Not long ago, a friend told me a story she had carried with her from childhood. I felt honored, because the memory was painful so she didn’t share it often. With her permission, and a few details obscured, here’s the story:

When I was a kid, my dad took me to visit an elderly friend. The guy had a problem with barn swallows, and since his hand wasn’t as steady as it used to be, he handed Dad his pellet gun and asked him to see if he could get rid of them.** Dad agreed, and off we went.

Hoping I might be the next Annie Oakley, Dad had been teaching me to shoot, so when we got to the barn, he handed me the gun. When one of the birds tried to dive bomb us, I shouldered the gun and took a shot. I couldn’t believe it–I hit it on the first try!

When we walked over to where the bird fell, we saw that it was still alive and struggling. The humane thing to do was to put it out of its misery, and of course, Dad told me to do it. I felt sick. I agonized. I cried.

When I finally took the shot at point-blank range, I missed. I have no idea how, but I missed. I put down the gun and walked away, leaving Dad to do my dirty work. To this day, I feel like I failed. I couldn’t do the hard work when it needed to be done. What’s wrong with me?

Nothing, friend. Nothing is wrong with you.

Here’s how I see it. We all have strengths and weaknesses, and we spend a lifetime amassing experiences that illustrate those. If we so choose, we can use those experiences to better understand ourselves and grow from them.

My friend recounted her story to me when she was anguishing over a tough situation in her life right now. She contends that she has never been able to do what she calls the “dirty work,” and because of that, she’s a failure.

I learned a different lesson from her story, though. I saw that hurting others causes her excruciating pain, even when she knows it will lead to the best outcome. That’s not a strength or a weakness; that’s just part of her character. What she didn’t understand, though, was that when the going got tough, she leaned on someone whom she knew could do the job.

Isn’t that what we’re supposed to do? Ask for help when the job gets too big?

I really hope she learns to see it that way. Knowing what she’s not cut out to do will allow her to call on those to whom it comes easily–and I guarantee that she’d be the first one jumping in to help me when I run into my own edges. That’s not failure; it’s why we’re all here. Humankind is like a giant puzzle, with each person filling others’ gaps to make a complete picture.

Know your limitations. Ask for help when you need it. Share your strengths generously.

**Remember, folks, we’re talking about rural Indiana, decades ago. This isn’t a gun debate or an animal rights discussion.

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