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Saturday, March 28, 2015

#LDSConf - Why You Should Watch

Seriously, it's better than the superbowl.  It's better than the Emmy's, the Grammy's, Academy Awards, the Oscars, the YTMA's or anything else of that nature.  Yes, I'm talking about General Conference for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints; and yes, it really does deserve way more attention than any of those other things ever did.

I'm going to start this one on a serious note because of the importance of the subject matter.  I'll also do a follow up entry based on the content of this years General Conference.

It happens every six months and there is, quite honestly, no better time of the year to have hear the word of the Lord as close to straight from the source as you're guaranteed to get.  Why do you think the world is so overly saturated with distractions like SNL, The Kardashians, "beliebers", the Harper Lee controversy, one way trips to mars, the latest gadgets from Apple, 50 Shades of Crap and more? *edit* This was written in March of 2015, so different problems are more prevalent today, of course.

(er... excuse me, 50 Shades of Gray - I know, I know it's no mystery how I feel about that)

The devil has been working hard for thousands of years and has more practice than most people have any idea at using mankind's biggest weaknesses to distract us from those things that are most important.  You see, as Jack R. Christianson said, the devil "doesn't have to worry about most of the world.  Most of the world doesn't care about coming to Christ, so he doesn't worry about them; because he's not worried if they do terribly sinful things.  What he's worried about is that they just don't do good things.  See, either way it doesn't matter.  You can go to hell by sinning, but you can also make it there by just not doing any good.  He doesn't care if you go out and commit all the grievous sins.  What he cares about is that you don't come to know the Master; because if you come to know the Master, you'll want to repent and you'll want to apply the Atoning blood of Christ and when you apply the Atoning blood of the Master, then you can be cleansed and you can overcome anything and the adversary knows that."

So he applies all his time to lying to us and distracting us the best he can to keep us away from true happiness, or, in other words, coming to know Jesus Christ, the real power of His love, His atonement and become like Him by studying and listening to words of God's prophets.  He doesn't care whether or not we are miserable as long as we just aren't seeking true happiness through the Messiah, the living Son of the living God.

That's at least one reason you should watch, to make sure you don't let distracting desires of the natural man within you be exploited by the adversary.

What's another reason?  I remember one line of the cartoon movie "The Sword in the Stone" where Merlin tells arthur "[D]on't you get any foolish ideas that magic will solve all your problems.  Because it won't!  [Authur] But, sir, I don't have any problems.  [Merlin] Oh, bah, everybody's got problems.  The world is full of problems."  I don't care who you are.  If you say your life is problem free, you're deceiving yourself.  No matter how happy we are, there is always a problem to face, several times a day, no matter how big or small, obvious or subtle, whether or acknowledged or ignored.  It just depends on how you deal with it.  I love, therefore, the beautiful truth that the solution to literally EVERY. SINGLE. PROBLEM. that ever was, is, or will be, can be found in the words of our Savior, Jesus Christ, as spoken through the Holy Ghost to His servants, the prophets and to us to confirm their words.

No matter how dark or bright your life appears to you right now, there is something you need to hear from General Conference, some bit of help you need, something you need to be reminded of, something you need to repent of, something about which you are too complacent, something you're over-thinking too much, something you are not thinking enough about, something you need help overcoming, someone you need help forgiving, a habit you need help breaking, or forming, or something else you are lacking in your life or your heart.  There is ALWAYS something everyone - EVERYONE - needs to hear at General Conference.

If you need a reminder of just how awesome conference is.  Watch any of these:

by Jeffrey R. Holland

by Dallin H. Oaks

by David A. Bednar

by Gordon B. Hinckley

by Boyd K. Packer

by Ronald E. Poelman

by Jörg Klebingat

This site posted an article called "The Worst talks ever". I'm not writing to talk badly about anyone and I don't know who is responsible for this article, but it looks like the adversary got a hold on someone's heart enough here so that they felt a need to label any prophets words as "worst".  Prophets are one of God's key ways of emphasizing the truth in Jacob 4:13 "Behold, my brethren, he that prophesieth, let him prophesy to the understanding of men; for the Spirit speaketh the truth and lieth not. Wherefore, it speaketh of things as they really are, and of things as they really will be; wherefore, these things are manifested unto us plainly, for the salvation of our souls."  Thus, since we understand most easily when we are spoken to in ways we can relate to or understand, God speaks to us through the Holy Ghost and confirms the truth of the words spoken by prophets.

We are so stubborn and far to prideful for our own good most of the time.  From the mouth of Joseph Smith, who saw God and His Son in person, "There has been a great difficulty in getting anything into the heads of this generation. It has been like splitting hemlock nuts with a corn-dodger [a piece of corn bread] for a wedge, and a pumpkin for a beetle [a wooden mallet]. Even the Saints are slow to understand."  There is a reason God commands us to get a constant flow of the love of His Son in our lives, through study and application of the scriptures/words of prophets.  Our level of understanding is so far below His that that is what it takes for us to eventually become like Him.

The last reason, kind of a two in one, I will give to watch conference is summarized by what I read this morning in Alma 26, where Ammon spends an entire chapter glorying and rejoicing in God and the strength and ability we get from Him to be good, be happy, be healed, protected and changed.  There are many more reasons, of course, but I'll end with these.  In verses 15 and 16, Ammon says "15.  Yea, they were encircled about with everlasting darkness and destruction; but behold, he has brought them into his everlasting light, yea, into everlasting salvation; and they are encircled about with the matchless bounty of his love; yea, and we have been instruments in his hands of doing this great and marvelous work.  16.  Therefore, let us glory, yea, we will glory in the Lord; yea, we will rejoice, for our joy is full; yea, we will praise our God forever. Behold, who can glory too much in the Lord? Yea, who can say too much of his great power, and of his mercy, and of his long-suffering towards the children of men? Behold, I say unto you, I cannot say the smallest part which I feel."

One of the best ways to be reminded of how good we really have it, as illustrated in verse 15, is by presenting it in contrast to the opposite side of things.  It really is much easier to tell how white something is by placing it against dark colors, speaking both figuratively and literally;  and in verse 16 we are reminded of the completely independent, raw, all consuming and encompassing, rich love and power of God in and of itself.  We can never say or hear too much of the word of the Lord, within our ability to comprehend.

So to all who read this, I beg you, whether or not you are a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, whether or not you are even Christian, whether or not you are even religious or spiritual or whatever else you are, I BEG you, for the sake of all that is good, for the sake of all that is holy, watch general conference.  Watch all the sessions.  Watch them and take notes.  Watch with a question.  Watch with a prayer in your heart.  Watch to rejoice.  Watch to be healed, to be happy, to be ready, to be protected, to receive guidance, or whatever other reason you want to use.  Don't make excuses. Just watch and see how it benefits your life.

https://www.lds.org/general-conference/

Monday, March 23, 2015

For this intent have we written these things... (Jacob 4:4)

I was terrible at consistency when it came to writing in my journal before my mission to the Canada Toronto West Mission, but when all you have to do with an hour and a half is make a few phone calls and plan for the next day, that leaves plenty of time to do journal writing.

Something else I noticed, as I developed a better habit of scripture reading - no, in depth scripture study, was the true value of the scriptures, that the only reason we have the standard works is because people listened to prophets of God and wrote it down.  But, if you really think about it, according to those same scriptures, in Doctrine and Covenants 68:4, "And whatsoever they shall speak when moved upon by the Holy Ghost shall be scripture, shall be the will of the Lord, shall be the mind of the Lord, shall be the word of the Lord, shall be the voice of the Lord, and the power of God unto salvation."  This verse, in context, talks about all who are ordained priesthood holders in the Lord's kingdom, but I believe it applies to anyone who speaks "when moved upon by the Holy Ghost".

So, technically, under that premise, anything that is written or spoken under the influence of the Holy Ghost can be regarded as "mind of the Lord... the word of the Lord... the voice of the Lord, and the power of God unto salvation".  Even President Kimball said "Get a notebook ... a journal that will last through all time ... Begin today and write in it your goings and comings, your deepest thoughts, your achievements and your failures, your associations and your triumphs, your impressions and your testimonies. Remember, the Savior chastised those who failed to record important events."  Even the Savior Himself said "For I command all men, both in the east and in the west, and in the north, and in the south, and in the islands of the sea, that they shall write the words which I speak unto them; for out of the books which shall be written I will judge the world, every man according to their works, according to that which is written."

Why would the Savior make such import of writing what He speaks to us, through prophets or through the Holy Ghost?  What is His reasoning?  As stated in the title, Jacob had a pretty good reason, "for this intent have we written these things, that they may know that we knew of Christ, and we had a hope of his glory many hundred years before his coming; and not only we ourselves had a hope of his glory, but also all the holy prophets which were before us."  Nephi also mentions that he wrote of Christ "that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins."  Are we not supposed to follow the counsel and example of the prophets, since they are the mouthpiece of the Lord?

There are many benefits to writing in a journal aside from the benefits of our testimonies.  Helaman said to his sons Nephi and Lehi, "Behold, I have given unto you the names of our first parents who came out of the land of Jerusalem; and this I have done that when you remember your names ye may remember them; and when ye remember them ye may remember their works; and when ye remember their works ye may know how that it is said, and also written, that they were good."  I have personally been promised by God that my heritage would guide me in my determination to do everything in my power to remain faithful and obedient.  My great great great great grandfather, Zera Pulsipher, taught and baptized Wilford Woodruff, the 4th prophet of the Lord's church.  His (Zera's) father and grandfather fought side by side in the Battle of Bunker Hill in the revolutionary war.  Zera was in the room and heard, along with the Quorum of the 12 apostles, Brigham Young speak with the voice of Joseph Smith. How do I know this?  Because he wrote it in his autobiography.  I never would have had such an incredible example of humble obedience to the Savior that I could relate to and aspire to if he hadn't.  Our posterity will treasure the memory of us and our testimonies of Christ forever in the words we write.

Journal writing is also therapeutic. It helps us see how we have grown and progressed over the years, helps us learn from our mistakes as we write them down and record how we overcame them.  It enhances our memories, brings us laughter when we see some silly or stupid things we did as children, helps us to better understand and be aware of how we are feeling or how to resolve inner battles or find answers to questions that may have otherwise stumped us.

Above all, I think, even if for no other reason than the fact that the Savior has commanded it, journal writing, especially about the things the Lord teaches us in life, is a critical element of a truly happy life.  I write in my journal and, as of the fast few years, in this blog, to help myself and others come closer to and become more like Christ and brighten the world around myself and others as much as I possibly can.  I owe it to myself and, more importantly, to Him, to strengthen my relationship with Him and spread the joy of His redemptive, saving, precious atoning sacrifice and eternal love to the world, through any means I can, including writing it down and studying and living what has been written as inspired by God!

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Be of Good... or not good (?) Comfort

When I was in my late teens, my brother Brian was a huge influence on me.  I remember one time when he was studying scriptures during breakfast shortly after his mission to Argentina, Brian mentioned Matthew 9:22 (I think that was the one, I could be wrong) where the Savior says "be of good comfort."  He elaborated out loud for a moment about the significance of that adjective in front of the word comfort, how it implies that there are bad kinds of comfort as well, perhaps things with which we should not be comfortable, as well as things with which we should be comfortable.

Even though that was one fleeting moment for less than a minute that morning during breakfast, it never left my mind.  I have pondered on it many times since. It leads me to think, "how many little fleeting moments or small comments or other communications have I put out there that have either made or broken someone's day, helped heal or ripped wider open a wound of some kind, or any other influence of high consequence to which may have been completely oblivious?"  It also leads me to think, "I am comfortable around and with Godly things or is there something with which I need to become more familiar and comfortable?  Are there some conversations, music, media or other people or things around which I am too comfortable or calloused towards?"  I firmly believe that everyone, without exception, should, at least periodically, do a real hard, in depth evaluation of themselves and be completely, candidly honest about where they are in respect to how comfortable they are and should be around the good and bad in the world.

My wife and I have been making what we feel is a good amount of spiritual progression in the last year and while we still have a long way to go, we feel that we have a clearer perspective of God's plan and the role and Atonement of Jesus Christ.  Accompanied with that has come a greater resolve to make changes in our lives for which we have been so blessed!  We have noticed that certain things have become easier to do (or not do).  We have felt a greater commitment to serve, to change our motives, habits and decisions in ways things that our pride or fear had previously prevented and have seen the resulting benefits from our Father in Heaven and our Savior.

Amid these changes, I have grown to look forward to the coming of our Savior with more excitement and have more faith in His power to protect and change us.  I have felt less fear and greater hope amid the calamities that surround us in the world today, mainly because I know what these events are signalling, especially considering the exponentially growing forces and glorious influence of Jesus Christ and His church around the world.

Of course, there will always be areas where I need to improve in this life.  As I was talking about these changes one day to my parents, my mom gave me a good reminder that, while it's a good thing to not allow ourselves to be fearful about the horrors happening around the world, we also have to be careful that we do not allow ourselves to become callused to them either.  We have to be careful that we do not develop and attitude of "Well the world is always getting better and worse and I just expect things to go wrong now anyways, so oh well. The Savior is always more powerful than evil so I'll not pay any attention to this."  While this kind of thinking is a good display of faith, it is not a good display of charity, pure Christ-like love.

Christ was the perfect example of faith in the face of danger, but He was also the perfect example of concern and love for those affected by the challenges of mortality in all cases.  To some, this may appear as a hard balance of perspective to achieve and, of course, it will always be easier for some than others, but the objective either way should be the same.

From the little habits of scripture study, using proper language in prayer, and defending our faith to the big things like paying tithing, keeping our hearts and minds chaste, and making temple attendance and family a regular focus, the level of comfort we feel with the good and the bad should always be improving.  We need to work to be comfortable, anxious for, familiar with and seek for those things which will bring us to know the Master better, obey more willingly, become more like Him and trust Him more completely; we also need to be less comfortable with violence, immorality, contention, grudges, gossip, irreverence, foul language, crude humor, dishonesty and anything else that does not invite us to "come unto Christ and be perfected in Him", even in their most subtle forms.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

God's Plan and Harry Potter - Gospel Truths Evident in Both

For all the Mormon's out there who are Harry Potter geeks I think you'll like this one.  My wife sometimes rolls her eyes at me when I relate movies to gospel principles but there are parallels everywhere in them!  Heck, there are parallels to the gospel all around us in anything we sense or perceive in this world.  But ever since I returned from full time missionary service, I notice them everywhere and more especially since I've been married.

Here are a few from Harry Potter that seem, likely unintentionally from the perspective of Rowling or any of the directors, especially poignant in their symbolism of certain aspects of the Lord's plan.

I'll start off with something from the first book, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (or Sorcerer's Stone for the U.S., Pakistan and India).  I find Dumbledore's explanation of the Mirror of Erised particularly interesting, "The happiest man on earth would be able to use the Mirror of Erised like a normal mirror, that is, he would look into it and see himself exactly as he is" and "It shows us nothing more or less than the deepest, most desperate desire of our hearts."

The only difference with this example to the gospel is that if the Savior, or anyone who reached the highest possible level of happiness, were to look into the mirror, they would, by the scriptural definition of supreme eternal happiness, see themselves with the Savior and all generations of their families, perfected and sealed to each other for eternity.

Another twist on the mirror is a parable I once heard from a senior couple I knew while serving as a full time missionary.  They were touring a sword makers shop on a p-day, I believe.  As they were touring the facility and learning about the sword making process, the senior sister said "How do you know when they're finished?"  He replied with "when I can see myself in them."  The same applies with us.  The Savior knows we are finished being molded and changed when He sees Himself in us.

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Another example isn't in the movies from what I remember of them, but it is in the book, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire where Sirius Black says, "If you want to know what a man's like, take a good look at how he treats his inferiors, not his equals."

This is a fantastic way of thinking of the Savior.  All of us, incomprehensibly far below Him in nature, understanding, maturity and wisdom, are yet so important to Him that He came to live, die and overcome everything that could ever hold us back from living with God again with no other motive but love for us and His Father.  He is a supreme example of someone who views His inferiors as He should.

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Where would this great series be without everyone's favorite house elf?  One of the coolest things about Dobby is his seeming random timing with showing up at the most unexpected moments, or all the greatest moments of need to save the day.  I think Dobby is a lot like an angel because He is always there, seen or unseen, doing his best to help anyone in need.

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Dementors represent, to me, the devil's influence and his followers. Emma Watson described them this way in an interview, "you feel them before you see them.  Everything freezes.  They drain the life out of everything that they come into contact with."  We know, from the Bible and modern revelation, that the devils angels quite literally have power, if granted by the host, to possess and utterly take control or drain the life out of something.  Such an example is illustrated here.

On the contrary side of things, the beautiful opposite to this is the thing that drives dementors away, the patronus charm.  I find this to be a great parallel to the priesthood of God. When Lupin gets up on the train and immediately drives the dementor away in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, it's the same effect that exercising priesthood power righteously has on any source of evil.  This is, I think, especially poignantly illustrated when considering that, in order to conjure a powerful patronus, your thoughts must be powerfully focused on something pure and happy.  Similarly, the power of a the priesthood in a man is only as strong as he is pure in heart and in tune with the Spirit of the Lord.  Also, any proper use of the power of God will always completely and utterly overpower the forces of darkness.  Note how fast dementors flee when the charm is cast in the books and movies.  I think that symbolizes, very well, how evil reacts when the we exert our faith, when priesthood power is worthily exercised, when we obey and strengthen our agency, when we repent, and much much more.

I find that the Order of the Phoenix is like the quorum of the 12 apostles, even though there are more than 12 members of the Order.  The symbolism I see is represented in a few ways.  When death eaters fly, their trail is black, when members of the Order fly, their trail is pure white.  All members of the Order are united in their goal and are specially assigned as a 'special forces' in that responsibility by Dumbledore.  Since Dumbledore could be compared to Heavenly Father or the Savior in relation to his high level of wisdom, love for good and tireless work for the good of others, this symbolism, to me, further reinforces the symbolism of him and the Order in relation to the Savior and His Apostles. 

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Here is one last thing I want to point out.  The vitality of agency is very well emphasized when Harry was in the house of Black in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.  He mentions to Sirius a time where he wanted to do something really bad.  He was afraid that he was becoming bad, becoming the kind of person he was trying to fight against.  Sirius told Harry that the world isn't just divided into death eaters and good people.  He said, "We've all got both light and dark inside us. What matters is the part we choose to act on. That's who we really are."  And thus it is with our agency.  We all have the natural man in us to overcome via the light of Christ and the Holy Ghost.  What makes us and changes us is which one we choose to side with.

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As I said in the beginning of this, I really do see parallels to the gospel in EVERYTHING.  Whether it's Green Lantern with the concept of fear induced by the devil and agency given by God, Spiderman and the truth that with great power comes great responsibility, the same way it is with Priesthood power, or Narnia and the many many gospel parallels in that one, the fact that the world, and the universe, is so full of them is a witness as to the reality, legitimacy and absolute validity of God's plan for us as taught in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

The Benefits of Difficulty: Let Your Scratches Make You

One of my favorite analogies of the effects of Christ's Atonement is illustrated in Brad Wilcox's "The Continuous Atonement".  In this story, Brad mentions when he was a Mission President and a young Elder came to him, after reading the Miracle of Forgiveness, feeling bad about some sins from earlier in his life that had not been fully confessed to priesthood authority.
Brad said,

"I listened quietly as he spoke.  Nothing I was hearing was so grievous that it would have affected his worthiness to enter the temple or serve his mission.  Still, those past sins were affecting him and his feelings of worthiness now.  They needed to be confessed.... I explained that what he was experiencing was a very normal and natural step in his spiritual maturity - one through which we all pass.  His repentance and full confession were healthy indicators that he was indeed drawing closer to God and the Savior.

  'But President, I look back and I see so many flaws.  I remember all I have done and feel so ashamed and hypocritical.  I know Jesus takes the sins away, but it is the memory of them that bothers me.'

...I ...retrieved a marble egg that had been set there for decoration. I said, 'Look at the marble.  Isn't it beautiful?'

The Elder nodded in agreement.

'What makes it beautiful is not that it is free from imperfections.  If it were clear and white, with no flaws, it would look plastic and artificial.  The marble is beautiful and useful because of the dark veins, not in spite of them.  When we repent, our sins are gone, but the memories linger, just like these dark lines.  However, as we keep our covenants and experience the sanctifying influence of the Spirit, it is as if those dark lines are polished over time.  They actually become a part of our beauty.'"

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The scratches in the egg, similar to what Brad noted, are like our sins, weaknesses and difficulties.  I will relate a personal difficulty of mine that could have easily resulted in my being defeated, broken and destroyed, but did not, because of Jesus Christ.  I have struggled, at a few points in my life, with the devastating effects of the addictive plague that is pornography.  Normally I post links to third party sources in my posts and don't directly ask the reader to read them, but in relation to this subject matter, please watch this video.  It's not long.

Porn warps and rewires the brain and isn't just something you can detox and detach yourself from like many other addictions.  If it's not caught really early, it can literally turn every moment being in the presence of the opposite sex into an instant war in the mind, trying to fight off the mind gripping impulse to think of them as an object for gratification.  It's always a loosing battle until the addiction is treated like the condemning, corroding, destructive, mind numbing influence it is and attacked aggressively.  Trust me, I know.  Only the Atonement of Jesus Christ, when applied diligently and permanently, can erase the devastating effect caused by this kind of sin.  I know this from experience.  But I also know that healing and change through Christ is not only possibly, it's essential for lasting happiness.

Now, this 'scratch in my egg' got really deep and could have broken me completely and irreparably in two if it wasn't for a loving wife, my own excruciating guilt and the guidance of the Lord and priesthood leadership guiding me through repentance.  Only true repentance - a change of heart and perception of myself, God our Father, and the world and people around me, possible because of the Atonement - could have healed me.  And I'm still being changed to this day, becoming better with Him.  In the process I learned much better what it means to truly love myself, others, my Father in Heaven and my Savior Jesus Christ.  I imagine the 'crack' caused by it all has become and will continue to form into a big, long, shiny, beautiful colored vein in my 'egg'.

So the question I want to ask here is as follows

How do we let our weaknesses make us shine?

I will suggest one thing that was perfectly exemplified by our loving Redeemer, Jesus Christ, and is something that is very well illustrated by the following part of the movie Stranger than Fiction.

When Harold finally meets Karen Eiffel - whose voice only he hears, narrating his life - and she finds out that Harold is, in fact, a real person and that "killing" him in her book will kill him in real life, she has second thoughts about it.  Harold and Professor Hilbert, a literary professor who was trying to help Harold makes sense of the voice he heard and a fan of Karen's books, both read it and both come to agree that, in order for her novel to be a true masterpiece, Harold must die in the incredibly meaningful and poetic way that Karen has put in her book.

But the key to the movie is where Karen and Professor Hilbert meet at the end and he reads her altered ending.  She asks him what he thinks and he says it's not bad, but no longer the greatest work of her career either.  She has spared Harold's life with something as simple as a stop watch.  Professor Hilbert says it's okay.  She replies with something like "You know what?  I think I'm alright with okay...
It's a book about a man who doesn't know he's about to die... then dies.  But if the man does know he's going to die, and dies anyway... dies willingly, knowing he could stop it... you tell me... Isn't that the type of man you want to keep alive?"

This is exactly the kind of man the Savior was.  He knew exactly what he was preparing for throughout His life, He knew what He was going up against and He did it willingly and lovingly, for our sake.  He could have stopped it.  As Gerald Lund wrote "all Jesus had to do was blink" and the entire city of Jerusalem could have been annihilated while He was up on that cross, suffering for us.  But He did it head on, out of love, without hesitation or a second thought.  That's why the Atonement is so infinite and so powerful, wrought by an infinitely powerful being, with the ability to, as I pinned just yesterday, cleanse, heal, restore, identify, strengthen and transform.

Being the kind of person Christ was, someone who runs head on right into their challenges with a grateful, willing, loving heart and a faith-filled, humble attitude is what makes us the kind of person who's "scratches" or even deep "veins" make us more beautiful and perfect, through the grace of Jesus Christ.  As Christ's victory over His challenges through love and faith made Him who He now is, so can we be as He is as we also cling to Him and thus overcome our challenges through love and faith in the True Source of all that is good, "The only true God and Jesus Christ, whom [He] has sent"