There are numerous ways of saying it: play the hand you’re dealt; grow where you’re planted; if life gives you lemons … make lemonade! All of us, if we’re human at all, will have cause to reflect on what the real message is behind these phrases. Adversity comes to us all. But for some of us, these adages become so much more than words.
Occasionally, more likely, rarely, we have the opportunity and privilege to meet someone who truly knows what it means to “play the hand you’re dealt.” I have had that privilege. His name was Kerry Ishida.
We were living in Taber, Alberta at the time and Kerry and Mitzi (his mom) lived a stone’s throw away from us. It was simply impossible not to get to know them. They were often going for walks. They were always smiling. And Mitzi loved to visit. After a time, I was invited to be part of a crew that was on standby to help Kerry with his morning and evening needs, to get him up in the morning or prepare him for bed at night. Because of a vehicle accident at age twenty-three, Kerry was confined to a wheelchair and although they had a lifting apparatus Mitzi preferred having someone lift Kerry. Why? Because of her concern for Kerry’s welfare. Straps can pinch and due to Kerry’s lack of feeling in his lower body he couldn’t feel it when they did. The resulting sores would often take a long time to heal, and Mitzi wanted none of that for Kerry. A real person doing the lifting was the ticket. So, on some nights, I would “get the call.”
I was working construction back in those days, so the lifting part was doable, but I soon found that was only part of it. There was also “the visit.” From what little I know of card games, playing the hand you’re dealt doesn’t quite say it all. To win you must also “play” the hand of the other fellow. It wasn’t long before the lives of Kerry and Mitzi influenced my own.
Kerry had a specialized van with a motorized lift, donated I believe, by the local Lions Club. I became one of the drivers. It didn’t require a lot of extra skills, but I knew the vehicle was invaluable to Kerry and Mitzi and I knew I had been placed in a position of trust. Kerry was beginning to “lift” me.
There were other odd jobs that popped up from time-to-time. Gardening, repairing a shed, helping move things around the house (the basement stairs were narrow), but in return came Christmas and birthday cards and frequent inquiries as to how our children were doing. Once Mitzi called with some concern in her voice. “Frank, my dishwasher has stopped working. Is it full of water? How will I get my dishes out?” Helping others is a sure way to help yourself and enjoy a smile or two as well.
The gospel search for knowing what to do
The gospel of Jesus Christ provides us with everything we need to “play the hand we are dealt,” but I for one am not always certain I even know where my cards are, and what card to play and when to play it … nope.
Several years ago, Elder F. Burton Howard, then a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy, gave a talk at a BYU multi-stake fireside entitled “The Gift of Knowing.” Elder Howard had served as a clerk at the Utah Supreme Court and, in words that were intended by him to give admiration and praise to the chief justice of the court, the following conversation took place.
““What would you think if I [the Chief Justice] retired?” he asked.
Although I could understand why he might want to escape from the heavy responsibilities of the court, I blurted out my instinctive reaction to his question.
“Oh, Judge,” I said. “Please don’t do that. You will never know how comforting it is to have someone on the court who always tries to do what’s right.”
To my surprise, he became angry. He raised his voice, furrowed his brow, and said, “Heavens, Burt. Any fool can do what’s right. It’s knowing what’s right that’s hard”’ (F. Burton Howard, “The Gift of Knowing,” Ensign, September 1983).
Advice from our Prophet
In a recent event, President Russell M. Nelson with his wife, Sister Wendy Nelson, along with Elder Dale G. Renlund and Sister Ruth Renlund, announced that they were coming to the Lethbridge East Stake center to speak to the Saints in our area. Alas, due to travel disruptions, they were not able to physically be in Lethbridge but the words they wanted to share were spoken and heard.
Of the six steps that President Russell M. Nelson shared to help us become better disciples, the first was “increase your capacity to receive personal revelation” (Church News Release, “Six Steps to Becoming True disciples of Jesus,” October 16, 2022). Couple this with, “In coming days, it will not be possible to survive spiritually without the guiding, directing, comforting, and constant influence of the Holy Ghost,' something he had shared in a previous general conference talk (“Revelation for the Church, Revelation for Our Lives,” Ensign, May 2018). Here you have the Prophet telling us that doing what’s right isn’t the challenge. Knowing what’s right is.
The path that gave me the opportunity to be of service to Kerry and Mitzi was almost effortless, but there was another time, years ago, when, as a Bishop, I was standing on a step with a Christmas turkey basket in my hand being reproved for incorrectly assuming such a basket was needed. In both cases I felt I was doing what was right.
The crossroads and paths that make up our mortal journey are numerous, and we’d be foolish to expect that every path was taken “knowing” it was the correct path, that every card played was the correct card from our hand of many choices. But the good news is President Nelson has also said “good inspiration is based upon good information (“Revelation for the Church, Revelation for Our Lives,” Ensign, May 2018).” The process to increase our ability to receive personal revelation need not be difficult. All we need to do is prayerfully and patiently play the hand we have been dealt. It is something that, despite his many challenges, my friend Kerry chose to do.
Kerry recently passed away and the memories and legacy he created are evident in all that was shared. By allowing me to be a part of his life I have been blessed. I “lifted” him, but he also lifted me. And a loving Savior stands ready to lift us all if we will but patiently and prayerfully put our trust in him and believe that we really did shout for joy at the opportunity to experience our mortal journey; to play the hand we’ve been dealt.