Does Truth Matter?

“What you are saying may be true, but it doesn’t matter.”

I would occasionally share spiritual insights with a good friend of mine in Japan from another development team, hoping it would arouse curiosity in him about this important component of his life that seemed missing, but he would downplay these spiritual things, saying that what I told him may be true, but it really didn’t matter. I responded, “Please understand your position. To me, I assume that you simply don’t believe what I share, and that is up to you because your beliefs are a very personal matter, but if it is true, it matters very much.” He persisted, again saying, “Oh, it may be true, but it doesn’t matter.”

I called him by name, saying, “You are an engineer. How can you say truth doesn’t matter? You design industrial lasers that operate on true principles and if you don’t follow true principles, your laser won’t function. Spiritual knowledge is the same. We receive spiritual blessings only if we care enough to understand and live true spiritual principles. If the principles are true then they matter!”

When Truth Matters Less

Let me concede that my friend’s response actually touches on a powerful principle. Truth doesn’t matter much if it is treated with mere curiosity or simply ignored. If the word “matter” is taken to mean “make a difference”, then the answer to the question, “Does truth matter?” becomes very personal. Does it matter… to me? Do I care? If the Lord did speak to me, would I listen?

Finding Truth

“Every person born on this earth is blessed with the Light of Christ, which helps us to know the difference between right and wrong. Light, truth, intelligence, and Spirit are synonymous…

Pilate asked the Savior, “What is truth?” This question had been the result of Jesus Christ having answered Pilate’s question, “Art thou a King?” to which the Savior replied, “Thou sayest that I am a king. To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice.” John 18:37-38″

Bountiful Temple Presidency

And so, the crux of the matter is whether or not we will hear our Savior’s voice. Crowds of angry people are not likely to be filled with light and truth. They weren’t in the day my Savior walked the earth. And if we are preoccupied with polishing our own crowns and not watching over others, we will likewise find it hard to look to a man wearing a crown of thorns. Yet, that is who we must look to. I love Him.

In a week from today, we will have a chance to listen to men and women set apart with sacred callings to guide the Lord’s church in these the latter days. They will have prayed with all their might, mind and strength to speak the Lord’s word and to soften our hearts. I speak of the General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. If we will listen, I believe we will hear His voice through them.

Come and see! For if what they say is true, it matters. I hope it will matter to each of us.

Truth matters!

Healing Questions

Until we learn to ask questions that lead us to answers that matter, we will continue to be led by divisive voices, even though we are fundamentally seeking the same thing: a society of inclusion and just opportunity for all.

The world would tell us what to think.

God would teach us how to think.

Questions are the Key

Do we Really Want to Heal Our Nation?

Without the right guiding questions, we will not develop new understanding and will largely be left only with the capacity to be told what to think and feel. This is dangerous because we live in a time, remarkable for producing immediate information, but it can be overwhelming, have poor ‘nutritional’ value, or worse, be downright toxic.

The problem is that we have become deficient in asking the right questions that would make us less of a metaphorical tourist, content to stare out of a bus window while listening to a memorized script to more of an explorer who pursues intimately the sights, smells and sounds of often missed yet incredible features and foliage of this beautiful earth.

Questions are active, not passive, and they take effort and engaged thought.

Questions: To Overcome Race and Racism

The current riots are a case in point. Frenzied Twitter feeds push information at a fast and furious pace, some heart rending, some consoling, and many steeped with accusatory or belittling content. We need to step back and ask, “When I am done trying to make sense of this, where do I want my heart to be?” And, “How can this be a catalyst in me to love more fully so I can encourage a better version of my country?”

The questions set the stage for what we will learn from this, and provide an anchor for discussion that will help us weed out the vitriol that is fostering so much division and that is enabling such widespread manipulation of our populace.

I grew up in small town, USA. I used to think how wonderful it was that race was simply not an issue, and I felt our country was really trying to break down the ugly racial stereotypes. However, in high school, one of the really nice girls in our school related that a black family had moved in on their street. They had gone to befriend and welcome them, but soon learned that several neighbors had already given them the cold shoulder and encouraged them to move out. I thought, “How can this be, among people who profess to love God?” It gave me my first glimpse of a subtle and hidden racism near at home. I then pondered the important question: “Is it I?” Could I subtly be harboring similar feelings?  This question has been a guiding one for me when I interact with people from many different races and backgrounds. It has helped me get off the ‘tour bus’ and really get to know some amazing people.

One of these men was my black friend Facil, from Ethiopia. He was able to escape his country, where his father had been imprisoned for his political leanings. He made his way to Germany. A program there enabled him to study engineering, but at the mention of Germany, he would bristle with anger, saying, “If we ever go to war with Germany again, I’m in!” He related how fascist elements threatened and severely oppressed them and how one night, they had burned his friend’s home down. He left Germany to come to America, with only a little more than enough money for the air fare. While on the flight, he related his plight to a white woman and her family and said, “I’ll likely need to find a homeless shelter for the night.” She told him to call them if he was having difficulty. Nothing worked out for him that night, and so he called her and said, “Can you get me the number for a homeless shelter?” She responded, “You are not going to spend the night in the homeless shelter!” This Latter-Day Saint family took him in until he got on his feet. He finished his education and later, I got the privilege of working with this great engineer designing integrated circuits.

Hate begets hate. Love begets love.

The Power of Questions:

I had a brilliant marketing mentor from India. He had incredible insight and rapport with others. Before each customer visit, he would ask me a simple question: “In an hour from now, when we are done talking with this customer, how will we be smarter?”  It was the right question. The question helped me focus on things that mattered most to learn what I didn’t yet understand. It led us to gain some very valuable insight that we would not have gotten otherwise.

This same man would often tell me that his fond hope was to teach at a university someday. He said,

I want to teach a class about how to ask the right questions. Students are constantly conditioned to parrot back responses, but few of them have the critical thinking skills to ask the right questions. People need to learn to ask the questions that will get them to answers that matter.

The Right Kinds of Questions:

Asking questions can show our vulnerabilities, and potentially embarrass us. These wonderful questions humble us and make us teachable. But questioning can also be used to embarrass or hurt others or to flaunt our prideful ambitions and vain knowledge when we pretend we have all the answers. ‘Why me?’ questions can fuel our self-pity and rebellious questions can drive the Spirit from us. The sincere questions we ask are extremely important. It is okay to have doubts and questions so we can find truth. If we stop questioning, we stop growing because we are really saying, “I don’t need more answers! I have enough!” The Lord ordained weakness so that we will learn to be humble and searching by asking “What lack I yet?” The wrong kinds of questions drive us away from God, but the right kind of questions invite us to be close to Him.

In high school, we had a university institute instructor come and speak to our church seminary group. We were encouraged to ask any question and have him answer it for us. I thought of one I was curious about, but knew he would struggle with. “If Satan can’t enter our minds or read our thoughts, then how does he tempt us?”  That was me, being rather smug. I hope I am not so much now. Well, the instructor kind of danced around the question rather than really answering it, but even as he did, I felt it was a wicked question, partly because of why I had asked it, but also because I knew the most important component of the answer. As I wrote the question, I felt that the Spirit was whispering to me, “You know that the temptations you feel are real. Just because you don’t understand the mechanism by which they come, it doesn’t make them less real.” Yes, a more honest question would have been, “How do I prepare for and deal with these temptations, so that I can really overcome and be clean?”  Oh, the Lord would have been much more pleased if that had been my sincere question.

Questions as Invitations:

Yes, too often we are so intent on saying something, that we don’t invite people along by asking them sincere, guiding questions. As a missionary, if I asked one, “What about what we discussed touches your soul, or is there something that you find difficult to understand or believe?” That was an invitation to be honest and share what was in their hearts. I didn’t do that near enough.

When we invite other individuals or groups to share their ideas by asking questions like, “How can we heal our nations wounds?” We are really saying, “I value your opinion and trust you to share with me who you are and how you feel.” Additionally, we are saying, “I care about you. You are important to me.”

These invitations are nowhere more important than when we kneel in prayer and invite our Heavenly Father with the same questions. What we are really saying is, “Heavenly Father, we love thee, and each of thy children. We cannot do this work alone. Please soften my heart and teach my spirit.”

These invitations seek wisdom and knowledge, but more importantly and fundamentally, they invite us to be friends.

The Ultimate Purpose of Questions:

I submit to you that we will not be able to come to Christ unless we ask the questions that will lead us to Him. It will be by asking questions that show our sincere intent and willingness to submit to His will that will lead him to respond. “I will call you friends, for you are my friends, and ye shall have an inheritance with me.” (D&C 93:45) Our questions will lead us to serve His children and obtain charity, the pure love of Christ.

My Testimony of Jesus Christ

Moroni casting down his trumpet, is deeply symbolic to me. This became the brunt of many jokes, and of some outright mockery, but in this year of plagues and temple closure, please consider what his trumpet was calling us to do. I wrote about Moroni’s trumpet in my article, “Repentance is Joy“.

My sister: “he is checking his watch…” Hmmm… Perhaps…

I can best tell you what this means to me, and to all of us by sharing historic parallels through my testimony of Jesus Christ.

From the time Pilate is given to pass judgement of the one perfect man to the cross, Christ makes no defense. Corrupted priests and evil men incite the people to release a murderer and deliver our Savior to death, thereby condemning millions of their descendants to wander in unbelief and perish, as they tempt God, saying, “His blood be upon us…” Here truly is the Lamb, dumb before the slaughter, only raising his voice in final blessing before he pays his perfect sacrifice.

Indeed, it is the Father who answered this people, as it will be for us. He answered them with darkness, but they wouldn’t listen. He answered them with an earthquake and rending of the temple veil. At this point, they should have known, and yet these deceivers called him a deceiver and continued trying to assert their power over Earth and Heaven by setting a watch over the grave to prevent him from rising.

Our Savior gave it to us to call his sheep and raise our voice as the sound of a trumpet. We should not lightly pass over the fact that the temples are now temporarily closed, that the earth is quaking, that Moroni has cast down his trumpet and that the missionaries, awaiting opportunity to serve, are largely quiet, with relatively few souls seeking the Lord being able to find Him.

However, just as the disciples were multiplied in Jerusalem after the resurrection of Christ, so our world will be blessed by this temporary silence while we await the beautiful restoration of the blessings of our God. As this plague subsides and the others that we know are coming are invoked from Heaven, wicked men will continue to try to assert their power, but the temples will reopen. The work will continue with millions joining the church of God, and the angels will go forth with our missionaries and the kingdom will roll forward with them and with us.

Christ’s glorious resurrection was impossible to stop by unhallowed hands, and as he stepped from His tomb and called Mary, so he will call, and is calling, each of us by name. No matter how lost we may feel, with a perfect love, he will tell us:

The works of God continue,
And worlds and lives abound;
Improvement and progression
Have one eternal round.
There is no end to virtue;
There is no end to might;
There is no end to wisdom;
There is no end to light.
There is no end to union;
There is no end to youth;
There is no end to priesthood;
There is no end to truth.
There is no end to glory;
There is no end to love;
There is no end to being;
There is no death above.

Abbreviated Lyrics to “If You Could Hie to Kolob”

I cannot begin to put into words, my love for Him. Thanks be to our Father for the matchless gift of His Only Begotten Son! I pray we will hear Him, and Follow Him,

For after your testimony cometh the testimony of earthquakes, that shall cause groanings in the midst of her… And also cometh the testimony of the voice of thunderings, and the voice of lightnings, and the voice of tempests, and the voice of the waves of the sea heaving themselves beyond their bounds.

And angels shall fly through the midst of heaven, crying with a loud voice, sounding the trump of God, saying: Prepare ye, prepare ye, O inhabitants of the earth; for the judgment of our God is come. Behold, and lo, the Bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet him.

D&C 88

We will know him on that day, and he will stretch forth his hand and say,

Behold, I am Jesus Christ, whom the prophets testified shall come into the world.

3 Nephi 11:10

We must prepare quickly. It is our privilege to be ready in that day!

Saving His Children

My daughter had recently conceived our new grandchild, a conception that doctors considered miraculous. But then I got a concerning call. She had become quite ill and I was asked to help administer a priesthood blessing to her.

In the blessing, I remember being impressed to say, “This is going to be a difficult pregnancy, but this little child really wants to be born into your home.” Seeing her duress, I immediately began fasting with a prayer on her behalf. However, before returning home, I was impressed that I needed to fill an assignment to find a Christmas musical number, and I was further impressed to go to the home of a talented sister in our ward, whose husband had been my former bishop.

When I arrived there, the door was ajar some 3” and from the inside, I could hear young voices singing a Christmas song. I thought, “This must be some of her students. I better come back at a different time.” I began walking away, but was instructed to go back.  When I reached the door again, it was closed, but there was a “Come In!” sign on the door and the Spirit constrained me, so I did what I don’t believe I have ever done. Without being invited, I simply opened the door and went to where the singing was. I sat quietly in the back and found a group of our 11-year old primary girls, who were about to graduate into young women’s.

The sister, whose home it was, was accompanying them with her back to me. So, I sat down and quietly harmonized with them on “The Little Drummer Boy”. When they finished, the sister turned and I thanked them for their beautiful music. I told them why I was there and invited them to sing at our ward Christmas social. They were very excited to do so, but then added, “But we really want to sing our favorite song, ‘Peace in Christ’!” They commenced singing it for me then and there, and the words warmed my soul. These girls love Him. With the arrival of my former bishop, it felt like a large family.

We would need that song even more the next day.

The following morning, I was in the temple, and the Spirit said, “You are fasting for your daughter. You should pray for her also.” And so, I joined in a sacred prayer for the sick and afflicted on behalf of many, but in particular, I prayed for my daughter and her child. As we prayed, I felt a deep comfort. I didn’t know it, but at that same time, my son-in-law found my daughter in such pain that he couldn’t move her. He had called an ambulance and she was being rushed to the hospital.

As I made to leave the temple, the Spirit told me to go back. I knew I was to talk to the music sister, but I didn’t know where she was, and if not for the prompting, if she was even there. I turned and started down the stairs to the basement level, just as she started up the same staircase. I thanked her and briefly mentioned the music. I left, still a bit puzzled, but somehow, it was comforting to know she was serving the Lord in His house.

Neither of us knew that at that time my former bishop’s life was in peril. He was suffering a heart attack, and would soon be in full arrest, in the hands of medical professionals who would take him to the hospital

This sister and I were both serving the Lord, and that meant that what we couldn’t possibly know or do anything about was really in His hand.  The miracles that preserved my bishop’s life that morning were wonderful blessings from our Father in Heaven. At the same time, my daughter underwent surgery for an emergency appendectomy.  The doctor cautioned her going in that she would almost certainly lose this baby.

That night when we got to the hospital to see my daughter, we found my bishop’s wife and her brother in the lobby. As we conversed, both of our families were filled with gratitude for the Lord preserving our loved ones.

My daughter’s baby survived. Her surgeon told her, “I perform 25 appendectomies a month, and yours was one of the hardest I have ever done. In all that time, I have never performed an operation on a mother with a burst appendix where the baby was able to survive.  Your appendix was well above the uterus, under the ribcage which only occurs in 2% of people. I believe this helped keep the infection from hurting the child.”  I believe this was the blessing of the Lord.

We are hopeful this child will be born safely. Each of our grandchildren is a gift from God and a product of the faith of our daughters to bring children to this beautiful, trying world.

I was not going to publish this story at all, but today, Easter Sunday, our current bishop sent out a recording of the very girls who sang this song for me. I give it to you. Unbeknownst to me, a brother in our ward with a recording studio, had recorded them after hearing them sing.

Peace in Christ

My brothers and sisters, each trial ends differently and we will have sorrow, but know this: when you are on the Lord’s errand, He will always guide you. When you pray to Him in faith, you are His hands and His eyes and His feet to minister to others.

There is peace in Christ

When we learn of him

Feel the love He felt for us

When he bore our sins

Listen to his words

Let them come alive

If we know Him as he is

There is peace in Christ

He gives us hope

When hope is gone

He gives us strength

When we can’t go on

He gives us shelter

In the storms of life

When there’s no peace on earth

There is peace in Christ

May His peace be with and abide with each of you and your families this Easter Season and Always!

Marcellus Harper

Is the Temple Truly Closed?

Of all the socially impactive troubles we’ve seen, the closing of the temple has been the saddest to me.

Yes, some of my dearest friends frequent those halls, but there is something far deeper. The temple is where Heaven and Earth meet in a sweet and sanctifying way… Let me tell share with you my last days before the temple closure.

I was anxious to do the work for several of my kindred dead. But leading up to the temple closing, a woman named Harriet, in particular was pressing on my mind. She was a wonderful deceased matriarch of a large posterity, and she wanted her temple work completed. The impression was so strong, I promised her I would have her work completed before the temple closed due to the Corona pandemic, but despite searching and praying for two days for help, I could find no one who would do this sister’s work. It was Friday, and the temple would close its doors the next day.

I had taken time from work to be in the temple that afternoon, and felt I would fail in my promise. I was in a small group there when a special invitation was given to join a sacred prayer. I motioned for another brother to help, but he instead encouraged me, so I stood, and as I did, I caught a sister’s eye and nodded to her to join me. This surprised me, as I thought, “I’ve never invited a sister I don’t know to join me in these prayers…”

Afterwards, I stood alone pondering the Lord’s hand in my life in a very special room of the temple that was full of light. As I did so, this sister came by. She hesitated and then asked, “Do I know you from Sounds of Zion?” (a song/dance group at Utah State University). As I considered her question, I realized she looked familiar. She told me her maiden name and then I just knew, I named a dear sister living in our church ward, and said, “You are her sister, aren’t you!” She was a bit surprised, but said she was and then added, “So we didn’t know each other at USU…” I corrected her, “Oh, yes we did. We were in Sounds of Zion together…” over 30 years ago. I told her how special her entire family is to us and then I told her of Harriet.

Hearing my plight, she agreed to help and come back to do Harriet’s temple ordinance work even though she hadn’t intended to return to the temple. I gave her Harriet’s name and left the temple full of thanks.

The next day, the last day before closure, I spent many hours in the temple. I completed all the work I could and then the Lord gave me the responsibility to lead one of the sacred prayers there. The Spirit filled my heart with gratitude and gave me words for this simple prayer. I thanked the Lord for living in a time when the signs of the coming of our Lord, Jesus Christ were being fulfilled more fully. I told Him we are grateful for the difficult experiences that build our faith, and prayed that when things don’t make sense, that we would have guidance and comfort and knowledge of how to continue on. I asked a special blessing on each person who had faith to come that day, and I ask the same blessing to be on each who reads this, that they may find comfort.

That night, after my temple shift, I checked the ordinance work, and I saw that the work that I asked to be completed for Harriet was done. My heart filled with joy!

Brothers and sisters, the temples are not truly closed until our hearts are closed and hardened. The Lord will dwell in our mortal tabernacles and encourage us and love us. Let us prepare for the day quickly coming when we can again walk the halls of the Lord’s House, but for now let our walk continue to be in holy places, even with our Savior, Jesus Christ, in our own homes and serving our neighbors when we can. And then, when the temples reopen, I pray we will do as Brigham Young instructed the members at the St. George temple dedication. He told them to fill those halls to capacity! This is one way we will turn the hearts of the children to the fathers, and the hearts of the fathers to the children. This is a work of love!

My Mission Release

Recently I was released after 5-years of service as an addiction recovery missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. My 4th of July was very different than any prior. I spent it conducting an addiction recovery meeting with 6 good brothers who realized that addictions don’t sleep or take holidays. I didn’t know it would be my final night to administer to my dear brothers.

That night, at a brother’s request, I administered priesthood blessings to two of these men. The Spirit moved me powerfully as I pronounced this last blessing. It was that this man was needed as a great patriarch and priesthood holder in his home and that the Lord would bless him with power to become so and to overcome as he gave his full measure.

After the blessing, this great, troubled man remained seated, without speaking for nearly a minute. He finally rose, and through tears, he said, “I’m not going to be a 90% man any more. I’m all in. I’m going to do this”. I believe and hope he will.

As we start a new year, please reflect with me on what truly overcoming all things means. In a way, I resent that our program name is “Addiction Recovery”. It is in actuality the “Eternal Life Recovery Program” and is fundamentally the gospel in 12-steps. Every person who wants to be more like our Savior and enjoy His presence, needs the principles this program teaches.

A dear sister in our ward asked me what it was like serving these men. I told her, “Sometimes the men come, saying they had a great week, and I joy with them. Sometimes they come heartbroken, saying that it’s been rough, and I sorrow and sometimes cry with them, but either way, I can’t imagine loving them less. I simply always love them.”

Learning to Love

I primarily served men 18-30 struggling with pornography, but I had several special opportunities to address other addictions.

I learned to love from my Savior, because I’ve been broken myself… There is no purer love than from Him. In cleansing my heart, he prepared a way for me to bring others to him.  It is not a light thing to go into a room full of men who want to repent and teach principles to weaken addiction’s grip. I would prepare thoughts ahead of time for the night’s focus on one of the 12-steps in the ARP program, but as I would listen to these great men with their powerful insights and troubling concerns, I found I clung more to their words than my own.

Repeatedly, the distinct impression came that these men needed love and encouragement much more than reiteration of a principle or sharing of a clever quote. My messages became focused more on what I felt the Savior would say if He could hold them in His gaze and penetrate their troubled hearts.

The result is that I have a 5-year recovery journal of nearly 100,000 words. Much of it consists of thoughts I prepared for meetings, but never said. The Spirit, very often, would change the thoughts I had prepared to meet the needs of the brothers there. This journal reminds me that this is His work, not mine, and it is replete with the miracles and tender mercies of the Lord.

Completely Clean

I once heard it asked in Sunday school, “Can someone who has had a serious addiction ever be fully trusted? Can they really, completely get over the addiction?” The response I witnessed from the second-guessing members wasn’t encouraging. To me the real answer to the recovery concern is an unequivocal, “Yes, we can completely overcome!”  Our Savior is mighty to save and he can give us a new heart when we turn to Him.

Many times, I have heard the struggling men themselves say, “I will always battle this addiction!” This declaration presupposes that addiction recovery will always be incomplete, but the reality is at a certain point, we can simply let the battle fizzle into insignificance as our hearts fully turn to service and care of our fellowmen.

I understand people being worried that an ‘addict’ is not truly overcoming. Relapses are fairly universal during recovery for even the most-sincere efforts. What I call ‘addict brain’ is very deceptive, particularly to the person affected. Without enabling addiction, or failing to protect and safeguard family and church from compromising situations, find a way to be forgiving and encouraging to one struggling with addiction.  In time, for one who truly repents, the results will begin to speak for themselves.

What God hath cleansed, let no man call common or unclean.
Acts 10:14-15

Boyd K. Packer said:

“The thought is this: the Atonement leaves no tracks, no traces. What it fixes is fixed.… It just heals, and what it heals stays healed.”

Forgive men and women their trespasses and their weaknesses. Help them overcome!

The Temple’s Role

The temple requires sacred preparation, and many of our men have not been to the temple for years because they aren’t ready to be in the presence of our Father in Heaven. For while our church meetings are first aid stations of life, the temple is where we go to be reunited with our Father, which is what Melchizedek Priesthood ordinances are for.

Gordon B. Hinckley taught, “Temple service is the end product of all of our teaching and activity.” (Oct 2005 conference)

One brother had spent a lengthy period preparing to return to the temple. When he did, we met there as our paths converged briefly. His eyes spoke a clear message to me: “I am clean!” He smiled happily and exclaimed, “It’s my third time this week!”

Sacred Beginnings

How many times has the Lord brought my men to me in the temple?  Many times! And oftentimes my men and I have embraced there with tears in our eyes I love this holy place where Heaven and Earth meet. It is filled with light, forgiveness and joy.

All it Takes, is Everything…

A dear brother used to say, “A 99% commitment is a bear, but a 100% commitment is a breeze.” I agree.

Many men still subtly consider what they really have to give up and what they can get away with keeping. My men know what I would tell them about overcoming: “All it takes is: EVERYTHING!”

Perhaps my own most pitiful mind-state was when I remember thinking, “I wonder how good, is good enough. Surely, I can give up this much and be pretty good, and I can always give it up later.” Oh my heart repulses now at this thinking. It is completely misaligned with the purposes and power of God, and is fundamentally dishonest.

The sole purpose of this clever, double-mind is to make us and/or others near us feel better but lacks true commitment to overcome. It causes the overcoming process to take a very long time and fosters despair, distrust and discouragement. I vowed that this could not be me. I wouldn’t make myself feel better by just telling myself I was trying. I had to be ‘all in’, and I was.

All of us need to be, ‘all in’, in ‘all things’ to be like our Father in Heaven in every way we can, so that by His grace, we can be saved.

Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision. The day of the Lord is near, in the valley of decision.

Joel 3:14

Creation: A Spiritual Exercise

On a recent flight, I had a seat next to a younger reporter who was preparing an article about the Missionary Training Center language program of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (see link below). She was kind and listened to some of my own experiences involving training there. Upon finding that I was an engineer, she said, “I find it intriguing that you are such a technical person, yet you are so centered on the religious experience. How is that?”

I responded, “I can’t excel in my design work without spiritual help. I find the work of creation fundamentally spiritual.”  She asked if I could give her some examples and I told her of two, including a capacitance sensor design I was given to do in Japan.

In Over My Head

Just after college, I was given an opportunity to work at a robotics company overseas. I worked on a series of welding robots, and welding of automotive parts was a big market for us.

Articulated Arm Welding Robots

My employer wanted to offer a self-teaching welding robot as a product. It was taking far too many hours for our robots to be taught manually how to control the angle and position of a welding torch as the robot traveled across a complex welding seam typical of those found in car bodies. The idea was brought forward that a capacitance sensor could be used to measure the gap between the welding head and the car body. If the sensor on the teaching-head was rotated in a small circle while the robot moved, the capacitance would change with the distance to the walls of the welding seam and thus the robot could see those walls and automatically control the robot accordingly.

There was one big problem. Off-the-shelf capacitance sensing boards were very expensive and we required two in order to control for both pose (angle) and position. I was instructed to reverse engineer the vendor’s sensing board and to try to make it better, but in examining it, I found it to be well researched, well implemented and extremely sensitive. I could not see a way to make it better. When my initial efforts failed, it was suggested that I copy it, but I refused to do this, and asked for more time. I was failing and my employer was running out of patience.

Fundamental Questions

A short time later, on the weekend I sat in my in-laws home, pondering and praying about what to do when I felt the gentle nudging of the Spirit, and I ‘heard’ a very basic question form in my mind. “What is capacitance?” … It’s as simple as two metal conductors with space between them. The capacitance goes up when the distance between them is smaller…  I was prompted with another question: “And why can’t you see the capacitance you need to measure?” … It’s because my circuit’s input capacitance is much larger than the capacitance I’m measuring… And then it struck me at a very fundamental level what I was dealing with and I continued pondering until a circuit came to me that would make it possible to measure with far greater accuracy.

The key to learning truth: Ask Fundamental Questions: What is a capacitor?

In the end, I combined the two expensive and sizable circuit boards into one tiny board that was only about 10mm x 60mm for both sensors. The new board’s tiny sensing nodes were so sensitive that I could begin to ‘see’ the frame we were to weld when the sensor was up to about 30cm (~1 foot) away. The other robotics engineers were able to use those signals to control the robot beautifully and we succeeded in releasing the product.

Self Teaching Robot: Sensor Implemented on Tip
For actual use, the teaching assembly is swapped with the welding torch.

I am forever grateful for those simple, probing questions that enabled me to find answers that helped me far exceed my ability and expectations.

Creation

I truly need help when I am trying to be creative. This is a spiritual exercise for me.

For I, the Lord God, created all things, of which I have spoken, spiritually, before they were naturally upon the face of the earth.

Moses 3:5

God created all things spiritually before they were realized physically on this earth. Every flower that has blossomed and every creature that has drawn breath, he created spiritually first. We are His children. We have born innately within us the desire to create as He does. Creative design, whether found in inspiring writing, complex engineering or in the shaping of a child’s heart is spiritual and makes us more like our Heavenly Father.

Note: Mission Training Center Story

As for my kind reporter friend, Kavita Pillay: Her story on the Mission Training Center will be airing on KCRW in December or early January (NEH Here and Now), and is slated for release on other large media platforms. She, together with her husband air stories on the BBC, PRI and other outlets. I will update a link to that story as it gets closer. Here is a favorite story of mine that she mentioned on the plane of her parents marrying outside of their Indian caste. Enjoy!

My Friend TR: Sharing Redemption’s Work

The beauty of recovery is that it is a shared gift that both creates and restore bonds of friendship. This is the story of how I met my dear friend, TR, who was snatched from a pretty dark place.

We met at a tryout for solo parts in “Lamb of God”, a Robert Gardner production about our Savior. At the time, I told the Lord that I didn’t need a solo, but I would be at the tryout so he could use me as he willed. I prayed that the people who did need to sing the parts would have them.  In the waiting area, I sat down next to a giant of a man who very much dwarfed my small frame.

TR and I at the Lamb of God venue on Temple Square

As he conversed with another fellow, I overheard him say, “Someday, I would like to be a counselor. I would like to help people.” I turned to him, introduced myself and said, “Can you tell me what has inspired you to want to be a counselor?” He began to tell us of his recovery from a drug addiction that had turned his life upside down. When he realized I was an addiction recovery missionary, we both felt a profound and mutual bond. The Spirit poured over me such that I felt I had just met my own brother.

Vocal Audition Journal Entry 2/26/2017

I felt a great love for my ‘competition’. One Brother had overcome a narcotic addiction and is now long-term stable. He wants to become a counselor. I lost my sense of nervousness as I told of how powerful our recovery meetings are to others nearby.  I sang with clarity and gratitude for our Savior. Oh, how I love him… The Lord led me to people I love all day long. I finally got home and knelt on the floor in prayer with tears of gratitude. I was overcome.

Neither of us became a soloist, but we practiced together in the chorus for the production and had some very spiritual times together. He told me he would come to a group meeting to help my men, and he did:

Journal Entry 3/23/2017:

TR gave a wonderful story of how he thought he would never come back to church. His life was a real mess from addictions at a fairly young age. Now 44, and with some true trials overcome, he was able to be at a church meeting with his parents. He looked them in the eye and said, “After 18 years, your prodigal son has returned.” I couldn’t help crying.

A week later, we were practicing together at St. Olaf’s church.

Journal Entry 3/30/2017:

My friend, TR was a bit somber at the practice last night. He told me he was going to a funeral. I said, “I’m sorry, may ask for whom?” He related it was for his friend who had died of an overdose. My heart broke as the story of my cousin’s sons played in my head: two dead from drug addictions. I saw deep pain in his heart as he continued, “The worst part is that I was never reconciled to him. When I decided I had to get out of drugs, I was at rock bottom, and I’m afraid I did and said things that were harsh. But if I hadn’t gotten out, it might have been me.”

When I talked to him the following week at a practice at an Episcopalian church, he appeared to be much more at peace. He told me that he had a wonderful experience reaching out to his dead friend’s family. He comforted others at the funeral who had been in the same desperate group as he had before. They could see the powerful light he now carried and asked him how he made it out.

I know how he made it out because I know the pain of addiction. Only our Savior can change hearts so completely and so fully. We sang the powerful words of our Savior’s death and resurrection. I continued seeing TR periodically as he became an ARP (addiction recovery program) facilitator and later a missionary.

The most beautiful memory I have is when TR was sealed to his wife in 2018. I am a temple ordinance worker, and it happened that the sealing was scheduled to occur on my shift. My coordinator made a special adjustment to allow me to be there.

Bountiful Temple – Where TR and his wife were sealed

Because I was wearing white, I found I blended better into the background by standing and assisting as a worker than by sitting in the midst of the company of TR’s friends, and so I was the last to be seated. I counted some 10-missionaries there in a very full room.

TR’s wife was simply radiant and deeply in love with her giant teddy bear husband. She was receiving the reward of her patient persistence for him and now there was a kind of regal beauty manifest in both their countenances as the Holy Spirit sealed them together as husband and wife for time and for all eternity. After everyone was gone, I was the last person, to step forward to wish them well and I was overcome. One needs few words at a time like this.

Every person in the temple has a story of redemption, none of which is finished, but each of which is beautiful. I plead with everyone to prepare for these blessings. Our Father in Heaven will not withhold these blessings from his faithful children.

O how my words in vain impart

What glows within my grateful heart.

No tongue could ever right declare

What tender love is written there.

Ten thousand gifts could I employ

To show my praise, my thanks, my joy!

All of my life, yea, all my days,

Still not enough to sing Thy praise.

From “Jesus My Savior”, Lamb of God by Robert Gardner

TR has offered to share his story in a subsequent post. I am looking forward to him telling his own story. He and his wife now serve as missionaries themselves.

An Inspiring Missionary Couple

Swimming in Weakness

As a young boy scout, I was small and uncoordinated. I loved the summer camps, but dreaded the swim check. Every year I would jump into that cold lake and try, and fail to pass. I didn’t swim well and being thin (and not very buoyant) the cold water would sap my strength until I couldn’t go on.

Camp Bartlett, where I struggled so much

Because I had a summer birthday, I got to attend camp three years instead of the normal two, and the third year I determined to pass the swim check. I prepared as best I could and was finally able to swim the full distance required. Having done so, I finally had permission to swim where my friends were allowed to, but I wanted to do more. I signed up for every waterfront merit badge I could: swimming, lifesaving, small boat sailing, canoeing and rowing. I spent every hour I could, every day on the waterfront. It was still hard for me, and some of the lifesaving skills we had to demonstrate were nigh impossible to me, but after multiple failures, I finally succeeded in earning all five merit badges.

At the closing campfire, my counselors surprised me by calling me up and awarding me the “Best Waterfront Effort” award. I was so happy and grateful to these young counselors who helped me finally realize success after so many deep disappointments. My prayers were full of gratitude. I knew I could do things that were hard for me.

Camp Bartlett Main Lodge

Some 30-years later, I found myself serving as an assistant scoutmaster. I enjoyed being with the boys and doing things I was simply unable to do when I was 12. One of these opportunities came when at camp, one of my boys told me, “I want to pass-off my mile swim!” By now, I could swim much better and I told him I would do it with him. What a wonderful time, as a group of perhaps 30 of us jumped into another cold lake and began to make the best of it.

I noticed that a boy from another troop was struggling, whereas my troop’s boy was doing fine, so I slowed and began to just talk to him. I gave him updates and directed and encouraged him. It was a wonderful opportunity and took my mind off of the exertion to a degree and kept him hopeful of finishing. I was proud of both boys when they finished. It didn’t matter that one I had just met. I was seeing a reflection of myself in a young man who was thinking he couldn’t make it, make it.

Oh, my friends. We can make it. We can do hard things and overcome every weakness and trial. We need companionship of loved ones and most of all we need sweet communion with our Father in Heaven through his Comforter and through prayer. None of us were meant to or can make this journey alone. What a wonderful thing to have a Father in Heaven who ultimately helps us succeed through blessings of service both to and from others! What a blessing to have our Savior walk with us as we learn to act as he did!

Redemption of a Friend

Very recently an endeared co-worker of mine passed away. Insights he shared with me when he was very sick have helped me. I give them to you.
Lunch With My Co-Worker James (by granddaughter)
 
My friend James was a very like-able fellow with a spontaneous laugh and an occasionally mischievous smile that stemmed from a benign agenda to enjoy jokes with his co-workers. He had been a very active church member when he was young but when I met him, he had seemingly abandoned this faith.
 
Our company had a severe downsizing and we could no longer afford his services, but because James loved his work and he wanted us to succeed, he continued coming for some time without pay. Eventually things worked out so we could pay him, but something was wrong.
 
James’ smile belied a deep inner conflict. When I looked at the pictures on his desk of a little family he loved, but was separated from, it broke my heart. James had been raised as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, but being a ‘people-person’ and in his desire to relate to others, he had conformed to social norms of people around him, including those that conflicted with his childhood faith. As a result, he carried several addictions that made it hard to want to come back and adversely affected his health.
 
His health began to fail. He became less coherent at work and it became dangerous for him to drive. It turned out to be from medications he was taking to help him though some hard health issues. He was anemic and later found he was suffering from a bleeding ulcer which could have taken his life.
 
I didn’t see James for a time while he worked through these issues. My boss and I discussed further consulting work, as we both wanted him to have support of some kind and felt he would still be helpful. I invited him to have lunch, but he was unresponsive for weeks or vague. I grew concerned.
 
“I tried to connect today with James Stephenson, our employee that has struggled so with health issues.  I tried to get with him for lunch or a phone call… I need to pray for this man. He is literally dying and without help, we will lose him.”  2016 Journal Entry
 
After a month of follow-up, we met over lunch. I prayed fervently that the Spirit would guide what we talked about.
 
We were both grateful for the chance to talk. It was one of the warmest exchanges I ever remember having. I mostly listened at first. He was struck with a bleeding ulcer, alcohol, a broken family and a lost job all at the same time.
 
He told of how he had been so gun-ho in the gospel as a young man. He was an avid missionary, doing all he could and training and helping other missionaries as an AP (Assistant to the President). When he came home, he made a tremendous effort to get those around him to read scriptures and do more, but he got a luke-warm response and his zeal gradually subsided.
He told me that he started to do some social drinking because he justified there was little harm in it as a friendly gesture, but this became an appetite that was hard to control. He took to smoking as well. He didn’t feel close to his wife and so spent more time at work. His daughter became alienated and quite upset with him, saying, “Most of what I did, I did because of you, and now I don’t know what to do.”
 
James and I talked about another man we knew who was amazing technically and a great leader but he began having angry, uncontrolled outbursts that seemed to consume him. From his own experience James said, “He carries his own little demons around. I know you can’t ignore where you come from without something deep down causing your soul trouble. I know this. He left church activity at a pretty young age. It took me a long time to recognize I needed spiritual help.”
 
James was a ‘work in progress’, when he died, as we all will be. That day at lunch, I saw a man that was clearly not lost. This man, like so many of the men I have worked with in recovery, had feared he might be an empty shell if he gave up his addictions. He was now well past that state and determined to overcome and salvage what relationships he could.
 
As we parted that day, I perceived his deep concern over his family and told him, “James, you married in the temple. You promised that as she gives herself to you, you would receive her. Be ready for that day. Rekindling those feelings may or may not happen here, but it happened in the case of a dear neighbor and friend of mine who lost his wife but remarried her and developed for her what he termed, “Mature Love”, a love he found as he cared for her while her health deteriorated over many years until she passed on”.
 
We both left that day with a profound feeling of reverence, an increased hope and peace, and a bond of deep brotherly love.
Rest in peace my friend James!