Our Mistakes Don’t Have To Define Us


All of us make mistakes.

With grace and grit, we can learn from our mistakes.

And then there are those of us who actually earn from our mistakes.

That brings us to Bette Nesmith Graham, an executive secretary in the mid-1950s for the Texas Bank and Trust.

Bette had a great job.  The problem is that she wasn’t particularly good at one of its essential components:  typing.  In the era before electronic typewriters and word processors, administrative assistants lived with the reality that a single typo on a document might mean starting from scratch.

One year Graham volunteered to help decorate the bank’s windows for the upcoming holiday season.

That’s when she made an important discovery:  when the artist overseeing that project made a mistake, he didn’t start over.  He simply covered his error with a dab of paint, waited for it to dry, then picked up where he left off.  Bette wondered if she might address typing mistakes the same way.

She put some paint into a small bottle, applied it with a tiny brush, and just like that began to experience absolution from her typing sins.

It wasn’t long before her co-workers were standing in line:  could she whip up a few more of those little bottles?

Her kitchen became a lab.  Her garage became a bottling assembly line.  A local chemistry teacher helped her concoct a superior formula.

Thus was born Liquid Paper (generically known as “white-out”), a homegrown product that would put smiles on the faces of accountants, secretaries, and term-paper-typing students the world over.

Graham still made mistakes, of course.

One day at work she mindlessly typed “The Liquid Paper Company” at the bottom of a correspondence instead of “Texas Bank and Trust.”  That was the last straw.  Her boss let her go.

But by that time Bette saw the future, and it wasn’t working at a bank.

By the mid-1970s, her solo business venture was selling 65,000 units a day.  Gillette bought her out for 48 million dollars, plus a future royalty for every bottle sold.

She was also a single mom.  Her teenage son Michael and his pals used to help her fill bottles in the garage.  America came to know him as Michael Nesmith, one of the four members of The Monkees, the ultimate 1960s teeny bopper rock group.

Wouldn’t it be great if our worst mistakes – our ethical failures, our deepest betrayals, and our most self-centered decisions – could somehow be “whited out” from the stories of our lives?

God has a remedy.

“Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.” (Isaiah 1:18)

The best news is that God’s forgiveness isn’t a just temporary paint job.

All of our failures, even our most disheartening ones, were erased by the death of Jesus on the cross.

We can say with certainty that we will keep making mistakes.

But our mistakes don’t have to define us.

Through Christ, God miraculously sees our lives as clean white sheets of paper.

— Authored by Glenn McDonald

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