After retirement and wife's death, Wilcox still teaching great lessons

Published: Tuesday, May 31 2011 4:00 a.m. MDT

Of Deseret Book’s many authors, S. Michael Wilcox is among the most popular. In addition to his list of best-selling books, he has taught LDS Institute and been a favorite presenter at BYU Education Week and Time Out for Women for years.

Knowing this, and having once taken his Book of Mormon class at the University of Utah, it was easy to be impressed as I traveled to his home in Draper, Utah, in May to interview him about his latest book, “Walking on Water and Other Classic Messages.”

Wilcox welcomed me into his cul-de-sac home and told me we could converse as long as I liked. We sat on soft seats in his “China” room decorated with beautiful art from his travels to Asia. Before beginning, he displayed three cover designs for his next book and asked my opinion. When I shared my two cents, it was interesting to hear his perspective.

Ample time was spent in the book in order to formulate questions for the retired CES employee. It wasn’t necessary to read every word of the text because I had already listened to each of the talks on CD. I placed my digital device on the coffee table and hit record. For the next 45 minutes I scribbled notes and felt like was back in his classroom.

Most of our time was spent discussing “Walking on Water.” In the 1990s, Wilcox wrote a book about the temple called “House of Glory.” He was asked to share some of the book’s contents in a four-part series at BYU Education Week. Deseret Book recorded the series onto CDs and sold it. At first, Wilcox was reluctant to be recorded, but he consented anyway.

“I guess that (first time) loosened me up to where I felt comfortable doing some talks for them,” Wilcox said.

In the years that followed, Wilcox recorded titles like, “Walking on Water”; “The Jesus We Need to Know”; “Of Lions, Dragons, and Turkish Delight”; “The Fourth Watch”; “Seeing as God Sees”; “When All Eternity Shook”; “Your Faith Becometh Unshaken”; and “Taking the Temple with You.” Most were talks originally shared by the author at Time Out for Women, a Deseret Book-sponsored event where authors, musicians or artists tour the U.S. and present on a variety of topics related to women.

Over the years many have been inspired by the messages and gospel principles taught by Wilcox and have asked for copies of his talks or notes, but that information was mostly in the teacher’s head, not on paper.

“I got a lot of requests but didn’t really have an outline,” he said. “If I did give you the notes, it wouldn’t make sense anyway. So we sat down with Deseret Book and decided to put them in book form.”

Deseret Book made it easy on Wilcox. Someone at the publishing company transcribed the talks. The text was then carefully edited and polished by the author. The end result became "Walking on Water."

Deseret Book also gathered together six of these talks in “The Michael Wilcox Collection.”

Wilcox said he had the most fun compiling the talk “Of Lions, Dragons, and Turkish Delight” because of his admiration and respect for C.S. Lewis, while talk that required the most sensitivity and attention to detail was “When All Eternity Shook,” because it addressed the Atonement of Jesus Christ. The most popular talk has been “The Fourth Watch.”

“Sometimes you write something that just connects for whatever reason,” Wilcox said. “Of all the talks I have given or taped, if people are going to comment on a talk I gave, eight of 10 are going to say ‘Fourth Watch.’”

Each epic talk was born with Wilcox searching for relevance in scripture stories.

“Relevancy is the key and most important factor,” Wilcox said. “It may be a good story, but unless I make it mean something in my life or the life of somebody I love, it’s just a story.”

Each gospel principle was then attached to a catchy scriptural phrase.

“Look for a phrase to hang the application on so the story sticks with people, so they can explain or encompass the principle in their mind in a few words,” he said. “Once people hear the phrase, like ‘The Fourth Watch,’ it is in their head forever.”

The conversation then turned to the title of his new book, currently titled “Sunset,” which he hopes will help readers cope with the death of a loved one. It contains lessons he learned during the difficult, final months of his wife’s life. Laura Wilcox died of brain cancer last December.

“It has been a continent shift for me,” Wilcox said. “I stay extremely busy. I have an aggressive travel schedule doing LDS tours. I have been writing. For me, writing is healing.”

When it was determined that chemotherapy served no purpose for his wife, Wilcox asked the Lord for what he should pray.

“Pray that she will draw all the joy out of life that she can, then she will pass quickly,” was the Lord’s response, Wilcox said.

Wonderful memories were made as they traveled to Italy, Peru, the beaches of Normandy, Disneyland and the national parks in southern Utah, in addition to visits with children and grandchildren. As Laura’s health declined in December, Christmas was celebrated four times. In her final days the cancer took her speech, but she could hear.

“I would say things and I knew she was listening because she could cry,” Wilcox said. She quietly passed away on Dec. 28.

During those final months, Wilcox carried a little black notebook and wrote down his thoughts, feelings and impressions, knowing that sacred, important things were being shared and learned. Those precious lessons became the foundation of “Sunset.” The book, a memorial to his wife, could be released by Deseret Book early next year.

“Grief is love’s shadow," he said. "If you are going to love, you have to put up with grief sooner or later, but grief intensifies love. Grief drives love into the deeper parts of your soul and being. Maybe the passing of a loved one is as important as the altar in making an eternal marriage.”

As we concluded our visit, he shared a parting thought about the power of the scriptures.

“Every night that I pray, I thank God for the scriptures," he said. "They address just about any situation life can hand you. They don’t make life any easier, but they make life easier to deal with. They help you understand everything that happens to you. They help you respond to life, face life, enjoy life and live life better. God didn’t write a bad book."

Technically, Wilcox is retired, but he continues to teach great lessons.

Email: ttoone@desnews.com

Twitter: tbtoone

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