Sunday, December 16, 2007

Ministering Angels

 Observation: December 16, 2007

In reading the December, 2007, Ensign the other day I read the article written by Merrill J. Bateman, former President of BYU and now a general authority emeritus, entitled, "A Season for Angels." I thought it was a nice message but it didn't really grab me until I got to the very end where he made a most profound and significant point that went right to my heart. I am sure many of you have already read this article, and if you have, it could bear reading once again, and if you haven't, you will want to do so.
It is not my purpose to give an in-depth review of this beautiful article, but to highlight the theme and purpose he had in mind as he wrote it and why it has tugged at my heart strings.

He said that the ushering in of every gospel dispensation has involved the working of miracles, and the ministration of angels delivering vital knowledge, and priesthood keys and power. The reason for this is that there has not been the essential Melchizedek Priesthood authority on earth at these times to establish the Kingdom of God. Therefore, heavenly messengers, angels, have been sent with the necessary power and authority to usher in each new dispensation of the gospel. For example, in the ushering in the dispensation of the Meridian of Time, the visitation of angels was very prevalent because of the apostate nature of Judaism -- no Melchizedek Priesthood at that time, and because of the eternal importance and implications surrounding the birth and atonement of Christ.

Think of the angelic visitations to Zachariah, Mary, Elizabeth, Joseph, the shepherds, and then the angel warning Joseph to take Mary and Jesus into Egypt to protect them from the wrath of Herod. And then consider the vast number of miracles performed by Jesus during his three-year ministry preceding his death and resurrection. In the Garden of Gethsemane an angel came and strengthened the Savior, two angels bore witness that he had arisen from the empty tomb and two more angels were in attendance at his ascension into heaven. It truly was a "Season of Angels." I am sure this is only the tip of the iceberg regarding the number of angelic visitors that visited and taught Jesus during his 33 years of mortality.

We know that the ushering in of the Dispensation of the Fullness of Times involved a visitation by the Father and the Son, as well as a host of additional angelic messengers delivering priesthood power and keys as well as the working of many mighty miracles as was the case in the Church established by Jesus Christ in the Dispensation of the Meridian of Time. The reason for this of course, is that there was no priesthood authority on the earth at that time and it had to be brought back by "Angels."

Well, Jack, will you ever get to what it was in Elder Bateman's talk that is so important to you? It is the following quote and its implications: "What is the lesson for us today as we enter a new Christmas season? Who will minister to those in need? Who are the angels that will prepare the way for His return? I have noticed that during the early stages of a dispensation, angelic ministers come from the other side of the veil, but as time elapses and the number of faithful members increases, more is expected of those in mortality. For example, when a new country is opened to the gospel, missionaries learn that many have been prepared in miraculous ways to receive the gospel, and miracles occur with some frequency to advance the work. Once a core of members is established, however, the Lord’s assistance changes as He provides opportunities for the members to become the miracle workers."

Any miracles brought to pass this Christmas season will require our faith and works. We are the angels now who minister to those in need and perform mighty miracles of service in blessing the lives of others. As Elder Bateman concluded his message he beautifully and insightfully said: "As we sing the hymns of Christmas and speak of angels sent to earth to witness the Savior’s birth in the meridian of time, may we rise to the occasion and minister to those in need in our day."

I guess the reason I feel so strongly about what Elder Bateman said is that I know how true it is because I have been ministered to by angels for the past, almost 20 years now. Jokingly I have said that Jo Anne is an angel, "Always up in the air harping about something!" Truthfully though, I have been ministered to by angels in the form of my wife, my children, many women in our ward and stake, and many wonderful brothers, all of whom in my own mind are but an extension of Christ and his love. I have never needed heavenly messenger angels because of the mortal angels who have kept me alive through their acts of love.

Our youngest daughter, Jackie was born while our oldest son, Mike was on his mission to Argentina and Rachel is just five years older than Jackie. At the time of my accident Jo Anne and I wondered why the Lord would have sent us these two girls in our old age, thinking we now could not give them the same quality of life as we had given the four older children. Jackie was four and Rachel nine when I was injured. Little did we know that they truly were "angels" that Heavenly Father had sent into our lives to bless us more than we could have ever imagined at the time. They both were my arms and legs for many years, and have performed countless acts of service for me. Just think of it -- when you can't do one single physical thing for yourself you are totally dependent on the love extended to you by "angels." I do believe however, that a wonderful dimension of depth and caring has been added to each of these girl's characters that maybe could not have come in any other way. I suspect it is a blessed side effect that comes from being an "angel." It would take more than a book to express my feelings about my "Angel Jo Anne."

Would I be an angel to others in different circumstances? I really don't know! I think the challenge of this Christmas season and every other season of the year for me and for all of us, is to realize that we are the only "angels" that will be sent to those in need in our neighborhoods, our families, and our wards and stakes. May we ponder on that thought this Christmas season as we sing of those angels that came in the Meridian of Time. Merry Christmas!


Friday, December 7, 2007

I'm Glad I Did

December 7, 2007, Observation:

A while back Jo Anne and I drove over to her mother's home in Santa Ana.  Her dad passed away several years ago and her mother joined him this summer.  The home is up for sale and Jo Anne wanted to spruce up the plants and shrubs in front of the home.  She actually enjoys working in the garden and I believe has inherited some of her dad's Idaho farmer genes.

She said we would only be there an hour which translates into three hours -- she is severely time challenged.  It was a beautiful sunshiny day, but instead of getting out of the van and sitting in the sun watching Jo Anne work, I opted to remain in the van with the door and windows open.  I must admit I enjoy watching Jo Anne work with a shovel and rake with no guilty conscience on my part, given my physical condition.

Our van's CD player holds six CDs so while Jo Anne worked I sat and listened to some of my favorite music.  I love classical music like the kind Jimmy Durante sings.  My daughter Jackie downloaded as many Jimmy Durante songs as she could from the Internet and made me a nice CD.  My favorite number is "The Blackstrap Molasses and the Wheat Germ Bread Makes You Live Until You Wish You Were Dead!"  Groucho Marx, Danny Kaye, and Jane Wyman sing along with Jimmy in an unforgettable classic rendition of a great piece, only rivaled by Beethoven.  Another favorite CD I listened to that afternoon was The Best of Mozart.  There are two numbers on this CD that I truly love; his clarinet Concerto and a French horn number.  I like the clarinet concerto because as a sophomore at BYU I learned how to play it on my clarinet.  Whenever I hear the French horn solo I almost break out laughing it is so fun to listen to.  I love Mozart just because of that one thing he wrote for the French horn which certainly wasn't his greatest work.  Then I listened to the Carpenters.  When I hear Karen Carpenter's voice I just melt.  It's like having someone scratch my back which I think feels good, although I can't remember that far back.  And then comes my favorite all time CD by Robert Goulet.  I change out all of the other CDs periodically but never Robert Goulet.  When he starts out singing "If ever I would leave you it wouldn't be in summer" & etc. from Camelot, I get tingly all over.  And then I have a CD of some of Chopin's best piano compositions, some of which I used to play when I could move my fingers better then I can at present.

So there I sat watching Jo Anne working, listening to that great music, and reflecting back on my life.  Every once in a while Jo Anne would come by the van, smile, and shrug her shoulders trying to communicate in that way that she was sorry she was taking so long but had to keep working.  She could have saved the smile and the shrug because I was having a most pleasant afternoon.  I was just feeling an overwhelming feeling of peace that is difficult to describe but is very real.

As I was sitting there I began talking to myself; you know you are getting old and a little crazy when you start talking to yourself.  The conversation was kind of like this: "Jack, I really enjoy your company.  It's good to be with you.  I like the things you are thinking about and the music you are listening to."  I don't know what you will think of that conversation, but please don't judge me too harshly.  I am sure many others don't enjoy my company nearly as much as I do. What a wonderful thing to be at peace with one's self, totally entertained, and very content, with some good music and better memories. 

Listening to BYUTV the other day, I heard a talk given by Elder L. Tom Perry on November 1, 1992 to a gathering of CES teachers at Brigham Young University.  He entitled his talk, "Making Memories."  He had been in the Netherlands, and in a meeting with the missionaries, quoted the wife of the mission president as asking these young men and women if when their missions were over would they be saying to themselves as they looked back on their experience in retrospect, "I wish I had" or "I'm glad I did?" And then Elder Perry said to the CES teachers "I come to you with a question about eternal memories you are building in your lives. Are they followed by the comment “I wish I had,” or can you say, “I’m glad I did”?

I think we could all ask ourselves those two questions as we build the "eternal memories" that we store in our individual memory banks.  Elder Perry taught that the answer to those two questions in our individual lives will be based on the principle of obedience. He went on to say "Each of us makes daily entries in our book of life. Occasionally we take it from the shelf and examine the entries we are making. What kind of memories will flood our minds as we examine the pages of our personal entries? How many pages will contain “I wish I had” entries? Will there be entries of procrastination and failure to take advantage of special opportunities? Will you find there entries of thoughtlessness in treatment of family, friends, or even strangers..."

Happily, we are able to open a clean white sheet in our book of life each day of our lives and hopefully fill it with many "I'm glad I did" entries which will cause the "I wish I had" entries fade into the dark recesses of our minds.  The "I'm glad I did" entries will be based upon our obedience to eternal law.  All the memories we create are eternal memories as King Benjamin so beautifully expressed in his great sermon: "And moreover, I would desire that ye should consider on the blessed and happy state of those that keep the commandments of God. For behold, they are blessed in all things, both temporal and spiritual; and if they hold out faithful to the end they are received into heaven, that thereby they may dwell with God in a state of never-ending happiness [with a book of life filled with "I'm glad I did" entries]. O remember, remember that these things are true; for the Lord God hath spoken it.” (Mosiah 2:41.)  [Emphasis added]

I do believe the peace and happy memories we experience in mortality is but a precursor to what we will experience when we pass into our next estate.


Tuesday, November 27, 2007


November 27, 2007 Observation:

Several years ago Jo Anne and I went to a movie that many of you undoubtedly saw as well, entitled "The Illusionist."  The illusionist in the movie was a master magician who was able to create illusions that seemed very real to his audiences.  He was so skillful that those who attended his shows could not distinguish reality from the fiction he created. It really was quite an entertaining movie, and started me thinking about the concept of illusions.  The world we live in is full of illusions and the illusionists that create them.  An illusion is "the action of deceiving -- the state or fact of being intellectually deceived or misled."  [Merriam-Webster online dictionary]

I believe the first, and possibly most blatant illusionist, I have ever encountered was a fellow I worked with the summer I drove truck for Kennecott Copper Corp. at the Liberty Pit in Ruth, Nevada where I grew up.  I worked the graveyard shift -- 11:30 p.m. to 7:30 a.m. Every night just before we began our shift a man would drive into the parking lot in a beautiful Cadillac.  He was always dressed in an immaculate blue suit, sparkling white shirt, a gorgeous tie, and the shiniest shoes imaginable.  To top it off he also wore a very expensive gray hat with a very large cigar clamped between his teeth.  Being an innocent youth I asked one of my fellow truck drivers if this might not be the president of Kennecott Copper Corp. who had condescended to fly over from New York to check out the graveyard shift at the Liberty Pit.  My friend laughed and just said, "Keep an eye on him and see what happens."  The man in the blue suit disappeared into the locker room and in just a moment or two emerged looking a whole lot like the rest of us, wearing coveralls and old beat-up shoes.  Still watching him I was astonished when instead of mounting one of the huge earthmovers we were all driving he climbed into the water truck.  His job, the easiest and most mundane at the Liberty Pit, was to drive around and sprinkle the dirt roads to keep the dust in check.  At the end of the shift he again disappeared into the locker room and emerged as he had entered eight hours earlier.  I am sure his neighbors and other acquaintances believed him to be at the very least the vice president of the Ely, Nevada, Last National Bank.

His illusion was harmless, but as I have thought about this experience over the years it has occurred to me that many of us have a lot of the "blue suit" in us in that it is a very real temptation to appear to be what we are not -- deceiving others and oftentimes even ourselves.  Sad to say, during this coming election year we will have paraded before us any number of illusionists running for public office who will strive to intellectually deceive or mislead us.  We must work hard at discerning the truth from the illusion we are given.

How wonderful it is to know people who are not illusionists, but are exactly what they appear to be.  In July when my stomach hemorrhaged, Dr. Nakano whispered in my ear, "Jack, if I don't operate now you will die!"  She looked like a doctor, she acted like a doctor, and I could sense there was no "blue suit" in her.  I simply said, "Do it!"  She knew what she was doing because of years of arduous study and work and proved to be a blessing in saving my life.  I feel the same way about my ophthalmologist, Dr. Appa, who looks like a big 17-year-old but is no illusionist.  He knows what he is about and blesses countless lives because of his expertise developed over many years.

Perhaps one of the great challenges of life is not to create illusions in our own minds -- intellectually deceiving ourselves -- somehow convincing ourselves we are something we really are not and have not paid the price to be.  Appearance seems to have replaced substance in so many aspects of our society and lives.  One of my favorite lines from "My Fair Lady" is when Henry Higgins, in commenting on the various languages of the world, said "The French don't really care much what they do as long as they pronounce it correctly."  We spend so much time, money, and effort decorating ourselves and our homes that at times we forget to decorate appropriately our minds and souls.

Of course the master illusionist is Satan -- the great deceiver.  He would have us believe, for example, that "Wickedness can bring us happiness" which is contrary to the eternal truth that "Wickedness never was happiness" because it is contrary to the nature of that righteousness which is in God!  And yet, through the ages how many sorry people have bought into this illusion? I believe a daily challenge we all face is to separate truth from illusion, and especially to not deceive ourselves regarding ourselves.

Elder Gene R. Cook in talking about a family vacation on one occasion said:
"Last summer on a lonely stretch of desert highway, we saw ahead what appeared to be the road covered with water. My children would have wagered their entire savings on that fact. But within a few minutes we were at the distant spot and saw not one drop of water. What an illusion. How many things there are in this life that appear to be one way and all of a sudden are the reverse. … Satan operates that way. He is the master of illusion. He creates illusions in an attempt to detour, dilute, and divert the power and the attention of the Latter-day Saints from the pure truth of God” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1982, 35–36; or Ensign, May 1982, 25).

I think we need to be so very careful that we do not let the master illusionist detour, dilute, and divert our power and attention from the pure truth of God.


Sunday, November 11, 2007

Love One Another

November 11, 2007, Observation:

Well, I let Jo Anne talk me into it.  Last week we went out and bought a new, modified, Toyota Sienna van.  We aren't rich -- just stupid, I suppose.  Not knowing my life expectancy I told her I would like to go out in style when it was my time which she thought was a very good idea, although I was a tad disappointed she agreed so readily to any plans I had regarding my demise.

The Toyota is light-years better than the Dodge vans we have driven over the years.  The Japanese do such a wonderful job -- it makes you wonder who really won World War II.  In our new Toyota we seem to float effortlessly, and silently I might add, down the freeway.  I can only compare the way our Dodge went down the freeway to a covered wagon traveling over rocks and ruts with those iron rims and no shocks.

Actually we are the proud owners of two vans as we are trying to sell the Dodge at this time -- better be careful what I say about the Dodge until we have made the appropriate deal.  A few days ago my VIP (Very Important Philipino) caregiver, Rey, came into the bedroom to begin the process of getting me ready for the day.  I asked him if he had seen Jo Anne and he said he thought it was her washing two vans out in our driveway.  I told him when she came in I was going to demonstrate what constitutes a beautiful and successful marriage relationship.  Sure enough, at the perfect moment she ran into the bedroom to choose the outfit of the day.  I asked her where she had been all morning and she said, "Outside washing the vans."  I asked her if she thought she had done a good job and she was only slightly offended at the question as she assured me that nobody could have done it better than her.  I said, "But what about the windows -- I'll bet they will be streaky when the sun shines in."  She responded, "Oh no!"  She then told me how she had a special solution and a squeegee that did the windows better than our Mexican brothers at the local car wash.  I then said, "But what about the chrome wheels?  I'll bet they have hard water spots all over them."  She bristled a bit but told me about her special solution for shining up and making them look like new.  And then she said, "Don't even ask me about the tires because I have already put "Armour All" on them and they look great!"  I could see that Rey was duly impressed with this interchange and I looked at him and said, "When you can have this kind of conversation with your wife you know you have the greatest marriage possible -- at least as a husband!"

Now don't you husbands get after your wives for not taking better care of your automobiles.  Many wives never get the rare opportunity of being married to a quadriplegic on life support, and so many "normal" husbands never really come to know all of the hidden talents their wives may possess.

Seriously though, as I think of all that Jo Anne has done for me over the years I cannot help but think she has passed the Savior's litmus test of true discipleship contained in John 13: 34-35.  One of my favorite hymns over the years, and probably many of yours as well, is based on these two verses. It is one of those late-night and early morning melodies, accompanied by the challenging words of Jesus, that run through my mind almost constantly when I am unable to sleep. "A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another."  [John 13:34-35]
I hope that just because these words are well known and oft repeated they will never become trite or lose their power to influence our behavior.  I do believe that if we would learn to love one another as the Savior did -- ultimately giving his life for each one of us -- that most family and world problems would be instantly resolved.  I believe the love the Savior described begins at home between husbands and wives and then extends on to their children and grandchildren.  Beyond that we all have multiple opportunities each day of our lives to interact with business associates, fellow students, other members of the church, doctors, dentists, mechanics, gardeners, and etc. and etc.  And how will we ultimately be known as Christ's true disciples?  "... if ye have love one to another!"  Is this love given grudgingly and only out of duty?  I don't think so if it is the kind of love Christ has for us.

Sometimes Jo Anne expresses the sentiment to me that she feels that somehow, because she has never held hardly any high visibility administrative or teaching positions in the Church, she is somehow not as valiant in her testimony and commitment to the Savior as others may be.  How wrong could she be based on the Savior's litmus test of true discipleship?  If I understand the Savior's challenge to us to become his true disciples, Jo Anne is the "truest" disciple of Christ I have ever met.  I'm afraid that if I were in her shoes I might come up lacking just a bit.


Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Destruction of Sennacherib

October 24, 2007, Observation:

I am constantly amazed at the power and ability to paint vivid pictures in the mind and heart possessed by the 26 small letters that comprise the English alphabet.  It truly is a miracle!  Listening to books is almost as good as reading them, but not quite.  I like to read at my own speed and think and ponder as images are created in my mind.

Words have the power to fill us with love, inspiration, great knowledge, despair, hate, and a host of other emotions.  I was shopping at Costco the other day with Jo Anne -- a new Costco which they say is the biggest in the world -- what a joy -- for Jo Anne!  She was not just aimlessly wandering through the aisles but was attacking each aisle in a very businesslike manner.  I finally asked, "Jo Anne, do you know what you're looking for?"  She gave me a withering look while responding, "No, but when I see it I will know it!"  Her response was like a dagger in my heart and I tried to steer her to the free food samples which would hopefully help get me through this ordeal.

I have a few phrases I share with Jo Anne that can bring her from a state of peace and joy to one of anxiety and frustration -- like, "The game is going into overtime!"  Or, "Just a minute, the 13th inning will be over anytime now!"

Over the years I have read many great books that have influenced my life, but the Scriptures have had the most profound influence of all.  I love the King James Edition of the Bible.  I know that new scholarship has given us probably more accurate translations, but somehow they don't have the same impact on my heart or spirit.  Former generations read the Bible, loved it, and were profoundly influenced by the eternal truths contained therein.  Great painters, sculptors, and poets, spent their entire lives creating magnificent works that always grew out of, and were inspired by canonized scripture.  This certainly is not the norm in today's artistic community by and large. 

The one example, out of thousands that could be shared regarding former day artists whose work was inspired by scripture, is a poem written by Lord Byron, the celebrated English poet. You will look long and hard to find somebody today inspired and desiring to write a magnificent poem about the Lord delivering Jerusalem and King Hezekiah from the Assyrian army under the leadership of Sennacherib, (2 Chronicles 32) as did Lord Byron in 1815.  I am sure Lord Byron was inspired by King Hezekiah's words to his people as the Assyrian army was poised on the outskirts of Jerusalem to destroy it. 

"Be strong and courageous, be not afraid nor dismayed for the king of Assyria, nor for all the multitude that is with him: for there be more with us than with him: With him is an arm of flesh; but with us is the LORD our God to help us, and to fight our battles. And the people rested themselves upon the words of Hezekiah king of Judah."  [2 Chronicles 32: 7-8]

And then as they trusted in Jehovah and not the arm of flesh, Lord Byron would have read the following:   "And the LORD sent an angel, which cut off all the mighty men of valour, and the leaders and captains in the camp of the king of Assyria. So he returned with shame of face to his own land. " [2 Chronicles 32:21]

As you read this classic Lord Byron poem entitled "The Destruction of Sennacherib," if you will read it out loud I believe you will be able to hear galloping hooves, the wailing wind, and visualize in your mind what only the Lord God Jehovah could do to the mighty Assyrian army.

The destruction of Sennacherib by Lord Byron-1815
"The Assyrian came down like the wolf on the fold,
And his cohorts were gleaming in purple and gold;
And the sheen of their spears was like stars on the sea,
when the blue wave rolls nightly on deep Galilee.
Like the leaves of the forest when summer is green,
That host with their banners at sunset were seen:
Like the leaves of the forest when autumn hath blown,
that host on the morrow lay withered and strown.
For the Angel of Death spread his wings on the blast,
And breathed in the face of the foe as he passed:
And the eyes of the sleepers waxed deadly and chill,
And their hearts but once heaved, and for ever grew still!
And there lay the steed with his nostrils all wide,
But through it there rolled not the breath of his pride:
And the foam of his gasping lay white on the turf,
And cold as the spray of the rock-beating surf.
And there lay the rider distorted and pale,
With the dew on his brow and the rust on his mail;
And the tents were all silent, the banners alone,
The lances unlifted, the trumpet unblown.
And the widows of Ashur are loud in their wail,
And the idols are broke in the temple of Baal;
And the might of the Gentile, unsmote by the sword,
Hath melted like snow in the glance of the Lord!"

Yes, the Lord will fight our battles for us if we will have complete trust in Him and not in the arm of flesh!  The scriptural recount in 2 Chronicles certainly inspired and impacted Lord Byron. I discovered the Scriptures as a young missionary over 40 years ago now, and although I am no scholar of ancient scripture, I have read them constantly and consistently through the years.  The words of prophets feed my soul and bring the spirit of the Lord into my heart like nothing else can, it seems.  As I approach "The Final Exam" I seem to have an increased desire to search the Scriptures and to share them with others, especially by family members, knowing how important these eternal truths and words have been in my own life.

A little over a year ago in speaking at eight-year-old Tanner Stratford's baptism (one of my grandsons) I quoted him 2 Nephi 31:20 and challenged him to memorize it.  Every time I see him -- maybe that's why he is avoiding me -- I have him quote it to me.  He says "Grandpa, wherefore ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope and a love of God and of all men. Wherefore it ye shall press forward feasting upon the word of Christ and endure to the end, behold thus saith the Father, ye shall have eternal life!"  At Rosa's CafĂ© and Tortilla Factory the other day, Tanner was chocking down a chicken enchilada and did not deem it a dignified setting for a scripture so I began quoting it to him -- incorrectly.  He couldn't let me get away with it and set me straight as he struggled to handle the enchilada, a mouthful of refried beans and 2 Nephi 31:20.  Tanner doesn't know it yet but he will never memorize, perhaps in his lifetime, more important words than those written by Nephi so many years ago.  I know I haven't!  Yes, 26 letters are truly magical, and more than that, when they become scripture -- the word of the Lord through his prophets. 


Sunday, October 14, 2007


October 14, 2007 Observation:

The status of my health is as follows: An old farmer wanted to sell one of his horses so he ran an ad in the local newspaper which in part said, "The horse doesn't look so good."  A few days after the ad appeared a man drove out to his farm to examine the horse.  The horse was just gorgeous and the price was more than right so he bought it thinking he had really put one over on the old farmer.  Two days later he was back at the farm with his recent purchase.  He said to the farmer, "Why didn't you tell me the horse was blind?"  The farmer smiled weakly as he responded, "I said he didn't look so good!"

Well, I'm afraid I am like that old horse -- I don't look so good.  However, I can see well enough to not be considered blind for which I am grateful.  With very powerful reading glasses, sitting as close as I can to my computer monitor, and using large fonts, I am able to read and write.  By the way, if you write to me please use a 12 point or higher font or I can't read it. 

Everything is so relative in life.  When I was first injured I thought things couldn't get much worse than being paralyzed and on life support; I didn't even think about what a blessing it was to have almost perfect vision, as well as hearing.  Now, I don't think about being paralyzed, but have spent some time considering what a priceless gift sight is.  Having essentially lost the ability to see out of my right eye and now having impaired vision in my left eye I actually went through a couple of days coming close to asking the question, "Why me Lord?"  Thankfully I never got that low and instead, miraculously, began to feel grateful for what vision I still have.

My situation reminds me of the story of a great salesman, who after a serious car accident was left a paraplegic.  His friends hesitated to visit him because they just could not imagine what he would be like now.  Previously he had been so dynamic, enthusiastic, and happy that they just drug their feet all the way to his door not knowing what to expect.  He opened the door and as he greeted them they instantly could see that except for not being able to walk, he was the same wonderful person he had been before.  He said, "Before my injury I could do a thousand things.  Now I can only do 500; however, I am not eating out my heart because of the 500 things I can't do, but am grateful for the 500 I can do." 

Believe me, I will take whatever ability I have to see, and rejoice in it.  I have a much greater empathy for those who are blind than I ever had before.  With my "long distance" glasses I can watch TV pretty well, enjoy going outside, but can't see well enough to read the street signs.  Actually, it has been a blessing to not be able to see really well as Jo Anne drives me about.  I have lost the sense of impending doom that accompanied me on most of our journeys on the streets and freeways of Southern California, and I suppose will only realize how dangerous things have really been when it is too late to do anything about it.

Not having been able to read or write has caused me to do more pondering and reflecting than usual.  For some reason, almost every evening or morning while I am in bed and not asleep, one scripture from the Gospel of John that has been set to music seems to constantly be playing in my mind.  One of the things I miss most about my current situation is my inability to sing.  I sang in a chorus at BYU, in the mission field, directed a seminary choir in Ogden, Utah, as well as serving as a ward choir director for a short period of time.  For some reason every choir I conducted or sang in, we always learned and performed the following: "Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid."  [John 14:27]  

Those of you who have been privileged to sing this number, or have heard the Tabernacle choir sing it, are undoubtedly having the beautiful melody and harmony resonate through your mind and heart at this moment.  I can never just recite these words but almost involuntarily sing them in my mind.  And so, for some months, without consciously striving to do so these words and melody have almost constantly been in my mind in the late evening and early morning hours.  I am kind of dense but I began to think the Lord was addressing the fact that my heart was somewhat "troubled and afraid," regarding the possibility of impending blindness.  I believe that is undoubtedly part of it -- my heart was "troubled and afraid" -- sure evidence of a lack of faith in Christ and the power of the atonement.  However, that was just part of the message the Lord wanted me to get as I began to analyze and ponder the words of the Savior recorded by John.

The verse begins "Peace I leave with you..." Yes, Christ was the Prince of Peace, and was not the great warrior the Jews expected to come to free them from the yoke of Roman bondage.  He left the world in peace in the sense that no armed conflict erupted or was inspired by him during his ministry.  That was important, but then he goes to the heart of the matter -- something I needed to understand.  "... my peace I give unto you; not as the world giveth, give I unto you..." Now he talks about another kind of peace -- my peace!  And he doesn't just leave it with us; he gives it to us.  The gift of his peace enables us to never let our hearts be troubled or afraid.  If we seek him and trust in his goodness he will give us his peace -- not as the world giveth.  His peace is spiritual in nature and hard to describe to one who has never felt it.  Paul said it passes all human understanding -- and it does, but it is real.  The peace the world has to offer comes from important institutions of men such as stable government, law and order, and in the minds of some, institutions like the United Nations.  Unfortunately, the world's peace seems to have to be enforced by weapons of destruction -- quite an ironic paradox.

In retrospect I have needed this message from John 14:27 badly at this time in my life.  Trouble and fear have thankfully been replaced by the peace that only the Savior can bring into one's heart.  The Savior's gift of peace is priceless!


Thursday, August 2, 2007

If It Is Expedient in Christ

I wish everyone could have the opportunity just once of going to ER or intensive care as a quadriplegic on life support.  Depending upon your kind of personality you would either come away from the experience with a greatly enhanced sense of humor or extremely frustrated.  One of the first procedures you would be submitted to would be an x-ray.  The x-ray technician has had drummed into his head that he must say "take a deep breath and hold it" to everyone he x-rays.  He is like the MacDonald's employee who says to me when I ask for an order of french fries -- "would you like fries with that order?"  Of course I would love to take a deep breath and hold it and I try to communicate that sentiment to the technician as best I can.  They go forward with the x-ray with great misgivings and I always have the feeling that they are a tad upset with me because I have broken the cardinal rule of proper x-ray protocol.

The next thing that happens is that the doctor wants to redo my trachea system so I can't speak as loudly or as well as I normally do.  I know there must be a profound medical reason for this but I have not discovered it yet.  Now that I am unable to communicate in a normal way, the intensive care nurses begin to take care of me.  During 12 days in intensive care, only one nurse is not Asian.  Don't get me wrong, these are incredibly compassionate, competent and wonderful nurses, but with their English and my inability to speak, communication does become an issue.  I start getting cold and ask the nurse to pull the blanket "up."  She pulls it "down".  I say, "No, pull it toward my head!"  She pulls it toward my feet.  This tug-of-war goes on for some time until the light turns on in her head and she says "Oh, you want the blanket "up."  I ask, "Would you please put the head of the bed down?"  I am invariably catapulted forward in a most agonizing manner.  The nurse says, "Is that far enough?"  My muffled response is "Head down, head down!"  Having won the battle of the blanket and the position of the bed I am exhausted, and being unable to speak at all now, I am an ideal patient -- comatose -- for the next several hours. 

The nurse next tells me that if I need help in case of an emergency to just pick up the remote and push the emergency button to call her.  This makes me nervous for a number of reasons as you can imagine.  First of all the nurse has not yet caught on that I can't move, and secondly what am I to do in case of a real emergency like my ventilator failing, or my hose popping off because the rubber bands were not properly attached to my trachea?  When I express my concerns about this potential problem -- and especially with the hose popping up -- the nurse comforts me by saying "In this hospital we don't use rubber bands to hold the trachea on."

I really am not a wimp but I had a close family member or friend stay with me 24 hours a day for the 12 days I was in intensive care.  Guess what?  Had somebody not been there at my bedside as an advocate with the nurses, I honestly don't know that I would have made it out of there alive.

Actually, this particular brush with death was quite sobering for me.  Yesterday our primary HMO doctor, Dr. Siddall, called to tell us she had been monitoring my surgery and recovery through the charts and written records that are kept.  She said that it was the most dramatic account of a surgery she has read for many years.  She said it took a giant team effort on the part of many skilled surgeons, other doctors, and nurses to keep me alive so the surgery could be performed.  My blood pressure got so low on two occasions that the anesthesiologist had to quit administering anesthesia for a period of time.  He was concerned I would be in great pain, but of course such was not the case, and in retrospect, all I can say is "Boy, I'll bet that hurt!"  I don't know what Dr. Siddall's religious tradition is but she told us over the phone that making it through the surgery was an absolute miracle and that I must have some important mission yet to perform.

I do know that my life was preserved by the Lord.  The priesthood blessings I received from my sons prior to my surgery were blessings of great faith and power.  I know that death is an inevitable part of life but at times the Lord sees fit to prolong life.  Two verses of Scripture from the Book of Moroni have taken on significant meaning as a result of my latest adventure.  "And Christ hath said: If ye will have faith in me ye shall have power to do whatsoever thing is expedient in me."  [Moroni 7:33] And then Moroni 10:23 is almost a direct quote of 7:33.  In the first instance Moroni is quoting his father and the second time he uses these phrases is in the last chapter of his own writings.  I think this truth was extremely important to both Mormon and Moroni. 

My life was preserved because of faith -- my own faith, the faith of my family and friends, the numerous prayers offered in my behalf, and the priesthood blessings administered in faith -- and because it was expedient in Christ that such be the case.  I am amazed at the number of Scriptures in the standard works in which the word "expedient" is used. Expedient: "... suitable for achieving a particular end in a given circumstance."  [Merriam-Webster online dictionary]

"And Christ hath said: If ye will have faith in me ye shall have power to do whatsoever thing is expedient [suitable] in me" -- achieving a particular end in a given circumstance -- in my case, being healed from a dangerous surgery because it was expedient in Christ that such be the case.
I am extremely grateful that it was "expedient" in Christ that my life be preserved through faith on His name.  Because of it, each day of mortality is such a precious gift.


Monday, July 2, 2007

Live Today, Learn Forever

Several weeks ago our oldest grandson, Michael Rushton, graduated from Murietta Valley high school.  The graduation ceremony took place at the football stadium and it was a blistering hot day.  Fortunately, Jo Anne and I were able to find a shady spot under the bleachers where we could sit, me in my wheelchair -- I always have some place to sit -- and she in a folding chair.  We could see and hear the proceedings extremely well from our vantage point. One of the student speakers, a young lady, said something that attracted my attention, which is a remarkable achievement on her part given the heat of the day and the setting -- a football field overflowing with a mass of sweating moms and dads and grandparents. 

She quoted Gandhi as follows: "Live as though you are going to die tomorrow; learn as though you are going to live forever!"  I thought at the time what an important truth to incorporate into your life as a young high school graduate embarking on life's adventure.  Of course, it is that kind of true principle that really ought to govern the lives of each one of us regardless of our age or station in life.

I guess the reason the Gandhi statement attracted my attention is because of my own life's experience.  Since living on life support for 19 years, and having had several near-death experiences because of it, I am very aware of how fragile my own life is.  Many of you have heard me describe my lifestyle as "Living on the Edge!"  However, as I have thought about it over the years, I truly do believe that all of us are "living on the edge" and have no guarantee of what tomorrow is going to bring. I know how profoundly true James' statement is: "Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away."  [James 4:14] [Emphasis added]

If what James says is true, and I know it is, Gandhi's advice about living as though we are going to die tomorrow, if taken seriously, could have a profound impact upon the way we live our daily lives.  Does living our lives "as though we are going to die tomorrow" mean that we should strive to pack every waking hour with more fun, golf, exciting experiences, world travel, cruises, and etc.?  I really don't think so.  Don't get me wrong, I certainly do believe there is a place for all of the things that can bring us pleasure and enjoyment, but I have learned that at the end of the day the only thing that will really matter is the quality of our relationships with our family, friends, and especially with the Lord.  This I learned as I was stretched out on a hospital bed in a trauma unit being told I would never move my body again, breathe on my own again, speak again, eat regular food again, or live outside a care facility.  In that moment, having lost the use of my physical body, I realized that nothing I had done in my life really mattered for much except the relationships I had forged with my loved ones and with my Heavenly Father over the years.

I suppose with life being as fragile as it is that in living our lives as though we were going to die tomorrow, I would think that every day we would want to strive to be kinder, less judgmental, more loving to all we know, and striving to follow the Lord's admonition, "As I have loved you, love one another!"

Last Thursday a funeral service was held for Jo Anne's 88-year-old mother who had passed away Sunday evening.  At her death, her posterity included her 10 children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and great-great-grandchildren numbering 141. All of her children and grandchildren who spoke on the program spoke with great tenderness of her love, nonjudgmental attitude, kindness, and intense dislike for any kind of contention or loud and angry words.  One of her sons-in-law said to me after the service that this was one funeral in which the absolute truth was told about the deceased, without any need to embellish any aspect of her character.  I knew her for 43 years and can honestly say that I never heard her say a mean or derogatory thing to, or about, any other person.  It simply was not in her nature to do so, and therefore the love her children and grandchildren had for her was just absolutely immense.  She had no degrees, was not rich or famous, but because of her life and the relationships she had with her loved ones she "... did not taste of death, for it was sweet unto her." To be loved as she was by those who matter the most -- family and friends -- is to have lived a successful life.  I am sure I will never achieve it, but each day, not knowing whether it will be my last or not, I want to try to emulate this wonderful character trait possessed in such rich abundance by Jo Anne's mother.

I also have strong feelings about the second part of the Gandhi statement, "... learn as though you are going to live forever!"  I have a little feeling for what it might be like to enter a world where we no longer have a physical body.  For over 18 years now my life has basically been a life of the mind and spirit.  I cannot adequately express how important is the knowledge, especially gospel knowledge and a love for the scriptures and other good books, I stored up in my mind and heart before my accident.  And because of my situation I am now privileged to spend hours each day learning and discovering new truths.  I suspect I have read more great books and learned more, especially during the last 10 years, than in any other 10 year period of my life.  The truth be known, we are going to live forever, and: "Whatever principle of intelligence we attain unto in this life, it will rise with us in the resurrection. And if a person gains more knowledge and intelligence in this life through his diligence and obedience than another, he will have so much the advantage in the world to come."  [Doctrine & Covenants 130:18-19]

In my own mind, to quit learning is to quit living! "... How dull it is to pause, to make an end, to rust unburnish'd, not to shine in use! /As tho' to breathe were life! /Life piled on life Were all too little, and of one to me Little remains:/ but every hour is saved From that eternal silence, something more, /A bringer of new things..." [Ulysses, Alfred Lord Tennyson]




Thursday, June 21, 2007

The United Herd

Thursday, June 21, 2007
The Power Of The United Herd

Several Sundays ago as my good friend Brian McInnis was conducting fast and testimony meeting as a counselor in the bishopric, he said something in his testimony that I thought was a very profound truth concerning life.  Brian loves to watch the Discovery Channel and especially the programs about nature and wildlife.  He told us about a program he had recently watched about a herd of Water Buffaloes in Africa.  The herd was on its way to a watering hole and just as they got there several lions leapt out of the heavy brush and attacked a small calf which was the smallest Buffalo in the herd. The Lions had probably been stalking the herd for miles determining which water buffalo was the most vulnerable, and would provide them with the best lunch.

The lions inadvertently dragged the calf down into the water and as they were attempting to kill it several alligators came up out of the water and grabbed onto the calf as well.  The poor thing was probably wondering why he had ever bothered to get up that day.  Do water buffaloes sleep lying down?  I don't know.  Anyhow, the calf was having an unusually bad day.  As the tug-of-war between the lions and the alligators persisted and became more intense, suddenly the father and mother buffalo -- bull and cow -- charged with all their might and were able to drive off a lion or two.  They however, were no match for all the lions and alligators that had attacked their child, but unexpectedly the entire herd gathered together and as a group charged the lions and the alligators and with horns and hooves drove off the enemy and saved the little calf's life.

Mom and Dad could not, by themselves, have saved their child from the lions and alligators; it took the entire united herd to do the job.  Families, extended families, the inspired organization of the Church that includes home and visiting teachers, bishops and stake presidents, youth advisers, and seminary and institute teachers and classes, constitute our "united herd" and are absolutely essential to save our vulnerable children from the spiritual lions and alligators stalking them and us.

There are spiritual predators -- as cunning and ferocious as physical lions and alligators -- stalking us today and seeking to devour the most vulnerable among us.  Our spiritual predators or enemies today, I believe, are more dangerous to us ultimately, than Al Qaeda, Hamas, and other predatory terrorist groups that seek to blow up and destroy our physical bodies.  What are some of these spiritual predators or terrorists?  As you think about it you will undoubtedly create your own list, but I think they must include many of the false precepts of men that Nephi saw in vision would corrupt churches and people in our day: "... they have all gone astray save it be a few, who are the humble followers of Christ; nevertheless, they are led, that in many instances they do err because they are taught by the precepts of men."  [2 Nephi 28:14]

It is not my intent to give you my complete list of the false precepts of men but they would include false religious precepts, false educational precepts, false political precepts, and false moral precepts with which we are bombarded almost daily.  Tragically, as Nephi envisioned our day, he saw that most people had gone astray save it be a few who were "the humble followers of Christ," and even many of them were blown up spiritually so to say, because they hearkened to these precepts of men. 

And then, of course, some of the spiritual artillery and land mines used by the Adversary includes such things as illegal drugs, alcohol, tobacco, and pornography.  All of these things can be addictive and can result in our being eaten alive spiritually.  It takes the united effort of family, good friends, and Church to protect and also help deliver those who are already in the jaws of these spiritual alligators and Lions before they are destroyed.

Many years ago while serving as a bishop, a good visiting teacher discovered that a young married woman with two sweet children that lived in our ward was being abused verbally and physically by her husband.  He had become involved in, and addicted to, pornography and had been very unfaithful to his wife.  He was involved in many wicked practices that had driven away the Spirit from his life and he was a danger to his wife and children because of it.  After a brief visit with her, she gave her consent for me to call her father who lived in a distant state.  After explaining to him what was happening to his daughter and grandchildren he caught a flight that night and arrived in Orange County the next morning, took his daughter and two grandchildren immediately back to the airport, and flew them home.  He acted very well the part of the bull water buffalo charging onto the scene to save his daughter.

About two years ago I received a letter from this now older middle aged woman who wanted to tell me the rest of the story.  She had been granted a divorce from her abusive husband, had married a very good man, and now had four or five children who were doing very well in life having served missions and married in the temple.  She just wanted to express her appreciation and gratitude for the love and support manifested to her from the members of our ward at a very critical time in her life.  What might have happened to her and her children had it not been for loving friends and a father who were willing to do battle in her behalf to release her from the very dangerous circumstances of her life?

Sickness, disabling accidents, and the death of a loved one can also inadvertently become spiritual alligators or lions that can drive us away from our Heavenly Father through depression and a loss of faith.  When I was injured almost 19 years ago now, I was overwhelmed at the support given to me, not only by my family, but by so many others as well.  For the month following my accident, fellow high priests took turns sitting with me through the night, reading scriptures to me, talking to me, singing hymns, and just being there.  I cannot describe what a comfort this was to me at that trying time.  Sunday after Sunday while I was in the rehabilitation hospital, 30 or 40 friends would stop by during the day to visit.  I enjoyed every minute of their visits and was strengthened and buoyed up by their love and support.  This love and concern has endured 19 years now and has enabled Jo Anne and I to press forward knowing that we are surrounded by a loving "herd."

"And the Lord called his people ZION, because they were of one heart and one mind..." [Moses 7:18]


Friday, June 8, 2007

Enduring it Well

Last week Jo Anne hosted a bridal shower at our home.  One of the ladies who attended brought her son to visit with me while the shower was going on.  This was such a great blessing to me to be cloistered away in my bedroom with some male companionship and protected from the girlish fun, festivities, and chatter that 40 women inevitably bring with them to a bridal shower.  I was not reluctant however, to partake of the good food and dessert I must admit.

The young man I was privileged to visit with was badly injured in the mission field while riding his bicycle.  His pancreas was severely damaged and his life was in jeopardy for some time.  For months he was unable to eat and consequently lost about 50 or 60 pounds.  After many priesthood blessings, fasting and prayer on behalf of many, and skilled doctors performing a delicate surgery, he once again is beginning to be able to eat and is regaining his health and strength.  Hopefully if everything keeps going well he will be able to return to his field of labor in another six months. 

He is a wonderful and special person.  He was attending USC on an academic scholarship before entering the mission field, and is a young man of great potential and promise.  Having been very successful in life before his mission he was also being very productive and effective as a missionary, and then came this unfortunate accident which could easily have cost him his life.  What has happened to him, I am sure has caused him much serious reflection. 

He had many questions he wanted to ask me about a variety of things and I truly had a delightful time visiting with him.  Toward the end of our conversation he asked what I thought was a question for the ages.  He said, "Brother Rushton, what do you think I should learn from this experience?"  It seems like such a simple question and yet at the same time it is so very profound.  In asking the question I knew he had been doing a lot of soul-searching regarding why he would ever have had to experience this kind of problem while serving the Lord with all his heart in the mission field.

What follows is, in essence, what I tried to share with him that evening, but in more detail, as I have had time to reflect on it for a few days.  The first thing that came into my mind was that hopefully he would learn patience.  However, in saying patience I really mean much more than just patience.  The Scriptures would call it learning to "endure."  But it is more than just learning to "endure."  When my own accident occurred I was 50 years old, had served a mission, married in the temple, had served as a bishop and stake president, and with all that experience behind me felt that I was strong enough to endure what had happened to me.  In my mind I would say to myself "Jack, you can get through this.  It won't be easy but you can do it.  Just gird up your loins and gut it out."  And so, like a man in a cold wind and rain storm, in a sense I turned up the collar of my coat, turned my back to the storm, gritted my teeth and endured.  Guess what?  It didn't work!  I was miserable, my family was miserable, and I began to learn that apparently just enduring was not enough.  It was then I stumbled upon a great truth I had read for years but had not registered with me.  In Doctrine & Covenants 121 as Joseph pled with the Lord to find some meaning to his own brand of adversity the Lord said to him: "And then, if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high; thou shalt triumph over all thy foes."  [Doctrine & Covenants 121:8] [emphasis added] Of all the Scriptures that admonish us to endure to the end, this is the only verse I can find that tells us how to endure -- "endure it well."  For someone in my situation this was an important revelation.  I came to learn that it is not enough just to endure but we must endure it well.  If we endure it well we won't just be gritting our teeth and turning up our collar against the storm, but we will be experiencing peace and joy that will enable us to be productive, to serve others, and to especially be a blessing to our loved ones.

You are probably saying, "Well, Jack, that is all well and good but how do you get to that point in your life where in the midst of adversity you are able to rise to a level beyond just enduring, but enduring it well?"  Again, the answer came to me personally from the Scriptures.  It comes from that same context of Joseph learning great lessons about the purpose of adversity while incarcerated in Liberty Jail.  The Lord went on to tell him, after listing many of the trials Joseph had already suffered, the following: "... and above all, if the very jaws of hell shall gape open the mouth wide after thee, know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good."  [Doctrine & Covenants 122:7] [emphasis added]

For some time, but especially after my accident, I pondered upon that verse a great deal.  I would often ask myself, "Why are terrible things that happen to us supposed to be for our good?"  I just didn't get it!  Yes, I know they give us experience but is that all?  Was being paralyzed from the neck down and living on life support the rest of my life for my good?  Was it for the good of this young missionary to almost lose his life in a bicycle accident while serving a mission for the Lord?  Finally after really many years of pondering I think I finally got it.  You all probably are not as dense as I am and undoubtedly already have it. 

All of the horrible things that can happen to us in mortality will only be for our good if they humble us, drive us to our knees, and make us more dependent upon the Savior and less dependent upon the arm of flesh.  Adversity can either drive people away from faith in Christ or to an increased faith in Him.  When one comes to understand that he is not strong enough, smart enough, talented enough, etc. to make it on his own through this mortal experience and comes to Christ with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, then the Savior can strengthen the individual through the healing power of the atonement to "endure it well".  Then the adversity truly will be for our good.  I think I also have a deeper feeling for what King Benjamin said about mankind since coming to the realization I can't do it on my own.  "... I would that ye should remember, and always retain in remembrance, the greatness of God, and your own nothingness, and his goodness and long-suffering towards you, unworthy creatures, and humble yourselves even in the depths of humility, calling on the name of the Lord daily, and standing steadfastly in the faith of that which is to come... And behold, I say unto you that if ye do this ye shall always rejoice, and be filled with the love of God..." [Mosiah 4:11-12]
And so my young friend, hopefully you will learn to "endure it well" and turn to the Lord with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, casting your burden upon him with complete trust and faith in his goodness. If you do so, I believe I can promise you, because of my own experience, you will always be able to rejoice and be filled with the love of God regardless of what life may bring your way.



Monday, May 28, 2007

The Least of These

Monday, May 28, 2007, Observation:

I am in my 16th consecutive year of teaching the Gospel Doctrine class in our ward.  The poor members of the ward who have lived in its boundaries as long as I have, I am sure, will be exalted in the highest degree of the Celestial Kingdom for having endured so much punishment for so long at my hands.  The fact is they haven't needed me as a teacher but I certainly have had a great need to teach.  Wonderful bishops over the past 16 years have recognized this need I have, and out of love and kindness have permitted me to press forward with this choice assignment.

Physically I can do very little -- let's be honest, I can't do anything except breathe, eat, and drink -- but thankfully I can still think and talk and hopefully contribute in a positive way to others' lives through home teaching, writing, teaching, speaking, and giving patriarchal blessings.  I especially enjoy the opportunity of preparing a lesson from the Scriptures each week.  It keeps my brain working and alive and hopefully growing as I constantly search for new ideas and insights.  The day after I teach a lesson I immediately delete it from my computer.  I don't want to be tempted to ever teach the same lesson twice.  When I teach the same book of scripture I taught four years ago, if I cannot find new insights and eternal principles embedded in those Scriptures then I know, or will know, it's time to give up teaching and start watching American Idol reruns on TV.

I believe one of the things I enjoy most is discovering a new truth or principle in Scriptures I have read countless times.  I had such an experience this week.  We have been studying this year, as you know, the life of the Savior as contained in the four Gospels.  I have always been impressed with the healing miracles performed by Jesus -- probably because of my own situation.  I am sure we are only given the tip of the iceberg in the Gospels regarding the number of people Jesus actually blessed and healed in one way or another.  The thought that came to me this week as I have been reading the Gospels is that never, when asked for help, did Jesus ever offer money as a solution to the problem.  He always gave of himself in a very personal, powerful and hands-on way.  To me there was a lesson of life in this thought. 

I know it is not a very profound or earthshaking insight -- I am sure many others have noticed this -- but I think the Savior is trying to teach us all something through his example of serving and blessing others.  I am not saying that we should not give money to bless others through fast offering, the perpetual education fund, humanitarian outreach programs, and etc. I guess what I am saying is that if giving money is our only effort in blessing those in need we have overlooked an essential ingredient in our quest to become true disciples of Christ.

In Matthew 25 the Lord teaches how he will separate the sheep from the goats -- his true disciples from his pretended disciples -- at the Judgment Day. "Then shall the King say unto them on his aright hand [his sheep], Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me." [Matthew 25:34-36]

Of course his listeners wanted to know when they had performed these acts of service and love for Him.  His answer reflects his own ministry in mortality as well as the challenge he gives to all who would strive to become like Him: "...Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me." [Matthew 25:40]

Of course it takes money to buy meat, drink, and clothing, and making sure there is an abundance of these kinds of things to bless the lives of those in need throughout the world.  The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, through the generosity of its members, is able to alleviate much suffering in the world.  But visiting the sick and those in prison, welcoming the stranger, and giving of ourselves to the "least of these [our] brethren" seems to be what Jesus is asking us to do in a very personal and hands-on manner, even as he did.

I suppose a legitimate question is who are the "least of these my brethren?"  I believe there are many categories or levels of "the least" amongst us, but as I have grown older I am beginning to believe that "the least of the least of our brothers and sisters" are those who suffer from brain damage or mental impairment of some kind.  The purest and most Christ-like service to others I can imagine is the way we treat the mentally impaired. 

Two of my heroes are Kay and Gloria Groom.  We have lived in the same ward together for over 30 years now.  Kay and Gloria had two normal children born to them and then their last daughter was born with severe Down Syndrome.  They have loved their daughter and been a great blessing to her these many years, but they went the second mile to bring into their home another girl with Down Syndrome to be a companion to their daughter and to bless her life as well.  These girls are approaching 40 years of age now and I don't think it has ever been especially "convenient" for Kay and Gloria to have shouldered this responsibility for so many years.  Going on vacations, spending leisurely and luxurious days on a cruise or at a time share, I don't think for the most part, have been a part of their lifestyle.  I don't believe they have ever felt burdened down by this responsibility however, and in an eternal sense are certainly two of those "sheep" who ultimately will be ushered into the presence of the Savior, and on his right hand.  Surely as they have administered to the needs of these girls they have been doing it to the Savior himself.

I know of so many others who have given their lives in service and love to those who are mentally impaired.  Oh, giving money to support foundations and research is so important, but will never measure up to giving of oneself in hands-on service to someone who is incapable of even thanking us for what is being done.

True disciples of Christ ultimately will have lived lives described by the Savior when he said: "For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: 36 Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me." [Matthew 25: 35 -36] Thankfully, opportunities to perform this kind of service present themselves to us each day of our lives if we are perceptive enough to see them and then are willing to respond to them.


Tuesday, May 15, 2007


Tuesday, May 15, 2007, Observation:

I have had a little sinus infection for about a week which thankfully has now been cleared up.  During that time my head has felt about the size of a lead basketball.  It has been hard to think creatively, read, or even work much on the computer so I have watched more TV than normal.  Through this I have become more painfully aware than I usually am of the lack of "civility" that exists amongst us -- or that at least is portrayed to us through television programming.

According to the dictionary, "civility" is: "a : civilized conduct; especially : courtesy, politeness, b : a polite act or expression."  Most of what I see in the media is the direct opposite of "civility" as defined above.  President Hinckley has spoken out frequently regarding the lack of "civility" in our society.  "... The lack of it [civility] is seen in the endless barrage of faultfinding and criticism spewed forth by media columnists and commentators. Lack of civility is often the cause of death and injury on the highway. It is the smirk of arrogance worn by many who think themselves superior in intellect, in riches, in station in life. Oh, how we need to cultivate a greater measure of civility in our society. ("Codes and Covenants," BYU 1994-95 Devotional and Fireside Speeches, October 18, 1994, p. 38.)

My dad came from another era.  He was not formally educated and worked as a miner and at related jobs for Kennecott Copper Corp. Nevada Mines Division for over 40 years of his life.  However, he innately understood what it meant to be "civil" -- polite, courteous, having "good manners" which reflected "good breeding."  He wore work clothes every day and carried a lunch bucket, but on Sunday he put on a beautiful blue suit -- the only one he owned -- a spotless white shirt, a beautiful tie, and shiny black shoes.  He knew that going to Church was special and this was his way of showing respect for the Lord, and without knowing it, his "civility."  He always spoke reverently and almost in a worshipful manner, of Church leaders, and others that had accomplished great things in their lives and were worthy of respect.  Because of him and his example, to this day, I find it extremely difficult to call any released church leader I have known or worked with by their first name; for some reason it just doesn't feel right.

The way we dress, the way we speak, our courtesy and politeness to others, all reflect our "good breeding" or lack thereof.  I suppose I am more offended by crude language than by almost any other thing.  It is so mindless, so little and low, and so unthinking.  In an earlier age, great men used great words, even in insulting those they may not have liked.  I love these great insults given by Winston Churchill to some he didn't especially care for: "He has all the virtues I dislike and none of the vices I admire."  And then in speaking of another acquaintance he described him as: "A modest little person, with much to be modest about."  Apparently he and the playwright George Bernard Shaw did not always see eye to eye and history records this exchange between the two: "I am enclosing two tickets to the first night of my new play; bring a friend.... if you have one." -- George Bernard Shaw to Winston Churchill -- "Cannot possibly attend first night, will attend second... if there is one."-- Winston Churchill, in response --

As I read history it is apparent that all great civilizations that have fallen had lost their civility at some previous time, and because of it were ripe for destruction.  One cannot study what happened in Nazi Germany for example, without becoming painfully aware that all civility was eventually lost -- politeness, respect, courtesy, and then any form of human kindness which resulted in millions of people being needlessly slaughtered.

It would be kind of nice to be able to turn on the TV without instantly being offended by something.  I don't find that happening very often and even in a good baseball game the commercials leave so much to be desired.  If what the media is giving us is what the majority of Americans really want, it is most disturbing to me.

There are many great examples of civility from history.  For example, on one occasion, General Robert E. Lee was asked for his opinion of a military colleague.  Lee replied very openly and generously, after which the questioner said in effect, "Well, he doesn't speak so highly of you."  General Lee replied: "Sir, you have asked me for my opinion of him not his opinion of me."  (See Neal A. Maxwell, All These Things Shall Give the Experience, [1979], 78-79) 

I believe civility is a mark of our character.  I believe great men with great character treat others with civility.  Churchill and Neville Chamberlain never ever agreed about Nazi Germany's threat to Great Britain before the outbreak of World War II.  They were bitterly opposed to one another regarding this and many other issues.  Churchill had once described Chamberlain as looking at foreign affairs through a "municipal drain pipe."  However, at the time of Chamberlain's death Churchill said of him, "In one of the supreme crises of the world [our colleague was] contradicted by events."  He went on to praise Chamberlain by saying: "The only guide to a man is his conscience; the only shield to his memory is the rectitude and sincerity of his actions... With this shield,... we march always in the ranks of honor."  (Quoted in Neal A. Maxwell, Meek and Lowly [1987], 23)

Think of it, Churchill had the civility to describe one of the greatest blunders in history as having been made by a man who simply was "contradicted by events."  I have always loved and admired Churchill for that kind, considerate, civil, comment.  I doubt there is a leader in the world today that "civil."

Hopefully, in the midst of such a lack of civility, we and our families will continue to be polite, courteous, respectful, and treat others with the kindness great men and women have always treated others. 


Monday, April 30, 2007

Perceiving Truth

Monday, April 30, 2007, Observation:

The other day Jo Anne took me to our dermatologist for him to look at a sore on my hand that wasn't healing up.  I was happy to go, knowing that whatever he did to me from the neck on down I couldn't feel.  When the problem is from the neck on up -- something that occurs far too often according to Jo Anne -- I get nervous knowing that it is going to hurt.  He looked at my hand and had the nurse prepare a surgical tray to biopsy the affected area.  On the tray was a hypodermic needle with some kind of medication to numb the sore that he was about to remove.  Before he began I assured him I didn't need to have my hand numbed because I couldn't feel anything that he could possibly do to me. He asked me if I was sure, and I told him that I definitely was.  He still wanted to give me the shot because never having been paralyzed he could not conceive of not being able to experience pain.  He agreed not to give me the shot if I would agree not to pretend I was in pain and scream out or use one of my dumb jokes like, "Doc, will I be able to play the piano when you get done with this?"

Well, he took a good sized hunk out of the back of my hand, cauterized it extensively, and all the while I was a good boy and didn't cry out in pretended pain.  He had the nurse bandage it up and I could tell he was relieved that he really hadn't hurt me.  Jo Anne commented that I either had nerves of steel or that I truly was paralyzed and had not been faking it all these years.  Yesterday the lab called and confirmed that it indeed was skin cancer and the doctor through the biopsy had removed it all.  I guess I will have to find some other way to exit mortality and enter the spirit world.

I suppose that all of us can have similar experiences and yet perceive them differently.  My perception of the biopsy procedure and the doctor's perception of the same event were really very different. 

I have read in the past a biography about General Ulysses S. Grant, and am currently reading a book about him and his friend and fellow General, William Tecumseh Sherman.  I am a sucker for Civil War books -- I am fascinated with that period of history.  The first day of the battle of Shiloh the Confederate Army just annihilated the Union troops.  Thousands were killed, wounded, or captured.  Had the sun not eventually gone down, Grant's Union Army would undoubtedly have been destroyed that day.  During the night General Sherman tried to find General Grant and tell him that they must retreat across the river during the nighttime or they would be destroyed the next morning.  He finally found Grant standing under a large tree with his cigar clamped between his teeth and rain dripping off the brim of his hat.  As he came upon Grant and saw the look in his eyes, and determination written all over his face, Sherman intuitively knew he must not tell Grant that they should retreat.  He walked up to him and simply said, "We really took a licking today didn't we?"  Grant replied, "Yes we did, but just wait until tomorrow and we will whip them."  Sure enough, instead of retreating, Grant regrouped his troops and won the battle of Shiloh.  It was the first bright spot in the Civil War for the Union and some historians say that with the South's defeat at Shiloh the ultimate outcome of the Civil War was already decided, although years of fighting were still ahead. 

Both generals had experienced the same Battle of Shiloh that day, but their perceptions of the outcome and projected future strategy based on their perceptions, was very different.  Why was it different?  I wish I had the ultimate answer but I am not arrogant or foolish enough to think I do.  I suspect our perceptions of things however, are profoundly influenced by past experience, our own peculiar psychological makeup, and our faith in Christ and the Plan of Happiness.

After a long and bitter struggle between the Nephites and Lamanites in which countless numbers were killed on both sides, Mormon made the following intriguing comment: "But behold, because of the exceedingly great length of the war between the Nephites and the Lamanites many had become hardened, because of the exceedingly great length of the war; and many were softened because of their afflictions, insomuch that they did humble themselves before God, even in the depth of humility." [Alma 62:41]

All the people had basically experienced the same war but it had affected them differently; many had become hardened while many others were softened by the same experience.  Why?  I think part of the answer can be found in the incident recorded by Matthew of Jesus asking his apostles whom men were saying he was.  They responded that some were saying he was John the Baptist, and others that he was Elijah or Jeremiah or one of the prophets. And then Simon Peter answered and said, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven."  [Matthew 16:13-17]    

Many people had experienced Jesus, but only those to whom the Holy Spirit had revealed who he really was had the accurate perception of the truth of the matter.  It is through revelation from the Holy Ghost that we can ultimately discern the truth and purpose of the experiences of life accurately.  "And truth is knowledge of things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come..." [Doctrine & Covenants 93:24]

To make what I am saying more relevant, consider substituting the following experiences in Mormon's summary statement of the effect prolonged war had on the Nephites and Lamanites: "But behold, because of the exceedingly great length of... [ the suffering inflicted on the people from cancer, cerebral palsy, Parkinson's disease, heart problems, cystic fibrosis, arthritis, paralysis, divorce, wayward children, the loss of employment and income, and the unexpected loss of loved ones], many had become hardened... and many were softened because of their afflictions, insomuch that they did humble themselves before God, even in the depth of humility." [Alma 62:41]

It seems to me that the thing that makes the difference in being either hardened or softened by life's experiences shared by so many, is faith in Christ, and the revelation of the truth and comforting assurance that comes to us through the Holy Ghost, as well as a sure knowledge as to where we came from, why we are here on earth, and what our ultimate destiny is as sons and daughters of God.

Hopefully, as life inevitably brings to each one of us challenging events and experiences, we will be able to accurately perceive the truth and respond to them appropriately and with faith -- insomuch that they [we] did humble themselves [ourselves] before God, even in the depth of humility."



Monday, April 23, 2007

Virginia Tech Massacre

April 23, 2007, Observation:

Last Thursday evening (April 19, 2007) Jo Anne and I had the privilege and opportunity of speaking at the interfaith Chapel at Chapman University in Orange, California, to a group of faculty and students. Being on a college campus so soon after the Virginia Tech Massacre brought into our minds and hearts most vividly the great tragedy that had occurred in the lives of those young students and some of their professors.  We were all still sobered and saddened by what happened at Virginia Tech.  Being with these students at Chapman University, we could feel their enthusiasm for life and hopes for the future, as well as sense their great potential, which made what had happened earlier in the week at Virginia Tech all the more heart rendering.  That evening at Chapman University, our hearts and prayers went out to the families and friends of those whose young lives were cut short by this senseless act of violence.

I suppose that for many years to come, people will be asking the question why something like this ever had to happen.  I have been thinking about this question a great deal this week, and probably don't have any better answer than anybody else, I am sure.  However, let me share with you some thoughts that have come into my mind as I have pondered "why."

Years ago, a wonderful English teacher, in trying to teach me how to write, making a thesis statement and then supporting and defending it in each succeeding paragraph, gave me the following statement as an example of a thesis statement: "The history of the world is a bath of blood."  It was plain for me then to see how by using that statement as a thesis for an essay, I could easily marshal evidence from history that would substantiate and defend that statement as being very true.

At times I think we may believe we are the only people that have ever experienced terrorist attacks, suicide bombers, senseless murders, and those of us who are older, many major wars where literally millions of people have been killed.  Of course, all we need to do is look at the history of this world to realize that from the time Cain killed Abel "the history of the world truly has been a bath of blood."  Instead of just focusing on what happened at Virginia Tech, perhaps a question that would put all of mankind's experience on this earth from the beginning of time into perspective, is why has "the history of the world been a bath of blood?"

I am no psychologist or philosopher, and I don't believe they have the answer anyway, because the ultimate answer comes from the Scriptures and is spiritual in nature.  As I have pondered the question of man's inhumanity to man from literally the beginning of time, I have concluded that King Benjamin in the Book of Mormon went to the heart and root of the problem better than anyone else ever has. 

"For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father."  [Mosiah 3:19]

I believe King Benjamin selected his words very carefully in speaking to his people.  The natural man is, and has always been, an enemy to God from the very beginning.  The natural man, void of the Spirit, can enter a state the Scriptures describe as "past feeling", and which I call a state of "spiritual paralysis".  One who is physically paralyzed cannot feel those parts of his body that are paralyzed, and one who is "spiritually paralyzed" cannot feel the still small voice of the Spirit and in that state can do unthinkably horrible things.  Nazi Germany became "spiritually paralyzed" as did the Nephites and Lamanites in Book of Mormon times as well as countless other civilizations and people from the beginning of time.

King Benjamin however, gives us the key to overcoming the "natural man."  He says that if we will but "yield" to the "enticings" of the Holy Spirit we can put off the natural man.  The word "yield" means "to give up and cease resistance or contention."  Some synonyms are, surrender, submit, and capitulate.  "Enticings" or entice means "to attract artfully or adroitly or by arousing hope or desire."  A synonym is the word "lure".  Isn't it interesting that skilled fishermen know how to use a "lure" to artfully attract a fish to bite?  Then they are able to work the fish until it "yields" or surrenders.  The Holy Spirit will not beat us over the head or use any kind of force, but will constantly entice us to yield -- to surrender our pride, arrogance, vanity and lustful desires.  As we are willing to yield to the enticings of the Holy Spirit we can put off the "natural man" and become saints through the atonement of Jesus Christ, possessing the qualities of little children, being: submissive, meek, humble, patient, and full of love.

I doubt that CNN or politicians will jump on this as the solution to tragedies like the Virginia Tech Massacre, bloodshed and violence in Afghanistan and Iraq, and hatred and murder between Israelis and Palestinians, etc., but truthfully "putting off the natural man" is the only solution to these kinds of problems.  Will this ever happen?  Sad to say it won't until the Prince of Peace ushers in his millennial reign.  In the meantime, I believe we will continue to see escalating terror, senseless murders, and the nightly news filled with stories of man's inhumanity to man.  Those of our generation will come to know only too well the truthfulness that "The history of the world is a bath of blood," because the "natural man" is an enemy to God.

I don't think the Virginia Tech Massacre has anything to do with who has or hasn't guns, or an adequate security system, but it has everything to do with "the natural man" and "spiritual paralysis."  Until individuals all over the world are willing to yield to the enticings of the Holy Spirit and become like little children we, as a world population, will be at a constant state of war.

Am I overly simplistic and idealistic?  I am sure I am, but I know in my heart the truthfulness of King Benjamin's words as being the only solution to the wickedness and violence in which we live.





Friday, April 13, 2007

Admiral Lord Nelson

April 13, 2007, Observation:

This week I just finished reading a most interesting book entitled, Nelson's Trafalgar, written by Roy Adkins.  Years ago Jo Anne and I were in London and visited Trafalgar Square. In Trafalgar Square we saw the country's memorial to the most inspiring leader the British Navy ever had. Nelson's column, erected in 1840, stands 170ft high and is crowned with a statue of Nelson on the top. 

At the time of our visit to Trafalgar Square we knew nothing of Admiral Lord Nelson or the Battle of Trafalgar. Although my curiosity was piqued then regarding Lord Nelson, I did nothing about it until several weeks ago when Jo Anne and I were in Costco.  The minute we get into Costco I head for the tables that have the books on them, and lo and behold there was a paperback copy of Nelson's Trafalgar.  I convinced Jo Anne I needed it badly and she humored me by letting me buy it.

Reading this book has been a sobering, but at the same time, an inspiring experience.  The author has quoted extensively from the journals of the captains and seamen; there were 17,000 British sailors who fought in this bloody and horrific sea battle -- the last major sea battle fought by wooden ships with sails.  The blood and carnage is a bit difficult to read about, but at the same time it heightens one's appreciation of sea life and war in the early 1800s and the courage of those involved.  I will share with you two significant things I have learned from Admiral Lord Nelson and the battle of Trafalgar that have impressed themselves upon my mind and heart.

The Battle of Trafalgar was fought on October 21, 1805, off the coast of Spain near the large Spanish city of Cadiz, and at a point near the coast called Trafalgar.  Napoleon had his French army poised on the coast of France ready to cross the English Channel and invade England.  He couldn't do this however, unless he knew that he had destroyed the British Navy and could cross the Channel unmolested.  The French and Spanish were allies and had a vast combined fleet of French and Spanish warships that was much larger than anything that Great Britain could put together at the time.  France and Spain had the ships and the manpower but they didn't have Admiral Lord Nelson. 

The British Navy had been blockading the harbor at Cadiz for months, but finally the combined French and Spanish fleet was able to escape which led to the showdown at Trafalgar.  The leaders of the British Empire knew that if the British fleet was defeated by the French and Spanish that a French invasion would be inevitable. Admiral Lord Nelson, the Admiral of the British fleet, was given the assignment by his government and King to destroy the French and Spanish Armada.  Nelson was a brilliant tactician and had gained vast knowledge of how to successfully conduct a sea battle between wooden ships with sails.  He had been wounded in a previous engagement, losing one of his arms and an eye, and never again experienced robust health.  Much of his life was spent at sea where he had also suffered from scurvy and other diseases incident to sea life in those days. He was only 5'4" tall but seemed so much bigger in the eyes of those he led.

The first thing that has impressed me about Admiral Lord Nelson was his style of leadership.  After the British fleet had defeated and destroyed most of the combined French and Spanish fleet, the Admiral of the combined fleet, a Frenchman, said that the British won the Battle of Trafalgar because the captain of every British ship was a Lord Nelson.  This was true!  Lord Nelson had trained his captains to be very independent and self sufficient.  As they went into the battle against the combined fleet his order was for his captains not to look to him or the flagship Victory to tell them what to do in the heat of battle.  They knew he had trained them how to fight the battle once it began, and they were to be creative and use common sense as the battle unfolded.  Thankfully for Great Britain this is what they did, because early on in the battle, Lord Nelson was mortally wounded and died.  Most of the captains did not know he had perished until the battle was over and the combined fleet was conquered.  On the other hand, the French and Spanish captains looked to their leader and flagship for direction as to what to do once the battle commenced.  There was so much confusion, noise, death and destruction once the battle began, it was impossible to communicate from ship to ship and the British captains gained control quickly. 

Never threatened by those about him, but wanting to create great leaders that could "win the battle" without him micromanaging them, Lord Nelson was a great and effective teacher and leader of men.  This seems to me to be such a significant principle of leadership. Moses tried to teach this principle to his successor, Joshua, when Joshua was but a young man. 
"And the LORD came down in a cloud, and spake unto him [Moses], and took of the spirit that was upon him, and gave it unto the seventy elders: and it came to pass, that, when the spirit rested upon them, they prophesied, and did not cease. But there remained two of the men in the camp...and the spirit rested upon them... and they prophesied in the camp. And Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of Moses, one of his young men, answered and said, My lord Moses, forbid them. And Moses said unto him, Enviest thou for my sake? would God that all the LORD’s people were prophets, and that the LORD would put his spirit upon them!"  [Numbers 11:25-29] [emphasis added] I believe any successful organization that endures the test of time must have this style of leadership -- the Church certainly does.  

As I have read this book I have also been impressed with the word and concept of "duty."  Just before the English engaged the combined fleet, Nelson signaled from the flagship Victory the one and only message his captains and seamen would receive from him before and during the battle -"England expects that every man will do his duty."  When this message was received it had an electrifying effect among the men on the ships.  Seemingly, the desire in the heart of most of the British sailors that day was to do his duty come what may.  Severely wounded men and officers remained at their posts doing their duty until victory had been gained and their beloved England saved. In fact, Nelson's final famous words (as related by Victory's Surgeon, William Beatty, who was with Nelson when he died) were "Thank God I have done my duty." According to Beatty, he repeated these words several times until he became unable to speak.  To do their "duty" seems to have been at the heart of all that was important to Admiral Lord Nelson and his men.  Doing their duty, they saved England from Napoleon's armies and ultimate domination of the Western world as we now know it by the Dictator-Emperor. Nelson's style of leadership and devotion to duty could be the foundation upon which any successful life or organization is built.