07 November 2008

Why I'm Not Afraid of Coyotes

I was asked recently to speak on personal and family preparedness. “Good deal!” I thought. After all, I’ve been prepared for the worst practically my whole life.

“And what is the worst?” you ask.


When I was a little girl, growing up in the sparsely-populated Verde Valley, our closest neighbors were a pack of coyotes. They passed our house nightly on their way from their bedrooms on the bluff to their dining room down by the river. I sometimes saw them. I always heard them. I became absolutely convinced that one night they would jump in my window and eat me up. Don’t laugh. It was a legitimate concern. After all, I was young . . . plump . . . succulent . . . doomed!

Almost half a century later, I still remember how terrified I was of those coyotes, and how many hours of sleep I lost worrying over each night being my last. Perhaps that is why I remember my salvation so very clearly.

One night my grandfather came to visit. He sat on the side of my bed and said, “I hear you’re afraid of coyotes.”

“Yes!” I cried. “They’re going to jump in my window and eat me up!”

My grandfather nodded his understanding then got up and closed the window. (You’d think my college-educated parents might have thought of that.) Still, the glass was very thin, so I was only partly reassured. (Arizona coyotes are nothing if not tough, wiry, and determined.)

Seeing that I was still alarmed, Grandpa looked around my room until he found my shiny pink twirling baton. He put it in my hands and said, “Here, you can fight off a coyote off with this.”

I figured I probably could. I was a pretty awesome twirler for a five-year-old. “But,” I said, “what if there is more than one? What if there are threeteen?” (Math has never been my strongest subject.)

“We’ll leave the door open,” he said. “You yell for help and I’ll be here before you’ve finished clobbering the first one.”

I’ve slept soundly ever since.

I didn’t understand why this plan was all I would ever need to feel secure until I had joined the Church and been through the temple. The endowment teaches us to look for types and symbols in all things. I realize now that my grandfather taught me a simple, but eternal, plan to save myself from every coyote in life. Every single one.

You’ve probably already guessed that I no longer fear those mangy things with four legs. The scariest coyotes come around when you’ve faced long-term unemployment and are about to lose your house. A worse beast is the news that your youngest son volunteered for a special assignment in Iraq, one that he doesn’t expect to survive. Coyotes certainly arrive when a doctor tells you that he removed a twenty-pound tumor from your only daughter and the prognosis doesn’t look good; or when you’re diagnosed with a crippling, life-threatening disease for which there is no cure.

Because we live in a world that is subject to natural disaster, pestilence, and death, in a time of uncertainty and surely gathering darkness, and because we agreed to strive under a plan in which even evil men have free agency, the coyotes are more numerous and more numbing than any other time in history. Fortunately, my grandfather’s plan always works.

First, you close the window. This is the physical preparation that helps keep fear at bay. You put aside a little money when you can. You store life-sustaining food and water. You keep yourself as healthy and fit as you can against the day that maybe you can’t. You get as much education as you are able. You learn to make, make-over, make do, and – gasp! – do without. In other words, you practice sound principles of thrift and industry as best you can.

But sometimes it’s not enough to shut the window. Those rotten coyotes will sometimes break in, no matter how well prepared you think you are. That’s why the rest of the plan is the most important: you grasp that baton for all you’re worth and you yell for Somebody bigger and stronger and older and wiser and much more all-powerful to help you out.

You’ve known since Primary that the iron rod is the word of God. The baton, then, is the scriptures – and every word that proceeds forth as scripture in these latter days. My husband made a list of every counsel President Monson gave in the last General Conference. I put it up on my bulletin board and sent it to my kids because these words can save our lives – spiritually and physically.

There have been times when the scriptures have literally saved my life. The challenges, the despondency, the despair – the coyotes – were just that bad. I couldn’t cope. But I found in the scriptures that the Lord had a plan for me, even when I didn’t know what it was. Learn of me, listen to my words, walk in the meekness of my spirit and you shall have peace in me. Sometimes the only peace in our lives is found in the Savior.

Seeking the Lord is, of course, that call for help. Sometimes we wonder why He isn’t there, forgetting that we haven’t called. We think that surely He knows our perils and needs before we do ourselves, so where is He in our time of need?

He is bound as we are bound. Seek and ye shall find. Knock and it shall be opened unto you. Ask and ye shall receive. Seek. Knock. Ask. Our Father answers our prayers – always, always, always, always, always. But we can’t say, “Take it away!” and expect it to happen. (At least that doesn’t work for me.) We have to plead, “Please show me the way through!” and He will.

Oprah is a gajillionaire, Dr. Phil has his own show, and sometimes-shallow people are getting rich writing books of “secrets” because there isn’t a mortal in this world who doesn’t fear coyotes. Everybody looks constantly for some complicated magical formula that will keep them at bay. Even in the Church – where we absolutely know better – we tend to inwardly groan and roll our eyes when the counsel is always the same: organize yourselves, prepare every needful thing. Read the scriptures. Follow the prophet. Attend faithfully to your prayers for your flocks and fields and families. But, people, it simply isn’t any more complicated than that. There hasn’t been another plan since the beginning of time. We don’t need another plan because this one works. It’s the only thing that does.

In the last fifty years, coyotes have circled my house. They’ve yipped and howled in the distance, pooped in my flowerbeds, and scratched on my doors. Once or twice they’ve even broken a window and crashed into the room, but they have never yet eaten me up. They never will as long as I have an iron rod and an open door to my Savior.


Jennie said...

Kerry, this is wonderful, so to the point, and so true. You have a marvelous way of expressing simple truths so that they stick in my mind.

Nancy Campbell Allen said...

Incredible, Kerry. Thank you. You have such a wonderful way of boiling everything down it its essence.

Anonymous said...

We can never be reminded often enough of these principles, Kerry. Thanks a gazillion for putting them in a humorous way. It makes those danged coyotes a little less menacing and a lot more manageable.


Cheri J. Crane said...

Kerry, this is one of the most beautiful things I've ever read. I'm printing out a copy now for safe-keeping, and to remind me how to courageously face coyotes.

Christa Johnson said...

This was such a beautifully written entry and so true and to the point. It is crazy that this is the secret to life, but it truly is! It is really that simple.
I just loved the analogy and living in the middle of nowhere I TOTALLY understand every aspect of it.
P.S. my silly little cat just got taken away by said coyote. Maybe I should have taught her more Gospel truths, or at least given her a baton!!!

Julie Wright said...

There is a reason I so respect and admire you. I'm terrified of "coyotes" and some days I don't know what to do about it. Thank you for reminding me exactly what it is I should be doing. I love you!

Anonymous said...

Great post! It seems like those coyotes are circling my house a lot these days. Thank you for the refreshing reminder and clear perspective.

(While I'm at it, thank you for "Ghost of a Chance". I laughed out loud!)

Phil Davis - Tungsten Branding said...

Hi Kerry, I'm reminded of Mark Twain's observation, "I have been through some terrible things in my life, some of which actually happened." I've worried about my share of coyotes, and most of the suffering has been from the worrying. Thanks for your insights, encouragement, and example to others.

Margaret Turley said...

Dear Kerry:
Your wisdom and timeliness in sharing astounds me.
You are a great example to the whole family and everyone who meets you.
Thanks for reminding us what we should be doing every day to keep coyotes, wolves and other dangers away.

Anonymous said...

Kerry, I've been trying to email you, but no luck - if I haven't heard from you by Monday, I'll give you a call, ok? (did I mention hubby works for the phone book people?)
All is well, talk to you soon.

Paul West said...

A great analogy. Thanks for sharing this with us.

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