Thursday, December 27, 2012

Francine: The Fish Story

I’ve been telling this story for some 35 years now. I’ve told it at youth firesides, classes of all kinds and once, with some secular changes, even at a high school baccalaureate where I was most kindly requested to speak. A few people have asked that I write it down. Well, it turns out that writing it isn’t so easy. For one thing I always brought essential visual aids when telling this story…..most often a live fish of some kind…..sometimes a large whole one from the fish market. And then there’s a lot of eye rolling, pregnant pauses, facial expressions and that sort of thing that go along with the telling. I’ve learned that, try as I may, punctuation just doesn’t cover those situations. So it is with some real worry that due to my feeble writing skills, printed words won’t translate this story very well. But…..since you asked…….I’ll give it a try. So, here she is……Francine the fish. And to those of you who made the request…..thanks so much for remembering.
Oh, and this is one of those times when I must remind you that I always tell the truth in my stories….even if the events didn’t actually happen. In the introduction to this blog I relate how I explain to my youth audiences that I always tell the truth in church. Once a young man approached me after a fireside and asked with a quizzical look, “Did that really happen?” I’d told a story with a talking rock in it I think. It was about the sometimes tragic outcomes that befall young people who make poor choices involving alcohol or drugs. Well, I’d already explained that I never lied in church so I looked him in the eye and said, “Sadly yes, it happens every day.”

Francine the Fish

When our family was young our love affair with the ocean and the beach began. I suppose this was because every one of us except Larry were true desert rats…..born and raised in the parched Sonoron desert. True, Larry was a mid-westerner as a boy. He’d lived by year-round rivers, but far from the oceans, so his heart was with us on this for the most part. We wanted to spend every vacation near sand and big rolling water. The problem was money. There wasn’t any. At least for expensive hotels and restaurant meals. Then, luckily we found out about the wonderful beach campgrounds all along the gorgeous coasts of California, Oregon and Washington. Glorious days and nights could be had sleeping right on the sand with the waves breaking just outside your bedroom door……as long as you brought the bedroom yourself… the form of a tent or camper. At the time all this was to be had for only 12 dollars a night! No hotel room could compete with that price! If we borrowed a camper from Larry’s dad and saved up for gas we could swing this every now and then for sure! Some of our most precious memories come from those wonderful days….. including the day we first met Francine.

We were heading north on the Pacific Coast Highway just outside of San Diego. The blue ocean waves were coming in to shore on our left and lots of interesting, non-deserty things were happening on our right. Things like rivers finally reaching the sea, deltas, mud flats, and estuaries. Novelties to us so used to gulches, dry washes, and saguaro and mesquite studded mesas. We came across a little bridge and there a sign read “Batigos Estuary ½ mile.” We all hollered at the driver at once…Stop here, Dad! When we pulled in we found another little bridge with a gently moving stream flowing under it and out to sea. The stream came from some wetlands on the right of the gravel parking area. A sign in front said “Wildlife Sanctuary” and a little, dusty, dirt road wound its way into the reeds. As much as we wanted to head to the sand and waves we couldn’t resist exploring that little road first. So down we tramped. Tall reeds grew up on both sides. Now and again there was a pool where ducks and other birds were doing their bird things peacefully in them. Then as the road passed just next to a murky pond I heard a distinct burbling sound which made me look down into the water. There swimming in furious circles was a small fish. The burbling was coming from that fish! I couldn’t believe it so I knelt down to investigate. As I got closer I could hear a voice! Yes, a watery but distinct voice. It was complaining loudly, “I am not going to do any of that stuff those guys are telling me to do!! They’re just trying to boss me around. I’m not giving up my freedom to do what they say!” Larry and the kids were up ahead looking at birds so I called them back to see this amazing development. We all knelt down in the dust, gazed intently into the murky water, and witnessed an amazing drama.

We could see the little fish swimming around and around, all the while complaining bitterly about not giving up her freedom, when over to the side of the pond we saw two more fish swimming in place beside a little rivulet that was leading out of the pond. The two fish there were talking too! They were pleading with the little fish who had now come near them and was listening intently to what they said. Incredible as it seems…….. they wore suits and ties with white shirts and little badges pinned to their coats! They were saying, “We promise you, on our honor, we’re telling the truth. We know the path to great happiness and blessings. Our older brother found the way and showed us how to get there. We’ve come here to tell you and the others. Follow us through this little straight and narrow way and you’ll have joy, peace and freedom beyond your wildest dreams. You can become more and have greater power than you ever thought possible. Please. Just swim to the straight and narrow stream and follow the directions. It won’t be easy but you can do it. There’s help along the way. You’ll see.”

They kept talking and the little fish began to swim more slowly in her furious circles. It seemed to us like she was thinking. Then she cautiously stuck her head into the little stream and slowly swam in. She looked around, swam down a little ways, and there on the bank was printed a little sign that read “In order to make it through this stream you must follow the directions.” Then a bit farther down another sign said “Thou shalt not eat the green algae that grows on the bottom of the rocks.” “What?” we heard her cry. “That algae’s my favorite! It gives me a real buzz! Saturday night’s the night we all get wasted on Green!” She hesitated but went on. Then another sign said, “Fooling around with lots of different fish during mating season won’t lead to happiness. You need to find one other fish and settle down.” “Are you serious?” we heard her say sharply under water. “I’m the hottest little flounder in the marsh! Everybody says so and it’s true! Besides who doesn’t fool around!” But she kept on going, now grumbling all the while. She swam slowly by other signs that said “You must give a portion of your hard won fish food to those who don’t have any.” “Sacrifice your gulf golf, shell shopping, or nap time each Sunday to swim in schools to learn more about how to get through this straight and narrow stream.” “Smoking dried seaweed’s bad for your health.” “You must love and do service for other fish, even when you’re too tired.” “You must forgive barracudas and sharks for being mean and try to help them.”

She swam slower and slower past each sign but when she swam by that last one we saw her tail flip and her silvery body turn and dart back down the little rivulet and into the murky water of the pond. There she stopped to scold the two fish who were still swimming at the entrance trying to convince others to give the straight and narrow a chance.

“You must be out of your minds!” She practically shouted. “You want me to give up all my freedom, all my fun! I’m not buying it! No one tells me I can’t eat green algae! And there’s no hope for barricudas! I’ll always hate them! Forgive them my fin! I choose for myself! I choose algae and fooling around! I choose freedom!” She swam off to search the underside of rocks. It was Saturday.

That was the end of the little drama.

Amazed we all stood up, hardly being able to believe what we’d just seen and heard. Then slowly each one of us became very sad. Because, as we looked around we all could see what the little fish couldn’t from where she was down in the murky pond. That straight and narrow rivulet led to the little stream. The stream went under the bridge, past the reeds and marshes, and then out to the sea. The awesome Pacific which joined on the other side of the world with the Atlantic and all the other mighty seas of the earth. An entire planet that was made mostly of water. Freedom beyond wildest dreams. Endless possibilities beyond imagining. Thrown away by the small fish swimming round and round in the little murky pond. Thrown away in the name of freedom.

What a lesson, I thought. We need to remember it. I sent one of the kids back to the camper for the fishing net and a bucket. The murky pond was drying up anyway so we caught the little fish, named her Francine and kept her for many years in a little bowl on a shelf. She reminded us of the day when we all learned a great lesson about freedom and obedience.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Once I Saw...

The holidays approach.   So here's a tip.
When extended families get together the world will be a better place if controversial topics like politics aren’t served up along with the turkey. 

To avoid contention and indigestion you can play a lovely game called “Once I Saw.”  It’s very simple and all ages can play. 
Everyone thinks of a special sight in their memory bank that will stay with them forever because it was so beautiful or unexpected. Then they take turns sharing it. I’ll give you some examples.

The first winter that our desert dweller family lived in the mountains of Arizona was full of amazing new experiences. Those of you who’ve lived in cold climates perhaps would use a different word. 

We had moved from an almost always sunny city, some have even called it relentlessly sunny, to a tiny, sometimes snowbound fishing cabin in the woods of Forest Lakes.  Everybody we knew thought we were nuts, by the way. And I was pretty sure they were right.  
Annual snowfall in Forest Lakes was about nine feet altogether. Some of us in the family had never even seen snow actually falling before, only patches on daytrips. Our only heat was a wood stove. 
I learned later that locals had bets placed on how many days after the first storm we'd last. I don't know if they meant stay or survive.
Anyhow, the snow thing brought me many “once I saws,” and I’m grateful for all of them. 
One time, after a storm left us over two feet of snow, I pulled on my new Wal-Mart moon and snow boots and began to trudge my way slowly to the road to see if the plow had been by. The clouds had broken up and were clearing, and the sky was that impossible cobalt mountain blue with sunshine so bright it made everything sparkle. Lots of little, puffy, white clouds were drifting by. My cheeks and nose stung with the cold but everywhere else I was wrapped up and warm. Then, I looked up to see that inside each cloud there was a rainbow floating along inside it! An actual, perfect, miniature rainbow in each and every cloud! I suppose the sun was shining through ice crystals or something but it was a beautiful miracle to see. I never saw it again in all the years we lived there.

Surprisingly, that wood stove heating thing brought a “once I saw.” 

It took some adjustment but it turned out that we were never cold if we kept even the smallest fire burning. In fact we often had to open windows a bit to keep from getting too warm. I suppose it helped that the house was so tiny. Anyway, Larry’s and my bed was right under a window and one clear night as I got under the pile of comforters and put my feet on him to keep them warm, I opened the window just a ways for ventilation and high-tech temperature control. After a wonderful, snug night we awoke to the sight of a dusting of powdery, white snow covering the blankets for about six inches just past our noses. A storm had come up while we slept and had blown snow in through the screen where it landed softly while we slept.
Icicles were also an intriguing novelty to desert rats. They grew longer, drip by drip throughout the winter, with all of us watching them finally go from roof to ground by February. Then one morning, after a wet snowfall, we made our way to the car to head the 17 miles to school, and there on all the low branches of the huge ponderosa pines which surrounded the house were perfect little icicles sparkling in the morning light. They were everywhere. It seemed as if elves had come to decorate the whole forest during the night!

Animals make great “Once I Saws” too. 

Once, while walking on a beach in Florida I looked back to see Larry standing on a rise shouting and pointing out to sea.  I turned just in time to see the huge black and white belly of a whale as it made a perfect semi-circle in the air.  Then it crashed with a mighty splash back into the Atlantic.
Another time I was standing on a cliff overlooking the Pacific. We had just visited Cabrillo lighthouse near San Diego and had stopped to see the spectacular view. I stood on the bluff, a strong wind coming off the ocean. I turned my head to the right to find a seagull standing still in mid-air. It was right at my eye level, about four feet away, wings outstretched, not moving a feather, gliding on the strong sea breeze as it moved inland. Then it turned only its head to look straight at me. After several seconds it leaned to the right and flew off into the wind. A brief encounter that will last a lifetime.

Then again I’ll always remember a mama bear and two cubs as they took off in a lumbering run through a ravine as we drove down a dusty dirt road on our way to gather pinon nuts. And a skunk eating cat food on the front porch while a kitten stood on its back legs taking playful swipes at his gorgeous, fluffy tail. Bald eagles roosting on a snag just off the highway next to the Circle K. The herd of mule deer that suddenly appeared out of nowhere. They stood grazing silently in the yard just a few feet away when I turned with the hose to water the irises. They never made a sound. Or the enormous bull elk with the huge antler rack who raised his majestic head from the flower bed just two feet outside the living room window causing a young daughter sitting inside to exclaim in alarm, “Holy Schnickey!”

There are lots of desert “once I saws” too.  I even have one from my brother that I never actually witnessed. He told me about a time when his family was boating up at Lake Powell. He says it’s astonishingly beautiful. They sailed under a red rock arch where water was trickling in a sparkling shower down to the lake below. His boys jumped in to swim under the drops which he said looked like thousands of diamonds. Then they just starting laughing as they dog-paddled under the gems dropping on their heads. Words failed, I guess.

I’ve often wanted to go there to see for myself. But then I know that’s not possible. Moments like that are gifts that only happen once.

The scriptures teach us that Heavenly Father made the beautiful things of the world to gladden the eye and delight the heart of man. Father sends “once I saws” to each of us as reminders I think. Reminders that he’s there. That he loves us and wants us to be happy. That no matter how hard, life can sometimes be incredibly beautiful.

Yes, precious little gifts from God. That’s what a “once I saw” is. I think all of us have been given some of these, and sadly sometimes miss them for one reason or another. We need to appreciate what they truly are. Tender mercies. Love notes from Father.

Once I saw. 

Share some of yours with family and friends this holiday season. Listen to some of theirs. It will make for far better conversation than politics, I promise.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Mrs. Wagher's Door

My classes of high school students had been identified as having a physical, emotional, or learning disability of some kind. 
In addition, most of them usually had significant problems with reading. 

This didn’t mean that they weren’t smart, though. 
Many were very bright. Some even truly gifted.  Mechanics, art, people skills, and athletics were only some of their strengths.  
One young man was an absolute genius with engines. "Million dollar genius" I often told him. Students and teachers came by my classroom looking for his help every week.

But reading was a sore spot for almost all of them. This alone made succeeding in school a big problem. 
Try passing history, government, English or science classes when you can’t read the textbook. It’s a challenge I can tell you.

Many of these students became my heroes for not giving up. 
They knew their future would be better if they had a high school diploma so they refused to drop out.
They usually hated school with a passion but they hung in there anyway.

I remember one wonderful kid, a big, strong football tackle, the kind of young man who put his body on the line for his team every week without fear. After struggling with a biology text all period long he put his head in his hands and said in near desperation……“Mrs. Wagher……I just can’t do it anymore! There’s too many words!”
Words on a piece of paper were a far bigger challenge for him than any hulking football opponent.  He stuck with it, though, and graduated with his class.

Other students kept at it long after less determined souls would have given up. I remember a sweet young woman who finally earned all her credits for graduation. She walked proudly up on stage to get her diploma just before her 21st birthday.
Her whole family stood up and cheered.
So did I.

So reading was a big issue.
One thing I did to encourage them to read and process printed language was to post a quote on the outside of my classroom door every day. 

I gathered these from all over and listed the author when I knew it. The thoughts were in large print….in color…...with a border…… at eye level. They usually were about something we were learning in class. 
The kids had to see them as they opened the door and they read them because they knew we’d be having a discussion as soon as the bell rang. Often the door handle would turn and then I'd hear someone reading out loud in the hall.

Well, despite the "best laid lesson plans of one woman,"  some of the most important teaching moments of the school year came from those “Great Thoughts."
I remember a few that caused some interesting comments.

*Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only love can do that. Hatred cannot drive out hatred, only love can do that,

             M.L. King
Many of my students were well acquainted with gangs. Hatred can not                      drive out hatred was a hot topic for several days.)

* If You Have to Swallow a Frog It’s Best Not to Stare At Him Too Long First.

              Mark Twain
              (I asked a student some months after this one why he hadn’t turned in his                  English paper yet. He said he’d been busy staring at frogs.)

*No Success Can Compensate For Failure In the Home.

  (This was big because it coincided with a sports star's public scandal.)

* We Have Met The Enemy And He Is Us.

*They Say That Money Can’t Buy Happiness. 
  But to be happy buy one dollar less than you make. To be miserable buy one           dollar more.
 * Work is love made visible.

* First we shape our homes and then our homes shape    us.

* Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space lies our                      opportunity to choose. In the choice lies our destiny.

* Kindness Is Never a Mistake. Cruelty Always Is.

*No man is an island. 
  Each is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. 
  Every man’s death diminishes me, for I am involved in mankind. 
  Therefore never send to  know for whom the bell tolls for thee.
   (Several months after this one a student answered the phone, handed it to me and     said, "It tolls for thee, Mz Dub.")

*The Best Way To Get Rid Of An Enemy Is To Make Him A Friend. 

* We have met the enemy and he is us.

* Hold the door for everyone you meet. All are carrying a heavy load whether you can see it or not.

Once I posted this two pager after a 16 year old, unmarried student became a father……again.
On the top sheet it said….

*Sex is one of the most powerful forces known to mankind. 

When done properly sex can bring the most complete joy that life has to offer. When done improperly sex may bring pain, misery and death. 
Not only to you but to innocent people around you.

Lift This Paper To See What Can Happen When Sex Is Done Properly

 (Under the first paper was a picture of 10 of my grandchildren gathered together at a family celebration. 

 At the bottom it said, 
“Your children and grandchildren will come into your life because of this                 powerful force. Are you ready to love and take care of them now?
  If not……….it  might be better to wait.”

I’m telling you about my door because of the great discussions it started. 

Do you suppose it might do the same at a dinner table with your teenagers or in the car on the way to practice?

I came to know what was in the hearts of many of my students because of their responses to those thoughts. I was often very surprised. 

Is there someone you’d like to know better? 
Ask them what they think about a great thought.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Peach Trees

There’s this thing about obedience. I learned about it because of some peach trees. It’s kind of a long story but I’ll share it because it’s stayed with me over the years.

Way back in the day, our young family bought a new house. It was only a tract home, but in a new subdivision, and we were all excited to have a bigger place. This new house was on a cul-de-sac and had the biggest backyard in the whole neighborhood. It was huge. We thought this was a good thing because we were planning to plant lots of fruit trees. The Prophet had recently encouraged the members of the church to grow gardens, berries, and fruit trees wherever possible. We were especially anxious to be obedient as converts often are.

I thought this was wonderful counsel by the way. 

Just think what a difference it would make if everyone who could possibly do so grew some kind of food. Why, even city dwellers could grow tomatoes and herbs in pots on a windowsill. 
Church members were being encouraged to produce what the world needed, not just to consume it. This was an example of the “great things coming about through small means” principle. 
I loved our Prophet. His counsel was inspired.

So, we moved to our new house in September. In the desert southwest where we live, December is bare root tree planting time. This was when we would plant trees. Lots of trees. Our yard was now a barren wasteland but we could see a green orchard in our mind’s eye.

At last the time came when the trees went on sale. If you’re not familiar with them, bare root trees and bushes look a bit like large sticks. At the nursery one gets carried away because they’re so small and are so cheap compared to trees that come in containers. In a frenzy of obedient enthusiasm, we bought 27 fruit trees and berry bushes even though the nursery guy said large sized holes were needed for each of them. “Soil prep is the most important thing,” he cautioned. Well, we weren’t afraid of work. The Prophet had said we were to grow things after all. 

27 holes……. that was a lot of digging for sure…….. but it was the right thing. We’d be blessed.

So we hauled the trees home and soaked the roots in wheelbarrows, buckets and tubs as instructed. Then we headed out into the wasteland to start digging.

Larry is a big, strong man and he started in the corner of the yard on the first hole. After a little while, I looked up to see that there was some kind of trouble. He wasn’t pushing the shovel into the ground as he usually did when digging. He was teetering on the top edge with both feet, kind of bouncing around a bit. The blade was about an inch into the ground. I called out to him, “What’s wrong, Hon?” He called back, “They must have spilled cement over here when they were building. I’ll have to try a new spot.” He moved to a place at the end of the fence. After a minute or so I looked up to see that same, strange, bouncing with both feet on the shovel thing. He moved again. Same bounce. He tried all over that great big yard. The shovel wouldn’t penetrate more than an inch anywhere. He tried soaking with the hose. After the water finally soaked in, the shovel went an inch to the dry part and hit “cement” again. He came over to me and said, “Call someone. This isn’t right.”

I called the builder. He said that no cement had been dumped in our yard. I called the nursery guy who’d told us we had to dig large holes. He was no help. Finally I called the University of Arizona Agricultural Extension Department. A very nice and knowledgeable man said he knew exactly what our problem was.

“What?” I asked gratefully.

He said, “Caliche.”

“Caliche…. What’s that? I asked.

“It’s a type of soil mineral common in some areas of the desert.” he replied. “Sometimes it’s called “calcrete.” That’s your problem.”

“What’s the solution?” I asked.

“Move,” he replied. (I swear he really said that!)

Of course we couldn’t move so we bought some soil additives which he said might help. This was very expensive. Then we headed out into the wasteland armed with picks, shovels and the hose. We developed a system. Use the pick to create a hole about an inch deep. Fill it with water and expensive additives. Wait for it to soak in while working on the next hole. Use the shovel to dig out the inch of mud. Use the pick again, repeat.

Several days later we were still out in the wasteland digging holes. Every spare minute was spent with a pick or a shovel in our blistered hands. We were now trying to get these dang trees and bushes planted before the soaking roots rotted. I stood up to rub my aching back and wipe the sweat that was running into my eyes…… in December……when I had an experience that’s stayed with me since. As I stood up my eyes went over our fence to the horizon. The next block of houses were still in construction so I could see a long way off. I noticed that I could even see the top of our new ward’s meeting house clear over on Thunderbird Road. That must be miles away, I guessed. As I saw the church I began to think heavy thoughts. “We’re trying to be obedient to the Lord. Why is this so hard? This shouldn’t be so hard! We’re only trying to do what’s right. We’re only trying to do what the prophet asked us to do. When people are trying to do a good thing it shouldn’t be this hard! Every time I try to do something just because the Lord wants me to, it’s just plain too hard! It’s just not worth all this trouble. People shouldn’t have sweat running in their eyes in December! All of us would rather go in the house and watch a movie instead of digging these dumb holes!” The heavy thoughts in my head grew to a loud wail that I could almost hear.

That’s when it happened. As I looked across to the church it seemed as if a little white cloud came drifting across the desert. It came right over to our fence and just hung there. In the cloud there was a scripture written like words are written in a comic strip. It said, “Cursed is the ground for thy sake.”

Cursed is the ground for thy sake? What in blazes is that supposed to mean? Why did that come floating over the desert to hang in the air over our wasteland? Why now? Where had I read that in the scriptures anyway? I began to recall…for one thing I thought this was something that was said to Adam after he had disobeyed in the Garden. “Cursed is the ground for thy sake.” That’s an interesting way to put it for sure. Adam was in trouble for not obeying Father as I remembered. He could have been told……..You never listen! Now you’re going to be punished…….. or……..You’re bad! You’ll be sorry now…….or…. When will you ever learn! This’ll teach you! Adam could have been told any of those things but instead he was told that the ground was cursed for his sake. For his sake.

Usually when something is done for a person’s sake it’s to help them, isn’t it? How could ground cursing help anybody? I thought hard……. leaning on my shovel…… over the 18th miserable hole of my patch of cursed ground.

After a long while I reluctantly thought, "Well, maybe the right thing isn’t supposed to be easy." Could that be it? 

These darn holes had sure developed the muscles in my arms, anyway. And I wasn’t giving up. I was determined to plant the dang things. So was Larry. Our resolve to do something hard was strengthening. Now it was partly because we couldn’t waste the money, but nevertheless. Our kids had been out here helping. They knew we were trying to follow the Prophet. That was a good thing for them to know. I guess I had to admit there were some positives in this miserable situation.

The right thing isn’t always supposed to be easy? Really? Could that be important? Maybe we develop strength or empathy or patience or some other thing we need when we have to struggle. Maybe obedience and those other qualities are skills that grow with practice, like playing the piano. Was that part of the ground cursing thing? Could this be Heavenly Father’s plan? I know He loves us….He wants us to be strong and determined to do right……could cursed ground help? It was something for a raggedy old convert to think more about. Ponder even.

Well, many of those bare root trees and bushes didn’t survive in our caliche infested soil. But a few peach trees did. I remember some years later working in our backyard and having to devise a support for one branch of a peach tree because it was so heavy with peaches that it threatened to break. That was the year that I made my first jar of peach jam. The peaches for that jam came from our own tree.

New blessings from old obedience.

Who knew? Maybe it’s not supposed to be easy. Ponder on it.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Tips for Working Teens

Sometimes I really miss the classroom. Now is one of those times. 
All the grandkids are headed back to school, two daughters are again teaching teenagers, and I don’t get to go. 
Just when I have some really great ideas that would revolutionize modern education, my body poops out on me and I don’t get to go. 
Is that right? 
I feel left out, like the last lonely child in a large family who sits waving goodbye as the school bus pulls out with all the brothers and sisters inside. 
I actually saw that happen once.  I'll never forget it.
A poor, despondent 5 year old sat perched all alone on a little, front yard fence. Mom was on the porch watching and smiling, as the excited gang of kids pulled away on that magic yellow bus. 
The sad slumping shoulders on that little one is an image that’s stayed with me.  Now I know how he felt.

One class I used to teach was my favorite.
The class was called “Lifeskills.”  It was directed to teenagers with learning disabilities, who are, in my opinion, the most underestimated group of people on the planet.
Topics included everything imaginable from job interviews to driver safety, preparing for natural disasters to parenting, to how to manage credit and basic cooking.

In one lesson we even went over the importance of not mixing bleach and ammonia when cleaning a bathroom.
This was a little lifeskill which none of my male students knew. And since in that lesson we also learned that “Housework is the Work for the People Who Live in the House,” it may come in handy for them someday.

"Lifeskills" was the most relevant high school class I’ve ever seen.
These were things that really mattered. I was in favor of making it a requirement for all students.
Here was knowledge I wish someone had passed on to me when I was 18.
For instance, who knew that I’d be a millionaire today if I’d started as a teenager and faithfully saved just $20 a week in a savings account and never touched it until now! Why didn’t somebody pound that into my head instead of some of the useless stuff we had to learn?

Happily, one of the things we studied in our Lifeskills class made an immediate impact on the life of a student. This young man earned a raise at his first job because of a Lifeskills lesson. He was excited to tell us all about it and great for a teacher to hear.
(I actually made a difference with that one! Yeah!)

The lesson was this. When on the job always do these three things.

1. Check first impressions.

2. Go the extra mile.

3. Don’t stand around.

Check first impressions means always check your work before anybody sees it, from where they’ll see it.
Actually stand in the exact place that your boss will stand when they first see the job you’ve done. Look hard. Look under stuff. Look in corners. Is it perfect? If it’s a paper or a report what does the cover and title page look like? Are there peanut butter or onion dip stains anywhere? If so, do it over!
If it's a yard to be mowed does it look perfect from edge to edge?
First impressions need to be impressive.

Go the extra mile means that you do something that you weren’t told to do.
If you were to bring the box of office supplies into the back room it means that you put them neatly on the shelf and straightened the shelf below them.
If you’re the hostess at the greasy spoon it means that you brought crayons and coloring pages for little kids and that you ask all adults their names and say “Hope to see you again soon, Mr. Newspickle,” when they leave.
If it's that yard you mowed it means you swept the sidewalks and driveway and rolled the hose.

Don’t stand around means just that.
Never wait to be told what to do next. Find something useful to accomplish until further instruction is given.
If you’re clearing tables and finish, go wipe the fingerprints off the front door until the next table needs bussing.
If there’s a lull in your line at the bank, start wrapping coins in between customers.
If you're babysitting teach the kids how to count to ten in French, which you just learned in class this week yourself. That really impresses parents, believe me!
Whatever seems needed to help the cause of your employer.

Back when I was teaching this class I remember a conversation I had at a big family gathering.
I was talking with three relatives who were all bosses at the time. I asked them what they thought was the most important skill that teens needed to succeed on a first job. I was half expecting to hear “math skills” or "people handling." Boy was I was wrong.
All three of them said virtually the same thing very emphatically.
“We need kids who know how to work! We can teach them how to do the specifics of the job but none of these kids know beans about how to work!”
My son-in-law, a restaurant manager, said he’d just promoted a busboy for doing that fingerprint cleaning thing, as a matter of fact. He was shocked to find a young employee who didn't just stand there waiting to be told what to do next. Other busboys who’d been there longer protested when they heard of the raise, saying that cleaning the front door wasn’t their job. Scott just told them, “My point exactly. You do just what's on your job description and that's what I pay you for. This other kid does more so he gets paid more."
My sister said she wished her young employees showed up to work instead of to make social connections with other workers on company time.
Son Dane said he longed for employees who didn’t think they had 10 absent days allowed each semester like they had in school. Show up. Everyday. On time. That’s what he longed for.
The others agreed. They said I should add that to our list.
So we made that number four.

4. Show up. Everyday. On time.

This means If you have a headache, cramps, or your girlfriend invited you to the lake when you’re scheduled to work…..Go To Work!  No matter what. No excuses.
And be there on time. On time means 10 minutes early not 10 minutes late.

So teenagers, remember these four simple steps to success in the workplace. Make them all habits and you’ll go far in life. I promise.

A last word to parents. Unfortunately, unless your child has a disability, he probably won’t learn about these important principles in school. Since they could be the difference between success and failure in every job your child ever holds, you might have to teach him yourself.

I think teaching “Lifeskills” is actually in the parent job description, by the way.
Better get going.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Just Two Syllables

This incident happened over twenty years ago but I’ll never forget what it taught me. One of our daughters told me about something that happened at her school right around the time of General Conference. Well, I remembered that conference, the Prophet’s counsel, and my raggedy old convert questions about it. One of the main points of his message was this. He said that we should all be nice. He said we needed to be friendly.

When I heard his words I was a little taken aback. I thought, “Nice and friendly are good things but are they really of eternal importance.” I believed that the prophet spoke for Heavenly Father, being inspired by Him to tell us what we needed to do. Here we were, in this crazy world, all kinds of problems everywhere and what Heavenly Father wants from his children is for them to “Be nice?” How could that be of eternal importance? How could that make any real change in peoples’ lives. Millions were listening all over the world. I expected something a little more monumental.

Thankfully, by now I’d had enough experience as a member of the church to know that if I questioned what the Prophet or an apostle taught us, there was something I was missing. So I sat down to think. Then I got up and tried to be nicer and waited for understanding. It came that very week as I was picking up our daughter after school.

As she got in the car I could tell she was upset about something. It was 17 miles home from the high school so there was plenty of time to talk. She wanted to talk. It seems there was a new girl at school. Kelley was showing her around. This girl had moved from the big city. She was not a member of the church in a small town where many of the kids were, and was shy and introverted by nature. She was sweet and trying to adjust to her new life. Kell and some of the other girls were trying to make her feel at home and welcome.

Just about all of the Mormon kids went to seminary in a small building across the high school parking lot. After a few days, her new friend started to wait for Kelley after the period when she had seminary. They both had math next so she waited on the sidewalk so they could walk together. The new girl had questions. What was this little building where so many kids took classes? What’s seminary? What do they teach in seminary? Then, “What church is this?” And then, “What do Mormons believe?” Kelley was excited because she felt this young woman was a special spirit and may be searching for the truth. She began to explain things to her and was getting ready to invite her to Mutual.

Well, one day as she was coming down the steps of the seminary building, a group of guys were walking just ahead of her. These were among the most popular guys in school. Most of them football and basketball stars, they were the “hunkiest jocks” of all. Half the girls in school were crazy over them. Great kids too, each one active in the church, from fine families, headed for missions most probably.

The guys proceeded across the way, laughing and joking the way boys do. They came to the sidewalk by the school where the new girl was waiting. The most handsome jock of all, the most popular guy at school was at the front and as he approached this sweet, shy, girl he said laughingly,

“Move Ho!”

All the other guys laughed as they went on their way to class.

Our daughter was still on the steps of the seminary and could see her friend’s face as the boys passed. She saw the blush of embarrassment and hurt. She said she’ll never forget it because she knew right then that there would not be any more questions about what all the kids were learning in that little building, or what do Mormons believe.

Just two syllables of “not nice.” Could something that small be important? Could it be of eternal significance even? Could it change somebody’s life? Could one person finding the truth make the world a different place? Think about it.

I’m sure those boys meant no harm. They were fine, valiant, sons of Heavenly Father. They were just fooling around being boys. I’ve done the same thoughtless kind of thing myself I’m sure. But what they said on that day wasn’t nice. It wasn’t friendly. And maybe it was important.

So……a Prophet said that Heavenly Father wants us to be nice to each other… be friendly. Well, what if, for just one day even, everyone in the entire world were nice to everyone else. No unkindness, no rudeness, no cruelty, no selfishness, no “me first.” Just “Let me help you with that,” and “Wait, I’ll hold the door for you.” Everyone….everywhere….all over the planet……nice to each other…….smiling and friendly. What would that do? Could something that simple possibly be of eternal importance?

Think about a world like that.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Remember the Important Thing

Remember the Important Thing

My very first year of teaching brought me a lesson that became very valuable to me as a parent. 

I was teaching 7th and 8th grade math.  I was part of a group of eight junior high teachers and four “specials,” as we called them. "Specials" taught art, PE and music. 
It was conference time. 
At this school Parent teacher conferences were held in the gym.  The teachers sat at tables around the edge of the basketball court and chairs for parents were lined up in the middle. There were no set appointments because each student had a different teacher for every subject. Parents waited for an opening with the person they wanted to talk to and then could move on to another. 
It was all very efficient.

Well, after many conferences the evening was winding down and I’d had no parents for about 15 minutes. One of the moms sitting and waiting for another teacher came over and sat down to chat. I introduced myself and it turned out that I didn’t have her son in my class. I’d heard about him though.

Soon this Mom began to open up about her son’s teachers and the school. 

She expressed in no uncertain terms her displeasure. 
All involved with her child were idiots who were trying to push her kid around. They’d done the same thing with her older boy. All the things her sons had been accused of were someone else’s fault. 
She’d been down to see the principal several times this year to make sure he knew about his teachers’ stupidity. 
Now she was planning to go to the school board to tell them of the principal’s stupidity. They should all be fired. Her husband felt the same way.

Well, I was new at this parent teacher conference thing, but I was very glad that I didn’t have this particular boy in my class. 

Sensing trouble on the horizon I tried to make small talk on a more neutral topic. I mentioned that I lived in the area and had a child starting at the same high school where her older boy must be attending. I asked about her older son to see if he might know mine or be trying out for the same teams. Anything to steer the conversation in a more positive direction. 
I’ll never forget her answer.

She glanced over to see if there was an opening at the next “idiot” teacher’s table and said, “Oh, he wouldn’t know him. My son quit. He doesn’t go to school anymore.”

I was speechless for a bit and then grateful as she left to see the next idiot. 

Food for thought, to be sure. 
So I began to think. 
This poor young man had been taught powerful lessons about education by his parents. 
His entire life would be affected by what he learned from them. How he spends a huge chunk of his time each day, the people he associates with, the type of home he lives in, the car he drives, where he goes on vacation, what he can provide for his own family will all be influenced. 

As I sadly thought about this young man I began to get concerned about my own family. 
What should my husband’s and my attitude be on this subject with our own kids? 
Well, I finally decided that our attitude should be something quite shocking.
It's that the teacher and the school are always right. 

Now, being a teacher myself I knew very well that the teacher and the school are certainly not always right. 
I myself, was usually wrong at least once before lunch every day. 
But I decided that it was important to our children’s future that they think that their parents were solidly behind the school….pretty much no matter what.

Education would be a top priority in our family. 

If we had issues with teachers or the school we would deal with it without the kids knowing about it. 
I wanted them to believe that even though some teachers will be more skilled than others, they could learn something from all of them. In fact, it was their job to do exactly that. 
It was their important job and responsibility to complete all requirements and to get credit for every class. 
If there were problems they should deal with it. 

A while later I got some feedback on how we were doing with this policy. 
On the way home from school one afternoon two daughters were complaining about a teacher and the unfair policies in his class. 
From the back seat one child asked me if I agreed. Before I could answer, the other one said, “Never mind…with her the teacher is always right!” 

Now I knew perfectly well that the teacher isn’t always right, but my heart went “Woo Hoo!” anyway.

I think it’s crucial for parents to remember something here. 

It’s the old, “It’s important to keep the important thing the important thing.” 
That's the principle that’s at the heart of this parenting issue. 
You see, I don’t have an eternal relationship with the teacher, the school or the principal. It’s not important for me to be “right” when dealing with them. They’ll come and go as the years pass. 
I do have an eternal relationship with my children however. 
I know that an education and completing school will make a difference in their lives in countless ways.

The prophets have told us how important this issue is to all of us. I believe them.
I also believe a parent’s attitude toward school is one thing that may make a huge difference, maybe even for generations to come.

Monday, August 13, 2012

A Life That Touched For Good

I’ve been thinking about the words to that lovely hymn we sing called, “Each Life That Touches Ours For Good.” 
Those thoughts keep rolling through my mind because a man who lived an extraordinary life just completed his earthly mission a short while ago. 
I don’t usually name names in my scribblings, but this time I will. His name was President Lewis Tenney. He was a Stake President and later a Temple President but much more than that for those who knew him. In my case, I noticed right after meeting him that he had an amazing quality. 
Each and every time our paths crossed, even if only briefly, somehow I was blessed.

You see, I am a raggedy old convert, which President Tenney knew…. and he was…..well…..President Tenney. He was an honorable, stalwart, valiant leader in the Church and one of the most respected men in all of northern Arizona. He and his dear wife Mary raised a large and exemplary family. Yet somehow that great man managed to bless me every time we met.

May I share a little incident or two to show you what I mean?

Once I was asked to speak at a large meeting of Relief Society sisters in Show Low, Arizona. Now, you must understand that the mountain towns and their surroundings are full of amazing LDS women. Many of the sisters who live up there have ancestors who came west pulling handcarts and it was truly puzzling to me as to why they wanted to hear anything I might have to say. I was nervous and felt completely inadequate.

On the day of the conference I put on my best dress and my daughter and I headed for Show Low. As we proceeded along Highway 260 I noticed a spot on the very front of my white top, so we stopped at Circle K to get a wet napkin to try to clean it. I took the napkin and began to rub the spot, not noticing that I was rubbing the ink from “Circle K” which was printed on the napkin, right into the cloth. I ended up with a big purple stain on the front of my dress. Nothing could be done now.

I sat up front with the rest of the speakers, including President Tenney, and nervously waited my turn. When my turn came I felt I really needed to explain the spot, so I told them, and added my reservations about being included with the others who were speaking that day. I pointed out that every other woman on the stand was impeccably put together and, in addition, had a waist, unlike myself. Also, I said with special anxiety, there sits President Tenney. I then gave my talk.

When it was time for President Tenney to speak he began with the most remarkable words. He said,  “Sister Wagher has inspired me to tell you something that I don’t share with many people.” (Me? Inspire him? How could that be?) Then he continued as I remember, saying something like the following. “Once I was in a similar situation,” he began. “I had a day crammed full of important Church meetings and had to travel many miles between them. I hurried from one meeting  to the next and was rushing to get into my truck when I heard my pants rip. I couldn’t tell by the sound how bad the situation was and due to my tight schedule I started off without investigating the rip. While driving, I decided to lean over to try to see if I could “get away” with these pants or if I had to go home to change them. As I was leaning over I drove off the road and had a minor accident. To make matters worse, when someone asked me later what made me drive off the road, (was it an elk or a deer?),  I said due to embarrassment, 'I don’t know.' It was just too hard to admit the truth.”

The audience chuckled at this dear man but I was touched to my very soul. 

A person such as this with a rip in his pants and a fib to boot! Admitting it to the whole world! I couldn’t believe that someone so far along in the teachings of the gospel, someone with such a long list of accomplishments, could ever feel like I did. 
I felt blessed by President Tenney’s candor that day with something special. I’ve looked for the exact word to describe that blessing. I think I’ve found it. 
The word is encouraged.

Another memory involves a time we were at Girl’s Camp. I was called as a Mutual teacher but had never had the smallest experience with camp. I was not only a raggedy convert but also a city slicker. Here we were digging fire pits to bury vats of food to dig up hours later for dinner, rubbing sticks together to make a fire and doing all kinds of choppings of wood, and stirrings of cast iron spider pans and other weird things. I was out of my element and covered with poison oak on top of it all.

One afternoon,  President Tenney and I were left to tend several pots of meat and gravy while the girls and other leaders went off to do something. He was sitting on a table watching the fire carefully as I clumsily removed each cast iron lid and stirred the contents as I had been told to do. As I lifted one lid, a gust of wind brought a shower of ashes to land in the gravy bubbling in the pot.
I looked up in horror at President Tenney. 
What an idiot he must think I am! He can see that I know nothing about anything and now I’ve ruined dinner for half the girls! 
He looked at me with a smile and said “Sister Wagher, if you just stir those ashes right into the gravy no one will know and I won’t tell.” 
The look on his face was priceless. It said …..“You’re going to be alright. You can learn this. It’s OK to make mistakes.” 
 I gratefully began to stir and then to marvel. The Stake President wasn’t shocked at my ignorance! He somehow understood. I really could do better someday. I could do better with lots of things someday! There it was again. 
I was encouraged.

Encouraged. Strengthened. Understood. And accepted anyway. These were all blessings I received from knowing President Tenney. I know there must be thousands of other people who benefited from his remarkable life.

His dear, sweet wife Mary has a broken heart today. The only true comfort will come when she is able to hold him in her arms, alive and well, once more. Thanks to the atonement and resurrection of the Savior this will surely happen. Christ has blessed the Tenneys with unending love and the assurance that their family will endure beyond time. 

Only for now their children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren will miss their father and grandfather terribly, as will the rest of his wonderful family and many friends. Not forever. 
I hope they know that hundreds of prayers for peace and comfort are being sent to Father on their behalf, and that love comes to each of them from all over the state. 
How special they must be to be able to claim such a man as their own.

President Lewis Tenney’s life was surely one that touched others for good. Generations to come will bless his name as he blessed those he crossed paths with every day. I will always be grateful to have known him.

Monday, July 30, 2012

The Prophet Promised

A few years ago President Hinckley made a promise to the members of the church. 
Come to think of it, I suppose this promise applied to non-members too. 
In a nutshell, he said that anyone who read The Book of Mormon by the end of that year would be blessed with a special blessing from Heavenly Father. 
Well, since he was the Prophet after all, I figured that he must know what he was talking about. So, along with most of the others in my family, I committed to finish reading by year’s end. 

For one thing I felt I really needed blessings. I knew that if I did what the President asked, the Lord had to give me something wonderful.
He would be bound by His Prophet’s promise. It was a rule.

As the weeks went by, everyone in the family was making good progress except my son-in-law and me. We were procrastinating and falling behind as year’s end approached. 
I rationalized that Christmas break when school was out would give me a chance to devote myself to finishing. I don’t know what Scott was figuring since he still had to work.

But Christmas break turned out to be a really busy time even though I wasn't teaching. (What was I thinking?) Thankfully m
y family came to the rescue.

My grown daughters relieved me of much Christmas shopping, wrapping, and cooking.
Books of Mormon were stashed in every conceivable place that I might sit down. Travel sized copies were put in my purse and in the car. I still remember the honking at intersections after red lights turned green and I was still reading.
Scott had to manage on his own. I think because people had more confidence in his ability to get the job done.

Just as soon as vacation began I started to read in earnest. Every spare minute was spent with a book in my hands. 

Still, it turned out that even with help from my daughters those spare minutes were pretty hard to come by. 

Every now and then I’d get a call from one of them asking what I was doing. If my answer wasn’t, “Reading,” I’d hear a stern, “Ma!”  
So with the help, and despite the procrastination and the Christmas rush I managed to finish. 
It was late in the evening on December 31st but I finished!

A few weeks later, our oldest daughter asked me one day, “What’d you get?”

“Huh?” I replied. What are you talking about?

“Do you know what blessing you got for reading?”

 I pondered a bit.

“Well,” I told her, “Now I know for sure that Heavenly Father loves me.  Everybody always says that He loves us and I suspected that He did. But now I know for sure. He knows me and still loves me. Actually, he loves me a lot.”

“Well, that’s a good thing,” she said.

I’m still ashamed of what I said next. 

I can’t believe it but I told my own daughter that I was disappointed. Even though what I got was nice I really wanted something else from Heavenly Father. 
I said that what I really wanted was to be thin. That's what I'd been hoping I'd get.

How could I have said such a thing! To my own daughter! 
The sin of ingratitude is one of life's biggest mistakes!  It's a sure path that leads away from happiness. 
I still shudder.

But life often doesn't turn out the way you expect it will, does it? 

And as it turns out, since that year of the prophet’s promise, Larry and I have been blessed with some pretty significant adversity. 
We both had to leave jobs we loved because of health issues. 
Larry’s eyesight is now very poor. He can no longer drive at all, much less his beloved 18 wheelers.
I can no longer walk. I’ve become a student of that great teacher named pain. 

But through every trial that wonderful blessing promised by the prophet and given by our Father has been a comfort. 
Every single day I’ve been grateful for it. 
Absolutely knowing that Heavenly Father loves me has made the difference between hope or despair, hanging on or giving up. 
I wouldn’t trade that sure knowledge of His love for anything in this world. 
Not even to be thin.

I’m so very sorry for what I said to my daughter that day.  I hope that Father will forgive me. 

I’m really trying to work on letting go and trusting Him to do the right thing for me, even when it hurts.

So even though it seems that every time I pray for strength I get a new set of barbells, I’m going to try to be grateful and get to lifting. 
Then the strength will come, right?

Scott finished his reading too. 

I never asked him what he got but whatever it was I’m sure it was exactly what he needed.


Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Moments of Clarity

Here I sit, advancing age playing practical jokes on my face, surprised at how many things I still haven’t figured out.
Sometimes I look around in bewilderment and say to myself, “Look at you…and after a lifetime of trying too.”

One thing I've noticed though, as I look back, is that now and again life presents small moments which shape you.
Often these are little happenings which may seem insignificant at the time. But whatever they are, they define you, along with all the rest that the years bring.

One happened to me on the day I first saw my husband’s face.
I was then a girl of 15, oldest of four children of a widowed, alcoholic mother. I had very little experience with faith or religion of any kind and knew nothing about the pre-existence.

Well, on this day I was expecting some of my girlfriends who were meeting at my house. We were going to the movies with some boys we had just met at Slide Rock a few weeks before.
The doorbell rang and there stood a couple of the young men I knew and with them was a stranger.
He was tall and handsome.
But first I must explain that I wasn’t like my friends who were always going gaga over some boy at the mere sight of him. I never fainted over a rock star or fell “in love” fifteen times a year.
Yet, when my eyes fell on this young man's face I had the oddest feeling.
It wasn’t …..OOOOOO! What a hunk!  It was more like trying to remember the words to an old song and not being able to.
I wanted to say something but didn’t know what it was.
Time passed but I never forgot that strange feeling.

Cut to years later.
Larry (the good looking stranger who was at my door) and I are married, have kids and have recently joined the church.
Friends from the ward have invited us to a popular LDS play called “Saturday’s Warrior.”
Remember, we’re in our first, wobbly steps of living in the light and ignorant of just about everything.

Well, as this fictional play unfolds, I realized that the storyline involves a couple who knew and loved each other in the pre-existence and were now trying to find each other here on earth. This idea, that people may have a history together before being born, was totally new to me.
As that thought sunk in lights came on in my brain.
I actually remember grabbing the arm of my theater seat to keep from jumping up and shouting.
“I know what it was!  I finally know what it was!  What I wanted to say when I first saw Larry.
It was, “I didn’t expect you so soon!”

Again it's years later.
I’m reading a book by one of my favorite apostles, Neil Maxwell, called “Things As They Really Are,” I think.  This man is a major “brainiac” as one of my students called really smart people.
In his book Brother Maxwell says that one day, despite all the injustice we see in this world, everyone who has ever lived will be able to honestly declare that Heavenly Father treated them with perfect fairness.
We will all agree that there has been no injustice, no inequity.
All of Father’s children were equally loved and blessed no matter what we may see from here.
What a thought!  It was one of those small moments for me.
I can’t tell you how many times it’s helped me to deal with the pain we all see in this world. How often have I wondered how sometimes horrific things could happen.
But, Brother Maxwell says that one day we will know that sufferings, big and small, even agonies, have been reconciled.
Those who hurt so much now will one day say, “Father loved me too. He blessed and loved me perfectly.”

Again it's years later.
As I sit in sacrament meeting I see ahead of me a beautiful, talented, faithful, woman in her 30’s. This young woman is loved by all who know her and is a rock in our ward.
She’s single and childless and longs for an eternal companion and family.
I think of what a wonderful mother she would be.
Then I remember some of my high school students, who are having children while still children themselves. With no idea of how to live a happy and productive life they are parenting a new generation of the lost and neglected.
What’s fair and right about that, I wonder.

I think of other lovely, faithful, single women of Zion that I know.
One I remember especially.
She was returning from a “Singles” dance where she said she felt like a piece of meat at the market.
She opened up her heart a bit to me and began talking about her hopes and dreams.
She looked me straight in the eye and said, “I’m not going to settle. I deserve to be sealed to a man I love deeply. A man who is a worthy priesthood holder, valiant enough to be a stake president.”
There was such an amazing mixture of faith and pain in the tone of her voice that I’ll never forget it.
I think it was an example of what Brother Maxwell called in his book…..“perfect grit.”

Cut back to me sitting in sacrament meeting thinking about these things. These small moments that define.
“Heavenly Father, something mighty wonderful has to happen to these amazing sisters if someday I’ll be able to say that they’ve been fairly treated. Nobody deserves a husband and family more than they do. Their children would go on to bless generations forever just because they had such mothers.
They only want what’s right.  What's just about their situation?”

Strangely my thoughts went back to that theater so long ago and that feeling I wanted to shout.
“I finally know what it was! What I wanted to say when I saw Larry for the first time."
“I didn’t expect you so soon.”

Well, I thought, perhaps one day these precious, beautiful sisters will look up or turn a corner, and there will stand the most handsome, valiant priesthood holder she has ever seen.

She’ll look at him, at the love in his eyes and the tears streaming down his rugged face, and she'll say...
“What took you so long?”
He’ll take her in his arms and say something like...
“I was on my way. We were at a ward campout and there was this young boy in the river. He couldn’t swim. I went out to help and I was called home.  I’ve been up here every day of your life praying desperately to Heavenly Father that you’d wait for me.”

There are other amazing possibilities for these precious sisters of course, but I could begin to see that Heavenly Father may know more about them than I do.

Maybe I should trust Him.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Another Small Remembered Story (Let Go)

Thanks to the author, whoever it may be, for the help this little tale has been to me and others over the years. It’s another of the small remembered stories.

Let Go

There once was a learned man of faith who was growing old and approaching the end of his life. He had some things he wanted to do before he died which included seeing the ocean for the first time. He had lived all his days hundreds of miles from the sea and longed to experience the many things he’d read about. Seagulls and pelicans feeding on shellfish, waves crashing on rocky shores, sandy beaches and sunsets disappearing into the blue horizon among them. He arrived at the coast of Big Sur, one of the most beautiful places on earth. He stood at the edge of a cliff high above the waves and spray and was entranced with the sight.

Suddenly a strong gust of wind came from behind him and pushed him off the cliff! He tumbled over to certain death on the rocks and waves far below. But then a miracle occurred! As he fell he reached out toward the land and was able to grab on to a tangle of tree roots that stuck out the side of the cliff. He managed a desperate hold on the roots with both hands where he hung halfway to the jagged rocks below.

He began to pray. “Dear Heavenly Father I’m in terrible trouble! I need you to save me now! By some miracle, which I know you can provide, I need you to help me. Please!” He said these words and was silent while he hung there from the roots. Then the strangest thing happened. He heard a voice….a still small voice. It said, “My son, this is your Heavenly Father. We need to talk. Do you believe that I have the power to create all that you see here? The sea, waves, rocks, birds, sky, and even the root which you cling to so tightly. Do you?

“Yes! Yes! I do,” the man cried in surprise and gratitude, so relieved to hear from Heavenly Father. But then there was no response. So he began to pray again…even harder than before. Please! Please! Help me, Father! I know you have the power to rescue me.

Then again a still small voice. “Son, do you believe that I have the power to create even the winds which blow the clouds across the face of the earth? Even a wind strong enough to lift you from the root where you cling to the top of the cliff where you once stood in safety? Do you believe that? And son… most important of all……… Do you believe that I love you? Do you trust me?”

“Yes! Yes! Father I know that you have the power to create miracles. I know that you love me and all your children! I trust you. I promise that I trust in your wisdom and know that you’ll always do what’s best for me.”

Then there was silence for what seemed to the man like a very long time. He prayed again. Then, at last, he heard the still small voice once again.

It said………“Let Go.”

Friday, June 15, 2012

A Small Remembered Story

Over the years I’ve prepared many lessons for church classes. 
As most members do, we amateurs jump right in there, teaching preschoolers to eighty year olds, praying mightily all the while, convinced that everyone in the class knows more than the teacher, even the preschoolers. 
We do this because we believe that the Lord had a hand in our being asked to teach at this time and place. Then too, it always turns out that we learn a great deal more than anybody else from the experience.

At times, I’ve also been kindly asked to speak to various groups. Mostly firesides and the like, which is a little different, because there’s not a lesson manual prepared for the teacher to follow. 

In that case the praying gets even more desperately intense and this particular speaker looks frantically around for anything pertinent which may help and fit the topic at hand. A lot of my own writings came about in just these situations. 
In addition to my own thoughts, somewhere during the desperation I found several small helpful stories. I can’t recall whether I heard or read them somewhere, but over the years I’ve told them many times. I have no idea who the original authors were but I’m grateful for their thoughts. They helped me more than I can say, their little “moral of the story” sometimes coming to mind just when I needed it most. 
May Heavenly Father send blessings to fall gently on those who first wrote these small remembered stories. I include one of them here.


There once was a farmer who lived in an area where the family farm was disappearing. Huge corporations were taking over and a way of life was ending forever. This good man's own children had left to find work in the cities. He and his wife had survived many battles against drought, insects, flood, and a hundred other calamities but this seemed to be the hardest struggle of all.

Summer came. Crops must be planted and harvested and livestock must be cared for even with the children grown and gone. The man needed help but farmhands were nowhere to be found. He tried all the usual ways to hire someone with no luck. Finally a notice he’d put up in the local feed store brought a response.

Early one morning a knock came at the kitchen door. He opened it to find a skinny kid about 15 standing there. The farmer asked him in and they began to talk about the job and its requirements. The man thought dejectedly that this scruffy boy was going to be little help at all. Finally he asked him what his qualifications were. The boy answered “I can sleep when the wind blows.” The farmer asked for an explanation but the boy only repeated, “I can sleep when the wind blows.” 

The farmer quickly replied in an irritated tone, “There’s no time for joking around…’re hired. I’ll show you the bunkhouse and then let’s get to work.” He thought to himself….I have no choice.

Well, it turned out that this skinny kid was the hardest worker the farmer had seen in a long while. He was willing, stronger than he looked, and knew more about farming than most grown hands.

It was a long, hard summer but things were holding together. Then one hot night in August, long after everyone was asleep, a terrific storm began to blow up unexpectedly. Violent winds promised a coming deluge and the farmer jumped out of bed, threw on his clothes and ran to the bunkhouse to get the boy so they could get to work securing the place before the storm hit full force. He threw the door to the bunkhouse open and yelled, “Storm’s comin!! Let’s go! The kid rolled over in his bunk and said sleepily, “I can sleep when the wind blows.”

“What? Get up or you’re fired!” bellowed the farmer as he ran to the barn. He could hear a groggy, sleepy voice coming from the bunk….“I can sleep when the wind blows.” The farmer cursed as he opened the gate.

As he passed the wagon yard he noticed that all the tools had been put away. The haystack was covered with a tarp and tied down tight. Boxes with tack were shut and padlocked. He opened the barn door and ran to the stock. All were secured in their stalls…food and water close at hand. Loose items were tied or nailed tightly to the walls of the barn. He walked slowly from place to place in amazement…..everything had been made ready for a storm. Nothing was forgotten. He sat down on a bale of hay. “So the kid can sleep when the wind blows. I’ll be.”

The moral of this small story is that a storm is ALWAYS coming. 

No matter how bright the sun shines for you right now you can count on that. 
We’ve been told that “If ye are prepared ye shall not fear.” Whether it’s education, work, raising a family….. or spiritual, temporal, emotional, or physical needs……get ready for the wind. 
 Do something to get ready today. Then you can rest easy when the clouds roll in.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

The Light

I have little experience with the current political hot topic of abortion. In fact, it’s hard for me to see how something so intensely personal has anything to do with politics at all. If ever there was a “moral” issue, one that must be checked out with Heavenly Father, this must surely be it. I’d like to share this incident with you though. It brought a certain clarity to my thinking that will last a lifetime.
I had been teaching at a large urban high school for just a couple of years when this happened. Our students of around 2000 kids included those from the middle class to those living in the barrio and projects. We had gangs, teen pregnancy, drugs, drop-outs, and all the other social problems common to every school in big American cities these days. And my particular students all had learning issues in addition to dealing with the usual angst of growing up. Even so, many of them were my heroes. School had never been easy or kind, but here they were, determined to graduate. Some people referred to my classes as “the usual suspects,” “the ones with the ankle bracelets,” or “Kathy’s thugs,” but many of my students were talented and exceptional in positive ways and I had nothing but admiration for most of my kids.

My 6th period class was a special group of 9 students….all boys except for one pretty, shy, freshman girl, just fourteen. The guys were all juniors or seniors, with girlfriends of their own, who sort of adopted this young lady, telling her what to watch out for, offering to “take care of anybody who caused her a problem” etc. She became everyone’s little sister. Well, one week Bernadette was absent on Thursday and Friday. This was unusual for her so I called the nurse to find that her mom had called in to say that she was sick. I was glad to see her back in class on Monday and as the kids began to settle in their seats I asked her if she was feeling better. She sat there quietly for a minute or so and then got out of her seat and came up to my desk.

She leaned over and whispered to me,

“They made me get an abortion.”

Then she collapsed in my arms and began to sob. I was stunned. The guys got really quiet. I looked at my most reliable senior over Bernadette’s shoulder and said, “Marcus, take the class over to the library for the rest of the period.” They all left while she still sobbed in my arms.

It was early in the school year and I knew just a little about this girl’s home life. She was the only child of a single mom and had devoted grandparents who would do anything for her. She was bright and beautiful. I had never heard her mention anything about religion.

As I held her in my arms and told her how sorry I was I began to understand some other things that broke my heart. I knew that this child was “pierced through with deep wounds.” I somehow could feel it through her racking sobs. I knew, without a doubt, religious or not, that what had happened to her was never, never, NEVER going to be alright. No matter what they told her…’s your body… you’re too young…no one will know…it’s best for both you and the baby….whatever…this wound would never completely heal. Every time she saw a baby or child of a certain age she’d think, “My son or daughter would be about that old.” “I wonder what he’d look like now…I wonder if she’d like to draw the way I do?” “Today would be her birthday,” “He’d be a teenager now.”

This would be a part of her forever. It didn’t matter what anyone else believed. She knew, deep inside, the truth about whether abortion was right or wrong. No one needed to tell her and no one would ever be able to change what she knew. I think it might be the “Light of Christ” that everyone’s born with. We have a built in guide, despite any of our circumstances. It tells us in no uncertain terms when something is wrong. It often tells us in a quiet, still, voice or feeling. I think we need to listen carefully for it throughout the din of the world. We are told in the scriptures that all of us can rely on this Light no matter what our religion. Thank God.

May He bless, comfort and teach the sweet child that I held in my arms that day. I’ll never forget her. I know that He loves her more deeply than any of us can comprehend.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

There’s Power Here

We’ve been encouraged by one of the Lord’s modern day apostles to commit some favorite scriptures to memory. He said this would be a help to us throughout our lives.
I believe him.

In fact, I remember many, many, years ago hearing one of those things you hear sometimes. One of those “probably not true but everybody says it might be,” “Mormon legend” things. 
This legend was that the scriptures were so powerful that if you picked just one that was personally meaningful, you could “hang your whole life on it” and in the end, if you were true to that one scripture, your life would turn out alright. 
Seems too simple doesn’t it? 
Well, I’ve had some discussions over the years about this with lots of people and I’m not so sure. 
I’ve asked many people for favorite scriptures and we’ve thought about how well they would “hold up a life that was hung there.” 
The results are surprising.

These are just three of the scriptures that people said were favorites……

“Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.”
Matthew 6:33

“See that ye love one another; cease to be covetous; learn to impart one to another as the gospel requires.”
D&C 88:123

“Therefore, ask, and ye shall receive; knock, and it shall be opened unto you; for he that asketh, receiveth; and unto him that knocketh, it shall be opened.”
3 Nephi 27:29

There’s thousands more.

The deal is that in every situation in your life, no matter what it is, if you mentally pull out your scripture and apply it, you’ll do the right thing. Could that really be true? Is there that much power in a few words from Heavenly Father? It’s something to think about anyway…maybe even to try.

Well, I got myself into a little “situation” with this legend thing once, though, when our son was about 18. I was speaking at a youth activity and was very nervous because there were many people there, young people and leaders who were much more knowledgeable about the gospel than I was and decidedly more qualified than I to teach.

I always comforted myself at times like those by remembering what a favorite scripture of my own said. 
It went something like…...“The gospel will be preached by the weak and the feeble….” or something close. Well, I knew that if the Lord needed weak and feeble then I was ready. 
Anyway, we started to talk about this little “legend of the one scripture” and I decided to call on some young people to give an example of a scripture that was special to them. 
I looked over the large crowd and my eyes fell on one of my son’s best friends. He was a fine young man, approaching missionary age, and I felt he would have a favorite passage. “Scotty, would you share a scripture that has special meaning for you?” I asked hopefully. My son’s friend stood, and in a loud and confident voice declared…….

“Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.”
Matthew 5:14
"That’s wonderful," I replied with relief. "Let’s think about what might happen if you used that as a guide for your whole life." 
We discussed that for a bit, decided it might work, and then I took a chance and called on my son. “Brothers and sisters, I know my son won’t mind if I call on him to share his favorite scripture. Dane, would you please?” He stood hesitantly, looked nervous and uncomfortable and then said loudly……

“And they dwelt in a tent.”
1 Nephi 2:15

(This is a misquote from the actual scripture which says, “And my father dwelt in a tent,” but that’s what Dane said.)

Taken aback, I gazed at my son without speaking for a bit. Then with some mighty quick thinking I replied.
“Thank you so much. Well, let’s see what would happen if a life were hung on that. What is this scripture about? Lehi and his family had been told by the Lord to leave their homes and possessions, their money and comfort, and to flee out of the city where they dwelt in tents for many years. Lehi was willing to do some really difficult things because of his faith in the Lord. It couldn’t have been easy but Lehi and his family did what Heavenly Father told them to do. Incalculable blessings followed for generations because they did this. Could you hang a life there? Yes, dwelling in a tent could become a metaphor for obedience to the Lord, I think."

Gotcha son.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Curse

When you teach high school kids with special needs, classes tend to be small. Twelve students each period was about average for my caseload. 

In this environment the teacher and students work together on every subject, figuring out ways to complete difficult assignments in their regular classes despite reading or math problems. 
We learned “how to learn,” in addition to a “Lifeskills” curriculum. “Lifeskills,” included everything from sex ed to how to buy a used car. 

Well, in that kind of close knit situation we all got to know each others’ personal stories pretty well. 
This often was a huge worry for me because so many of my kids didn’t have a clue concerning the principles involved in building a happy life. 
Some had strong families, but many others had never been taught even basic values. 
Often these kids lived with really negative role models, including mothers, fathers, and other family members in prison. 
This made for some interesting views on topics like honesty, work, alcohol use, drugs, and sex I can tell you.

I remember a student commenting one time upon hearing that I’d been married over 40 years to the same man.

“Geez, Mrs. W….. my dad has six different kids with six different women! He never married any of them. I don’t even know some of my brothers’ last names. What's wrong with your husband?”
My only answer to that loaded question was to say sincerely, “Well, I hope your dad and family have found genuine happiness.”
I'll never forget his reply. He just stood by my desk looking thoughtfully out our only tiny window for a minute, and then went to his seat without a word.

I remember another discussion with an 18 year old. 

He was messing around with a really “wrong” girl. Everybody in the class could see this except him. All he could see was that she had really big "boobs." (Sorry…. his words.) 
Well, one day he shared with us a little about his background. 
He had a low opinion of women in general. He told a classmate that his life was ruined when his mother had run off with a man, not his father, when he was just two weeks old. She hadn’t been a part of his life since. 
After saying how sorry I was to hear this, I asked him who was responsible for all the pain that had come to so many people because of her actions.  
He said, “My mom, of course.”

I quickly replied, “No, not entirely. I think i
t was mostly your dad.”

“How can that be?” he said indignantly, “My dad stuck around.”

“Well, your dad picked her, didn't he?" I continued, "Tell me how your parents met.”

“I think my dad said they met playing pool at a bar. My mom was there with her boyfriend, and my dad got her to slip him her phone number when the other guy wasn’t looking.”

“I rest my case.” was all I said, truly astonished at how easily my point had been made! Sometimes things just fall into place don't they?  I’d expected to have to dig around at least a little.

This led to some lively class discussion about what you can know about a person just based on where you meet them. Also about being a good judge of character and being responsible for our own decisions. 

And about the “fallout” those decisions sometimes have on innocents. 

There were lots of opinions, but one thing we decided was that if you meet someone at work, or school, or church, it might mean that they work, go to school, or attend church. 
This could be important information. 
And if you meet them on a barstool while they’re cheating on someone, then you may know some other important things. 
We decided that keeping this in mind could be a useful lifeskill.

Another young man I had in class that same year especially frustrated me. 

He was generally bright but not a good judge of character. He was about to graduate and be turned loose on the world so this caused me some worry. 

The class he was in had already decided that choosing an appropriate person to marry was a decision that would likely have a significant impact on one’s future happiness and possibly others as well. 

Despite this, every day this kid walked into the room with the latest report on the “hottest body" he’d seen since yesterday. Once again focusing mainly on bra size as the ultimate factor. 
Nothing else mattered but looks to this kid….not kindness, sensitivity, intelligence, modesty, work ethic or even being lovely. "Big boobs and a great butt” were all he cared about. (I apologize again…his words. It seems that isolated body parts hold a special place in the hearts of a lot of teenaged boys.)

Well, it was getting well into May and I was sick of this kid’s lack of progress. 

In fact, I was sick of this kid entirely.

So one day I said to him, “David, I’m sick of you."

I went on, "I’ve tried to explain that “hot body parts” aren’t the most important qualities in a woman and you won’t listen. So now I have to take drastic measures. You’re about to graduate and go out into the world to build your own life. So, I’m washing my hands of you with the terrible “Mrs. W. Curse.” 
I only use it in very rare cases, I explained. 

So, right here, in front of this class as witnesses, I curse you that you will meet, fall in love with, and marry the girl of your dreams. 
She will be the “hottest” girl around, with gigantic “boobs” and a "great butt," as you so often say. No movie star will be able to hold a candle to her.
She’ll also be lazy, cold hearted, mean, stupid, selfish, wasteful and vain. She won’t care about anybody’s happiness but her own. She'll spend hours each day just doing her hair and make-up. She won’t lift a finger to help you, take care of your children, or build a happy home. And even though she cheats on you, she and her amazing body will never leave you.” 
I then wiggled my fingers at him and told him to sit down and be quiet.

The last week of school, David came to see me late one afternoon. 

He stood in front of my desk and said simply, “Mrs. W., You gotta remove the curse.”

I looked at him a second and saw real worry on his face. 

I waggled my fingers at him and made a funny noise. “It’s removed.”

He turned and left the classroom.

I smiled. Maybe there was hope.