The Youth of Zion — Trying Hard not to Falter

When I was 14 or 15, we had the chance to take a youth trip from Portland to the temple in Idaho Falls. This was our nearest temple, and I had always wanted to see a temple and go through one. I had developed an interest in designing cities and buildings. Once I designed a temple, floor plan and elevation. I even made a model. All of this from reading “Temples of the Most High”, and never actually being in a temple. On our trip, I was really excited to go and do baptisms for the dead. The D&C says that in the temple, the pure in heart shall see God. I fully expected to see God or an angel or experience some sort of manifestation, but I was to be disappointed. We had to sit in the chapel and wait for hours, and some of the kids started acting rowdy and irreverent. I couldn’t believe it. Also, walking around Idaho Falls, I kept telling people I had been to the temple. I was very excited, but their attitude was “Yeah, so what.” I couldn’t believe that people who lived right around the temple and saw it every day would have that attitude.

At he urging of my father, though it didn’t take much urging, I discovered my love for speaking in church. I could never talk to people 1:1, but get me up in front of an audience, and I had no fears at all. I could speak to any group of people on any subject for any length of time. People always liked my speeches. I gave a talk at Sacrament Meeting once, and after the meeting, the Bishop called me as a stake missionary on the spot. That is one thing I really miss now that I am no longer being in the church, but I have heard that now the topics are more cut and dried, you have little freedom to follow the Spirit, and you have less time to talk.

I wanted to receive my Patriarchal Blessing. I never met a patriarch in my life and never knew anybody who had received a Patriarchal Blessing except for some people in the ward. My dad dropped my off at the patriarch’s house in southeast Portland. He sat in the car and wouldn’t go in. In the blessing, the patriarch said several things I would never forget. He said my father was “honest and true”, and he said my mother was “blessed with spirituality”. He said I would travel far and wide teaching the gospel both through word and through music, and that I would “have a particular ability, in a humble and sweet way, to persuade others to a knowledge of the truth”. These were things I never thought about my parents before. I won’t tell you what I thought about my folks before that, but this blessing made me see them in a new light. After the blessing, the patriarch wanted to meet my dad. So, my dad came in out of the car and I sat in the car and waited.

Since receiving the Priesthood, and especially since receiving that blessing, I had always dreamt of going on a mission and teaching the Gospel. In fact, when the patriarch told me I would travel far and wide to teach the Gospel, something inside me just jumped. I felt like pregnant Elizabeth when she saw Mary, who was pregnant with the Christ, and “the babe leapt in her womb”. I don’t know what the Patriarch told my dad, but after that, before my dad even joined the church, he went around telling people that I was going to be an apostle some day.

I kept wishing my dad would join the church. Eventually, he took a job where he had to out of town for months at a time, training for a new job. He began to miss friends and family, and started looking for friendship in the church. Eventually, he was stationed in Seattle and had contact with some missionaries. He committed to baptism, and one weekend they followed him all 3 hours down to Portland, where he got baptized. I had just turned 18 and had been ordained a Priest, so I got to baptize him. However, in my interview with the bishop, I was so nervous and felt so guilty just for having “impure thoughts”, that he had to keep reassuring me not to be nervous. I was afraid he wasn’t going to let me baptize my dad. My dad and I never really connected in life except for a couple of points. (1) Scouting, (2) The church, after he got baptized and became an avid genealogist, (3) Taking up public speaking, (4) Joining the band, and (5) I helped him take a course on computer programming, and that set me off on a life-long interest.

My dad was very nervous and high-strung. Somehow, he managed to take the worst possible jobs for stress: air traffic controller and school bus driver. But, he managed to keep the skies safe, and the kids who rode on his bus just loved him.

I was a very good kid, growing up. I was quiet and shy, and always tried to obey the rules. I never told a lie because I had such a transparent personality, I knew people could see through me anyway. I had a very smart mouth and was usually very angry and very critical. My mother called me her “miracle boy” because of the blessing I had received and because I had done so well in church and school after that. My dad said that if there were ten boys, and they were handing out nine popsicles, John would always be the one to get no popsicle.

The only thing I did that could be interpreted as being “gay”, was that I was always trying to be neat and organized and dress well. I was punctual and conscientious. I like to watch cooking shows on TV and was always complaining that we didn’t live up to the style we saw on TV and in the movies. My TV idol was Dobie Gillis. I wanted to dress in the Ivy League style, just like him. My parents wanted all us boys to learn how to cook. As the oldest, I did a lot of the cooking. I used to make breakfast on Saturday mornings for my brothers and bake birthday cakes, etc. It was great training for outdoor camping, college, and cooking in the mission field. In the mission field, we had one elder who used to cook with wine and smell up the kitchen at the chapel. But, my specialty was good old home cooking using recipes my mom sent me. American pancakes were a huge hit in Sweden, the land of Swedish pancakes. I used to sell them at church bazaars to raise money.

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