Sunday, August 8, 2010
A Bad Day
It doesn't happen very often but I was feeling kind of down a while back. I think it might have been the weather, which has been very foggy and about 10° below average for this time of the year. I think I felt I was being cheated out of the summer, my favorite season, or maybe it was just that the Los Angeles Dodgers had been on a six-game losing streak. Whatever the cause, sensing my mood, Jo Anne shared with me the following story she heard on BYU TV to help me keep things in perspective.
(Garth Waddoups – "Never Have a Bad Day," – Feb. 2, 2010 -- Agricultural Business/Plant and Animal Sciences Department Chair of BYU Idaho – Practicing veterinarian)
"I came into work one morning and walked into the operating room and saw a White and Black dog sitting on the operating table. Usually there is some paper work filled out by the technician telling me what is wrong. But there was none. I had never seen such a mess. The dog was dirty and unkempt, had a swollen eye with a large dirt clod on its head. The dog was very emaciated and gaunt. The technician came in and I asked him about the dog. He said his name was Cholo and that a family had brought him in and that they were in the waiting room. He said they were a Hispanic family - a mother and father and several children and even grandparents.
I went out to talk to them and asked them what had happened to Cholo. The little girl spoke for them. She said a week ago Cholo was hit by a car. He was hurt very badly. His eye popped out of its socket and his head was split open and they could see the brain. Then the mother began to speak in excited, broken English. She said her husband’s friend took him to the desert and shot him 5 times – 3 times in the head and 2 times in the neck. Then he buried him in a shallow grave.
Then about 5 days went by and the husband’s boss called him at home and said his dog was outside and didn’t look so good. The husband said that was impossible because he was dead. The boss said, ‘I don’t think so. This is your dog and you better get over here.” So the whole family went to see if it was really Cholo, and it was.
I asked them what they wanted me to do for Cholo – put him to sleep? The mother said, “Oh no. Cholo is a good dog and he must really want to live and so we must help him.” I told them that it could be very expensive and then he might die any way. The mother said they only had $1200 and hoped it would be enough to help Cholo live. I told them I would go check him out and let them know.
I went back into the operating room and began examining Cholo. The blood from his eye had dried up and had actually pulled it back into the socket and he appeared to be able to see fine. I then looked at his head and realized that it was only the sinus cavity that was exposed and stitched him back together. I then removed the bullets the best I could and he actually seemed quite fine and they were able to take Cholo home."
I was so glad Cholo's life was saved! However, I was also doggone happy that I wasn't that dog! But the more I thought about it I felt that maybe the worst day in that dog's life, in retrospect, actually turned out to be his best. He was still alive and knew he was loved by his family. I'm sure he received more love, dog biscuits, and good bones to chew on than he ever had before. Hopefully he had many good dog years ahead of him.
I thought the worst day in my life was the day I was body surfing at Laguna Beach and in a split second became paralyzed from the neck down and would have to live the remainder of my life on life support. I seemed to have lost so much -- the use of my body, my profession as a teacher, my callings in the Church, and I thought, my ability to be an effective husband and father. I didn't spend much time dwelling on it, but I did wonder, from time to time, why this had happened to me.
Part of the answer has come to me over the years from a talk given by Hugh B. Brown, a former general authority and counselor in the first presidency. The entire talk which was given many years ago was reprinted in its entirety in the January, 1973, New Era. It is worth reading.
President Brown as a young man was living on a farm he had purchased up in Canada. It was run down and a currant bush on the property had grown to a height of 6 feet. It had all gone to wood, and no longer was producing fruit. Taking his pruning shears he walked over to the currant bush to prune it. He then said:
"... I cut it down, and pruned it, and clipped it back until there was nothing left but a little clump of stumps. It was just coming daylight, and I thought I saw on top of each of these little stumps what appeared to be a tear, and I thought the currant bush was crying. I was kind of simpleminded (and I haven’t entirely gotten over it), and I looked at it, and smiled, and said, “What are you crying about?” You know, I thought I heard that currant bush talk. And I thought I heard it say this: “How could you do this to me? I was making such wonderful growth. I was almost as big as the shade tree and the fruit tree that are inside the fence, and now you have cut me down. Every plant in the garden will look down on me, because I didn’t make what I should have made. How could you do this to me? I thought you were the gardener here.” That’s what I thought I heard the currant bush say, and I thought it so much that I answered. I said, “Look, little currant bush, I am the gardener here, and I know what I want you to be. I didn’t intend you to be a fruit tree or a shade tree. I want you to be a currant bush, and some day, little currant bush, when you are laden with fruit, you are going to say, ‘Thank you, Mr. Gardener, for loving me enough to cut me down, for caring enough about me to hurt me. Thank you, Mr. Gardener.’ ”
Time passed. Years passed, and President Brown was in England with the British Canadian forces fighting in World War I. He was well thought of as an officer and was in line to be promoted to General. He knew in his heart, as did his fellow officers that the appointment to General should be his. President Brown related how he was so proud of himself, his achievement, and how much he looked like a general and obviously deserved to be one. Instead, he was called in to meet with the commanding general of the British Canadian troops in England and was informed that he was being sent back to Canada, would maintain his current rank, and would be training troops instead of fighting. He later learned the reason for this action was that he was a Mormon. Mormons were not highly thought of at that time and he had achieved the highest rank any Mormon had ever attained in the British Canadian Army.
After receiving the bad news, on what he then thought was one of the worst days of his life, he said "... and when I got to my tent, I was so bitter that I threw my cap and my saddle brown belt on the cot. I clinched my fists and I shook them at heaven. I said, “How could you do this to me, God? I have done everything I could do to measure up. There is nothing that I could have done—that I should have done—that I haven’t done. How could you do this to me?” I was as bitter as gall.
And then I heard a voice, and I recognized the tone of this voice. It was my own voice, and the voice said, “I am the gardener here. I know what I want you to do.” The bitterness went out of my soul, and I fell on my knees by the cot to ask forgiveness for my ungratefulness and my bitterness..."
At the time of my accident, everything in my life was going so well. My family and I were living "after the manner of happiness." There was not a cloud on the horizon and the wonderful dreams we shared regarding our future seemed righteous and achievable and what the Lord would have us do. However, His ways are not always our ways, and the pruning process began. I was like the currant bush that had been pruned. There were tears in my eyes and in my heart. I felt that I had been cut down to nothing and it hurt badly. I didn't clench my fists and shake them at God, crying out in bitterness, "Why did this happen to me," but my heart was broken. I was devastated.
As I consider the years that have gone by since the accident, just like the currant bush, though the pruning was very painful, it was necessary for me to be able to fulfill a mission the Lord had in store for me that I never could have anticipated, aspired to, or envisioned. In order to fulfill that mission I had an important lesson to learn that the "Gardner" knew that, for me at least, I could only learn through the pruning.
The lesson I had to learn, and thankfully everyone doesn't need to be paralyzed and on life support to learn it, was stated by the Savior to his apostles just before going into the Garden of Gethsemane. "I am the vine, ye are the branches. He who abideth in me and I in him bringeth forth much fruit, for without me ye can do nothing." [John 15:5, emphasis added]
My individualized pruning by the master "Gardener" has taught me this valuable lesson -- I am nothing, and can do nothing, without Christ -- the "true Vine."
If we learn no other lesson during our lifetimes than that, without Christ we can do nothing, our time here upon this Earth will not have been wasted.