Friday, September 19, 2014

"Quite the Experience"

Very early yesterday morning, my newest nephew was born. Of course, we went to visit him and his family as soon as we could, and we were pleased to hear what a wonderful baby he has been. He wasn't fussy when his siblings held him, and he hasn't been crying much, either, though we had been told that he cried a little bit when he had his first diaper change. That was understandable, as my mom had said, it must have been "quite the experience."

Since then, I've been thinking about what an experience that newborn is in for. I've thought of my own life and the experiences I've had, how my experiences have shaped my personality and helped me to grow. I don't think that Samuel has had many opportunities to show his personality yet, but I imagine that his new life will alter his personality anyway. No one goes through life unchanged.

Life itself is a great experience. Sometimes life is good, sometimes it seems terrible. For some, life is harder than it is for others. Some love life; others hate it. Whatever life experiences Samuel has over the next several decades, they are certainly going to have a strong influence on the man he goes up into and the life he ends up having hereafter. These experiences will not only comprise his mortal life; they will also have a strong impact on his eternal one. Thankfully, it's clear that his parents are up to the task of raising him well.

Life itself is "quite the experience," and I wonder how often we stop to reflect on how our lives have affected us - how they've changed us from the people we were before we were born to the people we are now. I wouldn't be too surprised if we've all changed quite a bit. Life is a life-changing experience. That's why we all came here to experience it. Samuel just started his life-changing life, and none of us know exactly how it'll turn out, but one thing is certain: whatever experiences he has, they will certainly be great ones. Our little Samuel is in for the adventure of his life.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

The Night I Was a Paladin

Last Tuesday evening, as I was biking home from school, I found a library book lying on the road. Since the library was close to my home, I decided to take the book back to the library so I could get it back to its rightful owner or its rightful borrower. As I arrived at the library (I'm certain God had a hand in the timing), I overheard a conversation between another cyclist and a security guard. The cyclist didn't have a lock for her bike, and the guard was explaining that, with everything she had to keep her eyes on, she couldn't guarantee that the bike wouldn't get stolen. But I could. I carry two bike locks, which a usually use to make my bike doubly-secure. This time, I used only one lock for my bike, and let the other cyclist borrow the other.

Inside the library, I learned that the library book I'd found on the ground wasn't actually part of our library's system. It actually had belonged to another library, but it wouldn't be in that library's system either. It had been "withdrawn," and there was no way of knowing now who the book currently belonged to.

With my business at the library unsuccessfully concluded, and since the cyclist needed to stay a bit longer, I left instructions with the cyclist to leave the lock locked to the bike rack when she was done with it, and leave the key with the security guard. On my way home from the library, I left a note near where I had found the book, giving my contact information in case the book's owner should come looking for it. I later biked back out to the library to retrieve my lock and key, singing hymns and Disney songs all along the way.

Reflecting on the events of that evening, I realize that I had been on a sort of adventure, and during that adventure, I did many good things that, several months ago, I might have left undone. I'm learning, by observing my own actions, that I'm becoming more and more like a Paladin, and I love that. I'm becoming a better person, and that's really encouraging to me. It's like watching a sapling grow leaves and branches, except that the sapling is me. Watching my life from the outside, I'm proud of how I'm growing and what I'm becoming. I'm even starting to think that maybe I am a Paladin. Maybe I am a valiant, noble, virtuous son of God. I know now that I at least have the potential to be. And if I do, we all do. We all can be virtuous and good, if we decide to be and learn how to. I decided several months ago that I wanted to be a Paladin, and I'm now starting to become one. That tells me something about human potential. It may take a while, but anything is possible.

I'm glad I chose to become a Paladin. I like the change it's making in me.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Being Born Again - A Life-long Process

Yesterday, a Christian, after learning that I was a Christian, asked me if I felt I had been "born again." That was a difficult question for me to answer, because in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, we don't really talk about being "born again" much. I'm not even 100% sure what the phrase means.

"Born again" suggests some form of rebirth, similar to what we experience as we become converted to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, or so I would imagine. The trouble is that being converted, which we do talk about frequently, is an ongoing process. You don't just become converted, and then you're done. Baptism is an important milestone in becoming converted, and it signifies a form of rebirth, but it is by no means the end of the conversion process. I have been baptized, but I wouldn't say that I have been conclusively "born again."

I answered that I hadn't been born again, but that I was being born again. The process had certainly started. It started at my baptism, if not earlier, but it hadn't been completed yet, nor do I imagine that it ever will be - not in this life, anyway. Being born again, as I understand it (which I don't), is a process in which we become more like God, and I'm not done doing that yet. I have a lot more progress to make before I stop. I have made a significant amount of progress, I'll admit, but I'm not going to sit back and say "Well, I've been 'born again' now. I guess I'm done trying to become more like my Heavenly Father." Not ever. There's always going to be more progress to make before I become exactly like Him, partly because He's constantly making progress, too.

That's what life is all about - making progress. Growing. Becoming stronger, better people. I'm still working on becoming a better person, and I think I always will be. Have I been "born again?" Yes. Am I done being "born again?" Never.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The First Arrow

I should start carrying pencil and paper again, so I can record inspiration any time it comes to me. Yesterday, while watching the fourth episode of the first season of Downton Abbey, I and my family noted two inspirational and profound statements, and now I can only remember one of them: "No one hits a bullseye with their first arrow."

This comment was made to someone who had applied for a job as a secretary and was rejected. They had found someone "better suited and more qualified for the post." Despairing, she said that she felt that there would never be anyone less suited or less qualified than her. As a person who has had beliefs of a similar nature, I knew how she felt.

The encouraging comment reminded her, and me, of the need for perseverance in the face of failure. I'm sure you've heard the saying "if at first, you don't succeed, try, try again." The version I'm in most agreement with concludes with a phrase similar to "and then, if you fail again, give up. There's no sense in being impractical." This makes logical sense to me, yet it's a terrible motto to live by. If Thomas Edison had lived by this motto, the lightbulb would have been invented by someone else, and history would have all but forgotten Edison's name.

Sometimes, success comes only after multiple failed attempts. Such attempts can be discouraging, but they can also make success feel much more rewarding when it is finally achieved. Mastery, too, takes a significant number of attempts. I remember reading (unfortunately, I can't remember where) about the gradual attainment of perfection in terms of learning to play the piano. The logic is that failing to play the piano perfectly is no reason to stop learning altogether. Many things take endless hours of practice in order to gain the desired skills, and countless mistakes will be made along the way, but progress would be made, too, even if it's painfully slow and imperceptible.

If luck is any factor at all, which it almost always is, that adds to the complication. A rare few succeed through sheer luck when they should have failed, and some fail out of sheer luck when they rightfully should have succeeded. How can we know that we're not part of that latter group? The attempted secretary might have been the best suited and most qualified person for the position, and perhaps she would have gotten that job, if not for a whim of fate and a spell of bad luck, and if that was the case, as it might have been, she'd have all the more reason to try again.

Failure is discouraging, but it doesn't need to be final. As long as we keep trying, success may eventually come. And while we're waiting and working for success, we'll find that we're becoming far more capable people than we would have been if we had simply given up after the first failed attempt. A quiver has many arrows in it. Never give up after firing only one.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Fighting for a Worthy Prize

People who know what prize they're fighting for often have a better attitude about how hard they have to fight for it. The greater the goal is, the harder you'll be willing to fight to get it, which is fortunate, since the greatest victories often come with the greatest costs. I saw a quote on facebook that says "If you saw the size of the blessing coming, you would understand the magnitude of the battle you're fighting." If we truly understood what we're fighting for, we wouldn't feel the need to complain about how difficult the battle is, because we'd know that any hardship we have to face would be overshadowed by the prize we stand to win.

We are fighting for Eternal Life, the Greatest of All the Gifts of God. To obtain such a gift would be worth any struggle or sacrifice, which is lucky, since just as Eternal Life would be worth a lot to us to obtain it, it'd be worth just as much to Satan to keep it away from us. Gaining Eternal Life would be a very good thing for us, and since Satan doesn't want any good thing to happen to us, he's as much opposed to our Eternal Progress as we should be for it. He's fighting as hard as he can. We should be too.

Life is difficult because there's a lot at stake. We stand to lose a lot if we're not careful, but we stand to gain infinitely more if we are. Because Satan understands what stakes we're fighting for, he's giving it all he's got. If we truly understood what we were fighting for, so would we. We've all been told how important it is to be valiant and keep the commandments, but in this world, it's easy to forget. In pursuit of other goals, we sometimes lose sight of our true prize, and we sometimes put too much effort toward the wrong endeavors and too little effort toward the ones that really matter. But if we could make ourselves understand what it is that truly matters, it wouldn't be as hard to keep our eyes on the prize and to fight for it.

We face a lot of opposition, but that's okay. The prize we have in store for us is well worth fighting for, no matter how hard the fight may be.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Credit for Trying

This morning, I was unable to blog because of technical difficulties. Now, I should be able to.

I'm grateful to know that God's okay with us not being perfect right now, and that He's patient with us. Sometimes, I feel discouraged, like I'm not making any progress, but that's okay. I'm probably making better progress than I realize, but even if I'm not, at least I'm trying. I think that all that God really asks of us is that we try. If we desire to keep the commandments, I'm sure that that counts for a lot, even if we struggle from time to time. God knows that we're not perfect, and He understands how hard it is to try to be. He sees how hard we're trying to keep His commandments, and I believe that He'll give us credit for trying. I've made a commitment to blog every morning before noon. I haven't been able to keep that commitment, but every day, I try to, and I think that that means something to Him.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

How God Would Change the World

A family conversation recently reminded me of something I heard in General Conference a while back. As it turns out, what I had heard was a quote which was originally given only a few months after I was born.
The Lord works from the inside out. The world works from the outside in. The world would take people out of the slums. Christ takes the slums out of people, and then they take themselves out of the slums. The world would mold men by changing their environment. Christ changes men, who then change their environment. The world would shape human behavior, but Christ can change human nature.
- President Ezra Taft Benson, Ensign July 1989
 Almost everyone knows that it's more effective to kill weeds by pulling out their roots than by cutting down the parts that we can see. That's because if the root of the weed remains, it'll grow right back. The same goes with most problems, including societal ones. If we only treat the symptoms of the problem, the problem will remain, but if we can get to the cause of the problem, we can neutralize the problem altogether and thus end its effects.

God knows this, so rather than changing people by the use of external influences, He works directly on their hearts. It's commonly believed that the world is not as it should be. God could miraculously fix the world, but that really wouldn't solve the world's problems because the cause of those problems is us. Human beings have caused many of the world's problems, and I believe that we have the power to fix them, but to do so would require a change of heart, or rather, a change of a lot of hearts.

To effect such a change, society could impose strict moral and environmental laws, hoping that people's minds and hearts would change to accept the new rules, but God doesn't work like that. He would rather change our natures to help us be more loving, more thoughtful, and more righteous, so we would chose to change our behavior ourselves. God is in an interesting position of having all the power in the universe, but not actually wanting to use it. He could literally change our minds for us, but He won't. He could physically fix the world Himself, not He's not going to - not until the end, anyway. This is our Earth, and our hearts. He gave them to us. It's up to us to fix them ourselves. He'll help us, if we let Him, but the responsibility is ours.

In order for us to change our behavior, we have to want to change. In order for our neighborhoods, country, or world to change, the people that live there have to want them to change. It starts on the inside, or in other words, at the roots. If we change ourselves at the center, that change will grow outward from there.