Friday, September 19, 2008

The Squirrel and the Nut

Tonight I cannot sleep so I have decided to put together this story. It has been in my head for quite a few weeks. It actually started many years ago and I used part of it in a talk once upon a time and through further reflection realized how awful the talk truly was. While the story remains solid, I want to take it in a better direction. I had been pondering the story again and wanted to find an example of the ideal. Then, recently a friend shared a story at church during one of her lessons and I realized it was exactly what I was looking for to tie together this one. Interestingly, I did a search on the LDS site and found an article that this story ties in with quite well titled “On Giving and Getting.” I hope I can organize all of the thoughts from my head. Then, maybe I can go to sleep!

During one fall afternoon my daughter and I had the opportunity to watch a squirrel playing in the leaves spread across the lawn. He had a huge nut in his mouth and was nervously looking in our direction. It seems that he considered us a threat to his dinner because he began digging into the pile of leaves, and quite frequently, he would look our way to see if we were still watching. Eventually, he made it to the bottom of the pile. Just before it would require of him to get his paws dirty by digging into the ground, he dropped the nut and quickly and carelessly threw some of the leaves back over it. He looked at us one last time and then ran way. The scene made us laugh, especially since we recognized that while he did what little he figured was required to successfully hide the nut he had considered the job finished. It’s as if he had said, “There! It’s buried! I did my job. I’m off the hook.” Had he probed a little further, been willing to get his paws a little dirty, and dug into the ground only a few inches, then perhaps, he could have saved that nut for longer than the existence of the leaves or from the discovery of another hungry critter that could easily happen upon this little treasure. Instead, he settled for bare efforts, secure in his delusion that he was off the hook from further protecting his food.

It came to me that I could use this story to evaluate my own efforts throughout my life. How many times have I made the least effort in a cause and expected solid results? There are a myriad of different areas with which this could apply. My communication with family or friends, level of commitment at work, school or church, loyalty to the development of my talents, skills or education, and level of health and physical strength are all influenced by the amount of effort I am willing to put forth, how deep I am willing to dig in and bury that nut. Do I protect those processes to insure an honest endeavor and a well developed character?

A few years ago I was introduced to a couple of books that provided me with some specific direction for effective communication. Both of them were by the same author and discussed love languages and apologies. As it turns out, we all receive love and show love in different ways and the same is with an apology. Without this understanding one person can be working diligently to show either of these while the other person is wondering what the big holdup is. While I am thinking that “I said I was sorry!” they could be asking “Why is she burying her nut so shallow?”

John Bytheway, in the DVD Standards Night Live, discussed the tendency for young men and women to want to know just how far they can push the limits without crossing the line. How little can I do, what is the farthest I can go before crossing that line? How far can I go without being bad and still be good? As an adult I sometimes find myself wondering where the fine line is in different circumstances, too. Am I pushing the copy write limits, speed limit, or honesty boundaries? He warns that our intent should be to maintain our integrity by avoiding at all costs that fine line. Do I want anyone to doubt my intentions or reliability? Or in keeping with the Squirrel’s food, how deep have I dug to protect my precious nut?

Even after I have sufficiently taken the extra effort to deeply bury my nut and have done everything right and in my power to protect it, some critter can still come by and dig it up. It is during those challenges in life that I must rely the heaviest on the promise made by our Savior. In 2 Nephi 25:23 we are promised that "by grace we are saved, after all we can do." I know that after everything that is in my power to do what is necessary of me and it fails anyway, then I can rely on Christ to make up the difference for me.

Recently, during a church lesson my friend shared her family’s story of their first gardening experience. Because their yard was all grass and had never previously grown a garden they needed to properly prepare the ground. Some had suggested tilling the ground, but this was a concern because that would only overturn the soil and leave the grass underneath where it could later grow through to the top. So, they got on their hands and knees, pulled up the grass, sifted the soil through their fingers and cleared away the unwanted grass from the entire garden plot. This thorough effort to prepare their soil allowed them the blessings of essentially having a weed free garden. This was the opposite of carelessly tossing the leaves; this was digging deep and being thorough.

While comparing the two stories, I hope to be as meticulous as my friend was with her garden in my prayers, honesty with my fellow men, a days work, tithing and all else. It’s interesting where an effort in our daily lives comes down to honesty, mainly with us more than anything else. In the end, I pray that my efforts have far exceeded expectations set of me and that I am as careful as my friend was with her garden. I do not want to settle for bare efforts. I want to make a substantial effort to break ground.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Bedbug Letter

This morning as I was cleaning my glasses I reminded myself to do so delicately and from the correct direction. You see, last year I bought new glasses, the kind where the bottom doesn’t have a rim, but a clear plastic line that wraps around the bottom. After a few months of cleaning them every morning the plastic line broke. The eye doctor place fixed them while in wonder of how they broke. That had never happened before, they said. The next day while I was cleaning my glasses I realized how it had happened. As I was cleaning them I was pulling them away from the rim, putting pressure on those thin plastic lines. So, now I clean them coming from the opposite direction and they have never broken again.

Some time later while visiting my grandparents, I shared with grandpa what had happened. He and my family chuckled when they heard the claim that the doctor’s office had never before seen that happen. They said it sounded like the bedbug letter. I asked what that meant and he told the following story.

Many years ago, during the days that travel by train was more common, a man had a terrible nights sleep during his train trip because he was bitten by bed bugs all through the night. He wrote a letter to the train company making his complaint thoroughly clear for his disgust with the discomfort that these bed bugs had caused him. The train company replied with the sort of response most would expect to hear in an apology. They were very sorry for his inconvenience as they had never had this happen before and were not sure how it happened. Therefore, they would make all necessary arrangements to make sure that this room was cleaned from top to bottom, thereby eliminating all bed bugs for future guests… how thoroughly embarrassed to have had that happen on their train as the company wanted all of their passengers to enjoy their trip in all the comfort that a train allows, etc. The only problem is that the secretary had enclosed the customer’s original complaint letter in with the apology on which a note was attached that read “send the bed-bug letter” Apparently, it happened so often, they had a form letter already prepared for these complaints.

So, this morning while I carefully cleaned my glasses so that they wouldn’t break I thought about that story and the bedbug letter. It makes me laugh every time I think of it. Then, I started thinking of the bedbug letter responses in my own life. I seem to have a lot of them, form responses that have become so reactive I don’t think much of them. How are you doing today? I say that I’m doing fine, good or great (at least it’s a bit different each time). That’s the most common bedbug letter that I know of. Not many people, and not many times, have I heard anyone really go into an elaborate explanation of how they are really doing. It would throw me off if they did.

When a cashier thanks me they usually follow it up with wishing me a good day, too. I’ve heard it so often that when I hear them thanking me I don’t even wait to confirm they’ve wished me well, I just happily reply with my bedbug letter answer “thanks, you too!” How embarrassing when they happened to have left out the wishing me a good day part.

I’ve noticed that oftentimes I expect the same reaction from someone that I would have given had I been in the same circumstances. If I encounter someone with something good or bad and I would have reacted in a certain way, then I always expect the other person to react in that same way. It throws me off when they don’t conform to what my expectations would’ve been, to my bedbug letter.

On garbage day we all get out those bedbug letters and start mailing them, only forgetting there was a holiday and the garbage man isn’t coming. Still, the entire neighborhood has all their garbage cans ready for pick up.

I like the story of the bedbug letter and I’ll look forward to seeing similarities throughout my life that I find compare to my own personal bedbug letter responses, reactions, and behaviors. What I can learn from this story is the need for sincerity. We can slip into the trap of living so habitually that we can loose focus on what we may normally let slip by, the opportunities for friendship, observation of the beauty, appreciation for the uniqueness, and the simple occasion to brighten the world around us.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

A Favorite Song

This song is sung at EFY (Especially For Youth) and is a favorite of mine. I love seeing all the wonderful youth singing this beautiful song and exuberating the spirit within them.