Sunday, September 14, 2014

Protect the Queen!

Queen Cristi and King Mike
Over the last three days, Cristi and I attended a marriage class and had a lot of fun. It had a royalty theme. It was a little beyond my comfort zone which is probably a good thing. I've learned that my comfort zone is not equal to my growth zone.

One random theme: the leader would yell out the question, "Kings, what do we do!" Then we men would jump wildly to our feet and scream at the top of our lungs, "Protect the queen!"

After observing this fervent, boyish behavior, my wife grabbed my arm several times and said, "Oh! I just love that!" Then she'd kiss me like it was the coolest thing she'd ever seen me do.

Really? After 35 years of marriage, I am just now figuring this warrior-prince thing out? 

I've always known that my wife likes to feel secure and protected but I did not know that she loves feverish displays of masculine energy in her cause.

Actually, we have been talking about this for a few months—reinventing violence, that is. Not violence in the destructive, harmful sense, but constructive violence, if there is such a thing. Wait, there is. Think of Jesus overturning the tables of the money changers in the temple (see Matthew 21:12–13) or captain Moroni championing the the cause of freedom (see Alma 46:13–23).

Think of standing up to your full stature in the fearless defense of truth. Think of defending your home from intrusion, not from burglars and kidnappers, but from spiritual wolves in every form. Over the past few days, I've realized that 150 years ago, I might have stood against wolves and bears and rattlesnakes and hostiles to protect my family. Now I must defend them against the unseen enemies that enter our homes—domiciles and bodies—over invisible airwaves, through thoughts, and dark emotions. The battlefield has changed but the war is just as real and the stakes are as high as they've ever been.

If I stand for freedom, I stand against sin, the doorway to separation and slavery. If I stand against sin, I must stand against evil in all it's forms—inane social media, cheap-shot television, immodesty, pornography, spiritual neglect, doubt, faithlessness, disobedience, sarcasm, ingratitude, disrespect, disloyalty—the full spectrum is enemy to all I hold dear.

I protect my wife and loved ones, not just through physical means but spiritual. Prayer and fasting and sacrifice and repentance and faith and relentless work and providing a living and holding the line. Standing up for what is right and true and standing tall against "the prince of the power of the air" (see Ephesians 2:2).

Is not God a protector? If I am not a protector, whose son am I?

Cristi will be seeing more feverish displays of masculine energy in the near future. I now know she loves it. 

P.S. Those swords were heavy! I really want one now.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

How Men Save Women

Courtesy LDS Media Library
Yesterday, I was headed home for lunch when I came upon an unexpected scene. I was the third or fourth person to arrive. A young woman had collapsed at the street corner. A man in running clothes was kneeling beside her, his right arm cradling her head from the concrete. His arm was covered with blood as was her face. He was speaking gently to her, though at first she looked unconscious. He seemed to be pleading with her to wake up, to come back.

I cannot erase the scene from my mind. It was not the blood. It was the tenderness of a stranger.

In my last post, I talked about how women save men. Now I want to talk about how men save women. It goes both ways you know. It has to.
Nevertheless neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord. For as the woman is of the man, even so is the man also by the woman; but all things of God. (1 Corinthians 11:11–12.)
First, I want to talk about how my wife saves me every day. She doesn't have to try. All she has to do is be who she is — wise and insightful, caring, thoughtful, compassionate, kind, and patient. Obedient. Nurturing and ministering. Loving. Committed. And funny. Hilarious, really. And beautiful.

We have been married for 35 years and it just keeps getting better and better.

When we see each other after work, we hold each other and kiss each other like we were newlyweds. Our constant displays of affection used to embarrass our children, but not so much now that they are older.

My wife needs me and I need her. Yes, if she suddenly died, I know I could survive and live on. I don't spend a lot of time thinking about what that would be like. From a practical, earthly point of view, I could limp along. But I need her, like the day needs the sun. If I lost her, I don't know if I could remarry.

When we met, I was 17 and she was 15. We were married four years later, after my mission. I knew if I hadn't gone on a mission and served faithfully there, she never would have been interested in me. That's certainly not why I went on a mission but it's one reason I'm glad I did.

My wife is the reason I get up in the morning and try again. We never stop talking, talking, talking. We sit close in church meetings, often holding hands. There is nothing I'd rather do than spend time with her. She is my sunlight.

And this is how I save her. I love and cherish her more than anything in this world, and I prove it to her, imperfectly, every day. I do things for her. Not things that she can't do but things that she doesn't want to do. She doesn't have to be everything and do everything, because we are partners. She can rely on me to be prayerful, honest, forgiving, and kind. I will make the phone calls she doesn't want to make. She knows she can ask for a priesthood blessing any hour of the day. God's priesthood is hers for the asking. I love to serve her. I love that she needs me and wants me.

These ideas may seem old fashioned to some readers. They certainly are old fashioned. But they lead to old-fashioned happiness—the kind that lasts. 

Yes, we have the best things life has to offer. We don't have as much money as we once had or as much as we'd like. We are not sure how we are going to afford to serve a mission together quite yet. We are together, not only physically, but mentally and spiritually. We complete each other. We'll figure it out.

I think this is how the Lord meant things to be for couples. I know it doesn't always work this way, but does that mean it shouldn't work out this way? In spite of my failures and sins, I strive for the ideal, for what heaven looks like and what I know it will be.

Even though we have done well in love, it doesn't mean that life and love aren't fragile. I am aware everyday that foolish choices, by either of us, could lead to disaster. But what holds us together is the commandments. They kept us safe before we were married and gave us a sturdy foundation. They have never failed us and they never will. We may fail them, but they cannot fail us.

The other day, my wife signed us up for an art class, an evening class at the local high school. Together we will draw and paint and mold and explore. It will be yet another adventure. They never end.

Back to the tender scene at the street corner. An ambulance and a fire truck came. The girl awakened and, when I left, she seemed okay. But what about the man with the blood on his arm? What about him? Did he finish his run? Could he? I don't know. But what I do know is that for a few minutes early one Monday afternoon, he tenderly held and protected a stranger. He did what came naturally to him.

I wish I could be more like him. I wish all men would be more like him.

Shortly before our last baby was born, we went into see the nurse midwife, Stephanie. I was feeling a little down about how useless I would feel to my wife in the delivery room. I told Stephanie how I felt and she said something that changed my life.

"Imagine how she would feel if you were not there."

Being there, just really being there, counts for a lot in life. It makes a huge difference in the lives of others. You can save someone just by being you.

P.S. A friend of mine wrote an inspiring and thought-provoking piece on the divine nature of men. I've never seen or heard it explained quite like she does. I highly recommend reading it.

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—"I will be waiting for him when he is clean"—well, that captures it for me, particularly her vision of and patient belief in her husband's potential. It'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 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 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 got lost in that 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, 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?

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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

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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?

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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

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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.