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Life's Joyful Journey

Dave: When Beth and I were asked to speak at today's devotional, we were simultaneously humbled and excited by the opportunity to share our testimonies with you, our brothers and sisters. We remembered that Bill and Dianna Neal gave an inspiring presentation last year, providing a worthy example for us to emulate. But in some ways, giving a presentation together is even more challenging than speaking alone. For instance, who should get the last word?

Beth: Shouldn't that be perfectly obvious? The wife.
Dave: Okay, fair enough, but we also needed to consider if we should each deliver our own separate segments of the presentation.
Beth: Or if we should alternate sentences …
Dave: Or
Beth: Maybe
Dave: Even
Beth: Alternate
Dave: Every
Beth: Other
Dave: Word.
Beth: Hey, I was supposed to get the last word.
Dave: Sorry.

Beth: We finally decided that we would try to emulate the examples of our General Authorities in addressing a central theme while tying in several supporting themes. When we take a journey, whether for business or pleasure, there are certain decisions that need to be made. Of course, we must first select our destination, and the best means of transportation. Then we choose our navigation device; whether it's MapQuest, or a GPS device, something points us in the right direction. There are other considerations; who will travel with us, and what will we pack? Do we want to get there smoothly, without detour, or are we willing to take a roundabout path?

Life can be described as a journey. I think that because we are here today, disciples of Jesus Christ, we have chosen our destination: the celestial kingdom. We have decided on our vehicle, the gospel as taught by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, and many of us have embarked on the road, through baptism. Brother Kammerer and I would like to discuss four aspects of life's journey with you today:

  1. Keep Heavenly Father as your guide
  2. Pack plenty of spiritual nourishment by feasting on the words of Christ
  3. Choose good travel companions
  4. Don't allow yourself to get lost on a detour

President Monson wrote a beautiful article that is found in the November 2008 Ensign entitled "Finding Joy in the Journey". As you can tell, from our very similar title, we found the concept inspiring. In the article President Monson says,

"Let us relish life as we live it, find joy in the journey, and share our love with friends and family. One day each of us will run out of tomorrows." I believe that we can find joy in the journey of life when we keep our Heavenly Father as our guide.

In business, there is often a "silent partner." This is a person who has provided money for the business to exist. They are not visible to outsiders and they don't have input into the workings of the business.

In our eternal relationships, Heavenly Father can sometimes be seen in this role. He is not visible, but is absolutely crucial to the functioning of the relationship. He should never be thought of as silent, however. Our Father, and the lifestyle that the gospel encourages, can and should be at the heart of our decision-making. He is not silent when we call upon Him in our times of need, our times of joy, our times of sorrow, and our times of decision.

His Son, Jesus Christ is the perfect example for us to follow in every situation, not just on the Sabbath day. The Savior said "I am the way, the truth and the life; no man cometh unto the Father, but by me." And Proverbs 3:5-6 says "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."

How do we do this? How do we make Heavenly Father our guide and the Savior our example on a daily basis? Well, you just DO it! How do you make a new friend? You find out about them, you spend time with them, you talk with them; not once a month, or once a year, but on a daily basis. And if you really want to develop a friendship, you talk to them a lot. We can apply this to our relationship with our Heavenly Father. We can find out the nature of God, by spending time with the scriptures. In 1985 Ardeth G. Kapp, the General Young Women's President wrote,

"I ask you, will you open your scriptures and read them every day? Why? Because the glorious promises will then be yours. You can have a sure testimony of our Father in Heaven's love for you. You can know the gospel plan and the blessings that come through obedience and right choices. The verses you mark will become anchors to cling to when the voices of the world try to confuse you or discourage you. They will lift you up in spirit when you're down, and you can experience the feeling of being close to our Father in Heaven."

We can make Heavenly Father our guide by talking with him frequently through the day to develop a relationship and get course corrections. In Moroni 7:48 we read, "Wherefore, my beloved brethren, pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with [His] love,… that we may be purified even as he is pure."

If we have Heavenly Father as our guide, we must serve Him by serving those around us. King Benjamin put it most eloquently when he said, "And behold, I tell you these things that ye may learn wisdom; that ye may learn that when ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God" (Mosiah 2:17). I get up early in the morning to have a little alone-time to read scriptures and say my prayers. I try to include every morning a plea that my eyes will be open to those who need my help; and it's a joy when those prayers are answered and I'm able to act as an instrument in the hands of the Lord in the service of my fellow beings.

I think most importantly, we must look to the Savior as an example of our behavior; ever loving, ever giving, ever kind and compassionate. A few years ago it was popular to wear a wristband that had the initials WWJD which stood for What Would Jesus Do. What a great question to ask ourselves in every situation! If we followed the Saviors example in all things, we would truly have Heavenly Father as our guide.

Dave: I believe that we can find joy in the journey of life by feasting upon the words of Christ. There is a well-known axiom, generally attributed to Napoleon Bonaparte that states, "An army travels on its stomach." The insinuation here is that the planners of any military campaign must carefully consider the provisions necessary to sustain its troops in times of war. Like those soldiers, we need constant nourishment for our sustained journey toward salvation and exaltation. Think about the implications of the verb ‘feast' — notice that the scripture does not say ‘nibble,' ‘snack,' or even ‘dine.' The word is ‘feast' — not just to eat, but to eat heartily or sumptuously. Those of us who have been blessed to encounter Polynesian cultural customs here at BYU–Hawaii know how important feasting is as a manifestation of hospitality and social grace. Many of you know this man, Tevita Toafa, in his capacity as associate director of BYU–Hawaii Food Services and manager of our cafeteria, a.k.a. "The Club".

When our family arrived here in 1993, Tevita assisted me with the BYUH–PCC Brass Band, and because of that association his family hosted our family soon after our arrival by preparing a dinner in our honor. I was amazed how the long table was so heavily laden with delicious food that it seemed to sag in the middle from the sheer weight of those culinary delights. Just before blessing the meal, Tevita apologized to our family that he could not provide a richer feast for us, even as my children's eyes nearly bugged out of their heads at the sight of so much food prepared for roughly a dozen people. Since that time, I have been to literally hundreds of ward luaus, baby luaus, wedding receptions, graduation parties, and other social gatherings like the Tongan feast depicted here.

I have learned that the great spirit of generosity in these islands is profoundly expressed through such feasting. Due to these experiences, I now know more perfectly the deep implications of the phrase "feasting upon the word of Christ." One of those implications, sometimes overlooked, is that our Savior made a great effort to provide sustenance for our journey, just as my Polynesian brothers and sisters consistently make a great effort to prepare sumptuous feasts to share with their friends and loved ones.

Another implication of the phrase "feasting upon the word of Christ" is that we should constantly seek to take in as much spiritual nourishment as possible. We can do this through personal prayer, family prayer, scripture study, and Sabbath meeting attendance, among other things. I was greatly blessed to serve as a campus ward bishop not long ago. I loved that close association with wonderful student members and will cherish those associations eternally. I have always viewed our three-hour Sabbath meeting block as a kind of spiritual three-course meal, and as adults we can enjoy our sacrament meetings as the main course, supplemented by our Sunday School discussions and either Relief Society or priesthood lessons. As bishop I noticed that some members would skip the entire meal some Sundays by being absent from church, while others would skip several courses of this three-course meal in our reverse meeting schedule by coming only for sacrament meeting in the last hour. They were missing part of the feast and therefore missing out on some of the spiritual nourishment that could sustain them in times of trial. I implore you, my beloved brothers and sisters, to go and partake of that three-course meal each and every Sunday.

Of course, some people consistently partake of that Sabbath day three-course meal but then fall into the trap of becoming casual about their personal daily spiritual nourishment, or their spiritual "meal plan," so to speak. That course of action—or, perhaps more accurately, that course of inaction—is as counterproductive as it would be to eat three meals on Sunday and then fast every other day of the week. My beloved brothers and sisters, seek spiritual nourishment every day through prayer and scripture study.

Many other correlations between physical and spiritual nourishment can be made, but perhaps just two more examples will suffice as reminders of how we can be sustained on our joyful journey. In this metaphor of seeking spiritual sustenance, I'd like to point out that this is "non-fat" nourishment. What I mean is that every morsel of truth we take in builds only lean spiritual muscle fiber—how cool is that? My last observation here is that, although many of the foods we eat possess important nutrients, some foods have a higher concentration of those nutrients. I'd like to suggest that the Book of Mormon contains a dense concentration of spiritual nutrients and we do well to follow the council of inspired priesthood leaders to read and ponder the Book of Mormon regularly. President Henry B. Eyring stated in the Church's October 2003 General Conference:

"The Prophet Joseph taught us what it means to feast on the scriptures. He said that the Book of Mormon would get a man ‘nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book.' You will grow closer to the Lord and love Him more."

Hundreds of seminary graduates present today could recite 2 Nephi 31:20, a familiar scripture mastery verse:

"Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life."

In the context of our theme today, "press[ing] forward" means to take our journey, to travel our predetermined path, to move toward our ultimate destination. And where this scripture passage talks about "feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end," I find additional motivation in adapting the phrase slightly to convey this idea: feasting upon the word of Christ in order to endure to the end. Lest there be any doubt as to why the words of Christ sustain us in this way, a companion scripture, 2 Nephi 32:3, clarifies by stating, "Wherefore, I said unto you, feast upon the words of Christ; for behold, the words of Christ will tell you all things what ye should do." Stated another way in Isaiah 48:17, "Thus saith the Lord, thy Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel; I am the Lord thy God which teacheth thee to profit, which leadeth thee by the way that thou shouldest go." Brothers and sisters, as my companions on this joyful journey I implore you to feast upon the words of Christ.

Beth: As we travel on life's journey, we can find joy if we choose our companions wisely. Have you ever been in an uncomfortable situation and thought "how did I get here," or more accurately "how did I allow this to happen?" I felt this way when, while living in Allentown PA, a group of my friends thought that it would be fun to have a "girls' night out" and go dancing. Even though we planned on going to a club, we wouldn't be drinking and I thought that there would be no harm in dancing with my friends. As soon as I entered the club, I started to feel uncomfortable. This was not a place where a daughter of God should be spending time. It was rather, a place where people were dulling their senses with alcohol and giving away their dignity by the way they dressed and acted. What a mistake; how had I allowed this to happen? I succumbed to peer pressure and listened to worldly friends instead of listening to the Spirit.

Choosing our friends carefully is important in our life-long journey. Now I'm not talking about limiting our friends to those who are well-dressed, or those who move in the popular social circle. The Savior chose his disciples by looking at the inner man, not by considering their appearance or their occupation. If we could look at people with "heavenly glasses" we may be surprised at who is dressed in royal robes. When we surround ourselves with associates who uplift us and encourage us to do better, we put ourselves on a path to spiritual success.

Two of our sons played football at Kahuku High School. As I watched their team's winning seasons, playing against public and private schools, I wondered what set this group of boys apart. My theory is that boys growing up in this community start thinking very early about being red raiders, and they start working on their skills while still in elementary school. The boys push hard, and their improvement is exponential, because not only are they building their own talent, they're causing their friends to push harder as well. The result is a team where sometimes the biggest struggle is to get a starting position, and the entire team is strong. When we surround ourselves with those who are striving to live the gospel, we have the opportunity to rise together.

In the1990 April General Conference, Elder Robert D. Hales, then the Presiding Bishop said,

"Do you know how to recognize a true friend? A real friend loves us and protects us. In recognizing a true friend, we must look for two important elements in that friendship. A true friend makes it easier for us to live the gospel by being around him. Similarly, a true friend does not make us choose between his way and the Lord's way. A true friend will help us return [to our Heavenly Father] with honor."

As I say these words of encouragement, I feel that I need to provide a word of caution as well. The Savior did not shun the sinner, nor did he refuse to associate with those who were less than perfect. We need to be accessible and loving to those who don't embrace the gospel as we do; how can we possibly follow the Savior's example if we turn away from them? And yet we do need to take care.

I remember my husband telling our teen-age daughter "I taught high school for a long time, and I can't ever remember one righteous girl turning around a whole group of unrighteous friends. Too often, the one who is trying to keep her standards high begins to relax, then accept, then embrace the talk and dress and attitudes of the world." Based on that counsel, our daughter made some different choices concerning who she associated with, and when she enrolled at BYU–Hawaii, she created strong bonds with an excellent peer group who shared her values and eternal goals. We believe those decisions made all the difference in instilling a desire to serve a full-time mission. Hermana Kammerer is now serving in the Texas Fort Worth Mission, where she is finding great joy in her journey despite the inherent challenges of missionary service.

Our choice of an eternal companion may be the most important of all. This person will be with you through every leg of life's journey; you want to be sure that they're a good travel-companion!

Normally, I wouldn't identify myself with an ox, but it works well here. Left to its own devices, the ox is not good for much other than eating a lot of grass, but when led and guided it can be used to plow a field or pull a heavily laden wagon. When two oxen are used together they must be yoked to unify their direction, and the driver must guide them to effectively complete their task. In our eternal partnerships, we will be much more effective if we will yoke ourselves together and allow Heavenly Father to be the driver.

Can you imagine what a waste it would be if you found the perfect fellow ox; you were perfectly suited; and you didn't yoke yourself together because you just wanted to hang out and graze for awhile longer. Or maybe after finding your perfect fellow ox, you did yoke up, and then had the wrong driver, who led you to plow a field that would bring no harvest?

The Savior said "Take my yoke upon you and learn of me for I am meek and lowly of heart, and ye shall find rest unto your souls."

Brothers and sisters, time goes by so quickly. It could easily happen that you look around one day and realize that you have spent your time very diligently working on that which will bring no joy. Whether we are talking about our future eternal companion, or today's BFF, choose your companions wisely.

Dave: As we learn from Lehi's grand vision, the truly joyful journey requires us to walk within the strait and narrow path while clinging to the rod of iron. We must avoid the temptation to take detours on our journey. Lehi refers to these as "forbidden paths" and tells of those who lost their way even after they had partaken of the fruit that was "desirable to make one happy."

Time and time again as a campus bishop my heart was troubled as I counseled with those who allowed themselves great latitude concerning the principle of obedience. Some young brothers and sisters even concocted a conscious plan to pursue worldly gratification—a detour from the strait and narrow path. They were confident that they could sample the world's wares, then repent and return to the narrow path once again. I emphasize here that some succeeded and some did not. I believe that all of us here have known people who have succeeded in turning their lives around. We have heard their testimonies on Fast Sunday, we have heard such experiences recounted in General Conference, and we read scripture stories about such repentant souls as Alma the Younger and the sons of Mosiah. We tend to focus on the success stories—and rightly so—but I believe we can lose sight of the many unhappy souls who do not succeed in finding their way back to safety. The risk is too great, and the price is higher than you could ever imagine.

There is another extremely compelling reason to avoid detours. We all desire to be happy eternally, but contemplate this: eternity is now. It is not somewhere down the road, in the future—your ‘eternity' is happening right now. If you have taken a detour from the strait and narrow path, you will not experience true joy until you return. I testify that this is a true principle. You will spend part of your eternity in an unhappy state, and there is no good reason to do that. I admonish you, my dear brothers and sisters, to take no detours on your joyful journey. As was the case with Father Lehi centuries ago, in giving this counsel I "have none other object save it be the everlasting welfare of your souls."

When Beth and I first met, we had each taken as our guide the wisdom of man combined with a distorted version of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Although we didn't realize it at the time, doing so was something like using a GPS device that doesn't totally take into account all the conditions "on the ground," so to speak. It was a tender mercy from a loving Heavenly Father that we eventually met and fell in love, but until we were taught the restored gospel, we relied on that extremely faulty GPS provided by the world. Even though we didn't take any planned detours on our journey toward happiness, we certainly took some indirect routes toward that destination. Only after we embraced the gospel and joined the church did we trade in our telestial GPS for the celestial model. I guess I should add that I also progressively gained a better fashion sense.

In a General Conference talk some twenty years ago, Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin compared our mortal journey to a marathon race. He pointed out many parallels between running that long-distance race and successfully enduring to the end in our joyful journey. He too taught the importance of not deviating from our pre-determined course: "The reason to stay on course in a marathon is obvious. The reason to stay on a course that leads to a righteous life may be less obvious but is much more important. In simple terms, a righteous life is the way—the only way—to happiness, joy, and peace … Our Heavenly Father knows the way for you to enjoy happiness and peace; the principles of the gospel mark the way. They are a gift to you, his children." (Joseph B. Wirthlin, "Running Your Marathon," Ensign November 1989)

I think it's important to acknowledge here that when President Monson encouraged us to find joy in the journey, he did not imply that joy would be attainable 24/7 throughout our mortal lives. We do well to hope for sunshine every day, but to remind ourselves that a loving Father causes the rain to fall, at least occasionally, on both the just and the unjust.

President Uchtdorf emphasized this reality in the October 2007 General Conference when he said:

"My dear brothers and sisters, there will be days and nights when you feel overwhelmed, when your hearts are heavy and your heads hang down. Then, please remember, Jesus Christ, the Redeemer, is the Head of this Church. It is His gospel. He wants you to succeed. He gave His life for just this purpose. He is the Son of the living God. He has promised: ‘Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest' (Matthew 11:28) … My dear friends, the Savior heals the broken heart and binds up your wounds (see Psalm 147:3). Whatever your challenges may be, wherever you live on this earth, your faithful membership in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the divine powers of the gospel of Jesus Christ will bless you to endure joyfully to the end." (Dieter F. Uchtdorf, "Have We Not Reason to Rejoice?" Ensign November 2007)

Not only do we need to understand that negative emotions will temporarily diminish our joy at times, we also need to better understand that there are different ways we may experience happiness in our lives. The steel drums that you heard earlier in the devotional provide a powerful object lesson in this regard.

I deeply appreciate the beautiful rendition of my composition as performed by my good friends Darren and Jennifer Duerden. The steel drum, originating on the small Caribbean island of Trinidad, is normally associated with energetic and exuberant music of celebration. Because of this, I like to say that BYU–Hawaii's Shaka Steel ensemble takes the party with it wherever it goes. But, as we heard today, these instruments are capable of performing quiet and meditative music as well. To me, this serves as a metaphor for the two primary manifestations of joy.

Sometimes we can experience joy exuberantly and energetically, but perhaps even more frequently we find joy in more subdued settings and in more reflective moments. Both manifestations are part of life's joyful journey, so learn to enjoy both the laugh-out-loud times and the subtle smiles—or even sweet tears—of quiet edification.

Even as I acknowledge that we cannot expect a lifetime of uninterrupted happiness, and that there are different ways of experiencing joy in our lives, I emphasize that we can maximize our joy on this journey by staying on the strait and narrow path and avoiding the temptation to wander in forbidden paths.

Beth: In our message today we have drawn upon our own experiences to share with you how we have found joy in the journey. First, keep Heavenly Father as your guide; second, pack plenty of spiritual food by "feasting upon the word of Christ;" third, choose good travel companions; and fourth, don't' allow yourself to get lost on a detour.

In the final analysis, a joyful journey embodies the principle of progression characterized in the scriptures by the phrases "line upon line" and "precept upon precept." In other words, we accomplish this journey one step at a time. In our most recent General Conference, Mary N. Cook, a counselor in the Young Women's General Presidency, made this observation about our mortal journey:

"Just as the Salt Lake Temple took forty years to build, stone by stone, you are building a virtuous life, step by step. You have made covenants to be obedient. You have made some good choices. The patterns of virtue you develop now will help you to continually hold fast to the iron rod. You will never be alone on your journey because the Savior will always be with you, and you can repent. You have been blessed with the Holy Ghost to comfort and guide you. Look to the examples of the believers in your life, and seek to help others on their journey." (Mary N. Cook, "A Virtuous Life—Step by Step," Ensign May 2009)

Dave: I testify to you that we have a loving Father in Heaven and that we are all his literal spirit children. We shouted for joy when He revealed the plan of salvation to us in the pre-mortal existence. We willingly agreed to come to earth, to gain a body and then learn to subject that body to the spirit. I am grateful for the plan of salvation, and I am grateful for a testimony of the gospel, which has illuminated the strait and narrow path for me. I am grateful to have tasted of the most delicious fruit of the tree of life, which is the love of God. As a convert, you can trust me when I say that the great and spacious building is not a place you want to visit. You can also trust me when I say that the love of God is most desirable above all other things. Most of all, I am grateful for the infinite atonement of Jesus Christ. I testify in his holy name that I would not be here today if were not for his infinite love, his infinite patience, and his infinite sacrifice for the children of God.

Beth: I'd like to add my testimony as we close our devotional and say that I know that Heavenly Father lives because I have felt his presence. I know that Jesus is my Savior because I have literally felt the healing power of the atonement in my life. I know that the gospel is true, because I have felt it's power to change lives. I come from a long line of alcoholics, and I can tell you quite truthfully that this curse of my fathers would have been mine also, had I not lived the Word of Wisdom when it was introduced to us by the missionaries. I know that the gospel of Jesus Christ is a place of refuge in every time of trouble, because it is there that I have turned and have found solace. I count it a choice blessing that our family came to Hawaii and that we were able to raise our children in the shadow of the temple. I love my associations with the students in the University Chorale, and my friends in the community. I will forever be grateful to the two elderly sister missionaries who found us by knocking doors and who taught us the gospel when we were about your age. As you leave this devotional and continue on your journey take our aloha with you and find joy.