Monday, September 1, 2014

Is a Wife a Helpmeet or a Savior?

Courtesy LDS Media Library
I ran a race Saturday morning and as I neared the finish line, I was surprised to see my wife standing just off the course, ready to take a picture. I had shown up alone before six to pick up my race packet and I thought I'd be by myself that morning—getting up early is definitely not my wife's favorite thing to do—but there she was in living color. When I ran a little further, there was our youngest daughter yelling, "Daddy!"

Do I need to tell you how it made me feel to see them there?

I finished my race much stronger than I expected. 

My wife has always motivated me to be my best self. I have some wonderful, lifelong male friends whom I love and admire, but nothing can compare to the powerful influence of an authentic woman on a man. Yes, I really believe this. Here's a case in point.

I recently read a post from And So I Fight entitled "A True Christmas," a story of reconciliation between the author Cherae and her husband Brandon. They had been alienated for some weeks when Brandon's struggles with pornography and infidelity came to light. Here's an example of what I'm talking about: 
We opened Christmas presents and ate some lunch and then Brandon and I headed to my parents study to talk. I asked him what his thoughts and hopes were between us. He told me he knew that our family would be together and that things were going to work out. Tears started streaming down my face as I gently nodded my head and silently agreed with him. I then felt impressed to tell him that I will be there waiting for him when he is clean. I've never seen him shed so many tears. I told him of my pleadings with my Heavenly Father and what the answers to those pleadings were. He continued to cry. In that moment I was again so greatly reassured by my Father in Heaven that everything would work out and that WE would be okay. I hugged him. I didn't plan it, and it caught both of us off guard but it was the most full of love hug I had ever experienced with him to that point in our lives. We continued to openly talk about our future together, felt the spirit confirm all that we had discussed, and shed many more tears. The Christmas I had dreaded and feared the most turned out to be the best Christmas I had ever experienced. (Emphasis mine.)
Cherae's promise of "I will be waiting for him when he is clean," well, that captures it for me—her vision of and patient belief in her husband's potential. That's what makes a man explode with purpose. It gives him a reason to do and a reason to be.

I don't know of any greater or more motivating force for good on a man than the tender, against-all-odds love of his wife. There is simply nothing to compare to it. It's a force that holds couples and families together. I believe that, in this way, a wife is like our Savior and in a sense, she is a savior to her husband.

A bold assertion to be sure but there is some strong evidence to support it. To find that evidence, we have to go a ways back—to Genesis 2:18 to be exact.
And the Lord God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him.
The phrase "help meet for him" is translated from the Hebrew ezer kenegdo (כְּנֶגְדּֽוֹ׃ עֵ֖זֶר) but biblical scholar R. David Freeman claims that this and similar translations of this phrase are incorrect:
I believe the customary translation of these two words, despite its near universal adoption, is wrong. That is not what the words are intended to convey. They should be translated instead to mean approximately “a power equal to man.” That is, when God concluded that he would create another creature so that man would not be alone, he decided to make “a power equal to him,” someone whose strength was equal to man’s. Woman was not intended to be merely man’s helper. She was to be instead his partner. (“Woman, a Power Equal to Man,” Biblical Archaeology Review, 09:01 Jan/Feb 1983, 56–58.)
According to Freedman, the word ezer originally meant "to rescue" and a similar form meant "to be strong."  Eventually, these two phonemes (sounds) were combined into one grapheme (a unit of written language) that over time was interpreted simply as help.

But something was lost in translation. He goes on to say that the word ezer occurs 21 times in the Hebrew Bible, and of those, it is translated eight times as savior.

The root of the word kenegdo means "equal." Freedman would prefer that the phrase be translated "a power or strength equal to him." I love that.

Recently I heard a man explain that he was about to leave the Church and his wife out of frustration with himself and his habits, but when his wife told him, "I can't imagine my life without you," those words and the genuine love they conveyed stopped him in his tracks. He relented. That couple is still together, happily married and strengthening each other in the gospel.

Elder Richard G. Scott of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles had not thought much about going on a mission until he met Jeanene Watkins. She told him one evening, "When I marry, it will be in the temple to a returned missionary." That changed his plans. He soon after left on a mission to Uruguay. Jeanene went on a mission too while he was gone and two weeks after Elder Scott returned home, they were married in the Manti Temple.

It's the light of a righteous woman's being. It's like a magnetic force that draws a man away from self-doom. It sharpens and transforms him. It saves him.

Maybe you think I'm taking the point too far. I don't dare take it as far as I'd like.

I'm not trying to say that saving men is a woman's sole purpose. I am not saying that it's a woman's "role." Heavens no. I can hardly figure out my own role let alone anyone else's. Actually, I hope pulling a man back from the fire is something women never have to do. But I do believe that they have a power to influence men in miraculous ways, if they choose to or if they need to. And they often do.

If you are a wife whose husband is grappling with addiction or transgression, know this: what he really wants more than anything is your tenderness and your gentle reassurance, especially if he has fallen. He wants you to respect him, even if he doesn't deserve it. He wants you to see his potential and to believe in him, even though he can't see it himself. In his heart, he knows you can see what he can't. Show him what you see and what you hope for. Show him the way. Hang on for dear life. Don't give up if there is any chance of reconciliation. I am not saying that you should trust him when he still can't trust himself, but hold up your desire to trust him again. It will motivate him like nothing else.

You are not the cause of his mistakes. Those are his choices. But there is nothing on earth that can influence him more to come back to you than your tenderness. From the depths of his soul, he wants the real, pure you. Let it shine.

He doesn't have anything else to hold onto except his weakened faith and you. You just might save him. And that, I believe, is one thing God created you for.

You can't help anyone who doesn't want help. No one can. But if you will be ready, like Cherae, to take him back when he is clean, you just might be the miracle he is hoping for. It's worth a shot. You might just save a man from hell. You might save a generation.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Is There a God?

Jesus Christ
  Courtesy LDS Media Library
Is there a God? Can you know that your Heavenly Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, really exist? Can you know God personally?

The answer, of course, is yes. But while this is a critically important question to many people, there are many others who would rather not know and prefer, for their own vindication, that you not know.

I have always known that God existed, from the time that I was a toddler. I just knew Him, like I knew my own father. He was present in my life from the very beginning. I could see Him in my mind—He was a person who smiled at me and loved me. He glowed. He has always been as real to me as any person.

My earthly father has been dead for 25 years, but he is still present with me every day. He is unforgettable. I could show you evidence that he existed—photos, papers, legal documents, his high school yearbook—but you might not accept that evidence. You might not even care. You might not have time to bother considering it. Nevertheless, the evidence is there and it's real.

The same is true of our Heavenly Father. He is unforgettable, present with me every day. I could give you evidence after evidence, miracle after miracle, showing that He exists, but you might not believe me or care or even take the time to consider Him. That is up to you.

I have never, for example, been to Sheboygan, Wisconsin, but I know it's there. I can find plenty of evidence to attest to the fact. I have no doubt of it, and I would be hard pressed to find anyone who would dispute it.

Were you willing, you could find evidence and testimony from millions of people who could tell you countless reasons of why they know God and how they have experienced His power and love. If you are not willing to seek out the why and the how, no one will force it on you. No one can.

If you have an interest in one instance among hundreds, I will offer you a story from my own life.

It was the earliest miracle I remember. I was probably six years old. I was playing with some friends in the vast woods near our home. A pair of logs had fallen across a creek bed, making a natural bridge. The logs were slippery and as I crossed, I fell headfirst between the logs. Somehow my hands caught hold of a branch or limb that was below the fallen trees, and instead of falling on my head, I swung on that branch and landed upright with my feet in the water. I still remember how that branch flexed when I caught hold of it.

Do you believe me? Was the limb just a coincidence? Why did my hands unconsciously grab it and hold on tight? I don't know what would have happened if my head collided with the rocks in that creek bed, but it probably would not have been pretty business.

You might think I've conjured this story from my childish imagination, but I didn't. It really happened, and I still feel a divine, miraculous glow from it, as I did then. It was not my time to go. I had been preserved. Someone was watching over me, and that someone was my Heavenly Father and whoever He had dispatched to watch over me that day.

I could share other similar stories from my childhood, but let's fast forward. I was an unhappy teenager. I had a great life, a truly great life, but I had distanced myself from God by my sins. I yearned to know Him well again. It is often through the gift of extremity that we come to know Him better.

Independently, even before my conversion, I had lost interest in the ways of the world. They had become boring and stupid to me. I was open and ready and hungry. I was 17.
For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end [a hope and a future (NIV)]. Then shall ye call upon me, and ye shall go and pray unto me, and I will hearken unto you. And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart. (Jeremiah 29:11–13.) 
I would have given anything to know Him again and I held nothing back. I sought Him with all of my heart and I found Him. I searched high and low and He made Himself unmistakably known to me, by fire and light and the power of words and revelation and much, much more.

My faith is both rational and inexplicable. I know that God lives and I know that He loves me. I know He is there and that He cares. He has answered all my prayers though He has left many of them unfulfilled. He has expanded my mind and filled my heart and lifted my burdens and taught me how to live a happy life. I know I can trust and rely on Him for everything I need. Nothing could be more real to me.

I am not sharing this to convince you of anything or to dissuade you from your unbelief. I am sharing what I know. And anyone who wants to know can know what I know.

I am not alone and neither are you. Find the light and walk towards it. You'll find Him there.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

A Few Things I Love about Running

I want to share a few things I love about #running. Will you bear with me a few minutes? This won't take long.

When I think to myself, "I'll go running today," my body sort of jumps with excitement. It's like you just asked your dog, "Do you want to go for a ride in the car?" There is a cost in energy and time, for sure, but the benefits outweigh any downside 10 to 1. My body yearns for the run now and that feels pretty good.

I love the new spring and power in my legs. They aren't chumpy stumps anymore. I usually start out my runs with a climb. My favorite long run starts out with a gain of about 850 feet over the first three miles. I love an uphill challenge and it's fun to beat my old splits on that part of the route by even a minute.

I love it when my stride and breathing are perfectly in rhythm. It's like the cylinders are firing in sync. And I love how when I am running on flat ground at an easy pace, I breathe normally, as if I wasn't even running. When I first noticed that, it astonished me.

I love breaking the "sweat barrier." When I bust past that, I feel like I'm on a natural high, an earned high—nothing cheap or artificial but something real, something that lasts.

I love to pour out my heart in gratitude and prayer while I'm out. I can't bring myself to listen to music. I prefer to listen to a different kind of music when I run, the music of the soul. It's an intoxicating kind of peace and I love it.

I feel cleansed, spiritually and physically, when I'm done. There is nothing like it. The sweating helps a lot with toxicity (I have heavy metals toxicity—long story) and the increased, sludge-cutting circulation seems to make my mind and heart clear.

Most of all, I love defeating old perceptions. You can do what you never thought you could, become what no one thought you could. I like those kinds of surprises. I like conquering old "records." I feel free. It's like I found the key to my jail cell and let myself out.

You can do it too. Just start. Run a half mile, even just a quarter mile. Begin at a walk if you have to. Start and keep after it. If I can do this, you can. Why not?

I remember the day my running changed. It was April 16, 2014. I'd had a particularly good day. I took off for a run after work and kept going and going until I discovered I'd run seven miles. I felt like I could have gone further, but seven miles in a single run was a record for me.

I am so grateful to my Heavenly Father for restoring my health and giving me the encouragement and the will to try.

I found a feather on my run that day.  It's 16 inches long. I don't know what kind of bird it came from. Maybe it's just a turkey feather. I don't care. I kept it as a reminder of the day I found that secret current of air, when heaven exhaled and my feet left the ground.

Running is a bit of heaven.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

How Much Is a Pass-Along Card Worth?

Today in church a woman told a story about a man she knew in her previous ward in Maryland. He was a Pakistani cab driver. He liked to give out pass-long cards to passengers so he kept a supply of them in his car.

One day he discovered that he had only one card left. He gave the card to a rider, a preoccupied businessman, as he was getting out of the cab, but the man promptly crumbled the card up and tossed it into a garbage can!

The driver couldn't stand it. He hopped out of his cab and retrieved the little abused card out of the trash and tried to flatten it back out.

Soon the businessman came back and they had a conversation that went something like this.

"What are you doing with the card?" asked the man.

"This card is important," answered the driver. "I need it to give it to someone else."

"Well, I'll take it then."

"No you won't. You threw the card away. I need to give it to someone who will appreciate it."

"If it's that important to you," said the businessman, "I think I should take a closer look at it."

The driver relented and returned the card.

I hope as I give out pass-along cards in the future that I can be as genuine and persuasive as this faithful man.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Heard Last Sunday in Testimony Meeting

Last Sunday, a member of our ward stood at the pulpit to bear his testimony and told the story of a woman, one of his clients (I believe he is a physical therapist). The woman was from Flatbush, a neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York. She was born and raised a Jew.

The man sharing his testimony had been on his mission in New York and lived only a few blocks away from where the woman grew up in Flatbush. He then asked her how a Flatbush Jew wound up in Salt Lake, and she told him her story.

After she married, she moved away from New York to Texas where one day her husband left her "high and dry" with three children. She prayed for help—over a period of years, I think—without getting an answer. One day she said to God, "If I have to pray to Jesus, that's what I'll do." She was reluctant, having had her mouth washed out with soap for saying the name Jesus when she was young. Well, pray she did.

She got an answer. "Be patient. Help is coming soon." The answer came when one of her daughters called to say, "I met a guy. We went on a date and I really like him. The problem is, he's a Christian."

He happened to be a Latter-day Saint. They were married. In due time the woman and her daughter were baptized into the Church and are still faithful today.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Light and Apostasy

David O. McKay
When I was investigating the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at age 17, my family, particularly my father, stood in violent opposition to me uniting with the "Mormons," laying at my feet the most vitriolic and absurd allegations I had ever heard. They gave me—or I otherwise collected—a stack of anti-Mormon literature that was nearly two feet high. I read most of it and I am honestly glad I did at that time because it helped me see clear and unforgettable distinctions between light and darkness.

I could use neither logic nor reason to explain my new faith to my family and friends. They would not accept logic, reason, testimony, or faith when I tried to explain to them what I was experiencing. To them, I was deceived and deluded in the worst way. There was no court of appeal open to me, not as far as they were concerned. For a short time, I was thrown out of my house and, for quite sometime, legally disinherited.

All I knew was that before me was the most brilliant light I had ever seen and in that light I beheld a glorious lightness of being. I let the darkness fall behind me as I walked toward that light. Nothing else made sense to me then or now.

I have never turned back to drink that dark ink. I drank it once and it tasted like sewage. That was enough; I don't ever need to drink it again. (By the way, I know what sewage tastes like from personal, accidental experience. That's all I'll say.)

I don't denigrate what others hold as true or dear. I respect others' choices and beliefs, even if those beliefs differ from or even trash my own. I am sad when I hear stories of those who vilify what I hold dear and turn from what they once held dear.

I don't worry about such things, though. Not much. These things will get worked out in time.

I am thrilled to have opportunities to stand up for what I believe. The feelings and good name of honest people everywhere sometimes need defense, but the truth will vindicate itself in due time. The enemies of truth will be ashes under the soles of its feet (see Malachi 4:3).

Doubts appear to be solid walls. They are not solid. Even so, they often turn doubters away as if they were. Fears and doubts are normal. They are part of the game we call life. But what they represent is often not real or solid. They are mirages and illusions.

Please read this story from Piriko Valkama Petersen of Finland about David O. McKay. It is a story of moving from fear and doubt into the light. (Thanks to Larry Perkins, our Sunday School teacher today, for sharing it in class.)
In the summer of 1952 the young people from our branch were enjoying Girl Scout camp near Helsinki, Finland, and anticipating a visit from President David O. McKay. A beautiful grove surrounded by tall birch trees was chosen as the setting for welcoming the president, and since the summer had been lovely, we believed that this special day would be beautiful too.

As the time approached, and we talked of his visit, one of the girls suddenly asked, ‘What will happen to our testimonies if he does not act and look like a prophet?’ Little by little, doubts began to creep into our minds. The darkness of these doubts seemed to be reflected even in nature, as dark, heavy clouds gathered above our heads on the day of his coming and the rain came down in torrents. I remember sitting under a large tree with a friend, watching the rain beat down on the lake, and again and again my thoughts returned to the gnawing fear that the president might not meet our expectations. I knew he would not appear in white robes like the prophets of old we saw in pictures, but that he would be dressed like an ordinary man. So strongly did I fear losing my testimony that if I could, I would have run away. But that was not to be, I had been chosen to give the welcoming speech.

As we walked toward the grove, the rain let up, but the sky was so gray and the clouds so heavy it was almost dark. Our Scout uniforms were wet, and we were drained of enthusiasm. In silence we … waited. My place was in the middle of the line. I was supposed to take three steps forward, greet President McKay and his company, wish Sister McKay a happy birthday and give a flower to her.

Into this dark, damp setting drove a black car. And then, as President McKay stepped from the car, the sun broke through and suddenly the grove was a sea of light. The leaves and grass sparkled as the rays of sun hit the raindrops. We were stunned and momentarily blinded by this intense light.

I looked at the president but could not see him clearly. All I could see was his majestic silhouette against the sun, with the light against his beautiful white hair forming, it seemed, a shining halo around his head. We all gasped and stood in awed silence.

The time had come for me to take my three steps forward and welcome the president, but I could not move. I knew that if I took those three steps, he would immediately see the doubts and fears in my heart that had been tormenting me. Everyone waited, and I stood there helpless.

Finally we heard the mission president … prompting, ‘Sister Valkama, didn’t you have something to say to us?’ I forced myself to take three very small steps. The tears streamed down my face. . . .

I tried to speak. Confused and embarrassed, I stood there and wept quietly. Then I heard President McKay’s voice.

"Come here, my child."

I went to him and he took both my hands in his and held them while I gave my greeting. I was aware of his golden, tanned skin and the warm light in his eyes. I felt as though it was as important for him to help me as it was for me to give my message. A feeling of complete peace flowed from his hands into me. My fear of him judging me, which I had felt only a moment earlier, left me and an overwhelming feeling of love had taken its place. I knew he was the prophet of God who had come not to judge us but to love us. (“When the Sun Broke Through,” Ensign, Aug. 1976, 37).
I'll close with this thought: you can have great confidence in the light. It makes everything distinct—unless you are determined to believe otherwise.

I know, for example, that my mother loved me. She died over 30 years ago, but I know she loved me then and that, wherever she is, she loves me now. I always knew that. I know it with a very distinct knowing. No matter what anyone says or will say can dissuade me from that certainty. Would anyone in their right mind try to convince me otherwise? I wouldn't listen to them if they tried.

Do you understand what I am saying? Some things are real and true. They are indisputably knowable, in spite of earth and hell.

Being grumpy for "righteousness" sake just doesn't work for me. That's oil and water. They just don't mix.

Light is love. It is also truth. And it never changes. That is where you and I belong.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Jesus as a Boy Teaching in the Temple

I think about Jesus' personal life a lot. I think about it every day as a matter of fact. I am not putting myself out as some sort of Superheiligen. That I am not. It's just something that occupies my thoughts. Often. Here's a story I've been thinking about lately.

When Jesus was 12 years old, the same age as our deacons who pass the sacrament, He traveled to Jerusalem with His parents to observe the feast of the Passover. This week-long feast commemorates the exodus of the Hebrew nation from Egypt and was held during the Hebrew month of Nisan (March–April).

Traditionally, a boy would become a "son of the law" at age 12, and a trip to Jerusalem at Passover would be customary. It may have been Jesus' first trip to the holy city for the feast. That was the custom. But we don't know for sure.

Other than his birth and young childhood, this is the only narrative account of Jesus' boyhood that we have in scripture. Although there are many such stories in the pseudepigrapha, Luke's is the only canonized account. It's recorded in Luke 2:41–52.

You're probably familiar with the story, so I'll just highlight key elements from it, embellishing it with unanswerable questions along the way.

The Finding of the Saviour in the Temple by William Holman Hunt(1854-60). Birmingham City Museums and Art Gallery.

Luke says that when they "had fulfilled the days"—I suppose the feast had ended—"the child Jesus tarried behind in Jerusalem" although his parents didn't realize it (v. 43). I don't think they would have knowingly left without Him. Perhaps they thought he was in the caravan with family members or friends. They must have had a great deal of trust in Him.

Can you imagine what it would have been like to bring Him up in your own home?

Also, what would it have been like to be friends with Jesus when He was that age? Did friends in the neighborhood knock on their door to ask if Jesus could come out to play? Who were His friends? What were their names? What kinds of things did they do together? Did they believe in Him when they were older?

Maybe his folks had complete confidence in Jesus or never felt a need to worry. Whatever the case, they traveled a day's journey before they discovered that he was missing from the company (v. 44–45) and came back to the city. Then it took three days to find Him. Three days!

When Mary and Joseph searched for the lost boy, what went through their minds? What did they talk about with each other? Was there regret or recrimination? It must have been a stressful episode for them.

They finally found Jesus in the temple "in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them, and asking them questions" (v. 46).  The Joseph Smith Translation says that the doctors "were hearing him, and asking him questions" (JST Luke 2:46; italics mine) and "all that heard him were astonished at his understanding and answers" (v. 47).

Astonished! Imagine His insight and what it would have been like to listen to Him! What did they talk about, Jesus and the doctors of the law? Did they discuss the Passover which was symbolic of His atonement? Were the doctors or teachers listening to Him or arguing with Him? Where did He stay at night and how did He eat during the time that He spent away from his family?

When they found Him, Mary and Joseph were "amazed." Mary said, "Son, why hast thou thus dealt with us? behold, thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing" (v. 48).

Then came His famous answer, "How is it that ye sought me? wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?" (v.49).  (The NIV reads "Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?”)

At age 12, Jesus seems to already know what His mission and purpose was, and Joseph and His mother were somewhat bemused when He began to pursue it. Is it safe to say that they didn't fully understand their son?

I know I am leaving you with more questions than answers. That's all I can do here. Nevertheless, this story fills me with wonder and awe. Really. What an amazing, inspiring boy He must have been.