When you have a disheartening experience, don’t write it off as a failure; consider it a life experiment. An experiment never fails. It always teaches you something.

Dr. Malcolm Rigel, who taught counseling at Warner University in Lake Wales, Florida, gave me an interesting insight on this. We were returning from lunch one day when I said, “Mac, I appreciate the way you help people deal with their failures. When you bring up the subject in your spiritual retreats, you seem to have a much more positive attitude about it than I have.”

He grinned. “Joe, the compost pile is the richest part of my garden. That’s where I throw my kitchen scraps, lawn clippings, and all the manure I can find. It’s a smelly, repulsive-looking thing. But the compost pile decays into rich humus that will feed my garden next spring. My failures and disappointments are like that. They trouble me. I would like to ignore them. But I’ve learned that failures can provide rich compost for my life if I apply what I learn from them.”

What have you learned from your life experiments? How have you used the compost of your life?

From Setting Goals That Count: A Christian Perspective, p. 49.
Copyright © Joseph D. Allison

Maple trees in our central Indiana neighborhood are in a season of profligate seed-sowing. Their feathered pods spin through the air like whirlygigs in a child’s fantastic dream. This morning, my feet rustled through dry heaps of them on the sidewalk of our condo development, and I realized with some surprise that maples sow their seeds at the beginning of the growth season rather than the end.

Most North American trees do their planting in the fall. Oaks and hickories drop their nuts, locusts shed their bean pods, and pines eject their ingenious escape capsules at summer’s end, like the last gasp of a marathon runner at the finish line. It’s as if the parent tree fears it may fall prey to winter storms, so it tries to beget as many children as possible at the end of the season.

But maples plant their progeny now, to grow alongside them for a full summer before winter winds begin to blow.

Thinking about that, I recalled the words of my old Yugoslavian seminary professor Charles Ashanin when I announced the birth of our daughter 36 summers ago. “Good,” he said with Old World sagacity. “Your life should be going out from you now.”

Charles explained that his Balkan forebears believed everyone should bear children in their late twenties and early thirties. Younger than that, and you did not know yourself well enough to take a mate and establish a family; older, and you might die before you could give your child the benefit of your own experience of childhood, puberty, marriage, and childbearing. “Plant your seeds now, so you’ll be able to shelter and nurture them,” he said.

Just like maples do.

My Christian brothers and sisters who follow the lectionary call these weeks between Epiphany and Easterordinary time.” The term comes from a Latin word that means “numbering,” and signifies that these weeks are numbered in the liturgical calendar. (For example, I’m writing this on the third Sunday of ordinary time–i.e., the third Sunday after Epiphany.)

Most of us understand the word ordinary to mean “plain” or “unimportant,” so when we hear the phrase “ordinary time,” we suppose it means same-old-same-old time. Unimportant time. Not-worth-mentioning time.

But the psalmist saw it differently. Psalm 39:4 asks God to make him aware of the number of his days because every one is precious, even more precious as he advances in age:

Show me, O LORD, my life’s end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting is my life.

Like him, I’m becoming more conscious of the number of my days. It fills me with greater urgency to do what I can to advance God’s Kingdom and build healthy relationships with those around me.  I’m eager to make the most of every day because I live in ordinary (numbered) time.

We have an abundance of dragonflies in central Indiana this year. On my walks along Mud Creek this year, I recall seeing just one Monarch butterfly and no “June bugs” (cityfolk call them dung beetles), but dragonflies are always skimming over the water. More than I can remember from previous years.

In the Appalachians, my elders taught me that an abundance of certain insects presaged a change in the weather. Did lots of spiders come inside? A bad winter was on the way. But they never told me what a bumper crop of dragonflies might mean, so I resorted to the Internet (the collective wisdom of modern sages) and found this reference on dragonfly-site.com:

“The meaning of a dragonfly changes with each culture. The main symbolisms of the dragonfly are renewal, positive force and the power of life in general. Dragonflies can also be a symbol of the sense of self that comes with maturity. Also, as a creature of the wind, the dragonfly frequently represents change. And as a dragonfly lives a short life, it knows it must live its life to the fullest with the short time it has – which is a lesson for all of us.”

OK, I get the message. Several of them, in fact.

I’m curious to see what this Year of the Dragonfly might bring.