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Wright Words: Announcing open enrollment in a spiritual learning lab

Published: Tuesday, Jan. 8 2013 5:00 a.m. MST

President Michael Shake, left, shares a story with Carter Knapp after church recently in Woodstock, Va. Shake is first counselor in the stake presidency of the Winchester Virginia Stake of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Knapp is a member of the Woodstock Branch of the Winchester Stake and a former member of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

Jason Wright

FRONT ROYAL, Va. — Do you remember dissecting a frog in your high school science lab? Or maybe you sliced open and studied an earthworm? Perhaps you were adventurous, and with a buddy you operated on a bean, cheese and green chili burrito from the school cafeteria to prove it was inedible.

Not that anyone would ever do that.

I loved those lab sessions — there’s just something special about laboratory learning. I’ve attended hundreds of class sessions during my life — you have, too — but the ones I most remember involved active, hands-on education. I miss being young and rolling up my sleeves to actually participate in the lecture instead of just jotting down notes in an overstuffed Trapper Keeper.

Perhaps I’m having more of those opportunities than I realize.

A few months ago I had an experience that’s been slowly simmering on my mind’s back burner like my wife’s famous chili: I knew it was special as it was being made, but I didn’t appreciate how delicious it would become with time and patience.

I was visiting The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' Front Royal Ward in Front Royal, Va., and decided to stay after their meetings for a baptism. I sat toward the back with a friend and we enjoyed the prelude music that filled the chapel in the moments before the program began. As we waited, we began whispering about our week ahead, our work, our families and, quite frankly, how hungry we were.

Among the crowd of 30 or so that afternoon was President Michael Shake, first counselor in the Winchester Virginia Stake presidency. We noticed President Shake sitting on the stand reverently awaiting the program and looking out at the members and friends as they settled into their seats.

My friend and I noticed how thoughtfully President Shake surveyed the congregation. Then, in a blink of our eyes, he was standing, strolling past the pulpit and down the stairs toward the center section of the chapel.

He cut a straight and narrow path to a pew across the aisle from ours, looked at a particular sister, took her hand with both of his and said, “Hello. How are you?”

She met his wide, warm smile with one of her own, answered him quietly, and the exchange quickly ended. Then he turned and walked back to his seat. The entire episode lasted 60 seconds.

My friend and I raised our eyebrows and wondered what we’d missed. We’d been sitting across from the woman for at least 10 minutes. We may have smiled as we walked in, but we didn’t know her name and we certainly hadn’t said “Hello.”

More importantly, we hadn’t really seen her the way he had.

After the baptism concluded, we wasted no time weaving our way through the crowd to chat with President Shake. His first response was big-eyed surprise. “You saw that?”

He humbly explained that he prays for those spiritual nudges and to have his eyes and ears open to the needs of his brothers and sisters. He didn’t know why she might have needed extra acknowledgement that day, but he hoped he’d been helpful in some simple way.

Not surprisingly, President Shake quickly pivoted the spotlight away from himself, pointing out the many occasions he’d seen others act similarly and suggesting that we would have done the very same thing.

And yet, we hadn’t.

On several Sundays since that day in Front Royal, I’ve told this story to mutual friends including a few who’ve known Michael Shake since he before he was president or, before that, bishop. Their reactions indicate that I might be the last living person to notice this lesson.

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