Cooter has become fascinated with stories of things people got in trouble for when they were his age. He has had many conversations with his Daddy about his. Recently he asked Leroy if he got in trouble at school. Leroy told him he couldn’t tell them what all he did when he was younger. I think Cooter was a little scared and a whole lot in awe of his uncle.
He asked me the same question recently. I decided to tell him the truth. Something I’ve been carrying around for a long time. Something I’m not proud of, and I still hang my head when I tell it.
And so I confessed to my eight year old son. When I was not much older than him, I was sitting in the lunchroom in between my friend and LP (the one who had bullied me the year before and had pulled my thumb back over and over and my parents had told me to kick him in the shin). I always took my lunch, but the two of them had each bought their lunches. I don’t know what else was on the menu that day but for sure there was cornbread and something that ketchup could complement. Everyone was done eating, and we were just waiting to be told to line up to head back to the classroom. My friend nudged me, handed me her ketchup, and whispered for me to pour it over LP’s uneaten cornbread. We both knew he was done eating, but she thought it would be funny, and in the moment, I thought she was funny and while something was rippling in the back of my brain, I took the little paper cup of ketchup and squeezed it out over his cornbread while he was turned talking to the person on his left. And we waited.
We could hardly stand it. When he turned back around and saw the ketchup, his face turned nearly as red as the condiment. We giggled behind our hands and between each other. He was mad. And so he did what most fourth graders do when they are mad–he told the teacher on us.
Oh me. This was a joke gone horribly wrong. One that gave us two or three days sitting out at recess. This was back before PE, back when we could talk amongst ourselves and play near about anything we wanted to. So missing any recess was a huge loss. To add insult to injury this teacher had taught my Uncle and my Daddy, and I felt like I had let her and pretty much the whole world down with my poor judgment and horribleness. My heart was broken over what I was sure was absolutely my worst day ever. At least the worst thing I had ever done.
Cooter laughed. He barely squeaked out, “Ketchup? Really?” Yes, and don’t make light of it, buddy. I learned that lesson. Not my plate. Not my cornbread. Doesn’t matter if he wasn’t going to eat it. Doesn’t matter if someone else “told” me to do it. I have my own brain, and I didn’t use it that day. I was all about the fitting in and giggles and all the feel good of that moment. And the truth that I now realize as an adult is that the reason LP told on us was probably because he saw us giggling together and he didn’t feel like he fit in. It wasn’t about the ketchup on the cornbread, it was about our singling him out.
I’m so sorry, LP.
The thing is, whenever I do something that is less than my best or I make a mistake or I inadvertently do or say the wrong thing, I’m in fourth grade again. I’m nine and my face is beet red and I’m looking Mrs. W in the eyes as she looks at me and my friend with disappointment and tell us we can’t play at recess. I’m sitting next to her or whatever teacher is out there and trying to explain my embarrassing predicament to those who want to know why we aren’t playing.
Life is hard, y’all.
But here’s the good news.
I am more than that mistake.
I am more than the wrong I inflicted upon LP and his cornbread.
I am bigger than the poor choice I made.
I am more than my worst day.
And so, my friend, are you.
My beautiful friend Marilyn and I were talking about this earlier. She gave me the grace and encouragement I needed today. That I need everyday. We all make mistakes. None of us have lived a flaw-free life, one where we have never, ever crossed a line or hurt anyone. We all have stories we’d rather not have to share.
Let ’em go.
We are more.
We are the love we share. The hugs we give. The light that shines from who we have become and what we do–and who we are becoming. We are all the right choices we have made over the years as well.
Do not let your one ketchup-pouring moment define you.
Because there is grace. There is redemption. There are second and third and twenty-twelfth chances. You can do this. You can turn it around. As long as you have breath, the possibility exists–you can do better. And become more.
More than those poor choices. Those bad moments. Those mistakes that you really didn’t set out to make.
And to be honest, this was not my only non-stellar moment from my life–it’s not even my only non-stellar moment from that year. But it is the one that sticks out, as I was so grieved over all those I’d disappointed. I had to look them in the eyes and face what I’d done.
And you know what? A few days later, grace won. Love won. My time “sitting out” was done, and the slate was clean.
Redemption is real. And attainable. And free.
May we all let go of our worst moments. And allow others to let go of theirs. Our most painful mistakes. And may we look in the mirror and offer the grace we so freely give to others to the one looking back at us.
Love and grace to all.