Sunday, November 23, 2014

My Top 5 List of Things To Be Grateful For

Every year at this time I think about why I love Thanksgiving more than any other holiday in the calendar. It's always been a chance to sit down and take stock of the year as it quickly passes away. This year is no exception. We have so much to be grateful for, and I can always think of more than my top five because it's a very long list. But for 2014, here are my top five:

Ashley, Dianne, Patsy, Peggy
1. My mother-in-law, Peggy Ruth Brazier Hewlett Weight. Yes, at the top of my list this year I have ranked my mother-in-law. She recently passed away after almost 93 years on the planet. But I am not grateful she passed away. Rather, I am grateful for the long legacy of faith she represents to me and all her posterity. I am grateful for all the happy memories she has given us. I am grateful to her for living in such a way that we all learned valuable life lessons of repentance, forgiveness, diligence, hard work and dedication. Legion are the examples of people, family and otherwise, who were welcomed to her home when they were in town for visits. She was always the "hostess with the mostess."

By the world's standards, this would seem an odd choice at the top of a list of things for which I am grateful, but in my case none of the standard mother-in-law jokes apply. Peggy was world-class in essentially all the things that matter most in mothers and human beings in general. She was a consummate networker and connector of people. She had so many friends, even after such a long life, that the chapel for her funeral was filled to overflowing and back into the cultural hall. Never underestimate the impact of being a good friend. Indeed, nearly all her posterity and everyone who knew her thought they were her favorite. What capacity for making people feel special and valued!

I first became aware of Peggy when her son Lin was killed by a drunk driver when I was a junior at East High School. Lin was a senior and Patsy was a sophomore. I watched their family grieve over Lin's death, along with the whole student body. I was at the cemetery in October, 1963, when Lin and his friend Flemming Christensen were laid to rest fifty-one years ago. As I stood over the open grave the other day to dedicate Peggy's final resting place, the memory of Lin's and Flemming's funerals came rushing back. Now the circle of life was complete, and the glorious reunion that was taking place on the other side of the veil was revealed clearly to me and all the rest of us.

Peggy and Harold were role models of applying the atonement's principles to their lives, and they became diligent missionaries wherever in the world they went. Eventually, they would travel to the far corners of the earth, touching foot on every continent except Antarctica. Her son John sang "O That I Were an Angel," as a final tribute to her at her funeral, and when I thought of Lin and Flemming doing missionary work in the spirit world for fifty-one years before she joined them there, I was thrilled at the prospect of her wish finally coming true! How grateful I am for the knowledge of the plan of salvation that has been revealed in these last days.

2. I am grateful for her daughter, Patsy. I don't think there is a more compassionate and loving woman on earth than Patsy. She has spent the last several weeks at her mother's side both in the rehab center and the hospital. Peggy fell and broke her hip about seven weeks ago. It proved to be a game changer, and accelerated her demise. Until that event, we had all thought Peggy to be invincible. At the peril of her own health, something I have been worried about, Patsy pressed on in service to her mother, ignoring her own well-being. I insisted that she go to see the doctor this week after all the events of her mother's passing were complete, and as I was writing this post they called from the doctor's office to give an alarming report about Patsy's anemic condition, something that has been a lifelong challenge for her but has been exacerbated by the events of the past several weeks. We spent the rest of the day in the emergency room until well into the night, while they transfused her with two units of blood.

We never know when or how life will end. There are no guarantees, no extended lease terms on life. Our sojourn here on earth has an expiration date, we just don't have that information. I am grateful for each day I have with this remarkable woman, knowing factors beyond our control may overtake us someday. When I think about why Patsy has a lifelong pattern of little or no sleep at night and seems to be so focused on the needs and comforts of others ahead of her own, I need look no further than the example she saw in her mother for the answer.

At Merilee's Wedding Reception, 2014
3. I am grateful for all our children and grandchildren. In our family we don't make distinctions about in-laws. They are all ours, and we count them that way. When we were counting up grandchildren of Peggy's we included all the spouses of our children in the count, and we were instructed that's not an accurate count. Peggy never believed that - she always sided with our way of counting. So, when the program for the memorial service was being prepared I listed everyone as though they all belonged to Peggy and Harold, because they do without reservation. One well wisher in a card to Patsy after the funeral, summed it up best:

"Your dear mother was loved by so many! She brought a lot of happiness and joy, especially to her grandchildren. They have expressed so many great things about their experiences with her. Her family was so important to her, her friends loved her, and she always was full of life!
"You were so fortunate to have had her in your life for so many years. Her zest for life, her love of family was so evident.
"Patsy, know I love you, you have so many wonderful traits of your mother."

4. The knowledge I have of the atonement of Jesus Christ and the plan of salvation. That testimony anchors our existence here in mortality. He suffered for each of us. As the only Sinless One, He took upon Himself our sins and our afflictions. There is nothing in this mortal experience He does not know and understand intimately. In a way I do not fully understand, He knew us in Gethsemane and on Golgotha. He knew about all the sins we committed, and He knew about all the wrongs that were inflicted upon us by others, and He forgave everyone who has ever afflicted another and been afflicted. I am thankful I share that knowledge with Peggy.

On the back of the program for her memorial service, we printed a written testimony she offered when she and Harold were serving as missionaries in Ireland. We found it among her papers as we were preparing for her funeral:

"Today is Mother's Day in the United States, and I am missing my beautiful children and grandchildren.
"My heart is overflowing with gratitude to my Heavenly Father for these beautiful children and grandchildren.
"The privilege of partnership with God in bearing and nurturing His children has been the greatest blessing of my life!
"I thank my Father in Heaven for noble heritage, ancestors who pulled handcarts across wonderful country, parents and brothers who love me and taught me to love the Lord, wonderful friends and associates.
"I am so grateful for a fine and noble husband to love me and care for me.
"I am grateful for gospel callings and teachings, for the Holy Spirit to lead, to warn, to strengthen and to comfort me.
"I believe in Christ. I love him with all my heart. I know His power."

5. I am thankful for a blanket of white that now covers Pine Valley. Last night ten inches of snow fell and all the trees are now cloaked in white that sparkles with a brightness beyond description. I said to Patsy as we drove down the road to our three-hour block of meetings this morning, "This is the most beautiful scene imaginable. The winter presents some challenges to overcome, but if you love white this is the place to be." Whenever the Utah ski resorts get a big winter storm before Thanksgiving, it bodes well for the tourist trade in these parts and the water reserves for next summer. We can be thankful for water content in snow.

White is such a remarkable and consistent gospel symbol. We dress in white clothing to go to the temple to participate in all the ordinances of salvation. We are all dressed alike. There is no class distinction there. When Peggy was lying in her casket at her viewings, her white temple dress was the one she selected and told Patsy, "This is the dress I want you to bury me in." In life she was beautiful and arrayed in spotless white when she attended the temple with us, and in death she was translucent, appearing to be at peace in her restful repose and twenty years younger than her 92-plus years.

Babies are blessed in white. Brides are dressed in white. A white shirt is the "priesthood uniform" for boys and men alike. White is the color for all participants in a baptismal service. Often, though not mandated, white bread is the symbol for the sacrament. We wash our garments in the blood of Christ through His atonement, and when we do we are told we are made "spotless white."

And now in the Salt Lake City Cemetery, alongside her beloved Lin, the graves are covered in a fresh blanket of white.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Election 2014 - The Aftermath

There are pundits galore, all over the political universe it seems, who will make meaning out of yesterday's election results. Be careful whom you choose to believe.

I have remained intentionally silent in the run up to this election, privately hoping for the results we observed, but not going public with those aspirations. Putting control of the Senate back into the hands of the Republicans has little to do with their superior agenda, in my opinion. Rather, this election was a stout repudiation of Barack Obama's misguided policies across the whole political waterfront. His much-ballyhooed base seemingly evaporated in this election. The vaunted Democratic election machine ground to an embarrassingly squeaky halt.

We are being told this morning the Democrats need to reinvent themselves in the wake of this stunning defeat for Barack Obama as leader of the party.

He won't see it that way, and in fact one of his aides was quoted this morning in the NY Times as saying exactly that: "He doesn't feel repudiated." And this from a man who boldly declared this election was about ALL his policies, "every single one."

It wasn't that long ago there were cries for the Republicans to reinvent themselves, allegations they were a divided party in search of unity, woefully unable to connect to the American people. Well, times change, people change their views, and the political pendulum swings back and forth. Now it is the Republicans who are trending upward. And that will change someday too.

Not only did Republicans win seven Democratic Senate seats (and counting), lost none, and took control of the Senate, but they did something far more significant for the long term health of the Republic by dislodging Harry Reid (D-NV) as the Senate Majority Leader. He has single-handedly and heavy-handedly, broken the Senate rules repeatedly to make new rules to suit his own political needs.

This morning, he sounded like a statesman: “I’d like to congratulate Senator McConnell (R-KY), who will be the new Senate Majority Leader. The message from voters is clear: they want us to work together. I look forward to working with Senator McConnell to get things done for the middle class.”

Based on what Harry Reid has done for the middle class over the last six years, no one should be holding their breath that Harry Reid will ever become anything but the obstructionist he has always been. But hope springs eternal, I suppose. History, I predict, will judge Harry Reid harshly as the author of chaos and divisiveness in the legislative process these last six years. I hope Republicans will model true leadership better, now that the reins are in their hands. I am, and will always be, optimistic about the future of America.

In addition, the Republicans added more governorships throughout the country. Democrats won only one and lost four, including bluer than blue Maryland. Even Illinois added a Republican governor! In the House, Democrats lost at least eight seats, probably more when the final results are in. There are now more House Republicans on Capitol Hill than have been seated since World War II.

Mia Love's family
Several firsts in the House include the election of Mia Love (R-UT), the first black Republican conservative woman, who is also a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. That is an historic "first" worth celebrating, and the citizens of the 4th Utah Congressional District are to be congratulated for their foresight.

Orrin Hatch (R-UT) finally is realizing his dream to become the Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, and as an added bonus he will be named the President Pro Tempore, now fourth in line to the presidency and the recipient of his own Secret Service security detail. For the uninitiated, that office is provided for in the Constitution (yes, we are still governed by it), and is the senior Senator in the majority party who sits (ceremoniously) in the seat of the President of the Senate, who is the Vice President, when the Vice President is not there (which is nearly always never).

There’s no reason to gloat this morning. You couldn't fairly call it a "wave" election. But it could be accurately characterized as the election where Democrats suffered worse than the mid-terms four years ago in 2010.

I hope I'm not stretching too far to think this might just be the end of the liberal progressive Democratic governance and all of Washington's gross spending excesses. My fear is that Republicans have been prone in the past to be the all too willing collaborators for the spending orgy.

Let's hope for some responsible budget setting governance to replace what we've witnessed in the last six years.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

"What If The Goats Had NOT Died?"

My good friend Jim Ritchie is proving to be a wonderful source for incredible (and true) stories. I've had this one on my mind for a few weeks since he shared it, and I believe it will be uplifting and motivational to some who may be struggling with their own set of challenges with adversity.

Some say America has seen better days, and that the "American dream" is something that is more myth than reality. However, those who come to these shores find almost unbelievable opportunities, unimagined in their prior lives. Out of adversity comes the blessings if we have faith to move ahead.

We never know when adversity might strike us, but the mortal experience being what it is almost guarantees we will all come in for our share. Recently, Patsy's mother (in her 93rd year), fell in her bedroom and broke her hip. Near death last week, she has made a near miraculous recovery and following surgery to replace the broken pieces, she is in a rehab center today beginning physical therapy. This latest trial has come to her late in life, but she has had her share of challenges all along the way.

What, one might ask, would her life had been like without the seemingly tragic circumstances that befell her? Would she have become the woman she is today without all those difficulties? Not likely.

I'm certain you will all enjoy this latest story from "Bro. Jim" as he shares the life story of one young missionary, Joseph Oryang, and his progenitors. I'll bet every one of the 90,000 missionaries currently serving has an incredible back story to share, but this one is unique to be sure. Enjoy! Who knows, maybe there is someone in far away Uganda or Mozambique who may know this story better than me.

* * *

Joseph Oryang is the son of David Oryang who is the son of (I don’t remember  his name. so plug in a good Uganda name - let's call him John). “John” was a young man growing up in the hills of Uganda, who along with his brother rose up early each day to head for the hills to stay with and protect the family's growing goat herd.

They would spend each day from early to late tending to the goats. They were just lads, "tenish" in years and destined to spend their lives on the foothills of Uganda, except for a disaster that hit Uganda. A deadly disease coming from Europe invaded Uganda that was devastating to the goats and nearly all of the Uganda goats died from the plague.

At least it hit the Oryang family hard. as all their goats eventually died and the Oryang family no longer had any chance at temporal success. The family was destitute and desperate.

In the middle of this incredible set back, “John” decided to strike out on his own as a teenager to see what was on the other side of the mountain. With his meager belongings strapped to his back he walked the many miles to the "big city," probably Kampala, where he somehow got himself enrolled into a school and worked his way to a high school diploma. He did so well he was awarded a scholarship to a university, which paved the way for another round of luck. He was awarded an opportunity to go to Oxford University in England.

Graduating with honors, he returned to his native land and was immediately rewarded with a good paying job with the Ugandan Government. Now he was a man of influence and privilege. “John” married and began to raise a family with his new found rank as a "Man of Importance," which gave his children privileges he could never have dreamed he might have if he had remained a goatsman of Uganda.

David grew up under this "influence," which got him enrolled in the better schools, and eventually he earned a scholarship to the University of Washington, where he worked his way through and ended up with a significant degree.

I’m vague (as I’m old) and can’t remember the sequence of the next events, but along the way he runs into the gospel - which "sticks" - and then in a gas station he meets the woman of his life and the David Oryang story begins to take deep roots.

David landed a US government job, which gave this driven man an opportunity to rise in Washington DC as a VIP. His testimony and leadership skills are recognized by both the Lord and his priesthood leaders, and as of 2014, he was serving as a counselor in the stake presidency of the Woodbridge Stake in Northern Virginia.

His story might have never been written, except he came to a Launching Leaders program as a guest speaker, and shared his exciting and entertaining story. We were all dazzled with the events which brought him to America, Woodbridge, and to become a family of prominence in the gospel and the government.

As he concluded his story and appropriate application to each of our lives was made, I stood up and said the first thing that came to my mind!!! “What if the goats had not died?”

We speculated the differences in the story, had the goats never died. David's father, "John." and his uncle might have spent the rest of their "professional" life herding goats and raising their families in Uganda.

Joseph Oryang and the Ritchies
Then, enter David, and eventually Joseph. This is the family that might have been known to this day as the finest goat herdsmen in Uganda had they settled for what appeared to be their predestined fate.

But Mozambique would not have been the testing ground for their 6’6” strapping son, Joseph, nor would the gospel or education or influence in the stake presidency or government have been in the family history of the Oryang family if "John" had remained the goat herder.

Oh, what a different family story would NEVER have been told.

* * *

So, think about where you are in your life today. As you consider what people might say about you in describing your life at your funeral, what stories are you writing today that they might tell someday? Will they say that when the goats died in your life the tragedy overwhelmed you? Will they say it was just too much to overcome? Will they say you stayed on the foothills that were familiar and scratched out a meager existence because that was your "fate?" Will they say you could have taken the easy route out of this life with a broken hip and would they all forgive you for simply giving up with just cause? 

Or will they tell of triumph arising from the ashes, and will you leave them a legacy of achievement in their own lives to cherish because you left the dead goats behind and went on to an unknown but fruitful future because you went to the other side of the mountain to see what new vistas might present themselves to your view?

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

When Your Hut Is On Fire

I am indebted to Jim Ritchie for this story. Thanks, Bro. Jim!

The only survivor of a shipwreck was washed up on a small, uninhabited island. He prayed feverishly for God to rescue him. Every day he scanned the horizon for help, but none seemed forthcoming.

Exhausted, he eventually managed to build a little hut out of driftwood to protect himself from the elements, and to store his few possessions.

One day, after scavenging for food, he arrived home to find his little hut in flames, with smoke rolling up to the sky.. He felt the worst had happened, and everything was lost. 

He was stunned with disbelief, grief, and anger. He cried out, "God! How could you do this to me?"

Early the next day, he was awakened by the sound of a ship approaching the island! It had come to rescue him! 

"How did you know I was here?" asked the weary man of his rescuers. 

"We saw your smoke signal," they replied. 

The Moral of This Story: 

It's easy to get discouraged when things are going badly, but we shouldn't lose heart because God is at work in our lives, even in the midst of our pain and suffering. 

Remember that the next time your little hut seems to be burning to the ground. It just may be a smoke signal that summons the grace of God.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

The Gospel Principle That Can Save Us

Continuing his tradition of writing to his former missionaries in the California Arcadia Mission at General Conference time each year, my father has asked me in recent years to help him prepare his semi-annual message. What follows is the most recent one.

Dad is in his ninety-third year now, and is gradually deteriorating badly physically. He still has a sense of humor about his obvious shrinking frame, however, as he refers to himself as "the freak." Amazingly, at one time in their lives he and President Monson were the same height. What is still in tact, however, is his mental acuity, for which I am grateful.

President Thomas S. Monson, L. Brent Goates
Yesterday, he had a surprise visit from President Thomas S. Monson, who had heard about Dad's most recent medical challenges. Dad had a malignant melanoma removed from his back, and then developed some cellulitis in his leg.

President Monson came with "healing in his wings," like the angel of love and mercy he has always been to our family and everyone else he can serve. He listens to the Spirit and then responds.

He offered a priesthood blessing to Dad, but before he pronounced a blessing the two of them reminisced about their memories of their association with one another dating back to their time at the University of Utah. There were smiles and laughter all around to the delight of both.

He cheered, lifted and blessed my father, as he has done again and again throughout his life. Dad said to him, "Tom, you have changed the Church with your example of Christ-like service to others." And so he has. . . How grateful we are to President Monson as a family. There is such love for others in this man.

* * *

October, 2014


Many careful students of The Book of Mormon have observed and stated that each time they finish reading these amazing scriptures they are usually rewarded with a new perspective of enlightenment. My most recent experience has likewise impressed me and in some ways even surprised me.

For many decades past I simply accepted the obvious – that the Nephites were the chosen and favored tribe, and the Lamanites were their constant antagonists and evil tormentors. This division is taught in the very beginning as the separation of Lehi’s sons takes place and the elder two sons, Laman and Lemuel oppose their father and his more faithful son Nephi. Thus to Nephi and his posterity went the birthright, the government and the priesthood leadership, with the rebellious Lamanites doomed to offer constant resistance toward righteousness.

Yet, the final scorecard offers no such one-sided victory for the Nephites. Both tribesmen, indeed, all of the Lehi descendants fail to fulfill our Father’s hope for a righteous brand of Israelites to flourish in the New World. Their descendants regress to savagery and fall far short of the glory promised.

In reflection, it is easy to be beguiled and view the distinction between these two segments of brotherhood as being so totally black and white in contrast. The Nephites had their marvelous moments of righteous leadership with many famous prophets who taught us glorious gospel doctrine. We are so grateful to the several Nephis, to Mosiah and his son King Benjamin, and to the mighty warrior Ammon. Consider the inspiring works of Alma (both of them), and the shining hero, Moroni, of whom it was said, “If all men had been, and ever were, and ever would be, like unto Moroni, behold the very powers of hell would have been shaken forever; yea the devil would never have power over the hearts of the children of men.” (Alma 48:17). They and others fought valiantly to lift their brethren from stages of wickedness. They deserve our veneration as prophets.

But it must be remembered that the Nephite leaders were the ones writing this history. Their bias would naturally lure us to be sympathetic to their viewpoint.

The outcome of this family history was revealed early in the book in the vision of Nephi, who saw their end of days, and wrote:

And while the angel spake these words, I beheld and saw that the seed of my brethren did contend against my seed, according to the word of the angel; and because of the pride of my seed, and the temptations of the devil, I beheld that the seed of my brethren did overpower the people of my seed. . .
And the angel said unto me: Behold these shall dwindle in unbelief.
And it came to pass that I beheld, after they had dwindled in unbelief they became a dark, and loathsome, and a filthy people, full of idleness and all manner of abominations. (1 Nephi 12:19; 22-23).

The Prophet Jacob, Nephi’s younger brother, treats the judgment even-handedly. While he denounced the wickedness and depravity of the Lamanites, he said of his own people, “Behold, ye have done greater iniquities than the Lamanites.” (Jacob 2:35). How could we have so easily minimized that evaluation?

This same reversal of roles was recorded by Nephi, who wrote of the people of Zarahemla:

. . . ye have set your hearts upon the riches and the vain things of this world, for the which ye do murder, and plunder, and steal, and bear false witness against your neighbor, and do all manner of iniquity. . .
For behold, thus saith the Lord: I will not show unto the wicked of my strength, to one more than the other, save it be unto those who repent of their sins, and hearken unto my words. Now therefore, I would that ye should behold, my brethren, that it shall be better for the Lamanites than for you except ye shall repent.
For behold, they are more righteous than you, for they have not sinned against that great knowledge which ye have received; therefore the Lord will be merciful unto them; yea, he will lengthen out their days and increase their seed, even when thou shalt be utterly destroyed except thou shalt repent. (Helaman 7:21; 23-24).

So, who are victors in this battle of unrighteousness - the backsliding Nephites or the depraved Lamanites? Hear now the conclusion of noted scholar, Hugh W. Nibley, who says, “The answer is written all over The Book of Mormon – the righteous are whoever are repenting, and the wicked whoever is not repenting.” (BYU Studies 25:1, 10, 1985).

Repentance is one of the first principles of the gospel. It appears with the arrival of mankind in mortality and is reaffirmed and emphasized at the outset of every dispensation of time through the teachings of angels and prophets.

These same painful lessons are essential in our day of wickedness to meet the trials of the last days. There is no more important and vital principle of submission and contrition than to show forth daily sincere repentance. It alone can protect us and give us the assurance that when all else is failing around us, we can still flower in God’s grace – if we will repent.

Always, your friend,

President L. Brent Goates