Joy, Mockingbirds, and Spiritual Survival...

I was sitting in church this past Sunday participating in a lesson being taught on “Joy and Spiritual Survival.” Nearly two months ago I had heard that very talk delivered live by President Russell M Nelson at our General Conference, and three weeks ago I read the talk, twice in fact, in preparation for the talk (basically a sermon, of sorts) I was asked to deliver to one of our congregations. But in none of my previous listening or reading did I grasp this simple lesson until Sunday.

Joy, is a principle of power, just as faith is a principle of power. As we search for, strive to obtain, and attempt to live a life of joy, the very act of our focusing on joy brings God’s power into our lives. That thought never made much sense to me until this weekend while contemplating a series of incidents that have occurred in our home over the past few weeks. In his address President Nelson taught,
When the focus of our lives is on God’s plan of salvation...and Jesus Christ and His gospel, we can feel joy regardless of what is happening—or not happening—in our lives. Joy comes from and because of Him. He is the source of all joy...
As in all things, Jesus Christ is our ultimate exemplar, “who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross.” Think of that! In order for Him to endure the most excruciating experience ever endured on earth, our Savior focused on joy!
And what was the joy that was set before Him? Surely it included the joy of cleansing, healing, and strengthening us; the joy of paying for the sins of all who would repent; the joy of making it possible for you and me to return home—clean and worthy—to live with our Heavenly Parents and families.
If we focus on the joy that will come to us, or to those we love, what can we endure that presently seems overwhelming, painful, scary, unfair, or simply impossible?
To that last list I would add, unpleasant, embarrassing, and frustrating, but that list could go on.

So, to what extreme can we bear? To what end can we endure?


Miss Maudie, Atticus Finch's across-the-street-neighbor, reminded us that "some men in this world...were born to do our unpleasant jobs for us." "Sometimes," Atticus said, "we have to make the best of things," and this is no more evident than how "we conduct ourselves when the chips are down." After all, "The one thing that doesn't abide by majority rule is a person's conscience."

Such was my experience last week. Earlier in November Ethan and his day program took a field trip to the Phoenix Police Museum. While there Ethan spotted his grandfather's name on a display. He pointed it out to the DTA staff, who were pleasantly surprised to find out the Ethan's grandpa was a former Executive Assistant Police Chief. The tour continued under the watchful (yes, I'm being facetious) care of the three adult DTA staff. At some point during their tour Ethan came upon a display which had a small basket of engraved pocket knives set out for sale. Looking them over, he couldn't help but think how wonderful they were, and decided to pocket a pocket knife from the display stand. A few days later, his little sister observed him hiding something under his shirt, and upon further checking discovered that Ethan had stolen the pocket knife.

The knife was turned over to my wife, who gave it to me, and last Wednesday I walked into the museum to return it. I went as Dad, not a fellow police officer. So, when I walked in and recognized the retired officer at the counter, I approached and simply waited for him to recognize me. If he did, he did. But I wasn't there to ask for favors, or to have him look the other way simply because he knew me, or worse yet, because we were both police officers. Embarrassing enough as it was, I was there to help my son right a wrong.

I stepped to the counter, offered the simple, yet detailed story about what happened, and pulled the knife out of my shirt pocket. By this time, at least two other employees had heard my story and gathered around. The retired officer at the counter looked at me with a bit of bewilderment, then asked, "Is he okay?" "Yes," I explained, he hadn't cut himself, we just needed to return the knife, and I offered an apology. "Is it possible he bought it, I think we keep those behind the counter?" "No, he didn't buy it," I said, "the staff would have had to pay for it, and we hadn't sent any money with him." "Maybe you can reward him for being honest about it," he said. "He didn't tell us," I replied, "until we caught him." "Oh," the officer struggled to find some other alternative. It was no use, my son had stolen from my police museum, and here I was for all to see, revealing our sin, and trying to make restitution.


By Saturday, we had moved on. I was sitting on the couch watching some football when I heard my wife gasp, with a startled, "What are you doing?" "I-don't-know," he said, as if it was one word. I quickly got up and walked down the hall to Ethan's room. As I approached I could hear my wife ask several more times, "What are you doing?" to each question Ethan had one response, "I-don't-know." As I entered the room I saw clearly what the problem was. Ethan had taken a very large, nicely bound volume of a collection of Jules Verne stories and he had tore the pages out of the binding. Earlier when I had checked on him he had been sitting on his bed watching Yogi Bear, the movie. Within 5 minutes he had suddenly decided to tear a book apart.

I asked him what he was doing, and why he had torn the book. He started with, "I-don't-know," but you could see it in his eyes, he had an idea but he just couldn't express it. I turned off the TV, sat down and looked him in the eye. "Why did you tear the book apart?" Still he struggled, but couldn't find the words to tell us why he did what he did. It was painful, he would start to say something, then stop, start again, stop, start again, stop, again and again. My frustration was mounting. He had just tore up an expensive book, and now couldn't even tell me why.

He picked up the book, again, thumbed through the pages, still struggling to find the right words to explain why he just tore up a very fine book. As he fumbled through the pages showing me each of the chapters it suddenly dawned on me. "Were you trying to separate the stories in the book?" His eyes light up, "Separate the stories. That's the word I was looking for, separate the stories. I was trying to separate the stories."

Atticus chimed in to my head, "If you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you'll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view--until you climb into his skin and walk around in it."

"Okay, sweet boy," I said, "continue to separate the stories in the book. But please don't do it to any other books. From now on we will only buy books that have one story in them." "Perfect," he said.


In the middle of all these incidents Ethan took another field trip to Metrocenter Mall, where he saw Santa. When he got home from that field trip he called for me to "come see something." I went downstairs where he pulled out a picture of him and the jolly one himself. I couldn't help but smile. There he was, all bundled up, in his stocking cap, scarf, jacket, and gloves. It must have been a chilly 62 degrees that day, but, hey, it's winter time and it's what you wear in the winter, when you're a sweet twenty-year-old boy sitting with Santa!

As I reflected on the picture, and the innocence it revealed, I was filled with joy knowing that I was Ethan's dad, and would be for eternity. It was that simple, amidst all the drama, meltdowns, and incidents he brings me pure joy because he is simply innocent. Once again Scout's voice came into my mind: "Atticus was right. One time he said you never really know a man until you stand in his shoes and walk around in them. Just standing on the Radley porch was enough."

Returning to President Nelson's address,
What will you and I be able to endure as we focus on the joy that is “set before” us?... What weakness will become a strength?... What disappointments, even tragedies, will turn to our good? And what challenging service to the Lord will we be able to give?
The answer: Everything!


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