Monday, June 23, 2014

My Hope

For some time I have been watching the events that have been taking place relative to a very small but vocal group of women in the LDS Church relative to the priesthood and it seems like a good time today to post something.

I don't want to talk today about the Church's right to administer discipline - which I feel strongly they do. I also don't want to talk about the Church's right to define its own doctrine nor the right to define how it gets its doctrine - which I believe is revelatory and prophetic. Nor do I want to talk about the line which I think this member crossed that caused today's announcement of her excommunication. Other people have done that better than I could.

What I want to talk about today is my feelings about the Gospel and what we do about today's announcement. The Church has sometimes been referred to as a great caravan. If we use this analogy, the caravan moves forward from here and the majority of members will follow it, as they always have and will. I will do my best to be a part of this caravan. But to those one or two of my Facebook friends who were struggling before with aspects of the Church and have all but decided to leave this caravan because of today's announcement, my message is for you today.

Don't go.

Please stay with us.

 I cannot remember a time when I didn't have a testimony of the Gospel - and while my testimony has grown and had stronger times than others,  I have always known in my heart that it was true. I believe in prophetic guidance, temple covenants, modern day scripture, priesthood power and in the sweet and gentle confirmation of the Holy Spirit that led me to believe at so many undeniable times in my life. You know as well as I do that I am miles away from the man I hope to be, but I know where I want to go. I pray I get there despite myself sometimes.

But maybe this isn't what you have had a chance to experience yet. I have seen it happen in so many thousands of others, but maybe your hope has yet to be confirmed.  But I believe you have felt something in the Church - moments of softness and love and quietness and closeness with God. Please nurture these moments. I believe that if you can stay through this you will have those moments increase, that doubts will decrease and hope will increase and peace will happen.

I know the Church will move forward and be fine. Men and women by the millions have and will continue to have those warming moments that I believe come from the Gospel, with all the peace and hope that go with them. I would do anything to be together in this going forward.

God bless.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

My 12 Year Old Moment With God

When I was 12 the scouts from my ward took a 5 day camping and hiking trip to Redcastle in the High Uintas. There were 20 of us on this trip, if I remember right. The poor scout leaders watched over us as we ran wild for 5 days, learned to play cards, dug our own holes for toilets, about drowned on a lake a few times on makeshift rafts, pumped our own water for drinking and went without a shower for a long, long time. I remember when we all ran out of mosquito spray that we used to have contests to see who had the most bites on them. One poor kid had more than 100 on his chest, arms, neck and back.

We had lots of time to run around like boys do, have crazy adventures and live a very free week. It was heaven.


We had a lot of fun together time and a fair amount of quiet together time. It was one of these quiet times that helped me learn an important lesson. 

We were gathered around a campfire and were goofing off and being 12 and 13 with the excitement that brings and as the night went on it very quickly became quiet. We ran out of things to say that were dumb, which seemed impossible. And then we started talking about the stars and God's creations and I remember looking up and suddenly becoming very aware that I felt very close to God at that exact moment. I also realized I wasn't the only one. There was a tenderness among this group of boys that was almost magical.

I realized there that God is very close to me, very aware of me, very loving of me. It was as sacred of a moment as I can remember.

This Easter week I am mindful of the fact that we don't always feel close to Him. Life winds it's way around bends that test our faith. I suppose I am not the only one who feels the weight of mistakes and sins that have kept us/keep us from feeling the tenderness and closeness of Christ and His powerful and gentle and personal Atoning sacrifice.

I share the witness that I have received as a boy and have confirmed many times that Christ died for you and for me, that He is close and loving and ready to heal us and our mistakes and our sins as we come to Him. And there are moments that we can really just know, without any doubt, that Christ loves us and is mighty to save and all things are possible with Him.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Kindness Almost Can't Help But Come Out

Since long before I was born my dad has been writing - a lot. He writes on a variety of subjects from gospel questions, history, life, humor, etc. He is a great poet as well. 

For years I have collected several thousand of these essays, poems, thoughts, etc. Each time he writes he has me read it to him and we discuss it. I admit this is a guilty pleasure. I have a more solid understanding of the foundations of my beliefs than I ever could have had without these read and discuss times. Life has never been too busy to miss a few minutes of "dad time". 

A recent essay was a reminder of how kindness softens situations and people and our own hearts. The tone of our voices is as important as the words we say and taking meanness out communications shows that we have a gentle heart. Anger and ugliness and discontent finds its way out of hearts into the tone of our voices. It almost can't help itself. If it is there, it is going to come out. But a kind and soft heart comes out as kindness and with a softening effect on others around us. 

Reading this essay recently brought an experience to mind where my dad demonstrated this inward softness of heart in his outward reaction. Some few years ago my father had an infection that almost cost him his legs and his life. The infection was bad enough it was causing violent spasms in his body. The infection very nearly took his life. His legs were almost unusable and he could barely stand, let alone walk. 

I was working far away and couldn't help immediately but my mother convinced him to go to the hospital in Murray. My own father drove her to the hospital when his pain was unbearable. He pulled up at the door and walked my handicapped mother to the emergency room of the hospital and got her seated and then went and parked the car and fought his own way back to the emergency room. On the way he spotted a young mother who was trying to carry bags and children in and was obviously frazzled. My own, extremely weak and sick dad, carried her bag in for her, as my mom relates. She wanted to smack him in the head but loved him more for it instead. 

The kindness in his heart almost couldn't help but come out. 

Thanks dad - for all the lessons taught, both written and lived. 

Friday, January 31, 2014

They Killed My Tree

Pardon me while I vent a frustration about something that happened today. I have learned that sometimes writing things out clears the haze and allows me to move past an issue. Hopefully this will be the case for me here.

Do you see this tree that is pictured above? At the risk of sounding like the proud parent of a tree, isn't it beautiful? I have always loved the character of this tree. The branches that rose and fell and twisted as its own personality seemed to take shape over the years just added to it's character.  I loved the golden leaves in the fall. It always kept it's leaves longer than any other tree. You can see above the leaves falling in my yard and in my neighborhood - but none from this tree.

It was the perfect climbing tree. Every kid in the neighborhood and every niece and nephew that I have has climbed this tree. I have one nephew that put a blanket near the top of the tree and sat and read a book between the branches all day. It was an old friend to every person who was ever a kid on the block.

With probably too much pride, I always felt like it was the best, most beautiful tree in the neighborhood.

Today, though, the city of Sandy might have killed my tree.

Do you notice under the corner that a street sign should be visible but isn't? It needs to be, but isn't. The city's way of handling this issue was to chainsaw the entire left half of the tree today.  I could hardly believe my eyes and I know it sounds stupid but it made me feel like someone had taken something from me that can never be given back. Stupid? Probably. But it hurts. I am not even sure it will live now.

I called the city and complained to everyone I could talk to. Someone kept telling me they had the right to do it, as if that waives all grievances. I kept asking why they had to take big, beautiful branch after big, beautiful branch instead of the offending 2-3 feet.

"We have the right to do what we did", was the answer.

I feel kind of sick tonight and not sure if I should be ashamed that I am sad for my tree.

I am sad about it though.








Monday, January 13, 2014

Part 2: My Mission

The transfer van dropped me off at the BP gas station in Marianna, Florida where I joined up with my MTC companion. This gentle elder had a severe learning disability and had very little confidence in his speaking or teaching, or really anything. As we made our way to our new home in Lynn Haven we talked a little and I could sense a real sadness in him. 

Our apartment was fairly disgusting - a project level apartment in a somewhat unsavory part of town. The apartment complex was a one level stucco building where I am fairly certain the large majority of our neighbors were high on something most of the time.

 I slept on an unheated water bed which I came to despise with all my heart and soul until we essentially beat it do death several months later and got a new bed, thanks to Sister Spencer, the mission president's wife. The bed leaked water on top and below the bed so you could feel the hard slats underneath. It was an excellent way to ruin your back if that was your plan. 

I was sent to be the district leader in that area and my district including one companionship of sisters who worked the Panama City Beach area. They very much intimidated me. More on that in a moment. 

Lynn Haven is a beautiful community which borders the bay above Panama City. I immediately felt at home here and struggled with the happy reality that I didn't have rocks thrown at me or that I wasn't essentially attacked every time I went out the door. 

The bishop of this ward was a special individual in my life. His family was involved in one of the sacred and most beautiful experiences of my mission long after I left this area, which I will talk about in great detail later.

I remember visiting him once and seeing his catch of thousands of fresh, raw oysters that they were preparing to eat in the backyard. He invited my companion and myself to "let them slide right down your throat". I almost gagged the first time I did it - but 6 oysters later I was finding odd enjoyment in the activity and have learned to love  raw oysters ever since. A little Tabasco sauce and I could find a great deal of pleasure in some oysters. 

I remember visiting a strong and independent 85 year old sister in the ward on the far side of the town. Mattie Lindsey was one of the first members of the church in Florida. Her husband had been the district president more than 50 years earlier and he had been dead for more than 35 years. She kept running the family apartments and mobile home parks on that side of town until the day she died and she was kindness and energy and stubbornness and vinegar and love all wrapped together. 

She identified 4-5 people she had been talking to about the church and had shared a Book of Mormon with. She gave us her opinion on how we should approach each one of them. 

I was absolutely smitten with love for this lady. I had not baptized anyone yet on my mission and had very few opportunities at this point to even teach. She took my face in her hands and told me that God was going to work a miracle through me, "just you wait and see!"  
She got out of her chair like she was 23 and marched down the hill and over by the pond and promptly told a lady who was 81 that she was picking her up to feed her fried cornbread and soup and so she could meet the missionaries. 

This dear lady was baptized a few months later. I will always be grateful for this and so many other miracles. 

This lady who we taught lived in a home that was ransacked by roaches - a problem I had seen throughout my mission. But I never saw it like I saw it at her home. Often my companion and I would spend an hour killing thousands or roaches as they crawled across our faces and backs and hair on the couches we sat on. 
I wanted to pick this sweet sister out of that home and take her away. We killed roaches with shovels and shoes and whatever we could find to smash dozens at once. 

Across the bay was a small community called South Port. We spent an awful lot of time on wet red clay roads with mud pouring up our backs as we biked, looking for hard to find trailers and homes. We were chased by junk yard dogs that looked like they knew their way around a jugular vein. 

One very hot and humid night my companion got up to answer the phone at 2 in the morning only to hear the devastating sound of a man beating a woman and have her plead for help. It was a lady we had been teaching. When we recognized what was happening and her voice we called the police. I remember how much my companion and I cried for this dear lady, who I never saw again despite our best efforts to locate her.

My companion and I learned to really love each other and to pray for each other. His kindness and decency helped make it easy for me to love him. The mission started catching fire for him and his confidence increased. I began to see how the Lord takes us and molds us from whatever starting point we are at. I was always inspired by him. I wish I knew what happened to him since his mission. 

My next companion was an elder from Mesquite, Nevada who became one of my dearest friends in my life. But it didn't start out that way. We butted heads pretty hard for a few weeks and I don't know how that all changed but I got to the point where I felt like he was my brother and we loved each other. 

He was the one who downed a few dozen oysters with me. He was the guy who took a fall on his bike that shredded his pants and shirt and, only because it was so funny, I couldn't help but laugh at it for days. He was the one who did hours of service with me at the elementary school and he was a kid favorite because he was built like a tank. They loved him. 

I remember going over the bridge into Panama City Beach one day to work with the sisters and watching how they taught people. I was in awe - they basically wrapped their arms around the people they taught in friendship and love and poured love and friendship on the people while they taught them. This was inspiring to me and changed how I interacted with people the rest of my mission. One of these sisters had to return home early because of a devastating illness. She ended up visiting my own dying grandfather until his death. She is a kind friend still. 

I remember knocking on the door once of a very old African American lady. She was blind and deaf. Her home was in terrible condition and smelled of rotting food and garbage and refuse. It made me catch my breath.  She had no furniture in her home of any kind and despite the smell, the place was spotless. She touched our faces and tears poured down her cheeks as she told us she felt goodness come to her door. 

These experiences were gentle miracles that were constant reminders for missionaries that God was close, active and emanated love. It was always a stunning for me to see how much God loved the broken and lame and poor and suffering. It was amazing to me to be a part of God's miracles in the life of a person. 

Missionaries in general learn to go willingly into homes and to talk to people that they never would have dreamed to do before. All men and women have a need for Jesus Christ and His love. When missionaries see that finally their missions change completely. 

By the end of this second area I had been on my mission about one year. I had been a part of one baptism and had taught very few discussions. I had been beaten up, abused and threatened in my first area. I had seen gentleness and kindness in my second area. 

All of these things were to prepare me for the second half of my mission. I was being prepared for what I needed to do next. 




Monday, December 30, 2013

My Year In Review

I wasn't planning on doing a year end summation on this blog, or anywhere else for that matter. But I started thinking recently that this last year has been epic and the most interesting I have had in some time - and the year that I feel like I have seen the most personal growth. So why not write a little about it?

I am going to gloss over what it was like to enter 2012 as an unemployed, broken and hopeless man. Since I have discussed those feelings at some length on this blog in the past let me just sum it up like this - the final three months of 2012 were devastating for so many reasons. I had felt like I had worked very hard for many years to fix some hard challenges but that was the nadir moment for me. It had actually gotten worse and not better. 

For me, it has been good to remember where I was last year at this time as this year has seen an epic change. 

Employment:  

Few feelings poison a man's confidence like being out of work. At some point the very fact that you are out of work begins to play against you. I can't tell you how many interviews I had with a company where someone would inevitably ask why I was out of work. I had worked through many answers and had refined them and smoothed them out. Still, I could see the demerit being applied to almost every notebook as I answered. I couldn't get a job because I hadn't had a job. It was almost as simple as that. 

I had sent in close to 800 resumes, had filled out more than 250 applications, had been to dozens of networking seminars and job fairs. I had asked every friend I ever knew. I had more than 60 interviews, even 3rd and 4th interviews. It began to feel like I was never going to get a job and that I was essentially a big, forgettable piece of garbage. I had all but lost complete faith in every getting anything again. 

Then one day I got a call in early March from a lady who I had interviewed with a year before. She told me that she was very interested in having me apply for a new position with her company. I began working just a few days later. 

It is amazing what a difference it makes to work - to be appreciated for hard work and to get paid! The job hasn't been without it's down points, but by and large I have loved going to work. I have learned some essential things that I will apply into my own business ownership over the next few years. I have become good at some things I struggled with and made some great friends and contacts. And to be on a firm and steady financial path of growth instead of being mired in perpetual close shaves has been confidence building.

Car: 

As a consequence of many of these close shaves I had been unable to have a car in my name for a few years. I had some credit issues that were several years old but had effected me for a number of years. This was humiliating and humbling. 

As a result, a dear friend had helped me get into a car a few years ago. Driving has always been a way for me to clear my head, to think, to relax. 

Almost immediately after getting my job I had realized that I was able to finally get myself into my own car in my own name. I am grateful beyond expression to have a reliable and comfortable car now and to have it finally in my name. This was an epic journey and has mirrored other events in my life - things that took years to get straightened out but somehow came together this year. 

Ward (Congregation):

For several years I had attended a large single's branch in Midvale. I had made a lot of close and dear friends and had a lot of opportunities to serve. 

At some point, however, the impression came that it was time to move on from the single's ward and to jump into the family ward scene. Not long after that I got a call from the stake presidency to serve as a clerk with them. This was a very real answer to prayers and an indication that Heavenly Father was extremely aware of me as I had felt Him moving in my life leading up to that call. 

I have loved my weekly interactions with the stake presidency and the other clerks/secretaries and the high council. These are good people and their kind presence in my life has given me a hope and happiness that had been missing. 

Family Reunion: 

My family has not all been together in 10 years. That is, until this last summer when all my brothers and sisters and parents (with a legion of nieces and nephews and brothers-in-law and a sister-in-law) all gathered in Arizona for a nephew's mission farewell. 

The blessing of my family in my life is private and personal - but I will share that it is special. 

Family History:

A couple of weekends spent in a dusty and cold storage unit in Pocatello netted a broken back, a couple of decent sized cuts and a lot of trash. It also brought about some intensely sacred moments of family treasures and a chance to get to know my dear grandma and dear grandpa (whom I never knew in person) and also my own dad in ways that I never could have dreamed of knowing before. I spent a ghastly amount of time in December compiling these treasures into a beautiful book that will soon be in the hands of everyone in my family. The first book was delivered on Christmas day to my younger sister in Twin Falls. 

Suddenly, A Desire to Build Things: 

Somewhere coinciding with the job start I decided that this year I was going to physically recreate my parent's entire yard to make it more attractive and to make it more friendly for them as they are less mobile now. An entire year later we have built an entirely new fence and moved it to make it more open and safe, completely recreated the garden area with brick paved walk ways, dug out 5 tons of dirt from a flower bed and filled it with better dirt, helped put in a brand new deck in their back yard including transplanting 160 square feet of sod to another part of the yard, moved a few trees, painted the outside of the house, gutted the shed, built a new firewood pile, built a gate on the fence, put in 16 new fence posts, repaired cement. I also learned to fix a leaky roof, painted the inside of a home and the outside of a garage, planted trees and got a ton of blisters. 

Most of you have seen the pictures from this last year but this has been the single most fulfilling year for me to learn how to do some things I was not aware of before. It is great to build things and and grow things. And next year I am all the more enthused to be even crazier. Plus, it's great for weight loss. 

Spiritual Growth: 

Something that has needed to break in me for years finally snapped during these last twelve months. The anger and the vindictiveness has gone away, the hope has returned and the calming influence that I have searched for for so long has caught my heart and elevated my happiness. Instead of having moments or days or even weeks that were happy or good all to come crashing down into despair and ugliness and sadness I have a consistent happiness and a quiet enthusiasm for life that lasts the weeks and months and now to move into years. The price that I had to pay for this come to God experience has been terrible and hard. But it has been right and it has been important.

I have more hope for those who struggle. I realize sometimes people need millions of second chances like I did (and sometimes many more). I realize that every person is a unique daughter or son of God and there is so much to love about His children - every single one of them, even those who do so much that isn't worthy of love. I realize my own capacity to love and serve people who are broken and hurt and how much God expects of me to show compassion for those who have been forgotten and left in the snowdrifts of life. 

While I am constantly aware of the multiplicity of things I need to improve on, this will forever be known as the year that I personally had my watershed moment with Christ, where I am more dedicated than ever to Him and His church and to living a better life than I did before. 

Hence, my epic year. 

Monday, December 23, 2013

31 Things I Am Grateful For This Christmas

1. I am grateful for homemade fudge. It is hard to be grateful in moderation for homemade fudge. 
2. I am grateful for a job. I know the emptiness of being without one. 
3. I am grateful for Bing Crosby's version of "White Chrismas". Try to be unhappy with that going on. 
4. I am grateful for brothers and sisters who's warmth and love is felt in so many million ways. 
5. I am grateful for the healing powers of love, both in giving and receiving. It is currently changing my heart. 
6. I am grateful for Christmas shopping. As a man I hate shopping in general, but there is something special about trying to find a gift for someone you love that will be cherished and remembered. 
7. I am grateful for the chance to shovel walks and the quiet backbreaking nature of winter's hardest job. 
8. I am grateful for new tires on my car. 
9. I am grateful for a car. I know what it is like to not have one. 
10. I am grateful for my mother, who has a sensitive nature and has passed on an ease of shedding tears. 
11. I am grateful for a father who is the very model of a man. 
12. I am grateful for an occasional cheesy Christmas movie as it secretly appeals to that sappy part of me. Darn it if I don't want that rich guy to see how amazing that librarian lady is. 
13. I am grateful for the soft moments that come at Christmas when we are reminded of the Christ child. There are no other moments as soft as Christmas moments. 
14. I am grateful that I had a chance to pour over vintage family photos these last few weeks and to learn how much love my grandma and grandpa had for each other. 
15. I am grateful for extended family - and for aunts and uncles and cousins - where after long times apart, nothing is lost. 
16. I am grateful for homemade soup at Christmas time
17. That gratitude is doubled with homemade bread. 
18. I am grateful to have been able to sing in the ward choir for the Christmas program yesterday. I had several of those quiet and sacred Christmas moments in the performance and the practices. 
19. I am grateful for dear friends who's place in my life is remarkable. 
20. I am grateful for Elvis Presley's Christmas album as it has been on all day at work. 
21. I am grateful for Christmas lights. The most humble and modest Christmas light strand still has a warming effect on the heart. 
22. I am grateful when I see people take extra moments in overcrowded and stressed stores to be kind to others and accommodating. 
23. I am grateful that Cadbury has Christmas candy. 
24. I am grateful for my Muslim friend at work who I share great conversations about religion and religious holidays with every week. 
25. I am grateful for the Book of Mormon, which gives context to my Christmas celebration and a deeper love of the Son of God. 
26. I am grateful for the the lights at Temple Square. 
27. I am grateful for the many opportunities to serve and hope to take better advantage of them.
28. I am grateful for Luke 2. 
29. I am grateful for nieces and nephews and for the chance to never stop playing. 
30. I am grateful for Mary, mother of the Son of God. 
31. I am grateful for the the Prince of Peace, who never gives up on me, and who died for me that I might feel of the fullness of His love.