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Remembering...and Forgetting Not

Brother and Sisters, Aloha!

By way of introduction, I just want to say that I love BYU–Hawaii. I arrived on campus in the fall of 1987 as a young 22-year-old transfer student.  I had served my mission in the Marshall Islands and was ready to get back to the islands and to reconnect with some of the people that I knew from my mission.  I didn’t know at that time what my major was going to be, but I knew that I liked teaching and I liked learning about other ways of living and different world views.  

Within the first semester, I found a major that would allow me to continue with those interests.  That major was teaching English to speakers of other languages.  I lived in the dorms for two of the three years I was here.  During my senior year I worked as an RA in Hale 4.  I attended my church meetings, campus devotionals, and other extracurricular events. For a time, I served as the Micronesian club president.  It was such a great environment that when the time came for me to graduate I didn’t want to go.  

It wasn’t the warm weather, or the close proximity to the beach, it was the love I had for my professors, my fellow students, and the gospel-centered environment.  Most importantly, I loved my interactions with my Hale 4 Tongan, Singaporean, Korean, Kiribati, and Samoan unit mates.   It was something that had become familiar to me and I hated the thought of leaving it.  I knew that I had to graduate and find my way in the world, which I did, but it wasn’t long before I was planning my return to Laie.  I knew that in order to get back here,  I needed to earn a master’s degree and a Ph.D. so that I could return and become a member of the BYU–Hawaii faculty and that all happened in a long round about sort of way, but those stories, I think, I will save for another day.   

The title of my devotional address today is “Remembering...and Forgetting Not.”  This title stemmed from an experience I had while teaching an EIL 313 class last spring semester.  EIL 313 is an academic English listening and speaking class for advanced learners.  The class consisted of students from many different parts of our BYU–Hawaii target area.  I had students from Samoa, Tonga, the Philippines, Japan, Korea, China, and Mongolia.  Nearly every class was divided equally with academic listening and academic speaking instruction and activities.  

Near the beginning of the semester, I noticed a particular pattern of behavior with one student.  When class was finished and everyone got up to leave, she stayed in her seat.  She closed her eyes and spoke silently to herself.  After a few minutes, she got up from her seat, and if I was still present, thanked me for the class, and went on her way.  This behavior happened after almost every class.  Because I did not want to disturb her, I would pack up my things ever so quietly and leave her in the class.  

One day, my curiosity got the better of me, so I waited for her to open her eyes, and I asked her what she had been doing.  She said, “Oh, I’m just reviewing all of the things I learned in class today.  I review them at the end of each class, and then later tonight, and one more time before the next class.”  “Oh,” I said, “that’s spaced repetition, a learning technique we use to help us remember new information.”

“That’s right, Brother Green,” she said.  “I use it with all of my classes.”

By the end of the semester, what my student was doing after each class served her well.  She improved her listening and speaking skills greatly and passed the course with flying colors.  Her application of the technique of spaced repetition got me thinking about its application not only in school settings but also in our spiritual lives.  Specifically, I thought about how following the steps of spaced repetition can help us to recall experiences where our Heavenly Father has demonstrated his love towards us and how remembering those experiences at spaced intervals can help us to stay focused on our relationship with God and to prioritize the things that are truly important.  This is what I would like to address today.  

First, let’s examine the principles of spaced repetition and consider its application to our spiritual lives.

Spaced Repetition

At the heart of spaced repetition is the concept of the forgetting curve, which shows how quickly we forget information over time. When we first learn something, it's fresh in our minds, but as time goes by, we gradually start to forget. The forgetting curve describes this process, and it looks something like this:

As you can see, the forgetting curve is steep at first, which means that we forget a lot of information quickly. However, as time goes by, if we build in review, like my EIL 313 student did, the curve becomes flatter, which means that we retain more information over the long term.

So how does spaced repetition come into play? Well, the idea is that by revisiting information at strategic intervals, we can "reset" the forgetting curve and reinforce our memory of that information. In other words, each time we review the material, we strengthen the connections in our brain that allow us to remember it.

We know, however, that remembering information doesn’t always work the way it shows in the forgetting curve.  Remembering is not just review, is it? We have to make sure that we get the information in properly so that it can be stored and retrieved accurately. A distraction free environment when encoding certainly helps as well as spending time making sure we understand the information.  We also need to connect new information to information that we already know to make sense of it. And then we have to keep it active in our memory so that we can retrieve it on demand when a particular task requires it. 

There are many examples in the scriptures which illustrate the importance of remembering in a spiritual context. Here are a few:

  • In Exodus 12:1-14 God commanded the Israelites to observe the Passover as a way of remembering their deliverance from slavery in Egypt. The ritual involved sacrificing a lamb and painting its blood on the doorposts of their homes, so that the angel of death would "pass over" them. The Israelites were instructed to observe this ritual every year as a way of remembering what God had done for them. 
  • In Exodus 20:1-17 we read that the Ten Commandments were given to the Israelites as a way of remembering God's covenant with them. They were meant to be a reminder of the relationship between God and his people, and of the responsibilities that came with that relationship.
  • In Luke 22:14-20, Jesus instituted the sacrament as a way for his disciples and followers to remember him after his death. He took bread and wine, gave thanks, and then broke the bread and shared the wine with his disciples, telling them to do this in remembrance of him. 

We likewise remember the Savior when we commemorate His birth on December 25 and his resurrection in April on Easter Sunday each year.  

These examples demonstrate how remembering can be a powerful tool for spiritual growth and development.  President Henry B. Eyring spoke about this in an October 2007 General Conference talk titled, “O Remember, Remember.”  In his address, he talks about being prompted to record for his posterity the daily events in his life that witnessed the hand of God blessing his family.  To help him remember, he wrote down a few lines in a journal every day for years.  As he did so, he found that something interesting began to happen. In his own words he said, “As I would cast my mind over the day, I would see evidence of what God had done for one of us that I had not recognized in the busy moments of the day. As that happened, and it happened often, I realized that trying to remember had allowed God to show me what He had done.” [1]

I would like to share an experience in my own life which helps me to remember that God is aware of me and that he will always take care of my needs. 

The Miracle of the 13 Bok Choy

In August of 1998 our family began a one-year assignment living and teaching at the Church College in Pesega, Samoa.  

My job was to teach in the in-country EIL program.  Our young family lived in a campus home next to the country director’s home who at the time was Brother Tavana.  Brother Fata and his family, the coordinator of religious education, lived on the other side of us.  We enjoyed working and living in Samoa. Our son, Matthew, was baptized during our time there, and we became reacquainted with many of our BYU–Hawaii friends who had returned to work in the Church schools. There was no television reception at the time, so we found ourselves spending a lot of time together as a family.  

Without the many distractions of today’s modern world, I also tried my hand at gardening. At that time, next to the country director’s home was a garden area.  It was a fenced in piece of land about the size of a tennis court. Vines and other plants had grown up along the fence and since no one could see inside it became my secret garden. Once I caught the gardening fever, I would go there almost every night after work and tend to my plants.  

The biggest challenge that I had, however, was that I could not get any vegetables to grow. I would prepare the soil, sow the seeds, and they would spring up, but then the hot Samoan sun would come out and burn them up before I could provide relief, or insects or birds would devour the plant or fruit before I could harvest them. Other times, the plants looked like they were going to make it, but a tropical storm would blow through and flood the garden and my plants would drown.  I tried all sorts of vegetables with no luck.  

In retrospect, I should have stuck with taro, bananas, and papayas.  But this palagi wanted to do it the way he was taught. I was the grandson of Idaho potato and sugar beet farmers, and the son of parents who believed that no summer day of play should begin without first weeding the garden!  Of course, it was wrong, but I was young and inexperienced and a bit too proud to admit defeat.  I thought I could do it on my own, so I consulted no one.  

Finally, I had a breakthrough. I went to the local garden shop and selected bok choy seeds from the seed counter. Like the other plants I had tried to grow, I prepared the soil, made a row, and planted the seeds hoping that these would be the plants that changed my unlucky streak. Within a few days, the seeds sprouted everywhere along the row. There were so many I knew thinning would be required, so I waited a few more weeks until they were large enough to do so.  

After thinning the row, I had thirteen plants. These were hardy plants. They didn’t wilt under the sun, the insects for some reason didn’t eat the leaves, and no rain flooded the row. In fact, much to my surprise, my cabbage plants continued to grow and flourish. As they did, I diligently attended to them each night after work, digging around them to loosen the soil to improve aeration, water retention, nutrient uptake, and reduce competition from weeds.

After about a month of the careful nurturing of my beautiful 13 heads of bok choy, I returned to our home and excitedly made a proclamation to my wife and children that the bok choy were ready to harvest. I’m certain that they could have cared less. They had no vested interest in my final success nor could they understand the joy I felt at successfully growing a vegetable from seed to harvest in my Samoan secret garden. So, the next day after work, I returned to my garden with a knife to cut the bok choy and a basket to carry them back to our home.  I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with them, but I was ready to harvest.  As I walked through the gate and looked at my row of  bok choy, much to my dismay, I discovered that someone had sneaked into my garden, cut all 13 of my cherished plants, and taken them away!

To say that I was devastated by this turn of events is an understatement.  My joy degraded into anger at the person or persons who harvested my plants, and later a mild form of depression overtook me and stayed with me for longer than it should have.  It lasted about a month.  After some time of wallowing in self-pity, the Holy Ghost whispered to me something like the following: “Brent you have to stop feeling sorry for yourself.  Someone took your bok choy and probably enjoyed eating them. Get over it. Move on.  Get a life for Heaven’s sake!” And so I did!  I snapped out of my funk and decided that I would return to my secret garden and try again.  On the appointed day, I arrived home from work, grabbed some garden tools, and headed to the garden.   I had not been back for quite some time, so I was expecting to find quite a few weeds.   

Well, you can imagine my surprise when I found that my bok choy plants, the ones that had been taken several weeks before, had all grown back. Not only were all 13 plants there, they were bigger and fuller than the ones that had been taken, and they were ready to be harvested. I was in shock. I stood for a long time looking at the row of plants dumbfounded. It appeared as if they had never been taken. At that point in an almost Elder Hugh B. Brown-like “I am the gardener” manner, I heard a voice in my mind say, “Trust in the Lord and He will bless your life.  [2] Never mind who took your bok choy, trust in me and you will be blessed.”  Of course, I immediately ran home for a knife and a basket, and we ate bok choy for days after.  We also shared them with our neighbors and friends. Throughout my life, I have had my share of disappointments because of what I have perceived to be failed opportunities, but like the disappointment I felt with my stolen bok choy, it never really lasts long. In every case so far, I feel like the Lord is saying, “Don’t worry, that is not the path you should go. I know what is best for you. Trust in me.”  Remembering the miracle of the 13 heads of bok choy has sustained my faith in a loving and kind Heavenly Father.   

Beware of Distractedness

As we think about ways to remember in our lives, we must know that the adversary will try his best to distract us so that we won’t pay attention to the promptings of the Holy Ghost.  Distractedness can interfere with remembering the good things the Lord has done for us in several ways. When we are distracted, our minds are focused on other things, and we may not be fully present at the moment the Holy Ghost is communicating with us.  This can make it difficult to notice, appreciate, and recognize God’s hand in blessing us in our lives.

Furthermore, when we are distracted, we may not take the time to reflect on the good things that have happened to us. We may forget to express gratitude for the blessings we have received or fail to acknowledge the ways in which God has been present in our lives. This can lead to a sense of disconnection from God and a lack of appreciation for His goodness.

Finally, being constantly distracted can create a sense of busyness and stress, which can make it difficult to focus on anything else. This can make it challenging to find the time and mental space to reflect on the good things that have happened in our lives.

When I first returned to work at BYU–Hawaii as an EIL lecturer in 1993, our family lived in TVA.  At that time, all the lecturers lived in P-Building. It had been a busy year for us. I had spent the year collecting and analyzing data, finished up my last courses, and successfully defended my thesis. To say that I was distracted from spiritual things is an understatement.  I knew that I had to get back on track with my testimony and my spirituality.   

So, I awoke earlier than my family on a Sunday morning and began reading the scriptures at our kitchen table. I came across the passage in Alma, chapter 30 and began reading. Many of you will remember that this is the great debate between Alma and the antichrist, Korihor.  After Alma lets Korihor present his views, Alma lays out perfectly the argument for why we should believe in God. He says in verse 44:  “The scriptures are laid before thee, yea, and all things denote there is a God; yea, even the earth, and all things that are upon the face of it, yea, and its motion, yea, and also all the planets which move in their regular form do witness that there is a Supreme Creator.”  [3] After reading that passage, I paused and became aware of my surroundings, something that I hadn’t done for quite some time because I had been distracted. It was quiet in our little apartment.  Noelani and our children were still sleeping.  The sun was coming up and its rays were gradually lighting our living room. The birds were singing their morning songs, and I suddenly became aware of the Holy Ghost entering into my heart causing a warm burning sensation, a testament of God’s goodness and love.  I know that we can each experience these same feelings if we can put aside the busyness in our lives and pause to reflect and recognize the Lord’s hand in our lives. 


I would like to conclude my talk today with a final story, the details of which have sustained me spiritually for many years. 

The Answer to a Child’s Prayer

I am the youngest child of a family of 15 siblings, a large, blended family. My mother, Joann, was raised in a small town along the Snake River called Riverside, Idaho.  She met her first husband, Calvin, in the community where she grew up.  His family, the Wheelers, were farmers. Life was good for them.  They homesteaded land in the Idaho desert and began farming sugar beets and potatoes. She had three children, my brothers Lynn, Ross, and Garth. In a tragic turn of events, her husband was killed while cutting timber in Montana to be used for a potato cellar leaving her a widow at a young age.  

My father married his first wife in another part of Idaho, but also along the Snake River.  She was his high school sweetheart.  They had four children, my sisters, Laura and Louise, and my brothers Terry and Kelley.  Tragically, his wife died after a struggle with cancer, leaving him a widower with four children.  

A mutual friend introduced my father to my mother, and they married in September of 1958 after a short courtship. In Brady Bunch-like fashion, the four and the three children were brought together into a new family of seven children.  My sister, Collette, and my brother, Kevin, were born in the ensuing years and the Green and Wheeler families later moved from Idaho to Bountiful, Utah. My father was working for Litton Industries on the west side of Salt Lake City and was attending night school at the community college (where I later spent twelve years teaching). Things were going well for my family.  

However, in January of 1965, my father and my oldest brother, Terry, were involved in a car accident.  Terry survived, but my father didn’t.  Because I was born six months later, in July of that year, I didn’t get to meet my father.  My mother now had the sole responsibility of raising 10 children.  

During my fourth year of life, a series of events occurred that changed my family’s life.  As a curious and observant 4-year-old, I asked my mother one day why our family did not have a father.  She told me that my Heavenly Father had taken my father because he needed him to do his important work on the other side of the veil, but if I would pray with faith, he would send me another father to take my father’s place.  For a four-year old, that seemed like a simple request.  So, I prayed for a father.  

Considering my family’s situation at the time, this was somewhat of a tall order. Mom had tried to socialize and attend older single adult events, but, as she reported later in her life, it was difficult because she had 10 children to care for and all of the men who came to those social events knew it and kept their distance.  At one Friday night church dance, a new man was introduced to her, and according to her, he was a good dancer.  However, she knew that if she let him go to meet the other men at the gathering, they would tell him to stay clear of her because of her situation.  So, mom did the only practical thing she could think to do, she held onto him and danced with him all night.  This was the beginning of their courtship, which later ended in marriage where the final five, all boys, of the 15 were added to the family of 10.  So, with that marriage, a four-year old child received a confirmation that Heavenly Father loved him and answered his prayers.  He also got a good father who lived a long life devoted to family and God. 

Fast forward 30 years.  I was working at BYU–Hawaii and raising a young family of my own.  My schedule that year included attending and presenting at a professional conference in Salt Lake City. I had wanted to stay close to the conference venue so that I could attend the early and late sessions, but I had hoped to visit and help my parents with any projects they had for me to do around the house. They lived north of the city in the same home I had grown up in. I arrived early and spent most of the day helping my father replace windows in their TV room.  It was a long process with several trips back and forth to the home supply store.  

At the end of the day, when we were finished and I was preparing to leave, my father embraced me, thanked me, and said I love you. He was getting older and saying I love you had come easier for him in his later years.  I told him that I loved him too.  On my way back to the hotel, I reflected on my life and my father’s love.  In my mind’s eye, I was immediately transported back to my four-year old self kneeling each night asking my Heavenly Father for an earthly father that would help raise me and teach me the things that are right.  Immediately upon recalling that thought in my mind, my heart filled with the Holy Ghost, and I was overpowered by the feeling of my Heavenly Father’s love for me and for answering my sincere prayer of faith. The feeling was so strong that I had to pull the car over. It took me a long time before I was able to drive back to the hotel.

Brothers and sisters, I know that the Lord wants us to remember him.  Through the Holy Spirit, He confirms his love for us.  If we can each take time to reflect often (spaced repetition) on His goodness, His kindness, His love, through our life’s experiences and not allow distractedness to get in our way, I believe that we will endure well the many challenges that come into our lives. 

I say this in the name of Jesus Christ, amen. 

[1] Henry B. Eyring, “O Remember, Remember,” Ensign, October 2007
[2] Hugh B. Brown, "God is the Gardner," May 1968
[3] Alma 30:44