Is Depression Addicting?

A key principle taught by the Arbinger Institute involves the realization that some things we most want to overcome, are things we have the hardest time letting go of because they become characteristic of both who we are, and our justification for how we feel about others or our situation in life.

I saw this as a home teacher working with a family in another state. The mother was really struggling with maintaining a small business and her family in the midst of morality, health and drug issues affecting family members. We would teach and invite her and the family members we could reach to greater activity in church functions but they were largely ignored. I gradually felt she had become so defined by problems that she had a hard time letting them go. Life for her seemed like an onion comprised of multiple layers of problems. It was unclear what would have been left if we had peeled back and solved the problems one layer at a time. There was a sincere struggle to get to a better place but also a curious grip that was reluctant to really move on.

Elder Holland addressed depression masterfully in his talk, “Like a Broken Vessel”.  I agree with him that there are times when expert help is needed in turning this emotion around. I also know the Lord expects us to do all we can and so as one who has wrestled with depression and seen many personal struggles with addiction offer one idea I hope some will find helpful as a starting point:


Really desire to be happy…


In addiction recovery, individuals often realize that in all honesty, part of them is trying to hold onto the addiction because they don’t even know how it is to feel normal. Some call the addiction their ‘medication’ or ‘companion’. It is when my brothers desired with their whole heart to overcome, that the miracles began happening with wonderful results. Some start by saying, “I want to want to”, and grow from there.

Depression is similar to addiction in many ways. It draws one back again and again and slackens one’s strength. The decision to give your heart to loving others and thereby draw near to our Savior is the first step to happiness, and then deciding to be grateful for every tiny blessing helps us complete the journey.

This doesn’t mean that there won’t be terribly sad emotions that come to us from disappointments or the death of a loved one. But it does mean that it is possible to be grateful, even when we are suffering. For me personally, it means I’m grateful that the Savior, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief, is allowing me to feel a portion of his pain so I can be more like Him. I love Him. I am grateful to Him, and I feel His love in every beautiful thing.

And so, I’ve avoided answering the very question I posed, “Is Depression Addicting?” Addiction or not, it can eventually be overcome through our Savior who wants us to overcome all things and have perfect joy.

Please also see  “Grateful in any Circumstances”


Songs of the Heart – A Tribute to my Grandmothers

I sang to both of my grandmothers as they were dying.


My dear Grandma Harper had suffered a stroke and could no longer speak, though her eyes were full of emotion. In the hospital, I felt embarrassed to start singing, “A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief” to her with my sister, but we did and suddenly what the world thought didn’t matter anymore. The Spirit filled the hospital room.

… He asked if I for Him would die,

The flesh was weak, my blood ran chill,

But the free spirit cried, ‘I will’

Then in a moment to my view,

The stranger started from disguise,

The tolkens in his hands I knew,

The Savior Stood before my eye

He spake and my poor name he named,

Of me thou hast not been ashamed,

These deeds shall thy memorial be,

fear not thou didst them unto me.


GrandmaC2My Grandmother Chournos loved music. She was my primary pianist when I was a child. She was on her deathbed and too weak to turn her head to see who had come. My mother asked if there was something we could sing for her and she asked my mother, daughter, sons and I to sing, “the hymn about the Garden of Eden.” We looked at each other, initially not knowing which song she meant. Then it hit me, “She wants us to sing, ‘Now Let Us Rejoice’ “.

Now let us rejoice in the day of salvation

No longer as strangers on earth need we roam,

Glad tidings are sounding to us and each nation

And shortly the hour of redemption will come

When all that was promised, the saints will be given

And none shall molest them from morn until ev’n

And earth shall appear as the Garden of Eden

And Jesus will say to all Israel, “Come home!”

My Savior was taking her home. Grandma was too weak to wave, so I touched her hand and said my ‘goodbye’.

These hymns were equally important to my pioneer ancestors. Oscar Winters was a pioneer who once told Heber J Grant, “Heber, I believe that the young people of Zion do not thoroughly appreciate what Brother Clayton’s hymn meant to us, as we sang it, night after night, crossing the plains. … I want to tell you an incident that happened as I was coming to the valley. One of our company was delayed in coming to camp. We got some volunteers, and were about to go back and see if anything had happened, … when we saw him coming in the distance. When he arrived, we unyoked his cattle and helped him to get his supper. He had been quite sick and had to lie down by the road, a time or two. After supper he sat down on a large rock, by the camp fire, and sang the hymn, ‘Come, come, ye Saints.’ It was the rule in the camp that whenever anybody started to sing that hymn, we would all join with him; but for some reason, no one joined with this brother. His voice was quite weak and feeble; and when he had finished, I glanced around, and I don’t believe there were any of the people sitting there whose eyes were tearless. He sang the hymn very beautifully, but with a weak and plaintive voice, and yet with the spirit and inspiration of the hymn. The next morning we discovered that he was not hitching up his oxen; we went to his wagon, and we found that he had died during the night! We dug a shallow grave and laid his body in it. We then thought of the stone on which he had been sitting the night before when he sang:

“And should we die before our journey’s through,

Happy day! All is well!

We then are free from toil and sorrow too,

With the just we shall dwell.

But if our lives are spared again

To see the Saints their rest obtain

O how we’ll make this chorus swell—

All is well, all is well!

“We then rolled that stone over in place as a headstone for his grave.”


The Lord has said, “The song of the righteous is a prayer unto me, and it shall be answered with a blessing upon their heads.” I am overwhelmed that I am able to offer this prayer with all of you. Thank you for your love, prayers, talents and this your sacred offering.

Brother Harper – given as a thought at a youth practice for a Pioneer Trek Fireside

Real and Lasting Change

I have seen a battle with despair in those who feel they will always need to pretend to be something they aren’t.  I’m talking here about people who want to change to be better and put on an optimistic face, but inside wonder if they will ever measure up.  In addiction recovery work, I’ve come to find that a basic fear is that even if sinful desires are suppressed, they will always be there as a powerful force waiting to break through in a moment of weakness.

I’ve heard men use the phrase, “I will battle this all my life.” I applaud this resolution to keep trying, but it troubles me.  While the spirit of man should remain vigilant in maintaining mastery over the flesh, the fruits of the Spirit include peace and that means that constant battle is not our goal. I submit that the battle subsides as one draws on the power of the atonement of Jesus Christ. He’s already won this battle on our behalf, and the battle will subside in our hearts as we really change.

One of my many dear friends who successfully worked through addiction recovery gave the following insight (shared with permission):

“When I first started attending addiction recovery groups and began my journey towards the Savior, I believed that the end result would just be a mask. I knew that what Heavenly Father wanted from me was the right thing, but I didn’t think anything about who I was would change and, if I’m honest, I didn’t want anything about my personality to change. As I progressed in my recovery and as my relationship with Heavenly Father grew, He showed me that what I thought He wanted from me was wrong. He didn’t want me to wear a mask. He had a plan for me. He was listening to all of those prayers that I didn’t have the courage to bring to Him. What I finally realized was that what Heavenly Father wanted from me was to become the best version of myself. He believed in me, encouraged me, and brought out who I really was and showed me who I could be. It turns out I was wearing a mask, and He took it off. I will forever be grateful for that.”


It was a privilege to have a window into this man’s recovery. He found the Savior’s promises fulfilled, that if we give him our whole heart, he will return it, “pressed down, and shaken together, and running over” (Luke 6:38). “For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.” (Matthew 16:25).

Real and lasting change comes when we seek the Lord’s will in everything we do. The real mask we wear is the one keeping us from our true nature as divine sons and daughters of God.

President Boyd K. Packer said: “The thought is this: the Atonement leaves no tracks, no traces. What it fixes is fixed. … The Atonement leaves no traces, no tracks. It just heals, and what it heals stays healed.” (Excerpt from Elder Allen D. Haynie)

Christmas Service

This year our church ward organized a drive to provide food for a school in Salt Lake that has many struggling families, many of whom are refugees. Because of the poverty in which these families live, it became apparent to teachers at the school that many of the students were going hungry during the holiday break because there were no subsidized meals.

I related the following to a friend of mine in a letter:

“Many in our ward gave their Christmas to these children. My wife Chihiro insisted on giving as well, saying, “Some parents of these children may have created their own problems, but hungry children – that isn’t okay.” She shopped and I pitched in to help assemble the bags. In the end, the ward delivered 540 large sacks of food, one for every child in the school, with the hope that it will bring relief during the holiday.

We had a manger display built in our neighborhood that we were encouraged to place a piece of straw in for each good act of service done. It was wonderful to have little children getting out of their parent’s cars and placing straw in the manger. The manger is now full and running over and so is my heart. I live in Heaven on Earth.”

Service is special because whenever we give our time and talents to serve God, he magnifies it.  Days after the service was rendered, we received beautiful letters from children at the school saying, “Thank you” in a 100 innocent ways. It warmed my heart, but it didn’t stop there. I loved my wife more for her desire to help. I had a greater love for my neighbors who did so much to organize and give us an opportunity to participate, and I felt a deeper love for my Savior.

Because of this love, I want to make this entry on my website my final act of giving on this beautiful Christmas day.

As peace is increasingly taken from the earth, let us seek the peace that surpasses all understanding. It comes from the Prince of Peace, even our Savior, Jesus Christ.

Merry Christmas!gold-stars-1086963-tablet

Friendship and Redemption

This is a very personal story. My friend wanted me to share this if it would bring even one more person closer to our Savior.

Don’s (name changed) father stood in front of the priesthood body.  The emotion in his face and voice caused an immediate and unusual silence. He said, “Some of you may get e-mail from Don on Mondays. You may have noticed that no e-mail came last Monday. We didn’t want this to be a matter of rumor or speculation, so we’ve decided to mention this here. Don has returned from his mission and entered the Davis County Jail. Don’s mission was successful. They recently had a baptism where Don acted as a witness, but the mission was successful in bringing at least two people to Christ, this investigator and Don. When Don was teaching, he realized he needed to live what he was teaching and so as part of the repentance process, he confessed to a crime which bears a civil penalty.” He went on to say that they would not minimize what had occurred and recognized it as being quite serious, but asked that we consider him in our thoughts and prayers.

My heart broke. Don was a polite and positive youth and a great senior patrol leader when I was an assistant scoutmaster. I had grown concerned for him as he approached his mission. Something wasn’t right, but I was glad for his decision to serve.

My wife and I visited their home that night and I got an address where I could write him a letter. It was the first of many I would send. In part I wrote, “It was a pleasure to work with you in young men’s.  Knowing your humble, teachable manner, it did not surprise me that our Savior was able to bring you to him with only gentle persuasion.  I know He loves you and will watch over you.  Remember that He is mighty to save.”

I did not know why he was incarcerated, and I didn’t really care to know. I just knew a young man would need some extra help and I didn’t want him to suffer alone. It was nearly three months later that I learned the circumstances, but that was from him directly in a letter. At that point he wanted me to know because he was sad that so many of his friends had abandoned him and he was looking for hope.

Over the 6-months we corresponded, we developed a deep friendship. He kept himself immersed in the scriptures and in being a wholesome example. When he mentioned his intention to plead guilty and be open about what had happened, one inmate told him, “You can’t do that! You’ve got to fight this!” But Don’s goal was full repentance and so he followed through and risked a heavier sentence. He related that standing before the judge, entering his plea was incredibly difficult. As the judge read each charge, he simply responded, repeatedly “guilty…”

Some day, I believe we will stand in a final judgment, and it will be Christ himself who will look at Don and I and all others, and if we have repented with our whole heart, He will say: “Not guilty”. The charges won’t be mentioned. We will stand clean and pure as the day we were born and we will shine forth in the Kingdom of God.

At one point in his stay another inmate said, “Don, you may not know why you are here, but I know why. It was for me.”  In the end the sentence was reduced but to 6-months, and when he left, he realized that he had more success at turning hearts to God from inside the jail than out on his mission.

He helped turn one more heart to God – my own. My own story of redemption would not be complete without his. Through his example, I focused on my own life and I also made a resolve to turn my whole heart to my Savior. And so my own repentance and determination to serve has profound roots in my friend’s repentance. I will always be grateful to him for helping me.

Finally, as food for thought, I share a dream given to me in two parts. I first saw a man who was the only one to get testing wrong out of 100 people.  But as the test got harder he was the only one of 100 that passed the final.

I then saw a man, who in admitting his sin was scorned as the least of 99 other men but he had humbled himself and turned to the Lord. When the Lord came, he was the only one able to stand before him. Where were the ninety and nine?

This I know: the embrace of Heaven awaits those who

World Congress of Families

This is a blog about the gospel of Jesus Christ. I post this here because the family is at the center of this gospel.
There is an incredible amount of backlash aimed at discrediting the World Congress of Families #wcf9 held over the last several days. For my experience, I didn’t hear the hate speech that the multiple “World Congress Exposed” people claim. I saw, for example, abortion discussed in the light of how the women who have abortions suffer emotionally and that couples in this situation suffer problems with intimacy and future reproduction. What was exposed in Alveda King’s talk was the coercive techniques used by abortion clinics with goals of increasing their profitability by convincing women that abortion was their only choice.
What I found totally lacking was a call to hate, for example, the gay-lesbian community. The belief of those at the congress was powerful in support of traditional marriage. The biggest concern expressed at the conference, I felt was that religious and parental rights to teach the value of traditional marriage is being threatened. There really is a massive movement to discredit and destroy both traditional families and religious bodies, and it is based in ideology that only government can and should ultimately decide what people should believe and own.
Over the next few weeks footage of the actual conference addresses will be made public. Pro-family speakers from all around the world added their voices including from Africa and Russia. This dialog spanned at least Christian, Jewish and Muslim faiths. Their powerful insights should be part of the public dialogue to help restore economic vitality and the liberty that comes from having strong families.

Lessons Learned in Teaching Children

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.

Things I am Thankful For
From my Primary Children: Things I am Thankful For

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)

The Hmong Sacrifice

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):


The Alligator Farm


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.

True to What We Know

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.”MindAndHeart_Rainbow

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.