Brothers and Sisters, it’s a great honor to be with you today. In particular, it’s an honor to have with me on the stand my wife and my five children. I love my family, and I am so grateful for that simple doctrine of the gospel, that families can be together forever. It seems like just yesterday that Amber and I were students at Ricks College. There’s a simple scripture in D&C: 45 that states, “For verily, I say unto you, that great things await you.” Without question, that was true for Amber and me. Certainly, it is also true for you.
It was twenty-four years ago that I applied to one college and one college only—Ricks Junior College. I came to Ricks in the fall of 1989, to pursue two dreams: both equally important, both, for a 17-year-old boy, potentially devastating if not realized. First, I was quite certain at the time that acceptance to Ricks College would be the next step to what unquestionably would be a long and storied career as a professional baseball player. My second, and equally important dream was to pursue a certain redheaded girl and convince her that I was marriage material.
Well, I’m happy to report that I realized one of my dreams. I’ll let you guess which one.
As a student at Ricks College, I knew that it was my responsibility to be at devotional every Tuesday at 2:00. I don’t remember how I learned about this or who told me. Perhaps it was a roommate, that redheaded girl, or I was just smart enough to just follow the crowd. Whatever it was, every Tuesday, I found myself halfway up in section K of the Hart gym ready for devotional. Over the years, I have had numerous opportunities to attend and be taught at devotional. Often, I look around at you students and I think to myself, “What would I say to this massive student body if I ever had the chance?”
Well, I guess today, we’re going to find out.
As executive director for development for BYU–Idaho and a Director for LDS Philanthropies, it is my responsibility and that of my colleagues to travel this country and meet with those that have a philanthropic intent, or charitable desire, to make donations to the charitable priorities of the Church. These priorities include such things as: the general missionary fund, temple and the temple matrons fund, special projects (like the restoration of Church history sites), the Perpetual Education Fund, Humanitarian Aid projects (like disaster relief and clean water projects), and of course the institutions of higher education like BYU–Idaho.
When we meet with these donors we go well armed. We can tell them about such things as enrollment projections. We can talk about current construction projects, including everything from new and remodeling projects to landscaping and parking. (Well, we don’t really like to talk about parking; no one likes to talk about parking). We talk about programs like Pathway and Activities and even take with us a small library of videos explaining the priorities of BYU-Idaho.
In the end, however, there is really only one thing that anyone wants to talk about. They want to talk about you. They want to know how you’re doing. They want to know if you’re going on missions, if you’re getting married. They want to know if you’re finding the classes you need, the internships that will be productive, and the jobs that you desire. And of course, for those that attended here, they want to know if there is still a special spirit about this place.
So, we’re all here. I could ask, “How are you doing?”But I don’t have to. I don’t have to because the answer to that question was given long before any one of you stepped foot on this campus as a student. The answer to that question comes from prophecy spoken by then Elder Henry B. Eyring in a devotional address. When speaking about the future of this place and the possibility that he might someday meet someone that employs one of you, he stated:
“Come with me to Rexburg." And I may not be able to show it to you, and I may not be able to prove it to you, but you'll feel it. There will be a spirit here, I so testify, because of the love of God for all of His faithful children. And those blessings will be poured out here in rich abundance.”
Yes, there is still a special spirit about this place.
So, if there was one thing that I would say to this great student body. It would simply be, “Thank you.” Thank you for understanding that the honor code is so much more than just a list of dos and don’ts. Thank you for understanding that personal honor and integrity isn’t just something you do on campus, or during the years that you are here in Rexburg, but that it is a way of life. Thank you for knowing what it means to be a disciple leader and that being called a leader with a small L is a great privilege and honor in our Heavenly Father’s kingdom. As one who gets to tell your story on a daily basis, I say thank you for remembering (as your parents always told you) who you are.
Several years ago, I received a phone call from an elderly couple who had a desire to make a philanthropic contribution to BYU–Idaho. He in his 90s and she in her 80s, were a little leery of making the two-hour drive into Rexburg and asked if someone from our office could come visit them. I agreed to meet them at their home the following week. On the day that I drove to their home, I thought about what this visit would be like. We receive various kinds of gifts for BYU–Idaho, and we deal with people in all different situations in life. We even encourage faculty, staff and students to participate at whatever level they feel comfortable.
The key is just to participate. (By the way, you can all consider yourselves solicited now, so when our callers call you can say, well, Chris has already asked.) Sometimes it’s as simple as a personal check. Often it’s more complicated. Would today’s visit with this couple bring a gift of cash, or perhaps a piece of their farm in the way of land, equipment, or livestock? Maybe they wanted to discuss various ways they could include BYU–Idaho in their will. Whatever it was, as you know, I was ready.
After a long drive and a few wrong turns, I finally found my way to their home. I pulled into the driveway, parked my car, and made my way to the door. The man of the house met me at the door. In his outreached hand was an old, worn-out, over-sized coat. His greeting to me was simple, “Here, put this on.” Then with a smile and a slap on the back, he continued, “We don’t want you to get dirty, now do we? Follow me.”
Now, I’m no stranger to hard work or dirt. But I was a little curious to see where he was taking me. Over the next several hours, we moved his washer and dryer. We moved the refrigerator. We worked in his garage and in his garden. We pulled weeds and pruned trees. We spend time in his living room, where he showed me books he had written, pictures of vegetables that he had entered in the county fair and won blue ribbons. He even showed me a couple of rugs hanging on his wall, that also were county fair, blue ribbon winners.
During that time we talked about his life. I learned about a humble job, supplemented by a simple farm. I learned that he and his wife never had the opportunity to have children of their own, but welcomed into their home 26 foster children, several of which they would eventually adopt. No stranger to heartache or hard times, he talked about missions and his love for the gospel. The only time I saw the slightest bit of disappointment was when he talked about being recently released from a calling that he loved—that of Assistant Scout Master. In his words, “I just couldn’t do the over-nighters anymore.”
Finally, after I’m sure he thought I had worked hard enough, we sat down with his wife at the kitchen table. He pulled out his checkbook and wrote what I would consider to be a very substantial check to the University. That alone would have been a great story to tell you. However, that is not the story I’m supposed to tell. As he was writing this check, all I could think about were the trials that this man and his wife had faced over the years, yet they seemed so happy, so willing to serve. In the end, I couldn’t help but to ask him how he stayed so positive throughout his life. He gave me a priceless grin, looked at his wife, looked back at me and simply said, “Brother Chris, I choose joy.”
This life is about choices. The plan of salvation began with a choice, and you chose correctly. You chose to follow the Savior’s plan to come to this mortal existence, where you would gain a body and be tested. You knew that not all days would be great, but that it was worth it. Having existed before we came to this life, we knew that it would be difficult to receive this imperfect body—a body that would challenge us, that would at times let us down and eventually decay and die. But that was okay, because that was part of the plan.
Perhaps in the pre-existence we even gave each other comfort and committed that when those mortal challenges of heartache, despair, disappointment, sin and guilt (to name a few) came upon us, we would go to our knees and thank our Heavenly Father. We would thank Him for trusting us enough to give us trials so that we could do our best to try to be like Him.
We knew that the natural man was an enemy to God and that we would have to fight natural man so that the body would not dictate to the spirit. Rather, we would fight to make sure that the spirit was in charge.
Yet, we make mistakes. We recognize that often in life we get a little sidetracked—even with all our great intentions, with all the preparation and guides that we’ve had in our lives: the guides of the scriptures, of parents, of teachers and prophets, and good roommates. Even with all that, from time to time we lose our way, or just wander ever so little off the path. At those times, we pray for help. We try to remember the courage that we knew we’d have, we look for answers, and we look for hope.
In the upper room, during the time of the last supper, I believe that the disciples knew that their Lord would soon be leaving them. I believe that the Savior could tell that they were hurting. He could tell that they were sad and that although they may not have understood everything, they knew a change was coming. I can’t imagine what it must have felt like to know that you were walking with the Savior, being taught by the Savior, then come to the realization that He would soon be leaving you. It must have been devastating. I’m sure His disciples were full of heartache and despair.
In that moment, the Savior demonstrated pure charity. He showed his love for his fellow man as He taught them about the Holy Ghost. “I will prayer to the Father,” the Savior tells them. “And He shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you forever.” Then, again I believe in an act of pure love and kindness, the Savior stated, “I will not leave you comfortless, I will come to you.”
Elder David A. Bednar taught us that often one way that the Lord will come to us, or answer our prayers, or give us comfort is through those around us. These people will come through the tender mercies of the Lord. They will build us up, prompt us to think, and will give comfort. Often these experiences are simple and quiet, yet quite powerful.
Let me give you an example. About four years ago, I had such an experience. My lesson came late in the night one Saturday night from a very pure source. On that day, I was called to serve as the stake president of the Rexburg Idaho North Stake. In the morning, two stakes would come together to become three in a gathering so large it was moved to the Hart gym here on campus. I would be sustained and set apart as a stake president. As you can imagine, it was a fairly restless night. I tried to go to sleep that night, but it was useless. I got up and sat on the couch in my front room. I thought about what all this would mean.
Then came the questions. Why me? Did Heavenly Father really know what he was doing? Did he know what this was going to mean for me and my young family? I was sure I was not qualified to be a stake president; I was going to need make some changes. Changes I wasn’t sure I wanted to make. Nothing major of course, after all I was serving as a Bishop, but I could do much, much better. As a sat pondering all these changes, my then four-year-old daughter, noticing that the light was on, crawled out of bed, came into the front room, and sat on my lap. Wiping her eyes she gave me a look as if to say, “Well, I’m here, now what?”
So, I began to explain my problem to her. “Hallie, Daddy’s got a problem. You see I have to talk in church tomorrow to a lot of people, and I’m not sure what to say. But I want to sound smart and maybe just a little funny. I want to say something that they are going to remember, so what should I say?”
(All good questions for a four year old at 1:00 in the morning.) She took my question seriously. She, too, pondered for a moment. She scratched her head, she thought hard, and then it came to her. She pointed at me with her little finger and said, “I know, I know, Dad. Tell them about Jesus.” (Not a bad response). I didn’t say anything, I just looked at her and thought, “You are one smart little girl. You must get that from me.” (The whole humility thing hadn’t quite set in yet.)
Apparently, I wasn’t convincing enough for her because she then took my face in her hands and said, “You know dad, He lived. Then He died. Then He lived again.”
“That is right, sweetheart. That is right. We call that the Resurrection.”
“Oh,” she replied, “I didn’t know that.” She nestled down in my lap and went back to sleep. As she dosed off, she again offered one more reminder, “Tell them, Dad. Tell them about Jesus.”
A simple reminder of the power of choices that we make and where true joy comes from. A reminder that if we want to find joy often we need to set our own concerns aside, and find our Savior.
Sisters, may I take just a minute here to address you? I have three daughters. They are 5, 8, and 13. When I ask my five-year-old what she wants to be when she grows up, or even what she is today, without hesitation she proudly declares, “A princess.” If I were to ask my eight-year-old the same question, I’m quite positive I would get a very similar response; however, there would be a bit of doubt in her eyes. She might even hesitate when she says it, wondering if she’s really going to be a princess when she grows up.
My thirteen-year-old is different. She is smart, talented, worthy—but something happens. Once you start your teenage years, something happens that I know continues well into adulthood and throughout your life. Satan happens. Self-doubt, self-consciousness and the pressures of this world all combine to mask our real selves and try to make you forget who you really are. It becomes a daily fight to remind my oldest daughter, you, and all the women in my life, that you are still princesses. Sisters, I testify that you are daughters of our Heavenly father. He loves you and you love Him. He is the Most High God, and as His daughter, you are a princess. Please never forget that. Please never stop acting like the princess that you are and will become. Not a princess as the world would define, but something much greater, a princess of our Heavenly Father.
From a four-year-old princess, “Tell them, Dad. Tell them about Jesus.”
You will remember the Savior in 3 Nephi as He taught His people. He tells them to go home. He tells them to ponder upon these things that He has just taught them. Before He leaves He blesses them. He gathers them around him and asks, “Have ye any that are lame, or blind, or halt, or maimed, or leprous, or that are withered, or that are deaf, or that are afflicted in any manner? Bring them hither and I will heal them, for I have compassion upon you; my bowels are filled with mercy.”
Truly, isn’t that all of us? Is there anyone in this great assembly hall today that does not have an affliction, a moment of self-doubt, a weakness or heartache or sin? The miracle and the comfort of this scripture is found in verse 9 in these simple words as we are told that, not only did He say that He would heal them, but “he did heal them, every one.”
So, too, He will heal you. After the Savior healed these people, He prayed with them. When He arose from His prayer and beheld the joy of the multitude, He wept as He declared, “My joy is full.”
Brother and Sisters, this joy can be ours, too. This joy will be found as we make correct decisions—as we make decisions to follow our Savior, and listen to that still small voice.
Of course, with agency come consequences. Not all trials and tribulations come because Heavenly Father wishes to try us. Sometimes, our trials come because of our own foolish decisions and behaviors. It is in those times that we need to resist the temptation to blame or curse others, but to look at ourselves first and ask the hard questions.
The disciples of the Savior gave us a great example of this. Again, we return to the scene of the last supper. The Savior informs His disciples that one of them will betray them. Their response according to Mathew has always intrigued me. Mathew 25:21 states, “Verily, I say unto you, that one of you shall betray me.” The response from the disciples is recorded in the next verse, “And they were exceeding sorrowful, and began every one of them to say unto him, Lord, is it I?”
Think about that response. Lord, is it I? Is that how you would respond? I know exactly how I would have responded. I would have been the first one to jump up and say, “Not me, Lord. In fact not only is it not me, but I’m pretty sure it’s that one over there. Never really trusted him.”
Of course, that’s not what they said. Sometimes, it really is us. Then the question becomes, “Father, is it I? Father, what is it I need to change? Father, what is it I need to cast away, lay upon the alter, or fix, or repent of?” Sometimes, in order to have joy, we need to make changes about ourselves. Remember, not only did He say He was going to heal all those that were afflicted, but he did. Everyone. And he can heal you, too.
When those times happen, we need to repent and repent immediately. If you have said something offensive or been offended, be quick to forgive. After all, if you haven’t offended anyone in this church or been offended, you simply haven’t lived long enough. So forgive, and allow yourself to be forgiven.
If you need to go see your bishop, go see him. His doors are open to you. As one who has served as a bishop, I testify that we rejoice when you come. We know the burdens that will be lifted; we know the joy that will come into your life if you will simply act.
Another favorite scripture of mine is found in Alma, Chapter 56. You know the story well. It’s a story about a group of young men who decided to fight. It’s a story about righteous parents who made a covenant to their Father in Heaven, and they would not deny that covenant. It’s a story of another people who were humble enough to stand for their brethren and say, “We will fight for you.” It’s a story of the sacrifice of parents and the testimony of mothers shared with their sons. It’s a great story!
It is the story of Helaman. Under the leadership of Helaman, these young men take up arms to defend their land, their families, and their liberties.
The part of the story that I would like to share with you today is the story of their battle by the city of Antiparah. This is found in chapters 56 and 57 of Alma in the Book of Mormon. As you will recall this small band of brethren led by Helaman were used as a decoy. It was their job to march past the city of Antiparah, which at the time was a Lamanite strong hold, housing the strongest army of the Lamanites, in hopes to lure the Lamanites out of the city.
After a few days, the Lamanites stopped their pursuit of Helaman and his sons. The scriptures tell us that Helaman didn’t know for sure if Antipus had caught the Lamanites and a battle had begun, or if the Lamanities in the cunning ways had simply stopped pursing Helaman and his warriors in hopes of luring them into a trap. Either way, Helaman had a choice to make. Was he going to continue his march away from the Lamanites—away from danger, away from heartache and despair? Or, was he going to turn and face the advisory head on? Although the leader of this group, Helaman knew it was not his decision to make, so he turned to his sons and asked this very simple question, “Therefore, what say ye my sons, will ye go against them to battle?” With one accord, these young yet courageous men exclaimed, “Father, behold our God is with us, and he will not suffer that we should fall; then let us go forth.”
Brothers and Sisters, every day when you rise from your beds and face this battle we call our mortal existence, you make a choice.
Will today be the day that the adversary convinces you to lower, ever so slightly, your personal honor. Perhaps it’s a blouse that is not really that immodest. Or flip-flops or shorts, or some other clothing that doesn't fit in the dress code, only to justify ourselves by saying, “Oh, I’m just walking across campus, it doesn’t hurt anyone.” Maybe it’s the day you take a double take at that girl that always wears that blouse that’s really not that immodest, or an extra click of a mouse that takes you to a site to you may say isn’t really pornography, or that song or movie that has just a few bad words, but other than that it’s okay.
Or is today that day that you exclaim to your Father in Heaven, “Father, I choose joy. Today I will go to this battle. I know it won’t be easy. I pray for help. I pray for messengers and for the Comforter to come in all its many ways.
“Today is the day that I will choose to fight. Today, I will stand for Truth and Righteousness; I will be an honorable priesthood bearer. I will be a disciple leader. Behold Father, I know you are with me, so I will go forth and you will not let me fall. Today, I choose joy!”
About two years ago, I received another call from that same elderly couple I mentioned earlier. They had moved to Idaho Falls to a nursing home. For the first time, the Brother seems a little anxious. There was a concern in his voice. He wanted to meet as soon as possible. When we arrived at their home, we quickly sat down and he quizzed us thoroughly. Would we promise them that his wife would be protected? Had he done enough to take care of her? Would we help oversee their funds to make sure that she would have enough? We assured him that he had been frugal and smart, that she would be fine. We promised that we would come and sit and talk, that we would always be there. When we were done, he didn’t have to say it. But I’m sure I heard it. I’m certain he whispered, “Chris, my joy is full.”
Two days later, he passed away. He fought his fight, and he chose joy.
Brothers and Sisters, it is my prayer that we will join in this fight together, that we join our Heavenly Father in accomplishing his greatest desire—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man. That fight is worth fighting for. You fight for that, and you will have joy.
“Tell them, Dad. Tell them about Jesus.” He lives! And because He lives I will choose joy, and I will have joy.