Tag 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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True Hunger

Are you hungry?  

What are you hungry for?

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

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

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

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

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

Yeah, I was a mess.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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The Crippling Voices of Criticism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do you see a pattern here?  I do.

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I really want to know.  

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

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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.

Walking

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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