Wednesday, July 15, 2009

"Mom, I'm bored..."

Do your kids get bored in the summertime? We are fighting against boredom in our home this summer with a little incentive program, and it's working.

It's a simple plan. We created a list of activities for our daughter to do. Some of the things she likes to do anyway, but some of them are new and challenging. For each item on the list that she does, she gets a small cash prize. (We are using $1.00 per item, but you could use a lesser amount for younger children.) She can repeat items, and if she does all the items on the list, she will get an extra bonus at the end of the summer.

It has been the most successful summer-motivater we have ever had. Here is our current list below. You can make up your own list that is adapted to your own kids.

Have fun with it. It really works! It's never too late to start the summer over.

1. Work on Personal Progress.
2. Work on indexing 50 names (http://www.familysearchindexing.com).
3. Sew a new article of clothing.
4. Sew some doll clothes as a gift for a child.
5. Write a letter to Callan and Nolan.
6. Make a design with Daddy’s leather tools.
7. Stamp your leather belt.
8. Make some jewelry.
9. Design and make a card for future use.
10. Learn a new song or hymn on the piano.
11. Visit an elderly member of the ward with a friend.
12. Call a mother of young children and with a friend volunteer to watch them so she can go on an outing.
13. Read the book about the Bismarck.
14. Work on genealogy.
15. Sort a box in the barn.
16. Write a short story (at least two pages).
17. Write a chapter from a novel (at least two pages).
18. Write a letter to Grandma and Grandpa.
19. Write a thank you note to a teacher or leader.
20. Weed the garden.
21. Clean and organize your dresser drawers.
22. Draw or color a picture worthy of framing.
23. Plan and present a family home evening.
24. Scrapbook one page for yourself or someone else.
25. Mow the front or back lawn (more than once per week okay).

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Trials and Blessings

Some of you know why we moved to Utah several years ago, but some of you don't. We came here because of a severe family trial. My wife had had a number of health problems that started in 1990. She had been quite ill since late 1999, and we were seeking help. In fact, nothing was more important to us than getting her better and helping her return to good health.

I loved our hillside home in Oregon. It was much larger than the rental home we live in now, and stood on almost five acres. We had a barn, an orchard of fruit trees, room for horses and cows. In front of that house was a stand of Douglas fir trees most of which were over 100 years old. I thought we would live out our days there, but the Lord had different plans for us.

Six years ago last month, we visited our daughter—pregnant with our first grandchild—and her husband in Provo. On the Sunday we were there, we attended their ward, and during sacrament meeting, the Spirit spoke to my soul in one short sentence: "If you move here, your wife will be healed." I was not inquiring of the Lord directly on this matter. It just came to me, but there was nothing I wanted more than for my wife to feel better and to function again.

We started looking for houses here the next day. We found one in this ward quite easily. I fasted, and we made an offer before we went home. It was accepted. Our home and acreage in Oregon sold in a matter of days at full price. We were on our way.

Let me give you a brief summary of what my wife has been through, starting in 1990. First, it was fibromyalgia and endometriosis. Then a punctured colon during a laparoscopy, resulting in a colostomy, and a colon resection (1991 and 1992). A baby in 1994 (hurray!). Next a foreign object (probably a sponge) left in her abdomen over her bladder during a previous surgery that had to be surgically be removed (1995). Though two doctors involved in her treatment had lost their licenses to practice, we never filed suit.

A month after being called as stake Young Women president, she had gall bladder surgery, causing her colon to adhere to her stomach (2000). Next, scar tissue, more endometriosis, hormones way out of whack, exhausted adrenals. By 2001, a hysterectomy, a bad virus, and then a very steep slide. She couldn't eat and became rail thin. She was deeply depressed, and antidepressants used to reboot her digestive system put her in anaphylactic shock. Then they put in a pick line and started feeding her through a tube. A counselor urged us as a family to prepare for her death. It was a difficult time.

We saw between 30 and 40 doctors, including those we saw during a trip to the Mayo Clinic. We spent thousands upon thousands of dollars seeking her recovery. Our family fortune, which had been of considerable size, shrunk rapidly, and my career was severely disrupted.

Then to our joy, in early 2002, she started to do better, only to slip again. By the end of that year, she had seen doctors in Utah and Arizona (who used alternative therapies) and was starting to get some real traction.

When the Spirit spoke to me during that sacrament meeting, I was ready to listen. I love my wife so dearly, and nothing was or is more important to me and our children than her well being—damaged dreams, flat career and diminished net worth notwithstanding.

After we moved to Utah in August of 2003, my wife went to her doctor here nearly every week for almost a year. She kept getting better and better, week by week. Two years after moving here, she had nearly recovered from 15 years of illnesses. In November of 2005, the month I said to her, "You're almost completely better," I was called to be the bishop of this ward.

How could someone in my circumstances say no or even be reluctant to serve the Lord? He had given me back my wife from "the shadow of death" (Psalms 23:4), so how could I hold back anything from Him? Over the last 19 years, He was with us every day. I have a personal goal that everything I have, including my will, should belong to the Him. I place myself in His hands. Yes, even though I have weak, ridiculous and selfish moments, I cannot in good conscience withhold anything from Him.

Since I was called as bishop, my wife's health has been steady and good, but life's difficulties seemed to have turned their attention to me. Never have I had more severe personal trials in my career, physical health, and financial matters than in the past three years. Our once vigorous net worth has shrunk to a fraction of the size it was just a few years ago. After over 25 years in my career, I cannot anticipate being able to retire, and my health has been so unpredictable, I never know what the next day will bring.

Nevertheless, nothing else has blessed my life more spiritually than being your bishop. I would not trade my experiences, trials included, for the privilege of knowing and serving you, for anything. I wish to be a friend to each one of you, but more importantly, I hope to be your servant.

I don't really care much about my trials, insignificant as they seem in comparison to my wife's, because next month my wife and I will celebrate our 30th anniversary. I can still hold in my arms the most precious thing, other than my testimony of the gospel, that I have ever found. My wife was dead, and is alive again. She was lost, and is found (Luke 15:24).

What else could I want or expect from the Lord? I am grateful beyond words.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Thank You, Amos Dixon, Revolutionary War Soldier

Today is Independence Day, and I want to express some overdue appreciation. Amos Dixon, my fourth great-grandfather on my mother's side, fought in the Revolutionary War, so my gratitude is over 200 years past due.

Amos was born in 1765 and enlisted at Stamford, Connecticut on Oct. 14, 1780, a few months before his 16th birthday.

As a private, Amos served first in Lieutenant Ben's artillery company and then later served under Captain Charles Smith and Colonel John Mead. He also served under Captain Samuel Palmer.

He fought in the Battle of North Street and was at some time taken prisoner in an engagement with the British, but made his escape and returned to his company.

He remained in the army for two years, until peace was declared at the end of November 1782.

I appreciate Amos' courage to step up to his duty to his country at quite a young age. I honor him for his perseverance. I congratulate him on his cleverness in escaping from his English captors! I thank him for his contribution to one of the most noble and important causes in the history of the world: The establishment of an ingenious, inspired and free system of government that, in spite of persistent difficulties and regular embarrassments, still stands as a light to the world.

God bless Amos Dixon. Without your unselfish service and the service of thousands like you, where would my faith and religious freedom be today? Where would I be? Thank you. I will be thinking about you a lot today.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Last Sunday's Standards Night: Modesty and Morality

Last Sunday night we got the youth together for a Sunday Evening Discussion and spoke about the moral standards that guide us to live happier and saner lives. I'd like the parents to know (in writing) what we shared with your children. I'd also like to elaborate on a few topics.

Our first speaker was Brother Heiner who explained what a virtuous life is—one that includes not only sexual purity but purity in thought, intent, word, and action. He invited several young people forward and hung signs around their necks with words about virtue. The signs each hung down at different lengths. At the end, he hung all the signs around one youth's neck to show how they all add up to a virtuous life. He also discussed on how the language we use can lead us upward or in the opposite direction.

Brother Nuttall spoke next about dating standards, such as waiting until age 16 to date and group dating. He used an analogy of an orange. He dropped an orange into a bowl of water and pointed out that the orange floated. Then he took the orange out of the water and began to peel it. With each piece of the peel he took off, he talked about how when we lower or compromise our standards, we shed our protective layer little by little , until we find ourselves vulnerable and embarrassed. He then dropped the peeled orange back in the water, and it sank to the bottom of the bowl. Point well taken!

In support of what Brother Heiner said about language, I added that when a person takes the name of God in vain or makes light of sacred things—speaks of what is unholy as if it were holy, or holy things as if unholy—that person is merely quoting devils. That is the way devils and evil spirits talk. I don't advise emulating them in any way.

In regard to modesty, we talked about how when we dress modestly, we show respect for ourselves and for our Heavenly Father, and we avoid the trap of seeking the wrong kind of attention, including, unfortunately, the attention of "gangsta" boys. I also talked about how a boy or man who is really striving to honor his priesthood, seek the Spirit, and to rise above worldly influences, is turned off and even annoyed by immodest dress. Seeking attention by immodesty will not bring you what you really want in the long term.

We reviewed what the For the Strength of Youth pamphlet says about immodest clothing. It's pretty straight forward and clear, but it seems our youth and even adults often miss this counsel that has come to us from the apostles and prophets.
  • "Immodest clothing includes short shorts, tight pants, and other revealing attire."
  • "Young women should refrain from wearing off-the-shoulder, low-cut, or revealing clothes."
  • "All should avoid tight fitting or revealing clothes and extremes in clothing and appearance."
When we dress immodestly, we don't just reveal our bodies: We reveal our insecurity about ourselves. We can build our self-confidence on a better foundation.

The standards of modesty apply to boys as well as girls, but it seems to be an area where we see it more in girls' behavior than in boys. An area where boys have more trouble than girls is pornography. One thing I'd like to say about pornography is that it is addictive and destructive, particulary of family life. Every boy should know that your future wife has every right to know about your use (if any) of pornography. More and more, bishops and stake presidents are counseling engaged girls to question her fiancé about his pornography use as a young man or adult, as it is becoming a major cause of divorce. It is not a question of forgiveness or love; it is more a question of trust and the advisabilty of a committed relationship when pornography has been an addiction or has even been viewed infrequently but secretly over a period of years.

Finally, I talked about the bonding mechanism in our bodies and how the bonds we feel are influenced by neorochemicals. These neurochemicals are "values-neutral," meaning that they function whether our behavior is moral or immoral. They can help us and can also lead us astray.

To learn more about this, I highly recommend the book Hooked: New Science on How Casual Sex Is Affecting Our Children to both parents of teenagers and the parents of those who will soon become teens. It was recommended to me by a member of our ward, and it is a great resource. Society and science has focused so much on the effects of teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. This book helps us see how recent science is pointing out how the emotional effects of casual sex is every bit as devastating, if not more so, than unwed, teen parenthood or STDs.

We should do everything we can to shield and protect our children and youth from the unwitting effects of vulgarity, immodesty, and casual sex. We must do all we can to influence them to live virtuous lives, and to live virtuously ourselves. We will be so much happier, more at peace with ourselves and our Heavenly Father, and more free if we do. May God help us to do so.