Over the pulpit of a Protestant church in East Orange, N.J., a plaque once hung on which were inscribed the words, "Choose you this day whom ye will serve . . . ; but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord." (Josh. 24:15.)
These words struck the heart of 8-year-old Lance Wickman, who was attending LDS Church services there after World War II. At the time, the ward his family attended did not have its own meetinghouse. Years later, he related: "I still have this vivid memory of going to Church every Sunday and sitting there as a little boy looking up and reading those words. It made a real impression on me. Somehow that verse went inside me."Joshua's admonition became somewhat of a lifelong motto for Elder Lance B. Wickman, 53, sustained April 2 to the Second Quorum of the Seventy. Throughout his life, the slim, light-haired man has exemplified devotion to the Lord through not only Church, career and family responsibilities, but also through many personal challenges - including the deaths of loved ones and two military tours of duty in Vietnam.
A "surreal experience" was the way Elder Wickman described the way he felt the day he took his seat among the other members of the Seventy in the Tabernacle on Temple Square.
His wife, Patricia, referred to her husband's new calling as "overwhelming," but she added: "If anybody is equal to putting his heart into it and working as very hard as he possibly can, it really is Lance. He is completely devoted to the Lord. He has a very strong personality. He has a wonderful way with people, and has a wonderful way of understanding and counseling."
In addition, Sister Wickman said her husband is able to achieve a balance between Church and family. "The more that Lance has served in the Church, the more the family has become a priority also," she noted. "I think each one of our children has a great admiration for the balance Lance can strike between fulfilling his responsibilities and being a great dad."
During a Church News interview, Elder Wickman spoke in sincere tones of his love and appreciation for his wife. "Pat is the finest, kindest, most unselfish and genuinely charitable person I have ever known. There's a goodness and graciousness about her, which is the essence of her. She is a person who is outwardly directed, not inwardly."
Elder and Sister Wickman seem to have prepared for each other from the time they were very young - with Elder Wickman living his teenage years in southern California, and Sister Wickman in northern California.
The new General Authority was born in Seattle, Wash., where he lived until he was 6, when his family moved to New Jersey for four years. From there, his family settled in Glendale, Calif.
"My parents loved us, and my mother was always a great friend and exemplar of righteousness," he reflected. "My dad was always a man of principle. When I think about my dad, integrity is the word that first comes to mind. He taught me lessons of doing what's right no matter what, and that was the way he lived his life."
Elder Wickman's future bride, Patricia Farr, the daughter of Jesse R. and Phylis Durham Farr, was born a few hundred miles up the California coast in Berkeley. From there her family moved to Portland, Ore., for a short while and then finally settled in Palo Alto, Calif.
In September 1959, young Lance Wickman was a sophomore at the University of California at Berkeley. Patricia Farr was a freshman, and they were both involved in the LDS institute of religion and the university ward there.
Elder Wickman described the first time he saw her: "I remember going to Church the Sunday before classes began, and there was Pat. I'll never forget this. She was standing near the entry way of the institute building; she had to have been surrounded by a dozen boys. I was introduced to her then."
The next day, the young man went to the first day of an anthropology class that had about 500 students. "The seats had pretty well filled up," he recalled. "I kept walking down closer to the front, and there was a seat next to her. She had signed up for the same class. I sat down next to her, and that was the beginning of a beautiful friendship. That anthropology class was the best class I ever took."
The young couple also attended an institute class together, and every day they had lunch together on the side of a hill on the campus. "That's really where I fell in love with Pat," Elder Wickman explained.
Their courtship continued through the young man's junior year, during which he served as class president. Then came a mission call in 1961 to the Central British Mission. For this two-year period, the future General Authority's wife continued her studies, during which time she became vice president of the student body. She dated others but wrote regularly to Elder Wickman - and even kept a journal for him.
Recalling these events, Elder Wickman related: "There was no question in my mind that I loved her enough to marry her, but there was also never a question that I was going on a mission.
"When I left, though, it was hard. I remember getting to the mission home in Salt Lake City. The first morning I was there, the wife of the mission home president got up and said, Now you missionaries, I want to talk to you about those girls at home.' Boy, she had my undivided attention. She said,Let me reason with you. Do you really think that if you go out and serve the Lord with all of your heart for the next two years that He'll let you down in the most important decision you'll ever make in your life?' That struck me with the force of a pile driver. I thought, `Of course.' She wasn't promising that a particular girl would be there, just that if you go out and do your best as a missionary, the Lord wouldn't let you down."
The young missionary didn't have anything to worry about. Within two days after he returned home, he and Patricia Farr became engaged; they were married in the Los Angeles Temple Dec. 17, 1963.
The newlyweds continued their studies at Berkeley, with Sister Wickman graduating with a bachelor's degree in history and a minor in music in 1963; Elder Wickman received a bachelor's degree in political science the next year. A graduate of ROTC, he received a commission as a second lieutenant in the Army infantry.
"At that time," Elder Wickman said, "Vietnam was just a place no one had heard of, of which there was an article on the back pages of Time."
But Vietnam soon became very real to the young couple. After training at Fort Benning, Ga., he was assigned to the 25th Infantry Division at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii. In January 1966, Elder Wickman's battalion went to Vietnam. He was an infantry platoon leader.
It was during this first tour of duty that Elder Wickman really learned the meaning of trusting in the Lord. "We had been out in the jungle for several weeks and had just come back into our base camp and were cleaning our weapons when we got a message over the battalion radio that another battalion was being overrun by a large enemy force. We had to go right away and it was at night. I just had this dark foreboding. I said a silent prayer as we moved out and there came to my mind a still small voice: `Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.' (Prov. 3:5-6.) No sooner than I had that experience than there was sort of a feeling of peace."
Then the day after Thanksgiving in 1966, the young soldier was in an armored personnel carrier, which rolled over an anti-tank mine. The explosion wounded everyone inside the vehicle, but no one was killed. "When that mine exploded there again came to my mind that same still small voice and that same passage of scripture. That is one of the experiences in my life that has given me a sure witness of the reality of God and the closeness of the Savior."
Another spiritual - and historically memorable - time Elder Wickman recalled is when then-Elder Gordon B. Hinckley of the Council of the Twelve dedicated South Vietnam to the preaching of the gospel on Oct. 30, 1966. Elder Wickman was among a small gathering of members and others in the Caravelle Hotel in Saigon when Elder Hinckley offered the dedicatory prayer. "I was there," Elder Wickman said. "It was really a great moment."
During that first time in Vietnam, Elder Wickman was one of only three Latter-day Saints in his battalion. He recalled how on Sundays the three of them would use their C-ration bread and water from their canteens for the sacrament. "There was a wonderful spirit," he related. "I've never felt the Spirit of the Lord more strongly in a sacrament meeting in our beautiful meetinghouses than I felt there with those two boys and our C-ration bread and our canteen water."
Elder Wickman's second tour of duty was with the Military Assistance Command Vietnam (MACV), in which he was an adviser to the South Vietnamese army. In 1969, the young man - a captain at the time - was honorably discharged. During both tours of duty, Elder Wickman was a group leader - or presiding elder - for LDS servicemen's groups.
After leaving the Army, Elder Wickman and his wife moved to Palo Alto, Calif., where he started law school at Stanford University. He graduated in 1972 and settled into a law practice in Glendale, Calif. At the time, they had two sons. Later more children were added to the family for a total of four sons and one daughter: Matthew, Adam, Ethan, Joshua and Courtney.
In 1974, tragedy struck the family when 5-year-old Adam contracted Reye's syndrome and went quickly into a coma. "I knew that he wouldn't stay," Sister Wickman recalled. With great emotion, she explained that within four days after Adam entered the hospital, he died.
"It was the hardest time in our lives, truly, and yet we felt closer to the Lord. I've thought of Adam's being a part of our lives and the joy that he was. It was his coming and his going that is the one thing that keeps us focused on our eternal family and on our obligation to live so that we can have him again."
In 1979, Courtney was born. Not long after, she was diagnosed with a mild case of cerebral palsy and with a developmental disability. "Courtney will always live with us," Sister Wickman said. "Over the years, this has become such a great blessing. Courtney is so Christlike; she is such a pure, sweet, beautiful child inside and out. Her brothers are very protective of her; they're really sweet."
Elder Wickman added, "For all of us, I think that having her has really brought an added measure of compassion."
For the Wickmans, the blessings - and challenges - of life continue. In the spring of 1993, Elder Wickman was vice chairman of the temple committee for the dedication of the San Diego temple. Last fall, his parents died within 41 days of each other.
For Elder Wickman, the temple dedication was one of the "spiritual highlights of our lives."
Speaking of how scriptures refer to treading upon "high places" (see Amos 4:13), he expressed the hope that "every person would reach the point when the temple would be such a part of them that they could be in high places all the time."
His hope of what he wants to accomplish as a General Authority? "I love the Lord, and my desire is to be of service. If I can do that and have that approved of Him, that's really all I want."