Friday, December 26, 2008

Background Music

We were all playing in the front yard this afternoon when our four-year-old, David, asked us to make noise for him while he hit the T-ball. We wondered what he meant, and it turns out he wanted us to provide background, or theme music for him. Our sweet children have always been musical, and apparently our wishes have come true and we now live in a musical!

David's request reminded me of the Calvin and Hobbes strip, below:


While I don't really want my boy to turn out like Calvin in some ways, they do share similarities: David inherited my hard-to-handle spiky hair, he has a stuffed animal he thinks is real (read an account here), and, like in this strip, he thinks life is more fun with music and laughter.

This experience, and many others, reminds me of the scripture which fairly sums up life in our home: "If thou art merry, praise the Lord with singing, with music, with dancing, and with a prayer of praise and thanksgiving" (D&C 136:28).

Merry? Check.
Singing? Check.
Music? Check.
Dancing? Check.

Normal fun day at home: Priceless.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Christmas eCard

We created a Christmas eCard for you to enjoy. Click here to enjoy a short story of our family and to see a cute collage of pictures.

Backlighting

The other day we were enjoying family together-time by the Christmas tree singing songs as Maryann played the piano. We were having a great time when I noticed Rebecca quietly slip out. Curious, I quietly followed a minute later and caught her in the act of extreme cuteness. She was lying on her back beneath our smaller Christmas tree looking up at the lights with a smile on her face, with her little arms gently reaching up to the lights. She was backlighting. (I hope it's okay to make up new definitions of words.) I imagine she felt the spirit of Christmas and wanted to have a quiet moment to herself.


I recall backlighting as a child. There was a distinct wonder that the bottom-up view of a Christmas tree invoked. The colorful lights making the rest of the room seem dark created a light-canopy of Christmas magic.

After she was done with her moment, I lay on my back and tried to capture the same feelings that she may have felt. It was fun (and a bit silly), but I think her experience was more magical than mine, judging by the little smile that spread across her whole face as she was backlighting.

On the Rebecca - Christmas tree theme, here's another observation. Last night, after reading scriptures as a family, we were enjoying a short Christmas story when I noticed that Rebecca wasn't responding to my questions any more. She had slipped off to sleep in the middle of a sweet story, holding her "dolly" tenderly.


While probably not visions of sugarplums, I wonder what her dreams were of last night.

Catching Up — Question Marking

The end of the semester and preparations for my PhD qualifying exam took the wind out of me, and pushed me to neglect blogging. I like to blog for a bit of clarifying therapy; needless to say, I'm a bit of a mess right now from not writing in a while (at least my daily journal has provided some solace). Nevertheless, at the start of a nice vacation, I hope to accomplish many things I've either neglected or put off—I've quite the "to do" list.

I'll start with a question on a question mark. My sweet boy, Benjamin, steals my heart with every smile. His smiles are so genuine, pure, and enormous that they make me wonder what makes me that happy—happy enough to have my body twist into the shape of a question mark.


The next time I feel like question marking, like Benjamin does, I'll take note. I'm pretty sure that there will be lots of question marking during this Christmas vacation as I spend time with my little family. Besides, what is Christmas without question marking?

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Election Tradition

Our four-year-old did well in his first political debate.



[One hour earlier]
After coming home earlier than usual, the whole family walked the short distance to our voting location to take advantage of our right to vote. We brought the children not just because we are terrible at arranging babysitting, but because we wanted to show them the process and stress the importance we place on voting.

They were so well behaved that they each received multiple "I Voted" stickers from the workers who were smitten by them (can't say that I blame them). I also made them huge paper airplanes from the large sample ballots.

Experience has shown that in order to make experiences memorable with young children, ice cream must be added to the equation. Consequently, we proceeded to Dairy Queen. After they chose whichever dessert they wanted (mini frozen cakes with Halloween candy corns on top), we sat and continued a discussion on the voting process.

Questions: Is political affiliation a product of nature, nurture, or a combination? Are we "born that way" regarding our political positions? To shed light on these questions, I conducted an uncontrolled, biased experiment with my eldest child—which process is likely wrong on many levels. This was his first political debate.

In this friendly family debate, I acted both as moderator and opponent. The questions are presented below (his answers in parentheses):

• Do you think it's good to go to another country to get into fights with people? (No, we should be nice.)
• What if they are being mean to someone else? (We need to protect them if we can.)
• What would you do if you became very sick? (You would take me to the doctor.)
• What should some other child do if they were sick without a doctor? (We should help them get a good doctor.)
• Doctors can cost lots of money; what if their family didn't have enough money to pay? (We should help them pay.)
• So, then, do you think it's good to help others who don't have as much money/means as we do? (Yes. We need to help each other.)

After this, he turned the tables and systematically asked us our opinions on the same questions. He may have a future in debate (or politics?).

This budding tradition teaches me that children, even small children, can take an interest in matters that are important to their parents. Furthermore, simple, honest answers can help parents see 1) how precious their children are, and 2) that the future really is in their hands.

With the future in their hands, I think it's a great honor to teach them in love—with occasional indulgences of ice cream to solidify traditions.

October Fun

We had an incredibly fun month. After welcoming little Benjamin into our family, as well as the associated lack of sleep, I wondered if we could return to, and surpass our previous levels of love and fun. I think we're on our way.

While they don't tell the full story, we've added many new pictures to our family website that give a glimpse into our fun times together (click here for pictures with captions).


Successful marriages and families are established and maintained on principles of faith, prayer, repentance, forgiveness, respect, love, compassion, work, and wholesome recreational activities. (The Family: A Proclamation to the World)

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Cake Choice Indicator

Wanting to treat my wife to a sweet indulgence, I invited her to choose any kind of cake from the grocery store's bakery. I'll often long for their tempting, rich looking miniature cakes, and I supposed she would choose something similar.

I was wrong.

While acknowledging that the others looked tasty, she chose a comparatively plain cake (in my opinion). It was a yellow cake with white butter cream frosting, decorated with orange piping and three colored frosting balloons. I thought it was more appropriate for small children, not a sophisticated, beautiful woman.


So did she.

When I asked why she selected that particular cake amidst the other more tempting choices, she gave me more than her answer, but a practical example of who she really is. She said that her choice was based on the perceived likability by our children. "David will love the balloons," she added.

She was right. I think his first observation was about the balloons and how much he liked them.

What does this tell me about my wife? Even while splurging for a rare treat, she abandoned thoughts of self and turned, instead, to others—her children.

We had cake for dinner that night (We're great parents). While not the thick, rich treat I had initially expected, I was completely satisfied with the additional accompanying treat of profound appreciation for my wonderful wife. And that was better than any kind of cake.

This is just one of the many ways that my Maryann reminds me of the virtuous woman spoken of in Proverbs (see Prov. 31:10-31): "Her children arise up, and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praiseth her" (v. 28).

Is it any wonder that her children wailed when she had to leave for a meeting that very evening? David tried to run down the street after her, in just his underwear, to be with her. He and Rebecca would only be comforted upon hearing that Mommy would be home when they awoke in the morning. David's prayers included the plea that "Mommy would be safe," and that "the night will go fast so we can be with Mommy in the morning."

Thank you for being you, Maryann.

Many daughters have done virtuously, but thou excellest them all
(v. 29).

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Helping Angola

We often wonder what we can do to help others. Some time ago, a nice opportunity arose.

Relatives of two families in our ward are living and working in Angola. Apparently, their company provides cargo space annually to its employees for shipping needed items from the United States. A group of employees decided that instead of sending things for themselves, they would pool their space and ask friends and family to contribute humanitarian aid items (toys, clothing, first aid, etc.).

This is one of the real-life applications of how "by small and simple things are great things brought to pass" (Alma 37:6).

Many in our area contributed small things and the combined result was truly great. The allowable shipping space was quickly exceeded by the amount donated. The most useful items were shipped, the surplus was offered to local poor, and the remaining items were sold at a huge yard sale, with proceeds going to Angola.

It really feels good to help, and not in a patting-yourself-on-the-back sort of way, but in the higher "ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God" sort of way (see Mosiah 2:17).

Here is where the nice twist come in. Because we had access to those on the other side of the equation—the distributing side—we could actually see the results of our actions. Instead of sending love, compassion, and goods off into the unknown, we saw the smiles and circumstances of those receiving help. Because this experience brought good feeling to our hearts, we made a short video that shows some of the people benefited. I say "some of the people" because it doesn't show our little family—we feel that we were benefited, too.



Here is a link to another site where you can download the video, if you're interested.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

What We Have To Do

We do what we have to do so we can do what we want to do.

I heard this phrase some time ago, and it continues to return to my thoughts. At the end of one of my classes, I longed to be at home with my family, or to have them with me instead of walking across a beautiful campus alone. Pop! The phrase came again.

We do what we have to do so we can do what we want to do.

I thought of the many answers I had given over the childhood years to the "What do you want to be when you grow up" question. I could remember some of my aspirations, so I thought I would compare them to where I am now. I may not have imagined being a graduate student at thirty, but I imagine I must have realized some aspects of my childhood goals—I don't think I knew what a civil engineer was as a child, so the current me doesn't exactly fit into the future projection of the past me.

Not satisfied, I tried turning the question around by asking what I want to do now. As expected, I would much rather be doing something else much of the time. I guess that's a logical extension of the original phrase: I am doing what I have to do so I can do what I want to do. But what do I want to do?

As I think of the "when you grow up" answers, I don't remember if I explicitly stated that I wanted to be a loving husband and father when I grew up. However, that is all I want to be, and all I want to do all the time. No offense to my colleagues, but they don't compare to my family.

If what I want to do is be a loving husband and father, then I guess I will have to find a way to support my family. Hence, school and work. Apparently my life is the realization of that phrase. I do what I have to do so I can do what I want to do.

Now, some will say that if I spent all my time with my family, then I would get sick of them (or, more likely, they would get sick of me). While I don't know if this is true, I do know that I love coming home after a long day of doing what I have to do to receive the big hugs and loving play (what I want to do).


There is an eternal application of this principle. If I do what I have to do to have a happy family now and in the future, then I will have a celestial family now and in the future. This is only possible, though, because Christ did what he had to do so he could do what he wanted to do, "to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man" (Moses 1:39), which allows us to do what we want to do, and ultimately be where and what we want to be.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

There Is No Random

I mentioned before that I'm enrolled in two classes that use probability and statistics. Many of the ways we model events assume randomness (e.g. it is as likely in earthquake models for an earthquake one year as the next—regardless of recent events. Therefore, the concept of being due for an earthquake because one hasn't occurred in so many years at a seismic fault is incorrect, considering the model.). Nevertheless, one of my questions elicited the following response from my professor yesterday:

There is no 'random.' What we perceive as randomness is the result of our inability to understand what is going on. We simply don't have a good enough model yet to understand the event in question.

Now, you may expect such a response from an experienced university professor (and possibly the best school instructor I've had), but do you agree with the claim that there is no random?

Many throw the word "random" around attempting to describe things, thoughts, people, and occurrences. We may say, "I had the most random thought...", or "It is so random seeing you here."

Was the thought really the most random? Was it even random at all? Was it really random running into a friend somewhere unexpected?

I was thinking on random (not to be confused with having random thoughts) and the application of its claimed nonexistence from my viewpoint. I wonder how often I maintain that a life-changing event stemmed from a seemingly random occurrence or encounter. I know I've heard many others say things like "I didn't understand why at the time, but looking back I can definitely see how the overall course of events played out to benefit me. I've been guided by the hand of the Lord."

The retrospective look at life seems to erase many "random" events, especially when viewed through the lens of faith. What at first appeared random, is reclassified to divine as we see the grand design in the minutia, or random.

Returning to the professor's idea: We classify things as random because we don't yet have a model sophisticated enough. While we may not have models that predict life's events, particularly the life-changing seemingly random occurrences, we do have a philosophy for living that helps us see the divine through the random. It's an old concept, but it is tried and true:

Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths (Prov. 3:5-6).


After this seemingly random discussion, I hope to look at things that I would have classified as random with new eyes to see the hand of the Lord in my life as I'm led, guided, and directed to better paths.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Willing to Die

I've been reading the Chronicles of Narnia. In reading the many accounts of wars where heroes are made and will is surrendered to the cause, I asked myself, "What am I willing to die for?"

The answers weren't at all surprising: family, religion, friends, rights, etc.

However satisfying the answers, I wasn't satisfied with the original question. Instead of wondering what I would die for, it may be more important to decide what I will live for. Or, rather, to understand why I do what I do—to understand the motivation behind action.

In the course of life, I think it is considerably more important to live for a cause than to die for a cause. If I'm willing to die for important things, shouldn't I be willing to live to honor those same things?

However noble and courageous heroes are who die for a righteous cause, sacrifice seems more significant if it is founded upon everyday decisions to do what is right and needful while striving for perfection (see Matt. 5:48). Christ is the perfect example of this—his infinite sacrifice would have been meaningless if not for his a perfect life.


I am willing to die for many things. Does my life evidence a willingness to live for these same things?

Monday, September 15, 2008

If the Savior Stood Beside Me

Walking about campus lately has reminded of my days at BYU. I've noticed that students here don't sing or whistle to themselves nearly as much as they did at BYU. It was not uncommon to be walking across campus and hear songs or hymns quietly being sung by a fellow pedestrian. In fact, I occasionally came upon those who practiced full-out singing! (I always wanted to join in, with another part, but never had the courage or talent.)


Letaly, though, I've been guilty of quietly singing as I walk across campus for a class. Perhaps the change in season reminds me of fall in Utah, and the associated BYU singing, but I think it's something more.

We've been listening to a compilation of songs for a children's presentation at church that David will be involved in. One of the songs has stuck in my mind, occupying a place and coming out much longer and more often than any other song that has found its way into that place in the brain that holds onto songs—the "I've got a song stuck in my head" place.

Don't get me wrong; I'm not complaining. In fact, I really enjoy the song and its message. The song, "If the Savior Stood Beside Me," is especially catchy as I think of my little David singing it, and seems even especially applicable to me, even as I walk across campus (listen to the song here, and look for other versions here). Apparently, the author wrote the song for her daughter, not as a lecture, but because the child was Christ-like (like my sweet children).




I've noticed that I smile much more as I'm walking when this song is in my head. It helps to focus my thoughts upward and inward, instead of simply having random unproductive thoughts. To help understand the power I draw from this song that's stuck in my head, here are the lyrics:

If the Savior stood beside me, would I do the things I do?
Would I think of His commandments and try harder to be true?
Would I follow His example? Would I live more righteously,
If I could see the Savior standing nigh, watching over me?

If the Savior stood beside me, would I say the things I say?
Would my words be true and kind if He were never far away?
Would I try to share the gospel? Would I speak more reverently
If I could see the Savior standing nigh, watching over me?

If the Savior stood beside me, would my thoughts be clean and pure?
Would His presence give me strength and hope, and courage to endure?
Would His counsel guide my actions? Would I choose more worthily
If I could see the Savior standing nigh, watching over me?

He is always near me, though I do not see Him there
And because He loves me dearly, I am in His watchful care
So I'll be the kind of person that I know I'd like to be
If I could see the Savior standing nigh, watching over me.


I like that some subconscious part of my mind has retained this song, and that the message is helping me on my quest to do the things I should do, and be who I want to be. In addition, I love that this children's song helps me more fully honor the sacramental covenants to "always remember him" as I strive to "keep his commandments," trying to live so I "may always have his Spirit to be with [me]" (see Moroni 4:3 & 5:2).

Is it any wonder that I'm smiling more? After all, Heber C. Kimball remarked:

I am perfectly satisfied that my Father and my God is a cheerful, pleasant, lively, and good-natured Being. Why? Because I am cheerful, pleasant, lively, and good-natured when I have His Spirit. (Journal of Discourses 4:222)



Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Probability

I'm at the start of new semester, enrolled in two classes: statistics, and probability. Both classes are currently discussing probability, which has caused me to think much on the topic lately. I customarily deal with probabilities on a daily basis regarding the weather and the likelihood of rain (20% today), all because I commute by bicycle and want to know what's in store for me.

These thoughts have caused my mind to wander back to my undergraduate course on probability. In a discussion on the topic, the instructor challenged us to come up with an event for which the probability is one, meaning the event is going to occur. The typical sun rising was given, which was promptly shot down. Even the rising of the sun cannot have a 100% probability. Because it was at BYU, I offered an answer that the professor had to admit (contrary to his lesson plans) has a certain probability: resurrection.


We know that all will be resurrected, "both old and young, both bond and free, both male and female, both the wicked and the righteous" (see Alma 11:41-45), but I want to explore supernatural probabilities further.

Resurrection is an amazingly wonderful gift, but what gift is greater? Eternal life (see D&C 14:7). In fact, the referenced scripture gives an indication of what is required to qualify for this "greatest of all the gifts of God": We must keep the commandments and endure to the end. It is essential to note that this is made possible only in and through Christ (see Articles of Faith 1:3 and Mosiah 3:17).

Returning to probability: With the sure knowledge of resurrection to all, what is the probability of exaltation? Of course this is a personal matter, but I wonder how many faithful believers actually believe that they will be exalted—and I mean the highest state of happiness and glory in the presence of God.

If belief influences action (and I believe it does), then the higher confidence one has in personal exaltation will influence one to do the things that qualify for the gift. How, then, can one increase their confidence in exaltation? The brief, surface answers may include: actually believe Christ (instead of simply believing in Christ), and apply the infinite and eternal atonement to your life—both by improving actions (keeping the commandments) and truly repenting of sin.

Related thoughts:
Pew Placement
I recall a discussion I had with our good friend and neighbor where he stated his belief that a person's preferred sitting location in a chapel is an indication of their feeling of worthiness (or confidence in exaltation). He argued that those near the front are confident with their standing with God and personal progress, and those near the rear have guilty consciences.

Of course the validity of this claim is uncertain, but I liked the idea and related discussion (probably because I sit near the front!).

Pew Poll
The results of a survey conducted by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life were explored in a Time article (click here). Part of the results show that only Latter-day Saints and Jehovah's Witnesses had a majority vote that their faith was the sole means of obtaining eternal life (I add: through the merits, mercy, and grace of Christ, of course (see 2 Ne. 2:8)).

Sure, this may only be slightly related to my question of confidence in personal exaltation, but it is interesting nonetheless.

As you may have guessed, an LDS author explored the results of the Pew poll related to the LDS belief that persons of all faiths can find exaltation—providing they did not have the opportunity in this life and accepted the gospel in the next life (article is here).

[Any thoughts on these articles? Feel free to comment.]

Rhetorical and Direct Questions
I asked myself the following: "How much confidence do I have in exaltation?" which translated into, "To what degree do I believe Christ?" and then, "If I really believe Him, am I doing all that I should?"

Unfortunately, I didn't like my truthful answer to the last question. Nevertheless, I'm happy I asked, for how is progress to be attained without measurement, analysis, and truthful introspection, followed by course correction?

I am confident (probability = 1) that Christ provided the way, means, and example of how we can be made clean and receive exaltation. At the same time, though, I want to work on my confidence that I can/will do what is necessary to become clean.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Placement

We took a trip to the mall recently. While Maryann shopped for what she needed, I took the children to one of the play areas to have fun. The setup was perfect for romping children looking for good, clean fun—except for the background.

Perhaps wanting to have a prominent place near the food court, a women's underwear store lay directly across from the children's play area. As I sat and watched my children enjoy themselves, I had to consciously try to filter out the multiple immodest advertisements adorning the store's facade. This made keeping a watchful eye difficult.

I wished I could set my eyes as I would the lens of a camera: with the focus in one place, having all other depths blurred beyond recognition. Instead, I fought the mysteriously natural tendency of my mind to want to focus on the images and shapes in the background because of their shape and position.

As I considered my position, words of Isaiah came to mind that I always found funny when I was younger because of their almost comic use of great descriptive words (see Isa. 3:16-24). However, I found no humor in the predictions that day, especially as I observed the sweet smile of my pure daughter in front of filth, unaware as she was of what lie behind her (thankfully).

How can I help my dear children rise above the temptations of the world—which evil is increasing in both magnitude and frequency—while being surrounded by near-constant exposure? The knowledge that such are a sign of the last days (see 2 Tim. 3:1-7) is of little comfort as viewed from a very personal level; I'm talking about my children, not some abstract concept.


Perhaps one answer lies in the war chapters of the Book of Mormon. The people of the Lord were under attack in dangerous warfare (recall Alma 49&50), yet they found success through fortifications. They strengthened their defenses through inspired and innovative means and found protection.

What can we use for protection?

I think of the charge to "put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil" (see Eph. 6:11-18). This account gives, perhaps, more practical application of defense: we are provided with a list of things we can do to guard against evil. In the August Ensign (link), Elder Hales provides additional insight:

The “helmet of salvation” guards our reasoning, intellect, and thoughts.

The “breastplate of righteousness” helps us to have the Spirit with us always, guarding our heart and soul.

Having our “loins girt about with truth” gives us the foundation to build faith and develop our testimony.

The “sword of the Spirit” is the word of God to pierce the darkness so that we may have light and truth to guide our way in life.

The “shield of faith” helps us withstand the fiery darts of the adversary.

Having our “feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace” by reading and studying the scriptures helps us be obedient to the laws, ordinances, commandments, and covenants of God.

Returning to modesty. We know that "the way you dress is a reflection of what you are on the inside" (For the Strength of Youth). I want to thank my mother for something that she has done for our little Rebecca, perhaps unaware. After having seen cute, playful (and expensive) dresses at a shop, she ventured that she could make them herself for her granddaughters. A trip to the store supplied her with clearanced shirts and fabric. Armed with materials, skill, imagination, and large amounts of love, she set to work. The results of her "labor of love" are modest dresses that the children love (see Rebecca in one, below).


How does this relate to the "way you dress" quote from above? My mother knows who her granddaughters are, and she is aware of their divine potential as daughters of God. This loving act of making dresses has not only revealed one aspect of her unending love, but has given her granddaughters an additional bit of armor: pure love.

I hope that it will prove safe to practice the belief that if children find pure love, support, and the blessings of the gospel of Jesus Christ at home, then they will be able to withstand the evils of the world and remain unscathed.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Sand and Stars

We read a new book from my mother on a recent trip to the temple, I Love You More, by Judy Cooley. Without giving away the ending, a daughter and father have a contest of comparing how much they love the other, getting bigger and better each time. Near the pinnacle of competition is the trumping of "I love you more than there are grains of sand on the beach," with "I love you more than there are stars in the night sky."
That's a lot of love.

This comparison reminded me of the wonderful promises given to Abraham as part of the Abrahamic covenant: "I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea shore" (Gen. 22:17).

I wondered which was more—sand or stars. Elder Maxwell has sited the results of scientific research that there are "more stars in the sky than there are grains of sand in every beach and desert on Earth" (see full article here). Wow!

More stars, then.

The similarity of the numeric comparison of sand and stars made me think that there may have been something more profound implied. As part of Abraham's covenant, I am one of the near-numberless grains of sand posterity. But even more, I know that I can be "as the stars of the heaven" (Gen. 22:17) in quality and brilliance, through Christ. I feel that my potential is more like that of a bright star, than of a tiny grain of sand. Perhaps the sand and stars can be thought of as quantity and quality, respectively.


The comparison of self to stars is limited, though. We are more valuable than stars—we are children of God! Our Father knows us and loves us. I'm reminded, again, of Elder Maxwell's astronomic comparison in this theme:

I testify to you that God has known you individually, brethren, for a long, long time (see D&C 93:23). He has loved you for a long, long time. He not only knows the names of all the stars (see Ps. 147:4; Isa. 40:26); He knows your names and all your heartaches and your joys! By the way, you have never seen an immortal star; they finally expire. But seated by you tonight are immortal individuals—imperfect but who are, nevertheless, “trying to be like Jesus”! (link to talk)

I'm grateful for the knowledge and potential that is available through the loving plan of our Father, as administered in and through the atonement of his only begotten Son, Jesus Christ.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Concern

Here are two observances of David's concern for others:

Permission
When I'm home in the mornings, I will often hear David calling from the restroom asking permission to flush the toilet. I wondered why he did this at first, and after asking him, he revealed that he didn't want the noise of the flush to wake Maryann and baby Benjamin (who sometimes get to sleep in on weekends).

Instead of pointing out that his calling to me across the house may be louder than any flushing, I simply smile and reassure him that the noise shouldn't be too loud to disturb others.

Worry
We went to San Antonio last weekend to visit the temple and the zoo. The children and I played at a park while Maryann assisted with sealings at the temple. We returned to the temple at an appointed time to meet Maryann, but had to wait a while for her to finish (it took longer than anticipated). While we were waiting, we observed many newly married couples emerging from the temple—reportedly, it was the temple's busiest day for marriages to date. I was making comments on the happy couples and comparing to my marriage day, when David became worried.

With genuine sincere concern, David announced, "Daddy, I think someone married Mommy and took her away!"

His fear spread to Rebecca and they both looked horrified as they, no doubt, imagined life without their tender mother. I tried to reassure them that all was well, but they then waited anxiously the remaining minutes until Maryann emerged. I sensed a collective sigh of relief when they saw her glowing, smiling face.

These are just two examples of our sweet boy's love and concern for others. Such big love from such a little boy.


Isn't the purity of children wonderful?

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Do vs. Be

I recall someone saying that if you are ever having difficulty understanding why someone is doing a certain thing, try to remember that (most) people make decisions based on rational thoughts. With this in mind, you can try to understand what, in their rational thinking, caused/causes certain behavior or action.

This line of reasoning sounded great until I tried to put it into practice.

It turns out that ascribing others' motivation (rational thoughts) is quite difficult, if not impossible. There goes that idea.

I've been thinking of this flawed instruction as I've tried to understand why certain people do certain things lately. Instead of providing much clarity, I've raised questions within myself:

Do I express approval/love based solely on others' actions? To what degree are actions influenced by who the person really is down deep? How can I look past illogical (at least to me), frustrating, and/or hurting actions of others and live Jesus' new commandment to "love one another; as I have loved you"—to really "love one another" (see John 13:34-35)?

There is a distinct difference between performance and motivation. Performance is what we do—our actions; motivation is what moves us in our actions—who we are. I think of this difference frequently when I try to instill discipline in my children (and myself). It seems that focusing only on performance is very limiting because it would require the creation of an exhaustive list actions were outlawed individually, one-by-one. However, if I can focus on motivation, then perhaps I'll make some headway with discipleship (including good behavior) by teaching to embrace actions that are based on a good motivation.

I've been trying to put this into practice. For example, when David has difficult days—days where good actions are lacking—I make an effort to remind him (in word and deed) that I love him, even for the sole reason that he is my son (compare with Moses 1:3-8). I don't want my dear boy to think that I will ever not love him because of anything that he will do.

But this isn't enough. While putting David to bed after good days, I ask him to recount the fun things he did that day. After he lists his adventures, I help him remember things he did well, particularly actions I want him to repeat (e.g. sharing, helping). With these actions fresh on his mind, I'll ask him if he knows that I love him. He will assert that he does, after which I thank him for being a good boy and say something like, "I sure love that you're a big helper and very nice, but even more, I love you because you are my son. I will always love you. I love what you do when you're good, but you're my son and I love you just for that."


This seems to be working well for us, but, in addition, it is helping me find answers to my questions. I'm finding that I can love others for being themselves, independent of actions. Further, I'm observing (in myself) that actions can be quite far from the inner person, but shaping of motivation can yield better performance. Finally, I've seen that to love others as Christ loves them is a sort of circular activity. As I try to love them, I find that I do love them, which brings about more love, which is added to even more love, etc. (the development of this sort of love is really facilitated by service, too).

Do vs. Be
Apparently Be wins, because when we consider the love that others have for us, with God as supreme example, the love stems from who we are, not necessarily what we do. Our actions qualify us for certain blessings, but other rights are independent of actions, and this includes the right to love.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Vitals

While out running errands recently, David, Rebecca, and I stopped by the courthouse to pick up Benjamin's birth certificate. The path to the necessary office was tortuous and non-intuitive. However, after going to the basement and finding the proper path, we found an instructive sign. This sign in represented here:


The sign was meant as directions down an obscure hallway to the appropriate office(s) for certificates, but I took it as more. I read it as a list (though, not necessarily in chronological order).

Vitals: Birth, Death, Marriage.

We have all been born. We will all die. But what of marriage?

We know that according to the great plan of our loving Father, that it is through birth, death, and resurrection that we obtain a glorified, immortal body and thus progress towards becoming more like Christ, through Christ (see Alma 34:9). I thought of this truth and the sign in the basement of the courthouse this month while reading and teaching the message from the living prophet of God (see Ensign article here). In addition, I thought of the requirement of marriage—a celestial marriage (celestial meaning the type of marriage)—in order to qualify for exaltation, as recorded in scripture (see D&C 131:1-4).

Thinking of celestial glory, though, reminds me of another list—more exhaustive than I found on that basement sign. This list (found in D&C 76:50-70) states the glory and reward of exalted beings in the celestial kingdom. I particularly like the charge to "glory in God" (v. 61) and the reminder that we will only be made perfect "through Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, who wrought out this perfect atonement through the shedding of his own blood" (v. 69).

As I return my thoughts to that old sign, I express love and gratitude for my parents for their role in my birth and upbringing. In addition, I testify of Christ and his willingness and ability to save me from the effects of both sin and death. Finally, I hope to convey my deepest love, appreciation, and gratitude for my dear wife, Maryann, for who she is and all that she does to help our marriage truly be celestial.

I love you, Princess.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Conference Quotes

I recorded some interesting quotes while at a conference in San Diego early this month. The conference was for GIS by ESRI (Environmental Systems Research Institute).

I hope to invoke the colloquy aspect of this blog and invite discussion; please comment if any of the quotes strike a chord with you.

We don’t inherit the earth from our parents, we borrow it from our children. (Dirk Kempthorne, U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary)

It doesn’t matter how much oil or coal is on the earth—what matters is that we turn to renewable resources as fast as possible. (Peter Raven, President of Missouri Botanical Garden)

Confidence is the feeling you have before you understand the situation. (Clint Brown, ESRI)

If you can’t explain what you’re trying to do, in English, then you can’t model it. (Kevin Johnston, ESRI)

Use the gray hair or get your own. (Steve Grisé, ESRI)

This is like an architect in a trailer park – it's interesting, but not very useful (Steve Grisé, ESRI)

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

As Good as it's Going to Get

Have you ever left a note on the bathroom mirror long-term as a reminder either to do or be something? If you have, try to remember how long it took before the note completely disappeared from notice—it was still there, mind you, it had just blended into the background and thus escaped attention.

I work with the young men in my ward. At last night's activity, one young man reported that his brother reads books with all sorts of swear words and doesn't notice them anymore. I asked the brother about it, and he confirmed that he has become desensitized to swearing.

I've been thinking about words, language, and desensitization lately, even prior to the brothers episode. I wonder what I've become desensitized to. Do I not notice swear words? Do I no longer cringe when the Lord's name is used in vain? Are "I love you"s falling on desensitized ears? Do I not pick up on the underlying pleading for personal attention in my children's requests?

I hope not, but I don't know.

My wife and I have been noticing the apparently increased use of substitute swear words by those near us. These are sayings or exclamations that aren't really swear words, but mean the same thing. Is using a substitute the same as a genuine swear word? Today's Non Sequitur comic asks the same question:


One may ask why swearing is bad; they're just words, after all. I like the following quotes:

There are no doubt some unacceptable words that … are offensive only because society happens to consider them so. We should keep in mind that many good people (right or wrong) are offended by these terms and consider them evidence of a lack of Christian dignity or even a lack of morality (Daniel S. Hess, “Offend Not in Word,” New Era, Mar. 1975, p. 9).


Despite the prevalence of profanity, there is still good language and bad language, refined speech and crude speech, reverent language and irreverent language, and the prevalence of such practice hasn’t removed the difference between the two (Richard L. Evans, “The Use of Profanity,” Improvement Era, June 1965, p. 554).


In addition to societal considerations, we have the commandment of the Lord: "Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain" (Ex. 20:7). The historical application of this law (and others) resulted in an extreme view of its violation:

Long prior to the time of Christ, certain schools among the Jews, ever intent on the observance of the letter of the law, though not without disregard of its spirit, had taught that the mere utterance of the name of God was blasphemous, and that the sin of so doing constituted a capital offense (James Talmage, Jesus the Christ, ch. 4, end note 3).


What reaction should we have when we hear swearing, particularly invoking the name of Deity irreverently? I'm not keen on stoning or putting others to death (contrast Lev 24:16 and John 8:7), yet I hope that I don't get so used to it that it doesn't make me shiver inside, or use watered-down versions as substitutes myself.

Is there any hope of finding respite from swearing? Elder Bednar observed: "As bad as it is is as good as it's going to get." This was regarding the state of the world's wickedness, and is applicable here. This makes sense and goes hand-in-hand with the knowledge that "the world is ripening in iniquity" (D&C 18:6). A BYU professor reminded that the ripening process of fruit, a banana, for example, involves going from green, to yellow, to brown. Bananas don't go from brown back to green (at least not in a good way). Ripening is not cyclic. In other words: "As bad as it is is as good as it's going to get." Nevertheless, we can find safety and protection. Consider the following verse in context of this discussion:

But my disciples shall stand in holy places, and shall not be moved; but among the wicked, men shall lift up their voices and curse God and die (D&C 45:32).


I want to take a fresh look at my life, including my thoughts and words, to see if I have slipped into the habit of using substitute (or genuine) profanity. Clearly I'm in need of such an examination because last night Maryann pointed out that I've started using the phrase, "Thanks, man" when dealing with cashiers, guys, etc. If this seemingly benign phrase that is foreign to my personality has slipped in, what else may have snuck in, too?

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Food for Thought

I disappoint myself daily in my quest for perfection (see Matt. 5:48). I know what I would like to do and who I want to be like, but I continue to fall short. Nevertheless, instead of giving up hope and condemning myself, I continue to try again (and again, and again). However, I've noticed that I sometimes don't give to others the fresh starts that keep me going. I tend to be like Mr. Darcy in Austen's Pride and Prejudice: "My good opinion once lost, is lost forever."

I need to change.

I remember the words of Christ: "For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again" (Matt. 7:2). Clearly I need to "be of the same mind, one towards another" (Romans 12:16) and have charity, compassion, and forgiveness.

How can I expect perfection of myself and not expect it in others, too?

I think the answer comes from realizing that while I expect perfection, I will and do fail. Yet I still try again—meaning that I forgive myself (after seeking forgiveness). Hence, I should apply the same to others and forgive.

Elementary.

What obligation do I have to help others to be perfect? Is it prudent for me to correct others? (I really wonder about this.) The charge to "work out your own salvation with fear and trembling" (Phil. 2:12) casts an individualistic light on the discussion, and leads many to believe that others, and ourselves, are entirely alone in our efforts to be like Christ.

This is wrong.

The Philippians scripture needs context. The next verse reminds: "For it is God which worketh in you" (v. 13). The discussion on faith and works is aided by C. S. Lewis' observation:

Regarding the debate about faith and works: It’s like asking which blade in a pair of scissors is most important (link).

The Philippians verses suggest that in our work to be like Christ, we can expect help, even line upon line, precept upon precept (see Isa. 28:10, 13 and D&C 12:12). How wonderful and reassuring.

Now, returning to expectations for others, I'm reminded of a teaching technique that my friend uses when working with young men. Instead of expecting them to live at his level of understanding and action, he teaches them to live so that they can have the Spirit of God with them. His logic is that in order to have the Spirit, they will be living at the right level, doing what they're supposed to be doing. This might be different—either more or less—than his level of action and understanding, but although different, it is right for them. This understanding helps in judging, too. How can I judge others for doing what's right for them? I can't.

I was reminded of this approach when reading with my wife recently. We read Romans 14:14 and had a discussion on personal understanding of commandments or ways of living. Look for the relationship to my friend's theory in the following:

I know, and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus, that there is nothing unclean of itself: but to him that esteemeth any thing to be unclean, to him it is unclean.

It seems that if we understand something to be wrong, then it is wrong. If we feel it is right, then it is right. We are aided by commandments and the words of the prophets, but we still need to be careful because this may lead to a broad-brush application on life where one can say that he feels right in doing wrong. You cannot do wrong and feel right, though.

Paul's context in Romans 14 was regarding judging and food. Briefly, I would like to say that I think it is interesting how many view LDS members' adherence to the Word of Wisdom purely in the view of the thou shalt nots. I don't want to be defined by what I don't do or don't believe, but rather by what I do, who I am, and what I believe.

Interestingly, Paul's words from Romans 14 are the base of an application of the Word of Wisdom that my wife and I use. In the Word of Wisdom, principles of health are taught, and instruction is given to avoid specific substances, but debate and discussion continue on certain items (usually caffeine). I've represented, generically, the Word of Wisdom in the following graphic. One side shows good things, the other bad, with the topics of debate shown in the center.



Which side should caffeine be on? Many have asked this question. I echo Nephi: "Have ye inquired of the Lord?" (1 Ne. 15:8). If the item hasn't made official church teachings but you're still curious or concerned, look to the source: Ask the Lord. If after asking you esteem caffeine unclean, stay away from it. If you feel that it is fine, go for it. This is a nice little application of Romans 14:14, but it can be applied to other things as well. (I personally avoid caffeinated drinks, but enjoy chocolate. Am I a hypocrite? Paul says no.)

We can involve the Lord in our lives, and follow his instructions to "look unto [Him] in every thought" and to "doubt not, fear not" (D&C 6:36).

If I look to Christ in every thought, I will make progress in my quest for perfection, I will find forgiveness for myself and others, I will be happy, and I will become more like him—which is my ultimate goal.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Wind and Will

I keep a close watch on the weather predictions because I ride my bike to work most days. It probably doesn't make much difference whether it rains or shines, though: I'll likely still be riding. I guess I just like to know before hand what I'll be up against.

The south winds that are customary here bring both heat and a combination of ease and pain. Heat because they come from the warmer south; ease and pain because they provide head winds on the way (pain) and tail winds on the way home (ease).

However, this wind formula is not always valid. Take yesterday, for example. My ride to work was against a south wind, as usual, but by the time I left for home, the wind had shifted so it was coming against me on the way home, too. Realizing this, I admit that I looked for an easy way out: the bus.

A bus route goes along half of my eight-mile trip home. I left work hoping to catch a bus and ease my trip home. As I approached the intersection of my route home with the bus route, I saw the bus at the optimal bus stop. However, I had to wait at a light for a left turn, and while waiting, the bus pulled away.

In this season of the Olympic Games, I determined to give my all in my pursuit of the bus. The bus, I thought, was my gold medal.

As I chased the bus, I felt the pains of exertion and the thrill of closure as I would almost overtake it, just to see it pull away right before I could get there. This happened a few times, and I knew that my chances of catching the bus were limited because there is a point after which the next stop is a considerable distance away, with two sizable hills to overcome before it. In this stretch, the bus could easily pull away and I would be unable to regain the lost ground.


Knowing what was at stake, I pushed harder than before. My muscles ached and my body craved relief as I fought the wind and the distance between me and the bus...

I was too late. The bus pulled away, once again, before I arrived. Instead of giving up, though, I pictured the five rings of the Olympics and pressed on. I could catch the bus, I figured, in the next few miles. Yet, as I pushed on as hard as before, I felt a part of me speak up.

Apparently in my drive to "win" I forgot that I was riding as hard and fast as I could against a head wind in 100+ degree weather. From deep within I felt a prayer rise to the surface, "Thy will be done."

The part of me that could see clearly in this one-sided competition reached upwards, and the rest of me soon followed. Instead of killing myself to try to find relief, I tried trusting in the Lord. I was going against a head wind, but I knew that with the Lord's help I could make it home, and arrive safely.

So, as though a switch had been activated, I looked upward as I pressed onward. Interestingly, the rest of my ride home was more enjoyable than the first half had been. The pain of competition had been replaced with the peace of cooperation—cooperation between the Lord and me.

While I may not have won the gold medal in the bus chase, I still feel like I won. Besides, when I'm on the Lord's team, I know I will win.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Basic Instructions

I was introduced to interesting concepts at a conference some time ago. We were discussing how things are (or should be) designed, and the conceptual models that assist others in using things we make/design. I subsequently checked out and read the source: a book titled The Design of Everyday Things, by Donald Norman. I really liked it, and recommend it, too.


Besides hilariously bad examples of design and instructions, was the idea that if a simple design requires text instructions, even basic words, you (the designer) have failed. A simple example is a door at a public place. If the door has to have the Push and Pull words spelled out, then the design is a failure—there must be a better, more intuitive design.

I was reminded of this at the hospital the night that Benjamin was born. The bed that Maryann lay in had standard hospital bed controls to raise/lower the bed components—nothing special yet. What made the design stand out was the conceptual model of a pregnant woman that was built into the picture that accompanied the controls (see below).


An effective and humorous illustration. (After noticing the protruding stomach, I commented that they must have designed the bed with me in mind.)

I've thought of this recently as I've worked with a much more complex design issue—trying to help our sweet children remember to get along and be nice. I caught myself wondering why there weren't basic instructions on child rearing. Then I recalled a favorite passage of scripture with a personal twist:


No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of [parenthood,] only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned; by kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile— Reproving betimes with sharpness [clarity], when moved upon by the Holy Ghost; and then showing forth afterwards an increase of love toward him whom thou hast reproved, lest he esteem thee to be his enemy(D&C 121:41-43).

This priesthood instruction seems to apply. I, as a parent, shouldn't try to get my children to think, do, or be something simply because I said so. I shouldn't rely on parental authority (think of the too-easy "Because I said so" response) in my teaching. Knowing this, though, I wondered what could prevent me from going from this


to this

(at least in my eyes, and possibly theirs) as I raise my children.

Is there a way for me to, instead, work towards being perceived as this:?

Yes! Absolutely! Of course.

There is a way for me to be kind, loving, and Christ-like, and the basic instructions were provided by Him through those scriptures that came to mind, along with the firm rebuke from the Spirit that accompanied the message.

I love that we have both the words of the scriptures, and the catalyst of the Spirit to guide us through life and provide basic instructions, which if heeded, can help us to be happy now and in the future. In addition, I love the modern revelation of living prophets, which includes such counsel as:

Husband and wife have a solemn responsibility to love and care for each other and for their children. “Children are an heritage of the Lord” (Psalms 127:3). Parents have a sacred duty to rear their children in love and righteousness, ... to teach them to love and serve one another, [and] to observe the commandments of God (source).

I hope to continue to learn to love and lead my children as I follow Christ. I also want to remember that the family is the basic unit of the church and that solutions to our problems are centered in the Christ-centered family.

(Notice that it's the solutions to our problems that are centered in the family, not the source of our problems.)

I love my family and the basic instructions we have to live together in love.


(By the way, the pictures of me are from my BYU ID, and Maryann made the angel Clark while playing with Photoshop, so I made the evil Clark to provide an alternate point of view.)

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Benjamin Turner Siler

We are pleased to announce the birth of our son, Benjamin Turner Siler. He joined us 23 Jul 2008 (on his due date), weighing 7 lb 2 oz, and was 20 inches long.


Both mother and baby are healthy and happy and would appreciate any prayers on their behalf.

We have more photos and videos on our family website, on Benjamin's temporary page (click here).

Monday, July 21, 2008

Sharpened Judgment

History of Mystery
The pencil sharpeners at my elementary school became a mystery to me. As if the pencil convention wasn't mysterious enough (Who would choose to use a No. 2 pencil if a No. 1 were actually available?).

Each time I approached the sharpener I wanted to change the size selector. There was a spinning disk with multiple sized apertures; I think all pencil sharpeners had the same setup. I imagined the thrill of finding a pencil that was either quite skinny or rather rotund. Then I could finally change the size selector!


It turns out that I did find a non-standard pencil. Imagine my happiness at having a large pencil. Not only did it make my then small hands look even smaller, but I could adjust the sharpener! I could hardly wait to go to school.

With confidence I stepped up to the sharpener that I had such a remarkable history with. No longer would I be limited to the No. 2 ways. It felt like I had the number one pencil (like the ring of power from Lord of the Rings). My heartbeat was palpable, and my left hand's senses seemed heightened as I guided the special pencil toward the adjusted sharpener. Through the guide it slid as if realizing its destiny.

But wait. What's wrong? Obstruction? Not during this moment!

Apparently the design included multiple sizes on the guide, yet the actual behind-the-scenes opening of the sharpener—that led to the grinding action—was the exact size for that old No. 2. Thwarted by oversight.

Application
This experience has come to mind in two settings recently: judging others, and feeling like I don't belong.

Judging
When confronted with different cultures, practices, or beliefs, do I have the front of acceptance (multiple sized holes) yet only allow certain "pencils" in? Perhaps the more meaningful question is: Is this wrong?

Judging has many negative connotations, yet we are supposed to judge in some cases, and not to judge in others. "Judge not, that ye be not judged" (Matt. 7:1) seems to conflict with "Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment" (John 7:24). This reminds me of an excellent talk by Elder Oaks, "Judge Not and Judging," where this apparent contradiction is discussed in great detail. As a summary, he said:
I am convinced that these seemingly contradictory directions are consistent when we view them with the perspective of eternity. The key is to understand that there are two kinds of judging: final judgments, which we are forbidden to make; and intermediate judgments, which we are directed to make, but upon righteous principles.

So, then, to answer my own question of whether it is wrong to be like the pencil sharpener, I say yes and no. It is not wrong to judge righteously, but it is probably wrong to have the appearance of accepting all kinds of options (read: sins). Instead, I want to accept all people with genuine love, but to leave my sins and theirs at the door.

I Don't Belong
There are times when shyness or embarrassment lead me to feel like I don't belong in places where I should belong. There are other times when I feel like I don't belong in places where I really don't belong, where I shouldn't be at all.

I can work on shyness and avoid doing embarrassing things, but the phrase "stand in holy places" comes to mind as I consider where I should (and shouldn't) be. I love the question and answer from Psalms:
[Q:] Who shall ascent into the hill of the Lord? or who shall stand in his holy place?
[A:] He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart (24:3-4).

The distinction between, and results of being in the right place or the wrong place is illustrated beautifully in the Doctrine and Covenants:
My disciples shall stand in holy places, and shall not be moved; but among the wicked, men shall lift up their voices and curse God and die (45:32).

Clearly where we stand influences where we will end up.

In my quest to stand in holy places and love genuinely, I hope to use sharpened judgment not only between good and bad, but between the many good and noble choices that are available. I want to be an instrument in the hands of God (see Alma 29:9), much like a well sharpened No. 2 pencil.

After all, it's fine to be a number two because God is number one.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Dreams

In Joel we read of revelation through dreams and visions:

And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions (2:28).

I love the revelatory insights gained through visionary dreams, as recorded in scripture and histories. Even though I am becoming an old man, my experiences with dreams has been less inspired lately.

A few nights ago, I nearly woke the whole household as I loudly cried, very drawn out, in a high voice "Why?". This was a response to a terrible dream that I was suffering through. Historically, I've been able to control dreams that are particularly unpleasant, but this time I was unable to change things or escape. I knew it was a dream, but I couldn't get out of it. My exclaimed question provided, albeit more dramatically than I would have hoped, a ticket back to consciousness.

Diametrically opposed to this experience is the dream of the next day. This time I experienced a dream that I didn't want to end. Maryann and I were younger, freer, and much in love (we're still much in love, by the way—we're just not as young or carefree.). We were in a place with many other people, but we weren't concerned for them—we were engrossed in each other. We were filled with happiness, joy, and love. I didn't want it to end.

The most fun part of the dream was the dancing.

As hard as it was to escape the sense of freedom that the dream provided, I was thrilled to realize that while I may not be as young or have as much free time as the dream portrayed, I still have the love for (and of) the beautiful wife of my youth (see Prov 5:18).

A dream is a dream, but I have love in reality.

It's fun to realize that my wife is still the girl of my dreams.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Home and Temple

I love being with my family. There is great peace in having a home where love is felt and shared, and eternal goals are pursued. I recall the comparison: "Only the home can compare with the temple in sacredness" (source).


Yesterday we took a trip to San Antonio for family fun and temple worship. It's interesting how close in harmony those two purposes are, or can be. Can family fun and temple worship be in harmony? Yes!

"Happiness in family life is most likely to be achieved when founded upon the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ. Successful marriages and families are established and maintained on principles of faith ... and wholesome recreational activities" (source, emphasis added).


After a nice break at the zoo, we headed to the temple. The last stretch of the route takes us on a twisty road with nice views. At one point the temple suddenly appears. Each time we get to this point, we ask the children to identify the temple and then we sing I Love to See the Temple (listen). However, after spotting the temple, and before we sang, David announced in the most tender and loving tone, "I love you, Mommy!" Even though he hasn't yet worshiped in the temple with us, something about the temple invoked this beautiful reaction. I think it's because he can feel the Spirit on our temple visits, and I think he understands that the temple is special because we treat it special.

If the home can compare with the temple in sacredness, and I know it can, then I want to have a home where we know that home is special because we treat it special. I want us to share tender "I love you's" at the thought of being together. Most of all, I want the Spirit to be in our home, comparable to the sweet feeling of love and peace that we find at the temple. I want to establish our family on faith and wholesome family fun.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Hobby Tradition

I read an account of a man who followed a years-old hobby/talent tradition. At the start of each year he would choose a new hobby or talent to work on, and would faithfully spend his spare time in pursuit of developing that talent. At the end of the year, having become quite proficient at this hobby, he would choose a new hobby/talent, and thus continue the tradition.

What a powerful idea! I thought, "Why don't I do that?", but in introspective reflection on my free time, my thoughts focused on another powerful concept. As I assessed what I do with my spare time in contemplation of focusing on a yearly new hobby, I realized that my family is my hobby, and I'm okay with that. In fact, I think I prefer that I spend all of my extra time (which isn't so very much sometimes) with my dear wife and sweet children over almost anything else. Developing other hobbies and talents is fine, but I want my family to last forever, and I know that through Christ, it can.

I put this principle to practice today while playing outside with the children. The skies turned dark, and the rain came. We quickly grabbed an umbrella and the camera.

We spent the entire rainfall playing, laughing, and dancing in the rain. Hoping to capture our fun to show Maryann (who was resting) and to preserve so the children can remember the spontaneous fun times of youth, I snapped as many pictures as I could. While doing so, though, I realized that I was enjoying our fun time together while staring intently at the camera's small 1.5" LCD screen! The children were giggling, live in front of me, and I was watching it on a small screen!

Some hobby.

Luckily, this realization came near the start of our rain-romp. I tried to still grab pictures, but to look past the screen and hope that the quantity of pictures I took would equate to at least one or two of quality. Sure, the pictures may not be framed as well as they may have been otherwise, but we all had great fun in the process—I was able to dance alongside my little ones.

Now that's a hobby worth having.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Dependence on Independence Day

What is a holiday without meaningfulness?

This Independence Day (click for song) was filled with family fun. The highlight of my day was a brief and profound realization which was experienced at an unexpected time.

We went to Lake Pflugerville for an evening fireworks display. After arriving with time to relax, the children and I went into the crowd to explore what the vendors had to offer. We were surprised to see so many people crowded on a relatively small shoreline (the unofficial headcount was 44,000—David said he thought all of Texas was there!). As I walked through the immense crowd, I felt like I was in a sea of unfamiliar faces.

In such a large crowd, I was surprised that I didn't see anyone I knew. While I stopped to kneel and point something out to the children, my thoughts filled my mind. There I was, surrounded by myriads that I didn't know, of practically every walk of life, when I had a distinct conflicting feeling: I felt very alone, yet, at the same time, I felt incredible peace and love. The latter were unmistakable fruits of the Spirit (see Gal 5:22-23). In a wash of loneliness, a flood of love and light.

As I tried to package the feelings up to store in my heart, I felt that the message was this: It doesn't matter that many don't know you, and that you don't know many; what matters is that God knows you, and that you know Him.

A picture that Maryann took later (see above) serves as an illustration. I sometimes sit alone with my family on one shore while we see thousands across the way. We may, at times, feel lonely, but the love of God (picture the sunlight ... or Son's light) warms us and fills us with love. (I love this illustration because the light shines on all, and we have the opportunity to reflect the love of God by the things we say and do.)

I'm grateful for the unasked-for gift of peace that I received this Independence Day. God knows and loves me, and I know and love Him (see Romans 8:16).

Dependence on Independence Day. That is meaningful.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Broken Bones

Our little Rebecca had a fall from the swing set the other day and injured her arm. This experience invoked many thoughts for me. I had an appreciation of her love when she clung to me so tightly afterward as I tried to console her, I felt her trust in me when she laughed and played with me while waiting for the doctor at the office but then quickly turned reticent when the doctor arrived, and I felt like my heart would break when she was terrified getting x-rays and I had to hold her in position with her pleading eyes looking up at me for relief and comfort.

This emotional situation produced a fairly obvious comparison to our relationship with God. As I observed the similarities between Rebecca and me, and me and our Father, I wondered if I trust and love as much as I should. I think I'm quick to look up when I feel down, but do I love and trust as I ought? The need to be like a child resonates here (see Matt 18:2-5).

I want to do better.

What is it that separates us (me) from God? When my thoughts, desires, and intents are not in harmony with His, I drift and lose the love and trust that I recognize that I need. More explicitly, when I sin I become unclean, and we know that "no unclean thing can dwell with God" (1 Ne. 10:21).

I'm grateful for repentance and that through Christ I can be clean. Luke attests to the "joy in heaven" when we repent, but the verse seems to place a premium on sinning and repentance over being just:

Joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance (Luke 15:7).

Can this be true? Is it better to sin than to not sin?

Recall that this verse precedes the parable of the prodigal son (see Luke 15:11-32), in which we read the reply to the just son's concern: "Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine" (v. 31).

Liz Lemon Swindle

Perhaps the question is moot considering that we all need repentance. Consider the interesting case Elder Dallin H. Oaks used in his BYU Devotional, Sin and Suffering (note the broken bone aspect):

I plead with you, my brothers and sisters, my young friends and my older friends, avoid transgression! The idea that one is better off after one has sinned and repented is a devilish lie of the adversary. Does anyone here think that it is better to learn firsthand that a certain blow will break a bone or a certain mixture of chemicals will explode and sear off our skin? Are we better off after we have sustained and then healed such injuries? I believe we all can see that it is better to heed the warnings of wise persons who know the effects on our bodies of certain traumas.

Just as we can benefit from someone else's experience in matters such as these, we can also benefit from the warnings contained in the commandments of God. We don't have to have personal experience with the effects of serious transgressions to know that they are destructive of our eternal welfare.


Shortly after this illustration, Elder Oaks recounts an experience where his son wondered if it would be a good idea to try alcohol and tobacco. Elder Oaks' response:

I replied that if he wanted to try something he ought to go out in the barnyard and eat a little manure. He recoiled in horror. "Ooh, that's gross," he reacted.

"I'm glad you think so," I said, "but why don't you just try it out so you will know for yourself? While you're proposing to try one thing that you know is not good for you, why don't you apply that principle to some others?


What can I learn from all of this? Sinning to experience the thrill of the sin is as silly as eating manure when I know that both will "taste bad." I don't need to suffer through the pain of broken bones to know that it will hurt to break them. Nevertheless, when I do sin and figuratively break bones, I know that I will be scooped up by a loving Father in Heaven, to whom I can cling close, in whom I can trust, and I know that He will love me through my tears.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Always Shining

While serving as a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I had many profound experiences. As I rode to work in the dark of the early morning, I was reminded of one in particular.

A monthly meeting of many missionaries was being held in which I was asked to present. In the short break before my presentation, I quickly stepped outside, looked up at the sky, and returned inside. A friend saw my curious behavior and inquired what I had just done.

"I wanted to see if it was still a beautiful day and if the sun was shining so I could report it in my talk."

My friend shared a truth with me when he placed a hand on my shoulder, looked me in the eye, and said, "Elder Siler, the sun is always shining."



I've thought of this truth many times since—usually on cloudy, gloomy days, but also at times when life seems especially hard and the way is unusually dark. Recall the words of Christ:

Ye are the light of the world... Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven (Matt 5:14-16).

I am the light which ye shall hold up—that which ye have seen me do (3 Nephi 18:24).


How can I shine my light and Christ's light? Through the things I do—through my works.

I recall a few people who made a play on words with my last name and how I tried to let light shine through me as a missionary. I was dubbed Elder Smiler. I love serving the Lord, and I guess I smile when I do so.

However, if you like my smile, you've got to see my wife's!


She reminds me of the virtuous woman spoken of in Proverbs: "Her price is far above rubies" (Prov 31:10-31). Her loving smile helps me remember that the sun is always shining, and that our love is always growing.