Thursday, August 28, 2014
Ok, here's a bit of a deep thought...
I recognize that gratitude and humility are probably the two most important foundation traits I could have (and need). However, I am pretty poor at both of them. As I was thinking about humility, I had this interesting thought...
Let's say I become perfectly humble. If someone asked me if I were humble, what would I say?
Now, before you answer that...
Let's consider God. God is perfect. He also knows everything. And He doesn't lie. So...
Is God humble? And if so, then being all-knowing, he would know he was humble, and being completely honest he couldn't tell you he wasn't humble if someone asked him about it, right? Cause if he admitted to being humble, then according to what I always hear people say about admitting being humble, then God would suddenly not be humble (cause he said he was), which would then make him imperfect and thus, not God.
Well, I disagree. I think one of the purest, if not THE most pure signs of humility is honesty. I think it's perfectly ok to acknowledge you are humble if 1. You can say you are honestly, and 2. You can do it in an attitude of humility - meaning that you don't see it as something that makes you greater than someone else, but that you see it for what it is exactly.
Ok, I have more thoughts on this, but it's late. What do you think??
Wednesday, August 20, 2014
If you read/watched my previous blog post, then you know that I am working on losing weight and getting healthier. I started this whole journey on July 11th. At that time, I weighed in at more than 300 pounds. Here is what that looked like (kind of embarrassing, actually).
As much as I hate posting these pictures, it had to be done. Being honest and real and open about it I think helps motivate me.
So, we are now about 40 days in and progress has been made.
I drink a lot of water, I eat less calories, I eat better calories, and I exercise. It's hard, but I do it.
And I love it. The results are awesome. My wardrobe has greatly expanded as I can now wear most of my clothes again. Here is what I look like 40 days in...
This is at 273 pounds. It's more than 30 pounds lost - a 10% body weight loss. At this point, weight loss does matter still, but my activities and goals are really centered around fitness and health - such as strength, flexibility, and endurance, etc.
Anyway, I am feeling great about the changes and although I have a long way to go (I was married at 208), I am celebrating the change. Progress, it's all about progress.
Wednesday, August 13, 2014
So, my 40th birthday came and went. It was a great day spent camping with friends and family. It was pretty perfect. Anyway, when I got back, I decided to do a video for my last post in this series. I posted a link to the video on my Facebook early yesterday morning. Here it is in my blog, to complete the journey. Thanks to all of you who have read my posts. I hope some of it has been meaningful. It has been to me, and that is enough to make it worth it.
This video is 34 minutes long, but sums up the number 1 lesson I have learned in my first 40 years. Enjoy!
Thursday, August 07, 2014
Lesson #7: The One.
This one is pretty easy. A few years ago, while researching and designing customer engagement content for some work I was doing, I discovered something powerful…
Every company I know that provides some level of customer service tries to accomplish it in the most efficient way possible. This means putting processes and systems in place to help automate and reduce the time and effort they had to manually put into resolving customer issues. This can be a real landmine, however, because as most of us have experienced, it can come across super impersonal and end up being down-right unhelpful.
As I examined closely the difference between those companies that were successful in their efforts versus those that mostly failed, I noticed a very interesting pattern.
There are two main approaches used by companies.
- You aggregate your data and look for patterns – the most common problems/issues. Then you automate to resolve these. The idea is that you would resolve a large proportion of issues without much cost or effort, thus saving a lot of money and allegedly helping more customers more often - and it turns into customer satisfaction. This strategy becomes the center of your customer service efforts. Exceptions are handled on the outside of the center through escalation processes, etc.
- You figure out the worst problems. The ones that cause the most pain. You comb through your data looking for the exceptions. Then you build your processes around solving those most extreme cases. The idea is that if you can easily solve these hard cases, then you should be able to easily resolve the small ones. This strategy is focused on dealing with the most impactful experiences – the ones that customers ae most upset about and are the hardest to typically get resolved. In a way, this is putting escalation resources on the front lines.
Personally, I am a fan of the 2nd approach. And the companies that did this, were way more successful in my research.
Well, one day I was bemoaning to good friend over lunch how at the time I was stuck working onsite with a single customer. I was itching to have more time to build the business work on things that could take my expertise to the masses. I had a lot to share and could help people on a larger scale, if only I could get liberated from this one customer engagement (a close to full-time, 9 month engagement). The business needed the engagement at the time, so I couldn’t drop it, but it just felt so constricting.
My friend looked at me carefully and quietly said, “you know, the best public figures are also the best private ones.”
I looked at him a bit confused. He continued, “I’ve noticed that the people and companies best at serving the masses are those who really care most about the one. Why don’t you take advantage of the time with the one to really learn how to be good with one? I have a feeling if you can do that, you can scale much better.”
I sat pondering that for a while without saying much. I just kind of said, “hmmmm…interesting thought.”
Then my research experience came back to me and I realized my friend was right. Really right. The successful companies could very well be summarized as follows: Those that cared the most about taking care of the one were the best at caring for the most.
That’s a powerful thought. It really struck home to me as well.
The example of our Savior, Jesus Christ is a perfect example. His whole ministry was focused on the one. The parable of the lost sheep, the prodigal son, the washing of the feet, the healings, the suffering for all of us individually – so that he could succor us each, not just so he could succor us all. He began with each. The one.
This lesson extended to my family too. I knew that if I could become excellent with my family, that it would need to be by being great with each member of my family. I couldn’t just be a good manager of the unit or make myself a good person or a talented dad. I had to care about the one. Like my dad did to me (see Lesson #1 in this series).
When the one is enough, then you really know the meaning of what I decided during my research was the final and most powerful principle of successful customer engagement - or maybe we should call it the most powerful principle of human engagement: Caring.
Learning this lesson greatly changed my career, my relationships with my family, and with my Savior. It was a great insight to what it meant to take upon me the name of Christ and how to begin to be more like Him. I am very grateful for a friend who said with courage, the thing I needed to hear - for calling me out. It was inspired.
Today is August 7th. Tomorrow I turn 40. To celebrate, I am going camping with my family. I leave in about 3 hours. I will not be here tomorrow to write and share Lesson #8. That will have to wait till at least Saturday night (look for it Sunday morning). Because I am going to spend time with my kids. As much as I love writing for all of you (and myself), I really have learned to love and care for the one. My kids are the ones for me this weekend.
In the meantime, figure out what your ones are. Spend some time with one of them. The effect really does flow up and out.
See you Sunday morning!
In 2007, I began working for a Utah company called AtTask. It is a project management/work management software company. I was hired to be a trainer/consultant. My job was to work with new customers via phone, forums, in the classroom, and on-site to help them implement and adopt the software. This was my job for my first year there. During that time, I worked with many well-known companies, including Luis Vuitton, Corporate Executive Board, Greenpeace, Smashbox Cosmetics, Cisco, and Netflix. I hadn’t been exposed to large companies in corporate settings before this job, so the experience was eye-opening and very valuable for my career.
To accomplish my job successfully, I had to help these companies carefully map out their people and processes and then integrate them with the tools the software provided. When I accepted the job, it was all about technology. I really thought that is what it was about. I was wrong.
All my clients had major issues. Some were not tech savvy at all and struggled to learn. Many had terrible, broken processes. At the root of it all I kept running into the same thing…people. Pretty much every challenge we faced was rooted in problems with people. There were very few clients who didn’t have real issues with people. From office and corporate politics to bad habits to bullies to you name it.
I would go home and tell my wife all about what I experienced. I would explain with disbelief how dysfunctional my clients were. These were some of the top, most well-known companies in the world. Yet some of them could barely manage even a meeting. It was a real struggle sometimes to make progress.
For a while, I didn’t know how to help them. I pondered it a lot. How was I supposed to help them be successful with software when they were so handicapped with their issues? How was I, the technology trainer supposed to teach them anything?! I quipped once that I felt more like a therapist than a technologist. It was just a joke at first, but I have made a career out of being a good technology therapist.
Anyway, one Sunday I was in Priesthood class at Church and was listening to a good lesson on families and how to be better families. We were talking about different challenges we had with raising and managing our families. As I sat listening to the discussion, the Spirit came over me and All the criticism I had toward the pure stupidity of some of the things clients did came before me and I could hear myself as if I were talking to my wife about how we managed our own family. Some of the same complaints were there.
“I can’t believe that they have no idea how to plan”
“They struggle with basic communication”
“They improvise everything because they have no idea how to strategize and plan against that.”
“How can it be so hard for them to understand the basics of goals and metrics and rules and processes? I mean, it’s so basic…”
Think about it. Our clients were paying more than $200/hr for my time. They spent a ton for the software. Some clients paid more for the software than I made a year – easy. You see, in business, we invest millions into learning and implementing new stuff. We put so much effort to becoming better, to refining. Yes, sometimes business is bad at it, but they sure invest a lot of time and money trying.
Yet, I would come home to my most important portfolio, my most precious project – my family, and do everything my clients did and worse. I didn’t have a budget. I couldn’t manage a good meeting with my wife on many things. We had no goals and no metrics. We just lived day to day, dealing with marital/familial politics, finances, and communication as they came. We didn’t plan. We improvised. Every day. We didn’t truly invest in our family. We were just raising one, like weeds in the ditch to the side of the road – not a well planned garden
Oh no…I felt like a hypocrite. And to me, that is one of the worst things to feel. I sat in that room that Sunday realizing that I hadn’t put in equal effort to teach and manage my family well. We weren’t using the right tools, our processes were either poor or undefined or non-existent, and at the root of it all was people. Us. Me. Yikes. Not a great thing to realize. But WHY? What was the issue that made it so hard? What was I missing?
I went home that day greatly motivated to figure out not just how to help my clients, but most importantly, how to help my small family become what it should. Later that day as I pondered this new perspective, the 18th verse of the 29th chapter of the Book of Proverbs in the Old Testament, came to mind:
“Where there is no vision, the people perish:…”
I have always liked that statement, but in that moment it took on new meaning to me. You see, what I found with my clients and myself as the biggest limitation to success is and always will be vision.What my family needed was a vision and to be driven by it. Not just some general goal to be saved and return to God, but a real vision for who and what we wanted to become! We needed something to drive how we thought and acted. Actually, I personally needed it as well!
When I returned to work, I attacked the problems with a new approach. It included backing out of the technology for a moment and having what one of my clients called an “Oprah Moment”. It was that moment when I would tell my clients to forget the technology and the processes and their problems. I would then give them a speech that would help them see the real impact the software could have not just in their company, but in their personal lives. If I could help them simply work a bit better each day and have just a little less work to do, then maybe, just maybe they would have a bit more energy for their family when they went home. Maybe they could even find a way to go home happy. I told them they had the choice to either add or take energy away from their lives, and that what they did with the tools and processes we were working on, did in fact impact that. I told them they had a choice. Either let the issues they faced continue to tell them why they couldn’t, or get the vision together and overcome and obtain.
It was interesting what such a short, but brutally honest moment could do for my clients. They latched onto it and it was usually enough to get them on-track and excited to be successful. It was a turning point of great magnitude. Eventually I began starting all my consulting engagements with the speech. We would always start with a vision.
Truthfully, I have given myself the same speech many times, and it made as much or more impact on my life.
Since 2007, I have gone on to work with hundreds of other companies in similar situations. That approach to vision and mission-driven design and implementation has never failed me.
A simple, shared vision could overcome seemingly insurmountable problems. It is the same in my life and family. When we have a defined vision and align our goals and activities with that vision, we can truly accomplish miracles. I have witnessed it in business, family, and myself.
The question is, do you have a vision? Really? Is it written down and defined? Do you have defined goals and metrics for yourself and your family? Do you measure your activities for success and for alignment to make sure your efforts are moving you forward toward your vision? Do you treat them with the same importance you would your business or your job? If you don’t, I ask this…would you do the same for your business? Or for your sports team or your relationships? I don’t know for you, but I know it is hard to do and I still have a long way to go to being great at it. But it is also critical for success.
I fear most of us are WAY too causal and haphazard with the amazing gift of our families. I know I am at times. The truth? Our lives, our families really are our most important projects and portfolios. Doesn’t it merit at the least, the effort and time we put into other areas of our lives and the same discipline of vision, goals, measurement, utilizing the best tools, fixing processes, and investing into fixing problem areas? Yes, I know it is – and the return on that investment is an eternal one without end.
Wednesday, August 06, 2014
So I wandered into the BYU counseling center and got an appointment to talk to someone about it. After the first appointment, they decided to have me go through a battery of different tests. At the end of that process, and another discussion, the verdict was in...I indeed did have ADHD. Well, this really is statistically very likely since I have Tourette's and something like 80%+ of those with Tourette's also have ADHD.
It takes a lot of effort and honesty to effectively deconstruct your life and make admissions that can be embarrassing and hard. I am still working on it now, 12 years after I started that process. But one experience I had in this process made an extraordinary impact upon my life - that is lesson #5...
In April of 2004, I met my amazing wife, Amy. We were married in September of the same year. By that time, I had been deconstructing and re-constructing myself for 2 years. I had made a lot of progress, but still had some of the toughest things left. These were certain stories I told and believed about my life. They were the foundation for how I acted in certain situations and were at times a disability all by themselves, as they caused me to sabotage my own life - and always with an excuse and a blame. I was a great victim.
I legitimately felt and thought I was in fact a victim. I felt real feelings and had real experiences.However, I hated being told I was a victim and I hated feeling like I was hostage to my past experiences and how my lingering issue tripped me up and kept me from the type of relationships I wanted.At some point I realized that those who had hurt me or the circumstances I had suffered were never going to change. Only I could change, and I had to let it go and start over.
One day I decided that I was finally going to "deal with" one of my issues and end it. Several times I had heard of people ritually writing down how they had been wronged or things they didn't like about themselves, etc. and then they would rip them up and throw them away or burn them symbolically letting those things be destroyed and let go. Why not give it a try.
The story I had told a lot and used was of how I had been picked on a lot growing up and made fun of, etc. You see, when I was 16, I was still 90 pounds and 5 foot 1 inches. Smallest guy in the high school. And I carried a personality that probably didn't lend itself to having friends and defenders. I didn't have many real friends and those I did have were all girls (I owe those few a lot!).
Even after growing (I'm now 6 foot 1 and well over 200 pounds), I carried with me this reactive personality that could be defensive and a bit like a little dog syndrome I guess. Not sure if that is the best way to describe it. It did also come with a true dislike of anyone who picked on or made fun of others. I'm not a fan of that at all.
Well, that day I sat down to deal with this issue, I decided to write down all the instances of times that I had been picked on and made fun of. I would put them all down on paper and then rip and burn them up - and be done with it. I would no longer use that as an excuse and give it place in me.
Can you imagine my list after an hour? It surprised me greatly. In fact, I was stunned. I had exactly 3 items on the page. That's it. And when I read back through them and thought about them, I realized that really only one of them was something worth putting on the page, that was a bit extraordinary. Wow. I was seriously shocked. How did I not have a whole list to put down?! Even more so, as I had been reflecting on my life, I remembered so many people who had been kind to me and realized that I got off good compared to many and compared to what could have been with my situation.
As I sat contemplating this realization, I saw exactly what I had to do. I had to stop remembering what I couldn't remember and shouldn't remember. The whole story I had told and expressed in generalities about how I had been picked on and made fun of wasn't really all that true. It had no basis to stand on. How could that be? I mean, I was remembering thing that were impossible to remember because they didn't even happen. No, not even things - I was remembering emotions about memories I didn't even have. Ugh. What a dumb thing to have lived with, and a bit shameful, honestly.
So I told myself I had to stop remembering what I couldn't remember and to stop remembering what I shouldn't remember. Right there and then. Since that moment, I haven't told/used that old and untrue story ever again, and I don't allow it to creep into my reality. What a great and immediate impact!
This experience helped me get through a number of very hard stories I had held onto for a long time and the result has been a lot more peace in my heart about my life and about the people in my life. I am very grateful for having learned this.
My advice is to figure out the stories you tell in your life that are the foundation for hard things in your life. Then, sit down and figure out what is real in it all. It might surprise you as you ponder things, how many items you can let go simply because you can't remember them. In fact, as I look back on my experience the truth is, there could have been more that really happened, but since I couldn't actually remember them, then I shouldn't carry the emotion assigned to them anymore either. You can do the same! You'll find it is quite liberating!
From a religious point of view, I have learned from this experience that Satan's best tool is not discouragement - it's first distraction. If he can control or skew or cloud your vision and perspective about things, he will do a lot of winning and you a lot of losing.
The process of finding truth about your life and self can also be applied to others. Satan desperately wants us to be lonely and disconnected. If he can prevent love from being felt and expressed, he will accomplish this. A lot of times, we write stories and hold them too long, even untrue ones, about others that impede us from loving them - from seeing them as God sees them. There is a reason Christ is called the Light of the World. His atonement allows us to be healed in many ways. My experience was as miraculous of a healing to me as healing the blind - and in many ways, that is what it was.
That is Lesson #5.
I've given it a lot of thought since that day, trying to figure out why I had believed that story in the first place. I was reading about different mental disabilities and such when I ran into something related to PTSD called Hypervigilance. I highly recommend you read about both PTSD and Hypervigilance.
Here is what Wikipedia says about it (nice synopsis):
Hypervigilance is an enhanced state of sensory sensitivity accompanied by an exaggerated intensity of behaviors whose purpose is to detect threats. Hypervigilance is also accompanied by a state of increased anxiety which can cause exhaustion. Other symptoms include: abnormally increased arousal, a high responsiveness to stimuli, and a constant scanning of the environment for threats.
In hypervigilance, there is a perpetual scanning of the environment to search for sights, sounds, people, behaviors, smells, or anything else that is reminiscent of threat or trauma. The individual is placed on high alert in order to be certain danger is not near. Hypervigilance can lead to a variety of obsessive behavior patterns, as well as producing difficulties with social interaction and relationships.
Hypervigilance can be a symptom of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and various types of anxiety disorder.
Tuesday, August 05, 2014
Lesson #4This one is a bit long, but It's a great story. I hope you enjoy.
I served a 2 year mission in Brazil for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from August 1993 to August 1995. I served in amazing places like Recife, Olinda, Joao Pessoa, and Natal. In Brazil, missionary work is very successful. The people are well-prepared for the Gospel and we experienced much success as missionaries. The expectation for our work was high and it reflected in our weekly and monthly goals for our activities.
In my second area, I served in a place called, Petrolina. It was located here:
It was a hot place to work. There were very few trees and a lot of sun. We were sent to work on the outskirts of town in an area where missionaries hadn't worked yet. There was a main highway through the area, but none of the places I worked had any paved roads - or cobble stone roads. Just a lot of dirt. And really crazy looking packs of dogs...lots of great stories from Petrolina. A lot of our area was 2 or more miles from our little house and we walked to it every day. Because we had little money, we didn't take buses much to our area and we mostly skipped lunch and worked instead. We wore ourselves out each day and I lost a lot of weight in that area. I also went through one of my pair of shoes.
At that point in my mission, I was still pretty green, but I was made a senior companion and sent a new companion - Elder Martins, a Brazilian Elder who was one of the strangest people I've ever been around. A unique character, for sure. He wasn't a bad Elder, but he had no passion and no personal motivation for the work outside of just doing the duty. It was kind of sad to watch. In many ways, he was extra weight I had to carry a lot. He reflected myself back to me. If I worked hard, he would follow and work hard. If I took a rest, he was more than happy to oblige. He was along for the ride. Literally, if I walked fast, he walked fast, if I walked slow, he would immediately adjust. It was a bit like having a large dog by my side. He was super quiet and didn't really want to contribute outside the required activities. Thankfully he obeyed the rules.
So, the work was largely left to me to bear. The decisions, the motivation, and the inspiration. For a younger missionary like me, that was hard. So I did the only things I knew how to do...
I worked as hard as I could. I obeyed the rules to the letter. I did everything I was asked to do by my leaders and tried as hard as I could to succeed. In fact, we ended up leading the mission in the number of discussions taught for several weeks - and that is not an easy feat in Brazil because the warm people let you in a lot. You have to teach A LOT of discussions to lead the mission.
At weekly meetings, my leaders would ask about our successes and I would report on how many discussions we had taught, etc. I was always at or near the top in the group. However, the most important measure of success was convert baptisms. How many people did we commit to baptism and how many were actually baptized? The answer was always, zero.
Zero is not an easy number for a missionary in Brazil. to have no baptisms in a month was not an ordinary thing. It just didn't happen much. And we reported a zero for 2 months in a row. My leaders (other, more experienced missionaries) would sit with me and ask about what we were doing. In their minds, and in mine, it was a simple formula. If you obeyed the rules, obtained the Spirit, and worked hard teaching discussions, you would have success in the form of baptisms. The worst part was that our zone (a geographic area with about 16-20 missionaries) was the mission leader in baptisms those months and we contributed none to that success. It felt like S.T. Coolridge's poem, the Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner: "Water, water, everywhere, and not a drop to drink." And I had the albatross around my neck.
I remember one day after our zone meeting, sitting with my zone leader while he drilled me with questions about how were were teaching, if we were obeying all the rules, etc. He was trying to find something wrong in what we were doing - because if we were doing the right things, we would have success. It frustrated me because I knew that we were teaching well, we worked very hard, obeyed the rules, and taught a lot of discussions. Yet, I knew we weren't baptizing and it was a double punishment to hear this kind of questioning from my zone leader all while I was already disappointed with myself.
There was hope, however. We had found a family the week before and they were awesome! So golden. In fact, one day while struggling in the very hot sun to get in a door to teach, I stopped and said a heartfelt prayer and pleaded with the Lord to help us find someone who would let us in to teach. I was discouraged and needed hope. Immediately, I felt prompted to skip a street over and knock on the door on the corner. We did and were warmly greeted by a father of 3 and his wife.
To be honest, I can't remember their names off-hand, but I know I have it written in my journals (which are still hiding inside our garage in an packed box). I do remember their faces, their smiles, and their personalities. I remember a lot about them. The children were so adorable....and they lived in a house that looked a lot like this one (this is a picture of a house actually located in the area I worked):
We taught that family the lessons of the Gospel and challenged them to pray and ask God if what we taught them was true - to find out for themselves.
And they did. One day we showed up for our appointment and asked them how the reading of the Book of Mormon was going and how their experience with our challenge to pray was. Their response was one I will never forget. "Elder, " the father said, "we don't know a lot about God like some others, and we don't have much to offer to the Church, but when we read this Book and pray to God about what you teach us, we want to offer all that we have to have more of what you teach."
I smiled wide, then cried in that small, mud and stick home. With them, I smiled and cried. We rejoiced together. The promise of the Gospel had taken root in their hearts and they were committed to becoming disciples of Christ. We asked them to accept baptism and they heartily agreed. The father did say one thing more. He lowered his head and said, "Elder, we cannot be baptized and go to church without shoes for the children. We will need to wait for us to purchase some." My heart was touched by his humility and I told him that I understood and that I would see if we could find a way to help.
My companion and I showed up a day later with 3 sets of shoes for the children. While my companion would not agree to spending his measly allotted money for the month on shoes, I decided to donate the money and buy them myself. It was worth going without some food and bus fares if it meant seeing that family obtain the blessings of baptism and the Gospel through communion with the members and the Spirit.
We set a date for baptism and continued to prepare the family. We spent quite a bit of time teaching them and just being with them. I fell in love with this family. They were what you live for on a mission.
So, in my meeting with the zone leader, there was this one family - that would put me right with the mission and the Lord.
The night before they were to be baptized, my companion and I walked the long journey to their home from where we had been working and knocked on the door. The father let us in and immediately I could sense the mood was depressed. I asked what was wrong and he explained, "my work is moving me to another city more than 5 hours further into the interior of Brazil. We must leave tomorrow or be left without work. We cannot be baptized tomorrow."
My heart sunk. We talked about possible scenarios and options. There really was not option. And we didn't have a Church to attend so far away. It would be better if they waited until they could be baptized where they could attend Church and get the support they needed. I was dying inside and scrambled to argue in my heart with the reality. But the Spirit whispered that I be still - that it was as it was supposed to be for now. I did not want to accept that. And I did not want to say good-bye to this family I had grown to love. But we did.
We left their house that night with heavy hearts. I was crying, they were crying, and there was nothing we could do but trust our Heavenly Father that they would have an opportunity later to hear the Gospel and be baptized. They promised they would pray and read their scriptures often. I trust they did and still do. That was the last time I saw them.
That visit was our last of the night so we headed home, with feet that felt as heavy as they ever had.
Our home was located about 3 miles on the other side of a big gap between small "suburbs" and we traveled through an empty, dark desert to get home. Imagine this kind of trail/terrain in the dark:
As we walked, I fought emotions of anger and sadness and confusion and disappointment all at once. It all settled in me like a dark storm till I wanted to walk no further. Finally, I stopped, dropped to my knees in the dark and dirt and wept. I prayed out loud, disregarding my companion and the night around me. I cried to God and asked him WHY?! Why must that beautiful family wait?! And why was I prevented from the joy of bringing souls to Him through baptism? After a long time, I ran out of everything. Questions, emotions, energy. The night was so quiet and empty, and so was I. Slowly, I picked myself up and walked the final miles home through the night that seemed as deafening as any night of quiet could be. My companion walked behind me almost as a strange, but real reminder of how alone I was.
When I got home, there was still no peace. So I sat in my hammock and picked up my scriptures, hoping that I would find some answer within.I opened up to where I had been reading in the morning. 2 Nephi Chapter 7 in the Book of Mormon. It is a chapter where the prophet Jacob is quoting the prophet Isaiah from the Old Testament (see Isaiah 50). When I saw that was the chapter I was on, I groaned, thinking that I wouldn't find peace in the teachings of Isaiah. But I felt compelled to read anyway - perhaps because I didn't have the energy to argue or find something else.
I read the whole chapter and still not feeling peace, I just closed the book, frustrated.
Then, a quite voice told me to read it again. Thankfully I did. But I still did not see or feel anything. Then, as I lay there with the book open to that chapter, the voice said to me, "the end is for you."
I looked back at the chapter and read it a third time, this time being careful to pay attention to the end. As I entered verse 10, the burning of the Spirit came over me and my mind was opened to the meaning. The final two verses of the chapter read:
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.
This was me. I certainly feared the Lord (meaning that I obeyed him and his laws), I obeyed the voice of his servants (all my leaders from zone leaders to mission president to the Prophet and Apostles), and yet there I was, walking in darkness and having no light.
Verse 11 told me why. And yes, I was laying in sorrow. This was certainly for me.
What I realized at that moment was that I had been working so hard to be successful, but only kindling "fire" and compassing myself with "sparks" by my works. I was walking in the light of my own fire - of my own works and glory. And because of it, I walked in darkness and sorrow.
It is indeed possible to obey God, to follow his servants, and still walk in darkness. It is when we think that by our own efforts, we will have success. I thought that the Spirit and God's inspiration were there to help me do the work. But the truth was, I was supposed to be there to help THEM do the work. I was to walk by the light and fire of Christ. I was supposed to see my work as His.
All my focus on my activities and obedience and hard work, all of which were good, were simply prioritized above obtaining the Spirit and the will of the Lord. I had been asking God to help me when I should have been asking how I could help Him...and help His children.
I dropped to my knees that night and begged forgiveness for thinking I was the maker of light and converter. I pledged to always let Him be the light that led.
This experience was one of the most profound of my mission and my life. It changed how I placed myself in the Lord's work and how I went about it. It helped me change from doing THE work to doing HIS work. it changed me from trying to baptize, to trying to love and testify.
I am still working on it. I am a long way from perfection. But this scripture and experience is always there in my heart and mind to remind me where to find the fire.
Monday, August 04, 2014
Lesson #3In the book of Matthew in the New Testament, there is the account of the savior talking with his apostles and Jesus tells them how they will scatter. Peter, responds defensively and Jesus prophesies of what is to come:
33 Peter answered and said unto him, Though all men shall be offended because of thee, yet will I never be offended.
34 Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, That this night, before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice. - Matthew 26: 33-34
We know from the story later that Peter indeed does deny knowing Christ 3 times that night and then wept bitterly when he recognized what he had done.I think of this scripture when I think back on an important lesson I learned one Sunday while at BYU.
I was at BYU for 5 years as an undergraduate. Then I took 2 years off before heading back for graduate school. By the time I went back to school, I was 25, single, and had sat through a lot of Sundays in single’s wards. By this time, I thought much of my own wisdom and understanding of the Gospel – and I didn’t really notice what negative effect my pride had created in me. Until this one Sunday…
It was a normal fast Sunday like every 1st Sunday of the month. The ward I was in was full of young college students – girls and guys who were 19-22 years old. They were all going through the same kind of stages in life and a lot of the same things were heard on Sunday when they would bear their testimonies. I had heard it all a thousand times before. I was sitting in the audience finding myself bit annoyed with the spiritual immaturity and cliché nature of what was being said. I found fault with just about everyone. It went a little like this in my head:
Person #1: “hi, for those of you who don’t know me, my name is...”
Me: “Duh, of course it’s for those who don’t know you…the rest of us know you, so don’t need to know your name.”
Person #2: A guy wearing a dark blue shirt. (heaven forbid it’s not a white shirt)
Me: Why does this guy think that style is more important than showing respect? Does he wear a colored shirt because he wants to show he has his “agency” or something?
Person #3: Bearing ‘testimony’ says “grateful” and “thankful” about 50 times without bearing actual testimony of anything.
Me: “Great another thankimony” Snooze….
Person #4: Person bears testimony by re-telling a VERY long story with no apparent point…
Me: “Does this person not have any sense of time?” “Wow, when is there going to be a point?”
Ok, so yes, these are all things I thought. Embarrassing to admit it, but that is where I was at the time. The worst part? I thought I was justified and right in what I thought. I mean, these people were simply not getting the point of the Gospel and were simply ruining a great opportunity to truly testify and share something awesome. They were offending the Gospel!
There is a lot of irony in that, right?!
Anyway, by the time the third hour came and we went into Priesthood, I was checked out to a large degree, counting the time when I could get away from all these people who just weren’t measuring up.
The lesson in priesthood that day was on not being offended. It was focused on how sometimes because testimonies aren’t strong, even a simple offense causes people to leave the Church. We discussed how we can avoid being so affected by having a strong testimony rooted in the Gospel and not in the actions of others.
As I sat there, a verse of scripture came to mind and the Spirit washed over me. The scripture was Matthew 7:1-5:
2 For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.
3 And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?
4 Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye?
5 Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.
Suddenly, I felt a great shame and bitterness of spirit. The Spirit showed my mind how my thoughts that day had been a betrayal of Christ and what it is supposed to mean to be his disciple. I felt a small part of what Peter must have felt and it was heart-breaking. Of all at Church that day, I had made the greatest offense and been the most offended.
What I realized was that while I was supposed to be the strong one in the Church, here I had been sitting in my seat being offended by others who were not living up to my standards.I was denying those people love and understanding and compassion because they didn’t say or act like I thought a true and strong disciple would act. It was so wrong of me and I felt ashamed.
Ever since that day, when I sit in meetings and listen to others, I have tried hard to try and find the love Christ would have for them and see and hear them as He would. It is hard at times, but that experience many years ago now, comes quickly back to me. That bitterness and shame I felt pricks at my heart and reminds me not to find offense. It softens my spirit and I will ever be grateful for that.
We are a Church and a world of imperfect people. I should celebrate each Sunday with each person who shows up, no matter what. That they keep coming and trying should be enough. And when they act contrary to what I find appropriate and right, I stop and remember Christ.
If I deny my brothers and sisters at Church, the love Christ would give them, then I am indeed denying him – because I am what Christ has to work with. He needs me to be his arms and eyes and ears. He needs me to hear and see his children as He does. He needs me to be His mercy extended and his love given.
I am grateful for this hard lesson and the blessing it has been in my life. It has made my Sundays and life much better. When I find myself criticizing, I close my eyes, say a prayer of repentance, and ask God to give me His eyes until I can find a way to pull the mote out of mine.
Saturday, August 02, 2014
Lesson #2When I was about 14, I went on a 50 mile backpacking trip with my Boy Scout troop in Lassen National Park in Northern California. This was my second 50+ miler with the scouts. The previous year, we had gone through Yosemite. Lassen, however, was special because my father came with me.
I am second oldest of 11 children. At the time, there were I think 8 or 9 children (I should know this), so getting attention from the parents was a luxury at times. My dad worked a job that didn't pay all that much and taking vacation wasn't something he had a lot of. So for him to take a whole week out of work to go with me that Summer was pretty amazing.
That trip was awesome. Not only is Lassen a great place to go, with beautiful places and fun things to do, but spending time with my dad was special. My dad brought his fancy Cannon A1 camera and along the way, we took a lot of pictures. It was my introduction to photography on that trip, which I have continued to enjoy doing some in my life.
I remember one day when I realized that my oldest son was finally at the age that I knew he would remember our experiences together. He's 8, and I have memories of my dad at that age and some even before. As I realized that, I was a bit panicked and thought to myself, "wow, what I do now with him, he will remember for the rest of his life." It was a humbling moment. I wondered, "what is he going to feel about me when he gets older and reflects back?"
This realization made me begin to look back on my experiences with my father to learn and understand how to be a better father myself. As I pondered things, here was my thinking...
I love my father. I know this.
Why do I love my father? What is it about my experiences with him that makes me love him?
Is it because he taught me so much stuff?
Is it because he expected so much of me and made me learn to work hard?
Is it because he taught me the gospel and was a great example of it in action?
I spent a lot of time thinking about this. My conclusion was that yes, all those things were part of why I love my dad. But they weren't why I really loved him as my father. All those things are awesome, and I am truly grateful for all those things that my dad taught me and helped me become. The truth, however, is that when I look back and let my heart move toward those memories that I love the most about my dad, they all have one thing in common...
They all are memories of when my dad spent his time and effort doing something that I wanted.
It wasn't the times he made me work digging and cutting thistles or cleaning hog barns or feeding pigs, or processing liters of pigs, or pulling weeds, or anything like that. It wasn't the times he took me hometeaching and to church. It wasn't the time spent running a newspaper route together or making me practice my saxophone.
No, it was the moments when he was doing what I wanted to do. It was backpacking with me, it was taking me fishing, it was throwing the baseball with me, it was wrestling with us, it was singing with us, going to our concerts, watching me play sports, taking me camping with the family, going to a professional baseball game. It was all these moments when he showed me that what I loved and enjoyed, was important to him.
That is what I hold as my best memories of my dad.
The lesson is obvious, isn't it?! Am I spending all my time working hard and teaching my kids lessons and getting things done? Or am I spending more time doing things they love? Will I leave my kids grateful each day? Or will they also learn to love me because I showed them how much who they are matters to me - that their individuality is as important to me as my own ideas for them?!
Being a father is tough work full of responsibility to teach and care for and lead our families. But maybe the hardest part is learning how to let go of yourself and all the things you have planned and just love.
I am reminded that our Heavenly Father does likewise. He works for our greatest joy. That is his interest in us. That we have joy. As a dad trying my best to be a bit more heavenly, my focus should also be on my children's joy. So I enter the next 40 years (or however many I have left), with that as my focus. Now to get to work!
Friday, August 01, 2014
Including today, there are 8 days till August 8 – my 40th birthday. I have pondered this birthday quite a bit over the past few weeks, and what has come to mind the most as I have reflected on my life to this point are the lessons I have learned. These next 8 days, I will share with you 8 lessons that I have learned that have made me who I am today. Enjoy.
If you want to understand me, truly, think of a bull in a china shop…who desperately loves china. That is me in one sentence. I have always desperately loved people and craved relationships of meaning. The thing I want most in life is to know that somehow I have been able to bless the lives of others and made them happier somehow by something I did or said. And honestly, God gave me more than a fair share of talent and ability to do and to say. And I have passion and faith and desire – I certainly am willing. But I am also awkward, rough, blunt, and a bit too much for people – and many of the very relationships I so badly want and need and love, break.
Yes, I wear people out and offend them and overwhelm them and bull them over. Like the bull that doesn’t quite fit in the china shop, I break things. Then when I excitedly turn to see and touch the next beautiful relationship, it continues. It is a hard thing for me. While I have known and do know many, many people and have many who I would claim as my friend, I have spent most of my life feeling lonely.
It didn’t help that we moved around in my youth. I never lived anywhere quite long enough to have really close, long-term friends. And those I did befriend, usually found easier friendships with higher rewards than what I could probably offer. I never really learned how to be a great friend.
I remember one day being in my room after being sent there for something I did wrong. I was probably 11-12 years old. For context, understand that when I was that age, I was the smallest kid in my school, was totally ADHD (literally), had Tourette’s, and well, had my personality. A tough mixture to live with at times.
Anyway, my father came into the room to talk to me about things. I remember the conversation very well because as I was expressing my frustration to my dad about how I didn’t have any friends, and how I didn’t feel liked, and that I was lonely, my father began to breakdown and sob. It was the first time I remember seeing him cry like that and it surprised me. This big, tough man crying like it were him suffering. I was puzzled at it. I mean, why would he cry because of what I said?
Then, my dad quietly told me that he understood and that he hurt for me.
To be honest, I don’t remember much else about that conversation. But I will forever remember how my father felt deeply for me.
As I have thought upon that experience many times since, this scripture has often come to mind:
3. He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
4. Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.
5. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.
--Isaiah 53: 3-5
It has taken me years to really develop the meaningful relationship I have now with my Savior. And as I have tried to strive to gain that relationship and truly understand what it means, my father’s example has been a primary example for me. I truly have seen that moment in my bedroom like watching Christ himself, crying and suffering for me.
Alma 7:12, in the Book of Mormon, it says,
12. And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities.
I’m not sure exactly how it is all done, but I have long known what that felt like and looks like. As I watched my father act as Christ would have. It was truly a Christ-like moment that I have leaned on for a long time and tried to emulate with those I know and especially now my own family.
The first covenant of our journey toward eternal life is made in baptism. In Mosiah 18: 8-11 (also in the book of Mormon), it tells us about the significance of the baptismal covenant.
8 And it came to pass that he said unto them: Behold, here are the waters of Mormon (for thus were they called) and now, as ye are desirous to come into the fold of God, and to be called his people, and are willing to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light;
9 Yea, and are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in, even until death, that ye may be redeemed of God, and be numbered with those of the first resurrection, that ye may have eternal life—
10 Now I say unto you, if this be the desire of your hearts, what have you against being baptized in the name of the Lord, as a witness before him that ye have entered into a covenant with him, that ye will serve him and keep his commandments, that he may pour out his Spirit more abundantly upon you?
11 And now when the people had heard these words, they clapped their hands for joy, and exclaimed: This is the desire of our hearts.
My dad bore my burdens and mourned with me. He showed me what it really means to take upon me the name of Christ. It was one moment, but it has had great impact on my life.
When I contemplate what the desire of my heart is, like the people in the story, I exclaim, “YES! That is the desire of my heart! More than anything! Please God, help me be a bearer of burdens, one who comforts, and one who mourns with those who mourn!”
And so I try again, each day. Even in my own awkward way, I try. Because the way my father made me feel that day was how I want others to feel. Now if only I could only be less of a bull.