Ye Must Build a Firm Foundation
We’re really thrilled to be here with you today, brothers and sisters. We have looked forward to this. And most of what Marki has said is very accurate. There are a couple of things that my wife would always like to add, and I would also. And we might even chat about that for a moment today. But we’re thrilled to be here. We just left the temple—we’ve been there since 4:30 this morning, so if we look a little bleary-eyed, you’ll understand. We also brought with us our granddaughter, Brinly Boyce, sitting here on the front row. Raise your hand, Brin. Get acquainted with her. We’ve told her this is where she needs to be. So you can maybe help convince her of that.
You know, today, as we look out at this group, we really look at you with great wonder. You stand on the brink of life—a life full of opportunity, hard work, but much joy. The world is truly your oyster, as the saying goes. Without question, your lives are going to be filled with remarkable things, wondrous things in scientific developments, advancements, technologies, in marriage, in family, careers and church service. I have to tell you, there’s hardly a week that goes by in my experience right now, that I don’t stand at the sacred altar of the temple and pronounce a marriage ceremony or sealing for a couple. And as I pronounce those beautiful, eternal blessings, I almost always tell them, “I wish that I could promise you today that your life will be happy ever after, no problems, no challenges, no heartaches. But I can’t.” Because you know that’s what life is made of. That’s how we develop, that’s how we are refined, is through those challenges. But I can always promise them that if they will build a foundation, and build the foundation in their life, they will have happiness. They will have the strength, they will have the ability to endure all trials that come in their way.
Now, I’d like to refer this to you by reading a scripture, and all of you are familiar with it. You remember in the Book of Helaman, the 5th chapter and the 12th verse—very common, but it was the words of Helaman, taught to his son when he said, “And now my sons, remember, remember.” Now, there’s only five places in the scriptures that it says, “Remember, remember.” Why, do you suppose? Pay attention. Right? “Remember, remember, that it is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your foundation; that when the devil shall send forth his mighty winds”—now, you notice he doesn’t say if the devil shall send for his mighty winds, he says when—“[he] shall send forth his mighty winds, yea, his shafts in the whirlwind…when all his hail and his mighty storm shall beat upon you, it shall have no power over you to drag you down to…endless wo, because of the rock upon which ye are built, which is a sure foundation, a foundation whereon if men build they can not fall.”
You, right now, are deciding on a daily basis what your foundation is. You can’t escape it. And the stronger your foundation is, the happier your life will be. Now today, we’re going to share with you a bit of our own life story. We’re going to get just a little bit personal. And we hope that you will take from it the understanding that it is absolutely imperative to look at yourself and build your foundation now. Because when the winds blow and the storms beat upon you, there will be no time to build a foundation. And if it hasn’t been built properly and strong, it will be too late.
You know, I look at you today. I look clear down here at you, and I just know you come from all kinds of homes, from all kinds of backgrounds, from all kinds of situations. Some of them have been happy; some of them have been less than happy. But whatever they are, they’re yours. And regardless of those circumstances, you have the opportunity to build your life in the way you want, and prepare yourself for the future.
I think I was one of the really blessed individuals in that I grew up in a happy home. Not a perfect home. You know, we had the same little squabbles about doing our chores. We hated taking out the garbage and weeding the garden and canning the peaches, and all the things that we were required to do. But by and large, it was happy. We had a mother and father who loved each other and loved the Lord and who loved us. And I think those three elements made us feel very secure.
When we were growing up, our father worked at the Church Office Building. He was sort of the lackey. You know, he dubbed himself “The Slave.” He just did all the grunt work. The Church Office Building was very small at that time, and few in numbers, and he would come home at night and tell us about the wonderful brethren that he worked with. And he spoke in such reverence for these wonderful, kind men that we grew up thinking they lived in a different world. We were the little farm kids out in East Millcreek, and they were the Brethren who did everything perfectly. And I’ll have to tell you that never once, not even for a second, did it ever occur to us that someday he would grow up to be the president of the Church. In fact, we would have laughed somebody right out of the field if they’d even made such a suggestion.
In fact, when he was called as a general authority, we didn’t hear as a family, until everyone else in the Church heard it. We heard it across the pulpit in General Conference. And we were so dumfounded we were certain they had made a big mistake. When we got home that night, we were just sitting around the table and my sister said, “Well, Dad, all I can say is that I guess the Lord just has to work with what he’s got.” And that was really the way we felt about it.
I mean, here was this man who took the irrigation water at four o’clock on Monday mornings. Surely “the Brethren” don’t do that. And he was the man who would put on the nail apron at night and pound a few nails before he’d go off to his stake meetings. He was just our dad, and he felt pretty common and ordinary to us. But that, I think, that change came not only as a surprise, but as a testimony that the Lord does, in fact, work with what he’s got. And you and I are what he’s got. And he will work with us and school us and help us and teach us if we will do exactly what he did, which was just commit his life to the Lord, doing whatever he was asked to do in the best way he knew how to do it.
You know, I’d like to say that I had the same kind of experience, and I was born of goodly parents, but how differently. When I was three days short of being one year old, my father died. He was age 32 at the time, with four little children. My mother never remarried. She died several years ago at age 94, never having remarried, and I idolized her—all that she did to literally drag us up. But you know, the effect of that in my life I will never forget. Because when my dad died, and as soon as I got to really understand what had happened, I thought, “How could Heavenly Father love me, and take away my father?” And I remember so many times sitting at home, and once a year when everyone goes to Fathers and Sons outings, I can remember sitting on my front porch and watching all my friends go with their dads and go on Fathers and Sons outings. I never went and was never invited. And I really developed some anger and a chip on my shoulder. I just thought I was picked on. I had regular pity parties, and really thought that the Lord really must not love me.
I fortunately had a friend, an older man that lived in the ward, and I have to tell you, he was a colonel in the military. He taught me to raise pigeons, and got me started in it. I would be over at his pigeon coop many times during the year. He would teach me about pigeons. And one day, as we were standing there talking, he looked at me and he said, “Richard, I look at you and sometimes I’d just like to kick your rear end right up around your neck.”
I was stunned, and I said, “Why would you say that?”
And he said, “Because I’ve watched you, and you have a huge chip on your shoulder. You think the Lord has done you in, and you have a resentment there that is going to limit your life, and what you can achieve. You need to get it off; you need to find out that the Lord loves you, and that you have the potential to be whatever you put your mind to. But you’ve got to get rid of that.”
I remember leaving that pigeon coop that day with tears streaming down my face, and I thought I’d been deserted by the only friend that I had outside of my family. I went home and, of course, was alone. Mom was working and the kids were at school. I went downstairs, into my room, and I sat there and cried for about two hours, thinking how wrong he had been to me. But the longer I stayed, the more I knew he was exactly right. I did have…I knew that that was the case. And I decided that day that I was going to get rid of it. I can’t tell you it happened quickly, because it took some real time and some real effort. But I got rid of it.
I can remember a great event in my life, just a few years later. This dear mother of mine kept insisting to me that I go get a patriarchal blessing. Now I hate to tell you what my view of patriarchal blessings was at the time. I thought patriarchs were little old men who had reached the stage in life they had no other callings, and so they made them a patriarch. And I thought they probably had two or three blessings memorized, and when you would walk in, they would just look at you, ask you a few questions, and then they’d give you blessing A or blessing B.
Well, to my shock, I agreed to go and I went in and sat down. And everything was right. He was a little old man I’d never seen before. Everything was right. But I didn’t know, and learned later, it was her [Sister Walker’s?] grandfather. I sat down that day, and he, after asking me about two or three minutes’ worth of questions, laid his hands on my head and gave me a blessing that absolutely stunned me. Because he told me things about myself that I knew no human being knew about me. And I left his place, again, a stunned person, just thinking of the things he said to me.
Now, I overlooked several things it said in there, because just a couple of years later came the time for me to have a visit with the bishop about serving a mission. And I’d decided with my friend—we were both going into engineering at the university together—decided that was more important to get that. Then it wasn’t “every worthy young man” to serve a mission, it was “if you can, that’s great.” So we had decided that we weren’t going to go on a mission, and we would complete our college. And I had the answer “No” ready for my bishop. I figured every way he’d approach me—how he’d say things, and how I could get him to know that it’s not right. And he threw a curve at me. Instead of asking me how I felt about it, he said, “Richard, your Heavenly Father wants you to serve a mission. Will you?”
I said, “Yes!” I walked out the door and thought, “What have I done?” I went home and got out my patriarchal blessing. And there, to my shock, it said, “You will serve a full-time mission for the Lord. And he will fit and qualify you and prepare you if you’ll keep your life worthy and clean.” I served that mission, and I can tell you, it changed my entire life. My life will never be the same because of what I learned, and the testimony that I gained and the witness of the Spirit. All I can tell you is that mission placed a huge foundation in my life.
Well, I can tell you, my adolescence was not that dramatic. Thank goodness. I had some basic goals when I was going through adolescence. I wanted to grow up and go to college and marry a returned missionary and have children, raise a family and live happily ever after—which I was sure you would, if you were good, if you were just basically good.
And you were good.
Well, I was trying to be good. And so pretty much, that’s the way things happened in my life. We were married, we had five children, I graduated from the university, and things were pretty happy. And then, as has been mentioned, right soon after our number five child had been married and we were looking toward retirement and planning to serve a mission and do all these things that you do after you’re through earning a living, my husband got up one morning and got ready to go to work, and two hours later he was gone. There was absolutely no…
Not just gone to work.
I don’t mean gone to work, I mean gone. I remember coming home from the hospital that day and standing in my family room and just saying over and over, “I am a widow.” I didn’t remember ever once, when I was making those life plans, saying, “And I hope someday I will be a widow.” That never occurred to me. I knew widows, but I wasn’t one. And there were some really powerful things that happened in those hours and weeks and days that followed.
For one thing, that is a moment in your life when it’s too late to prepare. And you discover very quickly whether you’ve got that foundation in place. I found that, when I went there, it was there. I had this wonderful peace that the Lord loved me, that this was part of my plan, that He knew what was happening, and that there was still a lot for me to do. I didn’t know what it would be. In fact, I said to somebody one day, “I know I will have a third life. I don’t know what it will be. But I hope it’s not too hard.”
In fact, when they sang this song today, “Heavenly Father, are you really there?” I used to sing that, every morning in the shower and then in the car. I used to sing it over and over, “Heavenly Father, are you really there? Do you hear and answer every child’s prayer?” And every time, the Spirit confirmed to me that He was there, that He loved me and that there was a plan for me.
I had kind of a very similar experience. Hopefully, you can see us coming together. I had spent 35 years sitting on the stand as a bishop and as a stake president, and then three years as a mission president. I came home in 2001 and thought we were finally at the time in our lives where I could be with the family, spend time with our grandchildren, do some traveling and so forth, and about a year and a half after we got home, my wife suddenly one day had a brain hemorrhage. No warning whatsoever. She had never hardly been sick a day in her life. And a day and a half later, she was dead.
I can tell you I was devastated. I got out my patriarchal blessing as soon as I could read, after everything was over with, and I asked myself, “Why? Why is the Lord letting this happen to me? Why is this happening?” I thought I was trying to serve in every way that I could, and doing what I was supposed to do. And all of a sudden, I read my patriarchal blessing and it had many things I had left to do in life. And I said, “I can’t do them. I can’t do them as a single man, and it’s for sure I’m not going to date or find another woman.” I felt that would be violating my covenants.
Well, to make a long story short, my world just kind of crashed. I spent a lot of nights walking the floor and searching. At the next conference, one of my family members got me a ticket to General Conference. I was sitting down front—in fact, I was sitting probably right close to you [Sister Walker], and you never noticed me.
Oh, you didn’t notice me.
No, I didn’t. Anyway, as I sat there in the audience, I looked up and I saw Elder Richard Scott sitting on the stand. I had known him before as a stake president, and had some dealings with him. I knew he had lost his wife about seven years before, and I thought, “I need to go talk to him.” Then I thought, “Who do I think I am, that I can go talk to one of the Twelve to comfort me?” I said, “Get it out of your mind. Forget it. Get rid of it.” But it wouldn’t go. It stayed and stayed, and so Monday morning I called Elder Scott’s office. I told his secretary who I was and told her I would like to talk to him.
She laughed. And I thought, “For rude.” She said, “Just a minute. Let me go talk to Elder Scott.” So she did, and she came back on the phone and said, “If you’ll come in tomorrow at one o’clock, he’d love to meet with you.”
So I did. He was so loving and kind, and put his arms around me and embraced me. He said, “Your problem is, you’re asking all the wrong questions now.”
Tell them why he laughed.
Well, he laughed. He laughed because…well, in fact he said, “You probably want to know, first of all, why my secretary laughed yesterday when you called.”
I said, “I would.” (I thought it was kind of rude.)
I said, “I would.” (I thought it was kind of rude.)
And he said, “Well, about ten minutes before you called her, I had gone out to her desk and told her to call you and make an appointment for you to come in. I had seen you in conference the day before and had the prompting that we needed to talk.” Then he said to me, “I know all of the questions that you’ve been asking. ‘Why me? Am I being punished? Have I not served well?’ I asked them all myself.” And he said, “The time’s over to ask those. You’re not going to know the answers in this life.” He said, “Go back home and get on your knees and pray for peace, and I promise you that when it comes, it will come in such a powerful way that you will have no questions. You have much left to do in life, and you need to move forward.”
And I did. It didn’t happen overnight, but when it came, I’ll tell you, I felt like I had been enveloped in the arms of the Savior. I felt this wonderful, warm feeling that overwhelmed me. I knew beyond question that, had I not had my foundation in place, that experience would have taken me down totally. It would have destroyed me, because of the feelings I was thinking in my mind. But when that peace came, I can tell you my testimony never wavered at that time, but it could have if I had stayed in the spot where I was. And when I received that sweet witness of the Spirit, I knew I had to go forward.
And then came the really hard part. Because, in the meantime, I got it figured out. I was happy; I had adjusted to being alone. It was kind of nice. It was the first time in my life I’d ever had my own bedroom. You know, I thought that was kind of a plus. I could go to the grocery store and I could buy a can of sauerkraut and eat it all by myself if I wanted. You know, there was some freedom that came with just being alone. And I was adjusting. I had great children and wonderful friends, and was doing interesting things, and I just thought I’d arrived. I thought, “I can do this. I can do this. This must be what the Lord has in mind for me.”
And then his [President Walker’s] daughter approached me. I remember when she sat in my family room and said to me, “Would you go out with my father?” I remember distinctly thinking, “Don’t show it on your face. Just smile and be lovely.” And I did say to her, “You know, I’m really not interested.” From my point of view it was like, “Please don’t complicate my life in this way. I’m settled and I’m okay, and I’m not a desperate woman.”
But there was always in the back of my mind, through all of this time, this little nagging that said to me, “Don’t stand in the way of the Lord and His plan for you.” And that just kept coming to me. You know, I don’t want to do this. I don’t want to go out with him. I did do a big background check on him. You know, I wasn’t going to waste an evening. Of course, it was a free dinner, but… (Audience laughter).
I think the important thing that I learned through that was: Let the Lord work in your life. And we put so many obstacles up—my own fear, my own reluctance to sort of step out of my comfort zone, my knowing what was best for me instead of letting the Lord do what was best for me. And so, with that thought ever present in my mind, I am now here. I just think, had I not listened to the Spirit, and allowed the Lord to work in my life, think what I would have missed.
I think through all of our dark days, I think the Lord was probably just smiling and saying, “Just hang in there, because I’ve got something really terrific in mind for you.” I think He feels that way about you. Just hang in there, because He’s got some terrific things in mind for you. So just hang on, and build your foundation and stay faithful and be open to the Spirit.
Now, my comment about what you just said. You think dating is hard for you sometimes. Think about me, at my age. Put yourself in my shoes. I can tell you, it was terrible. You know, after I finally decided I had to move forward, every one of my friends had the perfect wife for me. They would call me, ask me to go out. I’d go out on a date, and I’d come back and think, “No way.” And, you know, they all thought they had the perfect wife. And the reality is, not until my daughter came along did the perfect woman come along. But you know, even Michelle, who is my daughter, when she called me to ask me to go out with Kathy, I had no idea who she was. She told me her name was Kathy Barnes—this is my daughter telling me. I said, “I hate blind dates, and you know it. I’m tired of them. I don’t want to go on one.”
And she said, “Oh, Dad. Please, please. Just one time.” And she saw me, I guess, wavering, and she said, “I want you to know, I’ve even prayed about her, Dad.”
Well, if you knew Michelle, you’d know that’s the weak spot for her dad, and so I said, “All right. I tell you what. You call her; see if she’ll go out with me, and if she will, I’ll call her.”
So she called me back, and said, “Yeah, Dad, she says to call her.” She didn’t tell me what she’d really said. So I called her and she finally agreed to go out on a date, on the condition that we could go somewhere where we wouldn’t be seen. (Audience laughter).
I had never seen him; I didn’t know what I was in for. (Audience laughter).
This is true.
I didn’t want to be totally humiliated. (Audience laughter).
Well, the worst part for me was, once we agreed to go out, I called Michelle and I said, “All right, Michelle, we are going on a date.”
And she said, “By the way, Dad, did I tell you that she’s President Hinckley’s daughter?”
And I said, “Oh, come on. Are you serious?” I think she knew that if she had told me that, I probably wouldn’t have called. Nevertheless, the sweet thing about it is that when we got past the initial trauma of our struggling, we knew without question we would be married. I can only tell you what a sweet thing this has been. We never in our lives dreamed that we would be where we are today. But we have had such confirmation of the fact that when we put our lives in the Lord’s hands, and we commit our lives to follow Him, to keep His commandments under all circumstances, that He will open doors, and He will lead the way for us to find happiness and peace in our lives.
Now I recently heard a young woman in the temple make this statement. She said she was trying to do what the Lord wanted her to do, not just what she wanted to do. Very significant. I would suggest that to each of you here today. As you know, we serve as the president and matron of the Salt Lake Temple. It’s an overwhelming experience to be in that temple day after day. But as you know, it takes more than just being a member of the Church to get into the temple. It requires worthiness. It requires keeping the commandments.
I would suggest that you are making the choices every day of your lives that will decide whether you end up there, and whether you end up fulfilling the plan the Lord has for you. But the significant thing is it’s not just the big things. It’s not just tithing and Word of Wisdom and morality. Those are important. But it’s the little things you do, the little things that cause us course corrections—how we speak, the language we use, the text messaging we do, what we do on the computer when we’re alone by ourselves, the clothes you wear, how you speak to one another, the music you listen to, where you go for entertainment. Every one of these things determines the pathway and determines the foundation that you will have. I just plead with you, that you build that strong foundation now, so that when those tests come there will be no question where you go.
I think that one of our favorite assignments in the temple is to give instructions to those who are coming for the first time. President Walker gives it to the men, and I give it to the women. It’s just so fun to meet with these…most of them are young. Some of them are coming later years in their lives, but most of them are young. They’re prepared, they’re excited, they’re filled with the Spirit, and they’ve been looking forward to this day all their lives. They come into the temple, sometimes a little nervous, sometimes a little anxious. They don’t really know quite what to expect. The other day I gave instructions to a young woman. When I walked in the room, I just said to her, “Well, how are you today?”
And she said, “Oh, I am so nervous.”
And I said, “Tell me why you’re nervous.”
She paused, and then she said, “Because think about it. I am in Heavenly Father’s house.” And the tears just began to flow down her cheeks. She said, “I am a convert to the Church, and from the day I joined this church, I have lived for this moment. Now I’m finally here, and I’m so overwhelmed I can hardly absorb it.”
I think of another young woman who was there to receive her endowment because she was going to be married. She had no mother with her that day, but she had a soon-to-be mother-in-law who was from Peru. She looked very sad to me, which was unusual because usually they look bright and excited. I was so concerned about her that I asked one of the workers to have her come and see me before she left the temple that day.
So at the end of the session they brought her in, and she was so nervous. It was like she was going to the principal’s office. But I just said to her, “Tell me about your mother.”
And she said, “Why do you ask?”
I said, “Well, she wasn’t with you today, and I just wondered.”
And then she began to cry. She said that she had joined the Church in Mexico, her entire family—her mother, father and three brothers. She said one by one they’ve all made choices that have led them away from the temple. “I came to BYU and met this young man from Peru. Now we’ll be married on Friday, and I won’t have anybody here from my family.”
And I said, “Why are you doing this? Why aren’t you going home to Mexico and being married where you’ll have your family?”
And she said, “Because it is more important for me to receive the blessings of the Lord that I can only receive in His house.” She made a very courageous and very difficult choice. But without question, I know that the Lord will bless that young woman, and bless her family.
She, like so many of you, is so strong and valiant in the gospel. I look at you today, and you’re in school, you’re building a future, you’re preparing for whatever life brings to you. But don’t ever neglect building that spiritual foundation, because that’s the foundation that will carry you when the storms rage and the winds blow, and things come into your life that you don’t anticipate, nor that you have no control over. The Lord loves you and He has a plan for you. I have no question in my mind. All you have to do is keep His commandments and open your heart and let Him go to work. He will do magnificent things for you and with you. May the Lord bless you, you wonderful, young, valiant members of the Church, that you will be strengthened and blessed as you make choices in your life, that your foundations will be sure and strong, and that you’ll feel the Lord’s love and care continually in your lives, I pray in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
I would just close and remind you, as we think about the temple and what it means in our lives—recently, just a couple of weeks ago, we had a young couple come to the temple. One of the workers noted that they lingered well beyond the endowment session up in the celestial room of the temple. With clasped hands, they held tightly to each other, and there were intermittent moments of tears and a look of longing for each other. As they were leaving, a sister worker thanked them for coming and commented about the sweet love that she felt that existed between them. The young man turned to her and said, “At eight o’clock in the morning on Monday, I’m being deployed to Iraq. And we are here tonight to seek the Lord’s blessing and peace to carry us through this.”
I testify to you that, in all of the places in the world that we can go, the temple is the only place on earth that you are guaranteed the Spirit of the Lord will always be there. Our homes are wonderful. Sometimes we let the world come in, in our apartments or our homes, and we affect the Spirit. In the temple, the Spirit is always there.
I pray with all my heart that, whoever you are, whatever your circumstances are, gain a temple recommend. If you’re not at the age yet—and all of you are close, or there—get a limited use recommend, and come to the temple and feast upon the Spirit. Let the Lord teach you. I promise if you will do that, He will define in your heart and your mind the pathway to follow in your lives to find a fulness of life and return to His presence.
I bear you my solemn testimony I know beyond question that God lives, that Jesus is the Christ, our Savior and Redeemer. I testify to you that that beautiful temple to the east of us is the House of the Lord. I testify that He teaches in that temple even this day to those who come with hearts prepared to be taught of the Spirit. I pray that it may be a blessing and a foundation and a sure anchor in each of your lives, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.