At the Gates of Day
Sam Dunn is Assistant Dean and Director of the Business Career Center at the BYU Marriott School of Business. He joined BYU after a successful career as a senior Finance officer with Walmart. During 28 years with that company, he served in various leadership roles including: CFO of Sam’s Club and Walmart.com, Divisional Controller for Walmart US, and the top Administrative Officer in both Japan and Mexico. At the time of his retirement, he was Senior Vice President leading strategy and planning for Walmart Global Leverage Services.
Sam is a member of several business and professional associations, including Financial Executives International and the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants. He sits on the National Advisory Council of the BYU Marriott School of Business. He is active in church and community. His non-profit Board positions have included: Area President for the Boy Scouts of America in Arkansas/Oklahoma, Board President of Open Avenues adult development center in Rogers Arkansas, and Finance Chair for the American School Foundation in Mexico City.
Sam is a Certified Public Accountant, a Certified Global Management Accountant, and an Investment Advisor Representative (Series 65). He has been recognized with the Alumni Achievement Award by the BYU Marriott School, the Silver Beaver and Silver Antelope Awards by the Boy Scouts of America, and the Sam M. Walton Award of Excellence by Walmart.
Sam served a full-time church mission in Montevideo, Uruguay. He has subsequently served as a stake presidency counselor and a bishop. He and his wife Mary have four married children, and make their home in Draper, Utah. When he is not assisting students and meeting with hiring firms, you can find Sam with his family, or hiking, running, and biking on the trails and roads in Utah.
At the Gates of Day
I would like to thank President Kusch and his leadership team for giving me the honor of speaking to you today here at Ensign College. Thank you, Zenita, for that prayer and especially for asking for a blessing on me as I deliver my remarks and to Sharon for her beautiful testimony and to Zach, what a lovely arrangement of one of my favorite songs, truly a tender mercy.
Music has been an important part of my life, as I’m certain it has been in many of yours and it’s safe to say that many of our first gospel and life lessons came through the singing of hymns and Primary songs while we were very young, even if our singing wasn’t pitch perfect. Hymns are essentially poems set to music. Their words or lyrics carry deep meaning and unlock a fundamental understanding of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
One lyric that captured my particular attention for some reason as a boy was from the well-known hymn, “Did You Think to Pray”, which we all sang together this morning.
When sore trials came upon you, Did you think to pray? When your soul was full of sorrow, Balm of Gilead did you borrow At the gates of day?
The overriding message of this hymn was clear to me, even from a young age. When coping with trials, questions, anger, bitterness, or sin, I should never leave my room in the morning without first praying to my Heavenly Father in the name of His Son. Prayer has been a daily practice throughout my life and it has made all the difference, but as a boy, I really had no idea what it meant to “borrow the Balm of Gilead”. And what, or where, were the so-called “gates of day”? Poets often craft symbolic phrases that require some context to comprehend.
In this case, it’s helpful to know more about the author of this hymn, Mary Ann Kidder. She was born in Boston in 1820. At age 16, she lost her eyesight and was blind. She thought she would never see again, but a year later her sight was miraculously restored. After that, she began to write poetry, often with a gospel theme. She married Ellis Kidder, a music publisher, they were blessed with three children, Mary, Edward, and Walter. Then the Civil War broke out and Ellis enlisted in the Union Army. He died in 1862 following the Battle of Antietam, one of the bloodiest battles of the war. Left a widow with three young children to care for, Mary Ann turned her poetry-writing hobby into a much-needed source of income. She composed over a thousand hymns during her lifetime and sold hundreds of poems to the popular magazines of her day. Unfortunately, tragedy would strike again when her youngest son, Walter, drowned while swimming and her only daughter, Mary, died of a heart condition as a young adult. If ever there was a person who experienced sore trials and had cause for anger or bitterness, it would be Mary Ann Kidder, but she was described by all who knew her as gentle, patient and always serene.
One of her best-known poems was “The Golden Side” which included this verse:
Better to hope though the clouds hang low, and to keep the eyes still lifted; For the sweet blue sky will soon peep through, when the ominous clouds are rifted! There was never a night without a day, or an evening without a morning; And the darkest hour, as the proverb goes, is the hour before the dawning.
The Balm of Gilead
I grew up on a small farm where we grew alfalfa and kept dairy cows and much to my chagrin, those cows had to be milked every morning. This became one of my boyhood chores, and a chore it was. In some conditions and with some cows, we would apply udder balm or bag balm as it’s sometimes known to prevent irritation. This salve would help heal and restore cracks in the skin before they became more serious. From that experience, I learned that balm is a soothing, medicinal salve that heals and restores. Salve is the root of the word “salvation”.
Gilead is the ancient name of modern-day Jordan. In Old Testament times, a rare balm was produced there, highly valued for its medicinal qualities. During the declining years of the Kingdom of Judah, the prophet Jeremiah asked: “Is there no balm in Gilead, is there no physician there? Why is there no recovery for the health . . . of my people?” (Jeremiah 8:22) Jeremiah was not referring to a balm or salve that would restore physical heath, nor to a licensed physician or doctor, but rather to the salvation of the soul and a Savior who could restore spiritual health to his people as they evolved into wickedness. Jeremiah knew, and we know, that salvation comes only in and through the merits, mercy and grace of the Lord, Jesus Christ. No one comes to the Father except through Him. (John 14:16). Christ IS the Balm of Gilead. He is the physician who will heal and save us when our souls are full of sorrow.
The Gates of Day
The recent invasion of Ukraine by Russia calls to mind the prelude to the Second World War, when another mighty military nation of storm troopers invaded and subdued neighboring countries in Europe. It began in Poland in 1939 and when France fell in 1940, the British Prime Minister Winston Churchill coined the phrase, “the darkest hour” to describe their situation. Following the fall of France and the evacuation of the British Army from Dunkirk, Great Britain was the only major power still fighting against the Axis Powers in Europe. Churchill shared this message with his countrymen:
“I expect the Battle of Britain is about to begin. Upon this battle depends the survival of Christian civilization, our own British life, and the continuity of our institutions and Empire. The whole fury and might of the enemy must very soon be turned on us. If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be freed and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands. But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age. Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that, if the British Empire last for a thousand years, men will still say, 'This was their finest hour.'”he
The darkest hour, as the proverb goes, is the hour before the dawning. We all have passed, or perhaps are passing now, or may yet pass, through the darkest hours of our own lives. We must remember that in our darkest hour, we are simply standing at the gates of day. If we bear up and brace ourselves to our eternal duties, if we put our faith and prayers in Christ, the Balm of Gilead, who is mighty to save, the new day will dawn, the darkness will disappear.
Faith and Prayer
My Dad was the tenth and last child in his family and he grew up in humble circumstances. His parents owned a small farm and had raised a crop of alfalfa. Owing to their difficult economic situation, they pre-sold that hay crop to a local rancher and were paid in cash even before it was harvested. Shortly after they cut the hay and while it still lay curing in the field, the skies darkened and a severe storm approached their little farm. Alfalfa is a temperamental hay. It must be cut and baled at just the right time to preserve its nutritional value. Heavy rain while mowed hay is drying in the field usually leads to decay, mold, and significant loss. The family gathered on the porch and watched helplessly as the skies grew darker. The money from that crop was nearly spent, and if the hay were ruined, they would have no way to repay it. Dad was youngest in the family, but with childlike faith, he earnestly implored his parents to pray that the storm would pass, and the hay be protected. He was born of goodly parents, but the truth is, at that time they were not attending to all their church duties and felt unworthy. However, dad persisted in his call to prayer and in this truly dark hour, the family finally knelt and turned to the Lord for divine assistance. As they arose from their prayer, the clouds that had gathered over the field parted and a ray of sun shone through onto the mowed hay. All around them, the rain was falling, but not on their field. The gates of day had opened, they had borrowed the Balm of Gilead. I’m not sure anyone else on the porch that day believed that prayer would be answered, but I know one small boy did. The vivid memory of that fine hour stayed with my dad throughout his life, was imparted to his children and now to their children, a very personal reminder of the power of faith and prayer when there is nowhere else to turn.
Look for someone to help
Shortly after graduating from BYU with my accounting degree, I was hired as an accounting manager at the Walmart home office in Bentonville, Arkansas. There was a relatively small church ward located in nearby Rogers, Arkansas where I was soon called to serve as a counselor in the Bishopric. I remember being at my desk one summer afternoon when the phone rang. It was my fellow counselor in the Bishopric, a local fireman and paramedic letting me know that three wonderful young women from our ward and Stake had driven to the Tulsa, Oklahoma airport to say goodbye to a departing missionary and on their drive back had been involved in a fatal auto accident. All three girls perished. One was the daughter of the ward Relief Society President. On the day of her daughter's funeral, this Relief Society president received a phone call from an irritated sister in the ward. The complaining sister had a cold and did not feel well. She chastised the Relief Society president for not being thoughtful or compassionate enough to arrange for meals to be delivered to her home. So just hours before the funeral of her only child, this remarkable Relief Society president prepared and delivered a meal to the murmuring and uninformed sister.
Our Stake President at that time was David A. Bednar, he presided and spoke at the service. My dear friend, Jerry Abram, the father of another of the deceased girls, later remarked: “Our daughter was 17 years old when she and her two friends died in that tragic accident. The funeral was tender, but Elder Bednar helped make it bearable. He stood behind our family during our darkest hour. After the funeral I wrote in my journal that he was the most spiritual and compassionate man I had ever met.” Jerry and his wonderful wife, Mary, like the ward Relief Society President overcame their grief by giving themselves in loving service to others and went on to preside over the Cebu Philippines Mission.
Resolve to Endure
Another of my roles with Walmart was to manage our office in Mexico City for three years. It was our first venture outside the US and fortunately very successful. When I returned to Arkansas, I was given the opportunity to lead the finance team for our Walmart US business, our flagship division. I was excited about this new challenge, but soon realized that my timing was terrible. Since its inception, the company had experienced 99 consecutive quarters, nearly 25 years, of sales and profit growth. My first quarter in this new job, you guessed it, was the first time we suffered a decline in profits compared to the prior year. Our stock price dropped nearly in half to less than $10 per share, many investment analysts concluded that Walmart’s best days were behind them and encouraged investors to sell or reduce their holdings. To boot, the Division President decided to leave and take a job running another prominent company and the CEO and Chairman of the Board elected not to replace him at that time. Morale was certainly down and it seemed we had created a recipe for disaster. It was indeed a dark hour for our company and our associates. But the rest of our leadership team came together and resolved that we would not let this happen again. We ordered rolls and rolls of quarters, coins like this one (hold up a quarter) and yards of double-sided industrial tape and every associate in the company taped a quarter to their company name badge, prominently displayed for everyone to see. The quarters were a reminder of our poor performance, but mostly a motivator to improve. We resolved to leave these coins taped to our name badges until we could turn the ship around and return to the quarterly profit-growth we’d been accustomed to achieving. We recommitted as a team to our core values of mutual respect, serving the customer, and striving for excellence. Thankfully, the very next quarter our profits grew again, and they kept growing. By the time I left that position five years later to become the CFO of our new internet startup, Walmart.com, the company had achieved a new streak of over 20 quarters of sales and profit growth. Our share price had risen from under $10 to over $60. Our darkest hour, through a mutual resolve to focus on serving customers and striving for excellence, turned into our finest hour.
There is no greater example of turning one’s darkest hour into one’s finest hour than the sacrificial death and glorious resurrection of the Savior himself. His immense suffering in the garden and agonizing death on the cross brought about the atonement that saves us, if we will embrace it, from spiritual death. His resurrection, a universal gift to all, overcomes and saves us from physical death.
I’d like to focus now on an important pair of words: Atonement and Resurrection.
Broken into syllables, the word atonement is At-one-ment.
The suffix “ment” refers to the concrete result, the finished product or final state brought about by a preceding action. So, when we say, “He made a payment…or she made a commitment…or they provided encouragement…” those are the end results of a particular action taken.
The atonement then is the final condition that results from being at one with God. It’s the reconciliation of man with God that results from the life and mission of the Savior, Jesus Christ. All wrongs, injuries, offenses, and sins that we have been a party to can be repaired, cleansed, and forgiven through His atonement.
Another way to view the suffix “ment” is through its Latin meaning, which is “mind”. In Spanish, the word for “mind” is “mente”. So, we can also understand that the final condition of the atonement is being of one mind with God, united in purpose and will. The Savior said, “My judgment is just, because I seek not mine own will, but the will of the Father who hath sent me.” (John 5:30). And “He that hath seen me, hath seen the Father.” (John 14:9).
Now let’s break the word Re-sur-rect-tion into syllables: The prefix, Re means again, such as restore or renew. Sur means above and beyond, such as surpass or surmount. Rect means straight and right, such as correct or direct. So, the resurrection makes everything alright again. It makes each of us alright again, better than alright, above and beyond alright.
I always found it strange that after three days in the garden tomb, when Christ appeared as a resurrected being, no one seemed to recognize Him.
As Mary was standing outside the empty tomb weeping, “She turned herself back, and beheld Jesus standing, and knew NOT that it was Jesus. She, supposing him to be the gardener, saith unto him, Sir, if thou has borne him hence, tell me where thou hast laid him. Jesus saith unto her, Mary. She turned and saith unto him, Master.” (John 20)
Later that day, two disciples walked together on the road to a nearby village called Emmaus, talking about all that had happened. “While they communed together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. But their eyes were holden that they should not know him. And beginning at Moses, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself. And as they drew nigh the village, they constrained him, saying, Abide with us for the day is far spent. And he went in with them, and as he sat with them, he took bread, and blessed it and brake it, and gave to them. And their eyes were opened, and they knew him, and he vanished out of their sight. And they said, Did not our heart burn within as he talked with us by the way and while he opened to us the scriptures?” (Luke 24)
Shortly thereafter, Peter and several apostles were at the Sea of Tiberius and Peter said, I go a fishing. They said unto him, we also go with thee. They entered into a ship and that night they caught nothing. When the morning was come, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples knew NOT that it was Jesus. And he said, Cast the net on the right side of the ship and ye shall find. They cast therefore and were not able to draw the net in for the multitude of fishes. John said unto Peter, it is the Lord. When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he cast himself into the sea and swam to shore. (John 21)
Notice that in all three of these instances, the Savior’s closest associates during his mortal ministry did NOT recognize him, because his physical appearance as a glorified, resurrected being had clearly changed. It was not until he spoke their name, or broke bread with them, or invited them to cast their empty nets for a catch that the Spirit prompted a remembrance of important events that shaped their personal testimonies of Jesus as the Christ. In truth, when we really come to know and love someone, it is the communion of our spirits that bonds us. So, it will be with our loved ones in the Resurrection.
It is Finished
In Psalms (69:21) there is an obscure scripture, rarely quoted, a Messianic prophecy written by David that says: They gave me gall for my meat; and in my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink.
It was the custom of the Romans to offer someone being crucified a vinegar wine mixed with a sort of drug or poison, the intent was to dull the senses so that person could more easily endure the abject pain of the cross and to more quickly bring death. When describing the crucifixion of the Lord, Matthew said, “They gave him vinegar to drink mingled with gall; and when he had tasted thereof, he would not drink.” (Matthew 27:34) We can only suppose that as the crucifixion commenced, Jesus refused this drink so he could complete the atonement of each of us with a clear mind. As Christ hung and suffered on the cross for hours, recognizing that his mission was nearly complete and in the final stage, John records this: “Jesus knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the scripture might be fulfilled, saith, I thirst. And they filled a sponge with vinegar and put it to his mouth. When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, he said, it is finished, and he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost.” (John 19:29-30).
Those words: “It is finished” are perhaps the three most important words ever spoken. Where would any of us be and what would be our eternal prospects had he NOT finished the work that the Father sent Him to do. He died for us. He left nothing undone. Even to the fulfilling of an obscure prophecy that most would never notice. No man could take his life, He gave it…for us. And He lives today, guiding His church, His apostles and prophets, as a glorified, resurrected being with immense love for each of us.
So, as we pass through our darkest hours and stand at the gates of day, I pray that we will borrow the Balm of Gilead, the atonement of Jesus Christ. That we will raise our daily prayers in hope and faith, that we will look for someone in need to serve and help, that we will resolve to endure to the end, until we stand before him as resurrected beings and see him as he is, for we shall be like him. And may that be our finest hour. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.