Easter Births and Rebirths

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Having a child born on Christmas day and now another one born at Easter time (he’ll have an Easter birthday some years), my children’s births serve as a reminder to be of the Savior Jesus Christ. As I was involved in the birth process of my son I thought of Jesus’ birth but more importantly, His rebirth through the resurrection. On that first Easter morn, Jesus escaped the cold clutches of the grave. Jesus is not only the Conquering King of His death but also of all our deaths. What a miraculous and supernal gift! All who ever lived on the earth will be given the gift of immortality. All will live again.

There is another rebirth to which all are entitled should they follow the Lord’s commands. This is a spiritual rebirth, a shuffling off of the old man of sin into a new creature in Christ. When we are born we are born through water (amniotic fluid), blood, and the spirit. When we are spiritually reborn, we are buried in the waters of baptism, sanctified by the blood of Christ, and justified by the Holy Ghost. A spiritual rebirth really is just that – a rebirth; we become completely new spiritual beings. Just as birth is merely one stage in our development – and quite early at that – so is our spiritual rebirth merely one stage in our development. It is just a start to our new lives in Christ. Our spiritual rebirth is not the end, it is the beginning to a glorious new life!

In honor of this Easter season, I hope we all take more time to think about our Lord’s sacrifice – His blameless life, His agonizing Atonement, His painful death, and His glorious resurrection! Many of you might have seen this video before but it is worth watching again in order to ponder its message.

A Random Missionary Experience

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I wanted to share an experience from my LDS mission so I opened my journal to a random entry. Here are a couple entries (with mild editing to clean up any errors and to edit out names):

From Tuesday, January 4, 2000: “Today was a good day. We did not have too many referrals to do, so that was a good break [I worked in the office at this point and making all the phone calls in the morning when we had to send out information about people who had contacted the LDS Church stating they wanted to receive a movie or book {and who said that they wanted to be contacted by representatives of the Church} to the various missionaries in the mission. The process took up to three hours some days.]. We did get a lot done, mostly busy work but it was fun. I was talking to Sis. Larson [our mission president’s wife] about the piano and school and all [that]. She is really neat. Today she asked me if I did finger exercises so I would keep up on my skills. [She and President Larson [make] sure I keep up on my piano skills. Pres. Larson always asks me if I get enough piano practicing in…. An older couple took us and the Hermanas to a buffet restaurant for dinner. It was good. We went and met with Bill [recently baptized] after dinner and just talked with him. We set his son’s baptism date for January 26! We have a lot do in between now and then, especially since he won’t be here for half the time because he stays part of the time at his mother’s place. Bill is such a great man. He is intelligent and wants to learn so much. I know that he will be a great strength to this ward [he was called to be the ward executive secretary about 7 months after his baptism]. Life is great. I do want to help a lot of people in this world. I only hope that I may be a Christ-like person and really be kind and generous. =)”

Why did I share this entry? It was simply one that I opened up to. I also thought it represented a typical day as a missionary – at least as an office missionary. We worked in the mission office until at least lunch (we had the occasional day where we were there until almost dinner time) and then went home and did ‘normal’ missionary work for the rest of the day. As missionaries we spent out time talking with people – everything is about the people. We have good news of Christ’s restored gospel that we want to share with all people. It is the world’s most important news and so all our time was spent trying to share this news with people. We spent all our time with others – teaching, talking, serving, and loving. Even the hard days of rejection and sadness were uplifting in their own way.

One thing that strikes me as I go back and read my missionary journals is how often the words, “Life is great” or “Life is beautiful” or some variation on that theme. I’ve always tried to be upbeat and optimistic about life but my mission journals generally just ooze with positivity. It is not mere melodrama – serving as an LDS missionary is one of the most amazing things I have ever done. Within the Church you frequently hear people refer to the years they spent as missionaries as “the best two years” of their lives. For me, life continues to get better with each passing year but my years as a full-time missionary were two of the best years of my life; I know that seems a bit contradictory but there really is not a better way to explain it. There is something about full-time missionary service that is incredibly rewarding. It’s not a service done for personal benefit – taking two years out of schooling or other life seems like a waste of time to many people but it was anything but that. I have never been happier for as long as I was than when I was a full-time missionary.

Being a missionary is about the people though. It is about the Bills and Andrews and Karens of the world who hear the gospel preached to them, feel the Spirit, and rejoice at and accept the good news they hear and feel. Those of us who served (and serve or will serve) full time missions for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are ‘normal’ people. We were called of God to do a great work – spread His restored gospel.

Lessons from Death, Part 4

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Following the death of my granny but before her husband – my grandpa – died, I had a dream about her. I share this personal experience because of the symbolism of it and because it strengthened my testimony of the reality of life after death. That’s my purpose in posting this series about lessons I’ve learned from death – to share my testimony that this life is not the end; there is life after death. Some dreams are just dreams but I think some are very meaningful and some are inspired, even visions. This dream falls into the meaningful, symbolic category.

In my dream my family members were all sitting in an LDS chapel up in the choir seats. My aunts and uncles were there too – it was our whole extended family. We were all sitting there talking quietly when Granny walked in. She still appeared old but she looked well, like she did before her dementia. She sat down and started talking with various family members – she was the same Granny we all knew. She didn’t stay long. When she stood up to walk out she grabbed Tanner’s hand (he just appeared by her side – Tanner is my cousin who died back in 1995) and the two of them exited through the chapel doors. That was the end of the dream. It was really nice to see Granny as Granny again. I thought this dream was wonderfully symbolic of Granny leaving our family who are all still living and going to be with those who have already passed on to the other side. She simply walked through a door to a different phase of existence.

The Savior did not just suffer for our sins, He atoned for our sorrows and sufferings. Once again a quote by Alan Paton is enlightening: “I have never thought that a Christian would be free of suffering…. For our Lord suffered. And I come to believe that he suffered, not to save us from suffering, but to teach us how to bear suffering. For he knew that there is no life without suffering.”

The prophet Alma taught how the Savior’s atonement helps us overcome death and sin and sorrow and sickness: “And [the Savior] shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people. And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities” (Alma 7:11-12). The Savior suffered in part so that He would fully understand our sufferings. This means, as Alma said, that He knows how to heal our wounds; the Great Physician will apply His balm of Gilead and the salve of salvation.

Link to part 3 of this essay.

Lessons from Death, Part 3

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The next 4 deaths I experienced were not as sudden but they were still painful. My grandfather John died after a quick fight with cancer just a few days before my oldest daughter was born in 2004. Just last year, within 1.5 months of each other, my other 3 grandparents died after extended fights with various dementias. At the beginning of May 2008 my family and I attended the funeral of my grandmother Beverly. Her spirit slipped out of her mortal frame into the eternal realm and her body was laid in the ground. Her passing was not unexpected but the pain of separation for us was acute. Then just about one month later my grandmother Maxine passed away. Her death was also not unexpected but again, the pain of separation was acute. Shortly after her death, her husband, my grandfather Wallace, followed her into the eternal worlds.

At times such as these our minds often turn to eternal matters as we experience these emotions of sadness and grief. These events were sad because they involved separation from loved ones; they were events signaling the end of mortal life. However, through the blessings of the temple, these separations are only temporary. My grandparents merely passed from one stage of their existence into another through the door of death. This door appears ominous and heavy to us but it leads from a world of despair and darkness into one of light and love. While there is sorrow on our part, there can be joy knowing that they are reunited with other loved ones who have gone on before. We, as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, are also strengthened by the knowledge that at some point in the future we will all be reunited as families.

One thing that got me through all of these hard times is a sure knowledge of the resurrection. I have faith in the Savior and in life after death. Death is part of life – it happens to all – but that fact rarely assuages our grief. Death that occurs early in life usually seems tragic while death in late life rarely seems tragic. With a broader perspective, whether or not a death is truly tragic depends more on the type of life lived rather than the length of life lived. However in reality, when we lose loved ones we still feel the intense pain of separation regardless of the goodness of a person’s life. I believe we should grieve. However, at some point the pain we feel can be replaced by joy. It may take a long time; we may never fully move beyond the pain in this life but tasting that bitterness will help us appreciate the sweetness that comes when we are reunited with our lost loved ones in the life to come.

Link to part 2 of this essay.

Lessons from Death, Part 2

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When I was 15 the cousin I was closest to – in age and in friendship – took his own life. I spent a lot of time with Tanner over the years. He attended scouts with me because his ward didn’t have a very active scouting program. I spent countless hours and days playing with him on campouts, sleep-overs, reunions, and other activities. I even copied his Eagle Scout project. During the summer of 1995 I had planned on spending 3 weeks as a member of the Geronimo Scout Camp staff. I spent 3 weeks the previous year as a member of the staff of the camp; I had a great time. 1995 was different. I didn’t enjoy my time there. After only a few days I was miserable. The scout troop from my ward was up there that week (as was my father) so I decided to leave early and go home with them – two weeks early. I quickly learned why I needed to be home; I believe my discomfort and misery were meant to help me be home when I needed to be home.

The night I came home, a Saturday, one of my sisters woke me up in the middle of the night to say that my cousin Tanner had hung himself. I’m normally groggy when I wake up but I was wide awake then; I was in a bit of shock. I walked into the front room and lied down on the couch. I don’t know if I cried very much then. I actually don’t think I ever really cried much about Tanner’s death. I don’t know why, I’m normally quite emotional about things (and it is worse the older I get). It is likely that his death was accidental – that he really didn’t mean to kill himself; he may have just been playing what he thought was a game. It was a dangerous game and he died. His parents and sister were devastated; I don’t know if I’ve ever seen anyone suffer as much as Tanner’s mother, my aunt, did. I’ve missed Tanner over these years but I know that I’ll see him again in the life to come. He made a choice and he died but there is great hope for Tanner. That’s one of the beauties of the gospel – it provides hope.

A year or two after Tanner died a young man in my ward shot himself. While I had never been a good friend of his, we were in scouting together and went to church and school together (he was a year younger than me). He lived just down the street from me. Following Max’s death we had ward and stake youth meetings where we talked about his death and suicide in general. One of the only Priest quorum lessons I explicitly remember was taught by his father (he was our young men’s president) following Max’s death. He talked about coming home from church and finding his son dead. He spoke of how Max’s choice put him on a much more difficult road to eternal life than it otherwise would have been. Through the sadness, Max’s father expressed hope for his son. I’ll never forget that lesson. It was a moving and a powerful experience.

The next death of a friend occurred when I was serving as an LDS missionary. One of my freshman roommates at BYU (and also a friend from high school) was killed when a truck hit the taxi he was in. Eric was serving as a missionary in Argentina at the time. He, like Evan, was a person who had a brightness in him. I found about his death in a letter from my parents. My companion and I had spent the morning tracting without success. It was a warm but cloudy April morning in Seattle. The gray skies always made all the greens and other colors appear so much more intense. The spring day was lovely with apple and cherry blossoms floating gently down from the sky like a light snow. When we walked through the blossoms on the ground, they swirled around our shoes like hundreds of delicate butterflies trying to take flight. It was one of the most serene and beautiful sights I have ever seen. We walked along tree-lined roads near the coast of the Puget Sound – up and down the steep hills sharing a message of hope and restoration but no one was listening; no one was interested. They were very kind to us though. I thought it ironic that so much rejection of our message occurred on such a beautiful day. To add to the drama, I was bitten on my right thigh by a dog as my companion and I walked up a driveway. It wasn’t a large bite but I was bleeding and my pants had a small tear in them. We finished tracting the area 45 minutes later then walked home so I could get cleaned up.

All the way home I kept thinking, “How can this day get any worse? I bet I could be hit by a car or something on my walk home. That would be worse.” Sometimes it helps me feel better if I imagine worse things happening. Then I realize my life isn’t so bad. I spent the whole way home wondering how my day could get worse; it got worse. I opened the letter from my parents only to read that my friend Eric had been killed in an accident. I was shocked. I was speechless. I was heart-broken. I sobbed for 5 minutes. However, during this time all I could think about is how Heavenly Father must have felt as He watched His beloved Son suffer and then be killed in a most gruesome manner. I prayed for the comfort of Eric’s family; I prayed for my own comfort. Then suddenly, after those 5 minutes, the pain was gone. My sorrow was intense but brief. I was still sad but there was no pain. I knew Eric died doing the Lord’s work and was now in a much brighter world still doing the Lord’s work. As a side note, not coincidentally, my companion at the time also had a friend killed in an accident while he was serving a mission. He was able to understand what I was going through. The Lord understands our needs and places other people in our lives to help fill those needs.

Not too long after I got home from my mission – the following summer, in fact – I found out that my friend Donald, who also was one of my roommates my freshman year at BYU, had been killed in a farming accident. Once again, I was shocked. Donald was very personable. He was so interested in other people – in meeting them and getting to know them. As a freshman in college, many of the people he wanted to get to know were girls, but he was very good with people in general. He was fun to be around. He was also a good person. Two of my freshman year roommates were dead; they both died in tragic accidents. I hoped the trend did not continue.

Link to part 1 of this post.

The Story of this Blog

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While serving on my mission in Seattle, Washington, I had the desire to write a gospel-related book after I returned home. I had an unofficial goal to write a series of essays on various gospel topics and try to get them published by Deseret Book or one of its subsidiaries. Well, life ensued and I never wrote my book, not that it would necessarily get published anyway.

Then a few months ago I decided that I needed to change my gospel study habits. Since my mission I have always missed how much I was able to study the gospel as a missionary. We had about 2 hours of study in the morning plus at least an hour in the evening. I also tried to utilize lunch and breakfast times and any other time I had to study and read. I read the Book of Mormon a number of times as a missionary. I read substantial portions of the Old and New Testaments as well as Doctrine and Covenants and Pearl of Great Price. I read the books in the “missionary library” – Jesus the Christ, Articles of Faith, A Marvelous Work and a Wonder, Truth Restored, and Our Search for Happiness. After I finished those books I started into books borrowed from members or purchased at Deseret Book. Everything revolved around the gospel and I loved it. It wasn’t just the studying and learning that I loved but also the teaching.
I shared that simply to provide a picture of how immersed most missionaries are in the gospel (although, I do admit that I read more than all my companions did; but reading is my background – it’s just part of who I am and who my family are; we’re a family of readers). Then I came home. I continued to read the scriptures and study the gospel but over time I became busy with school, marriage, more school, work, kids, and more school. I found that I was no longer studying the gospel very intently; I felt like I was merely sipping from the fountain of living waters and nibbling upon the word. I found myself missing a few days or even a week of personal scripture reading. I had become careless in my scripture study.
So a few months ago, I don’t remember exactly when but I think it was in June, I decided I needed to make a change. I felt that my gospel knowledge wasn’t growing much; I also felt, to an extent, my personal spirituality was stagnant. I knew that I needed to be more intentional in my gospel study. Even simply reading the scriptures every day would not be enough. I decided to start a topical study of the gospel. I began to treat my scripture study as if I were preparing talks for Sacrament Meeting (or writing essays on gospel topics). I felt that, for the time being, I had a good linear (temporal) foundation of the Book of Mormon so I could stop reading it straight through and begin to study topic by topic.
I randomly pick topics – usually whatever comes into my mind first. Sometimes I pray and ask that I be led to my next topic and sometimes I just pick a topic. Next I look up and write down scriptures. Then, I start expanding on the scriptures and try to form my thoughts into mostly coherent essays, adding more scriptures as I find them or as they come to me. Recently, I’ve started adding in quotes from General Conferences, as appropriate.
This blog is my book. I still hope that I can turn many of these essays into a published book, or at least expand on one or two of them and turn that into a book, but this will suffice as my book for now. This blog allows me to share the gospel and my testimony with others, as few as they may be. I hope that these posts will brighten someone’s day, lighten someone’s load, or strengthen someone’s testimony, even if it is just my own.
My shift from nibbling upon the word to feasting (or, at least trying to) upon the word brought a noticeable – to me – change in my life. Studying the gospel intently will always have a positive effect on your life. It gives you greater power over the Adversary and greater peace about your path. The burden may not be lighter but you will be strengthened so that it becomes easier to bear.
That’s the story of the genesis of this blog. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do creating it.