Sunday, May 29, 2011

Three Ways to Conquer Doubt

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Most all of us experience doubts from time to time. Doubts in matters of faith, doubts about the future, doubts about others, doubts about ourselves. And then we worry about those doubts as well. We worry about whether it's okay to have doubts at all.

First off, I don't believe that doubts are sins. I have never found a scripture that calls doubt sin. It is a weakness, to be sure, and weaknesses can (but not always will) lead us to worse things. But doubts are not sins in and of themselves.

What is doubt, anyway? I have a more positive view of doubt than some. I believe doubt is a sign that we are missing information and experience. Therefore, doubt is opportunity. It is a signpost that tells us where our efforts should be concentrated. Unattended, doubt is a vacancy sign inviting dark thoughts and dark moods to take up residency.

Here are three ways I have taken that sign down and turned doubt into a positive experience.

1. Turn each doubt into a prayer and plea for help. Instead of standing on the wobbly legs of doubt, kneel. If you have concerns about doctrine or leaders or the faithfulness of friends or the choices of your spouse, take it to the Lord and trust Him to answer you. I am reminded here of a a verse I have always loved since first I read it when I was a teenager:
Look unto the Lord in every thought; doubt not, fear not. (D&C 6:36.)
This year, our bishop asked each member of our ward to memorize Proverbs 3:5–6.
Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct they paths.
Trusting the Lord in this way takes patience and perseverance, but I can promise you that He will help you find the answers you seek if you trust Him and look unto him in your doubts and fears.

2. Search out the information you are missing. I have found in my own experience that doubt grows when I fail to exercise my spiritual and intellectual muscles.

I remember many years ago finding a verse in the Doctrine and Covenants that I did not understand. It troubled me. A lot. But I didn't stop there. I studied the verse and its background and context. Then I took it to the Lord. Earnestly. And then I waited.

One day shortly after, I was mowing the grass in our backyard and wham! the answer came to me. I had perfect clarity on the meaning of the verse. I knew the Lord had answered my prayer by His Spirit. I trusted that He would answer me, and He did. It was an unforgettable moment.

Since that time, I have always trusted that the Lord would help me to understand anything I did not understand, and He always does. My understanding is never perfect, but the Lord is always there to help. True principles never fail. We may fail, but true principles never do.

Remember this promise from the Lord in Matthew 7:7–8?
Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.

As Peter said in his second epistle: "The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward" (2 Peter 3:9). The Lord is not slack in his promises, though sometimes we grow slack in our search for truth and then blame our lack of success on Him. If you want to climb out of the pit of doubt, you have to climb the right ladder, the ladder of trust, honest inquiry, and patience.

3. Trust no one to be your teacher nor your minister, except he be a man of God, walking in his ways and keeping his commandments. (See Mosiah 23:14.) When you are seeking answers to your questions or doubts, don't rely on people full of doubt, negativity or criticism to answer your questions for you. Don't seek out the Chevy report on Ford. Don't rely on weak, spiritually sick, unforgiving or unhappy people to lift your spirits or to clear your mind of doubt. By all means offer them help, if they are willing to accept it, but don't let them be your teacher in spiritual matters.

True teachers, men and women of Christ, will always bear the hallmark of the fruit of the Spirit:
The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law. (Galatians 5:22–23.)
When in doubt, search out the light and go towards it. Seek the path of peace. Those who prefer emotional turmoil or spiritual unsteadiness, who seem to want to plunge deeper into doubt than to rise above it, often use their misunderstandings to justify their secret behavior. Be kind and respectful to them, but don't follow them. "Let them alone: they be blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch." (Matthew 15:14.)

One other thing: the vacuum that willful transgression creates will be filled with doubt. This kind of doubt takes more time to overcome, but the same principles apply though it may require an extra dose of patience with yourself.

If doubts are pursuing you, turn around and face them with trust in God, faithful inquiry, and turning toward those who have the fruit of the Spirit to help you. If you do, I promise God will not fail to help you resolve all doubt and bring you to a clear day on the mountain top.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

One Piano, Two Guys, 100 Cello Tracks

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This video just came out yesterday. It's another collaboration between Jon Schmidt (piano) and Steven Sharp Nelson (cello). It's a little more upbeat than the last two music videos I posted. I hope you like it. I guess it's music week on my blog.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Eric Whitacre's 1,752 Voice Virtual Choir Perform "Sleep"

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Last month Eric Whitacre released another virtual choir video—1,752 voices from 58 countries—performing his composition "Sleep." Like the virtual choir that did "Lux Aurumque," this touched me deeply. I expect even more amazing things to come from Eric in the future.



Here are the lyrics, written by Charles Anthony Silvestri:

The evening hangs beneath the moon
A silver thread on darkened dune
With closing eyes and resting head
I know that sleep is coming soon

Upon my pillow, safe in bed
A thousand pictures fill my head
I cannot sleep my mind's a flight
And yet my limbs seem made of lead

If there are noises in the night
A frighting shadow, flickering light
Then I surrender unto sleep

Where clouds of dreams give second sight

What dreams may come both dark and deep

Of flying wings and soaring leap

As I surrender unto sleep
As I surrender unto sleep

I hope this choir moves you like it did me. I listen to it over and over again. It is like a glimpse of heaven and I can't get enough of it.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Eric Whitacre's 185 Voice Virtual Choir Performs 'Lux Aurumque'

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Even though this video was published a year ago, I just became aware of it this week. I was so moved by it—both the music and the choir itself—I had to share it.



The lyrics come from a Latin translation of an English poem.

Light,
warm and heavy
as pure gold,
and the angels sing softly
to the newborn babe.

–Edward Esch

Lux,
calida gravisque,
cura velut aurum,
et canunt angeli
molliter modo natum.

–Latin translation by Charles Anthony Silvestri

I hope you enjoy this powerful musical experience.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Almost Half Speed: One Day at a Time

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I am happy to report that I was well enough to return to work for two days last week. I was so grateful to go back after being off sick for three weeks. I admit, I felt a little odd being there. It was eerie that my desk was just as I had left it. I hadn't shut down my computer on that last day I left work. I had left some papers out on my desk that night, too, which I rarely do.

Back in October, my diet changed. I felt depressed about being released as bishop, though I was in denial of that. I kind of let go of common sense for a while. I was eating a lot of sweets and processed foods, and as a result, I was somewhat "calorically enhanced" for a time, if you know what I mean. That is one of the main things that I believe led to a flare up of what we now think is rheumatoid arthritis. The flare lasted three months.

In an effort to get better, I am eating vegetables, nuts and seeds almost exclusively now. I know you think I am crazy, but I am sensitive to foods that will likely never bother you. I know that might sound like a tough diet, but there is little that is more important to me right now getting my immune system calmed down, so I am giving it every reason I can to get back into shape by feeding it all the right things.

I was also able to go back to the gym and work out yesterday. Well, I say that tongue in cheek. It actually was a very light work out, but every step on the treadmill was a gift. It felt amazing to be there.

We also went to the Provo Temple yesterday as a family. I was able to baptize and confirm our daughter in behalf of several of our ancestors. When I stepped into that font, I felt like I was stepping into the pool of Bethesda.

I continue to think often of those I've known over the years who couldn't return to work or normal life after having a serious illness or accident. It is difficult for me to comprehend how difficult that might be.

A serious illness can be a life-changing experience, even a sanctifying experience. My outlook on life has radically changed. It felt like I passed through the valley of the shadow of death. Maybe I did, maybe I didn't. I don't know. But I feel like I have been resurrected.

One thing for sure is that I have much more to be grateful for than I ever would have imagined. It is hard to take for granted the things I took for granted a few weeks ago.

A Quiet Mother's Day

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We had a quiet Mother's Day today. Our oldest daughter lives in Texas, our second oldest daughter was in Idaho this weekend for her brother-in-law's missionary homecoming, and our youngest daughter, who is still at home with us, was sick. Cristi and I ate our dinner alone, but we ate well.

We shared raw "tempura" vegetables and a big salad. Cristi had a couple of slices Amy's Organic pizza (her request) and a dry rhubarb soda. She also had lots of chocolate, in waves. The latest wave was a small box of Godiva chocolates, which is her favorite kind, if you must know. I also made the filling for a raw key lime pie. We haven't gotten to dessert yet because we are so full.

I remembered today something my wife said one Mother's Day. "All I want for Mother's Day is for my children to do what they are supposed to do when they are supposed to do it." In fact, I think she has wanted that since our oldest child was old enough to know the difference between right and wrong. Doesn't that sound just like something a mom would say, or something a mom would want?

Even more than chocolate, my sweet wife wants our children to be happy and successful and faithful and free. That's just like her. Her heart's desire always involves some good wish in behalf others. That's just like her, too.

For lots of moms, Mother's Day is hard. For many women, Mother's Day is a reminder that, for some reason, God has withheld their heart's desire from them—marriage, or a happy marriage, children, or obedient children. Mother's Day represents a lot of heart ache for many women and mothers.

Let me offer one small thing today to all women. I think one reason why you ache so much is because you care so much. That is the miracle of who and what you are. And that, I think, is the true measure of your ultimate success, your inability to not care.

You will not be judged by the agency of others but by the pure beauty of your heart. God bless you, all of you, for reminding us of what heaven is like and what it will be like.

Whatever you heart's desire, it will come to you if you patient enough to receive it in small doses.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Update: Life at Quarter Speed

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This morning we finally made it to a rheumatologist, a specialist in diseases of the joints, muscles, and bones.

After a rather thorough exam, he did not offer a final diagnosis but did admit that what he thinks he is seeing is rheumatoid arthritis, particularly palindromic rheumatoid arthritis, a systemic inflammatory disorder that moves around a lot.

He said that a lot of the symptoms that I've labeled as gout are probably rheumatoid arthritis. My gout medications have helped to mitigate the symptoms, but could not fix the problem.

We should have a solid diagnosis in a couple of weeks. Overall, I am quite pleased. I now have a target to shoot at.

My inflammation has been so high for several months that I finally consented to take a round of prednisone, a steroidal drug. I have only taken a few of them, but I already can feel the inflammation backing off. It is definitely something I don't want to be taking for a very long time, but after three months of pain, I am grateful for the relief.

The cause of the inflammation is an overactive immune response—an autoimmune response. Both my mother and brother have had autoimmune disorders, so it is not a real leap for me to accept that I could have one, too. But I have a lot of hope. This disease is episodic, or at least it is for me at this point. And I know there are a lot of good things I can do to fight the long-term effects.

I am really looking forward to returning to work and the gym. I am really grateful for all the help I have received to get me through this time. Thank you for your prayers, your help, your kindness and your Christ-like examples. They have carried me a long way.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Life at Quarter Speed

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On April 13, I came home from work and collapsed. I have not fully recovered. We are not certain what all is wrong with me, but it appears to be some sort of autoimmune response. The ER doctor said, "Nobody has that many things wrong without them having an autoimmune disorder." I have an appointment with a rheumatologist this week.

When I see myself in the mirror, I feel a little scared. I have had a rash around my mouth and the skin is dry and scaling. I have lost nearly 30 pounds. I walk with a cane. A few days ago, the cane was a necessity just to move about. Now it is mostly for stability.

It is a little embarrassing to be seen in public when you look like "a tattered coat upon a stick" (Yeats, "Sailing to Byzantium"). My appearances are brief and self-conscious.

Living life at quarter speed gives you time to think. I find myself thinking only of things that are genuinely important after catching a glimpse of the doorway to oblivion. Have you ever been in so much pain that you think to yourself, Is it my turn to get off the train?

I am deeply grateful for a determined wife who knows how to care for a sick person, even when he can be frustrating. I am also grateful for children who truly care about their father and know how to say "I love you" and mean it.

I am grateful to get my blood pressure back to normal. I am grateful to have lost a few pounds (well, more than a few), even if it was due to my newly discovered weight loss program. I'll call it the "Cataclysm Diet."

I am grateful for many thoughtful, concerned and generous friends. Thank you all for your kindness, service and prayers. I am thankful for my darling Primary kids who enjoyed playing with my cane during sharing time today and weren't frightened to see me. (Sorry for the delay in our class party.)

I have been thinking of more ways to be kind to others, of doing more of the important things and less of the less important things. I have been thinking about how nice it will be to walk normally again, and about friends and loved ones who knew they would never walk again. I am grateful to have had my eyes opened.

I have been thinking of how God turns disasters into blessings, if only we are willing to exchange "beauty for ashes" (Isaiah 61:3).

I have been thinking that a snowstorm, even when it disturbs our dreams of springtime, is not as inconvenient as a tornado. I have been thinking about friends who drive by our house (I can see them out our master bedroom window) and wonder what it will be like to live at three-quarter speed, even half speed, again.

I am especially grateful for "Jesus Christ...who knoweth the weakness of man and how to succor them who are tempted [tried and tested]" (D&C 61:1).