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

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To Be a Man

I recently read a talk by President Russell M. Nelson that has caused me to think a lot about the kind of man I am and the kind of man I want to become.  You can read a million different articles about the qualities of “real men.”  Here are some thoughts I’ve had on the subject based on what I read by President Nelson (along with thoughts of my own).

Real man:

Developing Priesthood Power requires a man to pay the requisite price by diligently seeking to be taught by the Lord Himself. A man who has paid the price will be able to bring miracles to those he loves and keep his marriage and family safe, now and throughout eternity. In fact, President Nelson uses an interesting phrase…”In the coming day…” Here is the entire passage:

“In a coming day, only those men who have taken their priesthood seriously, by diligently seeking to be taught by the Lord Himself, will be able to bless, guide, protect, strengthen, and help others. Only a man who has paid the price for priesthood power will be able to bring miracles to those he loves and keep his marriage and family safe, now and throughout eternity.”

Of all the things I heard and read in General Conference, April 2016, this is the most prophetic sounding…there’s something about these words that stir a feeling of action within me.  

So what is the price to be paid? It is to live these qualities: faith, virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, holiness, brotherly kindness, charity, diligence, humility.  It is also to pray from our hearts–even if that means having the courage to pray to know how to pray.  It is to earnestly study the scriptures and feast on the words of Christ.  It is to worship in the Temple regularly and ask Him to teach us about priesthood keys, authority, and power.

In the end, there is very little that’s new in this talk–we’ve heard all these things before.  But for me, today, there is something powerful about hearing an Apostle give me direction on how I can protect my family…on how I can be a better man.

The question is this:

have I spent my days working on my birthright…

or eating a mess of pottage?

True Conversion

As a disciple of Christ, one of my goals in life is to become converted to the Gospel. I don’t mean that I’ve joined a particular church and pay tithes and offerings.  I mean I desire to become truly converted.  But what does this entail?  A quick Internet search yields many pages that list qualities and characteristics of true conversion.  I have read through many of these lists and have compiled my own characteristics of true conversion.

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www.azquotes.com/quote/479831

I believe that True Conversion manifests itself by:

 

  • Striving to be different from the world
  • Showing great love and compassion toward others
  • Standing as a witness of Christ at all times, and in all things and in all places
  • Desiring to be an instrument in the hands of God
  • Having no desire to sin
  • Seeking after righteousness
  • Praying always
  • Pondering the Word of the Lord frequently
  • Demonstrating gratitude, even in the face of adversity
  • Enduring all things to receive Exaltation

There are many other things a true convert will show, but these items sum it up for me (at least at this point in my life). Now for some details regarding each of these items.

Striving to be different from the world

“…ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darknessinto his marvellous light” (1 Peter 2:9, emphasis added).

“…Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people” (Exodus 19:4, emphasis added).

As we obey the commandments of God, we become different from the world…we set ourselves apart from our neighbors as something unique, something special. This then opens many doors for us.  Sometimes it opens the door to missionary work–as people notice our differences, we have opportunities to testify of Christ.  Other times it opens the door to ridicule–then we have the opportunity to learn patience and long suffering.

Showing great love and compassion toward others

We are commanded to show love and compassion toward others.  When Christ walked upon the Earth, he went about showing love to everyone–those who were easy to love like his disciples…and those who were shunned by society like the lepers. One time, he was asked what the greatest commandment was.  His answer? “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 22:37-40).

Having this great love is so important that Paul later teaches this lesson: “And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:2). Without Charity, we are nothing.  Without a love for our fellow man, we are nothing.

Standing as a witness of Christ at all times, and in all things, and in all places

The Book of Mormon Prophet Alma taught his people repentance, redemption, and faith. Then he presented this proposition to them: “Behold, here are the waters of Mormon (for thus were they called) and now, as ye are desirous to come into the fold of God, and to be called his people, and are willing to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light; Yea, and are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in, even until death, that ye may be redeemed of God, and be numbered with those of the first resurrection, that ye may have eternal life—Now I say unto you, if this be the desire of your hearts, what have you against being baptized in the name of the Lord, as a witness before him that ye have entered into a covenant with him, that ye will serve him and keep his commandments, that he may pour out his Spirit more abundantly upon you?” (Mosiah 18:7-10).

When we are truly converted, there will be no time or circumstance we find ourselves in which we are not willing to testify of Christ.

Desiring to be an instrument in the hands of God

For this quality, I want to share a parable.

“But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and of silver, but also of wood and of earth; and some to honour, and some to dishonour. If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honour, sanctified, and meet for the master’s use, and prepared unto every good work. Flee also youthful lusts: but follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart.” (2 Timothy 2:20-22).

As we purge from ourselves unrighteous thoughts and behaviors, we become an instrument ready for the Lord to use to further his work.  We become, in the words of Alma, “instruments in the hands of God to bring about this great work” (Alma 26:3).

see also “Become an Instrument in the Hands of God

Having no desire to sin

The people of King Benjamin, once they were taught the gospel, all declared to King Benjamin that they had “no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually” (Mosiah 5:2). When we are truly converted, we lose our desire to sin.  This doesn’t mean the temptations will all go away, simply that the temptations are no longer desirable to us.

Seeking after righteousness

The 13th Article of Faith declares: “We believe in being honest, true, chaste, benevolent, virtuous, and in doing good to all men; indeed, we may say that we follow the admonition of Paul—We believe all things, we hope all things, we have endured many things, and hope to be able to endure all things. If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things.” I also like the description given in Psalm 42:1-2. “As the [deer] panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God. My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God: when shall I come and appear before God?”

Perhaps most beautifully are the words of the Savior himself. “Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness” (Matthew 5:6). I do not think it is an accident that Christ uses the words “hunger” and “thirst”.  We are told elsewhere to “feast on the words of Christ.”  We also literally “eat” and “drink” in commemoration of his Atoning Sacrifice.  Righteousness is found in the Savior and we are to seek it out.

Praying always

This is one of my favorites because it gives me a communication path to my Father in Heaven.  It lets me know that not only can I pray, but that I am commanded to pray. In Ephesians 6, Paul teaches us about the Armor of God.  After we put on the whole armor of God, we are then told to “[Pray] always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and [watch] thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints” (Ephesians 6:18).

The Book of Mormon prophet Nephi taught:

And now, my beloved brethren, I perceive that ye ponder still in your hearts; and it grieveth me that I must speak concerning this thing. For if ye would hearken unto the Spirit which teacheth a man to pray, ye would know that ye must pray; for the evil spirit teacheth not a man to pray, but teacheth him that he must not pray. But behold, I say unto you that ye must pray always, and not faint; that ye must not perform any thing unto the Lord save in the first place ye shall pray unto the Father in the name of Christ, that he will consecrate thy performance unto thee, that thy performance may be for the welfare of thy soul.” (2 Nephi 32:8-9).

Pondering the Word of the Lord frequently

I hope that when I one day stand face-to-face with the Lord, I will recognize his voice.  In order to be ready to recognize his voice, I have to know what it sounds like.  I can learn this by studying his words in the Holy Scriptures.  There’s something very special about the words of Christ that are recorded in the Holy Bible and in the Book of Mormon.  They teach us directly from the Savior–no intermediary.  As we come to know these words, we’ll be ready to listen to the Savior when we meet him.

Demonstrating gratitude, even in the face of adversity

This characteristic isn’t an easy one.  Perhaps the best known Bible story on adversity and gratitude is Job.  Here is a man who lost everything…and yet still showed gratitude. The Lord revealed to the Prophet Joseph Smith these words: “He who receiveth all things with thankfulness shall be made glorious” (D&C 78:19).

see also “Grateful in Any Circumstance

Enduring all things to receive Exaltation

Finally, we must remember that this life is the time for men to prepare to meet God.  This life is part of the journey to eternity…it is not the destination.  When we die, we will be Resurrected…either to eternal glory or eternal damnation.  The choices we make now, the actions we take each day, will determine our eternal reward.

As I said in a previous post, families are eternal. But in order to be with our family throughout all eternity, we must strive toward that eternity together.  We have to be ready and willing to endure all things here and now so that we can receive all things later. When things get tough and we think we’re at the end of our patience and hope, we can find solace in the words of Jesus Christ to Joseph Smith.

“My son, peace be unto thy soul; thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment; And then, if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high; thou shalt triumph over all thy foes.” (Doctrine and Covenants 121:7-8).

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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:

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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

Lives, Fortunes, and Sacred Honor

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240 years ago, 56 men gathered in a room to put the finishing touches on a document they had spent the previous 19 days working on.  These men were’t a rag-tag group of disgruntled whiners who were upset because someone offended them.  They were well-to-do professionals who saw consistent abuses by their government and determined to make it right. And so they penned these words:

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.–Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

The Declaration of Independence

Paul Harvey once spoke on the Signers of the Declaration of Independence.  It is well worth the 10 minutes of your life to hear their resolve.

Life is all about making and following through with commitments. Sometimes these are rather straightforward (I daresay, simple) commitments while other times, these commitments, like those made by the Founding Fathers, are extremely difficult.  Nevertheless, it is through our resolve that we make a difference in life.

What frustrates me is that I continually fall short on keeping my resolve with regards to things I know I need to do: read my scriptures, pray as a family, exercise, write in my journal, etc. I think this is where the concept of “enduring to the end” comes into play.  Heavenly Father knew from the beginning that man would find it difficult to follow through on commitments.  He even came up with a method to help us get back on the wagon when we fell off…repentance! Now, I’m not saying that every time we fail to hold strong to our resolve we commit sin, but I am saying that there are times when failing to stay strong to our commitments is a sin.


Now for the big question…now for the reason for this post…

What is your resolve?  For what are you willing to sign your name and pledge your life, fortune, and sacred honor?

If you do not know, then you need to find out. To go through this life without something to commit to, is to sail the seas with only a mast–no cloth.  Furthermore, our resolve extends to everything we do in this life.  Our commitment defines our character…who we are.  It used to be that when a man shook hands, he gave his word.  Is that true for you?  Is your word something people can believe?

Greater Love Hath No Man Than This…

Memorial Day is our opportunity to honor those individuals who gave their life in the service of our country.  It is a day to celebrate the freedom which has been paid for with blood.  It is the day to remember that God alone leads this Nation and will continue to lead this Nation as we remember Him…or in the words of George Washington, “It is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor.” Today is my tribute to those who have “slipped the surly bonds of earth” and are now “dancing the skies on laughter-silvered wings” (High Flight).

As we celebrate this weekend, it is worth remembering the words of Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg:

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. 

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. 

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Abraham Lincoln
November 19, 1863

Another speech worthy of our study is Patrick Henry’s “Liberty or Death” speech given 23 March 1775.  Somedays I worry that the passion, dedication, and patriotism demonstrated by Patrick Henry has gone from our country…then I visit one of our Military cemeteries and I see Patrick Henry’s commitment etched in stone on marker after marker.


At my 20th class reunion, they shared a video tribute to the thirteen classmates I went to school with. Today, I want to share my thoughts regarding these men who sacrificed all so I could raise my children in a free country.

One of these men I knew very well…David Weber.  I’ll never forget the day he died…28 January 1994.  Dave loved to fly and was sitting back seat of a tow plane when the pilot suffered a massive heart attack and sent the plane into a nose dive.  Dave tried to recover the aircraft, but was not successful.  I went to his funeral in Star Valley, Wyoming–met his brother who was serving a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Eric Das.  He was shot down over Iraq on 3 August 2003 and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery with his Weapons Officer, William Watkins (they were the 27th and 28th casualties from Operation Iraqi Freedom to be buried in Arlington).

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General Jumper, Chief of Staff, USAF, salutes at the funeral of Eric Das

Ed Wooten.  He never knew the impact he had on my life. Our interaction was but a few short weeks, but those few weeks changed the course of my life and solidified my commitment to the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Jonathan Scheer and I spent 6 weeks together in Basic Training and then a year together in our first Squadron, the Phantoms of 24.  He died on 25 Feb 2004 when his A-10 crashed while on a training mission in Alaska.

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Jon Scheer is in the back row, second from the left

I didn’t know Frank Bryant while we were at school, but his death was particularly poignant for me.  He died 27 April 2011 at the hands of an Afghan in the middle of staff meeting at Kabul International Airport.  Like Frank, I sat in many staff meetings in Afghanistan in that same area during my deployment to Afghanistan in 2009.  I walked an through several Afghan National Army bases and was concerned at times for my safety.  Perhaps I should have been even more concerned than I was.


Let us never forget the men who died to keep us free.

Furthermore, let us ever live with honor, courage, and love in their memory.

“Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” John 15:13

Leaves of Three…

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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

The Plan of Salvation

meme-stars-nephi-1218001-mobile.jpgThe Plan of Salvation is the fundamental principle upon which this life is predicated. Everything we do, everything we are, all hinges upon upon this plan. Jesus Christ himself described the Plan of Salvation.  So what is the Plan of Salvation?  Put succinctly, the Plan of Salvation is God’s plan for man.  It is his method of redeeming us from the fallen state in which we now live so that we can live in an exalted state with Him. I believe the Plan of Salvation consists of 3 main parts:

  • the Creation
  • the Fall
  • the Atonement

“In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). We all know the rest of the that story…God spent the next 5 days creating the plants, animals, and lastly, man & woman.  Adam and Eve lived in a place called Eden, but were unable to have children.  There had to be a change wrought upon them to allow them to fulfill the purpose of this life.  Eve then made one of the greatest decisions ever made–to partake of the forbidden fruit so that all of mankind could be born into this life. This was the Fall.  It was a fall from the presence of God into a world filled with the desires of the natural man. The only way to redeem mankind from the fall was through an atoning sacrifice.  There had to be One who could save us from sin–that was Jesus Christ. I think the Plan of Salvation is much more personal than we think though.  Consider it this way:

  • the Creation: I was created.  I was first created as a spirit, then my physical body was created.  As a child, I lived in a state of innocence.
  • the Fall: At some point in my life, I sinned.  That sin forced me to leave my state of innocence and enter the world of repentance and forgiveness. By the doctrine I believe, this transition happens for most people when they turn 8 years old…when they reach the age of accountability.
  • the Atonement: I cannot Atone for my own sins, but I can allow the Atonement to take away my sins.  However, I must take action…I have to consciously choose to follow Jesus Christ.  I must allow myself to be saved by his blood.

meme-success-following-plan-scott-1324265-mobile.jpgIt is by following these steps that the Plan of Salvation turns from something that occurred thousands of years ago into something that happens every day as I repent and seek forgiveness for my sins.  By following these steps, the Plan of Salvation becomes something personal to me, something I must do in order to be redeemed from my fallen state. In order to make the Atonement effective in our lives, there are a several things we must do:

  1. Accept Jesus Christ as our personal Savior
  2. Receive the Saving Ordinances
  3. Repent (continuously)
  4. Obey the commandments and strive to become like the Savior

The Plan of Salvation is discussed throughout the Bible and the Book of Mormon.  It is also referred to as

  • The Plan of the Great Creator
  • The Plan of Redemption
  • The Plan of the Eternal God
  • The Plan of Restoration
  • The Plan of Mercy
  • The Plan of Happiness
  • The Plan of Our God

The clearest, most succinct description of the Plan of Salvation is found in Moses 6:55-62.

55 And the Lord spake unto Adam, saying: Inasmuch as thy children are conceived in sin, even so when they begin to grow up, sin conceiveth in their hearts, and they taste the bitter, that they may know to prize the good. 56 And it is given unto them to know good from evil; wherefore they are agents unto themselves, and I have given unto you another law and commandment. 57 Wherefore teach it unto your children, that all men, everywhere, must repent, or they can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God, for no unclean thing can dwell there, or dwell in his presence; for, in the language of Adam, Man of Holiness is his name, and the name of his Only Begotten is the Son of Man, even Jesus Christ, a righteous Judge, who shall come in the meridian of time. 58 Therefore I give unto you a commandment, to teach these things freely unto your children, saying: 59 That by reason of transgression cometh the fall, which fall bringeth death, and inasmuch as ye were born into the world by water, and blood, and the spirit, which I have made, and so became of dust a living soul, even so ye must be born again into the kingdom of heaven, of water, and of the Spirit, and be cleansed by blood, even the blood of mine Only Begotten; that ye might be sanctified from all sin, and enjoy the words of eternal life in this world, and eternal life in the world to come, even immortal glory; 60 For by the water ye keep the commandment; by the Spirit ye are justified, and by the blood ye are sanctified; 61 Therefore it is given to abide in you; the record of heaven; the Comforter; the peaceable things of immortal glory; the truth of all things; that which quickeneth all things, which maketh alive all things; that which knoweth all things, and hath all power according to wisdom, mercy, truth, justice, and judgment. 62 And now, behold, I say unto you: This is the plan of salvation unto all men, through the blood of mine Only Begotten, who shall come in the meridian of time.

What are the doctrines we learn from this relatively short passage?

  1. The Lord speaks to his children. (“And the Lord spake unto Adam”) He spoke to Adam, he spoke to Moses, he spoke to Lehi, he spoke to Joseph Smith, and he can speak to me. What do I need to do in order to place myself in a position to hear the Lord? What do I need to adjust to bring my life into harmony with his will?
  2. Children are conceived in sin. (“Inasmuch as thy children are conceived in sin”) This isn’t principle of original sin, rather, it teaches that children come into a world filled with evil and sin. Therefore are children “conceived in sin.” This principle is best taught by looking at D&C 93:38 “Every spirit of man was innocent in the beginning; and God having redeemed man from the fall, men became again, in their infant state, innocent before God.” Moroni also deemed this principle of such importance, that he recorded an entire chapter (in an epistle from his father) regarding infant baptism. “Listen to the words of Christ, your Redeemer, your Lord and your God. Behold, I came into the world not to call the righteous but sinners to repentance; the whole need no physician, but they that are sick; wherefore, little children are whole, for they are not capable of committing sin” (Moroni 8:8)
  3. Men have a tendency to sin. (“even so when they being to grow up, sin conceiveth in their hearts”) I wonder if this is similar to the Second Law of Thermodynamics which basically says that all things are breaking down and being less organized, to the point where only chaos will remain. I feel there is a tie to our heart “breaking down” to a less organized, chaotic state.
  4. There must be opposition in all things. (“they taste the bitter, that they may know to prize the good. And it is given unto them to know good from evil”) Lehi taught “For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things. If not so…righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor bad.” (2 Nephi 2:11).
  5. We are responsible for our own decisions. (“wherefore they are agents unto themselves”) No one can make us do anything. There are times when we give up our agency by making certain decisions. For example, violating the law is usually a decision we make that leads to bondage.
  6. God gave commandments. (“I have given unto you another law and commandment”)
  7. Parents are to teach the gospel to their children (“wherefore teach it unto your children”) See D&C 68:25
  8. All men must repent. (“all men, everywhere must repent or they can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God”)
  9. No unclean thing can dwell with God. (“for no unclean thing can dwell there, or dwell in his presence”)
  10. Transgression led to the fall. (“That by reason of transgression cometh the fall”)
  11. The fall led to death. (“which fall bringeth death”)
  12. We must be baptized in order to return to heaven. (“by the water ye keep the commandment”)
  13. The Atonement enables man to be clean from sin. (“be cleansed by blood, even the blood of mine Only Begotten; that ye might be sanctified from all sin”)
  14. The reward is eternal life and immortal glory. (“enjoy…eternal life in the world to come, even immortal glory”)

see also: