SAN ANTONIO — Life’s tragic storms find everyone at some point.
But exercise faith in God and trust in his divine plan. Shelter can be found from even the most powerful tempests.
That was President Russell M. Nelson’s anchoring message Sunday at a meeting for guests and members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints attended by more than 23,000 people at the Alamodome in San Antonio.
Brenda Lynn Lopez knows the church president was speaking to legions Sunday — but she felt his words were meant for her.
Her 15-year-old son Ramon was born with several health challenges. He’s had to endure multiple surgeries and spends much of his time in a wheelchair.
The Lopez’s know much about storms. They rely on faith to weather them. “But tonight President Nelson inspired me to continue to have faith,” said Lopez.
It had been more than a decade since a president of the church had traveled to the Alamo City. His visit was met with rejoicing and more than a few tears, a now familiar sight as the 94-year-old leader has traveled the world to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ and strengthen the membership of the church..
Challenges are no respecter of rank, class, race or nationality. All will know trials, he said.
“Even that great defender of the Alamo, Davy Crockett, had his challenges; they are part of life,” President Nelson said. “This period of our mortal probation is studded with challenging issues. They can be physical, spiritual, or both.”
The church president was joined Sunday by Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and Elder Adrian Ochoa, a General Authority Seventy, along with Sister Wendy Nelson, Sister Susan Bednar and Sister Nancy Ochoa.
A woman recently wrote President Nelson and shared with him the challenges of her 2-year-old daughter, who suffers from serious congenital malformations.
Humbly, the woman asked why God would allow that to happen to her daughter.
President Nelson observed that, in fact, most people face some kind of physical challenges. Some have diabetes. Others are intolerant of glutens. Some are prone to develop cancer or heart disease. And others are susceptible to alcoholism or other addictions.
But the Lord has promised strength for those who remain faithful despite their weaknesses.
“That eternal perspective makes a huge difference in our comprehension of things that don’t seem fair in this life,” he said.
Expect to experience “serious storms” and perhaps even tragedy during one’s life.
“But with faith in a loving God and trust in his divine plan, the pain of such a tragedy can be endured. And if we truly understand who we are and why we are here, we can face the future with faith in God and his eternal plan of happiness. Our understanding is broadened when we realize there truly will be another life after death.”
Sunday's meeting comes only weeks after President Nelson and his wife traveled with other church leaders to South America, speaking to members of the church in Peru, Bolivia, Paraguay, Uruguay and Chile, where he dedicated the Concepcion Chile Temple.
The meeting at the Alamodome resembled a devotional in Seattle, Washington in September, when the global church leader told the more than 50,000 gathered at Safeco Field that, “We are living in the most crucial era in the history of the world.”
Here in Texas he noted that Latter-day Saints are children of Abraham’s sacred covenant with God, a promise that people of all nations will be blessed in the latter days through their lineage.
“That lineage was chosen to lead out in the great gathering of Israel,” declared President Nelson. “That responsibility is uniquely ours in this dispensation.”
He encouraged parents to teach their children that they too are children of the covenant. They can become “sin-resistent” souls. “And we will be better prepared to cope with all other challenges we encounter in life.”
The Book of Mormon, he concluded, is the “tangible evidence” that the promised gathering of Israel has commenced.
Sister Nelson spoke of what it’s been like in the Nelson home since Jan. 2, 2018 — the day that President Thomas S. Monson died. She sought peace from heaven knowing that her husband would likely fill President Monson’s prophetic calling.
Despite some initial anxiety over the dramatic changes facing her family, she remembered being repeatedly filled with overwhelming peace. Her husband, she testified, is God’s prophet.
In her 12 years of marriage, she had grown accustomed to her husband being awakened during the night with ideas for General Conference talks.
“But since becoming president of the church, the number of night-time messages to him from Heaven have increased exponentially.”
Sister Nelson said she has witnessed other changes in her husband since he became the church president. He is “a little more loving” and always filled with joy. His vigor for the Lord’s work is increasing.
And his “special ability” to bring forth the abilities of others “is being magnified,” she added.
He now uses phrases he’s never used before and emphasizes words in new ways. When he recently spoke to a group of missionaries he spoke the name of the Savior “with an unusual tenderness.”
“Another change is that I’ve seen him look even younger, right at the pulpit, right on the spot.”
President Nelson, she concluded, is doing exactly what he was foreordained to do.
Living the gospel: Be all in
In matters of Christ and his gospel, it’s vital to be “all in,” said Elder Bednar.
“Faithfulness is not foolishness or fanaticism. Rather, it is trusting and placing our confidence in Jesus Christ as our Savior, on his name, and in his promises. When the Savior declares, ‘Be faithful and diligent in keeping the commandments of God, and I will encircle thee in the arms of my love,’ I hope to be, I want to be, and I yearn to be all in.”
“All in,” he added, is a short, simple statement that denotes deep commitment and a strong willingness to be involved. “Tonight I invite all of us to ask ourselves this important question: Am I ‘all in’ as a disciple of Jesus Christ?”
Sacrifice and consecration are essential to being “all in.”
“Sacrifice is motivated by faith and hope and produces increased commitment and a desire to obey,” said Elder Bednar. “The word consecrate means to develop and ‘dedicate to a sacred purpose.’ Whereas sacrifice is what we will offer, surrender, yield, or give up, consecration is to become dedicated to a sacred purpose and make ourselves fit for use and fully available in accomplishing the work of the Lord. “
Living the gospel is not hard. Honoring covenants is not hard. “Not living the gospel and not honoring covenants is what makes our lives hard,” he said.
The Lone Star State has proven to be a place of learning for Sister Bednar and her family. Over the years, the family’s experiences in Texas have helped them learn key lessons of example, joy, trusting the Lord and the realizing the blessings of observing the Sabbath.
A life-defining connection to Texas also helped them build testimonies of temples and sacrifice. Years ago, the Bednars were living thrifty in an effort to pay off student load debt and save money for a home. Then their bishop asked if they would donate funds to help build the Dallas Texas Temple. It was a lot of money given their circumstances, but they agreed and were blessed for their willingness to help with the temple.
“Every time we attended the temple, we thought maybe, just maybe, our small sacrifice had helped purchase a piece of trim or a hinge for a door. Sacrifice truly brings forth the blessings of heaven,” she said.
Both Elder and Sister Ochoa began their brief talks with messages in Spanish. A sizeable slice of Sunday’s Alamodome audience spoke Spanish as a first language.
Elder Ochoa said when he has practiced humility and become fully committed to the Lord, he has been blessed “beyond anything I could have imagined.”
Gratitude for the Lord’s kindness and generosity prompts one to become more kind and generous with others, he added.
“As we recognize how he has blessed our lives, we naturally want to share our blessings and the gospel, invite others to come unto him and receive those blessings too. In fact, I believe that one reason Heavenly Father has blessed us so abundantly is because he trusts us to share our blessings and the gospel with His other children.”
A convert to the church, Sister Ochoa spoke of the power of the Book of Mormon and how it helped her accept the gospel and grow closer to the Lord.
“Reading the Book of Mormon opened my eyes to a clearer understanding of truths in the Bible,” she said. “ Most of all, the Book of Mormon taught me about my Savior, Jesus Christ. As I read, I learned more about Him and grew to know Him better.
“I learned about His power to comfort me and deliver me from danger.”
Prior to the meeting President Nelson spent a few quiet moments before the devotional with the Most Reverend Gustavo Garcia-Siller, the Catholic Archbishop of San Antonio. During his world travels, President Nelson met previously with church and civic leaders in various countries, including Peru President Martín Vizcarr last month.