Like everyone, I tend to overbook my schedule to the point where I’m lucky it I get my
commitments done. It doesn’t leave much time for the things that really matter. If I see a need
arise with a family member or friend, it’s often hard to offer to help, knowing what the
deviation will do to my schedule. Consequently, I often find myself caught up in “the thick of
thin things”, as Elder Neal A. Maxwell warned us about, while the meaningful things get pushed
A number of years ago when I was working as a claims manager at an insurance company, one
day an unusual man approached my desk. The receptionist was away from her desk, and this
man was looking for guidance. He bowed low to me, and asked in a faltering voice, “Can I see
Mr. Gerdine?” During this short sentence he bowed to me at least four times. I had to
suppress a giggle. I wasn’t quite sure if I should bow back or not, but I quicky determined that
he likely had some developmental challenges. I used the messaging system to alert Mr.
Gerdine to the fact that he had a visitor. Mr. Gerdine responded to send him in. I directed the
man to Mr. Gerdine’s office. He bowed to me several more times, then turned to shuffle into
Mr. Gerdine’s office, with a pronounced limp in both legs. I guessed he also had a problem with
his legs. Others who had been watching this short interchange began laughing and asking me
why this guy was bowing so much. I have to admit, it must have looked pretty funny! I also
laughed. I was clueless what was causing this behavior.
A few minutes later the man came out of Mr. Gerdine’s office. Things had apparently not gone
well. The man had tears in his eyes and looked totally forlorn. He bowed several more times to
me as he passed my desk and then he was gone.
A few minutes later Mr. Gerdine emerged from his office. We were all curious about his
unusual visitor. He told us that the man used to work on the golf course carrying clubs for the
golfers. They called him, Dead Man. “Seriously? Dead man? Why?” I asked. Mr. Gerdine
didn’t know. That’s just what he had always been called on the golf course.
Mr. Gerdine explained that eight months ago, Dead Man had been committed to a State
Mental Facility. Apparently, he had just been released. But when he returned to his old
apartment, he was devastated to learn that the apartment owner had thrown out his
belongings. He had come to Mr. Gerdine for help. “As if I would know where his belongings
were!” laughed Mr. Gerdine. Somehow, the rest of us laughed also.
I left for lunch at that point. I had the unusual opportunity to meet my husband for lunch every
day while he was in law school. As I settled into my seat and began the short drive to our
apartment, I suddenly felt a stinging rebuke by the Spirit. It was as if I was being told, “This man
was desperate. He can’t fend for himself. He needs help. And did you help him? No, you
laughed at him.” I felt immediately guilty as charged.
By the time I met my husband for lunch, I was feeling terrible about myself. I asked John if we
could help the man. I didn’t know what he was missing, but thought surely, we could help in
some way. John assured me that between us and our friends at Church, we could find what he
needed. I fairly flew back to the office. I ran into Mr. Gerdine’s office. “What did Dean Man
lose? “ I asked. My Gerdine seemed surprised. “Why do you ask?” he said. I replied, “Well,
John and I could find a bed, a dresser, clothes, or things like that. Maybe we would help him
out.” Mr .Gerdine said, “He lost a pair of boots and a mattress.” That’s it? I asked. “Yes,”
replied Mr. Gerdine. “That’s all he owned.”
“Oh, this will be easy,” I said. We can supply him with a lot more than that. How can I contact
him?” Mr. Gerdine just looked at me. He said, simply, “I have no idea. I have no idea where
he’s staying.” Could you try to find out?” I encouraged. Mr. Gerdine shook his head and said, “I
don’t have any idea where to even start.”
Mr. Gerdine asked at the golf club later that week. No one knew where to contact Dead Man.
He hadn’t shown up at the golf course. By now, I was feeling terrible. I prayed for days that we
would be able to find Dead Man. But we never found him. It was a bitter lesson. I learned in a
painful way, just how fleeting some opportunities are to serve. I blew it. I didn’t follow the
I suspect that I will likely meet Dead Man again, but this time at the judgment bar of God. He
will detail to the Lord how desperate he was and how hard he tried to please me. How much
bowing he did. But I laughed and sent him away with nothing.
I felt so terrible that I vowed to myself that I would never, ever again dismiss the voice within
and let such an opportunity slip away.
I’d like to say that I’ve kept that vow. To be fair, there have been a number of times when I
have in fact, responded to the voice within. But life, with its schedules, can be difficult. Just
yesterday morning, I was in downtown Washington DC waiting for an Uber. A man was sitting
on the sidewalk. He scooted over to me, looked up at me and asked for some change. I
normally carry protein bars with me, for just such occasions. I hesitate to give change because I
know that it too often goes for booze or drugs and the person is worse off in the end.
Unfortunately, yesterday I didn’t have a protein bar with me. I rummaged around in my purse
hoping to find some fruit, a snack or something else to eat. Nothing. I could have stepped up to
the little snack cart close by and bought him something, but by that time, my Uber had arrived.
I truly didn’t want to give change. So, I stepped inside my Uber and left. After all, I had a busy
schedule dictating my day! I was unprepared. I should have known better than to step out into
Washington DC, of all places, without an extra protein bar.
As many of you know, I work in India. There is a saying there about a Hindu speaking to a
Christian: “Why are you so anxious to see God with your eyes closed? See him with your eyes
open–in the form of the poor, the starved, the illiterate and the afflicted.” Quite a challenge,
but right in line with the teachings of the New Testament.
I read a story in the Church News more than 40 years ago, when I was a freshman student at
Queens College. I was home for Christmas break. This story touched a chord in me, and its
message has never left me. It was written by another student, but this one from BYU. He told
about taking a New Testament class from a brilliant professor at BYU who was notorious for
giving extremely difficult final exams. Consequently, this student studied non-stop for this final,
even up to the very minute that he had to leave to take the exam.
He reported that upon arriving in his class, out-of-breath, but on time, he was surprised to
realize that the professor was not there. After a few minutes the professor arrived, thanked
the students for taking the exam and started to leave. “But wait,” the students cried. “We
never took the exam!” “Oh yes, you did”, the professor replied. The very-confused students
protested and insisted that he had not yet given them the exam.
The professor paused to look at the group. He asked the students, “Do you recall seeing the
little girl who had fallen from her bike on your way to this building? Do you remember the
elderly lady struggling to carry two impossibly large bags? Do you recall the student who
dropped his books outside the elevator, just as the door was closing?”
The Professor continued solemnly, “Every day this semester you have come to my class to learn
about the New Testament and every day I have told you that the title of my lecture for that day
was ‘Serve One Another.’ I have said over and over again that this was the theme of the
Savior’s entire life. I have remarked many times during this semester that the entire message
of the New Testament can be summed up in those three simple words.
“Each of the people you passed on the way to this class who very-much needed help, took
down the names of anyone who stopped to help them. If your name is on all three lists, you
got an A in my Class. If your name is on two lists, you got a B in my class if your name is on one
list, you got a C in my class. If your name is not on any list, you have failed my class. You failed
to learn the greatest lesson of the New Testament.
“If you would like to erase this F from your transcripts, I would suggest you sign up for another
New Testament class.” With that he turned and walked from the room.
(Note to my readers: I have searched and searched for this story and even asked the Church
News to help me locate it. I’ve still not heard back from them, but I have a deadline, so I’m
including this anyway. I’ll send the reference when I receive it.)
The student reported feeling stunned and nearly dizzy as he realized the import of what had
just happened. It was clearly not enough to just learn what was in the New Testament. The
test was to live it! The realization seeped deep into his heart that this was not just a final exam
for a college class. This was likely the final exam for this life!
There is a wonderful book written by George G. Ritchie, called Return from Tomorrow. In this
book, the writer, a psychiatrist, details what happened to him at age 20 when he was serving as
a soldier and died from pneumonia in an army hospital. “Nine minutes later, he returned to life.
What happened to him during those minutes was so compelling that it changed his life forever. In
Return from Tomorrow, Ritchie tells of his transforming encounter with the Son of God.” (Amazon
After dying, George Ritchie met the Savior. He felt the Savior’s tremendous love encircle him.
George watched his entire life play out in something compared to a hologram. Jesus watched
with him. George saw himself being born. He saw all the joys, hurts, disappointments,
successes and failures of his life. He watched himself getting his Eagle Scout Award and looked
to see if Jesus was pleased. There seemed to be no reaction, either positive or negative to the
award. He also watched himself at a revival walking forward to commit his life to Jesus. Again,
there seemed to be no reaction from Jesus, though George said, “I was never-the-less glad that
I had done it.”
After the review of his life ended, Jesus asked George what he had done to serve others.
George was aghast. “What?? That’s the test? How come no one told me?” Jesus smiled and
said, “I told everyone over and over again during my life. It’s all recorded in the scriptures. The
soldier protested, “That’s not fair, no one reads the scriptures!” Jesus looked on with
understanding, but not yielding. “What have you done to serve others?”
George recalls frantically searching his memory for anything he had done to help others. The
few things he was able to come up with, such as awards he had won, were dismissed as
something that brought honor to himself, not others. He realized that things were not looking
good. He felt desperate.
Nine minutes after dying George was revived. Needless to say, his life and its priorities were
Lewis Carroll observed, “One of the secrets of life is that all that is really worth the doing is what
we do for others.” He was closer than he realized to the great final test.
Yes, but do we really have to help everyone? There are so many that need help! Mother
Teresa answered that by saying simply, “If you can’t feed a hundred people, then feed just
one.” What we do needn’t be big. The smallest efforts sometimes yield the greatest fruits.
Sometimes a smile or a simple invitation to talk, can be transforming to others. But even these
simple things need to find their way into the tyranny of our daily schedules.
My friend, Brian Andre ends all of his emails with the statement by Ralph Waldo Emerson: “You
cannot do a kindness too soon, for you never know how soon it will be too late.” It’s a
wonderful reminder of how fragile and fleeting the window of opportunity often is to touch
another life in a meaningful way.
We all have a chance every day to bring a little relief, a little warmth or a little joy into the life of
another. Let’s make sure that our schedules leave room for responding to the whisperings of
the Spirit. Perhaps that’s why we’re here in this life. Perhaps that is indeed our test! Wishing
each of us the wisdom to do a better job of choosing the better part and guarding those
precious moments—the moments that create a life well-lived in the end!