Eight years ago I stood at a crossroads. As I stood hesitating, my friend Marshall Jensen handed me a passage of scripture from the Book of Mormon. As I read, the Lord took me by the hand and showed me the path He would have me follow. My life has never been the same. Yesterday Marshall passed through a very different crossroads. How do you say goodbye to the friend who changed your life?
My first year of teaching was a shambles. With no student teaching, I had no idea what I was in for. I almost quit so many times. For about nine months I would just wait for the last bell to ring so that I could close the door, turn off the lights and cry. I grew to hate Sunday evenings because I knew I would have to wake up and face my students again in the morning. The only thing between me and the door was the feeling that this was what God wanted me to do.
I don’t know what changed between my first and second year. I was literally shocked that I was able to create a classroom that both my students and I enjoyed being in. Stunned. Astounded. I couldn’t figure out what at the difference was. This left me with a lot of fear as I approached the beginning of my third year of teaching. I’d been successful during my second year of teaching, but what if that was an anomaly? I couldn’t figure out what had made the difference. What if I couldn’t do it again? I was terrified and my confidence was shot to pieces.
About this time, I’d met Marshall Jensen at a church activity. We both attended the same congregation of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. The best way I know how to describe Marshall is happy and friendly. As a natural introvert, I was always astounded by Marshall’s ability to talk to with anyone. We would be standing a grocery store check-out line and Marshall would learn the name of the cashier and strike up a conversation with her. Then as we were walking back to the car, he would notice a woman with four small children unloading her groceries into her car. He would stop to go fetch her cart and put it away for her so she would have one less thing to juggle. I have always had to make a conscious effort to find ways to serve others. To Marshall, it just came naturally. I felt so much better about myself when I was around him. He became one of my best friends – the younger brother I never had.
So when I found myself in the grip of an overwhelming fear as the beginning of my third year of teaching approached, I reached out to Marshall for help. He came over to my home with his Bible and Book of Mormon in hand. Not certain where to start, he opened his Book of Mormon to the first chapter that came to mind, Mosiah 4, and asked me to read:
“And ye will not suffer your children that they go hungry, or naked; neither will ye suffer that they transgress the laws of God, and fight and quarrel one with another…
“But ye will teach them to walk in the ways of truth and soberness; ye will teach them to love one another, and to serve one another.
“And also, ye yourselves will succor those that stand in need of your succor; ye will administer of your substance unto him that standeth in need; and ye will not suffer that the beggar putteth up his petition to you in vain, and turn him out to perish.
“Perhaps thou shalt say; The man has brought upon himself his misery; therefore I will stay my hand, and will not give unto him of my food, nor impart unto him of my substance that he may not suffer, for his punishments are just…
“For behold, are we not all beggars? Do we not all depend on that same Being, even God, for all the substance which we have…?” (Book of Mormon, Mosiah 4:14-19)
Marshall and I wept together as we felt the love of God in these verses. This passage of scripture is sacred to me. As I read, I felt God telling me, “This is what your life is for. This is what I have always intended for you.” It has become the frame for my life. It is the reason why I am still teaching.
Time passed. Marshall met his wife, Amanda, now a dear friend of mine. I attended their wedding ceremony. (Incidentally, I received my first and only speeding ticket on the way home from that ceremony.) A little over a year later, I attended the blessing of their baby son, Kezman. At Christmas time several months later, we celebrated together my graduation from my Master’s of Education program. One month following that, Marshall was diagnosed with leukemia. After four years of fighting, prayers, and miracles, Marshall’s fight with leukemia ended today.
Marshall’s impact on my life and on the lives of nearly a thousand of my former and current students is profound. It manifests itself every time I give away a pencil to a student. Every time I stop to help a student who asks for it. Every time I stop to help a student who doesn’t ask for it but who really needs it. Every time I push back my resentment and offer a clean slate to a student who seems to have burned every last bridge.
“And now, if God, who has created you, on whom you are dependent for your lives and for that ye have and are, doth grant unto you whatsoever ye ask that is right, in faith, believing that ye shall receive, O then, how ye ought to impart of the substance that ye have one to another.” Book of Mormon, Mosiah 4:21
Marshall’s wife and son face an enormous burden of medical expenses in the wake of his passing. If you wish to help, you can contribute here.
Having just learned of Marshall’s death, I’m experiencing a whole sea of emotions. Through the loss and sorrow that I feel for myself, and more especially for Marshall’s family, I feel an overwhelming sense of gratitude. Gratitude for Marshall – a friend who gently took my hand and placed it in the Hand of God.