Sunday, September 20, 2009

Learning to Be a Steward

Yesterday was a definite milestone for me. It was so exhilarating to finish my first marathon, especially since this goal has been on my list of things to do for a few years. I would not have made it without the support of my family and encouragement from my friends. Like other things that have happened this year, this accomplishment was certainly unlooked for.

If you had told me back in April that I would be running a marathon this year, I wouldn’t have believed it. In a previous blog post, Master the Tempest is Raging, I referred to some physical limitations I had had for several months which I thought would make it impossible to run at all this year. It was back in April that I recounted the whole experience to some friends over dinner. That weekend things changed and I learned an incredible lesson on stewardship. Here is the story.

About a year and a half ago, I was reading Doctrine & Covenants 78:17-21, and had some strong impressions. The scripture reads, "ye are little children, and ye have not as yet understood how great blessings the Father hath in his own hands and prepared for you... he who receiveth all things with thankfulness shall be made glorious; and the things of this earth shall be added unto him, even an hundred fold, yea, more.... And he that is a faithful and wise steward shall inherit all things."

My understanding of stewardships changed. Before that, I truly believed that nothing I have is mine. It's all the Lord's. He has just allowed me to take care of it. When I do, like the parable of the talents, He increases my stewardship. But after reading this passage of scripture, I had a new understanding. The Lord says, "receiveth all things with thankfulness." If God gives us both trials and blessings, then we need to receive our trials with thankfulness as well. That thought had never occurred to me before, and I can say that it is still not an easy thing to do.

I look back at all the times I have prayed that a trial might end or be taken away, as if to say, “Okay, I’m done. I’ve learned my lesson. Can this be over now?” Suddenly I felt like I could no longer ask such a question if I wanted to be a steward for Father. Instead I have to ask, "What would Thou have me do with this trial? What would Thou have me learn from this?" It completely changed my outlook.

Looking back, I don’t believe it was a coincidence that I developed some discomfort in my lower back shortly afterward. I was being tested on what I had just been taught. From that point my condition seemed to get worse and I was uncertain about what I should do. There were many times I wanted to pray for help to fix the problem, but the spirit wouldn’t let me. I would pray to Father and would be ready to ask for help, but the feeling would come, “Be patient.” That wasn’t easy for me to do, but I did my best.

About a week before my family and I were involved in performing in the production “Savior of the World,” circumstances changed. As I mentioned, Liz and I were having dinner with some close friends where I described the condition with my back. I had tried a variety of things to improve my health, but nothing worked to make me whole. My friend suggested that a lot of runners are able to run through the back pain and work it out. I had tried that previously and found that each time I tried my condition got worse rather than better. I was unsure about what to do next.

Two nights later, I went to a kick-off fireside for a Pioneer Trek that we were planning for the youth in our stake. We watched a video of the previous trek and I was sad that I might not be able to go. I wanted so much to be with the youth for the experience, especially since a couple of my sons would be old enough to go. At the same time, I was also worried that I might undo what little progress I had made so far.

That night, I returned home and knelt in prayer. As I did, I expressed to Father my desires to participate in the activity and how much it meant to me to be with the youth in our stake. For the first time during the whole of this experience, I felt it was okay to ask Father for help with my problem, and He answered my prayer.

The following day I decided to go for a short walk in a nearby Canyon. I didn't want to do too much, but I thought a short distance wouldn't hurt. I felt like I needed to do something to show my faith. As I walked, I stopped for a brief moment and offered a small prayer. "Father, I would really like to go further." An impression followed in my heart and mind, and the best way I can put words to it was, "Why not?" So I kept going. I didn't feel uncomfortable like I had on previous occasions. After a while I said another little prayer in my heart, "I would really like to run." Again the answer was, "Why not?" So I started to run. I only ran a short distance before I was out of breath, but I walked a total of about four miles that evening. I was ecstatic. When I got home, I felt fine. I waited to see how I felt the following day, and found that I had no residual discomfort. Instead I felt better than I had in months. My body felt different.

I don't know how else to explain the feeling, but I could tell my back was healing. It was as though Father had done everything that I could not do, and then He expected me to do the rest. Since that time things have continued to get better at an amazing pace.

The friends we had dinner with inspired me to begin running and take up cycling again. I admired their strength and stamina. I believe the inspiration of my friends was also an answer to my prayers that helped bring resolution to a year-long ordeal. With the change in my health, their examples were just what I needed. The combination of running and cycling seemed to balance each other and increased my core strength. This in turn allowed my back to heal. I was able to work through the discomfort and make some significant progress.

In a short period of time my physical lifestyle changed. I was running farther and faster. I increased the distance and pace of my bike rides. My training was so successful and accelerated so quickly that I believed I could participate in the pioneer trek after all. I went with my wife and two of our sons. Together we walked 25 miles while pushing handcarts. It was a marvelous experience and my heart was full of gratitude. Not only had my back been healed, but I felt that I was in excellent shape for the journey.

With these positive results, my dormant ambition to run a marathon didn’t feel so unattainable. I considered training so I could make an attempt next year. However, the pace of my training accelerated to the point that I thought, “Maybe I can actually do it now.” With a month remaining before the Top of Utah Marathon, I made it a matter of prayer and felt really good. I decided to register and pushed until I felt confident in my ability.

I may not be a fast runner, but I certainly beat my expectations – not only for the race, but where I thought I would be earlier this year. What an amazing feeling it was to have family and friends cheering me on at the end of the marathon, and the end of this experience. Once again, I was overwhelmed with gratitude for the love that I felt in my heart.

Looking back, I am so grateful for the trial. It really was a blessing that I did not recognize. I learned so much about being submissive and patient. I learned to look to Father for strength, and to be content with whatever He feels is best for me. I have learned that amazing things can happen when we put our faith in Him. Father has taught me how to trust and rely upon Him. I have found that I have come closer to the Lord than ever before. What a blessing I would have missed out on if I had not chosen to be a steward.

As we performed in “Savior of the World,” there are a couple parts where we are told that the Lord will bless us and keep his promises, “in His due time.” After this experience, those words rang in my ears. In my case, it was less important when I got better and more important that I learn the lesson Father prepared for me.

I have also discovered that many of the blessings we receive are really trials; Father tests us to see what we will do when he gives us great gifts. Similarly, many of the trials we are given are actually blessings. Though they lack the appearance, they can do so much for our progress. The biggest determinant in whether an experience is a trial or a blessing depends more upon our hearts and their orientation.

I wouldn’t have guessed it a year ago, but I now see this experience as more of a lesson than anything else. I have been grateful for the instruction. I am also very much looking forward to my next run.

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