Monday, October 13, 2014

I Wrote a Novel and This Is What I Learned

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Courtesy LDS Media Library
I recently finished writing a novel. It was my second attempt at writing one. My first attempt over 20 years ago was a flop because I gave up. I was wrong to give up so easily.

I've learned a few things along this road, lessons that go beyond writing, life lessons worth sharing. Here's five of them.
  1. Don't give up. If you are engaged in a good cause and you're growing by your efforts, don't give up. I got discouraged with my first attempt at writing a novel. I got embarrassed, really. So I gave up. I had written several drafts but on one furiously immature day, I threw in the towel and stopped working on it. I actually discarded all copies of it. That was a big mistake. I should have kept going. I learned from the experience, but I could have learned a lot more if I hadn't given up. I've learned that perseverance is the solution to almost any problem we'll face in life. 
  2. Accept criticism. If you want to grow, you have to be open to criticism. You have to be willing to take a hard look at yourself and what you're doing, and then make positive changes, make things better. If you want your life to be better and you want adventure, you have to take risks. Big ones. You have to be willing to expose your true self to others. It can be discouraging to listen to critics—or it can fuel for your passion. You get to choose. Your critics are not always right, but if they are right, do something about it. Lesson? You may feel safe wrapped in a blanket of self-defense, but you won't go very far in life. 
  3. Believe in yourself. Even if everyone else in the world doesn't believe in you or your cause, believe in yourself. Even if all you have is a flicker of divine light in your heart, believe in yourself. That light is there for a reason. It won't go out. You may try to snuff it out, but if it is divine, the flame will burn on. Lesson? If you don't believe in yourself, who else will? Okay, maybe your mom, but you won't believe her either. 
  4. Set your fear on fire. If you're afraid to follow your dream, take a match to your fear and light it on fire—with passion and courage. Fear may protect you in certain instances, but most of the time, it's just bad advice. Therefore, what? Reduce your fear to ashes and keep going. 
  5. You've got mountains to climb. Are you climbing a mountain or resting in a valley—with a remote in one hand and a diet Coke in the other? If you are not climbing a mountain, a really big mountain, your life will likely feel aimless and probably pretty boring. If you are caught up in the dailiness of life and not allowing yourself to have a big goal that you are pursuing daily, I'll bet you're feeling lost. What now? Somewhere, there's a mountain with your name on it. Find it and climb it.
Song of Falling Leaves is book 1 of the Wanderer series, a four-volume set. It's a story of a 14-year-old girl who, with the help of a pair of falcons, an unbreakable stallion, a small army of rattlesnakes, a cougar, and two coyotes, discovers that she is much more than she ever imagined she could be.

This series is my mountain to climb. I've only climbed a quarter of the way. It took me six and a half years to get that far. But I'm looking up and I'm still climbing.

I've converted my fear to ashes. I'm listening to what others have to say. I believe in myself and I'm not giving up. 

Thursday, October 9, 2014

How I Learned It Was Okay to Cry

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I didn't cry much when I was a young teenager. I only remember crying a couple of times. Once when I got dumped by a girl one Sunday afternoon in the spring of 1975, and another time when I did really poorly at a horse show in Klamath Falls, Oregon. Both times I hid my tears and did my crying in private—in the cab of my pickup, in an empty horse stall.

I had been taught to "John Wayne" it by my stoic father. Back then, tears were a shameful thing that you kept hidden. That's what I thought. Until.

I joined the Church the fall of my senior year in high school. I lived on our family ranch then. We lived a long way from town and I was much the loner bumpkin. Just south of our ranch, on the other side of the Little Luckimute River, was a dairy farm, a farm owned by an active Mormon family, the Gillians. They visited us once at our home on the ranch. I hid out in my bedroom. But that wasn't my last chance to get to know them.

Lee Gillians was a kind, honest, genuine man, a dairy farmer with a crushing, bear-claw handshake. He had his "milk-parlor words"—he was as tough a man as I ever knew—but his testimony ran deep.

One testimony meeting, shortly after I'd joined the Church, Lee got up to the pulpit. His daughter Faye had just called him from Ricks College where she was going to school. Right there, at Church, at our little two-phase country Church, she called him. Minutes before he got up to share his testimony.

He told the little congregation that Faye had just called to tell him how much she loved him. That was it. She just told her dad that she loved and appreciated him, then she hung up. Lee's tears came. Pure, honest tears, the likes of which I had never seen before. It was, at that time, the tenderest story of family love I had ever witnessed. Tears came to my eyes too. I've never forgotten that moment. It was the day I learned that you can be a tough old buzzard and still cry. In public. And it was okay.

Tears that come from hearing and feeling truth are precious. I accept them readily and openly. I still do most of my crying in private, but I am not ashamed when they spill out, wherever I happen to be.

When your spirit trembles and tears come because you are hearing an eternal truth or seeing a tender scene, you are making a shift. You are taking a step up the staircase. It is a denial of who you are as a child of God to always suppress those tears. Let them come. Let your Father in Heaven talk to your heart. Let yourself be who you really are. 

Sunday, October 5, 2014

An Anti-Mormon Conversation, Recast

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Courtesy LDS Media Library
Here's a conversation I imagine having with an anti-Mormon, recast as a conversation about my mother. Let's call the antagonist Philastus Hurlhurt, Phil for short. This conversation resembles some real conversations I've had.

Mike: Hi Phil, how are you?

Phil: Great if it weren't for you!

Mike: What'd I do this time?

Phil: It's not you, really, Mike. It's your mom.

Mike: My mom?

Phil: Yes.

Mike: What could possibly be the problem with my mom?

Phil: Well, she's a liar. You can tell just by looking at her.

Mike: Alright. Please explain.

Phil: She claims to be your real mom, but she's not. It's clearly evident that can't be true.

Mike: She is my real mom. I'm sure of it. In fact, I'm absolutely certain of that.

Phil: No you're not! I mean, like, do you remember being born?

Mike: No, not really. But I heard about it from a lot of people, including her.

Phil: See! I knew it! You can't prove anything. Your pretend mom is tricking you!

Mike: Why would she want to trick me?

Phil: She's trying to take control of you and take away all your money! She is like the queen of chores! She takes away all your freedom! She won't let you go out and have any fun with your friends—like she won't let you drink or take drugs or watch R rated movies—and all kind of stuff like that! She is so restrictive! She pretends to be an angel but she is a witch!

Mike: No she's not. How can you talk like that? She is a very kind and understanding person. She doesn't have a selfish bone in her body. I've never heard her complain, and her only motive is love. I know she's not perfect, but she's true to me—always has been—and I love her so much.

Phil: You've been taken in. She's not your real mom and you can't prove that she is! You can't.

Mike: I could easily prove it but do I have to prove it to you? I don't. I simply know it's true. I have all the evidence I need, but I don't think I need to prove it to you. You won't accept any of the evidence I offer anyway.

Phil: You couldn't get me to accept it if you tried. You've been brainwashed! Duped! Tricked! Shanghaied!

Mike: Let's not go there. Have you ever actually met my mom, I mean, have you been to her house?

Phil: No. I'd never go there. Except maybe to crash her parties.

Mike: Why?

Phil: I don't need to go to her house. She'd just try to fool me like she's fooled you. I've read a ton of books about her and watched a bunch of YouTube videos too. I know all about her. I won't be sucked into her schemes.

Mike: Really? My mom is a very good person, incredible actually. She has endured so much over the years. I am amazed by her attitude in the face of so many trials.

Phil: She can afford to have a happy-slappy attitude like that because she is so rich. Who wouldn't with that kind of money?

Mike: She has done well for herself, that's for sure, but that's because she is generous, not thinking of herself. And others have been generous to her because of it. She uses what she has to make others' lives happier and better. She's adopted a lot of kids, you know, from all over the world.

Phil: She only adopts those kids so she can control their minds and take away their hard-earned money. You have been deceived. She only has wicked motives.

Mike: You don't know my mom, Phil. You can't understand her. If you could only meet her, you'd know differently, but I don't think you want to.

Phil: You're right. Hey, me and my friends know about her big party this weekend. In fact, a bunch of us are going to crash her party or get on the 10 o'clock news trying. Woot.

Mike: I won't try to stop you.

Phil: You can't! You need to know, Mike, that I really love and support you. It's just that your mom is completely off base and I need to prove it to you and to the world.

Mike: What you're saying doesn't make any sense to me. It never has. It doesn't sound like love to me. It sounds like a private agenda to prove yourself right, no matter the cost.

Phil: You're going down, Mike. You're going to the bad place because you stand by your mom. You are so stupid and stubborn.

Mike: I know with all my heart that my mom is truly a good person. She is exactly who she claims to be—my true mom, loving, kind, generous, and honest. I will always love her and stand by her.

Phil: Oh no. You're going to a lake of fire and brimstone. I can already smell the smoke and the cinders.   

Mike: I'll take my chances. Phil, I feel sorry for you. I really do. I wish we could see eye to eye on this issue but it seems like we can't.

Phil: I'm going to write a musical called The Book of Mom, a clever exposé. I'm going to travel all over and show the world how dumb your mom is. It'll take Broadway by storm.

Mike: Someday, Phil, you'll be sorry. I promise you that. You've reached the point of "no discern." Someday, a door will open and you will see yourself clearly, in all your bitterness and pride and blindness. It will be a sad day.

Phil: If I go down, I'm taking you with me!

Mike: One morning, you got up and took the wrong pill. And you're still suffering from that hangover. That's all I will say. If you ever want to know who my mom really is and what she represents, I'll be happy to talk to you. Until then, goodbye.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

A Mission Miracle

Kirtland Temple
Courtesy LDS Media Library
Our daughter received her mission call on Wednesday, September 24. She waited until the next day, Thursday, to open it at her sister's home in Provo. She asked me to take the envelope—her "big white baby" as she called it—to work that day so she wouldn't be tempted to open it.

She was called to the Ohio Cleveland Mission and will be serving in the Kirtland Visitor's Center. Here's why that's significant to me. I served in the Ohio Cleveland Mission (1977–79), and I spent the last eight months of my mission in Kirtland (May 1978–January 1979).

When I was there, I lived in the Newel K. Whitney store which was not yet owned by the Church. It was amazing to live in the same building where Joseph and Emma lived, where Joseph Smith III was born, where the school of the prophets was held. The store was in miraculous preservation. In just a few years, that building will be 200 years old.

Now my daughter will give tours there—38 years later. It's more than fulfilling. It's amazing.

God is good. He knows us. He likes to tell us in gentle ways, "I care." He really does.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

How Relationships Erode

Courtesy LDS Media Library
I've thought about this for years. I've seen relationships fall apart. I've also seen them hold together. Here's what I think is behind the erosion of a lot of relationships. Relaxing standards.

When you're courting, your standards are high. Your behavior is the best it's ever been. You hold your tongue. You're polite and generous. You're energetic and respectful.

Then you get married. You are playing house with a real spouse! You are Ken and Barbie. It's an adventure. You are ridiculous together. Every day is a day of discovery.

Then things start to trend down. You are tired. You have school or work or both at the same time. Then children come—those little energy sucking cuties. Callings require hours away from home. You come home exhausted and grumped out. You lower your standards.

You don't watch your words closely. Things fly out of your mouth and cut your spouse like a knife. You're disrespectful and sometimes downright mean. Some days, you're so tired, you ignore personal hygiene and you stink. You burp and have gas without apology. You let your wife open her own doors. You sleep longer than you should. You hide out in your room to read. You watch too much schmaltzy television and drink too much diet Coke. You have 47 reasons why you don't exercise or eat right. You cherish bad habits and defend them. You lazily, unconsciously, and predictably lower your standards.

You sing a song that goes like this (my apologies to Veggie Tales):
We are the Mormons who don't do anything,
We are grumpy and forget to pray,
And when you ask us to do anything,
We just tell you,
"Call the Relief Society President." 
And then you wonder, "What's wrong with my wife?" Or you murmur, "My husband is a slob." You complain to your friends about your spousal unit and circle the drain. Your relationships suffer or may feel doomed.

Wake up! Start with you. Yeah, you. Set your sites high again. Be a gentleman. Act like a lady. Turn off the electronic vampires. Open a car door for someone. Buy flowers. Say, "Excuse me." Stop drinking 64-ounce sodas. Take a shower regularly. Keep your mouth closed and listen. If you need to burp, handle it as if you were at a job interview or sitting in sacrament meeting. Ask for forgiveness. Stop defending and justifying your actions and think about how you can make your spouse feel more loved and needed and appreciated. Start working out every other day. Clean up after yourself. Set time limits. Raise your standards. Do something better than you've been doing it.
If you want things to get better, you have to get better. —Kirk Duncan 
Stop blaming and shaming and raging. Start acting on your best instincts. We all depend on grace—the grace of God and the grace of our better halves—to get through life. Show Those in heaven and those on earth that you appreciate them, that your are willing to change, that your are willing to set aside lazy habits and do things better. It will make a huge difference in your relationships.

You don't have to be perfect. You just have to be better.

Yes, you can expect unconditional love no matter your condition. But people might actually want to be with you if you are more kind, dignified, tasteful, respectful, disciplined, energetic, hopeful, and helpful.

Don't ever say, "That's just the way I am." You are far better than that, far greater than you imagine. Your potential is infinite, your possibilities, endless. I'm serious.

If you want things to change, you have to change. Just take one step up.

Today is a great day to start.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Comparison of Gospel Accounts of the Second Coming of Christ

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This document available on Slideshare compares the accounts of the Second Coming of Christ given in Matthew 24, Mark 13, Luke 21, and Joseph Smith–Matthew 1. From the account in Joseph Smith–Matthew, it is evident that some events leading up to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. will be repeated in the latter days.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

The Quiet of September

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The evening light comes for me,
promising rest. Summer trails off
as the earth struggles to keep
her eyes from closing.

An immense memory
the sky cannot contain
slips away like water.

Home beckons,
and the winter firelight.
My heart stills
and I fall asleep.

—Michael James Fitzgerald