“It’s not whether you get knocked down, it’s whether you get up.”
I was raised by a vibrant, fiery, red-headed woman who had optimism sewn into her soul. She was the kind of mother that celebrated each time we fell because it gave us an opportunity to get back up again, stronger and wiser and more confident than before. One of my most favorite childhood memories exemplifies her wonderfully unorthodox perspective on life in general.
My address when I was growing up read Ravensdale, Washington. But, my house was nestled in the Y of a place we called Litrasville. My great grandpa George bought a bunch of land with his hard-earned money and settled down to grow a family. As his family grew, in a gracious attempt to hold the ones dear to him near, he gave parcels of that land to each of his children. Then, as their families grew, a little part of his heart was passed on to them as well. His last name, of course, was Litras. Thus, Litrasville came to be.
I spent my youth surrounded by family. I had cousins and fields to my left and aunties and uncles and more fields to my right. My grandparents lived across the street with aunts and uncles on either side and my Ya-Ya and Great Grandpa George on the corner lot.
There were flaws in this lovely place, I am sure. But, I was young and didn’t see much further than my own little wonderland. I was loved and I was safe. I spent my days running free in the fields that surrounded us, in and out of the doors that were always open to us and up and down the trees that danced around us.
One such tree stood alone next to our rambler, seemingly guarding the field that sat beyond it. It was the perfect climbing tree. An old fence leaned up against it, posing as a stepping stool, so we could easily boost ourselves up to the first set of branches. It was strong and sturdy but not too tall, so we were allowed to climb it to our hearts content.
I feel like I climbed that tree every day of my life. You’d think being so familiar with such a tree that I’d be a pro at getting up and down it. But, even the most familiar places in life can trip us up.
On one particular day, I was about ten feet up when I dug in hard at the v of a couple of limbs, as I prepared to sail to the top. Maybe it was the shoe I was wearing or just the gusto with which I dug-in, either way, my foot got lodged in the crack of the tree where the two branches met and it wouldn’t budge.
I don’t remember who was with me but someone must have run into the house to get my mother because, before too long, my salvation stood below me at the base of the tree and I knew I’d get out somehow. I just didn’t know it would go the way it did.
My hero in disguise, clad in mom jeans and one of my dad’s old t-shirts and missing her shoes, knew exactly what needed to happen. She didn’t go fetch a ladder or a saw to cut off any branches. She didn’t even scale my tall building to untie my shoe for me. Instead, she just told me to pull.
I was stuck and there wasn’t any way I was ever going to get out of the mess if I didn’t try with all my might to pull my foot out of the wedge. She was my mama and I trusted her, so I did exactly what she told me to do. And it worked.
I quickly realized was that I was much stronger than I thought I was because within seconds my foot was free, joined with the rest of my body. I began sailing through the air more unencumbered than I had ever been in my life. It was liberating and invigorating. That is, until I landed with a thud near the old broken down barbed wire fence nestled in the grass below.
I looked up with tears preparing to escape from the corners of my eyes and saw my mom beaming down at me with pride and admiration. Suddenly, I envisioned myself as an escape artist mastering that tree rather than a girl falling from it. With just one simple look of approval that barefooted beauty transformed from being the hero that ‘let’ me fall, into the inspirational coach who taught me ‘how’ to fall. And this is my first memory of ‘biting it’ or rather, getting back up again.
I was desperate and afraid one moment, free-falling in another and banged up and proud in the next. I could have walked away thinking I’d never climb that freaking tree again. But, I didn’t. I just climbed it better every time after that, with a little more confidence even; knowing if I dug in too deep at the Y the worst that could happen is I could fall and I already knew that wouldn’t kill me. I suppose that’s where the saying, ‘what doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger’ comes from.
The thing is, my mom didn’t just teach me how to fall that day in the tree. Over the years she stood by me and encouraged me time and time again. She told me I could do anything I set my mind to and that if God was with me, who could be against me. The climb is never quite as fun if there isn’t a chance of falling, right? What kind of victory would it be if you always knew you were going to make it out unscathed? How could you ever learn to be brave? When would you ever catch a glimpse of all that was possible with a little faith and a smidgen of determination backing you up?
I believed every word my mother sowed into to me because she was the kind of woman who practiced what she preached. Through many of the heart breaking disasters life dished out to her, I watched her get back up again stronger and braver than before. She was and is a living example of perseverance and God’s grace.
What an incredible gift to give your child. The gift of ‘not’ fearing a fall. To not live this glorious gift of life afraid of what ‘might’ or ‘might not’ happen. The belief that even the worst things in life can be used for their good if you can only remember to look up and focus on the approving eyes of the one that loves you.
I am not a huge Vince Lombardi enthusiast. I know that he coached the Green Bay Packers in the 60’s and lead them into the limelight as the most envied and successful franchises of that time, but that’s only because I looked him up on Google. I think this admission most assuredly makes me either a lame football fan or a weak American. Both of which I would never label myself. I am just not a details girl. But, to many, Lombardi is one of the greatest men that ever lived. And in their opinion, ‘this’ is most definitely a detail that I should pay attention to.
When I was thinking about my mom and all the great little tidbits she has blessed me with I kept thinking of that saying about when you get knocked down you just get up again. I wanted to know whose original material it was so I Googled it. This is when I discovered a list of quotes by Mr. Lombardi himself and admittedly, I am beginning to think the ‘many’ just might be right, about Vince and my attention to details – neither should be overlooked. But, I am also quite certain my mom should be sitting next to him in the Hall of Fame.
In essence, we are all coaches. Encouraging, inspiring and teaching our kids to become the men and women we know God created them to be. We want, so desperately, for them to reach their fullest potential. But, that’s so much easier said than done.
My middle daughter, Mattilyn, is a perfectionist. At the fresh young age of ten she has a discipline and drive that I covet. She rises by six every morning, dresses to the nines, makes her own breakfast, packs her own lunch and then proceeds to rally her siblings, in an impatient voice that sounds strangely like mine, to get up and get ready so they are never late for the bus. The only thing I have to do is help her with her hair that has to wisp down her cheeks just right, which demands assistance.
One would think it was safe to assume I hit the jack pot with this little girl who always keeps her room clean, never needs to be reminded to do homework and is praised by every adult who has the joy of assisting her in any aspect of life whether it be school, sports or merely a friendly sleepover. She doesn’t just want to succeed, she needs to. Who could complain about a child such as this, with a drive like this threaded into her being? But, if I am honest, I’d tell you it kind of freaks me out.
My Matti, is a little girl who doesn’t want to learn how to fall. All she wants to master is the art of not falling. She worries me because, although she is close to being perfect in every way, she lives in the same fallen world I live in, where true perfection really cannot exist. It breaks my heart that she cannot have things be just right, all of the time, because I know such things break her heart. I see her missing out on so many wondrous adventures because she is afraid to fail. I worry she’ll never know how beautiful she is because her imperfections will always distract her from seeing how amazing she really is.
Every once in a while this foggy life we live, this storm-ridden world we exist in, becomes very clear to me. It’s as if the spirit blows in and parts the clouds and the sun’s rays are allowed to shine down on it all and, if only for a moment, it all makes sense – even in it’s senselessness.
Nature gives us a visual of it from time to time. Cameras have snapped it up and captured it in still form. But, it’s in that moment - when the heavens open up just enough to allow the rays to reach through the clouds in a spread of individual streams of splendor, seemingly touching the imperfect world below, that perfection extends it’s brilliance down on us just long enough to get our attention and remind us it exists. And this broken, dirtied world seems lovely again.
I know we are not perfect, that Matti and I are not perfect. But, in these moments of clarity I know it’s ok. God came to terms with it a long, long time ago. Heck, he sacrificed His one true masterpiece to account for all our imperfections. And somewhere in the midst of that devastating, yet liberating sacrifice, all of our deficiencies make sense. They are part of the story, the reason for redemption. They are the key to our relationship with a perfect God and the only way we will ever find peace.
Every time we fall, we find ourselves in need of approving eyes that will encourage us to get back up again. Whether He uses our mothers or our fathers, teachers or coaches – aunties, uncles, nanas, papas, strangers or friends – every time His reaffirming love, and belief in us, is given an opportunity to shine through someone’s eyes and penetrate our lives, we are drawn a little closer to heaven. And I am sure, the closer we get to it, the less the darkness of failure will frighten us.
Matti isn’t the only one longing for perfection. We all search for Eden. The perfect paradise, the perfect life. For now it does not exist. But, the creator of it does and one day He will lead us back. Until then I just have to hope that I can help sweet, sweet Matti see the evidence of it in the little things.
Just like Vince, it’s my job to make champions. Every breath I take should infuse something of great strength and integrity into my children. At the end of my career they should be able to set up a page on Google that lists all my great quotes, awe-inspiring tidbits I shared with my kids when they were losing and when they were winning. Words of wisdom perhaps spoken in the locker room of life, half way through a big game, but meant to go much further than the field and sit much deeper in their hearts. But, when I am at a loss for words I remember my mom.
My mama was my life coach. But, she taught me more by her example and affirmations of who I was than through great and memorable speeches. To tell you the truth, I don’t even think she knew how great she was. In fact, I am pretty sure she was just flying by the seat of her pants, holding on by a wing and prayer – looking on the bright side of things and always knowing God was there to fill in the gaps. It was the existence of those imperfections that let God shine through her, into my life.
This is where I find my peace. In knowing my greatest coach of all time was not perfect. Suddenly, I don’t have to be perfect either. Because she fell, I know I can fall. Knowing everything good in her came from God, makes me believe there is God enough in me to be good enough too. And maybe, one day, this revelation will give my Matti peace as well.
So, when I am sitting in the locker room of my life trying to catch my breath after a defeating first half and I feel like I desperately need some good material, I think of my mom. She taught me to dig through all the muck and find what is good. And that this life we live is a game that we are blessed to be able to play.
Thanks mama, for teaching me so much more than how to fall. Thank you for showing me how to fight a good fight, to pour myself out into the things that I love and that every little bump along the way is worth it because the rifts they cause merely allow God’s love to seep out of this imperfect vessel of mine and touch the ones I hold most dear and we all come away victorious. Even Vince knows these are the finest things in life.
“….I firmly believe that any man’s finest hours – his greatest fulfillment of all that he holds dear – is that moment when he has worked his heart out in good cause and lies exhausted on the field of battle – victorious.”