Saturday, April 16, 2011

Putting off the Natural Man

Shortly after my accident I received my first computer along with some voice recognition software. Personal computer technology was not highly developed at the time, nor was voice recognition software. It was very frustrating to try to write or get the computer to respond to the commands the voice recognition software user manual instructed me to use. One embarrassing problem manifested itself almost immediately. To shut down my voice recognition software, the manual instructed me to say the word "close." However, almost every time I said "close" to my computer it would interpret it as "clothes," and immediately the Victoria's Secrets website would pop up on my screen. Somehow the computer was programmed in such a way that it was far easier to access Victoria's Secrets then to get rid of it.
Then there was the unforgettable afternoon that Jo Anne left me home with my youngest daughter Jackie who was a teenager at the time. Because I am on life support I can never be left alone outside of earshot. Jackie was in her bedroom upstairs and I was in my office downstairs working on my computer. We have a good baby monitor system in the house. The transmitter was in my office and Jackie had a receiver in her bedroom. For some reason the afternoon in question found my voice recognition software and computer unwilling to work for me. Whatever command I gave it wouldn't respond and whenever I tried to dictate, the words came out garbled. I had a self-imposed deadline of some kind I was trying to meet and time was slipping by quickly. I don't know how many minutes went by but suddenly I was shouting at the top of my lungs at my computer and using the dreaded "D…" word. Really, I am not in the habit of swearing but somewhere deep down in the dark recesses of my soul the "D…" word surfaced. A second or two later the door to my office burst open and Jackie came marching in. She said, "Dad, did I hear from you what I thought I heard?" I meekly and humbly muttered, "Yes." She responded, "I thought so, and you a patriarch!" With that she turned on her heel shut the door to my office and marched upstairs. I hope President Goodman doesn't read this or our Stake may be getting a new patriarch soon.
I hate to report that the natural man is apparently still well and alive in me. Just when I was thinking I was doing pretty well and maybe was even in line on certain days to be "twinkled," the natural man in me raises up his ugly head. I have a strong testimony and am prime evidence of the truthfulness of what King Benjamin taught his people: "For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord…" [Mosiah 3:19]
I believe that maybe I am not so different from most people however. It will probably take a lifetime and more to completely put off the natural man through the atonement of Christ the Lord and become a saint which can only happen as we continually yield to the enticings of the Holy Spirit each day of our lives.
I do have great faith that through the help of the Lord a purifying and sanctifying process can take place in all our lives. Let me share an analogy with you regarding the purifying and sanctifying process that can take place in all of us as we strive to put off the natural man.
I grew up in a little copper mining company town, Ruth, Nevada. As soon as we were old enough to qualify, if our fathers worked for Kennecott, the company would hire us each summer so that we could earn money to attend college in the fall. My brothers and I all worked many different jobs for Kennecott during the years and the jobs they gave us were always so unpleasant and physically labor intensive that it was one of our primary motivations to return to school full-time each fall. There was no way we could envision spending a lifetime working, for example, on the track gang in the Liberty Pit for Kennecott. I drove truck, worked on a drill, the track gang and various other jobs through the years prior to my mission, usually the graveyard shift (11:30 PM to 7:30 AM) because Kennecott was a 24-hour, seven-day a week operation. Upon returning from my mission however, the only jobs in available were in McGill -- the smelter.
It was from the mining, milling, and smelting process that I began to more fully understand the concept of conversion and putting off the "natural man." I had much experience watching and participating in the digging of ore out of an open pit. The Liberty Pit in Ruth was advertised as the deepest man-made hole in the world which I have always believed to be true. The ore dug from the pit would be hauled by truck, dumped into huge railroad cars, and sent 20 miles from Ruth to the mill and smelter in McGill. Copper ore is gray in color and most of the time tons of waste material holding no ore would have to be removed to get at the true stuff. It arrived in McGill at the mill and the ore cars would dump their loads of raw ore into an enormous machine called the CRUSHER. This machine was aptly named as it began to pulverize rocks and huge boulders into something resembling sand. In the mill a flotation process of some kind was used to skim off much of the impurities (having never worked in the mill I am not sure of all that occurred there). I do know that it eventually left the mill looking like gray damp sand. It was moved on a large conveyor belt to the smelter and dumped into the tops of massive blast furnaces made out of brick.
I won't soon forget the first day I walked into the smelter and felt the heat and noise emanating from those blast furnaces, along with the smoke and what seemed to me total confusion, as groups of men ran back and forth performing their duties. Each furnace had two openings near the bottom, one being a number of feet higher than the other however. These openings were closed with large hunks of clay called dollies. I was assigned to a gang whose job it was to tap out (remove) these dollies (big hunks of clay) several times each shift. This was accomplished by one of us, usually me, holding a long steel bar against the dolly while my friends would take turns hitting the end of the steel bar with a large sledgehammer. Holding the bar sounds dangerous doesn't it? It was and you just had to trust the guy with the sledgehammer that he would always hit what he was aiming at.
When the top dolly was tapped out, molten slag which consisted of the impurities in the ore which had risen to the top under the intense heat of the furnace would flow down a long trough out of the smelter and down the hill to the slag dump. Picture the aftermath of a volcanic eruption with volcanic rock and ash spread out everywhere. There were acres and acres of slag dumps him around McGill and no high-powered PR firm or Chamber of Commerce could ever make you believe that McGill was really picturesque and beautiful.
Eventually the bottom dolly would be tapped out and a more pure substance would run down a large trough dumping itself into vast buckets which a crane, suspended from the top of the smelter, would hook and transport quickly to the other side dumping its contents into a piece of equipment called THE CONVERTER. The converter was a super furnace that was able to apply more heat and pressure to the molten substance it received into its belly than even the blast furnaces. In this final process all impurities would be burned-out and when the converter eventually emptied its contents into special molds for shipping back East it consisted of bars of pure copper laced with gold and silver. Enough gold and silver came out of this process to pay for much of the operating costs to process the ore. I will leave it to you to flesh out the analogy or metaphor as it applies to the conversion process and the putting off of the natural man as you are inspired to do so.
My own take on this entire mining and smelting process is that it applies directly to the conversion that must take place in all our lives. As I watched the process of mining and smelting through the years, and especially while working in the smelter at the side of THE CONVERTER, I came to understand, as I am sure you all do, that true conversion is not just believing or thinking or knowing, it is literally becoming transformed from the raw material called the natural man and into what? I believe that Elder Oaks gave a beautiful answer to that question when he said:
"In teaching the Nephites, the Savior referred to what they must become. He challenged them to repent and be baptized and be sanctified by the reception of the Holy Ghost, “that ye may stand spotless before me at the last day” (3 Ne. 27:20). He concluded: “Therefore, what manner of men ought ye to be? Verily I say unto you, even as I am” (3 Ne. 27:27). Ultimately we want to become like Christ! Elder Oaks went on to say: "Most of us experience some measure of what the scriptures call “the furnace of affliction” (Isa. 48:10; 1 Ne. 20:10). Some are submerged in service to a disadvantaged family member. Others suffer the death of a loved one or the loss or postponement of a righteous goal like marriage or childbearing. Still others struggle with personal impairments or with feelings of rejection, inadequacy, or depression. Through the justice and mercy of a loving Father in Heaven, the refinement and sanctification possible through such experiences can help us achieve what God desires us to become." (Elder Oaks, Ensign, November, 2000, 32).
THE CONVERTER ultimately is life itself and through constant repentance and the sanctifying power of the Holy Ghost we can ultimately be converted from a natural man to a Christlike state.
"Who is righteous? [Who is like Christ?] Anyone who is repenting. No matter how bad he has been, if he is repenting, he is a righteous man. There is hope for him. And no matter how good he has been all his life, if he is not repenting, he is a wicked man. The difference is which way you are facing. The man on the top of the stairs facing down is much worse off than the man on the bottom step who is facing up. The direction we are facing, that is repentance; and that is what determines whether we are good or bad." (Hugh Nibley)
With the help of Christ we can be refined and turned into pure copper, gold and silver. It will be done over a lifetime and will undoubtedly include being thrust eventually into the crucible of affliction or into "THE CRUSHER AND THE CONVERTER."

Monday, April 11, 2011

Heap Big Smoke but No Fire

Several years ago I had a stomach ulcer that exploded. The doctors called it Mount St. Helens. A surgeon by the name of Dr. Nakono leaned over me and whispered in my ear, "Jack, if I don't operate right now you will die." I am not very smart but I got her message loud and clear and whispered in return, "Do it!" Dr. Nakono did it! There could have been many disastrous complications that had been mentioned to my family, but none of them materialized. I will always believe it was because Dr. Nakono was so well-trained, knew what she was doing, and simply did it, coupled with the intervention of Heavenly Father on my behalf that my life was saved. Don't you just love people who know how to do things and then they just do them without a lot of fuss or fanfare?

Jo Anne has been interacting with medical supply companies on my behalf ever since I was injured 21 years ago. For the most part they have done pretty well by us, but we have learned that all medical supply companies are not created equal. The company that supplies us with many of the things we need is just the best. Jo Anne can call in an order on Monday let's say, and the next day UPS will deliver it to our home with the exact things we ordered. On the other hand, the company that services our ventilator and all the equipment I need to keep my life support system functioning the way it should, is absolutely and irrevocably dysfunctional! Jo Anne can call in an order and it will never come. She calls back and they make excuses and say they will send it right out which they do but it is never the order we requested. They will send half of it or twice as much of it or often not even what we ordered. It is a source of great frustration for both of us. The only thing they never forget is to send is the bill, which is never accurate – always overcharged. And frequently we get a call from a collection agency asking us if we would like to settle our bill by giving them our credit card number. Well, if you know Jo Anne you can imagine what her response might be to these wonderful people who sound like they are in India or on the North Pole.

Many years ago I remember watching with my mother on TV the Arthur Godfrey show each day at noon. We only had three channels we could receive at our home in East Ely, Nevada. On Squaw Peak just outside of town there was a receiver of sorts that would pick up the signal from the major stations in Salt Lake City and then reflect them to our home. We were only 250 miles from Salt Lake, but 350 from Las Vegas and about the same from Reno. I believe the Arthur Godfrey show was one of my mom's favorite shows on TV. He was a big man with red hair and freckles who loved to sing while playing his ukulele. As a young man I always remember, and still do to this day, the favorite song he used to sing – "Heap Big Smoke but No Fire." It went like this: "Heap big smoke but no fire, heap big smoke but no fire. Him talk a lot but him not so hot. Heap big smoke but no fire!"

A favorite story I read many years ago that is still influencing me is entitled "A message to Garcia." It was written by Eldred Hubbard . It is a wonderful story about initiative, trustworthiness and simply "doing it!" Eldred Hubbard wrote: "...When war broke out between Spain and the United States, it was very necessary to communicate quickly with the leader of the Insurgents. Garcia [leader of the Cuban insurgents against Spain] was somewhere in the mountain vastness of Cuba—no one knew where. No mail or telegraph could reach him. The President [William McKinley] must secure his co-operation, and quickly. What to do! An aid to the President said to him, "There is a fellow by the name of Rowan who will find Garcia for you, if anybody can." Rowan was sent for and given a letter to be delivered to Garcia....the fellow by the name of Rowan took the letter, sealed it up in an oil-skin pouch, strapped it over his heart, in four days landed by night off the coast of Cuba from an open boat, disappeared into the jungle, and in three weeks came out on the other side of the Island, having traversed a hostile country on foot, and having delivered his letter to Garcia... The point I wish to make is this: McKinley gave Rowan a letter to be delivered to Garcia; Rowan took the letter and did not ask, "Where is he at?"

"By the Eternal! there is a man whose form should be cast in deathless bronze and the statue placed in every college of the land. It is not book-learning young men need, nor instruction about this or that, but a stiffening of the vertebrae which will cause them to be loyal to a trust, to act promptly, concentrate their energies: do the thing—"Carry a message to Garcia." (Eldred Hubbard)

I believe that Rowan was a prime example of one who was "Heap Big Fire with Little Smoke!" His type of initiative, trustworthiness, and integrity, sadly, is not found in great numbers of people. I know that in the leadership positions I have held over the years I have always tried to surround myself with people that could "carry a message to Garcia." Frequently these men and women have not been great public speakers but they know how to carry the message to Garcia. I have been blessed to find men and women that I could totally trust to use their initiative to accomplish something delegated to them better than I could ever have done it myself. Such individuals are truly priceless.

To do what we say we are going well to do is surely a priceless character trait. The Savior felt strongly about going and doing, he himself having volunteered in the Pre-mortal life to save mankind by basically saying, "I will go and do it, and the glory be thine." He did it!
Obedient and faithful Nephi when asked to go back to Jerusalem to secure the brass plates from Laban simply said, "… I will go and do what the Lord hath commanded …" [1 Nephi 3:5]

We can learn so much from the Savior, the man Rowan who delivered the "message to Garcia." Nephi, and a host of others. None of these were "Heap big smoke and no fire!" To say what we mean, and mean what we say and then to do it is one of the great character traits we can develop during this trial period we call mortality.

President Kimball's favorite saying I believe consisted of only two words, "DO IT!" For years on my desk were those two words that looked like they were chiseled in stone.. Actually the entire object was made out of some very lightweight synthetic material that resembled stone. However, the message was never synthetic or was the man who lived by those two words! As I looked at each day I was inspired to always try to simply "DO IT!" Not a bad way to try to live our lives.


Sunday, April 3, 2011

The Work and the Glory

After a particularly hard day Jo Anne sat down with me and said, "Jack, we really ought to write a book about our experiences together since your accident." She went on to say, "If we do write such a book I have the perfect title. We will call it "The Work and the Glory!" I looked at her in amazement and responded, "That is truly a wonderful title, but quite a famous author has pretty well used up that particular title." She looked me in the eyes and said, "I know that, but it would still be the perfect title for our book, because for some reason I seem to do all the work and you manage to get all the glory!" Well, it certainly is true about Jo Anne doing all the work but I'm not sure about the glory part of the proposed title.
My mother passed away a few years ago while living with one of my brothers in South Jordan, Utah. The funeral was held in Salt Lake City. Jo Anne and I drove to Provo with our daughter, Jolene, and her youngest child at the time, Tanner. We stayed with Jo Anne's sister, Judy, at her home in the Provo area. The night before the funeral my two older brothers came to visit. About the time Jo Anne was putting me down for the night I said to her in their presence, "Now you know the funeral begins at 10 AM in Salt Lake City and then we are going to have to drive directly to Ely, Nevada for the burial the next day (Ely is 250 miles from Salt Lake City). So do you think you can get me up in the morning, get me dressed and into the wheelchair, feed me some breakfast, load the van and the car top and get us to the funeral by 10 AM and then drive us to Ely after the funeral service?" Jo Anne looked at me without blinking her eyes or grimacing too badly and said, "No problem!" My two brothers looked at each other and one of them said, "Boy, that's what I call a good marriage!"
About now you are probably thinking, "Jack, what do you contribute to this marriage?" That is a very good and legitimate question and the answer is very simple, "Not much!" Really, the only thing I can contribute is to be cheerful, express gratitude for all that is done for me, complement Jo Anne on how nice she looks and how wonderful the outfits are that she puts on me each morning. I also try to be very open and honest in my communication with her and have learned the truthfulness of the significant statement, "Openness brings closeness!"
As Jo Anne takes care of me, makes sure the grass, flowers, and shrubbery are carefully and beautifully maintained, makes sure home repairs are done correctly and by competent individuals (I never did deserve being numbered as part of this elite group), keeping the house spotless, the van serviced properly, battling insurance and medical supply companies, and cooking wonderful meals, and a multitude of other things, what do I do? Good question!
I thought some of you might be interested in a typical day in the life of this quadriplegic on life support. I think it might help you better understand why Jo Anne's proposed title for our book is so apropos.
My day typically begins at about 5 AM each morning. I do however struggle for a few weeks adjusting to daylight savings time each year. When I wake up it is dark but I usually can't sleep anymore at that time of day. I lay there for a few minutes and try to go back to sleep, but once I finally realize that sleep has escaped me for the night, I begin what I call my morning devotional. I begin singing in my mind my favorite hymns. I have approximately 20 that I enjoy singing. I generally sing 10 to 15 of them each morning after I wake up. I will share with you some that I sing. I always start off with "Oh How Lovely Was the Morning" – all four verses. Next I sing "Praise to the Man," followed by "I Stand All Amazed." And then I sing the following: "Have I Done Any Good in the World Today," "Put Your Shoulder to the Wheel," "There Is Sunshine in My Soul Today," (I especially love the verse – "there is music in my soul today, a Carol to my King, and Jesus listening can hear the songs I cannot sing) "High on a Mountaintop," Redeemer of Israel," "Hope of Israel," "Let Us All Press On," "Ere You Left Your Room This Morning," "I Need Thee Every Hour," "Oh My Father," "We Thank Thee Oh God for a Prophet ," and I won't bore you with any more. I always end by singing "How Firm a Foundation." I especially love the third verse, "Fear not, Jack, I am with thee, oh be not dismayed, for I am thy God and will still give thee aid. I'll strengthen thee, bless thee and cause thee to stand [I especially like that phrase] upheld by my righteous omnipotent hand, upheld by my righteous omnipotent hand!"
By the end of my hymn singing I am feeling very happy and peaceful inside and am prepared to offer my morning prayer. I am in no hurry and enjoy this part of my morning devotional the best. If I know I have overslept I will eliminate the hymn singing but never the prayer. I simply could not make it without the prayer. The third part of my devotional is to meditate or ponder. I prepare lessons and talks in my mind, receive ideas for observations I would like to write and have had some very special experiences during that pondering time. I can never go to the computer saying to myself that I am now going to write an observation. I will think for several weeks about an experience or an idea I think might be worth writing about and when I finally go to the computer it generally flows for me, although at times it ends up going a completely different direction once I start writing.
About 7 AM my son-in-law, Nathan Brown, (I really like this boy) comes into my bedroom on his way to work, gives me a drink of water, does some other things to make me more comfortable, and then puts my earphones on me so that I can listen to a book on tape. Because my eyesight has gone south on me making it impossible for me to read the printed page any longer, and because I don't have the use of my limbs I qualify to be a member of the braille Institute who through the Los Angeles County public library system supplies me with a special tape recorder and a wide variety of books I can request to read. I always have on my shelf 9 or 10 books I can hardly wait to listen to.
Between 8 and 8:30 AM my caregiver comes to start getting me ready for the day. He performs some necessary procedures on me, washes my face, shaves me, brushes my teeth, and exercises my body, stretching my limbs to keep my muscles from atrophying and my limbs from becoming frozen in place and distorted. About this time he calls for Jo Anne to come down to make the most important decision of the day. My caregiver and I would not dare to choose the outfit for the day. To do so would be way beyond our intelligence and abilities. Jo Anne selects the outfit and she and my caregiver get me completely dressed. The caregiver, a wonderful man from the Philippines, does all of the tugging and pulling and finally I am hooked up to the hydraulic patient lifter, transported from the bed to the wheelchair which is always an adventure because I am without air during the transfer, and I truly do love to breath. Jo Anne reluctantly lets my caregiver comb my hair. It has taken many years for her to delegate that awesome responsibility to anyone but herself. Finally my caregiver feeds me some yogurt with fruit in it, gives me some water to wash down a variety of pills (I am one of the great "pillars" in the Church) and then I am ready for the day.
I roll out of my bedroom across the dining room and into my office. Either Jo Anne or my caregiver sets me up on my computer, positions my microphone headset properly, boots up the computer and I am finally ready to go to work.
I am usually on the computer by 10 AM and study the Scriptures, prepare lessons, write observations, research on the web, read and send e-mails, and thoroughly enjoy what I am able to do. My voice recognition software is incredibly good and I can accomplish by voice what normal able-bodied people can do with their hands and fingers. I work until about 12:30 PM when I take a 10 minute break, drink some tomato juice to wash down another series of pills, maybe eat a handful of nuts and then get back on the computer. Between 2 and 3 PM Jo Anne takes me out in the van to run errands and to go to lunch. Our errands generally consist of returning purchased items to the major mercantile establishments in the greater Orange County Area. I can generally persuade her to get lunch before 3 PM. We go to Taco Bell, subway, Baja fresh, Café Rio on Taco Tuesday where we get a good deal on their wonderful tacos, Saturday afternoon we have a tradition of going to "In N Out Burger" which to me is always the highlight of our gourmet dining during the week. Sometimes Jo Anne talks me into going to a healthy organic pizza place. I really don't enjoy it and prefer the greasy, cheesy pizzas at Pizza Hut. I know my lunch diet is not really good for me but I don't care. I remember Tommy Lasorda, the former Hall of Fame manager of the Dodgers, was talked into going on a diet one time. He finally gave it up and said "I did lose lots of weight and was looking good, but the thought came to me that all the misery I was going through would culminate at my viewing before my burial where people would come by and say,' My, doesn't he look great' ! I just decided the misery wasn't worth it."
On a typical day we will be home before 5 PM and I will spend a couple of more hours on the computer. I'm usually in my bedroom by 6:30 PM watching the news on TV. We eat dinner between 7 PM and 8 PM most days. My caregiver comes at 8 PM to put me down for the night. I am in bed on my left side so I can watch the TV by 8:30 PM. I will be watching the Lakers or the Dodgers or BYU sports in season or a Turner classic movie. I have sworn off network TV not finding anything virtuous, lovely, praiseworthy, or of good report in most of the programming. Jo Anne and Nathan come in about 11 PM, reposition the bed, get me on my back, give me another bunch of pills with a big drink of water and I am ready for a good night's sleep until 5 AM in the morning.
We also try to go to the Temple once each week, an occasional movie if we can find one worth watching, out to dinner with friends, and we love Sundays being with our good friends, teaching gospel doctrine, and usually giving a patriarchal blessing or doing some home teaching Sunday afternoons. We especially enjoy visiting with our children and grandchildren who fortunately live within an hour of our home.
Now, I'm afraid I have painted such a rosy picture of the life of a quadriplegic on life support that some of you may feel cheated that you haven't been blessed with this great opportunity. I must admit it has a downside as well however, which I won't dwell on and really never think much about.
A while back in our Gospel doctrine class we were discussing the Savior and Peter walking on the water during the storm on the Sea of Galilee. I once heard a minister on a radio program saying that he thought Peter was like a cheap suit. Every time the going got tough he folded. On the Sea of Galilee he sank like a rock and that night in Caiaphas' Palace he denied knowing Jesus. I beg to differ with him. How many of us have ever walked on water? Peter was a man of great faith but it was not fully developed yet. He was momentarily distracted and became very self-conscious I believe when he realized he was actually walking on water. The moment he lost his focus on the Savior his walking on the water was over. Matthew recorded the following: "But when he [Peter] saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me. And immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught him…"[Matthew 14:30-31]
I am convinced that Peter, though his faith faltered in that instance and he was afraid he, never lost faith in Christ. And as he was sinking to his death he cried out, "Lord, save me," and Jesus stretched forth his hand and saved him.
I can identify with Peter. For the better part of 21 years now I have felt I have been "rolling" on water. The burden of paralysis has been made light and because of the Savior and his great , the fix out one thing out of the bottle, neither just one chapter love I have been strengthened spiritually so I have been able to lift up the burden of paralysis with ease and submit cheerfully and with patience to all the will of the Lord. [Mosiah 24:15]
However, there are those moments when I lose focus like Peter did and reflect on what I am doing and what I have been doing for the last 21 years and I begin to sink like a rock and feel for just a second or two that what I have done and am doing, and what Jo Anne has done and said is doing is absolutely impossible. In those rare moments, like Peter, I cry out, "Lord save me," and he does and will continue to do so I believe, as long as I do my part.
And the truth of the matter is that Jo Anne is both "The Work and the Glory," and to me "A Marvelous Work and a Wonder!"


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