One measure of a man is how he copes with setbacks during his life. Will they cause him to lose faith in himself, his fellow human beings, and in his God? Or can he rise above even tragedy, giving the rest of us a glimpse of the courage inherent in man. My next-door neighbor has dealt with tragedy under circumstances as painful as any that can be imagined, and his example should be shared.
To respect his privacy, let’s call him Brother Brown. He was converted to the Church thirty years ago in Minnesota through the example of an LDS schoolteacher whose passion for life, sensitivity to people, and later her ability to love him unconditionally prepared him for baptism. They married and had three daughters and a son. Then Sister Brown’s father passed away and her mother came to live with them.
One bitterly cold winter day, Brother Brown came home from work, announced that the family was going to move to a warmer climate, flew to Hawaii, found a job, and sent for his family.
Brother Brown’s ordeal of faith began on 17 March 1980. His wife, oldest daughter, and mother-in-law were killed when their car was hit head-on by a truck. Its twenty-five-year old driver had been drinking and had moved into the path of the oncoming traffic in anticipation of a left turn which was actually nearly half a mile away. He was not injured.
The police telephoned Brother Brown with news of the tragedy. Weeping and praying for strength, he went out into the street, saw two ward members driving by, and hailed them down. He told them of the accident and asked for a special blessing to enable him to cope with the tragedy. That blessing gave him a direct and powerful assurance that the Lord loved him and would make him equal to his burden.
Brother Brown almost immediately began proving that promise. At the funeral, he chose to speak, trying to help us accept and deal with the loss and showing us the way by his example. I was nearly overcome by his desire to ease our pain when he was suffering the most.
The last speaker extended the spirit of Brother Brown’s address by calling on all who were present, particularly the bereaved family, to fight against any feelings of anger which might arise against the unfortunate driver of the other vehicle.
Two days later, my neighbor faced the harrowing task of sorting the items left in the mangled car. It was an agonizing experience as he faced the awful devastation which had killed his loved ones and had to recall the accident for an insurance company report. Reliving some of the agony he had hoped to put behind him nearly overwhelmed him.
In his pain, that evening he found himself becoming angry at the driver of the truck. He prayed. The negative feelings were still there. But not wanting to succumb to that feeling, he determinedly got in his car and went to the young man’s house, sat down with him and said simply, “I’ve been praying for you—for myself—trying to resolve some feelings of anger that are beginning to gnaw at me.” The driver of the truck looked a little frightened and uncomfortable but said nothing as my neighbor talked with him. When Brother Brown asked him if they could pray together, he nodded reluctantly and knelt down. Brother Brown poured out his heart in a prayer broken by his struggle to control his sorrow, asking for the Lord to help both of them deal with their shared tragedy. The other man remained silent.
When they stood from the prayer, my neighbor noted that the young man’s face was tense and pale but rigidly expressionless. Brother Brown went to him, put both arms around him, and gently said, the relief of peace in his voice, “I love you. I forgive you. It’s going to be all right. And I won’t let you go until you can let out some of those feelings inside.” The young man stood silently, his face working, then broke into sobs of agony as he wept out his own grief in Brother Brown’s arms. The man’s wife joined them in this circle of love and told my neighbor, “My husband has been so devastated by guilt that this is the first time since the accident that he’s been able to express himself.”
Brother Brown’s trial of faith is not over, of course. He still has many years of living without his loved ones ahead of him. He still has to cope every day. But this mission of love has helped him rebuild his life. And those who know him have learned in part what it means to rise to the “measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.” (Eph. 4:13.)
A Priesthood Blessing
The blessings of the priesthood were never greater in my life than three years ago when my husband lay critically ill in a hospital. Exploratory surgery had revealed a massive malignancy that was inoperable. The doctors explained that modern methods could extend life perhaps many years; some people were even being totally cured of cancer. So we were full of hope, confident that Dave would be one of the lucky ones.
He was recovering well from his surgery when he began to have severe chest pains. He had developed pneumonia and blood clots in his lungs. For the next three weeks we pushed our concern over the cancer into the background as the doctors battled to save his lungs and life. Finally, he underwent major chest surgery and was once more on the road to recovery.
We breathed a sigh of relief. One problem at a time was enough for me. Now we could think about the cancer again. I was feeling optimistic when I asked the doctor about Dave’s outlook for the future. He answered that if chemotherapy worked, we might expect a remission for as long as two years.
I was stunned. I thought he’d speak in terms of fifteen or twenty years; now he was telling me that it would be marvelous if my husband survived for two.
I gave myself up to grief; it couldn’t have been worse if Dave had actually died. For three days and nights I thought I would perish myself from the anguish I suffered. On Sunday evening I attended sacrament meeting, and several people, including our bishop and home teachers, asked what they might do to help. I desperately needed a priesthood blessing, but was afraid that if I spoke I would lose all composure. So I nodded that everything was all right and left the building.
A few minutes later, on my way to the hospital, I chastised myself for not letting them help me. I knew I couldn’t survive much longer in my present state. “What am I going to do now?” I asked myself. Then suddenly the answer came: “Dave has the priesthood. He could give me a blessing.”
It did seem a bit strange that he should do it; after all he was the one who had been receiving one blessing after another in efforts to save his own life. It would be like asking the “sick” to bless the “well.” But I had nowhere else to turn.
I’ll never forget how my husband looked standing before me that evening as I sat on his bed. Wearing a hospital gown, gaunt and pale with pain and so weak he could hardly stand, he finally lifted his left arm to my shoulder, and with his right hand on my head proceeded to give me a priesthood blessing.
Oh, the magnificence of the priesthood of God exercised by a righteous man! My husband spoke with strength, power, and authority, asking the Lord to remove the sorrow from my heart. Immediately I felt great relief from my pain; it was as though the Lord had reached into my heart and removed the sadness.
My grief never returned, though many difficult days lay ahead.
Dave’s struggle against cancer has been painful and hard the past three years, but he lives—and his doctor tells us that he now has a good chance of total cure. We’re convinced the reason he is alive today is because of the power of the priesthood.
I have learned without qualification that, as the hymn says, “Earth has no sorrow that heaven cannot heal.” (“Come, Ye Disconsolate,” Hymns, no. 18.) I thank our Father in heaven daily for the blessings I have received through his priesthood; but never has the priesthood been so dear to me as it was that night—flooding a room with power under the hands of a courageous man in a hospital gown.
A Warning Voice
Spring break! At last I could put my studies aside and relax. I was taking my children to visit my mother—leaving college books, schedules, and worries behind.
The visit home was not going to be as pleasant as in past years. Dad had just undergone spinal surgery, and he would still be in the hospital, probably in a great deal of pain. To make matters worse, Mom had developed a severe case of the flu and had to stay in bed to avoid developing pneumonia. So it became my responsibility to go to the hospital and sit with Dad. I found that the only way to ease my own pain at seeing him in agony was to make four or five short trips daily, rather than one long visit. Each trip into town became physically and emotionally draining for me.
Still, I was trying to find small ways to relax and enjoy this precious week, and I was pleased when my young daughter, Karen, asked if she could go with me to see Grandpa. We asked my niece, Amber, to go with us to keep Karen company. I hoped the nurse would let them visit Grandpa for a few minutes. Just knowing that they were going along seemed to lift my burdens, and I began humming as we climbed into the car for the trip into town.
The girls were soon wrapped in their own chatter, and I was absorbed in the beauty of spring. But as we drove along, the peace of the moment was soon shattered by a quiet, yet piercing voice which seemed to permeate my being: “Slow down, NOW!” My immediate reaction was to put my foot on the brake, and the car began to lose speed.
I felt rather silly, partly because I had been driving considerably below the speed limit before I heard the voice, and partly because I thought I was hearing things. I glanced quickly up and down the highway and could see no immediate danger—yet I could not take my foot off the brake, and the warning of the voice persisted. I glanced at the girls to see if they had heard the voice, seeking confirmation, yet knowing in my heart that the voice was indeed real—so real that I actually looked around to see who was speaking.
I gripped the wheel nervously, my hands moist with perspiration. In the past, such a warning voice had always signaled imminent danger; but now the only traffic I could see was a semi-truck coming toward us and another semi-truck approaching us from behind, about half a mile down the road. My body had become tense and the girls’ chatter had dropped to near silence as they seemed also to sense danger.
I glanced farther down the road, searching for any apparent problems. Suddenly my eyes riveted on the semi-truck coming toward us. As it rounded a corner, a gust of wind tore away a massive door from the side of the trailer and sent the door somersaulting through the air toward us. The door was much larger than our car, and at the angle it was flying, I thought it would surely crash through the windshield and slice the roof off the car. Instinctively, I pushed Karen to the floor beneath the dash and told Amber to lie down flat on the seat. They moved immediately and without question.
The door continued hurtling toward us, splintering as it flew. It seemed to be moving in slow motion. I continued to steer, blessed with an inner calmness because I knew that I had been warned by our Heavenly Father, and I felt his protection. My major concern was that Karen and Amber would be safe.
I had applied the brakes with all my strength and was trying to steer clear of the door and flying debris. Then the door twisted suddenly, missing the front of the car by about a foot. Hitting the shoulder of the road, it splintered into hundreds of small pieces and filled the air with more flying debris. There were still many pieces large enough to cause a serious accident—yet every piece missed our car.
Relieved, and thinking the danger past, I glanced in the rearview mirror only to discover that the semi-truck behind me was now so close that all I could see in the back window were its grill and headlights! My thoughts were racing. I felt as though death had missed us head on, only to stalk us from behind! There was nothing I could do to avoid a collision. I prayed with great earnestness, pleading with the Lord to spare us once again. Just as I finished my silent prayer, traffic cleared and the driver was able to maneuver his truck into the oncoming lane of traffic and miss our car.
As my mind cleared, I realized how close death can be, even when we least expect it, and how often life hangs by the thin thread of obedience to laws, signs, and promptings of the Spirit which may be so faint that they often go unheeded. The warning voice I heard was as real and forceful as any words I have ever heard spoken, and I acknowledge with gratitude the protecting hand of our Heavenly Father.