Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Come unto Me, O Ye House of Israel

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

"Come unto Me, O Ye House of Israel", by Larry Echo Hawk
Of the Seventy

I wonder if I've ever received special treatment because I'm a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. What immediately comes to mind are experiences I had while serving a full-time mission for the Church.

I served in Boise, Idaho, where approximately forty percent of the population were also Mormon (or so we were told). As missionaries, we were often greeted with smiles and sometimes free meals from others whom we assumed were also members of the Church. When riding our bicycles, many people would honk and wave at us, so I got used to smiling all the time and waving whenever I heard a honk. Granted, some of those honks were followed by unfriendly yells and unkind gestures, but most of the time the honks were honks of kindness.

Elder Echo Hawk shared an experience from the Marine Corps where his drill instructor ridiculed and yelled at all the other recruits, but spared him after seeing his copy of the Book of Mormon and learning that he believed it was true. He shares that he doesn't know why he was spared the ridicule and disparagement of his fellow Marines, but that he is grateful for what he believes.

As a missionary in a heavily-LDS area, when I was greeted with kindness, I simply assumed it was from a fellow Mormon who had compassion for me. However, after thinking about Elder Echo Hawk's experience, I'm reminded of the very many people who were loving and kind and either welcomed us into their homes to listen to our message, or politely said, "No, thank you."

I've had encounters where I perceived I was treated kindly because of my Church membership, and I've had encounters where I thought my poor treatment was due to my Church membership. What I'm concluding from Elder Echo Hawk's message and my own experiences is that regardless of how you're treated, the important thing is to keep smiling while you ride, and wave whenever you can. Regardless of how I'm treated by others, I want to be grateful for the things I know are true.

This probably isn't the intended message Elder Echo Hawk set out to deliver, but it's what I heard! Who knows, maybe through kind living, regardless of how I expect I'll be received, I can help others come unto Christ.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Be Anxiously Engaged

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

Be Anxiously Engaged, by M. Russell Ballard
Of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

My wife and I celebrated our eleventh anniversary this weekend (our children called it our family's birthday). This is probably why when I read the title of this talk, "Be Anxiously Engaged," I thought of my life eleven years and one week ago when I was looking forward to something wonderfully amazing: I was anxiously engaged... to be married!

What does a couple or family do on an eleventh anniversary? Wikipedia says that the eleventh is the Steel Anniversary (link), but we didn't do anything steely; our family plans were for gleaning. We learned that each year, our local church congregation goes to a corn field and hand-harvests corn that is delivered to a local service organization to provide food for needy individuals/families to consume that very weekend. We were all set to do something as a family to serve others.

However, due to recent rain and the wet season, our gleaning activity was cancelled because the roads to the fields were soggy. With no Saturday morning plans, we didn't just lie around, though, with the help of my children, I dug up and maintained or replaced old sprinkler heads in the yard. I traded one service for another!

Friends did tend our children in the evening while we escaped to enjoy Indian food together as an anniversary dinner, but their service was consistent with our service-oriented anniversary.

In his talk, Elder Ballard spoke of honeybees.

In addition to saying that "honey contains all of the substances necessary to sustain mortal life," he told of how in its short life, each bee will only contribute one-twelfth of a teaspoon of honey to the hive collective. I don't know how many drops that would be (if even one drop), but it does illustrate the idea of collective hard work to achieve great things.

How do we become like the service-minded honeybee? Here's the "one simple practice" that Elder Ballard recommends:

In your morning prayer each new day, ask Heavenly Father to guide you to recognize an opportunity to serve one of His precious children. Then go throughout the day with your heart full of faith and love, looking for someone to help. Stay focused, just like the honeybees focus on the flowers from which to gather nectar and pollen.

Earlier I mentioned that when our service trip was cancelled, I nobly went to the yard to do work on our sprinklers. What I probably should have used as an example of the principle is the never-ending prayers and result-of-prayers service that my wife lovingly gives to our family and others. When I'm feeling particularly Christ-like, I'll remember to pray for opportunities to bless or serve others; I imagine, though, that my wife never forgets to do this—she acts like blessing the lives of others is her sole-purpose, much like a honeybee and its pollen-collecting.

I'm grateful for the past eleven years of bliss I've enjoyed with my wife. She lovingly reminds me, through her example, that lives are blessed through loving service given day after day after day!

I might try to make comparisons between conference talks and my life, but my sweet wife's whole life is a living example of everything good we hear and feel each conference. With how hard-working and sweet she is, you might think she's a lot like a honeybee. She's not, though; she's more like a whole hive of honeybees! (Only she probably won't sting you if you get too close.)

Instead of steel, it sounds like our eleventh anniversary theme should have been honey!

Friday, December 14, 2012

Becoming Goodly Parents

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

Becoming Goodly Parents, by L. Tom Perry
Of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

While waiting for the school bus the other day, a friendly boy was talking with my children. Somehow, the topic of parents came up. My children said something about me and what their daddy does; they then asked the boy about his father. When he reported that he didn't have a dad, my children couldn't process that information, "What do you mean? Everyone has a dad?" Their back-and-forth continued a little more, with the other child trying to explain that it was just him and his mom at home, and my children not understanding. When my children's probing questions were becoming entirely too personal, my wife intervened with the standard, "We'll discuss this later."

I think that parenting has its difficult moments, regardless of how many parents are in the home. Nevertheless, I'm grateful to be a dad. Each night, my oldest son tells me, "You're the best daddy in the world!"


He's sweet boy, but now I'm thinking of the many variants of "World's Greatest Dad" merchandise I've seen for sale through the years. There's no way that all those mugs, balloons, shirts, hats, and trophies were manufactured just for me; I suspect the title either isn't absolute, or there's an unseen asterisk in there somewhere.

World's Greatest* Dad!
*that I've ever had

There are definitely times when I don't feel up to the title of best, let alone greatest! I saw my sister post this on facebook recently; it really spoke to me:

While I don't feel like the best, and I hope I'm better than okeyest, I guess what I really want is to be a goodly parent.

The thing that stuck out to me in Elder Perry's talk was the concept of culture. He defined culture as "the way of life of a people." Having recently moved to Florida (sure, it's been over a year ago, but we're still getting used to it!), we notice that there is a South Florida culture, or rather, many different South Florida cultures. We each seem to be part of many cultures; for example, I'm American, Mormon, an engineer, frugal, and I live in a particular neighborhood, which has it's own culture.

There is a unique gospel culture, a set of values and expectations and practices common to all members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This gospel culture, or way of life, comes from the plan of salvation, the commandments of God, and the teachings of living prophets. It is given expression in the way we raise our families and live our individual lives.

I'm grateful for the cultures I'm part of, particularly my church and family cultures. They provide friends, acceptance, growth, purpose, and help me try to be a better me—a goodly parent. With all the support I get from friends and family, I sometimes even feel like "the best daddy in the world!"

The Sustaining of Church Officers

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

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

Here's a shot taken during the sustaining of Church officers. The children raise their hands in support while enjoying deviled eggs (a family conference tradition).

We're still teaching the youngest what sustaining means; right now he'll only raise his hand if he's sitting in your lap. (But there's more to sustaining than raising a hand!)

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Of Regrets and Resolutions

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

Of Regrets and Resolutions, by Dieter F. Uchtdorf
Second Counselor in the First Presidency

When I read the title of this talk, a recent regret came to mind. We had a Christmas party a couple of weeks ago. Because our youngest was ill, my wife wasn't with me. The older children and I ended up leaving the party early because it was going later than anticipated, and in doing so, we forfeited the cheesecake that was planned for dessert.

Yes, my biggest regret of the past few weeks is not eating a piece of cheesecake.

Coincidentally, this regret should be something I champion as a success because I'm always flirting with unhealthy eating and weight gain. In fact, I have a blog post from two years ago where I committed to lose weight and track my progress (link). You'll notice that the numbers are my weight below that resolution point, and that I still keep track. You'll also likely note how much the line jumps up and down!

Now do you understand hw cheesecake relates to my personal regret and success?

I'm sure I could force President Uchtdorf's message into one about healthy eating, exercising, and maintaining a healthy weight, but I'm sure I would regret it. (See what I did there!) Instead, I'll do a summary of his message, include the bits that stood out to me, and conclude with a lame joke.

The key to this message, for me, was this quote:

The foundational principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ can affect our life’s direction for good, if only we will apply them.

The following are three common regrets people approaching death relate:

I Wish I Had Spent More Time with the People I Love

Jesus Christ, and His short life among the people of Galilee and Jerusalem. I have tried to imagine Him bustling between meetings or multitasking to get a list of urgent things accomplished.
I can’t see it. . .

Let us resolve to cherish those we love by spending meaningful time with them, doing things together, and cultivating treasured memories.

I Wish I Had Lived Up to My Potential

When it comes to living the gospel, we should not be like the boy who dipped his toe in the water and then claimed he went swimming. As sons and daughters of our Heavenly Father, we are capable of so much more. For that, good intentions are not enough. We must do. Even more important, we must become what Heavenly Father wants us to be. . .

The more we devote ourselves to the pursuit of holiness and happiness, the less likely we will be on a path to regrets.

I Wish I Had Let Myself Be Happier

Sometimes in life we become so focused on the finish line that we fail to find joy in the journey. I don’t go cycling with my wife because I’m excited about finishing. I go because the experience of being with her is sweet and enjoyable. . .

No matter our circumstances, no matter our challenges or trials, there is something in each day to embrace and cherish. There is something in each day that can bring gratitude and joy if only we will see and appreciate it.

My one-sentence summary of this message is: Spend more time happy time as a family, being who God wants you to be.

Returning to the scene of my recent regret—the Christmas party: I had a good time with my three oldest children, and I even helped all the children put on a special Christmas program. Three birds, one party (or stone). NOTE: no birds were harmed at the party; the meat was cooked beforehand.

Seeing the party through the lens of President Uchtdorf's talk helps lessen the regret of missed cheesecake opportunity. Now I just need to convince my wife that we should have cheesecake this weekend to celebrate our anniversary—the birthday of our family! (We have a history with cake, link.) We can eat it together (time with loved ones), I'll happily make it myself (God-like service?), and we'll be happy when we eat it (resolve to be happy)!

Besides, I don't think my weight-tracking graph will mind a little upward spike from regret-free cheesecake.

Ask the Missionaries! They Can Help You!

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

Ask the Missionaries! They Can Help You!, by Russell M. Nelson
Of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

Children are interesting creatures. When you need them to clean up something or do a chore, they cannot hear anything you say, but when you think they're not listening, the can surprise you by repeating something back to you (sometimes something you wish you hadn't said!).

We recently gathered around the computer for family night and watched the First Presidency Christmas Devotional (link). My four-yr-old was lounging in my lap, staring off at something in the room that wasn't the screen. Right when I was wondering if he was listening, he said, "Christmas, Christmas!" in a very cute way. He had heard the speaker say "Christmas," and was doing something adorable in response. For the rest of the broadcast, whenever he heard someone say "Christmas," which happened many times, he would chime in with "Christmas, Christmas!"

He was listening.

When we watched general conference as a family, we moved the computer out of our bedroom into the family room so we wouldn't start feeling claustrophobic. Knowing that it was going to be four two-hour sessions, we prepared stations and activities for the children. Here's a picture:

I admit that my reasons for this setup were mostly selfish: I thought that if I could keep them engaged in something, then it would be easier for me to watch conference. If they were in the same room, I reasoned, they might learn something, even if they were coloring, quietly playing, or building whatever it is that they oldest was building in the picture! Elder Nelson's address was at least an hour into the first session of conference, and I wondered if my selfish intentions were fully working. I knew I was enjoying conference, but I wondered if the children were getting anything from it.

His remarks seemed addressed to those new to the Church, those who were returning to the Church after some time away, as well as to old-timers in the Church. The focus of his talk was missionaries and missionary service. In emphasizing that missionaries don't just go door-to-door, Elder Nelson repeated one phrase eight times—once after each point:

Ask the missionaries! They can help you!

As you've probably already guessed, right as I was wondering if my children were at least partially listening to conference as they quietly entertained themselves, my eight-yr-old son started repeating the "Ask the missionaries! They can help you!" line with Elder Nelson!

They were listening!

And in case you're wondering what missionaries can help with, here's a brief list:

Missionaries can help with:

  1. getting started on family history research
  2. returning to church
  3. overcoming addiction and living a healthy life
  4. filling emptiness in life and finding purpose
  5. strengthening marriages and families
  6. understanding the scriptures better
  7. finding how to help those in need
  8. learning about God's plan for you

So, if you're like my children—ready to listen, that is—then ask the missionaries! They can help you!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Because I Live, Ye Shall Live Also

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

"Because I Live, Ye Shall Live Also", by Shayne M. Bowen
Of the Seventy

I have four children ranging from two to eight years old. When they were each small children, I would find myself abruptly waking in the night, filled with the desire to check that the baby was still breathing. Gratefully, they always were, but I still haven't overcome the sporadic feelings of panic over the vitality of my children. If I see them deep in sleep or if they sleep in, I feel the need to compulsively check that they're breathing.

My feelings of fear over my sleeping children is likely no comparison to those who have experienced the great loss of losing a child. Some of the hardest conversations my wife and I have had were the what-if conversations regarding the potential death of our children: what would we do, how would we help the surviving children understand, where would the child's body rest, etc.

During Elder Bowen's talk, my wife and I held each other close, our faces in a near-constant sad frown state. I imagine that her thoughts were where mine were: on our children. As I listened to his experience of losing his eight-month-old son, my heart felt like it was going to tear in half. These feelings persisted until a specific point in his talk. The change started to occur, for me, during this paragraph:

Sometimes people will ask, “How long did it take you to get over it?” The truth is, you will never completely get over it until you are together once again with your departed loved ones. I will never have a fullness of joy until we are reunited in the morning of the First Resurrection.

Here's what I think happened: As I listened and empathized with Elder Bowen, I imagined a poignant sense of loss over a loved child. In the moment, I felt such sadness that I forgot the end of the story. Elder Bowen beautifully reminded me—because he is experiencing it—of something higher:

I have learned that the bitter, almost unbearable pain can become sweet as you turn to your Father in Heaven and plead for His comfort that comes through His plan; His Son, Jesus Christ; and His Comforter, who is the Holy Ghost.

What a glorious blessing this is in our lives. Wouldn’t it be tragic if we didn’t feel great sorrow when we lose a child? How grateful I am to my Father in Heaven that He allows us to love deeply and love eternally. How grateful I am for eternal families. How grateful I am that He has revealed once again through His living prophets the glorious plan of redemption.

The next time I feel a sharp fear when one of my children sleeps particularly well or deeply, I want to remember that my feelings of fear come from love, and that the Love of God can ease the deepest of pains if fears ever become reality.

I'm grateful for the gospel, and I love my family. I'm grateful that Elder Bowen's words spoke so personally to me. While I pray that I never have to experience the pain and loss he described, I'm grateful for a loving Father whose plan can comfort and relieve pains now and forever.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

An Unspeakable Gift from God

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

An Unspeakable Gift from God, by Craig C. Christensen
Of the Presidency of the Seventy

There is a twenty-minute period each week that I really look forward to. During the last twenty minutes of our church meetings, I get to sing with the Primary children! We have a lot of fun together, and after almost three hours at church, the children are understandably wiggly. However, every once in a while, something different happens.

This is an especially fun time or year for singing time because we get to sing Christmas music. A few weeks ago, we unexpectedly had twice as much time as usual. When everything I had planned was finished, we sang the children's favorite Christmas songs. After I drew their name from a bucket we use, one of the children chose "Silent Night."

Knowing this song to be slower and of a different feel from the others we were singing, I think I gave a quick introduction, asking the children think about the words as they sang. The result was amazing: it felt like we were there beside the manger singing to the newborn Christ child!

After the song ended, there was a gentle quietness in the room that I stayed for a moment. When appropriate, I asked the children if they had felt something special, and when they didn't shout out answers, but quietly nodded their heads, I knew that they had. I then told them that the special feeling was the Holy Ghost letting them know that Christmas is special because we remember Jesus' birth and all He did for us.

The quiet feeling lasted for a moment longer. Maybe we should have finished there, but we ended up finishing the meeting by singing "Once There was a Snowman," which invited the wiggles and giggles right back into the room.

Elder Christensen shared an experience that I hope happens in our family. While visiting a newly-built temple open house, his six-yr-old son felt the Holy Ghost in such a powerful way that he didn't understand what was happening. Kneeling beside him, Elder Christensen played his dad role splendidly by explaining that the feelings were the Holy Ghost, and testifying why they were felt.

A temple is being built near our home, in Ft. Lauderdale. We visit the grounds periodically, and have seen it progress from an empty field to a temple-looking building. Here's what it looked like on our visit last month:

We're excited to have "our temple" being built so close to home! Our children are amazing in that they don't complain when we take three-hour trips to Orlando to visit the temple, or one-hour trips to Ft. Lauderdale to see the construction site (they do get to visit IKEA in Ft. Lauderdale, which they love, btw). Temples and temple worship have been in our monthly routine their whole lives, and I hope they remember our visits with fondness, but even more, I want to help them prepare for the time when they can go inside a temple. I want them to feel the Holy Ghost in a powerful way, as did Elder Christensen's son, and know why the feeling is so strong there.

The upcoming open house will be a great opportunity for this, even if it won't be until 2014.

Until then, we'll be back to visit often, and I'll watch for opportunities to identify the Holy Ghost with them so they'll learn to recognize it too.

But I secretly hope the powerful feelings of the Spirit at the temple open house still surprise them. I'd like to kneel and lovingly whisper reminders of what they will already know about this unspeakable gift from God.

Monday, December 10, 2012

I Know It. I Live It. I Love It.

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

I Know It. I Live It. I Love It., by Ann M. Dibb
Second Counselor in the Young Women General Presidency

It's hard to believe that there was a time when digital cameras weren't around. It feels like so much of my life is undocumented because I don't have thousands of pictures from each year of my life to document every event. Perhaps this is a good thing overall, but right now I'm wishing I had a particular picture.

When I was twenty-one, my younger brother and I would frequent thrift stores searching for "finds," as we called them—clothes from bygone eras that matched our unique style. My favorites were polyester bowling shirts; his were polyester leisure suits. And in case you're wondering, we looked fabulous!

Being a good sport, my father saw our "interesting" tastes and bequeathed to me the find of all finds! (More on this later.) After all, he was a man of good taste in his day (if he's not still!). I submit the following as evidence:

I'm the baby, my dad has a subtle beauty of a shirt,
and my older brother looks amazing in his pant/shirt combo!

You can't deny the awesomeness of this picture
(especially the mustache!). And we match!

Those matching threads came back (with a vengeance)
after my little brother arrived.

This one's not for style, but narrative: we took trips to the
Denver Temple site as a family during its construction.

And here is where I want to include a picture from my early-twenties. One shirt that I received from my father was a ringer T, with a picture of the Denver Temple overlaid with the words, "Families are Forever." While it's not of me, here's a picture of my son in the shirt my father gave me:

I share these pictures, not because they're "hideously beautiful," as one friend once put it, but because they are a part of who I am. In her talk, Sister Dibb told of meeting a young woman with a T-shirt that reflected her belief that read, "I'm a Mormon. Are you?"

Of her reflection on this experience (and the choice to wear a declarative shirt), she said:

I wondered how this young girl from Colorado came to possess such confidence in her identity as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

While perhaps not as direct, the temple/family shirt I loved to wear shared a similar message. I wore it because I was an outgoing, vivacious young adult who was not afraid what others thought of him. Also, I love the gospel.

Sister Dibb suggested what she would figuratively print on her T-shirt:

I’m a Mormon. I know it. I live it. I love it.

Before this session of conference was over, many of my facebook friends had posted graphic designs of this very phrase. I'm considerably slower on this, but here's my submission:

Here's the sad part of this blog entry. I'm too fat to fit into my Families are Forever shirt. While I cannot use my father's shirt to share one aspect of my beliefs with others, I want to live so that my belief in Christ and His restored gospel is apparent to others.

Also, I also feel like I need to find something besides boring-blue for our next family photo:

I'm thinking rainbow paisley...

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Can Ye Feel So Now

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

Can Ye Feel So Now, by Quentin L. Cook
Of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

What do you envision when you picture a jungle village? Can you see the huts with thatch roofs? Do you perhaps hear animal sounds in the distance? The idea of a jungle village may also carry a sense of isolation—of supplies and information coming by way of long circuitous routes on windy roads and long river stretches.

While physical supplies may still take the long route, information is becoming more readily available in every corner of the world (and yes, I know the world is a sphere without "corners"). Elder Cook told of a visit he and President Uchtdorf made to an Amazon jungle village where they saw satellite dishes on "small, simply built huts." Now the jungle-themed quote of my childhood cartoons may come via email or text message: "Dr. Livingstone, I presume?"

NOTE: I found the above picture at this blog, so it's apparently a real thing to have satellite dishes near huts—this one is in Australasia.

What do you think about digital information availability worldwide? Here's what Elder Cook said:

We rejoiced at the wonderful information available in this remote area. We also recognized there is virtually no place on earth that cannot be impacted by salacious, immoral, and titillating images. This is one reason why pornography has become such a plague in our day.

I saw an article recently (link) that told of efforts in South Korea to remove online pornography—which is illegal there. The article has descriptions I want to forget, but I do remember the summary of the efforts:

It's like shoveling snow in a blizzard.

Living in South Florida, I feel somewhat removed from snow-related analogies. But the message is clear: the job of preventing unwanted material seems endless and even futile at times.

What can be done? The jungle village satellite dish story suggests that the "blizzard" can find you anywhere on earth—even in the Amazon!

While it may be a bit of a leap from pornography and other salacious material to societal civility, I'm going to jump anyway! Here's something from Elder Cook:

The need for civility in society has never been more important. The foundation of kindness and civility begins in our homes. It is not surprising that our public discourse has declined in equal measure with the breakdown of the family. The family is the foundation for love and for maintaining spirituality. The family promotes an atmosphere where religious observance can flourish.

Take-home message: Be nice at home, even if you live in a jungle hut; your immediate influence of love needs to outweigh any other messages that may find their inside.

But is being nice enough? Is there a need to directly confront issues, even if it's awkward?

Here's some counsel:

Parents must have the courage to filter or monitor Internet access, television, movies, and music. Parents must have the courage to say no, defend truth, and bear powerful testimony. Your children need to know that you have faith in the Savior, love your Heavenly Father, and sustain the leaders of the Church. Spiritual maturity must flourish in our homes. My hope is that no one will leave this conference without understanding that the moral issues of our day must be addressed in the family.

I work with the children at church (in Primary: children up to age twelve). As strange as it was to visualize satellite dishes on jungle huts, I was similarly taken aback when I saw how many young children are using smartphones and other handheld Internet-accessible devices at church (and presumably at home and school). I agree with Elder Cook that "before youth graduate from Primary is not to early" to start "teaching and protecting against pornography and impure thoughts."

The "digital creep" is pushing across the globe and into younger and younger hands/minds. In my notes from conference, I put a star next to two things from this talk:
  • Be nice at home!
  • Teach children before graduating Primary

I love that my children have ready access to information, education, and entertainment, but I want to help them stay clean, pure, and happy!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Welcome to Conference

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

Welcome to Conference, by Thomas S. Monson
President, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

President Monson began the conference by disclosing a regret he's reminded of each time he hears the choir sing. This regret is made more poignant because it comes via a memory of his mother's voice:

I love all the acclaim that has been given you, all the degrees you have obtained, and all the work you have done. My only regret is that you did not stay with the piano.

Let's all agree that this regret was probably offered as a bit of humor—albeit true—which, coincidentally, I share. After sharing what his mother said, his next words were, "Thanks Mother. I wish I had."

Luckily, I'm married to an amazing woman who plays the piano beautifully! Not only that, but she's teaching our children to play the piano, too! I hope that they will look back on their childhood without the regret that President Monson and I share.

In his welcome to conference, President Monson gave brief accounts of temple-building progress (three recently dedicated, two announced), but rocked the audience with the announcement of lower age minimums for full-time missionary service. The change was from 19 to 18 for males, and from 21 to 19 for females. I imagine that homes around the world were filled with excited parents realigning their plans for their children, just as was the case in our home!

Immediately after the announcement was made, the camera cut to audience reaction and captured the shock and surprise of the audience. Note particularly the fellow highlighted in yellow, below.

I can go on a mission when?!

Speculation persists of how this change will affect Utah schools in the near future as the stream of missionaries experiences a brief hiccup—which some think may affect enrollment rates at BYU and other schools (I personally think that other qualified students will simply enroll)—but I try to think of the potential impact on missionary work as this change draws attention to mission preparation, and may even increase the number of missionaries that serve (even beyond the initial hiccup)!

Admittedly, this missionary-age announcement distracted our family briefly from what was being said, but the record shows that President Monson gave the following charge:

Now, my brothers and sisters, may we listen attentively to the messages which will be presented during the next two days, that we may feel the Spirit of the Lord and gain the knowledge He would desire for us.

I put on my "listening ears" and was touched by many things in this conference—I'll even write many of them down in this blog! If you want the analytical result of frequency of words that I usually include in my general conference application series, you're in luck; here it is! This is a word cloud (from wordle) of the top 100 words in the conference.

Does anything stand out to you?

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

As We Close This Conference

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

As We Close This Conference, by Thomas S. Monson
President, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Some believe that politics and religion don't mix. Apparently I'm not one that does. If I haven't scared you away, here are my concluding thoughts on this conference:

Are you better off than you were four years ago?

I hear this question thrown around in the current political contest and have a hard time answering. I think the reason is because I feel like a different person than I was four years ago. Let me explain:

Four years ago:
  • I had two children—half as many children as I do now (okay, exactly four years ago my third was two months old, but you know what I mean)
  • I was near the beginning of what seemed an insurmountable graduate school experience
  • I was a dirt-poor student (see previous)
  • I was madly in love with my wife

Four years later (now):
  • I have four [active] children
  • I've graduated and am at the beginning of what seems like an insurmountable mortgage
  • I live like I'm dirt-poor (is debt-poor a valid substitute)
  • I'm madly in love with my wife

Okay, some of the things are similar or the same—it's not fair that I'm fatter and balder than I was then, but my wife looks as radiant, if not more so, than she did then!—but I had another question come to mind as I reviewed President Monson's final talk days before the next general conference:

Am I better off than I was six months ago? (spiritually)

I write these general conference application series posts—and have a good time doing so—but am I improved at all?

I hope so.

These words of a living prophet reassure me that I am better:

I think you will agree with me that we have felt the Spirit of the Lord as our hearts have been touched and our testimonies strengthened. . .

How blessed we are, my brothers and sisters, to have the restored gospel of Jesus Christ in our lives and in our hearts. It provides answers to life’s greatest questions. It provides meaning and purpose and hope to our lives. . .

May your homes be filled with love and courtesy and with the Spirit of the Lord. Love your families.

These words, delivered in love, remind me of the things I've learned and been reminded of in my review of these general conference addresses. After doing so, I want to be even better and love my family even more!

Even though I recognize that I still have many areas where I need to improve, my study and review of these talks has given me hope and encouragement for the future. It turns out, President Monson predicted this would happen:

May you ponder the truths you have heard, and may they help you to become even better than you were when conference began two days ago.

As I like to do, here is a word cloud of the conference proceedings, which is a repeat of when I reviewed President Monson's opening address (link). The word that stands out to me now is power:

What Thinks Christ of Me?

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

What Thinks Christ of Me?, by Neil L. Andersen
Of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

Do you remember the craze for WWJD bracelets in the late 90's? I do. I was serving as a full-time missionary at the time, and I loved that so many were showing a physical reminder to be Christlike with the simply question, "What would Jesus Do?" At the time, I would twist the question slightly to: What would Jesus have me do? (I mentioned this in an earlier post, link, but please keep reading this one.)

Those bracelets may have helped people remember Jesus while being a signal to others of a claim to Christianity—much like the fish symbol on the back of some cars. When I think of visible signals of faith, I wonder if I have any tells or signs of what I believe. This reminds me of a question I had long ago while riding my bike to work: "If I were put on trial for being Christian (or LDS), would there be enough evidence to convict me?" (read more of this experience here)

Interestingly, I often think of these visible signals of faith when I see someone driving dangerously or rudely who has one of those fish symbols on the back of their car. As I judge them and silently scream at them to try harder to be Christlike, I wonder what others think of me!

In his talk, Elder Andersen seemed to flip these questions on their heads:

Jesus asked the Pharisees, "What think ye of Christ?" In the final assessment, our personal discipleship will not be judged by friends or foes. Rather, as Paul said, "We shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ." At that day the important question for each of us will be, "What thinks Christ of me?"

What thinks Christ of me?

I admit that I probably spend too much time wondering if others think I'm good enough, or if they can tell what I believe by my actions. I like this twist that Elder Andersen introduced because if I live so that I'm comfortable with who I am and what I do—all while imagining the Savior standing beside me (link)—then what other think either won't matter, or I'll be so comfortable with myself and my actions that others will see the light of Christ in me.

An additional thing I like about this change to the question is that it isn't affected by changing circumstances. I watched with a mix of concern and humor as Mitt Romney (a member of the Church) seemed lambasted by the far-right in their implied religious test during the primaries. They argued that he wasn't Christian and didn't qualify for their vote. However, after he was ultimately nominated (maybe by default against the ineptitude of his rivals?), the erstwhile critics' tune changed to, "Well, he's Christian enough."

I may or may not be a fan of Romney's politics, but I like to think that he tries to make decisions the same way I do: after reasoned weighing of options and expected outcomes, all while measuring against divine standards.

Let's get away from politics now.

After telling that President Monson often reminds General Authorities to remember the question, "What would Jesus do?", Elder Andersen taught:

Discipleship is believing Him in seasons of peace and believing Him in seasons of difficulty, when our pain and fear are calmed only by the conviction that He loves us and keeps His promises.

I'm still trying to work out what I think the answer to "What thinks Christ of me?" is. But as I try to remember Jesus, consider what He would have me do, and be a disciple in times of peace and difficulty, I'm confident that over time, I'll come to feel that Christ does trust me and can count on me to be who I really want to be.

And I won't even need to wear a bracelet!

Monday, October 1, 2012

To Hold Sacred

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

To Hold Sacred, by Paul B. Pieper
Of the Seventy

I've mentioned that my new assignment at church is to be the music leader in primary. I'm still learning how to help children spanning the ages of 18-months to 12-years-old, but this learning process is more comfortable than I thought it would be. A few things happened yesterday that I was reminded of as I reviewed Elder Pieper's talk:

In junior primary (children aged 3-8), I led the opening song. After learning that the lesson for the day was on honoring parents, I chose to sing I Am a Child of God. Standing in front of a room full of children, I realized that their singing wasn't perfect: many were wiggling around and a few were off-key (and quite loudly so, at that); however, as I looked around the room, I noticed that most were looking right at me. I made my way around the room with my eyes, focusing on as many of their faces as I could, and the wiggles and off-key-ness seemed to fade away as I felt the sincerity of the song and how genuinely these children believed—or rather, knew—that what they were singing was true! I felt something in my heart that said, "remember this moment; this is important!"

Singing with children, I had an encounter with the divine!

Later, I visited the children in nursery (children aged 18-months to 3-years). I entered the room and heard the nursery leaders happily announcing my arrival, and then was surrounded by happy children wanting to either give me big hugs, tell me something, or show me something that they were holding. (Note: my own 21-month-old just quietly sat on a chair and smiled at me, as if he were sharing his daddy with his friends.)

After this great welcome we sang a few songs, but the whole time I kept thinking of what I felt as I was surrounded by these ten-or-so smiling toddlers: I felt that I have a great opportunity to supplement their learning of Jesus through songs (even if we do sometimes sing about a tiny turtle who eats soap and has bubbles in his throat).

Surrounded by loving children, I had an encounter with the divine!

We took a casual walk in the afternoon after church. While some of the family rested, the rest of us made tasty coconut macaroons (recipe) with the coconut we prepared over the weekend (read more here) and later took the walk to deliver a plate of cookies to the friends who gave us the un-husked coconuts. With our family spread out over the span of about a block (due to different walking speeds), I felt surrounded by happiness. There I was, in the middle of paradise, at the tail end of my family chain, hand-in-hand with my toddling boy, watching my happy family on an errand of love. At that moment, I heard a whisper in my heart that said, "love your family!"

It wasn't raining yesterday, but this is a cute picture

On a lovely walk, I had an encounter with the divine!

NOTE: You may have expected #3 to be about senior primary (children aged 9-12). Sorry, no distinct encounters with the divine for me there; we just had fun together!

In his talk, Elder Pieper recounted experiences that prophets had that can be classified as encounters with the divine. We are blessed and benefitted because these are recorded for us to learn from and apply in our lives. What I loved about his remarks, though, was that he made a connection to me personally when he said:

Our experiences with the divine may not be as direct or dramatic nor our challenges as daunting. However, as with the prophets, our strength to endure faithfully depends upon recognizing, remembering, and holding sacred that which we receive from above.

In this time of multiple calls a day from political surveyors or candidates' headquarters, I'm contemplating whom to vote for. While the practical part of my mind frequently reminds me that my single vote really is of little-to-no-value, I still feel a duty to study the issues and cast my conscience. Doing this helps me face internal wrestlings on difficult issues.

In addition to feeling the need to recognize more the encounters with the divine that I have almost daily, Elder Pieper's words also made a connection to my recent political activities. I saw a friend recently post the following on his facebook feed:

What I love about democrats is their focus on helping the downtrodden, emphasizing the idea that everyone is an equal, . That notion touches my heart and should for every human being. If you were to unwrap a democrat's DNA, I believe you'd find a sincere desire to help everyone achieve happiness. I'm totally on board for that!

What I love about republicans is their belief that this happiness is achieved through applying principles of work, thrift, diligence, acting instead of being acted upon. This idea is totally true and I totally believe it. And if you could unwrap a republican's DNA, you'd see that same democratic desire to help everyone achieve happiness. I totally resonate to that idea.

Of course, the big "debate" for our country is determining the right path to achieve this happiness. And that is the beauty of our democracy, being able to choose our path.

I'll finish this post by sharing that there is a big part of me that just wishes that we all could realize that we're on the same team, fighting for the same happiness, and that working and reasoning together will do more than working and reasoning separately. 

There are real differences between candidates' positions, but instead of focusing on negatives, I crave for discussion on things each feels are meaningful. In my mind, I would call these things sacred. After giving a definition of the word sacred, Elder Pieper said something that connected, for me, to the topic of voting:

That which is sacred to God becomes sacred to us only through the exercise of agency; each must choose to accept and hold sacred that which God has defined as sacred. He sends light and knowledge from heaven. He invites us to receive and treat it as sacred.

Every voting season, we hear of making our voice heard, voting our conscience, or marking our choice. Elder Pieper taught that the way to align with God and things He designates as sacred is likewise through choice.

Many people get worked up during voting season (rightfully so?) to help others make "the right" choice: to vote, and to vote for the person they support. Important as this is, I'm reminded that there are countless other choices I make more frequently than every two-to-four-years that signify what I know is really important.

Holding sacred things sacred through my decisions (and not just votes) helps me have encounters with the divine.

And these encounters can have longer tenure than terms of office.


Here's a bonus video from the Church about voting and political neutrality (link):

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Plinko Board

I work with children as a Cub Scout den leader and as a Primary Music Leader. Before I started working with these little ones, I knew that I have a penchant for being boring sometimes; now that I'm working with them regularly, they kindly let me know whenever they are the slightest bit bored.
I know, they're considerate like that.

To combat my inherent boring-ness, I decided to make a Plinko board to work into games and other activities. In Singing Time at primary, I think I'll call it Plink-go Sing-o!

In case you're interested, here's an overview of what I did:

1. Gather Materials

I used the following:
  1. Pegboard - I bought a 4' x 4' piece and had it cut in half (for about $1 more than a single 2' x 4' piece at Lowe's, so under $9 for both pieces)
  2. Wood to frame it - I used two pieces of 1" x 2" x 8' (about $1 each)
  3. Dowels for the pins - I used ten 1/4" x 4' dowels that I cut by hand (because I'm a masochistic miser, apparently, and this saved me a few dollars--my cost was $6 total for the dowels), but you can likely find pre-cut 1/4" x 1.5" dowel pins.
  4. Dot stickers - I used these to mark my layout plan on the back
  5. Paint - I used a combination of super-cheap spray paint and acrylic paint
  6. Ping pong balls

2. Prepare Wood

 I cut the 1x2 pieces to length (two 4' pieces; two 2' pieces) using a miter box set at 45 degrees for nice corners. They're shown here against the 2' x 4' pegboard.

I also cut about 300 1.5" dowel pins in the miter box, but I tried to be smart about it. I bundled the dowels together (with a zip tie) as a single piece of wood and used a small template block of wood to help keep the lengths consistent. Take a look:

I then enlisted my son to help me quickly sand the ends of the dowels where they were rough:

3. Assemble Wood Pieces

I wanted the frame pieces to be flush with the outside edge of the pegboard. Unfortunately, the spacing of the pegboard holes didn't work, so I simply drilled pilot holes 5/16" (which is half the width of the "1 inch" side of the 1" x 2") in from the edge at strategic locations (using a 7/32" bit).

After carefully positioning the frame pieces, I drilled pilot holes through the pegboard pilots into the wood, sunk wood screws, and added additional frame pieces using a dab of wood glue at the corners. Here's how it looked:

And a close-up of a corner:

4. Layout Pin Design

I planned my design on the computer (using Excel, which helped me know how many dowel pins I would need), but I wanted to see what it would look like on the board. I used round dot stickers to do this. As an added bonus, I figured the stickers would help me to get the pins in the right holes, and they might even help keep wood glue from leaking out the back when I glued the pins in.

Here's the layout design on the back of the board:

5. Attach Dowel Pins

To glue the dowel pins in the pegboard, I dipped the pin in a small reservoir with wood glue in it (I used a cleaned milk container lid, put them in place, and lightly tapped them with a hammer to seat them fully. Some aren't as straight as they could be, but imperfections preserve the DIY feel to this project!

6. Paint the Board

I used white spray paint as a base with the intention of adding a personalized touch afterward. Here's my spray paint station:

And here's my team helping to add a touch of color. They used Q-tips to put dots of different colors of acrylic paint on the tips of the dowel pins:

Add a nice border, and it's done!

7. Test

The final step is to ensure that it still works after adding all the paint:

The only remaining step is to have fun with it and keep it from falling apart!