Sunday, September 25, 2016

The Rebuilt Cathedral

In the final talk of the Sunday Morning Session of last General Conference, President Dieter F. Uchtdorf talked about about a city that had been almost entirely destroyed by bombing. Notably, one of their great Cathedrals had been demolished, leaving little more than a loose pile of charred, stone blocks. However, those stone blocks were collected and catalogued as people picked up the pieces, both literally and figuratively, in the aftermath. Eventually, the Cathedral was rebuilt, and some of the original bricks were reused in the construction. Now, the Cathedral stands again, made mostly of white bricks, but with many blackened ones that serve as reminders of what the city and the Cathedral endured.

There are many lessons we can learn from this. We can learn that even when life completely falls apart, even if we feel that we have been damaged beyond repair, there will always be a way to pick up the pieces. As President Uchtdorf said:
[I]f man can take the ruins, rubble, and remains of a broken city and rebuild an awe-inspiring structure that rises toward the heavens, how much more capable is our Almighty Father to restore His children who have fallen, struggled, or become lost?
However, there may still be scars. We can to this world to gain experience, and not all of those experiences will be pleasant. We sometimes wish that we could forget such experiences, or that they never happened, but that would partially defeat the purpose of life. He need to keep the memories of those experiences and learn from them in order for them to help us grow. When they rebuilt the Cathedral, it was important that they kept the charred bricks as a memento.

Yet, we should remember that not everything can be reused. When life breaks us apart, that is sometimes because God wants to build us back up into something better, and not all of the bricks that make up our current selves have a permanent place in God's eternal plans. We each have some traits that we could do without, some habits that we should abandon, some vices that we should strive to overcome. We each have flaws that God would like to help us remove, and sometimes, that requires a complete remodelling, and while many of our bricks have eternal value and can be reused, many more of our bricks will need to be replaced.

Ultimately, God wants all of us to become like perfect Cathedrals, but "perfect" doesn't always mean "pristine" or "undamaged." Often, we go through unpleasant experiences, and we need God's help to build us back up. Thankfully, when God restores us, He helps us become our perfect selves, using only the parts of ourselves that make us better. When we fall apart, God puts us back together, and He builds us up even better than we were before, perhaps with a few pockmarks, but stronger and wiser for the experience. So, the next time things go badly, trust in God's ability to set things right, and trust in His wisdom to keep and reuse all and only the best parts.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

After Love, Then Service

Tomorrow, I will share a brief message about love. Specifically, I'm going to share President Dieter F. Uchtdorf's message After Love, Then What? As I read over his message, a handful of topically-appropriate quotes came to mind, including "They do not love that do not show their love" (William Shakespeare), and this passage from Elder David A. Bednar's talk, More Diligent and Concerned at Home:
We should remember that saying “I love you” is only a beginning. We need to say it, we need to mean it, and most importantly we need consistently to show it. We need to both express and demonstrate love.
I can't speak for Shakespeare, but both Uchtdorf and Bednar focussed their messages on the importance of showing love and acting as motivated by love, not just feeling love or talking about love. Like faith, love is a principle of action. Just as sufficient faith can and should influence our actions, sufficient love should do so as well. If we truly, deeply love God and our fellow man, in accordance to the first and second great commandments, that love will be reflected in our actions, which will involve keeping the rest of the commandments.

We are to "love the Lord [our] God with all [our] heart[s], and with all [our] soul[s], and with all [our] mind[s]" (Matthew 22:37), and the only way we can really show that level of love is to keep the commandments. Similarly, we are to "love [our] neighbor[s] as [ourselves] (Matthew 22:39). And the only real way to do that is to show our love through our actions, mostly be serving our fellow men.

Kind feelings are a great start and should be a large part of our motivations, but true love takes more than feelings. True love takes action. President Uchtdorf illustrated that point in a parable about sons who were commanded to do something. The first refused, and then obeyed, while the other said he would do it, but then he didn't. Christ used this parable to teach that those who were righteous are the ones who actually do God's will, not those who profess love for God but then don't try to keep the commandments.

President Monson taught that love is the essence of the gospel, but merely feeling and declaring love for God and our fellow man is not enough. We must also show our love through compassionate service. If our love for God and others is sincere, it will lead us to want to serve them and to find other ways to express our love rather than merely saying that we love them. As Elder Bednar said, we do need to say that we love others, but more importantly, we must also show that we do.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Don't Count on Chickens

They say that one shouldn't count his or her chickens before they hatch, but hatching is only the first step. After hatching, a chicken has to grow to adulthood before they can start laying eggs of their own or be used for meat. In the meantime, the farmer has to invest a good deal in those chickens. It takes money to feed and house a number of chicks, and any number of those chicks might not live long enough to give the farmer a good return on their investment. That's why, while others say not to count one's chickens before they hatch, I think it may be best not to count on your chickens at all.

Suppose it costs you $100 per day to maintain your farm, and you have 100 chickens which lay an average of one egg per day, and you can sell each egg for $1 apiece. Theoretically, you should break even, but reality almost never sticks to theories. Your chickens could lay a total of more or fewer than 100 eggs on any given day. The value of eggs could vary. Any number of your chickens could die on any given day. If you're counting on each of your 100 chickens to lay one $1 egg per day, you may wake up one morning to find yourself facing severe disappointment.

Life is full of surprises and disappointment, so one shouldn't set too much stock in his or her own plans. Absolutely, you can have a plan. That's fine. But you should also have a backup plan, or be willing to be flexible and/or patient if your plans go awry. Problems often come up when we least expect them to. The trick is to make sure that the problems that upset your plans don't upset you as well.

There are other ways to make money besides raising chickens. If your chicken farm goes under, you might have to try something else for a while. You may get another chance to try and start a chicken farm later down the line, if that's what you really want to do, but you shouldn't count on anything working perfectly the first time you attempt it. It's rare for anyone to get anything right on their first try. It may be best to consider your first failed chicken farm a (probably costly) learning experience, and use what you've learned from your first attempt to help your second attempt go smoother.

But even on your second or third attempt, life is unpredictable and is going to have a lot of ups and downs. Sometimes, things just don't work out. And, yes, that can be disappointing, but they shouldn't be heartbreaking. One shouldn't set their hearts on anything that's not sure to happen, and in this world of uncertainty, it's hard to be certain of anything.

So it may be best not to set our hearts on starting a chicken farm. We never really know how things are going to turn out. So, while we may attempt to do great things and dare to have ambitious dreams, we should try not to be too devastated if not all of our chickens hatch. At least we had one or two chicks hatch, and they were cute while they were ours. Perhaps our next attempt at chicken farming will be more successful. But we shouldn't count on it.

While there is any chance of eggs not hatching, we shouldn't bet our happiness on whether our eggs hatch or not. There are very few things in life that are certain and that we can count on, and we can base our happiness on those things, but our prospects of starting a successful chicken farm are not among them. We can certainly buy more eggs later, if we want to, but next time, we should remember that we can't really count on them to hatch, so we should try not to let our hearts get broken again if they don't.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

"That's What I'm Here For"

Yesterday, my catchphrase was "That's what I'm here for." I said it almost any time someone asked me to do something or thanked me for doing something. Despite the fact that I'm on vacation, I am also here to serve.

At one point, after throwing away a banana peel and claiming that that's what I was there for, my mom reminded me that I'm here to be on vacation and to have fun. I replied that that's what I said. While not strictly true, my claim that being here to serve and being here to have fun mean essentially the same thing does have a small amount of truth to it. Service can be fun, especially if you have a good attitude about it. While I don't think I'd pursue service opportunities just for fun, I do get some joy out of doing service.

Besides, I'm physically fit. I consider it my duty to help my travel companions. In fact, since God has blessed me with a certain amount of physical fitness, I consider it my duty to help just about everyone I can. It may be part of the purpose of my existence on earth, or, in other words, what I'm here for.

Whether I'm on vacation, at home, at work, or wherever I am, giving service is part of what I do, part of what I was meant to do. It's part of why I was made and why I'm here. It's what I'm here for.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Solving or Surviving Problems

This morning, one of the members of my travelling party was upset because they couldn't get the shower to work the night before. Later, another member of my group discovered that the device which we thought was a freezer didn't actually freeze all of the things inside of it. In both cases, I looked at the objects that weren't working the way we thought they should, and I discovered how they really work. I don't think it was that I was more clever than my companions. I know that they are very intelligent people. I think that the traits that I had that allowed me to solve the riddles were patience and optimism.

So often, we face challenges that confuse us or overwhelm us, and that can be terribly frustrating, but if we can endure the frustration and keep looking for solutions, we can sometimes find them after the point at which we were tempted to give up. Solving problems isn't something that can only be done by the smart or the strong. Often, problems are solved by those who keep their chin up and keep trying to work things out.

That said, there are times when it is better for a person's emotional health to just give up. When there is no solution to a particular problem, it is sometimes better to simply resolve yourself to endure it.

Whether it's better for you to continue attempting to solve a problem, or simply accept the problem and attempt to endure it, really depends on how you feel at the time. There have been moments when I kept trying too long and ended up getting terribly frustrated, and there have been times when I gave up to soon and later regretted it. You just have to know yourself. Try to figure out how much difficulty you can handle before you become frustrated, and then work at your problems until you reach that point. You don't have to frustrate yourself continuing to work on a problem that you lack the resources to solve, but you shouldn't give up too quickly, either. Only you can know when to keep trying and when to stop.

I've been blessed with a fair amount of resilience in the face of certain problems, and I try to use that blessing to try to help solve the problems of others. If you lack that resilience, you might be able to develop it, but for now, it may be best to know your emotional limits and to know when to ask for help. Also, just a reminder: Whether you have a great deal of patience and problem-solving skills or not, you can ALWAYS ask God for help. And if I'm around, feel free to ask me for help, too.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Why We Pay Tithes First

Very rarely does a day go by in which I do not blog. Even more rarely does a day go by in which I don't blog, when I could have. Yesterday was one of those days. I suppose I was just too concerned about getting ready for my upcoming trip and making sure I had done most, if not all, of the homework that would be due when I got back. My attention was elsewhere, and I missed my opportunity.

Had I not been so distracted with other things, I could have blogged yesterday. Had I left one or two pieces of homework unfinished, for me to complete next week, or sometime on my trip, I could have blogged instead. If I left left a chore undone, I could have blogged instead. Whether or not my priorities where in the right place is debatable, but I had made a commitment to blog daily, and I could have blogged that morning, but I didn't.

This reminds me of why we're counselled to pay tithing first, before we pay our other expenses. If we pay the other expenses first, it's easy to accidentally consume our income on other things, perhaps less necessary things, and then not have enough money leftover to pay a full tithe. However, if we pay our tithing first, we will have met our spiritual commitment, and we'd have the rest of our money leftover to pay our other expenses. Miraculous exceptions aside, the amount of money we have will not change. We'll just be allocating our money in a different way - a way that is more aligned with our moral principles and that is more likely to grant us spiritual blessings.

I don't know exactly what my schedule will be like for the next few days, but I'm pretty sure that I'll have at least some time each morning, so I can, theoretically, blog then. I will certainly try. Though it is tempting to sleep in or enjoy the amenities of my current venue, blogging is more important to me than sleeping or making sure the rug gets swept. I have made a commitment to blog. Those other things are less essential.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Accidents

Cars are great. They can get people around quickly and easily. They're very convenient, if expensive. But there's one main problem I have with cars: they're fragile. If any part of a car touches anything they're not supposed to touch, the car will get scratched, cracked, and/or potentially totalled. And cars, being expensive, are also expensive to fix. You'd think we'd have invented something that's less costly and more forgiving of mistakes. On the other hand, why should we think we could have done that? God didn't.

Mortality is a great experience, but it's also terribly dangerous. One wrong move and we can damage our fragile souls, leading to horrendously costly repairs. There are countless sins listed in the scriptures, and even more sins of omission, and any amount of sin is enough to keep us out of God's presence, unless it is repented of. But repentance comes at a terrible cost - one far higher than any of us could pay. Souls are highly valuable. Never in our lives will we accumulate the means to buy our own souls, or even to afford to have them "repaired" after we've damaged them.

Unless, of course, we have insurance. Jesus Christ has offered to pay the cost of repairing our damaged souls. In fact, He has already paid that cost. And the price that we must pay back to Him is much more manageable.

The main problem I have with cars is also the main problem I have with life. We are entrusted with something of great value, which we almost immediately, almost inevitably break. Thus, we have caused incalculable damage that we, by ourselves, have no means to repair, or even pay for. Thus, we are entirely dependent on those who know how to fix cars (or heal souls), and those who have the means and the disposition to pay for those repairs.

I don't like the idea of being indebted to anyone. In fact, modern day prophets have repeatedly warned us against going into debt. Yet, becoming indebted to Jesus Christ is all part of God's plan for us. He knew that we would make mistakes. He knew we would shatter our fragile, priceless souls. And He knew that, in order to heal our souls and return to live with Him again, we would have to incur a debt that we could not possibly hope to pay.

That is, by far, the biggest problem I have with God's plan. It is far too easy to cause far too much damage. Fortunately, God has a pretty good insurance policy. The monthly cost is pretty high, as He asks us to offer Him all our hearts, but in return, we have all our repairs completely paid for, and we have unlimited accident forgiveness. Which is fortunate, because anyone who lives long enough will eventually cause more accidents than they can count.

Even with insurance, it really stinks to get into an accident and incur costly damages, especially when oneself is at fault, but a good insurance policy can take most of the pain out of the experience. God has provided us insurance against spiritual damage by sending His Son to atone for our sins, but I'm still not totally happy with this arrangement. Even if the cost never fell on me to pay, I have a problem with the idea of expensive accidents being far too easy to cause. I wish it wasn't so easy to make such expensive mistakes. But that's the world we live in, and it's the only world we've got, so I guess we just have to live with the risk of causing an incredible amount of damage by accident and be grateful that we are almost never the ones who ultimately have to pay for it.