Financial Aid Director
In 1985, Ken Jackson traded the hard work of a large sheep and cattle ranch in Colorado, where he grew up, for the hard work of being on the Ricks College basketball team. It was here that he met his wife, Christy, who was a fellow ward member and a member of the Ricks College volleyball team.
Ken earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Southern Utah University and a master’s degree from Boise State University. He came to work in the Financial Aid office at Ricks College in 1993, and now serves as the director of that department. He also worked as assistant basketball coach at Ricks College from 1996 to 2002.
Ken has served in numerous church callings, including missionary in the Mexico Mazatlan mission, bishop, and several callings in the young men organization. He is currently a counselor in his home stake presidency.
Ken and Christy have four children and two grandchildren. One of their sons is serving a mission in Australia, and another son is leaving soon for the Sierra Leone Freetown mission.
Please respond to the questions below on the devotional discussion board:
President Russel M. Nelson taught that each day is a day of decisions, and decisions determine your destiny.
Please share some decisions you have made, large or small, that have helped bring you closer to Heavenly Father. How have these decisions helped you become who you are today? What helped or motivated you in making these right decisions?
What a privilege it is for me to stand before you today. I first came to this campus as a student in the fall of 1985. I grew up on a ranch near the small, wonderful town of Sanford, Colorado. There were only 16 in my graduating class, so coming to the metropolis of Rexburg was very overwhelming for me as I experienced stop lights and pizza delivery for the first time. I’ve gained a great love for this campus, and I count it as one of my greatest blessings to have come here as a student and to be able to work here. We all come from different backgrounds and from all over the world to gather here in Rexburg. We come here to build and strengthen our testimonies of Jesus Christ and to obtain a quality education. BYU-Idaho has all the tools and resources available to help you succeed. I’ve been here for over 26 years, and there is one thing that sticks out in my mind, and that is the love and concern that the faculty, administration, and staff have for you. I’ve been in countless meetings on campus, and I want you to know that we are constantly praying for you and for your success.
I had the privilege of playing Basketball for Ricks College, and in November 1989 I was playing one of the most intense basketball games of my life. We were playing an undefeated team who was a powerhouse: a team that had a long tradition of great basketball and many national titles to their credit. On this particular night, I was playing against one of the best centers in the conference. He was a far more superior athlete than I was, and for the first couple of minutes playing against him, this guy was just physically destroying and outplaying me! To make matters worse, he began trash talking and rubbing it in. At one point, he looked and me and said, “You can’t stop me.” But during all this, there was a one fortunate shining moment for me that began to change the momentum: I blocked one of his shots. When I blocked his shot, the ball hit his head, and I’m sure I saw the word “Spalding” imprinted backwards on his forehead. He was not too happy with me, and he began to stare me down—I’m 6’9” and he was 6’8 ½”—and I stared back with a look that said, “Bring it on, shorty!” Now, I respected this player. He was good, but I realized that he was not invincible and that I needed to step up my game. The game resumed, and it was a hard-fought battle between the two of us. I honestly gave it everything I had and ended up having one of my better games of my college basketball career. Despite this success, we lost a very close game by missing a last-second shot that could have won the game; nevertheless, as a team, we felt confident that we could beat these guys!
Two months later, we ended up beating this undefeated team by a last-second shot. As an individual and as a team, we overcame the odds, and it was a such a great victory! Doesn’t it feel good to overcome and conquer something? I’m sure that you’ve all felt those moments. What things have you conquered that made you feel this way? Was it winning a game or mastering a musical instrument? Maybe it was a difficult class that you passed or overcoming the nerves to ask that special person that you like on a first date. Perhaps it’s overcoming a spiritual road block in your life or other challenges that try to take over our lives. What do you wish you could conquer? Please take a moment and consider an area in your life that you would like to master or overcome. Overcoming the odds is never easy and takes effort and hard work. But victory feels a little sweeter when we know that we are in the right and that we’ve put in great effort to make it happen.
Having played for many years and having coached the sport of basketball, one thing I’ve learned is that in order to be successful, a player must obviously be athletic, but what is critical is that a player has intensity, discipline, and focus. This can often make up for the lack athleticism. There has to be a fire burning within—an intensity and mindset that says, “When I’m in the game, my opponent is not going get the advantage over me; I’m taking the fight to him, and I’m going to give it my all.” This picture is the opposite of being intense, focused, and disciplined; it’s called “whining when don’t get your way.” You won’t win too many games sitting on the floor, and I’ve learned no matter what you say, do, or even the look you give the referee, they never change the call.
Basketball is only a game, but life is, in many ways, like playing on the hardwood floor. The difference is that in life we are not just playing for a trophy or for a good win/loss record. We are in a battle for our spiritual and eternal lives. We all accepted our Heavenly Father’s plan to come to earth, obtain a body, experience joy, and return to our Heavenly Father’s presence. We also accepted that we would be tested, would experience trials, challenges, and adversity. Like our opponents in sports who want to dominate and destroy us, Satan also desires to take control over lives, and if we let him, he will. We have the choice to either fight and push back or we can sit idly by, giving up, feeling sorry for ourselves, and blaming others. The adversary uses many methods to bring us down. These can come in the form of idleness, addictions, distractions, deception, self-doubt, and discouragement. Satan wants us to believe that we are not good enough, smart enough, and that there is no hope. One of my favorite scriptures that has always given me hope to overcome is found in 1 Corinthians 10:13:
There hath no temptation taken you, but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.
President Thomas S. Monson has also given us counsel on how to overcome. I would like to share a video clip, and I invite you to listen carefully on what he says is needed for us to overcome and why it is so important.
Whenever we are inclined to feel burdened down with the blows of life’s fight, let us remember that others have passed the same way, have endured, and then have overcome.
The history of the Church in this, the dispensation of the fulness of times, is replete with the experiences of those who have struggled and yet who have remained steadfast and of good cheer. The reason? They have made the gospel of Jesus Christ the center of their lives. This is what will pull us through whatever comes our way. We will still experience difficult challenges, but we will be able to face them, to meet them head-on, and to emerge victorious.
Brothers and sisters, are you making the gospel of Jesus Christ the center of your life? How do we do this? I believe that it all starts with choices.
President Russel M. Nelson said, “Each day is a day of decision, and our decisions determine our destiny.”
I’m sure that you already know this, but many important decisions are being made right now while you are in college. From personal experience, I know that you are facing many crossroads that are right in front of you, and those choices you make will have an impact for the rest of your life and for eternity; therefore, the choices that we make are important and there is power—a power to overcome—that we can gain by making good decisions. For example, we’ve all heard the primary song “Scripture Power” or we’ve heard about the enabling power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ, the power in the Priesthood, the power of Prayer. President Nelson in the last general conference talked about how repentance gives us power. To obtain this divine power, each of these require an action on our part; therefore, it comes down to our choices that we make. In last week’s Devotional, Brother Max Checketts taught us about spiritual maturity and that “mature people live by values. They have principles that guide their decisions.”
I was touched by your comments in this week’s discussion board about choices. I asked you what decisions you’ve made that have helped bring you closer to Heavenly Father. Some of the choices that you mentioned included listening to conference talks, choosing to repent, reading the scriptures, prayer and fasting, and attending the temple once a week. Additional comments included choosing how you respond to what others say or do to you, the decision to accept an assignment that you did not want to accept, choosing to be less critical of others, and choosing to reduce the time that you spend on social media.
We all know what the right choices are, but why is sometimes so hard? I think the hardest part of making good choices is finding the motivation to do what is right.
I would like share one experience that I had about motivation and wanting something very badly. I believe that this experience has some similarities to our journey on earth. I grew up working on a cattle and sheep ranch for the first 18 years of my life. It was a family business, and we had several thousand head of sheep, and in addition, we had a few hundred head of beef cattle. It was a totally different culture than I live in now, but it was a great time in my life, and I had a lot of adventures and experiences during those years, and they have taught me many valuable lessons. I was looking for a few head of stray cattle in one of our cattle ranges near Chama, New Mexico. On this day, I was riding one of our best horses named Red.
Red had a lot of stamina, a fast walk, and he had a lot of attitude. He a very spirited horse, and he was so confident that it seemed that could blow fire from his mouth like something you would see in a Lord of Rings movie.
It was a beautiful morning. The sun was just coming up; there was a strong aroma of sage brush as it had just rained the night before. I had just graduated from high school and I had a scholarship to play basketball at Ricks College. I was healthy, and my saddle bags full of jerky, sunflower seeds, and drinks. I remember thinking how good life was and that it could not get better than this.
After searching the vast, rugged country side for a good part of the morning, I came to the edge of a small canyon, and there I found the lost cattle. Red and I found a way down into this canyon and attempted to cross the stream. This picture was taken last August, but in June there is usually much more water in the stream. Experience taught me that some places of the stream and can be very sticky with mud. Therefore, I was careful to select where we crossed. I decided on a location which I thought was safe and I rode Red to the edge of the stream. Oddly, Red stopped put head down and with his ears pointing forward, he sniffed the stream, snorted and quickly backed away as if to say, “No way. I’m not crossing here!” Being impatient, I again took him to the edge and I made it clear to him that this is where we were to cross and nudged him to move forward. But, instead of just walking across the stream, Red decided to jump! I did not know he was going to jump, and it just about threw me off. I realized later he did that because he did not like the sinking sensation of mud and was trying to avoid walking through it. I don’t know what he was thinking because he was not even close! We landed right directly in the middle of that stream.
The mud was very sticky, and because of the gravity of him falling from the jump, Red sunk into the mud up to his knees, making his anxieties of mud much worse. He panicked and was fighting desperately to get free. I had jumped off to alleviate the weight thinking that would help him get out, but to no avail. After fighting it for some time, Red just stopped. He ended up laying on his side, exhausted. After a while, his neck was beginning to get tired and he began to slowly lower his head in the water where, after he submerged, air bubbles began coming from his nose. It was as though Red was saying, “I just can’t fight this anymore; I’m giving up, and I’m going to die here today.” I immediately grabbed his head held it out of the water so he wouldn’t drown.
It was a surreal experience, and as I stood there holding his head, I remember thinking vividly that I was in biggest mess that I’ve ever been in. It was hard to believe that just a couple of hours earlier, I was at the peak of life. Now, I was alone; miles from anyone; stuck in the bottom of a dirty, muddy stream in a canyon in what seemed to be the lowest, most desolate place on the earth. I was so desperate and calling upon the Lord’s help to get Red and me out of this situation. In that moment, I felt a calm feeling come over me, and I started thinking more clearly. As I assessed the situation, I could see that Red was not in as bad of a situation as it first seemed. He was so close to the edge of the bank, and I knew that with just a little effort on his part, he could get out; therefore, I continued to yank on the reigns, yell, and do all I could to get him out. Then from out of nowhere, Red somewhere found this strength to just bolt out of the stream as though he was never stuck. I was pulling so hard on the reigns at the time, that when he exploded out of the water, I fell backwards, and he ran right over the top of me.
I laid there on the bank, wet, in shock, and not believing what had just happened to me, but most of all thankful to my Heavenly Father that Red and I were free from mud. I looked up and saw this once magnificent horse standing a few feet from me. He was completely covered with mud and was shaking, as was I. I did my best to clean Red up, gave a few pats on the neck, scratched his head, and I spoke to him in a soothing voice for a while, just to let him know it was okay. After we both gained our composure, we were on our way again and finished the job that we set out to do.
In my desperation to get out of my predicament, my eyes were awakened in that muddy stream, and I was humbled. I had never repented and prayed so hard in my life. It made me realize that I was vulnerable, made me reflect on my life, and it motivated me to be a better person.
Sister Wendy Nelson in a worldwide devotional said that desperation can be a motivator for us to change:
When we're desperate to become the people we were born to be, our vision changes. We wake up from the spiritual amnesia the adversary so cleverly administers, and suddenly we see things about ourselves, others, and our lives we've never seen before. The worlds “fun” and “entertainment” start to look almost ridiculous, perhaps even spiritually dangerous. We begin to see the adversary's tricks and traps for what they really are—temptations to make us forget our true identity and our destination.
I specifically like Sister Nelson’s phrase, being “desperate to become the people we were born to be.” Who were you born to be? Knowing who we are and our purpose on earth can be a great motivator for each of us to improve. I invite you to seek out and understand the Lord’s will and direction for you. While in college, this is a great time to know this. I testify that the Lord will guide and help you as you seek these answers. As I was helping and encouraging him to get out of his muddy predicament, Red was ultimately the one that had to make the most effort to get out. It was up to him, as I could not physically carry him out. Do we sometimes feel like we are stuck in the mud spiritually, mentally, or emotionally? We, too, have help (spiritual help) from the Lord; church leaders; and family members, who are in the mud and water with us, trying to help during our toughest and most difficult times. They encourage, lift, and love, but it us up to us to decide if we make the effort to get out or stay where we are. President Henry B. Eyring said:
The Lord is anxious to lead us to the safety of higher ground, away from the path of physical and spiritual danger. His upward path will require us to climb. . . . It will be our choice whether or not to move up or to stay where we are. But the Lord will invite and guide us upward by the direction of the Holy Ghost, which He sends to His leaders and to His people who will receive it.
We need to remember who we are and that the Lord wants us to be successful in those righteous endeavors that we pursue. One of my favorite quotes that I’ve referred to many, many times in my life goes as follows:
Because we have a knowledge of the gospel of Jesus Christ and know that we are spirit children of God, we should be the most positive-thinking people in the world. We know that our loving Father in Heaven has put us on earth to succeed, not to fail.
Because of this knowledge that we have, we need to have a positive attitude as we go through life. I hope you know that you can make good choices. You can pass that difficult class that you are taking right now. You can finish and obtain your degree. You can find peace and joy amidst life’s challenges and worldly chaos. Most importantly, because of Jesus Christ, you and I can overcome sin and again return to the presence of our Heavenly Father. It will require work, effort, and good choices on our part but, we can make it. I testify that there is a divine power that will come to us as we make the gospel of Jesus Christ the center of our lives and as we strive to make good choices, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
 1 Corinthians 10:13.
 Thomas S. Monson, “I Will Not Fail Thee, nor Forsake Thee,” Ensign, Nov. 2013.
 Russell M. Nelson, “Decisions for Eternity,” Ensign, Nov. 2013.
 Max Checketts, “The Path to Spiritual Maturity,” BYU-Idaho Devotional, Jun. 25, 2019.
 Wendy Watson Nelson, “Becoming the Person You Were Born to Be,” Worldwide Devotional for Young Adults, Jan. 10, 2016.
 Henry B. Eyring, “Raise the Bar,” BYU-Idaho Devotional, Jan. 25, 2005.
 Lesson 31: “Your Attitude Makes a Difference,” Preparing for Exaltation Teacher’s Manual, p. 179.