Sunday, December 18, 2011

Christmas Miracles

Uh...that's root beer.
 First things first, I apologize to any and all who ever actually read this blog for the hiatus you have so long endured.  I learned quickly that life back in the world moves fast, and it seems that you have no time to do simple things like write a blog (even when you really don't have much else to do).  But due to happenings of late, I could no longer ignore the promptings to fire up the ol' blogspot, and so here we are.  Forgive me if I'm rusty. :P

 I believe that everyone, sporadically if not occasionally, has experiences with miracles.  And why wouldn't we? I mean, if there is anything the scriptures teach us, it is that throughout history, God has constantly and consistently shown us miracles.  "And if there were miracles wrought then, why has God ceased to be a God of miracles and yet be an unchangeable Being? And behold, I say unto you he changeth not; if so he would cease to be God; and he ceaseth not to be God, and is a God of miracles." 

 Today I had the wonderful opportunity to go to a farewell of Grant Walker, whose family has long been friends with mine.  Grant's father was my bishop through a pivotal time in my life, and his guidance and influence was instrumental in me serving a mission.  While I was serving in my last area, just a couple months to go, I received word from my family that Bishop Walker had passed away.  To anyone who knew Bishop Walker, this was devastating news.  He was young, faithful, and one of the nicest men you could ever hope meet.  Grant shared that, at that point in his life, he was struggling and wasn't sure what to do. But, through a miracle, God strengthened and inspired Grant to serve a mission.

 Now, we learn in Ether that " ye receive no witness until after the trial of your faith." Basically, it tells us that we receive miracles according to our faith.  There can be miracles, if you believe. ;)

 However, in my experience in life, there are also miracles that are just the opposite: they occur to help your faith. Grant received a miracle that wasn't akin to parting the red sea or raising the dead, but for him, he knew it was from God and it helped him to serve a mission.  Throughout my own life, I experienced similar miracles that gave me strength, faith, and comfort to know that God is there. Recently, someone very close to me survived a serious car accident with (comparatively) minimal injuries.  There isn't a doubt in my mind that this was a miracle. 

 Yes, we can call down miracles by faith. But to me, the true beauty of miracles is how many of them simply happen because God loves us.  He reaches out to us each and every day, and I imagine we are very often completely unaware of miracles He performs in our day to day lives.

 This year, as Christmas approaches, may we all express our love and gratitude to Him who loves us so very much.  May we remember His Son who performed the greatest miracle of all in the Atonement.  May we strive to make this season a little brighter for those who may have little reason to celebrate, and perform miracles of joy and love in the name of our Father.

This is my Christmas wish, in the name of Jesus Christ.
Amen.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Return With Honor


 The time has finally come. 
 As much as a missionary can try not to think about it, the steady march of time presses forward.  Some days the tempo seems to be at a crawl, other days it can proceed with alarming accelerando.  For me, the day of my release always seemed so far off (and still does), but I know better.  Time will continue on, and the sun is setting over the horizon of this chapter of my life.
 Because this is my last post as a full-time missionary, I'm trying to figure out exactly what to say.  I feel like Moroni, who decided to leave some final thoughts at the end of his service on those plates of gold.  His words, almost an afterthought, have been some of the most special and powerful in all of the Book of Mormon (for me, anyways).

 So what counsel do I have for you?  What sage spiritual insights can I possibly offer? 

 Well, let me tell you. :)

 THINGS I LEARNED ON MY MISSION:

~Don't ever study in a recliner.
~With lunch meats, you get what you pay for.
~No matter how much you prepare, you will still get a flat tire.
~Children know a lot more than we think they do.
~Never, EVER argue with somebody about scriptures (aka "Bashing")!
~Don't eat things that were in the apartment before you.
~Always check expiration dates!
~If you are on bike, don't go into gated communities at night.  Just trust me.
~Wear biking gloves.  They are the cheapest form of bike insurance.
~Laundry is Not something you can put off.
~The people you don't want to talk to are the people you need to talk to.
~Early to bed and early to rise makes a missionary happy, healthy, and obedient. :P
~Peanut butter is good on everything.
~You won't be happy until you stop worrying about how happy you are.
~If you think you can do everything on your own, God will let you do everything on your own.
~You can't do everything on your own.
~You don't tell someone you love them, you show them.
~Companions can be your best frenemies.
~Dogs will love you if you love them.
~Dog hair goes away if you don't worry about it.
~Dog drool doesn't go away.
~If you want to look professional, shine your shoes.
~The best days sometimes have the worst beginnings.
~If you are afraid to change, you are in the wrong place.
~Don't be afraid to be original.
~Don't be afraid to be unorginal.
~If you're not having fun, you're not doing it right.
~You can be a teacher for people 2-4 times older than you.
~Always pack a towel.
~Your scriptures are your best friend.
~Shower first if you can.
~Planning is key.
~It should always be about the people, and never about the numbers.
~Take pictures!
~Your family gets bigger with every area.
~Double dinners are Not a good thing.
~You will never be happier than when you are serving others.
~Jesus Is The Christ.

 Obviously this list could nearly go on to infinity.  To quote Elder Matthew O. Richardson of the Seventy,     "I... feel that my mission was the best two years for my life." Though my service ends now, I know that who I am and where I'm going will forever be changed because of these short two years.  I pray I will be true to all the wonderful people I have met and who have changed me for the better along the way.  I have faith that everything I've learned here will help me every day for the rest of my life. I'm grateful for the blessing that being a missionary has been, and I implore that everyone who ever has the chance will do so.
 If I can do it, so can you.

 The ways I have changed and learned and grown are countless, but the things I have learned are simple.
I know the Book of Mormon is true.  I know that God speaks today.  I know you can be happier than you are, right now, through Jesus Christ.
 He is my my Savior.  My exemplar.  My teacher. My redeemer.  My best friend.
 He lives.

 In the name of Jesus Christ,
Amen.



Wednesday, September 28, 2011

"Nerd."

  Today, in the midst of our missionary labors, I was having a conversation with my companion, Elder Longstaff.  In one way or another, something I had said or done caused him to comment on the fact that I was a nerd.
"Beward of Attack Frog."

 Now, this was not news to me.  I have been accused of being a Nerd many times throughout my life; be it by family, friends, acquaintances, coworkers, bosses, companions, passerby, whatever.  Anyone who is in my vicinity for any amount of time will surely come to realize this one simple fact:
 I am a Nerd.

Star Wars, Harry Potter, and Training. Yep.
  I have no shame in admitting this, whether or not this title is intended to be demeaning or embarrassing.  It's not really something I can deny.  I have R2-D2 dangling from my backpack (to keep my Lego Bandito company), my journal is an illustrated comic book with stick figures, I can point out most major constellations in the Northern Hemisphere, I read the Lord of the Rings before I left elementary school (and all the Harry Potters multiple times since their release), and I can even draw most of the (now) 492 Pokemon from memory (after 2 years of missionary service, mind you).
 I know what you are thinking at this point in time:
 "He's right; he is a nerd."

Some people are ninjas.
 Thank you.  Now that this is established, I can get to my point. :)

 God created all of us to be different.  Some may be naturally good at piano, while others can run like the wind.  Some people are always cheerful and good natured, and others can solve a rubix cube in ten seconds.  Some love math, others flourish in art.  Some love the hustle and bustle of the city, others live for the serene calm of the country.  Some like to spend rainy days under a blanket reading, and others like to go jump in the puddles and sing.  Some like to do both.
  Only one thing is common of all of us:
 Everyone is unique.

  We all are blessed with different gifts, talents, abilities, bodies, weaknesses, and personalities.  Someone once said "variety is the spice of life."  We can speak of being "normal", "fitting in", or what have you.  But whether we like it or not, there just is no "normal".  Everyone is different.  Fact.  Now what you choose to do with your individuality is another story.

Me at 12.  Still a nerd.
 Some feel pressure by friends to act, dress, or speak a certain way.  Let's face it, there's a lot of pressure in today's world to be "hip" (or whatever words the kids use nowadays).  If you don't always say the right things all the time, people might brand you "awkward".  If you don't wear designer jeans, they might accuse you of not being "in fashion".  And if you have drawings of dragons on your binder cover, they might just call you a "nerd."

So what?

 If variety is the spice of life, then conformity must surely be the mold.  God created each of us to be gloriously different. There are countless ways we are all individual and special, and God tells us to "let your light so shine before men".  Your light. Not anyone elses.

When we worry about molding ourselves to the world's standards, that is precisely what we become: a gross, fuzzy black spot on the feast of diversity that is the human family.  So be proud of who you are.  Whether you're a "jock", "geek", "bookworm", "spaz", "tomboy", or whatever, just be you. 
 
And I'll leave you with the immortal words of Dr. Seuss (because yes, I am a nerd):

5 pens in pocket. 2 pairs of glasses. 1 nerdy guy.
 "You are you, that is truer than true.  There is no one today who is youer than you."

Thursday, September 22, 2011

"Why are You Mormon?"

 The other day, we had the privilege to table at Humboldt State University in Arcata.  Now, for those of you unfamiliar with the concept of "tabling", it is basically a way to advertise and initiate conversation via table.  Here's how it works: you set up a table (in a strategic location), and you put a whole bunch of stuff on said table to attract people.  Once these two ingredients are in place, you stand and wait for the people to come.
 And on a misty, cloudy morning in Humboldt county, that is precisely what we did.

  As the hordes of students ambled by on the way to their classes, we got several different reactions.  Some laughs, some cold shoulders, plenty of snippets of conversation that didn't include us ("-they have castles!"), but I was pleasantly surprised at the number who actually stopped to have an open minded conversation with us. 

 After an uplifting conversation with several students (who then left to go to class), we got to talk to another student who approached us.  She asked us lots of good questions, and was determined to get each of the four missionaries present to talk. 
 At one point in the conversation, she turned to me and said, "So why are you Mormon?"

  Now, as someone who asks other people questions all day, I was quite taken aback for a moment.  This was a good question.  A very good question.  This wasn't just something I could answer with a simple "yes" or "no", this wasn't something I could glibly deflect with "just 'cuz" or something of that nature.  I could go off on physical and geographical evidences of the Book of Mormon, how we can see fulfilled prophecies of Joseph Smith throughout the Doctrine and Covenants, or even how modern plasma cosmology may support the idea of Kolob. 
 But that wouldn't answer the question.
 Why was I Mormon?
 It didn't take long for the words to come.

 Now, in my opinion, a true testimony is when you don't have time to think about what you are going to say.  An unfortunate side effect of this is that you often don't remember a word you said afterwords.  And such is the case here.
 But what I can remember is what I felt.  And I still know what I know.

  I'm not a perfect person.  I'm not the smartest person.  I'm not always the nicest, most giving, or most forgiving person. I'm not even the most spiritual person. But I know that my Savior loves me anyways.  I know that I am a better person through my Friend and Redeemer Jesus Christ. I still have a long way to go, but that is the joy of life: being able to learn, and to grow, and to love.
 

 Being a "mormon" isn't about the white shirts, ties, and nametags.  It's not about telling people they are wrong and we are right, or about the little differences that can divide us from other churches.  It's not about green jello, knocking on your doors, or having a lot of wives.

  It's about following our Savior's example, loving all our brothers and sisters, and striving to fulfil the Divine potential that is within all of us.  It is about being a family, whether in the home or in a nation or in a world.  It's about serving and giving to all who's hands hang low, because they are our brothers and sisters.  It's about doing unto others as you would have them do unto you.  It's about faith, hope, and love.

 It's about Jesus Christ.






Sunday, September 4, 2011

The Final Countdown

 First off, I'm Not "Trunky".

Now THAT is trunky.
  To anyone who is unfamiliar with missionary lingo (and yes, there is a special certain vernacular among mormon missionaries), being "Trunky" is a condition where you are constantly thinking of home; life back in the "real world", including (but not limited to): movies, music, dating, video games, etc.
 In the life of a missionary, this syndrome we call "Trunkiness" is a killer of productivity, desire, and sometimes, happiness.  It causes time to slow down and drag on, making days feel like weeks, weeks like months, months like years. 
 Nothing makes the work harder than being trunky.

 (Side note: just in case you are wondering the origins of the phrase "Trunky", it signifies that you have your Trunk packed early, and are ready to go.  Trunkiness usually rears its ugly head in the twilight of a missionary's service, although it can occur at any time in a missionary's tenure.)

"Dood"
 Now, I can honestly admit I have had thoughts of home now and then.  I would by lying if I told you I am not anticipating that day with some (high) degree of excitement.  I may even have a Top Ten list of Things I Will Do When I Get Home that includes hugging my new family dog that I have not yet met (I'm coming, Dood!).
 But please refer back to my opening sentence.
 I am NOT Trunky.

 As hard as this is to believe (to someone who hasn't experienced it), being a missionary has been the best time of my life.  Waking up at 6:30 every single morning, knowing you're only purpose is to go out and do your best to brighten some lives with the light of Christ is a wonderful thing.  Even days that aren't so easy (and there are plenty of them, I assure you) are incredible experiences and important lessons, chipping away the impurities of my soul through patient perseverance.

You have to be ready for Anything.
 From countless flat tires and full days of biking in the rain, slammed doors, obscene outbursts, golden investigators, double dinner appointments, crazy members, awesome members, members you thought were members but weren't actually members, beautiful miracles, painful losses, moments where you had to pinch yourself to make sure you weren't dreaming because you were so happy, and everything in between, being a missionary is unlike anything else.

 It's wonderful.

 The things of the world are nice.  Video games are fun.  Movies will likely remain a pastime for me.  Things like careers and cars and houses and iPhones are all awesome.
 But my perspective has shifted.  My desires have changed.  My understanding of who I am, why I'm here, and what my potential is helps me understand My life so much better.  And what is really important.

 So yes, I'm looking forward to going home.  But not for the same reasons as before.
 I'm returning to my wonderful family.
 I'm returning to continue my education.
 I'm returning to help others closer to home who's hands hang low.
 I'm returning to a future as bright as I choose to make it.
 And this time, I know where to turn for light.

Being a missionary has been a turning point in my life.  My time remaining is short, yes, but it is precious to me.  I know I have plenty to learn before I board that flight back to my snowcapped rockies.  I am determined not to waste my days now, thinking about what is to come tomorrow.
"Take therefore no thought for the morrow, for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself."

 Life is short.  Time moves fast.  But all we need to worry about is today.
 There's just no time to be Trunky.



Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Small and Simple Things


  Peanut Butter. 
  Those four syllables have always played an important role in my life. Growing up, if I got hungry, it was a quick fix for the hunger monster.  Going into college, it was a staple and luxury, enhancing everything from cereal to oreos.  On my mission, my relationship with Peanut Butter has only continue to flourish.

 At this point, you're probably wondering where I am going with this.  Well, let me tell you.  Peanut butter was invented by a man named George Washington Carver.  One of the things I admire about this great man (besides his divine contribution to humanity via the peanut) is his sense of humor.  I remember hearing this quote from him once, and I immediately felt a bond of kinship to this great man:
 "When I was young, I said to God, 'God, tell me the mystery of the universe.' But God answered, 'That knowledge is for me alone.' So I said, 'God, tell me the mystery of the peanut.' Then God said, 'Well, George, that's more nearly your size.'" ~George Washington Carver

 Now, I don't know about you, but I totally relate.  Sometimes, like Mr. Carver, I want to know everything, and I want to know now!  But also, like Mr. Carver, I am definitely not ready for God to reveal all of His secrets and mysteries to my puny, mortal brain.  I'm sure that would be similar in scope to standing beneath Niagara Falls with an open mouth, because you are thirsty and want a drink. 
 You'll find that 10 out of 10 physicians will recommend just drinking out of a glass of water instead.

 And so it is with life, knowledge, and the mysteries of God.  We may want it all at once, but because God is smart, he teaches us instead one day, one page, one sip at a time.  But if we are patient, God will teach us everything, little by little.  Which makes sense. 
 We have to start kindergarten to graduate from college. 
 We have to start at the base before we can reach the summit.
 We have to learn even the mysteries of a peanut before we can conceive the cosmos.
"Now ye may suppose that this is foolishness in me; but behold I say unto you, that by small and simple things are great things brought to pass..."


 From a seed smaller than an M&M comes the mighty Redwood. From one man's desire to learn about peanuts came the glorious reward of creamy (or chunky, both are good) peanut butter.  God can make seemingly simple things into something far greater.
 Be it a seed, a peanut, or me and you, "by small and simple things are great things brought to pass."  All it takes is some patience, some faith, and an appetite to learn.

Friday, August 19, 2011

The Chains of Hell

 Wayyyy back when I was a new missionary, wide-eyed and bushy tailed, I received a startling question one evening from my trainer.
  First, to set the scene, he had heretofore been sitting quietly in his chair, pondering (as he was inclinded to do).  I believe I was doodling (as I am inclined to do), and he broke the peaceful silence with a question:
 "Elder Williams, scripture trivia!  What are 'The Chains of Hell'?"

  Perturbed, I stalled for time by repeating the question as my mind frantically scanned my (then scanty) mental scripture databank for any reference to this phrase.  Upon finding nothing but cobwebs and dust within the "Chains of Hell" drawer in my mental filing cabinet, I did what any self-respecting greenie does. 

Chains are no bueno!
  I winged it.

 "That's like...when we sin and stuff right?  And it's like chains around us?"

 I'm not sure if he was proud or disappointed (he was very hard to read), but he graciously allowed that to be a correct answer, and taught me the principle behind "The Chains of Hell".

  Chains are strong imagery.  In a positive light, they can be used to represent teamwork and power (unless you are the weakest link).  In a negative light, they portray bondage, weight, and oppression.  This because they are strong and binding, nearly impossible for anyone short of a superhuman to break through.
  "And behold, others he flattereth away, and telleth them there is no hell; and he saith unto them: I am no devil, for there is none—and thus he whispereth in their ears, until he grasps them with his awful chains, from whence there is no deliverance."

 The scary thing about a chain isn't the single link.  One by itself is puny-- easily tossed aside into the nearest waste recepticle.  In that same way, we may think it's ok to sin just once. But it's never "just once".  Slowly, carefully, link by link, we bind ourselves down in sin. 
 "I don't have time to say my prayers tonight."
 "I'll read my scriptures tomorrow."
 "I'm too tired to go to church- I didn't get to bed until two last night!"
 "...You're probably right.  One drink can't be that bad, can it?"
 "I swear officer, I'm sotally tober!"
 "Hello, mom?  I swear it's not my fault, but can you come get me-..."

 There are all kinds of chains, of all shapes, shades, and sizes.  Satan uses every single one in his arsenal to keep us wound bound to the ground, dragging us slowly and painfully away from the light and down into the darkness.  Eventually, we can't even remember what the light was like.  We forget what it was like to be free of the chains that bind us, and we resign to wallow away in misery with the Father of All Lies.

 But don't worry!!  Light will always conquer the darkness, and Our Father sent the Light and the Life of the World to be the ultimate chainbreaker.  We call this the Atonement of Jesus Christ.
 Want to know how to break the "Chains of Hell"?  

 "The Atonement: All for All" ~Bruce C. Hafen

 "Tide Pen Repentance" ~Elder Jordan Sharples

 "The Miracle of the Atonement" ~C. Scott Grow (Grow Scott, Grow!)

"Lifting Burdens" ~Mormon Messages

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Sacrifice!!

  As I've swept over my blog, deleting any and all pictures that I don't legally have rights to use, I felt a plethora of emotions:
  A pang of regret for all of my hard work that was disappearing, one click at a time. 
  A tinge of shame at the realization that I had not been completely obedient in my picture collecting. 
  A wave of relief in knowing that, at some cost to my blog's "prettyness" factor, I was showing my love for my Savior by obeying the laws of the land.
 Still, the bitter taste of sacrifice remains.

 I find it fascinating that the Jewish diet consists of many bitter things.  Horseradish, vinegar, and other less-than-sweet fare make up much of their ceremonial meals.  This is to remind them of the bitter sacrifices they have made as a people, in memory of the history they have lived, and the things they continue to endure.

 The keynote here is Sacrifice.  I don't think there are enough fingers in Humboldt county to number how many times I've been asked why Mormons live the way we do.
  Why do we not drink or smoke or party or have fun (which of course is a misconception; Mormons can still party and have fun, providing the former two elements aren't involved)?  Why do we pay 10% of our money to a church?  Why do we spend so much time on Sundays and throughout the week at said church?  Why would we give two years of this fun time in our youth to leave home, dating, college, and video games to talk to people about Jesus? 
 Don't we know that all those things we are leaving behind make us happy??

 Now, sacrifice can be a hard principle to explain to those who have had no real acquaintance with it. How can giving up something we love be good for us?!  How confusing!!

 However, that is exactly what we teach to people.  Not that you have to give up everything that makes you happy in life to join our church.  But that through controlling ourselves and our desires, we gain mastery over our souls.  That by sacrificing things we love, or loved, we learn what is truly important and gain a greater appreciation for what we have.  And by giving up the material "things" of this world that promise happiness, we feel the true and lasting happiness that money simply cannot buy. 

 Is it easy?  Goodness no.  Are there days where we wonder if it's all worth it?  Of course.  It isn't sacrifice if it doesn't evoke at least some feelings of loss.  But when we do so, we prove ourselves to our Father in Heaven, who is waiting, lovingly, to bless us, and make up all our losses. 
When we are truly willing to give all that we have, it is then that we will find who we are.
"He that findeth his life shall lose it, and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it."

He never said it would be easy, He only said it would be worth it.

(credits to Sister Emilee Cluff on her awesome pictures!)

Thursday, August 4, 2011

P A T I E N C E!


Life is a funny thing.  Anyone familiar with the concept of "time" knows that it is a fickle monster.  Sometimes, it can seem to drag on mercilessly, testing your patience and resolve.  Other times, it can seem to fly by in a blink, going from then to now like a flash of lightning, and turning now to then, just as quickly.  As missionaries, we gain an intimate relationship with the quirks of time over the course of a short 18 to 24 months. 

 Life is like that too.  As we reflect on memories past, often it is startling to realize how much time has truly passed since yesteryear!  As we look with hopes and dreams to the future, it seems to always stay just out of reach, dangling in front of us, teasing us, like a carrot on a string.  And, as always, between our memories of the past and our hopes of the future, lies the present.

 The fact of the matter is, all we have is now.  We must learn from experiences of time past, and press forward patiently towards our dreams of the future.

 But (if you are like me,) waiting can be hard!  President Dieter F. Uchtdorf gave an awesome story on this subject.

 Now, this is cute and awesome and everything, but it distressed me a little.  We all have to ask ourselves: Which child was I?  Honestly, I'm not sure if I would have refrained from eating the marshmallow.  To quote one of my favorite songs, "the waiting is the hardest part."

  But we all learn at an early age (from a very determined tortoise and a rather impatient hare) that steadily enduring day to day is key to having a happy life.  Patience isn't only a virtue, it is requisite to reach the finish line, and win the prize of eternal life.  Those who live "fast" lives may be shocked to find at the end, just like the hare, that they have still lost the race.

 In the end, it is what we do that counts, not how fast we do it. Elder Quentin L. Cook quoted this poem on the subject:

O, one might reach heroic heights
By one strong burst of power.
He might endure the whitest lights
Of heaven for an hour;--
But harder is the daily drag,
To smile at trials which fret and fag,
And not to murmur--nor to lag.
The test of greatness is the way
One meets the eternal Everyday.

~Edmund Vance Cooke

 So hang in there!  It is by sticking to it in through those long, tough days that we prove ourselves worthy of the Kingdom. Greatness comes one day, one trial, one step at a time. Patience is hard.  Patience is long.  Patience is tough.
 But Patience is Power.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

White Fire!


 I love Fire.  To me, fire is a mystery and a wonder.  It is clear, yet ephemerally solid.  It brings light and warmth to any environment.  Fire can save lives, if controlled.  Just as easily, it can destroy pretty much everything if left to its own device.  It can cleanse and purify, as well as burn to ashes.  It is little wonder to me, having found comfort in the cold of winter before a warm crackling fire, that the Spirit of God too burns "like a fire."  The Spirit often speaks through a "burning" feeling.  When we receive the Holy Ghost, it is known as the "Baptism of Fire". Throughout scripture, whenever God shows His power from Heaven, He shows it by bringing the fire.

  I have had the wonderful opportunity to recently begin training a brand new missionary.  To anyone who has trained, or even been in close proximity with, a new missionary, they've more than likely experienced the phenomenon known as "Greenie Fire".

 Greenie Fire is powerful.  It can overcome any contact's resistance by sheer will and desire to share our message!  It can face any and all opposition with inerrant optimism!  It can tract all day in 100+ degree summer days, and still want to skip dinner!  It can't be deterred by dogs, flat tires, no mail, angry yells, and slammed doors. It is a flame that is bright and hot, and it is contagious, especially to other missionaries.  It is a wonderful spiritual "new car smell" reserved only for those fresh to the mission field.

My boy, Elder Longstaff.

 What makes Greenie Fire so wonderful, and new missionaries so powerful, is that they are completely uncomfortable and new at missionary work.  They don't know how to tract. They've never taught a 25 year old single mother about the Law of Chastity.  They've never even invited someone on the street to be baptized!  They are completely new.  Therefore, they rely completely on the Lord.  They aren't afraid to do any of the aforementioned missionary activities, because they know the Lord will help them.

  Yet, as with any flame, the Greenie Fire begins to fade.  As the missionary gains experience, learns the lessons, and can contact just about anyone on the street, the work becomes easier.  Familiar.  Comfortable.  Faith in what the Lord can accomplish through you is replaced by confidence in things you have accomplished.
  And so, who is the better missionary: the inexperienced "Greenie" overflowing with enthusiasm, or the seasoned veteran who is capable and experienced?

 In my opinion, one is not better than the other.  But a missionary that is both would be truly powerful.

  Imagine if a missionary were to keep that Fire in their heart their whole mission!  Even with all the experience and lessons and contacts and baptisms that come over time, they relied solely on the Lord with reckless, desperate abondon!  The Greenie Fire would give way to something that burns much hotter.  A more refined Fire that is controlled, powerful, and Divine.

 This is White Fire.

 White Fire isn't just for missionaries, either.  It comes from an insatiable desire to do good.  It is that power, that light, that certain people seem to carry with them.  They bring warmth to all those around them, and they attract weatherworn souls as a moth is drawn to a flame.  We all see these people.  If you are like me, you want to be like those people.  This light isn't some magic trick, it isn't solely personality either (although I know that certainly helps, sometimes).  It is because these people follow the Master.

 I testify that we can all have this power!  We can all have this light!  The Spirit of God is for everyone; everyone can feel the warmth of it's flame.  All we have to do is follow the Savior, trust in the Father, and seek the Spirit.
 Then all will be able to feel your White Fire.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

The Parable of the Light(house)!

Here is part 2 of the parable experiment.  In Matthew 12, the Savior gives the parable of the Sower.  Afterwards, the apostles ask Him for the interpretation of the parable.  He does so, explaining what each of the examples in the parable mean.  So that's what I'll do too!  Remember, this is open for anyone to interpret, just because this is what got out of it doesn't mean that it's the only answer. So, without further ado, I give you my interpretation of the Parable of the Light(house):

The Stormy Night:

 Is this life on Earth.  It isn't always stormy, night, cold and wet, or threatening.  In fact, there are times, when it's bright, calm, and clear, that things like lighthouses seem entirely unnecessary.  That, however, is not addressed in this parable, and could merit one of its very own.  This is about the storm; when life is dark, when we feel lost and lonely, and when the waves of tribulation just seem relentless. 
 "...when the devil shall send forth his mighty winds, yea, his shafts in the whirlwind, yea, when all his hail and his mighty storm shall beat upon you..."

The Other People on Deck:

 We are surrounded by people.  Everywhere you go, there are men and women, brothers and sisters, who are each living their own lives.  Many of them are weathering storms of their own, and are struggling to find peace and solace in their trials.  They don't know where to look for help, but they are strong and are doing everything they can to survive and weather the storm as best they can.

The Flashlight:

 Is the Gift of the Holy Ghost. It is a light that we can rely on to direct us personally in all things.  However, it is a gift we must receive.  That doesn't just mean it needs to be given to us, but we also must choose to seek it.  A flashlight is useless if you don't press the button.  The Holy Ghost is dormant if we don't ask for it's guidance.  Also, although the beam is brilliant and clear, it only works for us.  Others cannot see the light it brings us, or receive it's witness secondhand.  Although it can guide us here and now to find shelter in the storm, it cannot guide the ship as a whole to shore.  It can only direct you. 
However, you can use it to help others.
 "For behold, again I say unto you that if ye will enter in by the way, and receive the Holy Ghost, it will show unto you all things what ye should do."


The People Locked Below Deck:

 Are those who have received a witness, but do not use this knowledge to help others.  They feel safe knowing they have secured their salvation, but they do not offer this hope and light to others. 
"Behold, I sent you out to testify and warn the people, and it becometh every man who hath been warned to warn his neighbor."

The Wheel:

 Is the call to lead and serve others.  We all must be a leader at some point in our lives.  It may be in the mission field.  It may be in the home with your children.  It may be as a captain on a sports team.  It may be as an older brother or sister, a concerned friend (or stranger), giving a talk or accepting a church calling.  We are all called upon to take the wheel at some point in our lives, for the betterment of others.  When that time comes, we must all make the decision: Will I grab the wheel?
 "And he led them on safely, so that they feared not: but the sea overwhelmed their enemies."

(and finally)
The Lighthouse:

 Is the Prophet of God.  We all receive our own portion of the light by the Holy Ghost, but only one is called to direct the children of God through the storms that we face today.  His voice pierces through the wind and the rain, calling us to safety and guiding us through the rocky shallows. 
 I know that God speaks to us through His prophets, not to command us, but to bring us safely home.  If we choose to follow the light.  We can brave the storm alone, if we choose.  But we have a lighthouse because a Loving Father wants us all to make a safe voyage home.

"Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.
 In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths."

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Make Your Own Parable!

 Ok, I had an idea I want to try out.  Here is the Parable of the Light(house).  But before I give My interpretation, I want to hear Yours! What is the storm?  What are the lights?  What is significant in this parable to You, and how does it relate to the gospel? :) Leave a comment, and let's hear what you think!!!
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
You wipe the cold sea spray from your squinting eyes, as the strong taste of salt fills your mouth and nose, making you cough into your sleeve. As you wipe the freezing water off your face, you pitch forward, falling on your knees and hands.  What's going on?  Where are you?
 As you get back on your feet, your eyes adjust to the blackness all around you, although the howling wind and bitter spray still causes you to squint.  You realize that you are on a ship at sea, that it must be nighttime, and that you are caught in the middle of a dark, tremendous, violent storm.

 You can hear the voices of others somewhere on the ship, but the wind makes them seem distant, and you can't tell if they are feet, or miles, away.  It's so dark, you can only make out the dark silhouette of the ship around you, and an occasional streak of lightning that illuminates the surrounding sea in a flash.
 You're scared.

 As another enormous bolt of lightning dances across the sky, a huge crack of thunder follows, rumbling the slick floorboards beneath you.  You drop to your knees, half to keep your balance, but more out of desperation. On your knees, you unconsciously begin to pray to be delivered from this storm. The howling wind is mute the words as they leave your mouth, but you refuse to yield until "Amen".  With that, you feel something in your hand, as if it had been there all along.  You hold it a few inches away from your face, and investigate it beneath your fingers.
 It's a flashlight!
 You find the button, and press it.  It illuminates instantly, brilliantly, insomuch that you are now squinting to protect your eyes from the radiant beam.  They adjust, and you can finally see your surroundings.
 The planks beneath your feet are weatherworn and moldy, and you are surprised that they are holding your weight.  As you look around, you see other people seeking shelter from the storm, crouched wherever they can stay the driest amidst the raging typhoon.  None of them have flashlights, you notice.  You also notice a door in front of you leading below deck.  As you approach the door, one of the people shivering behind a barrel on the deck stops you.
 "All the people who have flashlights are down there.  They locked it and won't let us in."

 Perturbed, you turn around, determined to find a safe haven. As you lift your light's beam, you see that the mast has been torn to shreds in the storm, and the wheel of the ship on the upper deck is unmanned. 
 Although your experience with commandeering ships is limited to what you have seen in pirate movies, you know that an unmanned boat, especially in a hurricane, is not a good place to be.  You look up, wipe the biting rain off your face, and press towards the wheel.
 
 Illuminated under the dazzling beam of your new flashlight, you see that the wheel is green and slimy with scum. It's spinning wildly as the ship is tossed to and fro, and at first you flinch as you reach for it.  But as another crack of lightning strikes dangerously near, you throw caution to the winds and grab the wheel.  You cry out as your flashlight is thrown across the deck and into the sea, but now that you have hold on the wheel, you don't dare let go. Darkness surrounds you, and you realize that you have no place to steer the ship to for safety.  Any way could be the way to land, and any way could steer you further out to sea, amidst the storm.
 You close your eyes, and wish you at least still had your flashlight.

 Suddenly, a deep, penetrating noise pierces through the howling wind and crashing waves. A foghorn.  You open your eyes, and search the darkness for the source of the sound.  After a few seconds, a brilliant beam of light sweeps across the horizon to port.  A rush of relief sweeps over you.  You turn the ship towards the lighthouse, and you can see it is still several miles to land.
 Although you know there is still a lot of storm ahead of you, you know that as you follow the light, you will reach the safety of the harbor.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 Let's hear YOUR parable! :D

Friday, July 15, 2011

Nerd's Eye View: Episode VI

Elder Williams has asked me, Elder Sharples, fellow nerd in the cause of righteousness, to finish out the “Nerd’s Eye View” saga with this, the sixth installment.  The task is, of course, a daunting one.  But how could I turn down the opportunity to write about one of my favorite things in the world, namely, Satan Star Wars?  I couldn’t resist.  So, I’ve decided to (hopefully) rise to the occasion, and bring you this post, a comparison of Darth Sidious, Emperor Palpatine, the Emperor of the Force, whatever you want to call him, and Satan.  I hope you enjoy.

 Of Sidious and Satan:


      Anyone who has seen the piece of cinematic history that is the Star Wars saga knows that of all the villains in history, none surpass the pure evil of Darth Sidious.  Yes, Emperor Palpatine is the embodiment of everything sinister, scheming, and slimy.  Is it any wonder, then, why the comparison between the Emperor of the Force and the prince of darkness is one so apparent?  In many ways, their existences and tactics parallel one another.
      While many of us recognize the Emperor as being a pale-faced, dark-robed, mysterious, yet powerful figure, such was not always the case.  He was once the unassuming Senator Palpatine, high in the echelons of society, and even trusted by the Jedi Council.  However, he wanted more.  He sought to gratify his pride by becoming the Emperor, an act that eventually proved to be his downfall. 
      Likewise, Satan was not always the adversary.  The scriptures tell us he was once Lucifer, the Son of the Morning, obviously high in Heavenly Father’s view (see Isaiah 14:12).  Unfortunately, he too had a problem with pride.  He sought to be more than he was, even placing himself above God.  As a result of this act of rebellion, he was thrust down from Heaven.
      The similarities do not end there.  The means of manipulation of the unseen adversary and “the Phantom Menace” are eerily nearly identical.  For example, let’s look at the life of young Anakin Skywalker, our favorite Jedi-turned-Sith.
      At an early age, Anakin adhered closely to the teachings of the Jedi Council, walking in the ways of his master, Obi-Wan.  However, this quickly changed when he began having visions of his wife, Padmé Amidala, dying in childbirth.  Now, this would make anyone distraught, and gave Anakin a weakness that Sidious was quick to exploit.  Sidious began to tell Anakin of a famous Sith Lord who had the power to restore life to those who had died.  Anakin began to trust less and less in the counsel of the Jedi, and more in the advice of his newfound “friend”.  Sidious seemed to offer Anakin everything he desired.  And so, without realizing it, Anakin had slipped into the grip of the evil Emperor.
      In similar fashion, Satan tempts us with things that we think will bring us happiness.  He knows our weaknesses and seeks to use them against us.  He offers us the temporary promise of satisfaction, with little regard to what this satisfaction will or will not bring us in the long run.  When we give in to these temptations, we fall into the grasp of our Adversary.  The scriptures illustrate this point very well:   
      22 And there are also secret acombinations, even as in times of old, according to the combinations of the bdevil, for he is the founder of all these things; yea, the founder of murder, and cworks of darkness; yea, and he leadeth them by the neck with a flaxen cord, until he bindeth them with his strong cords forever. (2 Nephi 26:22)
      The devil and Darth Sidious both lead using flaxen cords.  To lead us, the devil gets us to do little things, like cheat on a math test, illegally download a song, or entertain impure thoughts.  Anakin allowed himself to be led by the small acts at first.  He told Palpatine the plans of the Jedi Council, spent a little more time with Palpatine than he should have, and ever so subtly, his allegiances changed. 
      Unfortunately, these small acts grew, as they often do, into horrific deeds that Anakin probably never thought himself capable of doing.  He betrayed the Jedi by cutting off Mace Windu’s hand, leading to his death, rather than finishing off Darth Sidious. He then killed everyone in the Jedi temple, a despicable act. He even eventually kills his own master, Obi-Wan.  All of this could have been avoided, had Anakin nipped his relationship with the Dark Side in the bud.  While our actions may not be as drastic as those of Anakin, surely the principle applies.  When we grow too dependent on our little sins, we will do more and more to cover them up, or we will justify ourselves in taking the sin to the next level.  We can find ourselves doing things that we once never even considered.  In this manner, Satan binds us with his strong cords.
      Now, while it is always easier to cut off sin in its infancy, or better yet, never give in to the buffetings of Satan, there is a way out.  After Anakin became “Lord Vader”, he told his son, Luke, that it was too late for him.  There was no escape from his past.  I think we can all feel that way sometimes, that there is no hope for us.  However, that was not the case for Anakin, nor is it the case for us.  In one of the most touching scenes of the Star Wars saga, Darth Vader is redeemed.  He abandons his past and sacrifices his life for his son.  Now, whereas Vader was redeemed by his son, we are redeemed by the Son. 
      Through the Atonement of Jesus Christ, we can be forgiven of our past transgression.  We can turn from our ways, and abandon and forsake Satan.  With the aid of Christ’s Grace, we can become new men and women.  This is the most hopeful aspect of the Gospel.  Through Christ we can be cleansed from sin.  However, it does take work, it takes sacrifice, but the sacrifice is always, always, worth it.  The Son of God feels the same way about us as Luke did about his father, that within us is the potential to give up the natural man and become something better.  And, through the Atonement of Jesus Christ, we can echo the statement of Anakin to his son as we stand at the judgment bar and say, “You were right.”  So, let’s prove that Christ is right and take hold of His Sacrifice for us, and not give in to the subtle temptation of our adversary.  God speed, and may the Force be with you.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Cowboy Code

 My stomach lurched nervously as the landing gear met terra firma once more with a jolt.  I was subdued; unusually so to anyone who knew me.  As it was, the only people who really even knew my name on this plane had only known it for the last three weeks.  I was away from my family.  I was away from my friends.  I was away from the beautiful ridge-lined mountains of Utah. I was away from everything familiar and safe.
 As the plane coasted into the Oakland Airport, I knew it was official.  I was in California.  I was on my own.
 I was now, officially, a missionary.

This is us! Note: I'm the only one crouching.
  Although this was several, several months ago, I can still remember quite vividly my first day in the field.  The next week would be a blur, with moments including being whisked away on my first night twenty miles over the speed limit by pizza-craved missionaries, sleeping on said missionaries' couch under my (still damp) towel, being assigned to Napa, buying my (trusty) bike MJ, and getting locked inside of a gated community at nine o' clock at night with my trainer.

 Still, the weeks passed.  Then, coming up on the calendar, we had a wonderful occurance known as "Zone Conference"!  I had never attended one before, but I admit I had never been that excited to attend a meeting before in my life.  The morning finally came, and, after a 40 minute drive, we arrived in Vacaville for the long-awaited meeting.

 We learned much that day, but one thing in particular stuck out to me.  President and Sister Bunker told us of their experience as ranchers in Star Valley.  We learned of a code of the old west, mostly unspoken among cowboys.  They lived tough, dusty, unforgiving lives in the wilds of the old west, but cowboys always knew to treat a woman with the utmost courtesy.  They knew that talk was cheap, and your honor was upheld by your actions.  They were loyal to their brand, and were respectful and honest with cattle bearing another's seal. Though sometimes stealing was necessary for survival, they would never dream of stealing another man's horse, for his life was dependent upon it.

 What was remarkable was that the Cowboy Code paralleled and applied with missionary work. 

 The Cowboy Code:

1: Live Each Day with Courage

2: Take Pride in your Work

3: Always Finish what you Start

4: Do what Has to be Done

5: Be Tough, but Fair

6: When you make a Promise, Keep It

7: Ride for the Brand

8: Talk Less, and Say More

9: Remember that some things Aren't for Sale

10: Know where to draw the Line

 As missionaries, we strive to live lives of diligence, obedience, and service.  Although these men (and women) of the wild west were far from perfect, they stood up for their values and their beliefs.  They were unflinching in their duties, and loyal to those they served.  They didn't have the luxuries and society that we know today, but they knew what was important. We all need to remember our many blessings, what it is that we stand for, and be loyal to the Master for whom we ride.
 In the wise words of President Bunker, may we all "Cowboy Up!"

Friday, July 8, 2011

Imagination!

The other morning, as I was thoroughly enjoying a romp through the scriptures in my personal study, I came across a verse that spoke to my heart and captured my mind:
 "...he shall mount up in the imagination  of his thoughts as upon eagles' wings."

 Now, anyone who knows me is aware that I have been blessed with an abundance of imagination.  In some cases (usually during classes involving Algebra), I have a bit too much imagination, which often results in odd comments, excessive doodling, and apologies to teachers (and, occasionally, mission presidents) that I had not been paying attention and did not, in fact, hear the question.
 Although these are definite drawbacks to having an overactive imagination, I have a special place in my heart for the ability to ponder, wonder, and create, all within the confines of our own craniums.

 What would reading be like if we could not picture the words coming to life in our minds?  What would sleeping be like if we didn't have the wondrous (and sometimes, profoundly random) dreams that fill the space between dusk and dawn?  What would living be like if we could not dream, hope, and conceive?
 That I don't want to imagine.

 As I pondered (wooh!!) upon this subject, I realized that our Heavenly Father must have the greatest imagination of all.  I mean, all things on this earth and in the universe only came to be because He created it. "For I, the Lord God, created all things...spiritually before they were naturally upon the face of the earth."  Before we do anything, we have to think it first.  That is the beauty of the imagination: it is the laboratory inside all of us where we test, hypothesize, reject, or create.  Any idea must go through this cerebral crucible before it comes to life through or words or actions.  Through this, we learn what works, and what doesn't work.  We grow and progress, our thinking improves, our logic sharpens, our capacity to create expands.  We learn from failed ideas, and revel in successful ones.  When asked about his eventual success at creating the lightbulb, Thomas Edison said, "I have not failed 10,000 times. I have
successfully found 10,000 ways that will not work."
 In the profound words of Dr. Seuss, "Think left and think right and think low and think high. Oh, the thinks you can think up if only you try!"
 The imagination is truly a wondrous gift from a very creative Father.  I believe we could all stand to devote a little more time to pondering and dreaming! As we do so, we follow in the footsteps of Him who imagined up everything.
  Then perhaps we, too, may "mount up...as upon eagles wings" in worlds of our own creation.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Nerds Eye View: Episode V



A Lady Like Leia

 As the middle child between two sisters, I grew up around girls.  My sisters were my best friends growing up, despite the occasional sibling rivalry/wrestling match. When I was little, I had many friends in my little neighborhood that were girls. But as I started growing up, girls became scary for a while.  It became difficult and nervewracking to talk to them, but for some reason, it seemed like I started noticing them more.  As time progressed, I eventually outgrew that stage and had many close friends that were of the female variety.
 
 Of all my friends, it was my friends that were girls that taught me most about spirituality.  For whatever reason, they seemed more mature, more spiritually minded, more bold sometimes, and more caring most times.  I admired these women greatly, and their example still teaches me today.  To me, it seemed (and still seems) that no matter how hard we try, we guys just cannot compare to a strong, righteous woman.  They are just lightyears ahead of us.

 Princess Leia was worthy of the title of "princess" in every way.  She didn't just sit on a throne and look pretty; she was a leader.  She was devoted to the wellbeing of her people, and sacrificed everything to serve them.  She knew that being a leader sometimes meant sacrifice.  She knew that being a leader sometimes meant facing all kinds of adversity with poise and courage. She knew that being a leader meant facing failures and pains and struggles.  She probably didn't know that she would have to face an evil-pointy-droid-sphere of death and pain to defend her people. 
 But she did anyways.
 Even when she was held in a prison cell as the "damsel in distress", the moment she was rescued by Luke and Han, she wasn't afraid to take charge and lead them to safety.  This was not a princess that waited in the tower for help, this was a woman every bit as strong as the guys in the stormtrooper outfits.

 There are women in all of our lives that are like that; they sacrifice and suffer and shine and lead. So many mothers, mine included, have taught us priceless values such as giving, serving, and unconditional love. Countless single mothers across the globe raise their children alone, with patient hope and courage, knowing that they are solely responsible for their children's future.  Innumerable young women, growing up in a society that demeans their divine role as daughters of God and belittles their true potential and worth, still strive to live modestly and righteously amid the onslaught of immorality and filth. 


 Little wonder that the Lord tells us the worth of women is "far above rubies".  They are precious, stalwart daughters of the King of All Creation.  They are princesses that shine in a world that has grown terribly dull and dark.  Without the light and hope that these daughters, mothers, and sisters bring, mankind would be lost.
 They are truly our "only hope."

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Religion Vs. Science?



Yep, that's my family. :) My dad's pointing.
   As the son of a science teacher, I was not a stranger to being lectured on the science behind...well, everything.  What would normally be average everyday things, like hikes through the deserts of southern Utah for example, became discourses on the flora, fauna, and geography that surrounded us, as my father would share his experiences and wisdom gained over many years of being a junior high teacher.  I learned much from these outings, and though sometimes they would feel (more than) a bit like school, I always appreciated my dad and all that I had to learn from him.  I learned how incredible and beautiful science can be!

 Now, in today's world there seems to have developed a pretty dynamic conflict between science and religion.  They just can't get along!  People on the science side scoff at the idea of religion, calling it a "crutch" for the weakminded, for those who need to be told what to do in all things.  People on the religion side, however, see science as an incomplete, inconsistant, and hollow explanation of just how this marvelous life, and all the universe's wondrous creations, came to be.
 Personally, I think this argument is ridiculous!  Science is a wonderful thing, and it doesn't disprove there is a God.  If anything, as I learn more of physics, biology, meteorology, astronomy, etc etc, my faith and understanding in my Father in Heaven grows. He created all things.  He doesn't do things by magic, but in order. I know that just as well as I know that all this order didn't just come from nothing.
 Science is simply man figuring out how God operates in this universe.

 Of course, there are many arguments for both sides, and I'm not here to field either of them.  Again, as you can tell, I love science!  However, I love my religion as well.  I don't believe these two wonderful things have to, or are even meant to, conflict.  "All things denote there is a God; yea, even the earth, and all things that are upon the face of it, yea, and its motion, yea, and also all the planets which move in their regular form do witness that there is a Supreme Creator."


 Even the greatest scientist can't give you all the answers.  We've certainly learned and progressed much as mankind; things like evolution, the Big Bang theory, and the theory of relativity have come through much study, experimenting, and pondering.  But all things come to a point that science just can't explain.  What begat the first spark of life in the primordial soup?  Where did all the matter of the universe initially come from in order for the big bang to even occur?  No matter how far we dig, it seems we only unearth more questions instead of finding answers.


  Of course, that doesn't mean we should just give up! God wants us to learn!  He wants us to figure all of this out, so that we too can understand and create as He does, someday.  He tells us "it is impossible for a man to be saved in ignorance."  The scientist will be pleased to know that we can't simply rely on others to guide us and direct us in this life; God commands us to "experiment" upon His words, and works, and learn how the universe functions, and we are to be "agents unto [ourselves]". The faithful will be pleased to know that, even so, we cannot be saved by our intelligence alone, and when those that "are learned...hearken not to the counsel of God,...their wisdom is foolishness, and it profiteth them not.  But to be learned is good if they hearken unto the counsel of God."

 I don't know all the answers.  But I have faith that, if I trust in my Father, and am a little patient, that I can know them.  We all need to focus a little less on who's wrong and who's right, and focus a little more on what's wrong and what's right. We are all doing our best, generally, to live good lives, be good people, and figure things out for ourselves.  Let's be more understanding and open minded, there's no need to argue. Truth is everywhere; we just have to have open hearts when we receive it. All of us.

 I believe in God.  I believe He is the Divine Father of us all.  I believe He created all things. 

 He is the ultimate scientist.