"We are not measured by the trials we meet -- only by those we overcome."
- - Spencer W. Kimball
April 11, 2014
Reflecting on a Musical Trial
by Jeff Lindsay

I had a curious experience in sacrament meeting a while back as we sang hymn no. 184, “Upon the Cross of Calvary.” It’s a sweet little hymn, whose many virtues include being extremely short. That virtue is why it played an important role at a critical formative moment in my life.

I was eight years old in fourth grade in Mrs. Fillmore’s class at Monroe Elementary School in Boise, Idaho. Mrs. Fillmore was on leave for a pregnancy, as I recall, and we had an old, irritable substitute teacher for several frightening weeks (I’m sure she was a nice woman, but she scared me).

She had been doing a unit on singing, which I enjoyed somewhat but wasn’t especially good at. And now, suddenly, she announced that we were to have a test for this unit in which we had to pick and sing a song. Sounded easy enough, but only because I lacked the imagination to foresee what such an exam must inevitably entail.

The story is still firmly etched in my mind. I went to my father the night before the test and asked if he could help me prepare. He was in the bathroom brushing his teeth when I approached him. I told him I needed to pick a song and was looking for suggestions. He suggested I find a hymn in the hymn book we had.

I carefully picked “Upon the Cross of Calvary” because it was the shortest one I could find. Then my Dad had me sing it a time or two and gave me some kind pointers. How I wish that he could have been the teacher and the exam would have then been finished. But I felt somewhat ready, just hoping to get through the test quickly and privately. Privately?

Somehow I assumed that she would have us come one by one into her office to sing. I don’t think I grasped that the test would involve each child standing before the entire class and singing to an audience that might not be entirely supportive. For me, this “test” would be more like a hazing.

When she announced that it was time for the test, and that we would each stand one by one in front of everybody to sing, dread mixed with unfounded hope filled my mind. Perhaps all would be well, perhaps my ten minutes of preparation would pay off, or perhaps the fire alarm would go off before my turn came. But I was one of the first.

As I stood at my desk, my knees weren’t the only thing trembling and crackling. But mercifully, it was soon over, and the snickering wasn’t bad, or perhaps I didn’t notice. I survived! Life would go on. I had given it my best shot and, in a sense, triumphed — or at least avoided total disaster. Doing our best, regardless of talent, isn't that what it's all about?

That was my optimistic and naïve summary of that trial, which lasted for a couple of weeks. Then I got the report card. I was an overweight, clumsy little boy who did poorly in sports, but by golly, I could get good grades. That’s where I hung my self-esteem hat. Would I have another record report of straight As this time? I hoped so.

When I opened the report, I was devastated. Singing: “D.” I hadn’t missed class, I hadn’t refused to sing, I had participated and been a good sport through it all, but apparently on the basis of my poor performance in the test, my academic career had been ruined. “D.”

On top of that, I got a “D” for handwriting. Might as well kiss college good-bye. (Well, I didn’t actually think of that then, fortunately.) But I was devastated. I would joke about it, try to act like I didn’t care, but I cared.

I learned an important lesson: don’t sing. Don’t even try. Run or hide (seriously, as in behind the piano in Mrs. Coffee's 5th grade class, though she noticed and my ploy failed), or mouth the words if necessary, but don’t sing.

As I sang that hymn again while reflecting on my musical trials in elementary school, the flood of memories came with the strangest emotion: gratitude. How valuable that weakness has been, I felt, and what an intriguing and integral part of my life it has been. And it may have helped me avoid a little of the pride that I am subject to, and helped me indirectly in other ways.

Ditto for the acne, the bad medication I received, the obesity of my childhood, and various other problems I faced in different phases of my life.

As I pondered these things and related burdens, I felt that a kindly hand had been supporting me in spite of myself and maybe even had been helped guide the placement of some elements in the collage of weaknesses glued onto my personal poster. I could suddenly see that they played valuable roles in shaping me, and that there were benefits to at least some of them that I could only be grateful for.

It was the strangest experience to have all these thoughts fill me as I sang and pondered during the sacrament.

The fact that I often enjoy singing now, though I’m still not good at it, is largely due to the patient kindness of my musical wife and also my musical daughter-in-law, who was instrumental in helping me get past some of my hang-ups. How silly that I let an almost trivial incident in fourth grade hold me back for years.

Weaknesses have their purpose, but there are times to move past them. Sometimes the Lord even helps them to become turned into strengths. Not yet in this case, but maybe, if I had a little more faith, and just a little talent. My singing may not be that great, but never fear — I can get good grades. Sometimes, anyway.

For more from Jeff Lindsay, see Mormanity at http://mormanity.blogspot.com and his Mormon Answers section at http://jefflindsay.com/LDSFAQ/.

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About Jeff Lindsay

Jeff Lindsay has been defending the Church on the Internet since 1994, when he launched his LDSFAQ website under JeffLindsay.com. He has also long been blogging about LDS matters on the blog Mormanity (mormanity.blogspot.com). Jeff is a longtime resident of Appleton, Wisconsin, who recently moved to Shanghai, China, with his wife, Kendra. He works for an Asian corporation as head of intellectual property. Jeff and Kendra are the parents of 4 boys, 3 married and the the youngest on a mission.

He is a former innovation and IP consultant, a former professor, and former Corporate Patent Strategist and Senior Research Fellow for a multinational corporation.

Jeff Lindsay, Cheryl Perkins and Mukund Karanjikar are authors of the book Conquering Innovation Fatigue (John Wiley & Sons, 2009).

Jeff has a Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering from Brigham Young University and is a registered US patent agent. He has more than 100 granted US patents and is author of numerous publications. Jeff's hobbies include photography, amateur magic, writing, and Mandarin Chinese.

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