Sunday, September 29, 2019

All the --- Things

This article is a follow-up to “The Small Things Are Not Small.

This article contains a list of things I’m thankful for not because of something that was taken from me, but because I have them at all. I was going to title it “All the Small Things,” but I included the six things in this gratitude list because of blessings we’ve had and extra good things the Lord has given us… So this one’s about being thankful for all the… things, period (see D&C 78:19).

1. The Reminder to Be Thankful in All Things

Even seemingly mundane things like eating, showering, shopping — heck, even paying bills or dealing with bad traffic! — can be an act of thankful worship to God for making those activities possible in the first place. It might seem kind of weird with something that feels so common, like taking a bite of a donut or putting the car in park, to think “Thank you, God, that I am able to do this; that Thou gave me the means to get this food and the body to eat it” or “I thank Thee that Thou blessed me with this car and inspired its inventors to include brakes and mechanisms that allow me to safely park and lock it so I have higher chances of it not being stolen, and have a ride back home to my family.”

Thoughts like this might seem to some like trying too hard, but isn’t that the point, to reach for God with such great force and constant effort that our faith and love for Him becomes so strong He cannot withhold His greatest blessings from us? The reminder to be thankful for everything in and of itself is a sign of His mercy to us.


2. The Still Small Voice

Today I was taught in a gentle way by Heavenly Father about an area I need to improve on. I was reading in Hearing the Voice of the Lord by Gerald Lund and on page 139, it says: 

“…we must take care that we don’t assume that the more direct forms of revelation [visions, supernatural miracles] are of greater value and meaning to us. It is easy to almost covet the more dramatic forms of revelation, thinking that they validate our closeness to the Spirit and therefore our personal righteousness.”

This was a helpful reminder to me to not put more value on those more direct forms of revelation than the less direct forms. What God reveals to us is far more important than how He reveals it. My wife has had experiences with visions. I have not. She has physically seen what it’s like on the other side of the veil. I have not. But, nonetheless, the Lord has still used less direct means to reveal to my heart and mind some things about my future and my life that have been just as mind-blowing and spiritually transformative as what my wife has received, and I am truly thankful for His teaching me about those things. 

3. The Lord’s Correction
Speaking of the correction I received from the Lord through that book, that’s something else I am thankful for: chastisement from Him.

“Whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth . . .” (Hebrews 12:6)

“I would not dwell upon your crimes, to harrow up your soul, if it were not for your good.” (Alma 39:7)

I’m reminded of a part from the movie Ratatouille in the conversation between Remy and his dad. Remy’s dad shows him the rat poison and the traps in the window of the store, and the conversation goes like this:

Dad: When all is said and done, we’re all we’ve got.

Remy: No

Dad: What?

Remy: No. Dad, I don’t believe it. You’re telling me that the future is… Can only be more of this?

Dad: This is the way things are. You can’t change nature.

Remy: Change is nature, Dad. The part that we can influence. And it starts when we decide.

Change is most definitely an essential part of God’s plan and almost all of that change is going to mean repenting and fixing what the Lord tells us to fix, with Him helping us along that path. I am thankful for the things He tells me I need to improve in myself, because then I’m aware of how to become more like Him.


4. Scripture
And I’m not just talking about the Standard Works.

“Whatsoever [the Lord’s servants] shall speak when moved upon by the Holy Ghost shall be scripture, shall be the will of the Lord, shall be the mind of the Lord, shall be the word of the Lord, shall be the voice of the Lord, and the power of God unto salvation.” (See Doctrine and Covenants 68:4)

According to this, anything the prophet, apostles, or members of the Seventy teach in general conference, as well as our patriarchal blessings, are also scripture! Drawing on the third point I just mentioned, I am especially thankful for something that the Lord used to correct me that actually came from my own patriarchal blessing.

I am thankful for the reminder He gave me recently to draw upon specific sources for spiritual strength in moments of difficulty. I hadn’t been doing it as well as I should have been, which explains a lot about a few problems that weren’t resolving the way I wanted. Now that He has so kindly reminded me of how I was falling short, I can remedy that problem and, thanks to that reminder from my blessing, I can do what I should be doing to qualify more for the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost.


5. My Computer 

man writing on computerThe laptop I’m typing this article from was a gift from God. He used creative means over the months my wife has been in the hospital to give us the means to buy it, including one helpful friend who has been such a blessing to Lorraine and I for a long time now. When I look back on how many things the Lord engineered over the last few months to allow us to afford it at the perfect time (since our other one is on its last legs), it’s kind of mind-blowing! Also, I have felt since it came in the mail that this is also a means for me to finish making restitution to God for the times throughout my life that I spent waxing and waning in and out of an addiction that required access to the internet. This is a chance to make this blessing from God purely a tool for the Lord’s work.

6. My Health

I had a friend (a different one than in point five) who recently thought something I said in episode 40 of my podcast was kind of comical. The point I made was that I’m physically very low-maintenance, but the particular phrase she found funny was when I said I’m basically a complicated houseplant with emotions. I only need two good meals a day, four or five hours of sleep per night, and at least one hug, and I’m good to go — and that’s no matter how much physical labor I need to get done. God has blessed me with a high physical stamina. I’m stronger than I look, and I think the last time I got sick enough to be incapacitated for even one day was more than five years ago. I have even jokingly told people that if my wife and I could switch immune systems, she’d probably heal from everything naturally in a month. My health has truly been a huge blessing from the Lord.


7. Being Born in This Dispensation 

When President Nelson said “Time is running out” in January, I’m sure there were varied reactions, from a mild “Oh, wow!” to great fear to utter joy and gratitude. Mine was the mostly the latter and the reason is because I know the closer we get to His coming, the more temporal and spiritual examples we will have to look to for what it means to truly be guided by the Holy Ghost constantly. I need that. It’s one of the reasons I asked my mom to buy me the book Hearing the Voice of the Lord by Gerald Lund for my birthday.

The counsel we get in the scriptures is 100% on point. I have found greater ability to recognize and follow the Spirit’s guidance better the more I am “submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love,” etc. (see Mosiah 3:19)… And look at all the resources we have to help us with that! Another quote from Tad R. Callister tells us:

“The Lord must expect much more of us in gospel scholarship than he did of previous generations, because we have so much more at our disposal.”

Living in the time period we do has been a huge comfort to me in the last few years and I am so, so thankful to God that He let me live now!

Kevin Clayson had a lot to say about gratitude in episode 19 of my podcast, “Stepping Into Freedom,” and I have personally found that following the advice he gave really does work! Being thankful for absolutely everything really is worth it!

Friday, September 20, 2019

Earning Vs. Qualifying

There are many ideas in the gospel that are easy to misunderstand if not approached with Christ’s Atonement in context. I was recently reminded of one of those principles. Ever since the Lord helped me understand the difference between earning and qualifying for blessings, I have been extra careful in how I speak of where, how, and why blessings from God come the way they do.

King Benjamin preaching to his people

To begin, I’ll start with a few scriptures and an everyday situation (in that order). The first scripture is found in King Benjamin’s speech.
  • "20 I say unto you, my brethren, that if you should render all the thanks and praise which your whole soul has power to possess, to that God who has created you, and has kept and preserved you, and has caused that ye should rejoice, and has granted that ye should live in peace one with another—
    21 I say unto you that if ye should serve him who has created you from the beginning, and is preserving you from day to day, by lending you breath, that ye may live and move and do according to your own will, and even supporting you from one moment to another—I say, if ye should serve him with all your whole souls yet ye would be unprofitable servants.
    22 And behold, all that he requires of you is to keep his commandments; and he has promised you that if ye would keep his commandments ye should prosper in the land; and he never doth vary from that which he hath said; therefore, if ye do keep his commandments he doth bless you and prosper you. (Mosiah 2:20-22)"
Much of what the scriptures can teach us are in what they do not say—in this case, what verse 22 does not say. It doesn’t say, “therefore, because ye do keep his commandments he doth bless you and prosper you.” It says “if,” suggesting a simple matter of cause and effect. However, the cause for our receiving blessings is not  our obedience, which is supported by King Benjamin’s words. It might be tempting to say this contradicts Doctrine and Covenants 130:20-21, but even in those verses it does not use the word “because.” It says “…when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated” [emphasis added]. I have learned to appreciate specific prepositions much more in the last year in the scriptures.


Christ’s sacrifice is a gift we will never “earn” on our own.

I believe that little word by could also be put “by means of”; and the if in Mosiah 2 could be accurately supplemented with because of Christ’s Atonement. I’ll explain using that everyday situation I said I would talk about.

Let’s say a man named Jimmy works hard all day at a Fortune 500 company and has to deal with hard things and annoying situations, but chooses to respond in a Christlike manner anyways. When his paycheck comes, he feels entitled to it because he did the work needed to earn it. It’s his hard-earned money, especially because he did it with a good attitude, right? I think King Benjamin would disagree, because he taught that everything we receive, no matter the means of our receiving it, comes from God. Everything in this world was given to us by God. But what about the big gifts, the ones we got with no effort on our own in this life, like our agency? Did we not earn those by choosing the Lord’s plan in the pre-earth life? 

Not quite. This is where qualifying comes in. Speaking of our character, Jimmy, let’s say he has a secretary named Don. Don also works hard for his paycheck and also does it with a good attitude. Where Jimmy budgets well, prays with his wife about important purchases, and is a good steward over the money he gets from his job, Don feels that because he earned his paycheck, he alone should get to determine how he spends it. He doesn’t always make the best choices with his money, but he does still provide well enough for his family and doesn’t necessarily squander it all on useless things. Both Jimmy and Don worked the same for their money, but even though both “earned” their money, which of them is truly qualified as a person to receive it? Which of the two has grown into the gift of monetary income that God has blessed them with, as opposed to just following mankind’s laws enough to receive it? The answer, of course, is Jimmy.

I sometimes think of the blessings of eternity as a big coat that Christ gives us that is far, far too big for us. It’s something that He bought for us with His own life and atoning sacrifice. If anyone earned the blessings we receive, it was Him. He bought that coat of eventual exaltation — godhood — and gave it to us knowing that all of us have the potential to grow into it, and then He taught and showed us how to do it. He has bought and earned each of us one of those coats. He paid the entire price for it. If we don’t grow into it, if we don’t qualify for the blessings of eternity by having our very hearts and natures permanently changed to celestial condition, giving those blessings to us will only do more harm than good. If it wasn’t for Christ’s atoning sacrifice, agency would have been spiritually fatal for us, whether we had earned it or not, no matter how many good deeds we could rack up. The good we do assists us in the process, but it isn’t the same thing as qualifying.

Qualifying for something feels better than earning it, anyways. I remember buying a pair of sunglasses as a teenager and the guy at the cash register asked me, “Are they yours?” echoing the idea I had heard my brothers talk about that “fashion standards” dictate that everyone has one pair of shades that specifically suit them. That might be kind of a pointless idea from an eternal perspective, but the principle stands true for every blessing we receive from God, including even our agency.

Jesus’ Atonement was to pay the price even for that, because if we had been given that gift straight up, we would never have grown into it or qualified for it. It would have been the very reason we would have been lost and separated from God forever. We didn’t earn it and the only people who will qualify for unlimited use of agency forever are those who grow into it properly by using it correctly. To qualify is far better than to earn. We can’t actually earn anything in this life, and even if we could, if we haven’t qualified for it — if we haven’t become the kind of person who is a perfect fit for any blessing we receive — it won’t even be truly worth having anyways.

Christ earned every blessing He gives you. The only way to have true, lasting peace in this life and the next is to qualify for them. Does the “coat” of celestial, eternal life fit you? It’s shrink-proof and will never get smaller in the wash, so the only way to qualify for it is by growing into it.

Monday, September 9, 2019

The Small Things Are Not Small

For us adults out there, as we grew up, I’m sure we all heard our parents tell us to be grateful for the small stuff in some way or another. It’s something we all know we should do, because, as the lyrics to Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi” say, “You don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone.”

Every time my wife goes through something that robs her of yet another basic human function, it reminds me to be grateful that I can still do that thing. In the following message, most of the details I will relate are things which have occurred in the last few years. Here are seven things for which, having watched my wife be deprived of, I have come to be more grateful for than I ever expected.

1. Two Legs That Work

Lorraine hasn’t always been deprived of this. She learned to walk when she was four because of many complications surrounding her birth in addition to physical abuse and neglect. Even still, she was able to walk with leg braces and crutches for most of her growing-up years. It was only when the pressure ulcers on her feet and legs began to show up on top of the lymphedema in 2010 that her ability to walk began to be severely (and slowly) impacted.

As of Fall 2017, my wife lost all ability to bear weight on her feet when her leg broke in — wait for it — the hospital. That’s a story for another day, but ever since, I have been extra thankful that I can just stand up anytime I want to go anywhere I want. There are still limits on when and where I can go because of Lorraine’s needs and how often I need to be around to help her, but you get the idea. At this point, at least until the Lord’s promise to heal her completely is fulfilled, her legs are of no purpose to her except as a source of pain. I am beyond grateful that mine still work perfectly fine.

2. My Voice

This is something else that has been taken from my wife multiple times. The most emotionally difficult part for her, I’m sure, is how much she loved to sing her whole life (and is really good at it). I mean, she was really good. In the last three years, doctors have had to put a breathing tube down her throat at least three times (though probably more), which also included a feeding tube so she can still get nutrients. Imagine the frustration of being awake, alert, and aware, but not being able to say a single word because the is no physical way for you to speak. You try to use your hands but you’re so tired that all you can do  is sit there… And if no one is looking in your direction and you need an itch scratched or you just want something simple like sunshine in the room, you have no way of getting anyone’s attention. That very situation with Lorraine has made me so much more grateful for my voice and is one of the reasons I now use it to try and do as much good as I possibly can.

3. My Arms and Hands

The power of the gospel is that it makes “bad men good and good men better.”

In the last few months, Lorraine has become so weak and has lost enough muscle mass (according to a recent CT scan) that even when she is alert and awake, she has great difficulty moving her hands and arms. Lorraine used to play piano at a grade 10 level. She was really good and our shared love of piano music was one of the reasons (though a less important one) why we fell in love. I’m so grateful that I can still practice piano on a somewhat regular basis.


4. Hugs
Speaking of my arms, this one is big for me. My top two love languages are words of affirmation and physical touch. We were always hugging and horsing around in my family growing up, so one of the biggest emotional challenges for me since Lorraine’s health started declining is how little I get to be physically close to her. (Being physically close can be very painful and/or overwhelming for her.) It can be emotionally empty and lonely, so every hug I get these days from those who I can appropriately hug is, in every sense, more valuable to me than all the money and possession the world could ever offer.

5. Meaningful Conversation

men talking friendsAnd I’m not just talking about discussing and rejoicing about the important things in life or venting to someone who is willing to listen. I’m talking about having the deep, meaningful conversations with people who really do see eye to eye with you on more subjects than anyone else and can empathize with you (or at least wants to) from more angles than anyone else. 

Of course, no one has seen all the thousands of intricate details we’ve suffered through — and been blessed with! — like the two of us (and the same applies the other way around as well), but every moment of meaningful conversation with anyone who can empathize with even a few of the deeper things (bad or good) that the Lord has lead us through is, as the apostle Peter put it, “much more precious than of gold that perisheth.” This is especially true for me since one of my love languages is words of affirmation.


6. The Ability to Open My Eyes Every Morning and Look Into the Eyes of Those I Love
I’ve became much more thankful for this in the last week. Lorraine’s lymphedema has gotten better and worse depending on what kind of treatments she has been on with her health. During her latest hospital visit, she had to go on dialysis more than once because of kidney infections. When they are doing the kind that is supposed to also remove fluid, her swelling goes way down — but every time her swelling with lymph has gone down, it always comes back either a touch worse or spreads to a new area of her body.

This last week it came back in her actual eyeballs and rendered her awake and aware (though unable to speak or eat) but stuck in a world of blackness where she could hear people and feel nurses’ and doctors’ hands on her when examining, doing scans/tests/etc, without even being able to see what was going on because it was too painful to open her eyes. August 31st was the first time in probably three or four days that she could open her eyes for a split second and I was able to look into them. She has been completely in the dark.

7. People Who Understand and Can Empathize

Wifi has been the only connection I’ve really had with anyone outside of the hospital. No one at our apartment building has any clue what’s going on with Lorraine, so when I told one lady in the elevator the other day that things were “a little tough” and she replied, “Oh, I totally understand what you’re going through,” I almost laughed. (Darn that mortal weakness of mine!) The thing is, I don’t expect anyone to understand except God and I’m not upset when they don’t, but I get frustrated when someone who hasn’t the slightest actual clue in the multiverse what we’re going through tries to tell me they understand.

Those who ask questions to try and understand better, pray for us, don’t give unsolicited advice (or at least don’t automatically expect us to follow it), and do things like bring nice snacks and little gifts on occasion and hang around and talk with an understanding heart (whether they actually understand our circumstances or not) are the people who mean more to me than they can possibly imagine. They are always like a balm of Gilead to my soul. They are the ones that help remind me why I keep trying every day.

To be honest, I do feel a bit selfish that it took this much for me to see the true value in things money can’t buy, but now that I see it better than ever before, I don’t plan on ever taking those not-so-small things for granted ever again. Those are really the biggest miracles in life.