Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The Best Marriage Advice I Know Of

Currently, I know quite a few people who are engaged or newlyweds. It makes me reflect on all the different marriage advice I've been given and overheard.

The best advice I know is to seek to become as an individual what you want your marriage to become, and what you want your spouse to become. One of the greatest things about this advice is it's something one can try to do before marriage as well as during. This advice could be summed up by paraphrasing Ghandi: "Be the change that you wish to see in [your marriage and family]."

To explain what I mean: if I want to my spouse to be more patient, I should try to learn patience. If I want my home to be more peaceful, I should try to have inner peace. If I want the family to have more financial security, I should learn to be more responsible with money, and so on.

Rather than focusing on what needs to change or guiding my spouse or children to change appropriately, I should focus on bettering myself. I believe that this is truly following Christ's example. In the New Testament we have many of the Lord's teachings and miracles recorded; almost all of these things occurred in the final 3 years of His life. Before He began His mortal ministry, He privately, quietly lived a perfect life for 30 years. He perfectly lived everything He taught, and in doing so became the greatest teacher to walk to earth.

I'm not saying we shouldn't counsel together with our spouses and families; of course we should. There are also exceptions to this advice - for example, no one in an abusive relationship should work on becoming better so that the abuser will stop. Anyone facing these kind of problems should seek appropriate help immediately - but the ideal is that becoming better will help those around us more than offering good advice. If my children regularly see me reading then they are more likely to read than if I tell them books are awesome and they shouldn't watch TV so much.

Many times in my life I've felt uplifted and improved by those around me, and I have felt the strongest positive influence from people who I know to be of high character because of who they are. Who my role models are has always been more important than what they've said. I believe that following this advice allows me or anyone to have the same power to uplift marriages and families.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Making Things Right

Throughout life countless things happen that we wish didn't happen. Some large number of these are things that we do to each other because we are imperfect, and some things we do now are things that we'll inevitably regret and wish we could undo later.

This brings me to a question: can we really make things right? If we are able to turn from our sins and walk justly, what of all of the lost time? What of the good we were supposed to be doing, the people we were supposed to help?

I know that exactly this is the power of an infinite Atonement; through Christ we can repent even from years of living below the standards of what we knew was right. I believe that, even in the most desperate scenarios, there is a way. I have felt this in answer to my prayers.

I do not know how, but I believe that part of the way Christ can solve unsolvable problems - even the most horrible ones - is that this life holds neither the beginning nor the end of our existence. This world is unjust, but it is only act two of our being, our final state will not be revealed here.

I know that Christ paid the unfathomable price to be able to mend our ways. He is our Lord and Savior; because of Him we can correct uncorrectable mistakes. I can only speculate as to the how, but I know that it is.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Learning Divine Truths

Many people in the world find it hard to understand why people have faith; many people who want to have faith find it difficult to strengthen that faith. One explanation for the difficulty in comprehending divine truths and having faith in them comes in the New Testament:

11 For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God.
 12 Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God.
 13 Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual.
 14 But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.
In these verses we see a main idea repeated: we must understand God through the Spirit of God instead of relying solely on our own intelligence. The Holy Ghost, or the Spirit of God, teaches truth and speaks directly to us if we seek Him and will listen to Him.

It is completely normal to want to understand things all in our own heads, but some questions lie beyond our scientific knowledge, and even outside our mortal understanding, such as: What is an eternity? Where do we come from? Why do we live? Where have our predecessors gone? Are they lost to us forever, or will we meet again someday, somehow? Why do disease, suffering and pain exist? Why was I born to my parents and in my country?

I cannot answer these questions of myself, nor can I fully comprehend the answers that I do have, and yet I can say that I know that God has a plan. How can I know that God has a plan? I have sought Him in prayer and in study, and I try to understand as much as I can. As He is my Father, He understands my limitations and weaknesses, and He sends the Spirit to teach and guide me.

It is by the Spirit that I know, and the Father will send the Spirit to teach all of us if we are willing. The scriptures say that He will tell us in our minds and in our hearts. I remember one person who described the first answer to his prayer as the sweetest orange you could ever eat, with a feeling that permeated his entire being like juice flows from an orange when you bite into it. Others may receive it differently, but I know that God answers prayers for all those who seek with real intent.

I pray that we may all go to our Creator as we seek greater knowledge and understanding. I know that He will teach us line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little, until our cup runneth over.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

A Perfect Sacrifice

All of mankind, every last one of us, are sinners. We all fall short of our best, no matter what our best is. God The Father knew this when He created us, but He also knew that we needed the chance to be born on earth and have the experience of mortal life. At the same time, no unclean thing can dwell in the presence of God, and we needed some way to become clean despite our inevitable sins.

The Father created a plan for a Savior to sacrifice for all of us, so that we may all have the opportunity to repent of our sins. The Book of Mormon teaches that this Savior's sacrifice needed to be a "great and last sacrifice," and that it must also be "infinite and eternal." Jesus, The Son, then volunteered to come to earth and be the Savior called for in God's plan, which we call the Plan of Salvation or the Plan of Happiness. He offered Himself as the infinite and eternal sacrifice.

In what ways was His sacrifice infinite and eternal? If one is going to pay for the sins of all of humanity that has ever lived, every last one of our sins, then the sacrifice must be infinite to be able to cover everyone; it must be eternal in order to span all of humanity's existence.

He was the Son of God. The Savior was born of Mary, but His father is The Father of us all. As such, He was not subject to death as the rest of us are. He has power over death, just as He has power over nature, sickness, and really all things. He is eternal, and therefore His sacrifice is eternal.

Before anaesthesia worked as well as it does today, it was common practice to restrain the patient for painful procedures. Most of us cannot prevent ourselves from fighting back against pain, even if we know we need the operation done. What bands could've held our Lord's power for Him to submit to whipping, scorn, and utter humiliation? Even worse, to suffer all this at the hands of pathetic men revelling in the power of ruling a subdued nation. His sacrifice was infinite in humility: He had power over every soldier and ruler and could've exercized it as easily as over the fig tree, yet He chose to submit.

He was perfect. He never fell short in any way. This is almost incomprehensible. Of all of the things we do every day, how many can we do perfectly? I think I'm now perfect at getting my right shoe on my right foot. I think I'm really good at washing my hands, but I don't think I'm 100% perfect at it. Our Savior lived a perfect life. I've never lived a perfect day. His sacrifice was infinite and eternal because He was completely innocent and He was sacrificed for us, the guilty. The only man ever to achieve mind-bogglingly impossible perfection willingly suffered and died for us, despite the fact that we do not deserve it.

I do not understand how our Savior paid for all of our sins. I don't understand how it is possible for Him to take upon Himself all of our guilt and also all of our pains and sufferings. I cannot comprehend how He can do this for me, let alone for everyone. However, I know that it is true. I know that He bridges the infinite gap between our sinful mortality and the eternal glory of God.

Monday, August 18, 2014

All Is Not Lost

A week ago today the news spread that Robin Williams died; he committed suicide, at least partially because he suffered from depression. This was shocking news to many of his fans and has lead to a lot of media coverage and commentaries both on suicide and mental illness. Hopefully, at least some of this coverage may help anyone suffering similarly to know they aren't alone and help them become aware of some of the resources available to help those contemplating taking their own lives.

Those who have had friends and or loved ones that end their own lives know how tragic it is. Death is very difficult to accept, and attempting to understand why our loved one would seek his or her own life makes it even harder to comprehend. Feelings of guilt, questioning why I didn't see it coming or if I could've stopped it often can creep into the minds of those who loved the person the most. It can seem that there is no way out of the emotional pit those left behind have fallen into.

I want to say that all is not lost. Through Christ, all is never lost. It can seem that someone who commits suicide has died in the midst of a terrible sin, and one might be tempted to judge that this person must be lost forever; however, the Church doesn't teach it this way:

It is wrong to take a life, including one’s own. However, a person who commits suicide may not be responsible for his or her acts. Only God can judge such a matter. -The Handbook on Administering the Church
I am grateful for this wise council on an extremely difficult and emotional matter; we might think that because we knew someone so well that we know what was going on in their heads, but we don't. I feel liberated to know that a Loving God can sort out the hearts and minds of those whose burdens are indeed heavy. I know that Christ loves and knows all of us, and my faith tells me that even the most wounded among us may not be beyond His help.

Many things seem like they will never work out - for a time. Many trials feel like they are too heavy to bare - for a time. If anyone is considering ending their own life, please seek immediate help in every way possible; the link I just posted has a 24/7 hotline as well as an option to chat. If anyone is suffering because of a loved one who chose this path, I repeat my thesis: all is not lost. The Atonement is infinite and eternal. Christ, through His sacrifice and selflessness, gained an infinite and eternal ability to help and bless others; He is after the one who suffers in the wilderness.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

"Overcome all things"

In Doctrine and Covenants Section 76 we have a description of those who will be exalted in the Celestial Kingdom. The description says that these "overcome by faith" and later says: "And they shall overcome all things."

For those unfamiliar, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints teaches about more than just heaven and hell. We call hell "outer-darkness" and believe that only those who know Christ and wilfully rebel against Him will be sent there; all the rest go to a kingdom of glory in heaven: the Telestial, Terrestrial, or Celestial Kingdom, which correspond to the stars, the moon, or the sun respectively. The Celestial Kingdom has the glory of the sun and is where we all hope to go.

These phrases teach us a bit about how we can get there and what blessings we will enjoy should we get there. If we get there, it means we overcame by faith in this life. In other words, we rely on the Lord to get through the trials we face here. A few differences between simply overcoming and overcoming by faith might be:

- Humility in recognizing we need the Lord's blessing and are delivered by His mercy.
- Greater patience while we wait for a trial to pass.
- A willingness to submit to the Lord's will.
- Obedience to the Lord's commandments even in difficulty.
   - Such obedience is a sign of abiding faith.

We are also promised that if we are going to the Celestial Kingdom we will overcome all things. This promise seems great beyond comparison and comprehension. Imagine staring at your greatest insecurity in the mirror without the slightest twinge of inadequacy. How about knowing that your worst fears can have no power over you? This is just the beginning of the deep peace of overcoming all things through faith.

I know that God would have us be strong and empowered through His Son. It is true that if we come unto Christ He will show us our weakness, but none who follow Christ will be laid low. Instead, they shall "mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint." (Isaiah 40:31)

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Sharing Is Caring

My primary class tomorrow is on the subject of sharing, and preparing it got me thinking: people that don't learn to share can never really be happy. The Lord taught: "Whosoever shall seek to save his life shall lose it; and whosoever shall lose his life shall preserve it." When we hoard things to ourselves we lost them, and when we share them we truly gain them.

There are an enormous number of evils in the world because we don't share with each other: there is enough food for everyone in the world, but we have starving people. Information is freely available but many are kept in ignorance. There's so much of virtually every human necessity that we throw away the leftovers we can't use, but because so many choose to establish their personal worth in a comparative manner many needlessly suffer.

It is probably more practical to look at what happens to each of us personally if we don't share. I said that if we don't learn to share we cannot be happy; at the very least we cannot be as happy as people who share willingly. The philosophy of not sharing vs. sharing can explain my point.

Not sharing teaches me that I don't have enough. The more extreme I become in not sharing, the more I will ultimately believe that I need more, and that this need trumps all others. My things come before those around me. Sharing tells me that I can spare a little to help my brother or sister in need; I will figure out how to make do with less. It teaches me that my fellow earth-dwellers are more valuable than my possessions. Not sharing is ultimately the path of greed, over-indulgence, and the endless pursuit of more. Sharing is ultimately the path of love, self-denial, and taking care of others.

Knowing what we know: that this world is a temporary stop on an eternal journey, and that everything here must perish, which path is correct? Which leads to happiness? Should we be the one who is filled with love and will rejoice with friends in the next life, or will we hear the words: "Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided?"

Sharing, or giving more completely of ourselves, is something anyone can get better at. If we all reflect, we can probably see many ways that we fall short of the Master's example of perfect selflessness. I know that I have many. I can say that when I manage to share and to love not the illusion I am truly happy, and I receive the blessings of God far beyond what I deserve.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Reflecting on Tolerance

I've been thinking more about the importance of tolerance lately. Every time someone compares someone they don't like to Hitler it reminds me how much we all need tolerance (except when that person has tried to systematically commit genocide, in which case I think there are legitimate comparisons).

I wish that every person on earth could agree with this thought: someone can disagree with me and still be reasonable, intelligent, peaceful, and virtuous; some people just don't think the way I do. There are very few exceptions to this rule.

I believe that in doing this we make the Lord pleased with us. In fact, I believe that we are commanded to do exactly that in the sermon on the mount:

43 ¶Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy.
 44 But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;
 45 That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.
 46 For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same?
 47 And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so?
 48 Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.
Jesus taught us all to be better; with His sacrifice we are no longer held to a lesser law, but asked to rise above and follow Him. If we can't respect or even be civil to someone of an opposing viewpoint, how can we claim we are following Christ?

In a most precious passage of scripture we learn of Enoch, who saw "... that the God of heaven looked upon the residue of the people, and he wept." Enoch asked in disbelief how it was possible, and the Lord replied:

... Behold these thy brethren; they are the workmanship of mine own hands, and I gave unto them their knowledge, in the day I created them; and in the Garden of Eden, gave I unto man his agency; And unto thy brethren have I said, and also given commandment, that they should love one another, and that they should choose me, their Father; but behold, they are without affection, and they hate their own blood;
If we cannot tolerate those around us we cannot love them. In one eidetic moment of my life I thought I felt with clarity the profound love of God for another human being. It is deep and powerful beyond what I can communicate, and I know that we can never have it without tolerance.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Look Unto Me In Every Thought

In John 11 we learn the story of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. Lazarus was seriously sick and the Lord wasn't around, so his sisters, Mary and Martha, sent to the Lord with the hopes that He would come and heal him.

In verse 4 we learn the Lord's reply: "This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified thereby." If I were either Mary or Martha, I would interpret this is as a promise that my brother would not die. However, we also learn in verse 6 that the Lord stayed were He was for two more days, and verse 14 teaches us that when He arrived, Lazarus has indeed passed away.

In verses 21 and 32, the Bible records Martha and Mary's words to the Lord upon His arrival. They said the same words: "Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died." We do not have the context behind those words, but we can imagine the anguish of the sisters. Perhaps they wanted to ask why He stayed two more days before coming, or how come He has healed so many but He didn't make it in time to heal a beloved disciple, or even how His promise could possibly have failed?

I believe they said this instead because even in this excruciating trial they both kept their faith. His following conversation with Martha includes one of my favorite passages of scripture in verses 25 and 26:

I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live:
And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this?

Before Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead He promises eternal life, which only Christ can. Even death, as absolute and insurmountable as anything, bends the knee and obeys the will of our Lord. He is teaching that no night is too dark and no burden is too heavy for those who lean on Jehovah for strength.

Martha, though suffering, would not let her pains dim the brilliance of her faith, and she responded: "Yea, Lord: I believe that thou art the Christ, the Son of God, which should come into the world." Martha's response to this potentially disillusioning sequence of events in life was to express faith, even though the Lord just said words that seemed to be directly contradicted by her brother's death.

Shortly after, we read in verses 43 and 44 that the Lord brings Lazarus back to life. The Lord knew all along that He would restore Lazarus' life to him, but Mary and Martha did not. They did demonstrate that no matter what happens they wouldn't lose their faith in Jesus as the Christ.

In life, many things happen which are beyond our comprehension. We will have trials that seem impossible to reconcile with our beliefs and our understanding. I pray, for myself and us all, that we can match the examples of Mary and Martha and follow this council:

 36 Look unto me in every thought; doubt not, fear not.
 37 Behold the wounds which pierced my side, and also the prints of the nails in my hands and feet; be faithful, keep my commandments, and ye shall inherit the kingdom of heaven. Amen.
I testify that our comfort and our answers lie in following the Savior. He has the words of eternal life.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

The Purpose of Excommunication

On its face excommunication can seem like something very incongruent with Christ's love. When I was a teenager, I thought excommunication was all about punishing someone who was wrong, sort of like judgement coming a little early for an individual. I think that my teenage understanding was definitely incongruent with the mission of the Church as well as our Lord's love. Because of my poor understanding, I remember being surprised when my dad explained that people who are excommunicated can be re-baptized and rejoin the Church. To my confusion my father clarified: "actually, the whole purpose of excommunicating someone is so that they will eventually get re-baptized."

When members need to have certain blessings withheld, the Lord’s object is to teach as well as to discipline. So probation, disfellowshipment, and excommunication, when they become necessary, are ideally accompanied by eventual reinstatement and restoration of blessings. - Elder Ballard
Elder Ballard wrote this article for the Church News in 1985 and it was republished in a 1990 issue of the Ensign. Later in the same article he states:

Members sometimes ask why Church disciplinary councils are held. The purpose is threefold: to save the soul of the transgressor, to protect the innocent, and to safeguard the Church’s purity, integrity, and good name.
The first purpose of a disciplinary council is to help someone repent. I remember someone sharing a testimony about being disciplined in a disciplinary council. Wisely, the reason for being disciplined was not shared, but she stated that these councils are courts of love, and that throughout the entire process of repentance (she was not excommunicated) she felt how much her leaders cared for her and wanted to help her. In my friend's case, the disciplinary council was essential to helping her repent.

Certainly, repenting fully is easiest and best in private. Unfortunately, some sins are committed publicly or become known publicly, either in a small community or in general. Repentance can often be a sore and trying experience, and my heart goes out to those who have the misfortune of baring public shame in addition to the normal guilt that comes from sin. To help minimize this damage, Church leaders who participate in disciplinary councils are commanded to keep things strictly confidential. Even simple questions whose answers may likely be innocuous are usually not answered. The message is clear: we are here for repentance, and people can repent best when given space and privacy.*

I know that God's love doesn't have a beginning or an end for any of us. He is the God which leaves the ninety and nine to search for the one. I have seen firsthand how He diligently searches, and I trust His love.

*Some may ask why, if we want to provide space and privacy, does anyone have to know about any of the sins. Why do certain sins have to be confessed to a bishop or other church leaders? The answer is that people need help repenting of certain sins. I will compare it to smoking: many people quit smoking, but very few, if any, do it completely alone. People experience the most success when quitting with support. Repenting is a process of changing and becoming someone better; it includes healing our very soul. Serious sins are more difficult to overcome, and here the role of a bishop, stake president, or even a council in the most serious circumstances is to assist in that process.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Understanding Modesty

Oddly enough, I've read two stories about modesty in the news recently. One about a girl in Canada who felt humiliated by her school's dress code and another about a school in Utah that digitally edited yearbook pictures. Although I'm a strong believer in modesty and teaching the benefits of dressing modestly, I want to note that I don't agree with the way that either of these schools went about it. It seems to me that forcing teenage girls to stand in line and be measured for modesty is ridiculous, embarrassing, and perhaps hypocritical; editing people's yearbook photos without notifying them - and doing it unevenly - also seems silly at best.*

At any rate, some of the discussion around this asks why we don't simply teach boys not to view girls as sexual objects instead of forcing girls to dress a certain way. Some say that teaching girls they must dress modestly is the beginning of blaming rape victims for getting raped. Sadly, there are some people who teach modesty in exactly those ways and say those same horrible ideas. Obviously, no one who is raped deserves it; sexual violence is among the worst sins that one can commit, and the victim is never at fault. However, dressing modestly is important for all, and I want to explain why I believe so.

I believe that all of us, every male and female, is a child of God. I believe that we were given bodies for the purpose of coming to this earth where we are tested and have the chance to learn. Humans were the crowning creation, and in my opinion the people on the earth and the most interesting and beautiful part of it. This is saying a lot when you contemplate the beauty of the earth, but I believe it is true.

With our bodies, God also gave us the power to take His hand and join in creating life. This is a simple, obvious, and powerful reminder that we are divine in nature, not mundane. Our Creator also gave us deep, powerful feelings so that we might join together, and that "... they twain shall be one flesh: so then they are no more twain, but one flesh." (Mark 10:8) Twain is a word that means two, and teaching refers to the importance of marriage.

If our bodies are given to us for a divine purpose, shouldn't we treat them as such? When something is important and personal, do we tell everyone about it? Or do we share it only with closer friends in a context where it will be meaningful?

The primary reason for dressing modestly ought to come from how we see ourselves and not from fear for how others might see us. Dressing modestly should be a way that we say to the world: I'm a child of God; I have divine potential and destiny.

In other words, I reject the idea that teaching people (I keep using gender inclusive words because all must dress modestly, and if we are teaching modestly only to women and girls then we are failing.) to dress modestly is meant to shame them. It is quite the opposite. Dressing modestly is meant to help people recognize their divine nature and purpose on this earth; nothing would do more for self-esteem than for all to grasp it.

*I went to a public high school in Chicago that enforced a dress code for yearbook pictures. They would tell people to change their clothes if they felt it didn't meet the school's dress code, and I think that's a very reasonable way to go about it.

Thursday, May 15, 2014


Usually, when we think about bullying, we think of it as something that older/taller/stronger kids do to younger/smaller/weaker kids. Sadly, this is just one kind of bullying, and maybe not the worst kind.

Let me tell you a story of a woman I knew through church. Her and her husband went to church together; she started out happily married and had friends at church. Over time, her marriage deteriorated; neither she nor her husband fixed it, and eventually it ended in divorce. In addition to feeling like she was hurting so much she couldn't recover, she noticed that some at church who were once her friends no longer said hi or invited her places. Many people had decided that it was her fault she was getting divorced and that her husband was guiltless in the matter. Church, which had been a refuge to her for her entire life, became a major trial every week. She loves the Lord and His Gospel, but seeing the people at Church and overhearing comments made became more and more difficult.

For me, the saddest part of this story is that it is the story of more than one person I know. In some cases the story is exactly the same, except the congregation all seems to side with the woman and not the man. The ending hasn't stayed constant: I know some who somehow stuck through it and continued to be active in church, but I know others for whom it became too much and they stopped attending. Some of these later returned, others haven't returned yet, but the question is: why do we put our brothers and sisters through this?

I'm still fairly young, but I have known enough marriages to know that everyone has disagreements and fights in their marriage. Some of these people get divorced, but I have not yet met someone who - even in the tiny amount I observed of their relationship, the public part - was perfect. Everyone makes mistakes. Most of us who are still married are still married greatly due to the fact that our spouses have forgiven us over and over again.

Why should we pretend we are better than others? I've seen this kind of exclusion happen around divorce, around unmarried pregnancies, young men who choose not to serve missions, or any number of other things that are less than ideal. If we take upon us the name of Christ, shouldn't we also take His works upon ourselves? Didn't He reach out to those who were stigmatized by society? Indeed He died for the just and the unjust, that all might have the chance to repent. We cannot follow Christ by scorning those who have the misfortune of sinning in ways that become publicly known.

I believe that many, many members of the Church and of any church simply don't engage in this sort of behavior. I'm certainly not saying that I've seen the entire congregation act this way, but if you put yourself in the shoes of the one going through it then you can see that it doesn't take a lot of people doing this for you to feel that it is everyone, or that the ones being nice are the exception. All I can say is that none of us can practice this kind of hypocrisy and think that it will be viewed with the least degree of tolerance in the eyes of God.

Instead, we ought to realize how much reaching out can lift up someone who is likely going through one of the hardest times of his or her life. I know that Jesus is the Christ for all 100, but He leaves the ninety and nine and searches for the one. If we will follow Him then we must do likewise.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Feminism and Mormonism

Lately it seems there has been an increase in different outlets weighing feminist ideals and Mormonism. The New York Times recently wrote about women and the Church; I found it fairly similar to other pieces of coverage on the matter and it has me thinking about feminism and Mormonism.

One things troubles me a lot about the articles I've read: almost all of them paint the Church is a light of having men rule over women. This is also true of the Ordain Women group. Their frequently asked questions explains that women are not equals in the Church and that men preside over homes, suggesting that the Church teaches women to subordinate themselves to men. While the Church has doctrines that don't mesh well with all of feminism I don't understand why neither media coverage nor the Ordain Women group paint the full picture.

Firstly, the oldest and largest women's group in the world is: [drum roll] the Relief Society. It was organized in 1842; this is the time when married women were beginning to enjoy the right to own property, and the Church created a women's only organization that ran and still runs major social initiatives. This  organization is central to the Church's operations both locally and worldwide, even though it isn't the core leadership by itself.

Secondly, the Church provides mentors and support specifically for young women aged 12-18 - before 12 children are all in the same support system and around time young women turn 18 they transition the Relief Society. Between this organization and the primary (for children under 12) there are 3 women who are on the council for how to run each local congregation. All major decisions are supposed to be made on this council, and all are encouraged to offer their opinions.

Finally, Church leaders preach against any idea of a man ruling his home. In The Family: A Proclamation to the World we are taught that men and women are "obligated to help one another as equal partners." President Hinckley gave a beautiful talk on women and the Church: The Women in Our Lives. He points out numerous ways that The Lord has elevated women and asks: "Why is it that even though Jesus placed woman in a position of preeminence, so many men who profess His name fail to do so?" President Hinckley condemns all of the ideas that many social commentaries suggest the Church reinforces, and he's not alone; the Church has always condemned the subjugation of women.

I know that the members of the Church frequently fail to live up to its pure doctrines. I wish I could say I've never met a chauvinist Mormon, and that I know for sure that no Priesthood holder has ever abused his wife or children. Unfortunately, I know that isn't true, but I also know that those would be true if all men lived the doctrines they are taught, and that's precisely what I wish social commentaries would explicitly recognize.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

A Testimony of Christ

I know that Jesus Christ is the Jehovah of the Old Testament. I know that He descended from a throne to be born in a manger. I know that He lived His life as a perfect example for us; He wanted to show us how to have peace in this life and to return to Heavenly Father afterwards.

I know that He willingly gave His life for us. No man took it from Him, but He gave it, and He took it up again. He lives!

I know that He willingly suffered for you and for me. Despite having power to stop things at any time He allowed Himself to be tortured, so that He could know, according to the flesh, how to heal our pains. He suffered so that we can be healed with His stripes.

I know that He is merciful. He focuses more on the 10% we did right than the 90% we did wrong, especially when the 10% is our best effort. I know He wants nothing more than to apply His Atonement to our sins and make them right.

I know that He did not just suffer for sin: He suffered all of our pains. Every mental anguish, stress, unjust circumstance, trauma, unspeakable and unexplainable pain. He took all these upon Himself so that He could heal us, even the heaviest burdens He can make light.

I know that He watches over us now and seeks to bless us. I know that He lives, and because He lives we can hope for a better world, even when nothing our eyes see backs it up.

I believe in Christ.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

A Note About Me

I want to explain myself a little bit, because even I wonder about what kind of person writes a blog explaining and preaching religion.

I want to be clear about something: I don't think I'm some kind of sage with all the answers. I do try to become closer to the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost as a person, and I want to share things that help me with others.

I don't view myself as a righteous man showing others how to be righteous. Never have I felt stronger in the faith and yet never have my many shortcomings been so obvious. Its one of those paradoxical things about life. I try to write about Christ's doctrine as I understand it; I'm in no way trying to suggest that I live up to His doctrine perfectly.

Finally, I want to say that I derive great personal strength from striving to live according to my beliefs and my faith. I have found that the truer I try to be, the stronger I feel.

Learning To Love

Elder Holland said in his talk on Saturday morning that "Christlike love is the greatest need we have on this planet in part because righteousness was always supposed to accompany it." This got me thinking more about the link between love and righteousness.
... bridle all your passions, that ye may be filled with love;
This is from Alma 38:12, where Alma is giving council to his son Shiblon. Reading this scripture as a young man made me ask myself: why is self-control so important for being able to love others? Now that I have been an adult for a little bit and I have a small amount of experience as a husband and a father the answer is a little more obvious. In many cases, loving someone else means putting their needs before your needs. When you have small children, you often need to put their need for food, sleep, a hug, or something else before your need for peace, quiet, or order. Frequently I see myself needing to learn this lesson again and again, and needing more and more self-control to apply it appropriately.

That is one explanation, but there are far more. Not mentioned in this scripture is that Shiblon's brother seemingly had recently committed adultery instead of doing missionary work. It begs the question: can a man who can't control his lust truly love a woman? Obviously, being in control can mean different things, but certainly a man must be in control enough to recognize that his partner is a person and not an object to be used in order to express real love for her.

Imagine how many hateful things have been said and how many relationships have been ruined because of moments of weakness. All kinds of abuse would either greatly diminish or go away entirely if it weren't for times that we really aren't in control of ourselves. All of the commandments teach us discipline and self-control in one way or another, therefore helping us to love and not hate.

I have personal experience in many parts of my life where my attempts at following God's commandments have lead me to deeper love and understanding. I know that trying to be closer to Him makes me closer to those around me; its making more out of me than I could ever make of myself.

Sunday, March 16, 2014


Charity is explained in the scriptures as "the pure love of Christ." I would compare it to the love that most humans share with other humans as the way a drop of water compares to the ocean.

One might ask, you love this person, but would you die for them? This question demonstrates a small piece of the difference between basic love and charity, but it is only a beginning. There are people I would give my life for in a heartbeat, but they are people who love me in return and bring me great personal joy. I could and would suffer many things for them; however, this doesn't really compare with what Christ did for us. He gave His life for all, including those whom He knows will never repent. He gave His life for those that would crucify Him; He gave His life those that would conspire against Him. He gave His life for everyone, no matter how recalcitrant and unworthy. No dividing lines were drawn.

Pondering such acts of love is almost stupefying; I at least cannot comprehend such purity and devotion. I think that the most noble things I do are at best vaguely similar this kind of love. Emphasis on vaguely.

The scriptures teach us that we are nothing if we do not have charity. At the same time, honest reflection likely points out that we do few to no things which equal the love evident in our Lord's redeeming sacrifice, or in other words, we have a long way to go to meet this commandment. Teachings such as this can serve as powerful reminders of our own need to rely on Christ, no matter how strong/smart/attractive/powerful/rich/whatever else we think we are.

For me, brushes with charity serve as an additional reminder. I know that charity is real because I have felt it, even if for fleeting moments. I have felt Christ's love for others only in moments of service, and in those moments it has been very obvious that it was not my love I felt. In an instant I contemplated a person's many faults and shortcomings, simultaneously feeling nothing but the desire to wrap them in my arms and stop all pain, reassure all self-doubts, and buoy up their spirits in every way. Some feelings defy the constraints inherent in language, but I pray that the Holy Ghost can carry the meaning to you.

Nothing is more real than the love that our Father and our Redeemer have for us. They love us completely and want to be intimately involved in our lives. Of this I am certain.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Self-Control Works Exactly How It Sounds

He who takes offense when offense was not intended is a fool, yet he who takes offense when offense was intended is an even greater fool for he has succumbed to the will of his adversary.
This quote is commonly attributed to Brigham Young. For me, there's obvious wisdom here: if I allow myself to be offended I'm giving up some control over myself to someone else. (Obviously, accepting this quote requires admitting that we're all foolish sometimes, but that's ok to me.) Its important to remember that I can ultimately decide how I feel; the more I develop self-control the more I can enjoy mastery over my own feelings.

The splendor of this idea is made obvious when we contrast this idea with the era of political-correctness; some in our society seem to believe that feeling offended is a righteous pursuit. I have heard many people suggest that you have no choice except to feel victimized if someone does certain things or says certain things. Freedom of choice is bestowed on all of us by God, and no one can take it from you if you don't let them.

Just like any discipline, this takes practice. We can start out small. Let's say: no one who is rude to me today means anything by it. Its probably something in his or her personal life. Often times, this is actually even a correct statement. Little by little, I develop more and more ability to be happy, despite how others may treat me.

As I work to develop more self-control there is a power beyond my own will available to me. Our Common Father blesses us with opportunities to develop self-control and helps us through them. I know because He helps me, despite my many short-comings. I know that He wants our freedom; He wants all of us to have the strength to choose, even if it is something we must work towards.

I believe in repentance. If someone offends me and I won't let it go, then in that moment I'm not showing much faith in repentance. If I can find the faith to leave it in the Lord's hands and not take offense, then my self-control will become a gift that keeps on giving; I gain more control of who I am and who I am becoming. This is the opposite of easy, and, like all Gospel ideals, is something we all need to improve.

I testify that God wants us to control our thoughts, our emotions, and our bodies. Through self-control, we can. We can eventually become free from all of the ills of the world, little by little, line upon line, precept upon precept.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Strength Through Humility

I've been thinking about how strong people who are truly humble become, or how we can all be strong in moments of humility. I think that in pretty much any circumstance we're better off being humble than being prideful, so let me present two brief case studies.

Case 1: I'm 90% sure I'm right about something.
- Humility: consider reasonable objections. If I'm right or if I'm wrong, considering these things appropriately will probably make me understand the idea better by the time I'm done.
- Pride: rule out other ideas. My 90% is better than most people's 110%, so why waste my time?

Case 2: I've reached my conclusion, but I am confronted with a challenge to my conclusion.

- Pride: discount all evidence to the contrary, and if eventually I can't deny it any more then I'll pretend I didn't really think that in the first place and claim people misunderstood.
- Humility: consider if there's merit to the challenge. If there is, think it through and decide whether or not to change your mind. Doing this with humility, when wrong, will help you change your mind.

   - What if you're right? Does humility require you to endlessly ponder being wrong? In my opinion you can accept certain things as proven and remain humble. This is why I say consider if there's a merit to the challenge.

Obviously these are very abstract case studies, but I think that being humble is more practical in almost all cases, if your objective is reaching the truth. These simple examples are backup for what President Benson eloquently taught: "Pride is a damning sin in the true sense of that word. It limits or stops progression." I know these are hardly exhaustive examples, but I think that in just about any situation a humble person is likely to progress faster than a proud one.

However, we haven't yet discussed the strength from humbling ourselves before God. What if you knew that something you were doing was something God meant for you to do? Wouldn't it help you stick to it and help uplift you through difficult times? How could you gain that conviction? In my estimation, only someone who has humbled themselves and asked Heavenly Father can truly gain this conviction.

I remember a decision I had to make a few years ago. Essentially, I needed to decide whether or not I was willing to accept some additional responsibility. It was a situation where no one would've blamed me if I'd said no, which is what I fully intended to do. Fortunately, I received the inspiration to pray about it. When I did, the answer was unmistakeable: I needed to accept. It wasn't easy to carry out; the reasons I was going to say no were all obstacles that still had to be overcome, but knowing that it was what I was supposed to be doing sustained me. Eventually, I was able to measure up to the task. Looking back, accepting the responsibility has blessed me tremendously; it is among the best decisions I've ever made.

I wish I could sustain that decision-making ability always, but I have a very long way to go. I can say that when I look at my life with perspective I see that humility has blessed me and uplifted me, while pride has damned me, just as the prophet taught.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Can It Be? - A Poem

Can it be?
They say this Man
can heal broken hearts.

It is no small thing
for doctors to set broken bones
and carefully treat illness.

Despite all procedure
and protocol
some are still lost.

The cure for
pains that are hidden
is knowable to none.

The unspeakable,
too painful to codify
with spoken words -

surely this pain
will never leave me:
it can't be articulated.

And yet,
as I live and breathe
He does this and more.

The cancer of my soul
not merely contained
but healed without a scar.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Dealing With Death

Of the trials that can shock us to the core, dealing with the death of someone close to us has to be about as difficult as anything else. For a few months now I've been collecting my thoughts on this subject, and now seems as good a time as any to share them.

First, I want to say that in my estimation grieving is necessary, helpful, and appropriate. I have heard some say that if you believe in the potential for eternal life then death doesn't need to be sad. I agree that death won't be sad forever, but there are people I certainly wish I could see again. There are inputs I won't have any more in this life, and to me that is sad. I have learned the hard way that refusing to confront emotion can be very damaging. The bard was onto something when through MacDuff he affirmed the value of "[feeling] it as a man."

Different experiences I've had bring me comfort on the subject. I remember my Uncle JP, when he was dying, said that he saw his parents waiting for him. I don't believe that this was a hallucination due to a failing physical body; I believe that the veil is thinner as you approach it. It comforts me to know that those who leave loved ones here on earth will be with loved ones still when they pass from this life. We cannot directly comfort them nor they us but others can, and to me that is beautiful. The sealing powers will take ailing bodies home to ancestors - including in many cases parents - who long to be closer to them, to know and to make known. None are alone in the eternities.

The mother of that same uncle, my sweet Granny Karnes, suffered for many years preceding the end of her life. For many years rheumatoid arthritis gradually took more and more of physical health; dementia came later to attack her mental health. Most of my memories of her include a hospital bed which was in her living room. When I picture her now, I see her flying. I know that none of these diseases can hurt her or cause her pain any more. I among others mourned her death but I take comfort that she is free from pains that never left her all the years I knew her on this earth. Not all that die suffer chronically before their death, but all become freed from physical pain, including the cruel pains of mental illness, and to me this is also beautiful.

Finally, I know that through the Atonement, all accounts will eventually be settled. Many in this life are born into poverty, tribulations, handicaps, or what have you. Nothing is more common to mankind than trials. Death is one of the steps towards rectifying everything that happens in life. I do not know how it works or why things happen how they happen, but I know that there is a plan. All of us experience what we need to have the opportunity to return to live with our Heavenly Father again, and I believe that more of the plan will be knowable and comprehensible after death than before. To put it differently, I believe that many who cannot feel the warm embrace of Christ's love now will feel it stronger after passing through the veil, and to me that is profoundly beautiful.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

The Family: A Proclamation to the World Part II

I'd like to continue writing about this 18.5 year old proclamation. This blog post will be about the first part of the third-to-last paragraph. The first post discusses a different part of the same paragraph.
The family is ordained of God. Marriage between man and woman is essential to His eternal plan. 
I know that families are the structure that God has given us to help us through this life. There are many benefits to family life, not the least of which is how much parents learn from attempting to raise children. Raising children can help you learn by putting someone else ahead of yourself and by giving you experiences that are hard to find elsewhere*.

We try to follow Christ; His entire life and sacrifice were putting everyone ahead of Himself. He thought and worked for our needs, not His. As parents we do this in weak and imperfect ways, but it can help us learn a bit about His love.

I think I can offer a simple example about the learning experiences of raising children. Children misbehave, and tantrums are especially hard to deal with; one often feels like using the harshest discipline available to force the child to stop immediately. However, tantrums are often motivated by being tired, scared, hungry, needing a diaper change, or something more than just misbehaving. An exhausted child often can't behave well, and in many cases yelling makes it worse. In many cases the best solution is to solve the underlying problem. Eventually, this can help us realize that even when we know we are right we often shouldn't lord it over those who are wrong, because this is usually unproductive and incorrect.

Children are entitled to birth within the bonds of matrimony, and to be reared by a father and a mother who honor marital vows with complete fidelity.
This is an intriguing quote. We live in a very individualistic world, preoccupied with the rights (or entitlements) of the individual. The list of things society says we have a right to is ever-growing, including at times the ridiculous. Some parts of society will say its our right to eat out, have the best cable television package, and drive an expensive car for example. However, this sentence speaks of the rights of the children brought into this world.

Every child is entitled to be born to married, loving parents who are faithful to each other and their children. Imagine a world filled with individuals that honored this right of children above individualistic rights. Certainly, being a faithful member of a family requires many sacrifices, including some that are very difficult. All those who decide to entitle their families with this blessing will experience tremendous joy in their family, and will know of the unspeakable blessing that a family is in their lives.

*Obviously, not everyone has the chance to raise children in this life. My understanding of the plan of salvation is that we will all have the experiences in this life that we need to prepare us to receive exaltation in God's Kingdom. It can be extremely painful to realize that God won't give us something we desperately want, but I believe in an Infinite Atonement that will eventually correct every inequality.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Recognizing And Receiving Answers to Prayers

Early in modern Church history, Oliver Cowdery wanted to help with the translation of the Book of Mormon. While he wasn't wildly successful, the experience he had benefits us all because of the counsel he received on the matter in D&C 9:7-9:

Behold, you have not understood; you have supposed that I would give it unto you, when you took no thought save it was to ask me.
 But, behold, I say unto you, that you must astudy it out in your bmind; then you must cask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your dbosom shall eburn within you; therefore, you shall ffeel that it is right.
 But if it be not right you shall have no such feelings, but you shall have a astupor of thought that shall cause you to forget the thing which is wrong; therefore, you cannot write that which is bsacred save it be given you from me.
The Lord is teaching Oliver Cowdery - and all of us - that receiving answers to prayers is often an active process. I do not believe that the Lord wants robots; we are all His children. He doesn't want us to be passive in our own lives.

Whether making an important decision, trying to answer one of life's heavier questions, or whatever it might be, what has worked best for me is to do everything I can to resolve it myself, but always be attentive to direction I receive in response to prayers.

Obviously, this isn't an easy thing to do. The more you think about it and the more you have determined it yourself, the more likely you are to become attached to whatever solution you come up with. However, if we are praying along the way, we can give the Lord many opportunities to guide us throughout the process, as well as many opportunities to seek and express our own humility. Without humility, it is unlikely that we will ask "with a sincere heart, with real intent," and therefore less likely that we'll receive answers to our prayers, and even less likely that we'd follow them if we did receive them.

One example of how active receiving answers to prayers is comes in 1 Nephi 11-15. In these chapters, Nephi is conversing with an angel. Its interesting to note that the angel asks a lot of questions. Many things are not said directly; Nephi is invited to interpret much of what he is shown and told, and then the angel confirms his interpretation. I've never seen an angel, but my experiences receiving answers have been similar.

I've been actively involved in almost all of the most memorable and impactive experiences of my life. The Lord answers our prayers to teach us and direct us, and He invites us to be involved in receiving those answers so it isn't simply in one ear and out the other.

I know first-hand that God answers prayers. Every time I learn more about Him it makes me recognize how much He loves us and wants to talk to us, because we are literally His children. Prayer is among the greatest gifts we have as His children, and I know that He wants all of us to use it.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Receiving the Priesthood

Today I've had the opportunity to reflect on the importance of the Priesthood and how it has affected my life. In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints all men and young men who are active in the Church and maintain certain standards of conduct can be ordained to the Priesthood. Starting at 12 a young man can become a Deacon, with progressive ordinations at 14 and 16. Each new one comes with a few more duties, more responsibility, and more potential for blessings. As you become a man, there is a minimum age (18) for when you can become an Elder and be ordained to the higher Priesthood, but things don't happen as automatically. A commitment to hold the Melchizedek Priesthood makes a larger jump in terms of duty, responsibility, and potential for blessings.

I remember the day I was ordained an Elder. My surviving grandfather made the trip as well as one of my uncles. My father ordained me. After being ordained, Grandpa Beer told me: "What you got to day is the best thing there is." That was all I remember him saying about it. He didn't multiply words or attempt to explain things more than that. Perhaps he knew that my attention span was still growing? At any rate, it was the perfect sermon for me, and has stayed with me since.

D&C 84:19-20 provides a great lesson on the implications of the Priesthood:
19 And this greater apriesthood administereth the gospel and holdeth the bkey of the cmysteries of the kingdom, even the key of the dknowledge of God.
20 Therefore, in the aordinances thereof, the power of bgodliness is manifest.
I know that this scripture teaches the truth. Many of the most powerful spiritual experiences I have been blessed with came through participating in a Priesthood ordinance. One that stands out in memory happened almost ten years ago, in Praia, Cape Verde. I remember confirming a man a member of the Church; for a few brief minutes the connection between myself and my Father felt absolute. It reaffirmed all of my beliefs; most of all that I was doing His work and spreading His word.

As far as the key to the knowledge of God, I don't claim to have a lot of knowledge but I can share a brief thought: Christ taught that to find our life, we should lose it (Matt. 16:25). If we are serving in the Priesthood, we will put others before ourselves. I think that this is one practical way to gain the knowledge of God. President Faust taught a lot more on this subject.

I know that we can all learn these lessons of the Priesthood and have power in it through righteousness and humility. God wants us to understand and come to know Him, and He will help us get there if we will be led.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

The Family: A Proclamation to the World Part I

I love the proclamation on the family, given in 1995 by President Hinckley and the leadership of the Church. I'm going to write a series of posts about it of which this is the first. In the middle of the third-to-last paragraph it says:
Successful marriages and families are established and maintained on principles of faith, prayer, repentance, forgiveness, respect, love, compassion, work, and wholesome recreational activities.
I think this is fantastic marriage advice to everyone. I was discussing this recently with my dad - he has managed to stay married for 39 years and counting - and he said that he thinks repentance might be the most important word in that sentence.

One of the things that doesn't always seem obvious when you're engaged and when you're first married is how much your spouse will upset you, or how bad he or she will hurt you at times. I'm not saying it'll be something terrible or even something intentional, but conflicts arise in marriages and you have to move past them. Recognizing you are wrong will mean a lot to your spouse; sincere apologies and working to right your mistake will heal your relationship.

I believe my Father's statement implies that forgiveness is also essential. When you're with someone for a long time they will have done many things over the years that have hurt you. Even if these are all small things like getting home late for dinner, little things build up. The weight of even small grudges can become a tremendous burden in any relationship. We should forgive our spouses as the Lord forgives us all - completely. He doesn't even remember sins we repent of and that should be our goal. Forgiving completely allows the healing to go so deep as to remove even the emotional scars of any pain.

Faith and prayer can be strong foundational stones that support us through the most difficult times of life; they are equally powerful in marriage. Our Heavenly Father wants our marriage to be sweet, joyous and sacred. I personally know that His Hands are ready to lead us in building our families.

The second to last principle mentioned is work. Nobody gets places worth going without working. I don't believe that marriages stay strong because a couple is just a perfect fit for each other. I think the best marriages happen because of work.

Finally, we get to wholesome recreational activities. Everyone feels pressure and stress in life. I admit that many of the times where there have been arguments at home the root cause comes from outside, like an awful week at work. Having fun is a great way to handle stress, and minimize these kind of fights. Get to know how to help your spouse relax, his or her favorite games, music, dance, or whatever it is that you can enjoy together and make sure to do these things when life gets turbulent.

Attempting to follow this advice has helped me in my own marriage. I know that living it better will make my marriage even better. I am lucky to have experienced how sweet life can be with a loving, supporting companion by my side. Nothing I have accomplished is mine; everything is ours. These principles are the key to a relationship where you mutually elevate and edify each other, and a fantastic goal for all.