A testimony is born

It started when my six-year-old’s friend got up and bore his testimony.

In the Mormon faith, the first Sunday of each month is “Fast Sunday.” Those who are able to fast on that day (skipping breakfast and lunch). During our church services, there is a time when anyone can go up to the pulpit to “bear their testimony.” We call a testimony to be that knowledge about Jesus Christ and His Gospel and Church that has been gained through the witness of the Holy Spirit. Bearing a testimony during church services is generally a short statement of belief and/or understanding on one or more aspects of the Gospel.

After my son’s friend got down (followed by his sister and father), my son Sam turned to me,

“Dad, some day I want to get up and bear my testimony.”

Yes!! “Why not today?”

“I don’t know what to say.”

I hear ya there, kid… “A testimony is what you know. What the Spirit has told you in your heart is true about Jesus.”

Sam decided to do it. He and I went up to the stand to wait our turn. He asked me again what he should say, and I repeated what I said earlier. When it was his turn, he asked me to go up with him, but he bore a simple testimony on his own without prompting. He said that he knew the church was true, and that church can be fun and exciting. He also stated that he knew miracles do happen and can happen to anyone.

I also bore my testimony (interrupted by my youngest toddling up to me and then trying to get to the microphone), and we went back down to our seats.

This is one of those moments that a Mormon parent dreams of. The moment when we see our children begin to take those steps of faith that we ourselves have taken. Today, I saw the seed of testimony being planted.

 

Sabbath Observance and Family Councils

The LDS Church has put a big emphasis recently on keeping the Sabbath holy. Last week in our combined third-hour class, our bishopric shared many thoughts and counsel on the importance of the Sabbath, attending church, and in particular partaking of the sacrament. They finished the lesson by asking us to each choose one thing that we could do to make the Sabbath holy in our lives.

That evening my wife and I discussed it, and decided that we wanted to do something to help encourage reverence during Sacrament meeting (the first hour in LDS worship services). We decided to have our kids help us decide specifically what we could do, so that it would be a family decision (and would hopefully help our young kids be more inclined to follow along). so the next day we gathered the kids together and talked to them about what we could do to be more reverent at church.

while I had a number of ideas, it was actually our 8 year-old daughter who came up with the idea that we settled on. She suggested that we all take our journals and take notes during the sacrament meeting. And that seemed to me to be the right solution. So today I took the girls (Mom stayed home with the baby and a sick boy), and after the ordinance was over, I handed out their journals and got my own out.

For myself, I got a lot more out of sacrament than I usually do. Not just from what was said, but from thoughts and impressions that came to me during the talks. But what was really powerful to me was seeing my 8 year-old paying close attention to the speakers and writing out a couple pages of notes. Here is a sampling:

– God knows and cares
– God will help us
– God gave us apostles
– And the apostles are like spies

(That last one was referencing a comment about how the apostles can act similarly to an army’s spies, who watch the movements of the enemy and are able to advise the army on how to counter the enemy’s actions).

Now, I don’t know how well this is going to go once we have the baby back in the mix–we may have to make adjustments and/or try something else. However, I have been learning about the need to counsel together as a family, and I felt that here was one instance where we had done just that, and God blessed our efforts.

What Child Is This?

Listening to one of my favorite renditions of “What Child Is This?” got me thinking a little bit. I really like it because it is not a big grand massive thing. It’s small, quiet, peaceful, and personal; and the haunting melody gives it a wondrous quality. I realized that it shared those qualities with my favorite painting of the Nativity–the one done by Walter Rane. In it Mary and Jesus are lying in the hay, in shadow (very different from the traditional Nativity image). Mary looks exhausted but peaceful. To me it looks like we are intruding on a very private, very personal moment.

I realized that Walter Rane was actually depicting a very common scene–the birth of a child. He’s seen that look, as have many others, including myself. I have stared in wonder at the face of a child just born… my child. And then at my wife, who has suffered so much that this helpless, defenseless soul could live, breathe, experience joy and sorrow, learn and grow and walk, and laugh, and stub his toe, and taste pancakes, and push toys around, and then… to have his own family. To stare in wonder at his own wife and child.

I think this experience helps me to understand the incredible joy of that great day when the Messiah was born.

Our Savior was born to save us all, and he knows us and loves us just as much (more!) than that special love that we have for our own children. He suffered more than we can comprehend so that we could repent and return to our heavenly home. So we can live, and die, and then live again. So that though we may be separated for a season, joy cometh in the morning; for families can be sealed together for eternity.

I thank my father in Heaven for His miraculous plan. For giving us His child so that I can repent and learn to live gospel so that I can find peace in this life. And for giving me my own family, so that I can have joy and happiness in this life and the next.

The Special

We recently watched the Lego Movie with our kids. (Spoiler alert for those who live under a rock and haven’t seen this movie yet…)

It’s a really fun show about construction worker who is thought to the prophesied “Special”, someone who would end up being “The most important, most talented, most interesting, and most extraordinary person in the universe.”

The end of the movie takes a turn when we discover that the lego characters are really stand-ins for a boy and his father. While the lego hero states that everyone at some point is the Special, we see how the dad is the boy’s Special.

And that is a profound truth to remember. To my young children, I am the Special (as is their mom). Regardless of who I am or what my job is or is not, or how many noteworthy things I’ve accomplished. In a child’s eyes no one is more talented or interesting or important than their mother and their father.

What am I doing with that responsibility? Do I do things that abuse that? It makes me think twice about what my response is when they ask to play with them, or read with them, or do anything with them. Right now in their life pretty much anything is better if it’s done with me and/or Mom. I think there are things I can and should do to be worthy of and maintain that trust and love even when they grow up and realize that I’m perhaps not the most talented or special person in the world, and that I do have oh-so-many faults of my own.

I’ve been told that it is at this age that they will develop their initial thoughts of what God is like, based on me.

Something to think about…

 

What is your focus?

We recently went to the Payson Temple open house. It was stunningly beautiful. In the last 20 years or so, the Church has had a lot of experience building these, and they are getting really good. There was a special spirit present, and for the most part the whole family had a wonderful experience…

The other part consisted of my son, who had a difficult time dealing with the plastic footsies that they slip on over your shoes. They are awkward, they make a funny sound, and they cover up your cool star wars shoes. Eventually he got over it and enjoyed the rest of the open house (mostly).

I feel like there’s some gospel application in there somewhere…

 

Lessons in Eternal Families

My sister recently sent me this very excellent and rather introspective text:

As a teen boy what was the most helpful thing you were told to prepare you for eternal marriage?

This has made me think a bit about the various lessons that I still remember from my own aaronic priesthood days… honestly, I don’t remember very many, although there are some that still stick in my mind.

But what I keep coming back to is that for me, the thing that prepared me the most for eternal marriage (and family) is the family culture that my parents raised me and my siblings in. Two things in particular stand out to me:

  1. We worked hard together as a family.
  2. We played and vacationed together as a family.

Working Hard

Growing up, we worked hard. Yes, I know everyone says that. However, while I don’t think we were worked to the bone, I think I can say that with a fair amount of honesty. I’ll list a few examples, and you can be the judge:

  • Cleaning up the acre lot that we moved into, which included several large piles of brick, some old cars, and lots and lots of pig bones. Fortunately we had some neighbor help with this one.
  • Re-digging the various irrigation ditches for the yard, putting in a very large garden (at one point it covered a full quarter of our yard).
  • Working in that yard and that garden, seemingly all the time. One time I remember thinking, “How can we possibly still be weeding out here? It’s well after dark, and I can’t even see the weeds anymore!”
  • Spring Cleaning. My mom was really big into this. It was typically at least a week of intense deep cleaning; scrubbing walls and baseboards, shampooing carpets, washing drapes, cleaning out cupboards, etc.
  • Newspapers. No, this is not the traditional paper route (although it started that way). We delivered between 800 and 1000 newspapers twice each week through most of my teenage years.
  • Family projects. There was always some project or other going on, whether it was re-finishing the cupboards, putting in a new kitchen floor (and discovering that the existing floor was nowhere near to level–about 1.5 inches difference in some places), putting in a swimming pool, finishing the basement, etc.

We worked. We worked hard. We worked as a family. We worked until the project was done right (there’s definitely a streak of perfectionism in my parents). Seeing how difficult it is to get my own kids to participate–to have something even close to the skill to participate, I am impressed at the effort my parents went through to have us all involved in these projects as much as possible. When we finished the basement, we were all down there working on it. When we were weeding the garden or doing newspapers, everyone was involved. Everyone had a task to perform.

Playing Together

My parents were pretty good at making sure we had a good family vacation every year. Some of my favorite trips were the family reunions in Yosemite and the trips down to San Diego (we loved the Wild Animal Park there). We regularly visited my mother’s small home town (where strangers recognized us every time).

We camped and hiked all the time. We had a tradition of hiking Mt. Timpanogos each year–my first time hiking it I was eight years old. And terrified. And thrilled. Dad held my hand the entire way (He was under strict instructions to do so).

We also began a habit of reading books together on our trips and campouts. Dad would read books from Watership Down to Winnie-the-Pooh to Riddle-Master of Hed.

And I have already begun to pass on the gloriously violent traditions of pig-sticks and pool-pomp.

But it wasn’t just the big family events, either. There were game nights and sledding trips and snowball fights and soccer games. We played together all the time. It’s not like we didn’t have our own sets of friends and do stuff with them. But it is the case that I am friends with my siblings and grew up playing with them as well.

 

Now, I’ve painted a very rosy picture. But we had the standard set of bumps that any family has. There were the family fights and “He’s such a jerk” and “She’s such an idiot.” There were debates and sides, and “I’m not talking to them.” There were the irreconcilable differences that kind of seemed to become less important over time.

And there were lots of years where the garden was a mass of weeds, and the lawn was knee high, and the laundry piled higher than my head (luckily I was short).

But my amazing parents kept at it. They kept trying, they kept doing. They kept packing that tent even when it came out that Dad really doesn’t care for camping and Mom is not a hiker.

We learned how to work. How to really work, rain or shine. Incidentally, the insane paper routes that we did as a family financed missionaries and family trips.

We learned to enjoy each other’s company. To look forward to seeing each other.

And my parents are still at it. They still arrange reunions–real reunions with real fun that everyone genuinely looks forward to. They visit their children as much as they can, and continue to do things with us (guess what? since many in my family have taken up running, my Dad has done several half-marathons–I believe each one with one or more of us kids). And my mom has to be just this side of death’s door before she’ll admit that she’s just not up for company right now…

I can’t think of a single piece of information, or nugget of truth that my parents told me that prepared me for eternal marriage and family, although I know there were plenty of discussions and lessons on that topic. But I have grown up in an environment where family is the great treasure, and well worth all the sweat and tears that are required. I’ve seen it and lived it, and I want that for my own family.

Father’s Day

I wanted to put down quickly a few things from my father’s day.

One: I love hearing my primary kids sing a father’s day song in church.

Two: When church got out I met back with my wife who had our kids already gathered. My youngest handed me a paper “card” with a lollipop taped to it that said, “I love my pop” I hadn’t looked at the card for two seconds before the lollipop was ripped off the card. Mommy informed me that she had insisted I see the card before they could have the candy.

Three: At lunch my wife just mentioned to my kids how we had bought the kitchen table when we were first married, and we were the only two that sat at the table, but how wonderful it was to now have our children sitting at the table with us.

Four: Our stake president spoke at church on the Father’s role as defined by the Proclamation on the Family. Those roles are to Preside, Provide, and Protect. He explained what those meant.

Preside – This is not a position of authority over others. It is a position of responsibility for others. The father is responsible for what happens in the home and with the family. The father should ensure that scripture study, family prayer, family home evening etc. are happening in the home.

Provide – The father should provide financially for the family, but in addition to that, the father is responsible to provide a safe and loving environment for the family. A place where nurturing can occur.

Protect – Again, protection from physical harms is part of this role, but the need to protect one’s family from spiritual harm is equally important. The father protects the family and home from evil influences (inappropriate media etc). Part of this includes keeping himself clean and pure.

T I M E

So, like many other kids out there, my kids love to watch TV shows and play video games.

A lot.

Especially my son.

If he could, he would do nothing but play video games. He’s not particular so much about which device he’s playing on; he loves the computer, the wii, and my phone equally.

We limit how much TV and video games the kids can do, and try to make sure they get in plenty of playing, running, etc. But even so, I’ve been worrying about how much they enjoy video games and TV.

Now, I enjoy a good game and fun shows as well. And I can (and do occasionally) spend more time wasting time than I should. I don’t spend a lot of time playing games, I have other things that I enjoy, and other obligations I have to fulfill. I want to make sure that my children find a sense of balance (not that I’m the model here, but I like to think I’ve made some progress).

The other day I felt particularly concerned that my kids were getting too much into their video games and losing interest in other things. And the thought came to me; at this point in their life (very young), there is something that has a much stronger pull and interest for them than any video game or TV show.

They like to play with their Dad.

They can be completely engrossed in a game, but at any time I can start tickling them and they’ll forget the game and run around the room in delight. They’ll stand a couple feet from me, eyes filled with delight, begging me to please not tickle them. They’ll jump on me, wrestle with me, throw pillows at me, try to tickle me back (they’ve come unsettlingly close to being successful on that score).

They like to do the things they see their Mom and Dad do. They like to do things with us. They like us to explain things to them.

So I think a lot of it is up to me, isn’t it? And I’m going to bet that if I put in the time now, then they will continue to enjoy doing things with me as they (and I) get older. And you know, it isn’t really work to play with them, spend time with them. Sure, there are other things that I often have to do instead. And sometimes there are other things that I would rather do instead. But if family is what I want, then one of my priorities is to stop fiddling with my own toys and play with my kids.

As cheesy as it may sound, it really is about…

time.

Lessons Learned From Dating

I recently ran across an interesting blog article about dating which has some good ideas to it. I particularly enjoyed this person’s comments. They reminded me of my own dating experiences. As this week is a celebration of the Proclamation on the Family, I thought I’d pontificate on the topic a little.

I’ve always wanted to have a family. I’ve always wanted to be a dad. I honestly don’t remember not wanting a family. This has always been an important goal for me.

I’ve also always been fairly socially backwards. I’m a geek. In my early twenties I was enjoying life pretty well. I was home from my mission attending BYU. I enjoyed sitting in my bat cave of a bedroom (living at home) and playing on my computer. Or working on model trains. Or playing legos.

…you get the idea.

There was one problem that kept coming up. I was lonely. I wasn’t that much of a loner–I had my group of friends and we got together and did fun things. I wasn’t entirely introverted, to my knowledge.

But I was still lonely. I knew I wanted to get married. I wanted to cuddle with someone. I wanted to experience physical relationships (there, I said it). I wanted to have kids and show them how to build model trains and play legos with them. I knew that where I was currently at (single, going to college) was a transitional period to help me get to where I both needed and wanted to be eventually.

I didn’t want to date.

I didn’t mind dating per-se, but I quickly found out that it was a lot of work. And frankly, for me it was rather hard work. I attended the local singles ward (congregation) and had plenty of friends, but…

Well, some guys are handsome. Some are really big and buff even if they aren’t handsome. Some guys naturally know how to talk to women. Some guys naturally know how to talk. I didn’t fit into any of those categories. Even on the talking front.

That sounds funny, but honestly, I often struggled with just talking, and never more than when I was trying to strike up and/or keep up a conversation with a woman who I thought I’d like to date. I was pretty darn good at quoting movies (still am), but most people don’t really count that as talking.

Now people that knew me then would say, “Oh, you weren’t that bad.” Those that knew me well say, “Yeah, that’s about right.” Whether that description really is accurate, it is how I viewed myself, particularly at that time.

In any case, it was hard for me to get a date. First off, I quickly found that everyone’s schedule filled up really fast. If I didn’t have a social engagement of some kind set up by Monday, then everyone was already doing something else. And I really didn’t want to think about what that seemed to imply.

If someone accepted my typically awkward invite, then I had to figure out what in the world we were going to do together for four whole hours. Movie and a date worked for a while, but then I was sure I couldn’t or shouldn’t keep doing that, so then I was trying to figure out other fun things, and for some reason, I never could think of something that I thought was interesting/fun and that I thought my date would enjoy. There never seemed to be enjoyable date activities on the weekend in my college town…

Suffice it to say that I often would only make a token effort to get a date (or no effort at all), and just spend the weekend in my room (which was still fun, although lonely). I still had fun dates and met some nice women, but on the whole I found the whole experience to be stressful and occasionally depressing.

Looking back, I can see how… downright silly I was, and how much I was over-thinking things, and making life a lot more difficult for myself than I really needed to. But at the time I really couldn’t see that.

I did try to make an effort. Sometimes. But it would be so much more convenient if she would just magically appear in my life and sweep me off my feet. Sadly, I rather wished for this kind of a scenario to happen… a lot…

Now, there’s nothing wrong with a woman sweeping a man off his feet. But in my case I think God knew that there were some things I really needed to learn regardless of who, when, or how I found my bride-to-be. Like how to talk.

It took work on my part. And I mean work. Conscious effort. A lot of it. I had at least a couple rather serious “We love you son, but you really need to be more social” talks from my parents. I had lots of sisters with no shortage of advice (using the term loosely–“You’re not going on a date wearing that”).

Now those are all things that I could (and to some extent did) get offended at. Why are you getting after me? I am trying. The woman I marry will love me for who I am, why do I need to act like I’m someone else? No, I’m not going to wear that, it’s really not my style.

I had to realize that the advice I was being given was being given with good intentions (even if the delivery was sometimes lacking). They weren’t getting after me, they were trying to help me get to where I myself was trying to get to. Yes, of course the woman of my dreams will love me for who I am. And of course I should not try to be someone else. The other side of that, however, is simply that I do need to try to be my best self, and whether single or married, I should be putting forth an effort to improve myself in various ways (This is a rather major theme in the LDS faith). And dressing up a little bit for a date is not a bad idea.

I had to keep at it. When I said it took a lot of work I meant it. Not a lot of work for two weeks or 4 months. I was single for a good number of years. And I had to keep on trying to meet new people, put myself out there. Talk. Get out of my comfort zone. Do it again. And again. And again. And again.

Over time, I like to think I got better at it. I got to where what used to be outside of my comfort zone wasn’t really outside of my comfort zone anymore. In fact, dating began to be more fun and less of a chore. I met a lot of people and had a number of (sometimes very) different experiences. Some of those experiences weren’t good, but most of them were. Sometimes I dated someone for a long time, often it was only a date or two.

I actually got to the point where I didn’t mind being single that much. And I think that was important. I even enjoyed it. I enjoyed being where I was at. And that didn’t mean I wasn’t trying to find a special someone–in fact, it was the opposite. I knew where I wanted to go and I was working on getting there rather than spending my time bemoaning the fact that I wasn’t there yet.

Surprisingly enough, continued steps toward your goals tends to get you there. There’s one more thing that I learned, at least about my search for my future bride. I had often heard people talking about their internal and/or eternal struggles trying to figure out if this particular person was “the one.” Just to add some context, in the LDS temple, couples are married for time and all eternity, so yeah, it is kind of a big deal.

I was fully expecting to have similar struggles, but it wasn’t like that at all. Instead, dating Rosanne was like meeting my long lost friend. “Hey, there you are! I’ve been looking for you.” She was and is my best friend. She does love me for who I am (I knew I was in love when I was tempted to quote something during Sunday School but restrained myself,  and she turned to me and quoted the very line I was thinking of). But we both work to improve ourselves and help each other be the best that we can.

Was it a lot of work for me? Yes it was. Again, this is my own experience I’m talking about. For many people, social skills are not the bane of their existence.

Did I have to actually listen to my parents’ advice and counsel? Yep. They were the ones constantly steering me towards trying to enjoy where I was at and not get too worked up or melodramatic. Without consciously acting on that advice, I do not think I would have been the kind of person that my wife (or anyone) would want to spend their life with.

Was it worth it? Every second.

Do we cuddle? You bet. And the other stuff too. And it’s awesome. And worth waiting and working for. But more than that–we enjoy doing lots of things together. We enjoy games, working on projects, going places, reading books, watching movies.

Is our marriage and family complete peace and bliss? Of course it isn’t. It’s still work, and lots of it. And patience, and lots of it.

But I’m not lonely.

And I play legos with my kids.

The Richest Man

We took our family on a trip with my parents recently to visit my sister and her family and attend the baptism of their oldest child. It was a very enjoyable visit and I was really glad to get to spend some time with them and my parents.

While we were there, my dad got up and bore his testimony (that Sunday was a fast and testimony meeting). He talked about how the fruits of the gospel have become much more apparent to him as he has gotten older, and one of the ways in which that is so was in his family. He talked about keeping a photo of his family on his desk at work and often thinking to himself, “I am the richest man I know,” because of the treasure of family that was his–children and grandchildren.

I am so grateful for the parents that I have. They have worked and struggled and prayed and taught and showed a good example to me and my siblings all of my life. I love them, and I love the relationship that I have with them. They taught us to love and live the gospel. They taught us to work hard and be self-sufficient as much as possible. They taught us to serve others and accept service when we need to. They taught us to study hard and get good educations. They taught us to be together as family and to enjoy each other’s company.

My dad’s comments made me think about the picture I have in my office dad

 

This was a Father’s Day gift from my wife last year, and I have thoroughly enjoyed it. To me it is a reminder of the great treasure that my family is. Anytime I’m having a hard time at work (for whatever reason), I can look up and see my kids, cheering me on.

And that’s what they do. They love me. Despite my shortcomings and regular idiocy, they still love me. They love to be with me, to do things with me, to watch me, to have me explain things to them, play games with them, talk to them, anything. Everything.

Looking at this always give me a sense of joy and encouragement. I have three kids who love me with their whole hearts and are rooting for me. Happy for me. Loving me.

Being a dad is truly a treasure.