Wednesday, November 20, 2013

A different thank you list


I grew up in Washington, Illinois. It's a small town of about 10,000 people, and until November 17, 2013 not many people had heard of it. It was around 11am that Sunday morning when an EF4 tornado tore through the center of my hometown, destroying around 1,000 homes and causing one fatality. My parents, sister, brother, sister-in-law, nephew, and niece were all safe (the tornado missed my parent's house by less than a mile), but many others were not as fortunate.

What was amazing to me, especially in a culture that today is overly cynical and seems dependent on the federal government to meet their every need, was the speed in which those in and around my hometown rallied together to take care of their neighbors. Facebook pages popped up within minutes (or so it seemed) as people rushed to both get and supply information about what was going on. Offers from strangers willing to provide shelter, clothing, food, medicine, transportation, etc. were communicated almost immediately, to the point that people were being told to wait until relief efforts could be organized; search and rescue operations were the priority, along with making sure that downed power lines, ruptured gas pipes, and broken water mains were secured and that property was protected.

In the midst of the devastation though were these offers from local businesses, churches, and others that I've seen on Facebook in the last few days (and apologies if I've missed any, this isn't meant to be an all-inclusive list):

  • Peoria Home Depot open overnight providing water, garbage bags, and help with cleanup efforts
  • Montgomery's Cafe offering free meals
  • A hotel room has been donated by David
  • Riverview Senior Living in East Peoria offering 2 guest apartments
  • Crossroads church offering meals
  • Walmart in Washington set up a shelter and handed out free water, blankets, pillows, baby formula, etc.
  • Duracell and Verizon dispatched mobile charging stations to help people charge their cell phones etc and contact family and friends
  • Multiple donations sites set up in surrounding areas
  • Countryside Banquet serving hot lunch
  • Glad Tidings Assembly of God offering chili meal provided by Alexander's Steakhouse
  • Titan Fitness is open for hot showers. Towels and toiletries available as well
  • Proctor & Gamble's "Loads of Hope" on the way
  • Cross Fit Extreme Warrior has hot showers available
  • Schnuck's grocery stores offered the use of their coolers for perishable food
  • Red Cross shelters set up at Crossroads United Methodist Church, Evangelical Methodist Church, First United Methodist Church, Avanti's Dome, and Community Heath Rehab Building.
  • Highview Church of God distributing relief supplies
  • Uftring Automall offering free tire repairs and waving disposal fees if new tires need to be purchased
  • Central Illinois Herpetological Society offering to take in pet reptiles and amphibians temporarily, providing all necessary care
  • Kroger in Washington has clean up supplies and hygiene items donated by Proctor & Gamble at no charge
  • First Baptist Church offering free lunch
  • Five Points recreation center offering hot showers and cell phone charging
  • HOI Technologies helping with data recovery from damaged computers and hard drives
And this great story: Washington High School Playoff Opponents

And this: Chicago Bears to wear Washington logo on shirts

I posted this thought on Facebook on Monday, but it bears repeating:

"God does notice us, and he watches over us. But it is usually through another person that he meets our needs. Therefore, it is vital that we serve each other."-Spencer W. Kimball

How grateful I am for the countless people who have and will be the answer to prayers and the means of serving and meeting the needs of those affected by this disaster.

34 Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:
35 For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in:
36 Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.
37 Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink?
38 When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee?
39 Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?
40 And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. (Matthew 25:34-40)

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Master, the Tempest is Raging

As most everyone is (or should be) aware of by now, the Philippines was recently hit by Typhoon Haiyan, which was one of the largest storms in recorded history. The devastation and loss of life is overwhelming, and my heart is aching as the reports and pictures and descriptions of this tragic event are making the news.

Credit: RAUL BANIAS/AFP/Getty Images

I was looking at the pictures on this morning (link here) and a couple thoughts came to mind.

The first was this account given in Matthew 8:23-27
 23 And when he was entered into a ship, his disciples followed him.
 24 And, behold, there arose a great tempest in the sea, insomuch that the ship was covered with the waves: but he was asleep.
 25 And his disciples came to him, and awoke him, saying, Lord, save us: we perish.
 26 And he saith unto them, Why are ye fearful, O ye of little faith? Then he arose, and rebuked the winds and the sea; and there was a great calm.
 27 But the men marvelled, saying, What manner of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him!
Then came the words of the hymn:

Master, the Tempest Is Raging

Hymns, Master, the Tempest Is Raging, no. 105
1. Master, the tempest is raging!
The billows are tossing high!
The sky is o'ershadowed with blackness.
No shelter or help is nigh.
Carest thou not that we perish?
How canst thou lie asleep
When each moment so madly is threat'ning
A grave in the angry deep?
The winds and the waves shall obey thy will:
Peace, be still.
Whether the wrath of the storm-tossed sea
Or demons or men or whatever it be,
No waters can swallow the ship where lies
The Master of ocean and earth and skies.
They all shall sweetly obey thy will:
Peace, be still; peace, be still.
They all shall sweetly obey thy will:
Peace, peace, be still.
2. Master, with anguish of spirit
I bow in my grief today.
The depths of my sad heart are troubled.
Oh, waken and save, I pray!
Torrents of sin and of anguish
Sweep o'er my sinking soul,
And I perish! I perish! dear Master.
Oh, hasten and take control!
3. Master, the terror is over.
The elements sweetly rest.
Earth's sun in the calm lake is mirrored,
And heaven's within my breast.
Linger, O blessed Redeemer!
Leave me alone no more,
And with joy I shall make the blest harbor
And rest on the blissful shore.
Text: Mary Ann Baker, ca. 1874
Music: H. R. Palmer, 1834-1907
Now, I don't know the exact reasons why the Lord allows such things to happen. He has the power to prevent the storms, to protect us from the calamities, and to preserve our lives, but often allows these events to take place for purposes known only to Him. It requires not only faith to "be still and know that He is God" (Psalm 46:10), but also hope that "all these things shall give (us) experience, and shall be for (our) good." (Doctrine & Covenants 122:7).

I do know, however, that disasters, tragedies, and calamities often give the rest of us great opportunities to serve. We need to remember the Savior's words in Matthew 25:34-40
34 Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:
35 For I was an hungered, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in:
36 Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.
37 Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungered, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink?
38 When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee?
39 Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?
40 And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.

Just some food for thought this Sabbath Day.

(and be sure to listen to the Tabernacle Choir as they sing "Master, the Tempest is Raging" from the October 2013 General Conference)

Friday, October 18, 2013

With friends like these...

I hinted at this story in one of my "Random Thoughts" posts, so I thought I'd go into more detail here.

First some background information. I grew up in central Illinois, in a small town that has an elevation of 757 ft above sea level. For most of my childhood, this was the view that I was used to (corn on one side, soybeans on the other. Then the next year, they'd switch. It's called crop rotation, but I digress).

Yep, pretty flat. And for those useless trivia addicts (like me) the highest point in Illinois is a place called Charles Mound (yes, that's mound-not mountain, or peak, or anything like that, just mound). Elevation 1,257 feet above sea level. (I've never been there though). So, as you can imagine, there wasn't a lot of winter sport opportunities. We could go sledding down the occasional hill, but definitely nothing like skiing or snowboarding and those kind of things. 

Fast forward a few years to my freshman year of college at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. Elevation 4,549 feet. Surrounded by mountains. It was gorgeous. And caused occasional feelings of claustrophobia. But worth it. This is the view of the campus with the mountains in the background.

Anyway, back to my story. So there I was at BYU with a native Utahn as a roommate, and he and a few other friends decided that they should take me skiing. I had never been before (remember, it's difficult to ski when the highest point is a "mound"). But I was young and unafraid (and now I have the soundtrack for Les Miserables stuck in my head...), so I thought it would be fun. And I had friends that would be patient with me as they taught me how to ski-or so I thought. If I had known better I would have recognized the following danger signs:
  • When you are first learning how to ski, they give you shorter skis. These are slower and allow you to figure out the basics. I didn't want to spend the extra money to rent some skis, so my roommate let me borrow his brother's skis. (His brother was on a mission at the time and wouldn't be using them). They were long. Too long for a beginner as I later found out.
  • They decided to go to a ski resort called Snowbird. Those who are familiar with Utah have probably heard of it. And apparently it's not really a place for beginners. I wouldn't have guessed it at the time though, since there were a LOT of kids there. Like 5-6 year olds. I didn't realize that a lot of kids in Utah learn to ski before they can walk, so by the time they are 5 they are experts.The danger was that I was thinking something along the lines of "this can't be too hard if all these little kids are doing it."
  • My ski instructions lasted about 5-10 minutes and consisted of my friends saying, "this is called a snowplow. When your skis form an upside down "V", you will go slower. When they are parallel you will go faster. Any questions? No? Ok, let's go."
  • It is apparently a cardinal sin in Utah (or any ski resort) if they have to stop the lift for you to get on. Let's just say I sinned. And having the 5 year old next to me give me a look that could kill didn't help the situation. This was definitely not going to way I had envisioned.
  • We got to the half-way point and decided to exit the lift here. They didn't have to stop the lift this time, but my exit was less-than-glamorous to say the least. I completely wiped out. That wouldn't be the last time I found myself laying on the ground.
  • My friends decided that it would be a good idea to take away my ski poles at this point. Their reasoning being that I would need to learn to ski without them as to not use them as a crutch. That they were for more advanced skiers who would know how to use them properly. At which point they simply said "see you at the bottom" and took off.
So there I was at the top of this ski run, looking down at my roommate and other friends as they effortlessly made their way down. (And looking over at the mogul run, I could swear I saw the little 5 year old kid from the chair lift making his way down as well. But maybe it wasn't him). I had no choice, I had to get down eventually so I cautiously put my skis in the snowplow shape and started downhill. I started feeling a little more comfortable so I straightened my skis out a little and picked up some speed, and promptly wiped out again. I repeated the process a few more times, until one time I fell and went sliding towards an area that was roped off with bright orange flags (apparently this means stay away). Luckily I was able to stop myself before plunging to my death (ok, it wouldn't have killed me, but the drop-off was probably a good 10-15 feet so it would have hurt). I was able to get up and get going again, and after offering a short-but-very-heartfelt prayer of gratitude, I went back to work trying to make it down the slope.

I finally made it to the bottom and started looking for my friends, feeling a little more confident and thinking maybe I should try it again. When I finally found them, I discovered that one of the girls in our group had fallen while skiing down the slope, and as she tried to stop herself she ended up tearing something in her knee. We all decided at that point to call it a day, since it wouldn't be fair to leave her down below while the rest of us had fun.  And thus ended my first and only time skiing.

So, what did I learn from this experience? I think (looking back now after 20+ years) that it taught me to be a better teacher. I learned that just because you're qualified doesn't mean you're able. My roommate and friends were very good skiers. They had had years of practice and experience. But when it came time to teach someone else how to ski they weren't very good at it. They couldn't remember what it was like to start out as a complete beginner, since they had grown up skiing. They covered what they thought were the basics, and just assumed that I'd be able to figure out the rest on my own. I was given the wrong equipment and wasn't given a lot of information ahead of time that could prepare me for the experience. Plus I didn't start at a place that was suitable for a novice-I learned later that most (if not all) little children first start learning to ski by standing on the skis of their parents and going down a small hill/slope in their backyard, or a park, or something similar. Or by having dad and mom on either side as they start on very mild slopes and gradually build their way up. The point is you have to start with the basics, practicing the fundamental skills along the way as you increase in your ability. It's only after you master the beginning levels that you are prepared for the more difficult (and ultimately more enjoyable) slopes.

As the church continues to grow and as missionary efforts are expanding, we need to be careful not to take the approach that my friends did (and don't misunderstand me, there was absolutely nothing malicious in their intentions) and bring new converts to the top of Snowbird, give them a cursory introduction to the church and the gospel, wish them luck and tell them we'll see them at the bottom. And then think after they fail to become fully engaged or active in the church that they just must not have been committed enough and how sad it is that they didn't make it or enjoy the journey.

Isaiah said: "For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little" (Isaiah 28:10). We absolutely must be willing to take someone by the hand and have the patience necessary to teach them from whatever point they are at in their lives. Some will have had experiences that only need some minor refining before they are on their way. Others (like I was with skiing) are beginning something completely new and foreign to them and will take a lot of time before they are ready to be on their own. Let's take the time to figure out what they need and take the time to teach them. It'll be worth it.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

The Parable of the Refrigerator

A parable:

Once a man felt the cravings for some sustenance.  He went into the kitchen and approached the refrigerator (it looked something like this picture), knowing that it was a receptacle of a variety of food and drink. He was unsure of what he wanted to feast (or at least snack) upon, but he was full of confidence that within those doors he would find what he wanted.

He opened the door, and stood there for a moment as his eyes moved side to side, then up and down, seeing what was available for him to take. As he mentally made a list of what was in there, he rejected one option after another as nothing seemed to him to fulfill his craving. Finally he closed the door in despair, having been unsuccessful in his search yet still craving sustenance.

After what seemed like an eternity, but in reality was only a few minutes, he returned to the fridge and again opened the door, thinking perhaps he had been somewhat hasty in deciding that there was nothing to satisfy him, and repeated the process of perusing the contents. Still he was unable to find something that sounded good to him, so he closed the door once more, again frustrated and hungry.

He repeated this process again and again, as his desire for sustenance became stronger. He thought to himself, and occasionally responded to the inquiries from his wife with "I want something to eat; I just don't know what."

Finally he returned once again to the fridge and opened the door, knowing that there just had to be something in there that would hit the spot. This time he made a decision, reluctantly grabbed a storage container that held some left overs from a previous meal and ate.

The End

So what's the message in this parable? A few things to keep in mind before I give my interpretation:

1) The man in the parable started out with a standard of what was acceptable to him.
2) The contents of the fridge did not change.
3) After repeated attempts to find something that met his original standard, he finally settled on something that was available.

In this life, there are many things about which we have very high standards and/or expectations. We have things we want to do, behaviors we expect from ourselves and others, and an idea of what we want to become. The question is, how often do we just settle for something because we get impatient and can't find what we originally wanted? Just something we all may want to consider...

And a final message for the married guys out there. Don't kid yourselves-the odds are that our wives represented the man in the parable, with high standards and expectations of what she wanted in an eternal companion. And for whatever reason, she eventually settled for us after repeated trips to the fridge. The good news is that we have the opportunity, responsibility, and privilege of becoming and even exceeding her original expectations. Yes, it may will take a lot of work, patience, trial & error, forgiveness, forgiving, repentance, prayers, tears, laughter, flowers, chocolate, laundry, chores, humility, leadership, trust, and/or love, but it is possible. And worth it.

Just something to think about the next time you're standing in front of the fridge looking for something to eat.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Random Thoughts 2.0

It's been awhile since my first "Random Thoughts" post, so I figured it's about time for another installment.

So, here we go:

  • I just found out this week that we're having another girl. This will make three in a row and I'm not sure how I'll handle it when they're all teens at once. I'll probably just turn down the hearing aid and hope for some blissful ignorance.
  • I still think boys are easier to raise than girls. At least so far. I'll get back to you in about 20 years when I'm done with that stage of my life and let you know if I still think that.
  • I don't remember my father getting grey hair until my sister became a teenager. I don't remember me having any grey hair until my daughter became a teenager. Could just be coincidental.
  • We just started watching the revamped Doctor Who (2005-present) on Netflix. I remember watching the original series when I was about 8 years old or so (Tom Baker was the Doctor then). Verdict? It's a great way to learn British English. (plus it's a great show)
  • The Kansas City Royals are technically still in the hunt for a wildcard playoff spot. And it's the middle of September. The Chiefs started 2-0 after going 2-14 last year. This may very well be the last of the last days. 
  • Being able to attend church in a building right next to a temple is awesome. Being able to see my older children and the other youth attend the temple monthly is even awesomer (is that a word? It is now). 
  • After being a counselor in our ward's young men presidency for the last three years or so, I was recently called to be the YM president. What a humbling yet awesome calling. I really love working with these great young men (plus I'm still involved with Cub Scouts, so I get to work with some really great young young men as well.) Doesn't get much better than that.
  • When Tabitha and I first got married, we decided that we would take as many children as the Lord decided to send us. My personal deal with God was that I would take as many children as He would send us, as long as we could take care of them. In retrospect I should have defined what I meant by "take care of them" (I meant "take care" as in "vacations in Hawaii every year"). However the Lord in His infinite wisdom, combined with a divine sense of humor, decided it would be better to keep us in a little more humble circumstances. But looking back we've been very blessed-I've always had a job, a home, food, clothing, insurance, and a car. Guess I can't complain too much huh?
  • I went skiing once my freshman year at BYU. Word of advice, when you grow up in a state where the highest point is called "Charles Mound", going skiing for the first time with roommates who are Utah natives and had been skiing since they were babies is not a good idea.
  • Second word of advice-if you've never been skiing before, don't make them stop the chair lift for you. The little 5 year old sitting next to me glared at me like I had just killed his puppy on Christmas morning or something.
  • Business owners (especially car dealerships and furniture stores) should never, ever, ever, use family members in commercials. Pony up some cash and hire a professional actor/actress. Please.
  • We were reading Mosiah 2 this evening for family scripture study. Note to self, future blog topic from verse 9-what does it mean to trifle with the words of prophets and other church leaders?
  • The Appalachians in the fall...gorgeous.
  • BYU vs Utah Saturday 9/21. Liberty MO Stake conference Saturday 9/21. Was worried about a potential conflict between the game and stake conference. Game then announced at an 8:15pm CDT kickoff. Conflict resolved. I'm happy :)
  • Three words: Breakfast for dinner
  • We're considering the name "Jael" for a middle name for the baby girl on the way. (see Judges chapter 4 in the Old Testament.) Thoughts anyone?

Sunday, September 15, 2013

A letter to my children

There has been a lot of discussions in the media and on various blogs lately regarding modesty, dress/grooming standards, what is appropriate/inappropriate to post on social networks, etc. As a father of nine (soon to be ten) children, with three of them being teenagers right now, I wanted to let them know where I stand. This is based on my opinions and expectations as a father, and also on my understanding of gospel principles and guidance given to us by modern prophets and apostles. 
So, if I were to write an open letter to my children, it would go something like this:
My sons and daughters-

I want each of you to know that you are a precious son or daughter of both a Heavenly and an earthly father. We both love you and want what is best for you. We both want you to learn and grow and develop and progress as you go through this life here on earth so that you are eligible for exaltation and all the blessings that God has in store for you. In order to be able to do that, our Heavenly Father has given us commandments and expectations and rules and covenants, and He has entrusted me, as your earthly father, to help teach you these things so that you can be obedient and obtain all these blessings. As a parent and a teacher, I try to follow this example:
John Taylor, 3rd President of the Church, 1880–1887 
Some years ago, in Nauvoo, a gentleman in my hearing, a member of the Legislature, asked Joseph Smith how it was that he was enabled to govern so many people, and to preserve such perfect order; remarking at the same time that it was impossible for them to do it anywhere else. Mr. Smith remarked that it was very easy to do that. "How?" responded the gentleman; "to us it is very difficult." Mr. Smith replied, "I teach them correct principles, and they govern themselves."
"The Organization of the Church," Millennial Star, Nov. 15, 1851, 339.
So in the spirit of attempting to teach correct principles and allowing you to govern yourselves, here's something that I've learned and want to pass along to you.

One of the many challenges you may face has to do with standards of dress, grooming, and modesty. The world teaches that we are all individuals, and that we should be able to do what ever we want (as long as we're not hurting anyone else). So that what we wear, how we style our hair, and what we do to our bodies (i.e. tattoos, piercings, etc.) is our choice and no one should be able to tell what we can or can't do since it's not hurting anyone else. We are bombarded with messages that tell us to express ourselves, to take pride in our uniqueness and to fight against conformity. There will even be arguments based on scriptural references (i.e. "But the Lord said unto Samuel, Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart. 1 Samuel 16:7). You may face conflicting messages from friends, their parents, your teachers, church leaders, and others about what modesty is and why we have the standards that we do. In attempt to clarify my understanding (and realize I'm not speaking for the church, but I believe my opinions are in line with what has been taught), I'm breaking this into three main parts. 1) General principles that apply to both my sons and daughters 2) Counsel specific to my sons 3) Counsel specific to my daughters.

General principles:
In the True to the Faith book published by the church, it gives this counsel and direction regarding modesty:

Modesty is an attitude of humility and decency in dress, grooming, language, and behavior. If you are modest, you do not draw undue attention to yourself. Instead, you seek to “glorify God in your body, and in your spirit” (1 Corinthians 6:20; see also verse 19).
If you are unsure about whether your dress or grooming is modest, ask yourself, “Would I feel comfortable with my appearance if I were in the Lord’s presence?” You might ask yourself a similar question about your language and behavior: “Would I say these words or participate in these activities if the Lord were present?” Your honest answers to these questions may lead you to make important changes in your life. The following information will help you in your efforts to be modest.
Prophets have always counseled us to dress modestly. This counsel is founded on the truth that the human body is God’s sacred creation. Respect your body as a gift from God. Through your dress and appearance, you can show the Lord that you know how precious your body is.
Your clothing expresses who you are. It sends messages about you, and it influences the way you and others act. When you are well groomed and modestly dressed, you can invite the companionship of the Spirit and exercise a good influence on those around you.
Central to the command to be modest is an understanding of the sacred power of procreation, the ability to bring children into the world. This power is to be used only between husband and wife. Revealing and sexually suggestive clothing, which includes short shorts and skirts, tight clothing, and shirts that do not cover the stomach, can stimulate desires and actions that violate the Lord’s law of chastity.
In addition to avoiding clothing that is revealing, you should avoid extremes in clothing, appearance, and hairstyle. In dress, grooming, and manners, always be neat and clean, never sloppy or inappropriately casual. Do not disfigure yourself with tattoos or body piercings. If you are a woman and you desire to have your ears pierced, wear only one pair of modest earrings.
Maintain high standards of modesty for all occasions. Do not lower your standards to draw attention to your body or to seek approval from others. True disciples of Jesus Christ maintain the Lord’s standard regardless of current fashions or pressure from others.

Let me emphasize a couple points:
  • Your body is not merely a physical object. It is literally a temple-a gift from God that houses an eternal spirit and that will eventually become a perfect, immortal body when you are resurrected.
  • Modesty is a spiritual principle as well as a temporal one. It is not primarily about what you are wearing but more about why-modesty reflects our attitudes and understanding about eternal gospel principles. 
  • What we wear and how we act influence both our actions and the actions of others. 
  • What we wear and how we act indicate the level of respect and understanding we have for different circumstances, places, and activities.  
  • What we wear and how we act indicate the level of respect and understanding we have for our Father in Heaven and our Savior Jesus Christ and their divine plan for us.
  • Being modest at all times and in all places is part of what makes us worthy for the blessings of the temple.
  • Modesty is also a principle of obedience. It doesn't matter whether or not we agree or disagree with the standards and counsel we have been given by the Lord through the leaders of His church. We will always be blessed by being obedient, even if it's obedience only by faith. When we criticize, find fault, openly disagree with, and/or willfully disobey the commandments of God and the counsel of His leaders, we lose the companionship of the spirit and are heading towards apostasy and the loss of eternal blessings.
For my sons:

You have or will be given the priesthood when the time comes and if you are worthy. Part of being worthy of this responsibility is to both maintain standards of modesty and grooming for yourselves and also to encourage those around you to be modest as well. This has to be done by setting the proper examples of dress, grooming, and behavior. Choose your friends wisely and be cautious when it comes to social media, books, movies, music, video games, etc.
There will be times when you will be exposed to immodesty, vulgarity, bad behavior etc. Always remember that it is your choice how you will react. You have been given agency and you are expected to choose what is right. It is possible to be in the world but not of it. The ultimate  responsibility for your choices and actions rests with you. Always treat women with the respect they deserve as divine daughters of our Heavenly Father. And yes, this includes your sisters. Never be rude, demeaning, mean, abusive, and/or mocking. Be an example of a righteous priesthood holder. Be worthy of the blessings of the temple. The message that most of the world today would give is that women are objects and that their value is based only on their physical appeal and appearance. Do not ever fall for this lie. Do not ever give the women that you associate with the impression that all you care about is how they look. Always remember that they are daughters of God and that you will be held accountable for they way you treat them.

And finally, read and ponder this talk by Elder Ballard:

Fathers and Sons: A Remarkable Relationship

For my daughters:

The topic of modesty is a sensitive one in this day and age. The culture of today bombards you with messages that are in direct contradiction to the principles of the gospel. It would have you believe that the only power a woman has is in her ability to be seductive to men. Please don't ever fall for this lie. Remember your divine worth and don't ever lower your standards for the sake of gaining the acceptance of the world. Like I said to your brothers, it is possible to be in the world but not of it. Dress modestly and appropriately at all times. Be aware of the influence you can have on the men with whom you associate with. Never dress in ways or act in ways or speak in ways that would encourage them to view you as anything but a daughter of God. Help them in their desires to maintain the high standards set by the Lord. You have also been given the gift of agency and are expected to choose what is right. Take pride in your appearance without becoming obsessed. And always remember that the adversary wishes nothing more than for you to be miserable for eternity and will use every weapon at his disposal to accomplish this goal which includes enticing you to lower your standards and do what is accepted by the world today. Be strong and faithful and obedient. Be worthy of the blessings of the temple.

And finally, read and ponder this talk by Elder Ballard:

Mothers and Daughters



Friday, September 13, 2013

It's all about service, right?

For anyone that has grown up as a member of the LDS church, one of the most popular stories in the Book of Mormon is that of Ammon serving as a missionary to the Lamanites. And for those who aren't familiar with it, here's part of the account found in Alma 17

19 And Ammon went to the land of Ishmael, the land being called after the sons of Ishmael, who also became Lamanites.
 20 And as Ammon entered the land of Ishmael, the Lamanites took him and bound him, as was their custom to bind all the Nephites who fell into their hands, and carry them before the king; and thus it was left to the pleasure of the king to slay them, or to retain them in captivity, or to cast them into prison, or to cast them out of his land, according to his will and pleasure.
 21 And thus Ammon was carried before the king who was over the land of Ishmael; and his name was Lamoni; and he was a descendant of Ishmael.
 22 And the king inquired of Ammon if it were his desire to dwell in the land among the Lamanites, or among his people.
 23 And Ammon said unto him: Yea, I desire to dwell among this people for a time; yea, and perhaps until the day I die.
 24 And it came to pass that king Lamoni was much pleased with Ammon, and caused that his bands should be loosed; and he would that Ammon should take one of his daughters to wife.
 25 But Ammon said unto him: Nay, but I will be thy servant. Therefore Ammon became a servant to king Lamoni. And it came to pass that he was set among other servants to watch the flocks of Lamoni, according to the custom of the Lamanites.

One of the key parts of this story that is taught in almost every missionary prep/primary/sunday school/seminary/Relief Society/Priesthood class in the church is that even though Ammon had gone to the land of the Lamanites in order to teach them the gospel (as a missionary) his first response was to offer himself up as a servant before he started teaching them. And as the story goes on, Ammon is able to earn the trust of the Lamanites (and King Lamoni in particular) and has great success in converting them to the gospel. It's a great story, and is a great example of how effective service can be.

Unfortunately, I think too often we only pick up on this one lesson-that service is the way to earn trust and open doors to being able to teach the gospel. While service can be a very effective tool, we learn something else as we continue reading in Alma. Ammon eventually meets up with his brothers that were serving in another part of the land of the Lamanites. They were in prison at the time, and Ammon is able to get them out through the influence of King Lamoni.

It's not specifically mentioned in the scriptures, but I can imagine that the brothers started swapping stories at this point. I picture a conversation going something like this:

Aaron: So Ammon, how did the work go for you? It was rough for us. We tried to teach some of the people but they rejected us and beat us and threw us in prison. I don't know if this really was such a great idea. We haven't had a single convert yet and I don't know if we ever will here. These people are crazy.
Ammon: Really? I've had a great mission so far. I got right in to see the King, and even though he offered to let me marry one of his daughters, I said "Hey, I just want to be your servant." I started watching some of his flocks, had this one fight with some bad guys were I cut off a bunch of their arms (that'll teach them to mess with a missionary!), and when the king heard about that he started asking me some questions about God and I was able to teach him, his family, and a lot of his people. It was awesome-I'm so glad we decided to come serve here.
 Aaron: Oh, that's the secret. We just need to offer to be servants and we'll have the same success you did. Cool!

And in Chapter 22 we read how Aaron and his brother follow up with what they learned from Ammon (check out the first part of verse 3 in particular):

 Now, as Ammon was thus teaching the people of Lamoni continually, we will return to the account of Aaron and his brethren; for after he departed from the land of Middoni he was led by the Spirit to the land of Nephi, even to the house of the king which was over all the land save it were the land of Ishmael; and he was the father of Lamoni.
 And it came to pass that he went in unto him into the king’s palace, with his brethren, and bowed himself before the king, and said unto him: Behold, O king, we are the brethren of Ammon, whom thou hast delivered out of prison.
 And now, O king, if thou wilt spare our lives, we will be thy servants. And the king said unto them: Arise, for I will grant unto you your lives, and I will not suffer that ye shall be my servants; but I will insist that ye shall administer unto me; for I have been somewhat troubled in mind because of the generosity and the greatness of the words of thy brother Ammon; and I desire to know the cause why he has not come up out of Middoni with thee.

Only one problem with this strategy-it's not what the king needed. He didn't need someone to serve him first-he was ready to be taught. And when Aaron realized that he had a great missionary experience and was able to convert the King and all his family

So, what's the point? For missionaries and the rest of us, we need to be careful not to get trapped into thinking that there is a one-size-fits-all approach to teaching. We need to be open to the influence of the spirit so that we can be inspired to know exactly what a particular person needs at the moment. This applies to missionary work, but also to anyone else we may interact with. It's especially important in whatever area of stewardship we have. Husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, stake presidents and bishops, priesthood and auxiliary leaders, sunday school and primary teachers, young men and young women advisers, etc. can all receive revelation and inspiration regarding those in their care and how best to teach and guide them. I think that's one of the things I love most about serving with the young men in our ward and using the new "Come, Follow Me" youth curriculum. It allows mandates that we consider each member of the class individually when preparing lessons so that we can teach them in the way that they need. Just something to ponder...

You can read the entire account of Ammon and his brethren in Alma 17: 17-27 (start HERE)

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Follow up post on missionary service

Not too long ago there was a letter from the First Presidency of the Church sent to all the wards/branches that was to be read to the congregation. The topic of the letter was to encourage all the members of the church to donate generously to the general missionary fund. This was due in part to the huge increase of missionaries that are now serving and are projected to serve in the future due to the recent change in the age in which young men and young women may begin their service.

Being a numbers type of guy, I started doing some math. (This was also because my oldest son recently started his first job and has begun saving for his mission). And here's what I came up with:


The estimated cost of serving a missionary is currently around $12,000 for young men ($9,000 for young women). This is based on mission expenses of $500/month.

A young man will begin working the day he turns 16 and will leave for his mission the day he turns 18. (2 full years)

Minimum wage is $7.35/hr (this is currently what it is in Missouri-this will vary by location)

He will work an average of 20 hours/week.

After taxes, tithing, and miscellaneous expenses, he will save 60% of his gross pay for his mission.


He will make $147/week gross
He will make $88.20/week net (60% of his gross pay)
He will make $4,586.40/year net
He will make $9,172.80 in the two years he has to save for a mission
He will be short $2,827.20 in order to fully fund his mission.

So let's assume that he will be able to save 80% of his gross pay for his mission.

He will make $147/week gross
He will make $117.60/week net (80% of his gross pay)
He will make $6,115,20/year net
He will make $12,230.40 in the two years he has to save for a mission
He will make $230.40 cents over his estimated needs for a mission.

My guess is that in reality a young man will come somewhere in between these two scenarios, but as you can see it will be very difficult for a lot of our young men to earn enough to fully fund their own missions, especially in areas of the country/world that are not economically strong. And the same applies to a lot of the young women as well, although they have an extra year before they will leave and will only serve for a maximum of 18 months, so there is a little more flexibility, but not much.

Just something to think about.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

The Best Two Years...

Since the announcement changing the eligible age for full-time missionaries in the church, there's been a huge increase in the number of missionaries serving throughout the world. And my oldest son isn't too far away from leaving himself, so I've been thinking a lot about not only my experiences as a missionary but the experience in general.

Which got me thinking about this: How many times have we heard a returned missionary say that his mission was the best two years of his life? I had the opportunity a few years ago of being the ward mission leader. This gave me the privilege of working very closely with the full-time missionaries that were serving in our area. One of the things I would often tell them is that they day they returned home, they had my permission to say that their mission was the best two years of their lives, but if they were still saying that after more than two years had passed, then they were doing something wrong.

So I've been thinking about the 20 years or so that have passed since I was a full-time missionary, and started putting together some of the things that have happened in my life that I feel have made those the best two years of my life to that point. Here's a few:

1992-1994: Full time missionary service
1994-1996: Went back to college. Met/dated/engaged/married to Tabitha. Michael born (first child)
1996-1998: Benjamin born (second child)
1998-2000: Graduated from college. New job. Moved to Kentucky. Emilie born (third child).
2000-2002: Moved again. Birth, death, burial of Joseph (fourth child) (Part of the story here)
2002-2004: Moved again. New job. Nathanael (fifth child) born. Michael baptized.
2004-2006: Samuel (sixth child) born. Benjamin baptized. Purchased first home.
2006-2008: Timothy (seventh child) born. Upgraded to 12 passenger van.
2008-2010: Emilie baptized. Christopher (eight child) born. Liberty (ninth child) born.
2010-2012: Moved to Kansas City with new job. Juliana (tenth child) born. Open house, cultural celebration, dedication of Kansas City Temple. Nathanael baptized
2012-2014: Expecting child #11. Samuel baptized by Michael. Some things yet to be determined...

I guess the point is that life keeps getting better and better. Is everything perfect all the time? Of course not. Are there struggles and challenges and heartache and frustration and doubt? Of course there are. But the whole point of this life is to grow and learn and progress, and if we're doing our best to follow the Lord's plan for us, the blessings keep coming, and every year (or two or three) keeps getting better and better. And hopefully we can look back at the previous two years and honestly say those were the best two years of our lives, and look forward to the next two years and honestly say that those will be the best two years of our lives.

Additional reading suggestions:

When the Best Two Years are Over

Return of the Missionary

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Maybe it's not that funny after all...

The English language is fascinating to me. I love discovering where our words have come from and what the original meanings were. We've taken words from Latin and Greek and German and French and Japanese and many more. It's also fun (to me at least) to find groups of words with the same root. For example, check out these words:

Sarcophagus: a stone coffin. (from Greek (lithos) sarkophagos, literally, flesh-eating stone, from sark- sarc- + phagein to eat)

Sarcomaa usually malignant tumour arising from connective tissue (from Greek sarkōma  fleshy growth)

Sarcoptic Mange: mange caused by burrowing mites of the genus Sarcoptes.

These are all words that are fairly unpleasant. Death, decay, disease, etc...not pleasant at all.

But there's another word with the same root as these ones, and I just found out about it recently and it's made me rethink how I interact with others. There was an article in the Ensign magazine last month that brought it to my attention. Here's the link and I highly recommend reading it.


Yep, the word sarcasm. Here's one definition I found online:


1. harsh or bitter derision or irony.
2. a sharply ironical taunt; sneering or cutting remark: a review full of sarcasms.
Origin: 1570–80;  < Late Latin sarcasmus  < Greek sarkasmós,  derivative of sarkázein: to rend (flesh), sneer; 
To rend flesh...and all this time I thought sarcasm was a witty way of expressing humor making a point. So I started searching on to see what I could find about sarcasm and humor. Here are a few tidbits:
Brigham Young said that sarcastic and negative people “have little sense, and know not the difference between a happy smile of satisfaction to cheer the countenance of a friend, or a contemptuous sneer that brings the curses of man upon man” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young [1997], 89). (link)

When we have a sarcastic, critical, judging, whining, blaming, or demanding attitude, we usually destroy good relationships. No one wants to be criticized, placed on the defensive, or misjudged.(link)

Another principle is to be cautious with humor. Loud, inappropriate laughter will offend the Spirit. A good sense of humor helps revelation; loud laughter does not. A sense of humor is an escape valve for the pressures of life. (link)

So it seems to me that humor can be a good thing, and often is. However, we need to be very cautious that our humor is not based on sarcasm, degradation, backbiting, insults, the "I'm just kidding" response, etc. These types of comments and humor can often figuratively "rend the flesh" causing spiritual and emotional death and decay, not only to the recipient of our remarks but to ourselves as well.

If you want a great example of the proper use of humor, I'd recommend going back and listening to President Gordon B. Hinckley's general conference addresses. (And you have to listen to the audio, since most of the time his comments were not published in the Ensign).

One time in particular stands out in my memory where he said something like this:

"I'd like to thank you all for being here today. We realize it's warm in here." (then he paused for effect and with a grin followed up with).  "It'll be a lot warmer if you don't repent"

Just some food for thought...  

Monday, August 5, 2013

A six mile metaphor for life

I love road trips, although driving 20 hours straight is a little more difficult now than when I was younger. We recently drove from Kansas City, MO to Provo, UT. It's a long drive. But I love seeing our country, even the boring parts like Kansas and Eastern Colorado. As we were driving along I-70, we had just come out of the Eisenhower Tunnel when I started seeing signs like this one:

I saw that and didn't think much of it. I figured truck drivers would see this and take the necessary precautions as they traveled this route the next 6 miles or so. It seemed like a pretty basic warning sign, letting drivers know about the upcoming potential dangers.
Then a couple miles down the road I saw this sign:

This one caught my attention a little more than the first sign did. I'm assuming that they needed to put this sign up because someone (or more than one someone) didn't pay attention to the first sign and ended up in some serious trouble. A runaway truck on a 7% grade at an elevation of around 9,000 feet with certain death on the left side of the road is not good. Which is why they also have these:

For those who may not be familiar with these, a runaway truck ramp is basically an off-ramp made with a deep layer of sand and/or gravel. This allows the truck to exit the interstate and come to a safe stop. It can then be towed out and repaired (which is both a difficult and expensive process). On this particular stretch of the highway I think they had two or three of these runaway truck ramps.

A few more miles down the road I saw this sign:

Again, there must have been incidents in the past where truck drivers just stopped paying attention after going 5 of the 6 miles and then got into some serious trouble. Or in other words, a failure to endure to the end could result in some pretty serious consequences.
So, in a 6 mile stretch of I-70, I was reminded of the following principles of our mortal life:

  • We are given directions (commandments) as we begin our mortal journey
  • We are given frequent reminders (from parents, teachers, local church leaders, general authorities, and our prophet)
  • When we mess up (sin) there is a way out-runaway truck ramps (repentance), but the process of getting back on the road is often difficult and painful.
  • We need to endure to the end-it doesn't matter if we make it 83.33% of the way, if we disregard the commandments near the end it can have serious consequences-to the point of being spiritually fatal.
I'm sure there's other lessons to be learned here, but that's enough for now. I'm on vacation after all.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Twelve years ago...lessons in compassion

Twelve years and about twelve days ago, our family was blessed with the arrival of a baby boy. However, there were problems. Joseph was born with a chromosomal disorder known as Trisomy 13 (you can read about the details of this disorder here ) He was beautiful baby, in spite of the obvious physical deformities, but we knew within hours of his birth that he wouldn't be with our family very long. I'm not going to go into a lot of details in this post about our experiences-if you'd like you can read about it on my wife's blog here.

And twelve years ago today, Joseph was called home. I can still remember very clearly what it was like holding my baby boy as he stopped breathing, listening as his heart stopped, and knowing that he had quietly passed away in my arms. It was sad, of course. And it was hard to watch. But I also knew that it was his time, and that his suffering was over. And more importantly, I had faith in the reality of the resurrection, and that we would see him again. But there were a couple of things that happened during this whole experience that I wanted to share today that really taught me what it means to show compassion to be compassionate.

First of all, as soon as we knew that Joseph's condition was terminal, we starting working with the StarShine Hospice & Palliative Care organization from the Cincinnati Children's Hospital. (you can read more about them here.)  Both the professional staff and the volunteers were amazing. Compassion is defined as "a sympathetic consciousness of others' distress along with a desire to alleviate it", and these hospice workers/volunteers were a great example of what it means to show compassion. They played with our older children. They provided information (which was more valuable than you may think). They listened to our concerns. They trained us how to take care of Joseph. I can't imagine what it would be like to be in their shoes, and having to deal with dying children and their families over and over and over and over again. But they did and they do and I appreciated them more than they probably knew. They were the ones that we called first after Joseph passed away, they took care of calling the funeral home and making all the necessary arrangements, and they stayed with us until they knew we were taken care of. Yes, I know it was part of their job, but they treated us like we were their only concern and that made all the difference. And I think one of the things I learned from this was that compassion and service are the most meaningful when we focus on the individual. It doesn't matter how many others we may be responsible for (and this applies to parents, teachers, bishops, home/visiting teachers, etc.), we have to take the time to minister to the individual. It doesn't work any other way.

The second example that I wanted to share happened when the two gentlemen from the funeral home showed up to take Joseph away. It was probably around 2:00am or so when they pulled up in front of our small townhouse apartment in their hearse. They spoke with us for a little while, answered our questions, and then walked out with us as they prepared to take Joseph's body away. Tabitha was holding him as we walked towards the vehicle. One of them opened the back door, and I remember seeing a small box-just the right size for an infant-sized body-sitting there in the back. As the other gentleman gently took Joseph from my wife, he looked at the two of us, then at the back of the car, and then turned to his partner and said "I'll just carry him up front with us." Who knows, they probably just drove around the corner and out of sight and then placed the body in the back where it was supposed to be transported, but at that moment, that one small act of compassion made a lasting impression on us. How grateful we were to see them treat our child like he was one of their own, and not just something to dispose of in the back of their vehicle. And I'll be forever thankful for that.

Small and seemingly insignificant actions on our part can have long-lasting effects on the lives of others. Hopefully we can all take a little more time from our busy lives and hectic schedules to look for, recognize, and act on opportunities to be compassionate.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

A Music Lesson

My wife and I are participating in a volunteer orchestra/choir that will be performing "The Many Moods of Christmas" in December. I'm playing the trumpet and my wife is playing the viola. We had our first listen through/rehearsal this morning, and it went about as well as one would expect for the first time as a group. Some parts went well, some not so well. It's one of those pieces that is going to take a LOT of work, but the end result in a little over four months will hopefully be worth it.

As we were driving home, I mentioned that it was interesting playing the third trumpet part, when most of my experience through grade school and high school was as a first trumpet. The first trumpet is usually the one with the melody, solos, higher notes, etc. The one that you initially hear when you're listening to a band or orchestra. The one that seems to get all the glory and attention. The third trumpet part initially seems to be the one that isn't as important, as it has the lower parts, hardly ever gets a solo, only plays the melody if it's in unison with the first and second trumpets, and you'll only hear it if you really are trying to. So you might think I'd be insulted to be given the third trumpet part, as if I was being told I wasn't good enough for the other parts. And I have to admit, that probably would have been my first reaction when I was younger. I may have even been tempted to quit, with the excuse that if I couldn't be the "star" then I didn't want to participate at all. But as I've gotten older and hopefully a little wiser, I realize that in music, the end result is always greater than the sum of its parts. You may not be able to quickly identify the third trumpet in the midst of the entire choir and orchestra, but it is absolutely critical to the overall vision of the composer and the beauty of the music. As is every other instrument and voice. The full potential of the composition can only met if everyone does their part.

And that's one of the reasons I really love music. You can take brass and strings and woodwinds and percussion and voices and put them all together and create beauty out of potential chaos. One of my favorite movies is the edited-for-TV version of "Amadeus". There is one scene in particular that illustrates this point. Mozart is discussing an idea for a new opera, and says this:
Sire, only opera can do this. In a play if more than one person speaks at the same time, it's just noise, no one can understand a word. But with opera, with music... with music you can have twenty individuals all talking at the same time, and it's not noise, it's a perfect harmony!
We see the same thing in our everyday lives. Especially in our families and our church. Our Heavenly Father is the composer of the universe. He has placed each of us in our own circumstances and expects us to practice and grow and learn and develop and to fill the measure of our creation. The 20 or 20,000 or 20 billion of us can all play or sing at the same time and our Lord creates a perfect harmony out of chaos and noise. However, we may often think our part to play is small and/or insignificant, and that in the grand scheme of things it doesn't count for much. We may think that no one would notice if we don't play our part. We may think that our responsibilities in our homes or church aren't very important when we compare ourselves to others. We may get frustrated sometimes as it seems that we practice and practice and practice and keep making mistakes and falling short of the perfection that is demanded of us.


We are all important in the divine composition. Our part is significant. The responsibilities that we are given are important. We will always fall short of perfection in this life, but we have been promised that as we have faith in Christ, repent, keep the commandments and endure to the end that our weaknesses will be made strong and our imperfections will be made perfect in Christ. And I think that when we pass on from this life we'll be given the chance to look back and we'll be able to see and hear how our part in this life sounded, and we'll be amazed at the grandeur of it all.

Additional reading suggestions:

Four Titles-President Dieter F. Uchtdorf April 2013

Concern for the One-Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin April 2008

1 Corinthians 12

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

(Not So) Happy Pioneer Day

Today is an important day in the history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. On July 24, 1847, Brigham Young (who was the acting president of the church at that time) proclaimed that the Salt Lake Valley was the place that the Mormon pioneers would settle after being driven from Missouri and Illinois.

I have a confession to make though. I always hated Pioneer Day. (I'll pause while all my Mormon friends and family from out west collectively gasp). And I felt guilty for hating it. After all, wasn't this a great occasion to be commemorating? And shouldn't I, as a nearly-life-long member of the church, join in the celebrations with joy (and a little sorrow-remembering the sacrifices of the early pioneers)? But let me give you a little background to help explain why I felt this way (and you'll notice that I'm using the past tense)-and why I don't hate it now (at least not as much).

I was born in Pennsylvania. My parents joined the church in Iowa when I was four years old, and I grew up in central Illinois. My experience with church history had always been from the early days of the church. I lived just a few hours away from Nauvoo and Carthage and visited many times. I had seen the sacred grove, the Kirtland temple, the Susquehanna river. I had testimony creating and testimony strengthening experiences visiting these sacred sites, and I felt a connection to those early saints. But every July 24th-ish we'd sing hymns in church such as these:
And I couldn't help thinking to myself, "We have no mountains here. We barely have hills. Why are we singing hymns about mountains...that's just dumb." 

Then I graduated from high school and went to BYU (where you'd think I'd gain a greater appreciation for our western pioneer heritage), but my animosity just grew. It seemed to me that all my Utah/Idaho/Arizona friends had the impression that the church was founded in 1847 by Brigham Young, and that everything that had happened in the previous 27 years wasn't all that important.

So what changed? I think my attitude started to change while we were living in southeastern Ohio. We lived in Ohio but went to church in West Virginia. And we noticed that there was somewhat of a lack of unity in our ward (congregation) due mainly to the boundaries. It seemed like the Ohio people didn't like the West Virginians, and the West Virginians were split depending on which part of the town they lived in (there were two main high schools, and that rivalry carried over into the members of the ward). It wasn't anything that was malicious, but it just wasn't they way it could or should have been. I started to realize how damaging that kind of us vs. them attitude could be.

And I realized that I needed to fix my attitude. I was able to keep my appreciation for the "Eastern" pioneers of the church and add to it an appreciation for the "Western" pioneers, and to apply the lessons from both. And one of those lessons was beautifully taught by President Monson in the July 2013 Ensign magazine (Link Here):
The passage of time dims our memories and diminishes our appreciation for those who walked the path of pain, leaving behind a tear-marked trail of nameless graves. But what of today’s challenges? Are there no rocky roads to travel, no rugged mountains to climb, no chasms to cross, no trails to blaze, no rivers to ford? Or is there a very present need for that pioneer spirit to guide us away from the dangers that threaten to engulf us and to lead us to a Zion of safety?
In the decades since the end of World War II, standards of morality have lowered again and again. Crime spirals upward; decency careens downward. Many are on a giant roller coaster of disaster, seeking the thrills of the moment while sacrificing the joys of eternity. Thus we forfeit peace.
We forget how the Greeks and Romans prevailed magnificently in a barbaric world and how that triumph ended—how a slackness and softness finally overcame them to their ruin. In the end, more than they wanted freedom, they wanted security and a comfortable life; and they lost all—comfort and security and freedom.
Do not yield to Satan’s enticements; rather, stand firm for truth. The unsatisfied yearnings of the soul will not be met by a never-ending quest for joy amidst the thrills of sensation and vice. Vice never leads to virtue. Hate never promotes love. Cowardice never gives courage. Doubt never inspires faith.
Some find it difficult to withstand the mocking and unsavory remarks of foolish ones who ridicule chastity, honesty, and obedience to God’s commands. But the world has ever belittled adherence to principle. When Noah was instructed to build an ark, the foolish populace looked at the cloudless sky and then scoffed and jeered—until the rain came.
Must we learn such costly lessons over and over again? Times change, but truth persists. When we fail to profit from the experiences of the past, we are doomed to repeat them with all their heartache, suffering, and anguish. Haven’t we the wisdom to obey Him who knows the beginning from the end—our Lord, who designed the plan of salvation—rather than that serpent, who despised its beauty?
A dictionary defines a pioneer as “one who goes before to prepare or open up the way for others to follow.”Can we somehow muster the courage and steadfastness of purpose that characterized the pioneers of a former generation? Can you and I, in actual fact, be pioneers?
I know we can be. Oh, how the world needs pioneers today!
So, with a repentant attitude, Happy Pioneer Day!

Saturday, July 20, 2013

The Quality of Mercy is not Strain'd....

Right now it's Saturday morning, and as I'm browsing news sites I see headlines such as these:

So I decided to do a google search for "Justice for Trayvon", and I see these links:

There's even a facebook page set up:

What exactly is justice? Here's one definition:
Justice (noun): the administering of deserved punishment or reward.
So, depending on your opinion about the events of that tragic day, it would seem that Trayvon Martin supporters are fully justified in seeking for "justice" or making sure that George Zimmerman gets his "deserved punishment".

But then I remembered this speech from Shakespeare's "The Merchant of Venice"

The quality of mercy is not strain'd,
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath: it is twice blest;
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes:
'Tis mightiest in the mightiest: it becomes
The throned monarch better than his crown;
His sceptre shows the force of temporal power,
The attribute to awe and majesty,
Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings;
But mercy is above this sceptred sway;
It is enthroned in the hearts of kings,
It is an attribute to God himself;
And earthly power doth then show likest God's
When mercy seasons justice. Therefore, Jew,
Though justice be thy plea, consider this,
That, in the course of justice, none of us
Should see salvation: we do pray for mercy;
And that same prayer doth teach us all to render
The deeds of mercy. I have spoke thus much
To mitigate the justice of thy plea;
Which if thou follow, this strict court of Venice
Must needs give sentence 'gainst the merchant there.

Let me repeat this line, because it's worth repeating:
Though justice be thy plea, consider this, that, in the course of justice, none of us should see salvation: we do pray for mercy; and that same prayer doth teach us all to render the deeds of mercy
Or, as we read in the Bible:
Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy (Matthew 5:7)
The merciful man doeth good to his own soul: but he that is cruel troubleth his own flesh. (Proverbs 11:17)
Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful. (Luke 6:36)
For he shall have judgment without mercy, that hath shewed no mercy; and mercy rejoiceth against judgment. (James 2:13)
What is mercy, and why is it so important? Here's one definition:
Mercy (noun): compassionate or kindly forbearance shown toward an offender, an enemy, or other person in one's power; compassion, pity, or benevolence:
Quoting again from "The Merchant of Venice":
But an attribute of God himself; and earthly power doth then show likest God's when mercy seasons justice
I personally think that I'd rather have mercy extended to me when the time comes to give an accounting of my life than have my Savior demanding that I face justice. And it seems pretty clear to me that in order to qualify for that blessing, I need to be merciful to others. When we demand justice, we deny the salvation that only mercy can bring. And by extending mercy to others, we have one of those rare opportunities in this life to really be like God.

Now don't get me wrong-I am by no means advocating that we completely do away with laws, consequences, courts, judges, juries, etc. But there will be times when, due to our imperfections as human beings, that the innocent will be punished and the guilty will go free. But let us all be slower to demand justice and quicker to extend mercy, and I think we'll be alright.

And for more on mercy, please read/watch the following:

"My Specialty Is Mercy" -Marion D. Hanks

"The Merciful Obtain Mercy"-Dieter F. Uchtdorf

"Blessed Are the Merciful"-Gordon B. Hinckley