Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Free Book of Christmas Readings from the Old and New Testaments

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A few years ago, I put together a book of Christmas readings. It has 31 scriptures from the Old and New Testaments (King James Version), one reading for each day of the month of December. After each reading, there is a question to think about or discuss. It is a resource to help us stay focused on the meaning of the season, and the readings are brief to match our short attention spans.

Many of my friends have a print version of this little book, but I also wanted to offer you the downloadable PDF version (8 1/2" × 11", 35 pages, 197 kb).

To download your copy of the book, click here.

Happy reading and Merry Christmas!

Monday, November 29, 2010

The Last Mountain

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For Bruce Mendenhall

Behind your house stood an
Insistent mountain,
Calling to you day and night,
As quietly as an angel.

You heard its gentle voice,
Shimmering above the valley,
Glistening with the truth of your
Inevitable departure.

But you did not want
To leave just yet
The dear ones who
Stood so near you.

Then came the call, like
Lightning without thunder,
Rolling down the mountainside,
Opening a passage to
The beckoning summit.

Suddenly dispersed of its shroud,
You climbed, prayer on prayer,
Its misty slopes one last time.

Michael James Fitzgerald
Thanksgiving, 2010

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Released Bishop's Recovery

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After being released last Sunday, I am starting to get my feet under me again. It has fortunately been a relaxing few days, with travel at the beginning of the week, and then Thanksgiving on Thursday. I have had plenty of time to think.

One of the things I have noticed is that my email volume has dropped by about two-thirds. For the first time in years, spam and sales emails are now more common than emails related to my calling.

I would often get 5 to 8 emails per day about Church business, one or more envelopes from the Church during the week—plus a number of little gray envelopes—and several phone calls a day. Now my inbox, my voicemail box, and the mail box have all, well—play the audio clip below and you'll get the idea.

So my life's pace has changed drastically. That's not all bad, though. For example, I had stopped reading Victor Hugo's Les Misérables a few years ago, at page 428. I've picked up that novel again and started reading, something I couldn't think of doing a week ago because there was just too much on my mind.

Earlier in the week, I told my wife that being released as a bishop is like taking your family and friends to the airport and sending them off on a great adventure, waving goodbye to them while they make their way through security because you can't go with them.

It's hard to stay behind, but really, with each passing day, I'm more and more okay with it.

When a new bishopric is put in in place, a ward is revitalized. People are revitalized. That is more important than I have realized. It is a great blessing to all of us. I am so excited for our new bishopric. They are all so well prepared and they are going to do a wonderful job.

The truth is, a great peace has settled over me. I still feel deep love and concern for the members of our ward. I still think about them all day. There are still things I can do to reach out to them and support them, but in different ways and for different reasons than before.

The most surprising thing to me is that, though I felt a little empty last Sunday, the Lord's Spirit is still present with me. I feel His comfort and counsel every hour of the day. I don't feel lost like I thought I would be. I was wrong about that.

I have found my way. The path is a lot clearer than I thought it would be. It is the right one for me, for this time and season, and I am grateful to know that. I am in fact feeling pretty good, as you can see from the following video.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Released Today as Bishop

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A wonderful new bishop was sustained in our ward this morning, and I was released. The moment our stake president announced my release from the pulpit, I felt a change, as if there was power in the very word release.

Within hours, thanks to a very kind gesture, we were on our way to Little Cottonwood Canyon where we are staying at The Cliff Lodge at Snowbird. We have had a quiet, relaxing evening. In fact the whole day was remarkably quiet. I told my wife I have been running on pure adrenaline this whole week, so it was good to experience some downtime today.

But, to tell you the truth, I feel empty. The mantle was taken today, and I am shivering in the cold. Yes, I am sad, but not forsaken. I will dearly miss my close connection with the members of our ward, but I am still a friend to each of them, or wish to be. I love them all, though my love now is somewhat, er, well, irrelevant.

Our allegiance goes with the mantle, not the man. That is how it should be. It is the mantle that enables a man to serve in a calling that goes way beyond his mortal ability. It is the Lord that bestows the gifts necessary to serve, and that is the only way one may serve the needs of a ward for a season.

That time is up for me. And I already feel that part of my heart is missing.

Yesterday evening, our Relief Society brought me a gift, a denim quilt made with over 70 squares, each signed with ink, paint or embroidery by members of the ward. It's my new mantle, one of comfort and memory. I love it! I know it took many hours to make, and each square represents a special connection for me. My thanks to every one of you who composed poems and quips, hand-stitched hearts, and expressed appreciation.

Thank you all. I love you. You don't know how much I will miss being your bishop.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

A Little Husband and Wife Ceremony

Last night, a thoughtful ward member brought us a delicious dinner as an expression of gratitude for our service over the last years—to me as bishop and to my wife who really was the one who made it possible for me to be a bishop.

It was the first time I remember having a dinner brought in to our family when someone in our home wasn't sick.

My wife and I ate quietly by candlelight because our teenage daughter was babysitting. I told her, "I am so full, but I don't want to stop eating." The food was wonderful, and so was the moment. To be recognized, acknowledged and appreciated makes you feel like you could find the strength to go on for another five years or maybe 10.

On Thursday night, the night before, right after a large multi-stake meeting, I cleaned out my office at the church. I gathered all my personal effects in a box, including a statue of Christ that has silently watched over everything that has happened in that office from the very beginning. Some scripture marking pencils, nail clippers, a comb, a calculator, a box of mints, notes from adults and Valentines from children, the small things that you need to get along when you practically live at the church.

My wife came later to pick me up. It would be difficult to walk home with a box of personal items, my briefcase, and my large scriptures. She helped me vacuum the office. I moved the folding chairs and the bishop's table as she ran the vacuum. As we left, the office looked clean but felt starkly empty.

Two helium balloons, still buoyant, had been left taped to the table since last Sunday's surprise birthday party. I handed the blue balloon to my wife and I took the orange one, and asked her to step outside for a little ceremony. We walked on the lawn to the edge of the empty parking lot. A light, cool breeze was blowing from the east. The evening was unseasonably warm.

Then I said something. "Well, it's time to let it all go. All the feelings of stress, worry, and concern that we have felt these years, the sadness, the fear. Time to let them all go."

Cristi offered some similar sentiments. Then we let our balloons go together into the night. They drifted off on the breeze like a tandem prayer, carrying heartfelt wishes to heaven, higher and higher, until we could hardly make them out in the dark.

I don't know how high our balloons went, or where they landed, or even if they have landed yet. All I know is that a gentle breeze carried them unnoticed into the sky, and that I don't need to know the end in order to begin once again.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

My Last Sunday as Bishop

Last Sunday was my birthday. I started out the day with a big bowl of Chocolate Cheerios at 6:15 in the morning. I needed it to get me through my last full Sunday as bishop.

Our stake president visited our sacrament service to announce that I will be released as bishop this coming Sunday, November 21. It is not a day I have been looking forward to.

My very thoughtful wife made the day special and memorable for me.  When I got to our early bishopric meeting, I found the bishop's office decorated with streamers and balloons. Party hats and party favors in Elmo bags were on the table. There were cinnamon rolls and orange juice. Who can be a glum chum when you can't stop laughing?

Over the last five years, I have had many say to me, "I would never want to be a bishop" or "I hope my husband is never a bishop." I am always sorry to hear remarks like these because it underscores a big misunderstanding. People don't realize that a bishop is carried by angels every day. Literally. I have been blessed and guided and instructed and upheld every day that I have been a bishop, in a miraculous way. More so than when I was on my mission, more than at any time in my life.

Why wouldn't someone want to experience that? Fear. And fear is always the result of some sort of misunderstanding or allowing the natural man to overthrow the spiritual.

Yes, any determined dedication to the Lord's will and work will invite trials—opposition that will test our mettle, our determination to endure and remain steady. But how else can we learn what we need to learn? How else can we grow? How else can we fulfill our mission on earth? These things would be impossible without trials and tests alongside of them.

The thing I will miss the most is working with people and watching them make changes in their lives.  Watching them overcome old habits, overthrow old monsters, forgive others, forgive themselves, walk away from sin, choose faith, kneel at the feet of Jesus Christ, humble themselves, choose to love themselves. Watching miracles happen.

It was amazing to be there at the crossroads, to witness births, baby blessings, baptisms, ordinations, missions, life-changing callings, repentance, reconciliations, even death. No work possibly could be more interesting, more meaningful or more fulfilling.

How do you walk away from this privilege without feeling devastated? I don't know. 

One thing that is making it easier is the love and care of my wife. I don't think anyone understands what an incredible support she is to me. She worked so hard to make my day special on Sunday, and she succeeded in making a day that could have been a total downer into nothing short of a blast. I must admit that, after sitting on the stand for over six years (one year as a counselor, five as a bishop), I am really looking forward to sitting next to my wife and daughter.

When all is said and done, it all comes back to family—spouse, children, grandchildren. Their love means everything to me. Their steady support always lifts me higher, no matter what a day brings. With their help, I know I am going to make it through this. Let me close with a bit of fun that one of my grandsons gave us on Sunday night. Just try not to laugh. Don't you think that everything is going to be okay?

Monday, November 15, 2010

Cranberry Ice Cream Dessert

For my birthday yesterday, we made a variation of a lemonade ice cream pie recipe. Of course, those who know me know that I love anything with cranberries in it, so we adapted the recipe to suit a cranberry addict.

Cranberry Ice Cream Dessert

1 package of chocolate graham crackers, divided (a box comes with 3 packages)
1 half gallon of vanilla ice cream
1/2 can of lemonade concentrate
1/2 can of cranberry juice concentrate
3/4 cup frozen cranberries, chopped
Zest of one lemon, chopped into small pieces

Take the juice and ice cream out of the freezer and let them soften enough so they can be mixed, about 20 minutes. Crush graham crackers in blender or food processor and spread evenly in the bottom of a 10 × 13 dish, setting aside 1/4 cup for the top of the dessert. Put the juice, berries, lemon zest and ice cream into a large mixing bowl. Mix well with sturdy spoon until the color is even. Spread evenly over the graham cracker crust. Sprinkle remaining graham cracker crumbs over the top. Cover and place in the freezer for several hours.

I was really happy with the way this turned out and I can't wait to have a little more for our family home evening treat tonight.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Cranberry Chicken

Nearly every year for the last 14 years, my wife has made cranberry chicken as the main dish for my birthday dinner. We first discovered the recipe at a ward Christmas dinner in 1996, and I loved it. It even displaced lasagna, my old birthday favorite.

I love sweet, tart foods. I don't know why I love this flavor so much.

Because this recipe has been made for me with so much love for so long, it is my all-time favorite. I tried to get my wife to make it for Father's Day this year, but nothing doing. She said I had to wait. (Yes, I could just make it for myself, but that would break the spell. ) It's well worth the wait.

Here is the recipe.

Cranberry Chicken

1 T. butter
1 small onion, coarsely chopped
3 lbs. of chicken thighs, skinned
2/3 C. ketchup
1/3 C. packed brown sugar
1 T. cider vinegar
1 t. dry mustard
1 1/2 C. fresh or frozen cranberries, washed

Preheat the oven to 400º.

In a 10 × 15 baking dish, place the butter and onions. Bake in oven until onions are soft and golden brown. Then push onions to one side of the dish, and add the chicken thighs. Bake the chicken uncovered for about 25 minutes. Combine all other remaining ingredients in a bowl. Spread onions and sauce evenly over chicken and bake about 20 minutes more until the mixture is caramelized and the chicken is no longer pink near the bone.

If you want to serve it over rice, double the sauce ingredients.


Tuesday, November 9, 2010

For Helen

Helen, now you are safe
From the mortal storm.

When the final leaf was
Torn quietly from the tree,
We watched in awe
It’s upward flight
Into a measureless sky.

You did not fly alone.

We feel barren without you, but
You have left behind a life
Written unforgettably on our hearts.

Thank you for your sunlight,
The gentle way you let
Each of us know that we mattered
More than our mistakes or our neglected duty.

You have left behind emptiness, but
The lesson of your absence teaches us
The purpose of grief, the true meaning of love.

And though we can no longer find you here,
You have returned to your real home,
The place you came from, and in a way, never left,
A place we may all call home one day.

Watch for us. We hope to join you there.

Michael James Fitzgerald

Monday, November 8, 2010

The Barbed Wire Fence

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Yesterday, I shared this story in video format with the youth of our ward. It is an excerpt from Mervyn Arnold's talk from the October 2010 general conference.

"Shortly after my sweetheart, Devonna, and I were married, she shared with me a story about how she learned in her youth this important doctrine that we are free to choose but that we are not free to choose the consequences of our actions. With the help of my daughter Shelly, I would like to relate Sister Arnold’s experience:

"'When I was 15 years old, I often felt that there were too many rules and commandments. I wasn’t sure that a normal, fun-loving teenager could enjoy life with so many restrictions. Furthermore, the many hours spent working on my father’s ranch were seriously dipping into my time with my friends.

“'This particular summer, one of my jobs was to ensure that the cows grazing on the mountain pasture did not break through the fence and get into the wheat field. A cow grazing on the growing wheat can bloat, causing suffocation and death. One cow in particular was always trying to stick her head through the fence. One morning, as I was riding my horse along the fence line checking on the cattle, I found that the cow had broken through the fence and gotten into the wheat field. To my dismay, I realized that she had been eating wheat for quite some time because she was already bloated and looked much like a balloon. I thought, ‘You stupid cow! That fence was there to protect you, yet you broke through it and you have eaten so much wheat that your life is in danger.’

"'I raced back to the farmhouse to get my dad. However, when we returned, I found her lying dead on the ground. I was saddened by the loss of that cow. We had provided her with a beautiful mountain pasture to graze in and a fence to keep her away from the dangerous wheat, yet she foolishly broke through the fence and caused her own death.

"'As I thought about the role of the fence, I realized that it was a protection, just as the commandments and my parents’ rules were a protection. The commandments and rules were for my own good. I realized that obedience to the commandments could save me from physical and spiritual death. That enlightenment was a pivotal point in my life.'

"Sister Arnold learned that our kind, wise, and loving Heavenly Father has given us commandments not to restrict us, as the adversary would have us believe, but to bless our lives and to protect our good name and our legacy for future generations..."

I drew the following diagram on the chalkboard. It represents the boundaries—the barbed wire fences—that can protect our fortress. The fortress is our moral integrity.

If one of these boundaries is breached, the next boundary is in jeopardy. Modesty in thought, word, dress and action is the final guard against a moral breakdown.

This is the fortress that protects the love of our spouse and family, even love of self. It is so important to protect this fortress. In fact, I can hardly think of anything more important for our long-term peace and happiness.

We can keep our boundaries strong and secure only through faith and obedience. If we get schmaltzy about our personal standards, the commandments are next to go. If we break any of the commandments and fail to repent in a timely way, the spiritual strength to be modest is weakened. Immodesty is the gateway sin that threatens our fortress walls.

When we lose our moral integrity, it takes a great deal of time and effort to recover our balance and to rebuild our walls, but it most certainly can be done.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Happy Are Ye If Ye Do Them

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I gave a presentation on October 31 based on a theme from a verse in the New Testament:
"If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them." —John 13:17
Here are the slides (used only as an outline):
Here are some of the highlights.

Respect and Trust

I first talked about how to find the love that lasts. Without a foundation of respect and trust, love cannot grow. That respect does not require that two parties are always in agreement, but it does require patience, kindness and boundaries. Trust in relationships is impossible without respect.
"It is better to be trusted than to be loved." —David O. McKay
Lasting, romantic love is impossible without the foundation of respect and trust. Respect honors sacred boundaries, both before and after marriage, and respect is always affirming and validating. It always builds up. Anything that drags another down is not of God.
"And that which doth not edify is not of God, and is darkness." —D&C 50:23

The Fortress that Protects Love

Then we talked about the fortress that protects love: Chastity—moral integrity—is the fortress that protects love—love of God, love of others and of self. Too often, our first impulse is to pleasure, not purity, but keeping the law of chastity is critically important to the stability of all our relationships.

Chastity is first secured within the boundaries of thought and intent. Inappropriate images, real or virtual, most often tempt men, and inappropriate words, spoken or written, most often tempt women.

High personal standards protect us from temptation, and those standards also encourage us to keep the commandments. Keeping the commandments, as well as modesty in thought, word, action and dress, protects love and chastity.


At our last general conference, President Dieter F. Uchtdorf said of pride:
"Pride is a deadly cancer. It is a gateway sin."
The night of sin is always preceded by the dusk of pride. Pride is the fruit of disdain—disdain for others and for God. Pride also is self-deception and the first treason against self. Gratitude, however, is the solvent that dissolves pride. You cannot feel grateful without also feeling humble. Humility opens the door that pride closes.

Guilt Is a Gift

A few words on guilt. Guilt often triggers pride because it can provoke us to blame others for our troubles and to blame our behavior on others. Guilt really offers us two choices: we can blame others as a result of it or take personal responsibility for what we do. I feel that guilt is a call to positive action, a call to positive change.

The Two Paths of Communication

We have a choice between two paths in our communication. Those paths start with either self-awareness and self-betrayal. What path are you on in your communication? Here is a diagram showing the two paths:
Getting our needs met is very important. President Spencer W. Kimball said:
"Jesus saw sin as wrong but also was able to see sin as springing from deep and unmet needs on the part of the sinner."
Nothing really speaks louder to a person than his or her unmet needs. Unmet needs speak louder than laws, rules, commandments, those who love us, the appeal of reason or common sense. We each must patiently discover how to meet those genuine needs, either for others and for ourselves.

Being Oneself

Children bring us joy just by being themselves! The Savior said of little children: 
"Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven." —Matthew 18:4
I like what Paul said about being like children in not holding malice.
"Be not children in understanding: howbeit in malice be ye children, but in understanding be men." —1 Corinthians 14:20
Kierkegaard taught that sin is despair, and despair, in essence, is not being willing to one's true self.
We cannot be completely at peace without being in some ways like like little children, our true selves.


With regard to testimony, we need to realize that doubt is the servant of neglect and a growing testimony is always the fruit of faith in action. We need to seek testimony with all our hearts:
"And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart." -Jeremiah 29:13
Overcoming Personal Drought

All of us to some degree are suffering from a personal drought of some sort. We know what to do to overcome our trials, but don't always know how to do it! Observing our devotions to God with real intent makes all the difference. Elder Yoshihiko Kikuchi offered this counsel to the Carey Idaho Stake (Ensign, May 2007).
  1. Faithfully pay an honest tithe, both young and old.
  2. Humbly hold regular individual and family prayers.
  3. Devotedly have daily personal and family scripture study.
  4. Thankfully keep the Sabbath day holy.
  5. Gratefully go to the temple often, there offering thanksgiving.
  6. Willingly sustain and follow...leaders.
  7. Hold a...fast, including everyone ...who would like to participate.
In addition, Elder Hartman Rector, Jr. offered the Master's great success formula (Ensign, May 1979).
  • First, believe you can do it.
  • Second, look to the Lord for your blessings.
  • Third, make the sacrifice.
  • Fourth, expect a miracle.
  • And fifth, receive the miracle with great humility.
In conclusion:
  • Respect, trust, and love one another.
  • Overcome pride through gratitude and humility.
  • Guilt is a gift to help us overcome sin and weakness.
  • Follow the path to peace in all your communication.
  • Be your true, best self.
  • Strengthen your testimony by putting your faith into action.
  • Overcome personal drought by yielding your heart to God.
"If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them." —John 13:17
God bless you all!