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Tuesday, December 29, 2015

There's Always Someone Who Understands

With some understanding of how cliche some people may think the phrase "trials are a part of life" is, it has taken new meaning for me this year.  This one is aimed to those who either don't think "that one thing" could ever happen to you or, on the other hand, those that think "no one understands what I'm going through right now".

In 2015 I have seen so many things happen, in my life and the lives of people who I love and am close to, that I was surprisingly naive enough to think "whoa! I never thought that would happen to me/them!"  Most of them were big shockers to me and many of them are things I'm still struggling to process, endure, heal from or change.  From an LDS perspective, I imagine there are many of us who see some people and think "Wow, they are so wonderful! I bet they are just so blessed all the time and are so good. They all look so happy and do so much good for the world and the Lord."  While I'm sure there are those out there who have very long periods like that, I highly doubt that there are many, especially those who appear most faithful to God, that don't struggle with some pretty intense difficulties.

In one case, there is a certain individual who is one of the most incredible spiritual giants I've ever known; someone who works so hard, studies the scriptures so diligently, serves so effectively, is so close to the Spirit, is so forgiving and helpful and selfless that anyone else might take one look at them and think that few things ever go wrong in their life because how much they must be blessed for their Christ-centered life.  If you were to talk to them, though, you'd find out the incredibly intense opposition they are under at work, the unbelievable difficulties they face at home, the willful negligence they experience at church because of old grudges, false rumors and more, but they don't show it because they are strong enough that, through the lens of casual observation, everyone else has no idea what is really going on in their life.

In another case, there's my wife.  I wrote her life story as she dictated it to me.  She had asked a number of other people (I think 6 or more but I could be wrong) to write it as well and they had nightmares after starting what is now chapter 6.  They couldn't do it.  When I heard this and was asked to write it, I knew I'd have to make it a matter of prayer and direction from God if I was to do it and be okay afterwards.  I could spend, at minimum, 10,000 words just getting started on the difficulties she has faced and overcome.  Her book is 36 chapters long!  She goes to church every week and anywhere else she goes with a smile on her face, is pleasant to people, doesn't like calling attention to herself and selflessly serves, studies her scriptures, prays, faithfully pays tithing and fast offering, has the most pure heart I've ever seen in anyone, is a fabulous cook... I could go on for a long time.  I know there are a few people who live near us who have known her since she was a child and yet are totally and completely oblivious to the kind of person she really is and the kind of things she goes through.

There are also those in my extended family whom I have grown closer to (even if not geographically) since I got married who are struggling with things I scarcely imagined would ever happen to a family where our last name is pretty synonymous with faith in and dedication to Christ, His gospel and His church.  Some of them have immediate family members who either hate the church, are struggling with same gender attraction, have had total loss of interest in religion, harbor deep grudges against their own immediate family or struggle with intense Word of Wisdom issues to name just a few problems.  Most of these things I heard about just this year.

However, since this blog is titled, "Good things now and to come", here is the positive spin on all of this.  Because you just never know how much difficulty someone is truly facing, there is always someone who understands what you are going through.  Having trouble understanding the scriptures?  I know another who is struggling with that and I've struggled myself with it.  Has someone in your family been affected by cancer?  Me to.  Have you lost a child?  I know someone who understands that.  Are you having intense struggles with finances, abuse, disability, addiction, homelessness, a crisis of faith or major health problems?  Trust me, there are many who understand, including myself, in many of those categories.  You are not alone.  No matter how good someone else's life may look, believe me, they have their own set of struggles and are fighting a battle you know nothing about.  Everyone has their own individual, tailored set of trials, joys, setbacks and successes.  No one is exempt, no matter how good or bad things look.

No matter what you are going through, there is always someone who understands.  There is always hope, there is always love, there is always a way out.  Even if you don't actually know anyone who you can talk to on this planet for help, our all knowing, all loving, all wise Savior Jesus Christ has sunk beneath it all, so he can help us according to our needs in a way that seamlessly fits our unique personality and circumstances if we are willing to open our minds to see it.

I have been reading The Infinite Atonement by Tad R. Callister recently and there are some life changing perspectives in that book.  In one section he addresses a question asked by some, "As significant as the Savior's suffering seemed, was it tempered by the fact that he possessed godly attributes? ... did superhuman powers give him an edge over his mortal counterparts?"  The answer he gave is such a beautiful evidence of His [Jesus'] love, understanding, total and complete in every way, of human plight, both the sum of it as well as and especially of each individual malady from any and all sources.  "He took upon him infinite suffering, but chose to defend with only mortal faculties, with but one exception - his godhood was summoned to hold off unconsciousness and death ... that would otherwise overpower a mere mortal when he reached his threshold of pain.  For the Savior, however, there would be no such relief.  His divinity would be called upon, not to immunize him from pain, but to enlarge the receptacle that would hold it." He used His Godhood not to lessen the pain or escape from it, but to enable Himself to - in complete, divine awareness of it all - suffer "according to the flesh [mortality], that he may know according to the flesh [from a mortal perspective] how to succor his people according to their infirmities" (Alma 7:12, Book of Mormon).  As Elder Callister put it, He simply brought a "bigger cup" to hold the bitter drink.

His sacrifice for all of us was one of love.  Not even His apostles could know - even from being around Him as much as they were, watching Him heal the sick, restore sight to the blind, raise the dead, forgive sins, provide divine power to His followers and more - what was really going on inside, the kinds of temptations He faced, the inner struggles He faced.  How could they?  He never showed the least sign of weakness to anyone, for He possessed none.  He was so consumed in His mission to show infinite love, provide us with His example and pay the price for our eternal salvation from sin, weakness and all types of death that no one in our weakened mortal condition can comprehend Him in all His glory unless we are changed, of our own will, by Him.  He appeared as and was the ultimate example of obedience and the way to have the greatest possible joy and happiness and yet He faced, radiantly and head on, more than any of us.  It takes deep to comprehend deep and He knows it all.

So the next time you feel overloaded or, on the other end, see someone who appears to always be happy and never have any major problems, remember that (1) they are fighting battles you know nothing about (2) there are plenty of people who really do understand your hurt, even if from a different perspective, and that (3) the Son of God sunk below it all, so you are NEVER truly or completely alone.

Happiness is never out of reach.  There is always a way out, thanks to the Son of God, our loving Brother, Savior and Redeemer.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Quotes

Sometimes as I'm considering a subject to write about, something that can, perhaps, do good for a lot of people, I get stuck because I'm either at a loss for an idea or just don't know how to translate it from the amoeba of thought and feeling in my mind and heart to the english language.  Because of this, whenever I see or hear a quote that says exactly what I'm trying to say I latch on to it for dear life and use it every time I want to communicate that thought or feeling again.  Sometimes this drives my wife nuts because she's hears about it for while after I find them, so I try to limit how much I re-iterate those quotes in conversation, but that's I hold on to them, so I don't make as much of a fool or myself or get frustrated when trying to get an idea across.

That being said, I wanted to relax a bit with this post and just share some of the many quotes I have collected over the years that have made the biggest difference to me:

"As my son Craig lay under that table in the school library and saw his two friends murdered before his very eyes, he did not hesitate to pray in school. I defy any law or politician to deny him that right! I challenge every young person in America, and around the world, to realize that on April 20, 1999, at Columbine High School prayer was brought back to our schools. Do not let the many prayers offered by those students be in vain. Dare to move into the new millennium with a sacred disregard for legislation that violates your God-given right to communicate with Him."
 -Darryl Scott

"If you find yourself in a place where you have to choose between right and wrong, then you are in the wrong place, Put yourself in a place where you can choose between good and better."
 -Michelle Wu

"Latter-day Saints are not obedient because they are compelled to be obedient.  They are obedient because they know certain expression of their own individual agency, to obey the commandments of God... We are not obedient because we are blind, we are obedient because we can see."
-Boyd K Packer

"After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music."
-Aldous Huxley

"In order to succeed, your desire for success should be greater than your fear of failure."
-Bill Cosby

"There's no such thing as spiritual cruise control."
-Jamie Woodring

"The most penetrating of assurances, the one power, even beyond sight, that can burn doubt out of us, and make it, as it were, impossible for us to disbelieve, it the Holy Ghost."
-Truman G. Madsen

"Regarding ones testimony, remember, that which one willingly shares he keeps, while that which he selfishly keeps he looses."
-Pres. Thomas S. Monson

"We get nearer to the Lord through music than perhaps through any other thing except prayer."
-J Reuben Clark Jr.

"There is no revenge so complete as forgiveness."
-Josh Billings

"The gift of the Holy Ghost comes after one repents and becomes worthy... The Holy Ghost bears witness of the truth and impresses upon the soul the reality of God the Father and the Son Jesus Christ so deeply that no earthly power or authority can separate him from that knowledge."
-Pres. James E. Faust

"He who finds pain in virtue and pleasure in vice is still a novice at both."
-Anon.

"The time will come when no man nor woman will be able to endure on borrowed light.  Each will have to be guided by the light within himself."
-Elder Heber C. Kimball

"If you aren't being persecuted, you'd better repent."
-Elder Russel M. Nelson

"There is no public morality without private virtue"
-Elder Eran A. Call

“Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear.”  -Ambrose Redmoon.

"If you want to be average, practice until you get it right.  If you want to be great, practice until you never get it wrong."
-Jon Schmidt [at least he's the first person from whom I ever heard that one]

"There is no friendship more valuable than your own clear conscience, your own moral cleanliness―and what a glorious feeling it is to know that you stand in your appointed place clean and with the confidence that you are worthy to do so."
-Pres. Thomas S. Monson

"In the memorable battle of Bunker Hill, the 17th of June 1775, there [my father and grandfather] stood side by side and fought with about 13 Americans against 3000 of the British for about two hours. When the enemy, after firing Charleston and wending around under the smoke, had nearly surrounded that wing of their own army, they saw but a small gap to retreat through, which was then continually plowing ground with balls from the shipping. But while they were going out, my grandfather saw one of our men wounded and crawling away on his hands and knees.  In the meantime a British soldier ran him through with a bayonet. Being filled with indignation at such rank breach of the laws of all civilized nations he immediately stopped, and amid scenes of death and carnage, loaded his gun and shot that man down before he left the ground and then obtained a safe retreat.  I speak of this to let my posterity know that our ancestors were clothed with that steady unshaken determination in time of the most imminent dangers that are incident to human life."
-Zera Pulsipher

"May we have a commitment to our Heavenly Father that does not ebb and flow with the years or the crises of our lives. We should not need to experience difficulties for us to remember Him, and we should not be driven to humility before giving Him our faith and trust."
  -Pres Thomas S Monson

"I firmly believe that any man's finest hour, the greatest fulfillment of all that he holds dear, is that moment when he has worked his heart out in a good cause and lies exhausted on the field of battle - victorious."
  -Vince Lombardi

“...there is more individuality in those who are more holy.”
-Elder Neal A. Maxwell

“[the gospel] burned in my bones like fire pent up. Nothing would satisfy me but to cry abroad in the world what the Lord was doing in the latter-days.”
-President Brigham Young

“To reach a goal you have never before attained, you must do things you have never before done.”
-Richard G. Scott

"Ever wonder why the sensual scene so often features flashing but fading lights? Or why all the reinforcing glitz? Or why all the loudness masquerading as music? Because, fearful of the dawn, evil cannot stand the steady scrutiny of bright truth, nor can it endure the quiet reflections of soul-searching!"
-Neal A. Maxwell

“...God does not save us “just as we are,” first, because “just as we are” we are unclean, and “no unclean thing can dwell … in his presence; for, in the language of Adam, Man of Holiness is his name, and the name of his Only Begotten is the Son of Man [of Holiness].” … God will not act to make us something we do not choose by our actions to become. Truly He loves us, and because He loves us, He neither compels nor abandons us. Rather He helps and guides us. Indeed, the real manifestation of God’s love is His commandments.”
-Elder D. Todd Christofferson

“Every part of these buildings, [temples,] and all that goes on inside them reflect the love of the Savior for us and our love for Him.  I felt that one day, high in [the Salt Lake] temple.  I was in one of the towers in a place few people would have been since the building was dedicated in a small room that has rarely, if ever been used. I saw exquisite pioneer era woodwork.  I remember the sense of awe that came over me when I imagined the workmen who had so carefully carved and finished the detailed mouldings.  They toiled away without power tools in a place where, for the most part, only the Lord they loved and heavenly beings would look upon it.  They did it not for man or for recognition but for Him, for His house.  They knew, as I do, that He lives and that He has asked His people to gather and to be worthy to build Him a house that He might direct them, bless them and their families.”
-Elder Henry B. Eyring

“Through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, the plan of mercy appeases the demands of justice ‘and [brings] about means unto men that they may have faith unto repentance’ [Alma 34:15].… But the grace of God does not merely restore us to our previous innocent state. If salvation means only erasing our mistakes and sins, then salvation―as wonderful as it is―does not fulfill the Father’s aspirations for us. His aim is much higher: He wants His sons and daughters to become like Him.… Throughout our lives, God’s grace bestows temporal blessings and spiritual gifts that magnify our abilities and enrich our lives. His grace refines us. His grace helps us become our best selves.”
-Dieter F. Uchtdorf

"Casual obedience and lukewarm commitment weaken faith. Enduring to the end requires total commitment to the Savior."
-Elder Kevin Pearson

"The service that counts most is usually recognized by God alone."
 -Elder Michael T. Ringwood

“Personal sacrifice never was placing an animal on the altar. Instead, it is a willingness to put the animal in us upon the altar and letting it be consumed!”
  -Elder Neal A. Maxwell

"Love is never wasted, for its value does not rest upon reciprocity."
  -Elder Neal A. Maxwell

“Search the Book of Mormon and the words of the living prophets every day, every day, every day! It’s the key to spiritual survival and avoiding deception. Without it, we are spiritually lost.”
  -Kevin W. Pearson

"[The Lord] did not intent either of the sexes to adopt the other's traits but, rather, that men should look and act like men and that women should look and act like women.  When these differences are ignored, an unwholesome relationship develops, which if not checked, can lead to reprehensible, tragic sin of homosexuality.  In other words, we have a responsibility as priesthood bearers to be examples of true manhood."
  -Bishop Victor L. Brown

“As the challenges around us increase, we must commit to do more to qualify for the companionship of the Holy Ghost. Casual prayer won’t be enough. Reading a few verses of the scripture won’t be enough. Doing the minimum of what the Lord asks of us won’t be enough. Hoping that we will have the Atonement work in our lives and that we will perhaps sometimes feel the influence of the Holy Ghost won’t be enough. And one great burst of effort won’t be enough.  Only a steady, ever-increasing effort will allow the Lord to take us to higher ground.”
       -[then] Elder Henry B. Eyring

"[Pornography] will literally destroy the spirit. Be strong. Be clean. Avoid such degrading and destructive types of content at all costs--whatever they may be!" (I cannot adequately emphasize how true I know this one to be)
      -Thomas S. Monson

"Differences between us are meant to be celebrated, not calculated."
       -Steven Sharp Nelson

“Beauty besets [Christ] in every direction.  So it is with the Atonement.  Regardless of our vantage point, it is glorious to behold.  Every principle underlying it, every consequence flowing from it rewards our intellect, animates our emotions, and enlivens our spirit.  It is a doctrine for all seasons.”
       -Tad R. Callister

“He who had created worlds without number was about to enter a quiet secluded garden, a humble plot of ground in his vast cosmic universe.  There was no fanfare, no pressing throng to witness the most profound event his creations would ever know.  This was a moment so sacred, so sublime, that no human eye could fully pierce, no human mind could fully comprehend its transcending importance.”
       -Tad R. Callister

“If there is any imagery upon which I would focus as I close, it is two scriptures from the Book of Mormon.  The one in which we are reminded that Jesus himself is the gatekeeper and that 'he employeth no servant there.' … I will tell you... out of the conviction of my soul … what I think the major reason is [why he 'employeth no servant there'], as contained in another Book of Mormon scripture which says he waits for you 'with open arms.' That imagery is too powerful to brush aside. … It is imagery that should work itself into the very center core of one's mind – a rendezvous impending, a moment in time and space, the likes of which there is none other.  And that rendezvous is a reality.  I certify that to you.  He does wait for us with open arm, because his love is perfect.”
       -Neal A. Maxwell

Lastly one of the few times where I can say pretty much exactly what I mean.

"We need to remember that the gospel of Jesus Christ isn't true because the LDS Church is true, but rather that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints [LDS Church] is true because the gospel of Jesus Christ it teaches is true and because He is true.  It is His church.  The church is not the end, it is only a part of the means to an end.  It is the only church in which we can find Christ's teachings in their purity and fullness.  There need be no doubt about that for it is His church and He will not allow the prophets He calls to misdirect it to mislead it's members.  It's not about a bureaucracy or a system of checks and balances.  The Savior dictates how His church works for the benefit of mankind, offering access to His atonement for us, and it is done, period.  The purpose of the church is simply to provide His gospel as the only true guide to the ultimate end goal, which is to be both redeemed and exalted by Jesus Christ, to become like Him."
      -W. Paul Pulsipher

Friday, December 4, 2015

What Do The Things You Are Focused On Say About You?

Since this year isn't over quite yet, I couldn't look up the most popular google search for 2015 worldwide, but in 2014 it was Robbin Williams.  Others in the top ten included Ebola, Ice Bucket Challenge and ISIS.  To be perfectly honest, this is actually quite comforting to me.  This may seem strange to some, especially my regular readers, considering my entry about what types of things we should be comfortable with, but hear me out.

Of course, Robbin Williams death was a really sad thing to all who loved him around the world, there was tons of controversy about the Ice Bucket Challenge and ISIS -- well that's just never a pleasant subject.  But the fact that these were among the most searched things on the planet says something about humanity in general.  To me, it says that if you look at the entirety of the world population, at humanity as a whole, we care about each other and seek for each other's well being and safety.  I think it shows the overwhelming, innate desire that God put in each of us to care for each other, to make sure we are all safe and happy as much as possible.

From a Latter-Day Saint perspective, this matches the Plan of Salvation perfectly.  The Book of Mormon so effectively reminds us that "men are that they might have joy", that "it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things. If not so,... righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor bad."

But going back to my main train of thought, based, at least, on the most frequent concerns of people worldwide as reflected by google (among other sources as well), God's plan is going forward well.  People are, at the core and as a whole, focused on finding happiness, the very thing God intended us to be, even if they don't know exactly how to find it.  Latter-day scripture emphasizes this point further: "For there are many yet on the earth ... are blinded by the subtle craftiness of men, whereby they lie in wait to deceive, and who are only kept from the truth because they know not where to find it"

But let's get down to brass tacks now.  The world at large is still focused on happiness, but where are you or I or those closest to us focused?  The Lord tells us that "For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he."  Yes, we will all be distracted from moment to moment and from day to day, but is the general direction we are heading leading us away from or toward the ultimate happiness the Lord has in store for us?

W Network is great this time of year because they have a ton of Christmas specials on that focus people's attention to things the Savior taught, like integrity, honesty, combating fear and hurt with faith and hope, etc.  As a kid I was, understandably so at that age, focused a lot on getting "stuff" for Christmas.  My mom had to actually either give us money and say this is for you to go and buy something for [enter sibling's name here] for Christmas or even go out and buy something from them for us to give to them and say "this is from you to them, so go wrap it up yourself and put that it's from you and put it under the tree" just to get us to even think about what we could give to others.  It's not something I'm proud of, but it says a lot about what really mattered to me as a kid.

Well, my perspective has drastically changed since then and the things that make me happy now are much different from back then.  I try so hard every year to think of something I can get or do for my wife without her knowing so the look on her face on Christmas day can be so happy I'll never forget for the rest of eternity.  However, she's very creative with her questions to me and she ends up finding out about most things she gets, if not all of them, every year.  There's still one thing I have planned for this year that she doesn't know about yet so I hope it stays that way.  But either way, my priorities are so different from how they used to be that I feel much better about what my focus says about me know compared to, heck, even as recently as 5 years ago.

It's nowhere even close to what I want it to be and I have so much to improve on that sometimes I wonder if my future self, say 10 years from now, would look at me and just shake his head in shame, but I know for a fact that I'm on the right track, that where I want to be, the kind of person I'm trying to turn into now is nowhere near as petty and selfish as were my aspirations 10 years ago.

I think it's healthy to give, minimum, a good 10 to 30 minutes a day just reflecting on what our priorities are saying about, or doing some kind of self evaluation.  Would you rather spend your Sundays doing something with some kind of commercial emphasis or give every effort to strengthen your relationship with our Father in Heaven?  Would you have the courage to turn down a business transaction on the Sabbath or kindly encourage a random stranger to stop smoking?  Is social media or the scriptures more appealing to you personally?  Do other's successes (especially when it would have been your success) bring you joy or envy?  Are you likely to use expletives (profane or not) when angry or frustrated?  You can find questions like these at the end of chapter 6 of Preach My Gospel and they are a fabulous way to get a good idea of what needs improvement.

Please don't get depressed because of this.  My purpose here isn't to in any way do a rewrite of Alma 5.  Rather, it is just to make us think about both ends of the spectrum, where we are doing right and where we can improve.  What do the things you are focused on say about you?