Blessing with a Promise
I was attending stake conference in October 1984 when the stake president stopped me and asked me if I would visit with him after the meeting. I had recently been ordained an elder and was faithful in my calling as a counselor in the branch presidency. What could he want with me? I wondered.
Later that day I headed to the stake president’s office, where I was invited in. He politely yet quickly came to the point. “Why aren’t you planning on serving a mission?” he asked.
It was a difficult question. My parents were not members and were very poor. But more than that, they had always dreamed of having one of their children receive a university education, and I was the only one of their four boys to graduate from high school. I had worked hard to get good grades, and if I could work a year and save enough money to finance my university expenses, I would be able to make this dream come true.
Hedging, I replied, “My parents won’t let me go.”
“But if they were to allow you to go, would you be willing to serve?” he asked me.
“No.” I had to be honest with him.
“Why not?” he gently probed.
“Because my education is important to me. But I promise that I will serve a mission once I complete my university degree.”
“If I understand you correctly, Khumbulani, what you are saying is ‘university first and mission later.’”
Quietly I replied, “Yes, President.”
There was a minute of silence. Then he reached for his scriptures. “I want you to listen carefully to what the Savior teaches us: ‘But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you’ [Matt. 6:33]. What a simple blessing with a promise from the Savior himself.”
I had read that scripture many times, but that day it penetrated my heart. I felt as if I were hearing it for the first time.
My stake president looked me squarely in the eye. “Khumbulani, I challenge you to put this scripture promise to the test by serving your mission now. I know Heavenly Father will bless you if you seek his kingdom first. And at this time he wants you to serve a mission.”
We stood and shook hands, and I promised him I would think deeply about what he said. As I walked down the hall, his voice followed me. “Khumbulani, Heavenly Father would like to hear from you!”
When I reached home, I went to my bedroom and offered a prayer. I asked for strength and courage to do what I felt was now required of me. Immediately I had a strong feeling I should go and discuss my desire to serve a mission with my parents. So I rose from my knees and went to the living room, where I found my parents.
“Mom, Dad, I have decided not to attend the university but to serve a mission for my church. I would like your permission to do so.”
My parents were shocked. I went on to explain what a mission was and what it would mean to me to go. After a long discussion, my dad surprised me by saying, “My son, I trust your judgment. I will let you go if you promise to return and attend the university afterward.” I gave him my promise.
Four months later I received my mission call to the England London South Mission.
It has now been more than 10 years since my stake president promised me that if I would seek first the kingdom of God, other things would work out for the best. And indeed they have. After my mission I attended classes at the Brigham Young University—Hawaii campus and later moved to Provo, Utah, where I earned my master’s degree in education. I returned to Africa and now work as a research and development officer. I now know that if we put our trust in the promises given us in the scriptures and seek to do all we can to serve faithfully, resultant blessings will flow into our lives.
My Quest in Finding Light and Enlightenment
“One word or phrase to describe the spirit of my church?” I asked in surprise.
“Yes,” the professor replied, “and then include in your thesis a design of a church building that would demonstrate that word or phrase.”
The professor’s statement was completely unexpected. This thesis was a requirement for the master of architecture degree I was pursuing at the University of Oregon and was my last hurdle before graduation. I responded that I felt a single word or phrase could not be found to describe the spirit of my church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, since it is based upon all truth and therefore embraces all true, revealed religious beliefs and practices.
The professor disagreed. He felt strongly that what was missing from my thesis was a simple description of the spirit of my church and a design that would express it architecturally.
After the meeting, I left facing a challenge that, if not met, could well keep me from entering my chosen professional field. After pondering this dilemma, I decided to interview my priesthood leaders and other Church members in our ward. Many excellent suggestions for a single word or phrase to describe the spirit of the Church were made, including faith, eternal progression, revelation, the Book of Mormon, priesthood, prophets and apostles, and many others. I considered them all. But a means of satisfactorily expressing any of these gospel principles architecturally did not come to me.
With this delay in getting my degree, pressure mounted while I wrestled with the problem. For one thing, living costs for my family were becoming a concern. Then one night while pondering my problem, I realized I had not taken the challenge directly to our Father in Heaven. I had prayed for guidance and had sought out my priesthood leaders for advice, but I had not asked the Lord specifically for help in finding the word or phrase I needed. Humility filled my entire being. I had done all in my power to find an answer but had not been able to find a solution on my own. I truly needed direct help.
I found a quiet, private place to pray, and there I knelt and poured out my heart to my Heavenly Father. As I concluded my prayer, a word flashed into my mind: enlightenment. Then the phrase light and enlightenment followed. Joy swept through me. My prayer had been answered. I thought of how light and truth have been restored in our day through the Prophet Joseph Smith. As prophets, seers, and revelators, our Church leaders continue to offer light and truth to all who will listen. Our missionary efforts truly bring enlightenment to the world. Our temples glow with spiritual light. Eternal truths are taught and enlighten all who enter therein.
Suddenly it was easy to envision a meaningful architectural design for one of our Church buildings. I decided to design a building that would allow light to penetrate from the heavens all day long and that would radiate light heavenward each evening.
The resubmission of my thesis that now illustrated the phrase light and enlightenment was accepted. My professors expressed great interest in both the history and my description of the spirit of our church.
I am grateful to our Father in Heaven for the insight and inspiration I received on that occasion. The deep meaning and spiritual significance of this experience have been a wonderful and continued blessing to me since that day.
Keith W. Wilcox went on to design many significant buildings and was part of the design team for the Washington [D.C.] Temple and the Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah. Today Brother Wilcox, a released member of the Seventy, serves as a home teacher in the Kingston Ward, Ogden Utah Weber Heights Stake.
My Eyes Were Opened
It was a cold, cloudy Friday afternoon, and my wife and I had planned a temple trip. We had been trying to go to the temple for some time, but something else always came up. Today we were determined to make it.
When I arrived home from work, my wife was gone, no doubt running some necessary errands. I began doing little tasks around the house, and as time passed I gradually began to lose the desire to attend the temple. Then my wife came in, arms full of laundry, and asked if we were still going to go. “Well,” I responded, “it’s been a very long week, and I’m tired. I bet you’re tired too. Maybe we can go next week.”
Without argument, she headed to the bedroom to put the clothes away. As I stood still for a minute, a small voice inside me said, You need to go. As I joined my wife in the bedroom, she turned and asked, “Are you sure we’ll make it next week?”
“No,” I said, “because we’re going today.”
No sooner had we decided to go than opposition met us and I began to be increasingly irritated. My shirt wasn’t ironed. I couldn’t find my dark socks. Nothing was going right. I silently prayed, If I need to go today, please help me get there. I received the needed help, and things began to run more smoothly.
But later, as we sat on the back row of the temple chapel, I started to become anxious and uptight again. I kept glancing at my watch. Why was I in such a rush? The same still, small voice I had heard earlier came to me, reminding me that there was no need to hurry there in the temple. I immediately felt peace.
After completing our session, my wife and I entered the celestial room, where we enjoyed sitting together reverently, partaking of the Spirit.
Just before it was time for us to leave, I noticed a young couple whom I had seen earlier in the chapel. The man was evidently blind, and the woman was reverently trying to get the attention of a passing temple worker.
I kissed my wife gently on the cheek and said, “It’s time to go now.” I walked slowly past the couple in need and offered to help the man.
With a smile she placed his arm in mine and we departed for the dressing room. While we were walking, the man turned to me and said, “My name is David. I thank you for helping me.”
“My name is John, and it’s no trouble at all,” I replied.
“I guess I should have told someone I had a disability,” he continued.
“Even those who can see often have difficulty finding their way around,” I answered.
David chuckled softly and said, “I guess you’re right.”
As we entered the dressing area, I showed him to his locker and opened it, then returned to my locker. While I was changing my clothes, tears began to fill my eyes, and my heart began to hurt. How many times had I overlooked someone in need? I wondered. How many times did I not have ears to hear or eyes to see another’s need? In some ways, I had been blind for so many years.
I wiped my eyes and returned to where I had left David. As I watched quietly, I noticed he was having trouble with his tie.
“Here,” I said, “your tie is stuck on your collar.”
“John, is that you?” he asked.
“Yes. I’m here,” I replied.
We walked out to the foyer together, and his wife smiled as she saw us. I led David to her and placed his arm in hers.
“Here you go, David. You’re safe now,” I said.
“I was safe with you, John,” he responded.
That night as I lay on my bed, I thanked Heavenly Father for that special day. I thanked him for the lesson I had learned and for the opportunity he had given me to help another. I knew that if I hadn’t been in the temple that day, someone else could have helped David, but I would have missed an important lesson and might have remained blind toward others’ needs, as I had previously been. Now I could see.
A Secret Prayer
The house we were renting sold unexpectedly, and we were forced to move out quickly. It couldn’t have happened at a worse time. My husband, Keri, had suffered an accident while working on the ski patrol, resulting in extensive knee surgery. He was frustrated by his condition and his inability to help with the move. At the same time, I was directing a play with a cast of 60 while trying to nurse Keri, take care of five young children, pack up our belongings, and find a new place to live.
In trying to meet our deadline, I had worked myself to exhaustion but had hardly seemed to make a dent. I’d had almost no sleep for several days and was so tired that I just wanted to sit down and cry. I ached from head to toe, and my back, which had been operated on a few years earlier, was starting to ache. Moving was an impossible job under the circumstances, and Keri and I realized we needed help.
We went to our Heavenly Father in prayer, telling him that we felt we were doing all we could, but we needed assistance. Deep in my heart I also had a secret prayer for the comfort and companionship of my mother, who is my dear friend. I was running on empty and felt a strong need for her energy, compassion, and love. Even though I knew it was impossible (my parents were in Africa directing a travel-study program), I yearned for her comfort and closeness.
We felt prompted to call the elders quorum president, and within half an hour a flood of men poured into our home and took over the seemingly impossible job of helping us move. Along with the men came Sharon Larson, a wonderful woman with a perpetual smile and a glow that radiated about her.
Sharon swept the children and me off to the new house to get the beds made up. With love and compassion, she saw to the details of getting us settled in for the night. Under her seemingly magical touch, the children went from crying to giggles and excited chatter. She made beds and bathed the children while I cared for the baby. When the children were all tucked in, she turned to me.
“You can hardly move,” she said. “Why don’t you soak in a hot tub, and I’ll go out and pretend I’m you and tell the men where to put furniture.”
I gratefully took her advice and went to soak away some of the back pain. Later, when I emerged, she sent me off to bed. I could hear the men starting to leave. Then, into my bedroom came Sharon carrying one final gift—my old rocking chair.
“I thought you might want this in here,” she said. “Every mom needs one of these.”
As she spoke, her voice sounded like the voice of my mother, and I realized with a burning that Sharon had been sent by a Heavenly Father who loves and watches over me. Tears welled in my eyes, but they were tears of gratitude for a loving Heavenly Father, an army of service-minded brethren, and a wonderful sister who listened to a still, small voice and became an unexpected answer to a secret prayer.
“I Can’t Hear You, Mommy”
Four days before our son Spencer’s eagerly awaited eighth birthday he attended a playground water party. The day was hot and dry, and running water from hoses kept the children cool as they took turns sliding on a yellow plastic runner. When his turn came, Spencer ran full force to slide along the wet plastic that lay on the hard ground. His feet suddenly slipped out from under him. He soared up in the air, then plummeted to the ground, hitting the base of his skull soundly on the sunbaked earth. When he stood up, he felt dazed and unsteady, and he complained of fuzzy sounds and muffled voices.
After consulting with a doctor, we were asked to limit Spencer to quiet activity. He needed to rest until the symptoms disappeared. Days slipped into weeks. Eventually his dizziness subsided, but his hearing did not return to normal. He tested severely deaf in his right ear and totally deaf in the left ear. We realized his baptism would have to be postponed until the problem could be diagnosed.
The decision was made to do exploratory surgery on his right ear. A month after the accident, Spencer was admitted to the hospital. Before surgery, Spencer’s father and both grandfathers administered a priesthood blessing, promising that Spencer’s hearing would be restored to a level where he could at least function adequately in society.
The surgeon, Jerry Sonkens, discovered two small holes between the middle and inner ear. These holes were letting vital fluid drain out of the cochlea; this fluid was needed to bathe tiny nerve fibers to keep them alive. To cover the holes, the surgeon placed a skin graft deep in the middle ear.
Immediately following surgery, Spencer had one excellent day in which he experienced nearly a full restoration of hearing in one ear. But then he developed a sudden allergic reaction to his medication and contracted a severe case of hives. He coughed hard all day long. The next morning he woke up and complained, “Why is everything so quiet again?” It appeared the coughing had dislodged the skin graft, a diagnosis that could only be confirmed by repeat surgery.
Spencer grew thin and pale. Tears often welled in his eyes when he couldn’t hear his family talking or noise from his surroundings. We had to communicate through shouting, lipreading, and charades, but mostly by letter writing.
Spencer finally agreed to submit to surgery one more time. Before the surgery, many friends fasted for him, including the surgeon.
The ear canal was opened up again. The first graft had indeed dislodged. A second skin graft was put into place; then the outer ear was packed heavily with gauze to stabilize it. After two weeks the gauze was removed. I looked squarely into Spencer’s face and, with tear-filled eyes, praying that he would hear me, said, “Spencer, can you hear me talking to you?”
But he only smiled and replied, “I can’t hear you, Mommy.”
Day after day we waited for that moment when he might turn his head toward a familiar sound. But it never came. After his ears healed completely, we scheduled his baptism. In the months that followed, Spencer often asked, “When will I start to hear again? When can I talk on the phone to my friends again?”
One day he was rocking with me in our big family rocking chair. He said, “Mommy, I’m forgetting what people’s voices sound like. I can’t remember what it’s like to hear anymore.” He looked at me and waited for me to reply.
I gazed at him lovingly and mouthed, “Honey, you will probably never hear normally again in this life. But after you die someday and go to live with Heavenly Father and Jesus, you will hear. And one day, when your body is resurrected, your ears will be perfect.” He never again asked if his hearing would return.
As Spencer grew older, he obtained a hearing aid, learned lipreading and some American Sign Language, and adapted remarkably well to his silent world. A serious student, he also played varsity volleyball and obtained his Eagle Scout award. At age 19 he was called to serve as a sign-language missionary. He really can hear well enough to function adequately in society, just as he had been promised in his father’s priesthood blessing years before.