Coincidence

Coincidence is God’s way of remaining anonymous. – Albert Einstein

My grandma and mother in law share a birthday. Coincidence? Maybe. They each love to dance, were at one point in their life heavily involved in theater, bake with extreme talent, and suffered from bunions.

Their second oldest daughter played the clarinet when they were younger.

I could fill a page on the similarities, but there are many differences too, the biggest being that Avalon Perkins, my grandmother was born and raised in a small town of Arizona, while my mother-in-law was born and raised in Argentina.

I serve as the bridge between the two families, and maybe I’m the only one that sees the “coincidences.” That was until last week.

On February 12th, 2015 I was informed that my grandma had suffered a stroke ad lay in a coma in the Utah Valley Regional Medical Center in Provo, Utah. I waited anxiously as the doctors grasped the severity of the situation.

That next morning, Friday, February 13, 2015, my wife awoke me. She said that her twenty-seven-week-pregnant sister’s water broke and so she underwent an emergency c-section at the Utah Valley Regional Medical Center in Provo, Utah. Her sister was doing alright but the baby who did not yet have a name was badly bruised.

Over the next while we learned that the baby received the name of Liam and underwent a couple blood transfusions. There was a procedure where the doctors surgically inserted a heart monitor into the little guy. And my grandmother passed away.

As the days passed, arrangements were made for the remembrance of a kind woman and tests and procedures were made to help a little preemie.

Yesterday at the memorial and interment, there was a table of items from my grandmother that those in attendance were welcome to take.

I don’t know the purpose of the baby blanket we found. There are a lot of my cousins having babies, perhaps it was intended for one of them. Or maybe it was something left at her house when someone visited. Or even more likely, it was a gift she made for someone she wished to serve. My grandma served a lot of people in her lifetime and not just the hundreds of relatives.

We accepted the blanket and it seemed fitting that we offered it as a gift to little Liam, for in some way the two seem connected by coincidence. But now they are connected through service.

I don’t think that God wants to remain anonymous. I think that He wants his children and creations to recognize Him and His guiding hand. And it is through us that He can do that. Coincidence may connect us in this life; will it in the next? Service will.

Each life that touches ours for good
Reflects thine own great mercy, Lord;
Thou sendest blessings from above
Thru words and deeds of those who love.

What greater gift dost thou bestow,
What greater goodness can we know
Than Christlike friends, whose gentle ways
Strengthen our faith, enrich our days.

When such a friend from us departs,
We hold forever in our hearts
A sweet and hallowed memory,
Bringing us nearer, Lord, to thee.

For worthy friends whose lives proclaim
Devotion to the Savior’s name,
Who bless our days with peace and love,
We praise thy goodness, Lord, above.    Karen Lynn Davidson

 

 

Free to Choose?

You could say that I had a choice; I could always choose to do the right thing or choose to do the wrong thing and receive the consequence of being grounded for the rest of my natural life.

movieOnce when I was 18, I went to a movie with some friends, The Net. I sat right behind my stake president and his wife. My mom was furious that I had seen a PG-13 movie. I didn’t let her know that I had seen many others and even a couple Rated-R films that I wasn’t proud of.

She organized a family night lesson where she berated me in front of the family, shaming me and my decision, stating that the Stake President was disappointed in me for seeing me there and that my actions damaged her image because she was on a stake council and she often preached that it was a sin to watch PG-13 movies, so I, her oldest son needed to set an example, especially for my younger siblings, instead of undermining her.

My mom went around the family, pointing one at a time at each of the nine children, asking that we commit to never watching a PG-13 movie. I wouldn’t do it. She continued, threatening a barrage of consequences and finally saying that we would stay in family night session until I committed. “Sure,” I lied.

Until a few years ago, I raised my kids the same way, telling them that they have a choice between this awful thing or this wonderful thing, while shaming them if they chose anything other than what I thought was best. Through personal experience and study I’ve learned that this type of parenting is less effective. It pushes away the child and ultimately reinforces the idea that choosing is a bad thing. As an adult I would find myself creating scenarios where I “had” to do something, believing that I didn’t have a choice in the matter.

I felt that I “had” to go to church and I “had” to pay tithing and I “had” to do family history and I “had” to read the scriptures. I ended up resenting it. What should have brought me peace and joy brought me contempt and anxiety. When I realized that I did have a choice I began to feel the blessings of those choices where before, when I “had” to do it, I don’t think I was fully participating in the blessings that come from doing good.

I have friends that have left the church because they didn’t see the joy in it and now that they are “out” they seem happier and more at peace. I think that this has something to do with what we’ve been discussing. Rather than a culture of rules, restrictions, and limitations, the gospel of Jesus Christ is a series of opportunities to experience joy and love and hope.

I get that young children often need a decision phrased out as a choice between something good and something bad; it helps them learn and be accountable. But when a child is no longer a child they acquire abstract thought. They can comprehend that life really isn’t about a series of right or wrong choices, but a wide array of choice integrated into human dynamics and emotions, fostered by passions and desires. The world I live in, isn’t as simple as a choice between right and wrong.

I seldom wake up in the morning wanting to do something bad. I don’t want to steal or murder or hurt another person. I typically want to be happy and help others. The most difficult decisions that I make aren’t to do something wrong or do something right but are to deciding which right thing to devote my time and energy too—a decision between right and right. (Not even Good, Better, and Best.) I’ve experienced choices that I have felt that whatever I chose, God would sustain.

I believe that God doesn’t only sustain our good choices but that he also celebrates them. I believe that our righteous choices (and I’m not necessarily referring to our righteous actions) are a source of joy and rejoicing of God.

praySeveral years ago my son had such a choice to make. He asked me for advice. Of course I had an opinion on the matter but something caused me pause. I remembered when I left home to serve a mission for my church. I had an extremely difficult time knowing what it was that God wanted me to do. Usually in such a situation I would seek out my mom and ask her opinion. She would give it. I would do what she said whether I wanted to or not because God commanded that we respect our mothers and our fathers, so in a sense, even if her advice was wrong, I couldn’t be held accountable for my inappropriate choice because I honored my mother. (That was some pretty messed up thinking).

So back to my son, I told him that the choice was his to make and that prayer might help.

He returned moments later from praying. I asked him if he got an answer. His reply surprised me and taught me an extremely valuable lesson.

“He said it was my choice.”

Why would God not give direction where direction was requested? My entire life up until that point believed in a myth that there was a right and a wrong to ever question. That is what the hymn says right? No. It states, “There’s the right and the wrong to every question.” Not a right and a wrong. It follows up with, “Be safe thru inspiration’s power.”

I take that to mean that to every question, there is a right side and a wrong side. The wrong side of my son’s question would have been for Heavenly Father to dictate what it was that my son should do rather than reaffirm one of the greatest gifts that God has given to man—choice.

“What are you going to do?” I asked my son. He thought about it and chose the one that he wanted. I encouraged him to return to prayer and let Heavenly Father know what he chose. He did and received the burning confirmation that his choice was accepted.

Since that time, my relationship with God has changed. Most often my conversations go something like this.

Me:      I really like this idea and I’m thinking I’d like to pursue it.

God:    Great.

Me:      Can you help me recognize what I need to do to succeed?

God:    Of course.

or

Me:      I’m confused here. I’ve got to make a decision, this way or that way.

God:    Okay.

Me:      Do you have an opinion on the matter?

God:    No. What do you want to do?

Me:      I’m leaning toward…

God:    I think that would be great.

About a year ago I had one conversation that went like this. (I say conversation but this happened over about a month).

Me:      I’m thinking of moving to Utah.

God:   …

Me:      I think I might have more opportunity there. It might be easier to do my job.

God:   …

Me:      Maybe I’m just excited for a change. Maybe I’m trying to escape from something.

God:    Your parents divorce?

Me:      Yeah. I’m so sick of the drama. In Utah, I’d be removed from it all.

God:    I see, but is that the best thing for you and your family?

Me:      I don’t know. Is it?

God:    Think through it some more. You have a senior in high school that moved around a lot when he was a kid and finally has been able to experience some stability.

Me:      You’re right. So maybe after he graduates?”

I was then given some very specific information about a series of opportunities that Heavenly Father has been preparing me for, and that by moving to Utah, I would miss out on certain experiences that are divinely designed to help my family and myself.

Me:      I’m going to stay in Arizona.

God:    Good.

The following is my interpretation of a conversation between God (or Christ) and the Brother of Jared:

BoJ:     We’ve got some problems with the boats.

God:    Yes?

BoJ:     We can’t breath, we can’t steer, and we can’t see.

God:    Don’t go punching holes in the boats. You don’t have to steer because I control the waves and the winds and I’ll get you where I want you to go. Have faith and trust me.

As for air, cut a hole in top and a hole in the bottom and make lids for each. If you pull a lid out and water comes in, cover it back up because you’re probably under the ocean.

As for light, what do you want to do?

It’s interesting here that the direction was very specific for something that could be detrimental to the operation. Light, however, wasn’t a matter of life or death.

Brother-of-JaredWhat if the Brother of Jared was explicitly directed to solve the light problem? Would he have grown? I don’t believe that the idea of making glass stones would have been the solution that God would have come up with. I mean, maybe he would have offered a flashlight or the clapper.

Would the Brother of Jared have had the experience of seeing Christ and being shown everything if a solution would have been given to him to solve the light problem? I don’t think so.

I believe that the Brother of Jared’s efforts brought a smile to God’s face. I think He is pleased with his children when they magnify their gift of choice. When we plan things out in the mind and heart that he gave us and when we cease the opportunity to create.

Additionally, I don’t think it mattered how the Brother of Jared solved his problem. I don’t think that if he had asked God to recreate something like the burning bush on Mount Sinai, or whatever else he came up with, that his experience would have been any different.

Lately, I’ve tried not to dictate my children’s lives, instead offer them the opportunity to discover God and develop a relationship with him.

And a mistake isn’t the end of all things. God allowed Adam and Eve to transgress even though it brought them pain. In fact, it was by His design. The greater lesson learned from the Garden is that God’s purposes are the exaltation of man, not his condemnation. Why would God have protected the tree of life? It wasn’t a punishment; it was a blessing.

God has said, “For behold, it is not meet that I should command in all things; for he that is compelled in all things, the same is a slothful and not a wise servant; wherefore he receiveth no reward.

If I recall, there was another that wanted to command in all things so that the glory would be his. I think that he is still about this purpose today, striving to relieve man of his ability to choose through the devices of addiction, shame, manipulation, and control.

So let us teach our children correct principles and then really let them govern themselves. Let’s refrain from shaming them into righteousness, denying them of the blessings of a righteous choice, taking the glory unto ourselves. Instead, Let us show them the true way of happiness and joy through embracing one of the greatest gifts of existence—choice.

You said I Do, so that Means, You Do What I Say

Something has been on my mind as of late. The memory is from about 8 years ago. I was on the phone with a client and feeling a little insecure for not having wrapped up an assignment. My wife happened to be in the room, so I motioned to her to retrieve the client’s file from my drawer, as I continued the conversation. My phone beeped letting me know the battery was low. I indicated to my wife to hurry but she didn’t understand my gestures or read my mind. The phone beeped again and I thought it had died for good. I unleashed. I felt like she, being my wife, was an extension to me and as such should be in tune with my needs, my wants, my mind, whether I expressed myself or not. Then I realized the phone was still on and my client heard every word. I tried to recover, but it was too late. Someone from the outside saw behind the curtains.

What had changed in my relationship with her? At one point in time I strived to earn her respect and love, and I returned the sentiments. And if anyone else spoke to her that way, I’d have their hide. So why was I entitled to do so?

I’ve treated my children the same way, like extensions of myself. For some reason, believing that the relation gave me license to treat them in ways I wouldn’t dare treat another that wasn’t related.

I’ve worked a lot with youth and I think I’m pretty good at it.  When teaching a youth a skill, I’m patient; I explain myself, I teach, I’m kind and friendly, and loving. But when teaching my child the same, I use words like, “Cause I told you so” and “Don’t question me” and “Just do as your told.” Why?

A few years ago we were able to adopt a young man, one of those youth I had worked with. I noticed the discrepancy of how I treated him versus my natural born children and I started to question my parenting methods.

I’ve spent the last couple years trying to repent and change. I’ve taken a hard look at all my familiar relationships. Those that I’ve treated the worst are family; those that have treated me the worst are family. The only physical altercations I had growing up were with family. The worst names I’ve been called were by family, a sister in particular. Maybe it’s because my family knows who I really am and the rest is a show? No. I have genuine relationships with many others that know all about me, and I don’t feel the need to disrespect, control, or manipulate them.

I used to think that that’s just how it goes. I can treat someone close to me that way because I care so much.

good samaritanBut what gives a child the right to verbally degrade her father? What gives a husband the right to disrespect his wife? What gives a wife the right to demean and belittle her husband or her children?

Christ taught, “Love thy neighbor as thyself.” I interpreted the Good Samaritan parable as loving people of different beliefs, origins, cultures as myself. I’ve done this. But why would that exclude those closest to me?

An hymn written by H. R. Palmer states this beautifully.

Angry words! oh, let them never
From the tongue unbridled slip;
May the heart’s best impulse ever
Check them ere they soil the lip.

Love is much too pure and holy,
Friendship is too sacred far,
For a moment’s reckless folly
Thus to desolate and mar.

Angry words are lightly spoken;
Bitt’rest tho’ts are rashly stirred—
Brightest links of life are broken,
By a single angry word.

I’ve noticed that the times that I’ve degraded or belittled anyone, particularly my family, is when I hate something about myself and I’ve taken it out on them (extensions of me). It’s not right. Just because two people said “I do” doesn’t give free license to disrespect, control, manipulate, degrade, shame, or belittle in any relationship that formed because of those vows.

I’ve realized that those in my family aren’t extensions of me and have no obligation to do my bidding. They, like everyone is entitled to respect, kindness, courteousness, and gentleness. My adopted son helped me see this and I’m a better dad and husband because of it.

Covenant Maker, Covenant Keeper

One of the purposes of the Aaronic Preisthood is to prepare to make and keep sacred covenants. I’ve been thinking lately of those covenants I’ve made and have been asking myself the following question.

I am a covenant maker, am I a covenant keeper?

It was with that in mind as I listened to the sessions of General Conference and counted some 84 times that I heard covenants mentioned. Here is a list of the quotes I found most helpful.

Eyring“Whoever you are and wherever you may be, you hold in your hands the happiness of more people than you can now imagine. Every day and every hour you can choose to make or keep a covenant with God.”

– President Henry B. Eyring

“Wherever you are on the path to inherit the gift of eternal life, you have the opportunity to show many people the way to greater happiness. When you choose whether to make or keep a covenant with God, you choose whether you will leave an inheritance of hope to those who might follow your example.”

– President Henry B. Eyring

“You may be the first in your family to lead the way to eternal life along the path of sacred covenants made and kept with diligence and faith. Each covenant brings with it duties and promises. For all of us…those duties are sometimes simple but are often difficult. But remember, the duties must sometimes be difficult because their purpose is to move us along the path to live forever with Heavenly Father and His Beloved Son, Jesus Christ, in families.”

 – President Henry B. Eyring

“Keeping our second estate depends on our making covenants with God and faithfully performing the duties they require of us. It takes faith in Jesus Christ as our Savior to keep sacred covenants for a lifetime.”

 – President Henry B. Eyring

“The greatest of all the blessings of God, eternal life, will come to us only as we make covenants offered in the true Church of Jesus Christ by His authorized servants.”

– President Henry B. Eyring

This plan is marked by covenants with God. It is our free choice whether we make and keep those covenants.

– President Henry B. Eyring

By revelation, Eve recognized the way home to God. She knew that the Atonement of Jesus Christ made eternal life possible in families. She was sure, as you can be, that as she kept her covenants with her Heavenly Father, the Redeemer and the Holy Ghost would see her and her family through whatever sorrows and disappointments would come. She knew she could trust in Them.

– President Henry B. Eyring

Wixom“We are covenant-making women of all ages walking the path of mortality back to His presence. Keeping covenants protects us, prepares us, and empowers us.

As we strive to keep our covenants, our feelings of inadequacy and imperfection begin to fade, while the ordinances and the covenants of the temple come alive. Everyone is welcome to walk that path to eternal life.”

– Rosemary M. Wixom

Hales

 

“To rationalize disobedience does not change spiritual law or its consequences but leads to confusion, instability, wandering in strange paths, being lost, and grief. As disciples of Christ, we have a sacred obligation to uphold His laws and commandments and the covenants which we take upon ourselves.”

– Elder Robert D. Hales

 

 

Hallstrom“We need to be priesthood men! Whether we are young men holding the Aaronic Priesthood or men bearing the Melchizedek Priesthood, we need to be priesthood men, showing spiritual maturity because we have made covenants.

Receiving the priesthood and its various offices should mean something to us. It should not be a perfunctory “rite of passage” that automatically happens at certain ages but a sacred act of covenant thoughtfully made.”

– Elder Donald L. Hallstrom

Stevenson

 

“Self-discipline is needed. Daily prayer, scripture study, and church attendance must be the foundation of your training.  A consistent pattern of obeying the commandments, keeping the covenants you have made, and following the Lord’s standard found in For the Strength of Youth is required.”

– Bishop Gary E. Stevenson

 

 

Burton“We are to lay aside the things of [the] world, cleave unto our covenants, and come unto Christ and follow Him. That’s what disciples do! As we try our best to move forward along the covenant path, we become more complete and perfect in this life.

The best way to strengthen a home, current or future, is to keep covenants, promises we’ve made to each other and to God.

– Linda K. Burton

Oscarson

 

“We are members of the Lord’s Church, and regardless of our individual circumstances, we can all enjoy the full blessings of priesthood power through keeping the covenants we have made at baptism and in the temple.”

– Bonnie L. Oscarson

Bednar

“Making and keeping sacred covenants yokes us to and with the Lord Jesus Christ. Covenants received and honored with integrity and ordinances performed by proper priesthood authority are necessary to receive all of the blessings made available through the Atonement of Jesus Christ.”

– Elder David A. Bednar

 

 

Packer

 

“We do not always know how or when blessings will present themselves, but the promise of eternal increase will not be denied any faithful individual who makes and keeps sacred covenants.”

– President Boyd K. Packer

 

 

 

Corbridge

 

“Marriage and family are not conventions of men until only death do us part. They are intended to be made eternal through covenants we make with God. The family is the pattern of heaven.”

– Elder Lawrence E Corbridge

 

 

 

 

The Perfect Addiction

disproveA few years ago, my son tried a newly acquired ninja move in his sister’s bedroom. As he mounted his foot, the drywall gave way. I found him dangling by a leg, his foot embedded in the wall. If such a thing were to happen today, I’d laugh and probably snap a photo to memorialize the hilarity. Not so in my earlier years. I took ample time to yell at him for not thinking through his actions. I dragged him all over the house, showing him every hole and mark he’d left from his past ventures, reminding him once again of all his prior mistakes.

In my ignorance, I believed that this tool was most effective in rearing a child in the way he should go. I now know that Shame has long-lasting consequences that are not only damaging to the child, but to those future relationships the he or she may develop and to the countless generations to come. Shame is learned and passed on.

In our pre-mortal existence, we know that Lucifer (Satan) proposed that Heavenly Father send him, rather than Jesus to redeem all mankind and not one would be lost. I’ve wondered how this would have come about. I believe that he intended to take away our choices, forcing us, controlling us to do his will. This of course was completely contrary to God’s plan in which we would be given agency so that we could think and act for ourselves and not be acted upon.

Using Shame in parenting is abuse. It’s a form of brainwashing or conditioning the child to behave a particular way, removing agency from the equation as Lucifer intended. We use it to show disproval and disagreement. It’s a way to train a child not to act, but to react as they are acted upon. I have no doubt that this system of parenting was developed by Lucifer himself.

In College I was watching television with a close friend in the basement of her home. Her dad appeared for a second then returned upstairs. My friend became visibly anxious and excused herself from the group. Later I found her in tears. She told me that her dad was mad that we had hijacked his television time. I saw nothing from her father that indicated that he was upset and asked how she knew. She just did. I think she had become conditioned. Whatever look he gave my friend caused in her a reaction that had been conditioned over her lifetime.

The raw effect of parenting by shame is that it causes children to believe that love is conditional. They are only deserving of love if they make good choices.

Style: "Porcelain pastel"Let’s pursue that thought. What does a Shaming Parent do when the child obeys? Do they let the love flow in great abundance? No. It’s still conditional. I used to find myself saying, “That’s great but…” A Shaming Parent can always find a reason to withdraw and withhold love. Showing love is showing weakness; it undermines the control. Heaven forbid they start to think and act on their own.

The result is a child that is conditioned to aim for perfection and nothing less; because only through perfection might they reach that dangling carrot. And when they fall short time after time (as is the design of this existence), they begin to feel that they will never be good enough; nothing they do is worth the effort, they are broken, useless and unwanted. Their world is seen as black and white, right and wrong.

Some counter these feelings by creating alternate realities, convincing themselves and others that they are perfect and therefore able to be loved and happy. But the truth is they aren’t perfect, no one is; deep down they know this and so they don’t feel allowed to find joy and peace.

They turn to comparing themselves to others. Judging others’ shortcomings distracts from their own and dodges any opportunity to accept personal responsibility, reaffirming the false reality that they are perfect.

I have a theory that our perception of God is based on our perceptions of our parents. For much of my life I believed that I could only feel God’s love if I were perfect. I had a fundamental belief that I did not deserve the Atonement unless I did nothing wrong (wherein I would have no need for it).

Shaming our children can have a powerful impact on their relationship with God and understanding the Spirit and feeling the healing effects of the Atonement of Jesus Christ.

Black and white thinking can be devastating to relationships and to the person’s well being as they battle with hypocrisies and fallout from their mistakes unable to apologize or even accept the possibility of doing anything wrong.

examIt’s like a test. We black and white thinkers only have one shot at this exam and there are only two outcomes, pass and fail. To pass we need a perfect score, 100%. If we get one problem wrong, dropping our score to 99.8%, we were something other than perfect and so we’ve failed. It’d be no different if we got an F. To some this might seem absurd. But to those that have been conditioned by shame, they will understand, and possibly even agree with the analysis.

The need to be perfect is an addiction and permeates every aspect of our lives. We live for praise. Some fall prey to emotional affairs. Others neglect their family while reaping praise from serving the world. We judge and criticize those around us, and mostly those closest to us. We create a paradigm where we can do no wrong. Such a world will eventually become unmanageable because it is not founded on principles of the Gospel like forgiveness and repentance. After a lifetime of perceived perfection we abandon sacred truths, break sacred covenants, and continue to point the finger elsewhere.

Like battling any addiction, the 12-step program, particularly the Addiction Recovery Program developed by The Church of Jesus Christ of Later-Day Saints can help.

The first step for me was the hardest.

Admit that you, of yourself, are powerless to overcome your addictions and that your life has become unmanageable.

ARP“Rarely do people caught in addictive behaviors admit to being addicted. To deny the seriousness of our condition and to avoid detection and the consequences of our choices, we tried to minimize or hide our behaviors. We did not realize that by deceiving others and ourselves, we slipped deeper into our addictions. As our powerlessness over addiction increased, many of us found fault with family, friends, Church leaders, and even God.” – ARP Manual, Step 1

The Perfect Addiction may be more subtle, less noticeable than say drugs or pornography, but just as damaging to our souls. Sins do not necessarily keep us out of heaven, not repenting of them will. The Perfect Addiction brings with it pride, resentment, unwillingness to forgive, and selfishness.

If any of this has hit home, or if you have found it offensive, hard to hear, please take some time to soul search. Take courage and look in the mirror. It was extremely difficult for me, but I’ll tell you that on the other side, life is wonderful and happy. Through daily repentance and the Atonement, I can over come the effects of shame in my own life and refrain from passing this addiction onto future generations.

cry

 

I decided to get a Divorce

Last night, I helped my son prepare a talk for church who was asked to speak on Elder Scott’s address from this past conference; one I can’t say I really remember hearing.

Richard-G-Scott-GC-Oct-2013Elder Scott spoke of the covenant made by King Lamoni, his brother Anti-Nephi-Lehi and their people, to not take up arms against others. They buried their weapons (not so they couldn’t use them, but so the weapons would remain spotless and stand as a testimony that they had kept their covenant).

They gave their lives to keep that covenant.

helamanYears later Helaman, son of Alma, good friend to Ammon who taught King Lamoni the gospel, reminded the people of Ammon of their covenant not to take up arms. He, their former priesthood leader, pled with the people not to break their covenant, but instead send their sons, boys and young men to fight.

The talk brought to mind an experience I had just over a year ago. I was sitting in the spare bedroom in the basement, a pit in my stomach, wide-awake in the middle of the night. I had been living in the spare room for a couple months.

My parents had also been living in separate rooms for some time and the word divorce could be heard more and more often.

When I was sixteen, I lived a summer with my grandparents who at that time had a similar sleeping arrangement, up until they divorced a year or two later.

That night in the spare room, I came to a conclusion. I wasn’t going to wait forty years to end a toxic marriage. I wasn’t going to prolong the inevitable. I decided to get a divorce.

I had been going to counseling for about a year and felt that I had been given many tools to help my relationship with my wife, and all that was missing was for her to fall in line and do her part. I had built a severe case against her; I accused her, diagnosed her, labeled her and judged her. I jumped at every opportunity to point out her faults and mistakes and to remind her of past failures. I told myself that by doing so I was helping her out, providing leadership. After all who doesn’t love to be told over and over and over again that they’re wrong. Moreover, I felt that I would somehow be held accountable if I didn’t point out her problems.

Elder Scott said that the people of Ammon’s “wise priesthood leader, Helaman, knew that breaking a covenant with the Lord is never justified. He offered an inspired alternative,” to send their sons that hadn’t made the covenant.

This passage struck me particularly hard. “Breaking a covenant with the Lord is never justified.”

A couple weeks ago I exchanged emails with someone that suggested God would under the right circumstances tell someone to get a divorce and break the covenant they had made over an altar of the temple before God, angels and witnesses. This person stated it was similar to God commanding, “Thou shalt not kill,” but then commanding Abraham to kill his son and Nephi to kill Laban. I suppose the point was that there are always exceptions.

Before I continue with this thought, let me clarify that I do believe that God cares about us and our wants and desires, and that there certainly are circumstances that would justify a divorce. Additionally, the covenant made in a temple marriage and sealing involves more than one party in addition to God.

abraham isaacBack to Nephi and Abraham. As I pondered this thought and read the passages of scripture where Nephi was commanded to take Laban’s life I realized that according to the Law of Moses and the doctrine given to Nephi, he was not commanded to do anything that was contrary to the Law of Moses or the law of the land.  Nor was Abraham commanded to do anything contrary to the gospel. God used the experience to teach Abraham the true reason for living the law of sacrifice they had been given. Abraham nor Nephi were asked to break a covenant they had made.

As I further pondered, I could not think of any moment in scripture where God commanded anyone to break a covenant they had made. The story of the people of Ammon came to mind and I felt that God honored and supported our covenants and that even though the people of Ammon would have been justified in taking up arms, they were counseled not to because they had made a covenant.

Breaking a covenant with the Lord is never justified. Elder Scott’s counsel came as an answer to prayer and my studying of the topic.

When I told my priesthood leader I was considering a divorce, he encouraged me to try and keep the sacred covenant that I had made in the temple. He invited me to continue to go to counseling, and invited my wife to go separately.

In our discussion, he helped me see that I was ever ready to bend over backwards for others, unconditionally love anyone, willingly forgive associates for great offenses but somehow I wasn’t able or willing to do those things for the person that at one time was the closest and dearest to me. I considered myself to be my brother’s keeper, but I was not that of my spouse.

I prayed and studied, pondered and prayed some more and I realized that I could not justify breaking that covenant. It didn’t happen right away, but my heart began to soften and change. The Lord in his goodness showed me the louse I had been and helped me see how to become something better. He helped me to see the need I had to check boxes rather than live the gospel as I discussed in a previous post. He guided me to develop unconditional love for my bride. As I repented and softened my heart, I felt happiness, true happiness.

Up until that time I had been miserable. I tried to hide it from the world; I blamed it on those around me, or things outside my control. I found some reprieve by badmouthing my wife, building the case, and reinforcing my judgments, but deep down I knew I was wrong, no matter how justified I felt, I was a hypocrite.

I professed to be a Christian. Christ didn’t look for opportunities to point out mistakes, condemn those that had sinned, cast out the unworthy, withdraw his love from even those that betrayed him. Quite the opposite. Christ came not into the world to condemn the world, but that through him the world might be saved. My actions were not at all Christlike.

I didn’t necessarily care about solutions; I was more interested in not being blamed. Building the case helped me to feel justified in my hypocritical actions.

Looking back at the years, I realize that it was difficult for the Atonement of Christ to take effect in my life because of my pride, more than my sins. Sins won’t necessarily keep us out of heaven, not repenting of them will. How could my heart be mended if it was broken, or my spirit touched if it wasn’t contrite?

Once the healing power of the Atonement took effect and the peace came, it was easy to let go of the case I had built against my wife. Unlike the parable of the debtors, I had been forgiven of a great many things, who was I to not forgive the minor offense?

15 yearsSo it’s been over a year and we have kept and recommitted to the covenant we made December 19, 1998. This past year has been the funnest, happiest, greatest year of my life.

I feel like King Lamoni when he said, “And I also thank my God, yea, my great God, that he hath granted unto us that we might repent of these things, and also that he hath forgiven us of those our many sins and murders which we have committed, and taken away the guilt from our hearts, through the merits of his Son.”

Beard Envy

Beard EnvyI had a proud father moment. My daughter (may have been making fun of me) drew glasses, beard and mustache on her face. It is quite possible she was suffering from Beard Envy that has taken hold of many, even me who has never had a desire, or the ability to grow proper facial hair.

Several friends have grown out their beards, and I found myself growing ever envious of their changing profiles.

I first began noticing the beards in No Shave November. In December and thereafter the beards didn’t come off.

I wonder if it had something to do with the popularity of Duck Dynasty, now those are some beards.

My BeardThen I came across this article on CNN talking about Hollywood getting on board. That’s about the time I get off of any fad I’ve ever been a part of. Though I shaved it down, I believe that there is something deeper to the beard envy. I wonder if we men, long to be men, to do manly things, to act like a man. As a member of the male gender, I have found it confusing at times, knowing how to act as society continues to change what I once believed to be my role in society. Growing a beard helped me reestablish and reconnect with my manliness. Do you have beard envy?

Checking Boxes

Crest Before
In a cabin in pine, above the fireplace, hangs what was once a beautiful piece of art.

It’s a family crest, or was when first hung there many years ago. It’s made of solid wood, shaped like a shield, with a banner once reading “Sanders”. The crest was composed of small, individually cut and added wood pieces, each with differing color and texture. Together, they formed a beautiful complicated piece of art representing the Sanders Family. There was a large bull at the top, posturing to all that Sanders were stout, tall, proud, and passionate people. I particularly loved the fleur de lis in the middle, representing to me my family’s involvement in scouting.

Crest AfterOver the years, the crest fell apart. It seemed every time I’d visit the cabin another piece had fallen from its position, victim to the heat of the fireplace. What the family used to comfort our stay actually destroyed the crest. As the fire’s smoke and heat rose through the chimney the glue, securing the wood pieces softened then melted.

I sat, recently, in front of that fireplace, under that very crest. I asked myself what could have been done different.

I was thinking about the crest, but more intently thinking about my family, my parents and eight siblings. At the time, my father had moved out of the house, and soon after, my mother filed for divorce. As I stared at the crest above the flickering fire, I thought of the countless lessons my parents taught me, though now they seemed to have less tack.

At the age of seventeen, my parents sat down with us children and discussed that my grandfather, a man respected in the community, a former Bishop and member of the Stake Presidency, along with my grandmother after 40 years of marriage and twelve children, decided to call it quits. Of course this terrified many of my siblings, but my parents assured us that they had their act together, they loved each other and they would never split up.

My recent conversation with my children was a little different.

My parents bragged that for some thirty years, maybe more, that they read the scriptures everyday except for one night back in ’78, maybe it was ’79? Even when they were living apart, they still read scriptures. I was raised to believe that scripture reading was an ingredient for a successful marriage. I doubt it hurt, but I’m learning that a successful marriage isn’t achieved by checking boxes.

That may actually be a large factor in my family’s current situation. If we believe that God will judge us on our works, that it is only through strict adherence to the laws, that qualifies us for heaven, we might adopt a practice of checking boxes. Reading scriptures, going to church, saying prayers, paying tithing, all great things, if done out of fear of condemnation, don’t seem to harvest the blessings that foster happiness. If we check the boxes with hopes of not being punished, its difficult to enjoy the moment, or recognize the blessings that are predicated upon those laws. And what of the atonement, forgiveness, and mercy?

The devil would have us think that our efforts aren’t good enough, that we don’t deserve grace because we haven’t done “all we can do.” The story of our existence changes when we realize that the greatest of us, the only deserving, able of inciting damnation, came not to condemn but to save.

As a box checker, I often found myself looking at others around me, seemingly free from the daunting tasks of righteousness, wondering why they appeared so happy, free. I judged them, I condemned. I thought that by checking the boxes, I would someday find myself, after having endured to the end, struggling through this existence, carrying the crosses I’d been asked to bare, at the Savior’s feet, where he would say, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.”

I’ve since had a change of heart. I realize now that enduring to the end is the fun part, the great part, because now I have the knowledge of who I am; I have been forgiven and shown mercy. Now I can enjoy the blessings of the atonement and the gospel and be happy.

That was difficult to see through my judgmental eyes. My insecurities and fear drove me to criticize those around me, passing condemnation onto the lot, as I sought to find fault with others, in the name of righteousness. In truth I was living way beneath my privilege, making this existence harder for myself and those around me. In reality, the scene I often visualized of describing to the Lord the boxes I had checked, complaining about the crosses I had born and the sacrifices I had made would have merited the words, “I never knew thee.

As box checkers, we bend over backwards to serve those around us, to offer a ride, make a pie, donate countless hours to others and worthwhile causes. This usually merits kind recognition, appreciation from those served. It might even allow us to dream of our mansions above and with that, maybe we already have our reward. To our family, those not in the lime light, where action isn’t seen by the world (except through Facebook), it’s difficult to find time and the only boxes requiring checks have little to do with being a good parent. There’s a world of difference between reading versus of scripture, and teaching children the Gospel. And “no success can compensate for failure in the home.”

Heat will come; there is opposition in all things. I think the answer to avoiding separation is stronger bonds. As I’ve abandoned the ways of checking boxes, I’ve learned how to live in the moment, finding joy in everyday situations with my family. I’m more grateful for my life, and I recognize the multitude of blessings that come from, not checking boxes, but making righteous choices.

The greatest bond comes through the healing power of the atonement. The atonement not only has the ability to heal the offender but also the offended.

I use to believe that my day was made up of right or wrong choices, black or white decisions. If I was in tune with the Spirit, I would be told the right choices to make in everything I did, down to which road to take to work. I was essentially asking God for more boxes to check. Then I learned that the Spirit doesn’t work that way. God gave us a mind in which to ponder, and free will to choose, not between black and white, but purple, orange, red, and blue, and hundreds of thousands more.  The Spirit isn’t going to tell us anything contrary to God’s plan of happiness. God gave us families to help us become what He wants us to be. The Spirit cares about what’s important to me, and doesn’t seem eager to give me boxes to check.

Another bond is each other. At one point all of us were on the same side. If Christ came not into the world to condemn the world, who are we to not forgive all men.

Family Photo

Even though the crest is looking pretty pathetic, it wouldn’t take much to restore it to its former majesty. A little love and forgiveness could go a long way.