My dear brothers and sisters, Aloha.
I am very humbled to be standing before you today. It is my prayer that the message I have been inspired to share with you will help someone here in the audience today recognize and have a clearer vision of the Lord’s care and love for them.
I’ve titled my remarks The Lord’s Hand in Our Lives and I’d like to begin with a question. Why are you here at Brigham Young University–Hawaii? Why is Camille from New York, Raife from Australia, and Victoria from Hong Kong here at BYU–Hawaii? Why am I, a girl from the prairies of Southern Alberta, here at this university at this particular time? We all have our own story. It is my belief that the Lord’s hand guided each of us to this place at this time. I’d like to share a bit of my story with you.
In a way, it began in my college days at Brigham Young University in Provo. Like many of you, I struggled with choosing a major. My dilemma, if one can call this a dilemma, was that I loved too many subjects – Math, English, History, Biology, Home Economics, Accounting, even Horticulture. Everything was fun and fascinating to me. So narrowing it down to a single major – that was tough. Like many of you, I changed my mind, more than once! After much prayer and careful thought, I eventually chose to pursue a Bachelor of Science degree in Geography with an emphasis in Travel and Tourism.
Did the Lord guide me in my decision? I believe so. The world of travel was an exotic choice of major for this small town girl. I come from a family of educators – parents, grandparents, aunties and uncles. Most of them teachers. I thought I too would be a teacher. So you may all chuckle, but back then for me, choosing a degree in Travel and Tourism was going out on a limb! However, as it turned out, the Lord guided me to choose a degree which would eventually help supplement my family’s income in a place where tourism was the number one industry – Hawaii.
The Lord continued to guide me in a way that would lead me here to Brigham Young University–-Hawaii. On September 11, 2001, the tragic bombing of the twin towers in New York City had a drastic effect on the tourism industry. Air travel almost ground to a stop for a time. Within a month of that tragedy, the agency for which I worked made the decision to shut its doors.
Now a year previous to this event, my husband’s employment seemed shaky for a time and so I sought out another part-time job and interviewed for the position of an academic advisor here on this campus. However, my husband’s job stabilized and I was prompted by the Spirit to withdraw my application. Months later, when I was facing unemployment in the travel industry, I admit that I questioned that earlier prompting I had received to withdraw that application! Why had the Lord told me to let that opportunity pass by? My ability to help sustain our young family was now uncertain.
I should not have questioned. The Lord was still mindful of me and helped me immediately secure part-time employment at a local elementary school. I say immediately because this new job opportunity came the week before my last day of employment at the travel agency. Upon the kind recommendation of a friend, I applied for an opening at the elementary school and was hired. The Lord does work in mysterious ways because the principal later told me that he had seen me working with his grandchildren in the Primary organization and that was one of the things which prompted him to hire me. So this is a testimony to everyone here that all experience is to our benefit. Every calling you receive from the Lord will add to your skills and help you develop into the person the Lord knows you can be.
So right now you are all thinking, “Wait, that can’t be the end of the story because Sister Ching is not yet here at BYU–Hawaii!” Almost a year passed when I once again saw an opening for the same position for an academic advisor that I had interviewed for 18 months previously. I immediately felt a confirmation of “now is the time” and fortunately, was offered the position when I applied. I knew that I was where the Lord wanted me to be. Part of my testimony that confirms this to me comes from my patriarchal blessing. I’ll share just a small part of it in which the Lord tells me that men and women will come to me for counsel and advice in the activities of their lives. To the shy, young girl who received this blessing, this sentence from my patriarchal blessing was almost unimaginable at the time. Now, this sentence of my blessing is clearer to me.
I haven’t shared this experience widely with a lot of people previously because it is very personal and sacred to me. Perhaps to others, my story may seem insignificant when you look at the big plan. It’s true, my story is a miniscule piece of the Lord’s larger plan. But to me, this is further testimony that He truly cares for each one of us individually and will guide our path if we allow Him to. By sharing my experience with you today, I want to acknowledge the Lord’s hand in my life as counseled in my father’s favorite scripture: “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths” (Proverbs 3:5-6).
It is easy to understand why these particular two lines of scripture are dear to my father’s heart. When I ponder them, I see a roadmap to help us be successful in this earthly life, and more immediately, perhaps why both your path and mine have been directed to this university at this time. The four road signs that I found within this scripture guide our path:
1. Put our complete trust in the Lord in all things
2. Be humble and seek understanding through Him
3. Acknowledge the Lord in all ways
4. Be open to His direction.
First – Put Our Complete Trust in the Lord in All Things
Putting our complete trust in the Lord is something that we must consciously make an effort to do. I think most of us were encouraged as we were growing up to be self-sufficient and independent. These are good character traits and it may seem counter-intuitive to then say that we must put our complete trust in someone else. However, this is the beauty of this principle. When we do put our trust in the Lord, or in a sense allow Him control of our lives, then we actually become stronger than we could possibly be all by ourselves. We must still do our part, but with the Lord’s help, we can accomplish even more amazing things.
The best example of this is a missionary. A missionary is willing to leave the comforts of home and family and serve in an unfamiliar area for an extended period of time. There are many examples of our early pioneer missionaries who left to serve with barely a suit of clothing, a pair of socks, and a Book of Mormon. My great, great grandfather, Benjamin Franklin Johnson, served several early missions for the Church including one here, to what was then known as the Sandwich Islands, in 1852. He was married at the time and so he left most of his earthly goods with his family for their support during his absence and journeyed with very little to the West Coast and then on to Hawaii. His journal relates many financial struggles but always a conviction that the Lord would provide a way. When it came time for him to return home from his mission in 1855, he was left without any means to pay for his passage home – a sum of $50. He resigned himself to the fact that he would likely have to wait another six months before his fare could be raised when a faithful convert from the Island of Hawaii gave the mission a sum of $150, a portion of which he offered for the use of my great, great grandfather’s passage home.1 This is not only an example of how the Lord provided for my great, great grandfather, but also an example of how others can become the hands of the Lord here on Earth – which I will talk more of later.
Our missionaries today also put their complete trust in the Lord. One young friend of mine from Colorado recently entered the MTC in Provo to begin learning a new language: Korean. Her family kindly shares her weekly letters with me and I would like to share one of her recent comments:
“I have never studied so hard in my life and it truly is paying off. I notice the Lord in my life every day and cannot give thanks enough for all the blessings I receive. It has been so humbling to learn Korean. I know the gift of tongues is real. It is amazing how much the Lord will bless your life if you just put forth the effort and prepare to receive blessings. I love this gospel!”2
Learning a new language and then being able to share a gospel message in that language is a true example of road sign #1 – putting complete trust in the Lord.
Second – Be Humble and Seek Understanding through Him
I believe Nephi is a great example of humility and willingness to follow the Lord’s direction. Several times, he was the “hero of the day.” He was the one who secured the brass plates by following the Lord’s command. He also was the one who crafted a bow and arrow and provided meat for his hungry family. He was chosen of the Lord, above his older siblings.3 But never once do you hear him being boastful about the Lord’s trust in him, exemplifying humility.
In addition, Nephi did not lean unto his own understanding but sought direction from the Lord. The task of securing the brass plates from Laban seemed insurmountable to Nephi’s brothers. They wanted to give up. Even Nephi didn’t understand how it could be done, but he knew that the Lord would provide a way. “And it came to pass that I, Nephi, said unto my father: I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded, for I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them” (1 Nephi 3:7).
Nephi is an example of humility and willingness to seek understanding through the Lord.
Third – Acknowledge the Lord in All Ways
Giving thanks in our daily prayers is one way in which we acknowledge the Lord in our lives. Another way to acknowledge His hand was shared with me by a friend in my ward as I pushed her wheelchair up to the temple for her weekly temple service. She shared with me that she sees the hand of the Lord in the beautiful flowers and lush greenery that abounds here in Hawaii. I appreciated her thoughts because it reminded me that I often get so involved with the busyness of my day that I don’t take time to appreciate and acknowledge the simple beauties of nature which the Lord has blessed us with.
Elder Bednar encouraged us to acknowledge the tender mercies of the Lord. In his April 2005 Conference address, you may recall that he shared the experience of being a newly-called apostle and feeling all the weight of responsibility that goes along with that calling. He shared that just before he stepped up to the pulpit to address us for the first time, the congregation stood to sing an intermediate hymn, “Redeemer of Israel” ( Hymns, no. 6). This song had been chosen weeks previously but if Elder Bednar had been given the choice, he would have chosen this exact song, for “Redeemer of Israel” is his favorite hymn. Elder Bednar testified that this was a tender mercy from a loving Heavenly Father sending him “a most personal and timely message of comfort and reassurance.”4 By recognizing this as a special gift from God, and not just a coincidence, Elder Bednar was acknowledging the hand of God.
Another term for acknowledging our Father in Heaven’s hand in our lives has been coined as “divine signatures” by Elder Gerald Lund, who authored a book titled Divine Signatures – The Confirming Hand of God.5 In his words, a divine signature is when “the Lord goes an extra step not just to bless us, but to do it in such a unique, or dramatic, or precisely timed way; it’s like He autographs it, so that it is not only a blessing but that it strengthens faith in Him.”6 He goes on to relate a story from a colleague who served as a mission president several years ago in Sao Paulo, Brazil. He tells of a young, new missionary from Northern Brazil who had recently arrived to serve in southern Sao Paulo, a huge metropolis of about 14 million people. It was the practice of this mission president to give all new missionaries a strong start by having them go out their very first day for a mission experience. This young man’s companion didn’t have any appointments scheduled so he took the new young missionary tracting and told him he would take the first door but that the second door would be for the new missionary. Some of you returned missionaries probably remember how you felt knocking on your first door! This new, young missionary was absolutely terrified but obediently knocked on the second door. To his amazement, the door was opened by his sister, who had left home several years earlier with no further contact with her family. This sister became his first baptism in the mission field. When we reflect again on the size of that huge city and the chances of him knocking on his sister’s door as the first door of his mission, we know and recognize a divine signature in the lives of this brother and sister.
Expressing gratitude in our prayers, taking time to appreciate the simple beauties of life, and recognizing tender mercies and divine signatures are ways to show a loving Heavenly Father that we love Him in return and acknowledge His hand in our lives.
Finally – Be Open to His Direction
I believe this last area has two facets. First, we must be living our lives in such a way that we are receptive to His guidance and counsel. And second, we must be willing to be a vessel which the Lord can use to accomplish His purposes. We are His hands on this earth.
In regards to the first facet of living our lives in such a way that we are able to receive guidance, I am reminded of a story related as follows by Elder Vaughn J. Featherstone:
“Some time ago, I had the privilege of being involved with a young man and his father. The youth and a friend had been hiking in the foothills near Cody, Wyoming. The friend jumped across a high power line that was down, but the young man got tangled in it and was electrocuted. The friend ran all the way back down to where the father lived (and it wasn’t a short distance) and told the father that his son had been electrocuted and was dead. The father, who was not a young man, ran all the way back up, taking about fifteen minutes. When he got to where the boy was lying across the wires, he managed somehow to remove the youth from the wires with a board or a large stick. Then he picked his son up in his arms and held him, blessing him by the power and authority of the Melchizedek Priesthood, and commanded the boy to live. The dead boy opened his eyes and talked with his father.”7
Elder Featherstone, when commenting on this experience, said that this miracle could not have been performed or granted from the Lord if the father was not living in such a way as to be worthy to use his priesthood power. When we live obedient lives, the Lord can perform miracles through us. This leads to the second facet of this road sign – that in many situations in this life, we are the Lord’s hands.
A poignant example of this was recently shared with me. In 1892, a young 18-year old student at Stanford University was struggling and pondering how he could pay his fees. He was an orphan, so he had no family financial assistance. He and a friend came up with the idea to host a musical concert. They contacted the manager of a well-known pianist, J. Paderewski, and it was agreed that he would perform for a fee of $2000. The young men did their best to make the concert a success, but in the end, they only raised a total of $1600. Apologetic and humbled, the two young men approached Paderewski with the concert receipts and a check for the balance of $400. Giving it all to him, they promised to honor their check as soon as possible. Paderewski, however, refused the money, telling the young men to take the money, pay off all concert expenses, use what they needed for their fees, and only then, give him any remaining balance. This small act of kindness is confirmation that man is often put in situations to help their fellow men if they choose to do so, much like the new convert from Hawaii who helped my great, great grandfather many years ago.
This story with Paderewski does not end there. He later went on to become the Prime Minister of Poland at a time when his country was suffering terribly. The World War had devastated his homeland so that over a million of his people were near starvation. He reached out to the U.S. Food and Relief Administration for help, which was headed by a man named Herbert Hoover. Hoover immediately proceeded to ship tons of food relief to Poland. Prime Minister Paderewski journeyed to personally thank Hoover. When they met, Mr. Hoover waved the thanks aside, saying, “You shouldn’t be thanking me, Mr. Prime Minister. You may not remember this, but several years ago, you helped two young students go through college. I was one of them.”8
President Monson said, “The needs of others are ever present, and each of us can do something to help someone… I believe the Savior is telling us that unless we lose ourselves in service to others, there is little purpose to our own lives. Those who live only for themselves eventually shrivel up and figuratively lose their lives, while those who lose themselves in service to others grow and flourish—and in effect save their lives.”
In that same conference talk, President Monson continued, “My brothers and sisters, we are surrounded by those in need of our attention, our encouragement, our support, our comfort, our kindness—be they family members, friends, acquaintances, or strangers. We are the Lord’s hands here upon the earth, with the mandate to serve and to lift His children. He is dependent upon each of us.”9
Let me end by referring once again to Proverbs 3:5-6: “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.”
Now, think back to my original question – why are you here at Brigham Young University–Hawaii? Whether you are a student, staff, or faculty – why are you here? Do you have a conviction or testimony that the Lord guided you here? In the words of Mormon, “Know ye not that ye are in the hands of God?” (Mormon 5:23). It is my prayer that we will all strive to put our complete trust in the Lord, show humility in all things, acknowledge the hand of the Lord in our lives, and truly strive to be more obedient and Christ-like so that the Lord can bless our lives and use us to accomplish His purposes. I bear my testimony of the truthfulness of the restored gospel on this earth and express my gratitude for a living Prophet who counsels with the Lord. And I express thankfulness to be of service in some small way here at Brigham Young University–Hawaii. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
1 See Benjamin F. Johnson, “My Life’s Review” (1992), 185-186.
2 Brooke Harper, personal correspondence, (2013).
3 See 1 Nephi 2; 4; 16.
4 David A. Bednar, “The Tender Mercies of the Lord” (April 2005 General Conference).
5 Gerald N. Lund, “Divine Signatures: The Confirming Hand of God” (2010).
6 Interview with Kathy Aiken – Mormon Times: Gerald Lund “Divine Signatures” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pPS4bo6UOsw November 12, 2010.
7 Vaughn J. Featherstone, “Charity Never Faileth” (1980) as quoted in Grant Von Harrison’s “Seeing with an Eye of Faith” (1999), 62.
8 See Inspirational Stories, Motivational Stories…by AcademicTips.org at http://academictips.org/blogs/what-goes-around-comes-around/ July 20, 2013.
9 Thomas S. Monson, “What Have I Done For Someone Today?” (October 2009 General Conference).