Mentoring Mistakes

They were mesmerizing. Maybe it was their constant rising and falling, dancing across the monitor in the utmost of predictability—or at least I kept hoping they would stay predictable. Maybe it was the neon green and blue glow of those lines painted against the black screen. Or perhaps I was simply too concerned of any sudden change in their frequency that I wasn’t able to pay much attention to anything else. It was 1 a.m., and I was sitting beside a hospital bed watching the screen of a cardiac assessment machine that monitors heart rate as well as other vital life signs.

And there she was, the eight-year-old little girl that I had brought, lying in that hospital bed. She hardly slept at all, but as I watched that screen, I would intermediately glance at her wide tear glossed eyes to keep up with our conversations. And by now, you must know, she had been through a lot of unnecessary pain. Not only was it her first ever hospital visit—she had also been notified as she settled in her bed at home around 8:30 p.m. that I had given her too many night-time medications, and she needed to go to the hospital. After talking to the doctor after arriving there, she was then told she had to drink more than a cup of black liquefied charcoal which would absorb the medication in her stomach, to prevent any unwanted side effects from my mistake.

“My mistake.” They were truly hard words to swallow, perhaps more than the charcoal. It was certainly troubling for me as a child care worker in a group home that my lack of focus when handing out nightly medication to the children I live and am entrusted with, had brought one of them from the comfort, warmth and certainty of her home to the sterile, cold and uncertain environment of this hospital.

Shortly after we arrived at the hospital, I called my boss for the second time to report that we had arrived safely, and the doctors were about to monitor Lily’s [not her real name] condition. Before I hung up, I apologised to my boss about the situation, and in reply, she said something like: “Well it’s not like this happens once every two weeks or something. You’re human, and you are going to make mistakes. And usually when this sort of thing happens, it never happens again.” My boss has always shown me so much grace when I have failed. Yet, once again it was difficult to hear that I had made a mistake.

After that phone call, Lily and I eventually spoke to the attending physician. She asked Lily a few questions and then turned to me and said, “Do you have a specific procedure for distributing medication?” I told her how we hand out medication and added how I mistakenly mixed her medication with someone else’s. Her reply: “Well perhaps you should only call one child over at a time.” She was right. I had nothing to say to defend myself, that’s how it is when you are the one that’s made a mistake. But then she encouraged me, “But hopefully we can learn from our mistakes and won’t have to repeat the same instance over again.”

“Sure,” I thought to myself. Yet, I still felt terrible for making the mistake and thus sending Lily to the hospital. Lastly, I phoned Lily’s foster mother. After some updating on the situation I apologised, and she reminded me of the same thing my boss and the doctor passed onto me: That there is some sort of strange, yet possibly powerful redemptive quality that can come be birthed from our mistakes.

No one likes to make a mistake. Few things feel as unnatural as admitting we have made one. Ironically though, few things are more natural for us to do as we contain a nature constantly inclined to live opposed to the intentions God originally hoped us for (Romans 7:18,19). Some mistakes come as a result of carelessness, as mine had. Others perhaps when we are deceived. There are probably many types of mistakes, although it is certain that one can find one common thread in the fabric of any mistake—we can remember them and become more aware to choose differently in the same situation the next time.

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We are often told we should “learn from your mistakes,” but I wonder if we have lost the true meaning of that common phrase and what is really meant is that with the help of the memory of those mistakes we ought to “change from our mistakes.” Yet, in this fallen and broken world we live in and as people constantly prone to miss God’s perfect standard of justice, change or transformation can only come by divine redemption.

God is completely active in every aspect of our lives (Luke 12:6, 7). And we can see Him constantly redeeming His creation throughout the story He has written thus far. From the thorns of Genesis to the wiped tears in Revelation to the pages of our own stories, I’m sure we are all able to share a story of God’s redemptive power in our lives. Only He has the infinite wisdom and patience to redeem and create something beautiful out of our mistakes, pain and failures. After all, He created everything out of nothing.

There in the hospital, watching Lily’s vital signs, I certainly felt uncomfortable with reconciling the fact that my failure had brought her there; she, now telling me how much she wished she was home. We all are in a kind of hospital here on earth as God takes our failures and redeems them for our own well being until we are truly home. If I could repeat the last 11 hours, I wouldn’t. Yet, I am grateful to be known by a redeeming God that can use my mistakes and failures and through His grace mentor me to remember them—so I may choose differently the next time. Doing this in order that He might transform me more into the kind of person He originally intended me to be.

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