“Hurry up, Diane,” I called to my sister. “I sure don’t want to be late to this fireside!”
Tonight at the bishop’s fireside, Kris Logan was going to be the speaker, and frankly, I was dying of curiosity.
I guess every ward in the Church must have somebody like Kris Logan in it. He’s the kid you’ve always known, the boy who’s been around since first grade, though usually on the edge of things. He shows up at Church often enough so that he’s not really a stranger, but rarely enough so that you’re always a little surprised to see him, and you wonder, “What’s the occasion?” Usually, in Kris’s case, the occasion was a basketball game he wanted to play in or maybe a dance somebody had dragged him to. The other guys his age were all priests, starting to get excited about missions and all that’s involved with that; Kris was still a deacon and showed no interest in being advanced further.
Well, you know the type. That was Kris. Or at least, that had been Kris. But suddenly, about a month ago, something had happened. Nobody seemed to know what, though, and that’s what we were hoping to find out tonight.
Diane must have been thinking the same way I was, because as she came bounding down the stairs, she said, “I’ve never seen anybody change as fast as Kris has. I mean, converts change fast when they join the Church, but Kris is no convert. What do you think happened, Laurie?”
“I don’t know. That’s what I’m hoping to find out.” I tossed her her jacket, and we took off.
As we filed into the Relief Society room with the other kids, I kept craning my neck, trying to get a look at Kris sitting up in front with the bishop. “Funny,” I thought to myself. “Kris, always the guy who sat in the very back row in class, or hung around out in the foyer on the rare occasions when he did come to Church. Now he is up in front, and more than that, he is going to be in the spotlight. He hasn’t just come out to a fireside; he is the fireside.”
What had happened to make a boy on the fringes become the fireball of the ward? I hadn’t been to the chapel once in the past four weeks—not once—without seeing Kris Logan there. Sunday School? Every week, scriptures in hand. Sacrament? Absolutely—serving the sacrament, in fact, and towering over the shorter deacons, and radiating satisfaction. Mutual? Most emphatically—even to singing in a trio during opening exercises. And last Saturday, when we had our Spring Spruce-up for a number of the widows and disabled members of the ward, Kris seemed to be everywhere—chopping out weeds, patching up cement in driveways, bagging trash, washing windows.
After the opening song and prayer and a special musical number, the bishop introduced Kris. Then Kris got slowly to his feet, looking shy and nervous but very happy. This is what he told us:
“You all know me. I guess the reason the bishop wanted me to talk tonight was to sort of explain how a loser like me got shaped up—or at least on the road to shaping up. Maybe some of you have even been wondering the same thing.” There were some embarrassed but friendly chuckles.
“I guess some people find out who they are and what things are all about when they’re on their knees praying or when they’re reading the scriptures or something. But it happened to me out in the mountains, with me falling on my face until I was ready to give up.
“Let me start at the beginning. My cousins Dennis and Deb had come out to visit us. Dennis is my age, Deb a year older, and we’ve always been close. Well, I found out that they were into cross-country skiing and really excited about it.
“‘Cross-country?’ I said when they started talking about it. ‘That’s just walking on skis. I’m learning downhill.’ I was maybe bragging just a little, but I really couldn’t see getting high on plain old cross-country.
“But I went along with them on some of their jaunts, and I got the hang of it fast. No big deal. Then they decided to take an all-day tour from just above Wallsburg Bay over to Marysville—about six hours, they figured. They got good topographical maps of the area, assembled their backpacks carefully, made plans to park one car at Marysville and have my folks drop them off at the bay, checked all their equipment—everything was fine, until I found out that they weren’t planning to take me along!
“‘Hey, what kind of a deal is this?’ I exploded. ‘I’ve been taking you guys around, showing you the countryside, being very nice to my guests—and you’re planning to ditch me?’
“‘Hold on, hothead,’ Deb began. ‘Cool off. We’d love to have you, you know that, you turkey! But, well, to be honest—’
“‘You just haven’t done enough cross-country,’ Dennis finished. ‘You’re not in shape for this kind of thing. You’re doing fine, but you’re not really used to it yet. You have to build up to this kind of skiing.’
“Well, I almost disowned a couple of cousins right there. We went the rounds for quite a while. They volunteered to cut the trip in half and take me, but I said nothing doing. I was really mad that they thought I wasn’t in shape for their old cross-country stuff, when I’d been spending whole days on the ski runs.
“Finally, there was nothing they could do but take me. And there was no problem at all, just like I’d expected—for a while.
“I really was enjoying myself, though I wasn’t going to admit it to Dennis and Deb after I’d made such a big deal about how much better downhill was. But the sun was sparkling on the crisp, untracked snow, the smell of pine was in the air, and it was so quiet. Nobody else was in sight but the three of us, and I started to hear things I’d never been aware of before—the soft plop of snow falling from the trees, the sound of the wind in the tops of the spruces, the glide of our skis. It was really great.
“I realized a little before noon that I was working harder than I’d expected. To just keep on going, striding through deep powder, up hill and down, well, that takes a lot of energy. More than I’d figured. But I was fine, though a little tired.
“I didn’t realize how cold it was till we stopped for lunch. All that exertion keeps you warm, but when you stop, you can get pretty chilled. And then I did a dumb thing. I asked Deb to let me see the map, and I stood up, trying to locate our position. The wind started gusting pretty bad just then, and the map started flapping like crazy. Well, I lost my grip on it, and it sailed away. I started after it, but we had removed our skis while we were eating, and I made slow progress, slogging on foot through waist-high snow. Then another big gust came up, and we watched our map whip over the ground and down the side of the ridge, out of sight.
“‘I’ll go after it,’ I called, starting to put my skis back on.
“‘No, Kris, don’t!’ Dennis said. ‘It’s down at the bottom of the ridge by now, and besides, there’s avalanche danger over that way.’
“‘Okay. I guess we can manage without the map, anyway, can’t we?’ I asked. Dennis just looked at Deb and didn’t say anything.
“The wind kept gusting, making the chill factor pretty worrisome. Dennis fished some ski masks out of his pack, and when we’d put those on, we felt more comfortable. We mushed on, not talking much now, what with the cold and the wind. I could tell that both cousins were worried about having no map.
“Then things started getting worse. First of all I started having trouble with my shoes. Cross-country shoes have little holes at the tip of the sole that fit into metal spikes on the binding of the ski and clamp down—that’s how you stay attached to the ski. Well, I had rented my shoes, and the holes were torn and ripped out so that my foot started pulling out of the ski. Deb tried lashing my shoe to the ski with some rawhide strips she had, and that would hold for a while. Then it would all work loose, and I’d have to stop, take my gloves off, and with freezing fingers, tighten the rawhide.
“By now my legs felt like cement posts—numb and heavy. I started getting a little careless. Once the tips of my skis crossed, and I went crashing down. Falling on cross-country skis doesn’t hurt, but it takes a while to get up, unless you remove your skis, and then that takes time, putting them back on and everything. By the time I got up, Dennis and Deb were quite a way ahead. I tried to go faster, to catch up, but between my busted shoe and my numb legs, I couldn’t close the gap much.
“Don’t get the idea they were being mean or anything. They just realized we needed to push on before the wind got any worse and it started to get dark.
“I finally did catch up to them, though, because they had stopped moving.
“‘What’s wrong?’ I asked. They were just standing there, looking off in the distance. Their breath rose from their mouths in frosty clouds, and their chests rose and fell as they gulped for breath in the thin air. Dennis uncapped a plastic bottle of water and drank a little.
“‘You need some?’ he asked me. I took the bottle gratefully and closed my eyes as the icy water slipped down my throat. I screwed the cap back on, then asked again, ‘Something wrong?’
“‘We think we may be off course. We should have crossed Elk Ridge by now—that’s the last one before Marysville Ridge.’ Deb was squinting at the horizon, her sunglasses off. She pointed in the direction of the lowering sun. ‘The ridge should be right in front of us, but it’s not.’
“Nobody said anything for a minute. If we weren’t heading in the right direction, we could be plodding into the wilderness, thousands of square miles of forests and snow. I got a funny feeling on the back of my neck and shivered.
“‘So what do we do?’ I asked.
“‘I guess we’d better have a prayer before we do anything,’ said Dennis.
“Well, I sure hadn’t done much praying recently, and I felt funny standing there in the snow with my head bowed while Dennis asked for help in finding our way. But if it would help us get out of this situation, a prayer was okay by me. I guess I kind of expected something to happen afterwards—some tracks to appear in the snow, or something, showing us the right way. But nothing happened, except that Deb and Dennis picked up their poles and started mushing on toward the west.
“By now I was having trouble pulling one foot ahead of the other. My lungs were burning with the cold air and the exertion. I was so tired my eyes started drooping shut, even as I slogged on. I began to feel that if we could only rest awhile, everything would be all right. The snow looked soft and comfortable—it would be so pleasant just to nestle down for a few minutes.
“Deb came skiing back to me at one point.
“‘Kris, I know you’re exhausted. But we can’t stop. We’re not equipped to spend the night out here, not with this wind and the temperature dropping by the hour. We’ve got to find the right direction fast. You’ve got to keep up.’ She took my shoulder and shook me. ‘Are you okay? Are you cold anyplace? Talk to me!’
“I told her my legs were numb and my lungs burning, but I wasn’t unbearably cold. She looked at me carefully.
“‘Ski with me,’ she instructed. As I did, she watched my movements.
“‘Your speech is clear, and you’re not staggering. No signs of hypothermia. That’s a blessing, anyway. Now we’re going to keep going as fast as we can. Follow our tracks, and keep up, Kris! You can do it!’ And she went off ahead.
“I tried, but I kept falling farther and farther behind. My arms ached from the hours of poling. My eyelids drooped. Again my ski tips crossed, and I crashed down. This time hot tears filled my eyes. I couldn’t make the effort to get up. I couldn’t! My breathing was ragged; I needed to rest!
“Then a funny thing happened. Out of nowhere something popped into my head that I hadn’t thought of in four or five years. Way back in my deacons quorum—one of the few times I went, I guess—for some reason we were studying a scripture from Isaiah. I remember the words because of a question that came up in class. The scripture says:
“‘But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.’
“Somebody in the class, I think it was Chuck (everyone’s eyes slid over to Chuck Willis, then back), anyway, somebody said that was a backward way to write a scripture, that the writer should have had that stuff about walking first, then running, then mounting up with wings, so as to build to a climax.
“Our quorum adviser was Brother Halpern, and I’ll always remember what he did. He looked at us a long time, kind of smiling. Then he said, ‘I’m sure that’s the way it looks to you all now. But someday, when you’re more experienced, you’ll learn that anybody can mount up with wings for a little while—while making a touchdown pass, or leading a fast break down the basketball court, or finishing first in the 100-meter dash. And if you’re good, you can even “run and not be weary.” But in the long haul of life, the race goes to the one who can “walk and not faint,” the person who can keep going, enduring, putting one foot in front of the other, not dramatically or excitingly, but with perseverance. If you can do that, you’ll be a winner. If not, you’ll just be an also-ran.’
“Well, here I was getting some of that experience Brother Halpern was talking about. I was trying to put one foot in front of another, and it was killing me!
“I thought maybe now was a good time for another prayer, so I said one. Again I waited for something to happen, some surge of warmth within me, or perhaps some inspiration as to the right direction. Nothing happened. What was wrong? All my life I’d heard about the Lord answering prayers. In my family we had dozens of stories about the Lord responding to our needs: helping my great-great-grandmother make it across the plains with four small children after her husband died, directing my Uncle Richard to people who were searching for the gospel in Scotland, healing, giving the gift of tongues—every kind of blessing. Why was he not helping me, here and now?
“I dragged myself up, getting tangled a couple more times before I managed to get straight. By this time Dennis and Deb were small figures in the distance, down a long slope. Darkness was creeping up on the world, silently but menacingly. Already the trees were shrouded in shadows. When the darkness came, I would no longer be able to see my cousins at all.
“‘Dennis! Deb!’ I shouted. The wind just tossed the sounds up like balloons. I knew they couldn’t hear me. I started to ski faster toward them, but the slope was the steepest one we’d encountered, and I didn’t know how to handle these long skis on slopes very well. I felt myself trembling, not with cold, but with fear. An edge of panic wrapped itself around me, and I began going faster, in desperation. Predictably, my control over the skis vanished, and I saw myself heading straight for a tree. I swerved, but not quite enough, and my left shoulder crashed into a very hard pine. Again I went down. Pain zapped through me like an electric shock. In agony I moved my shoulder and arm to see if anything was broken. The whole left side of my body seemed on fire, but everything moved.
“I was afraid to get up. My skis were pointed down the slope, and I was certain that the moment I stood upright, I would shoot off wildly downhill. My very bones seemed frozen, paralyzed by fright.
“‘They shall walk and not faint.’
“As I inched my skis around so that they were on a traversing path, I actually did feel faint with pain and desperation. Leaning on both poles, I hauled myself up and began gingerly experimenting with traversing, kick-turning, and snow-plowing. Somehow, I got down the slope.
“Now every ounce of strength seemed to drain out of me. Every step was a challenge. I started counting as a way to keep myself psyched up. ‘Ten—I’ll make ten steps,’ I’d say. My lungs screaming, my shoulder throbbing, my knees shaking, I’d make ten steps. ‘Good, now another ten.’
“Suddenly I felt my left ski shoot out from under me. The lashing had worked loose again, the shoe had parted company with the ski, and down I went.
“This time, the tears streamed down my face, and I was too exhausted to be ashamed. Lying there in the snow, I knew I could not get up. There was nothing left in my muscles or in my spirit that could manage the miracle of lifting my depleted body upright and back onto my skis again. My mind was very clear, and I knew if I stayed there, I could freeze to death. But if a car runs out of gas, it stops. I had stopped because there was nothing left in me to make me go. Dennis and Deb would come back for me. Of course, they couldn’t carry me out, but after they found the right course, they could come back with help. I would try to hang on where I was, but I couldn’t move another step.
“Suddenly the wind died down. Everything was so quiet that it made the earlier calm seem noisy. Everything seemed to have stopped: my heart, my breathing, the wind, the spinning of the earth itself.
“As I lay there in that whirlpool of silence, defeated but without panic now, a question leaped into my mind. I had to know.
“‘Where are you, Lord?’ I asked. ‘Why don’t you help me? Where are you?’
“The quiet deepened, somehow. I listened like I’d never listened before in my life. Then I heard a voice. Not a voice you could have captured on a tape recorder. But inside my head, very soft, very clear and unmistakable, came these words: ‘I am here, my son, where I have always been.’
“He was right there with me. In the past I had thought, whenever I bothered to think about it, that because I hadn’t been living as I should, God had left me, withdrawn from me. But he hadn’t. Then why hadn’t I heard his voice before? Why hadn’t I known he was there?
“I lay in the snow and could almost feel my mind working. In a minute came the answer: I hadn’t heard him or known he was there because I had never turned to him or listened for him before. It was as simple as that. I had my agency. The Lord would not force me, or anyone, to acknowledge his presence.
“I don’t really remember how I got up. From somewhere—or Someone—outside myself came strength. I don’t even remember catching up with Dennis and Deb. I do remember that Deb had found a riverbed, its icy waters running swift and sure beneath the high, snow-crusted banks. Both cousins seemed overjoyed at this discovery; they explained that by following the river downstream, we would almost certainly find our way out of the mountains and down to Marysville. And that is exactly what happened. Almost in darkness now, but encouraged to know we weren’t lost any more, we glided over the snow and down one slope after another. Dennis and Deb went slowly, and the strength I had received stayed with me. Soon we were coming down a snowmobile track that became a road. A dark shadow on the side of the road proved to be our car, and in an instant we were loading our skis on the rack and drinking hot cocoa from a Thermos jug we’d left inside.
“I slumped in the backseat, my body soaking up the warmth of the car heater. I thought I’d fall asleep in two minutes flat, but my mind was still in high gear. One more thing was putting itself together in my head. Dennis and Deb had insisted all along that I wasn’t in training for the strenuous ski tour they had planned. And, boy, they were sure right! When the crisis came, I just didn’t have enough endurance training behind me to tough it out. It was way too late to develop the needed stamina out in the middle of the snow, with the wind rising and night coming on. And if I was out of condition physically, how much more out of condition was I spiritually! I had always thought that if and when the crunch came, when I faced a spiritual crisis, I would be able to handle it the way my parents and grandparents had, with spiritual strength and power. But where did I think I was going to get that strength? Spiritually I was so out of condition it was pathetic!
“I decided that the Lord had been by my side all along, every day of my life. But I had been too dumb to talk to him or ask for his help. It took a dangerous crisis for me to wake up and turn to him.
“Well, since then I’ve been turning to him a lot. In that crisis, there on the mountain, out of his great mercy he gave me the strength I needed, even though I hadn’t been ‘in training.’ But now I know that he expects me to get in training, spiritually speaking. He has a lot more to tell me, when I’m ready to hear it. He has a lot he wants me to do, when I’m in condition. So I’m trying to get in shape.
“That’s all, I guess, except for one thing. When I got back home that night, I looked up the scripture from Isaiah. Maybe you’d like to hear the rest of it. It’s Isaiah 40:28–31.”
We all turned to the middle of our Bibles as Kris read:
“‘Hast thou not known? hast thou not heard, that the everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary? there is no searching of his understanding.
“‘He giveth power to the faint; and to them that have no might he increaseth strength.
“‘Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall:
“‘But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.’” (Isa. 40:28–31)
Kris paused a minute and looked around at us all.
“I don’t know about you guys,” he finally said, “but I intend to wait upon the Lord.”