Saturday, September 6, 2014

Let's Call Him "Jack"

Jim Ritchie
Last November, when we went to the Washington D.C. South Mission to pick up our daughter, Merilee, from her eighteen-month mission, we were introduced to two of Merilee's favorite people, Brother and Sister James Ritchie. The Ritchies call Heber City, Utah, "home" but they have served so many missions over so many years it seems they have rarely been there. At the time we met them, they were a senior couple serving with Merilee, and they had a profound impact on all those young people who revered them for their depth of knowledge and their willingness to share of themselves with everyone in that mission. In the brief week we were there, we heard more missionaries quoting "Bro Jim" than quotes from their mission president. To say they were loved and admired by the elders and sisters would be an understatement of gross proportions.

We took them to lunch one day after a session at the Washington D.C. Temple and became better acquainted. He became an instant favorite of mine, and since then I have had the blessed privilege to be added to his e-mail list. He routinely blasts out his frequent missives filled with updates on their family life, their ongoing influence for good wherever they go, and he continues to be an inspiring source of what success in family life looks like.

This morning I was treated to another message from "Bro Jim," which I share with everyone who reads this page. It's a cautionary tale. I hope this is not the common lot of returned missionaries, and I pray this is an isolated example. However, in the event there may be someone in your life who fits these characteristics, may you take action to reach out as "Bro Jim" does here. Maybe you're somebody's brother, or maybe a good friend, or perhaps a bishop, or maybe even their former mission president. Whatever you may be to them, take a page from "Bro Jim's" book and meet them at that upcoming intersection where you see them next. Maybe you'll be the reason generations yet unborn might rise up later and call your name "blessed."

* * *

We met last night on a flight out of Phoenix where my last minute ticketing got me stuck in a middle seat but that also meant I had “Jack” trapped against the window where he had to deal with me to breathe, let along go to the “John.” I only had an hour and 9 minutes and in-between they threw us a mini bag of peanuts and a tomato juice (no ice - only 40 calories). “Jack” and I became friends and even exchanged Million Dollar business cards and promised to stay in touch as we departed. I plan to do so and in fact came home and wrote him a "thanks for the good discussion" e-mail as the 10:00 news came on. I hope he writes back.

Let me share why the “Jack” visit has monopolized my small brain since our hour visit. “Jack" is 30ish. Totally inactive. Not living several of the commandments. Going through a temple marriage divorce. Two small children. Seminary graduate. Very successful RM to Argentina. Leader in the mission. Associate Degree from LDSBC. Good job. Raised in an active LDS home. Father was the Bishop for 6 of those years. Since “Jack” has left the Church his father and mother have divorced. Father now inactive. Brothers and sisters (all but one sister) have also left the Church. Mother still active, and a very diligent Grandma still focused on "saving his soul." But, what was once a beautiful LDS success story of a family fully engaged and heading for the Celestial Kingdom together has gradually fallen on to hard times and only three of the clan still holding on to the iron rod and the three of them are single people trying to rebuild from broken marriages and trying to throw each other ropes of hope. Scary story, but so typical of what is happening in so many Return Missionaries, YSA and Young Married lives.

Once I had the full story and had him talking - which he said he has been reluctant to discuss with anyone for several years - we began to probe deeper as to “Why?” . . . or “How did the slide into inactivity begin?” It took some time to dig a little deeper but finally words like, "High Expectations" . . .”Unrealized Dreams". . . "Stopped doing some simple but important things. . .”  “I had been a very good ‘producer’ on the mission. . . lots of success, highly respected, a leader. And when I got home, I had to adjust to different expectations and opportunities and began slipping with many of the easy and simple things." Sleeping in. . . slowed down and then stopped his scripture study, prayers disappeared. . . few demands on him at Church and fewer opportunities. . . slang words gravitated to worse speech, pure word of wisdom  habits gave way to simple experimentation and then a little more, etc., etc., and before too long it was easier and felt more comfortable with friends and activities outside the Church rather than those inside. Hs family began wavering in their marriage and then their activity, and this of course made it easier to drift with the forces of least resistance.

Now we have an entire Clan in disarray and wandering in the wilderness.

Why does this experience bother me so much? Why did it disturb  my beauty sleep? Why am I sharing such a private conversation with the world? I don’t know for sure, but maybe it is to continue warning each of us how easily it can all slip away. “Jack” kept emphasizing  how it was the simple things at first. . . sleeping in. . . how could that be so serious? But, gradually the "simple things" grew to bigger things. Take the "sleeping in" theory. Why did the Lord go to such an extreme experience of developing the habit of early rising for 540 (girls learn faster) or 730 days for us boys without a single day off? Why did we read, ponder, memorize, discuss and share the scriptures every day for 730 days? Why did we PLAN our day in such detail every day for 730 days? Why did we dress for success and put on our Nephi smile and attitude for the same 540 or 730 days? Surely the expectation was that those Habits of Success would become permanent parts of our personality and performance, knowing that if those HABITS OF SUCCESS became US,  they would propel us to be just as successful in the telestial test we call "the world" as we were in the “mission laboratory world" where we were in rehearsal for the Big Show.

“Jack” slipped on one or two, his family didn’t catch it or help him, they too were slipping, his Priesthood leaders didn’t catch it or provide the Mentorship he needed at those crucial times of slippage and now we are ten years into slippage and his life, marriage and future are in danger of failing in the very thing he came to earth to discover and try to perfect, becoming "like unto Moroni" and something that resembles "like unto the Savior." His two little girls could become the next pair of casualties and if them, perhaps their children and grandchildren and soon you have some serious numbers of people who are in danger of their eternal salvation. And maybe it all began with sleeping in after his mission, and a few "dangs and hecks."

Hope "Jack" and I are just getting started with our friendship and maybe we can begin getting up early and re-discovering Moses and Nephi, who both would have been good airplane partners to sit by and learn from. Hope I was a close substitute and maybe helped re-light the spark that this famous Argentine missionary once used to change lives and plant eternal hopes in people's hearts.

Love ya "Jack,”

A friend,

Bro Jim

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