Monday, October 31, 2011

Good news and bad news: Who are you again?

The good news is I was praying for my son last night in our family prayer. The bad news is I couldn’t remember his name.

Those readers without children (or with only one) may find this hard to believe, but even if you grew up with siblings in your family, you might remember that your parents got your name wrong from time to time.

It would have been less embarrassing to me if the son whose name I forgot had not been kneeling right next to me. And if he weren’t the only son left at home.

His comment after the amen: “Well, at least you went through the names in order.” (I could have added, “At least I didn’t confuse you with one of your sisters.”)

My favorite experience with name-blur was the night I came home from my mission. It’s important to note that I have one brother, David, and he is seven years older than me. All the way home from the airport, my mother was calling me by my brother’s name. I was still getting used to the fact that I had a first name at all, so I wasn’t bothered by it. Dad found it very funny.

As we were sitting down to dinner, Dad was still ribbing Mom about calling me by my brother’s name, and then he turned to me and said, “David, will you say the blessing?”

There’s some lesson there about stones and glass houses.

The good news is, I know God knows my sons and me (and my wife and daughters, too). I can only assume that since he’s perfect, he doesn’t mix up their names as often as I do.

But I’d rather have him call me the wrong name than not call me at all.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Any day without a kidney stone is a great day

Monday was a great day this week. Because I didn’t have a kidney stone on Monday.

Of course, there are many, many days I don’t have a kidney stone. But Monday was especially sweet.


Because Sunday I had a kidney stone. And Monday I didn’t.

Sunday: Pain. Monday: No pain.

Sunday: Wondering if I should go to the ER. Monday: Not worried about the ER.

Sunday: More pain. Monday: No pain.

Sunday: Lots of ibuprofen. Monday: No ibuprofen needed, thanks.

Sunday: Eight glasses of water in two hours without any, er, relief. Monday: Water (and relief) when I wanted it.

Sunday: Grumpy dad. Monday: Dad's back at work so no one at home can see if he's grumpy.

Sunday: Worrying if this is ever going to end (even though I know it will). Monday: No worrying. (Being happy.)

This was my third kidney stone in nearly 15 years. Fortunately, I know it when it happens thanks to a patient doctor’s instruction (and corroborating evidence on WebMD and the Mayo Clinic website) the first time around. I had no fever or nausea, so there was no need to go to the hospital. Just lots of fluids and waiting. I know that I’m luckier than some who have a much tougher time of it.

Lehi had it right when he said

For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things. If not so, my first-born in the wilderness, righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor bad. Wherefore, all things must needs be a compound in one; wherefore, if it should be one body it must needs remain as dead, having no life neither death, nor corruption nor incorruption, happiness nor misery, neither sense nor insensibility (2 Nephi 2:11).
All those things I wrote about Monday were also true on Tuesday. But Monday was something special because it was juxtaposed to the misery of Sunday. The way things are can be defined by what they are not. Comparing and contrasting is the way we see things, the way we learn things, the way things show up in life.

Yes, any day without a kidney stone is a great day. But the next day after the kidney stone passes is especially sweet.

Monday, October 24, 2011

"I know the scriptures are true"

Yesterday was, by attendance counts, the most popular sacrament meeting of the year in our ward: the Primary Program.

I have always loved the Primary, ever since, as a child, I attended Primary with my Mormon friend Kerry. It was the first LDS church meeting anyone in my family attended. I first taught in Primary before my mission, when it was still meeting during the week. Through the years I’ve gotten to visit as a bishopric member and substitute in lots of classes (usually my own kids’), and even take a few weeks subbing as the Primary music leader, one of my favorite things to do.

Our ward’s Primary presidency did a few really cool things with our program this year. Of course it was a blend of songs and short spoken parts from all the kids in the Primary.

I’m not quite sure how they did it, but somehow all the words that the Primary children spoke were their own. I don’t know if the Primary leaders took notes during the year and recorded thoughts and then pieced them together, or if they asked specific kids their feelings about particular themes. But every child who spoke spoke his or her own words.

The other thing they did was that classes did not march to the podium together. Instead, ages were mixed on the stand, so that 10- and 11-year olds helped 3- and 4- year olds get to the stand, climb up and speak (well, most of those little ones had no trouble speaking once they heard how cool their voices were over the microphone…). More often than not, it was older children helping younger children, not teachers or presidency members doing so. My 11-year old daughter (an age at which being in a Primary program could seem a little childish) was thrilled to help some of the younger children.

Of course the kids sang beautifully (and more than just in a Professor Harold Hill Think System kind of way). We have a large Primary, so even longer songs, where some clearly didn’t know the second verse, had plenty of support. The ward choir joined with the older Primary kids to sing “How Will They Know,” one of my favorite Primary songs. Our super-talented Primary music folks did a great job keeping the energy up in the singing, and the children followed their music leader like a choir. (The fourth verse of “Joseph Smith’s First Prayer” was particularly dramatic.)

By the end of the program, there was quite a sweet spirit in the room; I also knew from that witness that the scriptures are true.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Something you probably won’t hear in General Conference: "Be the coffee"

An object lesson I heard in a stress reduction class I attended with my lovely wife yesterday evening:

There are three pots of boiling water. One pot of boiling water has carrots in it. One has eggs. The third has coffee grounds.

After a period of boiling, what has happened?

The carrot, which started out straight and strong has become soft.

The egg appears the same on the outside, but the inside has become hardened.

The coffee grounds have not changed, but instead have changed the water.

If the boiling water is adversity, which do we want to be? Do we want to be the carrot that weakens its resolve in the face of adversity? Or the egg, that hardens its heart? Or do we want to be the coffee which changes the boiling water into something useful?
Of course the story works – like so many object lessons – if you don’t think about it too hard. Yes, we could change the coffee to herbal tea to make it more palatable to a Mormon sensibility. And we could argue that maybe we need to be more flexible in adversity so that cooked carrot may be a good thing. And we could argue that a firm cooked egg is more useful (and durable) than a raw one.

The fact is, in any case, that adversity will change us. It will draw things out of us that we did not know we had in us – good and bad. And it’s likely it will come to all of us. And it just might (if we let it) make us better.

Monday, October 17, 2011

"God must not think too much of you..."

I was listening to a Mormon Identities podcast from the Mormon Channel in which Richard and Linda Eyre were the guests. I’ve read a few of the Eyres’ books over the years and almost passed on this particular podcast, but I’m glad I didn’t, if only for this story that Richard Eyre told.

The Eyres and host Eric Huntsman were discussing the fact that our kids come to us not as a lump of clay just for us to mold, but that they bring genetic elements and (according to our LDS belief) they also bring something of who they were in the premortal existence. As Linda Eyre said, they come as who they are.

This principle is important when we think about those families who have apparently perfect children and parents who seem to take credit for their children’s perfection. Richard told this story:

We were in a Sunday School class once where we were visiting. No one knew us. And it was on parenting. And, uh, there was one guy there who, bless his heart, he just was a know-it-all. You know, he had all the answers and he just kept bragging, and he’d say, “Well the way we did it with my son the valedictorian and the quarterback…” and then he’d give some thing, you know. This happened maybe ten times during the class, and you just got the impression that all his kids were perfect and he was perfect and blah, blah, blah, and I knew it was bothering people.

And then, at the very end of the class a little fellow who hadn’t said a word got called on and he stood up and addressed this guy that had all the answers. I’ll never forget what he said, Eric. He said, “Excuse me, sir, but God must not have thought too much of you, sending you all those easy kids.”

I loved this story. It reminded me that as parents we do have a role to teach and guide our children as best we can. But in the end, our children will make choices and they own those choices, their parents do not.

Years ago I read an article in which Martin Sheen was telling how he had at the time intervened in his son Charlie’s life. At the time (this was years ago, not the most recent binge of Charlie Sheen weirdness), Martin did something to move Charlie toward recovery from his addictions. Charlie subsequently said his father had saved his life. Martin corrected that thought: He said he did not save his son. Charlie saved himself. Charlie owned his recovery.

I believe that we should neither take responsibility for our children’s mistakes, nor credit for their successes. Of course we can mourn with them when they fail. And we can celebrate with them when they succeed. But it is their failure and their success, not ours as parents.

To be sure, environment is an important element in rearing our children – both the environment of our home and the world in which we live.

Elder Packer has said:

The measure of our success as parents, however, will not rest solely on how our children turn out. That judgment would be just only if we could raise our families in a perfectly moral environment, and that now is not possible.

It is not uncommon for responsible parents to lose one of their children, for a time, to influences over which they have no control. They agonize over rebellious sons or daughters. They are puzzled over why they are so helpless when they have tried so hard to do what they should (Ensign, May 1992, p 68).

He goes on to speak of the power of the sealing ordinance eternally to help our children find their way home.

I believe this concept serves as a comfort and a warning to parents.

If we acknowledge that our children are each unique spirit children of loving heavenly parents, then part of our role as parents is to understand them for who they are (something the Eyres also advocate). And part of our role is to influence them in ways they will understand. And to provide alternatives to the evil influences of the world.

If, however, we seek to force our children into our mold of what we believe they should be, ignoring who they are to begin with, then we are, in my view, violating the principles of Doctrine & Covenants 121:

…when we undertake to cover our sins, or to gratify our pride, our vain ambition, or to exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men, in any degree of unrighteousness, behold, the heavens withdraw themselves; the Spirit of the Lord is grieved… (D&C 84:37).
When, on the other hand, we succeed at recognizing who our children are, when we influence them with love and kindness, teaching them well, even if they take paths divergent from ours, we may know the blessings of Section 121:

…thy dominion shall be an everlasting dominion, and without compulsory means it shall flow unto thee forever and ever. (v.48, emphasis added).

Thursday, October 13, 2011

A Sign -- From Heaven?

Well, at least from a local Presbyterian church I passed last night:

"If you can't think of anything to be thankful for, check your pulse."

I have one, and I'm thankful. :-)

Monday, October 10, 2011

Stratford Ontario, Scripture Memorization and Me

My wife and I have a nearly annual habit now of heading east to Stratford, Ontario for the Stratford Shakespeare Festival. The festival runs from April through October and this year included a dozen plays, including four Shakespeare plays several musicals and some smaller works. We saw two plays: Twelfth Night and Camelot (Shakespeare wrote the first, not the second).

Twelfth Night was of particular interest to me since the last time I saw it was with my daughter in Taipei. She had bought us tickets for a visiting company’s performance. The sales clerk assured her it would be in English, since there would be Mandarin subtitles. Well, the touring company was from Russia, and the performance was in Russian. We don’t speak Russian, so we relied on our best recollection of the story as we watched what amounted to a ballet of Twelfth Night. (By the way: a spectacular ballet; the performance was delightful even though we couldn’t understand the words.)

So this time I was excited to actually hear the words, too! And we were not disappointed. Stratford’s productions have always been top notch. They are innovative and engaging; performances are by top actors in North America (Brian Dennehy was a featured guest this year, though his performance as Toby Belch was great, it was not the highlight of Twelfth Night).

What is fascinating in Shakespeare, however, is the text. The words are delicious to hear and they combine to tell complete and complex stories that entertain, instruct and move an audience (but first and foremost entertain!).

I studied Theatre History in my college days, and have learned my share of roles. Memorizing a part is challenging, but also exciting as actor and character form a bond through the text. Memorizing Shakespeare is more challenging because each word carries such importance (every playwright would believe his words carry importance, and many do, but none like Shakespeare’s).

So as I watched these great actors perform great theatre, I thought also of Elder Scott and his counsel to us to memorize scriptures. Just as a play or poetry takes on new meaning when spoken out loud, so do the scriptures. Just as a character’s words come to life in the mouth of an actor, so can scriptures come to life in our mouths as we memorize and give voice to them.

Elder Scott said:

Great power can come from memorizing scriptures. To memorize a scripture is to forge a new friendship. It is like discovering a new individual who can help in time of need, give inspiration and comfort, and be a source of motivation for needed change.

I’m memorizing seminary scripture mastery verses with my son this year. We practice them on the way to seminary in the car each morning. And I find the words coming back to me through the day. At least a part of my head is filling with divine direction and heavenly teaching. And those words come to me in quiet moments reminding me of who I am and who my Father is.

I can only hope it’s happening for my son, too.

Friday, October 7, 2011

New African Temples and Me

I know that several new temples were announced in conference, and as interesting as good fishing in Wyoming sounds to me (btw, interesting is that word your mother taught you to use when you couldn’t think of a nice one), it was the two new African temples that caught my attention.

I have never been to Africa, but my parents lived in Lagos, Nigeria while I was on my mission in the late 1970’s. During those years President Kimball announced the revelation on the extension of the priesthood to all worthy men of the church.

I have in my missionary journal a letter from my mother in which she writes:

Yesterday, Sunday, August 20, 1978 marked a day of history.

On Friday, Brother Merrill Bateman [then a BYU professor] and Edwin Q. Cannon, first counselor in the International Mission presidency arrived in Lagos. They visited us, Brother Miller, a Brother Miller-Aganemi who became a member of the church while doing graduate work in Utah. He is a native Nigerian and is, of course, black. Yesterday [we] held a REAL meeting. [My folks had been meeting just the two of them each week, with Brother Miller joining them a time or two a month.] Sacrament was observed, testimonies and one calling and setting-apart. And this is the “first.” Your Dad was called to be Nigerian Group Leader, to locate those Nigerian men who were baptized during their educational periods in the U.S. and have since returned to this country. These men will now have the opportunity to realize the priesthood.

I would never have imagined that my convert parents would be on the cutting edge of the history of the church. To be sure, they were on the edge. Two senior missionary couples later came to Nigeria and Ghana and did the heavy lifting regarding the initial growth of the church there. They visited with my folks from time to time, but the real work was far from Lagos. But decades later temples came to Ghana and to Nigeria.

I’ve been interested in the development of the church in Africa since my parents were there. An additional temple in South Africa is a great thing. And a temple in the Democratic Republic of Congo is awesome to me. More blessings closer to more people. The Johannesburg South Africa Temple is 350 miles from Durban, and over 2,000 miles from Kinshasa.

I look forward to more African temples in the future.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Thanks, Sister Dalton, for your counsel to fathers

First, Sister Dalton, thanks! We don’t often have sisters in conference speak directly to fathers. I know my daughters are not my possession. But I know they are my daughters, on loan from our Father in Heaven, and I’d like to do what I can to help them find their way home again.

Thanks for continuing to think about how our daughters can find their way home, and how we can help them succeed in developing into the women we hope that they will be: strong, faithful and virtuous, confident that God loves them and confident in His plan for their happiness.

Thanks for reminding me to love my wife. I always like getting a challenge that is easy to meet.

And thanks for challenging me to model virtue in my own life, confirming that it is not just a value for young women, but also for their fathers.

I’m happy to report I have never had to go looking for any of my daughters because they didn’t come home on time. (Of course, the youngest is only 11, so I suppose there’s still time for me to have that experience!) ;-)

Monday, October 3, 2011

The Awesome Elder Hales

I was surprised when I saw Elder Hales at conference. I live far from SLC and was not aware of the seriousness of his continuing health concerns, so when I saw him at conference, I was really shocked by how he looked.

Elder Hales is the only living apostle I've ever met personally. When I lived in Venezuela, I was his driver when he and his wife came for a regional conference. Since that brief chance to get to know him a little, I've paid close attention when he's spoken in conference. And I've found he's given some of the most straightforward talks on key gospel principles over the years.

His talk Sunday morning was delightful, and it was a great personal blessing for me to be able to hear him speak.

Two quotations from his talk struck me in particular, but for different reasons. The first:

Too often we pray to have patience but we want it right now.

This is a consistent message of his for some time now. He has talked before about his own health concerns and how he's even wondered if he has learned enough from them. And, of course, I'm one of those who so prays.

The second:

To all the Marys and Marthas, to all the good Samaritans who minister to the sick, succor the weak and care for the mentally and physically infirm, I feel the gratitude of a loving Heavenly Father and His blessed son. In your daily Christ-like ministry you are willing to wait upon the Lord and you are doing our Heavenly Father’s will. His assurance to you is clear: Inasmuch as you have done it unto the least of these my brethren, you have done it unto me. He knows your sacrifices and your sorrows. He hears your prayers. His peace and rest will be yours.

This quotation was my balm in Gilead for this conference, and if I had heard nothing else, this would have been feast enough. It is that sweet apostolic comfort that few can give and reassures me to my core.

Bless you, Elder Hales.

Update Oct 10, 2010: Here's a link to an item at LDS Newsroom on Elder Hales' recovery.