When Opportunities Arise
Mail Center Supervisor / Special Instructor, Visual Arts Education
I had prepared my basic message for this devotional and was delighted to attend our Ohana meeting and President Tanner’s thoughts were right in line with mine. I appreciated his idea that sometimes we are the learner and sometimes we are the teacher. Or as he taught sometimes we are the giver and sometimes we are the receiver. Regardless of our experience, age, or level of learning, our Heavenly Father will give us opportunity to serve or place someone in our paths to serve us.
Having roamed the streets of Laie as a little child I am grateful now at this age that I have such wonderful memories and experiences. I still feel like that young girl who spent her days exploring every inch of the village in an effort to discover whatever it was that needed discovering. I have spent time crawling through the drainage pipe that runs along Kulanui Street and crosses under Moana Street. I remember being scared by the cow that was staked near the bridge at the old graveyard. I have happy memories of swinging on the banyan tree behind the temple trying to touch the sugar cane leaves with my toes, or checking out the different construction sites around to play house after the workers had gone home. It’s a beautiful place to have grown up and I feel a very deep appreciation for the pioneers of this village, especially the ones with which I was acquainted who were here before me, who taught me in my childhood and that helped make Laie what it is today.
I absolutely love Laie cemetery, where many of these Pioneers are buried. It has been such a big part of my life, there is so much goodness and love there. I would visit it often when I was growing up. I would visit there with friends or just ride my bike there alone. Sometimes I would pick plumerias and place one on each grave of someone I remembered. I had no one there that I was necessarily related to but lots of good people, neighbors and my parent’s friends. Now when I visit, there are actually 6 family members buried there. My parents, and a niece, my husband’s parents, and a nephew.
I have thought a lot about all the different people that I have come in contact with over my life and how each of them has touched and influenced me for good. The list is long. One individual that always comes to my mind is Jane Garside. She helped develop what is now the counseling services here on campus. What a wonderful person she was to me and I was just the baby sitter. The impressions and feelings she instilled in me I will never forget. Jane had the talent to make you the center of her attention in the midst of her busy day. Her focus on you made you feel loved and important. Then I think of Sister Ana Fanene who was our next-door neighbor. Her and my mother were such good friends. Her husband Tom Fanene was our home teacher. She was constantly looking after and caring for us. It seemed she always had a plate of something for us each time she visited. When my mom was nearing death Sister Fanene in her advanced age was there with a basket of fruit, because in her words, “She is my friend.” This list could go on and on. Ana’s granddaughter, Lora Santiago, who is my lifetime friend and high school classmate is here today.
These individuals didn’t really know or realize what they were doing or how they were shaping me, but they were. Each of them, by just living their lives the best way that they knew how had great impact on me. Each of them by simply trying to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ were being prepared to heed the Lord’s call when needed. In this way when the opportunity of service arose, each of them were ready.
As we read in John 12:26
“If any man serve me, let him follow me; and where I am, there shall also my servant be: if any man serve me, him will my Father honor.”
I feel individuals are divinely placed in our lives at certain times to help and guide us with their specific spirit, talent, or gift. Some people we know very well some have come and gone leaving their goodness behind.
Elder Holland taught us in 2008 talk:
“…but when we speak of those who are instruments in the hand of God, we are reminded that not all angels are from the other side of the veil. Some of them we walk with and talk with---here, now, every day. Some of them reside in our own neighborhoods. Some of them gave birth to us.”
In the last April, General Conference, a change was made with visiting teaching and home teaching. We all now minister. The school master we knew as visiting teacher or home teacher is now divinely referred to as ministering. We were further instructed how ministering varies from what we knew previously. I was so thrilled and welcomed this higher level of reaching out and caring for others. My thoughts today parallel the principle of “Ministering”, coupled with the principle of “By Divine Design” so eloquently taught by Elder Rasband in his General Conference talk in October 2017. He states, “When we are righteous, willing, and able, when we are striving to be worthy and qualified, we progress to places we never imagined and become part of Heavenly Father divine design.”
When I was in my early twenties I had the opportunity to go on a BYU tour called “the footsteps of Paul”. It started in Greece and headed north up to Turkey curving around the Mediterranean then down through Syria to Israel stopping at all the spots the Apostle Paul traveled and preached. We were a very excited group of about 35. Around two weeks before leaving I had felt some strange pains on my side but dismissed it as excitement and preparation for the trip. As we traveled around the ruins getting on and off the bus I could feel the pain getting increasingly worse. I did not want to miss a thing but rather wanted to see as much as I could, so I kept silent and endured.
We had seen so many wonderful places and important religious sites and my excitement grew because the next day we would be in Istanbul, Turkey where we were scheduled to have a Turkish bath. I wasn’t sure what that entailed but if it was on a BYU itinerary it must be OK.
That morning I was very nauseous, dizzy, buckled over with pain. I was unable to stand let alone walk. I reluctantly told the group I was not able to participate on the tour that day. It was a terrible day of tossing, turning, braking out in a terrible sweat, and vomiting. I took several baths to try to feel better. Later that day the fever was gone and I actually felt quite a bit better. There was a family doctor on the trip with us and he came to my room to see if he could help. He soon figured out that when my fever broke and I started feeling better was probably the moment that my appendix had ruptured. I was informed there was not enough time to get me back to the US, it was about a twelve-hour flight, and that was to long for an already ruptured appendix.
The tour director and doctor whooshed me into a taxi and to the American Admiral Bristol hospital. I ended up staying in the hospital for 10 days. Ten precious sight-seeing days. The tour had to continue on their journey and so they left me there. After making sure I awoke from surgery and was OK, the tour director left to catch up with the group in Syria. It was arranged that I would fly to Tel Aviv and meet up with the Tour in Jerusalem. I remember looking up at the ceiling in my room and saying out loud, “Okay Heavenly father it’s just you and me.” I felt safe, fine, cared for and comforted. Soon I found out that the Director had made contact with a Turkish student that had attended and graduated from BYU Provo. He was so kind. He visited me every day and we just chatted and he kept me company. Later, I found out that he had to travel by bus and train one way to get to the hospital. He was a member of the church tending and caring for another member of the church very far from home. When I arrived in Tel Aviv, I was greeted by an American church member who, with his family was on assignment in Jerusalem. I spent that night at their home and I met the tour group the next morning. My incision was still open and draining and I had to use a wheel chair but I was back with my group once again.
After the tour, I found myself safely back home with my parents. But more and more as the days passed and I could reflect on this experience the reality hit me. I thought about what actually happened and where it happened. Then I began to marvel at the whole thing. At the time, I felt so comforted, safe and loved that I didn’t experience fear. I had no worries or concerns about anything. The Holy Ghost was with me every step of the way.
In this experience, there were so many perfectly placed individuals, even ministering angels, just for me to help with my every need. There was a doctor who could diagnose the danger, the doctor that did the surgery who could speak English and had studied in the US, there was a member family working for BYU living in Jerusalem, there was a native tour guide who was very willing to get me to the airport and see me on the plane so I could get from Turkey to Israel, there was a friend in the Gospel that helped my spirit, and there was a wonderful tour director, who was a school mate of my dad’s, that promised my parents he would take care of me. And... I felt the comforting embrace of the Holy Ghost every minute of every hour. Were all these individuals a coincidence? I know they were not.
How can we prepare ourselves to be ready to serve when such opportunities arise? When the need to teach, or serve is before us, the time for preparation is over. As we strive to be better individuals and members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day saints by keeping the commandments and following Him, we are preparing ourselves and making ourselves available for service. Many opportunities to serve will come in informal circumstances. They will not necessarily be attached to a calling or an assignment. They may not even be for a fellow member of the church, but come they will. Elder Bednar teaches that the Lord, “invites all Latter-day Saints––wherever we may live and in whatever capacity or calling we may serve––to fulfill important responsibilities and roles in the great work of the ministry.”
Elder Ballard mentioned in his April 2018 talk:
“Many opportunities to serve are informal-without assignment-and come as we reach out to others we meet in life’s journey.”
Likewise, President Gordon B. Hinckley encourages us thus, “I would hope, I would pray, that each of us would resolve to seek those who need help and lift them in the spirit of love into the embrace of the church, where strong hands and loving hearts will warm them, comfort them, sustain them, and put them on the way of happy and productive lives.”
As soon as the new book, “The Saints” was introduced I began to listen to it. I really enjoyed it. I listened getting ready in the mornings, washing dishes, while I was driving, even folding clothes. I have always loved anything and everything that involves Joseph Smith. Throughout my life I have felt a closeness to him as if he were a brother. I like to think it has something to do with the association my ancestors had to him as they helped in the early days of the Church. All eight of my great grandparents joined the church and traveled west as pioneers.
One of these, Mary Dunn Ensign, has always been my very favorite. She tells a story of when she was young and her father was sent on a mission leaving her mother with young children to care for alone.
She states, “My mother traded with the Indians, and especially while Father was on his mission. Shortly after he left, an Indian came with a buffalo robe and wanted to trade it for some shirts which he saw hanging with the wash and also some bread. Mother gave him the shirts and bread and told him to throw the robe over the bushes outside as she was afraid of bugs. Another Indian seeing the robe, asked if she would trade the robe and some bread for a pony. So, she made the trade. A white man then wanted to trade his horse for the pony. And again, she let the man have what he wanted. Another wanted the horse in exchange for an ox. Then travelers on their way to Oregon had a young yoke of oxen they wanted to trade for her ox. Again, she made the trade which then gave her a way of pulling her wagon to Payson when the Saints were called south at the time Johnson’s army was entering the Salt Lake Valley and Saints needed to flee.”
Mary’s family didn’t realize that all this trading going on before them would eventually help them in the end. They thought they were just helping and serving others. It was not until after the service they had rendered, one person at a time, that they realized the Lord was really providing for their needs by placing individuals in their path.
Elder Neal A. Maxwell observed.
“That same God that placed that star in a precise orbit millennia before it appeared over Bethlehem in celebration of the birth of the Babe has given at least equal attention to placement of each of us in precise human orbits so that we may, if we will, illuminate the landscape of our individual lives, so that our light may not only lead others but warm them as well.”
At the age of 17 I went with my parents on a trip to Mexico and Central America. I am the youngest and with the others gone from home it was just the three of us. We saw so many wonderful places and ancient archeological sites.
On one occasion, we arrived at a pyramid, we stood at the base and marveled at the grand structure before us. With much excitement and anticipation, we started up the steps. There were so many people, going up and down so many steps. In his excitement, my dad soon outpaced us in our ascension. We were perhaps an eighth of the way up when my mom suddenly froze. Grabbing on to the step just in front of her so tight she exclaimed “I can’t do this. I’m stuck! “I can’t go up; I can’t go down. I will just have to stay right here.” I Looked around for my Dad only to find he was nowhere in sight, so, I tried to reason with her saying, “Let’s just take a break for a bit.” But each time I ventured some encouragement she would announce firmly, “but I can’t move.” So, there we were. I was sitting next to her on the very step she was clutching with her hands while she faced upward, absolutely frozen.
Until this point our life’s roles had been reversed, with her helping me. Gently guiding me through life’s big problems, big pyramids which seemed insurmountable at the time. She was gentle, soft and soothing. This time however, she needed me. Was I ready? Certainly, her example through my life had provided me with sufficient preparation.
Initially I needed to get my mom’s focus away from her predicament, so, very tenderly I coaxed her to turn around and sit down. Then, I suggested to her to just think of one step at a time. This seemed to be something she could do. So, gingerly at first, we ventured down one simple step. At first, I actually had to move and place her feet on the next downward step. Our progress was slow but steadily we made our way down. We went down that pyramid together scooting on our rear ends one step at a time. Until we made it safely to solid ground.
For the rest of the pyramid sight-seeing, my mom spent her time on the ground, under a shady tree while my Dad and I climbed around, up and down.
Sometimes service is not about the whole. Sometimes it is about “just one step at a time”. Perhaps even our ability to serve should be seen in these small incremental steps rather than the daunting overall task before us. By tending to service one step at a time we start a journey of love and learning. The Savior has promised he will guide our steps but we do actually have to be walking. Indeed, in this service he has promised that he would “go before your face. I will be on your right hand and on your left and my Spirit shall be in your hearts, and mine angels round about you to bear you up.”
Each of these stories illustrates opportunities of service. They illustrate how the Lord places us with our uniqueness in the path of someone who needs us, or places someone with unique abilities in our path during a time of need. He does this because he loves us, and desires for us to succeed. The effectiveness of our service will largely depend on our ability to love. Indeed, service is directly connected to the pure love of Christ–charity.
All in all, these stories are expressions of love and service. I will always remember with great fondness the people in Istanbul who cared for me and showed genuine love for a fellow human being. I will always remember the Jane Garside’s and the Ana Fanene’s of my life who tutored me through great examples. And I will forever be grateful for ancestors who lived their lives being guided by the spirit and acting on that guidance.
Each of us in our journey of life will literally interact with thousands of people. And in those interactions, will be opportunities of service or ministering. In some cases, we may be in need and the Lord will place someone in our pathway to lift, comfort or sustain us. In other cases, that someone maybe you or I, placed to aid one of Heavenly Father’s children. Will we be ready when that opportunity arises?
I invite you to take a moment and reflect on your own lives and consider those who come quickly to your mind who may have rendered some service or kindness to you. Someone who helped you when you fell, someone who smiled at you, perhaps someone who reshaped your life to where you currently are simply by being there when the opportunity arose. And like them I encourage you to find similar opportunities of service.
In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.