Cancer Warrior

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Heather Von St. James first met her husband Cameron via the internet in 1998. “I had moved to the Twin Cities on bit of a whim, and didn’t know anyone, so I went online looking to just meet people from the area, no romantic inclinations whatsoever, but then we met,” said James. They were married ten months later.

Early in the marriage, James learned that she had mesothelioma, a rare form of cancer. “We immediately knew we needed to fight, and a quiet determination took over quite fast,” said James. They immediately got on the path to fight mesothelioma together and never second guessed their choice.

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Heather with her daughter, Lily.

James went to Boston to receive treatment. She was often away for long periods of time from her husband and young daughter Lily. To cope with her predicament, James would sleep with a baby blanket of Lily’s. She said God, Lily, and Cameron helped keep her going. “God is my reason for hope,” said James, “He brought me through this and I do what I do because of Him.” James was able to beat mesothelioma.

James talks about how she has her good and bad days. In February, her father passed away and healing from his death has been tough for her. “I think I’ve cried more in the last 2 months than I have in the last 8 years,” says James.

James still won’t give up though. “I am taking a lot of what I learned through my battle, and am using it to get through this part of the journey, too,” says James.

Today James strives to bring awareness to the world of what mesothelioma is. She also strives to make a difference in the lives of all those she comes in contact with. “I’m there for people when they need me, and am trying my best to help out the meso community,” says James.

James is involved with the Mesothelioma Foundation. She has met many other mesothelioma survivors along the way. “They inspire me,” says James.

James has also been getting involved with other survivor communities, including Stupid Cancer, which is geared toward young adult cancer survivors.

James says that if she didn’t have God to lean on during her battle with mesothelioma she doesn’t know where she’d be today. When asked what the greatest lesson was that she gained from her experiences she said, “I’m stronger than I ever dreamed I was but my strength isn’t my own.”

We may feel weak at times like Heather did but one cannot underestimate the power of the human spirit. You may be facing similar challenges like Heather or trying circumstances. Do not doubt yourself. Rely on God and those you love. Together, they will help you achieve your true potential in life and reach heights you never dreamed possible.

To find out how you can help, or learn more about Heather’s journey, check out her blog page at:

http://www.mesothelioma.com/heather/#.U4FFMsKTfIU

 
 

Not Holding Back

“I have to keep going. I have too many fun things that I want to do!”

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Meet Elsha Stockseth. At eleven months, it was discovered that she had muscular dystrophy, when she couldn’t sit up anymore like the other kids her age. “Honestly I didn’t really react because I didn’t know anything else,” said Elsha.

One day as a child, Elsha began to cry and told her Mom she was sad because she wasn’t like the other kids. Her Mom thought, “Oh great, we are going to have that talk.” Her Mom asked, “What makes you feel different?” Elsha told her Mom, “I can’t blow a bubble with my gum like the other kids.” So her Mom taught her.

“Sometimes there were things that I didn’t want to do but my Mom wouldn’t let me just not do them,especially if there was a way I could,” said Elsha. Thus, began her journey to do the impossible, despite being diagnosed with muscular dystrophy.

Elsha’s accomplishments include:

  • Square dancing. Elsha decided to give it a try after some encouragement from her Mom and enjoyed it–especially when she got to drive in circles in her electric wheel chair.
  • Snow tubing
  • River floating

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  • Going on a waterslide
  • Racing in 5 and 10K races

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  • Participating in art shows

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  • Attending multiple high school dances

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  • Starting her own holiday card business to help fund the African Well Fund. “I could relate to the African children since I couldn’t eat well and they are starving, yet always happy,” said Elsha. Last year, she was able to sell over 2,000 of her holiday cards.

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  • Meeting two real-life astronauts, including one who was on the space shuttle Columbia, when it exploded on reentry.

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  • Touring the Kennedy Space Center and going to the launch pad while the space shuttle was on it.
  • Maintaining a GPA of 4.0. “I always studied and had great teachers,” said Elsha, “I guess I just worked really hard for the 4.0 and didn’t give up.”
  • Meeting her favorite band, U2.

And Elsha doesn’t intend to have her list end. “My mom says that I make her tired because I am always planning or doing ten different things,” she says.

Ask yourself:

1.       What dreams do I have?

2.       What stands in my way of accomplishing them?

3.       How can I overcome those obstacles to achieve them?

If Elsha continues to fulfill her dreams, so can you!

Follow Elsha’s blog at: http://eartbyelsha.com/

My Cousin, Anne Frank

An anonymous author said, “Dreams are like stars…you may never touch them, but if you follow them they will lead you to your destiny.”

A month ago, I talked with a close friend of mine from BYU-I. We were talking about big choices we were making with education and work as we neared graduating from college. We were also talking about the uncertainty of the future and deciding where to go in life. Decisions like that can be frightening, as all of you know. A destiny starts with a dream. Each of us has a specific role to play in this life and it’s up to us to choose how our destiny begins.

This summer I had the opportunity to correspond with Anne Frank’s only surviving cousin, Buddy Elias, and learned how the simplest of people can change the world. Anne Frank is well known around the world for the diary she wrote while hiding in Amsterdam from 1942-1944 before being discovered by the Nazis. Anne Frank was only fifteen when she died in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp with her older sister, Margot, from typhoid.

Anne Frank was four years older than Buddy, who she playfully referred to as “Bernd.” Despite their age difference, Anne and Buddy were the best of friends because they were both adventurous. “When we played together she always had ideas on what to play or do,” said Buddy. “She loved to dress up and imitate actors. She also loved my puppet theatre. Also hide and seek.” A vivid memory Buddy has of his cousin is when she dared him to put on one of his Mom’s dresses, hat, and high heel shoes, then imitate his Mom.

Buddy’s father became a representative of a German firm in Switzerland and moved there in 1929. He was joined by the rest of his family in 1931. This move most assuredly saved their lives during the Holocaust. When the persecution of the Jews begin after Hitler’s ascension to power in 1933, Buddy’s father helped Anne Frank’s Dad, Otto, secure a job in Holland, helping the Franks escape persecution for a time.

The last time Buddy saw Anne was either in 1938 or 1939, just before World War II broke out. They vacationed at a villa in the Swiss Alps, being spoiled by the wealthy owner.

When World War II broke out, Buddy’s family was naturally afraid for the Franks. The last they heard from them in writing was on a postcard that was sent from Amsterdam in July of 1942 just hours before they went into hiding. The two families had corresponded via letters but it was implied in this postcard that the flow of letters would stop for a time.

The years went slowly by anxiously for Buddy and his family in Basel, Switzerland. They lived in constant fear of the Germans invading Switzerland. Their home was located just fifteen minutes from the German border. Despite being in Switzerland, Buddy also faced anti-semitism in school. A teacher in his school called him, “a dirty little Jew.” When World War II drew to a close, Buddy watched, from behind a tree, U.S. tanks move across the French border into Germany.

Buddy and his family soon heard from Otto Frank on the phone from Amsterdam. They learned that everyone in the Frank family had perished in the Holocaust. “It was a terribly sad day,” said Buddy.

One of Anne Frank’s dreams was to one day have writings of hers published. Otto Frank was initially hesitant to publish his deceased daughter’s diary but eventually did in Holland in the summer of 1947. Today Anne Frank’s diary is one of the most read books in the world.

Buddy still remembers when he read his cousin’s diary for the first time and cried when his name was mentioned in it. When I asked him how he felt when reading about himself in her diary, Buddy said, “Very, very happy and grateful.”

Buddy, like his cousin, has followed his dreams and helped change the world. In his lifetime, Buddy has been an ice skater, comedian, singer, and actor. Now he strives to keep the memory of Anne alive by giving lectures at various establishments and running Anne Frank Fonds, an organization based in Switzerland honoring her memory. “I live with Anne’s inheritance every day,” said Buddy.

Each of us has a part to play in this world. Anne Frank most likely didn’t see herself becoming a best-selling author one day. Anne was no wonder child—just a lively, intelligent girl who inherited the writing talent of the Frank family. Anne Frank was just a normal girl growing up in Europe during one of the darkest times in the world. She may have not seen herself as someone that could change the world through her writing, yet she did.

You may feel unknown in the world like Anne Frank did when hiding from the Nazis in Amsterdam, but you have the possibility to change the whole world through your actions. Never doubt your potential in life. Follow your dreams! Realize your destiny in life like Anne did and prepare to change the hearts of millions like she did in her short life.

To learn more about Buddy and Anne please check out these links:

BBC Interview: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-18549657

PR.com Interview: http://www.pr.com/article/1099

A book that details more about the relationship Buddy had with the Franks: http://www.amazon.com/Treasures-Attic-Extraordinary-Franks-Family/dp/038553339X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1376878408&sr=8-1&keywords=buddy+elias

The main webpage of Anne Frank Fonds, run by Buddy Elias: http://www.annefrank.ch/

A Family’s Legacy

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Every picture represents a story.

During our visit, Stephen took me into a small room in his home filled with family pictures. In the middle of the room was a beautiful painting that Stephen Nasser had painted of his parents and older brother from a photograph taken before the war.

I asked Stephen, “How were you able to save all of these family photographs?”

“Not all of my family was killed during the Holocaust,” he said. “Some of them were saved by a Swedish diplomat named Raoul Wallenberg. They were able to hang onto some of our family photographs.”

Raoul Wallenberg was a Swedish diplomat that came to Budapest, Hungary, and helped save the lives of tens of thousands of Hungarian Jews. To learn about him, please click here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Raul_Wallenberg

Stephen Nasser next showed me his living room. He pointed out a statue of Joseph Smith, the founder of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, with his brother Hyrum Smith behind him. The two of them were close and were brutally killed by a mob in Carthage Jail on June 27, 1844.

Pointing the statue out to me Stephen said, “A member from your church in Salt Lake City gave this to me. They told me, ‘I know you were close with your brother Andris before he died. You may not share our beliefs but I thought you’d appreciate this statue because I am sure you can relate to the brotherly bond the Smiths shared.’ That’s why I keep it; because it reminds me of the bond I felt and still feel with my brother.”

Through the living room window, Stephen pointed out his backyard, filled with many statues, plants, and trees. He pointed out a statue to me in the middle. It was of two young boys playing. One of the boys was climbing up a ladder while the other was holding it to make sure the other didn’t fall.

“That statue is significant to me,” said Stephen, “there’s not a day goes by where I don’t think of my brother. I like to think that statue is of me helping my older brother Andris go peacefully to heaven when he died in my arms in Muhldorf.”

I learned that Stephen hadn’t published his diary for one reason—his uncle. In 1943, his Jewish uncle was drafted into the Hungarian Army to fight on the Russian Front. Because of that, his uncle was not with Stephen and the rest of his family when they were sent to Auschwitz. His uncle survived the war and was reunited with Stephen in 1945. He asked Stephen if he knew the fate of his wife, Bozsi, and baby son, Peter.

“Unfortunately, I was an eyewitness to their murder just a few feet away,” said Stephen, “so, I looked at him and lied.”

It wasn’t until after 1996, when his uncle passed away, that Stephen published his diary and the story of what really happened to his uncle’s family in Auschwitz. Today, Stephen travels the world delivering motivational speeches to many audiences and is in the process of making his book My Brother’s Voice into a play. He focuses specifically on family unity and love.

Nasser tells audience members, ““Do you know how much I would give from my life to be able to hug my brother, my parents, or do an errand for them? I would give half my life but I can’t. But all of you still have this opportunity.”

Lastly, he encourages listeners to often express love to their families and to give them two hugs instead of one.

“And if they ask, ‘What’s the second hug for?’ You can tell them, ‘It’s for Mr. Nasser because he cannot hug his family.’”

Talking with Stephen for two hours changed my life. I learned to be more optimistic during trials, to look for the good in dark times, and to appreciate my family even more than before. Your family needs your love, especially in these dark times. Don’t let anything sever your relationship with them. Let them know you love them as you’ll never know when they will be gone.

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To learn more about Stephen Nasser, I would highly encourage you to read his book My Brother’s Voice. I just finished reading the entire book in one weekend and was astounded with all the miracles that Stephen saw. I’ve only shared a tiny portion of Stephen’s incredible story. Read his book and get to know him. This is a man worth knowing! Also check out his blog at: http://mybrothersvoice.com/category/stephen-nasser/

Miracles In Mühldorf

A few days after they were unloaded from a crowded cattle car in Auschwitz, Stephen and his brother, Andris, cleverly switched places into a departing transport of prisoners that were being shipped to Mühldorf, a concentration camp in Bavaria. Despite physical abuse and exhausting work assignments, Stephen and his brother survived day by day, losing weight and strength rapidly. But they were determined to live, and brotherly love kept them going.

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Stephen (on right) and older brother Andris fishing at Lake Balaton in Hungary before the war. 

In Mühldorf, Stephen took up the hobby of wood carving in his spare time in the concentration camp. He hoped that the carvings could earn him and his older brother some food to keep them alive. His first customer was a German soldier, known simply as “Herr Hoffman”, who was guarding them on a work detail. Stephen’s first sculpture was that of a horse’s head and he showed it to Herr Hoffman. Herr Hoffman exclaimed, “Son, that’s beautiful! Where did you find it?”

Stephen responded proudly, “I carved it, sir.”

“You did?!” exclaimed Herr Hoffman, “you think I could have this?” Stephen gave the horse carving to Herr Hoffman. Herr Hoffman pondered for a second and then said, “Can you carve some more?” Stephen responded that he could. The soldier asked, “What would you like for it?”

Stephen said, “Well, if you could give me some extra food for my brother and I that I can share, and a couple of pencils.”  Herr Hoffman looked at him stunned and said, “What do you need pencils for? You’re in a concentration camp! Not in school!”

But Stephen replied quickly, “Sir, the same way as I love to carve I also love to draw.

Herr Hoffman exclaimed “Oh you are a little artist” and he gave Stephen two pencils. Stephen took the papers he had made from the cement paper bags in the barracks and shaped them in to a diary with crude wires. After work back at the barracks, he started to draw, and cleverly wrote his diary hidden under his drawings. Herr Hoffman continued to trade all of Stephen’s sculptures for food. But Stephen’s luck ran out when a SS officer stepped on his hand with studded boots which ended his carving days.

As the Allies came closer, Andris died in Stephens arms. The SS soldiers in the camp fled from the advancing Allies and left the remaining Wermacht (German Army) soldiers in command. Their order was to put the prisoners in cattle cars and transport them to the Bavarian Alps for execution. “They did not want to take us to Bavaria to execute us,” said Nasser, “apparently they didn’t want any more blood on their hands. They were hoping that the Americans or Allied forces would capture us.” General Patton’s Third Army liberated the train as it approached the Alps. Sixty-four inmates died in Stephen’s cattle car alone, before the liberation. The moving photo was taken just after the train was liberated. As I sat in Stephen’s home, he pointed out his teenage self in 1945, convinced he is the one in the photo, who was discovered unconscious and woke up in a hospital in Seeshaupt after his liberation.

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These two stories are just a sample of Stephen’s miraculous life. Before I left Stephen’s home in North Las Vegas, I purchased his book. As I’ve started to read it I can see why Stephen considers his life a gift from God. His life has been filled with many miracles and angelic figures in his life who have helped keep him going. I look forward to finishing his inspiring book, titled, “My Brother’s Voice”, which can be purchased through clicking on this link to Amazon:

http://www.amazon.com/My-Brothers-Voice-Hungarian Holocaust/dp/1932173099/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1374351241&sr=8-1&keywords=my+brothers+voice

Miracles and charitable figures are possible to find in our society, no matter how dark the period. Consider your life a gift from God and look for the small miracles and people in your life that help keep you going. Realize that it’s in the most challenging of times that we see the greatest miracles in our lives, like Stephen Nasser did during the Holocaust.

Surviving Auschwitz

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“I had to keep on fighting. As long as God is on my side, nobody can penetrate me.”

Everyone needs to meet Stephen Nasser and hear his inspiring story of how he survived not just one, but two death camps during the dark years of the Holocaust.

Stephen was in Budapest, Hungary, when his country capitulated to Nazi Germany rule in 1943. Hungary had several hundred thousand Jews killed under Nazi rule. A majority of them met their end in Auschwitz. Stephen was one of the hundreds of thousands of Hungarian Jews that were deported to Auschwitz with his immediate and extended family in 1944 after being arrested at his home.

Stephen and his older brother, Andris, arrived in Auschwitz after a long journey in a box-car train. At Auschwitz they met their Mother, Aunt Bozsi, and their baby cousin, Peter. As they were lined up to be counted, Aunt Bozsi was nervous that she would be separated from her baby son. Stephen, Andris, and their mom encouraged Aunt Bozsi to pretend to breastfeed Peter, who was a little over a year old. They thought, “Even the Nazis wouldn’t separate a breastfeeding mother from her baby.” When it was their turn to be counted, Aunt Bozsi pretended to be breastfeeding Peter. An SS soldier came over and wrenched Peter away from Aunt Bozsi. Peter began to scream and Aunt Bozsi fought to hang on to her son. But the SS soldier was stronger and took Peter away. Another SS soldier grabbed Aunt Bozsi. Horrified, she watched her screaming baby being carried away. She struggled and broke free from the SS soldier and ran after the soldier carrying the baby on his shoulder. Sensing confusion behind him, the SS soldier with the baby turned around and came face to face with Aunt Bozsi. She clawed his face with her finger nails tearing in to his face.  The other soldier who had held onto Aunt Bozsi whacked her in the head with the butt of his gun. She crumpled into a heap and whimpered, “Please, let my baby go.” The baby was murdered just seconds afterward in a terrible manner. This happened only feet away from Stephen, who was only thirteen at the time, and he still remembers it vividly to this day, almost seventy years later.

“The Nazis controlled me physically,” said Nasser, “I could not do anything about it. But they did not control my mind.”

Stephen considered himself a “part-time prisoner.” As he laid down to sleep, he thought of memories with his parents, Andris, good times, and the Boy Scouts. His dreams were his escape to freedom. When he awoke, he considered it a terrible nightmare he had to face, until he was free again in his dreams.

Stephen spent the war in two concentration camps: Auschwitz-Birkenau and Mühldorf. In the camps, he went through much physical and emotional abuse by the Nazi guards. He also held his older brother Andris in his arms as he died. This is an experience that he still vividly remembers and thinks about daily. When the war ended, Stephen weighed seventy–two pounds and was the sole survivor of his family out of the twenty-one family members that were arrested in 1944. Stephen was the only one to return to Budapest in 1945. But that was not the end of his trials. Stephen and his wife were visiting their daughter when she collapsed to the ground, suffered a brain aneurysm, and passed away.

Anyone who meets Stephen Nasser can instantly feel of his warm, cheerful, and optimistic spirit. When I asked Stephen what his number one motto in life was, he said, “Most people have problems. I consider them challenges. If I have a challenge, I figure out how to beat it.” Stephen considers his life a gift from God.

As I left his home in North Las Vegas on a sunny Sunday afternoon, I told Stephen, “I am sorry about all the things you have had to go through.”

“Don’t be,” beamed Stephen Nasser, “I am still happy. Those challenges made me become stronger. I have a wonderful life.”

As I drove back home, I couldn’t help but cry because I was so amazed at how a man who had passed through such experiences could be so happy, loving, and still believe in God. I have met many who go through smaller challenges and lose their faith in God.

I believe everyone should meet Stephen Nasser. He is truly one of the most extraordinary men I have ever met and I hope to become like him one day. I stayed at his home for two hours learning just a small fraction of his extraordinary life. The next few weeks, I’ll be posting on my blog more lessons I learned from my visit with him.

Stephen Nasser said, “I am not God-fearing. How can I fear my best friend?”

Truly, if we consider God our best friend, our lives cannot be destroyed. If faith in God can help someone survive the Holocaust, think of what this type of faith can do for you as you pass through challenges.

Reaching Out To The One

On the evening of May 5th of this year, I went to a sermon that was broadcast from Rexburg, Idaho. The speaker was Elder William R. Walker and his sermon was on the prophet of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, President Thomas S. Monson, and the wonderful life he’s lived. As Latter-Day Saints, we believe that God continues to call prophets today, like in times of old, and that President Monson is his authorized prophet. I know this to be true. Elder Walker shared a story in the sermon from President Monson’s life that really touched me.

He talked of a time when President Monson traveled to Laie, Hawaii, to visit members of the church. While President Monson was there, a cultural celebration was presented on the BYU-Hawaii campus. During a hula dance number, President Monson noticed one of the women in the group was in a wheelchair. President Monson pointed her out to Elder Walker and commented on how lovely she was and how beautifully she was doing the dance.

Elder Walker then described what happened at the end of the cultural celebration:

“As the program ended, everyone was happy about the great performances given. As we left the stand, all of the dancers were back on the floor, including the hula dancers. President Monson didn’t follow the planned exit route but went straight to the floor to express his appreciation to the youth, and in particular he went straight to the beautiful girl in the wheelchair to commend her and express his love to her. Even in the midst of the celebration and the large crowd, President Monson again showed the pure love of the Savior. He went to the ‘one.’ He bent down and kissed her on the forehead.”
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As I sat listening, I couldn’t help but shed tears. It was there that I decided I needed to meet this girl and learn of how this experience had affected her. I may sound like a stalker but I knew there was more to this story. When I got home, I searched, found the name of this Hawaiian girl and then found her on Facebook. Surprisingly, she wasn’t creeped out by some random guy in Las Vegas wanting to interview her. What I found was a story that changed my life.
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Briana Garrido is a native in Hawaii and has many hobbies. She is constantly participating in volunteer work in Hawaii. She’s been in several theatre productions and is a passionate student at BYU-Hawaii, majoring in peace building with a minor in public management. Briana is a social butterfly and loves being with people.

In 2011, she was crowned “Hawaii’s Most Outstanding Teen.” Her platform was entitled “Dream. Fight. Endure: Nothing can stand in your way.” One of the reasons that Briana chose this is because she wanted to inspire all people to keep pressing on in life and not let trials stand in their way. The second reason was that she herself had endured much and nearly had her dreams crushed. In high school, Briana was diagnosed with genetic muscular myopathy that she still fights today. At first, she gave up on her dreams, contemplated suicide, and then decided to fight back. “I knew then,” she said, “that God wouldn’t give me any trial that I couldn’t handle.” As Briana fought, she met other people along her path that were facing similar illnesses that inspired her to press on. Briana told me of how one of her friends with cystic fibrosis kept her fighting with his optimistic attitude, and another who was paralyzed from breaking his neck in a canoeing accident who could relate to not being able to move. Love from her family and friends also helped her go on when she felt alone in the world. Briana believes that life is one of enduring and overcoming trials to make us stronger.
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Ironically, she wasn’t planning on being at the cultural celebration in Laie, Hawaii. Briana had practiced and practiced her dance in preparation but was hospitalized right before the celebration was to begin. Briana’s father was insistent on her not going and didn’t want her to be a burden to anyone there. But Briana was insistent and her wish was granted to be at the celebration. Because of her condition, Briana was not able to perform in the rehearsal. She was switched to a different location that was right in front of President Monson. When the actual performance began, Briana was given the strength to perform her dance with the rest of the hula dancers. She was wheeled onto the stage. Looking at President Monson, she was encouraged by him waving and smiling at her. “He came down,” said Briana, “He came up to me and he was greeting the other youth along the way. I didn’t know what was going on but he stopped right in front of me. He grasped my face and kissed me on the forehead. And if I am not mistaken, he even said, ‘I love you and God loves you.’” It was an experience she will never forget.

“Sometimes I find myself asking why it was me President Monson chose to greet when I was surrounded by thousands of other amazing youth,” said Briana, “I feel extremely blessed because having the Prophet of God personally reach out and express his love when I most needed it. This experience taught me that although it may not always feel like it, God really does know me personally and loves me. It’s just sometimes, he chooses to show you through the hands of those who serve him instead.”

Think of the people you can reach out in your own life who are struggling or who feel alone. You may not share the same beliefs as I do but follow the example of President Monson. Pray to know whose life you can change for the better and show that individual God’s love for them. Briana’s experience lasted only about one minute yet it changed her life and encouraged her to press on. Think of all you can do in your own family, community, and circle of friends by reaching out to the “one.”.