Feeling Resurrected

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If you are Christian, you probably have a pretty good understanding and strong belief in resurrection.  After all, it was Jesus Christ who made it possible for all of us to be resurrected, our spirit and our body reunited again after death, in a glorified form, never again subject to the sickness and pain brought about because of the Fall of Adam and Eve.

But, have you ever actually thought about how it would feel like to be resurrected? Personally, I’ve never given it much thought. But I know people who think about it quite a bit. Even long for it. I’ve heard elderly people talk about how much they look forward to having a youthful body again. I’ve heard bald men mention that they will someday have their thick wavy hair back. I’ve listened to women commiserating about their wrinkles and varicose veins say throw in a comment about the perfect body they will someday have.

So just try to imagine for a moment what it will really FEEL like to suddenly have a perfected body. You could see with perfect vision. You could walk and run with agility. You could hear things that have long been silent to you. You would feel a strength and sureness of body that you might never have experienced before.

When you are suddenly able-bodied, you might be filled with a desire to try something that you have always felt too inadequate to try in the past. You would no longer feel self-conscience because you are too fat, or thin, or short, or misshapen, or feeble.

Can you imagine those feelings? Can you imagine how good that will feel?

Well, guess what.  Just as Jesus Christ enabled us to someday feel rejuvenated about our physical bodies, Jesus Christ has also made it possible to have those very same experiences in a very real, but spiritual, sense when he atoned for our sins.

The spiritual pains and defects from which we suffer can be taken away from us through repentance and coming unto Christ, just as surely as our physical pains will disappear at resurrection.

Yes, it would be nice to have perfect eyesight. Like many people, I am beginning to know what it feels like to have my eyes grow dim with age, to not be able to focus on things that used to clear. That’s a physical thing.

Unfortunately, I also know what it’s like to have my spiritual eyes dimmed by sin. To slowly lose focus of what is right. To be blinded by what the world has to offer.

And then I’ve also felt how repentance has brought my life into focus and I’ve experienced being able to see and understand spiritual things in with a new clarity, like putting on eyeglasses for the first time.

Maybe your hearing isn’t as good as it once was. And it’s not Just that things aren’t loud enough. It’s that you just can’t hear certain tones anymore. Or some peoples’ voices sound like mumbles. Again, physical problems.

I’ve had years of pride take away my ability to hear the spirit, to hear the love and concern in the voice of my brothers and sisters who wanted to be there for me.
And I can testify of the way repentance allows me to begin hearing my Father in Heaven’s voice all around me. In acts of service, in the beauty of nature, and in answers to my prayers.

You might know what it is like to feel weak. Maybe you see others lifting things that you can’t, or opening jars that you can’t budge.

I know what it feels like to be spiritually weak. I’ve avoided the fellowship of church folk because I didn’t feel like I belonged among righteous people. I’ve felt like my prayers were bouncing off the ceiling and were never heard.

But listen to me, the Atonement has allowed me to feel spiritually strong and close to my Father in Heaven. I have felt the strength of my Priesthood as I worthily gave blessings of healing and comfort that have left me physically drained but quickened by the Holy Spirit.

You know that feeling you imagined earlier of wanting to try new and difficult things with your resurrected body? I have felt that same way when I allow the love of God into my life. I know that when I allow the atonement to work in my life, I have the desire to try things that I’ve felt inadequate to try in the past. I don’t feel as afraid to fellowship a new family at church. I feel more comfortable talking about spiritual things and blessing the lives of others.

No, I’m not any more perfect than I was when I turned my back on God. But I feel reborn. And I am learning to allow myself to feel God’s love for me. Christians aren’t perfect, but they are forgiven. And there is a change that comes over you when you feel that.

Since I’m on the subject of imperfect people, I’ll share with you an experience I had a few weeks ago. I was having lunch with a cousin who hasn’t attended church in decades. The subject of religion came up in the conversation as I was talking to him about what keeps me busy.

When he was young, he had been a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He knew their standards and recognized how many of them didn’t follow them. He said, “I just can’t stand all the hypocrites in church. I remember there were people in my ward who smoked during the week. There were alcoholics. Some of them were hateful and dishonest people. If you are going to do those things, you shouldn’t go to church.”

My reply to him was the same thing I say to everyone who uses other people’s weaknesses as an excuse to not follow God. It’s a response that I’ve developed through years of my own struggles with imperfection. I said, “So by your reasoning, nobody should ever join a gym unless they are in perfect shape. Fat people shouldn’t go to the gym until they are thin. Weak people shouldn’t go to the gym until they have big muscles.”

My friends, Church is our Spiritual Gym. If you are weak and out of shape, this is the place for you. Jesus Christ has atoned for you. Don’t wait another day before you come to him and let him make you stronger.

No matter where you are in your progression, no matter if you are wallowing in the filth of the world, you can lift your dirty hand out to the Lord and he will lift you and make you clean.

In the January 2014 issue of the Ensign magazine, Deiter F. Uchtdorf wrote:

“At times in my life I have spent sleepless nights grappling with issues, worries, or personal sorrows. But no matter how dark the night, I am always encouraged by this thought: in the morning the sun will rise. With every new day, a new dawn comes—not only for the earth but also for us. And with a new day comes a new start—a chance to begin again.”

Now, There might be a few people reading this who have been working out for years in your little gym called Church. You feel like you are spiritually strong. You have made a lot of progress. You should be proud of how far you have progressed!

However, now is not the time to look around in contempt at all of us out-of-shape people, us weaklings, those of us with disabilities. It isn’t time for you to shake your head and question why we are so slow in our own progression.

Now is the time for you to become a personal trainer. Now is the time to help us, and show us, and teach us.

If nothing else, please be that voice that calls out, “you can do it!” while we struggle.

In the May 2014 issue of Ensign Magazine, David A. Bednar testified:

The Savior has suffered not just for our sins and iniquities—but also for our physical pains and anguish, our weaknesses and shortcomings, our fears and frustrations, our disappointments and discouragement, our regrets and remorse, our despair and desperation, the injustices and inequities we experience, and the emotional distresses that beset us. The Son of God can reach out, touch, succor, heal, and strengthen us to be more than we could ever be and help us to do that which we could never do relying only upon our own power.

I promise you that someday you will enjoy the blessings of a perfected body because Jesus Christ prepared the way for you to be resurrected. And I know that you look forward to the celebrating you will do that day.

But I also promise you that right now you can begin the process of becoming perfected in Christ. Following the Savior will bring a joyful celebration to your soul as you come unto him and you will feel spiritually renewed and strong in a way that transcends the physical limitations of your mortal body.

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Why Do Good People Suffer?

Within our communities of happy, blessed people are also those who are quietly suffering. Some people feel a crushing loneliness. Some are in a painful marriage. Some have constant physical pain. Some people cry every day of their life. There are those who miss a husband or wife who has died. Or agonize over family members who wander in dangerous paths. Some people struggle with their faith. Others have an endless battle with finances. Some feel that they are a disappointment to everyone. Some people think about taking their own life.

Is it possible that someone in your family is secretly unhappy, while you and everyone else thinks life is just dandy? Some people’s struggles are easy to see. Other people struggle much more privately. But don’t fool yourself into thinking that you are the only one who struggles. That is a dangerous lie that will make you feel isolated, helpless, and unworthy of God’s love.

Everyone you see today is struggling with something. Every person you see – every rich and famous celebrity you see on television, every member of that seemingly perfect family sitting in the front row of your church congregation – is suffering with something.

Frustratingly, God doesn’t often explain to us why we need to suffer. When the founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Joseph Smith, was crying out to the Lord from the terrible conditions in Liberty Jail, the Lord basically just told him those 5 words that no one wants to hear during adversity, “It’s for your own good.” (Doctrine and Covenants 122:7-8)

These words seem so painful and wrong when we are in agony.

After Job had suffered horrible losses and pain, God didn’t even explain to him about the devil challenging Job’s faith and devotion to God. Instead, the Lord just spoke about the goats, stars, ravens, oxen, and a bunch of other things that might have made sense to Job, but leaves the rest of us confused.

Even Jesus Christ asked the question, “Why has thou forsaken me?” and He wasn’t given an immediate answer.  No one is exempt.

Why do good people have to suffer? Why would a compassionate God allow so much pain in the world?

Much of the adversity we face in life, isn’t a trial, but the consequence of sin. These are not punishments, these are the results of our own choices. However, poor choices don’t cause all suffering. The Bible teaches us that difficulties rain down on the just and the unjust. (Matthew 5:45)

Sometimes we respond to this innocent suffering with resentment, bitterness, doubt, or fear. It isn’t easy to keep an eternal perspective while we are going through the hard times.

“Into every life there come the painful, despairing days of adversity and buffeting. There seems to be a full measure of anguish, sorrow, and often heartbreak for everyone. For some, the refiner’s fire causes a loss of belief and faith in God, but those with an eternal perspective understand that such refining is part of the perfection process.”  (James E. Faust, “The Refiner’s Fire,” Ensign, May 1979, 53)

Trials are unfair and pointless if this life is the end. If all you ever did was watch the middle part of every movie, they would all seem unfair and tragic. We wouldn’t understand the motives or the results of the character’s actions. We wouldn’t understand who people were or what they could become.

Buzz Lightyear and Woody would be homeless and hate each other.

Rocky Balboa would lose to Mr. T, get depressed and take it out on his wife.

Dorothy Gale would be locked up in the witch’s castle and the scarecrow’s guts would be thrown around by flying monkeys.

Joseph would be sold as a slave by his brothers and he would end up thrown into a prison for something he didn’t do.

The middle part of a story is almost always about pain, suffering, and hardship.  Similarly, every trial in our lives seems unfair and pointless if we view it in the short-term perspective of this life.

The truth is this: Suffering is good for us, and we should be grateful for it.

“…God-fearing people worldwide will never pray for freedom from trials. They will not surrender or panic. They will strive to put themselves in condition to meet and master troublesome trials.” (Marvin J. Ashton, Ensign, Nov. 1980, 54 )

I would like to countdown the top 10 reasons why we should thank God for letting us suffer.

#10 We must have suffering in order to have agency

The freedom to choose is the heart of being human. It is the basis of God’s plan of Happiness for us. To preserve agency, the Lord also at times permits the righteous to suffer the consequences of evil acts by others . We would never be free if God always stopped us before we hurt ourselves or someone else. This is why we have commandments. This is why some things are called evil. Heavenly Father didn’t just arbitrarily call some things bad, because he wanted to control us. Stealing isn’t against the commandments just because God wanted to say so. It’s against the commandments because it hurts people. Sin always hurts someone. That’s why it is sin.

To be honest, there have been a lot of times when I’ve asked God to ease my suffering, when what I’m really asking is for him to take away the consequences of sin or bad choices. It showed a complete lack of understanding of why we have consequences.

#9 Pain warns us of Danger

We hate pain. But without pain, the sick would never go to the doctor. When our bodies got tired and worn out, we wouldn’t stop to rest. Children would only laugh at correction. Criminals wouldn’t fear the law. Without the pains of guilt, we would never repent. Without the pains of loneliness, we wouldn’t seek companionship. Without pains of boredom, we might never do anything. And without the pains of emptiness, we might never seek God.

#8 Suffering can bring us closer to Heaven.

Again, if this life is all there is, then a life of pain is not fair. But the reality is that those who grow closer to God through pain, are more prepared for the next step. Those who let their hunger, grief, and poverty drive them toward the Savior, will find the truth in his words, “Blessed are the poor in Spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.”

“Those who yield to adversity become weaker. To the valiant it is a stepping-stone to increased power. (Marvin J. Ashton, “Adversity and You,” Ensign, Nov. 1980, 54 )

#7 Suffering reveals what is in our Hearts.

Every story of greatness and achievement is generally the story of a person overcoming handicaps. There are lessons that can only be learned through the overcoming of obstacles. The Scriptures are filled with stories of prophets – ordinary men with extraordinary callings – who are faced with trials. Sometimes, the real trial of our faith is just to remain faithful without murmuring. Our own capacities for love and compassion, or even envy, hatred, and pride often lie dormant inside of us until brought to the surface by some sort of adversity.

Howard W. Hunter told of a young man who asked him why his mother had to suffer through a painful life if God is all-knowing and already knew how she would handle it. His response was,  “God already knows how your suffering mother will handle it, but she does not.”

And this is a principal that we often get. wrong. Heavenly Father didn’t send us here so that HE could find out what we are made of. He knows the beginning from the end. He knows our potential and our weaknesses. This life is for US to learn the depths of our OWN love, compassion, and humanity. It is for US to learn what our weaknesses are, and then make them strong with the Lord’s help. This Life isn’t so much a test with a pass or fail grade. But more of an aptitude test, to show us what areas of ourselves that need work. We can never learn how strong we are, until we are tested with resistance.

#6 Suffering builds our faith.

I mentioned earlier that God rarely reveals why we suffer. Job never learned why he lost all he had. There is a good reason for this. Job was left to conclude that if God had the power and wisdom to create everything, then it makes sense to trust Him in times of suffering. (Job 42)

If we always got the answer, then it wouldn’t really be suffering. It would just be annoying. When in crisis, our feelings make us THINK we need an explanation. However, what we really need are the resources to get through the trial.

#5 God always suffers with us.

Any parent who has had a child in the hospital knows the agony. Any parent who has watched their child make dangerous choices, understands the frustration and sorrow. Anyone who has felt the pains of a loved one, has a small taste of this principle. If we, being imperfect and worldly, can feel these feelings so strongly, how much more does a loving and perfect Fatlierin Heaven suffer along with our pain?

#4 God’s comfort is always greater than our Suffering

In 2 Corinthians 12, The Apostle Paul pleads with the Lord three times to remove an unidentified source of suffering that he compares to a thorn. The suffering isn’t removed, but the lord says, “my grace is sufficient for thee. My strength is made perfect in your weakness.”

Paul said, “Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.

Paul was comforted. He felt better.

Elder Richard G. Scott said,

To the sightless or hearing impaired, God sharpens the other senses. With the loss of a dear one, He deepens the bonds of love, enriches memories, and kindles hope in a future reunion. You will discover compensatory blessings when you willingly accept the will of the Lord and exercise faith in Him.” (Q&A: Questions and Answers,” New Era, July 2003, 16)

In 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 Paul writes, Blessed be God, who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God.

Which brings us to …

#3 Suffering helps us find and unite with our fellow men.

If you have ever been through a tragedy with someone, you know the bond that can form through suffering. Army buddies, missionary companions, spouses. Those people who have endured with us, understand us like no others.

The Jewish Community is bound together by thousands of years of persecution and hardship. They share a common history of trials that allow them to relate to each other in a way that outsiders can not understand.

Similarly, Mormons stand on a mountain of history that is filled with people united by suffering. Kirtland, Jackson County, Carthage, Haun’s Mill, Clay County, Nauvoo, Winter Quarters, Zion’s Camp. They all are synonymous with suffering. It is their history. The suffering helps create a feeling of brotherhood.

#2 God can turn our pain around for our good.

Remember, don’t only look at that middle part of the movies. There is an ending that makes us understand the hardships. Buzz and Woody become friends and find their way home. Rocky Does get back up after being knocked down. Dorothy does find her way home. Joseph of Egypt becomes the King. There is nothing admirable about a person who overcomes nothing. If we give up during the struggle, we will never know what happy ending might have been in store for us.

#1 Pain loosens our grip on this life.

As we get older, our bodies become worn out. Our joints get stiff and ache. Our eyes grow dim. We feel obsolete. Sleep is difficult. Our problems seem larger and our options seem smaller. I have spent a great deal of time with people as they get close to death. And I have come to see pain as blessing. Each new trial makes this life less inviting and the next more appealing. In a way, pain paves the way for a graceful departure. We stop looking back, and begin to look at what is next.

Each of us will have a time of suffering. No one is exempt. Each of us will, sooner or later, have to pass through that garden gate as our savior did, kneel, alone in darkness, and fiercely battle despair.

When we do, hopefully we will knowingly say, “Not my will, but thine be done.” And be thankful for what our suffering is helping us to become.

 

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Socrates quote

Socrates quote

I have found this to be absolutely true. To really change, I must always look forward, and never look back.

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December 17, 2013 · 10:33 pm

True Hunger

Are you hungry?  

What are you hungry for?

If you are like me, when you hear those questions you start going over a mental list of food options to decide which one will best satisfy your cravings.  Italian food? Chinese? Steak? Mac and cheese?  What sounds good?

However, I am beginning to realize how often I confuse physical hunger for something else entirely.  There are some feelings of emptiness that are only masked by food, and never fulfilled.

I was at a restaurant a few days ago and noticed there was a long list of dishes on the menu under the category “Comfort Foods”.   The mere fact that we have foods we eat to comfort us proves that we are expecting food to meet more of our needs that just physical hunger.  

I weighed well over a hundred pounds when I entered kindergarten at the age of 5 years old.  Obviously, there was some kind of emptiness I was trying to fill inside myself.  Some might argue there must have been some kind of emptiness inside my mother that she was trying to fill by overfeeding her infant.   (Either opinion works well as an illustration for this discussion, so don’t get sidetracked by finger-pointing.)  My parents had attempted twice to adopt children before finally adopting me.   In both of those cases, the birth mother changed her mind and took the child back, leaving my mother devastated.  So when I came along, my parents were understandably afraid to get emotionally attached to me out of fear of being crushed again.  My grandmother once told me that when I was six months old she had to insist that my mother start bonding with me.  she told her, “If you knew that child was going to die in a few months, and you would only have him for a little while, you would cherish the time you had.  So you just have to love him, even if he won’t be with you forever.”

I have no idea if or how this early experience affected my adult attitudes or my relationship with my parents.   However, I can tell you a few things about myself that may or may not be related.   When I was a child, I was terrified to be alone.  If I woke up from a nap and found myself alone, I would scream in horror and go running through the house looking for someone.  I couldn’t even deal with the THOUGHT of someone being left alone.  If I was watching television and a character in the show was left alone, I had to stop watching.  Even when the Scooby Gang would split up to look for clues , I would panic and cry. 

Yeah, I was a mess.

But I outgrew that, thank goodness!  By the time I was in High School, I was a loner who preferred to avoid crowds.  In my 20’s I spent most of my time alone and loved going to see movies by myself.

Unfortunately, I am starting to understand that I never actually outgrew those feelings.  I simply learned how to medicate them.  I learned very early that food helped those feelings.  As I got older I found other substances and behaviors that could medicate my feelings of loneliness, fear, anger, frustration, and longing.  Eventually, I had so successfully masked those feelings that I didn’t even know they existed inside myself.   But if I tried to remove any of those “medications” from my life, those feelings would rear their ugly heads, and I couldn’t wait to stuff them back down with anything that would make me feel better.   These medications became my addictions and I found myself approaching my 40’s as a 485-pound alcoholic, pill-popping, sex-addict.  

And yet, no matter how much I tried to feed my hunger, I wasn’t satisfied.  I was like the example of the man in the scriptures:

…even as unto a hungry man which dreameth, and behold he eateth but he awaketh and his soul is empty; or like unto a thirsty man which dreameth, and behold he drinketh but he awaketh and behold he is faint, and his soul hath appetite; (2 Nephi 27:3)

My soul had appetite, but I didn’t even know what I was craving.  But whatever I was filling myself with, it wasn’t bringing me satisfaction.  At some point I had to do as Enos did and turn to the Lord.

And my soul hungered; and I kneeled down before my Maker, and I cried unto him in mighty prayer and supplication for mine own soul; and all the day long did I cry unto him; yea, and when the night came I did still raise my voice high that it reached the heavens. (Enos 1:4)

The hardest part of the recovery process is becoming honest.  Honest with yourself and with others.  Addicts will do anything to avoid looking inside themselves to discover those issues they have been trying to run away from for so long.

When I find myself being drawn toward addictive behaviors, I have to stop and ask myself what it is I am actually craving.  It is amazing how difficult it is to admit when I am craving company, interaction, healthy touch, venting of anger, creative expression, sleep, stress relief, etc.

Most people think of addicts as selfish people who only care about their own short-term desires.  The truth is that many of them became addicts from ignoring their own needs.

Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled. (Matthew 5:6)

Addiction recovery is a process of discovering what it is that you truly crave.  What is your True Hunger?

So I ask for your honest input, no matter how difficult it maybe be.  Comment and tell me your experiences.

When you seek comfort food, or drink, or addictive behavior, what is the comfort you seek?  How do you find true satisfaction?  And what is your journey like?

 

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The Crippling Voices of Criticism

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“You used to write?  I didn’t know that.”  That’s what my close friend said to me last week.  And it got me thinking…

The truth is, I did used to write.  I used to write for fun.  I used to write as a way to connect with people.  Teachers and professors used to tell me I was good at it.  An English professor took me aside once after reading a story I had written for an assignment and told me, “You are a writer. You will always be a writer.  Even if you never put another word down on paper, you will still be a writer inside.”

I used to write stories for friends.  I loved making them laugh.  When friends were away on church missions or at school, I would send them stories with characters based on people we knew as a way to keep them posted on the happenings at home.   I wrote a long story for my Singles-Family-Home-Evening group, which I would share with them as a serial, one chapter at a time.  

I decided to take all of those chapters and put them together to make a book.  It wasn’t something publishers were interested in because it was really only meant for my friends.  However, with modern publishing technology, books can now be printed one at a time, as they are needed.  I discovered there was a division of Random House that offered this service and it wouldn’t cost me a dime.  People could buy the book if they wanted to, and the publisher would just take a large cut.  Did someone say free?  Perfect!

So I put together two books this way.  Now friends could buy nice copies of my stories.  The problem was that other people bought the books, too.  And the books weren’t ready for that.  They were little more than rough drafts.  No editor had ever worked on them, and all writers know that a good editor is just as important as a good writer, maybe even more so, if you want a book to be good.

My books weren’t ready for strangers to read them, and neither was I.   

At first I was amazed that people who weren’t my friends would actually take the time to read a story I wrote.  I got a fan letter from a man in Costa Rica, for heaven’s sake!   But then the criticism started.  At first, I could explain away the negative comments.   “There are so many spelling errors.” (Of course there are. It’s just a rough story.)  “How dare you portray a Bishop of our church in such a negative way.” (If you don’t think Church leaders have faults, you haven’t been around many of them, and you will someday have a harsh awakening.)  As the criticisms piled on, I couldn’t explain them away fast enough.  

I suppose there are some people who would have developed a thick skin from this, but I didn’t.  The callouses never formed.  I was left with tender open wounds.  

Those books became an embarrassing symbol of my lack of talent.   I stored away the outline of the novel I’d been working on and I stopped writing completely.   Most of the times  I would try to write anything, the words simply wouldn’t come.   On the rare occasions when the words came, I would rewrite and erase the same sentences over and over again, each time declaring them to be terrible.  My life as a writer was over.

I took up painting.  I loved painting!  It was fun!  I’d paint pictures for friends and family.  I was told I was pretty good.  Then I entered some paintings in contests and they were rejected and criticized.  I didn’t paint again for weeks.  I probably never would have painted again if I didn’t have to teach students.  Even now, I don’t paint for fun anymore.  I paint to earn money, but the fun is gone.

Do you see a pattern here?  I do.

Whenever I find something I am good at and enjoy doing, I let the trolls of the world criticize me until I can’t find the joy in it anymore.  

A couple of months ago, I was cleaning my parents house and I ran across a copy of my book.  I tossed it in the trash without even cracking the cover.  I couldn’t look at it without feeling sick to my stomach.

However, finding that book sparked enough curiosity to make me look online to see if my books were still for sale.  Sure enough, The Junction and A Shadow From the Past were not only selling, but available for Kindle as well.  With a few clicks, I found myself at another site looking at reviews of my books.  And I was stunned by what I read:

A Shadow From the Past is a fun story. Classic tale of boy who comes home and battles his past. The LDS background is just that… background. It doesn’t play a big part in the story, but it would be enjoyable for Mormon readers. Nothing really objectionable for younger readers. Overall, it reaches the level of a good book, but there are parts of this book that are truly magical and unforgettable. It’s a heartfelt book. For those parts alone, this book is worth reading.

 

The Junction is a very interesting story. It’s unlike any other LDS novel I have read. The author isn’t afraid to show the realities of mission life. This isn’t your typical rose-colored view of mormon missionaries. Yet it isn’t critical of the church or negative — just realistic. It’s an easy, fun read. It’s good to see something like this come out of the LDS community. I would compare it to Brigham City in style and feeling.

Okay, when I say I was stunned, that is not an exaggeration.  I had convinced myself that there wasn’t anything good that could be said about anything I’d ever written.  But here were a couple of people who actually enjoyed reading those books!   

Look, I know there are always going to be people who find fault in what I do.  I also know that constructive criticism can help a person grow as an artist.

In his book, “Look at the Sky”, George D. Durrant tells the following story:

     I recall the first art class I took, way back in my early college days.  It took all the confidence I could muster just to enroll.  I knew that everyone else in the call would be Leonardo da Vincis and I’d suffer much self-inflicted humiliation as I compared my meager abilities with theirs.

      I did my first painting for the class in watercolors.  It turned out a little better than I thought it might when I first put the paint on the paper.  Even so, I was shocked and filled with fear when the teacher announced, “I see that most of you have completed your first painting. So let’s all put them up here along the wall.  When they are all in place we will criticize one another’s work.”

     I thought to myself, I didn’t know I’d have to put my picture up to be criticized.  If I had known that, I would have never taken this class.

     But having no choice, I reluctantly put my picture on the far right of the display.  I hoped that the criticism would begin with the pictures on the left side and maybe the class time would end before it was my turn.  Or I hoped at least they’d use up all their criticisms on the other paintings before they got to mine.

     As the discussions of the first few paintings were taking place, I didn’t say anything about anybody else’s efforts.  I hoped my silence would indicate that I had no desire to criticize their work, and then, if they were Christians, they wouldn’t say anything about mine.

     But the clock moved so slowly and the discussion so rapidly that with five minutes remaining, all eyes except mine focused on my work.  My insecurities made it so that I could not muster the courage to look up.  As everyone looked at my painting there were several seconds of silence.

     Then I heard a girl’s voice.  In a quiet, kindly tone she said, “I like the sky.”  Those four words gave me a small feeling of confidence.  I lifted my eyes and looked up at the painting.  To myself, I said, By George, that is a nice sky.

     From the other side of the room, a fellow spoke up. “but he has go the foreground all fouled up.”

     In my mind I responded, Why don’t you look at the sky?

     And then I thought, Next time he won’t be able to say such a thing, because next time my foreground will be as good as my sky.

Why can’t I be more like George D. Durrant?  Why can’t criticism give me the determination to be better and prove them wrong, instead of just giving up and losing all confidence? 

What if I had continued writing?  What would I be like now, having an additional 15 years of writing experience under my belt?  I can tell you one thing, if I had kept writing, my close friends wouldn’t be saying, “You used to write?  I didn’t know that.”

 I looked for that old outline of a novel that I stored away all those years ago.  I found it and skimmed through it.  Guess what, it was pretty good.  But I don’t know how to write it anymore.  I self-edit to the point that nothing comes out.

So here is my question to you, dear readers:  How do you do what you do?  How do you writers get the negative voices out of your head?  How do you artists ignore everyone who says you are no good?  How do you creative people go on creating when people tell you your creations are worthless?  How do you not give up?  How do you continue enjoying what you do?

I really want to know.  

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Growing in Grandpa’s Garden

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I learned everything I need to know about life in my grandpa’s garden. I can not look back on my childhood without picturing myself doing some sort of work on that single acre of land that seamed to be the whole of my young world. Most of the family did occasional work in the garden, but no one spent as much time at my grandfather’s side as I did. I was his buddy.

When I was nine years old, I moved into my grandparents’ home. The reasons for this move vary depending on who you ask. It boils down to two facts: my home life was terrible and my grandparents wanted me. I can say with confidence that no matter how difficult that move was for me at the time, it was absolutely necessary if I was ever going to become a stable adult. I went from an environment which consisted mostly of long periods of loneliness broken up by the sounds of my parents screaming at each other to the peaceful stability of living in a home with retired grandparents.

Grandpa loved having me work with him in the garden. In his sly way, he made it very clear to me that nothing else was as important. I remember getting up one morning and walking across the cold, brown linoleum of the Kitchen floor and eating a breakfast of basted eggs and fried baloney with Grandpa. “How are you feeling today, Wessy?” he asked.

“Okay,” I answered as I washed down my breakfast with our traditional icy cold pepsi. It was a different time with different ideas of diet.

He mixed another hot pepper in with his runny egg yolk and then said, “You know, if you weren’t feeling good and you stayed home from school today, you could help me rototill the tomato patch.”

“Would you let me run the rototiller?” I inquired.

“Sure,” came his reply.

I pondered this while staring down at my red plastic plate and stirring my egg yolks with my spoon which had the letters US stamped on the handle from WWII. (My grandmother had picked these spoons out of the garbage can in back of the USO building. Sometimes the soldiers would accidentally drop one into the garbage as they emptied their food tray. I still use these spoons every day.)  “I really don’t feel all that good,” I said.

“Well you better go tell your grandma you can’t go to school today,” he suggested. And I scampered to my grandma’s bedside to tell her how sick I felt.

To the casual observer who might have seen my grandpa and me working in the garden, it might have seemed like he was ignoring me. He didn’t talk much as we puttered the days away. We didn’t have to talk very much. We were so much a part of each other that there was no need for chit-chat. There were long periods of comfortable silence that passed between us as we dutifully worked the garden. When we did speak, it was usually about an important principle of life that I wouldn’t have recognized without his direction.

I remember how we would pound wooden stakes into the ground at either end of the field with itchy twine strung between them to guide us as we hoed the rows for irrigation. The rows had to be straight and carefully tended during each watering because even a small blockage could cause the water to back up and flood portions of the crop. Grandpa saw this as a teaching moment and he likened it to our lives. He said that sometimes a problem can seem small and unthreatening, but if left unchecked it can cause irreparable damage. He would remove the small blockage with head of his hoe and the water would flow freely again. He talked about repentance and how it can get us progressing again.

The first time I saw a diagram of the Plan of Salvation was when it was drawn with a stick in the freshly tilled soil of my grandpa’s garden while he explained why we needed a Redeemer.  It seems strange to say that one of my fondest memories of home is the dirt, but it is. Besides being the chalkboard for my grandpa’s garden classroom, it was the vital element that brought life to the garden. And Grandpa taught me how to read what it was on it, and in it. He would reach his calloused hand into the tilled ground and remove a fistful of dark, rich soil. He knew by smelling it and sifting it between his experienced fingers what ingredients needed to be added to the earth before it was ready for planting. Once the judgement was made, we would spend days adding manure from the chicken coup, or compost, or some other organic material to the soil until it was finally perfect. I learned that when the soil is right, it has a feel and smell that will ring true to the often neglected recesses of one’s soul.

Much of the bounty from our labors never made it into the house for others to enjoy. We would relish it together as we sat silently with our backs against the woodpile, glorying in what we had produced from the land. I still can hardly stand to eat store-bought tomatoes because they are only tasteless imitations of the dark red beauties that grandpa and I ate together, salting them with shaker that he kept hidden in the toolshed.

When the Summer sun would get too much for us, we would take a drink of the cold well water that would always chill our teeth. Sometimes Grandpa would pick a cantaloupe. We would rest in the tall weeds under the cool shade tree and enjoy the hot, juicy sweetness of the sun-baked melon as he cut off slices with his little pocketknife. It wasn’t always a cantaloupe; sometimes it was boysenberries gathered in his panama hat, or a handful of pea pods that we would shell together, or a pomegranate that we would slowly share, staining our fingers and leaving tiny crimson droplets on our dirty jeans that would remind me of the experience for months afterward. Even a crunchy raw turnip was a savory treat when picked and eaten with grandpa. I can remember sitting in the shade of the grape arbor, eating sweet seedless orbs and watching the trains that passed on the tracks just west of our property. And Grandpa would tell me of his experiences in the war — tales of horror and fear that I now know he rarely shared with other people. Sometimes I wonder why he confided so freely in me.

On December 1st, 1980, Grandpa was diagnosed with cancer. Ten days later he was dead. I was 12 years old. It was a long time before I could go into our garden again. When he left, he took the garden and my world with him.

As I got older, I found out that the things I learned in the garden didn’t matter to the world. Sure, it was a fine life for a retired old man — it was good therapy — but I was expected to be more productive, be ambitious, make money. But I felt out-of-step with the world around me. Everything seemed too fast when compared to the natural pace that I learned in the garden. Life rushed by me in a blur before I had time to even make sense of it.

My younger sister, who was raised by my parents in the home I escaped, is a successful accountant with her own firm. She is a go-getter who doesn’t rest. I’d never survive in her world.

For a while, I worked the garden by myself. I did it on a smaller scale, but it was still a lot of work for a kid, but it helped me feel close to Grandpa.

Over the years, the garden became smaller and smaller as I fewer family members visited and grandma and I didn’t need a big garden. As Grandma grew older and I became her caretaker, the garden became little more than a barren field. It is interesting how something that was so fruitful and beautiful with just a little dedication turns into an ugly wasteland as soon as it is neglected. I’m sure Grandpa would have found a life-lesson in that fact, too.

For many years, the garden neglected. After I married, my wife and I spent the first few years of our marriage living in a tiny shack in the back part of that property. I cleared the land and planted tomatoes, squash, beans, corn, and peppers on a section of it. I discovered that it is impossible for me to do gardening without feeling my grandpa around me. That’s not a complain, it’s more of a boast.

My wife and I moved away and have a home of our own now. I have a small vegetable garden in the backyard. I have filled our front yard with plants and flowers that I have grown from clippings or scavenged from other sources. I have beautiful succulents growing in pots and flowers blooming in beds. I often get compliments on our yard and interesting plants.
Grandpa is with me when I work in my own yard, too. I think about him and my childhood whenever I work in the yard. It’s funny how those simple times from so long ago have stuck with me.

My family still refers to that area as “the garden”, though anyone seeing it now for the first time would wonder why. It makes me sad to see it.

My wife and I plan to buy a few acres outside of the city in the next few years.  I can’t wait to plot out my garden, raise chickens, and shake my fists at goats.  It will not be in the place I grew up, but it will feel more like home than anywhere I’ve ever been.

I think about those things I learned out in the garden and I am grateful for those character-building lessons. I have noticed that the things I learned while gardening with Grandpa have done nothing to help me become successful or wealthy in the eyes of the world. I suppose I shouldn’t have skipped school as often as I did.

But when life becomes difficult, the things that help me make it through are not the things I learned in school, but the patience, faith, and character that I developed while working with Grandpa in the garden.  So that was the best school of all.

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Be Not Moved

http://alfoxshead.blogspot.com/2013/01/be-not-moved.html I love this so much. All I can add is AMEN

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