When You Have to be Willing to Fall

July 24, 2012 | 56 comments

She didn’t care if she won. She really only wanted to make it through without falling apart.

She was calculating failure there in the calf barn before she even stepped into the show ring.  She tried not to let her voice shake when she asked me the question:

“How many people will be in the bleachers?” We sat together, knee to knee, on hay bales. The day sweltered. Even in the shade, we were sweating.

She worried aloud that all those people and crying babies might spook her baby, Sherbert the Calf. But I was afraid they would spook my little girl, Lydia Lee. 

I did remind her that the calf show is for fun. I wore a smile to blunt her worry. She found it unconvincing. I held her hands in mine and told her how again how she would lead her calf around the pen with a rope-halter. She would answer a few questions from the judge.

“But what about the knot, Mom? What if I mess up the knot?”

Only a few minutes earlier, we’d found out that 4-H exhibitors were expected to tie their calves to a gate using a special knot. It was a complicated series of twists and loops of the rope, but Lydia picked it up quickly and confidently–then she practiced twenty more times to be sure.

She brushed her calf again and again, picking away bits of hay from the fur. And I watched, too, how she smoothed down her own hair over and over again — a nervous habit.

She had practiced, primped, preened and prepared. We’d almost forgotten to pray. I took her hands, and we asked God to get that fiesty Sherbert to behave. We prayed that Lydia would enjoy her moment in the ring.  We prayed for peace, over performance. We prayed that she would simply get through the thing, and to the thing … to have courage to walk into the ring.

That is no small thing, this matter of courage. 

Lydia was not looking for a blue-ribbon at that point. She only wanted to maintain a bit of control. And she didn’t want to cry.

She is her mother’s daughter, afraid of falling flat on her face in front of a live audience. She feared worst-case scenarios before the show-gate even opened.

Jesus said this: “My strength is made perfect in weakness.”

Christ values our weakness, the opening place where he can enter with great power, so that there’s no question Who had the muscle to win the impossible battles of life.

But for some mortals, our own “strength” is our very weakness. The world rewards the winners, shuns the losers. We race for the win, the bigger paycheck, the corner office, the blue ribbon. We work hard, try hard, move fast, climb faster, get the win, bring home the bacon … then we expect even more the next go-around, climbing higher up a ladder for some elusive, invisible standard hovering always out of reach.

Upward mobility starts young in America. Falling isn’t an option in a world that values strength over weakness. Failure is downright ruinous — even in places like soccer fields and gymnasiums.

So, some people don’t even enter the ring or the ballfield or the pulpit or the college classroom. Instead of trying, many people back out entirely. Because if they can’t win — if they can’t be perfect — they simply won’t go to the thing, denying themselves the joy of finding out they might have gotten through the thing. If they’d only tried. If they’d only opened up the weak place for the Savior to make His grand entrance.

When we duck out, we miss the joy of life’s experiences, because we’re sidetracked by the anticipated “value” of our spotlighted performance. We don’t want to fail when people are watching. 

I remember how a friend once dared me, before speaking to a group, to pray this one prayer: “Dear God, let my words and my life honor you. I’m willing to fall flat on my face, if it brings glory to you.”

Trust me, that’s a very hard prayer to pray. But it’s a prayer that changed everything. Isn’t that the surest way to bring Him glory? To be willing to fail? To lay out your weaknesses to a world in need of knowing that people actually. have. weaknesses? To demand less “performing” from one another? And to give more grace to one another?

I want to live this: to never let the worth of my life be measured by my human performance, but by a Savior’s performance. 

The sun slants in through this open-air barn. The calves bellow, shifting position to find shade.

Lydia leans down by Sherbert, whispering like she might be able to sweet-talk her calf into behaving in the show-ring. Lydia — exactly one quarter the size of her calf — will need to grip that rope hard. She’s need strength in weakness.

I can see it in her eyes, how she’s feeling weak.

An announcer calls for all fourth graders to bring their calves to the show ring. This is a moment of fight or flight for Lydia Lee. She unties her calf, and her Dad helps her escort Sherbert to the ring. She holds tight to the rope.

A judge stands in the middle, in a wide stance with her hands on her hips.

And I stand behind a little girl with number 122 pinned to her back.

I keep looking at her back, and how she’s grown up tall, with that hair flowing down past her neck and all that courage in those hands gripping a blue rope. She’s my firstborn, and here she is: showing me what it means to be brave, and to walk straight into her worst fear, one single step at a time, because she doesn’t want to miss the experience.

She enters the ring, and makes the first pass around. The judge asks each child, one by one, to tie their calves to the gate. It’s Lydia’s turn, and I can see through the gate that her hands are shaking.

The judge is telling her something. I can see a crestfallen look cross over Lydia’s flushed face.

The judge moves on, and Lydia mouths the words to me across the ring: “I did the knot wrong.”

It’s all I can do not to look at her, because I’m afraid she’ll cry. I’m afraid I’ll cry — not because I want her to win, but because I want her to stay. in. the. ring. “Lord, just let her get through it.”

Suddenly, Sherbert bucks and backs away from the gate. Lydia has to turn her calf twice, and then it happens: She falls on the ground. Lydia falls, right there in the show ring in a room full of people watching.

She falls.

I watch her, stunned. I want to rescue my girl, want to run into the ring and pick her up and dust her off, and help her out of the ring. But I don’t. I stand still. Because it’s not my place to be her strength in this moment of weakness. I hold my breath.

And just then, Lydia stands. She doesn’t let go of Sherbert. She stands. Brushes herself off. And moves back to her spot. She throws her shoulders back, lifts her chin up and stands tall — made impossibly strong in the fall.

A few moments later, the judge whispers her decisions to the announcer. She will award 18  ribbons, along with one champion and one reserve champion.

They call a boy’s name, and he gets a purple ribbon. He is the champion of the fourth-grade calf show. The crowd applauds. The boy beams.

And then, they call out another name. There’s another champion in a circle of winners who went to it, and through it, and who stayed in the ring. The announcer calls out the name of a girl who prepared and who prayed and who  feared the worst. She called the name of the girl who fell.

“Our reserve champion this afternoon … is Lydia Lee.”







 We write in community every Wednesday about the God-Things that make you go, “Hmmm…”

Some call them coincidences. We call them God-incidences. And those goosebumps you get sometimes when you know the Holy Spirit is at work? Yep. They’re God-Bumps.

Want to join the chorus of words for our God? Pick either button above, attach it to your post, tell your story. Then, link up below.



by | July 24, 2012 | 56 comments


  1. Brandee Shafer

    What a great story. The one who falls and gets back up is so much more interesting to me than the one who does it all perfectly. And I love that prayer: “Dear God, let my words and my life honor you. I’m willing to fall flat on my face, if it brings glory to you.”

  2. Deb Russell

    What a great story! She’s a strong girl just like her mama. Love that proud smile in the last picture!

  3. ro.ellott

    “I want to live this: to never let the worth of my life be measured by my human performance, but by a Savior’s performance”. Amen….Oh I love this and this brings back such sweet memories…my kids did the state fair…some of their fondest memories and mine too…yeah for lydia…and seeing this story of sherbet…how she nursed her and now…champions together. blessings and aren’t we so thankful we have a mercy Judge too…calls us…even when we fall:)

  4. Sylvia R

    I love this story. Partly because of the fair going on all week not many miles from here. But mostly because of how I identify with your statement, “For some mortals, our own “strength” is our very weakness.” This was me, till God let the rug get pulled out from under me, and I fell down hard! Then my focus verse became the one you quote, and the accompanying, “When I am weak, then am I strong.” God bless your dear daughter. Learning to accept a fall with grace and stand tall in His strength at this early age is such a powerfully equipping lesson.

  5. S. Etole

    A true champion in every sense of the word! Blessings for the “getting up” and going on.

  6. Shaunie Friday

    Well, just make me cry why don’t you, Jennifer?!!! Hooray for Lydia Lee and Sherbert the Calf and brave Jennifer who let Lydia find her strength in God, and God who lifted her chin and made her tall!!! God-bumps all over the place!!

  7. Jody Lee Collins

    man oh man, that is a God bump for sure. I don’t think as a mom I’d be able to contain myself from bursting with pride.
    Father, come and get your glory!

  8. Simply God's Girl

    First of all… I miss those days when my babies were showing their pics and calves! This is my first time to participate here and I love this! Just seeing God in everything! Thank you for allowing me to be a part!

    Simply God’s Girl

  9. Lynn Morrissey

    Oh Jennifer, what a heart-gripping, heart-warming story! I couldn’t stop reading, praying myself that Lydia would make it! And when I read that she’d fallen, my breath caught! “Get up, Get up!” You told the story so well that we were on those bleachers with you, cheering Lydia on. What a precious story of courage and grace, of weakness made strong in the Lord. I couldn’t help think of that well-known quote by Theodore Roosevelt about those who stand on the sidelines and criticize; but it’s he who gets in the ring (even though he might become bloodied) who knows the victory. Lydia knew the victory that day through Christ. And so did you. And just maybe, Sherbert did, too! =] Oh, and thank you so much for this line: “She had practiced, primped, preened and prepared. We’d almost forgotten to pray.” I’m going through a time of preparation for a retreat I’m going on next week, and am starting to feel stressed. And yes, I haven’t prayed about it today; I just forged ahead. No wonder I’m frazzled! Thanks for this important reminder.

  10. path of treasure

    Awww, congrats to Lydia Lee– for hanging in there, for standing right back up and pressing on!

  11. Angie Vik

    Your daughter is one brave little girl. I would have died of embarrassment and seriously considered never showing an animal in the ring again. How neat that she was recognized for her courage. She’ll always remember this experience and the valuable things she learned from it. You were a good cheerleader.

  12. Kris

    Wow. God reveals Hos glory in so many ways, and what a beautiful story here– so glad she won a ribbon, but the lesson here is so much deeper! *goosebumps* wonderful!!

  13. Amy Hunt

    This story made me cry. Truly. I get it. The being willing to fail and the choice of whatever it takes to honor Him. And of our human parenting responsibility to step back and let Him lead. There’s so much here. And I’m overwhelmed.

  14. Elizabeth

    An amazing story of bravery and courage. My how she held strong in the face of a challenge. I share in your joy at this ending. And there is so much here that teaches in a tender and beautiful way. What an experience of the heart for Lydia that she will never forget. That He never leaves us and that He always holds us tight. So so glad you shared.

  15. Thelma Nienhuis

    I’m crying. And covered in gooseflesh. And grinning like a fool.

    This? “If they’d only opened up the weak place for the Savior to make His grand entrance.” I needed that today.

  16. Karen

    That last picture is worth a thousand words…but your words are what brought glory to the Lord and completed the story…

    Mama pride is a good thing…and I suspect there was some (heavenly)Father pride going on when you wrote this statement…it blew me away:

    “Because it’s not my place to be her strength in this moment of weakness.”

    That’s a keeper…

  17. Patricia (Pollywog Creek)

    What a fabulous story, Jennifer…rich in truth and wisdom! And congratulations to Lydia Lee and Sherbert!!! Champions indeed. xox

  18. Susan

    What a great story, Jennifer! So glad to hear that Lydia Lee hung in there when things got tough, and SO happy to see her be rewarded!

    I’m writing about insecurity this week and love what you said about the invisible standard that hovers out of reach. True ‘dat!

  19. kelli

    Your words touch deep places, Jennifer.

    Thank you for lifting Him up . . . and reminding me of my chief end — to glorify Him, even if it means I fall flat.

    (So glad they gave her a ribbon anyway . . . :))

  20. Sharita

    Oh, Jennifer! This brought tears to my eyes! What an incredible Jesus moment… Our county fair is going on as we speak back home in Kansas, and my little bro is showing his steer. I am bummed that the distance from Georgia to Kansas keeps me from actually being there– but also gives me confidence to know that God is present everywhere– even in a 4-H show ring. Thanks for blessing me today!!! 🙂

  21. Sara De Smet

    What an awesome story Jennifer! I had a lump in my throat and a tear in my eye! Being a mom and wanting your child to do well, it is such a helpless feeling to let go and let them lead their own path! Congratulations Lydia! God was leading you the whole time!! 🙂

  22. SimplyDarlene

    Congrats to miss Lydia Lee (and the entire family)!

    This telling is the epitome of a God-grande story. And thank you for reminding me of our two choices when we fall.

    Praise Him we have a second option!


  23. Sheila Seiler Lagrand

    Oh, Jennifer, I love your mama’s heart. And this post is so rich. Savior’s performance and falling flat for His glory.

    Those two thoughts alone will carry me a long, long way.

  24. Lyli@3dLessons4Life

    Beautiful. Thanks for reminding me not to duck out and miss the spectacular ending.

  25. Mary Beth

    I had tears as I read this. I’m the little girl that had to know I would perform perfectly or I wouldn’t do it. I’m still learning that sometimes just stepping out and getting through it is just fine. I’m pondering that prayer today: being willing to fall flat on my face if it brings glory to Jesus.

    Mary Beth @newlifesteward

  26. Jillie

    What a wonderful story Jennifer. I was right there with you in those stands. What really touched me was you wanting to get into that ring and help your girl…but you couldn’t be her strength. Been there a few times myself. We sooo want to protect and shield our children from the judgements, and sometimes cruelty, of the watching world, but we cannot. Lydia Lee learned something far more valuable being on her own in that ring. Jesus was there with her, and He rewarded her brave efforts and her young faith. What a beautiful little girl she is. May she continue throughout life to give her weaknesses in exchange for His strength…and be willing to fall down for His glory if need be.

  27. Sherrey Meyer

    God-bumps here! Love your sharing of Lydia’s story. What an amazing example of God’s presence with us in every circumstance! Thanks for sharing.

  28. Linda

    I was holding my breath until the last words Jennifer, and now I’m holding back tears so I can see to write.
    What a beautiful, wise lesson you’ve lovingly handed your precious girl. It’s one this grandmother is still learning.
    You, precious girl, are an outstanding writer and your heart is purely beautiful.

  29. Danelle

    The “reserve” champion.
    That got my heart Jennifer. Imagine my eyes crying, because they are.
    So very hard to fall and get back up, but this strengthens us the very most, doesn’t it?
    Loved this post.

  30. Megan Willome

    Cried again! This is one of your best, Jennifer.

    My favorite part was about it not being your place to be her strength at that moment. This is where I’m living day in and day out with my teens right now. These fall hurt more, cost more, come with less compassion. It’s so hard, but so necessary for them to stand up, throw those shoulders back and finish (even when they don’t get any recognition at all).

  31. Laurie Collett

    Congratulations to your daughter! Before every dance performance (and rehearsal too) my husband & I thank God that His strength is made perfect in our weakness. The most Spirit-filled performances are the ones where we just get out of His way!
    Thanks for the great posts and for hosting the linkup, & God bless!

  32. Michelle Eichner

    What a neat story – and such a neat experience for Lydia to see God be her strength. I’m proud of you for not running into the ring. I’m not so sure I could have stopped myself. But you’ve given all of us a wonderful picture of letting go so our kids can become independent. Give yourself a hug! Praying for you 🙂

  33. Kim

    I loved this. It brought back lots of memories of 4-H bucket calf shows for both our daughter and son. The lessons she is learning are invaluable as she makes the journey from childhood to adulthood. Thanks for sharing.

  34. Sarah Atkinson

    Beautiful…. Congratulations to your champion.

  35. Rod Bahnson

    Way to go Lydia! Loved the blog Jenniffer and smile Lydia is keeping up with the Lee tradition.

  36. michelle derusha

    My arm hairs are standing ON END, and you know that’s no small feat with 104 degrees breathing down our necks around here! I am cheering OUT LOUD for Lydia and feeling the tears spring to my eyes, because don’t we all know what it feels like to fall down and GET UP again?! Bravo, Lydia girl. Bravo.

  37. Lori

    Oh wow! This was the best post ever! Brought tears toy eyes, bless your little Lydia’s heart. She learned a very valuable lesson. She passed the test and stayed in the ring!

  38. Janet

    I had goose-bumps reading this.

    My daughter was in 4-H. It made her stronger. Every time I would be almost sick. You are so right. Just one step at a time. I was so appreciative that you did not pray that she win. You only prayed that she get through it. So wise.

    I also want to live: “to never let the worth of my life be measured by my human performance, but by a Savior’s performance.”

  39. Amber

    I love this! This spoke to me today and not because I have children in 4H and have experienced the tremendous character building it can provide.

    No, this spoke to me because I, myself am dealing with an issue that I don’t want to do because I’m afraid I will fail. You have given me much to think on and pray about. I DO want my life to be measured by my Savior, not me. I DO want to glorify Him above all else.

    Thank you, thank you!

  40. Nancy Franson

    You?!!! You, my rock-star, successful writer friend wrote this?

    She is her mother’s daughter, afraid of falling flat on her face in front of a live audience. She feared worst-case scenarios before the show-gate even opened.

    Dang. I guess I’m in good company. Three cheers for Lydia. I’m so impressed by this rising generation of godly young woman who are cooler, braver versions of the woman I want to be.

    And, yeah. Goosebumps. For real.

  41. kelli- AdventurezInChildRearing

    great story – fabulous telling of the story 🙂 love that “showing me what it means to be brave” comment 🙂

  42. Laura

    Love this story. Love parents who let, even encourage their kids to take a risk. That risking and messing up and keeping going, it builds character. Beautiful job of capturing the story.

  43. kendal

    audible gasp AND tears. way to go lydia! and what a hope for those of us who fall.

  44. Sharon O

    ok. I am in tears now, remembering my first born grand daughter taking best in show for a rabbit she learned to groom and hold and show for judges. It is a good lesson for them and us, to let go and pray.

  45. Dave

    Well done, Lydia.

    Well done, Jennifer.

    Soli Deo gloria…

  46. Lynn Mosher

    Woo-hoo! Congratulations, Lydia Lee! Way to go! Never give up. And when you fall? Get up and stand tall, just like you did.

    Such a precious post, Jennifer!

  47. Pamela

    So precious. We’ve made a habit of praying with our girls “in the moment.” Last Sunday Emily’s boyfriend was taking her back to work (she works away from home during the week) and knew she was worried about a situation. He stopped the car and prayed with her. Warmed my heart.

    Congratulations to your Lydia Lee. A memory-making day!

  48. Theresa@HeavenlyGlimpses

    Oh yes, a gasp and catching of my breath. This is absolutely beautiful. The lesson of Christ’s strength in our weakness interwoven throughout this piece is thought-provoking and stunning.

    btw, I’m sorry I linked twice. I somehow linked the wrong post the first time!

  49. Dayna DeLaVergne

    Beautiful, sweet, and I’m crying tears of joy for Lydia. I gave in to my fears in my younger years, so she is a hero to me. I admire Lydia not only for her bravery, but also for the hours and hours of work getting Sherbert to the show!

  50. Audra Krell

    Precious, inspiring truths here. Makes me want to pray the outrageous prayer and be willing to fall. Thank you Jennifer.

  51. Courtney

    I’m cheering for Lydia Lee! Thank you for sharing this wonderful story. It is about the experience – getting through it – and being willing to fall (or fail) if that will bring Him glory. Revealing our weaknesses and using them for God – that’s got to be one of the hardest, but best, parts of the Christian experience.

  52. Janet

    So beautiful. Tears are welling up in my eyes. Thank you for sharing this with us.

  53. a soulful life

    I love this story 🙂

    There is no need to fear other people when Jesus is beside you 🙂

  54. Trudy L.

    Sweet, joyful tears over this! And even Sherbert looks like He felt God’s strength to make it through in that last precious picture!

    I felt like Lydia Lee’s mama while I read! Thanks for sharing. Thank you, Lydia Lee, for this testimony of God’s faithfulness and love! 🙂


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