Thursday, August 28, 2014

The Fear of Death

In high school I had conversation with friends about death. I admitted that I feared death. Not only did I fear the pain that is often associated with death, but I also feared the unknown. Even though I was religious and knew well what we believed about heaven and the afterlife, there was still a lot we admitted to not knowing. Some were inconsequential, such as "What will I look like?" while others were more serious, such as "Could I tolerate living forever?"

10 years have gone by since then. I no longer fear death. I have learned a lot more about what life will be like after death, and my assurance in its reality has dramatically increased.
For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better. - Phillipians 1:23
I can relate to Paul. There is something inside of me that looks forward to being liberated from the burdens of mortality.
Whoso believeth in God might with surety hope for a better world. - Ether 12:4
There is a better world, and I look forward to living there.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

It's Not About Me, It's About Them

And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. - Ephesians 6:4
I am intensely intrigued by this instruction. Notice what it doesn't say. It doesn't tell fathers to control their anger and to honor God. Instead, this scripture focuses on the children. "Don't make them angry. Teach them to honor and obey God." It's not about me, it's about them.

We can see this contrast in different approaches to discipline. An easy rut to fall in is disciplining for the sake of discipline, justice, and sustaining the rules. "You broke the rule, now you must suffer." While disciplining, have you ever thought, "This might be unfair and unreasonable, but rules are rules?" It happened to me today.

Your behavior will be different if you approach discipline from the perspective of the child. "He just hit the kitten with a stick.... again. How can I teach him to be nice to animals?" "I want him to stop playing in his milk, but he doesn't seem to understand why it's a bad thing. Is it a bad thing?" I don't ask myself those questions often enough. I would be a better parent if I did.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

June Was Too Late

We had been planning for some time to move and live near my wife's family in Missouri. All the pieces but one had fallen into place. There was a wedding of a close friend that would occur at the end of June in Provo. Do we move before the wedding and travel back for it or do we wait and move afterwards? It was a hard choice.

I wanted to move earlier and just come back. I disliked the prospect of sitting on my hands for a month just waiting until we could move. But buying plane tickets or committing to drive 20 hours there and 20 hours back was no small thing. My wife thought it was much more practical to wait until after the wedding, and I knew she was right.

But I couldn't get over this strong feeling that we needed to move earlier. We talked about it many times. Once in April I said to my wife, "I feel like something terrible is going to happen in your family. Almost like somebody is going to die, but not quite as bad." Another time I said, "I just feel like June is too late." But again, it was terribly impractical, so we kept our plans for moving at the end of June.

Then near the end of May one of my wife's uncles died. He lived in Utah and her parents decided to drive out for the funeral. They offered to bring their large 12 passenger van and pick up a load of our stuff to take back to Missouri for us. It would save us a ton of money and hassle. The plan was to live without most of our stuff for the duration of June until we moved then hopefully fit what was left into our mini-van.

Striking a balance between what we needed to live for one month and what we could fit in our van was impossible. On Saturday, May 24th we decided that we would move early. We weren't taking our furniture and we only lived in a small two-bedroom apartment. We were confident we could fit everything we needed into the 12-passenger van with some overflow into our mini-van. We left Utah on the 28th and arrived in Missouri late on the 29th.

In the morning of Saturday, May 31st, the last day of May, just 36 hours after arriving in Missouri, my 11-year-old brother-in-law was involved in a serious accident. He was partially crushed by a backhoe. He sustained 13 broken ribs and a punctured lung.

My wife and I quickly remembered the conversations we had while deciding when to move. "Something terrible is going to happen." "June is too late."

We wish that we had listened to the gentle prompting about moving in May, but we're grateful that God found a way to get us to Missouri on time anyways. We marvel at the simple yet profound nature of the knowledge he shared with us. June was too late.

My brother-in-law has recovered well. He doesn't have his full strength back yet, but for weeks he's been running, wrestling, working, swinging on ropes, and all sorts of other things that farm boys do. His rapid recovery was quite miraculous too.

Friday, May 23, 2014

How unsearchable are his judgments -- How flawed are mine

I'm quite judgmental of other drivers on the road. I label drivers based on their acceleration, their speed, their ability to stay in the lines, whether they're using a cell phone, their age, their gender, how they sit in the seat, and how they hold the steering wheel. I almost make a game out of it, trying to guess some of those variables while only knowing a few. Young females using cell-phones are the easiest to predict.

I was surprised when I saw someone I knew driving the speed limit on the highway in a wide-eyed, stiff-armed, 10-and-2 driving position. He was obviously unconfident and nervous. I hadn't seen him for almost a year, so I quickly ran through everything I knew about him. We used to ride the bus together from Spanish fork to Salt Lake. I often watched him closely because he was somewhat of an enigma. He was tall, a little more broad and bulky than I was, and had a shaved head. He looked like a marine. But I only ever saw him with a suite on. He worked in the editing for the LDS church. I tried talking to him once but couldn't get much of a conversation going. I suppose what intrigued me most is that his looks never matched his manners.

Then the following thoughts rushed through my mind:
  • "How sad that he has to drive every day between Spanish Fork and Salt Lake on this crazy highway."
  • "I bet it's nerve racking for him."
  • "He must do it because the train is unreliable and takes too long."
  • "I pity him for not being able to get a job closer to home."
  • "Boy, some people sure have it rough in life."
  • "I wish there was more I could do to help people beyond my immediate sphere of influence."
Suddenly I felt an unusually extreme amount of compassion for this man I knew, and for many other people in the world that I didn't know. And then the Spirit spoke to me:
I am the Good Shepherd, and I know my sheep.
The thought brought comfort laced in chastisement. My pity almost brought me to question the usefulness and requirement of mortality. "Show many experience show much suffering. I wish it wasn't necessary."
O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out! For who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been his counsellor? - Romans 11:33-34
Who was I to doubt the justice, mercy, and power of God?

I know that God has a plan and that mortality is a key part of it. I can't explain why some seem to be more prone to suffering than others, but I do know that the Atonement of Christ has the power to make right all that may be wrong with this life.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Burdens and Friendship on Old Rag

Every year my scout troop would camp and hike on Old Rag Mountain, the "most popular and most dangerous hike" in the Shenandoah National Park. The views on top of Old Rag mountain are spectacular, especially in the fall. The typical hike is a 9 mile circuit, hiking and bouldering up the front and then descending down the back and around the side.

We started our trips by hiking 3.8 miles up the backside on Friday night to camp near the Old Rag shelter. Saturday morning we would hike the 3.8 miles back down to the cars to drop off our camping gear, then turn back around to begin the 9 mile hike. It was a tremendous and exhilarating accomplishment for young boys.

First-timers always made the same mistake: their camping pack would be too heavy for the Friday night hike. 3.8 miles isn't too far; it's a steady uphill incline that makes it feel like forever if you're not prepared. Chris made the same mistake his first time. We weren't even 2 miles into it when he started getting lethargic and grumbly. It was the worst I had seen.

I got behind Chris and begin to push on his pack. There were two thoughts going through my head: first, he needs all the help he can get; second, he needs to know he's not alone. It seemed to work. Chris began to move faster and complain less. Slowly I backed off how hard I was pushing until I wasn't pushing at all but just kept my hand on his pack. He kept pace for the rest of the hike up to the shelter.

That experience taught me a profound lesson about sharing the burdens of our friends.
Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ. - Galatians 6:2

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Gabriel's Baptismal Prophecy

While serving in an area around Villa Alemana, Chile, I met a 15-year-old boy name Gabriel. He had been attending church for eight to ten months alone. Well, he had friends at church but no family; his parents didn't want anything to do with the Mormons. Gabriel wanted to be baptized into the church but his parents wouldn't let him (anyone below the age of 18 needs parental permission).

Gabriel was intelligent, outgoing, and spiritually inclined. You couldn't tell that he wasn't baptized, nor that he had only been attending church for under a year. Everybody wanted nothing more than for his parents to grant him permission.

One day we saw Gabriel walking home with his parents. I told my companion that I wanted to meet them, but my companion didn't recommend it. I felt courageous, if not a little brazen. By then I had been in Chile for at least 18 months so there wasn't much that would phase me. As we caught up to them and yelled hello, his parents quickly picked up their pace and left Gabriel behind with us. Perhaps my companion was right. They really didn't want anything to do with us.

Some time later (days or weeks), we ran into Gabriel while visiting another member's home. We took advantage of the opportunity to share a scripture with him. I felt impressed to share D&C 31:1-3, replacing the name Thomas with Gabriel (and of course we were actually reading this in Spanish).
Gabriel, my son, blessed are you because of your faith in my work.

Behold, you have had many afflictions because of your family; nevertheless, I will bless you and your family, yea, your little ones; and the day cometh that they will believe and know the truth and be one with you in my church.

Lift up your heart and rejoice, for the hour of your mission is come; and your tongue shall be loosed, and you shall declare glad tidings of great joy unto this generation.
I told him this was prophetic of events in his life: he would soon be baptized and eventually see some of his family members join him in the church. It was difficult to see how it could happen, but the Spirit manifested strongly to all of us that it was true.

Gabriel mentioned that he was prepared to leave or be shunned by his family if that's what it took to be baptized. I asked him when he made that decision. Gabriel responded, "The day that my parents were willing to leave me behind with two good friends from the church."

Gabriel's 16th birthday was coming soon. He only asked his parents for one thing: permission to be baptized into the Mormon church. The ward held a special fast for him. To our surprise his parents allowed us to join a portion of the celebration in their home. It would be the first time that missionaries were in his home.

Sure enough, Gabriel excitedly called us a few days later to say that his parents gave him permission to be baptized. The first part of the prophecy was fulfilled. He served a mission when he was 19 and baptized his little brother. The second part of the prophecy is being fulfilled.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Your prayers have entered into the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth

One day, when I was about 16, I was particularly troubled about something. I retreated to my bedroom to petition the Lord for relief. I said a prayer then opened my scriptures and began reading where I had previously left off at D&C 97. Afterwards, I knelt down and prayed again then left my room to continue on with my day. I was only a few steps out of my room when an impression from the Spirit told me to go back and continue reading the scriptures. I cannot describe how overwhelmingly strong the feeling was. I do not remember questioning it; I don't remember wondering where it came from nor whether I should listen to it. The instant I felt it, I turned around and returned to my bed to continue reading. I opened up to D&C 98 and read the first three verses:
Verily I say unto you my friends, fear not, let your hearts be comforted; yea, rejoice evermore, and in everything give thanks;
2 Waiting patiently on the Lord, for your prayers have entered into the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth, and are recorded with this seal and testament—the Lord hath sworn and decreed that they shall be granted.
Therefore, he giveth this promise unto you, with an immutable covenant that they shall be fulfilled; and all things wherewith you have been afflicted shall work together for your good, and to my name’s glory, saith the Lord.
I was astounded. "Your prayers have entered into the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth." I could not deny that my prayers had been heard after that powerful answer. It was a pivotal experience in the development of my faith. Since then, I have not doubted that God hears all of our prayers.