Winning & Losing

You can’t win every day; some days you’re just going to lose.

I remember saying that to one of my roommates while I was in Thailand for student teaching. We were struggling through culture shock and adaptation and we came face to face with the reality that mistakes and disappointments were bound to happen. That vocabulary stayed with me as I moved and changed jobs and living situations. Last summer, I started referring to experiences or even entire days as “winning” or “losing.” It was a humorous way to document the initial struggles of real life after college graduation.

I’ve been learning that life is composed of both “winning” days and “losing” days. At my current stage of life, winning days are comprised of finding extra coupons, developing superb navigational skills, and getting ahead on work. Losing days might resemble the bills being due before the paycheck, experiencing crazy coworkers, or making stupid mistakes.

When we experience the phenomenon known as “winning” and “losing,” we are experiencing real life. Perhaps we have days or weeks or even months of “losing,” and that’s normal. Usually, however, winning and losing days are interspersed with regular quality days, which is also normal. I would caution that months and months of feeling like you’re losing might be an indication that good Christian counseling could be a good next step for you.

I feel strongly that there are at least two reasons we should not let “winning” or “losing” days define us.

Losing Days Do Not a “Loser” Make

When was the last time you called yourself a failure? Remember it. Well, let that be the last time.

See, a problem we often face (and I have seen this in my life and in the lives of others) is when we take the winning and losing days as indications of who we are. One week I experienced “a week of Mondays” in which every day was bad enough to be a Monday. I took that experience and said to myself something along these lines: “I am a failure. I can’t do this. I can’t be a teacher. Nothing is working right. No one understands me. I’m not good enough.” And then I took that different work at work and applied it to my other roles in life: “I’m failing as a daughter, a friend, a sister, a girlfriend…”

Okay, before you give me heat, think about the times you’ve said something similar to yourself. Negative self-talk is a beast. And listening to Satan is a death sentence. Give that guy a foothold, and you’re done for.

None of what I told myself was true. I was doubting in the dark what God had told me in the light. God has already made it very clear that I’m supposed to be a teacher. He has already proven his goodness and graciousness to me. I know it’s difficult to move from college to the “real world,” but God has already told me that he is with me and will be with me through anything. In fact, I may have been struggling that week, but it did not change who I was.

Everyone Has Them

The end of Matthew chapter five tells us to love our enemies. God gives to them even the general grace he gives to us. Similarly, God allows the general pain to befall both believers and the enemies of believers. In the NIV, Matthew 5:45 reads…

He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.

Everyone gets the sunshine and the rain. One reason I think God gives us all both sunshine and rain is because his desire is that all people come to know him. By using the sun and rain to provide for everyone’s needs for food and to show Himself through creation, he is giving those who do not know him even more opportunities to see him and his power and goodness.

Therefore, our response to losing days should not be self-pity (“Why am I such a loser?”) but acknowledgement of the pain that sin has caused and an awareness that maybe God might just use the losing days to bring about something great. He’s in the habit of redeeming and restoring things like that. I’ve seen God take horrific circumstances and turn them into great and wonderful expressions of his love and rescue and power. (I have been writing about redemption and restoration for a while now. Ironically, I tend to write most about those themes in the month of April!)

When unbelievers see us responding to difficult circumstances and “losing days” with gratitude and hope in God’s providence and provision, they’ll know that something is up, and they just might start asking questions.


I’m writing this post as I’m working through Ann Voskamp‘s One Thousand Gifts. She compares learning the language of gratitude to learning a second language. In the book, she explains that she is writing down a list of things she is grateful for, adding to the list each day, as if she were copying vocabulary in a second language.

As a English as a Second Language teacher who has spent time with Spanish, Cantonese, Lao, and Thai, I connect with that comparison. What if gratitude is a language we must practice using in order to get better at it? What if we must practice listening to, reading, speaking, and writing gratefulness before it will stick? Perhaps being thankful in all circumstances (1 Thess. 5:18) is something that must be learned, Ann writes.

To this end, my challenge now becomes: What if we were thankful on “losing” days, too? It’s easy to be thankful on “winning” days, especially if our attitudes are in the right place. But we are not called to be grateful only in some circumstances. We are actually specifically called to be grateful even in troubles.

I have a sneaky feeling that if we named specific things, whether tangible or otherwise, and thanked God for them, even on “losing” days, we would feel less and less like “losers” and more and more like the children of God we really are. See, we aren’t “losers.” God didn’t give us that name when he called us out of darkness into his marvelous light. God calls us chosenset apartholybelonging to GodGod’s delight, and God’s bride (2 Peter 2:9, Psalm 18:19, Isaiah 62:4).

We will have losing days. We will have winning days. Do not let either day define you. Let gratitude for who God is and what God has done for you be your definition. Circumstances will change, but God does not.

Not Easy

Well, I’ve come full circle. Again. I have a project due tomorrow for the first year teacher’s program at my school and I am cleaning, organizing, and blogging in a feeble attempt at procrastination. This reminds me of college so much, except that I am listening to rain instead of Mumford.

I’m also coming full circle in a different way. This summer, I will be moving. Again. With a doubt, I am overjoyed to be moving. I landed my dream job with an amazing support system. I have a potential housing situation lined up. I will no longer be living 3.5 hours from my amazing boyfriend… I am so excited about what is to come.

The existence of excitement does not preclude the existence of fear, exhaustion, uncertainty, uncomfortability, insecurity, or difficulty.

In fact, excitement and uncertainty have often gone hand in hand for me. Excitement and exhaustion are two words that describe my overseas travel impeccably – often at the same exact moment. Excitement and fear define my first year of college in a nutshell.

So here I am, putting on my big girl panties and moving to another state. For a boy. For a job. For a better living situation.

I know, without a doubt, that this is what God has for me. I know that it is good. It know that it is His plan. I know this because it has worked out perfectly in only the way that He can work things out. I know this because the guy who lives there loves me with safe, sacrificial, challenging love that blows my mind. I know this because God has proven himself again and again. I know that it is God’s plan for me to move to this new state and city and community.

Regardless, I am still afraid. I am still tired, uncertain, uncomfortable, insecure, and preparing to face difficulty. “Being in God’s will” (whatever that means) does not mean that everything is peachy. Following God does not make your problems disappear.

This morning in church, my pastor explained that with good couples, one partner has strengths where the other has weaknesses. The opposite is true as well. In moments of alignment, they complement each other. In moments of misalignment, they complain: “We’re so different from each other! Why are we even dating/engaged/married?!?” But that’s just what makes couples work. We’re supposed to be different from our partners. They complement us.

If we take difficulty (like the example of the complaining couple) to mean that we’re in the wrong place or God is punishing us or we should leave, we’re understanding difficulty inappropriately. Sometimes we are in the “wrong” place, and God makes that clear to us while calling us to a new place. But we should not run away from difficult situations. We should work through them, only leaving if proven necessary. That’s why we should not break up relationships or get divorced over difficulties. We should work through them and figure out the real issues.


One reason I am afraid is that I don’t do “new” very well. I am a hardcore introvert who loves dependability. That’s one reason it’s hard to be around a lot of people. Other people often do things that are unexpected, and that leaves a lot of newness and inconsistency to deal with in a group setting.

However, I have realized that I need people. Shocking, I know.

I was reading an article from Donald Miller that discussed introversion and extroversion. One person commented: “…it takes me several days of complete solitude to recover [after a big social engagement]. I used to apologize for it, but now I just plan for it.” I think that summarizes the introvert’s needs perfectly. It would be wrong of me to constantly apologize for the weird things I do because I’m so introverted. However, it would also be wrong of me to pretend I didn’t have a need for “recharge” time. Like the commenter said, I should plan for those things and give myself grace to work through them.

It is great to acknowledge and utilize an understanding of personal traits like introversion and extroversion, but we cannot let the labels dictate our lives. Introverts cannot eliminate community time any more than extroverts can eliminate solitude time. It’s necessary to have experiences that shape and stretch us, and both community and solitude are essential for spiritual growth. My old youth pastor used to tell me that ministry (and a lot of life) is 80% what you want to do and 20% what you don’t want to do.

As I think about moving and making new friends, developing relationships, seeking mentors, exploring a new city, and learning a new job, I know there will be difficulty. I know that a lot of the tasks I must accomplish as I move are challenging for someone who is 98% introverted like me. But life is not about “easy.” It’s about becoming more like Christ, which is anything but easy.

I’m ready for it. I know I will feel afraid but I also know that God is with me. I know I will feel insecure, but I also know that he has brought me here. I know I will face difficulty, but I also know that this is where he wants me. I’m ready for this new adventure because I am taking my adventures one step at a time.

How do you eat an elephant?

One bite at a time.

The Seasons and The Stages of Life

I have a love-hate relationship with the season of winter. Mostly hate. To be honest, I despise it. It’s 3 months of literal death and figurative torture and just plain miserableness. David writes that a “hope deferred makes the heart sick,” which I’m pretty sure has something to do with school not being canceled despite a chance of winter precipitation. In addition, three of my favorite things (Flowers, Skirts, and Sunshine) are not typically possible during the winter. I think Christmas must be winter’s only saving grace… Thankfully we don’t live in pre-Aslan Narnia, where it is “always winter but never Christmas.” Think of that!

What makes it worse is that I spent last winter (one of the Southeast’s most ridiculous winters in terms of precipitation) in Chiang Mai, Thailand, where our temperatures were in the 100’s by late February. I spent this winter in “Famously Hot” Columbia, where our lowest recorded temperature was still in the double digits. (Now that I think about it, we might have had 9 degrees Fahrenheit early one morning.) Even though it was not actually that cold this winter, compared to my friends in New York or Canada, and despite not missing a single day of work this school year due to weather precipitation, I still hate winter.

I wonder if I have some kind of seasonal depression. Possible, but not super likely. Maybe I’m just not looking hard enough for the joys of winter. Every season has joys, right? (Springtime definitely has more… Don’t tell Winter I said that.) Winter is the time for remembering the birth of our Savior, which should be joy enough. Winter also has the beauty of scarves and hats: wearing the things I’ve knitted. Winter has the sweet warmth of hot chocolate and peppermint mochas. It has gift-giving and two weeks off work. It has bonfires and boots. It has familiar songs and childlike joys. Winter is when we watch Elf, one of my favorite movies. Winter is the time of year when I get to break open a new planner… What joy! Winter houses fresh starts on New Year’s Day and free chocolate on Valentine’s Day.

Without everything dying in winter, how would we be able to celebrate new life in spring?

Switchfoot sings that the “shadow proves the sunshine,” which is completely true. If flowers didn’t die, animals didn’t hibernate, and temperatures didn’t dip, what joys would spring bring? How would we know when to celebrate?

We’re still four days out from the official “First Day of Spring,” but our high today was in the 80’s. Why am I complaining? There are joys here today and there were joys last week and last month and two months ago. Winter is just a season that is here today and gone tomorrow. It is the cycle of life, the passing of calendar months, the rhythm of hearts…

The rhythm of hearts. The rhythm of my heart.

See, It’s been a bit of a winter recently. “Hope deferred makes the heart sick,” like I wrote at the beginning. Unmet expectations are easily cause for complaint, depression, frustration, irritation, and all that is unbecoming to a child of God. When I’m looking for everything to go according to plan, I find myself standing in a blizzard wearing a skirt and sandals.

This is not what I had in mind, God. 

God chuckles. He’s got me right where he wants me. He’s been planning this all along. This was my Emergency Plan U, but it has always been His Number One Plan A. God doesn’t have backup plans. He doesn’t need them. Everything already goes according to his plan.

This is not what I want, God.

Oh, but it is. And God knows that. He knows that my ultimate goals are to know Him and be known by Him. He knows that my ultimate goals are to become more like Christ through everything thrown my way. He knows that my ultimate goals are to love with abandon because that can be my only response to His incredible love shown to me on the cross. Technically, this is what I want. As gold is refined through the fire, so am I refined through difficult circumstances. How can I be more like Christ if I do not have moments of suffering? How can I celebrate spring if I do not have moments of winter?

This is impossible. I can’t do this.

God chuckles again. I feel like pouting. But he reminds me, like a good and gentle Father, that he is with me. He turns my face to his, like a patient lover, and lets me see into his eyes that are full of love. He is holding me, guiding me by the hand, whispering in my ear, and sometimes dragging me (see below) along the journey. He is not finished with me yet. And He is not going anywhere. He does not send me anywhere that he did not go before me and behind me. He will never leave me alone.

Footprints Parody
Taken from http://www.diethobby.com/blog.php?ax=v&nid=878&topic=Footprints

I get a kick out of that every time.

Anyway…

Friends, winter does not mean that God has left. It doesn’t mean that He is silent. It doesn’t mean that we’ve done something wrong and now God is giving us the silent treatment until we confess the right thing.

Winter means that we are in a season of figurative or literal death. Death of unmet expectations, deferred hopes, or a very good part of our lives. Or it could be the death of a person dear to us or the end of particular season of happiness. It’s just that: a season. It will come and go. It has a reason for being here, but it is temporary.

I have been working on a new 10 year plan recently. It’s part of my personal getting-over-supposed-seasonal-depression program. I know I will have plenty more winters in the next decade. But I also know I will have springs of new life, summers of carefree happiness, and autumns of remembrance and contemplation. Because of that, I’m going to dream big. Anything can happen in the next ten years. And I’m praying I have many more decades to go after the next one. So I’m not going to settle. Winter has a way of making us settle, telling us that chapped lips and wind-burned faces and cold toes are normal and are going to last forever. God, on the other hand, beckons us to see crisp summer morning hikes and warm April breezes and sandy toes instead. Let yourself dream big, friend.

Maybe there is more to life than winter. Maybe there is more to a year than December through February.

Maybe spring is on the horizon just as summer break is inching closer, day by day by day…

So today, I’m going to eat my mint M&Ms leftover from Christmas and dream big. I’m going to look for opportunities to love today while preparing for more opportunities to love tomorrow. I’m going to buy more skirts and soak in more sunshine and smell more flowers. I’m also going to not hate winter. It made the sunshine that much more beautiful today.

All things work together for the good of those who love Him and have been called according to His purpose.