Monday, 12 April 2021
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30 years of lessons learned Kelly Sikkema/Unsplash

30 years of lessons learned

Thirty years ago this month, I stepped through the doors of what is now Women’s Hope Medical Clinic as its new executive director. I was 28 years old. I knew almost nothing about pregnancy help ministry. 

My background? Sportswriter, “retired” professional golfer (due to lack of talent), newspaper ad salesman and office products/furniture representative. Perfect for leading a ministry dedicated to walking women through unexpected pregnancies, right? What other experience did I need?

Within three months, I took a ministry short on funding (but filled with heart) and brought it to the brink of financial ruin. Pro Tip: When a board member says it’s time to shut off the phone (it was one of our largest bills) and shut down the ministry, it’s not good.

I’ll not forget a “prayer” I blurted out toward the end of that season of struggle. 

Battling to go to sleep one night I told God sarcastically, “Thanks so much for giving me this opportunity! I will forever be known as the guy who took a strong ministry and ran it into the ground. I’ll be unemployed in weeks, thanks to Your calling. Well done!” 

After raging at God, I rolled over and went to sleep without a moment of remorse. This led to the first of four lessons I try to keep in mind 30 years later.

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Lesson One: Be real with God

That prayer wasn’t my finest moment. But somehow, God didn’t give up on this struggling follower. In a few days a check showed up which got us through the next month or so.

From there, we rethought our development plan. Many of the ideas I teach today came from those days.

We never closed. Our budget grew, as did the services we offered. We bought our building. We opened one of the early pregnancy help medical clinics. Client numbers soared. Lives were changed. All because God didn’t toss me or the ministry aside when I was angry with our circumstances.

One thing I did right in my prayer? Though I could have been much more respectful and reverent, God is okay with our honesty. If we’re hurting, we can tell Him. He’s big enough to handle it.

Lesson Two: God works with anyone

Sitting down at my first statewide meeting of executive directors, I felt a tinge of fear. Looking around the room I wondered what would happen when some of the leaders in the room went on to other pursuits or retired. 

After all, they had so much knowledge, so much insight, so much wisdom. It seemed incomprehensible that anyone could live up to their legacy. Who, I asked myself, could possibly take their places?

Thirty years later, there are those who see this writer as a leader. I’m asked questions daily, like, “I’m in this situation—what do you think about this decision?” Not everyone heeds my answers. This may be good, because I’m not always right. But they’re asking.

One thing I’ve come to understand is that if we simply show up for enough days and do our best to stick with the calling, God will use us in ways we cannot imagine.

I tell the story often, that before ever being hired I told our board of directors that there were two big weaknesses in my resume. One, I was not a public speaker and would struggle in this area. Second, fundraising was not my jam (I didn’t use the word “jam,” as it wasn’t yet in use—but you get the drift). In the few fundraising attempts I’d made to that point in my life, I’d failed miserably. 

Today, two of my main contributions to the pregnancy help community involve public speaking and—you guessed it—fundraising. 

Yes, God uses anyone. In fact, there’s something in the Bible about where we are weak, He is strong. It’s a good verse for all of us.

Tweet This: Yes, God uses anyone. In fact, there’s something in the Bible about where we are weak, He is strong. It’s a good verse for all of us.

Third: Our mistakes create opportunities to learn

Years ago, I heard a high school graduation speech entitled, “In Defense of Failure.” The head of school told his graduates of the many times he failed, and how each failure led to a victory which would have never been achieved without the failure.

So it is for us. This column would go on for thousands of words if I documented my failures over 30 years. But each of those failures helped me learn and teach others, even if it is, “I tried this—don’t do it!”

Over time I’ve learned that when there is a failure, it is a great opportunity to ask, “What if I had done it this way instead?” Or “Maybe by listening to someone else before leaping ahead we might have avoided many of the problems we’ve encountered.”

I’ve also learned to listen first to those who’ve failed and tried again. Sometimes I’ll hear of a “great” fundraising idea or an amazing way to reach clients. If it is a first-try success, I’m admittedly skeptical, willing to wait for more long-term results. But, if the person presenting the idea talks of the failed attempts before finding success, I’m all ears. 

Fourth: Vulnerability matters

There are few things I enjoy more than hearing someone tell their story of how they got into this work. Often, these stories start with, “I had no intention of . . .” and off we go. 

What draws me to these stories—and the people who tell them—is vulnerability. Show me someone who has it all together and I have to question whether this person will last long in this ministry. But give me the person who is vulnerable and open, and I’ll show you someone who can connect with co-workers and clients in a powerful way.

After thirty years I’ll never forget that first day “on the job.” It’s a great memory. But I always want to remember, the memory made tomorrow can be even better—as long as I keep learning the lessons which unfold today.

Kirk Walden

Kirk Walden is a senior writer with Pregnancy Help News, an Advancement Specialist with Heartbeat International and author of The Wall. For banquet speaking engagements, contact Gloria Leyda at Ambassador Speakers Bureau. His new Faith Revolution Podcast is online at www.kirkwalden.com

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