“There’s a green one down there by your left knee,” a voice boomed from about 10 or 15 feet below. I craned my neck down to the left, seeing the toe hold I had previously missed and pushed myself a little farther up the wall. Each ensuing toe and hand hold was often guided by calm, reassuring instruction. I finally climbed within 3 feet of the top of the 40-foot tall wall. With triceps and biceps quivering, I hoisted myself up and over the wall to the landing of the high ropes course we were doing as part of Certification School in Progressive Christian Youth Ministry. I looked out over the landing to my friends and colleagues below and raised my arms above my head in joyous “victory.” It dawned on me later that I had never thought, “I can’t do this” during the climb.
By contrast, “I can’t” was the mantra running through my head as I started the bike portion of the first triathlon sprint I had ever entered. I had pretty easily swum the 400 yards in the pool and had transitioned to my mountain bike (a decided disadvantage in a road race). Only two or three miles into the 12-mile bike ride, I was beleaguered by my heavy bike and the 20-30 mile per hour winds whipping into my face. I looked down at my newly purchased odometer and knew I was going much slower than expected. I was near tears and ready to give up as person after person passed me on their much faster bikes, always shouting encouragement over the howling wind. At about three miles, I mentally stopped myself. In a brief moment of lucidity, I realized that although I wasn’t entirely ready for this bike ride, I was nowhere near my physical capacity. I literally put my head down and pressed on toward the halfway mark, where I turned and coasted much more easily into the next transition point with the wind at my back. After the 5K run, I checked my time – just under 2 hours – which was a little better than I thought I’d do even buy augmentin online uk without the wind. Nowhere near record-setting, but I had finished.
“I can” is a powerful tool we can employ in all aspects of our lives. As a leader in the Iowa Conference UCC for the past four and a half years, I have tried to discipline my mind to go to “we can” much more than “we can’t.” After seeing so many decades of decline in the mainline church, it’s too easy to simply throw our hands in the air in exasperation and say, “We can’t.” This is an understandable way to protect ourselves from the potential disappointment that can come if you fail when you take that risk. On the other hand, if we take no risks, we doom ourselves to failure by default.
Given this spiritual discipline that has become embedded in my leadership, I am deeply disappointed that my position as Associate Conference Minister for Youth and Young Adult Ministries has come to a close far too early. (The Iowa Conference Board of Directors voted two weeks ago to shift priorities and eliminate this position in the face of a lukewarm response to a fundraising effort to retain it.) I feel like we were just rounding that proverbial corner, ready to have the wind push us more easily toward the finish line. Numbers of participants were on the rise, excitement for the training programs we were offering was palpable and the networks of faith formation leaders and young leaders were becoming more and more vibrant.
But, even in the face of what may seem like yet another failure, I hope you, my friends and colleagues in the Iowa Conference UCC, think even more creatively about what you can do. Every great journey of success is littered with spectacular failures alongside the road. With strong winds in our face, we should be putting our head down and pedaling onward, asking ourselves, “What can we learn from this situation?”; “How can we move forward even with what seems like a major setback?” and “What CAN we do now?”
Nicole Havelka, Associate Conference Minister