Camping with my two sons

HIking at Hawn State Park

I had a great time this past weekend camping with my two sons at Hawn State Park.  Well, in execution, I ended up camping with my younger son while my older son was a mile or so away at a different site.  The young men wanted to do a lightweight hiking campout, but I didn’t think Garrett was up to a multi-mile hike, so I had the bright idea that while the rest of the boys hiked the red trail counter clock-wise, I was going to hike the shortcut to campsite 3 (and no, I didn’t get lost).

Whispering Pines LegendWhispering Pines Trail

It all worked brilliantly, except it took us longer to get there than I expected.  Garrett wanted to look at every leaf, kick every rock, and scooch around every branch across the trail.  We must have averaged something under 1 mph.  Lest it sound like complaining, I’ve learned over the years that Garrett sees things the rest of us miss.  He’ll notice the chirp of a bird or shape of a cloud when everyone else is worried about what they’re doing.

I kept asking Garrett if he wanted to take a break, and he insisted we keep walking. At 9:00 pm, I finally told him we needed to take a break, and so I took my first drink of water in nearly two hours.  He wouldn’t sit down or even take off his back pack.  We shared a pop tart, got out the flashlights (which were really just my phone and a ball cap with little LED’s on the bill).  We had a ways to go before we got to the camp, and I figured we were going to need a light.  Around this time, I started to get a little worried about the darkness–I figured Garrett was going to start complaining about the darkness.  He gets upset when someone so much as turns out a light in a room.

I was so pleased when he simply took my hand and followed behind me as the woods grew pitch-black.  Here we were, a father and his special needs son walking through the woods along a trail neither had ever been on, looking for a camp we’d never seen.  There were parts of the trail that was covered by waist high grass…my waist, the grass was nearly up to Garrett’s head. I was so proud of my son for hiking so well in the dark. As we walked, I decided to sing hymns.  At first, I was self conscious that someone would hear me, then reason took hold and I realized no one could hear me sing (which also meant no one could hear us if we had trouble either). And so I started belting out some of my favorite hymns.  The woods had fantastic acoustics!

At 9:45 pm, I finally told Garrett we had to stop. We found a wide spot on the trail and pitched our tent.  Previously I gave the other leader a 2-way radio, but he had not answered any of my calls.  After I set up camp, I thought about using my cell phone and see if he would answer.  I should have tried that earlier, because he picked up right away.  They were about 30 minutes behind us.  He called me back later and we discovered that he turned one intersection too early and ended up campsite 3 instead of campsite 2.  It would take them an to get to Garrett and I…and so they told me we were on our own for the night.

As we sat in our tent, I heard a pack of coyotes.  Then I began to imagine the mountain lions lurking around our tent as well.  I have a distinct memory of walking through Cheyenne Mountain Zoo and having the mountain lions stalk Garrett as we walked past their enclosure. (just FYI, there have been 14 confirmed Mountain Lion reports in Missouri in the past 2 years)

I ended up calling the other leader back up and asked him to hold a council of leaders (there were three men at the other camp) and see if they agreed that it was the best decision to leave Garrett and I alone for the night.  He texted me back and said one of the leaders and his son would be joining us soon.  It took them about 45 minutes to get to our camp. I was so grateful that he made the sacrifice to walk another mile in the pitch black to spend the night with a worry wart.

iPhone 6s2458.JPGOn top of this, I discovered our legs and arms were covered with scores of tiny reddish-black bugs.  A little research once I got home confirmed my thoughts: baby ticks (also called Seed Ticks). They were everywhere! I may have asked Heavenly Father for a miracle.  There was nothing I could do to rid us of all of the ticks, they were too numerous, but He could cause them to not bother us.  After this rather honest plea to be delivered of this pest combined with a blessing from the other leader when he showed up, we were able to go to sleep without being bothered by the ticks.  Granted, many of them were still on us, but they didn’t itch.  Moreover, when we got home, I was able to get most of them off in the shower.  (the rest came off today).

I’ll be honest, I felt much relieved when the other leader and his son showed up. I was actually able to sleep pretty good that night.  I put Garrett on the far side of the tent (away from the door) and set up my cot across the tent. I’ve got to give a plug to TNH Outdoors–their sleeping pad and camp pillow combined with a lightweight cot had me sleeping like a baby…even with an SI joint that is out of place.

The next day, we left camp around 8:30 and headed back to the truck.  We made the trip back in just over an hour (the previous night it took us 2.5 hours). The other boys caught up with us as we crossed the bridge back to the parking lot. I was disappointed I didn’t get to spend more time with my older son, but he seemed to still enjoy the campout.


There were a few things that impressed me on this hike:

  • There is safety in the buddy system.  I never should have started the hike with my son alone–I should have taken another leader and boy with me.
  • Sometimes it’s ok to stop and look at the flowers, kick the rocks, and listen to the birds.
  • Heavenly Father hears the prayers of his children…especially those prayers said by fathers on behalf of their children.
  • Sometimes all a person needs to keep going is to be distracted from the difficulty of the task at hand.
  • The right gear can make the difference between waking up stiff and sore or refreshed and ready to go.

 

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Why do we have suffer sorrow?

The past 3 years have been filled with emotional ups-and-downs for my family.  We decided 3 years ago to adopt–we knew there was a child missing from our family and we felt that adoption was the solution to filling that gap.  Accordingly, we spent two years looking at profiles on adoption and foster web sites.

For the next two years, we made inquiries and even had children spend the weekend in our home.  None of them worked out.  As frustration mounted, we finally were contacted by someone who had knowledge of a little boy needing a home.  My wife and I flew out to meet him and his family and realized this might be the right child for our family.

The next year was spent trying to work the details of a placement in our home.  The courts were involved, multiple social service agencies were involved, and biological parents were involved.  Needless to say, the administrivia and red tape was mind-boggling.  At various times we were excited to press on and also ready to give up.  At some point my prayers changed from “let this child be placed with us soon” to “if this child is supposed to come here, you need to remove the blocks we’re facing in the courts.”

Well, in June 2017, we finally had this young man join our family.  We were all so very excited.  A new son had come into our lives.

Our joy was short-lived.

Just a few short weeks after placement, we received some information that identified a need for services that my family was not ready or able to provide. We spent the next week or so talking with all of the social workers, with this child’s extended family, with our own family, with church leaders, with trusted friends, and most importantly, with God.

In the end, it was clear that this child needed to return to the custody of the state.  It was with a very heavy heart that we made the phone call.

And so we willingly gave up our new son.  Dreams were shattered on so many fronts. At the same time, I felt a peace I hadn’t felt in a while.

After this child returned to the State, the questions began…did we try hard enough? did we wait long enough? did we give up too soon?

The questions that hurt the most though were asked by the child’s extended family: “did we listen to the Spirit in making our decision” and “why would a loving Heavenly Father make a decision to place a child in our home only to turn around a month later and decide to remove him from our home.”

These questions have caused me to analyze my own life.  They have led me to analyze if I was in tune with the Spirit. After much introspection, prayer, and fasting, I have come to the conclusion that I did make the right decision–a decision that was confirmed by the Spirit.

So why does Heavenly Father allow us to suffer?  Allow me to share a few scriptures that bring comfort to my soul as I feel the pain of losing this son…

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord” Isaiah 55:8.

We may not understand everything that happens in our life.  We won’t always know “why” things happen, but we can be sure that Heavenly Father knows.

If thou art called to pass through tribulation; if thou art in perils among false brethren; if thou art in perils among robbers; if thou art in perils by land or by sea; If thou art accused with all manner of false accusations; if thine enemies fall upon thee; if they tear thee from the society of thy father and mother and brethren and sisters; …And if thou shouldst be cast into the pit, or into the hands of murderers, and the sentence of death passed upon thee; if thou be cast into the deep; if the billowing surge conspire against thee; if fierce winds become thine enemy; if the heavens gather blackness, and all the elements combine to hedge up the way; and above all, if the very jaws of hell shall gape open the mouth wide after thee, know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good. The Son of Man hath descended below them all. Art thou greater than he?

Doctrine and Covenants 122:5-8

There are many people who suffer greatly in the world today. In fact, it is a rare individual who, if they are being totally honest, aren’t suffering in some fashion. As the Lord said to Joseph, everything that happens to us can be for our good–everything that happens to us can give us experience. We must exercise faith in Jesus Christ.

I do not know for certain why God placed this child in my home only to have him leave 30 days later (I think it was so the need for this service could be identified). I do know that it was the right thing. I trust God to guide my life–to allow me the privilege of making my own decisions while confirming correct choices and lovingly warning against poor ones. I do know that we could not meet the needs this child had–he needed professional counseling that was incompatible with my family dynamics.  To keep him in our home would have been detrimental to his growth and development and destructive to family relationships.

My daughter is currently serving a church mission in France.  In her last letter home, she shared two short sentences that remind me what’s important:

“Heavenly Father likes us…Heavenly Father watches over us.”

Soeur Hacker

Truly our God is a great God. Jesus Christ is our Savior. The Holy Spirit guides us. In the face of adversity, let us “gird up [our] loins; fresh courage take.”


Some paths I’ve taken in life with a confirmation that Heavenly Father supports me 🙂 and some of those paths have led to sorrow 😦 I experienced that recently in a way that made me ask… Did Heavenly Father guide me to suffering? As I’ve pondered on this question the past couple days (my recent HWN),…

via Did God set me up for sorrow? — Heaven’s White Noise

Keeping Secrets

I’ve spent my entire career working with computers. Twenty-five years ago that meant using a desktop computer to write personnel evaluations, project reports, and budget spreadsheets.  Our “computer network” at work was a bunch of isolated, self-built islands of connectivity based on incompatible technologies.  Today, I get complaints when the wifi at home drops offline (though to be honest, I submit my fair share of complaints about the wifi).

When my wife and I were married, we had a personal computer in the house.  I’m not sure what we used it for. At last count, we had 19 devices connected to our home wifi network (I’m still not sure what we use them all for). We’ve come a long way in 25 years!

Today I want to share three of the computer security challenges I see at work every day:

  • Vulnerabilities
  • Malicious content
  • Password management

Vulnerabilities

By now, I hope that everyone realizes their computer and other technology devices should be updated on a regular basis.  There are only two reasons why updates are published for your computer or phone: 1) there’s a feature enhancement (in other words, they’ve changed something to make it work better) 2) there’s a weakness, flaw, or vulnerability (in other words, someone can break into your device).

House.jpg

Think of it like a house. By design, every house has certain features: windows, doors, a foundation, and walls. Sometimes though, a house will develop problems–a crack in the foundation for snakes to slither through, a hole in the soffit for bats to fly through, or even a simple hole in the window screen for bugs to fly through.  Sometimes, you’ll even have a garage door spring that breaks, a sink that springs a lead, or a lock on the door that no longer works. Without regular maintenance, these problems will increase and grow until the house is no longer comfortable or safe to live in. Some of these problems will allow burglars into your home.

Computer vulnerabilities work the same way. When your computer was built and released, it had the latest available software. Over time, bad guys find new ways to break into your computer, unless you apply the security updates for your computer. I prefer to set up an automated schedule for updating my computer.  This way it gets updated every month as soon as possible without the possibility of me forgetting (because that does happen every now and then).

Malicious Content

malicious1
source:computertutorflorida.com

Unfortunately, you can’t stay safe simply by keeping your systems up to date.  Let’s go back to the house analogy.  Even if you perform regular maintenance on your house, there’s still the very real possibility that a scammer will ring your doorbell. You may inadvertently invite someone bad into your home, thinking they are safe. I’m sure you’ve noticed that any service person with half a brain immediately offers you their company badge when you answer the door for them. Even at that, you’ve got to play it safe, be alert, and be careful who you invite in.

It works the same for your computer. As we surf the drivel of Facebook, we’re presented with so many tempting links.  How easy it is to click on a seemingly safe link and end up at a site that just downloaded software to your computer to monitor where you surf. There are some sites that are worse and will download viruses, ransomware, or other malicious content.

The same thought applies to your e-mail.  Hopefully everyone realizes there are no Princesses in Nigeria who need your help…you won’t be notified of a surprise inheritance through an e-mail…and certainly there are better places to find a bride than from a Russian website! The worst though, are the e-mails that look legitimate.  Things like “You’re package has been delayed, click here to confirm your address.” Or “Your account has been compromised, click here to reset your password.”  The bad guys are so good today that I only get account compromised e-mails from companies I actually do business with!

So how do you protect yourself? First, don’t click on links that look suspicious. In fact, don’t click on links that you aren’t expecting.  If you get something from your bank that asks you to confirm information, call your bank (using the number you already know, not the one in the email). Second, make sure you’ve got antivirus software running on your computer.

Password Management

Perhaps the biggest problem I see in the corporate world is password management.  It was relatively easy 25 years ago to remember the 1 or 2 passwords I had. Now, it is nearly impossible to remember all of the passwords I use each day. There are dozens of passwords for work-related sites. Then there are the passwords to get onto my home devices. And don’t forget that every website and app require a password.

It is tempting to use the same password everywhere so you can remember them.  Let’s go back to the house analogy.  Imagine that every lock you have uses the same key: your house, your cars, your padlock at the gym, your luggage, the Post Office Box, the key to your office, the key that opens your top right desk drawer at work, the fire safe at home where you keep your birth certificates, the storage shed down the road, the gate in your yard…you get the point.  At first glance this seems very convenient…until someone manages to steal the key to your desk drawer.  And now they have the key to everything you own.

So what do you do? No normal person can remember all of their passwords. You’ve got to use a password manager or other system to keep track of your passwords.  There are free solutions you can download to your phone that keeps track of your passwords.  Yes, there are dangers with using these as well, but it’s better than writing them on a sticky note and putting them under the keyboard!


Here’s the bottom line (did you catch the pun…see the line): being a responsible user of technology requires effort.  To go through life without paying attention to vulnerabilities, malicious content, or password management is like the ostrich who puts their head in the sand whenever they sense danger, effectively hiding their noggin, but leaving their big caboose flapping in the wind.

ostrich_head_sand.jpg
source:www.guy-sports.com

 

…on family, man, and God

 I’ve been silent for months.  There’s a litany of reasons why, but in the end, they are all simply excuses.  Today, I feel a need to share my voice again with my children.  Perhaps they’ll find value in what I have to say, perhaps they won’t.  Either way, I will share what needs to be said.

Of all the things in this world, my family is the most important to me.  They mean everything to me.  All that I do, I do for them.  I go to work so they can enjoy the good things of life.  I do projects around the house so they have a pleasant home in which to live.  I go to church because it strengthens the bonds we share. It is this that I wish to write about today because the relationship between Christ and my family is undeniably intermixed.

Wedding.jpg
Salt Lake Temple, 9 Jun 1995

My family began with Christ as a key partner. It has continued throughout the last 20+ years with Christ as a key partner.  Are there relationships that last without having Christ included? Sure. But that’s not for me.

 

Part of the relationship with Christ that my wife and I share is our desire to attend church.  There we are able to receive the Ordinances of Salvation and be taught the Principles of the Gospel such as: faith, love, repentance, forgiveness, work, and hope. In turn, we’ve tried to teach these same principles to our children.  To do so on our own, however, would be a much more challenging act than if we associate ourselves with the Body of Christ.

This hasn’t always been a simple thing to do though. There was a time early in my married life when my wife and I were offended by someone at church. Someone who should have been a trusted confidant…a friend to help in time of need.  Instead, they did something that I found reprehensible and nearly unforgivable.  They caused my family significant emotional distress.  The actual act doesn’t matter anymore. Suffice it to say, we were deeply offended.  When it came time to go to church, we still went. We didn’t socialize with that person, but we also didn’t try to “make a scene.”  Over time, we moved and I’ve not spoken to them since.  I still remember their name, so perhaps someday when we meet again, I’ll remember who they are (then I’ll have another mental debate…).

It was not easy for me to heed the counsel the Savior gave on the Sermon on the Mount:

Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy.  But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; …For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? Do not even the publicans the same? And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? Do not even the publicans so? Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.

Matthew 5:43-44, 46-48

Here’s what’s on my mind…nothing can keep me from going to church.  No one can make me stop going to church.  Why? Because I want my children to be taught the ways of truth. Because I value my eternal salvation over my worldly feelings.  Because I treasure the relationship with my Heavenly Father more than I desire a relationship with man. Because I need the power of the Atonement more than I yearn for the power of the world.

I know I’m not alone in how important attending church and partaking the sacrament is.  I’d like to share an entry from my personal journal from the time I was stationed in Kandahar, Afghanistan and was serving in the leadership of our congregation.  We observed the Sabbath on Sunday, as usual, but we also offered a Sacrament meeting Wednesday evenings for those who worked shift or otherwise couldn’t attend church on Sunday.

I was rather tired today and I wasn’t feeling very well, so I left work at 1700 hrs to go take a nap. I got to work at 0545 hrs, so I didn’t feel bad about leaving early. I set the alarm for 1840 hrs so I could go to sacrament meeting. I had told Br Britton and President Allen that I wouldn’t be there tonight (because of a meeting at 1900), but my meeting at 1900 hrs was moved to tomorrow and I was free. I slept very well and woke up at 1840 hrs. I laid there a minute not wanting to get up or go to church, but I did.

I sat outside and waited for a few minutes before the other congregational leaders, President Cox and President Allen, showed up. Later there were five members that showed up. One of them was at Kandahar Air Field for only today. He is at Forward Operating Base Gecko and hasn’t had the sacrament in six months. He was touched by the service. We ended up singing a hymn, praying, and partaking the sacrament. Then I shared my thoughts on faith and President Allen shared his thoughts on hope. We closed with a hymn and prayer. It was a very nice sacrament meeting. I’m glad that I went even though I didn’t want to go. I later received an e-mail from this one brother. I wanted to include it here because he says things very clearly:

“I too feel that it was a blessing to be able to be there on a Wednesday. Sacrament meeting tonight was one of the most touching I have ever experienced. I was struck by the bonds of fellowship that extend between members of Christ’s church, especially when meeting together to worship. Thank you, and all the others there, for doing their part as members of the church. It was a memorable experience for me, and I felt the peace of the spirit like I have not felt while I have been here. The Lord has blessed us all to create such a fellowship for his saints, that we can be a part of it anywhere in the world.”

Personal Journal, 14 June 2009

Kandahar Congregation.jpg
Kandahar Afghanistan

There is something special about attending church.  There is a strength that comes from worshiping Heavenly Father together.  Sure, there are people in the world who do bad things.  There are people in the world who are very offensive. Sometimes these same people walk the very halls we walk on the Sabbath day.  That doesn’t change the role of the Plan of Salvation in my life.  It certainly doesn’t change who God is or what He represents. I still need to take the Sacrament each week.  I still need to commune with the Divine each and every day.

I find myself thinking of the words of James “Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, and slow to wrath: for the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God” (James 1:19-20).  Then I tell myself to breathe deep, think about what I’ve heard and what I want to say…then I try to speak well.

What I’m trying to say is I won’t allow someone to offend me to the point where I turn my back on God. Now, I don’t intend to insult anyone who has been offended, I simply extend to my children the idea that the most important thing in my life is my relationship with my family and with my God.  I refuse to let man influence my worship of Jesus Christ. I refuse to let man influence the relationship I have with my family.

Here for a Season…now Gone

While all of my posts pertain to things that I want my kids to know, this post is going to be more personal than many of my previous posts. This week, I need my children to know my thoughts and feelings regarding babies, eternal families, and miscarriages.

For several years, we’ve known as a family that there were children missing from our family.  As we gathered the kids to go somewhere, we’d look at each other and ask who was missing and then count heads.  Eventually we accepted that these feelings were promptings that children were missing, so we started the adoption process.

After nearly two frustrating years of little to no progress toward adoption, we decided to see if God wanted us to add to our family by pregnancy.  About six months later, we were so very excited when we found out that we were pregnant. Now Momma’s not old, but let’s just say that she’s not exactly in the average child-bearing age range.

Within a week of hearing the heartbeat of the new baby, we got a text out of the blue from someone in Salt Lake City.  It seems they had found our profile on Adoption.com (which had seen virtually no activity in over a year) and felt prompted that we were the right family for a child they knew needed a home.

I won’t go through that whole process now (mainly because it’s still not finished).  It felt like we finally found our answer…we were going to adopt a child and have a child, then our family would finally be complete.

Mom discovered at her regular 16-week checkup this week, that our baby stopped growing at 9 weeks.  One week after we heard the heartbeat, that little heart stopped beating.

I had so many questions swirling around in my head, the biggest of which was why God would bless us with a baby, only to have that baby die before it was ever born?

Like so many people today, I turned to the Internet to try to make sense of what was happening to my family.  Here’s what I learned during those searches:

  • The Prophets have spoken regarding still born children.  They are to be recorded on Family Group Records.  If the parents have been sealed in the Temple, then these children are considered as “Born in the Covenant” and require no further ordinances in order to go to the Celestial Kingdom.
  • The question of when life begins is not understood: some believe life begins at conception, some when the heart beats, some during the “quickening” and others believe it begins at birth. There are a whole host of other possibilities that I won’t dive into.
  • Miscarriages happen all the time…a lot more frequently than we even realize.  Most of them occur before the mother even realizes she’s pregnant and are thought of a late, heavy period.
  • It is difficult to communicate the emotions felt due to a miscarriage

Now for my opinion on the matter.  Let me start with the principle of eternal families.  Heavenly Father placed men and women on this Earth so they could become a couple which would “multiply, and replenish the earth” (Genesis 1:28). This is the first commandment given to Adam and Eve and it has never been revoked. We are also told that we are to have joy (2 Nephi 2:25). As I’ve said in another post, families are meant to be eternal.  It would be a cruel and unjust God who let us fall in love and and create a family, only to be told it couldn’t be forever.

“For all old things shall pass away, and all things shall become new, even the heaven and the earth, and all the fulness thereof, both men and beasts, the fowls of the air, and the fishes of the sea; And not one hair, neither mote, shall be lost, for it is the workmanship of mine hand.” (D&C 29:24-25). Surely a baby in the womb is counted in the phrase “all things.”

“For thou hast possessed my reins: thou hast covered me in my mother’s womb. I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvelous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well.  My substance was not hid from thee, when I was made in secret, and curiously wrought in the lowest parts of the earth. Thine eyes did see my substance, yet being unperfect; and in thy book all my members were written, which in continuance were fashioned, when as yet there was none of them” (Psalm 139:14-16).

Not much has been said on the topic of miscarriages.  Perhaps this is part of the discussion of when life begins.  Suffice it to say, that I believe the doctrine taught regarding stillborn children can also apply to miscarriages. (Tears in Heaven)

I likewise find it difficult to believe that God would bless my wife with a baby…allowing us to get our hopes up of building our family, only to be told that it was a false alarm…a practice run…a mistake.  That doesn’t make sense with the God I understand my Heavenly Father to be.

I don’t have the answers, but I have hope and faith.  I have faith in a loving Father in Heaven who hears and answers my prayers.  I have hope in a future that includes this child so recently departed from this earthly sphere.

A good friend shared this thought with me:

I know He has provided a plan for us, a plan of eternal salvation that gives assurance of happy reunions and endless relationships.  I also share your hope that you will not only see your baby again, but you…will be able to hold him tenderly in your arms.

We do have a Father in Heaven who loves us very much. Through the Plan of Salvation, He has provided a Savior, Jesus Christ, to atone for all our sins, our pains, our sadness, and our grief. This doesn’t remove these feelings from us–we still have to travel this mortal life on our own–but it does allow us to lean on someone when we feel overwhelmed.  We can always know that Jesus Christ is there, ready to support us.  “The Son of Man hath descended below them all. Art though greater than he?” (D&C 121:8).  When we feel that no one understands what we are feeling, we can take comfort in knowing that Jesus Christ knows exactly how we are feeling.

I’m grateful for a Father in Heaven who loves me and my little family.  I don’t understand why this challenge is ours to face, but I know that “all these things shall give [me] experience and shall be for [my] good” (D&C 121:7).

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The Cunningham Family

Families are Forever

Reunion 2016.jpgThis weekend, I was able to attend the 2nd Annual Family Reunion for my side of the family.  I was reminded of the principle of Eternal Families by a phrase stenciled on my cousins living room:

Home - Families are Forever.jpg

It is the last line that I wish to discuss in this post. “Families are Forever.”  I once went to a friends wedding–it was a wonderful day with a beautiful bride.  When it came time for the couple to make their vows, I was struck when the preacher said “You are now husband and wife. Married forever till death do you part.”  How can a couple be married forever while at the same time be married till death do you part?  That contradiction didn’t make sense in my mind.  In addition, why would God put us in family units only to let them go away when we die?  As I’ve learned more, I’ve come to realize that God’s plan isn’t that the family relationship (husband-wife, parent-child, etc) end at death! God’s plan is that the family can be eternal!

Jesus Christ gave power to His disciples to seal families together forever when He said, “And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16:19). This sealing power is found in the Holy Temple.

I enjoyed reading this talk on Eternal Marriage by Elder Howard.  I can’t help but wonder how many of the social problems we see manifest around us today could be avoided if society returned to a time when the family was important.   In fact, I can’t help but believe that many of the social ills we face today aren’t the result of a single thing…lack of respect for authority.

I believe that the prevalence of drugs, abuse of others, and the lack of civility is the direct result of children not being taught to respect authority…and that teaching is best done in the home.  “And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold” (Matthew 24:12). In Mormon’s last epistle to his son, Moroni, he describes the wicked nature of the people.  Then he asks this poignant question:

“O my beloved son, how can a people like this, that are without civilization–(and only a few years have passed away, and they were a civil and a delightsome people) but O my son, how can a people like this, whose delight is in so much abomination–How can we expect that God will stay his hand in judgment against us?” (Moroni 9:11-13).

This passages teaches two principles: 1) it doesn’t take long for a society to go from righteous and pleasant to wicked and awful 2) society can’t expect blessings from God if we sin against His laws. Even though we live in a society that is forgetting all that is sacred, we can (and must) do our part in living the commandments of Jesus Christ.  As we do so, we will be blessed. If we want to make a change in the world…if we want to change the course that this Nation is currently…then we must start with ourselves.  And that start is to realize that the importance of the family. This message comes through in this video called “Families can be Together Forever.”

The bottom line is this…God’s Plan of Salvation not only includes the principle of family…it is centered around the principle of family. Next to the Holy Temple, the home should be the most sacred place for your family.  It is where we go to learn.  It is where we go to get away from the influences of the world.  It is where we go to feel the Spirit and feel love.

I know that Families can be together forever. If you doubt my words, watch this video to see another witness of this principle.

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www.smallandsimpletruths.com

Leaves of Three…

poison ivy
Image from www.kidshealth.org

Many people recognize poison ivy by the phrase “leaves of three, leave it be.” On the campout yesterday, one of the young men was looking at a plant and said “I see a poison ivy plant, it has three leaves…wait a minute, I think this might be a 3-leaf clover.”  I asked him if he knew how to tell the difference and he started to describe the physical characteristics of poison ivy.  When he was finished, I told him an easier way was to pick the plant, rub it on his skin and wait a day.  If he was itchy, it was poison ivy.

 

So how can we recognize danger when it comes into our life?  How we can know when something or someone is trying to lead us down the wrong path?  There are four things we must do:

  1. Know where we want to go
  2. Recognize the signs of evil and danger
  3. Demonstrate courage to chose the right
  4. Have the tenacity to endure to the end

First, we have to know where we want to go. The purpose of this life is to gain experience, receive a mortal body, and demonstrate our willingness to follow the commandments of God.  Along the way, most of us will have the opportunity receive an education, have a career, marry, and raise a family.  All of these things can help us on the path back to our Father in Heaven.  If you don’t know what you want out of life, it is impossible to make choices to get there.

“One day Alice came to a fork in the road and saw a Cheshire cat in a tree. ‘Which road do I take?’ she asked. ‘Where do you want to go?’ was his response. ‘I don’t know,’ Alice answered. ‘Then,’ said the cat, ‘it doesn’t matter.'”In Alice in Wonderland, Alice comes to a fork in the road. She asks the cat “Which road do I take?” To which the cat replied “Where do you want to go?”  – Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

Second, we have to recognize the signs of evil and danger.  Satan desires one thing–to frustrate the work of the Lord.  He does everything he can to destroy the creations of God.  However, he doesn’t typically work in bold, in-your-face manifestations.  Instead, he is very subtle and sly.  He is a patient being…able to bide his time to strike his fatal blow.  Nephi describes Satan’s efforts like this: “[Satan] will pacify, and lull [man] away into carnal security…and leadeth them away carefully down to hell” (2 Nephi 32:21 emphasis added).

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Nephi describes these efforts of Satan as a flaxen cord.  A flaxen cord is a cord made of many small threads.  Think about how easy it is to break a single piece of thread.  Now consider the difficulty in breaking a rope consisting of 20, 40, or even 100 threads.  This is how Satan leads us to hell…one sin at a time.  If we do not recognize the danger signs of sin quickly and break those things which would tie us down, we can soon become overwhelmed and feel helpless.  You have to recognize the signs of evil and danger.

Marijuana is sometimes called a gateway drug.  It doesn’t have the same effects as crack, meth, or heroine…but it can lead to abuse of these drugs as addicts become used to the effects of one, lesser drug, and give it up for progressively stronger drugs.

Likewise, happily married men don’t typically decide one day to have an affair.  Instead, they are lead gradually to that fatal act by first viewing “harmless” pornography or casually observing other women (remember David and Bathsheba). There is danger in “just looking”!

Third, we have to demonstrate the courage to choose the right.  Joshua famously declared “Choose you this day whom ye will serve…as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15).  It is easy to make this declaration from the safety of the pulpit or our home.  Do we have the courage to make this declaration reality in our lives? When we leave our home each morning, are we ready to “serve the Lord” all day and in all things?

It gets even more difficult to choose the right when others around us…particularly those we respect…are making poor choices.

Fourth, we have to have the tenacity to endure to the end. Paul records in 2 Timothy 4:7: “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith.” True success in life isn’t about winning individual battles, true success in life is about finishing the course…it’s about winning the war.  Satan would see us destroyed by sin; led to that action by subtle temptations and poor choices.  We have to share the same passion to defeat Satan that the people of Limhi showed in their fight agains the Lamanites.  “…They fought for their lives, and for their wives, and for their children; therefore they exerted themselves and like dragons did they fight” (Mosiah 20:11).

This life isn’t going to be easy, but we conquer evil by:

  1. knowing where we want to go
  2. recognizing the signs of evil and danger
  3. showing courage to chose the right
  4. having the tenacity to endure to the end

 

How do we do this?  How can we follow this prescribed course?  It goes back to the Sunday School answers…

  • go to church
  • read the scriptures
  • pray
  • listen to your parents
  • follow the teachings of Jesus Christ

I don’t want to over simplify, but it really is this easy.  If you want to know the voice of the Good Shepherd, then you have to study the voice of the Good Shepherd.  If you want to return to live with your Heavenly Father, then you have to practice living a celestial life now.  If you want to be happy tomorrow, then you need to try to be happy today.  Our actions are all interconnected.  We determine our future by every action we take in the present.

Mother, Mum, Mommy

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A Hen Gathers Her Chicks (image from ldsmag.com)

Some of these blogs are easy to write and some are more difficult.  You would think this topic would be easy to write about…mothers.  It’s difficult because words fail to adequately describe the importance of mothers in our life. As a child, the most important woman in my life was my mother.  She was always there to protect me, take care of me, and teach me.  I like the image of a hen gathering her chicks…it reminds me of my mother and how she was always there to take care of me.

 

I will never forget a visit my mother made to my home while I was stationed in South Korea.  We took a day trip to the Demilitarized Zone between North and South Korea.  Our guide briefed us “if you hear gunfire while we are in the DMZ, you need to run to the bus immediately.  As soon as most of you are here, we will leave.”  Notice he said most, not all.  I was immediately tormented.  What if something happens and my mother isn’t in the group that makes it to the bus before it leaves?  Fortunately, our visit was uneventful–there was no gunfire.

IMG_3997Now, some counsel for my children.  At some point in your life, you will leave home and
venture through life on your own.  As you do so, I admonish you to never forget your mother.  You will have many friends come and go.  You’ll have roommates that will be become best friends…and then fade away.  You will even find other woman who stand in the role of a mother-away-from-home.  But you will never have another mother.  She will be a constant in your life.  She should hold the preeminent place of honor in your life. The First Presidency said, “Motherhood is near to divinity. It is the highest, holiest service to be assumed by mankind. It places her who honors its holy calling and service next to the angels” (Conference Report October 1942, 12-13, quoted in Strengthening the Family).

I appreciated what one of the speakers (Keith Chapman) said at church yesterday.  He said he knew the mothers in our congregation were good women because of their fruit.  He sees the goodness of the mothers reflected in the lives of their children. I know the mother of my children is a good and honorable woman because I see it in her fruit…I see her goodness in our children.

Let me now give tribute to the mother of my children. She is the giver of life to my offspring.  She is the nurturer of truth to the future.  She is the defender of virtue and the teacher of honor. She is the vessel of beauty that brightens our home. She is the light of the spirit that leads our family to eternity.

In all my life, I’ve only been ready to fight someone once.  One time in 40 years, I’ve taken my coat off, thrown it on the ground, and prepared to throw a punch.  The occasion…someone offended my wife.  I’ll never forget the change in the man I was facing when he realized that his arrogant position was no longer tenable in my life…something was going to change.  Fortunately, he raised his hands, backed down, and walked away.

Captain Moroni called his people to battle with these words on the Title of Liberty: “In memory of our God, our religion, our freedom, and our peace, our wives, and our children” (Alma 46:12).

Let no man offend the mother of my children lest he desire to receive my wrath and my fury!

The Importance of a Budget

Few things are more exciting than getting your first job.  There is a feeling of independence, maturity, and responsibility that comes with donning a uniform, clocking in, and serving others.  One of the most exciting parts of getting a job is getting a paycheck! Your own money!  It is easy to spend that paycheck on things that make you happy (this is the voice of experience speaking).  I submit that buying things that make you happy is a legitimate part working; however, with a paycheck comes some obligations. I’d like to share my thoughts on how to best use those precious pay checks.

You must have a budget.  You must write that budget down on a piece of paper (or on a spreadsheet in the computer).  A budget in your head is nothing more than a dream! US News and World Report states 5 reasons you need a budget:

  1. To set and reach financial goals. Once you understand the overall picture of your finances–specifically, identifying how money flows in and out of your life–you can better see how to reach your financial goals.
  2. To spend according to your priorities. If you’re in the dark about how much you spend and where you spend it, changing you habits will be difficult. And even if you’re financially comfortable, a budget can help you identify unnecessary expenditures and deduce ways to redirect funds towards your priorities.
  3. To build wealth. Once you have a clear view of your overall financial picture, you can shift your focus to aggressively eliminating debts and building wealth.
  4. To plan for retirement. Though technically an aspect of building wealth, retirement planning is so vital to your future that it warrants special attention. A recent Harris poll showed that 34 percent of Americans have no retirement savings, and many of those that do have a retirement fund don’t contribute enough.
  5. For peace of mind. If you don’t have a budget, you might not know whether you can afford a new flat-screen TV, a new car, or any other major purchase. In fact, if your finances are one big mystery, your mere desire for an item might alone justify the expense.

US News and World Report

Spend less than you make.  Consumer debt will lead you down a path of bondage.  Remember that “the borrower is servant to the lender” (Proverbs 22:7). You will never become wealthy (or have feel the associated feeling of financial peace) if you spend more than you make.

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screenshot captured from www.moolanomy.com

Pay an honest tithing.  “Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it” (Malichi 3:10).  Tithing is a temporal commandment with temporal and spiritual blessings.

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What is an honest tithe?  It is 10% of your interest and increase.

Elder John A. Widtsoe explained: “Tithing means one-tenth. Those who give less do not really pay tithing; they are lesser contributors to the Latter-day cause of the Lord. Tithing means one-tenth of a person’s income, interest, or increase. The merchant should pay tithing upon the net income of his business, the farmer upon the net income of his farming operations; the wage earner or salaried man upon the wage or salary earned by him. Out of the remaining nine-tenths he pays his current expenses…etc. To deduct living costs…and similar expenses from the income and pay tithing upon the remainder does not conform to the Lord’s commandment. Under such a system most people would show nothing on which to pay tithing. There is really no place for quibbling on this point. Tithing should be given upon the basis of our full earned income. If the nature of a business requires special interpretation, the tithe payer should consult the father of his ward, the bishop.” (emphasis addedEvidences and Reconciliations,2:86, quoted in D&C Student Manual)

Save for a rainy day. You should save at least 10% of your paycheck for a rainy day. When you are younger and have less financial obligations, you could easily double that savings to 20%. Many financial experts agree that a wise steward will have 3 months of income saved for a rainy day.

Prepare for future obligations. There are some things you know that you will want to do with your life: college, mission, car, trips, etc.  If you save for these events, then you’ll be able to accomplish them without acquiring debt. Again, I lean on the magic number of 10% for this area of the budget.

Have fun (and be responsible).  You worked hard for your money…now enjoy it! Buy a book, see a movie, go on a date.  Do something that makes you happy.  Money won’t buy happiness, but it doesn’t hurt to have some lying around.


One of the financial experts I respect is Dave Ramsey.  Here is a graphic from his website regarding a good budget breakdown:

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screenshot captured from www.daveramsey.com

Notice the column for charity comes first (that is tithing).  Second is savings (always pay yourself before you pay “the man.” Next is housing at 25%, then utilities, transportation, and medical. At the end of the month, you’ll still be left with 33% of your budget.


Resources

Cell phones, iPads, Kindles, and more

FullSizeRender.jpgI remember clearly growing up in an age where our TV received 4 channels (2, 7, 16, & 22).  It was big news when Fox started up (channel 45) and we had 5 channels to choose from!  Because we lived in the country, the cable company hadn’t yet laid cable down our road.  I suppose satellite TV was an option, but it wasn’t one that was entertained by my parents.

I also remember buying my first cell phone in 2000.  We lived in Germany and thought it might be prudent to have a cell phone for emergencies.  It worked well enough…although we were forever low on minutes (it was a pay-as-you-go phone).  When we left Europe for Nebraska, we tried the cell phone only route with good success.  In fact, we’ve really only had cell phones since we moved to Nebraska.

Today, cell phones are more powerful than the computers used to launch Neil Armstrong to the moon! Back in my youth, pornography was something that you saw only when you managed to get your hands on a hand-me-down dirty magazine.  Today, pornography pops up in Google results during the most innocuous search requests.


One of the questions I enjoy pondering is why we are so blessed today?  We do we have so many labor-saving devices? I believe the answer is so we have more time to do the things which matter most. Sister Susa Young Gates  once asked her father [Brigham Young]:

“how it would ever be possible to accomplish the great amount of temple work that must be done, if all are given a full opportunity for exaltation. He told her there would be many inventions of labor-saving devices, so that our daily duties could be performed in a short time, leaving us more and more time for temple work. The inventions have come, and are still coming, but many simply divert the time gained to other channels, and not for the purpose intended by the Lord”  (quoted in Meeting the Needs of a Worldwide Church)

I was amazed the other day to discover the Family Search App for my iPhone.  Once I logged into the app, my entire family tree was immediately accessible.  I was able to access census and other records. I could add pictures to family records.  It was truly amazing to me how easy family history work had just become!  In very little time, I discovered family members who were previously missing from my tree.

With these great inventions come great responsibility and great danger.


As I look around me, I see a society that is becoming disengaged. In January 2011, a woman fell into a fountain while using a phone.  In February 2015, a man missed a humpback whale because he was texting.  In December 2015, a man walked off a cliff in California while looking at his phone. Here is a good report on walking while distracted. Here is another video on the dangers of driving while distracted. I submit to you, however, there is an even more dangerous phenomena occurring with cell phone and other mobile devices.  I call it “Distracted Worship.”

Elder Oaks spoke of this in October 2008:

During sacrament meeting—and especially during the sacrament service—we should concentrate on worship and refrain from all other activities, especially from behavior that could interfere with the worship of others…Young people, it is not a time for whispered conversations on cell phones or for texting persons at other locations. When we partake of the sacrament, we make a sacred covenant that we will always remember the Savior. How sad to see persons obviously violating that covenant in the very meeting where they are making it.

Sacrament Meeting and the Sacrament

Idle WorshipSeven years later, Elder Oaks spoke again on the dangers of distracted worship in a talk about the Parable of the Sower:

If the emblems of the sacrament are being passed and you are texting or whispering or playing video games or doing anything else to deny yourself essential spiritual food, you are severing your spiritual roots and moving yourself toward stony ground. You are making yourself vulnerable to withering away when you encounter tribulation like isolation, intimidation, or ridicule.

Being an advisor to the Young Men at Church, I hear many reasons why they are on their phones at church. One of the most common reasons is that class is boring.  I would be a hypocrite if I denied that sometimes I’m bored in Sunday School.  I’d be lying if I said I never used my mobile device in class to distract myself from a lesson that 1) I already heard 2) I thought didn’t apply to me or 3) I felt I could teach better.  I also know that each of these excuses are just that…excuses.


What then do we do when we are in a situation where we are bored?  How do we handle sitting at church when the speakers and teachers lecture instead of teach? I found some great advice in an article titled “Never have a Boring Church Class Again.”  Allow me to summarize the main points. When you find yourself in a boring class, you could:

  • Ask yourself why you come to church
  • Treat your gospel education like building a fire…piece by piece
  • Take it Personally
  • Find the Gems
  • Don’t let it end too soon
  • Take action on what you learn

Someone once asked President Spencer W. Kimball what he did when he was in a boring Sacrament meeting.  He replied “I don’t know, I’ve never been in one.”  I don’t think he’s heard some of the same speakers I’ve heard!  Seriously though, I have to wonder if he didn’t take to heart the counsel in the article I just quoted, particularly the lines of “take it personally,” “find the gems” and “take action on what you learn.”


So what can we do to combat the negative influences of mobile devices and encouraging positive behavior? Here are some things I’ve tried (with varying amounts of success).

Have a media fast. Every now and then, my family goes on a media fast.  We put all our devices away and force ourselves to interact with each other.  We play games, take walks, and talk.  It isn’t always easy.  Here is a picture of my youngest son putting the Kindle in the box for the evening. It wasn’t long before he got over the missing Kindle and had a great time with the family.

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Line up the devices on the chalk board. Occasionally, I will have all the young men in my class at church put their devices on the chalk board.  This forces them to revert to *gasp* hard copy Scriptures!  I understand the ease of looking up scriptures on my mobile device, but I also appreciate the feel of the Book in my hand as I read the Word of God.

Use Airplane mode at Church. If you can’t get yourself to put away your device at church, you could at least put your device in airplane mode.  This way you’ll be able to access the scriptures, lesson manual and other pertinent information without being distracted by Facebook, SnapChat, Instagram, or Pinterest.

Set boundaries. Science tells us we shouldn’t let our children eat unlimited amounts of sugar, or stay up all night playing.  Likewise, we shouldn’t let our children have unlimited access to mobile devices or technology.  Set a time limit on screen time and restrict access to inappropriate sites.

Trust, but verify. It is my opinion that I have a right and a duty as a parent to monitor the sites my children visit on the Internet.  I have a right and a duty to scan through text messages, e-mails, and other communication.  I call this “Good Parenting.”

Use a gospel-themed lock screen and wallpaper. I find it much harder to do something bad with my mobile device when the first thing I see on the screen is the Temple of the Lord. If you need suggestions for good lock screens, you might try looking here or here.

This video shows that part of the problem is that we (parents) sometimes act like buffoons around technology and mobile devices. Although there are times I want to react like this woman, I realize there is value with these devices.  For instance, LDS missionaries are beginning to use iPads to teach the Gospel.  The Church has published a variety of apps to strengthen those searching for Christ. We need to make technology and mobile devices “our servants, not our masters. For example, if later tonight you share inspiring thoughts from this devotional on social media, your smartphone is a servant. If you randomly surf the Internet, your smartphone is a master” (Make Technology your Servant, not your Master).


Mobile Devices can have a wonderful place in our lives. They allow us to communicate with family and friends.  They allow us access to more information than we can ever hope to understand.  The help us save time so we can do more of the Lord’s work.  We must remember and give respect to these devices for the power they hold.  If you are with family or friends, then put down your mobile device and be present. Remember that…

Distracted driving can lead to physical death.

Distracted worship can lead spiritual death.  


see also:

Fight the New Drug

Overcoming Pornography

Archway Counseling and Wellness

Stupid criminals caught by mobile devices

7 More Stupid Criminals

Sacrament Meeting and the Sacrament

Quotes on Technology

To Be Edified and Rejoice Together