Last night, I stood at Ray Andrus’ bedside with family to bid him farewell. He was in his final hours. His body invaded and colonized by cancer; his mind stripped almost bare by dementia. I looked at his hands, still large and strong. Hands that had done so much lifting and holding, planting and harvesting. My mind drifted back to one of the many great stories from his life.
Over five decades ago, Ray was a young potato farmer struggling to support his already large and growing family in a little farming community just outside Idaho Falls, Idaho. When a phone call came to ask him to meet with his Stake President, he already knew why.
While traveling across country with his family a few days before, Ray had a strong impression he was to be called to serve as bishop of his ward. Over the next few days, as he sought guidance in prayer on who should be his counselors, the name Dean Marshall kept coming up. So when Ray stepped into President Olsen’s office, he not only accepted the call as Bishop, but was ready to present the names of his two counselors.
When he presented the name of Dean Marshall as first counselor, Pres. Olsen paused long and then responded, “You sure? I thought you might want some help, not a problem to solve.”
Problem was, it was usually easier to find Dean with his buddies down at Feltman’s bar than at church. His wife Ceola was at her wits end with him–their marriage fraying. The week before, she had told the Lord, in a sort of Abrahamic prayer, that she would sacrifice anything, even if it meant losing a child, to bring Dean to himself and to God.
The Lord had a plan That very day, he spoke to Ray Andrus and put the plan in motion.
When Dean received the call he was, to state the obvious, a bit taken aback. “Do you know what I do?” he asked. “Yes,” said President Olsen, “but I also know if you say yes you’ll never do it again. Think about it.”
Leaving the office, he met Ray. Dean looked with disbelief into Ray’s eyes, but something new reflected back at him. He sensed that Ray could see in him something he hadn’t seen in himself. He could feel in that moment the deep love and trust that was behind this invitation.
Long story short: Dean accepted the call. This decision set him on a course of discipleship that would dramatically alter the course of his life, and that of his growing family. Several years later, Dean was called to replace Ray as Bishop of their ward. He and his sweetheart Ceola eventually served missions to Papua New Guinea and Nauvoo. Together, they built a strong family culture around love, faith, hard work and fun–a remarkable, tightly knit family that now includes 38 grandchildren and 140 great grandchildren. Dean even helped bring Mr. Feltman, who for years had served Dean and his friends drinks, back into the faith.
All this because one day his friend Ray Andrus, through a heartfelt, bold invitation, somehow helped clear an obstacle that had kept Dean from stepping deeper into the river of God’s love.
As I stood at the foot of Ray’s bed last night, I wanted to tell him just one more time how much it meant to me that four decades earlier he accepted me wholeheartedly into his family–when I asked him and Faye permission to marry their daughter. They have always loved me and believed in me. Their friendship is like a standing invitation to slide deep into the river of God’s love.
This metaphor, the “river of God’s love,” was planted in my mind earlier this week by an email I received from my friend Tom Griffith. He shared some notes from a very recent talk given by our mutual friend Rob Daines. Rob is a much-loved professor of law and finance at Stanford Business School, and a good friend of Faith Matters. He was recently called to serve as Stake President in Palo Alto, and this talk was his first message (delivered via Zoom) to the stake. Here’s some of what Rob said:
“2020 has had some bad surprises for us. I’m going to work hard to make sure that this stake reorganization is not the ecclesiastical entry in 2020’s parade of horrors. But you can tell your friends they just called a guy in your stake who hasn’t even been going to church the past few months and who didn’t even wear shoes to stake conference!
I got some good advice yesterday about what to say today. I was told to just share what I know (i.e. what you should know that I know). So here is what I know.
First, I know that the beating heart of the Universe is the love of a Father whose whole life and whose every sinew and sacred thought is bent in love and mercy towards you and those you love – towards your deepest hopes and desires to belong, to find God and meaning and peace. Faith is just acting in trust that this is true. I know that.
Second, I know that to seal those hopes to your future—and His love to your soul and to the souls of those you love and care for—He sent His son to show us how to live, to show us who God is, and to tell us about the Father.
The Good News of the Gospel, (and yes, even in 2020 there is good news) is that, Jesus (and therefore the Father) loves us completely. Because no matter how we showed up to Jesus, He loved and embraced us. Whether we appeared as lepers, diseased, social outcasts, beggars in rags, as people of every race, nationality, gender, oppressed or oppressor, he loved us with every breath—with his whole life. He literally died from loving us. That is who God is.
Think for a minute of your favorite story of Jesus. What is it? You show me your favorite story of Jesus and I’ll show you a story of Jesus reaching out to and loving someone on the margins of society, someone who was looked down on. The sick and impure, the Roman, the prostitute, the child, the woman, the sinner, the dead, the shepherds, the Samaritan, the prodigal, the collaborator, the tax collector, the wanderer.
You show me your favorite story and I’ll show you God, through Jesus, reaching out in love to the vulnerable, wounded or ignored—to those on the bottom of status ladder, those on the fringes, sitting on the social sidelines. That’s what His life was: creating unity. At-one-ment.
Third, I know that His Holy Spirit will reach you and bring you God’s own comfort. That I know.
I know these three things–three people really: Heavenly Father, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit.
And therefore, I know that to work in this church is to stand in the river of God’s love for His children. And as I’ve served in other callings in this church and tried to help His children, I’ve felt His love for others—and some of that has splashed on me.
I know that God’s work is a river of love headed your way. He is there, His help IS coming. I will try to help clear that channel for you to feel that love.
This church is a work party. People with picks and shovels, trying to help clear this channel for the river of God’s love to reach His children at the end of the row.
I know when you turn, He will be there. He is the Father, waiting to run to us while we are a long way off. I know that.
Single, married, gay, straight, black, white or brown, educated or not, prosperous or not, employed or not, every race, every class, every person, every political party, mentally or physically ill, whether you like the Lakers or are a real basketball fan, there is room for you in this stake. Grab a pick and shovel and join the team.
As Elder Holland said,
“My brothers and sisters, the first great commandment of all eternity is to love God with all of our heart, might, mind, and strength—that’s the first great commandment. But the first great truth of all eternity is that God loves us with all of His heart, might, mind, and strength. That love is the foundation stone of eternity, and it should be the foundation stone of our daily life.”
So what do I know? I know that God is full of love. And when we believe that—when we act in trust that this is true—we are close to the beating heart of the universe.
To be active in this church and in His service is to stand in the river of God’s love for his children. That is what our covenants are. That is what the sacrament is. That is what it’s all about: love for God, love for His children.”
So we can trace the flow of God’s Love through Palo Alto, the heart of today’s Silicon Valley, through people like Rob and Ruth Daines. And looking backward, we can trace its flow through a rural eastern Idaho village, where five decades ago a potato farmer, Ray Andrus, picked up his shovel and cleared the way for the living water to reach the end of a row–a little beer joint where one of God’s elect was biding his time.
Late last night, one of Ray’s grandsons dropped by to say goodbye to Grandpa Andrus. This grandson has had a tough row to hoe in recent years, struggling to find his way. He took Grandpa’s big hand, the hand that worked so hard to bless his family, and bent over to whisper something in his ear. “Grandpa, I’m going to really need your help this next little bit. Promise? I love you.”
That grandson called me this morning. Through tears, he told me that he woke up earlier than usual this morning to an overwhelming sense of peace and love. It’s been a long time, he said, since he had felt anything like this–and even then, nothing to compare to what he was feeling now. He learned that his Grandpa had passed early this morning. And it was clear to both of us that Ray Andrus was already at work keeping promises–making sure that the flow of God’s love gets to the end of every row.