Category Archives: Mormon

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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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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Grandma’s Hands

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On August 23, 1995, my grandma, Vivian Cisneros, finally died. I say finally because she had spent the last year of her life confined to the hospital bed that we had set up in the living room so that her family and friends and nurses could care for her more easily. She’d spent a month in a nursing home, but during that month her ankle was broken and bruises and sores kept appearing on her body. She began to lose touch with reality and she would flinch and shy away from anyone that came near her. We had a doctor evaluate her condition and he said it wasn’t uncommon for a patient in a nursing home to experience Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome from the rough handling that they receive there. After all, he said, these people aren’t loved by their care givers. We brought her home that very day and vowed that we would take care of her ourselves, no matter what the sacrifice.

Once home, she relaxed and seemed to be much more at ease, but she never fully regained her faculties. She had lost touch with this world and was looking forward to the next. During the last few months of her life, she spent more time staring into the corner of the living room and having conversations with dead relatives then she spent talking to those of us that were still here. So when I say that she “finally” died, I say that only because I know she is where she wanted to be, not because I wanted her to leave. When it came to my grandma, I was selfish. I would have much rather had her stay here with me, no matter how much she needed to go.

I was kneeling by her bed and holding her hand when she died. After she took her last breath, I lowered my head and cried. I remember looking at her hands through my blurry eyes and thinking about all of the ways that those hands had influenced my life. Now they were thin and bony and her tendons were tight and ran under the skin like wiry cables. Blue veins criss-crossed up and down like lines on a road map just under her delicate skin which had become thin and transparent like tissue paper.

I thought about how many diapers those hands had changed. There wasn’t a member of our family who hadn’t been bathed, powdered and diapered by those hands. Besides family members, Dozens of other children spent their days being pampered by those hands in the daycare she ran from her home.

I remembered Grandma’s comforting hands patting my back as she sang me to sleep and rocked me in her chair. I have vivid memories of my grandma’s hands holding a counting book in front of me, turning the pages as I sat on her lap and pointed to the pictures of kittens and ducks and pigs and counted them out loud.

Those same hands taught me the seemingly impossible task of tying my shoelaces into bows. She gave me an old shoe and guided my fingers as I knelt at the green footstool in front of her rocking chair and practiced making the complicated loops and tucks.

I remember standing with her at the kitchen sink, watching her wash the brown and white eggs that I had just gathered from the chicken coup. Her hands moved quickly and carefully, never breaking a single egg. When I was young, and my own fingers were clumsy, I was impressed by that.

In the summertime, those hands pulled countless bee stingers out of my hands and feet as I cried and fought her. The orange, stinging medicine that she would apply afterward seemed worse than the sting itself. She would tell me to blow on it to stop the sting of the medicine, but I think that was just to keep me busy or make me dizzy and hyper-ventilated.
Throughout my childhood, grandma’s hands always smelled like onions, or garlic, or yeast from the meals that she was constantly cooking for the endless stream of cousins and aunts and uncles that flowed through the doors of our house. I remember thinking that Grandma’s hands smelled like dinner whenever she would touch my cheek or brush my sweaty blond curls off of my forehead.

Those hands of hers gutted dozens of chickens on the kitchen counter after my cousins and I would bring them in after they had been beheaded and plucked by my grandpa and uncles in the backyard. I remember being glad that I was a boy and would never have to sit at that counter with grandma, like Tammy and Lisa had to do, and learn how to cut open the chickens and take out their guts. Swinging an ax in the backyard with the men was much more fun.

Those hands taught me how to do long division when my fourth grade teacher couldn’t  Grandma would teach me how to do the work and then she would make up a dozen or so problems on a clipboard and have me practice. Once I mastered those, she would give me another dozen that were a little harder. Because of those late nights with her, I usually went to school knowing how to do more difficult problems than were required, instead of feeling confused and behind the rest of the class.

Those hands gave me some of the worst haircuts of my life. I remember the sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach every time I heard grandma say, “Oops,” after a snip of the shears.
When I was in high school and didn’t want to get up to go to seminary, I remember her throwing a cold wet washcloth on my face as I slept, and then running away before I had the chance to throw it back at her. As angry as I was, I had to fight back the laughter at watching this chubby old lady try to run away quickly.

These were the same hands that wrote letters to me every week while I was on my mission, even when the ache in her arthritic fingers kept her awake at night. Sometimes the writing was so bad that I could barely read it. But I’m so grateful for those letters now. I remember one time she tried to type me a letter, but her fingers were so crooked that she couldn’t hit the right keys and it ended up being harder to read than her longhand. When I got home from my mission, I teased her about that letter and she threw her head back and laughed like a little child.

Once she became too feeble to care for herself, our roles reversed and it became my job to care for her needs. It was a way me to repay her for all of the years that she had spent caring for me. Part of this duty involved tending to those hands. I would file her fingernails and rub lotion on her hands to keep them soft. One day while I was clipping her nails, I accidentally snipped off a piece of her skin and she started to bleed. Grandma didn’t even flinch and seemed to be totally unaware that anything had happened. That’s when I realized how far gone she really was. It was only a few weeks later that she died as I held that very same hand.

As I cried and pondered the influence that those hands had on my life, I was struck by the fact that I had only been fortunate enough to have known them toward the end of their time here on earth. How much more must they have done when they were youthful and sturdy? How many other people had been influenced by those hands before I was even born? What experiences had those hands been through that led them to point when they first held me as a baby? I wondered about the first time those hands were held by a boy. What did they look like when they were young and nimble?

Fortunately, in a final act of giving, those hands had worked daily to supply some answers to these questions. Those hands had left behind volumes of journals and diaries, written out tediously in longhand over a lifetime. I cherish those stories now because they teach me what my grandma was like before I came into her life. By reading them, I know I will be able to recognize those hands when I hold them again — when they won’t be the old and worn out hands that I had known in my life, but the youthful and strong and perfected hands of woman who had spent a lifetime in the service of her family.

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That Can’t Possibly Help My Addiction — Part Two — Positive Affirmations

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Preface:

Every once in a while, someone in a 12-step meeting will confidently testify of a treatment for addiction — something that changed their life and gives them power to get through another day.  My first reaction to these suggestions is almost always a cynical one.  Come on, it can’t be that simple!  However, I am learning to not discount the effectiveness of something just because it doesn’t make sense.   I started trying some of these crazy ideas and discovered that they actually worked!  I’ve decided to make a series of blog posts about a few of these counter-intuitive actions that make recovery a reality.

Positive Affirmations

ImageThe whole concept of trying to change your life by repeating positive statements about yourself seemed like a joke to me.  Admittedly, my opinion was probably shaped a great deal by Stuart Smalley, the effeminate Saturday Night Live character created by Al Franken in the 1990’s, who was a a member of many twelve-step groups and stands in front of the mirror in his powder blue sweater chanting, ” I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone It, people like me!

It all seemed so wimpy and New Age.  I could hardly even entertain the idea of actually trying it.  But then someone explained it to me in a way that rang true in my mind.  He pointed out the fact that almost since birth, everyone around me has told me what and who I am.  “You are adopted.”  “You are fat.”  “You suck at math.”  “Your handwriting is terrible.”  “You shouldn’t try that because people will laugh at you.”  “Nobody is as good a helper as you are.”  “You should stick with what you are good at.”

It didn’t take long before the YOU turned into an I and my inner voice was defined and my self-image took shape.  This wasn’t anything sinister or planned on the part of those other people.  It’s just a part of growing up.  And some of us are more susceptible than others to these external voices around us.

So doesn’t it make sense to keep reminding yourself of the person you want to be?  Shouldn’t we at least try to counter balance the external voices that have bombarded us on a daily basis since we were old enough to understand?  This is where positive affirmations come in.  And here is the amazing part:  They actually work!  And they start to work almost immediately!

So how do you make your own affirmations?  It’s not rocket science.  First, decide what areas of your life you want to improve.  In the case of addiction, you want to improve the parts of your life that LED to the addiction.  Get to the roots of the problem.  Remember, addiction is a symptom of other underlying issues.

Next, write out a few positive statements for each of the areas you want to work on. Your statements should be short, positive, and in the 1st person present tense.  And keep your list small — work on a few at a time.  Affirmations are most effective when they are few and repeated often.   Remember to focus on the goal, not where you are now.

For example, if you have a sexual addiction that developed because of your need to feel loved and accepted, your affirmation would not be, “I am not a sexual addict.”  It might look something like:

“I am more than enough.”  “I fully accept who I am.”  “Other people enjoy being around me.”

It’s that simple.   Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that it’s prideful to make these statements about yourself.  These are worthy goals and eternal truths.  You are only helping yourself become convinced of their reality.

My list of affirmations changes and adapts.  I add affirmations and remove them, depending on my current need.  But but some of the more important ones, never leave the list.  My list of affirmations that don’t change are as follows:

I choose my behavior

I am a Child of God with infinite worth.

I am always taken care of.

God loves me and accepts me.

I am always more than enough.

The worth of my soul is great.

I now fully accept myself.

My body is now in perfect balance.

I am always healthy and strong.

Everything I touch prospers.

Other people feel their worth when they are in my presence.

Everything works together for my good.

I don’t fear, because God is protecting me.

I choose my actions based on long-term prosperity.

My Spirit and my Physical body are in tune and in perfect sync.

I enjoy physical activity

I eat only when my body needs nourishment.

Okay, okay, I am fully aware that I am not as far down the road of accomplishing some of these as I should be.  That’s why I they are on my list.  Some of them are simply factual statements that I need to be reminded of on a daily basis because I tend to forget them, and when I do, my life goes to hell.

So now that you have a few affirmations, how do you get them into your head?  There are many ways that people choose to do it.  Most of them aren’t something I could keep doing on a consistent basis.

1. Stand in front of a mirror and repeat the affirmations to yourself.  (Too much like Stuart Smalley.  I know myself well enough to know I wouldn’t do this.)

2. Write them down several times a day while repeating them in your mind.  (Way too much work for me.  I know I would give up after a couple of days.)

3. Subliminal recordings.  (I’m just not sold on this method for me.  I wanted something I could do myself and something that I could focus on with my conscious mind as well.)

I knew I needed a way to get these thoughts into my head without having to put in much daily effort.  That’s just me.

Years ago, I learned that classical music (especially Baroque music) stimulates the brain.  When I was in high school, I would sometimes play Handel while I studied for a test, in hopes that it would help the knowledge to sink into my brain.  I decided to use music to help me with my affirmations.

I simply recorded myself saying my affirmations clearly and slowly.  Then I looped them to repeat over and over again for 15 minutes.  Then I added a background of Bach and Handel.   So I have an MP3 that I can listen to each night as I fall asleep, because it’s believed that the human mind is most accepting of affirmations when it is at rest.  Sometimes I listen to it first thing in the morning, as well.  I also burned it onto a CD and sometimes I listen to it in the car.

I can tell a difference in my attitude, confidence, and choices when I listen do my affirmations on a regular basis.  It’s just another one of those wacky things that has to be tried to be understood.

Change your thinking and change yourself.

Below is a list of affirmations that I like.  Maybe they will inspire your own affirmations.  Good luck!

  • I feel God’s love for me each hour.
  • I trust him and I walk in confidence through life, knowing that he protects me.
  • I trust that everything that happens to me is for my good and long-term happiness.
  • My relationship with God is very trusting.
  • I know that He loves me and desires my happiness.
  • I am directed each day through the spirit as I seek His guidance in my life.
  • I clearly see and recognize God’s hand in my life as I take time to listen and be still.
  • It feels good receive promptings and be an instrument in the Hand of the Lord.
  • I feel peace and confidence knowing that God is with me each day.
  • My relationship with God grows as I have meaningful daily prayers and scripture study.
  • I talk with God as a friend and take time to listen for answers as I seek His guidance.
  • I feel uplifted, peaceful and strengthened after I pray.
  • I receive answers to my questions and inspiration for others as I search the scriptures.
  • I take time to apply what I read into my life.
  • I receive instructions from God continually for me and for those in my stewardship.
  • I live righteously enough to receive those messages when they come.
  • I see people’s lives blessed and my life blessed as well
  • I am always inspired in the council I give to others.
  • God puts me in the right place at the right time.
  • I ask God for what I need. He freely blesses me.
  • I know my prayers are heard.
  • I expect to receive inspiration
  • I take opportunities to ponder and meditate each day
  • I am still and know God
  • I experience now in this moment how it feels to have this connection
  • I see myself taking steps to connect with God
  • I am filled with his love
  • I see myself as God sees me
  • I am always aware of the help that surrounds me
  • I am a valiant son of God.
  • I have great faith in Jesus Christ.
  • My faith guides me every day.
  • I am calm and steady throughout my life, no matter what is going on around me.
  • I am an example to others.
  • I find joy in obeying the commandments.
  • I am confident with who I am, and how I live my life.
  • I have a kind and sensitive heart and genuine desire to help others in need.
  • I am creative.
  • God expects me to be a creator of things.
  • I am excited to try new things.
  • I experiment with new ideas and techniques.
  • I am artistic.
  • I love meeting new people and I am a friend to those around me.
  • I’m a positive person who looks for the good in everyone.
  • I respect myself.
  • I take care of my physical, emotional and spiritual needs so I am at my best
  • Others feel better about themselves and uplifted after being in my presence
  • I treat others with kindness and love.
  • I am calm and steady in the direction I’m going
  • All things work out for my good.
  • I connect with my higher self and learn from his wisdom.
  • My relationship with my wife, family and friends is one of love, respect and support.
  • People feel and know the love I have for them through my words and actions.
  • I have balanced relationships.
  • I give great service to others
  • I experience connection, camaraderie and fulfillment as I support them and they support me.
  • I contact my friends often.
  • I enjoy having friendships.
  • I am a supportive husband.
  • My wife’s callings are also mine.
  • I respect others for who they are.
  • I take time to savor my relationships.
  • I am a good listener.
  • I don’t try to “fix” other people or change them to suit my needs.
  • My outside reflects the inside.
  • I have an abundance of energy.
  • My body and mind are renewed each morning.
  • I enjoy starting my day by waking up early in the morning feeling rested and clear .
  • My body is in complete harmony physically, both inside and out.
  • I am in tune with my body.
  • My body tells me what kind of nutrition, exercise or rest it needs.
  • I take time to listen to my body.
  • I am attracted to the foods that help my body perform at a higher level.
  • I feel great!
  • I eat small meals, several times a day.
  • I eat when I am hungry.
  • My body is attracted to foods that serve me
  • I am always healthy and strong
  • My body is now in perfect balance
  • I experience myself doing the work of keeping my body strong
  • There is harmony and balance in all of my systems
  • I’m attracted to foods that allow my body to function at the highest levels
  • There is a bounce in my step
  • I take time to experience health
  • I experience vibrant athletic energy
  • I regularly exercise my body
  • I listen to my body and take care of its needs
  • My body regulates itself and works to be at my proper weight.
  • My body has perfect balance.
  • I live debt free.
  • I am in alignment with the spiritual laws of abundance
  • I have more than I will ever need.
  • I have more than enough to store away.
  • I have enough to share with others.
  • I live in a home that is paid for.
  • I always have more than enough
  • I spend my time and talents doing the most important things for my purpose
  • I trust that God will always provide for me, so I share freely and I know it always comes back to me 100 fold.
  • I Experience how it feels to have everything paid for, and several years of resources available.
  • I Experience how it is to have such abundance and tranquility in my life.
  • I Experience financial power and the ability to enact my vision
  • Our house has room enough to welcome others in need.
  • I feel secure because I know I have enough money to live on for years.
  • I have skills that make me very profitable.
  • I have investments and businesses that continually provide a generous income.
  • I am my own boss.
  • I pay my tithes and offerings with gladness and gratitude.
  • My prosperity prospers others. Their prosperity prospers me.
  • I constantly find ways to help people.
  • I leave everything more beautiful than I found it.
  • I make the world a better place.
  • I know that I deserve love and I accept it now.
  • I give out love and it is returned to me multiplied

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Lessons Learned From a Leaky Roof

leaky roof

My wife and I have been struggling with something for a while. Our roof is leaking and we don’t have $8000 for a new roof. We have been praying and praying that Heavenly Father would help us.

Last Winter the water was beginning to damage our ceilings and sheet rock. So why didn’t I just get up there and patch it?  Well, I had never been up on a roof in my entire life. Fat kids don’t get on roofs. Fat teenagers don’t get on roofs. And Fat old men definitely don’t get on roofs.  The thought of getting up there terrified me.  I just knew the roof would cave in, or I could take a bad step, resulting in death or a long and painful injury.

I had talked to several people at church about our problem, hoping that someone would offer some advice, or even offer to help me patch the roof, but no one did. I felt utterly helpless.  I couldn’t understand why my prayers weren’t being answered.

Finally, it got to the point where something had to be done.  Inching my way up the ladder took everything I had, but I finally made it onto the roof and put a tarp over the area that was leaking.  I secured it with boards.  I was shaking with fear as I came down the ladder, but I was so glad that I had done it.  That night, a big windstorm came up and ripped down the tarp. I went off by myself and cried.

Then I had an impression. I needed to go to Home Depot and figure out what I needed to patch the roof myself.  I’d never done roofing before, so I was clueless.  I remember my wife praying that night in our family prayer that I would be guided in figuring out how to repair the roof and that my hand would be guided as I worked.

I took 3 gallons of roof tar and headed up on the roof.  I was worried that if I fell, there would be no one to call 911 because my wife was at work.  I tried to get someone to come over, just to be here in case something happened, but everyone was busy. So I was on my own.

I told my wife to call me every hour on my cell phone, just to make sure I was still alive.

While I was up there, I could feel my mind being enlightened as to how to fix the problems. I could suddenly see areas that needed fixing that I hadn’t seen before.  In fact, I hadn’t even known what to look for until I was up there.

When I was done, standing up there on my roof looking around at what I had accomplished, I suddenly knew why I had to do this alone.  The Lord had to show me what I can do. I needed to learn that I could reach beyond what I thought were my limitations.  I needed to learn that I can do hard things.  I CAN DO HARD THINGS.

Some folks may think this is silly, but I’d never felt more like a man than I did at that moment.  I felt so alive.

Our roof had no more leaks that year.   I thanked God for giving me the precise experiences and trials that I needed to learn and grow in faith.

But apparently, I still had lessons to learn.  And since the leaky roof proved to be a good teaching vehicle in the past, Heavenly Father decided to use it again.

Yesterday, I noticed a brown spot on our ceiling.  We had another leak.  But I knew from past experience that I can do hard things.  Heavenly Father taught me I can patch the roof. I checked the weather report and saw that a storm was coming in today.

So I went back to Home Depot and got another 3-gallon bucket of patching tar.   I came home and said a prayer asking for help, similar to the prayer my wife had offered last year.

As I made my way up the latter, it began to rain.  Hard.

Why wasn’t God helping me?  Why didn’t he answer my prayer?  I was feeling abandoned and alone as thunder cracked in the sky.

And then I realized something.  As the rain steamed down the roof, I could see the areas that needed to be patched.  I followed the water paths and discovered the places that puddled.  Had it not been raining, I never would have been able to find the problems.

I sat there on the roof, cold and soaking wet, and thanked my Father in Heaven for making it rain.  I asked His forgiveness for doubting Him.

I know that to find happiness I must turn my entire life over to God.  As I do so, I am amazed to find Him patient and accepting of my faltering efforts.

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Just Stop

Image

I was only eleven years old the first time I sought council from a spiritual leader for an addiction.  I was terrified, but resolute.  I felt like it was the only place I could turn for help.  Without telling anyone else, I called on my own and made an appointment with my Bishop.

Being so young, my problem wasn’t a big one in the grand scheme of things, but it was big to me.  And within my little problem lay the seeds of addiction that were already beginning to take root and would someday become the unstoppable force that would lead me to alcohol, tobacco, pornography, pills, and other self-destructive behaviors at different times in my life.

I tearfully explained my problem to the Bishop.  I remember feeling exposed and unsteady as I waited for his response.   His solution came along with a tone of voice that said it should be obvious and simple.  He said, “Just stop.”

I left his office feeling misunderstood and, frankly, unimportant.  However, I’m not saying it was that Bishop, fault.  In 1979, who could blame the guy for knowing nothing about addiction?

And yet, if you pay attention, you will still hear those same sentiments expressed today.

“Honey, you keep putting on weight.  Why don’t you just stop eating so much?”

“You have lung cancer!  Why are you buying cigarettes!”

“Do you look at porn because I’m not pretty enough?”

“Don’t you think you have had enough?”

Even addicts themselves usually spend years telling themselves they will stop someday, eventually, when the time is right, soon.

The greatest gift God has given us is our agency, the power to choose our own paths.  So why can’t people just choose to stop doing a certain thing?

If that were the case, addiction wouldn’t exist.  We would have no need for the Word of Wisdom (D&C 89) because everyone could control themselves.  Let’s be honest, a little wine every once in a while isn’t going to hurt you.  But the Lord in his wisdom knows that not everyone will be able to have just a little wine.  That’s why the Word of Wisdom states that it is given for the “weakest of all saints” (v. 3)

As difficult as it is for me admit, I am the weakest of all saints.  I gave up my agency a long time ago.  I no longer have a choice.  Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve observed:

“Addiction surrenders later freedom to choose. Through chemical means, one can literally become disconnected from his or her own will” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1988, 7; or Ensign, Nov. 1988, 7).

It takes years, sometimes decades, for an addict to get the turning point when they can take Step One of addiction recovery: “Admit that you, of yourself, are powerless to overcome your addictions and that your life has become unmanageable.”   And that turning point is usually only found at rock bottom.

In my role as Group Leader of an addiction recovery support group, I have heard dozens of stories very similar to the one I told at the beginning of this post.  Church leaders, employers, judges, spouses, children, and friends who tell the addict to “just stop” what they are doing.  And they wish they could.  They desperately wish they could.  But they can’t.  I can’t.

But there is hope.  Take that first step and admit.  Then take that Second step: “Come to believe that the power of God can restore you to complete spiritual health.”

The Addiction Recovery Program is nothing more than a workshop in how to use the Atonement of Jesus Christ.  Church leaders must become educated in this process and learn how to help those who suffer.

I can’t help but wonder how my life would have been different had that Bishop in my youth been able to steer me onto the path of recovery.  But I know I sin in this thought, because the experiences God has given me have been exactly what I needed to arrive where I am today.  The only thing I can do is promise to help others who struggle.  And maybe I will be able to spare someone else the anguish that I have felt.

Things are getting better.  There are LDS Addiction Recovery support groups popping up all over.  We help with every kind of addiction, and we help people of all faiths.

One of the fastest growing addictions we see is pornography addiction.  It is estimated that 70% of men view pornography at least once a month.  The Church says this number is the same within church membership, and they estimate that 40% of men in the church have a pornography addiction.  And that’s just pornography addiction.  When you consider alcohol, drugs, food, and the countless other addictions that exist, it boggles the mind.

Sometimes when we are in our little Addiction Recovery Meetings we joke that if everyone who needed to be there came to our meetings, we would have to rent Arco Arena.

So I tell my little group that they are warriors.  They are the ones on the front lines fighting their demons and working hard to become followers of Jesus Christ.  They are the brave ones.  And they are being trained to help others do the same.

Someday, someone will come to them for help.  And instead of ignorantly saying, “Just stop,” they will be able to put their arm around that person’s shoulder and share with them the hope they feel.

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“I am encompassed about”

The Book of Mormon begins with Nephi, the son of the prophet Lehi, recording the story of his family fleeing the wickedness of Jerusalem.  Throughout the record, Nephi appears to be perfect.  When his brothers express doubt, he boldly reminds them of the power of the Lord and the miracles that have been done in the past.  When his parents lose hope and murmur, Nephi is the one who restores the proper order of things.  Angles swoop in to protect Nephi when his brothers harm him.  It seems like Nephi can do no wrong. He never gets discouraged. And nothing can stop him.

The image that Nephi paints of himself is one that I can look up to and aspire to be like, but not one to which I can easily relate.  Nephi doesn’t seem like anyone I know.

But then something happens.  Nephi’s father dies.  Suddenly he has much more responsibility and the mantel of authority rests firmly on his shoulders.  His brothers immediately begin to murmur again.  Up to this point, whenever his brothers murmured, Nephi seemed thrilled to chastise them and teach them about the Lord.  But now it is his duty.  He says he felt “constrained” to talk to them about the things of the Lord (2 Nephi 4:14).  The other time when he said he was “constrained” was when he didn’t want to kill Laban, but the Spirit commanded him to.  It seems like Nephi was feeling the burdens of his new calling, and I imagine he was grieving because of the loss of his father.  Of all the trials and tribulations that Nephi had experiences, I believe this time was the most stressful and difficult for him.  

Why do I believe that?  Because his normally optimistic and faithful writings take a turn into something else.  Suddenly we see a side of Nephi that we didn’t know existed.

 

Nevertheless, notwithstanding the great goodness of the Lord, in showing me his great and marvelous works, my heart exclaimeth: O wretched man that I am! Yea, my heart sorroweth because of my flesh; my soul grieveth because of mine iniquities.

 

I am encompassed about, because of the temptations and the sins which do so easily beset me.

 

And when I desire to rejoice, my heart groaneth because of my sins; nevertheless, I know in whom I have trusted.  (2 Nephi 4:17-19)

Okay, I know how this makes me sound, but I joy in Nephi’s agony.  Is it a sick form of schadenfreude? I don’t think so.  I’d rather believe that I can finally relate to Nephi.  Instantly I can relate to his feelings.  

Allow me to express in my own words the feelings that I share with Nephi, following his train of thought:

Why do I do what I do, when I know what I know?  God has helped me throughout my life.  He’s been there for me whenever I needed Him.  And yet, I am a sinner.  I am ashamed of myself and my heart aches because I am weak and fall to temptation.  

 

My sins are a strait jacket that keeps me bound while I thrash around and fight against it.  I am helpless… powerless against the temptations that are all around me.

 

When the Spirit fills me and I start to feel the warm light of God shining upon my face, when I thrill at the joyous events of life and the beauty around me, I remember my sins and I groan in agony and withdraw back into darkness where I feel like I belong.

 

And yet, I know my trust is in God.  I know He has protected me and guided me each day of my life.

 

I feel like Nephi understands me.  It’s like he peered into my heart and mind and wrote down what he saw. And then he builds my faith and encourages me to do better with his words that follow:

O then, if I have seen so great things, if the Lord in his condescension unto the children of men hath visited men in so much mercywhy should my heart weep and my soul linger in the valley of sorrow, and my flesh waste away, and my strength slacken, because of mine afflictions?

 

And why should I yield to sin, because of my flesh? Yea, why should I give way to temptations, that the evil one have place in my heart to destroy my peace and afflict my soul? Why am I angry because of mine enemy?

 

Awake, my soul! No longer droop in sin. Rejoice, O my heart, and give place no more for the enemy of my soul.

 

Do not anger again because of mine enemies. Do not slacken my strength because of mine afflictions.

 

Rejoice, O my heart, and cry unto the Lord, and say: O Lord, I will praise thee forever; yea, my soul will rejoice in thee, my God, and the rock of my salvation.

 

O Lord, wilt thou redeem my soul? Wilt thou deliver me out of the hands of mine enemies? Wilt thou make me that I may shake at the appearance of sin?

 

May the gates of hell be shut continually before me, because that my heart is broken and my spirit is contrite! O Lord, wilt thou not shut the gates of thy righteousness before me, that I may walk in the path of the low valley, that I may be strict in the plain road!

 

O Lord, wilt thou encircle me around in the robe of thy righteousness! O Lord, wilt thou make a way for mine escape before mine enemies! Wilt thou make my path straight before me! Wilt thou not place a stumbling block in my way—but that thou wouldst clear my way before me, and hedge not up my way, but the ways of mine enemy.

 

O Lord, I have trusted in thee, and I will trust in thee forever. I will not put my trust in the arm of flesh; for I know that cursed is he that putteth his trust in the arm of flesh. Yea, cursed is he that putteth his trust in man or maketh flesh his arm.

 

Yea, I know that God will give liberally to him that asketh. Yea, my God will give me, if I asknot amiss; therefore I will lift up my voice unto thee; yea, I will cry unto thee, my God, the rockof my righteousness. Behold, my voice shall forever ascend up unto thee, my rock and mine everlasting God.  (2 Nephi  4: 26-35)

Like Nephi, I am encompassed about by my sins.  But I have hope in my God, and I know that the atonement of Jesus Christ is my hope.  I trust in Him.  

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