“Bad Habits and Miracles,” Friend, Aug. 2001, 20
There was a tiny glow of growing yellow light just above the mountains to the east as I crept across our front lawn and headed for Buddy’s place next door.
“Well, good morning, Aaron,” Buddy greeted me in a soft, surprised voice. “I would have bet my best fishing pole that you’d never get that mattress unstuck from your back at this time of day.”
“And you would have lost that fishing pole,” I teased back.
Buddy chuckled. “It’s rare for a ten-year-old boy to get himself out of bed at four o’clock just to help his neighbor irrigate his yard.”
Buddy was old enough to be my grandpa. I used to call him Mr. Chambers or Brother Chambers until he told me that his name was just plain old Buddy. Mister, he said, made him sound too old, and Brother made him sound like a preacher.
I’d been helping him with his yard, in his shop, or around his house for as long as I could remember. When I helped him work on his truck or car, he explained how everything worked and why he had to change the oil or the spark plugs or pour in antifreeze. When we planted his garden, he asked me where we should put the carrots and the tomatoes and the other vegetables like I was the expert and had to be the one to decide. He usually planted them right where I suggested.
When I arrived that morning, the irrigation water was gurgling into Buddy’s backyard because he had already pulled up the headgate that let the water in from behind his backyard fence.
For the next hour, Buddy and I sloshed around in the cool brown water as we irrigated the garden, the fruit trees, the lawn, and the flowers.
“We have to be careful that we don’t let in too much water back here,” he told me, “or it will overflow the patio and run into the basement. It happened once, and it took Marva and me a week to pump all the water out and get things cleaned up. We had to replace the carpet and almost everything else downstairs. Marva hasn’t let me forget that boo-boo. That’s why I needed you out here today to keep me on my toes. Another accident like that, and I’ll be sleeping in the shed for the next two years.”
When we finished, he said, “I’m hungry. What do you say we drive down to Burt’s cafe?”
I had eggs and bacon alongside a stack of pancakes floating in blueberry syrup. Soon I was so stuffed that I could hardly move. “Buddy,” I asked, “would you come to Primary with me on Sunday?”
“I’m afraid I’m too old for Primary. They ran me out of Primary years ago. I don’t think they’d let me back now.”
I rolled my eyes. “I don’t mean that, and you know it. I’m going to give a talk this Sunday. I thought you’d like to hear me give it.”
“I’d love to hear you preach, Aaron. I’ll tell you what, you get your talk all polished and practiced, then come over and give it to Marva and me.”
“But I want you to hear me give it in Primary.”
Buddy wagged a finger at me. “You’re a sneaky guy, but I know your tricks. You’re just trying to get me to go to church. I already told you that it’s been so long since I went to church that the whole building would fall down if I walk through the door.”
“That’s not true,” I came back. “You were there when I got baptized, and it’s still standing.”
Buddy smiled. “That was a special occasion. Special occasions don’t count.”
“Sundays are special occasions,” I pestered. “Marva would love to have you there. She hates always going to church alone. Why did you stop going to church, anyway?”
Buddy set his fork down. “Oh, somebody hurt my feelings. It doesn’t seem like a big thing now, but it seemed pretty important back then. I decided I’d stop going, and I just got out of the habit. Now I’m in the habit of staying home, and it’s a tough habit to break. Besides, I’m too old to go back. And nobody cares, anyway.”
“That’s not true. I care. So does Marva.”
“Aaron, it would take a miracle to get me back inside the church.”
“What kind of miracle?”
“Oh, a little one would do fine, but I don’t think anybody’s passing out miracles these days. But when you get your talk ready, you come over and practice on Marva and me.”
“Mom, do you believe in miracles?” I asked my mother later that morning as I helped her clean the family room.
“Of course. Why do you ask?”
“What do you think a miracle is?”
Mom thought for a moment. “I suppose a miracle is something that doesn’t normally happen, and when it does happen, it’s because the Lord helps it happen that way. For example, when you had an earache in the middle of the night last year and there was no way to get you to the doctor, Dad gave you a priesthood blessing. Right away the pain stopped, and you went to sleep. That wasn’t a huge miracle, but it was a miracle.”
“Do you think it would be all right for us to pray for a miracle for Buddy? He says he won’t go to church unless he has a miracle.”
“Well, Aaron, the scriptures tell us that we aren’t to ask for signs. A miracle might be considered a sign. We could pray that Buddy would decide to go to church, but I’m not sure asking for a miracle for him would be the right thing to do.”
I worked on my Primary talk. I decided to talk about how the Lord answers prayers. I included the story about my earache. When I finally had the talk as good as I could get it, I went over to Buddy’s house and practiced on him and Marva.
“It’s a mighty fine speech, Aaron,” Buddy said.
“So will you come to Primary and listen to me give it there?” I coaxed.
Buddy laughed. “You don’t ever stop pestering me, do you? Besides, Marva and I are going to be out of town for three or four days, including Sunday. In fact, I need you to keep an eye on things while we’re gone. Will you water the flowers and pick the green beans and cucumbers?”
I was disappointed, but I didn’t stop praying for Buddy.
Monday morning I watered Buddy’s flowers. I picked the green beans and cucumbers. I even pulled the weeds. Then I checked all around the yard to make sure everything was all right before going home.
On Monday afternoon as I was reading a mystery book, I got to wondering about Buddy’s place again. I went back to my book, but I couldn’t concentrate. I kept thinking of Buddy’s place. I’d done more than he’d asked me to do, but something kept pestering my mind.
Finally I set my book down and muttered to myself, “I’ll go back and check again.” I wandered around Buddy’s front yard, making sure all the flowers had received water. I looked through the front window. Everything was all right in there. The rose bushes on the side of the house were all fine.
I was starting to feel kind of silly. Then I went through the gate. The backyard was a huge pond, and the water was just a few inches from running into Buddy’s basement! Someone had taken the headgate from the irrigation ditch when it was empty. But now it was full, and the water was gushing into Buddy’s yard.
Without stopping to pull off my shoes and socks, I sloshed over to the ditch and pushed the headgate into place. The water stopped rushing into Buddy’s yard. It had started trickling into the window wells, but it didn’t look like it would flood the basement.
When Buddy and Sister Chambers came home, one glance at his backyard told him what had happened. “Well, Aaron,” he said, “I owe you a great big thanks. As soon as I walked back there, I remembered taking that headgate out to clean the ditch. I forgot to put it back. I almost thought I’d had a miracle.” He grinned. “But it wasn’t a miracle at all—you look out for me all the time. I’m sure glad that I’d asked you to keep an eye on things.”
“But, Buddy,” I said seriously, “I think it really was a miracle. I’d already checked on your place once today, and everything was fine. I’d done everything you’d asked me to do. I had no reason to go back and check on anything. But this afternoon something in my brain kept insisting that I needed to check again. That’s why I went back.
“The other day you said that nobody cared about what you do. That’s not true. The Lord was watching out for you. He was the one who sent me over here to check up. I don’t know everything about miracles, but if you ask me, that’s a miracle. It might be just a little one, but it’s still a miracle.” I hesitated. “Maybe you’ve had more miracles than you know about. Maybe you just haven’t recognized what they were.”
The next morning I went over to help Buddy clean up his backyard. We didn’t say very much at first, but when we took a short rest, he said, “I’ve been doing some serious thinking since last night. You were right. Even though I’ve stayed away from church so long, the Lord hasn’t forgotten me. He still knows where I live. I didn’t think He did.
“And He doesn’t even mind sending a miracle or two my way, even when I don’t deserve them. I guess I’m going to have to break an old habit—staying home Sundays.” He took a deep breath. “It’s been a long time since I’ve walked through those church doors, but if you’ll walk beside me and take me by the hand, I’m going to see if I can do it without the whole building falling down.”
I smiled. “You missed my Primary talk,” I teased him, “but that’s OK, because more than anything, I want you to come back to church. For good. Next Sunday will be best of all, because I’ll know that you’re not there for a special occasion. You’ll be there because you’re finally changing a bad habit for a good one.”