Wednesday, December 12, 2012

To be Learned is Good IF...

This morning, our family was reading in the Book of Mormon together  and  something we read struck me deeply. It has been on my mind all day and I wanted to share some thoughts on it.

In 2 Nephi 9, the prophet, Jacob is teaching about the atonement of Jesus Christ. He discusses the concept of laws and justice and the balance created by mercy through the sacrifice of Christ. As he discusses this, he makes a few remarks that I found particularly striking today.

In verses 28 and 29, it says,

28 O that cunning plan of the evil one! O the vainness, and the frailties, and the foolishness of men! When they are learned they think they are wise, and they hearken not unto the counsel of God, for they set it aside, supposing they know of themselves, wherefore, their wisdom is foolishness and it profiteth them not. And they shall perish.
 29 But to be learned is good if they hearken unto the counsels of God.

Here is why I found this so impactful…

I think often members of the Church interpret this scripture to be referring to people who are “learned” and “wise” in the sense of the world – secular wisdom. This is a natural thought because it is so obvious how many who are secularly learned and “wise” tend to use their logic and learning as some sort of proof that God does not exist. Also, we see many who rely on their own understanding to the point that they rationalize themselves away from the Church and ultimately, God.

I do not doubt this is part of what Jacob meant – perhaps even the primary meaning. However, today it occurred to me that there might be another meaning.

Lately, as I have been working though my thoughts and feelings about my life and what should or shouldn’t be, etc, I keep running into the same thing…people who seem to use “God’s logic” against God (perhaps even me at times).

Think about it for a minute. Who is not “learned” and “wise” in terms of the gospel of Christ, but his own followers?! I grew up reading and learning the scriptures. I have been taught in the “ways” of the Lord. This is good. It is His plan to teach us His ways – after all, if we are to be like Him, we must know of His ways. In fact, we even need to practice His way of thinking and acting. However, in that process of trying to become like him and applying what we learn, we can fall into a dangerous trap – one that I have personally fallen into myself.

This trap is the trap of using our own learned knowledge of God’s ways to form a certain “logic” about how God operates and we form opinions and make decisions about what He will or won’t have us do.  This can be dangerous, because we limit our understanding of God and His miracles and His mercy and His work when we decide by our learning – no matter how much it is based on what we have learned to be true – what God thinks, how He acts, what He will or won’t do.

Thankfully, the Lord has provided safeguards for this. For instance, he provides a Prophet to help guide us and “hearken unto the counsels of God”.  He provides us the Holy Ghost to help us recognize truth, and He provides us priesthood leadership and revelation that is always in unison when it acts and decides.
But in our personal lives? It can be a bit daunting. God certainly leads each of us a bit different. And one person’s actions can seem foolish or wrong to our “logic”, but is indeed not so. I know I have felt inspired of God in my own life to make decisions and take actions that according to some “logic” is not wise or not profitable – and seemingly goes against what God teaches us in principle. However, I have a certainty that I cannot deny that I have been lead to act in that way.

It reminds me of what Isaiah says in the Old Testament (Isaiah 55:8-9):
8 For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord.
 9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.

The more I learn about God’s ways, the more I have learned that there is a lot of depth and dimension to His ways that I don’t understand or even know exists. When we learn principles, it is often just the scratch of the surface.

An analogy I thought of was in thinking about chemistry.  When I first started learning about chemistry in high school, it was really awesome. I loved it. I learned lots of great principles about how things worked together. However, in college, chemistry began to challenge some of the set principles I thought I knew. Suddenly, there were “exceptions” to the “rules” (meaning that we just haven’t been able to totally understand or explain the real principles). Then chemistry became more difficult. It required much more context, more work, more understanding, more learning, more experimentation, more of everything. It was tough. If I had applied my limited and high school sufficient knowledge to college chemistry, I would have failed pretty badly (in fact, I did fail the first time…haha)

I guess my point in this is that we need to be careful of how we use our own learning to judge our own life or the life of others – even things we feel are set in stone – like how “thou shalt not kill” – except when commanded or justified by God (David and Goliath, Nephi and Laban, Saul and the Amalekites, etc). Or how at times polygamy was appropriate and sanctified by God, but at other times, not. That is an extreme example, but it is the same principle.

So, how do we avoid making mistakes like this? Easy – like it says in the scripture, hearken unto the counsels of God! How do we do that?
  1.   Follow the guidance He gives us in His prophet and our other priesthood leaders.
  2.  Seek the Holy ghost to help you recognize and follow the truth
  3.  Read the scriptures to learn more in-depth truths
  4. Experiment on the word and learn from experience
  5. Write down your experiences and ponder what you learn from them.

One of the scriptures that has most impacted my own life is in 2 Nephi 7:10-11, where Nephi quotes Isaiah. The verse says this…

 10 Who is among you that feareth the Lord, that obeyeth the voice of his servant, that walketh in darkness and hath no light?
 11 Behold all ye that kindle fire, that compass yourselves about with sparks, walk in the light of your fire and in the sparks which ye have kindled. This shall ye have of mine hand—ye shall lie down in sorrow.

In verse 10, it describes someone who “feareth the Lord” – in other words, someone who believes in and wants to obey and follow God. It also describes someone as one who “obeyeth the voice of his servant” – in other words, someone who actually is obedient and follows Christ. However, it also describes that same person as someone who “walketh in darkness and hath no light”. How can that be? How can those coincide? In verse 11, it explains...

It is someone who compasses themselves about with the sparks and light of their own fire! This is someone who, while being obedient, relies on their own works, their own learning, their own counsels to light their path. This is someone who, while understanding God’s will in terms of the rigidness of the law, but does not see the merciful light of the atonement of Christ. They do not hearken unto His counsels.

This is a great description of what I think Jacob partly saw. We see this a lot in the Book of Mormon and in the New Testament where those who have the Gospel then lose their way because they think once they have learned God’s ways, they know His ways. Interesting problem. Terrible problem to have, with terrible and sad consequences.

I hope I continue to learn God’s ways and that my trial of those ways in faith will teach me more of His depth and dimension. I hope that my learning will always be tempered and lightened by His light as I seek for His counsel – so that my ways indeed become His ways. 

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Life's Decisions: A 13 Step Process

Not sure about many of you, but here's how it often works for this stubborn man...

1) Have a problem/need, etc
2) I study it out
3) I make the best possible decision I can
4) I pray about it
5) I get confirmation that it's a good decision!

Awesome. got it. Works. 

Now comes how it sometimes goes for me...(the hard part)...

6) Get excited about having an answer and resolve to act
7) Doubt the answer because I'm afraid of the possible outcomes
8) Put off acting (till I feel stronger about it?) - maybe it'll just happen on its own?
9) Re-think it, get distracted by other things (sometimes other good things), and sometimes try on variations/modifications/justifications...
10) Realize I still have the problem, still have an answer, and still haven't acted on it.
11) Re-commit and re-pray - this time asking for forgiveness that I failed to act and to ask for strength to now act/implement
12) Actually exercise faith in the answer and act!
13) Immediately feel peace and strength and confirmation I did the right thing...and often, I am immediately blessed with additional things I need/want to go further and be successful in my decision. 


As the Lord said to Saul on the road to Damascus, " it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks." (Acts 9:5).

Yes, Lord, it is....

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Endure it Well

The following is based on some thoughts/excerpts of a letter I recently wrote to a friend. I have removed the personal references, and want to share with you what I said to them...

My friend was going through a trial that was quite difficult and prolonged. As I witnessed them exercise their faith and courage, I was...

...reminded of the scriptures in Doctrin and Covenants section 121 (a scripture of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints).The scripture background is written as follows:

“Prayer and prophecies written by Joseph Smith the Prophet while he was a prisoner in the jail at Liberty, Missouri, dated 20 March 1839 (see History of the Church, 3:289–300). The Prophet and several companions had been months in prison. Their petitions and appeals directed to the executive officers and the judiciary had failed to bring them relief.

At the time this was written, the persecutions against the church had become very fierce and were causing a large amount of grief and pain with the members of the church – even at times, death.

In the scripture, Joseph shares with us his lamenting to the Lord about his tribulation. He says, “O God, where art thou? And where is the pavilion that covereth thy hiding place?” (verse 1). Then he laments for a few more verses until finally we hear the Lord’s voice say, “My son, peace be unto thy soul; thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment; And then, if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high; thou shalt triumph over all they foes.” (verses 7-8).

Now, I know you may have heard these verses a million times – especially verses 7-8 (often recited in church), and I certainly don’t need to give you a speech about enduring your adversities well. And I won’t - because I think that verse is often used a bit out of context and without the proper perspective…

You see, if you read Joseph’s lament from verses 2-6,…

 How long shall thy hand be stayed, and thine eye, yea thy pure eye, behold from the eternal heavens the wrongs of thy people and of thy servants, and thine ear be penetrated with their cries?

 3 Yea, O Lord, how long shall they suffer these wrongs and unlawful oppressions, before thine heart shall be softened toward them, and thy bowels be moved with compassion toward them?

 4 O Lord God Almighty, maker of heaven, earth, and seas, and of all things that in them are, and who controllest and subjectest the devil, and the dark and benighted dominion of Sheol—stretch forth thy hand; let thine eye pierce; let thy pavilion be taken up; let thy hiding place no longer be covered; let thine ear be inclined; let thine heart be softened, and thy bowels moved with compassion toward us.
 5 Let thine anger be kindled against our enemies; and, in the fury of thine heart, with thy sword avenge us of our wrongs.
 6 Remember thy suffering saints, O our God; and thy servants will rejoice in thy name forever.

…you’ll see that never once is he lamenting his own situation. He is lamenting and crying to the Lord about the plight and problems of his PEOPLE, his family, his friends. He is crying because he can’t be there to do more, and because the hurt of his people has become his own. In other words, the Lord’s response to Joseph has nothing to do with enduring his “own” trials and afflictions. I mean, it is, but in proper perspective, you realize that his affliction and adversity was that of bearing the burdens of others! Think about how amazing that is. Still not sure? Re-read the verses 2-6 and see the words, “they”, “thy people”, “us”, and “saints”. These words clearly show his concern was about others.

As I consider that thought, I remember that our very covenant of baptism is really about promising (as Alma taught us in Mosiah 18 – from the Book of Mormon) to bear the burdens of others. To mourn with those that mourn. That is what Joseph was doing! He was struggling under the weight of the burden of others because he so deeply cared and loved for them! I love that sentiment A LOT more than how that scripture is traditionally taught. And, I think it is a fairer representation of the kind of man Joseph Smith was. Even more important, it is a great example of how our Savior, Jesus Christ is with us.

People, who for the great love for their friend, their spouse, their children, and their neighbors - who mourn and cry with those who are suffering - bear in part, that burden and share in it. To me, that is perhaps the best way to get to know Christ. To do what he did – which was to mourn for and with us, to cry with and for us, to share in our pain, in our struggles, in our troubles. And because of it, can succor us and be our partner, our friend, our advisor, and our savior.

The Lord does not ask us to endure “our adversity”. He really asks us to endure well the burdens of others. In the bible (Matthew 11:29-30), Jesus says,…

 28  Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you crest.
 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.
 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

He isn’t asking us to bear our own yoke of burdens. He does that for us through his infinite atonement. He asks us to bear his – which is that of bearing the burdens, the pains, the suffering of others through love and compassion and empathy. It is true charity. Through us, he can reach others with His love. We indeed have a role to play in his atoning sacrifice!

I hope that I can be more like my Savior, and that my actions and my words and my heart is as inviting to others around me as the Savior is with me. That somehow I can help bear and lighten their burdens and through that help others feel of their true worth, and the Savior’s love for them.

Monday, July 30, 2012

My First Amendment Rights

In light of the whole Chick-fil-a thing, I thought I would raise a point that I am kind of stunned about...

There are three issues at hand, that I want to address:

1) Supporting and upholding first amendment rights
2) What was actually said and whether you agree with it
3) The real stunner...(I'll get to it).

1) Supporting and upholding first amendment rights
I totally agree with supporting and upholding the first amendment and the rights it allows us all. However, let's be clear on the fact that supporting the first amendment has NOTHING to do with what is said, and EVEN LESS about what you think of what was said. What is said does not have to fit within your definition of acceptable or good to be protected under the first amendment. If you believe in the amendment and think it should be upheld, then the whole idea of that amendment has to be upheld - meaning that there is an equal right and goodness in using that right - Someone using that right to say bad or disagreeable things is just as right (in terms of the amendment only - which cares not for content, for the most part) as saying good and encouraging things.

2) What was actually said and whether you agree with it.
This is a whole other issue. If you like it, great - feel free to support what was said. This is not the same thing as their right to say it, by the way. Your liking it or not does not qualify the right of someone to say it. If you disagree with what they said, then great too. You have as much right to disagree and voice that as well. Good on you. Do I agree with what they said? Yes, I do, in fact agree. I'm a "Mormon" and if I didn't agree with it, then I probably wouldn't be a very good Mormon, now would I (I'm sure some of you might disagree - go ahead, it's your right...haha)?! I respect others' right to disagree with what was said. It doesn't change how I feel about the issue, nor does it lessen my love for anyone. The choices and beliefs of others should only determine how I manage/negotiate relationships, not their value as a human being or how I love someone.

3) The real stunner...
People are actually going out and buying chick-fil-a food and acting proud of it, as if it were somehow supporting their first amendment rights!?! Really?!? Is that the only way to do it?!? Ugh.

Let's put it this way...let's say that a man came to your neighborhood and walked around holding up a sign that said, "Let's end World Hunger!". Well, this is definitely a message I agree with. I mean, who doesn't want to end word hunger?! However, let's pretend at the same time, this same guy was also a drug dealer in the neighborhood. I don't have to buy drugs from him to show him I support his message about ending world hunger or his first amendment rights.

You think that is an extreme take on this?! I'm not so sure you're thinking clearly. Chick-fil-a, even if you agree with their message about families, etc, is simultaneously feeding you terrible food that acts like a drug in your body! They are in fact, one of the many fast food restaurants that are contributing to a terrible state of food addiction and health problems in America.even their most basic chicken sandwich and chips combo (forget even a drink) is more than 730 calories alone and is loaded with fat, sodium, and saturated fat, MSG, and cholesterol.

Want to see what that single basic chicken sandwich looks like with a list of its ingredients (from their website)???

Chicken (100% natural whole breast filet, seasoning [salt, monosodium glutamate, sugar, spices, paprika], seasoned coater [enriched bleached flour {bleached wheat flour, malted barley flour, niacin, iron, thiamine mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid}, sugar, salt, monosodium glutamate, nonfat milk, leavening {baking soda, sodium aluminum phosphate, monocalcium phosphate}, spice, soybean oil, color {paprika}], milk wash [water, whole powdered egg and nonfat milk solids], peanut oil [fully refined peanut oil with TBHQ and citric acid added to preserve freshness and dimethylpolysiloxane an anti-foaming agent added]), bun (enriched flour [wheat flour, malted barley flour, niacin, reduced iron, thiamin mononitrate {Vitamin B1}, riboflavin {Vitamin B2}, folic acid], water, high fructose corn syrup, yeast, contains 2% or less of each of the following: liquid yeast, soybean oil, nonfat milk, salt, wheat gluten, soy flour, dough conditioners [may contain one or more of the following: mono- and diglycerides, calcium and sodium stearoyl lactylates, calcium peroxide], soy flour, amylase, yeast nutrients [monocalcium phosphate, calcium sulfate, ammonium sulfate], calcium propionate added to retard spoilage, soy lecithin, cornstarch, butter oil [soybean oil, palm kernel oil, soy lecithin, natural and artificial flavor, TBHQ and citric acid added as preservatives, and artificial color]), pickle (cucumbers, water, vinegar, salt, lactic acid, calcium chloride, alum, sodium benzoate and potassium sorbate [preservatives], natural flavors, polysorbate 80, yellow 5, blue 1).

How's that for a load of poison?! High fructose corn syrup, MSG, artificial colors, more MSG, etc...I think you get the picture.

HERE IS THE REAL STUNNER!!!....many people are going out and eating at Chick-fil-a because they want to support their "family values", all the while, they are letting Chick-fil-a feed their family terribly unhealthy food that will do horrible things to their family's health!!! I don't get it. THINK people, THINK!

You think I'm exaggerating the point and perhaps even missing the point? Well, I was one of those customers, buying poor food, and making poor choices. Now I am in a fight for my life, trying to lose 90 pounds (I was 300 pounds just a few months ago). I am a bit ashamed of that. I was miserable, tired, and going down a very dangerous path - and one that was already actively endangering my ability to be a good father for my kids and a good husband. And it would have only gotten worse. No more for me! I am 40 pounds down now and still working hard to get healthy. There is a long road ahead, but one that is worth every sacrifice and effort I put in.

I laugh a little at this whole issue because some of the people who are buying this food are also the same ones who I hear complaining about the health care situation in America - haha (sorry, had to plug that in).

Anyway, while everyone is whipping out their first amendment speech as a weapon against an opposing voice (ironic, isn't it?!), why not find different ways to support free speech? I mean, I get how buying their food shows the company support for saying what you believe, but how is it 1) either helping further that issue, or 2) helping you or your family, or 3) even protecting free speech? The business itself is not "moral", nor does it help my family. So if I come out and tell the world the same things, will you all promise to come buy my services and goods too? Cause that would be great!

Yeah,  I believe in the first amendment and supporting everyone's right to it - those who I agree with, as well as those with whom I do not agree with. However, I also believe in using my first amendment rights to do good first and foremost. So, you want to support first amendment rights in a better way? You want to show your support for families in a better way??? Then go spend some money in your local grocer's produce department or at your farmer's market where they sell fresh food, and let's use our first amendment right to say, "NO" to bad food!

PS - Now that I've use my first amendment rights to express my opinions and support family values, you can now all call me and buy my services too. I take credit cards, cash, checks, paypal, and even gifts of any kind...hahaha.

Friday, July 27, 2012


I thought I'd lighten it up a bit tonight and tell you all (2 of you) something interesting about me...

I served a Mormon mission to Recife, Brazil from August 1993-August 1995. Recife is located at the "northeast" of Brazil, and is pretty tropical - more like dry tropical - not so much a jungle. Savannah is more like it, I guess. Anyway, one thing I was not prepared for when I got there was mosquitoes. I'm sure somewhere in my mission instructions was something about having a mosquito net, but I don't remember it. Either way, when I got to Brazil, I had nothing to guard against them.

The first nights in Brazil, I slept in a bed, like I would have in the US - without any netting, repellent, or a fan. That was a mistake.

After a few days of being devoured by mosquitoes at night, I began to look deathly ill - with bites all over my body (HOW do they get into some of those places?!). Not only was I this pale, tall, blond American, but I was covered in red bites like I had chicken pox, but worse. Honestly, I looked terrible.

It got so bad, in fact, that I got sick with a fever, etc. for several days.

Finally, we had a P-day (Preparation day, which is essentially a 2/3 day off) and we went into the city and got me a fan, which I used every night for the rest of my mission (it was a great fan!) - I called the fan my "Skeeter Grinder" - as it did a great job of not only blowing them off me, but chopping them up when they flew into the fan. That was a dirty fan....sorry, kind of gross.

Anyway...the point of this story is this...

Ever since that time, I have never gotten another mosquito bite. I have been bitten many, many times since ( I guess they still like me), but I haven't seen another bite. I have even tried to purposely get one as an experiment, but no luck. I am apparently now immune to Mosquitoes - which I have found out, is quite rare. Not just rare because I am immune, but more so because I actually became immune after not being so. I have researched this some and haven't found anyone who fits that description. In fact, there is this one scientist that has been volunteering to be bit for many years (gets purposely bit more than 15,000 times a year (he's nuts) and he still isn't immune like I am.

So, not sure this is all that interesting, but for some reason I thought I would share this.

Friday, July 20, 2012

The American Dream

Sometimes when I walk downtown, homeless people hold out their hands for money and ask for help…

and many people call them lazy. In some places the government even calls it a crime. Then the people calmly deny them help because the homeless will somehow miss-use the funds…“they’re just going to go buy cigarettes or booze, and I’m not going to enable them”. They say that the person should use their hard work and effort and discipline to take advantage of the American dream.

But let’s say they do that. One day they get an idea. So they go out, they work hard, they use their smarts, and they use extreme discipline to start a business…and they start making money. Maybe even lots of money. They have achieved the American Dream!

Then, the people criticize them for being rich, for being selfish, and for not paying their fair share…they are now somehow ruining the American Dream of others.

And suddenly, the government is holding out their hand for money. But instead of asking for it, they force you to give it under threat of jail and loss of freedom.

And that is somehow not panhandling, lazy, or a crime?

We are hypocrites. Yes, WE.

We talk about the “government” as if they do this.

Wrong. We do.

We do it by electing people who make these laws, who design these processes, and who enforce these practices.

When are the people going to elect people that will quit using the government as a proxy for their laziness, their bad habits, and their bad choices?

When are we going to stop using the government as our OWN proxy to do the very thing we often scorn on the streets?

When are we going to remember that WE empower the government?! When are WE going to stop enabling them to waste our money on bad choices!?

You think that $5 to a homeless person is not going to help. Yet, you’ll unquestionably give the government thousands of dollars and never hold them accountable.

I bet you that 8 out of 10 homeless people, even with their bad choices, would get more out of that $5 than the government would. Who wants to bet against me?

This is not because Government cannot do good things or do things well. It is because we stopped caring enough to demand it does.

In many ways, we have become the homeless on the street - waiting for the government to give us things. 

And they are happy to do it by taking it out of your pocket, keeping some of it, and giving a small portion back to you.

Wake up America. Please. Wake up to the American Dream. 

While it is a dream, to achieve it we must be completely awake!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Key to Being a Great Improviser

I have always been known as a great improviser. Not sure that is totally warranted. Am I good at coming up with something "last minute" and "winging it"? Yes. Am I doing that spontaneously? No.

Here is my assessment of what it takes to be a great improviser...

When I was younger, I was a saxophonist (I guess I still am). I played in my high school Jazz band and loved it. In my first year, I sat next to a guy named, Alex Budman, who was the 1st saxophone. He was an extraordinary saxophonist. His solos were WAY better than mine - by lightyears. Of course, he was two years older than me, but that isn't the only reason. I think I had as much talent and as good of an ear as Alex, but he had learned the key to being a great improviser: BE PREPARED!

That's it. Seriously. Alex had trained so much on scales and the "memorized", non-spontaneous parts of music, that his mind was full of possibilities when the moment arose. Not only were his mind and fingers trained, but he also listened to lots of jazz music and his mind could draw upon many options such as rhythm schemes, chord progressions, texture, and timing options. This made him good. This was something that I did not have enough of at that point (I was never as good as him - he was amazing and I idolized his ability). I did not have the information in my brain or fingers or ears to draw upon. It was like being in a different country and I only knew 50 words to Alex's 20,000. Trust me, the "language" he used to speak Jazz was much better than my basic foreign speak.

So what makes me a great improviser? My constant preparing myself with ideas, knowledge, and skills. I am always busy reading, trying skills, honing my talents, and exploring ideas. In short, I believe great learners make great improvisers - even if it is in a single, specific area, such as the saxophone.

Ever met a person who can improvise in the shop in a way that amazes you (like my dad)? They are great at improvising/innovating because they have spent a lot of time learning what tools to use, and how to use them. They learn about materials and their nature/properties, and have practiced/applied their knowledge enough that they learn the principles that work well and can easily translate all that knowledge and ability into something seemingly spontaneous.

Some people are this way in the kitchen. Know someone who is great without a recipe?

Of course, there are other factors involved in many cases as well - such as natural talents, perhaps courage, ability to communicate, no fear of groups, and many, many more. And some people are pretty good at a certain level with improvising with almost anything (generalists like me), while others are really good in specific areas (specialists - who tend to be deeper experts and better improvisers in that area than a generalist in any area).Either way, preparation is the biggest factor for success in improvising.

Here are three things I would always be doing:

1) Adding Knowledge
2) Building and Honing Skills
3) Practicing, Practicing, Practicing

Then just keep this cycle on repeat.

Here are three things I would suggest always have three things on hand. This is a great one for parents, teachers, scout masters, business leaders, and well, just about everyone:

1) Something to Teach
2) Something to Work on
3) Something to Play

Trust me. This will work. If you feed your mind enough, you will be like a giant library, ready to check out something needed and amaze your friends!

Sunday, July 08, 2012

I Did Not Awake and Breathe in Life...

I had forgotten about this piece of writing, but I wrote it in 2004, about 2 months before I got married. I was in Grad school and was in great shape. I got up early one morning and took a ride on my road bike out to Utah Lake and back. When I got back, this is what I wrote. I still really like this piece...

I did not awake and breathe in life. No, it opened up and swallowed me whole, like the desert being rained upon without permission. I’m not sure if I began my day right or if it started me right. Perhaps they go together and I awoke to discover that I am usually just behind the joys that come from the early morning rise. Maybe the sun rises early for the same reason and we just miss it, which would explain why we see so many more sunsets that sunrises. Kind of like life. We see so many more “sunsets” in our lives than we see “sunrises.” Christ, the Son, did set in death, but the joy came not with death, but with the Son’s rising. This morning I felt joy, from the rising of the Spirit within me and it touched my senses, to remind me of things I have often forgotten.
            As a child, there were no mountains that the pink hues of the sunrise could play on. No soft pinks like the faded colors on your childhood blanket, or the brighter hues of the in vogue styles your mother of sixty years of age wears so well. The sun in rural Nebraska rose from pastel blue to orange flames burning across the fields and through the few trees that lined the fence rows. Yet at the lake here in my valley I could hear the same life that sung to me as a child. The red-winged blackbird, with its kong-ka-kree and the Western Meadowlark’s tune, which my mother tells me says, “Christina is a pretty little girl.” Of course her father told her that when she was a child, and her name just happens to be Christina so we never believed her, but if you listen closely, it does sound close, so I tell the same story another generation later. It is nice to be apart of a generational tale. In some way it connects me to a history of hard work, beauty, and life, which I long to be part of.
            The lake already carries the smell of moss, which is just getting started on taking over the banks and anything else it touches. The sun, glaring off the water still hasn’t been bright enough to brown it or dampen its smell, so the moss touches my nose as well. It’s not quite the smell you’d put in your home for freshness, or one you would put in soap to wash with, but it strangely awakens and freshens your mind just the same. Perhaps it is the memories it brings with it, of days spent laying on the banks of a small Nebraska pond, fishing, watching water striders, dragonflies dance, and watching life travel like clouds across the sky of a warm spring day.
            The cool air lays on my skin like a cold bath, but parts in pockets along the road and I feel the promise of the sun’s coming warmth. The cottonwoods are so tall and their leaves hang like sequence on a gown which is waiting to be moved by the body of the wind on nature’s dance floor. The water on the lake is so still near the banks. No wind has pushed waves from the bottom to the banks yet. Afar off I can see the small ripples of the wind trying to stir the bottom. I wonder why it always seems to start at the center, where the deeper water makes it work so hard just to break the mirror. Yet, close to me, there are rings which pierce the glass from below and remind me that life has awaken under and above, and that the ice that I walked on in January has melted. Only faith beyond what I have would carry me across that space now.
            There are few boats at dock so far. Mostly sailboats, which are at home in the spring with heavier winds and fewer motors to negotiate around. The sails lay limp on the masts, rolled and tied up. I believe they sleep longer on mornings such as this. There is a single boat a ways out on the lake, with a single man sitting almost motionless, probably awaiting a few moments of excitement when his line pulls his hands from his pockets and onto his reel. I think men like that must know something the rest of us don’t, or have been fooled by tales of their neighbor fishing rivals. It is hard to imagine that what he is going to catch is good enough to be for breakfast. Maybe he finds what I am finding on my bike, in his boat. Yes, that must be it.
            I see a large V move across the sky. It looks like a dark ribbon that a young girl lets loose into the wind, with one end slowly moving ahead of the other and then back again without ever losing its intended length. Across the road is a pair of mallard ducks, a male and female, larger than I have seen in a long while. These are real, wild mallards, not the mixed breeds that only appear as mallards at the local industrial park ponds. The ducks just landed under a willow tree and stand tall, looking at me and the green headed male almost intimidates me with his beauty. Well, not quite, but it is a majestic show which I respect.
            It is funny how some smells seem to form a wall and the space in between, like a room of memories. I ride through one, a smell of new hay, not more than a couple of weeks from its first cut of the year. It has grabbed the smell of silage from the farm next to it and sends it my way, like adding bacon to the smell of pancakes for breakfast. Odd, I know, but it feels the same. My grandpa Teichert’s ranch smelled like that. I remember my family’s vacations to his home and how much anticipation we felt before getting there. There were large round hay bales that would serve as our gym and free flowing wells that had that same smell of moss as the lake, but tasted much fresher. The nights spent upstairs sleeping on the foldout bed and watching the stars through the large windows across the room were calm even with the occasional trains passing on the tracks which were within 200 feet of the house. Most of all, the excitement of riding horses with Grandpa was what kept us awake most of the nights before and during our visits. It was fun to be farmers and ranchers all on the same day. Now, the ranch is someone else’s and I pass it fondly sometimes on a long bike ride, or while on a leisurely drive. It still sits there on the Benjamin road, fittingly, right past the small cemetery on the hill.
            At this time of morning people are beginning to stir, ready themselves, and leave for their daily activities. It’s Monday morning. I know because yesterday was Sunday, not because it shows on people’s faces, although if I were close enough I suppose it might show on some. There is an older lady on her porch, still dressed in a red, flower pattern nightgown. Her hair is long and graying and mostly just unorganized as it lays across her face, arms, and into her lap. It must warm her in the absence of the sun’s rays, which haven’t yet touched her porch. The lights of the house are all still off, so it appears, and she is finishing her morning smoke. I smell it just enough to know her pleasure.
            A car pulls out and passes me. I can hear it from behind me. It is in no hurry, but I doubt it goes very fast from the sound or look of it. Or perhaps the riders are in no hurry. Neither look at me as it passes, but I see the man driving and know he is delivering the woman on his right to her work. She is overdressed for his standards (based on his appearance). There is no apparent talking within as she looks blankly ahead. It reminds me of the many early mornings my parents have spent waking us kids, preparing breakfast, and getting us off to school as they themselves go to work for a full day’s load of stress connected to the promise of a paycheck, which keeps the family fed and growing. My parent’s sacrifice must be the greatest miracle of all. I wonder what the woman in the now passed car is thinking, who her kids are, and if they know how much she loves them. If they could see her eyes as I just did through her out-of-date glasses, but timely manifestation of love, they might.
            Before long I am almost back to town. The gas station is starting to buzz with cars filing up. I imagine some of them without gas, having emptied their tanks on a Sunday drive, but without a Sunday fill up, for different reasons including religious. A man in an old leather jacket and an even older truck gasses up. He is still trying to wake up. I almost want to stop and get a donut and hot chocolate with him just to let him know that his early routine is worth his effort. He certainly doesn’t look like he is anticipating his day with much joy. I, on the other hand am suddenly filled with gratitude. I climb the overpass and realize how healthy I feel, with a strong back, full lungs, and fit legs, and a spirit which is revitalized each day by the anticipation of doing what I love to do.
            Behind me, a rude horn and voice lets me know someone’s dissatisfaction with my path in the road. I look in their window as they pass me and know for certainty that the sun has not risen in that man’s day, or probably in his life. Unfortunate, how much he misses. I wonder if he had a beautiful woman call him early to see if her were still sleeping. He does not smile like it. I wish him a better day in a whisper to myself.
            I thought about so many things while riding today. My soul arose with the sun. It was a reuniting of my spirit with my body, like a resurrection, which brings so much joy. Finally at home, I smile, put my bike away, and work towards a shower. The water is so warm, and if my roommate weren’t sleeping, I would sing. I guess that’s the only down side to the early morning rise…less singing. That’s ok, because…

There is sunshine in my soul today, more glorious and bright than glows in any earthly sky, for Jesus is my light. There is music in my soul today, a carol to my King, and Jesus listening can hear the songs I cannot sing. There is springtime in my soul today, for when the Lord is near, the dove of peace sings in my heart, the flow’rs of grace appear. There is gladness in my soul today, and hope and praise and love, for blessings which he gives me now, for joys “laid up” above. Oh there’s sunshine, blessed sunshine when the peaceful happy moments roll. When Jesus shows his smiling face, there is sunshine in the soul.

            Soon, I am showered, dressed, and clean shaven. I feel my face, and smile…there is so much to anticipate in life, so much to joy to feel. Maybe I do not need the faith I thought to walk on water and cross that space between where the sun rises and the sun sets. Maybe I already walk on it. If Christ rises to me and calls me by name in the early morning, holding his hand out to me, I will not sink into the waves, but will stay above to awaken to the warmth and joy of the rising sun. Maybe not maybe, but for sure.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Lesson Learned

During my journey to clean up my language, I did learn something very cool...

Because I was committed to my language being corrected, I found it impacting my general behavior. For instance, one day while driving, I was upset about something, and said one of the words I committed not to saying. The second I said it, I caught myself and all of a sudden, I also found myself being able to catch my general mood and calm myself down. It helped me basically, "awake" from my anger and I was able to tell myself to calm down and see things a little different. It was pretty eye opening. After reflecting about this, I have made a realization - When we try to control things from the "top down", or from a general principle level, we often fail because it is too overwhelming (too many things fall apart like dominoes and can't easily be controlled). However, if we work backwards, we can often put the pieces back easier. In other words...

If I want to improve my patience, that is a big word and can include and impact many things. It is too hard to recognize and control at a high level - in a word like, "Patience". However, if I pick out the symptoms/effects I display for my impatience (such as my language), I can make the goal to control my REACTION to my impatience. That, in turn, will awaken my mind to recognize I am being impatient and help me self-correct. This is a cool idea.

The trick is to figure out how to identify other areas of improvement and work on them as well.  Anyway, just an interesting observation I made during my journey.

A Eulogy to Bad Words

A little more than four years ago, I sat in a group of people I knew and just listened to their conversation. For some strange reason, I wasn't doing any talking and just sat listening. It struck me that the language we have learned to accept was not what I was proud of. Even without the traditional curse words, our language is still quite crude and unsophisticated. The worst part is that our language is beginning to hurt our ability to communicate and tends toward the extreme and exaggerated.

I then spent a few days after that thinking a lot about words - particularly words I use. One of the conclusions I came to was this: that when I think about all the great people I know, especially the ones I view as great spiritual examples, I have made the observation that all of them have a few characteristics in common:

1) I never catch them saying negative things about others


2) They don't use bad language.

So, I resolved to at least try and fix the second item. On April 10, 2008, At the age of 33, I began my journey towards clean, wholesome, intelligent language. I wrote the below eulogy to begin that journey...


I would like to say good-bye to the following words, never to say them again, for the following reasons:

1) Retarded - I know too many wonderfully innocent and good mentally handicapped people to use this word anymore. Typically people use this as an insult, as to call someone stupid or to mean that something is dumb. Retarded is not dumb, it is a real and saddening reality and handicap for many people. I forever pledge to say good bye to using this word in a negative connotation.

2) Damn - well, it's a curse word and I use it sometimes, even just for fun. I can't see my most respected examples using that word.

3) Hell - same as Damn. I need to use this as it was originally intended only, as the name of where bad folks go when they die.

4) Crap - this is a hard one. I mean, what will I substitute this with? But, I must. it is a childish word that is a cheap substitute for another poo-related curse word. Ugh, this one will be hard.

5) Pissed - wow, I actually hate this word, but occasionally have used it. No more. It's crude and inappropriate.

The way I went about ensuring that I followed this was to 1) tell everyone I could about it 2) put a large rubberband around my wrist and snapped it hard on the underneath side every time I made a mistake.

After a while, I was making progress and decided to add these three additional words:

1) Freaking, Freakin', Freak, or any derivative of those words - I know this one may seem kind of lame, but honestly, those are pretty immature and unrefined words. So, out they go. Time to leave my teenage language behind.

2) Shut Up - I have actually been pretty good with this one for a while, but I want to totally eliminate it. It is a harsh way of talking and i don't want my kids saying this. This statement encourages the idea that people shouldn't be allowed to or just shouldn't say anything - I don't want my kids believing that the way to solve what we don't want to hear is to simply tell someone to shut up.

3) Suck - this one is a particularly bad one. It is a harsh sounding word and I just don't like it. I don't use it very much, but from now on, no more.

I worked hard on this for about 6 months until I had completely removed all 8 of these words from my language. Obviously, the ones I used the most commonly were the hardest (Crap, suck, Shut Up, Freak, etc). But it worked. And to tell you the truth, I can still communicate how I feel and what I think, and I don't miss those words at all. I see no need to use those words any longer. And there were other great effects from it as well - check my next post about it.