Insiders at the Church say that as the new leader of 13 million members, President Monson will hit the ground running. The man who can quote a scripture on any topic, pull out an applicable poem or remember details and names from his personal history, while ours has blurred away, uses that same intellect and incisive memory to accomplish a mountain of work every day and still leave, according to Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, "an astonishingly clean desk."
He's comfortable with anyone conversing on any subject, and his leadership was recognized while he was still, like Nephi, exceedingly young. He was called as a bishop at 22 in a ward that had the largest welfare load in the Church, including 85 widows. He was called as a counselor in a stake presidency at 27, a mission president at 31, an apostle at 36, and a member of the First Presidency at 58 (the youngest in this century).
Yet, for all this remarkable capacity, the hallmark of President Monson is his pure love of Christ, and his uncanny ability to hear the voice of the Spirit and respond instantly. He said, "In my patriarchal blessing as a boy, I was promised that I would have the gift of discernment. I have to acknowledge that such a declaration has been abundantly fulfilled in my life."
His has been a ministry to the lost battalions of the faltering, the lonely, the sick, the struggling, the forgotten, the widow, the uncared for, those who fall by the wayside. His has been a call captured in this scripture: "Wherefore, be faithful; stand in the office which I have appointed unto you; succor the weak, lift up the hands which hang down, and strengthen the feeble knees." (D&C 81:5).
In Monday's press conference, President Dieter F. Uchtdorf noted, "President Monson has such a feeling for the needs of individuals and the needs of all the world." In this article we want to give you a story representing both - one when President Monson reached out to a single heart as he has so many thousands of times (this one a member of our own family) - and one when he opened the door to a nation.
Touching One Heart
We had an uncle, Keith Facer, who was easy to love. Gentle and unassuming, stalwart and true, he would be anyone's dream uncle, his face lighting up with delight when he saw us like he'd just been waiting for this moment to fold us in his arms and give us hugs.
His smile was infectious. He was always a student of the gospel, coming in his 80's to our adult Institute classes, even when he had been diagnosed with Lou Gehrig's disease and his legs began to quake beneath him. The diagnosis turned out to be false, and he took the year of trauma granted him by the doctor's inaccuracy like the good sport he always was.
His daughter, Laraine, died in her mid-fifties of Alzheimer's disease, a condition that ravaged her mind and memory, and stole her away too early. Keith watched helplessly as the young grandmother forgot her family members' names, forgot who she was.
At her funeral, Scot sat down by Keith. They had pulled a little away from the crowd and were sitting on a couch alone, facing the casket. Scot asked, "Keith, you're sitting alone. You are looking at your precious daughter in the casket. You're away from your family. How do you really feel about this loss?"
Keith said, "Scot, I have trusted the Lord all my life, and I feel to trust him now."
With moments like these stored in our soul, it was wrenching to hear that Keith had developed a particularly rare and vicious kind of cancer - Merkel-cell carcinoma. This was one where the tumor grew not inside his body, but on the exterior - from a nasty red lump first appearing on the left side of his face, on his cheek, then around to his ear and his neck to grow into a hideous, enormous, almost reptilian-like growth that crawled across his face, first closing off an ear and then an eye, and then finally his ability to breathe or eat at all. The face we had loved was distorted, unrecognizable, and his suffering nearly incomprehensible.
The bright red of the now-enormous tumor, which seemed to grow daily, looked angry, burning. His torso was covered with dime and nickel-sized sores. Radiation treatments were attempted but only burned his body, making the pain even more intense.
We could not have recognized Keith as anyone familiar except for the affectionate tone in his voice, while he could still mumble out a few sentences.
Keith did not live far from President Monson. In fact, at one time they had been in the same ward, before boundaries had been redrawn. President Monson got word about Keith's illness and called immediately, wondering if he could come by that very early evening to cheer him and give him a blessing on his way home from work.
I don't know what else might have been on President Monson's schedule that day - surely many pressing things, a desk full of urgencies. Yet, nothing is so urgent for President Monson as the soul of the distressed. It calls to his sympathies; it stirs his love.
We had been visiting Keith that day before President Monson arrived. He was surrounded by his wife, a son and daughters who loved him, but the situation was so grim, it was hard to be anything but teary. Life just seemed too hard if someone like Keith could be so afflicted and we struggled to say anything besides a pitiful, "I'm so sorry, so sorry." We felt heavy, grayed over with the burden.
Then, at the appointed moment, President Monson arrived, and it was like the sun came up on a new day. It was not only that the Spirit was with him, which we all felt immediately; it was that his very presence was buoyant. A tangible sense of joy and assurance had entered the room.
Here was someone seasoned in the sickroom and knew what we didn't. He didn't look surprised or shocked to see Keith's condition. He didn't put on a long face in sympathy. He smiled that large, warming smile and with enthusiasm said, "Keith it is good to see you."
President Monson then began to give Keith what he needed most. It was the same thing any very sick person needs, whose once energetic and perfect body has been ravaged by an illness until he can't recognize himself anymore. President Monson gave him back his identity, and a sense of himself.
"Keith," he said, "Do you remember when you were in the bishopric and I had just moved into the ward and you assigned me to head up the committee to build a new meetinghouse? I told you that I didn't know anyone in the ward, and you said, 'That's OK. Just call them Gunderson and you'll be right 40% of the time."
At that Keith laughed out of the corner of his mouth not yet smothered by cancer. We all laughed, our laughter cascading through the sick room like a blessed relief. President Monson continued the banter about everything he knew about Keith, a heartening conversation about how dedicated and committed Keith had always been.