As our son Kameron just shared, we recently returned from serving a mission in the beautiful islands of Samoa. Even though our footprints have since washed away from its sands, huge pieces of our hearts remain in that heavenly and holy place. I know that Tonga is often cherished as, “The Other Side of Heaven,"1 but I’m here to tell you Samoa is heaven!
I miss so many things there. Here are a few of them:
- Size 2 pua’a or piggies…not eating them, but seeing them chase after their mommies alongside the road.
- Fresh Koko Samoa every morning…home-grown by local farmers.
- Bumpy ferry rides to Savai’i.
- 3-month-olds to 93-year-olds, who made me realize that my skin might be white, but my heart is definitely brown.
- Young men passing the sacrament with bare feet and hand-me-down oversized coats.
- The smell of sweat on my clothes after a long day of proselyting with the sisters, bearing testimony in what little Samoan I knew.
- People fanning fresh fish on the side of the road after a hard day’s work for their family.
- Not being able to hear myself sing in church, because everyone sings at the top of their lungs, memorizing every word of every hymn.
But most of all, I miss welcoming new eager missionaries, who bravely left the world behind and started calling me “mama.”
All of these things have changed me forever. The Lord sent me to Samoa to help people change, but ultimately, Samoa and the Lord changed me!
How are you letting the Lord change you? Are you paying attention to the things that He has placed in front of you to help you change? To become more like Him? Are you willing to give up some things so that you can change forever the better?
President Dallin H. Oaks once counseled, “We have to forego some good things in order to choose others that are better or best… Some things are better than good, and these are the things that should command attention in our lives."2
I came to understand this when I first arrived in Samoa, while driving down the street in Apia. We passed a big advertisement sign that read, “supa seki.” My Samoan language, at the time, was limited to only gospel conversation, so I asked my husband, “O le a le upu fa’apalagi mo supa seki?” Which means, what is the English word for supa seki? He explained that it literally translates to super good. Learning this helped me feel supa seki or super good as we began visiting missionaries throughout the islands.
Each time we knocked on apartment doors, shook their hands, or asked how they were doing, they replied, “Oh seki, Peresitene! Seki, mea uma!” I was thrilled to understand what they were saying. I told my husband, “Hey President, everything is good!” Visit after visit, everything was supa seki! But eventually, we realized that something was wrong here. Everything could not possibly be all good. Certainly, there were things that we, as disciples of the Savior, could prioritize and do better. We could be better teachers, better companions, better prayer-givers, better scripture students, better planners, and ultimately, better missionaries.
The prophet Nephi foresaw this. He knew that Satan would make it harder for us to choose between good, better, or best. He warned in 2 Nephi 28, “Therefore, wo be unto him that is at ease in Zion! Wo be unto him that crieth; All is well! (all is seki)... Yea, wo be unto him that saith: We have received, and we need no more!”3 I’m grateful for this bold reminder from a prophet of God who carefully carved these words, not only for his day but ours as well. Our living prophet today, President Nelson, continues to warn us, encouraging us to be better, and point us in the direction that is best for our lives and eternal happiness. It’s not only about enduring to the end but enjoying to the end!
Lehi spoke of this “exceedingly great joy” that can be ours. I love the part in his dream when he partook of the fruit of the tree of life! He described it as “most sweet”. Not just seki or good, but “most sweet, above all that I ever before tasted.”4 And he immediately wanted to share it with those he loved most. I witnessed something like this on a ferry ride from Savai’i to Upolu toward the end of our mission.
It was a warm day, and the cars were packed like sardines on the bottom level of the boat. We were directed by the sailors to park within inches of the staircase, where a beautiful family was sitting. I was so close to them, that I could literally reach out and touch them with my hand. There at my arm's reach, was a little boy not more than six. He wore tattered clothes and had smudges of dirt all over his hands and face. Our eyes met, and it was an instant friendship. He was curious about me, the white lady in the fancy truck. His big brown eyes beamed at my wink, and he seemed to melt when I smiled at him.
I noticed he kept peeking back at his mother, as if to make sure it was okay for him to engage in this unspoken conversation. She seemed to approve because eventually she humbly offered me a tiny piece of dried breadfruit that she held in her hand. I was so touched that this woman, someone obviously less fortunate than myself, would offer me something to eat.
I immediately turned to the back seat and pulled out a container of breakfast that the hotel had packed for us that morning. It contained eggs, toast, koko rice, fruit, and pies. I handed it to the boy, and without hesitation, he passed it on to his mother. She took the container, placed it to her forehead, and looked up to heaven, as if to express gratitude to God. Then, I watched her do something that I will never forget. She opened it and made a sandwich out of the eggs and toast. She took one bite, just one, and then she passed it around to everyone in her family so that they would be nourished as well.
This brief encounter changed me forever. Although perfect strangers to me, I realized that this family was not strangers to Heavenly Father. His love for each of them allowed us to meet and turn something good into something even better. It taught me that lasting joy cannot be found in the world. Lasting joy is found when we make our spaces holy places. It’s found while reading scriptures, serving others, attending church, following simple commandments, and sometimes it’s even found on a crowded ferry ride eating some eggs and toast.
Toward the end of my mission, my precious mother, who lived in Arizona, became very ill. With my father’s sudden passing just four months before my homecoming, she prayed to the Lord and pleaded with the doctors to keep her alive until my return. Thankfully, heaven blessed us with a miraculous and tender reunion just months before her passing in January. My walk with mom those final days, became a walk with Jesus that gave me a “mighty change of heart."4 It began with her daily prayers of supplication. She reminded me that it is never too late to ascend our prayers to heaven. Sponging and cleansing her week after week was a reverent reminder that no matter how tired or broken our bodies become, the Savior longs to heal and cleanse us.
Her last Sunday on earth, she partook of the sacrament at home. Shouldn’t we all crave the chance to take Christ in every Sunday? You never know when it will be your last! Watching Mom receive lifesaving transfusions every month reminded me that Christ provided the greatest transfusion of all. He selflessly donated drops of blood from every pore to breathe renewed life into you and me through the gift of repentance. I learned from Mom that as long as you have a pulse, you have a purpose! My dear young friends, it is so much better to walk with Jesus than to walk alone!
Recently, while cleaning out my mother’s things, I came across some beautiful, barely touched hand-crafted quilts given to her by her mother. I didn’t know that these works of art even existed. They were packed in plastic casings and tucked away in the closet.
Immediately, I felt guilty for not doing the same thing with my own “grandma quilt.” Had I made a mistake in not preserving mine in plastic? Then I remembered, Grandma Rose made my quilt to warm and comfort me, so I accepted the gift and used it. Today, my blanket has noticeable wear and tear, something I hope she is proud of. I don’t believe she wanted it sitting on a shelf collecting dust. More importantly, my children know the source of their favorite soothing blanket and the hands who designed it with love!
God, our Father, your Heavenly Parent, in all His love and wisdom has handcrafted a blanket of covenants, commandments, and promised blessings to warm us, keeping us comfortably safe in a sometimes uncomfortable, cold world! Are we using the gift the way it was intended? Or has it been put on the shelf, collecting dust? The wear and tear of keeping commandments are pleasing to God. He sees this as an acceptance of His gift! Using it helps us to come to know Him, love Him, and appreciate the supreme designer’s hands.
If I were to cut away any part of Grandma’s blanket, surely, I would feel the holes. It would not maintain the fitted warmth which was perfectly measured for me. If you cut out any patches of the Lord’s blanket of principles, commandments, or doctrines, you are cutting away what He designed to embrace you on His covenant path.
“Oh! My skirt can go shorter.“
"My eyes can watch this filthy program or read this contentious literature for just a second.”
These are snippets taken from our blanket of security. Before we know it, the blanket is half gone and we have become vulnerable to the world. If this describes you, the Lord can mend your blanket. It’s called repentance, delicate stitches of mercy, forgiveness, warmth, and love.
On occasion, I have heard people rationalize saying, “I know God loves me no matter what I’ve done.” Yes, this is true. His love is unconditional. But what are we doing to show God that we love Him? Remember, love accepts, but it also expects! If we’ve been asked to serve missions, prayerfully consider serving one. If we’ve been asked to dress modestly, lengthen the skirt. If we’ve been asked to become more clean and chaste, start scrubbing up! Repentance is here for you. The Savior loved you enough “to tremble because of pain and to bleed at every pore.”5 That’s millions of scarlet drops made white again through Him.
I testify that it is good to be good. But it is best to let the Lord change us for the better. May we open our eyes and hearts to change forever the better. May we return to our homes today not just seki, or supa seki, but striving to be “perfectly honest and upright in all things;…even unto the end.”4
I pray in the sacred name of Jesus Christ, Amen.
- John H. Groberg, "The Other Side of Heaven," Deseret Book Co., 2001.
- Dallin H. Oaks, “Good, Better, Best,” General Conference October 2007.
- 2 Nephi 28
- Joseph Smith, "The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ," pgs. 109, 15, 219, 277, 1830.
- The Doctrine and Covenants, 1835. Joseph Smith, Jr. Rare Reprints, pg. 32, 1990.