When Your life Hangs In The Balance…What Do You Think Of?

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As our Jeep headed over the embankment, our eyes met! I wondered, as I felt the car start to roll, if this would be the last time our eyes would meet in this life? Was this the way life would end, for me, for my wife, for us both?” (November 21, 2010)

We had just stopped to gas up off Interstate 80 just outside of North Platte, Nebraska. The temperature was around 32 degrees with early morning fog on the ground. My wife and I headed back out on the interstate as dawn was breaking. We had driven only a short distance on the flat straight highway before we came to a bridge. The bridge was no more than 50 yards long. My wife and I were holding a pleasant conversation when all of a sudden, the Jeep I was driving went into a tailspin. Before I knew what was happening the car was sinning out of control. It happened so fast that I didn’t really have time to process the reason I had lost control of my vehicle. I just knew I had. Later, I learned we had hit black ice on the roadway. But as we crossed the bridge and started, backward down an embankment into the unknown, I could feel the Jeep start to roll, and it was at that moment that I looked over at my wife of 32 plus years at the time, and our eyes met. It was for just a spit second. But that exchanged glance will be forever emblazoned in my mind. As the car started to roll, and as our eyes met, I was thinking, “I love her. Is this the end?” Then, in an instant, we went over the embankment. I don’t know how long we were spinning. It couldn’t have been more than a few seconds. I was holding onto the steering wheel for dear life. I was stomping on the brakes to try and stop our decent into the abyss! We finally came to a stop after going about a hundred yards off the highway. We had gone down the embankment, through a fence, missed a couple of trees and ended up facing back towards whence we came. Somehow we didn’t end up rolling. I looked over at my wife; she was fine. Fortunately, we sustained no injuries!

The longer I live the more I learn how fragile this life really is! Over the years the loss of loved ones is a reminder to me of just how “temporary” our state is here on earth. There are no guarantees in this life as to the time we have on earth. I am reminded of the words of the Savior regarding the temporary nature of this life.

“…Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided? So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God. (Luke 12:20-21).

As I went over the embankment that morning, it could have been my time. In a moment, all that I had ever done on this earth could have come to a close. Would I have been happy about that? Would I have been satisfied in making an account of what I had done with my time? Would I have left things “undone”? Would I have left with things “unsaid”? Would I….? My “over the embankment” experience, has given me pause to ponder and consider how quickly my life can end and the meaning of not only life, but of my life! What did I think of in when my life hung in the balance? It was the love of my wife! Since then, the Savior’s sacrifice has taken on a deeper meaning because I never want to lose her. Not then, not now, not ever! It’s something I have pondered on everyday since!

The Church Of The Unknown Soldiers

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If you visit Arlington National Cemetery you would find in the center of it, one of Arlington’s most popular sites, “The Tomb of the Unknowns”. The tomb contains the remains of unknown American soldiers from World War I, II and from the Korean Conflict. It is a place of great reverence. I have visited it several times during my life. The tomb is guarded twenty-four hours a day, three hundred and sixty-five days a year by the 3rd United States Infantry. It is a place where solitude is a natural by-product of its hallowed ground. The tomb stands as a reminder to us all of the sacrifices given for the freedoms we enjoy. It is a gift given by people who shall forever remain nameless. I recall visiting this tomb when I was a boy. I was struck by the formality of the uniformed white-gloved soldiers who watch over it. I was forever impressed by the changing of the guard. How dignified both soldiers looked as they made the exchange. It is no less impressive when I visited the tomb as an adult. I always left with a sense of appreciation for those “unknowns” who had so valiantly given their lives so that I might better enjoy mine.

Over the course of my life, I have seen many individuals give of their life in service so that others might benefit. It has not only been on the battlefields in distance lands, but in the halls of the different congregations I have attended where I have resided. I have seen dutiful servants of God, both men and women, go about the tasks and assignments that are most thankless. Without any recognition, they labor faithfully, day after day, year after year. They are the army of God! Some callings are visible and those that serve in them get recognized for their wonderful service. But most callings in the churches are fulfilled with little fanfare. For this reason, I think the buildings in which we worship could be called “the church of the unknowns”. It is true that service to the Lord should be given without thought for appreciation or reward, yet I believe that it is important for all members to not only be grateful to their fellow workers, but also to express that gratitude to them. So often we “think to thank”, but don’t “act to thank”.

My life has often been touched by others kind spoken words and small acts of gratitude. Notes, words of encouragement and appreciation have lifted me up in times of trial. Many years ago, I sent a baseball card to a fellow church member of a player whose style of play and photograph was symbolic of a tough time he was going through.  It was meant to convey my respect and give encouragement. A number of years later my mother passed away and I was now going through a difficult time.  A letter arrived in the mail and enclosed was the same baseball card with a note of encouragement and sympathy from this same brother.  I need not tell you that my heart swelled with joy knowing that he remembered me in my time of need.  I have never forgotten the thoughtfulness of that man. The monetary value of this card is little but the sentimental value is priceless. I treasure it and pull it out from time to time. It always brings a smile to my face and warm feeling to my heart.  I am reminded of a story told by Thomas Monson a number of years ago.

“The story is told of a group of men who were talking about people who had influenced their lives and for whom they were grateful. One man thought of a high school teacher who had introduced him to Tennyson. He decided to write and thank her. In time, written in a feeble scrawl, came the teacher’s reply:

“My Dear Willie:

I can’t tell you how much your note meant to me. I am in my 80’s, living alone in a small room, cooking my own meals, lonely and like the last leaf lingering behind. You will be interested to know that I taught school for 50 years, and yours is the first note of appreciation I have ever received. It came on a blue, cold morning, and it cheered me as nothing has for years.” President Monson concluded, “We owe an eternal debt of gratitude to all of those, past and present, who have given so much of themselves that we might have so much ourselves”. (“The Profound Power of Gratitude,” Ensign, Sep 2005).

It is good to work together in the “tomb of the unknowns” where service is rendered from the heart and not for the glory of man. Like the Sentinels at Arlington, it is also our charge to show respect to all the “unknowns” and there are many found in our buildings.  It is only proper to express such honor to those that labor in obscurity so diligently to bless our lives.  A small note of appreciation to them might be in order because, they are “known” to us.  Perhaps such a note will arrive on a “blue, cold morning” for them which will “cheer” them up and lift them from their feelings of being alone, unknown and forgotten.  It might lift them from the darkness of the tomb to the light of a new day.  Who knows the good that can come of it!

May We Search The Crowd For ‘His’ Face

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I once sat on the stand and listened to a young man give a talk across the pulpit to the congregation in our church. He did an outstanding job. On occasion, I noted that he would stammer and appear as if he lost his train of thought. The first time he did so, I noted that he calmly, but quickly was able to get his remarks back on track. When he appeared to falter later on in his talk, I noted that his father, who was in the audience, was silently mouthing the words to his talk and that the son would look over at him when he needed help. I watched for the rest of the talk as the father helped his son make it successfully through, what for most, is a very stressful event in their life; public speaking.

As the son sat down, I saw the relief in the father’s eyes and the joy on his face as he watched his son successfully deliver his talk. I glanced over at the son who was now seated and saw a quick exchange of love passed from the son to the father through a smile. I was touched by the whole scene and thought how wonderful it was that the father was there for his son in his time of need. His ‘behind the scenes’ work had helped his son feel the joy that comes from a job ‘well-done!’ But more importantly, I imagine that the son will never forget the love his father showed to him by silently supporting him through that discourse.

I couldn’t help but parallel how our Heavenly Father does the same for us when times get rough. I imagine that He, like all Fathers, desires for us the best, and that we each have success in our earthly endeavors. I know He exists and is there when we need him. However, like all children, we need to ‘look’ to him for help and then follow the promptings that he gives to us. It does us no good to have a Heavenly Father if we do not know He is there and we are not searching for His face.

May we search the crowd for the face that we should all recognize. May we heed the ‘still small voice’ as it prompts us throughout this life, leading and guiding us to do what is right. And upon doing so, may we give thanks to Him and acknowledge His hand in all things.

A Lesson About Heaven And Hell From ‘The Twilight Zone’

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As I grew up in the 1960’s and 70’s the emergence of television, with its powerful medium of communication, was just starting to exercise its influence on the culture of our country.  One show from my childhood that I vividly remember was “The Twilight Zone.”  You wouldn’t think that a TV show could have spiritual undertones,  but several episodes that stayed in my mind are those that later tied into gospel themes.

One such episode told the story of a petty thief who had lived a life of crime. The opening scene showed him robbing someone and then being shot as he tried to escape. He then died in the street. The next scene showed him in the afterlife as a “guardian angel” attended to his every need. The thief was so excited because everything he did in his new life turned out wonderful. It showed him gambling on the tables. He won every time. He bet on the horses; every horse he bet on won. He played pool, took one shot and every ball went into the pockets. At the request of his “angel” he asked for and received beautiful women on his arms. He was given everything he wanted to eat. The thief couldn’t understand how he could end up in such a great place. He questioned the angel about it seeing as he didn’t recall doing anything good in his life.  The angel took out a file on him, kind of like “The Book of Life” mentioned in the scriptures.  Everything the angel read was negative.  His “book of life”  was full of the bad things that he had done. The thief scratched his head and wondered how he had ended up in heaven. But, he didn’t care. He just smiled and went on living the “high life”, but after a while this new life became boring and irritating to the thief.  His temper started to rise and he became angry at the “guardian angel”. He complained in an angry voice to the angel:

“It isn’t fun to win every time at everything; nor to have anything I want at my whim”. He then continued:

“I think a mistake has been made. I don’t know how I ended up in such a great place. I don’t much like it here.  I think I should be in the other place. You know where I mean!”  The angel gave him a devious look and said: “I don’t think you understand. You ARE in that place!” It was then revealed that the “supposed” angel was really the devil. The episode ended with the resounding laugh of the devil in the background as the camera panned to the horrified look on the face of the thief.

“For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things. If not so… righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor bad. Wherefore, all things must needs be a compound in one; wherefore, if it should be one body it must needs remain as dead, having no life neither death, nor corruption nor incorruption, happiness nor misery, neither sense nor insensibility…And to bring about his eternal purposes in the end of man, after he had created our first parents… it must needs be that there was an opposition; even the forbidden fruit in opposition to the tree of life; the one being sweet and the other bitter. (2 Nephi 2:11, 15).

And so, when the rains descend upon us or during the stormy times of life, remember, opposition is needed and is eternal. Without it, we could not know the good as there would be no evil. Like the thief from “The Twilight Zone” episode, we would soon tire of the sunshine because we wouldn’t know that rain existed!

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