Well, that was extremely beautiful, I thank the choir, and also Savannah and Pablo for bringing the spirit to the meeting.
Buenos días, bom dia, mālō e lelei, magandang umaga, and good morning! That greeting should cover the greater portion of the 56 foreign countries represented at the college, along with everyone else.
It is great to be with you today and to see many familiar faces in the audience. I thank President Kusch, whom I consider a dear friend, for the invitation—it is a pleasure to share with you, your wife Alynda, and other colleagues this morning.
Today I would like to start my remarks by using an example from classic rock, perhaps becoming the first devotional speaker to quote Jimi Hendrix in this venue—I hope the ceiling won’t come down, but at least be grateful I’m not quoting Justin Bieber.
The first verse of the song “Castles Made of Sand,” talks about a love that fades away due to alcohol abuse. The culprit cries on a rhyme: “Oh, girl, you must be mad. What happened to the sweet love you and me had?” then the chorus repines:
“And so castles made of sand fall in the sea, eventually.”
The second verse talks about a little brave Indian who plays war games with his Indian friends and dreams of going to war and becoming a fearless warrior Indian Chief; the little boy grew, and on the night prior to his first battle, a surprise attack killed him in his sleep. Then, the chorus, while introducing some usage errors, only changes subtly:
“And so castles made of sand melts [sic] into the sea, eventually.”
There is one more verse, but in the end the answer is always the same…
“And so castles made of sand slips [sic] into the sea, eventually.”
Have you ever built a sand castle on the beach? It is one of the fondest memories I have from my childhood—if you haven’t, I invite you to go to a lake nearby and try it—it is fun! Actually, you might be a bit old for that now, so just wait till you can take your own kids.
What meaning can you infer from the phrase “living in a world made of sand,” which is the title of my talk this morning?
Many times in life we build sand castles—empty and ephemeral things, which are easily destroyed given that they are not erected on a sound foundation. Most things we have in this world are, in a figurative sense, made of sand—or in other words, they are temporary. Therefore, some of these “castles made of sand” could be dreams that we hold dear, but their value may not be lasting or of much worth.
I will share with you a couple of such dreams. The first one is my own, the second one is from a friend.
As a young, poor, international student attending Ricks College, now BYU-Idaho, I was walking down 2nd South in Rexburg, when I came upon a living dream—it was a Fiero, a mid-engine sports car that was built by Pontiac. The Fiero—meaning “proud, fierce, or bold” in Italian—was a sporty two-seater that incorporated several features that were radical for its time (such as, plastic body panels and hidden headlamps, it also had four wheels). As I stood there contemplating this red beauty, I had a moment of sudden insight: the girls will like it!
Then, the thought came that if I had that car, nothing else would matter—not my education, not my health, not my future, not anything else (perhaps not even the girls)! In the eyes of my mind I could see my hair waving in the wind as I drove it down the street in a worry-free world. Never mind that I would have had no money for gas, I was so elated that I would have made the car run on a not-yet-invented combustible—Dreamionic fuel, get it?
Well, I am grateful that I woke up from that dream and never bought a Fiero; and now, many years later, I look back and think the car was not that good-looking; it seems uncomfortable, and it would have broken by now—yes, just like a castle made of sand, its glamour and apparent beauty were only temporary, and, perhaps, deceptive when viewed as a substitute for things of lasting value, such as an education, the gospel, and the formation of an eternal family.
Dear friends, what are the “Fieros” in your life? What are the “sand castles” that could distract you, blind you, or worst yet, enslave you? What are the things that might sidetrack you from the things that truly matter and can bring lasting joy?
One of my favorite passages of scripture, which inspired one of Primary’s favorite songs: The Wise Man and the Foolish Man, is in the 7th chapter of Matthew. I would like to read to you verses 24 through 27:
“Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which 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.
And every one that heareth these saying of mine, and doeth them not, shall be liknened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand:
And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it.”
So, what does it mean to build upon a rock? How can we become wise men and women? Helaman, teaching his sons Nephi and Lehi exclaimed:
“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.”
In these, the latter days, how do we avoid the shafts in the whirlwind, the hail, and the mighty storm? The simplest of answers is: follow the prophet.
Just like Helaman, modern prophets encourage us in different ways to build on a sure foundation. In 2012, President Thomas S. Monson stated:
“At the advent of a new year, I challenge Latter-day Saints everywhere to undertake a personal, diligent, significant quest for what I call the abundant life – a life filled with an abundance of success, goodness, and blessings.”
Please note that he did not say an abundant life of comfort, conveniences, and material possessions. Nor did he say, an abundant life of long Snapchat streaks, quasi-perfect social media posts, as measured by likes and shares, or how many kills you have on Fortnite. An abundant life can only be obtained by building our foundation upon the rock of our Redeemer, which can only come through, as President Monson taught, a personal, diligent, and significant quest—no one can make that decision for ourselves.
In one of his most powerful talks, President Boyd K. Packer stated that “[t]he gift of the Holy Ghost, if you consent, will guide and protect you and even correct your actions. It is a spiritual voice that comes into the mind as a thought or a feeling put into your heart.”
What a magnificent promise, the Holy Ghost can be our constant companion and it will guide, protect, and correct us—but only if we let Him! President Packer then reminds us that it is not expected that we go through life without making mistakes, but that we can avoid major mistakes by heeding to the promptings of the Spirit.
But what happens if we have messed up big time already? President Packer addressed that question beautifully when he said: “[s]ome will make critically serious mistakes, transgressing the laws of the gospel. Here it is time to remind you of the Atonement, repentance, and complete forgiveness to the point that you can become pure again. The Lord said, ‘Behold, he who has repented of his sins, the same is forgiven, and I, the Lord, remember them no more.’” Isn’t that a beautiful promise? If we apply the Atonement in our lives and repent, the Lord will remember our sins, including serious mistakes, no more.
I can testify that repentance brings joy. I remember the first time I went to visit with my bishop while I was a student at Ricks College. I was 17 years old, my testimony was developing, but I did not quite understand the power of the Atonement; nonetheless, through the wonderful example of my roommates, including inspired teaching and reassurance, I found the courage to go talk with my bishop about some bad decisions I had made up to that point in my life.
As you now know, I did not have a car, I was dreaming, so I had to walk in the bitter cold to my appointment with the bishop—that simple visit turned out to be one of the happiest days of my life; a day that started me on the right path. A path that has not been mistake-free, but it is straight and narrow, and it is the covenant path that President Nelson urged us to stay on during his first remarks after being set apart as the 17th President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. President Nelson, in what appears to me by way of commandment, said: “Now, to each member of the Church I say: Keep on the covenant path. Your commitment to follow the Savior by making covenants with Him and then keeping those covenants will open the door to every spiritual blessing and privilege available to men, women, and children everywhere.” Let us all heed the admonition from the prophet; he knows the way!
The second story I would like to share is from my friend Tiago Vidigal, a student who was attending BYU-Idaho while I worked there. Tiago is from Sao Paulo, Brazil, an impressive and vibrant metropolis with more than 20 million people. Unlike my crazy dream about a material possession with limited real worth, Tiago’s dream was one of lasting value. Let me share his story.
As many families throughout the world do, Tiago’s family provided lunch for the missionaries. On a P-day one of the missionaries came to his house wearing a BYU shirt—you know, true blue, big white letters. The missionary told him that BYU was the Lord’s university—and that is where Tiago’s dream started. He said: “I think I want to study there.”
So, after much sacrifice and preparation he was admitted to BYU-Idaho, another of the Lord’s universities within the Church Educational System. This was Tiago’s first time outside of Brazil, and going from a metropolis, as I mentioned previously, to a tiny town in Idaho was quite a shock (as a side note, I like to do my research, Idaho is one of the nine states in the United States that has more cattle than people—the ratio is 1.36. Please note these statistics are not meant as derogatory to my dear Idahoans, nor to the cattle, in any way—they are shared for comparative purposes only).
Tiago had been married for a little less than a year, but his wife was already pregnant as they made their way to Idaho; the pressure for him was becoming too much to take. Among other things, they were dealing with terrible weather, different foods, and a new language and culture—I am certain that many of you can relate; I certainly can!
Of those trying times, Tiago recounts: “I had to find a place to stay, I had to find a job. I felt useless and inadequate. And after a little while, the thought came, and I said to myself: ‘this is not where I should be.’ I felt weak and very scared. The situation was really overwhelming, and I could see myself going back home as a failure.” During that time, Tiago’s life did not feel like it was an abundant life, “filled with an abundance of success, goodness, and blessings,” as President Monson had described.
Elder Steven E. Snow, a General Authority Seventy, described Tiago’s situation almost perfectly when he said: “Too often we are reluctant to enter the next stage, begin the next challenge. Maybe we are too comfortable, fearful, or lacking in faith.”
That is precisely what happened to Tiago and is happening to all of us in one way or another. Accordingly, Elder Snow counsels to “… to keep an eternal perspective. Understand that change and challenges are part of God’s plan. By design this mortal existence is a time of testing or a time ‘to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them.’”
President Thomas S. Monson has taught that “faith and doubt cannot exist in the same mind at the same time, for one will dispel the other.”
As Tiago exercised faith, he quickly learned a few key things to help him:
College is not easy, but it is doable and totally worth it
We can do hard things—even those that seem impossible at first
If we have the Lord by our side, and are praying and asking for His help, He will bless us
I can testify that these principles are true, as I have put them to the test in my own life, and I invite you to do likewise—put them to the test! Invest in your future by continuing to pursue your education and be resilient during trying times; nevertheless, remember that no Ph.D., lofty educational credential, or professional achievement can substitute for keeping the commandments and having the Spirit in your life—stay on the Lord’s side and make Him your partner.
Upon graduating from BYU-Idaho, Tiago got a job as a securities analyst with Morgan Stanley, the highly regarded multinational investment bank and financial services company.
I caught up with Tiago a couple weeks back. He is now working with a private equity firm here in SLC and is continuing his education at the University of Utah, pursuing a Master of Science degree in Finance. I asked him for a brief report on how things are going and he was prompt to share the following: “my wife is studying digital marketing at LDSBC – yay, and our two kids are in school; we are all active in the Church, and even though life is throwing some curve balls every now and then, the Lord has been incredibly kind and patient with my family and me.”
It is telling, instructional, and inspiring that Tiago did not mention any “sand castles” or “Fieros” in his life? He did not say: “I got an awesome car, a few stock options, and a big bonus last year; I am planning to buy the new Nintendo Switch, which is really popular, my roommates love it, and a Rolex, because I now collect watches.” He talked about things of great worth and that are long-lasting, such as the gospel, education, and his eternal family.
In talking about the eternal family, Elder Neal A. Maxwell, stated: “When the surf of the centuries has made the great pyramids so much sand, the everlasting family will still be standing, because it is a celestial institution, formed outside telestial time.” Friends, the greatest joys (and, if not careful, greatest sorrows) you will experience in this life will come from your family relations; therefore, you must choose wisely, and if you have already chosen, foster your marriage and strengthen your bonds—they are everlasting.
Let me now take you back in time to about 83 B.C., at the time where Alma, the High Priest, is addressing the people of Zarahemla. During his sermon Alma asked over forty reflective questions, out of which I am sharing three:
“And now behold, I ask of you, my brethren of the church, have ye spiritually been born of God? Have ye received his image in your countenances? Have ye experienced this mighty change in your hearts?”
King Benjamin, about 40 years earlier, desiring to know if his people believed the words he spoke unto them, sent an inquiry among them, and this is the answer he received:
“And they all cried with one voice, saying: Yea, we believe all the words which thou hast spoken unto us; and also, we know of their surety and truth, because of the Spirit of the Lord Omnipotent, which has wrought a mighty change in us, or un our hearts, that we have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually.”
The Spirit—not merely an intellectual or social conversion—drives us to be born of God through a mighty change of heart. That change of heart may take us to a point where we “have no more disposition to do evil,” a place where, while imperfect, we want to “do good continually.” And, dear friends, wanting to do good continually brings joy into our lives.
Lehi taught his son Jacob saying: “Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy.”
Joy, as the purpose of our existence, will not come by merely restraining ourselves from sin (wanting to do it but knowing we should not or cannot—or in other words we want to do bad things but can’t), but rather it comes as the Spirit brings a change in our hearts, shields us from evil, and allows us to see things in their proper perspective, which is, that we are here to be tested and to prepare to go back to our Heavenly home.
Let me share some examples of how life’s circumstances may force us to see things in their proper perspective:
My dear sister-in-law, Janice, was diagnosed with breast cancer when she was 34. Her commitment to the gospel and her family took on a new meaning. In comparison, home remodels, new cars, or exotic trips became empty and unimportant.
Bronson Grange, a student at BYU-Idaho, received the awful news that his sister (26 at the time), had been diagnosed with terminal kidney cancer. The certainty of the Atonement gave him and the family strength to know that this life is not the end.
A very famous professional soccer player in Ecuador, after all the glory, including European career and massive fortune, is now homeless. Fame, beauty, and financial success are deceiving and, many times, short-lived (the precise definition of the ephemeral).
My high school classmate’s two children were kidnapped at gun point while going to school; their chauffer tried to intervene and was killed on the spot. Money, power, and influence – all which he has – could not bring his chauffer back to life, nor spare his children from the awful trauma they were subjected to for several months.
My dear friend, Raúl Corzo, grew up in a wealthy family, with political ties, and was subjected to social pressures that would preclude most people from accepting the gospel; nonetheless, he was valiant and was baptized, served a mission, and married an amazing woman for time and all eternity, forming the celestial institution mentioned by Elder Maxwell. He has four amazing children; one is a returned missionary, one is an LDSBC student, sitting right thre and the two youngest will soon follow in their footsteps. The fruits of the gospel are real, and available for all to reap.
Finally, the Fiero, nor any other material possession, can bring joy and fulfillment to our lives. Real joy can only come from being true to our covenants, keeping the commandments, and listening to the prophet.
Brothers and sisters, while having no more disposition to do evil, vis-à-vis merely restraining ourselves, is the ideal, we must exercise faith and consistent obedience; and, at times, to the answer of why we do what we do, we, like Adam, should exclaim: “I know not, save the Lord commanded me.”
Obedience can prepare us and bless our lives with:
strength of character,
peace of mind,
the companionship of the Spirit, and
it can be the catalyst in experiencing a mighty change of heart.
Therefore, keep the commandments and you will gain your reward in this life and in the life to come.
Not unlike some of the critical questions Alma asked the people of the church in Zarahemla, today I too would like to ask a few questions. Please consider what your individual answers might be as I share some of mine:
What has brought joy to your life? For me it has been:
My testimony, which includes serving the Lord with full intent of heart
My beautiful, eternal family
Serving a mission to Bolivia—and, I would add, continuing to share the gospel with many others since that time
My children’s missionary service—I have a son who served in the Missouri St. Louis Mission, and a daughter currently serving in the Washington DC North Mission
True friendships, which I am lucky to count many
What has brought satisfaction to your life? I thought of five specific categories:
Reaching worthy goals
Attaining a certain level of financial stability
Please note that neither the cars I have had, even if they are a bit comfortable than the Fiero, nor any other material possession came even close to making the list.
The questions I asked had to do with joy and satisfaction, but there are things which also may bring pleasure and euphoria to our lives—some which are good (e.g., hiking the Grand Canyon, paragliding, bungee jumping, or eating tacos al pastor), and some which are evil and cunningly designed to destroy if abused—i.e., the sacred power of procreation, drugs, and other addictive behaviors—yes, including gaming and social media, if not watched carefully.
The following invitation is one of the best you will hear today, and it comes from President Boyd K. Packer: “If you are slipping into things that you should not slip into or if you are associating with people who are pulling you away in the wrong direction, that is the time to assert your independence, your agency. Listen to the voice of the Spirit, and you will not be led astray.”
How have you felt after a strong spiritual experience? e.g., after attending the Temple, or after your little brother’s baptism, or after a special blessing which healed a loved one, or after baptizing a family on your mission, or after clearing something with the bishop? Such feelings may be described in simple adjectives or phrases, such as:
blissful, joyful, peaceful, “on cloud nine,” full of love, etc. At that stage, if you were an open book, I am confident that we would find no disposition to do evil in your pages—that is what the Spirit can do for us. I commend those for whom—just like for King Benjamin’s people—these feelings have become part of who they are as they faithfully strive to stay on the covenant path.
But why do those feelings often go away within days or even hours for many others? Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin provides a clue by stating that “[s]ome are distracted by the things of the world that block out the influence of the Holy Ghost, preventing them from recognizing spiritual promptings.” Elder Wirthlin then continues by warning that “if we’re not careful, the things of this world can crowd out the things of the Spirit.”
Nevertheless, he promises that if all those who struggle would “open their hearts to the refining influence of [the] unspeakable gift of the Holy Ghost, a glorious new spiritual dimension would come to light…. They could know for themselves things of the Spirit that are choice, precious, and capable of enlarging the soul, expanding the mind, and filling the heart with inexpressible joy.”
Dear friends, it is within our power to qualify ourselves for, and to become entitled to, such inexpressible joy. I have known that truth of myself for over 40 years, you may think, “was he two months?” that was a joke, when I memorized my first scripture in Primary and recited it in front of the congregation. “Yo, el Señor, estoy obligado cuando hacéis lo que os digo; mas cuando no hacéis lo que os digo, ninguna promesa tenéis.” As you might be able to tell, I memorized it in Spanish. In English it reads: “I, the Lord, am bound when ye do what I say; but when ye do not what I say, ye have no promise.”
With much love, I raise a voice of warning to those who are becoming casual in their commitment to the gospel, including, and perhaps especially, those who have served missions: failure and heartache await unless you continue to seek the Spirit, serve faithfully, and fortify your character. The adversary is working hard, and in many cases, deceiving the elect—you are the elect, you are, as the Apostle Peter’s prophetic statement declaims: “a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people.” You are members of the church that bears His name, even The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The Lord is on your side and He will bless you.
I testify that castles made of sand do fall in the sea, eventually, but if we build our foundation upon the rock of our Redeemer, the storms of life will have no power over us. The Lord loves us, and His arms are open wide. May we have the wisdom and courage to embrace Him, is my prayer. In the Holy name of Jesus Christ, amen.
2. Helaman 5:12
3. Thomas S. Monson, “Living the Abundant Life,” January 2012.
4. See Boyd K. Packer, “Counsel to Youth,” October 2011.
6. See Russell M. Nelson, “As We Go Forward Together,” April 2018.
8. See: https://www.lds.org/music/library/childrens-songbook/follow-the-prophet?lang=eng&_r=1
10. Tiago Vidigal, personal communication, August 2013.
11. Steven E. Snow, “Get On with Our Lives,” April 2009.
13. Thomas S. Monson, “Come unto Him in Prayer and Faith,” March 2009.
14. Tiago Vidigal, personal communication, 16 October 2018.
15. Neal A. Maxwell, “The Women of God,” April 1978.
16. Alma 5:14.
17. Mosiah 5:2.
18. 2 Nephi 2:25.
19. See Moses 5:6.
20. Boyd K. Packer, “Counsel to Youth,” October 2011.
21. Joseph B. Wirthlin, “The Unspeakable Gift,” April 2013.
23. Doctrine and Covenants 82:10.
24. 1 Peter 2:9.
Gene Hayes is the international operations director at BYU-Pathway Worldwide and has held this position since August 2010. Before BYU-Pathway, Gene held multiple roles within the education sector, including at Saras Education and the Apollo Education Group. He was directly involved in the first two international acquisitions for Apollo in Chile and Mexico City. Gene started his career with Intel Corporation, where he held several roles of increasing responsibility, including program manager, contract operations manager, and knowledge management architect.
Brother Hayes holds a bachelor’s degree in economics from BYU and a master’s degree in business administration from the Marriott School of Business.
He was born and raised in Oaxaca, Mexico. He is a competitive squash player, and he loves playing soccer and learning about new cultures. He and his wife, Beverly, are the parents of five children.