ALS, ASL, Hope and Testimony

Years ago, when I lived in Detroit, serving as a missionary for my Church, I met a family who were some of the best examples of being positive in the midst of adversity. Their examples have been, in the years since, some that I have worked hard to emulate. I’ve often failed in that attempt, but… I’d be surprised if they didn’t fail in that attempt sometimes, too.

The father of the family, I’ll call him Bill (it wasn’t bill, but neither can I remember his name, nor would I share it if I could… because  this story is about my experience with them, rather than their experiences directly.) – Bill was a very successful martial arts instructor in Detroit. Very few martial artists get to do more than make an hobby out of their sport. Fewer still actually get paid for that sport. And even fewer still earn enough in that pay to be able all of their bills, and still fewer earn a good living. He was one of the rare few who could. He’d made a lifetime career out of training others in the martial arts, and in some particular forms that were uniquely his; he had customers seek him out from throughout the world to learn from him. He had comfortably provided for his family for many years, doing what he loved; training and performing and competing in the martial arts.

This was all before I met him.

And then he got Lou Gehrig’s. His was a particularly aggressive form of ALS. If my memory is being honest, the way that Bill described it to me was something along the lines of “I’m lucky because, as bad as it is, Lou Gehrig’s Disease only last’s for a couple of years! I can expect to be fully free of the disease in 3 to 5 years!” I was entirely ignorant of the disorder, and for someone who had been such a physically powerful man, the wheelchair laden man who’s arms were bound tightly to his chest by muscle spasms belied his history. “That’s wonderful!” I said…. only to get the sly look of an obviously intelligent man with mischief in his eyes….. he knew that I was ignorant of his disorder… “The only down side,” he continued, “Is that it’s fatal in every case so far….” Most healthy, 20 year old boys don’t know how to respond to that. I was no exception. I stuttered the obligatory “I’m so sorry!” as his wife playfully chided him for teasing the missionaries.

For those who, like I was, are ignorant of Lou Gehrig’s Disease, it’s formally known as ALS (Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis). It is an aggressive disease, which for most people (Bill being one of them) has no known cause, and no known cure. It is fatal in every known instance. Most people die within 3-5 years of diagnosis, but some live as long as 10 years (or more). It attacks the brain, the nerves, people’s speech (making it very difficult to understand them) and the muscles, causing everything to become progressively weaker until the lungs and heart no longer have the strength to do their job, and the person finally succumbs and dies.

The years since I met Bill have been met with a substantial increase in public awareness of this disease, and a substantial increase in research and understanding of it. Doctors and scientists say of ALS that little is known… and that’s after all of the major advancements we’ve made. When I met Bill, next to nothing was known.

And so here I was, meeting a physically diminished man, who had several days of scruff on his face, because he could no longer shave, and it was hard for his wife to shave him every day, on top of her other responsibilities like bathing, feeding, and helping with bodily functions… She had left her professional career to take care of him full time, and they’d just left their home, which was a beautifully restored house from Detroit’s Golden Motown Era (seriously, do some googling…. the architecture from that time frame is amazing…. simply stunning!) in order to move into a small place  with no stairs where he could maneuver in his motorized wheelchair. The previous 3 or so years had been nothing but broken lives and turmoil, all with the known and foreseeable undesirable end.

And yet, here Bill and his beautiful wife were not only content, but happily joking and teasing those around them. They weren’t just accepting of their circumstances, but thriving in them.

In our Church, once a month we forgo sermons or prepared talks to allow the congregation to share with each other our testimonies of faith and be strengthened by others’.

Just before I completed my mission, and came home to Idaho, we had one of these meetings. Bill rolled his wheelchair to the front of the chapel, and (painfully) stood from it. As he reached the podium, he put his mouth near the microphone (he was getting hard to hear, as his voice’s strength was going too.) He began by telling everyone that he wanted to take every chance he could to proclaim his faith, because he was starting to get too weak to continue to come to church, and he knew that he wasn’t going to live much longer.

Setting this premise for the congregation, who had all grown to love and cherish this amazing man, he continued.

“I know that it’s hard to understand my speech, so I’d like to share my testimony to you in Sign Language.”

He clumsily stepped back from the podium and raised his painfully wrenched arms and hands to shoulder level, the task clearly wore him out, and he had to lean back to do it. Everyone in the congregation felt embarrassed for Bill because we could see what he obviously couldn’t: there was no way he was going to do any signing.

Stepping back to the podium, arms still raised, he awkwardly looked from one hand, and then to the other, as if realizing for the first time that they weren’t working the way that they should.

“Dang it.”

And the congregation, uncharacteristically for our Church, burst out laughing through our tears on his behalf.

Of course Bill knew that he couldn’t sign. And that was the point. He knew that he’d just darkened the mood of the room, and he solved it at his own expense.

He then went on to bare a beautiful testimony of faith, redemption, and of hope.

The reason that Bill and his wife could have such positive attitudes surrounding his rapid decline in health and his impending death, was that they had been married together, not just until death parted them, but for time and all eternity. They had faith that the promise of the Savior for resurrection, perfection, and wholeness would all be fulfilled. They believed the Savior’s promise that they would get to be together with Him. This life, after all, is just a trial period. And that trial might be ending for him, but there was more to come.

I left within the next couple of weeks. I don’t think that I ever saw Bill again. I don’t imagine that he lived much longer… though I’d be happy to be wrong.

But their example has lived on in me.

And so has his faith.

Hopefully it can make your day a little better today, too.

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Advent, the Nativity, and Forgetting Christ

In homes and congregations throughout the world, the month leading up to Christmas is spent preparing for the Nativity – this period is known as Advent. In our family, we often set up our Christmas tree the day after thanksgiving (though it was the middle of December this year), followed by a Christmas party with our congregation in the beginning of December. The rest of the month, like many of us, is often spent worrying about presents, stressing about bills, and trying to bake delectables for those we care about. I won’t waste your time saying what more eloquent people have said before me; I’ll let it suffice that I worry that the most important part of the season is lost to most of us.

So forgive my ramblings as I share some thoughts (not just my own).

For centuries the chosen people had waited for the Messiah, the one who would save them and make them free. Some looked for a political savior, others for a teacher and others yet for a redeemer. And the signs were given that the time for the Messiah was at hand. Some thought the Maccabees would fill the role. Others looked onward, all waited for the Advent of the chosen one of God. With the oppression of Rome, the plea for a redeemer grew ever stronger.

Sometime in the summer between the years 6 and 2 BC, a young woman was visited by an angel, telling her that she had been chosen by God to carry His son and bring him into the world.  I can’t imagine the elation and terror she must have experienced. We aren’t told how, but the Spirit of God descended on Mary, and she became pregnant with the very Son of the Living Father. Mary, did you know?

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In the following months, we know, that the young woman married her betrothed, Joseph. We know little of the man, but that he was good, just and faithful is clear.  And some time in the spring of the next year, the expectant couple traveled to their ancestral home of Bethlehem to be taxed and counted. The small town would have been bustling and though she was nearing labor, Mary and Joseph were refused room in the boarding houses. One could infer that it was due to their poverty that they were turned away, but irrespective of the reason, Joseph prepared room in a stable for his wife to bring her Son into the world. I can imagine the feelings of helplessness he experienced, because the helplessness that all husbands feel during childbirth hasn’t changed over the long centuries between Joseph and me.

We don’t know how long she labored, but sometime in the early days of our month of April, Mary gave birth to her first son, and, swaddling him, laid him in a manger meant for feeding sheep.

Despite the songs, the Judean landscape has few plains, but is full of hills and valleys. It was in these hills around Bethlehem that shepherds grazed their sheep and watched them through the night. download

It was to these simple people that the first angelic announcement of the arrival of the Messiah came. The angels told them that He would bring peace on earth to men of good will. Many songs have been, and will yet be, written about this visit.

Without doubt, the shepherds left their flocks, following the angelic direction, entered the town to find the baby with His mother and Joseph. Having worshiped the Messiah, they left to spread the word of His birth.

Sometime before or during the holy birth, a new star appeared in the sky. Astrologers and astronomers have spent 2 millennial seaking an explanation, but there can be no doubt that it was recognized as both a miracle and a sign, at least to some, and perhaps only in the east, from whence came the wise men. The narrative gives us little clues to their identities, or even their numbers, but tradition tells us that there were three wise men, and names them: Melchior, Balthazar and Caspar. images These wise men came in the months or years following the Messiah’s humble birth in the stables of Bethlehem.

That Mary made the sacrifices of purification using doves, rather than a lamb, shows the family’s continued poverty.  But when the wise men arrived, and found the Holy Child,they gifted the Holy Child the kingly gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. After the angel warned Joseph to flee to Egypt to protect his ward, I imagine those gifts paid the way.

The wise men, warned in a dream of the wicked intentions of the murderous Herod, returned to their own lands by alternate routes, and are lost to history. Enraged, Herod butchered all of the male children under the age of two, rightly earning his reputation that will carry through history. Joseph’s faithful adherence to the prompting a of the angels protected his wife and her son.

Thus the first Christmas story is completed. The Son grew to a man, astonishing even the elders of the synagog with his wisdom and understanding. Only 33 short years after his birth, around His 34th birthday, the Savior of Mankind would labor in Gethsemane. Ironically, the symbol of the scapegoat was lost on the Jewish elite, and they gave Him up to be crucified among thieves, fulfilling His earthly mission. It was His resurrection that broke the bonds of sin and death, and his prophesied return that will fill all the forms of Messiah that Children of Israel sought.

We, like the shepherds, are commanded to spread the good news of Jesus the Messiah to all the world.  And as Advent comes to a close, and we celebrate the Nativity, I will be seeking to remember Jesus, and to spread His joy to those in need. I hope you’ve felt that joy as you’ve read my insufficient story, and listened to the beautiful music I’ve linked.

And from my family to you, merry Christmas. May the hope of the Messiah carry you through the new year. May we remember Him in our actions. May we embrace the Advent, celebrate the Nativity, and never forget the Christ.

If You Can Do Anything

They were getting worse.

Staring at the broken furniture next to him, he wondered how long this one would last. The blood was already smeared on the floor from his son’s head, but he knew he had to wait until this was finished before he could try to patch the wound.

The shaking and moaning was frightening his wife and other children, he knew, but what could he do about it? Last time he tried to hold the boy down, he’d nearly broken his arm.

So he waited. And he hoped that he wasn’t disturbing his neighbors again. The shouts and tears were hard enough without everyone else involved. The questions tomorrow would be embarrassing for him, but his wife would cry herself to sleep with hidden shame tonight.

And he was still shaking. Oh, God! How long would this one last?


Each one of us is burdened with hidden shames, hidden pains, and hidden worries. Some of them are brought on by our own sins, by our own weaknesses. Others are beyond our control.

I have often tried, fruitlessly, to hide my pains, my sorrows, my brokenness  from those around me. My kids think the pain is normal, my wife, bless her, has endured more than any woman should have to. And I try to hide it from my friends and family, playing off my falls as if I’m being silly, and just need to sit down. I try to hide the panic attacks, and play them off as mild distractions. My kids know better, they’ve come to watch the grown man huddled in the corner, weeping like a child, with only mild interest, knowing that the best they can do is wait it out. I try to pretend that my pain is just “discomfort.” My 8 year old has come to gently ask “do you want me to get your cane, or your medicine?” And my 4 year old, “are you happy now, dad?” while worry wells up in his eyes.

What are your hidden pains? What do you fear the world will see?


He heard them before he saw them. His son was walking with him, no sign of the previous night’s fit but the healing cut on his head. These men always drew a crowd now. He knew why: they had made a lot of friends, and probably more enemies.

When the drew close enough, he meant to shout out to them, to offer payment for them to help, of even beg if he must. He didn’t have any pride left, what was it to beg?

But when they came near, his son looked dead. Here he stood, as calm as a summer breeze, but his eyes were gone. This wasn’t his son anymore. He knew this look. It was too soon! They weren’t inside, everyone would see! There would be no secrets remaining! “Please, wait,” he  thought to himself. “Please, not here!” And then his son fell.

The shouts of startled fear and derision parted the crowd like Moses and the Red Sea. As the foam fell from his son’s lips, the throng surrounded him: there was no escape now!


Sooner or later, all things come to light. Every secret, every shame, will be known as if it was shouted from the rooftops. Are you prepared for that moment? Most of us aren’t. For years, I’ve tried to behave normally, but it only takes one breakdown in public for everyone to look at you differently, to doubt you, to doubt the reality that you’ve come to accept.


Now he found himself surrounded by the judgmental sea of people, drowning in his shame. His son, oblivious to the stares of those around, continued to convulse. Tears in his eyes, the broken man begged the men: “please, can’t you see what it does to him? Drive out the devil that is doing this to my son! I know you can, I’ve seen you heal others!”

Confidently, the men approached his thrashing son. As they did, the attack began to subside. It was almost as if whatever demon had seized him for so many years, was preparing to leave! What joy! What hope! His son would be whole again!

As they placed their hands on him, their enemies in the crowd started to shout: he couldn’t hear what the healers were saying over the shouts, but he had no doubt in his mind that they would heal him.

For a moment, it looked like they had! The foam stopped dribbling from his mouth, and his body relaxed: and then as the angry men around him began to quiet, the boy started shaking harder then ever! His nose began to bleed, and his bowels released.

In terror, the devastated father ran to his son, trying to stop the terrible trembling that looked like they would kill his son. He ignored the jeering of the crowd, both to him, and to the healers. It took what felt like an eternity,  but the attack finally stopped. His son was unconscious, and trembling now, he cradled the head of his oldest son, weeping tears of despair onto his son’s neck.


Healing can be hard. For those who have had their spirits and minds broken by some great and terrible event, the healing can feel like it never comes.

Sometimes we place our trust in others, expecting that they can help carry, or even relive us of our burdens completely.

And if they fail, the hurt to our soul can be worse than if they had never tried to begin with. The darkness is greatest at these times. The burdens the heaviest. When hope is gone, we begin to doubt even the faith that we cherish.


He didn’t know how long the men had argued with their critics. He didn’t know how long his son had lain there. If it weren’t for the weak rising and falling of his chest, he would be sure the boy had died. He wished they would leave him, allow him to maintain some dignity. But they wouldn’t.

And then, after a few hushed shouts, the crowd went silent.

“What were you arguing with them about?” He heard the Man ask the critics. But no one answered.

With tears still on his cheeks, his eyes red, and his voice weak and horse, he spoke in reply: “Teacher,” he addressed the man, “I brought you my son who is possessed by a spirit that robs him of his speech.” His voice broke, but through the sob, he continued “whenever it seizes him, it throws him to the ground.” He showed the Man his son, as if he couldn’t see for himself. “He foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth, and becomes rigid.” Looking at the healers, he continued, “I asked your followers to drive out the spirit…” his voice broke again, “but they could not!” And the tears began in earnest again.

Looking to the crowd, and with… was it despair of his own? Anger? He couldn’t tell, but the  Teacher spoke. “You unbelieving generation'” that part was almost under his breath. His followers cowered in shame, and the opposing leaders squared their shoulders, defiant to his challenge. “How long will I stay with you? How long will I put up with you?”

And looking at the the father, the Man said “bring the boy to me.”

Gently, the weeping father picked up his unconscious son, and carried him to the Teacher.

Before he even got to the teacher, the boy started shaking again. So severely that his father  lost his grip. The boy fell to the ground, shaking, and rolling. The foam started again.

“How long has he been like this?” The teacher asked

“Since he was a child,” the father replied, looking around to see who had heard him admit it.


It is in these moments of darkest despair that we must turn ourselves again to the Teacher. We must muster what strength and faith remains and turn to He who bore our burdens.


With almost a whisper, he continued, “it has often tried to throw him into the fire, or into the water, to destroy him.”

The tears came again, unbidden. He looked to the Teacher and, summoning what faith for healing he could, he begged, “if you can do anything,” the bitterness returned now, and he wondered why he was even bothering to ask, “take pity on us, and help us!”


Sometimes, in our moment of despair, we fail to notice those around us who despair, who toil, who are working with us. It is hard to see those who have made our struggles their own.


The Teacher spoke now, his tone lovingly chastising now, “if you can just believe.” He said to the father as then to the crowd around, “anything is possible to one who believes.”

“Lord!” The man exclaimed, “oh, I believe!” Hadn’t he brought his son here to be healed? Hadn’t he loved his trust in the healers? But in that moment, the introspective and humble father realized his own doubt; “help me overcome my disbelief.”


In these dark times, when we have relied on the faith we once had, it is easy to forget to do the thinks we need to do in order to grow faith. Faith is either growing, or diminishing, it never remains stagnant. In your moments of darkness, have you ever stopped growing your faith? Do you have the gift of introspection enough to see the strength of your testimony?

The story could almost end here, why? Because the miracle that follows is less important than the faith that predicated it. While the Teacher will always lift our burdens, it isn’t always on our timetable. It isn’t always even in this lifetime. While all things are possible to those who believe, the belief must be in God, and in his will; not our own.


After looking around, the Teacher spoke: “you deaf and mute spirit, I command you to come out of him and never enter him again.”

There was fierceness in the Teacher’s voice that the man had never heard before.

And his son began to retch. A horrible gurgling sound burst from his son’s lips. Then the boy was still and pale.

The crowd began to whisper, quietly at first, then louder, “he’s dead. He killed him.”

And the Teacher reached out, taking the boy’s hand, and helped him to his feet. The color was coming back to him now.

And the boy smiled.

Today, I Am Peter

When they set out to cross the lake, a journey they had made many times before, the day was coming to a close. It had been an extraordinary day, one filled with wonder, power and miracles. But now, they had to make the 8 mile sail across the water. Usually, by setting the sail to catch the wind, combined with hard work at the oars, this trip was pretty quick.

But though it was hard work, it was work that Peter was used to. There was some joy and peace in the labor. He’d spent most of his life on this lake. He was a strong sailor, and a strong swimmer. If the truth was to be told, he’d forgotten more in his short life than most men ever learned about the trade. His hands knew the tasks at hand, so he could take the time to think about what he’d seen. He could reflect on the day.

None of the others talked much. Besides the hard work, it seemed like they all had a lot on their minds. How had he done that? Where was he now? What would they do next?

And then the winds changed. They were only about halfway across the lake, but with the wind shifting to become a head wind, they had to drop the sails. This meant that the remaining 4 miles would need to be done at the oars alone. This was never fun, but, like the rest of this work, Peter was confident, calm, and prepared for the trouble of it.

And then the waves started to form. Theirs was not a small boat, but she was sturdy. Really, she was bigger than many on the lake, but these waves were easily large enough to crash over the sides. They were easily big enough to capsize the boat if they turned her broadside.

So here they were, rowing hard against the waves which pushed them back for every stroke. If the stopped rowing, they’d turn, and the waves would have them. They couldn’t raise the sails because the wind was at their bow.

And it was totally dark. The moon was still low, too low to be an effective guide.

It was dark. The wind howled. The men were tired, and sore, and alone. There was no other boats nearby, not that they’d be able to see them in these waves and darkness. If they lost control now, they’d surely drown. Peter was starting to worry.


Life has a way of dishing out its worst right after we have experienced great blessing. The Adversary works his hardest to challenge us at these times; to make us doubt the joy and peace of God’s gifts; to forget the grace that we’ve received; to focus only on the momentary, the challenging, and the worrisome. And he’s pretty good at it.
I’ve gone from being at the helm, metaphorically speaking, of my life; knowing what I was doing, where I was going, and how I was going to get there… to not knowing how I’m going to function in the most basic ways; to not knowing how I’m going to raise my children; not knowing how to even take care of myself; and (sometimes) to not know where my next meal will come from. It’s been a pretty major shift for me. I’ve been content with the work of it all. I’m no stranger to hard work. But there is still fear in not knowing. There is fear in the challenges of life.


As they worked to keep the boat straight against the waves, Peter heard a shriek of terror come from behind him. As he listened to hear why his friend had cried out, he saw it: the ghostly apparition on the water. Peter had never been one to believe in silly superstitions, but how could he deny his own eyes? The evidence was overwhelming, and his shipmates confirmed the same: there was a figure on the water.

The moonlight reflected off the white of the figures robes, creating an halo of pale, blue light. The figure was moving across the storming seas as if they were simple hills.

And Peter was terrified. Was this was some apparition from the after-world coming to claim him and his shipmates? Surely, they were about to die, and this figure was their host into the next world.

As they began to fear for their lives, the boat started to turn. Peter cried out for his friends to keep her straight! Even in that moment of sure death, he wasn’t one to let it come easily. The spirit of death would have him, but not without a fight.


There is an old Christian trope that “God will not give you more than you can handle.” While it has some basis in truth, the understood implication is that whatever challenge we are given can be borne by us. This just isn’t true.

Oftentimes,  life presents us with challenges far to great for us to carry on our own.

The burdens that we bear sometimes curve our backs and break our wills. And just in that moment of deep despair, the challenges of life will sometimes side swipe us with a pickup truck. This can be overwhelming. Having had the broken will and spirit, being crushed by the weight of the world, we are given only two options; to surrender and die is the easier option. But what else can we do?


Just then they heard the voice, carried clearly above the winds and the waves.
“Don’t be afraid! It is I! Take courage!”

Peter looked out over the waves, and in the darkness he saw, for what seemed like the first time, that the apparition was his friend, his brother, his master: the Galilean. But how could this be? No man can walk on the water. Yet, after what he’d seen earlier today, how could it be anyone else?


And so His voice comes to all who are broken in spirit. When the burdens have destroyed all hope that we can carry on alone, He calls to us: “don’t be afraid! Be courageous. I am here!”

And we, like Peter, have to choose: do we let fear win, and go down with our boat? That is the easy choice.


Like the Sons of Thunder next to him, Peter was impetuous. He was brave. And he knew that the Miracle Worker could do anything.

“If it’s you,” he cried to the Man on the water, “tell me to come out to you, on the water!”

Even in his challenge, he doubted himself. These waves were too strong for his boat, they would surely sink him. If he got into the water, he’d surely be a dead man. What was this challenge? Why had he called it? If he was wrong, he’d pay for the mistake with his life.

“Come!” Came the reply.


When the master calls to us, we have the final choice: the easy one? Or do we risk what stability we have now, no matter how destructive that stability is, and come to him? Do we surrender to Him our fears, our hopes, and even the ground beneath our feet at His bidding?


Keeping his eyes above the waves, and ignoring the gasps of terror of his crew, Peter stepped out of the tossing boat onto the waves. His eyes fixed on the Man, Peter began walking… walking! On the water! It was as if the sea had solidified under his feet, and he allowed his pace to quicken.  And then it hit him: literally. He hadn’t noticed the wave until it crashed into his side, drenching him further to the bone. And he looked down to check his footing. There was nothing but the sea beneath him!

And he doubted.


When we come to Him, keeping our eyes fixed on He who is our salvation, the terrors that had only moments before had overwhelmed and even threatened to destroy us, seem like a thing of the past.

But when we look to the challenges, and not the Man on the water; we falter. Every time. The proverbial waves that had threatened to destroy us are no less powerful, and we no more powerful. We haven’t suddenly grown the ability to defeat the challenges on our own. And once we start to wonder if it is by our own power that we are succeeding, we will surely begin to be swallowed up by the very things we wonder if we’ve defeated.


The doubt came quickly, and as it rushed upon him, so did the cold, dark water. He just had time to cry out desperately, “Lord! Save me!” As the water came up over his head, anxious to claim him to its depths. He kicked, he tried to tread, but the next wave washed over him, and he knew he had lost.

And then the hand grabbed his.

And his Master pulled him into His strong arms. “You of little faith,” He chided, “why did you doubt?”

And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down.


Like Peter, I have witnessed the miraculous. Like Peter, I have stood when the world said I should drown. Like Peter, I have begun the fearful journey of walking to the Master. And like Peter, I have doubted. I have tried, again and again, to do the work on my own.

But like Peter, I have cried out “Lord, save me!”

And He has. And He will again.

I just hope that, like Peter, I don’t forget the salvation offered to me. Today I want to be like Peter. 

God grant me the grace to see You above the waves of life. Give me the courage to call out to You. Give me the faith to follow You. And guide me to Your Glory.

Argument Ad Naseum; What’s the Point?

This is a type of meta post, and it may present me in a negative light. Understand, I am making a point about arguing…. And it this may come across as…argumentative…

The other day I found myself embroiled in a proverbial civil war on Facebook. A good friend (while I find I agree with him less and less, he remains a good man, strong in character, and kind above most) had posted an (unintentionally) inflammatory socio-political blog post. My brother countered the argument our friend was making with another, and I replied to my brother’s comment with a short, sarcastic comment. I meant little by it, but to show support for my brother’s counter argument….

What ensued, however, was the longest comment thread I’ve participated in (nearly 350 comments). Over the course of the next 48 hours, sides entrenched, and arguments were made. My brother and I found ourselves nearly alone against a barrage of opposing arguers. Our other brother joined the battle occasionally, when he could, on our side. And near the end another joined us still.  The opposing side had a nearly revolving door, except our friend who made the original article: he had the decency to stay through the battle, rather than swoop in and hurl proverbial air support insults at the opposition before retreating to the safety of internet oblivion.

Side note: God blessed my family with great intelligence, even if He didn’t provide us with wisdom…. And even if we haven’t learned humility…. 

I have to say that my brothers and I were equal to the task. We stayed consistent to to our principled stance, and provided substantial logical and factual information to the fight. Of course, I don’t believe the same to be true of the opposition.
I could hear the wives of everyone participating singing with exasperation “still arguing?!?” I can feel their eye rolls as they wonder about the stubbornness of their husbands who argue with friends and strangers alike for 2 days on the same conversation. And I feel their frustration as they point out that their husbands have failed to convince anyone on the other side to their own point of view.  I know that my sister-in law and my wife joined in those frustrations… And I’m sure that the wives of the others involved felt the same. And they aren’t wrong.

My friend wasn’t convinced of his wrongness. My brothers and I weren’t convinced of our cold heartedness. And I’m sure than none of the fly-by pilots chose to settle their planes on my brother’s battlements after surveying the field of battle.

So, like our wives, you might ask: what’s the point? Why argue when everyone is entrenched, and no one will change their minds? I believe I can speak for all involved when I answer those questions. (Maybe not, in which case, I speak just for me).

Why argue when no one will change their mind?

1. Arguing challenges me: how will I know that I am right if I am never challenged? One of the damning principles of modern education is the lie of “consensus.” If we only surround ourselves with those with whom we agree, we start to believe that everyone agrees with us: this builds up unhealthy narcissism. If we are never challenged, and preferably aggressively challenged, we never develope our own thoughts to the point of value to society. Without opposition, our own views become one sided, weak, and arrogant.

2. Sometimes I am wrong. My wife says that I always believe that I’m right. I fail, even after years of marriage, to see this as a bad thing. If I argued principles and points that I believed to be wrong, wouldn’t that make me a liar? Of course I think I’m right… But I am sometimes wrong. Arguing presents information that challenges mine. On occasion, that information, those arguments, convince me that I am wrong.

I remember one such conversation clearly: while on the phone for work, I had a customer delve into the forbidden territory of politics; and I silenced myself to avoid getting in trouble. She asked if my state had universal sales tax, that is, sales tax on every purchase including food. I answered in the affirmative. I believed that any other such tax, or a tax not applied universally, would open the door to corruption and beurocratic nightmare. (I didn’t say this, of course, lest I get in trouble for misrepresenting the company for whom I worked). In one single sentence, this woman, a self avowed socialist, changed my view: “do you think it is okay that you have to be taxed for food; that you need your governmental overlord’s permission to eat?” I found myself legitimately flummoxed (something that I have to admit, doesn’t happen often). In one question, she convinced me of the immorality of taxing food. I was sold; governments  should not tax food. The principle developed further, as I studied it further, but this is to illustrate that I am willing to have my mind changed given convincing evidence and superior arguments.

3. The third point belongs to my brother, and is his answer to his wife when she asked “why are you still arguing? You won’t change their minds.” His response was simple “because they’re wrong.”  He continued (paraphrased) “just because they are entrenched, and because we are entrenched, doesn’t mean that everyone is entrenched. There will be people who read this argument and are swayed one way or the other. There will be people who haven’t formed an opinion, who haven’t taken a side: and of no opposition is offered to the wrong viewpoint, they will be convinced that the wrong viewpoint is correct.”

This answer, my brother’s, is perhaps the most moral reason why arguments must be made. Even the Savior (while I emdeavor to emulate Him, please don’t understand that I am comparing myself to him), even the Savior argued with the leaders of the day. He always won those arguments…. Because He’s perfect… But he argued nonetheless. Especially when the topic is not trivial, it is critical that opposition to the wrong side be presented. Because, though it may seem like it by the commentating class (myself included), by the overtly opinionated (myself included), by the openly argumentative (myself included), not everyone has picked a side. There are those who will be convinced one way or the other. If the right never stand up to the wrong, which side will the unconvinced choose?

4. Speaking just for myself: it’s fun. Mankind’s history has always been met with combat and competition. When society has changed, the forms of competition have too: including competition of status (winning in the workforce, to be able to “humbly” show your fellow man how much better you are by driving a nicer car, or wearing an Armani suit or otherwise “winning”). Man’s bloodlust hasn’t satiated over time, it has just changed. I am not convinced that this competitive drive is wholly unrighteousness, so long as it is curbed and controlled; not allowed to consume and define the man. I’d love to admit that I am free of that competitive desire: but I am not. I like winning. Being physically broken, intellectual debate provides the last area where I can be the competitive equal of my opposition. Intellectual argument is the last proverbial arena were my manly desire for combat can be satiated with the (again proverbial) blood of my foes.

So what happened? Who who the argument?

Some may want to know the end result of our bitter ideological entanglement: I will oblige. Understand, that a participant in a debate is never a fair judge of it, and so my view is far from unbiased.

If ours were a moderated debate, werin the rules of civilized debate were adhered to and counted for or against the arguer: my brothers and I won the debate. We worked hard to avoid personal attack and logical fallacy. The opposition, contrarily, bounced from one fallacy to then next (I joked that they had read a list of the logical fallacies and were trying to incorporate each into a single argument…. but the joke wasn’t without cause). One of the opposition insisted, no less than 5 times, that I was ignorant without once providing reason for the insult nor countering my points to show my ignorance.

Ifs the were a bloody arena combat, I have to say that the battle again favored my brothers and me. Our arguments were consistent and principled, as opposed to the our opposition who abandoned theirs as frequently as we defeated the arguments , rather than defend them with new information or reason). This method is called the shotgun approach: get as much lead downrange as you can, and see if you hit something.

If the object was to convince the bystanders, I cannot speak definitively. I hope that my side, working hard to keep from personalizing our attacks, maintaining the higher ground; combined with consistent argument and unrefuted information: I hope that ours was the more convincing argument.

If the objective was to convince the other side, we all lost. I am sure that no one who participated, was convinced.

As for friendship; I feel that some friendships were damaged. My friend was first my brother’s friend. Growing up, I looked to them (more him than my brother) as the definition of charismatically cool. In adulthood, my limited exposure to him has lead me to define him as my friend, irrespective of my brother. Their bond is unassailable, despite frequent socio-political grievances. However, during the course of the debate, our friend made a conclusion based in the assumption that I disliked him. This error, I must wholly own. My opposition to his politics (of which, like me, he is very verbal) has lead him to the incorrect beleif that I dislike him. In short, I have failed to communicate love and admiration during heated debate. In this cause, I have lost. And it is a loss that I mourn.

So why do we continue to maker arguments when everyone has already picked a side? Because not everyone has picked a side. And just like battles of old, friendships are often the casualty of the war. I regret these casualties most of all. 

I Was Completely Wrong, And I Didn’t Even Know It

Over the last several months, I’ve written and re-written an article defining what I believe is the key difference between American Liberalism and American Conservatism; between Socialism and Capitalism; between the political Left and the political Right. That difference is the polar opposites of Collectivism and Individualsim. It is this difference, I contend, that irreparably divides the political factions. Is is this difference that separates the political and moral foundations that define us.

And I maintain that I am correct in this assessment. The political left, the socialists, the progressives, and the American liberals all have one key tying them together: that the will of the individual is or should be subservient to the will and benefit of the whole; that the good of the many outweighs the good of the one; that individuals are made to better the society. In short, the fundemental core is collectivism.

This ideology and fundamental understanding directly contradicts the basis of the political right, the conservatives, libertarians, and the capitalists who believe that the will of the many cannot override the will of the individual (as long as that individual is not directly harming other individuals, taking their things, or taking their individual rights); that the individual benefits the society by acting in their own self interest while protecting the self interest of their neighbor; that society is made to protect the liberty of the individual. Theirs is the fundemental core of individualism.

I maintain that am I correct in these summaries, that they are accurate representations of the fundamental beliefs of these parties. I maintain that these positions are irreconcilable. 
However, I have always held that convincing arguments; convincing evidence; or a convincing combination of the two should and will change my mind when presented to me. Yesterday, one such argument was made, and it has caused me to change my view.

The institution of marriage is the foundational bedrock of western civilization. Marriage is the idea that you and your beloved are now a new family, and that family is a bulwark against the vicissitudes of fate and the vicissitudes of reality. You are a team and your goal is to both survive and flourish as a team; and you’re not going to do it separately. You’re going to better together, (to grab a phrase from Hillary Clinton’s idiotic campaign: she wants to do it better together as a government).
Family exists in opposition to the forces of nature. It exists in opposition to the forces of government. It exists in opposition to communitarianism. And it exists in direct opposition to the idea that the individual, on his own, is enough. The individual on his own isn’t enough. You need a wife or you need a husband because that person makes you a better person, completes you, and is the only person in the world who has the same agenda that you do in your life. Everybody needs both a cheerleader and a person for whom to cheerlead. That’s what marriage provides. 
Aside from that, without marriage the world ceases to function; the human world ceases to function because your creation of new life is, in both spiritual and physical form, the significant unification of humanity. Every time you have a child, you’re recreating humanity anew. And you’re expressing faith in God, faith in the future, and a belief that things will get better.

~Ben Shapiro

To borrow from this great thinker: “[the family] exists in direct opposition to the idea that the individual, on his own, is enough. The individualism on his own isn’t enough.”

And in a blink of an eye (he’s a fast talker), my mind has been changed. I no longer believe that society’s purpose is to benefit the individual. I no longer believe that the will of the individual trumps the will of society. I no longer believe that society is made to protect the liberty of the individual. I have been convinced by a great thinker, and fast talker, that the society’s purpose is to benefit the family. I believe that the will of the family trumps the will of society. I believe that society is made to protect the liberty of the family.

I believe that government should be only large enough to protect the family and its individuals from the dangers of those who would do them harm. When government grows to try to fill the God given role of the family, society dies a slow, angry, and bitter death. Our society is dying. We have rejected the family as the central unit of society. The political right have selfishly claimed that the most important unit in society is the individual. The political left have claimed that the individual must be trampled by the will of the whole in the damnable lie of “progress.” Both have ignored the family, to our ruin.
Go home today, or call, or whatever. Tell your spouse that you love them. Swallow your pride, and admit your faults. Open your soul to your beloved. Place her (or him) first. It is time that we replace the family in our society as the most important unit. Our society is dying: the only cure is the restoration of Godly principles starting with the family.

Broken Covenants; Unrepentant Sin; and Atonement

The gospel of Jesus Christ is full of individual responsibility, personal covenants, distinctive action, and one on one choice to follow the will of God. This holds the basis of Salvation: that each soul must choose for themselves whom they will serve. As Joshua so eloquently challenged: “If serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve… But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” Inharently in Joshua’s command is the individual choice to serve God. 

However, a handful of nations have gone above and beyond this command of individual worship and covenant. 

Israel had made the covenant with their foundation. Having rejected it, they spent years in chastising bondage. Before returning to their home, Joshua warned them that he covenant not be taken lightly, and they made it again:

Then the people answered, “Far be it from us to forsake the Lord to serve other gods! It was the Lord our God himself who brought us and our parents up out of Egypt, from that land of slavery, and performed those great signs before our eyes. He protected us on our entire journey and among all the nations through which we traveled. And the Lord drove out before us all the nations, including the Amorites, who lived in the land. We too will serve the Lord, because he is our God.” 

Joshua said to the people, “You are not able to serve the Lord. He is a holy God; he is a jealous God. He will not forgive your rebellion and your sins. If you forsake the Lord and serve foreign gods, he will turn and bring disaster on you and make an end of you, after he has been good to you.” 

But the people said to Joshua, “No! We will serve the Lord.”

Then Joshua said, “You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen to serve the Lord.” 

“Yes, we are witnesses,” they replied. 

“Now then,” said Joshua, “throw away the foreign gods that are among you and yield your hearts to the Lord, the God of Israel.” 

And the people said to Joshua, “We will serve the Lord our God and obey him.” On that day Joshua made a covenant for the people, and there at Shechem he reaffirmed for them decrees and laws. 

On this continent, following a similar apostasy of the covenent people (who were a lost branch of the Israelites), the faithful leader Moroni called for a similar renewal of Godly covenent:

 Behold, whosoever will maintain this title upon the land, let them come forth in the strength of the Lord, and enter into a covenant that they will maintain their rights, and their religion, that the Lord God may bless them.

And it came to pass that when Moroni had proclaimed these words, behold, the people came running together with their armor girded about their loins, rending their garments in token, or as a covenant, that they would not forsake the Lord their God; or, in other words, if they should transgress the commandments of God, or fall into transgression, and be ashamed to take upon them the name of Christ, the Lord should rend them even as they had rent their garments.
Now this was the covenant which they made, and they cast their garments at the feet of Moroni, saying: We covenant with our God, that we shall be destroyed, even as our brethren in the land northward, if we shall fall into transgression; yea, he may cast us at the feet of our enemies, even as we have cast our garments at thy feet to be trodden under foot, if we shall fall into transgression.

Here, a similar covenent was made after years of hardship, termoil, and oppression:

On May 15, 1776, shortly after the Continental Army’s initial arrival at New York, months before the British invasion, Washington prepared his men. Not only did he prepare them physically, but spiritually. He called them to the covenant. In a General Order, he declared:

“Instant to be observed [on Friday the 17th] as a day of fasting, humiliation and prayer, humbly to supplicate the mercy of Almighty God, that it would please him to pardon all our manifold sins and transgressions, and to prosper the Arms of the United Colonies, and finally establish the peace and freedom of America, upon a solid and lasting foundation.”
Then again on July 2, Washington in another General Order would remind his men that “the fate of unborn Millions will now depend, under God, on the courage and conduct of this army…Let us therefore rely upon the goodness of the Cause, and the aid of the Supreme Being, in whose hands Victory is.” Two days later, in Philadelphia, these same sentiments would be immortalized by the Continental Congress in the Declaration of Independence, which concludes, “And for support of this Declaration, with firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.”
Washington was so convinced of his utter dependence upon this covenant relationship with God that he would continue to extend reminders and calls to repentance. On July 9, Washington issued another General Order in which he called for chaplains in each regiment to ensure that the soldiers “attend carefully upon religious exercises.” The order concluded with the following: “The blessing and protection of Heaven are at all times necessary but especially so in times of public distress and danger-the General hopes and trusts, that every officer and man, will endeavor so to live, and act, as becomes a good Christian soldier defending the dearest Rights and Liberties of his country.

In each of these cases, and many others, the sincere covenent with God has lead to victory of His covenent people: militarily, economically, in peace, in happiness, and in liberty.

But in each of these cases, we can also see the consequence when the people in question have defied or broken their covenant with God:

The Israelites, turning from God, were chastened with millennia of torment at the hands of the Canaanites, Persians, and the Arabs. After the final rejection and crucifixion of their God, they were dispersed entirely spending nearly 2000 years in exile for their failure to uphold their covenant.

The Nephites spent the better part of the next 1000 years being reminded of their covenent by falling and returning to God; accepting defeat and victory according to their faith. Ultimately they were completely destroyed in a genocidal war because of their failure to return to the God who protected them.

The Americans failure to keep their promise to God, and provide liberty to their fellow men, became embroiled in a civil war that nearly cost the nation, and remains to be the single most deadly war in their history. The following generation saw a turn from God, until they wer chastened by two generations of war, and returned them to the faith of God. However, the current trend is the most blatant rejection of God in American history: no longer do we openly enslave people by race, but we have committed an evil sacrament to Satan which has resulted in the murder of over 50 million innocent children: and we have called that sacrament good. We have turned away from our covenant and called it evil. We have selected leaders to guide us that we know are evil and unrighteousness actors, and called it inevitable.

America, like Israel and the Land of Nephi before them (and others) is ripe for just destruction. We have openly defied the God whom we promised to serve. Ours is a nation that has fallen into the worship of Baal and the grove, just as completely as our predecessors. And the Godly covenant gives us our promised consequence: obliteration.

But there is hope now, as there always has been. Israel is restored: they have turned back to the God who made them, and they have defied all external enemies (see the 7 day war…. And every other Israelie conflict in modern history….) the United States need only return to her Father for the promise of redemption.

Atonement must be made. Christ has made it, but we must accept that atonement, or we will make it ourselves again. That road leads to destruction.

As Joshua, I call on my readers to “choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve.” The salvation of your individual soul depends upon your choice.

But as the Israelites, the Nephites, and the Americans before us, the return to God as a people; the restoration of our covenant; predicates our national security, our collective peace, our economic stability, and our cultural longevity. For the sake of our children, we must choose worthy leaders to lead and guide us. Like our spiritual ancestors, we must declare firmly that “We too will serve the Lord, because he is our God.” 

Despair and Hope

I find the relationship linking despair and hope to be fascinating. I just left the doctor for my monthly checkup. I’m on a very high dose of a very powerful drug (I won’t say which), but it provides little relief from my pain.

As I’ve said before, multiple doctors have confirmed that there is no solution for the causes of my pain: no surgery, no injections that we haven’t tried, no therapies, no magic pills. In short, my brokenness cannot be solved. I’ve come to peace with that fact, but it is nonetheless an unpleasant one. For me, the only long term plan is short term pain management.

I participate in some varied online forums. One is a forum dedicated to those of us with fibromyalgia. We call ourselves fibromites, and men being such an anomaly in the fibromyalgia world, I coined the term fibromates to describe those of us with the XY chromosomes. That forum is great. It gives us a group of peers that understand the struggles. It gives us a place to vent, complain, gripe, and moan. But more importantly, it gives us a positive environment for gentle hugs (figuratively). The community is one of uplifting and realistic optimism. We can seek advice and feedback from those who will be more helpful than the ol’ “pick yourself up by the bootstraps” feedback that is all too common toward the disabled communities.

Another forum is dedicated to those of us who struggle with chronic pain in general. A larger community gives us a greater spectrum of feedback and opinion. There are some who deal with neurological conditions, like fibromyalgia, and others with skeletal, muscular, or other conditions, including depression and anxiety. As you can imagine, at least on the surface, this is a more appropriate community for one like me: one who has neurological disorders, as well as muscular and skeletal disabilities, topped off with psychological or emotional disorders; in short, one who is in constant, chronic pain.

The sad truth truth concerning this second forum, however, is that the atmosphere is greatly different than the first. While the fibromyalgia forum is one of positive reinforcement and uplifting optimism, the chronic pain forum is negatively reinforcing. As you can imagine, for those who struggle constantly with the basic tasks of life, depression can set in pretty quickly, and even more powerfully. There, optimistic and hopeful comments are scoffed at and scorned. Weekly I see posts by people who literally are throwing in the proverbial towel: declaring in one open form or another “I can’t handle this pain anymore, I want to and am planning to die.” I mean that there is no equivocation and I’m not reading between the lines, there are literally people declaring the desire and/or plan for suicide. And worse, the community, in its complete understanding, supports the poster with morbid empathy, telling them that their decision is not only understandable, but perhaps even wise.

Empathetically, I understand the desire for death in the lowest of the lows. While these circumstances have never brought me to a suicidal point, I do understand. Even this morning, talking with Jeff, my exceptional pain specialist, I felt near despairing for that sentiment. The cold truth is that, as strong as my medications are, the best I can ever expect from them is about a %50 reduction in pain (and that’s just for my back, as these medications don’t and can’t address the fibromyalgia). I don’t get that much relief; I’m closer to %26-%30 reduction in pain… and that’s about as good as it gets. This truth is discouraging. Even if I make the (incorrect) assumption that my back will never worsen, my pain levels are about as low as they will ever be.

So I understand the desire for the pain to end at any cost… But I can’t agree with it. As Lehi said:

 “For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things. If not so… righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor bad. Wherefore, all things must needs be a compound in one; wherefore, if it should be one body it must needs remain as dead, having no life neither death, nor corruption nor incorruption, happiness nor misery, neither sense nor insensibility. Wherefore, it must needs have been created for a thing of naught; wherefore there would have been no purpose in the end of its creation. Wherefore, this thing must needs destroy the wisdom of God and his eternal purposes, and also the power, and the mercy, and the justice of God.”

In other words, without misery, there can be no joy. Without despair, there can be no hope. So we finally come to the fascinating relationship: there must be ‘opposition in all things.”

God doesn’t give us trials, pain, and misery; rather, he allows those things and turns them to our benefit if we turn to Him. Another prophet of God also empathized with despair:

“O God, where art thou? And where is the pavilion that covereth thy hiding place?…  O Lord God Almighty, maker of heaven, earth, and seas, and of all things that in them are, and who controllest and subjectest the devil, and the dark and benighted dominion of Sheol–stretch forth thy hand; let thine eye pierce; let thy pavilion be taken up; let thy hiding place no longer be covered; let thine ear be inclined; let thine heart be softened, and thy bowels moved with compassion toward [me].”

But in His wisdom, God replied:

“My son, peace be unto thy soul; thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment; And then, if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high; thou shalt triumph over all thy foes. Thy friends do stand by thee, and they shall hail thee… with warm hearts and friendly hands.”

So we see in His great Plan of Happiness that trial, tribulation, pain, misery, suffering and even the lowest despair are all allowed to exist in order to provide contrast to the joy, happiness, peace, comfort, salvation and hope that are to be found by the redeeming atonement of the Great Son of God.

I wish I could share this hope with those of my fellow sufferers on the chronic pain forum, but the voice of hope is regrettably not a welcome one. So I write instead here, where I dictatorially control what voices are allowed 😉.

I worry that the topic is heavy, but so is the burden that we all carry, whether you deal with physical pain or not, we all have burdens, trials, and pain. And all of us feel overwhelmed by it sometimes – that’s why understanding the relationship between pain and relief, between sadness and happiness, between despair and hope, is so important. That’s why we have hope: so that we can know the contrast between what we feel and experience now and what we can obtain through the promise of Him who took our burdens upon Himself.

Hope exists, not because we want it to, but because it is the very law of Nature: there must be opposition in all things.

So, my friends, don’t despair. There is hope for relief, even for those of us with the promise of none: after the time of trial, comes the reward of the faithful. Jesus Christ lives. He carried our burdens, so that we might be free of them eventually.

Quality vs Worth: The Value of Life

Lately, I’ve had some questions from some readers, they are usually variations of this: “Jared, how do you stay so positive with all that is going on that is negative?” 

Sometimes they’re closer to “how do you do it? I don’t think I could keep going if I had ‘x,'” but I assume that, rather than suggesting I should off myself, these questions fit in with the first.

So I want to take a minute to address this question.
First, as is the nature of social media, you don’t often see the lows, if for no other reason than that when I’m really struggling, the last thing I want to do is to write. This is normal, by the way, which is why if we look through the Facebook pages of our high school classmates, we can reasonably assume that every one of them is financially successful, purely joyful, and traveling the world on peace missions, in short, that everyone but ourselves have found the key to happiness. And maybe some have, but I expect that a poll of those people would show that most of them feel like the world is in various stages of collapsing around them, while everyone else has it together. This is the lie of Facebook.

You, as the reader, don’t see nights I spend silently weeping to myself because I’m exhausted to the point of collapse, but am kept awake by the intense pain in my back and or nerves. I try to hide those low moments, even from my wife.  You, as the reader, don’t see me desperately, but without success, try to wake myself up once I’ve finally fallen asleep because the drug induced, hallucination like night terrors. You, as the reader, don’t see me curled up in a ball desperately wondering what the point of it all is. You don’t see the state of my house (that’s no accident…) because I can’t keep up with my chores.

So what is the point of it all? How do I stay positive? Well, the short answer is that I’m not always positive. I’m often angry and bitter about my lot in life (it’s not a lot, but it’s a life… Yuk yuk yuk). But it’s critical to understand the end goal. Life is not made to live from one moment of temporary excitement or high to the next: life is is about happiness, not excitement. But more importantly, life is meant to be a trying test.

This may not really answer the questions, in truth, the thought isn’t really well developed. I don’t struggle with the bitterness of depression, so I can’t speak to the power that it holds over the sound of its victims… Except I have felt that depression. My first buy of advise for those of you dealing with overwhelming depression, or depression that never goes Away (maybe it waxes and wanes, but is always present… Like a stupid song in the back of your mind….) first things first: speak to your doctor. I’ve found it helpful to write down my thoughts before a doctor’s visit (and I have lots of the ) – this helps me not forgot anything. Depressive disorder is crippling, but it’s also not just you: it’s a real medical condition and it can be treated. Please, if I’m describing you here, never free of the blues, call your doctor and schedule an appointment. It can be better.

But assuming that one’s chemistry is under control, we have to look at some of the other causes of misery: at the risk of sounding like a preacher, often we feel like bad people because, well… we are…. if we are living our lives free of the bother of moral compass, we might (or should) feel bad about ourselves. That’s not depression, it’s conscience. When I have not been right with my wife, or with my kids, or with my Lord, I have not been more than temporarily happy. It’s a feeling that I can’t shake, and no matter how great I may feel for a moment, it always fades back to a disappointing base. So we spent last week preparing for Resurrection Sunday – we repented of our sins, and we sought  to make amends to those whom we have wronged. If you didn’t follow us on that journey, it’s not too late: begin the process of being right with God. If you don’t believe, then at least make sure that you are right with everyone else (not quite the same, but a big first step).  

Next, forgiveness is critical. Again, I’m sure, I sound like a preacher, but not without cause. Once we’ve repented of our sins, we need to move on. We need to trust God that He has forgiven them. Sometimes the memory of that sin can come back to bite us a long time later- especially if it was particularly egregious, but trust isn’t a one off type of thing: I don’t just trust my wife once: I trust her always. The same is true with our heavenly relationships: we don’t just trust God to forgive us once, we must actively work toward the trust that He continually forgives us.  Sometimes the people that we have wronged don’t forgive us, even when we have truly repented. I’d love to say “move on, they aren’t worth your time anyway.” But I’d be lying… At least with some people. Unlike the Father, we are not perfect, and being forgiven isn’t guaranteed with our fellow man like it is with Him. If we have really repented, however, we recognize and accept that their non-forgiveness may be a consequence of our actions. We just move on the best we can. And finally, we need to accept and forgive ourselves. I’ve found that no one holds a grudge against me like I do. I find myself loathing actions from decades ago: “couldn’t I be a little kinder?” “Couldn’t I have responded better.” – but moving on with our lives means that we have to forgive ourselves, after we have done everything we can to correct the problem. 

If we have are chemically balanced correctly, we have a clean conscience, and we have accepted the forgiveness of God, sought the forgiveness of others (and accepted whichever response they chose) and forgiven ourselves; once we have done all of those things, then we can tackle the rest:

Life sucks. There. I said it. Life is full of pain, misery, sorrow, weakness, impossible choices, dirty laundry, and burned dinners. All of those things happen even if we have been forgiven, are making righteous decisions, and aren’t depressed. So what’s the point?

I wanted it share an analogy complete with home video. I even found the old 30 second clip in all it’s 144p glory (from my first camera phone…) but sadly the sound is corrupted, and without my shrieks of agony, you’d never be able to see from the video only that you were watching me get tazed (oops, spilled the beans on that one.)

But how do we answer the point of this life? Simply put, just as I willingly was tazed because I needed to understand the power of the tool, we willingly agreed to this life so we could have the experience of it: dirty socks and all.

How the do I stay positive despite being in constant physical pain? How do I sit in my chair (I’ve been unable to sleep more than an hour of three in a bed for years), shivering because I have the window open to the sleeting cold in order to counteract the sweats of the medicine and leather of my chair? How do I find joy despite being unable to move for a great portion of the day? How do I feel whole despite being broken in every significant measurable physical measure (and many mental measurements)? How do I live when living is without… Wait, turning off the country music station on Pandora… Okay, better: how do I have a sense of humor despite… Well… Everything?

I agreed to this. Well, maybe not the dirty laundered or the damnable spiders, the laundry is just par for the course, and the spiders are the tools of the devil… But the rest, I agreed to. I stood with the he host of heaven and trusted my Father when He told me about His plan: I cheered when he told me that I could come to earth, obtain a body, learn, live, marry, and have children. I cherished the opportunity to be like Him. And whether you believe it or not, whether you know it or not, heck, whether you know me or not; so did you.

We knew what challenges would face us, maybe not in detail, but how do you really understand something without experiencing it? I might have had a different opinion had they told me about the spiders (“I’ll just stay here, okay?”), and had I known about the laundry, my cheers might have been a bit less exuberant… 

But we also knew we would sin. We knew that we would fall short of the perfection needed to live with God in His Glory. We knew we would damn ourselves (auto correct just put that to ‘dang ourselves,’ you think it knows I’m a Mormon?) and most importantly, we accepted all of that risk and pain because we trusted the Father’s plan: we trusted His Son and the promised atonement which would cleanse us of our sins.

So how do I keep on? I simply do it because I always have. I started out a long time ago trusting God. I started out a long time ago with the end goal in mind: Salvation and Eternal Progression with my loving Father in Heaven. I began this journey a long time ago, and while I hadn’t yet experienced the misery of dirty underwear, I knew that all the laundry in the world was worth the prize.

And do you know what? So did you.

So despite my aching legs and churning stomach tonight, I want to share with you my joy. Life isn’t always great, but it is always worth it. If you ever doubt that, please reach out to someone for help. Be chase while we knew that we’d have a lot of muck to slog through, we never have to slog alone. Your family loves you. Your friends love you. I love you, even if we’ve never met. And with the greatest love of all, our Savior and our Father love you.

Life is always hard, but it is always worth it.

Resurrection Sunday, Celebrating Life, and Defeating Death

Thank you for walking through Holy Week with me. The final mortal week of the Son of Man started nicely, and just got worse. I’d say, I’ve never had such a rough week. But it ends well. That’s the spoiler here: it ends well for the King of Kings. And perhaps more importantly, He’s made it so it can end well for us, too!

Because of the approaching Sabbath, when the Savior’s body had been laid to rest, it was done in haste. So on the third day, which would be Sunday, Mary Magdalene and other faithful women returned to the tomb so that they could more appropriately prepare the body of Jesus for its final burial. As they walked, they pondered how they would do this thing. “Who shall roll us away the stone from the door of the sepulchre?” Likely they didn’t know of the Roman guards standing watch at the tomb.

Imagine the shock when they found the tomb empty. An angel told them “Fear not ye: for I know that ye seek Jesus, which was crucified. He is not here: for he is risen, as he said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay. And go quickly, and tell his disciples that he is risen from the dead; and, behold, he goeth before you into Galilee; there shall ye see him: lo, I have told you.” They went and told some of the Apostles that the tomb was empty. It seems that the grieving women missed the important pronunciation that “he is risen,” for Mary was distraught.

She returned to the garden, and crying, was approached by men. They asked her “Woman, why weepest thou?” Her reply was full of despair: “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid him.” And another man asked her, “Woman, why weepest thou? whom seekest thou?” Again, thinking this man to be responsible for the missing body of her Lord, she begged, “Sir, if thou have borne him hence, tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will take him away.”

In his single word reply, she must have finally recognized His voice: “Mary,” He said. Her tears of despair and sorrow changed in an instant to joy and unbelief as she declared in her happiness, “Rabboni!” Or, beloved Master.

It is perhaps instructive that He first appeared to Mary rather than His apostles. But we will leave it to this: He informed her that she must not touch Him yet, as He had not ascended to His father.

Later, however, as He showed Himself to His Apostles, He invited them to feel the wounds still in His hands, and still on His side. Doubting his own seeing eyes, it wasn’t until he had felt these wounds for himself the Apostle Thomas believed. 

Over the coming weeks the Master spent substantial time with his Apostles and disciples, teaching them and preparing His Apostles to lead His Church, and teach His gospel. But today, this Resurrection Sunday, finished the Atonement, and broke the bonds of death. Because He had never sinned, death held no power over Him. He was the first fruits of them that slept. And most importantly, because He lives, we will live again.

So today, this Easter Sunday, I raise my voice in praise for Him. I join my voice to the countless others who have sung it before me: Hallelujah! Praise to God in the highest!

Let us not forget His Atoning Sacrifice. Let us not forget His burden and trial in Gethsemane. Let us not forget His silence in the face of damning opposition. Let us always remember that the Plan of the Father recognized our sins; that He gave us His Son, Jesus Christ, the Lord of all creation, the Savior, the Redeemer, and our Lord, to make a path for us to return to Him. Because He lives, we will live!