Friday, February 25, 2011

When You Feel Like Giving Up

Over a year ago, a friend gave my wife a Christmas cactus. It sat on our kitchen counter for many months. Though my wife has taken good care of it since then, it never bloomed. There were no blossoms. It was just a verdant blob.

Then two months ago, on Christmas Eve, she was cleaning up in the kitchen, trying to make space on the counter. She decided to throw the Christmas cactus away because it had not produced a single bloom in twelve months. She pushed it across the counter top towards the garbage can.

Just as she was about to throw the plant away, she noticed something. It had an extraordinary blossom on it like the one pictured here. The bloom stopped her in her tracks. She did not throw the plant away and it now has a special place in our living room.

When you are just about to give up and throw in the towel, have you noticed that that is the time when something wonderful can happen. When you have been watching and caring for something patiently, sometimes that is when something amazing happens—like a flower blooming in winter—if we don't give up too soon and throw our dream out.

At last count, the Christmas cactus has nine more buds ready to bloom. We're keeping it.

As I wrote this, I thought of a verse from the 32nd chapter of Alma:
But if ye will nourish the word, yea, nourish the tree as it beginneth to grow, by your faith with great diligence, and with patience, looking forward to the fruit thereof, it shall take root; and behold it shall be a tree springing up unto everlasting life. (Verse 41.)
If there is something you want, something you long for, and it is a good thing, like a loved one returning to worthiness and faithfulness or overcoming a bad habit or outlasting a trial, it takes patience to reap the reward, it takes the kind of faith that holds on under all circumstances with a smile on its face.

There were times that I thought all was lost, when things look bleak and hopeless, and then I turned around and saw a bloom in an unexpected place. I think the Lord likes to surprise us with unexpected blessings—especially when we strive to keep a good attitude, in spite of difficulties, setbacks, sorrow, suffering, deprivation or pain.

Then there are the other stories. You've seen them and heard them and lived them. Stories of giving up too early, then finding out that someone, maybe it was you, gave up just before the flower bloomed.

There is that dark underside. Sometimes people desire something unworthy over a long period and they get that, too. But such fruit, such a vision, always yields a bitter taste, though we may for a time claim otherwise. The Lord will grant our wishes eventually, whether those wishes are good or ill. It's part of agency. Our job is to make sure our wishes, desires and longings are looking through the right lens.

Worry is like that, too. It is like a longing, a prayer for what you don't want. And, as I heard Dr. Phil say once, "We create what we fear." Our thoughts can create what we don't want. Worry is a hungry wolf, trying to get inside the house of your dreams. Worry always shows us where our faith is absent and where we need to get to work. On the positive side, you can think of worry as a placeholder for your faith.

So whoever you are, wherever you are, if you are hanging on for something good to happen, keep hanging on. It will be worth it. If it is a pure desire, though the season be long, it will yield delicious fruit. It may take years. It may take a lifetime. But if it is a worthy desire, curbed by unselfishness, it will come to your doorstep at an unexpected hour. "Then...ye shall reap the rewards of your faith, and your diligence, and patience, and long-suffering, waiting for the tree to bring forth fruit unto you." (Alma 32:43.)

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Three Months after Being Released

It's been almost three months since I was released as bishop. I wanted to tell you how things are going. They are different than I expected.

One of the great blessings that has come my way is my new job. I am now working full-time on contract for the Church on a large and challenging project. The project is very rewarding. I am able to use many of the technical skills I have learned over the last 10 or 15 years in this job. I have never had a job where all these skills have come together in concert. I have also never had a job where the spirit of revelation has been so strong, where the potential of the work has the possibility of blessing so many lives. This job has also been a financial blessing as well.

I have been writing a lot more, too. I wrote several drafts of Young Adult novel last year, and I am now completing the third draft. I take the bus to and from Salt Lake every work day and this allows me to get a lot of writing done—over 50 pages per week the last two weeks. (It also lets me get in some good naps, one of my favorite things!) I have been able to work on my novel every day since January 1, except Sundays. I should be done with this draft at the end of the month. I have a couple readers lined up to review it. I wrote a novel about 20 years ago. I think of that one as my practice novel. I feel a lot more confident in this one. I am having great fun with it.

I also love my new calling in Primary. I teach a Valiant 9 class. Those kids and my companion teacher are such a blessing to me. I really look forward to being with them on Sundays. They are so darling. And they know so much about the Church. Their parents are doing a great job bringing them up in the light of the gospel, and that fills me with great hope.

My health is also improving. I tested my blood pressure the other day and it has gone down about 30 points from its peak. I am not kidding. I won't go into the details, but I think my cortisol levels are much lower. I used to be the Cortisol Kid. Now life is rather, um, relaxing.

For example, I now get about one phone call a week on our home phone. When I was bishop, I used to sometimes get 20 calls a week. Also, I used to get about 20 to 30 emails a day, now I get an average of, maybe, less than five.

It seems like from the moment I was released, the intense trials that I had been entertaining for years were lifted. Most of the bishops I have known have been blessed both temporally and spiritually while they were bishops. Those blessings seemed to have been reserved for me until after I was released.

We all have trials of faith, no matter our station in life. Even if we don't have a lot of faith, that faith will be tested so it can grow. At the gym they call it resistance training. I experienced a lot of resistance while I was a bishop.

Our Heavenly Father is very economical. He doesn't waste any experience. He can turn any experience into a learning experience, unless we are too proud to let Him do that. Even then, even when we are proud or stubborn, we manage to learn, but the lessons come a little harder.

Trials are rewarding. It takes time to collect those rewards, but they are the pathway to learning and growth. I don't think there is any other way to learn the things we must learn on this earth. We all need spiritual resistance training. But if you are like me, you will appreciate your trials more after you are done with them. I look back on my years as bishop and call them the "best five years of my life." The trials were intense, but there were always spiritual blessings to match the temporal hardships.

There are some things I really miss about being bishop. The thing I miss the most is the connection I had with people in the ward. That is the thing I enjoyed the most—working with them and watching them work through their struggles and grow miraculously. A thing I thought would stop when I was released was the amount of time I thought about people, but I have found that I still continue to think about and pray for ward members everyday. I don't have a strong connection with them any longer, but I still care for them. A lot. I am also grateful that they are in such good hands—our new bishop is doing a wonderful job.   


Every day after work, I walk right by the Salt Lake Temple on my way to the bus stop. When I look up at it, I am filled with awe and gratitude. I often see brides and grooms on Temple Square, too, and this always lifts my spirits. I am deeply grateful for my time as bishop, but I am also very grateful for a time of rest.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Healing the Couple

A few years ago, I gave a presentation on intimacy in marriage to our ward. After the presentation, we gave a copy of the book And They Were Not Ashamed to every adult couple or single adult in the ward. This book, one of the best I have found on the subject of intimacy from an LDS perspective, was written by Laura Brotherson.

Some people thought I was crazy for doing this. Others were taken aback that I would suggest that one of the keys to happiness in marriage is getting intimacy right. But something I said then was that if you heal the couple, you heal the family. I still of course believe this.

A few would have nothing to do with the book. I think it brought up a lot of fear for them, and it was easier to just set it aside and bury it along with their feelings. Still others complained, as one visitor who asked a ward member, "Is that all your bishop talks about?"

To me, the negative responses didn't matter. I knew I had been clearly prompted to step out of my comfort zone—way out!—and present this book to the ward. I have learned this lesson the hard way: When the Lord inspires you to do something, ACT and act quickly or you will regret it. I have never for a moment regretted sharing this book.

(By the way, I have never received any compensation for promoting this book, and there are no affiliate links in this post.)

For most of those who were there that day, the book answered a keen need. Many ward members, especially women, expressed gratitude to me for sharing the book. It created a touchstone that had been missing. It helped couples talk about tender subjects. One husband told me that his wife went home after Church and read the entire book that day and then wanted to talk to him about it when she was done, at about 10 o'clock that night!

As a bishop, I never counseled anyone directly about their intimate relationships, only to seek the help that they needed from a qualified counselor or other worthy resources. However, one bit of general advice that I have shared with many people is that it is good to talk openly with your spouse about your personal feelings about everything, especially intimacy. It is sad to me that some couples don't feel comfortable talking about this subject. That is understandable, but it a barrier that needs to be crossed if you want to truly be one with your spouse as God intended you to be.

I admire the way Laura straightforwardly addresses a delicate topic and I love the way she documents what she has written with quotes from the scriptures, Church leaders and other Christian authors. If you are married and you don't have this book, I encourage you to get it (or the CDs—we have both). The book is both enlightening and encouraging. If you are looking for answers about your intimate relations, this book has answers. I endorse it without reservation.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

How I Handle Regret

We've been moving some of our things over the last few weeks, and I found a scrapbook from 2003. In the scrapbook was a copy of the first talk I gave in the ward we live in now. I gave it on Sunday, October 12, 2003. We had only been in the ward for two months. My topic was reverence.

In that talk, I told of one of my regrets. I was a student at Ricks College in Rexburg, Idaho, now Brigham Young University-Idaho. We had been married only a few years and we had a new baby. One Sunday at priesthood meeting (our ward met in the John L. Clarke Building), a sign-up sheet was passed around on a clipboard. The sign-up was for those who wanted to sing in a men's choir to perform at the upcoming priesthood session of the Semiannual General Conference of the Church in the Tabernacle. I held the list in my hands for a few moments and then passed it on, saying to myself that I was too busy to do it. I really wasn't too busy, but that was the dumb little story I told myself at that moment.

A few months later, I attended the priesthood session of conference in the Hart Building where it was broadcast live via satellite to a large screen. When I saw the men's chorus from Ricks singing in the Tabernacle, I was filled with regret.

I realized then that I could have been there in the Tabernacle on that Saturday evening. I knew then that I did have time to sing in that choir, and it stung my heart.

That was many years ago. An opportunity like that has never come my way again. It still hurts. What could have been hurts. I wish I had chosen differently. Some opportunities only come once in your life. This was one of them.

When I hear people say, "No regrets," I always doubt it. The phrase just doesn't line up with reality for me. We all have regrets. I have many of them. I am sure you do, too. It is part of mortality. We all have made decisions that we would go back and change if we could put life on rewind. But that's not how things work.

I can honestly say that, while I have my share of regrets, they don't bother me very much anymore. In the past they did, but now they don't. Why? Because I apply two principles to those regrets. Two eternal principles. Eternal principles, properly applied, always work to bring peace and relief. Always. Those two principles of which I speak are forgiveness and faith.

When I was a bishop, I learned by observation and personal experience that it is very important—no, critically important—to forgive yourself as soon as possible for the mistakes you make, whether those mistakes result from sin or from human weakness and frailty.

(Mistakes made as a result of human weakness but which are are not sins still can hurt a lot. They need correction, not repentance. But in this post, I am classing repentance and correction under the term repentance.)

Forgiveness of self implies repentance. Forgiving yourself doesn't work very well if you refuse to repent or you just repent a little bit. Not repenting is the fruit of pride. People who "forgive" themselves without repentance are just pardoning themselves. It won't have the same effect as forgiveness. It won't bring peace.

I have found that the people who fully repent of their sins have a much easier time forgiving themselves and others. Withholding forgiveness is the clearest sign that you have some things to resolve within yourself.

So I completely forgive myself for my sins, my mistakes, my oversights, my forgetfulness. I forgive myself for not signing up for that chance to sing in the Tabernacle. I may never have the chance again to sing at general priesthood meeting, but I can accept my mistake as a valuable learning experience. An unforgettable one.

I think that is one of the reasons Heavenly Father placed us on this world: To learn from our mistakes the unforgettable lessons that will guide and protect us throughout the rest of our lives and eternity.

Pain is a great teacher. Pain is our friend. It is not friendly, but it is our friend.

The second principle I apply is faith. To illustrate this, I will share a quote from the Prophet Joseph Smith:
All your losses will be made up to you in the resurrection, provided you continue faithful. By the vision of the Almighty I have seen it (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 296).
I take great comfort in these words and I have faith that they are true. If we continue faithful, the Lord will make up our earthly losses. All our losses, our sorrows, all our "what might have beens," will somehow be made up. I think those include our regrets, provided that we properly repent of what caused them.

Some of our losses can be made up in this life. I have had that happen. When God blesses you in this way, it swallows up the regret and sorrow of past experience, but such blessings often don't come quickly. Patience is a form of faith.

So now here is the rest of the story.

In 2007, my daughter sang in the Saturday afternoon session of the October general conference in a Young Women choir from the Springville-Mapleton area in Utah. When the opportunity arose, you can imagine that I encouraged her with great energy to not miss the chance to sing in the Conference Center. It was part of my repentance process.

I was able to be in that session of conference, to watch her sing along with many other young women that I knew. It helped greatly to salve an old wound.

I have resolved my regrets. I still remember their sting. The pain taught me a lot. If I am inclined to stew over past choices, I apply the principles of forgiveness and faith, the forgiveness of self that also require repentance, and the faith to look forward to the resurrection where God will make up all our losses.