“Out of Power,” New Era, Sept. 1998, 12
Standing by myself in the cabin, I scanned the room for my tape player and my notes for the devotional. Finding the items, I bent over to grab them, then realized I hadn’t the energy to do so. I dropped to my knees. The objects in my hand looked like pieces of Salvador Dali’s art as my eyes filled with tears. For nearly the first time all week, I had a moment alone. That was the real reason I’d left the group—under the pretense of needing supplies for the devotional—to be alone.
A nonmember best friend, Amber, and I had been acting as youth camp leaders at girls’ camp for the past week, and while I’d never loved anything more, I’d also never found myself working so hard. There had been midnight trips to drop off bags of garbage in the dumpster. One night, there had been bears to fend off with only flashlights. On another night, I accidentally boiled daddy long leg spiders while attempting to cook minidonuts on a camp stove. Amber and I had washed dishes long after everyone else had deserted. Birthdays, including Amber’s 16th, had been celebrated; devotionals had been given; hugs offered. Many embraces were shared in particular regarding our Sunday School teacher who had passed away the day before camp began. He’d been an especially good friend of our camp director, and with the funeral during the week, there’d been even more responsibility on our shoulders as well as aches in our hearts.
I stared at the stories and tapes in my hands. My throat hurt, and every word I’d said that evening had been like swallowing thistle. My back ached as well from carrying two girls’ packs on the six-mile hike after they’d become sick. I rubbed my eyes. Somehow I had to find the energy to be strong one more night, but the thought of walking to the fire pit we’d reserved for the evening was extremely unappealing. And what about Amber? I was convinced she hated the whole thing, and I hated myself for ruining her sweet 16th birthday.
With a sigh, I snapped. My head bowed, and a hot tear ran down a dirty cheek. I was out of power.
Out of power. My mind floated back to a precalculus class the past spring. We’d been studying trigonometry. Normally I was a straight-A student, and most of the class had been a breeze. But the endless ribbons of sine and cosine graphs had tied themselves into a granny knot in my mind. On the pretest, I’d flopped. I’d forgotten my calculator, and the teacher had none to share.
Then came the day of the real test. Calculator firmly in hand, I dug in. Question one … all right, not too bad. Question two … a few swift strokes and my graph faithfully produced the answer. Question three. Question four.
Question five … I needed a graph for question five. I punched in the equation and pressed “enter” on my calculator. Suddenly the screen went blank. Frantically, I pressed the “on” key. Once again … again.
Like a paramedic trying to elicit a response from a victim of cardiac arrest, I pounded on the button. The screen darkened briefly, as if struggling for a breath, but still nothing. I flipped the calculator over and moved the batteries around, knowing full well they were dead. Still nothing. I waited a few seconds then tried everything again. With a sigh I finally set my calculator down. It was out of power.
The test before me was more than half incomplete. I tried a few questions, mostly guessing, and started to feel the cold tingle of panic. My eyes fixed on the hummingbird wings of the clock. “Please slow down, please,” I wanted to say. Helplessly I looked outside, wondering what it felt like to fail a test.
Then it hit me. I knew what I hadn’t done. Surreptitiously, I scanned the room, then bowed my head. “Dear Heavenly Father, I thank thee for all my many blessings, and I’m grateful for all I have. I know this is just a math test and not really important in the big picture, but it’s important to me, and I need help …” I don’t remember exactly what I said, but it was one of the most earnest prayers I have ever offered.
I looked up. Trembling, I pulled the calculator close. Now what? Nervously, I fingered the keys. What if it still didn’t work? What if I didn’t have enough faith? What if there was nothing to have faith in? A nebula of doubts clouded my head. No. I traced the “enter” key with my finger. No. Simultaneously I both pushed away the whispers in my head and pushed the square designated “on.”
The display blinked to life. Fighting back the urges to either yell or cry, I covered my mouth. I would make it through the rest of the test.
Out of power once again, I was in the cabin staring at my knees. The Lord may have cared enough to help with things as trivial as precalculus and malfunctioning calculators. Those drained batteries found power to make it through one class period. Surely he could help with this power failure. I closed my eyes, trapping a bead of moisture in my lashes. “Dear Heavenly Father …”
Taking a deep breath, I wiped my eyes, then began to stand up. The door burst open. One of the girls from our ward stood there, and I hoped I was enough in the shadows that she wouldn’t see the crimson embroidery in my eyes. She had been borrowing some things from me all week and was wondering if she could have my last something-or-other. I nodded, suddenly feeling even more exhausted. What type of answer was this?
As she turned to leave, she called over her shoulder, “Oh, it sounds like another ward is at our fire pit, so I guess we’ll have to have the devotional here.”
“But we’d reserved it!” I wanted to protest. The last night was always spent around a fire! I ran my hand through my hair, which by that point was desperately in need of a good shampoo, and angrily put the papers and tape player back where I’d grabbed them from.
The forced smile on my lips softened into a sincere one as the girls, leaders, and bishop filed into the cabin. Only then did it dawn on me. What a blessing not to have to go on a hike to the fire pit! What a blessing not to have to deal with building a fire and distributing marshmallows and graham crackers! It was only the start of the miracles. The dragon in my throat decided to take a nap, and the devotional rolled smoothly along. After we gave out humorous awards to all our campers, there was the testimony meeting. The Spirit filled the cabin, and tears filled my eyes as I listened to my sisters and best friends share their sweet testimonies.
I was the last to leave the cabin that night. In the dark, as I headed towards my own cabin, I reflected on the week. The murmur of girls getting ready for bed called a grin to my face, and I offered a silent prayer of gratitude. I’d entered that cabin a parched sponge, very much like my worn-out batteries from months before. I’d left it recharged. The instruction booklet for my calculator insists it cannot run without a continual source of good power. Neither can a spirit.