I had been working my new job for a few weeks before when Adam burst through the door on a Saturday evening and said, “You need to leave early.” I glanced at my boss, who nodded his approval before I went to clock out. When I came back and gathered my things to leave, I said to my boss, “See you Monday.” But there was a look on his face. I don’t know if I will ever forget that look. I couldn’t quite figure it out. Not sadness, really. Almost pity. Concern maybe. He knew something that I wouldn’t learn for another 60 seconds. I wouldn’t be coming in on Monday. Our oldest son had just been found dead in his apartment. I had been Micah’s mom for 8 years. At that moment, I felt like our story together had just ended in the worst possible way.
Adam and I adopted Micah when he was a teenager. He was starting to do so great. He had just celebrated his 20th birthday. Getting ready for college. Living on his own. And now, it felt like the story had been abruptly cut short. This was the wrong ending.
But you can’t waste good.
If there are 3 lessons I have learned in the 4 years since that day, it would be these.
1. Don’t live in fear of the wrong ending
What is your most significant work? What is your greatest life goal? Sometimes we are paralyzed to really pour into that dream because we fear the wrong ending. Our business never earns a full-time income. No one buys our album. No one shops in the store we opened. We want to venture out and take risks, but what if it all goes horribly wrong?
You can’t waste good.
Every good thing you invest in your dream, you get to keep. All the hustle, all the skills, all the growth, all the beauty. All the good you put into your goals and dreams are still yours to keep. It served you well the first time and will serve you well again. Even if you missed your goal and didn’t get the ending you were hoping for.
I grew so much as a mom during those 8 years. Honestly, I am not sure I could have adopted a sibling group of 3 if I hadn’t been Micah’s mom. I learned how to be patient. I learned to be slightly flexible. He taught me compassion for people who have been shaped by trauma and loss.
Everything I poured into him was returned to me tenfold.
I think it is easy to settle for average and live in fear because there might be one painful point in the story—the business that fails, the books that sit unpublished, or the marriage that ends in divorce. But the end isn’t the whole story. Each trial can give you confidence; you can be hard-pressed but not crushed. To know pain, but not be defeated. You don’t fear the failure and the pain as much. It’s just one part of a much bigger, more important story.
2. You will never regret showing up.
Not for your most significant work. Not for the things closest to your heart. Not for your passion or your purpose.
When we pour ourselves out for our most significant work, that won’t be wasted. All those seeds we plant. All the hours we toil. All the growing and stretching we feel. All the skills we learn. It makes us the best possible version of ourselves.
I had the worst possible ending. And I am better for it. Micah is better for it. Our lives are better for it. All the people he reached are better for it. It made a difference. It mattered.
3. The story is more than just the ending.
No matter what you set out to do. The ending isn’t the whole story.
There are so many sweet spots in our story with Micah. Our first trip to Glacier National Park. Or our first family vacation to the beach in Florida. Trips together in Europe. Our home was filled with growth, love, and laughter.
No matter what we set out to do, there will be failure and loss. But that is never the whole story!
Maybe no one publishes your first book. But you are a better writer for it.
Maybe you fail the Bar exam. But you gained the skills to help your business grow.
Maybe you fostered kids that head to back to a horrible environment. But they are better for knowing your love.
Maybe you tried to pay cash for a house, but the stock and housing market both moved in the wrong direction. But your down payment is larger for it.
Often, when I am chatting with people about their biggest dream, they say, “But what if “x” happens?” Like “x” will be the whole story. Even if “x” happens, 100 other things will happen also. Good things, beautiful things. Things that stretch and grow us. Things that make life worth living. But you don’t get the good stuff without risking “x.”
The ending doesn’t have to be perfect for the story to be good.
An old friend messaged me on Facebook this week. She wants to be a safe place for teenagers who might otherwise age out of foster care (this is the reality for about 20,000 kids every year in the US). She said I might never know how much our story has inspired her to do this. She is scared but has seen how huge the need is and wants to step out to be part of the solution, if only for one child.
For 8 years, I was able to be Micah’s mom. It wasn’t always easy or pretty. But that work mattered. His story mattered, and it changed the world around him. I have seen a dozen friends go on to adopt, mentor, foster, or come alongside families in crisis.
At 22, I adopted a teenager with a manageable medical condition. 8 years later, it took his life without warning. But I am so grateful for the time we had and the person he helped me become.
You can’t waste good.
Live without regrets. Live fully. Live on purpose.
Because the ending is never the whole story.