little bit of lagniappe

reflecting on everyday grace

“More Than Our Mistakes”

Since January, thanks to my dear friend Cheryle, I have been reading Mark Nepo‘s The Book of Awakening as a part of my morning quiet time. While many would describe Mark as a New York Times best-selling author, philosopher, and poet, I tend to think of him as a wise old friend, for that’s how he comes through the page: patient, humble, and encouraging. He listens to his experiences and composes honest words that tell the story of his own human brokenness, and in doing so, he helps us see, move through, and give thanks for our own.

Today’s offering (and its closing meditation) especially moved me, as I’ve been thinking and reflecting a lot about the twists, turns, detours, and stop signs in life, in addition to the mistakes and failures along the way that help pave new paths. Grace. Mark’s words for today speak to that subject far more eloquently than I ever could, and I hope and pray his words — like gentle words from an old friend you’ve somehow known forever — meet and hold you right where you are.

Please take a few minutes today to read “More Than Our Mistakes”:

The buffalo fed on the buffalo grass that was fertilized by their own droppings. This grass had deep roots bound to the earth and was resistant to drought.

– David Peat

Try as we will, we cannot escape the making of mistakes. But fortunately, the ever humbling cycle of growing strong roots comes from eating what grows from our own shit, from digesting and processing our own humanity. Like the buffalo, we are nourished by what sprouts from our own broken trail. What we trample and leave behind fertilizes what will feed us. No one is exempt. 

A pipe falls on a dancer’s leg and the dancer must reinvent herself, while the worker who dropped it is driven to volunteer with crippled veterans. A dear friend discovers small bulbous tumors and his tulips begin to speak, and when he dies, his nurse begins a garden. Things come apart and join sometimes faster than we can cope. But we evolve in spite of our limitations, and though we break and make mistakes, we are always mysteriously more than what is broken. Indeed, we somehow grow from the soil of our mistakes. And often in the process, the things we refuse to let go of are somehow forced from our grip.

I have been broken and have failed so many times that my sense of identity has sprouted and peeled like an onion. But because of this, I have lived more than my share of lives and feel both young and old at once, with a sudden heart that cries just to meet the air. Now, on the other side of all I’ve suffered so far, everything, from the quick song of birds to the peace trapped inside a fresh brook’s gurgle, is rare and uncertain. Now I want to stand naked before every wind; and though I’m still frightened I will break, I somehow know it’s all a part – even the fright – of the rhythm of being alive.

You see, no one ever told me that as snakes shed skin, as trees snap bark, the human heart peels, crying when forced open, singing when loved open. Now I understand that whatever keeps us from burning truth as food, whatever tricks the heart into thinking we can hide in the open, whatever makes us look everywhere but in the core, this is the smoke that drives us from what is living. And whatever keeps us coming back, coming up, whatever makes us build a home out of straw, out of heartache, out of nothing, whatever ignites us to see again for the very first time, this is the bluish flame that keeps the Earth grinding to the sun.

  • Light a candle. Sit quietly and focus on the blue part of the flame as you meditate on one loss you carry within you. It could be a person who has died or left your life. Or a dream that has evaporated.
  • Sift through the feelings that surround this loss and find one detail that seems worth saving. It might be represented by a pen or book that someone used. Or a favorite chair. Or a piece of music. Or a gardening tool. 
  • Holding this detail in your heart, look into the bluish flame and meditate on the gift you carry from what is gone.
  • Now use this detail, if you can, to help you build what is presently before you.
  • Try to infuse what is worth saving from what you’ve lost.
  • Use the old to build the new.


(and please forgive any conventions mistakes I’ve made in retyping this excerpt; I’m sure they will help me do better next time) 🙂


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One thought on ““More Than Our Mistakes”

  1. Sally McGehee on said:

    Carter This is amazing….. you are a gifted writer,,, I love the promise of this piece… that no matter what, we can make something good out of chaos if we lean into life and the promises of God. Peace, Sally

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