What's Right with the World
That was beautiful. I want to thank the six students who helped set the stage for this devotional. You’re amazing. You’re incredible. Thank you for your thoughts, for your prayers, and for your music.
We live in a world of chaos and commotion. And I don’t know about you, but it can be really frightening and disconcerting. But we as Latter-day Saints shouldn’t be surprised or shocked about that. Through modern-day revelation, we’re told this: “And in that day shall be heard of wars and rumors of wars, and the whole earth shall be in commotion, and men’s hearts shall fail them.”
Men will become fearful, angry, hateful, and sorrowful. Now, I know that; just check your news feed on your iPhone, watch the nightly news, or pick up a newspaper and read the headlines. You still read newspapers, right? And even some of the texts and posts that we get from well-meaning family and friends can be really negative and discouraging
I think it’s pretty safe to say that the world is in distress. We have polar icecaps melting, people protesting. There are bombings in Europe, there are shootings in America. We have refugees fleeing violent and deplorable situations. I see civility and urbanity disappearing from our school and our businesses and even in our own government. The world in commotion.
Now, on a more personal note, we face bad traffic, bad hair days, cellphones that die, road rage, airport security checks—which some of you might be going through in the next couple of days—financial woes, and I’m looking forward to those long lines at Costco in the next few days.
What kind of toll does all this negativity and uncertainty take on our physical and emotional health? What happens when our hearts begin to fail us? For years, social scientists have researched the connection between our minds and our bodies. Chronic negativity and feelings of helplessness and hopelessness actually deplete the brain of chemicals that are required for happiness.
There is a new scientific study out now that points to the notion that negative thoughts and lifestyles can actually shorten the ends of our DNA caps—the DNA strands which affect aging. Now, for most of you in this congregation, I’m sure that’s totally out of the realm of your thinking—how long you are going to live. For some of us, it’s a little bit more important.
But consider this about that negativity in our lives. Negative people have higher rates of depression and distress, and they have more difficulty coping with daily stress—stressors like homework and tests and class presentations. And if you’re worried about your future marital status or prospects, think about this: negative people have fewer friends and less-fulfilling relationships with others. Believe it or not, they even have lower resistance to the common cold.
As members of the Church, as I think about us, we should be the happiest, most positive and thankful people on earth. Our lives should be filled with light, and gratitude, and thankfulness each day. And yet, it is so easy for us to forget what is right with the world when we are continually connected to environments that emphasize the opposite.
I don’t know about you, but if I listen to FM100 on Sunday, it puts me in the doldrums because it seems like every song is about depression, and feeling blue, and overcoming. I have to wonder why that is.
How many of you in this congregation have looked at a National Geographic magazine? Let me just see your hands. [Audience members raise their hands.] We still have magazines, right, and we still look at them? Or how many of you have watched a National Geographic documentary on television? Let me see those hands. [Audience members raise their hands.] Americans, we love National Geographic. It literally is an institution, and at the National Geographic, they have this amazing motto and mission. Do you know what that mission is? To capture and celebrate what is right with the world.
I want to introduce you to Dewitt Jones. He was an award-winning photographer at the National Geographic. And for twenty years, Dewitt was given assignments to travel all around the world, which he did, and to take photographs that represented the National Geographic’s mission, which was to find what was right with the world.
Now, he has retired from the National Geographic, but he challenges the way people think. And Dewitt believes that the old phrase which we heard our mothers say needs to change. And maybe we are guilty of saying it: “I won’t believe it until I see it.” He says we need to change that up and say, “I won’t see it until I believe it.” Is that a wonderful statement of faith? He believes that when we celebrate what’s right with the world, we’ll actually begin to see what’s right with the world.
I love this story: Dewitt tells about a time when he went to a field of dandelions to take a photo for the National Geographic. He looked at the field, and he determined that everything was wrong with the photo shoot. He said, “The light isn’t right. I’ll wait for more dandelions to bloom. The color isn’t as rich as I want it to be. And I’m kind of tired, so I’ll wait and come back tomorrow.” And so he left, and he didn’t take the picture.
But when he came back, the dandelions were gone, and they were replaced by puff balls. The chance to take the perfect picture of the perfect dandelion field was gone. And he was disappointed, he was discouraged, and he was distressed. And then he stopped, and he asked, “Wait a minute. What is right with this situation?” And before he knew it, he was taking magnificent pictures of puff balls—puff balls to the right, puff balls to the left. He was taking them underneath, through the sun. And then there was magic. It was always there, but it took him switching his vision and seeing the possibilities, and finding the extraordinary in the ordinary that made the difference.
Now, what about the ordinary in our lives? Have you ever stopped, paused, and been thankful just for an ordinary day? A day where, really, nothing significant happens? There’s no stress, there’s no crisis, it’s a day of getting up and coming to school and doing your best and returning home and being with the people that you love and falling into bed. And you’re thankful, and you’re tired, and you’re ready to get up again the next day and do it again.
I want to share with you a great quote. It has special meaning for me. It was in the front of my day planner for many years, and I would read it. I found this quote shortly after I was diagnosed with breast cancer, when my life was literally turned upside-down. Let me tell you, I was longing for a normal day. In between doctors’ appointments and decisions about health care, and thinking about my very young children at the time, all I wanted was that normal day. And it was powerful to me.
Here’s the quote:
Normal day, let me be aware of the treasure that you are. Let me learn from you, love you, . . . bless you before you depart. Let me not pass you by in the quest of some rare and perfect tomorrow. Let me hold you while I may, for it may not always be so. One day I shall dig my nails into the earth, or bury my face in the pillow, or stretch myself taut, or raise my hands to the sky, and want more than all the world your return.
Many of us have had experiences in life where we have longed for the treasure of a normal day. Relationship problems, family crises—we’ve had deaths, illnesses. We long to go back to the normal day that we took so much for granted.
How many of you have seen or read The Book of Awesome? Any hands? [Audience members raise their hands.] Okay, I’ve got a few people who have seen this book. It’s an international best-seller, and it’s based on a very simple story and a very simple premise. It’s really a fun book to have by your nightstand by your bed to read at night—after your scriptures, of course.
By the world’s standards, I want to tell you about the author, Neil Pasricha. He thought that he had it all. He had a beautiful, successful wife; a nice home; family; and friends. And then it all fell apart. His wife came home one day from work, and she told him, “I no longer love you, and I want a divorce.” He lost his job. And when the stock market plummeted several years ago, he lost a ton of money. And he felt like everything of value was gone from his life. He fell into a depression, and he even had thoughts of suicide.
One night, he went home on a dark, winter’s night, and he decided—all you social media marketing students—he decided to start a blog. And he named the blog “1000AwesomeThings.com.” And he asked people to post about the awesome things in their lives that they were thankful for.
There are about 50,000 blogs started each day around the world. But he took the leap of faith and said, “I’m going to do this.” Something as simple as asking people to express their gratitude for what we, as latter-day Saints, call the “tender mercies” of our lives. Well, people loved it, and within a few months he had thousands of followers.
People were posting things like this: “When a cashier opens up a new checkout lane at the grocery store and you’re the next one in line. Now, that’s awesome.” “Seeing a policeman and realizing that you are going the speed limit. Now, that’s awesome.” “Having a whole row to yourself on the plane. That is really awesome.” “When you’re tired and you’re about to fall asleep and someone throws a blanket over you.” We all know that feeling, don’t we? “When you spill something”—and Steve, I’ve seen you do this many times— “When you spill something on your shirt or tie, and it doesn’t leave a stain!” And “Finding the TV remote after you’ve been looking forever.”
And this one is mine: “When the socks from the dryer all match up perfectly.”
One night, Neil received a call that he had won a Webby Award for the best blog in the world, and he went to New York to accept the award. And when he arrived home from New York, there was a message on his answering machine from a publisher: “We would like you to write a book. We want you to call it The Book of Awesome.”
Now, all of this was from one simple idea—asking people to stop, to pause, to feel, to get clear, and to express gratitude. People were hungry—they were hungry to celebrate and to share what was great about their lives.
When I read The Book of Awesome, I accepted the author’s challenge, and I started keeping a journal. Some people call it a gratitude journal. I started keeping a journal of the little things in my life that I was grateful for. Let me share with you just a few things that come from my journal. Now, these are just simple joys and gratitude. They’re one-liners that you can just write quickly to just keep yourself aware.
- The early-morning hours, before everyone else is up.
- A full refrigerator from a grocery store run.
- An empty laundry room where there are no clothes to wash, or dry, or iron.
- Finding the perfect parking place at work. (And mine is always by Brother Salmon. If I can get a parking place by Brother Salmon, then that is awesome. I know I’m going to have a great day.)
- Waking up and realizing that I have two more hours to sleep.
Now, on a deeper note:
- When I read something in Isaiah and I actually get it.
- The satisfaction of paying a full tithing.
- The Spirit when I’m in a conversation or a meeting.
- My membership in the Church.
- The Savior.
Now, what about you? What is awesome in your life? What are you grateful for? I want you to take a minute in your journal, and I want you to ponder. I want you to write down what the Spirit whispers to you right now. What fills your heart with gratitude on this day, in this week of Thanksgiving? I’m going to give you a minute to do that.
[Time given to audience.]
I thought about having you turn to your neighbor and share—you know, we love pair and share activities at LDS Business College. And I thought about doing that. I even thought about passing around a microphone to have a few of you share with all of us what the Spirit had whispered to you. And then a voice said to me, “No. Don’t do that. This is a private moment that doesn’t need to be shared with others.” It’s between you and Heavenly Father.
It was my first graduation day at the College, and believe me, I was excited. It was a beautiful spring day, and I couldn’t wait for all of our students. I couldn’t wait to see all of you dressed up in your caps and gowns, ready to receive your diplomas and celebrate your hard work.
Before I left my house that day, I checked my email at home, and I found an email from my LDSBC colleague and friend, Sister Leslie Robbins—and I’m glad Leslie’s here on the stand. The title of the email really intrigued me, and so I opened it. And Sister Robbins referenced the poem by Edna St. Vincent Millay and said that today would be an “O world, I cannot hold thee close enough” day.
Now, in Edna St. Vincent Millay’s words, this is what she said:
O world, I cannot hold thee close enough!
Thy winds, thy wide grey skies!
Thy mists, that roll and rise!
Thy woods, this autumn day, that ache and sag
And all but cry with colour! That gaunt crag
To crush! To lift the lean of that black bluff!
World, World, I cannot get thee close enough!
I loved this email from Sister Robbins. It made my day because I had experienced many “Edna” days in my life; I just never had a name for it. So I nicknamed it “Edna days”—the kind of day when you are just bursting with gratitude, when the world and your life are beautiful and you just cannot hold the world close enough.
How many of you have had an “Edna day” recently, when your heart was so full that you thought it would burst? I want you to ponder that day during this week of Thanksgiving. Jot down a few notes in your journal—the sights and sounds of that day, the feelings that you had. And did you remember to thank Heavenly Father for the experience of that day?
[Time given to audience.]
Victor Hugo, the author of Les Miserables (one of the best books in the world), said: “God is awake. Be loyal and thankful to the God who gave you life.”
Several years ago, Sister Wendy Ulrich—maybe some of you remember this devotional—talked about setting aside time to just pray gratitude. This was powerful to me. I’d never thought about that. I’d never done it. And so I tried it, and once I tried it, I couldn’t stop because there were so many things in my life that I was grateful for. In fact, I was driving down the freeway praying out loud, crying as I recounted everything that Heavenly Father had given me and all my blessings. I must have been a sight for other drivers; in fact, I know I was driving distracted.
So, I challenge you to try this during the week of Thanksgiving. Write this down in your journal. Don’t do it while you’re driving like I did, but pray gratitude only. That’s all you pray. Pray about what is right in your life and what is right in the world.
One of the most heart-wrenching accounts to me in the New Testament is the story of the ten lepers. In Luke 17:11–19, it “records an account of ten [people] who had infectious diseases, commonly translated as ‘leprosy.’” Listen to this: “In the Israelite community, when a person discovered a rash or a skin disorder, he or she had to go to the priest for examination. The priest then determined whether this was a contagious disease and whether the person was to be declared”—get this— “ceremonially unclean.”
How would you like to have that label? This was a big deal. Jewish law prohibited anyone with this disease from associating with the general community. They had to be isolated. And many times, they lived as outcasts until they died. Having leprosy was a life sentence.
So, Luke records,
Ten [people] approached [Christ] together, but they remained at a distance, as per the law. They called out to Him, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!” Without seeming to do anything to heal them, Jesus merely gave the instruction to go show themselves to the priest.
At the moment of Jesus’ instruction, the men were still lepers. No physical change had yet taken place. . . . The Bible does not record how far they walked before being healed. However, [when they realized that they were healed,] only one returned to thank Jesus for the healing.
Jesus said to the thankful Samaritan, “Arise, go thy way: thy faith hath made thee whole.”
I think the man’s return to offer thanks “gave him a spiritual wholeness in addition to the physical wholeness he had received.” The Lord knew the power of gratitude and how it changes our hearts.
It’s easy for us to read this New Testament account and be appalled at those ten lepers who did not return to Jesus. How could they be so unaware and insensitive? But what about us? Are we like the nine, or are we like the one?
Sometimes it’s hard to remain positive and thankful when life gets tough. We will all have our lumps and bumps, and not one of us will get out of it. Not one. You may have a relationship dissolve, a family member lose their way. Your mom might get cancer; you might get cancer. You might lose your eyesight, your hearing, your health, your job—even your home. I like to say this: all of us are going to be tossed in that well, and all of us will have broken hearts. And some of us will have holes in our hearts before we are finished, and before we call it a day.
Life will happen to us, and when it does, we basically have two choices. Number one, we can swirl and churn in gloom and doom. We can get stuck, and we can quit living, loving, and thriving. I’ve seen people do that. Or, we can pick ourselves up and choose to move forward, focusing on the positive and looking for what is left that is awesome and worth living for. And no matter how far down we are, there is always so much to live for.
There are three things that you may want to consider if you desire to live a life of gratitude and positivity, and they are attitude, awareness, and authenticity.
Attitude—so powerful, so important, and always a choice. Every day I choose my attitude, and no one gets to choose it for me. I want to introduce you to Dr. Viktor Frankl, and some of you have heard his story.
Dr. Frankl was a prisoner in Germany’s concentration camps during World War II. He lost his father, his mother, his brother, and his wife either to the concentration camps or to the gas chamber. And he was asked many times, as his life went on, “How did you survive when you were stripped to nothing and everything of value taken away from you? How did you keep going?” And he answered in his book, Man’s Search for Meaning . . . This is what he said: “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing; the last of human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
Don’t underestimate your own power—your power of choosing your attitude, regardless what happens. I want you to take a minute in your journal, and I want you to reflect on an attitude that you think maybe you want to work on, or an attitude that you want to adopt. Maybe it is starting each day with a positive, can-do philosophy and attitude, or forgiving someone who has hurt you. Or maybe it is forgiving yourself and learning to let go. Take just a minute and jot that down.
[Time given to audience.]
Now, let’s talk about awareness. How do you see the world? Do you appreciate the small wonders or do they simply get lost in the hustle and bustle of everyday living? One way to be more aware is to really start practicing viewing the world as if you were seeing it for the first time.
I want to take you back to a cold, wintry New Year’s Eve in 2011. It was late in the afternoon, about sunset, and I was up at the high school walking my dog. I heard these geese honking overhead, and I looked up. They were flying very close together, and they were just joyously talking to each other. I knew that they were communicating with each other, and that they were communicating with me. They were beautiful and graceful and inspiring, and it stopped me dead in my tracks.
I stood there and silently watched them as they flew back and forth across the football field. I still remember that image and the feeling of that moment, something that I probably would have missed out had I not had some heightened awareness. How many times had I been on that track and never heard the geese or the birds overhead? Sister Robbins, it was an “Edna moment.” “O world, I cannot hold thee close enough!”
When was the last time you stopped—we live in this beautiful valley—that you stopped and looked up at the mountains or the sky, the snow, the sun, the rain, whatever is happening on that day, and you simply said, “Thank you, Heavenly Father.”
I encourage you to try this sometime. When you see something amazing or awesome, just silently thank the God that gave you life. Sometimes at night—my husband doesn’t know that I do this, so this is going to be news to him. Sometimes at night—and I especially like to do this around the Christmas season, on Christmas Eve—I like to sneak out of the house. And I sneak out of the house, and I get away from all of the family hustle and bustle. And I go to the dark quiet street, and I look back at my house and I ponder. I stand there for a few minutes, and I think about the family who lives in that house. I say to myself, “This is a happy home. People in this house love each other.” And then I quietly whisper, “Thank you, Heavenly Father.”
Sometimes, we wish our days away rather than really living in the moment. We’ve all known people who say—and I’ve heard students say this—“Once I graduate from college, I’ll be happy.” “When I start working full-time, I’ll change my attitude.” And, “If only I could find that Prince (or Princess) Charming, I would really be happy.” But that’s not how it works. If you are negative and unhappy now, you will most likely take that attitude into your future.
We talked about awareness; let’s talk about authenticity. Being authentic is being you and being okay with that. It’s about having courage and listening to others and practicing empathy. Being authentic means that you don’t say things that you don’t mean. You keep promises, and you stay in a place of integrity in all your dealings. It’s remembering. Being authentic, to me, is remembering that you are a daughter or a son of God.
How many of you remember Jim Valvano? He was a basketball coach, a great basketball coach, maybe twenty years ago. If you have the opportunity, look him up on Google. He won the National Championship, he was a coach for North Carolina State, and he took the stage at the ESPYs almost 20 years ago and he gave a talk about being authentic.
He was battling terminal bone cancer. He was dying. But despite his failing health, Valvano spoke for more than ten minutes about his life and his illness. And this is what he said:
I just got one last thing. I urge all of you—all of you—to enjoy your life, the precious moments you have. . . . To me there are three things everyone should do every day. . . . Number one is laugh. . . . Number two is think. . . . Spend some time in thought. And number three is you should have your emotions move to tears. . . . If you laugh, you think, and cry, that’s a full day.
A few weeks later, Jim Valvano passed away at the age of 47. I will tell you—I know that those missionaries on the other side were waiting for him to arrive so that they could teach him the gospel. He was an authentic, one-of-a-kind child of our Heavenly Father.
Let’s go back to Dewitt Jones, the photographer from the National Geographic. Through his website, he challenges people to take one photograph a day that represents what is right with the world. Now, can you imagine if we did that? Can you imagine—we have these wonderful cellphones, and we have great cameras in those cell phones—if we were willing to take a photograph once a day that represents what is right with the world and to post it?
But we don’t need Dewitt Jones to tell us this; we’ve had an apostle of the Lord tell us. We’ve had Elder Bednar tell us to share the gospel, to post those pictures, to let the world know that we’re members of the Lord’s Church and that we’re happy. Sometime during this week, take a minute on your phone. Take a picture that captures what is right with the world, and post it to your family and your friends.
I’m not a professional photographer, but I just wanted to share a few photos that I’ve taken that represent to me what is right with the world. Because what is right for me—family, friends, blessings—that’s all of it.
Here is what I’ve learned: I’ve learned that there is good in the world and I need to be that good. Each of us gets a brief moment in time—very brief, and it’s counting down for all of us. During this Thanksgiving week, I want to challenge you to make it different than any other. Let’s choose to be grateful, regardless of our circumstances. President Dieter F. Uchtdorf said it so well. He said,
When we are grateful to God in [all of] our circumstances, we can experience gentle peace in the midst of tribulation. In grief, we can . . . lift up our hearts in praise. In pain, we can glory in Christ’s Atonement. In the cold of bitter sorrow, we can experience the closeness and warmth of heaven.
What a promise from an apostle of the Lord.
It’s been so wonderful for me to be here to share this message of thanksgiving. I do it humbly, and I do it with incredible gratitude in my heart for this College, for what it stands for, and for all of you. And I say this in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
Now, I couldn’t imagine a better way to close this devotional than with a musical reminder about thankfulness and thanksgiving from my dear friend and colleague, Justin Jones, the director of Career Services. I want you to watch this beautiful video that was made especially for this devotional by one of our very talented LDSBC students, Andre Alves. So, enjoy.
 See Marvin J. Ashton, “‘There Are Many Gifts,’” Oct. 1987 General Conference.
 D&C 45:26.
 See “Celebrate What’s Right with the World!” DVD.
 Mary Jean Irion, “Let Me Hold You While I May,” Yes, World. A Mosaic of Meditation, Richard Baron Publishing: (1970), p. 53.
 Neil Pasricha, The Book of Awesome, Putnam: (2010).
 See Wendy Ulrich, “Trusting in the Lord,” LDSBC Devotional, Nov. 5, 2013.
 “What is the story of the ten lepers in the Bible?”
 Luke 17:19.
 “What is the story of the ten lepers in the Bible?”
 David A. Bednar, “To Sweep the Earth as with a Flood,” BYU Campus Education Week, Aug. 19, 2014.
 Dieter F. Uchtdorf “Grateful in Any Circumstances,” Apr. 2014 General Conference.