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The Gift of Tongues, Courage, and Our Son the Missionary (a letter to Landon)…

unspecifiedI wrote to Landon today and sent the letter through the Church’s “pouch” system, which is great but slow. Not knowing exactly when the letter will arrive in Mexico, I tried to share some ideas with him that will not be “old” no matter when the letter arrives. Here’s part of the letter:

“Dear Landon (sent through the Pouch on Jan. 3, 2017) (sorry for the small font size and spacing…gotta keep it under a page!)

“Man, I wish these letters could make it to you the next day like in the MTC! I loved knowing you could hear from us in just 24 hours most days. Knowing this letter may take a month to get to you isn’t very fun! But, I want you to get physical mail every once in while and the emails are more “conversational” so these letters will be more just me sharing things about the gospel as if we were sitting on the couch downstairs. I miss our gospel conversations!

“I learned a pretty important truth from one of my students and I know we’ve talked about it before but I want to share it again. In fact, I’ll be sharing two things today and both are important to missionary work and the work of salvation in general [I’m not including the second idea in this blog post]. Here’s the first truth…

“I was asking my students about the “gift of tongues” and what was required to receive that gift. Of course, the students mentioned praying for the gift and studying the language which are obviously important and I’m sure you’re working on those two. But one student surprised me a little with her answer. She said, “Courage is the most important thing. Once I decided to just try to speak to people in their language, knowing that I’d mess it up and a few people would laugh a little or make fun, my language skills took off and I really noticed the gift of tongues.” Most of the class nodded. When I pressed them a little, they all said that they had to just get over the fear of messing up in front of others. Interestingly, trying to use the gift before they had the gift was actually part of receiving the gift. They saw real growth when they showed the Lord that they weren’t going to let fear dictate their progress or actions.

“I think it is true of all gifts, and there are more gifts available than just the ones listed in the scriptures in 1 Corinthians 12 and Moroni 10 and D&C 46. In fact, there are endless gifts to help us overcome endless mortal weaknesses. If we are trying to develop the spiritual gift of forgiveness, we have to be a little gutsy and forgive someone who may hurt us again. Or if we are trying to develop the gift of service we have to go out of our comfort zones and offer help even when it is uncomfortable. So here’s the principle: Qualifying for the gifts of the Spirit requires courage. When I was a bishop, I prayed for the gift of discernment which means, in part, the ability to know the thoughts and intents of the hearts (through the Spirit) of those I was serving. I prayed for it, a lot. There were times when I would sense someone was struggling after passing them in the hallway or seeing them in sacrament meeting. I would worry though that if I asked them, they’d look at me weird and tell me that they were fine and then I’d look like a overly-worried, nosey bishop. But after a while, I decided to just ask people when I had those moments and hoped that they’d feel my love and God’s love and even if I was wrong, they’d know I was asking because of that love. So, I got brave and started opening my mouth more. And 9 times out of 10 they were struggling. Maybe 9.5 times out of 10. And that gift grew and developed and was a real blessing to certain ward members and to me. But it wouldn’t have developed had I not got over myself and my fears and started just acting. I’m grateful the Lord was willing to bless others through that gift, but courage was a key.

“So, how can you take your courage up a notch? What can you do today to show the Lord that you won’t get in your own way when it comes to the gift of tongues? How can you muster even more courage to just go and talk, open your mouth, regardless of your current skill level?

“I know that as you continue to show the Lord your courage (and I know you are courageous, or you wouldn’t be out there in Mexico surrounded by strangers!), He will literally fill your mouth with His words, in the language of the people you’re serving…”

There’s a few more paragraphs in the letter and the font was so small he may not even be able to read it. I hope the idea of developing courage is a blessing to him and the missionaries around him. It has been to me!

Be Encouraging…

BJM

 

A Letter to Our Missionary Son…

mickelson-and-coronadoOur oldest son has spent 6 weeks in the Missionary Training Center in Mexico City and recently flew to Guadalajara where he will spend the next 22 months or so. We email him each week and I try to write a letter to him each week as well…Here is a recent letter I sent, hoping he’d receive it close to when he arrived in his new area:

December 20, 2016 (Pouch)

Dear Landon…

This is my first letter through the Pouch system and I’ll be interested to see how it works. I’m writing this on Tuesday, December 20 and will mail it today so keep track and let me know how long it takes for this to get into your hands. My guess is that it will go from here (Logan) to Salt Lake, to your mission office and then must be hand-delivered by an office elder to you, right? So that may take some time. I know that I can email you each week and I will always do that, but I like writing these so that you have a physical copy of some of the things I would like to share with you and teach you that I think will bless you. I would imagine you will not be able to print the emails so you don’t have access to them throughout the week. Anyway, let me know how this goes and how often do these pouch letters are delivered to you.

I can’t believe you are in Guadalajara!!! You’ve met President and Sister Clayton, been interviewed, met the APs, and met your trainer! You’ve also been assigned you first area and are meeting ward or branch members and a few of the people in your teaching pool I would imagine. So awesome. You may also feel a little overwhelmed with it all and a little frustrated with the language, even though I think it has been coming along pretty well according to your reports from the MTC. So, you have a few decisions to make. In case you’ve not already made them, here are some ideas:

  1. Decide right now that obedience is the first law of heaven
  2. Decide right now that loving your companion doesn’t depend on what he’s like as much as on you choosing to love and serve him
  3. Decide that the Book of Mormon isn’t only central to your investigators’ conversions, but to yours
  4. Decide to follow the council of the Mission President no matter what
  5. Decide to trust in the Lord

You’ve already learned how to overcome frustration or discouragement or homesickness while in the MTC, or at least part of how to do that. And to be honest, you’ve learned things that most parents only dream of their son learning as an 18-year-old. Where else can this kind of growth happen? I love where you are and what you’re doing! You have already learned how to lean on the Lord for help and I promise you, Heavenly Father knows exactly where you are and what worries and excites you! I promise that is true.

We are so excited to hear the details of Guadalajara and the Claytons and your trainer and district and zone. This is it. You’re the real deal now. It is high adventure from here on out. Elder Neal A. Maxwell shared this: “Now we are entering times wherein there will be for all of us as Church members, in my judgment, some special challenges which will require of us that we follow the Brethren. All the easy things that the Church has had to do have been done. From now on, it’s high adventure, and followership is going to be tested in some interesting ways” (“The Old Testament: Relevancy within Antiquity,” in A Symposium on the Old Testament [Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1979], p. 12) There will be boring moments in the missionary field and slow times for sure, but you out there, in the middle of the Lord’s work!!! You have a family that loves you and thinks about you all of the time and misses you and prays for you multiple times a day. You have a companion who loves you. You have a mission president who loves you. You have friends who love you. You have people from the other side of the veil who will help you and whisper to you and encourage you through the Spirit (2 Nephi 32:2). And, you are blessed with talents and gift more than most. Use them.

I love you more than you can know!

Love,

Dad

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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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…

MIC_3046a copy

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.

An Increased Likelihood of Personal Revelation…

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Everyone knows that Lehi “dwelt in a tent” (1 Nephi 2:15). Common knowledge if you’re a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. You probably also know that Lehi was on the wealthy side of life during his life in Jerusalem because he left his riches when he left Jerusalem, listing gold and silver, etc., on the list of things that were abandoned (1 Nephi 2:4). If you use the little search box at scriptures.lds.org and look for the word “tent” in the Book of Mormon and stick to just the start (where Lehi is mentioned) you’ll see that Nephi made mention of Lehi’s tent a number of times. One of these instances stood out to me recently.

Screen Shot 2015-08-30 at 8.45.10 PMIn 1 Nephi 9:1, Nephi shares that Lehi saw and heard and spoke “these things” as he lived in a tent in the valley of Lemuel, and that there were more things experienced as well. “These things” refers to Lehi’s famous “Tree of Life” vision; easily one of the most important visions in Lehi’s experience or in the Book of Mormon. For some reason it struck me that Nephi seemed to go out of his way to mention that Lehi was living in a tent when this great revelation was received. Why? Why point that out?

Lehi wasn’t living his ideal life at this point. I mean, who in Jerusalem would imagine wealthy, successful Lehi living in a tent in some random valley, far from friends, family, business associates, and trade routes? I can’t image that Lehi ever pictured this life for himself. But there he was, in very humble circumstances. Or, better said, in very humbling circumstances. And that is where the revelation was received.

Two possible principles:

  1. Maybe Nephi is subtly teaching that we don’t have to been in the best of circumstances to receive revelation. Maybe having life go smoothly isn’t a prerequisite for spiritual experiences. So, if you are dwelling in a tent, so to speak, as opposed to where you’d like or where you pictured yourself, you aren’t out of luck when it comes to the blessings of heaven.
  2. Which brings me to possible principle number two. And that is, maybe Lehi’s humbling circumstances are the very reason he was qualified to receive this important heavenly message. And if that is the case, thank the heavens for those times in our lives when we find ourselves in humbling circumstances, where personal revelation is more likely to settle on and in our hearts and minds.

I don’t know for sure, of course. But, I am more thankful for the moments I find myself out in the tent as opposed to in the castle. I need all the heavenly help I can get.

Be Encouraging…

BJM