Monday, March 28, 2011

The Parable of the Escalator

 One day, long ago (probably on a long stretch of gravelly road, riding my trusty bike), I got to pondering about the nature of life and the trials we face throughout. Life isn't easy.  Good times lead to bad times, and bad times will eventually give way to good. It's a constant struggle; even those who think they are in a comfortable place are only kidding themselves. 
  In life, we only progress or degress.  There is no plateau. As I pondered on this fact, a number of analogies jumped to my mind on how this is true in other places in life: when we stop trying, we not only stop progressing but are pulled further from our destination.  Negligence on our part results in lost ground that must be made up. 
 As I brainstormed on this subject, I received a brilliant (and I'll admit, random) flash of inspiration. 
 I call it:
The Parable of the Escelator.

Imagine you are at a mall; it's big, roomy, but surprisingly dark.  You see you are surrounded by a crowd of people, all of which are milling about on the bottom floor, and they all seem to be seeking a way to the second floor. You join their gaze upwards over the balcony of the second floor, and you see a dazzling, brilliant light eminating from up there.  You can't even see what the second floor contains, but you know you need to get there somehow.  You feel with every fiber of your being that you want to make it up to that second floor!  You press forward, with a sense of urgency now, seeking a path to the warmth above. You've wandered away from the crowds now; it's dark all around you.  For whatever reason, the lights in this section of the mall are out! But up ahead you see a green light, shimmering off the wall from around a corner. As the light comes into view, you see it: a beautiful, functioning escelator, humming with energy as the stairs gradually descend.  What? The stairs are only going down!  You look around and see that there is no other alternative, and since the light at the top is beckoning to you, you walk up to the foot of the escalator, take a deep breath...
And step on.

  The moment your foot touches the escelator, a curious sensation runs up your legs.  You sense, although you aren't certain, that you are no longer capable of leaving the escelator until you reach the top. As you look upward, you realize to your dismay that it only fades into darkness: you cannot see the radiant light of the second floor from here.  Still, the memory and feeling of seeing that light rushes back to you, and you press forward determinedly.
 As sweat starts to bead at your brow, you realize it feels like it's been an eternity on this escelator. You lift your gaze from your feet, and groan in exhaustion as you see the escalator still ascending up into dark.  It's been so long.  You are so tired.  Surely all this work has to count for something!  Legs aching, you decide to stop and rest them for a moment.
 In what seems like no time at all, you find yourself back at the bottom.  What?! All that time and effort, gone!  You look around; still none have found this escalator, but you start to feel a little ominous from the surrounding darkness.  You know that the answer doesn't lie back where you came from... So you turn your gaze back to the mechanical whir of the rolling stairs before you, and with the trace of a smile on your lips, you step back on.
 We can often ask ourselves why life is so hard.  Why does every day have to require us to work?  Why do we keep these commandments?  Why don't we get to have fun?  Everyone else isn't working this hard!
 We all have to face the choice of whether we are going to strive for the second floor, or sit contently in the roiling shadows beneath.  There is no other way to the light than to sweat our ways up the downward moving escalator. We mustn't lose hope, and we must never give up.  If we just hang in there, we'll make it to the top.

Thursday, March 24, 2011


 To me, there are few things harder to teach than the Atonement.
It's not that it is necessarily very complicated to explain; it isn't.  It's not that it isn't important; it is.  It is the foundation of everything that we teach.  And I think, ironically, this is part of my dilemma. Everything we teach is built off of Christ's Atonement, insomuch that sometimes it gets buried under all the doctrines, commandments, and scriptures we are so eager to share with our investigators.  Sadly, the very thing that should be center stage in our lessons is left to wallow behind the curtain; enshadowed, obscure, nearly forgotten.
 Now, I'm not saying all missionaries are guilty of this!  I can only speak for myself.  So I want to make up for this, in however small a way I can, by sharing for you my testimony of the Atonement of Jesus Christ.

 Now, the Atonement does not begin in the garden of Gethsemane, as we tend to teach in passing.  No, Christ's voluntary sacrifice reverberates along time's spectrum in both directions: beginning with God's forming His plan of salvation for us in our pre-earth life, reaching across eons of time to our final judgement. It was, and is, truly infinite; without time or breadth.
 If you are like me, at this point you are already overwhelmed.  How can something be infiniteHow could Christ suffer everything?  If you look at this with a purely scientific perspective, it will only result in confusion and a headache.  Trust me, I've tried.

 The fact of the matter is, Christ did suffer everything.  Remember that time you said "I hate you!" to your little sister because she broke your batman toy, and the bitter remorse that plagued you all the rest of the day, with the image of her sweet little face wet with tears burned into your memory?
 He felt that.
 Remember when your family dog finally got too old and sick to keep going, and you had to wave goodbye to her as she smiled at you from the back of the truck, knowing you'd never see her tail wag again?
 He felt that.
 Remember the literal pain in your heart as you walked away from a friend who had betrayed you; leaving nothing but dashed hopes, hurt feelings, and painful memories?
 He felt that.
 He suffered everything we could all suffer in the human experience. Whether it be physical, emotional, or spiritual, it transcended all barriers, encompassing the entire realm of suffering and sorrow.

 Why did He do this?  Why did He willingly and knowlingly volunteer to do this?  Why did He, perfect and wonderful as He was, choose to be subject to the full fury and temptation of the world, and the adversary?
  "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life."
 It all happened because God loves us, and so does our Savior Jesus Christ.  They want us to make it home. He died so that it could be so.
 In the name of our Redeemer, Savior, and Brother, Jesus Christ,

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Ok, Really?

 Yesterday was a very interesting day. 
  It began fairly normal: showers, scriptures, and Cinnabon cereal.  When we walked out the door, there was nothing in the peaceful morning sunshine that suggested this would be one of the craziest days of my mission. But so it was, and so it would be.
 As we cruised to the church for the zone meeting we had planned, we enjoyed the fresh, new day, ripe with potential.  The meetings went well; Elder Tanner taught an excellent district meeting after as well.  After this three hour block of meetings, my companion and I had the inspiration to take advantage of a whopper special going on at the local Burger King-"Buy one, get one free".  Yep, life was looking good for the Elders of Vallejo 1st ward.
 What happened next, we just couldn't see coming.

 After consuming our delicious (and remarkably unhealthy) meal, we proceeded to our appointment with a Mr. Shawn Watts. Although we knew he lived on the sketchy side of town, we were confident in the broad daylight.  We arrived at his home, guns blazing, excited to share the message of the Book of Mormon with him. As we got out of the car, he walked down the steps of his second story apartment to let us in.  He seemed a little worried, apparently there had been a scene earlier and he wanted to get back inside as soon as possible.
 We open with a prayer, and start reading the introduction.  It was going great!  ..Then we heard the shouting in the street.
 Now, a little background: I grew up in the quiet town of Layton, Utah. I had never actually seen a "domestic disturbance".  A fight for me was usually something that happened once in a blue moon in High School, and usually blew over pretty quick with maybe a black eye dealt to an unfortunate participant.
 What we saw (again, safely from the second story window) was a real fight.  People yelling and screaming, pushing and punching and kicking. As we watched, it quickly dispersed and the police arrived to restore the peace.
 So, that was the end of that lesson. :P
 The rest of the day was just as different. As we came in that night, utterly spent and (I'll admit) just a little perturbed, I reflected on why we have bad days.
 Of course, the scriptures address this fairly succinctly, "There must needs be an opposition in all things".  If we had days of nothing but sunshine and daisies, that would completely defeat the purpose of why we are here!  We learn the most in our hard times, and as Elder Collett surmised last evening, "These are the times we'll talk about most after our mission."
 Being a missionary is so many things.  It's incredibly hard, unspeakably awkward at times, immeasurably valuable to the lives we touch, and endlessly rewarding at the end of the day.  Despite everything we've faced (and most likely will face), I love this.  I know that this work is true, and important, and worth every little bit of opposition. I know Christ loves His children, and the blessing it is to know His plan for us and to be able to share that wonderful news with our brothers and sisters.
 "Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life."

Tuesday, March 15, 2011


an With the terrible disaster this past week in Japan, I had to somberly reflect on just how seemingly little power we have over things as awesome as the forces of nature. Storms, pestilence, famine, tectonic shifting, the list of things that have forever brought death and destruction upon the inhabitants of this world can be seemingly endless.  Especially as of late, it isn't difficult to be worried, apprehensive, even afraid, when we are constantly bombarded with disaster after disaster.  Are these signs of things to come?  Is the end really near? Many, if not all of us, have let these questions flit through our minds as we see images of cars, buildings, and debris swept away as flotsam and jetsam through what was once a quiet Japanese town.
 These are terrible tragedies. My own heart aches for these people, and I can't imagine the horror of facing such a cataclysm.  The silver lining, however, behind every calamity that strikes a people, is what happens around the world.  People of all nations, tongues, and dogmas come together to the aid of those afflicted.  I truly believe it is in times of darkest woe that mankind shows its greatest virtue.  As hundreds of thousands rally to the scene of a disaster, bringing aid, supplies, support, and love, I think we start to get a sense that maybe we all are really family.  Maybe these divisions we live with, be they political, societal, monetary, or religious, don't really matter in the long run.  Maybe that is what is meant when the apostle Paul spake "that their hearts might be comforted, being knit together with love."
  I pray that we will all remember our brothers and sisters around the world who need our support.  I pray that someday, perhaps, humanity will truly, finally, become as we only briefly glimpse in times of strife:
 A family.

Thursday, March 10, 2011


As I was recently reading a talk by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland entitled "Because of your faith", I felt a surge of many different emotions.  Guilt, for the innumberable services that have been done for me by my own parents and loved ones.  Joy, for the wonderful blessings they are in my life, even as they are a time zone away at a long lost home.  Lastly, an overwhelming feeling of gratitude welled up inside as I reflected on the many, many wonderful people in my life, who I love.
 I wanted to leave a simple post, much like Elder Holland's long overdue thank you to his parents.  Rather than a single instance, I hope to convey seemingly small moments of service and charity done unto me in rapid fire succession. :P Thanks to:

-Mom and Dad, for getting me a Nintendo 64 in 3rd grade for no other reason than that I really really wanted one. :P I know that was a sacrifice, and that has meant more to me than I can adequately express.

-Beau, for being a true brother and best friend to me from day one.  You are a huge part of who I am, and I am so thankful for the man that you are.

-Cassidy, my big sista, who set the example for me, even when she didn't know it.  I never had a big bro' to turn to for help, but I didn't need to, because you are better. :)

-Hillary, my lil' sis, for being my friend in the way only a little sister could.  I still fondly remember our friday night disney parties, with pizza and an original movie. Those were the days. :)

-My best friend Colbren, who has been a brother and a support to me countless times throughout my life. From mundane moments to decisions of incalculable weight, you are always there for me.

-The rest of my family, who have shaped me into the person I am today.  All the good that I see in myself, I can trace their origins in each and every one of you. For the sake of time, I can't go through all your names, but you know who you are.

-My friends throughout my life, each of whom served a valuable purpose and provided cherished memories.  I hope to see all of you again someday, and I hope someday to return the endless love you've shown me.

-To you.  If you are reading this, even if I don't know you, I want to thank you for being who you are.  Thank you for your hope, your faith, for all the good that you do in others lives.  God loves you, and so do I.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

I love to see the Temple

 Today's adventure started at 6:00 AM.  We had the wonderful opportunity to go to Oakland to see the temple, and we needed to wake up even earlier than usual to be ready for our ride.  As we hustled out into the rain, crammed into a small car with two other missionaries (and the driver), and drove off into the grey split-pea soup that is the bay area in the morning, our spirits were high.  Several rounds of "20 Questions: Scripture Edition" later, we were looking at the majestic golden spires of the Oakland Temple.

 It was a wonderful morning!  The fog was so thick when we got there we couldn't even see the temple in the parking lot. :P  Luckily, it cleared out around noon and when we came out, the view was clear.  San Francisco stood cold and gray in the distance, and the ocean reflected the steely demeanor of the overcast clouds. Sunshine is nice, but I personally believe cloudy days have their place too.
 As we perambulated around the upper tier of the temple grounds, we got a close up view of the panorama carved in the temple face.  I had always thought it was Christ simply addressing His apostles.  I was surprised to find, as we got closer, that it was not the apostles, but the multitude Christ visited in 3 Nephi.

Beneath this beautiful work of sculpture, on the ground level of the temple grounds, there was a statue of two children and a dog looking up.  Beside them was a scripture engraved in stone, with gold leaf bringing the words to life:
 "And it came to pass that Jesus commanded that their little children should be brought. ..So they brought their little children and set them down upon the ground round about him.. ..And He said unto them: Blessed are ye because my joy is full.. And when He had said these things, He wept.. And He took their little children one by one, and blessed them and prayed unto the Father for them.. And when He had done this He wept again."

 Of all the things that could be inscribed here, I found it both interesting and beautiful that it was This, Christ's love for the children, and blessing them, that was written.
 I wondered a bit about the implications of this scripture, and again, why it was this passage that was there.  As I reflect on my morning at the temple, I think I finally understand.
 Heavenly Father is constantly seeking to bless us, help us, and show His love for us.  We Are His children.  What greater blessing to His little ones than to give us a place to draw nearer to Him, to strengthen and uplift us, to act (in this temple's case, quite literally) as a lighthouse to guide us safely home.  It is a refuge from the storms of life that constantly berate us, offering us, if only briefly, a clear view of why we are here and what is to come. It is our home away from home.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

King of Hearts

Today brought the wonderful opportunity to go to Zone Conference.  It was even extra special, because it was held in my (mission) home town of Napa!  As we cruised through the familiar streets, I had the opportunity to ponder on the time that has past since I had called that place home.  That, coupled with the message President Bunker had for us at Zone Conference, caused me to ponder the changes I could see in myself since those days.
 As I stand in the mirror, I don't look too different from back then; my hair is still short, I'm still about 6' even.. I'm even still wearing the same outfit! I guess the place I've changed the most is a place the mirror can't show.
 There's a quote I heard once that has stuck with me since the day I heard it:

"What you are is God's gift to you, but what you choose to do with yourself is your gift to God."
~Ralph Waldo Emerson

 Where I see the most change is in my desires, my heart.  That's a metaphor we hear all the time, isn't it?  "He's had a change of heart," "She is heartbroken," or even, "I Heart NY!."  It's a well known scientific fact that our brains are the center of our bodily functions, ranging from things as simple and unconscious as breathing to things as complicated as releasing chemicals that produce a vast array of emotions, such as anger, joy, and (to get to the point) love.  The heart merely pumps blood through our circulatory system( which is still very important, because our brain needs oxygen to function).   But why, then, is the heart so critical in who we are?

  Christ said, "..I, the Lord, require the hearts of the children of men." You can find hundreds of verses in the scriptures referring to the heart.  This doesn't literally mean our beating hearts, as you've probably figured out by now, but what our desires are.

 The man I see in the mirror now is different than the younger version of a year ago.  He's soared many highs, weathered many lows, and trudged through the no-man's land of the mundane in between.  He's felt the joy of seeing brothers and sisters accept Christ's message, and give everything they had to try to follow him.  He's felt the sorrow of losing yet others as they fell away from the light put before them, fading into obscurity.  He's had struggles overcoming his own pride, selfishness, and disobedience. He's had times of peace, strength, and hope as he steadily learned to trust more in the Lord, and not in himself.
  His desires have changed.  He isn't perfect, but he knows that through the Savior, he someday can achieve his potential.

 The man I see is a new man. Or rather, the same man with a new heart.

"A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh."

Christ sees our hearts. He knows us perfectly, inside and out.  He knows every good intention, and every secret lie.  He loves us.  He beckons us to Him; to learn, grow, change, and follow the path He has paved for us.  He knows the way,  He is the way.  To do this, we must change our desires.  We must change our hearts, and hand our stubbornness and pride over to Him.
 When we do this, we will become as He is, and we will finally understand the mysteries, and capacities, of the heart. We will see ourselves, finally, as He has always seen us.
 He is the Lord of Salvation, the King of Hearts.