Tag Archives: Love

Which Flower Is the Most Beautiful?

My wife loves flowers. It’s a struggle to maintain a garden in the area where we live, with its short growing season, the hardy, fast-growing weeds, along with deer and other critters who like to dine on plants at her expense. But outside our door every morning, her flowers offer a day-starting burst of beauty.

It’s hard to decide which are more beautiful: Lilies? Irises? Columbine? It’s impossible to judge between them. I joke that I have a nodding acquaintance with flowers; I can’t tell you all about them, their names, their characteristics, but I can appreciate the beauty of every one of them.

My appreciation for flowers started early because both of my grandmothers loved flowers. Like others of their generation, they grew things they could eat, but they had to have flowers as well—definitely roses, but also irises, daisies, hollyhocks, and others.

Living in semitropical areas of the world introduced me to a whole different range of flowering plants. It convinced me that there is far more beauty in this world than I will ever have the opportunity to experience personally.

Some hardy flowers can be found almost everywhere. Sunflowers, growing in the harshest of environments, constantly turn their faces to the sun anyway.

Some flowers are unwelcome, and I don’t always understand why. Who was it that declared dandelions are weeds and must be eradicated? I understand that they’re pushy and want to take over too much space. That can’t be allowed. But have you ever studied the beautiful, divinely designed structure of their yellow faces?

Jesus used flowers to make a point about how much Heavenly Father cares for all His children, in one of my favorite scriptures, Matthew 6:28-33. “. . . Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; . . . Even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.

“. . . If God so clothe the grass of the field, . . . shall he not much more clothe you, o ye of little faith? . . .

But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all of these things shall be added unto you.”

The magnificence of His flowers shows the love and care He put into their creation, but He cares even more diligently and tenderly for us, His children.

Do we appreciate His other children as much as we do His flowers?

There are powerful forces in the world today that work to divide us. Most of us see ourselves first as members of ethnic, gender, social, political or economic groups, before we think of ourselves as children of God.

That is the devil’s work. Jesus did not think of people in terms of divisions that separated them. In fact, He often condemned those who sought to put people in different classes. When we ask that the needs of our class or group be served first, we may be asking that something be taken away from the rest of humanity.

In His Sermon on the Mount, He said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit: . . . the meek: . . . they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: . . . the merciful: . . . the pure in heart: . . . the peacemakers” (Matthew 5:3-9). He made no distinction as to class, color, wealth, or popularity. He pronounced blessings on those who sought the things they saw in His divine example.

Modern revealed scripture offers this insight on our Redeemer’s loving generosity toward mortals on this earth: “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).

The world would be better if we all stopped looking at people as members of ethnic, gender, social, or political groups and began looking at them as children of God with equal opportunity to come unto Him.

In the eyes of the world, every flower is not clothed the same. But in His eyes, there is beauty and value in every one.

Now That’s a Love Scene!

When people write or talk about movies these days, they often mention “love scenes.” What they usually mean by that in our day is sex scenes. But those two are not the same thing.

Call 2 BWWhen I think of great love scenes in the movies, I think of the homecoming scene in The Best Years of Our Lives, when Frederic March’s character returns from war and his wife working in the kitchen, Myrna Loy, realizes who is at the door. The power of their facial expressions as they see each other, and their actions, portray love about as well as in any scene on film. Check the movie out; it’s a great one.

And when I think of great movie love scenes, I may think about young Carl and Ellie, in the Disney Pixar movie Up, falling in love, getting married, and setting out on the adventure of life together. That’s love.

Two naked people writhing in bed? No, that’s just lust, and it may have little or nothing to do with love. But it sells movie tickets.

This fact probably helps explain corrupt movie executives who feel they have a right to molest or abuse actresses and actors with whom they associate. Apparently, they feel some entitlement, telling themselves that, after all, they help make these people famous.

The current #Metoo movement in our society, exposing the evil treatment that many women receive in the workplace and elsewhere, may accomplish a lot of good. We can hope it will disabuse many men of the notion that because they are masculine, they are entitled to treat women as objects to provide them pleasure. Certainly men who are guilty of this kind of harassment deserve whatever social or professional ruin comes to them when they are exposed. Many of them belong in prison.

The current movement is a reminder that many of us who are male need to learn better attitudes and greater respect for women, even if we feel we are not guilty of any crime.

Women often say there is never any excuse for harassment of sexual abuse, no matter how they may choose to dress. In this they are correct; they ought always to be safe from the hands, and even the lustful thoughts, of men, no matter the situation, no matter what they may wear—or not wear.

But a girl or woman does not have to live very long in this world to learn that what ought to be is often not the way things are. Many men, motivated by their own weakness and aberrant sexual feelings, convince themselves that the ways in which women dress offer them permission or an invitation. For self-protection, women may need to recognize that there are such men, and to weigh some choices carefully.

Is this fair? No, of course not. But I would still want my wife or my daughter to take care to protect herself from predators in any situation—including those who wear fine suits and spend their days in corporate or government offices.

Now, this is where it becomes tricky for a man to write on this subject. Some will say: “victim-blaming.” No, I think not. Two of my own daughters experienced some harassment in the workplace. My mother, a widowed working woman, experienced discrimination based on her sex. Neither my mother nor my daughters did anything to deserve the treatment they received. Even though no prosecutable offenses were committed against them, those men who did not treat them with respect should have been punished or corrected.

Nevertheless, some women seem to ignore reality in justifying their own behavior.

How else to explain the anger and hurt from celebrity women when their nude photos, either taken surreptitiously or stolen, are widely shared, but who call it “empowerment” when they choose to display their bodies to the public?

However incautious it might have been to allow nude photos to be taken, people have every right to be angry when those photos are publicly displayed without their permission. But when some willingly pose for magazine layouts or other photo shoots that will bring them desired publicity, they say the nudity is OK in this situation because it is their choice. The difference seems to be in who is getting a benefit from their nudity. If they are the ones getting some kind of compensation—emotional, or financial, or both—in exchange for going nude, then the nudity is acceptable. Could someone please explain to me how this is not hypocrisy? They become enablers of the lust that fuels behavior they say that they hate.

If some unknown young actress takes off her clothes, performs explicit sex acts in front of a camera, and gets paid a few bucks, we call it porn and sleaze. If some well-known actress takes off her clothes, simulates sex acts in front of a camera, and makes big bucks, the film may become a blockbuster, and some call it art. But in comparing the two situations, it’s hard to see any difference in the type of activity; the difference is only in the degree of involvement.

It is true that the physical bodies we have are beautiful, amazing creations. They are also gifts from God that are sacred to every individual. They are meant to be shared only in a mutually loving relationship with the person of the opposite sex to whom we have made the public commitment of marriage, intending to spend a lifetime growing together. Sharing the body in any other way or any other context is dishonoring a sacred gift.

Couples who make and keep the covenant of marriage can share a full range of joy together, including physical intimacy. They share all these joys through young love, through the years when children may come and grow up, and through the aging years when the couple may have to lean on each other just to make it through a day.

Marriages like that are where real love scenes happen.


The Sidewalk to Nowhere

DSC00110Mrs. S. and I love to explore the places where we are, so we do a lot of walking. In our new neighborhood, we recently discovered the sidewalk to nowhere. It begins across the street from our granddaughters’ school and curves off along a canal into a large, vacant tract of land.

The whole area is still under development, but what, we wondered, is the purpose of this sidewalk? What is its destination? So one day we decided to follow it.

The sidewalk runs along that stagnant canal and through an area that has become a DSC00114dumping ground for excavated dirt, and trash and debris. There is a hint at least of clandestine activity out here—discarded beer and liquor bottles, and broken, abandoned things. Stolen, perhaps? Is that why there’s an abandoned grocery cart in the canal?

The sidewalk ends in the dirt (or mud, in season) about 50 yards from a back street in an industrial area.

Is this walkway part of some developmental master plan? Who knows. Right now, it’s just a useless side trip.

This path makes me wonder how many sidewalks to nowhere there are in my life.

When I choose to do something that I know God does not want me to do—when I sin willfully—I know I am taking the sidewalk to nowhere. The path is going to end in disappointment and worthless trash, and I run the risk of getting lost, unable to find my way back.

DSC00113But what about the times when I simply have not thought out my course? Would I choose this path if I knew from the beginning that I would find only trash along the way and a nasty mud hole at the end?

What about the times when I set out on the path to acquiring more money or things? Has that ever ended in any lasting happiness?

What about the times when I set out to justify myself? “I was right and she was wrong.” “That other driver was a careless jerk.” “What I should have said to him was . . . .” There’s nothing worthwhile at the end of that path.

What about the times when my attitude was, “Father, I can handle this by myself”? When did that ever turn out well?

Standing here at the beginning, I can choose to follow this path, or I can turn to the right or left on one of the routes that lead to places of fulfillment—places where I can learn, and love, and be with family. They will be places where I can serve, instead of simply passing time.

If I choose the right path, ultimately it will take me Home.

The best way to choose is probably to ask myself, “Which path would the Master follow after saying, ‘Come, follow me’?”




Beauty in Desolation


Clouds at sunset, Florence, Arizona

It is the middle of an August afternoon in southern Arizona and the temperature outdoors hovers, as usual, at a few degrees over 100 Fahrenheit. At the edge of this small town there is nothing to be seen but cactus, sand, and scattered small bushes. The view could hardly be more forbidding.

Sometimes when I come here I wonder if the people who own the large homes in town ever look out their front windows. Do they realize where they live? To a visitor, this looks like the land of saguaro, sagebrush, and scorpions.

And yet . . . the desert has its own stark beauty. It can have magnificent sunrises and sunsets. The open sky overhead at night can be a thing of wonder. And there is always beauty to be found even in Desert 10Au15_1020216the desert when you look closely—in the distant blue mountains, in a cactus bloom, in the yellow and orange flowers on one bush that crops up often, particularly in some of the nice xeriscape yards. (I do not know its name. The truth is that even though I think plants are lovely, I have largely a nodding acquaintance with them.) Where people have planted those strategically, the bush adds a nice touch of life to an otherwise bleak landscape.

I have known people like that—people who bloom in bleak settings, who bring life and hope in places where no one would think it could thrive.

Santa Fe is a very poor barrio just below the airport in Guatemala City. It was originally built by squatters who simply took over the land and constructed adobe houses on it. It is the kind of place where some buildings are combinations of plastered adobe and rusty sheets of corrugated iron. It is the kind of place where many people have no hope because they have no work, and where drug gangs need have no fear of the law. One teenage boy I met there spent months recovering from gunshot wounds after he threw his body over that of a little girl in the neighborhood store to protect her in a drive-by shooting. Santa Fe is the kind of place that seems to have many exits but no escape.

And yet . . . I knew people there whose level of goodness and brotherly, or sisterly, love made me wish I could live so well. Many had next to nothing, but whatever they had, they would share with their projimo—in Spanish, the person next to them. Their concern is not for their own position, their own comfort, their standing in the community, their convenience, or their income. They simply do unto others service and kindness because they can, and because they believe in following the admonition to “love thy neighbour as thyself.”

May God bless those who bloom in the desert, bringing life in an otherwise bleak landscape because their roots draw nourishment from the Source of living water. And may He bless me to be more like them.

What’s Right with America?

Yakov Smirnoff knows what it is to be a true American patriot.

The Russian comedian, who immigrated to the United States in 1977, has a deep love for his adopted country. He is known for his signature tag line: “What a country!” But through the years he has put his heart and his money where his mouth is.

Yakov1 Oc14_3562

Yakov Smirnoff with fans.

Yakov is a talented artist. Many of his paintings pay homage to the U.S.A. Not many people know that in the wake of the tragedy of September 11, 2001, Yakov spent a very large amount of his own time and money to produce and put into place a huge artistic memorial overlooking the site of the Twin Towers that had gone down. He did it anonymously because his name is associated with laughter, but he wanted to express solemnity and reverence at the tragedy, as well as his own hope and love for America.

You might think I’m giving a plug to his one-man show that we saw recently in Branson, Missouri. You’d be right. As they say in online product reviews, “Yes, I would recommend this to a friend.” Along with a generous dose of entertainment, his show offers some good advice about building strong relationships with the ones you love. (Would you believe laughter is a key?) Optimism about America comes through strongly.

A caveat here: there was sexual innuendo in some of his jokes that I felt was unnecessary. I attributed this to the fact that our backgrounds are very different and that many in the entertainment industry seem to expect this of comedians. After my initial reaction (“Is blue ‘humor’ really necessary for such a talented man?”), I tried to look deeper into the ideas he was expressing and their motivations.

He reminded me of some of the reasons I am grateful for the country where I was born and where I live.

Beautiful spacious skies over Yellowstone National Park.

Beautiful spacious skies over Yellowstone National Park.

Over the past few months, Mrs. S. and I have had some great opportunities to appreciate the words: “O beautiful for spacious skies, for amber waves of grain, for purple mountain majesties above the fruited plain . . . .” We’ve seen them in Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas, and Missouri. During my lifetime, I have been blessed with the opportunity to visit six continents. But never have I seen anything to match the beauties of my home country.

Then there is freedom to choose our leaders. In our own home state and in the Midwest this fall, we saw hotly contested, sometimes vicious election campaigns with charges of indifference to voters, malfeasance, even criminality in office. The acrimony was painful. But in this country we have viable choices of candidates who may share our personal philosophies. I am reminded that there are literally billions of people on the earth who enjoy no such choices. I have lived in countries where the outcome of elections is always a foregone conclusion—or where there are no elections at all.

We live comparatively secure lives here. Mrs. S. and I spent 18 of the last 24 months living in Central America. For a hobbyist photographer like me, there were opportunities to see beautiful, fascinating things I loved to photograph. And yet I often dared not carry sophisticated camera equipment that would have allowed me to make photographs or video of the quality I desired. Carrying it in some areas could have put our lives or safety in jeopardy. We drove a car with tinted windows that prevented would-be robbers or kidnappers from seeing who was in the vehicle, or how we might be dressed. It was a blessing to come home to our country and be able to move about freely without worrying about malevolent, greedy eyes around us.

There are many people in the world who hate our country, who would like to destroy it. Why? Because in this country we have choices. We do not have to live the way they dictate. Worse, people who live under their rule are able to see or sense the differences, and they long to enjoy the freedoms Americans have. That makes this country a threat to the power of terrorists and other would-be dictators. The United States of America is seen as the hope of something better. That in itself is a blessing to the world.

It is something that an art professor-turned-comedian saw decades ago living with his parents in an overcrowded apartment in the Soviet Union. He saw hope in a new home across the ocean. Now he teaches in his theater show that we all see that which we seek. If we look for hope and optimism, we will find it. And it is much easier to find in this country than almost anywhere else in the world.

So my hat’s off to you, Mr. Smirnoff. You’re right about this place: “What a country!”


The Heart of a Child

Drawing 1 11Au13The little girl’s behavior is “problematic.” She is often a problem in Church meetings. The concept of reverence in the church building and in meetings has somehow escaped her, or she has not been taught it. I have found myself wishing sometimes that her mother, or someone, would take her in hand so that she does not disturb others in meetings.

Sister S. has seen her behavior at its worst in church. My companion, who enjoys teaching music to little children, goes into the Primary meeting on Sunday to help them learn songs of Jesus and His love for them.  This is a challenge and a sacrifice for my wife because she is still struggling to learn Spanish. But she loves to teach the children, and they respond. During singing time they usually pay attention and behave well.

At other times, it is a different story. The behavior of the children when they are not singing would often be considered rude or disrespectful. They grab or hit others, get up and wander about, and sometimes ignore adults who are trying to teach them.

The six-year-old of whom I am thinking has been one of the chief offenders, even though her mother is the president of the Primary and often is the one who suffers because of her behavior. The child seemingly does not know what it is to respect adults.

So I was surprised on Sunday when she wandered into the room where I was making preparations for the meeting and sat down at the small table with her pencil and paper. Soon she asked me, while I was busy with my task, how to spell a name. Looking over her shoulder, I could see that she was writing her surname, one that is a little long and a bit more difficult, so I stood and helped her as she asked me letters until she finished. She took her paper and left, and I went back to my task.

I thought nothing more of it until Sister S. and I were sitting in the chapel waiting for the meeting to start. The little girl approached us a bit shyly and held out to my wife a piece of paper that had been folded into a small rectangle. Sister S. carefully unfolded it. This was the piece of paper on which the little girl had written out her name—but she had added a large smiley-face heart surrounded by many other hearts. Sister S. thanked the little girl in her best Spanish and hugged her. The little girl smiled and went happily on her way.

I think I can understand the actions of the disciples of Christ recorded in Luke 18 when they tried to block people from bringing their little children so that He might simply touch them. The disciples saw how people thronged Him, how they pressed about Him, how they sometimes gave him no rest.  Perhaps they were mindful of how Moses was almost worn away by meeting the needs of the people before he wisely heeded the counsel of his father-in-law, Jethro, to delegate burdens. (See Exodus 18:13–23.) But Jesus saw in this experience a teaching moment, and He has admonished us all to be as little children, “for of such is the kingdom of heaven” (Luke 18:16). We must not overlook the everlasting importance, for us, of His comment in the following verse: “Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child shall in nowise enter in.” (For more of Jesus Christ’s teachings on how we must become as little children, see his words to the Nephites in the Book of Mormon: 3 Nephi 9:22 and 11:37–38.)

I do not know or understand all the factors that may affect this particular little girl’s unruly behavior. But I know that she loves in a way that I need to learn to emulate.

Who can judge the heart of a child? Not I.

Can I be as a child in my heart? Can I accept the Lord’s teaching and shaping as a child? Ah, that is the challenge, isn’t it?