"We are not measured by the trials we meet -- only by those we overcome."
- - Spencer W. Kimball
September 16, 2015
by Marian Stoddard

A few years ago, our city fathers decided to revamp the traffic patterns in the city’s core. It seems that it was not fashionable to retain any one-way streets for major arterials. Whether or not this was a real impediment to progress, 11th and 12th Streets were not allowed to function any longer as the separate up-from-downtown, and down-into-town traffic conduits that they had been.

Tacoma’s city center sits on the bank of Commencement Bay, with the port around the next curve to the south and east, and a lightly developed waterfront — a combination of modest businesses and narrow strips of public park — around the curve to the north. You can’t go any farther east without going into the drink.

From there, the land rises steeply for several blocks; there’s a reason the residential area that begins where the downtown area ends is called Hilltop. From the south edge of downtown the uphill climb is less severe, or mild after reaching the north boundary; but from the center, it’s steep.

So now, instead of three lanes going up the hill from the commercial core, 11th Street is one lane for each direction plus a center two-way left turn lane. (Theoretically, 12th Street would do the same thing, and the traffic load would be split, but it doesn’t originate at the baseline to go straight through, and by the time you can switch over to it, no one does.)

Now, the problem with this was not only that all the same people were driving up the hill on 11th Street, as they were accustomed, in one lane, but there were now people coming downhill and wishing to turn left across their path.

The intersection with Tacoma Avenue, running north and south, is the location of the main public library on one side of 11th and the county courthouse on the other side. It’s a pair of major destinations, and is the boundary of what is considered downtown.

At 9th Street (10th Street drops out of existence for most of this stretch), the hazard of the steep grade was provided for with a left turn arrow in the traffic light cycle. Both directions get an arrow while the straight-through traffic waits for a red light. This is safe and sensible, and the hazards of the 11th Street intersection are identical — but the powers that be did not provide for such a left turn signal.

It is impossible to see for certain, unless it’s a truck (which is taller), whether anyone is coming uphill at you until they start to crest the hill. Drivers have the turn lane, but no safety on the signal. If someone is barreling up that hill too fast, and you’re trying to make a left hand turn across their path, you might be in the process of your turn before you see them coming at you. It’s dicey at times.

Now, because people have actually hit me with cars in the past, I am a bit skittish about such things. In this spot, I will turn right to the library, but if I need to go left I prefer to go down to the next block, where the sight lines are good, and turn there.

I would much rather be careful and go around the block than try to decide that no one is coming. Most of the time, if I need to go north, I just go to 9th Street and down, where I have the safety of that left-turn-only arrow.

One day as I came down 11th Street I watched a car move into the left turn lane as the light turned yellow. The driver had not quite reached the intersection yet, and would have to wait.

But no, the driver wasn’t going to do anything that sensible — he gunned the car and shot into the turn from a point short of the intersection, a point where he was unable to tell whether or not anyone was coming.

I held my breath, horrified, until — by pure dumb luck — the car cleared the turn unscathed and drove north. I was afraid I was going to be witness to a crash, which in retrospect could even have sent one of the vehicles spinning into mine. Someone could have been killed to save probably two minutes.

Why do we do such stupid things? Why do we all, every one of us, do things we shouldn’t do when we know better?

Sometimes we think we’re invincible. Sometimes we think we’re too tired right now to take the time to do the right thing, and we’ll make it up later. Or we rationalize that this instance isn’t really important. Some think the rules don’t actually apply to them, while some are struggling with uncertain efforts that are falling short. And, well, nothing bad happened last time so why should it be a problem this time?

Paul told the Romans, “For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do.” (Romans 7:19) In other words, he was describing the dilemma of knowing but not matching up our actions in reality. That’s the warfare between the natural man, as King Benjamin also described, and the spiritually born self.

Why did I eat that, we groan the next day, when I knew it would do this to me? (But it tasted so good.)

Why did I let myself get angry, when I knew I needed to be patient? (I’m having a hard time too.) Why didn’t I follow that prompting, when my child/friend/fellow servant needed me? (I was tired/preoccupied/unsure.) These are the wrestles of someone who is aware but not yet perfected in action — which would be all of us.

More serious are the lapses that are destructive. The recovering alcoholic who takes just one drink because it’s a special occasion, and it will be all right, won’t it? Just once won’t hurt. Or the choice to indulge a spirit of retribution rather than struggle to find forgiveness, perhaps. It wouldn’t take long to make up a list.

King Benjamin told his people that he could not tell them all the ways in which they could commit sin (taking away the idea that if it’s not “on the list,” it must be all right, I can rationalize and justify it) but they would know by opening their hearts and walking in prayer and charity, day by day, what was good and true.

Goodness is spiritually begotten and spiritually discerned. It has to be spiritually maintained.

The call of the prophets through the ages is the same: repent and return to a loving God, who waits, and longs, to bless you. Isaiah 55:6-7 says, “Seek ye the LORD while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near: Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the LORD, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.”

This is a personal, individual, eternal promise. It is made to us even when we have begun and fallen down again. He invites us to rise up.

“Therefore if any man be in Christ,” Paul wrote the Corinthians,” he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.”

We become new. The empty, longing places are filled. That is the meaning of being born again, where his light shines in us. If we strive to stay in that space, we gain experience; he teaches and strengthens us. As we learn to rely on him, our griefs are healed and our hearts become open. The changes in us, as we find and choose a spiritual life, solidify with time and obedience.

We all stumble. We each fall short. Sometimes we do give in to anger, envy, old patterns, or indifference. Sometimes temptation is too tempting or righteousness is too daunting. Our life is full of zig-zags, but the one perfect person that ever walked this earth understands that. He himself learned line upon line, the scriptures say. What matters most is that our course, as the economists would say, is trending upwards.

I am thankful that his arms are always open to us, and that we become less prone to stupidness or pettiness as we walk with our Heavenly Father in prayer, study, and service. Our fallen, fallible nature may be all too obvious at times, but we have a divine nature, too, and his love always sees that in us.

Walk with me, he promises, and someday the best will be all there is.

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About Marian Stoddard

Marian J. Stoddard was born in Washington, D.C., and grew up in its Maryland suburbs. Her father grew up in Carson City, Nevada, and her mother in Salt Lake City, so she was always partly a Westerner at heart, and she ended up raising her family in Washington State. Her family took road trips all over the United States and Canada, so there were lots of adventures.

The adventures of music, literature, and art were also valued and pursued. Playing tourist always included the local museums as well as historical sites and places of natural beauty. Discussions at home, around the dinner table or working in the kitchen, could cover politics, philosophy, or poetry, with the perspective of the gospel underlying all. Words and ideas, and testimony and service, were the family currency.

Marian graduated from Winston Churchill High School in Potomac, Maryland, and attended the University of Utah as the recipient of the Ralph Hardy Memorial Scholarship, where she was graduated with honors, receiving a B.A. in English. She also met the love of her life, a law student, three weeks after her arrival; she jokes that she had to marry him because her mother always wanted a tenor in the family. (She sings second soprano.) They were married two years later and have six children and six grandchildren (so far). She treasures her family, her friends, and her opportunities to serve.

Visit Marian at her blog, greaterthansparrows.  You can contact her at bloggermarian@gmail.com. 

Marian and her husband live in Tacoma, Washington. Together they teach those who are preparing to go to the temple for the first time, and she also teaches a Stake Relief Society Institute class.

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