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Elizabeth Smart speaks at BYU-Hawaii devotional: 'Choices we make that define who we are'

LAIE, HAWAII

“It’s not what happens to us that sets us apart. It’s the decisions that we make, it’s the choices that we make, the way we decide to lead our lives — that is what defines what we truly are," Elizabeth Smart told students and community members on May 11, during a special devotional held in the Cannon Activities Center on the Brigham Young University-Hawaii campus.

Sister Smart, who is the president of the Elizabeth Smart Foundation and is well known for her survival after being abducted by strangers and held hostage for nine months, shared personal experiences illustrating her faith in a loving Heavenly Father.

Starting with a story of how, as a 7-year-old girl, she accidentally let a horse — her grandfather’s new horse — run away while riding in the mountains. She recalled feeling scared. Alone, and feeling far from the trail, young Elizabeth remembered the words to the children’s song, “A Child’s Prayer,” as well as a recent lesson she had in Church on prayer. So she offered a prayer to her Heavenly Father.

Not long after, she found the trail — a few feet away — and a neighbor to her grandparents soon approached her. Her prayer had been answered, and she began to understand that she had a Heavenly Father who loved her.

That experience, along with being taught the gospel from a young age by her parents, ignited a foundation of faith that has helped her understand the love her Heavenly Father has for her and all of His children — even amid horrific experiences.

“I would just say to all of you who are struggling at this point — no matter what it is — to never lose faith,” she said. “Miracles do happen, they happen every single day, and you never need to be alone because we have a Heavenly Father who is constantly watching over us and guiding us, and loving us, and He cares about every little thing in our life. He cares.”

She recounted parts of the abduction she experienced as a 14-year-old girl. She told of the night she was taken by a stranger from her home and a little about what she experienced during the nine months she was held captive.

“My life was over but I was still living,” she said of the experience.

Amid the struggle, she still knew her Heavenly Father loved her, her Savior loved her, and that she had parents who loved her.

Upon returning home, she said it was the words of her mother who helped her begin the healing process. Her mother's encouragement, love and promise that "Heavenly Father will take care of it all," helped her decide to be happy, and to move forward with her life. Although difficult days still happen, she turns to the advice of her mother to work through those days.

“Every single one of us have struggles in our lives,” Sister Smart said. “Every single one of us has a story. We have challenges, we have mountains to move, we all have our struggles. But at the end of the day, it is the choices that we make that define who we are.”

Sister Smart spoke of the power of agency, and the ability to choose how a person reacts to a situation — even when the situations are extremely unpleasant.

“I’m so grateful that Heavenly Father has given us our free agency to choose,” she said. “He has given us that control and that power over our lives. I am so grateful for my Savior because I couldn’t have made it through my kidnapping without Him. I couldn’t be where I am today without Him. If I thought that I was in this by myself and there was nobody else who knew how I felt, who understood what I went through, I couldn’t be here.”

[email protected] @marianne_holman

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