Thursday, August 30, 2012

Special Lessons

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

Special Lessons, by Ronald A. Rasband
Of the Presidency of the Seventy

Previously I've mentioned my wife's cousin's chronically-ill son (here, for example). We've sent a good many prayers on behalf of "Little Hatcher," but have fallen out of the habit in the past year. The other night, seemingly out of nowhere, my children prayed for "Little Hatcher" in their bedtime prayers. I thought it was cute and nice of them, but I felt sad that I have been forgetting.

Little Hatcher

(You can read more about "Little Hatcher" on his family's blog.)

I went on a visit with the full-time missionaries yesterday to teach a woman and her daughter about the Plan of Salvation. They seemed touched by what we discussed because their mother/grandmother is ill and isn't expected to live much longer. They were comforted in their time of trial by the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

In his address, Elder Rasband focused more on physical disabilities and limitations of ill children, but aged parents can also be included in the message. He gave a partial summary of the lesson we shared which also helps answer questions that arise regarding the purpose of suffering:

At these moments [of heartache] we can turn to the great plan of happiness authored by our Heavenly Father. That plan, when presented in the pre-earth life, prompted us all to shout for joy. Put simply, this life is training for eternal exaltation, and that process means tests and trials. It has always been so, and no one is spared.

Knowing that trials can be a test is sometimes of little comfort in the middle of the trial itself. However, having someone sympathetically help is comforting. I realized that I too-often do what Elder Rasband warned against:

If you come upon a person who is drowning, would you ask if they need help—or would it be better to just jump in and save them from the deepening waters? The offer, while well meaning and often given, “Let me know if I can help” is really no help at all.

(I hope my home teaching families aren't reading this, because the "let me know if I can help" is my signature move!)

What I've taken from this talk and my excursion with the missionaries yesterday is a fresh reminder that the Plan of Salvation is also called the Plan of Happiness. This happiness comes through Christ at the end of trials faced with faith—and during them, too, if we have someone lovingly helping, not just saying "let me know if I can help."

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Thanks Be to God

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

Thanks Be to God, by Russell M. Nelson
Of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

I was cooking dinner the other day when I became entirely light-headed and felt terribly small. The reason didn't have to do with spices, fumes, or heat; instead, my mind wandered to astronomy. In particular, I was thinking about the ever-expanding universe and its origin, the Big Bang. Despite being a scientist, I still feel overwhelmed by the expanse of space and intricacy of nature—even when I cook dinner! Starting to feel out of my depth, I wondered about time before the Big Bang and where the matter of the Universe came from. Luckily one of my children interrupted my thought process at this point and saved me from drifting further into the unknown.

As I returned to the task at hand—cooking, not interstellar speculation—I remembered when a child asked me somewhat-similar questions: "Does Heavenly Father have a father?" and "What did Heavenly Father do before He had children?"

I hope I'm not the only person who wonders about gravitational singularity and deity ancestry—even in the same thought chain! (I get the feeling that Elder Nelson might.) After giving a beautiful account of the physical gifts we enjoy, as accounted by a master of medicine (he mentions the body's ability to heal and reproduce), he makes an interesting observation by way of a hypothetical question:

Some people erroneously think that these marvelous physical attributes happened by chance or resulted from a big bang somewhere. Ask yourself, "Could an explosion in a printing shop produce a dictionary?" The likelihood is most remote. But if so, it could never heal its own torn pages or reproduce its own newer editions!

I'm not one to limit God's power—who's to say He didn't use the Big Bang to get everything going—but I do acknowledge His power and guidance, even on a universal scale.

As I drove to work this morning, I was amazed that amid local flooding from Tropical Storm Isaac, I could look up and see marvelous stars, planets, and a misty moon. As I tried to take in the beauty of nature, I thought of answered prayers and the love of God. It's as if physical gifts aren't enough: I crave spiritual gifts, too. A scripture Elder Nelson quoted fits in well here:

Believe in God; believe that he is, and that he created all things, both in heaven and in earth; believe that he has all wisdom, and all power, both in heaven and in earth; . . .

. . . Believe that ye must repent of your sins and forsake them, and humble yourselves before God; and ask in sincerity of heart that he would forgive you; and now, if you believe all these things see that ye do them. (Mosiah 4:9-10)

If I were to try to steer a Sunday school class to answer questions on the Big Bang and its role and timeframe in God's plan and creative process, I may well be told, "That's a question that doesn't affect our salvation, so let's not discuss it here."

Is it important? Not really.

Is it interesting? You betcha!

While the things that get my mind drifting off to space (kind of literally) may not ultimately be important to my salvation, the things that these thoughts lead me to are.

I start out wondering about the universe. This leads me to think about my loving Father in Heaven. I then feel grateful for the Atonement and want to do better and be better.

This path of pursuing perfection helps me appreciate physical and spiritual gifts, and lead me to say, with Elder Nelson, thanks be to God!

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Merciful Obtain Mercy

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

The Merciful Obtain Mercy, by Dieter F. Uchtdorf
Second Counselor in the First Presidency

My wife went to a meeting last weekend where a fun object lesson was used. Everyone was given a blindfold and a sheet of dot stickers. After putting on the blindfold, the teacher asked a series of questions, and if you could answer "yes" to a question, you were to put a dot sticker somewhere on your face. The questions were varied and included both flaws and strengths. Examples include: "do you sometimes struggle to calmly deal with your children," "do you try to love others despite their flaws," "are you unhappy with your body and the way it looks," "do you like the smell of fresh-cut grass," and "do you have a testimony of Jesus Christ?"

After a series of questions, blindfolds were removed and participants were asked to look around the room. Smiles and laughter came at seeing how silly everyone looked, but the point of the lesson was made clear when the instructor said, "Now you see that we all have something in common!"

Since I wasn't in this meeting—it was for women only—I don't know exactly what the message was supposed to be, but I do know what it reminded me of: President Uchtdorf's talk and the message of a bumper sticker he cited: "Don't judge me because I sin differently than you."


Funny, interesting, poignant, or ridiculous as the bumper sticker's message may seem to you, my first thought was to judge. You see, I don't usually like bumper stickers. Sure, some are funny, but too many seem either pointless or offensive. As a result, I catch myself judging drivers by the stickers they put on their cars.

I wonder if I'm alone in my dislike for bumper stickers.

I admit that there are some that I've enjoyed. When I was in high school, I would sometimes see stickers of scenes from the Calvin and Hobbes comic strip on cars' windows.

I had this one (but never did put it on my car)

These made me smile until someone changed the frivolity by having Calvin urinate on various things. Then I saw Calvin kneeling in prayer at a cross, but these disappointed me, too because it seemed an over-correction (or probably just because I'm a terrible person).

Recently I've seen interesting variations on the family make-up on back windows. Whereas once I would see simple stick-figures depicting mother, father, children, and possibly pets, now I'm seeing personalized renditions of each family member: aliens, superheroes, zombies, even Star Wars!

I'm conflicted by some stickers I see, though. Political bumper stickers both delight and detest me. The more vitriolic they are, the more they make me laugh and wonder why/how people get so worked up. In our church parking lot in Texas I would often see anti-Bush-pro-Obama stickers on one car and anti-Obama stickers on another. I would wonder if the drivers of these cars could come together in loving service within the walls of the church—if they even were aware of how diametrically opposed their political viewpoints are!

I was often tempted to find bumper stickers of opposing views and put them on each car and see how long it would take for them to be removed, but I wasn't brave enough. (Imagine the confusion of car with multiple anti-Obama stickers also having a Democratic Party sticker.)

I was reminded of these political stickers as I read a particular paragraph in President Uchtdorf's talk:

I imagine that every person on earth has been affected in some way by the destructive spirit of contention, resentment, and revenge. Perhaps there are even times when we recognize this spirit in ourselves. When we feel hurt, angry, or envious, it is quite easy to judge other people, often assigning dark motives to their actions in order to justify our own feelings of resentment.

What should I take from this message of bumper stickers, dot stickers, and blindfolds? I think President Uchtdorf summarized it nicely:

The pure love of Christ can remove the scales of resentment and wrath from our eyes, allowing us to see others the way our Heavenly Father sees us: as flawed and imperfect mortals who have potential and worth far beyond our capacity to imagine. Because God loves us so much, we too must love and forgive each other.

In brief: stop judging and start loving.

And while you're at it, don't judge me for being a hypocrite in having stickers on my own car despite claiming to dislike them. My stickers aren't political and don't outline my family make-up—they show my appreciation for BYU!

Friday, August 10, 2012

Willing and Worthy to Serve

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

Willing and Worthy to Serve, by Thomas S. Monson
President, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

When I was in elementary or middle school, I decided that I would buy a Game Boy. I found a tin that would serve as a purposed bank, decorated it with cut-out pictures from weekly ads, and looked for work around the house to earn money.

My first experiences with financial goals involved Nintendo game systems, and I was committed. The sale price of $89.99 was a lot to an eleven-yr-old me, but I did whatever I could to get what I wanted. While I don't remember how long it took, or all the work that I did to earn the money, I did ultimately save enough to buy what I wanted: an 8-bit, grayscale, handheld video game system that came with Tetris! (I still remember the background songs you could choose on that spellbinding Russian-based puzzle game.)

As I write this, I realize that around the time I was focusing so much on a game, reality was coming fast. I was almost twelve years old; about to receive the priesthood. It's sad that I can't remember my priesthood preparations as well as I remember my first experiences with video game bliss.

When I was older, I saved for and purchased a Super NES (16-bit, color, TV-linked system) and spent hours learning to drive by playing Super Mario Kart. It's a shame real-world driving doesn't involve shell-missiles, invincibility-stars, and banana peels.

The Super NES was really my last intensive experience with gaming systems (did I just hear my wife shout "hooray!"?), and I used to have it stored somewhere (perhaps one of my brothers "inherited" it without my consent years ago), but I don't really do video games any more. However, I have heard of a series of games (a video game franchise, really) called Call of Duty. These first-person shooters were originally set in World War II, but subsequent games take place in more modern wars.

Why am I talking about video games, including games I've never played? Here's why: The phrase "call of duty" is mentioned at least four times in this talk. When I read this phrase, I would think of World War II and then focus my thoughts back on President Monson's message.

Imagine my surprise when he shared a story from World War II, as recounted by a non-LDS correspondent who witnessed a priesthood holder doing double call of duty in a bloody scene on the Marshall Islands. A wounded marine was floating face-down in the water when another wounded soldier came to his aid. After calling out for help and being told there was nothing to be done, President Monson, including quotes from the correspondent tells, what happened next:

Then, wrote the correspondent, "I saw something that I had never seen before." This boy, badly wounded himself, made his way to the shore with the seemingly lifeless body of his fellow marine. He "put the head of his companion on his knee. . . . What a picture that was—these two mortally wounded boys—both . . . clean, wonderful-looking young men, even in their distressing situation. And the one boy bowed his head over the other and said, 'I command you, in the name of Jesus Christ and by the power of the priesthood, to remain alive until I can get medical help.'" The correspondent concluded his article: "The three of us [the two marines and I] are here in the hospital. The doctors don’t know [how they made it alive], but I know."

War stories don't usually excite me, but this one did. The final three words, but I know, even gave me the chills.

While I haven't been given a military call of duty, I feel the weight of my priesthood call of duty:

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

I used to save my money and help around the house in hopes of buying video game systems. My focus has changed so that now I work and help around the house in hopes of lifting and blessing the lives of my family and others.

While I don't play video games any more, writing this blog post makes me miss my old Game Boy and Super NES. I wonder if my priesthood call of duty to my family could include helping my children appreciate the classics of Tetris and Super Mario Kart. After all, it's important to know how to drive among shell-missiles, invincibility-stars, and banana peels! Even if you never see them on the roadway.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Families Under Covenant

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

Families Under Covenant, by Henry B. Eyring
First Counselor in the First Presidency

Between the garage and our house is a doorway. When I come home from work in the afternoon, this doorway is my portal to happiness, and is central to my favorite part of each day: coming home. After being away from my family all day—leaving before any of the children awake in the morning—all I want is to come home. Often, I'm greeted with enthusiastic cheers and hugs aplenty!

Sometimes, it seems like I enter a battlefield where my children are waging a war against their mother, my wife. In these times, I always join ranks with my wife, and we usually restore order to these restless afternoons where children are tired from being cooped up all day (having refused the outlet of outdoor play and embraced bickering and fighting as an alternative pastime).

There we stand, husband and wife, parents united in purpose against our unruly bedlamites! (NOTE: the youngest usually sleeps through these uncommon afternoon wars)

Let me carry this military metaphor a bit further. In his talk on the joys and strengths of families, President Eyring gave four suggestions to lead families heavenward. I particularly liked the third, which is to "enlist the entire family to love each other." He then shares a quote from President Ezra Taft Benson:

In an eternal sense, salvation is a family affair. . . .

Above all else, children need to know and feel they are loved, wanted, and appreciated. They need to be assured of that often. Obviously, this is a role parents should fill, and most often the mother can do it best.

Don't be fooled by these occasional afternoon wars—Parents vs. Children!—we do try to have a loving home, we just sometimes forget that we need to show our love for each other ways than fighting over who gets to sit where, which toys belong to whom, and whomever left the back door open!

In February I wrote on another talk (by Elder Holland, link) that spoke of being enlisted, this time in missionary work. After exploring this call and dreaming of serving as an old man (with a beautiful white-haired wife), I concluded with:

I know that I can't sit back in a self-congratulatory mood and wait for my hair to turn white before I "Haste to the battle," as the hymn charges. I'm going to spend my time helping my little batch of future soldiers, future missionaries.

It seems that President Eyring's "call to arms" is a precursor to Elder Holland's call to missionary service, with the necessary explanation that the "call to arms" involves wrapping arms around one another in loving embraces (hugs) instead of using any kind of weapon!

When I walk through my happy doorway this afternoon, I hope to find my little loving soldiers happily playing together. If, however, I enter a battlefield, I hope I can remember that we're all on the same team and help each family member 'feel they are loved, wanted, and appreciated."

Monday, August 6, 2012

The Why of Priesthood Service

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

The Why of Priesthood Service, by Dieter F. Uchtdorf
Second Counselor in the First Presidency

"Because I said so." This sentence is perhaps the most despised when heard by children—at least that's how I viewed it growing up. I admit that most of my dissatisfaction with this sentence was that it provided no wiggle-room; there was no way for me to exploit potential loopholes and get what I wanted or do what I really wanted to do. Underneath my selfish reasons, though, was the dissatisfaction I felt in not understanding the reasons why.

"Because I said so." This sentence is perhaps the most favorite when used by overworked and tired parents. I admit that I use it too frequently—usually when I'm tired of my children finding holes in my arguments against doing whatever it is they want to do that is too loud, too messy, or too potentially-dangerous; it works well to squash behavior that I'm too tired to lovingly deal with.

From these two views on a single sentence, it becomes clear that not only am I a hypocrite, I'm terribly selfish. I should point out that there are occasions when I take the effort to try to be a loving and devoted father in person, but I'm selfish and dogmatic altogether too often. (I can argue that working hard at work is showing love and devotion, but it's easy to say that because when I'm at work, my children are essentially outsourced to my wife; she's the source of most of the love and devotion in our family.)

President Uchtdorf's address was given in Priesthood Session, so it has a definite priesthood service angle, but I read "parenthood" between the lines. I hope this is appropriate. In the first talk of this Priesthood Session, Elder Bednar shared what many wives and mothers would ask of him as a priesthood leader (bishop and stake president):

Please help my husband understand his responsibility as a priesthood leader in our home. . . I wish my husband would be an equal partner and provide the strong priesthood leadership only he can give.

With this quote as ammunition, I'm going to interpret President Uchtdorf's remarks on priesthood responsibilities through the lens of parenting.

Earlier I admitted that I'm a selfish hypocrite as manifest by my use of the terrible "because I said so" conversation stopper. The reason I despised this end-all as a child was because it left me intellectually unfulfilled—I was left with a big why (bigger than the BYU Y on the mountain).

Here I am, decades later, with no compassion for my equally curious and inquisitive children. If I don't change things, their alphabets will suffer from ElephantYasis—the swelling of the Y.

Here's President Uchtdorf's prescription for ElephantYasis (with substitutions made by me):

We all have lists of what we could and should do in our [parenting] responsibilities. The what is important in our work, and we need to attend to it. But it is in the why of [parenting] service that we discover the fire, passion, and power of [parenthood].

The what of [parenting] service teaches us what to do. The why inspires our souls.

The what informs, but the why transforms.

Instead of hypocritical parenting, I want to embrace the why by explaining why I'm asking my children to do certain things. If part of my job as a father is to help my children prepare to enter the world as active participants in making the world a better place, they will definitely need to know more than what to do—they need the why, too!

I predict that it will take some time and effort for me to get things right. Here's some reassurance from President Uchtdorf:

We know that despite our best intentions, things do not always go according to plan. We make mistakes in life and in our [parenting] service. Occasionally we stumble and fall short.

When the Lord advises us to “continue in patience until [we] are perfected,” He is acknowledging that it takes time and perseverance. Understanding the why of the gospel and the why of [parenthood] will help us to see the divine purpose of all of this. It will give us motivation and strength to do the right things, even when they are hard. Staying focused on the basic principles of gospel living will bless us with clarity, wisdom, and direction.

My name is Clark, and I'm a hypocritical selfish father. I admit that I have improvements to make, and I'm committed to be better. I hope that's enough.

I take comfort in knowing that despite my many flaws, as I tuck my children in bed at night I often hear them say: "you're the best daddy in the whole world!"

Hearing them say this gives me hope for the future (in many ways).

And I'm not even going to ask them "why?".