It is my privilege to be with you today. I thank you for coming, because I was fearful that you wouldn’t, and even though you being here adds to my nervousness, I have prayed and fasted that the Lord will bless me, and you, during the short time we have together this morning.
I start my talk today referring to the renowned medical sociologist Arthur Frank, who often wrote about what he called THE WOUNDED STORYTELLER, an ancient term with an ancient consistency attached—a term that often defined my doctoral work years ago and a concept that has often fit my life at various times. Dr. Frank noted:
“The ill, [lonely, or struggling] person, living with [spiritual, emotional, or physical] illness for the [short and] long term, wants his or her suffering recognized in its individual particularity…. People need to be regarded by themselves, by their caregivers, and by our culture as heroes of their own stories.”
For a Wounded Storyteller, like the wounded lion, their story is not easily told, nor does listening to such stories always take place. The Wounded Storyteller is trying to survive, and at the same time, often tries to help others survive. Sooner or later, according to Dr. Frank, everyone becomes such, and this morning, I come to you, admittedly, as a Wounded Storyteller.
As a former combat soldier in two different combat zones, Iraq and Afghanistan, I could fill this talk with stories of wounded soldiers, gut-wrenching battle injuries, and sudden and tragic loss of some of my comrades—a different brand of Wounded Storytellers. But rather than do so, I choose to share with you some experiences closer to home, probably more relatable, and hopefully impactful to inspire you to help the Wounded Storytellers who are all around us on a day-to-day basis. These stories, (which we all have) are only heard by a genuine listener, a worried neighbor, a concerned ward member, maybe a roommate, sometimes a passer-by, often an answer to prayers, and at times a true gift from heaven. Most of the time our narratives as Wounded Storytellers evolve unsolicited and unprompted—out of desperation and almost certainly uninvited.
Brothers and sisters let me draw an analogy from my talk to use as an example to speak from in my remarks this morning.
In 1899, a healing salve was developed called Bag Balm. This salve was and continues to be used often to soothe irritation on cows' udders after milking. As one who grew up milking cows, I applied this healing salve on many occasions to members of the herd. This is a can of it here, although the cans we used on the farm were much bigger.
It has also been used at times by individuals to help cure things like psoriasis, dry facial skin, cracked fingers, burns, diaper rash, saddle sores, sunburn, and radiation burns. It is a true multi-purpose healing salve.
Allow me now to speak to the healing salve, at least in part, for the Wounded Storyteller—which consists of you and me—all of us. The cure for real-life stories around us can certainly come from a scheduled visit, but as I mentioned, often is most impactful when performed ad hoc, unplanned, or spontaneously—and often at what we might consider inopportune times. Storytellers come in the form of newfound friends, family members, and even strangers who you may never see again in your life. In what appears to be his first sermon of note in The Book of Mormon, Jacob, the younger brother of Nephi wrote down this impression of the people he labored with and lived among:
“And it supposeth me that they have come up hither to hear the pleasing word of God, yea, the word which healeth the wounded soul.” (Jacob 2:8)
Brothers and sisters therein lies the key to healing a wounded soul—to submit to the Lord and then do all we can to take advantage of His Atonement—which in part requires following His example of love, compassion, and service.
I begin with a story close to home of my cousin Stacy—a giant of a man, in heart and in stature. He was a colorful relative and a person who was loved by all who knew him—giving to his neighbors and helpful to those he came across without hesitation. A potato farmer and a rancher by trade, he rarely asked for help, but rather preferred to help others in need. His livelihood unfortunately did not always yield monetary reward, but rather uncertainty on a regular basis. He worked a second job at night at the nearby sugar factory to make ends meet. He loved to hunt and fish, and on one rare autumn morning he and a neighbor drove to one of their favorite rural areas for a much-anticipated morning of duck hunting. Physically, Stacy seemed to be invincible but had one Achilles Heel—his severe allergies—especially to bee stings. On that fateful morning, in the middle of the hunt, he ran into a swarm of bees and was stung repeatedly. Unable to carry his friend back to their truck, the neighbor ran for help, (as this was before the days of cell phones), and during those frantic hours, my cousin Stacy suffered a severe case of anaphylactic shock, which basically closes one’s airways. This mountain of a man, who meant so much to so many, died that autumn morning in a lonely field by himself and was buried the following week—leaving his little grief-stricken family. It was truly a tragic time—I know because I attempted to sing at his funeral. With his death, he left Wounded Storytellers in the form of a wife and two young daughters.
Underneath the terrible loss of this kind man, the reality for his sweet wife of getting 40-plus acres of their family potatoes out of the field and to the contracted potato processing plant loomed greater than it ever had before. Already unsure of the task at hand, due to lack of reliable and sufficient potato equipment, she had no answer as to what to do—with the certainty that potato harvest is a time-sensitive process—one that requires an extra dose of good fall weather and an expedient plan determining success and a year’s worth of anticipated financial yield. She was undoubtedly distraught with the loss of her dear husband and the added weight now of an ongoing, unsure outcome—one where financial despair hung in the balance.
And then brothers and sisters, the healing salve, at least in part, was applied—a simple miracle. The day after the funeral, in the early and still dark morning hours, six large potato diggers slowly entered Stacy’s field, and his 40-plus acres of potatoes.
These harvesting marvels lined up, and methodically prepared to dig every acre that day of a years’ worth of labor and prayers for the hope of a respectable return of investment—the “payoff” as farmers affectionately call it. Immediately behind the diggers, my young friends, was an estimated line of 70 large potato trucks with drivers from farms near and far, vying to get into the field to take on a bill-paying load of potatoes. All involved that morning were neighbors, friends, co-workers, and some strangers in a huge undertaking to help a desperate family.
I found out later, that with the suspect and minimal equipment Stacy was planning to use to harvest those 40-plus acres of potatoes, it would have taken him two weeks with his schedule under ideal conditions to get them out of the ground and to the contracted processing plant—120 trips required for the task at hand—each load an 80-mile round trip. Brothers and sisters, those six large potato diggers and endless line of trucks had that 40-plus acres of potatoes out of the ground and to the plant in a little over four hours. A simple case of love and support, healing salve if you will, for a small family of Wounded Storytellers in the purest sense.
In his October 2016 General Conference talk, entitled “Emissaries to the Church,” Elder Holland stated the following: “We are asking you to be God’s emissaries to His children, to love and care for the people you are assigned to.” And I would add brothers and sisters—sometimes to those we are not assigned to—to do it consistently, genuinely, ever-ready to help a Wounded Storyteller, and to do it with an attitude of humility—absent of notoriety or recognition—but rather out of love and concern. Remember the Lord taught this principle in the book of Matthew 25:40:
“Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”
Elder David A. Bednar made the comment once in a talk: “Experiences are caught not taught.” Let us seek to experience the true characteristics of a helpful emissary—a status that takes so little, other than a desire and willingness to act.
At the risk of exposing loved ones more than I should, I must lay some ground work for this next story and carefully tell you that my wife, she is with me today, isn’t she beautiful? Has experienced a lifetime of health problems in our 37 years of marriage. She has weathered three kidney transplants, a massive double stroke, and years of kidney dialysis along the way—not to mention many other serious health problems that come from the life of one who knows grave chronic illness. Let that suffice for this story. Forgive me if you will for telling a Christmas account in October, although I think we can find plenty of Christmas merchandise in the stores already. This is an experience that took me more than 20 years to finally share with others. I hope you will appreciate the personal sacredness of this story.
Years ago, my wife Chris suffered her first kidney transplant rejection and was once again battling total kidney failure. She had spent most of October, November, and December of that year in the hospital—struggling for her life. The trend unfortunately was to spend a few weeks in the hospital, come home for a few days, usually with the requirement of staying in bed, then see her situation deteriorate again, and once more make the trip back to the hospital to fight the illness, all the while consistently hooking up to a dialysis machine. It was a dreary autumn for her, for me, and for our two children. My daughter and son did not get to see their mother much during that fall. It was a test of faith and resiliency—a trial of hope and altered optimism. It was a challenge my family was trying to weather without a choice or alternative. It was also an expensive experience that over the same routine for several months and years had pushed me financially to worrisome heights.
The Christmas season approached that year, and my wish—my prayers—were that she could come home from the hospital by Christmas Eve and spend at least a few days with her family in the comfort of her own surroundings. My prayers were answered as we were told she could indeed spend limited time at home during the holidays. Although frail to say the least, I brought my sweetheart home two days before Christmas, with much excitement from her two children and a thankful husband. There was jubilation in the Hollingsworth home that day.
Later that night as we sat together in the living room, our doorbell rang. My daughter, who was about 10 years old at the time, went to the door, looked out, saw no one there. What was there was a crisp, large, new, heavy-duty white envelope taped to the door. She brought it in to the house and handed it to me, after informing the rest of the family that no one was there. The envelope read, “Merry Christmas Hollingsworth Family.”
Now brothers and sisters, please know that I am not one who wears much emotion on my sleeve. In fact, my family has given me a difficult time over the years because of that characteristic. On this night however I was affected beyond words. I opened the envelope and inside was a carefully typed, pristine letter on high-quality bond paper. It read something like this:
“Guy and Chris: Your family has been the epitome of resiliency and offered so many of us an example to live by. You have weathered your trials with honor and have given to others the hope to survive difficult challenges in life. Many would help in this manner if they could—I just happen to be able to do so. Please do not try to find out who I am. Just know that our Heavenly Father has allowed so many of us to learn from your strength. May He bless your family this Christmas season.”
Incidentally, you must know that the strength addressed in the note came mostly from my children and their mother—I cannot claim much of the accolades noted in the letter. Now, inside that big envelope was a smaller envelope, and inside that smaller envelope were fifty crisp 100-dollar bills. I sat on my couch—and I cried. Later that night I gave thanks to the Lord from a different angle than I had before. I was moved at the fact that someone would think to do such a deed for my family. My wife’s health did not miraculously improve that night, but we gained a new perspective for the kindness of mankind.
Now there is one more piece to this story. Early the next morning, (Christmas Eve morning), I walked out my front door to shovel a bit of snow that had fallen. To my surprise another envelope was taped to the outside screen glass. This envelope, however, was not new and sturdy like the one the night before.
This envelope was worn and dirty, with creases and smudge marks. This envelope had been handled many times over a long period of time. This envelope had what appeared to be the writing of a young child, about a second grader I guessed from the handwritten script. On the outside of its contents it simply read; “Sister Hollingsworth—Merry Christmas.”
I walked back into my front room, sat down alone in the same spot I had opened the big sturdy envelope the night before with my family, and carefully peeled back this bulging, tattered envelope. There was no typed letter inside—there was no note at all inside. What was inside was many rolled up and worn one-dollar bills, several dog-eared crumpled up five-dollar bills, and enough loose change, mostly pennies and nickels, to fill a grocery till it seemed. What was inside, brothers and sisters, was $78.63. What was inside appeared to be some young person’s life savings, from a special spirit who wanted to help a Wounded Storyteller feel better—with a lesson attached that will live for a lifetime. I was moved again by the act, this time even more so than the night before—and I wept uncontrollably there by myself that morning. I was glad to be alone for a few moments as I realized that morning, maybe for the first time, one of the true wonders of giving all. I had learned to be a grateful Wounded Storyteller that day, which is hard for most of us to be. I was always so used to giving rather than receiving, especially from someone so young on that occasion.
I am reminded, brothers and sisters, of the phrase; “All gave some and some gave all,” attributed to the Korean War Veteran and Purple Heart recipient Howard William Osterkamp. During that experience, my family were the Wounded Storytellers—we were the ones in need of someone’s kindness. We were the recipients of the healing salve from good people (which undoubtedly included a child in this case).
I testify that Christ repeatedly allows us many opportunities in life to help others. Speaking of the Savior, the prophet Abinadi boldly quoted the Old Testament Prophet Isaiah when he declared in prison to the wicked King Noah:
“But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities, the chastisement of our peace was upon him, and with his stripes we are healed.” (Mosiah 14:5)
And speaking of the Lord, we find another scripture directly tied to this concept in the Book of Psalms:
“He healeth the broken in heart, and bindeth up their wounds.” (Psalms 147:3)
As I mentioned earlier, being an emissary for the Lord and looking for the Wounded Storyteller can take place on Sundays, in the confines of a home during the week, or in the strangeness of far away places. I quote from my journal five years ago from Bagram, Afghanistan, while serving as the Branch President there:
“Today I watched faithful members of the Church in a most dangerous setting, 7,500 miles from our homes and families, in a strange land, in the combat zone known as Afghanistan, who came to our little branch service under no less than difficult conditions. Soldiers came in body armor, with rifles and pistols strapped to them in one position or another, weapons of war dangling from their uniforms, many of them coming to the meeting after completing 24-hour operations or longer. They were sweaty, stinky, grimy, and certainly tired—some could hardly keep their eyes open. Most were assuredly lonesome, all were undoubtedly homesick. Despite their personal woes and the demanding schedule and requirements put upon them, all while in harms way, they came to feel the spirit and partake of the sacrament, staying after the short service just a little longer—not wanting to leave—in an effort to partake of and stretch the feeling of fellowship just a bit longer, before returning to the grind and the all-too-familiar dreariness of combat. I simply could not help but be moved.”
On this occasion, emissaries for the Lord were at work, putting the salve of love and fellowship on each other, and the Savior through His promise, providing the ultimate healing power. Wounded Storytellers helping each other in this case, if only for a short time once a week, partaking of the sacrament, looking out for each other, using the Priesthood power, and taking advantage of the Lord’s Atonement with action and deed—that is what our Heavenly Father wants us to do. We don’t have to look far for the Wounded Storyteller—we simply need to listen to the Holy Ghost and the still, small voice that can and will prompt each of us as needed, as the Lord taught the Prophet Elijah:
“And he said, Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the Lord. And, behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and break in pieces the rocks before the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake; but the Lord was not in the earthquake: And after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice.” (1 Kings 19: 11-12)
My young friends, that is how we find those around us in need. That is how we find the Wounded Storytellers. I am not asking you to anonymously give $5,000 to anyone. I’m not imploring you to buy an extra potato truck. I’m certainly not encouraging you to put yourself in harms way in the middle of a dangerous combat zone. I have simply shared what I feel are personal, special acts of kindness and healing in small ways to emphasis a Christ-like principle—you all have stories of this nature in your background just like me. Whether it be anonymous or not, I ask you to listen for the still, small voice—and be a little kinder, look to be a bit more caring, and seek to follow the Savior with love and compassion throughout your journey—look for the Wounded Storyteller today, tomorrow, and throughout your life. Look to tape a personal measure of charity to someone’s door of need—there are plenty of those doors nearby. The Lord will provide—often through that still, small voice.
In 2005 I wrote in my journal speaking of my sick, bedridden wife:
“We have exposed the bone in our relationship and worked to mend each marital wound. I have not always been quick to put the salve of love on each incident, but in a figurative sense, have tried to change the dressing before it became infected. I have tried not to be a burden in Christine’s life—she has not been one in mine. Because of her challenges, I have found solace in small joys and reveled in small successes. I have learned to love a little deeper, care with a bit more compassion, and hope for tomorrow’s miracle. Christine’s pain is my pain, her happiness is my happiness, and at the end of each day, her life is my life.”
I didn’t need to travel to Baghdad, Iraq or Kabul, Afghanistan to find a Wounded Storyteller, that opportunity came upon me in the confines of my own home. In relationships with family members and others, followers of Christ must look to the Savior as their example, and strive to love as He loves, with unfailing compassion, patience, and mercy. May His light so shine in every aspect of your life. May you use a bit of gospel “life savings,” if you will, to serve and bless the lives of others.
I close with a WWI story from a favorite book of mine by Lucy Gertsch Thomson:
“After fighting in a bitter battle, a soldier pleaded with his commanding officer to let him go out on the battlefield to search for his missing companion. The commander said it was of no use, for no one could have lived through the hours of constant fire. The soldier insisted and was finally granted permission. Sometime later, he returned with the limp body of his dead comrade. “I told you it was useless,” commented the commander. “But you’re wrong sir” the soldier said. “I got there just in time to hear him whisper, ‘I knew you’d come.’”
At the Last Supper the Savior taught His apostles, “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you…” (John 15:16)
As some of the chosen few, may each one of you continue to prepare yourselves to fulfill your assignments in the Savior’s overall plan of good tidings—in whatever capacity he requires of you, regardless of how small or big or where or when that assignment may be. May we all look for the Wounded Storytellers around us—so that others we know not—can truly say in gratitude someday “I knew you’d come.” I testify that this can and must be so, to this end, in the sacred name of Jesus Christ, amen.