I once took some private lessons with a man by the name of Terry McCombs (1945-2007). He studied for a time at Universitat Mozarteum in Salzburg, Austria. He showed me a number of photos and told me of his experiences there. I felt and relived many of the experiences he had there. While I was on my mission, he helped prepare an application for me and even had a friend of his come do an interview with me in Manchester, England. In the end, the costs and personal inadequacies lead me to make decisions that took me in other directions away from music altogether. At any rate, when I was in Salzburg, I made a point to stop and visit the Mozarteum. I have thought about the Mozarteum some over the past few weeks and have those “what might have been” thoughts. I don’t know they would have accepted me, and I certainly know it would have been a battle to learn German as well as music. The thought still scares me. But here are the doors which could have been an entirely other world.
With my brother-in-law entering the Missionary Training Center (and now already left for his Carlsbad California Mission) I looked through some of the photos I have from the MTC.
That morning we met with the Stake President to finalize everything before driving out to Provo, Utah, Utah.
One final blessing and setting apart before leaving.
The first picture is at the front doors before going in.
My first companion Elder Kody Young from St. George, Washington, Utah.
Our first snow while at the MTC.
One of my most distinct memories from the MTC was the heating. I don’t know what it was, but I ended up with a bloody nose at least once a day. I was not the only one. Apparently it had something to do with the dryness of the air and the ventilation systems. It made for long days where my head was not always in the lessons but often worrying about the next nosebleed and whether I had tissues nearby. If I had to go to the bathroom, the paper towels only seemed to make the problem worse.
Elder Holland came and spoke to the MTC while we were there. He insisted on the opening hymn as “Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer.” After we sang it, he wanted us to sing it again with the silly extra phrases we all know. It was quite a bit of fun hearing an organ play the introduction and then for us to sing along. It was also in this talk that he told us that if we had to come home before our time was up, we better come home on a stretcher. Even at the end, we should have worn out our days as missionaries. We were so close the the Christmas holidays that we regularly sang Christmas music.
Our MTC District attending the Provo Temple. Four of us were going to England, the remaining ones were headed to Peoria, Illinois. The thing I remember most about the Provo Temple were the white escalators. Years later when I went back, they were gone! I was a bit disappointed not to see the white escalators again.
There were a few things in the MTC that disgusted and horrified me but I will not relate them here. They were not becoming of missionaries and I let them know. There were also plenty of fun and enjoyable times.
Then the five of us were flying off to Manchester, England just in time for Christmas.
Some good friends and family came to see us off.
More friends and family. My Sister, Dad, and Great Aunt Andra and cousin Denise, all came to share. Sadly, my Grandma was told I was leaving from the wrong gate and was not present so I did not get to see her one last time. She made it to the concourse just as the plane was about to leave and they let her send a package on the plane to me. Very good friends to come say goodbye!
Maybe I can start sharing some more photos of the mission as time goes on. I should get out my journals to add some more flavor to these entries than just photos.
I stumbled upon this picture the other day and thought maybe it was time to share it. This picture has an interesting story behind it.
On the far right are John and Rosie Byrom. Rosie is mostly in the shadow so it is difficult to make her out. I served in the Runcord Ward from around December 1999 to around August 2000. John served as Ward Mission Leader and Rosie as a Ward Missionary. (The Byroms have since separated and divorced). I served in the ward for a long time and they remained in their callings for the entire time, so we built a friendship which, I feign to believe, still exists to this day.
I returned home from my mission in December 2000. It was not long into 2001 that I learned the Byroms were planning on visiting Utah. Of course, I invited them to spend some time in Idaho.
During the majority of time I served in Runcorn I had a companion by the name of Brad Hales. Also in our district was a senior sister companionship of Meriel Peterson and Patricia Kleinkopf. We were all native Idahoans and were in close proximity of each other. It was natural that the Byroms also wanted to visit each of them while they were in Idaho.
This particular day we drove to Oakley, Idaho to visit Sister Peterson. We had an enjoyable breakfast and conversation. Sister Peterson decided she wanted to give us the tour of Oakley because there were some architectural gems that she thought the Byroms would enjoy. I grew up near Oakley so I was familiar with many of these local landmarks.
We all piled into my little Camry and away we drove. We had not made it very far driving down some of the streets of Oakley when Sister Peterson announced, “Wait, David is home, he will want to meet you!” She had me turn around and we pulled into a little home in Oakley.
I had no clue who David was and I was not familiar with the home we were now pulling into the driveway. We all exited the car. In the yard there was a man trimming his hedges with a large straw hat and a large set of sunglasses that you only see old people wear.
Since Sister Peterson indicated that David would want to meet the Byroms because they were from England, I remained at the front of my car in the driveway and leaned back against it in the hot, summer, morning sun.
I have to give a little bit of background on the month prior. We are in the latter half of July 2001 at the point of this picture (I recollect it was the 21st, but may be wrong). I had just spent considerable time in Hawaii with family at the beginning of the month. During that time I picked myself up a shirt and a shell necklace among other items. As you can see in the picture, I am wearing my red shirt (not the blatant Hawaiian design you regularly see). For years I thought I was in a pair of board shorts too, but this picture corrects my memory on that tidbit. But I had continuously wore my new puka shell necklace since the trip to Hawaii.
Back to the story, I am leaning on the front of my car watching the Byroms enter the back yard through the hedge and approach this old man in a large straw hat and holding an electric hedge trimmer. The man stopped trimming and turned to greet his trespassers. Curiously, after what was a short couple of moments, probably no more than 20 seconds of conversation, this man leaves the Byroms and Sister Peterson and headed my direction.
My first reaction was that I was doing something wrong so I looked around to see my misstep. Alas, not seeing I had done anything wrong I approached the man and met him near his hedge. He had set down his trimmer before arriving to me and he pulled his hand out of his glove to shake my hand. I shook hands with him and he with his free hand reached up and took of his hat and glasses and asked me my name.
My first thought was something along these lines, “Boy, this David fellow sure looks familiar.” He asked my name and I gave it. He asked about my Ross name and whether or not it was Scottish. I informed him it was my name but not the name of which my ancestors carried. He then informed me that Ross was a common name in Scotland where he had served as a Mission President.
He then grew quiet and he sidled up closer to me and put the hand with the hat and glasses in the small of my back while still holding my other hand in a handshake. He was now close enough that his face was in my shadow (and he was considerably shorter than me). He then broke the handshake and with that hand reached up and touched my puka shell necklace.
“What is this?”
“I am disappointed that you have fallen from the principles of the gospel that we teach as missionaries. We teach than men and women have separate and distinct roles and this is confusing the two.”
My first impression was, “How did you know I served a mission?”
This man then turned to walk away back to the Byroms and Sister Peterson. As he walked away, the thought occurred, “You have just been rebuked by an Apostle.”
Then it dawned. David was David B Haight, one of the twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This was an individual I recognized as a Priesthood Leader and on my first meeting with him, I had been rebuked.
I stood there reeling from what had just happened. It stung. David went to the back door of his house and summoned his wife Ruby. Ruby appeared and they all stood 25 feet away from me chit chatting about England, Scotland, and whatever else they were talking about.
What seemed like an eternity was likely only a minute or so, if that. I remember reaching up and taking the puka shell necklace off and holding it in my hand. I dwelt on what was really an unintended and probably unwanted visit that was a bother to me and this old man. Sister Peterson just commented he was home and a few lines of dialogue just ended up potentially effected my eternities. According to him I was already on the path, so I guess it did not matter what he said except to correct my backsliding ways.
Next thing I knew, the distant conversation between the Haights and Byroms had stopped and this Apostle was returning to me. He again held out his hand as if to invite another handshake. I held out my hand with the necklace in it and he cupped his hand to receive whatever I was offering. I dropped the necklace into his hand and once he realized what it was he let it drop to the ground.
He held out his hand again inviting mine in a handshake and I clasped his. He sidled up close to me again, put his other hand in the small of my back, and was close enough to be in my shadow and that I could smell the salt in his old man sweat, and he continued…
“Where did you serve your mission?” (I remember thinking that was an ironic question since the Byroms were from England, Sister Peterson served in England, and he asked where the fourth member of the party served his mission?)
“England Manchester Mission”
“How long have you been home?”
(After a quick mental tally) “Nine months”
“Elder, you hold the Priesthood. You have a duty to uphold that Priesthood. You should have been married by now.”
He released my hand, pulled his hand from the small of my back, turned, and walked away. Maybe 4 steps later he turned around and said, “When it happens, I want to know about it.”
He returned to a conversation with Ruby, Sister Peterson, and the Byroms.
I stood there while they chatted for a few more minutes. I do not recall hearing anything of the conversation between them, even if I was close enough to have heard.
Rosie had a picture taken of the occasion. Sister Peterson sacrificed herself in the moment to take the photo that now memorializes this occasion.
I shook hands again with Elder David Haight and Sister Ruby Haight and we headed on down the road to see some other homes. I ended up driving many more hours that day to Boise, Idaho City, Stanley, and elsewhere chauffeuring the Byroms through some of the sights of Idaho. Rosie Byrom teased me about the moment the rest of the time I was with them. After all, it is not every day that you get rebuked by an Apostle. I cannot recall if they overheard the conversation or if I told them about it. I cannot imagine that they overheard the conversation due to the close proximity in which David and I spoke that day.
Oddly enough, it weighed on me for a long time. It became the butt of jokes as time went on, especially as David continued to age. He was already over 95 at the time of my meeting him. Roommates and friends would indicate that I better hurry or else I would not fulfill the rest of my duty to let David know when it happened. I will not lie, it became a great story to tell people. People loved to hear about my rebuke by an Apostle.
I regularly tell the story to individuals I am close to and that wear a necklace. Missionaries I worked with I regularly told the story, especially if they wore a necklace. I admit, I never wore a necklace or bracelet of any type since that date. I know a number of missionaries who have “fallen from the principles we teach as missionaries” and forsaken their evil ways. Honestly, I do not know that the story is one that should be heeded by others. But for the deep effect it had upon me at the time and the power in which he spoke to me, I recognize it was for me. Others should be careful about applying revelation of others to themselves. But I do believe there is a principle here that we can learn, I just don’t know that I can very clearly articulate it. I know the principle clearly for me, but don’t know how narrow or general to make it in application to others.
I remember Rosie reminding me that if I properly repent, I would be married within another 9 months. Boy if that did not apply a little pressure!
As a side, I did pick up my little puka shell necklace and ended up giving it to a friend when I returned to Missouri later in August. I don’t believe she has any clue what that little necklace meant to me.
There is more to the story.
On the following Monday, I believe 23 July 2001, I was in Salt Lake City with the Byroms. After an endowment session, Rosie announced we were to go to the Church Administration Building. She did not tell us why and I thought she just wanted to see the sights from the Church Office Building. We walked in the Church Office Building and after Rosie talked to the man at the desk, she said we were in the wrong building and we needed to go to the Church Administration Building. I informed her that the Church Administration Building was not really open to the public. Rosie announced that we had an appointment.
In light of my experience a few days before, I was not really thrilled about our appointment in the Church Administration Building. We walked around to the front door of the Church Administration Building and walked in. As we approached the man at the security desk he asked,
“Are you the Byroms?”
Rosie responded, “Yes.”
“We have been waiting for you.” (Never a very heartwarming phrase, whether the morgue, jail, CIA, bank, or Church Administration Building)
The man then responded, “You will need to leave your bags here, take the elevator to the fourth floor, take a right, and it is the last door on the left. I will let them know you are coming up.”
We entered the elevator and headed to the fourth floor. Rosie then turned and commented to me, “John helped provide security and drive for Elder Ballard while he (Elder Ballard) was in England for the Preston Temple Dedication. He told us that if we were ever in Utah to stop and pay him a visit.”
Suddenly the realization came to me that I was going to visit with my second Apostle in less than a week. I am a fairly laid back guy but felt some apprehension after the experience just days before. We turned the corner and there stood M Russell Ballard in the doorway. He invited us in to his office, introduced us to his secretary, and then ushered us into his office. Across from his desk, I think, there were two nice wing-backed chairs. Another chair was already there for me, or we pulled up a chair. Elder Ballard left the office for a moment and then reappeared pushing a little chair toward me. We were already all seated and he asked,
“Where is your wife?”
“I am not married.”
“Oh, that is something you will have to fix.”
He turned to push the little chair back out the door. I heard Rosie chuckle and comment, “In the mouth of two or three witnesses…”
Elder Ballard returned and took his seat and we had a nice conversation that probably did not take more than 15 minutes. Once again, Rosie had a picture taken.
That was the extent of the interaction and I felt some sting from the second witness of my duty to uphold the Priesthood. But it was a pleasant experience. Rosie reminded me often after that, “In the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established.”
Well, time passed and eventually Elder David B Haight did pass from this veil of tears at the end of July 2004, three years after our encounter. Fortunately, Elder Haight and I did have an opportunity to talk again regarding our first interaction that lessened the blow of the occasion. Nevertheless, roommates and many friends called after Elder Haight’s passing to let me know how dire my situation was now that the revelator had passed and I had not fulfilled my duty.
Rosie commented to me that I could fulfill my duty by reporting my marriage to Elder Ballard when the time came.
Well, forward a few more years and I became enamored with a little red-headed girl from Kaysville, Utah. She came to enjoy her time with me and after a while we would end our walks with a little dancing on the porch of the Alumni House at Utah State University. It became a regular thing to end our walks and evenings out with a dance and closing conversation on the porch of the Alumni House. I dare say we danced on the porch of that building more than 60 times. It was on the porch of this little Alumni House that I made an unofficial proposal to Ms. Hemsley. It just seemed like the right place.
Months later, Amanda and I returned to Logan under the guise of visiting some friends. While on the campus I took her to that little porch of the Alumni House and there after midnight, now on 4 July 2005, I fell to my knee and proposed to her. Of course she said yes and we danced and kissed there on the porch of the Alumni House. Interestingly, before we left that night, I caught sight of a huge portrait hanging inside the doors that open to the porch that had become an important part of our courtship. As I looked closer, I could see the familiar sight of a man whose face I knew. As I got a little closer to see in the dark the portrait lit only by fire escape signs it dawned on me it was a portrait of David B Haight.
If that was not a little coincidental, and perhaps a little creepy, I do not know what is. Elder Haight’s portrait had actually witnessed some of the most personal moments of my courtship. The building I had only known as the Alumni House is properly named the David B Haight Alumni Center. Somehow it seemed the whole experience had just came full circle.
We sent a wedding invitation to Elder M Russell Ballard with a short note explaining that due to Elder Haight’s passing I was sending the note and invitation to him to fulfill my duty. He responded with a card thanking me for my note and invitation and suggested I consider my duty fulfilled. He also apologized for not being able to attend our reception (which I am glad about, surely some further duty might have been laid upon me if he had!)
There is my story for the above photo with the Haights and Byroms. Maybe some day I can tell my story about Elder Hales (the Apostle, not my missionary companion)…
I suppose I have to apologize for the poor photography again. Someday I would like to find this location again and try again though. My camera at this stage of my mission wasn’t working great (after an unfortunate run-in with some yobs). Plus, this was 1999 with the now ancient Advantix film.
We were working at reestablishing a branch of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Glossop, England. We worked particularly hard and did not have an auto while working in the Hyde Ward. We rode the bus quite a bit, hoofed it otherwise, and found ourselves trying some shortcuts once and a while.
Part of my memory is fuzzy now that we are more than 13 years later, which is unfortunate. I seem to remember that we had to get off the bus at Hollingworth or Gamesley because once we left Greater Manchester we had to switch bus companies. Working in Glossop meant getting off the bus and walking the remainder of the distance into Glossop or we had to purchase tickets on the buses. We were too poor or cheap to purchase tickets so we walked the remainder of the distance.
We were teaching a family in Hadfield which required us walk up the hill from the Shaw Lane bus stop. I can still remember they lived on Newlands Drive, probably could take you to their very house, although I cannot remember their names. We also had a family on Brookside Close we would stop to visit who had a beautiful daughter. The family on Newlands Drive was pretty born again so they were a ton of work, but I learned quite a bit in teaching them as well.
Anyhow, one day we were headed to Glossop one day after teaching the family on Newlands Drive. Rather than go all the way back down to the road we thought we would cut across the countryside between Hadfield and Glossop. It was then that I snapped this picture because it was stunningly beautiful. I don’t even recall which companion I had at the time, although I believe it was Elder John Peters although it may have been Elder Jarem Frye. You can look up the location on a map to how it would make sense.
Glossop always impressed me. I wish we could have spent more time working there but it just took so much time getting there and back to our flat in Hyde. Plus, as we always do, I was transferred and did not get the opportunity to teach and preach more in Glossop.
But here is another picture I snapped between Hollingworth and Mottram in Longdendale on a different date. It gives another glimpse of the beauty of the area. I have another picture of this same hill with snow on it, but I believe it has been lost to history. I hope it will turn up. But, here is hoping to return to Mottram, Glossop, Hollingworth, and Hadfield one day.
With a recent bout of suicides, I thought I would pay a bit of a tribute to Garrett Lee Smith and Lowell Eugene Hansen. Both of them forced the concept of suicide into my life and required I come to some understanding of the idea. I wanted to give some memories of these two individuals and the doctrinal concepts surrounding suicide. What is suicide? How does God look at suicide? How am I supposed to deal with suicide? How does God deal with those who commit suicide?
Lowell Hansen was an acquaintance I knew in Paul, Idaho. I was young enough that I knew who he was, but did not really know anything about him. After I was charged by a bull at our house, I remembered that within days he appeared at our home and removed the charge from the bull. I watched him shoot, hang, gut, clean, and cut the bull. It was fascinating. I remember recognizing the butcher truck each time when I would see it on the road or at some other location. I knew he built a log home because I always saw the truck parked near it. Years later after I became involved in the same congregation and came to know him a little more as Brother Hansen. It was not until I returned from my mission that I realized he even had a family. I moved back to home in the fall of 2002 and I was assigned as a Home Teacher to one of Lowell’s daughters. It was only then I really started to get to know the Hansen family more on a personal level. It was shortly after that Lowell decided to end his life much like he did that bull. I was called upon to help minister, however weakly, somewhat to the needs of his daughter and her then boyfriend. The talk I reproduce in full below was given at his funeral and has provided much of the basis for my feelings and ideas on suicide.
Garrett Smith was on a bit more personal level for me. I first learned of him in Manchester, England when he was assigned my companion as a new missionary. I was called as a trainer to him, although I only knew of him as Elder Smith. We served together, 24 hours a day, for 6 weeks. We had many a conversation and became close friends. I had some frustrations with him due to some of his learning disabilities and my lack of patience. He knew of this and I do not think I always helped in our relationship. When the 6 weeks were up, we had both profoundly influenced the other though. He convinced me that I should consider leaving civil engineering and looking more into political science and law. I think I had convinced him that his disabilities were not a very good excuse for settling for mediocrity. I left England to return home and he finished in 2002. We had planned several occasions where we would get together for old time’s sake, but they kept falling through due to poor scheduling and other issues. We finally set a date to get together on the 13th of September in 2003. I was going to drive down to Orem, Utah where he was and spend the weekend. Unfortunately, I received a phone call that week only to find he had hanged himself in a closet after consuming alcohol and sleeping pills. I had a great desire to attend his funeral so a roommate from Logan drove with me to Pendleton, Oregon for the funeral. I took a copy of the talk from Lowell’s funeral with me and gave it to Garrett’s parents. Garrett’s mom, Sharon, later thanked me for the talk. Our Mission President, Phil Wightman, spoke at the funeral and while I doubt he had read the talk, he referenced very similar themes as Hyrum Smith did at Lowell’s funeral (Hyrum Smith was Lowell’s Mission President too). Sometimes I find myself wondering what Garrett’s life would be like if he wasn’t reposing in the ground at Weston, Oregon.
I lost the talk over the years and had repeated requests come to me for a copy of it. Those asking were mostly individuals I had shared with at the time of Garrett’s funeral who were moved by it and wanted to give a copy of it when someone else took their life. I had probably a dozen requests for the talk in 2010, so I ended up contacting Lowell’s widow for a copy.
Here is a copy of the talk by Hyrum Smith given 6 December 2002 at the funeral of Lowell Eugene Hansen in Paul, Idaho. At the end, I will give some other thoughts I remember Phil Wightman giving at Garrett’s funeral.
My brothers and sisters, I wasn’t really sure until about 3 o’clock this morning why I was asked to be here, but somewhere around three, I knew. The spirit indicated to me that I am uniquely qualified to speak here today, and I’ll share with you why as I share some thoughts with you.
I’m honored and humbled that Emma Jean asked me to be here. When she called Monday, I was stunned as I’m sure all of you were.
Public speaking is not something that is foreign to me. I do it for a living. I’ve spoken before thousands of audiences, but never an assignment like this. I’d like to begin by suggesting that we are met here today in the house of God. That same God who sent Jesus here to help us. We meet today in the name of Jesus Christ who died to save us. I would ask that you keep that in mind as I share a few thoughts with you this morning.
I’d like to begin by sharing four scriptures with you that describe, as many scriptures do, how our Father in Heaven, and our Savior feel about us. I think we need to be especially reminded of that. I’d like to go first with the 29th section of the Doctrine and Covenants and read verse 5 “Lift up your hearts and be glad for I am in your midst and am your advocate with the Father. And it is His good will to give you the kingdom.” I would then take you to the 62nd section of the Doctrine and Covenants and read verse 1, “Behold and hearken, o ye Elders of my church saith the Lord your God. Even Jesus Christ, your advocate, who knoweth the weakness of man and how to succor them who are tempted.” Now go with me to John, Chapter 3, verse 16, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son. That whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world but that the world, through Him, might be saved.” Last I would take you back to the Doctrine and Covenants, in section 18. “Remember the worth of souls is great in the sight of God. For behold, the Lord, your Redeemer, suffered death in the flesh. Wherefore He suffered pain of all men that all men might repent and come unto Him. And He hath risen again from the dead that He might bring all men unto Him on conditions of repentance. And how great is His joy in the soul that repenteth.” I share those scriptures with you, brothers and sisters, as a preamble to what I would ask you to consider as we have met here today.
This wonderful man, father, husband, son, brother, missionary, I knew him well as a missionary. He was one of the great missionaries of our mission – most of the Idaho people were. He made a big mistake the other night. Huge mistake. He knows that he made that mistake now. It cost him his life. But only his body died the other night. His soul, his spirit, his brain, his mind are still very much alive – very active. It’s like going into another room.
I was led to a talk that Elder Jeffrey Holland gave at a very similar funeral. Jeff Holland and I served as missionaries in the same mission, British mission, lots of years ago. He’s a very dear friend. He was asked to speak at the funeral of a young man who had taken his life. This is what Elder Holland said, and I am going to interject Lowell’s name into these remarks, because they fit perfectly today. “We’re here to celebrate Lowell’s life, not his death. We’re here to praise the Lord and love God for the atonement and the resurrection, but we’re also here to say, particularly to the youth in this congregation and others who struggle, that Lowell made a mistake. Now he would be the first to say that. Someone said, ‘A man to be good, and I would add a woman, must imagine intensely and comprehensively – he must put himself in the place of another – the pains and pleasures of the man that has become his own. Until he can do that, he must never sit in judgment on a man or his motives.’ We need a better vocabulary, Emma Jean. We know what we mean when we use the language of death. But the master of heaven and earth, the Savior of the world, the Redeemer of all mankind, the living Resurrection said that, “When you live and believe in Him, you never die.” So, we’ll let Lowell go for a while. But he’s not dead, in any eternal sense, and you know that. You know that now, you’ll know it tomorrow, and you’ll know it next week. You’ll especially know it when he is spiritually close to you, whispers to you in your dreams, helps through the veil to raise your grandchildren. You’ll know that Lowell lives. It is important to me to bear testimony to you that Lowell lives – just as we testify that God lives and Jesus lives. We testify that Lowell lives and spiritually and is loved of God and of us. We miss him. Death was an intruder this week. We weren’t ready. We do miss him and we are sorry, but none of that diminishes the brightness of his life. The grandeur of God’s plans – the reality of life and the resurrection – of eternity and the Celestial kingdom. Lowell is being buried with all the promises and symbols of his covenants safely around him. God in his mercy will work out all the arrangements even as Lowell works out his acknowledgement of his mistake.” Un-quote.
Those are words of an Apostle of God. I would like to pose five questions to you now. The first of which no one has an answer for, but I think we need to deal with it, because I don’t think there is a person in this room that hasn’t asked this question in the last five days. The second, third, and fourth question, I came from southern Utah this morning, to answer. Because there are answers to those three questions, and I believe I can answer them for you. The fifth question, only the people in this room can answer. I don’t know what that answer will be, but I’m going to pose it.
Here’s the first question, which has been on the minds and lips of probably everyone. “What was he thinking about?” What possibly could have driven him to make this mistake? What’s the answer? I don’t know. Nobody here knows. What sort of despair and anguish and pain causes someone to do that? I don’t know! He made a mistake, so we really don’t know the answer to that question. But that’s not the important question.
The second question, the one that I think I am uniquely qualified to answer, and one of the reasons why I think I was asked to be here is, “What is Lowell thinking now?” Lowell’s very much alive. He thinks, he breathes; he has probably had an opportunity to walk with his Father in Heaven. DO you want me to tell you what he is thinking now? He’s afraid. He’s sorry. He’s in anguish. He’s suffering. He’s wishing he hadn’t done it. I know that. How do I know? Several years ago, I made some big mistakes. We all make mistakes. Hopefully not as big as the ones I made. Because of those mistakes, it was required that I lose my membership in the church for several years. And after I went through the process of approaching my Bishop and my Stake President, and going through the church judicial system – which is amazing, I found myself asking the first question a lot. What was I thinking? I couldn’t even answer that question for me. But I know what I thought about after. I know about the pain. I know about the anguish. I know about the suffering. It’s awful! So rest assured, and knowing Lowell as I know him – the integrity of this man, he’s in a lot of pain.
Third question, “Will the Lord allow Lowell to repent?” Every natural instinct in your body knows the answer to that question – Of course! He allows everyone to repent. There’s a myth that floats around the church from time to time. It suggests that people who take their lives have committed an unpardonable sin. I’m here to tell you today that’s just flat not true. The Lord will allow Lowell to repair that mistake. He’ll walk him through it. He’ll help him do it. He’s going to allow that.
Fourth question, “Will the Lord forgive him?” Every natural instinct in your body knows the answer to that question. The answer is yes. He will. He will forgive him. And Lowell will receive all the blessings that he rightly deserves from a wonderful life.
Those are the three questions I can answer with surety. The fifth question, I can’t. The fourth question was, “Will the Lord forgive him?” The answer is yes. The fifth question is, “Will you?” I know from sad experience that lots of people don’t. But the Lord has asked us to forgive. He said, “I the Lord will forgive whom I choose to forgive, but of you, you’re required to forgive all men.” I need to talk about forgiveness for a moment. Does the mistake that Lowell made the other night blot out all the good that this man did in his life? No! Elder Holland reflected on that. He was a wonderful missionary. He was a great father. He was a great man. He was dedicated to his Father in Heaven. Like many of us, he made some mistakes, one big one. It doesn’t blot out everything he was. We heard of a wonderful tribute from a beautiful daughter today about the kind of dad he was. None of that gets wiped out.
As I went through the initial stages of my repentance process, one of the major sources of the anguish was the worry that no one would forgive me. Because I somehow got it in my mind as I grew up in the church, that to ultimately forgive someone, for a transgression, you had to forget it. Because we were taught in the scriptures, that when repentance was real and complete, the Lord forgets. How does He do that? He forgets! Wow! Can we, mortals, reach a level of spiritual maturity where we can forget what happened the other night? I don’t think so. Do you think that anybody in this room will ever forget that Lowell took his life? Not in this life. I don’t think so. Do you think anyone, who knows me well, will forget that I was excommunicated from the church? Nope – Hyrum Smith…business leader, great, great grandson of the prophet’s brother, Hyrum? No one will ever forget that! Do you think my kids will forget that? No! BUT, and this is one of those moments where the spirit instructs and saves, in the middle of the night, the spirit taught a great lesson. Forgiveness doesn’t mean forgetting. Forgiveness means remembering – but it doesn’t matter any more. I think we can achieve that. I think we can reach a point, as mortals, where we can remember and have forgiven to the point where, in remember, it just doesn’t matter anymore. I challenge each to deal with the fifth question, “Will you forgive him?” I believe you can – you must! That’s what the Lord wants you to do. But you’ll never forget.
I want to share a concept with you that has helped me think through a number of things. During the Vietnam War, I was in the military during that period of time; there was a man by the name of Stockdale. He was an admiral. He was the highest-ranking man to spend time at the Hanoi Hilton as a prisoner of war. And while he was in the prison, for about six years, he discovered that there were three basic types of people incarcerated in that prison. He discovered the same thinking that Victor Frankl discovered at Auswich during the Second World War. Victor Frankl wrote about it in his book, “Man’s Search for Meaning.” Then Stockdale wrote about it, and it has become known and has been written about in a number of books since – the Stockdale paradox. The three groups of people that he discovered were these. There were pessimists, optimists, and realists. And this is how he defined each group. The pessimists saw the brutal facts around him and quit. The optimist had boundless faith and ignored the brutal facts. The realist saw the brutal facts, but had faith they could be dealt with.
The reason I share this with you is that in this book, when he wrote about this he said the interesting thing about these three groups is that the first two groups of people died in the camps at Vietnam. Died! Didn’t make it back! I understood why the pessimists didn’t make it. They saw the brutal facts. They were in the middle of South-East Asia. They were 8,000 miles from help and the Marines aren’t going to get in here. We’re going to be here forever, and they died. And some very healthy bodies died.
The second group stunned me! The optimists died! How come the optimists died? Because the optimists had boundless faith but were not willing to look at the brutal facts. And they said to each other, “You know we’ll be out of here by Christmas.” “We’ll be out of here by Valentines.” Every rustle in the bush was the Marines coming to save them. And when every rustle in the bush wasn’t the Marines coming to save them and when they weren’t out by Christmas, and when they weren’t out by Valentines, they died. They gave up and died.
The realists survived. They saw the brutal facts. “We’re in the middle of South-East Asia. We’re not going to be rescued for a long time, but you know what guys, we’ll stick together. We can handle this.” And they did.
A good friend, by the name of Jensen, was in our mission – Lowell knew him – served six years in that prison. There were several LDS fellows there, and the way they kept themselves sane was they would try and remember LDS hymns. They would tap by Morse code on the bars of the jail, and they would send what they could remember of each hymn. They gathered lots of hymns. And one hymn they worked on for four years. They got the first three verses in about 18 months, but the fourth verse took two and a half years to get. They finally got the fourth verse. When they got back, there was only three verses. They had created their own verse, but they survived. Now why do I share that here? I want to ask you the question as what are you going to do about this issue? Pessimists see the brutal facts – Our dad killed himself. It’s pretty awful. Nothing so wrong, it’s awful! And you can give up – if you want. The optimist ignores the facts – puts on a smiley face and pretends it didn’t happen. And the optimists live a lie. The realist sees the brutal facts – We lost our dad, our husband, our son – pretty awful. We’ve got to gather together and help each other now to survive financially and economically. We’ve got to get through school. We’ve got to do stuff that dad normally would have helped us with. It isn’t going to be easy. The optimist has the faith that we can do it. And so I’m asking you today, “What are you going to be?”
On the 19th of October of last year, not this year, but 2001, Steven Covey and I, we have a business together, were asked by Mayor Giuliani of New York City, if we would come back to Manhattan and do a free, one day, workshop for the families of those affected by the 9/11 disaster. He told that their mid-town Manhattan Sheraton had donated their ballroom. They donated our rooms to stay. Would you come back? We’ve got people in some real pain. Would you come back and speak? We said, “We’re there!” We got there on a Thursday night. The seminar was to be on Friday. I got there about midnight. I’ve been in Manhattan many, many times. As I flew up the East river, I was coming from Chicago, and saw the lights where the World Trade Center used to be, it was kind of an eerie feeling. It was a very different landscape now.
At five o’clock the next morning, Mayor Giuliani had arranged for a tour, a private tour of ground zero for Steven and me. At that point, which was just five weeks after the event; sixteen hundred policeman had surrounded ground zero, and had blocked it off. You couldn’t get down there without a police escort. We had to go through four checkpoints to get to ground zero. About 5:15 in the morning, we found ourselves standing on the street in front of where the Marriott Hotel used to be. It used to be called the Vista Hotel. I’ve stayed in that Hotel many times. Only I wasn’t really standing on the street. I was standing on 16 feet of compacted debris. And as we stood there looking at this horrific hole in the ground, the policeman who had been assigned to be our guide began to tell us his story.
He said, “You know, I was here that day. I was standing on the street right about where we are. I heard this big bang, I looked up, and all this stuff came flying out of the World Trade Center.” He said, “You know, it looked like paper when it all came out until it started hitting the ground. It was fifty foot I-beams killing everyone it hit.” He said, “I watched 34 people jump from those towers. Four of them holding hands. I watched eight firemen lose their lives from falling people.” I’m not even believing this. Then he looked at me and said, “Mr. Smith, how many computers do you think there were in the World Trade Center?” I said, “Probably a lot.” He said, “We haven’t found one!” I said, “How come?” “3,000 degree fire. It’s still burning.” As he was talking, a crane pulled a big I-beam out of the rubble, and the end of the I-beam was dripping molten steel. Then he said, “You know the second plane hit and then the building started to come down – we all thought we were dead. We got under a car, and somehow we lived.” That’s how our morning started.
When we got back to the hotel at about 7:30, we had to shower. We were covered with soot. At 8:00, this meeting began. There were 2,000 people jammed into a ballroom designed for 1,500. People were sitting on the floor. It started by two New York policemen and two New York Firemen, carrying the American flag in. I will tell you, It’s hard. And then the Harlem girls choir, sixty young women from Harlem, filed in and sang three patriotic songs, and the music that came out of those kids was amazing. I was very grateful that Steven Covey had to speak first because I was a mess. He spoke for two hours, and then I had to speak for two hours. As I approached the front of the room, there were people all around on the floor. A fireman, about half way back, in uniform, stood up, and he said, “Mr. Smith, are you going to tell us how we get of bed in the morning when we just don’t give a darn anymore?” That’s how it started. It turned out to be one of the toughest, and ultimately the most rewarding experiences I’ve had. I said these words to the fireman – and I want to say these words to you – Emma Jean and the children, and their extended family, and everybody here. If you don’t remember a think I’ve said, remember this statement. I said to this fireman, “Pain is inevitable. Misery is an option.” And he seemed a little stunned. Now what do I mean by that? The fact is, brothers and sisters, bad things happen to good people. They just do. Airplanes fly into buildings. Rivers overflow their banks. Dams break and flood out villages. Accidents happen – people die prematurely. Bad stuff happens to good people. How we choose to deal with the pain is ultimately a measure of who we are.
That’s why the Lord gave us the gospel of Jesus Christ. To help us deal with the pain. Some of the most serene, magnificent, wonderful people I’ve ever known have gone through some major pain in their lives.
Will the Lord forgive? Yes! Ten days ago, tomorrow, President Hinckley and Elder Maxwell, laid their hands on my head and restored all my blessings. Not just some of them. All of them. And President Hinckley mentioned three times in the most amazing blessing I’ve ever heard, all the blessings. I’m here to testify to you today that that will happen to Lowell. He’ll be there. He’ll be ready, Emma Jean. He’ll welcome you with all his blessings. So the challenge for us as the living – to go on.
When the pioneers came across the plains, they periodically had to stop and bury the dead. And the scene was always the same. There’d be a family standing around the grave, and if you looked off into the distance, you could see the wagons – and the wagons were ready to go. The wagons had riders in them. They were waiting for the family to get through with that funeral so that they could move on because they knew, “If we don’t move on, then we’ll die!” They buried their dead, and they moved on.
Well, the wagons are surrounding the building, and they’re ready for us to move on. We pulled off the highways of our lives to pay tribute to a great human being – who made a mistake that can be fixed. And when we’re through here today, we’ll get back in our wagons and move on. We’ll survive. Don’t ever forget the brutal facts, but never lose faith that they can be dealt with. I bear you my testimony that God lives. Jesus is the Christ. He loves everybody in the room. He’ll take care of Lowell. He’ll take care of us too. I bear that witness in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
Here are a few more thoughts from my memory of Phil Wightman’s talk from Garrett’s funeral. The talk centered around the scripture in 1 Corinthians 13:12-13 which states, “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.”
In essence, since I went to the funeral with Lowell’s funeral talk in my mind (in fact, my friend, Taylor Willingham, read it to me again on the drive up and I gave a copy to Garrett’s parents) the basics of the talk were the same. Brother Smith approached it with some practical questions and answers to those questions. President Wightman approached it from a doctrine side that we do not really know what goes on in the minds of these individuals when suicide is completed. But we have to have charity, love them and their families, and move forward. In the end, the Lord will sort all things out.
Rest in peace Garrett and Lowell. I look forward to meeting up with you both again some day. Until then, I hope we all can appreciate the suicidal act and hopefully help avoid it in the future, and work forward from those who do commit this unthinkable deed.
This morning while everyone sleeps, I thought I would give a quick year in review. Wow, what a year. Probably the best year of my life. I hope I can continue to say that every year!
One year ago, it was the first day of being laid off in my life. Good ole Bank of America laid off the entire Wholesale Division. My life as a underwriter came to an end as the mortgage industry was obviously in signs of trouble. I decided to leave the entire industry. Boy, am I glad I did! 1 January 2008 brought a month of trying, scrambling to find out what to do. I had severance for a year and my job working professionally as a genealogist. That carried us through. I have been doing genealogy for the same family over the Christmas Break to supplement our income. That is certainly a great blessing. I know it is a blessing to their family and those who have gone on before as well. I have probably added more than 2 or 3 generations on each of their family lines.
The first week or two of January I received an offer for employment in Pasco, Washington covering the states of Idaho, Utah, and Wyoming for Inlande Environmental Resources. I would be making more than 10K more, have my own vehicle, card, and a whole lot more. The only downside is I would be in Idaho most of the time while Amanda would remain in Virginia to finish her education. We decided it was a great offer, much better than our options in Virginia, and could help open doors for the future. The end of January, Brad Hales flew out, and we made a cross country trek in my pickup. Brad has always been a very generous, kind friend. Who would have thought a mission to England would have such long lasting repercussions?
February through June found me working for IER working with existing customers and making new sales. The only big contract I found was with J.B. Swift in Hyrum, Utah. It was 2 or 3 truckloads a month at present. They were having so many problems with Thatcher Chemical that it was a fairly easy sell. Honestly, I was just at the right place at the right time. I really don’t think I personally did anything that really made the sale but it made me a favorite with the bosses. We opened quite a few doors. The big thing I enjoyed was the travel. Salem, Portland, The Dalles, Weston, Pendleton, Gresham, and more in Oregon. Toppenish, Yakima, Zillah, Sunnyside, Grandview, Pasco, Kennewick, Wenatchee, and Colfax Washington. Wenatchee was another example of just being in the right place at the right time. We were solving a foaming problem with apple concentrate waste. We just had the right chemical but became known as the defoaming expert! I also traveled all over Utah, Vernal being the most exotic visit. I sure enjoyed Inlande Environmental. They were really good to me and I enjoyed working for them.
May rolled around and I decided to accept an opening at Oklahoma City University for Law School. I announced it to my bosses and they were more than accepting. They knew when they interviewed me for the job I was seriously considering law school. They were so good to me! In fact, they let me keep my salary through to August while Amanda and I took our trip to Europe and here to Oklahoma City. Amanda also graduated in May. Amanda’s parents and I flew out for the big occasion. We sure had quite a bit of fun! During the time there we packed everything to move all our stuff to Oklahoma City. We did a little sight-seeing as well. Monticello was probably my favorite place to visit and I was fortunate everyone else wanted to go as well. In the end, I flew back to work in Idaho and Amanda with the in-laws drove to Oklahoma City in a moving truck, and from there to Kaysville in the car.
A big first for the year. We purchased our first home! A quaint little 30’s home near 23rd Street NW in Oklahoma City. A wonderful little home with plenty of things to keep me busy but still liveable.
June rolled around and then Amanda and I went on our very expensive weight loss program. I can boast losing about 20 pounds running around Europe. We spent six weeks in Europe. Many, many firsts for both of us. We visited friends in Belgium and they were very kind to treat us. Primarily, it was perfect for getting over jet lag! We then went crazy in traveling for the next 6 weeks. About 4 days in Belgium. We attended a Stake Conference in Antwerp and attended dedicatory prayers in Dutch. That prepared us for Brugge, and where we spent our next few days in Amsterdam. We saw the sights and even made a trip to Den Haag. Off we shot across The Netherlands, across Germany to Berlin, and down to an ancestral home in Dresden. I still think Dresden was probably my favorite place. Even better than Vianden or the rest of Luxembourg. Dresden is also near to Meissen which was another ancestral home. I would love to spend a week in Dresden. We shot across Germany through Leipzig down to Augsburg. There we were based to hit Munchen, Dachau, and Fussen for Hohenschwangau and Neuschwanstein. Then we headed off to visit Stuttgart with Neuffen and Holzgerlingen (ancestral towns) before heading to Salzburg. Salzburg was definitely another favorite. Gorgeous town. Then off to sweltering Venice via Innsbruck. There we spent time in a very different culture and climate in a city on the water with no water to drink! After Venice, up through Padua to Zurich and down to Bern. Bern was definitely another favorite. I really wish we could have spent some good quality time there. Then off through Lausanne and Geneva for a few wonderful, long, unorganized days in Paris. If there was ever a point Amanda and I were getting tired it was in Paris. More with each other than with the city. But we really enjoyed Paris nevertheless. If we had been stuck in Amsterdam during this time, we may have been in marital breakdown, but Paris made it bearable. After Paris, we headed back to Belgium for a day or two before flying off to Prestwick, Scotland.
We then were in a car for the next 3 weeks! That day we made our way through Glasgow before ending in Edinburgh for some wonderful times there. We really liked that city. I could certainly feel we were back in the United Kingdom. There is a flavor in the air that reeks of Britain. From there we worked our way down through Manchester, Liverpool, Northern Wales, Birmingham, Bath, Dorset, and finally to London. In the UK we spent two weeks of it in the old stomping grounds of the England Manchester Mission. We visited loads of people I knew and tried to balance that with seeing the sites for Amanda. I think we did a good job. We also caught up with some long time friends, the Gores and the Byroms. We also met up with my old missionary companion Elder Gheorghe Simion and his wife who now live in Liverpool. After the mission we visited ancestral homes near Birmingham, even stumbling on a cemetery in Halesowen with plenty of ‘my’ Coley line. It was fun. Bath was quite a bit of fun crashing that night with a cousin in Milton Abbas, a gorgous little Dorset town. They treated us very, very well. Then off to London crashing with the Jeppesen’s in Weybridge. We spent our remaining time with them in their posh house until we flew out. All in all, we loved our entire trip. Paris could have used a bit more planning, but the trip as a whole was utterly marvelous. We feel very, very blessed to have been able to take the trip.
We landed in Utah and the gears started grinding in different ways. I tried to make sure everything was a successful transition for IER and we headed out for Oklahoma City. We arrived here the very last week of July. Before August had arrived we had moved all our possessions into the home and started setting up for the next few years. I went to work on the yard, Amanda went to work on the inside. We came to know our ward, get lined up for school, Amanda a dental hygiene license, and job. Everything fell into place within a month. I was rolling with law school and Amanda had a job blocks from home.
The rest of the year was fairly uneventful. I sat trying to recoup some of my weight lost in Europe (I have been unsuccessful, not that I really want it back) in the law school library. I picked up squash here again. Amanda works her days away. I am slowly remodeling a bathroom with all that extra time. Amanda took up sewing our Halloween costumes and organizing Thanksgiving and Christmas. Then the year was over!
All in all, what a year! I feel highly blessed of heaven. Who could ask for anything more? We have started paying off student loans for Amanda. We are also paying for some work done on the house and what little remains of our trip to Europe. We paid off the washer and dryer, now the refrigerator next. Then we can start socking it away for retirement (since our retirement took quite a hit in October and since!). Plus there will be plenty more to do to the house if we should really want to invest. But all in all, God has been very good to us. May he continue to light our paths and may we continue to do what is needed to bring down the extra blessings! I am looking forward to 2009, although I think it will be much less eventful than 2008. But hey, who knows?
Today Amanda and I ran away for a quick visit to Manchester. There was not much on the agenda. We visited the Arndale Shopping Center, Manchester Cathedral, Manchester Town Hall, Old Trafford (Manchester United football grounds), Market Street, and the Trafford Centre (glorified shopping mall). Amanda was able to pick up her British copy of the first Harry Potter book.
This evening, the Gore’s organized a bit of a get together for some of the members of the Eccles (now Swinton) Ward. It was very, very kind of them to do this for us. There were several families who came and it was wonderful to catch up with them. Leslie Walsh, Bob and Joan Wood, Alan and Margaret Griffin, Vincenzo and Dawn Santi, Alex and Gloria Brown with their son Nathan, and the Gores. They all had such wonderful things to say to us, about me, and it was great to catch up with them.
Kevin and Jean Gore treated us to a pub dinner this evening. It was really good food. They also treated us to a roast duck dinner last night. Each family has treated us very well, and provided great meals. We certainly appreciate their generosity.
Tomorrow we head to Birmingham, the day after to Milton Abbas. Don’t know when I will be able to get back on.
Yesterday we went to visit the Catholic church in Harelbeke, Belgium. We then went to Kortrijk, Belgium and of course Amanda had to go to the chocolate shop for Belgium chocolate. We did some window shopping, being tempted by some of the goods in the stores. The suits were out of my range, as is about everything with the exchange rate with the Euro/Dollar. We did snap a couple of pictures for your viewing pleasure.
Afterward, we made our way back to Oostrozebeke and prepared for the trip to Vianden. We drove through the beautiful Ardennes on the way and into Germany. There was a storm the entire way so everything was highly misted and especially green. We drove past Brussels, Liege, and stayed at the Grand Hotel de Vianden. It was very pretty. Amanda and I went for a late night walk through the city for some photographs. The bars were full but we enjoyed the sights. Victor Hugo lived in Vianden for a spell. We saw the house he lived in and the bridge with his name and bust.
Today we arose and went for a tour of the Vianden Castle/Chateau. It was beautiful. Originally there was a fort on the site in the time of Julius Caesar. The current castle was built during the 13-14th centuries. It fell into ruin but was restored in the 1970’s – 1980’s. Vianden was the last town to be liberated in Luxembourg in 1945.
Afterward, we drove through the beautiful mountains to Luxembourg and went on a tour of many of the cities sights. We saw the Notre Dame there. It was gorgeous with a huge, high wall. Who would ever have thought? We ate lunch at Pizza Hut of all places. Talk about going for the local cuisine. I did have toasted bread with goat cheese on them (At Pizza Hut!) Did you know Luxembourg had a 1,000 year celebration? 963 to 1963. How is that for old? The downtown market area reminded me much of London or Manchester, but the architecture is different.
We finished our trip to Luxembourg and came back to Oostrozebeke, Belgium. We will visit Antwerp and Brugge in the next couple of days before we make our way to Paris.
Anyhow, I have uploaded more pictures in the European Trip Album from the last two days for your viewing pleasure.