I seem to have a stubborn streak in me that wants to do everything without asking the man upstairs for help. In my opinion, God really does not care if I have corn, peas, lima beans, or green beans with dinner, so I should not waste his time asking. Generally, minor sniffles or 24 hour bugs do not require religious blessings, fasting by family members, or hours spent on my knees; these petty trials are minor, biological elements that run their course quickly and do not require the powers of heaven. Yes, I can be somewhat of a cynic when it comes to religion.
In his wisdom, our Heavenly Father has honored me with a son who has learned the importance of communicating through prayer. As I am an Elder in my church, I had the honor of both baptizing him and performing his confirmation when he was eight years old. When I gave my son the gift of the Holy Ghost/Holy Spirit at his confirmation, I blessed him that he would quickly learn the language of the spirit and understand his message and teachings. This, coupled with his great faith in prayer, unshakeable spirit, big attitude, advanced reasoning ability, and high intelligence, give me a formidable combination to contend with in my home.
The following are three stories which illustrate the blessings of prayer, the faith of a child, and lessons I have learned from these. While each of these vignettes is somewhat self-deprecating and humorous, they must be told for the lessons taught and learned. Are they appropriate to an on-line humor magazine like The Spoof? Maybe so, and maybe not. Their humor, however, is human situation comedy from everyday life and demonstrates my own inadequacies and foibles.
My son learned to talk well and developed an extensive vocabulary at an early age. He was saying family prayers (with assistance from his parents) before his third birthday. During his entire year in the Sunbeams (the name of his three year old class in church), he was the only child who was able to pray on his own without help and who actually wanted to say prayers (he volunteered every week).
During these early years of his life, we lived in Amarillo, Texas. Each Saturday afternoon or evening, we would go out as a family and work in our yard. Our grass grew quickly in the Texas Panhandle and required mowing at least every other week, but was easier to mow weekly. We also had several rose bushes, fruit trees, a grape arbor, and a vegetable and flower garden.
Every Saturday, while I was using the mower or the weed wacker or doing some other chore, Billy would be outside with me and the rest of the family. He had a small, plastic shovel, rake, and hoe set that he would use to help with the yard work. Billy's work would quickly cease, however, when he found the frogs.
We had a rosebush in our front yard that was probably over thirty years old. Within the roots of that rosebush, there lived a family of frogs. The largest and favorite of these was proudly named Grandpa Frog by Billy. A disturbance by the mower, trimmer, water hose, or rakes would drive these frogs from their hole and out into the daylight, only to be caught and entertained by a two year old. Billy would carry these frogs around the yard in whatever container he could find and talk to them and play with them. When they would pee on his hands from fright, he would giggle and tell everyone about it. Playing with the frogs was the best part of the yard work, at least in a two and a half year old's mind.
One week, everyone else went somewhere on Saturday and I was left alone with the outside chores. While using the weed whacker near the rosebush, I hit something. I shut it off and knelt down to investigate. To my shock and chagrin, I discovered that I had hit Grandpa Frog.
The animal had a large slash across the head and the face and was not moving. The cut was across one eye, and that eye was missing. Being a little boy once myself and having done all boyish things, and then having other pets and animals as I grew up, I was sure that it was dead. I laid it aside, in some weird hope that it would somehow heal itself, but that did not happen. I did not know what to do.
This was in the middle of the summer. The previous December, Billy's baby sister had died. He had trouble sleeping at night because of the loss of Michelle. Death and mortality were not popular subjects around our house.
After the conclusion of the work, I came back to the yard and to the frog. It still appeared dead and was unmoving and in the same spot and position where I had left it. I picked it up, went to the side of the yard, and set it over on the other side of the fence by a neighbor?s rosebush. I assumed that their cat, or some other neighborhood cat, would eat the frog. For some strange reason, this seemed a better idea that putting it into the dumpster inside of one of the trash bags. I then started thinking about what I would tell Billy.
I said nothing about it, except to my wife, for the entire week. (Yes, I was a coward, wasn't I?)
The following weekend, we were out working in the yard as usual. Billy found and played with the other frogs, but was upset that he could not find Grandpa. I said nothing; I didn't have the guts to tell my son that I had killed his frog.
That night, it was Billy's turn to say our family prayer. I whispered to him the things that he should say, and he repeated them all. When we got to the part where I would help him to close his prayer, he did not repeat my words. Instead, for the first time ever, he added his own words to a prayer. Billy said: "please bless that my frog will come back." I felt two inches tall.
Every prayer that Billy said for the next three weeks included that injunction. He said it whenever it was his turn at meals and at bedtime. Still, I did not have the courage to tell him why he never found Grandpa Frog with the others on yard work days.
Three weeks after he discovered the frog missing, which was four weeks after the "accident," what I can only call a miracle occurred. I recall the moment vividly. I was working in the center of the yard next to the sidewalk. Billy was over by the rosebush. Suddenly, he picked up something and started running towards me, screaming with every step.
"Daddy, Mommy, look! My frog is home! Grandpa Frog!"
My first thought was that my child was carrying around some diseased ridden dead frog.
Billy carried in his hands a large frog. There was a long scar across its face. One eye was missing. It was alive! It was also peeing with terror on a little boy's hands as it bounced across the grass.
My son played with that frog until we finished the yard work, then put him back under his rose bush and went inside.
That night, it was Billy's turn to say prayer. He prayed and added a new phrase. This time, he said: "Thank you that my frog came home."
I have no idea what the life expectancy is of a frog. I do know that Grandpa Frog lived under our rosebush for two more summers before eventually disappearing.
To this day, I cannot logically explain what happened. I thought the frog was dead, but he was alive one month later. Because of this experience, I have a greater testimony of the power of prayer and the of faith of a child. When we list the "pearls" of our life experience, this is one of the shinier ones on my necklace.
Billy used to have a hamster. She was a sweet, cute, little, albino Siberian Dwarf and had big red eyes. Naturally, her name was Red Eyes. We bought her when we lived in Tucumcari, but moved her with us to Moriarty. Her extensive hamster cage (about four habitrails hooked together) was on its own coffee table in our dining room area.
One evening, Billy went to her cage to get her out to play. He found one of the lids off and could not find the hamster anywhere in the tunnel system or the chambers. We took this as an opportunity to clean out her cage and figured to find her somewhere in the wood chip litter, the torn up toilet paper and paper towels, and all of her toys. She was, alas, not to be found.
We started searching the house, looking everywhere she could get to in every room. This took up our whole evening. No luck.
At the beginning of the search, we knelt and Billy prayed that he would be able to find Red Eyes and that she could come home where she belonged. As of bedtime, the prayer had not been answered. I let him stay up a little longer than normal, searching in vain.
When it began to get late and was well past time to turn in, the hamster was still missing. I took my upset almost eight year old (his birthday and baptism were just days away) and sat down on my bed. I talked to him about covenants, explaining that sometimes this was a good way to get our prayers answered. I told him that if we agreed to do something for the Lord, that he would agree to give us certain blessings for our sacrifice or obedience. I also explained that sometimes God had his own plan in mind and could not support our ideas.
After discussing what he could offer his Heavenly Father, Billy decided that making sure we said prayer every night and that he read his scriptures every night was a good idea. We took turns praying and asking God if he would return Red Eyes if Billy agreed to read his scriptures and say prayers nightly. We felt good about the prayer and the covenant. This was followed, of course, with prayer and scripture reading.
Billy asked if he could sleep with me in my room that night. It was closer to the living room. I am also a light sleeper, so we put a sheet of newspaper down beside my bed. We put Red Eyes food and water bowls down in the center of the paper. The plan was that if she walked on the paper to eat or drink, I would hear her and wake up. The pile on the paper also included a piece of carrot, her favorite snack!
As Billy was fading off to sleep, he looked at me and said, in a slurred voice "Heavenly Father says she's in the kitchen."
I have made my own mistakes with interpreting signals and signs in the past, but was not going to ignore this one. If a child tells me that God said something, I am going to listen.
I carefully got up from my bed, so I didn't wake Billy, and walked out towards the kitchen. I turned on the light and found Red Eyes. She was sitting in the middle of the kitchen floor, looking up at me as if to say, "What took you so long to get here?"
I reached down and scooped her up. We walked (well, I walked and she rode in my hand) back to my bedroom and I woke up my son. I told him that someone wanted to talk to him.
Naturally, he was excited and happy to see her. After hugging and kissing her, he started chewing her out for scaring him by running away.
Before going back to bed, I told Billy that we needed to say another prayer thanking the Lord for keeping his part of the covenant.
In January of 2004, three years after he started reading the scriptures, Billy finished them. The only nights he missed reading were nights that were spent traveling. We alternated reading verses. At first, it was only between four and ten verses a night. The number grew as his reading abilities and vocabulary increased. After reading the verses, I would explain them to him.
Even though Red Eyes passed away a few years ago, Billy says that he has made a covenant with his Heavenly Father and that he must honor it; we still read the scriptures nightly before bed. Right now, we are in 1st Samuel in the Old Testament. I am proud of him for his faith and obedience.
We spent the winter of 2000-2001 in Moriarty, New Mexico (about thirty miles east of Albuquerque). It was the snowiest, coldest, wettest, winter I have ever experienced. We had our first snow in November and had snow on the ground continuously through late February.
We lived about ten miles from town, about a half mile from the pavement. After we hit the pavement, it was a five mile drive to the main highway. Billy's school sat at the intersection of that paved road and the main highway, so dropping him off on my way to work was an easy daily task.
It was early February of 2001 and the roads were snow packed and icy. It generally took me about twenty minutes to drive the five miles to the school when that was the case, so we left a little early.
Within 500 yards of the main highway, I hit a patch of ice, spun around in a couple of donuts, and went off of the road. The front end of my GMC van was in a small ditch, but the back half was still on the road. As the car was a rear wheel drive and the place where my back tires had ended up was pavement, I thought I might be able to back it out.
I put the car in reverse and tried to slowly push back onto the road. The tires spun and the passenger side of the car started to slide slightly towards the ditch. I didn't want to end up there, so I stopped gassing it.
My son looked at me and told me that he would say a prayer. I told him to go ahead and do it, so he unhooked his seatbelt and knelt down in his seat and begin to pray. I got out of the ban, walked around it, and tried to come up with a solution.
I got back into the car and Billy told me, "The Holy Spirit says that you should grab on to the steering wheel and push real hard on the gas."
Since that was my plan also, I went ahead and did it. Once again, the car began to drift to the ditch on the right. I stopped.
Billy asked me why I quit when the Spirit told me to floor it. In my stupid, senseless, ignorant fashion, I told him that The Holy Ghost had never driven a car out of a ditch or on ice, and that I would handle things. Real sensitive, right?
I got out of the car and walked around it again. I could not understand why I was not backing out onto the road. There was no ice, I was not high-centered, and I should have traction.
Another car pulled up and offered to call a tow truck for me (she had a cell phone and I didn't). I thanked her for her offer and told her that it was a good idea, because I couldn't get out.
I got back in and tried again.
This time, the car started to slide to the right again. Billy yelled, "Keep going, Daddy." I was upset and cold and frustrated and wanted to teach my son and the Holy Spirit a lesson, so I kept gunning it anyway. I knew a tow truck was coming to pull me out, so I might as well make my point to my son!
As the passenger side of the car slid into the ditch, the driver's side front was lifted up and out. I was now facing the road, at an angle, with one side of the car in the ditch and the other on the paved shoulder.
I looked ahead of me. In about thirty feet, the ditch petered out to nothing and rose to meet the level of the road. I shook my head, put the car into drive, and drove forward slowly. A few seconds later, I was up and out of the ditch and back on the road.
If you ever get the urge to say "shut up, Spirit," shut up yourself and listen!
This time, I said the prayer thanking God for our help in getting ourselves out of our predicament.
Today, I am almost 46 years old (less than two weeks away). My son is 14. I have learned more by being a father to him than I have ever learned in any classroom of school or life. I thank God daily for his sending him to me.