Saturday, June 26, 2010

How Brother Joseph Forgave Others

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Just this morning, I came across this story about forgiveness from the book Remembering Joseph: Personal Recollections of Those Who Knew the Prophet Joseph Smith. The story came from a manuscript entitled the "LaFayette C. Lee Notebook." Jesse W. Crosby (1820–1895) was a close neighbor and friend of the Prophet in Nauvoo. He crossed the plains in 1847 and is buried in Panguitch, Utah.

"Bro. [Jesse W.] Crosby told us he went one day with a sister to the Prophet. She had a charge to make against one of the brethren for scandal. When her complaint had been heard the Prophet asked her if she was quite sure that what the brother had said of her was utterly untrue. She was quite sure that it was.

"He then told her to think no more about it for it could not harm her. If untrue it could not live for nothing but the truth will survive. Still she felt she should have some redress.

"Then he offered her his method for dealing with such cases for himself. When an enemy had told a scandalous story about him, which had often been done, before he rendered judgment he paused and let his mind run back to the time and place of setting of the story to see if he had not by some unguarded word or act laid the block on which the story was built. If he found he had done so, he said that then in his heart he forgave his enemy, and felt thankful that he had received warning of a weakness that he had not known he possessed.

"Then he said to the sister that he would have her to do the same: search her memory thoroughly and see if she had not herself all unconsciously laid the foundation for the scandal that annoyed her. Brother Crosby said the sister thought deeply for a few moments and then confessed that she believed that she had.

"Then the Prophet told her that in her heart she could forgive that brother who had risked his own good name and her friendship to give her this clearer view of herself. The sister, Brother Crosby said, thanked her advisor and went away in peace." (Mark L. McConkie, Remembering Joseph: Personal Recollections of Those Who Knew the Prophet Joseph Smith [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2003] 94–95).

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Pioneer Heritage

Zurviah Gleason Fuller and James Eardley
St. Louis, Missouri, 1852
With our daughter gone on handcart trek this week, my thoughts have turned to her pioneer heritage.

My wife and daughters are descendants of Zurviah Gleason Fuller and James Eardley. For those of you who know my wife, you will see a resemblance between her and Zurviah, especially if you knew my wife as a teenager. This engagement photo of James and Zurviah was taken in St. Louis, Missouri in 1852. The photo of us was taken shortly before our engagement in 1979.

Cristi Montgomery and Mike Fitzgerald
West Linn, Oregon, July 1979
Zurviah was 17 years old when she got married; my wife, 18. I was 12 (just kidding, but I look like I could pass for 12 in the photo).

Zurviah was a direct descendant of Edward Fuller who crossed the Atlantic on the ship Mayflower

When Zurviah was 16, she wanted to get an idea of who she would marry, so she applied a "sure fire" method for finding out, which I don't recommend. One night, she swallowed a thimble full of salt, and without drinking any water, walked backwards to her bed. The procedure was supposed to produce a dream wherein her future mate would offer her a drink of water. Zurviah had a dream, but could only see the ulster (coat) of the man who offered her the drink. I suspect other girls she knew were doing this.

The following spring, she saw a man at a church meeting who was wearing the identical ulster she saw in her dream. That man was James Eardley. They married on March 15, 1852.

The couple was anxious to travel to Utah. They had next to nothing, so James urged that they cross the plains by handcart, as their faith would yield more blessings. Zurviah—ever practical—responded that she would receive all the blessings that she could desire if they crossed by ox and covered wagon.

They finally were able to travel to the Salt Lake Valley in 1854 in the James Brown Company. James Brown was a member of the Mormon Battalion and the founder of Ogden, Utah.

James (Zurviah's husband) actually was delayed and came with a later company. A woman by the name of Turpin was widowed, and the captain of her company advised her to return to St. Louis because she was slowing down the train. James knew it would be too dangerous for her to travel alone because of Indians, so he volunteered to drive her wagon to the valley.

Zurviah and her husband lived in Salt Lake City, between 600 and 700 South off Main, at 21 Eardley Place. James died in 1914, and Zurviah passed away in 1928 at the age of 96. Up until her death, she would travel by streetcar several times a week to the Salt Lake Temple to work there.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Feeling the Spirit

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Recently I have spoken to several ward members about feeling the Spirit. I want to talk to you about when you can tell that the Holy Spirit is guiding you and how you can know when you are being guided by the spirit of revelation. I'll share a few things that have helped me.

First, here are some instances when I don't feel spiritually in tune. You will probably be able to relate.

Sometimes, even though we have the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands, the Spirit can feel distant. This is not comforting. In fact, it is a little disconcerting. For example, I have a hard time feeling close to the Holy Spirit when I am overly tired, which happens often because I have some difficulty with sleep. When I don't get enough rest, I am often not alert enough to be in tune.

I have also noticed that when I am sick over a matter of days (sometime even weeks) that I have a tough time feeling spiritual. I also take prescription medication occasionally, and that can mix up my feelings. I also have trouble feeling close to the Spirit when I eat too much junk food!

Another barrier—and probably the most difficult to deal with—is when I have unsettled or unkind feelings towards another person. When I don't dismiss these feelings immediately and energetically, when I am in a stinky stew, so to speak, the Spirit cannot be present. The same is true of temptation. If I tolerate a temptation of any kind for more than a few seconds, the Spirit starts to leave. Mui no megusta. That is lousy Spanish for: "I really don't like it when I let this happen."

So what do you do to feel the Spirit more, especially when it is critical to get answers?

The first and foremost thing that helps me feel the Spirit is carrying a spirit of prayer in my heart, constantly. When I am vigilant in prayer during the day, kneeling down more than just morning and night, praying out loud when I am alone (such as in the car), turning my thoughts to prayer whenever I feel stress or unkempt thoughts coming my way, the Holy Spirit is stronger and more present. The more effort I put into prayer, the closer I feel to the Lord. This works even when I am tired or sick or taking meds or eating poorly. The more persistent and consistent I am with my prayers, they seem to break all the barriers I face.

Meditation helps me, too. Thinking about things in detail and looking for different solutions to problems. When I do this for hours, the Spirit will signal when I am on the right track.

Fasting helps me clear my thoughts like nothing else. When I have the right attitude about my fast, I don't feel hungry, even after I fast for 24 hours or more. The Spirit replaces my hunger with something better.

Temple attendance is very important, too. Fortunately, we live close to the temple and I can go often. Last week, I went twice. The week before, I went four times. That may seem excessive to some of you. But it is necessary for me to do this to have clear answers to ever pressing questions.

The Holy Spirit is subtle. Rarely does it flash like a neon sign. It rewards sensitivity and focused attention. It comes when you are prepared to receive it. It takes effort and practice. But no time putting forth this effort is wasted.

One last thing: Sometimes we experience the Spirit, but don't realize it. For example, in the Book of Mormon, the Savior talks about a time when the Lamanites were baptized by the Spirit but they did not realize it (see 3 Nephi 9:20). That can happen to us, too. But if you look for these signs, you can know more readily if the Spirit is near, even if it does not come to you in an overpowering way:

  • You will feel happy and joyful and maybe even playful
  • You will feel motivated to be kind to others and to reach out to them
  • You will feel like picking up the phone and calling someone for no reason other than you felt a little urge or prompting to do it
  • You will feel hopeful, like there is a light at the end of the tunnel, even when that tunnel seems long and dark
  • You will be more readily forgiving of yourself and those around you—you won't feel like holding onto sharp feelings or grudges or being hard on yourself or others
  • Admitting fault will come easier to you
  • You will feel like setting aside bad thoughts and feelings and moving to higher ground
  • You will feel in the mood to pray, read the scriptures or go to the temple or to church
  • You will feel like apologizing for something rather than being defensive or pushy
  • Your conscience will be more sensitive and alert and you will feel more like following it than ignoring it
  • You will feel less turbulent in your mind and more peaceful
  • The future won't seem so scary to you
  • You won't feel cross or mean towards others—you will feel kind and reasonable and even conciliatory
  • You will feel like trying, like being a better person, like helping others whenever and however you can
This is just a sampling of how you will feel when the Holy Spirit is with you. God bless you to feel closer to that Spirit today. You efforts will make all the difference.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Unexpected Appreciation

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You know I've been struggling in my work, but yesterday, I received a boost in the form of some unexpected appreciation for my books. I got this email message from a woman in New York:

Dear Mr. Fitzgerald, My father is an avid reader of your books and I was hoping you could send him an autograph to cheer him up. He just had quadruple bypass heart surgery and I know receiving an autograph from you would put a smile on his face. I have included his name and address below. Thank you very much.

I shared this email with my wife. She wondered if I was the right Mike Fitzgerald. So did I. I have never received a request like this before. So I emailed the woman back. She replied this morning.

Thank you very much for your reply and kind e-mail. My father has the following books by you. Learning Ruby, Learning XSLT, XSL Essentials, and Building B2B Applications with XML. I can see that you and my father have a lot in common...COMPUTERS! He is still in the hospital and doing much better. He should be home sometime next week. Thank you again, Mr. Fitzgerald.

So I guess I am the right Mike Fitzgerald.

You can imagine that as discouraged as I have been, this compliment was very welcome. This woman's father will receive his signed book this week.

This reminded me of a proverb:

As cold waters to a thirsty soul, so is good news from a far country. —Proverbs 25:25

If you appreciate or admire someone, let them know. You will refresh a soul.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Internal Clutter Means External Clutter

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One thing I have noticed in my own life is that when stress and unresolved conflict builds up, either within myself or with someone else (whether they know it or not), I get neglectful of small things. I fail to make the little decisions that keep life from getting cluttered.

For example, when I am "taking care of business," on the inside and out, I take care of the mail immediately, when it comes into the house. When I am packing around unresolved conflict, the mail piles up in the kitchen or in my office.

When I can't figure how to unload my feelings, and I hold them in, I create little messes all over the house—piles of clothes, stinky stacks of dishes, piles of papers from church, unpaid bills, junk mail, books, packaging, a stuffed inbox, unreturned phone calls. Oh, and I don't eat well, either. I let myself get away with eating food I know is not good for me.

When I get stuck like this, I don't see or think things through, and I don't clean up after myself. 

Looking over my life, I realize that when I do this, I am not just avoiding a pile of paper: I am dodging something else, something that I am afraid to deal with.

Can you relate?

When I get bound up, there are three things that help me. A lot.

The first one is the Three Things Principle. About five years ago, I was sitting on the stand during a sacrament meeting, feeling concerned about all the things I had to do. I was a bishop's counselor then. The Holy Spirit spoke to me. "Just focus on three things at a time. And write them down." When I am feeling overwhelmed and burdened, I'll write three important things down on a piece of paper or an index card and say to myself, in effect, "That's all you have to worry about right now." This really works for me. It helps me get moving again.

Another things that really helps me is meditation. Prayerful meditation. I usually do this early in the morning, when the house is quiet and there are few distractions. I do this almost every day. I'll think through a problem in detail. I'll think about it and sort through it, over and over. I'll talk to myself about it and ask myself questions. Or I'll ask the Lord questions. Questions like: "What's my next step? What does this person need to hear from me? Why is this happening? How can I serve that person better?"

Finally, there is exercise. Something magic happens when I get my heart rate over 140 beats per minutes. Exercise is not easy. There is a lot of sluggish resistance. But once I get past that resistance, that's when I break barriers. My thoughts get clearer. I see new possibilities. When I see clearly, I am filled with hope. I know what to do.

When I apply one or more of these three things in my life, on a regular basis, the little piles and messes seem to take care of themselves. I don't find it so difficult to clean up my messes and I don't make them so much.

External messes are just a reminder to us that we might have some internal housekeeping to take care of.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

How Many Members in Missouri Results

Thanks to everyone who responded to the survey on members in Missouri. The correct number of members is 65,122. Twenty-five percent of those who took the survey gave the correct response.

That number of 65,122 represents about a four-fold increase of members residing in the state since the early saints were driven out in the 1830s by persecution and the Extermination Order issued by Lilburn W. Boggs on October 27, 1838.

Interestingly, it was on June 25, 1976, that Missouri governor Christopher S. Bond issued an executive order that finally rescinded the Extermination Order of, issued 138 years before. Governor Bond recognized the invalid legal status of the order and formally apologized in behalf of the state of Missouri.

Five Fat Burning Tips

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How about some practical tips for a change? I have adopted these tips from Benjamin Teal, the Middle Management guy (don't worry, that's not an affiliate link). Following are five fat burning tips that any of us can easily incorporate into our daily regimen.

1. Eat smaller meals, more frequently. Eating smaller meals, 5 to 6 times per day, help our bodies stay properly fueled and more efficient.

2. Eat lean protein at every meal. Protein helps our bodies burn food more slowly. It also keeps blood sugar in balance, keeps cravings under control and also helps us feel more full.

3. Get a good night's sleep. That's a tough one for me. Sleep plays an important role in keeping hormone levels in balance, especially the ones that are responsible for regulating metabolism and controlling hunger.

4. Keep it moving. A body in motion burns more calories and stays healthier. Recent studies have proven that people who are active and who keep moving through the day, tend to be healthier and more fit.

5. Build muscle. Muscle burns fat better than any other tissue in your body. When you lift weights, for example, your muscles burn calories and fat while they're repairing themselves for a full 36 hours after you've worked out. That's an amazing fact.

Feel better and have a great day!

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Thank You, Dad

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I miss my father a lot. He died of a heart attack while scuba diving over 20 years ago. I was 31 years old. It was way too soon for me to lose him. I doubt there is a day I don't think about him.

I needed him then, but I need him now even more. I have some questions I need to ask him, but he is not here to ask.

After my father died, a business associate of his said to me, "Your father died without enemies. For a man as wildly successful as your father, I can't think of a higher compliment." That has been a comfort to me over the years. I pray the same could be said of his children. He was honest, fair and generous to a fault. Rare qualities.

Near the time of the funeral, a boyhood friend of my father asked me, "Did he ever tell you about the time he laid down his Harley?" He went on to tell me about my father's motorcycle accident that Dad never got around to telling me about. That explained why he would never allow me to ride a motorcycle on the street. We had a motorcycle that I was able to ride on the ranch, but never on the road. He protected me.

He cared patiently for my mother while she suffered with multiple sclerosis for 20 years. He taught me patience and tenderness where it really counts.

He taught me how to ride, care for and love horses when I was a young boy. He played eight tracks of Johnny Cash and the Sons of the Pioneers and Frankie Lane. He took me snow skiing when I was only 6 years old. He loved to laugh every day, and he taught me how important it was to see the humor in everything. He taught me to always look things up in the dictionary and encyclopedia if I didn't know what a word meant or if I was unfamiliar with a topic. In fact, he bought me my very own set of encyclopedias when I was 8 or 9 years old (Britannica Junior). Without him really trying to pass these things on, all the things he took the time to teach me have meant something to me my whole life.

He used to say to me, "It doesn't matter so much what you are as who you are." It took me a lot of years to figure out what that one meant. He also used to say, "I'll give you something to cry about!" And he often did do something if I didn't stop crying—something I did a little too often when I was a boy.

In spite of his mistakes and quirks, I love him and miss him dearly. In fact, I think I love him more because of his quirks and mistakes.

Dad, thank you for being you and teaching me the difference between a good man, an average man, and a great man.

If your father is still alive, you are blessed. You still have the opportunity,
in this life, to thank him for the good things he has done or to reconcile
your disappointments. Whatever your relationship with your father, God placed him there so you could help each other, no matter the good or bad things either of you have done in your life. May you have the courage to speak your mind and heart to him this Father’s Day.

Friday, June 4, 2010

In Memory of Holly Barrett

Last summer, on the priest's summer trip, we stayed at a camp site that was outside of Salina, Utah. The spot belongs to the family of our Young Men president. It was a beautiful spot, and I appreciated the willingness of his family to let us use it.

Near where we camped, in the middle of nowhere, we found this grave site for a girl named Holly Barrett. She died at age 14, a few months before her 15th birthday. The grave has been there for 40 years. It made you feel pretty sober, standing above that headstone surround by sagebrush.

I've asked myself many times since, "Who was Holly? What was she like? How did she die?" Our youngest daughter was 14 at the time, so you can imagine what my thoughts were like.

One morning, we had a little exercise. The priests visited the grave site, and when they got back, we asked them the following questions, and let them take turns answering them.
  • Before leaving this life, what is one thing you want to be sure to do?
  • How can you make the most of your life today—right now?
  • What is the difference between real happiness and fun, satisfaction or pleasure?
  • If you knew you would die today, what is one thing you would change today?
These are the kinds of questions we could all take some time to think about.

P.S. If anyone out there knows who Holly is, please let me know by commenting on this blog. Thank you.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

How I Got Started As a Writer

Some writers always know that they want to write. They grow up reading voraciously and imitating their favorite authors. They just have this inner sense that they are going to write from an early age. That’s not how it happened for me.

I have always enjoyed reading, though I read a little slower than most. I did not read much on my own until I was in 6th or 7th grade. Then I started to read books about Kit Carson, Bill Cody and Wild Bill Hickok, every musty book on Western life that I could find in our little school library. My father taught me to love the Old West as well as the new.

It wasn’t until I was 18 years old, standing over a copy machine one day, when it hit me: “You could write a book.” That was over three decades ago. It was the moment that a bell tolled for me. I’ve never forgotten that day, and the feeling that I wanted to be a writer has never left me.

Another important moment for me was when I was talking on the telephone with an Ensign magazine editor. I was still a missionary. She asked me what I wanted to do with my life. I said to her, “I want to be a writer.” Those words surprised me. They just popped out of my mouth. Where did they come from? Did I really believe them? Those words shot through me like an electric shock, inflicting permanent damage from which I have never recovered. I was 21 years old.

I have always loved horses, and a few years later, after I married Cristi, I got an associate’s degree in horsemanship and stable management from Ricks College in Idaho (barely, though—I am still wondering why they gave me a diploma). But I also wanted a bachelor’s degree. Never forgetting my earlier revelation that I could write books, I eventually decided to major in English at BYU.

My father, to say the least, was not thrilled.

“What are you going to do with that?” he’d ask. I told him that I was going to be a writer, and that I would start out as a technical writer. He said, “You can’t be a technical writer.” He was not exactly encouraging, but I knew what I wanted, and was determined to get my hands on it.

In 1983, I finally graduated from BYU with a bachelor’s degree in English, and a few months later, got my first job as a writer at Tektronix, an electronics company, and I’ve been writing for hire ever since.

Within ten years of landing my first writing job, I had written articles for newspapers and magazines—mostly travel articles—and also several books, though none of the were published. Wait. Let me correct that: None of them were publishable. I still had plenty of work to do.

In 1995, I self-published a children’s board book under the label of our own little publishing company Overdue Books. It may have been the first LDS board book. I was able to sell a number of copies independently by mail order. (The Internet had not really caught on yet with the masses.)

I got a break in 1999. I was working for Intel, editing a book—a joint Intel-Microsoft project that was to be published by John Wiley & Sons. Through this contact, I was able to gain access to an editor at Wiley, and within a short time, I had signed my first book contract. I wrote two books for Wiley, and after that, I signed with O’Reilly and, so far, I have written five books and two ebooks for them. Fourteen of my books are on Amazon.

After many years of working as a writer, I am still going strong, there is no end in sight. It is an endless challenge, but that’s what I like about it. I love what I do, and I have no desire to stop. I will never retire from writing. I'll keep doing it until I can't do it anymore.

I fully expect that, some morning, when I am 85 years old, my wife will find my lifeless body slumped over a keyboard, the cursor blinking on the screen, taking up where my heart left off.

How Many Members in Missouri?

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After the infamous Extermination Order of 1838, about 15,000 Latter-day Saints fled from Missouri. How many members of the Church are in Missouri now? Click this link and take a guess. The answer will be given on this blog (about) a week from today.