Called Excerpt: Turning Failure on its Head

Called Excerpt: Turning Failure on its Head


Ryan Pemberton

It’s hard not to feel like a failure when you leave a successful career, drain your retirement and savings accounts in the worst economy since the Great Depression, and move your wife 6,000 miles from the only community you both have ever known just months after her 19-year-old sister’s death to return to school and study theology, and then run out of money halfway through the degree.

But that’s exactly what happened to me.

Called: My Journey to C. S. Lewis’s House and Back Again* is the story of how I left all the security I had ever dreamed of as a kid from a single-parent family that struggled to get by to pursue what I believed to be God’s call on my life. It’s also a story of learning that as soon as we step out in faithful pursuit of the One who calls out to us, “Follow me,” our understanding of success and failure are turned on their head.

The following is an excerpt from Called. I hope you enjoy it. But, even more, I hope it’s helpful.

Peace to you,




Bob Dylan once said a poem is a naked person. I’m not much of a poet, but I hope you’ll excuse me if I go ahead and take off all these layers.

This is a story of dreams coming true. It is a story of love and loss and adventure. It is a story of new life. But in the end, this is a story of how I failed, and what I learned about what it means to be called by the living God.

• • •

The cramped room smelled musty, like an ignored closet shut up for far too long. The blinds on the windows were pulled taut, refusing to let in much of any light. Other people were sprinkled around the room, all quietly waiting their turn to be seen.

It had been several years since my wife and I liquidated our retirement accounts in the worst economy since the Great Depression and left our jobs and the only home we had ever known to set out in pursuit of what we believed to be God’s call on my life. This call had led us on a journey to England, to the school of my dreams. It had meant having the kind of experiences I would not have believed possible had someone shared them with me before we left.

But now I found myself back in the States, resting my head against the brick wall in the back row of a social services waiting room, reflecting on how I had gotten there. Seated beside my wife and our baby girl—who had yet to celebrate her first birthday—I felt as though this was the end of our journey. And yet, in a very real way, I realized then that it was also the beginning.

It was in that quiet waiting room, where the eyes of people silenced by humiliation bored holes into the carpet, that I realized what our journey had meant. Even though the scene amounted to nothing short of my worst nightmare, a peace surrounded me on that afternoon. It was the kind of peace that’s only properly described as surpassing all understanding. It’s the kind of peace that puts a smile on your face when you might otherwise feel like crying. The peace that makes you kiss your wife on her forehead, the only other person in the world who knows just as well as you do what this journey has cost. It is the inexplicable peace that makes you smile at your daughter, with her apple-cheeked grin staring back at you, recognizing for the first time that this is what it means to follow the living Son of God.

I had spent the entirety of my short life running from the poverty of this room. But it was only here that I learned what it means to be called. It means, in a way I would not have believed before we set out on this journey, that even sitting in my worst nightmare, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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