Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The Gentle Savior

Hi friends. It's been a while since I last posted. These are some thoughts I shared on Facebook earlier today - thoughts I hope will get you thinking about your own relationship with the Lord. For that reason I'm sharing them here:
I've just been thinking - aren't you glad God generally communicates with us gently? How many of us really want to be shaken with a heavy hand or shouted at or kicked in the pants with some dramatic revelation? Isn't it a blessing to be caressed by the Spirit, touched by His love, revived by His light? Why should I want for bold, sensational, in-your-face communication when I can enjoy the breathtaking beauty of His quiet love? As I work through struggles I realize I am most grateful for precious, intimate moments with the Lord - moments characterized not by melodrama but by quiet meditation.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

"He Never Missed a Day"

Confession: I'm not very good at writing in my journal. Not very good at all.

So bad, in fact, that fully nine months of my mission experience apparently never happened; at least I've got no journalistic evidence to prove it. We won't talk about my attempts at journaling before my mission, but the words 'pathetic' and 'grossly inconsistent' come to mind.

Why, despite my repeated failures, is keeping a journal important to me? I was very young when I first heard this statement by President Spencer W. Kimball
I promise you that if you will keep your journals and records, they will indeed be a source of great inspiration to your families, to your children, your grandchildren, and others, on through the generations...those who keep a personal journal are more likely to keep the Lord in remembrance in their daily lives.
That statement made a lasting impact on my impressionable young mind, and I've since felt duty-bound to record my stories and insights. This blog is one effort to fulfill that prophetic—and now personal—vision.

No, the blurriness and black marks are not
a trendy feature on Picmonkey; they are a
consequence of dropping my camera at Lagoon
I realized recently that another statement made an equally lasting impact on my young mind. This statement surfaced again and again in a variety of settings, but one phrasing of it was, "Once Johnny started keeping a journal at 14 he never missed a day."

Woah, Johnny—never missed a day, huh? Well then surely I could do the same!

Well I couldn't. And I didn't. And I began to wonder if Johnny really never missed a day and I started to resent him if he hadn't. My inconsistent journaling on my mission stemmed from an erroneous belief that if I missed a day I could play catch up the next. The problem with this line of thinking is that one day inevitably piles up into 17 or 18. It didn't take long to get overwhelmed by how far I'd fallen behind. In trying to keep up with Johnny I couldn't even keep up with myself.

I caught myself falling into the same error upon returning home. After missing a couple of days I was tempted to play the familiar game of catch up. But something stopped me. True doctrine stopped me. My burgeoning understanding of the Savior's Atonement rescued me from the fallacy of wrong thinking. The Savior doesn't expect me to catch up on missed opportunities any more than he expects a repentant sinner to fork over back-payments on tithing. He expects me to start over, not to languish forever in a miserable game I never win.

Years from now if you're reading my journal you'll notice a break between July 9 and July 11, 2013.

Yes, I missed a day. But finally, mercifully, I didn't miss the point.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

The Words We Speak

My history and philosophy of psychology class has introduced me to a new way of thinking. What if the words we speak carry power beyond the energy it takes to utter them? What if the ideas we hastily subscribe to and share—even if false—permanently impact our thinking?

They do. Consider how often you find yourself saying something like this—
I wonder what caused Amy to do that.
Here we assume that Amy is a passive object acted upon by some stimulus which caused her behavior. Most of us will agree that if Amy robs a bank she is responsible for her crime. But almost in the same breath we will regurgitate some intellectual slop about how Amy's upbringing or genes or stressful work environment or difficult relationship caused her behavior. We don't feel comfortable saying Amy is not responsible for her decision. But we feel equally uncomfortable believing what we say—that Amy indeed chose to rob the bank and that she could have chosen otherwise. 

Either our words don't match our beliefs or our beliefs don't match our words.

What if we said this instead?
I wonder what her reasons were for doing that.
Here we acknowledge that Amy has reasons for robbing the bank. Yes, her circumstances contributed to her decision; how could they not? But they didn't cause anything. Amy chose to rob the bank. She could have chosen differently.

We rob the human race of dignity when we reduce a man to his behavior. We demoralize man in his search for meaning when we deny the reality of his agency.

Let us not through the words we speak offer man the toxic binge of behaviorism. Let us instead share doctrine.
True doctrine, understood, changes attitudes and behavior. The study of the doctrines of the gospel will improve behavior quicker than a study of behavior will improve behavior. (President Boyd K. Packer—Little Children, Ensign Nov. 1986

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Being Like Nephi

Flashback to August 2012. This was one of the most grueling periods of my mission. It was also one of the most rewarding. The Lord blessed me with diamond truth to guide my mission and my life. Now I see the truth in Brigham Young's prophetic statement, "God never bestows upon his people, or upon an individual, superior blessings without a severe trial to prove them."

'If God commanded me to do all things I could do them'
I will not use this space to ruminate my trials, but I will share a 'superior blessing' with you - a truth, a lesson meaningful insofar as you have fought through and overcome your own severe trials. Months ago I shared this experience with my mission president and my family. Now I share it with you.
I'm finding little evidences of God's love everywhere I go. I'm beginning to understand how much He's blessed me. I'm beginning to see how foolish and selfish it is to focus on the things He hasn't yet given me. And I'm realizing more and more that sin distances me from His perfect love. He wants me to be confident, and the only way I can be confident is to trust Him.
I've studied a lot about the life of Nephi over the past few days. There is a man who was humble and confident. Though faced with overwhelming opposition and at least some feelings of inadequacy and sorrow, he never doubted in the Lord's promises. He exhibited faith and humility as he went about accomplishing the will of the Lord. I am so impressed by his remarks in 1 Nephi 17:50-51
And I said unto them: If God had commanded me to do all things I could do them. If he should command me that I should say unto this water, be thou earth, it should be earth; and if I should say it, it would be done. And now, if the Lord has such great power, and has wrought so many miracles among the children of men, how is it that he cannot instruct me, that I should build a ship?
Nephi didn't focus on the daunting task of shipbuilding—something he had never done. He focused on his abilities. He focused on the Lord's infinite capacity to accomplish good. And he made the important connection between the Lord's power and his power. He recognized with absolute faith and sincere humility that he was capable of doing anything the Lord commanded him to do.
I'm not one to doubt the Lord's power. I have always felt that He is there and that He works miracles. But I'm learning from Nephi that I should not doubt my power to do the Lord's will, either. If the Lord desires to use me to accomplish miracles, why not? If the Lord wants me to be the answer to someone's prayer, why not? If the Lord wants me to be a powerful leader—something I feel intimidated by—why not? Part of trusting Him is trusting that I can do what He wants me to do. If I doubt myself, I'm doubting Him. If I doubt my abilities, I'm doubting His abilities. If I criticize and berate myself, I'm not applying the Atonement.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Redefining Weakness

For months I've tried to describe a precious truth I've been learning piece by piece, primarily on my mission. While teaching a group of missionaries four days ago at the MTC the revelation came in an instant. (If ever the cliche 'crystal clear' was appropriate, it fits here):
I define my strengths and weaknesses.
Need further evidence? Let me introduce you to just a few of the people I've met who live this principle:

  • Mike Schlappi, the wheelchair-bound paralympian who transformed a personal tragedy into an inspiring life of motivating service
  • Elie Wiesel, the champion of peace and equality who endured indescribable hardship in a Nazi concentration camp. Wiesel has been described as a "messenger to mankind"
  • RaNae McKee, the beauty queen-turned-mom (to children, foster children and missionaries) who defied death by freely sharing her life
  • Kevin Carroll, the idealistic, energetic sexagenarian who believes in the power of a red rubber ball

Can anyone dispute that these men and women have overcome significant obstacles? Can anyone doubt that they view their impediments, handicaps and experiences as strengths, not limitations?

The struggle to redefine weakness as fortitude is something I'm well acquainted with. Someday I'll tell you my story. 

But really it's not my story any more than it's your story. And it's not really your story, either. It's our story - mankind's story - our collective effort to process, understand and overcome our private struggles. You cannot win a personal battle without inspiring another soul. My mission president says, "Everything you do affects another soul."

The ultimate author of this story is the "author and finisher of our faith", the One who willingly bore each piercing pain in an effort to love, understand and redeem us all (see Hebrews 12:2, Alma 7:11-13). The miracle of the Atonement is not that Christ will take away our weakness, pain, and sorrow. The miracle is that He will change our weakness into strength, turn our pain into power, and develop our sorrow into everlasting joy. 

I finally perceive the meaning of the Lord's timeless words:
If men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. 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, emphasis added) 

Thursday, May 9, 2013

The Best Relationship

            After a months-long hiatus I’m back to blogging. I knew I couldn’t stay away forever. I’m never sure how useful my musings are to the general population, but I learn a lot by writing my thoughts down rather than letting them swirl endlessly in my mind. Writing is just one way to express the feelings of the heart. Perhaps you’ve taken up music, art, or some other form to communicate your thoughts.
            One basic human need is companionship. I’ve thought at length about three video clips produced by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, all of which I first saw on my mission. These videos expose us to real people who, for a variety of reasons, felt the emptiness that resulted when a companion was lost or never found. Naturally these losses left them feeling…well, lost—and heartbroken, discouraged, and empty.
            But these are stories of triumph, not tragedy, and the dominant theme in these threads is this—“no matter what I experience in life I will be faithful to my covenants and I will be faithful to God. My relationship with Him is most important. Further companionship is a blessing and a bonus.”

            Love empowered Chris to forgive when teenager Cameron, driving drunk, killed his wife and several children in a car accident. The incident left him feeling “crushed: spiritually, emotionally, and physically.” But Chris noticed that when he prayed God didn’t immediately try to solve all his problems. He listened with love. He allowed Chris to vent his anger. And then He taught him about His Son, Jesus Christ, and the Atonement. He allowed Chris to let go of a burden that would have destroyed him. And in finding the power to forgive Chris enabled Cameron and his parents to let go of poisonous memories that would have dulled their futures forever. “I was just completely overcome,” Cameron’s mother, Marilyn, said. “It was like…the despair was being washed out from my soul.”

            Love motivated an anonymous young wife to mend when her husband revealed he had been unfaithful and wanted a divorce. The announcement came during the holidays, and the crushing secret ruined what should have been an enjoyable time with family. Heartbroken and hopeless, the woman gladly took her crying young niece to another room in order to be alone. Here, overcome with emotion, overwhelmed by a burden she felt she couldn’t carry on her own, she realized she was not, in fact, alone. Looking into the infant’s innocent eyes she felt these words impel her heart with force: “You’re not holding me; I’m holding you.” The woman realized the Lord was shouldering her tremendous sorrow.

            Love allowed Ty to look past cultural expectations and postponed dreams and embrace a challenge that frustrated him. A titanic struggle with same-sex attraction left him wondering if he belonged in the Lord’s Church. Years of painful loneliness preceded a glorious experience of divine love—a reassurance of superior power in which the Lord told Ty, “Just stay with me; one day at a time.” In order to overcome this significant challenge Ty had to acknowledge that he might never enjoy marriage in this life. And he was okay with that. God first, companionship second. He said, “I express gratitude always to the Lord for that divine communication which really transformed my approach to this issue which has ultimately led me to where I’m at today”…happily married, by the way.
            We all long for meaningful relationships. Sometimes those relationships are tragically cut short. Sometimes they are destroyed by the reckless avarice of a former soul mate. Sometimes they happen much later than we hope they will. Sometimes they never even start.
            But there is one relationship that can be eternal. It is not temporary, it will not be sabotaged, and it can begin the very moment we want it to. A relationship with Jesus Christ is the best relationship we can develop. I feel the power of His love in the words of this hymn:

At the throne I intercede;
For thee ever do I plead.
I have loved thee as thy friend,
With a love that cannot end.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Remember This!

I have a little ritual I go through every Monday night. Upon remembering I've forgotten to mail the letters I've written that day, I run down a flight of stairs and stash the enveloped notes vertically in the crevice between the door and door-frame. That way I remember to mail them early Tuesday morning.
A little trick helps me remember to mail my letters

This little exercise prevents me from experiencing that awkward moment where I find a finished letter in say, the glove box, that should have been sent months ago. (This may or may not have happened this morning).

Every morning I study the scriptures for an hour so I will remember what Jesus Christ has done for me. Without this daily ritual I would find my testimony quickly waning.

Why is it important to remember the Lord in all we do? Wise Helaman taught his sons
Remember, remember that it is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your foundation; that when the devil shall send forth his mighty winds, yea, his shafts in the whirlwind, yea, when all his hail and his mighty storm shall beat upon you, it shall have no power over you to drag you down to the gulf of misery and endless wo, because of the rock upon which ye are built, which is a sure foundation, a foundation whereon if men build they cannot fall.
These are your thoughts about remembering the Savior—

  • Patsy: It is those little things that should matter the most, and we should always be grateful for that
  • Elder Pulsipher: When you put the Lord first He puts you first!
  • Marnette: [Remembering] sure helps me through hard times, to know how much He loves me and each of His children. Paying attention to the daily blessings, even during the good times, helps me to focus
  • Tyson: When we forget what the Lord has done for us we become lost. We forget our way. We forget our value and lose true joy

O, Remember, Remember, President Henry B. Eyring
The Sacrament—Remembering the Savior
To Always Remember Him, Elder D. Todd Christofferson

Friday, January 11, 2013

Like a Dream

I've just finished an exchange with an Elder in Mt. Juliet, Tennessee. Two days ago we were walking along the railroad tracks, talking about the tricks time plays when you're in the service of the Lord. Each one of the 24 months goes by just a little bit faster. When you get down to about six months the pace accelerates rapidly. I've just two months left.

It was a humid, hazy day, and perhaps the atmosphere contributed to my remembering a scripture in the Book of Mormon. The prophet Jacob is recounting the timelessness of his difficult but rewarding life—
I have written according to the best of my knowledge, by saying that the time passed away with us, and also our lives passed away like as it were unto us a dream, we being a lonesome and a solemn people, wanderers, cast out from Jerusalem, born in tribulation, in a wilderness, and hated of our brethren, which caused wars and contentions; wherefore we did mourn out our days.
Jacob speaks as one who has seen a lifetime of sorrow, sadness and tribulation. And while I cannot relate with wars and life in a wilderness, I think I'm starting to understand what he means when he says time passes like a dream. The last two years of my life—the last six months, especially—seem timeless, void of hours and minutes and filled with thousands of little lessons that have no beginning or end.

"Our lives passed away like as it were unto us a dream"
I'm determined to measure the next two months not in days but in lessons and in love; not by the ticking of my watch but by the footsteps of my faith.

And then, when this dream is over I'll discover that it has only just begun. See, life isn't about starting and finishing. It isn't about arriving at a destination. It isn't about running mindlessly from one day to the next.

It is all about finding joy in the journey.

And it came to pass that we lived after the manner of happiness.

Come What May, and Love It, Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin
Finding Joy in the Journey, President Thomas S. Monson
Be Anxiously Engaged, Elder M. Russell Ballard