An Easter Post 2019: Lisa and the Lessons She Taught Me About The Resurrection
By Ken K. Gourdin
Happy Easter, everyone! I thought, perhaps, that I had shared everything I could relating to Easter on the Blog in previous years, and I felt that it was likely that this Easter would come and go without any new inspiration. Then, since one of the central themes of Easter is the glorious resurrection of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, I thought that perhaps it would be appropriate for me to share one of the most profound experiences I had while serving as a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, wherein I was reminded of some profound truths about the resurrection. If you happen to follow another religious tradition, or even if you are not particularly religious at all, I hope our common high regard for Jesus of Nazareth, notwithstanding any differences in the details of our respective beliefs, will carry the day.
The Book of Mormon prophet, Alma the younger, testified of the resurrection this way:
“42 Now, there is a death which is called a temporal death; and the death of Christ shall loose the bands of this temporal death, that all shall be raised from this temporal death.
“43 The spirit and the body shall be reunited again in its perfect form; both limb and joint shall be restored to its proper frame, even as we now are at this time . . .”
As I’ve written elsewhere on the Blog, given my physical (and other) limitations, I must confess no small degree of anticipation of experiencing what, exactly, it will be like, first to be a spirit and then to be a resurrected being whose spirit has been united with a glorified, immortal, perfect, resurrected physical body. I was taught a powerful lesson about the resurrection by a young lady who left an indelible impact on me which continues to this day.
I quote from my autobiography, Lots of Good, Some Bad, and a Little Ugly in the First 32 Years (Collierville TN: Instantpublisher.com ), pages 140-145:
While a mission is a life-changing experience for all who humble themselves as they serve, one experience stands out in my memory as one which changed my life in particular. . . . I quote from an account of this experience:
ENCINITAS CA and CARLSBAD CA – At the close of the October, 1989 General Conference, Elder Neal A. Maxwell had just given a[n address] on complaining when we are faced with obstacles. That [address] made me think about all of the complaining I had done as I faced my own challenges, and it was a very humbling experience.
Since Conference isn’t broadcast on network television in California, my companion and I had gone to a local meeting house to watch it via satellite. My companion in tow, I headed for the nearest exit immediately as the Conference ended. Having been “pricked in the heart” by Elder Maxwell’s closing remarks, I hoped simply to be able to leave the chapel with my dignity inact. I guess the Lord decided I hadn’t quite been humbled enough, though. At that point, I felt someone jostle me from behind. The chapel was very crowded, and I assumed the person behind me just wanted to leave as quickly as I did. I was wrong.
Since everything else she’d tried hadn’t gotten my attention, she tried a less-subtle approach.
“Hey,” she called. That finally did the trick, and I turned around.
Apparently, she noticed the crutches I was walking with and asked, “Do you have Cerebral Palsy?”
“Yes, I do,” I admitted. [And for me, it was an admission—something of which, at that time, perhaps, I was even somewhat ashamed, although I had no control over it: “And as Jesus passed by, he saw a man which was blind from his birth. And his disciples asked him, saying, Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind? Jesus answered, Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him” (John 9:1-3). I scarcely realized it at the time, but the works of God were about to be made manifest in my life through the person I had just met.]
“So do I!” she replied. Her honesty startled me at the time. “My name’s Lisa. What’s yours.”
“Elder Gourdin,” I replied.
Introductions having been dispensed with, then she launched into an extensive list of the challenges she faced as a result of her handicap, many of which were obvious: she had difficulty keeping her head upright because of the constant motion caused when the signals from her brain to her muscles went haywire; she had difficulty controlling her limbs for the same reason; her speech was slow, labored, and difficult to understand; and she told me about several other challenges which were less obvious but just as severe. There was no trace of self-pity in her voice, and her list of challenges wasn’t meant to make me pity her. It was delivered in the same matter-of-fact way one might describe what he’d had for breakfast that morning. Again, her lack of self-pity startled me.
She concluded by declaring, “But I’m not worried. Know why?” I’ve never been very good at guessing games, so I returned her question. “No, why?”
“Because I’m going to be resurrected!” she declared. There was a tone of disbelief in her voice, as if to say, What? You’re a missionary, and you don’t know about the resurrection? What do you teach these people?!
Her answer made sense, but I was again surprised to hear it come from someone so young. “How old are you?” I asked.
“Twelve,” she answered.
I was struck by the power of her testimony. I could see that the challenges she listed for me were just the tip of the iceberg (as if they weren’t enough) but she wasn’t worried. She knew that because Jesus Christ had risen on the third day after being laid in the tomb that she, too, would one day be given a glorified, immortal, perfect body, free from those challenges.
I was sure that would be the last time I saw her, but her example left a deep and lasting impression on me. About nine months later, I had just begun to get comfortable in a new area. Due to some additional physical challenges, I was grateful that my companion and I had developed the kind of relationship with the members when we could let them shoulder some of the burden of missionary work.
Although I knew never to question the Lord’s purposes, I was perplexed by the change. I was disheartened at having to begin anew to establish the kind of rapport with the members in my new area that I had enjoyed with the members in my previous area.
It wasn’t long, though, before the Lord began to make his purposes plain. One of the first phone calls I received in my new area was from Bishop Norman G. Venturi, who presided over one of the wards to which my companion and I were assigned. He invited us to dinner to discuss the progress of missionary work in his ward.
The appointed evening came and we went to the bishop’s home, where we were ushered in and introduced to the members of his family. It was there that I saw Lisa for the second of what would become many occcasions in the following months. I learned much from her, both by precept and by example. Although I did have great success in what turned out to be the final area of my mission, the example and friendship of Lisa and her family remain one of my fondest memories.
As my mission drew to a close, I wrote the following letter to Lisa. [The letter was dated November 9, 1990, thirteen days before I completed my service as a full-time missionary]:
“I’m writing this letter to thank you for the great influence you have had on my life. You have taught me many things no one else could.
“From you I have learned that is okay for me to speak freely about my own handicap. You have taught me that I can do this so that people will be able to understand why I am the way I am, and not so that they will feel sorry for me.
“From you have learned that I can let my handicap be my teacher instead of my enemy. God gave you and me a very unique opportunity to learn things that very few people will learn in this life. From the moment I first met you, I realized that you have taken advantage of that opportunity in mnay ways I have not. Because of you, I have set a goal to learn something new from my handicap every single day—and I have done that.
“From you I have learned more about the way Christ taught us to live. I’ve learned more from you about how to Love people [sic]; how to accept them for who they are, and to remember what they can become; how to have courage, even when [I’m] afraid; how to endure the things I can’t change; how to have faith in Heavenly Father and in Jesus, our Older Brother; and you have taught me so many other things that I can’t write them all in one letter. I have spent a lot of time on my knees asking Heavenly Father: ‘Please help me be more like Lisa . . .’
“From you I have learned that I must accept myself before others can. Then and only then will I learn what Heavenly Father is trying to teach me. Only then can others learn what Heavenly Father wants me to teach them.
“From you I have learned that our Heavenly Father has given us all we need in this life. Our brains don’t know how to tell our muscles how to work right. But we don’t have that because we don’t need it.
“From you I have learned to appreciate being able to do o most of the simple things pretty easily—and to not be ashamed to ask for help if I really need it.
“From you I have learned that some things are very important—and that others are not so important, and how to tell the difference.
“From you my testimony has been even further strengthened that our imperfections will be overcome. If they are physical imperfections, like handicaps, they will be overcome when we are resurrected. If they are spiritual imperfections, they will be overcome when [through the grace of Christ] we repent. This I know.
“When I was your age, I hit some of the biggest waves on the stormy seas of life. Maybe you have hit those waves already. Maybe you only thought you had hit them. Maybe you’ll hit bigger ones tomorrow. No matter what, don’t let go of the ones who will see you through—your Heavenly Father, your Savior, your parents, your brothers and sisters, your friends . . . You might say you’ll never let go, but then maybe you haven’t seen the biggest waves yet. But when they do come, don’t be scared. Remember: The biggest waves on life’s stormiest seas are the ones that lift you the highest!
“Thank you so much!
“Elder Ken Gourdin”
As Christ rose, triumphantly, from the tomb on the third day following His crucifixion, so we, too, because of His death and resurrection, will rise from the grave. At the resurrection, our spirits will be united with glorified, immortal, resurrected, perfected physical bodies which are free from all of the limitations inherent to mortality—whether disability, illness, deformity, weakness, or any other such limitation.
In no small part because of my indelible relationship with this incredible young lady, this I know.