"There are no mistakes, no coincidences. All events are blessings given to us to learn from."
-- Elizabeth Kubler Ross
We live in an imperfect world. We all know that. We are aware of the imperfections of those around us and they are aware of our imperfections as well. For most of us, our erasers wear out before our pencils do.
Even with the help of technology tools like MapQuest or Global Positioning Systems (GPS), I can still occasionally turn left when I should have turned right. Even with an instructor's guide, I can still finish putting together something new only to discover I have a piece or two leftover. Edward J. Phelps could have had me in mind when he said, "The man who makes no mistakes does not usually make anything."
Most of the time we regret our mistakes. They often complicate our lives. They may embarrass us. They almost always inspire us to never do it again.
But when my friend Tim Satryan sent me the story of "The Perfect Mistake" I decided there may be something more to some of our mistakes than first meets the eye.
The story is told of a Christian man in the 1930s who worked as a carpenter. On this particular day he was building some crates for the clothes his church was sending to orphanages in China. On his way home he reached into his pocket to find his glasses, but they were gone. When he mentally replayed his earlier actions, he realized what had happened; the glasses had slipped out of his pocket unnoticed and had fallen in one of the crates, which he had nailed shut.
His brand new glasses were heading for China. The Great Depression was at its height and he had six children. He had spent $20 for those glasses that very morning. He was upset by the thought of having to buy another pair. "It's not fair," he told God as he drove home in frustration. "I've been very faithful in giving my time and money to your work, and now this."
Months later, the director of the orphanage was on furlough in the United States. He wanted to visit the churches that supported in him China, so he came to speak one Sunday at my grandfather's small church in Chicago. The missionary began by thanking the people for their faithfulness in supporting the orphanage.
"But most of all," he said, "I must thank you for the glasses you sent last year. You see the Communists had just swept through the orphanage, destroying everything, including my glasses. Even if I had the money, there was simply no way of replacing those glasses. Along with not being able to see well, I experienced headaches every day, so my co-workers and I were in much prayer about this. Then your crates arrived. When my staff removed the covers, they found a pair of glasses lying on top."
The missionary paused long enough to let his words sink in. Then, still gripped with the wonder of it all, he continued, "Folks, when I tried on the glasses, it was as though they had been custom made just for me. I want to thank you for being a part of that."
The people listened, happy for the miraculous glasses. But the missionary surely must have confused their church with another, they thought. There were no glasses on their list of items to be sent overseas. But sitting quietly in the back, with tears streaming down his face, an ordinary carpenter realized the Master Carpenter had used him in an extraordinary way.
I love that story because it reminds me that there can be redeeming factors in just about any of our human foibles. Perhaps our next mistake will become our next success.
James Joyce wisely said, "Mistakes are the portals of discovery." You never know when today's "mistake" may become tomorrow's "solution."
Think about it.
Originally published in The Phoenix