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Allen J. Muhlestein

Learning from Life’s Lessons

This is an interesting and very humbling experience to stand before you, and thanks, President Woodhouse, and to your staff, for making me feel at home. Well, my mother would be proud to hear that as she sits in a rest home in Brigham City. She always said that I may be able to accomplish something.

It’s been 40 years since I walked the halls of LDS Business College. We didn’t have the facilities that you have now. We did not have individual computers. We had paper, pens, pencils, carbon paper, typewriters. We used these columnar pads—not the spread sheets that you have now, but actual paper—columnar pads. Yes, the College has changed. Its location and curriculum have changed. But the spirit of helping and the education still abounds, as it has in the past.

Each of us will also see great changes in our life, and we must adapt and plan to survive in a very fast changing world. I came across a list that I’m going to intersperse within the remarks that I give today. Some of them I agree with, such as: I’ve learned that it’s those small daily happenings that make life spectacular.

Last Saturday, my wife and I along with my son and his wife, their two small children ages one and three, went to a park to participate in an Easter egg hunt. There were areas set aside for 3 and under, 3 to 6, 7 to 9, 10 to 13, 14 to 17, adult women over 18, and adult men over 18. As we got close to the park, it was very evident that there was a large number of people there. As each group participated, the spirit of competition became fierce. I, thinking that I’m still young and flexible, thought, “No problem. I’m going to go and gather a few prizes and candy and have some fun.” As the group of adult men gathered, it was very obvious that the competition was going to be very fierce. The men watched as the women went to their area, and within a few seconds were pushing and shoving and fighting over a few pieces of candy and prizes.

As the men got ready, I also—still thinking I could do this—was ready, right in the front. The countdown started—ten, nine, eight. The men moved forward a few steps. “Five” and they were gone. They weren’t going to wait until “one.” I was tripped, fell to the ground, stepped on, hit—by grown men running after and picking up a few pieces of candy and prizes. I thought later as I iced my shoulder, “Is this what life’s all about—fighting over a few pieces of candy and prizes?”

What prizes are you working for? Alma 34:32 of course, states, “For behold, this life is the time for men to prepare to meet God; yea, behold the day of this life is the day for men to perform their labors.” I hope we’re striving to prepare to meet God. That is our plan, and there are other things that we must plan for as we go forward in this life.

Here again, I’ve learned that we should be glad God doesn’t give us everything we ask for.

I’d like to tell you a few experiences I’ve had throughout my life that have helped me plan, or that I should have planned for. As stated, I served as a Young Men’s president for a group of young men that were physically and mentally challenged. We had over 30 young men and 30 youth counselors that met every week in a Young Men and Young Women activity.

There was a young man that had Downs Syndrome. He only grunted when he wanted something. He went with his mother each week to a communications therapist to help him learn how to communicate. I served in that calling for five years, and not once did I hear him say a word. But one night his mother brought him into the chapel and sat him down and asked, “Can we go talk?” We found an empty classroom, and this is what she told me. She said, “I have been taking him to the speech therapist for years, and for the last few weeks, we have been doing an exercise where we have a plate of cookies and the therapist would pick up a cookie and say, ‘This is a cookie. What is this?’”

The young man would grab the cookie and eat it. She would go to the next one. “This is a cookie. What is this?” He would try to get it and she would say, “What is this?” And he would grab it and eat it. This had been going on for several weeks, but that day the plate of cookies was in front. Every time—“This is a cookie. What is this?”—he would eat it. The speech therapist left one cookie on the plate and said, “The session’s over. I’ve had it. It’s done for the day.”

The mother, very discouraged, was putting on her coat when the young man reached down, picked up the cookie and said, “Mother, this is a cookie.” Now the plan was to have him say just “cookie.” But he said, “Mother, this is a cookie.” She cried and cried that night. I never heard him say another word.

He never said another word all the time I worked with him for five years. But I did get a phone call from his bishop one night, asking me for counsel about whether he should be ordained a priest in the Aaronic priesthood. As I always do, I said, “It’s not up to me, Bishop. That’s your decision, with the parents. The handbook says they don’t need to, because they already are able to gain the celestial kingdom.”

After several weeks had passed, the mother called and asked me if I could confer the Aaronic priesthood and ordain him to a priest. After sacrament meeting when he was presented, we went into the bishop’s office and I had the opportunity to confer the Aaronic priesthood and ordain him to a priest. That next Sunday, as he was helped to pass the sacrament, the feeling of love and devotion in that ward was overwhelming. It may not have been for the salvation of this young man, but for the spiritual uplift of that ward.
I’ve learned that under everyone’s hard shell is someone that wants to be appreciated and loved.

Sometimes we’re planning one thing and expecting something else. I’ve learned the Lord didn’t do it all in one day—what makes me think I can?

I have three older brothers. When my two older brothers were in high school, my father devised a plan. He thought that it would take all summer. We had a very large barn, an old barn, behind the house. My father wanted to replace it with a new one that fall. So he went out and gave my brothers the instructions to tear down the barn and pile the lumber in a pile. Sounds straightforward, doesn’t it?

Well, Dad went to work the next day. He was a carpenter and was building homes. After some very hard prodding from my mother, the two boys got up, went outside and started tearing down the barn. My oldest brother after a few hours said, “This is enough for me.” He wanted to do other things during the summer, so he pulled a tractor around to the barn, hooked a large chain around the support columns, and pulled the barn down. Then he took the front-end loader and pushed all the lumber into a pile. It was done.

I remember the incident because I was playing on a fence next to the barn. When the crash came down, I fell off the fence and broke my arm. Well, Dad came home, thinking that he was going to find the starting of a pile of reusable lumber with all the nails pulled out. Instead, he found a broken arm and a pile of unusable junk. What happened with the communications between Dad and his sons? Different expectations? Different perceptions? Get the job done, and really getting the job done the way you expect it done? Plans need to be agreed upon by all parties. The motives were different. Dad’s plan was that it would take all summer, and that he would have a pile of usable lumber. The boys’ plan was, of course, to get the job done as quickly as possible so they could do other things during the summer.

I’ve learned that life is tough, but I’m tougher.

My brother also had a plan. He wanted three prize steers during high school to enter in the county fair, and then be sold so that he could pay for his mission and his college. He purchased the three steers and went to work. The summer before the county fair, the three calves were full-grown and they looked like they would take the grand prize at the county fair and he would be rewarded for all of his hard work.

One day my brother was away, and I and my mother were home. I came running in the back door, saying, “Why are the three steers in the hayfield on their backs with their legs in the air?” My mother went screaming from the house, crying. All three steers had pushed through the fence into the alfalfa field, and were bloated and dead on the fresh hay. Was my brother’s plan a good one? Oh, yes. It would have paid for his college and mission. Did he have a contingency plan? I don’t know. I do know that he did go on a mission, and has had all of his college tuition paid for by scholarships, clear through his doctorate degree in nuclear physics.

What happened? Do we let discouragements change our plans?

I’ve learned that opportunities are never lost. Someone else will take the ones you miss.

Joe J. Christensen, in the New Era in February, 1989, gives a story that I just love, from his devotional address to Ricks College on September 8th of 1987. It reads:

Another element that leads to success and happiness is to discover early in life that those things of most importance in life you cannot buy for money. They are priceless. To illustrate, let me tell you about an elder from Austria whom I met at the Missionary Training Center.

I noticed that he seemed to be a little older than the average 19-year-old elder. He and his mother had joined the Church when he was 16. His father, who was a successful banker, was not interested in religion, but he did not care if his wife and son joined the Church.

This elder’s problems began occurring, however, when he would be studying his seminary materials. He would have his scriptures and papers out on his desk, and his father would come in and say something like: “Don’t waste your time studying those things. Get back into your regular school studies so that you can enter the university.” At times, his father would become so upset that he would pick up his son’s scriptures or papers and throw them across the room.

At age 18, this young man began thinking more about a mission. In fact, one night he even dreamed that he had been called on a mission to Japan. It was such a warm and good feeling; but when he talked to his parents about it, his father said, “Oh no. You are not going to waste two years of your life in the mission field. You must go to the university.” The father wanted the son to become a banker and follow in his footsteps.

Realizing that he had better do what his father wished at that point, he chose to go to the university. I am not sure he made his father totally happy because he chose to come to the United States and enroll at BYU. He went through his program in business, received his bachelor’s degree, and then received a master’s degree in administration. He was soon hired as a junior executive in an international banking firm in Munich, Germany.

At this time he was 25, obviously old enough to make his own decisions. He still had a great desire to serve a mission. He went to his stake president and informed him of his desires. He even told him about his dream. The stake president laughed and said, “Well, I don’t think you will be called to Japan. Nobody is called to Japan from here. They may be called to other countries in Europe, but not to Japan.”

His father was very upset when he learned his son was thinking of leaving his position at the bank for two years. He came over from Vienna and did everything he could to convince his son not to go. His boss flew down from Frankfurt, Germany, and spent time with him, attempting to convince him that he should not leave his work for two years.

“My boy,” he said, “do you realize what this will cost you professionally in terms of salary loss as well as opportunity loss? Sit down and calculate what these two years will cost you.” The young man did, and found that the mission would cost him a great sum of money.

But tears came to his eyes when he told me, “If it would have cost several times that amount, I would still be here, because I know this is where the Lord wants me to be.”

Well, he was called to Japan. He served a very successful mission, and I suppose there are many international banking firms that would be pleased to hire a well-trained junior executive who speaks German, English, and Japanese—the three major languages of the economic free world. But even if he didn’t earn an extra dime as the result of this additional experience, it still would have been worth it. If you want to be happy and successful, you will come to a realization that there are some values in life you cannot purchase with money.

I’ve learned that one should keep their words both soft and tender, because tomorrow, I may have to eat them.

I was involved in an Explorer Scout training course for several years. We would take a group of 14- to 16-year-old young men to the Explorer Canoe Base in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. On one course, a young man came to camp with a chip on his shoulder and a ponytail down to his waist. We were there to teach them leadership skills and have them go home and teach others to their Post. During the week, we would have several teaching and fun activities, so the young men would have success in planning and carrying out their activities.

The first day, I told my leadership corps, which was made up of past participants that would lead the new ones during the week, that I would give anyone who brought me that ponytail a five-dollar bill. In today’s society, you couldn’t do that. On Wednesday, the young man approached me and asked, “Did you put a bounty of five dollars on my ponytail?”

I said, “I sure did.”

“Will you take me to town, to the barbershop, so I can get a haircut?”

So gladly, I took him to the barbershop, had his hair cut, and gladly paid him the five dollars. The rest of the week was very successful. We returned home from the leadership camp on Saturday. Early on Sunday morning I received a call from a frantic mother. “What have you done to my son?” she said.

I did not know what to say. I just replied, “What’s the matter?”

She said, “We have been trying to make our son cut his hair for several months. Each time he has rebelled and said he wanted to leave the house. He came home from camp acting and looking like a changed young man. He went to church today without prodding, and is excited about himself and has a new self-confidence in himself like we have never seen. Thank you.”

Boy, was I blown away. I thought I was going to get a real talking to from a mother. Long hair was not the problem, but how do you feel about yourself? Are you working towards the right eternal goals? Are you working your plan? Take stock in what your plan is.

One of my favorite songs, and one we sang this morning, is “Improve the Shining Moments.” (Hymns, No. 226) Listen to the words again:

Improve the shining moments;
Do not let them pass you by.
Work while the sun is radiant;
Work, for the night draws nigh.
We cannot bid the sunbeams
To lengthen out their stay,
Nor can we ask the shadow
To ever stay away.
Time flies on wings of lightning;
We cannot call it back.
It comes, then passes forward
Along its onward track.
And if we are not mindful,
The chance will fade away,
For life is quick in passing.
‘Tis as a single day.
As wintertime doth follow
The pleasant summer days,
So may our joys all vanish
And pass far from our gaze.
Then should we not endeavor
Each day some point to gain,
That we may here be useful
And every wrong disdain?
Improve each shining moment.
In this you are secure,
For promptness bringeth safety
And blessings rich and pure.
Let prudence guide your actions;
Be honest in your heart;
And God will love and bless you
And help to you impart.
I’ve learned that the easiest way for me to grow as a person is to surround myself with people smarter than I am.

One day in family home evening, we were practicing how to sit during the sacrament. My young son of five said he wanted to become a deacon. So I said, “Okay,” not knowing what to expect, because this is the one we were having a problem with sitting quietly during the sacrament.

He came to the front of us, bowed his head for a moment, reached up like he was taking the tray, came to each one of us and “passed the bread.” Then he came back so the priest could take the tray from him. He bowed his head for a moment, then reached up, took the tray once more, and came to us as if he was passing us the water. He then returned to the front and pretended to give the tray back to the priest, and then returned to his seat on the couch. I asked him, “How did you know how to pass the sacrament?”

His reply was, “I have been watching the deacons during sacrament meeting.” What a shock! My wife and I were having trouble keeping him quiet during the sacrament. What an example these young men were to my son. Brothers and sisters, who is watching you? Your ward members? Young people? People you don’t even know are watching you.

I’ve learned that every one you meet deserves to be greeted with a smile. I’ve also learned that a smile is an inexpensive way to improve your looks.

How is your plan? Do you have a plan? You must have a plan. Write it down, your plan. Keep it with you. Pray about your plan. Compare your plan with your patriarchal blessing. If you haven’t got a patriarchal blessing, get one. Follow the inspirations you receive about your plan. Build in contingencies in your plan. Act on your plan. Work your plan. Evaluate your plan, then review and revise your plan as necessary.

In many management classes, I have been taught to plan, act, evaluate and then re-plan. 2 Nephi 31:20: “Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life.”

Another song that I really like—I like the hymns—

Have I done any good in the world today?
Have I helped anyone in need?
Have I cheered up the sad
and made someone feel glad?
If not, I have failed indeed.
Has anyone’s burden been lighter today
Because I was willing to share?
Have the sick and the weary
been helped on their way?
When they needed my help was I there?
There are chances for work all around just now,
Opportunities right in our way.
Do not let them pass by, saying “Sometime I’ll try,”
But go and do something today.
'Tis noble of man to work and to give;
Love’s labor has merit alone.
Only he who does something helps others to live.
To God each good work will be known.
Then wake up and do something more
Than dream of your mansions above.
Doing good is a pleasure, a joy beyond measure,
A blessing of duty and love.
 (Hymns, No. 223)
My wife and I had the opportunity to serve as inner-city missionaries. During that time we served a man that, if you saw him on the street, you’d want to walk across the street and pass on the other side. He was clean, but he liked his hair very long, and his beard.

Over the space of 18 months, as we served him and helped him, he taught us a couple of principles. First of all, he taught us that the choices we make in life will determine how we live in this life. But he also taught us that he was our fellowman, and we are all Heavenly Father’s children.

I’ve learned that everyone wants to live at the top of the mountain, but all of the happiness and growth occurs while we’re climbing it.

Moses 1:39, as we close: “For behold, this is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.”

May the Lord bless you and help you in your plans, and lead you to that eternal life. I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.


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