Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Fun Questions

I get weekly emails from BabyCenter telling things to expect from childhood development. The message for my five-year-old (link to article) reminded me of something I observed while registering David for school a couple of months ago...

While waiting in a slow-moving line, I tried to entertain the children. We sat at a table in the elementary school cafeteria (where the line was) and did Daddy-children things like make silly faces and tickle each other.

Then I noticed we were being watched.

It's not unusual for people, particularly little people (meaning children), to stare at me and the children when we play. I like to think it's because we have such great fun (it could be because of my misshapen head, though...). I overheard the conversation of siblings that provided another reason for the stares.

We were sitting near a family where the mother was working on the seemingly-endless forms. [How shall I put this?] The family was apparently Vietnamese (at least that's what the language sounded like, and the registration forms provided alternate instructions in Spanish and Vietnamese only, so I just figured...). In addition to the mother were two children: a second-grader sister, and a kindergartner brother.

The brother and sister were staring at us playing for a while, when the younger brother started quietly asking his sister questions—never taking his eyes off of us. The sister tried to answer him as best she could in their native language, but seemed to not satisfy him.

The back-and-forth continued a little while more, with the sister turning to face the brother, speaking slower and more staccato-like, emphasizing each word. (Remember that we didn't know what they were discussing, because this was all in increasingly heated Vietnamese.)

Finally, at her wits' end, the sister slowly explained in English: "Their skin is white because their mommy's skin is white."

[One more question from the brother.]

The sister elaborated, "If our mommy had white skin, your skin would be white, too! That's just how they are."

How should parents address the race questions that ultimately come?

We teach that we all are children of God, and opportunities like this one provide additional teaching opportunities—both about skin pigment and the universality of the atonement, despite history's unfortunate prejudices (see 2 Ne 26:33).

I wonder how I'm doing as a parent. I haven't had many opportunities to discuss race or other differences (besides modesty and Word of Wisdom items). Given the unconventional racial distribution of students at his school, I imagine David may have some questions for me some time (see figure, below; link).

We'll take life as it comes, showing love to our children and their friends, and answering as best we can the fun questions that childhood brings.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Until We Meet Again

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

Until We Meet Again, by President Thomas S. Monson

I urge you to study the messages [of conference] and to ponder their teachings and then to apply them in your life.

These words of President Monson came as personal validation for this, my general conference application series. I remember two conferences ago feeling quite strongly that I needed to do this as a way of internalizing the messages and being reminded of their messages. Too often in the past I've finished conference with a mighty sigh and said, "Wow! What a great conference!", only to give little thought afterward and apply almost nothing that I heard.

I've liked seeing the application of the principles discussed in my life. I hope I'm a better person because of it.

In this address—the last one of this conference—President Monson caught my attention:

Now, a word of caution to all—both young and old, both male and female. We live at a time when the adversary is using every means possible to ensnare us in his web of deceit, trying desperately to take us down with him. There are many pathways along which he entices us to go—pathways that can lead to our destruction. Advances in many areas that can be used for good can also be used to speed us along those heinous pathways.

When the prophet of God issues warnings, I want to pay attention! He continued to discuss the dangers of the Internet and the prevalance of pornography and society's increasing apathy regarding moral virtues. I well remember the loving-yet-stern voice of power when President Monson said:

if you have allowed yourself to become involved in this behavior, cease now. Seek the help you need to overcome and to change the direction of your life. Take the steps necessary to get back on the strait and narrow, and then stay there. (emphasis added)

On my commute yesterday, I listened to Sister Dalton's recent CES Fireside address (link). Just before speaking of a need for us to lead out in a return to virtue through moral reform, she made a comparison that I found incredibly interesting. She spoke of the great environmental awareness that many of us have, calling us an "organic generation." We are concerned about air and water quality—we even have governmental agencies to mandate regulations for such—but many of us use insufficient filters on what we take into our minds through media, etc., "polluting [our] moral fiber."

This is reminiscent of Elder Oaks' now thirty-year-old quote on pornography (link):

We are surrounded by [immorality] . . . Pornographic or erotic stories and pictures are worse than filthy or polluted food. The body has defenses to rid itself of unwholesome food, but the brain won’t vomit back filth. Once recorded it will always remain subject to recall, flashing its perverted images across your mind, and drawing you away from the wholesome things in life.

I don't want to be drawn away. I don't want to be filled with pollution.

I want to be filled with light.

In the section called the "olive leaf," we are taught beautifully:

And if your eye be single to my glory, your whole bodies shall be filled with light, and there shall be no darkness in you; and that body which is filled with light comprehendeth all things.

Therefore, sanctify yourselves that your minds become single to God, and the days will come that you shall see him; for he will unveil his face unto you, and it shall be in his own time, and in his own way, and according to his own will. (D&C 88:67-68)

Incredible promises.

I'm grateful for the guidance afforded by prophets of God. The way to Christ is made clear as we listen, ponder, and apply their words.

I can't wait for another conference next weekend!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Bring Souls unto Me

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

Bring Souls unto Me, by Elder L. Tom Perry
Of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

I give an a capella concert each night to an audience of one. As I tuck in my children individually, they ask me to sing them songs. It's fun to see how their songs of choice change over time. Rebecca has been loving "I Love to See the Temple" for some time, but David has more recently started asking for "A Happy Family" and "Listen, Listen."

Elder Perry's talk reminded me of David's second song choice and his personal application. The song lyrics are:

Listen to the still small voice! Listen! Listen!
when you have to make a choice.
He will guide you always.

As we arrived home after walking from school recently, David suddenly looked at me with a spark in his eye and commanded, "Wait here; I know what to do!" Seeing no harm, and being very curious, I obeyed. He ran inside and emerged a few seconds later carrying a church pamphlet which briefly outlines our basic beliefs (similar to this: link).

With a shining, big smile, he announced that he needed to give the pamphlet to his friend, our neighbor. After he raced to her door and delivered his gift, he returned with a calm, satisfied look on his face.

I think he had listened to the "still small voice:" the Spirit.

Elder Perry observed:

Missionaries will continue to do the best they can, but wouldn't it be better if you and I stepped up to do a job that is rightfully ours and for which we are better suited since we know personally those who are lost and need to be rescued?

Just last night David showed me how well-suited he is for this charge when he returned to his friend's home and invited the family to attend his Primary sacrament meeting program this Sunday.

Every Sunday David wears a little badge on his vest that reads, "Future Missionary." Apparently, this isn't just a fashion statement, but is a way of life for him.

I'm grateful for the pure example of love shown by my son. I'm reminded of Isaiah's prophecy of millennial behavior; after speaking of lions and lambs, we read, "and a little child shall lead them" (Isa. 11:6).

Listen to the still small voice! Listen! Listen!
when you have to make a choice.
He will guide you always.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

His Servants, the Prophets

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

His Servants, the Prophets, by Elder F. Michael Watson
Of the Seventy

I remember watching general conference and seeing Elder Watson's name on the screen and wondering, Who is this man, again? I knew that I recognized his name, but couldn't quite place it. After a quick online search, I learned that he had served as secretary to the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles for almost as long as I've been alive. Learning this confirmed his name in my memory because I received a letter from him while I was serving a mission (a great story for later...).

Learning of his extensive service with general authorities added additional understanding of and appreciation for his words. He spoke of knowing many presidents of the church—now I knew how.

What would it be like to be personally acquainted with prophets and apostles? Wonderful and humbling, I imagine. Here are points that impressed me from his summaries of serving with seven church presidents since 1970:

  1. President Joseph Fielding Smith — Hearing of President Smith's frequent use of the question posed in Psalms 24 reminded me of my father-in-law singing those verses each Sunday morning we were together. He reminds me to have "clean hands, and a pure heart."

  2. President Harold B. Lee — Considerably applicable to my life is the charge to listen to and heed the words of the prophets, even if: "It may contradict your political views . . . [or] your social views. It may interfere with some of your social life." But the promise remains that the Lord will bless us significantly.

  3. President Spencer W. Kimball — "There is a miracle of forgiveness and God will forgive." Each day I'm increasingly aware of my need for forgiveness and help to improve.

  4. President Ezra Taft Benson — I had missionary companions who must have prayed as did President Benson: "His prayers were almost entirely in thankfulness instead of asking for blessings." I think that such focus on what we receive can help us to remember the source of our blessings, which will help us keep our baptismal covenants to "Always remember Him."

  5. President Howard W. Hunter — Our family has been striving to do as he taught: "Establish the temple of the Lord as the great symbol of [your] membership."

  6. President Gordon B. Hinckley — Temples. "President Hinckley’s passion with the building of temples and the sacred work performed therein will be a polar star for each of us to follow."

  7. President Thomas S. Monson — He is the kind of friend I want to be: "He has truly exemplified in his life the pattern of the Master and the sincere desire to always be found in His service."

I'm reminded of the song from the Children's Songbook:

Now we have a world where people are confused
If you don't believe it, go and watch the news.
We can get direction all along our way,
If we heed the prophets—follow what they say.

Follow the prophet... don't go astray.
Follow the prophet... he knows the way.
(Follow the Prophet, #110)

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Gifts to Help Us Navigate Our Life

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

Gifts to Help Us Navigate Our Life, by Elder José A. Teixeira
Of the Seventy

This week's news seems full of accounts of and reactions to people who have chosen to exercise their respective freedom of speech. From politics to entertainment to sports, we hear of either support or condemnation to outbursts.

As with the exercise of other freedoms, freedom of speech (listed as a human right by ICCPR) does not include impunity. Consider the following from the entry on agency (link):

People are free to choose and act but are not free to choose the consequences of their actions. The consequences may not be immediate, but they will always follow.

As I see the many news headlines, I'm reminded of Elder Teixeira's words on the gifts and responsibilities we all have:

Our choices have the undeniable power of transforming our lives. This gift is an extraordinary sign of trust in us and simultaneously a cherished personal responsibility to use wisely. Our Father in Heaven respects our freedom to choose and will never force us to do what is right, nor will He impede us from making mediocre choices. ...

Choices have consequences attached, which may or may not be manifested immediately after our decisions. Using the spiritual gifts we have been given is paramount in order to remain on the right course.

Choices are powerful. Elder Teixeira later quoted President Monson: "Our lives will depend upon the decisions which we make—for decisions determine destiny."

The desire that we have to "remain on the right course" was well-illustrated with a comparison to a modern global positioning system (GPS) device. Such a system can aid travelers on life's roads know where they are, where they're going, the best way to arrive at their destination, and when they may arrive.

At last! An answer to childhood's favorite traveling question: "Are we there yet?"

Elder Teixeira brought the GPS illustration back to topic:

We too have within us a "GPS" allowing us to know at all times what is right and what is wrong, as well as assisting us in making correct choices.

As a technology-, science-, and geography-lover, I connected well with the internal GPS analogy. The Light of Christ (conscience) and the Gift of the Holy Ghost, of course, are what can provide our guidance as we traverse life's journeys.

Earlier I mentioned consequences. Despite any associated connotations, consequences aren't necessary bad. I'm reminded of the effects of consequences associated with the older—and more advanced!—GPS that Lehi and his family used on their journeys (see 1 Ne. 16). In speaking of this to his son many years later, the prophet Nephi explained (see 3 Ne. 37:38-46):

For just as surely as this director did bring our fathers, by following its course, to the promised land, shall the words of Christ, if we follow their course, carry us beyond this vale of sorrow into a far better land of promise. (v. 45)

The words of the prophets—the words of the Lord (see D&C 1:38)—are filled with wonderful consequences. We see the fulfillment—both good and bad!—of consequences in each scripture story.

I want to live so that I can use "spiritual gifts [I] have been given ... in order to remain on the right course." If I can do this, I know the consequence will be wonderful.

And, if you keep my commandments and endure to the end you shall have eternal life, which gift is the greatest of all the gifts of God. (D&C 14:7)

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Sacred Homes, Sacred Temples

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

Sacred Homes, Sacred Temples, by Elder Gary E. Stevenson
Of the Seventy

We took a tour of our home for Family Home Evening this week. We wanted to notice in what ways items in our home reminded us of the temple or pointed us to Christ. This was after a brief discussion on the sacredness of temples, and that “only the home can compare with the temple in sacredness” (link). It was a fun exercise for the whole family; I particularly liked seeing the children quickly look around each room to point out the things that reminded them of Jesus.

The idea for this exercise came from Elder Stevenson’s talk where he recounted a talk he heard where listeners were invited to take a virtual tour. He commented, “Wherever your home may be and whatever its configuration, the application of eternal gospel principles within its walls is universal.” I was pleased that the children identified items in each of the rooms on our tour that helped them remember Christ.

We applied another aspect of Elder Stevenson’s talk on our trip to the temple last month. In a similar temple lesson from an earlier Family Home Evening, Maryann taught, “As we touch the temple, the temple will touch us” (from President Monson). While at the temple, we reverently gathered outside the Celestial Room and touched the temple, offering silent prayers and paying attention to our feelings. In that quiet moment, she reminded us of what she taught in the Family Home Evening. It was a wonderful moment.

She also asked us to do as President Packer admonished (as quoted by Elder Stevenson):

Say the word temple. Say it quietly and reverently. Say it over and over again. Temple. Temple. Temple. Add the word holy. Holy Temple. Say it as though it were capitalized, no matter where it appears in the sentence.

Temple. One other word is equal in importance to a Latter-day Saint. Home. Put the words holy temple and home together, and you have described the house of the Lord!

We love the temple, and we love our home. I like the description of the house of the Lord offered by President Packer as the combination of sacred homes and sacred temples.

When we went to the temple this month, Maryann and the children had a great time on the grounds waiting as I was inside. They returned to the Celestial Room walls and thereafter took pictures to remind them of the experience. (You can see additional pictures and read more on Maryann’s blog: here.)

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Honorably Hold a Name and Standing

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

Honorably Hold a Name and Standing, by Elder David A. Bednar
Of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

Some time ago, we were asked to help a friend by preparing a video on baptism. Our time in Texas has been spiced with frequent baptisms which we've enjoyed attending as a family (some of which show the film we arranged as an intermission, of sorts). At the most recent one a few weeks ago, one of the speakers mentioned that it was the first baptism she had attended in the maybe twenty years since her own baptism. I'm grateful for the opportunities that we have as a family to witness and prepare for baptisms.

As I reflected on Elder Bednar's address, I was reminded of my service as a missionary. The first person I taught as a new missionary was Becky Williams. I loved meeting with her; she had a loving smile and a thirst for the truth. It was fun to learn the discussions as she was taught (I was still learning the material, just as she was!). I remember the focus that the stake mission had for recent converts: Help recent converts move from the baptismal font to the temple. This mantra was accompanied by impressive statistics on retention. Some missionaries would say to picture those you teach in white—the white of baptism clothes; this stake taught something deeper—the white of the temple.

I naturally recalled these emphases as Elder Bednar taught the following:

The baptismal covenant clearly contemplates a future event or events and looks forward to the temple. ... the process of taking upon ourselves the name of Jesus Christ that is commenced in the waters of baptism is continued and enlarged in the house of the Lord. As we stand in the waters of baptism, we look to the temple. As we partake of the sacrament, we look to the temple. We pledge to always remember the Savior and to keep His commandments as preparation to participate in the sacred ordinances of the temple and receive the highest blessings available through the name and by the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ. Thus, in the ordinances of the holy temple we more completely and fully take upon us the name of Jesus Christ.

A little over a year after I left my first area of assignment, I received an invitation from Becky Williams to join her in the temple. She had prepared herself and was ready to "more completely and fully take upon [herself] the name of Jesus Christ." This was one of the major highlights of my missionary service: to once again be dressed in white with Becky, this time in the temple.

I am convinced of the power that accompanies faithful preparation for, and keeping of temple covenants. I like the illustrative power of Brigham Young's words, "Let the fire of the covenant burn in your hearts, like flame unquenchable."

Monday, September 14, 2009

Unselfish Service

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

Unselfish Service, by Elder Dallin H. Oaks
Of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

While Maryann was at a Relief Society meeting on Saturday, the children and I stayed home enjoying the rain and working on crafts inside. David had a fun homework assignment titled “All About Me” where, in part, he was to involve his family in decorating a large picture of a boy to look like him. Because we had the craft materials out, he asked if we could take the time to make something for his classmates.

A few weeks ago we found a box containing hundreds (if not thousands) of beads at a yard sale for $0.75. David and Rebecca’s eyes glowed with excitement as they considered all of the fun crafts they could make for family and friends. Aside from making bracelets for each other and one other friend, the beads lay unused on top of or refrigerator gathering dust.

With the excitement of school and its associated new supplies, we made a backpack dangler using a safety pin, nylon string, and beads of David’s choosing. He hangs this little craft item on his backpack, and it has caught the eye of his fellow kindergartners. On Friday, David’s teacher told me that David was agreeing to make similar danglers for people in his class.

So, there we were, working on his crafty homework when he asked to put it aside and make backpack danglers for everyone in his class—all nineteen other students! With nothing but time on our hands, we went to work.

I noticed that after each successive girl dangler, David would say, “I want this one for Lauren.” Apparently she told David that she doesn’t like him, and this concerns him. He is convinced that if he goes out of his way to do something special for him, then they two can be friends. He didn’t “return railing for railing,” but wanted to show love to make a friend instead (see 3 Ne. 6:13).

As we started the “All About Me” homework assignment, I remembered the catchphrase in my high school, “It’s all about me,” that student’s used to draw attention to themselves and their selfishness. As innocuous as David’s assignment was, a part of me was piqued to the need to avoid selfishness. This all came rushing back as I reviewed Elder Oaks’ talk (and listened to it on my commute this morning):

The values of the world wrongly teach that “it’s all about me.” That corrupting attitude produces no change and no growth. It is contrary to eternal progress toward the destiny God has identified in His great plan for His children. The plan of the gospel of Jesus Christ lifts us above our selfish desires and teaches us that this life is all about what we can become.

I learned from my son as I watched him work on his “All About Me” assignment. Instead of being selfish or self-centered at all, he instead turned his attention to others, paying particular attention to the girl who he thinks he unknowingly offended, and who he wants so badly to make reconciliation.

Elder Oaks quotes from Elder John A. Widtsoe:

We cannot walk as other men, or talk as other men, or do as other men, for we have a different destiny, obligation, and responsibility placed upon us, and we must fit ourselves [to it].

I think it great that “in a time when sacrifice is definitely out of fashion,” David showed loving sacrifice by making fashionable backpack danglers for his class. Both David and Elder Oaks reminded me that:

Our Savior teaches us to follow Him by making the sacrifices necessary to lose ourselves in unselfish service to others. If we do, He promises us eternal life, “the greatest of all the gifts of God” (D&C 14:7).

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Be of Good Cheer

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

Be of Good Cheer, by President Thomas S. Monson

Just a few talks ago, Elder Snow taught that one of the things we need to do to overcome the difficulties of change is to be of good cheer. I'm reminded, also, of Elder Wirthlin's final general conference address where he illustrated the importance of learning to laugh (talk). I thought this was all great advice, and I pictured that I could do so when I took a wrong turn driving, or when something trivial occurred, but President Monson shared a story that puts my powers of empathy to the test.

After mentioning the faithful examples we have in church history—of remaining true in adversity—President Monson taught:

This attitude is what will pull us through whatever comes our way. It will not remove our troubles from us but rather will enable us to face our challenges, to meet them head on, and to emerge victorious.

Now the story: President Monson relayed the experiences of a young German widow (circa 1945) who "persevered and ultimately prevailed, despite overwhelmingly difficult circumstances."

Her experiences break your heart in half, and then rip it out. While walking more than a thousand miles, she lost her three children to starvation and the effects of extreme elements. The story details how this mother used a tablespoon to dig graves for three of her children; she used her bare hands for the fourth.

Her grief unimaginable, she contemplated taking her own life, but was helped to find strength on her knees instead. Her prayer included these words:

Though I do not at this moment wish to live, I will do so, that we may be reunited as a family and return—together—to Thee.

This is one of those faith-inspiring stories that you wish to never have to experience yourself. The first time I reviewed this talk, I asked myself, "Where is the good cheer?" In fact, the last time I listened to this talk while commuting to work, the tears ran down my face as I felt my empathy stretching to try to understand the full extent of the deep emotions of this young widow. In other words, I didn't feel very cheerful.

However, after I contemplated the depth of the situation, I understood that being of good cheer doesn't necessarily mean laughing and having a grand time. Instead, it can mean having faith and doing all we can to move forward.

There are times, terribly hard times, where it may be impossible to laugh and smile. Nevertheless, one can still be of good cheer by doing as this widow did: continue pressing forward in faith, with the hope for blessed reunions after the tribulation is over.

President Monson:

I testify to you that our promised blessings are beyond measure. Though the storm clouds may gather, though the rains may pour down upon us, our knowledge of the gospel and our love of our Heavenly Father and of our Savior will comfort and sustain us and bring joy to our hearts as we walk uprightly and keep the commandments. There will be nothing in this world that can defeat us.

My beloved brothers and sisters, fear not. Be of good cheer. The future is as bright as your faith.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

None Were with Him

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

None Were with Him, by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland
Of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

My purpose in writing about these general conference talks is fairly selfish: I hope that by actively looking for personal application, the various messages will be internalized and help me become who I want to become.

I want to share that I can feel the message of this talk in every experience of my life—that I've never abandoned, nor felt abandoned—but I cannot honestly do so. Nevertheless, after beautifully sharing those poignant moments at the end of Christ's mortal life, Elder Holland renewed my desires to never leave Him alone:

He has walked alone once. Now, may I ask that never again will He have to confront sin without our aid and assistance, that never again will He find only unresponsive onlookers when He sees you and me along His Via Dolorosa in our present day. ... May we declare ourselves to be more fully disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ, not in word only and not only in the flush of comfortable times but in deed and in courage and in faith, including when the path is lonely and when our cross is difficult to bear.

With mixed emotions we consider Christ's perfect end to His perfect life. We face simultaneous overwhelming joy and gratitude, coupled with intense pain and sadness. We're reminded of the solitude, loneliness, and abandonment that Christ endured. Yet, as difficult as that is to accept (the Redeemer of the world being abandoned), hope emerges:

One of the great consolations of this Easter season is that because Jesus walked such a long, lonely path utterly alone, we do not have to do so. ... Trumpeted from the summit of Calvary is the truth that we will never be left alone nor unaided, even if sometimes we may feel that we are. Truly the Redeemer of us all said, “I will not leave you comfortless. [My Father and] I will come to you [and abide with you]” (John 14:18, 23).

I know that Christ wants to be with me; I hope to live so I can be with Christ.

Friday, September 11, 2009

His Arm Is Sufficient

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

His Arm Is Sufficient, by Barbara Thompson
Second Counselor in the Relief Society General Presidency

My wife's family has a saying that is escalating towards motto-status: "Family is Everything."

I agree.

I love spending time with my little family, and I love that we love being together (that's a lot of loves). As I reviewed Sister Thompson's words, I noticed a paragraph that sums this all up nicely:

Scriptures, family home evening, and family prayer will strengthen families. We need to take every opportunity to strengthen families and support one another to stay on the right path.

These are three things that are a priority in our home, and I think that the love and strength we feel are a result. These benefits aren't limited to our family, though:

No matter what our family looks like, each of us can work to strengthen our own families or help in strengthening others.

As we live life, interacting with others, we can strengthen not just our own family, but others' as well. Sister Thompson relayed an experience where she was strengthened and helped. Her summary touched me and encourages me to live so that such may be said of me and what I do:

They lived their testimony and demonstrated the reality of their covenants.

As a new missionary, we were instructed to memorize the six standard missionary discussions that we shared with those we met with. However, our instruction went one step further. Our mission president, President David M. Brown, taught us that after we understood what was in the discussions, we were to set the booklets aside (perhaps keep them on our lap until we were totally comfortable) and teach our testimonies.

This style of instruction clicked with me. Instead of teaching by rote—a repeated script—we were to teach what we knew, believed, and [ideally] lived. It turns out that it's much easier to share with others and really connect if you are being you, not just repeating words on some page.

I liked that Sister Thompson identified this connection in her example. Those helping her weren't motivated by reward (or fear); they were simply living according who they were—who Christ had helped them to become. Their actions showed the fire of their covenants burning within them.

I want my actions to more fully be in harmony with what I believe, and what I've covenanted to do/be; I want to be perfectly converted.

If I can't be perfect (we often hear people say "you can't be perfect"), I'll settle for being perfectly converted. (... but, is there really a difference?)

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Get On with Our Lives

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

Get On with Our Lives, by Elder Steven E. Snow
Of the Presidency of the Seventy

My mother is the kind of person who always seemed to do well with change, either anticipated or not. For example, she frequently rearranging the furniture in the rooms of her home. In fact, she goes as far as to work with my father in making kitchen changes and improvements to counters and cabinets in a seemingly endless quest for the perfect configuration. Or, perhaps, the change provides another view on an otherwise "same old" view.

I, on the other hand, have kept each piece of furniture in the same place for as long as I've lived in my current home. I think I'm either uncomfortable with change, or content with how things are (or both).

However, despite my furniture-arrangement stagnation, I hope that I'm not unwilling to progress with necessary change and, effectually, get on with my life.

Elder Snow asked:

Q: How can we then best prepare for the changes we must inevitably face as we progress through life?

His answer, like many great conference talks, includes a list, summarized as follows:

A: By listening to the prophets, keeping an eternal perspective, having faith, and being of good cheer.

We know that historical accounts are rife with examples of faithful individuals who dealt well with change—both changes that were anticipated as well as those that were unexpected. The question that I ask myself is: Will I be one who reacts well and positively to c

Questions: How do I react to change? Is anything preventing me from progressing through necessary change? Will I choose to follow the prophet, keep an eternal perspective, exercise faith, and be happy when confronted with change?

I hope to be like my mother who, in addition to changing her furniture configuration, has reacted well to numerous cross-country changes as my family moved here and there. I don't remember her complaining; I only remember her making our house a home and doing her best to make a happy family in the midst of change.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Come unto Him

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

Come unto Him, by Elder Neil L. Andersen
Of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

I well remember having a DTR (define the relationship) with Maryann years ago. It was that awkward step from fun friendship to cute courtship. As dreaded as DTRs are portrayed in Mormon culture, I think they are necessary (when appropriate).

In talking with couples, the DTR is often referred to as a singular event: the time when the couple became exclusive. However, healthy relationships benefit from recurring analyses and assessments. I'm not saying that couples should sit down and wonder "is this whole marriage-thing working out for us," but discussions can be helpful.

I'm thinking of this because just last night, Maryann and I had an informal DTR, I guess. She surprised me by seemingly out of the blue sharing how grateful she is that we are best friends, and that we have a healthy, happy relationship. Our marriage has a clean bill of health.

I thought of this as I recalled how Elder Anderson spoke of his wife. I imagine that they, too, are best friends:

The Lord has blessed me in ways I could never repay. He allowed me to marry one of His angels here on earth. My wife, Kathy, is my light and example, a precious daughter of God, full of purity and innocence. I would be nothing without her. For much of my life, I have been trying to become what she thought I already was.

I remember someone saying that men marry women hoping they'll never change, and women marry men hoping to change them. The punchline was that both are wrong: women change, and men stay the same. While this may be true in isolated cases, this sort of generalization neglects the influences of love, friendship, and mutual goals.

I'm grateful that we are growing closer to the Lord and closer to each other.

This progression is not the result of our own efforts alone, though. We are blessed because we choose to come unto Him.

I'm reminded of what President Hinckley often said: "You bring with you all the good that you have, and let us add to it." Elder Anderson shared an expanded version of this by listing many ways that we, latter-day saints, are not alone:

We are not alone in our desire to do good; ... in praying to our Heavenly Father and receiving answers to our prayers; ... in sacrificing for a greater cause; ... others share our Faith in Christ.

Instead of dwelling on our similarities, he takes it a step further by listing thow we are "uniquely and singularly" different:

Only here is the priesthood of God, restored to earth by heavenly messengers. Only here does the Book of Mormon stand with the Bible in revealing and declaring the full divinity and gospel of Christ. Only here are there prophets of God, bringing guidance from heaven and holding the keys that bind in heaven what is bound on earth.

Nevertheless, Elder Anderson is quick to remind that the knowledge that we have "should not bring feelings of superiority or arrogance but should take us to our knees, pleading for the Lord’s help that we might be what we should be."

As I think of all the blessings I enjoy through the gospel of Jesus Christ—knowledge of the gospel plan, a beautiful wife, my loving family—I can't help but want others to share the joy and happiness I have.

You bring with you all the good that you have, and let us add to it.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Way of the Disciple

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

The Way of the Disciple, by President Dieter F. Uchtdorf
Second Counselor in the First Presidency

When I first started college, some of my friends were almost obsessed with their interpretation of a certain diet some doctor came up with. After only a short time, they reported drastic weight-loss. However, a short time later, their food consumption was normal again (and healthier, too), and they returned to their pre-craziness weight.

There have been many people I've known who have tried similarly-based schemes—whether in weight-loss, business ventures, or supposedly healthy-living. They all seem to offer the hope of quick results from minimal effort. While they are incredibly excited and seem to live for their new-found "secret," I'm left to wonder why they can't see how bizarre and irrational it all seems (from my point of view—not that I'm not seen as bizarre and strange by others!).

President Uchtdorf comments on these very kind of things, and then reminds:

It’s not that these worldly options don’t contain elements of truth—many of them do. Nevertheless, they all fall short of the lasting change we seek in our lives. After the excitement wears off, the hollowness remains as we look for the next new idea to unlock the secrets of happiness.

He continues:

In contrast, the gospel of Jesus Christ has the answers to all of our problems.

Instead of offering a way for a quick-fix, President Uchtdorf offers that the gospel is "a divine gift, the ultimate formula for happiness and success."

Whenever I hear of formulas (or formulae, if you prefer) like this, I try to develop an equation that lists (on the left) what is needed and (on the right) what I can expect.

Some of the left-hand side elements of such an equation are: hear and act on the truths of the gospel, repent, and make and keep covenants.

The right-hand side results include: increased faith, illumination
from the light of Christ, and becoming peacemakers.

We can take the formula analogy one step further and discuss reaction times (as in chemistry). President Uchtdorf is clear that the way of discipleship is not a fast reaction; he said "it is not a quick fix or an overnight cure." Nevertheless, the reaction is, apparently, similar a chemical reaction because it produces light and heat (see D&C 88:6-13 [light] and D&C 9:8 [heat]).

"Discipleship is a journey," a gradual process.

Too often we approach the gospel like a farmer who places a seed in the ground in the morning and expects corn on the cob by the afternoon.

We're often reminded that we live in an interesting and precarious time. I want to remember that "the gospel is the way of discipleship" and not fall into the traps of quick-fixes or other worldly options.

By patiently walking in the path of discipleship, we demonstrate to ourselves the measure of our faith and our willingness to accept God’s will rather than ours. ...

It is always the right time to walk in His way. It is never too late.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Be Your Best Self

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

Be Your Best Self, by President Thomas S. Monson

I'm going to go against my pattern and simply share a few of my favorite quotes from this address. As you probably guessed, each point that President Monson made caused a wake of memories in my mind and highlighted in my heart many ways I need to improve.

Besides thinking of D&C 107:99, what else comes to mind?

Each man and each boy who holds the priesthood of God must be worthy of that great privilege and responsibility. Each must strive to learn his duty and then to do it to the best of his ability.

Which version of myself am I most of the time?

This is not a time for fear, brethren, but rather a time for faith—a time for each of us who holds the priesthood to be his best self.

What would be my grade in a personal course on scripture study?

Participate in daily scripture study. Crash courses are not nearly so effective as the day-to-day reading and application of the scriptures in our lives. ... Study [the words of the prophets] as though they were speaking to you.

I love the promises of prophets:

I promise you ... that if you will study the scriptures diligently, your power to avoid temptation and to receive direction of the Holy Ghost in all you do will be increased.

Prayer metaphor:

Prayer is the provider of spiritual strength; it is the passport to peace.

Am I living that this can be said of me?

When it was necessary for them to exercise their priesthood in behalf of one who was desperately in need of their help, they were able to respond because they lived their lives righteously.

What's the shape of my back? (Compare Mosiah 24:14-15)

The Lord shapes the back to bear the burden placed upon it.

Friday, September 4, 2009

“Man Down!”

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

“Man Down!”, by President Henry B. Eyring
First Counselor in the First Presidency

I've long loved the accounts of missionaries who, although they served honorably, afterward felt they were a failure, only to learn much later that their efforts yielded incredible fruit because they touched that one person (President Faust relays one such story of Elder Callis here: Ensign, May 2001).

My recent trips down memory lane, recalling my home teaching service as a young man came rushing back as I reviewed President Eyring's instructions to young home teachers:

Your contribution during the visit may seem to you small, but it can be more powerful than you may think possible. You will show by your face and manner that you care for the people. They will see that your love for them and the Lord makes you unafraid. And you will be bold enough to bear your testimony to truth. Your humble, simple, and perhaps brief testimony may touch the heart of a person more easily than that of your more experienced companion. I have seen it happen.

I know that my life was forever changed because of past service (e.g. as a young home teacher), but it's hard to imagine my efforts producing lasting results. Nevertheless, I'd be happy to be wrong.

As I've stated before, I'm excited for the recent change in my current home teaching assignment: to labor with a young man who is in just the situation that President Eyring described. I can't wait to see the simple power that he will bring to our home teaching visits!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

We Are Doing a Great Work and Cannot Come Down

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

We Are Doing a Great Work and Cannot Come Down, by President Dieter F. Uchtdorf
Second Counselor in the First Presidency

I was thinking of President Uchtdorf's address from the previous conference, "Lift Where You Stand" (talk, blog) last night as I helped a family unload a moving truck. We were a group of eight-or-so men with one last item to unload: the piano! We tried President Uchtdorf's advice to practice and it worked!

I hope I don't wait six months to find opportunity to apply this last conference's message!

I spoke recently of how having Brother Boone as a home teacher changed my life. I was reminded of our service together as I reviewed this talk. On a few occasions, I heard Brother Boone say, "The true judge of who you are is not how you act when you're around others, but how you act when you are all alone."

I've thought of this truth many times since. It's difficult (and embarrassing) to imagine doing/thinking certain things in front of an audience—and I'm not talking of the innocent, appropriate things that should be done in private!

President Uchtdorf invited us to participate in some well-needed (in my case) introspection:

Our weakness is in failing to align our actions with our conscience.

Pause for a moment and check where your own heart and thoughts are. Are you focused on the things that matter most? How you spend your quiet time may provide a valuable clue. Where do your thoughts go when the pressure of deadlines is gone? Are your thoughts and heart focused on those short-lived fleeting things that matter only in the moment, or on things that matter most?

I know that I need to be better and do better things, even when I'm all alone and I'm not working under any deadlines. I loved the example from scripture that was illustrated. The story of Nehemiah inspires me to do two things:

  1. Find an internal place of safety by being my best self at all times, and
  2. Resist all temptation to leave it for any reason; be able to say, as did Nehemiah: "I'm doing a great work, so that I cannot come down" (Neh. 6:3).

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Priesthood Responsibilities

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

Priesthood Responsibilities, by Elder Claudio R. M. Costa
Of the Presidency of the Seventy

Despite reading many Garfield comics as a young man, I love Mondays! The reason, of course, is Family Home Evening.

Now that our children are much more involved in Family Home Evening, we have loads more fun! For example, each Monday, David and Rebecca each have to give talks. They stand at their makeshift podium and teach us either about a topic that we assign them, or whatever gospel principle they choose. (Rebecca loves to teach about temples, see below; David was using a belt to illustrate Nephite garb.)

I was reminded of the great times we have in Family Home Evenings when Elder Costa taught:

Family home evening is a very special time for us to strengthen ourselves and each family member. It is important to include the whole family in assignments for family home evening. A child could share the Primary lesson that he or she had last Sunday.

I'm starting to think that it's time for us to rely more on the Family Home Evening assignment board that's hung on our wall for years, waiting for its time to shine! I also loved the idea of giving the children an opportunity to recall and present their lesson material from the previous day in Family Home Evening. We already do that each Sunday dinner, but perhaps more nuggets will emerge if we give them more opportunities to share.

When we have great Family Home Evenings, we often hear the children excitedly exclaim, "I wish we could have Family Home Evening every night!" These are some of the times that I feel that I'm really fulfilling my family priesthood responsibilities.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

This Is Your Phone Call

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

This Is Your Phone Call, by Bishop Richard C. Edgley
First Counselor in the Presiding Bishopric

Immediately after high school graduation, I embarked on a cross-country move from Omaha, NE, to Fort Hood, TX, to spend time with my sister and her husband. Not wanting to drive alone, I persuaded my younger brother, Cortney, to come with me for the ride.

About an hour out, we started to notice a problem with my car.

In Kansas City, the clutch gave up the ghost, and we made our awkward way—high revving, slow moving—through downtown to find a mechanic (this was in the days before cell phones, of course). We placed a call to our father for advice and help. He took the number and advised us to wait while he did some groundwork at home.

Only a few minutes later, he called us at the shop to give us the name of a family that was on their way to pick us up and take care of us for the couple of days while the car was being repaired. Apparently, he called our bishop, who called our stake president, who called a stake president in Kansas City, who called a family, who agreed to help and came to our rescue.

All in a few minutes' time.

I was reminded of this experience when Bishop Edgley answered the how the church can respond so quickly to disasters:

“We are prepared, we have organization, we have empathy, and we have charity.” It usually just takes a few phone calls from presiding authorities to local leaders to mobilize hundreds and sometimes thousands of individuals to go to the rescue of their fellow brothers and sisters in distress.

While my brother and I weren't in need of thousands of people to help us, we were amazed at both the willingness of strangers to welcome two teenage boys into their home and with how quickly the process was underway.

We ended up staying only a short time with a wonderful couple in Kansas City. While we were there, they took us to a pageant at the Independence Visitors Center (which was great because we had visited the area as part of a youth conference just months before) and helped us to feel welcome in their home.

They even had a Mille Bournes game—a game that we had played as a family when we were quite young, probably before we even knew that the playing cards were in French—and Cortney and I had fun learning the actual rules as we played again.

I've thought of that kind family many times since. Unfortunately, we were young and foolish and neglected to record their name and address for future reference and the thank-you card we should have sent.

As we packed our things in our now-repaired car and continued on our journey to Texas, we discussed the kindness we had received and vowed to help others.

Relating the experience of stranded pioneers in 1856, Brigham Young spoke of the need to rescue them:

I will tell you all that your faith, religion, and profession of religion, will never save one soul of you in the celestial kingdom of our God, unless you carry out just such principles as I am now teaching you. Go and bring in those people now on the plains.

I hope that I can see beyond my own circumstances to help and lift others, as I've been helped and lifted.