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Finding My Own Happiness

50 States of Happiness

Before I share the stories of people around the United States, I feel it’s only fair to first share my story- to share what makes me happy, and what I believe happiness is.

There are many things that make me happy- I love my family. I love my friends. I love ice cream. I love socks. I love sweaters. I love spring. I love hugs. All those things bring me happiness- but if there is one thing I have learned- happiness can’t be a pleasure. Happiness comes from within.

I was born in Vladivostok, Russia. I was adopted at the age of two and I was raised in Utah. I learned to have a passion for photography, and I realized that I loved sharing goodness with the world. All these good things in my life didn’t just come to me, I had to work at it and allow myself to get through…

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The 25th Anniversary of Starting My Mormon Mission…

It has been 25 years, today.

mtcprovoJuly 3, 1991…I was 19 years old and my parents and brothers and I were at the Missionary Training Center (MTC) in Provo, Utah, saying our goodbyes. They were going to drive off and leave me there…

I had never lived away from home up to that point since my first year of college was spent at a local college. I don’t think I had been east of Utah in my life. Being the oldest, our family had never sent a missionary off. I was nervous. I’d imagine my parents were nervous. This was new territory. After a short presentation by the staff and leadership of the MTC, I hugged everyone, cried, and walked into a hallway with hundreds of new missionaries while my family walked back to the car with hundreds of families in similar situations.

First thing I learned as a missionary: I loved my family.

Then I hauled my bags to my room. Then I met Elder Evans who I would grow to love like a brother. Then I met the other missionaries going to my mission, and a few others going to other missions. I spent about three weeks in the MTC, learning, studying, playing basketball, eating (and immediately using the restroom), praying, praying…And eventually traveling to Texas where I served as a representative of my family, my church, and my Savior in bringing the restored gospel of Jesus Christ to anyone who would listen.

It has been 25 years since I embarked on that adventure. I served for two years. I’ve had 23 years to think about it. Here are some of the things I learned:

I learned that I could get along with anyone. I didn’t have to just stick with my friends like I thought I needed to do in high school. The mission president could stick me with any missionary companion and it wouldn’t be long before we were laughing and joking and working together. I even had one companion who didn’t speak any english (and I didn’t speak his language). We got along great!

I learned that I could work hard. I didn’t grow up on a farm or as an olympic athlete. It is doubtful that I would be remembered in high school as any other than an average worker. But very quickly I learned that I could go all day, so to speak. We were up at 6:30 AM, out the door by 9:00 AM, and gone all day until 9:00 PM that evening. And I liked it. I really enjoyed it. It was tiring, and could be discouraging, but we found ways to enjoy just working.

I learned that my intestines didn’t like 32-Bean-Soup.

I learned that my Samoan companion punched a lot harder than I did.

I learned that when you sense that a dog is going to try to bite you, it is because it really is going to try to bite you.

I learned that not everyone likes Mormons.

I learned that there was beauty and truth and great people in every religion.

I learned that there were incredible people who weren’t religious at all.

I learned to enjoy the friendship that developed with other religious leaders.

I learned that I enjoyed attended the Jewish Synagogue, Catholic Mass, and Baptist worship meetings.

I learned to let rejection, disappointment, and frustration bounce right off of me.

I learned that I could choose to be happy regardless of my circumstances.

I learned to get off of my bike, get out of my car, and get out of my routine to help strangers with no expectation of repayment. A person didn’t need to listen to our message to receive our help.

I learned to follow those quiet promptings, impressions, and feelings that come from a loving Heavenly Father.

I learned that obedience isn’t limiting or oppressive. Following the council of leaders doesn’t require that I become un-thinking or un-feeling. Just the opposite. And blessings and protection seem to follow.

I learned that Joseph Smith did, in fact, see God the Father and Jesus Christ. And that there was a lot to learn about that experience and from that experience.

I learned of the power of the word of God and the special relationship between the Bible and the Book of Mormon.

I learned that Jesus Christ really did live and die for all of us. He was resurrected and lives today.

I learned that God knew me very personally, and knows me today.

There’s certainly a lot more. Lessons were learned everyday. Over the last 23 years, since returning home and moving on with life, I’ve also learned that those two years as a missionary were not the best two years of my life. They set the stage. The mission ended up teaching me the patterns I would need to understand to make the next 23 years wonderful.

I will forever be grateful for parents and church leaders who encouraged me, but didn’t force me to serve as a missionary. I could have not served in that way and everyone would’ve loved me just fine. I had friends who didn’t go as full time missionaries and they were loved as much as me. So I learned that being a missionary didn’t make me any more special or loved by others or God.

But I’m grateful I went. I would go again. We’re encouraging our children to serve as missionaries because of the blessings and lessons that come. Those two years were critical in becoming who I am today.

Be encouraging…


What is Happening When God Doesn’t Answer…


The Woman of Canaan, by Michael Angelo Immenraet, 17th century

Typically, when I text someone with a question and I don’t get a response, I assume that either they didn’t see the text or they’re dodging me. I sometimes feel a bit impatient and I suppose there have been moments when I’ve felt a little offended. Same with a voice message. Or a Facebook message. Or en email (for those of you born after 1999, here’s what an email is).

It is a little different when God doesn’t seem to be answering.

Simply, we’ve been invited to ask Him for help through prayer. I know there’s more to it, but that is the bottom line. So, it is often confusing when we feel like there is no answer, and that may feel like it happens regularly. In fact, you may feel as though you’re in the middle of that situation right now. In a lesson I participated in today a thought occurred to me that helped me gain a little understanding into this oft-repeated situation, and it stems from a well-known story in the New Testament.

When Jesus had arrived in the coastal area of Tyre and Sidon (a non-Jewish community) he was met by a Canaanite woman who needed help. Her daughter was in trouble and she was asking Jesus to bless her, to help her, to heal her. Here is what followed her pleading:

“But he answered her not a word…” (Matthew 15:23)

So her prayer was met with…silence. Can you imagine her thoughts?

Did he hear me?

Should I repeat my question?

Is he paying attention to me?

Am I not good enough for him?

Am I not asking correctly?

Am I not using the right language?

Is there some secret code I don’t know?

Is he pre-occupied?

What is his problem?

Does he not love me and my daughter like he seems to love everyone else?

But I wonder if Jesus was teaching. Teaching her. Teaching his disciples. Teaching us. His disciples arrive on the scene (from either close by or far away) and think she should be dismissed. That would’ve discouraged her I’d imagine. I wonder if Jesus, upon hearing the disciples’ dismissive tone smiled a little and thought here’s a good teaching moment for both the woman and for my disciples

He doesn’t respond the disciples’ request either, which I find interesting. He converses with the woman, maybe discerning her faith through conversation as she makes her case that, yes, Jesus wasn’t really there to minister directly to the Gentiles, but that maybe there was still a blessing for her (which she rightly surmises). He may have been helping her strengthen her faith by exercising it. He also may have looked over at the disciples after healing the woman’s daughter as if to say, “We’re not here to dismiss anyone who approaches us in faith. We’re healers. We’re teachers. We’re hear to bless. One day you’ll be in the position I was in today and I don’t want you to be dismissive…”

The point, I suppose, is that Jesus wasn’t doing nothing when he didn’t immediately answer the woman in verse 23. There was always a plan even if it wasn’t obvious to the woman. But there was more to it than the woman probably was aware of.

There is a plan for you, too. Yes, God hears you. He wants to teach you and strengthen your faith. He wants to teach those around you and strengthen their faith. But that takes time. He may answer you “not a word” today. And tomorrow. And this year. But He is working on things, I promise…

Be encouraging…


She Wasn’t the Only One Who Touched the Savior’s Robe…

Notice how narrow the streets of Jerusalem are in the older parts of the city. And since many of the streets in the ancient parts of town haven’t shrunk, it makes sense that the streets in the Savior’s time would’ve been quite narrow as well. My guess is, walking up and down these streets would’ve been a pretty intimate experience.


Had you lived in Jerusalem 2000 years ago, you would’ve bumped into others often as you travelled through the winding streets of town. Your shoulders would have jostled people’s carts or you would’ve mistakenly stepped on someone’s sandals. Surely you side-stepped people or brushed up against them and their belongings regularly.

And that idea begs a question: Was the woman with an “issue of blood twelve years” and who reached out to touch the Savior’s clothes as he passed by the only person to touch his clothes that day? If so, why weren’t more people healed that day?

Short answer: Of course she wasn’t the only person to touch Jesus that day. Many people brushed up against the Savior and His clothing before and after she did. Most didn’t even realize that had touched Him. He may not have known that He had been touched by the others. But He knew that she had touched Him.

So, if touching his clothes healed the woman, why weren’t others healed that day as well? Short answer, again: Intention. Faith. Purpose. The woman who was healed touched the Savior as an act of faith. She intentionally reached for Him. She acted in faith and with purpose.

Thousands of people read the scriptures each day, but only a small percentage are “healed”. Countless people will pray this evening, but only a small percentage will be “healed” as a result. Many members of the LDS Church will partake of the sacrament on the upcoming Sabbath but only a small number will feel the cleansing power of the Atonement as part of that sacred ordinance. Many will look like they follow the Savior today, but only a handful of them will reap the blessings of obedience and love. Why? Because only a few will do these things on purpose and with intention.

Principle: When we act in faith with purpose and intention God can bless us in healing, powerful ways. When we go about our day with little intention or purpose, going through the motions, as it were, we miss connecting with Heaven. There is a difference between brushing up against the Savior because the streets are narrow and reaching out to Him with purpose, faith, and intention to obtain needed blessings.

So, today, look up and reach out in faith.

As always, be encouraging…



To Our Graduating Son: You’ve Made This Much, Much Harder Than it Needed to Be…

MIC_3069a copyDear Oldest Son…You graduate tomorrow! It is so hard for me to wrap my head around this. You were our “little guy” for a long time, then our “big guy” for awhile, and all of the sudden you are a man. It happened that fast. Probably happened faster for us than you.

So graduation will be celebrated tomorrow and with it will come a whirlwind of other milestones that involve our faith, college, marriage, employment, parenting, and a whole host of other things. You’re hitting the most exciting and adventurous time of your life. High school has been wonderful, but you haven’t seen anything yet. It gets better. So much better. So much deeper and more meaningful. You’re going to love it.

MIC_3059 copyYou think I’d be more excited. Honestly, I am. But you’ve actually made this much harder than it should be. Let me explain…

From what I hear, many parents are relieved to get this far without major incident. Secretly, many parents are excited for this day because their child starts out on his or her own. That is something to celebrate. No more late nights, waiting up and worrying about their child. No more lectures. No more school fees. The stress level eases up a bit.

But we never had that with you.

We haven’t been waiting for you to leave. We’ve been enjoying having you in our family more than you can imagine.

  • You’re a wonderful “big brother” and have done things with your siblings that Mom and I couldn’t have done.
  • You are so enjoyable to talk with. Your opinions and views are interesting and respectable and admirable and genuine.
  • You are kind to others. You are more kind than I was at your age.
  • You’ve made it look easy, but it hasn’t always been easy for you. You’ve battled. I look up to you. 
  • You have always taken into account our feelings when you’ve made decisions. That isn’t easy for any teenager and maybe wasn’t for you either. But you’ve done it.
  • You are so good at taking counsel. I know I’ve gone on a bit too long in my “teaching moments” and you’ve been pretty patient with me. Very patient, actually.
  • You express gratitude and notice when Mom and I have tried to make life enjoyable for you and your brothers and sisters.
  • You have lived in a way that has allowed us to hear so many good things about you from other adults. I’ve walked away from many conversations with others about you and have smiled.
  • Your dating life has been a joy to witness and hear about.
  • You are the type of son who I like to share parts of my day with. You get excited about other people’s success.
  • You have grown closer to God in a way that gives me and Mom a lot of peace in our hearts. Your spiritual life is genuine.

You’ve made mistakes. We’ve made mistakes. We’ve had to run quite the experiment on you. We hadn’t done this parenting thing before you came along. It hasn’t been perfect and we’ve been far-from-perfect parents. But son, you have made it very hard to let you go because it has been a privilege and blessing to be your parents.

Let me confess something here that is a little embarrassing for me: A few days ago when no one was home, I went down into your room for something and while I was down there I caught a whiff of your bedding and pillowcase. It brought me to tears. In a weird way, you smell the same as when you were a little boy. I know that smell and I love it. I sat there on your bed, in tears, and mourned. You know, I’ve never wanted these days to end. Playing catch, kicking the soccer ball around, wrestling, joking. Eventually coaching your teams, taking you to try-outs, touring the middle school and high school. Helping you remember your locker combination. Late night school projects. Getting excited for your first date and dance, ordaining you to offices of the priesthood, talking about your first kiss, teaching you to drive. Applying for college, filling out your church missionary application. Designing your high school graduation announcement…Now those doors and chapters are closing. And it is hard. At least, it is hard for me. I can’t tell you how hard this is for me.

But here’s what won’t change: Mom and I will pray for and about you everyday until we pass away. You need to know that. We’ll eventually pray for your sweetheart and children. You’ll always have a home, and eventually it will be a home away from the home you and your wife will build. We will always love you, and that love is not dependent upon your success or failure. You can count on it. We will always want to hear about your day. Your struggles. Your questions. Your triumphs. And whatever boring things happen in your life won’t feel boring to us. We’ll want to hear about them. We’ve had confidence in you since the start, and that will only grow. 

So, go ahead and graduate tomorrow. It’s time and you’re ready. And we’re excited and ready to celebrate. We love you more than you can understand. But please know that deep down in my heart, this is hard. And you’ve made it that way, because you’ve been an answer to our prayers…

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My Experience With an Update in Church Policy…

Screen Shot 2015-11-06 at 9.14.40 AMI’ll try to keep it brief.

I felt some surprise last night when I opened up my browser to find an update in Church policy regarding married gay couples and their children. My gift of being prone to anxiety (with her soul sister, “over-reaction”) caused some immediate feelings of either dread, panic, anxiety, or worry (I never can tell which I’m feeling at the outset) at the headline “LDS Church to exclude children of same-sex couples from membership” (thanks to KUTV for adding click-bait drama to an already controversial subject). Of course I had an immediate response. I was confused. I don’t like “exclusion” and I love people and don’t like people feeling hurt.

But, following is what happened to me last night. I wouldn’t use me as an example, for sure, but I think there is a divine pattern in what I experienced.

  1. Right off the bat, I decided not to go to Facebook and see what everyone thought. And, I decided not to go share a response immediately, since I knew I only had part of the story. Social media is not where I find answers to deep things.
  2. I reached out to people with understanding. I made some phone calls, and received a perfectly timed call from one of my favorite former students. She and I talked through our thoughts and feelings as she reached out to say, “Help me find some understanding here”. We acknowledged our feelings and limited understanding and talked about the possible and probable reasons for the policy. We decided we needed more info, but that this was still a hard one. There is no doubt in my mind that there will be some (or a lot) pain and hurt involved here, and that breaks my heart. I decided not to ignore those feelings either.
  3. I looked for an official Church response. There wasn’t one. I expect there may be one shortly.
  4. I started asking myself some questions, prayerfully: 1. Why would the leaders of the Church make this policy change? What reasoning could be behind it? Obviously this wasn’t meant as a way to attack gay families, since the hasn’t been the overall pattern of Church leadership. They’ve tried to teach true principles and practice kindness in a world that won’t allow those two options to exist in the same room at the same time.
  5. I had a moment where the thought came into my mind: Who does this policy protect? And as I pondered that thought for some hours, I had an awakening regarding the matter: This policy protects families with gay parents and children/youth who want to join the Church while living in a family with gay parents (see below for explanation).
  6. I felt some relief and peace, and that peace felt very familiar. It is the same feeling I feel when I have a good scripture study evening, or serve someone, or worship in the temple, or teach the gospel. Peace is a good answer.
  7. I then happened upon a clarifying quote from a comment the Church made about the policy:

The LDS Church says the concern is that the expectations of church attendance, baptism, priesthood ordination and other ordinances would put the child in a very difficult position, considering the parents could not be church members. (Fox13now.com)

In the night, in my personal scripture study, I happened upon D&C 6:14, which reminded me that inquiring of the Lord on these matters will be more helpful than inquiring at the knee of Facebook, Twitter, or the mainstream news media outlets. Joseph Smith “lacked wisdom”, he “stud[ied] it out in his mind”, he “ask[ed] of God” and received a “pillar of light” as part of the answer. I can testify of that pattern. I went to the Lord for help and received some good instruction. I was happy to see the quote from the news that complimented and confirmed what I felt, but I’m not sure I needed it. I am grateful for personal revelation. I hope more information will be forthcoming. But I am at peace.

Be Encouraging…BJM

(Now, here is my explanation regarding how this new policy is a protective policy, rather than a restrictive policy. If you don’t care about my explanation, and I’d agree with that choice, then you’ve already hit the end of this post for all intents and purposes)

I had a young man come to me some time ago, wanting to sign up for seminary. He isn’t a member of our faith, but he has a lot of Mormon friends. His parents are practicing members of another faith, and they’re a great family.

He asked me about signing up for seminary even though his parents probably wouldn’t like the idea. He was hoping I would support him in his decision to attend anyway. There was a minor feeling of shock when I told him not to attend, at least not without a very long and patient visit with his parents. I don’t know if he was hurt or not by my non-support, but I just couldn’t let him make a decision that would make his family life harder. I really do want him to take seminary, but right now, that wouldn’t bless his life. It might complicate it. So I invited him not to take seminary unless he had the full support of his family.

The policy disallowing children of same-sex couples to be baptized protects that child. It protects that same-sex couple and family. To require a young person to sustain the prophet, attend church regularly, and work toward the temple while living with two same-sex parents (who are most likely wonderful, understanding, and loving parents and providers) is requiring that child to draw a line in the sand in their home that isn’t fair to the child or parents, especially at a young age. By allowing baptism, the Church would be putting the child in an almost-impossible situation where keeping covenants might be out of reach or may cause increased tension and contention in the home. The child would eventually have to hurt and offend his/her parents, or back away from important covenants made in the waters of baptism. It would be more wise to wait until the child was more mature and out of the home before making that momentous, covenant-related decision to join the Church through baptism.

Rather than banning or barring children of same-gender couples, I believe the Church is protecting them from a covenant that, in this case, would negatively affect their spiritual progress. I am thankful for thoughtful Church leaders and a loving Heavenly Father who is making it more likely that His children will return to Him.

No One Can Make Me Believe, and No One Can Make Me Choose Otherwise…

D&C 5:16

D&C 5:16

I had a moment of clarity some time ago regarding belief, faith, testimony, and knowledge. Things are a little more simple for me now, and more peaceful. And, in fact, I feel like I can put my drive and effort and heart into what I think are the most important things in life now…I thought I was before, and I was trying, but things feel even more peaceful now. Best explanation I have, I guess…so here we go.

No one can make a person believe in God, Jesus, or Joseph’s divine calling as a prophet in the latter days. And, no one can make a person not believe or stop believing. More clearly, you are responsible for your choice to believe or not to believe, and you can’t “blame” anyone for your choice. Evidence either way can’t be blamed, and arguments or the choices and examples of others can’t act upon you in a way that takes your agency away. Personal moral agency is too central to God’s plan to have Him force one of His children to be a believer in Him or to allow another person to force their will upon a son or daughter of our Heavenly Parents. Think about what is taught in Moses 4:3 regarding how protective God is of our ability to choose. Can you imagine God saying, “Here is some evidence that I won’t allow you to choose to ignore. I just made you a believer and you’ll get the consequences whether you like it or not…”? Also, can you image God saying, “Here is evidence that will make you a non-believer. You might want to be one, but I’m using this evidence to stop that, and to stop blessings you would otherwise be qualified to receive…”?

Once a person makes a choice–a purposeful agency-backed choice–there are possible and probable outcomes. If you choose to believe, you are now capable of receiving a confirmation from a source outside yourself. In other words, your choice to be a believer (and acting on that choice) qualifies you for a heavenly witness. For instance:

“…whosoever believeth on my words, them will I visit with the manifestation of my Spirit…” (D&C 5:16)

I have made the conscious decision to believe in God and prophets, and that decision, made over and over, day in and day out, has been confirmed by quiet manifestations of God’s Spirit. The promise in D&C 5 has come to pass in my life. There’s been very few remarkable or outstanding spiritual moments…just quiet manifestations that the choice to believe is the right one for me, and that I don’t believe in something that isn’t true. In other words, God is real.

With all of the evidence that proves that Heavenly Father exists, and all of the evidence that He does not, none have caused me, or anyone else, to have to believe or not to. I have chosen to believe, and have had His Spirit allow me to know things I couldn’t know based on evidence. We have Heavenly Parents, and God has called prophets in the last days.