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Life Lessons Learned

Aloha. It was in the summer of 1987 I was preparing to graduate from BYU–Hawaii with a degree in Hospitality and Tourism Management. It had been a wonderful and challenging journey for our young family. My wife and I were both students at that time and we had our four beautiful daughters all under the age of 8 years old. We lived in the highly aspired TVA, in building D. I was excited to graduate and had applied at several hotel chains in Hawaii. I thought I was a perfect match for the hotel industry. I was bringing a background of experience in the industry which I had obtained previously before coming to school and now I had added a degree.

As graduation approached and what I presumed was a time for my family and I to relocate to start my career, my sweet wife shared with me that we still needed to be here and that she needed to continue in her schooling. After several long discussions together, fasting and praying we decided that we would stay here on campus for one more year.

After my graduation, my sweetheart continued her schooling and I accepted an internship in Food Services. This transition for me was very difficult. I had said yes to stay here BUT my heart and mind were definitely saying – NO. I struggled with this decision for several months. It became increasingly difficult when friends would ask me what I was doing now that I had graduated or when prospective employers called for second interviews or had tendered job offers. In my own way, I felt that I had been dealt an unjust hand in my life and questioned the value of our decision. I often knelt down and confided in the Lord of my predicament pleading my case before him.

What seemed like eternity was really only a short period of time but one day a gentle answer to my pleadings came into my mind and heart, “I was not yet as Joseph, who was sold into Egypt.” I vaguely remembered the details of Joseph’s story, but knew that this was my answer and I had a lesson to learn. I quickly grabbed my scriptures and poured myself into his story which reassured me that the Lord had not forgotten me and I was about to learn some valuable life lessons through his tutoring and in preparation of what was to come. 

Within a year of our decision to stay here, my wife and I both felt the whispering from the spirit that the time had finally arrived and we needed to prepare to leave. Both my wife and the Lord had been very patient with me during this time. In July 1988, we packed our young family, said good-bye to our loved ones and moved to Utah to begin our new life. I had accepted an offer to work at BYU Provo and as I looked around this campus, I thought to myself this would be my last farewell to BYU–Hawaii… and as you can plainly see I have come back, and I am still learning. 

In the October 1972 General Conference, Elder Hartman Rector, Jr. stated, “The story of Joseph, the son of Jacob who was called Israel, is a vivid representation of the great truth that ‘all things work together for good to [those] who’ love God” (Romans 8:28). 

He then went on to say, “Joseph always seemed to do the right thing; but still, more importantly, he did it for the right reason.... Joseph turned every experience and all circumstances, no matter how trying, into something good” (Rector, 1972).

So today I would like to share with you some of the valuable life lessons I learned from Joseph’s story. 

The first and foremost lesson I learned from Joseph’s life is to to be positive in the face of adversity.

As a youth of 17 years, the scriptures tell us that Joseph had ten older brothers and that all of them, “…hated him, and could not speak peaceably unto him” (Genesis 37:4).

Having several brothers and a sister myself, we had our fair share of disagreements as siblings throughout our life, yet our arguments never festered into feelings of hatred towards each other. However, these are the family conditions which Joseph endured with his older siblings. Their hatred for Joseph was so embedded in their hearts that they openly talked about killing him. Eventually they agreed on selling him to merchants and in due course, the merchants sold Joseph to Potiphar, “an officer of Pharaoh, captain of the guard” (Genesis 39:1). 

The scriptures tell us that Joseph made the best of this situation. He became an industrious servant to Potiphar and was rewarded in stewardship accordingly when his master made him “overseer in his house and over all he had” (Genesis 39:5). Soon however, adversity would rear itself again when his master’s wife “cast her eyes upon Joseph” (Genesis 39:7). Unwilling to yield to temptation, Joseph fled the scene only later to be falsely accused and sent to prison though he was an innocent man.

Nevertheless, Joseph continued to remain positive in the face of adversity. The records do not mention that Joseph murmured or complained to the Lord about his circumstance, rather they point out that Joseph’s new master at the prison saw that, “the Lord was with Joseph… and committed to Joseph’s hand all the prisoners that were in the prison; and whatsoever they did there” (Genesis 39:21, 22). Again, Joseph made the best of his situation! He was positive in the face of adversity.

President Hinckley, in his book entitled “Way to Be!” shares the following insight about being positive through adversity. He said, “In my ninety-plus years, I have learned a secret. I have learned that when good men and good women face challenges with optimism, things will always work out! Truly, things always work out! Despite how difficult circumstances may look at the moment, those who have faith and move forward with a happy spirit will find that things always work out” (Hinkley, 2002, p. 84). 

Do you consider yourselves good men and good women? 

Do you, like Joseph, face adversity and challenges in your life with optimism or do you murmur and complain like I did when I was about to graduate?  

Joseph’s life lesson in adversity was a great example for all of us on being positive in the face of hard times. 

From the teachings of Elder Dallin H. Oaks we learn that “Adversity will be a constant or occasional companion for each of us throughout our lives. We cannot avoid it. The only question is how we will react to it. Will our adversities be a stumbling block or stepping-stones?” (Oaks, Ensign July 1988, Adversity). 

On the morning of September 12, 2005, Keone and Naomi Kamauoha welcomed a brand new baby girl appropriately named Faith into their family. 

Naomi shared the following: “all the pain from the labor and delivery went away as she was handed to me to hold.” Yet within a few hours, their happiness would unexpectedly be interrupted when their new born baby was diagnosed with a serious condition called Congenital Diaphragmatic Hernia. Her intestines and spleen had gone through a small hole in her diaphragm up into her chest cavity. When we finally got to see her our hearts broke. 

Faith went through 3 surgeries within 16 days of her life. The family fasted and prayed daily for her. During this difficult time when they were unable to hold her, the parents took advantage of talking and singing primary songs to her everyday and telling her they loved her.

Faith was put on an ECMO machine which helps to oxygenate her blood as an artificial lung. A day after Faith was put on the machine; she had opened her eyes and began to move her hands and feet. “It was just like Christmas for us” shared her parents. “It was so awesome to see her beautiful light brown eyes. We comforted her when she was scared and just spent the day talking to her and singing her to sleep. After a couple of days, the doctors needed to sedate her again to allow her lungs to rest before trying to open them up again. It was a rollercoaster ride of ups and downs but we prayed everyday for her comfort that she may have the strength to overcome this.” 

On the early morning of October 12, we received a phone call from her doctor that we needed to come in and be with our daughter. “She was bleeding in her lungs and it could not be stopped. When we arrived, she was put into a deep sleep. The nurses removed the many tubes and IV’s that were in her, gave her a bath, clothed and wrapped her in a blanket, and gave her to us.

“As we held her, we sang and talked to her and told her how much we loved her. Our Bishop came to be with us and we asked him many questions about our daughter and what was going to happen with her spirit. His knowledge of the Plan of Salvation helped give us comfort. Faith returned back to a loving Heavenly Father that day.” 

What could have been as stumbling block for this young couple became a stepping stone for them. As the mother expressed: “Although I may not understand at times, I know that the Lord knows who I am and hears my prayers. This experience taught me to be even more grateful for the gospel in my life for it has brought me peace and comfort throughout this time” (Kamauoha, 2005).

The second life lesson I learned from Joseph is to remember who we are. 

My oldest daughter who lives in Arizona with her young family sent me a funny message a few weeks ago about two of her oldest children. She shared, “our family had just gotten through watching the video 'Legacy,' the story about the latter-day saints and their pilgrimage to the Salt Lake Valley and at the conclusion of the video, the kids restless from staying indoors jumped at the opportunity to go outside and play. Soon my daughter overheard her oldest son say to his younger sister as he was handing her a water gun, “do you want to be a Mormon OR the bad guy?” 

Needless to say, we had a good laugh over this incident and as a grandfather I was pleased that their parents had instilled in their children an understanding about who they really are – yes, they were Mormons, but undoubtedly they were being taught in their home gospel truths and principles about who they are and why they were here upon this earth.

In Proverbs 22:6 we read, “Train up a child in the way he should go; and when he is old, he will not depart from it.”

Again, referring back to Joseph’s story, I’ve often thought to myself what helped motivate him to have that extraordinary ability to “not give up.” I have concluded that Joseph had a deep understanding of who he was in relationship to his earthly father and his eternal father. He was taught those eternal principles while he was young.

I imagined that growing up as a young child then later as a teenager that he and his brothers had countless opportunities to gather as a family and in those moments they were tutored and instructed by their parents on the great stories of their ancestors which included such nobles as Abraham, his great grandfather. Yes, this same Abraham who had waited for a son and later was tested to see if he would be obedient in sacrificing his son only to be stopped at the last minute by an angel of the Lord (Genesis 22:1-14).

You and I have the privilege of reading that story, yet for Joseph, it must have been a remarkable experience to hear that story about his great grandfather from his parents. 

What about Sarah, his great grandmother. Do you remember, how she responded when she heard that she would give birth in her old age to a son? She “laughed” and could not believe that she could bear a child. Yet the reply to her was, “Is there anything too hard for the Lord?” (Genesis 18:14).

Do you and I feel like Sarah at times? Do we think what the Lord asks of us is too hard in our lives? Yet His response will always be the same. “Is there anything too hard for the Lord?” (Genesis 18:14).

Perhaps, Joseph got to listen to the story of how Abraham sent his servant to find a wife for his grandfather, Isaac. Do you remember the miraculous experience that occurred and how the Lord guided the servant to his future grandmother Rebekah at the well (Genesis 24). Brethren, would you let your fathers pick your wife to be, sight unseen? Do you have that kind of faith and trust in your father and the Lord?

Or how about his father, Jacob, what was his experience like with his brother Esau who sold his birthright over the pottage (Genesis 25:29-34). What life lessons have we learned from that story?

Do you think their life lessons learned were shared among their children? Undoubtedly YES. Joseph, along with his brothers were taught these eternal truths about God the Father, the Savior and about the importance of keeping the commandments in their lives. Surely, Joseph must have listened attentively at his father’s feet or perhaps as they were sharing a family meal together. 

I also imagined that there were many times that Joseph pondered these stories and they sunk deep in his heart as important lessons for his personal life and how it helped him understand his eternal heritage.

In his address in the April 2011 General Conference, Elder Russell M. Nelson states, “How you deal with life’s trials is part of the development of your faith. Strength comes when you remember that you have a divine nature, an inheritance of infinite worth. The Lord has reminded you, your children, and your grandchildren that you are lawful heirs, that you have been reserved in heaven for your specific time and place to be born, to grow and become His standard bearers and covenant people. As you walk in the Lord’s path of righteousness, you will be blessed to continue in His goodness and be a light and a savior unto His people” (Nelson, 2011, Face the Future with Faith). 

Again, Joseph learned some valuable life lessons listening to stories of his ancestors and applied it in his personal life. We too, must do the same.

The third life lesson is that we must continue to press forward. 

In 2 Nephi 31:20 we read, “Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life.” 

Joseph’s life and the lessons he learned exemplified his ability to press forward with steadfastness in Christ despite the challenges he faced. 

As an example, while imprisoned, Joseph interprets the dreams of two of his fellow inmates – Pharaoh’s chief butler and the chief baker. To the chief baker, the news is not good, but to the chief butler he shares with him that in three days the Pharaoh will restore the butler to his former duty in Pharaoh’s court. Then in a tender moment, we witness a glimmer of hope for his situation, longing to be free for he says to the butler, “But think on me when it shall be well with thee, and show kindness, I pray thee, unto me, and make mention of me unto Pharaoh, and bring me out of this house. For indeed I was stolen away out of the land of the Hebrews: and here also have I done nothing that they should put me into the dungeon” (Genesis 40:14-15). Joseph pleads his case before the butler. 

At this point, I would think that Joseph had every reason to give up the fight but he did not. He continued to press forward despite his circumstance, never giving up his faith or his hope. 

 Elder Hartman Rector, Jr, shared a wonderful insight into the importance of being faithful and not giving up. He shared, “people like this (referring to Joseph) cannot be defeated, because they will not give up. They have the correct positive attitude, and Dale Carnegie’s expression seems to apply: If you feel you have a lemon, you can either complain about how sour it is or you can make lemonade. It is all up to you” (Ensign, Jan. 1973 p. 130).   

Let me share with you a few stories about other individuals who have pressed forward despite their circumstances and never gave up! 

Derek Anthony Redmond, a British Olympian, “is best remembered for his performance at the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona where he tore his hamstring in the 400 meters semi-final but fought through the pain and, with assistance from his father, managed to complete a full lap of the track as the crowd gave him a standing ovation” ( Derek did not give up.

How about Theodor Seuss Giesel? Today nearly every child has read “The Cat in the Hat” or “Green Eggs and Ham,” yet 27 different publishers rejected Dr. Seuss’s first book “To Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street” ( Thankfully Dr. Suess did not give up. 

You probably have heard of George Herman Ruth, also known as Babe Ruth or Sultan of Swat. He was credited as the “first person in baseball to hit 61 home runs in one season” a feat not easily accomplished even for the best players of our time. He is also known for the setting the record of 714 home runs in his illustrious career until it was finally broken by Hank Aaron, 39 years later. But did you know that Babe Ruth had over 1330 strike outs? When asked about the strikeouts, he simply replied, “Every strike brings me closer to the next home run” ( Needless to say Babe Ruth did not give up.

All of these individuals despite their difficult circumstances continued to press forward. 

The fourth life lesson that I learned from Joseph is to teach thyself the value of work and preparation.

In Proverbs 14:23 we read: “In all labour there is profit: but the talk of the lips tendeth only to penury.” In other words, talk is cheap.

From Joseph’s life story first as a servant in Potiphar’s employ, then while in prison, and lastly as a servant in Pharaoh’s court, they all recognized that Joseph had tremendous work ethic and integrity. In other words, he never complained about his job or his circumstances, rather, he went about doing the work he was assigned. Remember talk is cheap.

In the Book of Virtues, by William J. Bennett there is a story called “The Farmer and His Sons” which helps illustrate this point:

“A farmer, being at death’s door, and desiring to impart to his sons a secret of such moment, called them round him and said ‘My sons, I am shortly about to die. I would have you know, therefore, that in my vineyard lies a hidden treasure. Dig, and you will find it.’

“As soon as their father was dead, the sons took spade and fork and turned up the soil of the vineyard over and over again, in their search for the treasure which they supposed to lie buried there. They found none, however: but the vines, after so thorough at digging, produced a crop such as had never before been seen” (Bennett, 1993, p. 370).

The moral of the story is that there is no treasure without toil.

My wife calls this the principle of “paying the price.” No matter what you want in life, you have to be willing to pay the price to get it.

In 2005, while serving as a high councilman in the BYU–Hawaii 1st Stake, I attend a priesthood leadership meeting during our stake conference and was seated in the front of the chapel next to Elder Glen Barksdale. I knew him many years before while living in Utah. He served as a member our stake presidency. Now, retired he and his wife were here on assignment as missionaries in the religion department.

As we sat next to each other, I noticed that he did NOT bring any scriptures with him and at first thought nothing of it, until I heard his name called as part of the program.

Elder Barksdale quietly left our seats and walked up to the stand and again without any scriptures “proceeded to share with the congregation his thoughts and insights into the life of the Savior and his disciples. The spirit was very strong in our meeting and needless to say, Elder Barksdale spoke with great inspiration. Often, he would quote various verses of the scriptures by verbatim. In my journal, I noted that Elder Barksdale spoke as if he was by the Savior’s side and I felt that by listening to him I was there too! It was a remarkable experience and it had such a powerful influence upon me that I could not wait to share this with my wife. 

Upon my arrival at home, I asked my wife to sit down with me so I could share the spiritual experience I just had with Elder Barksdale. I told her that the spirit was strong that it left a great impression upon me and I had a desire to be just like him-- to know the scriptures intimately. After sharing what I thought was a great lead into our conversation and looking forward to my wife’s supportive feedback such as, “sure you can honey or yes you can or someday dad,” her initial response hit me like a dagger.

In her loving and kind way, she looked me in the eye and said, “Elder Barksdale had to pay a price for that gift, are you willing to pay that price?” The pointed message delivered, she kissed me on my forehead and walked back to the project she was working on. After I recovered from her “reality check” I came to realize the valuable lesson she had shared.

My wife knew me better than anyone else. She was right. Talk was cheap. Was I personally willing to pay that kind of price? If I wanted to be like that, then I needed to put forth the effort. Remember, there is no treasure without toil.

What price are you willing to pay to know the Savior?     

The fifth lesson I learned from Joseph is that the Lord is mindful of you. This past conference, President Thomas S. Monson shared this inspirational message about the Lord being aware of each of us. He said, “Heavenly Father is aware of our needs and will help us as we call upon Him for assistance. I believe that no concern of ours is too small or insignificant. The Lord is in the details of our lives” (Oct. 2012 Consider the blessings).

The Lord was truly involved in the details of Joseph’s life from the beginning and had prepared him for his families’ future. When Joseph had been appointed ruler over all of Egypt, second only to Pharaoh, his brothers came to buy grain for their family because the famine was so severe over all the the face of the earth (Genesis 41:54-55).

Joseph in a touching moment of compassion kissed all his brothers and wept. It had been over twenty years since they had sold him into slavery. Yet, Joseph, the spiritual giant held no animosity towards his brothers; he had already forgiven them and had learned a valuable lesson throughout his life that the Lord was mindful him and his family. Said he, upon being reunited with his brethren, “(for) God sent me before you, to preserve you a posterity in the earth, and to save your lives by a great deliverance” (Genesis 45:7). Joseph recognized that his life’s journey and struggles had a divine purpose and it had taken over twenty years to reach its prophetic fulfillment. 

Shortly after my experience with Elder Barksdale which I shared earlier, I reported in our High Council meeting how much I enjoyed his remarks and complimented him for paying the price. A few days later, he sent me an email thanking me for the tribute then he shared further insight about his experience in coming to BYU–Hawaii.

Elder Barksdale was employed at Pleasant Grove Junior High School for 28 years teaching choral music, yet in order to support a son on a mission, he also took a second job, working at a local supermarket. This is where he received the impression about his future.

He writes, “While there (at the supermarket) one night, I received a revelation—a statement in my mind as Enos — that if I would prepare diligently in learning the scriptures, I would be given the opportunity to teach in the religion department at BYU. I did so almost every morning before going off to school memorizing scripture and preparing lessons that I did not know where I would use them, and waited, but no call came from BYU. 

“Finally—25 years later, I retired and became very depressed not that I didn’t get the opportunity to teach at BYU but that the revelation had not been fulfilled. I assumed it must be because I had not been good enough or prepared hard enough. And this is the point. The Lord often lets us reach that impossible place that we cannot mistake a random incident from a miracle. So, then we received our call to go to BYU–Hawaii to teach in the religion department. I wept over the call, not because of what it was but that I realized that when the Lord promises you something, He never fails to keep his promise even when you know that it can’t happen. The stake president, without any knowledge of my years of preparation, stated that this mission call came because of my preparation and then came into my being that sweet and joyful confirmation that the Lord’s promise had now been fulfilled. So, yes, I wept as did all my family who were at the ‘setting apart’ because they knew too” (Barksdale 2012).

Elder Barksdale’s experience is a perfect example of how the Lord is mindful of each of us. He knows who we are and He knows what is best and will fulfill His promises to all of us as we continue to strive to do what is right. 

At other times, we may not understand His full purposes in our lives, but remember the Lord always has an eternal perspective of doing of what is best. In Isaiah 55:8  it reads: “for my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord.” Again, he is mindful and knows what is best.

Let me conclude with this personal story to illustrate this final point.

I have a four-year-old granddaughter whose favorite activity is riding her bike, which still has her training wheels on it. Sometimes after work and on weekends, she and I will ride our bike throughout the community. We have traveled on our bikes to the shopping center, to the beach and throughout the streets of our community. Often we would spend hours on the bike and would return home when we were either hungry or it became dark. One day on our bike ride, I decided to bring her to this campus. This was her first trip on her bike to this campus. While riding, we stopped in the Little Circle and she turned to me and asked, “Tutuman whose school is this?” I was surprised that someone so young and who is only in pre-school would recognize that this represented an institution of learning. I replied with a simple answer that this was a school for big people to which she responded again with a child like curiosity, “so who goes to this school?” I thought for a moment then replied, “Well, your Tutuman and your Tutulady had gone here. And then I quickly remembered that there were others in our family as well. So I continued with great pride and gratitude, “Your mom came to this school, and all of your aunties. Your great grandparents also attended this school (that was when it was known as Church College of Hawaii). I then said to her, “Perhaps someday you and your sisters will come to this school.” Feeling satisfied with my answer and having no further questions, we hopped on our bikes and continued our ride.

I have often reflected on that day in the little circle with my granddaughter and our conversation. I was overcome with an overwhelming sense of gratitude and appreciation for the Lord’s direction in my life and for his influence upon my family and our special relationship to this University. I was a beneficiary of the passage, “behold, all things have been done in wisdom of him who knoweth all things” (2 Nephi 2:24). 

The Lord knew what was best for my family and me. He had an eternal perspective, I had a limited view. I thought I was getting a college degree, which I did; but in addition to that he gave me a valuable treasure trove of life lessons learned that have helped me become whom I am today. From his eternal perspective, he always knows what is best. Of these things I know and testify in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.