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