So You Think You Had a Bad Day?

By Frenkieb from Netherlands - Flickr, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2324541

I went to a meeting last night where a man told of how his day went. Let’s call him Bob.

Mind, I raised my hand part way through the narrative and asked Bob, “So this really all happened to you today?” He assured everyone in the room that it did.

If you think you had a bad day, listen up: this might make you feel like it wasn’t so bad.

Bob was in his car and had just bought himself a diet soda in a big plastic cup. It was on a console (or something) next to the driver seat when it began to tip. Bob tried to grab it, but he accidentally squished the plastic cup, popped the lid off, and poured the entire drink on the floor, soaking his feet in the process.

Bob felt a little upset, so he slammed his fist against the steering wheel, and as he did, the window on the passenger side fell off its tracks and into the door.

It was little cold. Bob tried to crank up the heat, but the heat would not come on. He flipped the knob back and forth several times—hard enough that the knob broke off. 

He drove off, enjoyed a few miles of natural air conditioning, and a short while later got a flat tire on a busy thoroughfare.

All this happened within a half hour.

If you think you had a bad day, consider Bob’s yesterday. Now does yours seem so bad? I didn’t think so.

My Best Teacher

Courtesy LDS Media Libary

I overheard a proverb in testimony meeting today that really sank in. The last person to bear testimony said this: “My best teacher is my last mistake.”

Those words settled on me like warm rain, and I’ve been soaking wet all afternoon.

I don’t like my mistakes. So why do I invent new ones every day, against my will?

Every single day.

I’m embarrassed by my mistakes, and bone weary of them. I wish I wasn’t such an expert at making them. When I suddenly remember mistakes from childhood, from my teenage years, or from last week, I turn a bright, hot red.

As I get older, though, I realize that each mistake I’ve made, each error in judgment, is a gift.  Regret, properly applied, can be a healing balm.

The great plan of happiness allows for us to make mistakes (Alma 42:8.)  Without sin, pain, sorrow, and opposition, there would be no purity, health, happiness, or strength. Without contrast, there is no perception. If we were faultless, coddled, and comfortable at every turn, we would be blobs of humanity, unable to comfort or strengthen others, unfit for celestial company.

So I welcome my mistakes. I still don’t like them or plan them out or wish for them, but I accept calmly that I will make them, no matter how hard I try not to. Personal mistakes are a path to pain, but that pain can teach us how to avoid the same trauma again, how to not repeat them. I am grateful for those lessons. Isn’t that the point?

Thank you, whoever you are, for your seven enlightening words. It would be a mistake for me to forget them.

Shake It Off and Step It Up

Yesterday, for the first time—if you can believe it—I heard the parable of the old mule who fell into a dry well. At the bottom of the well, the mule brayed and pawed and kicked, trying to free himself from the pit that seemed his doom.

The farmer came to the edge of the well and looked down. In the dim light, he saw the plight of his mule. Too heavy and uncooperative to lift out, he decided to gather a few neighbors to help him bury the tired, old critter in the well.

When the first shovelful hit the mule’s back, he trembled and shook the dirt off. As each shovelful fell on his back and neck and head, he shook the dirt off and stamped it down with his hooves. Before long, he noticed that, instead of being buried alive, he was actually getting closer to the top of the well!

After several hours and many shovelfuls of dirt, the animal’s head popped up over the edge of the well, and with some effort, and to the relief of his erstwhile undertakers, the exhausted mule stepped out from what had at first seemed to be the end of him. 

We can shake off difficulties, opposition, and trials, and use the aftermath to step it up, to move to a higher place than could otherwise be possible. I don’t believe God would permit trials in our lives if they did not fill an eternal purpose. Thanks to this old story, I now have a new mantra: “Shake it off and step it up.”

Dear Drugs and Alcohol

I attended an addiction recovery meeting tonight. We hold them every Wednesday evening at a homeless branch in downtown Salt Lake City. Four people showed up with tales of woe and personal victory. It was a powerful meeting.

At the end of the session, one of the missionaries read this letter from a former addict. It moved me.

I don’t know who wrote it. I wish I could give her credit. Whoever you are, thank you. I believe that there’s someone out there who needs to read what you wrote tonight.

August 13, 2014

Dear Drugs and Alcohol,

   I am writing this letter to say goodbye. We have been together for 27 years. I must move on. This is why:

   At the beginning of our relationship you made me feel like I was a part of something special. I felt like I had found my place in life. I thought that, with you, I would have fun doing anything. Nothing felt complete unless you were there.

   As time went on, I allowed you to consume my every thought and action. Instead of feeling free and belonging, I felt alone, trapped, and ashamed. You took all of my attention and time. Together we hurt everyone I love and care about. Any of the dreams I had felt out of reach. You took everything away from me, and I still only wanted more of you. I lost myself and almost lost my life.

   I have experienced and seen you run families, friendships, and love. You have taken so many good people’s lives. My own life became a daily struggle to survive with you in it.

   Saying goodbye is one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. But I choose my life and my family’s future. I know you will always be close by, so I want you to know I will always be on high alert for your destructive and manipulative ways. I have found myself by letting you go and I have joined the fight against you.

Forever mine,

Unknown

Respect for Others

Courtesy LDS Media Library

A Kind FBI Agent

Years ago, I learned an unforgettable lesson about respect. I became acquainted with an FBI agent. One of his duties, to the best of my recollection, was to escort prison inmates between federal courts and facilities for trial or incarceration, often on regular airline flights. He spoke to these felons with kindness. He listened to them. He asked them about their lives. He afforded them dignity. He treated them with respect though by many standards they did not deserve respect.

Sometimes they would see him at a later time. They would call out his name as if he were an old friend. The fact is, he offered them the first token of meaningful friendship: respect. 

I have thought about this for many years. From this good man’s example, I learned that you can offer respect to others even though by the world’s standards they have not earned it. I have also come to understand that respect is the foundation all lasting relationships, for without it, you cannot have trust. And while you may love someone you don’t respect or trust, you can’t have a safe, lasting relationship with them.

Jesus and the Woman at the Well

Jesus was the perfect example of showing respect. I’ll share one story that demonstrates it well: the story of the woman at the well in John 4. He was traveling with His disciples through Samaria, on his way from Judea to Galilee. The Jews generally distrusted and disliked the Samaritans and the Samaritans returned the favor. When they came to the city of Sychar, Jesus rested by Jacob’s well as the disciples went into the town to buy food.

Soon a woman came along to draw from the well. When Jesus spoke to her, asking her for a drink, she was taken aback. “How is it that thou, being a Jew, askest drink of me, which am a woman of Samaria?” she said. “For the Jews have no dealings with the Samaritans.”

Jesus persisted. “If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give me to drink; thou wouldest have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water.” He was offering her the message of the gospel. After some discussion, the woman softened and asked for the precious water Jesus offered. Then came the test. Here’s how the conversation went.

Jesus saith unto her, Go, call thy husband, and come hither.
The woman answered and said, I have no husband. Jesus said unto her, Thou hast well said, I have no husband: for thou hast had five husbands; and he whom thou now hast is not thy husband: in that saidst thou truly.
The woman saith unto him, Sir, I perceive that thou art a prophet.

Jesus knew her sin and called attention to it, but he was gentle with her. He did not condemn her or belittle her. He invited her to drink of the waters of life freely. But he was frank in His assertions about her spiritual status: “Ye worship ye know not what: we know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews.”

The woman responded humbly, “I know that Messias cometh, which is called Christ: when he is come, he will tell us all things,” to which Jesus replied, “I that speak unto thee am he.” This is one of the earliest occurrences of Jesus testifying directly of His divinity.

As the disciples returned, “the woman then left her waterpot, and went her way into the city, and saith to the men, Come, see a man, which told me all things that ever I did: is not this the Christ?”

The disciples were nonplussed. They marveled that he spoke to the woman, but they didn’t know what to say. Soon, many came out from the city to meet Jesus and hear Him for themselves. Jesus and His disciples spent several days there and many Samaritans believed.

Jesus was not harsh, accusing, or vindictive toward the woman. He was respectful, kind, and patient, but he was not reluctant to tell this woman directly of her sins and errors.

Rejecting the Sin but Accepting the Sinner

Jesus accepted people but He did not accept sin. Out of His own mouth He declared “I the Lord cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance” (D&C 1:31). There is nothing in the scriptural record to support the notion that He said or did anything to support sinful behavior, but there is ample evidence that He was kind, tolerant, and accepting of the sinner.

This is what true Christians strive to do, but opposition to sin is not hate, no more than acceptance of the sinner is sin.

I recently spoke to a man who had a near death experience. He told me that as his life was examined in great detail, that he felt nothing but love and acceptance from the Savior. Are we justified in showing anything less? We are capable of less, to be sure, but we are not justified in it.

Try as I may to overcome my own weaknesses, I don’t have the power to right my own wrongs. But when I finally learned to love and accept myself, flawed and imperfect as I am, I also found it much easier to accept and love others.

I Heard This in Sacrament Meeting Today

A woman who gave the closing prayer in our sacrament meeting today thanked the Lord for “believing in us and having faith in us,” His children. I am not sure I have ever thought of it in that way, but when she said it, I felt in my heart that it was true.

The Lord Himself believes in and has faith in you! What a remarkable and encouraging thought. I am so grateful to know this now. I really needed to hear it today. It was a gift. 

When Clothes Really Do Make the Girl

Courtesy LDS Media Library

Yesterday, a sister missionary told me the story of a young woman who grew up in her ward. She was disconnected from the other girls. She dressed “goth” — everything was black, including lipstick. She didn’t want to be with the other young women because she didn’t feel like she fit in.

Then one day, the parents of the sister missionary said to the girl who dressed goth (with the permission of the girl’s parents), “We want to take you shopping. We will pay for your clothes. Do you want to go?” The girl said yes and they went shopping.

Well, the girl picked out a whole new wardrobe, a whole new look. Lots of bright colors. It was fun!

Then something happened. The girl started looking at herself differently. She started feeling differently about herself. She started to attend Young Women. She found a new place in the world—because of the way she chose to dress and because of how that made her feel about herself.

She remained active. Later, she went on a mission. And when she came home, she married in the temple.

Those missionary’s parents. They were guardian angels.

What is it about the clothes we wear and what they say about us? Our clothes—and the lack of them—are often a reflection of what is going on inside. They can also influence what is going on inside, and what goes on outside. It all starts on the inside, though.

I used to interview missionaries when they got home from their missions. Among other things, I’d say to them, “Don’t go shaggy.” Why? Because shaggy is as shaggy does. Shaggy looks invite shaggy behavior.

It’s not about the clothes, really. It’s about how you choose to feel about yourself and the effect it has on you.