Published March 11, 2012 on deseretnews.com.
I have always envied converts to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I was born and raised in the Mormon faith — which is a great blessing, don't get me wrong — but I never knew what it was really like not having the spirit in my life. Converts come into the LDS Church excited, with a renewed sense of hope and light and a desire to change. They feel the spirit literally transforming them as they draw closer to God, and I envied that I didn't feel I had the ability to do the same.
I wanted to witness miracles, see prayers answered and be a recipient of a tender mercy or two, but I could barely understand how the spirit worked, let alone feel a "burning in my bosom." Seeing prayers answered were obviously way out of my reach. And witnessing a miracle? Forget about it.
But I've come to understand that I witness these things every day. Elder David A. Bednar, of the Quorum of the Twelve, said, “Sometimes as Latter-day Saints, we talk and act as though recognizing the influence of the Holy Ghost in our lives is the rare or exceptional event. We should remember, however, that the covenant promise is that we may always have his Spirit to be with us.”
What about all the unseen answered prayers, or the whispers of the Spirit that are sometimes too soft to recognize, or the tender mercies granted that we define as "luck?" When it comes to my dad, he is not lucky. He is a living, breathing tender mercy, and an answer to my prayers.
My father, Jon Jeppson, is the president of the New Jersey Morristown Mission, and has been for the last eight months. While attending a district meeting recently, he was challenged, along with all the missionaries, to a wall sit. A wall sit, you might ask? It's where you sit with your back against the wall as though you had an invisible chair beneath you. The district leader spoke about endurance, perserverance and goal setting and explained to the missionaries how enduring a wall sit could be compared to missionary work. They’re both tiring, grueling at times and make your legs burn. They also both take focus, determination, willpower and skill.
My dad wanted to win the wall sit competition. Unfortunately, he was competing against 19 and 20-year-old machines, and being a senior citizen, well, he lost.
Not only did he lose miserably, he herniated a disc in his back in the process. It caused enough pain that he scheduled an MRI, which indeed show a herniated disc. But it showed something else: It showed a large mass in his right kidney the size of a fist.
How can this be? My dad is already a cancer survivor and lost his leg to bone cancer when he was 19. At the time, he had just received his mission call to Bristol, England, and was told the leg needed to be amputated immediately and to forget the mission. Even with the surgery, doctors couldn’t guarantee his life. This didn’t stop my dad. He went ahead with the surgery, and still served a faithful mission a year later in Boston. He has been cancer-free ever since — but cancer decided to show its ugly face again.
After the MRI, my dad was diagnosed with kidney cancer — 46 years after having bone cancer — and was told to have surgery to remove the kidney immediately. At this point, we had no idea how far the cancer had spread throughout his body and if he caught it too late. After all, he had had no symptoms or pain of any kind. So he flew home, leaving 150 missionaries behind, hoping to return to his mission once again, cancer-free.
The surgery was a success. Doctors lifted the infected kidney out and informed us that no other organs were affected, and that the cancer was contained in the kidney only.
If it hadn’t been for the challenge of the wall sit, my dad never would have hurt his back. And if he hadn’t hurt his back, he wouldn’t have had an MRI. If he hadn’t had the MRI, we may have never known about the tumor, and by the time it would be found, it may have been too late.
Sometimes we don’t know why the Lord works the way he works. I kept asking myself, “Why, of all people, is my dad struggling with his back and hobbling around on crutches when all he wants to do is serve Heavenly Father and help those missionaries?” I did not realize that, thanks to a tender mercy, the backache led to a life-saving miracle.
My dad was sent to share the gospel the people of New Jersey, but didn’t know he would be sent to save his own life. With five stakes fasting for him in addition to countless family and friends at home, we witnessed a miracle. I witnessed a miracle. I know my prayers were heard. I felt a renewed sense of hope and light, just like the converts I had longed to relate to.
The Lord knows what he’s doing, and the evidence will speak for itself later down the road. Or maybe it never will. But you can always remember that determination, willpower and faith can remove all doubt and fear — and, in this case, a kidney.
Here’s to a successful two-and-a-half more years in the mission field to my dad, the wall sit wonder.