Mel Torrie – Founder & CEO, Autonomous Solutions Inc.

 

Mel Torrie has a Master’s degree in Electrical Engineering from Utah State University and is founder and CEO of Autonomous Solutions Inc. (ASI) in Logan, Utah. ASI develops and sells systems for driverless ground vehicle control in mining, military, agriculture, material handling, automotive proving grounds, and industrial cleaning and security. Prior to founding ASI seventeen years ago, Mel worked at Utah State University on multiple NASA Space Shuttle payloads. Mel speaks around the world on robotics, leadership, and bootstrapping entrepreneurship.

Tell me about your early career.
When I was an undergrad at Utah State University, I volunteered for a research program putting projects on two different space shuttle flights. That helped me develop the skills in programming, circuit board fabrication, and wiring. That helped me get a job in a robotics lab. That lab paid for my Master’s degree in Electrical Engineering and a minor in computer science.

I was teaching at USU and working in a robotics lab when John Deere saw a paper I wrote and asked the lab to do a farm tractor robot (1998).

How did the concept for Autonomous Solutions come about?
After two years of developing driverless tractors, John Deere asked me to spin out a small business to help them commercialize the technology. I jumped at the chance and founded ASI in 2000 with some fellow professors and students.

How was the first year in business?
We worked insane hours to impress John Deere, but just as things were getting close on the product, we met with the liability attorneys. They said that farmers disable safety systems every year and that we wouldn’t make enough sales on this new product to cover inevitable lawsuits. They shut down the program. It was our first near death experience and we almost shut down. Fortunately, I figured robotic lawn mowing for golf courses would be a good application and so we asked John Deere to loan us a mower and we used overtime to automate it in time for a demonstration before we ran out of money. John Deere’s commercial division gave us a lawn mowing program just in time to keep us afloat and we worked quickly to diversify into other markets to assure that didn’t happen again.

What was your marketing strategy?
We had a webpage up and going and started to go to robotic conferences, giving papers and buying booth space when we could afford it.

How fast did the company grow during the first few years?
We doubled in size yearly for about the first five years.

How do you define success?
Our mission is to help people reach their potential so success is helping our customers, our partners, our employees, and the youth in our community for the better.

What is the key to success?
I think Zig captured on of the most important keys: “You can have everything in life you want, if you will just help other people get what they want.” – Zig Ziglar

“Charity never Faileth.” – 1 Corinthians 13:8. Meaning the most enduring way to build a company is to take care of your people. Abraham Lincoln said it this way, “If you would win a man to your cause, first convince him that you are his sincere friend.”

What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
It took seventeen years but I finally learned that Humility is the most important trait for every person in the company. It maximizes the success of the company because you get the most value out of your Leaders because they will listen to their people and they will coach in a way that people will welcome their input. Humble employees will accept wisdom and help from everyone around them.

What are some quotes that you live by?
“It is life critical to determine the difference between your defects (those things you need to fix) and your features (those things you should refine). I was often told to fire myself and hire a real CEO because I cared too much about my employee’s feelings. Defect or Feature?

What are some of your favorite books?
How to Win Friends & Influence People. The Effective ExecutiveThe Bible & The Book of Mormon. Talent is Overrated. Scaling Up. The Obstacle is the Way.

Tell me about one of the toughest days you’ve had as an entrepreneur.
Recession
In the fall of 2008, we had grown to 75 employees at our robotics company, ASI, and were poised for great growth. An incredible surge was predicted for mining, our largest market, and we were excitedly ramping up to handle all the work. We had our first order for robotic bulldozers and most of the mining equipment manufacturers were vying to partner with us to automate their vehicles so they could expand their businesses too. We knew we’d have to turn some of them down.

Within days of this exciting positive prediction, every market we were in started to crumble. Program after program got canceled. Deals that were inevitable just wouldn’t close. We started to sink into debt faster and faster. I was sure the companies fighting for our attention would sign any minute so I avoided laying anyone off. The rest of the world was downsizing but I had faith that things would work out. I couldn’t stand the thought of letting down the people who believed in my vision and trusted me to take care of them. We exhausted our $500,000 line of credit and maxed all our company credit cards to hold on to people as long as we could. I got physically sick. I couldn’t see why the Lord would help me build up the company with great people just to let it die because of something over which I had no control.

The bank got cold feet and needed cash to bail out some bad real estate investments down in Salt Lake City and told us they needed their money back. They said they would begin liquidation proceedings unless we could convince their senior management in SLC to turn the line of credit into a term loan. Roger Mann (CFO), Raeghn, and I went down to the bank headquarters and did the best tap dance we could muster in front of the debt review board to try and save the company and our home. We convinced them that we were worth more to them alive than dead and they granted us a term loan with a ridiculously high interest rate and impossible monthly payments.

One of the things that hurt the most was people giving up on me and leaving. I couldn’t blame them; I had an open financial book policy and we showed our team how we were doing financially every month. People loved the visibility into how the company was doing, but as the recession began to take hold of the country, the writing was literally on the wall and people started printing resumes. I took it so personal despite the fact that we needed them to leave. I don’t know which hurt more, them giving up on the company and leaving or us having to tell them to leave. Both ate me alive and I got physically sick.

We were down from 75 people to 24 by the spring of 2009 and began the bank-induced death march, monthly scrambling for miracles to make each payroll. We liquidated everything we could except the house. We started to eat cheap and simple. After one family member visited and saw what we were eating, we got three calls from different family members offering to help us with some food. We maxed out our personal credit cards and applied for more. We sold our favorite piece of land, cleared out all our retirement funds, and pushed out our creditors. The bank required us to have all of our customers now send their payment directly to a bank-secured lock box so they could get their excessive payment first before we could access what remained.

It soon became clear to the bank that there was no way we could stay in business with the amount of money left over after they took their cut. There wasn’t enough money to pay our vendors and the vendors rightfully started to cut us off one by one. Without vendors willing to extend us terms, we could no longer get the parts to complete the few orders we did have. Our bank wrote in February of 2010 telling us that they would begin liquidation in seven days if we didn’t find more money. Raeghn found another short-term miracle to keep us breathing. From the day we started the company, she has been my rock. She has been unfailing in her support of the pursuit of this dream which now more than ever had the makings of a nightmare. Leaving her again with the kids and payroll, I hit the road again to try and find more money.

Our agriculture partner John Deere had a large layoff and terminated our relationship of eleven years. Our mining automation partner Phelps Dodge laid off 16,000 people including all of the teams we had worked with. We weren’t the only ones in dire straits.

We started to talk to other banks trying to find someone who would refinance us and give us a payment plan we could afford. We then found out that our bank had contacted Dunn and Bradstreet and put the $500,000 on our record as bad debt. We’d never missed a payment in our lives and now we were blacklisted with no options when we needed them most. That was the last nail in the coffin. On March 11, Roger, our CFO, said he’d lost all hope that we could pull through and gave notice that he’d be leaving.

Vain repetitions vanished from my prayers as I spent hours pleading with my Father in Heaven for direction and rescue. I continued to feel a glimmer of peace that things would work out, that we were writing a story worth reading and that we’d find a way to pull off an upset and write a happy ending. My team could no longer stomach my optimism and I started keeping it to myself. We had a leadership meeting with the few remaining managers to discuss the obvious necessity of closing our doors. After eliminating all remaining ideas for survival, they looked to me for the final decision. I didn’t dare throw out a “I know we’ll make it” and stayed silent. Someone mumbled that “he won’t quit” and one by one they slowly left. Things had never looked so bad.

Gold was the only commodity to hold strong in the recession, so on March 23, I boarded a flight to Barrick Gold’s Toronto headquarters with a layover in Denver to see if I could land some hope. They had expressed some interest in buying a robotic bulldozer and I was sure I could convince them to rescue us. It was Roger’s last day.

Bullies
I was quite a hittable kid growing up, walking the halls of my tiny school in rural Alberta, Canada. One day, the principal even asked if he needed to call the police to report my dad for abuse because of the visible bruises up and down my arms. The principal even used the strap to punish the boys who hit me but it continued up through high school. Wayne, our oldest son, seemed to fall into the same fate and Raeghn talked to his principal about the physical beatings and taunting he was taking. We moved him to a different high school but things didn’t change. One boy even joked in front of Raeghn in the school hallway about how Wayne was like a little brother to him as he gave him a headlock and a good punch(*).

(*This boy was the last to leave the casket the afternoon of his funeral. Many commented in letters after his death at how he was always so positive and never retaliated to the teasing, always returning a smile.)

Wayne struggled with depression, and as the bullying increased, so did the severity of the mood swings. Some days, he just couldn’t muster the strength of will to get out of bed. Nothing we bribed or threatened him with would get him to move. We could offer him the world or take all his possessions and freedom but nothing could lift the crushing boulder of despair and emptiness pinning him to the bed. We discovered that he was cutting. He had been wearing long sleeve shirts to hide it and we were lucky to catch it. We got a counselor and worked through it for a couple of months. I personally couldn’t comprehend the desire to cut because I hated pain so much and did everything I could to avoid it. I had no idea parenting could be so perplexing. Things seemed to improve and the scars started to heal.

The morning of my flight on March 23rd was one of those days and Wayne just wouldn’t get out of bed. He missed the bus, but with enough badgering, he finally emerged from his room and Raeghn drove him to school. I left for my plane feeling things were on track. After school let out, Raeghn picked him up from the bus stop a mile from our home. He was distraught and asked Raeghn why kids would tease him relentlessly through the day about being bisexual. The kids knew he had a girlfriend but he didn’t dress like most of the kids and they came up with something creative to taunt him with. Raeghn tried to console him but she couldn’t lift his spirits. He had missed breakfast that day, having barely gotten out of bed in time for a ride to school. We learned later that he had also skipped lunch to cheer up a girl who was fighting her own internal battle. Famished when he got home, Wayne consumed five bowls of sugar cereal and then started an argument with his sister as they passed in the hall. Raeghn intervened and told him he needed to respect others regardless of what kind of day he was having. He said he couldn’t live here anymore and headed to the garage.

Being the great stewards we were, we had studied many parenting books trying to figure out how to navigate these confusing waters with Wayne. We must have missed the fine print on children with depression, because we were convinced that natural consequence discipline would be the most effective approach. Raeghn did as we both agreed, and let him know she would call the police if he took the car. Unfazed, he jumped in the car and pulled out of the garage. He drove back up a few minutes later, but seeing Raeghn on the phone, he turned around and sped off. Roger saw him drive off as he was leaving with the contents of his desk drawers and called to ask Raeghn if everything was okay. She assured him things were okay and wished him well. I had just landed in Denver and Raeghn called to let me know what was happening. I told her I was sure things would be okay and that I would continue on to Toronto.

Wayne wouldn’t answer Raeghn’s phone calls but he texted her (he was one of those kids who can text with one hand on a flip phone without looking), and asked what she wanted. He texted that he was running out of gas and that he’d rather die than go to jail. He said he would hit something hard if the police chased him. Raeghn asked him to just come home and told the police about his threat. The policeman decided to pursue him anyway and the chase was on. Wayne drove about a mile, weaving in and out of traffic until suddenly veering off the road toward an open field. The suburban rolled and he was ejected.

Raeghn received word from the police that there was an accident but that Wayne only sustained abdominal injuries. As I was about to board, she called back and said the police said I should come home. I went to change my flight when they announced the airport was shut down due to a sudden spring snowstorm. I ran towards the car rental booth feeling so alone. People were oblivious to my desperation and everyone seemed to be smiling and laughing. I described my situation to an older lady named Nora at the Budget Rent A Car counter pleading for a vehicle to help me get home as soon as possible. She called ahead to the garage to reserve a car and then asked if she could pray with me. She reached out with both hands and said a special prayer for my family. No longer feeling alone, I thanked her for her inspired gift and ran off to the rental garage(*).

(*Weeks later, I called the Denver Budget office twice trying to find and thank Nora and they wouldn’t even acknowledge a Nora worked there.)

Raeghn called as I was just getting to the parking lot and told me it was actually a brain injury and that Wayne was on life support with a “good heart,” but “an unsustainable brain.” I don’t think I’ve thrown a physical tantrum since childhood but I unleashed a kick on a large steel garbage can as hard as I could and was immediately hit back by the clearest words ever spoken to my mind, “You said anything!” I was transported back to a night months before when I had offered a prayer in gratitude for the overwhelming blessings of family, friends, and providence, and expressed my willingness to give the Lord anything He wanted. My mind started to race through the “what if” and “why” questions. If only I had been home. Why wasn’t I warned? Was I not listening? Why is this happening when the rest of my world is falling apart already? Why do these kids choose Wayne to pick on? Why did the police choose to pursue when they knew he was running out of gas and driving normal? Why would they chase him when they knew what he said he’d do? Through tears and swirling snow, I drove as fast as I could towards home.

I didn’t get far before the police barricaded the road and halted traffic. I parked behind a row of semi’s and waited for the road to open. After a while, I decided to get out and walk around the car. As I shut the door behind me, I heard the heart-sinking click of the door locks. The car locked itself with the engine still running! Really! And then I felt the distinct impression that Wayne was laughing. Not the time! I huddled by the tire to collect my thoughts and try to get some of the heat coming from the engine. I thought of the pioneers lasting out storms like this for days and even weeks in this Wyoming wilderness. I called 911 and asked them to send a locksmith. It was going to be a while and so I went from truck to truck begging for a warm place to wait. After three rejections, I found a kind man willing to break company policy and let me wait in his cab. Believing everything happens for a reason, especially crazy anomalies like Ford product failures, I tried to strike up a conversation with both the truck driver and the locksmith regarding my faith in the Savior despite or even because of this trial. Neither seemed to be interested. I couldn’t find even the smallest reason for any of this.

Back in my car, we were informed that the road wouldn’t open until 5:00 AM. I got a hotel room but couldn’t sleep. My mind wouldn’t shut down. Why! What could I have done. What should I have done.

I got back on the road at 5:00 AM and drove a ways before we were stopped again! A person had just been killed in a ten car pileup a few miles down the road and there was no way forward. I tried to explain to the police my urgency but he wouldn’t let me pass the barricades. When my oldest son needed me most, when my wife and children needed me the most, why would Heavenly Father keep me away?

Hours later, the road reopened and I sped off again. A phone call confirmed that Wayne’s body was shutting down even faster than my driving. To honor his desire to be an organ donor(*), we made the agonizing and rushed decision to take him off of life support. Raeghn put me on speaker phone. For the longest fifteen minutes of my life, I prayed like I have never prayed before, pleading for his life or a quick end to it. One or the other but not something in between. An active mind or a spirit freed. I strained to see the dotted line on the road ahead and to hear what was happening in the room. Once in a while, I’d hear an indistinguishable voice and some indications of motion. Preparation. Preparing to “harvest” my son’s organs for someone else. Things got quieter and the only discernible sound was the perpetually stubborn beating heart piercing the emptiness around me. Like the repeating yellow line ahead, it kept me driving forward. I hung on every pulse knowing I’d be lost without the next. Each one needed more than the last. And then it didn’t stop, “One more beat, please! Just one more…” I heard Raeghn’s cry, and I knew he was gone. No good bye. No last hug. Absolutely nothing. Separate and alone in the middle of Wyoming, I ended the call and broke down.

(*When Wayne was getting his driver’s license the month before he asked why they needed to include the question of whether or not you wanted to be a donor. “Why wouldn’t everyone do that?”)

Choice
I have learned that one of the great traits of a loving Father is that he will never force us to do anything. This agency is one of the greatest gifts from our Father in Heaven. Wilford Woodruff said that choice is the second most important thing we have besides life itself. All of our learning and growth comes from making decisions and learning from the results.

I believe our Father in Heaven is perfect. I imagine He is the combination of all the positive traits I’ve seen in the earthly fathers I’ve looked up to. Unconditional love is the most important, and when you couple that perfect love with an all powerful and all knowing father figure, you can look to Him and trust His council.

Hearing this belief, many have understandably questioned how He could let so many bad things happen. How could someone who loves us perfectly, knows the future, and has the power to change it, then choose to put us in situations we are powerless to avoid? How do we reconcile our belief in who He is and what He lets happen?

I would never put my child into a situation where they would experience the horrors and lifelong scars of sexual abuse like my wife was. Why doesn’t He stop the perpetrator or at least warn a parent? I would never let my child suffer from leukemia. Why does disease even exist, and if it has to, then why doesn’t he inspire doctors in how to eradicate them as we discover them attacking our children’s bodies? I would never let my son suffer from the debilitating depression that kept him from enjoying his life. Why did He have it and why didn’t He inspire us to know which medicines would lift that cloud from his life? I would never let my child starve in a drought if I could do something to stop it. Our Father in Heaven can control the weather. Why doesn’t He send rain? What don’t I understand?

Would our experience in this life and our response to our trials be different if we knew we chose them? It is life-changing and I believe we did. The Bible says our Heavenly Father knew some of us before this life (if some, then why not all?)(*1). Joseph F. Smith taught that, “I think the Lord knew the trials he was going to experience and so did we.” We believe that we shouted for Joy after hearing this plan with all its pain(*2). Why would we possibly shout for Joy for a plan that involved so much hurt? Knowing that agency is vital to Heavenly Father’s plan right from the beginning, one can easily assume, and I do, that we had a choice in our trials down here. Neal A. Maxwell said(*3) we should admire and even rejoice for people with challenges as if they pre-mortally agreed to them. I don’t think a perfectly-loving Father in Heaven would give us these earthly limitations, from physical disabilities to equally-debilitating emotional challenges like depression, without us having a choice and even full buy in.

(*1 Jeremiah 1:5 – Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations.)
(*2 Job 38:7 – ​When the morning stars ​​​sang​ ​​together, and all the ​​​sons​ of God shouted for ​​​joy​?)
(*3 “We know, for example, that some either enter into this life with, or subsequently acquire, significant and disabling limitations to their capacity to function fully. The meaning of such situations is not quickly apparent in all such instances. Nevertheless, even with their severe limitations, some of these individuals are so valiant. They do so much with so little! One senses, at times, that they press almost eagerly against those limitations, as if they were trying to “get out.”)

One day, when we have a fullness of facts, we will see yet another application of the parable of the talents as pertaining to these individuals who do so much with so little. Surely in God’s perfect love and mercy, those who have been thus valiant will hear their own deserved version of, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.” If, further, it also turns out that there was a premortal agreement by them to accept their limitations, so much more reason to rejoice and to admire them. Meanwhile, their response to their limitations should concern us less than how we respond to these special individuals. – Maxwell, Neal A. Lord, Increase Our Faith. Salt Lake City, Utah: Bookcraft, 1994. )

Sports Analogy
I believe we sat down with our Heavenly Father (coach) before the start of this earthly ‘season’ and discussed the championship goal we wanted to accomplish (reach our potential and return and live with Him). We talked with the coach in detail about our strengths and our weaknesses that He knew perfectly. He taught us from His experience the different types of resistance exercises (trials) we could choose from that would help us reach this potential. We talked about how our friends with complementary strengths and weaknesses would be around us as family and friends (team) to help us in this goal. Trusting in this coaching, we signed up for situations and even trials/disabilities (resistance training) to help in their growth and ours. We agreed upon a plan of custom-designed orchestrated opportunities for growth that would best fit our family and help us reach our potential and the ultimate goal of returning to Him.

Jesus was a part of this planning. He volunteered for the role of our Savior. He was the key to the plan. He would make life fair and in fact even better than fair. Jesus paid the price for our sins AND suffering so that He would know how we felt, know how to strengthen us, and lift those burdens as if they were never there (scarless healing) IF and only if we would turn to Him with a broken heart and contrite spirit (seek His will and act on the promptings that come).

Fair?
If we truly sat down with our Heavenly Father as I believe we did, talking about our celestial goal and the season’s exercises, drills, and game schedule that would pave the road to our championship, then the question of fair doesn’t even make sense. Can you imagine Michael Jordan going to his coach mid-season after a grueling muscle tearing weightlifting session to complain that it wasn’t fair? It is out of context. The coach taught you what it would take to reach your personal goal. You chose to be on His team and follow His guaranteed exercise regimen knowing it would be hard but worth it. Unfair is not a relevant emotion. Surprise at the difficulty and a plea for support are not only appropriate but vital to the plan and the only way to get the needed Heavenly boost to make it through. The Savior experienced this same surprise as he faced the final ascent of His preplanned journey pleading, “Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done” – Luke 22:42. Receiving the needed support of an angel, He crested the peak and won His victory and simultaneously made ours possible too. Because of His agency, a reasonable response of “this isn’t fair” while understandable (and never more true) doesn’t make sense because it was His choice.

Back in Utah
When I finally got to Utah, I went straight to meet my family at the morgue and see my son for the first time. I walked into the building crying and shaking terrified to see my son’s crushed and harvested body. It was still just a bad dream but I knew the reality of seeing his cold, lifeless, and organ-less shell lying on the dressing table would guarantee that it was a dream I’d never awake from. I had no idea what to expect because I refused to look at pictures from the hospital. Most of my extended family had already gathered from around Utah and Canada and were waiting inside the funeral chapel. I crumbled to a chair and asked my Dad and seven brothers to give me a priesthood blessing of healing and comfort(*). I wanted the blessing to help me get through this next couple of days. Interestingly, I didn’t want the pain to go away. Experiencing this pain would enable me to be able to comfort others who would have similar experiences in their families. Surely, that was the biggest why in all this and I really was grasping for one. With my faith in God, I would be able to endure and help them do the same. There had to be a reason for my son’s death and I was hoping that empathy was at least one of them. My father and brothers stood around me in a circle and put their hands on my head. The moment my father started to pronounce a prayer, I physically felt the anguish lift out of me starting from my toes and up through the length of my body. Wondering what had happened, I was slammed with the clarity that “You are a poor substitute for the Savior. You would only be able to tell those who had lost family members and friends that you had endured a similar experience. The Savior knows EXACTLY how they feel and more importantly, He can lift that pain as if it had never been there! He doesn’t want us to just endure our trials, He suffered so we wouldn’t have to. Every moment we suffer is double payment.” It was made clear to me that I was given this immediate miracle so that I could testify of the pain-lifting reality of the Savior’s Atonement. Many say that ‘time,’ not the Savior’s Atonement, is what lifts or at least dulls the sting of death. While time definitely helps, I was to learn that the Savior has the power to lift any pain when we’re ready to let Him. It was made clear to me that one of the reasons Wayne was willing to volunteer for his early checkout was so that I could gain this undeniable witness and share it with others.

(*James 5:14 – Iss any ​​​sick​ among you? Let him call for the ​​​elders​ of the church; and let them ​​​pray​ over him, ​​​anointing​ him with oil in the name of the Lord; :15 – ​And the ​​​prayer​ of ​​​faith​ shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be ​​​forgiven​ him; :16 – Confess ​your​ faults one to another, and ​​​pray​ one for another, that ye may be healed. ​​​The​ effectual ​​​fervent​ ​​​prayer​ of a righteous man availeth much.)

My dad blessed me with comfort and strength and closed the prayer in the name of Jesus Christ. I immediately asked my father and brothers through tears to keep their hands on my head so that I wouldn’t lose the peace that consumed me.

I walked into the preparation room and saw Wayne for the first time since the accident. Raeghn had warned me about extreme swelling he had in the hospital but it seemed to be all gone and he looked better than I expected. He looked a little shaggy and so we got some scissors and I gave him a haircut. Cutting his hair and dressing him was one of the most solemn and reverent spiritual experiences of my life and I will always cherish that special time with him.

We had a viewing the night before the funeral at the morgue and then another one right before the program and burial. To this day, Raeghn and I are awed by the joy that was in our hearts as we met friends and family coming to honor our son. People commented to us afterwards how amazed they were at how we were able to lift those who were grieving. I continue to “stand all amazed” as I reflect on that miracle.

As I was crossing Wyoming and it became apparent that there would be a funeral, I began to ponder and periodically stop and write thoughts of what to say at the funeral. I felt Wayne join as my travel and writing companion for the remainder of that solemn drive. I couldn’t comprehend how I would be able to emotionally get through the words at the funeral when writing them even caused me to break down. Again, I was strengthened beyond expectation and I have never felt stronger in my life than I did standing before our friends that day in the chapel. Wayne’s younger brother Shad played a cello solo and all the men in my extended family sang the Hymn Brightly beams our Father’s Mercy that we would sing at all our family reunions. I didn’t realize at the time how perfect that song was in honoring Wayne for the many rescues he provided to others with the Light of the Savior he shared daily with those who felt lost at sea.

1. Brightly beams our Father’s mercy,
From His lighthouse evermore,
But to us He gives the keeping
Of the lights along the shore.
○ Refrain:
Let the lower lights be burning!
Send a gleam across the wave!
Some poor *struggling, fainting seaman
You may rescue, you may save.
2. Dark the night of sin has settled,
Loud the angry billows roar;
Eager eyes are watching, longing,
For the lights along the shore.
3. Trim your feeble lamp, my brother;
Some poor sailor, tempest-tossed,
Trying now to make the harbor,
In the darkness may be lost.

Nine girls came up to us over the week after Wayne’s death and told us that Wayne didn’t want us to know, but that they were his girlfriend. Nine girls! Some of them were not beautiful by the world’s definition but Wayne didn’t see like the world did. A couple of weeks before he died, we were driving together through some trees leading to our house and I said something stupid that I can’t recall now but he sternly responded “Dad, there are no ugly people!” We received many letters, comments, and Facebook posts with comments like “He loved me for me.” “He came and ate with me at lunch when no one else would.” “He was the only person who asked me to dance.” “He said I was beautiful even though I didn’t believe him.” “If I teased him, he would only return a smile.”

When we found his journal and flipped through the pages, we were astonished to find that he had written the chapter summaries of the book, “How to Win Friends and Influence People” over and over in his best handwriting. He had memorized how to build up other people and the many letters we received confirmed that he lived every word. There was a welling up of joy in our hearts as we learned that he was so much more loving and kind to those who were unpopular, struggling, and alone than we knew. The scripture in 3 John 1:4 kept coming to my mind as we learned more and more about his influence on others. (3 John 1: 4 – “​I have no greater ​​​joy​ than to hear that my ​​​children​ ​​​walk​ in truth.”) What a special gift of peace this was to us as the reality of his passing began to settle in.

We do not doubt that Wayne was one who would volunteer to take on the burden of depression if it would bring with it an extra measure of empathy for the feelings of others that he could detect and help. We don’t doubt that he would be one to volunteer to take an early exit if even one friend, one stranger, one family member would grow closer to the Savior through this experience and find the promised peace, comfort, and direction that comes from that relationship. It definitely happened to me and I will be forever grateful for his sacrifice so that I could gain a sure conviction of the reality of the Savior’s life, Atonement, and power to heal, strengthen, and change me for the better.

Forgiveness
A few days after the funeral, a police investigator came to our home and said “Was Wayne drinking or doing drugs? Because I will find his dirt. I will need the names and contact information for all his friends.” We were flabbergasted. We did find out Wayne had a Mountain Dew at a Pier 49 pizza restaurant a few weeks before (we discouraged him from drinking caffeine), but we were pretty sure the policeman wouldn’t discover what he was looking for. We never heard from him again.

We are pretty sure Wayne would still be here if the policeman had not been fast-tracked through his training program (six weeks faster than it was supposed to be because they were short on police staffing) and had followed their police pursuit guideline. The guideline says they aren’t supposed to pursue someone who is not endangering anyone, whose identity is known, and who is not a flight risk (they also knew he was almost out of fuel).

We are commanded to forgive. Would it be easier to forgive the policeman who chased Wayne if we were to discover that Wayne knew him before this world was and asked him to bear the burden for life of having chased a depressed traumatized youth to his death in order for Wayne to fulfill his destiny? Can you imagine the awkward reunion in this case if we harbored hatred toward him?

Many feel that it is an unfair demand that we forgive everyone of anything. At an extreme, how could a just Father in Heaven expect a sexually-abused child to forgive the perpetrator? Would it seem more fair if the child agreed or even volunteered to be placed in that situation understanding the redemptive things that would come from such a trial. She may have offered to help stop the generational chain of abuse in that family line. Perhaps, it was the understanding that the act of forgiving the perpetrator would soften his heart and turn his life heavenward? Perhaps, it was because she learned that in her suffering she would come to know her Savior more personally than in any other way. Knowing that with that relationship she would be able to bless hundreds if not thousands with her testimony of His redeeming love and power to heal.

I have faith that life is fair and that the commandments we’ve been given are for our good. I haven’t experienced near the trials of millions even billions who’ve lived upon the earth but that faith is the only way to reconcile that I have a Father in Heaven who loves me perfectly, knows me perfectly, knows all that will happen, and has the power to change any of it.

We must forgive our trespassers. The Savior has promised to make us completely whole without scar if we submit our will to His. If we will love Him with all our heart, with all our mind, and with all our strength meaning we will feel, and think, and do as guided then our healing is assured. It is fair that we suffer because we had a choice in submitting to this plan that required it and we were provided a Savior who could lift any and all of our pain if we would only turn to Him. We cannot afford to bear the burden of other’s sins. The Savior already did. Triple payment is a waste of emotional capital that robs us of peace, happiness, and the Savior’s light we could share with others.

(*Mark 12: 33 – “And to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love his neighbour as himself, is more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.”)

What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
Whenever you trip and fall down, make sure you pick up the precious lesson it is to teach you.

This interview was conducted for research purposes by Jason Navallo for his upcoming book, Underdog.