"No obstacles are insurmountable when God commands and we obey"
- - Heber J. Grant
June 20, 2012
Elder Oaks Shares Life's Lessons Learned
by Laurie Williams Sowby

Life's Lessons Learned, by Dallin H. Oaks. Deseret Book, 2012, 165 pages, $19.99.

Looking for a spiritual boost?

Elder Dallin H. Oaks, a familiar face and voice in the Quorum if the Twelve since his call nearly 20 years ago, offers sound advice and common-sense principles in his book Life's Lessons Learned. The compilation -- some of it material from earlier talks -- serves as "an autobiography of learning and application rather than a compendium of doctrine," as he states in the introduction.

Good enough.

But the parts that stand out for me are those "personal reflections" promised on the book's cover, "some things of the heart not previously shared," including his widowed mother's mental struggle to care for her family after her husband's death, his call to the Apostleship in 1984, and how he dealt with his wife June's death and was later able to remarry and move on with his life.

In the acknowledgements, he first credits "my foremost teacher … the still small voice and feelings communicated by the Spirit of the Lord."

The book, divided into three sections as his early life, marriage, and career to 1971; years as president of BYU, and call and service as a General Authority, is a relatively quick read. Some "chapters" are comprised of only two or three pages. Each is followed by a succinct one- or two-sentence summary of what he learned. An index makes the book useful for future reference.

He admits the most difficult part of writing the book was deciding what to exclude; what's here are principles he could illustrate with his own experience. The lawyer in him asks the reader to "remember that this is an account t of what I have learned, with no representation that I have always practiced this learning as I should."

Elder Oaks tells how he was a reader of leaders' biographies as a teenager and young law student and devotes a short chapter to a list of qualities he has observed in effective leaders. He talks of the law as a "blunt instrument" ("We should do all that we can for ourselves and through private organizations before seeking to solve problems by law or other government action") and speaks about learning to separate respect, affection, and policy as a Utah Supreme Court justice.

Some other insightful words: "Contrary to my legal training, I have come to realize that feelings are often more important than facts."

One compelling chapter is "Transition to the Apostleship," where Elder Oaks concludes that a call to a Church position should focus our efforts on what we are called to be rather than what we feel qualified to do. The next chapter outlines his strategy for kindly but firmly saying "no" to requests that come inappropriately and often to a man in his visible position.

More excellent advice comes for dealing with life's uncertainty and questions.

The reader can imagine a slight smile on Elder Oaks' face when he quotes his great-grandmother, Hanna Seely, who was uprooted with her husband and children from a fine home to a dirt-floor cabin following a prophet's call to settle desolate eastern Utah in 1879. "The first time I swore was when we landed here," she wrote in her one-page, hand-written history.

Elder Oaks continues quoting her exact words, then observes, "Some may wonder why I find those words so faith-promoting. They speak to me of a great-grandmother who did not deny her very mortal emotions but nevertheless went forward in obedience to do what she was called to do."

Her great-grandson apparently learned that lesson well, and it served him well in preparing for and living life. The lessons he's learned are thoughtfully shared in this book.


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About Laurie Williams Sowby

Laurie Williams Sowby has been writing since second grade and getting paid for it since high school. Her byline ("all three names, please") has appeared on more than 6,000 freelance articles published in newspapers, magazines, and online.

A graduate of BYU and a writing instructor at Utah Valley University for many years, she proudly claims all five children and their spouses as college grads.

She and husband, Steve, have served three full-time missions together, beginning in 2005 in Chile, followed by Washington D.C. South, then Washington D.C. North, both times as young adult Institute teachers. They are currently serving in the New York Office of Public and International Affairs

During her years of missionary service, Laurie has continued to write about significant Church events, including the rededication of the Santiago Temple by President Hinckley and the groundbreaking for the Philadelphia Temple by President Eyring. She also was a Church Service Missionary, working as a news editor at Church Magazines, between full-time missions.

Laurie has traveled to all 50 states and at least 45 countries (so far). While home is American Fork, Utah, Lincoln Center and the Metropolitan Museum of Art have provided a comfortable second home.

Laurie is currently serving a fourth full-time mission with her husband in the New York Office of Public and International Affairs. The two previously served with a branch presidency at the Provo Missionary Training Center. The oldest of 18 grandchildren have been called to serve missions in New Hampshire and Brisbane, Australia.

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