It’s early in the morning and I can’t sleep very well. I think I have Back-to-school jitters because it’s the first day of classes at BYU today. I get to teach two sections of Teachings of the Living Prophets and I’m so excited about that, but there’s always some anticipation and restlessness when it begins. As I lay in bed sleepless, I recalled an experience I had a couple weeks ago and felt like I should write it down before all the details elude me. I thought I should write it in my journal or something, but then I remembered I don’t have a journal. (I know, for shame.) Plus, the combination of my paltry blogging habits and the death of Google Reader in July has pretty much left me with a dozen readers who drop in occasionally to browse my archives. So to the few of you and my posterity when this blog eventually gets printed out in a pseudo-journal, here’s my story. It’s a cool one.
I taught at Education Week this year at BYU and it was a beautiful experience. Stressful, to be sure, but it stretched me in some important ways and reminded me how Heavenly Father can step in and do great things when we remember how much we need Him. On day two of teaching, I was still juggling all my preparation and nerves with all the responsibilities of getting my kids settled in to their first week of school. I was feeling overwhelmed but trying my best. I dropped them off at school, late again. Two for two so far. My gas light was on in the car and I had some serious doubts about whether I would make it to the school and back before I could hit the gas station. I rolled in on fumes and filled up and then headed to Provo, but even more behind schedule. I was just kind of in a wound-up state and my mind was busy with the frustrations and the obligations.
On my way down State Street, I moved into the left lane to turn towards Provo. On the right side of the road, I saw a man walking through the gas station parking lot with a gas can in his hand. Something about the way he was carrying himself made me think he had the weight of the world on his shoulders. My brain said, “you should go help that guy.” Now let me flash back a couple weeks when I was walking with my good friend and mentioned to her that one of the frustrating things about the world we live in is that sometimes it feels too dangerous to help people, especially as a woman. I might be driving along with my kids and see a man struggling in the rain, but the part of me who watches the news and wants to live says it’s just not wise for me to offer him a hand. The age of lodging strangers and picking up hitchhikers is past, you know. So when my brain told me to help him, I started rationalizing why that wouldn’t be a good idea. But the thought/feeling (let’s call a spade a spade: it was a prompting) came back, I felt a reassurance that it was okay and I would be safe. So I crossed the three lanes of traffic, pulled my car around into the parking lot, and pulled up to the surprised young man, now seated dejectedly on the grass by the road.
I rolled down my window. “Do you need any help?”
He just looked at me with some confusion, and mumbled, “No. I’m fine.” He was dressed in a mechanic’s jumpsuit and I’m guessing he was in his mid-twenties. He struck me as shy or soft-spoken.
“Are you sure?,” I asked. “You have a gas can in your hand. Do you need some gas?”
Still looking down, he shook his head no, and then said, “Well, I do, but I don’t have any money.”
Relieved that this was a very fixable problem, I told him, “Let me get you some gas.” He looked up with disbelief. “What?”
“Come on over to the pump and let me get you some gas. Meet me over there.” I pulled the car around. I watched him walk over to meet me, but he was incredulous. “Are you sure about this?” “Of course,” and I swiped my debit card and handed him the pump, “Here. Fill it all the way up.” He bent down to the ground and sat silently while the empty can took a drink. In my mind, I wished I had some cash to offer him so he could fill up his tank once he got back to the car, but I didn’t. I never have cash; I’m a mess. As he finished up, I heard myself offer him a ride to his car, but he declined. He screwed on the lid, and still without looking up, he said, “Thanks.”
“You’re welcome,” I said, “God told me stop, so He must have been thinking about you.” It just came out like that. There was a long pause, and then he spoke up, “Can I ask you a question?” Of course.
I don’t know what I expected him to say. Maybe “Did God really ask you to stop?” or “Why would you do that?,” but his actual question took me by surprise.
He asked quietly, “Do you think people can change?”
Another pause. “Okay. Thanks.”
“You’re welcome.” And with that, he carried his gas can back across the parking lot, and I turned to my car. As I walked around the back and climbed into the driver’s seat, I felt the Spirit wash over me and I just knew I’d done something important. I climbed in, shut the door, and thought to myself, “Whoa. I just had a President Monson moment!”
You know how he’s always telling stories of doing and saying small things and being in the right place at the right time and how he learned to “never delay a prompting”? Well, I’ve had several simple experiences with that principle, but this was the clincher for me. I felt so . . . grateful, honored that Heavenly Father would use me as an instrument in that moment. I loved Him and I loved that man, and I could just feel God’s love all over myself. It was awesome.
The rest of the drive to campus was a totally different mindset. No more stress. No more worrying about my schedule. No more frustration. Just gratitude.
Since I was late and had already missed the first class I had planned to attend, I hurried to campus and went straight to the classroom I thought I wanted next. Once it got going, I realized that this wasn’t my intended class, but decided to just sit it out and see how it went. Part way through her class, the teacher mentioned, “Today is President Monson’s birthday.” Really? Whoa. I had no idea. And then she said, “This is how we are going to celebrate.” A few years ago, a reporter had asked President Monson what he wanted for his eightieth birthday from the members of the church. Her power point put this quote up on the screen.
“Find someone who is having a hard time or is ill or lonely, and do something for him or her.”
I don’t think my gas station experience was a coincidence. It was a way for me to unknowingly honor President Monson on his birthday and gain a testimony of his prophetic influence and the power behind his sometimes simple counsel.
Happy birthday, indeed, President Monson, and thank you for reminding a stressed-out mom what really matters.