Monday, February 7, 2011

God Succors His Children

January is traditionally the ward conference season in the Church. Mormons do meetings well. We slice and dice our meetings in lots of different ways -- by the general church membership, auxiliary conferences, priesthood meetings, regions, stakes, wards and branches. Meetings and conferences are us.

President Spencer W. Kimball
A few weeks ago we were attending a ward conference where a deeply devoted stake president was speaking. He told a story I want to share here because it demonstrated so beautifully the principle President Spencer W. Kimball taught many years ago:

“God does notice us, and he watches over us. But it is usually through another person that he meets our needs. Therefore, it is vital that we serve each other in the kingdom. The people of the Church need each other’s strength, support, and leadership in a community of believers as an enclave of disciples. In the Doctrine and Covenants we read about how important it is to ‘… succor the weak, lift up the hands which hang down, and strengthen the feeble knees.’ (D&C 81:5). So often, our acts of service consist of simple encouragement or of giving mundane help with mundane tasks, but what glorious consequences can flow from mundane acts and from small but deliberate deeds!” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church, 82).

This stake president is like so many priesthood and auxiliary leaders in the Church. He's an ordinary man, humble and possessed with a testimony of his Savior Jesus Christ that is clearly anchored in his heart and soul. They, like each of us, are undershepherds of the true Shepherd. Leaders in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are lay leaders drawn from their various congregations to serve for an undetermined period of years. They serve without compensation, meaning they are not paid in dollars, but I can attest they receive much more than they give because they serve their flocks with love and concern.

He told of going to a small town in northern Utah on a weekend road trip with his wife. While she was looking through antiques in a small shop, he was drawn to a used book store next door. He immediately had my attention. Nobody loves the bowels of Zion Book Store more than I. It's where I found my copy of Foxe's Book of Martyrs in that dingy basement catacomb -- original hard cover, perfect condition and I consider it a treasure of inestimable value. I love old book stores, just like this good man does.

As he wandered the aisles, he was drawn to a box that obviously contained a "quad" edition of the scriptures containing all the standard works we publish to the world as the collected canon of God's word -- the Holy Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price. In one bound volume, he expected to find what he was looking for, since the box was clearly labeled and showed little sign of use. It was marked for sale for $5.

When he opened the box, however, he was surprised to discover an original patriarchal blessing with the signature of the patriarch who had lovingly prepared it for the recipient, a common practice in the Church. At the top was the name of a young woman, and all her personal information, including birthdate, an address and the names of her parents. He felt like someone who had just stumbled onto the scene of an accident, wanting to run away, but drawn mystically to what he held in his hands.

His dilemma was resolved when he heard a still small voice whisper softly to his heart, "Read it." It was two pages. As a stake president, he explained to his audience, he is at liberty to go to Church headquarters where copies of the patriarchal blessings of his stake members are deposited if he chooses to. He explained he had never done that, feeling he did not want to intrude on those sacred promises, considering them to be private and personal. He resisted the prompting to read it, then finally felt an urge to learn more and insert himself into the life that had been presented to him an a very innocuous happenstance not of his own making. The voice gently whispered, "She needs you."

As he read the two page blessing, he was drawn into the magnificent promises the patriarch had made to this daughter of our Heavenly Father. He knew the parents whose names appeared at the top of the blessing would be imagining the worst and probably needed comfort. It was obvious the scriptures had been a gift because there was an inscription in the front pages with loving counsel from her parents.

So a thousand thoughts then flooded his mind. Is she alive? Is she missing? Did she come to harm? Had she left the Church and renounced her faith? Were these spiritual treasures simply lost, misplaced or left behind and somehow mysteriously placed on the shelf where he found them? What was the answer? He wondered.

After standing and letting the Spirit soak over him in his quiet reflection, he decided to buy the book and the contents of the box - $5 for a set of scriptures and a patriarchal blessing was a small price to pay to return it if he could to this precious daughter of God. He felt like a messenger on a mission now.

He returned home the next day, but not before locating the parents in a town not far away from the bookstore. When he dialed a number he traced to the name and address on the patriarchal blessing, a female voice answered. "I'm calling for Susan (not her real name)," he sheepishly offered.

The woman responded, "She hasn't lived here for many years, may I ask who's calling?"

"I'm President Smith (not his real name)," he replied. "I am holding in my hand the quad set of the scriptures you must have given her, along with her patriarchal blessing, and I wanted to get it back to her if you can tell me how to contact her."

There was a long pause, then, "So, she gave that away too. . ." and her voice trailed off in tears.

He drove to their home later that night and visited with her parents. Susan had left home to go to school, and had cut off all contact with her parents. They didn't know where she was or what might have happened to her. Her spiritual heritage, represented by the book and the patriarchal blessing, had been rejected.

As Susan's mother lovingly stroked the leather binding with her daughter's name inscribed on the cover, then re-read Susan's blessing, her eyes filled with tears again. Here was the evidence suggesting what this dear mother had always hoped could not have happened. This grieving mother had not heard from her daughter for a number of years.

She thanked President Smith for his loving care of these priceless treasures. She told him she was still filled with hope that Susan would someday come home again to claim her spiritual inheritance.

President Smith testified to us that he was humbled to be the instrument in this experience. Like him, as the Spirit whispers to each of us, we may be also be called upon to help another in need. We are His hands here on earth to succor His children.

The Shepherd knows His sheep, and we are the undershepherds.

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