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Monday, August 16, 2010

God is the Great Compensator

Levi Ashton Cox was a remarkable LDS pioneer. After returning home to England from military service in India, he was exposed to the Church through his mother. Levi met and married his wife Susannah and was soon thereafter baptized. It took many years, but his wife also joined the Church after a blessing from the LDS missionaries confirmed to her the truthfulness of the Restoration. Several years later, they emigrated to the United States. While traveling via train from New York to Nebraska, all of their possessions caught fire in the train’s boxcar. Left with very little, the family traveled to Salt Lake City, and then later to Idaho. After a lack of farming success in Idaho, Levi and his family moved to Muskrat Springs, in what is now Hooper, Utah. Several of Levi’s neighbors obtained a grant to build an irrigation canal to Muskrat Springs. Levi and his wife prayed about settling in Muskrat Springs permanently, and felt impressed to stay and farm there. Levi agreed to dig his share of the ditch, in order to bring water to his farm. The shares were 16 ½ feet wide and 5 feet deep, with several yards being divvied up as labor, for the right to access to the canal.

Actually digging the canal is when things became difficult. In the boxcar fire that burned their belongings en route to Nebraska, Levi lost his shovel and all other digging equipment. The Cox family faced a difficult decision—leave Muskrat Springs, or somehow come up with the financial means to purchase a shovel. In their destitute condition, Levi and Susannah decided to pawn her wedding ring to raise funds.

Pawn her wedding ring. I can’t imagine the anguish and the long walk to the store where they sold it. I can’t imagine how the shop owner felt, nor how Levi felt looking at the short spade (not even a full-size shovel) gained from the pawning of the cherished ring.

But he did dig the shares, built a farm, raised his children, and lived his life. He performed in plays, he sold some groceries on the side, and did everything possible to make a return on that precious investment. Some years later, Susannah passed away, leaving a legacy of faith and sacrifice that the community remembers today.

Several years after Susannah had died, Levi went back into the store, probably looking to purchase some tools or groceries. The shopkeeper asked him if he wanted to purchase the ring that he had pawned decades before. The shopkeeper had been saving it for those many years, waiting for Levi to come back into the store and buy it back. In what I imagine was a tender moment, Levi purchased the ring back, and gave it to his daughter. The ring remains a prized possession of the family today, who still reside in Hooper, Utah.

What can this story of faith and sacrifice teach us about the Gospel? It teaches us that we don’t know what lays in store for us. It teaches us that we can overcome things that we can’t control. It teaches us that when we don’t know what to do, the Lord will lead us in what to do, though what He requires may not be easy.

But I believe more than anything, it teaches us that the Lord is always there in our sacrifice. I believe that the Lord will never require us to do something for which
we will not be rewarded.

The Lord has said, “And every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name's sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life.” (Matthew 19:29)

He has also said “If thou art called to pass through tribulation; if thou art in perils among false brethren; if thou art in perils among robbers; if thou art in perils by land or by sea; If thou art accused with all manner of false accusations; if thine enemies fall upon thee; if they tear thee from the society of thy father and mother and brethren and sisters…and thine enemies prowl around thee like wolves for the blood of the lamb…if thou be cast into the deep; if the billowing surge conspire against thee; if fierce winds become thine enemy; if the heavens gather blackness, and all the elements combine to hedge up the way; and above all, if the very jaws of hell shall gape open the mouth wide after thee, know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good.” (Doctrine and Covenants 122:5-7)

When Levi pawned the ring, he could not have expected the ring to be available to reclaim decades later. It was probably something that he did not think about much anymore, a sacrifice that had paid off many times what it had cost in effort and money. The shopkeeper had been holding the ring without being asked and without expectation of reward. But he was able to bless Levi by giving him exactly what he wanted, to unexpectedly restore what Levi and Suannah had sacrificed at such great emotional cost. It reminds me of what was taught by Elder Joseph B. Withlin:

“The Lord compensates the faithful for every loss. That which is taken away from those who love the Lord will be added unto them in His own way. While it may not come at the time we desire, the faithful will know that every tear today will eventually be returned a hundredfold with tears of rejoicing and gratitude.” (Joseph B. Wirthlin, “Come What May, and Love It,” Ensign, Nov 2008, 26–28)

Levi was compensated for his sacrifice and effort, just as each of us will be, provided that we sacrifice with an eternal perspective, with a view of the end from the beginning. If we recognize the eternal compensation when it comes, our effort will not truly be sacrifice, but just a step in building faith. The trial will become a defining experience, and looked back upon with joy. Today’s sorrows will become tomorrow’s triumphs.

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