Several weeks ago, a member of the stake presidency asked for input about having a special stake fast for moisture.  The area where we live has been in a drought for a few years.  Interestingly, not long after this discussion, the severity of the drought was highlighted in local news.

In addition to fasting, a suggestion was made that we teach the doctrines associated with the land.  Specifically, for our sabbath day observance, the Lord promises the blessing of rain (see Leviticus 26).  Also, we are promised that our obedience to the law of tithing will open the windows of heaven and that the devourer will be rebuked and the fruit of the land will be spared.  By focusing our efforts on improving sabbath day observance and paying a full tithe, we would be entitled to the promised blessings.

I have participated before in group fasts when family or ward members had special needs.  These were always positive experiences.  I believe in the power of uniting our faith and prayers and fasting for a common cause.  Still, for the drought, I questioned in my mind how effective a fast of a few hundred people in a relatively small geographical area would be in reversing a drought that affects most if not all of the state and probably multiple states.

Our stake’s fast for moisture was on Sunday, Jan. 26th.  A few days later, a storm came through, and we were blessed with moisture.  Farmers requested that people fast for moisture on Sunday, Feb. 2nd, and since then, we have had frequent rain, and more importantly, the mountains have received so much snow that avalanches are now a danger.

I am grateful that our stake leaders were inspired to hold a special fast.  I am sure that many others in this area have been fasting and praying for the needed moisture.  Although more rain and snow is needed in the next month or two, our prayers have been answered, weather patterns have changed, and we will have sufficient water for the coming year.

Displaying 20140212_070700.jpgFor several days, I’ve been wanting to write about Love, and what better day than Valentine’s Day?  (Credit for the title goes to Howard Jones.)  I will not attempt to define love but want to describe the outpouring of love that I have witnessed this past week and how that has changed me.

Since last week, my wife and our family have been overwhelmed with love.  The first acts of love and kindness that I witnessed were friends and neighbors that came within hours of my father-in-law’s passing on to express condolences to my wife’s mother and family.  That night, my son was about 45 miles away at college.  Two friends stopped what they were doing to drive almost 100 miles round trip so that our son could be with his family.  Displaying 20140212_070134.jpg

The next day, after dealing with the funeral home and cemetery for several hours, my mother-in-law’s neighbor showed up with a crockpot of hot soup, bread, and cookies just as we returned to her house.

When we returned to our own home, a former bishop was there wi20140212_070549th hugs, flowers, and chocolate.  Another neighbor brought a plant, and a good friend arrived later with rolls and stayed to visit with my wife.  Someone else thoughtfully brought by lots of food that was leftover from a school event.

During the next few days, everywhere we were surrounded with love.  Several people brought beautiful flowers and plants or had them delivered to our house.  Messages of love and support poured in via text and social media.

A sister and her family drove a considerable distance to express their love by decorating our door with hand-cut hearts, each with encouraging words or adorably drawn pictures.  Displaying 20140210_194031.jpgThe door decorating was repeated twice, once by a dear neighbor that enlisted the help of her family, and again by the beehives in the ward.

On the morning of the funeral, a visiting teacher arrived with dozens of rolls.  A good family friend took half of her day to attend the funeral and cemetery with us.  Another neighbor later brought homemade bread in a bag decorated with hearts.  At church, a neighbor that had also lost his grandmother on the same day, expressed his sincere condolences and his love for our family.  At the end of church, after a lesson about the plan of salvation, a prayer was offered for our family.

I don’t think that I have ever been the recipient of so much love from so many people.  I can’t speak for others, but this outpouring of love sustained and energized me.  This experience has given me a whole new perspective.  I feel grateful.  I feel more empathy for others and a greater desire to serve.  I feel more apt to be kind.

I don’t know how else to describe it, but I feel changed and hope that this is only the beginning of such feelings.

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Wow- I have not posted anything here in a long, long time.  Whenever I do have ideas that I want to express, and I begin writing, one idea morphs to another, and before I know it, instead of a tidy little thought, I have a jumble of half-baked ideas, and I can’t quite muster the time or energy to concisely articulate what I sought out to say.

The last few days have been an emotional roller coaster.  I want to record the experiences I have had, not necessarily for anyone else to read, but mostly for me to remember.

This past Wednesday, February 5th, at about 5:30pm, we were notified that my wife’s father had passed away.  He was rehabilitating from knee replacement surgery and was recovering well.  He was in good health for a 75 year old, and we were all shocked by the news.  Rather than going through all of the events that transpired, I want to focus this post on my memories of my father-in-law.  In a later post I hope to describe the outpouring of love that I have witnessed and how this has changed me.

My father-in-law was a kind, generous man.  From the first time that I met him, he made me feel welcome and comfortable in his home and always treated me as part of the family.  When I married his daughter, he insisted on giving us a vehicle to use, and I believe we are currently using the fourth vehicle that he either gave us or sold to us for a nominal price.  He has done the same for his other daughters.  When we purchased our first home, without our asking, he loaned us money to increase our down payment.  He took my family to Disneyland more times than I can count, and he always repaid us for much more than his share of the expenses.  Whenever we visited his home, we could not leave without him offering us a treat and making sure that my children had their favorite beverages.  He often sent me home with rhubarb, peaches, or tomatoes from his garden.

Perhaps his greatest gift to us was his unique personality, which I don’t think I could ever quite adequately describe.  He loved to record things, and kept a daily record of the high and low temperatures, rainfall, and probably other details that I am missing.  He recorded the size and weight of different kinds of tomatoes that he grew.  On our trips, he would record the time that we left, the time of each stop, the temperature, what we spent on food, and the gas mileage.  He knew the exact the number of miles from Lehi to Anaheim, where to stop along the way, etc.  He had nicknames for cars, people, and buildings.  His level of frugality rivaled my own.  Even though he had brand new slippers, he would wear old ones, held together by duct tape.

He was a fun, interesting man and will be truly missed.

Our priesthood lesson yesterday was on forgiveness.

I was reminded of the poem, Forgiveness Flour.  When I googled “forgiveness flour,” I was quite surprised to find that I already did this post over two years ago.

About the poem, I definitely identify with the author, carefully clinging to that which I should freely give.  I need to learn to be more generous and anxious to give and to love unconditionally.

As I read what I wrote then, I wish I could feel like I have improved or developed or progressed in this ability, but I’m really not sure that that is the case.

 

We had an interesting discussion in our High Priest Group meeting today about staying on the Lord’s side of the line (Lesson 18).

I especially liked the instructor’s comment about honest, frequent self evaluation.  If we are daily reviewing our actions, words, thoughts, and desires, and if we quickly recognize and admit even the small errors we make, we will not stray far from the straight and narrow path.

This discussion reminded me of a talk from President Uchtdorf where he uses an airplane analogy to illustrate an important lesson.  An airplane, if only off course by one or two degrees will not reach its intended destination and could have a tragic conclusion.

“Small errors and minor drifts away from the doctrine of the gospel of Jesus Christ can bring sorrowful consequences into our lives. It is therefore of critical importance that we become self-disciplined enough to make early and decisive corrections to get back on the right track and not wait or hope that errors will somehow correct themselves.”

“The longer we delay corrective action, the larger the needed changes become, and the longer it takes to get back on the correct course—even to the point where a disaster might be looming.”

The rest of the talk is available here.

I think that the most beautiful aspect of the gospel is that where we are is not as important as the direction that we are headed, and no matter how far off course we may have strayed, if we desire to return, Jesus Christ and the Atonement are there and will help us return if we allow them.

I just finished watching NBC’s Rock Center:  Mormon in America program.

For the most part, I thought it was very well done and probably as good as could be expected.   Given that the main premise seemed to be that the LDS faith is not well understood by the majority of Americans, it seemed like a fairly good effort to portray different aspects of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Obviously, 40 minutes of airtime is inadequate to cover such a big topic.  I thought that the interviews with members and especially with the one family were very good, and I would have liked to see more of that, as I think that is where you really see what the Church is and what it means to its members.  Although I think the former members added an interesting perspective, it seemed odd that those segments received so much time.  I think it would have been better to allow an active church member or leader to answer questions about garments and the temple instead of a former member.

I appreciated that the show portrayed a feminist and a gay man that are both active church members, but I wish that more time had been given to other, more core beliefs.  It was interesting that mention was made of Moroni’s angelic visitation to Joseph Smith, but there was no mention that we believe that Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ also appeared and spoke with the prophet.  I expected some mention of our belief in a full restoration of Christ’s church, ordinances, and authority.

I think they easily could have distinguished between our chapels where regular services are held and to which anyone is welcome, and our temples, that are more sacred, and where only members with recommends are allowed.  This distinction was not made, and the viewer could have the impression that members are not welcome at any LDS service, which is not the case.  More could have been said about the sacredness of temples and why only worthy members are allowed to enter them.

It was odd to me that they showed a short clip of a meeting with the congregation singing a gospel-style hymn.  It didn’t bother me really, but is definitely atypical, and probably left some with the wrong impression.

I was bothered at the picture of garments.  Obviously anyone can find such a picture, but after talking with members and even former members and being told about the sacredness of garments, it seemed rather insensitive to display them as they did.

I loved what they showed about the welfare and humanitarian work of the church.  It would have taken a whole show to adequately cover this topic alone, but it was nice that they devoted some time to this.

It was interesting to watch, and I hope that many viewers have a better understanding of LDS beliefs and people.

Did you watch the show?  What did you think about it?

I love Sundays.  I usually do not look forward to some of the extra meetings that I attend with my calling.  Even after early morning meetings that I was not particularly looking forward to, I almost always come away feeling enriched, blessed, and uplifted.

Since I have not been posting much lately, I think I will try to do a post on Sundays with some of the highlights from the day.  These notes will be mainly for my own benefit but perhaps they may be of use to someone, somewhere, sometime.

Of the many wonderful talks and lessons from today, the one that most resonated with me was that we are responsible for our own happiness.  It is easy to be “reactive” and to allow other people or our circumstances to dictate our emotions.  Instead, we should be “agents” to act and to choose rather than to be acted upon.  We can be happy in the most dire situations if we choose to look for the good, and we can be miserable amidst amazing blessings and prosperity if we do not recognize the good.

By no means is this a comprehensive list, but here are a few ideas for increasing happiness:

  • notice and enjoy the simple things- a sunset, a smile, a flower, etc.
  • begin the day with a victory- get up, read the scriptures, pray, exercise
  • count your blessings; be grateful; pray to see blessings
  • keep the commandments
  • repent; turn to the Lord; rely on the Atonement
  • spend time with family and those that love you
  • love and serve others; forget self
  • attend the temple and worship
  • remember that gospel means “good news”
  • smile more

I had an interesting experience a few weeks ago that has been on my mind since then.  I observed a man that had dealt with a serious addiction for many years.  Because of this addiction and choices he made, he had lost everything that was most dear to him, including his wife and children.

Painting by Liz Lemon Swindle

Like the prodigal son, he eventually “came to himself.”  I believe he reached the point where he recognized that he needed a major course correction.  He realized that he could not have peace or happiness while being enslaved to addiction.  He was fortunate to know that help was available, and with that help and consistent effort over a long period of time, he began to turn his life around.

His wife and children returned to him, and he now is enjoying the peace and happiness that eluded him for so many years.  I was impressed with this man’s humility and can’t think of anyone with a stronger conviction of the miracle of forgiveness.  Although I do not know all of the details of his conversion, I believe that his humble conviction and quiet strength were developed through prayer and fasting, scripture study, pondering, forgiving, sincerely repenting, and seeking the Savior.

I feel fortunate to not be enslaved to the typical vices, but I think that the less obvious “sins” of omission carry with them their own set of challenges that can be just as difficult to overcome.  Elder Bednar said it well:  “Sometimes I wonder if in our latter-day world of ease- in our world of microwave ovens and cell phones and air-conditioned cars and comfortable homes- we ever learn to acknowledge our daily dependence upon the enabling power of the Atonement.”  Perhaps my addiction is to comfort and to complacency.

Elder Hales’ conference talk gives the antidote for all addiction:  “I testify that the sacrament gives us an opportunity to come to ourselves and experience a ‘mighty change’ of heart- to remember who we are and what we most desire.”

I am amazed when I witness miraculous changes in others and hope that I too am learning to rely on the Savior’s power to change me.

While I was thinking about New Year’s resolutions and goals, I hadn’t even considered the importance of being inspired.  I was reading a story this morning about John Rhode, this year’s “Biggest Loser” winner, when I realized that being inspired is critical to success with goals.

I am always inspired by people like John that accomplish great things.  John lost 225 pounds and transformed his life!  If I remember correctly, he said that he was motivated by thoughts of his family.  He knew that his wife was at home and was struggling to take care of their two young children, so he wanted to make every moment count.

There are many inspiring stories of people that overcame tremendous obstacles to reach their goals and fulfill their dreams.  Erik Weihenmayer, in spite of being blind, climbed Mount Everest and later completed the “Seven Summits.”  Bethany Hamilton, a competitive surfer that lost her arm in shark attack, returned to competitive surfing as soon as she could.

For most of us, our goals probably do not include losing hundreds of pounds, climbing the world’s tallest peaks, or winning surfing competitions.  Perhaps life’s greatest achievements are not those that are recognized by the world but are those simple victories that only the achiever knows about.  Maybe our greatest accomplishment is to be our best self- to overcome selfishness, anger, pride, or whatever weaknesses we may have.  I wonder if our greatest success could be to become a wonderful spouse, a terrific parent, an exceptional child, or a sensational sibling.

Amy Purdy’s experience in the video below is inspiring.  It is not a challenge to find inspiring examples; the challenge, at least for me, is avoiding distractions and having the discipline to consistently stick with goals until they become habits.

More ideas soon….

A few days ago, I began writing ideas about goals. It is relatively easy for me to make goals. But I find that I am not nearly as good at execution (that is, working the goal, accomplishing; not murdering, although that probably could be used to describe what has happened with some goals that I have made).

So, this series of ideas of about using goals more effectively is based not on my successes but more from the mistakes I have made. I hope that these ideas will help my goal setting and achieving for 2012, and perhaps these ideas will be of some benefit to someone else.

Where I work, as with many other companies, this time of year is when we do our year-end physical inventory. Every item in our warehouse has to be counted and tagged. The physical counts are then compared with the inventory in the system. In most cases, the system inventory is correct. But there are always some discrepancies to resolve. We sometimes find things that we didn’t know we had, or we realize that some things were missing that we thought were in inventory. In the end, everything is reconciled so that we have a true statement of the value of the company’s inventory.

It isn’t a perfect analogy, but as we approach the end of one year and the beginning of a new one, it is also a great time to take a personal inventory. I might ask myself questions like:

  • What are my strengths? Am I utilizing them? How can I develop these strengths and gifts to build, uplift, and strengthen others?
  • What are my weaknesses? What can I do to improve in these areas?
  • In the eternal view, what are the things that matter most? How can I more consistently avoid distractions and choose the best things?
  • What stewardships do I have, and how can I magnify them?

There are other similar questions, but I think a key part of making goals and resolutions is to first do an honest self assessment. I like this quote from Elder Wirthlin: “I urge you to examine your life. Determine where you are and what you need to do to be the kind of person you want to be. Create inspiring, noble, and righteous goals that fire your imagination and create excitement in your heart. And then keep your eye on them. Work consistently towards achieving them.”

Stay tuned for more ideas…..

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