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

di8lrq7ie

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

Cappuccino, Coke, and Courage

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“If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.”
-John 7:17

When I was 16 years old, I was invited to play on an all-star baseball team along with several other kids from Utah county. I didn’t really know the other guys that well, but we had a really good team and we started to become friends over the few weeks we were together. The team was put together to compete in an all-star tournament in Salt Lake. Even though we had only recently been put together as a team, we somehow won the whole thing. Because we won, we advanced to the regional tournament. Lucky for us, it was in Arizona. Yuma, Arizona. In July.

So, we had a road trip. We piled in together in a couple of big vans, and hit the road. The logical place to stop halfway from Utah county to Yuma was, of course, Las Vegas. The coaches got us checked into our rooms, and left us there. The slots, or blackjack tables must have been calling. Now, as you can probably imagine, 15 teenage boys left on their own about a mile from the Vegas strip with 14 hours before the vans left again for Arizona was mischief waiting to happen.

We were set to leave for Yuma early the next morning, but 15 year olds don’t usually sit and read books in hotel rooms, so we put all of our teenage brain cells together and decided to take in the sights.

After a few minutes, we left and walked all through the night, up and down the strip, seeing the sights, walking through the Caesars palace mall, and soaking it all up. After several hours, we were exhausted. I still don’t know who, if anyone really, came up with that brilliant idea, but It wasn’t a good one. And, unfortunately, I just went along with the crowd.

About 5 a.m. we finally realized we were super tired, and someone decided that rather than sleeping, we just needed caffeine. So we stopped at a small fancy coffee shop in Caesars Palace somewhere. I sat there staring at the menu not knowing really what I was doing. I remember feeling way out of place.

What was I supposed to order at a coffee shop anyway? Well, coffee is what you order at a coffee shop. And so, one by one, every one of the other players who were with me ordered a cappuccino. Apparently it’s stronger than coffee, so it was perfect for anyone who happened to have stayed up all night walking.

I found myself in a spot I had never really been in before in my entire 16 years. I had never been offered a drink, a cigarette, or anything else that was against the Word of Wisdom. Peer pressure wasn’t really something I had ever dealt with either. I knew a good Mormon kid wasn’t supposed to drink coffee, tea, or cappuccino, even if I did stay up all night.

I sat there and had to decide if I was going to go along with everyone else who had already ordered or do what I had been taught. I had to decide for myself. Mom and Dad weren’t there, the bishop wasn’t there, no one who really knew me was there. It was completely up to me. I could take that first step in either direction. As seemingly insignificant as that choice in reality was, the principle was huge. Which way would I choose to go?

It took me only about 5 seconds, and maybe my lack of money helped, but I decided I would go with the $1.95 coke, instead of the $6.99 cappuccino. After I ordered, all the other guys kind of looked at me sideways and wondered why I had ordered coke at a fancy coffee shop, but I felt happy that I did.

A few minutes later, I learned that the Lord has our backs when we do what he asks. Even on little tiny choices that may not seem like they mean a whole lot in the big picture. He knows me, and all my little personal battles, choices, struggles, and temptations. I had broke ranks with all the guys around me to try and do the right thing. I had stepped out on my own, and the Lord rewarded and taught me in a way that I would understand even with my teenage brain.

As the cappuccino cups were all handed out to the other players, It looked like Mrs Nesbitt’s tea party in Toy Story. The cups were tiny. They couldn’t have held more than 6 oz. I, however, was rewarded with a gigantic 64 oz towering container full of delicious Coca Cola. It looked more like a giant fish bowl, than a cup (think of the time the Hobbits found out what a “pint” was at the Prancing pony in Lord of the Rings). At that very moment, all the other players were jealous of me and my choice that morning. I remember feeling totally justified, and rewarded for that little, tiny, almost insignificant moment in my life. For me, it was a lesson I would never forget.

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It wouldn’t have been the end of the world had I ordered a coffee that morning. But, the lesson I learned was that I could be strong on my own. I was able to do what I knew or believed was right, regardless of what everyone else was doing. I also learned that it was my choice, not anyone else’s, that would determine who I would become in the future.

This lesson of taking that first step out on our own is a lesson we all have to learn. It has been necessary since the beginning. One of my favorite examples of this principle is the one we learn about in Alma 56.

This is the famous chapter where we learn from Helaman all about his 2000 stripling warriors.  These young men, Helaman describes as being “very” young, had never fought. Even though they had zero experience fighting, they volunteered to be soldiers and join the Nephite armies as long as Helaman was their commander. They joined because the Nephites desperately needed help, and their fathers had previously buried their weapons of war in a sacred covenant, vowing never to fight again.

Helaman’s 2000 were a welcome sight to the Nephites, even thought they had no experience, and were likely a bit scrawny. Because of this, the Nephite commanders probably had to use them in a way that would minimize their physical disadvantage. So, they came up with a plan, a plan that would use them like bait. Like worms on the hook.

Helaman’s boys finally received their marching orders. Their mission was to march past the city of Antiparah, which held the largest Lamanite army in that part of the country, and draw them out of their fortified city by looking like easy prey.  This probably wasn’t hard, because they actually were easy prey. If the Lamanites came out, their job was to run away faster to avoid getting slaughtered. Pretty simple, right? It was a perfect assignment for some fresh legged, young new recruits.

The plan worked. Just as the Nephite armies had hoped, the Lamanites took the bait. They poured out of Antiparah. All of them. They then took off in hot pursuit of Helaman’s 2000. The second part of the plan was to have Antipus and his men then take off after the Lamanites, catch them, and engage them out in the open, instead of the fortified city. But, this plan took a full 3 days to take effect. Tyson explained this unique prolonged footrace in a previous post here.

After basically running from the Lamanites all day for 3 days straight, Helaman noticed that the Lamanites suddenly stopped chasing his little band of 2000. But, they were not sure as to the reason. It could have been a trap, or Antipus could have finally caught up with them. It was unclear. Those 2000 young men, who had learned all about faith, courage, and trust and had also seen it in action from their parents, were now faced with a decision. A choice. A much harder, more difficult, and life threatening choice than choosing between a cappuccino or a Coke.

Helaman presented this choice to his “sons” this way…

”Behold, we know not but they have halted for the purpose that we should come against them, that they might catch us in their snare;“

“Therefore what say ye, my sons, will ye go against them to battle?¹”

Helaman was leaving the choice up to them. He had been a commander. He had been in battle. He was intimately familiar with what the likely outcome of a choice to fight would be for those young boys. Those young men knew their job was to be bait for the Lamanites, not to necessarily fight with them. But now, they had to decide what they wanted to do. They needed make their own choice. Mom and Dad weren’t there. Which way would they go? Forward into battle? Or wait it out in supposed safety far away.

They had been taught by their mothers to believe in God and his power. They had seen it demonstrated by their fathers in their covenant with God. They had seen or heard of the ultimate sacrifice of many of their lives honoring that covenant. But, their mothers were all hundreds of miles away. They were out on their own.

Helaman described his reaction to the choice these young men made…

”And now I say unto you, my beloved brother Moroni, that never had I seen so great courage, nay, not amongst all the Nephites²”

They made their choice. Helaman’s boys would fight.

They knew they had no experience and had never fought before, but they also believed the Lord would protect them. They took that step of faith for themselves, and decided to exercise it. This was their answer to Helaman…

“Father, behold our God is with us, and he will not suffer that we should fall; then let us go forth; we would not slay our brethren if they would let us alone; therefore let us go, lest they should overpower the army of Antipus³.”

Their choice to fight given their lack of experience required a lot of faith. A lot more than my choice to avoid coffee, and a lot more dangerous. But, the principle is the same. We all need to, at some point in our lives, step away from what we have been taught, and make our own choices that will affect the rest of our lives.

The wonderful testimonies of others can guide us, encourage us, set examples for us, but eventually we all find ourselves in a spot just like Helaman’s boys were. We are in a place where we need to make a step in one direction or the other. We will either leap in faith towards the fight, or ease quietly away in the opposite direction.

The Lord knows us perfectly, he knows exactly what our anxieties are, he knows our concerns, our fears, our struggles and every little detail of our lives. He is the one that orchestrates these opportunities and moments of truth. He wants us to step out in faith. If we take that step, he will support us. He will strengthen us, protect us, and bless us. It’s how we learn. It’s how we develop our own testimony independent of anybody else. This hard fought, and experienced testimony is the only one that is ultimately strong enough to withstand the onslaught of a world that will challenge us.

Helaman’s 2000 took that step, and survived multiple hard fought, and bloody battles against older, more experienced and hardened Lamanites. Not one of Helaman’s “sons” were killed. It was nothing short of a complete miracle. There is no way that should have happened. But, because they were willing to step into the fight with faith in the Lord’s protection, he preserved them. The most important step they took, was that first one. That first step when Helaman gave them the choice to step out on their own, and exercise the faith that they had been taught.

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We all read this story and marvel on their faith, their courage, and dedication. We try and put ourselves in their shoes and contemplate if our answer would be like theirs in that moment. We may not be asked to take up arms against a powerful opposing army, but we can try and emulate that same courage, dedication and faith.

We may not face a literal army of Lamanites, but we all face an army of those who wish to harm us spiritually. We do face an opposing force that will stop at nothing to destroy us and our faith. Let’s take the lessons we have learned, the testimonies we have heard and felt, and allow them to bolster us into taking those first steps on our own to face the enemy with our hearts full of faith. We will be protected. We will be strengthened. Our faith will grow.

When we add action to our beliefs, our testimonies will be solidified. We will know the gospel is true. We will feel closer to the Lord. We will then know and understand more completely the doctrine of Jesus Christ, because we will be doing his will, and that is exactly what He promised us…

“If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.”

-John 7:17

 

  1. Alma 56:43,44
  2. Alma 56:45
  3. Alma 56:46

Being Child-like

 

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When our Heavenly Father wanted to save the world, He didn’t take over a country or develop a militia. He sent a helpless child to a choice and worthy woman and a humble and believing man living in insecure circumstances in a conquered land occupied by a hostile force. The harsh geopolitical and military circumstances of Christ’s birth should remind us that Heavenly Father can bless us even if the external circumstances of our lives aren’t necessarily easy or peaceful.1

Jesus taught: “Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God”2 and “Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven”3

King Benjamin explained that we must put off the natural man and “[become] a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and [become] as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father”4

That is quite a list but for now, I am going to focus on two qualities. 1) Being full of love, and 2) Being willing to submit to all things which the Lord inflicts upon us.

It is easy to find examples of these child-like behaviors in the scriptures.

Now…

Paul, after he explains charity, states: “When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.”5

To be child-like is not the same as being childish. There is an important distinction there. Obviously, as we learn, practice, and develop, our behavior should change. Child-like qualities of innocence, humility, simplicity, faith, and love should grow and mature into traits like wisdom, leadership, accountability, dependability, and self-mastery.6

Examples of child-like behavior in the scriptures:

We have to start with our perfect example in all ways, Jesus Christ. We celebrate the baby born in Bethlehem not simply for the miraculous birth, but also for his selfless life, infinite atonement, and perfect resurrection. Christ grew in wisdom and stature, he performed miracles and commanded the elements, but he never became full of himself or slothful. Isaiah described his as “a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief”7, but our Lord and Savior never complained, murmured, nor shirked his exceptional responsibility. He didn’t constantly groan under the weight of His office.1

He served others, shared joy, and became the light of the world. He was, (as King Benjamin taught) full of love, and willing to submit to the Father. In the garden of Gethsemane, he prayed: “Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine be done.”8

Another example, this time from the Book of Mormon: The people of Alma were oppressed, beaten, and had heavy burdens placed upon their backs. When they prayed, they were threatened with death, but they continued to pray in their hearts. Their prayers were heard. “And it came to pass that the burdens which were laid upon Alma and his brethren were made light; yea, the Lord did strengthen them that they could bear up their burdens with ease, and they did submit cheerfully and with patience to all the will of the Lord”.9

The people of Alma demonstrated child-like qualities of love and submission to God’s will. They were blessed with strength to endure and overcome the afflictions placed upon them.

We can all think of someone that we know who demonstrates these child-like qualities.

My friend, Sean Thomas has been described as ‘stubbornly optimistic’. And he is.  He radiates happiness, and no matter what life throws at him, he is smiling right back. He has a child’s love and happiness. He is child-like in the best ways.

Grandpa Ralph is a man who is full of love and willing to submit to the will of our Heavenly Father (and to the will of his wife). He did not always have an easy go at life, he has endured trials while lifting and teaching others, all while maintaining a cheerful attitude.

To fully appreciate this brief story, you have to have known Ralph and Deon, and their awesome and inspiring relationship. The following exchange can be found on family search submitted by Grandpa Ralph himself:

TIME: Some time in the 1980’s.

HITCHCOCK HOME PHONE RINGS: RALPH ANSWERS: “Hello, this is the hen pecked husband at the Happy Hitchcock House… May I help you?”

DEON: (over hearing the salutation) ” !! RRAALLPPHH !!

RALPH: “It’s Helen, and it’s for you.”

RALPH: (Unstated comment to himself) “Being a happily hen pecked husband is one of the pillars of our good marriage. But, because Deon did her hen pecking with such a style and precision that I not only accepted it, (most of it) and depended on it to benefit our marriage. But, I had to let her know that I knew what she was doing.”

Grandpa Ralph liked to tease his true love, he liked to laugh… as did Deon. Now, before you get upset, you should know that every person who ever saw my Grandfather interact in any way with my Grandmother, knew that he loved her dearly. He would do anything for her – no question. There is no way that anyone could deny that. He was cheerful.

My little boy Blake is a tangible example to us of child-like behavior. He can’t talk or give sermons on Christ-like attitudes and how we can achieve them. He does, however serve others and spread happiness. He likes to smile at people. When he does, he spreads love and light, it is really neat to see. It is something so simple, but smiling when we see others really can make a difference.

Joseph Smith, while in Liberty Jail wrote to the saints: “a very large ship is benefited very much by a very small helm in the time of a storm, by being kept workways with the wind and the waves. Therefore, dearly beloved brethren, let us cheerfully do all things that lie in our power; and then may we stand still, with the utmost assurance, to see the salvation of God”.10

We celebrate Christmas and the birth of the Lord for what Jesus grew to be and what he has done for us. With the guidance of the Holy Ghost, the power of his grace and atonement, we can change, we can grow. We can strive to be as children and cheerfully submit to His will, because, as Pual taught: “When we are weak, then we are strong”11

————————————————————————-

  1. Scott E. Ferrin, Christmas and Christ’s Invitation to Become as a Little Child: What Manner… BYU Speech Dec. 10, 2013.
  2. Luke 18:16
  3. Matthew 18:3
  4. Mosiah 3:19
  5. 1 Corinthians 13:11
  6. Derek A. Cuthbert, The Meaning of Maturity, General Conference, Oct 1982
  7. Isaiah 53:3
  8. Luke 22:42
  9. Mosiah 24:15
  10. Doctrine and Covenants 123:16-17
  11. 2 Corinthians 12:10

The Gadianton Robbers of Doctrinal Mastery

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Recently, the CES (Church Educational System) outlined a new approach to help its students learn how to recognize, understand, and apply gospel principles in their lives.  It’s called Doctrinal Mastery.  It is a supplement to the previous Scripture Mastery program that we had as curriculum back in the 90’s.  Instead of just memorizing scriptures (which is still an excellent idea by the way), the CES is helping and teaching and encouraging the students to learn how to search for and answer their own questions.  I encourage everyone to go here and read all of the material available (but especially the talk by Elder Ballard, Chad Webb, and the 2016 annual  broadcast), because it is outstanding information and is well worth your dedicated and repeated study time (not to mention how great it would be for FHE and/or other family discussions).

In case you don’t follow the link above right away and hope that I will recap some of the main points, below is an overview:

Principles

  • Students acquire spiritual knowledge and are better prepared to respond to questions as they follow the principles and patterns that Heavenly Father has established for us to learn and understand truth.
  • Students will deepen their conversion and commitment to Jesus Christ, be protected against the influences of the adversary, and be better prepared to bless the lives of others as they come to understand, believe, and live according to the Savior’s doctrine.

Desired Outcomes

Learning and applying divine principles for acquiring spiritual knowledge and responding to questions by

  1. Acting in faith
  2. Examining concepts and questions with an eternal perspective
  3. Seeking further understanding through divinely appointed sources

 

Each one of these three desired outcomes is outlined in great detail in the various talks/devotionals/messages that are available through the link above, and each one of them is worth spending hours reading/learning about, but for the purpose of this particular message, I want us to understand number 2 – Examining concepts and questions with an eternal perspective.

An eternal perspective means not limiting our questions or our concerns or our doubts to our own little tiny 20th century timeframe, nor to our little tiny understanding of a particular principle/application.  Part of examining concepts in this eternal perspective is the acknowledgement that opposition and temptation have been around since the very beginning of what we call time, and the understanding that we certainly are not the first ones to struggle or deal with a particular issue – no matter what it is.  Even if our pride thinks it is.  We need to understand that the scriptures (the divinely appointed sources referenced in item 3 above) are in fact a compilation of scenarios, situations, stories, that produced the entire gamut of burning questions and riveting answers – all recorded by righteous individuals with the express intent of being available for us to “examine concepts and questions with an eternal perspective”.

Maybe the next time we have a doubt, or a serious question, or something that makes us ‘wrestle’ with the Lord – no matter what it is – let’s ask ourselves a guiding question that will start our search for answers on the right path: “Has someone already asked this question before”?  “Has someone in the history of recorded time struggled with an issue similar to this”?  Has someone then “acted in faith” and “sought further understanding through divinely appointed sources” and received an answer – and then recorded that answer”? In most cases the answer is yes.  As a note, that’s what the scriptures are – the most true and correct FAQ document the world has ever seen.

A “yes” answer to the questions above places some of the question finding responsibility on our shoulders because I doubt the Lord loves when we ask a question that he has already answered – especially when that answer has been asked, answered, and then recorded in the scriptures.  After all, most successful companies refer you to the FAQ section before they connect you with a representative right?  Right.

To help us understand exactly what and how awesome the scriptures really are – which will in turn help us really feel the possibilities that it holds for us – let’s think of some of the times that angels have come down from heaven to visit the earth to deliver a particular message – or when a beloved prophet is sent to do the same.  Moroni comes to Joseph Smith and quotes some scriptures.  Abinidi gets sent to King Noah and ends up quoting/reading scriptures (Isaiah).  Christ himself (not to mention Nephi, Jacob, and many other prophets who wrote in the Book of Mormon) comes down to minister among the Nephites and spends a whole lot of time reading and expounding the scriptures.  Talk about answering questions – maybe he was making sure they really did have all the scriptures, so that when they recorded the Book of Mormon, it would ensure that we really do have the full set of FAQ.

There is a scripture passage that helps us solidify how we should approach and deal with any questions that we may have surrounding the gospel.  The setting is approx. 29-23 BC and the Lamanites are the good guys and the Nephites happen to be the bad guys.  At this time, there was an especially bad group (secret band of robbers) who were led and named after their especially bad leader Gadianton.  It’s found in Helaman 6:37-39:  So, when we read this passage, and understand how these two groups dealt with the robbers, we can understand and liken it to the two options we have when questions or doubts arise in our hearts – because the doubts we have about the gospel are in fact, the robbers of Gadianton.

The Lamanites did hunt the band of robbers of Gadianton; and they did preach the word of God among the more wicked part of them, insomuch that this band of robbers was utterly destroyed from among the Lamanites.

And it came to pass on the other hand, that the Nephites did build them up and support them, beginning at the more wicked part of them, until they had overspread all the land of the Nephites, and had seduced the more part of the righteous until they had come down to believe in their works and partake of their spoils, and to join with them in their secret murders and combinations.

And thus they did obtain the sole management of the government, insomuch that they did trample under their feet and smite and rend and turn their backs upon the poor and the meek, and the humble followers of God.

The Lamanites preached the word of God among their doubts and questions, until they were utterly destroyed.1  I expect this preaching of the word of God (pure, scripture truth) was not a one-time sermon, but more of a repeated, continual effort that took place over time.

On the other hand, the Nephites did build them up, and support their doubts until they had overspread all the land, seduced the more part of them, until they had come down to believe in their works and partake of their spoils, and to join with them.  If we build up and support our doubts, it won’t be long until they overtake all our land, and we will come down to believe in their works, and partake of their spoils (please notice how enjoying fruit is the end goal of Lehi’s dream, Jacob 5, and Alma 32, yet spoils are the result of Gadiantons plundering and Satan’s offering to us).  Worse yet, if we to continue to build them up, these doubts will have “sole management of the government” – and they will drive away all faith, hope, and love until we become cynical, bitter, and then we trample under our feet all of the things we once loved.

 

 

Notes

1 Questions are good – critical even.  They lead to answers.  They lead us to and through the process of becoming a seeker of truth and a seeker of answers.  So much of our history (both ancient and modern) is the result of diligent searching for answers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Digging Ditches to Be Happy

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A few months ago, I traveled to California with my wife to watch my brother Tyson compete in an Ironman triathlon. It was pretty amazing to see him, along with everyone else, both men and women, swim, bike, and run for 8 or 10 or 12+ hours straight. It was nuts. Imagine getting up early, before the sun is anywhere near up, and wading into a dark river and swimming for about an hour- with no stopping, rest, or lifeguard. Then, instead of dying an anonymous silent death and sinking to the bottom of the murky water, you run to your bike, and hop onto the most uncomfortable bike seat ever designed, and start pedaling- for about 6 hours. Then, after crouching and straining on that bike for the same amount of time as two full length Lord of the Rings movies, and looking more like a crooked old lady with scoliosis, you get to relax by running a full marathon. Its mind boggling.

After witnessing this event, and seeing Tyson do so well. I had a familiar feeling start to swell inside me. It was a familiar feeling that had been silent, dormant, and suppressed for quite a while, but began to fester up just like a long forgotten illness. It was the re-emergence of the “I can’t let my brother beat me” syndrome that I thought I had fully recovered from. Turns out, there really is no cure. You can’t beat it, you can only hope to contain it.

Tyson, from years of competition growing up together, knew just the kind of salt to throw in that freshly opened wound as over the next few days, he “encouraged” me to throw my hat in the triathlon ring. Smarter men, like my other younger brothers Casey and Riley, would have been wise enough to see the end game, and let that “encouragement” go unacknowledged or laugh it off altogether. But, because of my newly reopened competition illness, I fell for it. Both Tyson and I suffer from rather severe strains of this disease.

I had previously enjoyed a stronghold on the long distance running record amongst my brothers with a full marathon, but even that looked pretty pathetic now. I had just been ceremoniously slapped across the cheek with the proverbial gauntlet. And he did it in such a nice way which was even worse.

So, I was done. And, soon after returning home, I signed myself up for a small triathlon, and started training. Running and biking weren’t so bad, having done endurance training before. But, here’s the difference, you can breathe when you run or bike. And I happen to be very fond of breathing. Swimming, however, presented as a whole different set of problems for me.

The first time I hit the pool, I knew it would be tough, but that was an understatement. I never realized just how far 25 meters can be until I tried to swim it. It then got worse as I then turned around, and did it again, and again, and again. It was exhausting. Its kind of like tying a plastic bag over your head, and walking on your hands up a steep hill.

After my first training session in the pool, I didn’t die, but I did I feel nauseous and lightheaded for hours afterwards. And that was only after about a whopping 200 meters with life-saving gasping-for-air breaks after each 25 meters. I was in trouble.

The next 8 weeks were brutal. I was thrown by how slow my progress was. I was used to being able to train regularly for 2-3 weeks while running, and seeing some significant improvements. With swimming, I was able to go a bit further, but it was very slow, slow, slow improvement. I felt I was improving at the pace of the sloth at the DMV in Zootopia.

Swimming was the obvious weak link on my chain. I knew that going in, but that reality soon started to hit me, hard. I started to have serious doubts, not necessarily about my ability to finish the race, but in my ability to actually survive the race. The way I saw it, if I didn’t somehow have arm floaties on, I only stood at about a 50:50 chance of surviving the swim portion. Seriously. I’m not even kidding.

Now, I don’t like to have weaknesses, let alone having very apparent ones, so this was uncharted territory in a sense. I was eating some serious humble pie, like several meals a day strict diet of humble pie. It was frustrating, but I stuck with it.

Now, after almost 12 weeks, I am proud to say that I have confidence that I will not die in 3 weeks when I go for my first little triathlon. It has been a slow go, but I can tell I have made improvements. Thank goodness, because, I don’t want to get lapped by those 87 year old grandmas because I can’t get out of the pool.

This process that I am in the middle of- this process of trying to get rid of my weakness, and possibly even turn it into a strength, is a principle that we are familiar with. Its frequently taught in the Book of Mormon. A few weeks ago, I recognized this principle all over again in a seemingly unrelated story. This time it was embedded in the way the Nephites dug ditches.

In Tyson’s last post, he mentioned that Moroni had prepared the Nephites to fight in the most unfair way possible against the Lamanites. He did it with unprecedented preparation. You can read it HERE. This process employed by Moroni has everything to do with the famous scripture from Ether. In his book, he explains why we have these weaknesses….

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 12:5)

Ether wasn’t necessarily talking about swimming, or even Nephites digging ditches, but the principle applies to both of these scenarios.

We learn all about Moroni’s ditches in Alma chapter 49. It explains how the Nephites rebuilt the city of Ammonihah after it had been destroyed. They rebuilt it and then some. It was obviously regarded as a weak spot for the Nephites….

Behold, I said that the city of Ammonihah had been rebuilt. I say unto you, yea, that it was in part rebuilt; and because the Lamanites had destroyed it once because of the iniquity of the people, they supposed that it would again become an easy prey for them. But behold, how great was their disappointment; for behold, the Nephites had dug up a ridge of earth round about them, which was so high that the Lamanites could not cast their stones and their arrows at them that they might take effect, neither could they come upon them save it was by their place of entrance. Now at this time the chief captains of the Lamanites were astonished exceedingly, because of the wisdom of the Nephites in preparing their places of security.” (Alma 49:3-5)

So, the Lamanites were looking for the wimpiest spot to attack the Nephites. Remember that Ammonihah was wiped out in one day. It should have been easy pickins’ for the Lamanites. The  Nephite resistance should have been like me swimming 100 meters in the pool. Weak cheese. But, the Nephites had worked hard- very hard, in fact, to prepare themselves for that moment.

The Nephites had dug a ditch, not just any ditch, but a ditch so deep, and the accompanying ridge of earth was so high, they couldn’t hit the top by throwing stones or shooting arrows. I don’t know about anyone else, but I think that is a lot of dirt. Thats a big hole, and a big bank of earth.

I picture these Nephite soldiers shoveling, hauling, digging, laboring day after day load after load after load to prepare this city. I can imagine that in the beginning, it seemed like a daunting task, kind of like me imagining myself swimming in a dark river for over 2 miles at 5:00 a.m. But they kept at it. I am absolutely positive, that when these Nephites finished moving that vast amount of dirt, and constructing this massive protective wall all around their entire city, they were stronger than when they started. How could they not be? They probably looked like a bunch of linebackers fresh from the gym.

But, it didn’t happen overnight. It didn’t happen by a lightning strike, or by the fairy Godmother coming and throwing twinkle dust the ground and turning it into a perfectly structured dirt fort. We don’t know exactly how they constructed this ditch or the bank of earth, but it wasn’t with a back hoe or diesel powered crane.

It was built bit by bit, little by little, Im sure almost imperceptible progress was made. But the process made those that were working on it strong, and the process is what transformed the city from a weak point into a stronghold. That same weak city that had been wiped out in a single day.

But, it wasn’t just one city. The Lamanites, came looking to take out Ammonihah, took one look, and said, “No thanks, peace out”, and headed instead to attack another weak spot, the city of Noah. But, Moroni was one step ahead…

 “But behold, to their astonishment, the city of Noah, which had hitherto been a weak place, had now, by the means of Moroni, become strong, yea, even to exceed the strength of the city Ammonihah. (Alma 49:14)

“Now behold, the Lamanites could not get into their forts of security by any other way save by the entrance, because of the highness of the bank which had been thrown up, and the depth of the ditch which had been dug round about, save it were by the entrance.

 And thus were the Nephites prepared to destroy all such as should attempt to climb up to enter the fort by any other way, by casting over stones and arrows at them.

 Now when they found that they could not obtain power over the Nephites by the pass, they began to dig down their banks of earth that they might obtain a pass to their armies, that they might have an equal chance to fight; but behold, in these attempts they were swept off by the stones and arrows which were thrown at them; and instead of filling up their ditches by pulling down the banks of earth, they were filled up in a measure with their dead and wounded bodies.”

 Thus the Nephites had all power over their enemies; and thus the Lamanites did attempt to destroy the Nephites until their chief captains were all slain; yea, and more than a thousand of the Lamanites were slain; while, on the other hand, there was not a single soul of the Nephites which was slain.” (Alma 49:18-23)

The Nephites had gained the advantage. They had put in the time, and had become incredibly strong. But it wasn’t by accident. It was a long, deliberate process. The cities and men had become strong by identifying and working on their weaknesses. By working, digging, scrambling, struggling, pulling, pushing, sweating, and preparing.

The Lord can, and will make our weaknesses strong, but he doesn’t just give it to us. It requires work on our end. We need to first recognize our weaknesses, and then we need to humbly commit to strengthen it by work. Then, the Lord blesses us, and aids us in our own little battles.

Moroni didn’t strengthen just the obvious weak spots, he strengthened all the cities. He didn’t take a look at Ammonihah, or Noah, and say, “Nice, our job is done.” He kept going. There is always room for improvement, or strengthening. That means, at the same time, there is always work to do. We can’t stop shoveling, or hauling, striving, or trying.

 “And now it came to pass that Moroni did not stop making preparations for war…” (Alma 50:1)

The beauty of all of this hard work isn’t just in the final product. A strong fort made for our own protection isn’t the only end goal. In addition to the increased strength where once we were weak, we are also happier.

We are happy when we work, get stronger, improve, and accomplish. Yes, we then become stronger. But, we also are happier along the way. The Lord blesses us in sneaky ways sometimes. Who would have thought, that through all this time of massive preparation, digging ditches, chopping trees, and laboring night and day that the Nephites would be the happiest they had ever been?

“But behold there never was a happier time among the people of Nephi, since the days of Nephi, than in the days of Moroni, yea, even at this time, in the twenty and first year of the reign of the judges.” (Alma 50:23)

The Nephites were happy. Happier, in fact, than ever. Even after digging seemingly endless numbers of ditches and trenches, and hauling dirt back and forth. Their strength came from the security of shoring up their places of retreat, and strengthening their weaknesses.

Sometimes our improvement doesn’t have to be pretty, or glorious, or fancy, or amazingly awesome. Sometimes we get better simply by working at our weaknesses. It may be slow, but it is always worth it.

Rome wasn’t built in a day. The Great Pyramid of Giza took 20 years to build. The Great Wall of China took thousands of years altogether to make, and the iconic temple that sits in the middle of Salt Lake City took over 40 years to finally complete.

Lets not lose sight of our goal- to be the best we can be, and live with God again. Lets look at our weaknesses only as opportunities for future strengths, and lets commit to be just as willing to work at them as the Nephites were in digging their ditches. Because, in the end, just like the Nephites, our safety and happiness is at stake.

An equal chance to fight

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We have all heard and/or read a lot about equality lately, and the importance of making sure that everyone has an ‘equal chance’ for everything.  An equal chance at education, career opportunities, to have their voice heard, and to have rights or liberties or freedoms.  But I’d like to talk about a situation in which we actually want to discourage equal chances and encourage lopsidedness – and if we do it right – severe lopsidedness.

This situation happens to be an ongoing battle with the forces of evil, which ironically highlights in one sense the perfect case of equality, because forces on both sides of this battle are attempting with all their might to create the most severe cases of inequality imaginable in order to gain the victory.  In other words, neither side wants to create an ‘equal chance’ for fighting because each side wants a severely lopsided victory.  One side wants to save as many people as possible, and the other side wants as many casualties as possible.  There isn’t much room there for compromise – and if we don’t realize that – we need to.

There are many ways in which people can gain an advantage, in business, in sports, and in life.  For example, just this week I did something that I had been resisting for quite a while. I joined a triathlon club.  In fact, I joined a triathlon club with a very good reputation and track record with a lot of successful athletes (they had 7 athletes qualify for (and race in) the world championships in Kona this last month).  That’s impressive.  The reason for my hesitation has been primarily because I felt that it was the easy way out.  I thought it might be more admirable/impressive if I were to work hard on my own, improve on my own, and qualify for Kona on my own, because after all (in my mind), a tri club (this one in particular) seemed to create an unfair advantage for their athletes somehow removing the ‘equal chance’ for the rest of us due to their associations with vendors, bike fitters, coaches, and advisors.  In some strange way, my brain associated these athletes getting all the help they could possibly get in order to improve was somehow cheating.  I was (and still am most of the time) an idiot.

Luckily for me, the Book of Mormon is true, and it can prevent my idiot-ness from being permanent.

What I learned this week (helping me feel good about joining this club) is that captain Moroni had founded a triathlon club in the earlier years (about 72 BC) and that if you joined his club you weren’t cheating, you were giving yourself the best chance for improvement (and winning).  Just check out his coaching bio: “if all men had been, and were, and ever would be, like unto Moroni, behold, the very powers of hell would have been shaken forever; yea, the devil would never have power over the hearts of the children of men” (Alma 48:17).  And his bio doesn’t end there; the record goes on to show several case studies in how he had encouraged his people to prepare for battle in ‘in a manner which never had been known’ (Alma 49:8) – and win.

Now to be fair, there might have been some Nephites who thought to themselves “all of Moroni’s troops are cheating.  They are creating an unfair advantage over the Lamanites by joining his fight club with his extensive preparations and unknown manner of preparation and matching triathlon unitards (the title of liberty is definitely the Nephite tri club logo and the original basis for the current unitard design of today).  So, I’ll just work out my own preparation plan by doing the same things we’ve always done.”

Moroni was taking their previously weak places, and building them to ‘exceeding strength’.  Is there a better description of what a tri club and/or tri coach should be doing?  No.   Is there a better description of what we as parents should be doing for our children?  No.

We are not preparing the youth (our children) for a battle by ensuring that all sides get an equal chance.  We are not preparing them for a battle in which the enemy will engage in ‘good sportsmanship’.  We are preparing them for battle against an enemy who is absolutely ruthless and does not want anything other than complete domination.

Moroni teaches all of us how to create inequality in battle and it all starts with preparation.  Lots and lots and lots and lots (and lots) of preparation.  And he doesn’t stop – even in peaceful times – “Moroni did not stop making preparations for war, or to defend his people” (Alma 50:1).  As parents, we must build up heaps of earth round about all the city as the first line of defense.  Then we must create ‘works of timbers’ atop the heaps of earth.  Then we must build ‘frames of pickets’ atop the works of timbers.  After that, we must build a tower overlooking the picket.  Then, and only then can we create a place of security on top of the towers in which we can stand (nice and safe) and “cast stones from the top thereof, according to [our] pleasure and [our] strength” (Alma 50:5).

Thus, Moroni did prepare strongholds against the coming of their enemies” (Alma 50:6).

Thus, they were prepared… to smite down all who should attempt to come into their place of security” (Alma 49:20).

None of these guys in Moroni’s club were down on the ground fighting the Lamanites ‘on equal grounds’.  None of them.  And for that reason, “there was not a single soul of the Nephites which was slain” (Alma 49:23).

I think it is worth noting here, that the Lamanites tried their best and began to “dig down their banks of earth that they might obtain a pass to their armies, that they might have an equal chance to fight; but behold, in these attempts they were swept off by the stones and arrow which were thrown at them” (Alma 49:22).

Thus, the Nephites had all power over their enemies” (Alma 49:23).

We must create an absolutely lopsided battle fortifications for our kids.  We are charged (just like Moroni) in establishing a ‘place of security’.  And yes, it will take constant preparation.  We cannot allow the enemy to ‘obtain a pass’ to our army by any other way than the death trap we create – the front door – where we can see them coming from a mile away and where we have our strongest fortifications.  We cannot stop at the heaps of earth, or the timbers, or the pickets, or even the towers.  We need to create that place of security on top of all that which happens to be the most unequal chance possible for the enemy to win – just like we want.  We cannot think that by sending them out into the world on equal ground with the enemy is a show of good sportsmanship or that somehow that meeting the enemy head on will teach them good battle skills.  No – that will just get them injured, or worse – killed.

From our carefully crafted places of security we much teach our kids what the enemy looks like, sounds like, smells like, and feels like so that they are not surprised when they see them coming and so they can be ‘swept off’ by our stones and arrows thrown according to ‘our pleasure and our strength’ (not theirs).

We cannot be naïve or embarrassed about the plain, simple, and powerful doctrines that create our places of safety.  We cannot think that by building up heaps of earth, timbers, pickets, towers, and places of safety that we are guilty of offense, discrimination, or hate –because if you are busy down on the ground at the place of entrance apologizing for the towers and the pickets, you can’t see the enemy sneaking up as they come to destroy you.

Let us be like Moroni, who did labor exceedingly for the welfare and safety of his people… and who was firm in the faith of Christ” (Alma 48:12-13).

Thwimmin’ Thoup and Mac ‘n’ Doo

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Having a 3 year old in the house is hilarious. If any of you have one, you know exactly what I’m talking about. There is never a dull moment. Our youngest son Jake is right in that fun age where he thinks he is way older than he is, but his language hasn’t quite caught up with his ego.

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He is just getting old enough to have really good conversations, but still young enough to where they are a mix of real words, and garbled up toddler jargon. The results are fantastic. It’s non-stop verbal entertainment. If you take into account that all these words are spoken with his toddler lisp as well, its priceless.

Here are just a few examples of his “Jake-ese” that cracks us up…

Swimming suit and goggles -“thwimmin’ thoup” and “gobbles”.
Movie theatre – “moobie peadure”
Gatorade – “Gardogade”
Computer – “pewder”
Favorite – “fravrit”
Horses – “horthes”
Grandpa – “Drampa”
Grandma – “Dramma”
Yellow – “Weddo”
Mountain Dew – “Mac ’n’ Doo”

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Jake loves to play on his own, and in his own little world. He has the world’s biggest imagination. He has worn out countless wooden surfaces all around our house with the constant stampede of plastic horse, and dinosaur feet. He gets this high pitched play voice that he goes into and does full on conversations between all his imagined characters. He rides his bike around the inside of the house and loves to show off his sprinting skills whenever someone comes in to visit. He makes our life full, and fun, exciting, and exhausting all at the same time.

 

Unfortunately for us, the entertaining days of our Jake words will eventually come to and end, and he will learn the right way to say all these words, and the dinosaurs will be replaced with homework, or something else way more boring as he keeps growing and developing. All our other kids have done it, and so will he. Kids grow up. Its part of life, and we will have to rely on all the fun memories that he gives us now, and then wait for all the grandkids to do the same thing.

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In a way, we all are still growing. It never stops. We are all still learning and developing. Im sure our Heavenly Parents look down lovingly to watch us learn new principles, or finally pull through our challenges. Im sure they relish the fun memories, and look forward to each and every one of our spiritual milestones. Sometimes, however, it takes us quite a while to learn.

Over the last year or so, that kind of describes me. I have had a bit of a struggle trying to reconcile my own personal practical views on the refugee situation that is going on in Syria. The church has asked for our support of the refugees and that we should treat them with open and welcoming arms. In my heart, I knew this was true, and, of course we should treat everyone that way. But, my head seemed to just see the potential for problems. I was kind of stuck. I guess I was stuck saying “thwimming soup”, and “Mac ’n’ doo” in a spiritual sense on this one particular issue.

In my head, along with many others, I just kept thinking about all the potential bad guys that would likely use this situation to take advantage of our country’s generosity. This was right at the time of all the attacks in France, and the bombing at the airport that effected the missionaries. It seemed like it would be so easy for terrorists to slip in claiming to be a refugee and then do a lot of damage to the honest innocent people just trying to help. My head was saying we had to be wary of the refugees to make sure we weren’t opening ourselves up for an easy attack. I seemed to be at a stalemate. My head saying one thing, while the church encouraging me to do what seemed like the exact opposite.

I hadn’t quite learned what I needed to learn. I had a spiritual lisp. Until a few days ago.

It was another testimony to me of the power and relevance of the Book of Mormon. I was reading in Alma about the Anti-Nephi-Lehis. Also known as the people of Ammon. Those guys were as tough as nails. This group of Lamanites, thanks to some great missionaries, had converted to the Lord and repented of all their previous sins and murders of the Nephites. They had been a very nasty group of people, but had completely changed into an unbelievably good, devout, and committed people. They had converted to the Lord so completely that nothing else mattered to them. Not even their physical lives.

As a first token of their commitment, they first put away all their “weapons of rebellion¹”. I think that these these “weapons of rebellion” can mean ideas, thought processes, habits, traditions, or anything else that puts us in opposition to the Lord. However, this wasn’t necessarily the act that made them famous in the Book of Mormon.

A little while after these Anti-Nephi-Lehis had converted to the Lord, their fellow countrymen, the Lamanites who were NOT converted to the Lord, started making preparations for war. But, this time, they were not preparing for war against the Nephites. They were getting ready for war against their own people. The people of Ammon. They had become angry with the Anti-Nephi-Lehis because of their conversion to the Lord².

It is interesting to me, and very telling, that the Anti-Nephi-Lehis, who are famous for burying their weapons of war deep in the earth as a covenant not to shed the blood of man ever again, did not do so immediately. Remember, the first step was only putting away their “weapons of rebellion” as well as their weapons of war. It was not until their fellow Lamanites were actively preparing to come to war against them, that they physically buried their weapons, to absolutely make sure that they did not break their covenant. Even in self defense.

In peacetime it would be difficult to make such a commitment. But can we imagine how much more difficult it would have been to voluntarily disarm, in the very moments that their hardened enemy was preparing to come to battle against them? This was an act of pure faith.

Here are the words that their king used describing their mindset, “And now, my brethren, if our brethren seek to destroy us, behold, we will hide away our swords, yea, even we will bury them deep in the earth, that they may be kept bright, as a testimony that we have never used them, at the last day; and if our brethren destroy us, behold, we shall go to our God and shall be saved³”

In that short amount of time, the people of Ammon had gone from recent converts to one of the most committed, righteous people to ever have lived. Their spiritual development was rapid, and complete. They had changed their character to be more Christlike, and had NO reservations, and had complete faith in their God, and left their fate in his hands. They knew that if they were faithful to him, their fate would be sealed, and they would be with the Lord.

“And they did look upon shedding the blood of their brethren with the greatest abhorrence; and they never could be prevailed upon to take up arms against their brethren; and they never did look upon death with any degree of terror, for their hope and views of Christ and the resurrection; therefore, death was swallowed up to them by the victory of Christ over it. Therefore, they would suffer death in the most aggravating and distressing manner which could be inflicted by their brethren, before they would take the sword or cimeter to smite them. And thus they were a zealous and beloved people, a highly favored people of the Lord4

The people of Ammon were completely converted to the Lord. That conversion influenced their actions. They had changed their character completely. They weren’t only committed and righteous on Sunday, but everyday, and every hour and every minute.  They looked at the world around them through the lens of the gospel, not the lens of self preservation, political affiliation, or secular ideology. I have a lot to learn from them.

I am not suggesting that we as a country or as a people should do just as the Anti-Nephi-Lehis and bury our weapons of defense, and come what may. But, I am hoping that we can all look to them as an example of true and complete commitment to the Lord.  Their faith took away their fear. Their love of God, replaced their apprehension for death.

The people of Ammon, because of their degree of commitment and testimony, had reached the point of being unafraid of death. Because of their faith, they didn’t look upon it with “any degree of terror4.” Not even when they were faced with death “in the most aggravating and distressing ways.4” They knew exactly what was coming, and still held true to their covenants.

I need to graduate from my current elementary school spot, to their graduate level of faith. In a spiritual sense, I was still playing with plastic “dinothaurs” and “horthes”. I was looking at the world through nothing but my worldly eyes. I had been stuck in 3rd grade and couldn’t quite wrap my head around 4th grade, let alone the concepts mastered and taught in the Graduate School of the People of Ammon.

I learned right then, that I had been wrong. My thought process had been too narrow and not spiritually based. I had to get my head right. Even if it meant going in the opposite direction of where my head was telling me to go. I had to graduate from “Mac “n” Doo, to the actual real life Mountain Dew. I needed to open my heart to see what was really happening in Syria, and other devastated areas of the world. People are hurting, and desperately need help. It is my duty as a follower of Jesus Christ to act as he would act, think as he would think, and love as he would love. My own personal opinions notwithstanding. My character needed an upgrade.

So, I decided to change. I decided to try and be more faithful, and less skeptical. I decided to look at all the chaos in the world right now, and compare it to the chaos that surely existed in the days of the people of Ammon. If they could do it, maybe I can too. If I work to be more committed, all the time, even when looking at practical problems in seemingly secular situations.

In Emma Lazerus’ poem “The New Colossus” the ideas of inclusion and welcome that shaped this modern day promised land are perfectly put into words. They are inscribed on the pedestal under the Statue of Liberty. Sometimes I need a little (or big) reminder to put my thoughts and actions back into the proper perspective. The people of Ammon did that for me this last week, as well as these words that are written under the feet of Lady Liberty….

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Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name Mother of Exiles.
From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

  1. Alma 23:7
  2. Alma 24:1
  3. Alma 24:16
  4. Alma 27:28-30