grit

Grit and the Hard Work of Never Giving Up

Apr 10, 2018

It’d been his plan since grade school. As proof, I have a note in my Bible with a pencil-drawn airplane in little-boy script. He drew it for me after a field trip to the Denver Museum of Science & Nature where he marveled at model airplanes. He wanted to go to the United States Air Force Academy. And he wanted to fly.

For the past 20 years, we’ve lived forty-five minutes from the Academy. We know about the stringent requirements, the scant number of applicants that actually get in, the grit needed to make it through the process alone, not to mention the four-year education. As a mom, part of me wanted to redirect his ambitions toward something less likely to disappoint.

But it was his dream. Thus, we determined to support him, as best we could.

This involved ruthless accountability in his academics. Regular reminders of his goal. Support—financial and otherwise—for his high school cross country team experience, volunteer activities, academic clubs, Civil Air Patrol. Long hours scouring the AFA website, helping him navigate forms, tests, essays, health histories and exams, requirements that took months to complete.

Then, dropping like a bomb in the middle of the application process, my dad, his mentor and an U.S. Army vet, died of terminal cancer. And eight weeks after that, I received bad news: cancer was back for the third time. I tried to stay upbeat, remind my son of his goal, knowing that so many blows could derail a dream. A few weeks later, he finished his AFA requirements, turned in all his essays, letters and forms.

Then, we waited.

The months following moved slow. We were all grieving Papa. I was going through radical surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. My son was trying to finish high school strong, while daily checking the mailbox for AFA letterhead. It was a tense time, a boy clinging to his dream and his mama afraid she might die.

Then, when I finally started to turn a corner, my cell phone rang one April afternoon.

My son.

“I didn’t make it, Mom. I didn’t make it!”

Devastation. That is the only word that comes close to describing the agony that slid through my son’s voice and into my heart. I didn’t know what to say.

He’d done everything right. He’d worked so hard. And we desperately needed good news. Instead, a rejection letter.

Why, God? Hasn’t he been through enough?

I’ll never forget that day, the grief and frustration, the way we tried to make sense of it. I felt sick. My son was weeks from graduation, with no idea what he’d do next. This had been the plan. There was no Plan B. It was too late for scholarship applications and college campus visits. All his friends knew exactly what they were going to do. He didn’t.

As my son wrestled with rejection, his dad and I tried to find words to help ease his pain. There weren’t any. All we could do was sit with him in it.

I didn’t sleep well that night. My mind raced with all the horrible ways this rejection could ruin him. I prayed, but those prayers sounded more like yelling at God than pleading with him.

The next morning, bleary-eyed and exhausted, I awoke and headed to the kitchen. Soon after, my husband joined me, shoulders heavy with the same weight. We knew, even if we didn’t speak it, our son’s response would be a clue as to how the rest of his life would play out.

After all, a leader is made in their failures far more than their successes.

When I heard my boy’s feet on the stairs that morning after, I braced myself. How would he face this day? What would he do? Would he let defeat define him? Or would he let it drive and develop him?

He entered the kitchen, tired but shoulders back:

“Alright. So I’ve been on the computer, already emailed a couple people. I won’t be going to the academy this year. There’s nothing I can do about that. But that doesn’t mean I won’t be able to try again …” And then he proceeded to lay out some ideas for how he could carve a different path to his dream.

It’s been three years since that day in the kitchen. Three years today, in fact. In those 1,095 days, our son graduated from high school, worked full-time to save money, enlisted in the U.S. Air Force, went to basic training, graduated an honor grad, went to technical school, transferred overseas, went on a six-month deployment, returned to his overseas base, almost completed an associates degree, and received multiple awards and honors in his post. And, in the middle of all that, he did what he said he would do:

He re-applied to the United States Air Force Academy. A different man than the one who had applied three years before.

A few weeks ago, his superiors called him in for a meeting. Daunting, to say the least. But their news carried anything but defeat:

“Cushatt, you’re going to the Air Force Academy. Your appointment is official. Congratulations.”

And once again I got a phone call from my son. But this time, no agony. Only good, good news.

It’s tempting at this point to think the reward of all this effort is the appointment to the Academy. A great education. A career of service to his country. Yes, of course, he’s thrilled. And we’re proud.

But that isn’t the real reward. The real reward is perseverance. The hard-won grit of not giving up. Of learning to press on, to fight, to run the race all out, no matter the sweat and tears. And no matter the results. This grit refined his character, changed him as a man and leader, not in spite of his defeat, but as a direct result of it. Simply, he refused to let failure define him, and in God’s perfect grace and timing, my son became a stronger and better man as a result.

My friend, whatever defeat has you by the throat, it only gets the last word if you let it. Grieve, yes. Give yourself a day or two or twelve to rant and wail at the injustice and frustration of it.

But then, square your shoulders and lift your head. Walk down the stairs with determination to persevere, to refuse to allow this setback to define you. Instead, let it refine you. Learn from it, grow in the midst of it, develop strength from the struggle of it. And then, when you’re a better man or women for the experience of it, get up and try again.

That is perseverance. The grit of never giving up. And that turns out to be the greatest reward of all.

“And patience develops strength of character in us and helps us trust God more each time we use it until finally our hope and faith are strong and steady. Then, when that happens, we are able to hold our heads high no matter what happens and know that all is well, for we know how dearly God loves us…” —Romans 5:4-5a

QUESTION: Have you ever faced a crushing defeat? How did the struggle of it develop and refine you? 

17 Comments

  1. Pam

    Michele,
    This meant so much. Thank you❤️

    Reply
  2. Julie Holmquist

    Michelle, my son has been pursuing being a US Army Ranger. That is all he’s ever talked about doing, also.

    We just received news this morning that he didn’t make it. He is hundreds of miles away from home in Colorado Springs, and I was speechless when he told us.

    I had to listen to him wrestle it out with himself and with God. So very painful!

    His dad keeps reminding him that the color of his beret does not define him and that he can try again in a year. But to a 19-year-old, a year might as well be a lifetime!

    Thank you for sharing this! It is so timely as we are faced with something very similar. It’s so nice to hear a mama’s perspective in helping her son.

    Reply
  3. Pratibha

    Moving, inspiring and highly touching as always.
    Many congrats to you and your son.
    With loads of prayers and love!

    Reply
  4. Beth

    What a great story of preserving!! In case you don’t see it he gets it from his mama!

    Reply
  5. Cheryl

    Michele! First, huge congratulations to your son. Amazing perseverance. Second, he is going to be classmates with my son’s best friend! This fine young man actually got an appointment last year. It was fairy-tale. His older brother would be a senior and he would be a freshman…until M enjoyed a post-graduation ultimate frisbee game with some buddies (including both my boys). Unfortunately M’s collar bone and my younger son’s very hard skull collided, and M broke his collar bone three weeks before he was due to report! Lost his Academy appointment, regrouped, went to a very good local college, and reapplied. His new appointment just came through. I HOPE you can connect with this terrific family. His mom is one of my “wise woman” friends and just very dear to me. If I can connect you please email me. Congratulations again!!

    Reply
  6. Sheryl Pellatiro

    Thank you Michele for sharing this beautiful PERSEVERANCE story. Congratulations to your son. God is in this, no doubt.

    Reply
  7. Laurie

    I had head-to-toe goosebumps as I read of his appointment! Congratulations, and thank you for the excellent reminder on perseverance.

    Reply
  8. Lisa D

    Congratulations! I can see the Academy from my back deck. I am praying for your son, and for you.

    Reply
  9. Rebecca

    Thanks, Michele….My family and I have been serving Jesus Christ, on the frontline with The Church, in the local church and other non-profit Bible-based organizations for last 20 years. We have overcome, with Christ many attacks on the local church and believe we live stronger in Christ as a result. Yet the last 2 years have exceeded all the challenges of the 18 years prior. Fighting physical & emotional trauma, gracefully loving our teen prodigal son, blindly guiding our emotionally & academically stressed younger son…Then in thick of depression and personal dark season; invited to return to serve in a local church we became family with, in a previous 6 year relationship….decided our family’s state of broken was beyond their capacity to journey with us back to wholeness. Needless to say Mercy wins; when we fix our eyes only on Jesus’s way of grace, mercy & healing into wholeness. Humanity weakness’s…..blindness from the lust of flesh & pride of life or the enemy of our souls are always under our Overcomer, Defender KING…my family continues to thank Our Strong Redeemer for more determination to persevere in our ongoing season of HIS healing….We will not be DEfined by others perception of our family…only REfined through the empowerment of our Saving GOD & LORD Jesus Christ. IN His JOY now & forevermore, beckyb?

    Reply
  10. Tammy

    This spoke volumes to me. Thank you for sharing!

    Reply
  11. Susan Sage

    This was so very good. I cried as I read it both at the discouraging times and the rejoicing times. I needed this so very much today. But, why am I surprised? This is God’s way. I knew this story and yet seeing it all spelled out in the way you did, Michele, touched the tender, discouraged parts of my heart. Thank you for allowing God’s words to flow from His heart to yours to mine. God bless.

    Reply
  12. Pearl Allard

    Sharing this. Thank you so much, Michele. (And congratulations to your son!)

    Reply
  13. Beth A. Boehr

    As always, your words captivate me to the very end of your writing. This is so much more than “a story”. This is life in action, life that is being lived out in the real world to encourage all of us. Thank you!

    Reply
  14. Rebekah Love Dorris

    What a story. Thank you for sharing it, and thank you for all the steps between there and here that have made this story heard by just doing the next hard thing. It’s one thing to have a story. It’s another thing to share it. But it’s something else to put in the work so that story reaches as many people as possible who all need to hear it. God bless you!

    Reply
  15. Leta Maksymyk

    Great article! So well written and such a great reminder to persevere. Thanks!

    Reply
  16. Brenda Meyer

    What a wonderful true story!!! I’m so very proud of your son, and so very proud of you for being there for him and showing him what perseverance looks like. I will be sharing this with my son and daughter.. Thanks!

    Reply

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