Key Note Address delivered 11 April 2015 (Psalm 46:10)
My beloved brothers and sisters,
How marvelous has been the rendition of that sacred hymn by Sister Carol Long, with Sister Clarke at the piano. Hers is a very special gift, for through such beautiful music the Spirit is bid welcome. It is such an honor to be asked to address this multi stake gathering of you good brothers and sisters. I ask humbly that the Spirit will continue to be present, guiding my words, that I might be inspired to say the things the Lord would have me to say, that the person needing comfort might receive it.
As I was preparing my remarks, I thought with gratitude of the advantage we have over the majority of our dear brothers and sisters outside the Church; we have the big picture! But with that big picture comes a great responsibility! We understand what Elder Boyd K. Packer meant when he described life as a three act play, with us being in the second act. We know from whence we came, why we are here, and where we are going, when we leave this existence. Having said that, great is our responsibility to live worthily, for we will be judged according to what we know.
We know and are ever learning more of these matters. Amongst those gathered here today, there are varied degrees of knowledge. Know this: we are given to know as much of sacred matters as we are worthy to ingest.
We are continuously being taught through the example of others. I would like to begin by recounting the story of a beloved and now departed friend, and in so doing, to honor his memory. David Case was unto me, “like unto Nathaniel of old, pure and without guile.” He wasn’t always that way, for before he joined the Church, he told me, he was long haired and somewhat rebellious.
David moved to our area nearly two decades ago from Cisco, Texas, where he had served as superintendent of schools. He had come to the area to serve as the principal of Navarro High School in Geronimo.
I was serving as the leader of my priesthood group in the San Marcos Ward at the time, and had called David, age thirty seven, to serve as the group instructor. During one of lessons, I saw fit to correct him on a point of doctrine. The lesson he was teaching involved “Trials,” and he felt that perhaps he had a better grasp on such. You see, five years earlier he had suffered a brain tumor, which following a priesthood blessing, was now in remission. I don’t remember what point I corrected, but I do know I hurt the feelings of this very sensitive man. Given the suffering he had already endured, who was I to make a correction from the comfort zone of good health?
David walked into the hallway one way, and I followed, going the opposite direction so as to meet him in the hall. I met him in the area of the broom closet, and opening the door, pulled him in. “My dear brother,” I implored, “are we not friends? Let us not permit this to come between our friendship!” I embraced him, and we were dear friends once again, for I truly loved this man without guile, who was about to enter a period of greater trials.
The mother of one of his Latter Day Saint students was killed in a tragic accident. The entire high school student body was invited to the funeral. David took five students to the chapel in his vehicle. On the way back, he began to explain to the students what happens after we leave this life. One of the students was the daughter of a school board member.
That school board member took bitter exception to it, and I can understand that, given David’s position as the high school principal. In no time it was noised about that David was attempting to convert students to “Mormonism.” It is unbelievable how bitter the opposition to David became, as an attempt was made to force him to resign. With children in that school, I took up his defense. In one instance, the school superintendent, and the middle school principal, entered his office and threatened him with physical violence. As they turned to leave, the middle school principal turned and flung a heavy ring of keys at David. He meekly accepted such treatment, and at that point, a bit exasperated at the treatment he was receiving, I asked, “David, I need to know something. Can you fight?”
I was bowled over by his response. I found it humorous. “Brother Lopez, can I fight? You ask, can I fight? Brother Lopez, I was the Iowa State Fight Night Champion. I knocked out the star football player to win the title!” And indeed, he was still fit. My admiration for him increased. Despite his ability to take care of himself, he chose instead to turn the other cheek. With the school board and the administration against him, myself and his sweet wife faced the school board in his behalf. She was gutsy. When all seemed lost, she rose to her feet, and declared, in as dignified voice as she could manage. “The fact is, there is not one of you fit to walk in David’s shoes!”
Our efforts in his behalf were of no avail. He resigned, with his contract paid out till the end of the year. His resignation was made public, and his children attending the school were privy to such. David was now without a job. He moved with his family to the Taylor area.
About a year later, I received a phone call. David was in the hospital. The cancer had returned. I drove to Austin to see him. While there, he asked if I would give him a blessing. In blessing him, he was told that the Lord would give him enough time to settle his affairs before leaving. The tone was urgent.
At the completion of the blessing, he inquired, “So that’s it? I’m leaving? The Elders gave me a blessing earlier and told me I would live a long life.” “Perhaps,” I responded, “but that will be in eternity.”
“How long do I have?” The answer came to my mind. “You have two weeks.” He began removing the equipment he was attached to. “I’m going home to be with my family.” He passed from this life two weeks later, having prepared his wife and family, for his absence. I helped dress him in his temple clothing, and spoke at his funeral.
I have marveled that the Lord has allowed me to be acquainted with, and play a role in the life of such wonderful and marvelous men as David Case. I do not know of his past life, but this I do know. David Case passed from this life a man fit for the choicest of the blessings of Eternity.
Here was a man purified and sanctified by his trials, and indeed worthy to become a Celestial Being. Oh, the purity of this man, and the example he set for me, and for his wife and children, regarding courage in the face of adversity. Here was a man who was persecuted for his love of the Savior, by people who pretended to be Christians. He readily forgave them. Here was a man afflicted with a malignant disease which finally began to affect his thought process. In a much publicized manner, David, who had harmed no one, and was totally without guile, also endured the humiliation of being fired from his job, as well as having his six children ostracized in school because of what was taking place. All of this he bore meekly, never allowing himself to become angry, and never losing faith in the Lord. In later years, after his passing, I spoke to one of these school board members concerning David. She wept.
Life, as we know it, (and some of you know it better than others) is a test, a time to be tried. Trials have divers affect on people. Some are embittered in their trials, while others, who have the faith to look at the big picture, are mellowed and refined by them. We understand that our mortality was never intended to be a journey without opposition. Indeed, we are told in scripture, “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.” (1)
Now it is totally up to us, how we will confront adversity. It is up to us to decide, for our moral agency is not taken from us, but how important this decision! “Wherefore, men are free according to the flesh; and all things are given them which are expedient unto man. And they are free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil…” (2)
If we endure well, the blessings in another time and another place will be commensurate with the trials we have endured here. Commensurate, did I say? Nay, a cup full and brimming over!
I am blessed to have a dear young friend, Michelle Perzan. She has had more than her share of trials, to include a double mastectomy. During all of this, her dear husband, Travis, has never left her side. May I quote her? (3)
“ I think of everything that has happened in the past year and there are times I think – how did I ever get through all of that and not lose my mind? Then I stop and know it’s ALL because of God and His faithful and amazing hand on my life for being a yielded vessel for Him.
I am so excited to go this weekend and see the women from last year, lots of whom I keep in touch with. I also know there will be emotions – that’s my hard part – I hate crying in public – I’m the private crier – some of you get it!!! I always try so hard to be strong for others that I try not to let my guard down – I have learned it’s okay to do that and to be honest, emotional and just raw and I learned a lot of that from my coaching and then I also learned a lot of that from a friend of mine Gaby.” ” It is like this sweet little girl to find someone in harder circumstances!
“Gaby showed me that being vulnerable and open is the best for getting help and just letting people help you. She lost her little girl Zoe at the age of 4 last year and she has been honest, transparent and has reached out for prayer, help and love through each step of her grieving. I have learned so much from her and I admire her strength, her love for God and her heart. Even though she probably has no idea, she has taught me so much this past year and I’m thankful to be her friend and a part of her life.
“I’ve learned so much this past year and I’m still learning each day. I need to celebrate the victories – like the last surgery……for now. I only say that because they said I may need some more fat grafting, but we won’t know for another 9-12 months – and if I do – SO WHAT??? It’s such a small procedure and it could be so much worse……Yes, Michelle, it is like you to find victory in surgery! And what’s a little grafting? No biggie, eh?
“I am so happy that I do get to go this weekend and share what God has done in my life that past year and show others that cancer is just a word and that you CAN get through anything with faith, perseverance and a positive attitude. I am still overwhelmed at the thought of facing all these women this weekend, only because it will be emotional and that’s okay……..I’m learning that I need to just let people love on me and be there for me and it’s OKAY! I also have to remember that it’s okay to cry and show my emotions and that it doesn’t make me weak – it makes me human and it means I have a heart – a big one. It’s okay to look at what I’ve gone through the past year and celebrate and also be sad at loss, because all of that made me the strong woman I am sitting here right now……”.I am thankful for my struggles because honestly, without them, I would never have known what I could do.” And that is the crux of it! The discovery that trials strengthen; the diamond in the rough is polished! Oh, you have it dear young lady! She continues: “……”.I am thankful for my struggles because honestly, without them, I would never have known what I could do.Thank you God for your love and giving me YOUR strength……….I will praise you through it all……Michelle” (3)
Here indeed is gratitude divine! Is there not in Michelle’s sweet acceptance of adversity an example for each of us? Indeed, we have come to this life to be tried, to see if we will remain obedient through it all. “Think it not strange,” said the Apostle Peter, “concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you?” (4)
Oh! What is he saying? It is that we, as mortals, with our limited vision, are prone to cry out, “why me?” But the Lord, whose vision encompasses all things, allows such trials, that such circumstances might bring us closer to Him, as we learn more fully of the power of prayer, and become sanctified, as we walk with Him.
And what of David Case? David attained and fulfilled that which he was sent here to do. He was needed elsewhere, and there he continues his labors, as pertains to one who endured in worthiness, till the end of his mortal probation.
It was in 1838 and 1839, that the Mormons were driven from Missouri. They crossed the river into Illinois and, after draining a swamp, built up a beautiful city which within a few years rivaled Chicago in size. It was easily the most beautiful city of Illinois. In the mid 1840’s, when its population reached 16,000, the mobs came again, and drove them out of their beautiful city, in the dead of winter, and in the direst of circumstances.
One of those families was that of Stillman Pond. Taking what little the mob allowed them, the family began their trek toward a place they called Winter Quarters, where in the bitter cold, the Latter Day Saints were living in tents. Crossing the plains toward Winter Quarters, five of Stillman Pond’s children died, due to exposure to the elements.
It was but a beginning. We read in the journal of Horace K. and Helen Mar Whitney: “On Wednesday, the 2nd of December 1846, Laura Jane Pond, age 14 years, died of chills and fever.” Two days after, “Harriet M. Pond, age 11 years…died with chills.” Three days later, “Monday, the 7th of December, 1846, Abigail A. Pond, age 18 years…died with chills.” And five weeks later, we read, “Friday, the 15th of January, 1847, Lyman Pond, age 6 years…died with chills and fever.” Well, the weather finally warmed up. And on May 17, 1847, Stillman Pond’s wife, Maria Davis Pond also died. Of what? The cold was gone. We can suppose that after the death of her nine children, she died of a broken heart, and the Lord took her, to be reunited with her children.
And what of Stillman Pond? He who had paid so heavy a price to become acquainted with his God, remained faithful to the end, becoming an outstanding leader in his new community, and building up other communities as a colonizer in the Utah territories. And if you will travel to Salt Lake City, and Temple Square, you will see what sprang forth out of adversity.
How will we ever appreciate that which is sweet, save we have tasted the bitter? There is purpose most divine in adversity. In the words of beloved church leader, James E. Faust, we learn, that “When we pluck the roses, we find we often cannot avoid the thorns which spring from the same stem.”
When fiery trials encompass us, let us pray that we, like Michelle, may be strengthened, and more determined to follow the Savior. How do we remain steadfast in the face of bitter trials? Elder Neil L. Andersen put it this way: “You immerse yourself in the very things that helped build your core of faith: you exercise faith in Christ, you pray, and you ponder the scriptures, you repent, you keep the commandments, you serve others…whatever you do, don’t step away from the Church! … No trial is so large we can’t overcome it together.”
We do not discount those trials which come as a result of unwise choices or transgression. In such cases, repentance is required, that we might be back on the path of righteousness. Here we remember that “though thy sins be as scarlet, they can be white as snow…” but then, as we make our way back we can do so in the realization that in time our prayers will be heard, that they will pierce the cover which separates us from Heaven.
One may face illness, or the heart breaking loss of a child, but in each trial of the Refiner’s fire, the Lord is faithful, He will not abandon you. Perhaps someone here is facing a trial such as my brother faced a couple of decades past. His wife went into apostasy, and their marriage dissolved. For nigh unto two decades my brother was alone. Many were the tearful prayers he uttered in behalf of his now broken family. My counsel to him was, “Keep the covenants you made in the House of the Lord. It will help you to attend the House of the Lord as often as you can, to enable you to be true to your covenants.” For all of those long years, once a week, every week, my brother made a three hour trek to the Temple. He remained pure, he was faithful, and how blessed he is today for it!
The question we ought ask, through the deepest trials, and we make it with a statement of faith, and then ask the question: “Oh, my dear Lord, Thy will be done in all things, Thy will be done forever!” That is the statement. Now here is the question: “My beloved and dear Lord, what wouldst Thou have me learn from this hard experience? Bless me that I might learn and be that which Thou are molding me to be!”
Indeed, what are we to learn from our trials? We recall the words of the Prophet Alma, “A shepherd hath called after you and is still calling after you, but ye will not hearken unto his voice!”(5) Oh dear Lord, you now have now my full attention! Help me now, Beloved One of Israel! At this moment, we hear Moroni proclaim, “Ye receive no witness until after the trial of your faith.” (6) Oh, we remain faithful, we remain pure, and then what joy, when that witness comes! Tearfully we come to the sure realization that He lives, for He has been with us every step of the way!
“The trial of your faith,” says Peter, “being much more precious than of gold that perisheth…” Listen! Peter is telling us that the trials we face in faith, are more precious unto us than gold! “though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ.” (7) Is any price to great to pay, for the privilege of knowing God?
Oh my dear brothers and sisters, all ye who mourn, “Remember, … it is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your foundation; that when the devil shall send forth his mighty winds, yea, his shafts in the whirlwind, yea, when all his hail and his mighty storm 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.” (8)
Be faithful, be pure, keep the covenants you have made in the House of the Lord, though hard your lot may be. Know that if you will do so, no promise, no blessing promised unto the faithful will be withheld from you. No matter how difficult your darkest hour, you are never alone! He who has declared, “In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world,” (9) He will ever be there for you, for He has never left you! During the darkest of nights, in your tearful pleading, know that He will never abandon you, for He has graven you upon the palm of His hands. Then, may you hear that quiet voice which speaks to the depth of your soul, “be still and know that I am God.” (10) Shall we not love Him forever?
(1) 2 Nephi 2: 11 The Book of Mormon (2) 2 (2) 2 Nephi 2:27 ibid
(4) 1 Peter 4:12
(5) Alma 5: 37 The Book of Mormon
(6) Ether 12:6 ibid.
(7) 1 Peter 1:7.”
(8) Helaman 5:12 The Book of Mormon
(9) John 16:33
(10) Psalm 46:10