My wife and I are facing some changes in the next few months. Like many families we know, this summer means a move. We will be moving to a new state, new jobs, and plenty of exciting new opportunities. and as much as we feel blessed about our future, I can’t help but think about what I am leaving behind. And an old camping question comes to mind: Did I leave the site in better condition than when I found it?I can remember, as a missionary, that several elders and sisters were abusing apartments (not intentionally) and leaving behind broken kitchen taps, cracked bathroom sinks, and even burned living room carpets. The mission president had to send out a mission-wide call to “repentance.” We were instructed to make a change in the way we treated our apartments; by the time we left an apartment, we should be able to say that we left it in better condition than when we found it.

That mandate stuck with me, and influenced the way I treated the many, many apartments I lived in as a undergrad. But as I got older, I began to extend that camping motto beyong apartments and I applied it to my jobs, my social environments, and even my family and friends. I began to ask myself, “When I leave my jobs/roommates/friends, are they better off than before?” This was a tough question for a man who almost prided himself in social non-involvement. But as my testimony in the gospel grows, more and more I begin to believe that part of our mission on Earth is to ensure that when we part ways with others, we need to be able to say that those friends are better off having known us.

I have really enjoyed my job. It’s the only thing that got me through graduate school. And now as I move on to a new position, I ask myself the same question: Are my employers and coworkers better off through their interactions with me? Thankfully, I think the answer is yes. Yet, I can think of one or two situations were I did not show enough kindness, or attention, and even one situation where I should have used more discretion in talking about an employee’s evaluation. I hope that I take these lessons with me, because although I feel that I am leaving my workplace “campsite” in better condition than when I found it, I can still see a couple trampled bushes that I stepped on while busying myself with career advancement.

And what about my ward? I hope that I can say that I am a faithful member of the church and that I am worthy of my temple recommend. But I struggle to appreciate church social involvement. I admit that I prefer to keep my church associations limited to Sunday, and live my own life the other six days of the week. Cleary I have some growing to do there. But when I ask myself the question, “Am I leaving my ward in better condition than I found it?” I think that I can answer “yes” honestly. I worked with the youth and I strived hard to get to know them and help them teach one aother as we learned the scriptures and the gospel together. I left the ward campsite in better condition than when I found it, but there is so much more I could have done to plant new trees, clean out polluted rivers, and tend to wiltering flora.

Finally, my participation in this blogging group has me evaluating my participation in the lds-ssa community. It was only upon moving here that I began to finally meet other lds-ssa men. Have my interactions with them met the campsite motto standards? Are they better off given their association with me? This may be the hardest question of the three. As you can gather from my previous comments, I’m not much of a social butterfly; in general, I don’t like people. And I really have little patience and goodwill for those who are self-indulgent, or just need someone to show them some brotherly kindness and attention.

When I first moved here, I made a some lds-ssa friends, and although I appreciated knowing that I was not the only faithful preisthood holder who dealt with this issue, I think that I turned up my nose at many of these of the young men. In my opinion, they had “more problems” than I had, and rather than see what I could do to help them improve their own campsites, I moved on and took my camping skills elsewhere. What’s worse, is that some may have sensed my feelings of superiority as I crossed through their site, leaving a disheartened friend in my wake.

In fact, aside from my spotty participation in this blogging community, I have little interaction with the lds-ssa commmunity. And although I make no claims about what valuable contributions I could make, sometimes I wonder whether I should do more to try. The thing about camping is, that in truth, it does more for me than I do for it. Whether it be at work, in my wards, or among friends and family, when I serve and do my best to help those around me, I gain more than I give. And I hope that as I move on to a new environment, that I can do more to improve those around me and become a more responsible camper.

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6 comments

  1. avatar

    This has recently become one of my mottoes as well. I see the importance now of trying to leave people better than I found them. I see it as finding opportunities to serve them and simply loving them, even if it is a difficult task. I like your analogy about camping. It is one of those situations in which it would be very easy to dump all of our junk and leave, like so many situations in life. My goal is that whatever situation I am in, I can look back and say that I made a positive contribution and that I didn’t leave behind a mess, whether it is literal or figurative. Thank you for your thoughts.

  2. avatar

    It was only upon moving here that I began to finally meet other lds-ssa men. Have my interactions with them met the campsite motto standards? Are they better off given their association with me?

    Affirmative. Obviously I can only speak for my self but, without sounding cheeky, you’re one of those individuals that I find myself proud to have been in association with on any level. You’re depth and soundness of thought in our previous interactions have easily left me better than you found me.

  3. avatar

    Mark

    Tronchik,

    Yes, it’s easy to roam through the lives of others and “dump all of our junk” behind. I agree that by serving and loving, we can move beyond thinking of ourselves as the main characters in some zaney sitcom, and instead recognize that everyone has their own show, and when we guest star in their life, we’d better be a gracious and helpful guest.

    Ty,

    I feel the same way. And if you are ever out our (new) way, please let us know.

  4. avatar

    BDT

    I have struggles with SSA in the past. I was disfellowshipped for a perioed of about 6 months about six years ago. I just found out that I am not allowed to go camping with my children for fathers/sons or scouts. I am really struggling with this. I am thinking about asking to be released from my current callings. Any thoughts?

  5. avatar

    -L-

    Hi BDT. I’d say that you should discuss your concerns with the bishop and see what his advice is. If you are diplomatic about it, I think you may find a reasonable discussion is possible. To make an analogy, there are many in our society who have no problem with coed dorms, men coaching girls teams, etc., but in the church there is generally policy that has men leading the boys and women leading the girls. I think this is a conservative approach that isn’t necessarily the only “right” way to do things, but it makes sense within the context of the church. SSA puts you and I in an analogous category–someone who is not a pedophile or necessarily at risk of problems in such a situation, but for whom there may an assignment that is more clearly appropriate.

    Anyway, good luck to you!

  6. avatar

    G-Man

    BDT,

    I have personal experience with the restriction you mention. It is not commonly known, but it is Church policy that anyone who has been disfellowshipped or excommunciated has an annotation affixed to their membership record. I was excommunicated several years ago, re-baptized and eventually had my priesthood and temple blessings restored. I was with the Bishop in the Clerk’s Office when my membership record came back from Church Headquarters and he handed it to me to confirm that all of the information was correct. Bishops generally are not suppose to show membership records to members, rather members are provided an individual ordinance summary that does not show confidential information such as annotations. I caught the annotation at the very bottom of my membership record–the Bishop didn’t even notice it. The annotation is a generic statement that reads, “**BISHOP–CONTACT CHURCH HEADQUARTERS**”. Upon calling Church Headquarters my Bishop was read a generic statement that went something like “This member has been involved in homosexual transgression and should not hold a calling or position of influence over youth”. Church Headquarters explained to my Bishop that this annotation is Church policy pursuant to the Handbook of Instructions and that it is a generic annotation affixed to the membership record of any member who has been disciplined for homosexual transgression. According to the Handbook of Instructions the annotation can only be removed by the First Presidency upon written letter from your Stake President recommending that the annotation be removed. There is no set time that has to pass, but be prepared for the First Presidency to want to see sufficient time for you to demonstrate that you will not return to the transgression before agreeing to remove the annotation. In your case 6 years definitely seems like a good amount of time to me. I understand the Church’s policy here is designed to protect youth who are impressionable. The good news is that the First Presidency will consider your individual history/situation and is open to eventually removing the annotation from your membership record. Ask your Bishop to confirm that an annotation is on your membership record and then go talk to the Stake President about him writing to the First Presidency in support of removing the annotation.