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.

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

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


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.