Monday, December 20, 2010


A short while ago we attended the funeral service for our good friend, Lloyd Rasmussen. The funeral service was a wonderful celebration of the life of a very good man. Elder Legrand Richards, in speaking at the funeral service of a dear friend, said, "There is nothing that makes for a good funeral like the life of a good man." This was certainly the case with Lloyd. Not only was he our friend but he was the friend of many other people as well.

We first met Lloyd when we moved to Orange County in 1975. He was then serving as our stake president and in 1976 he called me as a counselor to Bishop Tom Murray, the first bishop of the newly formed Tustin Fourth Ward. Having served as a bishop and then as a stake president, Lloyd was called as a regional representative, in which calling he served for about eight years. Later he would be called to serve as president of the newly organized Eugene, Oregon Mission and then eventually as a counselor in the Temple presidency of the Newport Beach Temple.

While he was a Regional Representative, my assignment with the Church Educational System was to coordinate educational matters in Orange County with Lloyd. I met with him frequently, usually in his New York Life Insurance office, and always left having been taught something significant. In one meeting I revealed to him I was writing my dissertation for my doctor's degree in education at USC. He looked at me and said, "Jack, you and I potentially have the same problem." I was shocked and couldn't imagine what that potential problem we both shared could possibly be. He went on to tell me that when he went to BYU where he played varsity basketball, he had one desire and that was to get his degree as quickly as possible and then get out into the world and make as much money as he could. On the other hand, he could tell that I enjoyed education, study, gaining knowledge and was not that concerned about making money. "My money for me and your education and knowledge for you," he said "could be potential stumbling blocks. Let's agree to never let my money or your knowledge and education come between us and the Lord."

I was never smart enough to gain enough knowledge to become dangerous, but Lloyd certainly lived up to his part of the bargain. He was very successful in the insurance business and the investments he made, but none of that ever got between him and the Lord, as far as I could ever see.

During another visit he said, "Jack, how is Zion to be established in these last days?" His question caught me off guard and I'm afraid my answer was not very cogent. He finally said, "Let me tell you how Zion will come about. We must all work hard, become productive, create a surplus of money, or time, or talent, and then develop the quality of charity to the point that we willingly give our surplus to the Lord to bless the lives of others." He told me that about 30 years ago; I have never forgotten it, and to me it captures the essence of the life of Lloyd Rasmussen.

Lloyd Rasmussen was a big man in many ways -- physically, mentally, and spiritually. To me his greatest quality however, was the compassion and kind things he did for others in need, very quietly behind the scenes, and out of the spotlight.

About a month after my accident Lloyd walked into my room in the spinal cord injury unit at Rancho los Amigos Rehabilitation Hospital along with Dave Parker. While serving as a bishop, Dave had finally won a battle with cancer and Lloyd thought it would be good for both of us to meet each other. I think it was, at least for me. That visit was the first of a number of subsequent visits Lloyd had with Jo Anne and me over the years.

I always signed up for every insurance policy offered by CES and because of a 24 hour death and dismemberment policy I had, having lost the use of all four limbs, we received a generous settlement from our insurance company. Lloyd, and his good friend and partner DeMar Baron, gave us some wise counsel at that time regarding how to best use the insurance settlement. With the insurance money, along with our retirement/disability income and Social Security, it made it possible for Jo Anne to remain at home, never needing to work outside of the home or worry about finances, and enabled her to devote her time to raising the three younger children, who were still at home and taking care of me, which is a full-time job in and of itself. She has also maintained the house, the lawns, and our van. I hate to admit it, but since she took over, everything looks a lot better than when I was in charge. How can that possibly be?

We shudder to think what our post accident life may have been had Lloyd and DeMar not taken an interest in our situation and blessed us with their wise counsel, love and support.

We felt sorrow when we heard of the passing of one who had been such a blessing in our lives. We know that tears were shed by his beloved wife and family members and others as well, and appropriately so, for as the Scripture says, "Thou shalt live together in love, insomuch that thou shalt weep for the loss of them that die... [D&C 42:45] But then the Lord puts death into proper perspective by saying, "And it shall come to pass that those that die in me shall not taste of death, for it shall be sweet unto them..." [D&C 42:46] I believe that Lloyd died in the Lord and it was sweet unto him.

Lloyd passed away at the beginning of the Christmas season. Christmas is a special and a wonderful time of the year. I love everything about Christmas -- the food, the parties, the family gatherings, the music and lights and special decorations. For many years my favorite decoration was a three letter word made out of a kind of felt material of green, red, and white. For years it was prominently displayed on a wall in our dining room. It began to look a bit worn out, and since the children have left home, Jo Anne doesn't decorate quite as much as she used to. For the last couple of years I haven't seen my favorite decoration hanging on the wall. It might be there, but I can barely see the wall so I just don't know. I will have to ask Jo Anne. To me that three letter word captured and captures the essence of Christmas and the Christ spirit. In case you haven't figured it out already, the word is "JOY." If you were to go to the topical guide and look up all the references for the word "joy," you would find that, in almost every instance, it has something to do with Christ, his birth, and his mission and atoning sacrifice. The most famous example of course is the declaration of the angel to the shepherds that night of nights, "And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great JOY, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior , which is Christ the Lord." [Luke 2:10-11, emphasis added]

A young prophet who would, in a few short years, face a martyr's death at age 38, was taught a significant lesson about joy by the Lord, "[Joseph] fear not even unto death, for in this world your joy is not full but in me your joy is full." [D&C 101:36]
And so we miss Lloyd and many other wonderful close friends and family members that have temporarily left us, but are comforted in knowing that, as wonderful as mortality is, it is only through Christ and his infinite love and atonement that any of us will ever be able to experience a "fullness of joy."

It has been said that birth is the beginning of a terminal disease. Death is as inevitable as birth and we will all exit mortality through that door. Because of Christ and his love for each one of us; however, we need not fear death or be heart broken and filled with despair at the temporary separation from a loved one. Surely, in this life our joy is not full, but in Christ it is! I pray that the joy that is HIM will fill our hearts at this special time of the year and always.

 As we follow his example and become his true disciples, loving others as he has loved us, surely the day will come that he will say to each one of us, "...Well done, thou good and faithful servant : enter thou into the JOY of thy lord." [Matthew 25:21]


Wednesday, December 1, 2010

All people make me happy

As Joanne and I, almost daily, travel about Orange County to return things to our favorite stores, and to eat some tacos or a bean burrito with extra onions at our favorite gourmet restaurant, "Taco Bell," we listen to books on CD that we obtain from our local public library.

We just finished listening to one that I feel compelled to tell you about. Let me preface it with a statement shared with me by a good friend, Randy Smith that has a ring of truth to it. "All people bring happiness into our lives -- some by coming and others by going." [Anonymous] During our lifetimes hopefully the people that bring us happiness by coming into our lives will far outweigh those who bring us happiness by going. Fortunately that has been the case during my lifetime.

The book I am referring to has introduced Joanne and I to a person that has brought us happiness and enriched our lives. We are only sorry we did not have him come into our lives sooner. His name is William Wilberforce and the book is entitled, AMAZING GRACE: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery by Eric Metaxas.

Through our own ignorance over the years somehow we had not come to know William Wilberforce. The movie, "Amazing Grace," which we saw several years ago, was taken from this book, but does not do justice in portraying the kind of man William Wilberforce was. The book does so in depth in a beautiful way. We were enthralled, edified, and also somewhat embarrassed we didn't know anything about him. Maybe some of you are like Joanne and I. The following was taken from the book jacket. "Amazing Grace tells the story of the remarkable life of the British abolitionist William Wilberforce (1759-1833). This accessible biography chronicles Wilberforce’s extraordinary role as a human rights activist, cultural reformer, and member of Parliament. At the center of this heroic life was a passionate twenty-year fight to abolish the British slave trade, a battle Wilberforce won in 1807, as well as efforts to abolish slavery itself in the British colonies, a victory achieved just three days before his death in 1833. Metaxas discovers in this unsung hero a man of whom it can truly be said: he changed the world. Before Wilberforce, few thought slavery was wrong. After Wilberforce, most societies in the world came to see it as a great moral wrong... This account of Wilberforce’s life will help many become acquainted with an exceptional man who was a hero to Abraham Lincoln and an inspiration to the anti-slavery movement in America."

We were very touched by this multifaceted, "born-again, evangelical" Christian who after a young life of debauchery and self-centeredness found Christ and devoted his considerable talents and fortune, not only in seeing slavery abolished, but also helping to raise the quality of life of the poor and downtrodden in England. After reading this book, I think I would have liked to have had William Wilberforce as a friend. I could say much more about William Wilberforce but would rather leave it up to you to let him "come" into your life through reading this wonderful book.

The relationship we have with those who come into our lives is the source of much of our happiness both in mortality and in eternity. I learned how true this is while lying in a hospital bed with a neurosurgeon looking down at me and giving me his prognosis about my life from that time forward. I knew in that moment that the only thing that mattered at all in my life up to that moment were the relationships I had with people who had "come into my life" and brought me much happiness because of it.

I think the reason that death is so anguishing and frightening to many is because they may feel that a priceless relationship is being severed for good. That thought is almost more than any of us can bear. Without the "Great Plan of Happiness", life truly would be senseless and death a black abyss waiting to eventually swallow every human being into a state of nothingness.

There are some people that come into our lives that we never want to go away. I feel that way about my wife and children and grandchildren, as you do about yours. My father passed away while undergoing open-heart surgery at the age of 62. I walked beside the gurney talking to him as he was wheeled down the corridor of the St. Mark's Hospital in Salt Lake City to the operating room. Little did I know I would never see him again or talk to him again in this life. He passed away in April, 1970. I still miss him and wished he hadn't gone away. He was the first person that was really close to me that died. I thought my heart would break when I realized he was gone for good. However, within days of his passing I had confirmed within my soul by the Spirit that life is eternal and that one day I would be reunited with my dad once again. Hopefully we all know this about ourselves and our loved ones; otherwise life would truly be empty, scary, and meaningless.

One of my favorite scenes from the Book of Mormon is when the Savior is leaving those to whom he had appeared and taught as a resurrected being. He spent many hours with them. They had touched the nail prints in his hands and feet and the wound in his side and they knew it was He of "whom the prophets had testified should come into the world," even the Christ, the Messiah. As he was about to leave them, Mormon recorded the following, which I think we can all identify with: "And it came to pass that when Jesus had thus spoken, he cast his eyes round about again on the multitude, and beheld they were in tears, and did look steadfastly upon him as if they would ask him to tarry a little longer with them." [3 Nephi 17:5, emphasis added]. Had we been there that day I'm sure we too would have been in tears with the thought of him leaving us. I never want to forget what happened next. Sensing how he was loved by these faithful and trusting souls and how they never wanted him to leave them, he "... said unto them: Behold, my bowels are filled with compassion towards you." [3 Nephi 17:6] He then had them bring forth their lame, paralyzed, blind, leprous, deaf, or withered family members and friends. "... and he did heal them every one as they were brought forth unto him... And... [He] wept, and the multitude bare record of it, and he took their little children, one by one, and when he had done this he wept again..." [3 Nephi 17:21-22, emphasis added]

Of all the friends we have or of all the people that have come into our lives, none has brought us the happiness Christ has. How grateful we are for Mormon's account of the Savior's love for all of us and of his great tenderness and compassion.

Though temporarily separated from him, we have the same promise he gave to his beloved apostles that Thursday night before going from them. Sensing their sorrow at his parting, much as the Nephites had, he said to them (and to us), "I will not leave you comfortless I will come to you." [John 14:18] There is an important footnote to the word "comfortless." Apparently a better translation from the original Greek text would have been "orphans." Though gone for a while he would never leave us "orphans." He has not ,nor would he ever, abandon us. Until he comes to us again, the Holy Ghost has been given as a supernal gift to comfort us and constantly remind us of his great and eternal love for each one of us.
Of all the people we invite to come into our lives, lets make sure that Christ is the first.


Friday, November 19, 2010


Even in Southern California it is possible to discern that in November, summer is finally over. When fall turns into winter I start having myself covered at night with my favorite quilt. It is covered with the tiny red and blue handprints of little primary children who under the direction of our good friend, Sue Anthony who was primary president at the time, dipped their little hands in blue or red paint and then pressed them on to the quilt. My "Hands-On" quilt is 21 years old and those little hands are now big and most of their owners have served missions and are married now with children of their own.

It is my favorite quilt because I like to imagine those little hands keeping me warm and comfortable through the long cold nights of winter. Those little hands represent to me the love of Christ manifest through these pure, precious, and innocent children.

Since my injury I am fascinated by hands. I am convinced that only God could create something so marvelous. Not having the use of my hands anymore I am just in awe of what hands can do. I see the masterful artwork done by my good friend Ron Wilson, and our daughter's mother-in-law, Rhonda Reilly. What a gift to take a blank computer screen or canvas and create something beautiful, inspiring and enduring. I listen to my granddaughter, Allora Stratford, play the piano and watch her fingers literally fly over the keys. Having played the piano for many years before my accident I know what a gift she has been given to be able to translate from her mind to her hands given to her by God, the edifying music she is able to interpret and perform. I have had a trained surgeon literally save my life because of her trained and skillful hands.

Each day as I sit in my office and look at the beautiful workmanship I am reminded of the gifted hands of Gary Anderson and Paul Colby to build something beautiful out of wood -- a skill I have never possessed.

As impressive as these gifted and trained hands are however, hands can also be used to bless and comfort in many other ways as the little hands of our former primary children do for me through my "Hands-On" quilt.

President Dieter F. Uchdorft in the April, 2010 general conference related the following story: "... during the bombing of a city in World War II, a large statue of Jesus Christ was severely damaged. When the townspeople found the statue among the rubble, they mourned because it had been a beloved symbol of their faith and of God’s presence in their lives.
Experts were able to repair most of the statue, but its hands had been damaged so severely that they could not be restored. Some suggested that they hire a sculptor to make new hands, but others wanted to leave it as it was—a permanent reminder of the tragedy of war. Ultimately, the statue remained without hands. However, the people of the city added on the base of the statue of Jesus Christ a sign with these words: “You are my hands.”

Not having been able to do one single physical thing for myself for over 20 years now, the "hands of Christ" in the form of my family and friends have literally kept me alive. To me, their hands truly are "The hands of Christ."
All of us can be and should be "the hands of Christ" to those about us. "... we are surrounded by those in need of our attention, our encouragement, our support be they family members, friends, acquaintances, or strangers. We are the Lord’s hands here upon the earth, with the mandate to serve and to lift His children. He is dependent upon each one of us." [Thomas S. Monson, Ensign, November, 2009]

In its humanitarian outreach to the world, disaster victims have witnessed young and old dressed in yellow T-shirts or vests with the words "Mormon Helping Hands," printed on them. These "hands of Christ" have blessed countless disaster victims and will continue to do so as the years go by.

If our hands are truly to be the hands of Christ however, we must make sure that not only are they clean but that our hearts are pure as well.

The psalmist wrote: "Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord? or who shall stand in his holy place? “He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart; who hath not lifted up his soul unto vanity, nor sworn deceitfully” (Psalm 24:3–4).
Elder Bednar, in commenting on these verses said: "... it is possible for us to have clean hands but not have a pure heart ... Let me suggest that hands are made clean through the process of putting off the natural man and by overcoming sin and the evil influences in our lives through the Savior’s Atonement. Hearts are purified as we receive His strengthening power to do good and become better..." [Ensign, November, 2007]

And so the challenge we all have in becoming the hands of Christ is through our faith and trust in the power of the atonement to truly have the same clean hands and pure heart He has. It is a daunting task but as Robert Browning wrote, "If a man's reach does not exceed his grasp, then what is a heaven for?"

"Hands are one of the symbolically expressive parts of the body. In Hebrew, yad, the most common word for “hand,” is also used metaphorically to mean power, strength, might (see William Wilson, Old Testament Word Studies [1978], 205). Thus, hands signify power and strength." [W. Craig Zwick Ensign, November, 2003]
The prophet Mormon said "Know ye not that ye are in the hands of God? Know ye not that he hath all power?” (Mormon 5:23).
"To be in the hands of God would suggest that we are not only under His watchful care but also that we are guarded and protected by His wondrous power.
Throughout the scriptures, reference is made to the hand of the Lord. His divine assistance is evidenced over and over again. His powerful hands created worlds, and yet they were gentle enough to bless the little children.
Consider John’s words describing the resurrected and glorified Savior: “And when I saw him, … he laid his right hand upon me, saying unto me, Fear not; … I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore” (Rev. 1:17–18). When He lays His hand upon us, we, like John, can be alive in Him." [Craig W. Zwick, Ensign, November 2003]

Speaking of hands and to end on a lighter note -- hopefully not a light minded note -- the other evening Joanne was feeding me a bacon, lettuce, tomato, and avocado sandwich on grilled sourdough bread -- my favorite. We also happened to be watching a 1942 black-and-white murder mystery on TCM at the same time. We were engrossed in the movie and all of a sudden I heard a scream, Joanne slugged me in the arm and accused me of biting her finger. I have to admit that the bacon did taste a little like finger right about then. Even I however, am not dumb enough to bite the "hand" that feeds me -- or am I?

Thursday, October 28, 2010


During the last 10 years as we have taken trips to Utah, we have been confronted with road construction somewhere along the way. To me a new synonym for "eternal" is the Utah freeway and highway system which seems to be "eternally" under construction. I attribute it to maybe two or three things: (1) poorly conceived and overly optimistic plans, (2) feeble minded and poorly run construction companies (3) or -- and this is the one I want to believe -- the population is growing so rapidly there is no way to keep the infrastructure of freeways and highways on pace with the burgeoning population.

I'm not blaming the state of Utah or the wonderful people of Utah for this challenging problem, but when I begin to see unending numbers of orange barrels and the freeway suddenly reduced to one lane I must admit I get a tad anxious, and for good reason.

With orange barrels aglow and yellow hazard lights blinking every few seconds, one night outside of St. George, Joanne ran our van into the back of a four-door sedan that was stopped dead still on the on ramp to the freeway. Two young men were confused by all the lights and simply stopped their car without entering the freeway. When I heard and felt the initial gut wrenching crunch I thought it undoubtedly was Joanne's fault, given her propensity for close calls while driving; however, before I could make any "insightful observations" regarding her driving skills, the two young men, running as fast as they could back to our van, confessed that the crash was their fault. I praised Joanne for her superior hand and eye coordination that saved us from severe harm. She seemed to appreciate the compliment and our already happy marriage was strengthened and made even happier. What good timing!

During our most recent trip, we were confronted with a plethora of detour signs, more than I can ever remember on any of our previous trips to Utah. My knee-jerk reaction to a detour sign is, "Oh no, think of the time we are going to waste!" We had to take so many detours however, that I began to change my attitude from one of frustration and aggravation to one of anticipation. It was either change my attitude or just be plain miserable.

The dictionary definition for detour is: "A roundabout way or course, especially a road used temporarily instead of a main route." or "A deviation from a direct course of action." (The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language)

It is in my nature, and I think many people are like me, that we don't like to take detours -- a roundabout way -- a deviation from a direct course of action. But as I learned on my last trip to Utah, as I began to anticipate the detours and the new country and things I would see and experience because of them, the trip really became a far richer experience than it would have been without the detours.

As I have pondered the principle of "detours" on freeways, highways, and in our lives, I have concluded that our lives are filled with detours -- unanticipated deviations from the I-15 freeways of life, where there is no traffic, road construction, or potholes and we arrive on time at our pre-determined and desired destination.

Life just isn't that way for most of us, is it? Many of our lives are spent on detours, which I believe are orchestrated by a loving and kind Heavenly Father. He wants us to see and experience more of life than we could possibly ever see or experience just sailing down I-15 with our air conditioning keeping us comfortable and our CDs soothing our otherwise jangled nerves.

However, we usually don't want to take most of the detours that come our way. I was motoring down the I-15 of my life doing just fine and enjoying the ride when the Lord threw a detour in my path. Initially, I found no joy in my detour and there were days I was actually looking for other highway signs that would get me off this detour and out of my misery like "End of Road" or "Dead End."

I wouldn't wish my detour on anyone else, but after more than 20 years of taking this unanticipated and roundabout road to the "Promised Land," I wouldn't now trade the experience of this "detour" for anything. Years ago I couldn't have made that statement, but I can truthfully do so now. What I have learned and experienced being paralyzed and on life support for so many years, I could have never learned or experienced on the interstate freeway of life. I am grateful for detours and the special one that has come my way.

I believe "detours" are part of the Lord's plan for all of his children. It takes faith to strike out on an unfamiliar path, but how rich are the rewards in doing so and sticking with the detour as long as is necessary.

I am sure that Abraham was not thrilled with the idea of taking Isaac on a detour to Mount Mariah. The Lord however, knew that this detour was necessary for Abraham, his spiritual development, and the subsequent great mission he was to perform. The Children of Israel had to take a forty-year detour to learn some lessons about life before they could inherit their Promised Land. Lehi and his family spent eight years in the Arabian Desert on a prolonged detour in order to learn some important things about faith, obedience, and trust in God. The Mormon pioneers had many detours and at times even faced circumstances that looked like "Dead Ends." I suppose the great challenge of life is to find "joy in the journey" regardless of the "detours" that come our way.

Many years ago I took a graduate class at USC designed to help us teach college students more effectively. Our teacher loved Robert Frost and had us read a beautiful collection of some of his poetry in a book entitled, "A Swinger of Birches." As we read the book, our gifted professor helped us apply much of what Robert Frost wrote to the teaching and learning process.

One of the poems we read then was "The Road Not Taken." I have included it below because I think it captures the essence of what I've been trying to say in this observation.

The Road Not Taken

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

                    Robert Frost

I too have been blessed to take the road less traveled by, "and that has made all the difference."


Friday, October 15, 2010

What Happened to Your Face?

Most of you have heard me tell the incident when I was surrounded by a group of five-year-olds on the playground of an elementary school. After they had fired numerous questions at me, a little boy got up really close and looking into my eyes said, "Hey Mr., what happened to your face?" I looked at him and said, "My face -- give me a break." I thought it was the only part of my body that was halfway normal and working! I tried to run over the little kid!

I have been thinking recently that what the five-year-old said could be taken two different ways. I took it as an insult (a truly funny insult coming from a five-year-old, which of course did not offend me), but he could have meant it as a complement. Maybe he thought my face looked pretty fine compared to the rest of me. I don't really believe that, but it is a nice thought. What I do believe is that after many years of living, what we truly are becomes etched on our countenances.

Last week I had the unexpected pleasure of attending the second missionary reunion for Central American missionaries who served in Central America from the late 50s into the 60s. We had never thought to travel to Utah again, but our book publisher had arranged a promotional tour to publicize my new book, "It's Good to Be Alive-observations from a wheelchair," throughout the Salt Lake City/Provo area. The highlight of the trip for me, besides being able to visit with wonderful family and old friends, was being able to attend the missionary reunion. Most of us have been home from our missions for about 50 years. I have never been around so many old guys with no hair or white hair. I had the special privilege and joy of visiting with many former companions and many others I knew in the mission field. In my condition, I surely did feel like the "voice from the dust." Though not able to see very well, as I peered into the faces of those former young men now grown old, I felt radiating from their faces a light which testified that their love of the gospel and their service to others did not end when they were 22 years old. The day Elder Uchtdorf was sustained as an Apostle he told the Saints:
"I have seen the face of Christ in your faces, in your deeds, and in your exemplary lives." [Elder Dieter F Uchtdorf, Ensign, November, 2004]
I echo that statement made by President Uchtdorf. I do believe that those who serve others and live exemplary lives truly have the face of Christ in their countenances.

Alma asked the people of Zarahemla the searching question: "... Have ye received his image in your countenances?" [Alma 5:14] Certainly this is an important question we could all ask ourselves frequently.

In my lifetime, I have known many who I believe have received the image of Christ in their countenances. Sitting in the celestial room during the dedication of the Newport Beach, California Temple a number of years ago, not more than 5 feet from President Hinckley and President Faust, I could not help but staring at them throughout the session. I could tell that through their many years of service to others, as well as their exemplary lives, accompanied by the sanctifying influence of the Spirit they had received Christ's image in their countenances.

Of literally hundreds of experiences I have had in seeing the face of Christ in the faces of others, and most recently during our trip to Utah to visit family and friends and then the missionary reunion, there are two that stand out in my mind.

Allen Rosza, former president of the Los Angeles Temple, and I had become good friends over the years. I had taught his football playing triplet sons in Institute in Santa Ana, California and had watched the boys play a few games. After my injury, President Rosza would come to the rehabilitation Hospital several times each week to encourage me to never give up.

After spending the day with me, one weekday evening Jo Anne left the hospital to drive from Downey to our home in Tustin. The distance is only maybe 40 miles but on a Southern California Freeway it can be harrowing, and especially dangerous at night for a single woman. The six months I was at the hospital she made this drive at least five days each week. Jo Anne was depressed and wondering how things were going to ever turn out. She just could not see the light at the end of the tunnel that particular evening . She even shed a few tears driving down the freeway and when she pulled off the off ramp near our home noticed that she was nearly out of gas. She pulled into a gas station near the off ramp and got out of the van to begin pumping gas. She had barely opened the door when Allen and Donna Rozsa pulled up beside her. Allen jumped out of his car and could see Jo Anne's distress and the evidence of tears. He filled the van with gas, not letting her pay for it, and then he and Donna took her to get something to eat. In only a few minutes, they lifted Jo Anne's spirits in a remarkable way. He told Jo Anne that he never used that gas station but felt prompted to get off the freeway at that particular exit, which he did. That evening Jo Anne saw the face of Christ in the faces of Allen and Donna Rozsa, as I had previously seen in the face of Allen so many times in the hospital.

Several months after coming home from the hospital, we were having a bad day. It was a Saturday and we had planned on going to hear the Know Your Religion speaker at our Stake Center that evening, but were depressed and despondent and just didn't feel like going out. Jo Anne was fixing us something to eat when we heard the doorbell ring. She went to the door and standing there was Ken Anderson, an administrator for continuing education for BYU. We had known him when he lived here in Southern California and his brother and his family had lived in our Ward when I served as bishop. If you know Ken you know that he has the most wonderful smile and spirit emanating from him that you will probably ever see or experience in any other individual. The minute he walked into our home the atmosphere changed from one of depression and darkness to one of joy and light. He was supposed to be at the Know Your Religion program but felt impressed to come to our home instead. We visited for some time and then he left. When he had gone Jo Anne said that we had just seen the face of Christ in our home. She was right!

Although I have only chosen to share these few experiences, I could multiply them by the hundreds, and am so grateful to be able to say to my family and many friends, as Elder Uchtdorf said: "I have seen the face of Christ in your faces, in your deeds, and in your exemplary lives."

And so I do believe that from time to time it is not so bad to look into the mirror and say, "Hey Mr., what is happening to your face?"


Saturday, September 18, 2010

Jo Anne

The fall of 1963 I was just beginning my senior year at BYU. The first Sunday of the fall semester I attended our student ward, the BYU 32nd Ward. As I sat down in the back of the room with my three roommates we all noticed a beautiful red haired girl sitting up toward the front. None of us had seen her before and all expressed a desire to remedy that situation.
Jo Anne doesn't believe this, but from that moment I just knew that she was meant to be my wife. As the semester progressed we became better acquainted with each other in an informal way. I was the Elder's Quorum president and Jo Anne was the magazine Rep. in our ward. Hers was the responsibility of making sure that all the members of our ward had subscriptions to the Church magazines. Weekly she would call in her report to my roommate who was the ward clerk, and who was not home most of the time. I would therefore take her report and we would visit and joke around while talking on the telephone.
Not only was I taken with her beauty, vivacious and fun personality, and obvious goodness, but I was also impressed with her because of her work ethic and independent nature. I sensed a great strength in her. Without any real support from any source she was really at BYU on her own. She would borrow the money she needed for tuition at the beginning of each semester and then working at Olson's Bakery near campus she would pay off her loan before the semester was over as well as supporting herself with the necessities of life. She would then borrow her tuition for the next semester and repeat the process. She drove the bakery truck, and was able to take home all of the day old pies and other pastries which made her the most popular girl with all of the boys in the 32nd Ward.
The truth is that I was much more interested in her than she in me. From the very beginning it was a delight for me to be with her. Then and now, I would rather be with Jo Anne than any other person I have ever known. It's just good to be with her. We used to regularly be ejected from the BYU library because we would start laughing and then get the uncontrollable giggles. I must admit I got very little studying done when we were together. I have always felt that Jo Anne is one of the friendliest people I have ever known. She is very open and will talk to anybody.
She is a good person. I have never known anyone with a more finely tuned sense of what is right and wrong than she. She has never made any compromise with evil. Her children know that. It is not in her nature to do evil. I'm not saying that she is perfect and I am sure that she will take me to task for writing this observation, but I have never met a better person. She has always had incredible integrity. She has been blessed with a high energy level. She has waged a war against dirt in its many forms all of her life -- moral dirt and physical dirt. She cannot tolerate disorganization and a lack of cleanliness in her home. She can work harder and longer than almost anyone I have ever known.
While serving as Bishop or stake president and also working full-time as well, I always knew in my heart that Jo Anne was doing as much or more in keeping the family and home together. She gave me the freedom to work and to serve with complete peace of mind knowing that all was well at home. I believe that
love is based upon respect and I have always had complete respect for her.
Over the 39 years we have been acquainted I have seen her grow spiritually. She has a great love for the Scriptures. Some of the best insights I have received into the Scriptures have come from Jo Anne. Her approach is always so fresh and insightful. Seldom does a day go by without her studying the Scriptures. Last year she read every word of the Old Testament. I
love to hear her pray - it's always right from the heart. She has great faith. Never will I forget fasting with her for several days while our two year old son John's life hung in the balance. She would not eat or drink until the crisis was passed. Though I gave the priesthood blessings it was Jo Anne's faith, manifested through her fasting and prayer that I will always believe was the catalyst in John's recovery. What is more powerful than a mother's love? More times than I could ever mention has she prompted me to fast and pray with her for the children or some other acquaintance in need. She has faith. She believes.

She has been blessed with a tender heart and the gift and quality of charity. Nobody knows that more than me. Nobody but me is totally aware of the tender and loving care I have received these many years since my accident. Nobody is more aware than I of the constant care that someone in my condition needs. Every doctor that ever sees me is so impressed at how good I look. That is because of Jo Anne. Her love literally has sustained me over the years. In many ways
her role in life has been more difficult than had she been a widow. She has become a one woman army - caregiver, financial planner, housekeeper, cook, advocate in fighting insurance companies, gardener, chauffeur and automobile mechanic, mother and grandmother. In all of this never once have I felt that she has felt that life has been a burden. She has true grit and determination. To me she is an Elect Lady in every sense of the word.
Well, I didn't want this to turn into a eulogy. Obviously there are so many more things that could be said about Jo Anne. I just wanted to make these few observations about her before I pass on into the happy hunting ground and have left unsaid what should have been said about Jo Anne.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Spiritual Integrity

The other day I overheard Jo Anne talking to one of her friends on the phone. Her friend had asked how I was doing and Jo Anne said, "Well, he can only see out of one eye and not very well; his hearing is going bad, and he can't breathe or move his body, but other than that he is doing really well."

As I heard her describe me I actually began to feel a little sorry for myself and also for Jo Anne who has worked so hard in trying to keep me alive these many years. That feeling of self-pity lasted for only a second however, and was immediately replaced by the feelings of happiness, hope, peace, and a great sense of well-being I constantly experience. I almost feel guilty feeling as good as I do, given the circumstances. Being around Jo Anne every day I get the feeling she feels much as I do.

My son Mike is the gospel doctrine teacher in his ward and frequently we teach the same lesson on the same Sunday. We often discuss what we have taught after-the-fact, and I invariably gain some important insights from my son. As a former district attorney and now a judge, he has an uncanny ability to cut to the heart of things.

We both had just recently taught the Book of Job in our Sunday school classes. In talking to him he said, "Dad, in spite of what many people think, I don't believe the Book of Job answers the question of why bad things happen to good people." I agreed with Mike having just read through the 42 chapters of Job. Job never does know why so much adversity came into his life so unexpectedly.

I have often heard over the years, people asking the question "Why do bad things happen to good people?" To really address that question we ought to be asking as well, "Why do good things happen to bad people or why do good things happen to good people, or why do bad things happen to bad people?"

Because we have mortal bodies and live in a world governed by natural Law we are all subject to having both good and bad things come into our lives. God has the power to protect us from every bad thing but in doing so would take away from us the priceless gift of agency. Often overlooked in the Savior's parable of the houses built on the rock or the sand is the fact that the full fury of the storm came to both houses. The point is that the house built on Christ weathered the storm. Our "goodness," won't necessarily protect us from the storms of life but will give us the strength to weather them.

Mike and I concluded that the Book of Job was all about a good man, whose life was solidly built upon the rock, who never lost his "spiritual integrity," through good times and bad.

He was described as follows: "Job... was an upright man and one that feared God, [and turned his back on evil]..." [Job 1:1] He was also so wealthy that the author of Job said of him, "... this man was the greatest of all the men of the east." [Job 1:3].

Job was prospering, he was good, and it appears from the text we have been given he was not letting his wealth be a stumbling block in his relationship with his God. He was maintaining his "spiritual integrity" during his prosperous times without being lifted up in his pride.

Then, talk about having a bad day, in one day Job lost all of his wealth, his worldly possessions, and his posterity to death. His wife thought it was such a bad day she told him he ought to curse God and die. You have to love Job for his response: "... naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither: the LORD gave, and the LORD hath taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD." [Job 1:21]

In making that statement Job maintained his "spiritual integrity" and was unwavering in his love for, and trust in God.

Having lost his wealth and posterity, and subsequently his health and the love and support of his family and friends, he didn't give up or give in. Even though his "friends" tried to sow the seeds of doubt in his mind that it was because of his unrepentant wickedness that he was being punished by God, Job knew better than that.

Job will forever be my personal hero and role model with regard to enduring well the adversities of life because of the following two statements he made after losing everything except his life: "Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him..." [Job 13:15] "For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth. And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God..." [Job 19:25-26]

I do believe the only way we can maintain our "spiritual integrity" like Job, is through coming to know the Savior and trusting in his love and goodness during both the good times and bad times that come into all of our lives.

There are at least two other important principles that manifest themselves in the life of Job. The Lord loves us as he loved Job and though difficult to comprehend in the midst of our individual and customized adversity, ultimately as we are faithful he has assured us that all things will ultimately be for our good. "And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God..." [Romance 8:28-- emphasis added]

I believe the key phrase in the Scripture is that all things work together for our good as we truly love the Lord. The Lord told Joseph, "... all these things shall give thee experience and shall be for thy good." [D&C 122:7]

I have come to understand however, as many as you have, that bad things are only good for us as they humble us, drive us to our knees, and draw us closer to the Savior.

21 years ago when neurosurgeons told me I would never breathe on my own again, move my body, speak, eat normal food, and never live outside a care facility for as long as I would live, I could not understand how this could possibly be good for me. Years later I can see what a blessing it has been in my life and how it has helped me to more fully know the Savior and to know for myself, independent of any other person, that he loves me and that this "tragic" accident at the beach has been for my good.

Finally, as Job endured faithfully and well his many afflictions, never doubting the love God had for him, "... the LORD gave Job twice as much as he had before him." [Job 42:10]

I believe the Lord will do the same thing for each one of us as we endure faithfully and well to the end. I believe the blessings we will receive won't necessarily be of a material nature, but far more significant than anything the world has to offer.

The Scriptures teach: "But he knoweth the way that I take: when he hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold. [Job 23:10, emphasis added]

Enduring well and trusting in a loving and kind Heavenly Father, will not position us to necessarily receive great worldly wealth, but as we are tried in the refiner's fire we will eventually become what the Lord sent us here to become.

He will also give the faithful the greatest gift that only God can bestow upon his children: "Behold, I am the law, and the light. Look unto me, and endure to the end, and ye shall live; for unto him that endureth to the end will I give eternal life." [3 Nephi 15:9, [emphasis added]


Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Sacrifice of a Hang Glider

"A religion that does not require the sacrifice of all things never has power sufficient to produce the faith necessary unto life and salvation." (Joseph Smith)

While serving as a new Bishop, our stake undertook the project of raising $one million to build the Irvine, California stake center. That was the 30 percent we were required to raise before the Church would make available the additional 70 percent necessary to build that huge stake center. The projected building was to be an acre under roof, which included two full-size chapels, two cultural halls, really two of everything, and enough office space, literally to house an entire stake.

As bishops we committed our wards to raise our portion of the $one million within three years. None of us knew how we could possibly do this and ultimately we just went forward with faith. That three-year period was one of the most spiritual in my life. I saw many people and families make incredible sacrifices to raise the money necessary to build the stake center. We never held any "building fund projects" but simply asked for commitments from the Saints for the necessary funds.

Each December during tithing settlement I would make sure that I met with as many families as would come to my office. I would then tell them what amount we needed to raise for the building fund that year and ask them what commitment they thought they could make. If I remember correctly the commitments ran anywhere from 2 to $4000 per family for the year. The thing that touched me so much was how faithful each family was in fulfilling their commitment to me as their bishop. Homes were not painted, cars were not purchased, carpeting endured a few more years of wear, and we just gave all we could to build the building, in addition to paying our tithing.

Of the many stories I could tell of sacrifice at this time I will just share a couple. Many members of our ward during this time period lived in government subsidized housing -- the Nissan Garden Apartments. This is indicative of the lack of affluence in our ward while we were trying to raise money for the building fund. One young couple with several small children that were living in government subsidized housing came to me and told me they wanted to commit, what I considered to be an amount unrealistic considering their circumstances, but which they insisted on doing. They felt they needed all the blessings they could receive and that this was a good way to go about receiving them. They told me that if I would give them one food order from the bishop's storehouse that they had figured out a plan whereby they then could make a monthly payment to the building fund. I finally agreed to their plan and then watched each month as their payment came in to fulfill their commitment. I knew how little they had and my heart was touched with their willingness to literally give all to the Lord.

Another wonderful young couple living in the Nissan Garden Apartments made a commitment to me of $2000 for the year. Again I wondered how they would ever be able to fulfill this commitment. During the months that followed they never paid anything to the building fund and I began to be concerned that they wouldn't fulfill their commitment and how badly it would make them feel. This went on until December of that year. It was near Christmas as I remember that this young man walked into my office and handed me a check for $2000. He told me that all through the year he had expectations of making the money necessary to pay his commitment to the building fund but that it just hadn't happened. His passion in life was hang gliding -- he had done it for years and was an expert at the sport. He told me that the day before he had gone out and sold his hang glider and all of the equipment he had accumulated through the years for $2000. He didn't do it grudgingly but was happy and relieved that he could fulfill his commitment to the Lord. I am sure it was not in the same ballpark with Abraham's willingness to sacrifice Isaac, but to me it was as pure a sacrifice as I have ever witnessed.

The day the Irvine stake center was dedicated the bishops blessed the sacrament while the high council and counselors in the bishoprics passed the sacred emblems to those attending the dedication. As I sat at the sacrament table I had one of the most powerful and touching experiences I have ever had. I knew the Lord had accepted of our sacrifice and was pleased with what we had done.

That same kind of sacrifice is not being required at this time, but whenever we give time and resources to the Lord with a willing heart, the faith necessary to our obtaining salvation deepens and grows.


Saturday, September 4, 2010

A plumber with integrity

Being paralyzed and living on life support it is so important to me to be able to trust my caregivers and medical equipment providers who maintain my wheelchair and life support system, to not be careless and to do what they are supposed to do. I have been blessed with caregivers with integrity who have kept me alive for so many years in my fragile condition. I wish I could say the same thing for my medical suppliers and support people. We have one dysfunctional company that just never gets things right. We submit an urgent order which they misplace, and after many phone calls they end up sending us what we didn't need and didn't want. On the other hand, we have a company who upon receiving a request for needed medical items will have it on our doorstep the next day. I am afraid that people are very similar to these two companies.

While serving as Bishop it became necessary to call a new young men's president. A young man and his wife and two little children had just moved into the ward and I felt inspired that he was the man for the job. He was a plumber by trade, not highly educated, but he related well with the youth. I told him as I called him to this position that there were two young men in our ward that needed to be picked up each Sunday and brought to church or otherwise they wouldn't come. Their family situations were such that they needed this kind of support. He simply said, "I will do it."

For the next two years every Sunday he picked up Rusty and Tom and brought them to church. Somehow he was able to stuff the two boys into his car along with his wife and their two little children. Often they would come late but they always came and many times Rusty and Tom were able to help with the administration and passing of the sacrament. He brought them to their young men's activities during the week and both boys progressed in the priesthood and were having a good church experience.

I was saddened the day this young man came in and told me that he had a good job offer in another city that would give him the opportunity to buy a home. Shortly after he left I called a new young men's president and told him the same thing that I had told the young plumber about Rusty and Tom. He said, "I will do it." I am sad to report that it didn't happen. Some Sundays he would get the boys there, and some Sundays he would forget, and some Sundays he would delegate it to others who did not follow through. Yes, you know the end of the story. Rusty and Tom became increasingly less active as they grew older and as I write this I know that both of them are basically outside the Church.

I have learned through the years that one of the qualities I admire most in others is the quality of integrity. In the leadership positions I have held during my lifetime my greatest goal was to surround myself with men and women who would say, "I will do it" and then actually DO IT.

In a great council meeting held before this world was even created "...the Lord said: Whom shall I send? And one answered like unto the Son of Man: Here am I, send me...." (Abraham 3:27.)

Never has so much been offered to so many in such few words. He of course, was the epitome of integrity, and our great example in everything. HE DID IT!
"Honesty and integrity are not old-fashioned principles. They are just as viable in today’s world. When we say we will do something, we do it. When we make a commitment, we honor it. When we are given a calling, we fulfill it. When we borrow something, we return it. When we have a financial obligation, we pay it. When we enter into an agreement, we keep it." [F. Sheldon Child]
Jack bounced down

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Mothers have an incredible impact on our lives

My good friend John Nelson has often quoted to me the title of this observation when things seem to go bad. In other words, let's blame it on our mothers. We say it in jest but mothers do have an incredible impact on our lives.

I have always thought that my mom had a very difficult life in many regards. Just a few days before Christmas, as a young 10-year-old girl, she was left alone with her sick dad for several hours while her mother and the rest of the family went in a wagon to do some Christmas shopping. Her dad was very sick, but nobody knew just how bad off he really was. He would have her go outside all through the day and climb a tall tree on their property to see if she could see the wagon coming. Finally, just as the sun was setting, she saw the wagon coming up the road and ran out to plead with her mother to hurry home and take care of her dad. Her mother, Halley Young, was a midwife and knew how to handle emergency medical situations. She knew immediately that her husband, Allen, a young man in his late 30s, was extremely bad off. She was able to get someone to come with a car and transport her and her husband to the train depot in Delta, Utah. There were no doctors really in that farming community and she knew that she needed to get Allen to a hospital as fast as she could. Mom and her brothers and sisters were left to fend for themselves as their mom and dad rode the train to Salt Lake City and the hospital.

It was discovered that Allen had a ruptured appendix. They operated immediately and it looked like he might make it, but within a week he died of complications due to the ruptured appendix. It just tears my heart out to read mom's account of her father's death in her life story. Her mother was pregnant at the time and had seven other children dependent upon her. The oldest boy, Alva, I believe was only 12 or 13 at the time; there were four girls and three boys. The baby yet to be born was to be a boy. Eugene was his name.

The death of her father had a profound impact upon my mom. He was her hero. I think losing her dad affected her personality to a certain extent. Apparently he was a great fun loving person who was always playing games with his children. There was a great deal of love and happiness in her home and in her life and then very suddenly it was all gone. For a number of years after his death, Grandma Young would allow no social gatherings in their home and piano playing and singing were forbidden. It was a sad family for quite a period of time until Grandma Young had a vision in which her husband appeared to her and assured her that all was well with him and that she and the family were to get on with their lives and be happy.

Mom had other afflictions to deal with during her lifetime. I can remember when her entire body was covered with open sores. She was allergic it seems to everything. All of her hair was cut off -- not shaved -- but very short to try to fight the allergy. She couldn't wear any of her clothes because she was allergic to everything but one particular fabric. For over a year she struggled with this and I can remember how miserable she was. She had various operations over the years as well, and unbelievably, at a family reunion up in the mountains one summer, a pressure cooker exploded and scalded her body horribly. She was in the hospital for some time getting over the burns, especially on her chest. She also was plagued with a nervous condition and had to receive electric shock treatments on a number of different occasions. With today's modern medicine for nervous disorders, her life would have been so blessed. However, she was a woman of great faith and carried on in spite of her challenges and adversity.

Mom was an extremely intelligent person. She did graduate from High School which was not particularly common in those days, living out in the country as she did. She was a voracious reader all of her life. I can remember her being the literature teacher in Relief Society when they had what they called the cultural refinement lessons once each month. Mom taught that class for years and introduced me to some great literature. She would be so excited about what she was reading that I would want to read it also, which I did.

She was an outstanding teacher, especially of the youth. Because of the size of our ward in Ruth, Nevada she was the only teacher I ever had except for my Aaronic Priesthood teachers. It was she who instilled in my heart a love for the gospel. Her Sunday School class when I was a teenager was remarkable, as I look back on it. About twice a year she would hold a Sunday School class party at our home. Being the great cook she was, nobody ever wanted to miss those parties. She also gave a final examination at the end of each curriculum year. We took these tests very seriously and one of my prized possessions for many years was a copy of The Book of Mormon she presented to me for receiving the top grade on her test that year.

I could always trust my mom's opinion about everything. She would always give me honest feedback, if I asked for it. If I played a piano solo or a baseball or basketball game and asked mom how I did, I would always get an honest answer I could trust. She was a great mother for boys. Her dad and brothers had been avid sports fans and not having any daughters, she was really into sports. She was extremely knowledgeable about baseball, basketball, and football. On a number of occasions she won the football prognostication challenge that appeared in the Ely Daily Times during the college football season. I don't think she ever missed one of my baseball or basketball games. Later in her life when she started living with us several months out of the year, we would watch all of the Lakers games we could on TV. Magic Johnson was her all-time favorite basketball player.

She was one of the world's best homemakers in my biased opinion. Coming from a different era, she devoted all of her time and attention to her family. Our home was immaculate. She was a great cook. We had a major desert after every evening meal for as long as I could ever remember. She loved to bake and there was always homemade bread, pies and cakes, and wonderful cookies

I am sure we were all spoiled rotten. I can remember working for Kennecott Copper both before and after my mission. Mom would pack my lunch and the highlight of every shift was to open the lunch bucket and see what culinary delight it contained. Her philosophy was that if we were working full-time that we didn't need to work around the house. She felt that it was her responsibility to keep the home front going as long as we were pulling our weight in the world of work outside the home.

My mother was a woman of character and substance. Her influence for good on my life has been incalculable.

I am convinced that mothers have the greatest influence for good or evil on their children than any other factor in this world. I shudder to think what I might have been like without the teachings and influence of a wonderful mother.

Her example and teachings in retrospect prepared me to deal with the little challenge that came into my life the day I became paralyzed and dependent on life support for my existence. She put the backbone into me for which I will forever be grateful.


Saturday, August 28, 2010

The Billy Shaw Incident

What became known in our family and in our neighborhood in Ruth, Nevada as the "Billy Shaw Incident" took place one warm summer morning in 1948. Billy Shaw was a Norman Rockwell type looking kid. He had bright red hair, bordering on orange, which was always worn in a flat top. He had big red freckles that covered his entire face, arms, and I would imagine the rest of his body. I'm sure he was a "cute" little boy by anybody's standard. He lived down the street and he and I played together all the time. We were good friends, were in the same class at school, and spent lots of time playing in the neighborhood.
The summer morning in question found us outside messing around in the weeds that grew on the hill below our home. As we were poking around we discovered the leg from an old wooden table. It was quite ornate and looked a little bit like the jousting weapon used by Knights of old as they engaged in mortal combat. A conflict began between the two of us because there was only one jousting weapon and we both wanted it for our own. Before we knew it we were pushing each other and trying to pull the table leg away from one another. Finally this great weapon was dropped to the ground and we were wrestling each other. I was on top of Billy when all of a sudden a hand reached down, jerked me away from him, slammed me to the ground on my back, and threw Billy on top of me. I looked up and saw him Billy's mom standing over us screaming, "Now let's see a fair fight!" Obviously she had not seen the beginning of what was not really a fight but just two boys wrestling a little bit over a dumb table leg. Our energy would have been expended quickly and a compromise reached.

Those who know me well know that I have great patience and a calm disposition. What you may not know about me is that when I get angry I totally lose control; I feel a white heat inside me and everything starts spinning around. I guess I was so incensed by what Billy's mom did that I just totally lost it. I was filled with adrenaline, threw Billy off me, got on top of him, and just started pounding at his face. It reminds me a little bit of the scene in the movie "The Christmas Story". Billy pounded back at me but was no match for my anger. Soon Billy's blood was all over his face and shirt, and my hands and arms were drenched with his blood up to my elbows. Finally his mom pulled me off without saying anything and took Billy home. I was not elated with my victory and instead I was sobbing and sick at my stomach. I remember going to the side of our house and washing the blood off of my arms and hands from the outside faucet. I can't think of any event in my life that has made me feel quite so badly as the day I beat up on Billy Shaw.
I'm happy to report that Billy and I resumed our friendship, which continued through grade school and high school. I can't remember who ended up with the table leg. I don't know why Billy's mom did what she did. I hope she learned a great lesson from her unwise actions. This was really the first fight I had as a young boy and thankfully one of the last. Maybe it was important that I had this fight then than later in life when I could have done severe damage or been damaged by someone much bigger than me. I knew from that experience that I didn't like to fight. I have always felt there was a better way to handle things. However, I have to share my last fight with you, which took place when I was about twelve years old; two years after the Billy Shaw incident.

Another good friend was Jimmy Gardner. His dad had been a semi pro baseball player – a catcher. He had trained Jimmy from his birth to also be a catcher. He and I were great friends and played baseball together continually. When we were 12-year-olds some older teenagers wanted to have some fun and so they talked Jimmy into picking a fight with me. I was across the street from our house with a couple of other kids. We were standing on the bank of one of the water ponds - empty of water now, but with banks about four feet high. We always played baseball in those empty water ponds and it took a mighty blast to hit a baseball over the bank and out of the pond. Anyway, Jimmy and these bigger teenagers came up to us and Jimmy said some insulting thing to me and pushed me hard. As I began to roll down the bank I grabbed hold of his leg and pulled him down with me. He jumped up and in a very cocky voice said, "Come out here and let's finish it!" I don't think he thought I would come out to fight him. But I jumped up and ran over to where he was and threw the hardest punch I could right at his nose. My dad had always told me that it wasn't good to fight, but if you found yourself in that situation to go for the nose with your first punch and if you landed it the fight would be over. Thankfully I didn't hit his nose but came close and stunned him. He grabbed me with his arms and whispered to me that he really didn't want to fight me and let's just quit and go home. I was only too happy to do that and in spite of the taunts of the older boys we went home.

To my knowledge those are the only two major physical fights I ever had. Since then I have learned that it takes more courage to walk away from a fight than to fight. My oldest son, Mike, as a district attorney could tell all of us how fighting can lead to terrible things. The Savior's message of agreeing with our adversaries quickly and then turning the other cheek is absolutely true but not always easy to do. It takes great self restraint not to verbally or physically fight with others; of course nothing good ever comes from it. Love and kindness toward other people will usually help us to avoid confrontations and enable us to live in peace and harmony.
If all else fails however, go for the nose!


Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Praise -- Potential Poison

The other day I overheard a phone conversation between Jo Anne and a good friend. Jo Anne said, "I am married to a model husband." Well, she has never told me that, but to hear her make that statement to her friend was most gratifying. I sort of thought she was telling the truth. Later that day I was looking up some words in my online dictionary and thought I might as well look up the word "model" while I was at it. One of the definitions that caught my immediate attention was, "A cheap imitation." Surely that wasn't the definition Jo Anne was using in describing me to her friend was it? Or was it? I don't think I want to know.

In giving or receiving praise and compliments we need to be extremely careful I believe. A father had just finished giving a little lecture to his young teenage son regarding being kind to all people, using tact, and complementary language in interacting with others. Soon after the lecture the boy went to his first dance. He had only been gone a short time when he returned home with a black eye. His dad asked him what had happened and the boy said he had tried to follow his advice and while dancing with a girl simply said, "For a fat girl you don't sweat very much."

Over the years since my accident I have had more people say nice things about me and to me than ever ought to be. While it is gratifying to be the recipient of such kind words and sentiments, there is also a danger associated with it. To me, the greatest danger is to begin to believe that what others are saying is true and then worse than that to begin to desire to be recognized and to receive the compliments and adulation of others. We may be tempted to believe we are actually something very special and indispensable.

President Hinckley in giving counsel to some young missionaries about to enter the mission field warned them as follows: "It is so very important that you do not let praise and adulation go to your head. Adulation is poison. You better never lose sight of the fact that the Lord put you where you are according to His design, which you don’t understand. Acknowledge the Lord for whatever good you can accomplish and give Him the credit and the glory and [do] not worry about that coming to yourself." [Ensign, February, 2001]

Inscribed in Mortar Board Court at The Ohio State University is the following anonymous poem entitled "The Torch".

The God of the great endeavor gave me a torch to bear.
I lifted it high above me in the dark and murky air.
Straightway with loud hosannas the crowd acclaimed its light,
And followed me as I carried my torch through the dark and starless night.
Til mad with peoples’ praises and drunken with vanity,
I forgot 'twas the torch that drew them and fancied they followed me.
Then my arm grew sore and weary upholding the shining load,
And my tired feet went stumbling over the hilly road.
I fell with the torch beneath me, in a moment the flame was out.
But lo, from the throng a stripling sprang forth with a mighty shout,
Caught up the torch as it smoldered and lifted it high again,
Til fanned by the winds of heaven it fired the souls of men.
As I lay alone in the darkness, the feet of the trampling crowd,
Passed over and far beyond me, their praises proclaimed aloud.
And I learned in the deepening shadow this glorious verity,
‘Tis the torch the people follow, who ere the bearer be.
I read this poem for the first time as a young returned missionary and have pondered its message over the years because I believe it cuts to the heart of a potential problem that we all can experience in our lives. I have thought how important it is as we are called upon to be torch bearers that we always have uppermost in our minds the fact that it is "the torch the people follow whoever the bearer may be." I believe there is always the temptation in any calling we may have in life or in the Church, where we are called upon to "carry the shining load" for a period of time, to get confused in thinking that we are something special as torch bearers. As teachers, or serving in high profile administrative positions in the world or in the Church, if we are not always sensitive to the fact that it is the torch the people follow, we may let the people's praises turn our heads and fill us with vanity. We may begin to think that as a torch bearer we are more important than the flame we are asked to carry and eventually pass on to another.

The Scriptures, as well as secular history, are replete with examples of torchbearers who began to feel they were more important than the message/the torch. Saul, David, Solomon, and most of the Kings of Israel and Judah fell into this trap. Very few people are able to handle well the praise and adulation that comes with the offices of King, President, or dictator for example. I have marveled about how vain and egotistical people like "Herod the Great," or "Suleiman the Magnificent" may have been to have allowed themselves to be given such titles. For some reason I just can't imagine Jo Anne and my children calling me, "Jack the Magnificent," although it does have a nice ring to it.

We see movie stars, athletes, and high-powered academicians for example who at times buy into the praise of the world and whose lives are inevitably destroyed because of it. Most of us will never be Presidents, movie stars, or world-class professional athletes, however, whatever our calling in life, the temptation always exists to strive to be "popular" and in doing so to get in the way of the "torch" it has fallen our lot to bear.

Being paralyzed from the neck down and living on life support for so many years has somehow propelled me into the spotlight and brought me a certain amount of notoriety that I could never have envisioned at the time of my accident. I know that in and of myself I do not have the strength, power, or intelligence to have endured so successfully this catastrophic injury for so many years. I feel the Lord has called me to carry "a shining load" as a testimony to others "... [that] I [the Lord] will ... ease the burdens which are put upon your shoulders, that even you cannot feel them upon your backs... and this will I do that ye may stand [or in my case sit] as [a witness] for me hereafter, and that ye may know of a surety that I, the Lord God, do visit my people in their afflictions." [Mosiah 24:14]

I know that in and of myself I am nothing, and hopefully will always realize that I have a special mission to testify to others that God does visit his people in their afflictions and will strengthen them spiritually that their burdens may be made light and easy to bear.

The Lord has humbled me every day that I have lived on life support. A number of times I could have gone into the spirit world but thankfully have been rejected each time. For some reason I don't feel badly about being a "reject" from the spirit world however.

Because of my condition I am very sensitive to the truthfulness of the words of King Benjamin who in describing to his people how utterly dependent they were on God each day of their lives said, "... He [God] is preserving your lives from day to day by lending you breath that you may live and move according to your own will and is even sustaining you from one moment to another..." [Mosiah 2:20]

I pray that I may never be so arrogant as to believe I have some super strength and courage that has carried me through these many years of paralysis. I do know though, as Paul wrote to the Phillipians, "I can do all things through Christ which Strengtheneth me." [Phillipians 4:13]

I try to keep the words of President Hinckley uppermost in my mind and heart when receiving what I consider to be unwarranted praise from others: "... Adulation is poison. You better never lose sight of the fact that the Lord put you where you are according to His design, which you don’t understand. Acknowledge the Lord for whatever good you can accomplish and give Him the credit and the glory and [do] not worry about that coming to yourself."


Saturday, August 21, 2010


While serving as Bishop it became necessary to call a new Young Men's president. A young man and his wife and two little children had just moved into the ward and I felt inspired that he was the man for the job. He was a plumber by trade, not highly educated, but related well with the youth. I told him as I called him to this position that there were two young men in our ward that needed to be picked up each Sunday and brought to church or otherwise they wouldn't come. Their family situations were such that they needed this kind of support. He simply said, "I will do it."

For the next two years every Sunday he picked up Rusty and Tom and brought them to church. Somehow he was able to stuff the two boys into his car along with his wife and their two little children. Often they would come late but they always came and many times Rusty and Tom were able to help with the administration and passing of the sacrament. He brought them to their Young Men's activities during the week and both boys progressed in the priesthood and were having a good church experience.

I was saddened the day this young man came in and told me that he had a good job offer in another city that would give him the opportunity to buy a home. Shortly after he left I called a new Young Men's President and told him the same thing that I had told the young plumber about Rusty and Tom. He said, "I will do it." I am sad to report that it didn't happen. Some Sundays he would get the boys there, and some Sundays he would forget, and some Sundays he would delegate it to others who did not follow through. Yes, you know the end of the story. Rusty and Tom became increasingly less active as they grew older and as I write this I know that both of them are basically outside the Church.

I have learned through the years that one of the qualities I admire most in others is the quality of integrity. In the leadership positions I have held during my lifetime my greatest goal was to surround myself with men and women who would say, "I will do it" and then actually DO IT.

In a great council meeting held before this world was even created "...the Lord said: Whom shall I send? And one answered like unto the Son of Man: Here am I, send me...." (Abraham 3:27.)

Never has so much been offered to so many in such few words. He of course, was the epitome of integrity, and our great example in everything. HE DID IT!
"Honesty and integrity are not old-fashioned principles. They are just as viable in today’s world. When we say we will do something, we do it. When we make a commitment, we honor it. When we are given a calling, we fulfill it. When we borrow something, we return it. When we have a financial obligation, we pay it. When we enter into an agreement, we keep it." [F. Sheldon Child]

My wife, Jo Anne, and other caregivers that have assisted her and me during the years have been men and women of integrity. I take great comfort in knowing they will not cut corners regarding my care. My life is literally in their hands and they know it and they do everything in their power to keep me alive. The quality of integrity is much more important than great intelligence or other talents or abilities. It will compensate for a multitude of other weaknesses. To just DO IT and to be men and women of our word is to be a blessing not only to ourselves and our families but to all who know us.


Contentment II

I was talking to a good friend of mine the other day on the telephone. He is a few years older than me and for a number of years has been battling a lung condition that makes it hard for him to breathe. His body has weakened and it is hard for him to get around at all. He was telling me about the little electric cart he is able to load into the back of his pickup truck, using a special device that has been invented for just that purpose. He is then able to drive around the malls and other stores like Home Depot that he enjoys visiting. His home sits on a fairly large lot with lots of grass that needs mowing in the summertime. He was telling me about the wonderful huge lawnmower he just purchased that enables him to drive about to keep his lawn manicured, and how much he enjoys doing it.

I then began to share with him how much I enjoy my laptop computer and the voice recognition software that allows me to be creative and productive -- something I never thought I would be able to do at the time of my accident. My eyesight is not very good and I was telling him how much I enjoy my 42 inch high definition TV. By sitting as close to it as I can, I can see almost perfectly -- what a joy! We went on sharing other things we were able to do and then he said, "For as bad off as we are, we have it pretty good!" He was absolutely right!

To be able to be content, at peace, and happy, regardless of what life may bring our way is such a great blessing. One of my heroes over the years has been the apostle Paul. He had an extremely difficult life. In describing things he had suffered he relates that he had spent years in dungeons, had come close to death many times, had suffered shipwreck three times, had been stoned, had been whipped and beaten, and had suffered much hunger and cold. He also wrote that he had a "thorn in the flesh" -- some ailment from which he was never cured. (2 Corinthians 11: 23-28; 12:7-8) 

With all of this adversity, I find his words to the Philippian Saints remarkable. “... I have learned in whatsoever state I am therewith to be content."  (Phil. 4:11)  Then he gives us the key to his previous statement when he writes in verse 13, "I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.”  (Phil. 4:13) 

Paul, through his words and his own life’s experiences, teaches us that regardless of what life brings to us, with the help of God, we can find peace, joy and even contentment in our individual circumstances.

However, with regard to the concept of being content, a wise man cautioned us by making this distinction.  He said “... We can and ought to be content with the things allotted to us, being circumstantially content but without being self-satisfied and behaviorally content with ourselves." (Neal A. Maxwell, May 2000 Ensign, 72)

I believe the concept he taught is that in all of our lives there will come to each one of us circumstances, not of our choosing, over which we have little or no control.  When these circumstances come we must accept them but never fall into the trap of letting our circumstances in life limit our behavior and keep us from achieving our true potential.  Paul's life is a great example of this truth.

I took a graduate sociology class at USC many years ago.  The only thing I remember about the class is a concept I knew to be true and significant the moment I heard it.  It consists of only two words, "Relative Deprivation."

The concept is self-explanatory.  Any deprivation we may feel in life is only relative to that to which we have been exposed.  Upon learning about this concept, my mind immediately turned to my experience in the western highlands of Guatemala as a young 20-year-old.  I spent approximately one year and a half years among the Cachiquel Indians living in the little villages of Chimaltenango, Patzicia, Tecpan, and Patzun.  Their level of poverty was just crushing, as was the ever present specter of infant mortality.  They grew corn and subsisted for many months of each year on corn tortillas and nothing else.  They even burned the tortillas to make a hot drink that tasted as bad as it sounds.  When visiting with them after dark in their little adobe, one-room homes, with a thatched roof and dirt floor, we always brought with us our own candles.  They couldn't afford candles and when the sun went down they simply went to bed.  When we left each home we made sure they had a candle -- a wonderful gift as far as they were concerned.

Although the people in these villages were not that far from Guatemala City, many of them, especially the women, never traveled further than one or two of the adjacent villages.  All they knew about life was what they experienced in the highlands among their own families and friends.  What is the point?  These people were happy!  They had faith in God; they loved their families and spent time doing the most important things in life.  They worked together, played together, worshiped together and were content in their little corner of the world.
As young North Americans coming from the United States, did we suffer "relative deprivation" upon arriving in and becoming part of this society?  In the beginning, we suffered incredibly from this disease until many of the luxuries to which we had grown accustomed faded into the distant recesses of our memories.

Upon returning home, I must admit that it took several years before I could tolerate the affluent society I had grown up in. The longer I was away from Guatemala, however, the memory of my wonderful Cachiquel friends receded into distant memory and I became once again a participant in affluence.

A number of years ago I had to spend a great deal of time in bed recovering from a bad pressure sore. One evening about 6:30 pm, Jo Anne and Jackie (my youngest daughter) got me out of bed and into my wheelchair.  I rolled outside to the front of the house wearing my ball hat and 10-year old sandals that looked brand new (I wonder why?). It was a gorgeous evening, nice and warm, with the sun at such an angle that it made everything sparkle and glow in a special way.  Jo Anne was working in her little flower garden -- I love to watch her work -- and to me the flowers seemed more beautiful and larger than I could ever remember them.  I was so happy to be outside in my wheelchair feeling so warm both inside and outside.  It felt good to be out of bed with the promise that within an hour or so we would go to In-N-Out Burger for dinner, the highlight of the week.  I can't remember feeling so good, so happy, and so much at peace.

The thought occurred to me that if someone who didn't know me were to walk down the street at that time and see me paralyzed and on life support, with dumb sandals and a ball hat on my head, they may have been tempted to mutter to themselves, "There but for the grace of God, go I!"

In Victor E. Frankl's wonderful book, "Man's Search for Meaning," he shared an important thought. Describing the horrific conditions in German concentration camps, he related how every possible thing was taken from the Jewish prisoners and how immense their suffering was. Then he made a beautiful and true statement. Having lost everything, the inmates came to understand how "... a very trifling thing can cause the greatest of joys."  [Man's Search for Meaning, Pages 61-62.]

In my case, being a prisoner in my own body, no one but me knows how the most simple and seemingly "trifling" things are such a source of joy.  For me, it is absolutely wonderful to be up in my wheelchair, rolling around and having some freedom of movement, even though limited.

I think we must be careful in judging another's suffering or joy in life.  To do so accurately, we would have to have the power to look into the innermost recesses of each person's heart.  Lucky is the man or woman who can be content and experience great joy through trifling things.

By the way, this will be my final observation for a few weeks until we return from our Cruise to the Mexican Riviera.


Thursday, August 19, 2010

Piano Lessons

It began the summer I turned twelve years old. My good friend, Doug Godwin, got a new piano that summer. Actually it was an old piano -- an old upright whose age was difficult to determine. It sounded a lot like one of those pianos you hear in old Western movies in the saloon scenes. Doug and I had been friends forever and spent hours each day playing baseball. He played second base while I played shortstop which we would continue to do until we were graduated from high school.
I could not believe that Doug's parents had bought this piano. I had no idea that Doug had any love at all for music. He was never in the band and I just could not comprehend that he was going to learn how to play the piano.

However, as I would walk down the street to ask him to play baseball with me I would hear the piano music emanating from his home. His mother would invite me in and there was Doug with a couple of new piano books just playing away and seeming to have so much fun. The jealousy bug bit me hard and I just knew that if I were to ever hope to be as happy as Doug I too must learn how to play the piano.

We already had an old upright piano much like Doug's in our home. My mom played a little bit but none of us boys had ever learned. With visions of how wonderful it would be to be able to play the piano I approached my mother and asked her if I could take piano lessons. She asked me if I knew where the piano teacher lived and I told her that I did. She said if I wanted to take lessons to go ask the piano teacher if she would teach me. She said that if the teacher agreed that it would be fine with her and I could begin to learn how to play the piano.

The piano teacher in Ruth, Nevada was a lady by the name of Mrs. Shartle. She was in her late '60s and of course to me seemed ancient. She was a tall woman with gray hair and I can still remember her beautiful hands. She had long strong fingers that had undoubtedly been developed from years of playing the piano. She had graduated from the Boston Conservatory of Music and was an incredible piano teacher. I did not know any of this the day I went to her home for the first time. She had been married to a mining engineer who had come to Nevada to work in the mines. They had not been in Ruth long before he died. She however, had fallen in love with Nevada and decided to stay there for the rest of her life.

She lived on Number Nine Hill in a little wooden frame house. It was a company house; very small with a living room, kitchen, and I believe only one bedroom. Number Nine Hill was the tallest hill in Ruth. It was directly across from the Star Pointer Mine, the original underground copper mine that had brought people to Ruth, Nevada. It continued to be worked, but the open pit mine, several miles away was the major operation and the reason that Ruth continued to exist as a town. Number Nine Hill was terraced and contained homes on each level. Mrs. Shartle's home was on the uppermost terrace.

That hot summer day I jumped on my bike and rode as fast as I could to her home. Her Hill was so steep that I ended up having to push my bike the last 50 yards or so to her front door. I knocked on the door and she invited me in. Dominating that little living room was the most beautiful piano I had ever seen. It was a big, black Chikering upright. I would learn to appreciate the fact that it was one of the most superior pianos ever manufactured. It had a gorgeous sound to it. It was the best piano in Ruth and probably the best and most expensive piece of furniture in any of the homes in that little mining town. She put me at ease and I asked her if she would give me piano lessons. She wanted to know if my mother knew I was there and when I told her yes she agreed to teach me. She knew my oldest brother, Allen, having taught him voice lessons some years before. She sat me right down and gave me my first lesson. She gave me several new books that I recognized were very similar to those possessed by Doug Godwin. I can still remember how exhilarated I was riding my bike home and showing my books to my mother.

I immediately sat down at the piano and began to practice the assigned lesson. It was really fun that first-day. As the week progressed however, I began to discover that this playing the piano was a lot more work than fun. I would be practicing the piano when my friends would come by to get me to go play baseball. My mother thought I should get my practicing in before going out to play. With my baseball mitt sitting on the piano bench at my side, and my baseball bat leaning up against the piano, I would put in my time and when the alarm went off on the clock I had set I would be out of the house in a heartbeat.
By the end of the week, and before my second lesson, I approached my mom and told her that maybe I really didn't want to learn how to play the piano after all and could I quit? She looked me in the eyes and said. "Jack, did I ask you to take piano lessons?" I said, "No." She continued, "Now that you have begun you are not going to quit." "But mom, how long do I have to play the piano?" And then I heard the most important word I would ever hear as a young man -- "Forever", she responded. With that statement my fate was sealed. Mom was pretty tough. I can still remember her standing over me while I practiced, counting and making sure I was hitting the right notes. I never got by with any halfhearted practice sessions. If she were to go on a vacation for a week or so visiting her mother or sisters I knew that when she got back I would have to give her a concert and she would know whether I had been faithful in my practicing. Doug Godwin got tired of the piano within the month and quit.

Mrs. Shartle continued to give me lessons until I was about a junior in high school. After the first year with her she made an arrangement with me that if I would chop her wood for her each week after my lesson that she would give me my lessons at no charge. During the subsequent years she would give me a lesson and I would go out in HTL that back and chop enough wood for her to last a week. The only source of heat in her house was an old wood-burning stove in her tiny kitchen, which burned a lot of wood. She would come out and visit with me while I worked. As a boy I didn't realize how lonely she must have been, but she would talk to me for what seemed like hours. I enjoyed her and she inspired me to actually want to learn how to play the piano.

Maybe because of my clarinet playing and familiarity with music, and because I was twelve years old, I progressed very rapidly. It wasn't long before I really began to enjoy playing because I was able to play good music. I became self-motivated and my mother did not have to stand over me while I practiced. At age 14 or 15, I became the ward organist.

I don't know what happened to Mrs. Shartle. She either died or moved away from Ruth. My memory is a little sketchy, but I think she passed away. I had a succession of teachers after Mrs. Shartle, but none of them could compare to her. I went on to BYU and took piano lessons there until I left on my mission. When I entered the mission field I could play for several hours by memory the beautiful music I had memorized at BYU. What a blessing it was to be able to play the piano as a missionary. I played solos; I accompanied others while they sang, and played for every meeting in every branch to which I was assigned.
I never became a great concert pianist of course, but through the piano I gained self-discipline and a deeper love for good music. I will be forever grateful to a strong mother who said to a young boy that he would have to practice the piano "forever"!