MyPlan.lds.org, and a Pattern for Transitions…

Screen Shot 2015-07-12 at 7.32.34 AMMy friend and colleague recently posted a link to MyPlan.lds.org, where returning missionaries will put together and follow through on plans that will make their transition from full-time missionary to returned-missionary a little easier and more effective. Interestingly, their first “learning experience” relating to returning home successfully will take place before they enter the MTC. Another learning experience will take place when they’ve been out in the missionary field for about half of their service time. Then, various learning experiences will occur each week of their last six weeks in the field. These plans will be shared with their mission president and home-stake president so that they have built-in support for working on goals and someone to visit with about their efforts. Of course, their parents are encouraged to play a significant role in their transition home.

That’s where we often see the struggle: the transition home. And in fact, that is where we see a lot of problems, generally: transitions between one life event/situation to another. Here are a few examples:

  • From married to divorced, or separated, or widowed/widowerhood
  • From single to married
  • From a couple to parents will a child or children
  • From parenthood to empty nest-hood
  • From one school to another (elementary to middle school, etc.)
  • From one department at a job to another
  • From one neighborhood to another
  • From prison or jail to home life
  • From one level on income to another
  • From one group of friends to another

Regardless of the life change, people feel a little off-balance and little less-assured when they’re moving from one part of life to another, regardless of how seemingly small the transition is.

And that is where “we” come in. By “we”, I mean everyone who is around and can offer assistance, support, guidance, help, etc. We can help make sure a person’s transitional moment doesn’t go so negatively that they make choices that will ruin future chances of happiness and success, spiritually or otherwise. We can make a transition a positive experience that opens up new opportunities. For instance:

  • When a person or family walks into church for the first time, greet them. Ask about them. Be friendly and find a way to offer support in a non-awkward way.
  • When children are preparing for a new year in school, talk to them about what they’re nervous about.
  • When a person is newly-singled (for any reason) their friends need to be supportive and look for ways to help them in this transitional period.
  • When a person is newly hired in the office, it is kind and helpful if their new colleagues go out of their way to be friendly, offer info on the “lay of the land” and office culture, etc. It is nice to have someone to go to lunch with.

The pattern set by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is to help a returning missionary have a successful transition from the mission field to home life, but that pattern should be a lesson to all of us in the need to assist everyone in what could be the toughest moments in life. We can keep an eye out for those in transitions, both small and overwhelming, and be part of the supportive solutions others need.

Be Encouraging…

BJM

Why I’m Not So Ready to Give Up My Anxiety Quite Yet…

anxietyLet me start by saying that I don’t think my anxiety is like anyone else’s. Therefore, my experience isn’t meant to be a pattern for anyone. If the following is helpful, wonderful… But it may not be.

I remember thinking that I’d give almost anything to get rid of the anxiety. I would see people who seemed unaffected by turbulent events and I’d just wonder what in the world that felt like. I was pretty envious. No. I was really envious. And sometimes desperate.

But I feel a little different now. If I could magically get rid of my anxiety, maybe I would and maybe I wouldn’t. I think I see a few benefits wrapped in the pounding heart and pitted stomach. Let me explain.

First of all, here’s been my experience (the best I can describe it):

  1. I’d be laying there in bed, sometime after 11:00 PM
  2. I’d start a little “what-if” game about a situation that was unpleasant
  3. It wouldn’t take long before my mind would go to the “worst case scenario”
  4. I’d begin to kind of obsess this worst case and replay it in my mind over and over
  5. The worst case became the probable-scenario
  6. My heart would beat and my mind would race as I tried to figure out how I’d solve this nearly-unsolvable situation and the worry and dread would seep in
  7. I’d look at the clock and think, “Oh great. It’s 3:00 AM and I haven’t slept which means tomorrow is going to be terrible…and also, I have cancer or I’m going to get ax-murdered or my children are going to get abducted” or whatever the worst case scenario was
  8. Knowing that what just happened was irrational and that the thing I was anxious about was not, actually, probably going to happen, my mind would not let go and my heart would continue to race and, therefore, I couldn’t sleep
  9. It would happen again the next night…

And take that list and change it a little and add feelings of being overwhelmed, no desire to be around others, stomach and digestion issues, loss of confidence, etc.

Now, truthfully, much of that has relaxed a bit. I made one visit to a therapist and he was very, very helpful. I changed a few things, physically. Things have definitely eased up in this department, for which I’m very grateful. And I also know that my experience is just mine and how things have eased wouldn’t work for someone else, I suppose. But I still have little episodes here and there. I think I’m just a little better equipped to deal with them than I was five years ago.

With all that said, I can trace a list of blessings back to anxiety. And I don’t think I really want to give these blessings up:

  1. I’m almost never late. In fact, if I have a speaking engagement, I show up 30 minutes early or more (I like to see everything and solve any problems before they become problems, and pace around a little, nervously)
  2. I’m almost always fully prepared for whatever I’m doing. If there is a chance of something going wrong, I prep for it. And my imagination can think up plenty of things that can go wrong so I get really prepared.
  3. I think, a lot, about how others feel. Empathy comes much easier than it did a decade or two ago. I assume others are bothered or stressed or nervous or in some kind of emotional distress. I think maybe I’m a little more kind than I used to be (maybe others would say otherwise)
  4. I’ve learned to listen to my brain and body a little more carefully. I can feel stress and anxiety rising and am better at addressing it. I am better and going to sleep and working out and eating differently.
  5. Being in a good mood is a very “on purpose” thing for me. I choose it more directly now than ever. I know what helps me feel happy and I go do those things. It is kind of a pre-emptive strike against unneeded negativity. That has become like second-nature at this point. I feel genuinely happy almost all of the time.
  6. I’ve established a habit of not worrying about past things. I spend almost no time regretting things, no matter what they are. Learn a lesson and keep moving.
  7. I’ve had just enough experience in life to now see that things generally work out and turn out or get figured out. I’m seeing a pattern. If you address problems, get appropriate help from others, and trust the Lord, the worst case scenario is almost never what happens.
  8. Maybe the most important blessing is that I have practiced relying on the Lord more fully and trusting Him. That seems to help ease anxiety when it is coming.

Honestly, I slept on the couch a few nights ago because my tossing and turning would surely keep my sweetheart awake. I was worried that our basement would flood. I checked the sump pump numerous times, tested it, checked the weather (on three different apps), prayed for a dry basement, and spent a little time imagining what our flooded basement would look like. I talked myself out of it, then worried myself back into it. But then I realized that, due to my anxiety, we had built our home a little higher in the ground than I would have otherwise and we had a sump pump that was working properly. I also decided that a flooded basement would be miserable and maybe expensive, but that there were worse things. And I went to sleep. It was about 1:30 AM, so not too bad…

The anxiety isn’t gone completely. But things are better. I wish I knew how to help someone else, but I’m not sure my list applies to everyone. I do know that there have been blessings that have come because my anxiety hasn’t been taken, removed, healed or any of the other things I used to pray for. In fact, the best description may be this:

And I will also ease the burdens which are put upon your shoulders, that even you cannot feel them upon your backs, even while you are in bondage; and this will I do that ye may stand as witnesses for me hereafter, and that ye may know of a surety that I, the Lord God, do visit my people in their afflictions.

And now it came to pass that the burdens which were laid upon Alma and his brethren were made light; yea, the Lord did strengthen them that they could bear up their burdens with ease, and they did submit cheerfully and with patience to all the will of the Lord. (Mosiah 24:14-15)

The anxiety isn’t gone, but I feel better about shouldering it. And for that I’m grateful.

Be Encouraging…
BJM

What I Mean When I Say that “I Know the Gospel is True”…

Holland book of mormonThe phrase “I know” seems pretty definite and makes people a little nervous, if not dubious and doubtful. I totally get it. Hearing other people express the idea that another can’t know for sure that the gospel or the church or obedience is true–and that they know it–has given me reason to dig into what I’ve meant when I’ve expressed that idea…the idea that I know the gospel is true.

Here is what I mean, and it comes in parts, and I may not be expressing this as clearly as another person could:

I’ve tried to spend much of the last 30 years studying out multiple sides of the gospel of Jesus Christ. I’ve studied the scriptures, the words of those who founded the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, the ideas of those who question the gospel or church or leaders, the words of those who have fought against the Church, the talks and addresses of the general authorities of the Church, and a lot of what would be considered in between “believers” and “nonbelievers”. So, I’ve tried to do good research. I still have more to go in this category.

I’ve tried to live the tenets of this gospel. Admittedly, that hasn’t gone as well as I wish. Meaning, I mess a lot of stuff up. I can’t seem to keep the commandments in my life the way I picture myself doing it in my mind. I’d like to say that I’m improving there, but that may or may not be true. Hopefully I am. The verdict is still out, but either way, I still have some work to do in this category.

Third, I’ve asked God for help in understanding what is going on when it comes to truth, church, spirituality, and life. I’ve asked, seeked, and knocked, as directed by the scriptures.

In the spirit of transparency I need to share these two things: First, I hope the gospel is true. I hope there is a God and a Jesus and prophets and apostles and priesthood keys. I hope the Book of Mormon really is an additional witness, working with the Bible, that Jesus is the Christ. I hope repentance is a real thing and I hope that there is a literal resurrection and I hope Joseph Smith really was visited by God in 1820. I do want these things to be true. Secondly, I am choosing to believe. By choice, I am a believer, because there is no other way to be a believer but to be it, to choose it. And, yes, I would totally understand if you were thinking the phrase “confirmation bias” over and over in your head. Totally get it.

My honest experience is that as I’ve studied the church and gospel, tried to live the gospel and serve well in the church, and asked for direction from God, my choice to believe has been confirmed by spiritual witnesses, the source of which is outside of me. I have received many, many quiet, simple, spiritual confirmations that what I’ve been studying and living is true. Do I know that every single little part of the church and gospel is true? I don’t know how to answer that. I’m not there yet with the above steps. But what I’ve chosen to believe about what I’ve studied and lived has been confirmed, repeatedly.

I have nothing to say about other people’s experiences, but I know what I’ve experienced.

When I say “I know the gospel is true”, I mean that my belief in the gospel (and the study and actions behind it) has been confirmed by God through His Spirit. And those confirmations have brought peace, motivation, continued hope, and optimism beyond any other source I’ve experienced…

Be Encouraging….

BJM

Thomas S. Monson, Maddox Restaurant, and Dinner….

Thomas_S_MonsonSince my grandmother passed away a few weeks ago I’ve been stopping in to see my grandfather each week on my way home from work. I love the visits. I ask him a bunch of questions and he tells stories to answer. I’m learning a lot… For example:

Years ago Grandma and Grandpa were enjoying a meal at Maddox (if you live anywhere near Northern Utah and don’t know Maddox, stop reading, get up from your chair, and drive to Brigham City right now…get this problem solved). I don’t know what Grandpa was eating, but Grandma had ordered seafood. Apparently she wasn’t super experienced with cracking crab legs* open, etc., and was having a little trouble. Grandpa was busy with his meal so he didn’t really realize that Grandma was struggling.

All of a sudden they hear an older gentleman’s voice from behind them. The man said, “I’m sorry and I don’t want to interfere, but I noticed that your wife was having a little trouble opening that crab of hers. Can I help?” With Grandma and Grandpa’s permission, the kind old man gets Grandma’s meal all cracked and ready to eat. My grandparents introduce themselves and thank him and he introduces himself…

“I’m Tom Monson. I was in Logan speaking to a group of young people and I’m heading back to Salt Lake, but I always like to stop and eat at Maddox. Again, hope I’m not interfering…”

An Apostle of the Lord had cracked open my grandmother’s crab legs so she could eat it more easily.

It wasn’t a big deal, but I’m afraid that if I noticed someone struggling to crack their crab legs open, I wouldn’t think to go and “interfere”…and I’d miss a chance to serve.

I’m thankful for President Monson’s example and willingness to help others, even in small ways.

Be Encouraging…

BJM

*There was some question about whether Maddox has ever served crab. Great question. So I contacted Maddox and inquired. Here was their reply: “Brian, Crab legs are not a regular menu item for us but we have ‘specialed’ them in the past.  We usually run crab legs or lobster specials on holidays (valentine’s day, mother’s day, etc) so it is a possibility.”Thomas_S_Monson

Parents: Explain, Share, and Testify…

head-shoulders-portrait-jesus-christ_1160198_inlThis will be short…

As a religious educator, I have some ways of measuring my efforts in the classroom. One of them to ponder and measure how well I “explain, share, and testify of gospel doctrines and principles”, and also to invite the students to do the same: explain, share, and testify.

In the Gospel Teaching and Learning manual, you’ll find the following:

Explaining doctrines and principles, sharing insights and relevant experiences, and testifying of divine truth clarifies a person’s understanding of gospel doctrines and principles and improves their ability to teach the gospel to others. As students explain, share, and testify, they are often led by the Holy Ghost to a deeper testimony of the very things they are expressing. Through the power of the Holy Ghost, their words and expressions can also have a significant impact on the hearts and minds of their peers or others who are listening. (2.6)

Think on those three words and their meanings: Explain, Share, Testify. So here’s my question for LDS parents, and any parents who are trying to teach their children to love the Savior and His gospel: Are you giving your children opportunities to explain, share, and testify, and are you taking opportunities to explain, share, and testify of gospel truths yourself?

Sometimes our Family Home Evenings are boring, not productive, confusing….lame. Other times we have pretty effective FHE moments. And in fact, we have a lot of other opportunities to teach the gospel outside of FHE. During our best moments, our children have chances to explain their understanding of different aspects of the gospel, share experiences they’ve had with those principles or thoughts and feelings they’ve had about the principles, and testify of what they feel and believe. My sweetheart and I do the same.

Those are our best moments of gospel learning…

Be Encouraging…

BJM

From the Other Side of the Veil: “Please Try and Help Us…”

Screen Shot 2014-12-23 at 8.27.29 PMI had an interesting, though not-as-dramatic-as-it-is-going-to-sound, experience on Saturday…

I had spent a week and a half planning to do family history work. But projects got in the way, and nothing came of it. Finally, on Saturday, I determined to sit down and just do something. Anything, really.

So I spent about three hours browsing around my family tree, trying to recall who I was last working on. With some good luck and searching, I found an individual who hadn’t really been attached to our tree. Then I found part of his family. They weren’t direct-line ancestors, but more like direct-line and over one branch and back down a limb ancestors. As I researched this little family, I happened upon an obscure-ish book about their family’s ancestry (on Google Books). It seemed like such good fortune until I realized that there was really a lot of tedious and kind of boring work ahead of me, recording names and dates and places, which took the wind out of my sails a little.

I had already been at the computer for three hours. My back was stiff, as were my legs. I had other more relaxing things I wanted to do. So I decided to push back from the computer and take a break…a break that might not end for days…

As I was wandering away from the computer, I had a thought. It wasn’t a voice, really. It was barely an impression. But the thought quietly came into my mind that seemed to share this:

I know this is boring work, but please try to endure it and find us. Please be ok with working hard to find us. Please don’t stop just because this is hard…

I didn’t know where the thought came from, and in fact, I didn’t really pause and ponder and wonder much. I just walked back over to the computer and kept working. I wasn’t really trying to be obedient because I didn’t think the thought came from anywhere special. I thought that I had just thought it, and maybe I did. Maybe I didn’t. I still don’t know for sure.

But over the next hour I found a number of previously unknown individuals who fit in our family and who had not had the opportunity to accept (or reject) the ordinances of the templeActually, it was one of the most genealogically productive hours that I’ve had in recent years. I’m really glad I stayed at the computer…

Here’s a small summary of what I’ve learned:

  1. Bringing people to Christ is hard work, whether on this side of the veil or the other.
  2. Bringing people to Christ requires patience on our part, whether on this side of the veil or the other.
  3. When someone says, “I’m not really interested in or good at genealogy or missionary work or helping the poor” they don’t realize that most people probably aren’t, but if we leave helping people up to only those that are gifted at it, not much will get done.
  4. Being worried about other people and really putting forth a lot of effort to help them is part of making your way back to Heavenly Father, and it is ok if it is a little hard sometimes. That is the only way that our experience will line up, even in some small degree, with the Savior’s experience helping us.

You and I can do hard/tedious/boring/frustrating/discouraging things…especially when it will bless someone else…

Be Encouraging…

BJM