Pure Duty

I remember as a young boy a particularly difficult morning getting ready for a regional conference (Multi-congregational gathering). We were late and frustration levels were high, but eventually we got on our way. In an effort to calm things down and get us in a better mindset for the meeting (for which we were already very late), my mother asked us, “OK, why are we going to this meeting?”

My dad tersely replied, “Pure duty and not another SHRED of reason!”

We’ve always enjoyed that story (well, everyone except my dad), and I’ve used it as an example a couple times to point out the importance of duty. In the LDS Church, we hope that our actions are always motivated by charity, the pure love of Christ. Unfortunately, it seems to me that sometimes we end up implying that doing something out of a sense of duty means that we are not being motivated by love. Duty becomes a second-class citizen this way. Perhaps if our motivation is only duty, then we are like the evil man who gave a gift unwillingly. According to the scriptures, a man who gives a gift unwillingly receives no blessing.

My assertion is that at the very least duty helps to fill the gap in our service to God and our fellow man. We should be motivated by love; and sometimes we are… and sometimes we are not. Usually it’s actually somewhere in between. We are disciples of Christ, trying to follow in His steps as best we can, but we are not perfect by any means (see Elder Holland’s excellent talk about eventual perfection). We love the Lord and we mostly love our fellow man, but it can be difficult to muster up the courage to try to become friends with someone we barely know; it can be hard to volunteer again for a requested service. While I often feel like I am that unwilling man, giving a gift because I am compelled, that compulsion comes from a sense of duty to a Savior I love and whose disciple I am.

This morning in our services the bishop noted how remarkable it was that the young men in the Aaronic Priesthood did their duty today collecting fast offerings (going around the neighborhood gathering donations to help the poor) despite the recent snow storm and cold weather. Those young men were not excited to be doing it, but they still did it. And it really is remarkable that they are learning to serve others and do difficult things even when they don’t want to. They are learning (as we should also learn) to look outside themselves and their own concerns and to work to help others. They are learning to work for the good of the group. They are learning to do their duty.

It is absolutely true that as Christians, our actions should be motivated by love. I hope that there will come a day when everything I do is a joyful service, and I feel a strong sense of fulfillment, joy and purpose as I complete each task of every day. But I’m not there yet. As it turns out, life is full of work. The dishes need to be done. The toddler wet the bed again. I finished my work day two steps back from where I began. I thought finances were looking OK, but then we got that bill that I had forgotten about. These are not fun things.

Strangely enough, sacrifice is hard. It’s difficult to go and visit my neighbor. It’s hard to shovel the widow’s walk as well as my own. It’s beyond frustrating to try and have scripture study time with the family when no one seems to be paying the slightest attention.

I probably should be singing through each moment of every day, but I don’t.

That’s not to say that life has no joy, and that we don’t have any fun. I have experienced profound joy and have had some incredibly fun times with friends and family. Those are wonderful things to look forward to and remember. But life is not (and is not meant to be) solely made up of such wonderful moments. And for me, it is often duty that helps me to continue through the day-to-day. I do these things because I know I’m supposed to. I have a responsibility to fulfill, and I will try to fill that responsibility, even if I’m not particularly filled with love at that particular moment.

What’s interesting to me is that as time goes on, I’m seeing that fulfilling my duty often leads to greater love, and greater enjoyment. Doing my duty helps me to reach those moments of life that are filled with joy and even with fun. If I were to neglect my duty or shirk my responsibility, then my ability to find meaning and fulfillment would be seriously hampered.

An example of this occurred to me recently: We try to do vacations, outings, and day trips with our kids periodically. Sometimes the initial idea and plans for these trips happen well in advance. We talk with the kids and we all get excited at the prospect of visiting this or doing that. But then as the time draws near there is a lot of work and preparation that has to be done. Life happens. Things pile up, Often there are scheduling conflicts requiring us to give something else up. On occasion I have been ready to give up and cancel our plans. The activity itself no longer even sounds fun anymore. If I do proceed, it is certainly out of a sense of “pure duty and not another shred of reason.” So far, I have yet to regret pushing through those difficulties. Every time we have proceeded, we have ended up having a thoroughly enjoyable time.

This is how I see duty. Duty gets us through the frequent hard (and/or boring) parts. Duty helps us keep focused on our larger goals and the bigger picture. Duty helps us to see beyond ourselves. We are moving more and more into a culture of constant entertainment and instant gratification, but where the effort is minimal, the reward is minimal. Duty helps us put in the work for much larger efforts where the rewards are much greater.

P.S. President Monson spoke a number of times on duty, here’s a great example: Willing and Worthy to Serve

United We Stand

The news has been particularly disturbing recently. It’s seems as though the nation is in a mad rush to destroy itself as quickly as possible. It’s amazing how much we have been split into our different ideological camps and how much we’ve convinced ourselves that everyone outside of that camp is a demon.

The sage internet advice of last year was “Don’t feed the trolls.” Now it seems that the trolls have not only glutted themselves, they are running the show. The more vicious and divisive you are, the more people pay attention to you. The more ludicrous your claims are, the more you are lauded. The more demonic you make your opponent to seem, the more praise you receive.

There are very real and frightening examples of where this kind of division is headed; in the presidential election for one, but even more frighteningly in the many killings that have taken place recently. Very many seem eager to place blame on “the other side” with lots of reasons, statistics, and rhetoric; and the trolls fill the comment sections, ever more angry, self-righteous, and ridiculous.

The end result is that we all leave more angry with each other, and more certain that everyone else is simply evil.

And then this happened: These Black Lives Matters protesters planned a march. The police threw them a cookout instead

The TLDR; is this: A man whose brother was shot by police was organizing a BLM rally in Wichita. The police chief called him up and asked him to re-arrange the event. Instead of a rally, the protesters and the police got together and had a cookout. The police took questions and answered them. They mingled, talked, and enjoyed each others’ company.

This took guts. It took guts for the police. It took guts for the protesters and especially the organizer of the rally. It took some calming down, and stopping and listening. I applaud them and want to set this as the example of how we could and should move forward in our country. I worry that the alternative is to let the trolls work us up into such a frenzy that we tear apart our communities, and even our nation.

I hope that we can take some time to work with others instead of yelling at them.

United we stand.

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.

Shoulder Your Pack, and Pick Up the Pace

There is a lot of hatred and evil in this world. I’ve been feeling weighed down lately with some of the news, and I do very poorly when I try to express it. How to best express thoughts, feelings, and emotions into words? What words describe the shock and horror of seeing a picture of the drowned Syrian Toddler, Aylan Kurdi? How can I frame a paragraph to convey what I feel about our own Holocaust-like abortions? What words will repel those seeking to limit and diminish our rights to live and express our religion, a right that the nation was founded on? What can I say that adequately expresses the dangers of pornography, and shows the link between it and sex-trafficking?

So. much. evil.

Just plain evil.

And on top of that, there is confusion, mis-direction, false accusation, exaggeration, useless rhetoric, and lots and lots and lots and lots of people shouting at and demonizing others. It really doesn’t help, particularly in a time where so many people need help. They need real help.

I want to help. I want to do something. To make a difference, even if it’s only a small one. I was touched by one mother’s small action to help against abortion. Something like that. And I want to encourage others to do the same.

The trouble is that it is something on top of all the regular stuff that I (and everyone else) absolutely have to get done: job, family, scripture study, family home evening, church duties, scout duties, family history, diapers, bottles, homework, reading, disciplining, cleaning, teaching, and so many other things that I’m forgetting. By the time I have a spare minute to think of what to do, I am worn out, and ready to just watch some mindless show with my wife and go to bed.

But there are those who don’t have a bed. Those who will never even feel a bed. They still need our help.

“Could ye not watch with me one hour?”

I am resolving to do a little more. To be a little more active. To think of things I can do besides “liking” and “sharing”.

There are so many good causes out there. There are people who are actively fighting these evils. We can and should help them and work together. Find some cause that speaks to you and lend them some of your effort, as small as it may be. Lift where you stand.

Our burdens may already be heavy, but I think the time has come to shoulder our packs and to pick up the pace. Certainly it is not expedient to run faster than you have strength, but we do still need to be diligent. Pray and see what your Father in Heaven would have you do. Understand that serving others will put into perspective and diminish your own burdens.

God is hastening His work, what am I going to do to keep up? Will I be able to forget myself and go to work?

There are chances for work all around just  now
Opportunities right in our way
Do not let them pass by
Saying sometime I’ll try
But go and do something today

Then wake up and do something more
than dream of your mansion above

There Is No End

The hymn “If You Could Hie To Kolob” is famous for having a great tune, lyrics that can confuse those visiting us on Sundays, and lots and lots and lots of lines that begin with “There is no end to …” (fill in the blank).

I’ve always really enjoyed this hymn a lot, but as a youth I thought those “no end to” lines were kind of… un-inspired, like the author just got bored of writing the poem, but still had to come up with two and a half more verses. I mean seriously, the fifth verse not only consists of “no end to” lines, but it repeats the same four lines twice!

Then a friend of mine died, and we sang this hymn at his funeral. As we sang those two and a half verses, I received a powerful witness of the reality of those lines. While we live in mortality right now, our spirits are eternal and continue past the grave. And because of the atonement of Jesus Christ, we are all partakers in the resurrection–we will all live again. We will see each other and be with them again. Families can be reunited. Covenants can bind us together for eternity.

There is no end.

Our love and friendships will continue. Our faith will continue. Our covenants with God will continue. Our families will continue. As important as it is, this mortal life that we now live is a tiny step in our eternal progression.

There is no end to glory;
There is no end to love;
There is no end to being;
There is no death above.

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…


Legos, legos, LEGOS!

Legos were a major part of my childhood. My brothers and I got a fair number of lego sets, growing up, and I loved it. I loved playing legos. I loved building things with them. I would create castles and have the brave soldiers defend themselves against hordes of bad-guys. I would create spaceships and run through the house as my ship would zoom through space, dodging enemy fire and asteroids. I built a dragon that (I thought) was on a massive scale. I built a grey-and-black version of the Sea Duck, a plane from the Disney show Tale-Spin. I made a castle tower that was 33 inches high (yes, I measured it)!

I played legos with my siblings and with friends. We had epic battles, heroic quests, and death-defying stunts. It was awesome.

Awe. Some.

Except the part about loosing pieces. It’s a sad but important part of the lego life–a given set only has a certain lifetime before the missing pieces make it impossible to rebuild the original set. Being someone that really hangs on to things (much more so than any reasonable man should), I really struggled with that. My earliest set that I can remember was the “Black Falcon’s Fortress.” Oh, how I loved that set! Pretty much from the moment that the remains of that set went into the general bin of legos, I idolized the time when the castle was complete! Whenever I played with castle legos (and I got a lot of much cooler castle sets over the years), I would typically imagine that the lego guys I was playing with were secretly Black Falcon men, waiting for their opportunity to return to their former glory and rebuild their castle!

But even as a kid, I did have to say, the Black Monarchs castle in particular was pretty. darn. awesome.

So, when I got married and Mom was de-junking her house, I was more than delighted to take the bin of legos with me. My kids are getting into the age where they can really enjoy legos as well, and in the last year or so especially, we’ve had a lot of fun.

Recently, some of my brothers were talking about the good old days, and how awesome those lego sets were. I realized just how much of a treasure I had gotten by getting that lego bin–my brothers had enjoyed those legos as much as I had; and that got me thinking…

So I did a little digging, and what I found got me pretty excited. So I did some more digging and research, and that got me even more excited.

You can probably guess where this is going. It’s about to get pretty nerdtastic…

I found the site brickset.com, which you can use to keep an inventory of sets that you own. Every set lego made (so far as I know) is listed on that site. I was able to pick out the sets that I remembered, and even guess a few based on the old lego pieces we had in the bin (Having organized the legos fully into screw containers at least twice–yes, just like the dad in the Lego Movie; stop laughing–I was relatively familiar with what odd lego pieces I had).

The other cool thing about brickset was that it also had the parts inventory for each set. So I could print out the parts list for any given set, and then separate those pieces out.

Now the other trick was getting the missing pieces, which there were bound to be a decent number (we’re talking decades of collecting, folks; back to some of the earliest sets). For that I quickly found what has become one of my most favorite sites ever–bricklink.com.

It’s ugly.

It’s got tons of controls, knobs and doo-dads.

And it is universally regarded as the best place for buying used legos. Thousands of sellers are connected to that site, and the site’s dozens of gizmos and text fields and buttons give you some really cool ways to search, build wish lists, and match up what you’re looking for with the seller that most closely matches what you’re looking for. For used legos, it is Google, E-bay, and Amazon combined.

The last couple sites I ended up making good use of are brickinstructions.com for getting instructions to any set I wanted, and also bricks.stackexchange.com, a lego Q&A site where I got some good info on gluing some pieces together (Apparently one of my kids jumped on a raised base plate somewhere along the line…).

Given that, I decided I would go on with my dastardly plan. I was  going to rebuild and re-gift some of my brothers’ sets back to them. And in doing so I could quite easily fulfill my childhood dream and rebuild some of my own sets as well!

Of course it started out relatively small, and grew to be much bigger than I had realized. But I had so. much. fun. putting all those old sets together. Of course it was extremely nostalgic, but there was almost a sense of awe as I built sets that were older than I was. OK, that sounded a little too cheesy, and perhaps just a little freaky. But it was really, really cool.

I was absolutely fascinated to see how as the sets progressed through the years there was a clear evolution of how sets are built–what elements go into a castle/spaceship and the ratio of “model” vs “toy” in each set.


The King’s Castle really is very impressive. It’s rather forbidding and austere.


The Black Falcon’s fortress was one of my earliest sets.


The shield and colors are still my favorite


But this guy is pretty darn cool, too.


The Black Monarch’s Castle was my personal favorite.


I really like how they did the corner towers



The Forestmen’s River Fortress was a really fun set. I loved how the dungeon was in the river…


And the Eldorado fortress had cannons that would really shoot legos! Not too mention the awesome cutlases.


The Fire-breathing fortress came with the first lego dragon, and the knight’s cape and helmet were sooo cool! Even the horse has some really cool head-gear.


I was surprised at how differently the Galaxy Explorer was built and designed.


But the cargo bay (with a ramp) was a pretty neat idea.


And I remember how much we loved the jetpacks!


My childhood spaceship was the Renegade


Like the Galaxy Explorer, it had a cargo hold and a small car to fit inside it.


The Dragster’s rear wheels have a differential


And we loved playing with the “Giant” lego guy that came with the Arctic Helicopter.


“Benny’s Sapceship, Spaceship, SPACESHIP” is probably the coolest space ship ever.


Three awesome spaceships.




Lots and lots of really cool legos. These sets won’t last long, but they will continue to be the best toy ever for a lot of years.