One week after I graduated from high school, I enlisted in the United States Air Force Reserves. I would enter basic training in San Antonio, Texas. I looked forward to leaving the small community where I had grown up and to being on my own.
During my last few months of high school, I had developed apathy toward the gospel and my testimony of it. I believed it was true, but everything in my life was going so well that I thought it didn’t matter whether or not I said my prayers, read the scriptures, or attended church.
As I said good-bye to my parents to leave for basic training, my mother reminded me that the Lord would never forsake me and exhorted me to turn to Him in my hour of need.
From the first day of basic training, I experienced an intense culture shock as I underwent the transformation from civilian into Air Force airman. The environment was demanding and hostile, and I developed a deep regret for my decision to enlist. I felt alone and utterly hopeless as the days dragged on, and I developed a homesickness that made me want to admit defeat and quit.
As I experienced the darkest days of my life, the words of my mother sank deep into my heart. For the first time in my life, I cried out to my Father in Heaven in the agony of my soul to please forgive me for my earlier apathy. I told Him that I needed Him, and I begged Him to help me.
After a long and difficult two weeks, we were allowed to attend church services of our choice. For the first time in my life, I yearned to attend church and to be in the company of other Latter-day Saints. The opening hymn that Sabbath day was number 85, “How Firm a Foundation.” I had sung this hymn many times before but had never paid close attention to the words. Now, as I sang the second verse, I realized that the hymn referred to the circumstances of my life: “. . . At home or abroad, on the land or the sea—As thy days may demand, … so thy succor shall be.” As I began the third verse, I felt an outpouring of the Holy Ghost overwhelm me. I felt my Father in Heaven was communicating with me through the words of the hymn. I felt as if my heart would burst from the immense love that filled my soul, and I could no longer sing but silently read the words: “Fear not, I am with thee; oh, be not dismayed, For I am thy God and will still give thee aid. I’ll strengthen thee, help thee, and cause thee to stand, Upheld by my righteous, … omnipotent hand.”
I had never felt such love, peace, and comfort before, and I knew, independent of any other person, that there is a God in heaven who knows and loves each of us as His children.
With the Lord’s help I was able to persevere and successfully complete basic training. Upon graduating, I went on to complete my training at Chanute Air Force Base near Champaign, Illinois. Once again, the first Sunday I attended church there, the opening hymn in sacrament meeting was “How Firm a Foundation.” I knew the Lord was letting me know He was still with me and would see me through this difficult and demanding period of life.
A few weeks later I received a disturbing letter from my mother. She was battling cancer and felt she could no longer endure the chemotherapy treatments and did not have the strength to struggle onward. That Sunday I wrote to her and told her about my experience in basic training. I exhorted her to read the third verse of “How Firm a Foundation,” and I explained how it had answered my prayers and given me the courage and the stamina to endure adversity, knowing that I was not alone in my trials.
The following week I received a letter from my mother, written the same evening I had written to her. She had been very sick that Sunday morning but managed to attend sacrament meeting. The opening hymn was “How Firm a Foundation,” and as she sang the third verse, she felt that the Savior was speaking directly to her and that she could endure as long as necessary, for the Lord was with her in her affliction.
With the Lord’s help, I was able to successfully complete my military training. I returned home with a fervent testimony that God lives, and I was better prepared to serve a mission the following year. I was able to enjoy another six months of my mother presence before she was relieved of her pain and suffering and passed away. I am thankful for a loving Father in Heaven who is mindful of His children and who gave me strength through the words of a sacred hymn during a trying time of life.