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


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

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.

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


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.


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.)