Wednesday, April 30, 2008

"I Wish it Were Yesterday"

In the spring of 1962, I was in the Army and stationed at the Presidio of San Francisco. My Saturdays were free and one beautiful spring Saturday afternoon I was walking down a busy street in San Francisco. As I passed a large movie theater I noticed on the marquee the words: "Westside Story" by Leonard Bernstein. I had no idea what it was about; I thought maybe it was a Western. I have always been a sucker for cowboys and Indians. Having nothing better to do I bought a ticket and went in. It was an unexpected and delightful experience, and "Westside Story" has been one of my favorite Broadway musicals from 1962 to the present.

In a "rumble" (gang fight) between rival gangs, the "Jets" (whites) and the "Sharks," (Puerto Ricans) the leader of the Sharks was inadvertently stabbed to death by the leader of the Jets. The police came, the gang members all scattered, and later that night two of the Jets met up with one another. They were visibly shaken by what had happened, and in the ensuing conversation one of the boys said "I wish it was yesterday!"

I have seen the movie and listened to the music more times than I would care to admit. However, it is that haunting phrase, "I wish it was yesterday," that always captures my attention.

August 1, 1989 at about 3 p.m. while body surfing at Laguna Beach, California, in one split second I was paralyzed from the neck down and would live on life support the remainder of my life, however long that would be. Around midnight the head neurosurgeon sent all of my friends
and family home so he could perform additional tests to determine the extent of my injury. I have never felt more alone than I did when my loved ones departed that night. I was strapped to a board, still in my swimming suit -- an ugly looking thing, a sick yellow color I had purchased because it was on sale -- still covered with sand, with several big hoses shoved down my mouth and throat to enable me to have the oxygen I needed to stay alive. No, the last thing I was thinking of was "West Side Story," and the phrase "I wish it was yesterday!" However, those words described my state of mind at that moment perfectly.

Yesterday had been such a beautiful day as we acted the part of tourists in Laguna Beach. Our little girls, Rachel, age nine, and Jackie, age four, were having a great time as were Jo Anne and I. life just didn't seem to be able to be any better. I was serving as stake president, loving my assignment with CES; we had just had our first two grandsons born several months before, and our second son Richard was on a mission in Columbia. There was not a cloud on the horizon of our lives, and it looked like we were going to live "happily ever after."

As I was alone in the regional Trauma center that night I absolutely could not believe what had happened to me and to my family. How would we ever come through this tragedy? How would we survive financially? How would I be able to be an effective husband and father? If I were permanently paralyzed how on earth could I ever endure living this way? Those kinds of questions continued to run through my mind at warp speed all through that tortured night. Truthfully, what was happening was that I was crying out from the depths of my soul, "I wish it was yesterday!" I am sorry to report that "I wish it was yesterday," was my cry for much longer than I ever would like to admit.

The day finally came however that I came to understand that in order to have peace and for life to be productive, meaningful, and of the highest quality possible, the phrase "I wish it was yesterday," had to be eliminated from my mind, my heart, and my vocabulary.

That kind of thinking leads our lives into a cul-de-sac or a dead end that will take us nowhere. I suppose most of us have done something we have regretted, or had something done to us, or to a beloved family member that has erupted from the depths of our souls the sentiment, if not the exact words, "I wish it was yesterday!" Oh, how we would like to go back to the "good old days" when a seemingly tragic event is perpetrated by us, or inflicted upon us by others, or by life itself. I believe it is human nature -- "the natural man" -- to have that knee-jerk reaction to the challenges life can bring our way. It has been so since the beginning of time. As Eve was giving birth to her first child I wonder if she ever had a fleeting thought, "I wish it was yesterday" back in that beautiful garden?

One of the problems Moses had leading the children of Israel out of Egypt, was to get Egypt out of them. Those folks always wanted to go back to the "good old days" which really weren't that wonderful in reality, but only in their minds now that the going was tough: [Numbers 11:5] "We remember the fish, which we did eat in Egypt freely; the cucumbers, and the melons, and the leeks, and the onions, and the garlick:"

The "I wish it was yesterday" way of thinking eventually cost them dearly as none of that older generation was permitted to enter the "Promised Land" but wandered in the wilderness 40 years until their carcasses rotted in the desert wilderness with the "Promised Land" visible on the horizon, but was unapproachable by them because of their false way of looking at life and rejecting Jehovah and his desires to bless them.

Lot's wife had a similar challenge as she looked back at "Sodom" with longing eyes and was turned into a pillar of salt -- an inanimate object that could not act, but could only be acted upon. She was unable to move forward; her progress came to an abrupt end which is the same thing that happens to all of us who live in the past and can't let go of it and move forward to the "Promised Land."

I would imagine as Joseph was sold by his brothers as a slave that as he trudged behind that camel train with a rope around his neck that he couldn't help but thinking "I wish it was yesterday!" Things were so good in Jacob's tent for him as the favored son. "How on earth could this have ever happened to me" he must have thought a few times. Thankfully, our worthy and magnificent progenitor, refusing to live in the past and finally, as a 30-year-old, having been a slave and prisoner in Egypt for almost half his life could have this written about him, "... the Lord was with him, and that which he did, the Lord made it to aprosper." [Genesis 39:23]

The same can happen to each one of us as we "... press forward with a steadfastness in Christ... and endure to the end..." [2 Nephi 31:20]. Regardless of what may happen to us we simply must press forward, never looking back, refusing to say or entertain in our hearts the thought, "I wish it was yesterday!" If we do so the Lord will be with us as he was with Joseph and cause us to "prosper."

Saturday, April 19, 2008

An Ensign to the Nations

Several weeks ago I was preparing to teach the Isaiah chapters found in
the Book of Mormon to our Gospel doctrine class.  For some reason I was
riveted on the concept of the "Ensign" that would be raised up in these
last days.

Of course we know this Ensign of which Isaiah spoke is the Church of
Jesus Christ that would be restored to the earth in these latter days.
As I read 2 Nephi 21:12, "And he shall set up an ensign for the
nations, and shall assemble the outcasts of Israel, and gather
together the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth."
There are 12 other references in the Scriptures regarding this "Ensign."
As I read them all, I could not help but start singing to myself one of
my favorite hymns, "High on the Mountain Top."  I began "Googling" (my
voice recognition software does not recognize it as a legitimate word
but I think it's a pretty good one) on the Internet and found a
beautiful account regarding how this hymn came into being.  I thought I
would share it with you in the hopes that it will help you to appreciate
gathering of God's children in these latter days.

The story of "High on the Mountain Top"
by Joel H Johnson
This is the story behind the writing of "HIGH ON THE MOUNTAIN TOP" by
Joel Hills Johnson as told by his wife Margaret Threlkeld Johnson to her
grandson Bernard A. Johnson.

Joel H. Johnson established a sawmill in Mill Creek Canyon soon after
arriving in the Salt Lake Valley. Sawing lumber for the "Building up of
Zion" was Joel's church calling. This meant that he spent his time
sawing prime lumber and delivering it to the tithing office. In lieu of
wages, he would go to the storehouse and get what was needed for him and
his family.

As he made his wagon trips up and down the steep canyon, he often
thought about the flag that had been planted on Ensign Peak. 
He knew he had safely made it down the mountain with his load when he turned north
and headed for the tithing office. He always breathed easier when he
could look up at that peak and see Old Glory waving.

In the early spring of 1850, Joel loaded up a load of prime lumber and
headed for the tithing office. As he headed into the lot that housed
this office, he noticed that there were several other wagon loads of
tithing offerings ahead of him. He stopped his team, unhitched the
horses and turned them into "Brother Brigham's" pasture, and sat down to
wait his turn to unload.

Being a warm spring day, Joel sought the shady side of his wagon, leaned
back against the wheel and waited. As was his habit, he pulled out a
piece of paper and prepared to write. He found himself thinking about
the breeze and how it must be making 'Old Glory' ripple. In his mind he
pictured how it must look there on the top of the peak under the clear
blue sky as it waved and fluttered in the breeze. His mind painted such
a wonderful picture.

Almost as if written by unseen hands, words began to appear on the

"High on the mountain top,  A banner is unfurled.   Ye nations now look
up;It waves to all the world." In Deseret's sweet, peaceful land-On
Zion's mount behold it stand! For God remembers still  His promise made
of old  That He on Zion's hill   Truth's standard would unfold!Her light
should there attract the gazeOf all the world in latter days. His house
shall there be reared  His glory to display  And people shall be heard
In distant lands to sayWe'll now go up and serve the Lord,Obey His
truth, and learn His word. For there we shall be taught   The law that
will go forth,  With truth and wisdom fraught  To govern all the
earth;Forever there His ways we'll treadAnd save ourselves and all our
dead. Then hail to Deseret!  A refuge for the good,  And safety for the
great,  If they but understood.That God with plagues will shake the
worldTill all its thrones shall down be hurled. In Deseret doth truth
Rear up its royal head;  Though nations may oppose,  Still wider it
shall spread;Yes, truth and justice, love and grace,In Deseret find
ample place,

He originally titled his poem "DESERET". It was later changed to HIGH ON

Joel finished his poem, folded up the paper, put it in his pocket, and
went about the task of getting his lumber measured and recorded. Much
later in the day, he went home.

Sometime later he showed his poem to John Taylor, then a member of the
Quorum of the Twelve. President Taylor liked the poem so much, he asked
if he could keep it. In those days, words only were written down and
then sung to familiar folk tunes. In just a short time it became one of
the favorite songs where ever the Saints gathered

This poem was only one of hundreds that Joel H. wrote. But it became one
of his most recognized ones. His poetry centered around four themes: His
love and devotion to the gospel, his love of the Prophet Joseph Smith,
his love of his family, and his desire to enjoy life, liberty, and the
pursuit of happiness for himself and all other human beings.

Because today there is some controversy over the exact date this song
was written, this account is being written. In his journal he states
that at eighteen years of age "I commenced writing religious songs and
hymns upon various subjects, some of which may be found in Zion's
Songster, or the Songs of Joel, a work of my own, but many are lost."
Throughout his journal are many examples of his poetry. * See page 2 of
JHJ journal volume 1.


Sunday, April 13, 2008

Powdered Milk

Several weeks ago we had a combined meeting for all the adults in the relief society room. Bishop North felt we needed some instruction regarding frugality and provident living, given the state of the economy in our nation, the price of fuel, and serious problems with the housing market and etc. As usual he was right on target with an important message for the members of our ward. He asked Russell Hunter, second counselor in the bishopric, to teach the lesson.
Russell did a great job and gave many practical suggestions as to how to be more fiscally conservative and responsible in these uncertain times. However, at one point in his lesson he made the audacious and outrageous suggestion that it might be a good idea -- and a way to save some money -- to make lunch at home and take it to work as opposed to spending money unnecessarily in buying lunch each day. From my vantage point in the relief society room I could see the startled look on many of the faces of our young couples, and even noticed some eyes glazing over with disbelief and incredulity at this novel suggestion. They obviously had not been raised during the Depression or by parents who had lived through the Depression as I had. Also, I knew they had never been married to somebody as fiscally conservative as Jo Anne.
Living in Ogden, Utah shortly after we were married, Jo Anne found a source for powdered milk at a local dairy. We would buy 50 pounds sacks of the stuff and were always so proud of ourselves (at least Jo Anne was) over how much money we were saving. I can't say I really ever became fond of powdered milk, but if it had enough ice in it and you drank it really fast it wasn't so bad.
As the children came along, after they were weaned, they were raised on powdered milk as the beverage of choice in our family. Being innocent and without any prior experience, they thought powdered milk was okay. We never showed them a picture of a cow -- we didn't want to confuse them regarding the source of milk. If they thought the true source was from a sack that was fine with us. Then they got involved in the public school system which corrupted them as they learned about cows and were even given little cartons of "true" milk to drink as a snack. This created some dissatisfaction in them because for some reason they liked this "true" milk better than the powdered stuff that had done them so much good over the years, and had saved us, as their parents, so much money. It was always a hard sell after that to keep the family content and on target with drinking powdered milk.
I always took my lunch to work in a brown paper sack. It generally consisted of a tuna fish sandwich, an apple or an orange, maybe a cookie, and always a small mason jar filled with -- you guessed it -- powdered milk. I must admit I was corrupted by the world in the later years of my work life and engaged in a number of decadent and expensive -- at least to me -- lunches.
As the kids were growing up we never ate at fast food places except on special occasions like the ushering in of a new millennium. When they were very little as we would drive by the Golden Arches of McDonald's they would ask "Daddy, what is that building?" I would tell them that it was a hospital where they fixed broken bones and people that were sick. I would ask them if they had a broken bone or were sick and when they would say no, I would reply, "Well, we wouldn't want to go in there then would we?"
Our home was decorated in early "Institute of Religion" style. Whenever one of the institutes of religion in Orange County was receiving new furniture for the student lounge we would put in a bid to get the old furniture. The furniture in our family room consisted of a large couch, and two chairs made out of a "throw up" sick looking lemon colored plastic kind of material with aluminum legs. The drapes in that room were orange; the carpet was olive-green, high shag, and was beginning to come apart at the seams. I nailed a plastic runner down the center of the staircase so that the little toddlers wouldn't get their feet tangled up in the torn carpet and fall and break something.
We also tried to save money on clothing. In retrospect, I'm afraid our young boys got the worst of this. The only pants they wore, except on Sundays, were "Tough Skins" purchased at Sears for cheap. At the time I thought they were kind of ugly but you couldn't beat the price. They came in a red brick color, an ugly green, or the more normal blue jean style. They had reinforced knees and must have been made out of some steel mesh kind of material because you simply could not wear them out. If one of the boys fell off his bike he would get skinned up on various parts of his anatomy but never where the tough skins were protecting him. If the kid ran into a car the fender or bumper on the car would possibly be damaged but never the tough skins. Again, the public school system made my boys dissatisfied, and it was a hard sell to keep them in tough skins from that time on. I don't know if they have ever totally forgiven us for having adopted this fiscally conservative policy regarding their attire as young boys.
Well, I hate to report it but as the years have gone by we have become increasingly decadent. Almost every day Jo Anne and I go out to lunch. However, don't think too badly of us, or get too alarmed Bishop, because we invariably use coupons to get a "deal." Jo Anne anxiously waits for the mailman to bring her coupons with the same anticipation that little kids look forward to Christmas and Santa Claus. She clips them out and keeps them in a large envelope in our van. If we can get two for one or a dollar off something, then that's what we eat. Do we always like what we get from the coupons? I hate to report that we don't, but just think of all the money we are saving.
The telltale sign of how far we have fallen is that we actually now buy our milk at Stater Brothers in plastic containers like most "normal" people. And though I am reluctant to admit it, it really is almost as good as "powdered milk."
You will find the doctrinal underpinnings and justification for drinking powdered milk in the following Scripture:
"Wherefore, do not spend money for that which is of no worth [Stater Brothers' milk], nor your alabor for that which cannot bsatisfy... and come unto the Holy One of Israel, and cfeast upon that which perisheth not [powdered milk], neither can be corrupted ["tough skins"]..." [2 Nephi 9:51]