My Best Mistake


I’m knitting using a pattern called “Mistake Rib Scarf.” How could I go wrong with a pattern that is made up of mistakes? Well, it was easy for me to go wrong.

It’s like playing tennis without a net or traveling on a road with no speed limits or writing an essay with no grammatical restrictions. Without restrictions or rules, there is no rhyme or reason. The “freedom” soon produces chaos. The “Mistake Rib Scarf” is a pattern, and if I don’t follow it step by step, stitch by stitch, my scarf is not going to be as it was intended. This pattern is called “Mistake Rib Scarf” because a knitter made mistakes and realized she could turn her flawed scarf into a thing of beauty. She changed the pattern and used a new plan.

Mistakes can be very valuable.

Edison made 2,999 errors before he finally arrived at the right design for a light bulb in 1880. I’ve often wondered how discouraged he must have been after fifty, one hundred, two thousand mistakes. I’m glad he didn’t give up after 2,998 times of fiddling with that filament.

Ben Franklin accidentally shocked himself in 1746. That mistake led to the discovery of a way to protect buildings from lightning. It’s called a lightning rod.

“Be very careful how you step in them pies,” was the injunction of the mother in a favorite old childhood story, “Apaminondous.” Apaminondous took her literally and, while she was gone, stepped right in the middle of each pie she’d left cooling on the steps. I can’t remember whether the family still ate the six pies or whether they let the dogs have them. It’s a hilarious story poking fun at a little boy who, time after time, misunderstood the instructions of his mother. When you think about it, you wonder who really made a mistake, Apaminondous or his mother. Why would she leave pies cooling on the steps? And why wouldn’t she have realized how literal-minded her child was? She should have rephrased her command to: “Do not step in them pies.” But what fun would that story be? No publisher would have taken that on.

Back to my scarf–I was following the “mistake” pattern just fine, I thought. Then I realized I had consistently goofed on one side of my scarf so that it has a different edging. I had made a mistake on the “Mistake Rib” scarf and now had a choice of unraveling the whole project and starting over, or going ahead, making sure to keep my mistake consistent, thus a new pattern. I’m telling myself, as I continue knitting, that my scarf will be unique, one of a kind, a true “Mistake Rib” scarf!

There are horrible mistakes that wreak long lasting damage. The young man on the Titanic who didn’t stay alert caused a huge tragedy. The person who panicked and hit the accelerator when it should have been the brake, the people who put their confidence in Hitler, the bus driver who changed lanes at the wrong time, the air controller who gave the wrong instructions to an incoming pilot–these mistakes have consequences that go on and on.

There are humorous mistakes. My mother got mixed up once and used salt instead of sugar when serving tea to guests. At the time, she was terribly embarrassed but later was able to enjoy laughing at herself. The football player who ran the ball the wrong direction gave fodder for many laughs. Filmers win prizes for making the “funniest” videos, like the one where a biker goes airborne and lands in the swimming pool or a cook flips a pancake that falls on the head of her little dog who then runs in circles trying to shed it.

A day doesn’t go by that we don’t make mistakes, whether good or bad. But some are far more memorable than others. I made my best mistake while a student at the University of Georgia.

I was the editor of the Baptist Bulldog, a small monthly paper published by the Baptist Student Union. We had a brand new BSU president that year named Charles Graham and I wrote an article about him. One night at vespers I saw him coming towards me and I put on my best smile. My hopes for a friendly conversation with this man I’d been admiring from a distance were dashed as he began to point out my serious mistake in the article. I had stated in that story that he was a senior in the School of Veterinary Medicine when, as he pointed out, he was a senior at the university but only a freshman in veterinary medicine. I ran a correction in the next issue and thought he would never speak to me again. Weeks later when I saw him again coming toward me in a crowded room I felt my heart rate go crazy. What had I done this time? But that time he had a warm twinkle in his eyes and asked me out on a date. We have been married now for 54 years.

Some mistakes are valuable. And all our mistakes can be used for good in the hands of Jesus.

I love the song, popular several years ago as sung by the Gaithers: “Something beautiful, something good. All my confusions He understood. All I had to offer Him was brokenness and strife, But He made something beautiful of my life.”

And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are called according to His purpose. Romans 8:28

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