Brothers and Sisters, Aloha.
I want to thank you all for attending devotional today, as I know with the end of the semester approaching, you could have chosen to use this hour for other purposes. So thank you for attending. I feel very blessed to have my parents here to introduce me at devotional. This is their tenth year doing missionary service for the church. They have served together as Mission President in Papua New Guinea, Mission Training Center President in New Zealand, Service Center Manager in Papua New Guinea and Seminary and Institute in Papua New Guinea. They love the people of Papua New Guinea. Today, they are serving here at the Polynesian Cultural Center in the New Zealand village. It feels like a full circle today since my brothers and I served in the Polynesian Cultural Center, and now our parents serve there as well. Their service has blessed my brothers and I in numerous ways, as well as my brothers’ families. I also know that several of you here have been under their leadership at one time or another and have been blessed by their service as well. I have always admired their positive attitude and resilience when faced with overwhelming challenges during their years of service. And as a result, it is the theme of “conquering your challenges” that I wish to talk to you about today. I liken our challenges can be likened unto a big hill that, at times, may seem impossible or difficult to climb, that we even give up before we even start. We often do not realize how much effort is required to climb the hill because its steepest gradient is sometimes obscured with forestry.
In Auckland, New Zealand there is a hill called “One Tree Hill”. This is probably one of the few landmarks in New Zealand that did not feature in any of the Hobbit or Lord of the Rings movies. At the bottom of One Tree Hill is a large surrounding park that has a number of grassy areas which are used for popular New Zealand outdoor activities.People often come and enjoy the grassy areas without ever going up the hill, because they either do not need to go up the hill or they choose not too. However, others do take on the trek up “One Tree Hill”, which begins with a noticeable steady incline. The huge trees at the bottom of the hill make the height and depth of the mountain difficult to detect, which may result in you thinking that you are merely on a leisurely walk. However, once you pass the gate that begins the upward climb you soon begin to visualize the extent of the journey ahead and quickly realize two key features.
First, there are actually two hills to climb to get to the top and second, shade becomes scarce the more you climb up the hill, hence the name "One Tree Hill". Once you climb the first hill there is a brief flat area to regain your breath before taking on the last hill. Then, there is a small set of stairs before you reach the very top of the hill. Once you reach the top of the hill, you are rewarded with the beauty of Auckland city. You can take your time and walk around the top of the hill and bask in the views of Auckland from different perspectives. After taking in such views the walk almost seems bearable, even perhaps with an upbeat attitude, because you quickly realize that the hardest part of the journey has already occurred. Despite feeling some fatigue while walking down, using a different bunch of muscles, the journey will most likely seem much more pleasant. As you continue walking around the bottom of the mountain, your walk ends with a grove of trees that cover the road acting like a welcome parade to the end of your challenge or trek. The walk up and around “One Tree Hill” can be likened unto the many challenges that we face in our personal lives. Sometimes when we realize how hard the challenge is we give up before we even attempt the challenge. Or just when we think we have conquered our challenge we realize we still have some way to go. Also, sometimes the extent of our challenge is masked by different circumstances that give us a false impression of the task before us. But, if we diligently take on the challenges that are given to each of us, we are able to see the vast beauty of success and achievement from different perspectives. After conquering a challenge, we are more than likely to take on subsequent challenges with a different attitude and renewed belief. We also experience the welcoming of great joy for all of our hard work at the end of the challenge.
Today I would like to offer three simple suggestions to help conquer your individual “One Tree Hill”. First, surround yourself with the right people. Notice here I say the “right people” and not just “good people”. When thinking about the right people, I refer to seeking the assistance of people who can provide the most appropriate support that's directly related to the particular challenge that you are facing. Let me share an example to illustrate this point. I had often driven up "One Tree Hill" to show friends that would visit New Zealand, the beautiful sights at the top of the hill. But, I had never taken on the challenge of actually walking up the hill. As you can imagine, driving up the hill is a lot easier than walking up the hill. In finding the support of someone to help me conquer this challenge of walking up One Tree Hill, it was obvious that I needed to find the right person. Not just a good person. This would mean looking for someone who, 1) wanted to actually walk up the hill, 2) was in reasonable physical condition and 3) would be a positive and supportive help for me in conquering this challenge. It would not be useful to ask someone for help who was a good person, but had no interest at all in walking up “One Tree Hill”.
It just so happened that I was extremely blessed to meet an Olympic champion, Valerie Adams, when her and her husband moved into my ward in New Zealand. She was seeking a friend in the ward and I was seeking a walking buddy. Who better to seek help from, than someone who had participated in four Olympics, medalled 3 times (with 2 gold and 1 silver), and a champion of 5 World Diamond Leagues in her respective sport, which was shotput. Valerie trains up to 5 hours a day and was therefore in obvious great physical condition. I, on the other hand, was in the below average category of physical fitness. As you can see from the following picture, there is a slight height difference between Valerie and I and so I knew that keeping up with her long strides could prove problematic. In this picture here I am actually standing on a step. The first time we walked up "One Tree Hill", we had just made it past the first major climb and she could hear my heavy breathing. She kindly asked me, in a very caring manner, “Do you have asthma”. With a look of utter exhaustion on my face I answered, “No, this is how I normally breathe”. We both broke out into laughter and I felt an instant sense of care and support from her. Here she was this four time Olympian, walking with me up this hill.
One thing I learned from Valerie was she taught me some really good breathing techniques to help me make it up the rest of the hill.After 10 weeks of walking up “One Tree Hill” I was able to make it up those steep parts of the hill in a much better manner than that first time with Valerie walking with me and supporting me all the way. At the end of the 10 weeks she would push me a little harder. She would say, "Okay, we're going to run this part now." I would smile and say, "Okay I can't wait." Our favorite part, though, was always taking some time to enjoy the reward at the top of the hill. Basking in the beauty of the city always made me want to finish strong. We also had time to take a quick selfie. Whenever we would walk up "One Tree Hill", Valerie would get stopped on several occasions by people who recognized her. I always welcomed those opportunities because I'd have a chance to catch my breath. Walking with Valerie always made me want to finish strong when walking back down the hill and around the bottom of the park. Valerie, at the time, was the right person to surround myself with in trying to conquer this challenge. With her extensive career and world experiences, Valerie also proved to be very pivotal in other challenges that I was trying to conquer at that time of my life. In some cases when you surround yourself with the right people, or the right person in this case, they prove to be a pivotal instrument in your life on more than one occasion. As you prepare for the challenge of finals and end of semester responsibilities, take a moment to ask yourself, “Am I surrounding myself with the right people to help conquer those challenges”. Please note, this is not an invitation to instantly judge the person sitting next to you or the people that you associate the most with. Rather, it is an invitation to ponder about who you believe is the right person to best help you with the particular challenges in your life.As you ponder purposefully, let the spirit talk to you and in some cases give you names of particular people who would be best to help you. Once you have a name, act upon the prompting immediately by approaching that person, and approaching them with confidence because you know it was a prompting of the spirit. You should always take confidence in the Lord’s promptings, Brothers and Sisters, as they are the most credible sources that are based in truth. This is very important today, especially in a day where social media continues to be a major source of the decisions that we make.
In hindsight, meeting Valerie was no coincidence. The night before I met her and her husband Gabriel at church, my parents had just left New Zealand. My cousins that I were staying with had all gone away for a few weeks and I was home by myself. I wasn't feeling well. I had the flu, and I was kind of feeling sorry for myself. The next morning was Sunday and as I prayed, I expressed to Heavenly Father, "I'm going to stay home today to recover from my illness." When I think about it now, my prayer was kind of like, "I'm going to stay home today, because I'm feeling sorry for myself." The Lord quietly prompted me saying, “Go to church, and I promise you, you will feel better”. Valerie and I both talk about how we were meant to meet each other that day, and I am very blessed to have her in my life. In this case, the Lord led me to whom I needed to surround myself with to help me with more than one challenge. The second suggestion I offer is to work hard consistently. Here I talk of being hardworking, persistent and committing yourself to consistent daily activities that work towards conquering your challenge. My parents are great examples of working consistently everyday in the different capacities as missionaries. As previously mentioned, with regards to challenges, we sometimes give up before even trying. This is sometimes due to that fact that we are not always willing to put in the hard work required to conquer them.
When you pass the first gate of "One Tree Hill", and begin to see to what extent the journey of the climb entails, you may change your mind and convince yourself, "You know what? This challenge is too difficult," and turn around and take the easy walk. Or, you may decide that the climb is not worth it, and continue walking around the bottom on the flat easy path. When making such a decision, we miss out on conquering challenges and we also lack potential opportunities for progression. Sometimes we lack motivation to be diligent or sometimes we become distracted. Therefore, we need to find something that inspires us to be enthusiastic about conquering our challenges. Now I know that's not an easy thing to do. At this point when it becomes too hard for us, we almost need an intervening outstretched hand. I experienced this recently when I returned home to NZ, to complete my PhD thesis for examination. I knew that some changes needed to be made with regards to my research, but when I got home I realized it was an extensive revision of my previously drafted chapters. Rather than try and come up with a plan of how to be diligent and hardworking on my own, I felt the Lord intervene in my life in a very real way. I actually tried to come up with a daily working plan of how to take on this challenge, but I never quite felt like I had done enough. The Lord's intervention was real because it came in such a manner that I knew that if I did not follow it, then I would most likely not conquer this challenge. The Lord worked through my PhD supervisor who was someone who that I followed with exactness. My supervisor put a very stringent plan with restrictions on how my daily time was to be spent. My supervisor insisted that I dedicate 10 hours a day to writing and revision and that those 10 hours needed to be done on campus with someone signing me in and someone signing me out each day. Because school was some distance from where I was living at the time, this meant I needed to catch a ferry to and from the city and walk an additional 40 mins to and from the ferry to campus.
Let me just share with you my daily schedule: • 5am Wake up and shower (It was winter time in New Zealand, so it was still dark.)• 5:30 scripture study and prayer • 6:00 Breakfast and make my lunch • 6:30 I would pack my bag and make my way to catch the ferry• 7:00 I would catch the ferry and I would go early to the ferry to ensure a seat inside especially in the middle of the NZ winter • 7:35 I would arrive and make my walk up to campus • 7:55 I would get there and find someone to sign me in for the day and began writing and revising by 8am. • Throughout the day I would take three 15 min breaks, one half hour break for lunch (when you think about it, a half hour break is very short for a Maori in New Zealand) and then I would pack up at 6pm and have someone sign me out. • 6:00 pm I would walk to catch the 6:30 ferry• I would get off the ferry at 7:10 pm and arrive home by 7:20pm. The only people I saw during the day was my cousin who would say goodbye to me in the morning, the two other PhD students I was studying with, and my ferry friends. My wonderful cousin Cindy blessed me each night with a delicious dinner to finish off a hardworking day. I would fall into bed absolutely exhausted no later than 9 pm every night. Now let me reiterate here that this is not a daily schedule of consistent hard work that I would have chosen for myself, yet, it was the exact one that was needed to conquer my challenge.
I think Heavenly Father knew that. He knew that I wouldn't choose such a rigorous schedule and so He intervened for me, which I am so grateful for. Upon reflection, I recognize the Lord’s pivotal hand in making sure this schedule of hard work and diligence was put in place in such a manner that I would have to adhere to it with exactness. When we are struggling to be consistently hardworking in conquering our challenges, sometimes we need to ask for added help. When in doubt ask the Lord to help you and see him reply appropriately to your plea for help. I experienced that on several occasions back in New Zealand, and I have such a firm testimony of that. The third, suggestion I’d like to offer is to serve the Lord in a greater capacity. I learned that service has everything to do with academic study, spiritual well being, physical fitness and even expanding ones social skills. Let me first explain what I mean by a greater capacity. Here I refer to service that leaves you exhausted to a point where you have literally given everything you possibly can.
Again, in conquering my challenge of completing my PhD, I was prompted to immediately serve. So when I go home I approached Bishop Stevens in the Howick ward in Auckland NZ, I said that I needed to serve and so please give me a calling. He shared some potential callings with me and I instantly said, “Well I don't really want those callings, but anything else would be great”. That evening in my prayers I pleaded with Heavenly Father, asking him, "Please help me with my school work and please let me know how I can better serve”. Right at that very point I experienced a gentle rebuke from the Lord. It went something like this “Well I did let you know how you can serve, but you said no”. Right then, I knew I needed to serve anywhere that was asked of me and do so even if it wasn't necessarily something I wanted to do. I also realized then that I needed to give service joyfully and continuously.
As a result, I became the super substitute teacher in our ward. I taught seminary, Relief Society, institute, gospel doctrine and I even spoke twice in Sacrament meeting. On one of those occasions, I was only given 15 minutes preparation time, but it did not faze me at all. All I knew is that the Lord wanted me to serve and so I should serve joyfully and continuously. With that 15 minute preparation and the experiences I gained in my studies and being here at BYU, I was able to fulfill that calling. At that time I felt really good about my service and I felt, "Man I am serving! I'm a great server and I am serving in full capacity." I kind of patted myself on the back and thought, "Go you, Nancy!"But it was not yet a greater capacity. Let me continue and explain why it was not yet a greater capacity. I knew we had a weekend holiday coming up and my cousins whom I was staying with were going away for the weekend to a Stake YSA camp. I was looking forward to having the whole house to myself and being able to get in some extra writing and studying time on a holiday.
As everyone was getting ready to go to camp the Lord prompted me again and asked, “So what service are you providing for the camp?” I remember responding, “Well none really because, remember I am the super substitute in the ward and I'm already serving fully”. May I just mention here that the Lord and I have great conversations. I understand and know how He talks to me and at times it has been a clear and vivid speaking voice. I think that's because sometime I don't listen and so for me He knows, "I need to tell her directly." This conversation was one of those times.
I remember telling the Lord all the reasons why I did not need to serve at camp and the reasons why my character and personality and my body type is such that it is not really made for camping situations. But in a very audible and clear voice the Lord said to me “go and serve at camp”. I was instantly moved to act and offer my services at camp. I thought that maybe they'd want me to do a few workshops, maybe use some of my experience as a teacher, but it seemed that my services were only needed in the kitchen. So for 3 days, I served in the kitchen at the Panmure, Auckland Stake YSA camp. I cooked, I served, I cleaned, I prepared endlessly for three days. At the end of the first day I was absolutely exhausted that sleep was almost instant for me.
This was the very first time I had truly experienced and recognized serving in a greater capacity. What better way to retire to your bed at night than to be absolutely exhausted with service. When I arrived home from camp I received an email from my supervisor telling me he had signed off on three of my chapters. I firmly believe that service to the point of exhaustion was pivotal in conquering that part of my PhD submission. The challenges we encounter are sometimes part of the career choices and paths we have chosen to pursue. Like the challenges you experience here at BYU, in your schooling. However, in other circumstances some challenges are put upon us from no fault of our own. An example of this is when one struggles with an illness or personal circumstances that are out of our control. How do we conquer these challenges? Those challenges can be conquered using these same suggestions that I offer with an added positive attitude and love for our Heavenly Father. Our family has experienced this type of challenge. My brother was recently diagnosed last year with MDS myelodysplastic syndrome, which is a type of blood cancer. My brother Wayne, like myself, was an alumni here BYUH and he too worked at the Polynesian Cultural Center in the night show and in reservations with President Grace. They looked a bit younger back then. He is the assistant rugby coach for the BYU Provo rugby team and he's very involved with a lot of the Polynesian YSA living in Utah. With his illness the marrow in his bones are unable to produce immature blood cells that mature into the essential blood cells that he needs. As a result he requires regular blood transfusions and he also undergoes regular chemotherapy treatments.
Last week my brother completed biopsy testing in preparation for a bone marrow transplant from my other brother Jayson, who is also an alumni of BYUH. Our family has a lot of love for this campus and for the Polynesian Cultural Center. I asked him what does he do to conquer the daily challenge of living with such an illness. He said firstly he is able to handle such a challenge because of his loving, supportive wife and his two beautiful daughters. In other words surrounding himself with the right people to conquer his challenge. He said he is motivated to see them progress in their lives and get married and have families of their own.This past Christmas my brother and his family visited my parents and I here in Laie. It was interesting. The whole time that he was here in Laie, he functioned so well. The moment they went back to cold Utah, he struggled. I told him that it was the Spirit of the community of Laie. Two of the highlights of his trip were getting to see my parents work in the New Zealand village at the Polynesian Cultural Center and being able to shake hands and visit for a short time with President and Sister Uchtdorf. President Uchtdorf and his wife had been made aware of Wayne’s illness and both said they would pray for him and his family.
Since returning back to Utah, Wayne received a personal letter from President Uchtdorf saying that he would write his name on the Temple prayer roll. Having that experience was just what Wayne needed to undergo his final stages of biopsy testing. My brother is also very diligent and hardworking about taking care of himself consistently by even wearing a mask when is immune system is weak even when it's not an obvious fashion statement. Another thing that Wayne said helps him with his challenge is continuous service despite his circumstances. He told me that there were other people in worse situations that him, which helped him to continue to serve in his ward, with the rugby team, and even looks for opportunities to help others. I deeply admire my brother and the steps he takes daily to conquer his “One Tree Hill”. Brothers and sisters it is obvious that we all have our “One Tree Hill” to conquer. However, it is worth noting that we each can conquer our own “One Tree Hill” by surrounding ourselves with the right people, diligently applying and committing ourselves to conquering the challenge daily, and serving in a larger capacity that we have come accustomed too. In doing so I can assure you that you will be able to experience the glorious feeling of achievement and success. My humble plea to you all, is that I hope after today you are able to look at your challenges with renewed positive energy in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.