Monday, February 19, 2007

Time for Pondering and Prayer

February 19, 2007, Observation:

As you may realize, being paralyzed from the neck down and living on life support has a little bit of a down side.  However, what you may not know is that it has an enormous upside as well.  To me, one of the great up sides of my condition is that I have more time than the ordinary person to ponder, meditate, and pray.  Over the years I have found this to be a great blessing.  My Filipino caregiver, Rey, comes each evening at about 10 p.m. to put me to bed.  I am usually down for the night by about 10:30 p.m., unless the Lakers go into overtime.  I say my evening prayer and make it shorter than I would want to because when I get in a prone position my inclination is to immediately go to sleep.  Rey comes at about 8 a.m. each morning to start working on me and getting me ready for the day.  However, I usually wake up at about 6 a.m. and from then until Rey comes I have two precious hours to think, meditate, ponder, and pray.  Over the years many great ideas and inspiration have come to me during those early morning hours.  I have the time to pray in depth and it has proven to be a great blessing in my life.

This world in which we live is so hectic and moving along at such a fast pace that I believe it is difficult for most of us to find a quiet time to ponder and pray.  We have cell phones in our ears, radios and TVs competing for our attention, or iPods possibly blasting music into our heads on a continual basis, and so it goes in this modern age of electronics.  I fear that for many of us the voice of the world through the electronic media makes it almost impossible for the Lord to speak to us through the "Still Small Voice of the Spirit".  It may have been easier for Abraham and those living a quieter lifestyle in his day to commune with God and receive his revelation and inspiration in return.  But, that was his day, and we face the challenge in our day of somehow cutting through the strident voices all about us so that the Lord can speak to us through the Spirit.

As a recently returned missionary from Central America I had a life-changing experience regarding pondering, meditating, and prayer.  Immediately after my mission I went into the Army for six months active duty, and during basic training in particular, I believe in retrospect, I lost some of the spirituality I had developed in the mission field.  After my active duty was over I immediately enrolled in BYU once again and was blessed to have as my roommates three returned missionaries from Central America.  We lived in a home near campus owned by a wonderful widow who cooked for us as well as renting her rooms; it really was an ideal situation. 

The first day of the new semester I realized I had left an important book at home and walked rapidly back to where we lived to retrieve it.  As I entered the hallway where our bedrooms were located I heard somebody talking in a conversational way in the bedroom next to mine.  The door was ajar so I peeked in and saw Ben Martinez, one of my roommates, on his knees at the side of his bed praying.  Ben was about three years older than me and was a role model that I had always admired and looked up to.  He sensed my presence and quickly concluded his prayer.  I was embarrassed and sorry to have interrupted his prayer, but it gave Ben an ideal teaching opportunity with me as the student.  He told me that each semester he waited until his roommates had finalized their class schedules and then he would arrange his schedule so that he could be home alone for at least an hour each day to pray out loud, ponder, meditate, and commune with the Lord.  I can't tell you how impressed and touched I was by Ben's example.  I knew that here was a young man who knew it was so important to pray and seek guidance from the Lord on a daily basis that he was willing to arrange his entire schedule around this most important activity in his life.  I had learned the importance of prayer in the mission field and it had been a fundamental part of my life, but I had to admit I had become a little lackadaisical in communicating with the Lord as I should.  Ben's example inspired me to do as he did and to arrange my life in such a way that prayer and pondering became the foundation of each day.  Ben since then has been a mission president in Mexico, held many positions of responsibility in the Church during his lifetime, and is now serving as President of the Guatemala City Temple.  I am indebted to Ben for being such a fine example to a struggling young returned missionary.  His example was more powerful than any words he could have ever spoken.

I personally know there is no more important thing we can do each day of our lives than to make time to ponder, meditate, and pray.  It is so important in fact, that we need to make a conscious effort to somehow work into our busy schedules this special sacred time.  Too often our prayers are on-the-fly and we give the Lord no opportunity to bless us with the inspiration and revelation we need that day.

The Scriptures are replete with examples of the eternal truth that pondering and prayer precede revelation and divine assistance.  The Book of Mormon record reveals the following regarding Nephi and the great revelation he was granted regarding the vision his father had received.  "FOR it came to pass after I had desired to know the things that my father had seen, and believing that the Lord was able to make them known unto me, as I sat pondering in mine heart I was caught away in the Spirit of the Lord..." [1 Nephi 11:1] Of course this dispensation was ushered in because a young boy pondered over a passage in the Book of James that led him into the grove and the prayer that sliced through centuries of spiritual darkness and opened the heavens to an ultimate outpouring of revelation and spiritual knowledge not exceeded in the history of mankind.

I wouldn't wish my paralysis off onto any of you regardless of its many upsides, but what a blessing it has been to me in giving me the time to ponder, meditate, and pray.  My spirit has been strengthened and my mind enriched as I have lain in bed, unable to move my body, but able to let my mind reach out to a loving and kind Heavenly Father, who through the Holy Ghost, has inspired and blessed me more than I could ever say.

I believe the words of Socrates are very true: “The unexamined life is not worth living” (“Apology,” The Dialogues of Plato, trans. Benjamin Jowett, Chicago) I believe all our lives could be much richer were we to schedule into our daily lives as one of our highest priorities a special time to ponder, meditate, and pray. 


Thursday, February 8, 2007

John's Helicopter Ride

February 8, 2007, Observation:

Our son John is currently in Afghanistan serving in the Air Force as an ER doctor.  The Air Force paid for his education and now he is paying them back with the skills he has developed over the years.  John and his friend Matt Mecuro, as 16-year-olds, were body surfing with me that fateful day when I had my accident and were able to get me onto the beach and basically saved my life.  John was very involved in my care until he left on his mission and through it all gained a desire to study medicine.  His home base is in Las Vegas at Nellis Air Force Base, but each year he is deployed somewhere in the world -- Afghanistan or Iraq we are thinking -- to practice ER medicine as needed.  He is at a big army base outside of Kabul, Afghanistan where he and two other ER doctors manage the ER unit 24 hours a day and seven days a week.  Part of their duty is to take turns going out in helicopters to pick up the wounded.  John's first experience in a helicopter took place a few days ago.  I thought you might enjoy hearing from John about what took place.

"Hey Dad and family,

"So things are going well here.  I went on my first Helicopter mission a few days ago.  It was pretty exciting.  We had to go pick up an enemy combatant who was shot while trying to set up an IED (improvised explosive device).  We flew about an hour to where the patient was being held.  He was shot in the bottom while bent over setting up a bomb, but the bullet went into his stomach and hurt his intestines and nicked a big artery in his pelvis.  By the time I saw him he had already gone through 11 units of blood, which was the entire supply of that base.  Throughout the chopper ride back I had to monitor his vitals and had to keep giving him drugs to keep him sedated.  He kept waking up and looking at me, so I kept giving him drugs to knock him out.

"We flew really close to the ground, about 200 feet.  The surrounding area is really pretty and you would never know there was a war going on.  There are a lot of rivers and farms, kids playing soccer, etc.  In the helicopter was myself, 2 pilots and 2 guys looking out both sides of the helicopter keeping lookout for possible enemies on the ground. Behind us we had a big black hawk helicopter loaded with guns that was covering us in case we came under fire.  I was a little nervous on the flight to the base, but on the way back I was so busy with the patient that I didn't have time to think about the dangers.

"Its pretty amazing the effort we make to take care of the enemy.  I don't think they would do the same for us.  I mean the guy got all the blood at that one base.   If one of our soldiers had gotten hurt, there would not have been any blood for them.  Also the risk involved in just going to pick the patient up.  When the patient got here, we were also out of B- blood, and we actually had to get volunteers to give their blood to this guy who was essentially trying to kill us.  I think it says something really special about this country that we would put so much effort into saving people like this."

I don't know about you, but reading John's e-mail made me feel proud to be an American. Imagine risking your life to save the life of an enemy who is seeking to take your life -- even giving him your own blood.  We do value human life and freedom in this country!

I believe that many of the pundits in Washington, DC could benefit from reading John's simple little e-mail.  I know many are opposed to what we are doing in Iraq and Afghanistan, and maybe President Bush got us into this war on terrorism in Iraq prematurely -- who really knows?  But isn't it refreshing to know that we really are trying to do something very good in the world and that we place such a high value on human life, dignity, freedom and liberty.

There is a spirit of pessimism and negativism abroad in the land.  10 years ago President Gordon B. Hinckley described it as follows: "... there is a terrible ailment of pessimism in the land. It's almost endemic. We're constantly fed a steady and sour diet of character assassination, faultfinding, evil speaking of one another. Read the newspaper columnists. Listen to the radio and television commentators. The writers of our news columns are brilliant, the commentators on the electronic media are masters--but they seem unable to deal with balanced truth, notwithstanding their protests otherwise. The negative becomes the stuff of headlines and long broadsides that, in many cases, caricature the facts and distort the truth--at least the whole truth."  [CES fireside, March 6, 1994]

President Hinckley, in that same CES fireside talk, also said while speaking of the United States of America: "I know that she has problems. We've heard so much of these for so long. But surely, my brothers and sisters, this is a good land, a choice land, a chosen land. To me it is a miracle, a creation of the Almighty. It was born of travail. The Constitution under which we live is the keystone of our nation. It was inspired of God. Of it the great Englishman Gladstone said, "As the British Constitution is the most subtle organism which has proceeded from . . . progressive history, so the American Constitution is . . . the most wonderful work ever struck off at a given time by the brain and purpose of man" ("Kin Beyond Sea," North American Review 127 [September/October 1878], p. 185).

Since 9/11 we feel we have truly been put upon as a nation.  Can you even imagine what it would have been like to have been living in England at the beginning of World War II when Nazi Germany had already overrun most of Europe and was threatening to invade England as well?  Thankfully for Western civilization there was a Winston Churchill, who like President Hinckley, was the essence of optimism and courage.  He rallied the people as no one else could in that dark and desperate time.  In speaking at Harrow School which he had attended as a boy he significantly said: "Do not let us speak of darker days; let us speak rather of sterner days. These are not dark days: these are great days--the greatest days our country has ever lived; and we must all thank God that we have been allowed, each of us according to our stations, to play a part in making these days memorable in the history of our race." [Address at Harrow School, 29 October 1941]
And then Churchill spoke the following stirring words to his countrymen after the disaster at Dunkirk when the prophets of doom were prophesying disaster and the imminent demise of the British Empire: "We shall not flag or fail. . . . We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender." [Speech on Dunkirk, House of Commons, 4 June 1940]
I believe we need the spirit of a Winston Churchill today in this country.  Our way of life, the way of life that inspires us to give our blood to the enemy to save his life, must be preserved at any cost.  Whatever your feelings about the war on terrorism or about President George W. Bush, don't you believe we have just begun a battle to the death with a very evil ideology that would rob us of everything we hold dear?
Thank you John, for reminding us that we do belong to a pretty special country!