Skip to main content
Devotionals

Following the Lord's Invitations


Thank you, Leilani and Mom, for the warmth of your lights and the love in your hearts. As I listened to the (slightly uncomfortable) introduction, I tried to put myself in your shoes as BYU–Hawaii students. When I was in college, I didn’t have any of what was read in my bio planned out. I remember wondering about the future, being uncertain about many things, but knowing one thing for sure. I knew I was a child of God, and the closer I walked toward him, the closer I would come to heaven. I think my favorite bio would be simply, “Linda is a child of God, and she loves you.”

My beautiful brothers and sisters, aloha!

Mahalo Brigham Young University–Hawaii and President Kauwe for the humbling invitation to speak. I am truly grateful for so many of my heroes at this campus and in the virtual audience. In addition to each of you, I would like to express my sincerest appreciation to our families, communities, and ancestors who made it possible for us to be here today. I know they are always by our sides.

To me, ‘ohana (family) is defined as the love and aloha we have as we strengthen spiritually, enlarge intellectually, and build character collectively leading to lifelong learning and service. We are an ‘ohana as Heavenly Father’s children. Within that framework, I understand the BYU–Hawaii mission, “…to integrate both spiritual and secular learning and to prepare students with character and integrity who can provide leadership in their families, their communities, their chosen fields, and in building the kingdom of God.”[1] As we build the kingdom of God together, I could sit and listen to any of you, and today it is just my turn to share.

A little about my background and ‘ohana, I was born and raised in the neighboring town of Hau‘ula. I am the oldest of four children and my childhood years were spent growing up in a 12.5 mile stretch from Ka‘a‘awa to Kahuku along picturesque windward O‘ahu. My grandparents and great-grandparents were farmers and taught me many important lessons, such as people and plants both need nourishment, love, sunshine, and rain to grow. My parents worked at BYU–Hawaii for a combined 65.5 years—my mother 35.5 years in social work and my father 30 years in mathematics. I am profoundly thankful and blessed to be back here.

Some of my earliest memories growing up include spear-fishing for lobster and octopus with my father and uncles, bodysurfing with friends on the plastic trays from McDonald’s (which we returned), and my favorite, sliding down the dirt hill behind Hau‘ula Shopping Center with my three brothers. We used to climb into the Pay N Save dumpsters and pull out cardboard boxes, which we would flatten and see who could ride the fastest down the dirt hill. It was even better when it rained because of mud slides—those were the days! My world was filled with family, good memories, and values such as kindness, compassion, loyalty, love, and community. I attended Kahuku High and Intermediate School until the 10th grade, and then my parents said we were moving to the big city of Honolulu, where I was also raised by the Auwaiolimu and Mānoa Wards.

I then attended the private Punahou School, the same school that U.S. President Barack Obama attended. It was a very difficult transition, socially and academically, as one of three new 10th graders. I remember eating lunch alone in the bathroom because I didn’t have any friends at first, and it seemed like most of my peers already had their cliques. I especially struggled with mathematics and received Ds and Fs my first quarter. I was physically and mentally working as hard as I possibly could, but I still wasn’t passing. There were many times I thought about giving up, but each time someone—a coach, teacher, friend, family member, Heavenly Father—said, “Keep going, you can do it!” From my childhood experiences, and at Kahuku and Punahou, I learned that Heavenly Father’s world is a textbook filled with stories from mountains to sea—and that what occurs outside of the classroom is equally important as what occurs inside.

I decided I wanted to pursue mathematics education because I believe challenges and opportunities are synonyms. I knew there were many others like me who struggled, and as the great mathematician Isaac Newton said, “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”[2]

As I prepared for today’s devotional, I earnestly prayed about the topic, and Heavenly Father guided me to talk about something I am striving to work on.

I would like to share with you a few stories about “Following the Lord’s Invitations” by: (1) being spiritually prepared to follow the Lord’s invitations, (2) developing our potential to follow the Lord’s invitations through service and servant leadership, and (3) navigating adversity with gratitude as we follow the Lord’s invitations—and voyage back to our eternal home.

It is my hope and prayer that today’s message will allow us to collectively work toward fulfilling the BYU–Hawaii mission as a family and embrace the Lord’s invitations.

1. Being Spiritually Prepared to Follow the Lord’s Invitations

First, we need to be spiritually prepared to follow the Lord’s invitations. We are all voyagers finding our way across mountains, deserts, snow, and oceanic highways. I would like to share a personal experience that illustrates how the tender mercies of the Lord can prepare our paths. For those who may not be familiar with the Polynesian Voyaging Society, Hōkūle‘a (star of gladness) is a Hawaiian double-hulled voyaging canoe renowned for the role it has played in rekindling the Pacific Island traditions of wayfinding and celestial navigation by the sun, moon, stars, and Heavenly Father’s creations.

The story of Hōkūle‘a is about honoring the past and raising the next generation, and is filled with lessons from our teachers including: Papa Mau Piailug (our very first teacher and master navigator from Satawal) who taught us the importance of knowing who we are and where we come from, Hawai‘i born NASA astronaut Lacy Veach (who said, “You don’t know how beautiful Island Earth is until you see it from space. You need to take Hōkūle‘a around the world because Hawai‘i is a laboratory for living well on islands”), and our hero Eddie Aikau (whose plaque on the front of Hōkūle‘a reads, “No greater love hath a man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends”).[3] We have been guided by great teachers and leaders over the years (including many of you) who have inspired us and trust us to keep sailing.

Recently, Hōkūle‘a sailed around the world on the 2013-2017 Mālama Honua Worldwide Voyage to “care for Island Earth” and all people and places like ‘ohana. I am grateful for the opportunity I had to voyage from Hawai‘i to Tahiti, and subsequent voyages to American Samoa, Samoa, Olohega (Swain’s Island), Aotearoa (New Zealand), South Africa, Virginia, Washington, D.C., New York City, and back to Hawai‘i.

Growing up, I heard magnificent stories about Hōkūle‘a and I remember building the canoe out of brown paper bags and popsicle sticks in kindergarten at Lā‘ie Elementary School. As my mother mentioned in the introduction, the ocean is a special place to me. Even though I didn’t become a professional surfer, I have been involved with water-related projects over the years at the Smithsonian Institution, National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, and East-West Center. About two decades ago while I was a student at the East-West Center, master navigator Nainoa Thompson asked me to help take care of the canoes, assist with education, and support the mission, “to perpetuate the art and science of traditional Polynesian voyaging and the spirit of exploration through experiential educational programs that inspire students and their communities to respect and care for themselves, each other, and their natural and cultural environments.”[4]

For the first five years, I didn’t sail on any canoe or escort boat. It was never a goal for me to sail. Instead, I scrubbed the hulls, cleaned the sails, sanded the deck, and loved talking story with crew members. As part of preparation, we also went through medical, safety, physical, cultural, and educational training, to name a few. Then, a couple of years before we departed on the Mālama Honua Worldwide Voyage, my teacher Nainoa Thompson asked me to be an apprentice navigator on the first international leg from Hawaii to Tahiti. I honestly thought he was talking to someone else. The second time he asked me to be an apprentice navigator, I thought deeply about this lifelong commitment. The third time, he didn’t ask. My teacher told me, “You’re ready, let’s go.”

I recall that evening vividly when Nainoa Thompson invited me to talk story. We ended up walking at a sand bar on the south shore of O‘ahu and watched Hōkūle‘a (Hawai‘i’s zenith star Arcturus) rising in the heavens. He gave me profound wisdom that I will remember for the rest of my life. He said, “Linda, you need to be prepared and have a vision. If you don’t, someone will take it away from you, or they will give you theirs.” The voyage from Hawai‘i to Tahiti was the first time for 9 of the 13 Hōkūle‘a crew members to cross the equator by canoe. I used to fear the storm, but now I respect and embrace it because I know it is an opportunity to reach within and find what we are willing to sail for.

Maybe some of you are wondering why you are here at BYU–Hawaii. The spiritual preparation and journey might seem difficult, unfathomable, or impossible. You might be wondering, do I belong here? I promise you, scrubbing the hulls, cleaning the sails, sanding the deck, and talking story with crew members—or in other words—studying for tests, writing essays, fulfilling your callings, and attending church activities and devotionals are essential for growth and progression. You may not recognize it at the time, and it may be difficult to identify that you are being prepared. However, when the gale-force winds, 20-foot swells, and 24-hour periods of squalls and storms come, you will know exactly where to step, where not to step, what to hold, and what not to hold because of your spiritual preparation.

Jesus Christ is our captain, navigator, hero, and Savior of the world. By His invitation, we are able to walk in the light of the Lord. As our modern-day prophets have expressed, you were born for this generation and time to step up, imagine, be strong, and commit to following His invitations in all kinds of weather.

In those moments when you may feel you are doing everything you can and it’s still not enough, please remember, you are not alone. We have scriptures, prophets, leaders, friends, and gospel-centered learning at BYU–Hawaii to help us envision beyond the horizon. Heavenly Father trusts you and sent each of us here to earth so we can live, learn, and navigate our way home. He will bring us to the promised land. We are His, and He is our Savior.

In Ether 2:5–7, which I like to affectionately call the “voyaging chapter,” we read: " And it came to pass that the Lord commanded them that they should go forth into the wilderness, yea, into that quarter where there never had man been. And it came to pass that the Lord did go before them, and did talk with them as he stood in a cloud, and gave directions whither they should travel.

"And it came to pass that they did travel in the wilderness, and did build barges, in which they did cross many waters, being directed continually by the hand of the Lord.

"And the Lord would not suffer that they should stop beyond the sea in the wilderness, but he would that they should come forth even unto the land of promise, which was choice above all other lands, which the Lord God had preserved for a righteous people."[5]

As we begin a new year and a new semester, I ask you to envision your journey back to Heavenly Father’s presence at a location that is special to you. One of my favorite places to commune with the heavens is at the sacred Lā‘ie Hawai‘i Temple. I encourage you to please take some time to ask yourself these questions, “What is my spiritual compass?”, “How am I wayfinding to my eternal home?”, and “What can I do to serve my crew mates?” keeping in mind the Young Women Theme, “I am a beloved daughter of heavenly parents, with a divine nature and eternal destiny.”[6]

According to President Henry B. Eyring, “…the great test of life is to see whether we will hearken to and obey God’s commands in the midst of the storms of life. It is not to endure storms, but to choose the right while they rage…However much faith to obey God we now have, we will need to strengthen it continually and keep it refreshed constantly…Learning to start early and to be steady are the keys to spiritual preparation.”[7]

I know that by following the teachings and invitations of the Master, we can hold to our visions and voyage back to His presence because He will prepare a way. Following each storm, there will be stillness and peace in majestic sunrises and sunsets, a laboratory of colors in the rainbows, and a planetarium of celestial bodies in the heavens. While we may be small in the grand universe, each of us has a unique and critical role to play.

2. Developing Potential Through Service and Servant Leadership

Second, one of the ways we can embrace the Lord’s invitations is by developing our potential through service and servant leadership. According to Sister Mary Ellen Smoot, Relief Society General President, “I fully believe that our talents are developed as we are called upon to serve. If we will faithfully accept the call, hidden talents will be discovered, such as love; compassion; discernment; being a good friend, peacemaker, teacher, leader, homemaker, writer, researcher.”[8] Each one of us has unique gifts that we can use to serve others.

As I reflect on service-oriented, servant leaders who have been examples along my path, my heart swells with gratitude for families who took me in as their own when I was far from home. My last semester at BYU, I had an opportunity to teach middle and high school mathematics at the LDS Technical College (now the Fiji LDS Church College). Aunty Irene and Uncle Meli Lesuma, who had known me since I was a little child growing up at TVA, were living in Suva at the time. They immediately welcomed me into their family home along with their children and Nana who taught me how to love the Lord, how to make Fijian curry and roti, and even how to iron my white blouse with starch! When Nana saw my first attempt at ironing, she said, “I will show you how and then you can do it. You are teaching the Lord’s children; you can not have wrinkles in your blouse.” Through their daily examples at work, church, and home, I saw what it meant to embody the hymn “Lord, I would Follow Thee”.[9]

When I returned to Japan to study at the University of Tokyo after my mission, I had the gift and privilege of living with the Budge and Litchfield families near the temple in Hiroo. I was nervous, excited, and a bit homesick. I recall the Relief Society activity where an announcement was made that a student was looking for a place to live, and instantly Sister Cheri Litchfield’s hand went up. The Litchfield’s loved me like one of their children, and showed me how to build a Christ-centered home by filling it with conversations about the Savior and the most amazing home-cooked meals. So, you should always go to Relief Society!

The home of Bishop Todd and Sister Lori Budge was filled with harmonious hymns and daily scripture study. They didn’t just study the gospel, they lived it and showed me how I could too. Sister Budge was an incredible servant leader inside and outside of the home. She described her parenting philosophy as, “They are Heavenly Father’s children, and he has entrusted us to love and care for them. It is an awe-inspiring and weighty stewardship as well as a tremendous blessing!”

Maybe you hear yourself in my stories. Maybe you are far away from home and adjusting to a foreign environment. Perhaps you are learning a different language or even the same language but with words that have completely different meanings. Until I lived in Fiji, I didn’t realize that a flat = apartment and biscuits = cookies.

An important aspect of the path to developing potential through service and servant leadership is often times other people, such as the Lesuma’s, Litchfield’s, Budge’s, and Nainoa Thompson, see things in you before you are able to see them in yourself. I can count on two hands the number of hours Captain Nainoa slept in the 16 days and 2,500 miles before we arrived in Rangiroa in the Tuamotu Archipelago, and then two days on to Tahiti. He actually spotted land about 30 minutes before the apprentice navigators did. But my teacher didn’t need to find land; it was his fifth trip back to Tahiti. Instead, he allowed us to find the coconut trees, which were the highest points on Rangiroa so that we can likewise teach the rising generation (this is a photo of that moment). Servant leadership is exhausting, and at the same time nourishing, visionary, and self-replenishing. By following the Lord’s invitations through service and servant leadership, we honor those who have gone before us and strive to do His will by raising the next generation.

Following the Lord’s invitations led me from UH West O‘ahu to UH Mānoa, which was not in my plan. I was the first and only mathematics faculty at UH West O‘ahu for six years, and we had established an incredible ‘ohana with an extensive, supportive community. Looking back now, it seems like the Lord’s plan was laid out so well. However, at the time, I felt like I was walking away from a mathematics program we had collectively built from portables to a brand new campus in Kapolei, and I didn’t know whether they would transfer my tenure. As the pieces moved, many people stepped in and the Spirit spoke peace to my heart. When Heavenly Father extends lovingly personalized invitations outside of our comfort zone, He is customizing the curriculum on our eternal journey. All the Lord asks is that we have a willing heart and hands to serve. I knew I was supposed to be at UH Mānoa, and the Lord has provided opportunities for me to do His work.

After I had moved to UH Mānoa, the University of Hawai‘i System President David Lassner asked me to be the UH System 10-campus representative to strengthen priority initiatives in sustainability, STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics), and being a model indigenous serving institution.

One small way I have humbly endeavored to engage in the work is through ethnomathematics—please allow me to introduce an overview and a photo of one of our cohorts. At the intersection of historical traditions, linguistics, and sociocultural roots, among others, ethnomathematics encourages the investigation and adaptation of these concepts within and outside of the mathematics classroom. The goal is to acknowledge that diverse cultural systems and frameworks have existed since the beginning of time, and to help educators discover pathways that foster student engagement through multiple approaches to learning STEM. A strong component is finding relevance in real-world applications through physical, environmental, cultural, and spiritual capacities.

Here are some photos (starting in the upper left-hand corner going in a clockwise direction) of: connecting mathematics and music through computer software and technology at UH West O‘ahu, studying wave properties and wind dynamics from Makapu‘u lighthouse, utilizing our bodies as tools in geometry and measurement at UH Mānoa, and exploring sustainability and tropical marine biology by clearing invasive mangroves through service learning at Waikalua Loko Fishpond.

The Ethnomathematics Graduate Certificate was a 10-year process of research and development prior to becoming institutionalized as the world’s first academic program in ethnomathematics in 2018. The program operates annually and may be extended to a master’s degree in mathematics education at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. Over the years, a worldwide alumni network has been formed that demonstrates commitment to improving learning for all students.

The following is a video produced by the University of Hawai‘i System.[10]

3. Navigating Adversity with Gratitude as we Follow the Lord’s Invitations

Third and lastly, I would like to talk about navigating adversity with gratitude as we follow the Lord’s invitations. Last November, our beloved prophet, President Nelson, shared a message on the healing power of gratitude.

“Skilled scientists and researchers are laboring diligently to develop and distribute a vaccine against the coronavirus. But there is no medication or operation that can fix the many spiritual woes and maladies that we face. There is, however, a remedy — one that may seem surprising — because it flies in the face of our natural intuitions. Nevertheless, its effects have been validated by scientists as well as men and women of faith. I am referring to the healing power of gratitude.”[11]

One of my favorite hymns to navigate adversity with gratitude is “Brightly Beams Our Father’s Mercy”.

"Brightly beams our Father’s mercy
From his lighthouse evermore,
But to us he gives the keeping
Of the lights along the shore.
Let the lower lights be burning;
Send a gleam across the wave.
Some poor fainting, struggling seaman
You may rescue, you may save."[12]

As a ship approaches a harbor, there is a safe channel to follow in order to avoid hazards and dangers in the shallower waters. While the upper light marks the location of the harbor in the night, it alone does not provide sufficient information. The lower light is necessary to navigate the ship along a safe path through obstacles such as rocks and reefs. By aligning the upper and lower lights from the lighthouse, the approaching ship has clear directions to enter the harbor.

The Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square expounds on this concept, “the Master will take care of the great lighthouse, but He depends on us to keep the lower lights burning…If we can keep the light of faith burning in our hearts, if we align our light with the Light above, we can guide an exhausted mariner safely home,” including ourselves.[13] Invitations from the Savior provide personalized instructions to align the upper and lower lights. Through our Savior and the Atonement, we are able to overcome adversity and recognize our many blessings. By fixing our grateful gaze on His teachings, we are able to sail safely into the harbor of our heavenly home.

One of the most important lessons I have learned in voyaging is that we cannot change the winds, but we can always change our sails. And when we change our sails, we often arrive not necessarily where we think we need to be but exactly where we are supposed to be. I initially thought the job of the apprentice navigator was to get to a specific destination within the parameters of the plan. On the voyage around the Samoan Islands, we planned to visit a number of locations, but we weren’t able to because of the winds. Since we came back early to Pago Pago, we were able to interact with about 20 schools in American Samoa. While at Matatula Elementary, I had an experience that I will never forget. Following our presentation, a young child stood up and said in the matai (chiefly) language which was translated for me, “Thank you for teaching us what is not written in our textbooks.” I was deeply and profoundly moved, and finally able to respond, “Fa’afetai tele lava to your ancestors who bravely sailed from the Navigator Islands of Samoa to Hawaii. It is because of you we are here today, and it is because of you we are able to sail around the world.” Together, we are one nation, one oceanic people, and one beautiful ‘ohana living together on island earth. By being adaptable and willing to follow the Lord’s invitations, we are able find our compasses that enable us to collectively build the kingdom of God and lift where we stand. To add onto the words of Isaac Newton, yes, we stand on the shoulders of giants—and we are and will be the shoulders for generations to come.

In conclusion, President Cyril Figuerres of the Japan Fukuoka Mission summarizes the basis of all we do, stating, “I tried to inculcate these empowering and ennobling principles into the hearts of my missionaries experientially so that they would become core values that would serve as guiding stars and principles in their journey back into God’s presence.”[14]

“Obedience is the price,
Faith is the power,
Love is the motive,
The Spirit is the key,
and Christ is the reason.”[15]

My brothers and sisters, I know that by being spiritually prepared to follow the Lord’s invitations, developing our potential through service and servant leadership, and navigating adversity with gratitude, we gain spiritual strength to cross the depths of the sea. The scriptures, prophets, and gospel-centered education at BYU–Hawaii provide a path to support lifelong learning here on earth, as well as a sail plan back to our eternal home.

I know that God lives and loves us. He loves us so much he sent His son to perform the ultimate sacrifice for mankind.

I love my Savior, Jesus Christ. He is the universal, greatest teacher of all time. He is my Redeemer, my Comforter, and my best friend.

I know that Joseph Smith restored the true and everlasting gospel, and that he translated the Book of Mormon so we can follow the written invitations of Christ.

I testify President Nelson is a prophet, seer, and revelator.

With deepest gratitude, humility, and joy in my heart, I pray for you, I love you, and I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

_____


[1] Brigham Young University–Hawaii. (n.d.). Mission & vision. Retrieved January 18, 2021, from: https://about.byuh.edu/about-byuh/mission-and-vision

[2] Historical Society of Pennsylvania. (n.d.). Letter from Sir Isaac Newton to Robert Hooke. Retrieved January 18, 2021 from: https://discover.hsp.org/Record/dc-9792/Description#tabnav

[3] Polynesian Voyaging Society. (n.d.). The story of Hōkūleʻa. Retrieved January 18, 2021, from: http://www.hokulea.com/voyages/our-story/

[4] Polynesian Voyaging Society. (n.d.). PVS mission & vision. Retrieved January 18, 2021, from: http://www.hokulea.com/vision-mission/

[5] The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. (n.d.). Ether 2:5–7. Retrieved January 18, 2021, from: https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/scriptures/bofm/ether/2?lang=eng

[6] The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. (n.d.). Young Women theme. Retrieved January 18, 2021, from: https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/manual/young-women-theme/young-women-theme?lang=eng

[7] Eyring, H. (2005, October 1). Spiritual preparedness: Start early and be steady. https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/2005/10/spiritual-preparedness-start-early-and-be-steady?lang=eng

[8] Smoot, M. (1998, September 26). Come, let us walk in the light of the Lord. https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/liahona/1999/01/come-let-us-walk-in-the-light-of-the-lord?lang=eng

[9] The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. (n.d.). Lord, I would follow thee. Retrieved January 18, 2021, from: https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/music/library/hymns/lord-i-would-follow-thee?lang=eng

[10] University of Hawai‘i. (2019, January 11). First-in-the-world UH ethnomathematics program approved by Hawaiʻi Teacher Standards Board. https://www.hawaii.edu/news/2019/01/11/ethnomathematics-licensure-approved/

[11] Nelson, R. (2020, November 20). #GiveThanks. https://www.thechurchnews.com/leaders-and-ministry/2020-11-20/president-nelson-special-message-gratitude-spiritual-remedy-healing-hope-covid-19-198180

[12] The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. (n.d.). Brightly beams our Father’s mercy. Retrieved January 18, 2021, from: https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/music/library/hymns/brightly-beams-our-fathers-mercy-mens-choir?lang=eng

[13] The Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square. (2014, March 16). Keep the lower lights burning. https://www.thetabernaclechoir.org/videos/march-16-2014-music-and-the-spoken-word.html

[14] Figuerres, C. Personal communication, January 14, 2021.

[15] Bateman, M., & Bateman, M. (2001, January 16). Christ is the reason. https://speeches.byu.edu/talks/merrill-j-and-marilyn-s-bateman/christ-reason/

Photo and Video Credits: Na‘alehu Anthony, Yongsung Kim, Daniel Lin, Johnelle Souza, Polynesian Voyaging Society, Stacey Sawa, University of Hawai‘i