Our Shared Journey Home
by Tracey Anderson
I first had nightmares about this opportunity to speak to you a few years ago while working at BYU-Idaho. A friend of mine had been asked to give a talk at Devotional and I have shared with her how grateful I was it wasn’t me, to which she responded by saying, “You’re next”. In that moment, the Spirit confirmed that someday I would be asked to speak at devotional.
I am not even sure the number of dreams I began to have as a result of that learning, some dreams being more pleasant than others. The pleasant dreams came after I was able to humble myself enough to be willing to speak, prior to this formal request. When I was able to look past my own fears and worries and seek to be a route for God’s love to reach you, my dreams became blessings in my life.
I have prayed for you, literally for years. I have sought to prepare my heart and mind so I would be ready, when the time came, that I would be able to hear, prepare, and then deliver a message God would have you hear. I know that, just as President Uchtdorf taught in our recent conference, that “God will use [us], if [we] are willing.” I am grateful He softened my heart to where I’d be willing to let Him use me when the time came. I will also rely on the promise from President Uchtdorf that the Lord “will magnify [my] righteous desires and turn the compassionate actions [I] sow into a bountiful harvest of goodness” for you this day. (https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2017/10/a-yearning-for-home?lang=eng)
It is part of my prayer for you today that you will see past my weaknesses and that you may hear His voice and feel of His love through our experience together this day. I would ask that any good you see in me this day you attribute to the goodness of the Lord and my desire to follow Him and become like Him. I would also ask that any fault or error you find that you attribute that to me, in my imperfections on striving to grow into something better than I am today.
Another part of my prayer for you is that you will be guided in some way to know what changes the Lord would have you make in your life, in your efforts to grow closer to Him. I encourage you to record the thoughts and impressions I know He will send this day.
I know He will send impressions because you are His and He desires for every good thing to come into your life. I know He will send impressions because you have shown you are ready to receive them by being in attendance this day. I also know that for some of you the impressions you hear and feel will come as a result of the words I share, but for many, if not most of you, the impressions you receive will come because of our collective and prayerful pleas to have the Spirit with us and your impressions will have nothing to do with what I actually say. In all cases, I know that as you seek to understand what God would have you know, that all impressions received will be tailored to you in your willingness and readiness to learn of Him.
At LDSBC, as at other schools within CES, we are blessed to be part of learning in the Lord’s way. Here, we have opportunity to attend and work at a college which seeks to help each of us discover more about ourselves, then provides opportunities for us to grow in our capacity to become something better as a result of our time here. LDS Business College is truly a place that seeks to make good men better and better men their best.
Several things came to mind as I considered you, our students, on campus and across the world. What would be most critical for you to come to understand in your lives at this time?
I’ve felt prompted to talk about who we are and how understanding that influences our interactions with each other in our shared mortal journey back to heaven.
Some of what I’d like to share includes the following: Your value is not dependent on someone else’s actions or attention, ever; you are literally a child of God, our Heavenly Father, and we’re all in this together.
First; your value is not dependent on someone else’s actions or attention. Ever. While I won’t share more thoughts on this today in my remarks, I feel strongly you need to know this principle. Your value is already set and cannot be changed. Your value is the same as everyone else’s, because of who you are. Because you are literally a child of God, an heir to His throne and blessings, He will love you regardless of if you choose to return to Him or not; but as your father, His heart yearns for your safe return to His arms and His presence because you are His.
Second; you are literally a child of God, our Heavenly Father. As such, you already have talents and abilities beyond what you can imagine. You were born with divinity and strength. Sometimes you just need help in finding it. Just like traits we so easily and regularly point out receiving from our earthly parents, you were born with traits you inherited from Him, your heavenly parent. These traits are gifts and are enough to get you back to Him. We just need to remember to look for our gifts and use them.
Third; we are all in this together. Life can be hard and helping each other is essential. The commandment to mourn with those who mourn and comfort those who stand in need of comfort is not just a great idea, it is essential and even life-saving (Mosiah 18:9).
An example of this principle in action was recently witnessed during a PathwayConnect gathering, as shared by a student in attendance. He shares, “A brother was our Lead Student in last night’s Religion portion. As he started the lesson we could all see that he was visibly shaking and perspiring. It took a while for him to say his first word. At that moment I could “feel” the prayers coming from each of us in the gathering. He started to cry and bear his testimony of faith, the Holy Spirit, and his extreme fear of public speaking. Immediately one of the sisters started to discuss what it takes to be a Lead Student. It doesn’t take knowledge or expertise of the subject. It takes the Holy Ghost. We were all feeling the comfort of the Holy Ghost as we all took turns discussing what an awesome example of faith and relying on the Holy Ghost. We could all see that he was fully prepared because of the handouts that were given. Now he was relying on our Heavenly Father to carry him through this lesson. Last night I had a lesson on every single principle of the Learning Model from this brother without him saying much of anything. Needless to say this brother completed possibly the best lesson I ever participated in.”
The principle of our shared journey home is also illustrated in numerous other ways, evidenced throughout our lives. An interesting change that takes place each semester in Rexburg, Idaho is in the way students begin to cross the street. Early in the semester large bodies of students gather at the corners and wait for a decent break in traffic before crossing the road. There seems to be a consensus, or at least a general awareness, that the drivers of the cars also have places they are trying to reach. Over time however, within just a few weeks, a shift takes place and the desires of students to cross the street seem to overpower their sense of their surroundings to where they have lost sight that they share the road with others. Thankfully, not all of the pedestrians lose sight of others around them and they maintain the gathering, waiting, and crossing that they started with, allowing other cars to take turns.
In thinking of this phenomenon, I believe it can provide a great parallel to, or metaphor for, our mortal journey on this earth. As children of a loving Heavenly Father we are all trying to reach the same destination, a return to our heavenly home. Sometimes we forget we are on this journey. Sometimes we remember that we are on this journey, but forget others are there with us. It is in coming to understand who we are that we can broaden our view of not only the road, but also where others are on it with us.
Understand who you are
Understanding who we are allows us to also understand who others are. Essentially, when we know who we are as children of God we also know who others are. When we know who we are, we take turns. Sometimes in leading, sometimes in following. When we know who we are we seek for opportunities to support and inspire others. When we know who we are we recognize nobody can alter our destination but ourselves. Our path, or the timing of our travels, can be impacted by others, but we are the ones who set our own course.
When we know who we are, we understand that our actions impact opportunities for others, we feel the responsibility of our choices and accept accountability for the consequences our choices create.
What does it mean to have our actions so heavily intertwined with each other? How can we not lose sight of the other travelers working to get down the road? Why does it matter?
As a key part of my preparation today, I reached out to some of you to learn what it is you desire to learn and feel when you attend devotional.
You shared with me that you need to hear that things will be okay. You want to know what it looks like to keep moving forward, finding strength in the gospel, when life is hard. You want to see and understand what the gospel looks like when it’s lived, to help you remain faithful in this challenging time. You want to know that it is okay to fail, and to know that even in our failures we will not be alone. You want to feel peace during this time of turmoil. You also shared that you learn and grow when we as speakers share with you our personal lives as it shows you that this gospel is truly real and does bring hope and healing. I will do my best to serve these needs this day.
Things will be okay
Things will be okay. But we need to understand that “okay” might look different for each of us. For things to be okay we often have to experience things that are not okay to recognize what “okay” looks like once we have found it. This does not mean we should settle for less than the best, nor does it mean we should seek things we know to be damaging or harmful, but it does mean we should understand our growth often comes through trials.
Keep moving forward
To keep moving forward in the gospel, we need to understand who we are and what the gospel even means for us. The gospel provides the good news that we have a loving Father in Heaven who stands ever-ready to welcome us home and that He has provided a way to do so. As we are imperfect, we will sin and become unclean. As God cannot be around unclean things, it is then necessary for us to have a way to be clean again (Moses 6:57). Through the offering of a Savior, whom we know to be our brother Jesus Christ, and through the guidance of the Holy Spirit we can make our way back to our father’s presence. Our Savior is our required way to this cleansing and the Spirit draws us ever closer to our Savior.
We all have most likely heard of trials that have brought strengthened faith, closer relationships with Christ and strengthened abilities to build and serve others. I, gratefully, have been blessed through some of my own trials to become one of these types of witnesses. I have been preserved and protected of the Lord. Often my preservation and strength has come through intense suffering and heartache.
Some of the things I would love to share that I know to be true have come through hard, long and challenging personal experiences many of which are to personal and to sacred to share with you this day. I need you to understand that some things, especially heartbreaking and soul-wrenching things, are often the things that lead us to the greatest source of spiritual power as we overcome them. I also need you to understand that sometimes living the gospel and moving forward requires you to make hard choices about the influences, relationships and companionships you have allowed into your life.
I often say agency is the best, and the worst, thing about the gospel. It is the best as it is agency that provides the ability to even live the gospel and express our devotion to, and faith in, Christ. It can be the worst as sometimes, perhaps even often, as it is agency that brings soul-refining challenges into our lives because of poor decisions we’ve made, or others have made, that negatively impact our lives. Many hard, agency-based decisions that have negatively impacted my life have been made by fellow saints and travelers who have, at least for a moment, forgotten who they are and have forgotten we share this mortal journey.
There are many examples though that highlight those who used their agency for good and have kept pressing forward with faith in Christ, even when things were extremely difficult or when others’ choices added extra hazards along their paths.
Examples such as when Abinadi (Mosiah 11:20-29, 12:17-37, 13-17) is tortured and eventually burned at the stake for testifying of truth; or when Alma and Amulek are forced to see women and children thrown to their deaths in order for God to be able to enact the laws of justice. (Alma 14) Nephites who are threatened with death by murderous men while they faithfully awaited the signs of Christ’s birth (3 Nephi 1); Joseph who was sold into Egypt by His family and who then experienced numerous trials and unimaginable circumstances as a result of His family’s choices (Genesis 37, 39-45).
Like these brothers and sisters of ours, my faith has been strengthened through some of my most challenging experiences, accompanied by soul-searching, pleading prayers to my Father in Heaven. A side note on prayer: please know that our prayers are not to always be pretty, for if we do not pour out our souls to God He cannot fully pour out His grace upon us. We must ask for His help. God, our father, truly lives to hear our soul’s complaints (Hymn 136).
In addition to these scriptural examples I want to share a few modern-day examples of when God sustained His children, through their challenges, as they sought to find His help, hear His voice, and feel His peace. Hopefully, it will not surprise you that the individuals in these stories of faith and endurance were sustained because of the goodness of others in their lives. Sustaining of our brethren comes because some have learned who they are and have learned that they share the road in our journey back to heaven.
With permission, one experience I have felt prompted to share comes from one of my amazing sisters. A sister whose sweet family had their world torn apart several years ago with the diagnosis of childhood cancer for one of their children, who was only 3 years old at the time. She shares:
“[My husband] flew out this morning to New York for a funeral that is tomorrow. [Our sweet girl] hasn’t eaten all day and had puked 5-6 times and was not drinking much either. I was putting [the kids] in bed when there was a knock at the door, but I told the older kids to ignore it. I hate when people stop by without calling. I ignore the door a lot. Then [they] said “it’s the missionaries” and I said “Just ignore it” but the Spirit said, “They could give [her] a blessing.” so I opened the door. It wasn’t the missionaries. It was our stake president and Elder Richards of the second quorum of the seventy. He is in town for stake conference. They asked if they could visit with us. Of course I let them in. They asked how things were and how [she] was doing and I asked if maybe they could give her a blessing. They said sure but they wanted to visit first. The stake president looked me in the eyes and asked me how I was doing. I said “I’m fine” but He asked me again. I said, “I feel like people are trying to make me cry when they ask me that. I am okay.” He asked if I had had a blessing and I said no. I had meant to ask dad or [my father-in-law] when they were out but never got around to it. He asked if I needed one and I said yes. He said, “We could have gone anywhere tonight and the Spirit led us to you. I feel it is for this reason, and maybe for [her] too.”
Another story I’ve felt prompted to share is part of my life story. In working to finalize my thoughts I came across an e-mail I sent a few years ago to a friend whom I had asked for a blessing of healing after a surgery on my leg. This e-mail was sent four years ago. It was sent by me over a year after the blessing I speak of and thank him for and it reads:
“I don't know if you remember much about the blessing you gave me last year or not but I do. In the blessing I was promised that I would fully recover if I followed the direction of the doctors and I was also counseled as the prophet Joseph Smith to not run faster than needed... (D&C 10:4) When my knee started bothering me again in late November I was so sad. It was frustrating because I was trying to figure out what I had done wrong. I knew that if the blessing said I'd make a full recovery that it would happen but didn't know how. I also got the impression though during the blessing that it wouldn't be a quick fix and that it was going to be a long process. When I'd become frustrated or sad the Spirit would tell me to just keeping doing what I could. It seemed like I was doing very little though physically as everything I tried hurt too much. It was probably the first time in all of my years of dealing with this lovely leg that I felt at a loss and was tempted to just give up and ask for permanent crutches or a wheel chair. My mind always kept returning to that blessing and it really strengthened my faith that everything would work out. I knew I was doing what the doctors had told me to and that I had been continuing to work to strengthen my leg. There were days I wondered if a 'full recovery' meant being able to walk upright, and days when I wondered if 'full recovery' did, in fact, mean life in a wheelchair, or if it even meant a recovery that was full in other terms, like no pain. Either way I knew the Lord knew me, my pains, and would make it all okay in the end, even if it meant changing my perspective on healing. I knew it because He had blessed me through worthy priesthood holders who cared about me and cared about the Lord.
The recent surgery I referenced in the e-mail was my 6th surgery on my leg; a leg that had me heading toward life in a wheelchair due to a previously undiagnosed condition and multiple, repeated injuries. I am able to stand before you today because of the faith and hope my Lord and Savior has provided me and sustained me with, and because of the help, love, and faith of family and friends; family and friends who realized we share the road on this journey and who realized their choices and actions affected me as we love, serve and live alongside each other.
It is okay to fail, if only temporarily
My heart and mind have failed me many times in my life. It’s okay to have set-backs in our faith as long as we get back on the road and keep trying. For when we fail, Satan would have us believe we’re back at the beginning of the road or that we never got on the road in the first place. Satan lies (Moses 4:3-4).
When you feel like you’re failing you’re just running out of gas, or experiencing a flat tire. You’re not so far off the path that you’re un-savable. There is no length too far, or place too dark that God’s love and Christ’s atonement cannot reach. I know it because I’ve felt it, tested it, and found it true in my life. “Even if you feel you are the lost and last laborer of the 11th hour, the Lord of the vineyard still stands beckoning.” (https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2012/04/the-laborers-in-the-vineyard?lang=eng)
By sharing the road back to heaven there are literally hundreds and thousands of our fellow saints and travelers positioned along the path already prepared to help. Saints like my dear friend who served as the mouthpiece for the Lord for me. Saints like my sister’s dear stake and church leaders who were ready and able to answer the Lord’s call when He sent them to her.
As God has sent help to me, He has sent others to you. Have you seen them? Do you know how to find them when they’ve come?
Peace, hope and faith
In closing, I’d share that faith, specifically faith in Jesus Christ, is personal and powerful. Faith in Christ can look many different ways and so we need to be careful in how we define it, so we don’t miss it. Satan will seek to steal our hearts and minds away from the subtle goodness we see any chance He gets.
God knows us and loves us. He will not leave us comfortless. He will guide us to the necessary steps we should take to strengthen our faith in Christ. He will teach us about Christ as we seek to learn and He will provide opportunities for our growth.
I am grateful for His love, His help, His son and His spirit. He loves you and knows you by name. Seek Him and ask Him for the help you need. He is ready, willing and desirous to lift and bless you.
He has given us each other to make it through this life, of this I am certain and of which I am most grateful.
The last part of my prayer for you is that you will learn to recognize the help He has already sent you, and that you will be the help for others He’s sent you to be, in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.