Question: If you TiVo conference and play back the solemn assembly hours later, do you still stand and sustain even though everyone else have moved on to their nachos and naps? Last week was difficult for my wife and me, regarding different trials we were each experiencing. For the sake of privacy (especially my sweetheart’s) I won’t offer the particulars. I’ll only say we were both in situations that weighed heavily on our souls (typical bonehead me, I kept mine to myself and only shared it with LL after the fact). Despite increasing prayers and service for others, I was consumed by feelings of inadequacy, particularly because of harsh challenges at work. I felt my efforts for the Lord were unconvincing and rejected sacrifices on the altar, and that I fell short of the strong, genuine faith He required at hand. On Tuesday night, while my family was mercifully away, I slumped low in my chair, heavy with dark despondency. Finally the sobs broke loose and I fell to my knees. “Father, I need you,” I said. “I’ve tried to do Your will and serve where I could.” In an effort to state my case, I started listing all the things I’d recently done and the ways I’ve tried to improve. “Please– just throw me a bone here,” I said, and my cries became wordless as my thoughts continued to reach out to Him. After a while, I calmed down and knelt a little while longer, feeling spent, if not a little lighter from the act of sharing my pain. The following day my mood was positive and strong, and the office atmosphere changed dramatically. In retrospect, I tried to divine whether it was solely because my attitude shifted that things got better, but after careful replay I decided, no, things definitely changed there, too.
My wife, meanwhile, wasn’t going to find her relief until Thursday. Her tribulation came down to one meeting, and its outcome would profoundly affect her spirit and our family’s course. The night before, I gave her a blessing and she immediately felt a sense of calm. The anxiety was still there, but comfort had considerably ebbed it. The following day after the meeting, she called and filled me in on what happened. The conference ended exactly as she had hoped and she was high on gratitude. Right or wrong, I concluded that, while Heavenly Father might have agreed that I had been making a bit of an effort in my duties, He wanted to hear me come to Him and plead my case. He permitted the heat to turn up around us to give us the opportunity to come to Him—prove Him. I can’t take credit for knowing that going in, of course. It was a lesson to take with me after the fact, and I’m just glad I stumbled onto it. I was wiped out last weekend, partly because we helped friends move and partly because I stayed up late Friday night watching the movie Independence Day. Yes, that cheesy alien film where mankind ultimately beat the superior-forced extraterrestrials because the mothership happened to have Mac technology. I can’t explain– It’s there, I watch it. But this time it struck me when Jeff Goldblum’s dad, Judd Hirsch, got all the kids around to pray during the last standoff between the volunteer fighter pilots and the ETs on anabolic steroids. Why did Heavenly Father allow the aliens to go exterminate half the galaxy before Earth, anyway? How does this fall into The Plan? And what tribe were the aliens from?
The first script I ever wrote that got made into a movie was a cheesy horror flick full of rock music, hot evil babes and a real voodoo woman that scared the snot out of me and Mark, the director. The film’s star was a Biblically scandalous 1980′s actress who, of course, played the virginal ingenue. I never did get to meet her, ’cause in the middle of the shoot– the day after I shot my own classic scene (survivalist store clerk)– I ran off to Salt Lake to get married in the temple. Most of the rest of the cast were Hollywood wannabes and a couple of sad stars from the old days that still just wanted to work. There was one particular actress who we snagged, though, that I did meet and was glad to have on board. Her name is Karen Russell and she was one of the legendary “scream queens” of her time. You had to have grown up in the 70′s, or at least the 80′s– or have a passion for cheesy horror films– to follow the salad days of the scream queen. While there were many good screamers throughout Hollywood history (Janet Leigh in Psycho comes to mind), it wasn’t until Jamie Lee Curtis (her daughter– ironic, no?) met her screen brother, Michael Myers, in Halloween that the true scream queen was born. After Ms. Curtis, the floodgate burst open to a deluge of pretenders to the throne, from Brian de Palma’s favorite, Nancy Allen, to the “Scream Queen of the B’s,” Miss Linnea Quigley. Karen Russell was a contemporary of Linnea’s and they often played in the same films, usually as buddies getting into trouble (you know, like Hayley Mills and, well, Hayley Mills). She was numbered among the last of the drive-in B-movie stars, not anyone you’d find on TCM or American Movie Classics. By today’s standards she’d be strictly direct-to-DVD or direct-to-cable. The scream queens were dime store beauties who worked very hard at looking pretty, looking clueless, looking terrified, running in skimpy clothes, tripping and falling on apparently nothing, getting outrun by awful creatures that moved at the speed of lazy automatic pool cleaners and, of course, screaming. They flew low under the radar of Hollywood magazines and entertainment shows even though they churned out five or six movies a year. Their spotlight came at horror trade shows where thousands of bully-fodder geeks came around for autographs, photos and getting smiled at.
I bring Karen up because she reminds me of the ward members who conscientiously labor in their un-sexy callings, while staying away from the podium and under the radar. They never have reason to make announcements or call anyone, and they usually don’t “work the room” like so many other regulars. If it weren’t for the occasional observation in PEC, these people would go largely unnoticed, plugging away in anonymity and keeping the callings for years. I once had such a calling— I was the guy who made the sacrament programs. Late Saturday night I’d run into the other guys in the stake with that calling and we’d chew the fat as the programs were being run, like hobos waiting for the library to open. At the time I thought it was a pretty unflattering calling, but seeing how much is heaped on my plate these days, I now realize how good I had it. I mean, theoretically, magnifying my calling making programs should reap the same rewards as magnifying my calling as an HPGL, no? That is, if I’m interpreting the scriptures correctly.
I’d run, scream and trip at this point, but I don’t think it would do any good.