Category Archives: Uncategorized

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!

You Know I Will Feed Your Sheep

As I readied myself for a special service opportunity early one morning, I prepared to open a can of grain for my sheep. I had several ewes ready to lamb, but I was low on hay and had been unable to purchase livestock bread from the discount stores. The Spirit gave me leave to open the grain, but said, “You know I’ll feed your sheep.”

As I prepared breakfast I felt I needed special help and decided, “I will fast (go without food) this morning and eat afterwards.” As I drove, I prayed saying, “Please Lord, I don’t ask for miracles to satisfy my curiosity or as a proof of thy goodness and truth, but I do ask this day for thy miracle to be with me to bless thy children that thy will, will be done for eternal blessing.”

At that point I was prompted that I had forgotten to shave and though I risked being late, I pulled over to use a portable shaving kit I had purchased several months earlier. Instead of being anxious, I felt a beautiful peace, even when I couldn’t park my car where I thought I needed to be.

I walked, pondering where to go, when I heard a familiar voice behind me say, “Marcellus?” An older voice then said, “Is that my friend Marcellus from our old ward? I remember you.” Here were two friends I hadn’t seen in some time.

We walked together in some tender conversation and then I had to proceed on my way to serve alone, but this had touched in my heart. When I had finished serving and found a moment to relax, I found I could not. I suddenly felt an urgent need to proceed. As I went, I was surprised one more time, when I once again heard a voice behind me, “Marcellus, did you just finish?” It was my elderly friend who walks with some difficulty. I gave him support and walked with him back to his home, where, with his family we had a very special conversation that left us with tears in our eyes. It was wonderful renewing this friendship.

I left in awe of miracles God inspired me to ask for, and which were freely given. I continued fasting because now I wanted God to know how thankful I was for what he did.

On my way home, I called my wife to apologize for being late. I told her I hadn’t been able to call the bread store to ask for a rack of livestock bread, but that I would drop by and see if they had something. When I got there, the store-person said, “Yesterday I was told you had asked about bread and so I’ve almost put together a rack for you.” She took me to the back, looked at it, and said, “Oh, I guess it is complete.” I was once again full of gratitude and once again, the Spirit’s words came back to me, “You know I will feed your sheep.”

And so in the afternoon, my grandson and I walked to my two neighbor’s sheep pastures with the new bread I was given and I watched as my grandson fed it to my neighbor’s sheep. When one’s heart is full, one has to share. This is the nature and nurture of my Savior. It is the beauty of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Recently I had a friend show up to help transport my sheep, just because he wanted to help and soon other neighbors dropped what they were doing to lend help in hauling and stacking hay because I was in need of help.

Special thanks to neighbors, friends and family who still help me feed my sheep!

The Book of our Life

I write to increase hope in those I love. Too often, I’ve seen despair diminishing one’s power to go on. We each compose a book through our lives with stories ranging from wonderful to heart wrenching. Even as we die, a chapter concludes, but the story continues. Boyd K. Packer once said:

“‘And they all lived happily ever after’ is never written into the second act. That line belongs in the third act, when the mysteries are solved and everything is put right.”

Where are we in the book of our lives?

I work with two groups of men who are in stark contrast, yet of exactly the same remarkable potential. Many reading this will fall somewhere in-between. The first group is of young men I serve who are caught up in addictions. The other group is of men who are serving in the temple of God.

The first group is dear to my heart. I love the young men who come to addiction recovery meetings seeking for help. Oftentimes there is marked despair in their eyes. In early stages of recovery, they often come believing that they will never feel ‘normal’. Being so close to a problem that calls with such a powerful cadence, they don’t realize that when they are brought away from this whirlpool, that the pull will lessen until they can begin to sail freely without any desire or pull to their former selves. But it isn’t free. It takes reaching out for help. It takes wanting to want to repent, which is as much as some can muster at first. It takes one’s fullest determination and effort… and it’s worth it.

My first journal – A beginning in the Book of My Life

The peace of a man who has been brought across this gulf is beautiful to behold. There is compassion for others and a realization that they are fully reliant on our Savior and His grace. There is a powerful transformation that changes everything.

The second group is dear to my heart. They are the workers in the temple who are exactly the same. There is a compassion for others and a realization they are fully reliant on our Savior.

I sat next to a younger worker in the temple just days ago. I noticed a droop on one side of his mouth and I was concerned. I said, “Tell me more about you!” He talked with glowing gratitude for being extremely blessed. He indicated his heart was full. His face was radiant as he said, “I am just so grateful for being able to serve in the temple. Yes, things have been hard lately. Previously I had a tumor removed and there are some clots that have come from that area. I wasn’t able to function well at work, and so they reduced my hours over time until they finally said they had to let me go. I’ve been suffering strokes and small heart attacks. During the bad times, I can’t even swallow water, but I’m resigned that I likely don’t have many days left. The Lord has provided mana from Heaven from dear people who care for us.

My heart cried for this dear man who is close to the Lord, even as he has fallen behind on payments, and yet there was a depth of peace in his eye that consoled me and touched my soul. I am overwhelmed at the many men in similar circumstance who have partaken of the phrase,

“Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” John 14:27

          Are we in the middle of our Book? None are truly at the end…

Whichever act you are in, open yourself to the help that is given through the many who desire to reach out as the Savior does. Then be the one to reach out to others. The chapters of the book of our lives will become richer and more beautiful, and we’ll find the final chapters being written by the co-author of our book, our Savior, Jesus Christ. We will walk those final chapters with Him.

God’s Family: Infinitely Varied, Incredibly Beautiful

When I began searching my family roots, I didn’t know how deeply I would come to care for them. The more I studied and understood who these people were, the more I loved them.

A Mandelbrot Image: Like a family tree – always more beautiful detail when one looks closer

I grew up memorializing graves once a year, but the year we made a goal to visit the graves of each direct ancestor buried in my home state was profound. My wife compiled locations of cemeteries I had never heard of and found life stories for each person’s grave we visited. I was touched because in many cases I hadn’t heard of their sacrifice and love, and at times of their heartbreaking tragedy.

I felt an awesome reverence as I stood in those cemeteries and pondered the lives of my family. I was surprised to feel such a compelling connection both with the stalwart and with the troubled souls on my family tree. The reverence came through a realization that I am a compound of 1000s of people’s decisions and efforts for which I am grateful.

Family Branches

Endless is my name; for I am without beginning of days or end      Moses 1:3

Branches of infinite beauty and variety from one of the world’s simplest formulas

I began researching people who married into my family and quickly felt pulled into their families. Many times tears came to my eyes as I pondered their lives and I’ve felt the distinct words, “You found me!” whispered to my heart. The widowed pioneer on my immediate tree was now mirrored by a widowed woman whose sister cared for her and her unborn son until she remarried… and then when the original caring sister became a widow herself, she was taken in by her sisters family. When I found them buried together in the same cemetery, my eyes once again filled with tears.

I wondered why I could feel such an amazing love for these people I had never met. I see immigrants who crossed from impoverished countries to come here to America. I see veterans of war who fought for our freedoms. I see the intense care of people for aging parents and accomplishments and beauty and strength. I’ve seen a glimpse of my Father in Heaven’s awesome family and now I realize that I am a compound of not thousands, but of hundreds of millions of people’s decisions and efforts both in and out of my family for which I am forever grateful.

Genealogy is like the Mandelbrot set pictured in this article where the more closely we examine the branches the more inspiring the detail and the more incredible the life stories of the individuals appear. This function, like the tapestry of life created by a good person, is based on a formula that is incredibly simple, but whose results are infinitely varied:

Mandelbrot: z(n+1)=z(n)^2+C   (see end of article for description)

Life: “Jesus… went about doing good” (Acts 10:38)

If we truly follow our Savior’s direction, he will direct our lives into the most intricate and incomprehensibly beautiful paths imaginable. Avoid the darkness. Make your life beautiful!

I’ve included this Mandelbrot zoom below because it touches my soul.

Deep in the structure of the Cosmos, in the very mathematics of the creation, is a fingerprint left by God.  Kurt Matthia

Here are links to some close and inspiring ancestors of mine whose lives were beautiful:

A Rescuer – Thomas Steed

My Greek Heritage

A Change of Heart – Thomas Harper

A Woman Called “Grandma”

Math Simplified Reference:

As the zoom continues, … objects seem to reappear, but a closer look always turns up differences. Things go on this way forever, infinitely various and frighteningly lovely.  Scientific American Magazine

The Mandelbrot formula is:

z(n+1)=z(n)^2+C

where C is a complex number coordinate mapped in a real/imaginary plane…  The “C” coordinate is used to seed the formula and is colored based on how quickly the value grows infinitely large or converges to zero as the result is fed back into the formula. A Mandelbrot image is created by graphing a 2-dimensional array of these “C” coordinates. What you see in a true Mandelbrot picture is the actual solution set of the formula – not an artist rendering, other than the colors they choose to represent the convergence iterations.

A Crystal is A Crystal

As I walked in the temple one day a vivid image of a crystal in my hand formed in my mind. I viewed my hand and pictured the crystal and it struck me how this beautiful crystal was no less beautiful or imperfect no matter how very rough its beginning. I had paused, near the outer doors of the Celestial Room and felt words pour into my soul. “After wiping away every tear and healing your sorrows, it will no longer matter that the way was so difficult. You will be a crystal”.

A few days later, I found myself with the men who attend our addiction recovery group. Several times I’ve heard the desire expressed for some kind of “magic pill” to take that would just make the problem go away, but there is no shortcut in a refining process that not only takes away unwanted behavior, but also changes the heart.

The thought of the crystal came back to me and I told them, “A crystal is formed under tremendous pressure and heat, but once the difficult process of change is complete, people don’t question the worth of the crystal. It is a crystal and what it was and what we have been won’t matter after our Savior wipes away all our tears. People will look at you, and all they will see… is a crystal”.

“Yet I will own them, and they shall be mine in that day when I shall come to make up my jewels.” D&C 101:3

And so each dark blemish of sin must be purged. Each negative thought borne in adversity must be subdued with faith. Each doubt must be infused with truth and hope. And casual indifference must be replaced with love like our Savior has for each of us. There was no magic pill for him and when seeking to become sanctified through receiving, cherishing and following the Holy Spirit, there is no magic pill for us either.

There is patience, and faith, and persevering…

Be still, my soul: The hour is hast’ning on

When we shall be forever with the Lord,

When disappointment, grief, and fear are gone,

Sorrow forgot, love’s purest joys restored.

Be still, my soul: When change and tears are past,

All safe and blessed we shall meet at last.

Step 12: Lifesaving Service

The comment rang in my ears, “You Mormons do a lot of good things, but I have a hard time with a religion where everything you do is for an eternal reward.” I was quite caught off guard by his comment and puzzled it over in my mind. “Do people really think of us that way?” “Do we do things solely because of some future reward?”  His perception was foreign to my feelings about service. Yes, we know that God, our Father in Heaven, is a rewarder of every good thought and deed and He wants us to receive an incomprehensibly beautiful inheritance of joy, eternal life and exaltation… But do I predicate an act of service on whether or not I will receive a reward?  I didn’t think so, and hoped it wasn’t so, but it caused me deep reflection.

Service is a way of life, and the joy of service is its’ own reward.

Serving or Being Served?

Perhaps the most unexpected thing I have learned about service is that the more I serve, the more I am actually being served. For example, for many years I worked as a volunteer leader in Cub and Boy Scout troops. I loved these boys and gradually began to realize that their growth was directly impacting my growth. Their successes became my successes. Their smiles became my smiles. And when they graduated on their lives had become part of my life. They were serving me.

These same feelings come as I gather with men in my capacity as an addiction recovery missionary. These men lifting each other lift me. Their smiles also become my smiles and their tears become my tears. Tears of gratitude and joy oftentimes are mixed with tears that come because my heart is crying. It is no wonder that the capstone and last step of the 12-step recovery program is continuing in service.

Service in the Family

Serving one another in the family creates the deepest love.

I got an unexpected glimpse of the depth of family love and service when my son suddenly became very ill. We made him comfortable in our bedroom, hoping he would feel better in the morning. In the morning he was still doing very poorly so my wife took him into the hospital. She called me from the hospital saying, “Your son is dead.” Even while sitting down, I remember the room around me actually blacked out as I gathered strength to ask, “Can you explain what you mean?” She answered, “He is extremely ill.”  I felt powerful relief and love and gratitude that he was spared. The next 10-days or so in the hospital were anxious ones for us. Our son’s appendix had ruptured and he required expert care.

Choco-Bear: A hospital gift my son held close as he recovered.

Family service requires the longest and most patient commitment and can often be the most thankless. But while many lives touch ours for good, only in the family do those ties find root, deep into the heart of who we are. It is said that salvation is a personal affair, but exaltation with fullness of joy is realized in families.

Ultimate Service

Tonight I attended the viewing of a younger man from our neighborhood whose life was taken through substance abuse. His parents were heartbroken and his young family bereaved. They are receiving the love of neighbors and friends who are there to give comfort and service. And in the middle of it all I felt my Savior’s love. When there is nothing else that we can do, the mending of broken hearts and redemption of our loved ones is in His beautiful and matchless hands.

I saw a glimpse of my Savior’s love as I was leaving a Bountiful Temple worker’s area and I noticed a small board with obituaries posted of three brothers who served with us, and were now complete in their ministry on the earth. In many cases their frames had trembled exceedingly as they wore out their lives in administering the saving ordinances of the gospel.

I saw Christ’s love this week as I observed people loading vehicles with food for the poor while the snow fell around them. I’ve seen it many times in the hands of those giving service to those no longer able to care for their own homes or in groups of people who simply show up because they find a neighbor is in duress because their home has been damaged . I see Christ’s love in smiles and kind words. I’ve seen that love from my earliest memories of parents who loved me, and I see it now in children and grandchildren. I see service everywhere.

As we serve we become more like our Savior. It defines who we are.

For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: but whosoever will lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it. Luke 9:24

When ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God. Mosiah 2:17

 

Repentance Is Joy

I was the bugler and square dance caller for our stake’s pioneer trek, a major event with some 300 youth and 100 adult leaders involved. As planned, the first morning on the trail I played the bugle call, Reveille, at 4:50 AM to wake the youth for the re-enactment of the pioneer’s handcart company’s journey. It must have left a strong impression because adult leaders soon warned me of youthful schemes they overheard for the trumpet’s abduction.

Trek: The Handcart Trail

I thought the bugle calls were quickly forgotten when, over a week after our trek had ended, I was approached by a trek brother as I was entering  the temple in the early morning hours. He told me, “You woke me this morning.” When I looked puzzled, he said, “No, you really did. As I slept, I heard your trumpet playing and I said, ‘I’ve got to get up and go to the temple’”.

We don’t know how deeply impressing our warning voice can be to bring souls to repentance. I love repentance… I love seeing people decide they will really change. I have shed many tears with individuals who are trying, and faltering, and trying again. I have shed many tears myself. But people do change.

At church I recently walked into a lesson where people were answering the question, “Is there a dream or something you really want to accomplish in life?” Into my heart came my fondest unvoiced desire, “I want to bring thousands of souls to repentance!”  …and it starts with me!

Stories of Repentance

I share the following with both permission and encouragement from men I have assisted as an addiction recovery missionary.

To Reactivation and Beyond

A dear young man came to our group. He was clearly crestfallen when he first attended our recovery meetings, saddened that addictions had taken over his life. He had gone inactive after going to college and began failing all his classes because of a video game addiction. He returned home and transferred to a singles ward where the addiction took a far worse turn. He ceased church activity for years, such that when his sister went on a mission she wrote to him saying, “Will you be my first investigator? I can tell you are working through something and I’d like to help”. He agreed but related, “I was the worst investigator ever. I would never follow through on any assignments”. After some months he stopped writing her out of shame. Then his heart broke when his sister related, “Every week I wait for a letter from my brother, and every week I cry.” He knew what he needed to do and it was extremely hard. He contacted a bishop and sought help and counsel. When he came to our meetings, it was with a desire to eventually serve a mission. Recovery didn’t happen overnight. It required him to give up lesser, but consuming addictions to both video games and social media. He found he had to be ‘all in’ to really overcome and receive the promised change of heart that God has promised to all who will truly trust in and follow Him. It was a beautiful meeting for all of us when he related, “The greatest day of my life was being worthy to see my sister sealed in the temple.” He has greater days to come. He became a facilitator for our group, but only for a brief time because his long-awaited mission call came.

I love this brother. He knows the redeeming power of our Savior and knows from the depths of his soul what true change feels like. He will teach the atonement of Jesus Christ with convincing power that comes through a true love for Him.

Promises Fulfilled

Another man, a dear brother we hadn’t seen at our recovery meetings for a long time contacted me by text and asked if my companion and I were still missionaries. I confirmed we were and asked him if he was alright. He indicated he was doing really well and mentioned he intended to come to our next meeting.

He came and addressed our group during the sharing portion of the meeting with a pleasant and warm countenance. He wanted the brothers to know he wasn’t trying to brag, but something very special had transpired. His ward was recently split and shortly thereafter he was called as the new elder’s quorum president. He recalled the time he had asked for a blessing from my companion and I. At that special time he said he was told he would become an elder’s quorum president.  He continued, “I wondered about that and tried not to think about it much, but then it actually happened.” He said that in a very gradual process he had changed. He said he no longer feels a pull toward the addiction and rarely thinks about it. He related, “Men, we must not dabble in wondering what we can keep. If you put your toe in the vortex, it will pull you in. You’ve got to decide to give your whole heart and believe you can do it. Your past actions are not an indicator of what you can do in the future. You will break the addiction if you truly desire it. So keep that desire and keep choosing to overcome. It will happen through the atonement of Jesus Christ.”

At the end of this meeting I embraced several of my dear brothers. Then this young man came, and I found myself looking deep in his eye and the Spirit overcame me as I called him by name and said, “You will be a great Elder’s Quorum President and the men you serve will come to know our Savior through you because they will feel his love through you.”

No More Ashamed

Both of these men were glad to share their stories. The young man now on his mission said, “Please tell my story. Use my name. It’s okay! I used to be so ashamed that if people asked where I was going on meeting night, I would say I have a church meeting, but now I tell them openly, ‘I have an addiction recovery meeting I attend’.

For this young man it no longer mattered. The addiction was no longer in the shadows. It was dissipated from being exposed repeatedly to light. These men, and so many more are now anxious to help others.

I love these brothers. I cannot love them more or less based on if they ‘messed up’. When they are down my heart cries for them, and when they succeed, I joy in their success, but my love for them doesn’t change.

The Universal Call of Repentance

People are never so one-dimensional” as to fit into a simple bin of bad or good. We all need repentance. Anything that keeps us from being like our Savior, whether it is from a habit of resisting the gentle nudging of the Spirit or a heart-rending failure to keep a major commandment, prevents us from being completely clean.

Tears often come to me when I think of my Savior. I have a deep love for Him. I remember the Spirit moving me when I crested the hill approaching the Bountiful Temple and viewed the Angel Moroni in his glory winding his trumpet. My heart cried out in prayer, “Father, give me a trumpet!”

Yea, he that repenteth and exerciseth faith, and bringeth forth good works, and prayeth continually without ceasing—unto such it is given to know the mysteries of God; yea, unto such it shall be given to reveal things which never have been revealed; yea, and it shall be given unto such to bring thousands of souls to repentance, even as it has been given unto us to bring these our brethren to repentance. Alma 26:22

I love repentance! Repentance is Joy!