Monday, January 30, 2006

Be Not Only Good, But Good For Something

Monday, January 30, 2006 Observation:

About three weeks ago I got a new wheelchair.  It is the third one I have had since my accident in 1989.  Each time I get one there is a period of adjustment because the wheelchair, for someone in my condition, is really an extension of one's body.  Each chair has been much better than the previous which is the case with my new one.  I have adapted to it very quickly thankfully.  The technology on my new chair is just amazing to me.  It is a breath control chair which means I control it by giving commands through sipping and puffing on a hard plastic straw that I hold between my teeth.  I have a little display by my left hand which enables me to see in what mode the chair is operating.  I have 4 different drive modes that have been custom programmed by computer to meet my specific needs and desires.  My first drive mode I call "The Temple Drive".  I designed it to be very gentle going forward or backward and especially as I turn right or left.  I have already, in my old chair, left my mark on the wall of the new Newport Beach, California Temple and don't want a repeat performance. Drive 2 I call my "All-purpose Drive".  I had it programmed to go faster than Drive 1 in all directions and yet it's safe enough to use at Church or at home.  Drive 3 I call "Ramming Speed".  Drive 3 is strictly an outdoor mode and in that mode I can flat-out move.  I use it driving to the park for example, or in Costco.  There is enough kid still in me to enjoy letting it go full blast and then seeing how tight I can turn it.  You guys without wheelchairs are really missing out on a lot of fun.  Drive 4 is the attendant control Drive.  Jo Anne operates it and so I had it programmed to be wimpier than the "Temple Drive" as a life preserving and precautionary measure.

The chair is a new concept created by Invacare Corp..  They won many engineering awards for its design.  It has six wheels -- two small ones in front and in back and then two larger wheels at the right and left center of the chair.  It is called a "Center Wheel Drive" wheelchair.  It has great stability and the back two wheels even have shocks to make the ride more comfortable.  My particular model allows me to also tilt and recline which I normally do in high priest group meeting.  I think a lot of the other brethren are jealous of this particular ability.  The make of my wheelchair is "Storm TDX 3".  Boy, that name alone is enough to just get your blood pumping.  The only problem I have with the wheelchair is that it is much smarter than I am.

Well, it wasn't my intention to bore you with so many details regarding my wheelchair.  My observation is how blessed we all are that there are people in the world that are talented and trained and have the desire to invent wonderful creations that bless and improve the quality of our lives.  I am in awe of, and appreciate so much, people who can create and produce concrete physical things that bless mankind.  If all we had in the world were lawyers, teachers and insurance salesmen we would all be in a "world of hurt".

Each day I sit for hours at a beautiful oak custom-made desk working at my computer.  The entire room is filled with oak shelves and cabinets which in turn are filled with favorite books and memorabilia.  Directly above my computer screen is an ingeniously created corner cabinet with a number of shelves.  A beautiful porcelain statue of Nephi gazing out at the horizon meets my gaze many times each day.  It is very comforting to me to be reminded daily of Nephi's faith and non-murmuring acceptance of the challenges that he dealt with in his life.  This beautiful room and two others were built by some members of my ward who knew how to create and build something concrete.  Gary Anderson did all the finish cabinetry and woodwork in our home.  Paul Colby, Mike Davidson, JD Barr, Les Reeves, Dave Poulter, Bob Phelps, Brian Graves, and I know I am forgetting some other very important brothers -- please forgive me -- knew how to do electrical, plumbing, hang dry wall, do cement work, and enlist the help of framers and roofers who also generously volunteered their time.  Most of these brethren were construction guys -- superintendents and etc. -- and they got their hands dirty and sweated in creating a thing of lasting beauty.  I'm afraid that if it had been someone else who were injured and I were to be left able-bodied my friends undoubtedly would have requested I leave the project to them.

I fear that in our society we tend to look down on "blue-collar" workers.  What a tragic mistake.  Ogden Nash, I believe, truthfully and yet sadly said that "People who sit to do their work make a lot more money than people who stand to do their work."  I certainly have nothing against people who sit to do their work -- that is my modus operandi -- but we surely have missed out on something important if we haven't learned how to create something concrete and of lasting value with our hands.  I have always felt the truthfulness of the following words of Elder Boyd K. Packer:  "We have raised a large family on a very modest income, and it’s likely that our children are going to have the same privilege. In order to prepare them, we’ve trained them to do ordinary, necessary things as preparation for their careers. For instance, we have maintained an area (sometimes it’s the corner of a basement room) where there is a work bench, where projects could be left. There can be some paint or a little sawdust on the floor, without a problem. In spite of continuous cleanup, this area is perpetually untidy, but with a purpose. We have followed another practice. Each Christmas, at least one of the presents for the boys has been a hand tool. When they were old enough, a good metal toolbox was included. When each has left home, he has had his own set of tools and some knowledge of how to use them. He can tune up a car, or drive a nail, or turn a screw, or replace a plug or a faucet washer. The girls, in turn, have learned to cook and to sew, and each has left home with a sewing machine. This training is doubly important—first, in frugal living at home, and then in their value as an employee. They would, we hoped, be not only good, but good for something."  (Ensign, May, 1982, 84)

I think his counsel is timeless.  I didn't really do a good job in this area with my own sons but I think thankfully, they are all better builders, fixers and doers -- no thanks to me -- than I ever was.

I am grateful for the inventors of computers, voice-recognition software, ventilators that never fail, wheelchairs that are simply awesome, and a host of other concrete things created by good men and women who are very intelligent and talented, and who are not afraid to sweat and get their hands dirty.


Monday, January 23, 2006


Monday, January 23, 2006 Observation:
"Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might..." [Ecclesiastes 9:10]

 About 11 days ago Jo Anne had surgery on both of her feet.  The first couple of days she experienced severe pain and I told her she was a bit wimpy, and that I would have been able to endure the same procedure without even any anesthesia.  Well, given the circumstances she didn't respond very well to my paralyzed humor.  She is much better today -- still in a wheelchair -- so we make quite an interesting looking couple.  She actually had the same surgery about 10 years ago but the doctor didn't do it correctly and so she had to have it redone.  Fortunately for the public with feet problems this doctor quit the medical profession, under some duress I believe.  His former partner however, agreed to do the new surgery at no charge and it seems as though he did a superior job.  You don't find that kind of a person around much anymore.

Don't you just love people who have paid the price to gain knowledge and training in their special fields and then who have the integrity to do it "... with [their] might...."?  I suspect if we were the suing kind of people we could have sued the first foot doctor for malpractice.

A couple of days before the surgery we drove out to Riverside County to watch our son, Mike, give his opening arguments in a death penalty, serial killing case.  Mike is a deputy district attorney and we have watched him in other similar trials.  This case is particularly heinous and involves two extremely evil and wicked individuals who are obviously "past feeling".  Mike has been preparing for this trial for several years now.  Although he is our son and we are very prejudiced, he did a magnificent job in a 2-1/2 hour opening statement to put the case in proper perspective in the eyes of the jury.  He seldom glanced at any notes and everyone in the courtroom was riveted on every word he spoke.  We went back two days later and observed him skillfully question witness after witness as he began to build his case.  I am impressed with his intense preparation and desire to see justice done for the victim -- a young 14-year-old girl -- and her family and young friends.  The young friends who are now in their late teens and early twenties were absolutely overwhelmed that anybody would care enough about this one, little, insignificant girl, to invest so much time and effort into bringing her murderers to justice.  I don't know if Mike will get the desired death penalty for both of the perpetrators of this crime, but if he doesn't it won't ever be because of a lack of effort on his part as he works with all his "might" to see justice done.  Knowing Mike the way I do I doubt he will ever be sued for malpractice because of a lack of preparation or understanding of the law.

The contrast between the first foot doctor, the second foot doctor, and Mike has caused me to reflect on the fact that almost anybody in any walk of life is susceptible of being guilty of malpractice.  I believe malpractice is more a question of motive than knowledge and training most of the time.  A painter, a wallpaper hanger, a carpenter, an auto mechanic, a wedding coordinator and caterer, etc. could all be guilty of malpractice if they don't do with all their "might" what they have promised and are supposed to be experts at doing.  What about teachers?  I am quite sensitive about this having been a teacher for most of my life.  I still am always asking myself if I have prepared sufficiently and pondered deeply and long enough to teach an adequate lesson regarding the creation, the fall, or the atonement to my gospel doctrine class.  I hope I am never guilty of malpractice because of a lack of preparation or effort and that I could only be blamed for stupidity.  I am sure there have been a few students over the years that perhaps would have been justified in suing me for malpractice.  I have always tried hard however to never be guilty, as a teacher, of slaying my students with the "jawbone of an ass" as Sampson did to the Philistines.

I suspect the quotation from Ecclesiastes at the top of this Observation cuts across every aspect of our lives --"Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might..." [Ecclesiastes 9:10]

In our professions, as students, in our church callings, as parents, and citizens of this great nation we must never be so negligent and sloppy in what we do that we could ever be rightfully sued for malpractice.

Perhaps an important thought in all of this was given by the transcendentalist author Henry David Thoreau(1817-1862) : "Do not hire a man who does your work for money, but him who does it for love of it."


Monday, January 16, 2006

What lack I yet?

At the beginning of a new year I like to read in Matthew the encounter between Jesus and the rich young man. "And, behold, one came and said unto him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life? And he said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments. He saith unto him, Which? Jesus said, Thou shalt do no murder, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Honour thy father and thy mother: and, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. The young man saith unto him, All these things have I kept from my youth up: what lack I yet? Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me. But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions."  [Matthew 19:16-22] [Emphasis added]

I think the rich young man's question: what lack I yet is a question for the ages.  From the text it appears that this young man was a very good person but the Savior knew something about his heart.  This young man's "great possessions" were standing in the way of his perfecting himself and ultimately receiving the gift of "eternal life".  We may think that perhaps it was unfair for Jesus to make such a request of this young man, but in reality he was teaching him and all of us a great lesson about life. Apparently, however good we may be or think we are, there is always something in our lives that we perhaps need to give up or perhaps begin doing to continue to progress toward perfection. The question "what lack I yet" is a question we probably should ask ourselves and the Lord frequently.  Most of us, without even asking, are painfully aware of what we lack in our quest for "eternal life".  If we are not aware, and prayerfully ask the Lord that important question and then listen, the answer, though difficult perhaps to accept, will come to us.  The answer to what we lack will undoubtedly be different for each one of us.

My experience in life has taught me the importance of selecting just one thing we are lacking and then concentrate all our efforts on that one thing.  I have made the mistake many times of trying to do too much which has diffused my efforts in such a way as to hinder me from achieving any of my goals. Choosing just one thing is like taking a magnifying glass and directing the rays of the sun in such a manner as to create fire.  If we pray daily about that one thing I have found that during the day what we are trying to accomplish will continually come into our minds.

I believe it is also important not to become discouraged with ourselves.  I will admit to you that one thing I have been working on for years I have not yet accomplished.  I think I am making progress and then something will come up and inadvertently I do that one thing that I never ever wanted to do again.  It's discouraging but we must never give up because by giving up we inevitably lose some precious self-esteem.  Sister Hinckley said that one January she made the commitment to read out of each of the standard works each day.  At the end of two weeks she was already one week behind.  However, she said that if she had not made that commitment she wouldn't have accomplished her goal for even one week and that there were many months stretching out before her to benefit from her commitment.  She was refusing to give up even though she was not perfect in mastering that one thing.

It takes character, determination, and commitment to change our behavior.  I am so impressed with the Lamanites Ammon and his brothers converted to Christ.  The great spirit manifested by the King of the Lamanites and father of Lamoni -- Ammon's first convert -- is representative of so many of those people who totally changed their behavior and way of life.  After Aaron, Ammon's brother, had taught the great King of the Lamanites about the creation, fall, and atonement of Christ, the following ensued:  "And it came to pass that when Aaron had said these words, the king did bow down before the Lord, upon his knees; yea, even he did prostrate himself upon the earth, and cried mightily, saying: "O God, Aaron hath told me that there is a God; and if there is a God, and if thou art God, wilt thou make thyself known unto me, and I will give away all my sins to know thee, and that I may be raised from the dead, and be saved at the last day...." [Alma 22:16-17]

I think it takes that kind of humility and faith to make any significant behavioral change.  How badly do we want to add something good or to be able to eliminate something undesirable from our lives?  It may take prostrating ourselves upon the earth as this proud King did and acknowledging to God that we are willing to give away all our sins to come to know him.  Our sins may not be black or heinous but as the rich young man learned, as good as he was, he was still lacking and was a ways away from obtaining eternal life.

We are all lacking in some aspect of our lives -- only Christ was perfect.  We must seriously count the cost however, before we commit to that one thing we want to change.  We must not be guilty of making willy-nilly commitments that are never kept and thus weaken us and assault our integrity and self-esteem.  I am confident that as we prayerfully ask the Lord what we lack yet it will be revealed to us and He will help us to improve in that area of concern.  Through pondering, prayer, and the kind of commitment possessed by the great King of the Lamanites we can bring to bear on our lives the necessary power to kindle a significant behavioral change for the good.