How to Handle Trials

Martin & Willie Hand Cart Companies: Evidence of Uninspired Prophets and/or Leaders, or Stellar Examples to Us of How to Bear Up Under (Much Lesser!) Trials?

By Ken K. Gourdin

In a thread started at Mormon Dialogue and Discussion leveling criticism at President Brigham Young and others for allowing the Martin and Willie Hand Cart companies of pioneers to begin their crossing of the plains so late in the season (about 1/4th of the members of the companies lost their lives because of an early winter that year), I quoted Francis Webster. He and his wife were members of one of the companies, and he heard similar criticism of leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in a Sunday school class. To that criticism, he responded:

Cold historic facts mean nothing here for they give no proper interpretation of the questions involved. Mistake to send the Hand Cart Company out so late in the season? Yes. But I was in that Company and my wife was in it. … I have looked back many times to see who was pushing my cart but my eyes saw no one. I knew then that the Angels of God were there. Was I sorry that I chose to come by hand cart? No. Neither then nor any minute of my life since. The price we paid to become acquainted with God was a privilege to pay and I am thankful that I was privileged to come in the Martin Hand Cart Company.”

Source: Chad Orton, “Francis Webster: The Unique Story of One Handcart Pioneer’s Faith and Sacrifice,” BYU Studies, vol. 45, no. 2 (2006) 117, accessed on line at the following address on July 17, 2015:

[Ellipses in original.]

I wrote, “That’s Francis Webster’s testimony.” Then I added, “Here’s what Levi Savage said after discouraging the companies from departing so late”:

Brethren and sisters, what I have said I know to be true, but seeing you are to go forward, I will go with you, will help you all I can, will work with you, will rest with you, will suffer with you, and if necessary I will die with you. May God have mercy bless and preserve us.

Source:, accessed July 17, 2015.

In response, another poster wrote, “Apparently there was very selective spiritual help among the handcarters. Of the 576 in the Martin Handcart Company, one fourth of them froze and or starved to death including babies and small children. How can one person have help and the rest just manage the best they can.”

I responded:

Much more than one person had help. If they hadn’t things likely would have been even worse for the two companies. That’s what I keep coming back to, pretty much every time I try to convince God how much my life sucks (and believe me, while I have no corner on challenges or suffering, there are a lot of things I would change about it if I could). Essentially, God says, “How do you know things couldn’t be worse?” And I have to admit, I dunno. His purposes are as inscrutable to me as they are to anyone else. As Paul Simon sang so well, “God only knows. God makes His plans. The information’s unavailable to the mortal man. We work at our jobs, collect our pay, believe we’re gliding down the highway when, in fact, we’re slip slidin’ away.” I can only have faith and hope that, one day, I will understand God’s currently-inscrutable purposes. If you don’t believe that adversity can tutor and refine a person or that God can use even what seem to us to be horrible things to accomplish those purposes, that’s your business.

I admit, I don’t understand the interplay between what God causes, what He merely allows, and what He chooses to intervene to prevent, but I do know He’s not like Santa Claus: He doesn’t give us “presents” when we’re “good” and “lumps of coal” when we’re “bad.” As Rabbi Harold Kushner once so memorably put it, “Expecting to have a trouble-free life because you are a good person is like expecting the bull not to charge you because you’re a vegetarian.” Bulls charge people; it’s what they do. Sometimes, life sucks; it is what it is. Often, we cannot choose our circumstances; we can only choose how we react to them.

As the scriptures put it, “God maketh his sun to shine on both the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust” [Matthew 5:45]. Nephi surely didn’t understand the reasons for everything that happened to him, but he said, “I know not the meaning of all things; nevertheless, I know that [God] loveth his children” [1 Nephi 11:17, The Book of Mormon]. Job didn’t deserve everything that happened to him, but he still said, “The Lord giveth, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” [Job 1:21]. Joseph Smith neither understood nor deserved everything that happened to him. He cried out, “O God, where art thou, and where is the pavilion that covereth thy hiding place,” [Doctrine & Covenants 121:1] and was told, “My son, peace be unto thy soul; thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment. And then, if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high, and thou shalt triumph over all thy foes” [Doctrine & Covenants 121:7-8]. And the Savior of the world told him, “The son of man hath descended below [all things],” and asked, “Art thou greater than He?” [Doctrine & Covenants 122:7-8].

And it’s not as though Francis Webster and others didn’t suffer, simply because they happened to live through the experience. If I were a betting man, I would bet that many of them suffered the effects of the trek long afterward, for the rest of their lives, in many cases. But, by and large, like Francis Webster, they were grateful to have lived through it (continuing challenges notwithstanding). It’s incomprehensible to me, as it is to all of us, but Christ said that God notices even a sparrow’s fall and asked if we’re not worth many sparrows. I can’t wrap my mortal, finite mind around the implications that “All flesh is in [God’s] hand,” [Doctrine & Covenants 61:6] or that, as he told Joseph Smith, and as I believe is true of all of us, “Thy days are known, and shall not be numbered less. Fear not what man can do, for God shall be with you forever and ever” [Doctrine & Covenants 121:9]. And the Apostle Paul wrote that “All things work together for the good of them that love God” [Romans 8:28]. Not just the “good” stuff, and not just the things we understand, but all things.

My faith often wavers; the words of the man who besought the Savior to cast an evil spirit out of his son often are a perfect description of it: “Lord, I believe; help Thou mine unbelief” [Mark 9:24]. I’ve fallen more times than I can count. Sometimes, I wonder why I keep getting back up, but I do: I get back up, dust myself off, and jump back into the fray. I have a very flawed, finite, mortal perspective, but Joseph Smith also taught that all of our losses would be made up to us in the end, provided we continue faithful. [See Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Joseph Fielding Smith (1976), 296.] The one thing I try to hold onto is that no matter what else happens to me, I know God loves me. He doesn’t love me because I’m perfect, or because I always do what He wants me to do, or because I do that even most of the time. He loves me for the same reason my earthly father does: because I’m His son, and because that’s just what He does. But I learned a long time ago not to count on an easy life being a sign of God’s favor; it’s not. “Whom the Lord loveth, He chasteneth” [Hebrews 12:6].

Another poster critiqued my interlocutor’s implicit position that death is the worst possible thing that can happen to a person. I responded, “Depends on what one has to survive, I suppose.  They wouldn’t call it ‘enduring to the end’ if there were nothing to endure.  I can understand the ‘selective-spiritual-help’ and ‘why-did-God-help-some-to-survive-while-allowing-others-to-die’ perspectives, if one believes that there wasn’t a life before this one and there isn’t one after it.”

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Alleged Anti-Gay Slurs at BYU

“Anti-Gay” Sign Causes Stir at BYU

By Ken K. Gourdin

The Big 12 athletic conference (which is actually composed of ten teams, but no one said jocks could count) of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) recently declined to expand. Provo, Utah’s, Brigham Young University, which is independent in football (unaffiliated with a conference) and plays in the West Coast Conference in most other sports, reportedly was a candidate for expansion.

The conference received heavy pressure from gay activist groups not to invite BYU to join because of the stance of the university’s sponsoring institution, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, with respect to gay conduct and gay marriage (that sex outside of marriage is wrong, and that only marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God). I recently commented thus on the stance of the Church of Jesus Christ and its affect on educational institutions run by the Church here (this and all other links last accessed October 19, 2016):

If it needs to be said, the Church of Jesus Christ also counsels all people to treat others with respect and dignity regardless of sexual orientation and different beliefs regarding homosexual activity and gay marriage. See, e.g., here:

The Salt Lake Tribune’s television critic, Scott D. Pierce, who occasionally writes about sports coverage on television, recently wrote about a sign held up by someone in the crowd at the recent football matchup between BYU’s Cougars and the Bulldogs of Mississippi State University.

My first thought was, “Oh, gawrsh. This is serious. Has someone not gotten the memo that the Church of Jesus Christ, its views on marriage and chastity notwithstanding, supports basic human decency and dignity? Did someone hold up a sign with a slur such as ‘k***’ or ‘f**’ on it, for a nationwide television audience to see when the game was carried on ESPN?”

Nope. Nothing that serious. The allegedly-offending sign? “You can’t spell Mississippi without spelling sissy.” (Perhaps I should have written that “s****”?) Worried that perhaps the offending word has an obvious anti-gay connotation of which I was unaware, I then looked it up in the dictionary. See here:

For Mr. Pierce’s handwringing over the alleged “anti-gay” slur, see here:

Alas, I, myself, have been accused of effeminacy. (I don’t think the person who leveled the accusation was attempting to say anything about my sexual orientation, but, in the heat of the moment, I never bothered to ask. Ken, with upraised dukes: “Are you calling me gay? Huh, huh, huh?”)

As for the Big 12 and the pressure to not invite BYU to join? I don’t quite understand the whole idea that if someone doesn’t agree with every single position I hold on absolutely everything, or doesn’t agree with everything I do or ever have done, that disagreement somehow means that I’m “unwelcome” somewhere.

I’m confused. Putting aside, for the moment, that certain behavior probably isn’t appropriate at any public place, are two lesbian cheerleaders from an opposing school going to feel “unwelcome” at BYU because they can’t make out during a game? Are two gay football players from an opposing school going to feel “unwelcome” because they cannot do that? If not, I’m afraid I don’t quite understand what the stances of BYU or of its sponsoring institution regarding chastity and marriage have to do with what athletic conference it belongs to (or not).

Taking legality out of the equation for a second, the Big 12 can invite whomever it wants, for any reason; it can exclude whomever it wants, for any reason. But anyone with half a brain would be able to see right through any protestations that the conference’s exclusion has nothing to do with BYU’s alleged “anti-gay” policies if it were to invite other schools whose programs, facilities, and followings aren’t as strong as BYU’s.

Perhaps, in order to get a fair shake, religiously-affiliated and religiously-oriented schools eventually may have to break away from the NCAA altogether and form their own association. Cue pressure from pro-gay activist groups. After all, people who believe something different than I do (about absolutely anything) should forfeit their very right to exist.

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On Accidents vis-a-vis God’s Will

Is Unfortunate Accident [Y] Necessarily Evidence That God Does Not Want Humankind to Engage in Activity [X]? Why I Doubt It

By Ken K. Gourdin

In response to the contention that space exploration disasters which, tragically, have led to loss of life are evidence that God does not want men to explore the cosmos, I responded:

God, per se, didn’t have anything to do with the Challenger disaster (or with the Columbia disaster, for that matter). Broadly speaking, those disasters happened because both craft were made by humans, anything made by humans is, by nature and by definition, flawed, and such flaws pose a risk that what happened in each case would happen. The only remedy to such problems is to build better craft which will not succumb to the flaws to which Challenger and Columbia succumbed, and to pay due attention to problems which start small … before they become bigger problems later on so that, hopefully, they can be remedied before those who use the craft pay the ultimate mortal price for doing so.

This is true of many such human activities. In the foregoing example, any number of such activities could replace space exploration. For that matter, life, itself, inherently involves risk. One need not necessarily seek out risk in order to be subject to it. Even if I do not engage in inherently risky activity, I could be the unfortunate victim of an unforeseen (and unforeseeable) accident even as I simply go about my normal daily activities. Such is the nature of living in a fallen world. As I’ve said so many times, often, we cannot choose our circumstances: the only thing we can choose is our reaction to them.

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Trump the Victim of a Smear Campaign

How Donald J. Trump is the Victim of a “Smear Campaign”

By Ken K. Gourdin

Mr. Donald J. Trump has claimed that he is the victim of the largest smear campaign in the history of United States presidential electoral politics.  In response to that assertion, in another forum, I wrote:

I completely agree: Mr. Trump is the victim of one of the greatest smear campaigns in history. He smeared himself with all manner of filth . . . then decided to run for president.

If we Utahns can’t prevent Mrs. Clinton from making history nationally by being the first woman elected president of the U.S., at least we can help her repeat history by making her the second Clinton to come in third in the state of Utah (see the Utah returns from the 1992 presidential election).

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Man Surprises Family With First Word

Man Surprises Family By Uttering the First Word He’d Ever Spoken at Mount Timpanogos LDS Temple Open House

By Ken K. Gourdin

Salt Lake City’s Deseret News commemorated the 20th anniversary of the dedication of American Fork’s Mount Timpanogos LDS Temple October 13. See the story here (last accessed October 13, 2016):

I was deeply touched by an account of something that happened at the open house. I sent the following e-mail to family and friends:

I was deeply touched and impressed by something that happened at the open house.  In addition to being home to the Mount Timpanogos Temple, American Fork also is home to the Utah State Developmental Center, which helps developmentally-disabled folks, for whom I have a soft spot in my heart because, while I am not cognitively disabled, Cerebral Palsy, which I do have, is a developmental disability.  One family was wondering if they should take a family member, one of the Center’s residents, to the Temple open house.  Their fears appeared to be confirmed as this gentleman, who had never uttered a word in his 60-odd years on this planet (indeed, before what happened that day, no one knew he even could speak) grew agitated as they wheeled him toward the Temple in his wheelchair.

Fortunately, the gentleman calmed down in the lobby of the Temple.  In that lobby, there is a painting of the Savior holding a lamb in his arms.  I’m not sure if it’s the exact one I gave some of you personalized copies of for Christmas a couple years ago (You know who you are!!!) but I suspect it’s either the same one or very similar.    To the surprise of all of his family members who had accompanied him, the man uttered his first spoken word in mortality upon seeing that painting.

“Jesus,” he said.

Eyes still dry?  I know.  Mine aren’t either.

Love to all.

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Of Former Fervency and Subsequent Disaffection

On Fervent Testimony and Subsequent Disaffection

By Ken K. Gourdin

An on-line acquaintance at Mormon Dialogue and Discussion described how a former missionary companion of his daughter, who bore fervent testimony (how Mormons describe sharing our witness) of the truths of the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ on their mission, how has become disaffected. He asked how such a thing could happen, and how he could believe any testimony borne by a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in light of such disafection.

I responded:

Some of them are built on sand, some of them are built on rock. In fairness, it can be challenging to do the latter amidst life’s trials, struggles, ambiguities, vicissitudes, and unanswered questions, and it’s not as though I have all of the answers. I have simply determined to not let what I do know to be held hostage to what, as yet, I do not know.

In real life, although I have relatives who are very handy and could probably build pretty much anything they put their mind to, wherever I have lived has been built by someone else, and if the workmanship has been shoddy, I have fallen victim to that. However, with respect to my metaphorical “spiritual” house, I determine the level of its craftsmanship and its location. If it’s not “up to code,” if it is not built according to as exacting a set of specifications as it should be, or if it is in less than an ideal location, then I have the remedy for that.

It’s not as hard to understand why someone might bear a strong testimony as a missionary but might falter in “civilian life” later on as one might think. There is a commission that comes with missionary service that makes it hard to adjust to “civilian life” after returning home and being released. As a missionary, one’s focus constantly is outward, toward others; one is dedicated to serving them. In comparison to “civilian life,” one is literally immersed in the Gospel of Jesus Christ and in “things spiritual.” It’s little wonder there is such an adjustment.

How does one build a strong house in a safe location, spiritually speaking? Some are prone to deriding the “Sunday School Answers,” but in the end, that’s what it comes down to: That’s how one builds a strong house. Christ is The Rock. No other foundation is as sure. And we’re in the midst of the storm—the devil’s “mighty whirlwinds, all his hail and his mighty storm.” If we’re not determined, he will “drag us down to the gulf of misery and endless wo.” (See Helaman 5:12.) To be safe, we must trust in God, as Alma the Younger testified to Helaman: “[W]hosoever shall put their trust in God shall be supported in their trials, and in their troubles, and in their afflictions, and shall be lifted up at the last day” (Alma 36:3).

Also, experiencing even the “mighty change of heart” isn’t enough. Alma taught that one must renew that change regularly. (As an old saying goes, if I’m not as close to God today as I was yesterday, who moved?) It’s possible that one can “feel to sing the song of redeeming love” at one time, but not at another. (See Alma 5:26.) And, while I cannot, of course, see well enough into anyone’s heart to know if this is true of him or her, some of us, as Elder Neal A. Maxwell [a former member of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints] said, want to maintain a permanent residence in Zion, but not give up the summer cottage in Babylon.

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Losing’s Not Funny

The NFL’s San Diego Chargers Lost, Their Kicker Laughed: How Serious?

By Ken K. Gourdin

There is a story at outlining the unhappiness of some (many) with San Diego Chargers kicker Josh Lambo’s comportment after a loss (for some—many—Lambo’s demeanor was entirely too jovial, given the circumstances). See the story here, last accessed October 11, 2016:

I commented:

A large dose of perspective might be in order. I don’t necessarily think players should yuk it up after losses, but let’s face it: Football’s simply a game. It’s great when you win (or when your team does) … for a while. It sucks when you lose (or when your team does) … for a while. But even the best wins and the worst losses, along with the feelings associated with each, fade. To cite a parallel from another league, as the National Basketball Association’s LeBron James unwittingly reminded us a few years ago, there are so many other things which demand our concern in our “miserable lives.”

Given that so many other things demand our attention (keeping roofs over our heads, putting food on the table, dealing with life’s innumerable and inevitable vicissitudes, and on and on) how many people will remember even the greatest win or the worst loss tomorrow, or next week, or next year, or five or ten years from now? Not many. And remembering it is one thing: Does that mean it still has all that great of an ongoing impact on our “miserable lives”? True, I still remember the shot the NBA’s John Stockton of the Utah Jazz hit at the end of Game 6 of the 1997 Western Conference finals to send the Jazz to their first NBA Final. It’s a fond memory with a good feeling associated with it, but nearly 20 years later, does it have all that much of an impact on my day-to-day life? Momentarily, perhaps, wins allow us to escape such “miserable” circumstances, but do they have an appreciable long-term impact? Doubtful.

I’ve seen police officers yuk it up at serious crime scenes and accident scenes. For those involved in them, the consequences of those crimes and of those accidents often are far direr than those of a mere athletic contest lost. In the former case, humor is a defense mechanism. (Perhaps it’s a defense mechanism after players lose games, too.) As Hawkeye Pierce of the television series M*A*S*H put it so well, joking about some of the things he saw and experienced was the only way he could open his mouth about them without screaming. Certainly, the same is true of police officers and of other first responders. Conversely, win or lose, life goes on, largely as it did before.

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