Wednesday, January 29, 2014

God is in the details

Every so often I hear or read debate or conversation about whether God cares about a certain thing. Does God care about football team x winning?  Does He care about a teenagers's algebra test?  Does he care that I become more skilled at my profession? Does he care about my family saving money to get to Disneyland?

I know that our Father in Heaven and His Son both know and care about intimate details of our lives. They often bless us with small wonders and mercies, even though we are not looking for them and may not notice them. I'll give you an example that happened to me.

I have a fairly regular pattern of exercising on weekday mornings at a gym on the way to work. (Let's leave discussion of results from that exercise to another forum). I have a bag for clothes and I place my stuff in a locker, then come back and clean up for my work day. As i dress and leave, I frequently forget to remove my combination lock from the locker handle and attach it to my bag.  I never realize I have forgotten to do this until I come back the next day and see that my lock is not attached to my bag. I suppose I am getting old or stressed or preoccupied. But here is the small miracle: the lock is always hanging on the locker or sitting nearby. This has happened at least 20 times in the last year.  That is too many to be a coincidence. I would expect someone to have thrown it away before 20 instances passed.

Now, it would not be a big deal to lose a cheap combination lock. $7 item. Even if you added it up, from each instance, it is not a world shaking amount.  But I feel that God has looked after me in this small thing. It has saved me some expense and kept my other belongings safe while I exercised. It is a small thing that shows me that God cares for me and knows me.

So while He may not care about which group wins a sporting contest, I know He cares about the people involved. I know he cares about you and the details of your lives.

 By: Mark Robins

Sunday, January 26, 2014

The Love that Elevates

"We love him, because he first loved us." - 1 John 4:19

Today I am particularly grateful for the love of others, including the sweet condolences I have received from members of our congregation at the passing of my father. I recognize that this love and kindness is a reflection of the love of our Savior.

My feelings are especially tender at this time as I think of my father's life and the many acts of love and concern on his behalf. He was a wonderful father, and I will miss him a great deal.While he grew up with an understanding of the gospel of Christ, he lived a wayward life for many years.

My father, Ray Davis Ericson, grew up in a loving gospel-centered home in Salt Lake City, where he enjoyed playing sports and being the life of the party. But as he grew he also became indifferent towards religion and altogether quit participating in church. Perhaps a bit lost, he also quit playing football for the University of Utah and decided to see more of the world. He eventually married and had two children but had little foundation for establishing a family.

Some years later his marriage failed, and Ray returned home to Salt Lake City. He brought with him a heart full of pain and regrets. Surrounded by a strong family and loving church leaders, he went about rebuilding his life. He lived with his parents and started attending monthly firesides with his Davis and Bryson cousins. While he recognized their love and faithful examples, he still had a lot of doubts about his own character and spiritual standing.

My father was also befriended by James Elvin Lowry, a member of his bishopric. Brother Lowry saw in Ray a potential that others didn't recognize. He gave Ray a job selling insurance and encouraged Ray to consider dating his daughter, Mary Elizabeth. Ray struggled to find himself. He changed jobs often and told himself he would never marry again. He eventually married Mary Elizabeth "Mickie" Lowry in 1967 after a long courtship (some three years after the death of Brother Lowry, Mickie's father). They were married by Ray's cousin, Robert A. Bryson, who was an LDS bishop at the time.

Mickie saw the potential in Ray and was patient with him while he continued to make some changes in his life. As a convert to the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Mickie had a goal of being married in the temple, but Ray wasn't ready for such a sacred ordinance.

During this time, Thomas S. Monson, who was an apostle of the Lord, often purchased his gas at a service station Ray managed. While Ray waited on him, Elder Monson patiently answered Ray's questions related to the gospel and encouraged him to continue seeking for truth. Ray's brother, Loyd, recognized his receptivity to Elder Monson's visits and wrote a letter encouraging Elder Monson to continue with those visits.

Ray considered Elder Monson a friend and appreciated the genuine interest he expressed in his well being. Elder Monson went so far as to say that he would perform the sealing ceremony in the Salt Lake Temple when Ray and Mickie were ready for that sacred ordinance.

Finally, on April 5, 1971 Elder Monson performed the sealing ordinance of Ray and Mickie Ericson in the Salt Lake Temple. My brother, David Ericson, who was almost two years old by that time, was also sealed to my parents. I was born some eight months later. Elder Monson commented at the time that Ray was "a diamond in the rough."

As years have passed, our family has been blessed many times over by the investment of love and friendship Elder Monson made in our father's life.

President Thomas S. Monson is now the Lord's chosen prophet and leads the Church of Jesus Christ here on earth. In a General Church Conference in October, he encouraged us to "see others as they may become."

He said:
". . . there are countless individuals who have little or no testimony right now, those who could and would receive such a testimony if we would be willing to help make the effort to share ours and to help them change. In some instances we can provide the incentive for change. I mention first those who are members but who are not at present fully committed to the gospel."
President Monson appreciated my father for who he was, but he also recognized and encouraged him to reach his divine potential. He saw my father for what he could become. His love, which was a reflection of the love of the Savior, truly cast out darkness and helped my father seek for the light of the gospel.

Dad went on to have a wonderful marriage and was faithful in his participation in the gospel of Christ. Those rough edges were knocked off one by one to reveal the true diamond within. While I am sad at his passing, I know that he is now rejoicing in his reunion with my mother, his parents, his brother, and many others who recognized him for who he truly was.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Don't tell me what to do.

Who is allowed to tell me what to do?  Should anyone be able to tell me what to do? Put it another way.  Who do You recognize as authoritative in terms of your life, your decisions, your behavior?Who will you listen to?

Friends are people we trust. They will sometimes tell us the naked truth but more often share their opinions in the form of suggestions. Rarely do friends tell us what to do.  Parents tell children what to do. But if you are reading this you are likely not a child.

Between adults, the context of being instructed makes all the difference. If you sign up for a continuing education class at your local community college, you are not only willing, but desiring to be instructed. The instructor will tell you how to shake your hips in a cha-cha or how to hold your hands on the pottery wheel. And you accept this person telling you what to do because you see them as expert or having authority.  You allow your boss to tell you what to do at work. Or maybe you do the telling. But even that builds resentment over time.

But there are many more contexts in which we are unwilling to de directed.  In many cases our unwillingness is justified and essential. Should we allow the government to tell us what to do? I'll give that a qualified "maybe". My observation is that in general, most people simply do not like being told what to do.

So I come back around to the initial question. Who will you let tell you what yo do?

There are people on earth that you should let tell you what to do. Aside from your doctor. Those people are prophets. Living prophets. Men who actually speak to God. And the great thing is they tell us what God said. So it's not so much a prophet telling you what to do but God. I find that people in general are resistant to even letting God tell them what he wants them to do.  They are more likely to follow a doctors instructions than God's.

What is the quality that makes one willing to be guided by god? It's humility. And it sounds simple, but it's not easy to be completely humble or without pride. "Be thou humble; and the Lord thy God shall lead thee by the hand, and give thee answer to thy prayers." (D&C 112:10)

An example:
A man I know as god's living prophet today has repeatedly warned about letting media filled with sex & violence into your home. But I have friends who let it happen anyway, under the pretext of "not wanting to shelter their kids".  They are choosing not to allow God to direct them. Kids will be exposed to the evils of the world in sufficient quantity without opening a channel into your own home. Send them to school and work and sports, etc.  and they will see unavoidably see what the world offers.

The point of our homes as refuges from the world is to give our kids a place where they can see and feel the difference between the world and the gospel & plan of salvation offered by Jesus Christ. And that can happen when you are willing to let God tell you what to do.

Another example:
I am professionally ready for promotion to the next level of my profession. I know this because I am starting to anticipate what needs to be done before  my immediate supervisor. That doesn't make him deficient. It only proves that I'm ready for more. I have been for some time. My problem is that there are no opportunities available or presenting themselves. I grow frustrated. I am finding it hard to trust in The Lord and his will and schedule. Am I willing to let Him tell me to stay in my current employment?

God's gift to all men of agency ensures that we may go our own way. But when we choose to yield our pride and follow the counsel, guidance and instructions of The Lord given through his prophets, I know we are blessed. And when we individually seek for guidance directly from God thru our own prayers, we will be happier. God's guidance is often not what we want, since I'm sure he sees things differently than we do. Do we have the humility to accept his guidance?

By: Mark Robins

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Heavenly Father Loves and Uses Music

A year ago, I was having a tough time reading my scriptures and saying my prayers. On top of that, I had just barely gotten my braces on and was dealing with a few minor health issues. I would have days where I would constantly just feel sorry for myself because things didn't seem to go my way.

One night, I was especially grumpy. The next day was fast Sunday, so I was trying to not eat anything until I broke my fast after church. However, I was very hungry, and my new braces only added to the fact that it was hard for me to eat anything with a sore mouth anyway. I was hungry, I was sleepy, and I felt distant from God.

When I went up to my room, I very quickly felt more stressed because the room was so messy. But instantly, the words of a song came to my mind: "It's your time, it's your destiny to shine." The words kept repeating in my head, so I pulled out the CD and started listening to it. The CD was the LDS youth CD from the year before, so I knew the songs and thought of the words as the music played.

Pretty soon I had listened through all the songs and was on to the performance tracks at the end of the disc. For the first time in a while, I actually wanted to read my scriptures. So I pulled them out and began to read them. As I read, I noticed that if the performance tracks had been playing the words from the song, the words would have went right along with what I was reading. As the track changed, I was surprised to hear the same song play again. I later learned that that was the order the CD had been burned, but at the time I had no idea. I know that it played in that order for a reason.

I finished reading my scriptures for the night and began to say my prayers. This time when the track changed, it played a song that went right along with what I wanted to express to my Heavenly Father that night. The Spirit was so strong, I wanted to start crying.

I have learned that God often comforts me through music. Music connects to me, so God reaches out to me through it. It is different for everyone. God will reach out to us in the way that we will respond best. Just because it's different from the way He reaches out to someone else doesn't mean we shouldn't listen. I learned that night that God has an infinite love for each one of His children. He knows each of us better than even we know ourselves.

I was reminded that Heavenly Father is there, and He is mindful of me. He is mindful of all of us. Even when things don't go the way we want them to, He still loves and will help us. I know that in the strength of the Lord, all things are made possible. Nothing is too small to be overlooked by Him. He knows who I am. I am not just another person in His eyes, but I am a unique daughter of infinite worth. We are all unique sons and daughters of God! I know trials are here to strengthen us. He will never make anything harder than we can handle. I love God so very much. In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

By: Beth Ericson

New Year Resolutions

Each New Year, many of us tend to reflect on the previous year and make resolutions for improvement in the coming year. This can be a beneficial exercise if what we resolve to do in the New Year is something worthwhile. With this in mind, I wish to make a few comments on the subject.

My comments today are primarily for me, but perhaps there may be some who might profit from what I have to say. I would like to approach my comments by telling you of two experiences I have had in my life, which have helped me to understand the points I wish to make.

            The first experience occurred as a young teenager. I wanted to be able to play a musical instrument. My mother tried to interest me in learning to play the organ, but after 6 months, I just wasn’t interested. Besides, as I took lessons I soon realized that learning to read music was too difficult for me. Somehow, I thought that I could learn to play an instrument without learning to read music. Being a little lazy and stubborn, I thought that I could somehow circumvent that process and take an easier path using my ability to memorize.

            As I entered junior high, I opted to take beginning trumpet. I thought that this would be a cool instrument to play. For some odd reason, I was mistakenly placed in a beginning violin class. When I protested, I was told they couldn’t change me at that time. I would have to take beginning violin for 7th grade, but they assured me that in 8th grade I could switch to trumpet.

            All during my time learning to play the violin, I became very good at faking it. The teacher did not know I was not learning to read music, as I was able to memorize the bowing and fingering for the simple songs we were learning. As long as I knew the tune in my head I could figure out how to play it by experimentation and memory.

            After 7th grade, I finally got into beginning trumpet class in the school band. My band teacher assumed that having had a year of violin that I already knew how to read music. I followed the same pattern in this class as I did in violin, but it was much easier to fake it with the trumpet. It only had three keys to push. Having been a bugler in boy scouts, I already knew how to buzz my lips to get the higher or lower notes, but had to learn to use the three keys as well.

            As I learned the simple songs we were learning, I would write in pencil on the sheet music 1,2, or 3, or any combination of those numbers above the music to tell me which keys to depress to get the proper notes. Again, I was taking an easier path to learn the trumpet, a path I thought would take me to where I wanted to go, without following the tried and true path, which included learning to read music.

            I was very adept at fooling the teacher into thinking I was learning the way a student should learn, but my method came back to bite me later.

In 9th grade, our school was to have an open house in which all of the parents were invited to see some of what their students were learning. Part of the program included performances by the language classes. Each language class, Spanish, French and German, were to have the students sing three songs in the language.

            I didn’t like to sing, so I followed the lead of two other students who got permission to accompany the class by playing their instruments instead. The teacher would play the piano, Dave would play the Saxophone, John would play the accordion and I would play the trumpet. It was the only way to get credit for class without actually singing.

            There was only one problem; Dave and John did not want me to practice with them. To this day I don’t know what the source of animosity between us was, but pride and stubbornness didn’t allow me to give up. I thought, I’ll show them, I’ll learn the songs on my own and when it came time to perform, I would walk onto the stage with my trumpet and there is nothing they could do to stop me. My teacher was unaware of the problem.

            As we got up on the outdoor stage in front of all of the people assembled, we began the first song. Suddenly, it was very apparent that something was not right. I sounded very flat and off from what the others were playing. I knew this by all of the pained expressions from the faces of those in the audience, especially my father’s grimace.

You see, the others knew how to read music and were able to play the music as it was written. Because I couldn’t read music and had not practiced with them, I learned the music perfectly, only in the wrong key. I had worked out the tunes on my own and had little 3x5 cards attached to my trumpet with the 1’s 2’s and 3’s written down in order to play the music. After the first song, I thought the next one would be better, it wasn’t, it was even worse. The discordant sounds from my trumpet were embarrassing and after a few bars, I pulled my little Bavarian hat down over my head to hide my face and backed off of the stage into the darkness behind the brick wall, where my trumpet case was.

I was never so embarrassed in all my life. I did not ever want to come back to school the next day. I had to find some way to save face for my blunder and came up with what I thought was a most ingenious excuse for my poor performance. I would blame the French class that preceded us on stage. I removed some of the valve springs from my trumpet, which assisted the keys up after depressing them, and put the trumpet back into the case.

As we assembled, after the performance, in our German class to receive credit I saw the pained expression of the teacher’s face, as if to say “why did you do this to me.” Others in the class were murmuring about by performance also.

With great bravado, I told everyone that I was a victim of some unknown French student, who sabotaged my trumpet, then added credence to my claim by unscrewing the valves to reveal that few of the valve springs were missing. I was pretty proud of myself, as the teacher, the other students and my father all seemed to buy my story. None of them knew I couldn’t read music. I was able to minimize the embarrassment of that event, but learned a valuable lesson.

I departed the path, which leads to being able to be proficient in music and pursued a path of my own making, one I thought would be easier and yet, would still get me to my goal.

The strange thing is, I probably put forth more time and effort into learning those songs my way, the wrong way, than did Dave or John, but my investment was based on a faulty premise. It doesn’t matter how much time and effort you put into something, if you follow the wrong path, you will not arrive at the destination you wish for.

The next experience is from my time at BYU. I worked at BYU for 34 years and during the first 29 of those years I spent my lunch hours and time prior to the start of the workday, killing time by doing crossword puzzles or playing solitaire on the computer. Now, there is nothing wrong with this, if done in moderation, but killing time is another way of killing opportunity, opportunity for what that time could be used for.

About nine years ago, shortly after moving to Cedar Hills, I sat in the High Priest Group meeting and listened to a lesson on writing our personal and family histories. As I sat there, I felt the Spirit touch me and say, “Ron, you really need to do this.”

Immediately after that meeting, I went home and dug out an old shoebox full of cassette tapes, which I recorded shortly after my mission. I had recorded my mission experiences as well as my earliest recollections onto tapes, with the intent of using them in the future. As I sat there listening to myself talk about people and events I had no recollection of, I realized that we don’t always remember all of the events or people that were important to us at the time.

I began to write down notes and put my remembrances in chronological order. Over the next three years, I spent my lunch hours and time prior to the start of the workday in my office at BYU writing, editing and re-writing my personal history from birth to retirement. I had my history professionally bound into a hardbound book of more than 500 pages and made a copy for each of my children and one for myself.

Instead of killing time, doing crossword puzzles or playing computer solitaire, I used the same time and effort to produce something lasting and hopefully, of great worth to my children and posterity.

I have nothing to show for the 29 years of lost opportunity to use my time for something more valuable than computer games, but I have this personal history to show for the last few years. This will tell my children and posterity about me, the funny times, embarrassing times (including the embarrassing trumpet story), and most importantly, the spiritual times. It will reveal how I came to know the Gospel of Jesus Christ, how I gained my testimony and many other important events in which God had a hand in my life. This is much more important than my prowess at solitaire.

In 2Ne 9:51 we are told “Wherefore, do not spend money for that which is of no worth, nor your labor for that which cannot satisfy. Hearken diligently unto me, and remember the words which I have spoken; and come unto the Holy One of Israel, and feast upon that which perisheth not, neither can be corrupted, and let your soul delight in fatness.” This fatness doesn’t add to our girth, but it does add to the size of our souls.

A few months ago, I sat up on the stand and looked out on the congregation waiting for Sacrament meeting to begin. As I did so, I felt a prompting that came in the form of a question, “Why do we spend so much time and effort in pursuing things of little or no worth and yet, do not spend the same time and effort in pursuing things of lasting and greater worth?” This question caused me to ponder for quite a while and was the impetus for this commentary. As I look over my life, I find that I have wasted far too much time and effort pursuing the things of lesser worth.

I have learned two valuable lessons from the two experiences I just related to you. First, It doesn’t matter how much time and effort you invest, if you are not on the right path, you won’t reach your goal, in this case, learning to be proficient in playing the trumpet.

Second, I also learned that killing time is killing opportunity. I have nothing to show for those 29 years of lunch hours spent playing solitaire, but I have much to show for the three years I didn’t.

We differ in many ways and circumstances, but we all have one thing in common, we all have the same 24 hours a day. It is my hope that we spend the time we have to become like those in Book of Mosiah, desiring to do good continually, and to follow Nephi’s admonition to spend our labor for that which is of greater worth and finally, to following Jacob’s counsel, “to be learned is good if we hearken unto the counsels of God.” We will have much more to show for our lives pursuing such a course than pursuing things of lesser worth.

By: Ron Forstner