Advice Applied: A Humorous​ Short Story Based on a Mark Twain Speech

Here is a short story I wrote for my writing class that is loosely based on a Mark Twain speech.

“Gertrude!” a woman yelled up the stairs to her young daughter. A pudgy, young girl of short stature bounded down the stairs, taking each one as if falling from the one before. Her short brown hair waved around her head like swings on a carousel. Prior to her mother’s calling, she was stuffing her face full of sweets in the family’s attic. She had been doing this because she knew what day it was and that she would not have access to her much-craved chocolates for the rest of the day. This was the day that her mother had talked with much excitement about weeks ago. The whole family was going to attend a speech by Mark Twain. Gertrude hated Mark Twain and all his writing with the same passion that she reserved solely for chocolate, especially chocolate-covered marshmallows, of which she was rarely able to partake.

Gertrude’s sister, Liesel, who was always reading boring books with horrendous covers, had paid her in chocolate to read The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, and she had regretted giving it a try ever since then. “Chocolate dissolves in one’s mouth and is gone, but words often stick in the mind forever,” she said bitterly to her sister, months after reading the book. In addition to this, she realized her sister’s chocolate was not hidden in a very good location, and the dog was too easy to blame. She stopped reading the book that day.

When they arrived at the place where Mark Twain was scheduled to speak,  Gertrude was huffing and puffing to herself about how she didn’t like authors; she didn’t like speeches, and she really wished she had secretly stayed home and raided her mother’s chocolate cabinet. Gertrude was a simple girl; she liked chocolate and dreaming about how she could get out of school assignments. She did not like speeches; she did not like books, and she did not like Mark Twain.

All of these troublesome thoughts came to an end as Mark Twain addressed the first point of his speech, saying, “Always obey your parents, when they are present.” This sounded delightful to Gertrude. All of her life, she had been told to obey, obey, obey, always and without question. “Don’t eat too much chocolate,” her superiors would say. “Respect adults,” they would advise. “Stop chewing on the corner of that book,” her mother had told her in one particular instance. Now… this idea that Twain was purporting made so much sense to her! Why would anyone obey their parents all the time? Surely it was more fun to do as you wish, eat chocolate as you may, and say whatever you like to teachers, rather than march around and be good.

Mark Twain continued to catch her attention, “If a person offends you, and you are in doubt as to whether it was intentional or not, do not resort to extreme measures; simply watch for your chance and hit him with a brick.” For days, Gertrude had agonized over how to address what her friend, Patrick, had said to her, “I don’t want to play with you right now.” He wasn’t really that mean, but Gertrude was offended, and she needed a way to let him know. This suggestion from Mark Twain was perfect; she could wait for Patrick where he always went to read after school and drop the brick upon his head! This way, perhaps he would realize they weren’t on the best of terms, and then they would be able to talk about it.

The end to his wisdom had not come, and Gertrude listened more intently than she had ever listened to anything in her life. “Be very careful about lying; otherwise you are nearly sure to get caught.” Suddenly, Gertrude made the decision to lie only when she was absolutely sure that no one could find out. She had to build trust with people and be honest when she had stolen various goodies out of their cupboards so that when she desired to succeed in larger chocolate heists, they would not suspect her.

On the ride home, Gertrude could not stop thinking about all her plans, and how much Mark Twain’s words meant to her. Nevertheless, she would never read any more by him, because she hated his writing.

The next day, her mother asked her to dust the dining room, which would have been well and good had her mother stuck around to see her do it. Gertrude decided to walk to the park instead.  The walk was not too long, and the birds sweetly singing in the trees were not too great a burden on her ear. As she approached, she noticed her friend, Patrick, swinging slowly on a swing set near the large oak tree he always read next to. She soon realized it was a perfect moment to enact her plan. Swiftly, she looked around for a brick but then decided a rock would do. Slowly and quietly, she crept over to him. He was singing to himself and didn’t notice her. A few steps closer, and then, before she could convince herself to do otherwise, she flung the rock at him and ran away. The next time she asked him to play with her, he probably would. Of course, Patrick never knew who threw the rock at him, because the pain was too great for him to open his eyes and get up off the ground to see.

When she got home, her mother stood at the door waiting for her, a judgmental scowl on her face. This was problematic, for Gertrude had not realized her mother would be back so soon. “Where have you been, young lady, and why have you not dusted the dining room?” her mother yelled.

Gertrude thought for a moment, then remembered a good tool she had acquired from the speech that day. “Just after you left, a young girl, much younger than I knocked at the door and said her mother needed assistance, and I ran and helped them,” she told her mother.

“And which way did you go?”

“It was a new way I’ve never been, and we went so quickly, I didn’t really keep track…”

“I see,” her mother answered.

“So, I was able to help them, and I came back as soon as I could,” Gertrude explained.

“Well, go and dust the dining room before supper,” Mother instructed, and Gertrude quietly complied.

Throughout the following days, she continued in the academy of lying, revenge, and quiet disobedience. Just as Mark Twain had promised, she soon realized she had developed a moral code with much resemblance to those around her. She was still determined to never read anything written by Twain, even if she were paid all the chocolate of the world, but she would forever treasure his wise words for living given in his speech.

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The Need for Discipline

It all started on a summer Sunday evening in the forest. It was beginning to get late, but the sun was still up, and I hadn’t found the peace I was looking for. I walked through the forest, crying out to God. As I approached the edge of the pond, I whispered with tears in my eyes, “Just show me something.” I walked back to my bike as I thought about what I had asked of Him. Wasn’t that a simple request? I started to walk my bike down the grassy path back to the road when I heard singing up ahead, and I couldn’t really tell what I was hearing. I started to realize the singing was in a different language, and it sounded exceptionally good. As I got closer, I saw a family. They seemed very sweet. I greeted them with a friendly hello, and asked them what they were singing. (After all, as an American, I assumed everyone knows my language.) The father answered in a German accent that they were singing a song about the Sabbath. I asked them something like “What church do you go to?” He responded with a very proud, “We are Seventh Day Adventist. We worship on the Seventh day, like the Bible says.” I really couldn’t get over how much I loved the accent, but I managed to respond with “Well, I’m a Christian!” (or something like that).

The conversation progressed, and I walked with them back to the pond where we talked about Seventh Day Adventism. First, I asked them everything I knew to ask them about what they believed concerning Jesus, and they seemed fine on that. But when I moved to the faith versus works thing, in theory they said faith, but in practice they really believed in works.

But I couldn’t get past the fact that they were so perfect! At least on the outside, to me. They were vegetarians. They exercised frequently. They had a greenhouse. They were very kind, and they believed in truly living a godly life, not just on the outside. To be honest, I was a little perplexed and even angered to feel like somebody who might not even have the Spirit could master their religion so well. I wanted to be that perfect. I wanted to be that kind, and loving, and friendly. But I knew they weren’t really going by the Bible, so I tried to block it out of my mind.

As time passed… It just kept coming back up. Why are they so much more “perfect”? Why can’t I be as good as them? Should I stop eating pork? Why aren’t Protestants as perfect as the Adventists? Just recently it all came together. I read a quote that was in the book Spiritual Disciplines for the Christians Life by Don Whitney. It talked about how we need discipline and how the absence of discipline is seriously damaging the spiritual life of most Protestants. And I realized it. This whole time I had thought that they just must have a better version of Christianity than I did, but it was really just the absence of discipline in my life. Anyone can seem perfect with enough discipline. But it is the motive that matters. Discipline should follow good motives, but good motives should never walk alone. No good intention ever helped anyone more than the smallest actual good deed.

I want to really give you some practical help, not just stories of my epiphanies. So here are three tips that should help you grow discipline:

-1. Just do it. To borrow the Nike motto, just barrel in there and do it. Read the Bible every day even if you sometimes don’t feel like you get something from it. Pray even if you don’t think answers will come. Memorize the Word even if you don’t see immediate benefits.

-2. Just don’t do it. Now to go on the more negative side of things, just don’t watch that extra episode Saturday night. Just don’t email that angry message. Just don’t worry about tomorrow. Don’t allow yourself to even think of the possibility of doing something wrong. Just don’t.

-3. Continue in the Spirit. I’m not saying that you should just try to start doing everything through will power. I’m just asking the question “Why did God give us all some self discipline if He doesn’t want us to use it?” So practice discipline, but do it through the Holy Spirit, and you will be so much more strengthened. How do we know if we are doing it through the Holy Spirit? Here are some general guidlines: -You won’t feel spiritually exhausted at the end of the day. -You will be thinking about God and you will be praying throughout the day. -You will sometimes wonder how in the world you made the right decision in such tough circumstances. -You will exhibit the fruit of the Spirit, and not the fruits of you and your flesh.

So to sum up what I’ve talked about; learn God-given self discipline, exercise it regularly, and remember to focus on your relationship with God, not just a checklist religion.

Keep growing.

-LeviGrant

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