Tuesday, March 28, 2006

To enjoy peace of mind, do your best to become the best you are capable of becoming

I saw the ugliest college basketball game I have seen in many years last Saturday afternoon.  Some of you probably saw it as well.  UCLA defeated Memphis State 50 to 45 to advance to the final four in the NCAA tournament -- "March Madness".  It was the least number of points scored in an NCAA tournament game since the shot clock was instituted back in the early eighties.  Neither UCLA nor Memphis State could, as Chick Hearn used to say, "Throw a pea in the ocean."  Both teams threw up enough bricks to construct a small building.  Now, there was a reason for this.  Both teams, but especially UCLA, played the most stifling defense I have seen in a long time.  They simply would not give Memphis State an uncontested shot and held them to 45 points where they normally would score in the eighties.  Some people may have found the game boring because of the low score and absence of three-pointers swishing through the net, but I personally found it to be very exhilarating.  Playing good defense is very demanding and requires great discipline and hard work.  I admire UCLA's coach, Ben Howland, for teaching and inspiring his players to work so hard at this most important part of the game.  Offense comes and goes but the one constant a great team can control is the defense.

I don't know whether UCLA will win the national championship but I give them a good shot at it because of their toughness and willingness to sweat and work hard at playing defense.  I also do not believe that their "success" necessarily depends upon them winning the championship.  I would imagine that John Wooden, the former UCLA coach who won the NCAA championship Game 10 times out of 10 appearances, would say that this year's team, whether they win or lose, has been one of the most successful in the great UCLA tradition.  John Wooden, I believe, was the greatest basketball coach of all time. Still alive in his early nineties, he is a man of great character who always saw himself as a teacher as opposed to a coach.  In fact he was an English teacher at one time and was almost persuaded to make it his profession instead of coaching basketball.  He never felt that winning was necessarily equated with success.  His definition of success is classic and deserves to be pondered and hopefully applied: "Success is peace of mind which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you did your best to become the best you are capable of becoming." [John R. Wooden]

I am sure this is not UCLA's most talented team of all time.  However, I get the feeling they are doing their best to become the best they are capable of becoming.  That should bring them great peace of mind and self-satisfaction whether they ultimately win or lose.  Of course, this definition of success is not limited to basketball but to all aspects of human endeavor.  We grow up falsely thinking that winning the game, making lots of money, being very popular, having an extremely high GPA, obtaining higher degrees etc., being called to high profile positions in the Church, or even converting lots of people in the mission field constitutes success.  I believe Coach Wooden's definition of success puts things into proper perspective -- SUCCESS IS PEACE OF MIND... KNOWING YOU DID YOUR BEST TO BECOME THE BEST YOU ARE CAPABLE OF BECOMING!

I think many of us, if not careful, may buy into the world's competitive vision of success and in doing so never ever experience the peace of mind that comes from doing the best we can with what we have been given. We may be short sighted enough to compare ourselves with others which is never a very intelligent thing to do.  There will always be those more handsome, beautiful, talented, or intelligent than we, or unbelievably, those who are less handsome, beautiful, talented, or intelligent than we.  If we measure our success in life by how we compete and compare to others we will be using a false standard.  Only as we maximize that which we have been given, that which is uniquely ours, to the highest degree possible, will we ever know the peace of mind and self-satisfaction that is the essence of true success.  I believe most of us tend to live far below our own potential because we have bought into measuring our success by the standard the world has set.

John Wooden put it this way: "Now, we're all equal there [in our capacity to do our best]. We're not all equal as far as intelligence is concerned. We're not equal as far as size. We're not all equal as far as appearance. We do not all have the same opportunities. We're not born in the same environments, but we're all absolutely equal in having the opportunity to make the most of what we have and not comparing or worrying about what others have."[John R. Wooden]

As I was struggling to adapt to my new condition after my accident I received some important advice from a good friend of mine who is a physical therapist.  He saw me not being able to come to grips with the fact that I had a "complete" injury which meant I would never regain the physical capacities I had lost.  I was unhappy and depressed because I was "competing" with my former self -- a self who could run and walk and play the piano and etc. He told me in a frank conversation that if I were ever to have peace of mind I must openly and honestly admit to myself that there were now many things I would never be able to do again in a physical sense, evaluate what capacities I now had available to me and then exert every effort possible to maximize these to the highest degree possible.  I took his advice, difficult as it was to admit certain things to myself about myself, and then began to work as hard as I could with what I had left. Over the years following his advice has brought me great peace of mind and self-satisfaction.  I'm surely not implying that I am a "success", because I believe I am still living far below my true potential.  However, 17 years ago I quit comparing myself to others in terms of what constitutes my "success" and it has been a great blessing to me.


Sunday, March 19, 2006

Good luck? Bad luck? Who knows?

March 19, 2006, Observation:
Good luck? Bad luck? Who knows?

There is a Chinese story (author anonymous) of a farmer who used an old horse to til his fields.  I first heard it from my son-in-law, Matt Riley, who first heard it in a World Religions Class at Brigham Young University.  I think it is a story worth sharing and remembering. One day, the horse escaped into the hills and when the farmer's neighbors sympathized with the old man over his bad luck, the farmer replied, "Bad luck? Good luck? Who knows?" A week later, the horse returned with a herd of horses from the hills and this time the neighbors congratulated the farmer on his good luck. His reply was, "Good luck? Bad luck? Who knows?"

Then, when the farmer's son was attempting to tame one of the wild horses, he fell off its back and broke his leg. Everyone thought this very bad luck. Not the farmer, whose only reaction was, "Bad luck? Good luck? Who knows?"

Some weeks later, the army marched into the village and conscripted every able-bodied youth they found there. When they saw the farmer's son with his broken leg, they let him off. Now was that good luck or bad luck? Who knows?

I think the old Chinese farmer had a very sage philosophy of life.  At any given moment of our lives it is extremely difficult to accurately judge whether the things that are happening to us are "good luck" or "bad luck".  Usually only the passage of time will reveal how good or how bad some event or nonevent in our lives has actually been. 

Joseph who was sold into Egypt by his brothers is a great example of the wisdom contained in the old Chinese story.  I have often tried to put myself in Joseph's sandals which is really impossible, but in trying to do so my admiration and respect for him always intensifies.  He was 17 years old when his brothers sold him as a slave to a camel train owned by some hairy Ishmaelites, journeying toward Egypt -- "good luck" or "bad luck"? I can envision him with a rope around his neck being led through the desert sand having no idea what his fate would be.  If he were at all human like I am, he was probably a tad discouraged wondering why this had happened to him.  He may even have muttered in Hebrew, "What bad luck", as he staggered forward behind the camels.  His life had been very good up to that time as the favored son of Jacob, and now to be torn from the love, security, and society of his father and family I'm sure he could not at that moment see any good in it.

Upon arriving in Egypt he was sold as a slave and in maintaining his virtue and seeking to be a true and faithful follower of Jehovah, the God of his fathers, he was cast into prison from which he would not emerge until he was 30 years old.  I have often wondered if during those 13 years as slave and prisoner he could ever see the good in what had happened to him.  I don't know that we will ever know the answer to that question.  The one thing I think we do know is that this Joseph was a man of great faith, and I get the feeling from reading the text that his faith never wavered for as it is recorded "... the LORD was with him."  I believe he was willing to wait on the Lord and trust in Him before rushing to judgment as to whether his fate was "good luck" or "bad luck" as bleak as it may have seemed at times.  It may not have been until he had finally put his brothers to the test, which they thankfully passed that he could clearly see for himself and say to them: "Now therefore be not grieved, nor angry with yourselves, that ye sold me hither: for God did send me before you to preserve life...And God sent me before you to preserve you a posterity in the earth, and to save your lives by a great deliverance. So now it was not you that sent me hither, but God: and he hath made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house, and a ruler throughout all the land of Egypt."  [Genesis 45:5, 7-8] [emphasis added]

When I had my accident 17 years ago I believe as a family we couldn't help but think it was such "bad luck".  Nothing like this had ever happened in our family and to think that I would be paralyzed from the neck down and on life-support forever was just almost more than we could take in.  We frankly could not see any "good luck" in it or why the Lord would allow this to happen to me. 17 years later we still probably do not have all the answers but in my own mind so much good has come from what at one time seemed so bad.  There is no way, for example, that I could ever express to anyone verbally what I have learned about the power of the Atonement through my experience with paralysis.  I have learned things about myself and been strengthened in ways that perhaps could never have been without this challenging experience.  And then I will always believe that especially my younger two daughters have been blessed with a level of maturity and spirituality that may not have been theirs had they not had so much responsibility thrust upon them at such a very tender age.  I have also witnessed Jo Anne shoulder a monumental responsibility and grow spiritually and emotionally powerful in the process.

I think one of the things we need most in life, and often must struggle to obtain, is an eternal vision accompanied by complete trust and faith in the ultimate goodness of God and his love for, and desire to bless each one of us. The Lord wisely counseled all of us: "Search diligently, pray always, and be believing, and all things shall work together for your good, if ye walk uprightly and remember the covenant wherewith ye have covenanted one with another."  [Doctrine & Covenants 90:24] [emphasis added]

So you really won the lottery?  Good luck -- bad luck -- who knows?


Monday, March 6, 2006

March Madness I

Monday March 6, 2006 Observation:

I love this time of the year.  We are just beginning the NCAA men's basketball tournament that has come to be known as "March Madness".  I have been an avid follower of "March Madness" for many years.  I hate to admit it but I am a basketball junkie.  You would think at my age that maybe I wouldn't be so involved or care about basketball anymore, but I hate to confess there is still a fire burning inside regarding this sport.  My love for basketball is irrefutable evidence of a misspent youth playing basketball anywhere and everywhere I could and as often as I could.

I must tell you about the time that "March Madness" almost cost me my life.  Jo Anne and my youngest daughter Jackie and I had gone to St. George to visit some of Jo Anne's family.  It was toward the end of March and I was a little nervous that I would not be able to see the NCAA championship game.  My whole trip brightened considerably however, when Jo Anne's brother Danny, who lives in Mesquite, told me he had a big screen TV in his home and that he would be watching the championship game between the University of Arizona and the University of Kansas.  I eagerly accepted his invitation to watch the game with him but the day before the great event the battery that runs the ventilator on the back of my wheelchair died on me.  A new battery had been ordered but would not be available until the day after the championship game between Arizona and Kansas.  As long as I was plugged into a wall socket I was OK and able to breathe and I have learned that breathing is better than not breathing.  Then a light went on in my head -- pure revelation -- my ventilator is equipped with an internal battery that will run for approximately an hour as a lifesaving and safety feature.  I knew that it was less than an hour from St. George to Mesquite and the way Jo Anne drives it would even be a shorter time period than that.

Well, I convinced Jo Anne and Jackie to load me in the van late that afternoon and make the dash for Mesquite and the championship game on big screen TV.  However, I had failed to take into consideration the fact that we had to stop and get gas in St. George and that we would take the wrong off-ramp in Mesquite to get to Danny's home.  We were still some distance from our destination when my ventilator died.  When the ventilator dies it gives a big, sickening gasp and then the alarm begins sounding in hopes that somebody will fix the problem.  It is quite a gut wrenching sound to the person who is depending on it for his air supply. We had prepared Jackie in advance and so she pulled out the trusty ambubag and began pumping air into my lungs by hand.  I don't even think Jackie was a teenager at the time.  As she pumped the life-giving air into my lungs she would say "Dad, could I have a new bicycle?"  "Yes, yes, anything, just keep pumping!"  "Dad, how about a year's pass to Disneyland?" "Yes -- just keep squeezing that bag!"

We finally screeched to a stop in front of Danny's home and he came running out into the driveway with a long extension cord.  Soon the ventilator was happy once again as it took over the job of pumping air into my lungs to the relief of Jackie.

Plugged into the wall, munching on chips and dip, drinking root beer, and watching Arizona beat Kansas on the big screen TV I was truly in heaven.  I temporarily put out of my mind the fact that later that night -- it turned out to be midnight -- we would have to make the mad dash back up the Virgin River Gorge to St. George to the safety of another extension cord and wall socket.  Jo Anne, giving a great imitation of an Indy 500 driver, got us home safely.

Well, am I crazy or what?  Was it really worth risking my life to be able to watch that game on the big screen TV?  Any normal, rational person would say of course not!  But for somebody infected with the "March Madness" disease, yes it was worth the risk. 

It is so hard to get basketball out of your blood.  I think I am in pretty good company though.  I love this passage from President Spencer W. Kimball's Journal which he wrote as a young man: "It is a great occasion. Many people came tonight who have never been before. Some of the townsmen say basketball is a girl’s game but they came in large numbers tonight. Our court is not quite regulation. We are used to it, our opponents not. I have special luck with my shots tonight and the ball goes through the hoop again and again and the game ends with our High School team the victors against the college team. I am the smallest one and the youngest on the team. I have piled up the most points through the efforts of the whole team protecting me and feeding the ball to me. I am on the shoulders of the big fellows of the Academy. They are parading me around the hall to my consternation and embarrassment. I like basketball. I would rather play this game than eat." (Edward L. Kimball and Andrew E. Kimball Jr., Spencer W. Kimball (Salt Lake City Bookcraft, 1977), 65) I can totally identify with President Kimball's sentiments regarding basketball.

From President Ezra Taft Benson's biography comes the following incident: “Ezra remembers his father swearing only once. The Oneida Stake Academy was playing Brigham Young College in Logan, and late in the game Oneida trailed by a point after failing to convert on several attempts. Ezra suddenly got the ball and an exasperated George yelled. ‘Hell, T. put it in!’ It was shocking to the local citizens coming from George Benson, but apparently they understood his enthusiasm and anxiety.” Ezra continued, “When we finished with a one-point victory, Father was overjoyed.”  (Sheri L. Dew, Ezra Taft Benson: A Biography (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1987), 39)

Have I ever been tempted to utter a cuss word during a Lakers or BYU basketball game?  Well, hopefully those of you with sound minds will have mercy on those of us who are smitten by "March Madness".  If you unfortunately happen to be married to someone with this affliction let me give you the following counsel.  As you offer your prayers for your loved one use as a pattern the words of the distraught father who brought his son to Jesus to be healed.  "Lord, have mercy on my son [husband]: for he is [a] lunatick..." [Matthew 17: 15] And then we must never forget Paul's counsel to the Thessalonian Saints: "... comfort the feebleminded..." [1 Thessalonians 5: 14]

On the bright side "March Madness" comes only once every 11 months!


Sunday, March 5, 2006

Our Appearance and Homes Should be a Reflection of the Light in our Lives

Sunday, May 5, 2006 Observation
Our Appearance and Homes Should be a Reflection of the Light in our Lives

Well, yesterday was "hair" day for me. About every week or week and a half Jo Anne takes a good, critical look at me, and announces that I am unfit to be seen in public.  Those words are like a dagger in my heart because I know what is coming and I can't defend myself.  She has a little instrument that runs off batteries that has tiny blades rotating at a high rpm that she shoves up my nose to cut out any extraneous hair.  It is only supposed to cut the hair but inevitably it manages to chew up a little tissue as well.  If the rotating blades don't get all the hair she comes at me with her little scissors -- and all the while I am screaming, groaning and shouting "Quad abuse!"  With my nose now having achieved a satisfactory rating she concentrates her efforts on my ears.  Accompanied by groans, screams, and accusatory "Quad abuse" statements on my part, she calmly inserts her little scissors in my ears, cuts out any extra hair, and digs out any foreign matter that she doesn't feel should be there.  I now give a sigh of relief because the worst is over -- but not completely.  She next attacks my eyebrows telling me that no husband of hers is ever going to look like Andy Rooney and then using a combination electric razor and hair clipper device she trims up my hair, what little I have, to her specified standard of excellence.  About this time I am very happy and relieved but yet lurking in the back up my mind is the painful thought that this process will be repeated in the not too distant future.

Parenthetically, the word "hair" almost cost me my life shortly after my accident.  One night in the rehabilitation hospital about 2 a.m. a Hispanic nurse's aide -- a sweet little woman -- was performing a procedure on me. As she worked over me I could sense that the hose that runs from my throat to the respirator was coming loose and I wasn't breathing really well.  I looked at this little lady and said in a gasping way "My air, my air, I'm losing my air!"  With great compassion in her eyes and voice she responded, "Mr. Rushton, don't worry, you have lots of "hair"."  Then with my last breath I murmured "No, my air, my air." She insightfully rejoined "You shouldn't worry so much about your "hair" -- it's OK." At that point the hose popped off my throat, I quit breathing, and the little Hispanic lady never had a clue what was happening.  The alarms went off thankfully, and two nurses ran in from the nursing station to save my life.

Getting back to Jo Anne and her handling of my hair problems -- I have thought a great deal about it over the years.  In her eyes the way I look is a reflection on the type of care I receive from her and the kind of person she is.  I believe she feels she will be judged by others by the way I look.  It goes far beyond that however in that I believe she loves me enough to care about things that no one else would even think about.  She understands that my groaning and complaining about "Quad abuse" is just a lot of hot air and knows how much I truly appreciate her desire and willingness to make me feel and look as good as she possibly can. She has been waging war in our home against dirt in any of its forms all of our married life. There is no way that she is going to let her quadriplegic husband look disheveled, dirty, unkempt, unshaved or not dressed in the best and most appropriate outfit available.  My wheelchair, which is such an extension of me, is dusted daily, cleaned, and even the wheels are checked to make sure they are spotless.  Though not much to look at, I go out in public with great confidence knowing that Jo Anne has made me as presentable as possible.  Doctors and nurses are amazed that I am 17 years into my injury and look and feel as good as I do.  They stand in awe of the quality of care I have received at her hands for such a lengthy period of time.  What I look like, and my attitude of faith and hope, really tell you much more about Jo Anne then they do of me.

I believe that cleanliness and orderliness and being in control of one's life are really such an important part of what life is all about. These things communicate better than words what our true character really is.  I will never forget my first trip to Nauvoo in the early seventies and how impressed I was with my visit to the Wilford Woodruff home.  The guide took us from room to room in this beautiful brick home and in the main parlor told us how in the haste of fleeing from Nauvoo to escape the wrath of the mob the piano had inadvertently been pushed into the wall leaving a gaping hole.  Wilford Woodruff paid a man to come and patch the wall of the home they were abandoning so that whoever occupied it after their departure would know that people of substance and quality had lived there.  That was a great lesson to me as a young married man regarding the importance of beautifying and taking care of one's home as best as possible.  Our homes are such a reflection of who we are.  They don't need to be luxurious or ostentatious but they should be clean and orderly.

When the Church builds a temple it is made of the finest materials and put together by the best artisans and craftsmen available.  We go to great extremes to ensure that each temple is really a precious jewel.  Why; because these temples are "The Houses of the Lord".  They are a reflection of Him and who He is.  Similarly, our personal appearance and our homes are a reflection and an extension of who we really are.

I know we can go overboard and be obsessed by appearance and style but true cleanliness and orderliness is never out of style.

In the little Mayan Indian village of Patzun located in the Western Highlands of Guatemala in the late 1950s you would have been impressed with the home of Thomas Coo Coo.  Thomas was a member of the Church as well as the mayor of the village.  In these little Indian villages the homes of the Indians were made of adobe walls with a thatched roof.  Their source of heat and cooking was a little fire pit in the middle of the room with no provision for getting the smoke out of the home.  Consequently most of the Indian women went around with weeping, smarting eyes from the constant exposure to the smoke.  Soon after his baptism and in counseling with the elders who baptized him, Thomas had a desire to get the smoke out of his house.  They introduced to him the concept of a fireplace with a chimney and with their assistance they actually built one in his little hut.  Thomas' home was free of smoke and a wonder to his neighbors in that little village.  The light of the Gospel in his life was evident in his beautiful, healthy, smoke-free one-room home.

I think our appearance and homes should be a reflection of the light we have in our lives.