I walked along the bike trail by my parents’ house, purposely kicking up fallen October leaves with every step. Each stride released the spicy scent of autumn, reminding me why I love this season in the Midwest so much. The crunch of the leaves, the rich golden colors, the prematurely fading twilight. The feeling that anything and everything could change at any given moment.
I sighed, shoving my hands into my sweater pockets and burrowing my nose into my scarf. Some of my perfume still lingered in its woven threads, eradicating the scent of the leaves for a moment.
I’d always been told that in life there are no do-overs. That you can never go back.
Maybe I should’ve just stayed in Australia. I was going through a messy break-up and if I had just stayed in Australia none of this would have happened…I could have avoided the whole thing.
Of course, if I had stayed in Australia I wouldn’t have gotten to see my grandfather before he died. I wouldn’t have been able to sit by my mom on the couch watching Harry Potter for weeks on end while she recovered from her last and final cancer surgery. I probably wouldn’t even be living in California.
As I continued to trudge through the fallen leaves, I could hear my mom advising me, as she often had, that regrets were a waste of energy. To not spend my time looking backwards at what had already been done.
I sighed into my scarf again. I knew she was right. I knew that I couldn’t go back and change the past. I knew that the proverbial anonymous “they” were right when they said that you can never have the past to do over again. The past is no longer a tangible moment to be experienced. It is a moment that has, as the word insinuates, passed. Brief and fleeting or one that seemingly went on for a lifetime of seasons. Nevertheless, it no longer belongs to us to change… But perhaps existed in order to change us.
As I trekked back to my car in the fading October light, I began to quietly resign myself to the truth that there was nothing I could ever truly “do over”. In life there would always be words that I could not erase, decisions that I could have thought better of, and moments that I should have cherished more deeply. Looking back, there may always be the dark stain of mistakes on the once pristine parchment of my life.
But perhaps it was better that way.
It was true that I couldn’t have a do-over for the past year. But as I walked, I realized that I systematically disagreed with the idea that you could never go back. No, I couldn’t hit the backspace button as if my life were a sentence I couldn’t craft into a paragraph properly. But I did go back.
I went home.
When life became confusing and twisted up I went back and drew strength from sources of stability. I couldn’t delete the confusion, but I could go back to the people and the places that had always provided clarity. And I went back to God—over, and over, and over again, each day– searching for the answers and growth that never would have come if I had merely zapped my problems from ever occurring.
The easy solution is to wish for a do-over. For the ability to keep heartache and mistakes from ever occurring and marring that perfect piece of parchment we are each given at the beginning of all things.
There are many stains marking up my past. Blots of ink, words scribbled out and rewritten. Mistakes. But out of those failed attempts, risks that didn’t work out, and even lapses of judgment, I learned. I discovered how to find redemption in those bleak instances. How to take spilled ink and allow God to show me how to paint them into something I never could have foreseen.
And in that way, I suppose we are all given the opportunity for do-overs. Life has a way of presenting you with similar difficulties and decisions throughout the years. It is often through the pain of regret that we learn what is wise and what is not. It is through our own healing journey that we begin to understand how to help others heal using our own uniquely crafted piece of parchment.
The parchment of my past is no longer pristine and unmarked…but it is because I have lived. I have failed and fallen in and out of pockets of grace. I have tripped over myself and others, muddying up parts of the paper that perhaps should have remained clean. But the picture that it creates is beautiful. The end result is beautiful. And as your parchment and mine continues to unfurl itself, you will have your do-over. You will get to try things differently this time, using what you learned from spilling the ink all those years ago.
And as the scroll rolls out…it will tell of your journey. Of my journey. And you will be glad that you could not erase when you wished you could. The picture that God has created out of the ink stains is crafted just the way it ought to be….by using everything.