How Firm a Foundation — Part 6
Like Lambs, They Shall Still in My Bosom Be Borne
In 1996 famous interviewer, Mike Wallace had a conversation with the then President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Gordan B. Hinkley.
“There are those who say, ‘This is a gerontocracy. This is a church run by old men,’” Wallace remarked.
“Isn’t it wonderful to have a man of maturity at the head, a man of judgment who isn’t blown about by every wind of doctrine?” Hinckley replied. (https://www.cbsnews.com/news/an-interview-with-gordon-hinckley/4/)
I believe that President Hinkley would have been able to relate to the author of How Firm a Foundation who wrote, “E’en down to old age, all my people shall prove my sov’reign, eternal, unchangeable love.”
My mother would also say I was the worst paperboy in town, yet I was the most loved. I never had the newspapers out on time and spent a lot of time talking to my clients. My mother also said that I have a way with the ladies. She was talking about the senior ladies at my church and in my neighborhood. If you have read my book, “Tales of a Paperboy — A Christmas Story,” you might recognize some similar details.
These “girlfriends” of mine molded me like clay and, in Rhoda Leatham’s case while having tacos.
I always knew when the dinners were served and when a good time was to “drop by” and collect the monthly bill. (Somehow, I came over more than just monthly.) Monday night in my church is also considered family night and set aside to spend time reading scriptures, playing games, singing songs, or whatever families do to build love and faith. Rhoda and Walley no longer had children in their home. Their family had grown up, married, and moved out, yet they still observed family night. Tacos were their family tradition, and they included me as often as I could.
I may have been there for my stomach, but she and her husband Walley filled my soul.
Another one of the ladies on my route was Marie Dunkley. She had such energy, and it was contagious. She had been a substitute several times for my class in Sunday School, but she taught me more standing out on her porch talking than she ever did in class. She would tell me stories about how she met her husband. She would discuss how strong her eternal marriage was and how much she cherished it.
She carried her love with her after her husband died of cancer. I would wonder if I would see the energy leave her after he died, and you know, it never did. She would still stop me and talk almost every day. Sometimes it was with tears in her eyes, but always with a smile.
I said goodbye to all my “lady friends” as I left on my mission, and while serving in Australia, Sister Leatham and Sister Dunkley were both taken home to the Savior. I am grateful for the testimonies they bore in word and deed, leaving a lasting impression on me.
Boyd and Carmen Rich moved into our local congregation just as Christmastime was getting started. I was the choir director, and they were a needed addition to our fledgling Christmas program.
In Austria, the first time anyone sang or heard Silent Night, the local church organ was broken, so they used a guitar. I wanted to sing the beloved him in a way that honored the original performance. I had someone to play the guitar, but I thought it would also be nice to have someone sing at least one verse in German and was very pleased that Boyd and Carmen, who lived in Austria for a time, volunteered. It was perfect for my vision of performing that beloved carol.
Through music, we got to know each other, and we became friends. We have always shared stories we have found or experiences we have written down. Boyd wrote the following about a time when he saw the hymn How Firm a Foundation. He, like me, was inspired by his elders, and his story demonstrates why this hymn can be so powerful. He wrote:
Sister Luella Millward wielded a very special influence in my life in Star Valley, Wyoming, when I was in my mid-teens. She was a humble spiritual person of great faith, who always put her trust in the Lord. She was the widowed mother of six adult children, four sons, and two daughters. Her youngest son, Dean, had been drafted into the US Army in the early 1940s and was eventually serving in the European theater of action.
My mother was the postmaster in our town of Fairview, where postal patrons collected their mail at the post office located in our log home in the center of town. Dean wrote frequent letters to his mother, and since she lived alone some distance from our place, it became my assumed duty and pleasure to deliver his prized letters to her on my bicycle. Sister Millward enjoyed opening Dean’s letters and sharing their contents with me. As we sat together in her living room, she also related stories of faith from her life’s experience.
…It was in 1943, during the height of World War II that Dean’s letters ceased to arrive at the post office. Many weeks went by slowly, and then one day a letter arrived, advising her that her son Dean was “missing in action”. As she shared this news with me, she wept, but through her smiles, she said she knew that God would take care of her soldier son.
I continued my visits to Sister Millward, just to sit with her and feel the strength of her spirit.
One afternoon, as I entered her humble home, her countenance was aglow, and she eagerly wanted to share a special experience with me. She related that during the previous night, as she prepared to retire, she knelt and offered a pleading prayer to the Lord in behalf of her dear son. During the night she was awakened and felt a prompting to get up and go into her living room, where she took her hymn book from the shelf and sat in her chair. As she held it in her hands, the book fell open to the hymn, “How Firm a Foundation.” She felt a thrill surge through her whole being as she read its message. She said that verses 2, 3, 4, 5 and 7 were inspired words from heaven.
Sister Millward accepted these words as a message from the Lord that Dean was not in harm’s way and that he would eventually return home to her and the family.
It was only a few weeks later that a letter from Dean arrived at the post office. I urgently mounted my bicycle and hurried to Sister Millward’s home. Tears of joy were shed as she eagerly opened the letter and learned that Dean was a prisoner of war in a German prison camp. He wrote that he was in good health and was being treated well by his captors. No letter was more appreciated by any mother than that one from her soldier son!
— A Hymn Offers Comfort and Peace to a Mother by Boyd C Rich
For many years, during Christmas time, my wife and I would visit the Riches and participate in the lighting of advent candles. They began the tradition of lighting candles each Sunday of the Christmas season as senior missionaries for our church in Austria. I loved hearing of their time serving the Lord, and we would exchange Christmas stories and bear our testimonies to each other. Boyd passed away shortly after we moved to Texas, and I will always cherish our friendship.
My grandfather was a hard worker at Hill Air Force Base and kept one of the best gardens that fed him and many of his neighbors, friends, and family for years. After my Grandmother died and his health started going downhill, he was lonely but always remained a steadfast servant of Jesus Christ.
Once on one of his several trips to a care center, after one of his surgeries, he enjoyed seeing other patients, he made friends easily, but I was always surprised at how many patients he already knew.
While sitting at lunch, one of his friends offered him some hot chocolate, which my grandfather refused. Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints do not drink alcohol, smoke cigarettes, nor drink tea and coffee.
“Don’t you like hot chocolate?” his friend asked him. “It’s not that; I don’t want anyone to mistake it for coffee.” His integrity and the promise he made to set himself apart from the world were foundational to who my Grandfather was.
And when he putteth forth his own sheep, he goeth before them, and the sheep follow him: for they know his voice. And a stranger will they not follow, but will flee from him: for they know not the voice of strangers.
— John 10:4–5
After he died, my cousin Don and I thought we could write a song that paid tribute to my Grandpa Read. We had a great time reminiscing about the many ways he influenced our lives and our family’s lives, but, unfortunately, we could not translate these ideas to music.
The author of How Firm a Foundation references those with grey hair, a metaphor for age’s experience. The description reminds me of my grandpa, brother Rich, or my “Girlfriends”:
Even down to old age all my people shall prove
My sovereign, eternal, unchangeable love;
And then, when gray hair shall their temples adorn,
Like lambs they shall still in my bosom be borne.