Latter-day Saint Voices: Striving for Excellence

By Shane Wise, as told to Christie Giles


President Gordon B. Hinckley has said: “This is the great day of decision for each of us. For many it is the time of beginning something that will go on for as long as you live. … Rise to the high ground of spiritual, mental, and physical excellence. You can do it. You may not be a genius. You may be lacking in some skills. But so many of us can do better than we are now doing. We are members of this great Church whose influence is now felt over the world. We are people with a present and with a future. … Be excellent” (“The Quest for Excellence,” Liahona, September 1999, 6). Following are accounts of youth who are achieving excellence in their lives by striving to follow the example of the Savior, Jesus Christ, and live His gospel.

Look and See

Doesn’t he realize he’s making us late for an appointment with the best family I’ve ever taught? my mind screamed as I turned my bike around. I was a missionary in the Taiwan Taipei Mission, and my new companion, Elder Loo, was lagging behind as usual.

I found him talking to a woman who was angrily holding a thick stick in one hand and clenching the arm of a small, whimpering boy with the other. I listened as Elder Loo tried to talk her out of beating the boy. She left without the stick.

When we finally arrived at our destination, my companion taught the family about “the first and great commandment,” to love the Lord. “And the second is like unto it,” he read, “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” (Matt. 22:38–39).

I flinched. Although I had taught this discussion many times, it was as if I were hearing the scripture for the first time. I would have helped that little boy if we hadn’t been late, I rationalized. But I couldn’t convince myself.

Following a beautiful discussion on sacrifice and service, we made our way to our next appointment. But before we got far, I realized I was again alone. Elder Loo was helping a drunken man who had wrecked his motorcycle.

As we peddled slowly through the crowded market, my companion stopped again. I watched as he knelt by a crying child who appeared to be lost. The child’s eyes were red and puffy, and his face was streaked with tears. We didn’t leave until Elder Loo had assurances from people who said they would locate the boy’s parents.

I followed in silence, my mind racing. Why hadn’t I noticed the crying child? Or the motorcyclist? Why did he see things I missed?

Then it dawned on me. He saw opportunities to serve because he looked for them. He didn’t trail behind because he was just enjoying the scenery; he was looking for people in need.

I wondered what I would see if I really looked.

The next morning I didn’t race ahead of my companion. We rode side by side, looking, listening, and ready to serve.

Since then, whenever I think no one needs my help, I slow down and take another look. It’s amazing what I see.

A Study Plan

When I was only five years old, my father told me he was impressed with my first-grade notebooks. He told me I should learn in every free moment I could find. Because he died shortly thereafter, that moment was the last time I saw my father really pleased with me. As a result, I have always studied for my own pleasure, but also for my dad.

Many years later as a university student, I worked hard and enjoyed my education. When I was baptized a member of the Naples Centro Branch, Naples Italy District, my joy became complete. I had found the truth I’d always searched for. I spent happy hours reading the Book of Mormon, other scriptures, and the Liahona (Italian). The more I studied such inspired works, the greater was my desire to learn. What joy I found studying the gospel! I loved to put the commandments into practice and enjoyed visiting teaching and working with the missionaries.

But as my attention to spiritual learning increased, my university studies slipped. I even missed exams because I had not studied enough. When my nonmember mother found out about my changed habits, she said, “Enough of this Church! Enough with these Mormons!”

Her words stung me. My behavior was not the Church’s fault; the guilt was mine. I felt ashamed for setting a bad example for my mother.

I knew my college studies were important, but I couldn’t give up the studying that was so delicious to my soul. What could I do? I went to God in prayer. Finally, after many prayers, I had my answer.

Today there are two stacks of books on my desk. On the right are the scriptures and the most recent issue of the Liahona; on the left are the books for my next exam. Each day, I start and end my studies with a scripture. I have restricted myself to a firm schedule in which I reward myself during study breaks with an article from the magazine or a chapter in the Book of Mormon.

From this experience I’ve learned a great lesson. We should develop ourselves in all good things so we can be positive examples and serve others. Jesus Himself “increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man” (Luke 2:52).

I continue with my study plan, always trying to stay close to the Lord and find ways to serve Him in all my activities—spiritual and secular.

Fitting In

As I lay in the motel room anticipating the next day’s state cross-country race, I struggled with all the difficult emotions a 16-year-old can have. I felt I was running worse than in past years. I felt ugly. Having never had a date or a boyfriend compounded my feelings of insecurity. I wanted so badly to feel accepted.

I had gone to bed early, and my teammates thought I was asleep. I heard them giggling, and then they nudged my shoulder and said, “Here, Jenny. Have some water.” I could distinctly smell that it was not water.

I was angry at these “friends” for trying to play a trick on me. Did they think I was stupid? I was scared they might force the alcohol down my throat. I yearned for the security of my family, but that seemed childish for someone my age.

A thousand questions raced through my mind. By drinking, will I be part of the “in” crowd? Will the alcohol make me beautiful? Will it give me a boyfriend? Will I be able to run faster or even win the race tomorrow?

I knew the answers to these questions. I said firmly, “No, that’s not water, and I’m not going to drink it.” Even though both of those girls beat me in the race the next day, I knew I had won a more important race in the Lord’s eyes.

The bus trip home seemed particularly long. I was anxious to return to my family and tell my mother what had happened.

The next night at dinner Mom presented me with a gift. My five brothers and sisters watched me open it. It was to let me know my family was proud of my decision to live the Word of Wisdom.

Around the dinner table that night my family helped me feel talented, beautiful, and accepted—an acceptance I may never find at school or on a cross-country team.

Preparing for Life’s Storms

In northern Germany where I live, winter’s snowstorms had taken their time coming. So I didn’t pay any attention to the prediction of snow on the radio that particular morning. If the weather does happen to change, I thought, I’ll already be home. I left to catch the bus—not warmly dressed at all.

By the time school let out, it was snowing heavily, and after I got off the bus, I had to ride my bike the rest of the way home. I was angry with myself for ignoring the weather forecast on the radio.

The sharp east wind blew against me, and small snowflakes whipped into my face like a thousand pins. An icy shiver crawled over my body. The way home was not only difficult but painful.

When I finally arrived home, I changed clothes and watched the snowstorm from the comfort of my room. It occurred to me then that life can be compared to my experience that day.

We know that at times in life our faith and obedience will be put to the test, yet we sometimes ignore warnings and don’t prepare ourselves sufficiently to resist temptation. I know from personal experience we can find ourselves in precarious situations more quickly than we would like. Spiritual preparation can help us know what our Father in Heaven desires for us, and preparation makes it possible for our spirits to govern our bodies when we are tempted. Preparing is far better than experiencing the pains of sin.

Each of us should prepare for the coming storms of life, even when we don’t see them over the next horizon.

[illustration] Detail from Christ and the Rich Young Ruler, by Heinrich Hofmann

[illustrations] Illustrated by Brian Call