Saturday, October 30, 2010

Why Do We Love Babies?

Our nine-month-old grandson spent a few days at our home this week. He is such a cute little "punkin head." I love being around him. Everything he does is so entertaining. A baby brings so much fun, laughter and hope into our lives.

One thing I have done with our kids and now our grandkids is hold them in a sitting position and make them fly around the house, complete with sound effects. Plane engines, machine guns, and an occasional explosion—the naughty little violent sounds that most all of us boys like.

I don't know why we like these sounds and the things that make them, but we do. Once my oldest grandson said to me, "You can't make a boy not like guns." Well, I'll just leave that one alone, except to say that if it goes boom, pop or pow, most boys like it.

I was flying our grandson around the living room, strafing his aunt on the couch with machine gun fire, and he started laughing with a belly laugh. He just laughed and laughed. Every time he heard the "gunfire," he'd laugh. I had never heard him laugh so hard. Neither had his mother, nor grandmother, nor aunt. His mom got out our video camera and captured him laughing until I was too tired to keep "flying."

Why do we love babies so much? Why do they bring so much fun into our lives?

To tell you the truth, they are not easy keepers. They have odd eating and sleeping schedules. We miss out on a lot of sleep when they are around. They require constant attention. They cry and fuss and bonk themselves and cause us constant worry. Sometimes they don't smell so good, and we have to take care of that.

Yes, they are cute, for sure. But is that the only reason why we like them so much? (That's my other little grandson who is also almost nine months old. He smiles with his whole body.)

I think there are two fundamental reasons that make them lovable.

First, they are so genuine. They are just who they are, with no artificial flavoring. They don't know how to hide their emotions, or hide from them. They don't know how to pretend they are happy when they are not. They don't know how to be mean or jealous and sassy. They are pure vessels. There is no darkness in them. They just are and we love them for it.

The second reason is that, because we serve them, we love them. We give and give and give to them, without expecting much of anything back except that the baby might (or might not) stop crying or fussing or go back to sleep or smile. Babies prove that to love, we must serve. And the more we serve—the more selflessly we serve—the more we love them, and the more happy we are.

How empty this world be like without these little perpetual love machines.

Okay, well, soon enough, they learn to be dramatic—to yell and whine and throw themselves on the floor in the mall in front of the toy store—to manipulate their parents, friends, and everyone in their environment. And it drives us all crazy. Then they take that behavior into childhood, adolescence and adulthood, and it continues to drive us to distraction. Why? Because people are not genuine, real, believable, honest with others or themselves. We play games trying to get along and all the acting and drama wears us out along the way. 

Every once in a while, you meet a fearless adult who is pure and honest. They are happy to be exactly who they are and to show you themselves openly, without veneer or varathane. Somehow, they have overcome their fear of being who they are, and have shaken off the phoniness that overrides their genuine selves.

This is why we love babies. They are honest and real and predictable. We see their real emotions. They don't hide them from us. And when they hold out their arms to us, we know that they just want to be held. They love us without having to give an explanation. They don't have to pretend or make up things. They just feel what they feel, and express those feelings as they occur, without editing them or overdecorating them. They are unafraid to be themselves and to expose themselves to the world, as is, no warranty, no deposit, no return.

Yes, we must curtail our childish feelings, but isn't it refreshing to meet a person big or small who is unafraid to be himself or herself and who loves you just because they don't know how to not love you?

These are some of the lessons babies teach us, and I love them for it.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

One Reason Why I Listen to My Wife

On  July 10, 1985, my wife was very pregnant with our second child, but was not due for another three weeks. It was a Wednesday night, and I had a home teaching appointment. Cristi was having contractions as I was getting ready to leave, but I was not taking her situation seriously. I mean, our first child was born three whole days after her due date, so wouldn't it make sense that the next one would be born close to her due date, too?

So I took our three-year-old daughter Melissa with me home teaching, and left my wife home all alone. I was 27 at the time, and I had a bit more pride than common sense. I was about to learn a lesson.

The moment—and I mean the moment—I walked in the front door of the family I home taught, their telephone rang. It was my wife. I don't remember exactly what she said, but it was something along the lines of "You need to come home right now!" She had lost the mucous plug while we were gone (that was maybe 15 minutes), and the contractions were coming fast and hard. Very hard.

Melissa and I got back in our Nissan Sentra wagon and drove home in a hurry.
"When my dear wife calls me, quickly I'll obey..."
When we got home, a close friend scooped up Melissa. Cristi was ready to go, but I delayed our departure by a few more minutes because I insisted on changing my clothes. I shouldn't have done that, either.

I remember hitting 90 miles per hour as we drove on the freeway (that was kind of fun, actually) and breaking a few other traffic laws along the 10 miles to the hospital, all of which I rationalized perfectly.

Cristi delivered our beautiful Amy about 20 minutes after we arrived at the Oregon City hospital. No drugs. Almost without the obstetrician. He had been at a baseball game with his kids.

The joy and surprise of having a new darling baby girl helped me hide my injured pride, but I have not forgotten the lesson I learned that day.

Of course, we all want to be right. We like to be right. But if we look back over our lives, at the times we thought we were right, if you are like me, it seems more often than not, our judgment was off. More often than not, I realize now, I have been wrong when I dearly wanted to be right. I was just protecting my pride, my false sense of self. I was not interested in the truth; I was interested in myself. It's an indefensible position, a position I take less and less often now.
"I want to do just what is best, each and every day."
That was 25 years ago. Since then, I've changed a lot. I am not all the way there yet, but more often I consider what is right before I commit myself to a hard stance on perceived fact. My wife looks at the world somewhat differently than I do. She has vast gifts of perception. Most of the time, she just knows things that I don't pick up as quickly as she does. She has what I call a creepometer and it is nearly always accurate—she knows who to watch out for and who to trust. When I listen to her, it saves me time, effort and heartache.

I listen to her (and others) much better these days. I honestly care about every word that comes from her mouth. I really mean that. And because I take her so seriously, she takes me seriously as well. If you want respect, you first have to give it. If you want love, you must give it first, willingly, with no strings attached. It all comes back to you in time. It balances out.

This is just one of the lessons that has taught me to listen better, to listen with more than my ears. And when I say listen, I also mean heed.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Conquering a Weakness from My Childhood



I've been meaning to tell you about this. I am not sure why, but I feel like it will help someone who reads this blog.

I was not a good student in elementary school. My mother's long-term illness haunted me through my grade school years. I was a distracted, somewhat neglected kid. There is something about a mother's attention that helps a child adjust to life around him. I did not have that, and I did not mature at the same rate as most of the kids around me.

I was a constant frustration to my teachers and to myself. I had the ability to learn, but I didn't do it very fast or very well in those days. No one really understood what was going on or not going on in my life, not even me. Most of the time, I felt lonely, isolated and stupid. I knew I wasn't dumb, but I was so distracted that I did not concentrate well at school.

One of my weak areas was reading. I loved books. I had always been fascinated by them. My parents even had a library, a room lined with bookshelves from floor to ceiling. I had no excuse due to lack of opportunity. I just couldn't concentrate when I read, and that undermined my learning in a big way.

By the time I reached high school, I doubt I had read, from cover to cover, more than 10 books in my life, though I had sauntered through hundreds of them. I was still curious and inquisitive, but without reading well, I was just another forgettable, less-than-average student.

Or so I thought.

A miracle happened at the beginning of my senior year in high school. I was introduced to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and was baptized on my 18th birthday, November 14, 1975. After that, with the help of the Holy Ghost, my grades just shot up. I was getting mostly As and Bs. I had to work harder than most to get there, but a little extra work never hurt anyone. I was understanding things much better when I read and was a more successful reader, but the best was yet to come.

The turning point for me came the following spring. An article in the New Era magazine changed my life. I had gotten a subscription to the New Era from a darling girl named Cristi and her friend Cindy. (Cristi is now my wife of 31 years.) When I read the article called "I Want to Be a Book of Mormon Missionary" in the April 1976 edition of the magazine, I took fire. It taught me how to take a different approach to reading the Book of Mormon and to reading books in general. The author of the article, Rodney Jay Vessels, developed a way to read the Book of Mormon in 30 days by reading a certain number of pages each day. This is exactly what I needed.

There was something about Brother Vessels' approach that turned me around. It gave me hope, a new way of focusing on reading, a method that worked for me. It gave me a framework, a way to set reading goals, and a way to feel like I could be a success. Using this approach, within the next eight months, I had read the Book of Mormon seven times.

I was astonished at myself. I found a way to concentrate on reading and comprehend what I was reading, and it worked for me. It wasn't a technique that works for everyone, but one that I am certain that the Spirit led me to. One of the gifts I discovered during that time was that, if I read in a certain way, in my own way, I could retain a lot more details than ever before, and this helped me a great deal on my mission. I went on to college and graduated from BYU with a B.A. in English, with an above average GPA.

Now, over 30 years later, though I am a much stronger reader than I was when I was a boy, I still struggle. Everyone in my family can outread me like nobody's business, but if I take my own  approach (and don't compare myself to others), I do quite well.

I have a lifetime goal of reading the Book of Mormon 100 times. I am not half way there yet, but I am getting close. I am sure when I am in my 80s, my children will hear me say, "The Lord can't take me yet. I haven't read the Book of Mormon 100 times."

Some of the things that help me read is to read early in the morning, have reading goals, and to read in shorter spurts several times a day. I also sometimes listen to the audio of the book that I am reading while I read. Sometimes I go through the audio of the book first, and then go back and mark the best quotes I found when listening. I also read and comprehend better when I am eating right and getting enough sleep.

Everyone is different. Find your own way to approach life and its perplexities. There is no need to compare yourself to others. There is no one else like you. Not even close. Don't be afraid of your weaknesses—run towards them. They will fade over time when challenged.

"Happy are they that hear their detractions and can put them to mending." —Shakespeare

You have talents and abilities that you not have even discovered yet. If you are unhappy most of the time, you either have not discovered your true self yet or you are in some form of denial of who you really are. Discovering and accepting who you really are, and embracing your strengths and weaknesses—your weaknesses so you can turn them into strengths—is one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself and those who live closest to you.

Monday, October 18, 2010

An Open Doorway

I am standing in an open doorway,
a winter's night about to overtake me.

The sun has just slipped beyond the mountains,
and I am alone with the approaching quiet.

Tomorrow is a stranger without a face, and
I don't know yet if my memories will sustain me.

In my desolation, a scene opens up,
more of a dream than a vision.

It is a portrait of Spring, a great valley of color.
It is there waiting for me, on the other side of
a blinding darkness.

—Michael Fitzgerald
October 18, 2010

Monday, October 11, 2010

What Is Your Life's Purpose?

Have you ever seriously considered the question, "What is my life's purpose?"

You might be thinking that your life's purpose is caring for your children or loving your spouse, living the teachings of the gospel, enduring trials and overcoming them, or preparing to be "taken home to that God who gave [you] life" (Alma 40:11). That is all true, and all those things are part of your core purpose. You have those elements in common with nearly everyone, though not everyone may recognize that.

But what about your unique talents, the combination of gifts and special abilities that only you possess? Did not God give you your special gifts in order to bless your life and the lives of others? Are you focusing on those talents and using them? Or are you confused about who you are and what you alone can do for this world?

I have a suggestion, one that I have followed myself with encouraging results. The suggestion is, considering what your unique talents are, to write in one focused sentence your life's purpose. I have written many drafts of this sentence, and it has been an enlightening experience.

There is a lot going on in your unconscious mind. Imagine you are on a small rubber raft in the middle of the ocean. The raft is your conscious mind, and the ocean is your unconscious mind. Unguided, the raft drifts on the currents of thought and imagination.

Try this experiment: close your eyes and try to not think of anything. It's impossible. Our minds are always adrift with images and thought, unless we dip an intentional oar into the vast sea of our unconsciousness.

You may not realize it, but one of our great joys in life is when we connect the conscious mind with the unconscious. Some of the ways we do this is by talking, reading and writing. These tasks guide us. They help us dredge the unconscious mind and bring some of what is going on down below to the surface. Writing down your purpose statement will help do just that.

If you write it in several drafts—I have written over 20 drafts of mine—something you don't expect will emerge. If you pray and rely on the Spirit to direct you, you will enjoy more clarity than you could otherwise enjoy. Knowing clearly what your purpose is, the purpose that puts your unique talents and abilities into the forefront of your life, and putting that purpose down on paper, will help you be far more focused and successful and confident.

If you feel unsettled at all about what your true purpose and mission is, start writing. It will bless you and many others. It will protect you. It will get you through the rough spots. It will fuel your determination. Write a draft and think about it. Then come back and write it down again.

I'd like to share my purpose:

My life's purpose is to inspire others to discover and embrace their divine potential and purpose through the power of the holy scriptures, and through the written and spoken word.

For your own sake, for the sake of your husband or wife, for you children, and any others whom you might bless, start getting it down. Knowing your purpose will bless their lives and enable you to bless hundreds, maybe even thousands of others.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Examples of Faith: Women of the New Testament

On Sunday, September 26, 2010, I gave a presentation to the women of our ward—"Examples of Faith: Women of the New Testament." I had several ideas on what to present, but this topic was what the Holy Spirit pressed on my mind to share. Following are few highlights.

As you read about Christ in the New Testament, you see that He always noticed the unnoticed, the sad, the afflicted, the lonely, the lost, those who were forgotten, and he reached out to them with compassion, love and acceptance. The story of the man at the pool of Bethesda is an example of this (John 1:1–16).

The story of the widow’s mites appears in only two of the gospels (Mark 12:41–44; Luke 21:1–4) but it helps us to realize that Christ recognizes our quiet devotion and our sacrifices.

The Syrophenician woman's request to heal her daughter was met by cold words, but the woman persisted (Matthew 15:21–28; Mark 7:24–30). She reminds all of us that we can ask boldly for what we need, and that He will ultimately honor our faith. The Lord will test our faith, however, before He grants us our hearts desire.

The woman with the issue of blood, who had been afflicted for 12 years and had spent all her money on physicians, fought a crowd to reach out to Him in faith (Matthew 9:20–22; Mark 5:25–34; Luke 8:43–48). As she did so, trying to avoid His notice, she was healed. He said to her, “Daughter, be of good comfort: thy faith hath made thee whole; go in peace” (Luke 8:48).

A woman with a spirit of infirmity was in a synagogue on a day Jesus was teaching there (Luke 13:11–17). She did not call out to Him, but it was He that called out to her. Sometimes we reach out to the Lord, and at other times, He notices us first and calls us to Him.

Mary and Martha were sisters who lived in Bethany, on the Mount of Olives and were friends, together with their brother Lazarus, of Jesus (Luke 10:38–42; John 11:1–46; 12:2–9). Martha shows us that the mundane tasks of life can distract us from our duty to nourish our spirits, while Mary shows us that there is only one needful thing. What is it? We may give that thing away, but it can never be taken from us without our consent.

The woman at Jacob's well in Samaria (John 4:3–30, 39–42) teaches us that even though at times our life choices can lead us far away from the Living Water, the Lord knows exactly who we are and what we need. He loves us and wants to bless us, even if we have made mistakes.

The woman taken in adultery (John 8:1–11) learned that, in spite of her weaknesses and sins, Jesus did not condemn her. So why do you condemn yourself?

Mary the Mother of Jesus (see Matthew 1,2; Luke 1,2; John 2) heard the angel Gabriel say, "For with God, nothing shall be impossible” (Luke 1:37).

“And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man” (Luke 2:52). Even Jesus needed a mother. You can and should be a mother, whether you have children of your own or not. Many need your nurturing care. Will you offer it to them?

Mary Magdalene was a faithful woman that followed Jesus and ministered unto Him. “And certain women…had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities, [including] Mary called Magdalene, out of whom went seven devils” (Luke 8:2–3; see also John 20:1–18). As with this woman, the Lord can help us cast out illness or infirmity, sorrow, anxiety or feeling of depression, and the Lord will remember our loyalty to Him.

If we follow these examples, we too can be examples of faith.

I prepared these slides but did not use them in my presentation.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Facing Jealousy

Jealousy is a powerful emotion that touches all of us at one time or another. It is something that troubled me more in the past than it does now, but it still gets under my skin from time to time.
Martha and Mary

So what is jealousy?

According to Merriam-Webster, the word jealous describes a feeling of intolerance or suspicion due to rivalry or unfaithfulness. Or it can be hostility toward a rival or one who enjoys an advantage over you.

Have you ever felt that? If you are human, your answer should be yes.

Jealousy is a feeling you get when you lose a competition, when the other guy gets the girl, when those who you thought were your friends are out on the town without you, or when you otherwise wind up holding the short straw. It is that left-out, left-behind, left-in-the dust feeling. You know what I am talking about. It feels terrible!

The word jealous actually comes from the word zealous, which, according to Oxford, is a fervent devotion to someone or something, passionate ardor, intense earnestness or active enthusiasm. Those are all powerful emotions as well, but we need to recognize that they can be positive or negative. We often think of jealousy as a purely negative emotion, but I think at times it can be positive. In fact, I think there is something we could call godly jealousy. Let me explain.

The scriptures teach that God is a jealous God. Here is a sample of some verses that spell this out. "For thou shalt worship no other god: for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God" (Exodus 34:14). "For the Lord thy God is a consuming fire, even a jealous God" (Deuteronomy 4:24). "God is jealous, and the Lord revengeth" (Nahum 1:2).

Does God sin? No. Is it a sin then for God to be jealous? No. Is it always wrong for you to feel jealousy? No. Sometimes you can feel godly jealousy.

I have an example of that. Over the last five years, I have interviewed several wives whose husbands were having trouble with pornography. Some of those women have expressed this sentiment to me, "If I could get my hands on those women who posed for those pictures, I would rip them to shreds" or something similar to that.

Now I wouldn't encourage anyone to rip someone else to shreds, but I think the feeling these women expressed is a form of godly jealousy. Why? Because a wife who feels that way is defending her most precious possessions: her relationship with her husband, the sanctity of her family, her future, eternity itself. In the same way, God is jealous of those who worship other gods or things. "Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God" (Exodus 20:5).

Ungodly jealousy is at the other end of the scale. That form of jealousy is an emotion that evokes covetousness, forbidden in the tenth commandment (Exodus 20:17). Covetousness is a selfish desire that can be so intense that it tempts us to break the other nine commandments.

Here is an example of ungodly jealousy. "She looks gorgeous in that dress. I hate her."

Do you see the difference? Godly jealousy protects sacred relationships, and ungodly jealousy is evidence of faltering faith—faith in ourselves, or in God.

I think this kind of jealousy doesn't exist unless you judge that other person first, and judgment doesn't come out of nowhere. Judgment is rooted in pride and pride is rooted in self-betrayal.

Self-betrayal, once again, happens when we suspend our standards or our faith in favor of emotions or actions of a lower order. We believe we are justified in our feelings at the moment a disappointing or disturbing situation arises, and though we know better, we set our standards aside, take off our gloves, and start punching. Simply put, we accept something false and pretend it is true to serve some puerile need.

Pride follows hot on the heels of self-betrayal. Pride is self-deception. When we are full of pride, we are like the fallen Olympians who, having won by false means, stand on the podium to receive a medal but later it is discovered that we were taking steroids and must be stripped of our trumped-up honor. Those steroids are the temporary thrill of self-betrayal and self-deception.

When we are enamored of pride, we are lost, at least for a time. It is then that we judge, fight, contend, belittle, make enemies, bite the backs of our neighbors. It is then that we can be overcome with a surge of ungodly jealousy.

How do we overcome jealousy, then?

It is simple, but it is not always easy. We have to take up the "shield of faith" (Ephesians 6:16; D&C 27:17). We have to take up that shield and hold it in front of us, for it enables us to "quench all the fiery darts of the wicked," the fiery darts of pride, judgment and contention, to name a few. When you hold up the shield of faith, you are taking conscious action to defend yourself against self-betrayal and self-deception. I can imagine a mirror on the back side of that shield. It is hard to look in that mirror and lie to yourself, and you can't betray yourself unless you first lie to yourself.

When you hold up that shield of faith, you are saying yes to the truth and yes to God. You are saying that even though she looks gorgeous in that dress, you are gorgeous, too—and worthy and good and kind and loving. You are saying, "The Lord loves me and will reward me all good things in His own time." You are saying, "I believe in myself and in my Heavenly Father." You are possessing your soul in patience (Luke 21:19; D&C 101:38). You are saying, "I can have all things, too, in the right way and in the right time and in the right place."

Faith quenches fear, doubt, shame and even the fire of jealousy. Faith heals us and makes us whole. Faith sees the end of the road before we arrive there. And faith is the only way we can overcome our adversaries.

In fact, faith is what shows us that our worst adversary is ourselves, and, if the whole truth be known, the only real problem we have.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Overcoming the Spirit of Contention

Two things have come to my mind this conference weekend, two things that I have heard Pres. Monson say a number of times in the past—things that you have probably heard, too—but that I am seeing in a different light now. We all like to be right and to avoid admitting we are wrong, especially when we are communicating with our spouses. That is natural, of course, but the "natural man" (Mosiah 3:19) is what gets us into trouble.

After thinking about this over this weekend, these words from our Prophet came to my mind:

"When the Lord commands and a man obeys, that man will always be right."

So, following the Prophet's counsel, we can be right in everything we say—as long as we follow the commandments of the Lord!

Sorry. I don't mean to be light-minded about this, but I believe this is true with all my heart.

The main key for me in my communication in the home has been to recognize the most important need, that is, not to be right, but to have the Spirit of the Lord with me. If I do or say anything to get our family off track from that high goal, I can't feel right or be right, no matter how hard I try.

This brings me to the other thing Pres. Monson has said that has been on my mind:

"You can't do wrong and feel right."

When I have any contention in my heart, I know the Spirit of the Lord is not present and I just have to close my mouth until I can get the spirit of love and compassion back. You remember in the D&C when the Lord says, "And the Spirit shall be given unto you by the prayer of faith; and if ye receive not the Spirit ye shall not teach (D&C 42:14)? I'd like to apply it in this way "If ye receive not the Spirit ye shall not say anything!"

One of the most haunting verses of scripture to me about contention or angry communication is something the Savior said right after His arrival in the New World, apparently right after His resurrection—it must have been important!

"For verily, verily I say unto you, he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another. Behold, this is not my doctrine, to stir up the hearts of men with anger, one against another; but this is my doctrine, that such things should be done away" (3 Nephi 11:29–30).

When I have realized in the past when I had a contentious spirit that I actually had the spirit of the devil in my heart, that is not very heartening. But I have been guilty of this too often.

I find then that I have had to just turn away from contentious feelings and cast Satan's influence away. When I adjust my thoughts and come back to the conversation, then I can do so with calm and loving feelings.

(But I try not to waste any feelings: If I direct my angry feelings to cleaning the kitchen or to some other task in the home, rather than directing them to a person, I think those feelings have been put to good use and I always feel productive.)

I think the main thing I have realized over the years is that the negative things or feelings I have expressed in the past can and should be communicated in a positive way. We can deal with the very same issues, but instead of doing so in a negative way, we can do it in a positive way, with affirming and uplifting language. I think we all need to find a way to fully express ourselves, but we can do so without shutting down our communication or relationships. 

In other words, you can deal with the very same issue but get much better results without creating resentment in the other person by taking a positive, loving approach. It is like so many things in this world that can be negative or positive, like TV or the Internet or money or the way we communicate or relationships between men and women or anything. It is not that TV, for example, is only bad or only good. It can been negative or positive depending on the approach we take to it, depending on what is in our hearts, and what our true intent is, and how we use it.

Here is one last scripture I'd like to share:

"Therefore, why is it that ye cannot understand and know, that he that receiveth the word by the Spirit of truth receiveth it as it is [spoken] by the Spirit of truth? Wherefore, he that [speaketh] and he that receiveth, understand one another, and both are edified and rejoice together. And that which doth not edify is not of God, and is darkness. That which is of God is light; and he that receiveth light, and continueth in God, receiveth more light; and that light groweth brighter and brighter until the perfect day" (D&C 50:21-24).

I feel this phrase from verse 23 really gets at the core: "That which doth not edify is not of God, and is darkness."

If I am not building up, I am tearing down, and if I am tearing down, I am in darkness where the devil and his angels reign. If I am building up, I am in the light and God is with me. And that's what I want more than anything!