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  • by Victoria Bingham

Life is like a bowl of ... Chili

Failure: It’s something that we all experience, because all of us are imperfect. Failure is not a topic we long to celebrate. It’s much easier to ignore it and put it behind us. When processed correctly; however, it can bring much wisdom, insight, and yes...even humor. I’m reminded of the comedian Brian Regan and his comedy sketch about elementary school. Brian relives the day of his school science fair, and how he panicked about his lackluster “cup-o-dirt” project. I can’t do the joke justice here, but the punchline goes something like, “Just put an F on it and let me go home!” This is a feeling that we have all felt, but the fact is that making an “F” can often teach us more than making an “A.”

Third grade was not my best year. In fact, it was horrible. I was nine. My grandfather had passed away the previous summer after being ill for many months, but his death came as a shock to the family nonetheless. I was just emerging into self-awareness, and the summer was made silent and empty by the passing of my “Paw-Paw”. It was my first heartache.

In the midst of this grief, I went to prison.

No, I wasn’t incarcerated, but I did go to prison. My parents started a ministry outreach and partnered with a prison facility in a neighboring county. Every Thursday night, regardless of how much homework I had, we packed ourselves into the family Chevy and drove to the penitentiary. In my vulnerable emotional state, the high fences, dreary guard towers, and uniformed inmates left me feeling nervous and jittery inside, and that feeling lingered throughout the week.

Physically I was fine. I didn’t look different to my parents or peers, but EVERY DAY on the way to school, I had a stomach ache. My 9-year-old mind insisted that I had a bleeding ulcer, or that I was dying on the inside, but the truth was that I was afraid of my teachers, and overwhelmed by new responsibilities. I was exhausted and uncomfortable.

And then life offered me a bowl of chili…

I was actually having a pretty good day at school on chili day. Class went well, my friends were pleasant, and for once, I was feeling relaxed and happy. When the lunch bell rang, my class picked up our lunches from the line and then rounded a corner to get to the new addition to the cafeteria.

My teacher sent me on an errand from the lunchroom. I don’t recall what the objective was...but I vividly remember the result. It must have been an important errand, because I was in a hurry when I rounded the blind corner. I never even saw the tall girl and her bowl of steaming hot chili. I collided with her and let out a tortured yelp. I remember the sensations clearly even today: the hard plastic tray crashing into my head, followed by a wave of molten chili that smothered me from crown to shoulders. I fell to the floor, and the tray and bowl crashed and clanged down beside me. There was a distinct moment of silence as all heads turned toward the cacophony.

Then the cafeteria exploded into laughter. My teacher marched me through the sea of tables in a walk of shame. Kids were pointing and was the stuff of nightmares.

In the restroom, I cried over the pain of the burning sauce and the ridicule as my teacher laughed and cleaned chili out of my ears. To give her the benefit of the doubt, she probably thought she was laughing with me, but I had no capacity to laugh at myself on that day. I spent the rest of the day in a cloud of chili vapors and shame. All I wanted was to go home and hide and never come back to school, but I had to stay. No one was coming to rescue me.There was no hiding. This was life - and that day it had dealt me a bitter hand.

As embarrassing as the “chili-bomb” was, I was able to come back from it. The solution was simply going back to school the next day and persevering. I ignored the kids who tried to humiliate me by bringing it up. I simply moved forward. I had to make small comebacks until third grade was finally over.

It’s never easy when we hit a wall, stumble, fumble, or crash. It happens, and there’s no foolproof way to guard against it. No matter how hard you work to avoid it, sometimes you get hit with the bowl of chili.

Scripture tells us: “In this life, you will have trouble (grief), but fear not, I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33). Romans 5:3-5, encourages us that “we can rejoice in our suffering, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope…”

We can make a conscious choice to learn from our failures, and salvage knowledge from the wreckage. For me, it was the knowledge that I could overcome my shame by simply persevering. The endurance I learned in third grade created a strength that would help me weather heartaches, disappointments, and stressful seasons that were to come.

As a life coach, one of my primary goals is helping my clients extract valuable insight from their distress. Sometimes it is not an easy process, but when we work on it together, it can be incredibly rewarding.

My hope for you is that when the chili comes, you will overcome it with grace and dignity.


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