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Devotionals

Writing a Story With Heavenly Father's Love


Brothers and Sisters, Aloha!

It is a great honor for me to be here with you today. I am grateful for the opportunity to share my thoughts and feelings and my testimony of our Church, our Heavenly Father, and our Savior, Jesus Christ.

I am especially grateful to be at my favorite BYU campus, not just because I graduated from BYU–Hawaii but also because of my love of the people, the aloha spirit, and the ocean and the North Shore.

I am grateful for the former, current, and future missionaries across the world who have, are, and are preparing to spread the love from our Heavenly Father while sharing His spirit and our holy scriptures with all people!

I would also like to thank President John Kauwe for inviting me to give this address and all of those who have helped make this happen. Thank you!

Regarding the topic for today's message, President Kauwe said that he would like me to share my conversion story and any other spiritual messages that I was "moved" to share.

Before I dive into any details about myself, I would like to begin with a thought from President Russell M. Nelson's October 2021 General Conference address. In his message titled: The Temple and Your Spiritual Foundation, he told us that the temple has a solid foundation to withstand an earthquake or other natural disasters. The gospel of Jesus Christ is the spiritual foundation that helps us succeed against life's challenges and adversities. The message is life-changing, and President Nelson ends his message by saying,

"I love you, dear brothers and sisters. These truths I know: God, our Heavenly Father, wants you to choose to come home to Him. His plan of eternal progression is not complicated, and it honors your agency. You are free to choose who you will be—and with whom you will be—in the world to come! God lives! Jesus is the Christ! This is His Church, restored to help you fulfill your divine destiny..." 1

Today I would like to emphasize love, the meaning of love from our Heavenly Father. I would like to connect my topic to President Nelson's theme about why and how the gospel and our scriptures are the spiritual foundation that help us thrive from difficulties.

Our loving Father in Heaven sent us down to this earth in the hopes of us successfully returning to Him again. He wants us to win the moral battles we face. These battles and challenges are placed before us to help us become stronger, rely on Him as our source of strength, and prepare us to serve others.

President Dieter F. Uchtdorf has suggested that: "Now that you are here on earth, it might be wise to ask yourself how your journey is going. Are you on the right course? Are you becoming the person you were designed to be and wanted to become? Are you making choices that will help you to return to your Father in Heaven?" 2

This message encourages us to make the right choices in our earthly journey, and if we can learn and accept the love our Heavenly Father offers, it can help us make better choices.

One of the ways that our Heavenly Father shows us His love is by providing us with educational opportunities. The Church Educational System motto of "Enter to learn, go forth to serve" exemplifies following the Savior. First learn…then give, teach, share, love, and serve.

From the first part of the motto, "Enter to learn," I would like to share my background and journey. In some way, I hope that I am following the insightful messages of President Nelson and Elder Uchtdorf about the direction and journey I am on.

I am from Guangzhou, the capital city of Guangdong Province in the People's Republic of China. The historical name for Guangdong is Canton. It is in this part of China that Cantonese is spoken. This is my first language, and I still speak this at home with my mother and her side of the family. I learned Mandarin in school, and I am fluent in both.

Just a short side note slightly off-topic. Right before I enrolled at BYU–Hawaii, I was playing a charity exhibition tennis match in Hong Kong. During the tournament dinner, many people asked me which university I was going to. When I told them I was going to BYU–Hawaii, I was surprised that many friends from the tournament knew of BYU–Hawaii and told me that many Hong Kong companies prefer hiring students who graduate from BYU–Hawaii because the school values the virtues of discipline, accountabilities, empathy, and compassion. Even before I arrived here in beautiful Laie, I was learning about what a wonderful place my "alma mater" was to be from.

Back to my personal story again. I started playing tennis when I was eight years old. This was, in large part, because my older cousin was playing tennis. I got into the sport through an after-school program in our district community—fast forward six years to when I was 14 years old. I had progressed in my tennis to a level where I was training full-time with the Guangdong Provincial team. For those of you who are not from the PRC, let me give you a brief background on the sports programs in Mainland China and how they relate to the Provincial teams.

Due to historical and political influence in Mainland China (especially for elite or international competitive sports) is treated as an opportunity to demonstrate the Chinese people's ability and display the superiority of Chinese government programs and philosophies. 3

Individuals are selected at an early age, generally between 5-13 years old, depending on the sport, by Provincial and National coaching groups to become athletes and live and train full time for their sports at national or provincial sports centers. 4

Most Chinese athletes in these national or provincial sports centers began training at a young age, training for long hours and generally for six days a week, all year long. This is done in hopes of one day competing for the Provincial teams and ultimately having the opportunity to represent the Peoples Republic of China in the Olympic Games. 5 The Provincial sport centers throughout the country provide elementary school and high school equivalent academic programs for these athletes. However, research has shown that attention to education, time for study, and learning qualities is insufficient in preparing young athletes for future career development or success in a typical university setting. 6 Research further indicates that many elite athletes in China are overworked and deprived from education opportunities. These athletes have little chance to succeed outside of their sports. 7

Therefore, when I was in my early twenties, it was about time to "retire" from the Guangdong Provincial team. I realized that I could play decent tennis but was definitely far from the top-tier athletes on the professional tour. Additionally, I realized that I did not have any solid educational background or skills. After months of deliberating, I decided to study abroad. I wanted to learn English, I wanted to develop other academic skills, and I still wanted to improve my tennis game.

Dr. Porter, Coach Porter, brought me to Hawaii. Coach Porter is a full professor and was the Exercise & Sports Science Department chairman here at BYU–Hawaii for many years. Coach Porter also coached our Men's and Women's tennis teams. You can look up at the rafters and see some of what he did while he was here. I first met Coach Porter in the early 2000s when Coach Porter was the technical and strategic consultant for the China Tennis Association. He was working with the National men's/women's tennis teams.

Many of the players that "Coach" worked with are very famous in China. He coached Li Ting and Sun Tian Tian, who won the Gold Medal in Women's Doubles at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens. He also worked closely with Zheng Jie and Yan Zi, who in 2006 won both the Australian Open and the Wimbledon women's doubles titles. He even traveled some with Zheng Jie, the first Chinese woman to be ranked in the top 15 in the WTA world rankings. He worked with Li Na and taught her how to hit an open-stance backhand. Li Na won both the French Open and the Australian Open Women's singles titles, the first Asian woman to win a Grand Slam singles title.

In 2008, Coach Porter helped me apply and be admitted to BYU–Hawaii. The Lord was directing my journey. When I first arrived on campus, I was asked to take placement exams in both English and Math.

There were four levels of math entrance exams at that time. Students would usually take two exams to get accurate placement. If the student did well on the highest-level exam, then they would be allowed to skip certain math courses in the G.E. requirement.

When the supervisor from the testing center learned I was from China, she suggested that I skip the first two math exams and take the more difficult exams. She said that based on her experience with students from China, they did very well on the math exams. She didn't know that I had not attended traditional Chinese school but "sports schools" and hadn't had a math class since my first year in junior high school. I explained that to her and asked if I could take the easiest math exam since I didn't want to embarrass myself or other Chinese students. I couldn't even pass the easiest exam, mostly because my English was so poor, I couldn't understand the questions.

When I took the English assessment exam, it was very simple. I just needed to write for 30 minutes in English on any topic I selected. At that time, I could only write down three basic sentences: my name, where I was from, and that I liked to play tennis. For the rest of the 30 minutes, I just sat staring at the national flags from different countries, looking at the coconut trees outside of the little circle, and thinking about what a beautiful place Hawaii was.

When I first came to BYU–Hawaii, the EIL program had a foundation level, an intermediate level, and an advanced level. I spent nearly two years in the EIL program and felt like I had earned a college degree when I was told that I could take a 'regular university course' just like all the other non-EIL students. Coach used to tell us about a quote that says: "That which we persist in doing become easier—not that the nature of the task itself has changed—but because our ability to do it has increased." 8 The English language had not changed, but my ability to use the language had increased. (It still needs a lot of work, by the way.)

In this loving community, Coach Porter, all of my BYU–Hawaii professors and tutors, and all of my returned missionary teammates, like Isaac Hadley and others, helped me along my learning journey. My progression was slow. In fact, my GPA was embarrassing at the beginning of my EIL program. I think my first semester, I only earned a 2.6 GPA, and I was concerned about being eligible to compete for the school. I wanted to take easier classes, but Coach Porter told us,

"Taking an easier class may help your GPA, but it won't help you learn as much as choosing a challenging course and professor." Because of this advice, when I started taking regular university courses, I was willing to challenge myself. I remember taking an English 201 course from a professor who had a master's degree in history.

He chose Socrates, Aristotle, Plato, and other ancient Greek literature as our textbooks. We had many challenging assignments right from the start. During the first two weeks of the class, over half of the students dropped the course. I tried to "hang-in-there." I would wake up at 4:00 a.m. and open the textbooks and my English Chinese dictionary. After hours of reading and looking up words in the dictionary, I often felt that I didn't understand even a few pages' worths of information. Fortunately, my roommate and tennis teammate, Chandler Howell, would help me know what I struggled to make sense of. He was also patient with me when I tried to put my thoughts into words on paper. I believe that I received an A- for the course, probably in part, for just sticking it out. I am grateful for the English professor and his kind toughness.

I took religion classes, watched the examples of my coach and my teammates, and started to meet with missionaries. Then one Saturday, during a morning tennis practice, there was a slight misunderstanding on tennis court use. The coach was calm, but the person asked to move courts became very angry. I recognized them as a Bishop in the Church. I suppose my developing testimony wasn't strong enough, and I lost interest in the Church. Sometimes our actions are more important than our words.

After I graduated from BYU–Hawaii, I found that my love of learning increased. Not only did my ability to write in English improve, but my ability to write in Chinese improved also. I was able to publish two articles in Chinese sports magazines. I wanted to continue to learn. I applied for graduate school at the University of Hawaii, was accepted, and continued studying and learning.

Coach always told us, as players, to complete our reading assignments before attending class, sit in the first three rows, and ask the professor question in every class. I followed that counsel and continued to take challenging courses over the next five years; while also serving as the Assistant Women's Tennis Coach at U.H. Manoa; I earned both Master's and Doctorate degrees.

Later, between 2017 and 2018, while studying for my Doctorate, I started to understand English better from the scriptures. Up until then, I would usually read the scriptures in Chinese. I started reading more conference talks, and they helped me become more resilient and disciplined and an overall better person.

One talk I read that particularly impacted me was a General Conference Talk by Elder Marvin J. Ashton from 1989. 9 The talk was "On Being Worthy." In this address, Elder Ashton taught us that the speed in our straight and narrow path is not as important as the direction we are heading. It is about moving forward toward eternal goals.

While reading this talk and others and reading the scriptures, I felt the love of our Heavenly Father, His hope for me to keep moving forward and make good decisions. These experiences are some of the primary reasons that helped me work through the challenges of my Doctoral program. Our Heavenly Father loves us; He will never fail us, no matter our background, where we are from, whatever our deficiencies are, if we will communicate with Him through reading the scriptures, following our Church leaders, and having meaningful daily prayer.

My interest in the Church grew. I realized that the messages from Church leaders and from my prayers made the most significant difference in my life. I began to ask, specifically, about the gospel's truthfulness; I received a testimony firsthand. Later that year, with Coach Porter's and others' help, I was baptized in the Laie chapel. It was a nine-year journey from when I first arrived in Hawaii, sat in the testing center, and stared at the flags in the little circle.

Our Father in Heaven loves us. He takes time and effort, and he is patiently guiding us in our learning of His love and sharing it with others. Is it difficult? Of course, it is, but it can be fun and rewarding as we learn how to become more like Him. He wants us to develop our love and share it with our friends, neighbors, community, and the world. I was blessed to receive His love here in Laie, and I am still receiving it now in Provo. He loves me, has blessed me, and expected me to bless and serve others.

Brothers and Sisters, love does take effort and, along with all good virtues, can bring us happiness. Aristotle defined the Latin word endemonism as the conceptual scaffold that connects the practice of virtue with human happiness.

Make the choice first.

In Alma chapter 29, verse 4, we read, "I ought not to harrow up in my desires the firm decree of a just God, for I know that he granteth unto men according to their desire, whether it be unto death or unto life; yea, I know that he allotteth unto men, yea, decreeth unto them decrees which are unalterable, according to their wills, whether they be unto salvation or unto destruction." 10

The Irish-born scholar and novelist C.S. Lewis made the following observation in a book titled, "The Great Divorce."

"There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, "Thy will be done," and those to whom God says, in the end, "Thy will be done." All that are in Hell choose it. Without that self-choice, there could be no Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find. Those who knock, it is opened." 11

From the verse in the Alma chapter and the quote by Lewis, we can understand that we are given the right to choose. We can accept God's love and share it with others or choose not to. The Lord has told us repeatedly that if we seek, we shall find; if we knock, he will open it unto us; if we get knocked down, just keep getting back up. He will be there. He will always love us and help us.

I believe that through reading the scripture, we can be strengthened, and our desire to learn and serve will increase. In 2 Timothy chapter 3 verses 15-17, we read:

"And that from a child you have known the holy scriptures, which can make thee wise unto salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works." 12

I love these verses. It tells us how to seek success and complete the good works through learning from the scripture. Our Heavenly Father wants us to know more so we can serve better. (Remember: Enter to learn, go forth to serve).

In Doctrine and Covenants Section 88 verses 79-80, we learn:

"Of things both in heaven and in the earth, and under the earth; things which have been, things which are, things which must shortly come to pass; things which are at home, things which are abroad; the wars and the perplexities of the nations, and the judgments which are on the land; and a knowledge also of countries and of kingdoms- that ye may be prepared in all things when I shall send you again to magnify the calling whereunto I have called you, and the mission with which I have commissioned you." 13

Our Heavenly Father teaches us to be prepared to serve Him and those around us better. Look at the world we are living in. It needs our help. We MUST learn to give.

In Alma chapter 32, verse 27, we are taught that our attitude towards learning can significantly impact our outcome.

"But behold, if ye will awake and arouse your faculties, even to an experiment upon my words, and exercise a particle of faith, yea, even if ye can no more than a desire to believe, let this desire work in you, even until ye believe in a manner that ye can give place for a portion of my words." 14

This passage from Alma has a solid connection to a statement by the great Italian Renaissance painter and scientist Leonardo da Vinci. He said,

"Just as eating against one's will is injurious to health, so study without a liking for it spoils the memory, and it retains nothing it takes in." 15

We must love the scripture, love the words of the prophets, Love the lessons in the classes we are taking, love the journey.

The great Scottish playwright and novelist James M. Barrie wrote:

"The life of every man is a diary in which he means to write one story and writes another, and his humblest hour is when he compares the volume as it is with what he vowed to make it." 16

I believe that the scriptures, the words of prophets from Our Father in Heaven, encourage us to toward the light. They encourage us to give and share that love with others.

I know that the gospel of Jesus Christ has been restored to the earth. I know that we have a living prophet to lead and guide us today. I know that Our Father in Heaven loves each and every one of us.

I love you all. Thank you for this opportunity to speak with you today. In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.


Notes:

1. Russell M. Nelson, "The Temple and Your Spiritual Foundation," October 2021.

2. Dieter F. Uchtdorf, "Your Wonderful Journey Home," May 2013.

3. Hong, F., Wu, P., & Xiong, H. (2005). Beijing ambitions: An analysis of the Chinese elite sports system and its Olympic strategy for the 2008 Olympic games, The International Journal of the History of Sport, 22 (4), 510-529. doi: 10.1080/09523360500126336.

4. Hao, Q. (2004). The discussion on the concept, characteristics, and function of entire system in Chinese sports. Journal of Chengdu Physical Education Institute, 30 (1), 7-11.

Hong, F. (2004). Innocence lost: Child athletes in China. Sport in Society, 7 (3). 338-354. doi: 10.1080/1743043042000291677.

Hong, F., Mackay, D., & Christensen, K. (2008). China gold: China's quest for global power and Olympic glory. Great Barrington, MA: Berkshire Publishing Group.

5. Hong, F. (1998). The Olympic movement in China: Ideals, realities, and ambitions. Culture Sport Society, 1, (1), 149-168.

Hong, F., Wu, P., & Xiong, H. (2005). Beijing ambitions: An analysis of the Chinese elite sports system and its Olympic strategy for the 2008 Olympic games, The International Journal of the History of Sport, 22 (4), 510-529. doi: 10.1080/09523360500126336.

6. Gao, J. (2015). The research on the educational pattern for the Chinese athletes- the combination of education and sports. International Conference on Arts, Design and Contemporary Education. doi:10.2991/icadce-15.2015.223.

7. Hong, F. (2004). Innocence lost: Child athletes in China. Sport in Society, 7 (3). 338-354. doi: 10.1080/1743043042000291677.

8. Ralph Waldo Emerson.

9. Marvin J. Ashton, "On Being Worthy," April 1989.

10. Alma 29:4.

11. C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce, 1945.

12. 2 Timothy 3:15-17.

13. Doctrine and Covenants 88: 79-80. Aristotle. (2001). Ética a Nicómaco. Madrid: Alianza Editorial.

14. Alma 32:27.

15. Leonardo Da Vinci.

16. James M. Barrie.