Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Wearing the uniform

It was midnight.  I heard a scuffling noise outside my bedroom door and thought I was about to be murdered or burglarized.  I was relieved when I discovered it was only Jo Anne, but looking a little bleary-eyed and disheveled.  She groaned out the words, "Jack, can I please turn off the game so I can go to sleep?" The Dodgers and the Arizona Diamondbacks were in the 12th inning of a tie game.  Jo Anne is very kind to me and patient, but the words that try her soul are, "Sorry dear, but the game is going into extra innings!"  Because of the lateness of the hour I gave into her pleadings and didn't learn until the next morning that the Dodgers had defeated the hated Diamondbacks in the bottom of the 13th inning when Andre Ethier of the Dodgers swatted a walkoff home run to end the game.

One of the upsides of being paralyzed is that Jo Anne, most of the time, allows me to pursue and satisfy my passion for baseball without making me feel guilty or that I should be doing something more productive.  Let's face it, what can I do?  Please do not reply to that question.

Why do I love baseball so much?  I was born in the little mining town of Ruth, Nevada, in 1938.  Unlike growing up on a farm where there were chickens to feed, cows to milk and care for, hay to be cut and bailed, fields to be plowed, weeds to be pulled, etc., as sons of miners we had none of those character building opportunities. We lived among dirt, rocks, and mountains.  Our dads worked in the mines all day or night, but thankfully, our mothers -- at least my mother -- were very creative in working us.  We scrubbed the floors on our hands and knees and waxed them the same way.  We chopped kindling, and carried in buckets of coal and kindling from the wood/coal shed that was a fixture behind every home.  We washed and dried the dishes.  We worked overtime every Monday because that was wash day -- it was a family effort and it took all day!

My friends and I lived for summer.  Living high in the mountains, we really only had two seasons; a long winter and a short summer.  Most of us neighborhood boys could finish our chores by 10 a.m. and then we were free for the rest of the day.  What did we do?  We played baseball!

There were some old abandoned leaching ponds across the street where we lived.  They were surrounded by high banks; the surface was a coppery sandy substance peppered with rocks of all sizes and shapes.  We were always lucky to have just one legitimate baseball.  After a week or so it would be a copper color, the cover pitted and scarred, and soon one good solid hit would knock the cover off.  We would then wrap black electrician tape around the ball and continue to tape it during the ensuing days until we were blessed somehow with a semi-new, semi-white, baseball.

There really was no organized baseball for young boys.  When you were 14, if you were good enough, you could play American Legion baseball that was for boys age 14-18.  If you made the team and were good enough to play, you played.  If not, you sat.  There were no rules that every kid had to play so many innings; and because of that, many of us probably developed inferiority complexes and our self-esteem suffered mightily.

As a 14-year-old, I was chosen on an all-star team to represent our county at the state championship tournament in Reno, Nevada -- the year was 1952.  We won the championship, beating teams from Reno, and Las Vegas and other communities much larger than ours.  I modestly, but truthfully, admit that I played a meager role in our winning the tournament.  I was a backup third baseman and didn't see much playing time.
Before the Regional tournament between the champions of Arizona, Utah, California, and Nevada we had a two-week layoff.  Our coaches, wanting to keep us sharp, scheduled a doubleheader with a team from Utah.  We took them lightly, played horrible baseball, and lost both ends of the doubleheader.  We laughed it off because we were the champions and were headed for the Regional Tournament in Lodi, California.

I came home after the game and my dad was waiting for me outside at the back gate.  He put his arm around me and said something to me I have never forgotten.  It is so trite I am embarrassed to tell you what he said.  However, if you knew my dad and the relationship we had, then his words would have been anything but trite.  He simply said, "Jake, when you put that baseball uniform on you are supposed to be a baseball player.  If you are not going to play as hard as you can, and play to win, then don't put on the uniform!"  That's all he said, but coming from him that was all he had to say.

Since then I have worn a variety of uniforms and have always remembered my dad's words.  I have worn the uniform of a missionary, a student, a husband, a father, a teacher, and many others as well.  Whenever tempted to do less than my best, I have remembered my dad's words.  

As I have been writing these words I have had come to mind the well-known experience David O. McKay had as a young missionary in Scotland in 1898. "I saw an unfinished building standing back from the sidewalk several yards. Over the front door was a stone arch. There was an inscription chiseled in that arch. When I approached near enough, this message came to me, not only in stone, but as if it came from One in whose service we were engaged: ‘What E’er Thou Art, Act Well Thy Part.’ ”

“That was a message to me that morning,” he later said, “to act my part well as a missionary of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”

As to the stone which young Elder McKay had seen in 1898 with its inspiring message, through the efforts of alert missionaries at Stirling, Scotland, the archway stone was acquired by the church in 1965 when the building was being torn down.

Today it is preserved in the Church Museum of History and Art, and a replica is in the lobby of the Missionary Training Center at Provo, Utah, where thousands of young Mormon missionaries continue to view its timeless message as they depart to serve all over the world. (Alfred Gunn -- great-grandson of David O. McKay)


Showing Up

President Hinckley, on the occasion of speaking at a BYU student body devotional said that he was going to share some memories from the past with them.  Then he said, "Old men speak of the past because they have no future, and young men speak of the future because they have no past."

I hate to admit it but I am beginning to become kind of an old man so let me share some memories from the past that have impacted my life in a significant way.

  A few years ago I had the great opportunity of speaking at Chapman University in the city of Orange, California.  Once each semester the Interfaith Council at the University invites someone to come and speak to the students regarding some faith promoting topic.  I was feeling the pressure of wanting to do the best I possibly could in that special setting.

As I was sitting on the stand waiting for the meeting to begin, I noticed coming in the door five people who looked a little bit older than the average student.  They were members from my ward.  I was astonished because I didn't think anyone but me knew about this gathering.  One of the men quietly approached the stand and simply said "We're here to support you."  I must admit my heart was touched and comforted by this simple expression of love and support.

It reminded me of the time when my Dad died in April, 1970.  Jo Anne and I had been married six years, had three little children, and were living in Ogden, Utah.  I had served as Elder's Quorum President in the Washington Terrace Sixth Ward for about three years.  My Dad's death was just devastating to me. We were very close and I could not imagine how life would be without him.  He passed away in a hospital in Salt Lake City and the next day Jo Anne and I and other family members drove immediately to Ely, Nevada to make arrangements for the funeral.  I really didn't know if anyone in Ogden or our ward knew that he had passed away.  The morning of the funeral I happened to turn around and saw coming in the door, Bob Ellis, and Jack Pugmire.  Bob Ellis was one of the elders in our ward and the editor and printer of the ward newspaper.  Jack Pugmire, was a counselor in the bishopric and a good friend. 

I was caught totally off guard when I saw them.  Ogden is over 300 miles from Ely and that made Ely hard to get to.  They had to have arisen extremely early that morning to have made it to the funeral on time.  I had been in pretty good control of my emotions up to that time, but when I saw these two friends come into the Stake Center I could not hold back the tears.  I don't know that we ever even got to talk.  I believe they both embraced me as they left the building and got back into their car for the long drive back to Ogden.  Many years later, their unexpected visit is still a vivid and wonderful memory from the past.

There are events in life that are never repeated.  A wedding, a wedding reception, a funeral, a graduation, a sealing in the temple, and etc. only happen once in a person's life.  We may be tempted to not acknowledge an invitation because, let's face it, life is busy and hectic.  However, in that family's life this event will only happen once and if we withhold our support by our absence it is something that can never be reclaimed.  Conflicts are unavoidable at times but even the worst of us can write a special letter of congratulation and apology for not attending.  We really don't have to do anything special -- just show up; that in and of its self speaks volumes.

I spent the first two weeks after my accident in the ICU of our regional trauma center.  It is impossible to express how I felt, having been told by the neurosurgeons that I would never be able to move any part of my body ever again, breathe on my own again, speak again, eat or drink again, and never be able to live outside of a care facility.  I felt very vulnerable and somehow very much alone, and could not stand the thought of being left alone without family and friends around.  I was able to communicate this thought, and family members stayed with me during the day.  About 6 p.m. in the evening members of our High Council and High Priest group would take turns sitting with me all through the night until morning.  Through an ingenious chart invented and produced by a good friend, by blinking my eyes, once for "yes," and twice for "no," I was able to communicate my needs and even the chapters and verses of the Scriptures I wanted read to me.  They would sit by my bedside and read, and if I dozed off into a fitful sleep, when I woke up it was so comforting to see them there and feel of their love and concern.  One young brother would sing to me the hymns I loved, which brought great peace into my heart at a most difficult time.  Their presence, without them saying anything, spoke volumes of love, friendship, and caring.

Since then, I have often thought of the Savior in the Garden of Gethsemane asking his beloved friends and apostles to simply wait at a short distance while he went to suffer the greatest agony anyone has ever suffered on this earth.  Yes, he had to do this alone, but even he, the greatest of all, I believe wanted to have the comforting presence of his closest friends about him in this, his greatest hour of need.  "And he cometh, and findeth them sleeping, and saith unto Peter, Simon, sleepest thou? couldest not thou watch one ahour? And again he went away, and prayed, and spake the same words. And when he returned, he found them asleep again, (for their eyes were heavy,) neither wist they what to answer him. And he cometh the third time, and saith unto them, Sleep on now, and take your rest: it is enough, the hour is come..." [Mark 14: 37 -41]

I believe those apostles always felt badly that they couldn't stay awake while their beloved Master experienced what he did.  They couldn't do anything to assist him really, but how he must have longed for their support.  Nobody could do anything to change my circumstances after my accident, but what strength and comfort it was to just have so many friends show up at my bedside.
I don't know that we ever need to do more than just show up, but we really ought to work at doing that.

A blind, and almost completely deaf elderly gentlemen, moved into a new ward.  Every Sunday he was there sitting on the front row during sacrament meeting.  One Sunday after the meeting was over,  one of the ward members took him aside and shouting into his ear so that the old man could hear he said "Why do you keep coming when you can't see or hear anything?"  The old man responded, "I come just to show whose side I'm on!"  Not a bad philosophy of life.


Monday, September 14, 2009

Spiritual Paralysis

Jo Anne loaded me up in the van and took me to the doctor's office a while back.  Some tests had been run previously and the doctor announced to us that I had a kidney stone that was too large to pass. He scheduled me to have it blasted which didn't sound too pleasant, but in my unfeeling, paralyzed state I thought I could probably handle it.  I wondered at the time how they would choose to anesthetize me. 

It is very interesting being paralyzed.  In my situation I have no feeling from my neck on down which is both an asset and a liability. Let me explain.  On the one hand, having no feeling is really quite wonderful when I have kidney stones, ingrown toe nails, and minor surgeries performed on my lower anatomy.  I have chatted with doctors as they have cut away at me, which is always a bit distracting and uncomfortable for them.  I think they would rather operate on someone who is comatose.  They do always remind me to be sure and not move however.  I faithfully comply! 

I really do believe though that being physically paralyzed and not being able to experience pain is much more of a liability than an asset. The reason I feel this way is that since I have no feeling, I don't know when I am being hurt and therefore I can't protect myself or know when I am being badly injured. 

One of my daughters had a boyfriend who, on one occasion, was helping to get me into our modified van.  The front passenger seat has been removed so that I can be locked into place by the side of the driver.  Trying to impress my daughter, he got me into the van quickly which was impressive to us all, and started pushing me vigorously into place.  However, in doing so he got me too close to the driver's seat causing the ring finger on my left hand to get caught on the seat.  As he continued to push me rapidly forward I watched my finger being bent all the way back to my wrist and I said to myself, "Boy, I'll bet that hurts!"  I went to the doctor who x-rayed the finger and then announced to me that it was fractured and that he was afraid he was going to have to immobilize it.  I wondered where he had gone to medical school!

Our bodies, as created by Heavenly Father, were designed to experience pain to let us know that something is wrong.  Although pain is not pleasant, it can be a blessing in helping us to seek immediate help to discover the source of the pain, take the necessary measures to alleviate it, and thus avoid more serious damage.

I believe that our spirit functions in much the same manner. However, if we do not heed the promptings that come to our spirits from the Holy Ghost, it is also possible for our spirits to become paralyzed -- "past feeling." 

When an individual is spiritually paralyzed he cannot "feel" the still small voice and is not aware that he is in great spiritual pain. 

Most people I know that are physically paralyzed were brought into that state usually as a result of one traumatic experience.  Spiritual paralysis is very different in that it creeps up on us little by little until, without even realizing it, we are no longer able to "feel" the still small voice of the spirit and of our conscience. 

I think it is important that we understand some of the causes and cures of spiritual paralysis so that we might take the necessary steps to protect ourselves from it, and be cured if already infected.

There are some obvious causes, or rather manifestations of the disease, like violating the law of chastity and becoming addicted to pornography or drugs for example, but I personally believe we usually only do these kinds of things after we have already been infected with the beginnings of what can turn into a serious case of full-blown spiritual paralysis.

And so what might be some of the things that bring on the early stages of this disease?  I believe they can include such simple things as not having our personal private prayers each day, or not reading the scriptures consistently, or just being mentally lazy and not reading good books, or watching too much TV or playing too many video games.

Each day my caregiver exercises my body for me.  It's called range of motion.  By stretching my muscles and tendons my body stays flexible and looks fairly normal.  If I did not receive this daily exercise my limbs would begin to be frozen in place and become distorted and twisted.  I believe the same thing can happen to our minds and spirits if they are not regularly exercised.

President Hinckley told the youth of the Church in the Priesthood Session of a General Conference just prior to his death to: "... Please, please ... not fritter away your time or your talents in an aimless pursuit.  If you do so, it will lessen your capacity to do worthwhile things. I believe it will dull your sensitivity.... and as you look back, you will be disappointed with yourselves."  [Gordon B. Hinckley, May 2005, Ensign.]

Within days following my accident I realized that whatever quality of life I would have from that time on would be centered in the mind and in the spirit. 

Thankfully I had a great love for reading that was instilled in me by my mother when I was a young boy that proved to be a priceless gift upon becoming physically paralyzed in helping me to not become spiritually paralyzed as well.

A while back, a good friend of mine shared an important thought with me that I found to be very meaningful.  He said, "If it is true, it never gets old!"  I feel that way about great writing -- literature, biographies, and history.  This philosophy also applies to truly great music, and especially to the Scriptures.  They never grow old -- they have stood the test of time -- because they are true! 

Thankfully because of wonderful computer technology and voice recognition software, I am still able to search the Scriptures in my condition. 

Elder Carlos E. Asay, a former general authority, once said that "Reading the Scriptures is like having a conversation with deity."  Along with prayer, it is the most important activity I engage in on a daily basis.  Surely I would have become spiritually paralyzed as well as physically paralyzed had it not been for my love for reading and the self-discipline required to do it.

I have often thought if I had not searched the scriptures for so many years of my life, beginning in the mission field, where would I be now?  But because of my love of reading good books ,as well as the scriptures, my days are filled with happiness and fulfillment.

Thankfully, we never need to be the victims of spiritual paralysis; we can immunize ourselves against it through prayer, hard work, self-discipline, keeping the commandments, searching the Scriptures, and exercising our minds through reading good books.