I can do without: Lessons from a one-legged crow

Mother nature can be a funny thing.

I don’t think it means to be smart or inspiring, even though it often is.

I mean, think about it.

The sun doesn’t set out each day to look absolutely breathtaking and I don’t think the mountains realize they’re being painted and hung in living rooms. Rivers don’t mean to be calming and the clouds don’t mean to form shapes. They simply obey the commands of time and of motion and of the hand of God, not pausing for a second or considering what it means.

And it’s inspiring somehow.

Today it wasn’t anything very beautiful that got me thinking–actually, it could be considered anything but. It was a one-legged crow.

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I was sitting at a traffic light on my way to work this morning with my window rolled down, thankful that the mornings are beginning to grow warmer. My thoughts were wandering when I spotted a crow, smaller than the rest of the pack on the other side of the street, who hopped across two lanes of traffic toward where my car sat. From a distance I noticed he was slower, and one of his wings worked unusually hard to somehow give him the balance he needed to make the short little jaunt. It wasn’t until he was an arm’s length away from my arm that was draped out my window that I realized he only had one leg.

So, something to know about me: I’m an animal lover. Sometimes to a fault. I make my husband brake for packs of pigeons that are a little slow to fly out of the way and if I had the space to house them all, I’d probably become a puppy hoarder or keep adorable rodents in my cupboards, each with personalized little beds. But alas, I am realistic–even when it comes to simply watching a one-legged crow struggle to eat his half-eaten carton of fries in the median and restraining myself from scooping him up and making him a crutch. I watched him, saddened a little, until I saw another crow *with both legs, might I add* swoop down beside him to share the treat. But the one-legged crow wouldn’t have it. He snatched up the box and hobbled away, finally breaking into flight after a few failed and clumsy attempts.

I can do without, I almost heard him whisper to me.

Touche, little crow, I almost said back.

We can all do without.

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How many times do we sit back and feel sorry for ourselves when our car breaks down and public transit is the only option for a few weeks? How many times do we complain when our friends always seem to have the bigger house, the better job, the more picture-perfect life? How often do we struggle with being the “less-attractive” one, the one with the speech impediment, the one without the college education, the one without the leg? And to each of us, there’s a whispered lesson from the spirit simply saying: You can do without.

I’m often inspired by stories of triumph by those who have lost a limb in a war and then go on to compete in the Olympics or by those who are entirely burned and stripped of their physical beauty, only to find love again and go on to be a motivational speaker and inspiration. But then, when it comes to the little, unfair disadvantages we sometimes freeze in place.

You have a learning disability. You’re diabetic. You grew up with just one parent. You’re twice divorced. You’re living paycheck to paycheck. There’s that one something that threatens to make you hobble and complain and slow down.

We’re all a one-legged crow.

Moses–one of the greatest prophets of all time–complained to God about a speech problem he had.

“O Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue” Moses said in Exodus 4:10. But Heavenly Father assured Moses, and he’s assuring us every day, that despite a speech problem–despite any problem or hindrance or setback– “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).

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I’m grateful for little reminders in nature and in life that testify to God’s law. I’m grateful for one-legged crows whose wings grow stronger and whose one remaining leg takes compensates for the lack of the other, lifting off in flight, proving that it simply takes determination.

And it only takes His strength.

I’m grateful that his grace is sufficient–and because of that, I can do without a lot.

You’re trying way too hard to get to Heaven

My life—as of late—has done a complete 180.

As I write this there’s a million other to-do’s on my mind, one of which includes the pile of laundry sneering at me from across the room. Oh and I can’t forget the bunny cages. *Sigh* It’s becoming a lot to handle.

A different job. Different schedule. Different faces that I see every day. Different church calling. You name it, and it’s most likely different now. I’m not trying to complain, since we all carry a load, but it’s a good way to preface something that’s been on my mind.

So here I sit–dirty laundry and all.

All my life I’ve worked in journalism, whether it be for the local paper or a news station, so my recent switch to sales and eventually marketing has been a culture shock to say the very least. Especially commission. Good ol’ commission that can make the greatest of people turn into vicious blood-thirsty wolverines. *Not saying that my co-workers are like that, of course.*

When I first began the job after all my training, I couldn’t help but feel anxiety about my commission. How much I get each day depends strictly upon how well I do with a customer and how much they fork over. I dictate grocery money, whether or not my husband can afford his batch of school books, or if my rent gets paid on time. Simply showing up for work doesn’t cut it here. I’ve found myself dwelling on it quite a bit since my first day—and at times I’ve worked myself into a panic. What if I don’t do enough? What if the customer just walks out on me? What if I mess up on a presentation of one of the products and the sale goes south from there? Worries, worries, worries. It never ends.

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But then, it happened. As usual, the Lord decided to step in.

The help came in the form of my new manager. As if my manager Mike sensed my tension, he sat down with me just a day or so ago and simply stated that if you come in and just think about commission or how high your stats are, you’ll never find success. Commission takes care of itself when you decide to take care of the people. “Make a friend, make a sale,” he said to me with an easy shrug.

Simple as that.

I stewed on what Mike said all day, turning it over and over in my head until I got home that night.

My husband came to me with a scripture he had in his hand while I made dinner. “The love of many will wax cold”, he read in one verse. “Men’s hearts shall fail them” he read in another. What do you think those verses mean? he asked me.

And that’s when it struck me. Call it a lightning bolt, if you will, or an “Aha” moment. But it was one of those times where everything gelled together, and I was reminded of something I had forgotten.

In every area of my life I’ve been worrying and stressing and focusing inward–and I know I’m not alone in that.

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We go through our weeks stressed to the max while trying to earn the most money, have the most crafty and color-coordinated and clean house on the block, trying to get all the ironing and laundry AND dishes done on the same day. Trying to be the one to have the perfect church lessons written out and prepared each sunday. Trying to check off all the to-do’s and then some. Trying to do our visiting teaching each month and attend every activity so we can cross it out on the list.

We’re trying too hard to get to Heaven.

And in turn, our hearts are failing us. Even more so, we’re failing each other.

It’s hard to express how profound this was to me. It was so simple to Mike to toss out the fact that selfless sales are the successful sales. It wasn’t a huge revelation for Matt to read that our hearts are failing us. But for me, the reminders changed everything.

The Savior is a perfect example of it. Not once during Jesus’ ministry on earth did He do anything simply to “check it off” the list. He didn’t heal the blind because it was scheduled for that day. He didn’t tell Peter to give up fishing and follow Him because He assumed it would further his success as a prophet. He didn’t forgive the prostitute because He wanted others to praise Him for His kindness or mercy. He didn’t scream through forty-something lashings to prove his strength to the world.

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He did everything because of love. Simple as that.

His concerns were never with where he was going because He knew that would take care of itself. His concern was with us.

 “But Jesus called them to him, and saith unto them, … whosoever will be great among you, shall be your minister: And whosoever of you will be the chiefest, shall be servant of all. For even the son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:42–45.)

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It’s a reminder I think we all need, whether we’re juggling two jobs or juggling two babies on the hip; whether we’re the head of cub scouts or the head of a company; whether we sit in the same pew every sunday and know all the answers to all the doctrinal questions or struggle to wake up on time. We need to remember that the Lord never called us to be perfect. But He did call us to love.

With recognition of the things that need to change in our lives and the perspectives that need to be adjusted, we can start out on the road to recovery from selfishness.

I hope to be more like that–in every area of my life, really. I strive to be more like Mike, who shrugs at the worry of commission and worries more about the guest who is struggling with a payment plan. I strive to be more like my Dad, who always taught me to “listen more” to others and talk less. I strive to be more like the Savior, who never thought a second about his own entry into Heaven, simply because he wanted to lead us to the gates first. I strive to be more like the sparrow, who depends on the rain and the seeds and the air under its small wings so fully that it doesn’t even give it a second thought that it might not be there tomorrow.

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Only then–when we stop worrying about conquering the world–will we find peace. Only then–when our hearts turn outward–will we revive our failing, worried, stressed, self-centered, aching hearts.

It’s time to stop trying so hard that we grow cold to what matters.

 

I don’t know about you, but I want to live the kind of life so that when I do finally show up to those pearly gates– I won’t be standing there alone.

 

Endings are the saddest part: But they often don’t exist

I bet everyone can agree that there’s always beauty in beginnings.

Driving to the hospital to meet my newborn nephew the other day, getting the keys to that first apartment or the brand new cherry-red car on my 16th birthday. Putting a veil on and carefully tying the back of a brand new wedding dress, accepting that much-prayed-for job offer, the first day on a brand new campus that’d be home to my lifelong memories. Beginnings always carry a sweet smelling perfume of a memory to me. But endings? No. Normally, *unless it’s a boring movie or a canker sore* endings are the stuff that tragedy is made up of.

At least it seems like it.

Recently I got the news that my sister-in-law’s best friend Logann was diagnosed with cancer for a second time. But this time, it’s in its final stages. My sister-in-law had cancer too and died just two years ago. Logann’s sister, Lauren, reached out to me with pictures and memories, and before long I was scrolling through her facebook page, blinking back tears and reading statuses that hint at worsening symptoms. I don’t know Logann much, but I know how it feels to face an ending.

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I carefully clicked through the photos of the young faces of the kids she’ll soon leave behind. The ending for their family is coming, just as it had for Natalie, who didn’t even make it to that last trip to DisneyLand with her kids. Just as it had for my Dad who hadn’t even had the time to acquire wrinkles. Just as it had for countless faces and names from my readers who share pictures and stories throughout my inbox–people who share the general ache of having been through an ending of some sort.

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For some, it’s the ending that comes with seeing a child move across the country with a new husband and a U-Haul. For some, it’s the loss of a career or a divorce that leaves empty drawers, empty halls, and an empty heart. For some, it’s the ending that comes with a severed friendship or a miscarriage that leaves you with empty arms and a few loose ultrasound pictures to prove that a child ever even existed.

Time can seem like a relentless, cruel train that moves fast and uninterrupted. Time stops for no one and quickly reminds us that every day we’re dying or nearing an end of something. Some of us just know when that time will be, others of us have no idea.

It all just ends in an ending, we think.. And the only beauty we can possibly hope for is that there will be a beginning soon after.

But what if we decided to find the beauty before that eventual beginning? Is it possible? Well, today–I learned it is.

Today was General Conference in my church. General Conference is a time when leaders of my church come together to talk about a wide variety of things that they’ve prayed about or felt inspiration to teach. No matter where you are in the world you can listen in by internet or television or broadcasts in meetinghouses. One talk in particular today reached me in a way that made me wonder if Heaven itself wrote that message just for Kayla. But of course not–we all needed to hear it.

The talk was by President Dieter F. Uchtdorf. He spoke about gratitude throughout the pains of life, understanding in all things, and before ending his talk he simply stated,”There seems to be something inside of us that resists endings. Why is this? Because we’re made out of the stuff of eternity. Endings are not our destiny.”

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Endings don’t sit well with us because there’s often no such thing. We feel the need to keep existing–to keep connected with those we love and to always have another sunrise. We often forget, I learned today, that we’re not dying every day. We’re just continuing.

And if we believe in eternity, then that means we believe that nothing–not even death–can be considered an end.

As children of the creator of a universe dotted with galaxies and stars and life still undiscovered that goes on and on and never hits a wall, we also follow the pattern of creation. We don’t end either.

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Sometimes it’s hard to see simply because we don’t comprehend the magnitude of it, just as we can’t wrap our minds around the nonexistent walls of universe that stretch on forever. But every now and then, like those words that hit me today, the spirit will whisper a reminder.

Lauren sent me a note recently tagged along with the photos of her and her sweet sister that states she’s grateful for time that she has left with Logann–the gift that reminds her this isn’t where it ends. It’s simply a pause. She said Logann spends her days talking about eternity with the kids–a concept that is almost impossible to understand now, but something that will be the only comfort someday and the only truth.

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There’s a beauty in knowing that we’re more constant than the sun–that our eternal value is more dependable than the tides. There’s a beauty in being reminded that what we call endings are nothing more than a flicker of pause in a seamless fabric of eternity–the same fabric that makes up an ever-stretching universe. The same fabric made from our Father’s hands.

When we look at it that way–at least for me–it’s not just the beginnings that seem beautiful. It’s the continuing.

Click here to donate to Logann and her sweet family.

God will give you more than you can handle: I guarantee it.

There’s a certain phrase I’ve come to really dislike.

All my life, I’ve heard this phrase whenever I go through a rough patch. *And by rough patch, I mean a prickly, gnarly patch that leaves me bleeding to near death*. You’re probably familiar with those kinds of “patches”.

“God will never give you more than you can handle” is the phrase I’m referring to.

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And it’s a sweet sentiment, really. The people who say it are speaking from caring and concerned hearts.

BUT–it isn’t true.

I know that sounds harsh, but I promise I haven’t suddenly lost my mind or have become an angry-with-God bitter woman who hates the world. Actually, when I realized the simple fact that God can–and will–give us more than we can possibly bear, it got easier.

And it all started to make more sense.

I’ve often trudged through trials that overwhelm me. Ever since my childhood there have been trials that have made me “grow up” pretty fast. But granted, I know for a fact you’ve had your own fair share too, because that’s the reality of life. But this last trial is the one that shook me to my core and had me searching like a mad woman for answers as to why it was happening–and how I could possibly even survive it.

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I lost my Dad to cancer last month–if you’re a follower of mine, this is old news. But–it was absolutely horrific.

Every day leading up to his death was like walking through every level of hell–slowly– for lack of a better term. There’s no other way to describe it. The images…the sounds…the sleepless nights…the cries for God while we look on, helpless…the torment of rubbing morphine in his cheeks, praying it’ll absorb–but to no avail. The horrible, wrenching pain that came with lifting him up, laying him back down, lifting him up, laying him back down…because he became so restless and cried out for “home” every few minutes. And all along, in the back of my mind, I reminded myself that millions of people go through this, and have already gone through this, very thing. And it is simply unbearable. If you disagree–it’s because you haven’t been there.

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This trial was so consuming that I hate to even put it in the past tense–sometimes it still consumes me. Yesterday, at my Dad’s memorial service, it consumed me all over again.

I’ve suffered from nightmares where I relived the memory over and over mercilessly–I sometimes see his face on strangers that pass and worry that I’m going crazy. I cry over sad songs in the car and torture myself with stacks of pictures and yellowed photo albums. It’s beyond just missing him. And even with a firm testimony of the gospel and with peace that he is exactly where the Lord prepared him for, it is still too much for me to handle at times. It steals my breath–and it can steal my joy.

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So, the other day, I turned to the scriptures. I needed help.

I wanted to know where that phrase was that people kept repeating to me in church and at work and over the phone. Why did the Lord “trust me so much”?! Why did He think I could handle these kinds of trials?

And then I realized: I couldn’t find that quote because it isn’t there.

It never mentions anywhere in the scriptures that the Lord won’t give you more than you can handle. Yes, in 1 Corinthians 10:13 it speaks of Him giving us an escape from temptations so that it’s not too much to bear. But when it comes to pain, trials, heartache, and burdens– not once does it say it won’t be more than we can bear. Instead, it beautifully says this instead:

“Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn of me…for my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matt. 11: 28-30)

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The words struck my heart, as you can imagine. Christ is speaking to those of us who are carrying burdens much too heavy for our own shoulders. And in that one verse he simply states the reason why we are given more than we can handle: It’s so we can come to him. It’s so we can trust him enough to hand over our heavy, crippling burdens and let him carry the load.

You might be heavy laden right now like I was before reading and re-reading and re-reading once again this scripture that has never stuck out to me as much as it has lately.

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You might be shrunken with sadness or drowning in debt. You might be overwhelmingly angry at someone at church or aching under the pressures of raising children or maybe the inability to have them. You might be dealing with a terminal disease and you still have young children. And chances are–you might need your Redeemer to find you on the path and take up that heavy cross you’re dragging. Besides, even he tells us that he’s more equipped to carry it, so why not hand it over?

I’ve come to learn–slowly but surely–why I need Him.

I suppose it’s because of pride that I always thought I could just do things on my own. I’m strong, I’d say. I’m a tough cookie. I can help others through their tribulations while carrying mine all by myself. Well…wasn’t I wrong.

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I didn’t really know what needing him meant until I had no other choice. I didn’t know what it meant until I wrapped my arms around my middle so I wouldn’t fall apart–or the time I choked on tears and yelled toward Heaven. Or the times when I was utterly alone, and the silence was too much to bear. Those are the times that taught me he’s not just a want or a convenient symbol of love or a reason to do good deeds.

No, he’s the very air we breathe.

And he’s the only one who can make it bearable when life is simply anything but.

He knows how it feels to be sixteen

Well, it’s happened.

I knew it would.

Ever since my little sister was born, her perfect little self bundled up in a pink striped blanket and a little hat the size of my 7-year-old hand too-big on her head, I knew it would happen. One day, she’d grow up.

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And since I’m 7 years her senior and get the–honor?–of going through things before she does, I knew that one day she’d get her heart broken. Or that a boy would be mean. Or that someone would make fun of her and it’d be up to me to tell her they’re wrong. I guess I was just in denial that it would happen any time soon *or ever, really* because I just couldn’t handle it.

But yesterday, it did.

It’s a long story so I won’t get into it all (also because that’s her business), but part of it I suppose is my fault. I’m protective of my sister *like too much, maybe* and I saw something going on that was hurting her, and my entire family, as a result. An unhealthy situation, you might say. And now my sister is left with a broken heart. And in her words, “the world is ending”.

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I remember that feeling. You probably do too. Or if you’re a teen–sixteen, seventeen, eighteen maybe–you probably know what that feels like right NOW. And if I’m correct, you feel like it’ll never get better. Life just…sucks. Right? And everyone can tell you that this isn’t your whole life, that time heals all wounds, that as you grow and learn and experience life, those wounds you’re experiencing now will feel like NOTHING ten years down the road. I mean, I tried to tell my sister that. But of course that didn’t work, because right now the world is ending. And how dare anyone say different?

I felt helpless watching my sister go through this yesterday because I love her more than life. But nothing could stop the tears. No one could convince her that she needs to keep herself safe and sometimes being hurt now saves you in the long run. And deep down, I knew nothing would work. After all, nothing worked for me at that age. I had to carry the illusion of the world ending–I had to cry into my teddy bear and write in my journal that I hate my parents. It’s just what happens while you’re growing up. But for us who look back on that time, we helplessly want to CONVINCE those teenagers that they’re wrong–it WILL get better, and it’s not that bad compared to what’s about to come later in life.

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And that’s when my former bishop came over to the house and talked to us and I brought up the subject. His response was simply, “How do you think Heavenly Father feels with US even, when he has a much bigger perspective?”

And right then and there, it hit me. Heavenly Father, our perfect and loving parent, has been through it all. He knows what it’s like to cry over a boy in junior high or feel the stab of rejection at prom. He knows how it feels to lose a job in your twenties or have a spouse cheat. He knows how it feels to lose a parent–or a child– or face a doctor when they tell you it’s cancer. He knows how it feels to get older or weaker or to start forgetting things. He knows how it feels to die. But more importantly–he understands the joy at the end–the growth through the journey– and the reason to all things, simply because he has the bigger picture.

“For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the LORD, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.” -Jeremiah 29:11

And how many times, through scriptures, comfort by the spirit, and revelations does he try to convince us, just like I tried to convince my sister, that everything will work out for our good? And just like my sweet little sister, we fail to believe it. Because we haven’t ever faced something so hard.

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I still go through those times, of course–especially now, while laying beside my dad as his breathing is getting more labored every day, or dealing with financial struggles or hardships at work–where Heavenly Father whispers to me that I will overcome. That he knows my struggles and also knows I’ll conquer them. But like a sixteen year old again curled up in my bed, I sometimes simply can’t believe it.

But I have to trust.

There’s nothing I can say to make my sister feel better right now. Because life is a process you just have to experience for yourself and overcome each day. It’s a small, teeny oh-so-tiny tiny glimpse of what Heavenly Father feels for us and the sorrows he must feel when we shake our heads and say, “No Father, this isn’t fair. It won’t get better.”

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Because it will. And he knows that, just like I know my sister will get better.

He knows our pain and he knows the joys to come.

And he knows, girls *and guys*, exactly how it feels to be sixteen.