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Saturday, July 24, 2004

Remembering Neal Maxwell: "Let's get this show on the road"

Last night I read Elder Neal A. Maxwell's last General Conference address, "Remember How Merciful the Lord Hath Been," out loud to my family before bedtime. I really appreciated his point about misjudging his former bishop who seemed to be delaying the mission that Neal was anxious to begin after returning from World War II. "Let's get this show on the road" was his impatient comment in pressuring the bishop to move. Only years later did he learn that in slightly delaying the mission, the bishop was acting out of kindness to his family, wishing to give them a little time with their son who had been away so long already. "Hearing this, I chastised myself for having been too judgmental."

I've had a few experiences of this nature on both the giving and receiving ends. My most recent one came last Wednesday when the Appleton Second Ward was scheduled to take young people to the Chicago Temple to do baptisms for the dead. It's a three-hour drive from Appleton, and we were planning to leave the Church at 1:00 PM. Unfortunately, the weather forecasts were looking bad as noon approached. A large storm system was moving in that might pound us on the entire drive down and back. Thunderstorms were predicted for our route in Wisconsin, and for northern Illinois there was a severe thunderstorm warning, with threats of severe winds, heavy rain, and damaging hail.

My feelings were that the trip should be cancelled for the sake of safety. I expressed my views with supporting data to our Bishop, John Ponczoch, and thought it was a pretty easy decision. He hesitated, and asked that we all meet and the church anyway and review the latest information then. I had the feeling that the trip was not going to be cancelled, and wondered if I should stand up for safety and oppose it. Frankly, given pressures at work, I would have appreciated the chance to work instead of taking a half-day of vacation to drive through crazy traffic while getting my car pounded with hail.

As I contemplated the situation, I realized that the Bishop would probably ask me to do something that went against my personal views and would bring risk that I'd rather avoid. I was irritated at first and grumbled, and then prayerfully considered it for a moment. I thought of Zion's Camp and other adventures in which some Saints were asked to make sacrifices that didn't seem to turn out well. I realized that there is risk in all we do, that even asking people to come to Church on Sunday is to invite the possibility of death on the highways. Though the risk was higher than I was comfortable with, I felt that asking us to drive to Chicago in adverse weather for a good cause was not unreasonable. I decided that the real issue here was my willingness to follow counsel, and decided that I should. That's not to say that we should accept every request that every leader makes - we do need to think and seek inspiration on our own, trusting the Lord completely but mortals less. Human leaders are fallible , and there are times when we should say no. But not every time, not most times, probably not many times, and for me, not this time.

I concluded that if the Bishop said we were going, that I would go willingly. I would drive safely and seek the Lord's help, but if adversity should strike or if my car should come back heavily dented, it would be OK. If I tell the Lord I am willing to sacrifice all things if necessary, but balk at the risk of hail damage or driving in perilous weather, then where do I stand? For those of you outside the Midwest, hail damage is a very real thing. We've had the roof of our home damaged twice by hail, and I was simply amazed last year at the experience of being trapped in a car during heavy hail: big chunks of ice racing to the ground at terminal velocity make a wonderful lot of noise when they hit your vehicle. But my car came out OK. More serious is the risk of an accident in heavy rain, but that's also manageable.

We met at the Church, and the Bishop asked for my counsel. I gave him the latest gloomy weather report, but said I'd go if he wanted us to and said it in a way that tried to show my sincere willingness to accept his decision. He consulted with his counselors, and asked that we go. If we hit seriously bad weather, we would turn around, but he said we should seek the Lord's help to get us there safely. This was the point where I chose to accept priesthood counsel and engage in a wholesome and worthy cause that I personally disagreed with. Not that I disagreed with Temple service, but felt that the weather would be too bad. But I gave up any negative emotions and chose to willingly and cheerfully move forward and do my duty.

We had a great trip. On the way down and back, we saw dark storm clouds, but only a few dozen raindrops ever hit my windshield. I don't think I ever needed to turn the wipers on. The roads were dry, though we could see some puddles where there had been rain earlier. There were no accidents to deal with, the traffic was great, and my car came back without having been struck by a single hailstone. There was even sunshine for about half the trip down. The kids had an excellent experience, and some important work was done. I am grateful for our good bishop, John Ponczoch, and his inspired decision to not follow my advice. Instead, he acted properly to "get this show on the road" when I wanted to keep it off.

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