April 30, 2012

James Ritchie Conquers Challenges to Serve God

Photo from ldschurchnews.com
Today I wanted to tell you about a man who had a big impact on my life.  When I was a teenager, he was my Stake President as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  I’ll always be grateful for the confidence he had in me to make something of my difficult early circumstances.  He had confidence in all of the youth in the Stake, not just me.  I couldn’t get enough of his enthusiastic pep talks. 
Jim Ritchie was born into a humble family in Utah to a poultry farmer.  As a little boy, he sold the eggs that the chickens laid.  In Second grade, he got in trouble for having $200 in his pocket at school.  He hadn’t made it to the bank to deposit the money yet.  He also helped rent rooms at his family-owned motel.  

While a child, he contracted Polio.  Jim had a bad enough case that he limped visibly as an adult.  He wasn’t able to play any sports in school, but settled for managing the teams when he could.  

To compound his problems, he stuttered.  It was a bad enough problem for him that he didn’t say much to avoid the embarrassment of stammering when words just wouldn’t come.  This problem followed him into the mission field.    

In his Mission in Scotland, all of the missionaries were assigned zones.  Only one missionary (Elder Walch) could leave his zone because had been designated to speak in the many areas as a travelling speaker.  And he chose brand-new Elder Ritchie to speak as his companion speaker each Sunday for 6 months!  He said, “Every Sunday I had to get up and give a five-minute talk.  The first three months they were terrible, terrible talks.  Then Elder Walch stood up and gave his powerful 30-minute dissertation and people would line up to get baptized every time he spoke.  Nobody but my mother and best friend knew I had a problem with stuttering.  And yet, somehow the Lord put me together with Elder Walch in Dumbarton, Scotland for six long months, forcing me to stand at a pulpit until one day I finally gave a talk that somebody understood.  I’m telling you that that didn’t happen by accident.”  God made that happen to prepare Jim for his future service in His Kingdom.

Elder David B. Haight was Jim’s Mission President.  Jim still speaks of the advice that Elder Haight gave him on the day he left his mission to return home.  He said, “Go home, Jim.  Get your education.  Make your mark.  And get prepared to be used.”  Jim said, “That statement had a dramatic impact on the way I've lived my life and on what kind of objectives and goals I have set. I went home and became obsessed with doing exactly what he had said in the order he said to do it. Get my education, make my mark, and get prepared to be used.”

Jim went to BYU in Provo and earned a Bachelors in Accountancy.  There he met his wife, Carolyn, and he began to make his mark.  He tried several business endeavors, at one time having 26 different entities all operating at the same time.  They included a farm store, trailer parks, restaurants and hotels, land development projects, Ski-Doo dealership,  a Sears Catalog store, a tire store, a Meadow Gold dairy products distributorship, a travel agency and a used car lot.  (I remember how he called it “Honest Jim’s Used Cars.”  Somehow the public couldn’t fathom an honest used-car salesman!)  Many of these businesses didn’t work out, but some did.  Jim kept trying and kept applying the formula he got from Elder Haight.  And he trusted in the promises that God gives his faithful servants.  

After a few years of failures and successes, he was able to retire at the age of 30!  Yes, he was independently wealthy at that young age because he found his place to make his mark.  He formally retired and accepted a call to start a ‘released-time Seminary’ in my hometown of Simi Valley, California as the new Institute Director.  Arriving in Simi, he was immediately called to be Stake President of the Simi Valley Stake.  Now he was truly doing the third part of the advice—being used in the work of the Lord.  Since then, Jim has served as a Mission President, an MTC President and completed two other missions with his wife.  He also served as a Regional Representative, and Area Director for CES in Southeast Africa.  

Once crippled by polio, now he is described as reaching ‘lofty heights.’  And once unable to speak without stuttering, now he speaks motivationally to groups about how to succeed in life.  In fact, he shares this formula without hesitation, hoping to motivate young people to prepare themselves to ultimately serve in God’s kingdom.  He says to his audiences, “…someday you are going to be asked to fill some important roles.  You have no idea what is to come.  We are the generation that will finish the job of having this earth prepared for the Savior’s return.”  

Jim further declared, “I want you to know that the Church is true.  God runs this church.  It is the Savior’s church.  It has His name on it and He runs it.  When He wants an Elder Walch to be by your side, at some pulpit in some lowly village in Scotland, He’ll find a way to do that.  If He’ll do that for a chicken farmer’s son, who limps when he walks and stutters when he talks, if He’ll do that for me, what will he do for you?”

Can you see why he motivated me?  He kept reminding me that I was here for a purpose, that I could accomplish it with an education and hard work and the Lord’s help.   

To learn more, see Ritchie, James W. “Find Your Oil; Make Your Mark” Marriott Magazine, Winter 2002  Found on April 29, 2012 at http://marriottschool.byu.edu/marriottmag/winter02/features/ritchie1.cfm?loc=feature
Ritchie, James W.  “Happiness and Success Formula (Guaranteed), 14 October 2008 Devotional talk, found on April 29, 2012 at http://www.byub.org/talks/transcripts/hdevo/2008/10/hdevo20081014-3457.pdf
Foley, Mike.  “New BYUH Entrepreneurship Director Named.”  Newsroom Brigham Young University-Hawaii, 13 May 2008, found at http://newsroom.byuh.edu/print/1727
“Mormon Simi Stake President is praised for his life’s work” The Enterprise March 4, 1983, p. 12.

April 22, 2012

Annie Clark Adapted to her Disability and Succeeded

I want to tell you the story of Annie Clark.  She was born with no hands.  And in order to live like other kids, she had to learn how to write somehow.  This was very difficult, as you could expect, because she had no hands.  But she found a way by wedging the pencil between the ends of her arms.  

Annie, through hours of practicing, finally dominated the penmanship skills of her classmates.  She was the best of her classmates at writing.  Her teacher entered her writing into a school contest, then a state competition.  She was awarded the Nicholas Maxim award and a cash prize of $1000, along with a trophy this week.

Annie can also operate an iPad touch, ride a bike, swim and even paint her own toenails.  She hasn’t let her lack of hands keep her from doing what she wants.  She just has to try harder than kids with hands do.  Annie’s father said, “Annie has always been very, very determined, very self-sufficient in dressing herself and feeding herself.  She is just determined that there’s nothing she can’t do.”

I tried to imagine how she did it by putting my elbows together.  I can’t even pick up a pen!  How does she write like that?  After my Mom put the pen in the elbow spot, I still could only make chicken scratches, and that was a terrific effort!  I challenge you to try it too.

You can do anything no matter what difficulties you face.   by Geoffrey, age 9

To learn more about Annie, see:

April 16, 2012

Self-taught Bubba Watson Wins Masters

Last week ‘Bubba’ won the Master’s Golf Tournament in Augusta, Georgia.  The name says it all; Bubba is an unschooled, self-taught golfer without pretense.  It is refreshing to hear about him.

When Bubba was just 6 years old, his father gave him an old golf club.  He cut off a few inches from the top to make it the right size for the little boy and sent him out into the yard.  After showing him how it worked and how to hold it, he told him to figure it out.  Bubba started hitting whiffle balls around his yard as he played with his new toy.  To Bubba, it was just play, not practice.  But after hours of hitting that ball, he got better and better at it.  Bubba played whiffle ball golf instead of playing with his other toys because he thought it was so much more fun.  If it was raining outside, he’d bring the gear inside and putt on the carpet. 

His favorite game was to draw a 5 foot circle on his dirt driveway in Florida, then see how few shots it took to go around the house and get the ball into the circle.  He would go clockwise sometimes, then the other direction.  Once in a while Bubba would hit his whiffle ball into the bushes.  Without getting upset, he’d just play it from the bushes.  And on the driveway, he learned how to chip the ball into the circle carefully enough not to generate lots of dust.  His dad didn’t like it when he got the cars dirty.

What Bubba didn’t know was that his playing with the whiffle ball and golf club was teaching him how to play golf.  Going clockwise around his house taught him left-to-right hooks and going the other direction taught him how to hit right-to-left slices.  The natural obstacles of bushes and trees gave him practice in getting out of the bush.  And his struggles with the ball landing on top of the bushes taught him to play through with whatever conditions he was given.  Bubba said later, “At the time I didn’t know it was practice, it was just something fun to do.  Instead of playing with army men or whatever, I played golf, like for hours, every day.”  

After a few years of this play/practicing, he began playing golf with his father at the local golf course using real clubs and balls.  He became so good at age 12 that other adult golfers wanted to play with him.  That gave him more practice and confidence.  It must have been funny for him to play against adults and win at such a young age.  (As an aside, at school one day, he was sent to the principal’s office.  When he got there, he discovered that the man behind the desk was someone he had played golf with.  That must have been a funny conversation.)

Bubba went on to win the Masters Tournament last week.  It had come down to the last shot, a tie-breaker between Bubba and South-Africa’s Louis Oosthuizin.  It was a difficult hole, number 10, a long tee shot.  But Bubba hit his to the right, deep into the woods.  Everyone thought it was over, that Oosthuizin had won.  One sportswriter wrote,
What followed has already become a piece of history and golfing lore to be replayed and remembered for the next fifty years.  With his ball resting on pine straw and no clear path to the green, which lay more than 190-yards away, Watson crowded the ball with his pitching wedge, closed the club face severely at address, and literally pulled off the intentional hook of the century.  Hitting a shot which few players, even on the PGA Tour, could execute in a hundred tries, Watson drew the ball so profoundly that it landed on the green and spun sideways past the hole like a professional billiards player's cue ball. (Grappone)

After winning, he ran up to his mom and gave her a big hug.  And when first given the microphone to say something, he choked up and thanked God for his win.  

At age 33, he’s not the youngest, but he might be the first untrained, un-coached, self-taught golfer to ever win.  Some say that he might have won the Masters when he was a younger man if he had been coached, but others say that he might have lost his love for the sport if he had been coached or had to endure actual golf lessons and pressured to succeed.  His motivation was clearly just a love for the game.  

Some say that he plays with reckless abandon, meaning that he enjoys the game and isn’t worried about winning so much that he is overly cautious in his play.  Others say that it’s simply a confidence he has in his practiced unique form that he takes chances the more coached golfers won’t take.  Either way, Bubba is showing the world that one doesn’t need formal training and expensive coaching to succeed in the golf world.  Somehow, this ‘rich man’s’ game just opened up for the average Joe.  

Bubba Watson shows us again that with enough practice, we can master any skill and succeed.  We can do it our own way and bring our unique talents to it.   


“Bubba Watson.” Tennessee Deer Talk web. 15 April 2012.

Grappone, Jim.  “Masters 2012:  Bubba Watson’s Faith Goes Beyond Miracle Shot For Easter Victory.”  The Bleacher Report 10 April 2012: n. pag. web. 15 April 2012. 

Newport, John Paul. “Is Bubba’s Secret No Lessons?  Watson’s Unschooled, Natural Play Won the Masters, But It’s a Mixed Message for Young Golfers.”  The Wall Street Journal Saturday/Sunday 14-15 April 2012: A16. Print.  

April 10, 2012

Robert E. Lee Stands Tall Among Heroes

This week the Civil War started and ended in the 1960’s.  As bad as this war was, with so many deaths and casualties, it began the process of setting the slaves free and made many men into heroes.  One hero I would like to talk about today is Robert E. Lee.  Although he fought for the Confederacy, he was a man of great principles and honor, perhaps shaped by his difficult childhood.

He was born into privilege in old Virginia, a son of one of the earliest settlers in the area.  He was raised on a tobacco farm which was run largely by slaves.  His father struggled to manage the farm, eventually ending up in debtors’ prison.  That left the family fatherless and unable to support themselves.  Robert’s mother took the children and moved in with relatives.  Robert’s father died when Robert was 11, leaving Robert the responsibility to care for his mother and siblings.  His mother and sister were ill and required care.  Robert missed much school as he cared for his sick family and tried to keep them from ruin.  When it came time for Robert to attend higher school, there was no money for that.  Robert had no choice but to enroll in West Point, a military college.  He began studies there at age 18, graduating 2nd in the class with no demerits on his record.  He was eager to learn and willing to work.  His education prepared him for engineering, which allowed Robert to contribute to the building of forts.  He was able to return home after graduation in time to bid his dying mother goodbye.  

Robert fell in love with a young woman named Mary Custis, but her father refused to let them marry, citing Robert’s father’s failures as evidence of future problems.  As time went on, Robert showed his own merit and he was able to marry her.  Together, they embarked on a long career in the military, marked with long absences from each other due to his assignments.  Children came, making Robert and Mary very happy.

Robert moved up in rank in the United States military, so much so that when the Civil war broke out on April 12, 1862, Abraham Lincoln asked Robert if he would lead the army against the Confederate dissenters.  This should have been an easy decision for Robert.  It was a great honor that he had worked for, the culmination of all of his work to date.  But Robert struggled with this decision.  He felt a strong loyalty towards Virginia, his home, and the home of all of his ancestors and kin.  If he were to accept this commission, he would effectively be taking up arms against his family and friends.  Personally, Robert felt that the Civil War was a terrible idea.  He did not support the Confederate cause in the least.  He hated slavery.  He thought the United States should stand together and work out their problems, not split apart and fight over them.  After a long night deliberating, he decided to resign from the United States Army, which he did on April 20, 1862.  He was appointed commander of the Virginia army three days later.  

Robert showed great tactical genius in the battles his Virginia forces engaged in.  Several years into the war, Robert was given command of the whole Confederate army.  It has been said by many that the Union must have had God on their side, as the Confederates’ successes were so well managed.  One author wrote, “His brilliance as a commander is legendary, and military colleges the world over study his campaigns as models of the science of war. That he held out against an army three times the size and a hundred times better equipped was no miracle. It was the result of leadership by a man of exceptional intelligence, daring, courage and integrity. His men all but worshiped him. He shared their rations, slept in tents as they did, and, most importantly, never asked more of them than he did of himself.”  Eventually, the Union would prevail in spite of Robert’s tactical brilliance.  After General Sherman burned most of the South down as he marched to the sea, the war was decidedly against the Confederates. 

On April 9, 1865, Robert met with US General Ulysses S. Grant to surrender, ending the Civil War.  Robert made sure that the terms of surrender gave his troops the best possible advantage to rebuild their lives after returning home after the war.  Each soldier was allowed to take his possessions with him, including his horse, to aid him in planting his crops to feed his family.  Officers could keep their guns.  They were all to be pardoned and given Union rations of food, as they were starving.  Considering how most wars end, this was very favorable to the South.   

Some of Robert’s advisors wanted to continue the war by hiding troops in the woods to engage in guerilla warfare, but Robert dissuaded them.  He said, "So far from engaging in a war to perpetuate slavery, I am rejoiced that slavery is abolished. I believe it will be greatly for the interests of the South."  

The war was over, but Robert’s home was gone.  His grand home at Arlington Virginia had been taken over by the Union and they had buried Union soldiers all over his acreage.  It was a final slap to the face for his choice to fight with his fellow Virginia Confederates.  

Robert’s final work was to reconcile the north and the south.  He told his southern troops, "Abandon your animosities and make your sons Americans."  He encouraged the northerners to help rebuild the south.  He wanted the nation to be one great whole again.   

Robert faced many complex issues as a child and let them shape him into a strong capable man.  Although he was born rich, he knew hunger and want.  In caring for his invalid mother and sister, he learned compassion and loyalty.  Remember him as a hero, even though he fought with the Confederates.   

Here in the Atlanta Area is Stone Mountain Park, with an enormous carving depicting Robert E. Lee and other southern Civil War leaders.  In the summer, the park puts on a Laser show on the carving.  After several short shows appear, the finale always ends with Robert E. Lee breaking his sword for peace. The crowd always erupts in applause to Elvis singing the Battle Hymn of the Republic.  He indeed did seek for peace to unite the North and South.  We can do likewise and seek for peace with those with which we don't agree.

For more, see: