A tear formed immediately when I heard, “Brother Harper, we are extending a release to you from your calling as a primary chorister.” I felt my heart would break, though I should have been ready. I had an impression it was coming. For two years I had taught songs to our little children, making a whole library of visual aids in the process. As we sang we made temples out of pyramids, saw the clouds at the Savior’s death rain down hope on a tiny seed, went on imaginary safaris, and played lots of games.
“You’ve done a fine job, but when we saw you volunteered to serve in the temple, we felt we needed to extend the primary call to another. We have a large ward with 27 people we just don’t have callings for.” When he told me the sister they were calling in my place, I couldn’t help smiling. She has a handicapped son with an infectious smile borne from a heart brightened by a loving family. This sister would be wonderful! The primary children were in for a treat.
I learned so much from these little children. I learned to reciprocate their bright, caring spirit. I found they love stories and trying new things. I learned they have a deep desire to do what is right. I learned that they have a very natural love for our Savior, Jesus Christ. With them, I learned of eternal families.
In the nursery while teaching songs to the 2 to 3 year olds, I always knelt in front so they could see and hold pictures and objects related to the songs. Once a little child unexpectedly came and sat on my lap and then looked up and kissed me on the cheek. My spirit was touched. “This simple, unconditional love,” I thought, “must be what Heaven is like.”
And so, I miss my primary children, but I got a glimpse of why Jesus said, “Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:3)
I said that I would be posting more about our Hmong brothers lost in combat during the “Secret War in Laos”. I feel compelled to do so to say ‘thank you’ to this group of now American citizens who were initially ignored and misunderstood and too often belittled. I love the Hmong men and women who now feed and bless my son as he works as a missionary among them.
Hmong Pilots Being Thanked 37 Years After Their Service
My Note of Thanks:
Thank you for joining the fight to stop the advance of communism in Laos. Your people have long fought governments threatening your freedom and families. We Mormons believe that the Spirit of God is the Spirit of Freedom (Alma 61:15). We also believe government, “should restrain crime, but never control conscience [or] suppress the freedom of the soul.”
My heart breaks when I consider the many 10’s of thousands of your people that were lost. I sorrow to think that your people suffered so much. When you came to America, you were forced into a lifestyle that left many sad and empty. I am glad you are here and that your new generations are now adding so much to our culture with your strong family values and hard work.
I was especially touched by the following video of Hmong pilots who were honored after 37 years of being hidden from public view because of the politics. This video says what I can’t. I’m sorry you had to wait so long. I didn’t serve my country in the military. I owe you a debt of gratitude. Thank you!
Here is a video on the secret war in Laos (1 of 4):
Some time ago, I saw a documentary about a man running an alligator farm. He typically kept employees only 3-months before letting them go and hiring someone new to take their place. When asked why, he replied that it was to prevent harmful incidents. He explained that people gradually get careless when they get used to being among these powerful creatures. The alligators appear lethargic, but these beasts strike with incredible speed and are really patiently waiting for a victim to get close enough to execute a successful attack.
When overcoming sin and heartbreaking habits, remember that the emancipating joy of recovery and forgiveness can be fleeting. The scriptures warn, “Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.” (1 Corinthians 10:12).
A critical step in the addiction recovery program is to examine our lives at least daily and immediately make needed course corrections. By this step, many begin feeling comfortable that they have overcome and wonder if this is really necessary. It is necessary – and it is for everyone:
“But this much I can tell you, that if ye do not watch yourselves, and your thoughts, and your words, and your deeds, and observe the commandments of God, and continue in the faith of what ye have heard concerning the coming of our Lord, even unto the end of your lives, ye must perish. And now, O man, remember, and perish not.” (Mosaiah 4:30)
An exciting part of true and lasting conversion is when one is so busy looking up to new heights, the pull of sin and addiction loses hold. In contrast, it is sad when setbacks and painful relapses occur due to gradually letting negative thoughts and habits weaken righteous resolve. Remember to “be vigilant; because your adversary the devil… walketh about, seeking whom he may devour.” (1 Peter 5:8)
Never give up. Pick yourself up again and again… and then stay focused on the higher path.
As a young man I often felt troubled when I heard older members testify, “I know the church is true” because I didn’t know. Perhaps I questioned their sincerity as I silently questioned, “How can you possibly know it’s true?” I often pondered, “Do I believe just because I was born in this church? If so, I could have been born in any church and would just believe, but I can’t do that. I must know what is true.”
Rainbow taken from the Bountiful Temple
I hesitated to bear my testimony as a teenager because I couldn’t say, “I know”. I prayed and went to church and loved the scriptures, but I always wondered. I felt the Lord wanted me to serve a mission and received a call to teach the gospel in Japan. When I arrived there in one of my first interviews with my mission president I said, “President Ikeda, I don’t know if I have a testimony.” He looked at me and said, as best I can remember, “Elder Harper, of course you have a testimony. It is what brought you here and it shows in what you do.” I had many spiritual experiences leading up to that point and felt warmth in his words. I decided I would testify of what I do know, and the Spirit moved me.
Some five years later I found myself back in Japan with a young family as a newly graduated engineer. We had a marvelous ward in Kawanishi that would all stay after church and share food since so many came from far. While we were sharing our families and food a young woman who was investigating the church told me (in Japanese, of course), “I just don’t know if this is true.” I responded, “Oh that is a wonderful place to be. I know that feeling, but I have found in my own life that increasingly it isn’t a question of what truth is, but a question of am I true to what I know. Don’t worry. In the Lord’s time, the Spirit will tell you in your heart and mind what is true. Rather consider, when the Spirit tells me what to do, will I do it?”
I was so pleased that about a month later, this young sister chose to get baptized. She felt this was the Lord’s will and had faith to act on that feeling.
Many blessings are contingent upon us acting on what we know. I never would have known the joy of missionary work without teaching the gospel. I didn’t know the joy of being a father until I got a first taste holding a newborn. We won’t receive the joy of knowing the Lord unless we have patience and faith to love and serve him. As it says in Ether 12:6, “… ye receive no witness until after the trial of your faith”.
And so, if the journey seems long, remember, “…surely shall you receive a knowledge of whatsoever things you shall ask in faith, with an honest heart, believing that you shall receive… I will tell you in your mind and in your heart, by the Holy Ghost, which shall come upon you and which shall dwell in your heart.” (D&C 8:1-2) First be true to what you know.
Let me relate an experience with a drug enforcement officer that illustrates how justification can distort our honest view of ourselves. For if we bend, the light we reflect bends.
As newlyweds living in Logan, Utah, we were invited to hear an officer speak about drugs at a relief society activity. The officer began discussing problems youth were facing and an emerging gang influence, but the relief society president stopped him and asked him to talk about prescription drug abuse instead. He quickly said, “Oh, we have a real problem with that.” He told of standing on a doorstep with an older woman, trying to explain that her copying of a prescription that she drove around to fill at multiple pharmacies was not normal behavior. It was actually prescription fraud and a sign of addiction. He continued that this was not an isolated incident. It was a troubling part of his job to convince people there was a problem. As he talked, heads started to sag around the room, as the expected comfortable focus on ‘struggling youth’ turned to an introspective question, ‘Master, is it I?’
The natural result of sin in any degree is that we see things through the distorting lens of justification. Straight lines can appear curved and vice versa. The question of “How can I be completely clean?” is replace by false statements like “It isn’t that bad” or “This doesn’t really affect me.” Sins of omission often are couched in, “I’m too tired” or “They don’t really need my help”. Addiction starts in a cloud of denial which is why things typically get really bad before one seeks help.
Step 1 in addiction recovery is honesty, but it is also the first step for anyone to turn their life to our Savior. Honest self-assessment is critical to our growth. President Uchtdorf properly identifies its importance in two wonderful talks “Lord Is It I?” and “On Being Genuine”.
President Uchtdorf stated, “… none of us likes to admit when we are drifting off the right course. Often we try to avoid looking deeply into our souls and confronting our weaknesses, limitations, and fears. Consequently, when we do examine our lives, we look through the filter of biases, excuses, and stories we tell ourselves in order to justify unworthy thoughts and actions.”
I am blessed to work with men who have finally become honest enough to admit their problem and reach out for help. They often have broken hearts that are ready to be healed and filled. I promise you that if you reach out, there is a hand that will receive you and never let go, as long as you keep reaching. The atonement can reclaim us from any addiction but it starts here, with honesty.
When I was a boy, we would go out to see sheep shearing on my grandfather’s ranch located in a dry and remote area Northeast of Promontory Point on the shore of the Great Salt Lake. One year I brought my trumpet and my sister and I decided we would climb a nearby hill overlooking the camp where I could wind my trumpet long and loud. I was naïve to think it would carry clearly over the long distance to the camp in the open air. Even at full volume, it sounded empty and hollow.
Promontory bordering the Great Salt Lake
After we were done, we climbed higher. This being spring, the normally hot and dry desert peak was pleasantly green and refreshing. After some distance we heard a faint bleating sound and soon found it came from a little lamb that had been abandoned on the hillside. Our priorities suddenly changed from a vain show to a rescue mission. We looked for signs of a mother sheep somewhere nearby and finding none we carried the lamb down the hill and ended up taking it home with us. It was one of quite a few bum lambs my grandfather gave us that I would clumsily help nourish with bottles of milk as I grew up in a small town in Northern Utah. We saved many of them and raised them in our back pasture.
One lamb wouldn’t take the milk, despite my best effort to open its mouth to give it a taste of the life saving liquid. It was getting very weak just before we had to leave it in the care of our neighbor for a week while we out of town. When we got back, I was overjoyed to see the lamb had not only recovered, it was full of vitality, now excitedly wriggling its tail in anticipation of feeding. I wondered how I could learn to nurture like my neighbor. I was grateful to him.
When the Savior taught us to leave the 99 safely enfolded sheep to find the one that was lost, he didn’t explain why the sheep was lost or justify why it should be saved. In his love for his sheep, he was simply concerned that the sheep be found and nourished.
A dear friend of mine reminded me that sheep don’t typically wander because they are rebellious or spiteful. They wander because they are hungry. The further we wander from God, family and the warm hands of friends the more hungry we become. Let us remember to feed the flock close at hand, but also to remember that the very people who are hardest to love, especially those who struggle with addiction or wonder if they belong, need love the most.
So, perhaps if I am not too busy making a vain display of how good I am… I will have time to seek out brothers and sisters who need healing and hope. This is the Lord’s work. It is our work.
I cannot begin to express the powerful emotions I felt in our ARP (Addiction Recovery Program) meeting last night.
We missionaries contribute at the end of the meeting after the others have shared, so I was last but I could hardly speak. There was a powerful healing spirit that permeated the room. Here were broken hearts and contrite spirits. Every participant had put a sincere offering on the altar in coming there and sharing for their fellows. As I looked into the faces of these men who mean so much to me, I began by paraphrasing a scripture that was given to me in the temple,
“And ye cannot bear all things now; nevertheless, be of good cheer, for I will lead you along.” (D&C 78:18)
I told my brothers there that I consider them my dear friends and that if the Savior wasn’t there with us, then I didn’t know where else he would be. Did he not say, “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” (Matt 18:20). I related how my mission president had told us at the time of his release that he couldn’t help but look out on us and smile, not because we were where we needed to be, but because he knew we were headed the right direction.
We have had many successes and many more setbacks. It isn’t as important where we are, but where we are going.
I love this call and I love those I serve (Alma 29:9-10):
9 I know that which the Lord hath commanded me, and I glory in it. I do not glory of myself, but I glory in that which the Lord hath commanded me; yea, and this is my glory, that perhaps I may be an instrument in the hands of God to bring some soul to repentance; and this is my joy.
10 And behold, when I see many of my brethren truly penitent, and coming to the Lord their God, then is my soul filled with joy; then do I remember what the Lord has done for me, yea, even that he hath heard my prayer; yea, then do I remember his merciful arm which he extended towards me.
The LDS addiction recovery manual uses the metaphor of a destructive tornado to describe how addiction affects others. Let me extend that metaphor a moment.
A person justifying an addiction, or really any sin, is to some extent trying to stand in the eye of a dark storm that isolates them from God and from others. Because the storm itself obscures the damage being done, it is easier to live in denial here and turn a blind eye to the hurt it causes loved ones. When we seek repentance, however, we take the momentum out of the storm and as the debris settles, we begin to see the precious relationships that have been damaged.
You will find there are many things that are lost: lost time that could have been used for a hundred simple acts of service, lost relationships which could have enriched our lives, and a loss of the Spirit which brings us close to God. Indeed, the most important connection all of us have lost in our fallen state is the one with our Heavenly Father.
This week I was reading in Psalms 30:5 and loved the Joseph Smith translation (in italics):
Psalms 30:5 – For his anger kindleth against the wicked; they repent, and in a moment it is turned away, and they are in his favor, and he giveth them life; therefore, weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.
And so we see, the most important connection is one that was never truly lost. It is the one that will be offered back to us without reserve and with a full measure of joy. It is with our Father in Heaven.
In the conference talk given by President Uchtdorf, titled, “You can do it now” he relates falling down ungracefully on a ski slope and being unable to stand. Then his 12-year old grandson came and told him not only to get up, but said, “You can do it now”. I testify that ‘you can do it now’. You can repent and stand and rebuild these relationships.
…and if you fall down again. You can get up again and again until you overcome.
Please let me introduce myself. I am a father, a husband and a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. I have no greater joy than what I have experienced in seeing lives being brought to our Savior. Whatever your faith is, my hope in posting these is to inspire you to reach a higher path.
Many of my posts will relate to my volunteer work is as an addiction recovery missionary because the Addiction Recovery Program (ARP) is a program of total conversion and as such applies to everyone who desires to have his or her heart made completely clean. I love this program and the power it brings to activate the atonement in so many lives.
That is just a beginning. The scope of this blog is the gospel which has enriched every facet of my life. Callings to serve God’s family on earth teaching music to little children, stories to boy scouts, service to quorum member and work in temples have all given me far more than I can give.
I have no desire to sit on the sideline and watch. I want to take every child of God I can reach by the hand, look them in the eye, tell them I love them and walk with them… on a higher path.