I was on a Church assignment in Hong Kong in 1996 (before many of you were born). I was attending the Hong Kong temple dedication -- what would be the first temple in China. The day before the dedicatory sessions I was sitting in a missionary meeting at the back of a chapel with rows of elders and sisters filling the room. I was there just as an observer, waiting to hear President Gordon B. Hinckley and President Thomas S. Monson address the young missionaries. As the two came in the door everyone stood in quiet reverence.
But I wasn’t expecting what came next. A powerful spiritual manifestation came over me as President Monson strode down the aisle, his broad smile and his 6 foot three frame a commanding presence. At that moment I was filled with the pure knowledge that he was called of God, a prophet for our time. And then the spirit confirmed to me that he would someday lead the Church.
There was nothing special about me. I knew President Monson only by his messages at General Conference and I wondered why the Lord had given me such a profound witness. Indeed, I felt like Jacob who wrote, “I had heard the voice of the Lord speaking unto me in very word, . . . wherefore I could not be shaken.”[i]
It would be years before that singular moment in time would make sense to me. I was in England, serving with my husband who was President of the England London South Mission. It was June 18, 2008 – you know how events are imprinted in your mind and in your heart; this was one of those. I was in the kitchen doing what every good mission mother does, I was making cookies when my husband came into the room and said the phone was for me. The phone was never for me. We didn’t even have a phone in the kitchen. I only got phone calls if it was some poor missionary who had just gotten dumped by his girlfriend back home.
He continued rather seriously, “Heidi, it’s President Monson.”
I said quickly, “What missionary thinks that’s funny.”
And then he soberly said, “It really is President Monson and he wants to talk to you.”
All I could think of was “What have I done?”
I picked up the phone with some trepidation and said with a tremor in my voice, “Hello.” On the other end of the line came that all familiar voice we know from the pulpit, “Heidi, how are you?”
I thought to myself, “I don’t know. How am I?”
President Monson then began to chat. That’s what he does. He reaches into your heart and finds a spot and settles in speaking with genuine interest. It’s like he is pulling a chair up to the kitchen table and saying, “How are you today?”
After more than 30 minutes of chatting, me terrified the whole time, he explained that he had pondered and prayed and he wanted me to write his biography.
I remember asking him one day, “President, why did you ask me to write your life story? I was not in your inner circle.” He responded immediately, “There are 14 million in my inner circle and you are one of them.”
And so the next two and a half years, one of them while I was on the mission, I worked at shaping his life into a narrative for you and everyone else to read. He had only been the prophet for a few months when I began. We needed to know him, to learn from him as we follow him, the sixteenth president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
I think of the song “We Thank Thee, Oh God, for a Prophet” but it’s the next line that makes so much difference. “To guide us in these latter days”. Following a prophet requires trust. We must trust that he listens to the Lord and speaks for the Lord. Recall the words from the Doctrine and Covenants, “Whether by mine own voice or the voice of my servants it is the same.” Do you trust the prophet of God and those apostles who work at his side? Do you listen to their counsel and then act accordingly? Or are you casual, sometimes cavalier, choosing to be obedient only when it’s convenient or when it suits your own personal style?
People often ask me what I learned in this singular experience of writing about a prophet of God. Put simply, I learned to trust the Lord. Our trust in our Father in Heaven, in Jesus Christ and in the Holy Ghost is an expression of our faith and our willingness—no questions asked--to follow God’s plan for us – individually.
President Monson is such an example of trust. He has said, “As we journey through mortality, let us remember from whence we came; let us be true to the trust vested in us. Let us remember who we are and what God expects us to become.”
President Monson trusts that we all can have “joy in the journey.” But that joy comes from being obedient to the Lord’s commandments, having a humble heart, treating others with kindness and respect and being steadfast amidst our many challenges, for they will come.
On October 6, 1963, Thomas Spencer Monson, age 36, stood at the pulpit in the Salt Lake Tabernacle at General Conference. Newly called to life-long service as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve, the youngest in 53 years and almost 20 years younger than the next apostle, he took the chair at the end of the row where he would sit next to Gordon B. Hinckley. Bearing his testimony to the Church membership, only 2.1 million at the time, he said, “I know that God lives, my brothers and sisters. There is no question in my mind. I know that this is his work.”[ii]
He has been about that “work” of the Lord now for 53 years.
At General Conference a few years ago President Monson closed the final session with this statement: “Our Heavenly Father is mindful of us. Of that I testify. I acknowledge His hand in all things.”
And then he quoted a verse from Proverbs:
“Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.
“In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.”[iii]
He concluded by saying this: “That has been the story of my life.”[iv]
My question is, has it been yours? Do you trust the Lord, his promptings and his commandments as the only way of life for you and those you love? Think about it.
When a young man President Monson came home on leave from the Navy to see his beloved Frances only to find she was out on a date with another suitor. He finally won her heart and the two got married. World War II ended but there were rumblings that war in Korea was eminent and he was in the Naval Reserve. He did not want to go to war as an enlisted man; so, he applied for Officer Candidate School and was accepted. At about the same time he was called to serve in the Bishopric of his ward, the ward in which he grew up. In a quandary about what to do since the Reserve meetings were on the same night as Bishopric meetings and he would be missing many Sunday services as well, he went to his former stake president Harold B. Lee, then an apostle and eventually president of the Church, and asked for his advice. Tom trusted that Elder Lee would help him sort out the problem.
As he put his letter of acceptance before Elder Lee and explained his situation, this wise apostle sat back in his chair and took a long look at the earnest young man before him. “Tom,” he said, “I want you to write back to the Navy and decline the invitation to attend Officer’s Candidate School. Then I want you to write to the headquarters of your Naval Reserve unit in San Francisco and ask to be released from the rest of your service obligation.”
Tom was stunned.
President Lee then looked at him with clear, penetrating eyes and said, “The military is not for you. The Lord has other plans.” (And what were those plans? To serve in the highest councils of the church and some day become the prophet. Tom didn’t know that just like we do not know what is ahead.)
President Monson remembers thinking, “If he turned down the Officer’s Candidate School he would serve as an enlisted man if the country went to war. And, if he asked to be released from the Naval Reserve they would refuse; they didn’t do that especially with a war on the horizon. That might even call him up to service for even asking.”
But Tom trusted the Lord was speaking to him through Elder Lee and he went home and wrote the two letters. He did not attend Officer Candidate Training and to his great surprise, he miraculously was released from the Naval Reserve. Just a few weeks later, the nation went to war.
President Monson speaks from experience when he says, “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.”[v]
The Lord entrusted each one of us to a family. It is curious that Tommy Monson went to a home where his parents were less active. But they were the best of people in the way they served and cared for others.
As a child, he grew up in a section of Salt Lake by the railroad tracks. Dirt alleys were his ball fields and his friends came from families desperately poor. He learned all about “love one another” in his home. On Sundays he visited a crippled uncle with his father; time and again he watched his mother feed meals to tramps that knocked at the door.
His grandfather Tom, who lived just up the street and owned a number of properties on the block, was a favorite companion of his. He was named after his grandfather. Grandpa Tom, a man of few words, was a sheepherder and delighted young Tommy with stories of living on the range, riding his horse, and caring for his sheep. Little did Tommy know that he, too, would care for sheep in his adult years. Just not on horseback.
One day Tommy and grandpa were sitting on the front porch swing. Down the road came one of their neighbors, an elderly Englishman named Bob. He walked with shoulders slumped and a sorrowful cast on his face. Tom Condie called out, “Bob, how are you today.”
Bob just shook his head.
Tom continued, “Come up and sit with us a spell.”
Bob joined Tom and Tommy on the swing and after a few minutes, Grandpa Tom said, “So Bob, how are you doing.”
Bob just shrugged at first and then said, “I’ve been thrown out of my place; they’re tearing it down and I don’t have anywhere to go. I don’t have much. I don’t have any family and I don’t know what I am going to do.”
The three kept swinging. Grandpa Tom. Tommy and Bob.
Finally Grandpa Tom reached his hand into his pocket and pulled out a little leather change purse with a snap. He opened it and reached in and pulled out a key. “See this key,” he said to Bob? It’s to that house next door. I own it. I want you to take the key and move your things in there.”
Bob protested. “I can’t afford it.”
Tom said, a bit sharply, “I didn’t ask you to pay for it. It’s yours as long as you want to live there. All I ask is that you just be my good neighbor.”
President Monson will tell you, “That lesson was not lost on me.”
It is no wonder that President Monson has taught: “The Master could be found mingling with the poor, the downtrodden, the oppressed and the afflicted. Yet, the Master brought hope to the hopeless, strength to the weak, and freedom to the captive. He taught of a better life to come—even eternal life.”[vi]
I remember asking President Packer one day how he would introduce President Monson to a group of people who did not know him. President Packer leaned back in his chair, smiled and said, “That’s easy. I would tell them President Monson is more Christ-like than the rest of us. More Christ-like than anyone I know.”
But you know, that way can be lonely.
I asked President Monson what it was like to the president since he had been a counselor for more than 20 years and had dedicated temples, called mission presidents, general authorities, all the things done in the Quorum of the First Presidency. What he said surprised me. “It’s lonely.” I wanted to say – call BYU Hawaii – tell them to send flowers! And then he said: But, you know Heidi, I am never alone; “the Lord is always on my right hand and on my left.”
Peter described the ministry of the Savior saying, “Jesus Christ went about doing good . . . for God was with him.”[vii] President Monson has trusted that example all of his life. The question is, do we?
In the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus Christ spoke openly of the incredible weight he carried – your sins and mine and everyone else’s. He asked His Father, “If it be possible let this cup pass from me.” Brothers and Sisters, that moment was hard. Harder than we can ever imagine. But he then he put his trust in his Father in Heaven’s plan with these telling words, “Nevertheless not my will but thine be done.”[viii]
We had trusted him in the pre-earth life to fulfill his part of the plan and he did. Now he trusts us to do our part. Never lose sight of that responsibility. Trust goes two ways. We trust the Lord to be there for us. The Lord trusts us to be there for him.
“Counsel with the Lord in all thy doings,” Alma instructed his son Helaman, “and he will direct thee for good; yea, when thou liest down at night lie down unto the Lord, that he may watch over you in your sleep; and when thou risest in the morning let thy heart be full of thanks unto God; and if ye do these things, ye shall be lifted up at the last day.”[ix]
President Monson trusts in the spirit of revelation and inspiration. He counts it a privilege to be “on the Lord’s errand.” For decades he has reached out to rescue the lonely, bereft, unnoticed and the unrecognized. He gave the clothes off his back and the shoes off his feet to the people behind the Iron Curtain when he visited them frequently for more than 20 years. They had nothing.
He has spent countless hours with widows and those in care centers and hospitals who were his former primary teachers and Sunday School teachers. They had taught him the gospel trusting in their call to teach not knowing they were teaching a future prophet of God. Familiar to so many of his visits to the elderly, though sometimes late in the evening, was their welcome, “I knew you’d come.” They trusted him.
He has given comfort and encouragement to those discouraged, those lacking faith in the Lord and he has put his big arms around struggling missionaries far from home. He has shared his cheerful nature with everyone in his path and to the delight of so many youth – he has wiggled his ears.
“I know that the sweetest experience in all this life,” he says, “is to feel the Lord’s promptings as He directs us in the furtherance of His work.”[x]
That kind of “faith forged in the furnace of trials and tears is marked by trust,” President Monson has said. “Only God can count the sacrifice; only God can measure the sorrow; only God can know the hearts of those who serve Him. Pause and remember that divinely given promise: ‘Wherefore, … ye are on the Lord’s errand; and whatever ye do according to the will of the Lord is the Lord’s business.’”[xi]
When President Monson was a young Bishop –only 22—he had 84 widows that he cared for and nurtured until he finally spoke at each one of their funerals. One of them was a former Primary president named Melissa. He went to see her when she was in a nursing facility. She was in the lunchroom, sitting all alone, staring at her plate of food with a blank look and touching nothing on the plate. He sat down and started to chat as he does so well. As he talked he took the fork and began to feed her speaking of their experiences in Primary where she showed such love for the boys and girls. From one of the other tables came a loud comment from one of the other residents. “Don’t talk to her,” the woman said. “She doesn’t know anyone—even her own family. I don’t think she has said a word in all the time she’s been here.”
President Monson was undaunted and continued his commentary. As he stood to leave, he took her hand, frail and aged in his, and said, “God bless you, Melissa. Merry Christmas.” And then, she looked up at him. “I know you,” she said. “You’re Tommy Monson, my Primary boy. How I love you.” She kissed his hand as tears ran down her cheeks.
When he was a mission president, age 32, in Toronto, Canada, he woke one morning and felt a strong impression to visit a small branch up north. It was a change of plans and a quite a drive so he had to hurry. He arrived just after the meeting started and went in and sat down on the backbench. The branch president said to the congregation, we have a surprise, President Monson is with us today. We are going to ask him to come sit on the stand. So he began the walk to the front.
Unknown to him was the plight of one of his missionaries assigned to the branch. He had been out only a few months and was so discouraged he had decided to go home. In his mind, he and his companion had no investigators, no one was listening to them, the members were not helping; no one cared about him or even knew he was there. He had determined it was pointless to stay. He had packed his bag, slipped it under his bed intending to leave just after church and catch the train west.
So Mission President Monson is walking up to the front and feels impressed to stop—just for a second—and pat that new elder on the back. Then he leaned over and whispered in his ear, “The Lord loves you. He loves you for how hard you are trying and so do I.” And then he went up and sat on the stand.
That young elder didn’t go home. He stayed and became a great missionary. “I knew that he loved me,” the missionary has said. “That’s what I needed.” And he points to that moment when President Monson, prompted by the spirit—as he always is—had heard the voice of the spirit say, “Stop, say something.” And he did.
President Monson has taught, “We are surrounded by those in need of our attention, our encouragement, our support, our comfort, our kindness—be they family members, friends, acquaintances or strangers. We are the Lord’s hands here upon the earth.”[xii]
How is it for all of you? Do you stride from class to class oblivious to those around you. Do you plan your day leaving no room for the Lord or his work? Do you partake of the Sacrament with the promise “to always have his spirit with you” and then set aside that sacred covenant during the week? Do you sometimes think of those words from the Primary song, “Heavenly Father, are you really there?”[xiii] and then ignore the small and tender offerings of kindness from someone at your side?
Only the Lord Jesus Christ knows the depths of our trials, our pain, and our suffering. He alone touches our tortured souls with His comforting words:
“Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
“Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.
“For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” [xx]
When we trust the Lord, we trust all his promises are true. And what has he said? “I will go before your face. I will be on your right hand and on your left. My spirit will be in your hearts and mine angels round about you to bear you up.”[xiv] That is one of President Monson’s favorite scriptures.
President Monson has taught, “The actions whereby we demonstrate that we truly do love God and our neighbor as ourselves will rarely be such as to attract the gaze and admiration of the world. Usually our love will be shown in our day-to-day associations with one another.”[xv]
I remember going into his office when I had experienced a series of very bad days following a big disappointment. I was seriously discouraged. I couldn’t shake the sadness I felt. I had done all the things I could think of. I had prayed and fasted and been to the temple. I had looked for answers in the scriptures. And still I couldn’t bounce back. Finally, I thought perhaps the President could help me.
I had watched so many people file into his office with heads down and leave with light in their eyes, renewed hope and a brighter countenance. So I sat down in his office and began to tell him my story. I was maybe two sentences into the account, hadn’t gotten to the really bad part, when he suddenly leapt to his feet, put his hand in the air like he does in Conference when he is reinforcing a point, when he wants us to pay attention, and he said, “Heidi, trust in the Lord with all thine heart, and lean not on thine own understanding. I knew the scripture. I knew it was close to his heart and that he knew it was true. Trust the Lord, he was saying.
And so he is saying to all of you. You are disappointed that you aren’t married yet; you didn’t get the job; you have too many commitments and not enough time; you bombed a test. You are carrying a weight of guilt or a hardened heart for something someone did to you. Life isn’t working out the way you planned. It isn’t working for you. President Monson would tell you, “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart, and lean not to thine own understanding.”
You are not alone in the journey. When the Lord says, “I will go before your face,” he says, I am out in front, taking the wind and the rain for you, I am picking up every bad day and every disappointment that seem too many to count. I have been there for you, he is saying, and I have already paid that price of that pain. Feel the peace that I have given you. “My peace I give unto you, not as the giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither left it be afraid.”[xvi] In other words – trust in the Savior, your Savior. It may take time; you have it. It may take a change of course at his prompting; do it. Just know that if you trust him, you are recognizing he can make more of your life than you can.
The Lord prepared Thomas S. Monson to be a prophet of God. I bear witness that he is a prophet of God. He was a printer by trade, a cowboy at heart but a disciple of Jesus Christ to the core of his being. He has said to all of us, “Your future is as bright as your faith.”[xvii] His testimony of Jesus Christ reaches deep into my heart. He has said: “All can walk where Jesus walked when, with His words on our lips, His spirit in our hearts, and His teachings in our lives, we journey through mortality.”[xviii]
I trust that promise. I trust the Lord with my life. That’s why I am on a mission. That’s why I am devoted to his work. Because trusting Jesus Christ, trusting our Father in Heaven and trusting the promptings of the Holy Ghost is what matters. It is all that matters.
I was so taken by the beautiful music that began this session. “I Know That My Redeemer Lives” is my favorite song. They didn’t know that. But I can hardly get through it. Especially when we get to that part that says “He lives, he lives who once was dead.”[xix] I know that is true and I trust that truth. I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.
[ii] Thomas S. Monson, General Conference October 6, 1963
[vi] TSM, “Yellow Canaries with Gray on Their Wings,” General Conference, April 1973
[xx] Matthew 11: 28-30