Sunday, June 16, 2013

Room Improvements

While my wife and children are enjoying an adventure out of state, I've been working on redoing one of our rooms (heretofore called the Black Hole of Calcutta). If you're a fan of before/after project pictures, here are some for you to enjoy:

You don't have to look out the window to see popcorn in our house--it's on the ceiling!
I removed the popcorn, added a more subtle texture, and replaced the fan.

Painted walls. And yes, the floor is now just exposed concrete slab.
We'll replace the flooring for all three rooms when they're all redone.

New closet organization options

Another shot of the closet

As a bonus, here's how I'm thinking of arranging the furniture (My son and daughter will share this room until we finish redoing all the children's bedrooms and then we'll have to decide who goes where).

The old closet doors are back on; we may swap them out.

That's a LOT of stuffed animals!

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Everglades Adventures

Want to join us on a camping adventure south of paradise!? Well, since you can't make it, here are pictures for you to enjoy:

Can you see the cougar (panther) in the weeds?

Alligator through bridge planks

Lurking. Would you rather run into
a troll under a bridge or this guy?

Vultures were everywhere, and they like rubber apparently

Sleek swimmer

One of the only bugs we saw, which was a pleasant surprise for us!

Overlooking the Everglades

Our campsite--you can see the water a stone's throw away

Geocaching! (link)

Happy to see the keys


Enjoying a hike

Exploring the debris

Learning that the bald especially need sunblock



A fellow redhead

Ruined dock is evidence of past hurricanes

My daughter's favorite flower on the hike

Sharing binoculars on a boat trip around the bay

Wildlife watching


Waving at waves


Telling about the dolphins she saw

The Florida crocodile (not alligator)

Moonlight walk (so they wouldn't stay awake all night again)

Reflected moonlight on the bay

Monday, March 18, 2013

One Step Closer to the Savior

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

One Step Closer to the Savior, by Russell T. Osguthorpe
Sunday School General President

As a green missionary, my companion and I had dinner in the home of a friendly bishop. As we shared a gospel message with the family over dinner, the conversation somehow turned to the view of the mountains near Weiser, Idaho that we saw out his front window. I don't remember how, but this fine bishop told us that whenever he looks out his front window, he's reminded of his mission and the need to help others come to Christ. While I don't remember the specifics of what led up to this conversation, I remember what he said next:

Too often missionaries equate baptisms with success. While leading converts into the waters of baptism is an important aspect of missionary success, it is not how success is measured. The goal of each missionary should be on helping others come closer to Christ, one step at a time. When you are blessed to teach people about Christ assist them in their baptismal covenants, please realize that they were likely led closer to Christ, step-by-step, by unseen friends and associates. Likewise, when you are serving others who don't become baptized, it doesn't mean that you failed so long as you tried to bring them one step closer to Christ.

I think of this bishop's words fairly often—they've really stuck with me—but I admit that I've historically only thought of the steps taken closer to Christ leading up to baptism. President Osguthorpe reminded me that there are more steps each of us can take:

When we learn and teach His word in His way, we accept His invitation to "come, follow me." We follow Him one step at a time. With each step, we draw closer to the Savior. We change. The Lord knew that spiritual growth did not happen all at once. It comes gradually. Each time we accept His invitation and choose to follow Him, we progress along the pathway to full conversion. 

Conversion is the goal of all gospel learning and teaching. Conversion is not a onetime event. It is a lifelong quest to become more like the Savior.

I'm a little embarrassed to admit that I hadn't made the connection of that life-changing conversation with that bishop in Weiser to my efforts to be Christlike. It's so obvious now that I've realized it!

I want to be like Christ. I want to help others come unto Christ, too. I want to remember the importance of each step closer to Christ that I take, and that others take.

In addition to remembering the conversation I had while gazing on the mountains in Weiser, I want to remember how President Osguthorpe expanded my understanding:

We can all learn, teach, and live His word in His way by taking one step closer to the Savior. As we do, we will become truly converted.

The Joy of Redeeming the Dead

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

The Joy of Redeeming the Dead, by Richard G. Scott
Of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

About a week ago I received a phone call from my excited wife. While looking at family history, she found what looks to be a lost ancestor among the recently-digitized US Census information (which she helped index, by the way). I'm excited to help her further research this great lead—even if my "help" is just helping her have time at the computer to do what she wants to do.

If you're still waiting for your heart to turn to your fathers, I recommend you take a look at a fan chart of your personal family history. In fact, there's a site where you can get one prepared for free:

What I love about this type of chart is that it quickly lets you see the gaps or holes in your family history research. Here's what my personal fan chart looks like; note the many empty yellow cells on the right:

In a letter from the First Presidency, we were told: "Our preeminent obligation is to seek out and identify our own ancestors." In fact, as I'm writing this on my lunch break, I just received a call from my wife. She called to report that she rode her bike (our youngest child in tow) to the church family history center to continue her research on my family line (in the yellow section of the fan above). Some may say that she's not working on her own line, but she likes me enough to consider me family.

I love my wife. I love my family. I love spending time at the temple with my wife and family. I Elder Scott's observation connecting family history research, families, and temple worship:

Receiving ordinances vicariously for one of your own ancestors will make the time in the temple more sacred, and even greater blessings will be received.


For our family home evening lesson today, my wife gave a lesson where she shared the new information she learned which she called today to tell me about. We also watched a video from the Church History Library; you can see part of it below:

Friday, March 15, 2013

Being a More Christian Christian

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

Being a More Christian Christian, by Robert D. Hales
Of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

Our neighbors are grandparents who tend their grandchildren everyday. This sounds like a wonderful thing considering that we live in a cul-de-sac and have similarly-aged children, and it used to be, but something changed over a year ago.

Here's my brood playing in the cul-de-sac last July

What started out as small hints became more and more obvious when our neighbors would go inside whenever our children went out to play in the front yard. Recently, one of the grandchildren told our children, "we're not supposed to play with you."

Naturally, our children wondered why.

While we don't know for sure, we've discussed it as a family and talked about boundaries and making sure we're kind when we're playing with others, etc., in case we did something unknowingly to offend them; however, I believe the ostracism stems from something else.

If memory serves me, we were all friendly until my son's baptism was approaching and he wanted to invite our neighbors to attend. We prepared invitations and delivered them to our neighbors. Whereas most were happy and congratulatory, this is the time that this particular neighbor family stopped talking/playing with us.

Again, I don't know for sure, but I suspect they don't like us because they now know for sure that we're Mormon.

Perhaps they don't think that we're Christian. All I know is when my children excitedly go out to play and see their friends quickly ushered inside by their grandmother, smiles fade and I'm tempted to do things that aren't Christian at all!

Recently I've been building up the nerve to confront our neighbors and see if they'll finally help me understand why the rift between us exists, but they've either not been home when I've wanted to visit, or I get so worked up about the perceived injustice that I don't feel like being nice anymore so I don't go.

I came to Elder Hales' talk this afternoon and thought of my neighbor-conflict when I read the title, "Being a More Christian Christian," because it's so obviously what I need to do in this case. In his talk, Elder Hales reminded of the need we have, as Christians, to "feed [his] sheep," including, as he put it, "those who think and believe differently than we do."

If the cul-de-sac conflict is a result of difference of religion, I especially need to remember to be Christian and Christ-like if I ever discuss it with them. Elder Hales taught:

I testify that through His infinite love and grace, we can become more Christian Christians.

Reviewing this talk has helped me see that I need to have Christian patience and Christian forgiveness. I just need to decide when to stop turning the other cheek and have a loving Christian conversation to resolve the cul-de-sac conflict.

Consider the Blessings

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

Consider the Blessings, by Thomas S. Monson
President, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

My wife and I do many things together around the house, but we do have certain tasks that we, more or less, own. For example, our two-yr-old son is almost always put to bed by his mother (I try sometimes, but he asks for Mommy!). Last night, my wife had an evening meeting and needed to leave before bedtime, so I got to put my little boy to bed. I was happy (and surprised) that he didn't complain that my wife was absent.

As I helped him prepare for bed, I noticed how loving and tender he was being. I particularly liked how I felt as we knelt to pray. He's only recently started praying—with our help—but I'm not usually the one to help him. As I whispered the words for him to say, I felt that he really was grateful for the things I was mentioning: home, family members, safety, a fun day. I liked the feeling of kneeling there with my little boy so much that I wanted to keep listing things we're grateful for! However, I noticed that as my list grew longer, he opened his eyes, looked at me, and started laughing.

Here's my cute little boy!

Oh well. It was fun while it lasted. (We did finish the prayer, and he said the final words enthusiastically all by himself.)

I was reminded of this special moment as I read President Monson's recommendation to "take an inventory of your life and look specifically for the blessings, large and small, you have received." As I prayed with my little boy last night I felt tremendously blessed!

After testifying that "our prayers are heard and answered," President Monson quoted a scripture that reminds that "men are that they might have joy" (see 2 Nephi 2:25) then testified:

I testify that much of that joy comes as we recognize that we can communicate with our Heavenly Father through prayer and that those prayers will be heard and answered—perhaps not how and when we expected they would be answered, but they will be answered and by a Heavenly Father who knows and loves us perfectly and who desires our happiness.

I'm grateful for the many blessings, large and small, that I've received. I'm grateful for the guidance and direction I receive which blesses my life and allows me to bless others. And I'm grateful for tender moments with loved ones that remind me of the power and joy of prayer.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

The First Great Commandment

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

The First Great Commandment, by Jeffrey R. Holland
Of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

A few posts ago I bemoaned how hard it sometimes is to be different in living the gospel (link). While I tried to close with some meaningful view that my trials (which likely seem inflated) can help me in guiding others to Christ, reading Elder Holland's talk today made me feel a bit guilty—I felt as if I had been caught fishing.

I loved how Elder Holland took "nonscriptural liberty" in relating the account of the apostles' activities immediately following the resurrection—namely their intention to "go a fishing." He told of how they returned to shore after a uneventful night and were instructed by the resurrected Lord to cast their nets on the right side.

You remember how they caught "a great multitude of fishes" and Peter leaps from the boat and hurries to shore. There he finds Christ and is taught powerful lessons through a question repeated three times, "Lovest thou me?"


The fact that the apostles were fishers of fish again—no longer acting as fishers of men—despite claims of love prompted this reply from their Master (as translated by Elder Holland):

Then Peter, why are you here? Why are we back on this same shore, by these same nets, having this same conversation? Wasn’t it obvious then and isn’t it obvious now that if I want fish, I can get fish? What I need, Peter, are disciples—and I need them forever.

My wife interacts with the Relief Society in our ward. Conversations I have with my wife often arrive at the same final conclusion: the work would go so much smoother and we could all accomplish so much more if everyone were willing to help!

I'm tempted to take the message I got from Elder Holland's words and turn them against those we associate with who seem to sit comfortably on the sidelines while many others are battling for our lives in the main event, but I won't. (I hope the previous sentence doesn't mean that I already have!)

Here's the boiled-down message I read from this message: If we really love the Lord, then we are well reminded that "the crowning characteristic of love is always loyalty." What I take from this is that we don't manifest our love and devotion for God for a short time—while it's easy or convenient, say—we are supposed to be changed forever and loyal forever to the work the Lord needs us to do!

Again, it's tempting to shape this message into a spear and hurl it at those who appear to have forgotten how to serve, but what I want to do—what I hope I will do—is be like Peter and lovingly feed his sheep and save his lambs, including (and especially) those who have strayed from the fold.

If I can do this, I can remember and obey the first great commandment to "love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind."

Besides, fishing is kind of gross with slimy bait and stinky fish; lambs evoke softness and comfort.


Sheep and lambs sound much more enticing than fish!

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Learning with Our Hearts

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

Learning with Our Hearts, by Walter F. Gonzalez
Of the Presidency of the Seventy

My wife and I finished reading the Book of Mormon together this week. Our couple scripture study has focused on the Book of Mormon before, but this most recent time we included a new (to us) book the Church put together for Institute classes which we really enjoyed. This book replaces an older class manual; it is considerably thicker and includes quotes and insight from more recent leaders. I loved using this newer manual as a companion to our couple scripture so much, that we've started over again from the beginning!

Here's the new manual (link)

I was reminded of this new study aid as I read Elder Gonzalez' talk; he taught:

One way to come unto Christ is by seeking to learn essential truths with our hearts. . . we cannot understand the scriptures completely unless we apply our heart to understanding.

I considered the ways that I seek to learn essential truths with my heart. In addition to reading and applying the scriptures to my life, I like to seek additional insight from other Church leaders. This is somewhat different to my usual approach to learning: starting with a Google search and scouring the myriad results for something that interests me. In fact, Elder Gonzalez said something that relates:

Today, surrounded by so much information, we might think that navigating millions of web pages will give us all that we need to know. We can find good and bad information on the web, but information alone is not enough. God has given us another source for greater knowledge, even knowledge sent from heaven. Our Heavenly Father can give us such knowledge when we navigate the celestial web in our hearts and minds. The Prophet Joseph Smith said that he had “the oldest book in [his] heart, even the gift of the Holy Ghost.”

I'm excited to continue to study the Book of Mormon with my wife, aided by the "knowledge sent from heaven" found in the words of Church leaders and in the sweet whisperings of the Spirit.

And I recommend that you find a copy of the new manual, too! (Here's a link)

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

First Observe, Then Serve

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

First Observe, Then Serve, by Linda K. Burton
Relief Society General President

After dinner last night I called my two oldest children (seven and nine years old) back to the dining room to help clean up. My daughter was first to arrive, so I let her choose which of the tasks she would like; she chose to clear and clean the table. After I gave my son his assignment, I went to the kitchen to work on the dishes. While I was washing, I realized that I had forgotten to tell my son that I would also like him to clean off the chairs, so I returned to the dining room to give him this instruction. What I found surprised me, but it really shouldn't have.

As I was asking my son to also clean the chairs, I realized that my daughter was already doing the job. Curious, I asked her why she was cleaning the chairs when she had only been asked to clean the table. In her loving way, she simply said, "Well, I saw that they were dirty, so I started to clean them."

I mentioned that I shouldn't have been surprised. This is because my sweet daughter often does things for others without being asked—often sacrificing her own treats and treasures to share with her siblings. Knowing that she heard me ask her older brother to clean the chairs, I wondered if she would stop helping and let him take over; however, I was surprised / not surprised again to see that she lovingly continued to do the job.

My daughter is a sweet girl that seems to live by the philosophy: "First observe, then serve."

 Here's a picture of my sweet [two-thless] girl from
earlier in the week after she lost her second front tooth

In her talk, Sister Burton shared many examples of people who have done as my wonderful daughter does, followed by scriptures connecting the loving acts of Christ-like service to the teachings of Christ himself.

I'm grateful for the example of Christ and for his teachings. I'm also grateful for my loving family—including my precious daughter—who often show their love for me and others when they "first observe, then serve."

As I tucked her into bed later in the night I remembered how she had helped clean the table. I told her that I love her, and that I love how she shows love for others. I then thanked her for being who she is: a wonderful girl who loves so freely.

She then told me something I hadn't ever heard her say: "Daddy, I want a little sister to play with."

I told her that she was sweet and would be a wonderful big sister for a little girl, then reminded her that she had little brothers with whom she can play (but I didn't say it in such a formally awkward way).

What I wanted to say, though, was, "I would have one hundred daughters if they were all as sweet and kind as you!"

A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.
By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another. (John 13:34-35)

My daughter is one who will first observe, then serve!