Susan Sparks: The magic of chicken poop
Have you ever made a mistake?
If not, then please stop reading and head to the sports or weather section.
If, however, you are like the rest of us human beings and have made a slip or two, stay with me.
Three things are sure in this life: Death, taxes and mistakes. We all make mistakes. In fact, I just wrote a column on Elvis and said that his birthplace was Memphis, Tennessee.
Tupelo, Mississippi. That’s about a 110-mile mistake. (Sorry.)
The question is whether we use these slip-ups as an excuse or as an experience to grow.
I am reminded of my grandmother, Emma Sue Whitmire, who had a beautiful garden on her farm in the North Carolina mountains. There she grew the biggest, “Jurassic Park”-sized tomatoes I’d ever seen. I asked her one day how she did it.
“Chicken poop,” she said dryly. “A garden won’t grow right without it.”
It took a few years before I enjoyed a tomato out of her garden again, but I never forgot the lesson: It’s the messy, unpleasant stuff that grows a great garden. Just like sometimes it’s the messy stuff in life - the mistakes and wrong turns - that grows a rich existence.
My first Good Friday service as a newly ordained pastor offers the perfect example. Nervous beyond belief, I accidentally interchanged the words of the Lord’s Prayer with those of the 23rd Psalm: “Lead us not into … um … the valley … of the shadow of death? Because … um … it’s a bad place - that valley. And, ah, I’d like to get out of that valley. Like now. Thank you. Amen!”
Needless to say, there were some confused looks as the congregation raised their heads after the prayer. For the rest of the service, I sat behind the pulpit contemplating what other careers I might pursue. At the end, one of our senior members came up to me and said, “Well, I’ve never heard the Lord’s Prayer done that way, but it sure made me sit up and listen!”
You never know what growth and learning will come from a mistake.
The tragedy is that sometimes we worry so much about making a mistake or being criticized that we stop taking risks. The world is threatened by things it doesn’t understand. Innovation can be labeled as a shortcoming or failure. For example, early in Elvis’ career, the manager of the Grand Ole Opry fired him after just one performance, telling him, “You ain’t goin’ nowhere, son.” What if Elvis had taken that criticism as truth and walked away from his music?
Elvis wasn’t the only one. J. K. Rowling had her “Harry Potter” series rejected by 12 publishers before it made her a billionaire. Steven Spielberg was rejected by the University of Southern California School of Theater, Film and Television three times. And Johann Sebastian Bach was the third choice for the music director and organist position at the Saint Thomas Church in Leipzig.
If you are hand-wringing over a recent mistake, ask yourself two questions: Was it really a mistake - like Memphis versus Tupelo? Or was it the world being threatened by something new? Either way, it can feel like chicken poop. The question is: what’s next? As the great jazz musician Miles Davis said, “If you hit a wrong note, it’s the next note that you play that determines if it’s good or bad.”
Make it a good note. Find a way to use the criticisms, the mistakes, the messy, unpleasant stuff of life, to grow. Who knows? In the end, that chicken poop might well transform into a beautiful, bountiful garden.
A trial lawyer turned stand-up comedian and Baptist minister, Rev. Susan Sparks is the senior pastor of Madison Avenue Baptist Church in New York City. The author of Laugh Your Way to Grace and Preaching Punchlines, Susan is a nationally known speaker on the healing power of humor. Contact her through her email at email@example.com, or her website, www.SusanSparks.com.