My Missing Keys and a Lesson In Failure

I like to think I'm organized.  I dislike clutter, twitch when objects are aren't evenly aligned, and adhere to the credo a place for everything and everything in its place.  But then there's my keys.  Or, more aptly given my current situation, there's not my keys, because I've misplaced them. 


Keys are my organizational nemesis.  And this particular missing set not only contains the key to my office on campus, but also is attached to a flash drive that contains all of my documents, handouts, lessons, spreadsheets, and PowerPoint presentations for the classes that I teach.

Even though I have this content backed up elsewhere, I hate the fact that it's out there, wherever "there" is.  I'd be more comfortable knowing that the set was at the bottom of a dumpster, never to be seen again, rather than speculating that it's been plucked by someone who plans to use my work materials for nefarious purposes. 

Not that there are many nefarious purposes for lecture notes on rhetoric and public speaking, of course, but you catch my drift.

The evening I first realized that the keys were missing, I dragged my children to campus to retrace my steps and scour the various classrooms where I teach.  I'll spare you the extended details -- the illegal parking spot and subsequent encounter with a campus parking officer; the desperate, dashing trips to two different restrooms because my three-year-old had downed an entire bottle of Gatorade before getting in the car; the unsure footing on slippery sidewalks as I promised the girls that the next building was just a little farther; and the frustrating absence of keys in each classroom despite my belief that they'd eventually materialize if I simply searched long and hard enough.

Needing comfort at the end of our unsuccessful venture, I drove to a local dairy where I treated the girls to ice cream and drowned my sorrows with a milkshake.  (Milkshakes always make bad situations a little better.)

It was only keys, I knew, but my irritation, directed solely at my own absentmindedness, rooted itself deeply.  The thread of frustration wove an intricate web, tangling and snaring my thoughts.  How disorganized, scatterbrained, thoughtless, and irresponsible I was!

Do you ever think like this?  Do small mistakes ever escalate in your mind?  Does one short-tempered afternoon convince you that you've irrevocably failed as a mother and screwed up your kids?  Does one awkward encounter with an acquaintance make you question your basic social skills and capacity for intelligent dialogue?  Do you ever leave a failed situation feeling like it's not just the situation -- but  you -- that's the failure?

I've answered yes to all of these questions before.  Perhaps you can relate.  We've all messed up.  We've all overthought those mess-ups.

Over the past year, I've grown more self-aware about my thinking toward failure.  As a result, I've learned to take my thoughts captive more quickly so I can pick through what's true (yes, I lost my keys) and discard what's false (no, I'm not an irresponsible, incompetent bad human).   I'm learning to redefine failure and view it more productively, debunking the default assumption that failure is inherently bad (it's not), or that it's final (it isn't).

Those lost keys?  I'm not letting them define me today. 

No, I choose to believe other things about myself -- those things which God says about me: that I'm loved, that I've forgiven, that I'm covered, that I'm made righteous -- instead of what that pesky little inner voice might protest. 

P.S. I sense that this post isn't yet finished.  For one, I'm still hoping against hope that I'll find those keys.  That's optimism for you, my friends.  Two, thoughts are still churning; there's more to be said about failure.  What about you?  Can you relate to the questions above?

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  1. I needed to read this today! Really. Last night I cried for almost an hour thinking I've messed up as a parent... that there's no way to overcome the fact that after grounding my six-year-old daughter, she screamed "I hate you, I hate your consequences, and wish you and daddy were dead."

    Why would she say such a thing? Does she understand what that means? She couldn't possibly imagine how words like that can haunt a person.

    Needless to say, I realized that I can't torment myself for this. Christ was a holy sacrifice so I could be forgiven... I need to be gentler on myself and more importantly, forgive myself and my daughter.

    Last night as I got ready to go to bed I thought of Anne Shirley's famous words, "Tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it." So far, it's been a new day, a good day.

    I lose my keys all the time too. It drives my husband (and myself) crazy because I, like you, am VERY organized.

    Praying your keys turn up. Sorry for writing a novella here as a comment.

    Wishing you a lovely weekend.

  2. I always feel like a failure. I thought it was postpartum at first but hearing other moms talk about these things makes me think that maybe it is something more, and less. When my son goes to his room for the fifth time that day because we just cannot see eye to eye and I don't know WHAT else to do with him, I feel like a failure. When I see him being mean to his baby sister and I have no clue how to teach him to treasure her instead of pick on her, I feel like a failure. When I see a pile of dishes in the sink even though I got dinner and laundry done I feel like a failure. I never understood mommy guilt until my daughter was born, now it seems like it is all I feel.

  3. Cell phones are related to keys. They're in the same easy-to-lose or easy-to-destroy family, so I hear you loud and clear. (Sorry about the coffee. And especially the toilet.)

    So glad that the post spoke to you today, and thank you so much for your prayers. Praying for you, too.

  4. I hope you find your keys and I suggest getting a purse hook so that they can safely dangle in your purse until you get home and place them on a hook by the door or tray which I hope you already have lol best of luck :)

  5. Solidarity! Yay!

    Thanks for your prayers. Actually, yesterday was lovely and we were able to organically speak about what transpired the previous evening. God worked out some amazing things for us too. So even though it initially hurt, I see God working things for the better. I keep on having to hand my children and husband over to God (as you know, I've been working on this). He loves them more than I ever could... I have to trust in that assurance.

    Thanks Robin. I hope you have a lovely weekend.

  6. I'm with Lisa on this one. I'm pretty forgiving about many of my own failures (probably because I make so many of them) but I seem to be unable to recognize my own success until someone else notices it. It's as if I don't trust myself to say, "Hey, good job" until I hear it from someone else.
    And let me just validate you for a moment. With every single thing on your plate (your job, your husband's job, your three girls, keeping up your home, the blog, the book, extended family, and friends) it's amazing that you aren't constantly losing much more than your keys. Seriously.

  7. Ami, I appreciate your validation. Consider me happily validated! (Seriously. Thank you.)


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