Instantly my brain thought, “this is an opportunity to share wisdom at the request of a teenage daughter. Don’t mess up now!” I thought for a moment and decided to share the wisdom I remember my father telling me at a very early age.
He would say, “The only time you can really call a mistake a mistake, is when you don’t take the opportunity to learn from it.”
This prompted me throughout my life to always try to find something to learn from every mistake I made. It even encouraged me to learn from the mistakes of others, like my older, nearly perfect sister.
I’m wondering though, if my sister made a mistake, and I learned from it, does that make her even more perfect?
As you have probably guessed by now, my sister was an older sister. She was also the favorite child. When there are two children in the family, only one can be the favorite. And she was it. I know it was because of her excellent grades, ability to stand up and be counted, and her towering five foot three inch frame. Hey, when you’re only five one, five three is towering.
There was a time early in my life when I began to have hope that my sister was not as perfect as I originally thought. At dinner my dad casually mentioned he had received a phone call from Shileen’s first grade teacher.
Immediately my ears perked up. I thought for sure it was going to be bad news, and I was going to enjoy it.
Dad then said that the teacher was perplexed by my sister’s sudden inability to get a spelling word correct. You see, the week before, my sister had missed one word on her spelling test. I believe it was the first time for her. She was crushed to say the least. My dad encouraged her by saying something about learning from your mistakes. “It is through mistakes that we learn the most.” He said.
My sister (did I mention she is also the brilliant one in the family?) took his advice to heart. She figured if one mistake made her smarter, then if she missed every word the next week, she would be twenty times smarter (perhaps logical thinking wasn’t her strong suit).
I thought for sure she was really going to get it for missing every word on her spelling test, but instead Dad seemed proud of her for desiring to be smarter. He then told her it doesn’t quite work the way she figured it did. He expected her to retake the test, finishing up with another of his favorite bits of advice, “always try your hardest to do your best!”
She took that advice to heart as well. I wonder to this day if she ever missed a question on a test.
I thought his advice to her should have been something similar to a commandment, perhaps I would have phrased it, “Thou shalt never cause your family to fear for your life, or your safety.”
There were a few times she concerned us about her safety.
When she was in high school, she became a foreign exchange student to Finland. One day we received a letter that basically said, “Dear Mom, I’m sorry I haven’t written lately, I’ve been in the hospital with Pneumonia. The hospitals here are nothing like the ones back home. I had to share the room with twenty other sick people. It was so difficult to sleep with all those people coughing and throwing up.
The worst part was when they would come and give everyone shots of Penicillin. (She is highly allergic to Penicillin.) They would walk down the row and give everyone a shot, using the same needle. It was horrible. After several weeks, I’ve been able to get miraculously better. They told me I was near death at one point. Signed, your loving daughter. P.S. April Fools!
Mom was so upset reading the letter; she had to put it down to cry. She didn’t even finish reading it to know about the P.S. It wasn’t until I picked up the letter I told her that it was a joke. Mom did not think it was funny. I thought at the moment that my mom was a bit too emotional. Obviously that was before I became a mom and worried about my own children.
After returning safely from Finland, Shileen had a few other moments that caused us to worry about her. Once while driving the car during icy conditions, she managed to slide into oncoming traffic, hitting another car head-on, resulting in her totaling our car.
She escaped from that accident without a scratch. I began to wonder how she managed to do that. She told me that God had been protecting her. I thought she was perhaps going a bit overboard with the God thing lately. But hey, if she was safe, that was all that mattered to me.
After graduating Valedictorian from high school, she journeyed to Bryn Mawr, a prestigious women’s college in Pennsylvania. One night we received a phone call from the dean of the college. Apparently Shileen was last seen leaving for work. She didn’t show up at her Pizza Hut job, and no one had seen her.
Hours slowly ticked by as we waited in Iowa for word of her whereabouts. Every time the phone rang, I would leap with anticipation, but the calls were always to tell us there was nothing to report.
At one point in the night my dad told me to say a prayer for her. I’m not sure if it was the desperation in his voice, or the look on his face, but I quickly prayed as tears fell down my cheeks, while asking a god I didn’t know to protect my sister from something I also didn’t know.
Morning finally arrived. With it came news that my sister arrived back at her room. She apparently had gotten in a cab, not thinking anyone would really notice, and had the cab driver take her to a run down motel in New Jersey. There she sat crying, and praying to the God she did know. And he heard her cry and answered her prayer.
Dad flew out to Pennsylvania and brought her back home for a time of renewal.
Her faith in Jesus was unshakable. She witnessed to me many times through her life and her ministry. It also helped that she had some Christian friends who seemed equally in love with Jesus.
One night Dad had given her permission to have a party at our house. As the house began to fill with people, we began to wonder where the hostess was. She had left several hours before to pick up some friends in a town about an hour away. The weather had begun to get bad out, and there was no sign of Shileen, or her friends.
As Dad began making phone calls to see if he could figure out where she could be, we realized that she was likely caught in a blizzard.
Again the clock began to tick slowly as we awaited news of her. I was tempted to check the batteries.
One of the friends who had gathered for the party said to everyone in the room, “Let’s pray!”
We all gathered in a circle and began what became the first prayer of power I had ever heard in my life. I had not heard someone pray with such conviction. I could see the loving arms of Jesus take a hold of her and hold her close. I seemed to feel that she would be all right.
The circumstances of the night as it wore on would indicate anything but her being all right.
At one point after Dad got off the phone he came to me with tears in his eyes as he said, “we need to be prepared for her to not be alive when they find her.” (What does that mean anyway?)
He had been talking to the sheriff’s department who informed him the wind chill factor was over sixty degrees below zero. The roads were impassable and there was no way anyone was going to be able to even look for them until the storm ended.
Out of sheer exhaustion I fell asleep.
In the morning my dad exclaimed some people on snowmobiles had found the car. He was unsure of the condition of my sister and the others but was told they were alive.
My heart rejoiced as I thought back to the prayer full of power that I had heard spoken the night before.
After a brief visit to the hospital, she came home to share the story with us.
Shortly after picking up her friends they began their journey home. The weather quickly changed, as it often does in Iowa. The car got stuck in a drift. The blizzard was already so bad, they couldn’t see. Some of the things they had learned in Driver’s Education had kept them alive.
Apparently the car stopped running shortly after getting stuck. They huddled together in the back seat, keeping each other awake through the night while rubbing parts of their bodies that began to go numb.
What should have been sure death for them ended with miraculous intervention by the Lord! After a full examination, only a couple of girls had suffered minor frostbite.