Recently, I reached one of those time-dictated milestones in my life—the experience of a seventieth birthday. The family organized a birthday party and invited all of the immediate family to join in. My brother felt it was important enough to drive all the way from Seattle to be with us. Another one drove from Cache Valley. My sisters were already in Salt Lake, and they were the ones, along with my wife, who arranged the celebration.
There in the presence of those who mean the most to me, my family, I had a very enjoyable time. The evening was filled with stories and events which brought back a flood of memories. When the time arrived for the time-honored tradition of opening birthday gifts, my son came forward and said, “At last I’ve found just the right gift for you,” and he handed me a baseball bat with a white stocking over the end. My first reaction was, “A baseball bat at seventy years of age?”
I pulled off the white stocking, and then I understood why it was a perfect gift.
On the end of the bat was imprinted “Adirondack, Willie Mays’ Personal Model,” with the actual signature of Willie Mays.
This bat was a symbol of many great memories. I recalled a special birthday that had occurred thirty years earlier. We had just moved from California to New York. We had left our favorite baseball team, the San Francisco Giants, and Willie Mays, who was, of course, their star.
On this special birthday, Willie and the Giants were in New York playing the Mets. My son had saved his money and purchased two tickets as his birthday present to me that year. I came home from work early that day so we’d have time to make the long, traffic-filled drive to the Mets ballpark for the start of the game. We bought a hot dog, a Seven-Up, and a bag of popcorn and settled in our seats to watch Willie Mays beat the Mets. The game was tied at 4 to 4 at the end of nine innings. Willie’s record was four at-bats and zero hits. I said to my son, “We have a long drive home, and I have to get up early to catch the train into the city for a meeting.” His response was, “Willie won’t be up until next inning. Let’s watch him bat once more.”
The same response came after the eleventh, the twelfth, the thirteenth, and the fourteenth innings—and on up to the twenty-third inning. Now it was after midnight, and the drive home was well over an hour. Each time I suggested leaving, his response was, “Let’s watch Willie bat one more time.”
Then, in the first of the twenty-third inning, Willie came to bat and drove the ball over the centerfield fence. Of course, we finished watching the last of the twenty-third inning to be certain the Giants would win 5 to 4.
We arrived home at 2:30 A.M. I wasn’t at my best in the meetings the following day, but I had a lasting memory to cherish. Now a piece of wood, a baseball bat, stands in the corner of my office to remind me of a father-son relationship filled with so many great memories.
I remember taking a little child from his mother’s arms and carrying him to the front of the congregation of Saints and there giving him a name and a father’s blessing. How grateful I was to be worthy of the priesthood, which qualified me for such a special privilege. I remember how important it was on his eighth birthday when I could take him into the waters of baptism and then bring him out, again exercising the priesthood, allowing me to confirm him a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Four years later came another memory, for then I was serving as a member of the bishopric, and I was empowered to use my priesthood to place my hands on his head and confer the Aaronic Priesthood upon him and ordain him to the office of a deacon in that priesthood.
So it went, on through the priesthood offices of teacher and priest. He reached the great age of nineteen, and now I found myself holding the office of a stake president. I was now able to assign myself to confer the Melchizedek Priesthood upon my son and ordain him to the office of an elder. Then came the thrill of setting him apart as a full-time missionary and sending him off to Japan to serve the Lord.
Shortly after he returned from a successful mission, I was called to be a General Authority. With that call, the sealing power was conferred, and some five years later my son and a beautiful young lady were kneeling before me in the holy temple, and I was sealing them together as husband and wife for time and for all eternity.
It doesn’t stop there. The two of them were soon on their way east to New Haven, Connecticut, to attend school. One night I received a telephone call from my son. He said, “Dad, how fast can you make it to New Haven?” I asked him what the problem was. He said, “No problem. I’m being called into the bishopric on Sunday, and I want you to ordain me to the office of high priest.” So I went to New Haven to make another unique memory.
A few years later I returned from a stake conference assignment and received another telephone call. My son told me, “Elder Marvin J. Ashton of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles has just called me to be a stake president. He knows our history. He said he would not dare put his hands on my head to set me apart to the new office. Can you drive to Provo and set me apart?” What great memories of a father-son relationship this piece of wood holds for me!
I learned something else about memories on a recent trip to the Netherlands. The mission president’s wife, in one of our gatherings, was telling about her instructions to the missionaries in which she uses two statements—“I wish I had” and “I’m glad I did.” So I come to you with a question about eternal memories you are building in your lives. Are they followed by the comment “I wish I had,” or can you say, “I’m glad I did”?
One of the best examples I can think of in the scriptures of one who “wished he had” is Alma. After his conversion, he went forth in the work with mighty vigor and vitality, with courage and determination to accomplish that which he had been called to do. The Lord gave him another chance to be able to say, “I’m glad I did.”
Before Alma’s miraculous conversion, however, Alma the elder had deep concerns. He was the spiritual leader of the Nephites, and he was aware that many of the young people did not believe in God. They would not be baptized and would not join the Church. Even worse was the fact that the faithful members of the Church were being mocked and scorned by the unbelievers, these unbelievers being led by his own son, Alma, who was doing all he could to destroy the Church. (See Mosiah 27.)
In spite of Alma the younger’s wickedness, his father loved him and never gave up hope that his son would repent and live a better life. He longed to see his son happy and faithful in the Church. Together with many of the other faithful people, he prayed with much faith that somehow his son would be brought to the knowledge of the truth.
Young Alma had four friends who were the sons of King Mosiah. They, too, were wicked. They joined Alma in traveling throughout the land, seeking to destroy the Church. One day while they were engaged in their evil pursuits, an angel of the Lord appeared unto them. When the angel spoke, his voice sounded like thunder and caused the earth where the young men stood to shake violently. Alma and his friends were so frightened that they fell to the ground. The angel commanded, “Alma, arise and stand forth, for why persecutest thou the church of God?” (Mosiah 27:13.) Obediently Alma stood and listened to the angel. He was told that his father had prayed for him. The angel explained that he had been sent in answer to the faithful prayers of Alma’s father. The angel had come to convince young Alma of the power of God. He asked Alma:
“And now behold, can ye dispute the power of God? For behold, doth not my voice shake the earth? And can ye not also behold me before you? And I am sent from God. …
“And now I say unto thee, Alma, go thy way, and seek to destroy the church no more, that their prayers may be answered, and this even if thou wilt of thyself be cast off.” (Mosiah 27:15–16.)
With these words, the angel departed. Alma and his friends were so astonished that they again fell to the earth. With their own eyes they had seen an angel of the Lord. They had heard his voice and had felt the ground tremble when he spoke. They knew that only the power of God could cause the earth to shake so violently.
Alma the younger was so overcome by the things he had seen and heard that he was left powerless for several days. He could not speak or even move his arms or legs. When his friends saw how helpless he was, they carried him home and laid him before his father. Alma the elder was overjoyed when he heard what had happened to his son. He knew his prayers were being answered and that the Lord was helping his son know the truth. He was so happy he invited a multitude of people to come and see the result of the prayers they had offered.
Then Alma asked the members of the priesthood to fast and pray that the Lord would open the mouth of Alma the younger so that he might speak, and also that his arms and legs would receive their strength. For two days and two nights, they fasted and prayed.
During this time Alma the younger lay motionless. He was going through a difficult process of repentance. He was being tormented by his sins, remembering how he had rebelled against God. He realized that he had led many people to do evil. The very thought of his coming into God’s presence wracked Alma’s soul with horror. He thought, “Oh, … that I could be banished and become extinct both soul and body, that I might not be brought to stand in the presence of my God, to be judged of my deeds.” (Alma 36:15.)
Admitting all of his sins was an agonizing and painful experience. He was deeply sorrowful and ashamed. In the midst of all this despair, young Alma remembered his father had said that Christ would come to the world and suffer for the sins of all mankind. For the first time in his life, Alma the younger pleaded for forgiveness, crying, “O Jesus, thou Son of God, have mercy on me.” (Alma 36:18.)
At last Alma’s suffering was replaced by a feeling of exquisite joy when he realized he had been forgiven. He knew that the Savior loved him, and an overwhelming love for the Lord filled his whole soul. He had gained a powerful testimony of the truth.
Young Alma arose from his bed and began to speak to the people. It must have been a special thrill for his father to hear him say, “I have repented of my sins, and have been redeemed of the Lord; behold I am born of the Spirit.” (Mosiah 27:24.) He bore testimony to the people, saying that although he had once rejected Jesus, he now knew that Jesus was the Son of God and the Redeemer of the world.
Alma the younger and the sons of Mosiah changed their lives. Instead of trying to destroy the Church, they traveled throughout the land trying to correct the wrongs they had done. From this time forward, we find Alma going forth and preaching with much boldness, having the courage to stand up in dangerous situations and declare his belief to those who would listen to him. He suffered much persecution and humiliation because of the service he was rendering to bring souls unto our Lord and Savior. As we read on in his mission experiences, we find him so enthused with the service he is rendering that he almost wishes he did not have the limits of mortality to restrict him in his work. Listen to his words now:
“O that I were an angel, and could have the wish of mine heart, that I might go forth and speak with the trump of God, with a voice to shake the earth, and cry repentance unto every people!
“Yea, I would declare unto every soul, as with the voice of thunder, repentance and the plan of redemption, that they should repent and come unto our God, that there might not be more sorrow upon all the face of the earth.” (Alma 29:1–2.)
What an example of the “I’m glad I did” attitude! Reaching back into the history of mankind, if we could select just one principle which would especially contribute to the “I’m glad I did” memories, what would it be? I believe the choice is obvious. It would be the principle of obedience. When our first earthly parents found themselves cast out of the garden into the lone and dreary world, they found a new, burdensome requirement thrust upon them—to obtain their bread by the sweat of their brow. Overwhelmed by their new responsibility, they turned to the Lord. The scriptures record the results of their petition:
“And Adam and Eve, his wife, called upon the name of the Lord, and they heard the voice of the Lord from the way toward the Garden of Eden, speaking unto them, and they saw him not; for they were shut out from his presence.
“And he gave unto them commandments, that they should worship the Lord their God, and should offer the firstlings of their flocks, for an offering unto the Lord. And Adam was obedient unto the commandments of the Lord.
“And after many days an angel of the Lord appeared unto Adam, saying: Why dost thou offer sacrifices unto the Lord? And Adam said unto him: I know not, save the Lord commanded me.
“And then the angel spake, saying: This thing is a similitude of the sacrifice of the Only Begotten of the Father, which is full of grace and truth.
“Wherefore, thou shalt do all that thou doest in the name of the Son, and thou shalt repent and call upon God in the name of the Son forevermore.
“And in that day the Holy Ghost fell upon Adam, which beareth record of the Father and the Son, saying: I am the Only Begotten of the Father from the beginning, henceforth and forever, that as thou hast fallen thou mayest be redeemed, and all mankind, even as many as will.
“And in that day Adam blessed God and was filled, and began to prophesy concerning all the families of the earth, saying: Blessed be the name of God, for because of my transgression my eyes are opened, and in this life I shall have joy, and again in the flesh I shall see God.
“And Eve, his wife, heard all these things and was glad, saying: Were it not for our transgression we never should have had seed, and never should have known good and evil, and the joy of our redemption, and the eternal life which God giveth unto all the obedient.” (Moses 5:4–11.)
Obedience helps make such good memories. The Book of Mormon is full of accounts of the blessings that come from obedience to the laws of the Lord and the destruction which is associated with disobedience, as is evidenced by Lehi’s journey toward the promised land. Obedience brings instruments, tools, direction, food, and peace to his family. Disobedience brings heartache, suffering, and turmoil.
The test of obedience comes almost immediately to the family as the father directs his sons to return to Jerusalem to obtain the brass plates which contain the scriptures and the family genealogy. Nephi responded to his father’s request by saying:
“I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded, for I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them.” (1 Ne. 3:7.)
After two failed attempts, they determined to go by faith, trusting in the Lord to accomplish their task. The third attempt brought success. Then Nephi learned this valuable lesson.
“Behold the Lord slayeth the wicked to bring forth his righteous purposes. It is better that one man should perish than that a nation should dwindle and perish in unbelief.
“And now, when I, Nephi, had heard these words, I remembered the words of the Lord which he spake unto me in the wilderness, saying that: Inasmuch as thy seed shall keep my commandments, they shall prosper in the land of promise.
“Yea, and I also thought that they could not keep the commandments of the Lord according to the law of Moses, save they should have the law.
“And I also knew that the law was engraven upon the plates of brass.” (1 Ne. 4:13–16.)
Can you imagine the feeling of joy that filled the soul of Nephi as he delivered the brass plates to his father? As they examined the plates of brass, they “found that they were desirable; yea, even of great worth unto us, insomuch that we could preserve the commandments of the Lord unto our children.” (1 Ne. 5:21.)
The Encyclopedia of Mormonism states:
“Obedience in the context of the gospel of Jesus Christ means to comply with God’s will, to live in accordance with his teachings and the promptings of his Spirit, and to keep his commandments. Disobedience means to do anything less, whether it be to follow Satan and his will, to live in accordance with one’s own selfish wants and desires, or to be a ‘slothful’ person who must be ‘compelled in all things’ (D&C 58:26).
“Part of God’s purpose in designing mortal life for his children was to ‘prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them’ (Abr. 3:25; cf. D&C 98:14). Passing such a test is necessary for one to progress to become like God because he, himself, lives in accordance with law and principles of justice ([see] Alma 42:22–26 … ). Thus, obedience to divine law is essential to eternal progression, and those who live obediently in this life will ‘have glory added upon their heads for ever and ever’ (Abr. 3:26).” (Cheryl Brown, “Obedience,” Encyclopedia of Mormonism, ed. Daniel H. Ludlow, 4 vols., New York: Macmillan, 1992, 3:1020–21.)
Each of us makes daily entries in our book of life. Occasionally we take it from the shelf and examine the entries we are making. What kind of memories will flood our minds as we examine the pages of our personal entries? How many pages will contain “I wish I had” entries? Will there be entries of procrastination and failure to take advantage of special opportunities? Will you find there entries of thoughtlessness in treatment of family, friends, or even strangers? Will there be those of remorse resulting from acts of unrighteousness and disobedience? Will they be marked with acts of dishonesty and lack of trust? Will there be entries showing a lack of faith and a turning to the destructive powers of worldliness?
Fortunately, each day brings a clean, white page on which to change entries from “I wish I had” to “I’m glad I did,” through the process of recognition, remorse, repentance, and restitution. The harder we try to make the many “I’m glad I did” entries each hour of each day, the more “I wish I had” marks will retreat into the corners of our minds. Feelings of depression for past acts or missed opportunities will then turn to memory banks filled with exhilaration and enthusiasm and with the joy of living.
As you examine the memorabilia you have put into your book of life, will you find the ones prescribed by the Lord, in being obedient to His laws? Will there be baptismal certificates, priesthood ordinations for both the Aaronic and Melchizedek priesthoods for the men, Pursuit of Excellence awards for the women, and a letter of honorable release from a full-time mission? Will there be current temple recommends, a marriage license for a marriage performed in the holy temple, tithing receipts, and acceptance to priesthood and auxiliary calls? Some of these items I have mentioned may require attention as part of your future plans.
My counsel to you is to fill up your memory bank and your book of life with as many “I’m glad I did” activities as you can possibly crowd into one lifetime. King Benjamin in his great address counseled us on obedience by saying:
“And moreover, I would desire that ye should consider on the blessed and happy state of those that keep the commandments of God. For behold, they are blessed in all things, both temporal and spiritual; and if they hold out faithful to the end they are received into heaven, that thereby they may dwell with God in a state of never-ending happiness. O remember, remember that these things are true; for the Lord God hath spoken it.” (Mosiah 2:41.)
It is our hope and prayer that each of us will find the commitment and discipline in our lives to seek after those positive experiences which will lead to liberty and eternal life. It is my witness to you that God lives. It is by conforming our lives to His law that we will find true happiness here and eternal opportunities in the life to come, in the name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen.