Brothers and Sisters, Aloha. I am so grateful to be able to share some thoughts and feelings with you today.
I am grateful to Kristie for her introduction. I recognized her goodness and her loving heart within the first few minutes after I picked her up for our first date and began to get to know her. After we dated for a couple of months, she left to come here to BYU–Hawaii to attend school. It didn’t take me very long after she left before I realized that if I wanted any chance of being with her forever, I needed to take some action. In addition to the countless emails and phone calls, I recruited my brother and my auntie to come to Hawaii with me to visit Kristie, and then later that same semester I came again with her family for Thanksgiving.
It was on that second trip that we got engaged and I somehow convinced her to leave this place which she had grown to love, and to come back to Utah where we were married. We have been married now for more than 22 years, and she is my best friend. A constant source of strength and encouragement to me and to our family.
Brothers and sisters, as I have pondered what I might say that may in some way be of help to you in this season of your lives, I have come back over and over again to a verse in 1 Nephi chapter 11. In this chapter, Nephi is visited by a heavenly being and is shown the interpretation of his father’s dream of the iron rod leading to the tree of life. At one point in the vision, Nephi was asked the question, “knowest thou the condescension of God?” to which Nephi responds, “I know that he loveth his children; nevertheless, I do not know the meaning of all things.”
Many of the Lord’s servants have testified regarding how He views each of us, his sons and daughters. Along with Nephi’s testimony regarding God’s love for us, His children, listen to a few more powerful testimonies of the love that God has for each of us:
President Thomas S. Monson said, “…your Heavenly Father loves you—each of you. That love never changes. It is not influenced by your appearance, by your possessions, or by the amount of money you have in your bank account. It is not changed by your talents and abilities. It is simply there. It is there for you when you are sad or happy, discouraged or hopeful. God’s love is there for you whether or not you feel you deserve love. It is simply always there.” 
Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin said, “Oh, it is wonderful to know that our Heavenly Father loves us—even with all our flaws! His love is such that even should we give up on ourselves, He never will.
We see ourselves in terms of yesterday and today. Our Heavenly Father sees us in terms of forever. Although we might settle for less, Heavenly Father won’t, for He sees us as the glorious beings we are capable of becoming.”
Finally, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said, “however late you think you are, however many chances you think you have missed, however many mistakes you feel you have made or talents you think you don’t have, or however far from home and family and God you feel you have traveled, I testify that you have not traveled beyond the reach of divine love. It is not possible for you to sink lower than the infinite light of Christ’s Atonement shines.”
These are just a few of many testimonies regarding the infinite love God has for each of us. However, it is not always easy for us in our daily lives to recognize or feel that love. We may sometimes even doubt whether He truly loves us. Too many of us experience significant trials, or observe the suffering of others and conclude that there must not be a God, or at least if there is, He is not the loving, kind and merciful God who we are taught to trust in. If he did care about us, we may reason, then He would not allow suffering or hardship. He would right the wrongs and injustices, heal sickness, and keep us from suffering, pain and loss. However, the Lord reminds us in the scriptures that, "my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts." (Isaiah 55:8-9)
Our Father in Heaven and His Son Jesus Christ know more, and see more than we do, and Their perspective is eternal. While our focus is too often on the here and now, and seeking immediate pleasure, or at least the lack of pain, their focus is on eternity. As the scriptures teach, "For behold, this is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man." Instead of allowing doubt to creep in when we experience heart-wrenching trials, some of which push us to the very edge of our capacity to endure, we should respond as Nephi did. Remember his statement when he was confronted with a question for which he did not know the answer? “I know that he loveth his children; nevertheless, I do not know the meaning of all things.”
That statement by Nephi is powerful, and I believe holds the key to navigating so many of the challenges in our lives. In that brief statement, Nephi acknowledges that he did not understand everything, but simultaneously bore his testimony that he knew that God loves His children. Like Nephi, we may not be able to understand all of the circumstances or events of our lives. We may not be able to understand every policy or position taken by leaders of our church. We may not be able to understand why such difficult and even terrible things happen in our lives, or in the lives of others. While we humbly and patiently seek for greater understanding and clarity, we can lean on and seek to continue to foster our testimony and assurance that God “loveth his children” – and that includes us!
When we have the personal witness that God loves us, we can trust Him and His plan for us, for our family and friends, and for the whole human race. We can walk forward in confidence, knowing that there is purpose in difficulty, trials, and struggles, even if we may not comprehend it. We can have hope in the future, knowing that our Father in Heaven, because of His love for us, “would not require you to experience a moment more of difficulty than is absolutely needed for your personal benefit or for that of those you love,” as Elder Richard G. Scott has taught.
The personal testimony that Heavenly Father loves us is essential to our ability to trust Him, to move forward in faith and to have the hope of a bright future. When we have the sure knowledge that our Father in Heaven loves us, we can view our sufferings and trials as well as the good things that happen in our lives through a different lens. A lens of faith and hope.
Not only does God love us, He wants us to know that He loves us and He has and will communicate that love for us in a variety of ways. Nephi teaches that, “For the Lord God giveth light unto the understanding; for he speaketh unto men according to their language, unto their understanding.” In my experience, God uses a variety of means to communicate His love for us. However, we have to be seeking to hear and understand, and we have to be paying attention in order to receive it. When Kristie and I contracted a bad case of Covid-19 just more than a year and a half ago, we found ourselves unable to feel the influence of the Spirit the same way we were used to. Our feelings were dulled, and our minds were not clear, which made it a challenge to recognize the promptings of the Spirit. During this time, we noticed that God was using different means of communicating with us. He spoke to us through verses of scripture, which stood out to us as we studied the gospel. He spoke to us through the actions and words of friends and family members. And He spoke to us through divine intervention, which resulted in coincidences that were too obvious not to notice His hand in them. The communication we received through those divine means, and through that difficult time, brought us here to BYU–Hawaii last year, and we are eternally grateful.
Because God speaks to each of us in different ways, “according to [our] language, unto [our] understanding, ” as Nephi taught, I reached out to some of you to ask how you feel God’s love in your lives. I would like to share a few of your responses that I received with the hope that perhaps some of you might relate to the things that are shared and more fully recognize God trying to convey His love to you.
Mailee said, “I feel His love when other people are kind to me or serve me because it reminds me of how Christ ministered to people and how He ministers to me.”
Jarrett said, “One way that I feel Heavenly Father’s love for me is through the people He places in my life. I feel that throughout every stage of life there have been people placed in my life who have helped steer me where I feel the Lord wants me to go.” He adds, “Another way I feel His love is through the scriptures…I feel like reading the scriptures is something that can be hard to do with so many other things demanding our attention but when I make it a priority and do it even in the days it is hard I feel a deeper connection with my Father in Heaven.”
Jerry and Cynthia, a recently married couple, shared verbally with me that they feel the love of God through their temple worship and service. They later added in writing, “[we] both feel that the time to spend with the Lord, especially in daily sincere prayers, can help us feel His love….We are…surrounded by many prayerful people who are far away from home or learning different language and cultures. Prayers certainly open the windows of heaven.” They also added, “Another way we both feel God’s love is to serve others…It is interesting for us to see that by serving others, we are actually receiving more: more peace in mind, more gratitude for the Lord’s tender mercies, and feel more of the Lord’s love for us and [His] children. A call, a visit, a written note, or even a smile can help us and others feel the Lord’s love.”
Thank you to those who shared these thoughts, as well as to many more of you who I’m sure would have shared if I had asked you to.
Do you see any patterns in their responses? All four of them mentioned feeling the love of God through other people. Through the kindness of others, through the people placed in our lives to help us, and through people serving us, even in small ways. Is it any wonder why a loving Father in Heaven who wants His children to be happy would establish as one of the two great commandments to, “love thy neighbor as thyself?” What an empowering thought that we can be the means by which others feel the love of God in their lives, when we take time to serve or minister to them, even in small ways.
Another pattern in their responses is a personal connection to God through means such as temple worship, scripture study, and prayer.
President Russell M. Nelson summed it up when he said, “Nothing opens the heavens quite like the combination of increased purity, exact obedience, earnest seeking, daily feasting on the words of Christ in the Book of Mormon, and regular time committed to temple and family history work.”
The four years of graduate school when I was working to obtain my doctorate degree were a particularly difficult time in our lives. We moved away from home and family for the first time as a couple. The curriculum was rigorous and the expectations were very high, which meant long hours of study and preparation for classes. We had three young kids at the time and were doing our best to figure out how to be parents. Money was very tight, and we often worried about our ability to provide for our needs both then and in the future. It was during this same time that Kristie developed a long-term illness and we had very few answers for how to care for her. All of these things combined to make it both a physically and emotionally difficult time for our family.
Just so you don’t think the whole graduate school experience was a bad experience, there were many positive, happy, and even funny experiences that we had during this time as well. For example, I began playing racquetball with a friend five or six mornings per week for several months. After playing so frequently for so long, it started to take an interesting toll on me. Have you ever had the experience when you are just starting to fall asleep, and you dream you are falling and suddenly wake up in a panic? Rather than dreaming I was falling when I started to doze off to sleep, I began dreaming I was playing racquetball. I would wake up suddenly as I swung the racquetball racquet as hard as I could, but luckily there was no racquet. I’m sure it startled Kristie much more than it startled me since she was oftentimes lying in the path of my swing. Luckily, dreams are much more exaggerated than reality, and I never came close to actually hitting her with my make-believe racket.
In the midst of all of the difficulties of graduate school, we had many experiences that reinforced in our own minds and hearts that God loved us and was aware of and supporting us through our struggles. We decided to make it a high priority to attend the temple in Mesa, about an hour and a half drive away from our home, at least once per month. Because we couldn’t afford a babysitter very often, many of these monthly temple trips involved us packing a lunch and going to the temple as a family on a Saturday, with Kristie and I taking turns participating in temple ordinances while the other one of us played with the kids at a nearby park. Like Jerry and Cynthia, our testimony of God’s love for us grew as we participated in and grew to love the work of the temple.
We were also blessed through the kindness and generosity of friends and neighbors. We made some lifelong friends during those years who were a significant source of strength to us, as we hope we were to them. Like Mailee, Jarrett, Cynthia and Jerry, our family felt the love of God through the kindness and thoughtfulness of those around us.
We also felt the love of God through the scriptures, the words of modern-day apostles and prophets and through good music. I began reading the scriptures every day during my lunchtime as a way to stay closer to God, and to receive His power more fully in my life. Rather than listening to popular music on the car ride to and from school each day, I listened to conference talks or uplifting music. By doing our very best to stay close to our Father in Heaven, despite it being difficult at times, we more fully recognized His hand in our lives and felt His love for us as we pushed forward through those trials. Those years resulted in significant spiritual growth for us and laid a strong foundation for a lifetime of relying on God as we have navigated life’s challenges.
In addition to the personal ways in which we feel and experience the love of God in our lives, the greatest witness of God’s love that we all have in common is the gift of the atonement of Jesus Christ. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
Remember that the whole purpose of His plan of salvation, the purpose of our lives on earth, is to provide us with an opportunity to receive all that He has. He wants to bless us and help us. He wants us to be able to return to Him, and dwell with Him eternally. Elder Dale G. Renlund has said, “the Savior loves to restore what you cannot restore; He loves to heal wounds you cannot heal; He loves to fix what has been irreparably broken; He compensates for any unfairness inflicted on you; and He loves to permanently mend even shattered hearts.” There is no greater evidence of God’s love for you than the gift of His Son, Jesus Christ.
God’s love for us does not excuse us from trying our best to do what He has asked us to do. In fact, it is because of the love that He has for us that He wants us to change and become more like Him. His plan was never for us to come to earth, feel loved and cherished and return to Him the same as when we came here. This experience on earth is all about change. It is about repentance. It is about becoming the version of ourselves that is prepared and worthy to return to His presence and to live as He lives. It is about becoming like Him. That can only happen when we are a willing participant in the process; when we choose to change and become the person, He knows we have the potential to become.
It is our choice whether we build an eternal relationship with our Father in Heaven, or whether we instead choose to build our relationships with the things of this world. Who are we looking to as role models? Where are we turning for information about God’s standards for us? Do we care whether our lives are in harmony with His teachings, and with His will? Because of His divine nature and because of His love for us and His desire to help and bless us, Heavenly Father cannot and will not overlook our sins. He will, however, allow us every opportunity to repent and become clean through the atoning sacrifice of our Savior, Jesus Christ.
The love that He has for us should be a motivating factor for us in our desire and willingness to change. From that perspective, considering all He has done and continues to do for us, is He really asking too much for us to choose to show our love for Him by keeping His commandments? Are His commandments viewed as burdens, or are they viewed as further evidence that He loves us and wants us to be happy?
Brothers and Sisters, I know that God lives. Through my own personal experiences, and through the evidence all around me, I add my testimony that, despite the fact that I don’t understand all things in life, “I know that he loveth his children. ”I know that He loves me, and He loves each of you! I know that we can trust Him and His plan for us. It is my hope that you will choose to put yourselves in a position to more frequently and fully recognize God’s efforts to communicate His love for you. And, that as you do so, your personal testimony of His love for you will continue to grow, and that it will be a source of strength and perspective in difficult times in your lives. I pray that it will help you to be patient in your afflictions, and to have hope and confidence in your futures. We can and should trust God. My experience has proven to me that He is trustworthy. His way is always the best way. I so testify in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
 1 Nephi 11:16
 1 Nephi 11:17
 Thomas S. Monson, "We Never Walk Alone" General Conference address, October 2013
 Joseph B. Wirthlin, "The Great Commandment" General Conference address, October 2007
 Jeffrey R. Holland, "The Laborers in the Vineyard" General Conference address, October 1995.
 Moses 1:39
 1 Nephi 11:17
 Richard G. Scott, "Trust in the Lord" General Conference address, October 1995.
 2 Nephi 31:3
 2 Nephi 31:3
 Matthew 22:39
 Russell M. Nelson, "Revelation for the church, Revelation for Our Lives" General Conference address, April 2018
 John 3:16
 Dale G. Renlund, “Consider the Goodness and Greatness of God” General Conference address, April 2020