Thursday, May 5, 2011

What I Learned from Sarah Wheaton

Pop culture seems to like to set you up by making you think you'll succeed when sometimes... you'll fail.

I was thinking about this while driving through empty Iowa corn fields and reflecting on where I've been, and the fact that I'm back here again. I was remembering one of my favorite films as a kid, Sarah, Plain and Tall, a Hallmark movie we had recorded from the tv onto a video tape.

If you haven't seen the movie, the whole premise is that this woman, Sarah Wheaton, moves from Maine to Kansas to help a widower (Jacob) and his two children in the early 1900s. She ends up falling in love with the widower and marrying him. All's well and happy and somehow manages to work out, even though at first Sarah and Jacob don't get along at all. But it's a movie, right? It has to somehow work out or no one would watch it.

One of the lines from the movie popped into my head, and was the main reason why I got to thinking about it in the first place. Before Sarah moves to Kansas, her brother tries to talk her into staying in Maine. She responds that if she doesn't go now, she'll never know what it's like to have her own life. "This is my chance, Will," she says.

So after thinking about it, I came away with a few things. First, it takes one gutsy person to move half-way across the country to live with perfect strangers. And I don't think you necessarily come away with that feeling when you watch the movie (at least I didn't as a kid). But having done something sort of similar, now I get it. No, they weren't complete strangers, but I moved across the country because it was my chance.

This brings me to point number two, sometimes (most times) things do not work out the way you think they will. Or another way of saying it is, the best-case scenarios you see in movies are not realistic. It was Sarah's chance, she took it, and miraculously it worked out pretty well. That's not necessarily real life. I took my chance and hmm, it didn't quite work out. At all. So sad to say, movies with their happy endings and perfect fairy tales can set you up for disappointment if you don't keep a realistic outlook.

Now what's the point of all this, besides the fact that I'm being Debbie Downer? Well, it's not to be a killjoy, because I'm all about the movies that make you feel warm and happy. It's to be a little reminder that real life is hard and takes work. Sure, there are good times, happy times and maybe a few almost perfect times. But there are also terrible times, sad times, and a lot of very imperfect times. The thing you have to learn how to do is to take the good with the bad and keep on going.

From my experience, when you encounter failure, it's easy to want to throw in the towel. I've felt like giving up on a lot of things, and still do. There's always this desire to curl up in bed and never get out, to never bother trying because you're tired of failing. But when you stop trying, that's when you miss out on all your opportunities to succeed.

You don't get much of a back-story on Sarah. She's portrayed as a little bit older, almost matronly. By this point in a woman's life in the 1900s, she should've been married already with children. Why she isn't, the film never explains. But you get the idea that things for her haven't really worked out. She'd probably tried different things and met different people, only to be faced with failure. This was a chance for her to succeed and rather than fear the potential of failure, she took her chance.

The fact that Sarah did succeed isn't really relevant to the fact that she tried. She didn't know the outcome of her effort, just like none of us knows the outcome of our efforts. You don't know going into an interview, a new job, a relationship, if you're going to succeed or fail. All you know in that moment is that this is a chance and you're going to take it. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is real life.

Real life is risks, chances. It's trying, failing, succeeding and trying some more because giving up shouldn't be an option. And ultimately, it's trusting that God is working through it all.

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