Tag Archives: faith

Waters of Life


Soon these fields

Will put on green

Answering the water’s 

Reviving touch. 

For water is life,

Sent by God

To bring new birth

From winter’s sleep.

As well our souls

Will draw new breath

Answering our Lord’s

Reviving call.

For He is life, 

By His Father risen

To bring new birth

From death’s long drought.

His word is water, 

Our spirit’s life,

Springing forth to slake

Immortal thirst.

It’s as He said

At Jacob’s well: 

We ask in faith,

His waters flow.

(See John 4:5-14.)

Freedom, Part 2: Toxic Activism

Forty years ago, while reporting on an environmental symposium at a major university, I heard a conversation among colleagues in which one expressed simmering frustration that he could not make any headway with his proposals to stop environmental damage.

With some bitterness, he said he hoped the fossil fuels would all be used up soon because then everyone would be forced to recognize that he had been right all along and they would be forced to do just as he had been advising. The consequences for others or for society as a whole did not seem to concern him.

While I believe strongly in protecting the environment, I could never join a cause led by a person like him. He practiced what I call “toxic activism.”

You know people like him. You’ve met them. At a family reunion they would be the in-law who insists on digging up the hatchet that everyone else in the family buried 30 years ago.

When toxic activists have what they consider a worthy cause, and when they’re in your office, your neighborhood, your church, or your children’s group of school parents, they’ll use that cause to bludgeon you.

No matter what the cause—civil rights, the environment, liberal or conservative politics, gender politics and equality—if your response doesn’t match theirs in intensity, then you obviously are an uncaring and ignorant individual. Ironically, they may accuse you of being so focused on your own small world that you have no time for the more serious cosmic problems that should concern you. Toxic activists are very good at laying guilt trips on others.

There are many people, including me, who would be glad to help correct injustices and help undo damage that has been done in our culture or our environment. I could gladly give money and time to efforts that would help cure some of these ills.

But please don’t come at me with your list of demands. Please don’t tell me what burden of guilt I must accept on behalf of my social class, my faith, or my ethnic group before we can work together on solving the problem at hand. That’s no way to begin a relationship that will require us to trust each other.

What is it you want to happen? Do you want my cooperation? Or are you more interested in scoring some ideological points? If you try to persuade me instead of accusing me, you’re much more likely to win my support. I have time to listen to reason on an issue, but I have too little time to spend it with someone trying to bait me into contention.

Let’s talk. I am completely in favor of “equality,” “justice,” “mutual support,” and “cooperation.” But I am not likely to take up your cause unless I know just how you are applying those terms and what specific outcome you are seeking.

Getting in my face is no way to get into my heart and mind.

In my faith, we have a book of scripture called the Doctrine and Covenants. It is a record of revelations given by God to modern prophets. One of those revelations teaches that power and influence in the hearts of others can never be maintained over the long term through compulsion or domination; this can only be done through persuasion and patience. (See Doctrine and Covenants 121:39-44.)

Look, I’m willing to be your friend. I’d like to help your cause if it is just. But if you want to win my help, present your case and let me decide according to the moral principles that guide my own thoughts and actions. If your course of action agrees with those principles, you’ll have my support.

Perhaps there are areas or causes in which I could do more. Perhaps there are aspects of some problems that I do not understand. I am open to listening and learning.

But I am not open to being threatened or coerced.

I will be the one, not you, to decide on my course of action, because I will be the one, not you, who will be judged by God for them.

Freedom, Part 1: “Tolerance” and “Diversity”

These two words, tolerance and diversity, don’t mean the same things now that they did when I was young. Back then, they dealt with concepts that could unite us. Now they seem to be used in ways that divide us.

This is a piece I have put off writing for a long time because some people won’t like what I say.  But unless we can talk about the different ways people see tolerance and diversity, the different ways we use those words will continue to keep us at odds with each other.

When I was young, tolerance meant we would accept the fact many people see norms of behavior, dress, morality, or decorum differently than we do. Tolerant people could interact without confrontation when someone disagreed about those norms.

These days, being tolerant seems to mean that we must be willing to embrace other peoples’ norms of behavior, morality, or decorum even when those may be foreign or offensive to us. On the other hand, if the norms and standards that our consciences have dictated for a lifetime differ with those of special identity groups, then we must put our beliefs aside.

Diverse” and “diversity” as seen in a 2000 edition of a dictionary.

Diversity used to mean we are all very different in our society, and that’s OK.

Now it seems to mean that some diverse people are more equal than others. I must accept their cultural norms and beliefs, but my beliefs cannot be tolerated, and if I insist on holding onto them, I must be punished.

There are a variety of social issues or causes in which this double standard may be seen. To pick one: If my beliefs are not acceptable to LGBTQ people, I may be labeled “homophobic.”

Homophobia is a made-up word that suggests someone hates or fears those who classify themselves as LGBTQ. I neither hate nor fear people who live a homosexual lifestyle. There’s no reason I could not work with them on an equal footing. I hope they have all the happiness and success in their lives that they desire. It is only fair that they enjoy all the same civil rights I do, and I fully support legislation guaranteeing them those rights.

But there are some philosophical points on which I disagree with them based on my faith. I believe that the inherent individual right to freedom of thought entitles me to my own beliefs, but I will not try to dictate how others must live.

As a matter of faith, I believe that every human is an eternal being having a mortal experience. Inside every one of us is an eternal spirit child of God that existed with Him before we were born here and will go on existing after our mortal bodies die. I believe our eternal spirits have certain characteristics, including gender, that have always been part of us and will go on being part of us when we leave this life. What we do here will not change that characteristic. (For more on this, see “The Family: A Proclamation to the World,” https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/scriptures/the-family-a-proclamation-to-the-world/the-family-a-proclamation-to-the-world?lang=eng.)

Some who live as a different gender than they were born will say it is not a matter of their choice, but they were born in a body that does not match who they really are. I cannot believe that. Neither do I believe in common gender stereotypes. We are all mixtures of many physical and personality traits, and no one mix of these traits can define either male or female. No one can truly say, “I am female (or male) because . . . .” I believe that our eternal spirits are what they are and that God does not place some of them in the wrong bodies by mistake.

But what I may believe has no power to govern others. Many may disagree with me, and it is not my right or purpose in life to make them conform to my beliefs. That would be tyrannical. Faith should never be an excuse for tyranny. I believe that one of the first laws of heaven, in God’s plan for His children, is that we each will have our own individual agency. Each of His children has the responsibility to choose how we shape our lives and behavior on this earth, and ultimately each of us will be answerable to Him for our choices.

Others will, I hope, respect my agency just as I respect theirs.

It does not matter how just or right you think your cause to be, whether it is racial or gender equality, environmentalism, economic parity, or something else; trying to force others to adopt the beliefs and behaviors you prefer is a violation of their civil rights on earth and their agency in eternity. God offers all of us choices, but never compels us to do as He says.

Too often in our society, people who identify themselves with one movement or cause or social group try to coerce others into accepting their beliefs and behaviors by labeling and shaming, by humiliating or ostracizing them, or by compulsion through legislation. This is wrong. If we cannot persuade people to our way of thinking or behaving by reasoning with them, we have no right to punish them for having different views.

Here’s a concrete example that may be controversial for some. Suing a wedding photographer or cakemaker whose personal religious beliefs make him or her uncomfortable serving an LGBTQ wedding doesn’t seem to be about achieving equality, especially where comparable services are available from someone else. It seems to be about forcing one’s values on someone else in violation of that individual’s conscience.

Many of the problems of divisiveness in our world today could be solved if we could go back to those earlier definitions of tolerance and diversity. We can recognize that other people who do not share our backgrounds and experiences will see many things differently than we do, but we can nevertheless commit ourselves to interacting and working with them in a spirit of peace and cooperation.

Long Shadows, Lasting Scars

Blog_scars DSC01990

Walking down a dirt road just before sunset, I noticed the long shadows made by pebbles and small rocks in the dust. I remembered my barefoot days of childhood and thought about how stepping on one of those sharp little rocks could leave a bruise or other injury long after the first sharp pain had faded.

Forty-six years ago, shortly after we moved into our second family home, I was clearing out overgrown bushes when I suffered a small injury. A branch I was holding under

scar on arm

Injuries that might seem small to others can leave lasting scars.

tension suddenly broke, and the sharp tip sprang back at me, raking down my upper arm. It did not cut me, but I bled under the skin, and to this day I carry a scar where I was injured.

Sometimes the injuries we suffer cast shadows that touch our lives for many years. Sometimes emotional and spiritual wounds can leave lifelong scars. The wounds might be accidental or they might be inflicted by others. In either case, we do not have to let the damage be permanent. There is a way to overcome it.

When I was a boy and hurt my foot on a stone, I would go to my mother for comfort. When I grew up, I knew how to put medicine on my own wounds. But rarely can we supply the salve for our own spiritual or emotional wounds. Treatment for these kinds of injuries requires a Healer—someone capable of applying spiritual medicine.

The psalmist looks to God for help. “He healeth the broken in heart, and bindeth up their wounds” (Psalms 147:3).

I am a believer in Christ and the healing power of the Atonement he carried out for our sins. In announcing his mission at the beginning of his preaching on the earth, he quoted this from Isaiah: “The  Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the broken-hearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised” (Luke 4:18).

He healed by His touch, just as He can heal us by the way He touches our hearts. In the Gospel of St. Mark we read: “And he came and took her by the hand, and lifted her up; and immediately the fever left her, and she ministered unto them.” (Mark 1:31).

Jesus did not categorize people by their belief systems; He looked on their hearts. (See 1 Samuel 16:7.) I believe God hears the prayers of all His yearning children who turn to him in sorrow and pain for relief, no matter what their religious tradition may be.

His healing may not come as an immediate cure or miraculous rescue, but answers come in the way that will be for our best good in this life and in the life to come, after we return to Him. We need to be still and listen for His whisperings to us through the Holy Spirit, to be still and feel His soft touch.

In our day He has given us revealed scripture that offers confirming, prophetic witness of the teachings of the Bible. “I beheld the Lamb of God going forth among the children of men. And I beheld multitudes of people who were sick, and who were afflicted with all manner of diseases, and with devils and unclean spirits; . . . And they are healed by the power of the Lamb of God: and the devils and the unclean spirits were cast out” (1 Nephi 11:31, Book of Mormon).

The Book of Mormon and the Bible, joining together in their witness of Jesus Christ, are fulfillment of the prophecy in Ezekiel 37:16-17 that the “stick of Judah” and the “stick of Joseph” would “become one in thine hand.”

“If thou believest in the redemption of Christ thou canst be healed,” the Book of Mormon teaches (Alma 15:8). This book is a witness to the world that to be fully healed we must accept Jesus Christ as our Savior. Its teachings offer salve for the wounds and sicknesses and hazards of our times. While He lived on earth, He revealed His way in word and deed to the people who surrounded Him. Now, to those who choose to receive it, He has given in the Book of Mormon reaffirming witnesses of His power to heal.

It is up to us whether we turn to Him for healing of the hurts in our hearts and spirits. The cure may take time and faith. But there is no other truly effective treatment for erasing long shadows of the past or the scars of old wounds.

 

Why Do I Believe? Consider the Lilies

Lily DSC00554 BLMatthew 6:28-30 has always been one of my favorite scriptures. “Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow,” Jesus says to those hearing His Sermon on the Mount. “. . . even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.”

Lilies are at the same time fragile and beautiful, yet earthy and sturdy.

Those who believe in evolution find many arguments—some real stretches of the imagination—to explain how every form of life on this planet developed from very small and simple organisms. Evolutionists have many rationales to explain how evolving organisms overcame this obstacle or that obstacle and became the complex plants and animals that we know—including human beings.

But for me, evolution can never explain beauty and variety. How did the plant know it

Yellow-headed blackbird.

One of the varieties of blackbirds.

needed to develop certain colors or varieties of color to survive? Why are there so many different varieties of birds, or lizards? If survival of the fittest was the rule, how is it that there are so many different varieties in the plant and animal worlds?

For me, evolution leaves too many unanswered questions. Those who accept only science as the explanation for all creation answer my questions with laws of genetics, physics, and astronomy. But all of their answers require a leap of atheistic faith in the end: You have to believe that what evolutionists postulate could have happened did indeed happen. And, of course, a god had no part in it.

I believe in God, and that this earth and all the life on it are His creations. I believe that He not only created a functional, self-sustaining ecosystem, but that He, as both the consummate scientist and artist, also made it beautiful for His children. (I have to say parenthetically that many of His ungrateful children are selfishly mucking up this beautiful world He created.)

Many years ago, as part of a school trip, I found myself in San Antonio’s Breckenridge Zoo with my high school biology teacher. We stood gazing at a flamingo in a pond when he said, “Anybody who can’t see that that bird is descended from a fish is a fool.” I gaped at him and answered, “Well, then, I guess you’re looking at a fool.”

Thinking back, I have had to admit he had a point. It would be easy to imagine how some of the organs and systems of the two creatures might be altered to create new life forms. But this does not mean it did happen that way, or that any such changes came about simply as cosmic happenstance.

In Matthew 6:30, Jesus went on to say, “Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, . . . shall he not much more clothe you . . .?”

Faith, scripture, and a witness of the Holy Spirit tell me that He created the earth and its environs as a place to send His beloved children—all of us—to school. See, for example, Psalms 148:4-5: “Praise him, ye heavens of heavens, and ye waters that be above the heavens. Let them praise the name of the Lord: for he commanded, and they were created.” We are also told that God contemplated all His eternal spiritual offspring before this world existed and established a plan to give them a terrestrial, mortal home: “. . . we will make an earth whereon these may dwell: And we will prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them.” (See Abraham 3:24-25 in a book of modern scripture called The Pearl of Great Price. It can be found at http://www.churchofjesuschrist.org.)

I do not know how long He took to create this earth or what methods He used. He has not given us that information. But I believe that the creation followed a long-term, organized, celestially ingenious plan. He who planned it used eternal, natural laws that we only understand now at very basic levels. I hope that someday, after my time in mortality, I may begin to learn about the mechanics of this creation in some celestial classroom.

In the meantime, if you ask me why I believe, I may simply have to tell you: “Consider the lilies.”

 

 

Race and Justice: What’s the Answer?

Blog_race photo

I don’t know the answer. Why are we here again—another man dead needlessly, more violence and pain in the aftermath?

I lived through the civil rights struggles of the 1950s and ‘60s, which were supposed to lead to our growing out of these problems. But that hasn’t happened.

Sixty years later, our country is still being convulsed by incidents related to the racial divide. Will we ever overcome this?

I remember one of my first up-close lessons in overt racism. I was 15, in a train station in West Texas one day, when I went to get a drink of water at the public fountain. Just as I bent over the fountain, I noticed a sign above it that said “Colored.” Across the room there was an identical fountain with a sign that said, “White.” What? We were supposed to drink from different fountains because our skin was a different shade? That was silly and irrational. I ignored the sign in front of me and drank.

Just one small incident? Yes–but at 15 it pushed me in the right direction. I may have been lucky that one of the local cowboys did not see me. Some of them took that racial divide very seriously. But I did not care. I had been taught differently.

Part of my family’s roots are deep in the old South. My mother’s mother was born in Louisiana in 1894 on what had been a slave plantation just 30 years earlier. Grandma and Grandpa freely used what we now politely call the “N word.” It was wrong, of course. Any kind of pejorative labeling of people is always wrong, and this word is especially ugly and damaging. It was something they had learned growing up in their time. But we can make a mistake when we judge people of the past by the standards of 2020. That kind of ugliness was not in their hearts.

My widowed mother and I lived with Grandma and Grandpa when I was a little boy because Mom had to work outside the home and she and my grandparents also ran a business together. When I was five, we were all in a car accident, and my mother and grandmother almost didn’t survive. Their recovery was difficult. A year or so later, Grandpa hired Rosa, an African American woman, to help Grandma around the house. I can remember complaining to Grandma once about Rosa, who had tattled on me to my mother. Grandma sat me down and gave me to understand in no uncertain terms that Rosa had my best interests at heart and I jolly well better treat her with the same respect I gave to any adult woman around me. Rosa, she told me, was a child of God just like me, and Rosa was precious to Him. Grandma had learned important truths about God’s love from an African American woman who helped rear her back on that old plantation in Louisiana. From that woman, Grandma gained a faith that her own mother was not able to share, and it sustained my grandmother for many years as she grew up. Later, Grandma shared it with me. I owe some of my early lessons in faith to a kind and generous black woman I never knew.

My grandfather, as a plumbing contractor, hired white, black, or Latino men, and if they gave him a good day’s work for their pay, he kept hiring them. He valued them for their contribution, not their skin color. I never heard him judge others by skin color. He spoke of them as human beings with problems and needs similar to his own.

By their behavior, my mother’s parents taught me more about the value of people, regardless of skin color, than any schoolteacher.

Once, Grandma and I had a talk about the Civil War and the end of slavery. The anger she felt about that conflict had to do with the way the people in the South were treated after the Civil War. Hypocritical northern conquerors, she said, were equally guilty of racism.

Current incidents indicate that racial problems are not confined to one section of the country.

Half a lifetime ago, I had the opportunity to travel throughout the South with a performing group of young Native Americans, Polynesians, and Latinos. Toward the end of their show, which featured music and dance from their own cultures, there was a moment in which a narrator made this point: We are not actually black or white, but we are all the multi-colored hues of Mother Earth. We are all children of the same God. And then the show closed with a song well-known to children in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints: “I Am a Child of God.” That song never failed to move some in the audience to tears.

Twenty-five years ago, I had the opportunity to visit Ghana on a work assignment. The people I met there were so friendly and kind that I forgot there was any difference in our skin color. They were simply my brothers and sisters in the faith. I saw African American families from the United States vacationing in Ghana much as I might visit the land of my ancestors in Europe. Though they undoubtedly enjoyed the culture in Ghana, those families didn’t seem more at home in Africa than I. One man I saw in the hotel restaurant kept calling back home to Detroit to check on how his business was doing. It struck me that even though my ancestors came from England and his from Africa, we were both natives of the same North American country.

It is a country in which we still need to learn to live together in peace.

In my lifetime, I have had a couple of friends who were policemen. They were fine men, dedicated to keeping peace in our community, and they were paid far too little for putting their lives on the line to do it. Unfortunately, there are police officers who are not like them. I can’t imagine either of those men ever kneeling on someone’s neck while he pleads, “I can’t breathe.” We need to find ways to weed out people who would do that, and any who do it need to answer for their crimes.

African Americans have every right to protest the ongoing depredation against people of color. I believe the rest of us need to be careful not to rush to judgment when protests go bad. Peaceful protestors may not be responsible for the incitement, and the violence might not be entirely race-related. News footage of rioting in my city seemed to show a lot of white faces—perhaps more than people of color. It would be interesting to know who those people were and what was their stake in confrontations with the police.

Yesterday I read a clear, compelling article by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar about what African Americans are feeling when they are driven to protest. As an individual, I wish I knew how to contribute to the resolution of racial conflict. I fear that because I enjoy “white privilege”—a term with which I am not comfortable, even though I recognize its truth—my contributions might not be welcome. But I am willing to try.

White people who automatically feel uncomfortable when they see people of color around them need to get over it, especially if they call themselves Christians and hope to get into heaven. In my faith we are taught that Christ “inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; . . . and all are alike unto God” (Book of Mormon, 2 Nephi 26:33).

Any of us who might get into heaven are likely to find that many of our neighbors there grew up on earth as people of color—African Americans, Polynesians, Hispanics, Asians. If we cannot greet them as brother and sisters, “alike unto God,” then we won’t be comfortable in heaven.

 

 

 

Cramming for Finals

Peace in the scriptures.

Finding peace in troubled, worrisome times.

We are blessed, my wife and I, to have a safe haven at home right now—no illness, so far, and still able to buy food as needed. We know that so many other people are suffering, and there is heartache in knowing there is nothing we can do to help.

We are cut off temporarily from the offices where we have been doing volunteer work. Under other circumstances, we would go out and find ways to help someone else, but that could be dangerous to others and to us as well. Stuck at home like everyone else, we are trying to make the best of a bad situation.

Sitting around doing nothing would be impossible—something neither of us can tolerate. It would be mind-numbingly boring—like, looking-for-faces-in-the-patterns-on-the-floor-tile boring.

There’s no shortage of online advice about what to do—“The Eight New Shows You Have to Watch Right Now,” “The Best Movies to Stream,”  “The Best Books for When You Can’t Go Out,” etc. But in practicality some of those things get old quickly.

TV? After news programs and PBS shows, what? (By the way, why do the British shows always seem better written?)

Streaming movies? “Action” movies mean high body count and plots that range from unlikely to impossible. “Romance”? Again, unlikely plots, and too many cases of love = sex. “Edgy” independent movies? Well, they’re edgy, and who wants any kind of downer right now?

Reading? Ah, yes. There are whole libraries of good stuff online, and this has been an excellent chance to turn to some gift books I have received in the past, because now I actually have time for them. There are also some of my favorite books that warrant another look.

Books can be so much more engaging. In fiction, the theater of the mind has always been more powerful for me than movies. In philosophy, social science, and religion there is time to ponder and absorb concepts that can enrich or change my life.

2 Nephi 25:23-27

“. . . we rejoice in Christ . . .”

I’ve been spending a lot of time with the scriptures. In the Bible and the Book of Mormon— of both testifying of the crucial, eternally essential role Jesus Christ plays in our lives—I find doctrines and concepts to savor at length. In other modern scriptures and the words of modern prophets, I find elaboration and explanation that expand the intellect and feed the soul.

Certainly, I haven’t reached a level of saintliness where I spend all day pondering verses of scripture. But I’m spending a lot more time than I used to. It has something to do with what Jesus said about laying up treasures in heaven. (See Matthew 6:19-20 in the New Testament or 3 Nephi 13:19-20 in the Book of Mormon.) This seems like a good time to be looking for wisdom, and treasures of spiritual knowledge that become embedded in the eternal soul. (See James 1:5 and Luke 1:16-17 in the New Testament, or 3 Nephi chapter 17 verse 3, and Doctrine and Covenants section 109, verse 7.) In all of these verses, the Lord calls on us to learn—to store up treasures that cannot be taken from our eternal spirits by death of the mortal body.

Years ago, I read an anecdote about a child who asked, “Grandma, why do you spend so much time reading the Bible?” Grandma replied: “I’m cramming for finals.”

The time we’ve been given at home right now seems like a good opportunity to do some cramming for finals.

 

 

 

For Times of Crisis: A Silo Full of Faith

Granary Paris 2020Fe16 DSC00049

The silo John and Ruth left full of wheat.

The silo holds almost four tons of wheat. The grain was put there more than 30 years ago by two loving people who hoped to provide food for their children’s families in case they Granary Paris 2019Oc DSC01556might face scarcity or famine someday.

Now, the wheat is probably not usable for food anymore—but what those two people left behind may be much more valuable than food.

John and Ruth were farm people. They knew years when the crops didn’t grow well or didn’t sell for enough money. They had lived through the Depression of the 1930s. They never spent money they did not have or wasted anything that might be put to good use sometime. Up in the old barn there are buckets of rusty nails and bolts that John meant to straighten out, clean up, and reuse one day.

John and Ruth were my in-laws. I learned to admire them for what they had become in life and what they were willing to sacrifice to assure a decent life for others—especially their children. Inside that silo full of grain, taped to the inner door, they left a note Granary note 2019Oc DSC01547 Sspecifying what they wanted done with the wheat. “It is here to be preserved for a time of need,” John wrote. “We do not expect to live to see the day when all of this will be used for human food, but say to our family you may take from it as needed for your use. . . . We want you to respect our wish that none of it is to be sold for monetary gain but may be traded for other food items if needed. We are dedicating this wheat to help sustain the lives of those who may need it . . . .”

The grain was accumulated from their crops over 10 years, the last bags being added in 1987. The company that bagged the wheat told them it would last “for a lifetime.”

Maybe no one anticipated that the galvanized steel granary could begin to rust out near the bottom. Rodents and deer, getting at a few of the bags through small holes at the base of the silo, have nibbled at the wheat. A nutritional expert tells us the grain is probably not good for human food anymore but might be used to feed animals.

John and Ruth had faith that they were helping provide for their descendants in the way a loving Father in Heaven wanted them to do. They wrote of scriptural and prophetic counsel to store food for a future time of need. But perhaps they did not realize what kind of food they were really leaving behind: nourishment for the spirit, in a store of faith that is strongly felt in their note. It’s impossible to read their words without being deeply moved, and without asking ourselves what we might be leaving behind for our own descendants.

Ruth was an example of service to others in their small farming community.

John became one of my models of integrity in life, since I had grown up without a father.

The two of them may not have left their family worldly wealth, but I believe no parents could have done more for their children in those circumstances. Their examples have helped mold the lives of their children and their children’s children.

Now we are living in times of crisis when there is an urgent, pressing need for faith. I have to ask myself: Have I given my children and their children an example of faith that will help to carry them through perilous times to come? Surely those times are coming. How can I help them to store up the faith they will yet need?

If I could choose one thing to leave them, it would be faith to rely on prophets and the spiritual nourishment found in the scriptures and revelations given for our day.

[NOTE: The name of this blog has been changed from Searlebration. The blog began as a way of reaching our extended family, but it has grown beyond that, and the new name better reflects the subject matter. ]

 

The Wisdom of the Sunflower

We were driving through the desert, passing by the dry bed of an alkaline lake in the Great Basin. Fifty feet from the roadway, there was a forbidding desert landscape full of sagebrush and cactus. And yet, at the edge of the pavement there were tall, palm-of-the-hand-sized sunflowers.

Sunflower Sep19 DSC01503
I love sunflowers. I never cease to admire the way they can thrive in harsh environments. Their welcome splash of bright color stands out against the muted browns and greens surrounding them, and as a foreground for hazy blue mountains in the distance.
No matter how forbidding the environment in which they grow, they are always seeking the light.
Do you know people like that? I do. Some grew up in very harsh, unloving, even dangerous environments, and yet they thrived. The reason? They sought out the light. They have made productive lives for themselves and made important, lasting contributions in other lives as well.
Does that sound like a Pollyanna outlook? Once upon a time I might have said so, but living with an unfailing optimist for 50 years has changed my thinking. I have learned that always expecting things to turn out darkly does not accomplish anything and may become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Instead of expecting the worst, why not work toward the best possible outcome?

A very wise man I respect as a prophet of God used to repeat this advice from his father: “Cynics do not contribute, skeptics do not create, doubters do not achieve.” (Gordon B. Hinckley, former president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.)
I may be a natural-born skeptic and something of a pessimist, but experience has taught me this: the solutions to my problems in life are found not in lamenting the darkness, but in seeking out the light.

Salt Flats A7R 20190413_0313 P

We love the dawning light.

Our eternal spirits crave

the constant illumination

that comes from Heavenly Father.

No one can take His light from us.

Sometimes we give it up

for lesser, faded things,

until we find ourselves

locked in lives of darkness. 

But when we choose the light

we can see with sharpening view

the everlasting glory

He wants to share with us.

Blessed by Listening to His Promptings

Sevier Dry Lake 20190919_0019 P

Sevier Dry Lake, Great Basin desert

We were not planning to make those two stops on our trip. But we are deeply grateful for the blessings that came when we did.

I continue to be amazed not only at how generously God blesses His children, but also at how frequently blessings come when we are paying attention to the whisperings we may feel from His Holy Spirit.

Our trip was to be a quick overnighter, out and back, the kind of experience we give ourselves to celebrate special occasions like birthdays. We were going to learn more about an area in our region we had seldom visited.

On our way out, we turned off the road in one place that looked interesting and hiked through sagebrush, rocks, and ant hills out to a dry lake bed. It is the kind of scene we have passed by many times in our travels. This time we turned around and went back. We enjoyed the stark beauty of the desert on a clear, sunny fall day, and I got some beautiful photographs that will fit well in a project I’m working on.

That was only the beginning of our rewards.

On our return trip next day, we stopped at two small museums in a rural farm town. In one we delighted at seeing items we remembered from our childhood in small-town America. The other told the story of a shameful episode in our country’s past, the detainment of loyal Japanese-Americans in a desert camp during World War II.

As a result of pondering what we saw in these two places, I received an answer to prayers I had offered earlier for direction. As so often happens, the direction did not come in words of a command: “Do this, then this.” Instead, I received ideas on how to solve a dilemma that I have long had. This particular problem has very little to do with the exhibits in those museums, and yet, because of what I saw, ideas came to mind that help resolve the dilemma. I saw a practical way forward, and I received an assurance that this was my answer.

That was not the end.

Cabin_Eureka

Cabin of colorful western character Porter Rockwell, Eureka, Utah

We made one more unplanned stop on our way home, in a small, historic mining town. As a lark referring to my advancing age, we were taking pictures of “things older than Don.”  My wife wanted a picture of me in front of an old pioneer cabin. A man at the service station next door hurried over to ask if we would like to go inside it. Then he invited us to tour some of the old mine sites in town with him. It turned out that he was the mayor, and he shared with us his dream of how to preserve some of the town’s history.

What he shared brought a fresh flow of ideas for me—thoughts that built on and dovetailed with the inspiration I had received at the museum two hours earlier. It became plain that these experiences were not coincidence.  Our stops were perfectly timed; five minutes one way or the other, and we would have missed this opportunity.

My wife benefitted too. One of the mayor’s comments suggested a way forward with a project she has long wanted to develop. Moreover, as we finished our drive home, I received ideas on how I might be able to contribute to that mayor’s civic project, something it would be a privilege to do.

I know we were guided on that trip to receive answers we had asked for in prayer.

Some might scoff and say, “That was just coincidence, and your imagination.”

Some might say I’m boasting.

Scoffers deny themselves the opportunity to be taught by God, through whisperings of His Holy Spirit. Those whisperings are soft and subtle, but obedience brings rewards. Our Eternal Father is ever ready and willing to give us knowledge if we are willing to accept it. He will build on knowledge we have already gained, helping us learn lessons for eternity.

The answers that came to me were for questions I had not voiced to anyone but God. I have learned to recognize the sweet feeling of peace and assurance that comes with some of those answers. No, they are not my imagination.

As for boasting—what hypocrisy it would be! I am still a child in learning to walk by faith. Throughout much of my life, I have been a weak, headstrong person who did not listen to my Heavenly Father nearly as frequently as I should have. Perhaps I could have accomplished more—so much more—for my family and for others if I had listened better. I am ashamed that I have not been a better servant.

But I pray that for whatever life is left to me, I can continue learning to listen better. And if what I share now can help someone younger learn to listen sooner in life, then I am grateful I can help.

Topaz20190920_0006 P

Barbed wire art work on a fence at the barren site of the abandoned Topaz internment camp.