If you knew that there was a possibility you would die in a year, what would you do?
What about if it were shorter?
What if you received an alert on your phone letting you know that in the next few minutes, death wasn’t possible but inevitable? For one Latter-day Saint couple I know, that is just what happened.
It was a calm, sunny morning in Hawaii, and vacationing couple Kathleen Winningham and her husband, Ronald, were on a walk. The two had always loved adventure and lived life to the fullest, and retirement was no different. Travel, missions, staying healthy, spending time with family—these are the dreams of every retired person, and they were actually doing it!
But at 8:07 a.m. local time, both of their phones started buzzing and beeping.
At first, they thought of ignoring the commotion, but seconds later, they started to hear people screaming and running.
They pulled out their phones and read: “Emergency Alert: BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.”
What would you do?
Panic? Cry? Run?
Most people did all of those things that day, but not these two.
The Winninghams looked at each other and decided that they should finish their walk, eat their breakfast, and text their family.
It wasn’t long after that they sent a message to their loved ones that read, “If we don’t make it home, know that we love you guys.”
For most, it was agonizing minutes until a “false alarm” follow-up text was sent, as everyone was heading for shelter. But for the Winninghams, they were perfectly content with whatever that day had in store for them as they sipped their pineapple juice.
When Kathleen told me this story, I couldn’t help but ask, “How?! How did you stay so calm?”
Her composed response caught me off guard, “I was ready.”
I have reflected on this story time and time again, and it always leads me to the same question: Am I ready?
President Nelson spoke on this subject of preparedness for death two months after his first wife, Dantzel, passed away. “If we are well prepared, death brings no terror. From an eternal perspective, death is premature only for those who are not prepared to meet God. Now is the time to prepare” (“Now Is the Time to Prepare,” general conference, April 2005).
Phrased another way, President Oaks poses the poignant questions, “If we knew that we would meet the Lord tomorrow—through our premature death or through His unexpected coming—what would we do today? What confessions would we make? What practices would we discontinue? What accounts would we settle? What forgivenesses would we extend? What testimonies would we bear? If we would do those things then, why not now? Why not seek peace while peace can be obtained?” (“Preparation for the Second Coming,” general conference, April 2004).
So now, I urge you to think of your life and ask yourself if what you are doing is what you would want to be doing when your end comes. Because as we know, the ending of earthly life is really just a beginning. But that next phase is entirely based on what we do here, and yes, even now.
In the most recent general conference, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland told the story of Brother Bowen, who, after being offended by a bishop, left the church. Years later, two of his children approached him and said, "'You have been a wonderful dad,' [his son] began with some emotion, 'and we have always known how much you loved us. But something is wrong…Please, please, after all this time, can you find it in your heart to lay aside that unfortunate incident with that bishop and again lead this family in the gospel as you once did?' There was dead silence. Then Brother Bowen looked up…and said very quietly, 'Yes. Yes I will.'"
Elder Holland concludes, “Surely each of us could cite an endless array of old scars and sorrows and painful memories that this very moment still corrode the peace in someone’s heart or family or neighborhood. Whether we have caused that pain or been the recipient of the pain, those wounds need to be healed so that life can be as rewarding as God intended it to be” (“The Ministry of Reconciliation,” general conference, October 2018).
Tomorrow isn’t sure, but we have today. So let’s start today!
Reach out to that family member you haven’t talked to in a long time.
Express love in word and action each day.
Do something kind with no thought of reward.
Work to be a better version of yourself every new day so that if you ever get an abrupt alert on your phone, you can finish your walk, send your love, and wait with a smile.