God Always Shows His Hand

Dear Will:

It’s been quite an autumn.

It started with the prostate surgery in September. Everything seemed to go well, but about a month later I was in the ER for what turned out to be an “incarcerated bowel” (four feet of my intestines had escaped the stomach cavity and quit working). That required a nine-day stay in a remote hospital, most of it spent living on nothing but IV fluids and ice chips. And then for good measure I returned to the ER last week because I have developed a deep vein thrombosis, which is a fancy way of saying I have a blood clot in my leg.

Not fun. After going over 40 years without hospitalization, I have been in the hospital three times in less than 90 days. It has been painful, boring, frustrating, and (most of all) humbling.

At times, I’m sure, God comes to us when we call for Him in a moment of crisis. I have seen, however, that there are times when He actually goes before us and is waiting there for us when the crisis arrives. I can’t begin to tell you how often and in how many ways He showed His love for me in the midst of my suffering. God always shows His hand in such circumstances, and you don’t have to look very hard to see it.

Most often, His hands were the hands of friends and family, kind nurses and diligent doctors. The light in my hospital room always shone brightly because the love of God was there, expressed by the unexpected visit from a ward member, a note from my Seminary students, a simple act of kindness from a nurse’s aide. It was a profoundly moving experience to see, day after day, that He was watching over me and sending His children to me to let me know.

Do not get me wrong; I would not choose to go through again what I have been through these last few weeks. But having been through it, I remain very grateful. What a blessing to have my life touched in so many ways. How much wiser and more compassionate I will be in the future as I interact with others who likewise find themselves with physical or emotional challenges.

When I returned from the hospital at the end of October and sat down for the first time in 10 days with my family for dinner, I could not hold back the tears of gratitude that we were reunited. It might seem a small thing, but it was profoundly important to me. Consequently, when we were gathered around a Thanksgiving meal just a couple of days ago, I gave added thanks in my heart for the privilege and blessing of being together in that way.  I also feel blessed to have modern medicine, capable doctors and nurses, health insurance and an understanding employer. And above all, I have felt a deep gratitude for my wife who has somehow managed to keep the family operating even though I have been a heavy burden throughout what has proved to be an extended convalescence. Her compassionate service to me has often brought to mind the baptismal invitation that we might “bear one another’s burdens that they might be light.” Thus inspired, I am determined to go and do likewise.

I do not share all this to invite your sympathy. Rather I do it as an affirmation that God loves us and watches over us, and even when times are hard He is there for us and with us, every step of the way.


Telling It Like It Is

Dear Will:

First things first: My surgery is safely behind me and the doctor has declared me “cured.” I’ll be in recovery mode for the next several weeks, but all of the really scary stuff has been taken from my body and sent to the lab. So I can get on with life.

The only “complication” so far is that I had to stay in the hospital a couple of extra days because of some ancillary bleeding. It was nothing life-threatening, mind you, just the sort of thing that makes a doctor crinkle his brow and muse a bit. When he informed me that I wasn’t going to leave the hospital as early as originally projected, Dr. Pasin was extremely apologetic: “I’m sorry, but I’m going to keep you in here an extra day.” He gave that speech twice.

Of course I was disappointed, but I hardly felt like he owed me an apology. What he was saying was for my good, after all. But such are our social conventions that we feel compelled to apologize even in circumstances when we are doing something for the benefit of someone else.

God is not bound by any such social conventions. “What I the Lord have spoken, I have spoken, and I excuse not myself,” He says. In other words, “I’m not going to apologize for telling it like it is.” Which makes sense, of course. He then continues: “Though the heavens and the earth pass away, my word shall not pass away, but shall all be fulfilled, whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same” (D&C 1:38). He’s going to speak plainly, without apology, and what He says will come to pass. Just like that. And it makes no difference whether He speaks as a voice from heaven or through one of His designated representatives—either way, what he says is going to happen whether we like it or not.

I bring all of this up because this weekend is the semi-annual General Conference of the Church, and you can watch it while sitting on the sofa in your family room. There will be a total of eight hours of instruction broadcast in two-hour chunks (Saturday and Sunday, 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. PDT) It’s generally broadcast over BYU-TV (channel 567 on my box) or on one of the public access channels. I hope you get a chance to tune in at least for a little bit.

In my state of convalescence, I’m likely to watch the whole thing (I’m still not getting around much). That will be a rare privilege, and I’m really looking forward to it. Thomas S. Monson, the Prophet and President of the Church, will be speaking (multiple times, no doubt) along with his counselors, the twelve apostles, and several other of the General Authorities of the Church. As I maintain my preoccupation with my physical well-being, it will be nice to have the distraction and to focus some time on spiritual healing instead.

Who knows? In my state, maybe my spiritual doctors will decide I need a few extra days of intensive care to stop the bleeding. Which would be fine by me. Whatever it takes to finally be pronounced “cured.”


Jet Lag and a Trip to the Zoo

Dear Will:

Last week I found out I have to fly to Korea—one of those glamorous business trips during which you spend as much time going and coming as you do working. Should be awful.

Then I found out it is worse than I thought. The only way to get there in time for the meetings is to leave mid-day on Sunday, September 5. And when I arrive it will be Monday night. Labor Day will have disappeared altogether.

Cheer up, they told me. You get that day back on the return. That’s nice in theory, of course, but the truth is that I will have lost a 3-day weekend that I’m never getting back. And on Tuesday, while I’m schmoozing Koreans in Busan, my five-year-old Seth will be attending his first day of kindergarten. There’s something else I will miss that no crossing of the dateline will ever give me back. Let’s just say I’m not happy.

Seth, to his great credit, will hardly notice. The excitement of his new adventure will surely not have worn off by the time I drag back home on Wednesday night, just in time for . . . Back to School Night at Luke’s high school. I anticipate that the teachers I meet that night will find me charming if but a bit unkempt and maybe catatonic. What is it they say about having only one chance to make a good first impression? Luke’s teachers are sure to be dazzled.

Originally we had planned to spend Labor Day at the San Diego Zoo, but instead we’re going down on the Saturday before. No big deal except it means that I will miss my beloved UCLA Bruins’ opening football game, which I will tape and now watch—what?—a week later. Or probably not at all.

What a rough life I lead.

In contrast, my wife just had her third knee surgery last week. Afterward, the doctor informed her that her cartilage is so badly deteriorated that within a few years she will likely have to have knee replacement surgery. Elsewhere, a dear friend is facing a tragic divorce (is there any other kind?) after nearly 30 years of marriage. And another good friend has seen everything he has lived and worked for taken away from him after a series of bad choices and horrible decisions. His life is a wreck.

And here I’m complaining about jet lag and a trip to the zoo. Makes me so ashamed I’m tempted not to send this letter. But by now you probably know me well enough that my pettiness doesn’t surprise you. So . . . instead I shall take deep, cleansing breaths and try to maintain a little perspective: my kids are happily enrolled in excellent schools; my work is going so well that somebody on the other side of the world wants to pay for a couple of days of my time; and I live so close to one of the world’s great zoos that I can do it in a day trip. And besides, my Bruins are supposed to lose, so maybe I’ll be glad to have missed the game anyway. I’ll still miss that first day of kindergarten, but such is life. Right?

Here’s hoping that my miseries are always this profound—and no more so. And hoping that all is well with you.