Friday, September 30, 2011

At Parting

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

At Parting, by Thomas S. Monson
President, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

I love general conference! Apparently I'm not alone; earlier in the week my five-yr-old daughter asked, "What day is it?" After I told her that it was Tuesday, she smiled and said, "I'm excited for the weekend because we get to watch general conference!"

I'm cutting it close this time. Tomorrow is the first day of general conference, and I'm just now finishing my review of last conference. (How embarrassing for me!)

As is our family tradition, we're going to watch conference together with our proverbial tent towards the temple. To keep it exciting for the little ones, we'll play the word listening game we love, where the children choose a word at the start, listen for that word, and receive a piece of candy each time they notice the word is said. I don't remember each of the words they chose for this last conference, but they did listen for "church" and "prayer" in two of the sessions.

As part of another tradition, here is a word cloud of the top 100 words said in the conference talks. Do you see "church" or "prayer" in the cluster?

I wonder which words the children will choose this time... Regardless of their choice, I hope they come away from conference knowing that, as President Monson taught:

We face many challenges in the world today, but I assure you that our Heavenly Father is mindful of us. He loves each of us and will bless us as we seek Him through prayer and strive to keep His commandments.

I'm excited for another great conference weekend with my family!

C'mon conference!

An Ensign to the Nations

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

An Ensign to the Nations, by Jeffrey R. Holland
Of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

As I mowed the lawn last Saturday, I had an interesting chain of thoughts. I saw a little utilities marking flag on the border of our property and was reminded of seeing similar flags on the hillside at BYU marking sprinkler head locations (or something). I thought it was great that a simple little plastic flag had the BYU Y on it. My thoughts then wandered to the idea of either erecting a flagpole or affixing a flag holder to the side of our house. With such, we could raise a national flag on patriotic holidays, as well as a BYU flag on game days!

As I thought about these flags, I actually pictured a flag waving on a hill, similar to the ensign to the nations described by Elder Holland in his talk. I wondered if others seeing flags on our house would be stirred in any way—either with national pride or BYU appreciation. But then I wondered if my life is serving as a sort of flag—or ensign—letting others know what I believe by my actions.

Am I an ensign?

Speaking of general conference, Elder Holland said:

We testify to every nation, kindred, tongue, and people that God not only lives but also that He speaks, that for our time and in our day the counsel you have heard is, under the direction of the Holy Spirit, “the will of the Lord, … the word of the Lord, … the voice of the Lord, and the power of God unto salvation.”

I still haven't decided if we'll do anything to display flags at our house, but I have decided that I want my life to serve as an ensign to the nations. Yesterday I told my wife that it's my personal mission to change the culture of South Florida's customer service industry—cashier's aren't usually visibly happy here. I told her that each time I check out, I'm going to go out of my way to be happy, friendly, and nice to try to brighten their day and see if it spreads. Similarly, I want my life to stand as a witness of what I believe and know.

At all times. Not just at the checkout stand.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Miracle of the Atonement

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

The Miracle of the Atonement, by C. Scott Grow
Of the Seventy

Doubtless, there are many ways that the Atonement is not like Walmart, but as I reviewed Elder Grow's talk, I couldn't help compare the Atonement to Walmart in one specific way.

We recently bought a membership to COSTCO. We're still wondering if 1.) we'll save enough over the year to justify the membership expense, and 2.) if our pantry is big enough to hold the enormously-sized containers sold there. When we checked the hours of operation, I was a little surprised that the doors weren't open for more hours in the day.

My schedule has become one of early to bed, early to rise. I awake so early during the week that if I were to need supplies (for lunch or something similar), all the stores would be closed. All the stores except for Walmart.

I actually slept in until 5am this morning. As I got out of bed, I actually wondered if things would be busier on my ride to work, given it was a couple of hours later than I've been going in. Specifically, I wondered if any stores would be open. As I knelt to pray, I thought of some mistakes I had made the previous day and was in the process of repenting when Walmart popped into my mind. My earlier thought process infiltrated my repentance, as if part of my mind had just awakened and said, "Walmart is the only store that is open now!" After scolding myself for not focusing on my prayer as I probably should have, I returned to praying.

As I read Elder Grow's account of his brother's path away from the Lord and then back again, something he said (twice) stuck in my mind:

The Atonement is available to everyone all the time, no matter how large or small the sin, "on conditions of repentance." . . .

The healing and redemptive power of the Atonement is available to each of us—always.

While much of the world around me may still be sleeping when I start my day, the Atonement is always available. I can pray for repentance and change even in the earliest hours of the morning (or latest hours of the night)—always!

The two Walmart stores between my home and work are out of the way enough so that I rarely go before work. They may be open, but they aren't convenient. The Atonement, on the other hand, is likewise "open" or available, but it is unlike Walmart in that it is always convenient.


Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Called to Be Saints

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

Called to Be Saints, by Benjamín De Hoyos
Of the Seventy

I recently listened to a radio interview with Trey Parker and Matt Stone (link to interview). These two are the creators of the South Park cartoon as well as collaborators on The Book of Mormon Musical. I enjoyed listening to the interview and hearing that while the story line does, indeed, poke fun at members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), the writers wanted to be sure that their admiration and respect for the same members was known.

Part of the interview featured a portion of one of the play's songs. This song, "Two By Two," features missionaries learning of where they are assigned to teach (link to song). Part of the song cleverly (in my opinion) points out the awkwardness of the loooong name of the Church: "We are the army of The Church of Jesus Christ... of Latter-day Saints."

As was discussed in the interview—and sung about in the song—the Church has a long name that doesn't really doesn't roll off the tongue. No wonder we're called Mormons, LDS, etc. by others.

Interestingly, the interview also discussed the official Church response to the musical. Parker actually said that it "is a great response," and Stone added, "which we completely agree with." They even said the response is a sort of QED showing the musical's audiences how "cool" the Church is.

Here's the response, by the way:

The production may attempt to entertain audiences for an evening, but the Book of Mormon as a volume of scripture will change people's lives forever by bringing them closer to Christ.

In his talk, Elder De Hoyos recounted another radio show interview, this time ne that he and a companion gave on Mexican radio. One of the questions asked was, "Why does the Church have such a long name? Why don't you use a shorter or more commercial name?" After explaining that the name came by revelation from the Lord (see D&C 115:4), the questioner replied, "We will thus repeat it with great pleasure."

I don't recall how old I was when I had those same questions, but I do remember how the very name of the Church helps to clarify what the Church is: it is Jesus Christ's church in the latter-days, distinguished only in time from the Church He established in the Meridian of Time!

Now, I don't know exactly how the Book of Mormon Musical portrays Latter-day Saints, but I do know that there is great joy found in being, as Paul said, "fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God."

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

What Manner of Men and Women Ought Ye to Be?

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

What Manner of Men and Women Ought Ye to Be?, by Lynn G. Robbins
Of the Seventy

My children are amazing. I think they are wonderful and do amazing things. But there are times when the things they do require guidance and correction. I've noticed that I'm much more patient and understanding earlier in the day, but when night approaches and I'm increasingly tired, my parenting skills fade like the daylight outside.

In these times when correction is required, I will sometimes fail by saying something similar to, "Why are you this way?"

Each time I do this, I instantly remember that the children themselves aren't bad, they just made a poor decision. Reading Elder Robbins words was a great reminder to me of the difference between be and do. I enjoyed the quote he shared:

Never let failure progress from an action to an identity.

In addition to great counsel on proper parenting (both being good parents and doing good parenting things) was an interesting illustration regarding a To Do list. I often use lists to help me remember things that need to be done, as well as to track progress. I liked his view on lists in this application:

Many of us create to do lists to remind us of things we want to accomplish. But people rarely have to be lists. Why? To do’s are activities or events that can be checked off the list when done. To be, however, is never done. You can’t earn checkmarks with to be’s. I can take my wife out for a lovely evening this Friday, which is a to do. But being a good husband is not an event; it needs to be part of my nature—my character, or who I am.

I need to remind my children more often that they are amazing and not focus so much on mistakes they make. (I may benefit from applying this to myself, too.) I don't want them to wrongly think that if they do something wrong, then they are bad. Instead, I want them to know that I love them and that I will be there to lovingly help them when they make mistakes.

And that I love them when I make mistakes, too. (Especially when it's getting late in the day.)

Monday, September 26, 2011

The Lord’s Richest Blessings

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

The Lord’s Richest Blessings, by Carl B. Pratt
Of the Seventy

I'm starting to dread lessons on tithing. It's not because I'm against tithing, it's that too often the stories and examples shared seem to be the marvelous or dramatic stories that many faithful men and women haven't experienced (the kind of stories that Elder Bednar warned against in an earlier talk in this conference).

When we teach the principle of tithing to children, we hardly if ever talk about being directly compensated with the same amount of money we paid in tithing. Instead, we talk about the real reasons for and blessing from tithing. We testify that tithing is how the Lord's Church can bless the lives of millions around the world. We may illustrate that meetinghouses and even temples are built and maintained by tithing. We teach that the Lord has given us everything and asks for ten percent back to build up the Kingdom. We say that we pay tithing because it's a commandment, and we're happy to help the Lord.

Never in teaching children do we give the hint that if you pay your tithing, you can expect to find money unexpectantly to make up for what you already paid. Never do we talk about a form of quid pro quo.

However, something must happen between Primary and Gospel Doctrine. Too often, it seems that there is a business approach to tithing in these lessons; the focus is on the bottom line, instead of the Lord's richest blessings.

I dealt with tithing, bills, and finances this weekend. I'm acutely aware of our expenses after we've acquired a mortgage and seen incredible moving expenses. Dutifully, I set aside the tithing money before taking care of any other responsibilities and promptly forgot how much it was. As I filled out the tithing envelope yesterday, I realized that a real job (with real expenses) equates to higher tithing checks. As I put the check and slip in an envelope, I reflected on the blessings I've received from the Lord: I looked at my little (or not-so-little-anymore) family sitting on the pew beside me; I thought of our modest home that feels like heaven; I remembered our regular trips to the temple as a family and the eternity that the temple represents. I thought of the love I feel for my family and never even considered that the Lord owed me a bag of cash equal to what I had paid.

As I started reviewing Elder Pratt's comments, I wondered where his dramatic tithing story would lead. I liked his later clarification:

There is a possibility of misinterpretation in this story from my grandparents. We might conclude that since we pay tithing with money, the Lord will always bless us with money. I tended to think that way as a child. I have since learned it doesn’t necessarily work that way. The Lord promises blessings to those who pay their tithing. . . . He fulfills His promises, and if we faithfully pay our tithing, we will not lack for the necessities of life, but He does not promise wealth. Money and bank accounts are not His richest blessings. He blesses us with wisdom to manage our limited material resources, wisdom that enables us to live better with 90 percent of our income than with 100 percent. Thus, faithful tithe payers understand provident living and tend to be more self-reliant.

I'm grateful for the opportunity I have to help assist the Lord in His work, and I'm grateful for the open windows of heaven from which so many blessings continue to flow.

Friday, September 23, 2011

“As Many as I Love, I Rebuke and Chasten”

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

“As Many as I Love, I Rebuke and Chasten”, by D. Todd Christofferson
Of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

I enjoy the tangible indicators of progress that I find in yard work. Mowing a lawn, trimming a hedge, and weeding a garden give definite before-and-after pictures of the results of work and labor.

Yesterday, my wife informed me that we have two poisonous plants growing in our yard. I replied that I would rather have poisonous plants than venomous! Since I don't plan on eating the trees and bushes, I'm not too concerned with poison, but I don't want the plants to retaliate when I go out to work in the yard--which involves what they may see as attacks against them.

Here is one of our poisonous plants.

Each time I trim a bush or tree, I'm reminded of the account that Hugh B. Brown gave of being overlooked for a military promotion because of his Church membership. The story of the currant bush--which I first heard from Truman G. Madsen, and Elder Christofferson repeated here--echoes in my mind every time I shape a plant for a greater purpose. As is also relayed in the account, when I feel chastened or corrected from the Lord, I often hear the words I say to plants when I prune them "Look, little currant bush, I am the gardener here, and I know what I want you to be."

And, yes, in case you're wondering, I call all my plants "little currant bush" when I imagine them complaining against my imposed improvements.

This is a currant bush.

To the faithful reader of this blog (if there are any), you may note that I referenced this currant bush story recently (link here). If this causes you to complain, you may anticipate my response: "I'm the gardener here, and I know what [I'm doing]"!

The previous post was my response to Elder Scott's message of love and care for those around us. I naturally thought of my angel wife and our sweetheart children. The very next talk was about correction, and included direction for parents:

Parents can and must correct, even chasten, if their children are not to be cast adrift at the mercy of a merciless adversary and his supporters.

I spoke of receiving correction from the Lord in loving terms because I can testify of many times when, like the currant bush, I've later said, "Thank you, Mr. Gardener, for loving me enough to cut me down." But I must admit that when I "prune" my children, I need to be much more careful than when I prune trees in the yard.

I can be brazen in cutting back a bush because I know that it will ultimately respond well to my efforts. But if it doesn't, I will become a better gardener.

I need to be cautious against being brazen in "pruning" my children because I readily admit that I don't know what I'm doing! A misshapen or missing bush in the yard is a small thing, but a damaged or missing child in a family is something I don't want to be responsible for.

I'm grateful that I'm not alone. If I'm frank, I'll admit that many of the times when I've received pointed or sharp correction from the Lord have come in response to poor parenting decisions.

Parents may jokingly (or seriously) say that they experiment on their firstborn children and become better parents for any children that come afterward. While there is some truth to this, I need to remember that I have access to the best parent--the best gardener. I will research a job in the yard or with home repairs before I begin a project so I can be qualified to say: I'm the gardener here; I know what I'm doing. Likewise, I need to seek direction from a loving Father in Heaven as I work at shaping my children and myself.

And when I do receive correction--when I'm being pruned--I need to remember to not be venomous (or even poisonous) in response.

He is the Gardener. He knows what he wants me to be.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Eternal Blessings of Marriage

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

The Eternal Blessings of Marriage, by Richard G. Scott
Of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

A few weeks ago, I started to find cute little notes around the house. They would be hidden places where I would find them when I went to do something (e.g. in the toolbox, in a kitchen drawer, near the garden tools, etc.). Each had a short expression of love from my wife, and many were cut into cute shapes that matched the message. I have the feeling that although I've found many, there are still others out there waiting for me.

I don't know for certain, but I suspect that my wife read Elder Scott's talk just before she made all those great notes. (NOTE: She is an amazing and loving wife, and was so even before reading this talk.) The reason for my suspicion is because I now want to go even farther out of my way to show her that I love her!

This was a fun talk to review, but it was also a fun talk to listen to. It was at the start of the Sunday afternoon session of conference. Surprisingly, my children were happy and eager for more conference after two days of watching as a family. As Elder Scott relayed a story of heeding his wife's counsel to put off a household repair and play with the children. He said:

The next morning about 4:00 a.m., I was awakened as I felt two little arms around my neck, a kiss on the cheek, and these words whispered in my ear, which I will never forget: “Dad, I love you. You are my best friend.”

When he heard this, my seven-yr-old son turned to me with love in his eyes and said, "Daddy, I love you; you're my best friend!"

What a sweetheart.

I wasn't the only one who received love from him during the talk. Later, when Elder Scott talked about various love notes, my son secretly made a love note for my wife, his mother, which he lovingly presented to her later.

Reflecting on this, I wonder why he is such a sweet boy. I wonder why all of our children are such sweet little ones.

Elder Scott asked, "Do you tell your wife often how very much you love her?" I can honestly say that I try to. Perhaps the love that is often overflowing the walls of our home is influencing our learning young children. Manifestations of love include loving service, gentle touches, whispers of "I love you," plentiful hugs, a fair share of kisses, and frequent calls home when one is away.

I'm reminded that my children have taken to play Simon Says lately. Whenever it's my three-yr-old son's turn, his instructions are almost always about giving someone—or something—a kiss!

I love my family. I'm so happy that my current job has somewhat flexible hours so I can continue my tradition of working early and returning home early enough to help around the house and play as a family.


If you want even more of Elder Scott's message, here is a cute little video that may cause you to hug and/or kiss someone in the near future:

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Holy Temple—a Beacon to the World

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

The Holy Temple—a Beacon to the World, by Thomas S. Monson
President, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

When we moved to Texas for graduate school, we moved from the shadow of the temple in Provo, Utah, to a place where scheduling was required to attend the temple. As a family we decided to faithfully go to the temple each month. In the five years we were in Texas, I think we only missed one month where we didn't go to the temple—keep in mind that we welcomed two additional children to our family during this time. Interestingly, we went to the temple more frequently when it was far than when it was nearby.

We've now moved again. This time the temple is farther away (175 miles away in Orlando), but we maintain our resolve to make temple worship an important part of our lives. We do this because we know that "temples bring joy to our faithful members wherever they are built."

We are part of the 85 percent of Church members who live within 200 miles of a temple. We love being close enough that we can realistically go each month, but we're thrilled that another is being constructed less than an hour drive from our home!

If you have been to the temple for yourselves and if you live within relatively close proximity to a temple, your sacrifice could be setting aside the time in your busy lives to visit the temple regularly.

In his address, President Monson—a prophet of God—pleaded with us to do something. His use of the word "plead" got my attention. He said:

I plead with you to teach your children of the temple’s importance.

I'm happy to report that I think we're doing well with this. When we go to the temple, we always go as a family. This means that my wife and I sacrifice by not getting to attend together every time, but we are there at the temple together as a family. Some time ago, I approached my children telling them that I was going to actually take a vacation (a big thing for me), and asked where they would like to go if they could go or do anything in the world.

Where do you think they wanted to go?

I was happy when they said that they would love to go to our temple (in San Antonio, TX), but instead of driving down in the morning, they wanted to get a hotel room with a view of the temple, if possible. Bear in mind that they were in the habit of going every month, but they wanted to go again as a vacation and see the temple lit up at night before they went to bed.

It sounds like they're well on their way to knowing, as does President Monson, that:

The all-important and crowning blessings of membership in the Church are those blessings which we receive in the temples of God.

I'm grateful for temples and the place they have in my heart, and in the hearts of my family members!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Spirit of Revelation

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

The Spirit of Revelation, by David A. Bednar
Of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

In previous posts, I've written about how the home improvements I'm engaged in include replacing light switches that are faded or faulty. Each time I do this, I remember the words of Elder Bednar from this talk.

The comparison of the spirit of revelation to two common interactions with light—that of immediate light when operating a light switch and gradual light from the Sun's rising—has stuck with me.

Uncommon spiritual experiences which, for some reason, are often shared in the culture of the Church as though they are common, are more like the instant light from a bulb. The stories of modern and ancient prophets include these marvelous experiences, but Elder Bednar quoted from a modern prophet, Joseph F. Smith, who helped shed light on this:

It is not by marvelous manifestations unto us that we shall be established in the truth, but it is by humility and faithful obedience to the commandments and laws of God.

I like hearing the light-switch-like experiences that can warm the heart, but I find strength in the near-constant light that surrounds me as I consistently seek for the spirit of revelation.

I know that I will have many light-switch experiences, so long as you include my project of replacing old light switches in our house! But if I don't have blinding flashes of light from angelic visitations, I know I'll find comfort from the Sun (and the Son) as I continue to strive to "walk in the light of the Lord" (Isaiah 2:5).

(Besides, I'm already married to an angel! I don't want to get greedy.)

Monday, September 19, 2011

The Essence of Discipleship

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

The Essence of Discipleship, by Silvia H. Allred
First Counselor in the Relief Society General Presidency

We had a church meeting in a new (to us) building yesterday. As is our family custom, I took my children to explore the building and look at the pictures on the hallway walls before the meeting started. I like doing this because it reminds me of how much my children know and can determine from a simple picture they may or may not have ever seen!

While we were having a good time with this activity, we came upon a picture that my son said was "Christ with the disciples."

As I lovingly corrected that the men were apostles, I followed up by asking him if he knew the difference between an apostle and a disciple. Of course he knew! He told me that he is a disciple of Christ because he follows him and that the apostles are disciples who help lead the Church.

My son knows that he is a disciple!

Besides simply believing in Christ, what marks one as a disciple? Sister Allred taught that the essence of discipleship involves loving service:

When love becomes the guiding principle in our care for others, our service to them becomes the gospel in action. It is the gospel in its finest moment. It is pure religion.

Do others know that we're disciples?

To answer this, I'll use a story: I go to work early and usually work alone for a few hours before I'm joined by colleagues. This morning, my friend came in shortly after 5am and we shared a laugh that I had already been there for over an hour. In the ensuing conversation, he ultimately asked what it is that makes me so different from others.

What would you say?

I gave a brief account of my conversion and decision to serve the Lord as a full-time missionary. I also told that this time of service helped to solidify the decisions I had made to be a better person, gain an education, and be different.

Interestingly, he told me that he is "half-Mormon." Apparently his mother is LDS (his father is Methodist). He told me of her decision to serve a mission later in life and the time she spent in the Philippines as a missionary.

This is all great, but what stood out to me was his description of how the final years of her life were difficult with health problems and a lack of resources. Despite these troubles, he told me that the Church members were amazing in their loving service of his mother. He told how she always paid her tithes and offerings and was blessed with help, friends, and comfort in a difficult time.

What I read from the story's conclusion was that my friend's mother was a disciple who benefited from other true disciples of Christ.

The pure love of Christ is expressed as we give selfless service. Helping one another is a sanctifying experience which exalts the receiver and humbles the giver. It helps us become true disciples of Christ.

My son knows he's a disciple. I know I'm trying to be a true disciple, too. But can others tell that I'm a disciple of Christ when they see that I'm different?

I hope there's more to my different-ness than going to work early; I want to develop the essence of discipleship so I can be an instrument in the hands of the Lord.

Friday, September 16, 2011

The Sanctifying Work of Welfare

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

The Sanctifying Work of Welfare, by H. David Burton
Presiding Bishop

We go outside in the fall and find the weather more chilly than we expected and proclaim of the 50° temperature, "It's freezing!" Similarly, after a few hours of not eating, we may find ourselves announcing to a friend, "I'm starving!"

It's not freezing (50° is above 32°—I'm talking Fahrenheit, of course), and you're not starving, but we use these words anyway.

I often laugh inside when my children will dramatically crawl toward me, the very picture of well-fed misery, and act thoroughly languished because they didn't eat enough dinner an hour earlier. Of course, they'll say they're starving, but we all know they're not.

But I wouldn't laugh if my children—or others' children—really were in need.

In his address, Bishop Burton reminded of the importance the Church puts on the temporal welfare of all people with quotes from Heber J. Grand and President Hinckley:

President Grant wanted "a system that would . . . reach out and take care of the people no matter what the cost." He said he would even go so far as to "close the seminaries, shut down missionary work for a period of time, or even close the temples, but they would not let the people go hungry."

Responding with hurricane relief in Nicaragua, President Hinckley said:

As long as the Church has resources, we will not let you go hungry or without clothing or without shelter. We shall do all that we can to assist in the way that the Lord has designated that it should be done.

Much like I don't simply give my children a treat when they didn't eat their dinner and are feeling hungry later, or even just give them more food, I'll remind them of the need to eat dinner in hopes that they'll learn to take care of themselves—and then I may give them something to eat.

Are the principles of providing temporal welfare and teaching self reliance at odds with each other? Should we succor others or should we teach them to take care of themselves?

The answer is obvious: BOTH!

Bishop Burton testified:

No matter how many temples we build, no matter how large our membership grows, no matter how positively we are perceived in the eyes of the world—should we fail in this great core commandment to "succor the weak, lift up the hands which hang down, and strengthen the feeble knees," or turn our hearts from those who suffer and mourn, we are under condemnation and cannot please the Lord9 and the jubilant hope of our hearts will ever be distant.

. . .This is the sacred work the Savior expects from His disciples.

In the future, when I hear others say "it's freezing" when it's not, or "I'm starving" when they're not—or even when it is, and they are—I hope I won't laugh inside, but will rather remember that there are things I can do to help.


As an added bonus, here is a video we put together after we had an opportunity to help send some much-needed supplies for distribution by friends living in Angola:

Thursday, September 15, 2011

More Than Conquerors

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

More Than Conquerors through Him That Loved Us, by Paul V. Johnson
Of the Seventy

Our recent move into our first home brought the opportunity to be reunited with things we had long stored at parents' houses. One of these things is a weight set. Upon seeing the weights and bench, my seven-yr-old son asked if he could work out with me. To be honest, I was wanting to exercise, but wondered if I would find time to slip away alone. His request provides an opportunity to spend time with him, nurture our relationship, teach him some things, and learn a few things from him, too!

Lifting weights with a small child is an interesting experience. Whereas I'm lifting more than 100 lb., he is starting with no more than 10. As I look at his small load, I often calculate and compare the ratio of his load to his body weight, and compare it to mine. What looks like hardly a challenge can be a real test to others who are smaller and inexperienced! In addition, our weight lifting sessions remind me to be a good example of form and technique because it's readily apparent that he's mimicking me exactly.

It's great fun to exercise with my boy; we even take turns spotting each other! The only hard thing is when I see that instead of a spare tire, like I have, he already has a six-pack!

Our exertions together in the garage remind of trials and challenges. Much like muscles don't gain strength or endurance without exertion and opposition, we often hear that the same is true with us and trials—but I've yet to meet someone who enjoys trials as much as we like lifting weights together.

Trials are a part of life and they can lead to meaningful growth, but I find myself increasingly asking "Okay, what did I do wrong this time" whenever I encounter a trial. For some reason, I'm correlating challenges with bad actions—as if the trial is some kind of punishment. What I love of Elder Johnson's talk is that it helped me remember the benefits and blessings of trials.

Perhaps one reason I fell into the habit of seeing trials as punishment was because of how me-specific they seemed. Elder Johnson helped put this in a new light for me:

Since personal growth is an intended outcome of these challenges, it should come as no surprise that the trials can be very personal—almost laser guided to our particular needs or weaknesses.

I shouldn't be surprised when a challenge seems personally catered to one of my [many] weak spots; don't I do the same thing when I lift weights? "Growth cannot come by taking the easy way."

If I do well, will there be a point when I won't have to face these types of challenges?

The furnace of affliction helps purify even the very best of Saints by burning away the dross in their lives and leaving behind pure gold. Even very rich ore needs refining to remove impurities. Being good is not enough. We want to become like the Savior, who learned as He suffered “pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind.”

Here's a good reminder of the ultimate purpose of challenges, trials, and reacting well to them:

Someday when we get to the other side of the veil, we want more than for someone just to tell us, "Well, you’re done." Instead, we want the Lord to say, "Well done, thou good and faithful servant" (Matt. 25:21).

Yesterday, my son told me that lifting weights with me was the thing he had most looked forward to in the day. While it's true that "we don't seek out tests, trials, and tribulations" (because "life will provide just enough for our needs"), we can look forward to having someone there to help us through the trials, supplying encouragement and a gentle lift when necessary.

I think I'll end here and go to the garage and lift weights with my son.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Waiting on the Road to Damascus

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

Waiting on the Road to Damascus, by Dieter F. Uchtdorf
Second Counselor in the First Presidency

When I eat things, I often save for last the portions I think will taste the best. In trail mix, I've been known to eat the raisins first. With children's cereal, the marshmallows (if you can call them that) are almost left floating in the milk after the plain pieces have been consumed.

This approach to dining can be problematic when I'm sharing with my wife. You see, she is of the persuasion that one should eat the good things first; that way, if you become full, you can set aside what you don't really like, instead of pushing through the pain to finish the good stuff. When we share something, if I'm not careful, she'll finish all the good stuff before I finish the "raisins"! (At least it makes me look selfless, albeit secretly disappointed.)

Which method is better? Is it a life principle to complete enjoyable things before doing those that may be unpleasant? I hope not, because I'm trying to teach my children to do their homework soon (and without doddeling) so they can enjoy playing before other chores need to be done.

In his address, President Uchtdorf spoke of those waiting on the road to Damascus who put off doing the little things and miss out on the greater reward. To stretch a comparison, if I wait too long while sharing a treat with my wife, I won't get the satisfaction that comes from something sweet. Likewise, if I wait to take the little steps of faith, I won't realize the great potential in me and others.

My daughter was asked to give a talk at church about the gospel being preached in all the world. Luckily, we fed the full-time missionaries days before her talk, and she took the opportunity to ask them for their advice. (She later quoted them in her talk!) Their lesson for us was to be good examples. In the time since then, we've noticed instances of being examples, and have returned to it by saying, for example, "What could you have done to be a good example?"

President Uchtdorf also taught about example. He said, "the most effective way to preach the gospel is through example." In his remarks, he used a quote attributed to Saint Francis of Assisi:

Preach the gospel at all times and if necessary, use words.

If I'm honest—and I try to be—what I remember most vividly from all of this past general conference these months later is this part of this talk.

Why does it stick so firmly in my mind? Perhaps because I need to be a better example. Perhaps because I have great examples around me.

I can't finish without clarifying something. I like desserts, and I like sharing desserts with my wife. She's a great example in many ways, but when we recently shared some bridge mix, she chose my favorite piece of chocolate at the beginning, and promptly gave it to me!

Isn't she an angel?

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Priesthood Power

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

Priesthood Power, by Thomas S. Monson
President, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

When the Prophet of God says "I wish not to offend anyone" at the start of his address, you KNOW it's going to be good! It reminds of the preamble to the powerful sermon of Jacob in the Book of Mormon (see Jacob 2:6-10).

In our couple scripture reading session last night, my wife and I read that "it is not common that the voice of the people desireth anything contrary to that which is right; but it is common for the lesser part of the people to desire that which is not right" (see Mosiah 29:26-27). This verse comes to mind when we consider the baser elements of society—or whenever it's election time (perhaps they're related...). In his talk, President Monson observed that "the moral compass of the masses has gradually shifted to an 'almost anything goes' position."

What does this mean for us? What does this mean for me? What does that mean for my children?

I'm reminded that my children are growing up because my seven-yr-old asked if he could have a cell phone for his eighth birthday. President Monson's observation/warning isn't necessarily about children with cell phones, though:

I’ve lived long enough to have witnessed much of the metamorphosis of society’s morals. Where once the standards of the Church and the standards of society were mostly compatible, now there is a wide chasm between us, and it’s growing ever wider.

President Monson gave a list of types of media and entertainment to avoid, as well as council against taking the Lord's name in vain, staying completely away from pornography and other addictive behaviors and substances. Where there are perils, there is protection. We are charged to "maintain a strong testimony," "read the Book of Mormon," and keep it "vital and alive through obedience."

If you think you're doing well with these things, President Monson has more for you.

While encouraging to seek out an eternal companion, President Monson said something that might look well as a framed cross stitched on the wall:

There is no shame in a couple having to scrimp and save.

See how nice that might look:

I think this is my new mantra. My wife and I have a fun time trying to get by on as little as we can—probably because we've spent the last ten years as students with little-to-nothing to draw from!

Perhaps I should mention here that I think my wife is great. She's really swell! I agree with what President Monson said:

If you choose wisely and if you are committed to the success of your marriage, there is nothing in this life which will bring you greater happiness.

I do find great happiness in my marriage. To maintain these happy feelings, I want to follow President Monson's advice to "be fiercely loyal one to another."

There may be a divide or chasm between the standards of the Church and those of the world. It is scary to look across the divide and see how things are progressing—or digressing—on the other side, but as long as I'm firmly on the Lord's side, side-by-side with my wife, I think we'll be fine protected by priesthood power.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Learning in the Priesthood

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

Learning in the Priesthood, by Henry B. Eyring
First Counselor in the First Presidency

I'm a husband. I'm a father. I'm a priesthood holder. In my mind, these three roles are closely related and there is significant overlap. Perhaps this is why when I read this talk, I repeatedly read "husband" or "father" where the text clearly says "priesthood."

I've been contemplating how I can be a better father. For a while, I felt that I wasn't making any real progress—I continued to make the same mistakes over and again. Each night I felt like a failure in significant areas as I remembered these mistakes and prayed for forgiveness and help to overcome.

There are many units or groups in the Church. I imagine that priesthood quorums can be thought of as distinct Church units. At the same time, it's important to remember that the family is the basic unit of the Church. Because I have the priesthood, and I'm in a family, I try to apply instruction intended for priesthood use to my family.

In speaking of the need to sit in council as a priesthood quorum, President Eyring quoted from D&C 107:27:

And every decision made by either of these quorums must be by the unanimous voice of the same; that is, every member in each quorum must be agreed to its decisions, in order to make their decisions of the same power or validity one with the other.

However, in my personal study, I've long altered this verse (a la 1 Nephi 19:23) as follows:

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

Of course, communication is important in a marriage and in a family, but I like the implication of having more power when unanimity is achieved!

Returning to me being a sub-par father. I recently sat in council with my wife and heard excellent advice on how I can be a better father. I say "heard," meaning that I heard her suggestions, and I felt other advice in my heart. As I contemplated this as I sat in the temple on Saturday, it really felt like a shell was falling off of me—a shell of less-than-ideal parenting. I found renewed strength, energy, and commitment to be a better father! Equipped with a plan, I've had better experiences in the last couple of days.

It will take work, but I'm convinced that as I sit in council with my wife and family, the decisions we make together will have the power needed to help us be an even happier forever family!

Friday, September 9, 2011

Your Potential, Your Privilege

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

Your Potential, Your Privilege, by Dieter F. Uchtdorf
Second Counselor in the First Presidency

Our new home is beautiful and comfortable. It is an older home in an established neighborhood with tall trees and nice neighbors.

Here is our living room

But it is old. There are things that are wearing out and need to be replaced. This recent Labor Day Weekend, I spent an afternoon adding light kits to ceiling fans and replacing old dimmer switches with rocker panel switches. In addition, I'm systematically going around the house taking out old light switches and wall outlets that are discolored and worn and replacing them with new, white ones. It's a small thing, but it makes a difference!

You can say that I've been thinking of switches a lot lately. In fact, I have a growing list of household chores that I'm attending to, and the list is on my smart phone. Imagine how close to home the following words of President Uchtdorf hit for me:

Too often we attend meetings and nod our heads; we might even smile knowingly and agree. We jot down some action points, and we may say to ourselves, “That is something I will do.” But somewhere between the hearing, the writing of a reminder on our smartphone, and the actual doing, our “do it” switch gets rotated to the “later” position. Brethren, let’s make sure to set our “do it” switch always to the “now” position!

With all my home improvement goals and lists--which I'm dutifully pursuing--have I been neglecting more important items? Have I moved my personal switch of priesthood responsibilities from "Now!" to the "Later" position?

If this is the case, I'm probably like President Uchtdorf described:

When asked about the priesthood, many of us can recite a correct definition, but in our daily lives, there may be little evidence that our understanding goes beyond the level of a rehearsed script.

How can I be sure my switch is in the right position? In the talk given just before President Uchtdorf's, Elder Gibson encouraged us to "go to the scriptures and discover for ourselves what our duties are." In this talk, President Uchtdorf coincidentally gave a list of scriptures to read! This list includes the following sections from the Doctrine and Covenants:

  • 20 - outline of duties and responsibilities (link)
  • 84 - includes the Oath and Covenant of the Priesthood (link)
  • 107 - a great revelation on the priesthood (link)
  • 121 - has the powerful instruction on priesthood and why "many are called but few are chosen" (link)

President Uchtdorf testified:

The more we study the purpose, potential, and practical use of the priesthood, the more we will be amazed by its power, and the Spirit will teach us how to access and use that power to bless our families, our communities, and the Church.

While I'm having a great time replacing light switches around the house, I need to remember to mind other switches and make sure the priesthood responsibilities "Do It Switch" is in the "Now!" position.

As with placing new, white switches: It's a small thing, but it makes a difference!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Sacred Keys of the Aaronic Priesthood

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

Sacred Keys of the Aaronic Priesthood, by Larry M. Gibson
First Counselor in the Young Men General Presidency

In our meeting of men on Sundays (called Elders' quorum, or Priesthood), we've been discussing priesthood keys frequently the last few weeks. It all seemed to start when a young man had the Melchizedek Priesthood conferred upon him and was ordained an elder in the Church. Following the natural order, his father was the one who performed this action.

I noted that in the prayer, the father incorrectly bestowed the keys of the Melchizedek Priesthood upon his son--in addition to the various rights, duties, and responsibilities. Afterward, a member of the stake presidency who was in attendance used this slip-up as a teaching opportunity. He said that in his desires to give everything good to his son, the father had inadvertently used the wrong wording. A mini-lesson on priesthood keys followed, where it was stated that there are only four men in the ward who hold priesthood keys [of presidency]: the presidents of the quorums of elders, priests, teachers, and deacons.

As part of this instructive moment, I asked for clarification regarding the keys mentioned in the thirteenth section of the Doctrine and Covenants--the section recounting the words used by John the Baptist when conferring the Aaronic Priesthood on Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery. This section mentions "the keys of the ministering of angels, and of the gospel of repentance, and of baptism by immersion for the remission of sins" (D&C 13:1). We then discussed briefly that when the phrase priesthood keys is used in the Church, it usually refers to the keys of presidency, but that it is through the priesthood and its keys that lives are blessed.

In his talk, Elder Gibson quoted President Monson:

The priesthood is not really so much a gift as it is a commission to serve, a privilege to lift, and an opportunity to bless the lives of others.

Later, Elder Gibson said:

Your priesthood holds the sacred keys that open the door for all of Heavenly Father’s children to come unto His Son, Jesus Christ, and follow Him. This is provided through “the gospel of repentance, and of baptism by immersion for the remission of sins”; the weekly ordinance of the sacrament; and “the ministering of angels” (D&C 13:1; Joseph Smith—History 1:69)

I'm grateful for the priesthood, for the saving ordinances made possible through its righteous exercise, and that my family is blessed through it.

In a few months, I'll baptize my eldest child through the authority of the priesthood. A few years later, I will confer upon him the Aaronic Priesthood. I like the additional understanding I'm still getting regarding the priesthood and its keys.

And if I accidentally say something wrong while assisting with these ordinances, I'm happy it might make a nice classroom of instruction for myself and others!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011


This entry is part of my general conference application series.

Hope, by Steven E. Snow
Of the Presidency of the Seventy

The different uses of the word hope in social settings and in church lessons confused me when I was younger. At school I would say, I hope we have super nachos for lunch soon, but at church hope was spoken of among the noble peers of faith and charity. My usual usage could be defined as "it sure would be nice if such-and-such happened." I later learned that this type of hope isn't at all what was meant at church.

A memorable part of President Obama's campaign for presidency centered on the word hope. I don't think he was saying, "It sure would be nice if I were President." Rather, I think his message was for hope in a bright future accomplished through meaningful and focused work.

I know that the above image may stir different feelings in different readers. Some may still be inspired and filled with hope, while others may believe that the hope spoken of by Mr. Obama has gone the way of "many honorable hopes [that] have gone unfulfilled, shipwrecked on the reefs of good intentions and laziness." Regardless of where you stand on the political use of hope (and who are the ones being lazy today), hope is a part of everyday life.

Whereas I was once confused by the differing uses of hope, I now think of President Uchtdorf's comparison of hope as "one leg of a three-legged stool, together with faith and charity." Elder Snow reminded that President Uchtdorf continued to testify: "These three stabilize our lives regardless of the rough or uneven surfaces we might encounter at the time." (Read more here.)

In addition to reminding me of something I readily remember, Elder Snow introduced me to another way to visual these three:

Elder Russell M. Nelson has taught that "faith is rooted in Jesus Christ. Hope centers in the Atonement. Charity is manifest in the ‘pure love of Christ.’ These three attributes are intertwined like strands in a cable and may not always be precisely distinguished. Together they become our tether to the celestial kingdom."

Much like faith, hope, and charity may be hard to distinguish, we may find it difficult to distinguish the meaning of the word hope when we hear it used. We may think, "Do they mean a simple wish, or are they talking about hope in the Atonement?"

I think it's fine to use hope for its different meanings. I have hope that my children will "grow up to lead responsible and righteous lives." I will work to realize this hope by showing them the faith I have in Christ, the hope I find in the Atonement, and through examples of charity and by spending quality time with them.

I don't want my hopes to become shipwrecked on the reefs of good intentions and laziness.

But I do still hope to have super nachos sometime soon!