Monday, August 31, 2009

Counsel to Young Men

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

Counsel to Young Men, by President Boyd K. Packer
President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

I've been thinking about trajectories.

My memories of athletics as a youth are fraught with embarrassment and humiliation. (Before we proceed, please know that I'm not trying to make anyone feel bad, nor am I fishing for compliments.) I remember well the elementary school days of choosing teams for kickball, soccer, and every other team sport. I hope the selective process is different now, but when I was younger, the PE instructor chose the two most popular children in the class and nominated them as captains. What followed was a painful popularity contest and perceived physical abilities assessment.

In some ways I'm grateful that I was consistently chosen last. (For one thing, it gives me something to laugh about now!) I chuckle as I remember the captains ultimately arguing not over who got me on their team, but on which team was stuck with me.

I lived up to my reputation.

I was reminded of these painful/funny experiences when President Packer shared of his experiences, which resonated with me:

I read about the man who went to a doctor to find a cure for his inferiority complex. After a careful examination, the doctor told him, “You don’t have a complex. You really are inferior!”

Even though I might still be chosen last if I were in a similar situation today, I don't think the process would break my heart, as it did then. In the interim I've learned that it's much more fun to give your all, use what you have, and do your best than it is to mope and meet low expectations.

With advice that is usually catered to young women, President Packer reminds of what is important:

You may see others who seem to have been given a more perfect body than yours. Do not fall into the trap of feeling poorly about your height or weight or your features or your skin color or race.

You are a son of God.

Someone who helped me realize my worth by observing him is my younger brother, Cortney. When I was shy and awkward, he always seemed to be having fun with who he was. I loved to watch him play sports (or do anything physical) because he gave it his all. Even though he wasn't elegant and perfectly coordinated, he showed me that things like falling down are a part of the game, and the way to deal with it is to rise smiling.

My younger brother, and many others, helped me alter the trajectory that I thought I was destined for.

The certainties of the gospel, the truth, once you understand it, will see you through these difficult times.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Lessons from the Lord’s Prayers

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

Lessons from the Lord’s Prayers, by Elder Russell M. Nelson
Of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

As a teenager, Brother Boone was my home teaching companion. I loved and looked up to him and his family, and always felt it an honor to be with him. I recall one lesson where we visited a family and discussed the language of prayer (e.g. using Thee, Thou, Thy, and Thine). At this point, I was not well versed in this way of speech. Imagine my concern when I was asked to give the closing prayer.

I really tried my best, but by the end of the prayer, my frustration and mixing of the "right words" were apparent to all. I felt fairly ashamed because I had never really considered the words I used in prayers, nor did I know that some could be used to show utmost respect.

Placing a hand on my knee, Brother Boone quietly said, "It takes some getting used to, but you'll get it soon enough."

This was a turning-point in my life. Prayers became more real; communion more personal. I had been taught, but more importantly, I was encouraged.

I was reminded of this milestone moment when Elder Nelson taught:

We can use “right words”—special pronouns—in reference to Deity. While worldly manners of daily dress and speech are becoming more casual, we have been asked to protect the formal, proper language of prayer. In our prayers we use the respectful pronouns Thee, Thou, Thy, and Thine instead of You, Your, and Yours.

There are many defining moments that make a person who they are. During a usual home teaching visit on a Sunday afternoon, I was taught life-changing lessons from the Lord's prayers, with considerable help of a man who showed me (in many instances) that he saw more in me than I then saw in myself.

I learned that my current home teaching companionship is to dissolve in two days, and that I will be teamed up with a young man who is the age I was when I was assigned to Brother Boone. Without drawing any further comparisons, I'll just say that I appreciate the importance of home teaching—not just in helping the families to whom we are assigned, but in the interaction between home teaching companions as well.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Temple Worship

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

Temple Worship: The Source of Strength and Power in Times of Need, by Elder Richard G. Scott
Of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

In a stake priesthood meeting three weeks ago, our beloved ward bishop spoke on Zion and the temple. In his remarks, he noted that in the four years that the San Antonio Texas Temple has been in operation, our ward has had 28 youth-, and new convert- temple trips. 28 in four years! With the temple being about 90 minutes away, the figure becomes even more impressive. I imagine that this frequency is higher than what many members who live in the "shadow of a temple" attain.

Elder Scott would agree:

I have seen that many times individuals have made great sacrifices to go to a distant temple. But when a temple is built close by, within a short time, many do not visit it regularly.

Hearing the report of my bishop caused me to wonder how many family temple trips we've taken in the three years we've lived in Texas. I was somewhat surprised to discover that we've had more than thirty (I think it's been 35) such trips! I think our success is because we've been doing what Elder Scott recommends:

Set specific goals, considering your circumstances, of when you can and will participate in temple ordinances. Then do not allow anything to interfere with that plan.

It's embarrassing to admit that we have more regular (and meaningful) temple worship now that we're removed geographically from a temple than we did when we lived a few minutes away. I like to think that temple worship is in our blood now, and that wherever we end up, we will continue the traditions we've set while living here.

Having temple worship as a central family focus yields some fun results:
  • Rebecca asks me to sing I Love to See the Temple (link) to her each night as I tuck her in;
  • Each time I ask the children, "Do you know what we're doing tomorrow?" they excitedly guess, "Going to the temple!" Even though they're right about a quarter of the time, they still equate exciting family outings to temple worship;
  • In family home evening each week, at least one of the children will give an impromptu talk on temples (while they stand on a little chair behind a bench—our makeshift podium);
  • When we asked the children what they wanted to do for a family vacation in the past, their answer was to stay at a hotel in San Antonio right by the temple. There was no Disneyland, SeaWorld, or even grandparents to get in their way of choosing the temple;
  • Our children know that Mommy and Daddy love the temple and are better parents because we all go to the temple regularly.

This talk was the curriculum for elders quorum last Sunday. We were taught with power on the blessings and strength that come from temple worship. While I cannot relate the deeply personal accounts that were shared, I can state that I'm a different person than I was one week ago because of this lesson. The instructor guessed that many in the quorum would never forget the stories that Elder Scott shared in this talk because of the way they connected with us.

Likewise, I hope to never forget the experiences that were shared last Sunday and the associated resolve that I felt to ensure that I live my life to reflect that the covenants are everything: that I can remember that "when we live righteously and have received the ordinances of the temple, everything else is in the hands of the Lord."

Friday, August 28, 2009

Faith in Adversity

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

Faith in Adversity, by Elder Rafael E. Pino
Of the Seventy

Early in our marriage, my wife and I reached a firm agreement. Seeing the loneliness and hardship that our grandparents faced in the long years following the death of their companions, we agreed that we would not die at different times—we want to be together in life and death, and we don't want the latter to happen any time soon! While we know that we have no authority or power to enforce this agreement, it does come up from time to time as we discuss matters.

Elder Pino shared two life-examples that effectively portrayed adversity through the death of loved ones. These are the kind of stories that make me simultaneously wonder how I would respond in a similar situation and hope that I never have to find out.

One of the stories shared a sentiment which may be unique to our faith. After outlining the events surrounding the death of his daughter, the speaker noted:

We now feel that we are much more committed to be faithful to the Lord and endure to the end because we want to be worthy of the blessings that the temple provides in order to see our daughter again. At times we mourn, but we do not mourn as those without hope.

Reacting to the tragedy shared in the other example, the speaker wisely stated:

This was the time to show loyalty to God and to acknowledge that we depend on Him, that His will must be obeyed, and that we are subject to Him.

I think that this attitude is important when we face adversity—any kind of adversity. The key, then, is to recognize and live according to God's will while being true to Him (and ourselves).

I loved the quote of President Hunter that Elder Pino shared:

If our lives and our faith are centered on Jesus Christ and his restored gospel, nothing can ever go permanently wrong. On the other hand, if our lives are not centered on the Savior and his teachings, no other success can ever be permanently right.

This is reminiscent of President McKay's famous, "No other success can compensate for failure in the home," but it takes it a step further by guaranteeing ultimate success if we have Christ-centered lives.

However, we still need to know that ultimate success is no guarantee of an adversity-free life. After sharing the Savior's example of the wise man who built his house upon a rock, Elder Pino astutely observed:

It is interesting to notice that the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew against both houses! Living the gospel does not mean that we will everlastingly escape adversity. Rather, it means that we will be prepared to face and endure adversity more confidently.

I want to have the preparation, confidence, and trust that whatever adversity may come, I can successfully make it through, emerging on the other side as the kind of person the Lord wants me to be.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, by Elder Kevin W. Pearson
Of the Seventy

David and Rebecca awoke fifteen minutes earlier than usual. As I was trying to keep them quiet, I took them to the front of our house to see the darkness of early morning. We lay on our backs looking at the stars and discussing constellations until the topic shifted to faith. Briefly, we had a fun Maxwellian discussion (Maxwellian: of or related to Elder Neal A. Maxwell); Recall:

How many planets are there in the universe with people on them? We don’t know, but we are not alone in the universe! God is not the God of only one planet! (Special Witnesses of Christ, text)

When we were done talking of celestial things (pun intended), we arose and chased each other around playing shadow games—David enjoyed "stapling" my shadow to the ground, rendering me stuck. In this time of free fun, I thought of Elder Pearson's words:

As parents, we have been commanded to teach our children “to understand the doctrine of ... faith in Christ the Son of the living God” (D&C 68:25). This requires more than merely recognizing faith as a gospel principle. ... True faith must be centered in Jesus Christ. ... It requires us to do, not merely to believe.

The scripture referenced states that if parents don't teach their children to understand—not just know—then the "sin be upon the heads of the parents." I take this charge seriously, but I often wonder how I'm doing.

In discussing gifts of the Spirit last Sunday, someone noted that there quite the difference between teaching knowledge and teaching wisdom. To me, this is akin to the difference between teaching children to know, and teaching children to understand.

Wondering if our children are understanding, I asked, "David, do you think that Mommy and I really believe in Jesus?" I was reassured when he answered that, yes, he did, and that the reason why is because we're all trying to be like Jesus (which happens to be one of his favorite songs, link).

As happy as his observation made me, I know that I'm not done. As with Elder Pearson:

I acknowledge my own need and desire for greater faith as a disciple and witness of Christ. There has never been a greater need for faith in my own life than now.

As I strive to have more faith, and a more faith-centered life, I hope to keep in mind his instruction:

If we desire more faith, we must be more obedient. When we teach our children by example or precept to be casual or situational in obeying God’s commandments, we prevent them from receiving this vital spiritual gift. Faith requires an attitude of exact obedience, even in the small, simple things.

I seem to be returning frequently to the concept of exact obedience; I'll take that as a not-too-subtle message. I'm reminded, also, of Elder Christofferson's comment that faith can bring about important things as we "defend the truth of Jesus Christ against moral relativism and militant atheism." I hope that I'm not being relativistic in my obedience—that I'm not being "casual or situational."

If it's true that "we get what we focus on consistently," then I need to ensure that I have a Christ-focused life. Only then will I ultimately realize my objective, like in the song I'm Trying to Be Like Jesus.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Our Father’s Plan—Big Enough for All His Children

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

Our Father’s Plan—Big Enough for All His Children, by Elder Quentin L. Cook
Of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

I came upon an interesting online discussion related to a video hosted by a Christian video service (similar to YouTube). The contributors were discussing the beliefs and motivation of atheists and agnostics, but I think they were fairly off base. For example, many of the posters expressed the attitude that not believing in God frees a person of any (and all) goodness, morals, and sense of right and wrong. In fact, some even went so far as to say that if they weren't believers, then they would live lives of the worst kinds of sins. A few seemed to even wish they could "be bad" without any guilt stemming from their knowledge.

Obviously, the caricature of humanity portrays by these supposed-Christians is generally false: People are inherently good, but we react to our upbringing, experiences, and teachings.

Reading the video comments helped me to consider seriously my own motivation for the things I do. Am I motivated by guilt? Do I seek after rewards (e.g. recognition, fame, money)? Or, am I moved by something higher?

While the true answer may be, at times, a combination, I hope that my main motivation is the quest for a more excellent way (see 1 Cor. 12:31).

Just as the vloggers had an incorrect view of non-believers, non-believers may have similarly unfounded views of us:

Nonbelievers find it hard to accept the miracles of the Old and New Testaments and the Savior’s virgin birth and Resurrection. They view these events with the same skepticism as the appearance of God the Father and Jesus Christ to the Prophet Joseph Smith. They are not open to the possibility of a heavenly plan presided over by a supreme being.

Elder Cook discusses salvation through the lens of damnation. In particular, he contrasts our beliefs of a "more liberal salvation for the family of man" with "incorrect doctrine that most of mankind [will] be doomed to hell," the latter being regularly taught, apparently, by many other faiths. Perhaps as a reaction to ages of being regularly condemned to hell by Christians, an atheist group launched a bus ad campaign in London, which Elder Cook mentioned. (I, myself, may have reacted similarly with "militant atheism," as Elder Christofferson termed, if I felt spiritually oppressed by others.) A counter-movement ensued. Images of both follow:

Elder Cook rightly stated that his "principal concern is for the honorable people on the earth who are open to religious faith but have been discouraged or confused by incorrect doctrine." How can we avoid clashes with those of differing faiths? I think the answer is encapsulated in his earlier words:

Because of the uplifting doctrine of the Restoration, members rejoice in the gospel and find joy and satisfaction in the Church. We are viewed favorably when we live the teachings of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. When members don’t live the teachings, it can be a stumbling block to those who do not belong to the Church.

This answer is amazing in its simple obviousness, but it might easily be overlooked as we all try to live our lives. I'm reminded of two examples of this: Matt. 5:14-16, where the things we do can positively influence others; and Alma 39:11, where the actions of a missionary frustrated the progression of a whole people.

Elder Cook quoted President Hinckley:

Live with respect and appreciation for those not of our faith. There is so great a need for civility and mutual respect among those of differing beliefs and philosophies.

Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are frequently criticized for believing that their exaltation is influenced by the things they choose to do. Perhaps what I need to more fully realize is that my actions also influence the salvation of others.

Elder Cook sums up his message, including a quote of Orson F. Whitney:

A loving Father has provided a comprehensive and compassionate plan for His children “that saves the living, redeems the dead, rescues the damned, and glorifies all who repent.” Even though our journey may be fraught with tribulation, the destination is truly glorious.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Learning the Lessons of the Past

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

Learning the Lessons of the Past, by Elder M. Russell Ballard
Of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

It is becoming apparent that I'm increasingly behind-the-times. I've never even sent a text message! Nevertheless, I've learned how to use many of the personal convenience items that have, in large measure, been developed and propagated in my lifetime: personal computers, GPS systems, iPods, modern vehicles, etc.

We've seen entire ways of living change in just the past thirty years (I'm starting to sound like a grandpa already!). As the view is expanded to the last fifty-, hundred-, even, say, 179 years, we see that the myriad technologies that make life what it is now were either non-existent or in their infancy less than two-hundred years ago. Elder Ballard agrees:

The 179 years that have passed since The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was officially organized have been extraordinary by any measure. Never in recorded history has there been a period of such remarkable progress in terms of science and technology. These advances have helped to facilitate gospel growth and expansion throughout the world. But they have also contributed to the rise of materialism and self-indulgence and to the decline of morality.

This illustrates that there is "opposition in all things" (see 2 Ne. 2:11).

Maryann and I enjoyed (if you can call it that) a documentary on how the mismanagement of this remarkable progression is affecting the Earth. This video, Home, by Yann Arthus-Bertrand (full film free on YouTube; link), is powerfully moving and helped me to see things in a new light. In fact, I thought of what I felt as I watched this film when I reviewed what Elder Ballard said:

If you are open and receptive to the whisperings of the Holy Spirit in your lives, you will understand the lessons of the past, and they will be burned into your souls by the power of your testimonies.

The application of this apostle's words applies to more than our global impact. The first reading of his words will likely evoke thoughts of morality—rightly so. Consider the following:

You don’t have to allow your community to become like Sodom or Gomorrah in order to understand that it isn’t a good place to raise a family.

Learning the lessons of the past allows you to walk boldly in the light without running the risk of stumbling in the darkness.

Facing the drastic changes in the morality and day-to-day living of the world sometimes makes me wonder what I can do. Can I respond appropriately when others' bad choices influence/affect the innocent? I hope I can. Even more, though, I want to make decisions that let me be my best self and positively influence others, too—including those whom I've never seen in far-off parts of the world.

Each one of you has to decide for yourself if you are going to ignore the past and suffer the painful mistakes and tragic pitfalls that have befallen previous generations, experiencing for yourself the devastating consequences of bad choices.

I'm grateful for the example of others—good and bad—because I know that if I can appropriately apply the lessons of the past, I can change myself and positively influence the world.

Here's the trailer for the documentary: Home

Monday, August 24, 2009

Statistical Report, 2008

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

Statistical Report, 2008, by Presented by Brook P. Hales
Secretary to the First Presidency

It is difficult to digest the significance of statistics when they are presented as a single snapshot (read numbers) in time—perhaps that's why I really liked my master's research. Statistics are easier to understand and internalize when they are shown temporally, geographically, or via a nice combination of both.

It also helps if music is involved.

Although a year, this video shows church growth by stake over time. While slow at first, it is stunning to watch as the growth picks up (the flashes with each addition really add to the effect).

And to think you might have previously claimed to not like statistics!

(Link to original postings at

Church Auditing Department Report, 2008

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

Church Auditing Department Report, 2008, by Presented by Robert W. Cantwell
Managing Director, Church Auditing Department

In discussing tithes and offerings with a friend, he said that he is uncomfortable with the idea of church-viewed worthiness being associated in any way with money. I can understand his concern, but must admit that I hadn't given the potential for misuse much (if any) thought previously, partially because of the annual reports from the Church Auditing Department.

It probably has to do with the statistics courses I've taken, but I notice when independence is stated (or claimed). I've noted many times where someone says that things are independent of one another, when they really are not. I don't think such is the case here (note the ethos in the list of professionals):

The Church Auditing Department is independent of all other Church departments and operations, and the staff consists of certified public accountants, certified internal auditors, certified information systems auditors, and other credentialed professionals.

Thinking on the monetary connections with the church reminds me of the TIME article, "Kingdom Come" (from the Mormons, Inc issue from 1997, link). I had recently entered the mission field when this article came out (less than a month in the field) and remember some of the discussions that it prompted. I think I'll re-read the article and see how life's experiences in the past decade-plus contribute to the discussion.

Care to join the colloquy?

The Sustaining of Church Officers

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

The Sustaining of Church Officers, by President Dieter F. Uchtdorf
Second Counselor in the First Presidency

I listen to the sessions of general conference while I commute to/from work on my bicycle. The Saturday morning session presents me with a question: How will I show my support of the sustaining of church officers?

I love the thrill associated with raising my hand as part of the sustaining process, but doing so on the bicycle may confuse drivers around me who might assume that I'm indicating a turn. I've adopted a hybrid sign of sustaining where I mentally raise my hand, but physically only raise my fingers. This enables me to not only keep full control of my bicycle and avoids confusing motorists, but to feel the satisfaction of showing my support to leaders.

As I reviewed the list of leaders, I felt gratitude for the divine guidance and direction church leaders receive in their work. I also remembered feeling these same feelings as I watched the choir sing "We Thank Thee, O God, for a Prophet" in the Sunday morning session. The feelings were enhanced by the music being accompanied by a video montage of President Monson. I've included an embedded video of this very song below (the montage starts at 3:00, and if you watch carefully, you'll see an image of President Monson in the serape he spoke of in his opening remarks).

Sunday, August 23, 2009


This entry is part of my general conference application series.

Adversity, by President Henry B. Eyring
First Counselor in the First Presidency

While I was serving as a missionary in La Grande, OR, we had an unusually long period of prosperity. It seemed that our teaching pool was full to overflowing, local church members were even more helpful than usual, and my companion and I were the best of friends—things were going very well. After some time of this, we began to wonder if there was some catch. Sure, we were doing our best to be exactly obedient, but we always did that. In fact, we even mentioned that we might be missing out on some growth opportunities that trials provide. We even considered praying for adversity.

It turns out that we did not pray for adversity (can you blame us?), but looked for growth in the bounteous time. After our time of peace and plenty, transfers came and missionary life returned to normal: spiced intermittently with its share of trials.

With all the differences in our lives, we have at least one challenge in common. We all must deal with adversity.

President Eyring's comments on the universality of adversity were followed by a description that closely matched my experience in La Grande: "There may be periods, sometimes long ones, when our lives seem to flow with little difficulty. But," he continued, "it is in the nature of our being human that comfort gives way to distress, periods of good health come to an end, and misfortunes arrive."

I'm reminded of lines of a poem on missionary service that juxtapose the extremes associated with the work:

A mission is a strange experience. It's a trial and a test.
A mission throws at you the worst yet teaches you the best. ...

I've never had it so easy. I've never had it so tough.
Things have never gone so smoothly. Things have never been so rough.
(from Highs-N-Lows, link)

I remember those days in La Grande with fondness (along with other happy low-adversity times from each of my other areas with many different companions). At the same time, I recall the hard times with something similar to fondness, too; for it was in the hardest times that I could honestly ask, "What does the Lord want me to learn or do?"

These memories of good reactions to adversity (I probably don't react as well now as I did then) are in line with what President Eyring states as the aim of his talk:

My purpose today is to assure you that our Heavenly Father and the Savior live and that They love all humanity. The very opportunity for us to face adversity and affliction is part of the evidence of Their infinite love. God gave us the gift of living in mortality so that we could be prepared to receive the greatest of all the gifts of God, which is eternal life.

It may be difficult to acknowledge in the midst of affliction and adversity that such trial is evidence of divine love. Nevertheless, in the clarity that follows successfully enduring such trial, we understand that it has all been beneficial in our eternal progression (compare to D&C 121:7-8).

A kite rises against the wind, not with it.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

The Power of Covenants

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

The Power of Covenants, by Elder D. Todd Christofferson
Of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

I've had the phrase, "the fire of the covenant," in my mind for the past few months. I know that Elder Bednar discussed this in his address using a quote from Brigham Young (more to come in my reaction to his talk), but I feel like I've heard it referenced a few more times both before and after this last conference. I'm grateful for this ever-present reminder of the power of covenants.

In speaking of this power from covenants, Elder Christofferson reminded that:

The source is God. Our access to that power is through our covenants with Him. ... In these divine agreements, God binds Himself to sustain, sanctify, and exalt us in return for our commitment to serve Him and keep His commandments.

I'm reminded of the various reactions that we may have to the charge to keep the commandments. I overheard David speaking morosely of our family's rules for Sabbath observance, "We can't do anything fun on Sundays." I know that the role of commandments is to make us happy. Joseph Smith put it well (as Elder Christofferson reminded in his talk's footnotes):

As God has designed our happiness—and the happiness of all His creatures, He never has—He never will institute an ordinance or give a commandment to His people that is not calculated in its nature to promote that happiness which He has designed, and which will not end in the greatest amount of good and glory to those who become the recipients of His law and ordinances.

Knowing this, should we look for more commandments to obtain more happiness? Here's what Elder Christofferson said in another footnote (emphasis mine):

Some see only sacrifice and limitations in obedience to the commandments of the new and everlasting covenant, but those who live the experience—who give themselves freely and unreservedly to the covenant life—find greater liberty and fulfillment. When we truly understand, we seek more commandments, not fewer. Each new law or commandment we learn and live is like one more rung or step on a ladder that enables us to climb higher and higher.

Where can we find more commandments and experience greater happiness? I think the answer lies in the place of peace: the temples. As we worthily enter (and reenter) the temples, we find glorious promises conditioned on additional commandments/covenants.

I gladly accept Elder Christofferson's charge to "qualify for and receive all the priesthood ordinances you can and then faithfully keep the promises you have made by covenant." I know there is power in covenants, and that through obedience to commandments I am prepared to face difficulties. He continued: "In times of distress, let your covenants be paramount and let your obedience be exact."

I hope that I can develop the courage to exercise exact obedience at all times—in easy times as well as in difficult times. I know, as I was reminded, that "the source is God," and that "our access to [His] power is through our covenants with Him."

I'm grateful for the power of covenants.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Finding Strength in Challenging Times!

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

Finding Strength in Challenging Times!, by Elder Allan F. Packer
Of the Seventy

As I prepared to write on this talk, I noticed that Elder Packer used an exclamation point in his title. I'm happy to report that I was actually excited to see such a mark. I mention this because I'm one of those terrible people who becomes easily annoyed when exclamation points are used too often (especially when many are grouped together, e.g. !!!!!!). This simple-looking mark seems shrouded in mystery to me—is it conveying anger? excitement? surprise?

Perhaps the main reason I was excited is because I'm trying to break free from my strict punctuational standards and be more accepting of those who are floridly exclamatory, even by using the once-deemed-wretched marks myself! (See, I just did it! Oh no, there one is again! What's happening here?!)

Shall I finally address the message?

In speaking of ways of "developing a deep personal conversion to the gospel of Jesus Christ and knowing how to receive revelation," Elder Packer reminded me a talk of Elder Callister that I really enjoyed (from October 2007, Knowing That We Know); his charge:

We must know—and know that we know.

How do we gain such knowledge? From the Holy Ghost (see D&C 8:2).

Elder Packer used an example from his football days to illustrate the awareness we need to have to spiritual promptings:

We need to be acquainted with the promptings of the Holy Ghost, and we need to practice and apply gospel teachings until they become natural and automatic.

As a young man, I was taught that I only needed to make certain decisions once, and that when tempted to go against the commandments, I would not have to make up my mind under pressure because I had already decided to do what was right.

I remember feeling the power of this teaching and following the counsel. However, I was surprised at subsequent crossroads that the courage to stand by that already-made decision was harder than I thought it would be. Elder Packer reminded me that by making right decisions and following through with past decisions, that the crossroads don't seem to be major intersections anymore, but, rather, a small dusty path leading off of a major highway—righteousness can become natural and automatic!

Now, turning to promptings of the Holy Ghost and their influence on the development of testimonies and the course of conversion, Elder Packer points out the significance of spiritual communication in:

While testimonies can come as dramatic manifestations, they usually do not. Sometimes people think they need to have an experience like Joseph Smith’s vision before they gain testimonies. If we have unrealistic expectations of how, when, or where answers come, we risk missing the answers which come as quiet, reassuring feelings and thoughts that most often come after our prayers, while we are doing something else. These answers can be equally convincing and powerful.

I love the guidance and direction that comes from the Holy Ghost. It is through this guidance that "we will receive strength, comfort, and help to make good decisions and act with confidence in troubled times."

There are many things that are undeserving of exclamation points. The personal direction from our loving Father in Heaven, as communicated through the Holy Ghost, is a marvelous gift that is worth exclaiming about!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Revealed Quorum Principles

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

Revealed Quorum Principles, by Michael A. Neider
Recently Released Second Counselor in the Young Men General Presidency

In an attempt at likening teachings to my needs (see 1 Ne. 19:23), I read this talk through the lens of family. It this reasonable, you ask? Let's start with a definition of what a quorum is:

...A quorum is a class, a brotherhood, and a service unit: a class where a young man may be taught the gospel of Jesus Christ; a brotherhood where we can strengthen, build, lift, and friendship each other; and a service unit to give service to quorum members and others.

If we swap "individuals" for "young man," we see that this is also a working definition of a family. In fact, I wonder if quorums aren't [loosely] modeled after families...

Do the aims of quorums match those for families?

Our goal is to correctly use inspired direction from God and His prophets to maximize the virtues and blessings of the [family] ... The work of the [family] is to increase faith in Christ, prepare and save [individuals], and eliminate mistakes and sloth in implementing God's will.

I like this application. I also like the phrase "eliminate mistakes and sloth in implementing God's will." I take from this the need to be more efficient and effective, as well as the heavy aspect of aligning our lives with the will of God.

The will of God.

This has been on my mind lately as we've prayed for rain as a family. In stake council meetings, our loving stake president has taught us that he has had strong desires to ask the stake to fast and pray for rain, but felt that the timing was not right—that it wasn't God's will. Imagine my excitement when in a recent stake priesthood meeting we were told that he had, that very day, received confirmation that the time was right; we are to prepare our families to have a meaningful fast for rain in September!

I'm excited.

Back to the family:
This all reminds me of a similar application in the Doctrine and Covenants. As I read of quorum decision-making processes, I can't help but think of my family. A likened example from scripture follows:

Every decision made by [husband and wife] must be by the unanimous voice of the same; that is, [they] must be agreed to its decisions, in order to make their decisions of the same power or validity one with the other—

Unless this is the case, their decisions are not entitled to the same blessings which the decisions of [families] anciently...

The decisions of [families] are to be made in all righteousness, in holiness, and lowliness of heart, meekness and long suffering, and in faith, and virtue, and knowledge, temperance, patience, godliness, brotherly kindness and charity;

Because the promise is, if these things abound in them they shall not be unfruitful in the knowledge of the Lord. (see D&C 107:27, 29-31)

Last night, Maryann lovingly said, "I love that you agree with me; we talk about things, and I never have to be afraid to say what I really mean with you." This followed one of our usual politically/environmentally charged discussions. I can see the importance of unity in decision-making. If we couldn't agree on our personal, remote influence on people on the other side of the world (which is what we happened to be talking about), how could we have any hope of reaching meaningful conclusions on the day-to-day life-decisions of family, as well as the big life-altering choices?

After all, we all benefit when our decisions are align with "the knowledge of the Lord."

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Reverence and Respect

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

Respect and Reverence, by Margaret S. Lifferth
First Counselor in the Primary General Presidency

Facing a growing concern that our children were requesting to watch things on the television too frequently, my wife and I moved our one TV to our bedroom. We hoped that having it out of sight would help it to be out of mind. In its place, we now have a large bookshelf, from which we spend a great deal of time reading books together. However, lately the children have been requesting to watch movies more and more—it probably has much to do with not being as able to play outside because of the Texas heat.

Despite our media vigilance, we still observe behaviors and actions that run contrary to our desires. Now that we can't blame media as readily, I'm left wondering where my usually incredibly-sweet and well-behaved children pick these things up. (I don't even have the luxury of blaming other children because our extra-familial social interactions are limited.) Fortunately (and unfortunately), as I listened to Sister Lifferth's talk, I isolated the most probable source: ME!

We've tried to teach our children to have respect for others and reverence for holy things. On this topic, Sister Lifferth taught:

...Our ability and our credibility to exemplify reverence for God is strengthened as we show respect for each other. In today’s society, the standards of decorum, dignity, and courtesy are assailed on every side and in every form of media. As parents and leaders, our examples of respect for each other are critical for our youth and children because they are watching not only the media—they are watching us! Are we the examples we need to be?

Just yesterday, frustrated, David asked, "Why does everything have to do with sitting in the corner?" He was upset that he had been sent to the corner a few times since I had come home, as a result of his actions. To him, it seemed that everything he did resulted in an undesirable punishment.

As I consider what Sister Lifferth said, I'm left to wonder if I should send myself to the corner! I'm confident that much of the frustrations that my amazing five-year-old experiences have more to do with his emulating behaviors I've unknowingly shown than conscious decisions to go against what we've said.

I need to change before I start saying, "Do as I say, not as I do!"

Directly following the above quote is a list of self-analysis questions for parents. The one that stings me the most is, "Am I an example of respect in my home by the way I treat those I love the most?"

Please don't think that I'm some sort of monster (I'm usually not!); I've just come to realize that I can do much more to improve.

Assuming that I can do better, what else do I need to do?

...Reverent behavior is not a natural tendency for most children. It is a quality that is taught by parents and leaders through example and training. But remember, if reverence is rooted in love, so is the teaching of it. Harshness in our training begets resentment, not reverence. So begin early and have reasonable expectations. ... It takes time, patience, and consistency.

I take from this that I not only need to do better myself, but I may need to adjust my teaching style—Am I too harsh?—and evaluate my expectations to determine if they are reachable—I want to develop faith and fun, not resentment!

Quoting President Packer, Sister Lifferth taught me that I can change as I work on improving reverence and respect in my life: "While we may not see an immediate, miraculous transformation, as surely as the Lord lives, a quiet one will take place."

I'm excited and hopeful to be a better father, teacher, and friend to my sweet children.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Becoming Provident Providers

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

Becoming Provident Providers Temporally and Spiritually, by Elder Robert D. Hales
Of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

I've noticed a common thread in discussions I've had with friends regarding life and spirituality. In essence, many of my friends will say, "After all I've done, I'm sure I'm going to Hell, so I just don't worry about it anymore." This brand of spiritual apathy concerns me, not simply because I'm confident that my friends aren't "going to Hell," but that it manifests a marked misunderstanding of the doctrines of grace and the Atonement.

Elder Hales taught:

Our challenges, including those we create by our own decisions, are part of our test in mortality. Let me assure you that your situation is not beyond the reach of our Savior. Through Him, every struggle can be for our experience and our good (see D&C 122:7). [emphasis added]

I find great comfort in knowing that I am within reach of "Him who is mighty to save" (see 2 Ne 31:19). I noted, though, that we must overcome—knowing that our success comes through Christ:

Each temptation we overcome is to strengthen us, not destroy us. ... Our success is never measured by how strongly we are tempted but by how faithfully we respond.

Continuing on this theme, I cannot help but see that successive successes sum to significant strength (how's that for alliteration?); this is entirely logical: as we grow and progress, we become more adapted to face future challenges—through a sort of spiritual evolution (I'll have to write more on other types of evolution later). Here is the transition to the main topic of this talk:

What we learn now, in our present circumstances, can bless us and our posterity for generations to come.

This principle is as true when applied to spiritual growth and development as it was to the successes of many children of the depression who later thrived because of the life-lessons developed (and maintained) because of hard times.

I hope to apply this to my little family, temporally, as we face "growing up in times of economic uncertainty," as well as self-application, spiritually, as I encounter challenges, trials, and temptations.

I know that "I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me" (Philip. 4:13).

Welcome to Conference

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

Welcome to Conference, by President Thomas S. Monson

I love the summaries that President Monson provides at the start of each conference; I can't help but get excited over what has been accomplished, and what we will be able to do in the future.

While describing the rededication of the Mexico City, Mexico Temple, President Monson mentioned that he and President Eyring were each given a serape and sombrero (shown, in part, below).

As part of the proceedings, President Monson "couldn't resist serenading the group with an impromptu version of 'El Rancho Grande," an old Mexican folk song. Similarly, I can't resist sharing the video of the singing, located at 0:51 in the following video (links: YouTube, KSL):

Although speaking of temple dedications, I think the following quote applies equally well to general conference:

We look forward to these occasions. There is something about a temple dedication which prompts a reevaluation of one’s own performance and a sincere desire to do even better.

I loved participating in conference, and I look forward to recording how I've applied the messages from the conference to my life.

I promise not to sing! ... at least I'll try not to.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Outsourced Civility

Along with the benefits and advantages of our newly purchased van comes a noticeable drawback: It is increasingly difficult for me to be a gentleman.

Our previous van had only the one sliding door, so loading and unloading the family both let me be where the action was. This made it quite easy and natural for me to open and close my wife’s door for her—a small thing, yes, but it made me feel like a knight in shining armor.

Now, however, with two sliding doors, there is confusion (and panic) as I try to help with an extra port of entry. Who know it would be so hard to maintain my standard of civility? The Texas heat adds to the dilemma because I want to get our almost-toddler out of his car seat quickly before he gets too hot, all the while being aware of my wife sitting in the same situation.

Of course Maryann can open her own door, but after seven years of marriage, the tradition remains. Because of this, I feel like a failure when, out of necessity, she opens the door before I can.

I’m toying with a solution. While there are many things which cannot (and should not) be outsourced, can I outsource civility?

Enter David.

Our five-year-old is an incredibly sweet (and smart and talented) little boy. He’s lately taken great satisfaction in being able to handle the sliding door by himself (which is considerable, in my opinion, seeing as how he’s sub-forty-pounds). Can I train him to be Johnny-on-the-spot with this responsibility? Can I relinquish my long-held role as resident door-opener? Is he up to the task?

I think all three questions share a common answer: Yes! He is already a big helper; training and teaching are big parts of proper fathering; and, he is eager to serve. (As an aside, while sitting on the floor, Maryann recently noted that her back and neck were sore. Before I could put my dinner preparations aside to offer assistance, I saw our little David rush in and start massaging. In addition, he has already taken to helping and serving; he’s reading to Benjamin in this picture.)

Apprenticing courtesy, respect, and loving service.

I love being a father!

Friday, August 7, 2009

We Won!

Seeing as it's been almost a month since the contest (see previous post), I thought I should take a moment to announce that WE WON! Apparently, the online votes were the major contributor to this contest which was a portmanteau of online and in-person voting.

Here's a picture of me accepting the prize—so excited that I held the box backwards (how embarrassing for me!). You can also read more at LizardTech's blog (link).

What did we win, you ask? A Garmin Oregon 400t (link), which was terribly advanced for our needs. We've actually since downgraded to a mobile GPS device and used the surplus funds for other fun outdoorsy things from REI.

Thank you for your help, and watch out for future contests!