Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Friday, November 02, 2007

The Thousandth Time May Prove the Charm

by Kerry Blair

Since I run with a den of wolves (and use the word “run” in only the most metaphorical sense) I am well-indoctrinated in the Law of the Pack. The Cub Scout follows Akela . . . The Cub Scout gives goodwill. Got it. While I know the law and the promise and most of the handbook by heart, the eight-year-old boys in my charge are still struggling to remember the motto: Do Your Best. If they were girls, they’d have not only memorized those three words, they’d have internalized them for life.

I don’t know what it is about the female of the species – particularly the female of the LDS species – but “best” doesn’t seem to be good enough. By the time we’re adolescents, most of us think we should be perfect.

Please tell me why we’re like that. Despite what you sometimes hear, we don’t learn it at church. Our leaders – from the prophet on down – repeatedly counsel us to prioritize, simplify, choose Mary-lives over Martha’s. And yet we persevere in our craziness.

Maybe we just haven’t heard the message enough times. In a little gem called Mountain Interlude, Robert Frost wrote: Our very life depends on everything’s recurring till we answer from within. The thousandth time may prove the charm. Yesterday I stood on Temple Square in Salt Lake City, looking up at the temple and recalling in vivid detail when that “thousandth time” first struck me.

I was a new stake Relief Society president in an area that had recently endured a firestorm of controversy and hurt feelings. The sisters were divided, distrustful, and bewildered. Under the stake president’s direction, we’d planned an evening designed to provide fellowship and hopefully healing. I wanted everything to be perfect. To make it so, we worked feverishly for days, paying attention to every detail. Because harmony and beauty invite the spirit, we’d even color-coordinated everything – from the decorations down to the table coverings and even the food. (Believe me when I say that everything was just peachy.)

One hour before the big event, the only thing left to do was to set up the cake we’d ordered as the centerpiece. My counselors went home to change clothes, leaving me alone in a hall that was beautiful, peaceful, and completely quiet. As I opened the pastry box, a scream pierced the air.

The one screaming was me. The cake was blue. Not pastel blue or “just a little blue” or even robin-egg’s blue, but Cub Scout blue-and-gold-uglier-than-sin blue. If it had been slathered with slime and adorned with live roaches I couldn’t have looked at it with more horror. Unless I acted fast, the whole evening would be ruined by that cake.

You have to be an LDS woman – or Martha Stewart – to understand that last paragraph.

I ran home, grabbed all the white frosting and cake decorating bags I had in the cupboard (everybody has a year’s supply of white frosting, am I right?) and sped back to the church. I was crying in frustration as I struggled to get the stupid key to activate the stupid green light that would give me 1.6 seconds to open the stupid glass door. I couldn’t do it. The frosting, bags, key and I all hit the concrete in the same moment. I’d had it. The evening was ruined and I was too tired and too stressed to care.

That’s when I experienced one of the most meaningful miracles of my whole life. Through my tears I caught a glimpse of bright and shining gold. It was the setting sun glinting off letters firmly affixed to the side of the building: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

I know, it doesn’t sound like much of a miracle to me either, but it must have been the thousandth time I’d seen the name of my chosen church because my heart really did answer from within. In fact, it pounded with such surety I could finally see the situation – and myself – rightly. I was serving in His church, so what would Jesus do? Possibly he wouldn’t weep over a wrong-colored cake. While I didn’t see a vision, I did suddenly recall with vision-like clarity every story I’d read about Christ’s mortal ministry. Sermon on the Mount: no centerpieces there. No chairs, even. No linen tablecloths and matching napkins when Christ broke bread with the apostles. No sparkling punch for the woman at the well. No cake for the five thousand. (Bread of life? Enough and to spare.) Then, because the Spirit knows me so well, it went a little further and asked: Can you remember a time when Christ said to his apostles, “How does everything look? How did I do? Was it good enough? Do you think they liked me?”

It was a paradigm shift of eternal proportion. With occasional lapses of judgment (read: sanity) I have never been the same.

It all came back to me yesterday on Temple Square. Perhaps it was the thousandth time I’d looked up at those spires and contemplated the eternity they represent. At any rate, I stood transfixed and unable to control the tears of awe and gratitude that ran down my cheeks. When a tourist kindly stopped to ask me what I was sobbing about, I spent some time telling her – enough that we sat down together on a bench – before walking her over to where the nearest missionaries waited.

As I hurried away a few minutes later to meet my son and a dear friend for lunch, I prayed that this good-hearted stranger would recognize truth the first time she heard it. If she did, I’m confident that 999 temple-visits later she’ll finally understand exactly what I was trying to say to her.

And if you you read this blog enough times, maybe eventually you will, too.


At 11/02/2007 3:12 PM, Blogger Josi said...

That is beautiful, Kerry--how very inspiring. Makes me want to work hard at getting those 999 times out of the way.

At 11/02/2007 3:43 PM, Blogger Stephanie Black said...

Kerry, I really needed to hear this. This is wonderful. I'm going to print this out and save it.

At 11/02/2007 5:12 PM, Anonymous Jennie Hansen said...

Kerry, this one should be in your book. It's definitely a keeper.

At 11/02/2007 7:00 PM, Blogger Marsha Ward said...

Kerry, this is why you're one of my favorite people on earth. You just GET it.

At 11/02/2007 8:18 PM, Blogger ChillyGator said...

Thank you for that story, Kerry, that's just what I needed to hear today.

And it sort of gives our game of "I See the Temple I Win" a whole new meaning...

At 11/02/2007 11:19 PM, Blogger Katie Parker said...

Wow. Great post, Kerry. Definitely food for thought...bread, not blue cake.

At 11/03/2007 12:22 AM, Blogger Stephanie Humphreys said...

Thanks, Kerry. I needed to hear that.

At 11/03/2007 7:41 AM, Blogger Keith Fisher said...

I gave a lesson about this recently at church. I was trying to persuade the brotheren to uderstand and to not force there own expectations on their wives.

Maybe the reason is because there are more girls in the world than boys, perhaps there is a competition built in from birth.

At 11/03/2007 9:31 AM, Anonymous marlene said...

So many truths and thoughts tucked concisely into a beautiful, heart-touching essay! I am still rereading because there is so much there. Perhaps some of our perfectionism truly does come from our desires to set an atmosphere where others can be most receptive to our message,(isn't that what plot and settings are in our books?)but maybe another part is that we want to be seen as better than others. As females we spend a lot of our early years learning to present ourselves so that we can attract the attention of a good man, and in doing that we can become pretty competitive. But a good deal of that becomes irrelevent when we focus on an eternal perspective--or it should. Sometimes setting is important--seeing the name of the church on the wall, seeing the temple spires--but more essential is having the spirit reveal the truths we need when we need them and in a way that we can understand them.

I am touched and reminded by your words, Kerry. Hopefully I am closing in on the five or six hundreds. Rereading your blog gives me more. Thank you.

At 11/03/2007 10:05 AM, Blogger Anne Bradshaw said...

Kerry, you are amazing. Wonderful writing. Hope you don't mind me quoting you in some future RS lesson?

I used to get in a stew about messing up, but these days am more relaxed about embarrassing situations and usually turn them into a joke. I've made so many mistakes while teaching or leading meetings, you wouldn't believe. Seems like if I laugh about them, the class laughs with me. If I act mortified, everyone feels bad for me and the atmosphere gets tense. So I'm thinking, it's not the end of the world, let's laugh, it's easier all round.

At 11/03/2007 11:36 AM, Blogger Tristi Pinkston said...

Kerry, you are so awesome!

I don't know why it is that we constantly worry about things -- I do know that I really felt for you over that blue cake. We do fret too much over the wrong things. I've gotten a little better at that over time, but that doesn't mean I'm good at it yet. Should I be all competitive and try to get it in 500 times instead of a thousand? :)

At 11/03/2007 4:08 PM, Blogger Cheri J. Crane said...

I agree with Jennie, Kerry. This one is a keeper. Words to live by, and exactly the boost I needed today. Thank you for sharing.

At 11/08/2007 8:00 AM, Blogger Marnie Pehrson said...

I'm speechless! I laughed. I cried. There's a tear rolling down my cheek. And considering this Saturday is my first faith workshop and I've been preparing and going over every little detail in my mind a million times, this is EXACTLY what I needed. I just LOVE you Kerry! You're amazing!

At 11/11/2007 12:28 PM, Blogger Evil HR Lady said...

I read this post in Sunday School today when we talked about Paul's advice to the Colossians to be "grounded."

Thank you! It was perfect.

At 11/12/2007 1:18 AM, Blogger Janette Rallison said...

What a great story. You inspire me. But how did the meeting go, anyway?


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