Call for the Ball
There were only eight seconds left in the basketball game, and BYU was behind by one point. The BYU players knew that they would have the ball, but they also knew that they would need to travel the entire length of the court and get past the entire other team in order to score the much-needed points to win the game. The air was tense as the ref raised the whistle to his mouth and blew it.
The play started. BYU player Danny Ainge sprang forward and almost desperately called for the ball. He caught it, turned, and then started down the court. The defensive pattern that he saw was rather unexpected, but he got past one . . . two . . . three . . . four defenders and shot high over the final defender. As the ball sailed through the air and into the net, the BYU fans in the audience screamed, hugged, jumped—some, all at the same time—as it settled into their minds that BYU had won the basketball game.
Now, regardless of who you cheer for, this story has an analogy for each of our lives. All of us in this room are in the final crucial moments of a desperate conflict. We are preparing ourselves and our world for the Second Coming of our Lord, Jesus Christ.
As Ezra Taft Benson said,
For nearly six thousand years, God has held you in reserve to make your appearance in the final days before the Second Coming of the Lord…. God has saved for the final inning some of his strongest children, who will help bear off the Kingdom triumphantly.
And make no mistake—by the way–that just like the BYU team, you too have an audience. The eyes of God and all the holy prophets are watching us—no pressure. This is the great dispensation that has been spoken of ever since the world began.
I have two questions for you today. Like Danny Ainge and the BYU basketball team, will you adapt to the unexpected? And two, will you overcome any opposition that comes in your way as you seek to fulfill your divine destiny here on earth?
First of all, adapting to the unexpected. Why would you encounter anything unexpected as you help prepare for the Second Coming? Let’s look at the following story.
When I was serving my mission in Argentina, we had a general authority come down. He walked in front of a huge group—about the size of this, actually. He walked up to a chalkboard and drew the following diagram. He turned to us and said, “Missionaries, count the squares.” If you’d like to engage in his challenge, I will give you twenty seconds to see how many squares you can count. At the end of that period of time, I will call time. And for those who would like to, you can share how many squares you have found. All right? Ready, set, go.
[Time given to audience.]
And stop. All right, this is totally voluntary, but if you would like to and you got at least 16 squares, raise your hand. [Audience members raise their hands.] Excellent. Keep your hand up if you saw 20 or more squares. [Hands are still raised.] Well done. Keep your hand up if you saw 25 or more squares. [Hands are still raised.] Wow, this is almost unheard of. Keep your hand up if you saw all 30 squares. [Hands are still raised.] Thank you.
Now, some of you are curious where those squares were, so for curiosity’s sake, let me show you. There are 16 single squares,
9 two-by-two squares in locations such as the following,
4 three-by-three squares,
and 1 four-by-four square.
So, well done. This is a pretty impressive group. And we had about the same reaction as a mission when we completed this exercise. After our talking had died down a little bit and we saw all 30 squares, our visiting general authority again turned to us and said something to the following effect, with a little bit of supplement: “Missionaries, I need to tell you something. If you could see beyond the edges of this square, you would see that it is actually a cube that extends as far as your eyes can see.”
As we make decisions in life, we can only see so many variables that impact how things will turn out. We do the very best we can. Thankfully, we are partnering with a God to whom all things are present. Is it any wonder that He tells us that “my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways”? And is it any wonder that as we partner with our omniscient Father that He will occasionally give us directions that may seem unexpected?
The question is how we react when something unexpected happens. Now, it is tempting, knowing the omniscience of God, to simply wait at home for Him to send you directions—please leave your house, please walk 50 feet, please serve Person X. After all, He does know so much more than we do. But it is our test, and as a perfect teacher, He—at least in my life—doesn’t work that way.
For me, I have found that God directs me best when I am already moving towards a worthy goal. To adapt John Bytheway’s analogy, an LDS speaker, I have found that God helps steer me best when I am like a car that is moving. He can tap on the brakes. More often than not, He presses down hard on the accelerator or He likes to steer in different directions that I wouldn’t have anticipated.
It seems like this also happens in the scriptures. Consider, the good Samaritan could not have seen the wounded man who was beaten by thieves from his front porch that day. Likewise, if Ammon had stayed in what I am certain was a very lovely room at Lamoni’s palace that day rather than going out to help with the sheep, he never would have had his rendezvous with opposing forces, literally disarmed them, and gotten the attention of the king and converted a small kingdom.
The first principle in adapting to the unexpected is be on the move.
The second one comes from President Uchtdorf, who shared with us the children’s story about Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Willy Wonka owned a chocolate factory that sent chocolate throughout the world. He decided one day that he would hide golden tickets in five bars of chocolate, and whoever found them would receive two prizes: first, a tour of his mysterious factory, and second, a lifetime supply of chocolate.
In the book, the world becomes obsessed with these golden tickets. It’s as if the chocolate itself has lost its value and taste. And in addition, people even seem as if they base their happiness on whether or not the next chocolate bar they open has that golden ticket.
President Uchtdorf said each one of us has golden tickets. Hopefully, for us it is a good education, marriage, kids, the job of your dreams maybe—something like that. And that is wonderful. We need to be on the move. However, he reminds us that we can’t base our happiness on whether or not we have the golden tickets right now. We need to enjoy the chocolate with or without a golden ticket. As he said, “The happiest people I know are not those who find their golden ticket; they are those who, while in pursuit of worthy goals, discover and treasure the beauty and sweetness of the everyday moments.”
I would like to add to President Uchtdorf that in addition to treasuring the moment, we need to stand ready to set down some of our golden tickets for a time in order to have our hands free to accept God’s golden ticket.
I think this has likely happened to most of us in our lives. I’d like to share a time when it happened to me. One of my golden tickets was I wanted to get an education that would allow me to best serve God. Now, that sounds like a pretty worthy goal, or so I thought. And I started looking at the résumés of people that I wanted to emulate—general authorities, other people I admired—and I started noticing some things. Many, but not all, had degrees from top universities. And I thought to myself, “Well, if I want to serve God, I must need to get that golden ticket—a degree from a top university, according to the world.
I worked hard. I studied. I got the best grades I could. I prepared for the tests that I’m sure you all look forward to taking someday. And I applied to a couple of colleges. During this entire process, I received one of the more explicit directions I have received in my life: “Wendy, do not go to a top-ranked college.” Now, I received three letters or emails from my golden ticket colleges of Harvard, of Stanford, and BYU of course. And the story would have been an easy one if they would have said no, and it would have made my life easy. But no, of course it was a challenge—and each one said yes.
I felt as if I held Willy Wonka’s own golden ticket in my hand. And it felt like it had my name on it: “Wendy Porter, come. You are welcome.” But I had a decision to make. I had to decide if I would hang on to my preconceived notion of what my golden ticket was or if I would set it down to free up my hands so God could give me the golden ticket He had written up for me.
President Richards has already told you where I went to school, so maybe this kind of ruins the end of the story if you were listening to that part. But I attended BYU. I got the skills I needed to help develop online courses at BYU. I established lifelong friendships with wonderful people. And best of all, I met my husband, Ben Porter.
What I learned is you can adapt to the unexpected when you move toward a goal. But then you listen to and act on the Holy Spirit as it turns you in new directions. I’ve also learned to enjoy what I have whether it has a golden ticket inside or not. I hope that at LDS Business College, we can do the same thing. Some of you may not have even known about LDS Business College as you were thinking about your own educational golden ticket after high school. You moved towards a goal; you ended up here. I hope you are very grateful to be here, and I hope you’re enjoying what you have.
I hope you too are getting the skills you need to bless the lives of others in your families, that you are making lifelong friendships. And who knows? Maybe you will have a similar experience to my own and get a spouse here, too. We’ll see.
In addition to adapting to the unexpected, we also need to overcome opposition. To talk about this, I want to give you a little test. I have a couple of Book of Mormon questions that get progressively harder. So, the first question—and you can go ahead and think of this, if you’d like to—who is pictured in this picture? That’s right, the stripling warriors. For those of you who may not be familiar with them, these were young warriors who fought with their Nephite friends, companions, to preserve their freedom. They “were true at all times,” they were exact in obedience, and even though they had never fought before, they said that “they did not fear death,” that they knew “God would deliver them.”
And question 2, they said that they did not doubt, because somebody else knew. If you’ve given a Mother’s Day talk, you may know this scripture. I guess that just gave it away, didn’t it? “We do not doubt our mothers knew it.”
I have been blessed with an amazing mother, and father, and mother-in-law. And I, too, do know that I do not doubt that my mother, my parents know that. Their mothers and their fathers, they never fell away, and they said that they were so firm that they would suffer death rather than commit sin.
Who were their parents? Just think about that for a second. Is there any Mother’s Day scripture that we could read about them? The best that I could find—which I do not recommend you share on Mother’s Day—was a description that Ammon and his brothers gave as they began their missionary journey to those who became the Anti-Nephi-Lehis. This is just a sampling of the language in those two verses: it says they were a wild, hardened people, that they delighted in murdering. And it goes on and on and on.
Now, these two generations in the pictures, they overcame incredible opposition. The parents, when they were asked to repent by the missionaries who visited them, they could have easily said, “Look, I come from a bad background. I’ve had limited means. I just can’t achieve as much as other people.” Or, “Do you know what I’ve done? Did you read those scriptures? I can never be cleaned.”
They didn’t say that. Through Christ, they became clean. And they became such great examples that they raised the stripling warriors, which were featured on just about every elder’s wall that I think I saw. Not that . . . yeah.
In addition, the children had opposition to overcome as well. But it was different, right? I’m sure we all need to repent, but one of the major points of opposition that we focus on in the scriptures is that they were invited to fight, to defend the freedom of their nation. Now, when they were invited to fight—or they volunteered, really—but when it came up, they could have said, “You know, we’ve actually never fought before. In fact, I don’t know if you knew this, but when we were younger, our parents kind of threw away all of our swords, so we don’t really—we’re not really set up for this. And besides, we are really young.”
They didn’t give any of those excuses. And they were miraculously preserved—because they did not doubt and they were true to God’s commands—through Christ’s power. Again, they were able to overcome their opposition. So. how can we follow the examples of these two generations of Anti-Nephi-Lehis and overcome opposition in our own lives?
To tell you about that, I would like to share an experience that I had as a teenager. I decided to do track and field for a little while, and I tried an event called the high jump. Which, if you’re not familiar with that, what you do is you run toward a bar that is a little high, throw yourself over it, and then land on a mat or a cushion. I thought, “Why not?” I left my normal events and went over and tried this one.
I ran towards the bar, and—I don’t think I’m going to finish this story because I don’t think it’s relevant—but suffice it to say that height does not guarantee that you will be good at the high jump, and that I never became a professional high jumper. But as I walked away, I passed another event—an event called the pole vault. Now, you have not appreciated the height of a pole vault bar, which is probably two to three times higher than a high jump bar, until you have tried the high jump. But there is a difference between the high jump and the pole vault, and that is the pole.
Pole vaulters, they run at that incredibly high bar with everything that they have. Then they stick the pole into the ground and rely on it to take them over that incredible height. Likewise, each one of us has had the bar raised in our lives, and with that raised bar also comes raised opposition. But thankfully, we have the pole.
The pole is Christ. It is His power. It is His Atonement. And if we will run with everything we have towards that raised bar, stick the pole in the ground like a standard, and then rely on it to take us over, we can overcome any obstacle. That includes any sin. That includes any external factors as well, when it is God’s will.
I feel like I should share the following with people who—and this is a good general principle—but I’d like to specifically talk to those who are dealing with some serious sins right now. Let’s take the example of pornography. I want to plead with you, because I have had friends in this situation, do not try to high jump the pole vault. What does that mean? You can imagine somebody, even a skilled high jumper, standing next to the pole vault, and—despite their incredible skill—no matter what they do, alone they will never be able to make it over that high bar. But again, if you will go see your bishop, have him help you understand the power of God, His Atonement—it’s not going to be easy, but you can be clean. You will be clean.
There is one more thing I want to bring up. Before Danny Ainge could adapt to the unexpected, or before he could do anything else, he had to do something else. He had to get off the bench and call for the ball. How many of us can overcome our fear? It’s a lot easier to sit in these seats down here every week than it is to sit up here, or stand here, I’ll tell you that.
But, can we call for the ball? Can we go to the temple? Can we do family history? Can we share the gospel with others? Can we step up to serve? Can we ask that girl who is sitting a couple of rows away from us for her phone number, so we can start our eternal family? No pressure, guys.
Jeffrey R. Holland talked about that, as he attended Danny Ainge’s retirement ceremony, nowadays there are fewer and fewer of us who are willing to stand up, get off the bench, and call for the ball. This is not a zero-sum game. Every single one of us needs to call for the ball to help each other, set an example.
I remember once when I was a teenager—I hadn’t planned to share this—when I was a teenager, I represented my high school in a speech and debate competition. I sat in a large group of people, and the setup of this particular debate was that they would present a question, then you would raise your hand high if you wanted to speak on it. You got up, said if you were for or against it, and then presented your arguments very quickly.
Well, I didn’t expect the question to arise that they stated. Typically, it’s about a foreign event or something. They said, “Should high school students in Utah be allowed to watch R-rated movies during class?” People started raising their hands boldly and standing up. What surprised me was the arguments that came out. I heard arguments such as: “It’s art, and it should not be constrained,” “Why are you sheltering us?” “Don’t you know we already know about all of these sins?” “What’s wrong with a little nudity?” And so forth and so on.
I was quite shy at the time—I was taking debate and speech to overcome that—but I had a feeling that I needed to raise my hand, and I needed to stand up in that moment. If any of the rest of you get nervous, and “calling for the ball” in whatever setting you may be in may be hard, if it helps, just blank out your mind and do it. I blanked out my mind and raised my hand, a little bit too early, actually. But I raised my hand.
They called on me, and I went and stood up in front of the group. I shared the thoughts that came into my head, and the room became quiet and peaceful and still. After I sat down, the next individuals raised their hands, and—to the best of my recollection—everybody after me started to argue that R-rated movies should not be shown in high schools. Sometimes just one person needs to speak up to give the rest courage, for the silent majority to be heard. And we need that more and more right now in the world.
I want to testify to you that once you have the ball in your hand, if you will move towards worthy goals while listening carefully to the Spirit for any directions regarding stopping, accelerating, or turning, that you will be able to adapt to the unexpected. I likewise testify that if you give everything that you can, as you run towards worthy goals and rely upon Christ’s power and Atonement, you will be able to overcome any opposition you face, whether it is sin or external.
I know that if we can follow these principles and if we can rely on Christ’s power and Atonement, we can fulfill our destiny. We can prepare ourselves, and we can prepare our world for the Second Coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. I share this with you in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
 Ezra Taft Benson, “In His Steps,” BYU Speeches, Mar. 4, 1979.
 Isaiah 55:8.
 See John Bytheway, What I Wish I’d Known When I Was Single: How To Do Life As A Young Adult, Deseret Book Co.: Salt Lake City (1999).
 See Luke 10:25–37.
 See Alma 17–19.
 Roald Dahl, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.: (1964).
 Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “Forget Me Not,” Oct. 2011 General Conference.
 Alma 53:20.
 See Alma 57:21.
 Alma 56:47.
 Alma 56:47.
 Alma 56:48.
 See Alma 24:19.
 See Alma 17:14.