Thursday, March 31, 2011

Conference and Learning at Home

I love conference weekend, and it’s not just that I get to attend church from my La-Z-Boy recliner in the family room. (We’ve come a long way from getting just one session, time-delayed, over the local PBS station!) Since my time in the MTC (before it was the MTC, in fact), I’ve really tried to participate in as many sessions as possible. Because I’ve never lived in Salt Lake City, that participation has always included some electronic connection, and I’m grateful for ever-increasing improvements in that regard.

I was reading a talk that David Bednar gave while he was president of BYU-I (“Teach Them To Understand”, BYU-I Education Week, June 4, 1998) , and he caused me to reflect on 3 Nephi 17:1-3:

Behold, now it came to pass that when Jesus had spoken these words he looked round about again on the multitude, and he said unto them: Behold, my time is a t hand. I perceive that ye are weak, that ye cannot understand all my words which I am commanded of the Father to speak unto you at this time. Therefore, go to your homes, and ponder upon the things which I have said, and ask of the Father, in my name, that ye may understand, and prepare your minds for the morrow, and I come unto again.

Always before, I had read those verses as a sign of the Savior’s compassion (I see you’re tired, so I’ll stop), and a suggestion that they go home and get some rest.

But Elder Bednar (he was an area seventy during his time at BYU-I, so I think I can still refer to him as Elder Bednar even in that period) suggests a further bit of learning:

What a marvelous formula! (1) Go to your home, (2) ponder upon the things that have been said, (3) ask the Father in Christ’s name that you will understand, and (4) prepare your mind for additional instruction.
This weekend as I watch conference, I’ll remember Elder Bednar’s counsel. After three sessions of conference on Saturday (including Priesthood), I’m sure I’ll be a little weak (our excellent pre-Priesthood ice cream social notwithstanding). But I’ll also make an effort to ponder about what I’ve heard, to pray for understanding, and to prepare for more instruction the next day.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Why adversity?

I’ve been thinking about adversity recently. It’s not that things are going particularly poorly, but it’s been on my mind. Some random thoughts and quotations that have been bouncing around in my head:

Alma 7:11-12:

And he 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.

From Neal A Maxwell’s biography, A Disciple’s life:
In March 2000, when he was in a pondering mood about his illness, with its implications both dreadful and miraculous, Neal had a sacred experience… The soul voice of the Spirit came into his mind to whisper, "I have given you leukemia that you might teach my people with authenticity” (562).

Not that I can compare myself to the Savior or to one of his apostles, but perhaps to show that I can learn from them: when I was called as bishop years ago, my family was struggling in a variety of ways (some of which we would not know for years). For instance, the day I was sustained and set apart was my 16-year old son’s last visit to church (and he attended that day as a token of kindness to me). Other trials would come, and I found myself wondering why I should serve instead of one of the other dozen men who could easily have been called. But I learned much later it was precisely the imperfection of my family that allowed certain of my ward to find comfort in my words.

Is one of the reasons we have adversity in our lives so that we can learn how to mourn with those that mourn?

Friday, March 25, 2011

Addiction -- A Family Disease

This is Part II of my wife’s notes from her ward conference presentation to sisters on addiction. Part I is here. I’ve edited her notes slightly for reading.

Addiction is a family disease—the effects of one person active in an addiction will be felt by all who are close to him or her. Family and friends of addicts can feel emotions of hurt, betrayal and loss. They may be overcome by feelings of anger, fear and sorrow. They may ask themselves why this is happening to them or what have I done wrong? They may feel responsible for not helping in the right way or protecting or nurturing family members well enough. They may be trying to keep up appearances that all is well when it is not. They also might feel like they are in a situation that they don’t know how to escape.

Feelings of fear, guilt or shame may dominate their thoughts and affect their relationships with others and with God.

Trust in their addicted love one may be shattered and some even feel that God has failed them by allowing this pain and suffering to come into their lives.

If any of you are like me and have been in this cycle, then you know that where anger and fear exist, there is no peace and faith: one’s emotional and spiritual health are affected. My greatest crises of faith have been a result of my reactions to my loved ones’ addictions.

Even though the snare of addiction is vicious and the consequences of addictive behaviors are destructive -- even disastrous -- to both the addict and his /her loved ones, there is a way to heal and find peace.

Jesus said, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). Our Savior promised that as we surrender to Him the burdens we carry that we can receive his promise, “…my peace I give unto you…Let not your heart be trouble neither let it be afraid” (John 14:27). Healing and lasting peace can come by letting the Savior step in. Using the power of the Atonement to heal the wounds gives us strength and guidance to carry on.

Elder Ballard counsels:

If anyone who is addicted has a desire to overcome, then there is a way to spiritual freedom—a way to escape from bondage—a way that is proven. It begins with prayer—sincere, fervent, and constant communication with … our Heavenly Father. It is the same principle in breaking a bad habit or repenting from sin of any kind…fervent prayer is key to gaining the spiritual strength to find peace. Heavenly Father loves all of His children, so thank Him and express sincere faith in Him. Ask Him for the strength to overcome the addiction [or destructive emotions and thoughts] you are experiencing. Set aside all pride and turn your life and your heart to Him. Ask to be filled with the power of Christ’s pure love. You may have to do this many times, but I testify to you that your body, mind, and spirit can be transformed, cleansed, and made whole, and you will be freed.
A way to follow Elder Ballard’s counsel is through the Addiction Recovery Program.

The Addiction Recovery Program (ARP) is specifically designed by the Church to help those suffering from addiction heal by applying the Atonement through a 12-step program, but makes clear that family members can also benefit from participation. The Family Support Group (FSG, a program similar to AlAnon; FSG is still in the pilot phase and has only limited availability) offers that same help for family members. The first “12 step programs” were developed in the 1930s by the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous. This inspired program has helped countless individuals find and maintain sobriety and peace in their lives over the years because it is based on the principles of faith, hope, repentance and forgiveness that, when exercised, can allow the Atonement to heal all wounds and change hearts.

The church has based its Addiction Recovery Program and Family Support Group on these 12 steps but has also included teachings from Latter-day Prophets and LDS scriptures in its readings. The program is intensely spiritual and confidential. Anyone can attend these meetings. For more information about these meetings you can ask any member of your Relief Society presidency or your bishop, and there is a geographical listing of meetings online through

For any of you who may be suffering any of the effects of addiction your life or the life of someone close to you please know that you are not alone. The Lord loves you and all those around you; He will help you as you come to Him and release you from the bondage you feel. I know because He has been with me as I have walked this path.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Addiction and Agency

Last week I posted a rather negative response to a Family Home Evening on addiction presented by LDS Living. In an effort to add something positive to the conversation, I offer the following:

This is a guest post of sorts. My wife is a member of our stake Relief Society presidency and gave a brief presentation based on the following notes to the sisters at our stake’s ward conferences earlier this year. This is Part I. Part II will follow on Friday. I’ve edited the notes for reading.

I have been asked to talk about a topic that is serious in nature and much more common around us than we would like to believe. It has been called the number one health problem in the United States today and many of you have had either personal experience with or someone you love has had to deal with the pain of this disease. This disease is so vile and pernicious that it not only does it affect one’s physical health but will also seriously damage one’s emotional and spiritual health and some of that damage can spread to family members. The name of the disease is addiction.

While the damage and pain experienced by those caught in its snare can be massive, there is hope for healing. I will leave the physical healing to medical doctors but today I want to discuss how those who suffer emotionally and spiritually from addiction can find healing from the One who can heal all wounds –our Savior, Jesus Christ.

What is addiction?

To try understand this disease let’s begin by looking at a story that Elder Ballard told in last October’s General Conference :

The goal of the fly fisherman is to catch trout through skillful deception...He will often craft by hand the lures he uses. He knows these artificial insects embedded with tiny hooks need to be a perfect deception because the trout will identify even the slightest flaw and reject the fly.

The use of artificial lures to fool and catch a fish is an example of the way Lucifer often tempts, deceives, and tries to ensnare us.

Lucifer knows our … weaknesses, and tempts us with counterfeit lures which, if taken, can cause us to be yanked from the stream of life into his unmerciful influence.
Satan is the father of lies and will try to make evil seem good to ensnare us.

One of our greatest gifts from God is our free agency. It was part of the plan of salvation and is required to show obedience to our Father in Heaven. In His plan He could give us mortal bodies but we have to choose to follow His commandments to be able to be blessed by Him in this life and return to Him after we die.

Our free will is the only thing we truly have to give to the Lord.

One of the chief ways Satan lures us to give away our agency is through addictions.

Elder Ballard said:

The battle over man’s God-given agency continues today. Satan and his minions have their lures all around us, hoping that we will falter and take his flies so he can reel us in with counterfeit means. He uses addiction to steal away agency. According to the dictionary, addiction of any kind means to surrender to something, thus relinquishing agency and becoming dependent on some life-destroying substance or behavior.
How does this work? Elder Ballard continued:

Researchers tell us there is a mechanism in our brain called the pleasure center. When activated by certain drugs or behaviors, it overpowers the part of our brain that governs our willpower, judgment, logic, and morality. This leads the addict to abandon what he or she knows is right. And when that happens, the hook is set and Lucifer takes control. Satan knows how to exploit and ensnare us with artificial substances and behaviors of temporary pleasure.

This process has been likened to an allergic reaction. Once the brain is exposed to the chemical reaction it changes. Engaging in the addiction literally changes the brain’s chemical function.

Elder Russell M Nelson summarized this affects one’s free agency: “Addiction surrenders…freedom to choose. Through chemical means, one can literally become disconnected from his or her own will” (“Addiction or Freedom”, Ensign November 1988, 6).

Addiction can take many forms. Drugs (including prescription abuse), alcohol, tobacco, eating disorders, gambling and pornography are a few examples. People who are inclined to addiction may suffer from a number of different addictions.

Once the addiction sets in it is a bondage that entraps the person. Addiction is not just a bad habit to be conquered by willpower alone. Caught in this bondage the person can become so dependent on a behavior or substance that they no longer see how to abstain from it.

Telling a person in addiction that if they really cared they would stop destroying their lives is like telling a person who is sick with pneumonia not to cough. Until they get the appropriate treatment the problems will persist.

Elder Ballard counsels, “Medical research describes addiction as “a disease of the brain.” This is true, but I believe that once Satan has someone in his grasp, it also becomes a disease of the spirit.”

Coming in Part II – Addition is a Family Disease; How to Find Help

Monday, March 21, 2011

A simple testimony

Our mission president attended our sacrament meeting last week. What a nice guy he is. His role in the times I’ve heard him speak seems to be cheerleader-in-chief. I’ve only known a couple of mission presidents with any more than passing acquaintance, but the ones I’ve known have been genuinely kind and loving men with deep respect for the gospel, for the missionaries they shepherd, for the members they serve and for the non-members they teach.

Our mission president here is no different, though I judge that only from a very few interactions I’ve had with him.

Our bishop invited the president to share his testimony, which he did just before the youth speaker. He was gracious, succinct and eloquent as he spoke very briefly and in a way that did not overshadow the young woman who followed him or the rest of the program.

Here’s basically what he said (from my hastily written notes; I’ve not captured it all word for word): My testimony is simple. There is a God. He creates worlds and he knows us individually. He knows our individual burdens, struggles and victories. He parted the heavens to speak to the prophet Joseph Smith. The fullness of the gospel of Jesus Christ has been restored, and evidence of that restoration is in the Book of Mormon. I rejoice in the power of that book.

His testimony was simple, straightforward and powerful. I do not recall his using the word “know.” But I do recall the spirit which testified with him.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

FHE Lesson on Overcoming Addiction? Really?

This week’s LDS Living Family Home Evening suggestion was on overcoming addiction. You can read more here.

I’ve been trying to figure out in what context that FHE lesson could possibly make sense. I suppose that FHE lessons by nature tend to be general and require refinement for application in any given family. And the 12-step slogan, “Take what you want and leave the rest” applies, as well.

If the lesson helps families to be aware of the church’s Addiction Recovery Program, then great. Elder Ballard’s talk on addiction, referenced in the material, is also great in its own right. But packaged as a Family Night lesson? I’m still trying to make sense of that.

You see, I have addicted loved ones. I’ve been involved in a 12-step program for several years and my wife and I now serve in our stake’s application of the Addiction Recovery Program and the church’s pilot of the Family Support Group (for families of addicted persons).

The lesson presented in the link introduces the ARP guidebook, tells a story of someone who is coping with his addiction while attending 12-step meetings and then has a family activity of an obstacle course. I can’t imagine that a family with young enough children to use the obstacle course (which does provide an elegant lesson by itself) would also use the story of Jeff, a lifelong member who overcame his issues with tobacco and alcohol on his own, but needs 12-step help with his pornography addiction.

I can’t see parents teaching this lesson in FHE in the hopes that a child might therefore agree to enter treatment. (That said, if I squint really hard I can imagine using something like this lesson to explain why a family member is in treatment, though the confidentiality of recovery and the need to allow each person to tell his own story would still require significant modification in the lesson.) My experience is that addicts don’t seek recovery until the pain of recovery is less than the pain of their addiction. And I’m all in favor of the church’s Addiction Recovery Program. I’ve watched it change lives in the 18 months I’ve been participating in it. And family members of addicted persons need their own recovery as much as the addicted persons do; the 12 steps have blessed my life in incredible ways. And any member could benefit from working the steps of recovery.

But the FHE lesson as outlined just doesn’t seem to be the way to get there for me. Far better in my view is to teach the pure doctrine of the Plan of Salvation, to teach repentance and atonement, to teach submitting to the will of our Father in Heaven. That is what one learns working the steps. Indeed, one could teach a series of lessons based on the steps themselves.

UPDATE: This post seems to draw some traffic from Google searches. I wanted to link to another helpful post on the blog.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Lessons from Mom

My mother seemed to enjoy telling us how spoiled she was as a child, perhaps trying to preempt our own spoiling during our young years. One story in particular that I remember was when her mother grandmother had a dress made for Mom, who was then about three. Mom did not like the color, as it turned out, and cried and fussed (and probably held her breath) until her mother agreed to have another one made in the color Mom preferred.

I don’t think we were particularly spoiled, though we had a pretty good life. Mom was not afraid to say no to us, and not afraid to tell us she could not afford this or that wish of our hearts. Yet we always had what we needed, and most of what we wanted, as well.

Dad told the story of Mom’s going to the local A&P grocery store when the family was still very young (right after they were married). She carried with her a bag box of coins – loose change they kept in a box on the top of the refrigerator -- planning to use them to help pay for the groceries. The grocery clerk refused to take the coins and gave Mom some rolls and told her to roll them first. As Mom (with I don’t know how many kids in tow) moved to roll the coins, the bag burst and the coins scattered on the floor.

[Prodded by my sister, I'm retelling the story correctly below:]

Just after my folks were married, Mom wanted to do some shopping, but had no money (only checks from wedding presents), but had Dad's shoe box of saved coins. She went to the bank, thinking they would roll them for her (which they did not -- they gave her paper rolls to do it herself). She then stopped at the store on the way home (before rolling the coins, with the box still in hand) planning to use some of the bigger coins to pay for the groceries. As she approached the counter the box broke, spilling coins everywhere. She reports: "Someone gave me a bag and helped me pick up the loot, but I was embarrassed and very happy to return to Coulter Street! What a way to begin married life!"

I can only imagine my mother’s embarrassment – first that she was trying to pay with a bag of coins, second that she was told she could not use them (after waiting in line with her groceries), and finally having to scramble to pick up the coins from the floor.

And yet, that was who Mom was – she did what needed to be done, whatever it was.

Despite Mom’s being spoiled as a child her life was not always easy. She had a complicated health condition about which the doctors knew very little in her youth. She had an ill-fated surgery to “correct” the problem as a young woman, and the complications of that surgery made the problem much worse for the rest of her life. She was prone to infection which would last for days, and then watched as three of her four children inherited the same condition from her.

And yet, there was something about Mom that kept her moving forward. She did not allow her medical condition to stop her from serving her family and serving others. She supported PTAs and polling places, classrooms, Cub Scouts and Brownies, and later, after joining the church, taught children and adults and eventually served twice as a Relief Society president and more than once in the stake Relief Society.

Her life was a living lesson to her children that one does not stop; one does not wallow in self-pity. One does what one needs to do.

When she was diagnosed with cancer in her 70’s, her observation was characteristically upbeat: she said she had already lived longer than she ever expected to, and that she had enjoyed her wonderful husband and children and grandchildren. When the doctor who diagnosed her wondered why the pain of the tumor on her lung had not brought her to him sooner, she said, Do you expect me to come to you every time something hurts?

I miss my mom some days. I’m grateful for the lessons she taught me. Today is her birthday.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

"Cleave Unto God"

Recently I came across this phrase in Jacob: “…and cleave unto God as he cleaveth unto you” (Jacob 6:5).

Jacob has already delivered his I-wish-I-didn’t-have-to-talk-about-this speech, and he already shared Zenock’s allegory of the olive trees.

His whole book seems to be about returning. Return from sin. Return from the diaspora. Come home to God.

In this verse, he reminds us that God already cleaves unto us. In the next sentence in this verse, he reminds us that God’s arm of mercy is extended toward us. (And all this prophetically spoken since the Atonement is still to come.)

How do I cleave unto God? Well, studying his word is a great place to start. I had gotten out of the habit of daily personal scripture study and a few weeks ago, egged on (inadvertently, I’m sure) by my teenaged son, I set about to re-read the Book of Mormon again. (I have no idea how many times I’ve read it, but this time is a “fast” read where I’m trying to read multiple chapters a day in order to get connections I don’t get when I go slowly.)

Daily prayer also helps. But real prayer – real communication, including listening for impressions that come in those quiet moments during and after prayer.

Obedience to the next commandment is important to me. Yes, I need to obey all the commandments, but I know that my spirit gets nudged from time to time about what I need to do next (like improving my scripture study a few weeks ago). It’s not so much keeping up the status quo (I haven’t been translated yet, so there’s got to be more I could do), but sorting out what should be next to do.

Living a life of love is probably related to obedience, and could nearly always be the next commandment for me. But it deserves particular mention. Loving my fellow man is Commandment #2, and King Benjamin and the Savior (among others) teach me that as I love my fellow man, I show my love to God. And that love, of course, is not reserved for strangers, but also for those closest to me.

I could go on all day, I suppose. But what I’d like to get to is this question: How do you cleave unto God?

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

"As the gospel requires"

On the way to seminary each morning, we listen to scripture mastery songs to help my high school freshman memorize them. This week’s scripture is D&C 88:123-124. Verse 124 (“Cease to be idle; cease to be unclean; cease to sleep longer than is needful…”) is well known to me as it was the subject of my very first talk in church, a “concert recitation” in Sunday School on a Fast Sunday several months after our family’s baptism back when I was about nine.

But what has caught my ear this week came from verse 123: “learn to impart one to another as the gospel requires.”

What does the gospel require us to impart one to another?

The injunction follows the charge to cease to be covetous, which also intrigues me. Does that suggest that when I fail to share my substance with another that I am coveting? I believe so. And do I relieve my responsibility to impart one to another by paying my fast offerings and tithing? I believe I do not.

To be sure there is one element of sharing which includes putting my surplus in the storehouse (like fast offerings). The welfare principles of the church teach that the storehouse from which the bishop may draw includes the Bishop’s Storehouse where food orders may be filled, but it also includes the pool of talents and resources available in the ward. My contribution to that storehouse may include my time to help unload the moving van for a single mom or it may include counseling with a widow about options for dealing with her home she can no longer afford.

Another welfare principle of the church is to help our families before they go to the church for help. Some years ago, my wife’s family established a family emergency fund to which family members contribute. Over time this money has been used to help specific family members in times of need.

King Benjamin’s great speech about retaining a remission of our sins reminds us that the gospel also requires us to help the poor when they ask, if we are able (see Mosiah 4:14-20).

I’m encouraged by the injunction in D&C 88:123, however. I am to learn to impart one to another. It has taken me quite some time in my life to learn the principles I have, and I continue to refine their application to my life.

How about you? What have you learned about imparting one to another as the gospel requires?

Thursday, March 3, 2011

On motherhood, fatherhood and priesthood

I have generally given up trying to explain why God does things. There was a time in my life when it was important for me to have that answer (and to share it), but I guess I’ve settled into a different place in my development. Now I can observe what God does and not worry about why. It is what it is, I tell myself, and that’s ok.

Not everyone is where I am, and that’s ok, too. For some, a quest of the “why” is vitally important. Others want to know, but are willing to wait and see if the “why” reveals itself. And other just don’t worry about it anymore. I think I’m somewhere between the second and third.

Some folks worry about why women don’t hold the priesthood. And others, hoping perhaps to assuage the need to know why, have offered the idea that men can hold the priesthood but women can have children, as if those two are equal endowments meant to offset one another.

This much I know: men hold the priesthood and women can have babies. And in the LDS church, women don’t hold the priesthood, and men (regardless of religious affiliation) can’t have babies.

This much I don’t know: the opportunity to hold the priesthood offsets the opportunity to have babies (or vice versa).

The Family: A Proclamation to the World says:

“By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families. Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children. In these sacred responsibilities, fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners.”

Even if one accepts that premise (and I do, by the way), it does not support the idea that motherhood and priesthood are corollaries.

The corollary to motherhood is fatherhood. Our former stake president taught this principle regularly as he reminded us that when we were at home with our children, especially if we were watching the kids so mom could be away, we were not babysitting: we were being fathers. Indeed, the proclamation says nothing about priesthood, only motherhood and fatherhood.

Why don’t women hold the priesthood? I don’t know. Certainly they may receive all the blessings of the priesthood the same way any man can: by receiving the ordinances of the priesthood. Thankfully years of teaching by the church is giving women a greater voice in the councils of the church. (The recent training on CHI II has emphasized this point, but Elder Ballard has been speaking about it for years.) And we know that in certain settings, women play an active role in ordinance work. They certainly minister among the members of the church and in their families. Women teach and pray and have access to the same personal revelation and inspiration as anyone.

I am grateful to my eternal companion for her contribution to my life. Our family is pretty traditional. My wife is a SAHM and I work longer hours than I wish I did (so does she by the way!). But, bless her heart, my wife reminds me regularly of the contributions I make as a dad. Am I’m grateful (and tell her so) for her contributions as a mom. In those roles, I think we are as complementary as we are complimentary.