The Experience of Love

When it comes to explaining love, the traditional egoistic theories of psychology fall short. Dr. Brent Slife offers insight into the untold role of grace in relationships.

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Women and Education: “A Future Only God Could See for You”

It is wonderful to be here. This is not an opportunity I would have imagined for myself. It is truly a future only God could see for me. I am grateful for a Father in Heaven who knows me—who knows my potential and who wants me to become like Him. I can’t wait to someday see like He does—to know everything and to see the future and not just the past. But for now I will stand like a little girl on my Father’s feet, holding His hands and trusting Him as He guides me through the dance of this life. As His daughter, I hope someday to grow up to be just like Him. I am trying to become more like Him now by learning as much as I can and by working to refine the spiritual gifts He has given me. Daughters of God Revelation given in the book of Joel speaks of the role of women in the latter days when it says that, in preparation for the Second Coming of Christ, I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, . . .  . . . and upon the handmaids in those days will I pour out my spirit. [Joel 2:28–29] Your daughters shall prophesy! In these last days we are meant to seek and receive spiritual revelation by the power of the Holy Ghost. Like Rebekah, Hannah, Elisabeth, and Mary, women are meant to receive direct spiritual revelation through the gifts of the Spirit. Like Miriam (see Exodus 15:20), Deborah (see Judges 4:4), Huldah (see 2 Kings 22:14; 2 Chronicles 34:22), and Anna (see Luke 2:36), we can develop the spiritual gift of prophecy and refine our ability to communicate with our Father in Heaven in ways that affect our own spiritual development and have a positive impact on the world around us.1 These spiritual gifts bring us closer to the image of God, in which we were created. Through her choice to partake of the tree of knowledge in the Garden of Eden, Mother Eve made it possible for each of us to exercise our agency in a world filled with choices, thereby providing a way for us to spiritually develop. I do not think it was an accident that by knowledge she opened a pathway that would allow us to become more like God. I believe this sets an eternal pattern. “The glory of God is intelligence” (D&C 93:36), and we must likewise enhance our own inherent intelligence in order to become like Him and receive His ­spiritual gifts. How do we reach this divine potential? How do we strength
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Language Learning: A Truly Educational Experience

Internationally, BYU is known as “the language university.” The 2017 edition of the pamphlet Y Facts reported that approximately 65 percent of BYU students speak more than one language. Let me do a quick survey to see if those assembled here today are representative of BYU students in general. If you know more than one language, please raise your hand. [The majority of the audience raised their hand.] I hope you realize how extraordinary it is that you have been given the gift of being able to communicate in more than one language. Think about it: language is the most complex of all human behaviors, and most of you can communicate in more than one language. The Complexity of Language Since we can all read English, I would like to demonstrate the complexity of language by giving you a simple English test. How would you read “St. Paul St.” aloud? You probably said, “Saint Paul Street.” And your response to this simple task was likely not only correct but automatic. But can you explain to another person the rule for determining what the abbreviation “St.” stands for? Perhaps you would say that “St.” before a noun is an abbreviation for “saint,” and “St.” after a noun is an abbreviation for “street.” Now test your rule on the following street sign, which I saw near Disneyland in California: “St. College St.” Oops, there is no saint named College! However, there is a state college, so we will have to refine our rule for pronouncing the abbreviation “St.” Yes, even simple language is complex. Language is so complex that we are often hard pressed to explain how it operates. Yet we are generally unaware of how complex language is. In some ways language is like the air we breathe: we don’t pay attention to it—unless there is something wrong with it. Because people don’t pay attention to language unless there is something wrong with it, you should not take compliments about your language skills too seriously. The fact that someone complimented you on your language is an indication that they noticed it—and that happens when there is something wrong with it. Early in my mission in Austria, I was quite confident of my German language ability. In fact, several members had told me how well I spoke German. Then one Sunday after I said a prayer in sacrament meeting, I overheard some members commenting on my language skills. One sister offered the critique, “War das nicht lieb? Genau wie ein kleines Kind!” Which means, “Wasn’t that sweet? Just like a little child!” The sister who made the comment was too kind to ever provide that honest feedback to me personally, so I was grateful that I had overheard the comment she had made to others. Her candid assessment let me know that I needed to improve my language skills. Another mission experience taught me how complicated it is to translat
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On Change and Becoming: Thoughts from a Reluctant Grower

At some point after my first couple of years at BYU, a brother in my ward, who was retired from the BYU religion faculty, said, “Hey, you could speak at a devotional!” I don’t know why he thought I might be qualified for that, but I shrugged it off, thinking that if I sang often enough, I would surely be exempt from speaking. Just recently I had the thought that since I have been at BYU for ten years, I might need to lay low to dodge the devotional bullet. However, six weeks ago I received an email from Vice President Matt Richardson asking if I would be willing to speak at this devotional. I reluctantly replied that I would accept the challenge, though I am not sure that “happily” would describe my attitude. As I prayed for guidance on a topic, this thought came to me: “I am a reluctant grower.” I had never used that term before, though it seemed to suit me well, so I can only guess that the Spirit had coined that phrase just for me. Needing clarification on that phrase, I went to Google for a precise definition of reluctant. It said that reluctant is an adjective that means “unwilling and hesitant; disinclined.” Its synonyms include being “loath to, unwilling to, disinclined to, indisposed to; not in favor of, against, opposed to.” It’s antonyms include being “willing” and “eager.” The word reluctant originated in the mid-seventeenth century from the Latin word reluctant, which means “struggling against,” and from the verb reluctari: the prefix re- means “expressing intensive force” and the suffix luctari means “to struggle.” As a side note, the word ­reluctant is worth eleven points in Scrabble. Am I, as this definition says, unwilling, hesitant, and even disinclined to grow? I will refer to myself, since I am confessing that I am a reluctant grower, but feel free to insert your name where applicable. Am I Reluctant? What is it that sometimes makes me hesitant to face a growing opportunity? I am not against hard work. I bore both of my children while pursuing a doctorate, working two jobs, singing operas on the main stage at Indiana University (one of the top music schools in the country), and maintaining a 3.9 GPA. No, I am not opposed to hard work. Is it that I am not wanting to participate in activities? I am more than willing to fulfill my callings, go visiting teaching, take a dinner—that likely my good husband expertly cooked—to another family, or participate in my ward’s day of service. No, I am willing to do things that are asked of me. Am I afraid of the process of growing? Many times while sitting in Relief Society I will hear a sister say, “I prayed for patience” or “I prayed for charity.” I think, “Are you crazy?! Do you not know what challenges come when you pray for Christlike attributes?” They then proceed to tell of the tr
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B-Y-You Matter to Him

Six years ago President Dieter F. Uchtdorf gave a profound conference talk entitled “You Matter to Him.”1 In his talk he explained that God is the Creator of all things and yet is concerned about each one of us individually. Today I would like to build upon President Uchtdorf’s topic and title my remarks “BYU Matters to Him.” However, I would like to redefine the acronym for Brigham Young University as B-Y-You, as in you (y-o-u). Thus the title of my address is “B-Y-You Matter to Him.” This past semester one of my students submitted the following account. With her permission, I share her tender feelings about when she first arrived at BYU: Leaving everything you have known for the entirety of your life to attend a university that is 547 miles away is difficult. You can no longer lean on the support of your family and friends; you can no longer enjoy the safety and security of your home; you can no longer simply follow your parents. Your life is in your own hands, and it is terrifying. I distinctly remember the hurricane of emotions I experienced as I bid farewell to my dad as he drove away, leaving me standing outside my dorm with five people I had never met. I had to make my own food, and I felt sorely unprepared. Actually, I felt more than unprepared—I felt absolutely and entirely lost. My student then went on to describe her feelings that day as those of “ultimate vulnerability.”2 As I pondered my student’s feelings of vulnerability and isolation, I felt a personal surge of déjà vu from when I first arrived at BYU some forty-seven years ago. My student’s account stirred within me some tender and painful emotions from decades past. I suspect that many of you here today can also recall the daunting memories of when you first arrived on this campus. As I address you today, perhaps some of you find yourself in the throes of similar feelings of trepidation or of being lost. The Greatness of BYU I do not mean to minimize these feelings of loneliness or intimidation, but they present a marked contrast to the feelings we first had when we were accepted to BYU. Consider the following glossy accolades and advantages of attending Brigham Young University. BYU consistently ranks in the top 25 percent of national universities.3 BYU is in the top five of the best value universities4 and costs around $30,000 less per year than other private schools.5 Consequently, BYU students graduate with substantially less debt.6 BYU is the number-one stone-cold sober university,7 and students will never have to tolerate drunk classmates or professors. Also, BYU has launched more of its ­students into PhD programs than Harvard, Yale, or Stanford.8 Upon arrival, every student here has a church unit waiting to receive and support them. Additionally, more than 60 percent of the students
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The Experience of Love and the Limitations of Psychological Explanation

It may not surprise you, but I want to declare at the outset that I have been multiply blessed. I want to initially mention an important blessing—this university—and then I would like to dwell on a forty-one-year blessing—my marriage. Those who have received this award in past years have stood here to express their gratitude to BYU, but I feel especially blessed in receiving this award as a non-Mormon. This university has insisted on valuing me regardless of my religious minority status. I am a religious “other,” yet this university has not only accepted me as a colleague and a friend but also persisted in recognizing me and celebrating my work. I think this is a sort of minor miracle. As you will see in the case of my wife, I honestly believe that when we truly value and even love those who are “other” in some way, God is there.1 I also want to acknowledge how important this university has been to my academic work. I have long desired to actively interface the sacred and the secular—the sacredness of my faith and the secularity of my discipline of psychology—but there are few places that permit this work. BYU, however, has not only welcomed this type of scholarship but also encouraged and facilitated it. For this reason, I have never had to compartmentalize my Christianity away from my discipline; I have been able to integrate the two—which has been an incredible blessing to me! As I mentioned, however, the blessing I want to dwell on today is the love I feel for my wife. But discussing such a personal experience may seem a bit strange for a psychologist. Psychologists are supposed to deal with objective data.2 Unfortunately, love isn’t objective, so psychology’s knowledge of love has been meager over the years. Consider renowned love researcher Harry Harlow and his lament in his presidential address to the American Psychological Association: So far as love or affection is concerned, psychologists have failed in this mission. The little we know about love does not transcend simple observation, and the little we write about it has been written better by poets and novelists.3 This conclusion was stated many years ago, but it is not unusual for even modern investigators of love to echo Harlow’s lament. Zick Rubin, for example, believes that some progress has been made, but he comments that love has “seemed safely beyond the research scientist’s ever-­extending grasp.”4 I won’t get into psychological methods here. Suffice it to say that a relatively new brand of psychological method—qualitative ­investigation—was specifically set up to study subjective experiences. And qualitative investigators are not afraid of even just one person’s experiences, especially when those personal experiences teach us something about the phenomenon of interest. As a marital therapist of thirty-five years, I have long realized
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“Lay Hold upon the Word”: The Power of Wholehearted Living

When I was fifteen years old, I worked on a sod farm located close to where the Payson Utah Temple now stands. To cut the sod, we used a harvester that weighed about fourteen tons. One day I was assigned to work with my high school classmate on the back of the harvester. We were moving the harvester from one end of the field to another. I was walking alongside the slow-moving harvester, and I attempted to jump up onto the platform to sit next to my friend. I misjudged my jump and landed only partway on the platform. I lost my balance and fell in front of the double set of dual wheels underneath the platform. I immediately tried to scurry out of the path of the wheels, but the big, knobby tires caught my high-top sneakers, and the wheels started to roll up my leg, throwing me to the ground. I quickly realized I was in quite a predicament. I was now lying feet first directly in the path of the wheels that were going to roll over the entire length of my body, starting with my feet and ending with my head. I felt my right leg break under the immense weight. The wheels continued to roll, crushing my pelvis. I have never felt anything so excruciatingly painful in my life. My back and ribs were the next to break in multiple places as the wheels climbed up my stomach and chest. Then the machine mercilessly twisted me onto my back, with the knobby treads passing over my shoulder and the side of my face and neck, miraculously missing most of my head. By the time the fourteen tons finished their devastating work, I had lost consciousness. The first thing I remember when I opened my eyes was the inconceivable pain. I couldn’t breathe. It felt like I was underwater. I was trying to breathe, but things weren’t working the way they were supposed to work. I couldn’t speak. I couldn’t cry out, even though I frantically wanted to cry for help. Everything hurt. I quickly grasped the fact that I was about to die. Honestly, the pain was so extreme that I wanted to die. I just wanted it to stop. I later learned that I had suffered a traumatic pneumothorax, or, in simple terms, my lungs had collapsed. If there is a puncture in your lung due to trauma, the air escapes from the lung to the area outside of your lungs inside the chest ­cavity. As a result, your lungs push together like a wet paper sack. The air inside your chest cavity is unable to escape, and the pressure keeps the lungs from expanding. This can lead to cardiac arrest or respiratory failure. Everything in my body was screaming for oxygen. In my desperation to breathe, I had to expand my chest cavity to gather air. The pain of my broken ribs and back from even the slightest movement was more than I could possibly endure. In a matter of minutes the farm manager, Stan, arrived out of breath. He could sense I was deep in shock and on the verge of death. He asked if I could move my legs. I couldn’t respond. He knelt on the ground, took my head
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Let’s Not Leave Jonny Behind

Good afternoon, honored trustees, distinguished guests, family, friends, and, most important, my fellow BYU graduating class of 2017! It is truly an honor to share this day with you all. Attending BYU has been a privilege and has taught us many practical lessons that will guide us in the coming years. One such lesson is to never give up, which we learned from our daily ascent up the Richards Building stairs or perhaps from watching the City of Provo as it meticulously paves—and repaves—every street in town. Another lesson we have learned is to obey with exactness, which the BYU parking police have so gently taught us over the years. Finally, taking classes in the winding Jesse Knight Building has prepared us to navigate our way through the ambiguous, multi­dimensional parts of our lives. Above all, our time at BYU has taught us to lift and serve others. I witnessed one such act of service this past September when I flew to Cozumel, Mexico, as a member of Team USA to compete in the ITU Triathlon Age-Group World Championships. While I was there, all three medalists from the 2016 Rio Olympic Games competed for the $30,000 grand prize in the men’s elite category. Two of the triathletes, Alistair and Jonathan Brownlee, were brothers from Great Britain who had won the gold and silver medals in the triathlon at the 2016 Olympics. In Cozumel, when the competitors neared the end of the grueling, nearly two-hour race, Jonathan Brownlee held a comfortable lead with his brother, Alistair, trailing him and Henri Schoeman from South Africa close behind. Video footage of the race shows that with 500 meters to go until the finish line, just as the crowd erupted in applause as Jonathan rounded the final corner, the heat began to take its toll upon Jonathan’s body. All of a sudden Jonathan’s pace slowed to a stumble, and he collapsed onto a volunteer standing by the sidelines. There was an audible gasp among the spectators.1 When Alistair rounded the final corner, he saw his dangerously dehydrated younger brother unable to finish the race. Without hesitation Alistair ran toward Jonny, threw his dazed brother’s arm around his neck, and half-carried him as they ran the last 500 meters side by side. Alistair’s deviation cost him a chance at first place, allowing Schoeman to overtake the two and be first to break the tape. As the brothers approached the finish line, Alistair pushed Jonny across ahead of him, earning them third and second places, respectively. Alistair was half a kilometer from winning gold as a world champion. Yet rather than race to the end to claim victory for himself, he slowed, picked up his brother, and enabled Jonny to do something he could not do for himself: finish the race. Reporters swarmed Alistair, incredulous at his noble sacrifice. To their queries he simply replied, “Mum wouldn’t have been happy if I’d left Jonny behind.”2 Just as Al
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Words to Live By

It is customary for speakers at a graduation ceremony to give advice to the new graduates, to share with them words of wisdom to inspire them in their next stage of life. Perhaps because such sage advice is in somewhat limited supply, much of what is said at these events has been said before and will likely be said again. With that in mind, let me give you graduates a two-part charge that I doubt you have heard in any graduation ceremony you have attended. First Charge: Be Awful The first part is a simple two-word admonition: “Be awful.” Yes, you heard right. My advice to you is be awful. You can see why I was so confident that you would not have heard this message at any prior graduations that you have attended.1 Before you dismiss my advice as a completely inappropriate effort to be unique rather than helpful, let me explain what I mean by that charge. Linguists know well that the meaning of words can change dramatically over time. One form of change is what is called pejoration. “Pejoration is the process by which a word [with a positive or neutral meaning] acquires negative connotations”2 over time. One classic example of pejoration is shown by the history of the word silly. In the ­thirteenth century the word silly meant ­“worthy, good,” and “pious, holy.”3 Over the ensuing centuries, however, the meaning changed first to “innocent” or “harmless,” then to “deserving of pity or sympathy,” to “weak/feeble,” then to “ignorant.” By the ­sixteenth century it had descended to “foolish,” its ­current meaning.4 The same thing has happened to the word awful. It too has pejorated. Centuries ago the word awful had a very positive connotation. Its original meaning was “awe-inspiring,” “worthy of . . . respect,” and “profoundly respectful or reverential.”5 But as one author explained, “Since what inspires awe isn’t always so pleasant, [over the centuries, awful] came to mean something negative.”6 The word had pejorated, linguists would say. And so today awful has come to mean “terrible, dreadful, appalling”; something not just bad but “exceedingly bad.”7 Hardly the kind of thing you would expect a graduation speaker to advise you to be. My admonition is that you be awful in its original, unpejorated sense—that you always be aware of things that are awe-inspiring. I am urging you to be full of awe, if you will. “Psychologists have described awe as the experience of encountering something so vast—in size, skill, beauty, intensity, etc.—that we struggle to comprehend it.”8 It is the kind of thing that Moses experienced when God showed him the purpose, creation, and history of this earth. Struggling to comprehend the grandeur of all he had seen, Moses “greatly marvel
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The Sharing of Common Values

Your excellencies, presidents and vice presidents, and graduates and your families, I stand humble to become one of the newest alumni of one of the most prestigious universities in the globe. I follow in the eminent steps of President Dieter F. Uchtdorf and Dick Cheney and other eminent people. Our university—and I can call it that now—is widely known and internationally renowned for the breadth and depth of its study. It is globally respected, for it produces graduates, such as yourselves, who are tolerant yet critical in thinking, who respect and honor the other while respecting and honoring themselves. My own experience with this wonderful establishment stretches over five years now, and my pride at being accepted into its honored halls is probably even higher than yours. How did I come to be one of your companions? Well, we share common values, you and I; we strive for common goals. But like all good things, my relationship with you started with one person, with making an acquaintance that just grew and grew. Jim Olson was that man. We met in the Department of Defense when I was presenting the work of the AMAR Foundation in Baghdad to a Pentagon conference on civilian health in conflict. We found that between us we had a common interest in the public good, a shared concern—a lifelong concern—for the outsider, for the other one in need of friendship, fellowship, and support. In other words, we found our common values; our common goals were shared. On Jim’s introduction I caught a flight from Washington to Salt Lake City, and all sorts of fascinating personalities emerged. And, vastly important for someone with my interests, I found that my new friend’s work was similar but most probably considerably better than my own and that it was carried out for just the same purposes: conquering poverty, building local skills, giving people pride in their own work, bringing international standards of performance, delivering service with their own hands to the world’s poorest and most desolate people, and implementing all aspects of the United Nations Convention for Human Rights—freedom, democracy, and the rule of law, including the all-important freedom to worship. So we made friends. Sharon Eubank and her amazing colleagues led me to form a deep and powerful partnership between LDS Charities and the AMAR Society, which I chair. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland—the high academic, theologian, and man of compassion—brought me early to Brigham Young University and introduced me to your great thinker and powerful teacher President Worthen himself. I found BYU and our discussions here with both Elder Holland and President Worthen so fascinating and so important that I set up following meetings in my place of work: Britain’s upper chamber, the House of Lords. And in that ancient, royal palace—large parts of which date back to the eleventh century—Elder Holland became the first BYU eminence to address a fo
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Part of Something Greater

What a beautiful sight! It is my privilege to stand before an audience as full of promise and potential as this one. As president of the BYU Alumni Association, it is my privilege to hereby confer on each of you graduates lifetime membership in the Brigham Young University Alumni Association. I offer you congratulations and welcome you into this great association of more than 415,000 alumni. Our alumni association had an ad campaign prompting us to remember our time at BYU with the tagline “Remember when; remember why.” We all have a BYU story. Recently I asked some of you graduates why you chose to come here. One of you said: Both of my parents went to BYU. Hearing their stories and seeing the relationships they built here made me want to have that experience for myself. Another graduate answered: I chose BYU because of the concentration of goodness I found when I first visited the campus. I can relate to these reasons. I fell in love with BYU at a young age, when my family lived in Heritage Halls for a couple of summers while my dad worked on his doctorate. But some of you might have had very different reasons for attending BYU. My husband came here on an athletic scholarship. He knew very little about Mormons then. Imagine his surprise on the first fast Sunday when the Cannon Center did not open for breakfast. Regardless of why we chose to attend this university, we all now have in common a BYU experience. Some of the fond memories that you graduates have shared with me include this one: Professors knew my name, wanted to hear about my life, and cared about me as a person. Another graduate shared the following: One of my professors asked our class to tour the Education in Zion exhibit. During my visit, I realized that I was part of something greater than just earning my bachelor’s degree. I realized the sacrifice that was required to build such an elite institution, and I realized that I had a part to play in continuing the tradition of educating Zion, wherever I went forth to serve. Finally, here is something recalled by another alum: We would meet for church every Sunday in the Clyde Building foyer. I will never forget ­watching from the long windows as the snow fell when I received the prompting that I should serve a mission. Our BYU stories have played a major role in shaping us. We all leave this place with memories and experiences that have shaped our future for good and serve as a springboard for the next phase of life. The BYU Alumni Association is really all about this next phase. Our purpose is to help you stay connected to BYU. One way alumni help that happen is by mentoring and supporting current students. Carrie O’Dell is a recent graduate of BYU. Like you, she worked hard and sacrificed to make the most of her BYU education. Because of a family hardship, she needed a
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A Few Secrets of Life

Elder Holland, President Worthen, honored guests, graduates, friends, and families, you are a beautiful sight. There is a buzz in the air of hard work and accomplishment. I like how I feel when I am with you. What a wonderful day it is for parents who have helped and supported both financially and emotionally to get you graduates to this point. You have made friends, have struggled to meet deadlines, have learned to exist on next to nothing, have had fun, have had trials, and have survived it all. I feel privileged to spend time with you today. I learned a long time ago to always listen to old men who, like me, are nearing the end of their lives. They always talk about what matters, not about what seems to matter. Now this is not an announcement, but I am certainly closer to that event than you graduates are. So for my theme today I want to use the following statement: On the day you were born, you cried and your ­family and friends rejoiced. Live your life so that when you die, others cry and you rejoice.1 What do I mean by that? When you are looking back on your life, you will want to have the feeling that you used your time in mortality well, that you learned and grew a lot, that you chose wisely, and that you became all that you needed to become. Often when people have lived a life that has earned the respect and love of those around them, there is sadness when they are gone. Those who are left behind no longer have their presence and wisdom that they have come to rely on—and that can be a reason to cry. Choose to live so that when it comes time to graduate from this life, you leave behind a legacy—one such that others will cry and you will rejoice. In some ways this statement is the practical essence of God’s plan of happiness and eternal progression for us. We have a certain amount of time in mortality, and in that time we make choices that help us grow and stretch—choices that help us become. I really like something the cartoonist Bil Keane used in one of his comic strips: Yesterday’s the past, tomorrow’s the future, but today is a gift. That’s why it’s called the present.2 With this gift of time, you won’t always be able to choose what happens to you, but you can always choose how you handle what ­happens to you. Develop your legacy intentionally. Deter­mine right now how you will measure your life when it is over, and then choose accordingly. Today I have three secrets of life to share with you. First Secret God has given us two things in life: time and the opportunity to choose what you do with it. This is your turn on earth. In eternal time, it is like a minute. There are only sixty seconds in it. We can’t refuse it. But it is up to us to use it. We must suffer if we lose it. We must give an account if we abuse it. It is just a
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Testimony and Other “Wicked” Problems

In recent years there have been glowing, breathless reports appearing in the media that speak of a new approach to problem solving. This method promises a competitive edge for businesses, organizations, and governments alike. Innovation consultants use the approach to tease out new ideas, collecting hefty fees in the process. Time magazine, Harvard Business Review, and a new binge-worthy Netflix series all extol its virtues.1 In the corporate boardroom, the CDO, or the chief design officer, has joined the ranks of the CEO and the CFO. Design-driven companies like Apple, Nike, and Target consistently outperform their competitors.2 It seems that “design thinking,” as it is known, is all the rage. Corporate profits alone, however, cannot explain all the new interest in design thinking. In 1973 a German design theorist introduced the concept of a “wicked problem.”3 Contrary to what you might expect by the name, a wicked problem does not refer to something evil or sinister but instead describes something so tricky and complicated that it seems to defy solution. With a wicked problem, the situation is dynamic and often involves multiple variables. Both the exact nature of the problem and the solutions remain unknown when the project begins. Examples of wicked problems might include climate change, poverty, the Syrian civil war, or American healthcare, to name a few. For these problems there are no easy answers, no silver bullets. When other approaches fail, design thinking offers a fairly reliable process for solving wicked problems. It values empathy, understanding, and usability, all part of the human experience. Instead of counting widgets or poring over sales charts, design thinking takes a more anthropological approach, uncovering the human motivations behind complex problems. As I thought about the message I could share with you today, I was reminded that many design principles offer insight into solving some of life’s great challenges. I believe that by applying these principles to your own wicked problems, your chance of solving them may improve. While this morning I have chosen to apply these principles to building a testimony, the methods are transferable to any problem you face in your life that you deem wicked. Before we review these principles, take a moment to think. What is your wicked problem? Maybe it is making your next tuition payment, choosing a new roommate, finding a summer internship, or even getting a date for Saturday night. Perhaps, though, your wicked problem is more complex—maybe it is a bit trickier. You struggle with certain Church doctrines, you doubt your testimony, or you wonder whether you will stay active in the Church after you graduate. My maternal grandparents, Bill and Aleda Shuldberg, faced problems very similar to these. They were about the same age as many of you when they were courting in 1928.
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Waiting upon the Lord: The Antidote to Uncertainty

I am very grateful for the opportunity I have to speak with you today. I would like to begin with a scripture in Ecclesiastes 9:11: The race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all. [emphasis added] I ponder this scripture each time I have a conversation with someone who didn’t get into the graduate program they applied to, doesn’t know what job to take, came home from their mission early, or has had other unexpected experiences. As I listen to their stories, my mind returns to that scripture and the reality that “time and chance happeneth to [us] all.” Today I would like to explore this scripture with you, but I suggest that another way of talking about time and chance is to use the word uncertainty. Uncertainty as a Core Human Experience Though the sources of your uncertainty will likely differ from mine, I believe this scripture in Ecclesiastes speaks the truth. No one will be immune from uncertainty or from the struggle, questioning, heartache, and pain that may ­accompany it. Uncertainty has many faces. It includes questions, doubts, ambiguity, and the discovery that persons (or things) are not quite what we expected. In essence, uncertainty is a reflection of the gap between our desire for the ideal and our experience of reality. The ideal represents how we think things ought to or should be; reality is how things actually are. Though we live our lives in the real world, our dreams and goals are often reflected in ideals. When we experience “a gap between the ideal and the real,”1 we experience uncertainty. In some of my research I have studied this gap for women transitioning to parenthood. My colleagues and I have focused our attention on what new mothers thought their ideal work situations would be versus what their real work situations were. We defined work situations broadly, including opportunities to stay home, to combine work and family, or to combine school and family. The majority of the mothers in our sample (more than 70 percent) experienced a gap between what they believed to be ideal and what their actual work and family situation was.2 I tell you this to exemplify the claim in Ecclesiastes that “chance happeneth to them all.” Uncertainty Challenges Us My colleagues and I also discovered that the greater the gap, the higher the likelihood that a mother would experience depression. I think this finding reflects something else about uncertainty: gaps between our ideals and our real circumstances challenge us. When reality hits or when things don’t go as planned, we may struggle. About two and a half years ago, after many years of hoping another child would come to our family, my husband and I discovered we were pre
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Real Causes and Real Effects

I am grateful and humbled to be with you today. As I was preparing for my talk, I was reminded of a story I once heard in a stake conference session a number of years ago. The story begins with a rancher performing chores out on his ranch one morning when he sees a shiny pickup truck drive onto his ranch and park. Out of the truck steps a man in uniform who walks up to the rancher and states, “I’m here to inspect your ranch for any illegally grown drugs.” The rancher responds, “Fine, but do not go in that field over there,” and points to a beautiful field to the east. The officer replies, “Mister, I don’t think you understand me. I am here to inspect your ranch, and I have the authority of the federal government behind me.” Reaching into his pocket he pulls out some form of a badge and proudly displays the badge to the rancher. “See this badge, old man? This badge means I am allowed to go on any land,” he says, pointing all across the farmer’s ranch. “Have I made myself clear?” The rancher apologizes, nods, and goes about his chores. A short while later the old rancher hears someone screaming, looks up, and sees the officer running while being chased by a large bull in the field that the rancher had told the officer not to enter. With every step the officer takes, the bull takes two. With the distance shrinking between the charging bull and the frantic officer, the rancher steps up onto the fence enclosing the field and yells, “Your badge—show him your badge!” On college campuses everywhere, including this one, we do a fair amount of badge showing—and for good reason. Our faculty have gone to top graduate schools and have trained with many of the best scholars, which, among other benefits, has helped prepare them to stand at the front of their classrooms and speak with expertise and authority. Unfortunately I have no badge to pull from my pocket demonstrating my credentials to speak today. I am grateful for the vote of confidence from President Worthen and Vice President Richardson in extending this invitation. I am also grateful to each of you for coming to today’s devotional. It is not lost on me that you have the choice to attend or not. To this end, I hope and pray for the presence of the Spirit and that we may be edified as a result. I am grateful for my wife, Marcie, and for my children, all of whom are here except for our oldest daughter, Sarah, who is serving a mission in South Carolina and happens to return from her mission next week; we are excited at our house. I am grateful for my mother, other family members, and dear friends and colleagues who are here today as well. Rafting Gone Awry I had the good fortune of growing up in the state of Alaska. It was a fantastic place to be raised. As an example of this, each year our Boy Scout troop would plan and carry out amazing high-adventure camps. We would go backpacking,
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The Rock of Our Redeemer

During our mission in Canada, my wife and I gave a “last instruction” to departing missionaries the day before they went home. Each of these young elders and sisters were heroes to us, and we wanted their transition home to be very, very successful. Our instruction was given with love and good fun. I particularly enjoyed instructing on dating and marriage. One afternoon as I stood at the blackboard during a last instruction, the Spirit pressed Helaman 5:12 deeply into my mind. This scripture came from what could have been the Book of Mormon prophet Helaman’s “last instruction” to his sons prior to their departure for their magnificent mission to the Nephites and the Lamanites. We all quoted the scripture together: 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. What a magnificent verse of scripture. Think of it: Helaman promised us that if we build our foundation upon our Savior, we cannot fall, regardless of what Satan throws at us. What a powerful promise! Our Savior gave the same promise in the Sermon on the Mount: Whoso heareth these sayings of mine and doeth them, I will liken . . . unto a wise man, who built his house upon a rock— And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not, for it was founded upon a rock.1 I bet a lot of you Primary graduates are thinking of a song. Would you sing it with me—just the first two verses, with hand motions? The wise man built his house upon the rock, The wise man built his house upon the rock, The wise man built his house upon the rock, And the rains came tumbling down. The rains came down, and the floods came up, The rains came down, and the floods came up, The rains came down, and the floods came up, And the house on the rock stood still.2 Thank you! Doesn’t this simple song teach a powerful lesson? Luke put it slightly differently: Whosoever cometh to me, and heareth my sayings, and doeth them . . . . . . is like a man which built an house, and digged deep, and laid the foundation on a rock: and when the flood arose, the stream beat vehemently upon that house, and could not shake it: for it was founded upon a rock.3 When a person comes to Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ and he
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On Failing and Finishing

Play Through Your Mistakes Music has always been a very important part of my life. Nearly every major memory of my childhood involves music of some kind: singing with my family on road trips to pass the time; learning barbershop music with my mom and sisters; listening to the Tijuana Brass band on the record player while decorating our Christmas tree; singing my father’s favorite song, “Love at Home” (see Hymns, 2002, no. 294), for family home evening; and admiring my mother as she played the organ in our sacrament meeting every week—something she still does at the young age of eighty. Given that music played such a prominent role in my youth, it will not surprise you to know that I took piano lessons for ten years, from the age of eight to seventeen. My first piano teacher—we will call her Mrs. Smith—was very strict and had high expectations for mastery. During my lesson she would often follow the music with a pencil as I played. Sometimes, after I hit a sour note or used the wrong fingering, Mrs. Smith would flick my fingers with that pencil. She intended to help me recognize the mistake so that I could correct it. Unfortunately, after several experiences with the dreaded pencil, I learned that the least painful way to handle my musical mistakes was to remove my hands from the keys as quickly as possible. This habit of abruptly stopping after a mistake was also unintentionally reinforced when I would practice at home. Our piano was positioned on a wall that was opposite our kitchen; in fact, it was back-to-back with our stove. I would often practice while my mother was making dinner on the other side of the wall. When I would make a mistake, she would make a staccato “ah” sound. Startled, my hands would fly from the keys. I know this was not the intended outcome because I heard her do the same thing when she made her own mistakes at the organ or piano. She still does this today, but only in practice. When she is at the organ or piano for performance, there are few errors, but when they occur, they are hardly noticeable. She can play right on through a mistake like nothing happened. I, on the other hand, cannot. Most of my piano recitals with Mrs. Smith took place in the chapel of my home ward building. These were reverent occasions—no clapping after the end of each performance, just polite smiles from the audience as we each took our turn at the grand piano. We were not allowed to use our music, so for me, the walk up those three velvety red steps to the piano felt like walking into a battle unarmed. I was terrified that I would make a mistake, take my hands from the keys, and be unable to find the right placement again. This terror of performing would follow me into adulthood. When I was still in the early years of my public accounting career and had two small children at home, I was called as the Relief Society pianist. The first week was a disaster. I lur
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