Heidi Swinton, author of President Thomas S. Monson’s biography, shares her personal experiences with the prophet

Written by: 
Patrick Campbell

Sister Heidi Swinton shared stories from her experience of writing President Thomas S. Monson’s biography, which reminded others to listen to the spiritual promptings to serve, said Emily Plicka, president of the BYUH Women’s Organization.


Swinton said, “If there’s anything I learned from President Monson, it’s that I could be better about responding to the promptings of the Spirit, which is the Lord saying, ‘Do this for me, and do it right now.’”


Swinton spoke to the members of the BYU-Hawaii Women’s Organization at their monthly luncheon held in the BYUH ballroom in October.


Plicka said she had been looking forward to this luncheon because of President Monson’s absence at General Conference. The opportunity allowed her to get to know the president of the church on a more personal level. Plicka also said she felt a personal desire to serve more.


“People sometimes forget [the organization’s] main purpose is to provide service, not just to be a social club. Friendship is part of our mission but service is the most important.


“When you feel like you can do something good for someone, don’t hold back. I was thinking of someone in my life, a friend that I needed to get in touch with, and I’ve been busy.”


Plicka added, “How many promptings am I getting that I’m not following through on?”


Organization member, Darlene Morris said, “I loved it. [Sister Swinton’s] message was inspiring to me.


“It was inspiring to me, because she told her story of President Monson coming to her rescue and it was beautifully symbolic of her whole book, ‘To the Rescue.’”


Sister Swinton’s Message

Swinton began her message by recounting when President Monson first called her to ask if she would accept the assignment to write his biography. At the time, she said she was in the mission home in England with her husband who was serving as a mission president.


“I couldn’t imagine why the president of the church would be calling me, and then he just chatted with me as if he had taken a chair out from the kitchen table.

She said when President Monson asked how she was doing, the important thing was he actually wanted to know.


“President Monson loves people. He loves what the lord has placed on this earth in terms of associations and relationships and interaction we have one with another. He’s all about people.”


After she and her husband completed their assignment, she was able to return to Utah where she was finally able to begin looking at President Monson’s journals and records.


She explained what she was expecting were details about church administration and events including his travels around the world and the development and work done on the standard works. Instead, she said they talked about people.


President Monson wrote what he learned from others and what he talked about with them and how he could help, according to Swinton.


“There is something in everyone of our lives that pulls together for us what this is all about and what the Lord would have us do.”


She shared President Monson’s moment of realization occurred while he was a young bishop. He felt prompted to visit a man in the hospital but pushed the prompting aside because he was in a church meeting. When he finally arrived, the nurses told then Bishop Monson the man had been calling for him right before he passed away.


“President Monson has a phrase he likes to use whenever he describes how the Lord teaches him, ‘That lesson was not lost on me.’”


Swinton said the members of President Monson’s congregation loved him because, “He was then what he is now. The man that pulls out the chair from the kitchen table. Sits down and asks, ‘How are you?’ and he really wants to know.”


She shared a comment she remembered from Elder Richard G. Scott in an interview. He said, “The Lord made President Monson big because of the size of his heart.”


She told another story where President Monson asked his driver to stop randomly at a house in Salt Lake City. He walked to the door and the women who answered was amazed he had remembered it was her birthday, relating to him that no one else had remembered.


After singing “Happy Birthday” and about 30 minutes of chatting, he left. His driver asked how he remembered her birthday. President Monson responded he didn’t, but the Lord did.


Swinton emphasized how the Spirit had not told him it was her birthday or any other details. He simply felt he needed to stop there and did it.


She said, “That’s often what we ask of the Spirit. ‘Make it worth my time.’ It’s always worth your time. Whenever the Spirit prompts us to do something, the Lord is saying, ‘Go on this errand for me.’ What could be more important?”


Swinton recounted President Monson would often say, “The sweetest experience of mortality is to know the Lord can call on you and you will go.”


She said he has not only always listened but also was always ready to act. She asked the women if they put the Lord’s errands at the top of their to do list.


She shared President Monson’s favorite scripture, Doctrine and Covenants 84:88. It reads, “And whoso receiveth you, there I will be also, for I will go before your face. I will be on your right hand and on your left, and my Spirit shall be in your hearts, and mine angels round about you, to bear you up.”


When Swinton asked President Monson once what was the biggest difference being president of the church compared to his past assignments, she said, “He looked at me and said, ‘It’s very lonely.’


“Then he brightened up. He has what we call the happy gene, and he said, ‘But you know the Lord is with me. He’s always on my right hand and on my left.”

Swinton encouraged the women to ask, “What have we been learning from President Monson that changes who we are today? How do we do things differently?”


Swinton shared a personal experience when she was having difficulty with what she called, “the weight of her assignment,” to write his biography.

She said, she was near his office working and he stopped and asked her three separate times, “How are you today?”


Each time, she said she responded she was fine and he would leave her to her work.


Later he asked her to come to his office. She reached for her recorder and he told her, “Don’t bring that.”


She explained, “There is a peace and a calm in his presence and I’m convinced it’s because of who he is and what he knows and how he approaches life. That he has turned his life over to the Lord and he knows that the Lord can make more of it than he can.”


She said as she saw him sitting behind his desk, she could see a light and strength from him. “I could see that commitment to our Father in Heaven.”


She then recounted this conversation. He asked her, “Are you going to tell me how you’re really doing?”


She said her first thought was, “I’ve lied to the prophet of God four times. This is not good.”


He asked her, “How can I help?”


She wanted to say, “Call Elijah and have his chariot of fire bring me the book,” but instead she just looked at him and shook her head.


He responded, “Well here’s what I can do. Every morning when I get up, I’m going to kneel down by the side of my bed and I’m going to pray for you by name and I’m going to ask for the Lord to be on your right hand and on your left. Do you have the faith that will happen?” Swinton responded, “I do.”


He enthusiastically responded, “Well, we’ll get this book done. Now what’s next on your list?”


Swinton then said to the women in the audience, “Do we recognize that the calling down of the powers of heaven on someone we know well or people we don’t know very well at all says to the Lord, ‘I’m right here and I’ll do my part? This is the beginning.’”


She continued, “President Monson has done that all his life.”


She said if you were in a room and asked the question, ‘Who has an experience where President Monson changed their life?” the hands go up. “I can say for myself, President Monson that day changed my life.”


Later when the book was almost completed, she and President Monson met to discuss a title. They went through pages of names and were struggling to find a good fit.


After making it through the list, he suggested they go through it another time. He said, “Maybe it will jump out at us.”


As they started reading down the list, Swinton said, “Into my mind and into my heart came the words, ‘The name of the book is “To The Rescue.’”


“I just blurted out, ‘The name of the book is “To the Rescue.”’ We both looked at each other and went, ‘Yes!’”


She said, “The significance of that was I knew where it came from, and I knew I was on the Lord’s errand, and I knew the Lord was helping me.”


She said, “President Monson likes to say, ‘When you are on the Lord’s errand, you are entitled to the Lord’s help.’”


She concluded, “When we respond to a prompting, we are standing up before the world, before Him and saying, ‘The Lord is on my right hand and on my left, and I’m on his errand.’”


Luncheons: a respite for women

The luncheons are held to raise donations for the BYUH Women’s Organizations Student Textbook Scholarship Fund, according to Pilcka. She said, the donations help “students in deep financial needs.”


Each luncheon the women, “invite students who have been our Textbook Scholarship Fund to speak to us and share their stories,” said Plicka.


Member Pria Hester said, “I work in the bookstore, and it’s so nice to see students come in with their scholarships.”


“They’re so happy,” she said as she imitated a student holding books with a big smile.


In a video presented during the luncheon, the highlighted student, a woman from the Philippines majoring in psychology, said the scholarship was helping her pursue her dream to assist those suffering from depression and mental disorders in her home country.


Plicka added the luncheons also “provides a space for intellectual and spiritual uplift, friendship, and service opportunities.”


“For a lot of women, they feel isolated maybe because they’re at a stage in life where they’re in intensive child care, because they have a lot of children at home, or maybe they’re new to our community.”


While the donations are a great service Plicka emphasized, “It’s really important for women to sit down and have a nice meal and visit with other women and get to listen to an uplifting message. It recharges your battery and it helps you go back to whatever you’re doing in your life.”


Plicka said the luncheons could be a respite in the middle of the month for some of the women.


“In our culture, women give so much, but sometimes women aren’t as good at taking time for self care,” said Plicka.


“These luncheons provide an opportunity for these women to practice some self care so then they feel better and they can do the things they want to do. They can give more.”


Plicka recounted what she called the ‘‘Bucket Analogy.’’ She said, “If your buckets are empty, you can’t keep pouring into other people’s buckets.


“[The luncheon] is a chance to fill up your bucket a little bit. And in ways the church does that. But this is different. It fulfills other needs while the church is more focused on the spiritual.”


Plicka said if students want to contribute, they can contact them through the organization’s Facebook or Instagram accounts.


They also need volunteer babysitters each month to watch the children of the women who attend the luncheon.


Plicka added, “One of the things I love about the luncheons is at every luncheon I walk away feeling uplifted and inspired.”

Date Published: 
Saturday, November 11, 2017
Last Edited: 
Saturday, November 11, 2017

NOTE: This article's online publication was delayed because it was featured in the Nov. 2017 print issue.