A couple of weeks ago Jo Anne and I were out in the van running some errands. On the way home she said she needed to stop at Stater Brothers and buy some milk. I kind of wanted to go right home but she promised to buy us an Almond Joy to share (she knew they were on sale that day) if I didn't give her a hard time. I am a sucker for Almond Joys so I gave my hearty consent.
We have cell phones with Bluetooths so we can be in constant communication while she is in the store and I am in the van. Knowing she was only going to be in the store for a few minutes we opted not to activate the cell phones. We should have known better -- do you think the Lord forgives stupidity as well as sin? We were listening to a very interesting book on CD so Jo Anne left it on while she dashed into the store. No sooner had she walked away from the van and entered the store when I heard a sickening noise from the ventilator and it stopped instantly. There is no way to describe the abject terror I experience when I can't breathe. I believe it is compounded in my situation because I can't move either. This has happened to me five other times during the past 21 years and thankfully each time I have come back before I have taken the journey into the happy hunting ground, although one time I did go into an eight hour coma. When I can't breathe I go through three stages before I pass out -- sheer panic, resignation, and what I call the twilight zone. The resignation comes quite quickly after the panic. I realize that nobody can hear me and that Jo Anne is not likely to return immediately to save me in time. I basically quit fighting and wait for the inevitable. Interesting as it was, I was beginning to lose track of the storyline of the book I was listening to; a telltale sign that I was not getting enough oxygen to the brain. Finally I slipped into the twilight zone which is really very peaceful and almost euphoric. In that state I could no longer hear the book. I believe from my own experience that it is extremely easy to die, and after the initial shock that brings on death, whatever it may be, it is really not an unpleasant experience from that point on. I think it is the living that can be hard and demanding!
I have no idea how long I was passed out, but suddenly it seemed I was dreaming or was in heaven or maybe somewhere else, because I was hearing someone speaking to me. As I became more alert I realized it was my book on CD, and I was actually breathing -- hallelujah! As mysteriously as the ventilator had quit pumping air into my lungs it began, all on its own, to start working once again. Just about that time Jo Anne came running back to the van with the milk and the Almond Joy. Believe me it was a joy to see her face again. Glancing at me she said, "You don't look so good!" After a bite of the Almond Joy I got my strength back and told her what had happened. We both felt it truly was another "tender mercy" from the Lord -- a miracle. Some would say it was simply an electrical and mechanical glitch of some kind. We feel the Lord was watching over us, but must be losing patience with us as we seem to be working our guardian angels overtime.
We would never want to be guilty of the sin of ingratitude and do believe, "And in nothing doth man offend God, or against none is his wrath kindled, save those who confess not his hand in all things..." [D&C 59:21]
We believe my life has been preserved countless times because of the "tender mercies" of the Lord. We would be most ungrateful to just assume that what we have been experiencing for 21 years has been "luck" or simply "coincidental."
A number of years ago I was to speak to a large group of youth in a city about 30 miles from our home. It was a Sunday evening and as usual we were running a little late. Just as we entered the parking lot we heard a strange noise coming from beneath our van. As we pulled into the handicapped parking space the noise increased and as Jo Anne tried to put the van in reverse to reposition it a little bit she was unable to do so. Apparently something horrible and maybe terminal had happened to the transmission and it looked as though we were stuck there for good. I panicked knowing that I cannot get into just any vehicle because of the size of my wheelchair and my life support system. Here it was Sunday evening and what would we do, and how would we ever get home safely? I told Jo Anne I just didn't know how I could possibly speak to those young people knowing the situation we were in, and that we should immediately go to work and try to solve this problem before it got any later. She has much more faith than I have and said, "Jack, there is a large group of young people that have come here to hear you speak tonight. You go on in there and do your best and somehow things will work out." I wanted to believe her, but just didn't know how things could possibly work out. However, I decided to go forward, trusting in her faith.
As we entered the chapel the stake president introduced himself to us. I mentioned to him the problem we were having with our van and he told me not to worry about it and that he would make sure we got home safely that night. That was comforting to me but I still didn't see how it was going to happen.
We had a wonderful and edifying experience with the youth. I was able to put vans and transmission problems out of my mind while I spoke, but as the meeting came to an end my heart began to be troubled once again. What would we ever do to solve this problem and get home safely?
Just as the meeting ended and people were getting up to go home, a man who had been sitting with the youth approached Jo Anne and me. He said that the stake president had told him of our problem and that he thought he could help us out. He told us that normally he would not have attended a youth meeting like this because he had other responsibilities that night, but he felt impressed that he should come to this meeting. He informed us that he was a troubleshooting mechanic who worked exclusively on the transmissions of Dodge minivans which is what we were driving. He said he had just returned from a trip to repair some Dodge minivan transmissions, and that all of his tools were in his van which was outside in the parking lot. He immediately went to work on our transmission and was able to put it into a "failsafe mode" which would enable us to get home. The only problem is that we couldn't slow down once we got on the freeway which was no problem for Jo Anne -- believe me! This wonderful man and his wife followed us all the way home. As we pulled off the freeway and slowed down, the transmission began to make some very interesting noises. As we pulled up in front of our home and Jo Anne applied the brakes as she normally does -- no halfway measures -- the transmission fell out onto the street with a gut wrenching series of screeching and grinding sounds.
Wasn't all of this just a coincidence and good luck? I don't believe so! As so many of you could, I could relate countless experiences like the two I have recorded in this observation. Like you, I experience the "tender mercies," of the Lord on a daily basis. How foolish it would be to not recognize the hand of God in our lives.
What does the phrase, "the tender mercies of the Lord," mean? Nobody said it better than Elder David A. Bednar, "... The Lord’s tender mercies are the very personal and individualized blessings, strength, protection, assurances, guidance, loving-kindnesses, consolation, support, and spiritual gifts which we receive from and because of and through the Lord Jesus Christ." [Ensign, May, 2005]
Our daily challenge is to recognize these "tender mercies" in our lives and thank the Lord for them.
I believe the words of Nephi "... I... will show unto you that the tender mercies of the Lord are over all those whom he hath chosen because of their faith to make them mighty even under the power of deliverance." [1 Nephi 1:20]
And so it is!