Sunday, May 29, 2016

Repentance International Airport

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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.

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

—Michael James Fitzgerald



Sunday, May 1, 2016

My Best Teacher

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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

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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

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Courtesy Ryan McFarland (Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license) https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Haliaeetus_leucocephalus_-Alaska,_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?

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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.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

The Hammer and the Nails

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Courtesy LDS Media Library
Many years ago, I taught a lesson in a priesthood meeting. I don't remember much about the lesson other than the topic. It was about Christ and, at least in part, about His crucifixion.

I brought a heavy hammer and a block of wood that Sunday. I had also purchased the largest nails I could find at a local hardware store, nails that looked nothing like the photo to the left, but which would serve their purpose.

Our little group sat on the stage in our Church building, behind a thick, velvet-like curtain. I think I left the hammer and nails on the small, laminate table during the lesson.

Near the end of the hour, I knelt on the floor and hammered a large nail into the block of wood with the heavy hammer. It was part of an object lesson. I hit the nail, slowly and deliberately, over and over, until it sunk deep into the wood. I don't rightly remember what my point was.

The little group fell silent, as did I. All ears, all hearts, were focused on the ringing of the hammer and nail.

This might have been 25 or 30 years ago. I can still hear the ring of metal striking metal. It made me tremble — not the sound itself, but what the sound meant. What the sound cost. What I cost. 

Friday, March 25, 2016

None Were with Him—An Apostle's Easter Thoughts on Christ

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"I speak of the Savior’s solitary task of shouldering alone the burden of our salvation.

"I speak of those final moments for which Jesus must have been prepared intellectually and physically but which He may not have fully anticipated emotionally and spiritually—that concluding descent into the paralyzing despair of divine withdrawal when He cries in ultimate loneliness, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?

"Thus, of divine necessity, the supporting circle around Jesus gets smaller and smaller and smaller . . . essentially His lonely journey back to His Father continued without comfort or companionship.

"It was required, indeed it was central to the significance of the Atonement, that this perfect Son who had never spoken ill nor done wrong nor touched an unclean thing had to know how the rest of humankind—us, all of us. . . .

"[Then] finally and mercifully, it was “finished.” Against all odds and with none to help or uphold Him, Jesus of Nazareth, the living Son of the living God, restored physical life where death had held sway and brought joyful, spiritual redemption out of sin, hellish darkness, and despair.

"One of the great consolations of this Easter season is that because Jesus walked such a long, lonely path utterly alone, we do not have to do so. . . . As we approach this holy week—Passover Thursday with its Paschal Lamb, atoning Friday with its cross, Resurrection Sunday with its empty tomb—may we declare ourselves to be more fully disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ, not in word only and not only in the flush of comfortable times but in deed and in courage and in faith . . . may we stand by Jesus Christ “at all times and in all things, and in all places that [we] may be in, even until death,”21 for surely that is how He stood by us when it was unto death and when He had to stand entirely and utterly alone. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen." (Jeffrey R. Holland, "None Were With Him," April 3, 2009).