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Wednesday, November 26, 2008

I Wasn't Prepared

Last week, I was in Orem picking up roses for my daughter's wedding. When I walked into Costco, I was not prepared for what I saw.

Greg Olsen was there, signing and selling prints of his artwork. One of our family traditions is to give each of our children a framed print of one of his paintings when they graduate from high school (two down, one to go). We love his work.

What took me by surprise was his painting "No Greater Love." I don't recall seeing it before. It was hanging prominently on the end of the display, above the artist's table.

When my eyes rested on what the painting depicted, I was struck with great force, as if I had just recalled a stunning memory. It was so real to me. Not the art itself, but the image it represented—a moment in time when our Savior, in the Garden of Gethsemane, was overwhelmed, dejected, and even astonished, grasping for life, His face and hair tinged with blood.

Tears instantly welled in my eyes. Yes, a grown man, in public. I had to look away.

I couldn't get it out of my mind. I was distracted by it while I ambled through the store, trying to remember why I was there. Oh yeah, roses. My simple errand took longer than it had any right to. And I accidentally bought sixteen dozen roses instead of eight (fortunately, I discovered the error after calling my wife while still in the parking lot.)

I looked at the painting one last time before I left the store. I had to see if what I was looking at was real or just my imagination. The painting was real but two dimensional; the image it conjured was even more real to me.

I have been passing through a severe personal trial. Tears, I must admit, have flowed freely, almost daily for weeks. The moment I saw that painting, I knew Someone understood. I have been resting on that hope ever since.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

A Day You Wait Your Whole Life For

Friday was a special day for our daughter Amy, and a special day our whole family. Really, the word special does not do the day justice.

It was a day I've thought about for twenty-three years. Longed for, prayed for, hoped for. And it turned out much better than I even thought it would.

Here are some highlights.

We met Caleb's wonderful family for the first time. Our whole family was with us at the temple, including our three children, our son-in-law, and our two grandchildren. We arrived at the Manti Temple—the same temple where we were married 29 years ago—about 20 minutes before we needed to be there. The weather was clear and bright, the sky a rapturous blue, near perfect for photographs.

The ceremony was simple, as always, and humbling. As the sealer began to perform the ordinance, it was as if a "rushing, mighty wind" swept the room, filling every heart with reverence, every eye with tears. I was awestruck by an unmistakable, holy Presence. I felt to say with Habakkuk, "God is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him."

You don't soon forget days like these. There was an assurance that our Heavenly Father approved of the ordinance, the place, the time. An assurance that He was there with us.

Then there was the luncheon at the Manti Tabernacle, built in 1879. The new couple reading I'll Love You Forever by Robert Munsch to the small but appreciative crowd. The groom sweeping the bride off her feet (who was still in her gown) to carry her to the horse drawn carriage.

The reception was perfect. The room was small and intimate, the decorations tasteful (I had little to do with that), and the place was packed. There were kind friends who sacrificed their whole day to make the event happen. We will always be grateful to them. After the reception was over, Caleb lit up the dance floor with a summarial break dance, then the room erupted. We enjoyed dancing for another 45 minutes. Unplanned. It was a blast.

Then the send off. The Honda Civic was decorated with streamers and window paint and half full of balloons. The best part was the cheering crowd. Loud enough for our local police force to get nervous, or at least to wake up the neighbors.

As I watched them leave, I felt that Amy could not be in better hands. What more could the father of a bride ask for?

The first moment I held Amy in my arms, the day she was born, I said, "She is beautiful!" On her wedding day, I held her in my arms and said, "You are beautiful!" The day she was born and her wedding day: Two of the best days of my life!

I don't know how the day could have gone any better.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Reaching the Boundary

Here is another quote I found in my files recently. It's from Hugh Nibley. It's a powerful reminder of how our boundaries and limits can be expanded only if we look beyond them.

"Only if you reach the boundary will the boundary recede before you. And if you don't, if you confine your efforts, the boundary will shrink to accommodate itself to your efforts. And you can only expand your capacities by working to the very limit."

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

A Missionary Journal Miracle

A week ago Saturday, I delivered a box to the donation center at Deseret Industries in Provo. I thought the box was full of cast offs. While rumbling in line, the thought occurred to me that I should look in the box and make sure it contained what I thought it did. I brushed the thought off like an unwelcome insect, and then handed the box through the window to a friendly staff member.

I never gave it another thought until a few days later when I got a phone call from Lovely Daughter Number #2 (hereinafter LD2) who recently returned from a mission.

She called to inquire as to how it was possible that someone could buy her missionary journal at DI.

Gulp. Imagine swallowing an entire package of gum in one swallow, including the wrapper. Yes, that kind of gulp.

LD2 told me that a man had called from her mission saying that a woman from Orem had called him trying to find her. The woman had been walking down a book aisle at the Provo DI and noticed a missionary journal. She picked it up and started turning the pages. She felt prompted to buy the journal and hunt down the owner—a prompting, no doubt, from the same Source that had nudged me on the Saturday before. (Imagine yours truly fidgeting, red faced, staring at the floor.)

The nice, inspired woman from Orem looked through the journal until she found a phone number. She called that number, and someone from Perth Amboy, New Jersey picked up on the other end. The New Jersey woman who answered could not speak English well, and so directed the nice lady from Orem to call a brother-in-law who spoke muy bien ingl├ęs. She did call the brother-in-law who then called LD2 with the strange but true story.

LD2 got her missionary journal back two days later, I am relieved to say. Lessons learned? From now until the Millennium I will be double-checking any box or bag I give to DI, plus I will be more sensitive to those quiet promptings which, if heeded, save you and me a lot of grief.

One last question: What else was in that box?

Monday, November 10, 2008

Autobiography in Five Short Chapters

As a bishop, I have the privilege of working with people who are struggling with addictions and other issues. Yesterday, someone shared this poem with me, and it rang my bell, loud.

I want to share it with you. It's called "Autobiography in Five Short Chapters" by Portia Nelson. If you have ever struggled with any personal issue, I think it will grab you like it grabbed me. Here it is:

I

I walk down the street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk
I fall in.
I am lost...I am helpless.
It isn't my fault.
It takes me forever to find a way out.

II

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I pretend I don't see it.
I fall in again.
I can't believe I am in the same place
but, it isn't my fault.
It still takes a long time to get out.

III

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I see it is there.
I still fall in...it's a habit.
My eyes are open
I know where I am.
It is my fault.
I get out immediately.

IV

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I walk around it.

V

I walk down another street.

Friday, November 7, 2008

To My Son: It's Your Move

I've been digging through my file cabinet, and purging old files. I found this today, and I couldn't resist sharing it with you. It's a letter from a mother to her son.

To My Son: It's Your Move

I gave you life, but I cannot live it for you.
I can teach you things, but I cannot make you learn.
I can give you directions, but I cannot always be there to lead you.
I can allow you freedom, but I cannot account for it.
I can take you to church, but I cannot make you believe.
I can teach you right from wrong, but I cannot always decide for you.
I can buy you neat clothes, but I cannot make you nice inside.
I can offer you advice, but I cannot accept it for you.
I can give you love, but I cannot force it upon you.
I can teach you to be a friend, but I cannot make you one.
I can teach you to share, but I cannot make you unselfish.
I can teach you respect, but I cannot force you to show honor.
I can grieve about your report card, but I cannot make you study.
I can advise you about friends, but I cannot choose them for you.
I can teach you about sex and the facts of life, but I cannot decide for you.
I can tell you about drinking, but I cannot say no for you.
I can warn you about drugs, but I cannot prevent you from using them.
I can teach you about goals and dreams, but I cannot achieve them for you.
I can teach you kindness, but I cannot force you to be kind.
I can warn you about sin, but I cannot make your morals.
I can love you like a son, but I cannot place you in God's family.
I can pray for you and your future, but I cannot make you walk with God.
I can teach you about Jesus, but I cannot make Him your Savior.
I can tell you how to live, but I cannot give you eternal life.

Thanks for listening. Good luck with your future. I love you, son.

Mom

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Shelter from the Storm

I have loved the fall since I was a boy. It's hard to put my finger on exactly why.

Maybe it's the collision of colors—the shades of red, orange, and yellow against a stubborn green. Or maybe it's the way the sunlight slides hard into the mountains. Or is it the way the sky catches on fire just before the sun sinks beyond the horizon?

Is it just because it's another college football season? Or the memories of hunting trips with my dad that glow in my mind like embers from a campfire? Or is it the horses whose coats grow thicker every day and who are happier than usual to see me at feeding time?

I think it struck me yesterday. The reason why.

I was asking myself why I like the fall with its plunging temperatures and fierce winds ripping the leaves off the trees. I realized that the fall weather has never mattered that much because I could always find shelter from the storm. I enjoy watching a storm from the inside looking out, with a warm cup of soup between my hands.

I have never had more personal trials in my life than the last three years. But it's all right, because I have shelter from the storm. I have a wife who has remarkably stood by me, no matter what happens. I have three wonderful children who love their dad. I have a Heavenly Father who is only a prayer away, who finds a way to double the returns on all my losses. And I have a Savior who shelters me from the stresses, fears, disappointments, and agonies of life.

I think I finally figured out why I love the fall so much. It reminds me that I am safe in the arms of loved ones—seen and unseen—no matter how hard the wind blows or how much an early snow surprises me. I am sheltered from the storm.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Murmur Free for Three

Remember our Murmur Free for Three Challenge in the ward last year? The one where we signed a contract with ourselves and wore a wrist band. Here's the promised from the contract again.
  • "I will not complain or murmur about the people around me or my circumstances. Complaining is often the result of feeling powerless to change relationships and circumstances. I am not powerless. As antidotes to complaining, I will express gratitude to the Lord for all things (D&C 78:19), even my trials and difficulties, and I will set aside my fears and seek to resolve conflicts directly with the people involved, rather than by 'venting' to others."
  • "I will not judge others or talk negatively behind their backs. Judging others leads to gossip, blame, and anger. The Savior asked us not to judge others (Matthew 7:1–2). One reason is because, as Paul explained, by judging others we bring condemnation on ourselves (Romans 2:1). Judging presents more evidence against us that the person judged. As an antidotes to judging, I will pray for the person involved, strive to understand and feel love, and seek to render acts of service to him or her."
  • "I will, like President Hinckley, look for the sunshine in life. I will be positive in my expressions, express hope and faith, and see the bright side. I will believe in myself, that God can give me strength to overcome any trial, and that through the atonement, I can forgive myself and others. I will release my grudges for past hurts, and lay them aside with faith that God can heal all wounds."
I took the challenge on myself last year but it took me months to get the poison of murmuring or complaining out of my system. I finally did. It was a worthy battle with only one opponent: me.

Speaking of challenges, I have never had more of them than during the time I have been bishop, but each challenge has been a blessing in work clothes.

I am privately taking the challenge on myself again for the next three weeks. I found my wristband and it's on my left wrist right now. It's time recognize that my blessings are far greater than any trial face.