Our conversion began the night of our only daughter’s baptism. The Elders had asked me to invite everyone back to our home for refreshments afterwards, so I had baked a cake. Well, they came…and kept coming. They filled every nook and cranny in our house. I cut the cake into smaller and smaller and smaller pieces. An elderly gentleman, wavy silver hair, shoulders broad and hands gnarled like the burls of a giant redwood, introduced himself as Bishop Schwab. I mentally searched my vast repertoire of appropriate remarks to say to a Mormon Bishop and found it quite empty. Then, what I now know was my first introduction to the spirit, a still small voice told me to ask him if he knew Bishop Jack Rushton.
We had known the Rushtons in Southern California in the early eighties when JoAnne had provided after school care for Brittany. Jack taught college … well not exactly college… but in a building located across the street called Institute… and he was a Mormon Bishop. And, being foreign to Mormon culture, I thought perhaps there might be Bishop Conventions or Bishop Schools or Bishop ecclesiastical conferences where these two men might have met. Well you might be surprised to know that Bishop Schwab had never heard of Bishop Rushton.
But another couple, Ed and Linda Lucky, overhearing our remark, quickly came up to us and asked how we knew Jack. They had also lived in Southern California and Ed had served as Jack’s counselor in the Bishopric. They then told us how Jack, while body surfing with his sons, hit his head against a rock and severed his spinal cord. Jack was fifty-two years old, father of six children, four in their late teens and early twenties – two under the age of eight. He had been an athlete, a musician, an Institute Director and the Irvine California Stake President. He had become a man stripped of all mobility except for the lids of his eyes and the lips of his mouth.
The Luckys had received a tape made of Jack’s first fireside after being released from rehab and asked if we would like to listen to it. In Job it says, “For the thing which I greatly feared is come upon me, and that which I was afraid of is come unto me.” That is what I felt vicariously for Jack as I listened to the rhythm of his voice on that tape. A rhythm created by the mechanical bellows of a respirator that provided the air for his words. And what he spoke of was gratitude. How grateful he was to know the Sacrament hymns, that he could sing them in his heart and be sustained during the hard times, the alone times, and the times when he didn’t know if he’d ever be able to go home again. He was grateful for the ministering of angels in the form of a caring nurse who would come and rub his face because it was the only part of his body left to feel the love of a human touch.
One day the respirator tube dislodged from the tracheotomy in Jack’s throat. There was a nurse’s aide in the room but her back was turned to Jack. Knowing that he had to get her attention while using the least amount of air to do so, he calmly said, “My air. My air.” Turning, the aide came to his side and placing one hand on the few strands of hair covering Jack’s bald head she brushed them back and said, “Mr. Rushton, with all the things you have to worry about, your hair shouldn’t be one of them!” With that she turned and left the room. Jack’s hope began to deflate as quickly as his lungs. But, suddenly, his regular nurse entered the room, walked up to his bed, picked up the respirator tube and placed it over his tracheotomy, allowing the breath of life to flow back into his lungs. Asked how she’d known – she hadn’t. She had only felt a prompting that he was in trouble and that she should come. Jack was grateful for a living God that knew him and cared for him every second of every minute of every hour of every day.
That tape was forty-five minutes long and not one word of bitterness, reproach or anger was uttered. In nothing did his lips sin against God. It was then that Miles and I knew that only the truth could build such faith. It was not the testimony that he spoke but the testimony that he lived that planted a desire in our hearts to know the things that he knew.
We were baptized March 3, 1991. But the ‘lessons Jack taught’ did not end there. As I said earlier, Joanne provided care for Brittany because public day cares would not accept disabled clients. To make this work we petitioned the City of Tustin for curb cuts between the elementary school and the Rushton’s home so that Brittany could ‘roll’ there each day after school. Not only did they cut the curbs we requested, but all the curbs in the subdivision. I then had to teach Joanne how to do those things necessary in caring for a tripeligic child. Joanne tended Brittany for the next five years until we moved to Sacramento. It was five years later, shortly after Jack’s accident, when Joanne was told that the rehab facility had never released a quadriplegic on a respirator to return to his own home, that the care was just too difficult. But, remembering her care of Brittany, Joanne felt she had already been prepared and it was something she could do. Knowing her desire, their stake got together and remodeled their home to make it accessible and Jack was able to come home to “the house that the friends of Jack built,” in the only neighborhood in Tustin with curb cuts!
Alma 7:12… and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities.
He had begun to prepare Joanne 10 years before she would face the greatest challenge of her life and then used that challenge to bless us, who provided the means of preparation.
My husband now serves as our bishop and I will begin teaching my 14th year of seminary in August.
~ Barb Gardner