Saturday, February 27, 2010

Two Principles for Any Economy

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

Two Principles for Any Economy, by President Dieter F. Uchtdorf
Second Counselor in the First Presidency

Change. Do you like change?

Change is interesting. On the one hand, you will miss the way things were; on the other hand, the uncertainty of the future is exciting in a tingly sort of way.

We have a new bishop! Change in the church seems more natural than change in other aspects of life. There is the almost immediate reassurance that things are as they are supposed to be. In addition to the quiet feelings of peace are the many experiences I've shared with our new bishop.

Nevertheless, I'll miss the little things: the big bear hugs, the laughing while conducting meetings when a mistake is made, the way our children looked with wide-eyes and a smile as they watched the bishop do anything. (I'm sure the new bishop will quickly slip into a special place in all of our hearts.)

In the hallway, minutes after the meeting was over, I overheard our newly-released bishop sharing his excitement for future service in the church: he was submitting mission papers for himself and his wife. There was not even a moment's break—no hiatus, no rest, not even an apparent deep breath!

The memory of this dedication and strength of heart came rushing back as I reviewed President Uchtdorf's comments on work: "retirement is not part of the Lord's plan of happiness." In fact, our bishop used to frequently tell people (our family included) that because he was retired, they could call on him, anytime, anywhere, and he would drop whatever he was doing to help. While retired, he made sure he wasn't retiring.

He was also known to say, "I'm retired: I was tired before, and I'll be tired again!"

Regarding service and love, our bishop showed a living example of President Uchtdorf's words:

While the phrase “been there, done that” may work as an excuse to avoid skateboarding, decline the invitation for a motorbike ride, or bypass the spicy curry at the buffet, it is not an acceptable excuse for avoiding covenant responsibilities to consecrate our time, talents, and resources in the work of the kingdom of God.

(Our bishop did, in fact, used to ride a motorcycle—but he doesn't anymore.)

Thank you, Bishop Jamison, for your example and love.

I want to be like Bishop Jamison when I grow up!

Friday, February 26, 2010

I Love Loud Boys

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

I Love Loud Boys, by Elder Yoon Hwan Choi
Of the Seventy

I substitute-taught a group of loud and rowdy six- and seven-year-old boys and girls last Sunday. In trying to help the loudest two, I employed two strategies: force, and love.

When the two children wouldn't stop talking (and touching) each other in a meeting, I split them up by sitting between them. This worked for all of five seconds. I then moved one down a few seats, rearranging the entire class. (To her credit, the one I asked to move did not complain about the change at all.) Despite this, the one remaining child turned his distraction on me, poking, talking, squirming, etc. What to do?

The last time I substitute-taught, I saw another substitute-teacher scold and whisper-yell at rowdy children (with less-than-ideal results). I had also seen other teachers completely ignore their class members, which didn't work well either.

I had a decision to make. Criticize or ignore. Or, I could try love.

Placing my arm around his shoulders, I reminded him that I was there. When he would act out or squirm, I would use softly-spoken questions to bring him back to the meeting. Interestingly, it worked!

After a few moments, he was calm and even leaning against my arm.

Elder Choi relates a more labor- and time-intensive account of how he and his family were able to positively influence a dozen such "loud boys." He tells of how he prayed and acted with love to teach these troublemakers a better, gentler way. This was all done with patience, persuasion, and praise.

It's one thing to have twenty minutes of success in a children's meeting, it's another entirely to offer consistent examples and reinforcement.

I want to use more love and less force in my life, particularly with my own children. Elder Choi spoke of the young men collectively, but it is equally applicable to our own children:

Dear brethren, let us love our boys—although some of them are loud boys. Let us teach them to change their lives. . . . These young men are all of our sons. As we reach out to them, lift them, and help them, we will feel like John, who said, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth.” (See 3 John 1:4)

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Becoming More Powerful Priesthood Holders

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

Becoming More Powerful Priesthood Holders, by Elder Walter F. González
Of the Presidency of the Seventy

Elder González listed one of the benefits of following the righteous examples of those in the Book of Mormon as becoming "more powerful in rescuing others." The doctrine of the Rescue is something that has been discussed much in recent months in our stake.

Stake leaders emphasize that there are four groups of people that need to be rescued (1) those among us, (2) those spiritually disconnected, (3) those seeking the full truth, and (4) those waiting on the other side.

Efforts of Christian missionaries in Haiti, exercising some form of [ill-conceived] rescue, have received a bit of media attention lately. These ten people from Idaho seem to have used misrepresentation to abscond with thirty-three children in hopes of taking them to a yet-to-be-built orphanage in the Dominican Republic. (Please note that this is based on what I've heard from various news reports, and may not be an accurate depiction of reality.)

In discussing missionary work with people of other faiths, I've occasionally heard things similar to: "My parents are on a mission in China [or some other 'closed' country]. They are 'technically' there to teach English, but that's just what their church said so they could get in. It's fine to break a few laws in order to save a few souls."

The kind of rescue that Elder González refers to (and our stake leadership), on the other hand, is more spiritually—and legally—based. I loved how Elder González reminded of how the Book of Mormon recounts when Christ visited the ancient Americas, both teaching His truths and issuing life-saving, and life-changing ordinances. He then said, "in other words, the doctrine and the ordinances stood side by side."

Where would we be with only one of these? Without ordinances, doctrine (or teaching) is meaningless. Similarly, without the truth (doctrine), ordinances are without power or validity. The Book of Mormon reminds that these must always be side-by-side.

In our efforts to reach out and rescue others (and ourselves), it's important that we do as the Lord would have us do, according to established laws (both temporal and divine). I'm grateful for the power of doctrine and ordinances, side-by-side.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Fathers and Sons: A Remarkable Relationship

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

Fathers and Sons: A Remarkable Relationship, by Elder M. Russell Ballard
Of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

I love to spend time with my family, and it's often hard to leave them for various meetings and appointments. Nevertheless, my children have discovered that if a meeting isn't too late, I'll let one of them come with me and we enjoy great one-on-one time together.

In fact, every general conference, David, my six-year-old, comes to the Priesthood Session with me. He wears his little suit and tie, and sits right next to me the whole time. Many of the other men make comments such as, "training him early, are you?", but they don't know the half of it—he wants to come!

So, there we were, sitting side-by-side when Elder Ballard started the session off talking about the relationship between fathers and sons. Right away I knew that I would love the talk, primarily because I was practicing what it preached!

I listened intently to the many points that were mentioned, not knowing how much attention David was paying to the words. On Elder Ballard's list of three suggestions for the sons, he started with:

First, trust your father. He is not perfect, but he loves you and would never do anything he didn’t think was in your best interest.

Upon hearing this, David turned to me and lovingly said, "Daddy, you're perfect."

This gave me both a big smile and confidence that we were well on our way to having a life-long remarkable relationship:

There is no other relationship quite like that which can and should exist between a boy and his dad. It can be one of the most nurturing, joyful relationships in life, one that can have a profound impact on who boys become and also on who dads become.

I love our Daddy-David time, and look forward to additional father-son time in the future with my other son(s) as well. [I love my daddy-daughter time, too!]

Monday, February 22, 2010

Embrace Life

Do you wear your seat belt?

Even on short trips?

I came upon the following advertisement from the UK, and it really touched something in me. It wasn't overly graphic or full of scare tactics (as many are), but was completely wonderful.

Please watch the video before considering the following:
Did you find this video touching? (I actually had a few tears come to my eyes—even after multiple views!)

What made it compelling?

What did the wife and daughter represent?

Was the man wearing a seat belt before his family wrapped him, or did the belt, in the moment of peril, come to represent what he wanted to live for?

If you were a person who didn't usually buckle up (I'm assuming you usually do), would this ad help change your mind?

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Prayer and Promptings

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

Prayer and Promptings, by President Boyd K. Packer
President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

Our children have their special toys that, like the Velveteen Rabbit, are well on their way to becoming real. Rebecca has her Dolly (shown below near Christmas, 2008).

This morning was sad for Rebecca because she couldn't find her Dolly. Dolly was lost.

My sweet little girl was crestfallen because, as she said, "I prayed, but I still can't find her!" It was a great teaching moment.

We knelt in a circle and asked Rebecca to say another prayer with all of us there, after which we would pay attention to what we felt and see if we could find Dolly.

After the prayer, I realized that there was a lot riding on Dolly being found. The whole family was involved, and if we didn't have success, it would be difficult to explain that some prayers aren't answered when we want (especially to a heartbroken little girl). Nevertheless, with great faith, I searched my heart, feelings, and mind.

David offered, "I think it's in the game cupboard!"

"I was thinking the same thing!" I added.

We were wrong.

Tilting her head up and slightly to the side, my sweet wife quietly stood and left the room. She returned in seconds, carrying Dolly, to happy exclamations and enormous smiles.

Maryann, the hero. (Or, is it heroine?)

She reported that after the prayer, suddenly she could see a memory of the children playing in our closet. Upon investigation, she was led right to a certain pair of my shoes, wherein lay Dolly.

Being led to the closet is impressive enough, but to the correct shoe is even better (I have fifteen pairs of shoes—I just counted them).

How do promptings come to you?

We often hear that people receive promptings in different ways. President Packer said:

There is a perfect manner of communication through the Spirit. . . . That sweet, quiet voice of inspiration comes more as a feeling than it does as a sound. Pure intelligence can be spoken into the mind. The Holy Ghost communicates with our spirits through the mind more than through the physical senses. This guidance comes as thoughts, as feelings through promptings and impressions. We may feel the words of spiritual communication more than hear them and see with spiritual rather than with mortal eyes.

It seems, then, that promptings may come through any of the avenues of the mind or feelings.

Serendipitously, Maryann and I studied the same talk today (this one, of course). As we talked of the Dolly experience, she stressed how important it is to keep our minds clean, so we can have a clear channel for promptings. Elder Packer agrees:

Keep that channel—your mind—clean and free from the clutter of the world.

I love that we can receive promptings, and that they can come over events large or small, regarding things [seemingly] trivial or grandiose.

But right now, I'm especially grateful that I was wrong—that Dolly wasn't in the game cupboard—and that my sweet Maryann was led to the right place. When we say that we're not alone, we may usually be referring to having the companionship of the Holy Ghost. I'm grateful that I'm not alone, also, in that I have a pure, clean, and guided, loving wife. I love that after all these years (all eight of them), I'm still being taught to be a better person by her constant example.

The gift of the Holy Ghost operates equally with men, women, and even little children. It is within this wondrous gift and power that the spiritual remedy to any problem can be found.

I love, you, Maryann!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Repent . . . That I May Heal You

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

“Repent . . . That I May Heal You”, by Elder Neil L. Andersen
Of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

A bathtime disagreement led to sobs and tears. My little girl lost the coin-toss and didn't get the first bath. After hearing the report of this, my wife told me, "she needs big hugs." With a heart full of compassion, I came to my daughter with open arms, only to be pushed aside, empty, alone.

In referring to the many ways the scriptures speak of the Lord's arms, Elder Andersen reminded me of this situation I had earlier in the evening. He spoke of "being wrapped in His arms" as "an invitation to repent."

In my attempt at comforting my little girl, I knew what she needed—hugs—but she wasn't ready yet. This made me wonder how often I'm in need of comfort (perhaps through the repentance process), but choose to be alone, instead.

Elder Andersen reminds that the Lord's "arm is lengthened out all the day long" (2 Ne. 28:32), and testifies that "the Savior is able and eager to forgive our sins."

This shouldn't come as a big surprise:

We have each felt to some extent these spiritual arms around us. We have felt His forgiveness, His love and comfort. The Lord has said, “I am he [who] comforteth you.”

The next time I need comfort, I hope I can remember this and "turn to the Lord" (see Mosiah 7:33), finding those open arms, mighty arms, holy arms, arms of mercy, arms of safety, and arms of love there to wrap me in a warm embrace.

I love hugs, especially surprisingly big hugs from little ones.

The comparison of the spiritual comfort—the heavenly hugs—that comes through repentance is spot-on. Elder Andersen's words provide yet another motivation to repent: hugs.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Being Temperate in All Things

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

Being Temperate in All Things, by Elder Kent D. Watson
Of the Seventy

While driving to Utah for Christmas, we were following a truck which changed lanes, causing a rock to sail towards our windshield. You've likely been in this situation before; the world seems to move in slow motion as the path of the rock seems all too apparent—ending, of course, at glass.

Following a loud CRACK!, I was surprised to see only a small mark on the windshield. Despite my surprise, I was still disappointed because I was concerned about chipped glass going to freezing weather.

A couple of weeks later, back at home in Texas, I set out to [finally] have the chip repaired—grateful that a crack had not propagated. At the shop, I was surprised again with the strength of the glass. I was told that the mark I was seeing was the result of a thin plastic-like covering placed on top of the glass, and that the glass was unmarred.

Tempered glass is amazingly strong.

In his remarks, Elder Watson gives direction and reassurance that we, indeed, can be "temperate in all things," as the scriptures require (see D&C 12:8).

In addition to "exercising restraint when it comes to food and drink," and "refraining from anger or not losing one's temper," the gospel definition of temperance includes:
  1. to use moderation in all things or to exercise self-control,
  2. to carefully examine our expectations and desires, and
  3. to be diligent and patient in seeking righteous goals.
The memory of my windshield experience was jarred by a similar, albeit more exciting story of Elder Watson. He tells of how a renegade tire on the highway collided with his windshield, shattering it (the windshield, of course). In reporting the incident to his wife, she imagined him lacerated by great shards of windshield glass. Fortunately, this is not the case here, or in many other unfortunate stories; windshield glass is tempered.

Here comes the tie-together:

Tempered glass, like tempered steel, undergoes a well-controlled heating process which increases strength. Thus, when tempered glass is under stress, it will not easily break into jagged shards that can injure.

Likewise, a temperate soul—one who is humble and full of love—is also a person of increased spiritual strength. With increased spiritual strength, we are able to develop self-mastery and to live with moderation. We learn to control, or temper, our anger, vanity, and pride. With increased spiritual strength, we can protect ourselves from the dangerous excesses and destructive addictions of today’s world.

What do we do when we find figurative rocks sailing our way? Further still, what of when enormous, renegade tires head our way? Can we trust that we are tempered enough to survive the blows that come, be the results a mere scratch or shattering?

I want to be tempered instead of simply losing lose my temper (which I'm frequently reminded I need to work on).

Besides our windshields, we have an even stronger and applicable example:

What better example do we have of temperance than our Savior, Jesus Christ? ... His divine gift of temperance is available to each of God's children.

President's Day Paintings

Here are some pictures that my almost-four-year-old daughter painted in preschool; the colors reminded me of the new colors on our paper currency. I thought I would arrange them in a grid, inverting the colors on the second set.

Or, without the negative look, if you prefer:

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Joseph Smith—Prophet of the Restoration

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

Joseph Smith—Prophet of the Restoration, by Elder Tad R. Callister
Of the Seventy

We've seen it many times before in books, films, and television: a person is in peril—because of medical difficulty, a hostage situation, or some other mortal danger—and the protagonist is heard to heroically offer, "Take me instead!"

Perhaps the power in this offering is in its universality and relationship to the infinite Atonement. This is, after all, the premise of the Savior's sacrifice: He paid the price for us (on conditions of repentance, of course).

Considering all of this, how would the person-in-peril situations change if the person to cry out, "Take me instead!" were all alone? Or, rather, what if he were talking to himself?

As inefficiently as I've tried to make a parallel, Elder Callister provides a better, stunning comparison:

We are moved by the Savior’s submission and find strength in His example to do likewise, but what would have been the depth and passion of Christ’s submission or the motivational power of that example if the Father and the Son were the same being and in reality the Son was merely following His own will under a different name?

He continued to make applicable comparisons to Abraham's offering of Isaac being changed to Abraham offering Abraham. It just doesn't make sense.

The context of this question is in innumerate four fundamental truths revealed to the Prophet Joseph Smith:
  1. The Father and Son are two separate, distinct beings,
  2. They have glorified bodies of flesh and bones,
  3. God still speaks to man today, and
  4. The full and complete Church of Jesus Christ was not then upon the earth.

I really enjoyed the points and connections that Elder Callister raised in his talk. I liked them so much, in fact, that I'm tempted to simply repeat them here. Nevertheless, I'll let the reader refer to the full talk text (link), and simply say that I'm grateful for the restored truths of the gospel, as revealed to and through Joseph Smith—Prophet of the Restoration.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Attempting the Impossible

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

Attempting the Impossible, by Elder Jorge F. Zeballos
Of the Seventy

As an undergrad at BYU, I took an great course on ethics in engineering—it really helped open my eyes on many aspects of life (not just engineering). I have often remembered one small example of one lecture of one module in one class. It was the story of Genichi Taguchi and the Taguchi principle.

From what I remember (without extensive review), Taguchi introduced in Japan a different view of acceptability in manufacturing (than what we still use, largely, in this country). My brief summary is that he set sights on perfection, as opposed to simply being within a specified tolerance.

For example, pretend you need a screw, say, of a certain size to help make something air- and water-tight. If the screw is too big, it won't fit in the hole. If it is too small, it might let fluid leak out. Under this scenario, would you rather purchase the screw from a company that specified acceptability based on the measured size falling within a tolerance (e.g. 10 mm, plus-or-minus 0.25 mm), or from a company that consistently changed its methods in order to more closely meet the desired size?

In the first case, screws coming off the manufacturing line are considered equally "perfect" if they are 10 mm, 10.25 mm, or 9.75 mm (or anywhere in between these values). The parts' size in the second case have a higher probability of being 10 mm, and only parts measured 10 mm are deemed "perfect."

The Taguchi principle, of course, follows the second case.

When I think of the requirements of the gospel, which Elder Zeballos expounded, I'm reminded of the Taguchi principle. The command to be perfect (see Matt. 5:48 and/or 3 Ne. 12:48) isn't classified as being perfect, plus or minus so many sins—perfect is perfect.

As Elder Zeballos rightly reminds: "From a purely human point of view, at first this seems to be an impossible task." He then spends the rest of his address reminding that because of the Atonement of Christ, we can be made perfect, "subject only to total and sincere repentance."

He also provides encouragement with this explanatory definition:

The Lord does not expect that we do what we cannot achieve. The command to become perfect, as He is, encourages us to achieve the best of ourselves, to discover and develop the talents and attributes with which we are blessed by a loving Eternal Father, who invites us to realize our potential as children of God.

As I read Elder Zeballos' explanation of what God requires, I was strongly reminded of the Taguchi principle. See if you do, too:

God will not require more than the best we can give because that would not be just, but neither can He accept less than that because that would not be just either.

Understandably, many people are entirely uncomfortable with the idea of having to be "perfect." (Perhaps this is why so many [falsely] think that God allows the biggest tolerances imaginable.) Perhaps being absolutely aware of this, Elder Zeballos continues with the following reassurance and clarification:

Therefore, let us always give the best we can in the service of God and our fellowmen. Let us serve in our families and in our callings in the Church in the best manner possible. Let us do the best we can and each day be a little better. ... Yes, it is possible to achieve eternal life. Yes, it is possible to be happy now and forever.

In my personal quest for perfection, I hope I can successfully set my sights high (to Christ) instead of lulling myself into feelings of safety in the broad Valley of Tolerance—thinking that I don't really have to do much more, that my past efforts are sufficient (compare to 2 Ne. 28:21).

It's fun to think of the Taguchi principle in optimizing things in life, but it's more joyful to think of the "Savior function," and how it applies to our Father's perfect plan for the perfection of his children.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Seeking to Know God, Our Heavenly Father, and His Son, Jesus Christ

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

Seeking to Know God, Our Heavenly Father, and His Son, Jesus Christ, by Elder Robert D. Hales
Of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

I have wonderful colleagues. Despite our theological and lifestyle differences, we are great friends, and I have never felt threatened because of my beliefs, or the way I observe my faith. Nevertheless, I am aware that, like Elder Hales observed, "belief in God is widely questioned and even attacked in the name of political, social, and even religious causes."

I'm not sure why this skepticism, or even "militant atheism" (recall Elder Pearson's address last conference? link) has largely passed me by—perhaps my co-workers are just amazing—but I can understand why the beliefs that some hold come into question.

Many are the times I've heard deity referred to as mysterious, unknowable, unapproachable, and other nebulous and downright-confusing terms. I enjoyed the comforting reminders of truths of our Father in Heaven and His Son, Jesus Christ from the scriptures, which Elder Hales expounds on. His review includes the following magnificent truths:

  • They have a physical presence.
  • They stand in one place at one time.
  • The Father and the Son have voices.
  • They have faces, They stand, and They converse.
  • They have bodies, in form and parts like ours.
  • The Father and the Son have feelings for us.
  • God and His Son, Jesus Christ, are immortal, glorified, and perfected beings.

Appropriately, I was reminded of these facts, and others, yesterday during the sacrament. A young couple sitting behind my family were quietly asking their small son what the meanings of the tokens of the sacrament meant. This reminded me of the absolute necessity we all have of God. I was reminded of this again as I reviewed Elder Hales words:

Without God, life would end at the grave and our mortal experiences would have no purpose. Growth and progress would be temporary, accomplishment without value, challenges without meaning. There would be no ultimate right and wrong and no moral responsibility to care for one another as fellow children of God. Indeed, without God, there would be no mortal or eternal life.

I'm grateful that Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ are public , knowable, and approachable. I'm grateful for the familiarity and respect that we can have for them as we come to know more about them, and to truly know them, too (see John 17:3).

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Love and Law

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

Love and Law, by Elder Dallin H. Oaks
Of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

My two older children played together beautifully yesterday; it really was a wonderful day. They continued to play together today after church, but something seemed a bit off. At one point I stepped into the room to check on them and asked a specific question to ensure that they were following rules. They assured me that they were, and I asked them to continue to play nicely.

Fast-forward to our bedtime routines. At a time when my daughter was feeling particularly loved, she looked at me and said, "Daddy, we didn't tell you the truth earlier; we were [doing what we weren't supposed to do]."

This situation was the perfect testing opportunity for me. You see, I had reviewed Elder Oaks' talk earlier in the day, and was then presented this application situation. I was in a situation where I was filled with love for my children, and I needed to issue discipline. (I remembered that "discipline" and "disciple" share a common root.)

In answer to the question, "How are anger and wrath evidence of [God's] love?", Elder Oaks' reply included:

God’s anger and His wrath are not a contradiction of His love but an evidence of His love. Every parent knows that you can love a child totally and completely while still being creatively angry and disappointed at that child’s self-defeating behavior.

I'm happy that in trying to decide on an appropriate consequence, I didn't feel the least bit angry (as I too often do). I was disappointed, but I remained filled with love. My son, in particular, felt that I no longer loved him when I announced that he would lose half of his eight stuffed animals for the night. I later talked with him and he says that he understands that even though he is being punished, he is still loved.

Of the many incredible things that Elder Oaks shared, perhaps most applicable to me (at this reading) is:

There is no area of parental action that is more needful of heavenly guidance or more likely to receive it than the decisions of parents in raising their children and governing their families. This is the work of eternity.

I fail to meet my personal expectations far too often. However, I'm grateful that I was prepared to respond appropriately to a teaching opportunity tonight (for both me and my children).

The Sustaining of Church Officers

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

The Sustaining of Church Officers, by Presented by President Henry B. Eyring
First Counselor in the First Presidency

This afternoon, I was reading the Ensign, and I was impressed by two short articles on a single page, "When Is the Time to Serve?"by Elder Hales, and "Issuing and Accepting Callings" by Elder Walker (link to both articles).

I liked Elder Hales' thesis:

For every one of you the question will come in life, ‘When is the time to serve?’ The best answer I can give you is, ‘When you are asked.’

I likewise liked the points that Elder Walker made:

We serve willingly. We do not volunteer. We are called.

Callings and releases don’t always come to us when we would prefer. We need to trust in the Lord’s timetable.

For perhaps the first time that I can remember, I recognized many of the names of those who were released in the sustaining of church officers. I've long loved raising my hand to sustain those currently serving as church leaders and those newly called. I have also dutifully raised my hand in thanks for many hours (and years) of heartfelt service in releasings. It was an interesting change to feel that I knew many of the people that were released, having made personal connections with them through their words and service over the years.

Interestingly, this is connected to the last talk I reviewed; I knew these men by their love, and because of their examples, I am a better disciple of Christ.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

The Love of God

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

The Love of God, by President Dieter F. Uchtdorf
Second Counselor in the First Presidency

How are we known? In a post of long ago (link), I wrote: "I don't want to be defined by what I don't do or don't believe, but rather by what I do, who I am, and what I believe."

President Uchtdorf mentions some things by which we as a people are known. His list includes the usual (missionaries, hard workers, etc.) and the more unusual:

We might also be known as a people who attend church every Sunday for three hours, in a place where everyone is a brother or a sister, where the children sing songs about streams that talk, trees that produce popcorn, and children who want to become sunbeams.

In my notes, I recorded that at this point, my three-year-old girl raised her hand and said, "I want to be a sunbeam!"

In this, the season of love, it is appropriate to remember that "love is the defining characteristic of a disciple of Christ."

I want to be known by love.

My amazing wife is already known by love. I can see her and her love in the following paragraph:

Because love is the great commandment, it ought to be at the center of all and everything we do in our own family, in our Church callings, and in our livelihood. Love is the healing balm that repairs rifts in personal and family relationships. It is the bond that unites families, communities, and nations. Love is the power that initiates friendship, tolerance, civility, and respect. It is the source that overcomes divisiveness and hate. Love is the fire that warms our lives with unparalleled joy and divine hope. Love should be our walk and our talk.

I can imagine her trying [unsuccessfully] to counter that she doesn't embody love as readily as I claim she does. She might even provide specific examples. Nevertheless, I know that the reason she could cite specific examples is because when she has hard times showing love, it goes so much against who she is, that she distinctly remembers it and wants to improve.

She's that full of love. (Is it any wonder I love her so!?)

President Uchtdorf had a great causal connection chain after asking if God needs us to love him:

No, God does not need us to love Him. But oh, how we need to love God!

For what we love determines what we seek.

What we seek determines what we think and do.

What we think and do determines who we are—and who we will become.

If we think of a disciple as a follower, then what is an expanded definition of a disciple of Christ?

I really like a definition I found when teaching young men: "a disciple of Christ is one who not only believes or follows but also acts and lives his life in harmony with the Savior’s example" (link).

This is applicable in love, too. Christ set the perfect example in love (and everything else, too!); it naturally follows, then, that "love is the defining characteristic of a disciple of Christ."

I want to do better in my pursuits of being a disciple of Christ. I want to have more love, and show more love.

And like my little girl, I, too, want to be a sunbeam.


Keeping with the music-theme, here is a recent video the church posted on love:

Love One Another

Friday, February 12, 2010

More Diligent and Concerned at Home

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

More Diligent and Concerned at Home, by Elder David A. Bednar
Of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

"You're the best daddy in the whole wide world!"

This is my goal: to hear this regularly. I met this goal just a couple of hours ago. We were driving home from a day of fun at the zoo and temple, and my little daughter turned to me, out of the blue, and said, "You're the best daddy in the whole wide world!"

This is a sentiment that I hear almost every night when we tuck the little ones in bed (my wife hears it for her, too). Hearing this makes me think that I'm doing at least all right. I was reminded of this when I read the following from Elder Bednar:

We should remember that saying “I love you” is only a beginning. We need to say it, we need to mean it, and most importantly we need consistently to show it. We need to both express and demonstrate love.

I don't mean to "toot my own horn," or give the impression of conceit, I'm just thrilled that after a thorough analysis of how fathers need to be better at home in showing love, bearing testimony, and being consistent, that I can find regular evidences that I'm doing at least two of those things!

After all, posts wouldn't be as much fun to read if I listed the many more ways that I fail to live up to who I should be (Even after the hardest days, the children will still tell me they love me; usually with words such as, "even though you were a mean daddy today, I still love you!"). I'm just hoping that my efforts to be loving can contribute to the consistency promise issued:

No one event may appear to be very impressive or memorable. But ... our consistency in doing seemingly small things can lead to significant spiritual results.

So, how do I answer the cute, oft-repeated compliment? Well, after I give big hugs and kisses, I say, "You're my favorite Rebecca (or David) in the whole wide world!"

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Teaching Helps Save Lives

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

Teaching Helps Save Lives, by Russell T. Osguthorpe
Sunday School General President

What would you say if you were told that, as a parent, you are a messenger of God? This may sound hard to believe—especially after hard days—but it is exactly what Brother Osguthorpe maintains. He even has evidence:

We are all teaching future leaders of the Church. So we teach key doctrine, invite learners to do the work God has for them, and then promise that blessings will surely come.

His classification of messengers of God includes "all parents and gospel teachers." After recounting experiences of teachers who made great differences in his life, he remarked that each helped to save his life. This led me to wonder: Which teachers have saved my life? Have I saved any lives in my teaching?

The first question is easier to quantify—I have the help of my memory. However, because I'm not those whom I've taught, I cannot say if I've been very successful at saving any lives.

As I considered these questions, particularly the first, I immediately thought of the many teachers I had as a young man. I looked up to these men and still remember some of the lessons I learned from them (both lessons from books and life lessons).

This thought exercise convinced me that Brother Osguthorpe's message is true: teaching does help save lives. These men exemplified what President Monson was quoted as saying:

The goal of gospel teaching ... is not to ‘pour information’ into the minds of class members. ... The aim is to inspire the individual to think about, feel about, and then do something about living gospel principles.

The connection between parents and teachers as life-savers (not the candy) and messengers from God may be in the link between the quote from President Monson and the clear instruction to parents to teach their children to understand (not just know) the doctrines of the gospel (as recorded in D&C 68:25).

It may take more work to inspire thinking, feeling, and doing in children, rather than just teaching facts and behavior by rote, but I believe the results will ultimately be much better.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

That Your Burdens May Be Light

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

That Your Burdens May Be Light, by Elder L. Whitney Clayton
Of the Presidency of the Seventy

I was recently listening to a radio interview on NPR's Fresh Air where author Randi Hutter Epstein spoke on the history of childbirth (link). I like to think that I'm somewhat qualified to participate in this discussion—I am a father of three!—but some may discredit my comments due to my gender. Oh well.

In speaking of Eve and her contribution to pain and childbirth, Ms. Epstein said:

Well, I blame her for starting it all. I mean, you know, she ate the apple, she was punished, and then they said now birth will be painful so she started it. Whether we believe the story or not, I mean that's sort of in our culture. And since then, we've grappled with, is pain a good thing or a bad thing?

I found two things interesting in this small portion of a longer interview: 1.) the misunderstanding of Eve's role in the Plan of Salvation, and 2.) the interesting question of the role of pain in our lives.

I'll save the first item for another posting (but you can get a head start by looking at the "Eve" entry in the Bible Dictionary, link), but the second point is well addressed by Elder Clayton:

Burdens provide opportunities to practice virtues that contribute to eventual perfection. ... Thus burdens become blessings, though often such blessings are well disguised and may require time, effort, and faith to accept and understand.

This view is likely not embraced by those (including ourselves) in the midst of pain or at the crux of suffering. Nor should we take this to be an admonishment to seek out suffering and burdens. Instead, it is a reassurance that through the infinite power of the Atonement, we can find not only relief from the burdens of sins (in all their varying degrees), but relief from all burdens, pain, heartache, and suffering.

In listing examples of how burdens become blessings, Elder Clayton quoted from the experiences and results of Adam and Eve: "Cursed shall be the ground for thy sake" (Moses 4:23, compare Gen. 3:17, emphasis mine). He then taught that this means "for his benefit." It is an interesting—and accurate—description of motivations. Adam and Eve—and all of us!—weren't being punished, they were being advanced, promoted, or set on the path of progress, growth, and "eventual perfection."

This exercise makes me appreciate my wife and Eve even more.

I don't know that I'm ready to say that I'm grateful for burdens, pains, and frustrations. However, I am happy to admit that I am incredibly grateful for the Atonement of Christ which provides a way that such can be lifted, forgiven, and made into catalysts for exaltation.

And, no, given all this, I'm not ready to experience the pains of childbirth firsthand. I do, though, think I understand their necessity and power as I see my amazing wife and consider who she is and all she does for me and our family.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Helping Others Recognize the Whisperings of the Spirit

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

Helping Others Recognize the Whisperings of the Spirit, by Vicki F. Matsumori
Second Counselor in the Primary General Presidency

How do you describe what the companionship of the Holy Ghost feels like? We have the listing from Galations (see 5:22-23), but I enjoy, as does Sister Matsumori, the description she shared from a newly baptized eight-year-old boy: "It felt like sunshine."

I can imagine the warmth of the Spirit and of sunshine as I imagine myself physically in the picture of the Sacred Grove (above). In fact, just thinking of it sends a warm shiver up my arms and spine!

A few weeks ago, Maryann gave a wonderful family home evening lesson on listening to the "still, small voice," with a story from the Friend, "The Candy Ball" (link), as an aid. This is a story of how a father came to the rescue of his daughter because he heard and heeded a spiritual prompting.

The very next day, as I neared home on my bike commute, I was thinking of this lesson, wondering if I would ever be in a similar situation: Would I hear and hearken, too?

Just then, I felt a mildly rebuking reminder that that very commute was filled with guidance. As I had left work, I felt that I needed to take an alternate route home for some reason. Despite not knowing the way (I figured that if I was being guided, then I wouldn't get lost), I found my way home on foreign roads—and I made it home safely!

It's one thing to feel and follow whisperings of the Spirit; it's another thing to remember and recall. How silly of me to have forgotten so quickly (or at least to not have made the connection between being distinctly prompted and longing for promptings).

Well did Sister Matsumori teach:

When we come to understand the whisperings of the Spirit, ... we will be guided and protected. And we can cultivate this gift in our lives as we follow those spiritual promptings. Most importantly, we will feel Him witness to us of the Father and of the Son.

I'm grateful for the "unspeakable gift of the Holy Ghost" (D&C 121:26), and for the big and small promptings—those that are suited for teaching moments and those that are too sacred to openly share.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

To Acquire Spiritual Guidance

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

To Acquire Spiritual Guidance, by Elder Richard G. Scott
Of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

Sometimes it seems that life is more like a maze than it is amazing. With the blind turns, unclear decisions, and often getting lost, how can we find the way to our ultimate goal?

Consider the difference between a real-life maze (pictured above)—where you cannot really see where you want to go or where you came from—and the more newspaper-esque maze (below) where the path can be more clear (in theory).

If we are in the more real maze, it is easy to imagine situations where we become entirely stuck—seeing no way to get out. As I reviewed Elder Scott's talk, I thought of this life maze as he taught that "some decisions [are] beyond [our] own ability to decide correctly." In times like this, we have the following assurance:

In His plan of happiness, He included a provision for you to receive help with such challenges and decisions during your mortal life. That assistance will come to you through the Holy Ghost as spiritual guidance. It is a power, beyond your own capability, that a loving Heavenly Father wants you to use consistently for your peace and happiness.

In those pitiful times of feeling lost, abandoned, and alone, it is comforting that there is hope. In a real sense, we only need to look up—to look outside of the maze to the One who can guide us. Nevertheless, Elder Scott reminds that:

Were you to receive inspired guidance just for the asking, you would become weak and ever more dependent on Them. They know that essential personal growth will come as you struggle to learn how to be led by the Spirit.

This isn't to suggest, I imagine, that there is any comfort taken in watching us struggle, but, rather, that it is through the struggle that we learn to look up.

It's comforting to be reminded of the benefits of learning to trust in the Lord and listen to the Holy Ghost:

Spirituality yields two fruits. The first is inspiration to know what to do. The second is power, or the capacity to do it.

It seems, then, that after we face a struggle (or get stuck in a corner of our life maze) and successfully look up for guidance, that we can either be led around the right corners, or given power to break down walls.

Either way, the end result is both rewarding and surprising! (Compare 1 Nephi 4:6)

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Welcome to Conference

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

Welcome to Conference, by President Thomas S. Monson

I've long been amazed by simultaneity. I remember listening to songs or watching videos as a young boy wondering if anyone else in the world was doing exactly what I was doing—listening to the very same song or watching the very same video. While there wasn't a clear way for me to determine this, it was still fun to wonder on.

Much has been said of King Benjamin and the means he used to help as many people as possible hear his final address (see Mosiah 2:5-8), how the people faced the temple (where he was speaking), that he used a tower to stand on, and that his words were recorded and distributed. As we listened to the prelude music at this conference, watching the feed live vie Internet, we marveled that at that very moment (delayed only by the speed of light—not much of a delay, really), what we were seeing was happening.

Every six months, I'm amazed that I can participate in real-time with church leaders and members in wonderful conferences. Say what you will of the perils and pitfalls of technology; President Monson (and I) is grateful for them:

How grateful I am for the age in which we live—an age of such advanced technology that we are able to address you across the world. As the General Authorities and auxiliary leaders stand here in the Conference Center in Salt Lake City, our voices will be reaching you by various means...

Talk about simultaneity!

It's fun to know that many people, all over the world, are doing just what I'm doing, when I'm doing it.

However, I still wonder if anyone is listening to the very talk I'm listening to when I ride my bike to work in the wee hours of the morning...