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Strength Through the Storms of Life

Nate—Thank you Laken for that amazing song, what a perfect way to open our devotional today. The lyrics and spirit of that song are the essence of our message today. Christ will be with us and He will strengthen us through the storms of life. I especially love the line, “Where you go, I’ve been already. I’ll go with you if you let me.”

Vanessa—It is such a privilege to be here with you beautiful students on this incredibly beautiful campus – it’s breathtaking! We're so grateful for the opportunity to share some of our experiences with you and hope you won't mind our unconventional approach, with both of us standing here together. This handsome smart patient man at my side has been my partner in life for almost thirty years and he’s been my business partner for almost ten. We love standing side-by-side as co-founders of Chatbooks when speaking to our team in Town Hall and we couldn't imagine speaking to you today any other way.

Nate—Vanessa and I would also often stand together at the pulpit to speak to the wonderful young adult members of the Provo YSA 36th Ward. Four years ago I was called to serve as bishop of a student ward south of the BYU campus in Provo. At least once each semester, and many more times in smaller groups at our home, we would stand together like this to share messages because, first of all, I just love standing next to her. I just like being around her! Second, I always knew our ward members would immediately sense her warmth and goodness and would know that she would do anything she could to help them. But finally, she’s just so much tougher than me and

Vanessa—when he would get choked up , I could always step in and say what he was planning to say when he couldn’t speak

Nate—Hopefully she won’t need to step in for me today, but you never know!

Vanessa—As background to our message today, and to provide a bit of context for why we’ve come to believe what we believe, we thought we’d share a bit of our story and take you back to when we were in your shoes, but instead of wearing flip flops here at BYU–Hawaii, we were lacing up our Timberland boots at BYU in Provo – at least I was! I'm from Florida and I had a bit of a hard time getting used to the chillier temperatures in Utah!

Nate—As a basic and pretty boring brown-haired kid from Connecticut who would go on to major in the exciting field of accounting, I immediately fell head over heels for this exciting Florida redhead who dressed differently and talked differently —she used to speak with an amazing southern accent—and in stark contrast to my quiet accounting degree, she was studying to become an opera singer!

Vanessa—We had so much fun running around together at BYU in Provo our freshman year, and we started dreaming some big dreams together. But then, he was called away to the other side of the world to serve a mission in Madagascar, in the Indian Ocean.

Nate—I knew I wanted to be a missionary, but two years really did feel like an eternity back then. And of course the thought that wouldn’t stop running through my mind was—would she still be single when I got home???

Vanessa—As you can see in this photo from the airport the day he shipped out, Nate was more worried about that than I was. I did date other boys while he was gone, but I had to confirm my suspicions that he really was the one for me!

Nate—Miracle of miracles, after 2 years of sending letters back and forth, sharing experiences (and pleading my case), we were back together in the same hemisphere - and I still had a chance!

Vanessa—And a year later we were married in the Manti Utah Temple, and a year after that we were blessed with a beautiful blonde baby boy, Calvin.

Nate—Wow, all of the sudden we were college kids with a kid, and we really had no idea what we were doing. Can you tell from this photo? We'd be up late studying and Calvin would fall asleep after rolling around on the carpet next to us. Lucky for us he was a hardy lad—we’ve always lovingly referred to him as our “experimental child”, the one who taught us how to be parents.

Vanessa—It’s true we were clueless, but we did have lots of dreams about the future and the adventures we hoped it held for us. Nate wanted to work at a specific consulting firm and go to a specific business school and I wanted to sing and perform in Europe. Nate wanted to be able to start a company and we both hoped for a big family. Amazingly, we kept writing our dreams down in our journals, and somehow, magically lots of them kept coming true.

Nate—We knew we were incredibly blessed! But at a certain point we started to think less about what the next adventure was going to be, and more about how to protect our growing little brood of children that we loved so much. And our worries started evolving from lost blankets and boo boos, to bullies on the bus and violence on TV and the internet.

Vanessa—Along the way we created a few family home evening traditions that we hoped would strengthen our family and protect our kids. As a key part of our opening ceremonies, we’d have all the kids line up oldest to youngest to recite our Quigley Creed in unison, complete with hand motions of course. Shall we show them? [both recite Creed w hand motions] “Quigley’s are Respectful, Responsible, Considerate, and Kind.” And then the little bow at “Kind” would somehow always turn into a rowdy line of somersaults.

Nate—Our closing song was always “Bless This House,” [1] a song we loved from an old recording of my Grandpa Quig singing it in his beautiful baritone voice. And yes, we had hand motions for this as well, of course. My favorite verse was, (V sing while N does hand motions?) “Bless these walls, so firm and stout, keeping want and trouble out.” Then we’d kneel together in a circle holding hands, making our little wall, and one of us would say the family prayer.

Vanessa—Those were the days. I loved those precious years with our young family! But this is a truth of being a parent–as your kids get older it becomes harder to protect them from the “want and trouble” of the world. As our oldest, Calvin, was getting ready to graduate from high school I began feeling a strong impression that our family needed to memorize the scripture in Helaman chapter 5, verse 12. So we did, and we started reciting it together:

Nate—“And now, my sons, remember, remember that it is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your foundation; that when the devil shall send forth his mighty winds, yea, his shafts in the whirlwind, yea, when all his hail and his mighty storm shall beat upon you, it shall have no power over you to drag you down to the gulf of misery and endless wo, because of the rock upon which ye are built, which is a sure foundation, a foundation whereon if men build they cannot fall.” [2]

Vanessa—I’m sure many of you know this scripture well. And while I didn’t know then why God wanted us to memorize that verse, it wasn’t long before I did. And in fact, if our life was a movie, this would probably be the moment in the soundtrack where the strings start to play in a minor key. Act 1 is about to close, and a foreboding chord sounds out.

Nate—But wait, everything was great! Look at us here in our Christmas Card photo just three years later. Calvin had just returned from his mission safe and sound. Look how cute everyone is–smiling and happy. We've even got the kids lined up from oldest to youngest again, taller to smaller. And since this photo was taken in the fall of 2016, our family has been blessed in so many ways—growth in our business, wonderful experiences and trips, more missions, weddings, adorable pets, opportunities to serve, health and strength.

The Storms of Life 

Vanessa—All of that is true, but real life just isn’t that picture perfect. In the six years since that photo was taken, our family has also experienced some real storms that have shaken us to the foundation. In just our nuclear family—this same family that would sing “Bless This House” and hold hands together in family prayer, praying for firm and stout walls to keep trouble out—we've experienced a heart attack, two broken backs, back surgery, shoulder surgery, and wrist surgery. And, much more painfully, we've also experienced betrayal, heart break, divorce, wavering faith and testimony, anxiety, panic attacks, depression, trauma, OCD, scrupulosity, disappointment, suicidal thoughts, self-harm, insomnia, eating disorders, fear, pain, and tears…so many tears.

Nate—And we know that many of you have experienced or may now be experiencing fear, pain and tears of your own, brought on by storms like some of those that we’ve been through, and storms even more terrible and terrifying. And in fact this is the *first* message we hope you will remember from our talk today: if you are experiencing some of the storms of life, and if you are wondering what happened, where things went wrong, and how you will possibly make it through, please just remember this – many of the storms of life are simply part of life, and all of us are going to experience them.

Vanessa—Our plea to you, is that when you see someone’s perfect Christmas card photo or perfectly curated Instagram feed, do not compound the pain you may be experiencing with an idea that “that person over there has it all figured out, and I’m just a mess.” Whether it is now or yesterday or tomorrow, one thing is certain, the storms of life will come to us all. No amount of family home evening songs, or sayings, or prayers will keep storms away. We can only strengthen our foundations and firm up our stout walls so when the storms do rage we have hope.

Nate—One of the phrases in that scripture from Helaman 5 that has always stood out to me is “shafts in the whirlwind.” It reminds me of a really vivid storm experience from my childhood. My family was at the time living in the Midwest region of the United States, just outside of St. Louis, Missouri. We had just moved to the area into a brand new suburban subdivision where many homes were still under construction. Spread throughout the area were tall towers with large sirens attached - tornado sirens as it turned out, and soon we learned that they weren’t just for show. One evening the clouds got really dark and low, the air all around turned a strange color, almost a scary dark green, and those tornado sirens started blaring. I remember my mom and dad gathering me and my brother and sister down into the unfinished basement of our house, far from any window, right up against the cool cement of the foundation. I remember the wind and rain howling against the house, then a terrible loud sound, like a train running by right outside. Eventually the storm quieted down and we all went to bed. The next morning, we walked out to find construction debris scattered around the neighborhood. I remember standing next to the house under construction next door and being especially amazed by the sight of 2x4s and other timbers that the tornado had picked up and thrown through the sheet rocked but unfinished walls. It was like the walls were a pincushion—they were shafts in the whirlwind.

Vanessa—Bless these walls, so firm, and stout. Keeping want and trouble out. That’s what my Great Grandmother Gillman would pray for as a young mother living in the Midwest. They were right in the middle of “tornado alley” and she was absolutely terrified of any storm that would blow through. To the point where she would gather her girls under her bed and hide and cry. It’s probably no surprise that my grandmother, her daughter, grew up to be afraid of storms too. But when she had children of her own, she didn’t want to burden her kids with that same fear, and so as storms came in, she would bravely take her kids to the window to ooh and awe at the wonder of nature and sometimes even run outside with them to play in the rain. I’m so grateful for her wisdom and courage because as a result my mother grew up loving thunderstorms and so did I. I’m especially grateful for the lesson learned, that our outlook and actions can completely change how we experience storms in our lives.

Good Timber 

Nate—Those two stories are at the essence of the *next* message we hope you’ll remember from our talk. Yes, we all will experience the storms of life. But we can find safety from those storms, and we don’t need to live in fear. Sometimes we will absolutely need to rely upon stout walls and a firm foundation to shelter us and protect us from the terrifying power of a whirlwind. There are times when we just need to hunker down and ride out the storm in a safe place. But we can also find and develop sources of strength inside ourselves that will give us the confidence to watch a storm and marvel, but stand up straight and not be afraid. We can come to accept, in fact, that we *need* the storms in order to grow stronger. We can learn to accept as our brave mother Eve did in the garden of Eden, that in fact “there is no other way” for us to become who God wants us to become.

Vanessa—There is a poem that has come to mean a great deal to me, especially this past year, which has been particularly stormy for our family. It’s called “Good Timber” and I remember President Monson sharing it in a conference address shortly after his wife Frances passed away. [3] I felt prompted recently to share it with my family and although we’ve grown past the “everyone memorize it and stand oldest to youngest to recite it” stage of life, I did hang a copy of it in our kitchen hoping that it will make its way into the hearts of my family in some way. “Good timber does not grow with ease: The stronger wind, the stronger trees; The further sky, the greater length; The more the storm, the more the strength. By sun and cold, by rain and snow, In trees and men good timbers grow.” [4] I love that imagery. And it reminds me of the scripture in section 122 of the Doctrine and Covenants when God comforts Joseph Smith while imprisoned in the dark basement of Liberty Jail: “all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good.” [5]

Nate—There are times of trial when words like these can feel reassuring and comforting and can strengthen us. But there are also challenges so difficult and so painful, that attempts to comfort us with words about how it’s all going to work out may instead just make us feel like shouting at the heavens, or make us shut down and walk away. But in the end, let’s find strength. Let's be brave like Job, and let’s resist the natural temptation amid terrible trials to “curse God, and die.” [6] Let’s find the strength instead to trust God, and with his help, overcome the world and find rest. As Laken’s song at the start of this devotional so beautifully reminds us, He will not abandon us. When we feel pushed to our very breaking point, He will strengthen us. And if a storm overcomes us, if a storm is stronger than we are, and if in a terrible moment of dark green sky and terrifying noise we are broken in the whirlwind, He will heal us.

Vanessa—We saw a real life example of the “Good Timber” poem this summer on a camping trip up in the mountains in Utah. As we came over a ridge toward our campground we saw huge expanses of pine trees that were completely dead–branches drooping down, full of brown pine needles, and some were just totally grey and lifeless, like skeletons. It was so sad to imagine how beautiful those valleys would have been back when the trees were all green and vibrant. Curious about what had happened to these forests, we did some Googling when we got home. We learned that climate change and wildfire management policies together may have created conditions that then led to a terrible outbreak of mountain pine beetles.

Nate—The mountain pine beetle is tiny, about the size of a grain of rice, and it burrows into the bark of a pine tree to lay eggs, and in the process also introduces a blue stain fungus that, together with feeding of the beetle larvae, prevents the tree’s water and nutrient flow. If the beetle attack isn’t repulsed, the tree can die within weeks. A healthy tree, growing with plenty of water can repulse the attack. But the shorter and milder winters of recent decades, combined with overly dense mature forests that have been protected by the aggressive forest fire management policy of the past century, have created serious drought conditions in these forests. Too many trees, not enough water, and whole mountainsides of forests aren’t healthy enough to repulse the ongoing attack of the beetles. [7]

Vanessa—Isn’t it crazy to think that what the forest actually needs in order to be healthy and strong and resilient, are seasons of freezing hard winter along with periodic flashes of lightning-sparked fire? Somehow, it's through those truly terrible challenges that the forest is able to become good timber—even able to withstand and repulse an outbreak of mountain beetles burrowing fiercely into its bark.

The Wheel of Wellness 

Nate—Good timber does not grow with ease. But what does health and strength look like in us, people not trees. Each semester in our YSA 36th Ward we would talk together about a framework we ended up calling the “Wheel of Wellness.” You may recognize this framework from the Youth Guidebook that was introduced in early 2020. What we love most about this framework is how it shows that the various aspects of our health and strength—our Physical, Intellectual, Social, and Spiritual health and strength—are interconnected. And we love how Christ is depicted in the framework, right at the center of these interconnected aspects of our lives, reaching out and ready to help us and to heal us. [8]

Vanessa—The idea of talking about the Wheel of Wellness came to us after a conversation we had with Nate’s Uncle Lew and Aunt Julie. They had served together in young single adult ward and stake leadership callings for ten years and maybe even more, and so, as soon as we were called, we drove to their house to ask for advice. We were afraid! We were like nervous, new, clueless parents again and we didn’t want to mess things up! The students in our ward were much like you here today, and they were very much like some of our own children, facing many of the same challenges and storms. So, should we recite the Quigley Creed with them or sing “Bless This House???”

Nate—As we sat down on Uncle Lew and Aunt Julie’s couch, we had our notebooks out and we were ready to write down all the tips and advice we could glean from these wise veterans. First they told us how much we were going to love the members of our ward - and they were right. But then my Uncle Lew was quiet for a moment…and then he said a funny unexpected thing. His first piece of advice for us was this: “Every time you get the chance, ask them when they last ate a vegetable.” We didn’t know it then, but wow, there was some profound wisdom in that one simple question!

Vanessa—So profound! It reminded us that our soul is the combination of our eternal spirit and our amazing physical body. And as that framework from the Youth Guidebook reminds us, our overall health and strength encompasses our Physical, Intellectual, Social and Spiritual well-being. All four of those elements are interconnected and interdependent.

Nate—Further confirmation of this interdependence can be found in the Church’s incredible new Emotional Resilience course.

Vanessa—And as an aside, if any of you have not yet heard about this course, we really urge you to ask around about it. See if you can find a group taking the course, and sign up and participate if at all possible. The course is full of powerful and important lessons and tools, and it’s incredibly relevant for the challenges that we all face.

Nate—Lesson Three in the course handbook begins with the foundational principle that our bodies are a gift from God. The lesson then makes the following clear connecting statement: “As you take better care of your physical health, your emotional health will also improve, and vice versa.” [10] The lesson then outlines ways in which we can strengthen our Physical health through regular exercise, sleep and rest, personal hygiene, and healthy eating.

Vanessa—That lesson also mentions the next aspect of the Wheel of Wellness, our Social health and strength. It says, “Physical activity can also be an opportunity to use your body and connect with family and friends in a fun, social setting.” Think about our social connections–our family members, friends, leaders and teachers, our special someone's—maybe even the boy or girl we don’t really know yet but may have a crush on - all of these social connections are important. I am Nate’s wife, I’m Aidan’s mom, I’m Jen’s friend—my social relationships are a big part of who I am and how I stay healthy and strong.

Nate—Finally, our spiritual relationships with our Heavenly Father and our Savior, the covenants that bind us to them, and our ability to feel close to them are of course a critical component of our health and strength. But even our ability to feel the Spirit can be directly connected to the other aspects of the Wheel of Wellness. Returning to the Emotional Resilience course handbook, Lesson Four makes the following clear statement: “Stress and anxiety can impact your ability to feel the Spirit or distort your understanding of spiritual promptings.”

Vanessa—It can be so difficult to feel and recognize the comforting feelings of the Holy Ghost when we are struggling under a cloud of clinical depression, or living on the edge and in constant fear of another terrifying anxiety attack. But with help and support from friends, family, leaders and professional doctors and counselors, we can find some stability and moments of peace. Then by making small steps forward in our physical and social health habits, we can in turn build our mental health, strength and resilience.

Nate—Similarly, those same small steps in physical and social health habits can also provide the momentum we may need to improve some aspect of our spiritual health, or to turn away from some habit or sin that is holding back our spiritual strength. I absolutely love how President Nelson connected all aspects of our lives in his joyful invitation to daily repentance in the talk he gave a few years ago entitled, “We Can Do Better and Be Better.”

Vanessa—Right at the beginning of that talk, President Nelson reminded us that repentance is all about change and then he says “...when Jesus asks you and me to “repent,” He is inviting us to change our mind, our knowledge, our spirit—even the way we breathe. He is asking us to change the way we love, think, serve, spend our time, treat our wives, teach our children, and even care for our bodies.”

Nate—I love how comprehensive and integrated that invitation is! As part of our daily repentance we can make small changes in our scripture study, we can find new habits to help us in our prayers. And we can also eat a vegetable, lift some weights, go for a walk in the sunshine with a friend, and try to get a good night’s sleep.

Vanessa—But let’s remember that President Nelson clearly reminded us that we don’t need to do everything all at once. I love his simple invitation to us, to “Experience the strengthening power of daily repentance–of doing and being a little better each day.” And we can do a little better and be a little better in each aspect of our lives, knowing that those small changes are interconnected and self-reinforcing.

Strength From Our Savior 

Nate—Our daily repentance, our doing a little better and being a little better in each aspect of our lives, will strengthen us and prepare us for the inevitable storms of life. And our small efforts are enough, our striving is enough, because the grace of our Savior Jesus Christ is sufficient for every one of us. We can find the peace the apostle Paul must have felt as he struggled to overcome a personal challenge he called a “thorn in the flesh”. In response to Paul’s pleading for help the Lord revealed this amazingly comforting assurance to him: “My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.” [11]

Vanessa—Looking again at the framework from the Youth Guidebook that we’ve been calling the “Wheel of Wellness” what I love most about this is how Jesus is at the very center of the circle. I love how He is reaching out to help us, to encourage us, and to strengthen us. He is always there, reaching out to hold and heal us when we are broken.

Nate—Jesus Christ is at the very center of our Wheel of Wellness because He is at the very center of our Heavenly Father’s plan to help us grow and be able to experience the fullness of joy He wants to share with us. Through his miraculous and infinite atoning sacrifice, Jesus has experienced all of our pains and infirmities. He experienced personally all of the storms of life so that he could know exactly how to succor us in our hours of need. He knows how to help us, He knows how to heal us, and His grace is sufficient for all of us. [12]

Vanessa—I take so much comfort in the reminder that President Nelson shared with us in General Conference just a couple of weeks ago. He said, “[It’s] because Jesus Christ overcame this fallen world, and because He atoned for each of us, that [we] too can overcome this sin-saturated, self-centered, and often exhausting world.” When we start to feel overwhelmed, we need to know that we can overcome, because we are not alone. President Nelson went on to remind us that through our covenants we are literally yoked together with the Savior, “[that] yoking...means you have access to His strength and redeeming power [whenever you need it.]” [13]

Nate—And this is the third and final message we hope you’ll remember from our talk today – we don’t have to endure the storms of life alone. No matter how difficult the storm we’re called to pass through, Jesus will be with us, our truest friend and greatest source of strength. I remember there is strength inside me, and infinite strength right beside me, as I envision Jesus the way Laken did in the lyrics to her song that opened our devotional today: “I won’t let you go…I’ll go with you if you let me.”

Vanessa—The strength inside us is the confidence we have, the faith and hope we have, that Jesus is our Savior, our rock and our Redeemer. No matter how fierce the storm, we will not be washed away toward a gulf of misery and endless woe. He is helping us to become “good timber,” and we are building shelter from the storms of life on His sure foundation. *We believe in Jesus*, who strengthens us, and we leave you with our testimony of this in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

[1] “Bless This House” by Helen Taylor, performed by the Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square
[2] Helaman 5:12
[3] Thomas S. Monson, "I Will Not Fail Thee, nor Forsake Thee" General Conference address, October 2013
[4] "Good Timber" by Douglas Malloch
[5] D&C 122:7
[6] Job 2:9
[7] Mountain Pine Beetle Info
[8] Youth Guidebook, page 4
[9] President Nelson, "We Can Do Better and Be Better", General Conference address, April 2019
[10] Emotional Resilience Manual
[11] 2 Corinthians 12:9
[12] Alma 7:11-12
[13] President Nelson, "Overcome the World and Find Rest", General Conference address, October 2022