I wasn’t a bad kid in high school. I played end on the football team and managed to get B grades and still have fun. But I was just as daring as the next. Which brings me to this incident.
A few of us kids were smoking by the garbage can in back of the high school. I don’t know who supplied the cigarettes, but that doesn’t matter.
As we puffed away, feeling good and mannish, a neighbor who lived close by called my mother and told her what her son was doing. I don’t know how mom got there so fast. But before I was ready to throw away the butt of the cigarette, there she was, and I was caught in the act. She talked to me good and proper.
When I arrived home after school, I went to my room and I was scared stiff. Dad would be home from work soon, and when mom told him of my sinful act, I knew I would be in for it but good.
Now dad, even for a churchgoer, was a good guy. We went hunting and fishing together and shared a good companionship. We camped in an old wall tent equipped with a woodburning stove. It was my responsibility to see there was a good supply of wood provided for the stove. Dad was the cook.
I heard the back door close and dad’s greeting to mom. Then for a few minutes there was a subdued conversation. I knew my sin was being discussed.
Then dad came to my room, and he sat down on the edge of the bed. He knew I was scared, and he let me wallow in my fear for a few moments before he spoke.
“Son, I want you to know that mom and I can’t make decisions for you. You know how we feel about smoking: it’s a dirty habit and injurious to your health. But if you decide to take up the habit, the decision is yours to make.”
He got up, walked to the door, then stopped and turned around.
“One more thing, son. You and I hunt and fish together and sleep in the old tent. If you become a smoker, you will have to sleep outside, for I can’t stand tobacco smoke. Now come on to supper.”
“Okay, dad, okay,” I said to myself. “Why didn’t you box my ears or slap me a couple of good ones on my posterior. Instead of that you hit me where it hurt the most, in the thing I love to do the best.” I did not take up the smoking habit, and things went pretty well at school and at home.
Then came that great and important day in my life. I got my driver’s license. Who better than a teenage boy can savor the thrill of holding in his hand the piece of paper that says he can now drive a car?
When I sat down with my parents and requested permission to drive the family car, I expected some opposition, or at least a sermon on safe driving, but I was pleasantly surprised to find they were nice people. We worked out a schedule for when I could take the car—special events such as school dances or a date but not for just joy riding to burn up gasoline. Dad did give me a few pointers on safe driving and the results of not doing it.
“Okay, dad, okay,” I thought to myself. “I drove well enough to get my license, didn’t I? I don’t need any advice on how to drive.”
Things went along pretty well for the balance of my senior year. The smoking habit did not develop, and my relationship with my parents was pretty good. However, there was one incident that changed the entire course of my life. One Saturday night I took the family car, and a companion and I went to a movie. Afterwards I drove to a local drive-in for a malt. In the parking lot we met three of my schoolmates. They were acting so jovial that I should have guessed something was not just right. It was Saturday night, and I wanted to be a good sport, so when they invited us to go for a ride with them, I agreed. My companion and I climbed in their back seat, and we all headed for the canyon.
Before long the driver was gunning the car up the narrow, windy road with reckless abandon, and I could see that they had all been drinking. There were times when I wanted to caution him to slow down, but I didn’t want to appear to be chicken.
We went several miles up the canyon, then turned around to come back. I learned the true meaning of fear as the driver began taking hairpin curves at an unsafe speed. Then it happened. The car flew off the road at high speed and struck a concrete abutment. As the car flipped over on its side and then onto its roof, we skidded down the road in a mixed-up bundle of humanity.
As I watched the sparks flying from the roof of the car, I reviewed my life—down to the last wasted opportunity and foolish act. I prayed too. I don’t remember what I prayed for, but it must have been a prayer of desperation, a plea for life and a chance to change. After skidding down the road for several hundred feet, the car came to a jarring stop against a large cottonwood tree that stood above the river.
Miraculously, no one was seriously hurt. Suddenly sober, the driver and his companions began concocting a story to make the accident look less incriminating. It was agreed that the driver had swerved off the road to avoid hitting a deer. To my shame, I agreed to this lie, and later that night I told it to my parents. They believed their son.
The next day dad insisted we go to the scene of the accident. When he saw where the car had struck the abutment, he knew at once that the story of the deer was pure fiction. Back home, dad sat me down across the table from him. He was very serious.
“Son,” he said in a voice that was touched with emotion, “the night of the accident your mother and I kneeled at your bedside and your mother asked the Lord to protect you and your companions. She said she had a feeling you needed help.”
It took him a few moments to control his emotions; then he continued. “Today we thank God for preserving your life, and we have come to the conclusion that he has a mission for you. This could have been a day of sadness for us; instead, it is a day of rejoicing. Our family is still together, but only by the grace of God.”
I went into my room and lay on the bed. “Okay, dad, okay,” I thought, only this time I thought it with love and appreciation. “You have put something into my heart that was never there before—an understanding of your love and the love of my Heavenly Father.” I spent that night riding upside down, watching the sparks fly up from the road, and feeling the closeness of death. I was glad when morning came with its warm sunshine.
After I graduated from high school, the bishop called me into his office. “I want you to prepare for a mission,” he said. He looked me in the eyes, and the word prepare was there.
At supper I told my parents and saw the light in their eyes. “If you decide to go, we will support you in every way.”
There was no pressure. As usual the decision must be mine.
At the mission home in Salt Lake City, the General Authority who set me apart placed his hands upon my head and called me by name. Then, as if he were looking into the windows of my life, he said, “As of this moment, all of your sins are forgiven you.”
I served my mission and am now married to a wonderful woman. We have a little boy and have already started a missionary fund for him. I am sure that as he grows older there will be times when he will say, “Okay, dad, okay.” I will understand, and I will pray for the faith and understanding of my own dad and mother.