The comment sears my heart, but instead of reacting, I laugh and excuse myself to check on the soup that doesn’t need checking.
I squeeze my eyes to blink away tears as the comment ricochets through my brain.
Is that the cookbook Kendra burned?
It’s become Family Lore.
Looking frantically for space, I had squeezed the cookbook onto the counter and realized too late that the cover rested on a burner that moments before heated brussels sprouts.
So, yes. My cookbook has a big burn mark on the front of it. Huge, really. I mean, pieces of burnt cover still flake onto my bookshelf — six years later. How embarrassing!
I Know What You’re Thinking
Why don’t I just buy a new cookbook? It’s not like they don’t make that one anymore.
And the latest version probably has a section for gluten-free, dairy-free, paleo meals. They all do now, don’t they?
Buying a cookbook isn’t generally a problem for me.
Or sometimes even a decision.
Cookbooks regularly make their way into my shopping cart and before you know it, they’re spattered with tomato sauce and living on the den bookshelf with dozens of others.
But this is my trusty Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook, circa 1990.
I don’t want to give it up. And I can’t throw it out.
Honestly, I’m not even sure I could start over with a new version.
Where would my notes be?
- The one that tells how I doctor the Red Beans and Rice
- The date I baked Lemon Meringue Pie for my then-boyfriend’s (now husband’s) birthday surprise
- The penned and food-stained memory of my preschooler asking for more “chicken” the first time I served his soon-to-be-favorite hamburger dish
I can’t replace my cookbook. So I continue to use it, burnt cover and all.
But nearly every time I do, I get teased.
Which is fine for family, I guess. But this person didn’t even know me at the time of the Embarrassing Cookbook Incident.
Why am I still being judged over this?
Standing in the kitchen that day, teary eyes morphed into a hardened heart.
Why am I still being judged over this?
I’ve spent over forty years cooking, with exactly ONE burned cookbook, and THAT is what people choose to remember?!
Not the potato leek soup I make. Or my beef stroganoff. Or even my buttermilk pancakes — which are amazing, by the way.
As my internal argument reaches crescendo, my hand aches from frantically stirring the soup that doesn’t need stirring.
And then I hear it, the still small voice: do you ever hold anyone hostage to a past mistake?
An example rushes to mind.
And then another.
So I do what any God-fearing woman would do.
I argue with the Holy Spirit.
But this was a single burned cover. It wasn’t a huge sin or character flaw like theirs…
As the words flitted through my brain, I knew it wasn’t about that.
Conviction took hold of my heart in this classic Golden Rule moment. Am I doing to others as I’d like done to me? (Matthew 7:12)
The Unforgiving Past
Have you ever held someone’s identity captive in their biggest mistake?
- A toddler becomes known for his wildest tantrum.
- A sibling is viewed as her worst adolescent moment.
- A co-worker is the person whose emotion got the better of him in the meeting.
- A spouse’s actions are seen through the lens of words he spoke years ago.
There are no do-overs in life.
Sure, we can learn from our mistakes. Hopefully, I’m more cautious around the stove.
But I can’t undo the burned cookbook. It’s part of my history now.
The same is true for the people we love—and those we merely tolerate.
Nothing can change our loved ones’ situations, either. Should that always be how we view them—through the lens of their worst mistakes?
That’s not how God sees them. Or how he sees us, by the way.
Giving Others Freedom
So, how do we stop viewing others through their biggest and worst mistakes?
It helps to remember that none of us is perfect.
Are you the person you want to be every minute of every day?
I’m sure not.
We each strive to be more than we are. And we struggle daily to put away the old personality and “put on the new personality that was created according to God’s will in true righteousness” (Ephesians 4:24).
But we also tend to live up to the expectations set for us.
If the family still sees the youngest sibling as immature, he has less incentive to grow up.
If others’ opinions aren’t going to change — if the daughter continues to be the one whose carelessness totaled the family car — what’s the point in her trying to be seen as more responsible?
We are called to encourage each other and to build each other up (1 Thessalonians 5:11). Continually defining each other by old behaviors merely discourages and tears down.
My family members teasing me about my burned cookbook is a silly example; I would do well to not take their remarks so personally. (And honestly, the comment doesn’t always get me riled up. I blame hunger, hormones, and lack of sleep.)
But I’m glad it did this time.
Because it reminds me that we’re each mixed bags.
I’m the person who burned a cookbook almost beyond recognition, but I’m also the one whose family swore off eating restaurant pancakes forever. (I told you they were good!)
And I’m learning to reframe my thinking about others.
How will their worst mistake be part of their amazing redemption story one day?
I don’t know. But I want to be part of it, by encouraging the person they’re becoming instead of holding them captive to their past.