Friday, December 26, 2014

On Becoming a First Watch Disciple

After reading yesterday's post, someone sent me an e-mail asking, "Do we really have to wait on God until the very last minute before we can be rescued?" As I pondered an answer to that question, I reflected on whether or not there might be an exception to the fourth watch observations I had made.

The world about us is increasingly chaotic and troublesome. In recent days as 2014 ebbed to a close, we have witnessed unrest in the streets of America over racial tensions arising from police shootings of black teenagers and the seemingly retaliatory brutal assassination in Brooklyn of two of New York's finest. We can debate the causes for this uprising, but that is not the point. Our collective faith and determination to right our national ship of state must continue to be in evidence in the days and years ahead, or we will default to this kind of lawlessness in the streets.

The imagery of a ship being tossed to and fro on the mighty deep is a familiar theme in the scriptures. It could be true for nations as well as individuals. As my little individual ship is tossed to and fro amid the mighty waves of mortality, like the barges Mahonri Moriancumer built, I have become convinced it must be “tight like unto a dish,” otherwise it would have sunk a long time ago.  (See Ether 2:17).

There is insight here that is priceless. The barges in the scriptural account are prepared for a journey to the promised land. The journey would provide “waves of the sea,” “winds,” “rains and floods,” and even “mountain waves.” The account tells us “the winds have gone forth out of my mouth” – in other words, God is the cause of the wind that causes the mountain waves. So why didn’t Moriancumer just say to the Lord when asked how to solve the problem of the light in the vessels, “Lord, why don't you just NOT blow the wind so hard?” However, leaving the problem to be solved by Moriancumer, the Lord offered this comfort:  “I prepare you against these things.” (Ether 2:23-25). Note, the preparation the Lord was focusing on here was Moriancumer's personal preparation for that which was to come, not on preparing the vessels, which was Moriancumer's primary objective. I think, painful as it is right now, that we are being prepared for the Lord's Second Coming.

C.S. Lewis
C. S. Lewis said lots of cool stuff, and this is just one example:

. . .ye cannot in your present state understand eternity. . . But ye can get some likeness of it if ye say that both good and evil, when they are full grown, become retrospective. . . all their earthly past will have been Heaven to those who are saved. . . That is what mortals misunderstand. They say of some temporal suffering, "No future bliss can make up for it," not knowing that Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into a glory. And of some sinful pleasure they say "Let me have but this and I'll take the consequences:" little dreaming how damnation will spread back and back into their past and contaminate the pleasure of the sin. Both processes begin even before death. The good man's past begins to change so that his forgiven sins and remembered sorrows take on the quality of Heaven: the bad man's past already conforms to his badness and is filled only with dreariness. And that is why, at the end of all things, when the sun rises here and the twilight turns to blackness down there, the Blessed will say "We have never lived anywhere except in Heaven," and the Lost, "We were always in Hell." And both will speak truly. (Lewis, C. S., The Great Divorce, a Dream. HarperSanFrancisco, (c)1946, 1973, 2001, 69).

As perhaps an addendum to what I wrote about yesterday and in answer to the e-mail writer's concern, I can declare there is one area in our lives where the Lord is a “First Watch God.” Whenever I have sought to be forgiven in my life His response is always immediate and overwhelming. Have you ever been so “filled with his love, even unto the consuming of my flesh?” (2 Nephi 4:21). I have. When we repent and come unto Him seeking forgiveness, the response is instantaneous. I can cite several scriptural examples from The Book of Mormon to prove the point.

Enos tells us he received an immediate answer to his plea for forgiveness:

And I will tell you of the wrestle which I had before God, before I received a remission of my sins.
Behold, I went to hunt beasts in the forests; and the words which I had often heard my father speak concerning eternal life, and the joy of the saints, sunk deep into my heart.
And my soul hungered; and I kneeled down before my Maker, and I cried unto him in mighty prayer and supplication for mine own soul; and all the day long did I cry unto him; yea, and when the night came I did still raise my voice high that it reached the heavens.
And there came a voice unto me, saying: Enos, thy sins are forgiven thee, and thou shalt be blessed.
And I, Enos, knew that God could not lie; wherefore, my guilt was swept away.
And I said: Lord, how is it done?
And he said unto me: Because of thy faith in Christ, whom thou hast never before heard nor seen. And many years pass away before he shall manifest himself in the flesh; wherefore, go to, thy faith hath made thee whole.  (Enos 1:2-8, emphasis mine).

Amaleki, when he began to be old, said by way of invitation and promise:

And now, my beloved brethren, I would that ye should come unto Christ, who is the Holy One of Israel, and partake of his salvation, and the power of his redemption. Yea, come unto him, and offer your whole souls as an offering unto him, and continue in fasting and praying, and endure to the end; and as the Lord liveth ye will be saved.  (Omni 1:26, emphasis mine).

King Benjamin’s people were forgiven instantly:

And they had viewed themselves in their own carnal state, even less than the dust of the earth. And they all cried aloud with one voice, saying: O have mercy, and apply the atoning blood of Christ that we may receive forgiveness of our sins, and our hearts may be purified; for we believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who created heaven and earth, and all things; who shall come down among the children of men.
And it came to pass that after they had spoken these words the Spirit of the Lord came upon them, and they were filled with joy, having received a remission of their sins, and having peace of conscience, because of the exceeding faith which they had in Jesus Christ who should come, according to the words which king Benjamin had spoken unto them.  (Mosiah 4:2-3, emphasis mine).

Zeezrom, one of the infamous converted Anti-Christs, was similarly healed:

And it came to pass that Alma said unto him, taking him by the hand: Believest thou in the power of Christ unto salvation?
And he answered and said: Yea, I believe all the words that thou hast taught.
And Alma said: If thou believest in the redemption of Christ thou canst be healed.
And he said: Yea, I believe according to thy words.
And then Alma cried unto the Lord, saying: O Lord our God, have mercy on this man, and heal him according to his faith which is in Christ.
And when Alma had said these words, Zeezrom leaped upon his feet, and began to walk; and this was done to the great astonishment of all the people; and the knowledge of this went forth throughout all the land of Sidom.
And Alma baptized Zeezrom unto the Lord; and he began from that time forth to preach unto the people.  (Alma 15:6-12, emphasis mine).

Ammon, who converted King Lamoni, described it this way:

And it came to pass that after he had said all these things, and expounded them to the king, that the king believed all his words.
And he began to cry unto the Lord, saying: O Lord, have mercy; according to thy abundant mercy which thou hast had upon the people of Nephi, have upon me, and my people. . .  (Alma 18:40-41).
[Then he’s in a little trance for awhile, and when he awakens he declares to his wife the queen:]
And it came to pass that he arose, according to the words of Ammon; and as he arose, he stretched forth his hand unto the woman, and said: Blessed be the name of God, and blessed art thou.
For as sure as thou livest, behold, I have seen my Redeemer; and he shall come forth, and be born of a woman, and he shall redeem all mankind who believe on his name. Now, when he had said these words, his heart was swollen within him, and he sunk again with joy; and the queen also sunk down, being overpowered by the Spirit.  (Alma 19:12-13, emphasis mine).

The queen also received instant help when she awakened with this testimony on her lips:

And it came to pass that she went and took the queen by the hand, that perhaps she might raise her from the ground; and as soon as she touched her hand she arose and stood upon her feet, and cried with a loud voice, saying: O blessed Jesus, who has saved me from an awful hell! O blessed God, have mercy on this people!  (Alma 19:29, emphasis mine).

Then Lamoni’s father gets immediate forgiveness when Aaron teaches him:

And it came to pass that after Aaron had expounded these things unto him, the king said: What shall I do that I may have this eternal life of which thou hast spoken? Yea, what shall I do that I may be born of God, having this wicked spirit rooted out of my breast, and receive his Spirit, that I may be filled with joy, that I may not be cast off at the last day? Behold, said he, I will give up all that I possess, yea, I will forsake my kingdom, that I may receive this great joy.
But Aaron said unto him: If thou desirest this thing, if thou wilt bow down before God, yea, if thou wilt repent of all thy sins, and will bow down before God, and call on his name in faith, believing that ye shall receive, then shalt thou receive the hope which thou desirest.
And it came to pass that when Aaron had said these words, the king did bow down before the Lord, upon his knees; yea, even he did prostrate himself upon the earth, and cried mightily, saying:
O God, Aaron hath told me that there is a God; and if there is a God, and if thou art God, wilt thou make thyself known unto me, and I will give away all my sins to know thee, and that I may be raised from the dead, and be saved at the last day.  (Alma 22:15-18).
[Then he too sleeps for awhile and when he awakens, this:]
Now this was done in the presence of the queen and many of the servants.  And when they saw it they greatly marveled, and began to fear.  And the king stood forth, and began to minister unto them, insomuch that his whole household were converted unto the Lord.  (Alma 22:23, emphasis mine).

When Alma later told his conversion story, he related how quickly salvation came to him:

And it came to pass that as I was thus racked with torment, while I was harrowed up by the memory of my many sins, behold, I remembered also to have heard my father prophesy unto the people concerning the coming of one Jesus Christ, a Son of God, to atone for the sins of the world.
Now, as my mind caught hold upon this thought, I cried within my heart: O Jesus, thou Son of God, have mercy on me, who am in the gall of bitterness, and am encircled about by the everlasting chains of death.
And now, behold, when I thought this, I could remember my pains no more; yea, I was harrowed up by the memory of my sins no more.
And oh, what joy, and what marvelous light I did behold; yea, my soul was filled with joy as exceeding as was my pain!
Yea, I say unto you, my son, that there could be nothing so exquisite and so bitter as were my pains. Yea, and again I say unto you, my son, that on the other hand, there can be nothing so exquisite and sweet as was my joy.  (Alma 36:17-21, emphasis mine).

Even the wicked people who came to kill Lehi and Nephi, sons of Helaman, received an instantaneous deliverance:

And Nephi and Lehi were in the midst of them; yea, they were encircled about; yea, they were as if in the midst of a flaming fire, yet it did harm them not, neither did it take hold upon the walls of the prison; and they were filled with that joy which is unspeakable and full of glory.
And behold, the Holy Spirit of God did come down from heaven, and did enter into their hearts, and they were filled as if with fire, and they could speak forth marvelous words.
And it came to pass that there came a voice unto them, yea, a pleasant voice, as if it were a whisper, saying:
Peace, peace be unto you, because of your faith in my Well Beloved, who was from the foundation of the world.
And now, when they heard this they cast up their eyes as if to behold from whence the voice came; and behold, they saw the heavens open; and angels came down out of heaven and ministered unto them.
And there were about three hundred souls who saw and heard these things; and they were bidden to go forth and marvel not, neither should they doubt.
And it came to pass that they did go forth, and did minister unto the people, declaring throughout all the regions round about all the things which they had heard and seen, insomuch that the more part of the Lamanites were convinced of them, because of the greatness of the evidences which they had received.
And as many as were convinced did lay down their weapons of war, and also their hatred and the tradition of their fathers.
And it came to pass that they did yield up unto the Nephites the lands of their possession.  (Helaman 5:44-52, emphasis mine).

We live in a day when hatred among people of different ethnic backgrounds (think Lamanite and Nephite civilizations) extend back to the beginning of Abraham’s tribal family feuds. All are related to Father Abraham, but the differences between these peoples are often dramatized and exacerbated, much as the race relations in America rise to unwarranted heights when the flames are fanned as they are today. Ishmael was saved in the wilderness to give rise to a vast Islamic world population today, a small percentage of which is wreaking havoc not unlike the Gadianton robbers of another time. Who can doubt when we read of these miraculous conversions that the same thing could not happen again as liberty and freedom spreads abroad in the war against terrorism today? Despotism, while it may flourish here and there for a season, cannot be sustained. It is the yearning for freedom, however, that endures.

When we seek forgiveness, there is no doubt the God we worship is a "First Watch God."  But that degree of forgiveness implies we must do “all that we could do” (see Alma 24:11; 15) to receive the blessings sought. The key lies not in God’s power to grant. The key that unlocks salvation in our lives rests in our hands – when we knock, He opens immediately. As powerful as the atonement is, it never has power in our lives until we give Him permission to heal us.

Hugh Nibley
I love the perspective of Hugh Nibley, who when asked to sum up all he had learned, replied that we must become really good at two things in mortality - to repent and to forgive. He fleshes it out this way:

The test for this life is not for knowledge; it is not for intelligence, or for courage, or for anything like that. That would be a huge joke. None of us knows very much, none of us is very brave, none of us is very strong, none of us is very smart. We would flunk those tests terribly. As Alma said, we are only to be tested on one thing - the desires of our heart (Alma 41:3); that is what we are really after. . . Thus we don't need to go on forever suffering the same nonsense in order to see the things we can be tested for, namely the two things and the only two things we are good at: we can forgive and we can repent. These are the two things the angels envy us for. (Approaching Zion, 300-301).

In Luke 17, the Lord Jesus Christ admonishes the disciples to “Take heed to yourselves: If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him. And if he trespass against thee seven times in a day, and seven times in a day turn again to thee, saying, I repent; thou shalt forgive him.” (Luke 17:3-4).

He raises the stakes even higher in our dispensation with this: “My disciples, in days of old, sought occasion against one another and forgave not one another in their hearts; and for this evil they were afflicted and sorely chastened. Wherefore, I say unto you, that ye ought to forgive one another; for he that forgiveth not his brother his trespasses standeth condemned before the Lord; for there remaineth in him the greater sin. I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men.” (D&C 64:8-10).

Elder Neal A. Maxwell
If that is the standard He expects of us, isn’t it reasonable to suppose we could expect Him to do at least as much for us when we need forgiveness – even if it’s seven times in a single day? But how do we get to be so good at forgiveness just like Him? Practice, practice, practice. We are organized into families for that express purpose, so that we may have (as Neal A. Maxwell used to say) “laboratory material” on which to work.

I know that small slights and offenses are all part of rubbing against each other. I know I may have been the cause of some of that among all of you, and for that I seek your forgiveness. Such was never my intent to hurt anyone. But it happens. I try to do my best and years go by, it seems, before I take action to make needed repairs. Like many of you, I am a great procrastinator, but I hope to be better and better as the slippery slope before me and death looms ever more slippery. I love you all and I seek your forgiveness for whatever it is I may have done, not done, or said or not said to have given offense.

In that spirit, while toiling forward in my discipleship late into the Fourth Watch and beyond, my desire is to become a First Watch Disciple who dispenses immediate forgiveness and seeks to swiftly repent as often as seven times a day when needed. That it may be so for all of us, I pray.

And don't be surprised, having done all you know how to do in the way of repenting, if the wait for deliverance continues on for a little while longer. It's all part of your preparation to bring you forth a little more burnished and finished from the fires of adversity. In the immortal words of Earl Hayes, "Pure gold was never refined in an air-conditioned chamber."

Thursday, December 25, 2014

We Worship a Fourth Watch God

On this Christmas afternoon in Pine Valley, the snow is piling up, the trees are adorned in a covering of white, and I'm listening to Christmas carols in the quietude of the scene spread before me. I'm in a reflective mood, and cleaning up some old files on the computer. I found an entry I had written during a bleak time of doubt and fear about the future. All these years later things did work out for us. I wrote these words when the hour was the darkest, just before the dawn's light began to shine. The answers that had seemed so elusive eventually emerged, and yielded themselves after persistence, faith, hard work and consistency. This was "self talk" back then, now I share it with those who may be toiling in the darkest time of their lives:

Several years ago I was given a Christmas gift that endures. It was a talk on CD given by Michael Wilcox titled “The Fourth Watch.” It was right on point for us. Echoing back to me in my ears was the advice and counsel I have given to so many over the years. But looking back, it’s always different when you’re the one in the barrel going over the falls. It’s so much easier to be the dispenser than the recipient. I am grateful to Julie for giving us this gift of inestimable worth to remind us that even when it seems we are receiving no answers that there is still hope to be found in the journey!

A useful bit of historical trivia to help you understand the New Testament scriptures: Brother Wilcox explains that the Hebrew day was divided into four three-hour segments beginning at 6:00 a.m. The third hour is 9:00 a.m., the sixth hour is noon, and the ninth hour (when the scriptures say the Savior was crucified) is 3:00 p.m.

At night, the three-hour segments are divided into “watches.” The first watch is 6:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m., the second watch is 9:00 p.m. to midnight, the third watch is midnight to 3:00 a.m., and the fourth watch – the object lesson of his talk – is 3:00 a.m. to 6:00 a.m.

He teaches some powerful principles to those of us who have toiled in faith, seemingly with no answers coming our way. He gives the example of the Savior’s walk on the water as the illustration. Many of you, perhaps, have not come to realize yet that His coming to the troubled and weary disciples who had rowed all night on the Sea of Galilee was in the darkest and most foreboding time of the night – just before dawn.

He had fed the multitudes earlier in the day (five thousand men plus the women and children), sent them away, and told the disciples to get into a ship and row to the other side. Then the scriptures say (Matthew 14:23) he “went up into a mountain apart to pray,” and he must have prayed into the evening and well into the night all alone.

Meanwhile, the ship “was now in the midst of the sea, tossed with waves: for the wind was contrary.” Mark in his record (Mark 6:48) adds the detail that “he saw them toiling in rowing; for the wind was contrary unto them.” John says “it was now dark, and the Jesus was not come to them. And the sea arose by reason of a great wind that blew. So when they had rowed about five and twenty or thirty furlongs (a “furlong" is about 220 yards, so you do the math – they were no doubt tired and exhausted by now), they see Jesus walking on the sea.” (John 6:17-19).

Well, what are the lessons to be learned by this extreme example from the scriptures? 1) He sees us toiling in our discipleship from a vantage point far higher and more superior to ours; 2) He knows we are often exhausted and apt to grumble about our circumstances, yet loves us anyway; 3) He has power over all the elements that conspire to create the waves of adversity and has the power to calm them; 4) He tells us not to be afraid. I would add one more – when He does come to us in the fourth watch “immediately the ship was at the land whither they went.” (John 6:21).  In other words, the timetable of when He comes to us is His not ours, and when the time is fully ripe in the fourth watch it seems the miracle is immediate.

Brother Wilcox suggests that we worship a “fourth watch” God. I used to say, “God loves a cliffhanger.” It seems when all help is seemingly spent, when the last extremity has been reached, then and only then – in the fourth watch – does He respond in mercy and kindness. I suppose that fact is mandated in discipleship to determine whether or not we will really – REALLY – learn to trust Him.

Brother Wilcox cites the example of Hagar with Ishmael in the wilderness, when the “water was spent in the bottle.” (Genesis 21:15). He gently chides her with “What aileth thee, Hagar?” Oh, I don’t know, she had just been cast out of Abraham’s household, was at the point of starvation and dehydration, near death, and she could not have had much to complain about, could she?  He told her (and all of us) that someday, “I will make him a great nation” (verse 18). God “opened her eyes” when all hope was lost and “she saw a well of water; and she went, and filled the bottle with water, and gave the lad drink” (verse 19). He came in the fourth watch, but He DID come!

Another example was the widow in Zarephath who was commanded to sustain Elijah in the moment of his extremity, when all she had was “a little water in a vessel,” and "a morsel of bread,” “a handful of meal in a barrel, and a little oil in a cruse,” just enough to make her last meal for herself and her son in preparation of their death. (1 Kings 17:8-16). The promise was once again fulfilled, and “the barrel of meal wasted not, neither did the cruse of oil fail, according to the word of the LORD, which he spake by Elijah.” He came in the fourth watch, but He DID come!

I’ve also wondered about Abraham and his sacrifice of Isaac (see Genesis 22).  In that example I have learned not to fear the long hike up the mountain of preparation. I’ve learned to embrace the tests that come along the way. And I’ve learned that by accepting the invitation to join the church of the Firstborn, consecration defies (and is in direct contradiction) to the natural man within us. There is no evidence that Isaac resisted even a little bit. He went forward in his uncertainty trusting his father. “Abraham stretched forth his hand, and took the knife to slay his son. And the angel of the LORD called upon him out of heaven, and said, Abraham, Abraham; and he said, Here am I. And he said, Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou any thing unto him; for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me (verses 10-12). Again, He came in the fourth watch, but He DID come!

Extreme examples? Yes, each one. But are our lives any less dramatic? When all seems to be lost in our lives, we can paint ourselves into these stories and learn to trust God at all costs. That’s what the path of discipleship is all about, and yes, it is a dangerous doctrine.

What is coming up ahead of us on the path of discipleship as we live our lives on borrowed time well into the sixth seal is a darker night and more fierce winds on the sea. It will take fourth watch faith if we are to successfully navigate our dark night of stormy seas up ahead. But remember, He WILL come even in our fourth watches!

We really do worship a Fourth Watch God! He hears your desperate pleas for help. He will succor you in your afflictions. He will be merciful and kind.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

My Top 5 List of Things To Be Grateful For

Every year at this time I think about why I love Thanksgiving more than any other holiday in the calendar. It's always been a chance to sit down and take stock of the year as it quickly passes away. This year is no exception. We have so much to be grateful for, and I can always think of more than my top five because it's a very long list. But for 2014, here are my top five:

Ashley, Dianne, Patsy, Peggy
1. My mother-in-law, Peggy Ruth Brazier Hewlett Weight. Yes, at the top of my list this year I have ranked my mother-in-law. She recently passed away after almost 93 years on the planet. But I am not grateful she passed away. Rather, I am grateful for the long legacy of faith she represents to me and all her posterity. I am grateful for all the happy memories she has given us. I am grateful to her for living in such a way that we all learned valuable life lessons of repentance, forgiveness, diligence, hard work and dedication. Legion are the examples of people, family and otherwise, who were welcomed to her home when they were in town for visits. She was always the "hostess with the mostess."

By the world's standards, this would seem an odd choice at the top of a list of things for which I am grateful, but in my case none of the standard mother-in-law jokes apply. Peggy was world-class in essentially all the things that matter most in mothers and human beings in general. She was a consummate networker and connector of people. She had so many friends, even after such a long life, that the chapel for her funeral was filled to overflowing and back into the cultural hall. Never underestimate the impact of being a good friend. Indeed, nearly all her posterity and everyone who knew her thought they were her favorite. What capacity for making people feel special and valued!

I first became aware of Peggy when her son Lin was killed by a drunk driver when I was a junior at East High School. Lin was a senior and Patsy was a sophomore. I watched their family grieve over Lin's death, along with the whole student body. I was at the cemetery in October, 1963, when Lin and his friend Flemming Christensen were laid to rest fifty-one years ago. As I stood over the open grave the other day to dedicate Peggy's final resting place, the memory of Lin's and Flemming's funerals came rushing back. Now the circle of life was complete, and the glorious reunion that was taking place on the other side of the veil was revealed clearly to me and all the rest of us.

Peggy and Harold were role models of applying the atonement's principles to their lives, and they became diligent missionaries wherever in the world they went. Eventually, they would travel to the far corners of the earth, touching foot on every continent except Antarctica. Her son John sang "O That I Were an Angel," as a final tribute to her at her funeral, and when I thought of Lin and Flemming doing missionary work in the spirit world for fifty-one years before she joined them there, I was thrilled at the prospect of her wish finally coming true! How grateful I am for the knowledge of the plan of salvation that has been revealed in these last days.

2. I am grateful for her daughter, Patsy. I don't think there is a more compassionate and loving woman on earth than Patsy. She has spent the last several weeks at her mother's side both in the rehab center and the hospital. Peggy fell and broke her hip about seven weeks ago. It proved to be a game changer, and accelerated her demise. Until that event, we had all thought Peggy to be invincible. At the peril of her own health, something I have been worried about, Patsy pressed on in service to her mother, ignoring her own well-being. I insisted that she go to see the doctor this week after all the events of her mother's passing were complete, and as I was writing this post they called from the doctor's office to give an alarming report about Patsy's anemic condition, something that has been a lifelong challenge for her but has been exacerbated by the events of the past several weeks. We spent the rest of the day in the emergency room until well into the night, while they transfused her with two units of blood.

We never know when or how life will end. There are no guarantees, no extended lease terms on life. Our sojourn here on earth has an expiration date, we just don't have that information. I am grateful for each day I have with this remarkable woman, knowing factors beyond our control may overtake us someday. When I think about why Patsy has a lifelong pattern of little or no sleep at night and seems to be so focused on the needs and comforts of others ahead of her own, I need look no further than the example she saw in her mother for the answer.

At Merilee's wedding reception, summer 2014 
3. I am grateful for all our children and grandchildren. In our family we don't make distinctions about in-laws. They are all ours, and we count them that way. When we were counting up grandchildren of Peggy's we included all the spouses of our children in the count, and we were instructed that's not an accurate count. Peggy never believed that - she always sided with our way of counting. So, when the program for the memorial service was being prepared I listed everyone as though they all belonged to Peggy and Harold, because they do without reservation. One well wisher in a card to Patsy after the funeral, summed it up best:

"Your dear mother was loved by so many! She brought a lot of happiness and joy, especially to her grandchildren. They have expressed so many great things about their experiences with her. Her family was so important to her, her friends loved her, and she always was full of life!
"You were so fortunate to have had her in your life for so many years. Her zest for life, her love of family was so evident.
"Patsy, know I love you, you have so many wonderful traits of your mother."

4. The knowledge I have of the atonement of Jesus Christ and the plan of salvation. That testimony anchors our existence here in mortality. He suffered for each of us. As the only Sinless One, He took upon Himself our sins and our afflictions. There is nothing in this mortal experience He does not know and understand intimately. In a way I do not fully understand, He knew us in Gethsemane and on Golgotha. He knew about all the sins we committed, and He knew about all the wrongs that were inflicted upon us by others, and He forgave everyone who has ever afflicted another and been afflicted. I am thankful I share that knowledge with Peggy.

On the back of the program for her memorial service, we printed a written testimony she offered when she and Harold were serving as missionaries in Ireland. We found it among her papers as we were preparing for her funeral:

"Today is Mother's Day in the United States, and I am missing my beautiful children and grandchildren.
"My heart is overflowing with gratitude to my Heavenly Father for these beautiful children and grandchildren.
"The privilege of partnership with God in bearing and nurturing His children has been the greatest blessing of my life!
"I thank my Father in Heaven for noble heritage, ancestors who pulled handcarts across wonderful country, parents and brothers who love me and taught me to love the Lord, wonderful friends and associates.
"I am so grateful for a fine and noble husband to love me and care for me.
"I am grateful for gospel callings and teachings, for the Holy Spirit to lead, to warn, to strengthen and to comfort me.
"I believe in Christ. I love him with all my heart. I know His power."

5. I am thankful for a blanket of white that now covers Pine Valley. Last night ten inches of snow fell and all the trees are now cloaked in white that sparkles with a brightness beyond description. I said to Patsy as we drove down the road to our three-hour block of meetings this morning, "This is the most beautiful scene imaginable. The winter presents some challenges to overcome, but if you love white this is the place to be." Whenever the Utah ski resorts get a big winter storm before Thanksgiving, it bodes well for the tourist trade in these parts and the water reserves for next summer. We can be thankful for water content in snow.

White is such a remarkable and consistent gospel symbol. We dress in white clothing to go to the temple to participate in all the ordinances of salvation. We are all dressed alike. There is no class distinction there. When Peggy was lying in her casket at her viewings, her white temple dress was the one she selected and told Patsy, "This is the dress I want you to bury me in." In life she was beautiful and arrayed in spotless white when she attended the temple with us, and in death she was translucent, appearing to be at peace in her restful repose and twenty years younger than her 92-plus years.

Babies are blessed in white. Brides are dressed in white. A white shirt is the "priesthood uniform" for boys and men alike. White is the color for all participants in a baptismal service. Often, though not mandated, white bread is the symbol for the sacrament. We wash our garments in the blood of Christ through His atonement, and when we do we are told we are made "spotless white."

And now in the Salt Lake City Cemetery, alongside her beloved Lin, the graves are covered in a fresh blanket of white.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Election 2014 - The Aftermath

There are pundits galore, all over the political universe it seems, who will make meaning out of yesterday's election results. Be careful whom you choose to believe.

I have remained intentionally silent in the run up to this election, privately hoping for the results we observed, but not going public with those aspirations. Putting control of the Senate back into the hands of the Republicans has little to do with their superior agenda, in my opinion. Rather, this election was a stout repudiation of Barack Obama's misguided policies across the whole political waterfront. His much-ballyhooed base seemingly evaporated in this election. The vaunted Democratic election machine ground to an embarrassingly squeaky halt.

We are being told this morning the Democrats need to reinvent themselves in the wake of this stunning defeat for Barack Obama as leader of the party.

He won't see it that way, and in fact one of his aides was quoted this morning in the NY Times as saying exactly that: "He doesn't feel repudiated." And this from a man who boldly declared this election was about ALL his policies, "every single one."

It wasn't that long ago there were cries for the Republicans to reinvent themselves, allegations they were a divided party in search of unity, woefully unable to connect to the American people. Well, times change, people change their views, and the political pendulum swings back and forth. Now it is the Republicans who are trending upward. And that will change someday too.

Not only did Republicans win seven Democratic Senate seats (and counting), lost none, and took control of the Senate, but they did something far more significant for the long term health of the Republic by dislodging Harry Reid (D-NV) as the Senate Majority Leader. He has single-handedly and heavy-handedly, broken the Senate rules repeatedly to make new rules to suit his own political needs.

This morning, he sounded like a statesman: “I’d like to congratulate Senator McConnell (R-KY), who will be the new Senate Majority Leader. The message from voters is clear: they want us to work together. I look forward to working with Senator McConnell to get things done for the middle class.”

Based on what Harry Reid has done for the middle class over the last six years, no one should be holding their breath that Harry Reid will ever become anything but the obstructionist he has always been. But hope springs eternal, I suppose. History, I predict, will judge Harry Reid harshly as the author of chaos and divisiveness in the legislative process these last six years. I hope Republicans will model true leadership better, now that the reins are in their hands. I am, and will always be, optimistic about the future of America.

In addition, the Republicans added more governorships throughout the country. Democrats won only one and lost four, including bluer than blue Maryland. Even Illinois added a Republican governor! In the House, Democrats lost at least eight seats, probably more when the final results are in. There are now more House Republicans on Capitol Hill than have been seated since World War II.

Mia Love's family
Several firsts in the House include the election of Mia Love (R-UT), the first black Republican conservative woman, who is also a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. That is an historic "first" worth celebrating, and the citizens of the 4th Utah Congressional District are to be congratulated for their foresight.

Orrin Hatch (R-UT) finally is realizing his dream to become the Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, and as an added bonus he will be named the President Pro Tempore, now fourth in line to the presidency and the recipient of his own Secret Service security detail. For the uninitiated, that office is provided for in the Constitution (yes, we are still governed by it), and is the senior Senator in the majority party who sits (ceremoniously) in the seat of the President of the Senate, who is the Vice President, when the Vice President is not there (which is nearly always never).

There’s no reason to gloat this morning. You couldn't fairly call it a "wave" election. But it could be accurately characterized as the election where Democrats suffered worse than the mid-terms four years ago in 2010.

I hope I'm not stretching too far to think this might just be the end of the liberal progressive Democratic governance and all of Washington's gross spending excesses. My fear is that Republicans have been prone in the past to be the all too willing collaborators for the spending orgy.

Let's hope for some responsible budget setting governance to replace what we've witnessed in the last six years.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

"What If The Goats Had NOT Died?"

My good friend Jim Ritchie is proving to be a wonderful source for incredible (and true) stories. I've had this one on my mind for a few weeks since he shared it, and I believe it will be uplifting and motivational to some who may be struggling with their own set of challenges with adversity.

Some say America has seen better days, and that the "American dream" is something that is more myth than reality. However, those who come to these shores find almost unbelievable opportunities, unimagined in their prior lives. Out of adversity comes the blessings if we have faith to move ahead.

We never know when adversity might strike us, but the mortal experience being what it is almost guarantees we will all come in for our share. Recently, Patsy's mother (in her 93rd year), fell in her bedroom and broke her hip. Near death last week, she has made a near miraculous recovery and following surgery to replace the broken pieces, she is in a rehab center today beginning physical therapy. This latest trial has come to her late in life, but she has had her share of challenges all along the way.

What, one might ask, would her life had been like without the seemingly tragic circumstances that befell her? Would she have become the woman she is today without all those difficulties? Not likely.

I'm certain you will all enjoy this latest story from "Bro. Jim" as he shares the life story of one young missionary, Joseph Oryang, and his progenitors. I'll bet every one of the 90,000 missionaries currently serving has an incredible back story to share, but this one is unique to be sure. Enjoy! Who knows, maybe there is someone in far away Uganda or Mozambique who may know this story better than me.

* * *

Joseph Oryang is the son of David Oryang who is the son of (I don’t remember  his name. so plug in a good Uganda name - let's call him John). “John” was a young man growing up in the hills of Uganda, who along with his brother rose up early each day to head for the hills to stay with and protect the family's growing goat herd.

They would spend each day from early to late tending to the goats. They were just lads, "tenish" in years and destined to spend their lives on the foothills of Uganda, except for a disaster that hit Uganda. A deadly disease coming from Europe invaded Uganda that was devastating to the goats and nearly all of the Uganda goats died from the plague.

At least it hit the Oryang family hard. as all their goats eventually died and the Oryang family no longer had any chance at temporal success. The family was destitute and desperate.

In the middle of this incredible set back, “John” decided to strike out on his own as a teenager to see what was on the other side of the mountain. With his meager belongings strapped to his back he walked the many miles to the "big city," probably Kampala, where he somehow got himself enrolled into a school and worked his way to a high school diploma. He did so well he was awarded a scholarship to a university, which paved the way for another round of luck. He was awarded an opportunity to go to Oxford University in England.

Graduating with honors, he returned to his native land and was immediately rewarded with a good paying job with the Ugandan Government. Now he was a man of influence and privilege. “John” married and began to raise a family with his new found rank as a "Man of Importance," which gave his children privileges he could never have dreamed he might have if he had remained a goatsman of Uganda.

David grew up under this "influence," which got him enrolled in the better schools, and eventually he earned a scholarship to the University of Washington, where he worked his way through and ended up with a significant degree.

I’m vague (as I’m old) and can’t remember the sequence of the next events, but along the way he runs into the gospel - which "sticks" - and then in a gas station he meets the woman of his life and the David Oryang story begins to take deep roots.

David landed a US government job, which gave this driven man an opportunity to rise in Washington DC as a VIP. His testimony and leadership skills are recognized by both the Lord and his priesthood leaders, and as of 2014, he was serving as a counselor in the stake presidency of the Woodbridge Stake in Northern Virginia.

His story might have never been written, except he came to a Launching Leaders program as a guest speaker, and shared his exciting and entertaining story. We were all dazzled with the events which brought him to America, Woodbridge, and to become a family of prominence in the gospel and the government.

As he concluded his story and appropriate application to each of our lives was made, I stood up and said the first thing that came to my mind!!! “What if the goats had not died?”

We speculated the differences in the story, had the goats never died. David's father, "John." and his uncle might have spent the rest of their "professional" life herding goats and raising their families in Uganda.

Joseph Oryang and the Ritchies
Then, enter David, and eventually Joseph. This is the family that might have been known to this day as the finest goat herdsmen in Uganda had they settled for what appeared to be their predestined fate.

But Mozambique would not have been the testing ground for their 6’6” strapping son, Joseph, nor would the gospel or education or influence in the stake presidency or government have been in the family history of the Oryang family if "John" had remained the goat herder.

Oh, what a different family story would NEVER have been told.

* * *

So, think about where you are in your life today. As you consider what people might say about you in describing your life at your funeral, what stories are you writing today that they might tell someday? Will they say that when the goats died in your life the tragedy overwhelmed you? Will they say it was just too much to overcome? Will they say you stayed on the foothills that were familiar and scratched out a meager existence because that was your "fate?" Will they say you could have taken the easy route out of this life with a broken hip and would they all forgive you for simply giving up with just cause? 

Or will they tell of triumph arising from the ashes, and will you leave them a legacy of achievement in their own lives to cherish because you left the dead goats behind and went on to an unknown but fruitful future because you went to the other side of the mountain to see what new vistas might present themselves to your view?

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

When Your Hut Is On Fire

I am indebted to Jim Ritchie for this story. Thanks, Bro. Jim!

The only survivor of a shipwreck was washed up on a small, uninhabited island. He prayed feverishly for God to rescue him. Every day he scanned the horizon for help, but none seemed forthcoming.

Exhausted, he eventually managed to build a little hut out of driftwood to protect himself from the elements, and to store his few possessions.

One day, after scavenging for food, he arrived home to find his little hut in flames, with smoke rolling up to the sky.. He felt the worst had happened, and everything was lost. 

He was stunned with disbelief, grief, and anger. He cried out, "God! How could you do this to me?"

Early the next day, he was awakened by the sound of a ship approaching the island! It had come to rescue him! 

"How did you know I was here?" asked the weary man of his rescuers. 

"We saw your smoke signal," they replied. 

The Moral of This Story: 

It's easy to get discouraged when things are going badly, but we shouldn't lose heart because God is at work in our lives, even in the midst of our pain and suffering. 

Remember that the next time your little hut seems to be burning to the ground. It just may be a smoke signal that summons the grace of God.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

The Gospel Principle That Can Save Us

Continuing his tradition of writing to his former missionaries in the California Arcadia Mission at General Conference time each year, my father has asked me in recent years to help him prepare his semi-annual message. What follows is the most recent one.

Dad is in his ninety-third year now, and is gradually deteriorating badly physically. He still has a sense of humor about his obvious shrinking frame, however, as he refers to himself as "the freak." Amazingly, at one time in their lives he and President Monson were the same height. What is still in tact, however, is his mental acuity, for which I am grateful.

President Thomas S. Monson, L. Brent Goates
Yesterday, he had a surprise visit from President Thomas S. Monson, who had heard about Dad's most recent medical challenges. Dad had a malignant melanoma removed from his back, and then developed some cellulitis in his leg.

President Monson came with "healing in his wings," like the angel of love and mercy he has always been to our family and everyone else he can serve. He listens to the Spirit and then responds.

He offered a priesthood blessing to Dad, but before he pronounced a blessing the two of them reminisced about their memories of their association with one another dating back to their time at the University of Utah. There were smiles and laughter all around to the delight of both.

He cheered, lifted and blessed my father, as he has done again and again throughout his life. Dad said to him, "Tom, you have changed the Church with your example of Christ-like service to others." And so he has. . . How grateful we are to President Monson as a family. There is such love for others in this man.

* * *

October, 2014


Many careful students of The Book of Mormon have observed and stated that each time they finish reading these amazing scriptures they are usually rewarded with a new perspective of enlightenment. My most recent experience has likewise impressed me and in some ways even surprised me.

For many decades past I simply accepted the obvious – that the Nephites were the chosen and favored tribe, and the Lamanites were their constant antagonists and evil tormentors. This division is taught in the very beginning as the separation of Lehi’s sons takes place and the elder two sons, Laman and Lemuel oppose their father and his more faithful son Nephi. Thus to Nephi and his posterity went the birthright, the government and the priesthood leadership, with the rebellious Lamanites doomed to offer constant resistance toward righteousness.

Yet, the final scorecard offers no such one-sided victory for the Nephites. Both tribesmen, indeed, all of the Lehi descendants fail to fulfill our Father’s hope for a righteous brand of Israelites to flourish in the New World. Their descendants regress to savagery and fall far short of the glory promised.

In reflection, it is easy to be beguiled and view the distinction between these two segments of brotherhood as being so totally black and white in contrast. The Nephites had their marvelous moments of righteous leadership with many famous prophets who taught us glorious gospel doctrine. We are so grateful to the several Nephis, to Mosiah and his son King Benjamin, and to the mighty warrior Ammon. Consider the inspiring works of Alma (both of them), and the shining hero, Moroni, of whom it was said, “If all men had been, and ever were, and ever would be, like unto Moroni, behold the very powers of hell would have been shaken forever; yea the devil would never have power over the hearts of the children of men.” (Alma 48:17). They and others fought valiantly to lift their brethren from stages of wickedness. They deserve our veneration as prophets.

But it must be remembered that the Nephite leaders were the ones writing this history. Their bias would naturally lure us to be sympathetic to their viewpoint.

The outcome of this family history was revealed early in the book in the vision of Nephi, who saw their end of days, and wrote:

And while the angel spake these words, I beheld and saw that the seed of my brethren did contend against my seed, according to the word of the angel; and because of the pride of my seed, and the temptations of the devil, I beheld that the seed of my brethren did overpower the people of my seed. . .
And the angel said unto me: Behold these shall dwindle in unbelief.
And it came to pass that I beheld, after they had dwindled in unbelief they became a dark, and loathsome, and a filthy people, full of idleness and all manner of abominations. (1 Nephi 12:19; 22-23).

The Prophet Jacob, Nephi’s younger brother, treats the judgment even-handedly. While he denounced the wickedness and depravity of the Lamanites, he said of his own people, “Behold, ye have done greater iniquities than the Lamanites.” (Jacob 2:35). How could we have so easily minimized that evaluation?

This same reversal of roles was recorded by Nephi, who wrote of the people of Zarahemla:

. . . ye have set your hearts upon the riches and the vain things of this world, for the which ye do murder, and plunder, and steal, and bear false witness against your neighbor, and do all manner of iniquity. . .
For behold, thus saith the Lord: I will not show unto the wicked of my strength, to one more than the other, save it be unto those who repent of their sins, and hearken unto my words. Now therefore, I would that ye should behold, my brethren, that it shall be better for the Lamanites than for you except ye shall repent.
For behold, they are more righteous than you, for they have not sinned against that great knowledge which ye have received; therefore the Lord will be merciful unto them; yea, he will lengthen out their days and increase their seed, even when thou shalt be utterly destroyed except thou shalt repent. (Helaman 7:21; 23-24).

So, who are victors in this battle of unrighteousness - the backsliding Nephites or the depraved Lamanites? Hear now the conclusion of noted scholar, Hugh W. Nibley, who says, “The answer is written all over The Book of Mormon – the righteous are whoever are repenting, and the wicked whoever is not repenting.” (BYU Studies 25:1, 10, 1985).

Repentance is one of the first principles of the gospel. It appears with the arrival of mankind in mortality and is reaffirmed and emphasized at the outset of every dispensation of time through the teachings of angels and prophets.

These same painful lessons are essential in our day of wickedness to meet the trials of the last days. There is no more important and vital principle of submission and contrition than to show forth daily sincere repentance. It alone can protect us and give us the assurance that when all else is failing around us, we can still flower in God’s grace – if we will repent.

Always, your friend,

President L. Brent Goates

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Rededication of the Ogden Utah Temple, A Testimony

This has been a great month so far. It began with a private tour of the new exhibit, "Foundations of Faith," at the Church History Library, which opened to the public recently. You can take the virtual tour here. Elder Steven E. (for Erastus) Snow, Church Historian and a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy, is also the home teacher to Julianna H. Hewlett, our beloved mother and grandmother. He is always so attentive, the model home teacher if there ever were one. He made the offer to Julie for a private tour of the exhibit, and we were the lucky invitees.

Elder Steven E. Snow
Elder Snow and his staff welcomed us the same afternoon the general presidencies of the Church's auxiliary organizations were also there for a private tour. They told us the General Authorities had visited earlier in the day. We were escorted through many of the Library's back rooms, and several Church artifacts were shown to us. It was a thrill to hold in our hands the canes Brigham Young once used, the more famous one being the one he planted in the ground on the very spot where he declared, "Here we will build a temple to our Lord."

Among other objects we were shown was an original Book of Mormon and a valuable and rare gold pocket watch Joseph Smith gave to Eliza R. Snow, a watch so ornate and delicately crafted with floral designs that no one would mistake its owner had to be a woman.

We also handled other pages of the original manuscript from which Oliver Cowdery wrote the translation of The Book of Mormon as the words flowed from Joseph. Only about 25 percent of that original manuscript survived after it was recovered from the damp cornerstone of the Nauvoo House many years later. In the handwriting of Oliver Cowdery, we read together: "I will go and do the things which the Lord has commanded for I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he hath commanded them." (1 Nephi 3:7). These pages are carefully preserved in protective coverings like the page on display in the exhibit on the main floor of the Library. It is possible to know and feel the truth without seeing and touching, but I can bear my witness that the more of our senses that are involved only heightens the almost electric and tangible witness one receives.

I asked Sister Snow, who was with us, what of all the things her husband has shown her in the Library are her most treasured memories. Without hesitation, and with some obvious emotion, her reply was, "The sacred manuscript pages of the Book of Mormon." Many years ago, when President Harold B. Lee was living, he provided a similar experience to us as his family, and I have never forgotten the feelings I had then of viewing and carefully touching those pages. My answer was the same as hers.

It was a supernal thrill to gently turn the pages of an original Wilford Woodruff journal (one of many he kept during his lifetime). It was amazing to see the exquisite penmanship and the intricate artwork he meticulously crafted within the pages of his journal. Seldom a day passed during his lifetime with the Prophet Joseph when he did not record an entry detailing what the Prophet had said that day. We are indebted to him as a Church for preserving the Prophet's teachings in his journal.

Last weekend, the second event of note this month was being in the first stake conference under the direction of our new stake presidency. They are inspired men of God, and they walk the talk. Our new stake president asked us to pray for missionary opportunities, and within forty-eight hours of doing so we were blessed with the chance to entertain a dear associate from Mexico with whom I am acquainted in my work. He came to our home for dinner, spent the night, and we had breakfast together with him before returning to the city.

Our home is filled with pictures of our family, and artwork reflecting our love of the Lord Jesus Christ. It's hard to avoid asking the obvious questions associated with those evidences of our faith. And Francisco asked. We shared our testimonies, we answered many questions, and toward the end of the evening Patsy remembered we had a Spanish language copy of The Book of Mormon that has resided in our home since son Steve returned from his mission to Mexico. We gave it to him, and encouraged him to read it. He said he would.

President Harold B. Lee (l),
President Joseph Fielding Smith (c),
President Nathan Eldon Tanner (r)
Today was the rededication of the Ogden Utah Temple. Here's a wonderful aerial video of the new temple. Forty-two years ago in January, 1972, we were present in the celestial room of the original Ogden Temple when it was dedicated. At the time, the First Presidency consisted of Joseph Fielding Smith, Harold B. Lee, and Nathan Eldon Tanner. We were in close proximity in those cloistered confines, and something unusual was happening during the proceedings. There was a large chandelier in the celestial room that was slowly rotating with the air circulating from the HVAC system. The crystal droplets in the chandelier were causing shadows from the TV lights, and those shadows would cross the faces of the speakers at the podium. It was noticeable to all in attendance in the celestial room and an obvious distraction. However, when all three members of the First Presidency spoke their faces were so luminous there were no shadows whatsoever. Instead, their faces were bathed in a light that overcame the shadows, a fitting symbol to me.

Newly rededicated Ogden Utah Temple
My father captured that day  and the subsequent power of the dedication of the sister temple in Provo, Utah, a few weeks later in his biography about President Lee in these words:

"Following the closing session President Lee's eldest grandson, David Goates, telephoned his grandfather to tell him of his unusual experience. David, his wife, Patsy, and his mother, Helen, all reported having seen a brilliant light at the pulpit whenever the First Presidency members stood to speak in the celestial room of the temple. The light, however, did not envelop the other speakers.

"Three weeks later the companion temple in Provo, Utah, was dedicated. Because of more Church buildings on the campus of nearby Brigham Young University, linked by closed circuit television, an estimated thirty-five thousand or more were in attendance for each of the sessions.

Ogden Utah Temple, 1972
"As at the Ogden Temple dedication, President Lee was the concluding speaker, after which he gave the dedicatory prayer and led the Hosanna Shout. In his sermon, President Lee was impressed to speak of some personal spiritual experiences which unmistakably indicated the nearness to those on the other side of the veil. Elder Alvin R. Dyer testified later that he had seen the deceased President David O. McKay there, along with others whom he couldn't identify. Sister Norma Anderson, wife of Elder Joseph Anderson, Assistant to the Twelve and long-time faithful secretary to the First Presidency, also saw her own mother. President Lee noted in his journal that he was watching the strange look on Sister Anderson's face as she was probably witnessing this visitation.

"Two BYU students seated in one of the large campus buildings told President Lee that many of the Saints were shedding tears when the prayer and the Hosanna Shout were delivered and also during the concluding anthem sung by the choir. The Holy Spirit visited these television-linked buildings with the same power as in the temple proper." (Harold B. Lee: Prophet and Seer, L. Brent Goates, 430).

Odgen Temple Celestial Room
Today, many stake centers in Utah were invited to be part of the dedication during three sessions. However, the broadcast into our stake center was fraught with technical glitches. It was analogous to my first experience where the distractions were obvious to all. Each time a different speaker was announced the video feed would be lost and only the audio was heard, and there were audible groans of disappointment from the audience. What was reminiscent of my experience in the original Ogden Temple dedication was that when President Monson was announced, the video feed cleared up and we had a perfect experience, both audio and video, with President Monson.

It may seem a small coincidence to some, but to me it was significant. You see, when the video feed kept failing, I offered a silent prayer that all would be privileged in the remote stake center where we were located to see and hear President Monson's remarks and his dedicatory prayer. And my little prayer was answered.

President Monson, Elder Kent Richards
When we concluded the Hosanna Shout and began singing "The Spirit of God," my heart was full to overflowing for the gratitude I feel to be living in a day when living prophets are among us and temples now dot the earth among every nation, kindred and tongue. The sun never sets on the temples of our God, an emblem of increasing light and truth as we share the fullness of the gospel with all who will embrace the invitation to come out of a troubling and ever-darker world around us. With this rededication of another temple, we take one step closer to the establishment of ZION in these last days, and the fight against evil continues as the wars and rumors of wars drone on in our ears.

Imagine a place on earth where one can go to find peace in this chaotic world. Imagine where one can go to have your family sealed together by priesthood authority for time and for all eternity. Imagine a place where a name of a loved one can be placed upon an altar in the temple, and the combined faith and prayers of thousands of faithful brothers and sisters can ascend to heaven on their behalf every day. Imagine knowing that all this is possible because there is a God in heaven, there is a Savior, Jesus Christ, who has redeemed all mankind from sin and death upon conditions of repentance and a Holy Ghost who testifies of these truths. Imagine that all you have just read is true and you can partake for the mere asking.

You don't have to imagine it at all, because it is my witness that it is true. And that's very real.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Another Doomed Attempt at Middle East War Making

It will come as no surprise to regular visitors to this page that I am not a big fan of our current POTUS. It would be fair to say there is little I find of merit in his presidency, and I am waiting for it to come to a merciful end for America at home and abroad when his second term expires.

I must confess I am baffled by his "management" (if it can be called that) of foreign policy and his almost continual array of missteps in the Middle East. For example, only a month ago he was saying that the ISIS (or ISIL) threat was little more than a bunch of "JV terrorists" who posed no serious threat. He also called it a "fantasy" to think we could arm, train, and field an opposition army to confront them composed of "Islamic moderates" and that he had "no strategy" to deal with ISIS.

And then they started beheading American journalists. Evil, pure evil, was once again presented before us. We now had to take action of some kind, but what? If the intent of the terrorists is to draw us back into the region again, then so far so good. It's working.

Fast forward to this week, as Congress hastily passed yet another "Continuing Resolution" without debate to keep the government running and managed to tack into that bill funding for arming, training and leading what amounts to a bunch of mercenaries who are comprised of the very "moderates" he said a month ago were nothing more than a "fantasy." The most disturbing fact about this week's hastily crafted piece of legislation to confront the threat of ISIS is that it passed overwhelmingly in both the House and Senate.

The legislation is designed "to train, arm and fund the elusive 'moderate' Muslim rebels" fighting to overthrow the Assad regime in Syria. It's astounding, isn't it? Nobody, least of all Barack Obama, wanted to do it when Assad was gassing his own people, and now it's our US "strategy" in the region.

This latest fantasy now calls for the US to somehow discern who the "honest brokers" who stand in opposition to Assad might be, and then start supporting between 3,000 and 5,000 rebels in the Free Syrian Army. Here we go again. . . that's the centerpiece of an authorization to spend $500 million through December 11, 2014.

Stunningly, the bill passed both houses with barely a moment of debate, and it received more support from Republicans than Democrats. We must be living in the twilight zone now, when Democrats sound like they're more responsible than Republicans.

There were a few "notables" in the President's own party who opposed the plan, like Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA). She called it “lame.” Speier wasn't the only one who noted that former generals are also expressing their opposition. The generals, and even Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) point out the obvious fact that the plan does nothing to cut off funding for ISIS. Said he:

"On Thursday, I voted against the Continuing Resolution that is a product of a dysfunctional law-making process. This resolution tied the authorization for military intervention in Syria to a bill to temporarily fund the entire government. One of the most important and solemn duties we have as members of Congress is to authorize the use of military force and ask the brave men and women in our armed services to put their lives in harm’s way.

"It is a gross dereliction of that duty – and an insult to those men and women – to tack on a military authorization to a must-pass spending bill, just so members of Congress can hurry back home." (Emphasis mine).

The terrorist group earns about $3 million per day on oil income from facilities they now control. What, any reasonable person might ask, does the latest plan do about disrupting that stream of income? Would we blow up oil wells and the roads they use to get the oil tankers to shipment?

Another Democratic Congresswoman, Loretta Sanchez (D-CA), claimed “We simply don’t know if somewhere down the line it will turn our guns back against us.” Ask anyone who knows about what happened in Iraq when we left. Who now controls millions of dollars of our military equipment? We gave it to the Iraqi army, and it's now in the hands of the Islamic State being used to kill the innocents.

Nobody can accurately identify what “moderate” Muslim fighters might look like. Whose definition of that term will we accept before we turn over a half billion US dollars to arm and train them? The Iraqi army threw down their weapons and ran in the face of ISIS.

I heard a comment last week from former U.S. ambassador to Syria, Robert Ford, who said the rebels are not focused on fighting ISIS. He said, “Their priority is not the Islamic State; it is the Bashar al-Assad regime. We need to know that going in.”

Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) said he has “seen no evidence that the Syrian rebels we plan to train and arm will remain committed to American goals or interests."

Who would doubt Assad has a track record of supporting terrorism and is a brutal dictator? Certainly, he is in the same class as Saddam Hussein in Iraq and Muammar Gaddafi in Libya. So what does America do in the face of new dictators rising to power? Do we intend to take out everyone anywhere they emerge? Our track record so far suggests that when we take down a dictator, the country we "liberate" then falls under the control of even more radical Muslim terrorists. Iraq and Libya are classic examples.

There are still a few Republicans who opposed the President’s “lame” plan. Even though a vast majority (78) in the Senate) favored authorizing the funding, Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Rand Paul (R-KY) joined Mike Lee (R-UT) in vocal opposition about the funding of Syrian rebels.

Once again, the Constitution provides that the military will always be controlled by the civilian population. That is wise. However, politics tends to trump good policy making when it is not accompanied by robust debate over the decisions to send American forces abroad into foreign intrigues our Founders warned about. So, acting in response to the horrifying images of their beheadings of the journalists that ISIS broadcast for all the world to witness, Congress acted to "courageously" stand up against the obvious evil. Congress can now go home and say they "did something," even if the plan seems doomed at the outset to fail.

And so the onward march of war in the last days continues unabated, it seems. More money, more lives lost, more treasure squandered, and more havoc wreaked.

For a POTUS who started his presidency by proclaiming he was elected to "end wars, not start them," we are now launched on yet another misadventure in policing the world against brutality, evil, and tyranny. May God help us all in that elusive quest.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Let's Call Him "Jack"

Jim Ritchie
Last November, when we went to the Washington D.C. South Mission to pick up our daughter, Merilee, from her eighteen-month mission, we were introduced to two of Merilee's favorite people, Brother and Sister James Ritchie. The Ritchies call Heber City, Utah, "home" but they have served so many missions over so many years it seems they have rarely been there. At the time we met them, they were a senior couple serving with Merilee, and they had a profound impact on all those young people who revered them for their depth of knowledge and their willingness to share of themselves with everyone in that mission. In the brief week we were there, we heard more missionaries quoting "Bro Jim" than quotes from their mission president. To say they were loved and admired by the elders and sisters would be an understatement of gross proportions.

We took them to lunch one day after a session at the Washington D.C. Temple and became better acquainted. He became an instant favorite of mine, and since then I have had the blessed privilege to be added to his e-mail list. He routinely blasts out his frequent missives filled with updates on their family life, their ongoing influence for good wherever they go, and he continues to be an inspiring source of what success in family life looks like.

This morning I was treated to another message from "Bro Jim," which I share with everyone who reads this page. It's a cautionary tale. I hope this is not the common lot of returned missionaries, and I pray this is an isolated example. However, in the event there may be someone in your life who fits these characteristics, may you take action to reach out as "Bro Jim" does here. Maybe you're somebody's brother, or maybe a good friend, or perhaps a bishop, or maybe even their former mission president. Whatever you may be to them, take a page from "Bro Jim's" book and meet them at that upcoming intersection where you see them next. Maybe you'll be the reason generations yet unborn might rise up later and call your name "blessed."

* * *

We met last night on a flight out of Phoenix where my last minute ticketing got me stuck in a middle seat but that also meant I had “Jack” trapped against the window where he had to deal with me to breathe, let along go to the “John.” I only had an hour and 9 minutes and in-between they threw us a mini bag of peanuts and a tomato juice (no ice - only 40 calories). “Jack” and I became friends and even exchanged Million Dollar business cards and promised to stay in touch as we departed. I plan to do so and in fact came home and wrote him a "thanks for the good discussion" e-mail as the 10:00 news came on. I hope he writes back.

Let me share why the “Jack” visit has monopolized my small brain since our hour visit. “Jack" is 30ish. Totally inactive. Not living several of the commandments. Going through a temple marriage divorce. Two small children. Seminary graduate. Very successful RM to Argentina. Leader in the mission. Associate Degree from LDSBC. Good job. Raised in an active LDS home. Father was the Bishop for 6 of those years. Since “Jack” has left the Church his father and mother have divorced. Father now inactive. Brothers and sisters (all but one sister) have also left the Church. Mother still active, and a very diligent Grandma still focused on "saving his soul." But, what was once a beautiful LDS success story of a family fully engaged and heading for the Celestial Kingdom together has gradually fallen on to hard times and only three of the clan still holding on to the iron rod and the three of them are single people trying to rebuild from broken marriages and trying to throw each other ropes of hope. Scary story, but so typical of what is happening in so many Return Missionaries, YSA and Young Married lives.

Once I had the full story and had him talking - which he said he has been reluctant to discuss with anyone for several years - we began to probe deeper as to “Why?” . . . or “How did the slide into inactivity begin?” It took some time to dig a little deeper but finally words like, "High Expectations" . . .”Unrealized Dreams". . . "Stopped doing some simple but important things. . .”  “I had been a very good ‘producer’ on the mission. . . lots of success, highly respected, a leader. And when I got home, I had to adjust to different expectations and opportunities and began slipping with many of the easy and simple things." Sleeping in. . . slowed down and then stopped his scripture study, prayers disappeared. . . few demands on him at Church and fewer opportunities. . . slang words gravitated to worse speech, pure word of wisdom  habits gave way to simple experimentation and then a little more, etc., etc., and before too long it was easier and felt more comfortable with friends and activities outside the Church rather than those inside. Hs family began wavering in their marriage and then their activity, and this of course made it easier to drift with the forces of least resistance.

Now we have an entire Clan in disarray and wandering in the wilderness.

Why does this experience bother me so much? Why did it disturb  my beauty sleep? Why am I sharing such a private conversation with the world? I don’t know for sure, but maybe it is to continue warning each of us how easily it can all slip away. “Jack” kept emphasizing  how it was the simple things at first. . . sleeping in. . . how could that be so serious? But, gradually the "simple things" grew to bigger things. Take the "sleeping in" theory. Why did the Lord go to such an extreme experience of developing the habit of early rising for 540 (girls learn faster) or 730 days for us boys without a single day off? Why did we read, ponder, memorize, discuss and share the scriptures every day for 730 days? Why did we PLAN our day in such detail every day for 730 days? Why did we dress for success and put on our Nephi smile and attitude for the same 540 or 730 days? Surely the expectation was that those Habits of Success would become permanent parts of our personality and performance, knowing that if those HABITS OF SUCCESS became US,  they would propel us to be just as successful in the telestial test we call "the world" as we were in the “mission laboratory world" where we were in rehearsal for the Big Show.

“Jack” slipped on one or two, his family didn’t catch it or help him, they too were slipping, his Priesthood leaders didn’t catch it or provide the Mentorship he needed at those crucial times of slippage and now we are ten years into slippage and his life, marriage and future are in danger of failing in the very thing he came to earth to discover and try to perfect, becoming "like unto Moroni" and something that resembles "like unto the Savior." His two little girls could become the next pair of casualties and if them, perhaps their children and grandchildren and soon you have some serious numbers of people who are in danger of their eternal salvation. And maybe it all began with sleeping in after his mission, and a few "dangs and hecks."

Hope "Jack" and I are just getting started with our friendship and maybe we can begin getting up early and re-discovering Moses and Nephi, who both would have been good airplane partners to sit by and learn from. Hope I was a close substitute and maybe helped re-light the spark that this famous Argentine missionary once used to change lives and plant eternal hopes in people's hearts.

Love ya "Jack,”

A friend,

Bro Jim

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Hope and Peace After Divorce

This morning I was reminded of this statement attributed to Pierre Teilhard de Chardin: "We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience."

In the course of my daily walk through this mortal probation, I encounter many who are surfeited by the demands and challenges they face. Too often, they tell me, they became "lost" in the day to day routines of life without focusing on their spiritual well-being. Instead of keeping Chardin's perspective, their human experience overwhelmed them.

Many with whom I interact are the products of the divorce of their parents. Now in their own marriages, they are sometimes persuaded it might be easier to take the same course of their parents. They give up. They choose alternative lifestyles. What once began as a blissful knot-tying in sacred precincts where holy vows of allegiance to one another were pronounced, marriage for them descended into depths of sin, disobedience, indifference, abuse, addiction and anger.

Often what happens in these situations is mortal forgetfulness. We forget our spiritual identity as an eternal son or daughter of God. Of course, some of it is unavoidable because there is a veil of forgetfulness drawn across our minds and spirits when we are born. Brigham Young said in simplest terms of explanation the veil was our physical body shrouding our eternal spirit.

I am aware of three current cases of divorce. None is a happy outcome right now. The challenge before the individuals involved puts them on a path to choose - either they will become better for the experience, or they will become bitter.

The confusion when divorce of parents is the final outcome is palpable. "What will become of me if my parents divorce?" some ask. Can a child whose parents divorce still claim the blessings of the sealing? Are they still "born under the covenant?" To whom will they be sealed if both parents remarry? These are but a few of the questions that arise. And then when repentance is in evidence later on, the aftermath of the divorce presents opportunities to learn to forgive those who inflicted so much pain. Along the way there are hidden nuggets of gold waiting to be discovered for the earnest seeker of truth.

I am not an expert on divorce. Just the opposite. Mine has been a blissful marriage of harmony and shared goals through all the ups and downs of life. It has not been without challenges. It has been anything but smooth sailing. But who's complaining? It's what we signed up for, isn't it?

However, I found a statement by a woman who divorced after several years of marriage and went through eight years of litigation thereafter. She provides a valuable perspective. Said she: "When I told my family I was writing about peace after divorce, they laughed and said, 'Tell them there isn't any!' I'm not telling you that. There is peace. Peace after divorce comes in the process of living. It happens after learning hard lessons. It occurs over time alongside family, friends, and professionals who care. It happens privately but also with many others who share the experience and understand. Peace emerges from pain and accompanies healing. It comes from confronting and accepting truth, from being willing to live and love and forgive and move forward. Divorce is still hard to say, but it has not closed the gate on my own path to life, love, and peace." (Elaine Shaw Sorensen, "Peace After Divorce," in Women in the Covenant of Grace by Susette Fletcher Green and Dawn Hall Anderson, 50).

Detours in our mortal journey are inevitable, and they take many forms. No matter how long or difficult the road may seem, our past cannot hold us prisoner to our future unless we choose it. I have seen many who have overcome the oppression of the past and set their sails for the future voyage with satisfying results. In one case, a woman whose husband was plagued by alcohol addiction for years found a new job that supplied her with the income she needed to raise and support her four children. Life went on for her and her children, and they are happy today because of their choices.

Said another: "A marriage is a commitment between two people that is designed to last for eternity. One person cannot carry that commitment to fruition alone. When it is not being upheld by both parties, it ceases to be eternal. It requires dedication on both sides to make it valid. A hopeless marriage need not be forever; an abusive situation need not be tolerated. You can still have worth as a person with an unsuccessful marriage. My marriage ceased being eternal years before we entered the divorce courts." (Nedra Hardy, "When a Marriage Is Not Celestial," ibid., 55).

The antidote for dealing with the devastation of divorce is the same I would offer for all life's problems. My life took a detour financially a few years ago. I wish things had turned out differently than they did. Instead of financial security I was seeking, I was escorted back to square one to begin again. It was humbling. I've detailed it in previous posts. I am fortunate to have found a surprisingly fulfilling work life since the debacle of the world's financial meltdown in 2008. I am reminded of a talk title from Hugh Nibley, "Work we must, but the lunch is free." 

During that time I prayed, I fasted, I petitioned, and along the way there were undeniable moments of fears, doubts and frustrations. But those proved to be only punctuation marks in a chapter of my life filled with overwhelming love, assurances and support from my wife and children. Because we could call upon God, our eternal partner in our marriage, ours was a marriage that didn't break under the stress. He carried us and sustained us with grace and charity. I am grateful every day for that reality.

Don't get trapped for too long in your "pity party." Half the people out there don't care what happened to you, and the other half think you got what you deserved. Be happy, keep smiling through the pain. It will get better when you take action, even if it's only tiny baby steps to start in a new direction.

President Thomas S. Monson
Now, as I move along through life, I have discovered success comes from small and seemingly insignificant choices. We learn lessons, we grow, we mature in spiritual things, and what happens "in the thick of thin things" pales by comparison. We learn to love and serve others when we are afflicted. Turning outward to help others has long been the recipe President Thomas S. Monson recommends. We learn to love vegetables and fruit instead of a steady diet of Peanut M&Ms.

Each marriage is filled with tests. Whether marriage ends or goes on, what makes the difference is how we choose. And the choice is always ours. It really doesn't matter what our parents did before us, or our spouses who may choose poorly. We are free to make of our lives what we will. And with a little bit of work we can usually figure out how to do it better together than apart.

And we can be at peace with God's spirit, no matter what comes our way.