Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Praying for a Jerk

If you’ve ever been in the sixth grade (and I’m assuming most of you have had that delightful experience) you will know that it is a time of drama and difficulty for the contenders of that epic occurrence. Physical, mental, and emotional upheavals are almost compulsory as those lovely tweens perilously reach for fleeting adulthood all the while frantically clawing to hang on to their slipping childhood. This ballet of life is completed with all the grace a penguin who has found himself straddling two icebergs that have decided to part ways. Disaster seems imminent.

Danger teacher in a bad mood sign
Being the nice parents we are, my hubby Buns and I chose this time to uproot our eldest son and transport him 1500 miles to the foreign culture of the South. Our family first moved to the great state of Texas the summer before Dubs was to enter the sixth grade and it was an experience for all of us.

Socially Dubbers did well with his peer group. He was large for his age and had some physical prowess and that was accepted among the football loving natives. His relations with adults and in particular certain authority figures was another story.

You could say rural West Texas is a little old fashioned in what they regard as acceptable behavior in children. Spare the rod and spoil the child is rule. Many parents speak about how all kids need is a good “beating” once in a while so they will behave. Adults call for absolute obedience and respect just by virtue of the fact that they survived into adulthood. Children are to obey and not question anything, and a yes Ma’am and no Sir are the only allowable replies.

This was a shock to all of us but especially difficult for Dubs. He was not one to talk back or cause upset just for the fun of it, but he was raised and is a person who naturally questions dubious reasoning. We encouraged him to think for himself and to speak up against injustice. This did not go over well with one of his teachers.

One day Dubs committed the cardinal sin of challenging a principle this teacher was relating to the class. Honestly, I don’t even remember what the topic was but I know that I agreed with him. He wasn’t disrespectful in the way he did this, but she was insulted and sent him off to the principal’s office for the perceived insubordination.

Buns and I were summoned and told that our child had refused to say yes ma’am to a teacher and had questioned her authority in class. He was to be punished; either “swats” or in-school suspension for a day. I was incensed at the ridiculous nature of the situation but explained our position that we don’t allow anyone to hit our kids, regardless of policy. Unfortunately, our unorthodox standing on the matter just added fuel to the flames.

For the months following the situation that teacher singled Dubs out every chance she got. She accused him of things he didn’t do, harassed him on the playground, and acted like (for lack of a better word) a jerk. When I would contact her about what was going on I was met with sneering insolence and the communication we directed to administration just seemed to make things worse. Buns and I had no idea what to do and the bullying was wearing on our sweet boy. He became angry and withdrawn and started missing school frequently. The whole thing seemed completely unfair.

One night I was preparing a Sunday School lesson and the material included the Sermon on the Mount. As I read the words of the Savior it seemed He was speaking directly to me. “But I say unto you, love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.” I was angry at this woman and the situation, she was indeed my enemy. The words penetrated my soul.

With some resentment and hesitation I got down on my knees and prayed for her. Then I went in to talk to Dubs and read with him those same words. We decided that we had done what we could and now it was up to the Lord. We would pray for this teacher every day even though neither one of us really wanted to.

In the back of my mind I expected a miracle to take place. Surely all our good will and prayers for her would add up in our mercy account and that teacher would change. Instead, the year went on and the irritating behavior continued. Dubs learned to keep his head down around her and managed to stay out of her way.

Each morning before school he and I would ask the Lord to bless our enemy  but nothing seemed to happen. She didn’t change her attitude towards us one iota. After several weeks of this experiment we noticed something else instead. The anger we both felt began to dissipate. Our perspective changed and we realized that this trial was a growing time. He and I both found ourselves able to forgive her and our prayers together became more sincere. I stopped calling her names in my head and elsewhere. We both came to understand that much of the problem came from culture differences. We repented. We both felt the love of the Savior through the Spirit on the hard days and instead of the Lord changing our enemy He changed us.

C.S. Lewis said “I pray because I can't help myself. I pray because I'm helpless. I pray because the need flows out of me all the time- waking and sleeping. It doesn't change God- it changes me.”

It was precisely because Dubs was willing to follow the Savior in a difficult situation that hearts were changed and testimonies of forgiveness grew. As we prayed- God didn’t change, that teacher didn’t change, but we did and the result was a peace that surpassed all understanding. It was a lesson that neither of us will soon forget.

Thankfully, that teacher moved on to some other school district so she couldn't torture Dubbers for yet another year. I think it is one of the tender mercies of the Lord things worked out that way and hopefully one day she will learn what we did. That anger only hurts the one who holds it and peace is found through forgiveness.



How have following the commandments brought unexpected positive outcomes in your life?

Has the Lord used the bad behavior of another to bless your life?

Friday, March 8, 2013

Brush Strokes

Family Home Evening is a Mormon thing. Once a week (generally on Monday night) we gather together as a family to sing songs, read scriptures, hear a lesson, pray, and most importantly eat treats. From time to time we also engage in wholesome family activities on these nights like watching a good video, flying kites, having a picnic and so on. At least that is the idea.

What is a wonderful ideal is many times difficult to execute perfectly. School activities, homework, meetings, and flat out exhaustion are all barriers to FHE happening at all. It takes a concerted effort to get everyone there, and once you do the participants are less than interested in what is going on.

In our home the brief lessons are often punctuated with children hanging upside down off of the couch, making faces at each other, breathing each other's air (heaven forbid), incursions by princess figurines having loud tea parties on the coffee table, screaming, crying, pouting, and every so often outright bedlam.

As a parent it can be difficult to be enthusiastic about going through this rig-a-ma-roll every week. On top of that, coming up with an attention grabbing lesson of some sort that will instill Gospel principles in the minds of your little brood is problematic. How do you teach them the truths of eternity and help them feel the Spirit when they are either partially comatose or busy pulling a sibling's hair? You have to be creative, and that doesn’t always work out the way you think it should.

My friend Betty wanted to teach her family about how evil things can superficially look good. Things like movies in which the preview looks awesome but once you are watching the flick is full of bad language and raunchy behavior. It was an important topic and she felt prompted to teach it. She knew that if they paid attention it was a principle that could protect her kids from all kinds of unsavory influences. She had a lightning bolt idea for an object lesson.

One Monday afternoon before the kids came home from school, she took a cup of dog food from the 50 pound Costco sack in the garage and brought it to the kitchen. She then painstakingly dipped each individual piece in melted white chocolate. The nuggets were drizzled in more chocolate and carefully placed in a crystal candy dish. They looked amazing.

Betty wanted to make a point. Not everything is what it seems. Never judge a book by its cover. She would show the attractive looking “candy” to the kids during the Family Home Evening lesson and then tell them what it was. They would gasp about the grossness of it all. They would forever remember the lesson. It was going to be great!

With the decorating finished, she placed the dish high up in a cabinet above the refrigerator where no one would find it and went on with her day. Several hours later while she was in the laundry room doing laundry sorts of activities, her husband came home from work and began his usual prowl through the kitchen looking for his before-dinner snack.

Why he chose to look in the cabinet above the frig is a mystery. In all their years of living in that house he had never before opened the little hinged door that resided above the dusty appliance top. It may have been desperation, since Betty had recently cleared all the junk food out of the house as part of her latest diet. Regardless of the motivation, he did indeed open the door and there in the dark recesses of the cupboard shone the gleaming white chocolates. It was as if the angels of heaven were singing. They were quickly scooped up and taken to the family room where he would sit in a chair and enjoy the news, adorable children playing at his feet.

Shortly thereafter, Betty returned to the kitchen to check on the simmering pots of dinner. Just then her three-year-old streaked by at high speed chewing on something that made a unique crunching noise. Betty stopped the bright eyed little boy and said in a very motherly way “what’s in your mouth?” “Nuffin” was the answer, “just this weird candy dad gave me”. “What weird candy?!?” Betty made a B-line for the family room.

There on the end table next to her hubby’s designated chair was the now empty crystal candy dish. Horrified reality crashed down on Betty as she looked around the room. Every single kid was chewing. Then her husband said “that wasn’t the best candy you’ve ever made but it was alright.” Holy cats.

“I’m so glad you liked it!” I said Betty said and ran out of the room eye twitching uncontrollably.

So what is to be learned from this story of object lessons gone wrong? For me it is to stop putting so much pressure on ourselves to be perfect in this. Not every Monday night needs to be a life changing spiritual experience. Not every lesson should be one “they will remember forever”. It just needs to be.

Like the brushstrokes of the painting of a wheat field that hangs in Elder Bednar’s office “each family prayer, each episode of family scripture study, and each family home evening is a brushstroke on the canvas of our souls. No one event may appear to be very impressive or memorable. But just as the yellow and gold and brown strokes of paint complement each other and produce an impressive masterpiece, so our consistency in doing seemingly small things can lead to significant spiritual results. “Wherefore, be not weary in well-doing, for ye are laying the foundation of a great work. And out of small things proceedeth that which is great” (D&C 64:33).

So even if the paint to your masterwork ends up with some dog food in there, so be it. Those kids will never forget that bad things sometimes look good, and possibly the more important message, don’t EVER eat candy dad gives you without checking with mom first.



“If you are trying to do the best you can—if, for example, you keep trying to hold family home evening in spite of the bedlam that sometimes reigns in a houseful of little bedlamites—give yourself high marks” -Jeffrey R. Holland
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