Friday, October 31, 2008

Be of Good Cheer

One of my favorite people is Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin.  I met him for the first time in November 1989 when he was sent by the First Presidency to Rancho Los Amigos Hospital in Downey, California to release me as president of the Irvine, California stake.  He and his wife visited with Jo Anne and I while standing around my hospital bed.  It was like having your grandfather and grandmother come to visit.  He was the essence of kindness and compassion.  He told us that he always hated to release stake presidents, but it was especially difficult to release me prematurely, and under such difficult circumstances.  Before leaving that night, he gave Jo Anne and I each an apostolic blessing.  There was no doubt in our minds that we had been blessed by a modern-day Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ.

For a number of years after that, from time to time early in the morning, the phone would ring and the voice on the other end would say, "This is Elder Wirthlin."  Jo Anne would always say, "Really?" He simply wanted to know how we were doing and if there was anything he could do for us.  That tells you an awful lot about Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin, doesn't it?

He told us if we were ever in Salt Lake City to come visit him in his office in the Church Office Building.  One summer as we were at BYU for Education Week, we drove up to Salt Lake City to meet with Elder Wirthlin.  His secretary was waiting for us and graciously ushered us into his office.  There he sat, hunched over his desk in obvious pain -- he had a bad back -- just working his heart out.  His desk was covered with piles of papers and maps.  He was chairman of the committee regarding boundary changes in the Church.  Every proposed new ward, stake, mission, etc. had to be studied and approved by his committee.  It would have been a monumental and daunting assignment for a young man, but Elder Wirthlin was in his 80s and not in the best of health.  It was an unspoken object lesson to us of endurance and never giving up. 

Seeing how busy he was, I said something like, "Elder Wirthlin, you are so busy, and it has been such a treat for us to just see the inside of the church office building, I think it would be best for us to leave you to your work." He got up from his desk and said "If I don't have time to visit with you, I don't have time for anything."

For the next hour he gave Jo Anne, our 16 year old youngest daughter Jackie, and I his undivided attention.  He was delightful.  He was so positive, cheerful and upbeat, he made us all feel good inside.  For not one second did we feel we were imposing upon him and were any kind of burden.

I knew he had been a star running back at the University of Utah in his youth.  I got up enough courage to say, "Elder Wirthlin, what is your favorite college football team?"  He got a big smile on his face and said, "Well, with me the Church always comes first, BUT..." Then this great Apostle of the Lord, but also a loving grandfather, proceeded to tell us how his grandson, a great high school linebacker, heavyweight wrestling champion for the state of Utah, and a returned missionary from Australia was not given the time of day by BYU's coaching staff, but was recruited by guess who -- the University of Utah.  It was wonderful and refreshing to see this human side of a great spiritual giant.

As we left his office, just above a light switch adjacent to the door, in the most obvious place possible, was a Norman Rockwell type painting of two old-time college football players with the old leather helmets.  One wore a BYU uniform and the other the uniform of the University of Utah.  The University of Utah football player had just destroyed the BYU player with a bone crunching tackle.  Elder Wirthlin said many of the brethren had begged him to remove the painting, or at least hang it in a more inconspicuous place, but he said he never would.

These memories about Elder Wirthlin were stirred up in my mind because of his classic General Conference address in October of this year.  The title of his talk was taken from some advice given to him by his mother as he was discouraged and depressed after having lost an important football game.  His mother said, "Joseph, COME WHAT MAY AND LOVE IT!"  The thesis of his talk was: "The way we react to adversity can be a major factor in how happy and successful we can be in life."

"Come what may and loving it" is the only way to live life.  I had to learn that lesson many years ago and am constantly taking refresher courses on the subject.  I have learned to appreciate the many ironies in my life that make me laugh frequently.  I don't remember signing up in the pre-Earth life to be paralyzed and on life support, but here I am, and that's what I got.  There is hardly a day that goes by that I don't find something to laugh about regarding this situation, including seemingly constant life-threatening experiences.  It is so easy to be troubled and afraid, self-absorbed, taking ourselves too seriously, filled with self-pity, and just being plain miserable.  We don't have to be that way.  I haven't said this for many years but it is so true -- Barbara Johnson wrote a beautiful book entitled, "Pain Is Inevitable, Misery Is Optional!"  How true that is!

The Lord says it a bit differently, but it is the same essential and eternal truth.  There are 12 scriptures in which he tells us to "be of good cheer."  And we are admonished to "... submit cheerfully and with patience to all the will of the Lord."  [Mosiah 24:15]

I have discovered that it simply is not enough to endure.  We must rise to another level -- the level the Lord expects of us -- to submit cheerfully and with patience to all the will of the Lord.


PS.  The reports regarding my demise have been greatly exaggerated.  Last week I did have a ventilator malfunction but Jo Anne, several policemen, paramedics, and well-trained personnel at our local ER intensive care unit pulled me through.  I was unconscious and in a comatose state for quite some time and have no recollection of what happened.  I did know that BYU was playing UNLV on Saturday and with short-term memory loss continually pestered the nurses with, "Will I be released in time to see the game?" So you can see my priorities are in proper order.  There was some concern I would be brain damaged; I will leave it up to you to decide whether that is the case or not.  At least one member of my family (whom I won't mention by name) would give a "yes" vote.

Monday, October 13, 2008


Every once in a while, like many of you, I have an unsolicited, unexpected, and spontaneous wonderful experience.  It is usually something very simple, but at the same time very profound.  I had such an experience the Sunday of General Conference.

Still trying to get over a nagging pressure sore I was lying in bed watching and listening to both sessions of Conference on my laptop computer.  I had a scheduled patriarchal blessing to give a half-hour after the afternoon session.  As soon as the session was over Jo Anne and my son in law Nathan, got me into my wheelchair and I rolled into my office to prepare to give a blessing to a wonderful 16-year-old young lady.  Giving her a Patriarchal blessing was a sweet experience- the capstone, I thought, to a perfectly beautiful Sabbath day.

Our two youngest daughters, Rachel and Jackie, and their husbands Matt, and Nathan and our three youngest granddaughters, ages 4, 2, and 14 months had been with us during the day watching conference.  They all went out for a walk while I gave the blessing.  You never know what the noise level might be with unpredictable and emotional preschoolers.

We eventually all sat down around the dining room table to enjoy a beautiful Sunday dinner together.  Not to give a false impression of an idyllic setting, I must report that after the family prayer the 14-month-old, in trying to climb up a stool fell off, bumped her head, and her mother, Jackie spent much of the dinnertime getting her calmed down.  You know how that goes.

And then the unexpected experience came to me.  As I was looking at my two youngest daughters and their husbands, married in the temple and with these three beautiful little granddaughters, I had a flashback of memories.  It is said that when people are about to die in a traumatic way that their entire life flashes through their minds.  I have had a number of near-death experiences and this has never happened to me -- just sheer panic.  However, at the dinner table that Sunday afternoon I did enjoy a vivid, warp speed recall of my life with Rachel and Jackie over the years.  The memories were sweet.

When I had my accident over 19 years ago now, Rachel was nine and Jackie turned four just days after losing my the battle with the ocean.  At the time I thought "Why would the Lord send these two little girls to us to take care of and raise, knowing with his infinite foreknowledge what was going to happen to me?"  It took but a short while to realize that, in fact, these were two angels the Lord knew that Jo Anne and I needed to get through the coming challenging years.  Without going into great detail, these little girls were my arms and legs and assisted Jo Anne with my care day in and day out for years.  They still pitch in and help, along with their husbands now, whenever they are around.

The only dad Jackie can remember is one in a wheelchair.  We have a unique relationship because of it.  She once said to her mom, "Wouldn't life be boring if dad were normal like everybody else?"  Come to think of it though, maybe some of your kids have said the same thing about you.  How many drinks of water, nose wipes, suctionings, channel changes, fixing computer problems, helping their mother get me dressed and into the wheelchair, etc. have they done for me over the years?  The memories were vivid but the overwhelming feeling was one of gratitude to have lived long enough to see these little girls married and with sweet little babies of their own.  It was sort of a payday experience for me, and I felt that if the Lord saw fit to call me home at that moment, I was at peace with myself and that life had not been so bad.

Memories are wonderful things.  President Monson often quotes the poet John Barrie who wrote that "God gave us memories that we might have June roses in the December of our lives."  Hopefully we will live in such a way that our memories as we grow older will be "June roses" and not regrettable noxious weeds.

For the last several years I have had a project of trying to read out of each of the standard works every day.  I am afraid I am a bit like Marjorie Hinckley, who had a similar goal and reported in a talk she gave that after having set the goal she was already three weeks behind.  But she also went on to say she wasn't discouraged and would keep plugging away at it having received great benefits from the days she accomplished her goal.  It reminded me of the words of Robert Browning who said, "If a man's reach does not exceed his grasp than what is a heaven for?" 

As I read the Scriptures in this manner I am reminded of the important truths that I constantly need to remember every day of my life.  To me, all of the Scriptures are simply a book of remembrance of the most important truths ever revealed to mankind.

The word "remember," or a derivative of it, is used 240 times in the Book of Mormon alone.  My life is extremely blessed as I remember through searching the Scriptures each day that which is worth remembering the most.  And of course the most important thing to remember was taught by Helaman to his son's Nephi and Lehi: "And now, my sons, remember, remember that it is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your foundation; that when the devil shall send forth his mighty winds, yea, his shafts in the whirlwind, yea, when all his hail and his mighty storm shall beat upon you, it shall have no power over you to drag you down to the gulf of misery and endless wo, because of the rock upon which ye are built, which is a sure foundation, a foundation whereon if men build they cannot fall."  [Helaman 5:12]