Friday, June 22, 2012

Laborers in the Vineyard

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

The Laborers in the Vineyard, by Jeffrey R. Holland
Of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

I have amazing parents! Unfortunately for me (and them), I didn't realize this until the eleventh hour, so to speak.

I don't remember much of my childhood—especially teenage years. I'm convinced the reason for this is because I want so much to be a different person than I was then that I've conveniently forgotten how rotten and terrible I was!

I'll bet that my parents remember, though.

And they still like me!

I think I've written before about how amazing I think my dad is—he seems to know everything about anything I need help with. Now that I'm a homeowner, his insight, advice, and experience are of seemingly infinite worth to me. If I haven't written about him enough, perhaps this short paragraph will satisfy you.

However, I want to write about my mom.

I think I've always been a "momma's boy." She was always there when I returned home from school, waiting with a hug and a smile. I always wanted to be the one to sit next to her at church (which is quite the reward in a family of six children). I would secretly be thrilled to see her in high school when she worked as a lunch lady in my cafeteria. (She returned home earlier than I did after school so she was still there waiting.)

She was also the music leader when I was in Primary. There is one song she taught me that I've recently modified, quite by accident, which reminds me of her. Here are the lyrics:

I want to be kind to everyone,
For that is right, you see.
So I say to myself, "Remember this:
Kindness begins with me."

Years later, I jokingly changed the final line to "Kindness begins with 'K'" to be more literal.

I thought I was funny an quite clever.

Then I realized that it really is true, especially with this twist:

Kindness begins with Kay!

NOTE: My mother's first name is Kay.

The first of the three points Elder Holland made regarding the parable of the labourers is this:

Lesson number one from the Lord’s vineyard: coveting, pouting, or tearing others down does not elevate your standing, nor does demeaning someone else improve your self-image. So be kind, and be grateful that God is kind. It is a happy way to live.

I mentioned that I came to appreciate my parents relatively late in life (I even said the "eleventh hour"). I've secretly felt bad about this for some time now. However, after reading Elder Holland's analysis and insight on the parable of the labourers, I'm realizing that I may be like those who were put to work late in the day (in the "eleventh hour," again); instead of dwelling on—and feeling terrible about—the time I spent lonely on the side of the road wanting employment (to paraphrase the parable), I want to rejoice that I'm now with the group of happy workers.

And like in the parable, I expect that my reward will be the same as if I had realized how kind and loving my parents were all along. Because, after all, I did have kind and loving parents all along (and still do!).

And while kindness did begin with Kay, because of my parents' example, I can live as if it begins with me.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Statistical Report

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

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

As my wife's late grandmother would say, "Carry on!"

Church Auditing Department Report

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

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

Near the end of each month, I sit down to review bills, credit cards, mortgages, loans, and bank statements. Instead of becoming depressed by the funds that are going out of bank accounts to various creditors, I feel grateful that we survived another month!

Sometimes I wonder if there will ever be a surplus at the end of the month, but even if there isn't I'm grateful that of my "expenses" are contributions to the Church, and that I don't feel that they are wasted.

Even "certified public accountants, certified internal auditors, certified information systems auditors, and other credentialed professionals" agree with me!

The Sustaining of Church Officers

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

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

One of the joys of having children who watch conference with you is to see them raise their hands with you and give a sustaining vote to Church leaders.

In this conference, [President] Sister Beck was released. I liked her messages, and remember with fondness the address titled Mothers Who Know. I liked it so much that I made a video from it for my amazing wife. I'm sure the new leaders will serve valiantly, too.

Mothers Who Know

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Mountains to Climb

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

Mountains to Climb, by Henry B. Eyring
First Counselor in the First Presidency

Once upon a time, I was doing pretty well for myself. Everything, it seemed, was going my way. And yet, I was concerned by the smoothness of it all.

I was, after all, a full-time missionary and expected trial and conflict to be as much a part of life as were the companions that stayed with me, side-by-side. During this high-time of missionary service, I recalled a poem a friend shared with me before I left home. Attributed to Jack L. Brinkerhoff, Highs-N-Lows prepared me for trials and difficulties commonly associated with serving the Lord:

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

They told me this would be the best period of my life. But I guess they didn't explain it all too clear.
I came out looking for a bed of roses. I just wasn't expecting all the thorns I've found out here.

Since I've been out I've never been so happy. I've never been so depressed.
I've never felt so forsaken. I've never felt so blessed.

I've never been so confused. My mind has never been so clear.
I've never felt my Heavenly Father so distant. I've never felt him so near.

I've never been so discouraged. I've never been so full of hope.
I feel like I can go forever. I think I've come to the end of my rope.

I've never had it so easy. I've never had it so tough.
Things have never gone so smoothly. Things have never been so rough.

I've never traveled through more valleys. I've never ascended so many peaks.
I've never met so many neat people. I've never met so many freaks.

I've never had so many ups. I've never had so many downs.
I've never worn so many smiles. I've never worn so many frowns.

I've never been so lonely. I've never had so many friends.
Man, I hope this is all over with soon.

Gosh, I hope it never ends.

During this time of peace and success, I started to wonder about this poem. Sure I had had trials aplenty in the past, but things were so great now! It was lasting so long that I wondered if I was at a plateau and longed to climb higher.

This is when my companion and I had a talk. We decided that we would pray for growth. We knew that trials might be the avenue of growth, but ultimately we wanted to be "instruments in the hand of God" (Alma 29:9), come what may.

So we prayed, asking for spiritual growth.

Looking back, I wish I could remember what happened next (kind of a let-down, I know). This story sounds incomplete because I can't give a narrative of the next events.

What I do remember, though, is that things were going well, we prayed for growth, and things went even better afterward because of the growth we experienced. I know there were trials, but I can't remember them. I do remember the tender memories one expects from missionary service. And because I grew from these experiences, I remember that area with great fondness as one of the favorite times of my mission!

Fast forward to the present.

While I'm comfortable with the way things are progressing now, I don't plan on praying for growth anytime soon! President Eyring tells of how he "prayed for a test to prove [his] courage," but I continue to pray for patience, faith, and courage to do the Lord's will!

Before I continue, I want to say that I love my children. Really. I do.

Having said that, I'll admit that it's sometimes hard to be a parent.

As a family, we have a goal to have meaningful temple experiences monthly. We moved to Florida and found the distance to the nearest temple doubled from what we were used to. Not discouraged, we continued our temple lifestyle. But something started to seem different.

We found that with four growing children, taking all-day trips to Orlando became harder and harder--even with great help from my wife's sister's family who often meet us there so we can take turns. It got to the point where we had a discussion about decreasing the frequency of our visits. Quarterly visits are acceptable, we argued, for an active, sometimes-crazy family.

We planned on taking the month of June off.

Despite my willingness to have an extra Saturday of yard work, my wife added a temple trip to our schedule anyway. We both felt that we needed to try one more time.

So we did.

We changed things up a bit--she drove and I handled the entertainment and food distribution--and had an amazing time!

In fact, the pictures interspersed in this post are all from this visit that we weren't going to take!

It seems that my first story (about easy times as a missionary) doesn't seem to relate to the crucible of parenthood, but I'm going to try to relate them--and I'm not going to suggest that the prayers for growth were postponed for more than ten years until my children came.

As a missionary I recognized that I wanted growth because I wasn't content with the status quo, so I asked for a change.

Recently, our family had the monthly temple tripping routine down to an art. It was so easy, and so much fun. I'm starting to think that we were enjoying a nice family picnic on a spiritual plateau and have since started to hike up the mountain (perhaps the Mountain of the Lord?). The main difference being that I didn't ask for the challenges this time.

Despite the heartache I experience when things are hard for me as a parent, I found comfort in re-reading the Brinkerhoff poem quoted above, but this time I shifted some of the words. Instead of reading about "a mission," I inserted parenthood!

(I'll wait if you want to go back and give it a read again.)

I have to admit that the next time I miss the mountains of Utah in this flat, flat Florida paradise, I'll think of the mountains we've climbed here as a family, together. And as I enjoy the view from our position, I'll try to turn around, look up, and prepare for future mountains to climb.

Monday, June 4, 2012


This entry is part of my general conference application series.

Sacrifice, by Dallin H. Oaks
Of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

We've had a great string of lessons in the eight- and nine-yr-old class my wife and I teach at church. The flow of the lesson material and underlying story arc we've been traversing seem easy for the children to grasp, understand, remember, and apply in their lives.

We've been studying the lives and efforts of Alma the younger and the sons of Mosiah from their days of antagonism through their missionary efforts and sacrifices. The lesson yesterday was on the Anti-Nephi-Lehies: the people who were converted to the Lord and covenanted to no longer shed the blood of anyone, even in defense of their own lives.

That's a strong commitment to a meaningful covenant.

The Covenant Rock, part of an object lesson.

Among the "controlled chaos" that I usually maintain when I teach these enthusiastic learners were distinct moments where certain class members seemed to really "get it" on a personal level. As I asked them to try to apply the lesson material to their own lives, I saw them "get it" in the way their smiles changed as they tilted their heads slightly to one side and got a knowing look in their eyes.

One girl—who made sacred baptismal covenants in the waters of baptism just hours later—restated something I had said in the lesson back to me, but with more meaning and power because she had internalized it: "When I keep my covenants, it doesn't matter what happens to me because God will be with me!"

Another boy excitedly told me that he had decided to do something he was asked not to do during the lesson (hit a classmate with his tie) and when he thought of the "covenant rock"—part of an object lesson (pictured above)—he decided to refrain and try sitting reverently instead. (In fact, I overheard him excitedly tell a few other people about his "covenant rock" experience in the next hour.)

In summary, we had a good time in our lesson. However, after it was all said and done, I wondered what I sacrifice as part of the covenants I have made. Luckily, I read Elder Oaks' talk on sacrifice today!

In addition to the expected LDS sacrifice categories of church service, full-time missionary service, and parenthood was something that stood out to me. Elder Oaks recounted the response when a Christian minister asked President Hinckley about the lack of a cross on one of our temples:

President Hinckley replied that the symbols of our Christian faith are “the lives of our people.” Truly, our lives of service and sacrifice are the most appropriate expressions of our commitment to serve the Master and our fellowmen.

I'm usually not faced with deciding if I'll give my life to keep sacred covenants (as the Anti-Nephi-Lehies did), but I can live my life as a symbol of my Christian faith—as a symbol of my sacred covenants.