Monday, February 27, 2006

A Merry Heart

Monday, February 27, 2006 Observation:

“A merry heart doeth good like a medicine: but a broken spirit drieth the bones” (Proverbs 17:22).

I was lying in bed the other day working on my laptop computer; still trying to recover from a sore on my bottom, when Jo Anne turned on the speakerphone so I could listen and speak to a sister in our Ward who is undergoing chemotherapy for a serious cancer problem.  Her surgery was painful and the subsequent chemotherapy has caused her to be very sick much of the time.  This has been going on for months now.  As we talked to her Jo Anne made the comment that she sounded like the healthiest and happiest person in town.  Her affliction is serious and painful but she has chosen to have an attitude of faith and hope and cheerfulness.  It was always a delight to visit with her before her struggle with cancer and it is even more a delight now because of her "... merry heart..."

We enjoy being around people who are positive and happy.  However, I know that you cannot force yourself to be happy.  I must admit to having been very depressed for a long period of time after my accident many years ago now.  It took the passage of time, much fasting and prayer, scripture searching, and trying to be of service to others in my own unique way before joy, peace, and happiness became a part of my life once again.  Truly, I have discovered through my life's experience that a "merry heart" is like medicine and that a broken spirit does "dry up the bones".  If our spirit is broken we must seek with all our hearts the healing power of the Savior which can mend that which is broken like nothing else can. 

I believe being happy and positive is one of the most important traits that any leader can possess.  When Elder John K. Carmack called me to be the President of the Irvine, California Stake he didn't have much time to instruct me in my duties as stake president.  To this day however, I remember his parting counsel: "Your main responsibility as stake president is to be an ambassador of goodwill!" He couldn't have given me better advice.  Another general authority after having spent several days in our stake said: "Never call brother -- -- as a bishop.  I have never seen him smile once since I have been here."

I was doing some random reading the other day and came across a classic talk that President Hinckley gave to the CES teachers and administrators on September 15, 1978.  The talk is entitled "Four Imperatives for Religious Educators".  All four imperatives are important for teachers and leaders but it was his last imperative -- so much a part of what he is -- that rang so true to me.

"And now, finally, enjoy your work. Be happy. I meet so many people who constantly complain about the burden of their responsibilities. Of course the pressures are great. There is much, too much, to do. There are financial burdens to add to all of these pressures, and with all of this they are prone to complain, frequently at home, often in public. Turn your thinking around. The gospel is good news. Man is that he might have joy. Be happy! Let that happiness shine through your faces and speak through your testimonies. You can expect problems. There may be occasional tragedies. But shining through all of this is the plea of the Lord: “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart; and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28–30).

  "I enjoy these words of Jenkin Lloyd Jones, which I clipped from a column in the Deseret News some years ago. I pass them on to you as I conclude my remarks. Said he: 'Anyone who imagines that bliss is normal, is going to waste a lot of time running around shouting that he’s been robbed. Most putts don’t drop. Most beef is tough. Most children grow up to be just people. Most successful marriages require a high degree of mutual toleration. Most jobs are more often dull than otherwise. Life is like an old-time rail journey—delays, sidetracks, smoke, dust, cinders, and jolts, interspersed only occasionally by beautiful vistas and thrilling bursts of speed. The trick is to thank the Lord for letting you have the ride.'  [ Jenkin Lloyd Jones, Deseret News, June 12, 1973.]

"I repeat, my brothers and sisters, the trick is to thank the Lord for letting you have the ride; and really, isn’t it a wonderful ride? Enjoy it! Laugh about it! Sing about it!"  [Four Imperatives for Religious Educators, President Gordon B. Hinckley]

President Hinckley has a way with words, doesn't he?  He is the essence of his fourth imperative to religious educators.  Has there ever been anyone more positive or happy than President Hinckley?  This important character trait has enabled him to be one of the greatest leaders of this dispensation.  We would do well to follow his marvelous example of being happy and positive.

I for one do believe life has been a wonderful ride, in spite of some "delays, sidetracks, smoke, dust, cinders, and jolts".  I guess ultimately, we really should just thank the Lord for letting us have the ride.


Monday, February 13, 2006

Stephen Hawking

February 13, 2006, Observation:

A month has gone by since Jo Anne's foot surgery and she is doing really well.  I am very happy about this because the people that work the customer service desks taking back returned items have been getting nervous.  We have even received a few calls from Costco, Kohls, Robinsons-May, Ross, and Mervyns inquiring about her.  The girls at the customer service desks thought that maybe Jo Anne had passed on into the happy hunting ground.  We have assured them that all is well and that they can soon count on her returning to them once again, items she has purchased.

I haven't been able to get out of bed for 11 days now because of a pressure sore.  The wound specialist who is working with me tells me it may take another week or so of me staying in bed to give the sore sufficient time to heal.  It is amazing to me how it is possible to adapt to this kind of situation without going stir crazy.  Thankfully I am able to spend many hours each day working on my lap top computer which gives me a feeling of accomplishment as I endeavor to be as productive as I can be under the circumstances.  This experience helps me to further appreciate the fact that if our minds are sound and our spirits healthy that even though our bodies may not work as we would like them to, life can still be very good.

Some of you have either read the writings of, or heard of the great scientist, Stephen W. Hawking.  Stephen Hawking was born on the 300th anniversary of Galileo's death in 1942. He has come to be thought of as the greatest mind in physics since Albert Einstein. With similar interests -- discovering the deepest workings of the universe -- he has been able to communicate almost incomprehensible matters not just to other physicists but to the general public. At the remarkably young age of 32, he was named a fellow of the Royal Society. He received the Albert Einstein Award, the most prestigious in theoretical physics. And in 1979, he was appointed Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge, the same post held by Sir Isaac Newton 300 years earlier. There he began to question the big bang theory of creation, which by then most had accepted. Perhaps, he suggested, there was never a start and would be no end, but just change -- a constant transition of one "universe" giving way to another through glitches in space-time. All the while, he was digging into exploding black holes, string theory, and the birth of black holes in our own galaxy.  Two of my favorite quotes from his writings are: "Although science may solve the problem of how the universe began, it cannot answer the question: Why does the universe bother to exist? I don’t know the answer to that.”  [Black Holes and Baby Universes and Other Essays] "Our earth is a medium-sized planet orbiting around an average star in the outer suburbs of an ordinary spiral galaxy, which is itself only one of about a million million galaxies in the observable universe.”  [A Brief History of Time: from the Big Bang to Black Holes]

Still alive, he remains extremely busy, his work hardly slowed by Lou Gehrig's Disease (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a disease that affects muscle control) for which he uses a wheelchair and speaks through a computer and voice synthesizer; he lost the use of his voice a number of years ago.  He wrote: "I am quite often asked: How do you feel about having ALS? The answer is, not a lot. I try to lead as normal a life as possible, and not think about my condition, or regret the things I cannot do which are not many...I have had motor neurone disease for practically all my adult life. Yet it has not prevented me from having a very attractive family, and being successful in my work. This is thanks to the help I have received from Jane, my children, and a large number of other people and organizations. I have been lucky, that my condition has progressed more slowly than is often the case. But it shows that one need not lose hope."  [Stephen Hawking]

Though not in the same ballgame intellectually, I think I have a feel for where Stephen Hawking is coming from regarding the deterioration of his physical body.  His response to the question regarding how he feels about having ALS encapsulates perfectly how I feel about being paralyzed from the neck down and living on life support -- "How do you feel about having ALS [being paralyzed]? The answer is, not a lot. I try to lead as normal a life as possible, and not think about my condition, or regret the things I cannot do which are not many..." I feel exactly that same way!

I believe that if we have a healthy mind and spirit we have everything.  The Lord taught Joseph Smith a valuable lesson regarding the proper perspective one should have regarding the balance between the physical and spiritual while living in mortality. The Missouri persecutions were just beginning; property had been destroyed but no lives lost yet.  Joseph, in Kirtland, Ohio, knew through revelation, as well as from information beginning to trickle in from Missouri what was taking place.  Preparing him for what was to come, the Lord revealed the following eternal truth: "Wherefore, fear not even unto death [don't ever be afraid of death, and I will tell you why] for in this world your joy is not full [as good as mortality may seem you will never know a fullness of joy in your present physical state] but in me your joy is full.  [Through the atonement and a literal resurrection you one day will experience a fullness of joy -- but not now.]  Therefore, [a very important preposition which means, everything I have told you up to this point being true, please do the following] care not for the body, neither the life of the body, but care for the soul and the life of the soul; [in other words, be careful about obsessing over the physical in your life.  Of course, don't abuse your body, and try to keep it healthy and clean, but make your greatest priority the nurturing and care of your spirit.  One day you will lay your body in the grave, but your spirit is eternal, and what you have done in caring for it will matter so much more in an eternal sense, than all the time and attention you have given to beautify and care for your physical body.]  And seek the face of the Lord always that in patience ye may possess your souls, and ye shall have eternal life."[The ultimate way to care for the soul] [Doctrine and Covenants 101:36-38]

Internalizing this perspective about life can make a difference in how we spend our time and order our priorities.  I personally know it to be a very significant and life-changing truth.


Monday, February 6, 2006

Message to Garcia

Monday, February 6, 2006 Observation

Like many of you undoubtedly, years ago I read Eldred Hubbard's essay "A Message to Garcia".  It is a wonderful story about initiative, and trustworthiness and has impacted my thinking over the years.  Eldred Hubbard wrote: "...When war broke out between Spain and the United States, it was very necessary to communicate quickly with the leader of the Insurgents. Garcia [leader of the Cuban insurgents against Spain] was somewhere in the mountain vastnesses of Cuba—no one knew where. No mail or telegraph could reach him. The President [William McKinley] must secure his co-operation, and quickly. What to do? Someone said to the President, "There is a fellow by the name of Rowan who will find Garcia for you, if anybody can." Rowan was sent for and given a letter to be delivered to Garcia....the fellow by name of Rowan took the letter, sealed it up in an oil-skin pouch, strapped it over his heart, in four days landed by night off the coast of Cuba from an open boat, disappeared into the jungle, and in three weeks came out on the other side of the Island, having traversed a hostile country on foot, and having delivered his letter to Garcia... The point I wish to make is this: McKinley gave Rowan a letter to be delivered to Garcia; Rowan took the letter and did not ask, "Where is he at?"

  "By the Eternal! there is a man whose form should be cast in deathless bronze and the statue placed in every college of the land. It is not book-learning young men need, nor instruction about this or that, but a stiffening of the vertebrae which will cause them to be loyal to a trust, to act promptly, concentrate their energies: do the thing—"Carry a message to Garcia."  (Eldred Hubbard)

I believe that Rowan's type of initiative, trustworthiness, and integrity, sadly, is not found in great numbers of people.  I know that in the leadership positions I have held over the years I have always tried to surround myself with people that could "carry a message to Garcia."  I have been blessed to find men and women that I could totally trust to use their initiative to accomplish something delegated to them better than I could ever have done it myself.  Such individuals are truly priceless.

Over the past 16 years Jo Anne and I have learned a great deal about this quality in people and companies we have dealt with in trying to address and meet the special needs I have in my condition.  We have a company that provides my ventilators and associated materials I need to keep me breathing.  Jo Anne will call in an order for supplies we need and for some reason they are never delivered.  It always takes three or four phone calls and then invariably they send the wrong supplies.  Have any of you ever experienced something like this?  It is obvious these people have never even heard of "Garcia"!  Another company, by contrast, that provides us with the remainder of our medical supplies can be called on Monday and the correct order will be delivered on Tuesday.  I have a doctor that if we put a call in to her she actually calls us back.  So many times calls go unheeded or the "I will get back to you" never happens. Isn't it such a ray of sunshine in your life to find people who actually do what they say they are going to do without being pestered or prodded?

I believe I have been pondering this quality recently because of my Filipino caregiver, Rey.  He is one of the most trustworthy people I have ever met.  I have had the reoccurrence of a pressure sore and have been in bed for three days and will probably have to spend several more days down to get this thing on the way to being healed.  When I am down it actually complicates and increases Rey's workload.  He never complains however, and always comes when he says he is going to come.  I never have to wonder if he is going to do show up or not -- he is always there and usually before the appointed hour.  He is absolutely meticulous with my care and is always double and triple checking the ventilator and all of its connections before leaving me alone.  We pay Rey for his work but could never pay him enough for what he is worth.  To come and do for me what he does day in and day out is a wonderful blessing in all our lives.  He truly knows how to carry the message to "Garcia"! 

How does one develop the kind of integrity and trustworthiness of a Rowan or a Rey?  I suspect it is an inborn quality in many, but also a quality that can be expanded in all of us.  To simply do what we say we are going to do is a true barometer of our character. Jesus told the following parable toward the end of his ministry:   "But what think ye? A certain man had two sons; and he came to the first, and said, Son, go work to day in my vineyard. He answered and said, I will not: but afterward he repented, and went. And he came to the second, and said likewise. And he answered and said, I go, sir: and went not. Whether of them twain did the will of his father? They say unto him, The first...." [Matthew 21:28-31] The openness, honesty, and integrity of the first son is very refreshing.  Too often we are prone to make promises we have no intention of keeping to look good in the eyes of others or to say things we think others want to hear just to keep them happy.  How much better it is to say, "No I will not do it" and then on reflection, actually go and do that thing we ought to have done. Huxley said, "Perhaps the most valuable result of all education is the ability to make yourself do the thing you have to do when it is to be done, whether you like it or not."

Many years ago I was at a party on a Friday evening at the home of Dr. Wayne Triplett, a member of our stake.  He was an avid bike rider and was in great physical shape -- he looked like he had been chiseled out of granite.  He was telling me about some of the bike trips he had taken and I foolishly, trying to be nice and make polite conversation, told him how fun it sounded and that I wished I could do something like that.  He asked me what I was doing the next morning at 6 a.m. and not being able to think of anything I mumbled "Nothing".  He told me he had an extra bike in his garage and that he would like to take me on a ride.  Well, I had put my foot in my mouth and so the next morning, like a lamb being led to the slaughter, I followed Wayne Triplett from his home in Tustin all the way to Laguna Beach and back.  Pedaling up Laguna Canyon I thought I would die but every time he would look back at me I would manage to give him a sickly grin.  I couldn't sit down for several days after that experience but had learned a valuable lesson.  Never say anything you don't really mean and plan on doing!

Well, how fortunate we are to know people who can deliver a message to Garcia and how we should strive to deliver that same message ourselves.