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Heidi S. Swinton

President Monson Speaks to You and Me Individually

I want to begin today by talking about a scripture I read just recently in Jacob. It points us to a very important principle. It reads: “We knew of Christ”—this is Jacob speaking—“we knew of Christ, and we had a hope of his glory many hundred years before his coming …we ourselves had a hope of his glory, but also all of the holy prophets which were before us.” (Jacob 4:4)
And then he goes on: “Wherefore, we search the prophets, and we have many revelations and the spirit of prophecy; and having all these witnesses we obtain a hope, and our faith becometh unshaken, insomuch that we truly can command in the name of Jesus and the very trees obey us, or the mountains, or the waves of the sea.” (Jacob 4:6)
Now think about that as it relates to your own life—such a faith, unshaken, a faith in Jesus Christ that the very trees and the mountains and the seas obey us. Do you have that kind of faith in Jesus Christ? And then place into that the reference, “Wherefore we search the prophets,” because from the prophets can come that understanding of Jesus Christ, and help us to develop that faith in Him that we can move mountains.
Now I would imagine that if we went around this room, everyone here has some sort of a mountain in front of them that is very difficult to climb—maybe a whole grove or forest of trees that seems to be just impenetrable. And maybe if you are from California or one of the coasts, maybe it’s the waves of the sea that just seem to be coming at you and laying you flat. What do you do about that? Where do you go for the guidance, the direction, and the help so that you can essentially move mountains? Those mountains come in different shapes and sizes, but at this point in your life, there are lots of them in front of you.
When Hosea Stout, who was an early pioneer in the first company in 1847, coming into the Valley, when they came to the first set of mountains coming across the Plains—here were these mountains, and all they could see was this one ridge. And so they imagined, okay, we’ve just got to get over this ridge, and then we’re home free. Do you ever feel like that? If I could just get past tomorrow? I used to say to my sons, “You can do anything for 24 hours. All you have to do is get past that test, and you’ll be fine.”
But what Hosea Stout taught us was something very important. He said as he got over that first range of mountains, what did he see? There were mountains piled on mountains, mountains in every direction. I’ve always loved that quote, because what do you do about those things in your life that seem to be barriers to where you want to go, that seem to stop you dead in your tracks sometimes, or that just seem to eat at you, prickle at you as you try and get through that forest. Where do you turn?
Well, you turn to the Lord Jesus Christ. And He is so conscious of what’s in front of us and the power we need to face it, that He has given us a prophet on the earth today—a living prophet. There are no other churches with living prophets, with the priesthood power and all the keys that Thomas S. Monson holds. He is the Lord’s chosen prophet on the earth today, and if you know that, if you have a testimony that Thomas S. Monson is a prophet of God, then everything else in the Church will fall in line. You will come to understand all of the doctrines and principles relating to your personal path on the plan of salvation by listening to a prophet.
What is the song we sing? “Come listen to a prophet’s voice, and hear the word of God.” (Hymns, 21) He is the one, the one on the earth given the responsibility to speak for God. Now we have members of the First Presidency and members of the Quorum of the Twelve whom we also sustain as prophets, seers, and revelators. What they can teach us, what they give us to understand, simply adds to our capacity to receive that faith and that spirit of the Lord Jesus Christ.
So let’s talk about President Thomas S. Monson for a few minutes, because honestly, if you know he is a prophet, and the significance of that—there have only been 16 prophets in this dispensation of time. That’s a small group. The Lord has prepared 16 men to this date to lead this Church, which is now more than 14 million members. That’s a pretty incredible number when you think about it. But when you break it down, it’s one person after another. It’s you sitting here in this room today, sitting next to someone. The Lord knows your name, He knows who you are, and President Monson, when he is speaking to you, is speaking to you one by one.
How did I get in the situation where I am able to talk about President Monson? We were in the mission field in June of 2008. It was a Thursday evening, and I was in the kitchen at home in our little house in Cobham, England. Doesn’t that sound like England? Cobham, England. It looks just like it sounds. I’m going back tomorrow if I can think of a way. Anyway, I’m in the kitchen and I’m doing what every good mission mother on the face of this earth likes to do—I’m making cookies for the missionaries. And the phone rang.
Now since the phone is never for me—when we were in the mission field, everyone was always calling to talk to the president. So we didn’t even have a phone in the kitchen. And Jeff came into the kitchen and he looked at me and he said, “The phone is for you.”
And I thought, “Okay, what poor missionary has received a letter from his sweetheart who is no longer his sweetheart, and is just about ready to jump off the top of Big Ben”—except it wasn’t in our mission. And so he’s calling me so I can patch him together. And he looked at me and he smiled and said, “It’s President Monson.”
And I looked at him and said, “Yeah, right. What missionary thinks that’s funny?”
And he kind of sobered up and said, “It really is President Monson.”
And all I could think of was, “What have I done, that I have gotten myself in so much trouble that the prophet of God is calling me on the phone?” And my mind started going back very quickly to everything I had written, maybe something that came out after we left for the mission—what had I written that might have appeared on his desk? I couldn’t pinpoint anything. And I tentatively picked up the phone. “Hello?”
And President Monson said, “Well, Heidi, how are you?”
Now, I’m not used to talking to President Monson on the phone. I’ve never talked to President Monson on the phone. I’ve only met him a couple of times in my whole life. And he had called us on our mission. So he said, “How’s the mission?”
Well, I kind of found something to say. “How are the missionaries?” I added some more. And he said, “How’s your husband?”
“Well, he’s the best mission president in the Church.”
“I knew you’d say that. How’s your family?” He just sort of started chatting with me, as if he were sitting in the kitchen with me, eating those warm cookies and talking about my life and how I’m doing. It’s the kind of man he is. But I am, on the other hand, just shaking in my shoes, sitting there in the chair thinking, “Get on with it. I’m losing my recommend and I don’t know why.” Why else would he call me?
So then he paused, and I thought, “Okay, here it goes. Hang on.” And he said, “You know, Heidi, I’ve been getting a lot of pressure lately to have a biography written. I’ve got a list from Deseret Book of people that I might consider, and I’ve even had people come to my office and volunteer.” He said, “I’ve talked to Frances about it,”—Frances is his wife—“and I’ve prayed about it and talked to the Lord about it.” He said, “I want you to write my biography.”
Well, there was nothing further from my radar screen than writing the biography of the 16th prophet of the Church. I was in England, and I barely had a laptop, and that was a whole new experience for me. I said, “Well, President, I would be honored to do that.” You would have said the same thing. Because when you think about it, all I could think about was Peter and Paul and, oh my goodness, how am I going to do this?
Then I thought to myself, “I’m on a mission. You’re in America; I’m in England. How am I going to do this?”
He said, “Now, I know you’re on a mission. I called you.” So not only does he know my phone number, he knows what I’m thinking. And he said—this was a classic one—“but you’re not that busy, are you?”
“I guess not.”
He said, “The way I see it, if you get started tomorrow”—we had one year left—“if you get started tomorrow, you could be halfway done by the time you get home.”
Okay, how am I going to do that? I’ve got a mission I’m in charge of, all these missionaries losing their girlfriends, and getting sick, and not taking care of themselves, and not cleaning their flats, and don’t know the gospel and haven’t got a testimony yet. How am I going to do this?
He said, “You know, the Lord will help you, and we’ll get this done. Okay?”
So I started the next day, and what I did was I had his office send me a copy of every talk he’d ever given. Now, he was called in 1963, so the first packet—that was before you were born, probably before your parents were born—the first packet that came was about this thick, and then they started coming every week. And the stack just got taller and taller and taller, and it’s probably about that tall, single-spaced, double-sided. And I read them. And as I read them, I outlined those things that I was learning from this prophet of God. And those words of Jacob took on new significance. “We search the prophet.” Because if you hear the Lord speaking through His prophet, then you hear the Lord speak to you.
I appreciated so much when your president spoke of the Spirit speaking to your heart today—that there will be things that the Spirit knows you need to understand, that you need to hear. As you listen for those things, know that those are messages coming from the Lord. Know that when you go to conference, whether you watch it on television, whether you sit outside on the lawn, or you’re in the Conference Center, on the radio, on the Internet, however it is—that you lay hold of the words of a prophet today. Those words spoken are for you individually, with that same spiritual strength behind them that the Lord is speaking to you through his prophet. There is no one else on the earth who has that same kind of responsibility or connection to you individually, than your prophet, Thomas S. Monson.
So if you are not sure about your testimony of President Monson, if you’re, “okay, he’s a prophet,” then get down on your knees and pray for a witness that he indeed is the prophet of God on the earth today, that he speaks for God and that those words are for you. The Spirit can answer that prayer in your heart, and once you know that, you are a different person. Because to see him and hear him and study his life and his words gives you access to the strength and the power described in that verse: “Our faith becometh unshaken.” Our faith in Jesus Christ, his representative on the earth, his prophet, is Thomas Monson. And “our faith becometh unshaken, insomuch that we truly can command in the name of Jesus, and the very trees obey us, and the mountains, and the waves of the sea.”
Everybody is carrying a burden on his shoulders here today. Every one of you has something that you are trying to work through. And they are, in your eyes, mountains and trees and waves of the sea. And there is power and strength in the words of a prophet to help you grasp what to do next. You know the song “We Thank Thee, O God, for a Prophet.” We start out, we sing with gusto. The next line is the critical one, “To guide us in these latter days.” Think about what President Monson has asked us to do. What has he asked you to do? What has come into your heart and your mind as you have heard this prophet of God speak to you?
President Monson grew up not far from here—just blocks, over on the west side of town. His street—he lived on 5th South—and the railroad tracks went up one side of his street at this end, and the other side of the street at that end. And when both sets of tracks were loaded with railroad, the noise was so loud that every conversation in the house had to just stop, right there, until they passed. And then they would just pick up where they were and keep going. He lived in an environment that was not one of wealth or privilege. His father had a really good job, but he was unusual for the neighborhood. It was during the Depression, and most of the people did not have work. President Monson grew up understanding what it was like to have life be hard.
His friends went to school after having had a breakfast of Corn Flakes with water—not even Frosted Flakes, just Corn Flakes. They wore galoshes because they had no shoes. Sometimes they would wear a coat because it was the other brother in the family’s turn to wear the shirt that day. That was the environment in which he grew up. His sense of compassion and understanding of the needs of individuals is without match. The Lord placed him in a home where he would come to understand that charity is the pure love of Christ, and that love flows from the Lord Jesus Christ through us to others.
Have you felt that? Maybe you have felt that when you have heard President Monson speak. Maybe you have felt that when someone has reached out to lift you up and give you encouragement, to kind of help push that mountain aside. That kind of love and compassion is what President Monson is calling the membership of the Church to feel, to act upon, to become known for.
When we describe his work as “to the rescue,” it’s not the rescue of people stranded someplace necessarily. It’s the rescue of individuals who have lost contact with who they are. And do you know, every one of us, at one point or another—during the day, during the month, or maybe during the year—will have those moments when we will say, like the Primary song, “Heavenly Father, are you really there?” (“A Child’s Prayer,” Children’s Songbook, p. 12) President Monson affirms to us, as a prophet of God, that not only is Heavenly Father really there, but he has put someone in front of us to lead us and to guide us, and what he is teaching us to do is to reach out and care for one another. It is a remarkable message from a remarkable man.
When he was a young bishop, he learned how to access the power of the Spirit, and to act upon it. Have there been times when you have felt the Spirit and it said, “Okay, go and see so-and-so,” or “Stop and talk to that person in the hall,” or “Sit by somebody else in class,” because you don’t often sit there, but they sit alone. Or pick up the phone and call a friend. Text somebody that you haven’t thought about, but their name came to you. What are those? Those are promptings. Those are promptings from the Spirit. President Monson has learned how to listen to promptings, and he’s teaching us to do the same.
He tells the story of when he was a young bishop in this same neighborhood where he grew up. He was 22 years old. That’s pretty young. He had a young family. And he went to a meeting one night that was for all of the stake leaders—stake leadership meeting. And he had gotten called that afternoon from a member of his ward, a young man about the age of all of you. And the young man had said, “My uncle is in the hospital.” His uncle was also in this 6th/7th ward that he was bishop of. “And my uncle is not doing well, and he really needs you to come and see him.”
And Bishop Monson said, “I’ll do that right after my stake meeting.”
He said, “That would be great.”
So he went to the stake meeting. They made him sit on the stand, so he couldn’t kind of, you know, sneak out the back. He’s sitting on the stand, the speaker is talking, and the thought comes to him, “Get up and go to the hospital.” He looks around at all the people that are sitting out there. It would be like one of you, “Get up, and go to the hospital.” He says, “Well, everybody will see me get up and walk out. I don’t want to disturb the meeting, and I don’t want to show disrespect for the stake president. I’ll just stay here, but I’ll go as soon as the meeting’s over.”
And then he waited. The next speaker got up and began to speak, and the impression came to him again, “Get up right now and go to the hospital.” And he thought, “Well, I can’t get up.” He went through that whole routine again. How many times have you done that, when an impression has come to you and there has been a reason, a logical reason, a good reason why you can’t do that? And so you don’t.
Finally, they got to the end of the meeting, and the chorister got up to lead the music, and he got up and raced down the aisle and out the door and into his car. And he drove as fast as he could up to the Avenues—that’s where the Veterans Hospital was at the time— and ran in the door. He already knew the room number from the nephew. He ran up three flights of stairs and started tearing down the hall, and the farther he got down the hall, he saw this cluster of people outside the door of a room. And he thought, that’s probably the room. He got to the door, and everybody was pretty somber. The nurse looked at him and said, “You must be Bishop Monson.”
He said, “I am.”
He glanced into the room, and she said, “He was calling for you right before he died.”
President Monson will tell you “that lesson was not lost on me.” Nor should that lesson be lost on us. Do we need to have that experience in order to know that when the Spirit prompts us that what we may be asked to do is move the mountain for someone else, that the Spirit may be saying, “You have the faith, and you have been given the assignment. Go move a mountain.”
And we say, “Hmm, not right now.”
Think about those times in your life when someone has come to you, and it was at the right moment and the right time when you needed somebody, right then. And you recognized the Lord’s hand in your life. We learn that from President Monson time and time again.
President Monson tells the beginning of the story—and then I found out the end of the story—he was at a gas station. These are simple things. These are not the things that a president of the Church is the only one who could do this. These are things that every one of us can do. And that’s why he shares these accounts with us, so that we can see how the principle of love and charity and compassion and obedience not only influence our lives but the lives of others.
Okay, so he’s at the gas station in his old green car, don’t know what kind it was. And he is outside and he is filling up his car with gas. This is when he was an apostle, in the Quorum of the Twelve. And he goes inside to pay the bill. He reaches into his pocket, takes out the cash, and starts doling out the money. The man on the other side of the counter, who is young—younger than many of you—and he was particularly interesting in his style. He had rings in his ears and rings in his nose, and rings on his forehead, and rings on his lips, and disheveled clothing. He kind of pulled himself up to the counter and looked at President Monson, at that time Elder Monson.
Elder Monson looked at him, and he smiled and said, “Are you getting ready to go on a mission?” Now what in the world? Is this man even a member? It doesn’t matter. He was impressed to ask this young man, “Are you getting ready to go on a mission?” It doesn’t look like it. Would you have said the same thing, if the Spirit had said to you, “See if this young man is going on a mission”? And so he asked him.
And the young man said, “Oh, I don’t really go to church anymore. I’m not really very interested in it.”
“Well, you ought to consider it. You know, I think if when you go home tonight and get down on your knees, and in your evening prayer”—making the assumption this young man is praying—“if you ask your Father in Heaven, should I be preparing to go on a mission, it may mean that you’re going to have to make some changes in your life, but the Lord will answer your prayer if you will have the faith that He will give you an answer. I hope you’ll do that.”
The young man sort of “Hmm.’”
Well, the young man went home. He didn’t get down on his knees. He didn’t ask the Lord in prayer, “Should I go on a mission? What should I be doing to prepare?” It was several months later that he was walking through his family’s living room in October, and his parents were sitting and watching general conference. As he walked through the room, he saw this man on television and recognized him. He was the man from the gas station. It was Thomas Monson. He didn’t know who he was. And he sat down, and he listened to him as he spoke. And as he listened, he could hear those words again in his heart and in his head: “Are you preparing to go on a mission?”
The young man, when President Monson had finished speaking, didn’t say anything to his parents. But he thought, you know, why do I feel this? So he did what Thomas Monson had asked him to do. He went in his room and he got down on his knees and he prayed about it. He said, “Should I be preparing to go on a mission?”
How many of you have had the experience of getting down and talking to your Father in Heaven, and hearing that “Yes” in your heart that essentially moves mountains out of the way. It changes things. It changes the landscape; it changes your life. Because you’re connected to the heavens in a way that most people don’t understand. And yet, our Father in Heaven is always there, and He has never moved, and the Lord Jesus Christ is directing the work here on earth and we’re a part of that.
You can imagine the end of the story. The young man went on a mission. And from the mission field, he wrote President Monson and told him what had happened in his life. And he stayed in touch with President Monson. He has written him over the years, telling him about how his life is progressing—married, sealed in the temple, a family. Because Thomas Monson acted on promptings—an unlikely prompting. Do you get those kinds of promptings from the Spirit? And then when you get them, do you act upon them?
There’s a scripture that President Monson often likes to quote. It’s found in the Doctrine and Covenants 84:88. It says this, the Lord speaking: “I will go before your face. I will be on your right hand and on your left, and my spirit will be in your hearts, and mine angels round about you, to bear you up.”
There may be those times when there are angels who come down from the heavens. But the Lord often uses us to be the hands. He often uses us to be the angels. And we have to be prepared to do that. How does that happen? It’s a simple formula. The impression comes into our hearts. The Spirit will be in your hearts, “and mine angels round about to bear you up.” You are those angels.
If we put those pieces together, we suddenly understand that faith in the Lord Jesus Christ is not just for us and a solitary life moving forward, but faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, led by a prophet of God, is the power to make a difference in this world. We can change the landscape, but more importantly, we change lives.
I had this personal experience of President Monson changing my life. When I had been working on the book for about a year and a half, and I got home from the mission—my husband and I got home in July. And I went to work in President Monson’s office. He gave me a desk, kind of over in the corner, right next to all the cupboards that were filled with all of his personal journals. And then I sat down and read those journals—47 volumes, binders this thick, single-spaced, double-sided. Everything in his life is single-spaced, double-sided, because he has so much to do. And I sat and I read and researched. I read all of his letters that he has received from people over the years, that he has saved. I read his files. I read his outlines. I studied his life. And then I tried to take all of that material and put it together in a book.
It was January and the book was not coming together the way I had hoped. I was hung up on how President Monson really does connect with people in such a way that their lives are never the same again. I just couldn’t figure out how to explain that, how to describe that. It was an academic exercise in my mind. And yet, it was a spiritual opportunity for those people to be touched by the Lord through the prophet. I had to figure out how to make that work. It wasn’t working.
I walked into the office one morning, and President Monson was standing at the door. And he looked at me and said, “How are you today, Heidi, and top of the mornin’ to you!” He loves to say that, “top of the mornin’.” He is a cheerful person, all the time. And why is he cheerful? Is it just because he’s an optimist and he came that way? No. He’s a cheerful person because his heart is filled with love for other people. He doesn’t get hung up on circumstances. He pushes forward.
Well, he looks at me and he says, “How are you doing?”
And I smiled at him, and I’ve got my laptop and my battery packs and my books and my folders and my binders and my purse, and I’m just kind of loaded down. But that was not the weight. The weight in my life was the weight of the experience of writing about a prophet of God in such a way that the words, like the words of Jacob, make sense. Search the prophets. Search the prophets. Understand their words. Grasp what in their life makes a difference for your life.
Anyway, I was discouraged. And I went over and sat down at my desk and I got everything out and I started to work. About an hour and a half later, he walked by on his way to the Appropriations Committee, and he patted me on the shoulder and he said, “How are you doing today?”
And I looked at him and smiled and said, “I’m good.”
And he walked on. And an hour later he came back, and stopped at my desk again. He patted me on the shoulder and said, “Are you having a good day?”
“Yes, I’m fine. I’m fine.”
And he said, “Well, that’s good.” And he walked into his office, turned around, came back out again. And he stood at the door and looked at me, and he went [motioning to “come here”]. So I gathered myself together and I went in and sat down in his office. Now I had been in his office a lot, had the opportunity to talk to him about different elements of his life. But today we weren’t talking about his life. Today he looked at me and he said, “How are you really doing?”
And I looked at him and I thought, this is a man who carries the weight of the world on his shoulders. This is a man who worries about everyone on the face of the earth, all of God’s children, and I can’t add to that. So I said, “I’m fine,” and smiled. Look like it—I’m okay, I’m competent. Don’t worry about me. Show some confidence, Heidi.
And he smiled, and he looked at me, and he sat back in his chair, and he just continued to look at me. No words were spoken for a few minutes. And there was a warmth in his face and in his eyes. There was a light around him that I know this is what it’s going to be like when we get to the other side and the Lord Jesus Christ gathers us in and says those words we so desire, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” Except I wasn’t there yet. And he just kept looking at me and smiling, and said, “No, tell me how you’re really doing. Just between us, how are things going?”
President Monson had just weeks, months before given a talk in general conference. The title of it was “Joy in the Journey.” Now if you think I was going to tell the president of the Church, Mr. Joy in the Journey, that I wasn’t having any joy in the journey—no, I didn’t want to go there. So I said, “No, I’m fine, President. I am doing just fine.”
And he said, “I don’t think so.” Then he said, “You know, we don’t need to do this book. Nobody is going to buy it, and nobody is going to read it.” Then he said, “Now, talk to me. Tell me how things are.”
Well, he had worn me down. I started to cry, and “Well, I get up at 4:00 in the morning, I work ‘till 8:00, reading, writing, then I come down here and research until 6:00, and then I go home and write until 11:00 and then I go to bed, and then I get up at 4:00 in the morning and then I write until 8:00 or 9:00, and then I come down here and I research all day and then I go home and then I write at night.”
He said, “I get the picture.”
“I have no life, but it’s not working.”
And he just looked at me. Now, you would have thought that perhaps, as the president of the Church, with his special powers, he could have called down some chariots of fire from heaven and they would have come loaded with the chapters of the book and we’d be done. That would be good, wouldn’t it? That’s what people think happens. It doesn’t happen that way.
But he looked at me and he said, “How can I help?”
Well, I didn’t know. And then he sat there and thought for a few minutes, and we chatted a little more, and he said, “Here’s what I can do.” And what he put before me was what every one of us can do for one another. He said, “Every morning, when I get up and I kneel down before my Father in Heaven, I’m going to pray for you by name, and I’m going to ask the Lord to help you.”
And then he said, “Do you have the kind of faith that that will happen?” The faith that we can move those mountains out of the way, Heidi? The faith that we can stop the sea, and that the forest will go someplace else. Now, he didn’t say that, but that’s what he was saying, and that’s what I’m saying to you. Do you have that kind of faith, that if a prophet of God says to you, “Will you pray for one another? Will you engage the power of the Lord Jesus Christ and our Father in Heaven to help?”
And I said to him, “I do have that faith.”
He said, “Well, then. We’ll get this book done.” That was it. And it did get done. I walked out of there without the weight that I had had for months. I walked out of there without the pain or the anguish or the frustration. And he hadn’t changed anything, except he had said, “The Lord will be on your right hand and on your left. The Spirit will be in your heart, and angels round about you to bear you up.” And that day, he was the angel.
Brothers and sisters, I know that Thomas S. Monson is a prophet of God, that he was called to this responsibility before he came to the earth, and that his life has been lived in such a way that the Lord has prepared him to lead us in these latter days.
Do we recognize the power and the strength in our lives to have someone leading us who knows the way? Do we gauge our decisions based upon what President Monson has asked us to do? And are we living in such a way that we are worthy to stand side by side with him before the Lord Jesus Christ as disciples in the kingdom of God?
We can do this, and I leave that with you in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.


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