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Because He Loved Us First

Aloha Brothers and Sisters,

O my goodness, if it’s not bad enough standing in front of you today, I have to do it following General Conference! I apologize in advance for that.

Just a reminder from Elder Jeffrey R. Holland here, I hope I don’t drop you down too far from your highs of this past weekend and that you’ll remember the wonderful feelings of the General Conference messages you heard in spite of me. 

When I was five years old many eons ago, I remember watching a scene where my Tutu, my great grandmother, was chasing my older cousins around the house with a broom. She was very upset and they were running away from her laughing. Even as a child I remember feeling sad about that scene and thinking “that’s not right.” And my Tutu would yell out to them, “Ma hope ‘oe ‘ike.”

I’d heard my mother and grandmother say it often enough as I grew older that I had to find out the meaning:   “Ma hope ‘oe ike. Bum by, you’ll see.” In other words, what goes around, comes around. I tried very hard to be really nice to my parents in hopes that someday I would have children and grandchildren and they in turn would be very nice to me.

My little grandmother gave birth to 17 children. My husband’s little grandmother gave birth to 21 children. My husband is one of nine children, but I’m only one of four. I had so much fun growing up with cousins all around though, that I wanted to have a large family so the kids would always have someone to play with. I was aiming for 17 but I thought 12 was a great number, and because there are only 12, I get to have their pictures in a clock on my kitchen wall. I am so happy to have eight, nine, and ten o’clock here with me today.

I love this scripture found in John 4:19 & 21. "We love him, because he first loved us. . . And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also." 1

Although I’m no Saint, I really do try to love everyone I meet. Some are so easy to love while others may take a little extra work on my part. But my mother loved me first and taught me a lot. One great lesson I learned during my senior year in high school. I was attending a private school in Honolulu and because I was a boarding student I didn’t have the opportunity to attend church or Seminary or Mutual like the other kids in my ward. I wasn’t even allowed to go home on weekends. However, I did have mini cottage meetings in my room whenever I could and was able to share my love of the gospel with some of my friends, a few of whom later joined the Church.

But there was a boy in my home ward—his name was BBIIIIIGGGG MIKE. He was called Big Mike for a reason. He was a very, very, big guy. Big Mike was a friend and we would talk now and then, but certainly nothing that would warrant “dating”. He wasn’t my type. Then one day, one of the girls in the ward told me that she heard Big Mike was going to ask me to his junior prom. 

“What? No way . . . there is no way I would go with him so he better not ask,” I said. Big Mike was a nice guy, but definitely not someone I wanted to go out with, let alone go to a prom with where everyone would see us together.

I really don’t remember if I told my mother or not, but she found out anyway (mothers are like that) and asked me if I was going to the prom with Michael. “Of course not,” I said. “Are you kidding me? I hope he doesn’t ask me because I don’t want to have to hurt his feelings.”

I remember my mother looked at me and said: “Who do you think you are? Why, there are boys out there who would think the same thing of you!” 

“What? Really? There is someone out there who wouldn’t want to go out with me?” That was an eye opener. How vain and shallow was I?

I still hoped he wouldn’t ask me to his prom, but silly boy, he did. And even sillier, with my mom’s words still ringing loudly in my mind, I went with him to his high school prom. Although he wasn’t my Prince Charming, I thought to myself that everyone would look at him and say, “Wow, he is such a lucky guy! How did he get her for a date?” Did I mention I was vain and shallow at that age?

But you know what? We had a great time—more fun than I ever expected. He had a really nice car (which didn’t hurt); and he had very good taste in flower leis (pikake, my favorite), and he took me to a very nice place for dinner. We had so much fun at the prom—meeting up with lots of my former classmates, and even went mini-golfing afterwards still all dressed up in our prom clothes. We laughed a lot that night and I thought, “whew, that wasn’t so bad after all”. 

Years later, Big Mike and I had occasion to visit with each other. At the end of our conversation, he said to me, “You know, you’ll never know how much that meant to me, that you would say yes when I asked you to my prom. Everyone said don’t ask her, she won’t go with YOU. But you said yes and you made me so happy. Thank you for that.” I remember thinking right after we talked: thank you Mom and thank you Heavenly Father. About a year later, Big Mike was killed in a car accident. I am incredibly grateful that, instead of following my shallow and vain thoughts I followed my mom’s advice. Instead of being a disappointment and a regret for me, I got to be a positive and happy memory for Big Mike in his short life. 

I think of the poem that President Monson shared in his April 2014 conference address:

I have wept in the night

For the shortness of sight

That to somebody’s need made me blind;

But I never have yet

Felt a tinge of regret

For being a little too kind. 2

No, you can never be sorry for being too kind and it’s even more important to be kind than to be right. 

President Monson, in that same talk also explained:

"We cannot truly love God if we do not love our fellow travelers on this mortal journey. Likewise, we cannot fully love our fellowmen if we do not love God, the Father of us all. Love is the very essence of the gospel, and Jesus Christ is our Exemplar. His life was a legacy of love."

Yes Jesus Christ was our example, and as I travel on my mortal journey, I can see this love of God through the actions of others. 

My father was raised on the island of Moloka’i as a Catholic. Unfortunately, as an altar boy, he acquired the taste of alcohol at a very early age. That never stopped him from being a hard worker and providing for his family though. We grew up in Kaneohe where he worked for Board of Water Supply. He was a very good employee and always showed up for work. He started at 7:00 am and was home by 4:00 pm, but  if he wasn’t home by 4:30 pm, we knew he wasn’t coming home sober. I remember sometimes cringing in my bed and pretending I was asleep, because when he came home late, he always wanted company in the kitchen. He would always yell out for one of us kids to come and sit with him—that kid was usually me. I would have to listen to him talk nonsense and pretend I was falling asleep so he would either tell me to go back to bed, or he would fall asleep too. What we kids didn’t want for sure was for my mom to get up and start arguing with him. That usually didn’t end very well at all. 

There were many awful nights we had to endure at home. At those times we would ask my mom, “Why don’t you just leave him already?” My mom would remind us, “He’s a good man. He just has this weakness.” She saw a great man in my dad. It just took a lot longer for my dad to see it in himself. 

Our bishop at the time was also a police Sergeant and for whatever reason, he was the only one my dad would listen to when he was drunk and belligerent. Bishop Sam had a way of calming my dad down. Because he loved my dad first, my dad loved him. There wasn’t anything my dad wouldn’t do for Bishop Sam, except stop drinking and smoking. Although not what you would consider “active,” my dad would always be the first at the chapel for clean-up. He would even take his lawn mower to the chapel when no one else was there and clean the yard if he thought it wasn’t good enough. Mom saw the diamond in the rough. She loved him first and taught me to do the same. 

My dad worked very hard to try and take us to the temple. However, he died from liver cancer before he was able to do that. Thank goodness for the temple and the work that goes on in there. We did his work a year later. 

A story is told of an interview with twins who had been raised by an alcoholic father. One grew up to be an alcoholic while the other one never touched the stuff. When asked the same question, “Why did you turn out the way you did?” both answered the same way, “With a father like mine, what did you expect?”

I decided at an early age that I did not want alcohol in my home. In spite of my father, no BECAUSE of my father, I chose a different life for my children. 

We have a wonderful sister in our ward who loved us first. She is Mom to some, Aunty Lavern to others, or Tutu to most of the kids in the ward and our street. 

Because her husband was a fisherman, every summer at ward camp you would find Aunty Lavern sitting on the beach cleaning fish for others to eat. No complaints—just  scaling, and gutting the fish and finally frying it all for the final luau on the last night of camp. But the thing I noticed was she did it all by herself. I also noticed that everyone loved to eat the fish she cleaned and fried but there were not many helping hands when it came to cleaning the fish. 

As my children got older at ward camp and could look after themselves more I started cleaning fish with Aunty. After all, my dad was a fisherman, too. She still does it to this day, even from her wheelchair. 

Because she loved us first, there isn’t anyone I know that wouldn’t do anything that Aunty wants or needs doing. One of Aunty’s favorite sayings is “many hands make light work” and I’m glad to say that many more hands have been added to fish detail at ward camp.

Wards are like family. Our Ward is even more than family at times.

Alma, in talking to his people, admonished them:

and now, as ye are desirous to come into the fold of God, and to be called his people, and are willing to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light;

Yea, and are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in, even until death, that ye may be redeemed of God, and be numbered with those of the first resurrection, that ye may have eternal life—

What a wonderful promise—just do these little things and ye shall have eternal life. I have been a beneficiary of those who were willing to bear my burden and mourn with me and comfort me, even until death.

When I was 13, I remember visiting family on the Big Island. The kids there loved to sing all the time. I heard a song then that touched my heartstrings, that I never forgot—little knowing at the time how it would impact me later on in life.

Mama, mama, you are tired, I know

Watching over me night and day

Soon you’ll rest for I must go I know

I must die, I heard them say.

All the tears roll down your pretty face

Mama, mama do not weep

Heaven is such a lovely place

Kiss me as I fall asleep.

Years later, it was like my Pokaiaua was singing this song to me. After almost a year of being ill, my 3 o’clock, was finally rightfully diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor. He was nearly seven years old. He needed so much care and attention, but I had other little children to tend to. But with the help of family and friends and ward members, my burden was lightened; I was comforted, I could feel their love and support  And in spite of that trial, I truly felt the Lord’s loving arms around me. He gave me strength I had no idea I possessed. 

After a year of treatment, everything seemed to be going very well, and I had another baby on the way. Then a few months before that baby was to arrive, we realized that it wasn’t going as well as we thought. I could see that he was tired of all the treatments but there was one more surgery that the doctors said would give us an extra six months with him. Only a mother would grasp at this very desperate straw. The thought that my child would precede me, the parent, in death was not the way life was supposed to be.

I remember how we got to take him home for the weekend. I was to convince him to have the surgery. With the World Series on TV in the background and us lying on my bed, I said: 

“Pokaiaua, the doctors want to do one more surgery so you can stay with us longer. Will that be all right?”

By this time, he had been baptized only a month. I could see how tired he was. But he looked at me so grown-up like and said, “I want to go home.”

I said, “But you are home!”

He replied, “Not this home.”

I cried and asked him to please have the surgery, and he looked at me through his little man eyes and with a tolerant smile on his face said, “Okay.” And suddenly, he was my senior.

If I had known then what I knew later, I wouldn’t have done the surgery. We didn’t have six more months with him at all—we only had six weeks, but six weeks of him in a coma. I was expecting another baby at the time, 7 o’clock, and the doctors said as soon as I delivered her, I could take him home.

Because we loved him first, Pokaiaua loved us enough to wait for his little sister to come down for her turn on earth before he headed home. I thought for sure they would high five each other, her spirit on her way down and his spirit on his way up. We named her “Kealohakamakanaoklani” – beloved gift from heaven. She was a gift Heavenly Father was sending to ease the pain. She was ten days old when he gently woke us up as his spirit left his body. And because I had just recently seen the play MY TURN ON EARTH, his eulogy was written through the eyes of his baby sister.

The Lord through his love, and His kind and tender mercy, puts wonderful people in our lives at the times when we need them the most, to love us very much.

I remember thinking, years later after the heartache had healed, that I had passed that test. I learned a great lesson and will render that same kind of love and service to others that was given to me. Ma hope ‘oe ‘ike. 

But alas and alack, I guess I didn’t learn enough. My eldest daughter, 

Leah, (two o’clock) was called to serve in the Japan Sendai mission. She was so excited and had prepared herself to serve the Lord because she loved our Savior very much. While in the MTC in Provo, she was having difficulty with the high altitude, so she thought. She was anemic, just like her mom, so she thought. But six weeks into the MTC, they found out it had nothing at all to do with the altitude—she was diagnosed with Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia.

Again, I could look back and see the Lord’s great love and tender mercy. Somehow, no one knows how, but when she submitted her mission papers, her blood test was missing but no one noticed. That allowed her to receive her mission call and to spend six wonderful weeks in the MTC—six weeks that would shore her up for the next 18 months of her life. For those 18 months she loved all the doctors and nurses she came in contact with, and they in turn loved her.

But despite the trial my daughter was going through at the time, I could feel my Savior’s love for me and for my family—feelings (not the circumstances) that you wish would stay with you forever. I know with a surety that my daughter is happy and busy on the other side of the veil. Because He loved us first, we love Him. 

It seems that the last few General Conferences have stressed the need to love one another; to be kind to each other; to forgive one another. President Monson has said:

"There are many attributes which are manifestations of love, such as kindness, patience, selflessness, understanding, and forgiveness. In all our associations, these and other such attributes will help make evident the love in our hearts. 

How can we not feel what the Savior wants us to feel when we sing Hymn #172:

Fill our hearts with sweet forgiving

Teach us tolerance and love,

Let our prayers find access to thee

In thy holy courts above

Then when we have proven worthy

Of thy sacrifice divine, 

Lord, let us regain thy presence,

Let thy glory round us shine. 3

Let me share a story of love being manifested through the kindness, forgiveness and helping hands of others. Many years ago, a friend of mine was on a stake presidency. It was at a time when the stake presidency needed to be reorganized and when only the first presidency or one of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles could perform that sacred duty.

Elder James E. Faust was the presiding authority for that stake conference. It was and still is I believe, a normal practice to interview Melchizedek priesthood holders to get a feel of who the next stake president should be. After interviewing many, it was my friends turn for an interview. As he sat down, Elder Faust looked him in the eye and said: “Everyone loves you. Everyone wants you to be the next stake president. But this isn’t a popularity contest, The Lord doesn’t work that way—and the Lord doesn’t want you, why?”

At that moment my friend said he realized two things: that The Church really was true and that the Lord really did speak to his Apostles. My friend finally came clean with his life. He had not been living worthy of his priesthood. He was excommunicated and left to the buffetings of Satan. 

In 1994, at the close of General Conference, President Gordon B. Hinckley reminded us that:

"There are those who were once warm in the faith, but whose faith has grown cold. Many of them wish to come back but do not know quite how to do it. They need friendly hands reaching out to them. With a little effort, many of them can be brought back to feast again at the table of the Lord." 4

Many hearts were broken and many hearts were unforgiving, but the Lord loved him and did not forget him. Years later, a sweet sister missionary loved him first. She and her companion persistently visited him every week. When it was time for her transfer, a missionary couple, with warm, friendly hands reaching out to him, withholding judgment, loving him despite of his shortcomings, loved him back into the fold. He rejoiced in the atonement of our Savior, Jesus Christ. He was re-baptized, and attended his meetings, patiently accepting and doing whatever the bishop required of him. Through patience and long-suffering and through the love of many, his long awaited temple blessings were finally restored; families were united once more, and my friend rejoiced in the few temple sessions he was able to attend before he passed away. President Uchtdorf reminds us that:

Our willingness to repent shows our gratitude for God’s gift and for the Savior’s love and sacrifice on our behalf. Commandments and priesthood covenants provide a test of faith, obedience, and love for God and Jesus Christ, but even more importantly, they offer an opportunity to experience love from God and to receive a full measure of joy both in this life and in the life to come. . . 

Remember: the heavens will not be filled with those who never made mistakes but with those who recognized that they were off course and who corrected their ways to get back in the light of gospel truth.

In closing, I echo President Hinckley when he said:  

"Brothers and Sisters, I would hope, I would pray, that each of us, . . . would resolve to seek those who need help, who are in desperate and difficult circumstances, and lift them in the spirit of love into the embrace of the Church, where strong hands and loving hearts will warm them, comfort them, sustain them," 

Because He loved us first, may we in turn love one another, ma hope ‘oe ‘ike . . . is my prayer, in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

[1]John 4:19, 21

[2]President Monson April 2014 conference

[3]Hymn #172

[4]“Reach with a Rescuing Hand,” Ensign, Nov. 1996