Monday, April 3, 2017

My foot in the door story

Yesterday, Elder Rasband shared a marvelous story of when he felt prompted to put his foot in the door while tracting on his mission. As a result, he was able to find and teach Marti, who ended up joining the church and now 136 people are members because of that ‘foot’.

His experience reminded me of something similar that happened on my mission. We were tracting and at one of the doors, a woman answered the door. My companion gave our door introduction and said that we had a message about God that we wanted to share with her. Before she could finish, a man, whom I assume was this woman’s husband, came up to the door. He was well over six feet tall, burly, beer-gutted, and bald. He had on a dirty white tank top. He scoffed and derision soaked his loud, angry words as they echoed in the concrete hallway of the building.
“God? God! There is no such thing as God and nothing you can say or do can make me feel otherwise. Go take your lies somewhere else.” He started to slam the door in our face.

And it stopped.

On my foot.

Like Elder Rasband, I had not done this before on my mission, nor did I do it after that, but before I could reason with myself, my foot had stuck out and stopped the door from shutting. The big man looked down, saw my shoe and paused, irritated.

“Sir,” I answered with a strength that could only come from the Spirit, “I know that God exists. I know that He is real and nothing you can say or do can make me feel otherwise.”


In that moment, I am not sure what I thought would happen. Would he be angry that my foot was impeding his ability to get on with his life? Would he open the door and want to hear more, having been touched by my testimony? Would 136 people join the church as a result of my foot?

He just stood there for a few brief seconds while the spirit dissipated the derision that had hung so heavily in the halls just moments before.

“Well, good for you,” he said, his voice down to a more decent conversational level. “But I’m still not interested.”

I removed my stubborn foot, nodded curtly, and the door closed between us. As far as I know, he never listened to the missionaries or joined the church. Not one, two, or anywhere close to 136 people joined the church because of what I had done.

But I was changed. I knew God knew what I had done. I knew with a power that does not stem from this earth that God lives. Again - the results were not something that might be shared as a ‘faith-promoting’ story over any pulpit - yet my faith was promoted. My faith in God was strengthened.

Now, no disrespect to Elder Rasband and Marti. I wish my beer-gutted man had asked us to come in and that his whole family had joined the church. But that was not how it happened, and there is a lesson in that. May we not be focused so much on the physical and temporal results of our obedience and faith and hold those ‘results’ as the standard to which we determine if our actions and obedience were acceptable or not. May we recognize that the blessings we receive for heeding a prompting are still real and tangible and faith-promoting. Then, perhaps, we can share these differing types of faith-promoting stories where the focus is on the faith, the obedience and the diligence, regardless of the results.

Monday, January 16, 2017

The parable of Josh's eyes

This oft quoted scripture has been on my mind over the last few days:

And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them” (Ether 12:27).

Over the course of my life, when I’ve read and pondered this verse, I’ve reflected on my many weaknesses. This verse tends to humble the reader and prompts one to realize we all have our weaknesses. We often think that the purpose of our weaknesses is to humble ourselves. That, is, of course, a necessary first step. But, we often forget about the next steps - and perhaps the unwritten steps implied before those weaknesses can become strengths. After humbling ourselves and recognizing our weaknesses, we then need to have faith in the Lord - actually believe that our weaknesses can change - AND BE WILLING TO PUT FORTH THE NECESSARY EFFORT REQUIRED TO DO SO. I know I often stop at the attempts to be humble and am okay with accepting my weaknesses and almost wearing them as badges of my humble humanity.

Then, my son had an accident and now I think about this verse differently.

The Parable of Josh’s eyes.

Josh was born with weak vision. We didn’t realize the extent of it until he was almost four years old and trying desperately to read. When he failed his pediatric eye test, we took him to a specialist who put him in very strong glasses. We still remember him pointing out the window on the car ride home with his new glasses on: “Tree!” “Light!” “Bush!” “Car!” He could finally see the things all around him clear enough to give them their appropriate names. From the beginning, his left eye was vastly weaker than his right. At its worst, it was 20/400 - or legally blind. His right eye, quite a bit stronger, compensated for his left and with his glasses, he flourished in school. 

During one of his appointments a few years later, however, his eye doctor realized that his right eye was so much stronger than his left eye that the left eye was simply fading away from disuse. His brain was going about the path of least resistance, and was allowing him to get his vision almost entirely from the right eye. If he continued down this path, his left eye would stop functioning completely. In order to combat this, Josh had to start wearing eye patches. Every day we had to patch up his right eye with a large bandage, forcing him to use his left eye. Josh hated his patches. He hated them so much he would take brand new boxes of them and hide them, thinking that if we couldn’t find them, he wouldn’t have to wear them. Much to his dismay, I would simply drive to the store and buy more (and they weren’t cheap). For years he had to wear the dreaded patches - even to school. I went in and met with his school teachers to explain to them about his patches. They were all so understanding. One of his teachers had had to wear patches as a child, so she just hugged Josh and was so sweet to him. The teachers would talk to the class and as a result, very little, if any, bullying or teasing took place. Josh still had his thick glasses - and his patches. He hated having such a weak left eye.

After years of going to doctor appointments and being told, “Let’s keep up with the patching. It is working. It is improving. We just aren’t there yet…” We finally went to an appointment and got some good news. He could stop wearing the patches in public if he promised to wear them as soon as he got home until he went to bed. 

This continued for another year or two. Finally, after over four years of wearing patches regularly and strengthening that weak left eye little by little through tough, undesirable means, he was done with patching. All his hard work and effort had paid off. His left eye was now strong enough that it could withstand a surgery designed to tighten his eye muscles to keep his eyeball from shifting undesirably. If we had done this surgery two years earlier, or before his left eye was strong enough, the surgery would not have held. The surgeon could have stitched the muscle tighter, but it would not have been strong enough to last. 

So, three years ago Josh had surgery on his left eye. The pain afterwards was almost unbearable - as nothing - no Tylenol or other narcotic could ease the pain from the incision on the nerves and muscles inside the eye. But, once he had recovered from the surgery, his left eye, strong from years of patching and hard work, took the new tightening of his muscles like a champ. His left eye, with the use of corrective lenses, could now see 20/30.

His left eye, previously so weak that it was dying, was now functional. Still, his right eye was stronger and dominant, but at least his left eye could pull its own weight, so to speak.

Then, last Friday (the 13th- by the way), he was playing frisbee with some friends and didn’t see a step and tripped and hit his head on a large cement planter. He fractured his skull and sustained damage to the optic nerve for his right eye - the strong eye. 

It’s been a few days now. The swelling has all but disappeared, leaving just a very colorful black eye and some bruises and scrapes. The skull fracture was clean and will heal with time, rest, and no big movements. His eye, however, is still unknown. The ophthalmologist, unfortunately, feels the damage might be of a permanent nature (though we still have not ruled out any miracles). He cannot see out of his right eye, save a few shades of black and gray and some rough shapes. 

This might be his new normal. 

Josh, before he had even heard the eye doctor’s prognosis, said, “So, I wonder if I’ll become left-eye dominant now.” Yes, Josh, you probably will. 

For years, he had to humble himself. He had to face the reality that his left eye was weak. He had to confront the possibility of humiliation at wearing ugly brown patches on his eye at school among peers who could be mean. He had to put forth daily effort to work at strengthening his weak eye. He worked, he was humbled, he had faith, he put in the time. And his left- eye became strong. 

Now, with a non-functioning right-eye, his left eye will soon become not only stronger, but his only source of vision. How grateful we are that he took all that time and all those years of effort and trust in the Lord to make a weak thing become strong. 

What can we learn from this? What if, in 3 months, or 4 years, or a decade, we had to rely on only the weakest parts of us to make it? Would we look at working at making them strengths with renewed vigor? But, the Lord does know. He is willing and able to help us. With humility, faith, and a willingness to put forth effort on our part, we can, and should, with the Lord’s involvement, make that which is weak become strong.
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