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.