Disclaimer: In my church we believe in living prophets, like Abraham and Moses, still live today, that there is only one chosen on the earth at any given time, and that they commune with God. I realize that other people think this is wacky, I can handle that, it does seem a bit wacky unless you've felt confirmation that it's true, as I have. If that sounds even wackier, this post will only make me seem weirder--I'm okay with that too. I'm Mormon, I'm used to being thought of as weird, and I love ya anyway.
I was in the 4th or 5th grade when Spencer W. Kimball passed away. He had been the prophet all my life and I hadn't really thought much about living prophets until the radio told us he'd died right before I left for school. My mom explained that the quorum of the 12 now led the church and that they would all vote, kinda, on who would be next but they had always chosen the most senior apostle so that meant it would be Ezra T. Benson. I had no idea who Ezra T. Benson was and felt a little ripped off that they'd up and change prophets like that. I remember looking up at the sky on my way to school and wondering what was happening in heaven, I mean what did the angels do when a prophet died? Did they cry? Did they rejoice? I hoped they rejoiced.
It was several years before President Benson died, he was the prophet of my rebellious years and he had been sick for a long time--in fact I used that as one of my excuses to rebel, that some sick guy was leading the church. When I came back, I appreciate his humble manner and his continued leadership despite his physical hardships. He was the prophet that signed my husband's mission call and he was prophet when I was married and when my daughter was born. However, when he died Howard W. Hunter was sustained as the new prophet. I LOVED Howard W. Hunter.
Back in 9th grade seminary we had pictures of all the 12 Apostles on the wall and I decided right then that Howard W. Hunter was my favorite one. He had bright blue eyes and a cute bald head, he looked vibrant to me. When someone told me he had no feet due to diabetes I thought he was even cooler (disclaimer: I wasn't that spiritual of a kid, I don't recommend it). When he became prophet his auto biography was released and I determined that I liked him even more. He was raised in an inactive home, played in a cruise-ship band instead of serving a mission, and took care of his ailing wife for 20 years. He was a good man, I resonated with him, and will never forget the day he died not even a year later, making him the shortest serving prophet in the history of the church.
He happened to die on the same day my brother committed suicide, but I can't say that I was much aware of his passing or of Gordon B. Hinckley become prophet because my family was dealing with a lot of personal issues. However, facing my brother's tragic death put many aspects of the gospel into focus for me. I had never appreciated the blessings of my parent's temple marriage so much, I had never sought so hard for the Lord's peace and comfort. It was a turning point for me spiritually and it was Gordon B. Hinckley that led the church as I found myself digging into the meat of the gospel. Don't get me wrong, I knew the truth, I felt it, I believed it, but I hadn't searched for very much knowledge. But I searched now.
I met President Hinckley one time and got to shake his hand. It was about eight years ago. My cousin married the granddaughter of Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin, a member of the 12 apostles, and we went to their wedding reception at the Joseph Smith Memorial building. They both had big families and lots of freinds so it was a packed house and were were standing in line to congratulate the bride and groom when someone asked if we could step aside, the prophet was here but he couldn't stay long.
Every head turned in tandem and sure enough, there was the prophet of our church, with his sweet wife Marjorie at his side. My mom's name is Marjorie too. We all did as asked, taking two steps back. He graciously shook our hands as he passed us, saying hello and I was impressed that amid all he had to do, he'd taken time to come to the wedding reception of his friend's granddaughter. Wow. As he finished shaking hands, I looked ahead and groaned. My brother Matt, who was about ten, was painstakingly signing his name to the wedding guest book, having no clue that two feet behind him was the prophet. I tried to send him telepathic messages to move out of the way, but he apparently ignored them and turned just as President Hinckley was shaking hands with the man standing behind Matt in line. Rather than take a step back and be POLITE, Matt went dramatic psycho on us, threw up his hands and went "Whoa, whoa" proceeding to limbo (yes, limbo) under the shaking hands of the prophet and the wedding guest. You could spot his family members by the way we all went red and shouted out apolgies while Matt, completely oblivious, headed to the refreshment table. President Hinckley and his wife just laughed, and the prophet waved at Matt's retreating back before going forward to visit with the bride and groom. Two minutes later he and his wife walked out of the room, again shaking hands with everyone that put their hands out.
It was a little thing, a small moment, and I'm not one for celebrity adulation, but this was a man of God and I could feel it.
On this last Sunday this good and Valiant man was blessed to cross over to the other side, can we even imagine what that was like? How does the Lord welcome one of his chosen sons, a man that truly committed his entire life and every hour of it to the building of the Lord's church? It boggles the mind to imagine the love and joy that led his way to the eternities that evening. But I have little doubt that he was scanning first for his dear wife, the sweetheart of his youth, the wife of his golden years. Just envisioning the moment makes me want to live a bit better, try a little harder, maybe stand a little taller even.
And what a comfort it is to know that even with his passing, the keys to the priesthood and to the gospel still remain, that in a few days we will sustain a new president and pray for his guidance just as we have prayed for the men that proceeded him. The Gospel is a beautiful thing.