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Friday, December 31, 2010

My Goal Binder

We in the Fitzgerald family are about to bid 2010 farewell. It snowed this afternoon in Mapleton, and it's cold outside—12 degrees. We are holed up in our snug basement. We are playing Wii Fit and eating regrettable foods. Well, I am doing more watching than playing.

I've been thinking about my goals for the coming year for some weeks. I am taking a little different approach this year. I am not attempting perfection, only improvement.

I'll take improvement—or even a little improvement—over perfection now. I have not always been able to look at things this way. Now I am not as frustrated with myself as I was when I was in my 20s, or 30s. Or even my 40s.

The French Enlightenment writer Voltaire once wrote: Le mieux est l'ennemi du bien. In English, "The best [or perfect] is the enemy of the good."

Have you ever noticed that your dissatisfaction with your own imperfection discourages you? Sometimes it can immobilize you. And keep you from doing a lot of good.

That used to be me.

Now I realize that I mustn't let my worries about my mistakes and imperfections slow me down. I just acknowledge my mistake as soon as I can, leave it on the trail, and keep pulling my cart to Zion. Now the goal is more important than what happens on the journey.

Those mistakes are too heavy to carry. I recognize them but I leave them behind and think about my next step forward.

A few months ago, I got this idea to put the best ideas and thoughts I could find in a binder, in sheet protectors. I look at these quotes every day (almost). And think about the words. They are powerful to me. They resonate with me and remind me to keep moving. Embedded in those quotes are my goals.

Let me share a few of these quotes. Here is one of my favorite verses in the New Testament.
Jesus said unto him, If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth. —Mark 9:23
All things are possible. That is an amazing way to think about our world. Do you believe it? I do, about 90 percent of the time. I am working on the other 10 percent.
You are your only limitation. —Jacob Blaney
Jacob is a wise young man. I totally believe what he said. When he shared this quote with me, I felt it in my spine.

I think I only have one problem in this world, one opponent. It's me.

(Psst. You have the same problem.)

The nice thing is that, if you are the problem, you can also be the solution. Isn't that great to know? You need help, though. Help from your spouse, your friends, your bishop, your Heavenly Father. Especially Him.

Here is one last quote from my binder:
My feelings give testimony of my thoughts, and those thoughts are testimony of my beliefs. My beliefs are testimony of what is in my heart—my desires and intent. My life, and all that I have or will experience, are a realization of these feelings, thoughts and beliefs, all testimony of what is at the core of my being.
My goals are simple this year. They are built around simple themes like health and writing and web traffic and more consistent income. Facing all my fears and replacing them with faith, reason and action.

They are all doable, but I will have to leave a lot of personal effects on the trail to Zion if I expect to make it there.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

New Year's: Look Not behind Thee

I think it's time to leave the past behind and start thinking about what's before us in the coming year.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Reasons Why Your Husband or Son Use Pornography, Part 4

In answer to a recent comment on an earlier post, I do believe that a wife can contribute to her husband's feelings of low self-esteem, more so than any other person. Very much so. And I do believe that her disdain or coldness towards her husband can open a door to temptation for him. However, there is a fundamental principle here that we cannot set aside. As Thomas S. Monson said at our last conference: "If we make the wrong choice, we have no one to blame but ourselves."

To me this means that, even though we may blame our bad choices on others, no one is responsible for our choices except ourselves. Blaming others for our choices is a classic self-deception. In fact, when we nurture a blaming attitude, it opens us up to temptation and sin and is often the fuel behind bad choices. It is subtle, but it is real.

Most youth, for example, get caught up in a web of blame, usually of their parents, before they get caught in the web of sin. Blame of others is the doorway to rationalization of sin. The truth is, as Pres. Monson said, we cannot lay the responsibility for our choices at any other door but our own. When we rationalize that someone else has hurt us or ignored us or whatever, and then we sin as a result, we have allowed ourselves to be deceived.

We can't blame another unless we first judge them. And we can't judge them unless we disdain them. And we won't disdain them unless we have first been blinded by pride. And we cannot be blinded by pride without first accepting a falsehood as true, without willfully taking pleasure in sin of some sort.

When pride is present, the Spirit is absent. And the Spirit will be absent only if we set aside faith and the truth in favor of some sort of self-deception or illicit gratification, which may be as simple as being defensive, telling a lie, however innocent, or intentionally misleading another to protect our egos.

This is the chain that I see most often leading up to the rationalization of sin. If you recognize the start of the chain, you will be more likely to avoid reaching the end of it.

If you choose to indulge in pornography because you blame another for mistreating you, you have allowed Satan to deceive you.

The first step to recovery, I believe, is looking at ourselves straight in the mirror and taking full responsibility for our actions.

But this does not mean that a wife does not need to repent of her poor behavior toward her husband. No. It just means that we cannot claim that such behaviors are or ever can be named as the cause of our sin.

New Testament Class Member Study Guide

As I mentioned yesterday in a post, we'll be studying the New Testament this year in Sunday School. Here is a link to the online version of the New Testament Class Member Study Guide. The nice thing about the online version of this guide is that you can click on references to passages of scripture and read them on the spot.

We have wireless Internet at our Church. You can read scriptures online, for example, or install them locally on your electronic device. Some people bring their iPads and other devices to Church and can look at the scriptures (and this study guide) right during class on them. It's kind of cool. 

I think it is an exciting development that we have so many electronic resources from the Church, literally at our fingertips. But I am still a little on the old-fashioned side and like bringing my scriptures to Church. You know, the kind printed on actual paper. With leather bindings. I am just that way, you know.

Sometimes I think electronica can be deliriously distracting, especially to our youth. For example, one might appear to be looking up a verse from Isaiah on her smart phone, but what she is actually doing is texting her friend across the room. It's the modern version of passing notes in class, only sneakier!

But, well, er, if I save money and get an iPad, don't be surprised if I lay aside my old-fashioned ways and tote something shiny and new to Church.

Have a blessed day. 

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

"The Wintry Day, Descending to Its Close" by Orson F. Whitney

Last Sunday, two sons and their father sang "The Wintry Day, Descending to Its Close" during our sacrament meeting. They were accompanied by their mother on the piano and a cousin who played an obligato on the flute.

The lyrics were written by Orson F. Whitney with music by Edward P. Kimball. Elder Whitney was an apostle of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from 1906 until his death 1931 at the age of 75. Brother Kimball was an organist for the Tabernacle Choir for many years

The song has sunk deep into my heart. I keep thinking of the words again and again, and the tune runs through my mind like an unforgettable voice from the past.

Here are the words, if you would like to read them:

The wintry day, descending to its close,
Invites all wearied nature to repose,
And shades of night are falling dense and fast
Like sable curtains closing o'er the past.
Pale through the gloom the newly fallen snow
Wraps in a shroud the silent earth below
As though 'twere mercy's hand had spread the pall,
A symbol of forgiveness unto all.

I cannot go to rest but linger still
In meditation at my window sill,
While, like the twinkling stars in heaven's dome,
Come one by one sweet memories of home.
And wouldst thou ask me where my fancy roves
To reproduce the happy scenes it loves?
Where hope and memory together dwell
And paint the pictured beauties that I tell?

Away beyond the prairies of the West
Where exiled Saints in solitude were blest;
Where industry the seal of wealth has set
Amid the peaceful vales of Deseret,
Unheeding still the fiercest blasts that blow,
With tops encrusted by eternal snow,
The towering peaks that shield the tender sod,
Stand, types of freedom reared by nature's God.

The wilderness, that naught before would yield,
Is now become a fertile, fruitful field.
Where roamed at will the savage Indian band,
The templed cities of the Saints now stand.
And sweet religion in its purity
Invites all men to its security.
This is my home, the spot I love so well,
Whose worth and beauty pen nor tongue can tell.

—Orson F. Whitney

Free Download of Jesus the Christ

Recently I discovered a free audio download for the James Talmage classic Jesus the Christ. With our study of the New Testament in Sunday School this year, this would be a great addition to your MP3 player.

To download individual chapters, click on this link. To download an MP3 from this page, right click on the name of the chapter you want to download, and then select Save Link As. Then choose the place on your computer, such as a the desktop or a folder, where you want to save the MP3

To download the entire book at once (zip file), click on this link.

Happy listening!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

One of my all-time favorite novels is Charles Dicken's A Christmas Carol. I have read this book many times. I just finished reading it again yesterday, Christmas afternoon.

Most of you are familiar with the story of the miserly, taciturn Ebeneezer Scrooge and his disdain for Christmas. He remains in his determined ardor until after an encounter with his business partner Jacob Marley, seven years dead, and the three spirits that haunt him into an ever clearer view of his life—the consequences of his choices and the destiny those choices might lead him to if he does not change his ways.

On our first Christmas after we were married, I received an edition of A Christmas Carol from my father that I have always loved. It is illustrated with photographs of richly detailed caricatures of scenes from the story. The caricatures were created by Peter Fluck and Roger Law

There is probably nothing I enjoy more in literature or on film than watching a person change for the better. This is a common theme. Little else touches our hearts more than seeing a grumpy curmudgeon transformed to a repentant, humble lighthearted soul.

Isn't that the hope of Christmas: The power to change for the better?

The first year I taught seminary, I struggled. I remember the last day we met that year—1984. It was just before the Christmas break. I was desperate. I wanted to get the kids' attention. I wanted to leave them on a happy, hopeful note.

It came to me what to do. That morning I read to them from the last chapter (Stave Five) of A Christmas Carol. I was amazed as the whole class sat quietly in rapt attention.

When Scrooge awakes after seeing his name carved on a headstone, he undergoes a "mighty change of heart" (Mosiah 5:2). He hoops and hollers and dances about his bedchamber. He knows he's been given another chance, and he is ebullient with gratitude and generosity.

He buys a prize turkey for the Cratchit's and sends it to them by cab. He walks the streets of London, greeting all warmly. He goes to church. He finally goes to dinner at the home of his nephew Fred, stunning incredulous inmates and guests.

The story ends the next morning when Scrooge plays a hearty joke on his clerk Bob Cratchit. I repeat it here:

"He was early at the office next morning. Oh, he was early there. If he could only be there first, and catch Bob Cratchit coming late! That was the thing he had set his heart upon. And he did it; yes, he did! The clock struck nine. No Bob. A quarter past. No Bob. He was full eighteen minutes and a half behind his time. Scrooge sat with his door wide open, that he might see him come into the Tank.

"His hat was off, before he opened the door; his comforter too. He was on his stool in a jiffy, driving away with his pen, as if he were trying to overtake nine o'clock.

"'Hallo!' growled Scrooge, in his accustomed voice, as near as he could feign it. 'What do you mean by coming here at this time of day?'

"'I am very sorry, sir,' said Bob. 'I am behind my time.'

"'You are!' repeated Scrooge. 'Yes. I think you are. Step this way, sir, if you please.'

"'It's only once a year, sir,' pleaded Bob, appearing from the Tank. 'It shall not be repeated. I was making rather merry yesterday, sir.'

"'Now, I'll tell you what, my friend,' said Scrooge, 'I am not going to stand this sort of thing any longer. And therefore,' he continued, leaping from his stool, and giving Bob such a dig in the waistcoat that he staggered back into the Tank again; 'and therefore I am about to raise your salary!'
"Bob trembled, and got a little nearer to the ruler. He had a momentary idea of knocking Scrooge down with it, holding him, and calling to the people in the court for help and a strait-waistcoat.

"'A merry Christmas, Bob!' said Scrooge, with an earnestness that could not be mistaken, as he clapped him on the back. 'A merrier Christmas, Bob, my good fellow, than I have given you for many a year! I'll raise your salary, and endeavour to assist your struggling family, and we will discuss your affairs this very afternoon, over a Christmas bowl of smoking bishop, Bob! Make up the fires, and buy another coal-scuttle before you dot another i, Bob Cratchit!'

"Scrooge was better than his word. He did it all, and infinitely more; and to Tiny Tim, who did not die, he was a second father. He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough, in the good old world...and it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge.

"May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God bless Us, Every One!"

So a Merry Christmas to all of you. I can keep it as well the day after Christmas, as well as Scrooge himself. God bless us all to do so, every one of us!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols from King's College Chapel, Cambridge 2010

Be part of a tradition dating back to 1918 and hear some beautiful music as well by tuning into "A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols" tomorrow morning (Christmas Eve, 2010).

It is broadcast over the BBC (American Public Radio) from the King's College Chapel, Cambridge University, Cambridge, England, and starts at 8:00 AM Mountain Standard Time. That's 3:00 PM (15:00) in Great Britain.

The broadcast originates from an ancient venue. Construction on the chapel, which is 50 miles north of London, began in AD 1446.

You can listen to the broadcast live on Classical 89 radio (FM 89.1 in Salt Lake County and 89.1/89.5 in Utah County) or you can listen to streaming audio over the Internet on the BBC Radio 4 or Classical 89.

Here is the order of the 90-minute service. The actual carols or hymns performed may vary somewhat from the program below. A new hymn—one has been commissioned annually since 1982—will be added to the program.  

A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols

Processional Hymn: "Once in Royal David's City"

Prayer
  • Carol: "If Ye Would Hear the Angels Sing"
First Lesson from Genesis 3:8–15, 17–19
  • Carol: "Remember, O Thou Man"
  • Carol: "Adam lay ybounden"
Second Lesson from Genesis 22:15–18
  • Carol: "Angels from the Realms of Glory"
  • Carol: "In Dulci Jubilo"
Third Lesson from Isaiah 9:2, 6–7
  • Carol: "Nowell Sing We Now All and Some"
  • Hymn: "Unto Us is Born a Son"
Fourth Lesson from Isaiah 11:1–3a, 4a, 6–9
  • Carol: "The Lamb"
  • Carol: "A Spotless Rose Is Blowing"
Fifth Lesson from the Gospel of Luke 1:26–35, 38
  • Carol: "I Sing of a Maiden"
  • Carol: "The Night when She First Gave Birth" ("Mary")
Sixth Lesson from Luke 2:1,  3–7
  • Carol: "Sweet Baby, Sleep! What Ails My Dear?" ("Wither's Rocking Hymn)"
  • Carol: "What Sweeter Music Can We Bring"
Seventh Lesson from Luke 2:8–16
  • Carol: "Infant Holy, Infant Lowly"
  • Hymn: "God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen"
Eighth Lesson from the Gospel of Matthew 2:1–12
  • Carol: "Illuminare Jerusalem"
  • Carol: "Glory, Alleluia to the Christ Child"
Ninth Lesson from the Gospel of John 1: 1–14
  • Hymn: "O Come, All Ye Faithful" ("Adeste Fideles")
Blessing
  • Hymn: "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing"
Organ Voluntaries: "In Dulci Jubilo"

Organ Postlude

I love traditional English choir music and look forward to tuning in. I hope you enjoy the program as well.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

How My Wife Simplified Christmas

When our children were young, Christmas was always a big production. It was particularly exhausting for my wife who of course wanted everything to be just right and bore most of the burden. And it was exhausting for me to try to keep up with my wife.

Gifts were troublesome because you had to make everything equal, you know. You can't give the kids the impression that you are favoring one of them, so you have to be careful to weigh and measure all gifts for one child against all gifts for another. And there was that I-need-to-get-one-more-thing problem that would send Cristi or I out late at night in the days leading up to Christmas day.

On Christmas morning, we would just want to sleep in. We were so pooped! I can tell you that my wife deserved to sleep in more than I did.

We communicate better now than we did in the early years of our marriage, and that makes things go a lot better, but there was an idea my wife had that has made all the difference during Christmas time. She had this idea 10 or 15 years ago, and it made a very positive impact on an otherwise stressful season.

This was her idea. In addition to a Christmas stocking, each member of the family would receive four gifts and four gifts only, and each gift would fall into a given category:
  • Something to wear
  • Something to read
  • Something to do
  • Something from Santa

This was such a simple plan that even I could wrap my head around it.

Having these four categories has really helped us over the years in planning what gifts we were going to buy and in making the actual purchases.

The fun part is that, well, Santa will be Santa. You never know what he will do. Sometimes he will throw in a surprise gift for the whole family. So Santa is our release valve, our wildcard. I have never actually met Santa, but I know he is a pretty creative, thoughtful and generous person.

I think Cristi's idea was inspired. It has blessed many Christmases in our home, and it has helped our marriage, too. It was the one the thing that popped our Christmas balloon, so to speak, taking a lot of the pressure out of the holidays.

I am grateful to my wife for this wonderful gift she gave our family so many years ago.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Children's Letters to Santa Claus

We've collected a lot of Christmas books over the years. One that I really like is Children's Letters to Santa Claus, compiled by Bill Adler (published by Carol Publishing Group, 1993). This book is currently out of print, but you can still buy a copy (mostly used but a few new) on Amazon. I'd like to share some of my favorites.
Dear Santa, How many days do you have to be good? I have been good for 2 days and I will try again on Monday. I love you, Christina
Dear Santa Claus: How much do you make? Do you make more than the President? I hope so because you make more people happy than the President. Jane
Dear Santa, Can you get me a trip to the moon on the next space shuttle? I've never been anywhere except Salt Lake City. Your fan, Howard
Dear Santa Claus, I got an A on my report card. Please remember my A when you leave the presents. I hope I didn't get an A for nothing. Your best friend, Amy
Finally, here is my personal favorite:
Dear Santa Claus, My name is Robert. I am 6 years old. I want a rifle, a pistol, a machine gun, bullets, a hand grenade, dynamite, and tear gas. I am planning a surprise for my big brother. Your friend, Robert
I hope these letters help put the stress of the Holidays in perspective.

Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 20, 2010

My Work

I think some of you who know me may wonder, "What does that guy do for a living?"

I don't blame you for wondering. My career is quite non-traditional, and I have been told more than once, "Isn't it time you got a real job?"

My career as a writer—much to my father's astonishment—began in August 1983, just a few months after graduating from Brigham Young University with a degree in English. I have been an author, writer, editor and publisher ever since, with few deviations.

While I was an undergraduate at BYU, my father once asked about my college major over the phone. He said, "What are you going to do with that?" I told him I was going to get a job as a writer. He said I couldn't get a job as a writer, in an exasperated tone of voice. It was discouraging to hear my father say that.

It is hard when people close to you don't believe in you. But I followed my heart. And proved him wrong.

Since my late teens, I have had a intractable desire to write. It has followed me like a hungry child. It won't ever leave me alone. It keeps pulling on my coat sleeve. I have never been able to ignore it. It is one of those things that never grows old. I never get tired of it.

I began working as a freelance writer in 1987 and I have worked freelance most of the time since then. Much of my work has been technical, and most of the time, I have worked at home. Yes, I have had several full-time jobs in the last 23 years, but I have worked freelance the majority of my career.

This has worked well at times. Sometimes very well. At other times, I am loath to admit, it has not worked well for me or my family. The last five years—well, especially the last three—have not been a glowing success career-wise. I am not proud of this. In fact, it has been quite humbling.

I'll not recount the harrowing details here, but let me just say they have been the worst years of my career. One ward member used to call me "Bishop Job," as in the man of misfortune in the Old Testament.

I don't fully understand how and why things went as poorly as they did these past few years, but I take complete responsibility for everything that happened or did not happen. I don't blame anyone or anything but myself for our misfortunes, but it sure felt like gale-force opposition to me.

A few months ago, when I was still bishop, our stake president said to me in an interview, "As soon as you are released, these troubles will go away."

I was released on Sunday, November 21st. On Wednesday the 24th, I was interviewed for a new contract. It was one of the best job interviews I have ever had. For every question they asked, I had an answer. For example, when they told me about one technology they use, I was able to tell them that I was a member of the technical committee that developed the technology.

I was offered the job (a one year contract), and started a week ago today. It is about as close a match with my skills as any job I have ever had. Even though it is a contract, they guarantee 40 hours per week and they offer full benefits.

I still have work for other clients that I have to finish up or continue. I have about a two and a half hour commute to and from work. I will be under some stress for a time, and I am feeling a bit overwhelmed. But in spite of that, I am very, very grateful for this blessing. I deeply appreciate the prayers of my family and thoughtful friends that have brought me to where I am now. It is a miracle to me, especially given the trials my family and I have faced over the last few years.

I am still marveling over our stake president's prophetic insight. I am not sure he even realizes the significance of what he said.

Two weeks after I was released, he invited my wife and I in for an interview. He did not issue a new calling, but gave me an assignment, asking me to fulfill it over the next year. The assignment was (1) to recover my health; (2) to recover financially; and (3) to hold a Sunday-only calling so that I could pursue the first two challenges.

I'll try to keep you informed about how it goes over the next year.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

When You Feel Out of Your Comfort Zone

We all have our comfort zones. I know exactly the height and width and depth of mine, and I am sure you know yours. But if you are like me, though, the dimensions of that comfort zone seem to keep expanding.

When we're asked to step out of our cozy homes, and we do so willingly, that boundary widens. It's not always easy to step over that boundary and into unknown territory. When we refuse to step out of that zone, however, the perimeter seems to shrink around us.

There are certain lines I've had to cross, to step over an old boundary and into new territory. You've probably crossed those lines, too. Here are some of mine.

Telling my father I went to a Mormon sacrament meeting and that I planned to join the Church.

Stepping onto the back of an unbroken horse.

Being baptized without my parents support.

Going on a mission a year later. Walking through the doors of the Mission Home in Salt Lake, alone.

The first day at a new job (like yesterday!) or the first day at a new school.

Accepting a new calling that scared me out of my wits. (That would be most callings I have had.)

Making a phone call to a complete stranger and asking for something.

Getting released from a calling that I loved. (That just happened to me.)

Every time I step outside of my comfort zone, my stress level always goes up, but I also grow. That's the way it works. My self-confidence is tested, but I always manage to withstand the test. Things look hard at first, but over time, they get easier. 

There is a veil of self-doubt that separates us from our potential.

When I read this in the December Ensign today, a quote from a disabled young woman, I knew I had to include it.
Participating in classes and activities...has pushed me out of my comfort zone.... The gospel is designed to help us become stronger people no matter what our circumstances are. (Ensign, Dec. 2010, 40.)
That is what it's all about: Growing stronger.

Strength comes from meeting resistance, from challenging it. Often, the greatest resistance is within ourselves, not outside ourselves. When we meet that resistance with faith, we gain strength; when we meet it with doubt, we go weak.

In closing, I would like to share a few promises to those of us who have been asked to leave our comfort zones. First, a verse from early in the Book of Mormon:
And it came to pass that I, Nephi, said unto my father: I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded, for I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them. (1 Nephi 3:7.)
Nephi's faith went way beyond his own tested ability. It went beyond his physical sight. He had willingness and determination and he was therefore able to do all the Lord asked him to do.

And finally, a verse from the last chapter of Moroni:
And Christ truly said unto our fathers: If ye have faith ye can do all things which are expedient unto me. (Moroni 10:23.)
If you have faith, you can do anything that is necessary for you to do. Anything. I believe that. I completely believe that.

I believe in you, too. You have strength and wisdom beyond what you imagine you have. Your faith has and will always carry you to new heights. I trust you. The Lord trusts you. He never lets you down. He may test you and even surprise you, but He will never let you down. We are the ones who let ourselves down, not Him.

If we trust Him, He will strengthen our muscles, enlighten our minds, warm our hearts, and lift us higher and higher and higher. That is his purpose. That is how He operates. He has a central purpose. It is to help you become who you really are, all that you really are.

His help is a prayer away. All it takes is a prayer and a step forward. Another prayer and another step forward.

You can do it.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Reasons Why Your Husband or Son Use Pornography, Part 3

I appreciate all the comments I have received in response to one of the earlier posts I wrote on this topic. I'd like to add a few more comments of my own.

While I have not personally experienced an addiction, I think you should know that I am a descendant of a long line of addicts. I know of four alcoholics on my paternal side, the Irish/Scot side. I knew three of them personally. Watching their behavior, hearing them talk, and seeing their lives end early, has been a great lesson to me—and a deterrent, too.

Even if I were not a Latter-day Saint, I doubt I would drink alcohol because of what I saw as a child and teenager. It was awful. Those of you who have grown up in this environment know what I am talking about.  Consequently, alcohol does not present a temptation to me. It is revolting to me. I abhor it.

But I have to ask myself a question: If I chose to drink alcohol, even a small amount, what would be the effect on me? Given my ancestry, wouldn't you say I have a genetic predisposition for alcoholism? I think I stand a pretty good chance of acquiring an addiction, if I allowed myself to drink.

I was introduced to alcohol in my own home by my own father at a young age, before I was a Latter-day Saint. Fortunately, it never held an interest for me. I did not like it, even though it was a big part of my family culture and condoned by my parents.

Since those early teen years, I have made a personal commitment to never drink alcohol. I have made a covenant with God and myself to never do it. Under no circumstances. Therefore, I never worry about it becoming a problem in my life. It is not a temptation that I struggle with because I have completely shut it out of my life. With God's help, I know I can keep that commitment. In this there is safety and peace.

In spite of my determination, though, I don't rely on myself alone to keep my commitment. I must rely on a power much greater than my own to guide and protect me. 

I know of only one way you can avoid or overcome a serious addiction with tobacco, alcohol, drugs, or pornography: You have to completely and absolutely shut it out of your life. Every day, every thought, every word, and every action must present a barrier against it.

This may seem very difficult, but I know you can do it. How do I know?

If you are deep in an addiction right now, you may be saying to yourself, "I can't do that. That's impossible. You just don't understand."

That's what Satan wants you to think, but not the Savior. For example, Jesus once said:
If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth. (Mark 9:23.)
Likewise, the apostle Paul said:
I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me. (Philippians 4:13.)

If these scriptures are true, and I have a testimony that they are, then I must believe that with God nothing is impossible and that I can do all things through faith and reliance on Christ. This means that with God's help, you can overcome all temptations. This means that through Christ, you can overcome any addiction.
If in this life † we [only] have hope in Christ [and not faith], we are of all men most miserable. (1 Corinthians 15:19.)

It all starts and ends with faith in Christ, and this requires a broken heart and a contrite spirit, and a total offering of mind, body and spirit. This is what really works. This is what brings hope. This is the way to access the power we need to overcome the world and everything in it that could harm us.

But to access that power, we can't secretly delight in and pursue the pleasures of this world. You can't be double-minded; you can't do wrong and feel right.

Another thing you can't do is save yourself. I've seen people try to save themselves or even atone for themselves. It doesn't work. We can develop faith in a higher power than ourselves, on a wisdom greater than we possess, to find our way out of the captivity that binds us. Those who accept this gift in time go free, while those who don't will struggle and struggle. It is a complete surrender, a complete offering, that makes all the difference. When we hold something back, consciously or unconsciously, we fail to progress.

Sometimes we hold back without knowing what it is that we hold back. That's the thing I think that trips us up the most. The thing we most often hold back is our attachment to the pleasure our addiction brings, the pleasure that soothes our disappointments, fears, guilt, anxiety and other unresolved emotions. But when we try to salve our wounds in this way, we only deepen them. And the cycle continues.

One other thing that I have seen that holds addicts back from progressing is self-sabotage. It is a subtle thing, a disjoint between the conscious and the subconscious that leads to violent disharmony with oneself.

We must take complete responsibility for our thoughts, words and actions. We can't blame others for the problems those thoughts, words and actions cause. Satan cannot tempt and seduce you without your consent, and Christ cannot lift and save you without your permission, your willingness to accept Him. You hold the key, for yourself and yourself alone, to unlock the gate to heaven or hell. Christ will always beckon, while Satan taunts, but you have to turn the key in the lock yourself.

No one else can do it.

When you realize this, and stop laying your problems at the feet of your mother, your wife, your children, your boss, your dog, crazy Aunt Lily, your home teacher or your bishop, that is when you can start to break the fetters that seem to hold you back.

This is when you will start to gain the power you seek to move forward with your life.

Our Heavenly Father doesn't love anyone more than He loves you. He wants you to overcome all your troubles, including your addictions. His plan allows you to fail.

Never give up! Keep trying. I know it can be so discouraging, but remember that you stop progressing, not when you fail, but you when fail to try and keep trying.

Your efforts will be worth it. It is all worth it. You are worth it. God bless you.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Reasons Why Your Husband or Son Use Pornography, Part 2

In a previous post, I talked about four common patterns I saw when I was a bishop in the lives of men and boys that related to the use of pornography.
  1. Undermined masculinity
  2. Low self-esteem
  3. Boredom and curiosity
  4. Addictions not fully addressed
Another observation that I would like to share is that no one who came to me with a pornography issue ever blamed their problem on someone else or claimed that someone else caused them to start using it. They always took the responsibility on themselves which is why I think the majority of them were able to make progress in overcoming it.

Another thing I saw was a lot of fear and embarrassment. These men and boys were afraid of disrupting their closest relationships, and they were also embarrassed to talk about the deepest parts of themselves, which is easy to understand.

Fear and embarrassment are threshold guardians that can prevent us from finding real solutions to our problems and the peace that follows.

Often I would recommend counseling or some kind of therapy to help them dig deeper into the root of the problem, to get in touch with what was going on inside of them. Most would follow this counsel, but some would not, which was sad to me.

When we are afraid to face our deepest issues, those issues often persist and continue to harm us and others.

Sometimes even counseling wouldn't help immediately, which leads me to another observation. When we knowingly and willingly sin, going directly against the Word of God, it is much, much more difficult to overcome that sin than otherwise. Any rebellion against God bespeaks pride which is a barrier to change. Perhaps the biggest barrier to change.

We all need help in seeing what those issues are. If we are not willing to look down at our feet, we will continue to walk around in concrete shoes, wondering why it is so hard to move forward.

One of the reasons why pornography is such a serious problem is because, through persistent use, it makes it difficult for some men to form lasting, intimate relationships. And isn't that the bedrock purpose of the gospel, to love one another? Isn't the family anchored by a strong, committed couple the very best place for a testimony to grow? This must be one reason why our adversary would like this problem to be so widespread: it is a contaminant to marriage, family and strong relationships.

I can see why our modern prophets warn against it time and time again. It is a preoccupying counterfeit that separates couples and families, that isolates people, that ruins relationships.

Of all the things that helped the most, it was a tender, compassionate, understanding wife that seems to have the greatest positive effect on a man. That kind of support makes all the difference in the life of a man, just like being cherished and adored makes all the difference in the life of a woman.

The crisis that arises when pornography use is discovered more often than not brings a couple closer together, probably because it forces them to communicate on a deeper level and dig down to the foundation of their relationship. God can turn any trial into a blessing, if we will allow Him to do so.

If you are struggling with an addiction to pornography, or are close to someone who is, I encourage you to get help. Reach out to your bishop or minister for spiritual guidance. Seek counseling or some other form of therapy that you feel will help you. Right now you can visit the website Combating Pornography where you will find much useful information. Also, get involved in the Church's Addiction Recovery Program which is excellent.

I know pornography is a pervasive problem, but it can be overcome. It can be completely overcome, if you seek the Lord's help, and the help of others who love and care about you, with all your heart.

Once, early in His ministry, the Savior read from the book of Isaiah in a synagogue in Nazareth. These are the words He read:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord. (Luke 4:18,19.)
He is ready to heal our broken hearts, to deliver us from captivity, and to set us at liberty, but we must seek it with all our hearts. Anything less than complete commitment will not be enough to purchase for ourselves this liberty and the eternal relationships that are possible only through the atonement.

P.S. I have written one more post in this series. I invite you to read it.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Reasons Why Your Husband or Son Use Pornography

I am not an expert on the reasons why men and boys use pornography, but, while I was a bishop, I gained much insight while counseling with many who struggled with it. After five years of working with this issue on a regular basis—and, blessedly, seeing the vast majority gain control over it—I have seen some patterns emerge.

I know women use pornography as well, perhaps more commonly in written form, such as romance novels, rather than graphic, visual images, but while I was a bishop, no women came forward seeking help with this problem. This does not mean that the problem did not exist in our ward; it only means I have had no experience in counseling women in this area. So my observations today are limited to men, young and old.

I want to make one thing very clear at the outset. If you are a wife or mother of a man or boy who uses or has used pornography, I believe, under no circumstances, is it your fault. You are not responsible for that choice nor are you the cause of that choice.

Yes, you may have some bearing, some influence, for good or ill, on a husband or son, but you have not and cannot make the decision to view pornography for him. It is his choice, and he is responsible for it. God does not ask us to bear the burdens of another person's choices, though we often suffer the consequences of bad choices or reap the benefits of good choices of those who are closest to us.

Thomas S. Monson recently said:
If we make the wrong choice, we have no one to blame but ourselves. President Brigham Young once expressed this truth by relating it to himself. Said he: "If Brother Brigham shall take a wrong track, and be shut out of the Kingdom of heaven, no person will be to blame but Brother Brigham. I am the only being in heaven, earth, or hell, that can be blamed." He continued: "This will equally apply to every Latter-day Saint. Salvation is an individual operation."
Here are four patterns I saw in men or boys that contribute to the use of pornography. I'll warn you that my language may be a little bold or direct, but this is only for the sake of clarity. We must seek clarity in our communication if we want to be effective in it.

Pattern number one: Very commonly, if a man or boy's masculinity is undermined by an overbearing wife or mother, frustration over this can lead to the use of pornography. If she often shows him disrespect, is constantly negative or critical, or regularly implies that he is incompetent or stupid, or acts as a "helicopter mom" (overly involved in and controlling of his life, to the point of being invasive, as opposed to being supportive and nurturing), this can result in him being more vulnerable to the temptation to use pornography.

I never saw it as a one-sided problem, though. It always takes two to dance this dance. I see it as is evidence of weakness on his side. I don't blame you for feeling frustrated about his weaknesses. All I am saying is the two are connected in some way. But no matter how you are dealing with him, your behavior is not the cause. You are not the cause! It is always rooted in him.

I don't fully understand the psychology behind this kind of emotional strain, but I know it is real. For married men, pornography use under these circumstances has little to do with them having a normal or fulfilling sex life. Most of them do, in spite of the pornography (though pornography can affect their sexual performance). But they may use pornography to subtly express their anger and frustration over not being able to fulfill their natural sense of adventure, or as a result of how they perceive that they are viewed by the most important female in their life. It is complex, but, in my experience, this shows up again and again and again.

Now the man or boy of course has a responsibility to be bold (but not overbearing), to be self-confident (but not arrogant), and to stand on his own two feet, and to express his masculinity, but sometimes does not know how because he has not had proper role models or has been oppressed by an overpowering mother, usually one with impossible expectations.

Many women are very attracted to masculinity. They like it when a confident man steps in to take control of a situation that has gotten out of control, or when he steps forward to provide for, protect, defend or fight for her honor, even when it means defending her against her own children! Masculinity, when it is not taken to the aggressive or animal level, provides a sense of security for many women.

Some women take on masculine roles themselves, especially when they have had unreliable or untrustworthy male role models when they were young, but few of them really want to or like to. I know there are always exceptions to observations like these, but generally, you will find that the desire for a nobly masculine man in a woman's life is very common and very strong.

When those masculine qualities are missing or weak, when a man does not know how to be truly masculine, and his wife is constantly negative or deprecating about it, both lose out. When the masculinity she seeks is missing, and she gets down on him for it, this approach almost always backfires.

Sometimes when a boy or man is learning how to be masculine, he needs to be taught how. He needs support or help. He needs room to practice. He needs training, to be shown good role models. He needs patience and tutoring. An oppressed man is an unhappy man, and if he does not show his frustration over his oppression through pornography, he will often take up some other addiction to gain an illusion of power or control in his life. It is strange but true.

A second cause, closely tied to the first, is low self-esteem. If a boy or man has low self-worth, he can be tempted a little more readily than his more confident counterparts. Low self-confidence leads to a "who-cares-because-I'm-no-good attitude." If he lives in an environment where he cannot develop or express his talents, where he is not respected or trusted, where someone isn't there to believe in him or to root him on, feelings of low self-worth can occur and open the door to temptation.

A third reason is a combination of boredom and curiosity. This is a more common problem for boys than men. When boys are left to their own devices, spend long hours at home alone, with free access to the Internet, don't have a channel for their adventurous side, and whose parents are too nervous or shy to discuss sex openly and appropriately with them, curiosity can get the best of them.

Many boys and men are like emotional fire hoses. If they don't have a way to channel those emotions, those feelings can be destructive of their well-being. If properly channeled, those emotions can be protective and life-giving. Boys need help in this area. They need to be understood, have high (but not overwhelming) expectations, of themselves and by others, and they need outlets for their curiosity that won't corrupt, hinder or slow their emotional growth.

My final observation is around addiction. A sexual addiction, especially one that started at an early age, can be very difficult to overcome, especially when aspects of it are not fully addressed. It is like playing Whack-a-Mole at Chuck E. Cheese's. When you are dealing with an addiction, you may whack one aspect of it on the noggin, but then another one shows up in an unexpected spot, sometimes months later. You have to keep whacking until you have bonked them all. They are not going to go away by themselves. They need to be flushed or lured out, and then properly dealt with. It takes a thoroughgoing approach. A cursory or short-term approach will not work.

To recap, once again, I am not a professional counselor. I do not understand all the psychology that goes behind pornography use. But as a spiritual counselor, I saw several patterns emerge that have common application. The four most common patterns I saw were:
  1. Undermined masculinity
  2. Low self-esteem
  3. Boredom and curiosity
  4. Addictions not fully addressed
I would love to hear about your experiences and insights. Your comments could help another who is struggling with pornography or someone who loves one who uses it. And if you are a professional therapist, please add to these four patterns with your own observations. You can comment anonymously if you prefer.

As always, thank you for reading, and God bless you.

(I have followed up on this post with another post, which I also encourage you to read.)

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Kind Words and Cookies

A few days ago, a group of Activity Day girls brought over the most delicious no-bake cookies and the most darling notes of appreciation addressed to me, their former bishop. These notes (and the cookies) really made my day. I thought you would enjoy reading the sweet sentiments of these girls, all 10 or 11 years old. (Spelling and diction have been preserved.)
Thank you for being our Bishop. I will miss you.
Thank you Bishop Fitzgerald for being such a nice Bishop! Sincerely...I will miss you much!!!
Dear Bishop Fitzgerald, Thank you for being an awesome Bishop to me. I love you and thank you. Love....
Dear Bishop Fitzgerald, I think that there was no better man than you for that job. P.S. If you sniff the paper. It smells good.
Thank you so much for all your hard work you done. I loved you.
Dear Bishop Fizgerald, Thank you for being a good bishop. From... PS. Smell
Thank you SO much for all you've done! I hope you like not being a bishop. Thanks for your hard work. THANKS!
One of the leaders of these girls also brought me a plaque with a quote from Henry B. Eyring:
You need never be discouraged or afraid. The way through difficulties has always been prepared for you, and you will find it if you exercise faith.
I can't think of a word of counsel more welcome or more needed in my life than that.

So, to our wonderful 10 and 11 year old Activity Day girls and your thoughtful leaders, thank you for thinking of your old bishop who is now riding into the sunset on an unbroken horse.

I needed it!