Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Importance of Knowing Who We Are

Jo Anne and I were out driving one afternoon and pulled up behind a big black pickup truck with huge oversized tires and a sign in the back window that said "Quad for Sale!" She looked over at me with a big smile on her face and said "What a great idea! I wonder how much I could get for you?" I could just picture myself driving around in my power wheelchair with a similar sign dangling from a string around my neck.

Lest you think badly of Jo Anne; however, I heard her talking to one of her friends on the telephone the other day and she said to her, "I have a model husband." I was elated with her description of me and felt it was right on target, until I looked in my online dictionary and found that one of the definitions for "model" is "A cheap imitation."
I have been called lots of things since my injury such as "handicapped," "physically challenged," "mobility impaired," "quadriplegic," "Quad," and a few others I can't mention, or at least don't want to. Before my accident I felt I had a pretty good idea of who I was, but after the accident I was a little shaky for some time regarding that subject. Quite frankly, for an extended period, I really didn't know who or what I was. It was devastating!

In some ways I felt like I had left the human race that I had been part of all my life. Something inside me however, rebelled against the idea of being labeled as something that I then perceived as being inferior compared to a normal person.

Adding to my feelings of inadequacy and uncertainty about who I was after my accident, just a couple of months after I was injured I experienced one of the most humiliating and demeaning experiences I have had in my life. It took place at Rancho Los Amigos Hospital where I spent six months being rehabilitated, so far as possible. Thinking I had a blood clot in my leg one day, my doctor had me taken to the basement of one of the buildings at Rancho to have a test run that would determine whether his diagnosis was right. Because of the nature of the test, he felt it would be safer to take out my speaking valve in my trachea system and put me back on the cuffed trachea that didn't allow me to speak. So down I went into that dark, cold, windowless basement room, unable to move any part of my body, lying on a gurney, and unable even to speak. The lab technicians rolled my gurney into a dark corner of the room. For the next hour or so they acted like I was not even there while they told each other immoral stories, cussed, blasphemed, and shared with each other the raucous, sleazy escapades they would be involved in that evening. Finally they did the test, never addressing me directly, and treating me as though I were a completely irrelevant and inanimate object.

Thankfully, having studied the Scriptures many of the years of my life, beginning in the mission field in Central America, I was reminded of it, and began to internalize some eternal truths regarding who I was. It began to make all the difference in the world.

A number of Scriptures began to mean a great deal to me. When the Lord appeared to Moses as recorded in Moses 1 he called him "my son" three times in verses 4-7 and in verse 6 he said to Moses "... and thou art in the similitude of mine Only Begotten Son and mine Only Begotten is the Savior..."
I believe He wanted Moses to know who he really was because of the great work Moses had been called upon to do in leading the Children of Israel out of Egypt and into the Promised Land. Moses was empowered and strengthened as it was revealed to him who he really was. I believe as it was with Moses so it is with each one of us as we come to know and internalize the great truth that we are sons and daughters of God created in the similitude of His Only Begotten Son-the Savior.

After this vision closed, Satan immediately appeared to Moses tempting him and saying "... Moses, son of man...worship me..." [Moses 1:11] [Emphasis added]
Moses was able to withstand this assault from Satan because he knew he was a son of God. By calling Moses son of man Lucifer hoped to deceive and weaken Moses and even entice him to be one of his followers.

When Satan came to tempt Jesus after he had fasted and prayed for 40 days and nights, he devilishly introduced two of the three temptations with the challenge "... if thou be the son of God..." Satan knew that if he could place doubt in Jesus' mind regarding who he was that he could destroy him and the work he was sent here to do.

So it is with each one of us. Knowing who we really are strengthens us and empowers us to be able to fulfill our foreordained missions in mortality.

Gaining strength to overcome adversity and the Adversary by knowing who we really are, reminded me of an experience Joseph Smith had as a young man. Elizabeth Ann Whitney, the wife of Newel K. Whitney, wrote in her journal: "Joseph Smith, with his wife, Emma, and a servant girl, came to Kirtland in a sleigh early in 1831; they drove up in front of my husband's store. Joseph jumped out and went in; he reached his hand across the counter to my husband and called him by name. My husband spoke, saying: "I could not call you by name as you have me." He answered, "I am Joseph the Prophet; you have prayed me here, now what do you want of me?" [Helen Mae Andrus, Hyrum L. Andrus, They Knew the Prophet, 39.] [Emphasis added]

That winter day in 1831 when Joseph met Newel K. Whitney and his wife in their store in Kirtland, Ohio, he was only 26 years old. I find it both remarkable, and at the same time reassuring, that this young man could with such confidence, announce himself to the Whitneys as "Joseph the Prophet." I believe Joseph was able to endure all of the afflictions he suffered during his lifetime because he knew who he was.

Thankfully, I came to understand that I was not just a "handicapped" person, "mobility impaired," or a "Quad." Oh, I am all of that of course, but so much more -- a son of God created in the similitude off His Only Begotten Son.

Having internalized that truth I need never give in to the depression, despair, and blackness that accompanies the temptations that the Adversary places in my path.


Thursday, January 7, 2010

Dressing for Respect

As many of you know, I regrettably wear "outfits" now, since Jo Anne took charge of my wardrobe and started dressing me each morning. I used to have two or three suits, some nice white shirts, a few ties, some Levis and T-shirts and that pretty much constituted my wardrobe. Life was so simple then, and deciding what to wear each day was not really very difficult for me.

I would be embarrassed to have anybody look into the closets in my bedroom where my outfits hang. There are so many matching outfits -- pants and shirts -- I get dizzy just looking at this dazzling array of finery. What is in my closets is just the tip of the iceberg, I hate to admit. Stored in boxes somewhere in the dark recesses of our home reside my summer outfits, fall outfits, spring outfits -- you get the picture. It would be unthinkable for me to wear the same outfit twice in a row or even twice in a two-week period.

My Filipino caregiver, Rey, and I would never dare to choose the "outfit" for the day. It is totally beyond our capacity to make such a momentous decision. When Jo Anne goes on a trip from time to time without me, which I encourage her to do -- she really needs the break -- if she is gone 14 days she will hang 14 different outfits from left to right in my closet. Every seventh outfit is a special "Sunday Outfit." Would Rey and I ever deviate from the foreordained outfits during her absence? I don't think so! We are both smarter than that, knowing that somehow she would find us out.

Please don't think badly of Jo Anne, or think she is practicing some form of malicious psychological "quad abuse" on me. She truly believes the way I look is a reflection of her as my wife, and also her role as my primary caregiver. In me, she doesn't have much quality raw material to work with, so she makes a valiant effort to dress what is available to her in the best possible outfits on the market. I, of course, can do nothing about this situation, and make a valiant effort to be pleasant and full of gratitude that I look so "handsome." I try my best to keep Jo Anne happy. Can you imagine what she could do to me if I got her angry, which I have inadvertently done on occasion?

I must admit that I feel badly I can't wear a suit and a white shirt and tie to Church on Sunday. Because of my life support system this is impossible. I do feel a little underdressed on Sundays in spite of Jo Anne's valiant efforts. I have always felt it was a show of respect and reverence to dress up in my best -- not to show off -- on Sundays. I think I got that feeling from observing my dad as I was growing up.

My dad was a miner. As a newly married 17-year-old he started working for Kennecott Copper Corp. in Ruth, Nevada in the old Star Pointer Mine. The Star Pointer was an underground operation. On his 34th birthday, as he was walking home from work, he realized that he had spent half of his life working underground. He applied for a position with Kennecott that didn't require him to work as a miner any longer, and ended up working in a very responsible position in the large warehouse in Ruth that serviced the mining operation until he died at the young age of 61.

Dad wore khaki colored work clothes and boots five days a week, and often on Saturdays as well. However, Sunday was a different matter. My most vivid memories of him are when I was a teenager and he was in the bishopric of the little Ruth Ward. As I recall, and I could be wrong after so many years, he owned only one suit. It was a beautiful and quite expensive blue suit purchased at Goodman-Tidball Mercantile. The only other store in town that sold suits was JCPenney. Goodman-Tidball was definitely a step up. He may have had more than one white shirt but I don't think so. The white shirt I remember him wearing had French cuffs which he wore with beautiful cufflinks. He had a couple of nice ties and a pair of expensive dress shoes which were always carefully polished and shined. When he went to Church on Sunday to fulfill his priesthood responsibilities, even Jo Anne would have been proud of the way he looked.

Dad didn't ever preach to me about reverence or respect, but demonstrated it to me by the way he dressed on Sundays and in so many other ways as well.

I think because of him, I really do wish I could still wear suits, starched white shirts, beautiful ties and wonderful shoes to Church on Sunday. I do have some okay shoes that are 15 years old and look like new. I wonder why? 

In my lifetime I have observed an evolution from "dressing up" to "dressing down" in society at large. Sad to say it has affected the way some of us dress as we attend our Church meetings on Sunday. I don't think this can be pleasing to the Lord.

Elder Robert D. Hales said it this way: "When we attend a Church meeting, our purpose is to worship our Father in Heaven and His Son, Jesus Christ. Our clothing should show our reverence for Them... Mothers and fathers can teach their children by taking special care to dress in such a way as to show modesty and reverence in their own appearance and behavior....".

"Honoring our covenants, starting with baptism, affects who we are and what we do, including the kinds of things we say, the music we listen to, and the clothing we wear. When we make and keep covenants, we are coming out of the world and into the kingdom of God. Our appearance should reflect that." [Liahona, August, 2008]

Truthfully, I am very grateful to be married to somebody who cares so very much about how I look -- especially on Sundays. However, I still wish I had a blue suit I could wear on Sundays like my dad.