Twenty-year-old Emma was so excited to travel to Europe for a three-month trip she had been planning for some time. She had all sorts of bucket list things planned, including going skydiving over the Alps in Switzerland.

She was a bit of an adrenaline junkie, so she wasn’t nervous at all when the plane took them to altitude and the time to jump from the plane arrived. She volunteered to jump first with her instructor strapped to her back. The first few seconds after the jump were exhilarating. They were falling fast, she felt the wind in her face and the incredible pull to the earth, something she had never felt before.  The jump was everything she imagined it would be. 

After a while, however, she noticed they weren’t slowing down. She wondered, “Had the parachute deployed?” So, she called out to the instructor behind her, “What’s going on?” There was no answer. So, she assumed he couldn’t hear her and thought to herself, “He knows what he is doing.”

But they kept falling and the ground was getting closer.  There was no sign of slowing down. ‘Why isn’t he answering me?’, she thought. She worked to turn herself around to look at her instructor. What she saw sent a shock wave through her. Everything had gone terribly wrong. 

What she realized was both the parachute and the reserve chute had been deployed.  Both were tangled and had collapsed. They were not slowing their descent at all.  The emergency chute was actually the parachute from her backpack.  When it was deployed, the cords had become tangled and wrapped around the instructor’s neck and had strangled him unconscious.

Emma panicked. She didn’t know what to do.  She couldn’t turn herself around to help her instructor, she couldn’t get the parachutes to expand, she couldn’t extricate herself from the situation.  And they were falling really, really fast.

As she had a moment to collect her thoughts, she started analyzing the situation. Could it be possible to survive the landing? Was she going to die? Then she had a moment of calm. She later said, “Until that moment I’d never really appreciated my life. I had just taken it for granted.”

Emma hit the ground first and her instructor landed on top of her. When she opened her eyes and realized that she hadn’t died, all she could feel at first was the shock of it all. She was alive. She thought, “How did I survive?” 

They’d landed in a field, just a few yards from a road. Later, the paramedics told her if they’d landed on the road, they would have both been killed. Her mouth was full of blood, her teeth were all broken to pieces and her whole body was in the most intense pain she’d ever felt.  Despite the pain from her injuries, she tried to roll over. She couldn’t. That was when she discovered she couldn’t move anything below her waist – not her legs, toes, or abs – she couldn’t even roll over.

She realized she might be paralyzed and would never walk again. Soon help arrived and she was airlifted to the hospital.

Emma had broken her pelvis, shattered her teeth, broke her spine in two places, suffered a spinal cord injury which caused her paralysis and a few other minor injuries. During that first week she was told she would likely be a paraplegic and not have the use of her legs for the rest of her life.  At first her attitude was dismal, but despite the havoc in her life, she realized she couldn’t go back in time. She couldn’t choose not to have what happened happen. She had to go through the rehabilitation and pain. There was no way around it.

After a month in Switzerland, she flew home and over the course of the next year, she started moving her feet, then knees and then legs. Today, she walks with a noticeable limp, she still has little feeling in her legs or pelvic region. She has no bladder control. She is often embarrassed because of it.

In the end, she says, “if you’re going through a traumatic time and it feels like your world is ending, there is still hope. Your worst moment could end up becoming the beginning of the most incredible journey of your life, but only if you let it. Things don’t just happen, you have to MAKE them happen, and that’s what people tend to forget.  You are always responsible for writing the rest of your story.”

The story of Ruth in the Old Testament also contains a chapter of extreme loss. But Ruth,  despite the loss of her husband and livelihood, and her pitiful circumstances, Ruth turned what was the worst chapter in her life into something remarkable.  She took responsibility to write the rest of her life’s story.

Like Emma and Ruth, all of us, while not part of a skydiving fall or even the death of a spouse, have had falls of our own in life. I have. We’ve endured accidents, lost a loved one, gone through a divorce, made mistakes, and fallen in one way or another.

We all fall.  We all fail.  We are handed difficult circumstances in life. Sometimes, they are beyond our control.  Sometimes they are caused by our own mistakes.  And when we fall or fail, it’s easy to torment ourselves thinking “Why did I do that” or “I wish that hadn’t happened.”  These are normal and reasonable reactions. 

On the other hand, we can take Ruth as an example. Despite her loss, she held to her faith. She overcame her circumstances through her loyalty and obedience.

Ruth, a Moabite, was married to the son of Naomi.  Naomi and her husband had gone to live in Moab during the famine in Israel.  They lived there about 10 years.  While in Moab, Naomi’s sons married Oprah and Ruth. However, Naomi’s husband died as did the husbands of Oprah and Ruth. All three women were left to provide for themselves.

Naomi decided to return to Judah and told Oprah and Ruth to return to their families in Moab.  Of course, by returning to their own families, Oprah and Ruth would likely be provided for and return to a life of friends and family. Ophrah did return to her family, but Ruth did not.  Ruth tells Naomi, “Wither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: they people shall be my people, and thy God my God” (Ruth 1:16).

Ruth had lost her husband and her means of survival. In following Naomi, she was then giving up her family, her home and her way of life. Ruth responded to the loss of her husband and change in circumstances with loyalty and faith.

I have often wondered why Ruth was so loyal?  Why did she give up a life of friends and family to stay with Naomi in a foreign land?  Perhaps she was close to and admired Naomi.  Perhaps she was converted to the Israelite faith and had a testimony of God and prophets.  Perhaps the spirit whispered to her that this decision would result in her becoming the person she was meant to become.

I am not sure all the reasons. But it is certain that Ruth was prepared to endure great hardship if necessary to keep her promise to her mother-in-law.  And I like to think that Ruth was guided by a spiritual prompting to stay with Naomi, go to Israel and let God prevail in her life.

It’s not easy to stick with what you feel inspired to do. Sometimes it’s not easy to let God prevail in your life. Sticking with your decision and enduring the difficult road isn’t easy. For Ruth, that road started with gleaning the field of Naomi’s relative.  His name was Boaz.

Gleaning is gathering leftover grain or crops after the fields have been harvested. As Ruth was gleaning in the field, Boaz noticed and inquired after her. His servants told Boaz that Ruth came with Naomi from Moab and had been in the field working all day.

Boaz told Ruth to stay in the field and to drink from his vessels.  Ruth bowed herself down and asked, “Why have I found grace in thine eyes… seeing I am a stranger?”  Boaz responds that he was impressed with her loyalty to Naomi and her faith in leaving her own country.

Ruth followed the guidance of Boaz and continued to reap until the end of the harvest.  Soon, Boaz took Ruth to wife, and she gave birth to a son.  Her son was named Obed, who became the father of Jesse, the father of David.  Joseph the husband of Mary, the mother of Jesus, was descendent of David. Ruth became an honored mother of Israel.

Along the way, Ruth was loyal to the promptings of the spirit, the advice of Naomi and the counsel of Boaz.  Her loyalty blessed her life and allowed her to rise from the loss of her husband to the great grandmother of David.  If we were to learn lessons from Ruth, they might be:  be willing, be loyal, be bold, be obedient, have faith, let the Lord guide your life, and wait on the Lord to do what you were meant to do in life.

A fall or a loss does not mean the end. It may very well mean the beginning. If you’ve made mistakes, you are not beyond repair. In fact, the scripture says, “I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them” (Ether 12:27).

Sister Anne Pingree said, “Some people feel defeated by their personal weaknesses and succumb to despair. Some attempt to hide, ignore, or compensate for their shortcomings because of pain and embarrassment. But, as the Lord told Moroni, recognizing and acknowledging a weakness is a necessary part of overcoming it:  Because though hast seen thy weakness thou shalt be made strong’ (Ether 12:37).”

It can be quite reassuring to remember that out of loss can come new blessings, and what we see as difficult now, can turn to our good.  We often cannot see the end from the beginning, but loyalty, faith and obedience can carry us along until we can see that the difficulties we face will not endure and we, with God’s help, can prevail.

Loyalty Often Makes a Difference

The Hobbit is a novel written by J.R.R. Tolkien in 1937. The story is about Bilbo Baggins. Baggins is a hobbit selected by the wizard Gandalf to help Thorin and his party of dwarves reclaim their home and riches. Baggins, through his integrity and loyalty, gains increasing wisdom and grace by facing challenges that come his way.

After writing The Hobbit and because of the book’s success, Tolkien’s publisher asked him to write a sequel. But rather than being excited about the prospect, he was stressed. He said, “I can’t think of anything more to say about hobbits.”

What should have been a labor of delight had turned into a bit of a nightmare in Tolkien’s mind for a time. Perhaps he gave in to the stress and doubt that we’ve all experienced from time to time when we try to do something extraordinary.  

How did Tolkien overcome his discouragement and write the sequel called The Lord of the Rings? It was Tolkien’s friend C.S. Lewis. At several critical moments when he was tempted to quit his efforts, Lewis showed up and encouraged him to stick with the project. He affirmed him, he encouraged him, he spoke faith into him.

Tolkien would later say, “I owe to C.S. Lewis an unpayable debt for his sheer encouragement. From him I got the belief that my stuff could be more than a private hobby. But for him, I would not have finished the book.”[i]

The Lord of the Rings would go on to sell 150 million copies, published in 38 languages and made into best-selling movies. All because his friend encouraged and remained faithful to him.

Regarding Ruth’s loyalty to Naomi, Neal A. Maxell would point out that there were no crowds to applaud her loyalty. There was no fame or fortune readily available to Ruth by being loyal.  But she was loyal and obedient to Naomi. There is something wholesome, comforting and satisfying in being loyal and true. Loyalty is a divine characteristic.

President Gordon B. Hinckley said, “I think of loyalty in terms of being true to ourselves…to our chosen companions, and…to the church. I think of it in terms of being unequivocally true to the God of heaven, our Eternal Father, and His Beloved Son, our Redeemer, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Perhaps the loyalty we show on earth can turn and help us remain loyal to Jesus Christ and his gospel.”[ii]

Follow the Example of Ruth

Brent L. Top shared the following story to BYU students:

Our challenges and tests today may come in different packaging, but giving all you have to the Lord is still all you have. It still takes faith—the same faith of our pioneer forebears—to keep our covenants: to love God with all our heart, might, mind, and strength. It takes the same faith and commitment today to love God more than mammon and to willingly lay our all on the altar.

Many of these pioneers not only had walked away from comfortable homes and farms in Nauvoo and had buried babies in shallow graves on the plains, but they had also made other painful sacrifices because of the fire of faith and the commitment to their covenants that burned within their souls. One such was Catherine Spencer. When she joined the Church, her parents became embittered and angry, disowning her and refusing to allow her to ever return to their home or even to correspond with them. During the Saints’ final days in Nauvoo, Catherine became extremely ill. Fearing that she would not be able to survive the difficult journey west, her husband Orson Spencer wrote to her parents asking if they would not take her back into their home and nurse her back to health and care for her until Orson could establish a home in the west with the Church. No answer came to this heartfelt plea.

At last, the time arrived for the Spencers to leave Nauvoo. A bed was made for Catherine in Orson’s wagon. As they traveled in the miserable conditions of March 1846, Catherine became sicker and increasingly weak. About five days out from Sugar Camp, they encountered a torrential freezing rainstorm that poured down through the canvas that covered their wagon. It was apparent that Catherine was failing fast. At this discouraging moment a messenger with the latest mail that had earlier arrived at Nauvoo found the couple. In his hand was a letter from Catherine’s parents. In the letter they expressed no interest in allowing her to come home or in caring for her unless, as they declared, she “renounce her degrading faith, and she can come back, but never until she does.”

Without a murmur or complaint, the letter was folded up and put away, and Catherine asked Orson to get his Bible and read to her Ruth 1:16: “And Ruth said, Intreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God.”

As Orson finished reading this passage, a calm, peaceful smile spread over Catherine’s face as she closed her eyes and lapsed into the quiet sleep of death. (See Nicholas G. Morgan, “And Thus History Was Made,” Improvement Era, July 1940, p. 399.)[iii]

Put Off Thy Shoes from Off Thy Feet

In Ruth 4:7, we read a sidenote that says, “Now this was the manner in former time tin Israel concerning redeeming and concerning changing, for to confirm all things; a man plucked off his shoe and gave it to his neighbour: and this was a testimony in Israel.”

Shoes in the bible have a symbolic purpose. “It appears from a number of sources, scriptural and otherwise, that the transfer of property in ancient times was accompanied by a rite or ritual consisting primarily of the removal of shoes. The Hebrews referred to this ritual by the name of halitzah (‘to draw off’).  One text notes, ‘When someone sells his property . . . he loses permanently or temporarily his legal right to it . . . and he lifts up his hand or foot from it, and places that of the new owner in it.’”[iv]

In Exodus 3:5, Moses is told to “Put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground.”  The shoe is a part of the foot and, as a result, a symbol of domination. In the transfer of property or change of ownership, the seller or giver takes off his shoe and hands it to the buyer as a symbol that the dominion or ownership has changed.

Removing shoes may also be part of making a covenant. In short, in making a covenant the covenant maker is willing to give up or divest themselves of one possession (such as things of the world) in hopes of gaining something greater (such as eternal life).

Likewise, we are sometimes asked to remove our shoes. “It seems fair to say that the removal of shoes upon entering sacred ground symbolizes the temporary divesting of oneself of the world and its ways—exchanging temporal property for a spiritual residence. It is a symbolic effort to set aside the natural man and the things of this fallen world in order to consecrate one’s life and embrace the things of God, including his presence, glory, and Spirit. Thus, one typologist wrote, ‘putting off shoes on entering a holy place represents leaving earthly contact outside . . . and [divesting] oneself of vice.’  Another source states, ‘Shoes are necessary only on the earth because of the filth of the ground. By removing them, we symbolically leave the world outside the Lord’s sanctuary.’”[v]

Speak Lord, thy Servant Heareth

After the devastation that preceded the coming of Jesus Christ to people of Nephi, the people were assembled at the temple marveling at the changes that had taken place. A voice spoke to them. At first, they didn’t understand the voice.  The voice came again, and they didn’t understand it. “And again the third time they did hear the voice, and did open their ears to hear it; and their eyes were toward the sound thereof; and they did look steadfastly towards heaven form when the sound came.  And behold, the third time they did understand the voice… (3 Nephi 11:5-6).”

Likewise, in our life, we need some help understanding or hearing the voice of the Lord.  In Samuel 1-3, we read about the birth of Samuel who was born of miraculous circumstances. Hannah his mother, after a trial of her faith, was promised a son. In return, she promised to give Samuel to God’s service.

Eventually Samuel went to live with the priest Eli in the temple. One night, three times the Lord called to Samuel, and on the third time, after Eli helped Samuel to recognize the voice.  It was then that Samuel heard the voice of the Lord.

Elder Gerald Lund said, “One of the most important—if not the most important—challenges in learning how to come unto Christ and to be perfected in him is to learn to hear, to recognize, and then to follow the voice of the Lord.”[vi]

In our lives, we need to learn to recognize the voice of the Lord.  Elder Packer said, “The Spirit does not get our attention by shouting or shaking us with a heavy hand. Rather it whispers. It caresses so gently that if we are preoccupied we may not feel it at all. . . . Occasionally it will press just firmly enough for us to pay heed. But most of the time, if we do not heed the gentle feeling, the Spirit will withdraw and wait until we come seeking and listening.”[vii]

The great challenges of our day are the distractions that fill our day and thinking. Given these distractions, the Spirit that does not shout, is drown out by the worldly concerns that sound louder in our ears.

President Nelson has wisely counseled, “The voices and pressures of the world are engaging and numerous. But too many voices are deceptive, seductive, and can pull us off the covenant path. To avoid the inevitable heartbreak that follows, I plead with you today to counter the lure of the world by making time for the Lord in your life—each and every day.

If most of the information you get comes from social or other media, your ability to hear the whisperings of the Spirit will be diminished. If you are not also seeking the Lord through daily prayer and gospel study, you leave yourself vulnerable to philosophies that may be intriguing but are not true. Even Saints who are otherwise faithful can be derailed by the steady beat of Babylon’s band.

My brothers and sisters, I plead with you to make time for the Lord! Make your own spiritual foundation firm and able to stand the test of time by doing those things that allow the Holy Ghost to be with you always.”[viii]

May we all give more head to the voice of the spirit and strive to let God prevail. The stories of Ruth, Hannah, and Samuel all remind us that from loss we can rise to become what God has in mind for us to become. Keep faith, be loyal, and obey the voice of the Lord as it comes to you by his spirit.  Soon, weak things will become strengths and we can be more like our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

[i] Letter to Dick Plotz, “Thain” of the Tolkien Society of America, in 1965.

[ii] Loyalty, Gordon B. Hinckley, April 2003, General Conference.

[iii] BYU Speeches, Brent L. Top, It Still Takes Faith, July 22, 1997.

[iv] The Ceremony of the Shoe: A Ritual of God’s Ancient Covenant People, Alonzo L. Gaskill, BYU Religious Studies Center.

[v] Ibid.

[vi] The Voice of the Lord, Gerald N. Lund, BYU Speeches, December 2, 1997.

[vii] The Candle of the Lord, Boyd K. Packer, Ensign, January 1983, p. 53.

[viii] Make Time For the Lord, President Russell M. Nelson, October 2021 General Conference.