Snapshots of Life

Sunday, December 11, 2011

My Grace is Sufficient

It has been forever since I posted. I've been more busy than I have in years, or maybe ever! Anyway, my counselors and I were asked to speak in sacrament meeting today. I thought I would post my talk. I tend to always write a much longer talk than I have time for, so I had to cut this way back in the meeting. Here it is in its full form:

My dear brothers and sisters, the Savior taught His disciples that where two or three are gathered together in His name, He would be in the midst of them (Matt 18:20). We have gathered together in the name of Christ as a congregation of saints. I prayerfully invite Him, through His Spirit, to continue to be in the midst of us and in our hearts as I share these remarks. I have fervently sought His guidance and acknowledge my need for His strength and inspiration in this assignment.

We have heard much about power this afternoon. What is the power we have referred to and from whence does it come? Power can be defined simply as the ability or capacity to do, to act, or to accomplish effectively. The scriptures teach us that our Heavenly Father “worketh by power” (Moro. 10:7). We also learn that “a man (or woman) may have great power given him from God” (Mosiah 8:16). Let us remember this as we proceed – that God works by power and that He is willing to share that great power with His children. Let us also hold in our mind the question: In regard to the power of God, which He is so willing to bestow, am I living up to my privileges?

At this Christmas season we are often drawn to the beautiful passages of the Gospels that tell of Jesus’ miraculous birth. In what are likely some of the most familiar verses of scripture in all of Christendom we read that Mary “brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger” (Luke 2:7). To the lowly shepherds abiding in their fields the angel appeared, saying, “Behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day…a savior, which is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:10-11). Is it possible that we were among that heavenly host accompanying the angel singing “Glory to God in the highest”?! The sacred event was surely cause for celebration in the realms of heaven! It is a moving image indeed to consider the humble shepherds kneeling before the Lamb of God, slain from before the foundation of the world. He was the king of Israel, yet in this moment His royal courts were a stable and His throne a bed of hay.

Why is the birth of Jesus called “good tidings of great joy”? What cause do we have now to sing with the heavenly host or kneel at the mangerside? John declares, “In the beginning was the word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth…And as many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God” (Jn 1:1, 12, 14). Can we fathom it, brothers and sisters? That the God of heaven and earth came to live as man? To dwell with man? Even more remarkable, that He came to give us power to become His sons and daughters? Paul said, “For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for [our] sakes he became poor, that [we] through his poverty might be rich” (2 Cor. 8:9). If ever there was reason to rejoice, is this not it?

What is this power then to which John refers? It is grace! From where does it come? Only through the atonement of Jesus Christ. Jacob, the brother of Nephi, taught:

Wherefore, redemption cometh in and through the Holy Messiah; for he is full of grace and truth. Behold, he offereth himself a sacrifice for sin, to answer the ends of the law, unto all those who have a broken heart and a contrite spirit;…there is no flesh that can dwell in the presence of God, save it be through the merits, and mercy, and grace of the Holy Messiah… (2 Ne. 2:6-8).

According the Bible Dictionary, grace is the “divine means of help or strength given through the bounteous mercy and love of Jesus Christ”. It is the enabling power of the atonement that opens the way for man to be forgiven of sins, to rise in immortality, and ultimately to inherit eternal life and exaltation. This is foundational to our doctrine and something we all know and understand. A less understood (and less applied) truth regarding grace is that it is also the wonderful power by which man receives “strength and assistance” beyond his natural or mortal capacity in the activities and vicissitudes of life. Elder David A Bednar has instructed:

I suspect that you and I are much more familiar with the nature of the redeeming power of the Atonement than we are with the enabling power of the Atonement. It is one thing to know that Jesus Christ came to earth to die for us. That is fundamental and foundational to the doctrine of Christ. But we also need to appreciate that the Lord desires, through His Atonement and by the power of the Holy Ghost, to live in us--not only to direct us but also to empower us…I frankly do not think many of us "get it" concerning this enabling and strengthening aspect of the Atonement, and I wonder if we mistakenly believe we must make the journey from good to better and become a saint all by ourselves through sheer grit, willpower, and discipline, and with our obviously limited capacities. (David A. Bednar, In the Strength of the Lord, BYU Devotional October 23, 2001).

It is obvious to us that no man can receive eternal life on his own. No matter how righteous we think we are, no matter how smart or capable, no matter how skilled or gifted we may be, we know that “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). We know that we need Christ to overcome our sin. But do we know, do we believe, do we live the doctrine of the empowering Christ? Do we seek His grace – that enabling power – in the happenings of our everyday life? Too many of us, I’m afraid, focus on our own “grit, willpower, and discipline” (or perceived lack thereof), only to leave us discouraged by power that is deficient in doing and being all that we hope to do and be. In the meantime, we lose focus on the Messiah, whose grace is fully sufficient! (Ether 12:27).

Truly, the empowering Christ gives us cause to rejoice. It is the atonement of Jesus Christ that can enable us in our roles as husbands, wives, and parents to make us more than we are on our own. It is by the grace of God, through His son, that we can exercise and benefit from power in the priesthood. From the effects of the Savior’s great expiation we can be strengthened beyond our natural capacity in our callings and responsibilities as saints. It is by grace that we have access to the Holy Ghost with all of its attendant gifts. It is by grace that we can be assisted in our friendships, our occupations, and our personal strivings. It is by grace that we not only receive forgiveness of sin, but receive strength to overcome it. It is grace that provides comfort in trial. No wonder Paul so passionately invited, “Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb 4:16).

The powerful apostle Paul was no stranger to grace. He reveals in his second epistle to the Corinthians that he was given a “thorn in the flesh”, which evidently caused him significant affliction. We do not know what his thorn in the flesh was, but Paul says that he “besought the Lord thrice” to remove this trial. I am told that in the original Greek this connotes not just three prayers, but three periods of prayer. We might safely assume that his supplications were fervent, faith-filled, and accompanied by fasting and obedience. The mighty apostle shares with us the result of his beseeching. The thorn in the flesh was not removed but God responded to his prayers.

“And he (God) said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.” Paul goes on to say, “Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me…for when I am weak, then am I strong” (2 Cor 12:9-10).

What a comforting truth! His grace is sufficient! His strength is made perfect in weakness! We might ask ourselves: Am I struggling with a thorn in the flesh? Perhaps I am burdened by some weakness or I feel overwhelmed with inadequacy. Maybe I am crippled by doubt or isolated by loneliness. Am I bound in the chains of addiction, bereft in crushing loss, consumed in anger? Am I grappling with illness or disability? Has a loved one strayed? Am I overcome with temptation? The reassuring word of the Lord, repeated time and time again throughout the scriptures, is, “My grace is sufficient!” Remember the sacred scene at the temple in Bountiful following the Savior’s appearance to the people in the Americas. The Great Physician was moved with love and invited all who were present, “Have ye any that are sick among you? Bring them hither. Have ye any that are lame, or blind, or halt, or maimed, or leprous, or that are withered, or that are deaf, or that are afflicted in any manner? Bring them hither and I will heal them, for I have compassion upon you; my bowels are filled with mercy” (3 Ne. 17:7). I imagine that in this case healing meant the immediate removal of the affliction, but I am convinced that many times healing occurs over time. Like Paul, we can receive grace wherein the power of Christ rests upon us to make us perfect in weakness, though our thorns may remain. In this kind of affliction, no matter the affliction, the pain of the heart that results from it can be “swallowed up in Christ” and literally healed, even when sometimes the affliction persists! This is what the people of Alma experienced when God “strengthened them that they could bear up their burdens with ease” so much that they “could not feel them” and did submit “cheerfully” to the will of the Lord (Mosiah 24:14-16). Of this form of merciful grace I am both a witness and a recipient.

If we are not careful we may misunderstand the oft-quoted scripture from 2nd Nephi, “it is by grace we are saved, after all we can do” (2 Ne. 25:23). Brother Brad Wilcox, quoting Elder Bruce C. Hafen explains, “’The Savior’s gift of grace to us is not necessarily limited in time to ‘after’ all we can do. We may receive his grace before, during and after the time when we expend our own efforts’ (The Broken Heart [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1989], 155). So grace is not a booster engine that kicks in once our fuel supply is exhausted. Rather, it is our constant energy source. It is not the light at the end of the tunnel but the light that moves us through the tunnel. Grace is not achieved somewhere down the road. It is received right here and right now. It is not a finishing touch; it is the Finisher’s touch (see Hebrews 12:2).”

We access God’s sufficient grace through faith in Jesus Christ. Recall the words of the prophet Ether, “And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.” (Ether 12:27). To have faith in Jesus Christ means to have confidence in Him, His character, and His promises (see Bible Dictionary). Faith is a principle of action that results in power. Thus, as we have faith in Christ we look to Him and try to follow Him. We act to keep His commandments, to repent of our sins, and to receive saving ordinances. We strive to adopt His divine nature and to trust in His will for our lives. Mormon taught, “And Christ hath said: If ye will have faith in me ye shall have power to do whatsoever thing is expedient in me” (Moro. 7:33). What is the power we receive as we exercise faith? I suggest that it is the enabling power of the atonement – the grace of Jesus Christ.

Let us remember that sometimes faith takes away our challenges, but most of the time it accesses grace to help us through them. Elder Richard G. Scott proclaimed:

Even if you exercise your strongest faith, God will not always reward you immediately according to your desires. Rather, God will respond with what in His eternal plan is best for you. He loves you to a depth and completeness you cannot conceive of in your mortal state. Indeed, were you to know His entire plan, you would never ask for that which is contrary to it even though your feelings tempt you to do so. Sincere faith gives understanding and strength to accept the will of our Heavenly Father when it differs from our own" (Elder Richard G. Scott, The Sustaining Power of Faith, Ensign, May 2003).

Ironically, even faith itself comes as a gift by grace. William Tyndale, the bold reformer and vessel through which God worked to translate much of the Bible into English, wisely spoke, “Now faith…is the gift of God, given us by grace…I never deserved it, nor prepared myself unto it; but ran another way clean contrary in my blindness, and sought not that way; but he sought me, and found me out, and showed it me, and therewith drew me to him. And I bow the knees of my heart unto God night and day, that he will show it all other men” (William Tyndale, An Answer to Sir Thomas More’s Dialogue).

Powerful faith and powerful grace require a powerful price. Elder Bruce C. Hafen has explained:

We need grace both to overcome sinful weeds and to grow divine flowers. We can do neither one fully by ourselves. But grace is not cheap. It is very expensive, even very dear. How much does this grace cost? Is it enough simply to believe in Christ? The man who found the pearl of great price gave “all that he had” for it. If we desire “all that [the] Father hath,” God asks all that we have. To qualify for such exquisite treasure, in whatever way is ours, we must give the way Christ gave—every drop He had…Our all by itself is still only almost enough—until it is finished by the all of Him who is the “finisher of our faith.” At that point, our imperfect but consecrated almost is enough." (Elder Bruce C. Hafen, The Atonement: All for All, Ensign May 2004).

Christ has called us to “deny [ourselves], and take up our cross, and follow [him]” (Matt. 16:24).

From the JST we learn that to take up our cross is to deny ourselves of all ungodliness and every worldly lust. We remember that crucifixion was a cruel way to die. It was also a shameful way to die. Jewish tradition said, “cursed is the man who hangs from a tree”. Imagine, the God of Heaven, He who was without shame, carrying a cross of shame upon which He would die! But those who had eyes to see kneeled before their thorn-crowned King, whose throne was the cruel cross in the royal courts of Calvary. Surely, “He was wounded for our transgression, He was bruised for our iniquity” (Isa. 53:5). It seems to me that by inviting us to take up our cross, He is inviting us to take up our shame, our sin, our pain, our worldly inclinations – no matter what they are or how we came to possess them – and to follow Him to Gethsemane and Golgotha. In those holy places of discipleship we are required to give our all, just as He gave His.

Moroni says it this way, “Yea, come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness; and if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness, and love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ; and if by the grace of God ye are perfect in Christ, ye can in nowise deny the power of God” (Moro. 10:32). Indeed, it is through grace that we become heirs, heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ, to become perfect even as they are (Titus 3:7; Rom 8:17).

In giving us this assignment to speak today Brother Hansen asked that we bear testimony and share with the congregation not only what we know but how we know. In this spirit I hope you will forgive me if I turn autobiographical. Close to twenty years ago I experienced a Christmas that I will never forget. My brothers and sister and I were filled with the excitement and entitlement of the season. I distinctly remember providing a whole catalogue to my mom to pass onto Santa with numerous circled items as my Christmas list. The much anticipated day finally arrived. At the time I had a paper route with my brother that required us to get up very early, even on Christmas morning. My room was in the basement. I made my way up the stairs expecting to see heaps of gifts piled under our light-covered tree in the living room at the top of the stairs. But instead, to my horror and dismay, I discovered that there was not one single gift under the tree! By this time I had been fully enlightened regarding the source of gifts on Christmas morning and I was quite annoyed with “Santa Clause”. Had he been too lazy or mean to deliver our presents? Could he even do that legally, I wondered? Throughout the paper route I stewed about this situation. I grew more and more anxious and angry with each toss of the paper. I decided that the presents better be there when I returned.

You might imagine that the first thing I did after I got home was hurry back to the living room to check the status of the tree. I quickly but quietly headed down the hallway, past the family room, into the entry, and turned the corner. To my shock and disbelief there was still not one single gift anywhere to be seen! And then, I saw it. My eyes were drawn to what I had previously failed to see in my rush and in my selfishness. Under the tree was a large picture of Jesus Christ. As is so often the case with spiritual learning it is difficult to describe what then took place for me. All in a moment I knew. I knew that I had been selfish, I knew that I had missed the mark. I knew that Jesus is the Christ and that He is the real reason for the season. The Spirit struck with such great force and power that it was as if, for a moment, that living room became like unto His heavenly courts and the Christmas tree His throne. There before the evergreen tree, the brilliant lights, and the crowning star – all symbols of His miraculous birth and mission – my little Spirit could not be constrained. I instinctively, literally fell to my knees in reverent worship with tear-stained cheeks. It is a sacred moment in a chain of grace-filled experiences wherein God, in His kindness, has spoken to my heart and strengthened me onward in His path. Those experiences have prepared me for and sustained me in all that has followed in my life.

I bear my witness that God lives and that His grace is sufficient. He is truly in the details of our lives and empowers us in our weakness. I humbly acknowledge His everlasting kindness in my behalf and gratefully praise Him. I know that Jesus is the Christ, the living son of the living God. He is my source of strength and succor. He has led me through my years as a child and been a lamp unto my feet. He has sustained me in the mission field, directed and magnified me in my studies, taught me in my callings, and answered my fervent prayers in time of need. He has spoken softly to me in quiet moments of revelation and chastened me in my pride and selfishness. He has blessed me with the miracle of eternal marriage and the gift of a child. He has been my comfort as I lay on a jungle floor, with guns at my back in the highlands of Guatemala. But perhaps even more important and certainly more profound, He has been my hope in the face of excruciating emotional and spiritual trial; trial found in the secret chambers of my heart but nevertheless known by Him who, as Paul said, “has been touched with the feeling of our infirmities”. I have gone before His throne of grace and He has fully proffered it, not always in ways or in timetables that I have asked, but He has always given. I join with Jacob, “Yea, my soul delighteth in his grace, and in his justice, and power and mercy in the great and eternal plan” (2 Ne. 11:5).

I have faith that the day will come, if I honor my covenants, when I will kneel before His literal throne. Then He will stretch forth His powerful but gentle hands of grace. Those same hands that have broken bread in sacred settings, that have given sight to the blind, and healed the sick, those same hands that were clasped in the agony of Gethsemane and wounded in brutal crucifixion, will also touch me! Then I will be fully healed – my wounds bound up, my robes washed white, my spirit freed – and so shall it be for all. Until then, His amazing grace will be my power in weakness.

I close with words from the great vision of the prophet Joseph, “And thus we saw the glory of the celestial, which excels in all things—where God, even the Father, reigns upon his throne forever and ever; Before whose throne all things bow in humble reverence, and give him glory forever and ever. They who dwell in his presence are the church of the Firstborn; and they see as they are seen, and know as they are known, having received of his fulness and of his grace; And he makes them equal in power, and in might, and in dominion. (D&C 76:92-95). In the name of the giver of all grace, even Jesus Christ, amen.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Friends of my Youth

So much for blogging frequently! Though I have failed in my attempt to complete this series on praise in "several weeks" as I wrote at the outset, I would like to continue now. I recognize that at this rate I will be praising all year long, but I suppose that's not necessarily a bad thing. Today I would like to turn to my friends. There is a proverb that states, "the rich hath many friends" (Prov. 14:20). The preceding phrase in that verse refers to the poor, so I assume that this proverb quoted above is referring to people being drawn toward a rich man because of his wealth. I would like to assert, however, that the inverse of the proverb carries even more truth. We might say instead, "the man with many friends is rich." I don't know that I have many friends, but I sure have been blessed with some good ones!

I feel strongly that the Lord had a hand in guiding my parents to where they ended up in their move from Tooele to Salt Lake when I was 6 years old. I had the great opportunity to be a part of a neighborhood and ward that had enough kids to form a good group of friends but not too many to get lost in a huge crowd. Our neighborhood was also just barely inside the southern boundaries to attend Granite High, which in my teenage years became the environment for the greatest blessings of my life, aside from my home. That may sound silly, but the unique circumstances of that setting, and the incredible people and experiences found therein, could likely not have been duplicated elsewhere. The friends found in these places have had profound impacts on my development.

One of my first memories after moving into our home in West Valley was of Dorothy Gunderson bringing over coolers with some food inside. We must not have yet had a fridge hooked up and this was a kind and welcoming gesture from a neighbor. I don't recall how or when I actually met her son Brian, but he was a friend from the beginning. I have very fond memories of time spent at the Gundersons and around the neighborhood with Brian. We did get into our fair share of mischief, including frequent doorbell ditching, launching of various items from behind the safety of the cinderblock wall onto 4100 South at passing cars, and prank phone calls. But, overall, we were pretty good kids. At the end of junior high and then again at the end of high school we drifted apart some, I have great regrets about that, but thankfully we exchanged some letters during the mission and spent time together in the same student ward after we got home.

Brian is a man of many talents. I have never known a person closely who is as naturally gifted in his talents as he is. Just about anything I know about camping, fishing, and scouting I learned from Brian and his dad. He has a seemingly inborn gift to design and create. I still have a dream catcher that he made for me in junior high that could knock the socks off of any Native. He and his family do the most amazing carpentry you will ever see. In addition to this he plays the banjo with remarkable skill. What's more amazing is that it seems like he learned it over night. One day no one in our little group had even heard of Brian playing the banjo and the next he was literally a professional! What's more than all of this is Brian's kindness toward me. I do not ever recall a time when Brian was mean or cruel to me, not ever. For one who was sometimes teased, and within myself perceived unacceptance from others (probably mistakenly) for not being very athletic, this was a a friendship of comfort and safety for me.

Julie Memmott was my very first friend in the new neighborhood. My immediate next door neighbor and one of the youngest of 9 children, she became a hang out partner from the very first day we moved in. Swimming, jumping on the trampoline, playing Super Mario, making up crazy songs ("Dick Mano, Dick Mano, Dick Mano is the best softball coach"), and doing the Boot Scootin' Boogie in the driveway were some of the activities I remember most. Julie even took me to a girl's choice dance our sophomore year. We had many talks over the years on summer evenings in the front yard. Julie went through some tough times in the later years of high school. She made one of the most loving and difficult decisions any woman ever has to make. For that she merits praise for eternity!

Justin Rasmussen did not live in the neighborhood but I met him during my first or second year at Granger Elementary. At the time he was the dinosaur fanatic and the school bookworm. He became a good friend through the years as we advanced to junior high and high school together. We also both served our missions in Italy. Justin is very logical and practical but also quickly finds humor in life's circumstances. He was a great sounding board for me as more of an emotional thinker, especially in my youth. I also remember greatly appreciating the fact that information shared with Justin always stayed with him. He is a loyal friend.

I met Christine Tang in an "access" program (whatever that means) in junior high. Somehow we just connected, though I think it would be fair to say that our life experiences and personalities were quite different. Despite significant hardship, Christine was full of life. She is both very intelligent and fun. Junior high is a rough time, it certainly was for me anyway. But it was Christine, among others, who ultimately made the experience a positive one for me. She provided much needed support and advice relative to the opposite sex. She was also the first person to show me, without most likely ever knowing it, the extraordinary strength and resilience of the human spirit in our crazy world! I recently made contact with her again through Facebook and discovered that she has continued to be a strong and capable woman.

I have saved Justin for last. I met Justin Bradley shortly after our move. He lived just around the corner. We quickly became best friends and remained largely connected at the hip for the next 13 years until our missions. I dare say that no single person has played more of a role in my life outside of my family. I suspect I have spent more time with him, again outside of family, than any other person on the planet. He is more like a brother than a friend. The memories are countless. From Garfield's Christmas to swingset forts, and Jackson Hole to Lake Powell, we literally spent much of our childhood together. We played in the houses being constructed where Justin split his shin open and needed stitches, we biked the "rolos", we listened to 90's music on the radio and sang along to Billy Joel. He kicked my trash at basketball, we read scriptures together, we had sleepovers, we went to movies and restaurants, we played games and went fishing. As far as I know, there was nothing that I didn't know about him and nothing that he didn't know about me. Later, we did homework together, sang together, did Madrigals and All in the Voice, made BBC runs, and went to dances and on dates in the same group. We even worked at OfficeMax together. We did baptisms in the temple in the early hours of the morning before school, always hoping to catch a glimpse of the apostles as they went to their morning meeting. We talked and talked and talked, often into the late hours of the night in the old Camry or "The Baum". We shared many formative experiences.

In our youth we were competitive and we did have a few tumultuous periods, but as we matured the competition died away and we loved one another without condition and genuinely cheered each other on. I never could be upset with him long. In high school during a very brief conflict (my fault) I literally broke out in hives that went away as soon as things resolved. We also shared many sacred experiences together, which I continue to cherish. I will never forget a time in high school when I was experiencing difficulty. I don't even remember what it was, and I'm sure if I did I would be embarrassed that it was a big deal, but at the time apparently it was. Justin wrote me a letter expressing his friendship and offering me encouragement. I still have that letter in my things and have read it a few times over the years as I have moved or been organizing. It is a reminder of very happy memories and of a faithful friend. There were no two people in the world more excited than us to receive mission calls, at least that's how I felt. We got them on the same day and opened them together. Later, we received our endowment during the same session and left for our service just a week apart. Between the time of our calls and our departure we went to the temple together weekly. After our return home I was honored to be the best man at his wedding.

Justin has many gifts and talents, among them his musical ability, his kind heart, and not the least of them is his determination. He has always had the ability to put his mind to something and to do it. He has excelled at everything he has ever put his hand to. Of the many things I could highlight about Justin, I think one of the most admirable traits he possesses is honesty. I always remember him being truthful to others. Even when he had done something wrong, he was quick to confess. He does not have a mind to deceive. To him, I offer my praise and gratitude for being a friend for so many years despite all of my shortcomings.

There are many other friends from this time period that had an impact on my life that all deserve mention, though time and space will not allow it. I began to list them but came to the conclusion that to do so here would be dangerous, as I would surely leave someone out. Someday, I hope they too will see how they have touched or taught me.

In the gospel we speak of eternal families, bound together forever to inherit Celestial glory. I like to think that we also have eternal friends, though I cannot say with any certainty that that is doctrine. Although we are not sealed together through the priesthood, we do know that "the same sociality" exists in the world beyond that exists in our world today. I hope that we will have the opportunity to associate with the people we have come to love on the earth. Time has passed and I am no longer particularly close to most of the people mentioned here, but I still love them. I still admire them and acknowledge their contributions to my life. I know that I am a little bit on the sappy side, but I'm okay with that. I've embraced it! I like to think that one day we will all see each other in our true light. Others will be blessed to see clearly the small and large ways that they have touched our lives. We in turn will be able to thank them and praise them, without the barriers that so easily prevent us from doing so fully in mortality. It seems to me that some relationships and shared experiences transcend time, even if in time there is length and drifting apart. Some bonds never die, nor does the love which created them, even if they get buried by the changing circumstances of life.

To the friends of my youth, I offer my sincere praise.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Mi Esposa y mi hija

It is only appropriate and fitting, following expressions to my family of origin, to express my praise to my own little family. This month Tania and I have been married for 3 years! We have known each other much longer than that. I met Tania in a student ward in Salt Lake. The first time I saw her I was sitting on the stand at church and she walked into the chapel to take a seat. I experienced a subtle impression that she would play an important role in my life. I cannot claim a blatant revelation of future marriage, but the quiet prompting proved true. Soon after, we actually met for the first time at a group camping trip in Moab. Despite her brushing me off initially (she will tell you a different version) we became fast friends. The details of that evolving friendship over the following years are many and I will spare you them here. Suffice it to say that, notwithstanding some minor tumult, she was my best friend, and a better friend no one could ask for. In the midst of trial she was a rock of strength and a boon of comfort. The many fun, exciting, emotional, and sacred moments we shared during this period of our relationship are cherished in the history of my life.

Tania's first and foremost desire is to do the will of the Lord. That inner inclination leads her to work hard to both do good and be good. She will be embarrassed to have me post this, but it does demonstrate her character. At one point in our friendship she was concerned that she had hurt me. She was in Boston at the time and flew across the country to make sure everything was okay. I had told her it was okay, and she knew that I would never let her spend all that money to fly to Salt Lake, so she just left a voicemail on my phone and came anyway. She loves people and works very hard to create good relationships, and that often means selfless sacrifice on her part. Later, despite my protests she took another expensive plane trip to Guatemala to be a friend to me in lonely and somewhat scary circumstances.

As many of you know, Tania is very intelligent. She attended Harvard Divinity School to receive a master's degree in theological studies. Modern academic studies of religion in most non-religious institutions are hardly places that promote real faith. In fact, in many respects they do the opposite. More than one scholar has lost their faith to intellectualism in the classrooms of theological schools. In that pressured social and academic environment, Tania did not falter in her faith. She clung to it and it grew. I don't think even I fully recognize the extraordinary faithfulness that she demonstrated during that period! Later, she was accepted to complete a PhD with full financial aide to one of the leading schools in religious studies in the country. Though I offered my full support, she chose to decline the offer for another invitation - to be a wife and mother. She has truly mingled with some of the brightest and high-status minds in the field, yet she is unconcerned with that kind of thing. She went from Harvard University to Richmond, Utah, and as far as I know never looked back. She cares nothing about wealth, status, or prestige; instead focusing on striving to be a good human being in the sphere she is in.

Tania is a great wife and mother. She is selfless, compassionate, and forgiving. She is constantly asking me what she can do for me, constantly thinking about our needs, constantly voicing love and support, and constantly serving cheerfully in the sometimes monotony of home life and childcare. I cannot adequately express what strength and confidence I receive from her seemingly unconditional love. She is nothing short of a miracle in my life. I consider her to be one of the evidences of God's goodness and grace toward me.

Clara is now 15 months old! I posted about her when she turned 1 year, so I will not write at length. I will simply say that she is teaching me so much even in her infancy. She is so innocent and pure, so genuine and joyful, so trusting and determined. We are seeing more of her personality all the time. She is smart, playful, tender, and dang cute!

I offer my loving praise to my best friend and to my little girl.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

La Famiglia

No group of people has had as profound and lasting an impact on me than my family. It seems only right to first attempt to offer a garment of praise to the major participants of that formative unit. Lest this be construed as a blogging brag session, allow me to preface. Home was not a perfect place. Like most families we fought, we made messes and mistakes, we complained, we ruined, we teased, and we even hurt each other at times. However, overall it was a place of love and acceptance. No matter what happened outside of home, I always knew that I was unconditionally loved and accepted by my family. I, in turn, love and accept each of them without condition or reservation. To each member of my family I offer praise. There are many traits and gifts that I recognize in each of them, but today I will focus on just one or two that are particularly meaningful to me, and perhaps also, less obvious to people outside the family.

My dad is a unique man in the world. This becomes more and more clear as I get older. In all my 30 years I have never once heard him raise his voice in anger or say an unkind word toward my mom. Not once. I think my siblings would say the same. This is remarkable to me as I observe other relationships and navigate the dynamics of marriage myself. His calm patience is unparalleled anywhere I've observed. He is also a genuinely meek and humble person. These terms are so misunderstood, I think, in our culture. The person truly possessed of humility does not know that they are humble. It is a trait that is unaware of itself. I've never seen my dad seek for status, position, wealth, or recognition - not even subtly or covertly. He is quietly confident and secure with himself but also knows on Whom he relies. Because there is no need to protect or defend an underlying fragile ego I've never discerned in him even a hint of jealousy, criticism, posturing, or comparison of others.

My mom is a sensitive soul. We most often think of parents watching kids grow and develop. We don't talk as much about kids watching parents grow, which of course they all obviously do through the process of raising a family and having other life experiences. It has been an inspiring thing to watch my mom reverse the effects of defeating early life experiences. That is not an easy journey to take but I know she has put all her heart and faith into it. Her sensitivity lends itself to service and to loyalty. She is absolutely committed to the gospel and has been a wonderful example of consecrating herself for the Lord's work. My mom always takes her callings seriously and works hard to give her best to God. She is another link in a chain of faithful saints who have given their all for the cause of the kingdom!

Lisel is my only older sibling and my only sister. I have always looked up to her. She always prepared the way for me in church and school, which made me - a relatively shy person - much more comfortable. I think it also facilitated life-long friendships, especially in high school. It has been pretty amazing to see her grow and develop as a person, particularly in her role as wife and mother. She is an incredible mom. Everyone always tells her that, and it's true! Somehow she has just the right combination of gifts and characteristics to focus on the meaningful priorities and enjoy the journey at the same time. One of the traits I most admire about Lisel is her ability to connect with others. She is very easy to get along with and has always made lots of friends wherever she has gone. If charity is kind, and envies not, and is not puffed up, and seeks not her own, and is not easily provoked, then I'd say she has charity.

Mike and I are only 16 months apart. We were frequently mistaken as twins growing up, though now we look quite different from each other (my 40 lbs in the past few years solved that problem!). We shared a lot together and Mike always helped to make things fun. Mike is known by many for his generous heart. Sometimes he acts tuff, but when it comes right down to it he is as giving as Santa Clause. Of the many traits that are praiseworthy within him, the one I would like to highlight is his determination. Some might say he is stubborn, but I think a more accurate description would be tenacious. A great example is Mike's decision last year to run a marathon. He started training and never missed a day. As far as I recall he never walked a single time in all of his training runs! Keep in mind that this was in the middle of winter in Vernal. I started to train several weeks after him and ended up giving up because of tendonitis after only getting up to 10 miles or so. But even before that, I definitely walked at times. When he puts his mind to something, he does it.

Tyler was named after my paternal grandfather and inherited his gifts for being a people person. He has a cheerful disposition just like the prophet Joseph, I imagine. He is also definitely the most outwardly touchy-feely among the bunch of us. He has a way of cheering people up along with him, which is a remarkable strength. Tyler should be recognized for his influence for good on people in his life. In high school he was the quarterback on a team where the great majority of the players did not share his values. Despite that pressure he stayed true to himself and influenced many of them in a positive direction. I have watched him do the same thing many times since then with other friends and people he has responsibility over. He has a capacity to reach out in non-judgmental ways to show genuine friendship and urge people to greater happiness by his example.

Shayne is the youngest and the smartest of all of us (Don't argue, Ty!). He is my superior in height, intellect, and dance skills, among other things! I could say a lot about his lack of self-consciousness and his courage to eat various assortments of nastiness, but that would possibly reinforce his daredevil ways and, more importantly, not give credit to his spiritual gifts. Shayne is wise beyond his years and is able to impart that wisdom in a very unassuming and even humorous way. His testimony of Jesus Christ has been forged through adversity. I've not met very many people with as pure a desire to do good before the Lord as Shayne. He has gone to great lengths to do that which is righteous and honorable, and he has succeeded. He is about to get married and I am confident that he will continue to be a great instrument in the hands of the Lord as he begins his family.

Several years ago under circumstances in which I realized I may be at death's door I experienced an unusual peace about that prospect. I was scared, but I was not scared of death. Strangely, I was comforted about that possibility and knew that I would be okay if it were to happen. The most difficult thought on that doorstep was that I would be leaving my family behind (I was not married at the time so Tania and Clara had not yet become my own family). It was the feeling that flowed from an image of being separated from people that I love so much that had me terrified. I am so grateful that never came to pass. I cannot begin to express how much they have inspired me, strengthened me, and taught me. I offer to each of them my most heartfelt praise.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Garment of Praise

It's been over two months since my last post. I guess I haven't had anything profound to say. I have thought quite a bit about this year, which of course, is now well under way. Sometimes as I look over my life I feel like I have digressed. I don't know if that really is the case, I sure hope it's not anyway. But, at times it seems there have been periods of my life when I was more generous and giving of myself, more faith-filled, more humble, and more charitable than I am now. This year, in my own personal endeavors and in our family, we have decided to really focus on becoming the kind of people we want to be, with a few of the things I just mentioned in mind.

Several weeks ago in Sunday School we were discussing the Savior's declaration of His messianic mission to the people of his native Nazareth. It is a familiar passage. Jesus quoted from the words of Isaiah and then proclaimed to his fellow worshippers that on that day the scripture had been fulfilled. As part of our discussion we turned to Isaiah 61, where we read the words of the messianic prophecy in their fullness straight from the mouth of Isaiah. One of the phrases tucked within those poetic verses caught my attention and caused me to ponder. The Messiah, it is promised, along with healing the broken-hearted and liberating the captives, will give "the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness". What a beautiful statement!

I once sat in an Institute class in which one of the class members was a former gymnast. She was paralyzed from the waist down following an accident during a gymnastics routine in a college competition. A video had been produced about her - by the Church I believe - and the instructor of the course was familiar with it. The teacher showed us the video, which concluded with the woman's inspiring testimony. When the film ended the class spontaneously arose and gave her a standing ovation. It was an electrifying moment. The class then grew quiet and the instructor spoke. He said, in effect, that he believed if a movie were to be made about each individual life in the classroom there would likely be many standing ovations.

Often extraordinary struggles and victories are very quiet, never making the evening news or the latest blog post. Fortunately, we have the Master Healer, the Eternal Judge who in the midst of such circumstances offers to clothe us in the garment of praise. Though unseen by the world, such a garment is of eternal value to the recipient. Most do not live their lives with only the pursuit of praise as their goal, but most would agree that receiving commendation from time to time is needed and appreciated. Ultimately, the only praise that matters is His praise. Nevertheless, if I want to pattern my life after His, I think it is appropriate to develop the capacity and the gift to offer praise as kindly, as quickly, and as generously to my fellowman as He does. Too often, I'm afraid, I am sewing cloaks of criticism in my heart rather than garments of praise. In the arrogance of my mind I have a closet full of such cloaks. The garments of praise that I do create, too frequently go ungiven.

What makes us so hesitant to praise our brother or our sister? Why do we so easily hold back in pride or embarrassment? I do at least. But this, I will change!

Over the next several weeks I would like to try an experiment on my blog. We will see if time will allow it. I would like to use my blog as a venue to give the garment of praise. I will focus on some of the people in my life who have had a profound impact on me and/or my family. Of course the number of people is countless and it would be impossible to address them all. I plan to address groups of people defined by periods/stages of my life, or by shared events/circumstances.

I have debated within myself the wisdom and propriety of this type of blogging. First, obviously the best way to offer sincere praise is in private. Perhaps the most meaningful way to do this would be through intimate conversations and personal thank you cards, and I'd like to do more of that too. But I also think there is an appropriate place for public commendation. I believe we can all learn from the ways in which people touch other people's lives. I will not share anything that is too personal for this setting. Second, it is always dangerous to name names. Inevitably someone is hurt or offended that their name didn't get mentioned, or that they perceive the comments directed to them to be shorter or less meaningful than for someone else. My hope is that this effort will be encouraging and edifying, not upsetting. Again, there is no way that I can mention everyone. If I happen not to mention one of the handful of people who follow this blog (quite unlikely since I think it's mostly my family and a couple of close friends) I express my love and appreciation. I would ask that you join me in celebrating the goodness of others without any interpretation of either receiving a slight from me or of not having significant impact on me to merit mention - neither of which would be true.

Now I just hope that I can start this before another two months pass by!