In 1968 I received an LDS mission call to Bolivia. I had no clue where I was going. I thought I was headed to Bulgaria. My mother, however, knew full well I was in for some bone-chilling winters in the Andes mountains and a whole new world of illnesses. At that moment, she began wringing her hands. She didn't stop for the next two years.

But her fretting was eased the day I was blessed by Eldred G. Smith. In those days, the top leadership of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints set missionaries apart and blessed them. And it was my lot to have the LDS Church patriarch lay his hands on my head. My mother was thrilled.

Among other things, he blessed me with health and safety. And as he spoke, my mother wrote his words down in her schoolteacher's hand on a little scrap of paper. She kept that paper near for two years. When I returned, she gave it to me.

I still have it. I always will.

I am 58 now — almost the same age as our "elderly" church patriarch was in 1968. And he — as you likely know — will turn 100 this coming Tuesday. (There will be an open house for him from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. on the 10th floor of the Joseph Smith Memorial Building. The public is invited.)

Today, I look much different than I did in 1968. Amazingly, he looks much the same. I suppose having the juice of spirituality flow through your veins for 40 years must act as a preservative.

Since then — like a Boy Scout tying a bowline knot — I've been in, out, around and back in the LDS Church. But through it all, one thing has stayed constant: my affection for the beauty and sweetness found in the LDS custom of giving blessings. Counting blessings is important; but so is giving blessings that count. And the LDS faithful bless their babies, bless children who are about to leave home and bless family members when they're ill. They bless the bread and water in their meetings, then bless the water and bread they serve later at dinner. And each blessing, I've found, is a blessing of comfort — for somebody.

When Eldred G. Smith blessed me with health and safety, it didn't register much with me. I felt invincible. I was about to embark on an adventure. But his words made the next two years a little less wrenching for my mother.

In fact, I would bet — given the thousands of blessings Elder Smith has given over the years — he has saved the mothers and fathers of the church millions of dollars in aspirin and sleeping pills. I know my mother slept better because of what he said. And I know that peace of mind filtered into the letters she sent to me, which helped me cope.

Sometimes our own faith makes us whole. Sometimes it takes the faith of someone else to do that. And despite the half-dozen diseases I caught in Bolivia and those late-night bus rides on muddy roads in the rain above breath-catching ravines, I did return home safe and healthy. And given how clueless I was about the world, how reckless and inattentive, I think that probably qualifies as a miracle — just one of many that have come at the hands of Eldred G. Smith.