Brothers & Sisters Aloha,
I want to thank my wonderful wife, Caryn, for her introduction. Twenty-eight years ago, she and I were, like you, university students. We had married at the beginning of our senior year, taught at the MTC together, and were excited to graduate. We had great hopes and dreams, and felt like we could envision a perfect future for ourselves. We were soon going to learn that, as the title of my talk says, “God’s Ways, Not Mine” are often what transpires in reality.
In Isaiah 55:8 it states, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord.” Often we have a plan for our lives, only to discover that the Lord’s plan is different than ours. His thoughts for us are often much bigger than we realize, and his ways take us on paths we never imagined.
I hope you will forgive me in this devotional talk that I am going to share with you several personal stories. I think these stories best make my point that God had greater expectations for us than we could envision, and has lessons for us to learn, that we might not fully appreciate at the time we are learning them. One of my favorite scripture stories depicts this in the Book of Mormon when the people of Alma, who had escaped from the wicked King Noah, now face a challenging situation as a lost Lamanite army discovers their faithful community:
“Nevertheless the Lord seeth fit to chasten his people; yea, he trieth their patience and their faith. Nevertheless—whosoever putteth his trust in him the same shall be lifted up at the last day. Yea, and thus it was with this people” (Mosiah 23:21-21).
Alma and his people had a dream of living in peace while serving the Lord and one another. Yet the Lord in his infinite wisdom had other plans for them. For a time they suffered at the hands of the Lamanites and the wicked priests, but they put their trust in the Lord and He made their burdens light. The Lord was preparing Alma and has followers for bigger things, and through a miracle brought them safely to the land of Zarahemla. God’s plans were not Alma’s plans, yet in the end, Alma was greatly blessed for his faithfulness. My wife and I have seen this several times in our lives as well, and while at the time we did not always appreciate the journey, we were grateful at the end.
On a bright Saturday morning, the day after Caryn and I graduated from BYU in Provo we got into our little car, packed with our belongings, and headed cross country on our way to Washington, DC. We were excited to start this new chapter of our life and felt as if this was the right thing for the two of us. Caryn had a year-long internship at the Smithsonian’s American Art Museum, and I had a job interview that coming Friday with my dream job that promised me they would pay our way across the country instead of flying me out there. This seemed perfect. It was just what we wanted. However, it wasn’t to be. 600 miles into our 2,000-mile cross-country trip we started to smell a metallic burning smell within our car, and the car was losing speed. We barely managed to creep into the small town of Ogallala, Nebraska, late that Saturday evening. We parked our little car by the only service station, and walked to a nearby motel. The mechanic took our call the next morning, but said not only was he closed for Sunday, but so was the parts store, so we would have to wait till Monday. On Monday we were told our car needed a part the little town of Ogallala did not have, and it would arrive the following day. When it arrived, much to our frustration, it turned out to be the wrong part. By the time the car was fixed it was late Thursday afternoon--we had spent five days stuck in Ogallala. Of course, I did not make my appointment for my dream job the following day, which meant we did not get paid for our trip, but instead had very large automotive repair and lodging bills. This was not the perfect beginning we were anticipating. In fact, I never did get that dream job, and felt disappointed that the direction I wanted to go was not the way the Lord wanted me to take. I have learned in my life that I have encountered many “Ogallala” detours along the way. However, in looking back I can see the hand of the Lord in this situation. Not getting my “dream job” allowed me the time to earn my master’s degree, which led me to a different, but highly rewarding job. At that job after a few years, my boss encouraged me to pursue a PhD., which opened up new opportunities including working at a counter terrorism institute, and later coming to work here at BYU–Hawaii. Perhaps Ogallala wasn’t that bad of an experience after all.
We all have Ogallala experiences along the path of life that help us realize that our thoughts and ways might not be what God intends for us. God’s ways, not mine. Now, I’m not saying that God has a rigid predestined plan for us, rather that in his infinite love for us and seeing the BIG picture, He might help us in ways that differ from what we would want at that moment.
Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf has said, “Believe that your life will be infinitely better if you rely on God to guide your steps. He knows things you cannot possibly know, and He has a future prepared for you that you cannot possibly imagine…You may not see it until much later, but you will look back and know that the Lord did indeed direct and guide your path” (2018).
This is a recent picture of my family taken this summer at Kawela bay. When you look at it, you see a happy family with four smiling children. This picture represents just a single snapshot of time, but does not convey to you the journey we had to take to get to that point. Our family definitely fits into an “Ogallala experience” for my wife and I, and not something that matched our early plans and expectations.
With your permission, I want to share with you four lessons that I have learned through the experience of my children coming into our family that have helped me realize that God's ways are not always my ways, and that his plans were greater than I could imagine. The first lesson is the importance of both patience and faith in the Lord along the path as we put our trust into His ways.
Just like those of you who are recently married, we were excited to be together and knew that children would soon be part of our newly established family. As time when on, we grew disappointed that pregnancy had not yet happened. Caryn’s three younger, married sisters all had babies, and yet we were still childless. What was going on? Was not having a child a righteous desire? Caryn and I learned that we needed to be patient. That the Lord’s time table is very different from our own. We also learned that we needed to be patient with others, as insensitive questions were often asked why we were “choosing to delay” our family. Finally, when my wife turned thirty, after 6 years of waiting, our first child, Emma, was born. She was a delight, and well worth the wait, the many disappointments, and the feelings of frustrations we had experienced up until that point. Emma is now a student at BYU in Provo, and should be watching this devotional live online right now—“Hi Emma!”
Learning to be patient can be difficult, but we realized that we were not alone in this desire to have children. The patriarch Abraham and his wife, Sarah, waited decades before they had their Isaac. In the Bible we read of Hannah patiently pouring out her heart to the Lord before she had Samuel. Her prayer tugs on my heart: “O Lord of hosts, if thou wilt indeed look on the affliction of thine handmaid, and remember me, and not forget thine handmaid…” (1 Samuel 1:11). Waiting patiently tests our souls. You might need to wait patiently to meet a spouse, like us to have a child, to find a job, to be able to move back close to family, to get answers to your meaningful questions, or to feel good about a difficult decision.
Elder Uchtdorf states, “Every one of us is called to wait in our own way. We wait for answers to prayers. We wait for things which at the time may appear so right and so good to us that we can’t possibly imagine why Heavenly Father would delay the answer” (2010).
The “natural man” in all of us wants our desires met right away, yet we need to put off the natural man and learn patience. We might not know God’s timeframe for us, but we should never give up on these righteous desires, even though the waiting might be difficult to endure. Just remember that you are not alone. The Holy Ghost is indeed a comforter to those who patiently wait, and is there to lift us up during these trying times. As the Savior Himself told his disciples he would send them the Holy Ghost, “I will not leave you comfortless” (John 14:18).
The second lesson I have learned in trusting God’s ways, not mine is when we are going along a path that we may not have considered how vital it is to listen to the spirit.
This is our second child, Chrysanne. She is extremely creative, and a joy in my life. Several years after the birth of our first child we started working with medical experts in Southern California in order to have a second child. Nothing seemed to work. I would give my wife daily injections, we would then go to an infertility clinic in Hollywood each month for a procedure, only to be told later that it did not work out. Trust me, for us Hollywood is a place of many shattered dreams. Again we were filled with heartache and petitioned the Lord for help with this righteous desire. Shouldn’t we have another child? Didn’t our little girl deserve a sibling?
After years of trying we had dinner at the home of some friends who were not members of our Church. They too were dealing with infertility and had started the process of adoption. They detailed what was required, and we felt their excitement and hope to have a child of their own. Adoption was something Caryn and I had never contemplated before. As we discussed adoption with our friends, the Spirit entered our hearts and we both felt that this was something we should explore. Maybe we needed to open up another window for the Lord to send us this desired blessing. However, what we did not realize was what a hassle it was to become eligible for adoption in the state of California! We had to become certified foster parents first, take infant CPR & first aid, take several child raising courses, have home inspections, and fill out mountains of paperwork. To be honest, we both got discouraged by the shear scope of the endeavor. We had a sweet little girl at home, and my life was busy with my PhD program and being in the bishopric. Maybe we were ok with just the three of us. And then the Lord spoke to me. I was working on some homework and looked over at the adoption paperwork on the desk nearby that still needed to be done, and the Spirit said quite forcefully “Do it! Do it NOW!” I immediately stopped what I was doing and started working on the numerous essays that still needed to be written. I called out to Caryn, and said, “I feel we need to get this done right away.” Together we finished the paperwork, submitted it to the LDS Family Services, and then got back to our lives. I don't know why I had that strong impression from the Spirit, since nothing progressed with the adoption for months.
As time went along, we moved from Los Angeles to Oklahoma City, and started a new phase of our lives. My new job was exciting and fulfilling, and we bought a beautiful home. A few months after arriving we got a call from the Oklahoma offices of LDS Family Services asking if we were still interested in adoption, and that they got our paperwork transferred from California. They asked us to meet with them the next day. When we arrived for what we thought was just a “get to know you” meeting, we were told we had been selected for adoption, and that the baby would be arriving in 3 weeks. Just imagine, this is like finding out you were 8 1⁄2 months pregnant and didn’t realize it!
We were told about a young woman in California who, when she found out she was pregnant, saw our paperwork just 2-3 days after we had finished it. It was her first opportunity to consider who the adoptive parents for her future baby would be, and the Spirit had strongly spoken to her as she saw our pictures that we were the parents who the Lord wanted to raise this baby. If I had not listened to the Spirit back when I was busy with my PhD program, she would never have seen our paperwork, and we would not have our beautiful and creative Chrysanne as part of our family. Because Caryn and I, as well as this sweet young woman, listened to the spirit, and followed up on those promptings, the Lord was able to change four lives for the better.
As we travel down our path of life, it is vital that we listen to the Spirit. Sometimes the path we take is one unknown, like a different career path or method of growing a family. In today’s age when we don’t know the way, we listen intently to our phone’s GPS app telling us the direction we should follow. The Spirit is the ultimate GPS app in our lives, but it only helps if we listen and follow.
The third lesson I learned along the way is don’t give up--the Lord fulfills his promises.
Time continued to go by, and we were extremely content with our lives. We had our two wonderful daughters, had great neighbors, a good job, and life seemed to be going well for us. We started to think that our family would be just the four of us. Afterall, most of our neighbors only had two kids. However, one day as Caryn was putting away the clothes Chrysanne had grown out of, she could not feel peace about giving the little clothes away. She was also about to turn 40, and knew that if we were going to have another child now was the time. Her patriarchal blessing promised that she would bring forth bodies (plural), and at this point we only had the one birth. We truly believed God would fulfill his promises. As Elder Angel Abrea stated, “The faithful Latter-day Saint waits patiently because, certainly, faith, ‘the assurance of things hoped for’, is exercised with the conviction that the promises will be fulfilled ‘in his own time, and in his own way, and according to his own will’” (1992).
We started once again going to see infertility specialists, and were told that the procedure that had the best chance for us in our condition was invitro fertilization. However, this was a very costly procedure, and one that had just a 25% chance of success at Caryn’s age. We moved forward with faith knowing of the Lord’s promise to Caryn, and that we could put our trust in Him. We traveled out of state to a respected clinic and worked with an outstanding physician in this invitro fertilization process. While we were gone, our Bishop felt impressed to look for Caryn in the congregation one Sunday. The Spirit told him, “Sister Houghton needs you to tell her something.” He did not know why, and did not even see my wife in order to follow through with the prompting. Later that week we came back to our home in Oklahoma extremely disheartened, since we just had been told by the fertility clinic that the procedure had not been successful. We had spent tens of thousands of dollars, given up time away from work, put our trust in medicine and the Lord, only to have it end in failure. We were sad and wondered what the Lord wanted us to do in our lives instead.
The following Sunday after sacrament meeting the Bishop asked to see us in his office. He said, “Brother & Sister Houghton, the Lord has strongly prompted me two Sundays in a row to tell you that you will have a son.” We were dumbstruck. We had not told him of our situation, but right then at the moment we knew the Lord understood our anguish and was ready to bless us in our desire. Then in the office the bishop and I laid our hands on my wife’s head and he blessed her with comfort, and promised her that the Lord knew of her desires, and that He would fulfil His promises to her. Two months later we returned to the clinic, buoyed up with the faith we had in the Lord, knowing that he would fulfil His promise to us. Nine months later our little boy, Isaac, was born. Two months after that he accompanied us to Laie when I interviewed for a job here at BYU–Hawaii, and now has grown up as a barefoot local boy.
It is so easy to be frustrated by failure, and then just give up. Don’t! Trust in the Lord. Look at your patriarchal blessing and see what he has promised you. Trust in Him to fulfill his promises to you. Sure, they may not come when we want, but THEY WILL COME.
In D&C 82:10 we read, “I, the Lord, am bound when ye do what I say; but when ye do not what I say, ye have no promise.” Take the promises in your patriarchal blessing seriously, and live worthy to claim them.
The fourth lesson I’ve learned along this strangely wonderful path is to be grateful for tender mercies along the way. During our first year—in fact we only thought we would be here in Laie one year, since I was hired as a visiting professor—the Lord blessed us with another miracle. Coming to BYU–Hawaii, like it was for most of you, was a big leap of faith. Leaving family and friends to build the Lord’s Kingdom can be difficult, but it also brings us new opportunities and blessings. For us, it was the unexpected blessing of our last child. A year after we arrived in Hawaii our little Annika joined the family. She is my treasure, and much to the disappointment of her brother, she gets whatever she asks of me—well, at least that is what he believes!
Annika taught us the lesson that the Lord is aware of us, and is willing to send at times tender mercies along our path. We need to live in gratitude, so that we can recognize and give thanks to Him for these mercies. Elder David A. Bednar has said “...when mortal experience and evaluation are insufficient to produce a desired outcome, and when it seems that perhaps we are so totally alone, truly we are blessed by the tender mercies of the Lord and made mighty even unto the power of deliverance” (2005).
Our life is not meant to be bleak, rather we should identify and rejoice in the little tender mercies the Lord sends our way. We need to live in gratitude for all the blessings He gives us along our path.
We truly are blessed by the tender mercy of the Lord in bringing us not only Annika, but all our children into our family--each in their own unique way. Again, I hope you will forgive me for telling you these personal stories of our children. I could have made these same points through stories I’ve learned in the workplace, from road trips, or a host of other experiences; however, in looking back over my life it is my family and the relationships I have with them that brings me my greatest happiness.
Much has happened since Caryn and I set out in our little car and found ourselves stuck in Ogallala. Along the way we have learned we needed to have faith and patience when it came to our goals and desires. The Lord’s time table was not always ours, and we needed to patiently wait and have faith in Him, since he sees the big picture. We have discovered the importance of listening to the Spirit, especially during those times when patience is essential. By listening and following the voice of the Lord through the Spirit we can find out His will for us. We have learned many times to trust that the Lord will fulfill His promises to us, just perhaps not in the time or manner that we might expect. We have also learned to be grateful for His tender mercies along our path, and to offer our thanks to Him for these wonderful blessings. We have found that His ways are not always the same as our ways, but His ways bring blessings and miracles that we could never imagine.
The Lord expects much from us, but the road is not always clear. As one of my favorite hymns Lead Kindly Light states “The night is dark, and I am far from home; Lead thou me on! Keep thou my feet; I do not ask to see The distant scene--One step alone enough for me” (Newman 1981).
Elder David A. Bednar goes further to say “As we exercise faith in Christ and trust in His promises, we can walk into the dark with the absolute assurance that our pathway will be illuminated—at least far enough to take the next step, and then the next step and the next step" (2012).
I am so grateful to the Lord for offering me a bigger vision of life than my limited view. I recognize that His thoughts are not my thoughts, and His ways are not my ways, and am grateful to Him for allowing me to take a path...even an Ogallala journey...that ended up greater than I ever imagined. I pray you will discover this as well, in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.
Angel Abrea, “Patience in Affliction”, Ensign, May 1992.
David A. Bednar, “Fear Not, I Am with Thee” (BYU–Hawaii Commencement, Dec. 15, 2012), devotional.byuh.edu.
David A. Bednar, “The Tender Mercies of the Lord”, Ensign, May 2005.
John Henry Newman, “Lead Kindly Light”, LDS Hymnal, Salt Lake City, UT: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1981. 97.
Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “Continue in Patience”, Ensign, November 2010.
Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “The Adventure of Mortality” (worldwide devotional for young adults, Jan. 14, 2018), broadcasts.lds.org.