Thursday, November 5, 2009

Why Ayn Rand is Wrong

I have just finished reading Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged, which was surprisingly engrossing in spite of being absolutely infuriating.

As a self-proclaimed libertarian and die-hard fiscal conservative, I found her ideas about the role and functioning of government to be refreshing.  But when extended to the individual level, her philosophy advocates a self-centered and indulgent lifestyle that embraces no truth and will only lead to misery.

She does not believe in God. In her novel, Rand presents a world shaped by man, rather than by God.  All good things flow from man's effort and he owes his success to no power but his own. Because of this one-to-one correlation she sees between effort and success, Rand believes each man is entitled to no more and no less than the results of his labor. She denies our debt to the Being who gave us life, who gave us our abilities that we might succeed, and who continues to sustain us from day to day. No matter how effectively we use our lives and our abilities, we will always remain unprofitable servants who cannot claim anything as our own.

She does not believe in Christ.  In Atlas Shrugged a handful of self-made men, possessing a great but finite amount of virtue (or dollars), are bled dry by "the looters". They are the victims that would have saved the world, if they had been left to forge their own paths. In truth, there is only one self-made man and He is our Savior. We all rely on His merits; He possesses the infinite virtue and strength needed to redeem us all.

She does not believe in a resurrection. Rand sees this life as the only time of importance and, consequently, accuses anyone who would diminish her pleasure of stealing away her life. However, once you understand the doctrine of the resurrection, the race to preserve and enhance your life at all costs seems a lot less pressing. It becomes less important that we gather and savor treasures now when we see the eternities stretching before us.

She does not believe in an eternal reward. "For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it." Rand does not understand this true law of compensation, which is that whatever we loose in this life will be returned to us in the next. Even when we are not just with each other, God is just with us--as long as we take into account our eternal, as well as our mortal, lives. It is virtue--and not sin--to sustain another at our own expense, for that expense will be returned to us by the Loving Father of us all.

How wonderful that existence is more beautiful and merciful than Rand imagined it!

Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Birth Story

"OK, this is it, Carolyn. I need you to give me one more good push. Take a deep breath and then push as hard as you can." Dr Laine's voice was calm and even, unchanged after half an hour of coaching. She seemed completely unruffled and, as such, was the perfect foil for the love and panic I saw battling in my husband's eyes.

"You need to push him out now," he urged, then gave my hand an encouraging squeeze.

I could see Carl's purple head in the mirror and hear the too-slow beeping of his heart rate on the fetal monitor. He had been stuck nearly delivered for several contractions and was obviously in distress, halfway in and halfway out of the birth canal. He desperately needed me to shepherd him quickly and safely into the world but I was tired and had felt my efforts grow increasingly less effective with each contraction.

I looked to Scott for support as he and the nurse braced themselves against my feet. I took a deep breath and held it, pushing against their hands as the nurse counted.

"1, 2, 3 ..."

"Push!" urged the doctor, exasperation sneaking into her voice. I could tell from her outburst that I wasn't making very much progress. It took a few more seconds for me to realize that I was pushing more with my feet than with my abdominal muscles. Discouraged, I focused on the mottled bump of Carl's head in the mirror and made the switch.

"6, 7, 8 ..."

"Good! That's better!" Dr. Laine exclaimed over the counting. I screwed my eyes shut and tried to push with all my might. I pushed through the exhaustion and the worry and the self-doubt. I pushed with faith in a promise and waited for it to be fulfilled. Soon my baby would come rushing healthy and strong into our family.

"10," the nurse said with some finality and I felt my whole body go limp.

"No, no, you have to keep going!" the doctor encouraged, her hands poised to catch my little son when he emerged.

With a grunt and the expendature of my last ounce of strength, I pushed. My eyes shut tight, I felt rather than saw the moment when Carl was born. There was a sudden release of pressure as his head slipped out, closely followed by a long, skinny body. I heard his lusty cry and felt his little weight when the doctor placed him carefully on my chest.

I opened my eyes and gathered him into my arms. Carl Anders Duede. Through the rose-tinted glasses of a mother's eyes, he was a beautiful sight. With a surge of joy and pride, I looked for Scott. Our watery eyes met over the head of our son.

"He's disgusting," I murmured. Scott laughed and reached for our slimey, purple, temporarily deformed bundle of joy.


It began twelve hours earlier when I woke up in the middle of the night, sleepless but exhilarated. The bedside clock read 2 am and I was experiencing painless but powerful contractions every 5 minutes. I slipped out of bed, careful not to wake Scott, and snuck downstairs to the dishes.

By 4:30 am, the kitchen was clean, the laundry was drying, the living room was tidy, and Soren's bag was packed. I also could no longer walk comfortably through my contractions, which had been reliably occuring every 3 - 5 minutes. This was it!

I snuck into Soren's room to watch him sleep for a few minutes. Then, between contractions and with bounce in my step, I went to wake up Scott.

"Honey, we're going to have a baby today," I whispered, trying to keep the excited squeak out of my voice.

Eager though I was, I felt no urgency to get to the hospital so I labored at home, curled up on the couch with Scott for a while longer. We watched an episode of Columbo, timing contractions. When each was about 45 seconds long and 3 minutes apart, we woke up Soren, called a friend to watch him, and hurried to the hospital.

Each contraction on the way was more and more powerful, requiring more of my attention and greater relaxation to make it through. Still, I felt marvelously in control of my body and when we finally made it to the maternity ward, I was able to calmly tell the receptionist "I'm in labor."

Too calmly, perhaps. They stuck me in a room and didn't check on me for an hour. I used the time to get comfortable and have Scott walk me through some relaxation exercizes.

Finally, a nurse came. When she checked my cervix, she looked surprized.

"Good girl," she murmured, taking off her gloves. Then she announced, "You're at a 7!"

If I'd felt ignored before, suddenly all the attention was on me. This being my second baby, everyone was certain that I would move quickly to complete (or "a 10") and be delivering very shortly. A technician came to set up all the delivery equipment, I received an IV of penicillin (because of my strep B test), nurses bustled in and out asking if I felt ready to push, and intermittent monitoring was performed on my contractions and my baby.

For the most part, I was able to ignore bustling staff; my attention was completely focused inwards. I felt calm and in control of myself, able to relax through my contractions and enjoy the breaks between. I repeated key phrases to keep in the right frame of mind. It's not pain, it's work. Relax and let your body work. With Scott to coach and encourage me, I felt strong and capable. You can do this. This is a woman's work; you were built for this. Each contraction was a mind-over-body challenge. When my mind conquered, I could feel the pain melt away.

I labored through the diminishing hospital procedures until it was only Scott with me in the room. Between contractions, he read from Artemis Fowl: The Time Paradox. Then, when I felt the tell-tale pressure in my abdomen, he would hold my hand and guide me through.

Around 9:00 am, a lone nurse came to check my cervix. I was excited to see what progress had been made during the long hours of mental and physical exertion. I expected to have progressed two more centimeters in the two hours since my last check.

No such luck. I was still only 7 centimeters dilated.

All of that work and nothing to show for it.

It was time for a new strategy.

Scott and I began roaming the hospital hallways, hoping gravity would supplement my body's efforts. But that was a completely different way of laboring, for which I was unprepared.

My loop around the maternity ward was punctuated with intense pain. Each contraction was a surprise, rushing upon me mid-step, then leaving me strained and exhausted. They no longer felt like the simple action of an underused muscle; they felt like my uterus contracting to the size of a black hole, pulling every surrounding bit of tissue with it. Still, I told myself that it was work--surely effective work now!--and that soon I would be through it.

Each time we passed my room, we stepped in for a check and to endure a few contractions in relative comfort. But with each painful circuit and each pronouncement of "still a 7", it became harder for me to maintain the control I so desperately needed.

At noon, I gave up walking and collapsed on the hospital bed. Although my body felt wrung out, it was my mind that was beaten and exhausted. The contractions would flare up, completely out of control, and I would groan, "It's not working. Nothing's working. Tell me how to make it work."

The nurses gave me two options, although I knew that there really were three. They said that I could be administered pitocin, which would speed up my labor. They also offered pain medication, in the form of an epidural, which would help me relax and continue to labor's natural end. The third, unmentioned option was to carry on in the frustrating manner that I had been enduring for the whole morning.

I knew I wanted to avoid pitocin at (almost) all costs. I also knew that the epidural was unnessecary, that I could finish what I had started in the natural, normal way. But what had begun as an exciting challenge with countless reasons to persist was fast becoming a trial I had no energy to complete.

I knew I wanted my baby to be safe and healthy. I knew that natural childbirth was the surest way to bring my Carl safely into the world. But I also knew that the odds of epidural-caused complications were minute, especially if I could avoid all other interventions. If the pain medications would improve my labor without harming my child, I wanted them.

"Tell me what to do," I asked Scott, but he couldn't.

"Tell me what to do," I asked God, but he wouldn't.

Still, I could request a hint. So I asked Scott to administer a priesthood blessing. He laid his hands on my head and spoke the words my Father had for me.

It was a beautiful blessing, endowing me with all the tools I would need to successfully complete the birth, whichever choice I made. If I chose to continue naturally, I was blessed with the assurance that I would be successful and that I would have the energy I needed to endure the long work. If I chose to receive medications, I was blessed with the knowledge that they would not adversely effect my son, that he would be healthy, strong, and delivered soon to my arms.

That made the choice easy. We summoned the anesthesiologist.

Although the relief was administered by a professional, I know it was a gift from a loving God. The pain eased and I clung to His promise, all worry and tension melting away.

I spent the last hour of my labor resting, preparing for the delivery. Scott and I talked about the years we had shared together, about our memories of Soren's birth and infancy, about the changes that would be coming to our family that very day. When the nurse finally announced 10 centimeters and time to push, I was refreshed and ready.

Dr. Laine assured me that I would not have to push for 3 hours, as I had with Soren, but I found it hard to believe her. So it was a happy surprise to be holding my sticky son only 30 minutes later. There had been a few tense moments at the end of the delivery but I had never doubted his safe arrival, only his prompt arrival. Suddenly he was there with me, lying on my chest and screaming. My heart swelled to encompass him, to love him just as I loved Scott and Soren, as well as my parents and siblings. He was my child and he was finally here.

That day, God had promised the safe delivery of our boy into the world. He had promised mortal life and health to my son, for which I will always be grateful. But three years earlier, when Scott and I were sealed in the Salt Lake Temple, He had promised me an eternal life with that son, with all my family. I look forward with faith to the fulfillment of that promise, which seems to me the greatest joy God has given me.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

My Mother

When I was a child, my mother would read to Patrick and I at the end of every day. She chose books and stories of heroes like George Washington and Abraham Lincoln (for my brother), as well as Elizabeth Blackwell and Florence Nightengale (for me). While snuggled together in bed, we learned about what Washington and Lincoln contributed to our nation, about how Elizabeth Blackwell became the first woman doctor admidst furious persecution, and about the thousands of lives Florence Nightengale saved in her gentle and loving way. Dry reading for a kid, you might think, but I loved it. I admired not only the things those historical giants accomplished but also the virtues they espoused. They were true heroes because they not only changed and saved lives but they also demonstrated how to live those lives with honor.

In spite of the fact that I was well-acquainted with the great ones of the past (or at least American past), when I was asked to write a paper in 6th grade about my hero, I chose my mother. I chose her because I knew her better than any other person and, even at that closest proximity, I admired and wanted to be like her. I had been able to watch her model the faith of Washington, the determination of Blackwell, the integrity of Lincoln, and the compassion of Nightengale in my own home.


In the book, Standing for Something, (written when I was a young teenager) Gordon B. Hinkley comments, "I feel sorry for today's generation, which seems bereft of heroes. Men and women who by virtue of their contributions and acheviements seem larger than life, and who can be admired for the full breadth and depth of their moral makeup are a vanishing breed."

While I was reading this passage last week, I thought first of my mother, for she was my childhood hero. As a sixth-grader, I was proud to be her daughter; now I realize I should be eternally grateful instead.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Mercies of the Past

I keep hoping for some marvelous visitation of the Holy Ghost or some special experience that strikes me as a tender mercy. I keep hoping, not only so that I will have something to post on this blog, but also so that I will stop feeling so emotionally sterile.

This past month has been a spiritual drought. I feel like I'm living on auto-pilot, still doing--gotta keep doing!--but not feeling anything. I am tired and weary, without the energy to exert myself in prayer and study. So I speak and I read but I feel a bewildering gap between myself and the Savior.

I know that the windows of heaven are still open and still pouring out blessings on me, but my eyes are drooping and I often miss them. It startles me to have friends and family point out great blessings in my life, tender mercies of great value that I have not noticed. I have been grateful for their comments, which spark my gratitude. Yet I do not feel that joy and awe that I usually associate with it.

It's not that I have never felt this distance before. But I have never felt it when I was still trying to strengthen my testimony, to do what is right. I have never felt more keenly my separation from God, this ever-present trial of mortality. And it has never seemed such a struggle to maintain my faith.

When it has seemed too much to bear and doubt has threatened to overtake my faith, I have been sustained by remembering God's tender mercies in the past.

I've had many opportunities to be grateful for that reserve these past few weeks. Although I know that great faith has a short shelf life and that I must regain my spiritual footing soon, still I have felt a small measure of renewal by tapping into my memories of faith. When I have taken the time to review God's constancy, I have not felt a sudden burst of enlightenment but I have been granted the grim determination to continue.

In looking back on the experiences recorded in this blog and in my journal, I have remembered, as though from a dream, "in whom I have trusted." Like Nephi, "my God hath been my support; he hath lead me through mine afflictions ... he hath filled me with his love, even unto the consuming of my flesh". Because of this, I cannot allow my heart to weep or my strength to slacken. (2 Nephi 4)

I must instead trust that God is with me, as He always has been.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Religions of the World

I just finished reading a book about world religions last week. In spite of the fact that it was very educational, I enjoyed it immensely and would recommend it as an interesting and quick (for a textbook) read.

In reading this book, I discovered that there is much of goodness and truth in the religions of the world. I came to understand, in part, how the light of Christ is "in all things". And I gained a testimony that people all over the world have had their eyes enlightened by their Creator, who loves them.

I have come to appreciate the many founders of world religions. Just as I learned long ago to love the story of Joseph Smith and his quest to find--and then restore--truth to a floundering world, I now love the stories of many other enlightened leaders.

Like Buddha, who urged his followers to be freed from their worldly desires and seek spiritual knowledge instead.

Like Mohammad, who led an idolatrous people away from their false pantheon to the God of Abraham.

Like Confucius, who taught the importance and eternal nature of family relationships.

Like Zarathustra, who preached of one God, who could save His people from sin and death.

But of all the stories and all the philosophies, none impressed me so much as the story and teachings of Christ. Although I found some portion of His influence in all the religions I studied, there was only one that actually had a correct understanding of Him.

When I read the opening paragraphs of the chapter about Christianity, I felt the Spirit wash over me with great strength, testifying of His divinity and His glorious mission.

In that moment, I knew again that He really was the Son of God, a being of power and perfection, and that he died to atone for our sins. I knew that he really did rise again and can accomplish that same miracle for all of us. I knew that it is only through Him, the Only Way, that we can be made holy and worthy to enter our Father's presence.

Although it is important for the peoples of the world to practice moral thinking and behavior, it is imperative for them to believe in the Savior, Jesus Christ. There is transformative power in learning of and accepting His atonement, power we all need. Because of this, Christianity offers the truth that really matters: the truth about Christ.

I am grateful to be a Christian.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Reverent Baby

Sometimes I feel like I spend a significant amount of space on this blog complaining about how naughty my boy is in sacrament meeting.

There is a reason for this. I can say--without a doubt in my mind--that sacrament meeting is the hardest hour of my week. My dear, rambunctious son makes that hour my crucible of fire. But because of my struggle, it is also the hour when God can bless and uplift me the most. It has the capacity of being an hour for tender mercies, which is what this blog is all about and why those stories keep popping up on my website.

Still, I often feel that I am disproportionately whiny about my son, who is actually one of my life's greatest joys. I feel like I am doing him an injustice, putting up on the web how he kicks and pees and shouts in church when I never write about the way he smiles and plays and sleeps and touches my heart at home.

But today that all changes. Today I want to share how mild and agreeable my son was in church this past Sunday.

Soren and I went to church alone. Scott was home, sick in bed, leaving me to face my most trying hour alone. Or so I thought, in my melodramatic worrying. All alone; how would I manage all alone? I spent the drive to church bracing for the impact.

Which couldn't have been more unnecessary. I have never had so much help as I did on that Sunday. How could I have forgotten? We are never alone.

First, Soren's friend, Sequoia, and her family came to sit with us. Soren and Sequoia swapped toys and treats, enjoying the novelty of someone else's stuff. Soren shared his Book of Mormon pop-up with Sequoia and she lent him The Amazing Life of Jesus, with enough flip tabs to occupy him for the majority of the meeting.

That family was a tender mercy of my God, a timely blessing in my moment of need.

Then Amy and Kathy, my two baby-loving visiting teachees, came to sit behind us. Whenever Soren turned around and looked at them, they made silly faces and invited him into their laps. Thee change back and forth between rows was like a dream come true for Soren. He didn't have to be constantly attempting escape from his one confining pew; that escape was offered frequently and used up his need for constant movement.

I think that those women were prompted by my Heavenly Father to help me.

Finally, I felt like the Holy Ghost was there, aiding me, and that Soren could feel His presence like never before. I felt that God placed an invisible, calming hand on my son. He folded his arms and sat quietly for the sacrament prayers, a hitherto underheardof event. He sat in my lap and waved his arms to the music during congregational singing. And all his babbling was in a whisper, as though he felt the sacredness of the time and place.

I can only describe that sabbath day as a miracle. I got to hear the messages present, feel the sacredness of the ordinances performed, and enjoy the feelings of love and peace that can be present in our worship services. It seemed that even Soren could feel how special that time was.

I am so grateful that, once again, my loving Father made Himself manifest to me in during that sacred hour.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

The Only Alien on the Planet

"The overall impact of this psychological novel is so powerful." - Booklist

I have a friend who never fails to recommend only books that I will absolutely love. Everyone needs a friend like this; I'm glad I have found mine.

Last week she lent me The Only Alien on the Planet, by Kristen D. Randle. It was actually a book I had heard great things about and seen prominently displayed in local bookstores. But the cover art was distasteful (strike one) and the back-of-the-book synopsis seemed boring and possibly weird (strike two). I was quite sure there weren't any aliens in it (strike three) and so I never read it.

But my always-reliable friend had lent it to me and if she liked it, I could at least give the first chapter a glance.

From the first chapter to the last page, I couldn't put The Only Alien on the Planet down and the first word out of my mouth when I closed the cover at the conclusion was, "Wow."

It's a book about the transformative and redeeming power of friendship, as explored through the relationship between Ginny, the new girl on the block, and Smitty, a strange boy at school who never speaks. The book explores man's power to choose his own destiny, a topic that has interested me very much lately. In spite of the non-textbook resolution, the ultimate triumph of the characters (over external and internal battles) was very satisfying and empowering.

When I picked it up, I wasn't expecting to enjoy it, much less give it an honored place among the many books I read each week. But this was a book that invited the Holy Ghost into my heart and one that I definitely feel was inspired of God.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009


I think laughter is a gift from our loving God and I am grateful for this gift.

There is something powerful in this simple response. Laughing can change frustration into mirth, anger into forgiveness, and bitter grief into sweet recollection. I can think of countless occasions when laughing has transformed me, pushing out the bitter and making room for the love of God. Laughing at my life makes me more grateful and optimistic.

And laughing makes me a much, much better mother.

An example: A few weeks ago in church, Soren was having his usual squirming-and-squawking fit. His little body seemed to take up our whole pew as he flailed about. His voice seemed to fill the whole chapel. I couldn't hear a word that was being said at the pulpit and I was sure that none of my neighbors could, either.

Many of you more patient parents may not understand the way I felt: I wanted to dump him in Scott's lap, run away, screaming in frustration.

Instead, I held out until the intermediate hymn. Surely I could juggle Soren until the intermediate hymn and then I would let Scott take a turn. There was respite in sight.

When the chorister stood up and the prelude to The Time is Far Spent began, I gratefully stood up to join the congregation in singing. I balanced Soren on my hip and hoped that the music would calm him.

Shrink not from your duty, however unpleasant

Instead of listening in awe, like he usually does during the singing of hymns, Soren squirmed to be let down. Then he wailed when his feet hit the floor.

But follow the Savior, your pattern and friend.

So I picked him back up and tried to hold him steady while he clawed at my shoulders and face. I wanted to throw him from me in frustration. Instead I sang and bounced with all my might.

Our little afflictions, tho painful at pleasant

Soren grabbed at my hair and gave it a powerful yank, perhaps thinking he could use it to climb up on top of my head, the only place he had yet to be that morning.

Ere long with the righteous, in glory will end.

How can I explain how funny that was to me at that very moment? "Our little afflictions, tho painful at present, ere long with the righteous, in glory will end." I suddenly couldn't stop laughing. Soren was definitely being a Little Affliction, quite painful at present, and the hymn promised an end to the pain. It was too perfect, too appropriate and I couldn't keep myself from chortling through the remaining verses. Much to the dismay of those in the pews in front of and behind me.

I don't think I can ever appropriately recapture that moment. It won't make you laugh when you read about it and I don't laugh thinking about it now. But in that moment, the laughter that bubbled out of me felt like a gift from my Heavenly Father. He loved me and knew exactly how I felt, there in church with my beloved son and little affliction.

I squeezed Soren tight, so tight that he let go of my hair and then laughed too. Then I whispered to my husband (with a meaningful look at the hymn-book lyrics), "Soren is our Little Affliction". He gave a little chuckle, then seemed to take heart as we sang the remaining verses, which all dealt with the need to endure.

The rest of the meeting passed much more happily. Even though Soren wasn't a bit more still or quiet, we were awash with gratitude for him and for that moment of mirth. I felt transformed by that laughter and I know that it helped bolster my patience and love.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Spiritual Evidence

I was washing dishes about a week ago and thinking about the Book of Mormon. I was thinking about the extraordinary circumstances surrounding its translation and publication in the 1820s. In particular, I was wondering how any clear-thinking person could doubt that God himself had aided Joseph Smith in bringing forth this remarkable book.

"Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon (over 500 pages) by the gift and power of God in about 60 days. During the translation process, Joseph dictated one line at a time, but did not pause to review previous sentences or pages. There is no evidence that he had any notes, manuscripts, or documents to assist him during the translation. There is also no evidence that Joseph Smith did any research or much reading at all before he published the Book of Mormon. The resulting book, with its complex account of individuals, communities and nations, religious teachings and source materials is internally consistent and evidence in itself that Joseph Smith did not write it. That Joseph Smith actually had the golden plates for a period in the late 1820s has been established by 11 witnesses who saw the plates and handled them" (Gospel Topics).

That is absolutely amazing. However much of Joseph Smith's testimony and the testimonies of his associates you choose to believe, one fact is undeniable: it was brought forth by an uneducated man in an unthinkably short period of time. Read it and you will be unable to believe that Joseph Smith just made it up. Read it and you will know that he was a prophet of God.

Sometimes I know the scriptures are true because there is no other logical explanation.


But then on Sunday I was talking to Scott about the Genesis account of Adam and Eve, which we have been studying in our Gospel Essentials class. I wondered how I could possibly reconcile my belief in the veracity of the Bible with my modern knowledge of human history. How could Adam possibly have been the first man when, according to the Bible, he lived only 6000 years ago? Not only is there significant scientific evidence to suggest that the human species has existed for upwards of 100,000 years, there is archeological evidence that even human civilizations predate the creationist time line.

It seems probable to me that some significant chunks of the creation story are missing from the book of Genesis. Perhaps they have merely been oversimplified.

My doubts about a literal interpretation of the Old Testament do not diminish my belief in the Earth's divine design and God's direct hand in the creation of man. But it does leave me wondering how much of the Bible I should take at face-value and how much of current scientific thought I should withhold judgment on.

Sometimes I can't decide between any number of unconvincing explanations to reconcile my testimony and the "real" world.


For the past couple of days I have been thinking about these two experiences and the possible dichotomy they present me with.

On the first occasion, I remember thinking, How could any intelligent person doubt the truth of the gospel? It's the only explanation! And yet on Sunday, I thought, How could any intelligent person buy any of this? It just doesn't make any sense!

Which is why, in the end, I am grateful for the witness of the Holy Ghost.

There is another way to know the most important truths of life. We do not have to rely on empirical evidence alone to learn the principles of salvation. When we try to approach God's truth with our minds alone, we will sometimes be rewarded with very convincing evidence. But the most definitive and enduring witness comes not from man and his limited intellect, but from our God, who knows all and cannot lie.

I am grateful for my faith, which sustains me in the face of all opposition. I have gained a spiritual witness of the existence of God, the Atonement of Christ, the truth of the Book of Mormon, and the plan of happiness, which encompasses both the origin and destiny of Man. Those vital spiritual truths make up the most precious knowledge that I have and are more sure to me than anything I have gained through logical or scientific methods.

My testimony is strengthened by the historical evidence of Joseph Smith's remarkable work. And it cannot be diminished because I don't know exactly how or when God created the human race.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Endure to the End

I am very grateful for the simplicity of the gospel.

Some days I love to sink deeper and deeper into layers of meaning found in the scriptures. On occasion I like to contemplate the big picture and try to wrap my mortal brain around a divine (and possibly 4-dimensional) design. Often I find a new way to understand and approach the gospel, which awakens and rededicates my soul.

But most of the time I am very grateful that God's plan for me is simple enough for even a child to understand.

This is what I must do to be saved:
1. Have faith in my Savior, Jesus Christ.
2. Repent of my sins.
3. Be baptized, by proper authority, into His church.
4. Receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.
5. Endure to the end.

On days like today, I am very grateful for this very simple plan, made possible by the Atonement of Jesus Christ. When I feel overwhelmed or spiritually-detached, it is a comfort to remember what is required: faith and endurance.

Faith and endurance.

That means I keep trying. That means I get up and do the best I can. That means set-backs are only temporary and the only way I can fail is if I give up.

And in the end it means that it all hangs on Christ and my trust in His power.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Update on Goals

A good friend of mine put up a post the other day that reminded me of how important it is to keep striving for goals, even when it seems that I am failing.

And so I thought it would be useful for me to report on my New Years Resolutions, some of which are not going so hot but which I now definitely intend to keep working on. I am grateful for the experiences I have had this month, which reaffirm my belief in every person's ability to reach goals and make positive changes in their life. It just might not be as immediately as we would hope.

On reading the Old Testament:
I just barely started it this past week and so far, I've been able to get a handful of chapters in every day. But boy-oh-boy, it is very challenging. It is hard to pull the gospel principles out of the strange and truncated stories in the book of Genesis. I have found that a prayer before I start doesn't really illuminate the text but it does give me a sense of its sacred character and its importance in my life.

On my insurance's health program: Well, I gotta laugh at myself about this one. The cutback on refined sugars was really too sudden for me. I did great for about a week and then the serious cravings set in. So, I caved. The first ice cream pie could never have been the allowed 20% failure rate. It was the first in an avalanche of delicious treats and easily accessible goodies. Needless to say, I did not succeed in this particular challenge. But that doesn't mean I can't keep trying. We'll see what next month's challenge is.

On giving a harp recital: I am picking up a new song this month. It's the Bach-Grandjany Fugue No. 12. But, because of a long trip visiting my family, I haven't had time to finish learning it yet. That (and memorizing the Jolly Piper) will be my goals for next month.

On our gospel-sharing home: We invited our downstairs neighbors over for Family Home Evening this month. I was super nervous about it but it turned out to be a great success. We prayed together and then read a story from a book my brother, Brinton, gave us for Christmas (The 7 Habits of Happy Kids). We made cookies and then the girls played Phase 10 dice while the boys played Lego Star Wars, the video game. All in all, a very successful evening.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Thomas S. Monson - Prophet of God

I was listening to the first session of the last general conference while I was doing the dishes this morning. For some reason, I decided to play the whole session rather than picking just one talk. That meant I got to listen to some of the parts I usually just skip (like the choir, the prayer, and President Monson's opening remarks).

I was scrubbing away at a filthy glass baking dish when, quite suddenly, the Spirit washed over me. I looked up from my work, a little confused. President Monson was describing the folkloric costumes worn by dancers at a celebration he had recently attended. I couldn't understand why I would feel so very strongly about that.

Then the Holy Ghost spoke to me in its penetrating but inaudible way. The words entered my mind with great force: "That man is the prophet of God." And I felt the witness of the Spirit, undeniable even though it is inexplicable. It feels like a burning in my chest, like a bolstering of my soul, and like a moment of clarity, lifting a haze of mortality I didn't even know was blinding me.

I know what the Holy Ghost feels like and when it speaks to me, I know that I can be as sure of its witness as I can of any other empirical evidence. And so, especially today, I know that Thomas S. Monson is the mouthpiece of God just as I know that there is snow out my window.

I am grateful for that unexpected witness, which I definitely count among the tender mercies of my Father.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

My Missionary Miracle

In November of 2008, I decided to take up an oft-cited and oft-ignored challenge regarding missionary work. One iteration of this challenge is from Ezra Taft Benson's prophetic general conference address from April 1988. He said, "The Lord needs every member of the church having the faith and the courage to set a date to have someone prepared to be taught by the missionaries. Would each member of the church prayerfully consider this sacred challenge?"

I've heard this challenge offered by many general authorities and local leaders in my lifetime. In November of last year I finally decided to take it seriously. I began to pray daily that by January 31st I would be able to share the truths of the restored gospel with someone and invite them to be taught by the missionaries.

That was in November. You can imagine how disheartened I was to be leaving on a trip to visit my family mid-January having not yet met my goal. I felt that I was waiting for a miracle and, having found out that my one non-member friend was in fact a member, it seemed increasingly unlikely. I must admit, my faith was flagging.

While visiting my mother's ward in Houston, TX, their high-counselor gave a talk that gave me new hope. He shared an experience that had me on the edge of my seat. He spoke of a very familiar challenge and said that he had, in the past year, set a date to share the Book of Mormon with someone. His date had been December 31, 2008. He said that when he set the date, he had no one in mind to share the gospel with and that the time given elapsed quickly. He said that he had been traveling on the 20th of December (just 11 days before the deadline for his goal) and found himself on an airplane flight sitting next to a young mother. He said that they struck up a conversation about history, which led to a discussion of religion. He said that he felt impressed by the Holy Ghost to share his beliefs with her and invite her to read the Book of Mormon. She responded very positively. He concluded by sharing his testimony that God had answered his prayers and helped him to reach his goal. He said that the woman had been prepared to receive his message and that when he had opened his mouth to talk to her, the Lord had filled it.

I felt tingles up and down my spine. Here I was, about to fly home to Utah on the 20th of January (just 11 days before the deadline of my goal). The Spirit whispered to me in its piercing voice, And so it will be for you.

Because I am writing this post, I am sure you can guess the ending. But it is still a wondrous miracle to me. I was on the last leg of my plane flight, about to take off and sitting in a completely empty row, when a man rushed up and sat down next to me. He joked about having nearly missed his flight over a Bloody Mary in the Admiral's Lounge. He was course and intimidating. Surely this could not be the man I was supposed to bear my testimony to. Surely he could not be the answer to my prayers, the person I would invite to hear the missionary's message. I must have misunderstood the Spirit's prompting because there was no way this man and I could have anything in common from which to start a conversation.

But he was a talker. He asked me if I was going home and did I live in Utah? I told him I was from Salt Lake City. I do not kid when I share his words. He said, "Oh, so you must be a Mormon. Tell me about your church." I think my heart jumped up in my throat. I had been too timid to initiate the conversation myself but God had surely prepared this man to restore my faith, just as He prepared me to share truth with him.

I told him about the first vision and the restoration of God's true church. We talked about the reality of the apostasy and the wonderful truth of continuing revelation through modern prophets. We backtracked a bit and spoke about the reality of God's existence and the necessity of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. He believed in a loving God but struggled with the concept of a divine Redeemer. I had the opportunity to share my testimony about Jesus Christ with Him and we discussed the concept of truth that is spiritually known. He was very affected during that part of the conversation.

When the three-hour trip was over, I invited him to visit some of the sites in Salt Lake, particularly temple square and welfare square. I told him that there would be representatives from our church there who could teach him further about the truths we had discussed during our flight. I fulfilled my challenge to invite someone to listen to the missionaries.

I do not know what has happened to him now. I do not know what will happen with him in the future. I do know that the Lord helped me to fulfill my goal. I do know that God wants me to take very seriously and optimistically His commandment to spread the good news of Jesus Christ and His restored church.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

A New Year

Obviously, this post is a little belated. But I've been ruminating on the topic of new beginnings for a week or so now and those musings have finally resulted in the urge to write. So we have this post about the new year a week after its time.

I am very excited about 2009. I usually am really stoked when the year turns over. Nothing seems as auspicious as setting a goal with a bran-spanking-new year stretching out, unblemished, before me. I never feel quite as empowered or so granted the gift of renewal as I do upon waking up on January 1.

That gift of potential change is manifest in goal-setting. I believe in New Year's resolutions. Even if I fall short of my year-long goal, those resolutions embue an otherwise cold and dreary January with optimism and hope. And sometimes I have even had the surprising joy of remembering a goal I made the year before and seeing how closely I was able to realize it. Sometimes December 31 is a time to celebrate changes that have already taken place, just as January 1 is a time to celebrate changes that may occur.

My New Years Resolutions this year are ambitious, but attainable. I want to share them here, in this pseudo-permanent and definitely public forum, to encourage myself.


1. This year I want to read the Old Testament. I've never read it cover-to-cover before and I know that it would be a valuable experience. I believe the Bible is the word of God and I think it's time that I remedied my neglect of the first half of that holy book.

2. This year I want to complete my insurance's health challenge program. They set reasonable goals (meaning an 80% instead of 100% expectation) and offer a cash reward for completing them. This month's challenge is to replace sugary snacks with fruit and vegetables 80% of the time. I'm excited about pitting myself against that beastly goal.

3. This year I want to give a harp recital. The real thrust behind this goal is to encourage myself to practice and learn new music. Performing is more the reward.

4. This year I want to implement Elder Ballard's 2006 General Conference address, "Creating a Gospel-Sharing Home" by inviting a non-member over to my house once a month. As I only know one non-member family right now, this will probably be the biggest challenge for me.


I believe in man's power to change. This is the greatest manifestation of God's gift of agency in our lives. Because we are free to choose, no one is stuck in a cycle of repeating past mistakes. Because of the Atonement of Jesus Christ, everyone can repent and start anew. Because of His eternal and infinite sacrifice, we can access divine power when we desire real change in our life.

I am grateful for Christ's Atonement, the greatest gift of Christmas and the hope for a happy new year.