Grandma’s Hands


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



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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That Can’t Possibly Help My Addiction – Part One – Walking



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.


Don’t we all know that walking is one of the best exercises a person can do?  It is low impact, it prevents heart attacks and stroke, it keeps you young, it builds bones, it wards off diabetes, it tones your muscles, and it burns calories like crazy.  But can walking actually help someone recover from addiction?  Believe it or not, the answer is a huge YES!

For over a year, I heard recovering addicts talking about how walking helped them, but I always thought it was ridiculous.  But then I started noticing how many “Stop Smoking” programs included a daily walk as part of their road to quitting.  And I knew that taking a daily walk is one of the fastest ways out of depression, so maybe there was something to this after all.   The final straw for me was when I discovered that Life Coach Tony Litster who has a program to “attract wealth, improve relationships, make more money, eliminate self-sabotage, reconnect spiritually, and find self-acceptance” insists that his pupils take a walk for at least 5 minutes each day.

So I tried it.  At first, I walked only for the 5 minute minimum.  It seemed like a waste of my time and I couldn’t tell any difference.   Then one day I was standing in line at Costco.  Now, if you are familiar with Costco, that’s all the information you need to know.  I had been in line for 30 minutes, surrounded by crying babies, impatient shoppers, and giant shopping carts loaded with over-sized items that kept bumping into me.  The walls were closing in on me.  For someone like me, who hates crowds and would never leave the house unless he had to, I was in hell.   I could feel the panic welling up inside me and my frenzied mind started to scream, “I’ve gotta get out of here and take a walk!”

What?  I was literally stunned when I realized what I was thinking.  Here I was in a stressful situation and my mind wasn’t begging for the comforting escape of my addiction.  It was craving my little 5 minute walk.  Somehow, I had rewired my brain.

I’m not going to try to go into a long explanation of how walking helps brain function, emotional health, and cognitive development.  You have access to Google.  You can look it up yourself.   I just want to convince you to try it.

This is how walking helps me recover from addiction:

  1. Walking is a healthy escape.   Most addiction comes from an uncontrollable desire to escape — escape reality, life, stress, feelings, abuse, fear, depression, boredom, etc.   Walking helps fill that need.
  2. Walking clears my head.     There is something about the combination of walking and fresh air that makes me thinking clearly and make better choices.
  3. Walking grounds me.   When I feel that little shift begin to happen inside me, and I know I am getting to the point when cravings are heading into full blown addiction mode, I feel outside of myself.  I feel like I am a different person.  I can hear my own voice inside my head telling me to stop, but I just keep moving forward.  (It’s like when everything inside you is telling you that a hot fudge sundae is bad for you and will only make you fat, but you just eat it anyway, and then afterward you wonder why you ate it.)  Going for a walk puts me back in control of my actions.  There is something about that rhythmic drumming of my feet against the ground and the swinging of my arms harmony with my legs that grounds me to my surroundings and puts my world back in order.
  4. Walking awakens my senses.   I feel so alive when I feel the rain on my face, or the warmth of the sunlight on my arms, or the cold wind biting my cheeks and stiffening my fingers.   I understand my place in the world when I hear the birds, or see the flowers bloom, or watch the leaves fall, or witness kids playing, or see a dead animal, or wave at a neighbor, or feel my heart pumping.
  5. Walking helps me explore.    It’s amazing how many addictions began as curiosity.   Walking in new places, along different paths, fills the need to explore and discover.

If you are like me, you can’t come to know the benefits of walking until you do it yourself.  So get out there and do it!  Now, if you are walking to stay physically fit, just get out there and do whatever kind of walking makes you happy.  But if you are walking as part of addiction recovery, here are a few pointers that will make it bring you the greatest success:

  • Don’t bring your Ipod.   Don’t listen to music, talk radio, audio books, or anything else.  All of those things are used to distract you from what you are doing.  That’s why people who walk for exercise use them — it distracts them from their workout.  But you don’t want to be distracted.  You want to be focused.
  • End up where you began.   The point of your walk is not to go to the store, or a friend’s house, or anywhere else.  The point of your walk is only to walk.   The walk is your goal; getting somewhere else is not your goal.
  • Breath.   Before you begin, take several deep breaths to expand your lungs and get oxygen rushing to your brain.  It makes a big difference.
  • Go alone.   Not only do you not want the distraction of a walking partner, but you don’t want anyone else setting your pace or choosing your path.  This is your time to explore and discover.  Stop when you want to stop.  Look at what you want to see.  Be still when you need to.   This is your time.

Walking will require some commitment.  Ultimately, all I can say is try it yourself.   That’s the only way you will ever really find out if it works for you.  Give it a week.  It might make all the difference in how successful you are in your recovery.

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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


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.


Filed under addiction, LDS, Mormon, Recovery

Remembering a dear friend

Last week, someone who was very close to me lost her long-time battle with poor health.  Her father called right after she passed and told me that she had requested that I give her eulogy.  I was honored, and a little confused why she wanted me to do it, rather than a member of her family.

In the days before the funeral, I contacted her family members for information and stories from her childhood.  It became clear to me why she wanted me write her eulogy.  A few of her family members wanted to use this event as a forum to air grievances and point fingers at others.

It made me sad.

I found it difficult to write the eulogy because I felt so depressed as I thought my friend living in a family full of resentment and hard feelings.   However, as I pondered on it, I was struck by the thought that perhaps it would be difficult to find a family that DIDN’T have a lot of lingering hard feelings festering just under the surface, waiting to burst out at the slightest opportunity.  And a death in the family is surely something that will bring feelings to the surface.

Finally, with just a few hours before the funeral, I forced myself to sit down and write.  I focused on how my friend had impacted my life.  I told about just a couple of the times when she sent my life moving in different direction, a better direction.

I left out the more personal stories, but I still feared that what I wrote was too much about me, and not enough about my friend.  So I asked my wife to read it and let me know what she thought (something that I almost never do, because I don’t like people knowing what I am going to say before I say it.)  She felt it was a nice tribute.  I printed it, and didn’t didn’t look at it again until I was standing at the pulpit. 

As I spoke, I left out a few things and changed some of the wording, as the Spirit dictated.

In honor of my fiend, I’m going to post most of what I wrote.  

This experience has inspired me to work harder on healing the relationships in my own family.  I challenge you to think about what might be said about you after you are gone.  But more importantly, think about what affect your passing will have on those you leave behind.  Have you helped them to live in a healthy environment so that your passing will bring them closer together, rather than tear them apart?

I have known Jacki most of my life. And even though I have the honor of standing up here today and sharing a few of the ways that she has touched my life for good, I know there are hundreds of others who could share stories that would equally or better illustrate the impact Jacki had on their lives.


I have found two great benefits of funeral services. First, we get to remember the life of someone who we knew well. Second, and maybe more importantly, we get to discover things about them that we never knew, and it feels like we are meeting them all over again.


Today, I get to share some things about Jacki that many of us never saw and only her family remembers. And then I’d like to share some ways that Jacki helped me. And those stories might be new to even her family.


Jacki was born in Sacramento on March 7, 1950. If you have had a chance to see some of her childhood photos, you might have noticed that she was a character from the beginning.


Her sisters always joked about her having “middle child syndrome”. Jacki teased back by insisting that her youngest sister was always the favored one.


Jacki loved to rollerskate. When Jacki was a little girl, she didn’t have the kind of skates children have today. She had the kind that she would clamp onto her shoes and then tighten with a key. And she would spend hours roller skating up and down the sidewalks in her neighborhood.

Normally, a little girl of 6 or 7 years old rollerskating wouldn’t draw much attention. But at this same time, Jacki had developed a burning desire to be a cowgirl. And she had already taken steps toward being a cowgirl by wearing western attire, including cowgirl hat and cowgirl gloves, which she insisted on wearing at all times.
So she made quite impact as the rollerskating cowgirl in the neighborhood.

Jacki got a nice new bicycle for her 8th birthday… at which time she turned into the bicycling cowgirl in the neighborhood, because she was still wearing her cowgirl outfits.


Jacki loved to jump rope with her Grandpa McDonnell turning the rope for her. She loved her grandpa very much and he would take her to the park for the pony rides (a big treat for a budding cowgirl).

She attended at Hollywood Park Elementary, Joaquin Miller Jr. High School and graduated from C.K. McClatchy High School in 1968. She completed her Bachelor of Science degree from CSUS in Computer Science.


Jacki loved computers, and she was skilled not only in computer applications, but also in programming. Jacki never had the problem of being intimidated by the compute, as many people are. She always saw it as a tool to do things better, faster, and connect to more people.

Jacki began her career at Rainbo Bakery, and she worked there for 23 years doing various jobs, including: company dispatch coordinator for bread deliveries, accounting, and company supply coordinator for many offices in Northern California. To these other offices in California, Jacki quickly became known as the “GO TO Girl” in Sacramento if you needed to get things done.


Even though Jacki was committed to her work, she never allowed it to consume her life. Her priorities were always firmly rooted in her family, her faith, and her own personal development.

She never stopped learning new things and practicing and perfecting her skills. Jacki loved to knit, largely because it was something that she could do for other people.


She wanted to make sweaters and hats and afghans for everyone. She especially loved knitting baby blessing blankets for her great-nieces and nephews. She had recently started one for her newest great-nephew and was hoping to finish by his blessing.


In the kitchen, Jacki was always cooking up something new. She loved cooking shows on television and she had her favorite chefs that she just had to watch. And then she loved trying the new recipes.

I was fortunate enough to stop in to see her one day after she had tried a new recipe for BBQ ribs. Her parents talked about how good they were and I just had to try them. But Jacki wasn’t having any of the ribs.


There were many foods that Jacki couldn’t eat, but it never stopped her from cooking for others, and she found great joy in seeing others enjoy her cooking.


One of her specialties was Lemon Meringue Pie. She learned the secrets of perfect pie crust from her grandmother. And soon, her family could never get enough of Jacki’s lemon pies.


She took great pleasure in making her family gourmet meals, and it was always exciting for them to find out what she had made for them to enjoy when they would visit. Jacki’s parents especially appreciated and loved the meals she prepared for them. They say they will miss that

Jacki loved acting. She appeared in a few local plays and church produced roadshows. Her family is very proud of her accomplishments in this area.


Another of Jacki’s many hobbies were her potted plants. I got to go water some of them a few times when she was out of town. She loved to see the beautiful flowers outside of her windows.

However, just like the meals that she prepared but couldn’t eat herself, she couldn’t fully enjoy her potted flowers because she was allergic to the fragrance. She found a solution to this problem recently, and one of her last projects was to plant cacti in her little blue and white containers.


Jacki was fully committed to the gospel of Jesus Christ. She loved the words of the prophets. She studied her scriptures daily. She amassed a huge library of every church magazine and reference material. And she knew where to find information on gospel questions. Family members and ward members would often call Jacki for stories and scripture references when working on a talk or lesson. And Jacki always knew just the right place to look.


I teased her once about not needing her collection anymore because the church has it all online and she should just get rid of it. She got a huge knowing smile on her face and replied, “No, they only have the stuff AFTER 1970.”


Jacki loved to serve, and she has served diligently in many callings, including primary teacher, Relief Society Teacher, Stake missionary, genealogy indexing coordinator and name extractor, among many others.


Of all her callings, Jacki said she got the greatest joy from her latest calling as Secretary in the Primary. She loved the children so much and felt privileged to help nourish their testimonies of the Gospel that she cherished.


In October, our ward had the Primary Sacrament Meeting Program. I got to sit next to Jacki right on the front row and watch as she followed every word of the script on the edge of her seat, giving a happy thumbs up to the kids after they delivered their parts or sang a song. She would coach them or reassure them if they paused or seemed scared. When it was over, Jacki gave a huge sigh and looked exhausted. She had given all the strength she had during that meeting, and she looked so proud and happy.


Jacki also taught early morning seminary classes to High School students. I was one of her students.


This was the first of many times that Jacki was instrumental in changing the direction of my life.


There have been a handful of critical times, when Jacki Larsen was clearly a tool in the Lord’s hand to swoop in and dramatically alter my life.


This first time was when I was 15 years old. I was silently battling depression and I didn’t feel like anyone knew I existed. One morning at six o’clock, after I was dropped off at the church for seminary, instead of going to class, I went into the chapel to be alone. I vividly remember lying down on one of the pews in the darkness alone and feeling the tears fall into my ears as I pondered taking my own life.


After about an hour, I heard the groups of laughing teens leaving the building. And I then I heard Jacki turning out the lights in the rest of the church. I expected that the next thing I would hear was Jacki locking the doors and leaving, because there was no reason that she would come into the chapel.


But then a stream of light shined across the ceiling of the chapel as she opened the door and looked inside. She shouldn’t have been able to see me lying there, but sure enough, I heard her footsteps approaching. I quickly tried to dry my eyes and Jacki seemed surprised to find me in there.

In her wisdom, she didn’t ask me any of the questions I expected would follow: “why weren’t you in class?” “What are you doing in here?”


In fact, she didn’t ask me any questions at all. To my shock, she sat down on the pew in front of me in the dark and just started talking about her own life. She just shared herself with me. She even made me laugh.

We sat there for an hour, and she was probably late to work, but not once did seem rushed or even to care what time it was. I left there feeling like there was someone who cared about me. That’s when Jacki became my friend. And that’s exactly what I needed at that time in my life.


Jacki was extremely proud of her nieces and nephews. She was interested in every part of their lives, and wanted to be a part of their activities.


She loved to travel. She was a wonderful travel companion for her mother and they traveled around the country, and Europe, and Australia.


When her parents went on their mission, Jacki took care of their house. She continued to do this when they moved to Elko, NV for 19 years.

During this time, the First Ward became her family in Sacramento. She loved her Ward family and was grateful to be a part of it.


While I was on my mission, Jacki wrote me faithfully to keep me updated on what was happening in the ward.


In later years, I fell away from the church. But Jacki wouldn’t leave me alone. She was a nag and she was stubborn.


She was also very tricky. She kept calling me up and telling me that she was hosting a Family Home Evening group and she needed me to be a part of it. I always refused.


One time she called me and said her group was going to meet and they were going to share stories about their missions. She needed me to come and tell about some of the spiritual experiences that I had.


I told her that I was not going to go to some family home evening with a bunch of desperate singles. She assured me that it wasn’t like that and it had nothing to do with setting up couples.


I finally agreed to go. When I got there, I discovered that Jacki’s “group” consisted of three people. Me, Jacki, and a girl I had never met before… And whom I ended up marrying.


Over the years, other people would come and go in Jacki’s group. Some of these people became my closest friends. Jacki’s home became the center of activity for many of our ward’s singles.


One evening while we were hanging out with Jacki, she mentioned that her house was right in the flight path of airplanes landing at Executive Airport. She said she was sure that someday something was going to fall from a plane and crash into her house. She said she heard that sort of thing happened all the time. She was very serious about it.


Naturally, the rest of us had a lot of fun over the next few months, sneaking over there in the middle of the night and sticking things in Jacki’s front lawn that looked like they could have fallen from an airplane, or a spaceship, or even a meteorite. Jacki was always fun to tease.


Jacki always had a positive outlook about her health problems. Even while having cancer treatments, operations, and dialyses. She always felt she would get better. And she almost always did, until her heart just couldn’t pump anymore.


Her philosophy was: “You will always have pain but suffering is optional.”


Even up until the very end of her life, Jacki was helping other people. Me included.


Recently, I was going through some difficult things. Jacki could tell something was wrong. I got home from church a couple of weeks ago and I had an email from Jacki saying simply: “Spill it. I can tell something is wrong.”


So I told her. I would like to read part of an email that she wrote to me just four days before she passed away.


She wrote: “So what can I do? How can I help you? Can I make dinner for you and Dorene? Or can I make some meals for your folks? We should go to breakfast or lunch sometime soon so you can have someone to talk to. You know, with all I have gone through this year, I feel blessed to have seen ALL the blessings Heavenly Father has given me because of what I am going through! So someday I hope you will also be able to smile and be at complete peace, no matter what difficulties happen! I KNOW the Lord will help you in the form of a miracle! You are a faithful son of our Heavenly Father and I know He will help you. Maybe not right now or in the way you would like – but in the end you will see this is all a blessing!”


This is the kind of faith that Jacki had. We are all better for having crossed paths with this choice Sister. She was always an example to those around her.


No matter how sick she was, or however much pain she was in, she didn’t let it show. One thing about Jacki that many people will always remember is that whenever you asked her how she was feeling, she would smile and say, “Just Peachy.”


And that’s exactly what she was.




Filed under Uncategorized

“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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Filed under addiction, LDS, Mormon