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?"