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Zombies and Tree Saplings

Tree Sapling

For those of you like me, who weren’t blessed with the natural ability to be a morning person, you understand me when I say some mornings, I not only look like, but I act like, and feel like a zombie. The bags under my eyes are so big and heavy that Delta would charge extra for them If I was booking a flight. My early morning reflexes are in a different time zone and covered in molasses… all while there may be a little drool sneaking out the corner of my mouth. Yes, I think we all agree my wife is a lucky woman.

After a quick shower though, I’m usually “awake” and back in reality. I hop in the car as drive to work. There has been days though where on my commute there has been nothing but crickets and tumbleweeds blowing across my mind. Other days, I’ve already become “busy” and I’m analyzing or working on things mentally for work. Some day’s I’ll listen to music or an audio book. Yet other days I find myself in totally pointless debates like who would be a better stand up comedian between Chris Farley and Sponge Bob Squarepants.

My point with all this is: all too often on my morning commute or in everyday life I miss a perfect opportunity to relax my mind, clear my mind, quiet the noise of life, and focus on the Savior. Lately as I’ve been focusing more on makign that a priority, I’ve found myself circling back to the same simple thought and understanding:

It’s so easy, to be so busy, that we overlook how beautiful life is.

Does that mean our life has to be perfect to be beautiful? No. Does that mean our situation is what we’d like it to be? No. Does that mean we can’t work and be busy? No.

It simply means taking a moment to let the REAL reality sink in. It’s as simple as takign a moment to allow yourself to see the miracles all around you. To take a moment to see the beauty in others, and how blessed we all are. It’s taking a moment to feel God’s love for you. Suddenly it’s easy to “count your many blessings” and “name them one by one”.

I’ve also found it interesting how many lessons we can learn from the most common of God’s creations. For me, as funny as it sounds, i’ve found one the best examples on how to live life comes from somthing as simple and common as: A Tree.

 

The Little Seed

For God so Loved the World, that he gave His only Begotten Son,

In his infinite love for us, that’s not the extent of what he’s done.

He created our flesh and blood, gave us Temples to house our soul,

We’re each proof of his divinity, and testament to our Father’s role.

He allowed us the opportunity, to live and learn upon this earth,

To grow and strive and struggle, to prove our individual worth.

Yet all too often in this life, we forget just why we’re here,

We forget to stop or breathe it in, or prioritize what we should hold dear.

Yet life through Heaven’s eyes, suddenly makes everything so clear,

Heaven once so far away, for a moment feels so near.

Suddenly lessons appear around us, examples plain to see,

Of faith, and trust, and focus, shown by every single tree.

Each strong and mighty tree now standing, was once a tiny seed,

With nothing more than hope and faith, and determination to succeed.

Each seed starts life in different soils, locations and conditions,

Yet all so full of life and energy, drive, focus and ambition.

The seed first thrusts it roots down deep, to establish a firm foundation,

Only then can its small leaves reach for Heaven, it’s only desire in its creation.

Nourished by the sun and rain, the season forgiving and so kind,

The little seed grows stronger, taller and more defined.

The little seeds wants nothing more, than to be tall, mighty and strong!

Heaven knows this and has a plan, it’s been the plan all along.

Then unexpected by the little seed, the days continually grow colder,

The Sun seems to have hidden its light, the season away turns its shoulder.

The elements now combine their fury, against the little seed,

Howling winds, and snow preside, as the little seed gives plead.

Yet the sky seems dark and gives little aid, as snow now blankets the ground,

Comfort, warmth, and light seem gone, instead cold winds and storms abound.

Refusing to concede this fight, though it’s situation not ideal,

The little seed instead digs deeper! With all its might and zeal!

Its little roots grow stronger daily, all its energy focused on its foundation,

For the seed knows the Sun will come again, and that day will be jubilation!

Then one day the Sun appeared, from behind the clouds,

Only then the seed saw his shadow tall, he was now a sapling proud!

It was then the little seed realized, the Heavens are so wise!

The trials it had faced, were simply blessings in disguise!

Now years and years gone by, the wise and mighty tree has learned,

Not every day or even season easy, but eventually back they turned!

Just because the skies are dark, and snow freezes the ground us beside,

Doesn’t mean you are forsaken, or alone in the world you abide.

It’s in the bitter cold, and strongest winds you find,

They are what make you strong, it’s according to design,

For the tree can only grow as high, as its roots grow deep,

It’s foundation the most important thing, the main priority to keep.

The Sword of Laban

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Sometimes, the right tool for a job, is a sword.

“Wherefore, I call upon the weak things of the world, those who are unlearned and despised, to thresh the nations by the power of my Spirit; And their arm shall be my arm, and I will be their shield and their buckler; and I will gird up their loins, and they shall fight manfully for me; and their enemies shall be under their feet; and I will let fall the sword in their behalf, and by the fire of mine indignation will I preserve them.”
-D&C 35:14

Last week, myself, my wife, and two oldest kiddos got to do something pretty amazing. We all went camping. Well, I was enjoying the camping in a regular tent with my wife, while the two kids were in survival mode in group tents covered in about 4 inches of dirt and dust. Bear Grylls might have even called it quits. I think the front door of the kids’ tents acted more like a vacuum sucking in the dust, than a barrier to keep it out. Every time I went to visit the Young Men’s tent, I thought I was experiencing an indoor haboob.

It was quite a bit more than just a regular campout however. It was a four day youth camp called Moroni’s Quest. While we were there, we were able to watch several reenactments of the stories from the Book of Mormon. It was like watching a 4 day long play or a production.

All of the scenes were awesome. Every single one. But one theme really stood out to me. It was the reoccurring presence of the sword of Laban. His sword was obviously a big part of how the story of the Book of Mormon really got started. It was the “means” by which Nephi was able to obtain the Plates of Brass, or scripture record, from the very beginning…

“Therefore I did obey the voice of the Spirit, and took Laban by the hair of the head, and I smote off his head with his own sword.”
-1 Nephi 4:18

In addition to being a fatally convincing tool for Laban, it also was on Nephi’s hip as he pretended to be Laban as he then convinced Laban’s servant to give up these records containing the law of God. These plates of Brass were the beginning of the record that Nephi and his descendants would keep from that point forward.

A few years later, and several thousand miles away, across a sandy wilderness and a vast ocean, this same sword acted as the template that Nephi used to make other swords that were needed to defend themselves against their splintered off nemesis, the Lamanites.

“And I, Nephi, did take the sword of Laban, and after the manner of it did make many swords, lest by any means the people who were now called Lamanites should come upon us and destroy us; for I knew their hatred towards me and my children and those who were called my people“
-2 Nephi 5:14

It didn’t really stop there either. If we fast forward even more, we catch glimpses of it all through the Book of Mormon. Nephi, who had used the sword as a defense against the Lamanites, had also kept the record that always seems to accompany the sword. He passed the record keeping and protecting duty to his brother Jacob. Jacob then wrote in and guarded the record, and then passed it on to his son, Enos.

After Enos, it gets interesting. The records, and likely the sword also, passed from father to son from generation to generation. So, from Enos it went to to Jarem, then Omni, and all the way through Amaron, Chemish, Abinadom, and Amaleki. Then the chain of the record keeping by the direct descendants of Nephi gets broken, and the record then goes to the next best thing- a righteous king named Benjamin.

With King Benjamin, we see the Sword of Laban again mentioned, and this is what gives us the clue that it always accompanies the record, as King Benjamin was not a direct descendent of the line of record keepers since Nephi.

“And it came to pass also that the armies of the Lamanites came down out of the land of Nephi, to battle against his people. But behold, king Benjamin gathered together his armies, and he did stand against them; and he did fight with the strength of his own arm, with the sword of Laban.”
-Words of Mormon 1:13

Benjamin then, just as before, passes on the record and the sword and a few other extra goodies to his son, Mosiah….

“And moreover, he also gave him charge concerning the records which were engraven on the plates of brass; and also the plates of Nephi; and also, the sword of Laban, and the ball or director, which led our fathers through the wilderness, which was prepared by the hand of the Lord that thereby they might be led, every one according to the heed and diligence which they gave unto him.”
-Mosiah 1:16

Its funny, but because of my previous thoughts about this amazing sword, my wife and I had mentioned it to our tribe (the great group of kids we were in charge of) on the first day. We mentioned how they should try and watch specifically for it, and try and see how many times this sword would come into play. And, come to find out, it did. Over and over again.

I feel there is something really extraordinary about that sword and what it represented. Its amazing to think about how long it survived right alongside the record that was being kept. It was almost like a constant reminder to the one entrusted with the care of the sacred record, that God would protect his words.

If we fast forward again, many, many years, the record passed through all the prophets. And finally made it all the way to Mormon, who abridged the massive accumulation of plates documenting the last thousand years. This abridgment, known now as the Book of Mormon, ultimately then passed to Moroni, who buried it along with the sword in a continuation of the protection of the record of the people.

Moroni burying the plates

This sword had passed from the hands of Laban in 600 B.C. in Jerusalem. It had then traveled all the way across the ocean, and through the hands of many writers and prophets, until it was buried in A.D. 421 by Moroni with the gold plates. That is a 1000 year old sword. Amazing. It then laid interred under that stone on a hill in New York for 1400 years, when the same man, Moroni, now in angel form, showed where the records had been deposited to Joseph Smith. Im sure that today, it still stands by the record just as it has for the last 2600 years and counting!

It is a testament to me of the power, and importance of the Book of Mormon. God’s hand protected it by any means necessary from the time it began, until it was finally translated, and beyond. I now have a better appreciation for the Book of Mormon, and the sacrifices, and lives that were given so that I could enjoy it.

It was a special 4 days. I watched and felt the stories and saw them come to life and change the lives of several young people over the course of the camp. But having my wife with me (and a real tent), as well as my older two kids to experience this amazing book in such a different way, was the icing on top!

 

The Sword of Laban

From deep within Jerusalem,
The sacred, Holy land,
Came precious gleaming sword – born of
the forge, to Laban’s hand.

Its sharpened blade of precious steel,
And hilt of purest gold,
Would slay its way through history,
To see God’s plan unfold.

Its master, one who’s greed was blind,
Cast pearls before the swine,
And spent his time in sinful waste,
His love, on casks of wine.

Then God, through angel tongue, inspired
A visionary man,
To seek, procure, his holy words,
From evil’s clenching hand.

This sword protected Plates of Brass,
Upon which lay the law
Of God, but lay unused, unread-
dormant treasure sent by God.

By fate, and lots, one night a son,
Was led by Spirit voice,
To Laban’s side- as he lay still,
Then struggled with the choice

Of taking life, and thus providing
Hope of gospel light.
Or shrinking, and condemning
All to ignorance’s night.

This son, this valiant, faithful, son
Then took that stainless sword,
And severed Laban’s guilty head,
As soldier of the Lord.

It traveled then through deep travails,
And miles of wilderness,
Arriving then in promised lands,
Protecting righteousness.

It never left the side of all
The records of the Lord,
Standing up as symbol of the
Power of God’s word.

From Father down to son it passed,
And fought, defending truth,
For centuries, and then beyond,
Endured, providing proof

That God protects his record still,
And does what must be done,
Ensuring all his people will
have knowledge of his Son.

E’en then, when God’s own people fell,
In sinful, prideful ways,
The sword remained as pure and clean,
As truth, that never fades.

Lastly, now its day had come,
Its final duty shown-
Remain interred with record pure,
Its angel now had flown.

And in the earth it stayed, alone,
For fourteen-hundred years.
Until its flying angel once again
Returned! Its time was near!

To once again defend God’s word,
Against its wicked foe,
God’s record, pure, inspired, now lay
Inscribed on plates of gold.

The record now has gone throughout
The world in purity,
Translated by God’s gift, and pow’r,
Through his divinity.

This sword of Laban, precious steel
And gold, endured, survived
A people blessed, and holy, who
Had faltered in their pride.

But warning words remained, engraved,
To help all come to Christ,
And teaches of the Son of God’s
Atoning sacrifice.

This sword, this symbol of the pow’r of God
Now still defends,
The sacred record, as it has,
And will, until the end.

The Whole Need no Physician

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“…Jesus…said unto them, They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick…for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”           -Mathew 9:12,13

Back when I was a kid, I loved to watch baseball. I loved to watch the best players in the world throw 100 mph fastballs, or hit 100 mph fastballs, or crank out 4 home runs in one game. Every once in a while, we even got to see an all out brawl because of a well placed pitch right between the batters shoulder blades in retaliation for some perceived slight an inning or two earlier. …Ahhh, the good ‘ole days….

One of the most entertaining players to watch was a guy named Bo Jackson. Now, Bo only played a few seasons, but was one of the best athletes to ever play. He was an All-Star outfielder for the Kansas City Royals, way before the Royals were cool. Or even remotely good. He also starred as a running back for the Oakland Raiders. He bounced back and forth between professional sports like it was no big deal. He was iconic. And, maybe the best part of all, he had his own cross training shoes that, quite possibly, could be the best shoes ever created in the 90’s.

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Bo was famous for his home runs….and his strikeouts. He looked a lot like Dwayne “the Roc” Johnson at the bat if you can imagine. Or like Disney’s Moana playing baseball. He was huge, ripped, shredded, swole, or buff as you might say. Even though he never lifted weights in his life.

He was a good hitter, but he did strike out more than average. He didn’t particularly like striking out, as you can imagine. It frustrated him. It tended to make him angry. We were able to deduce this fact because he would often, after striking out, break his bat over his knee, or his head, on his way back to the dugout. He had a little bit of a mean streak in him. But, his anger management issues, were fun to watch, because snapping a bat over your head, and making that piece of pine look more like a toothpick was totally awesome.

So what does Bo Jackson’s anger issues have anything to do with anything? Well, maybe nothing, but it came to mind this week as I read through a particular chapter in the Book of Mormon. Last Sunday, because of a new calling, I got to sit in a lesson in the Deacons quorum in my ward. The lesson was on the reality of all of us having real problems, and how we all have flaws, and we will make mistakes, and how we have to pick ourselves up and go to the Lord, and make ourselves better because of it. It was awesome.

The chapter that we talked about was 2 Nephi chapter 4. This is one of the best chapters ever.  In this chapter, Nephi talks about how even he, Nephi got down on himself because of his sins. This is the same guy that never complained about anything, the same guy that made a homemade bow, probably out of sharp rocks, animal sinew, and leftover crow feathers while in the wilderness. Only to then have to fashion his own arrows, even when everyone else, including his prophet father, Lehi, was complaining directly to the Lord about thier sufferings. This was the same Nephi that was willing to make a boat to cross an unfamiliar ocean simply on faith. This same, seemingly flawless Nephi, admits he had struggles with temptations, and sin. He was a normal guy after all!

He explains his thoughts in verses 17-19,

O wretched man that I am! Yea, my heart sorroweth because of my flesh; my soul grieveth because of mine iniquities….I am encompassed about, because of the temptations and the sins which do so easily beset me. And when I desire to rejoice, my heart groaneth because of my sins…”

Don’t get me wrong, Nephi was one of the most faithful men to ever live on this earth.  But it is nice to know that he, just like us, wasn’t perfect. He had struggled to overcome sin. He quickly though, reminds himself, and us by proxy, that there is no reason to dwell on the struggles. And, that remembering the greatness of God, and His ability to lift us out of sin, is our real key to happiness.

He says in verses 20 and 21…

“My God hath been my support; he hath led me through mine afflictions in the wilderness; and he hath preserved me upon the waters of the great deep. He hath filled me with his love, even unto the consuming of my flesh”

He continues in verse 26…

“O then, if I have seen so great things…why should my heart weep and my soul linger in the valley of sorrow…?”

Then, and this is the new part that stood out to me yesterday for the first time, Nephi gives us this little glimpse into one of the things he may have struggled with. He explains in verse 27…

“And why should I yield to sin, because of my flesh? Yea, why should I give way to temptations, that the evil one have place in my heart to destroy my peace and afflict my soul? Why am I angry because of mine enemy?”

and again in verse 29…

Do not anger again because of mine enemies…

I think we have to look at Nephi’s life as a whole, and wonder how in the world he did it. He continued to be faithful through thick and thin, trial after trial, living on the edge of life threatening situations every single day. He maintained his faithfullness even when his older brothers, Laman and Lemuel, tried at every possible moment in time, to make his life completely miserable. They beat him, tied him up several times, mocked him, complained about him, demeaned him, and ultimately tried to kill him. Multiple times. Nephi and his family and others literally had to up and get out of dodge to avoid being  murdered by his own brothers. If anyone had the right or reason to be “angry” it would have been Nephi.

Nephi-Bound

So, do I think Nephi had anger management issues? No, I don’t. I don’t think he went all “Bo Jackson” and broke his nice steel bow over his knee after a missed shot at a giant 8
point buck somewhere in the wilderness. It just doesn’t fit. But, I do think he was subject to being a normal human, and having normal human responses to living continuously under the threat of being killed, beaten, mocked, and ridiculed. Some people, unfortunately in this world can relate to that.

And that is the beauty of the scriptures, and of the gospel. Its a real life thing. The stories and principles that we read about in the pages of the Book of Mormon apply to us. Even if the prophets in those stories have flaws and struggle. We all have flaws, and we all struggle. Thats kind of the point. If Nephi struggled with the temptation to be angry, given his circumstances, then its also ok if I struggle sometimes with the same thing.

We all have our things that we need to overcome. Nephi, in this same amazing chapter, finishes it off with his advise on how to recover from those sins, and temptations…

He teaches us in verse 34…

“O Lord, I have trusted in thee, and I will trust in thee forever. I will not put my trust in the arm of flesh”

Then finishes in verse 35..

“Yea, I know that God will give liberally to him that asketh. Yea, my God will give me, if I ask not amiss; therefore I will lift up my voice unto thee; yea, I will cry unto thee, my God, the rock of my righteousness. Behold, my voice shall forever ascend up unto thee, my rock and mine everlasting God. Amen.”

Nephi, no matter his temptations and sins, looked up to God, and trusted in him. Its as simple as that. Our struggles, our problems, are real. Its simply a part of life. And that’s ok. That is where the beauty of the gospel and the atonement of Christ takes over. Nephi showed us how he did it. He survived by handing everything over to the Lord.

We are all broken or “sick” in some way. Even those who may seem to have it all together, like Nephi. But, lucky for us, the Lord can fix anything. He can heal us no matter how sick we are. He is the great Physician. The more housecalls he makes in our behalf, the better we get to know him, love him, and really appreciate what he does to heal us. And when we allow ourselves to be healed by him, we are changed. And that is how the atonement really works. Maybe we can stop looking at our temptations and sins as weights, and see them more as oppurtunities to be healed by the Great Physician.

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A Reason for Suffering

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All of us on earth go through hard times.  Each one of us has a gamut of difficulties that we go through.  Some are short lived, some are chronic, and some seem to be permanent.  All of them are hopefully teaching us a lesson, but there also happens to be the trials, struggles, difficulties, and pain that just won’t go away (or the continue to reappear) that we just can’t shake no matter what we try.  We plead with heavenly father to be free from them or to overcome them, but to no avail – they just linger and we wonder to ourselves why this must be, or why we as individuals are selected to suffer so much.  We may even agree to suffer through them but plead for a clear answer why.

Beyond the normal answers like 1) opposition provides us with joy, and 2) struggles bring us strength, there is something that I discovered a few weeks ago that I hadn’t realized before that helped me understand why some of these difficulties seem to never leave (and the Lord may never intend for them to leave) – even after the person suffering has likely learned plenty of great lessons about suffering and/or dealing with trials, exercised much patience, and even submitted fully to the Lord’s will.

Alma 17 is the beginning chapters outlining the missionary service of the sons of Mosiah to the Lamanites.  In verses 10-11 the Lord is speaking to Ammon and his party (on the eve of them splitting up to preach) and “visits them with his spirit” and tells them to “be comforted”.  Then the Lord gives Ammon some instruction that I think is fascinating.  He says: “ye shall be patient in long-suffering and afflictions, that ye may show forth good examples unto them in me, and I will make an instrument of thee in my hands unto the salvation of many souls”.

For the first time, I understood very clearly that there are people in the world just like Ammon, who are or have been instructed by the Lord to “be patient in long-suffering and afflictions” (some of which may not ever be schedule to subside), just so that I can see their good examples of righteousness while they are ‘in the furnace of affliction’.  This thought was a light bulb for me, and I began to think of the many people who I have seen deal with trials, hard times, struggles, and a multitude of outside circumstances that aren’t a direct result of poor choices and yet they seem to show forth their good examples of patience and long suffering over the years – and now I am even more inspired when I think that they agreed to this trial and are enduring it well, just so that I can be provided with their example and have my faith strengthened.  Unbelievable.

This thought also helped me read through the remaining stories of Ammon and his brethren in a different light.  For example; Alma 24, Alma 28, and Alma 30 all contained stories that could be directly tied to how one individual’s faith filled and kind actions (a.k.a patience in long-suffering during a hard time) is what caused the spirit and subsequent conversion of another to take place.

I also started to look at my own life and those around me, and I asked myself the question – are my trials teaching me something?  Maybe.  But if my trials or hardships are recurring or seemingly unending, does that mean I’m missing the point repeadetly?  Not necessarily.  It might just mean that the Lord trusts me and expects me to be patient, kind, and good all along the way so that other people may see my example and be inspired.  Thus, when we continue to look for the end of a particular struggle, we may be looking for something that will never ever come.  Talk about a lesson in patience in long-suffering.

Part of why the scriptures, and the Book of Mormon in particular resonate so strongly with us is that they are filled with stories about people who wrote about their daily and repeated struggles with hardship, and were able to keep the faith and inspire other people all along the way (which happens to inspire us many years later).  After all, isn’t that why the Lord places us in families, and wards, and neighborhoods? So that we can watch each other suffer, and be inspired by their examples?  I never thought of it that way, but I definitely have been inspired by them.

With that in mind, and the idea that other people’s struggles are in place (partly) for us to be inspired, there is another scripture passage that I would like to share.  It comes from Alma 53 where the people of Ammon were almost ready to break their covenant of peace (where they buried their weapons of war) in order to help the Nephite army.  Helaman convinces them not do that, and by not breaking their covenant, and by not joining the army, the record indicates that they (the non-fighters) were “compelled to behold their brethren wade through their afflictions, in their dangerous circumstances at this time”.

These uber-righteous, and faithful saints who just wanted to help their friends were left to watch these Nephites, who had already sacrificed so much on their behalf “wade through their afflictions” during this dangerous circumstance.  Imagine with me the mental pain and suffering that these great people endured just by watching their brethren suffer.  It is no wonder that their children were then inspired to join Helaman’s army.  I don’t know if Helaman knew that helping them to keep their covenant would cause greater suffering, which in turn would cause greater conviction and motivation in those who were watching – but that is how sacrifice works.

One of the blessings of the spirit is that we have the ability to “see things as they really are”.  And ‘things as they really are’ include a whole lot of suffering.  Every single day and every single week in your neighborhood and in mine there are people (old and young) who are in the absolute throws of suffering.  But you and I wouldn’t necessarily know it because maybe we don’t look for it, we misunderstand it for something else, or because of how well they are showing their patience in long-suffering – and they do it because they love the savior, and they trust him, and their faith is so strong.  I can promise that if you pay attention, the Lord will bless you with the eyes to see, and the heart to feel the unlimited love that he has for these faithful saints as they continue to come and worship him.  You will be inspired by them and their strength, and you will see their example “in him”.

The Lord Jesus Christ went in to the garden of Gethsemane and suffered unspeakable pains and anguish.  This left the rest of human history with the opportunity and charge to “behold [our brother] wade through [his] affliction, in [his] dangerous circumstances.  From this one event, and his perfect love and unselfish action during his most intense suffering we are inspired, and we feel love, and we feel gratitude.  Although his sacrifice satisfied all of the necessary elements (justice, sin, death, etc.) for salvation and for our path home – I imagine that Heavenly Father indicated to him at least once or twice that a large part of his mission here on earth was to “be patient in long-suffering and afflictions, that ye may show forth good examples unto them”.  He is the ultimate example of love and sacrifice – and he is the one who can accompany us during our hard times because he has felt them, and he will feel them, and he wants us to know him.

I hope that the next time we are suffering, stressed out, full of grief, or burdened by weights we feel are too heavy, we can look around and think of the people who are looking at us, who are watching us (they are watching), and who – through our faith filled actions – will see the savior and his love overcoming the trials.

Retain in Remembrance

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You know all the images that we’ve seen of family scripture study right?  The ones with reverent children sitting peacefully on the couch listening attentively to the one reading? Yeah, I do too…..

Our family scripture study efforts are probably a lot like your family scripture study efforts.  What I mean by that is that it’s not anything like the one in the pictures. Sometimes I wonder if what my kids are hearing and reading actually goes into their brains.  I wonder that because I see all sorts of things going on during our study time (other than silent and diligent study).  Our 1 year old is usually running around growling and slapping people, our 6 year old is usually wrapped up in a blanket watching videos or playing a game, and most of the time our 9, 11, and 14 year olds have their books out and do their best to not pay too much attention to our 1 year old who is a lot more entertaining than the books in their hands.

Case in point – I want to share two real life situations from our scripture study not long ago.  We happen to be reading Alma chapter 5, which as we know is totally amazing.  Alma is asking some soul piercing questions to the people of Zarahemla, which happens to be his first main sermon after giving up the judgment seat in order to devote his full time and attention to preaching the gospel to the people.  As I recapped what we had read the previous day (the earlier part of chapter 5), and outlined this I was naturally expecting them to be glued to the edge of their seats and scream out “tell us more, this chapter has been so excellent”!

Yet, what happened is that instead of being riveted by the words in the book, all of my children were riveted to the donuts that were being guarded by my 14 year old.  Every verse or two my 11 year old would indicate to the rest of the group that his big sister was still not sharing the donuts, that he wanted some, and that life wasn’t fair.  This continued as we read through verse 28, when my 14 year old (the one with the donuts) seemed to see an opening.  She asked her own question in a fairly loud voice “Luke, are you crying?  Over donuts”?    She pointed to him (claiming to see tears in his eyes) – to which he naturally defended himself with a loud “no”.

I hope that you can all imagine this scene in your minds.  Two tweenaged children escalating to level 8 on the sibling fight scale over some mini powdered donuts – right in the middle of scripture study.  Pretty normal day at the Alexander house.  As a note, we make an effort to apply or liken the scriptures to our every day lives and sometimes that works out really well, and other times it doesn’t, but on this day there happened to be a miracle in store – because the next verse to be read was 29 which asks the question “is there one among you who is stripped of envy”?  Naturally I took the time to explain what envy was (using a real life example of my 11 year old expressing his envy towards the donuts that happened to be in the possession of his big sister).  Pointing this out to the group seemed to please his big sister all the more – until we asked her to read verse 30.  “Is there one among you that doth make a mock of his brother, or that heapeth upon him persecutions?”  It was fun to see (and point out) that by Alma asking all these questions, it allows us to ask ourselves how we are doing….and not necessarily pointing out everybody else’s flaws.

Now, the spirit that we felt that day as we read the scriptures wasn’t the bawl your eyes out kind – it was the have some fun and laugh really hard at our crazy family kind.  And I for one was amazed (again) at how specific reading the scriptures can be.   And if I am honest, they will probably remember Alma 5 and the day that they really understood what Alma was asking them – more than if we had just read it peacefully.

The second experience was from a day or two days earlier, when we happened to read verse 6 (still in Alma 5).  It’s the first question (3 questions really) that Alma asks: Have you sufficiently retained in remembrance the captivity of your fathers ? Have you sufficiently retained in remembrance his mercy and long-suffering towards them?  Have ye sufficiently retained in remembrance that he has delivered their souls from hell?

Now, that’s a lot of retaining in remembrance, right?  We thought so, and somehow after that verse (I honestly don’t recall how it got to that point), it was (humorously) suggested that when we pray as a family we start including the phrase “help us to retain in remembrance the captivity of our fathers, and their subsequent deliverance”.  It came up at least 4 or 5 times the next couple of days as the kids asked “what were those words again?” as we were preparing to pray.  It never actually made it into a prayer, but it helped us remember that our kids really were (and are) listening and that hopefully at some point – they will understand exactly what that phrase really means.

I say at some point because that’s exactly what happened for me (the one who should already be better and understand it).  I was encouraged and reminded during that week to “retain in remembrance” that specific phrase, which happened to help my mind “remember” the deliverer a little more.  With that added emphasis, I discovered something that I hadn’t seen before. Something that I thought was great.

I happened to be reading in Mosiah 27 in my own personal study shortly after the events of this week – and I read the account of Alma the younger and his visit from the angel (while he is out and about with the sons of Mosiah being naughty).  During this latest reading, I happened to notice the command from the angel to Alma.  The angel says “Go, and remember the captivity of thy fathers…for they were in bondage, and he has delivered them.”  I hadn’t understood the implications of that command, or the significance of it before.  Honestly, I hadn’t remembered it at all.  But because we had recently read Alma 5, and because we had been focusing on “retaining in remembrance the captivity of our fathers” – I was able to see where Alma’s question came from – which added additional context to chapter 5 as well.  He had been told that very thing by the angel, which happened to be the crucial turning point in his own conversion.  We all know that he then spent the rest of his life being good – and “bringing many to the knowledge of the truth, yea, to the knowledge of their Redeemer.”   He “retained in remembrance” the cycle of bondage and deliverance – and wanted everyone else to remember it as well because it makes us focus on the one who is doing the delivering.  That’s why the very first (3) question he asks in chapter 5 are “Have ye sufficiently retained in remembrance”…  He asks these questions repeatedly during his ministry (Alma 5, 29, 36 to name a few), and it happens to be a major theme of the record – All because that’s what the Angel told him to do.

So, the whole point in this particular entry, is for myself and all of us as parents to “sufficiently retain in remembrance” a few things.  1- Scripture study is awesome.  It’s important, and it’s a wonderful time to relate the scriptures to our own lives – even if it’s with donuts and making a mockery of your brother and if we look for lessons there, we will find them.  2 – It (family scripture study) is worth the effort.  I can promise that our kids will “retain in remembrance” our best efforts, and they listen and it will make a big difference in their lives.  I do know that they are listening, and that this study time is incredibly beneficial.  I have been surprised and will continue to be surprised (and grateful) when they recall things that we have discussed during our scripture study. 3 – let’s not take ourselves and this scripture study too seriously.  What I mean by that is don’t think because they aren’t glued to your every word that it’s not effective – it is.  Don’t think that because they aren’t completely silent that they aren’t listening – they are. 4 – Just because it’s awesome doesn’t mean it’s easy.  In fact, because it is awesome, we should expect it to be really hard.  Just keep trying.

Learn to Lose

 

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Over the last few weeks, my four-year-old son has discovered the amazing sport of baseball.  He has a giant blue plastic bat, and a few oversize whiffle balls (if the neighbors have thrown some back over the wall).

Every day after I get home from work, he comes and asks to go out in the back yard and play “hit ball”. It does sound a bit like what Tarzan might call it, but, it is indeed baseball. He loves it. There is only one slight problem. He’s not used to, nor does he enjoy, losing.

It’s the same story in every aspect of his little guy’s mind. He always has to be first. He has to win, or he acts like someone is trying to pluck out his fingernails with a pair of pliers. He has to be the first one back in the house when we get back from a car ride anywhere. He has to be first back home after a bike ride. He has to be first to finish his cereal. He has to be first to buckle his seatbelt. Everything is a make shift competition. Unfortunately, this little quirk that seems to drive his every action, somehow does not apply to bedtime. He’s happy to drag his feet then.

So, we as a family have had to make a decision. Do we let him always win these little perceived competitions? Or do we deal with the dramatic weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth, of a four-year-old 2nd place finish? Seeing how he is child #4, and we as parents are now nearly beaten into submission, he tends to “win” so we can keep the peace, our hair, and our sanity.

But, I guess the game of baseball has given me another chance to teach him a valuable lesson….How to lose.

The first couple of days when he would get tagged out, he would get that super frowny cry-face that kids can get. He acted like you just stole his ice cream cone from his hand and ate it in front of him. He’d start to cry, whine and complain while skulking off into the shrubs to try and elicit pity and sympathy from everyone around him.

Its a hard lesson for a four-year-old. And sometimes, it can be a hard lesson for a 38 year-old.

Getting out is part of baseball. Striking out is part of baseball. Failing is part of baseball. In fact, getting a hit only 3 or 4 times out of 10 up to the plate is considered hugely successful! The earlier my little four-year-old can grasp and understand that, the better. The sooner that the rest of us old people can understand that life also works in much the same way, the better.

We are here on this earth to struggle. To lose. We aren’t here to win every time, get a trophy and go home to our Heavenly Father with nothing but blue 1st place ribbons draped around our necks. We aren’t here to return home to Heaven having never tasted anything bitter, never felt loss, heartache, disappointment, pain, anguish, anxiety, inadequacy, or discomfort.

In fact, its quite the opposite. We are here to experience exactly all of those things. We need to learn to lose.

When we are allowed to lose, struggle and fail, we increase the spectrum of feelings we have experienced. Only with the lowest lows, can we then be able to savor the experience of winning, overcoming, and succeeding in a much more meaningful way. How much better is that slow trot around the bases after a home run, when our previous 3 at bats were strikeouts?

When we struggle, or face a fight we just cant seem to win, sometimes we just need a new perspective. For me, the perfect pep talk comes from Moroni. When I feel knee deep in the middle of slump, or when I feel like I am 0 for my last 50 at bats, he provides the best reality check there is. He uses the Lord’s words to explain the origin, source, or reason for our weakness and struggle.

“And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.”   -Ether 12:27

It is interesting to me that the Lord, in this scripture, teaches us that it is He himself that gives us our weaknesses. Our weaknesses and struggles are not heaped upon us by a malicious adversary. They are lovingly placed upon us by our Savior in order to mold us into what he wants us to become- humble and submissive. He wants us to depend on Him. And, if we do humble ourselves and have faith in him, our weaknesses not only vanish, but become strengths.

If the Savior is the one who places these weaknesses upon us, then He is certainly willing and capable of removing them. His master plan includes struggles, and burdens, and it always has. But, it is always for a wise purpose. It can bring us closer to Him.

“And I will also ease the burdens which are put upon your shoulders, that even you cannot feel them upon your backs, even while you are in bondage; and this will I do that ye may stand as witnesses for me hereafter, and that ye may know of a surety that I, the Lord God, do visit my people in their afflictions.”  Mosiah 24:14

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Losing is part of life. Struggling is part of life. But, we can’t get discouraged. We have to realize and recognize that those obstacles or weaknesses we struggle with are actually placed there by our loving Savior. We have to try and see these big obstacles in our way not as stumbling blocks to hamper our progress, but as stepping stones to promote it

Being thus overcome

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A long time ago, there was a (goodly) guy who was probably really busy just like us, and I imagine that he had a lot of things on his plate.  He was a father, which means he had a family to support – which also means he had a job, he had a place in the community, and he cared about other people.  In his city (Jerusalem), there happened to come “many prophets, prophesying unto the people that they must repent, or the great city Jerusalem must be destroyed”.1 This threat of destruction and the need for repentance from these prophets had stirred up some strong feelings of love and action from this man, so immediately – and on top of everything else that he already had on his plate – he started praying “even with all his heart, in behalf of his people.” As he prayed “there came a pillar of fire… and he saw and heard much; and because of the things which he saw and heard he did quake and tremble exceedingly.”2

Perhaps “these things” which Lehi saw included the impending destruction of Jerusalem, the city he loved, or the upcoming trials that would test his family.  Perhaps it was a glimpse of the additional responsibilities the Lord had in mind for him as a prophet/leader (in addition to his current load).  Perhaps it was a detailed account of his children and their future rebellion, or maybe even a glimpse at his own associates soon trying to kill him.  Any way you slice it, we can rest assured that what he did see and hear, wasn’t just all the amazing blessings that were headed his way, because (these things he saw) caused him to “quake and tremble exceedingly.”

What happens next gives us a great phrase into Lehi’s state of mind.  It also helps us understand a pattern that occurs pretty frequently in the scriptures, which means we should pay attention.  The record reads: “And it came to pass that he returned to his own house… and he cast himself upon his bed, being overcome with the Spirit and the things which he had seen.”3 The next verse starts out “And being thus overcome” reminding us that what happens is actually during his state of being overcome.  One synonym or definition for overcome is to overwhelm.  Lehi felt overwhelmed at his responsibility and his immediate future. How many of us can relate to that?  How many mothers see and hear ‘these things’ that don’t ever stop that are just a part of motherhood and feel a bit overwhelmed?  How many fathers are overwhelmed at the exact same thing?   Life can often be overwhelming.

Well, the good news, that’s not where the story ends, because the pattern shows us what great things can happen when we find ourselves “being thus overcome”.

Lehi, being thus overcome, was carried away in a vision, where he saw the heavens, God, and numberless angels so that his soul did rejoice, and his whole heart was filled4 – in other words, the Lord somehow replaced Lehi’s quaking and trembling with joy and love and peace.

Note that Lehi’s vision didn’t change what the Lord was going to ask Lehi to do, nor did it change his present or future responsibilities –  all it changed was Lehi’s perception and motivation – because after this experience, Lehi had the strength and courage to go forward and prophesy to the people, and to declare “concerning the things which he had both seen and heard.”5

For the past 11 months or so, there has been a particularly stressful situation involving my work life.  And those of us who happen to be like Lehi, and who are charged with the heavy responsibility to “preside over [our] families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for [them]”6 understand how work, and everything that comes with the word “work” happens to be a large portion of our lives (every day, every week, all year long) and can affect our feelings – not to mention that it’s our “work” that pays for and supports everything else (house, cars, food, family life, etc.) we enjoy.  It’s sort of a big deal.

This particular issue started out as a typically small/normal problem to solve, but over the past year it has grown to become a potentially catastrophic one. It has brought me to the same point as Lehi – where I can honestly say that I have seen and heard much; and because of the things which I have seen and heard I am beginning to quake and tremble exceedingly.  I don’t know if I’ve cast myself upon my bed quite yet, and thrown in the towel, but I do happen to find myself sympathizing with and relating to Lehi and his state of being ‘overcome’ more and more as this situation drags on and on and on.  I also find myself wishing that this particular trial/struggle had not come to me at all.  I would eagerly pass it on to someone else.

The past two weeks have been particularly bad, to the point where I have been battling to find a proper balance in my various responsibilities (husband, father, church calling, work) and honestly, it’s been a battle even gathering my thoughts to focus on the things that I want to focus on (rather than this glaring problem dominating my thoughts and being a continuous distraction all day and night) while attempting to still make time to actually do real “work” or to work off some stress (that’s code for train/work out or relax with the family), which ironically adds stress in the event I miss scheduled time off or fail to completely give all my attention to the things that matter most.

All of this brings me to a hope that by somehow recognizing this pattern, and where I currently find myself in this pattern, I can and will be able to see or experience something great and enlightening (like Lehi) while or since or because I am “thus overcome”.  I also realize that there is a possibility that it may be two more years before I am fully ‘overcome’ or that this situation is resolved (if ever) which is frightening and sobering at the same time.  Yet, this passage also highlights the simple, yet incredibly difficult way to work through this type of burden.  Lehi, and later his son, teach us that when the going gets tough, we should just start praying fervently for other people – and then acting on those prayers to actually help them.  This for me the past several months has been easier to preach and much harder to practice.

This passage helps me remember that I have often been missing this key component to Lehi’s successfully being shown great things while he was “overcome”.  That by forgetting (or not worrying about) my own problems in order to help someone else with theirs – I will actually solve my own problems.  It’s the same way the Savior approached his monumental task in the garden of Gethsemane.

It is also probable that until I learn how to do that, I won’t be able to see clearly that all along the way there have been repeated moments of joy, “to the point where my soul did rejoice, and my whole heart was filled” – just like Lehi’s – and that I don’t need to continue waiting until some imaginary end of this trial to be happy.

So here I am, writing this to myself as a reminder to be like Lehi, who was being like Jesus.

 

 

Notes

1 1 Ne. 1:4

2 1 Ne. 1:6

3 1 Ne. 1:7

4 1 Ne. 1:8-15

5 1 Ne. 1:18

6 The Family: A Proclamation to the World (p7)

I will not suffer my name to be polluted

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My little brother Riley tells a lot of funny stories about his high school days, but one in particular involves a somewhat poorly made cabinet/dresser that he put together in wood shop.  He tells the story that during this semester in class he disregarded most of the detailed and mundane instructions that the shop instructor gave because he didn’t have time for them (or maybe because he was pretty sure he could just figure it out on his own).  Either way, the semester came and went, and the time arrived for their ‘projects’ to be completed, passed off, and then taken home.  At this point the exchange between Riley and Coach Lunt (shop teacher) went something like this:

Riley: (as he gathers his wooden project and heads towards the door) “See you later coach, thanks for all the good times”.

Coach: “Woah, where do you think you are going with that (pointing to Riley’s project)?”

Riley: “Home – I’m finished with it”.

Coach: “No.  There is absolutely no way on earth that thing is leaving my shop.”

Riley: “What are you talking about – it’s totally fine”

Coach:  “If someone sees that leaving my shop, I will probably lose my job”

Riley: “Well, I think it’s awesome”

Coach: “Bring it to me…..right now.”

Following this exchange, Riley watched while Coach Lunt performed an entire semester’s worth of rehabilitative and reconstructive wooden surgery on Riley’s project in order to make it not only functional, but appealing.  Glue was no longer the primary material and most of the lines were straight and the drawers would actually open.  At which point, Coach Lunt was at least willing to let it leave his shop – essentially with his name on it.

There is a scripture passage that we can relate to this idea; it is found in 1 Nephi 20: 10-11.

For, behold, I have refined thee, I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction.  For mine own sake, yea, for mine own sake will I do this, for I will not suffer my name to be polluted

Short, simple, yet so amazing.

We need to remember at the outset that he is currently (like right now) refining us, which by necessity places us in situations and circumstances that we don’t like or want to be – yet they force us to deal with frustration, anger, exhaustion, or anxiety.  He terms this place the “furnace of affliction”.  Don’t forget that while we are there (in the middle of the despair) – he wants to know how we will act, what we will choose, what we will say, and if we rely on him and trust him and continue to be kind, patient, loving, faithful, etc. while he is seemingly gone from before our face.  If we continue to choose him, we make ourselves eligible to be chosen by him.

But why does he do this?  Why does he not allow a shoddy excuse for a cabinet to leave his shop?  Well, because he will not suffer his name to be polluted – just like Coach Lunt.

The Lord is a master craftsman, a shaper of souls, and a maker of men (and women).  If we try and waltz out as a (self-proclaimed) completed project before he thinks we are ready – we’ll have a conversation similar to the one Riley had with Coach Lunt – and he will remind us that even though we may think we are pretty awesome, that we have made some progress, or even if we are totally satisfied with our current state, in his view we haven’t spent nearly enough time in the furnace to burn off all that crud and he’s not allowing us to leave his shop until he’s made some more improvements.  So let’s all just hang tight, get as comfy as we can, and watch him work (and try as best we can to help him help us).

Be More Than You Are

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Like most parents these days, we have found that one of the most essential tools in preventing degenerative insanity while driving in the car with the entire family is the car dvd player. I have no idea how we as children survived. Not only did we have to endure oppressive hours of boredom during longer trips, but we had to do it all while in closed quarters proximity to each other. For the Alexander kids, it also meant someone had to go to the rear facing, nausea inducing back seat of the Caprese Classic station wagon, also known as “purgatory”.

While we usually piled into the car at the beginning of the trip not wanting to strangle each other, it most certainly required regular divine interventions, and some not-so-divine interventions, to ensure that our actual family size was not diminished by the end of each trip. Today, however, the threat of self destruction during family trips is much, much lower thanks to this life saving technology.

As the years of parenting have gone by, I haven’t actually “seen” a lot of the movies that have played for our kids, but I’ve certainly heard enough of Grease, Girls Just Want to Have Fun, Open Season 1 and 2, All the Toy Stories, Monsters Inc. and each Kung Fu Panda to be able to recite them almost word for word. I’m sure this knowledge will be very useful to me someday.

Interestingly enough, sometime between the 78th, and 79th rerun of Kung Fu Panda 3, I caught a line or two that proved to be almost prophetic. It has been probably the longest running movie in our car over the last few years, and for once, something quite profound popped out. This prophetic message taught by Master Shifu not only impressed me as a movie line, but also ended up being played out in real life only a few weeks later.

The scene in the movie of which I reference is when Po, the main character, a Panda, and unlikely hero and recent graduate Kung Fu master, had been tasked by his master, Shifu, to further train the “Furious Five” who are his colleagues, and the best of the best that Kung Fu has to offer. Needless to say, he fails. Miserably. He can’t train the already trained Kung Fu Masters. He feels that he is the most unqualified person ever for the job, and that he won’t ever be able to be as good as they are.

Here is the clip

 

Master Shifu, the wise, experienced Master that he was, gave Po some great advise. He taught, “If you only do what you can do, you will never be more than you are”.

This line is a perfect description of many of our lives. We allow ourselves to feel like we aren’t good enough, or that someone else is always better than us, or they were simply blessed with more ability etc. So, we stay safe. We settle. We don’t want to  stretch to reach higher, be uncomfortable, or try to expand our abilities. We stop trying to be better because its hard, or difficult, or so far out of our comfort zone, that we feel like we are in outer space.

This concept isn’t new, and it’s frequently taught, and it’s all fine and dandy in a movie, or a catchy Facebook video, or a motivational speech by Toni Robbins. But this time, I was able to see it in action.

A little over a week ago, my wife was asked to speak in church for the following Sunday. Not a huge deal right? Well, maybe not for some people, but my wife hates speaking in church. Like, really, really hates it. She has said on multiple occasions directly to the bishopric that she would rather walk outside, stand in the road and get run over by a speeding semi than to speak in church. And she was dead serious.

And thats not even the hard part. This wasn’t a normal day at church. It was the adult session of Stake conference. Still not enough? This session also would have a visiting general authority (a member of the seventy), as well as the mission president of the Gilbert Mission (who is also a seventy). Thats like going from 0 to 120 mph in no time at all. I can count on 2 fingers the times that I remember my wife speaking in church. Period. And we’ve been married 17 years.

But what happened in that moment when she was asked to speak, and really, the whole week leading up to that very intimidating situation, was amazing to see. She was calm, collected, and faithful. She immediately accepted.

I was so impressed by the huge change in not only her willingness to do something so intimidating and miles outside of her comfort zone, but also in the way she had complete faith that she could do it. Of course she had the moments where she wondered why in the world she was asked, when there are so many other great people available, just like we all would. But she worked through all those thoughts and feelings and went on to do an amazing job that night.

It was simple, meaningful, heartfelt, and honest. It was everything it was supposed to be. She expressed her concern for our kids and how we have always tried to teach them what is right, and how now, as they are getting older, we just want them to develop a relationship with the Savior, above all else. She bore her testimony that the Savior has made all the difference in her life, and that we, as parents, need to learn how to trust our kids enough to allow them to make their own decisions. Which isn’t always easy, especially with teenagers.

After the rest of the speakers were done, Elder Jones, the visiting seventy, got up and spoke. Looking back, it’s interesting to me to see how perfectly orchestrated our lives are in the symphony the Lord is playing. I say that because, as Elder Jones began his remarks, he took a few minutes and addressed each of the previous speakers individually. He shared comments, scriptures, experiences, and testimony while turning around at the pulpit as if having a personal conversation with each person who had spoken. For Catie, he shared a scripture along with his testimony,

For behold, the promises which we have obtained are promises unto us according to the flesh…God will be merciful unto many; and our children shall be restored, that they may come to that which will give them the true knowledge of their Reedeemer.”
-2 Nephi 10:2

To hear that directly and personally from a general authority was amazing. I can’t help but think, that Catie was asked to speak that night, not necessarily for everyone else, but specifically so she could hear that response from Elder Jones. We had been talking, and praying a lot over the last several months about this same worry. Sometimes the answers to our prayers are quiet and private, and sometimes they come when we least expect it, right after we speak in stake conference.

It was a special day, and I have been able to just sit back and enjoy it. Its fun to see how my wife has grown by leaps and bounds over the last few years. If you would have spoken with her 3 years ago, and told her that she would be called to serve as the Young Women’s president, and then speak in stake conference, she would have laughed at you, but here we are today.

Just like Master Shifu taught Po, “If you only do what you can do, you will never be more than you are”, My wife has shown me that this is more than a cool line in a kids cartoon, it’s the honest truth. She has taught me that literally anything is possible if you trust in the Lord, and leave it up to him. She has become so much more than she ever thought possible. I have always seen this in her. Now, I guess the secret is out.

“I waited patiently for the Lord; and he inclined unto me, and heard my cry. He brought me up also out of an horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings. And he hath put a new song in my mouth, even praise unto our God: many shall see it, and fear, and shall trust in the LordBlessed is that man that maketh the Lord his trust…”
-Psalm 40:1-4

“The fear of man bringeth a snare: but whoso putteth his trust in the Lord shall be safe
-Proverbs 29:25

“Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and not be afraid; for the Lord Jehovah is my strength and my song; he also has become my salvation.”
-2 Nephi 22:2

“Blessed be the Lord, because he hath heard the voice of my supplications. The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusted in him, and I am helped; therefore my heart greatly rejoiceth; and with my song will I praise him.”
-Psalm 28:6,7

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Just Breathe

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In November of last year, for reasons beyond my comprehension, I decided that I was going to try and do a triathlon. That rash decision was a direct result of me being shown up big time by my little brother Tyson. He had just finished a full Ironman triathlon, and made it look easy.

As has been well documented in this blog, competition among us brothers has always been, and will probably always be, in the forefront of our relationships. Let’s at least try and call it “healthy competition”. We push each other to be better. Or, we push ourselves to try to be as good as the other guy. This triathlon thing though….?

Last time I wrote about this, I described the initial attempts I had made in the swimming pool. These initial forays trying to swim didn’t go smoothly. They instead made me feel more like I was in that Gravity movie with George Clooney and was spinning out of control in a punctured space suit, hurtling and cartwheeling towards the black abyss of outer space. Tyson had warned me about that and kept saying that I would eventually get it. But it wasn’t happening very quickly.

When trying to swim the right way, or trying to emulate the way the real swimmers do it, you have to alternate breathing by turning your head either left or right, while you are pulling your way through the water. All this while your head is probably halfway submerged in the water. The official way to do this is during every third stroke. Thats how they teach it on youtube anyway, and thats where I learn to do everything.

If I wanted to be a good swimmer, I was supposed to take a stroke with my right, left, then quickly inhale a breath while turning my head to the left on the third stroke. I was then supposed to repeat and alternate ad nauseam until I either passed out, drowned, or made it to the other side of the pool. The pros make it look easy, but its not. Its not, because swimming is a very “aerobic” exercise in a very anaerobic (underwater) environment.

For the first several months I made small improvements. I went from an initial limit of around 100 meters, to being able to go to almost 400 meters without stopping to perform life saving measures.  That may seem nice, but when you consider the length of the swim on a “half” ironman triathlon is 1.2 miles or 1,930 meters it puts a damper on your excitement. It makes you feel like you have to clean the entire bathroom with only a toothbrush, and only using your teeth. Not pretty. I started to see myself as being the only one needing to swim with Dora the Explorer arm floaties during the triathlon.

I was pretty discouraged, I couldn’t seem to be able to build up enough endurance to even sniff what I was supposed to be able to do. I would go to the pool almost every single day, and the same thing would happen. I’d swim 450 meters, nearly pass out, get nauseous, and see stars for the next 3 hours while I recovered on the couch (which was not exactly getting me prepared to bike for 3 hours, then run for an hour and a half immediately after I swam).

It was about this time that a timely phone call to Tyson changed everything. We were talking about techniques and things, and he passively mentioned that he took a breath every other stroke, not every third. I decided to try out this super secret, highly advanced technique of breathing more often instead of tempting death and nearly drowning each time I entered the pool. It turned out that breathing more often was a good idea. Funny.  So I guess if you’re suffocating under water, breathing more often is helpful. Why didn’t I think of that?

The next time I went to the pool, I tried it. I took off, and took a nice deep breath every other stroke, and kept going. I passed my old record of 500 meters, and kept going. I passed 750 meters and kept going, then 900, and all the way to 1000 meters. I stopped only because I had to pinch myself and make sure it was real.  It was. I shook my head and wondered again why I hadn’t previously thought of breathing more when I was out of breath. It was just that simple.

The next day, I decided to see just how far I could go, and made it to 2000 meters without stopping. I just laughed at myself to think that such a simple change had made such a drastic improvement in what I was doing. I decided that every “how to swim” video on youtube should have Pearl Jam singing the theme song, “Just Breathe”.

 

As I contemplated this improvement, and as I was swimming for those longer training days in the pool, I kept thinking about how much better my life was now that I had a steady supply of oxygen, or breath. I thought about the similarities of having enough “breath” in all the aspects of my life. I thought about the significance of spending one day a week concentrating as much as possible on the good things in life, my Savior, and the gospel. It reminded me of how Sundays, and everyday really, could be that breath of fresh air.

Sometimes its easy to get caught up in trying to do to much of our everyday stuff, that we seldom take the time to spiritually breathe. We are here on this planet for a purpose. That purpose is not to make the most money, have the best toys, or be the most successful in our chosen field. We are here to learn to be like God.

He puts us here for that reason alone.

As I have been through my daily, weekly and yearly routines, I have been guilty of trying to tough it out for too long without taking a breath. I have struggled to make it even a few hundred meters before I felt like I couldn’t keep going. I was seemingly doing the right things, I just wasn’t “breathing” often enough.

Our physical bodies need oxygen to survive and function. Our spirits also need constant spiritual oxygen for nourishment. When its continuous, it feeds us in a way that enables us to continue progressing and we become stronger and stronger. We become a smoother swimmer so to speak. We feel more comfortable, excited, and familiar with our purpose on earth. If we go too long without it, we tend to struggle, and sometimes find ourselves on the couch seeing stars.

Every day I should be breathing in the lessons taught in the scriptures, praying, and thinking about my real purpose on this planet,  and taking in big deep breaths with my spirit. It makes a difference. If I  do it daily, as the “professional swimmers” have counseled us to do, I will have plenty of spiritual oxygen for endurance.

Breathing gives us life. It sustains our mortal lives, but the frequent breathing in of spiritual oxygen is just as critical to our spiritual survival and endurance. After all, thats really the hard part, enduring to the end.

“The Spirit of God hath made me, and the breath of the Almighty hath given me life.”
Job 33:4