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kindness

15

nachos supreme

We were on the road last Tuesday, and stopped by a Taco Bell to grab some lunch.  When we were finished, I said to my son and EC, “I need to talk to the manager.” My EC looked pained – she hates it when I call people out.

I walked up to the counter:

“May I speak to the manager, please?”

A young man, mid-twenties I’m guessing, heard me and approached the counter with a look of friendliness mixed with dread. Oh, no. Another grumpy customer.

“May I help you?”

“Are you the manager?’

“Yes.”

I began: “We have eaten at Taco Bell for years, and there is one thing that constantly bothers me: The food never, ever looks – even remotely – as nice as it does on the posters.” I nodded to the menu behind him.  “Things are usually just thrown together by someone who isn’t even paying attention.”

The manager winced and looked nervous, but didn’t say anything. It was time to drop the hammer:

“We ordered a Nachos Supreme today, I wanted to tell you that it was the nicest, most well-constructed Nachos Supreme that I have ever seen in my life. It looked like the picture.”

He instantly looked relieved, but I wasn’t done.

“In fact, everything we ate today was great, and I just figured you should know that your people are doing a really good job, and I appreciate it.”

He looked so happy. He said, “Thank you for saying that! Usually people only talk to us when we screwed something up – they never talk to us when we do it right. I really appreciate it.”

I said, “Thank you, and keep up the good work.”

I turned and headed out the door, but not before I heard an excited voice coming from the kitchen. “Holy crap! Did you hear that? That was awesome!”

My EC and son looked curious, so as we walked to the car I explained the conversation. It made us feel good, and it was nice to know it made them feel good, too.

I do that kind of thing quite often, but before you lionize me for being Mr. Courteous, please know that I am also quite willing to address the opposite side as well. I have no problem calling out bad food or bad service – I consider it a public service that I offer. My EC, on the other hand, would rather not eat a meal that she paid for than actually send it back. I make her cringe sometimes. I just hope that the “karmic balance” falls in my favor.

A couple months back, two Apostles and two Seventies came and help a fireside in our area for the parents of teenagers. (Apostles M. Russel Ballard, and Dale G. Renlund, and Seventies Lynn G. Robbins and Joaquin E. Coasta)

The topics were primarily parenting and mission prep. Since the comments were directed at a specific audience, and not the entire church, I won’t delve in to what they said, but there is one comment that stuck with me that I will share, in a second.

Elder Robbins talked about how Heavenly Father would publicly praise His son, Jesus. (He didn’t list instances, so here are four.)

  • At the Savior’s baptism: “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” (Matt. 3:17)

Baptism

  • On the Mount of Transfiguration: “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”  (Matt 17:5)

transfig

  • Appearing to the Nephites: “Behold my Beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased, in whom I have glorified my name—hear ye him.” (3 Nephi 11:7)

Americas

  • Appearing to Joseph Smith: “This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!” (JS History 17) (“Beloved” is praise all by itself, right?)

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The point? Heavenly Father was pleased in His son, and willing to tell anyone who could hear.

What Elder Robbins said about parenting that stuck in my head is this: “We should look for opportunities to catch our children doing something right.”

It is an idea I have seen written about before, but I was racking my brain trying to figure out who else I heard mention this in a General Conference setting. Turns out it was Elder Ballard:

‘I hope it goes without saying that guilt is not a proper motivational technique for leaders and teachers of the gospel of Jesus Christ. We must always motivate through love and sincere appreciation, not by creating guilt. I like the thought “Catch others doing something right.” (link)

We are on the tail-end of raising our five kids. I wish that I had given more thought to this idea back in 2006 when Elder Ballard taught it. There were so many opportunities that I let slide by to catch one of my kids doing something well.

For example, there were times I opened a door, to be greeted by one of them kneeling in prayer. I would quietly shut the door and leave them be. The missed opportunity was to praise them later for what they were doing. Many times the dishes, or yard got done without any acknowledgment  from me.

It is so much easier to freak out about a “C” on a report card than to celebrate an “A.” It is more common to complain than to praise. Sometimes we set expectations at such incredibly high levels that we don’t notice the excellence, but fixate only on the problems.

And this concept isn’t limited to parenting. President Linda K. Burton asked a similar question in General Conference, “When was the last time I sincerely praised my companion, either alone or in the presence of our children?” (link)

Children, spouses, co-workers, employees, teachers, even the dude at Taco Bell would probably love to hear words of appreciation and encouragement from us. Instead, some of them only hear from us when they did something wrong.

Please don’t confuse this with false praise. I find the idea of fawning over someone when it isn’t really deserved to be patently dishonest. That is why Elders Ballard and Robbin’s words speak to my heart. There are real reasons out there to offer words of praise and encouragement – but sometimes you have to be actively looking for them. (Sometimes you really have to look hard!)

Idea: Everyday, I am going to try to pay attention and offer words of praise to somebody that I catch doing good job. Maybe one of my kids, maybe my EC, maybe an employee, maybe the dude at Circle K. I know from experience that it can brighten their day, and that it does brighten my day.

Slightest actions often
Meet the sorest needs,
For the world wants daily
Little kindly deeds.
Oh, what care and sorrow
You may help remove,
With your songs and courage,
Sympathy and love.
Scatter sunshine all along your way.
Cheer and bless and brighten
Ev’ry passing day.  (link)

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9

Drawer

I decided that this is a good time to tell you about one of my personal treasures. There is a lot of angst and distraction out there, so, with Thanksgiving coming up, I would like to shift the focus.

Pictured above is what I call my Drawer of Joy. It is the bottom drawer of an antique writing desk that we keep in our bedroom. It is mostly for decor, but I use it for a specific purpose: Whenever I receive a Thank-you note, a letter, or a card with a note from the sender, I toss them into my Drawer of Joy.

A lot of the things in my drawer came during the time that I was serving as a bishop. Every so often I would get a stack of pictures, letters or notes from a Primary, or Youth class. They were sweet – treasures. So, I decided to hang onto them. For years. Sure, I probably should scan them and toss them, but I can’t yet.

Occasionally, I need a “fix.”  Everyday is not always a great day. I don’t always feel great about myself. Some days I feel like I am spinning my wheels, or just doubt my self-worth. (Is that just me, or have any of you ever experienced those kinds of days – or years?)

Digging through my drawer and grabbing a random note or letter and reading it is good for my heart. Reading a sweet letter or card from my EC reminds me how much I love her. Reading notes from people I have served with reminds me of wonderful experiences we shared. Seeing the love and kindness that people have shown to me over the years warms my heart. I am glad to have a Drawer of Joy to dig into when I need some extra joy, or a testimony boost.

Here is the kicker: The only reason the Drawer of Joy exists, and is not just an empty drawer is this: People, moved to kindness, took the time to write a note, letter or card, draw a picture, or take a photo and send them to me. Their acts kindness touched my heart, and I hung onto them.

There is also a contrast: I also have a folder on my computer that contains emails and comments that run the other direction – communications that start out like this:

• Dear Bishop: I hate to be critical, and I know you are trying hard, but…

• Hey MMM: People like you are why I left the Church…

You get the idea.  Why would I keep them?  For my enemies list, of course!  Not really.  I keep them because it is a wonderful leveler – a reminder to be humble, and recognize that all has not been rosy.

But the “Drawer of Joy” makes me smile. Nothing warms the heart more than a homemade Father’s Day card written by your 8 year-old son, who is now married. Or a letter describing someone’s return to the fold. I am instantly thrown into the Gratitude-Zone, which is a good place to be.

Thanksgiving is coming up soon. I see lots of memes and quotes and talk about gratitude. I think that over the next week I am going to make an effort to actually show it. I am going take a few minutes to reach out to some people who have blessed my life. Whether by letter or card, email or message, I can bless someone else’s life as well.

Who knows? Maybe some folks out there have a box or drawer with something from me that might help brighten their days.

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Bishop art

11


Dikembe 1

Do you know who Dikembe Mutumbo is? If you like basketball you probably do. Dikembe is one of the top shot-blockers of all time. His specialty, rejecting a player’s shot multiple times, then wagging his finger at the victim. It was so familiar that Geico even made a commercial with him.

Now that we have established who Dikembe is and what he is famous for, I wan’t to switch tracks. (Typical MMM whiplash writing, to be sure.)

Last summer, Pixar released a pretty terrific movie called “Inside Out.” The film was set in the mind of a young girl, and attempted to explain how all the different emotions – joy, sadness, anger, disgust and fear all interplay in our minds.INside Out

I like the way the portrayed the different emotions jockeying for position, and the hilarity that ensued. But, at least in my brain, there was one character lacking:  My Mental Dikembe.

You see, I have lots of thoughts and emotions that I express throughout each day. But I have learned one thing: Not all thoughts and emotions need to be expressed. That’s where my Mental Dikembe comes into play.

When I am ready to say, or type, something that I probably shouldn’t, I need my Mental Dikembe to step up and swat that thought right out of my head, wag his finger at me, and say, “Not in my house!”

I used to think of this idea as having a “filter” of sorts that would keep me from spouting of with things that I shouldn’t say, but I am finding that analogy flawed. Why? Filters are permanent, and they get more clogged, rather than less porous as stuff is run through them. And heaven knows, on some days “porous” is my middle name.

That’s where my Mental Dikembe comes in. He swats those thoughts away before they materialize as a rude, wrong, or inappropriate comment. Most of the time.

The problem is, every now and again, my “Mental Dikembe” takes a powder, and the temp that replaces him is more like a “Mental Danny Devito.” He can’t block a shot to save his life – nor does he want to.

Case in point: Last night, I had some petty thing bouncing around in my brain that I wanted to say to my EC. It was something that didn’t need to be said, and I restrained myself for several hours, mostly because every time I was going to say it, I knew Dikembe was there, waiting.

Eventually, there was a brief moment that either Dikembe wasn’t paying attention, or he was exhausted from my constant barrage, but the comment slipped through his defenses, and I said it.

As the very words came out of my mouth, I regretted saying them.

It made for a sad evening, and a repentant husband.

Years ago, Elder Marvin J. Ashton gave a conference address in ’92 entitled, “The Tongue is a Sharp Sword.”  It stuck in my mind because he used the term, “bashing,” which I thought was an odd term to use in a conference talk.  Here is a snippet:

When King David was pleading for mercy in the fifty-seventh Psalm, he cried: “My soul is among lions: and I lie even among them that are set on fire, even the sons of men, whose teeth are spears and arrows, and their tongue a sharp sword.” (Ps. 57:4.)

In the world today we are victims of many who use their tongues as sharp swords. The misuse of our tongues seems to add intrigue and destruction as the media and private persons indulge in this pastime. In the vernacular of the day, this destructive activity is called bashing. The dictionary reports that to bash is to strike with a heavy, crushing blow.

Such a popular behavior is indulged in by far too many who bash a neighbor, a family member, a public servant, a community, a country, a church. It is alarming also how often we find children bashing parents and parents bashing children.

We as members of the Church need to be reminded that the words “Nay, speak no ill” are more than a phrase in a musical context but a recommended way of life.  We need to be reminded more than ever before that “if there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things.”  If we follow that admonition, there is no time for the dastardly hobby of bashing instead of building.

Some think the only way to get even, to get attention or advantage, or to win is to bash people. This kind of behavior is never appropriate. Oftentimes character and reputation and almost always self-esteem are destroyed under the hammer of this vicious practice.

How far adrift we have allowed ourselves to go from the simple teaching “If you can’t say something good about someone or something, don’t say anything” to where we now too often find ourselves involved in the bash business.

Seen any of that lately? It seems that I am not the only one who suffers from an overwhelmed “Mental Dikembe.”

Our coarsening political discourse has essentially become a non-stop litany of bashing – from almost every candidate and their surrogates, who use it to further their own agendas, to even highly visible church members who seek to “get attention or advantage” by bashing those they disagree with. Some say, “Oh, that’s just the nature of politics.”  Perhaps. But that doesn’t make it right.

It is almost scary to go on Social Media lately because so many of us have actually kidnapped our Mental Dikembes, tied them up, and shoved them into a closet. Then we let the shots fly, with no one there to stop them.

Which brings me to one of my all-time favorite quotes:

“When you wrestle with a a pig, you both get dirty – but the pig loves it.”

More from Elder Ashton:

It should come as no surprise that one of the adversary’s tactics in the latter days is stirring up hatred among the children of men. He loves to see us criticize each other, make fun or take advantage of our neighbor’s known flaws, and generally pick on each other. The Book of Mormon is clear from where all anger, malice, greed, and hate come.

Nephi prophesied that in the last days the devil would “rage in the hearts of the children of men, and stir them up to anger against that which is good.” (2 Ne. 28:20.) By the looks of what we constantly see depicted in the news media, it appears that Satan is doing a pretty good job. In the name of reporting the news, we are besieged with sometimes graphic depictions—too often in living color—of greed, extortion, violent sexual crimes, and insults between business, athletic, or political opponents.

I imagine my Mental Dikembe standing in the recesses of my brain, exhausted from having to reject countless salvos that I thought to launch. Some slip through, but his rejection percentage is actually quote good.

If the adversary can influence us to pick on each other, to find fault, bash, and undermine, to judge or humiliate or taunt, half his battle is won. Why? Because though this sort of conduct may not equate with succumbing to grievous sin, it nevertheless neutralizes us spiritually. The Spirit of the Lord cannot dwell where there is bickering, judging, contention, or any kind of bashing.

Is there a way to lessen the demands on my Mental Dikembe? Elder Ashton offers some advice:

So what is the antidote for this bashing that hurts feelings, demeans others, destroys relationships, and harms self-esteem? Bashing should be replaced with charity. Moroni described it this way:

“Wherefore, my beloved brethren, if ye have not charity, ye are nothing, for charity never faileth. Wherefore, cleave unto charity, which is the greatest of all. …

“Charity is the pure love of Christ, and it endureth forever.” (Moro. 7:46–47.)

Charity is, perhaps, in many ways a misunderstood word. We often equate charity with visiting the sick, taking in casseroles to those in need, or sharing our excess with those who are less fortunate. But really, true charity is much, much more.

Real charity is not something you give away; it is something that you acquire and make a part of yourself. And when the virtue of charity becomes implanted in your heart, you are never the same again. It makes the thought of being a basher repulsive.

Perhaps the greatest charity comes when we are kind to each other, when we don’t judge or categorize someone else, when we simply give each other the benefit of the doubt or remain quiet. 

Once again may I emphasize the principle that when we truly become converted to Jesus Christ, committed to Him, an interesting thing happens: our attention turns to the welfare of our fellowman, and the way we treat others becomes increasingly filled with patience, kindness, a gentle acceptance, and a desire to play a positive role in their lives. This is the beginning of true conversion.

There you go. A different way to look at the “filtering” process we all go through a million times a day.

Restraint is good. Not needing it is better.

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15

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-West Regional-Wisconsin vs Baylor If you watch sports of TV, you will understand some of these references. If you don’t, I will explain. In most televised sporting events, there are two main sportscaster, or announcers. One is the “Play-by-Play Announcer,” and the other is referred to as the “Color Commentator.”

The Play-by-Play Announcer is the guy who effectively narrates the game as it unfolds. Listening to sports on the radio is already terrible, but svn worse if you don’t have a good play-by-play announcer. The play-by-play guy keeps track of the score, who is doing what, fouls, time, etc., so you always know what is happening, as it unfolds. (Think Al Michaels, Marv Alberts, Brent Musberger, etc.)

The Color Commentator is usually an ex-player of coach who brings their personal insight into the broadcast, helping the viewer to better understand the game, and the people involved. They tend to interject stories or comments that do not interrupt the flow of the game, in order to make the broadcast more interesting. They can also range from very interesting to really irritating. (Think John Madden. Doug Collins, Jeff Van Gundy) Together, they can make broadcasts both more informative and more interesting. I know some people who would rather watch a game on TV than attend in person, because they miss the narrative and the replay.

Why am I rambling on about sports broadcasting? Because I noticed a parallel yesterday. But, as I often do, I yet need to explain something else before I get to the main point.

I have noticed that in much of our conversation (both in real life and online) we tend to lean more towards “color commentary” than we do “play-by-play commentary.” This is undoubtably a good thing, because play-by-play commentary of most of our lives proves painfully boring, as proved by so many people on Facebook each and every day.

So we stick with the “color” in our lives. The good, the new the different, the funny, the entertaining, and that is how we present ourselves. And that is OK, as long as other people don’t misunderstand and think that what we consider “color” is actually what other’s think our “play-by-play” must be.

Last night, My EC and I were stuck in traffic as we were leaving the Riverwalk in San Antonio. There were so many people walking past – and plenty of wacky people. I have always enjoyed people watching, and I began to point out people to my EC that I thought were funny: The ladies attempting to walk normally in their heels, the angry parents, the fashionably slovenly guys roaming in packs, the couple who had a bit too much to drink, the required crazy street performer, etc. I was adding “Color Commentary” to a boring situation, and having a good laugh at the expense of others.

After a few minutes of this, the traffic started to roll, and we were on our way. Then I started to thinking. (I haven’t talked to my EC about this yet, so honey, this is why I was kinda quiet on the drive back last night.) My “Color Commentary” was, and usually is, snarky, judgmental, and really pretty funny. And maybe kinda mean. I started wondering if I was capable of sitting in the exact same situation and noticing things like that cute family being together, or the couple holding hands, or the skill of the street performer, etc.

In all honesty, the “Color Commentary” was really just a filtered version of the Play-by-Play broadcast that was running through my head. I would just spout a portion of what I was seeing and thinking in order to get a laugh and kill time. It made me feel sad as I thought it through.

A little bit sad that I was cracking jokes and making fun of people, but a lot sad that the internal Play-by-Play broadcast in my mind was focused on those things. (Think for a moment of a basketball announcer who only mentioned the missed shots – are you with me?)

The Color Commentary was an accurate reflection of the Play-by-Play that I was thinking. Why isn’t my internal Play-by-Play Commentary more…”elevated?” Even if I keep it to myself, I am still thinking less than elevated things about other people.

“If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things.” (link) Duh.

That is the goal, right? That is what we seek after, but there are times when we see the negative first, as if that is our default position. I do know some really good-hearted people who seem to be wired the complete opposite  they look for the good in everyone, and are quick to point it out. As is usually the case, a prophet has already said it much better than I:

“What I am suggesting is that each of us turn from the negativism that so permeates our society and look for the remarkable good among those with whom we associate, that we speak of one another’s virtues more than we speak of one another’s faults, that optimism replace pessimism, that our faith exceed our fears. When I was a young man and was prone to speak critically, my father would say: “Cynics do not contribute, skeptics do not create, doubters do not achieve.” President Gordon B. Hinckley. (Link)

It does permeate our society. The worst-dressed lists garner as much or more attention than the best-dressed lists. The failures are discussed as much as the successes.

What are we lacking that might help?

Charity, perhaps?

“And charity suffereth long, and is kind, and envieth not, and is not puffed up, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil, and rejoiceth not in iniquity but rejoiceth in the truth, beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.”  (Moroni 7:45)

And how do we get more charity? By picking our arm every time we think something bad about someone? Nope – there is specific instruction on how to get more charity in our hearts:

“Wherefore, my beloved brethren (sisters too!), pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ; that ye may become the sons of God; that when he shall appear we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is; that we may have this hope; that we may be purified even as he is pure.” (Moroni 7:48)

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be pure to a level where our thoughts are kind by default? That the Play-by-Play Commentary coursing through our brains could be uplifting? That way, when we share our “Color Commentary” with the world, it would be a true reflection of what is in our hearts and minds on a regular basis, not merely finding a diamond in a pile of coal.

It is possible that I have overshared my own self-reflection, if so, I apologize. I know there are those of you who do not struggle with being snarky, judgmental or unkind, and goodness just seeps out of you. You have my admiration and respect. Then there are the rest of us who need to strive to that charitable state. MMM logo small

38

Five dollars

Yesterday I was in line at my local convenience store, with a large beverage in hand.  I was contentedly waiting, and sipping, while the man at the front of the line struggled to figure out how to carry his two hot dogs, drink, chips and candy bar at the same time. Amateurs.

I was yet 3rd in line when a young mom stepped up to the counter. She looked a bit frazzled, had a too-large-to-be-on-her-hip child on her hip that looked equally frazzled. She handed the cashier lady a debit card, which resulted in the following exchange:

“Twenty dollars on pump 2, please.”

“Declined.”

“Oh no! I’m sorry. Could you try $10?”

“Declined. Do you have another card?”

“No. Could you try five?”

“Declined.”

“I’m so sorry.”

The cashier’s face was made of stone – no compassion, or pity – or even the hint of a smile. The young mom put the card back in her purse, hiked the kid up higher, and turned to leave. I could tell she was about to burst into tears.

Now it just so happened that I had a brand new, crisp $5 bill in my shirt pocket. So I pulled it out and handed it to her as she walked past. She turned to me and said,

“Really? Thank you so much!”

I told her, “Been there. Done that.”

I let her cut in line ahead of me. She paid the lady and thanked me again as she walked outside.  I was feeling a bit sheepish that I hadn’t “manned up” and offered more than a fiver, but she was gone and it was my turn at the counter.

(Now I’m not telling you this story to make you think I am all that charitable – it was a whopping five bucks.  But what happened next is the part I want you to think about.)

I set my drink down along with my remaining two dollars. The lady running the register looked at me and asked,

“Why would you do that?”

“Do what? Give her gas money?”

“Yes. It probably is not good for her. People come here all the time to try and get money from people.”

I was a bit indignant when I responded. “Look. She didn’t ask me for anything. She wasn’t begging for money – I offered it to her because it was obvious that she needed it.”

The cashier didn’t say anything else. She just shook her head, and handed me my change.

Of course, I had to have the last word.  “You know, it might not have been a good thing for her – but it was a good thing for me.”

I took my beverage and I left. Irritated.  The young mom was still outside and shouted a happy “Thanks again!” to me, as she pumped her entire 1.5 gallons of gas into her car.

The lady at the lady at the counter irritated me, but I have spent enough time working in the humanitarian/charity field to know that there is a grain of truth to what she was saying. Satisfying someone’s short term needs rarely helps that person in the long run, and basic Church welfare principles reinforce that idea.

Many (most) charities and government support programs do foster dependence and weaken the very people they are trying to serve – which is why the Lord’s plan reinforces self-reliance, and asks the person to do something to give back. (One day I will climb up on my soapbox and talk about charities and the well-intentioned, but misguided damage they can do.)

If I had felt that the mom had been scamming me, I wouldn’t have given her a nickel. But at some point, I need to be willing to put away my distrust and just give – because that five bucks is worth much more than $5.00 to both of us.

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