Falling Into Grace

The pursuit of perfection often impedes improvement. —George F. Will

I love autumn, with its crisp leaves, brisk air and changing colors. However, as a recovering perfectionist, I’ve had many autumns in the past that fell short of my “ideal” fall.

Here are my usual expectations, followed by a dose of reality:

  1. My husband will lovingly help me pick out just the right pumpkin for our son’s kindergarten craft project.
    Reality: Carey is so swamped with work that I run to Wal-Mart on October 30 and get a leftover shaped like a Hobbit.
  2. The Christian child I’m raising will help me shop for Thanksgiving baskets for needy families.
    Reality: Five year-old Jordan stays in the toy aisle during the entire excursion, whining that he needs a “Home for the Holidays” G.I. Joe.
  3. I’ll make pumpkin cookie platters for all the neighbors, with an evangelical tract attached.
    Reality: Only when I see the neighbors packing to leave for the Thanksgiving holidays do I begin to bake, and then realize I need to borrow half the ingredients from those same neighbors.
  4. The extended family will all be together, healthy and happy, for a quiet, reflective Thanksgiving.
    Reality: Two siblings don’t even show up, the “crazy uncle” shows everybody his newest surgical scar, and my giblet gravy looks more like—well, let’s not even go there.

This year was no different. Since Carey had to work on Halloween, I took Jordan to our church’s Fall Festival. It was a doozy—bounce houses, pony rides, Bible-themed carnival games, costume contests, and an inflatable obstacle course. I expected a fun-filled night, complete with many Kodak moments.

However, only an hour into our evening, Jordan came off the big slide in tears. My first thought was that someone had picked on him. My second thought was finding the little bully and—well, we were in the church parking lot, so I decided against physical violence.

“What’s wrong, sweetie?” I asked.

He wouldn’t tell me, but I soon figured out that he had torn his pants. And no amount of cajoling would get him back in the game. So we went home and watched America’s Funniest Home Videos.

I was a little distraught at how our evening had turned out, especially when the doorbell rang. Since we hadn’t planned on being home, I didn’t have enough candy for trick-or-treaters.

“Mom, kids are at the door!” Jordan yelled at me, while I frantically looked for granola bars or fruit.

“I don’t have enough candy,” I lamented, as he kept pointing to the door.

“They can have mine,” Jordan said, reaching into his purple pumpkin, full of prizes from carnival games.

With my mouth agape, I opened the door and watched him gleefully fill the trick-or-treaters’ sacks.

The rest of the evening, my son had a ball passing out his hard-won candy to strangers with painted faces, and I marveled at the child who had reminded me: life may tear your expectations to pieces once in a while, but focusing on others helps you forget your troubles.
And being a perfectionist isn’t near as much fun as it’s made out to be.

©2008, Dena Dyer

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