Monday, June 30, 2014

Not My Words

Doctrine and Covenants 100:5-6 "... It shall be given you in the very hour..."

I was assigned to give a talk/speech/sermon/whatever you call it in my congregation for today's sacrament meeting. Being the cocky little scamp I am, I decided to begin preparations for my delivery a mere hour before the meeting was supposed to begin. I did this all the time back in Jamaica, I reasoned.
Well, there were a couple of factors I didn't consider. For starters, with my release, the Spirit isn't as strong with me. I was far more intimately familiar with the needs of Port Antonio than I now am with the Mount Norway ward. Sitting up there on the stand, with my notes in hand, I recognized that I'd made a grave tactical error. My thoughts and ideas were a jumble. I was wholly unprepared.
Of course, that's the amazing thing about how the Lord works through His servants. Right before I took the stand, I prayed that what needed to be said would be given me. As I spoke, words and phrases I hadn't considered came to me, and I saw many faces staring up at me intently. After the fact, during the rest of the three-hour block, many members of the congregation approached me to thank me for the way my words had touched them. I accepted their compliments graciously, but I knew I had had very little credit owed me. It was all Him.

Our day closed with a peaceful evening at home, surrounded by family and friends of all sorts. I seriously don't understand how I could have taken such experiences for granted before. I don't think I will anymore.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Angellic Chorus

Moroni 7:8 "... wherefore it is counted unto him the same as if he had retained the gift..."

Something I've really improved on, yet haven't quite mastered yet, is being willing to give of my time. Before my mission, whenever anyone ever asked me to spend time or do something with them, I would skeptically look at whatever I was doing (generally playing a video game or watching a TV show), and decline the request. I would occasionally get on my feet and be social, but I was always counting the cost, thinking about what I was missing out on even as I socialized.

Even today, I had those feelings as I piled into the car to go watch my two youngest siblings perform in a two-hour long ensemble piece. What's really changed is that I am now completely willing to drop whatever I'm doing for whatever social request is asked of me, and even though I was sometimes plagued with thoughts of what I still had left to do ("I haven't finished my blog post yet," or, "I haven't digitalized my journal today"),  I really immersed myself in the greater task, namely, showing my genuine love and support for my siblings.
The performance was amazing! The music, singers, speakers, orchestra, and dancers all did a fabulous job. I was impressed by whoever had put everything together, creating a rich and diverse performance series that definitely touched the hearts of the performing youth and touched the hearts of the captive audience. I made sure to inform my siblings post-performance that they were 'total rock stars,' though I refrained from asking for their autographs.
The performance really helped encourage me to find more ways to let my light so shine, reminding me there is no medium, profession, or circumstance without some attached conduit to share the gospel. While this blog is certainly a good way to begin helping my light so shine, I most certainly am not stopping here.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Going Viral

John 4:11: "...from whence then hast thou that living water?"

It's been a long time since I've had unlimited internet service. Yesterday, as part of my excitement, I went surfing for some 'free software.' Leave it to me to click on one, innocent-looking link and invite adware and malware to abruptly and completely infest my mom's computer.

Of course, as I battled the uninvited guests through manual searches, virus-detecting software, and an eventual system restore, I recognized a grand lesson. Sometimes, I allow myself to let my guard down around a spiritual weakness I know I have. When I let down that drawbridge of sorts, in taking 'just one drink,' more often than not, I find myself sliding all the way back down to the depths I'd plumbed during the battle I'd fought before. Yes, it is through the Atonement of Jesus Christ that I can erase and remove the sin for good, as the system restore eventually removed the virus, but my life would have been a lot more productive and fulfilling yesterday if I wasn't working so hard at trying to overcome that past error. My life is always more productive and fulfilling when I never have to fight the same fight all over again.

Mom and Dad and I went on a hike of sorts up in Northern Oregon yesterday, visiting some of the natural waterfalls. We went all the way up to the top of one to see what the water sees right before it begins its descent. Along the way, we passed a couple of what looked like Tibetan Monks, one of whom was carrying an iPad. We were still boggling over that by the time we reached our destination.
I was again impressed by the little things that God has given us here on this earth. A waterfall really is a simple thing, if you think about it, but this place was packed, with people of all sorts coming to take in the sight. Of course, the park had franchised the whole thing, with hot dogs, fudge, wolf statues, and a fancy restaurant nestled at the base of the falls, but, to me, that was more evidence that people are still willing to really breathe in what God left us here, to invest in that which seems so underappreciated nowadays. Instead of staying home, watching TV, surfing the web, or playing Angry Birds, people were getting up on their feet on a Friday afternoon, no less, to go walk up and down a mountain. That's really it. I don't know that very many people were up there seeking anything but nature's sensory candy, from the lush vegetation to the spray to the fresh air ... and that was enough for me. If I can master the ability to unplug, then I imagine my connection with God will be all the more founded.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Eagle Eye

3 Nephi 12:22 "...whosoever is angry with his brother shall be in danger..."

Upon my departure from Port Antonio a week back or so, I received a going away gift from the Galloway family. It was a pair of concrete eagles, which they formed by carving out a mold of sorts in a wooden plank and pouring the solution inside. Unfortunately, they've already proven quite fragile, breaking several times in transit.
Well, I foolishly left one of these eagles on the floor near my brother and I's closet. As I was eating my breakfast, bro came down and confessed that he'd broken another piece off.
My initial reaction was to breathe in through my teeth, that universal sign of displeasure. Of course, I quickly recognized that getting upset was silly, considering my poor choice of placement and how easy it is to break those things. I told bro he had nothing to worry about.
Well, in talking with him later in the day, I learned bro was still feeling guilty about the incident, not really believing I didn't have any beef with him. I suspect that, had I not succumbed to my initial anger and expressed that immediate disappointment, I might have saved him a lot of worry and grief. I'm sure the Savior's first reaction would have been forgiveness, not displeasure.

Most of the family was out of the house today, either in body or mind. With the time I had to myself, I was able to exercise some talents I haven't been able to in a while, beginning the process of editing my journal, pulling out some old Ukelele songs, and even dabbling in a little digital artistry. As I enjoyed exercising these beloved talents of mine, I was again struck by just how blessed I am to have any talents at all, much less the cornucopia with which God has blessed me.
I was pondering how, while I've always had an interest in the things I'm now good at, I wasn't really born with too many natural gifts and abilities. Every single ability I've gained, whether it be writing, singing, or something as simple as obedience, has been exercised like the weakest of muscles. I suppose that if I'd never spent any time slaving over sentence structures, or doodling in math class, or determining beforehand that I wanted to be like Christ, none of my talents, temporal, spiritual, or otherwise, would be at hand. Now that I'm a little more focused in reaching my final goal, I want to continually seek ways to use these talents I've practiced to help uplift and encourage those around me.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

The Point of the Matter

Ecclesiastes 3:1-13: "To every thing there is a season..."

I think focus is my big problem right now. True, yesterday's post focused on focus as well (HA! See what I did there?), but I think, touching on that concept, everything falls down to priority.
One of the big reasons why anyone ever fails at anything, I believe, is a lack of proper priority. Perhaps many of the world's greatest minds have been locked under the sway of outside forces, who place their extraneous interests and desires above that which they've been inspired to do. I certainly could not have even attempted to keep a blog like this two years ago, so focused was I on my 'top two priorities,' namely, 1.) video games, and 2.) endlessly obsessing over ways to gain vengeance for every insignificant instance my pride was nicked. As it was, my chief goals in life - to become a published author, to get married, to enter Christ's presence - were all placed on the back burner. I still have yet to accomplish any of those things, obviously, and the latter objective will take the rest of my life to complete, but now that my priorities are focused on those things, I have a better chance at succeeding. And taking myself out as an example, do you think Thomas Edison would have ever been able to produce commercially practical light bulbs if he'd spent all his free time doing a number of unconnected, unfulfilling tasks? That man had priorities.

My family and I had the opportunity to take a trip to Seattle yesterday, a city I've had an interest in long before I ever had the chance to go. Now that they've moved a little closer, I was able to experience some sights and wonders for the very first time. Throughout the entire day, I was just strongly reminded of the blessings I've been given.
I had people who loved me on every side, and yet, I saw many who were alone.
I had a smart phone from which I was able to get directions, and yet, many begged me for money for food.
I was able to have an extended, relationship-building conversation with my brother, something I can't recall us ever doing.
I was able to ascend to the heavens and see man's machinations mingled with the beauty of God's creations.
I was able to recognize some more improvements I need to make in my discipline and diligence.
All in all, it was a magnificent day. Sometimes, I think I look for the 'big needle' in my life, the big blessing I want ... right now! However, yesterday, I would have been completely content to stay on the ground, as everything I really needed was right there with me. And that is enough.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Built upon the Rock

Isaiah 2:2 "...And all nations shall flow unto it."

It is so easy to find entertainment that just wastes my time. Some things are more innocent in that they just destroy any bit of free time I have - like the incessant amount of games existing on my family's various electronic devices* - but other things, like television, prove damaging in that what I imbue has the potential to damage me spiritually, to weaken my relationship with God**. Both addicting and vulgar entertainment sap my appreciation for the beauty of reality, for what God has given unto me in abundance. Now, obviously, I'm not advocating that all entertainment is inherently evil; that would be silly! Half the reason why I made this blog was to produce some clean, early-morning entertainment as a possible alternative to the other choices out there. What I AM saying is that, like the aforementioned 'flaxen cords', I need to actively make decisions about how I spend my time and if what I'm doing is diminishing my relationship with God or with those people in my life with whom God has blessed me.

I had the opportunity yesterday to attend a session at the Portland, Oregon temple. I was just amazed at how relaxing the trip was, at how close I was able to feel to the Spirit as I performed the necessary labors in behalf of Abel Miller, one of my farflung ancestors from the 30s. The 1730s, to be exact.
I had many reasons for wanting to attend the temple, but the top priority was so I could go to the Lord's house and thank Him for the great gift He gave me in sending me off to serve His people in Jamaica for two years. I had thanked him 'nuff times on my knees over the past week; I figured a little more effort would only help.
I've never been to the Portland Temple before, so I was unfamiliar with the Celestial room's layout. Ascending the stairs, I discovered a life-sized painting of my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, specifically The Second Coming, by Harry Anderson. I stood before that painting for some time, staring up into His eyes and wondering, Will I be ready when you do come again? Am I doing everything I can to qualify for your grace?
Well, not yet, obviously, but after I left those sacred grounds, I felt comforted that, though I know what I need to improve on, I am on the right track. And it is enough.

*2 Nephi 9:51
**2 Nephi 26:22

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Sound of the Trump and Chariot of Fire

Matthew 28:19-20: "Go ye therefore, and teach all nations..."

I was really struggling today with figuring out how I could share the gospel placed smack-dab in a place I've never before been. Serving for two years in Jamaica as a full-time missionary had taught me how I could casually introduce the Gospel in any and all circumstances - at least, that's what I thought before we went to the Verizon store yesterday.
The guy who was helping us get me my very first post-mission phone, Tim, was just absolutely stellar at his job. He was kind, knowledgeable, and didn't push us to buy anything we really didn't want. His performance was so solid, I'm still tempted to seek out a way to positively review that particular store. I was so grateful that Tim turned what might have been a nightmare into a rather enjoyable experience, I wanted to express my thanks by sharing, with him, what has brought me so much happiness. I tried every trick in the book I could think of to guide the conversation to gospel-related topics, but, nope. Tim was fixed in his determination, and every time the conversation got just a little off topic, he would gently nudge it back. It seems pretty obvious to me that I'm going to need to study on how to be a regular person and be a missionary. I'm too used to leaving the regular person out of it.

Ironically enough, despite the wonderful customer service, about thirty minutes after I'd brought the new phone into the house, it abruptly died on me, completely failing to respond to anything I mashed into it. I'm happy to report that the situation itself didn't really bother me all that much. Getting frustrated would solve nothing, so I simply didn't. Once upon a time, if a new phone died on me right out of the box, I would have been aggravated in the extreme. I would have immediately indulged in much ranting and raving and throwing inanimate and/or animate objects in just about every direction. It's just one of those changes of which I'm proud.
As it was, Dad wanted us to boogey back to the store post-haste to figure out what was going on, so we hopped back in the van and rocketed off. Thanks to that car ride, I honestly think the phone's 'death' was a blessing from God. The time we had in the car, just the two of us, was a great opportunity to really talk about life and our feelings and our goals for the future, both individually and within the familial unit. The representative at the store showed us how to do a hard reset on the phone, which immediately solved the problem, but the half-hour round trip was completely worth it, providing a wholly memorable experience I won't be quick to forget. I think the most important lesson I learned from all that was that, more often, I need to ask myself, "Why is God allowing this bad thing to happen to me?" and then seek for the blessings within the storm.

Monday, June 23, 2014

The Day Dawn is Breaking

Alma 30:44: "...The scriptures are laid before thee, yea, and all things denote there is a God, yea, even the earth, and all things that are upon the face of it, yea, and also all the planets which move in their regular form do witness that there is a Supreme Creator."

I have come to recognize something very important regarding the way I view those of other denominations. I find myself a very tolerant and open-minded person when it comes to talking about other faiths, even going so far as to defend them if someone even idly criticizes them, but sometimes, there just comes a point when I am the most intolerant and close-minded individual in the group. This leads my comments sounding quite aggressive and judgmental, presenting the impression that, on the inside, I have nothing but scorn for those of my brothers and sisters who are reaching out for Christ in the best way they know how. In all honesty, I have nothing but love and admiration for those of other faiths, who, like me, are fighting to stand strong when so many people stand for nothing at all. I want to be able to talk about other faiths in the way the Savior would, and refrain from taking the 'easy way out' by resorting to base - rather than intelligent - commentary.

I had the opportunity to travel, along with a few select members of my family, to a hiking trail overlooking the Colombia River Gorge. Funnily enough, as we approached the overlook, we came upon a large group standing where my parents had designed to go. Upon seeing us, a woman called out, "I'm sorry, but I don't suppose you can do us a favor?"
Mom is always eager to help. "Of COURSE we would love to take pictures for you!"
"Actually, we're scattering ashes and would like a moment."
Oooo... awkward.
So, we all beat a hasty retreat to give the group some time before doubling back to try again. The second time, the group had vanished, which allowed us to really breathe in the wonderful sight that lay before us. The picture fails to really capture the full extent of the beauty and grandeur the overlook has to offer, but it is enough.
As we stood there, just admiring God's creation, the hymn "How Great Thou Art" came to mind. I couldn't resist launching into the first verse, and, sure enough, the other members of my family joined as well, turning the simple family outing into a sacred, special moment. I was so grateful for that opportunity to be there, awkward moment and all.