29 November 2014

The Sacrament of Studies

My father shared a wonderful article with me, from the most recent copy of Brigham Young University's Humanities magazine. In his introductory message he shares a profound message about the role of study and education in bring us closer to God.


The PDF of the magazine is found at this link:

http://issuu.com/byuhumanities/docs/fall4014_final_pdf?e=12728246/10121556

Among his ideas is that we should decide what we take with us from our studies- not everything is of equal worth. Interestingly, being more attentive and excellent in our studies makes us more focused and attentive in prayer. It does this because difficult and focused study develops faculties that can help us focus on holy things, if we choose to.

He also mentioned the mission of BYU, which makes it uncommon, even unique, among large universities:

...to assist individuals in their quest for perfection for eternal life.

I am very thankful that my faith in God was strengthened during my time at BYU. I do believe that excellence in vocation can lead to excellence in worship, and vice versa, because the abilities required for each are so complimentary. I am often struck by people whose temporal accomplishment is as impressive as their attention to worship. And I don't mean wealth or income, which is not directly related to spiritual attentiveness.

I think his thoughts are very interesting, and worth your time.

27 October 2014

Changes

I've done a poor job of keeping to my resolution to write a weekly post, so this is my attempt at repentance.


One of the unique aspects of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the volunteer nature of so many jobs in the Church. We have no paid clergy, so regular members are called upon to serve in a wide variety of roles, including sunday school teacher and youth leader. Members even serve in pastoral roles, such as bishop, and with that role comes the responsibility to care for a congregation of church members. 

Recently, my Church responsibility changed. I had been serving as a counselor to our bishop. I was asked to serve in a role called High Councilor. This means I will represent our Stake President, who oversees all of the congregations in a given area, as assigned and when needed.

My primary assignment is to work with a Spanish-speaking congregation in Ocala, which I am looking forward to very much. I spent most of my missionary service in a similar setting, and I love working with my Latin brothers and sisters in sharing the gospel.

I share this to provide my witness that God works with and through man today. We believe that these different responsibities, or callings, are given through inspiration from God. We are then able to participate in the Lord's work and He blesses us for every small effort that we make.

29 September 2014

The Power of Service

A while during our weekly Family Home Evening (FHE), which is a special time set aside for sharing, learning, and fun. We had some really nice discussions, with Millie sharing a nice story with us.


We usually have a treat at the end of FHE, and while we were doing that had some more time to talk. Lacy told me that Millie had resolved a situation at school where a girl in her class was not being very nice to her. At Lacy's suggestion, Millie shared some candy with her and told her that she would like to be her friend. Today they talked at lunch and now they are friends.

I asked Millie how she would deal with a similar situation in the future, and her answer was "Share my candy?"

I told her that sharing her candy was an example of serving other people. I was grateful that Millie could see the impact of service on how someone viewed her. I believe that by serving others, we serve God. Even if our motives were as simple as hers. Even if they aren't entirely pure, such as a little girl trying to win the favor of another, doing kindness to others can hardly be seen as a bad thing, and can often change someone's heart. 

28 September 2014

Primary Programs

The  children's Sunday School in our church is called "The Primary." Once a year, the primary takes over the group worship service (sacrament meeting) to provide music, scripture, and testimony. Today was that day, and it did not disappoint.


I have always loved children, and this is usually one of my favorite sacrament meetings during the year. The kids are cute and talented. Sometimes a younger one does something wacky that provides some humor. 

Today I was moved by the spirit that I felt during the program, especially while they sang. Or maybe I should say that I was moved by the Spirit that I felt.

I enjoy reason and logic, and they are part of my daily life and work, but they are not the basis of my faith. My faith is based on repeated experiences where I have felt the influence of God through the Holy Ghost. I felt that same influence today, while the children sang sweet and simple songs about the plan that our Heavenly Father has for us.

It is my belief and testimony that God does have a plan, and that each of us can play an important role if we are receptive to the message and faithful to the witness(es) that we receive.

Today's program had a simple theme: "Families are Forever." That is the blessing that I aspire to most of all, that I can live with my family, forever, in the presence of God. This is the highest goal of His Plan, and I am grateful for the many children that shared that with us today.

02 September 2014

Defender of the Faith

I recently read a really wonderful obituary. The love of this individual's family was evident, and I couldn't help but mourn with them in their loss. I had never met this person, but learned important things about her through their remembrance. Foremost was love of family, but something else stood out:

A lifelong Catholic, she was a staunch defender of her church and her faith.

What a great tribute. I hope that people can say that of me, that I was a staunch defender of my faith.

I believe in absolute truth, and that truth comes from God. This is increasingly unpopular in some circles. I don't think it's a stretch to say that moral relativism is more and more common. It is very unfashionable to say that what I believe is correct, not just for me, but for everybody.

For me, this is part of being a defender of my faith. To defend my faith and belief in absolute truth does not mean that I or anyone else can take away someone else's right to make choices about how they live their life. Not everyone understands this, and some take their beliefs to immoral ends, as in Syria. None of that should change how I defend my faith, so I will do my best to continue.

23 August 2014

Charity

This picture captures some of my thoughts this evening.


We had a set of missionaries in our home a few weeks ago. They asked us to participate in a special social media event, to share with others why we have chosen to follow Jesus Christ. We agreed, and these verses from the Book of Mormon provide a framework for what I am feeling:

45 And charity suffereth long, and is kind, and envieth not, and is not puffed up, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil, and rejoiceth not in iniquity but rejoiceth in the truth, beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.
46 Wherefore, my beloved brethren, if ye have not charity, ye are nothing, for charity never faileth. Wherefore, cleave unto charity, which is the greatest of all, for all things must fail--
47 But charity is the pure love of Christ, and it endureth forever; and whoso is found possessed of it at the last day, it shall be well with him.
Moroni 7:45-47

I read these to Isaac and Joseph tonight before reading Isaac his bedtime story. I was immediately "convicted by the Spirit" because tonight was one of those nights that belongs in the "Joe's Bad Parenting Hall of Fame."

The specific incident doesn't matter. What matters is that my behavior did not emulate what is depicted above. In His life, and in the time after His resurrection, Jesus Christ personified the attribute of charity. He showed perfect love, and this was especially evident in His teachings and treatment of children.

As a parent, I have the privilege of teaching and raising my children. I love them more than I can adequately express. Sometimes I allow my concern and frustration, sometimes about unimportant things, to overshadow and overtake the admonition to have charity. I reject that perfect, patient, not easily-provoked love in favor of righteous indignation and the demands of justice (as I see it).

What a hollow and foolish choice. In the end, it leaves you empty, because you have forced out love in favor of fleeting and unfulfilling ambitions, like my desire to modify Isaac's then undesirable behavior.

I'm not much for airing out my failings and errors in a public setting. For one, it would take too much time, but also because I like to share positive things about me and my life. However this experience can serve a higher purpose for a few reasons:

1. By recording it, hopefully I will be better able to avoid repeating it.
2. It will help me explain why I follow Jesus Christ.

The key, important aspect of #2 is that Christ is divine, the Son of God. I have a deep conviction that this is true. This conviction includes my belief that His life and His attributes are worthy of emulation. I want to try and be like Him. In fact, He has told us to be Perfect, even as He and his Father are perfect.

Part of that perfection is Charity. I follow Christ because I want to possess charity, as explained in the scriptures. I want to feel and express that perfect love, for all people, but especially for my family. I want to be a constant source of that love, so that my children never have reason to doubt my love for them, and in turn, God's love for them.

I follow Christ because the only way to gain that attribute is by accepting my need for his grace, won through the atonement that he carried out for all men and women. His suffering on our behalf was universal, even if man's acceptance would not be. He endured all things. How much simpler it should be for me to endure those small things that my wonderful children occasionally inflict upon me? 

Still, despite the simplicity, I fail and again. So I follow Christ because each and every day I do something that requires repentance, and repentance comes only in and through the atonment wrought by Jesus Christ.

I follow him because I have to. I am grateful that I am able to, and I thank Him for the charity that he has shown for me, in spite of my many failings.

Here's to being at least a little better tomorrow, for Him and for them.

12 August 2014

The River

Last Friday I went camping and canoing with some of the scout from our congregation. We drove to Ocala to paddle a 7 mile stretch of the Silver and Ochlawaha rivers. It was a beautiful day, and the cool, clear, and peaceful river promised a nice trip.


Having some experience in a canoe, I was very confident. We had no difficulty managing the river, aside from the occasional collision with a tree or log extending into the water. About three hours into the five hour trip, the boys we were with became lodged on a log. We floated up behind them to bump their canoe forward.

We succeeded, but in the process came to rest parallel to the log, which extended straight across the river. Somehow our canoe was pushed upward a bit, and in second we had lost balance and fell into the water, tipping the canoe over.

In my last post, I wrote about control. In this canoe, I had some control. Our streamlined hull cut easily through the water, and our paddles gave us the ability to steer. The feeling of control these things provided evaporated when we hit the water.

The current quickly filled the canoe with water, and we were powerless to set it right. In fact, the canoe when from a sideways position to completely filling. At that point it turn completely upside-down and when under the log, emerging on the other side right-side-up, but totally swamped.

We gathered our things and passed them to the boys to place in their canoe. We then spent several minutes positioning ourselves on the log so that we could try and lift it out of the water. This was very difficult, as we had to manage the current, then pushing our bodies forward, and the extreme weight of the filled canoe. In time we tipped it enough to be mostly emptied so that we could continue our trip.

Even then, there was a small amount of water in the canoe, which made every shift in weight more extreme, increasing the potential for another tip into the water. When we could find another bank, we pulled the canoe out to empty it, finally able to continue as normal.

How quickly my confidence left me, when I was faced with the might and inexorable flow of this calm and placid river. It couldn't have been moving more than 1.5 or 2 mph, but the volume of the water was more than we could overcome, at least until we found a way to plant ourselves on more stable footing.

The security of the canoe was largely an illusion, and I won't soon forget that. It made me think of something that the prophet Lehi said to his wayward son Laman:

O that thou mightest be like unto this river, continually running into the fountain of all righteousness!
1 Nephi 2:9

In life I am often that canoe. I rely on my own power and strength. I trust our technology and know-how, sometimes discounting the real power, which is in the river.

As Lehi urged Laman, I want to be the river. For me this means trusting in God, in His power, and in His constant and unwavering guidance. My own strengths, while perfectly adequate much of the time, will fail me if I don't recognize the power of the river. The river does not always impress, but it has the real power.

11 August 2014

Control

I'm playing a little catch-up, so this post should be followed by another shortly.


As a reminder, the purpose of my renewed blogging is to share spiritual thoughts and ideas as they come to me, ideally on a weekly basis. This post is the fruit of several experiences, most recently the recently diagnosed illness of a friend.

I like control. I enjoy planning, and considering the things that can go wrong with my plans and preparing for those possibilities. When the plans or counter-plans go awry, I can become quite frustrated. It is one of my great challenges.

Occasionally we received reminders of how little we can control. Sometimes this comes as the result of a reversal of business fortunes, or as in this case, illness. My perspective on this particular instance is shaped partly by its distance. I am not the patient, so it is a little easier to consider an appropriate reaction. This sounds calculating, but it is really just a way of recognizing that my feelings are my own, and I have a very hard time criticizing anyone who struggles with news such as this.

When someone you care about has a trial, it is normal to ask why. In this case, there is no predisposition or family history, outside of normal probability. There has been no bad behavior, no action that would merit such a trial. This is usually the case, and we ask ourselves, "Why do bad things happen to good people."

The prophet Nephi (found in the Book of Mormon) was shown a vision and was asked about "the condescension of God" He gave this response:

I know that he loveth his children; nevertheless, I do not know the meaning of all things.
1 Nephi 11:17

When bad things happen to good people, I often remember this verse. I don't understand the purpose for everything that happens. I don't understand why children suffer, why mothers and sisters get sick, or why any number of sad and difficult things occur, but I know that God loves us.

And I also know that when bad things happen, to us or to those we care about, we have to focus on what we can control. We can control our response. We can control our relationship to God. We can love, and serve, and pray.

This was a comforting realization, one that I have had before, but also one that I needed to remember. It came to me as I fasted and prayed for the welfare of my friend and their family. We must never allow what happens to us to control us. We are able to move our spiritual selves to where our Heavenly Father has asked us to go. By doing that, He has promised to bless us with His Spirit. The Holy Spirit gives comfort, peace, and testifies of truth.

Our mortal perspective often impels us to turn away, to seek to blame. This is a reaction, and we were created to act, and not to be acted upon.

I was grateful for this reminder. Now the real task is to remember to turn to God even when things are going well, when we are not compelled to be humble. This is how we can prepare for the trials that come, so that when they do come we have no reason to doubt His love.

27 July 2014

Happy birthday Joseph!


9 Years ago my life changed when I became a parent. This boy was born to Lacy and I, under unexpected circumstances (profiled here: http://blog.spotd.net/2009/02/josephs-story-july-august-2005.html).

Having a child is a truly transformative event. I have never felt a greater understanding of what I think God must feel for us than at the births of my children. The physical miracle of pregnancy, the utter innocence and simple needs of the infant, and the unconditional love that I had for him are all evidence (to me) of our Heavenly Father's hand in our lives.

Echoes of that feeling have returned on many occasions in the last nine years. To say that birth is the most impactful demonstration of it shouldn't detract from these subsequent manifestations of God's love. The difference is a matter of degrees.

When a child is born to members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, it is the privilege of that family to have their child blessed and to have their name formally recorded on the membership rolls of the Church. Normally this blessing is performed by the father, if he is an authorized and worthy holder of the priesthood.

I was able to perform these blessings for my children, and I am grateful for that. In Joseph's blessing, given just about 107 months ago, I blessed him that he would be kind. I mentioned it more than once. I have seen this spiritual gift in him so many times over the last 9 years. I think anyone who knows him, knows that he has a kind and empathic heart. I believe that promise was inspired by the Holy Ghost, and I credit my Father in Heaven for it.

I am so proud of this part of Joseph, which is not highly prized in some sectors of our culture. Among the people that I love and care about, it is appreciated, another thing that I am thankful for. Someday his kindness will make him a better husband and father than me. Someday his kindness will give others license to adopt more kindness in their own lives.

I love this boy. I read some earlier posts on his birthdays (this one from his 5th birthday has some nice photos of his baby/toddler years- http://blog.spotd.net/2010/07/happy-5th-birthday-joseph.html). I am so glad to be his father, and humbled by what he teaches me.

I love you Joseph! Happy Birthday!

20 July 2014

This time ISN'T different

I enjoy volunteering with an organization called Junior Achievement. One of its main objectives is to teach financial literacy to young people. I often include a comment about how young people today are not satisfied to wait until later in life to enjoy the standard of living enjoyed by their parents. I have always assumed this to be a more recent phenomenon, especially given the reputation of the younger, supposedly less patient generation. Then I read this:


One thing … that I would like to call attention to--young people, when they marry, are not satisfied to begin with a little and humbly, but they want to receive just about as much as their parents have at the time they, the children, get married. … They want to start out with every convenience under the sun to make them comfortable. I think this is a mistake. I think they should begin humbly, putting their faith in the Lord, building here a little and there a little as they can, accumulating piecemeal, until they can reach a position of prosperity such as they wish to have.
-Joseph Fielding Smith

That statement was made in 1958. Apparently this is nothing new, and teaches us something about human nature. As a rule, we are impatient, and often unwilling to take the slow and steady approach that seems more likely to lead to long-term happiness.

Societal norms have changed, and not for the better, but our challenges are not that dissimilar from those of the past. I once heard a talk by famous biographer David McCullough. He said that with regard to history, we often say "this time is different." Usually, it isnt.


11 July 2014

Dealing with the Unexpected

I'm writing this from the First Class section of a very short flight from LAX to San Diego. I didn't expect to be here. I received one of those complimentary upgrades sometimes bestowed on frequent fliers.


I am a bonafide frequent flier, proudly occupying Delta's lowest medallion tier, the exalted SILVER.
This grants me a few perks that I consider valuable, particularly the free luggage allowance that comes in handy when flying in a family of five at least twice a year.

I didn't expect an upgrade. You might recall that I occupy Delta's LOWEST tier which means I am often way, way down the list of lucky customers. When I travel by myself, I always hope for an upgrade, but don't count on it.

I certainly wasn't planning on it today. We are en route to visit Lacy's family, all five of us. Is Lacy with me? Or the kids? No, and this is the subject of this post.

I wasn't aware of the upgrade until we passed into the jetway and our boarding passes were scanned. When I book a family trip I usually uncheck the upgrade request box, for obvious reasons. It's possible that I forgot this time, because when the agent scanned my ticket I was given the seat 3D, first class on a little CRJ700.

Lacy and I talked about it as we walked. What would we do? Should we ask someone to switch? Some confusion caused by a separated family in front of me meant that we probably just needed to make a choice and Lacy told me to go upfront, that she would be fine with the kids.

"Uh oh," I thought. The flight attendant informed me that this flight would only take about 20 minutes in the air, so I distributed what I hoped was an adequate number of electronic devices and waited for the boarders to allow for my movement from the back to the front of the plane.

Since taking my seat, I have had the chance to think about some things. We've been together constantly since leaving our home for Orlando at 6pm last night. We stayed in an Orlando hotel in one room, woke up at 5 this morning, and have been on the go ever since. The idea of a break from this long day with 3 children (not Lacy) was very pleasant, right up until it happened.

I'm on this vacation to be with my family. It can be extremely tiring, but I always treasure this non-stop family time. When else can I spend all day with my kids and my wife, except during family vacations? Saturdays and Sundays are busy with activities, church responsibilities, and other commitments. It's only by leaving our home that we get to break the busy cycle and spend time together.

I welcome breaks. I enjoy work, and my office, and moments of peace. I especially enjoy spending time with Lacy, just the two of us. I also love my kids. They are my greatest blessing. They are growing, and I getto enjoy them a little bit longer, especially in their current state, where hand holding and public hugs and quality time is not yet forbidden by adolescent preferences.

Now that I have this break, I don't want it. 

My main objective in arriving at my in-laws home was going to be a rest, I've been a pack mule all day, and I thought I deserved it. Now I want to know what we can do to have some fun, as a family. So I'm grateful for the break. Glad that I can reflect on my opportunities and blessings and glad that I can share these thoughts. It wasn't the break that I expected, but it is the one that I needed. Hopefully I am a better father and husband for it.

Also, I hope Lacy is still speaking to me by the time we land. I'll doublecheck the box next time.

06 July 2014

Preparedness

As a native Floridian, I've been well-schooled in emergency preparedness. The advent of hurricane season each June brings other traditions, including our congregations periodic review of our emergency preparedness plan.


While watching a film the other day, I was struck by this phrase "Movimiento es vida." In English, "Movement is life." Preparedness is about activity, labor, engagement. Not sitting and waiting, but acting. Prepare- that word is at the heart, and it is active. The same principle is true for spiritual preparedness.

The danger is no less significant. There is an adversary who wants to derail our spiritual progress. If we are not active, moving, we risk the loss of our spiritual lives. Effective spiritual preparedness is really a simple thing, which is why we take it for granted. When speaking to his son Helaman, the Book of Mormon prophet Alma gave some straightforward and appropriate advice. He is relating to his son the story of Lehi and his family. Lehi was given a special compass that functioned in accordance with their righteousness. It was a simple spiritual equation, but still they faltered at times:

44 For behold, it is as easy to give heed to the word of Christ, which will point to you a straight course to eternal bliss, as it was for our fathers to give heed to this compass, which would point unto them a straight course to the promised land.
45 And now I say, is there not a type in this thing? For just as surely as this director did bring our fathers, by following its course, to the promised land, shall the words of Christ, if we follow their course, carry us beyond this vale of sorrow into a far better land of promise.
46 O my son, do not let us be slothful because of the easiness of the way; for so was it with our fathers; for so was it prepared for them, that if they would look they might live; even so it is with us. The way is prepared, and if we will look we may live forever.
47 And now, my son, see that ye take care of these sacred things, yea, see that ye look to God and live.
Alma 37:44-47

He makes a brief allusion to the story of Moses and the fiery serpents in that last phrase- "See that ye look to God and live."

In that story, the people of Israel have grown wicked and the punishment they receive is to be stung by serpents. Moses is told to prepare brazen serpents and to show them to the people. Those who exercise faith in God's word by obeying the prophet and looking at the serpents are healed. Because it is so simple, some failed to do it and died.

Spiritual preparedness is simple, at its heart. Read the scriptures. Pray sincerely. Serve others. Meet with the Saints to hear the good word of God. We overlook the easy (simple) answers, but those are the most important things for us to adhere to. We have to move, be active, feeding ourselves with the words of Christ, communing with God in prayer, and helping other do the same. It is simple and clear, but still a challenge given the constraints and challenges of our lives. 

Still, we must remember Alma's advice. Don't be slothful because of the easiness of the way- Look to God and Live!

23 June 2014

A Sure Foundation

As a reminder, I set a goal some time ago to enhance my spirituality. For me this meant sharing some of my personal religious convictions. This post is about integrity.


As a Christian, Christ is my exemplar. A prophet from the Book of Mormon, Helaman, wanted for his sons to do the same. He had given them the names of great men, Lehi and Nephi, who were themselves great followers of Christ. He taught them the following:

And now, my sons, remember, remember that it is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your foundation; that when the devil shall send forth his mighty winds, yea, his shafts in the whirlwind, yea, when all his hail and his mighty storm shall beat upon you, it shall have no power over you to drag you down to the gulf of misery and endless wo, because of the rock upon which ye are built, which is a sure foundation, a foundation whereon if men build they cannot fall.
 (Helaman 5:12)

This idea of Christ as the sure foundation is important. In this life, we have become accustomed to those, often those in positions of great responsibility, who lack integrity. Whether it is the politician, the evangelist, the athlete or celebrity, we seize on people we admire, who we want to rely on. Time and again we are disappointed. This is because these individuals, sometimes good and worthy in many ways, are not capable of being the sure foundation that Jesus Christ is. He is an example of perfect integrity and reliability.

In a discussion with our congregation's youth last night, we talked about integrity. I recounted the story of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, which famously collapsed in 1940. I drew the comparison between this bridge's failure in 40 mph winds with its lack of structural integrity, to the idea of each of us trying to be sure and steadfast and reliable. We would like for something as important as a bridge to be strong and totally trustworthy, like the Savior. We can't equal him, but we can do our best to personify his integrity. In the same way that we build the best, most resilient bridges, we can build integrity in ourselves.

The Tacoma Narrows Bridge is a notable example of man's design failing to meet the demands of the day. Are we ready to meet the demands of each day? What do we face that may cause us to fall? What is the "mighty wind, yea, his shafts in the whirlwind," that the adversary tries to send to us? When they come, what will we be built on?

I am trying to build my foundation on the Savior, his life, his teachings, and most importantly his atoning sacrifice for sin. It was made possible through his perfect integrity. I am grateful to have learned of it at a young age, and grateful to those whose examples of integrity helped establish my own resolve to seek it for myself.

17 June 2014

Fatherhood

With the recent occurrence of Father's Day I feel compelled to write about Fatherhood. The choice about whether to be married or have a family is left to each individual. Where health and circumstance don't interfere, we make our own decisions on this important matter. My words are an expression of my own belief, my own experience, and I hope they'll be received in that way,


Being a father is the most important thing I've ever done, and my most important responsibility. It's also the most rewarding and enjoyable thing I've done.

For me, marrying and having children was an imperative. I wasn't forced to, though every social and cultural norm of my faith clearly promoted it. Fortunately, I agreed with those norms, and I believe that my personal spiritual growth required that I take these steps.

I've read recent opinions that are critical of the choice to have children, or that at least imply that there is some kind if nobility involved in not doing so. They mention the stresses imposed on marriages by children, or the potential for overpopulation. As a father, I find these arguments utterly uncompelling.

The stresses of life are what drives growth and development. The purpose of this life is to grow and develop, to move past our weaknesses and challenges and become better as a result. We are not here to avoid stress, so to argue that the childless life should be sought for that reason is not persuasive to me. Likewise, the choice to have children should be based on personal circumstance, and not on fears that children will lead to overpopulation in a world with tremendous resources and potential growth and technological advancement. 

Most importantly, children are a source of great joy. When they smile at you, hug you, express their love, it provides a sense of fulfillment that is hard to match. I can't imagine not being a father. It shows me what my parents felt for me, and what I imagine a loving God feels for each of His children. For my part, for my path, I have no doubt that this was the right choice. I give thanks every day for this blessing.