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.

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