Think of the moments or experiences in your life that are so clear to you that you can remember them like they were yesterday. You remember where you were, what you were doing, where you were standing, all of the particulars, the sights, the sounds the smells, etc…
These could have been moments of heartache or trauma, celebration or happiness, or even moments of frustration or despair. We have moments in our lives that are so memorable that they are indelibly engraved in our hearts and minds. We can recall them in an instant. Sometimes a smell, or a sound or some other stimuli triggers our being and we are back there…experiencing the memory all over again.
If you are older, you may remember the terrible event on November 22, 1963, when President Kennedy was assassinated. I was only three years old at that time, but many older Americans have told me that they remember where they were on that awful day.
Or, where were you when man walked on the moon? I was just nine years old in July of 1969, but I can remember being riveted to the black and white television set in our home watching the excitement unfold. Although, it was nearly 18 years ago, I’ll bet everyone remembers where they were on September 11, 2001. I spent the whole day in my home office glued to news coverage of the shocking and horrific events of that day. Isn’t it interesting how memories of significant events can flood back in a moment?
As I have gotten older I realize I have more years behind me than in front of me, so the memory bank is filling up. I am blessed to have good memories, but like many, I have had my share of failures and disappointments that I would like to forget. Aren’t we all that way?
Consider fonder memories in your life? The first Christmas you remember as a child. The day you got your driver’s license? That was a big day for me! A graduation, a scholastic honor or sporting triumph, a marriage or having a child. A business success or professional achievement. Your first love!
Creating great memories has to be at the top of the list! But in our quest to do so we can get distracted in a world full of choices. Our possibilities can be crowded out by the insignificant. Technology has brought the world to our fingertips, but we must decide how deeply we will inhale. So much time can be wasted on social media, internet surfing, video games and of course Netflix binge-watching. What else would you add to this list? If we aren’t careful, we can miss out on what truly matters.
I had an experience this past January that demonstrates the power of memory and the potential life-changing inflection points in our lives. Let me tell you this story.
Some of you may know that when I was 19 years old I served a two-year mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in the Philippines. It’s been over 35 years and so much of what I experienced in Southeast Asia is still at the forefront of my mind.
(My first day in Manila, July 1979. Don’t you love the wide tie and bell-bottoms?)
Toward the end of my experience, my companion Elder David Taylor and I taught a young mother and her three small children the missionary discussions. Carmelita and her children, Ronald 7, Richel 8 and Rose who was 9 years old joined the church in 1981. Their life’s journey to the church and then to America is a wonderful story of faith, struggle, courage, and perseverance. Our lives have since been forever entwined.
(Richel, Carmelita, Ronald and Rose Jensen, March 1981)
Ron reached out to me several weeks ago. Now, in their early 40’s he and his wife Gina have a wonderful family living in Utah. He called me in late January wondering if I would write an encouraging farewell letter for his daughter Jeralyn. Jeralyn had recently gotten her mission call to serve an LDS Mission in the California, San Jose Mission, Spanish speaking. What great news! Ron wanted to give her a collection of encouraging letters from family and friends and wondered if I could pen some thoughts. Of course, I agreed.
He then mentioned that her farewell was to be on January 28th and that his whole family would be there. A missionary farewell is part of a Sunday morning church service in the LDS church called a Sacrament Meeting. Jeralyn would speak as part of the program sharing her farewell thoughts and feelings. The event would be in their hometown of Bountiful, Utah. I suddenly realized that Susan and I were planning to be in Utah that same weekend to see my daughter Annie, so we would be able to attend. As you might imagine, I looked forward to the event and to see the whole Jensen family once again.
Unbeknownst to me, I was about to capture a memory that I would never forget. When I walked into the church building I was surprised to see my missionary companion from the Philippines, Elder David Taylor. We had not seen each other for nearly 30 years. Ron had privately invited Elder Taylor to drive down from Idaho as a surprise. Yes, I was surprised!
(Elder Taylor, President and Sister Andrus, Elder McKell)
We had traveled the mission together serving as Assistants to the Mission President for several months. We covered the southern island of Luzon and a few other remote islands. It could take a full day’s drive to get from one end of the mission to the other. Back then there were only four Philippine missions, but now there are 21, as the church has experienced incredible growth. All I can say is that every day as a missionary was an adventure, filled with wonderful, meaningful experiences.
It was so great to see Elder Taylor. So many memories came to mind. There wasn’t time to reminisce as we quickly took our seats in the Bountiful Ward chapel. Jeralyn shared her private feelings regarding her decision to serve a mission and her humble personal testimony of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ.
The meeting was packed with people. There were likely over 300 in attendance. The meeting concluded and as we made our way to the foyer, a couple of the kids announced they wanted to take a group picture. Now, I call them kids because they were 7, 8 and 9 years old way back then. But now, they’re all in their early 40’s raising wonderful families of their own.
Anyway, as we made our way to the foyer, a couple of the kids announced, “Let’s get a picture outside!” “Well, of course, I thought.” But little did I know that this would be a different kind of picture. As we got outside trying to gather, amidst the crowd of family and friends, one of the kids called out,
“Let’s stand just like we did at our baptism! Remember, at the Buendia Chapel in Pasay City.”
I quickly thought, “That was over 35 years ago! How could they possibly remember how or where they were standing?” And, before another second passed, Ron yelled out, “I was standing next to Elder Taylor.” Richel announced, “Rose, you were next to me.” Someone else called out, “Mom, you were next to Elder McKell.” And another confirming voice said,
“Yes, let’s stand just like we were…on that day!”
The six of us quickly took our historic spots as several people with smartphones lined up to take our picture. At that moment, the world suddenly stopped for me. Everything slowed down as if in slow motion. Everything got quiet and it was if I was watching the experience unfold before me. There we were standing in the same positions that we stood over three decades ago. In fact, it was March 7, 1981, 37 years ago as I write this post.
Check out these two pictures below. One way back in 1981 and one just a few weeks ago.
(March 7, 1981, Pasay City, Philippines (Elder David Taylor, Ronald, Richel, Rose and Carmelita Jensen, Elder Mark McKell)
(37 Years Later: January 8, 2018, Bountiful, Utah (David Taylor, Ronald Jensen, Richel Jensen, Rose Bybee, Carmelita Jensen, Mark McKell). Yes, we look a whole lot older!)
How is it that this wonderful family remembered so specifically and profoundly where they were standing on that day? How were their memories so clear from an event so long ago?
It’s because their baptism to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints on that day changed the trajectory of their lives. It brought an understanding of who they were and a sense of purpose to their lives. It brought an understanding of what they needed to do to return to their Heavenly Father. It brought future covenants and associative blessings, based on their faithfulness.
It brought the opportunity for full-time missionary service, as all three children later served church missions as young adults to Hong Kong, Utah, and Nebraska. On that day, their baptism brought the opportunity to be sealed as a family in a holy temple for time and all eternal family. In short, on that day, their lives changed!
Now, I know you must be an active member of the LDS church to fully understand this family’s change of heart and the profound, lasting impact that experience has had on their lives. Only a few can truly understand their joy and happiness. Setting that aside, the point is to acknowledge that this experience, some 37 years ago, had a life-changing rippling effect in their lives that continues to this day. It was a different memory than a simple birthday, graduation or any other special occasion. This experience for the Jensen family was what I call a Moment of Significance.
It was so unique and so significant, that they remembered where they were standing over three decades later!
Understandably, I have not been able to shake this experience. It has affected me in an overwhelming way. I can still hear them say:
“Let’s stand just like we were…on that day!”
Are you having experiences in your life that you would describe as Moments of Significance, moments that truly matter? Have you or are you engaged in something so uplifting, so profound and worthwhile that its shaped your life in a dramatic way? Certain moments of our lives can be so precious and memorable, that time seems to stand still and we can feel the significance of the event maybe even decades later.
These experiences are Moments of Significance!
I can remember many moments in my own life, moments that have made a difference, moments that have shaped me as a spouse, father, provider, neighbor and business professional, etc… I can remember countless faith-promoting experiences in the Philippines that helped mold who I am. The experiences of raising a young family with all its twists and turns has been deeply rewarding. I’m sure you can list a few moments of your own. I’m learning that as I focus more deeply on serving others, these moments of significance describe the sentiment, “my cup runneth over.”
As I reflect, these are moments that I remember and cherish most… It’s rather funny. It’s not the material things of life that everyone seems to be chasing, it’s the people, the relationships and the spiritual connections of life and living.
What are the moments that have made the most difference to you?
But more importantly, what are the Moments of Significance you are working toward? What are the future milestones in your life that if seized can make the biggest difference or lasting value?
These are significant questions, for when our time is gone, it’s gone! Life is not a dress rehearsal. Each moment matters and yet as Elder Neal A. Maxwell declared, “Too often our possibilities have been muted by the mundane.” (Encircled in the Arms of His Love, Neal A. Maxwell, Oct 2002 LDS General Conference.) Let’s be careful where we spend our time for time, as the hymn says,
Time flies on wings of lightning;
We cannot call it back.
It comes, then passes forward
Along its onward track.
And if we are not mindful,
The chance will fade away,
For life is quick in passing.
’Tis as a single day.
As you reach for meaning, identify opportunities where you can help others create their personal Moments of Significance. I truly believe that when you help others in this way you truly find yourself. It’s during these times, that you begin to understand your place in the world. These collective experiences can be the most profound moments of life.
Each day we have opportunities for micro Moments of Significance, but we don’t often see them this way. In your personal life, when you choose faith over fear or when you choose principle over what’s popular, it’s a Moment of Significance. When parents choose to parent, rather than being “the friend,” they experience a Moment of Significance. When we do what we know to be right, rather than the alternative, another drop of oil is added to our lamps of collective preparedness. When we do these things, moments that we might perceive as being insignificant in our lives can aggregate later into the most significant of all. Sometimes the pay-day catches us off guard, but then we humbly realize that we have been depositing into that bank for many years.
Many may wonder, “Why am I here?” “Where am I going?” “What’s my purpose?” “Am I contributing or having a lasting impact?” “Am I spending my time engaged in what truly matters most?” These are questions of the soul and questions that call us to greater reflection.
Let’s spend more time creating Moments of Significance. Let’s focus our hearts and minds toward the moments in life that are lasting and eternal, moments wrapped in covenants that will aid in our journey back home. Let’s focus on moments where you can help others do the same, moments that truly matter!
Let’s yearn for these moments to be so significant in our lives that we will look back one day, far into the future and say like the Jensen family,
“Let’s stand just like we were…on that day!”
Note: These comments were adapted from a talk given at a Riverside, California Stake Conference in Riverside, California on March 11, 2018.