Monday, May 27, 2013

Perspective and Miracles

I was out doing some ecclesiastical visits yesterday afternoon when I received four successive calls on my cell phone. After quickly wrapping up the current visit, I called my wife and she informed me that my mother had had a fall at the church just down the street from our house, and was being prepared for transport to the emergency room. I arrived at the church to the sight of a fire truck, an ambulance, and a half dozen EMTs, paramedics and other emergency personnel. A man that I didn't know expressed that he was glad I had made it and that my mom was still inside. I entered the church in time to see four men lifting my mom onto a stretcher as she cried out in pain.

My mom was with my sister and her kids in the hallway at church and were nearly the last ones out the door for the day. She had a minor stumble in the hallway and caught herself with her left leg when she felt something crack across her hip, and then fell to the floor. Her femur had broken clean in half, near the hip (they call this a broken hip).

My brother and I followed her to the emergency room where treatment began. A host of doctors and nurses examined her, administering pain medication, taking x-rays, a CAT scan, and other necessary procedures. She was in severe pain, but was surrounded by her children and competent medical personnel.

As she told her story of her hip fracture to the attending caregivers several times, she also explained why she wore a supportive boot on her right foot--that was due to a spontaneous bone fracture that occurred a couple of months ago. One of the technicians exclaimed, "Wow, you've had a rough year so far," to which my mom replied, "Yes, especially with my husband dying in January."

So yes, it had been a very difficult year. One might wonder why all these trials were compounded in six short months: the physically and emotionally exhausting process of helping her husband pass away from cancer and the resulting whirlwind of funerals, forms and phone calls that followed; a few months afterwards a foot fracture that immobilized her for six weeks; and only three days since she had begun driving again, now she had a broken hip that would require surgery and probably another six weeks in a rehab center.

We are all discouraged for her. Planned vacations will have to be rescheduled. Baby births and blessings may be missed. Serving and helping her children, which is where she derives the most satisfaction in life, will be postponed. Why these trials?

I did not sleep well last night. Each time I awoke I thought of Mom and her pain, wondering how she was faring, and anxiously anticipating the surgery this morning. It was around 3:00 AM this morning though, that I had a thought that absolutely terrified me: what would have happened if she had fallen at home?

My mother is still young and independent, and her children have not been in the mindset of checking in with her regularly in case of such an event. In short, things could very easily have been much worse. It is possible that she may have gone for days without being discovered, had she fallen at the wrong time, in a place where she could not move and could not contact the outside world.

This change in perspective caused me to rethink all the things that had happened to her.

Her spontaneous foot fracture was not caused by a stumble or any hard impact; it was a ticking time-bomb that could have gone off at any time. And thankfully, it did not occur until after she was done being a full-time caregiver for my dad in his last days battling cancer. Thankfully, she could get around and attend to his many needs without the disruption of being immobile. The funeral was over and most of the paperwork was sorted out before she was forced to take it easy and recover herself.

Likewise, this broken hip was another time-bomb. There was no terrible fall; the hip was broken before she ever hit the ground. In reality, it was weak and could have broken at any time. We are so blessed that my mom and dad were not separated during the last months or weeks of his life, with him in a cancer facility and her in a rehab facility. Instead, he died at home with her by his side. We are blessed that her hip broke in a public place where help was immediately available, rather than at home where it may have taken hours or days to get help. And we are probably blessed that her foot was doing so much better so that she didn't have to deal with rehabilitation of both breaks at once.

Instead of so many possible bad combinations of events, her trials mostly came one at a time. Yes, they came in quick succession, but for the most part, they did not overlap. One could even choose to view this as a miraculous, orchestrated series of events from an all-wise Father who was careful not to pile on too much at once, while still allowing the pains and trials of mortality that are required to foster our development and growth.

As she lay in the Emergency Room with powerful medication eventually giving her relief from pain, I realized what a blessing it is to live in a time when such medicines were well understood and readily available. It is a blessing that a skilled surgeon can repair the bone and that with only a month or two of rehab, she can be walking again. It is a blessing that there are wonderful emergency response personnel and kindly good Samaritans who will help someone in need. It is a blessing that she lives so close to her children, so that we can offer support. It is a blessing that her sons hold the priesthood and could unite with her faith and the faith of her daughters to bestow upon her a blessing of comfort and healing through that divine power.

It just took a little perspective shift for me to see that even during severe trials, miracles and blessings are still occurring.

Monday, May 20, 2013

The Windows of Heaven

Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it. (Malachi 3:10)

The prophet Malachi promised that through payment of tithes, "the windows of heaven" would be opened.

I have heard many inspiring stories of the literal fulfillment of this promise. It usually goes something like this: a family is short on money and has a choice to pay tithing or pay bills or buy groceries or some other essential need. They decide to pay tithing, trusting that the Lord will take care of them if they keep their commitment to Him first. They are rewarded with a miraculous blessing and somehow make ends meet through a new job, a promotion at work, a kind neighbor, the actions of a stranger, or some other means. They are always taken care of.

I accept these experiences at face value. I believe the Lord does take care of those who pay tithing. I have always tried to be a faithful tithe payer and have always felt very blessed by Him. In fact, I have always been so blessed that I've never felt like I've truly been tested by the law of tithing; I've never had to "prove" the Lord. I've never had a miraculous story about tithing to call my own.

Until now.

It wasn't me directly. It was my seven-year-old son, Andrew. A neighbor had given him a rare chance to earn some cash by picking dandelions, hoping to avoid them going to seed. Andrew earned one penny for each flower picked. I was so impressed with his industry and the great idea of battling the weeds that I gave him the same offer. After a few hours of work, Andrew had amassed the princely sum of about four dollars.

As I sat down with our change box to pay him, I talked to him about tithing. I helped him calculate ten percent of his earnings. We began filling out the donation slip to give to our bishop. Then I brought up the subject of offerings for the poor, and asked Andrew if he would like to give some additional money to help those who had less. He wanted to reallocate some of his tithing to be offerings. I explained that it didn't work that way; that the offerings were in addition to the tithing. Something changed in Andrew. His fist tightened around his coins. His brow furrowed and he grew more and more resistant to the idea. Soon he wasn't so sure he wanted to pay tithing at all. All my persuasion, lecturing, and other advanced parenting techniques only seemed to cause his fingers to grasp more tightly. The lucre was taking hold of him.

Finally, in exasperation, I put down the tithing slip and walked away, telling Andrew that if he didn't want to keep the commandment of tithing, I wasn't going to make him. It was his choice.

A short while later, Andrew came to my room with his money and told me he was ready to pay tithing. Relieved that he had made the right choice, I again sat down with him and filled out the slip: forty cents in change went into the envelope. He happily watched while I licked the seal and set it aside. Then Andrew left the room.

Now for the miracle: a few minutes later, Andrew suddenly reappeared. He had a serious, intense look in his seven-year-old eyes that I had seldom before seen. He came up to me, and gave me a dollar.

"What's this?" I asked.

"It's for the poor people," he replied.

I looked into his innocent eyes. They were red and brimming with tears. "That is very nice, Andrew. But you don't have to give that much," I reasoned with him. After all, I don't think I had ever donated an extra 25% of my gross income to the poor, on top of the 10% tithing. His gift, like the widow's mite, was truly generous.

"I want to, Dad," he said resolutely. "I want to help the people that don't have enough to eat. I want to give them my money." He spoke with as much passion as a seven-year-old boy can feel.

And I suddenly understood. I understood that the windows of heaven are not just open to pour out financial blessings upon those who pay the tithe. In fact, temporal blessings are wonderful, but they pale in comparison to the divinity that pours into the souls of those who put God and the needs of their fellow men above their own desires. My son, in paying his tithes and offerings, was making an invaluable investment in his character; he was opening up a window of heaven that shone directly into his pure, little-boy heart.

Truly, the Lord does fulfill his promises.