Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Why I Am A Mormon

I see on Facebook a lot of my friends are using an "I am a Mormon" picture as their profile right now. I like this idea. I wanted to share why I am a Mormon here if you will permit me.

Life is a funny learning experience, really. As little kids our faith was often pure. I believed very much that when I got down on my knees to pray that I would be talking to my Heavenly Father and that He would hear me. I remember once when my sister and I were alone, I was 7 and she was 8. We were scared and terrified. I remember that we decided to kneel and pray and ask for Heavenly Father to watch over us and protect us. The tender feelings of comfort and peace and love that came were real and I still think of that moment as something that made me love my sister more and also feel closer to God.

I grew up loving Joseph Smith. He was very real to me. I was baptized in the same spot on the river that he was baptized in. I used to go to Nauvoo and sit for hours reading the scriptures there, walking around the city, visiting his grave. I have a tender affection for him that started as a boy.

On my mission things were very clear and remarkable. I remember sitting in teaching experiences and feeling the lifting power of God change my life as I watched Him change those we taught. The power of Jesus Christ to cure hurt, salve the open sores of life and to redeem us from sins, both terrible as well as small, was visible in my life and in the lives of so many others.

I remember where I was when I gained my testimony of The Book of Mormon in my life, at least the penetrating kind that cements it in my heart. I was 17 and I was reading King Benjamin's sermon on Christ and the Atonement. I remember being unable to speak for an hour because I was so overwhelmed, comprehending for the first time a little of what Jesus did for me and I was speechless in gratitude.

 It's funny how we are tested again. I have seen a friend or two who seemed to once know the same things I knew and have left the faith, for a variety of reasons. Some times because they were inundated with material that seemed to confused what they thought they knew. Much of this material is prevalent right now. Other times we are tested because we make bigger mistakes as adults than we do as little children. Sin clouds our judgment and makes us forget what was pure and sure before.

We have all been here on these things. We grow up and our faith gets more bullets aimed at it than it does when we are younger. Seemingly compelling arguments arise that push us to ask questions. We make mistakes on a larger scale and sometimes and pride and humiliation seem to be hurdles that are desperately hard to overcome.

These issues are all accentuated by the fact that we may forget to do the things that nurture the pure feelings of the past - going to the temple, reading our scriptures, paying our tithing, etc.

I admit that I went through a time when my defenses were weaker than they should have been. Perhaps substantially weaker. I worried about things I knew and trouble challenged my thoughts.

There comes a point for us, and did for me, that we ask ourselves if we are going to fight for what we once knew or let the feelings of doubt move us from our moorings. Are we going to give up what we know for what we think we have learned?

I remember being driven to my knees for forgiveness. It didn't come all at once. I had ignored God so long that I had to really fight to feel His presence again. I had to begin to do those things that helped me feel so pure before. I had to read and study and attend the temple and watched as feelings of love and clarity and peace returned. It takes paying tithing and serving and loving. I remember after a time away from paying tithing that I cried when I paid again for the first time. I felt right and square.

Gradually, I began to see the purity of Christ's Atonement in my life make me better and cleaner.

Heaven knows I am a good distance away from where I need to be. I continue to do dumb things pretty much moment to moment. But my faith is pure again. I have fought the fight with doubt and challenges to my faith. I am sure I will have to go through more in the future. But God be praised for helping me feel and even KNOW that He Lives, that Jesus Christ suffered an impossible-to- understand pain for my many pains and sins, that Joseph Smith is a prophet of God in whom God revealed His church and truth.

I am more convinced than I have ever been that these things are true. And this is why I am a Mormon today. It's pure and wonderful. And true.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Reaching Through The Confusion

Today I had a conversation with a friend who is a bit of a mess. His only sister died a few months ago after a painful fight with cancer, a fight that took a terrible toll on this man. Shortly after she passed he went to a bar where he resumed a bad habit of drinking. He is an alcoholic. He left that bar having too much to drink and was pulled over within 500 feet of the bar. He was arrested and charged with a DUI. 

In the car they also found other drugs as well as some items he had stolen. 

His mother passed a few years ago and his father hasn't been seen in decades.His brother committed suicide 2 years ago. He has alienated a lot of people in his life and is struggling with hopelessness and despair. 

The missionaries dropped by my office as they do on Tuesdays and we gave him a blessing. 

This was an interesting day to have this experience as the news of Max Hall's arrest came about, charged with possession of cocaine and shoplifting. I loved watching Max play football. He brought a lot of happy moments into my life. I know that he is a lightening rod for some people out there but I have been genuinely touched at the fans of the University of Utah who have expressed compassion for his problem and choices. 

Life can be so hard and so painful. I have wrapped myself up in bad choices before, suffocating myself in confusion and pain and there was no way to see the way out of it. It was exhausting and demoralizing. 

One of the things these moments have done for me as I drowned is that I watched those who reached through my embarrassment and caught my fall, cushioned my landing, built my confidence, cleared the debris in my mind and loved me to restoration Still to this day I need the hope that comes through Christ, often through other people. I am still often embarrassed for past actions. But Christ can heal this and has healed this in my life. 

God bless Max Hall and all those around us, Cougars or Utes or whomever, who are falling and making destructive decisions. May God bless us to reach through their pain and embarrassment and help them as brothers and sisters in Christ. 

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.