What Is Saving Your Life Right Now?
Recently I’ve been cataloguing my life through the lines of a poem by James Wright, and it says: “Suddenly, I realized that if I would step out of my body, I would break into blossom.” And I know that today, in preparation for this time together, this is exactly how I feel. It’s one of those moments where you’re eternally happy and grateful and you can feel little shimmers of holiness.
To be standing here is an honor, and it will be added to those sacred moments. My husband and I stood here, in front of this building, last Saturday night. We’d just been through the temple and were just scooting through the temple grounds, and read this sign that said it was completed in 1880. And I just stood there—we come here every week, and I think being here and speaking has weighed a little heavily on me, because of the sacred moments that have taken place in this building. It reminded me of this beautiful quote by John Ruskin that says, “Wherefore, when we build let us think that we build forever. Let it not be for present delight, nor for present use alone; let it be such work as our descendants will thank us for, and let us think as we lay stone on stone that a time will come when those stones will be held sacred, because our hands have touched them; and men [and women] will say, as they look upon the labour and wrought substances of them: ‘See, this our fathers [and mothers] did for us.” (The Seven Lamps of Architecture, John Ruskin, 1849)
I am particularly honored to have pieces of my family here today, especially my three girls. They right now have been some of my dearest traveling companions. [One daughter] was on campus with us a few weeks ago, my 10-year-old, and she wrote me a note that said, “Can we never leave? This is so much fun!” She visited with colleagues and she visited with students, and as we were leaving, she turned to me and she said, “You know, you’re kind of lucky.”
I said, “You think? Nice people, huh.”
And she said, “No. You get to come to a place where you can feel the Spirit.” It was really tender that my 10-year-old daughter picked up on that, and that night in family prayer she kind of strung these words together in the prayer: “Please know how grateful we are that Mom can go to a place where she can feel the Spirit. She makes the world spin. So does Dad. He makes the world spin, too.”
As a mother, there are many days and moments when I feel like my world is spinning out of control, but it is a delight to be here on campus with you and to also be in the midst of these three daughters’ hearts. I do hope that during this time we have together here today that you will feel the Spirit, that your mind will be elevated and enlightened, and your hope will be elevated in yourself but also in the world around you.
Let me take you back to the headlines of 2005 in Ethiopia, where a 12-year-old girl was taken by seven men who wanted to force her to marry one of them. The girl was missing for a week, and she was found being guarded by three lions. They thought it was some sort of miracle, because normally these lions with the big black manes—they normally attack people. And if these lions had not come to her rescue, then it would have been much worse if the men had returned until she accepted the marriage. These lions offered this 12-year-old girl protection and safety as they stood guard, and then, once the authorities found her, the headlines read, “The lions just left her like a gift and went back into the forest.” (http://www.nbcnews.com/id/8305836/#.UoPMTXCsjTo.)
Protection and safety—I’d like to share with you some principles that I hope will cause you to ponder about the truths that are offering you protection right now. Like the counsel in Doctrine and Covenants 80 states, my declarations come from things I have heard, things I believe, and things I know to be true based on my earthly experiences and from lessons I have learned from heaven, and also from my observances of other people. (See verse 4)
A wise old priest invited an Episcopal priest who was also a professor of spirituality at Columbia University to speak in his church in Alabama. She said, “What do you want me to speak on?”
“Come tell us what is saving your life right now.”
All she had to do was figure out what her life depended on. All she had to do was find some way to talk about the sense of protection that was saving her, and then help her listeners to figure out those same things for themselves. Today I would like to answer and also ask the question, “What is saving your life right now?”
In 2 Timothy, we have what would appear to be the final—some of the most final, precious and powerful words of Paul. At the time he was probably a prisoner in Rome, ready to be offered, as he said. He wrote Timothy and reminded Timothy of the blessings of his youth and the protection of having a sound mind. In [2 Timothy] 1:7 it reads, “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.”
How would you define a sound mind? What would that feel like to you? Interesting, the word sound means “without harm or injury, in safety or security.” I loved Josh’s prayer when he said, “Please help us to be safe today.” Sound thinking, help, or soundness, sound judgment, it comes from the root sous which means safe, “to save, to deliver, to protect, to heal, to do well and be whole.”
In the words of Elder Marvin J. Ashton, he said, “When I think of a sound mind, it means to me using our ability to think, to plan, to work, and to chart our course as we sail through the seas of life.” (“Yellow Ribbons and Charted Courses,” Ensign, July 1981, http://www.lds.org/new-era/1981/07/young-women-fireside-1981/yellow-ribbons-and-charted-courses?lang=eng&query=Charted.)
Part of obtaining a sound mind is educating it. All right, here’s this story. My quest for a sound mind begins every Tuesday afternoon under the hot summer sun, where I would take my red wagon up that steep tangled hill to the Bookmobile. The library was downtown and this was just easy. Not as easy as Google, but easy. So this was my database and this was my Google, and I’m not that much older than you, for the record.
I’d step up into this makeshift library where instead of rows, there were shelves of books. And I’d load my arms to max capacity, jump down out of that bus wagon, put the books back in my wagon, sit down in the front, get the handle ready, and I’d coast down that steep tangled hill back to my home, where those books offered me protection for a week. And then I’d start the ritual again.
What is saving my life right now? Being a true student of life. Seek an education that will protect you and teach you about yourself, about your gifts and your strengths and your weaknesses. And seek an education that will enlarge your capacity, so that you can carry all that is going to be required of you ahead.
Recently, in the circles of higher education, there’s a lot of chatter and discussion about the college’s return on investment. We talk about you when you’re asleep. The Chronicle of Higher Education asks the question: “What is college for?”
I thought about that, and then I read a few answers:
The chancellor and vice president of the University of Illinois, Phyllis Wise, states: “We must prepare our students with the tools and skills necessary for gainful employment.”
Carolyn A. Martin, president of Amherst College, said, “College is for learning how to think clearly, how to write beautifully, and how to put quantitative skills in the work of discovery.” I love this part. She says, “It’s about the gains we make, and the losses that come with them.”
The president of Dillard University Walter Kimbrough states, “Colleges are places where students learn and grow through intellectual collisions”—don’t you love that word?—“in and out of class, with professors and staff and peers.”
I thought about that, and I thought about my own answer to the question, “What is college for?” My answer might go something like this: A college education should offer protection and inspire growth. Its main purpose is to enlighten minds, elevate hope, and ennoble souls,” which are words from the LDS Business College Mission Statement. Like those three lions that offered that 12-year-old girl protection, these three E’s will offer you protection for life, not just for a two-year degree. And perhaps you won’t be able to articulate this to future employers, but I guarantee that if you let these E’s soak into you and become a part of who you are, they’ll see it in your eyes. They’ll feel it in your heart. It is going to be the foundation of an incredible future—but not just in the workplace. In your homes as you build families, in your communities as you serve on boards and serve in PTA, and also in the Church, where you are probably going to work the very, very hardest to build the Lord’s kingdom.
It never stops. In my office, I have a quote embroidered by the hands of a dear friend that reads: “That which truly educates us heals us.” And I know—I know that some of you have had some weeks where education has inflicted pain on you, and discouragement. And we don’t set out to do that. We want it to be healing. We want it to be balm. We want you to heal and grow, and I believe—I tell students this all the time—in the very moments where you feel like you can’t take any more, you can’t handle any more, you’re at max capacity—that’s the moment, that’s the moment that the Lord is stretching your capacity so that five years, ten years down the road when you’re a bishop or a mother or a wife or a father, you’ll have that capacity built within you and you’ll know what to do.
But the classrooms—the classrooms here at the College, I believe, are some of the last best places to live deliberately, to find out who you are and what you’re made of.
We have these really cool bowls is what I call them, that you might find threaded throughout your college education here at the College—six C’s. They’re all C’s and you should see them on your syllabi, and if not, knock on my office and we’ll talk. Confirm, collaborate, communicate, construct new knowledge, comprehend, critically think, and cultivate a strong work ethic.
Even though—here’s the secret—even though they’re for you, I use these every day in my life here at the College. Even more so, in the deepest and dearest work that I do in my home, with my daughters—talk about critical thinking skills. Right there. I do more research and more thinking and more problem solving with the Lord as I guide these three lovely girls, hopefully to the end and back to heaven. This is on steroids critical thinking. You thought math was hard. Wait. This is exciting.
This is one of the sweetest places—the drafting off of my husband’s back wheel in a marriage. Those of you who are cyclists, you know that a draft saves, and a draft offers protection from the wind that is just too fierce to take. That’s what his priesthood does for me. Talk about collaboration, communication, working together, and confirming a testimony of Jesus Christ. Sixty miles that day, behind that guy’s wheel.
Then two weeks later, in the intricate balances of my friendships with these women that I ride with, this is 100 miles—this close to a woman’s back wheel for 100 miles, six hours. Constant communication, constant critical thinking, constant collaboration and communication. Some are easier to follow. Some are easier to draft off of, working as a team. And I use these skills, and I’m here doing it, learning at the College and helping you to learn them when you’re really teaching me. And I use these out where it really, really matters.
This is sweet, as I shoulder up with some of the most righteous women every week to guide a stake full of some 100 Young Women and remind them of their sacred identity. This is, right now, where my most intense collaboration, communication, constructing new knowledge is at the forefront as we’re trying to plan Young Women’s Roughout Camp.
So, they’re not just from the classroom. Here’s the exciting part. You can go home tonight and you can read 1 Nephi 5-7 and you can watch a family in action, have some front row seats to a family who communicates, collaborates—we know that was not easy for Sariah to go into that wilderness. But watch—those of you who are husbands out there—watch how Lehi communicates with her. Then once he gets the plates, watch how he constructs new knowledge, and then watch the persuasion, the communication that Nephi uses on his brothers, with the word, “How.” You see the word “how,” repeated several times—it’s really, really sweet.
Wouldn’t it be great when we return to heaven, to have the Lord say to us, “You did it. You’ve learned how to work hard. You’ve stayed true and faithful to your covenants.” And I heard the most beautiful thing recently at a funeral of a dear friend of my father’s, who said, “You learned all that you were supposed to learn.”
President Eyring was once—I just heard this in my stake conference—he was approached by a young man who was preparing to serve a mission, and he said, “President Eyring, what can I do to prepare?”
He said, “Work so hard that your ears hurt.” So work hard in your classes, and let your education save you. Résumé yourself, but make sure you are preparing a résumé for heaven. Colleges set out to have retention rates, really good retention rates, which means we want to keep you, we want to hold you, we want you to return to us. President Richards—who, by the way, if you ever wondered if anyone is praying or loving you, he is doing that every day—once taught me that our retention rates are more important than other colleges, because we want good heavenly retention rates. We want you to return to heaven, and we want to do everything we can to build your education so that it saves you someday.
There’s a sweet story that happened in a lit class last semester. Students came prepared, having read a short story by Anton Chekhov, a Russian writer in 1886. It sounds exciting, doesn’t it? And guiding this discussion was a very bright-minded and bright-hearted young man. He prepared, he studied, he researched, and then he came to make a connection between charity and Chekhov, the author.
He said, “What does charity mean to you?” to the students, and the answers started flying. Some wonderful ones came to the surface as students were critically thinking, asking questions with curious minds. And then, something stuck, when a student said, “Charity is large-heartedness.”
And this bright student took this, in companionship with the Spirit, and he ran hard with it. And he taught those students that day. Little did he know that he elevated hope in another student who finally decided that his heart was large enough to return to the mission field, because he was prepared—because both of them were prepared to be taught in a Spirit-centered classroom. Hope was elevated. And if you want to know what that short story was about, you know what to do. Come take Lit. It will change your life.
At the very last of this class, on the last day as we were reflecting about the power, and what we had learned, a student commented: “I’ve changed. I’ve changed my choices and my ways. I’ve changed pieces of who I am and pieces of my identity because of this class and its students—the students who have taught me more about who I am.”
Recommit yourself every week to ask heaven, “What did you teach me this week? What did I learn this week? What can I take forward with me so that I can get better next week?” Ask that question every week, and then it won’t feel like a treadmill that you’re racing to get off.
Which brings me to the next principle, or answer to the question, “What is saving my life right now?” A desire to be spiritually educated, so that I can continue to shape my sacred identity. Rather than treating your secular education as something different than your spiritual education, you want to work to integrate them, to bring them together. Let them feast off of each other.
If you return to 2 Timothy, this time in chapter 3, verses 14 and 15, Paul reminds Timothy—hey, remember? This is the sacred grammar of your youth. This is what you were raised on. And it worked in your youth, but now you’ve got to continue. He says, “But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned.” That word continue has a pressing forward notion. So Timothy had learned the Bible from the inside out. It became a part of him. It became his lens to the world. He knew who he was, he knew where he was going, and he knew what God expected of him. And this language became a reward of the habits of his heart, became ingrained in his heart. And he carried it with him through one of the most difficult times of Biblical crisis that there was. This is what helped him.
You know that part in Hebrews where it talks about the covenant, and I the Lord will put “the covenant” on their hearts? [See] Hebrews 8:10, if you forgot that one. Go home and read that right before you go to bed tonight. Words from Primary songs, words from hymns, words from baptismal covenants, your patriarchal blessings, words from the scriptures, and words from temple covenants. When they are etched upon your hearts they will shield and protect you.
On several occasions, I have needed protection. While traveling through the Grand Tetons, in the heart of Avalanche Canyon, in the Red Rock in central and southern Utah, and while biking on the high mesas in Moab. This is a familiar site to my eyes, in fact I just saw one on the trail this morning when we were trying to decide which way to come down. It’s called a cairn. It’s a marker of safety. When the road splits and you’re not quite sure where to go, the trail—these three man-made stones, piled high, say “this is the way. Safety is this way. Keep coming.”
Cairns are pretty metaphorical for me, because they have saved my life. In the last three years, I have had three cairns—three cairns of spirituality that have saved my life: being a student of the sacrament, being a student of the Atonement, and being a student of the temple. When I felt lost and numb and a little overwhelmed, or I wasn’t quite sure what I was supposed to be doing, the more I took this language and made it a part of me—and I’m still making it a part of me—the more protection I’m offered. I’m learning to be a lifelong student spiritually.
When I was in Galilee on a study abroad, Truman and Ann Madsen once said, “Study Isaiah 53 every time you partake of the sacrament.” Write that down. Write that down if you don’t already do that. That’s a new way to look at the sacrament. I did it all through my college years when I got home. I did it when I was young and married. And then came these three daughters, and it was all I could do—one always liked to keep the sacrament cup, and one slurped really loud, and the last one, she wanted to take the sacrament when she was ready.
So I gave up Isaiah for quite some time, and then one day I blinked and my girls were still. They were growing in the gospel, and I realized it was time to get back on board. So I started reading Isaiah and I realized those words had never really left me. They were part of me. And the Lord said, “Leslie, pay attention. Try to dig a little deeper. I’m right here and you’re not digging deep enough.” And it was in a fast and testimony meeting up at Primary Children’s Hospital. And I want to read you just a snippet of my journal. The first woman stood up and explained how she buried her husband and her daughter the day before. Their son, who was just across the room from my daughter’s room, was hanging on every day. Her loved ones were in a tragic head-on collision. She bore testimony of the healing powers of the sacrament and bore witness that Jesus Christ lives.
Another woman stood, her daughter had cancer and her world was unraveling. And she too bore testimony of the healing balm that she felt in that 30 minutes of the sacrament. And then Elder M. Russell Ballard came up out of the audience. He was visiting a great-grandchild, and he too bore testimony of the healing powers. And all the heaviness that that room had to hold, we were all healed and comforted through the Spirit and through the renewing of our covenants.
I walked the hospital halls that day and kept thinking about the word renew. We hear it often, we throw it out, grateful that we can renew our covenants. And I wonder, what does that word renew mean to me? And then I started studying. Hang on, because these are good words.
Renew has some really, really cool meanings. It means to “make new, like new, replenish, restore, recover, to begin again, to come back to, to go over again, to provide a fresh supply, to re-establish a relationship with, and to reawaken, to change form by growing.” Renew.
So every week, instead of studying Isaiah, I studied what the word renew means to me, and how it’s making sense of my weeks here on earth. I love the words of the poet Elouise Bell who says:
How pallid the bread when pale the memory.
Yet sweet is the nourishment when we his Spirit summon
By rich remembering.
“This Do in Remembrance of Me,” Ensign, April 1980, 9)
So when you sit down on the sacrament bench, on the benches to partake, and you’re travel-torn, and you’re worn down from school, think about the word renew. Think about the safety.
The temple. If you’re waiting to take out your endowments, there is still great learning to be had at the temple. My two teenage daughters occasionally have been waking up on Tuesday mornings—these are busy chicks. They swim for four hours; one of them has a social life that doesn’t stop; they play soccer, they play piano. And I warned one of them, Kylie, “It’s going to hit you about Spanish, 1:00 o’clock, so hang in there.”
She came home, and I said, “Well, how did you do? Did you fall asleep?”
She said, “Mom, I had the best day, because I carried the words with me all day long, to every class.”
What a tender thing to have this 12-, 13-year-old girl understanding how words, spiritual words, can save and offer protection.
Vaughn J. Featherstone states, “I promise you that all who faithfully attend [the temple] will be blessed beyond measure. Your families will draw close to the Lord, and unseen angels will watch over your loved ones.”
Now for the last “what is saving my life.” At a sacrament meeting about a year ago, a spitfire sister missionary from Sweden—and we sat right where you are—she said, “You should be having an experience with the Atonement every day.” That was a hard one. I started, started kneeling down every night, going through my mistakes, going through everything I could have done better. Then I started to dig in deeper, and my dig started with this book, The Infinite Atonement by Tad Callister. And if you don’t have it, you’re not going to go back to campus. You’re going to go to Deseret Book and you’re going to get this. And you’re going to take it morsel by morsel. Just a little paragraph. It might sit by your bed at night, because the paragraphs have got to stick.
Let me give you one paragraph to whet your appetite. “The powers of the Atonement do not lie dormant until one sins and then… spring forth to satisfy the needs of the repentant person. Rather, like the forces of gravity, they are everywhere present, exerting their unseen but powerful influence.” (Deseret Book, (2000), p. 211)
So much more. “Can it not only correct”—on page 222, write that page number down, this is my favorite one—“Can it not only correct but also endow, add to, and enlarge our capacity for godhood?” So when you’re feeling like you don’t quite match up, and you’re lost and you feel inadequate, or you’re just overwhelmed, you can start to use the Atonement to help build that capacity, begin those conversations with heaven tonight. Begin those conversations tonight.
[I have a] confession to make. I requested the opening song, “Press Forward, Saints,” because that “Alleluiah” just—it rustles in me like a band of angels. I love that song, because it is about pressing, not being complacent. I love the words,
Press on, enduring in the ways of Christ.
His love proclaim thru days of mortal strife.
Thus saith our God: “Ye have eternal life!”
(Hymns of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (1985), 81)
The knowledge that eternal life awaits me, that’s what’s saving my life right now. What do I want you to do when you leave here today? Claim your education. Take full advantage of the Spirit-centered classrooms here on campus. Renew your sacramental covenants more valiantly each week. Get to the temple more regularly. Grab a friend, go by yourself, call a family member. Be ready to learn. Have an experience with the Atonement every day, as per the sister from Sweden, and share what is saving your life right now with someone as you walk back to campus.
Now here’s what I really want you to do, in closing. I pray that each and every one of you will run and not be weary as you boldly, boldly find your place in this sacred history. You are more divine than you realize. Standing on the sidelines, watching your progress here at the College, makes me shout “Alleluiah!” for each one of you. Never lose sight of your spiritual identity as a son or daughter. With all of my heart, I know, I bear testimony, that we were in heaven with our Heavenly Father before we came here. I know this. I’ve felt it.
And lastly, my 25 words to the world, my message: Let the gospel protect you for life. Look to heaven and learn, grace upon grace, as the Master Teacher, Jesus Christ, continues to teach you. And I say these things humbly in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.