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We Choose This Life

Elder Gary Nelson Missionary, Internship Program, Ensign College
June 27, 2023 11:15 AM

"I testify that the great work and glory of the divine Developer “… is to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.” He accomplishes his purpose by giving each of us unique challenges and opportunities. He has great confidence that we can become capable and trusted disciples of the Savior."
I would really like to thank the choir. I love listening to the choir ever since I have been associated with Ensign College which hasn’t been very long. It has only been a little over a year. I also want to thank, and I am sorry that I do not know your name, but the piano player is amazing. He is awesome. I think he has been playing for a long time, even when we were over in the Assembly Hall, so thank you. It sounds wonderful. I would like to thank Chen and _________ for their prayer and testimony and I hope the spirit is here as they requested.

It is a privilege to meet with you here in this devotional. Ensign College, as all of you know, is amazing. You and others who are not here have who I have associated with here at Ensign College have profoundly blessed my life. However, when Sister Day invited me to speak, I was surprised and hesitant. My calendar was jammed with obligations. In addition to being very busy, I questioned whether I could meet, or even come close, to the standard set by speakers at this pulpit every Tuesday. Just when I was composing an email to say no to sister Day, I received a strong prompt – really it was kind of a jolt - to accept the opportunity to share my testimony today. I tried to ignore what I felt and then I remembered a quote from Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, and he was quoting the Prophet Joseph Smith when he said: “… if you will listen to the first promptings, you will get it right nine times out of ten.” [i] I hope my message falls into the getting it right ninety percent of the time category.

My goal today is to help you understand how much our Heavenly Father and the Savior love you, and how personalized the Father’s Plan of Happiness is for each one of us. I pray the Lord will put into our hearts and your hearts and minds a desire to follow the Savior more closely and act on the promptings you receive today. You might have already received a message you felt was just for you in the beautiful music we have heard and it was really beautiful music. You may receive a prompting to serve in a way that never occurred to you. This may come now, after, in a dream tonight, who knows but many of you will receive a prompting. You may receive solutions to problems may appear seemingly out of nowhere. You may receive revelation in a dream. That is something President Nelson is good at. He received lots of revelations in a dream. A loved one may send you a comforting note. Prayer, scripture study, and pondering the words of prophets often bring peace, comfort, and revelation. This is how the Holy Spirit of Promise works. We don’t always know when it is going to come but it usually comes.

Let me tell you about my first day as a part-time service missionary here at Ensign College. I parked on P3 down at the bottom and came up the BYU Salt Lake elevator. I was on my phone with a colleague from work. As I approached the main building here at Ensign College, I saw these words above the doors, the west doors here, and the words were: Developing Capable and Trusted Disciples of Jesus Christ. I don’t know about you but that was the first thing I saw and it was amazing. I looked at the sign for a couple of seconds. Then I said to my co-worker, “I have been on more than a thousand college campuses, and I have never ever seen anything remotely like Developing Capable and Trust Disciples of Jesus Christ painted on a building or anywhere else.” At that moment, an intense physical sensation of warmth and comfort filled me, and the Spirit confirmed that my missionary service was what the Lord wanted me to do. I felt then, and continue to feel, that Heavenly Father and the Savior love me, have confidence in me, and bless me in all aspects of my life.

Now many of you have already heard this but I love Ensign College and the students here and I love the staff. I haven’t met anyone that I don’t care for here. It’s a great place. It’s a unique place. I don’t know how many of you who have not been at other institutions of higher education really know how wonderful it is. It has a very unique purpose and is has an atmosphere of peace that permeates these premises like no other educational institution I have been at. I marvel that so many of our Heavenly Father’s daughters and sons have assembled here in person and online to undergo ‘development of capable and trusted discipleship.’” Your willingness to be “developed” is inspiring to people in and outside the Church.

The word “develop” can mean many things. You can see this little word map there. One of the definitions for develop is “Gain with experience.” Our successful development as capable and trusted disciples of Christ depends mainly on how we respond to difficult and challenging experiences. Responses to life’s challenges will vary from one disciple to another, but we should always strive to respond to adversity with trust in Heavenly Father and the Savior.

Elder Richard G. Scott put it this way: “Just when all seems to be going right, challenges often come in multiple doses applied simultaneously. When those trials are not consequences of your disobedience, they are evidence that the Lord feels you are prepared to grow more. He therefore gives you experiences that stimulate growth, understanding and compassion, which polish you for your everlasting benefit. To get you from where you are to where He wants you to be requires a lot of stretching, and that generally entails discomfort and pain.” [ii]

Well, I don’t know about you but I am not a big fan of pain in general. But there is a purpose to it. As I researched my talk, I chose a real-life case study to illustrate what I will call the divine development process. Now these are my words. I didn’t see them anywhere else. I think it is a good way to describe what happens on this campus but it is everywhere in the world with Heavenly Father’s children. This case illustrates how adversity – trials, disappointments, tribulations, sadness, sickness, and heartache – are tools a loving Heavenly Father sometimes uses to strengthen us and help us become more like Him and His Son Jesus Christ.

I want to thank Glenna Bond Crosby, Robert Nicholl, Gary Tietjen, the Ramah New Mexico Museum, and Family Search for providing the information for this case.

This story is about a faithful Church member living in the western frontier town of Ramah, New Mexico. Has anybody here heard of Ramah, New Mexico? Anybody here? Brother Hollingsworth went there on his mission. I will give you a brief life sketch of his life for context.

Joseph William Bond was in 1896 in Ramah, New Mexico. It was a territory then. It wasn’t a state. Joe was the oldest of six children born to pioneer parents, Joseph Alright Boot Bond, that’s a great name, I love that name, and Margaret Emma Bloomfield. You don’t see handlebar mustaches like that anymore but I love this mustache.

In the late 1800s and early 1900s Ramah was a very remote place. It is located about 45 miles from Gallup, New Mexico. This is NOT a picture of Ramah but it is the closest settlement to Ramah. It is called Zuni Pueblo. It has been there for a very long time, probably around a millennium.

The next two slides are major milestones in Joe’s live. At age two Joe contracted Measles and almost died.

At age three his father was called on a full-time mission to Texas and was away from the family for several years.

At age eight, he was baptized a member of the Church. Joe is in the top center of that top row and you will recognize him later. The Ramah Dam washed out the same year he was baptized and Joe assisted in repairing the dam by operating a horse-drawn scraper for three months. He was only eight years old. He was on a horse for eight hours a day on a horse drawn scraper. I had to look it up. He did that for three months as an eight year old right after he was baptized.

Joe received the Aaronic Priesthood and was ordained a Deacon at age 12. He is the one with the frown there kind of in the middle. I don’t know why he is frowning but that is him.

At age 14, Joe’s father died. Joe became his family’s sole provider and supported his mother and siblings for the next five years. This picture shows him rounding up cattle before driving them to market. Now he is fourteen and even as a teenager, Joe was said to be the best horsemen and cowboy in the entire New Mexico Territory.

Joseph fulfilled his military obligation in St. Louis,

In 1917. That is his draft card I think. At age 24, Joseph was ordained an Elder, was endowed in the Salt Lake Temple, and served a full-time mission to the Southern States Mission. Now, the Southern States Mission at this time was kind of a rough mission. Some of us have been on rough missions but I don’t think any of us know what kind of a rough mission that was. He labored without purse or script in South Carolina for two years. One of the cities he labored in was Myrtle Beach which is now a resort. It was not a resort when he labored there. Missionaries are no longer called to preach without purse or script and most missionaries use washing machines to do their laundry. Elder Bond is the one on the left. He was 26 years old when he returned home to Ramah. Now that is a little older than most of the missionaries today. How was called, I believe, from Boxby. For those of you who don’t know what Bosby is, you can look up that later but that is how people used to receive their mission calls.

Six years later Joe was ordained a Seventy. In January of 1929, he was proposed to and was married and sealed to Sylvia Bernetta Bloomfield in the Mesa, Arizona Temple.

Joseph and Sylvia had eight children. Now this picture was taken on December 7, 1941. By all accounts, Joseph William Bond faithfully followed the Savior throughout his life. Whenever the Lord called, he responded enthusiastically. Like Abraham, Moses, Isaiah, Nephi, Enos and Joseph Smith, he said, “Here am I, send me.” And many of us, many of us, all of us, have said, “Here am I, send me.” He was known for being humble, honest, righteous, and above all, maybe working hard. Joe loved the Lord. He honorably served his family, church, community, and nation. The titles most dear to Joe were son, brother, husband, father, Priest, Elder, Seventy, High Priest, Missionary, and maybe above all, Home Teacher.

I want to come back to the Bond family photo and I want to ask you who is missing from this picture? Sylvia is missing. Sylvia Bond, the love of Joe’s life and beloved mother of eight children, died of Ovarian cancer on December 1st 1941 in a Gallup, New Mexico hospital. She was buried on December 3rd, 1941, just a few days after she died. Sylvia had been well and was in great health until a month before her passing. She was only 39 years old.

This picture was taken on the 7th of December, a few days after she was buried. If I had not shared some of the details of Joseph Bond’s personal history and you only had this old, black-and-white photograph, you would not know that this family had just experienced the loss of a noble, righteous daughter, sister, wife, mother, and eternal companion. You would be unaware of the fasting and prayers on her behalf or the Priesthood blessings given by her loving husband. You can’t see the pain and anguish felt by the entire town of Ramah, New Mexico, the extended Bloomfield family, the extended Bond family, (these are big families) these children, and, hard as you may look, you can’t see the depth of Joseph’s suffering and despair.

You have no way of knowing that Joseph and Sylvia Bond are my grandparents. The little five-year-old getting stepped on the head by her baby sister is my mom.

My Aunt (The one smiling on the right) explains what happened next. “Shortly after this picture was taken, Dad took my little brother Dean “up on the mountain.” You have to realize that Ramah, New Mexico, is already at 7,200 feet as brother Hollingsworth will attest. Up on the mountain is probably 9,000 feet. It was used for summer pasture, and it was only used for summer pasture because it is awful in the wintertime. “It was snowy and cold. Dad built a lean-to for cover and spent a couple of weeks there.” My aunt goes on, “Dad told me later that he went kind of crazy. He was so sad, he was so discouraged. He didn’t know if he would be able to go on.”

Now when I first heard this story, it was a long time ago. It was 50 years ago. I was a teenager and like a lot of teenagers, I lacked spiritual maturity. I had never experienced heartache or loss, certainly not like that. I could not understand why a loving Heavenly Father

would allow this to happen. I used to work with my grandfather. I didn’t know him real well but I worked with him a couple of summers when I was a teenager. He never recounted this story. I read this story a little bit before my mission. My question, I was questioning. I had doubts. What had my grandfather done or not done? Was this the doctor’s fault? Did the doctor mess up somehow? In my youthful mind, I thought one only had to follow a simple formula and here is the formula that I thought: Keep the commandments. Pray for a blessing. Receive sought after blessing. Repeat.

That was the formula that I thought we had to do. That’s all we had to do. As most of you know, that is not how it works. Elder D. Todd Christofferson explained that “some misunderstand the promises of God to mean that obedience to Him yields specific outcomes. This type of thinking turns God into a “cosmic vending machine where we (1) select a desired blessing, (2) insert the required sum of good works, and (3) the order is promptly delivered.” [iii]

Wouldn’t it be great if it worked that way. The right perspective is this: We do not keep the commandments because we expect a blessing. We keep the commandments because we love God.

When blessings aren’t constantly poured out from heaven or are picked up as easily as manna, some people complain, murmur, and become bitter. I confess that sometimes I have not “let God prevail” in my life when I have experienced hard times. From the viewpoint of the Natural Man, challenges weigh heavy. Dwelling on the challenges and failing to surrender our will to our Heavenly Father makes us blind to the many joys, tender mercies, and mighty blessings we receive.

Lest we think we will suffer in solitude, Alma taught that God will support us as we endure hardship and adversity, “Whosoever shall put their trust in God shall be supported in their trials, and their troubles, and their afflictions, and shall be lifted up at the last day.” [iv]

We must learn to trust God’s plan and purposes for us. We must learn to love Him no matter what. When Jesus said, “Take my yoke upon you” [v] , he wasn’t thinking of something heavy and burdensome, he meant that we are to submit ourselves to Him every day in every way, but in a gentle way. A yoke was made of wood. Every yoke was unique and it was hand carved to fit the neck and shoulders of the animal to prevent pain or discomfort. In ancient culture, the word yoke was a term that was used to describe submission.

Our failure to “let God prevail” does not mean God abandons us. He wants us to exercise faith and use our agency. When we try to do His will, the Savior promises to “ … send the Comforter, … even the Spirit of truth …” [vi] to guide and comfort us. This is my favorite scripture. “[T]here I will be also, for I will go before your face. I will be on your right hand and on your left, and my spirit shall be in your hearts, and mine angels round about you, to bear you up.” [vii] I have experienced that blessing personally.

Elder Orson F. Whitney served as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and he said: “No pain that we suffer, no trial that we experience is wasted. It ministers to our education, to the development of such qualities as patience, faith, fortitude and humility. All that we suffer and all that we endure, especially when we endure patiently, builds up our characters, purifies our hearts, expands our souls, and makes us more tender and charitable, more worthy to be called the children of God … and it is through sorrow and suffering, toil and tribulation, that we gain the education that we come here to acquire.” [viii]

During a time when he was very sick and right before he died, Elder Neil Maxwell taught, “As we confront our own … trials and tribulations, we too can plead with the Father, just as Jesus did, that we ‘might not … shrink’—meaning to retreat or to recoil (D&C 19:18).” Elder Maxwell continues: “Not shrinking is much more important than surviving! Moreover, partaking of a bitter cup without becoming bitter is likewise part of the emulation of Jesus.” [ix]

Losing his wife was my grandfather’s greatest challenge in life. He had a lot of challenges in his life but that was easily his greatest challenge. He was staggered by the loss. Even so, he carried on. He came down off that mountain where he was with my uncle. It was so snowy. It took two weeks. He was depressed. An angle, my great uncle Jim, went and got him and brought him back down. After that, he was fine. Like a lot of us, he needed that support. He remained faithful for the rest of his life. He was a great example of divine development and he always let God prevail. He did not shrink after partaking his personalized “bitter cup.”

You will not read about my grandfather in any history book. You might see him in a couple of old westerns. He was an extra and a horse wrangler in a couple of Hollywood movies. But you will not see him in the history books at all. He lived almost anonymously in a time of great change and innovation. He was born in a day when there were no cars. There were no airplanes. There was no electricity. I could go on. It was pretty primitive. By the time he died, he had been on an airplane several times and he had a nice truck. He loved his truck. He had all of the conveniences that all of us have today.

He bore many burdens and experienced hardship and heartache for much of his life. But that is not how he defined his life. He would never have defined his life as challenges and faced with hardships. My grandfather, Joseph William Bond, kept his covenants and led a life of service to others. As my aunt said, he NEVER spoke ill of anyone. He was generous. Like you and hopefully like me, he was doing his best to be a capable and trusted disciple of Jesus Christ. This comes from his history.

“Heavenly Father has been good to me, and I have been prompted by His spirit many times in my life. I've often thought about the promptings and was grateful I had the feeling to move and act on impressions.

Besides his full-time mission as a young man, my grandfather served two missions to the Navajo Nation. He served with them for another 35 years almost to the end of his life. I continue with his personal history.

“I have a testimony of the truthfulness of this gospel. I know the church is true because my mother taught me about it. Even though I was not educated, serving as a missionary was always a testimony that the Lord guided and protected me. I have tried to be a good example to my kids and those I worked and had business with. I was as fair and honest as I could be. I’ve always tried to be honest in my dealings with my family and business. I felt that maybe I had done a little good.” He was modest besides being all those other things that I talked about.

I testify that the great work and glory of the divine Developer “… is to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.” He accomplishes his purpose by giving each of us unique challenges and opportunities. He has great confidence that we can become capable and trusted disciples of the Savior. Our Father in Heaven has given us “the way, the truth, and the life.” [x] He has given us the perfect example: His only begotten Son.

The Lord has set a holy standard. It’s a tough standard. “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” [xi] He also said, “If ye love me, keep my commandments.” [xii]

As we strive to love God and our neighbor, keep His commandments, receive His ordinances, make and keep sacred covenants, serve others, repent of our sins, and endure to the end, we can grow in grace and knowledge and become more like Him.

I am grateful for the Savior’s eternal atonement. I am grateful for ancient and modern prophets and for President Russell M. Nelson, who speaks for God in the present day. I pray that I may be obedient and bear all the burdens placed on me. I testify that the challenge of mortality is totally surrendering our will to our Heavenly Father. Only then can we develop into capable and trusted disciples, refined and polished in the ways He has specifically designed for each of us.

I will conclude with a message from Elder Bednar. “Righteousness and faith certainly are instrumental in moving mountains—if moving mountains accomplishes God's purposes and is in accordance with His will. Righteousness and faith certainly are instrumental in healing the sick, deaf, or lame—if such healing accomplishes God's purposes and is in accordance with His will. Thus, even with strong faith, many mountains will not be moved. And not all of the sick and infirm will be healed. If all opposition were curtailed, if all maladies were removed, then the primary purposes of the Father’s plan would be frustrated. Many of the lessons we are to learn in mortality can only be received through the things we experience and sometimes suffer. And God expects and trusts us to face temporary mortal adversity with His help so we can learn what we need to learn and ultimately become what we are to become in eternity.

I do not know why some people learn the lessons of eternity through trial and suffering—while others learn similar lessons through rescue and healing. I do not know all of the reasons, all of the purposes, and I do not know everything about the Lord’s timing. With Nephi, you and I can say that we “do not know the meaning of all things.” (1 Nephi 11:17).

But some things I absolutely do know. I know we are spirit sons and daughters of a loving Heavenly Father. I know the Eternal Father is the author of the plan of happiness. I know Jesus Christ is our Savior and Redeemer. I know Jesus enabled the Father’s plan through His infinite and eternal Atonement. I know that the Lord, who was “bruised, broken, [and] torn for us” (“Jesus of Nazareth, Savior and King,” Hymns, no. 181), can succor and strengthen “his people according to their infirmities” (Alma 7:12). And I know one of the greatest blessings of mortality is to not shrink and to allow our individual will to be “swallowed up in the will of the Father.” (Mosiah 15:7).

Though I do not know everything about how and when and where and why these blessings occur, I do know and I witness they are real. I testify that all of these things are true—and that we know enough by the power of the Holy Ghost to bear sure witness of their divinity, reality, and efficacy. My beloved brothers and sisters, I invoke upon you this blessing: even that as you press forward in your lives with steadfast faith in Christ, you will have the capacity to not shrink. I bear this witness and I invoke this blessing in the sacred name of the Lord Jesus Christ, amen.

[i] April 2017 General Conference, Songs Sung and Unsung, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland.
[ii] October 1995, General Conference, Trust in the Lord, Elder Richard G. Scott.
[iii] April 2022, General Conference, Our Relationship with God, Elder D. Todd Christofferson.
[iv] Alma 36:3
[v] Mathew 11:29
[vi] John 14:16
[vii] D&C 84:88
[viii] Quoted in Spencer W. Kimball, Faith Precedes the Miracle [1972], 98).
[ix] Neil Maxwell, Ensign, Nov. 1997, 22
[x] John 14:6
[xi] Matthew 5:48
[xii] John 14:15
[xiii] That We Might “Not Shrink”, Elder David A. Bednar, CES Devotional for Young Adults, March 3, 2013, University of Texas Arlington.

About the Speaker

Elder Gary Nelson

Elder Gary L. Nelson was born in Provo, Utah, and grew up in many locations across the United States. He attended Brigham Young University, served in the Chile Santiago mission, and returned to BYU, where he met Annette Rohwer, the love of his life. Elder Nelson earned a bachelor’s degree in Economics from the University of Utah and cultivated a career in higher education publishing for forty years. Study Net, an e-learning platform, is his employer.

Elder Nelson has served in ward and stake callings and now serves as a Bountiful, Utah Temple Worker and Service Missionary at Ensign College. The Nelsons are the parents of four sons and thirteen perfect grandchildren.
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