An interesting time, this. Elder Perry and Elder Packer have passed away. At least two other LDS apostles appear near the end of their mortal probation, and our beloved President Monson is both physically and memory age-challenged.
But the Lord is in charge.
We’ll see that truth manifest powerfully, unmistakably, at the upcoming general conference in a few weeks. I’ve been around for 150 of these and have paid real attention to at least 120 of them. That’ll give you a clue to when some degree of maturity started kicking in for me. I was alive when President Heber J. Grant was the prophet. I don’t remember him, but I do remember his successor, President George Albert Smith. From President David O. McKay on, I’ve tried to absorb what the Lord’s prophets and LDS apostles were saying and have had unique personal experiences with several of them. Let me share one I had with President Ezra Taft Benson.
In May of 1988, our office received an unexpected phone call. It was for my business partner, Grant Inkley, who was also bishop of my ward. I was unaware of the call until Grant buzzed me. “Gary Gillespie, the secretary to President Benson, is on the phone and wants to speak to you,” he said. Those of you who knew Grant recognize that my suspicion of a prank here was justified. When I didn’t immediately respond, Grant laughed. “No joke.” He then explained that President Benson thought Grant was the bishop of the ward where President Benson’ sister-in-law, Barbara Benson, resided. He wasn’t, but he told Gary that I was in the office, was in the stake presidency, and was a close friend of Barbara’s. Gary spoke briefly with the Prophet; then told Grant that President Benson would like to speak with me.
Before I relate the substance of my conversation with the Prophet, you need to know something about Barbara. President Benson’s younger brother, Ross, fell away from the Church, married Barbara who was not a member, and raised his family outside of the gospel. Ross passed away a few years before the phone call, and President Benson had kept constant contact with his sister-in-law. Barbara served on our local school board with Joyce, and over time we became very close friends. We loved her, and that love was reciprocated. We went together to many functions including several televised general conferences at the stake center where President Benson spoke. She loved “T”, as she called her brother-in-law. “But,” she emphasized, “I’ll never join his church.”
President Benson came on the line. He spoke like he had known me forever and for the next 30 minutes or so I had the experience of a life time. Mostly we chatted about Barbara and his love for her. He asked me to keep my eye on her and literally pled with me to help bring the gospel into her life. I told him how much I loved Barbara, and that Joyce and my daily prayers were for guidance to know what to say or do to bless her.
In the course of this singular conversation, something else was evident besides the Prophet’s great love for his non-member sister-in-law. He was 90, and the years had taken their toll. His mind was failing. In fact, he showed obvious signs of senility. He repeated himself over and over and over; completely unaware that he had already mentioned those events or thoughts a number of times. As the conversation ended, he expressed his love for me. I told him I loved him and would do everything within my power to bless my dear friend Barbara.
My journal entry summed up the experience. “I feel to exclaim that he is a living prophet of God, and the miracle is the Lord’s renewing of his body and mind as needed for him to carry forth his responsibilities. He possesses that gift.”
October general conference was nearly five months away though, and I was virtually certain President Benson would not speak at it or any other conference again.
I was wrong. LDS apostles are under the care of the Lord.
For the first few minutes of his talk at the October 1988 conference, he sounded so very weak. Then gradually his voice gained power. The Lord’s prophet was speaking–every word driven by the Spirit. His talk? The never-to-be-forgotten call to the members of the Church of Jesus Christ to flood the earth with the Book of Mormon!
The Savior had one more watershed message for President Benson to give. Six months later in the 1989 April conference, President Benson was to0 feeble to give the inspired talk he had prepared, and President Monson read it for him. It was the Lord’s admonition to the saints to Beware of Pride!
Shortly after, President Benson became physically and mentally incapacitated and for the remaining few years of his life President Hinckley and President Monson carried on the responsibilities of the First Presidency. But President Benson’s faculties had been momentarily enhanced so he could fulfill his final assignments from the Lord. These extraordinary landmark talks given after President Benson should not have been able to put two or three cogent sentences together, have helped steer the Church for the last quarter of a century.