Heidi Swinton: Profiling a Prophet
As a young journalism student at the University of Utah, Heidi Swinton had big dreams of one day working for Newsweek, but a prompting encouraging her to focus on the work of the Lord led her to a different path in life instead. This path still involved Swinton using her talents through writing, but in ways, she never could’ve imagined—including writing the biography of President Thomas S. Monson.
That was the point when the journalist in me gave way to essentially a child of God.
Book: To the Rescue: The Biography of Thomas S. Monson by Heidi S. Swinton
Book: American Prophet: The Story of Joseph Smith by Heidi S. Swinton
Website: Ensign College (formerly called LDSBC) Devotional by Heidi Swinton, "President Monson Speaks to You and Me Individually," March 2011
1:43- A Mother’s Example of Resilience
3:34- Journalistic Dreams
6:12- Losing an Infant
12:12- “All the Way Home”
15:12- A Witness of Joseph Smith
25:04- “I Did My Best For You”
27:44- A Cold Call from a Prophet
32:26- “Exactly Who You Think He Is”
36:15- Experiencing Firsthand How President Monson Made People Feel
41:24- What the Lord Allows Us To Do and Feel
45:38- The Call of a Prophet and the Call to Us To Follow
49:40- What Does It Mean To You To Be “All In” the Gospel of Jesus Christ?
Morgan Jones 0:00
Can you imagine getting a cold call from a prophet asking you to write his biography? How about sitting in his office day after day and observing his behavior, not only in public, but also in private? That is the opportunity Heidi Swinton was presented when President Thomas S. Monson asked her to tell the story of his life.
Heidi S. Swinton is an Award-Winning author and screenwriter whose works include the PBS documentaries: American Prophet, Sacred Stones, Sweetwater Rescue, Trail of Hope, and America's Choir. She has served on the Relief Society general board and as a member of Church writing committees. She served with her husband Jeffrey Swinton as he presided over the England, London South mission. They're the parents of five sons, four living and have four daughters in law.
This is All In an LDS Living podcast where we ask the question, what does it really mean to be all in the Gospel of Jesus Christ? I'm Morgan Jones and I am honored to have Heidi Swinton with me today. Heidi, welcome.
Heidi Swinton 1:06
Well, thank you, and I'm honored to be here.
Morgan Jones 1:09
Well, this is a treat for me. I still remember watching an interview, or maybe I just listened to it, but I heard an interview with you not long after your book about President Monson came out and just thinking, how unbelievable would it be, if the Prophet called you up and asked you to write his biography? And that story has kind of stuck with me. And so I just feel privileged to get to ask you some questions that have been on my mind since then, and then some additional ones as well. But I want to kind of start from the beginning if that's okay. You were raised by a single mother. How did that shape your life and who you are, and kind of the way that you have approached your faith?
Heidi Swinton 1:55
You know, my mother was one of those people. I was five years old, when my parents were divorced, and I was the third child. My mother was one of those people that just put her feet down and kept going the direction she'd always gone. She was strong, she was resilient, she taught me to work hard, she taught me to trust the Lord, and most importantly, she taught me to pray. Had it not been for the prayers that she had offered, and the prayers that I have offered all my life, the connection between us probably would have been less, but she's gone now. And there are still times when I think about trying to find an answer to something and my mother's answer would always be, "Have you prayed about it?" So, I think she gave me a foundation that was built on turning to the Lord. She gave me a foundation that expected excellence in what I did, no matter what it was, and she gave me a great foundation of how much she loved me, I think that for a child, even though I was in a very insecure environment, it was a secure environment in that I knew my mother was always there. And that I can always count on her. And from that, I tried to mirror that with my own family. So, you know, she was a – she was a great role model for me. She had her share of very difficult experiences, but she managed her way through them by trusting all the time that the Lord would be with her.
Morgan Jones 3:33
That's beautiful. Heidi, how old were you when you decided, or thought that you might want to pursue a career in journalism?
Heidi Swinton 3:44
You know, I was editor of The Chronicle at the University of Utah, which is a very dubious claim to fame. And I had – I was in – I was studying English and getting a major in English, thinking I would be an English teacher because everybody in my era went into teaching. And because I was there at The Chronicle I couldn't do the – the student teaching because I couldn't be gone. So I decided, well, I guess I won't do that. Short-sightedly I said, "I guess I'll become a journalist!" Because that's what I'm really good at. So I got my foundation in The Chronicle office, I started to write there seriously. I was always a writer on newspapers. I was the editor at my high school in my junior high, and I mean it was in my blood. But when I was in college, I found that I loved observation. I loved stepping back and observing what was happening, and then describing it in such a way that it was fair and honest, but it gave me a glimpse into so many different aspects of life. And that's what journalism did. So I went on to graduate school in journalism, expecting – wanting desperately, to be the editor of Newsweek magazine. That was my goal in life. And before I went away, I was sitting one day and I was reading a magazine, and all of a sudden into my mind came words. Now some people have spiritual impressions in different ways. My husband gets the tingles. Some people get a burning, other people – I hear words, and I think it's because I'm a word person. But the words came to me, as I was thinking about going away and becoming this very famous writer: "That's the way the adversary gets to people like you. He leads them away from the work of the Lord." And I was just, "Where did that come from?" And I called up my mother who was at work, of course, and told her about it. She said, "Well write that down in the front of your scriptures. What do you think the Lord wants you to do?" I said, "I don't know." The next day I got my car and went to graduate school, not listening at all to what the prompting was. I was there a few months, realized I'd done the wrong thing. It didn't ever feel right to be going the direction I was going, and yet I was a journalist to the core. So it was an inconsistency on my part. But I chose to not pursue it. I carried myself forward, came home, got married, wanted to have a family, and then five years later, still hadn't had any children. So you know, it's the, “sit in the back of the chapel fast day and have people bless their babies and tell everyone how blessed they are and you're not one of them.” That was a real challenge for me. It was a challenge, I think, for me to commit to the Lord. That even though what I anticipated wasn't happening, that I was there for Him. And I was there with Him because I've made a choice, following the prompting that I had received earlier. We eventually had children, our first children that were born, we had a series of miscarriages, but our first children that were born were twin boys. And the oldest would live 22 hours. And I can remember standing by his grave side and thinking, "How does this happen? How, how does a righteous desire of your heart become so fractured?" That here I am, in a cemetery burying a child that I wanted so desperately and wanting the child who was in the hospital fighting for his life, to make it. And I can remember committing to the Lord. If he'd stay with me, and stay with my son, Cameron, and help him live, that I was going to be there. I was going to do what I'd been asked and I was going to be faithful and strong and diligent and valiant. That I was making a covenant at that very sacred spot in my life. And Cameron lived. Cameron is now a doctor for newborn intensive care children just like he was after three months in the hospital. But it changed my life. That was the point when the journalist in me gave way to essentially a child of God, where I had to do what it says in the Doctrine and Covenants 25, "Lay aside the things of the world and seek for the things of a better." And that's what happened. And I can count almost every experience, spiritually, from that moment of burying that child. That's the marker on my forehead. That the Lord said, "You can be cynical and angry and walk away like some people might, or you can choose to follow me." And I can remember walking in to church a month after this had happened that I hadn't been back. I didn't have Cameron and he was in the hospital still and they were singing. I walked in late so I wouldn't have to talk to anybody, and they were singing "Come, Come Ye Saints." And I remember the verse, "And should we die, before our journeys through, happy day all is well." That stayed with me. It further submitted to me this was no accident that they were singing that, this was the Lord saying, "Happy day, all is well." Just one other thought on that. Here's the journalist – no longer a journalist, though I, I was doing writing. I came home and became the PR director for the Utah Symphony. So I did some writing. But there was a point in my life where my husband and I looked at each other and said, "This is the way it's going to be." The doctor had walked into my room right after he'd heard that the baby had died. His name was Christian. And he pulled up a chair, I can still remember hearing it squeak across the linoleum floor and sat down next to me and took my hand. And he said, “There will come times in your life with your family gathered around you, that you will be so grateful. You have one all the way home” That “all the way home” concept resonated with me. I have one all the way home. Suddenly, sealing in the temple, and "families are forever," and the next life and the veil being thin, all of those things are real to me and have become kind of the measure of how we've raised our children. So that's a long answer to how does the journalist end up writing a biography of the Prophet of God. Can you imagine if all I did was write news articles? But it just came into my life. And there it was. Such a blessing.
Morgan Jones 11:14
Well, I, there are so many things about what you just said that I want to touch on. But I want to start with this idea of the way that the Spirit communicates to us. Because I think that it communicates to you and I the same way because I've actually been thinking about this recently, that I know that the Lord is trying to communicate something to me, when thoughts come into my mind that I've never considered before, and, and how important it is for me to like, recognize when that's happening, and so when you said that, when you said, "I think it's because I'm a words person," I was like, "Oh my goodness, I think it's the same thing." And I think that it's so important for all of us to recognize how the Lord speaks to us and to then follow through on those promptings. And maybe there's a little bit of a delay in following through on that, but you still followed through on it you didn't not follow through. So I think that that's powerful. I also love what you talked about having one all the way home. You've talked a bit about that, about how that experience of losing that baby focused your family on eternity. And I have – my mom's oldest sister passed away after a couple of days. And I've seen that a little bit, I think my mom has been that way. Like she's always talked about that sister and always been like, "I can't wait to meet her and I look forward to that," and that's kind of like a focus. And so for your family, what has that looked like in practice of focusing on eternity?
Heidi Swinton 12:51
Well, we do all the things you would expect, you know, we've been up to the grave to make it real, this is all we have. And we've done that. But we talk about him all the time. We talked from the time they were very little when people would say, "How many children do you have?" I'd say I have five. And my sons would know to say, "Yeah, there are four here, but one's already gone all the way home." We'd have family home evening. And as we talked about eternal life and living with our Father in Heaven and being a family, we could talk about what that really means, because we've got an identical twin brother in heaven, who looks just like that oldest boy who's here. And we would talk about that when our children were married, one of my sons said, "I didn't know where to take the invitation to the wedding, so I just took it up to his grave." I can remember sitting in sacrament meeting when our oldest son passed the sacrament for the first time and seeing two boys. And in my mind, knowing that what's important is that righteous opportunity to bring everybody back together again. So that afternoon, we're sitting around the dinner table, I told them what it felt like for me to see in my mind's eye, two boys who look just alike, passing the sacrament together for the first time. And the same for going on missions. And the same for hard times. Sometimes I would sit down with a child who was really struggling with something. And I would say, "You know, we don't have the answers to all these things. But what we do know, is that the Lord has been there for each one of us. He was there to take Christian all the way home" and say, "Now you've got someone to follow. Now you've got an older brother in this family that you're going to connect to." I would always bring him in to discussions because it made it so real for me, and that's all I had, you know, the relationship with him were the ways that we could draw upon the gospel and the teachings of the gospel to include him in the family. And we still do.
Morgan Jones 15:09
I love so much. That's awesome. Heidi, you once said of your career in journalism, which we've touched on, you said, "I never had an interest in writing things that didn't make a difference for the church or for the Lord. " And so, you've written about some, some interesting topics. I think first you wrote the book about Joseph Smith. Is that right?
Heidi Swinton 15:32
Well, that wasn't the first book I did. The very first opportunity I had to write in a church setting, my mother's – my stepfather was Leonard Arrington, who was a Church historian and he got me in interested in writing about history. And so he and I did several books together, and I edited some of his work. He was doing Brigham Young, American Moses, when my parents, when they were married. And so I had a really good tutor in getting involved in writing about the Church. I did a piece on Lorenzo snow once in an essay book. That was all the presidents of the Church put out by Deseret Book. I still remember Leonard calling me up and saying, "Okay, I want you to write this essay on Lorenzo Snow." And in my mind, Lorenzo Snow had that little white beard, and that's about where it was. You know, I just really did not have a grasp of much about him. I said, "Okay, I can do that. Of course."
Morgan Jones 16:32
You start out "Great beard."
Heidi Swinton 16:35
Yeah. So I went out to his house, and Leonard had a stack of books, oh, eight or ten high, and said, "Now I want you to read all these books. And then I want you to write an essay on Lorenzo, about 30 pages long. You don't have to footnote it just cite at the end." He said, "I need it next Friday." The journalist in me said “Okay, I got a deadline. I can do this.” So I did. We were going on family vacation that week, not good timing. So the whole time everybody's swimming and playing and hiking and I'm reading books on Lorenzo Snow and writing about Lorenzo Snow. I love something I learned in that. And it was one of the experiences Lorenzo Snow had when he came back from his mission and he went to report to a member of the Quorum of the Twelve, who, unknown to him, had decided to leave the church. This was back in Kirtland when there was that Great Apostasy. And this man came out on the – on the front of his house, and he started telling Lorenzo everything that was the matter with Joseph Smith. Lorenzo finally stopped him and said, "Here's what I know. Joseph Smith is a Prophet of God. The Spirit has born testimony of that to me. And for me, that's enough,” and he walked away. Now that was my first introduction to Joseph Smith, was a witness of a man who later became a Prophet of God after Joseph, but he's a prophet of God, the Spirit has born witnesse to me of that. And there you have it. I had lots of other opportunities to write about different things. What really led to Joseph Smith was writing a documentary for PBS called “Trail of Hope,” which was the story of the Mormon trail celebrating 50 – 150 years in 1997. It was so successful, that PBS came back to us and said, "Is there anything else you'd like to do?" Well, who wouldn't like to do a story of Joseph Smith? We talked about it. That's where the Joseph Smith project came from.
Morgan Jones 18:38\
Heidi Swinton 18:39
And that was for me, probably another marker on the forehead of my life. You know, that said, "This man is a prophet of God." And I had an experience, just a really quick story. I've had an experience when I was in New York, on a Deseret Book tour, some years before I wrote about Joseph, and I was there telling, you know, talking to people, it was an incentive tour for people who sold Deseret Book books. And I was the speaker at night, we went to a little farmhouse in Fayette, New York. And after we were in the farmhouse, I went out and I stood by the fence. And I was looking around and thinking about where I was when those words came into my mind again. And the words were, "Heidi, Joseph Smith was a prophet of God. And you need to know that." Well, I remember looking around and thinking, Well, I know that everybody knows that. I've known that since I was a little girl, and everybody would stand up in testimony meeting and say that I know that and I was too flippant about it, because the Spirit came again to me and said, "Heidi, Joseph Smith was, and is, a prophet of God. And someday, you will need to know that.” Well, for years, I was – every time I get a calling, every time I'd read something, I’d think, "Is this the someday I need to know that Joseph was the Prophet?" When I started the Joseph Smith project to do Joseph Smith: American Prophet, a book and a documentary, I needed to know that. I needed to know it to the core of who I was. That come what may, nobody was going to deter me from recognizing that a Prophet isn't just a man set in time. He isn't linear. He is constantly reaching up to the heavens and receiving the power of revelation in his life and for the life of the Church. And that testimony to me was what I held on to through that whole project because it was so hard. I wasn't an expert, but I was a writer, and I could figure it out. But that "Someday you will need to know that, everybody needs to know that." And the glory of that for me, is that I was always telling my children about that. And the experience I had and what that meant. And then I'd say something like, and you know what, “Christians met Joseph Smith, what do you think about that?” You know, so that's kind of how we put it all together.
Morgan Jones 21:18
Yeah. Did you feel like you had moments where, where you felt like your faith was in question in regard to Joseph Smith, as you worked on that project?
Heidi Swinton 21:31
You know, I never questioned my faith in Joseph Smith, because the Spirit had born such a powerful testimony to me out in the middle of nowhere in a cornfield. But I questioned how to tell the story, so that other people would feel what I felt, so that other people would gain a respect, maybe a love, and maybe be converted to Joseph Smith as a Prophet of God. There were a lot of layers going on, and this was back at, you know, 2000 when there hadn't been all of this Joseph Smith Papers or any of that going on. But I was reading the Doctrine and Covenants every day. And as I read it, I would try and process, "This is the Lord talking to Joseph Smith, and through Joseph Smith, to all of us." And I was trying to always adapt to that conduit. And I was in Section Six one day and I read it over and over the, you know, the whole Doctrine and Covenants over and over again. And in Section Six, this is a revelation given through Joseph to Oliver Cowdery. Oliver wants to know what to do with his life. But, because, you know, "Am I a scribe? Am I a this, am I a that?" And I wanted to know how in the world I was going to figure out how to tell this story about Joseph Smith, without compromising, Joseph Smith. And without playing to the naysayers, but also not making it so, so positive, not positive but so apologetic –
Morgan Jones 23:10
Like sugar coated.
Heidi Swinton 23:11
Yeah, that people would just go, “I'm not even gonna listen to this."
Morgan Jones 23:15
Heidi Swinton 23:16
Okay, Doctrine and Covenants, Section Six verse 18 has this wonderful scripture that as I read it, it just stopped me dead in my tracks. It says, "Wherefore stand by my servant Joseph, in whatsoever difficult circumstance he may be for the world’s sake. " "Stand by my servant Joseph faithfully." I forgot the faithfully. And that was the answer to my question. That if I stood by Joseph as if he were right there, and I were saying to him, "Shall I go this way or this way? What do you think about this or this? How would you do this or this?" He's a very honest man. He was not a man who sugar coated his life at all. You know, deep water is where I want to swim in. And "Where's the pavilion, that covers thy hiding place" – his life was so hard. And so anyone standing by him, had that same kind of tension and difficulty. And I suddenly realized, okay, no matter what crosses my path, I stand by Joseph and I stand with Joseph. And I'll be alright. And this will be what it ought to be. That was a really powerful experience for me. Because you can transfer that to any Prophet. We can transfer that to President Nelson today. If we stand by him faithfully, no matter what the difficult circumstance is, no matter what the world is saying, that's where the Lord would have us be. So I didn't have the faith crisis of setting Joseph, but I had the crisis of reaching people who were in a crisis of faith, and I think it was successful.
Morgan Jones 25:03
Yeah. Well, before we move on to President Monson, I had this thought as I was prepping questions for you, I love that you've had this, this opportunity to write about a prophet that is living – that was living, and a prophet who had already passed. And so I had this thought as I was, as I was prepping. I wonder what she would want to say when she meets Joseph Smith on the other side. Do you have any thoughts on that Heidi?
Heidi Swinton 25:32
You know, I have thought about that so many times. Because when I would get to a point where I'd have to say, "Okay, how should I approach this? How should I write about this? Should I say this? Or should I say that?" I would stand back and say, "Okay, if I were standing in front of Joseph Smith, how would I explain my decision?" And every time I would say to myself, "Okay, explain the decision to Joseph." And when I did that, I knew what to do so, what am I going to say to him? I'm going to go stand right next to him. And then I'm going to tell him I did my very best. That it was hard. It was harder than anything I'd ever done in terms of writing. It was a huge challenge, because there were so many conflicting thoughts that were, even within the people working on the project as to how to do it, but I always imagined I would shake his hand and that I would just in a very robust way, say, "I did my best for you." And I think he would be accepting of that. I have a personal connection to Joseph Smith, because my great, great, great grandfather is George J. Smith, who was Joseph's first cousin. Joseph called him as an Apostle. He was the youngest Apostle ever called. And George J. was very, very close to Joseph. And in some ways – when George J. was dying, his wife, Bathsheba, two of them had been through all of Kirtland, not Kirtland, all of Nauvoo with Joseph, and had borne testimony of Joseph over and over again. They received their endowment from Joseph, George J. is dying and Bathsheba says to him, "Don't leave me here, take me with you." And George J. turns to her and says, "No, you have to stay here and bear testimony of Joseph Smith." Well, I kind of have felt like I carried that needle forward – that I had to continue to bear testimony of Joseph Smith.
Morgan Jones 27:42
That's beautiful. Thank you for sharing that. So then fast forward, and you were – your husband was serving as a mission president and you all were in England, and you got a cold call from President Monson. And tell me a little bit about that – that phone call.
Heidi Swinton 28:01
Well, I was in the kitchen doing what all good mission mothers do, I was making cookies. There's no phone in the kitchen because the phones never for me. My husband walks in the kitchen and says the phones for you. And I thought, "Okay, it's some missionary who has lost his girlfriend. He wants me to put him back together again." And he says, kind of with this wry smile, "It's President Monson." Now, this is just four months after the General Conference where we sustained him as the Prophet, seer and revelator. And I looked at him and I said, "Is there a missionary that thinks that's funny?" You know, pretending that they're President Monson. He said, "No Heidi, it really is President Monson, and he wants to talk to you." Well, you can imagine what went through my mind. What have I done? What have I written that he doesn't like? What's crossed his desk? My temple recommend is going out the door. I go in, I pick up the phone and with great trepidation I go, "Hello." And he says, "Heidi, how are you?" And I thought to myself, "I have no idea – how am I? You tell me." And then I learned something really powerful about him because for the next half an hour, it wasn't about him. It was about, "So tell me how you're doing. How's the mission? How do you like driving on the other side of the road? How do you like pushing those trolleys in the grocery store 'cause their wheels go every direction? Where are your missionaries from? How is your mother?" He had called us to serve as mission presidents. "How are your children? What's happening with your family?" For a half an hour, he goes through all of this, genuinely interested in what's happening in my life. And the whole time I'm thinking, "This is what the President of Church does on a Wednesday afternoon. He calls up mission Presidents wives and scares them to death." Because I was scared to death. I was not – I was not in his inner circle. And finally, he says, "You know, Deseret Book has pressed me to have a biography written, and they've given me some names of people that can do this and people have volunteered to do it. I've talked to Francis about it." He said, "And I've prayed about it. And I want you to write my biography." Well, I hadn't written anything in two years, except you know, a little of this, a little of that, but nothing significant. Some spoken word, I still do that. And I thought to myself, "This is fabulous. I will be home in a year. And I can spend the next five years writing the history of the President of the Church, and oh, think of the research, it will be so fun.” I'm going through all this and he says, "Now, the way I see it, you're not that busy, are you?" Well, tell that to the mission president’s wife, yeah, I was busy. But I said, "Well, if you don't think I'm busy, I'm not busy." And he said, "Well, good, because if you get started tomorrow, you could be halfway done by the time you get home." And I thought, "How am I gonna do that?" And he said, "I'm here for you. You call me anytime you want. We'll do video conferencing. Let's get started." So for the next year, I was a mission president's wife most of the day, and from four in the morning until eight and from seven until eleven, or any hours I could eke out during the day, I worked on a biography. And when I got home, I was halfway done. I had done all this life up to being called as a member of the Quorum of the 12. So that was a startling experience for me. Not anything on my radar because I didn't know him. But I– you know, I've met him a couple of times. But it was what the Lord had on that track for me. I couldn't see it. But, I look back on it. And I think how blessed I was, to be 24/7 in the mission field, serving the Lord full time thinking about nothing other than bringing people to the gospel, and having an opportunity to overlay on that a biography of the President of the Church.
Morgan Jones 32:00
Heidi, I'm gonna be completely honest with you. That sounds exhausting.
Heidi Swinton 32:04
It was! I've never been so tired! I was so tired all the time.
Morgan Jones 32:11
I feel tired for you.
Heidi Swinton 32:12
I had extra hours in the day. I don't know where they came from. But I would – I would set a goal for myself. I gotta get this much done today. And somehow, I'd get it done. I mean, it was amazing. Just amazing.
Morgan Jones 32:24
That is amazing. So in having spent that kind of time with President Monson whether it was video conferencing or when you got home, I'm sure you were able to spend some time around him that is unusual to the – to the normal church member. What were the biggest things that you observed about President Monson in private, versus President Monson in the public eye?
Heidi Swinton 32:49
You know, he's an interesting man because he is exactly who you think he is. He is as – you know how warm he is at the pulpit? I remember when Elder Hales had come to a conference and hadn't been there for several, you know, sessions and he was able to make it to a session and President Monson was conducting and he got up and he looked over and he said, "This is a great day. We've got Elder Hales with us today." And then he stopped, leaned, and looked over and he said, "We love you, Bob." And that's just kind of the way he is. There is this informality even at the pulpit. There is that informality when he's talking to you. There's no pretense. There's no puffed-up anything. He's – he gets things done. Nobody gets things done better than he did. But there is a warmth that embraces you – yes, from the pulpit, and even more so when you're around him. He is just kind, generous, patient, and sure of himself. Sure of what he wants done. I loved that. I worked in his office, so I saw him every day and I had access to him. I could just walk in his office and talk to him and sit down and ask about this or ask about that and get in the back seat and sometimes go to a funeral or, you know, follow him to this or that. He would say I stalked him, "You're stalking me." But I was just trying to answer the same question. You just asked me. Is he always that way? And he is always that way. He walks down the aisle at a funeral and he stops and starts shaking hands with people and talking to them. He's the last one out of the room. Because he's so interested in how people – it's like he takes a chair up to the kitchen table, he sits down and looks at you says, "How are you today?" That's what he does with everybody. And you even saw that from the pulpit as he looked out at people and with just that generous nature would ask us to do more. You know, to love more, to be more kind.
Morgan Jones 34:55
Yeah. When President Monson was in the First Presidency, my family was at a regional conference, and we were staying in a Marriott Hotel, and so my little sister was probably seven or eight at the time. And she called down to the front desk and she said, "Hello, has Tommy Monson checked in?" And they said – they said, "No, but he'll be here tomorrow." And we were like, "What?" And I'm probably getting Marriott in trouble as we speak. But the next day, we were down in the lobby, and we saw the Area Authority's wife, and she said – she said, "Well, we're not supposed to give out their schedule. But if you were down here in the lobby tomorrow morning, I bet you could – you could see him." And so my whole family was up at like 7am to try to see President Monson, and we did. And we got this like epic picture with him, and he was – he was so kind and he was exactly the way that you think of him being and even – it's so funny cause in the picture, we're all wearing our UNC T-shirts, because we were going to a football game that day, and he's wearing a suit. So he looks like exactly like he looks at General Conference, and we look like Joe Schmo. But he could not have been any sweeter to us. Heidi, you once said in a devotional talk, that there was a moment when you were writing President Monson's biography where you said that you were hung up on how President Monson really does connect with people in such a way that their lives are never the same again. And you said, "I just couldn't figure out how to explain that how to describe that. It was an academic exercise in my mind, and yet it was a spiritual opportunity for those people to be touched by the Lord through the prophet. I had to figure out how to make that work. It wasn't working." And in this devotional talk, which we'll link in our show notes, you kind of explained how you kind of got to the other side of that, but I wondered as a writer, how did you feel like you were able to eventually explain that or describe that?
Heidi Swinton 37:06
Well, in order to understand how President Monson works, you have to get beyond the academic and I was still in the academic, you know, put all this together. I had a really bad day one day, where I was just – I was at the end of my ability to cope with the fact I couldn't figure this out. And I walked into the office, and he was standing there and I was so discouraged. And he said, "Top of the morning to you." And I thought to myself, "Yeah, right." And I went over and sat down at my desk and started to work and he walked by and stopped, looked at me said, "Are you doing okay?" And I said, "Yeah, I'm doing fine." He said, "Good." Went into a meeting in the West boardroom, came back out an hour and a half later, stopped at my desk, looked at me and said, "Is everything going okay for you?" And I said, "Yeah, everything's fine." Now, you know, lied twice to him, and, and so he goes into his office and he comes right back out. And he looks over at me and motions to me to come in. And I went to pick up my recorder. So I could, you know, keep track of what he was saying. He said, "Don't bring that." So I went into that office that I've been in a million times, not a million, but you know, so many times. And I sat down, and he looked at me, and he said, "So how are you really doing?" And I wasn't doing well, but I wasn't going to tell him because I didn't want to be a failure in his eyes, you know, and I didn't want to add to his burden of – he's got this person writing his book that can't figure him out. And so I said, "I'm fine." And he leaned back in his chair, and he looked at me again, and he said, "So how are you really doing?" And the way he said it, just opened up my heart. And I started to cry. And I said to him, "You know, I'm at this roadblock, and I can't figure out how to do this and I don't know what to do about it." And I'm weeping in his office and feeling like, "Oh, you shouldn't be doing this." And he listened so patiently. And as I looked at him, I could see light around him like I'd never seen before. And I'd been in that room so many times. And I imagined that it was the Lord saying, "How are you really doing?" And it was that. "Have you received His image in your countenance?" Because President Monson had that image of the Lord in his countenance. And then he paused and said, "What can I do to help you?" And I thought, "Well, send Elijah, you know, with the chariot of fire and the book on the back and we'll all be good." But I didn't say that. I just said, "I don't know." And he said, "Well, I do." He said, "Here's what I'm going to do. Every morning when I get up. I'm gonna kneel down by the side of my bed and I'm gonna pray for you by name. I'm going to ask the Lord to be on your right hand and on your left." Well, to a writer who uses the right hand and the left all the time. That just – those mountains that were on my shoulder just kind of were gone. And I thought, "My goodness, he has moved Mount Olympus 10 feet to the left, and it's not there anymore." I had the experience that everybody had when they went in this office, where he was able to reach in and pull out the strength within me that I didn't know I had, that came by way of the power of the Atonement and the power of the Savior to help me. And that's what he did for people. And so, when I titled the book, To the Rescue, that was it. That he goes to the rescue of people, reaching in with what he knows they need, and helping them move forward. And he got me past that. It was an incredible moment in time because it changed the landscape of everything. And I was okay after that. I just motored after that. But I had to have the experience that other people had had, in order to feel it, so that I could write about how it felt, not observed. Not write about what I have – had observed.
Morgan Jones 41:21
So interesting. That makes a lot of sense. Heidi, when you look back on that season of your life, what would you say are some of the biggest things that you learned? And is there anything that you appreciate now, in retrospect than you did at the time?
Heidi Swinton 41:40
I learned how forgiving the Lord is, that he puts things in our path that give us an opportunity to be more than we are. I learned how humble His servants are. President Monson was never puffed up. He was always so kind and so gracious and sneaking me chocolates when he shouldn't be eating them because he had diabetes. I learned how I was so focused on that book. I never sat back and said, "Wow, look what I'm doing. Look at what I'm reading. Look at where I'm sitting, look at how I'm doing this." I never did that. I just – I was so worried about getting it right for President Monson. I was so concerned that I would be the hands the Lord needed, the right hand and the left. That I didn't take – I didn't sit back and say, "Wa-hoo, look at me." I never did. And I look back on it now. And I don't have that wa-hoo experience. I have that experience of thinking, "I can't believe the Lord allowed me to use the little talents that I had and magnified them in such a way that I captured him." And that it was him. When he read the book, I can still remember sitting at my desk and I gave him the book – the first few chapters to read. And then I waited. Now, I, of course, was thinking he'd read it right then. And three days later, he still hadn't said anything to me. So I was –
Morgan Jones 43:25
And you're dying,
Heidi Swinton 43:26
I'm dying. You've got it. I'm dying. I'm thinking, "Okay, I'm a total failure. He hates it. He doesn't know how to tell me. He's trying to figure out how he can get me called on another mission so that he doesn't have to deal with me." I mean, you know, all these things are going through my mind. And then I go in one morning, and I hear him sitting with his secretary and reading it out loud. And my heart just stops. And I think, "Okay, either he likes it and he's reading it, or he's reading and saying, 'Oh, this is never gonna work.'" A few minutes later, my phone rings and he says, "Can you come in my office?" I think, this is like walking to the guillotine. So I'm walking into his office, and he gets up out of his chair and he comes over and he gives me a great big hug. He's so big. And he looked at me and he said, "I absolutely love it. You got it right. It's absolutely what I wanted. I absolutely love it. I'm taking it home and reading it to Francis." And he left. I – I still, I'll always remember that day, I will always remember that the Lord allowed me to feel that sense of success. But it wasn't about me. It was always about getting it right for him and I got it right. And – and so being able to look back on it and know that he was happy with it, just like you say, "Was Joseph happy with it?" Anytime you take on responsibility to portray someone, you're not writing for everybody else to pass judgment, I don't think, you're writing for them to say, "Here's a prophet of God. And you got it right." That's a pretty daunting experience. I will never get past how daunting it was. I will never revel in it. Because I just think back on it and try and imagine that – it happened. I've just – it's an honor, it was just an honor every minute of the day as hard as it was, always an honor.
Morgan Jones 45:36
Yeah. So neat. Heidi, how would you say – whether it was Joseph Smith, or whether it was President Monson, how would you say that your experiences strengthen your testimony of living prophets?
Heidi Swinton 45:49
Oh, well, you know, what we have in this Church that no one else has, is a Prophet of God. And if it's from the moment that I stood by that cornfield, and the Spirit said to me, "He was, and is, a prophet of God." That connection to the heavens, my life isn't linear either. The heavens opened, and the Spirit of the Lord came down with such power that I knew. I hadn't always known that the way I knew it then. I had believed it. But then I knew it. And that knowledge transfers so easily from one Prophet to the next. You know, to transfer it to President Monson, who in a lot of ways is like Joseph Smith. He has this humor, he has a love for people. He is spontaneous. He's – Joseph with all those things. So I saw a lot of both of them in each other, which I enjoyed. I really, I thought that was great. But if you know that Joseph Smith saw God, the Father of Jesus Christ in the sacred grove, then everything else falls in line. The Book of Mormon falls in line. Power of the Priesthood falls in line, the importance of temples in our lives falls in line. All of that falls in line, as does every other Prophet, who has borne witness that Jesus Christ appeared to Joseph Smith, because they know it. And you hear that from President Monson, he talks about the Savior so much, because he – I mean, he had that love of the Savior, that is described by Peter when he says, "Jesus Christ went about doing good, for God was with him." That's what Thomas Monson did. That's what every prophet has done. That's what they're called to do. And that “good” is to keep the path, so that each one of us on that path knows who we follow. We follow the Prophet of God, if you follow the Prophet of God, you'll be safe. If you take one step off to the side like W.W. Phelps did, and then another and another until you abandon Joseph Smith and sign an affidavit to have him thrown in jail, which is what Phelps did, this is after he wrote, “the Spirit of God like a fire is burning,” But if you stay right on the path behind the Prophet – Phelps came back. And Joseph took him back with great forgiveness and great love. And then it was Phelps who wrote, "Praise to the man who communed with Jehovah." There's the key, "Who communed with Jehovah." That's what Joseph Smith did. That's what Thomas Monson did. He communed with the Lord Jesus Christ whose Church this is. And so does President Nelson. I know that And when you know that you're not going to be pulled off. That's what – you need to seek that witness.
Morgan Jones 49:08
Yeah. I think if there's anything that I have been super grateful for throughout this COVID-19 period, I think more than ever, I've appreciated having a Prophet. And I think we saw that when – when President Nelson when they released that video of him on YouTube, and it went, like viral and was number one on YouTube. To me, it was like the whole world was craving a Prophet in that moment. And that's what we have, and do we appreciate what we have. Heidi, it has been such a delight to talk with you. My last question for you is what does it mean to you, to be all in the Gospel of Jesus Christ?
Heidi Swinton 49:50
To be all in is to draw upon the power of the Atonement in your life, all the time. It's to recognize that the Lord, Jesus Christ, as it says in D&C 84:88, "I will go before your face, I'll be on your right hand and on your left, my spirit will be in your heart and my angels round about you to bear you up." That's the essence of it, that He's gone before us. He's carried the burdens. And now He's with us to help us through those very difficult days, which all of us have, their legion in our lives. But He never leaves us alone. It's just like – I did reading in Ether. And I've just been so impressed with how the Lord tells him to build barges. And then He says, "and I'll take you up on the waves and down in the waves." And, you know, that's what life is. You go up, and then you go down, and things get hard and they get a little easier, and then they get hard again, and you're going to have to have, you know, open for some air and then you got to close it. He tells them what they're going to have to do. But then He leaves it up to them for the light. And the light is to carry Jesus Christ with us all the time. And that's what it is to be all in. To choose Jesus Christ, to say, "I'm one of His disciples, and as hard as things get, I will not allow myself to be drawn off. I will stay with Him, because He is My Lord and my Savior, and He's there for me." And sometimes I have felt like everybody else that He wasn't there. It's the, "Heavenly Father, are you really there? Do you hear and answer every child's prayer?" Sometimes, we have those moments, but what you just have to do is stay with the prophets and stay with the Lord Jesus Christ. And that arm will come out and reach around you and you'll feel it. And I have felt it. Since the day I stood in the cemetery, and He said, "Peace be with you, my peace I leave with you not as the world giveth give I unto you." That's – that is my mantra. And it has kept me all in.
Morgan Jones 51:54
Thank you so much, Heidi. I appreciate so much the work that you've done, the example of faithfulness that you've set, and just feel like it has been a privilege to talk to you. So, thank you.
Heidi Swinton 52:06
Morgan Jones 52:08
A huge thank you to Heidi Swinton for joining us on today's episode, you can find To the Rescue in Deseret Book stores, and deseretbook.com. Thank you to Derek Campbell of Mix at 6 Studios for making us sound good – and thank you so much for listening. We'll be with you again next week.