Sixteen Stones

Sister LaNae H. Poulter

 University Scheduling Manager
19 Jan 2021 - Devotional at Brigham Young University - Idaho

 

Thank you for the prayer, scripture, music, and personal introduction. I sense and appreciate your support. I am significantly humbled by the opportunity of presenting a devotional message to a broad, diverse audience. I pray the spirit of discernment will be with each to hear the message meant for you alone.

Last week in his devotional message, President Henry J. Eyring encouraged each of us to maintain pandemic precautions, including being responsible to do the simple things within our personal control. [1] His counsel is wise and has you and your success at heart.

In March of 2020 as the campus was first adjusting to the pandemic, the Scheduling Office I manage became tasked with trying to determine which of some 200,000 bookings of space on campus annually should be kept, modified or cancelled. This is critical information for those who attend and for those who provide support services in determining their own workflows. My mind became unsettled, and I sought for a place of quiet refuge. Knowing the Spori Art Gallery was hosting a collection entitled “Sacred Events of the Book of Mormon by Jorge Cocco,” [2] I decided to visit the gallery. I donned my mask. It was easy to stay social-distanced as there were but few other attendees. The artist’s works were amazing, but I became captivated by one specific image depicting the brother of Jared and sixteen stones. Maybe it was my own weariness, but I seemed to sense the fatigue of the brother of Jared. I felt the weight of his past experiences, his present dilemma, and his despairing future challenges. He and his family had already painstakingly built eight barges. Realizing a present problem, he inquired of the Lord how to light them as he thought of their forthcoming and daunting sea voyage, only to be asked a question in return, “What will ye that I should do . . . ?” [3] In this refining moment, the brother of Jared must have prayerfully pondered possibilities as he climbed the mountain, found the perfect rock formation, built billows, and got fire hot enough to melt rock into glass-like crystals. [4] In the image, you can almost feel him pleading as he lays his tools aside then, paraphrasing, says, “Lord, I have done all that I can. I am tired and weak. I know your power is great. Now will you touch each of the stones and make them glow?” [5]

In the brother of Jared ’s moment of great trial, after doing all that he could, “the Lord stretched forth his hand and touched the stones one by one with his finger. And the veil was taken from off the eyes of the brother of Jared, and he saw the finger of the Lord.” [6]

I find it significant that the Lord touched each stone, one by one. I wonder at what point the veil was removed. The first? The seventh? The sixteenth? Did anticipation and gratitude build with the illumination of each stone? In verse 9 we learn about the brother of Jared ’s preparation. It was “because of thy faith thou hast seen . . . never has man come before me with such exceeding faith as thou hast.” [7]

How is your faith? Perhaps enrolling at BYU-Idaho during a global pandemic feels a bit like embarking in a barge on unchartered, wind-tossed seas. Perhaps you sense problems and discouragements—things aren’t going to be the same or something is missing—similar to the brother of Jared ’s plight of no light within the barges. What is it you would have the Lord do for you? Can you sense opportunity? Are you willing to responsibly create a plan, put it into action, and present to the Lord your “sixteen stones,” confident you have done your best? Do you have faith to see the Lord’s hand reaching forth to bring you light one stone at a time?

As I now share with you experiences gleaned from my decades at BYU-Idaho, please reflect how they might equate to your own past, present, and future. See if you can identify 16 attributes of light.

Stones of Light from the Past

First, stones of light from the past. Though unique, this is not the first season of turmoil to reach its tentacles across the globe and to our very campus. The following story is shared with permission. In the year 2001, the same year Ricks College became BYU-Idaho, terrorist attacks were made in New York City at the World Trade Center and in Washington, D.C., at the Pentagon. 9/11 was a staggering day. Those in the administration building watched events unfold as we gathered around the television in the Public Relations Office. The destruction and devastation seemed surreal and yet distant from our safe Idaho locale—that is, until the next morning. As I got to work, I was greeted by a worried co-worker, “Have you heard from the Howells? They can’t find Brady.” Ken Howell was our former director of public relations. He had retired and was just returning from serving a mission with his wife, Jeanette. Their son Brady was an intern and civil officer for the Chief of Naval Operations in Washington, D.C., assigned to work in the Pentagon. [8]

Soon others became aware of the situation and reached out to me as well. People on campus recognized as Ken’s assistant for some ten years, I had developed a sense of family with all of the Howells. I had even helped Brady with a mail merge for his and Liz’s wedding invitations. As he hand-fed envelopes into the printer, we talked about his ambitions, his love for Liz, their upcoming temple wedding, and the great future they would have together.

Assigned by then-President David A. Bednar and in behalf of the university, I was able to make contact with Ken; and he confirmed Brady was listed as “unaccounted for.” All flights were grounded, and they were not sure how to get to D.C. to be with Liz. Ken asked if I would field all calls and be their family spokesman so they could focus on their immediate situation.

How could I have known the emergency public information course Ken had encouraged me to take some three years prior would now play such a significant role? I hope you are considering how each element of education and training you are accumulating along with the rapport you are building with others may contribute to unfolding events in your future.

I felt the Lord’s strengthening hand through the next week as I fielded calls and made lists to report to the Howells of the growing concern expressed from friends and neighbors, the media, government officials, and Church leaders both locally and from headquarters in Salt Lake City. The uncertainty lingered on. Nearly a week later, it seemed a tender mercy when the first Pentagon victim identified was Brady, a verification made possible by his temple recommend.

Blessed power, peace, and comfort can come even in times of great turmoil. I personally witnessed a grieving family at a time of national upheaval and fears; and yet their response was calm, controlled, and with a gospel-centered perspective. As Brady’s plight became evident, one of his brothers who knew his eternally positive personality best commented something like this: “You know there are about 3,000 people whose lives were changed in an instant and who are probably pretty confused by it all. I can just see Brady enthusiastically waving them forward toward the pearly gates saying, ‘Come on, I’ll show you the way!’” What a reassuring outlook of eternal life with ongoing purpose!

A year later, Ken wrote, “I’ve learned I can’t do all things alone. I have to get together with those around me, those with whom I share love and confidence, and sometimes those I haven’t known before and say, ‘Together we can do this,’ and we do. . . . I have learned that people without belief are often people without hope. God, family, and a caring community is the balm that heals our wounds.” [9]

To me, the life-long pattern of family prayer, family council, faith, and covenant keeping exemplified by the Howell family are symbolic of “sixteen stones” gathered in their past that gave light to their darkest hour.

But let’s add a bit more BYU-Idaho light to the story. A few years later, naval personnel came to present a university forum and in part to find another intern with similarity to Brady’s high moral character, abilities, and charisma. Jeff Staker was selected. Jeff has given me permission to share some of his experience. During this time of high global security, not only did he work in Washington, D.C., but Jeff accompanied Tom Bortmes and his assistant on a trip to Europe where they participated in a gathering of international intelligence agencies. [10] Jeff provided some of the factors in his being selected. Please note how each of these past opportunities became part of his personal “sixteen stones”; some may even be familiar to you. Jeff knew how to give a presentation (he had been doing them since he was a three-year-old Sunbeam). He had a suit (he wore it every Sunday). He had a passport (he was a returned missionary).

After fulfilling his internship, Jeff came back to BYU-Idaho to complete his senior year. One of my most cherished experiences on campus was facilitating an introduction of Jeff to Ken Howell and witnessing their tender expressions of gratitude for one another. In the 17 years since his internship, Jeff’s life has progressed with marriage, family, and vocational choices. He shares, “I don’t have adequate words to describe the path this all created in my life and career. All because Brady was, indeed, a good man. . . . I love to visit Brady’s memorial at the Pentagon. It’s a sacred place for me to reflect on the life I’ve lived and the kids I’ve started to raise. I hope in some small way it is worthy of his loss.” [11]

Stones of Light in the Present

As it is for Jeff, gratitude should be included in your “sixteen stones.” Let’s build stones of light in the present. While I share the next story, please reflect on your present experience at BYU-Idaho. President Russell M. Nelson states, “Your mind is precious! It is sacred. Therefore, the education of one’s mind is also sacred. Indeed, education is a religious responsibility.” [12]

This is a shared responsibility. As rewarding as it is to see students succeed, there is concern when things do not go well. I refer to the next student by the pseudonym of John. I could count on John being to my class every time. He was pleasant, attentive, and got along well with others. But there was a problem: John did not complete any of his assignments. Fearing I would have to ultimately give him a failing grade, I invited him to come to my office for a consultation. I worried about how to handle the situation as I welcomed him in and we began to talk. I reminded him of his missing assignments and suggested he withdraw while the opportunity prevailed to receive a W on his transcript rather than an F at the end of the term.

John was shocked at the prospects. “I don’t want to withdraw,” he said. “This is my favorite class.”

As I looked at John, I sensed his sincerity. Instead of talking about the coursework, the Spirit prompted me to talk of my family and of my own journey as a non-traditional student. I explained I knew education could be hard and inconvenient—I had attended courses at night while juggling family, full-time employment, and Church callings for some 13 years to achieve the diplomas on what I call “my gratitude wall.” I shared with John that to me education is an opportunity. I told him my hardworking, skilled father only had an 8 th grade education. His service in WWII included being the company barber, a skill he enjoyed even after his release but was not licensed to practice and for which he could not charge. Years later he sought entrance into barber school, but my father was denied the opportunity for even technical education because of his lack of a high school degree. In contrast, my diplomas are a symbol of opportunity, and a humble testament of joyful blessings. I told John how as a parent I had worried about my five children, and I shared with John their success. Each had graduated from this campus and went onto earn additional degrees, one like him in communication, two as educators, and two as physicians. Then I asked John a question: “Who is sacrificing to give you the opportunity to be at BYU-Idaho?”

Tears filled John’s eyes to overflowing as he responded, “My mother, and I hope someday she will be as proud of me as you are of your children.”

It was sensing his mother’s love and sacrifice that helped John create his own “sixteen stones.” He started not only showing up in class but skillfully fulfilling his assignments. He worked diligently to make up his past negligence. Through his efforts he began to see the Lord’s hand in his life as he successfully completed the course. Faith became an action word. As we find in the scriptures:

Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone. . . . I will shew thee my faith by my works. [13]

A few semesters later, I happened to see John waiting for entrance to the Testing Center. I stopped and asked him how he was doing. He glowed with confidence and joy as he reported, “Great.” Then pointing to the radiant woman sitting by his side, he said, “And she is making sure I stay that way.”

Sometimes the Lord’s hand comes through people who are willing to sacrifice, encourage, and lift one another. On this week’s devotional discussion board and now to each of you, I extend the question: Who is sacrificing to give you the opportunity to be at BYU-Idaho? Parents? Grandparents? Your spouse or other family members? An anonymous philanthropic donor? Faithful tithe payers from around the world? Can you sense their love and their desire for you to succeed? Can you show gratitude by looking deep within your own skillset and find your rough rocks of potential to be molded into something better? Are you willing to accept personal responsibility and work with great effort to create your own “sixteen stones”—something worthy to take before the Lord knowing you have done your best?

Stones of Light for the Future

Last, a brief look at stones of light for the future. There will be both success and challenges. Strive to plan for and learn from both. Please remember to treat everyone like they are dealing with something—because they are. Be kind to others and to yourself. Some problems may be obvious, and others not so. For example, most of you may not realize I am wearing a full cranial prothesis, or wig. My personal visual aid attests stress can trigger conditions which may seem as foreign as the autoimmune disease of alopecia areata was to me.

Let me share one last experience from a late night as I, with my bald head, pondered what scriptures to study next. “Read Matthew chapter 10,” came the prompting. Obediently and curiously, I opened my Bible and started reading. Searching for meaning, my mind pondered each verse. Perhaps you ponder this way. Getting to verse 27 I read:

What I tell you in darkness, that speak ye in light: and what ye hear in the ear, that preach ye upon the housetops. [14]

There was something here for me to learn, something I was to share.

And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul. [15]

I knew alopecia had killed my hair follicles, but I did not want to allow it to kill my soul—my testimony.

Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father. [16]

This verse had always helped me think of how much God knows and cares for all of His creations, but it was the next verse that became most personal and meaningful:

But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear ye not therefore, ye are of more value than many sparrows. [17]

Of all the verses of scriptures I could be led to, I was prompted to read one assuring me God was aware of my hair, or lack thereof. With tears of reassurance, I sensed of His love, concern, and understanding. My alopecia demise became a faith-building parable unfolding in my own life. If I had to lose my hair to gain a firm testimony of our individual worth, it is a small price. If God can testify that He is aware of even the hairs of my head, can He not also reveal His hand to you? Look for the goodness of God’s love even in and perhaps especially in future times of trial. As you seek solutions or comfort, make scripture study part of your “sixteen stones.” Through personal revelation, you will be guided to verses filled with meaning.

My dear sisters and brothers, may you find strength and insights on how to craft your own unique “sixteen stones.” Take time to ponder upon your past, present and future. As you mold and collect stones of experience throughout your life, may you have faith the Lord will touch them one by one to give you light. May you look to the past at your preparation, your pattern of obedience, prayer, scripture study, and covenant keeping. Through your present efforts, may you honor and show gratitude to those who sacrifice to give you the opportunity for education. Be kind to others and to yourself. Endure to the end. May any fallout of the future only strengthen your testimony and resolve. I testify to you, the Lord lives. He understands even the smallest details of your life. He is aware of you, loves you, and wants you to succeed eternally. He is the Light.

In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Notes:

[1] Henry J. Eyring, “A Samaritan Spring, this Winter,” BYU-Idaho devotional, Jan. 12, 2021.

[2] Sacred Events from the Book of Mormon: Jorge Cocco Santángelo; byui.edu/spori-gallery/past-exhibits/virtual-exhibit-sacred-events-from-the-book-of-mormon-jorge-cocco-santangelo.

[3] Ether 2:23.

[4] See David J. Ridge, Your Study of the Book of Mormon Made Easier: Part 3 Helaman through Moroni, 2013, 279–280.

[5] See Ether 3:1–5.

[6] Ether 3:6; emphasis added.

[7] Ether 3:9.

[8] “The National 9/11 Pentagon Memorial, biographies: Brady Kay Howell”; pentagonmemorial.org/explore/biographies/brady-kay-howell.

[9] Kenneth R. Howell, “What I’ve learned 911,” email correspondence, Sept. 5, 2002.

[10] LaNae Poulter, “Changing Lives Through Academic Innovations,” Summit Magazine, Fall 2003, retrieved from byui.edu/upward/archive/summit/fall2003/innovations.

[11] Jeff Staker, “BYUI connection with Naval Intelligence,” email correspondence, Dec. 15, 2020.

[12] Russell M. Nelson, “Education is Sacred,” Daily Joy, 2020, 18.

[13] James 2:17–18.

[14] Matthew 10:27.

[15] Matthew 10:28.

[16] Matthew 10:29.

[17] Matthew 10:30–31; emphasis added.

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This Speech has been Translated by
Katherin Sandoval & Natalia del
Villar