When I was eight years old, my family moved to Barstow, California, a hot desert town. Temperatures often would top 110 in the shade: once I saw the mercury hit 127 degrees (I doubt that this was an accurate reading; it didn’t feel a degree over 115). A group of young English sparrows were sitting on our picnic table, in the stream of cool air coming through our screen patio door from our evaporative cooler. These birds were so stressed by the heat that they did not try to escape when I reached out to pick them up. They just sat there.
I picked the birds up, and placed them in a tray of ice water. They drank deeply, bathed, and flew off. Less than five minutes later, they were back sitting in the cool water.
I came to love this small desert town. It was home, and like the birds returning to cool water, I returned as often as I could, until my parents retired and moved away. Today I frequently return to the lessons I learned in my youth.
We had a home teacher, an older gentleman (he was also Stake Patriarch), who would visit with us faithfully on the first Sunday of each month. He told us the stories of his youth.
He was raised on a farm in southern Idaho. They grew wheat, corn and potatoes. They also had a small herd of cattle. He had a neighbor that would torment his father. This neighbor would point out everything that our friend’s father did wrong. The furrows were not straight enough. They didn’t fertilize properly. The cultivating was never right. The irrigation was not done properly. Nothing would satisfy this neighbor.
This wise father operated his farm in an unusual manner. He gave each of his boys responsibility for a 20 acre plot when they reached a certain age. The boys were to plow, fertilize, plant, irrigate, cultivate, and harvest. They even got to keep the profits. They just had to replace the seed. The boys made many mistakes. Our friend told us that the first year he had responsibility for his 20 acres, he barely harvested enough corn to reseed the next year. He was very embarrassed, even ashamed.
The neighbor was right. Many things on the farm were not as they should be. The boys were running things, or so it appeared.
One day our friend overheard his father and the neighbor (who was an atheist, and did not believe that parents had any right to indoctrinate their children) talking. His father said words to this effect: “You don’t understand you think that I am raising potatoes or corn or cows. I’m not raising any crops or any animals. I am raising boys . If you spent as much time raising your boys, as you spend telling me how to run my farm, perhaps they would have turned out different.”
This wise father was letting his boys learn, and make mistakes, under his watchful eye. He maintained the bulk of the farm and made sure that the family had enough, but he allowed the boys to make mistakes and see the consequences of those mistakes. The neighbor was just a farmer, only raising crops, but he was never a father.
Children do not raise themselves. They learn from their parents, in both word and in deed.
I was visiting with friends from my mission in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania, when one person whom I did not know asked me where I was from. I told him I was from Southern California. This brought to mind visions of endless beaches, lined with palm trees and decorated with beautiful bikini clad women. I explained that I was not from that part of California, but I was from the desert, a place that I affectionately call “the place of eternal religious retribution.” I told him, “It is very hot there, as a matter of fact, it was 114 degrees in the shade the day before I flew out here.” When he heard this, he leaned over to his wife and said, “Remember that. Next time you’re out there, keep out of the shade.”
At first, I thought that this comment was just funny. The more I thought about it the more profound it became, because when you’re not in the shade, you are in the light. I learned a song, in church, as a child that goes like this:
- Teach me to walk, in the light of His love.Teach me to talk to my Father above,Teach me to know of the things that are right,
Teach me, teach me, to walk in the light.
When we are not in the shade, we are in the light. My parents taught my brothers and me to avoid anything shady, and stay in the light. I was the youngest of four boys. There was never any doubt that my parents were always raising boys. Now my wife and I are in the business of raising daughters.
(Note: Self teaching is a valid approach. I recommend using it only went there is no other choice.)