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Choose to be Grateful

Talofa and Aloha!

Given my chosen topic, I’m not sure if this is a blessing or a curse. Standing before you today is a little nerve wracking but a humbling experience. You all ought to say ‘yes’ if you are ever invited to speak and feel what I’m going through right now.

In all seriousness, I am indeed thankful for this wonderful and probably a once in a lifetime opportunity to stand before our wonderful BYUH Ohana and share some of my thoughts and feelings on my topic, ‘Choose to be Grateful.’ I thought this would be a good topic as we celebrate Thanksgiving this week. I’d like to thank President Tanner for this experience. I had to give it some thought before saying yes and even after that, I wanted to say no. I’m sure there are others more qualified to speak in devotional than me, then I realized that we all have something to share and learn from each other’s experiences so this is my chance to bear my testimony on how important gratitude is to me and should be in our daily lives.

D&C 98:1 says, “Verily I say unto you my friends, fear not, let your hearts be comforted, yea, rejoice evermore, and in everything give thanks.”

We are told be thankful for everything, not some, but for all that happens in our lives. Like you, there are so many things I am thankful for. I want to thank the University Communications department for their help in getting me setup to speak today. I did not realize how much preparation, time and people it takes to put something like this together.

I’d like to personally thank Dominik for his patience in getting me to hone down on my talk. This is the first time in a long time that I’ve had to sit down and actually write a talk. I like to make bullet points on my topic and speak from that and monitor the time. This experience has made me stretch and rely on the promptings of the spirit on what to share. Dominik kindly told me that this talk is all about what I wanted to share and it can be anything. He also wisely mentioned that this would be something that my posterity would look back in years to come to read what mom or grandma had to say.

That alone has given me the purpose of the things I will share today. I want to thank my many colleagues here on campus for the outpouring of love and support as I prepared for today. I want each of you to know how much I love and appreciate you. There’s too many of you so I won’t mention names lest I forget and offend someone.

Know that you give me strength to stand before you.

I am truly blessed with an abundance of love. I want to thank my daughter, Eliani Maluvale Lawrence, for introducing me. I know this is not something she wanted or chose to do. It was the luck of the draw as her older brothers Tolo could not be here due to work and Tupuono, married to Lavinia Tautua’a and who would’ve loved the opportunity, lives in Utah.

My life is wrapped around the lives of my children and grandchildren whom I love dearly. They are my crown jewels. I thank each of them for the joys, challenges, and blessings they have been and continue to be in my life. They each add so much value and meaning to my journey here on earth. Those of you who have grandchildren know the joys that come from being a grandparent, spoil them and send them home. I have been blessed with three, Emma-naikanalei Afiomailelagimaluofi Manakomaimailatu Lawrence, Tehanui Po’utupuailepapala Zero Choub and Hahani Ete ite Rai Soliai-Solaita.

I must have a good memory. I remember their names. I had visited my kids in Utah not too long ago and had a chat with Emma. I asked how they were doing and she said laughingly, ‘Nana, we don’t have anything, but we have everything.' Out of the mouths of babes comes so much wisdom. Reminding me to be grateful for all that I have been given. It’s not about what we don’t have, it’s about what we have that is a blessing in our lives. I am grateful for the family legacy my parents, grandparents, and ancestors have left behind.

They are my reason for being. They are as eagle’s wings that I fly on. They have woven a tapestry of strength and love for the gospel of Jesus Christ.

I like Nephi of old can say, that I Eugenia Gaseolela’i Faimafilileasuauolemalo Soliai have been born of goodly parents, therefore was taught somewhat in all the learning of my parents. My parents were first and second generation members of the church and were strong stalwart members of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

My mother, Noatia McCarthy is from Western Samoa, now known as Samoa. My mother was a housewife for many years while dad was deployed during his service in the Navy. Then as they moved to Hawaii she worked in the PCC nursery for about five years until she had heart surgery. Mom was one tough cookie. Anyone who knew her can vouch for that. Mom’s education ended at sixth grade but bypasses any degree in my eyes as having raised so many of us. She was organized, a great cook, and knew how to have fun. I love and miss her dearly.

I’m thankful for the strength my mother showed while she was going through her bout with leukemia. Unbeknownst to many of us siblings during the time we were preparing to celebrate my father’s 90th birthday in the summer of 2007 that our mother was diagnosed with pre-leukemia. The Hematologist was keeping a close eye on her blood count.

Mom went through all of the preparations for the event without a single complaint of pain or acknowledging what she was going through at the time. She was focused on making sure that everything would run smoothly for dad’s big day. You could not tell in her expressions on that day that anything was wrong. Soon after the event, she began her treatments. Then again towards the end, no one realized that mom could not see out of one of her eyes. I took her to the eye doctor who explained that a blood clot had formed inside and was blocking her vision. It would be difficult to do any type of treatment due to her chemo treatments and the fact that she was taking blood thinners.

She never complained about it.

One of my brother’s and I even tried to get her to put a patch over the affected eye thinking that might help her vision. She looked like a pirate and said she didn’t need a patched eye. We needed to add a little humor to her day. She was a real trooper until the day she passed away. And her last words that were written in a book were, “love everyone."

Mom’s parents were Malaki McCarthy from Samoa and Pulotu Tupou Manakomaimai from Uhia, Tonga. They were converts to the church after my mother joined the church. Mama Pulotu was a fun loving grandma which lived with our family in Nu’uuli for a few years. She loved making her leis out of seashells. As kids, we would go out to the ocean and find the shells and give them to her. She’d painstakingly put them in a jar to kill off whatever was in them and then pound little holes to make her leis. She was full of laughter.

At night I would listen to her sing her Tongan lullabies to my baby brother. I couldn’t understand her when she spoke Tongan and or Samoan for that matter but what I remember about her is how loving she was and how she made us laugh. I don’t remember meeting my grandfather Malaki but what I know of him is that he was a hardworking man.

He was a painter, painted homes. He made sure that his family always had what they needed. I think mom was the favorite child since she was the baby of 16 children. My aunts used to tell us that she didn’t really have to do any chores since all the older siblings took care of that plus mom was a little sickly growing up. A cousin once told me that our parents took us kids to Western Samoa to visit my mother’s grandparents when we were small. We were either living in Hawaii or the mainland at the time.

My cousin told me that when we came to visit we were treated like royalty by our grandparents since we were visiting. We’d get the best beds and food. The one thing that my cousin wished for was that she could speak English because that’s all us kids spoke at the time. Eventually, this cousin of mine came up to the mainland to help out mom with two other cousins since dad was gone out at sea for about two years at a time.

My father, Edwin Pine Toloa’i Soliai, is from American Samoa. He married our mother in 1949. Mom joined the church a year after she and dad were married and about six years later were sealed in the Salt Lake Temple. My father served in the navy for 24 years. He used to tell my brothers war stories which I didn’t like to hear because I was worried that something might happen to him when he went back out to sea. None of his children served in the military but his grandchildren have served in every branch of the military and continue to serve this great country. I guess with the exception of the Coast Guard. Although with so many grandchildren it's hard to keep track.

My father was faithful in keeping his covenants and honoring his priesthood. He told us that he was one of the first, unofficial missionaries in Guam. He would go out and proselyte when he had time while he was stationed there. He constantly reminded us to keep the commandments and that our blessing from our parents is held in their hands. If the parent opens their hands then we receive the blessing if they don’t then we are at a lost.

My father was a very gentle and humble man. One of the things I love best about my dad is the way he loved and treated our mother. Sure they had their share of disagreements, etc., but my father never once said an unkind word or lifted a hand to her. I miss him.

I’d like to share a story of my father’s father, Pinemua Soliai. I begin by sharing a portion of the genealogy. My grandfather’s father was High Chief Muliufi Soliai of Nu’uuli, Ituau Malosi, American Samoa. His mother was, Si’itialelolo Te’o of Pago Pago, Ma’oputasi, American Samoa. Grandpa Soliai’s birth date and place, September 28, 1886, Nu’uuli. His father died at sea when he was 6yrs old in 1892. So his mother moved him and his two sisters back to her family to the village of Pago Pago.

His grandparents, Kerisiano Te'o and Fa'aletaua Lauvao (Meatoga relatives), mother, himself and his sisters all became members and attended the 1st Branch on Tutuila which was established in Pago Pago on the 27th of May 1893. He was raised in Pago Pago, and married Vaofu'aomalo Faimafiliomanaia Willis Tuiletufuga Fuimaono Su'a from Western Samoa and had 12 children, of which only 7 survived to adulthood.

In 1924-25 the High Chief title Soliai became vacant and the Church elders, headed by Misi Uiliata, Samoan name for Elder Edward J. Wood, asked him if he would take up the title, and move to Nu'uuli. The church, through the genealogy program, found out that he is the only true male heir of the Soliai title. The thought was that holding the title of High Chief would allow for a smoother transition of introducing and establishing the church in Nu’uuli.

However, this was not the case, Nu'uuli had a village law, that there was only to be one church London Mission Society, brought by an Englishman, John Williams in 1830, Sapapali'i, Savai'i and no other. This did not stop Papa Soliai from moving to Nu’uuli in 1926 and establishing the first Latter-Day Saint Sunday School in Nu'uuli which later became a Branch. Grandpa was still living when the branch became the 1st Ward to be divided into two wards on the island of Tutuila. An article, ‘The Saints in Samoa’ written by Janice Clark, Assistant Editor, of the Church News in December 1974 wrote of my grandfather as follows:

"Chief Soliai is one of these fountainheads of faithfulness for later generations.

A powerful chief on Tutuila, American Samoa, he has always been an unwavering member of the Church.

At the turn of the century when missionaries were struggling in Samoa, Chief Soliai and his family took the missionaries into their home.

Villagers in Nu‘uuli, armed with knives and spears, threatened to kill the missionaries or drive them from the village.

Chief Soliai stood between the villagers and the missionaries and said they would have to kill him first.

The villagers left the missionaries alone. Chief Soliai continued to do all he could for the Church, but progress was slow in his village.

Services were held in his hut for many years when he and his family were the only members in the village.”

Great legacy of faith for our family to glean from as we continue our journey here on earth. I am grateful that my parents moved back to Samoa in 1967 after my father retired from the Navy. We moved to Nu’uuli to help take care of our grandfather who was ill at the time. I was about 8 years old.

We lived in a typical Samoan fale with the ocean as our backyard. It was quite an experience. I came to appreciate the simple things in life along with learning the Samoan traditions and way of life. I learned the value of hard work especially growing up in a large family. I come from a family of 18 though we had many other relatives live with us at one time or other. I counted about 30 people who lived in our fale at one time. I do not know how my parents did it but I know they had faith in the Lord to see them through the journey which has blessed our lives.

Their love and service did not stop in Samoa. It followed them when they moved back to Hawaii in 1977. Mom passed away in 2008 at the age of 76 and dad passed away in 2015 at the age of 97. I’ve heard stories from many individuals about how my parents helped them in one way or other. One of the biggest examples of my parents that I am grateful for is their attitude towards service. They truly exemplified the loved of the Savior through their years of service in the church and towards anyone in need. We’d be preparing a big meal for a family gathering and the first thing our parents would do is make plates for all the neighbors. Us kids would complain about what we were going to eat and the response we‘d get back from our parents is, “just give the plates to the neighbors, they’re probably hungry too. E le iloa ala o vae, fa’ifa’alelei tagata, meaning you don’t know where you will find yourself in life, so treat people well."

In essence, what you give will return to you tenfold. I have been blessed many times over because of my parent’s faith and example of serving others. My parents supported 13 of us siblings on missions and at one time there were three serving at the same time. It was through the examples of my siblings that I desired to serve a mission. I was fortunate and blessed to serve a mission right after I graduated from High School at the age 17. I have to admit that I did not want to serve a mission in Samoa because I did not speak the language.

My mother raised us speaking English because of her father, papa Malaki's, encouragement. That we could learn Samoan anytime. Long story short, I would meet with my bishop at the time, Bishop Beaver Ho Ching, who happened to be my cousin, a few months before graduating from High School to work on my mission papers.

Each Sunday we met he would encourage me to go to College at BYU–Hawaii and find a good husband to raise a family, he said I was too young to go on a mission. I finally asked him to please send my papers in, I would accept the Prophet telling me not to go but not him. He had enough of me and agreed to move my papers forward.

Then I met with the Stake President, President Eugene Reid, who happened to be married to a cousin of mine, and he kind of said the same thing as my Bishop. He knew I was determined to go so he asked where I would like to serve, I joyfully said, New Zealand, at least I can speak English there.

He then said, “Let’s just put Samoa and New Zealand as your second choice. You’d be lucky if you can go at all.”

I reluctantly agreed.

Two weeks later, I got my call, guess where to?

That’s right, Apia Samoa Mission.

I wasn’t too happy at the time but I can honestly say I had the best experience and of course it was the best mission. I am grateful to have served in Samoa because I learned the language, by reading the scriptures in Samoan and English, I came to appreciate the culture and people more and my testimony of Joseph Smith and the Savior grew. It wasn’t easy, but it has been a great blessing in my life.

Missionaries lived with our family for about seven years. They sent the difficult missionaries to our family so mom could discipline them. Some of the missionaries that lived in our home include Steve Laulu, Phyllis Peters, Magi Keil, Palauni MaSun, Seuseu Suamatai’a and many others.

My parents desired to serve a full-time mission as a couple. They couldn’t be called off island due to my mother’s health but were blessed to serve at the Polynesian Cultural Center in the Samoan village. It was a wonderful time for them. They also served for many years in the Laie Hawaii Temple. Dad was also a sealer.

All that I am I owe to my dear parents. I honor them and pray that I can be half the person they were while in this life. Even though they have gone beyond the veil I still feel their every watching eye and love upon us and I thank the Lord each day for them and pray for the work they continue to do on the other side of the veil. Family is very important to me and thus I want to let my siblings know that I love and appreciate each one of them. As in every family, we have our ups and downs, but we still try to stay in contact and support each other.

I am grateful to have been raised in a large family. I also love and appreciate my extended family all across the world who give meaning to my life. I definitely have learned and continue to learn the importance of communication, patience, love, loyalty, respect and honoring our family ties. I love my Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ for the plan of salvation that will allow me one day to once again be with my parents and loved ones who have passed on to the other side of the veil. I am reminded by their examples to keep on doing the best I can each day and to enjoy the journey.

The following is a quote from an unknown author:

“Life is like an old time rail journey, delays, sidetracks, smoke, dust, cinders and jolts, interspersed only occasionally by beautiful vistas and thrilling burst of speed.

The trick is to thank the Lord for letting you have the ride.”

Enjoy the journey of life. We need to be excited that we have the gospel in our life that will guide and help us every step of the way. It’s not going to be a perfect ride but it will be one that we will grow from. Start where you are today and give thanks on a daily basis. I think many times we say thank you in our hearts without voicing it.

How many times have you walked through the McKay halls feeling a little down only to be uplifted by someone smiling at you as they passed by? Did you stop to say thank you for that smile? There are so many little acts of kindness that seem to go unnoticed. Take time to stop and notice them and give thanks. In fact, Bonnie D. Parker said this: “Gratitude inspires happiness and carries divine influence.”

I am appreciative to all those who have crossed by path as I have lived here in Hawaii and worked at BYU–Hawaii. I am grateful for the many individuals that have and continue to mentor me and help me become better at what I do and see the potential in me that I do not see. Everyone’s job here on campus is important. Thank you for taking the time do your jobs well.

We represent the Lord at this great institution. May gratitude fill our hearts to influence us to be our best selves and give an honest day’s work as we serve. I also appreciate and give gratitude for the students I have had the opportunity and privilege of teaching both past and present. My life has been enriched because of my association with them and the insights they share.

President Monson stated in his article, Thinking to Thank, “Gratitude is something most of us have to practice, but God will bless us even for our imperfect efforts to live in thanksgiving daily”.

President Uchtdorf taught: “Gratitude to our Father in Heaven broadens our perception and clears our vision. It inspires humility and fosters empathy toward our fellowmen and all of God’s creation. Gratitude is a catalyst to all Christlike attributes!”

President Monson also taught, “Sincerely giving thanks not only helps us recognize our blessings, but it also unlocks the doors of heaven and helps us feel God’s love”. Music also helps remind us to have gratitude in our hearts. My sister would remind me to think of the song, ‘Count Your Many Blessings,’ when I feel discouraged. Once I began reciting the words I would quickly be reminded of how blessed I truly am. I encourage each of has to have the courage and desire to make the choice to be grateful and to show our gratitude often especially to our Heavenly Father and Savior Jesus Christ. It is because of our Savior that we are able to express our gratitude towards Him and our Heavenly Father.

Elder Robert D. Hales has said, “He awaits our expression of gratefulness each morning and night in sincere simple prayer from our hearts for our many blessings, gifts and talents.” Rosemary M. Wixom commented, “Looking forward with an eternal perspective gives one hope, a reason to look up and feel gratitude for even the smallest bit of light." Marion G. Romney also commented on this topic, “All people who understand what Jesus did for us ought to love Him and demonstrate that love by rendering Him, in a realistic manner, thanks and gratitude.”

I leave with you my testimony that I know that our sincere expression of gratitude to the Lord for all of our countless blessings will bring about abundant blessings. I end my talk in the form of a song written by Jolene Kanahele, “Courage.”