Don't overlook opportunities to serve

By Gail H. Johnsen

For the Deseret News

Published: Sunday, Dec. 11 2011 4:00 p.m. MST

Our family discovered the connection between service and sacrifice when we were stranded one cold and desperate night while traveling.

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Cars, Christmas and four tired college kids created a perfect combination for catastrophe.

During our first Christmas together, my husband Gary and I did what many BYU students do. We piled into the car with siblings and drove home.

Home for my husband is Minnesota, and it is a long and sometimes treacherous drive in the winter.

We had been traveling for hours when Gary’s sister Connie took over the driving at about 2 a.m. None of us thought to check the gas gauge. When she did finally notice, the gauge registered empty. She woke us all up and we tried to decide what to do. We didn’t think we had enough gas to make it to the next service station so we exited the freeway, but all the stations in the nearby town were closed.

The country lane we drove down to the next town was very dark and deserted. The temperature in Nebraska that night was frigid: double digits below zero. And then, we ran out of gas, and the car stopped.

What would we do now? Gary and his brother Lee got out of the car and walked toward some lights they saw down the road. Connie and I stayed in the car and prayed. I was six months pregnant with our first child. I was cold and scared.

Gary and Lee came to a farmhouse about a mile away. They woke up the resident of the house and told him our situation. They asked him to sell them just enough gas to get to a station.

His response was surprising: “Not today.”

Not today?

The brothers went back on the road and walked two more miles to the next farmhouse and were able to buy gas. It was enough to get us to a gas station.

Thirty-five years have passed since we asked that farmer for gas. We have never been back to ask if “today” might be the right day.

At the time, we were disappointed and couldn’t believe that this farmer wasn’t willing to help us. Over the years, though, I have realized that often we are also like that farmer — waiting for convenient moments to serve.

My husband and I have found that there will always be opportunities in our lives to perform service, but certain moments in time, and various kinds of service only come along once in a lifetime.

We have also learned that service often requires sacrifice, and I truly believe that this is the best kind of service because it brings with it the blessings of heaven.

Elder Dallin H. Oaks reminds us, “Our Savior teaches us to follow him by making the sacrifices necessary to lose ourselves in unselfish service to others. If we do, he promises us eternal life, 'the greatest of all the gifts of God' (D&C 14:7).” (Ensign, May 2009)

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