The summer morning was crisp and cool as I stood on the banks of the Snake River. My thoughts were intent upon the beauties of nature and the handiwork of an all-wise Heavenly Father. I had come to this favorite spot on a few other occasions. Nearby were the headgates of the great feeder canals which furnish the water for the fertile fields of several counties.
Deep in thought and contemplation, I observed a tiny object some great distance up the river. As it came closer I was able to determine that it was a rubber raft. It was not until a few minutes later that I could see there were several people sitting around the edges of the small raft. Ahead of them was a bend in the great river, just where I was standing. The water was high and very swift. To follow the main course of the river was safe, and it was traveled by hundreds of boaters every year. But I sensed the little party was having trouble in rounding the bend, and the raft was being sucked closer to the feeder gates. I felt that danger lay ahead for this company that appeared to be a family.
Quickly I reached the structure where the water rushed into the great feeder canal under the cement. Cars could drive across the dam, and I judged it was 60–70 feet across. As I looked over the edge of the feeder gates, I could see that the raft had come to rest against the cement. There were several large, swift water holes sucking under it. Then I saw that a young father and mother, a grandmother, and two little boys, the occupants of the raft were standing up, trying to push themselves along the cement wall to the bank where they could get to safety. The father reached his hand up toward me and shouted, “Help us!” Oh, how I wanted to. I reached down as far as I could for his hand, but he was three feet below my reach. As he desperately reached toward me, I saw the raft turn on its side. With all five family members, it was sucked under the swirling water.
I was horrified! My first thought was that they would be caught under the dam on the iron rods that were placed there to catch the limbs that drifted down the river. I turned to see if they would come out the other side.
The water was jumping eight to ten feet high in a foaming froth as it came into the mighty canal. I ran from the dam down the side of the canal. I saw the father come up through the foaming water, then the mother. Both appeared to be good swimmers. I heard the grandmother screaming. She was 50 yards downstream and apparently could not swim. I ran down the bank and was able to bring her safely to shore.
We all stood on the bank petrified. Where were the two little boys? The mother was screaming at the top of her voice. The father was running up and down the banks of the roaring stream. Neither of the little boys surfaced. I was the sole witness of this tragic scene.
At that moment a car crossed the dam toward us. I gave the driver a quick explanation, and he hurried for help. In just moments more people came and soon the banks of the canal were crowded. Motor boats were going up and down the canal, but to no avail. The two little boys could not be found.
In a moment of crisis and tragedy many thoughts and questions fill our minds. My mind was racing wildly. In a split second I had seen a happy family transformed into a family of panic, grief, sadness, and loneliness, just because they failed to negotiate a bend in the river, just because the turbulence had sucked them into the wrong channel and away from the right course. My heart ached for this young father and mother as I saw the look of grief and despair on their saddened faces.
As I drove home, my mind was troubled. Two young boys had drowned. What is death? Only a temporary separation, if plans have been made in the temple to be an eternal family. But what of parents who lose a son or daughter to turbulences in the stream of life, who get sucked into the wrong channels of bad habits and wrongdoing? A son or daughter who loses a testimony, faith, and sometimes even hope? I have witnessed happy families made sad, who suffer for a lifetime because a member of the family failed to stay on the proper course.
Father in Heaven is not the author of sadness or unhappiness. He is the author of joy and happiness. The Book of Mormon makes this clear: “Men are, that they might have joy” (2 Ne. 2:25). “Happiness is the object and design of our existence; and will be the end thereof, if we pursue the path that leads to it” the Prophet Joseph Smith has told us (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, comp. Joseph Fielding Smith, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1976, p. 255). The path to happiness has been so clearly marked.
Young people, you live in a fast-moving world. You must think clearly and make the right choices. So much of your future life will depend on the choices you make now. You must avoid the pitfalls of evil leading the wrong way.
In a few careless moments as we journey down the stream of life, sin creeps in, bringing panic, grief, sadness into our lives and into the lives of our loved ones. Some people feel that living the gospel and doing the things they are asked to do takes away their freedom and they rebel against it, saying “I want to be my own person, I want to be free, I don’t want to be constrained with all the rules and regulations of the gospel.” But Satan’s goal is to bind each of us, not set us free.
Contrast this with the vast majority of our youth who hold to “the iron rod” (see 1 Ne. 8:19–30); who keep the commandments of God, fill missions, marry in the temple, and raise families; who seek education and prepare to give service in the Church and public positions—our great number of young people who pay tithing and fast offerings, study the scriptures, attend church, and so arrange their lives to bring happiness to family, friends, and themselves. They have a promise. Doctrine and Covenants 82:10 says: “I, the Lord, am bound when ye do what I say; but when ye do not what I say, ye have no promise.” [D&C 82:10] Doctrine and Covenants 130:20–21 says: “There is a law, irrevocably decreed in Heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated—And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated.” [D&C 130:20–21]
I sincerely believe we have the finest generation of young people we have ever had. What a great blessing was mine to preside over a temple of God and see our young people come there by the hundreds, worthy to receive the higher ordinances of the gospel. Several hundred came every year to receive the great blessing of the temple endowment, preparatory to serving a mission. Other hundreds came after filling missions, to kneel at the altar and join hands with their sweethearts to be sealed together in eternal marriage. Parents and family of each bride and groom had a glow of happiness on their faces as their wedding party left the temple grounds. My thoughts turn to a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow:
How beautiful is youth! how bright it gleams
With its illusions, aspirations, dreams!
Book of Beginnings, Story without End!
Each maid a heroine, and each man a friend!
(“Moriturni Salutamus,” lines 66–69.)
You are in a sense writing a book, a story without end, and what you do today—the seeds you sow—will determine whether the later chapters in your book will be good or bad, happy or sad. Each day becomes a part of your history. You have no rehearsals, no reruns. You’ll get out of life what you put into it. The little things you do each day will determine your status in the eternities with your Father in Heaven.
I feel Father in Heaven saved you for such a time as this. He knew you were strong and valiant in the premortal existence and could resist Satan and his evil forces in this day. Don’t let Him down! You are a child of God. Live accordingly; never compromise what you know is right. Don’t let a moment’s excitement or glamour deprive you of your destiny.
Day by day living his gospel brings happiness. You can get up every morning proud of what you did the day before—looking forward with anticipation to another day. This is true happiness.