Saturday, December 22, 2012

Who Is Andy Williams?

A few nights ago, my self-proclaimed, favorite son-in-law, Nathan Brown was putting me down for the night. Nathan is a very patient, caring and good caregiver. He has actually earned his Dr. of Quad Abuse Degree. The only other person to have achieved such a lofty and coveted degree in caregiving and quad abuse is Jo Anne. You really wouldn't want me to reveal the curriculum and hands-on work required to achieve such a demanding degree. He gets me into bed most nights which is not a small job! I do appreciate it!

One evening, a while back, we were watching and listening to the TV while Nathan was working on me. A commercial came on, featuring the voice of Andy Williams singing, "It's the most wonderful time of the year…" I asked Nathan if he knew who was singing that song. He told me he had no idea, but that whoever it was, he had a pretty good voice. I agreed! Nathan has a very good voice as well, and so I thought this was quite a compliment he was paying to this vocalist. I told him it was Andy Williams, and asked him if he knew who Andy Williams was. He said he didn't have a clue, and that he had never heard of him before. I couldn't believe it. I tried to explain to him how Andy Williams helped make the Osmonds as famous as they were, and how wonderful his Christmas specials always were, and that there was even a large theater in Branson, Missouri named after him. I could tell it was not registering. Then I asked Nathan, if he knew who Perry Como was. Again, he said he had never heard of the man. I couldn't believe it! To me, Perry Como was the greatest, and his Christmas specials always seemed to capture the essence of the Christmas season. I didn't have the heart to ask him if he knew who Bing Crosby was. In his defense he kind of knew who Nat King Cole was, for which I was grateful.

The next morning, Chris Anthony came over to help get me up for the day. He comes over five mornings each week. He helps Jo Anne give me my range of motion exercises, helps dress me in the outfit for the day, and then helps to get me into my wheelchair. Chris is about Nathan's age, late 20s, and married with a little two-year-old son named Jacob. Chris seems to know a little bit about almost everything, and I truly enjoy his morning visits, and conversations about a variety of subjects. So, with great anticipation and confidence. I said, "Chris, do you know who Andy Williams is?"

I must preface his answer by telling you that when my grandson, Garret Stratford recently received his mission call to Antofagasta, Chile, not one of the family knew where it was or anything about it. The morning following Garret's receiving his call, I asked Chris if he knew where Antofagasta, Chile was, and he was able to tell me everything about it! Chris is a kind of walking Wikipedia, so I had great confidence he would know who Andy Williams was. After I posed the question to him, there was a brief silence, which is unusual for Chris, and then he finally said, in a kind of apologetic tone, "I've never heard of him!!" Grasping at straws, I hopefully blurted out, "I'll bet you know who Perry Como is!" I got a blank stare, and of course, the words, "I've never heard of him."

Later that morning I was telling Jo Anne about my conversations with Nathan and Chris. She reminded me that I was 74, and that these boys were in their 20s and that I should cut them some slack. She told me they could probably give me the names of about 100 modern-day singers and performers, and that I wouldn't have a clue who they were. I told her she was undoubtedly right, but that these modern-day performers weren't in the same class with Andy Williams or Perry Como!

Maybe some of you older senior citizens can identify with me. I keep forgetting I am 74, and that there truly is quite a generation gap between 20-year-olds and 70-year-olds. Our taste in music constantly reminds me of that fact. I was tempted to ask these boys if they knew who Robert Goulet was. They probably do, I hope, but I was too discouraged to ask them.

In our Van we have a contraption that will let you load six Compaq Discs in it. Two of the CDs are never taken out or changed. One of them is "The Best of Robert Goulet." When Robert Goulet begins to sing "Hello Dolly," or, "Mame," or "Life Is a Cabaret Old Chum," or "On a Clear Day," or "If I Ruled the World," or "There but for You Go I," or "To Dream the Impossible Dream," etc., it is like someone is scratching my back – although, I can hardly remember how that feels, but if my memory serves me right, it feels pretty darn good. Thankfully, Jo Anne shares my love for the voice of Robert Goulet! I'm thinking we shouldn't forget, or worse yet, never have known the Andy Williams, Perry Comos, or Robert Goulets of the world. Of course, not everyone would agree with that last statement, even though it is true.

The other CD that doesn't ever leave my CD player is entitled, "Songs of the West," sung by the male portion of the Norman Luboff choir. I hate to report that Jo Anne does not share my love or enthusiasm for this CD for some reason. She tolerates it, however, and I love her for being such a good sport. When these men, in their rich male voices, begin singing,"Oh, bury me on, the lone Prairie, where the coyotes howl, and the wind blows free… So when I die, you can bury me,' neath the Western skies, on the lone Prairie!"

Well, those lyrics stack up really well, in my mind anyway, with anything Shakespeare wrote. I always get a little misty eyed, when I hear that song and another favorite, which is,"I'm a Poor Lonesome Cowboy, and a long way from home. I ain't got no father, I ain't got no mother, no sister or no brother, to ride the range with me…" I know Jo Anne is probably thinking as she watches me listen to this great classical music, "How did I ever end up with this guy? What must I have done wrong in the pre-mortal life to have deserved this?"

You may not believe it, after what I have written above, but it is probably okay- in the eternal scheme of things- to not know who Andy Williams is, or not to really enjoy the "Songs of the West." There are some individuals that we must never forget, however. That is one of the main reasons that the scriptures have been preserved over the centuries, that we might be reminded of great men and women of faith, courage, and their love for and commitment to the Lord.

One of the "tender mercies," the Lord has given to me was when I began teaching Institute of Religion classes in the Los Angeles area in 1970. I was 31 or 32 at the time. One of the courses I chose to teach was Presidents of the Church. We were to study the lives and teachings of all of the prophets of this dispensation, beginning with Joseph Smith, up to and including the modern-day prophet. The lesson manual was very meager, but thanks to Paul King, a fellow Institute teacher, who had done a great deal of research on the Presidents of the Church, had created his own lesson manual which he eagerly and willingly shared with me. With that as a resource, I went forward to teach the class. I also began to do my own research, reading every biography available on each prophet, and in doing so, began to love and appreciate these great men more than I ever had before. A fire was kindled inside me to learn all I could about these prophets, whom I consider to be some of the greatest men who have ever lived.

We had three little children at the time, ranging in age from about 7 to 3. Every evening as we sat around the dinner table, I would tell them stories from the lives of the prophets. At the end of each set of stories, they would make me give them the previews or scenes (having picked this up from watching TV) for the next dinner' s set of stories. They were like little sponges, and eagerly soaked up these stories of faith, courage and goodness from the lives of the prophets. I like to think these evenings around the dinner table have had a lasting effect for good upon these three older children. I believe they have.

It's okay to forget, or to not have known, Andy Williams, Perry Como, or even Robert Goulet, but how tragic to forget or to have never really come to know the great men and women of the Scriptures as well as the prophets of this dispensation.

Little did I know at the time I was doing it, how my study of the Presidents of the Church would be such a blessing later in my life. When I had my body surfing accident at Laguna Beach, California, in August, 1989, three of the modern-day Prophets became very important to me.

Because of their continuing health problems from which they were never released in mortality, I came to identify and draw strength from the examples of George Albert Smith, and Spencer W. Kimball.

Because of his poor eyesight for most of his life, and his struggle with frequent bouts of depression, even while serving President of the Church, I learned much from George Albert Smith. Spencer W. Kimball's medical chart must have looked like a small set of encyclopedias. Most of his life, he suffered with bad health and physical challenges. Neither he nor George Albert Smith however, ever gave up or gave in. They had enormous faith in Christ and were totally committed to their apostolic callings and missions. They both endured well to the end, never being cured of their ill health and physical challenges. As I came to realize that there would be no clean, quick and done cure for my severed spinal cord, their examples became extremely important to me and I drew strength from their faith in, and commitment to, Christ. Their unquenchable desire to magnify their callings and build the Kingdom of God, come what may, gave me the desire to try to follow their examples.

Who was the third prophet that had great impact on my life after my accident?

We had living in our stake at the time of my injury, a very gifted artist by the name of Diane Pope Williams. She wanted to do something for me and as she prayed she felt impressed to paint a portrait of Lorenzo Snow. She completed it, brought it to the rehabilitation hospital, where I would spend the next six months, and told me she didn't know why she had painted Lorenzo Snow for me, but here it was, and she hoped I would enjoy it.

I was grateful that I was able to tell her why she was directed to paint the portrait of Lorenzo Snow for me. Over the years I had become very impressed with this great and spiritual man. His patriarchal blessing said that his faith would be similar to the faith of the Brother of Jared. I believe it was!

As he and President Wilford Woodruff grew older, he fervently prayed that President Woodruff would outlive him so that he would never have to bear the burden of being President of the Church, although he also prayed that he was more than willing to accept and do the will of the Lord. When he received a telegram from San Francisco that Wilford Woodruff had passed away in that city, he immediately went into the Salt Lake Temple to a special room to pray and to seek the assurance, confirmation, and comfort from the Lord that he indeed was to be the next Seer, and Revelator, to preside over the Church.

Lorenzo Snow's granddaughter, Allie Young Pond, writes about what happened next in her journal. "One evening while I was visiting Grandpa Snow in his room in the Salt Lake Temple, I remained until the door keepers had gone and the night-watchmen had not yet come in, so grandpa said he would take me to the main front entrance and let me out that way. He got his bunch of keys from his dresser. After we left his room and while we were still in the large corridor leading into the celestial room, I was walking several steps ahead of grandpa when he stopped me and said: "'Wait a moment, Allie. I want to tell you something. It was right here that the Lord Jesus Christ appeared to me at the time of the death of President Woodruff. He instructed me to go right ahead and reorganize the First Presidency of the Church at once and not wait as had been done after the death of the previous presidents, and that I was to succeed President Woodruff.' "'He stood right here, about three feet above the floor. It looked as though he stood on a plate of solid gold.'
"Grandpa told me what a glorious personage the Savior is and described His hands, feet, countenance and beautiful White Robes, all of which were of such a glory of whiteness and brilliance that they defy description." [From the Journal of Allie Young Pond]

I knew I would need his kind of faith to endure what had happened to me. Of course, never being able to approach his level of faith, his example nonetheless has inspired me over the years. As the great poet Robert Browning so beautifully wrote, "If a man's reach does not exceed his grasp, what is a heaven for?"

Diane brought the painting to the rehabilitation hospital in a plastic cover which was attached to the door of a cabinet which was about 3 feet from the left side of my bed. Many hours during the day and at night when I was on that side, I would look up at Lorenzo Snow and see his beautiful, loving, benevolent and faith filled eyes looking down at me. It was extremely comforting then, and continues to be so now. We brought the painting home, had it matted and framed, and for 23 years it has hung in my office. I still find it inspiring. I gain strength from looking at Lorenzo Snow, and wanting to try to be more like him and the Brother of Jared.

Of course, there is one we must never forget – Jesus the Christ. So important is it to each one of us to remember him that each Sunday we renew a sacred covenant, "to always remember him, to be willing to take his name upon us, and to keep his Commandments.

President Kimball referred to the Scriptures, and especially the Book of Mormon, as our Books of Remembrance. He referred to Helaman 5 as one of the great chapters in all of Scripture where the word "remember," or a derivative thereof is used multiple times. And what did Helaman want his two boys, Nephi and Lehi, to remember above all else?

"And now, my sons, remember, remember that it is upon the arock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your bfoundation; that when the devil shall send forth his mighty winds, yea, his shafts in the whirlwind, yea, when all his hail and his mighty cstorm shall beat upon you, it shall have no power over you to drag you down to the gulf of misery and endless wo, because of the rock upon which ye are built, which is a sure foundation, a foundation whereon if men build they cannot fall." [Helaman 5:12]

Who is Andy Williams? Truthfully, it doesn't matter the least little bit!


Editors Note: According to computer operating system file date/time stamps, this observation was last updated on December 22, 2012, (just days before Jack died) after the last blog entry entitled "The Way Out is the Way through" was published on Jack's blog several months earlier on October 5th. However, this observation was not published on Jack's blog until December 2015.

Monday, October 29, 2012


Several weeks ago Jo Anne's youngest sister Debbie was here visiting before going off on a trip with her sisters. She had invited her four sisters to spend seven days in a beautiful timeshare resort with her in Hawaii. For some reason I was not invited to go along. Jo Anne insisted that she still had a really good time in spite of the fact I wasn't there with her. I still can't figure that one out – can you help me?

While Debbie was here, we were driving around in our van and started talking to her about how we were beginning to shop around for burial plots and coffins. Jo Anne usually has coupons for most everything, but as she searched expectantly through her stash of coupons, sadly there were no deals on burial plots or coffins. Maybe there would be some better buys around Halloween – I'm not sure.

As we were talking about burial plots, coffins, and headstones, Debbie said she had the perfect epithet for my headstone. It would read, "Here Lies Jack-In-The-Box." You can only imagine what would be served by the Relief Society at the post funeral service luncheon.
We had a good laugh at the "Jack-In-The-Box" epithet. It reminded me of some of my favorite humorous headstones I have run across in my own reading. I don't spend much time visiting and roaming about graveyards.
"Here lies Johnny Yeast/
Pardon me For not rising."
Or "Here lies the body of Jonathan Blake/ Stepped on the gas Instead of the brake."
And then from a lawyer in England – "Sir John Strange/ Here lies an honest lawyer and that is Strange."

 Well, I hope you don't think badly of me having a little fun with death and burial plots, headstones, and impending coffins. I must admit however, that as I get older, I think more about death than I used to as a 40-year-old. Can any of you identify? Also, having lived for 23+ years on life support has made me realize how fragile life is and how quickly mortality can end. As most of you know, there have been at least 10 times that my life support system has failed me over the years. Each time I could have departed from mortality and entered the World of Spirits. For some reason I have been rejected each time, which has been hard on my self-esteem, making me feel that I must be some kind of spiritual reject. However, a delayed exit from mortality is more appealing to the natural man in me than an early entrance into the World of Spirits. I guess I have some apprehension, having never visited there. Maybe all of us fear the unknown just a little bit.

I know however, in spite of the humor recorded above, that death can be very sobering and can even test our faith when it strikes someone who is very close to us. When I was 32 years old, married, and the father of three little children, my dad suddenly and unexpectedly passed away while undergoing what we all thought was going to be a "slamdunk" repair of a valve in his heart. He was only 62 when he passed away in April, 1970.

For me it was my moment of truth with the truthfulness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Here I was, a returned missionary, married in the temple, serving as an elders quorum president, working full-time for the Church Education System, and I must admit I was surprisingly shaken by my dad's passing. We were very close, and the thought of never seeing him again was, quite frankly, more than I thought I could endure. I had taught the Atonement of Christ and "The Great Plan of Happiness" many times through the years as a missionary, as well as a seminary teacher, and I thought I believed it to be true with all my heart. However, all of a sudden it was my dad, and was there truly a Spirit World, and a resurrection, and are families actually able to be together forever? During the week preceding the funeral service and during the service itself, my questions were answered in such a profound way, I have never doubted since that time the reality of the sealing power of the priesthood. I will just say that I simply was immersed in the Spirit and knew then, as I know now, that these special and sacred relationships we have with loved ones in mortality extend on into the eternities. For me, everything that means anything is centered in the temple and the ordinances and covenants entered into in that sacred setting.

I think I have been prompted to write what I have at this particular time, because of the deaths of four individuals who lived in our area, all occurring within a two week period. Two of those who passed on were older; in fact I was honored to have been asked to speak at the service of a wonderful 90-year-old man who we had known for about 40 years. The other two who passed were much younger, in their 40s. Death, of course, can and does come at any age. The thing that impressed me so much as I attended these funeral services, one after the other, was how well the families were dealing with the lengthy separation death inevitably brings with it. I saw tears being shed, but not tears of anguish or hopelessness. These families had faith in the Savior, and in his infinite love and Atonement for each one of us, and in the sacred ordinances and covenants entered into in holy temples.

Loved ones will be missed by family and friends, but there is no need to mourn. Tears are appropriate at times like these however, but as the Lord has revealed to us:"Thou shalt live together in love, insomuch that thou shalt weep for the loss of them that die…And it shall come to pass that those that die in me shall not taste of death, for it shall be sweet unto them." [D&C 42:45-46]

As I contemplate my own mortality and my inevitable journey into eternity – someone once said birth is a terminal disease – I have taken comfort in the scriptural references cited below from the Book of Mormon in which Alma teaches his wayward son, Corianton, the truth and reality regarding The Spirit World and of a literal resurrection. (Alma 40:11-12; Alma 40:45-46). These scriptures fill me with a "perfect brightness of hope" regarding my future journey into the World of Spirits, and ultimately of receiving a glorified, perfected body.

I also have found the words of Victor Hugo, the author of Les Miserables, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, as well as many other less known works very inspirational and worth pondering, as we think of death that will inevitably visit each one of us and those we love. By the Way, Victor Hugo had little love for the organized religions of his day (born 1802, died 1885 in Paris, France), which makes his words that much more meaningful to me. I believe it captures a universal desire and yearning in the hearts of all of Heavenly Father's children, regardless of their religious persuasion, culture, or nationality.
"It is nothing to die. It is frightful not to live."
"I feel within me that in my future life. … I shall most certainly rise toward the heavens. … The nearer my approach to the end, the plainer is the sound of immortal symphonies of worlds which invite me.… When I go to the grave I can say, as others have said, "My day's work is done." But I cannot say, "My life is done." My work will recommence the next morning. The tomb is not a blind alley; it is a thoroughfare. It closes upon the twilight, but opens upon the dawn." (Victor Hugo)


Editors Note: According to computer operating system file date/time stamps, this observation was last updated on October 29, 2012, after the last blog entry entitled "The Way Out is the Way through" was published on Jack's blog several weeks earlier on October 5th. However, this observation was not published on Jack's blog until December 2015.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

The Way out Is the Way through

In the 60s I was given the opportunity to accept an assignment by the Church Education System to teach seminary full-time at the Utah State Industrial School, in Ogden, Utah. The Utah State Industrial School was in reality a coed prison for disturbed juveniles. At that time in the state of Utah it was the last effort the state would make to help teenagers who had committed serious crimes against society or who were self-destructing through addictive behavior of one kind or another. These young people had been in and out of foster homes, and juvenile detention centers, with the Industrial School being the last step prior to becoming legal adults, at which time far too many of them would suffer violent deaths or end up being incarcerated in the state penitentiary at the Point of the Mountain located between Salt Lake City and Provo.

I had heard from those who had taught at the Industrial School Seminary how challenging it could be. I felt however, I should accept the assignment which I reluctantly did. In retrospect, it was a life altering experience for me. I shudder to think what I would have missed out on had I not had this incredible growth experience as a young teacher.

I was fortunate to be assigned to teach with Charlie Beckert. He was very gifted in working with these disturbed kids and was a valuable mentor in helping me get over the culture shock I experienced as I began my three years teaching seminary in this new environment. Charlie had taught there several years before I arrived, and along with other teachers who had preceded him there, had developed what they called "The Reform School Philosophy." It was a number of precepts or short truthful statements designed to help teachers and students successfully survive this experience. The precept I found most valuable for the students and later in my own life as well, was, "The way out is the way through!"

Most of the students I worked with during my three years at the State Industrial School Seminary were unhappy, depressed, miserable, and very sorry they were in this juvenile prison. They were not sorry for what they had done to get them there, but only sorry that they had been caught. Most would never take ownership for the misery and unhappiness they had brought upon themselves. In their minds, it was always somebody else's fault they had lost their freedom, e.g. parents, teachers, police, judges, etc. In their defense however, I must admit that almost all of them were the products of very dysfunctional parents and families and were not given a very good head start to a decent life. Given any possible opportunity, they would try to escape from the School. It was quite a secure facility but you could run when the opportunity presented itself, if you really wanted to. Each escapee would inevitably be brought back in much worse condition than when they ran, and in most cases would have to begin a new and longer rehabilitation sentence and program. Therefore, we tried to instill in their minds and hearts the truth, "The way out is the way through." The way to freedom was to bite the bullet, and instead of running, accept the fact they had problems, had violated the law, and then work through this challenging time, accepting all the help the State School provided by way of teaching and counseling, so as to once again be "free."

Over the years I have learned that it is much easier to teach great truths and principles than to live them. Most of our students did not internalize the fact that "The way out is the way through." It was hard for me to accept the fact that so few were able to do this. Many years later, because of what happened to me one August day at Laguna Beach, I was given the opportunity to implement this philosophy in my own life. I found that it was easier said than done and caused me to have greater empathy for my juvenile delinquent friends than I had when I was their teacher and counselor.

For the first few years after my accident I tried everything I could do to run from the fact that being a quadriplegic on life support was a permanent condition. The neurosurgeons had told me three days after the accident that I would never get anything back because my spinal cord was not just bruised but was severed – in medical jargon, "a complete injury." I could not admit to myself that I would be in this condition forever. I tried every remedy I could possibly find to cure my paralysis, and of course, none of them worked. I was very discouraged not being able to make any physical progress, and I must admit that my mind and spirit were beginning to become as paralyzed as was my body.

Thankfully, the day finally came that I was able to follow the advice of a good physical therapist friend who told me, "Jack, you must accept about your situation that which you can never change, and then explore and discover every capacity, ability, and talent you have left, and magnify them to the highest degree possible." He was telling me what I had told my juvenile delinquents many years before that the only way out was the way through. The day I was able to admit to myself I would be paralyzed from the neck down and living on life support today, tomorrow, next week, next month, next year, and as long as the Lord permitted me to live, was the day I began to work my way out of depression, despondency, despair, and abject misery.

As I have looked for a manifestation of this principle in the Scriptures I have found it operative in the lives of many down through the ages. Two of the most obvious are Moses and the children of Israel at the Red Sea and Lehi and his family crossing the Arabian Desert and the ocean. In each case their destination was their Promised Land. Neither group could have found their way out of, and through their extremely challenging circumstances, without the "tender mercies" of the Lord and their realizing that the only way out was the way through with HIS HELP.

One manifestation of this principle which is not so dramatic as the two mentioned above, but which I personally can identify with easier, is found in the Book of Mormon. The great Lamanite king, the father of Lamoni, having been taught the gospel by Aaron comes face-to-face with what he must do to have the "wicked spirit" he felt inside him "rooted out of his breast" by coming to know the God of Aaron. At first he is willing to give up all his riches to come to know God, and then his kingdom, but Aaron teaches him that he must do far more than just give up his riches and kingdom – that is not the way out of his sinful state. The king must do much more according to Aaron, who told him "… if thou wilt bow down before God, yea, if thou wilt repent of all thy sins… [then] shalt thou receive the hope which thou hast desired… the king…did prostrate himself upon the earth, and cried mightily, saying…O God, Aaron hath told me that there is a God; and if there is a God, and if thou art God, wilt thou make thyself known unto me, and I will give away all my sins to know thee, and that I may be raised from the dead, and be saved at the last day." [Alma 22:16-17] I believe that the experience of the king must ultimately be the experience of all those who would come to truly know God and come to understand that the way out is the way through – through God. To come to know God, to have "the wicked spirit rooted out of our breasts" requires coming face to face with ourselves and being willing to "give away all of our sins of commission and omission" to come to know God. There is no other way.

Ultimately the way out of the "natural man" condition we all inherit because of the Fall is "through" Christ and his atonement. As Nephi so beautifully taught, "And now behold my beloved brethren, this is the way and there is none other way nor name whereby man can be saved in the kingdom of God…" [2 Nephi 31:21]


"Here Comes Jack…"

Since my accident over 20 years ago now, I seem to dream all through the night. This wasn't the case before my accident. I think it may have to do with the fact that I can't move my body so my mind is often times overly active. One important thing I have learned over the years as I pray before going to sleep is that the Lord will bless me with a deep sleep and beautiful and sweet dreams, and even reveal his will to me for my life, if he would desire to do so. Those prayers have been heard and answered more often than I am sure I deserve.

Several nights ago I had a dream I can't get out of my mind. I believe I learned a great lesson from it. In the dream I was walking, which isn't always the case with me anymore in my dreams. For years in my dreams I was always walking and doing quite nicely without life support. The past several years however, when I dream I normally am in my wheelchair and on life support. In this dream I was approaching a group of three or four men who were about to get into a car and drive away. One of the men I recognized as a dear friend who I had not seen for many years. I can remember how happy I was to see him once again. I actually began to run toward him to embrace him, and then with a little bit of a scowl on his face he muttered under his breath to the men who were with him, "Here comes Jack Rushton, I hope he doesn't take too much of my time!" His words were like a dagger going into my heart. I was just devastated by what he said. He knew I had heard him and he tried to feebly make excuses for what he had said. However, nothing he could say was able to erase the pain and embarrassment his words had caused. I woke up at that point, grateful it was just a dream, but pondering on how it had ended.

I suppose however, that justice was served in the dream. I do believe something I have been trying to overcome for years, and thankfully I am making progress the older I get, is to put people before my personal projects, programs, agenda and timetable. I hate to admit it, but sometimes when people unexpectedly drop in to visit, I have to make a conscious effort to give them my full attention and not secretly inside wish they would go so I could continue on with my "important" project.

The confrontation Jesus had with the rich young man has always pricked my conscience and caused me to do some serious pondering and questioning about my own life. "And, behold, one came and said unto him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life? And he said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the Commandments." [Matthew 19:16-17]. The young man asked, "Which?" Jesus then quoted to him the 10 Commandments. "The young man saith unto him, All these things have I kept from my youth up: what lack I yet? Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me. But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions." [Matthew 19:20- 22]

I don't believe the Savior is telling all of us to give away all of our earthly possessions to the poor and then come follow him. I do believe he is telling us, or at least me anyway, to seriously ask myself the same question the rich young man asked Him, "What lack I yet?" As I have asked that question many times during my lifetime I have received a variety of answers, but I must confess that one of the main things I have lacked over the years is an unwillingness to give of my time as freely as I think I should. Giving money has never been a problem with me, I suppose because I never have had a great deal of it. Had I been blessed with the "small fortune" that Tevia sang and prayed for in "Fiddler on the Roof," perhaps I would've been like the rich young man. But my time? That has always been one of my most precious possessions, and the most difficult to freely give to others. Thankfully I am making some progress in that area of my life.

Of course, Jesus is our example in every aspect of our lives. As a teacher and as a counselor for many years of my life, I have always been impressed by John's record of Jesus teaching the Samaritan woman at Jacob's well as he and his apostles traveled to Galilee through Samaria. It was late spring or early summer and Jesus and his apostles were undoubtedly very thirsty, tired, and hungry. It was 12 PM, the time of day when the sun would be extremely hot in the Middle East, especially at that time of the year. The apostles were sent by the Savior to the nearby village to get something for them to eat. You know the story very well as recorded in John 4:1-26. A single Samaritan woman came to the well to draw water at that time of the day which revealed that she was undoubtedly avoiding the company of the other women in the village who would have come early in the cool of the morning to draw their water. Revealing his prophetic powers to her, he bears witness that he is the Messiah. "The woman saith unto him, I know that Messias cometh, which is called Christ: when he is come, he will tell us all things. Jesus saith unto her, I that speak unto thee am he." [John 4:25-26]

The thing that has always impressed me so much in John's account, beyond Jesus' great object lesson and teaching regarding "living water," is that he would take the time to teach with all his heart and passion, this rather sketchy Samaritan woman of apparently little consequence. Whenever I feel I am "too busy" to give my full time and attention and the best I have to the one or two people I may be visiting with, "especially those viewed as of "little consequence" in our society, I think of the Savior and the Samaritan woman at the well, and I am embarrassed and immediately try to repent.

I suppose it would not be a bad idea on occasion for all of us to, with a sincere heart and real intent, ask Heavenly Father, "What lack I yet?" I am sure the answer will be different for each one of us, and even different at different times in our lives. I believe the challenge, at least for me anyway, is to really listen and then obey.

Yes, I do believe that justice was served in my dream when my good friend said, "Here comes Jack, I hope he doesn't take too much of my time!" Hopefully I will continue to make progress to overcome this weakness, and in my heart of hearts while visiting with another human being, never have the thought come to me, "I hope so and so doesn't take too much of my precious time!"


Sunday, September 16, 2012

"Dad, the Cookies Didn't Turn Out!"

September 16, 2012
"Dad, the Cookies Didn't Turn Out!"

A couple of weeks ago on a Sunday evening, I was in my bedroom waiting to go down for the night. Jackie poked her head through the doorway, and in a matter of fact tone, said, "Dad, the cookies didn't turn out!" Those words went like a dagger into my heart! Now, I have learned to deal with paralysis and living on life support but to not have Jackie's warm chocolate chip cookies with ice cold milk on a Sunday evening is just almost more than I can endure. I consider it to be true adversity and bordering on "Quad Abuse."

Jackie, our youngest daughter, her husband Nathan Brown, and their two daughters, Halley, and Coralee, have been living with us for several years while Nathan completed his BA degree at Cal State Fullerton which he has now accomplished. I'm afraid they will be moving on soon. We will miss Nathan and Jackie, but we really wish they could leave the two little granddaughters behind. They have sort of woven themselves into our heartstrings.

Beginning as a young girl Jackie began to make great chocolate chip cookies. Her skill has only increased with the passage of time. I don't know a lot about many things but I am a connoisseur of chocolate chip cookies. I know when I am eating a superior cookie and Jackie's are gold-medal good. Maybe you can now better understand the pain I felt that Sunday evening.

As I thought about Jackie's statement about the cookies not turning out, and the way it made me feel, I began to contemplate how powerful words are in evoking an entire spectrum of emotions within us, ranging from unhappiness, frustration, fear, terror, despair, and depression, to joy, peace, hope, faith, and etc. We are all either speaking words or hearing words most of our waking hours. There are a few words I can speak to Jo Anne that I am sure are very frustrating or depressing, like, "It's going into extra innings!" Or, "Can you believe it, it's gone into overtime!" I also get the feeling that I am testing her patience a tad, when I call her for the umpteenth time to come and reboot my computer. Jo Anne is not a great sports fan and after one BYU football game several years ago in which both teams scored over 50 points, she commented, "That's an awfully lot of home runs isn't it?" I agreed with her that it certainly was an awfully lot of home runs.

At times, while shopping with her, endlessly going up and down the aisles, I finally get up enough courage to foolishly ask her if she knows what she is looking for. With a frown on her face which communicates to me what a dumb question I have asked, she says "I'm not sure, but when I see it I will know it." This statement always elicits a feeling of hopelessness in my heart. I guess justice is served however, for my "extra innings," and "overtime" statements.

Jo Anne is one of the most creative speakers of the English language that I know. Sales persons in shoe stores get a glazed look on their faces when she announces, "Show me the least inexpensive shoes you have." At a family gathering, I believe a grandchild made quite a profound statement and Jo Anne said, "I believe that is what we call a "Double Nintendo." Her statement continues to live on in the family memory and was the highlight of the evening.

Recently I was reading an article written by Susan Smiley, PhD, about the power of words. One of her ideas I felt to be so very true. "I once read that a word is like a living organism, capable of growing, changing, spreading, and influencing the world in many ways, directly and indirectly through others. I never thought about a word being 'alive' but then I thought of words spoken 3,000 years ago, written down and passed through many generations, and they seem quite alive when read or spoken today, having lived 3,000 years. As I ponder the power of the word to incite and divide, to calm and connect, or to create and effect change, I am ever more cautious in what I say and how I listen to the words around me."

As I read her statement I couldn't help but think of the words of Alma as he left his position as chief judge of the Nephites to go out among his people to hopefully reclaim their souls. "And now, as the preaching of the word had a great tendency to clead the people to do that which was just—yea, it had had more powerful effect upon the minds of the people than the sword, or anything else, which had happened unto them—therefore Alma thought it was expedient that they should try the virtue of the word of God." [Alma 31:5] I thought of how powerful a single word or short sentence of Scripture can be in communicating eternal truths that can create feelings of "awesome wonder," comfort, faith, peace, joy, and even sorrow at times.

For example (and there are literally thousands of course that could be mentioned) what a feeling of gratitude wells up in my heart when I read the brief sentence, "Here am I, send me!" [Abraham 3:27] Never have so few words impacted the lives and destiny of so many. And then I am equally filled with "awesome wonder" and gratitude even while not fully comprehending "… and would that I might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink— Nevertheless, glory be to the Father, and I partook and finished my preparations unto the children of men." [D&C 19:18-19]

There are many one sentence or one line passages of Scripture that have nourished, sustained, and filled me with a "perfect brightness of hope" over the years. I'm sure this is the case also with many of you. Below are just a few that have been such a blessing in my life. "I have learned in whatsoever state I am to be content." (Philippians 4:11) "I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me." (Philippians 4:13) "… Without me ye can do nothing." [John 15:5] "… I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith…" [2 Timothy 4:7] "… Press forward with a steadfastness in Christ… Feasting upon the words of Christ…" [2 Nephi 31:20] "… thine afflictions and adversity shall be but a small moment… And then if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high…" [D&C 121:7-8] "Be patient in afflictions, for thou shalt have many, but endure them, for lo I am with thee, even unto the end of thy days." [D&C 24:8]

By now I have probably worn you out, but the powerful words I have quoted mean everything to me and have helped sustain me through a difficult journey. There are many others as well that have blessed me, but I have probably worn out my welcome by now. Yes, there is great power in words to bless and to even change lives.

If any of you feel so inclined I would enjoy, and I am sure benefit from, some special one-liner or one sentence statements from the Scriptures that have personally impacted your lives. If you have read this far thank you for your patience, love and support for so many years.


Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Least of These II

In the midst of a heated discussion – we never quarrel – Jo Anne has been known to reach over and pull off my air hose for a brief moment or two just as I am about to make my winning argument. My son Mike, the judge, would undoubtedly say this is an obvious case of "Quad Abuse." I have thought on these occasions that maybe this was going to be my "Last Lecture" in mortality.
Years ago at BYU the University sponsored a lecture series entitled "The Last Lecture," which I was fortunate enough to attend. Prominent people in various disciplines and careers were invited to come to the campus and speak to the student body as though it were to be the last public lecture they would ever give.
Many of you have also undoubtedly heard of Randy Pausch, a professor of computer science and human-computer interaction and design at the prestigious Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh. Diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, which would prove to be terminal, he spent the last year or two of his life delivering what he called his "Last Lecture." He eventually had a book published with the same title that became a bestseller. It was a distillation of all he felt was important in his life that he wanted to pass on to his young children, former students and colleagues, and many others as well. He passed away at the relative young age of 48.
I believe "The Last Lecture" concept is most valuable. It has made me think over the years what I would say, especially to my own family, were I to deliver to them my final words regarding what I felt to be most important for me and for them.
As I have thought about this concept, I wondered if the Savior had given a last lecture, and if he had, what last message did He leave with us? What message would capture the essence of his mortal ministry and eternal mission?
I believe the answer to those questions is found in the Gospel of Matthew wherein Matthew records the Savior's last public lecture. Of course we know that Jesus spent some sacred time teaching precious truths to his Apostles during and after the Last Supper, prior to entering the Garden of Gethsemane,
According to Matthew the Savior's last public lecture is recorded in chapter 25 of his Gospel. In this last lecture He taught three parables, all of which pertain to His Second Coming: the Ten Virgins, the Talents, and the Sheep and the Goats. I believe that It is the parable of the Sheep and the Goats that captures the essence of who He is and what he would have us do and become as well.
In the parable, when the king, who is the Savior, returns to judge the nations "…he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left. Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:" [25:33-34]

We all know why the Sheep were called the "blessed of the Father," and would inherit the kingdom prepared for them from "the foundation of the world." They had simply followed the example of Christ in giving selfless service to others –"…Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me." [25:40]

And who were the "least of these?" They were the sick, the hungry, the naked, the thirsty, the stranger, and even those in prison. In one sense we are all strangers, naked, hungry, and thirsty; the "least of His brethren." We all are in desperate need of his infinite love and mercy manifest through the Atonement.
His "last lecture" to us I believe is that the most important thing we can do in our lives is to follow His example of unselfish service. President Monson in addressing the BYU student body recently challenged them by saying, “An attitude of love characterized the mission of the Master, He gave sight to the blind, legs to the crippled, life to the dead. Perhaps when we [face] our Maker, we will not be asked, ‘How many positions did you hold?’ but rather, ‘How many people did you help?’ In reality, you can never love the Lord until you serve Him by serving His people." [From Elder Oaks 2009 April Gen. conference address] 

Our 20-year-old granddaughter, Kelsey Rushton, the son of Rich and Lara, for those of you who know our family, has taken to heart the words and example of the Savior, as well as the counsel and example of a living prophet, seer, and revelator. She, along with 19 other young adults went to Uganda, Africa at the beginning of May to spend four months serving some of the "least of these" in small villages in the rural areas of Uganda. This selfless service undertaking is sponsored by a nonprofit organization called HELP International. It is nondenominational and its sole mission is to provide humanitarian service and aid to some of the least of these our brothers and sisters in Africa and throughout the world. Kelsey and her friends have worked with children in orphanages, have built a health clinic out of mud/adobe bricks they helped to make, and have served the people in these villages in many other ways as well. It should also be noted that they have had the opportunity to river raft and take a short Safari. Kelsey's blog, "Kelsey's summer in Africa," (some of you may want to check it out – very inspirational) is overflowing with gripping pictures and expressions of the joy and fulfillment she is receiving in having this experience of serving others in this way. I know that it will impact her life forever. Parenthetically, her younger brother Trevor, who is a senior in high school this fall, was able to organize and implement an Eagle Scout project which included raising funds and gathering together soccer equipment that he subsequently was able to take to Belize (a country adjacent to Honduras in Central America). He was able to give the equipment, including soccer shoes which are hard to come by in that country, to impoverished young kids, and work with them to improve their soccer skills. I believe that Trevor, like his sister, has experienced the joy of giving selfless service to others. It will have an impact for good on him, and hopefully will just be the beginning of selfless service which he will continue to give in the mission field and throughout his lifetime.

Of course, we don't need to go to Africa or Central America to serve "the least of these." I love what Mother Teresa of Calcutta said about having devoted her life to selflessly serving the poorest of the poor and the very least in their society in India. She taught that “one thing will always secure heaven for us—the acts of charity and kindness with which we have filled our lives. “We can do no great things, “only small things with great love.” [From Elder Oaks April conference address, 2009]
I think of mothers who do countless small things with love for their little babies and children. I believe that these small acts of kindness and charity, which "never faileth," will surely "secure heaven for them." I also think of my wife, family members, and many good friends and caregivers who have done so many small things, and with love, for me over the years. I frequently say I have been kept alive for 23 years, paralyzed and on life support, by love., The nagging thought I have in my mind at times is if a beloved family member or friend were in my situation would I do for them the small things, and with love, that must be done on a daily basis to provide them with the highest quality-of-life possible? I wish I knew the answer to that.
He who lives only unto himself withers and dies, while he who forgets himself in the service of others grows and blossoms in this life and in eternity." [Gordon B. Hinckley]

Thursday, June 28, 2012

"I have no man…[to help me]…"

I was glued to the TV like many of you, I am sure, the evening Nick Wallenda walked a third of a mile across Niagara Falls from the United States side to the Canadian side on a 2 inch steel cable. We may question his sanity risking his life in this way, but there is also, I believe, much to be admired and even learned from his daring feat.

It took two years of intense planning to accomplish his goal. He had trained for most of his life to walk the wire across Niagara Falls. We may question having that kind of goal, but for him it was an important part of his life. It was not just wishful thinking on his part, for along with his dream went meticulous, detailed planning and self-discipline that made the vision and dream a reality.

As I watched him, I was impressed by his calm demeanor and confidence, which I believe came to him through his detailed and profound preparation. And yet at the same time, I sensed his humility and lack of being arrogant and overconfident. I could hardly believe my eyes as I watched what he was doing.

I think the thing that struck a chord with me the most however, is when he was in the midst of the mist with the wind swirling around him, and he was all alone. No man could help him get out of the mist and wind and across the cable to safety.

I know, as many as you also know how frightening it is to realize that you are all alone with no one to help you through your challenging and often times frightening circumstance. It was then I heard him seeking help from the only source available to him on the 2 inch cable, dangerously dangling 20 stories above Niagara Falls. Nick began praying fervently to God and to the Savior to help him get to the other side safely and not let him plunge into the menacing chasm and certain death that lurked below him in the blackness of the night.

What a personal reminder and lesson this heartfelt prayer was to me personally. We really need never feel we are alone if we have faith in a loving Heavenly Father, and in the power of prayer. Sometimes we need to be reminded of this great truth.

Because of my own mobility impaired circumstances, I am attracted to the Savior's healing miracles of those who were paralyzed and crippled. One of my favorite healing miracles took place at the Pool of Bethesda, as recorded by John in chapter 5 of his gospel. A man who had been severely “mobility impaired” for 38 years of his life, was approached by Jesus as he lay by the side of the Pool. The tradition was that an angel had "troubled" the water at some point in time and ever after it would periodically bubble up spontaneously each day. The tradition was that the first person into the Pool after the "troubling" of the water would be healed. Let's read some of John's beautiful account of what transpired: "And a certain man was there, which had an infirmity thirty and eight years. When Jesus saw him and knew that he had been now a long time in that case, he saith unto him, Wilt thou be made whole? The impotent man answered him, Sir, I have no man, when the water is troubled, to put me into the pool: but while I am coming, another steppeth down before me. Jesus saith unto him Rise, take up thy bed, and walk. And immediately the man was made whole, and took up his bed, and walked…" [John 5:5-9]

Several things are important to me in John's account. He saw the crippled man and knew he had been in that condition for a long time. He knows everything! That is comforting to me personally. I like to think he knows I have been in my condition for a long time. He, of course, knew that the paralyzed man wanted to be healed, but that he didn't know how to go about bringing that miracle into his life. The man could only say, "I have no man [to help me into the water so that I can be healed.]" At this time in his life he was totally dependent upon the "arm of flesh." And then comes the great lesson (for me anyway) "Rise, take up thy bed and walk!" The paralyzed man was alone in the sense that no mortal would help him into the water so that he could be healed, so he thought. The Savior taught him, and all of us who have read this account down through the centuries, that we are never really alone. We are not entirely dependent upon others or "the troubling of the waters" to help us through our challenging times, as long as we have faith in our Heavenly Father and in the infinite atonement of His Beloved Son in our behalf.

Thankfully, I learned this important lesson as a young missionary in November, 1958 in a small Mayan Indian village in Guatemala, which was nestled high in the mountains in the middle of a magnificent Ponderosa Pine forest. I went there after spending only one week in the mission home in Salt Lake City. In those days, there was no two months of language training at the MTC. After spending just one night in the mission home in Guatemala City, I was sent to this little village. To say I experienced cultural shock is the understatement of the century. The room in which we lived had no windows and large rats lived within its walls, chirping to each other all night long. I didn't know what they were talking about but it made me feel very uneasy. The cockroaches were huge and as soon as the lights were out you could hear them skittering across the floor and up and down the walls. There were "Moby Fleas" that seemed to be so happy that I had come to Guatemala to visit them. I was terribly homesick and physically sick as well, with the beginning of amoebic dysentery. I had never been that miserable in all my life. My companion was just finishing his 2 1/2 year mission; he would go home within the month, and was not very sympathetic to my puny sufferings. He was the only person in the village that spoke English and he would only speak to me in Spanish. I had never felt so alone.

After about a week, I woke up in the middle of the night, extremely sick, and had to get to the bathroom as quickly as I could. The bathroom was on the other side of our patio. I made a mad dash across the patio to the bathroom, forgetting that a clothesline was strung across the length of the patio. Running as fast as I could, the clothesline caught me across the neck and threw me on my back to the patio's tiled floor. I didn't make it to the bathroom, to say the least! As I lay there on my back staring up into that beautiful moonlit Guatemala sky, I cried out, "If only my dad could see me now, he would send me an airplane ticket so that I could come home. He would never let one of his sons live under these horrible conditions in this miserable village and country!" And then the thought came into my mind that my dad was at least 3000 miles away and couldn't help me. I realized also that no one in the village, not even my companion, could help me either. And so I rolled over onto my hands and knees and offered the most heartfelt prayer I had ever offered up to that time in my life. I needed help! I just couldn't go on this way and I knew it. By the time I cleaned up and got into bed I was a different young man. I didn't see an angel or hear an audible voice, but I was immersed in the Spirit to such an extent that I was filled with peace and the knowledge that I could not just endure one night in Guatemala, but many nights and many years if need be. That night I learned I need never feel again that I was alone!

Through the years, that knowledge has helped me deal with a number of challenging circumstances that have come into my life. The feelings of loneliness and despair I felt when a neurosurgeon gave my family and I his prognosis regarding my future cannot be adequately expressed. He told us that I would never be able to move my body again, breathe again on my own, speak, eat solid food, or live outside a care facility as long as I lived. But I knew because of what had happened to me in November, 1958, in a little Indian village, that as dark and fearsome as the future looked, I knew I was not alone and somehow, with HIS help, my family and I would get through this.

I am convinced that if we have sufficient faith in Christ and the power of prayer we can never truthfully say, "I have no man to help me…"


Friday, May 25, 2012

"Tell Me Something Good"

One of my favorite authors is Charles Dickens. His opening lines in "A Tale of Two Cities," I believe, captures the essence of what most people have experienced from the beginning of time. "It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. It was the season of hope. It was the season of despair. We had everything before us. We had nothing before us."

Life ebbs and flows for all of us. I think the universal challenge we face is while in the midst of those "worst of times," and our "seasons of despair" we all inevitably experience, is to realize it can also be the "best of times," and the "season of hope." It all depends on how we choose to look at and interpret what is going on in our individual lives.

A number of years ago, Barbara Johnson wrote a beautiful little book entitled "Pain Is Inevitable, Misery Is Optional." I believe it was her way of saying what Dickens said in the opening lines of his book. So much depends upon how we choose to look at our life's experiences.

A couple of weeks ago my friend, Larry Barrett, sent me an article written by Michael Jordan Segal. Mike Segal works at a level I Trauma facility trying to encourage the patients who live there, most suffering from serious and life-changing physical, emotional, and mental problems. Mike himself had been shot in the head as a younger man, had been able to recover completely, and has devoted his life since then to lifting and encouraging the patients in the trauma center. Whenever he sees one of the patients, instead of saying hello, or how are you doing, he says "Tell me something good!" One elderly gentleman who was quite far gone looked at Mike when asked that question and in a weak voice said, "Peanut Butter." Mike pushed the gentleman a bit to encourage him to tell him something good about himself. The patient replied, "I want to eat a peanut butter sandwich." He apparently liked peanut butter! Another patient responded to his question by saying, "I woke up."

There is so much wrong with all of us and with the world that I think Mike's question is so very important. I am sure we have all had days when it would take a lot of soul-searching and introspection to come up with an answer to someone who would say to us, "Tell me something good." I was in a rehabilitation hospital a month or so after my accident, flat on my back, and starring up at the acoustical tile on the ceiling and counting the holes. Suddenly my older brother, Darrel, appeared at my bedside and looking down at me said, "Jake, now that you can't do anything, what do you like to do the best?" No, he didn't say, "Tell me something good," but at that time in my recovery the only "something good" I could get out was, "I like to breathe!" My answer was about as profound and insightful as "Peanut Butter," but it was truthful.

The other day I had occasion to be talking to a woman who is having some serious health issues. She is not that old and is really struggling to deal with what is happening to her. During the course of our conversation the thought came to me to try Mike Segal's question on her. I said, "Tell me something good." With a surprised look on her face she thought for just a second and then said, "I can walk." She then began to tell me some other good things about her life. Even if it may have been for just a minute or two, I could tell that her telling me something good made her feel good.

I believe a challenge many of us face is to be able to tell ourselves something good about ourselves. Most of us are painfully aware of our weaknesses and most nauseating characteristics. Especially in our individual seasons of despair, we need to look for something good.

I believe this is why I love so much being able to give patriarchal blessings. To me, a patriarchal blessing is a gift of love that Heavenly Father desires each of his children to have. In the blessing, he reveals to us who we really are and what our infinite potential is as his sons and daughters. I have been privileged to give blessings to nine-year-olds and 89-year-olds and all ages in between over the years. A wonderful thing happens as I give the blessing. Regardless of their chronological age in mortality, they are seen and blessed in that moment as infinite and eternal sons and daughters of God – they are ageless. The Lord, through patriarchs, truly does "tell us something good."

In our "worst of times," it might be helpful to read our blessings to be reminded of how the Lord sees us. The Scriptures are replete with examples of great men and women, who if asked "tell me something good" in the midst of their difficult and dire circumstances, might like Job, whom I have chosen to represent them all, only be able to say, "I know that my Redeemer liveth!" However dark our circumstances may look to us, when asked, "Tell me something good," if it isn't peanut butter, or just waking up, or walking, or breathing, hopefully like Job or Nephi, the "something good" we should always be able to tell is, "Rejoice, O my heart, and cry unto the Lord, and say: O Lord, I will praise thee forever; yea, my soul will rejoice in thee, my God, and the rock of my salvation." [2 Nephi 4:30]


Friday, May 4, 2012

"Look with Optimism, Work with Faith"

May 4, 2012
"Look with Optimism, Work with Faith"

Over the years I have been blessed by Jo Anne's ability to "look with optimism while working with faith. At times when I may feel that there is no light at the end of the tunnel, and the hurdle before me is simply too high to clear, she seems to always be able to look forward with optimism working hard with unwavering faith to resolve the problem.

I will never forget the night we arrived in Provo for me to speak at Education Week beginning the next day. We had traveled all day from Southern California and it was approaching midnight when we finally pulled into the hotel parking lot. We all were absolutely exhausted from the long trip. We had made arrangements in advance for our medical supply company to deliver a hospital bed to the hotel. The night desk clerk was very sleepy and when we inquired about the bed he had a sickening blank look on his face. He seemed to know nothing about a hospital bed. My heart sank not knowing what we could possibly do without the bed. Jo Anne quickly woke the night clerk up however, I don't think you would want to know how, and he soon found the hospital bed that had been delivered before he came on shift. He got the bed on an elevator and eventually into our room. The bed had some problems – I won't go into detail – but they looked insurmountable to me, and again my heart sank. Within a few moments however, in her nightgown, on hands and knees, with pliers, screwdriver,, and wrenches, she attacked the problem and it was soon resolved. I like to carry that picture of Jo Anne in my mind and in my heart, because to me it captures the essence of her faith, optimism, and practical approach to solving seemingly unsolvable problems. Not only does she look with optimism, she also knows she must WORK with faith.

I am not totally bereft of the qualities of looking with optimism and working with faith, although I don't think I measure up to Jo Anne with regard to those attributes. The Lord has given me many opportunities during my lifetime to exercise my agency to choose to look with optimism and to work with faith when faced with difficulties. I know that all of you have also been given many such opportunities as well. I think it is part of the Lord's tutoring and customized curriculum for each one of us.

A few years ago I developed a bad pressure sore – an infected ulcer – on my bottom. When it was finally discovered, the doctors indicated it would take months for it to heal. The main cure for a pressure sore is not to sit on it which meant I would be in bed, 24/7 for as many months as it would take for the sore to heal. It turned out that it would take almost 8 months for it to properly heal. When I first got the news from the doctors that I would have to stay in bed in order for the pressure sore to heal, I just felt that it was too much. It was hard enough to be paralyzed and not be able to move any part of my body, but now to not even be able to get out of bed was such depressing news I didn't think I could handle it. I was tempted to assume the fetal position, close my eyes, and just lay there in misery with the hopes that soon I could pass on into the Spirit World.  Thankfully, those feelings only lasted a couple of hours.

As I lay there I was reminded of an experience I had on my mission that prepared me, without me realizing it then, to endure and make the most of being paralyzed. After two years in Central America, working most of the time in Guatemala among the Mayan Indians, I became sick with infectious hepatitis. Today I would have been sent home because of the nature of the sickness. I had six months yet to serve, and desperately wanted to complete my mission. My mission president sent me to a private hospital in Guatemala City, the mission had just started to use. Under the expert, loving and competent care of Dr. Herrera I was immediately placed in isolation because I was infectious – no roommate, no TV, just me. Although I didn't realize it at the time, I would be in bed for the next 43 days without my feet ever touching the floor. The doctor lent me a little radio and showed me how to tune in the only classical music station in all of Guatemala I believe. My mission president sent me books to read, including the Scriptures. I prayed, listened to classical music, read constantly, and was blessed with the ability to discipline myself to do so.

The hospital stay was a turning point, not only in my mission but in my life as well. I was blessed to be able to choose to look with optimism and work with faith during those 43 days of total isolation from the world. When I finally left the hospital I had a fire burning within me to teach the gospel. Thankfully, that fire has never been extinguished. The last six months of my mission exceeded anything I could have ever envisioned with regard to teaching opportunities and convert baptisms. Now, many years later as I lay in my hospital bed, paralyzed and unable to move any part of my body, I remembered my Guatemala City hospital experience. I determined that I would make of this experience in bed with an infected pressure sore, a growing and spiritual experience like I was able to do as a young 20-year-old missionary.

My family helped to rig up my laptop computer in such a way that it was positioned above my face so that I could see the monitor, and with my headset and microphone attached to my head, I was able to use my voice recognition software to work on the computer. I would start working about 10 AM every morning and work until around five or 6 PM. I refused to watch TV until after I had completed my work on the computer for the day. It turned out to be one of the most productive times in my life, as a "normal" walking around person, a paralyzed person in a wheelchair, or a paralyzed person in bed. I read the Scriptures, many other good books, researched and wrote numerous observations, and felt very close to the Lord. I learned firsthand once again how important it was for me to exercise my agency to look with optimism and WORK WITH FAITH!

I don't about you, but whenever I happen to watch the news on cable TV or on one of the major networks, this world seems to be so dark, wicked, filled with violence, and desperate people that it can make me depressed. I begin to wonder if there are any good people left, and if there are, where are they, and what are they doing? North Korea and Iran are threatening everybody with the development of nuclear weapons and missiles, terrorists seem to abound, the Middle East is a tinderbox waiting to explode, Afghanistan seems to be going nowhere good, the economy is horrible with unemployment skyrocketing. Will the United and when States suffer more major terrorist attacks? Will these attacks involve us or our loved ones -- and what about the price of gas and the Los Angeles Angels paying Albert Puljos more money than any human being is worth to play the game of baseball, and him, during the first month of the season, not hitting one home run and not hitting the size of his hat! What is this world coming to? Also, in this election year we are being flooded by a tsunami of words from politicians, putting one another down, saying mean-spirited things about one another, and not often in a very civil manner.

In reality though, I suppose our experience today is not much different from the experience of people of almost any age. I suppose the Christians living in Rome during the reign of Nero felt things probably were not so rosy, and then how would it have been to have been a Jew living in Germany or Eastern Europe during World War II? There has always been darkness, wickedness, violence, and perilous times for most people from the beginning of time. Peace and security have been the exception and not the rule.

In my reading of the Scriptures, biographies of great leaders, as well as of history itself, I constantly look for principles of an eternal nature that are common threads woven into the fabric of history and the lives of great men and women. One principle I see in the lives of individuals that I would truly consider to have made a major contribution in building and preserving a free society, where men and women and families are able to worship God according to their desires and beliefs, is that of optimism and WORKING with faith. Throughout history, both scriptural and secular, these character traits have been possessed by great leaders, and been powerful forces in helping them to overcome the pessimism and evil of the world.

I personally believe, for example, Winston Churchill was the savior of the Western world as we know it because of his ability to look with optimism and WORK with faith. The essence of his life I believe can be found in the shortest speech he ever gave. In August of 1941 when things were very dark and there seemed to be little hope of defeating Germany, standing before the student body of the school he attended as a boy he said, "Never, never, never, give up!" Through his indomitable spirit, ability to look with optimism and work with faith in a most desperate time for all of his countrymen, he was able to inspire them with hope and the will to fight on.

I am also very impressed with George Washington. I once read a book about his life which was titled, "George Washington, the Indispensable Man!" As I have studied his life as well as that period of history, he truly was the indispensable man. Without him I doubt this country as we know it would have come into being. Like Winston Churchill, he never gave up in the most adverse circumstances. As badly as things were going for the colonists in 1776, the one constant in all of this adversity was George Washington. He never gave up hope or lost his vision of why they were fighting this war. Through this very difficult time of adversity and affliction however, Washington was learning lessons that coupled with his work ethic and optimism, would ultimately enable him and his citizen Army to prevail over the English. David McCullough, in his final assessment of 1776 and of George Washington, wrote: "Experience had been his great teacher from boyhood and in this his greatest test, he learned steadily from experience... Washington never forgot what was at stake and he never gave up... without Washington's leadership and unrelenting perseverance, the revolution almost certainly would have failed." ("1776", pages 262-263, David McCullough)

Of course, Churchill and Washington's are just the tip of the iceberg of great leaders from the beginning of time who possessed these vital character traits. As you permit your mind to wander through the pages of the Scriptures and history, you will, and of course, have already found great leaders with whom you can identify and desire to emulate. Are our days more difficult than theirs? I believe that regardless of the time in which we happen to occupy our space on this earth that there will always be opposition and hard times which must inevitably be overcome with an attitude of hope, faith, and hard work.

One of the most optimistic people I have observed during my lifetime is the former president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, President Gordon B. Hinckley. We would do well to follow his great example of working with faith perseverance and optimism in these troubled times it is our lot to experience. "There never was a greater time in the history of the world to live upon the earth than this. How grateful every one of us ought to feel for being alive in this wonderful time with all the marvelous blessings we have.…" [Gordon B. Hinckley, Church News, August 14, 1999] "

I see so many good people everywhere—and there’s so much of good in them. And the world is good. Wonderful things are happening in this world. This is the greatest age in the history of the earth.… We have every reason to be optimistic in this world. Tragedy is around, yes. Problems everywhere, yes. … You can’t, you don’t, build out of pessimism or cynicism. You look with optimism, work with faith, and things happen [Gordon B Hinckley, from Ensign, June 1995, 4]. It's good to be alive!


Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Passing of a Great Servant of God

Several weeks ago we received word from our good friends, Ben and Emelia Andoh-Kesson that their good friend, Joseph William "Billy" Johnson had just passed away in a New Jersey hospital with heart problems. He had been in the United States, living with his daughter and her family in New Jersey, to receive the medical help he needed and did not have access to in Ghana, West Africa. We were saddened by this news.

Back in 2006 I wrote an observation about Billy Johnson. While he was visiting his good friends, Ben and Emelia Andoh-Kesson who are from Ghana also, Joseph William "Billy" Johnson came to our home on two different occasions. Brother Johnson was a patriarch in Ghana and was instrumental in bringing the missionaries and the gospel to West Africa. I would like to share with you once again a few things about Brother Johnson that will help you appreciate who he was. I will be liberally quoting from Maureen and Scot Procter who went to Ghana to interview Brother Johnson for Meridian Magazine a few years ago.

"Without priesthood power and direction, without the authorization of the Church, with no hope of receiving the priesthood himself, with no hope for temple blessings, he still felt compelled—even fired from his bone marrow-- to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ. Persecutions didn’t stop him. Disdain only sent him to his knees. The slow grinding of the years when he had ten congregations each bearing the handwritten signs “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” didn’t wear him down. Official letters from Church headquarters telling him that it wasn’t yet time to send missionaries didn’t daunt him. He knew from personal revelation that his “brothers from the West” would come for him, and though he sometimes cried and often prayed all night for courage, when they did come, he had 1,000 people who were ready for baptism..." "In the early 60’s, the Lord’s Spirit certainly began brooding on Africa. Not only did Brother Johnson form his congregations in Ghana, but also in Nigeria unauthorized congregations of Latter-day Saints began sprouting. Here it was that somebody saw an advertisement in The Reader’s Digest, there a friend from Europe sent a tract. Somebody else received a copy of the Book of Mormon. Seemingly unrelated events were coming together to bring a groundswell of interest in what must have seemed like a distant Church. What wasn’t distant was the Spirit which moved upon many people almost simultaneously with a divine orchestration that would someday bring a temple..." "... When we came upon Brother Johnson’s neighborhood nothing seemed remarkable. His home was in a typical African village, but that is where “typical” ended. He was as astounding as you’d expect the founder of a movement against great odds would be, and we felt the impress of his grand spirit as we interviewed him. Had we met someone like this before—ever before? Could Parley P. Pratt been more on fire than this African patriarch who had begged for the Church? We were not surprised when we learned that some of the early missionaries called him the “St. Paul of Ghana.” "... Brother Johnson is a visionary man, a man with significant dreams. God speaks to most of us in quieter tones, yet perhaps on the frontier of the Church, Joseph Johnson needed dreams to sustain and teach him." "Space will not permit a detailed account of how Church literature, the Book of Mormon, and the other standard works came into his hands. Upon receiving them however, the following took place: "He started his studies by reading a tract on Joseph Smith and the first vision, and said he, “I was convinced. I believed. I felt the spirit when I read the story of Joseph Smith, especially how the Father and the Son revealed themselves to him. That moved me a great deal"... He took his studies of the Book of Mormon with equal conviction, pouring over the pages. Then, he said, “One early morning of March 1964 while I was about to get up to prepare for my daily chores, the Spirit of the Lord fell upon me. I heard a voice from heaven speaking to me saying, ‘Johnson, if you will take up my word as I will command you to your people, I will bless you and bless your land.’ Trembling in fear, I replied in tears, saying ‘Lord by thy own help, I will do whatsoever thou would command me.’ "From that day on,” said Brother Johnson, “the Spirit of the Lord constrained me to propagate the restored gospel to my people. I started door to door and performed open missionary work preaching the new message we read from the Book of Mormon.” For the next 14 years Brother Johnson preached the gospel, organized branches of the Church (unauthorized branches, though not discouraged), and President David O. McKay encouraged him to be patient and that one day missionaries would come to Ghana. He had many spiritual experiences that increased his faith and made it possible for him to go forward with the work during this difficult time. Following is one of them. "One night, before the Church had come, he had been weeping for a different reason. He was discouraged and pained, wondering, “Will our brothers from the West ever come for us?” Then in a dream his brother, who had died four years before President Johnson had found the Church, came to him and said, “Do not weep. I have found your Church in this place, and I want to be baptized, but I cannot without your help.” To prove to President Johnson that he spoke the truth he sang for him “Come, Come Ye Saints.” Well, the missionaries came, the Church was officially organized in Ghana and Nigeria, and literally thousands of wonderful Africans have become members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. "On the day of the Ghana temple dedication, Brother Johnson said, “We will always remember what the missionaries have done for us. My heart is burning with love and appreciation. When I started preaching with the Book of Mormon, everyone said, they won’t come. Leave the Church. I said, ‘I know they will come because the Lord has told me."... Patriarch Johnson said, “Temple work is the sweetest part of the Church to which my heart and soul have always clung. I want to meet my mother and father in the resurrection prepared to enter the kingdom of God. “There is a chorus of God’s love inside every member of the Church of today. We can’t express our gratitude for the blessings we have received.”

One Saturday afternoon when Brother Johnson was visiting his friends here in Tustin, Brother Johnson, his sister Bea, and Sister Andoh-Kesson came to our home to visit. Emilia had shown him our video, "It's Good to Be Alive", the night before, and he was anxious to meet a fellow patriarch from the United States, although a paralyzed one. He was not nearly as eager to meet me as I was him. The moment he "sprang" into our living room and ran over to me, I could feel his Spirit of love before he said a word. He couldn't hug me because of the wheelchair, but had he been able to, it would have been a powerful embrace. Jo Anne and I felt the Spirit very strongly as we visited with this incredible human being -- a blend of Paul, Wilford Woodruff, Parley P. Pratt, and Brigham Young -- rolled into one. At one point in the conversation he stood up, placed his hands on my head, and gave me a brief, spontaneous blessing. We knew we were in the presence of a man of God, and a man of incredible faith. We attended the fireside he spoke at the following Sunday evening which was wonderful, and then heard that he wanted to come by our home once again on Monday afternoon. We felt extremely grateful and humbled that he would want to do so. When he entered our home on Monday we again felt his great spirit and soon discovered that the purpose of his visit was to give me a special blessing – not just to visit. He anointed my head with oil, sealed it by the power of the holy Melchizedek priesthood, and gave me a powerful blessing of peace, comfort, well-being, and some things I can't mention. Tears were flowing as I felt the love of Heavenly Father communicated to me through the faith and goodness of this great man. He is a man from another continent, another race, another culture, and almost from another world it seems. A man of God! My pitiful words cannot adequately describe my experience with Patriarch Johnson. Jo Anne thankfully, shared the experience with me, and knows what I am trying to say. As Ammon said, "I cannot say the smallest part which I feel." Hopefully, I will be able to see "Billy" once again in the Spirit World. I am sure he is there preaching the gospel that he loved so much. I hope to be worthy to join him in that work someday.