Monday, August 31, 2009

Stake Conference Notes

I feel blessed to have been able to attend three sessions of our stake conference this past weekend. Elder Steven J. Lund of the Seventy was our visiting authority. I took notes, and here are a few of the quotes that had an impact on me.

"The oath and covenant of the priesthood combines heavenly power with mankind's greatest desires. It functions by the Lord's own hand." Dieter F. Uchtdorf, quoted by Elder Lund

"If the family is broken, then the transmission of values is broken." -Elder Lund

"Never let go of a criticism until it blesses us." -Jay D. Clark

"Don't worry about what you'll do; worry about who you are." -Ronald A. Rasband, quoted by Elder Lund

"If your focus is the temple, tithing takes care of itself." -Elder Lund

"Those who teach know how to teach." -Neil Pitts

"We don't take animals to the temple temple today; we take a broken heart and a contrite spirit." -Merrill J. Bateman

"If you don't act on a prompting, the will of the Lord will go undone." -Elder Lund

Friday, August 28, 2009

Do Not Be Afraid

Back in 2002, I was spending a lot of time in the temple. Sometimes I would go every day. I didn't know what else to do, where else to turn. It was the only place I could find peace of mind.

One day I was praying in the celestial room, seeking the guidance of the Lord on a number of troubling issues. In the midst of my prayer, the Spirit spoke to me, very clearly and distinctly. It was something completely off topic from what I was praying about. Isn't that like our Heavenly Father—getting us off our topic and onto His topic?

This is what the Spirit said: "Do not be afraid of any man or any thing, for I am with you." I knew that voice, but I didn't know how much I needed to hear it. Then and now.

Now, seven years later, I need that counsel more than anything. But, to tell you the truth, we all need that counsel. (That's why I am sharing it with you.)

Isn't fear just ignorance in action, and worry just interest paid on a debt that never comes due? Isn't worry a prayer for what you don't want?

Earlier this week, these words brought me to tears: "Fear not to do good...for whatsoever ye sow, that shall ye also reap; therefore, if ye sow good ye shall also reap good for your reward...Fear not, little flock; do good; let earth and hell combine against you, for if ye are built upon my rock, they cannot prevail...Look unto me in every thought; doubt not, fear not." (D&C 6:33–36.)

When I think about these words that the Lord has said, there really is no reason to be afraid.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

I Don't Want to Give the Impression

When I talk about personal trials, I don't want to give you the impression that I think I am somehow the victim of circumstances or of anyone else. I don't believe that.

I believe I am the victim of my own choices. As Thomas S. Monson has said, "You are what you choose." So what I once thought—or claimed—was fortune, luck or chance, I now see as the result of laws being obeyed or disobeyed, ignorantly or knowingly.

It is my ignorant disobedience that gives me cause to mourn. I have only one real problem in this life, and he makes me pretty uncomfortable when he stares back from the mirror at me.
"There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated—and when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated." (D&C 130:20,21.)
There are laws I just don't understand. There are laws that I should be obeying that I am not obeying because I don't understand them yet. I am playing hide and seek with God.
"Behind every commandment is a promise of a blessing." -Unknown
I am putting forth my very best efforts, and always trying to better my best, and the answers don't come. Long years of yearning, trying, repenting, trying again, the temptation to just stop in my tracks, and no answer except a still, small voice, crying as it were from the wilderness. "Mike, don't give up. Don't give in. Never give up. Keep going."
"Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest." (Joshua 1:9.)
That is certainly true. I feel His presence. I hear His voice clearly. I am certainly very happy, even if my hands are empty.
"Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him..." (Job 13:15.)
Oh God, where art thou?

"I am right here."

But why can't I see You?

"Because you have not opened your eyes. I am your strength and I am your trial and 'I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction' (Isaiah 48:10)."

If not for the lessons I have to learn, what is the purpose of life, anyway?

Friday, August 21, 2009

The Bishop's Diet

Ten or so years ago, I heard the famous dancer and choreographer Twyla Tharp interviewed on the radio. I remember one thing about the interview. The talk show host asked Tharp if she thought her age was effecting her ability to dance. Ms. Tharp's simple reply was, "No."

That got my attention.

Then Tharp went on to say that, as she got older, she just had to put more into her body in order to get it back out. Otherwise, according to her, age had no effect. That was her conclusion. Well, I like her attitude. By the way, at age 68, Tharp is still very active as a choreographer in New York.

Speaking of New York, when I was writing my first book for John Wiley & Sons back in 2000, it was a rather stressful project. Big Apple sensibilities don't usually mesh well with the laid back attitudes of the West. So I was under a lot of pressure to get a lot of work done in a hurry. And the way I dealt with that stress was to have something to munch on constantly while I stared for long hours at the blinking cursor on my computer screen.

Blink. Blink. Crunch, crunch, crunch. Blink. Crunch. Blink. Crunch, crunch.

When I was about done with the book, a friend of mine walked past me in the hallway at the church, and gave me a little knowing pat on my belly. I was hoping nobody would notice that I had put on 20 pounds.

It was time to cut back. I had to stop putting the wrong things into my body and start putting the right things in.

These things tend to have a long wheelbase, you know. It has taken me a while to get it turned around. It took a lot of trial and error to figure out how to get my calorie intake and exercise in balance. Actually, I am still trying to get them in balance. And I have good evidence that it's pretty important that I do.

I've done the calorie counting thing, with lots of walking. I've done Body-for-LIFE, or, as Cristi called it the other day, Body for Wife. I got great results with that, but it is very intense and takes real concentration. I've studied The Abs Diet and have used parts of it.

Now, finally, I'm putting all this together. I am just doing some very basic things. Here they are.
  1. I exercise everyday except Sunday (with occasional lapses).
  2. I don't eat high carbohydrate foods—like breakfast cereals, crackers and chips—and I take it easy on breads, especially light breads.
  3. I don't eat after 7:00 o'clock at night (most of the time).
  4. I'm on a dessert calendar. Yes, I get to eat dessert, but only on special occasions, like birthdays or holidays.
  5. I am more concerned about my body mass index (my body fat) than I am about my weight. (It's currently at 26.9; should be under 25.)
I'm happy to say it's starting to work, though it does not take a great deal of thought or self-control, because the plan is simple. I feel and do so much better when I don't eat sugar, so it is becoming less and less of a temptation to me. I don't even really crave it that much anymore. I crave feeling strong more than something that tastes good.

But there is also one other very important lesson I've learned: It's not just what you put into your body, it's what you put into your spirit that makes the biggest difference. I'm reminded of a scripture: "Now I would that ye should remember that God has said that the inward vessel shall be cleansed first, and then shall the outer vessel be cleansed also." (Alma 60:23.) What's going on inside shows up on the outside.

When I've put on weight in the past, I think it has been a reflection of how I was feeling inside rather than what I am eating. I look back and I realize that my extra weight was put on to protect myself from something I was feeling. Getting to the bottom of that has been one of the biggest challenges of my life, but getting that part of my life under control has been one of my greatest victories.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Thirty Years Today

Cristi and I were married in the Manti Temple on August 15, 1979. Today is our 30th wedding anniversary, and we are enjoying a little adventure together in Steamboat Springs, Colorado.

Over the last few months, I've been thinking about this day and about the glue that has held our marriage and us together through all of our trials and triumphs. Here are some of the most important things that have helped us stick together over the last three decades.

One important lesson for me was learning that it's okay if I'm not right all the time. When we were first married, I thought I was right about all kinds of things that I was not right about. But I was in my twenties and I did not know the difference between confidence and arrogance, so I forgive myself. I learned to not be so "certain" when I am only precariously certain. I have lots of opinions, but my Heavenly Father doesn't have any opinions: He knows the truth about everything. I would serve Him well to only be certain about the things worth being certain about, and leave the rest for time (and eternity) to bear out. As I have said before, I am happiest when I am right with my wife, not when I "prove" myself right. Sometimes being right is lonely business. I'd rather be happily married.

Another lesson I've learned is that my wife is worthy of my complete respect, no matter what. Even if I think she is wrong or headed in the wrong direction, she deserves my unswerving respect. She is free and independent, sovereign over her own life. She may make choices I don't like (though, honestly, she rarely does), but that does not give me the right to mock or belittle her in any way, or to coerce or even cajole her. Think about it: Has your Father in Heaven ever belittled you, even when you have made mistakes, sometimes big ones? Never. He encourages us, lovingly, and even when He commands us, He says, in a way, as He did to Adam, "Nevertheless, thou mayest choose for thyself, for it is given unto thee" (Moses 3:17). If God has complete respect for you and me, should we not show the same respect to those closest and dearest to us?

Next, communication. I cannot emphasize too strongly how important communication has been to our marriage. The absence of it, mostly on my part (because it does not come as naturally to me as it does to my wife), has caused many misfires and frustrations over the years. The more I communicate with my wife—my intents and goals, my meetings and commitments, my concerns, fears and sorrows—the better our life together goes. But it has to go both ways; it's two-way communication that works, not one-way. It creates understanding, oneness and unity in relationships like nothing else. Humor has been a big part of how we communicate. My wife also knows how to laugh, and that has made life easier and much more fun.

Finally, and ultimately, faith has carried the day. When I first met Cristi, when she was a girl of 15, I knew she was a young woman of great faith and commitment. She inspired me with her desire to always do the right things, and she always inspired me to want to do better and to be better, just because of who she was and still is. There was never any force or embarrassment. It was simply a desire planted in me because of the goodness of her heart.

Don't think any of this has come easily. It has not. I have learned a lot since our wedding day. I am still learning, and I have much more to learn. What could be more important, more in need of our urgent attention, than getting our marriage right? Through my wife's patience, I am a much different man than I was 10 or 15 years ago.

Our trials in life seem to be in one or more of these three areas: health, money or relationships. Right now, my trials have to do more with money and health, but not in my relationships. Money and health, they come and go, but after this life, they won't have much bearing. Our relationships can go on forever. That's where most of us want to succeed. That's what gets most of my attention.

I am so grateful to have a loving wife who is also my best friend and most trusted confidant. Other than my faith, she is the reason I keep going, keep trying, and never quit, though I am at times tempted to give up. She is the ember that keeps glowing when my fire is all but gone out.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Ensign Peak Hike

We held our ward youth conference last weekend. We had a dinner-dance on Thursday night with a little dance instruction (Cha-cha and East Coast Swing). On Friday, we drove to Salt Lake, visiting Welfare Square in the morning (a real hit with everyone), eating lunch at Liberty Park, and touring around Temple Square in the afternoon. We had pizza and salad (thank you!) for dinner and a very special speaker that evening, then spent the night at University of Utah student housing.

Saturday morning, we hiked to the top of Ensign Peak where Brigham Young and others climbed on July 26, 1847, two days after arriving in the Salt Lake valley. After a terrific breakfast in the Ensign Peak Ward parking lot, we gathered for a powerful testimony meeting.

Here is a four-minute video of our hike up Ensign Peak. I wish you could have been there!



I want to thank our youth leaders one more time. In fact, I can't thank you enough. Many lives were blessed by you. All of your efforts over many months paid off. I am so grateful to you and the Lord. Last weekend will be a cherished memory for the rest of my life.

If you would like to download the video, you'll find it here.