Julie's Excellent Adventure Playing Martha

I’m beginning to appreciate the power of inverted miracles. The word “inverted” means to turn upside down or to reverse position. The scriptures are full of examples where the Lord uses inverted miracles along with “inverted” people. I mean, who would’ve ever thought the Israelites could bring down the walls of Jericho by running around the city blowing trumpets and shouting? The David and Goliath story concludes with an inverted ending. Prophets and apostles were often “inverted." The apostle Paul hated and killed Christians. Alma the Younger and the sons of Mosiah were hell-raisers previous to ministering the gospel. Sometimes, it’s hard to appreciate the first-glance value in the Lord’s strategies or the people He chooses.

Most, if not all of us, know the power of divine intervention or miracles in our lives.  We also know that waiting on the Lord can feel incongruent or contradictory. I’ll never understand God. And that’s ok. Understanding and faith are not equivalent. But I do know this: God pushes us outside our parameters---beyond our capabilities and understanding. And as a result, our faith in Him increases proportionally. Radical faith seeds radical results. So I’ve learned to expect the unexpected; to think outside box when exercising faith. My faith boils down to this: I cannot live without God. And a consistent faith in God requires a strong will. Furthermore, my will cannot supersede God’s will for me. If it does, divine intervention and guidance ceases.

This past week exemplified the complexities of my faith in God. He still came through for me, but the process was strenuous and tiring. This inverted seven day miracle taught me a valuable lesson---the hard way. I’ll break it down into parts:

The Players

  • ·      Lynda, the stake Relief Society President

  • ·      Me, her First Counselor

  • ·      A Toshiba laptop computer

  • ·      A new Hewlitt-Packard (HP) laptop computer

  • ·      A new top-of-the-line Asus laptop computer

  • ·      Windows 8

  • ·      An Epson video projector

  • ·      A DVD entitled Journey of Faith by the Neal A. Maxwell Institute

  • ·     The Geek Squad at Best Buy (They help customers with their laptop issues.)

  • ·     The San Jose State PC Help Squad (They help professors and students.)

  • ·     San Jose State’s Media Resources and Help Services

The Context

January through April is my stake’s ward conference time. As the stake Relief Society presidency, we visit each ward in our stake and present a Relief Society lesson to the sisters. We plan weeks in advance and prayerfully choose a lesson theme. We teach the same lesson to every ward. Lynda, me, and the other counselor each speak 10 minutes. Our stake president concludes the meeting by speaking for the last 10 minutes. Unfortunately, ward conferences always begin a week after the holidays, so getting ready is a scramble. Last Sunday (January 12) was our first conference of 2014.

The Beginning

In November, a friend of mine sent me an email with a link to a film documentary called Journey of Faith. Using research, insights, and commentary of various scholars, this documentary attempts to portray the grueling eight year journey of Lehi’s family. Filmed in various locations throughout the Middle East, viewers can catch a glimpse of one of the world’s harshest regions. I loved the documentary’s consistent inclusion of the women in Lehi’s family. Consequently, viewers gain a better understanding of the faith, strength, and endurance of these women. While watching Journey of Faith, I knew this DVD (or at least its information) should be included in our ward conference lesson. I ordered seven copies from Amazon to give as Christmas presents—one of them I gave to Lynda. After viewing it, she agreed—we needed to include it in our lesson plans.

Lynda teaches art as a profession. As teachers, she and I know the power of visual learning. Nowadays, college students expect the razzle-dazzle of splashy class PowerPoint presentations and video clips. (I’ve also incorporated the use of technology into my Relief Society lessons as well. I own a video projector which enables me to present PowerPoints anywhere.) Consequently, Lynda asked me to splice clips of Journey of Faith into an 8 minute video. No problem. I was certain San Jose State’s (SJSU) Media Resources could help me. I had burned CD’s and DVD’s with their guidance before.

This time, however, no such luck.The SJSU guys showed me the encoded copyright on the Journey of Faith disc. Thus, burning it onto a blank DVD was not an option. Ok, then. Forget about splicing. I could still play one short section during the lesson. But when I got home, the disc wouldn’t play in my computer at all. (I must have ruined it while trying to burn it.) No worries, I borrowed my brother’s Journey of Faith DVD I’d bought him for Christmas. Meanwhile, I kept Lynda updated on my progress—or lack of it.

The Laptops, Software, and Projectors

  • The Toshiba. The next obstacle: the sound on my Toshiba laptop stopped working. The visual worked fine when DVD’s were inserted, but no sound. Once again, I drove to San Jose State to get help. They examined the Toshiba. The prognosis wasn’t good. Repairs would take days and would be expensive.

  • The HP laptop. So I bought a new laptop. I had wanted a smaller, more compact laptop for school anyway. The Best Buy sales guy suggested the HP (Hewlett-Packard) brand. Upon taking it home (and spending a considerable amount of time setting it up), I discovered another problem: it couldn’t play the Journey of Faith DVD. I went back to Best Buy. Their Geek Squad downloaded a more effective DVD app onto my new laptop. Funny thing though: every “test” DVD disk they inserted worked---except for Journey of Faith. Satan’s trying to thwart my lesson plans, I decided. (I should’ve clued in. It was intervention—but not Satan.) So the Geek Guys downloaded another video app. It worked. But the DVD loading process was slow.

  • Windows 8. It was Thursday evening. Another new obstacle. All PC’s are now sold with Windows 8. This software is very different, so trying to learn and navigate it burned more of my time and energy---while Sunday was fast approaching. Even worse, when I got home from Best Buy, Journey of Faith wouldn’t play again. Undaunted, I went back to SJSU the next morning for a second opinion. They couldn’t get Journey of Faith to play in my new laptop either. Furthermore, they said my laptop was too slow for my needs in the college classroom. “Students and professors bring their HP and Dell PC’s to us more than any other brand,” they told me. “This HP laptop is only a week old. Take it back to Best Buy and get an Asus PC. Those are top-of-the-line. They’re fast and have better capability in playing DVD’s.” I was sold.

  • The Asus. I went straight to Best Buy to do the exchange and shelled out $500 more. It was Friday afternoon and time was running out. Rather than waste more time setting up my new Asus, I let the Geek Squad guys do it. Saturday morning, I brought it home and was elated to see the Asus quickly download and play Journey of Faith. (Sure enough, you get what you pay for.) “Thank you, God, for answering my prayers,” I said out loud. The next step was to hook it up to my Epson video projector. Using a new laptop, I knew to practice setting up the equipment before presenting my lesson. When our presidency visits other wards, I have had only minutes to set up my table, laptop, projector, speakers, and extension cord before Relief Society begins.

  • The Epson Projector. Saturday evening. I tried to connect my video projector to the Asus laptop. I couldn’t believe it. There was no VGA port on the Asus. (What?? What laptop doesn’t have a VGA port?? That should’ve been another clue for me.) Sigh. Without a VGA port, I couldn’t connect my projector. Without my projector, I couldn’t show the DVD. Without the DVD, I had no lesson. (I decided my lesson plan must be pretty good or Satan wouldn’t be throwing all these roadblocks in my way.) Another sigh. It was going to be a long Saturday night.

I’m going to pause my story for a moment. I’ll confess to a knee jerk “don’t-take-no-for-an-answer” mindset that kicks in when opposition comes knocking. Sometimes, I just can't let go. This conundrum was no different. Surely, my determination, along with God’s help, would lead me to success.

So…back to Best Buy--with projector, laptop, and DVD in hand. It was now 7:30 p.m. on a Saturday evening. “You need to buy a new VGA converter cable for the Asus. It’ll cost around $70,” the earnest Geek Squad guy informed me. (He and I were becoming fast friends. Heck, I’d been back to Best Buy so many times I even knew the manager by now. And they were all very helpful.) Forking over my debit card yet again, I grumbled about Microsoft and Asus. They were bleeding customers dry with endless software and hardware updates—along with expensive accessories.

An hour later, I was back in the game. Everything was set. And everything worked. The store was closing and I needed to finish my lesson. At home, I sat on my bed and opened the Asus. I planned to download a few PowerPoint images to use as more lesson visuals. Another obstacle: I couldn’t figure out to save a photo image to a personal file using Windows 8. (This was getting laughably ridiculous!) I’d done this maneuver countless times using Windows 7. I’ve given hundreds of PowerPoint presentations over the years. Surely saving a few images to a simple file folder couldn’t hinder me now!

For the first time, I suspected that perhaps my lesson plan was not the Lord’s will. But I’d come too far to back track. I spent the next two hours working to familiarize myself with Windows 8. But the file feature still wouldn’t work. Tired and frustrated, I decided against the PowerPoint. My new plan: show the video and speak for a few minutes. At least the DVD still played in my laptop. I updated Lynda for the hundredth time. Exhausted, I went to bed.

I knew things would work out. The Lord delivers. Always. And He often waits until the last minute. I’ve grown accustomed to waiting on God. But, this circumstance felt different. No matter how much I prayed for divine help, the “help” wasn’t “sticking.” Surely, He was aware of my dilemma—along with my desire to do His will—or at least what I thought was His will. I pressed forward.

Sunday morning. The San Jose ward conference was to start at 10:00 a.m. I checked the Asus. It would not play the DVDOddly, I wasn’t surprised. And I was way past feeling angry, frustrated, or even demoralized. My husband shot me a sympathetic look. “What are you going to do now?” he asked. “I don’t think the Lord wants me to show any part of that DVD,” I answered. Surprisingly, Rick agreed.

Time to regroup. And shoot from the hip. I had no choice. I’d give my Relief Society lesson impromptu style. Despite everything, I was calm. I was certain these never-ending obstacles were the Lord’s doing. Not heeding His promptings earlier--that was my doing. I also knew the Lord still wanted me to include Journey of Faith in my lesson plan. Both Lynda and I had already received this witness. However, showing any type of video or PowerPoint was not what He wanted. Of that, I was finally convinced! I got in the car, picked up Lynda, and told her what had happened. She was very reassuring and agreed with my conclusion.

The Relief Society lesson. As the first assigned speaker, I got up and opened my mouth. And the words flowed. No visuals. No flashy razzle-dazzle. Just me and my mouth. I talked about the women in Lehi’s family. I related their family relationships and tests of faith to our own contemporary ones. I felt the Spirit. I felt the Lord’s approval. And for the first time in a week, I relaxed. Lynda followed with a powerful and spiritually uplifting lesson. After the meeting, the stake president approached us. He said the Spirit felt particularly strong during our presentation. Lynda and I agreed.

The drive home. As I pondered the week’s events, I was surprised but not surprised. The Lord had used this instructional method with me before. His determination had once again superseded my own. We engage in power struggles with God at our own peril. He always wins. But I also knew God wasn’t “punishing” me for my determination to show the video clip. He knew my intentions were good. I just wasn't listening to Him. And the Spirit rarely shouts; it whispers.

Finally, the Spirit reminded me of the New Testament story regarding Mary and Martha’s dinner with Christ. The scriptures tell us that Martha “was encumbered about” in preparing the meal. Meanwhile, Mary wasn’t helping. Mary had zeroed in on Christ just to sit and listen to Him speak. When Martha complained about Mary, Christ praised Mary for choosing the “good part.”

"Mary and Martha" by Nathan Greene

I’ve always strived to be a Mary kind of gal. In that moment, I understood: I had spent the week as a Martha—encumbered about by technology for my lesson preparation. Secondly, this encumbrance hindered the Spirit’s ability to communicate with me. Thirdly, the technical preparation was unnecessary and inconvenient for a simple 10 minute presentation. After the meeting, Lynda and I agreed that setting up and working the equipment would have distracted the sisters from the lesson’s content.

As I pulled up to my driveway, I said a prayer of gratitude. The Lord had indeed delivered me. He had delivered me from myself by creating an inverted miracle.

How many of our trials are inverted miracles in disguise?