Associate Dean of Faculty Development, College of Agriculture & Live Sciences
Carma Kunz Miller was born and raised in a farming community near Bear Lake, Idaho. She earned a Bachelor's degree in Nursing from Weber State University, a Master's degree in Nursing and Health Care Systems Administration from BYU, and then received both a Master of Public Health and a Doctorate in Nursing from the University of Utah. She taught nursing for 15 years, both online and in the classroom before coming to BYU-Idaho in 2013.
Sister Miller has served in many church callings, and has valued all of them. She enjoys family time, good friends, good books, and good travel.
We invite you to study and ponder on the scriptures and other preparation resources below previous to attending devotional. As you come spiritually prepared the Spirit will have greater power to inspire you, teach you, and to testify to you of the truthfulness of the principles that will be taught.
- Our Savior, Jesus Christ, is the master storyteller who used parables to teach gospel truths. We also need to tell and write our own stories. They can root us to our past, and define our future.
Please describe on the discussion board in a few sentences a defining moment that is the basis for Chapter 1 of your own BYU-Idaho story.
In many cultures, the telling of stories is an art used to pass on essential values from generation to generation. Stories can help us understand important principles, others' needs, and ourselves. Stories reveal the threads that bind us together. With the explosion of social media, we now rely on the Internet for much of our knowledge. But the richness of personal stories creates a shared world for each of us. Over the years, family stories are told in journals, at family gatherings, and even at bedtime. And I'm sure hashtags or emojis didn't accompany these stories! Stories illustrate and teach family values and perpetuate our rich family legacies. Our Savior, Jesus Christ, is the master storyteller who used parables to teach gospel truths. It is important to listen to stories. And we need to tell and write our own stories. In the midst of all the noise of our modern world, stories continue to root us to our past and help us define our future.
I'd planned to begin today's devotional with a pop quiz! Just kidding! But I do want to pose a question: If someone were to tell your story, what would it be? Would it be a mystery filled with twists and turns, or would it be a comedy? What is your story? What narrative are you creating for yourself? I know you can multitask, so please think about your own story as I tell you some BYU-Idaho stories.
I've learned much from the BYU-Idaho stories you've shared. There are many reasons why each of us came to BYU-Idaho. Some of you chose to come to Rexburg to be with like-minded people who share your gospel values. Some of you chose to stay close to home and family, while others were led, as one student describes it, "to a unique place, isolated from just about all civilization, guided and protected by the Spirit of the Lord." Some of you found affordable tuition appealing. Many of you have described the blessings of being in a place that invites you to come closer to God while gaining knowledge. You've received testimonies of your divine worth. Some of you have been blessed to find your eternal companion. You've found lifelong friends. I love how President Henry J. Eyring described our BYU-Idaho family situation during the first devotional of this semester, in which he and his amazing wife, Kelly, spoke together. He said, "Each member of this educational family is enrolled in a modern-day School of the Prophets, sponsored by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and presided over by President Thomas S. Monson and the members of the Church Board of Education."[i]
I cannot do justice to the importance of your stories by simply summarizing them, so I'd like to tell you three stories with more detail. Let's begin with the story of Douglas Phan.
Like many of you, much thought and prayer preceded Douglas's decision to come to BYU-Idaho. He considered other paths, but the Spirit prevailed, and Douglas chose a most unexpected path that has proved to be guided by the Lord.
While you may not have met Douglas, some of his work has been displayed in the Spori Building.
In many ways, Douglas blends in with thousands of other BYU-Idaho students, but his story diverges. Douglas was born in Hanoi, Vietnam, to parents who divorced when he was 16. The family separation prompted many questions, including his own purpose in life. Enter his high school physics teacher, who told the students about an unfamiliar book called the Bible. Douglas explains that this really was an odd topic because in Vietnam, "Christianity is not popular. In fact, it's almost taboo, and most people consider themselves atheists."[ii] Douglas felt prompted to learn more about Christian churches and determine whether they were as "sketchy" as portrayed in the media. He located a Christian church called "Latter-Day Saints" just five minutes from his home. Later he learned it was one of only two LDS branches in the entire country. Although Douglas had planned to sit in the back of the church, observe, and then leave, his decision to seek increased knowledge and understanding led Douglas to a different experience. When he arrived, he was warmly welcomed, and a young man led him to a seat in the front of the chapel. This was not at all what he'd planned, but inside he felt an unusual feeling of peace. He liked the feeling, so he stayed. The young man spoke Vietnamese so perfectly that initially Douglas didn't realize he was American. Interested, Douglas asked him about his background and was invited to learn more. To his surprise, the first lesson was about whether there was purpose in life.
Within three months, Douglas made a decision that changed the course of his life forever. He entered into the covenant of baptism and promised to take upon himself the name of Jesus Christ. Almost immediately, his life took on greater purpose: He developed a great drive to develop spiritually and to learn English. He volunteered to translate for visitors to Hanoi, and his vocabulary and pronunciation improved rapidly. Upon learning of the Church's education system, his post-high school plans to attend a university in Finland changed. His desire to progress in the gospel and lead a purposeful life brought him to Rexburg, Idaho. Douglas views coming to BYU-Idaho as the best decision he's made in his life. It was a difficult decision, though, because he worried about leaving his mother, with whom he had a close relationship, alone in Vietnam.
But, once he arrived and met his faculty, he knew he'd made a good choice. He says: "I truly love it here. I have a personal and meaningful relationship with my faculty, which I'd not expected in college."[iii]
Although Douglas had planned for years to major in business, instead he chose a major in communication with a public-relations emphasis. Because he followed spiritual promptings, he discovered an immense talent of which he was completely unaware. He says, "I picked up a camera for the first time a couple years ago.
I had never designed anything in my whole life. I didn't know I had any of this potential, but this place made it possible."[iv]
Douglas has about a year left until he completes his degree. But first, a much-prayed-for detour. He explains: "Last summer, right after my internship at Universal Studios in Florida, I invited my mom to come here.
It was supposed to be my ticket to go back to Vietnam, but a part of me realized she needed to come see what I was doing and see these Mormon people. That experience, I think, touched her heart, and she realized I should go on a mission. It's mind-blowing to me that she would ever agree for me to go on a mission before I graduated college, because the culture in Vietnam is that education is number one. The Lord remembered my promise to serve Him."[v]
The next chapter of Elder Douglas Phan's BYU-Idaho story now moves to a new location. He reported to the Provo MTC just five weeks ago and will serve for the next two years in the Texas Houston South Mission. Elder Phan's story is unfinished, but his choices, dedicated work, and willingness to follow the Lord's path for him have created a story that is as beautiful and majestic as his photos.
Next, I'd like to share Tiffany Anderson's story with you.
Tiffany married at age 17 after learning she was expecting a baby. She attended night and summer classes to finish her senior year of high school before the baby arrived. Later, with family encouragement, Tiffany and her husband were sealed in the temple. But just six days afterward, Tiffany's father suddenly passed away. The loss was difficult, and within a short time both Tiffany and her husband became inactive. The ensuing years brought lifestyle changes, and looking back she recognizes her step-by-step downward spiral as she felt increasingly resentful and blamed others for judging her. Tiffany told herself, "They don't accept or love me, so why bother to go to church?" She now reflects, "Sure, maybe some at church were judgmental, but it was really me judging myself. The mind starts to warp things."[vi]
The years flew by, her inactivity lengthened, and her family grew. As her three young children entered school, Tiffany began to experience an internal tugging to find her true identity. Her tobacco and alcohol use had become extreme, and she felt she was losing herself. She didn't want her children's memories of her to be associated with the smell of cigarette smoke or alcohol. On New Year's Day 2012, she made a resolution to quit using alcohol and tobacco. She has maintained that resolution ever since.
Soon after, although still completely inactive, she was unexpectedly invited to pray in her ward's sacrament meeting, something she had never done before. Regardless of her lifestyle choices, she didn't want to say no to the Lord. During that same sacrament meeting, Tiffany heard an announcement for a new Pathway Program fireside, and when she returned home, she announced she would be enrolling in Pathway. To her delight, her husband was supportive.
She had almost completed her Pathway application when she stopped short as she read the Honor Code statement. It had been just nine months since she'd made her New Year's promise, and she was still unsure of herself and her abilities. She deleted her application but then decided to alert the Pathway missionaries of her decision. Their immediate response to her call was "No, no, no, all we're asking is that you'll try to live the Honor Code. You'll try to begin attending church every week. That's all we're asking." Tiffany replied, "Okay, I can try. But I can't promise anything right now." Again, she was reassured, so this time she clicked "submit," and enrolled in Pathway.
Attending Pathway turned out to be difficult. Initially, she advised her husband, "There's no way those Mormons are going to suck me in. I just want a cheap education; that's it." However, she was required to attend a Book of Mormon religion class. She joked about her courses and ate a lot of Hot Tamale candies to control her anxiety as she began moving from an inactive lifestyle to discussions of the gospel during every Pathway class. One evening, during a lesson and discussion about addictions, several classmates confessed to perceived addictions of excessive chocolate, Facebook, and eating. Tiffany's anxiety mounted, and she began to feel overwhelmed by all the "prettiness," as she calls it. Finally, she stood up and said, "My name is Tiffany, and I'm addicted to alcohol and cigarettes. I've been sober for 9 months. We're talking about real-life addictions here, the ones that pull us away from the Church." She was shaking as she sat down. The class was silent until someone said, "My spouse is addicted to painkillers."[vii] Discussions became open and vulnerable, and a close bond developed as the class shared problems and struggles. Tiffany had shared her story and fostered a new sense of community with her peers.
As Tiffany's anxiety began to ease, she decided to start over and investigate the Church thoroughly. She asked many questions regarding basic gospel doctrine. Often, the Pathway missionaries and institute teachers stayed after class to further explain gospel concepts. Tiffany came to love the Pathway Program, and her testimony grew. The day came when she shared her testimony in sacrament meeting and was content with its simplicity. She was confident of what she felt, and knew the truth of what she said.
As Tiffany neared completion of her Pathway courses, she was invited to speak at a BYU-Idaho conference. She worried about her ability to speak to such a large audience, but said yes. Tiffany was the final student speaker, and although she remembers other students' descriptions of long-term Church activity and the hope of a college education, her story was unique. She told the audience: "I am not like my fellow students. I am not 'the 99.' I was the lost one, and Pathway is the shepherd that came back to rescue me. This is not just an educational program. It is so much more. This program wants, needs, and welcomes those who have been lost from the Church, no matter who they are or where they came from. Pathway will not just affect me; my children will know education is important, and my family will be affected for generations."[viii]
Tiffany was the first Pathway graduate to complete an online bachelor's degree with no previous college education. She is again active in the Church, attends the temple regularly, and finds joy in her service. We don't know the end of Tiffany's story, but she has a bright future ahead of her. Right now, she is spending quality time with three teenagers and waiting for the next "Pathway" the Lord will open to her.
We are so fortunate to have Tiffany Anderson with us today. And, Tiffany, I'd like to invite you to come to the podium.
CARMA MILLER: Tiffany, clearly one of your life themes is the importance of seeking those who are lost. Will you tell us how you plan to share the blessings of your own personal BYU-Idaho story?
TIFFANY ANDERSON: At one point or another, in each of our lives we are "the lost one." And I testify there is always a shepherd out there looking for you. They may be your family, friends, home and visiting teachers, or the stranger you just happen to meet. We have discussed brief highlights of my story, but my path was and continues to be hindered by life's challenges. They come in the form of a learning disability, depression, anxiety, addictions, perfectionism, financial difficulties, self-doubt, and the problems that come from balancing school with family and work. I hope to be able to own my vulnerabilities and share them with those in need. Because of the Pathway Program and my shepherds, I have a responsibility to find others and let them know they are needed, wanted, and welcome, no matter who they are or where they come from or what challenges they may be facing. To be honest, I'm not sure how or when these opportunities will arise, but when the Lord sees fit to put these tender moments in front of me, I will not hesitate to seize the opportunity.
CARMA MILLER: I'd like to share one more story from long ago, but with implications for each of us. Had this story not occurred, it's likely our own stories would be different.
In 1847, the same year the pioneers entered the Salt Lake Valley, Jacob Spori was born in a small village in the Swiss Alps. Jacob entered college at the age of 16, and three years later, he graduated with honors in German, French, math, history, music, penmanship, drafting, geography, religion, psychology, and the natural sciences.
Jacob was soon widely recognized for his excellence as a thinker and teacher. He was honored in national publications, invited to serve on a prestigious church council, and elected by a landslide vote to the town council.
By age 30, Jacob and his wife, Magdalena, were the parents of two children, owned a large home, and were important members of their community. From all appearances, Jacob was successful, yet he felt unsettled. His fine mind began to question his life's purpose and its relationship to his religious culture. This was particularly dangerous because his family, employment, and social standing were completely intertwined with the Swiss Reformed Church.
And then Jacob heard something that astounded him. God's great kingdom of the future had been restored to the earth and was being established in America's Far West. Jacob was not naïve and understood the consequences of such an event. He wrote: "Many terrible things were being said about this people, the Mormons. I fully expected this, knowing that all the powers and lies of darkness would be rushed to the battle once God initiated the restoration of all things." Nevertheless, Jacob was baptized. His testimony was bright, and his devotion never faltered, although his wife had no interest in his newfound religion. As soon as he joined the Church, Jacob lost his community status. His teaching was questioned, he underwent an intense investigation, and his teaching contract was canceled. During the next election, he received less than 10 percent of the vote.
Jacob desired to go to the Zion he had sought for many years. Going meant leaving his wife and children behind. Magdalena stood to lose the family fortune if she went with Jacob, so she and the children moved into her parents' home, and Jacob left for Zion. By staying, Magdalena faced the ridicule of relatives and friends after Jacob left. She steadily refused their pleadings to divorce him, and although she could not see the truth of the gospel, she recognized that his faith had made him a finer man.
Zion contrasted sharply with Jacob's sheltered academic life in Switzerland. As an immigrant who did not speak English, it was impossible to find work in academics, languages, or writing. Fortunately he was strong and energetic, so he shoveled snow, laid railroad track, and did farm and sawmill work. This created a new humility, and later, as a missionary, Jacob introduced himself simply as a woodchopper, never mentioning his education or teaching experience. Jacob was often lonely and depressed, missing his wife and children terribly, but he considered himself rich and blessed for having found the gospel.
After five years in Utah, Jacob accepted a call to serve in the Swiss-German mission. His first month was spent becoming reacquainted with his wife and children. Because of Jacob's extraordinary ability with languages, he was reassigned to serve as the first LDS missionary in the Middle East. Through a series of events involving a severe injury when their oldest daughter fell from a swing, Sister Spori witnessed the power of the gospel, and she was baptized and confirmed just a week before Jacob left for Constantinople (now Istanbul), Turkey. The trip was difficult, and he tormented himself with guilt that he'd been too long away from his family and had now left them again. Letters from home were difficult as Magdalena wrote of her own doubts and of her worry for their injured child.
In Turkey, Jacob forced himself to focus on his missionary work, and peace came as he taught the gospel in five new languages he'd learned: Turkish, Armenian, Syrian, Hebrew, and Arabic. Six months later, news arrived that their 10-year-old daughter, Katharina, had died from her injuries. Jacob managed to accept her death and continue working. He was sent to Israel, where he performed the first baptism in Palestine and assisted in the formation of the first LDS branch there. Jacob served faithfully, and, after 2 ½ years of service, earned enough money to return home.
Within two months of Jacob's return, the family left Switzerland forever. They came directly to Rexburg, Idaho, a small settlement established only five years earlier. Magdalena, 8 ½ months pregnant, said the hardest trip of her life was the final 25 miles to Rexburg, jolting across lava beds in a hay wagon with no springs. The Sporis lived temporarily in the tithing granary where Magdalena delivered their fifth baby.
Jacob was chosen as principal of the new Bannock Stake Academy, founded in late 1888. He had no doubt he'd been called to Rexburg to build the kingdom. Jacob Spori clearly understood your future when he articulated this prophetic statement 128 years ago: "The seeds we are planting today will grow and become mighty oaks, and their branches will run all over the earth."[ix]
As you may have expected, the fledgling Bannock Stake Academy struggled, and Jacob honored his sacred duty to keep it running. Through the great personal sacrifice of Jacob and subsequent leaders, the Bannock Stake Academy became Ricks College and, ultimately, BYU-Idaho.
Now, I'd like you to think about your own BYU-Idaho story. As you tell your story to your own children and grandchildren, how will you cast yourself? Will you be a seed, a branch, or a mighty oak? I'd like to give you the opportunity now to take 60 seconds and share even just a small part of your BYU-Idaho story with a neighbor. Please take 60 seconds to share.
I hope you had an opportunity to share a meaningful story.
Shortly before his assignment to lead BYU-Pathway Worldwide, I asked President Gilbert about his BYU-Idaho story. It's an amazing story that I would characterize as a page-turner filled with remarkable twists and turns. I have thought often since then of the incredible wealth of stories in the lives of our BYU-Idaho teachers, leaders, and students. In closing, I'd like to share with you President Gilbert's response to a question I asked him: "Why here? Why BYU-Idaho?" Perhaps it will help us find greater clarity as we compose our own stories. President Gilbert responded:
If we really understand BYU-Idaho, we understand that its location matters. Not only is it rural; it is isolated. You would come here only if you believed you were coming to build the kingdom. There is something about this place that requires those who come to know they are supposed to be here. They didn't come for the weather or the scenic views of the sagebrush. Whether faculty, staff, administration, or students, I believe every person is here for a purpose. Many students here sacrificed because they didn't get their preferred track, didn't get to start fall semester like their high school friends, or because it is so cold. Yet the Lord brought them here. And He will consecrate their affliction for their good.[x]
If you have not shared your BYU-Idaho story, I encourage you to share your story before today ends. Even if your story is a very rough draft, you will plant a seed that will root you to your past and will begin to define your future. I bear testimony that your life, and your purpose in being here at BYU-Idaho, is not just a series of coincidences. You are here for a purpose. Knowing and telling your own story will bless your life and the lives of others. I say this in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
[i] Henry J. Eyring and Kelly C. Eyring, "Hello, My Friend," BYU-Idaho Devotional, Apr. 18, 2017. [ii] Douglas Phan, interview. [iii] Ibid. [iv] Ibid. [v] Ibid. [vi] Tiffany Anderson, interview. [vii] Ibid. [viii] Ibid. [ix] Jacob Spori, Bannock Stake Academy Dedication, Nov. 12, 1888, quoted in David L. Crowder, The Spirit of Ricks: A History of Ricks College (1997), 3-4. [x] Clark G. Gilbert, interview.