Dear Elders and Sisters,
I still insist on referring to you by that special title, with the sincere hope that every one of you is still worthy and happy to be counted among that number – you’ll never belong to a better fraternity! I hope you are “anxiously engaged” in two great causes – fostering your everlasting family ties and helping build the Lord’s kingdom on earth. You’ll hear more soon from Elder Greg Bennett, who is heading a committee to plan another mission reunion in Provo on April 5, 2013 – I hope to see many of you again there. But for those who cannot come, our hearts will be united across the miles!
I tell folks I’m as busy as ever. But the honest truth is that I’m busy doing fewer things, and at a slower pace. A couple of days in the temple and another as an “agent bishop” (serving the homeless/jobless/ friendless or “just out of jail,”) keeps me out of mischief most of the time. And I try to keep track of my posterity, whose numbers are approaching 100!
The “agent bishop” assignment mentioned above has been a humbling experience. I’ve learned a little more about folks who have been reduced to pure poverty, sometimes because of their own mistakes, sometimes because of careless or faithless parents, sometimes simply because of the misfortunes of a cruel world. I want to help them find their way to a richer life. My heart goes out especially to the struggling women, and the children who no longer have the fathers that every child needs. Something that these folks often lack is supportive brothers and sisters, faithful parents, or good friends. And more than they usually realize, they need their faith in God and an active anchor in the Church. They need Hope. I’m so very grateful for all of these things, and wish I could do more to help others find them.
Are you prospering, but not rich enough to lose your perspective? I hope so. I’m thankful for the stalwart wealthy Saints who share generously with others and help support the Kingdom. But I have a special appreciation for the common folks of faith, who are the backbone of our church and nation. I have a close relative who gave up on the Church in late teens, married a very nice “gentile,” became wealthy (and proud of it), had all the luxuries they wanted – and then lost it all! She is now disoriented, depressed and unhappy. “How could this happen to me?” Thankfully, most of my family members have much less, but enjoy it much more. I hope you do too!
Have you heard of the Willie and Martin Handcart companies of 1856? Recently some friends and I spent several days on the Wyoming Plains, tracing the heroic and tragic trails followed by these rugged pioneers. We stood in the very ruts of the handcarts and wagons where these pioneers (and many of my own ancestors) struggled toward Zion. These two companies left Europe late in the season and were delayed en route. The supplies they had, and more they expected, but did not find along the way ran out. They began to starve. The weather turned cold with piercing winds, and they began to freeze. And then the heavy early snow came down from the mountains, and stopped them in their tracks, 350 miles from safety in the Valley. When the rescuers sent by BrighamYoung found them, they had already buried many of their numbers, and many more died in succeeding days. But – here’s the lesson – those who finally straggled into the Valley on their frozen feet never gave up. They proceeded to plant crops, construct rough adobe homes or dugouts, raise their families and build their Zion. They never lost their faith in God, or their testimonies, or their determination!
You and I have different challenges, but we have the same need for faith, determination and hard work. Our dreams are not always realized in this life. For some of us, the happy families we strive for may seem out of reach. The great promises of the gospel can seem too long delayed, or unreasonably interrupted. But please, never forget this: God is in His heaven; He loves His children. He is still in charge of His world. His promises for the faithful will not fail. Everyone who continues faithful to the end of life will receive every blessing – nothing will be denied to those who keep their covenants. That is His promise.
If your life is going wonderfully for you, hang on to the iron rod, lest you lose it. If your life seems a never-ending struggle, hold on to the iron rod, and God will not fail you. If others around you need your help, help them find the iron rod and hold fast to it. Teach your little ones, or others’ children around you, while they are still young, to live for the guidance of the Holy Spirit, that they too may always hold fast to the iron rod, and never lose their way.
I love every one of you, and I know Sister Belliston loves you too. We both continue to pray for you. Even though the memories of our time together are fading into the distant past, nothing wonderful from the past will ever be entirely lost, and all things wonderful for the future will come to pass. Continue to hold fast to the iron rod – it is the word of God!
And – have a wonderful Thanksgiving and Christmas season!
Your faithful friend and president,