My dear sisters and brothers, Aloha! I am excited to be with you here today. It is the beginning of another semester, and we are filled with hope as more of you have been able to return to campus and be here with us in person.
One of the things that Rhonda and I have enjoyed for many years, and especially during our time living here in La’ie, is scuba diving. It represents personal time together, sharing as equal partners, and enjoying a great adventure in the outdoors.
Scuba diving is an awesome activity, but it is also very dangerous. Certain rules must be carefully followed for the activity to be safe. Even then, emergencies arise suddenly, and one must be prepared. Rhonda and I often read stories of such emergencies in our Diver magazine so that we can learn from the experiences of others.
One such story told of a pair of divers who went on an excursion to hunt lobsters. I’m sure they were excited, and perhaps they gave little thought to the potential for danger.
Their dive was enjoyable as their hunt was successful. Soon, and they began their return from the ocean floor to the dive boat with two very large lobsters in hand. During their return journey, they got separated. One of the divers made it back to the boat without incident. The other diver, however, the one carrying the two big lobsters, struggled when he got to the surface. The water was choppier than he was used to, and he began to feel nervous. His nervousness caused him to breathe harder, and it felt like he couldn’t get enough air. In his panic, he decided to spit out his regulator mouthpiece, which was connected to his air supply. The water splashing against his face and into his mouth increased the panic, and he struggled wildly. Although he was just a short distance from the boat, no one saw him or knew where he was. By the time he was missed and the boat crew started looking for him, his strength gave out, and he sunk to the bottom of the ocean, still clinging to the prized lobsters.
Failure to heed two important principles led to this terrible tragedy. First, he and his diving companion did not follow the rules! They should have stayed together until both were safely on the boat. Moreover, it was a huge mistake to discard the source of his air. Even though breathing from the tank is more difficult at the surface of the water, it would have preserved his life until the crew found him. Finally, the first rule upon reaching the surface is to inflate the buoyancy device that all divers wear. This would have kept him safely at the surface until the crew located him. However, in order to inflate the buoyancy device, he needed at least one of his hands to be free, which brings me to the second principle:
He should have let go of the lobsters! His life was much more valuable than the lobsters, but he clung to them tightly, even as he lost consciousness. If he had let them go, he could have inflated his buoyancy device, or he could have released his dive weights. Either action would have saved his life. But instead, he held onto his coveted treasures, treasures that soon would be disintegrating on the bottom of the ocean.
This is certainly something we all do in one way or another. We want so much to receive the blessings of Eternal Life, but we persist in clinging to things that have no value in the eternities. And some of those things get in the way of our progress and therefore hold us back from the blessings that our loving Father in Heaven wants so much to bestow upon us.
You remember the story of the rich young man who approached the Savior, according to Mark:
“…running, and kneeled to him, and asked him, Good Master, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?
“And Jesus said unto him . . . Thou knowest the commandments, Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Defraud not, Honour thy father and mother.
“And he answered and said unto him, Master, all these have I observed from my youth.
“Then Jesus beholding him loved him, and said unto him, One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me.
“And [the young man] was sad at that saying, and went away grieved: for he had great possessions.” (Mark 10:17-22)
What a tragic story. This young man stood at the threshold of receiving the greatest blessings that God has to give, and he went away instead, clinging to his earthly possessions, treasures that someday would crumble and become worthless.
The Savior repeated this instruction about heavenly treasures to all of us. It was given to the Jews during the sermon on the mount and repeated to the Nephites and Lamanites in the Land of Bountiful:
“Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and thieves break through and steal; But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” (3 Nephi 13:19-21)
Over the years, I have thought a lot about these “heavenly treasures” and what they might be. I have wondered about how we may fill our baskets with those treasures. For me, great understanding has come from pondering a personal story I now would like to share with you. This is my journey of self-discovery regarding one of my most valuable heavenly treasures.
In the fall of 1979, I returned home to Southern California from a two-year mission to Santiago, Chile. The mission was by far my greatest experience up to that point, but now it was time to adjust to the next chapters in my life. My thoughts, therefore, turned toward continuing my education at BYU, and so I made reservations with a chartered bus company transporting BYU students from the Los Angeles area to Provo. My mom delivered me to the pick-up site at a mall parking lot early in the morning. There were two buses waiting for passengers, and as I got ready to board one of them, my mom made an interesting comment: “Maybe you’ll find your wife on the bus.”
That sounded like a great idea to me, so as I boarded the bus, I began looking for an empty seat next to a cute girl. I was in luck! There was one empty seat left, and it was next to a very cute girl. I triumphantly sat down. As soon as I did so, she gave me a very unpleasant look. “Excuse me; I was saving this seat for my friend.”
So, sadly, I got up and walked off the bus hoping for a better result on the other one. This time the result was better. I only saw one available seat, but it was also next to a cute girl. So, I sat down, and I am happy to report, I did not get kicked off.
As we started the 13-hour trip to Provo, I got up the nerve to talk to the woman next to me.
“So, where are you from?”
As soon as she said that, a person in the seat in front of me turned around and said, “Now I know where I’ve seen you before. It was girl’s camp.”
They spoke briefly, and then I mustered my courage again.
“Well, I’m from San Dimas.”
At that point, the person in the seat in front turned around again. “I’m from San Dimas. How come I don’t know you?”
I told her that I was a member of the Glendora Stake. She answered that she was from the La Verne Stake, and that was the end of it.
That brief conversation turned out to be my last for the next twelve and a half hours. My seat partner clearly had zero interest in talking to me, and there wasn’t a good way to continue the conversation with the person in front. I secretly wished, though, that I was sitting next to her because she sure seemed a lot more interesting than the one next to me.
And so, I returned to life in the dorms at BYU. On Sunday, when I went to my new student ward, I met a wonderful woman who looked familiar.
She approached me and declared, “Aren’t you the guy from the bus?”
I was, indeed, and she was the person from the seat in front of me, Rhonda Armstrong.
Now you need to know something about Rhonda Armstrong. She was very friendly. She and her roommate made it a point to visit all the men in the ward on Sunday afternoons when we were allowed to have visitors in the dorms. I quickly started to look forward to her visits, and it wasn’t long before the visits began to linger. Soon, Rhonda no longer had time during the Sunday visits to reach the goal of visiting everyone.
As we became good friends, I really wanted to ask Rhonda out on a date. Unfortunately, whenever I saw her at the cafeteria or other public places besides church meetings, she was with another guy. I often saw them holding hands, so naturally, I assumed that she was attached to him. And, I was too scared to find out.
At one point, she complained to me about his dominating attention because it kept other guys from asking her on dates. She was just complaining to me as a sympathetic friend, but I took it as a hint. So, on Valentine’s Day, 1980, I bought her a greeting card, and I inserted a note asking her if she would go out with me. That was a Thursday, and on Saturday, we had our first date at the bowling alley.
From there, the friendship grew steadily until we returned home to California for the summer break. That time was precious to us. We spent lots of time together, and our friendship was rapidly turning into a deep love.
July 5th was a Saturday, and I asked her if she would like to go to the beach with me that day. She agreed, although I later found out that she was willing only because she wanted to be with me. She actually didn’t care much for the beach, thinking it was boring to just lay out on the hot sand and get a tan. While we were there, I introduced her to my favorite part of the beach—the tide pools. She had never done that, and she was fascinated by all the little animals I showed her. This was the beginning of what would eventually become our shared interest in scuba diving.
We had a great time, but something you need to understand is that sunblock was not a thing in those days. This was my first exposure to the sun since before my mission, and it did not go well. By the time I got home, I was in great pain with redness and bleeding blisters on my back. Nevertheless, I still wanted to be with her, and we sat for a long time in the living room of my house quietly talking while I tried to ignore the pain. At one point, the conversation grew silent, and I heard a little voice in my head. The little voice said, “Say something.”
I remember thinking, “What am I going to say?” But the urge kept getting stronger and stronger until I finally blurted out: “I wish you could be mine forever.”
Nothing. No answer. She just kept staring at me, looking surprised. She explained later that she had no idea what to say because she wasn’t sure what I meant. And that was a reasonable conclusion because I also did not know what I meant.
All I could think was: “John, that was the dumbest thing you have ever done.” And so, I promised myself that I would never ever say anything like that again.
She went home, and I went to bed, suffering physically from my worst sunburn ever and suffering emotionally from horrible embarrassment.
What I didn’t know is that she went home and started to plot and plan. She figured out exactly how she would respond if I ever said anything like that again.
The next morning, when she went to church, her best friend excitedly told her, “I got engaged last night!” To which Rhonda replied, “Well, I’m getting engaged tonight!”
That evening, I announced to my parents that I was going to go over to Rhonda’s house for a visit. My mother refused. “You’re practically sick from your sunburn. You’re staying home tonight. You spend every day with that girl. You can stay home with us for once.”
So, I called up Rhonda and explained that I would not be coming for a visit.
She was shocked. “Why not?”
“My mom won’t let me go.”
Of course, this was ruining her plans. How were we going to get engaged if we couldn’t get together? “Can I come over there to see you, then?”
“I don’t know,” I said, “I’ll have to ask my mother.”
Well, my mom reluctantly agreed, and Rhonda came over. We again spent the evening in my living room quietly talking. As the conversation grew silent, I heard the voice in my head again, “say something.”
“No way! I made a fool out of myself last time. I’m not saying anything again.”
And before I could get control of myself, my mouth opened, and I spoke.
“I wish you could be mine forever.”
“John, you idiot!” I thought. “You did it again!”
Then she looked up at me and sweetly said, “Say the word, and I’ll be yours.”
Then my mind really raced. “What have I gotten myself into? Is this the right thing? Do I dare go on?”
But to my eternal gratitude, the little voice took over, and I asked this dear woman to be my wife.
My mother was right, even prophetic. I found my eternal companion on the bus to BYU.
Now listen carefully. I told you all of that so that I could tell you the next part, which is the most important part.
Our marriage date was set for November 25, which was four and a half months from July 6, the date we became engaged. I thought it proper to ask the Lord during that time whether it was right for me to marry Rhonda. My prayers were frequent, and I think heartfelt. “Is Rhonda the person I should marry?”
It was a troubling time for me because there was no answer. I remember very strong answers to prayers about whether I should serve a mission. Heaven seemed close and accessible throughout my mission. Why was it silent now when I was asking the most important question of my life? “Should I marry this person?”
I thought about it carefully. I knew that I loved her. I asked for advice from various people, including my poor religion professor. But I did not feel that I had an answer from my Heavenly Father. Why? Why wouldn’t He answer me?
Finally, the day came. We made the hour-long drive to the Los Angeles Temple, where she received her endowments. Then we were taken to a beautiful sealing room and knelt at the holy altar.
The sealer offered a few words of spiritual instruction and encouragement. Then he began to pronounce some of the most sacred words to be found here in mortality. I looked into her eyes. She was smiling. I began to cry. In that moment, I experienced some of the most powerful and profound spiritual feelings and assurances of my entire life. I knew four things.
I knew that the Gospel was true.
I knew that the promises of the temple ordinances were true.
I knew that we were worthy to be there in the Lord’s house kneeling at the altar.
And I knew that I had heaven’s blessing and support in marrying this daughter of God.
Now in the forty-plus years since that Tuesday morning, Rhonda and I have traveled many miles along life’s journey, and we have walked the covenant path together.
I have learned a lot about what it means to cleave to someone.
I have learned about what it means to partner and to counsel and to serve together.
And I have also learned and have yet to learn just how critical it is to let go of the stuff that interferes— the selfishness, the pride, and the vanity. God would have us become like His Son, and we can’t do it as long as we cling tightly to the lobsters in our lives. We can’t do it while we hold onto the earthly treasures that are temporary and have no more meaning in the eternities than did the lifeless bodies of the diver’s lobsters crumbling on the ocean floor.
I think now I finally understand why my four and a half months of prayer about marrying Rhonda seemed to go unanswered. I also understand why I failed to have clear enough spiritual vision to see the lengthy list of miracles that brought me to her, only some of which I have shared with you today.
I was asking the wrong question. I already knew that we loved each other. I already knew that we could be friends and that our friendship was devoid of the poison that characterizes unhealthy relationships. Instead of asking whether she was right for me, I should have been asking whether I was right for her. Instead of dwelling so much upon what I was getting, I should have been thinking a lot more about what I could be giving.
Would I be sufficiently committed and willing to tread the covenant path with her through thick and thin, through good times and bad? Would I have the faith sufficient to endure to the end and bring her back to my Heavenly Father with the two of us found clean, repentant, and pure? Would I be the kind of son that He would want to stand by His beloved daughter at the last day?
I bet that if I had asked Him then how I could better prepare to be a worthy husband to her, the flow of information from heaven would have been more obvious and also more abundant.
I am so grateful that Heavenly Father and the Savior are merciful and patient. I am grateful for the atoning sacrifice that makes it possible for us to have multiple second chances—to try, to stumble, and to try again. If we will subject ourselves to their will and put our trust in them, they will lead us, and though the path may be bumpier than we wish, we’ll find our way with their divine assistance. That has certainly been true for me. Even after all these years of happy marriage, I feel like I still have much to learn about what it truly means to serve together in love, to be partners equally yoked in God’s work, and to build a relationship fit for the eternities. I hope with all my heart that I can continue down this important path.
Having tasted of the sweet joy it brings, I desire it for all of you.
Now my sisters and my brothers, let there be no confusion. I am not suggesting for one instant that we connect ourselves to relationships that are abusive or dangerous spiritually, emotionally, or physically. I am certainly not suggesting that we take lightly the choice of an eternal companion. Furthermore, although marriage is a great example of the point I am trying to make, these principles apply to all our interactions with others.
In summary, I submit that heavenly treasure is to be found in our efforts to love and serve others in the manners that Christ teaches. These efforts build relationships that do not go down into the grave like earthly treasures. They become treasures that persist through the eternities. It is our job to learn from the influence of the Holy Ghost how to abandon the lobsters that make our quest for treasure selfish and instead focus our attention on learning how to serve others and how to serve alongside others and contribute righteously to their welfare and happiness.
The opportunities are truly limitless. We have our families. That’s where it starts. We have those around us—those we minister to, those we teach, and those we meet, sometimes even in unexpected places. Every day brings chances to serve them in Christ-like ways.
Moreover, we have a huge privilege to learn about and serve those who have gone before us and are now on the other side of the veil, those with whom we can develop righteous relationships through family history research and temple worship. This is great news for those who may feel a little shy or even intimidated by what I am sharing today. And I truly believe, based on sacred experience and promptings, that those who take this last opportunity seriously will be overwhelmed with the sheer magnitude of the treasure when they join on the far side of the veil those they have searched and served.
My friends, there are about 7.9 billion potential treasures on the earth today. To that, we can add another 100 billion of those who have lived previously. That is a lot of opportunities to reach out with love and fill our baskets. Perhaps we can all resolve today to identify some of our lobsters, let go of them, and then add a few more heavenly treasures to our baskets.