Sunday, July 10, 2016

An Angel in the Aisle

No comments:
From Wikicommons: Creative Commons License, Courtesy Mike Kalasnik, Fort Mill, USA
I heard a returned missionary speak in sacrament meeting today. He told a story about one of his investigators, Casey, who had been addicted to meth for 27 years. He spent a lot of time on the streets and in jail, and it humbled him. He read the Bible in jail and that helped him start to shuffle off some of his stubbornness.

When Casey got out of jail, things started to look up. He found he could keep his feet under him. He was able to hold down a job. His relationship with God deepened. After he had been clean for nearly 2 years, he met the missionaries and started taking the lessons. He eventually set a baptism date, but needed a personal confirmation that he was doing the right thing.

Casey was at a Walmart one day, shortly before his baptism, having a conversation with his Heavenly Father in the toilet paper aisle. He asked, "Well, God, I'm about to become a Mormon. Is that all right with you?" At the very moment he asked the question, a package of toilet paper fell off an upper shelf and landed right on his head! He wondered "What kind of an answer was that!" though it surely got his attention.

He had been alone in aisle. He walked around to the next aisle and found a woman there he had never seen before. As he approached her, she asked, "Are you a Mormon?"

Casey was taken aback. "No," he said, "but I am thinking about it."

"Well," she said, "you should join the Church."

"Why do you say that?" he said, "Are you a Mormon?" She said, "No, I'm not, but I just felt like I should say that to you." Then she turned around and left.

A chance meeting with an angel in a Walmart aisle led Casey to a deep spiritual conviction that he was on the right path. And he took it.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Race Day Revision

No comments:
The American Fork Canyon Half started at the Pine
 Hollow Trailhead, beneath Mount Timpanogas.
I ran a half marathon for the first time last year. I finished, but the results were disastrous. But I learned some important lessons. I had a chance to apply those lessons today, to another race. Here are a few of them.

Don't give up. Dare to fail at things worth trying again. And if you fail, pick yourself back up, and keep moving toward the finish line. Not giving up is two-thirds of the battle.

Take care of your body and listen to its best aspirations. It's not your personal landfill. Respect it, and don't give into momentary cravings. Feed it what it needs, not what it wants. Leave weight behind you on the running trail. If you hold onto it, it only makes you slower. Trade pounds for self-mastery. 

Super-hydrate, not just on race day, but in the days leading up to the race. Keep yourself electrolit.

Dress warm if the race starts up a canyon. Heat is energy. Preserve it. On hot days, teach your feet to beat the heat. Get up early. With a little planning, you can make it happen, even before you have to show up at work.

Eat high-protein food about a half-hour before the race begins. (That's not good advice for everyone, but it works very well for me. It's exactly what my body needs—it doesn't manage sugars or carbohydrates well.)

Do not disdain or judge yourself. Be kind to yourself. Don't be afraid to love yourself and tell yourself that you do. Accept the lessons that come from failures, but reject the need to repeat them. See the best in others and tell them what you see, on and off the course.

Have a plan and execute it. Keep your schedule, rain or shine. If you miss a goal, reschedule it. Fight for it. Take back lost ground. Sacrifice lazy moments for unforgettable days. Don't be dissuaded by lesser gods.

Find your soul songs and listen to them. I usually don't listen to music because I prefer to meditate and pray while I am run. But music can reach the hidden parts of your soul and bring out things you didn't know were there.

The finish line at Art Dye Park in American Fork.
The Headstrongs' cover of Jimmy Eat World's "Hear You Me" (also known as "Angels Lead You in") carried me across the finish line today. I turned it on at mile 12. It helped me find what I had left inside, just when I thought I was on empty.

Last year's time was, well, abysmal. Today my pace was 3:39 faster per minute, subtracting 48:09 off my old time. My plan was to shave off 30–35 minutes, so imagine my shock.

My little disaster took over a year to correct, but it was completely worth the effort. All life is change. You can master some of that change.

No one regrets working hard to overcome past failures. I don't. Not today.

Angels lead you in (new recording 2013) from The Headstrongs on Myspace.

"Hear You Me" (Angels Lead You in), Jimmy Eat World, Bleed American
Cover by The Headstrongs

There's no one in town I know
You gave us some place to go.
I never said thank you for that.
I thought I might get one more chance.

What would you think of me now,
so lucky, so strong, so proud?
I never said thank you for that,
now I'll never have a chance.

May angels lead you in.
Hear you me my friends.
On sleepless roads the sleepless go.
May angels lead you in.

So what would you think of me now,
so lucky, so strong, so proud?
I never said thank you for that,
now I'll never have a chance.

May angels lead you in.
Hear you me my friends.
On sleepless roads the sleepless go.
May angels lead you in.

And if you were with me tonight,
I'd sing to you just one more time.
A song for a heart so big,
God couldn't let it live.

May angels lead you in.
Hear you me my friends.
On sleepless roads the sleepless go.
May angels lead you in.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Repentance International Airport

Courtexy LDS Media Library
I'm on the road
to Repentance,
tangled in traffic of
the heart, listening to
psalms on the radio.

At the intersection of
Hope and Regret,
I check with fevered eyes
for later flights, but find
no fixed times of departure.

A fragrance of doubt
clings like afternoon rain.
I lift my soul from the
pedal for one thin moment.
I'm late but on my way.

—Michael James Fitzgerald

Sunday, May 1, 2016

My Best Teacher

Courtesy LDS Media Libary
I overheard a proverb in testimony meeting today that really sank in. The last person to bear testimony said this: "My best teacher is my last mistake."

Those words settled on me like warm rain, and I've been soaking wet all afternoon.

I don't like my mistakes. So why do I invent new ones every day, against my will?

Every single day.

I'm embarrassed by my mistakes, and bone weary of them. I wish I wasn't such an expert at making them. When I suddenly remember mistakes from childhood, from my teenage years, or from last week, I turn a bright, hot red.

As I get older, though, I realize that each mistake I've made, each error in judgment, is a gift.  Regret, properly applied, can be a healing balm.

The great plan of happiness allows for us to make mistakes (Alma 42:8.)  Without sin, pain, sorrow, and opposition, there would be no purity, health, happiness, or strength. Without contrast, there is no perception. If we were faultless, coddled, and comfortable at every turn, we would be blobs of humanity, unable to comfort or strengthen others, unfit for celestial company.

So I welcome my mistakes. I still don't like them or plan them out or wish for them, but I accept calmly that I will make them, no matter how hard I try not to. Personal mistakes are a path to pain, but that pain can teach us how to avoid the same trauma again, how to not repeat them. I am grateful for those lessons. Isn't that the point?

Thank you, whoever you are, for your seven enlightening words. It would be a mistake for me to forget them.  

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Forty Years Ago Today

I started writing a personal journal 40 years ago today—April 20, 1976—in the thin blue volume pictured here. It's all the way to the left.

I had heard the counsel to keep a journal during April 1976 general conference. It took me a few weeks to muster the strength to be obedient.

It was a Tuesday evening. I had bought the blank book earlier at the Ben Franklin in our small, country town in Oregon. I was living and working on our family ranch 12 miles out of town, and was about to graduate from high school. I was 18 years old.

I had been baptized on my birthday just five months before. My parents were starting to be kinder to me after several turbulent months. (They really were not happy that I had joined the Mormon church). I was reading the Book of Mormon every day then, often in large gulps, getting ready to go on a mission the following winter. That day, April 20, was also my mother's 50th birthday. She died just seven years later. (Happy birthday, Mom. I miss you.)

I am still writing in my journal. It's become a habit. I am on volume 44, page 7,258, and at approximately 1.5 million words—many of them poorly chosen and awkwardly framed. Much of it is sloppy and hurried. It's not my finest work. It is many times embarrassing to read, but it is from the heart. It's an honest record of a flawed man.

Writing a journal has had a profound effect on my life. I am grateful I acted on counsel—and the promptings that followed that counsel. It has been an unimaginable blessing to have in my possession a record of my soul.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Unlike the Rest

No comments:
Courtesy Ryan McFarland (Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license),_USA_-flying-8.jpg
A day unlike the rest,
unpummeled by fists of
reason, shade from
the bleaching rays of
doubt, release from the
common miscalculations,
or the terror of regret.

A day to find peace in an
empty pocket, to stand
facing the sun from an
astronomical shore,
to drink of fathomless hope,
to ride unfailing wings,
a bright, blinding day of
upturned possibility.

—Michael James Fitzgerald

Dedicated to #HisDay. See Isaiah 40:31.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Proverbs on Prosperity: How Long Wilt Thou Sleep, O Sluggard?

No comments:
Courtesy LDS Media Library
I remember finding these verses in the Bible years ago while serving a mission. They made me laugh out loud then. They still tickle me now. "How long wilt thou sleep, O sluggard? when wilt thou arise out of thy sleep? Yet a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep: so shall thy poverty come as one that travelleth, and thy want as an armed man" (Proverbs 6:9–11; compare Proverbs 24:33–34).

The word sluggard, which indicts the habitually lazy person, appears only six times in holy writ. And all six instances are found in the Book of Proverbs (KJV).

A sluggard is a stark contrast to a diligent person. Often lacking positive role models, a sluggard, I am sad to report, has little vision, purpose, direction, motivation, ambition, or hope. He is sometimes selfish and often unhappy, may project a sense of entitlement, is focused on physical indulgence, tends to manipulate people and circumstances to maintain the status quo, that is, a state of idleness and ease. He finds ways to avoid work, watches way too much television and way too many movies, may play endless video games, and eschews any form of culpability or responsibility. He is the ultimate slacker. And one last point, there's that emptiness that goes along with it.
The soul of the sluggard desireth, and hath nothing: but the soul of the diligent shall be made fat. (Proverbs 13:4; compare Proverbs 21:25.)
I'm actually a recovering sluggard. I don't think I'm alone. Oh, I never liked video games much, but other than that, yeah, I've been crawling out of my sluggardliness since my youth. Okay, I try. But still there's that sluggard in me, that natural me who is an enemy to God. It doesn't feel good or right. I fight that imp daily.

Similarly, the word slothful (inclined to sloth, indolent, from the South American mammal) appears 12 times in the Old Testament, 11 times in Proverbs alone. A sluggard, if anything, is slothful. (Sloth is by tradition one of the seven deadly sins.)
I went by the field of the slothful, and by the vineyard of the man void of understanding; and, lo, it was all grown over with thorns, and nettles had covered the face thereof, and the stone wall thereof was broken down. Then I saw, and considered it well: I looked upon it, and received instruction. (Proverbs 24:30–32.)
The slothful man (or woman) is preoccupied with anything except effort or work. He doesn't take care of his vineyard which provides his sustenance. In our times, he doesn't take care of his home or yard, he has a hard time holding a job, or wanting to, and he squanders his money.

Now I understand that some of these inclinations can be due to mental illness and emotional distress. I am not talking about that. I am talking about the capable who opt out, the able but unwilling, who are caught in a web of gratification, the haze of laze. The true sluggard is a rare find, but most of us struggle with elements of his character. 

In other words, it's not such a great thing to be lazy. I don't mean there's never a time to rest, relax and even veg out. There is. There has to be. It's even scripturally mandated. We just shouldn't be at our leisure 85 percent of the time (or you pick the number). I mean, what's rest if you have nothing to rest from?

One more thing about the slothful, and then I'll quit talking about this thoroughly depressing topic.
The slothful man saith, There is a lion without, I shall be slain in the streets. (Proverbs 22:13.)
Always dreaming up a reason why he (or she) can't, why he won't, do a thing. Too many obstacles in the way, not worth the effort, because he is intoxicated with laziness and momentary pleasures and the delirium of (digital) distraction. In time, his intoxications bring him to ruin. You've seen it. I've seen it.

We were created to get up and do something, if only with our minds if physically unable, because we are all born creators. And you can't create sitting in a heap on your sagging, overburdened couch, watching hours of what President Hinckley called "inane and empty television." We are not here to indulge the natural man but to overcome him.

Let's step up now, you and I, to higher ground. I'll do that by sharing part of a post called "22 Vitals Habits of Successful People." These habits take motivation, vision, hope—the opposite of the sluggard manifesto. Brandon Gaille's list makes me feel happy and hopeful. I trust it will help lift your spirits as well.
Here are a few things you’re almost always going to find [that successful people do]:
1. An ability to track their progress. 
2. An ability to learn from mistakes. 
3. A burning desire to succeed in everything they do.
4. A desire and willingness to take risks.
5. A tendency to create and follow to-do lists.
6. A reputation for being humble.
7. A willingness to accept responsibility for their failures.
8. An ability to embrace change.
9. A willingness to share data and information with others.
10. An ability to create and carry out goals.
11. A reputation for complimenting others.
12. An eagerness to engage in an exchange of ideas with others.
This list moves the needle back toward the diligent side of the scale. I feel better already.

If you are struggling with your get-up and gumption, pick just one thing off this list—the easiest one for you, and the easiest one for you to start, and work on that. (I need to start working on #1, myself.)

If you feel discouraged, I understand. So do I. All the time. But I keep taking that step up, that one that's right in front of me, and try to not look back at the stairs I've already climbed. (At least not stare at them.)

I am innately lazy. But I know there's a better me. And so I go forward. And I happily confess that I'm less lazy than I used to be. That is the trajectory of triumph, one marked by almost imperceptible progress. No other trajectory seems within my reach.