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?"