Monday, May 30, 2011

Now Let Us Rejoice!

I was a bit amused while sitting in Sacrament Meeting yesterday.  We were singing the opening hymn.  It was Now Let Us Rejoice!  The chorister had a pleasant, happy smile, but the Bishopric and a member of the Stake Presidency each had a somber, resolute, and heavy browed expression on his face as we sang those thrilling words.  They did not appear to be rejoicing.  They looked as if the weight of the world lay upon their shoulders.

Several weeks ago we were singing There Is Sunshine In My Soul Today when I noticed the same phenomena and a Counselor in the Bishopric happened to notice my amused smile.  He misinterpreted it to mean that I had sunshine in my soul.  Actually, I was just tickled at the huge contrast between their expressions and the words we were singing.  When he stood to conduct the meeting he drew attention my countenance as it related to the bright and cheerful song and I was a bit embarrassed that I had been smiling for the wrong reason.

Since that day, I have tried to be in the moment as we sing the hymns and to think more directly about what we are singing.  Often the songs we sing in our worship services are positive, bright, happy, rejoicing songs.  They should be sung in a positive, bright, happy, rejoicing sort of way.  They are much more fun to sing in that manner.  The key, I suspect, lies in being in the moment.  Who knows where the thoughts of these fine brethren were as that song was being sung.  Perhaps the Bishop was concerned about someone he saw, or didn't see, in the congregation.  Perhaps the First Counselor was concerned about getting the tithing counted quickly so he could get home to spend time with his visiting relatives.  Clearly, they were bearing burdens that weighed heavily upon them.  Or at least they were so accustomed to doing so, that such expressions had cast, that most common countenance, as the default expression on their faces.  Happiness, rejoicing can only be experienced in the present.  It is likely that while their mouths were singing the words, their minds were far away, actually carrying the burdens of their callings and concerns.  My heart goes out to them.

After yesterday's meeting I spoke with another fellow and commented on the dark circles under his eyes.  "I haven't been sleeping lately," was his reply.  When I asked if he wasn't feeling well he answered, "Dealing with a lot of stress lately."  He too appears to be carrying the weight of the world.

In John 16:33 Jesus said:
These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have  overcome the world.
Here in this verse the Savior gives us a commandment we seem reluctant to obey, "Be of good cheer."  Jesus carried the weight of the world so we don't have to.  That is why there is sunshine in my soul today.

I don't wish to pick on the leaders in my Ward.  They are wonderful people.  There is no question about their sincerity, integrity, courage or faith.  I just think they are taking a bit too much upon themselves in their earnest desire to serve the Lord by serving us.  It is time to be of good cheer!   Come on Latter-day Saints, now let us rejoice!  When Jesus shows His smiling face there is sunshine in my soul.  How about yours?

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

My Father's 89th Birthday

My father wasn't perfect, but he was ideal.  Ideal for me that is.  For a long time I didn't understand this truth.  Certainly, he could have handled things better; but there is not a father in the world, including myself, who hasn't made myriad mistakes raising his children.

I have judged him pretty harshly over the years, holding him to a pretty tough standard.  Doing so has only hurt me.

There was no owners manual that came with my model.  He had no specific reference he could look up when I ran sluggishly, broke down, had sticky brakes, or a stuck accelerator.  Neither was there a warranty on my failed paint job.  Further, he only knew how to parent from his own, limited, experience.  That method seemed to work very well when raising him; so it must work similarly with his kids.  So he used horse and buggy experience for tuning up a '56 Chev, so to speak.  In truth, each generation's experience is out of date.  Which, I believe is how God intended things to be.

Ether 12:27 explains that God gives men weakness.  I believe His number one conduit for delivering that great gift to His children is through their mortal parents.  Weakness is vital to the Plan of Happiness.  Against what will we become strong?  Against our weakness.  Today, I feel a special debt of gratitude to my imperfect father, who endowed me with weakness of my own.  And to my kind wise Heavenly Father for turning many of those weaknesses of character and prowess into vital, blessed strengths.  For me, it is not so much that I am pleased with the strengths I've been given as consequence of God's goodness, rather, I joy in the process of growth and discovery.  Central to that process has been the discovery of my utter and complete need for a Savior.  My father, in his own weakness, gave me the best possible chance to discover my need for God's Grace in my life.  Thank you Dad.  Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

It's Raining

While we hear and discuss a lot about the weather and, while there is cause for concern as the mountains are loaded with snow and the threat of flooding increases with the rain and delayed warm-up and, while rain dampens various plans and cancels baseball games and picnics and, while there is something to be said for sunny days; I live in the desert and I love the rain.

I'll gladly take it when I can get it.

Last night I went for a walk in it.  I like that thought.  I am not in the rain drops, or the clouds.  The rain is not just the rain drops or the clouds.  The rain is everything including the rain drops and clouds.  It is the wet pavement, the drowning worms, the smell of ozone, the smell of mud.  It is expanding rings it makes in puddles and the thankful croaking of frogs.  It is the burbling brook.  It is the overflowing river.  It is the green grass and the blossoming trees, and their perfume.  It is free and is a gift and always comes from above.  It is fresh and clean and cleansing.  It is life and renewal and full of hope and promise.... And I...I am IN IT!

I will not refuse it on the wettest days nor demand it on the driest.  As I said I live in the desert and those dry days, make these wet ones all the more precious.  The Navajo say that THIS is good weather and right they are!  Sunshine is also a gift from God, and I love it.  But this, more rare gift, is more priceless to me because it is rare.

God is in the gift and right now, I'm headed back out so I can be in it too!

Thank God for sending rain and for making me waterproof!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Sucking Hind Teat

The process of recovery from addiction and other weakness was once described to me as "peeling off  the layers of an onion."  As soon as I get some semblance of recovery from one character weakness and peel it away, I become exposed to another.  The deeper I go the more fundamental the problem.  As in onions this process usually brings a few tears.

I am grateful for this awareness, because I'm finally learning what to do as the next layer of weakness gets exposed.  I am finally able to believe that even this new problem is surmountable.

Ether 12:27 states:   
And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.
Thank Heaven I can discover my weakness one layer at a time!  The current layer is overwhelming enough by it's self.  I'd hate to have to deal with it and all the others at the same time.

The current layer seems pretty complex and very deeply rooted in my personality and nature.  I'm just beginning to discover what it is.  I discovered it last week when, while speaking in Sacrament Meeting on the Atonement, I felt my message was being rejected by the audience.  Perhaps not all of them, but a large number.  When I speak in Church I always prepare my remarks so I can look into the eyes of the congregation rather than at a paper lying upon the pulpit.  It enables me to interact with the audience and to gage their reception of my message.  Normally, I get good interaction from a goodly number of attentive participants.  This time was different.  Few would make eye contact with me.  Those who did, seemed wearied by my words.  I came away feeling rejected and dejected.  I had been pleased with my message and with the preparation I had done.  I had gone into the meeting with the confidence of having received the assurance of the Spirit that my message had the approbation of the Lord.  So I was very troubled by the reception the message received.  Though I felt my message was correct and approved of the Lord, I felt an overwhelming urge to apologize for it.

Later in the week, I attended my Grandson's Pinewood Derby contest at Cub Scout Pack Meeting.  He lost and was miserable.  I was miserable too.  It was my first Pinewood Derby since my own Cub Scout days.  Back then, my Dad, being a traveling salesman, was unable to help me with my car.  I lost and added another failure to what was already becoming a long list of failures.  I could see the same dejection through my grandson's tears.  I stood there feeling helpless and wondered if it was just our family's lot to (please pardon the expression) suck hind teat.  I was already certain that it was my lot and I grieved that yet another generation might be relegated to the same status.

For you who didn't grow up on a farm, may I explain the expression.  Hogs have large liters of pigs.  Each sow has two long rows of teats from which the piglets suckle.  The the fore teats are larger, easier to use and yield more volume and nutrition.  The piglets vie for the best positions and the weaker are pushed and driven to settle for what they can get at the hind teat.

That seemed to always be where I found myself in life's pecking order.  I was chosen last for the ball games we played and never seemed to be victorious or fully successful at anything.  I may have mentioned this before.  In fact I thought I had dealt with this before.  There is however an aspect that never occurred to me until this week.

My father had an older brother who went off to California and became a millionaire.  His younger brother did much the same.  Those two families seemed to have everything we did not.  We did without, while they enjoyed a great abundance.  Dad never dissed on the younger brother for reasons I can only guess.  Quite often though, he would point out that the the older brother had lots of family problems that ended in divorce from his wife and estrangement from his children.  Dad would always say, referring to his present and embraced family, "I am far richer than Gerry will ever be."  I believed him then, and I believe him now.

Trouble is, I began to see settling for less of what the world has to offer as being more righteous.  I didn't envy those who had more abundance and success than I; rather, I felt sorry for them.  Further, every time I approached my own success, I subconsciously sabotaged it.  None, of this was ever consciously analysed, or deliberately accomplished, but subconsciously I have persuaded myself that I must not succeed.  The apparent consequence in my life is that I seldom finish anything.  I dropped out of college after three and a half years.  I quit job after job just as I was making head way.  My one attempt at business failed miserably.  I have written several books to near completion.  But I have never finished a single one.  I even quit trying on the last one feeling myself to be unworthy if I did.

I was now just consoling myself by saying, "You finished Sweetie's sewing room."  But I didn't.  It still needs paint on the door and a door knob.  "Okay, but you finished her study."  Nope there's a cupboard that needs paint on the frame and a door.  "How about your study?"  No again.  There's one whole shelf that is left undone.  I think I would feel guilty if I finished it, or the greater project that is the rest of our unfinished house.  After all success is wickedness and failure is righteousness, or as Katie just put it, "Being a Weirdo, is good."

Over all these years as I processed sucking on the hind teat; I first concluded that I was getting by just fine on the hind teat of life. Additionally, I promised I would never be the ignorant pig who would shove someone weaker than myself to the back of the line.  Pretty soon, that led to voluntarily giving up my place in line to someone weaker in addition to the "pathetic" strong ones.  That led to a sense of self-righteousness; which made me feel good about my lot in life.  I was proud to be sucking the hind teat!  I not only pitied those who got more, I rejected more when it was offered to me.  I still do.

Now, while I have a long way to go in overcoming this nature, this weakness; I thank God that I am mature and experienced enough to understand a few things.  First, life is not a competition!  There is abundance in the world even now.  My success doesn't have to preclude someone else's.  Second, not everyone who has succeeded in life has done it by shoving me or anyone else down to a lower station.  Third, Lehi promised that keeping the commandments would lead to prosperity.  There is no sin in success and....there is no righteousness in settling for less than the abundant prosperity the Lord has offered to those who love Him; be that success physical or spiritual.

Understanding this and being aware of the false beliefs that have informed my life is a great first step.  Awareness is a big key to making changes.  Still, I am certain that I am going to need the Lord's help.  Steps six and seven of the 12 Steps as listed in the LDS Addiction Recovery Manual are as follows:

Step 6 - Become entirely ready to have the Lord remove all your character weaknesses.
Step 7 - Humbly ask Heavenly Father to remove your shortcomings.
I believe in these principles.  As Moroni explained in Ether 12:27, God has shown me some more of my character weaknesses.  I am becoming willing and ready to have them removed.  It is God who removes them.  It is remarkable to me that the word here is shortcomings.  I have come up short all of my life and not known that it has been a result of my own erroneous belief systems.  This kind of thinking is certainly a shortcoming and coming short is the result.

Monday, May 2, 2011

So, Osama Bin Laden is Dead

Ten years, thousands of lives, billions of dollars later, was it worth it?  Have we really accomplished anything?  Is the world a better place than it would have been had we left the vengeance to the Lord (to whom it belongs, by the way)?  Does any one think Osama's demise leaves an unfilled vacuum?  How many additional enemies have we made?  How many more kids go to bed at night mourning the loss of a father?  Did defending ourselves from terrorists require all this?  Does anyone feel safer?  Satisfied?  In what way is YOUR life better because Osama Bin Laden is dead?
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