To Walk in High Places


As a new twelve-year-old Scout, I attended a court of honor in the Richards Ward in Salt Lake City. Near the end of the evening an older fellow in the troop, Jim Rasband, was awarded a beautiful, red, heart-shaped medal. It was called the Life Scout award. I remembered how impressed we as troop members were when it was pinned on his Scout shirt. That one experience of seeing an unusual Scout lift his head above the average boy and walk in high places probably contributed to my attainment of the Eagle rank.

In athletics I watched an older brother and other neighborhood friends excel and play before large crowds of enthusiastic high school students. There were those on the team who rode the bench, and there were those on the field who played. Those who played were the cream of the crop, the competitors, the champions. It seemed to me that if you’re going to do all the work one does in training for athletics that it is worth it to develop a little better attitude and put forth a little more effort if that is all it would take to put you on the field playing. A great trial in life would be to ride the bench when with a little additional effort or change in attitude you could play.

I saw the same principles of success manifest in speech, drama, student government, music, dance, and ROTC. Those who put forth sufficient effort and time become the best. Many years ago at Yale the swim team was breaking many of the world records. A newspaper writer asked the coach how they were doing it. The coach replied, “I have taught them to break the pain barrier.”

When I was about 14, my mother and father were divorced. There were seven children left at home. Little or no child support was ever paid. I watched my “champion” mom put on heavy shoes with metal toe protectors, dress like a workman, and go out to Garfield smelter to work so she could earn enough money to support our family. The poor woman would get ready for work at about 9:30 P.M., catch a bus at 10:00, work all night until 7:00 A.M., return home, and be there about the time we got up to go to school. During the day she would wash and iron, bake bread, fix meals, clean the house, and always be up when the children were home. I don’t know how she did it.

Now some of you will never have to experience conditions like that in your home. But let me say here, one of the highest places I have ever walked is in the shadow of a great mom who forgot her embarrassment and womanly image to simply support a large family until they came of age. I saw an older brother who grew up fast and was able to go to work at age 14 in the Bauer Mines near Tooele because he was large of stature. He became the masculine image to all of us who were his younger brothers and sisters.

It is no wonder that I love work. My wonderful mother taught me how to work, and when I did get a job, I knew the family was depending on me to hold it.

I attended church not because I was forced to but because I desperately needed and wanted to. I saw men who walked in high places, who were pure, gentle, kind. I met men who had time to spend with boys. Great men like Percy Scofield, Lincoln Parker, Don Stout, Bruford Reynolds. I remember Percy Scofield, our bishop, hiking into Dog Lake with us. He wasn’t a young man, and we just about killed him, but he went with us. We knew he loved and cared for us.

Don Stout was drafted during World War II. In 1943 he wrote me a letter from Europe. The tank in which he was riding had turned upside down in a pond of water, and he and his comrades were there for several hours not knowing if they were going to drown or suffocate. He shared some of his experiences with me, and then in the last paragraph he said, “Vaughn, I want you to know I have never had a beer or a cigarette, never a drink of liquor or tea.” He said, “I have never had coffee or even a cola drink in spite of all the pressure from the boys in my company.” I told a friend about Don’s not drinking or smoking, and he said it was impossible; no man could do that. And I said, “If Don said he did it, he did it.”

I was 12 when I read his letter, and even then I wept as I thought about him, and I decided right then and there that I was going to walk in high places like Don Stout.

As I grew older, the men who impressed me the most were those who were involved in serving others. They were in bishoprics, ward and stake executive positions. They served as Scoutmasters and Aaronic Priesthood advisers. They were great fathers and caring home teachers. I made the decision that I wanted to serve. I wanted to be like them. They seemed to radiate happiness, and they were successful because they were content in serving.

Wilford Kimball was our bishop when I was an older teenager. He had two daughters who were my age, Ardyth and Virginia. Every, I mean every, Sunday evening we would go to Bishop Kimball’s house. Always they would be there. Always we would have refreshments. Never once did any of us feel unwelcome. It wasn’t just for a few months but literally for a few years. I don’t know how they ever afforded it, let alone put up with ten to fifteen teenage youths for two to three hours every Sunday night.

From the little group who attended those get-togethers there have been five or six bishops, several high councilors, two stake presidents, several counselors in stake presidencies, a General Authority, and wives of all these priesthood brethren. Bishop Kimball himself was later called as a stake president and then as a mission president, and there are some who were there who followed him and also became mission presidents. What a privilege to walk with Wilford Kimball and his wife in high places, their home.

Now, my beloved young friends, I made the decision that I wanted to walk in high places, not in an aspiring way, but I wanted to serve, and the leaders, it appeared to me, did most of the serving.

One time when I was on the Priesthood Missionary Committee of the Church, I traveled to a conference with President Marion G. Romney, who at that time was a member of the Quorum of the Twelve. Between conference sessions we walked around the parking lot of the Pocatello East Stake Center. It was a cool, blustery day. He stopped and put his arm through mine, and then he said, “Brother Featherstone, do you think the brethren of the priesthood will ever come to understand that they were born to serve their fellowmen?” And I ask you, brethren, do you think we will?

When I was about 18, I heard of solemn assemblies and priesthood leadership meetings held in conjunction with stake conferences. I heard about testimony meetings that lasted five, seven and nine hours in the mission field. I heard about meetings in the assembly room in the temple, and I longed to be worthy to one day attend such meetings. I didn’t ever want anything to come into my life that would prevent me from having such opportunities.

All of my life I have wanted to walk in high places, and I have. Some of the highest places I have walked have been in the humble homes of our sweet Lamanite brethren. I have found high places in the service of our snowy-crowned, long-living friends in and out of the Church. I found a high place with a new convert who was talking to a young man. He said, “Your father is a good old boy.” Then he asked, “Do you know what a ‘good old boy’ is?” The young man said, “No.” The convert explained: “In Texas we have men who are great men, gentle men—refined, dignified, fine men. The good old boy is one level higher.” I have known some good old boys and walked in high places with them.

Someone penned a verse:

We have the nicest garbage man.
He empties out our garbage can.
He’s just as nice as he can be.
He always stops and talks with me.
My mother says she doesn’t like his smell,
But, then, she doesn’t know him very well.

When we take time to really come to know people, we find much that is great and good about them. We are not so critical of failures or appearances. We begin to judge them for their true worth. As we labor in missionary work, the missionaries come to love those whom they serve because they serve them.

If you want to walk in high places, there are four things I would suggest you use as a guide for living.

1. Remember what President Romney said: “We were born to serve our fellowmen.”

2. Elder Bruce R. McConkie said, “No other talent exceeds spirituality—truly strive to be more spiritual.”

3. Strive to be pure in heart.

4. Ask yourself, if the Master were here and faced with this problem, what would he do? And then have the courage to do it.

If you want to walk in high places, you must make the necessary sacrifices. If you have integrity, purity, and spirituality, you can walk with great men, leaders and rulers of nations, great business executives, and men of great wealth, and you need never fear. You can walk in the presence of bishops, stake presidents, General Authorities, and our prophet and be humbled but not fearful.

To all of the men and women, old and young, to boyhood friends, to a great mom, to great brothers and sisters, a wonderful wife, and children with whom I have walked in high places, I say:

There’s a comforting thought at the close of the day,
When I’m weary and lonely and sad,
That sort of grips hold of my crusty old heart
And bids it be merry and glad.
It gets in my soul and it drives out the blues,
And finally thrills through and through.
It is just a sweet memory that chants the refrain:
“I’m glad I touch shoulders with you!”
Did you know you were brave, did you know you were strong?
Did you know there was one leaning hard?
Did you know that I waited and listened and prayed,
And was cheered by your simplest word?
Did you know that I longed for the smile on your face,
For the sound of your voice ringing true?
Did you know that I grew stronger and better because
I had merely touched shoulders with you?
I am glad that I live, that I battle and strive
For the place that I know I must fill;
I am thankful for sorrows, I’ll meet with a grin
What fortunes may send, good or ill.
I may not have wealth, I may not be great,
But I know I shall always be true,
For I have in my life that courage you gave
When once I rubbed shoulders with you.

—Anonymous

God bless us to be worthy as young priesthood holders and young women to walk in high places all the days of our lives.

[photos] Photo illustration by Jed Clark; modeled by Chris Sorensen