Later that Day at Liberty Jail (a svithe both lazy and late)
With the bounty of illness and neardeath at the Thteed household over the past week, it's a miracle anything ever happened. One thing that did not happen was my svithe yesterday. So to make up, I'm including an essay from a book I wrote which never appeared in print. That book is now up on Thmazing.com (more about this later), and this is an excerpt. An exerpt about too little too late. Quite appropriate for this Monday svithe.
Later that Day at Liberty Jail
President Monson tells a story of failing to respond to the spirit quick enough. The spirit told him to go Now, in the middle of his meeting, but he waited until the stake president was through speaking. Then he ran off to the hospital to enquire of a friend. But his friend had died—asking for Bishop Monson, his bishop, till the very end.
Even stripped down to the barest of detail, it is a painful story. Can you imagine the emotion that must have come over him? Although I understand death is not the end, death is still A end. Death does have finality.
Even though I do hope to experience death someday (it is, after all, one of those once-in-a-lifetime-things), I suspect there will still be a frightening aspect to its arrival. Imagine you are dying. Maybe it’s like a roller coaster—you know you’ll live through it (so to speak), but doesn’t the long tow to the first drop still terrify you? It can me.
But I doubt it was death that caused Brother Monson the worst pain. I imagine it was something else. He has said he has never failed to immediately follow a prompting from the Spirit since that day. Never. I believe him. I would do well to follow his example.
I thought I learned this lesson myself while I was on my mission. I though for sure I had learned it when I did an incredibly bizarre thing under the instruction of the Spirit. I was a missionary, and my days left in the field could easily be counted on fingers and toes—even after a moderate-to-severe thrashing machine accident. The night in question, my companion and I were teaching a young lady named Sooyoon. Sooyoon’s sister was a recent convert and happy to be there with us. Also with us was Brother Ahn, a twenty-year old member of the branch presidency. By age, I was the oldest, Sooyoon the youngest. She was just two years younger than I was.
We were teaching the fifth discussion. (The number of fifth discussions I taught as a missionary can also be easily counted on fingers and toes.) The Spirit told me to give Sooyoon my CTR ring.
“Hahaha!” I replied. “I’m a missionary; I’m not giving any girl my ring!”
The Spirit insisted. And insisted. And insisted. Finally, as the discussion ended, I obeyed. I explained what CTR stands for, gave her the ring and had her promise to wear it until her baptism.
She was not baptized, as I had hoped, before I went home. My time ran out and suddenly my responsibility was just to begin my new, American lifestyle. Then, Christmas Eve 1997, I received a letter from Sooyoon. She was baptized. And she was so happy! She said the ring had helped her so very much.
And so I was even more glad I had obeyed. After the discussion, I had felt almost as if I’d sinned. I was worried—what if that unmissionarylike act had set the Work on Cheju Island back six months? But no, the Lord’s hand was in it.
After my mission, I figured I was ready to follow the Spirit, without fail, for the rest of my life. If I could obey the Spirit (and see the fruit) in doing one of the most absurd things I can even imagine doing on a mission, then it should not be a challenge to do what I’m told ever again, right? You wouldn’t think so . . . .
Liberty Jail is called the temple-prison. Temple, because of the outpourings of the Spirit to Joseph Smith there (just see sections 121, 122, 123, if you doubt me, you silly gus). Prison because it was a prison—dark, smelly, moldy, rotten, cramped, dirty. Foul. It was a rank and disgusting prison without even room to stand up straight.
The Church has built a building over the original site, which reminded me—appropriately I think—of the Dome of the Rock. Inside the outer sections of the building is a collection of rather unextraordinary visitors’ center stuff. (There, do you see the bust of Christ, like in Carthage? There’s the gold plates replica. And look, there’s a small spot with benches set aside for discussing the site’s story.) I was in danger of turning into a visitors’ center snob.
The sisters did a fine job with their introductory bit, and I was ready to go, if you will, into the inner sanctum—this temple-prison’s Holy of Holies. In the center of the building, in a large somber room, is the restored jail. One wall of the jail has been removed/left off so you may see inside. On the dark gray stone walls surrounding the jail are carved powerful words, snippets of the Liberty experience as recorded in the D&C.
The lights dimmed and a soundtrack played. The horror of imprisonment, the loneliness of confinement, the fear of isolation and the power of God’s grace struck us all. The representative figures of Joseph and the others seemed to suffer, and we felt it. We were quiet.
Then Brother Dahl spoke a few words.
Greg recited some pertinent parts from the D&C.
Many read from the scriptures in the quiet. Many pondered. The Spirit was present and powerful. I was moved upon to bear my testimony.
But who am I? I am Theric, the goofy kid.
Bear your testimony.
But I’ve never broken such a profound and sacred silence.
Bear your testimony. There is someone here who needs to hear of the divinity of Christ from you.
But I—I am no one. Just Theric. Just the fool.
Several times I moved my lips, but sound never came out. My diaphragm was frozen; I was afraid to obey. I was given the exact words and plenty of time, yet I was afraid to obey.
“We have another group that’s about ready to come in,” a sister missionary informed Brother Dahl. Though a whisper, we could all hear it plainly in that stone room.
“Let’s go, “ Brother Dahl said, “C’mon—we need to get to our hotel.”
I despaired that night. I was given a simple, painless—even joyful command, yet I had failed. It had been such a beautiful experience; the spirit had been so strong. Yet for me, there was an abyss. And perhaps because I had failed to open my mouth,1 someone else was feeling empty as well. What a terrible burden.
I pray that experience was enough for me. I pray I have finally learned my lesson. And to my friend that I failed to testify to that night, let me just say that I know Christ lives. He loves me and he loves you. I believe you know that. I’m sorry it took so long for me to share my conviction with you. I hope you can forgive me. Let’s pray for each other.