As I have added 20 years to the proverbial three score years and ten—and still persist though I know not why—my mind is a bit hazy. But at times there seems to shine through an incident that has withstood the erosion usually accompanying old age. If perchance the windows of my memory may serve as beacons to another, I shall rejoice that even now in the twilight my small beam may shine to benefit and guide another.
My teenage years were spent in the small frontier settlements of Alberta, Canada. In those days it was always a challenge to find out who had the fastest horse.
It was there I learned about the importance of a race horse getting off to a good start and, if possible, getting ahead of the track. But of at least equal importance was the matter of continuing—of enduring. So it is in all the activities of life. It is the finish that counts, being able to endure to the end in faithfulness as we are instructed in the gospel to do, or as someone has said, “To keep on keeping on.”
As is yours, my life was influenced by the teachings of my parents. My mother often told me to stay with whatever I undertook to do until it was finished, never to quit or give up however hard the going might be. She often illustrated her teachings with scriptures and poetry. This little poem has been a help to me.
The tree that never had to fight
For sun and sky and air and light,
That stood out in the open plain
And always got its share of rain,
Never became a forest king,
But lived and died a scrubby thing.
The man who never had to toil,
To heaven from the common soil,
Who never had to win his share
Of sun and sky and light and air,
Never became a manly man,
But lived and died as he began.
Good timber does not grow in ease;
The stronger wind, the tougher trees;
The farther sky, the greater length;
The more the storm, the more the strength;
By sun and cold, by rain and snows,
In tree or man, good timber grows.
Where thickest stands the forest growth
We find the patriarchs of both;
And they hold converse with the stars
Whose broken branches show the scars
Of many winds and much of strife—
This is the common law of life.
(Douglas Malloch in Sourcebook of Poetry, comp. Al Bryant [Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, Mich.: 1968], p. 456.)
As is often the case, my parents were of strikingly different personalities. Father used stern medicine to teach and guide us children, sometimes a kick or a wallop and rather harsh words. Mother used quiet serenity born of faith and patient endurance. So you see, they were at opposite ends of the pole, but each played an important role in my development. From Father I learned to bear what must be borne; from Mother I received tenacity of purpose.
It was many years before I could conscientiously feel gratitude to my father for some of the lessons he taught me. I still remember the summer day when a group of us young people living in Spring Coulee had planned to meet our friends in Cardston for a picnic. My heart was set on it; it seemed most desirable. Just before it was time to leave, Father said, “Hugh, I want you to go bring in the cows from the east slope.” That was several miles away, and obviously I could not attend the party and obey my father. Although I was inwardly angry and resentful, I knew what I had to do. As I rode out toward the east slope I philosophically confided to my horse, “Sometimes the bitter cup is our portion when the sweeter cup may have been detrimental.” Similar lessons throughout my lifetime have served to emphasize that not only our earthly fathers but our Heavenly Father might reprove betimes with sharpness (see D&C 121:43) for our eternal welfare.
From the time I was a lad my thirst for knowledge, and especially a knowledge of the gospel, seemed insatiable. Mine was a questing mind, like a huge octopus with a sponge on each tentacle. Regular attendance at school had been denied me because of the rigors of providing for a family of 14. We older boys were expected to assist Father in the chores attendant to life on the frontier of Alberta at the turn of the century. But my mother had instilled within my heart and mind, “You can be what you will to be if you just behave yourself.” And each morning as I set out to ride the range, she would make sure that a book was tucked into my saddlebag along with my lunch. Somewhere along the line I committed these lines to memory:
You may be what you will to be.
Let cowards find their false content
In that poor word “environment,”
But spirit scorns it and is free.
It conquers time, it masters space—
It cows that boastful trickster chance
And bids the tyrant circumstance
Uncrown, and fill a servant place.
The human will, that force unseen—
The offspring of a deathless soul
Can hew its way to any goal
Tho’ walls of granite intervene.
And through those granite, intervening years, the message of Nephi’s words have found lodgment in my heart:
“Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life.” (2 Ne. 31:20.)
Since salvation is and ever has been my goal, there is no other way for me to conduct myself in order to reach my destination. This is not my doctrine but the doctrine of the Christ and the Father. The Lord revealed the secret to the Prophet Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery:
“If thou wilt do good, yea, and hold out faithful to the end, thou shalt be saved in the kingdom of God, which is the greatest of all the gifts of God; for there is no gift greater than the gift of salvation.” (D&C 6:13.)
As a youth the possibility of traveling farther than my horse could carry me seemed as remote as the moon. Now see where “one giant step” has taken us. Yet there is more. I invite you to come with me on a grand tour called mortality.
As we embark we find that the Tour Director is supremely qualified. At the outset he informs us of the projected itinerary and his effulgent hope that each of us will exhibit a lively curiosity in his plans, sufficient to carry desire into positive action.
He does not promise that it will be an easy journey, but he does promise that the necessary assistance and guidance will be available. He has said, “Draw near unto me and I will draw near unto you; seek me diligently and ye shall find me; ask, and ye shall receive; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.” (D&C 88:63.) Many times in my life I have accepted his invitation and bear solemn testimony that he means what he says. On this great adventure we could not leave struggle out or make adversity impossible. The way would not be happy with nothing hard to do, with no conflicts to wage for worthwhile ends; a trip where courage was not needed and sacrifice a superfluity would be boring.
There will be both valleys to traverse and mountains for us to climb, and having done so, to appreciate. We sit enraptured as we listen to our Guide tell of mountains he has scaled—the Mt. of Temptation, the Mt. of the Beatitudes, the Mt. of the Transfiguration. We weep with him as he recalls the testing in Gethsemane, and we offer silent prayers of gratitude for his devotion to the Father’s will and wisdom, for we have come to know the triumph wrought upon the Mt. of the Crucifixion. This understanding inspires emulation as well as adoration, and we quietly resolve to follow where he leads.
If we encounter a boulder in our path, we must decide how to meet it. A good traveler does not want all his barriers leveled. The difficult or unpleasant thing puts him on his mettle, throws him on his own resources, challenges him into stimulation. It gives him something of “the stern joy which warriors feel in foemen worthy of their steel.” (Sir Waiter Scott, Lady of the Lake, canto V, stanza 10.) But to some of our travelers it could appear to be the end of the expedition; for some it will be a formidable barrier that prompts them to take a detour; others will devise a set of grappling hooks, and test their strength against it, and make of it a mighty anchor that will thrust them up and over and onward in their climb.
The decisive crisis in many lives concerns the attitude that experiences with adversity evokes—with some there is a mellowing influence in which there is spiritual growth, scriptural passages become radiant, and life seems more meaningful. The gospel will show us a way through and around our troubles. It promises no crown without a cross, no triumph without a battle. Remember, the storms beat upon the house built upon the rock, even as they do upon the one built on sand. True, the pathway may be strewn with rocks that bruise our feet, but when we contemplate our goal, they only tend to toughen and strengthen our resolve, and we recall that “great works are performed not alone by strength but by perseverance.” (Samuel Johnson, Rasselas XIII.) If we banish hardship we banish hardihood; out of the same door with calamity walk courage, fortitude, triumphant faith, and sacrificial love. If we abolish the cross in the world, we make impossible the Christ in man.
The terrain becomes so steep in places we are forced to pause to catch our breath. And as we do we note the beauty that surrounds what may seem commonplace to those who hurry past. We glimpse a shady bower and feel impressed to pause and bow and thank our Guide for the constancy of his concern for us.
Refreshed, renewed, we hasten onward, upward in our quest to reach the summit. Our enthusiasm quickens as we anticipate the climax of our journey—our destination is in sight. Imagine, if you will, our great surprise upon arrival to find that the top of our mountain reveals yet another range with wider vision promised from its pinnacle.
Such is the experience of mortality—a series of mountains with intervening valleys. Some come into this world seriously handicapped and, it would appear, scarcely able to cope with life’s vicissitudes. But let us remember that when we handicap a competitor in any event by giving others an advantage, we acknowledge his superiority. Nature’s handicaps are often compliments. Struggle and strength travel together. What must appear to some as failure can be to another the very motivation necessary to develop a needed virtue. “Defeat may serve as well as victory to shake the soul and let the glory out.” One man’s disillusion may be another’s inspiration. The same exposure to pain, misery, and sorrow that coarsens the mind and callouses the soul of one may give to another a power of compassionate understanding and humility without which mere achievement remains primitive.
Humility is the key to rich and radiant living and is imperative to the Lord’s injunction to endure in righteousness to the end of this mortal proving ground.
The parish priest
Climbed up in a high church steeple
To be near to God,
So that he might hand
His word down to His people. …
In his age God said,
“Come down and die!”
And he cried from out the steeple,
“Where art Thou, Lord?”
And the Lord replied,
“Down here among the people.”
Eight years ago my sweetheart, Zina, suffered a massive stroke that took her speech and left her paralyzed. The doctors said she probably would not survive the week. As our children surrounded her bed I pled with the Lord to spare her life. Then I spoke to her, though she was unconscious. I reminded her that through the years of our married courtship we had planned and hoped to take the final trip together. I told her I wanted what was best for her and our Father’s will, but life would seem so empty without her presence. I think the Lord in his mercy permitted Zina her choice—she could travel on into immortality and rest, or remain to bless us with her exhibition of quiet faith, patience, and fortitude. Characteristically, she chose to do what she knew would give me greatest comfort, unmindful of her own tribulation. Hers is truly a Christlike love. Our entire family has been blessed and benefited by her unselfish sacrifice in our behalf. Noble characters do not alone bear trouble; they use it.
“And now, behold, my beloved brethren, this is the way; and there is none other way nor name given under heaven whereby man can be saved in the kingdom of God. And now, behold, this is the doctrine of Christ, and the only and true doctrine of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, which is one God, without end. Amen.” (2 Ne. 31:21.)