Thursday, September 21, 2023

Make Mistakes

 My grandma was an incredible woman. We got extremely close after my first son passed away. This happened because she started calling me on the phone every single day after his funeral, and although it seemed excessive at first, we somehow became the best of friends. 

Sure, we had our differences. She liked pecan pie; I enjoy banana cream. She liked baking while I prefer sewing. She lived a devout life as a Mormon while I was raised born-again Christian and later left Christianity altogether. Despite that, love bound us tightly together, and every Saturday I’d call to relay a terribly crude joke (which she’d politely laugh at) and then we’d talk about whatever lessons she could impart about life.

It’s been quite a while since she died—over 16 years—and I thought I knew almost everything about that woman. Yet, I’ve been recently surprised after reading through something my cousin gave me…

After my grandma passed away, family members found what she’d called her “happiness file.” This is basically a recipe box she’d repurposed to cheer her up when things felt bleak. I never—in all of our conversations—suspected she’d suffered from depression, but she did. It’s true that many of the most congenial people can hide crippling emotional struggles under a veneer of happiness. Maybe that’s how my sweet grandma could be at times. Maybe…

It does seem that my grandmother understood the huge difference between happiness and joy. Happiness is something that comes and goes. It is as fleeting as the wind. But JOY is a mindset. Joy—at its root—is synonymous with the word persevere. We decide to seek out joy even amongst the hardships. We CHOOSE to find the good even in dire situations like cruelty, death, and untreatable illnesses… While happiness is kindling to get the fire going, JOY works as the coals and oxygen to keep it ablaze.

My grandma’s “happiness file” worked as this kindling, leading to more sustaining lessons. But as I’ve lifted index cards out when I need a lifeline from Heaven, I’ve been shocked by how timely some of her messages have been.

Last week, I’d been dealing a lot with regret and guilt. It’s ironic that these feelings came right before Rosh Hashanah. The past few years, the week before Rosh Hashanah, our family has pulled out a loaf of bread and symbolically placed all of our sins into it. I know it might sound ridiculous, but the loaf seemed to go bad even faster than normal—I must sin A LOT! This year, we gathered with some Jewish friends and fed pieces of this “sinful bread” to the fish. I did feel a lot lighter, sending these sins away. 

I couldn’t help pondering over the rabbi’s words about how we know we’re asking for forgiveness during Rosh Hashanah but God isn’t asking us to be perfect. We aren’t even meant to be perfect—and that’s okay. God KNOWS we’ll sin again and again.

“I just feel so bad about certain mistakes—bad things I’ve done,” I told a friend.

“Did they make you who you are?”

“Well… Yes.” It’s odd that each bad choice, each twist of circumstances led to exactly where I’m at today. And although sometimes I desperately wish I had never gone to tanning salons or gotten burned in the sun—because that ultimately led to my ongoing fight against terminal cancer—I have learned so much from my predicament. In fact, I’m not sure if I would take a trade if it meant losing who I am today.

Anyway, that night after the kids had gone to bed and everyone seemed much lighter after discarding that “sinful bread,” I decided to pull out my grandmother’s happiness file.

With shaking hands, I eagerly opened the box and pulled out a card she must’ve written on over 30 years ago.

“Make Mistakes,” I read the words and scoffed. I couldn’t imagine my sweet little grandmother making mistakes OR encouraging people to do the same. But somehow it did make my feel better. I guess we are all human, and these “bad” choices helped us become the people we are today. 

I guess my realization for today is that knowledge can cost a high price, and—in the end—I paid with experience. I don’t want to be the oblivious person I was before my fight with cancer. In some odd way, I’m glad for the mistakes and glad I’m here. I’ve learned enough to make different choices and that knowledge is worth more money than I can imagine.

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