Monday, June 30, 2008

Heaven Observable

I see a lot of shooting stars. I consider myself lucky. Maybe it's just that I'm often riding my bike to work before the sun comes up.

One day last week found me riding to work in the dark through a sparsely wooded area near our home. I saw a "shooting star" that seemed larger and slower than usual. I was thinking how great it is to see shooting stars, and on this particular one when I noticed that it was quite cloudy, and none of the stars were visible. With it being so cloudy, what was the shooting star?

My first solution was that I had seen a UFO. It was early, but the UFO reaction is always short-lived (I sometimes want to leap to the supernatural explanation). About a second later I remembered that we live near an airport, and concluded that the UFO—shooting star—was probably just an everyday, ordinary airplane.

I chuckled to myself (and at myself) for the silly first thought of UFOs. Then, in my wonderings of why people believe strange things I concluded that most beliefs can be viewed as strange. In fact, I remembered a TED talk I had seen some time ago that seeks to answer why people believe strange things (link). This thirteen-minute talk includes some funny examples and ideas. However, the presenter does question intelligent design in comparison to science saying that miracles cannot be tested scientifically or used to explain anything. He would argue that faith, prayer, and answers to prayer aren't valid support; an example that my own beliefs can be viewed as strange!

Despite the perceived strangeness of belief, I'm grateful that the heavens are observable. This is not referring to shooting stars. Even on cloudy days, we have access to divine light and truths that are more spectacular and eternal than the fleeting view of dying shooting stars. I'm reminded of Alma's interchange with the doubting Korihor:

All things denote there is a God; yea, even the earth, and all things that are upon the face of it, yea, and its motion, yea, and also all the planets which move in their regular form do witness that there is a Supreme Creator (Alma 30:44).

I know that God lives, but in addition, I know that He loves me.

I consider myself lucky.

Thursday, June 26, 2008


Have you ever seen that person in the grocery store who sings along to the store's background music? Well, next time you do, stop and say "hi," because that person will probably be me.

Last week's trip to the grocery store found me in a silly mood, so I danced and sang along to the store's music. David, our four-year-old, thought it was great fun. I did too. In fact, I wasn't even aware that the grocery store played music. Totally unaware.

Yesterday found me in the same store again. I guess I wasn't in a silly mood because I wasn't dancing and singing in the store this time. I suppose I returned to my unaware state, because I didn't notice the music at all... at least until after I left. With children and groceries loaded in the car, I burst into a rousing rendition of Downtown. You'll likely sing along: "When you're alone, and life is making you lonely, you can always go - Downtown."

Is the song in your head now? It's back in mine!

For the Strength of Youth
I gave a fireside a few weeks ago on media and entertainment. I also spoke in church last week on the same topic. The primary source was the collection of standards presented in the For the Strength of Youth pamphlet. The section Entertainment and the Media (link) included the following:

"Whatever you read, listen to, or look at has an effect on you."

My presentations focused on the purpose for rules/standards with an emphasis on choosing carefully what we actively view, read, or listen to. I didn't consider the background aspects of each until the Downtown experience.

I recall a time a friend and I were looking for an address while driving. The music was playing—it was always playing—and I turned it down as I looked. My friend laughed at me and asked, "Why did you turn it down? You're looking with your eyes, not your ears."

Although I likely wasn't actively listening to the music that was playing—it was just background music—I turned it down for some reason as I focused on another task. I could pontificate about the influence of music, or the need for quiet when seeking direction, but I'll just remark that this experience was interesting to me. I still remember it.

Shortly after we were married, my parents loaned one of their cars to my wife and me. It was a 1973 Mercury Montego. A big, beautiful, old car. Loaning it was an example of kindness and compassion, but let's talk music. This car only had an AM radio. The combination of lacking modern music options and being newly married led us to not listen to music, but rather to spend time together on our travels talking, laughing, or just enjoying the scenery.

I'm happy to report that after surrendering the Montego back to my parents and with subsequent vehicles, the practice of not listening to music (much) has persisted. Instead of having to talk over the music, we can talk quietly from the heart. Instead of knowing the words to the popular songs of the day, my children know how to talk to their parents. Instead of feeling the need to have noise in our lives, we enjoy the quiet and peaceful (including the benefits of being able to hear the still small voice—which whispers!).

Are we missing out by not listening to much music? Perhaps.

Have we gained anything? Definitely.

Now, please note that we're not anti-music. We still love good music, and we like to sing and dance. Just look for us the next time you're at the grocery store.

I'll be the one singing and dancing in the produce section.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008


"What happens to one happens to all" is a wonderful way of life that results from being community-minded. I've thought of this phrase many times since hearing it in a recent church general conference address (link to talk). While the original application primarily focused on bearing one another's burdens (Mosiah 18:8), I've experienced "what happens to one happens to all" as a kind of mantra as I've been reached out to, and tried to reach out to others in return.

Our ward (local church congregation) has an email listserv that has changed the way I've been able to communicate with others and live the "what happens to one happens to all" way of life. Two experiences of this last week will illustrate:

Maternity Swimsuit
We have a community pool, but have rarely been able to use it due to local vandalism and resulting restrictions on open hours. However, this year, things seem to be in better order and we've finally returned to the pool. This is great fun for the whole family, but my sweet, eight-months-pregnant wife has so far been unable to join in on the fun because she lacks a maternity swimsuit. We've looked around at stores but haven't found one that's 1) in our price range, or 2) what we consider to be modest.

Seeing the disappointment and longing of Maryann on our last outing to the pool, I resolved to seek help. A simple email request for help to the ward listserv resulted in many prompt replies with offers to loan unused maternity swimsuits.

What happens to one happens to all

Biking Tradition
We have a tradition of taking family bike rides each Saturday that we're in town. Our growing family is soon to exceed our bike and trailer capacity. Having had remarkable success with the swimsuit situation, I turned to the ward, via listserv, to see if anyone knew of a great place to find a child bike seat or ride-along trailer. Again, the responses were prompt and incredibly useful. We are now armed with multiple sources to look to find the items we're looking for.

But wait, there's more!

In addition to great advice on places to look (eBay, craigslist, Wal-Mart, etc.), we also got a simple reply: "I have one for you. Call me or stop by."

What happens to one happens to all.

It turns out that this family's neighbors recently gave them two child bike seats, apparently on a whim. When informed that they didn't need two, they were instructed to either use it or give it to someone who could.

We can.

Approaching Community
A story shared from the pulpit recently resonates here. A fine Christian neighbor to our bishop's family (not of our faith) is often seen serving others. He has a riding lawnmower that is, quite honestly, too much for his small yard, but he doesn't stop at his property lines—he proceeds down the street mowing neighbors' yards without fanfare or seeking praise. This kind man is quick to act on visible needs—he helped move a new refrigerator into his neighbor's home, and seeing that the height was too large for the existing counters, arranged for his son to come that evening to raise them. Now that's a tradition that is greater than family bike rides: the tradition of service.

What happens to one happens to all

Why do these acts and ways of life seem so foreign to us? Frankly, because they aren't readily seen... anymore.

I've heard that there was a time when people would relax on their front porch and watch the sun set. Children would play outside with neighborhood friends. Neighbors would stop by to chat or share some baked goods. And when there were needs, the community, or individuals, would respond.

What Can Be Done?
Why are the warm feelings that are evoked when just imagining such a way of life not felt in reality on a regular basis? Why do we isolate ourselves from our neighbors and potential friends? Why do we withhold our time and talents when we know we would feel good through sharing?

I think better questions would be to replace each preceding "we" with "I." Why don't I? Why don't I?

I don't know, but I hope I can find out. Perhaps the time-saving devices that now surround us free up so much time that we fill our schedules with the meaningless, or the less meaningful. Perhaps our desires to be entertained have replaced our needs to love and be loved. Perhaps we're quietly afraid of the unknown, or don't want our needs to be known for fear that it will lessen our reputation.

Perhaps it's a combination of these and many more reasons.

I hope I can replace the "Why Don't I?" questions with "How can I help?", "How are you?", and "Will you help me?"

Or even take it one step further; I hope I will act when I see a need without letting the questions stand in the way of being community-minded. Then, I'll find that what happens to one, really does happen to all.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Toothpaste Diet

I have a sweet tooth. In fact, I probably have two or three. In addition, my metabolism seems to have slown with my old age.

I suspect that my wife is simultaneously working for and against me. After the children go to bed, which is when the sweet teeth are particularly making themselves known, I'll ask Maryann if she wants some dessert. Her convenient reply, "No thanks; I've just brushed my teeth."

Now, I'm all for dental hygiene. I'm also for desserts. Because it's no fun to eat desserts alone when you're with someone you love, I abstain. Thus, she is working for me in helping me stay away from the dangers of desserts. She is also working against me... okay, she really is just working for me. My teeth are cleaner, and in time, I'll be thinner (maybe).

Despite all of this teeth cleaning over dessert eating, the weekend draw for desserts outweighs the toothpaste diet and I end up having a friend to enjoy desserts with.

Life is good.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Lap Exam

I took the day off yesterday to play with family and help with various appointments we had. Of particular note was Rebecca's dental "lap exam." This is where the hygienist and dentist had me hold Rebecca in my lap and lean her back so her head lay in the other lap. Not only did this provide a nice vantage point for the teeth, but it caused me to think of the growth of my little girl.

During the examination, I thought of the implicit trust involved in the whole exercise: here she was in a foreign place with strangers, but she could look up (or is it down?) and see my smiling encouraging face while her teeth were being brushed and examined. I felt quite strongly that I should cherish these moments—I don't imagine that teenagers have "lap exams."

Rebecca was very well behaved and cooperative; some would see this as quite the feat for a two-year-old! I wanted to reward her this, and I wanted to have something specific to give her. However, as I try thinking of an object I could offer as a reward, I felt that something else would be better. I decided to offer "big hugs" as the reward, and I was tickled that she accepted the offer and gave me big hugs in return.

We left the office with Rebecca's teeth cleaner and her smile brighter. I like to think that one reason for her brighter smile was the daddy-daughter time we spent in the dentist's chair together.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Then Fix Things

I finished reading a book draft written by my sister-in-law. I love reading. Passive forms of entertainment can have their effect on us, but there is something more visceral about reading that makes me feel more like I'm acting, instead of just being acted upon. True, reading involves following a prescribed series of words, but the imaginative aspect is fascinating!

The book stirred memories and feelings of life—my life in particular. When I read accounts of others' lives, even fictional ones, I seem to always wish I could go back and do things differently: be more kind to others, reach out to those in need, have more good, clean fun. What I need to do, instead, is look forward and realize that if I don't like how certain things were in the past, I should look to the future to prepare to greet life with a different view: to live without regret.

Good books can provide the feeling of empowerment. In the movie Baptists at our Barbecue (based on a book!), the protagonist laments that the city and local community issues do not improve his attractiveness. The reply of the sage, "Then fix things."

Fresh from a good book, I want to apply the adage then fix things to my life—even to things that may not appear broken! If I can live without regret, fix things around me, and really act (instead of being acted upon), I think life will be as happy as the endings of the books I enjoy so much.

At the same time, I need to remember that it is after (and because of) the struggles that "they lived happily ever after."

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Agency and Responsibility

This morning I prayed with my wife and then gave her a hug, hoping it would last while I was gone. I do this before I leave for work, usually between 4:30 and 5:00 AM. Maryann is typically asleep for our "couple" prayer, but today I realized that I wasn't nearly as alone as I may have felt.

During the prayer, my thoughts moved from one family member to another, finally resting on our little unborn child, Benjamin. I gently rested my hand on Maryann's stomach and felt the sweet and reassuring tapping from our little boy in utero. I loved the comfort that came from those few bumps—I imagined he was giving me the best hug he could, hoping it would last while I was gone. I think it will.

En route to work, I listened to a talk by Elder Oaks, The Weightier Matters. Perhaps with the love bumps from my baby boy still fresh on my heart, the discussion on agency and responsibility as illustrated through the example of abortion seemed particularly captivating. Coupling this with the residual feelings of happiness from the recent celebrations and rememberings of Father's Day, and the following question surfaced:

If current cultural acceptance and availability of abortion stems, primarily, from the firmly-held belief that choice is in no way to be compromised or infringed upon, how far can this logic be spread?

A hypothetical young couple engage in activities that result in the woman becoming pregnant. Neither feels ready for parenthood in any regard—emotionally or financially—and weigh their options separately.

The potential mother may have educational or career plans that are not compliant with motherhood. Perhaps she doesn't even consider the father of her child to be husband or long-term relationship material. She views the pregnancy as an unfortunate mistake, and seeks solutions to solve her problem.

Many impartial observers would conclude that abortion presents the perfect cure-all to this situation. Now, without discussing in detail the various views of abortion, consider the popular viewpoint that the mother has the "right" over her body and her future. But what of the father?

The father doesn't want to settle down. He was primarily interested in the relationship from a pleasure standpoint; his lifestyle cannot afford fatherhood. He tries to quietly distance himself from the situation and disappear.

If after careful consideration, the mother decides to carry the child full-term, deliver, and raise the child herself, what can she expect from the father? Most people scream that the father is responsible to support his child [and I agree]. Interestingly, while states are usually in charge of child support regulations, the Federal Deadbeat Punishment Act (great name) makes delinquent dads responsible on a federal level.

Return to the decision process of abortion. Abortion proponents push the slogan "Pro Choice" so strongly that many discussion and debates are wrongly slanted towards a debate on whether or not a woman has the right to her body and future after become pregnant. Little consideration is paid to the legal, moral, or medical pros/cons of abortion. In many cases, financial reservations seem sufficient to lead individuals to decide to abort the pregnancy.

If financial freedom is such a large weight in the topic, what of the fathers who are responsible to pay child support for children they would like to be free from financially? Is there a way for fathers to "abort" their wallet from the situation? Should there be?

High Road:
These thoughts and questions seemed to show to me the morally dangerous ground for allowing abortion rights to mothers solely on the stance that freedoms would be limited by not allowing a woman to "have control over her body," but at the same time denying deadbeat dads an equally easy escape from responsibility.

I am in no way an advocate of deadbeat dads not being responsible. Similarly, I am quite against the pro-choice movement's beliefs. I am pro-love, pro-family, and pro-babies. Being pro-responsibility is becoming increasingly lonely today. Perhaps chronic fear of heights keeps many from the high road. This doesn't have to be. Let's keep the discussion on rights focused where they should be: on rights. However, responsibility cannot be withheld from the scenario if meaningful results are to be obtained.