new friendships. But my family could no longer carry the weight of business expenses if I was unwilling to market the business more aggressively.

The fact is, an even greater burden weighed heavily upon me during that six months: the reemergence of my life-long battle with depression. Beneath all my business pain and turmoil was the grief I had been carrying since my brother Mark died unexpectedly in June 2015. His death crushed my heart for a million reasons that I can’t express in this post. But suffice it to say, when he died I didn’t give myself permission to grieve in a healthy way. As a result, the intensity of the loss returned like a flood in the middle of my failing business venture. I wanted to die too.

There were many other griefs I had suppressed over the years in the name of being a strong Christian.  Loss of loved ones. Loss of friendships. Loss of dreams for my children, my marriage, and myself. Like most moms do, I soldiered on because life doesn’t stop for bloody emotional wounds to be exposed and examined. We have to stop if we’re going to get better. And like so many Christians, I viewed my sadness as a form of spiritual weakness and immaturity. I called myself a Debbie Downer and learned to live under daily dark clouds.

I also learned the hard way that depression, like any serious medical condition, can be deadly if neglected. Depression requires the kind of professional care that I was unwilling to give it. Therapy is expensive, time-consuming, and painful. I suppressed my burdens and lied to myself, rejecting my very evident need for medicine and intervention. I certainly didn’t believe I  deserved the investments required for healing and joy, especially since my poor decisions had led to the business catastrophe.

How ironic that the one promoting self-care needed it just as much or more than anyone who signed up for her classes.

But it’s okay. It’s beautiful, actually.

For the past three months I have rested my mind. Since I was unemployed, I set my own schedule, left my bras in their drawer, and chilled in yoga pants while I cared for my newborn granddaughter three days a week. Named after my own daughter who died in 1998, Victoria was a healing balm in more ways than one.

Most importantly, I have been under the care of a psychiatrist who prescribed medication that stabilized my brain and helped me sleep. Using this book, he has guided me in identifying skewed thinking patterns that have plagued me my entire life. He also validated the grief and pain I had dutifully covered over with scripture band aids.

Therapy has been emotionally draining and it’s not over. The book I’m reading is 700 pages, requiring commitment and a willingness to do all sorts of homework between sessions. My doctor and I both agree that the past three months have been about as close as I could get to being hospitalized.

To be honest, that is what I nearly needed. I had gained 10 pounds in the six months my business was open.  I had also applied for 16 jobs, got only five interviews and no offers. This heightened my depression and complicated my quest to understand this season of my life, a longing intensified when my brother died at the youthful age of 58. Time seemed to be running out for me to do more for the Lord.

So I can’t lie. I did spend my hibernation period licking mid-life wounds, watching television, scrolling aimlessly through Facebook, and refusing the exercise my doctor said would improve my mood. I didn’t go to church either, not wanting to hear platitudes. Not wanting to sing. Not wanting to misapply the truths that have always sustained me.

The road was rough, but it was also beautiful.

My willingness to stop hiding my illness prompted my husband and children to care for me through messages, prayers, and practical support. We now know that family transparency strengthens our bond. It also proved my theory that a big family is a unique form of Social Security, as my income for three months came from my eldest two offspring and their spouses.

Like someone who lands in the ER for a broken bone, only to have a dangerous cancer discovered during the x-ray, I rejoice freely in what my brokenness revealed. Depression was a slow-killing cancer in my life. So closing the door of my self-care business opened the door for me to receive the intensive care I have needed for a long, long time.

I hope I have modeled for my children – especially my daughters – that self-care is more than winery trips, pedicures, and even women’s retreats with Bible teaching. There is a time too cry, to grieve, to search, and to tear down so that new things can emerge.  It’s surprising how apparent failure is simply God making things beautiful in his time.

For everything there is a season,
    a time for every activity under heaven.
A time to be born and a time to die.
    A time to plant and a time to harvest.
A time to kill and a time to heal.
    A time to tear down and a time to build up.
A time to cry and a time to laugh.
    A time to grieve and a time to dance.
A time to scatter stones and a time to gather stones.
    A time to embrace and a time to turn away.
A time to search and a time to quit searching.
    A time to keep and a time to throw away.
A time to tear and a time to mend.
    A time to be quiet and a time to speak.
A time to love and a time to hate.
    A time for war and a time for peace.

What do people really get for all their hard work? 10 I have seen the burden God has placed on us all. 11 Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end. 12 So I concluded there is nothing better than to be happy and enjoy ourselves as long as we can. 13 And people should eat and drink and enjoy the fruits of their labor, for these are gifts from God.

Ecclesiastes 3.1-13

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