31 March 2009

A Sure Foundation, Part 4

Now back to Jacob. He asks, "How is it possible that these, after having rejected the sure foundation, can ever build upon it, that it may be the head of their corner?" (Jacob 4:17). Jacob then begins what is one of the most important, far-reaching, and deep sermons in all of scripture. He answers his question by sharing an extended allegory (originally given by a prophet named Zenos) about a grove of olive trees.

In this allegory, the most touching message is about the care of the Lord of the vineyard. When the Lord of the vineyard found out that all the fruit had become corrupt and all the olive trees wild, "It came to pass that the Lord of the vineyard wept, and said unto the servant: What could I have done more for my vineyard?" (Jacob 5:41). The Lord wept. Jesus wept. He has such great compassion and love for the vineyard - the House of Israel (and everyone else) - that He personally works in the vineyard. The Lord has servants helping him but he is out there working too. He toils and labors and sweats and cries. In the allegory the Lord of the vineyard gave His all, but the trees grew wild and the fruit had corrupted. It didn't grow corrupt from a lack of caring. Jacob 5 is one of the most beautiful chapters in all scripture. In it we learn just how involved our chief corner stone is in our lives; how tenderly he cares for us and how anguished he feels about the corruption in the vineyard. He is not lifeless and cold and hard as other stones, He is a living stone, a warm but immovable foundation. Just as the Lord caused waters to flow from the rock for Moses and the house of Israel, a fountain of living waters flows from the living rock, which is Christ.

The Lord promises great and beautiful things to the faithful: "O thou afflicted, tossed with tempest, and not comforted! Behold, I will lay thy stones with fair colors, and lay thy foundations with sapphires. And I will make thy windows of agates, and thy gates of carbuncles, and all thy borders of pleasant stones...thou shalt be far form oppression for thou shalt not fear, and from terror for it shall not come near thee" (3 Ne. 22:11-12,14). What beautiful promises from Him who is our one sure foundation!

If the Savior is our anchor and our foundation, can we move, do we have a goal? Do we attach ourselves to that anchor and sit and stagnate? Do we act like we are stuck in the tar pit of life, never moving, never going anywhere? No! We build upon the corner stone and the foundation of prophets and apostles. The earthly and spiritual house we build upon them reaches heavenward. We reach heavenward towards our eternal home. We move, we progress, we grow. The foundation the Savior provides allows us to return back into the presence of the Father. That is our goal, that is our purpose here on earth - to try to live so that we, through the grace of Christ, are able to return to live with our Father in Heaven.

Link to part 3 of this essay.

29 March 2009

A Sure Foundation, Part 3

Before the vicissitudes and storms of life come upon you, it is important to be built upon a sure foundation. The Savior taught, "Whosoever cometh to me, and heareth my sayings, and doeth them, I will shew you to whom he is like: He is like a man which built an house, and digged deep, and laid the foundation on a rock: and when the flood arose, the stream beat vehemently upon that house, and could not shake it: for it was founded upon a rock" (Luke 6:48). When the rains and storms come, it is too late to build your house upon the rock; it needs to be done before the storms hit. When the rains and floods came in Noah's day, it was too late for the people to start building their own arks. When the time for performance has come, the time for preparation has passed.

I'll return to a scripture I quoted earlier. "And now I, Jacob, am led on by the Spirit unto prophesying; for I perceive by the workings of the Spirit which is in me, that by the stumbling of the Jews they will reject the stone upon which they might build and have safe foundation" (Jacob 4:15). Jacob continues, setting up his next great lesson, which is found in Jacob 5: "But behold, according to the scriptures, this stone shall become the great, and the last, and the only sure foundation, upon which the Jews can build. And now, my beloved, how is it possible that these, after having rejected the sure foundation, can ever build upon it, that it may become the head of their corner?" (Jacob 4:16-17).

Before I provide Jacob's answer to that question I want to mention a couple things. The stone that Jacob writes about is the great, the last, and the only sure foundation that the Jews and that any of us can build upon. We live in a tumultuous time. Not only is marriage under attack by high divorce rates, cohabitation, and children born out of wedlock, but now it is under attack by those who would seek to redefine what constitutes a marriage. Friends strive against friends - there is hatred all around. People talk of justice, rights, fairness, and acceptance yet ignore and fight morality, religion, and God. The cacophony of clamoring voices is great; this "progressive" symphony of dissonance and din is full of nothing but tinkling cymbals and sounding brass (see 1 Cor. 13:1). Through the tumult, the confusion, and the strife, there is a single clarion call - a call to the one sure way, one sure foundation, and one sure stone! This stone is like a light bursting through the darkness, like the stones made by the brother of Jared that shone with the light of the Lord. This stone is the light of the First Vision, rending through the darkness of the ages, anchoring humankind to their sure foundation. We must never let go of this stone - our True Anchor - even though mobs may assemble and calumny may defame (see History of the Church, 4:540).

Link to part 2 of this essay.

27 March 2009

A Sure Foundation, Part 2

The Apostle Peter, whose name means "small rock," wrote about this theme of the Savior as a foundation for the righteous and a stumbling stone for the wicked: "Wherefore also it is contained in the scripture, Behold, I lay in Sion a chief corner stone, elect, precious: and he that believeth on him shall not be confounded. Unto you therefore which believe he is precious: but unto them which be disobedient, the stone which the builders disallowed, the same is made the head of the corner, And a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence [sic], even to them which stumble at the word, being disobedient: whereunto also they were appointed" (1 Pet. 2:6-8).

For the believers, the Lord is a sure foundation. He is a starting block on the pathway of faith to eternal life. But to the unbelieving and the wicked he is a stumbling block. Instead of gaining great momentum, the wicked trip over the Corner Stone and His word.

"But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling-block, and unto the Greeks foolishness" (1 Cor. 1:23). How is Christ a stumbling block? In the same way that the story of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon is a stumbling block to people. Or, in the same way that Joseph Smith or the Word of Wisdom or tithing can be stumbling blocks. Sometimes people stumble over not having tangible proof of the gospel; they want proof and a sign. As a missionary I met a man who told me who told me, "I'd believe all this about the Book of Mormon if I could just see the gold plates with my own eyes, or if I could see an angel." He wanted proof that what we were teaching him was true. However, there is an easy way to obtain proof - pray and ask God for the truth (see Moroni 10:3-5). This experience with this man taught me another important truth; the Lord taught that a "wicked and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign" (Matt. 12:39). It turned out that this man had three children with a woman whom he had never married. They were living together but were not married. Was he an adulterer in the strict sense of the word? I don't know, but he was "living in sin" as the saying goes.

What does it mean for Christ to be our Corner Stone? Elder Holland explained one role of the Savior,

"In the words of esteemed New Testament scholar N. T. Wright, 'The risen Jesus, at the end of Matthew's Gospel, does not say, 'All authority in heaven and on earth is given to the books you are all going to write,' but [rather] 'All authority in heaven and on earth is given to me.' In other words, 'Scripture itself points...away from itself and to the fact that final and true authority belongs to God himself.' So the scriptures are not the ultimate source of knowledge for Latter-day Saints. They are manifestations of the ultimate source. The ultimate source of knowledge and authority for a Latter-day Saint is the living God. The communication of those gifts comes from God as living, vibrant, divine revelation." (Elder Holland, Ensign, May 2008).

Christ is the ultimate source of knowledge and truth. The is the source of authority for us as Latter-day Saints. He is the foundation upon which we build.

Link to part 1 of this essay.

25 March 2009

A Sure Foundation, Part 1

"Therefore thus saith the Lord God, Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation: he that believeth shall not make haste" (Isa. 28:16).

When LDS temples are built, we hold a ceremony to commemorate the laying of the corner stones. These stones are part of the foundation of the buildings and are some of the most important. They bear much weight and make sure the foundation is sure and aligned. Temple corner stones represent the Savior, who is our One Sure Stone. He is the Way and the foundation of our faith. He was tried with the refiner's fire and remained strong and pure; He is the source of strength and purity. The Lord is our precious Corner Stone.

The Apostle Paul taught of the importance of building on the foundation of the Savior and the prophets and apostles: "Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God; And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone" (Eph. 2:19-20). Without prophets and apostles, the Lord's church crumbles and collapses, as it did following the death of the Savior and His apostles. He is the Chief Corner Stone but without the other stones in the foundation, the Church cannot stand.

Sometimes the Corner Stone is a stumbling block for people. "And he shall be for a sanctuary; but for a stone of stumbling, and for a rock of offense to both the houses of Israel, for a gin and a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem" (2 Ne. 18:14).

The Book of Mormon prophet Jacob expanded on this message: "And now I, Jacob, am led on by the Spirit unto prophesying; for I perceive by the workings of the Spirit which is in me, that by the stumbling of the Jews they will reject the stone upon which they might build and have safe foundation" (Jacob 4:15). The Savior tried to provide the Jews with a sure foundation - with safety - but they rejected that Stone and tried to grind Him down.

23 March 2009

Lessons from Death, Part 10

The resurrection is something we can look forward to with great joy, especially if we are striving to live the gospel of Jesus Christ: "I say unto you that this mortal body is raised to an immortal body, that is from death, even from the first death unto life, that they can die no more; their spirits uniting with their bodies, never to be divided; thus the whole becoming spiritual and immortal, that they can no more see corruption." (Alma 11:45). Through death and resurrection we see an end to corruption of the flesh. That's one of the great blessings of the resurrection and all who have lived on the earth will receive the blessing of resurrection. We have experienced the aches and pains of life and will have greater joy in the incorruption of our bodies in the resurrection. We can also see an end to corruption of the spirit as well and be whole and pure in the resurrection through obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel and through the blood of the Savior.

The Savior's sacrifice made it possible for us to live again. His Atonement made it possible for us to live with our families throughout eternity. We can be reunited with those we love. Additionally, the Savior's sacrifice made it possible for us to be healed of our hurts and aches and sorrows. We can find peace in this life and in the next. We are all part of our Loving Father's merciful plan of happiness; He wants us to be happy, to have joy in this life and in the next. Christ loosened the chains of death (see Alma 11:42) and is there to break open the prisons of our despair. In Him we find solace, comfort, and peace. Whether we lose a child, a friend, a parent, a grandparent, or any other loved one, we will see them again. The sorrow of our separation will be replaced with joy in our rejoining. Death is not the end; it is the beginning of a new day and a new dawn.

Link to part 9 of this essay.

Final note: Thus concludes my essay on death. This was an enlightening essay for me to write. It was one of my most personal. I spent a lot of time thinking about what I should write. The essay initially rose out of some of my thoughts and reactions to posts by the mother of little Evan who had a brightness in him. She gave me permission to write about him in my essay. I hope that some of the words and experiences I shared were comforting to any who mourn those they have lost. I found comfort through prayer, fasting, and the Holy Ghost. I also found comfort in the scriptures, the words of the prophets, and other writers. I found comfort in talking with others. The healing waters of Christ have a hard time washing away our hurt and grief if we keep it locked up within the stony tables of our hearts.

21 March 2009

Lessons from Death, Part 9

For me, one way of obtaining comfort for another's death is remembering that I was there in the pre-earth life when the Plan of Salvation was presented. We all were there. We were there when Lucifer presented his alternate plan, which was rejected. We were there and shouted for joy at the opportunity to come here to earth, to gain a body and become more like Heavenly Father. We accepted this opportunity to come, even though we knew there would be hard things to bear and many sorrows to experience. There are times in this life that I shrink from the bitter cups from which I am asked to drink; we all drink dregs of bitterness in our lives. Knowing the bitter, we are better able to appreciate the sweet.

The sweetness that we can taste comes from the gospel of Jesus Christ and from the tender assurances of the Holy Ghost. Death is not (or will not be) a stranger to any of us; sooner or later we all see death visiting those we know and love. Sometimes he appears as a merciful end to suffering and other times he appears heartless and cold, robbing us of those we love too soon in life. One day he will call at each of our doors, beckoning us to him. Death is not the enemy, he simply brings the key that opens the door leading from this life into the next. Sometimes he comes riding in a chariot of fire pulled by flaming horses (see 2 Kings 2:11); other times he silently appears without fanfare. Death is not the end; it is a door - a small step in our lives but a giant leap towards our eternal progression. Christ suffered and died that we might all live again and enter again in to the presence of the Lord.

"For behold, [Christ] surely must die that salvation may come; yea, it behooveth him and becometh expedient that he dieth, to bring to pass the resurrection of the dead, that thereby men may be brought into the presence of the Lord. Yea, behold, this death bringeth to pass the resurrection, and redeemeth all mankind from the first death—that spiritual death; for all mankind, by the fall of Adam being cut off from the presence of the Lord, are considered as dead, both as to things temporal and to things spiritual. But behold, the resurrection of Christ redeemeth mankind, yea, even all mankind, and bringeth them back into the presence of the Lord." (Helaman 14:15-17).

Link to part 8 of this essay.

19 March 2009

Lessons from Death, Part 8

As much as fathers love their children and miss them terribly if they die, mothers are often more distressed by the deaths of their children. There is something special about carrying the child for 9 months then approaching the gates of death to bring forth a new child through the doorway of life; this act and service creates a special bond between mother and child. If this bond is shattered by a premature death, even though the break may be only temporary, mothers are often devastated. Joseph Smith offered these words of comfort to mothers who have had their children sealed to them: "'Will mothers have their children in eternity?' Yes! Yes! Mothers, you shall have your children; for they shall have eternal life, for their debt is paid.... Children … must rise just as they died; we can there hail our lovely infants with the same glory—the same loveliness in the celestial glory." (Source).

That's another wondrous blessing of the gospel - we mourn those who die but we do not mourn without hope. In the acute and even chronic pain of separation, as overwhelming the grief may be, with the blessings of the gospel, there is always a beacon of hope in the darkness. This beacon may appear dim and distant but it is there to comfort us in our darkest hours. We can see this beacon as we let our faith break through the wall of despair. Eventually this beacon will grow brighter until we are able to embrace once again the source of the light as we cross from this life to the next and are reunited with our loved ones.

Sometimes the light of these loved ones blesses in this life in our times of sorrow. In the October 2000 General Conference, Elder Robert D. Hales spoke on suffering but more specifically on experiences that help us overcome suffering. He missed the April 1999 and October 2000 General Conferences due to multiple surgeries. I remember parts of his talk vividly - some of what he said resonated strongly with me while I watched and listened to him, an apostle of the Lord. As he was suffering, in pain in the hospital, Elder Hales reflected on the blessings of the gospel.
"On a few occasions, I told the Lord that I had surely learned the lessons to be taught and that it wouldn't be necessary for me to endure any more suffering. Such entreaties seemed to be of no avail, for it was made clear to me that this purifying process of testing was to be endured in the Lord's time and in the Lord's own way. It is one thing to teach, 'Thy will be done' (Matt. 26:42). It is another to live it. I also learned that I would not be left alone to meet these trials and tribulations but that guardian angels would attend me. There were some that were near angels in the form of doctors, nurses, and most of all my sweet companion, Mary. And on occasion, when the Lord so desired, I was to be comforted with visitations of heavenly hosts that brought comfort and eternal reassurances in my time of need."(Hales, Nov. 2000 Ensign, Online Source).
Sometimes angels visibly comfort us in our dark hours. As members of the Church we are entitled to the ministering of angels as we live worthily. These angels are not always seen but sometimes they are; when they minister unto us they provide great comfort and hope.

Link to part 7 of this essay.

17 March 2009

Lessons from Death, Part 7

One of the great blessings of the gospel is the sealing power that binds families together for eternity. This power was held by many of the ancient prophets. It was lost from the earth during the great apostasy that promptly followed the death of the Savior's original apostles. Elijah came to the prophet Joseph Smith to restore this power. This restoration was prophesied by Malachi: "Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord: And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse" (Malachi 4:5-6). To someone who lost a child or a parent or a sibling to the dark clutches of death, these words resonate with a euphonious and joyful sound. Hearts readily turn to those who are dead. What is comforting is that with the sealing power, as hearts turn there is more than just longing; there is real power in the sealing of a family together. The bonds of family continue beyond the grave and into the eternities. That's the great blessing of the gospel - we can be together forever with our family. This sealing occurs in the temple. Sealing the generations together is "the great work...done in the temples of the Lord in the dispensation of the fullness of times" (D&C 138:48).

In the Kirtland Temple in 1836 the Prophet Joseph had a vision of the Celestial Kingdom (see D&C 137). He saw some there who died before the restoration of the gospel (particularly his brother Alvin). He marveled that people like Alvin could be exalted without having received the gospel while they were alive. This is one of the most liberal and amazing blessings from our Heavenly Father. All will have the opportunity to receive the ordinances of the gospel either in this life or in the life to come. They can accept or reject those ordinances - they can choose not to fully consecrate themselves to Truth and the Lord - but they will have the choice. The doctrine that is even more comforting, particularly to parents who lose their little ones, is that all children who die before they reach accountability will be saved in the celestial kingdom as Joseph saw in vision: "I also beheld that all children who die before they arrive at the years of accountability are saved in the celestial kingdom of heaven" (D&C 137:10). That's a very comforting doctrine; I also think it can add extra incentive for parents to live righteously so they will be able to live with their children again!

Death need not seem completely tragic. As the Prophet Joseph said: "The only difference between the old and young dying is, one lives longer in heaven and eternal light and glory than the other, and is freed a little sooner from this miserable, wicked world. Notwithstanding all this glory, we for a moment lose sight of it, and mourn the loss, but we do not mourn as those without hope" (Source).

Link to part 6 of this essay.

15 March 2009

Lessons from Death, Part 6

Faced with the loss of precious loved ones we often wish that they could remain with us, but our views are often limited and one-sided. Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin offered some comforting words not long before he passed away:
"You may feel singled out when adversity enters your life. You shake your head and wonder, 'Why me?' But the dial on the wheel of sorrow eventually points to each of us. At one time or another, everyone must experience sorrow. No one is exempt.... Sometimes the very moments that seem to overcome us with suffering are those that will ultimately suffer us to overcome.... The Lord compensates the faithful for every loss. That which is taken away from those who love the Lord will be added unto them in His own way. While it may not come at the time we desire, the faithful will know that every tear today will eventually be returned a hundredfold with tears of rejoicing and gratitude. One of the blessings of the gospel is the knowledge that when the curtain of death signals the end of our mortal lives, life will continue on the other side of the veil. There we will be given new opportunities. Not even death can take from us the eternal blessings promised by a loving Heavenly Father." (Joseph B. Wirthlin, Nov. 2008 Ensign).

One line is especially key: "The faithful will know that every tear today will eventually be returned a hundredfold with tears of rejoicing and gratitude." Our tears of sorrow will - sooner or later - turn to tears of joy. We don't always or even often understand some of the hard things we are asked to bear - and little could be harder to bear than the premature death of a child - but the Lord understands our pains. The Savior personally experienced them - all of them and more! He knows who we are personally and hears our prayers. He even matches our tears with His own.

The Prophet Joseph offered these words of faith to those suffering the pains and pangs of loss: "If I have no expectation of seeing my father, mother, brothers, sisters and friends again, my heart would burst in a moment, and I should go down to my grave. The expectation of seeing my friends in the morning of the resurrection cheers my soul and makes me bear up against the evils of life. It is like their taking a long journey, and on their return we meet them with increased joy." (Source). Sometimes that long journey into the eternities occurs early in life and sometimes it occurs late in life; but for all, it does occur.

Link to part 5 of this essay.

13 March 2009

Lessons from Death, Part 5

The great prophet Enoch had a vision that spanned the ages of the earth. He saw many people in many times. He saw the great wickedness upon the face of the earth. He saw the flood in the time of Noah wipe out all the people of the earth except for Noah and his family. Enoch's response to this vision was similar to many of our responses to death. "And as Enoch saw this, he had bitterness of soul, and wept over his brethren, and said unto the heavens: I will refuse to be comforted; but the Lord said unto Enoch: Lift up your heart, and be glad; and look. And it came to pass that Enoch looked; and from Noah, he beheld all the families of the earth; and he cried unto the Lord, saying: When shall the day of the Lord come? When shall the blood of the Righteous be shed, that all they that mourn may be sanctified and have eternal life?" (Moses 7:44-45). The blood of the Lamb that was slain sanctifies us, which sanctification is not just a purification of our sins but also a change in our very beings. Sorrow is replaced with exultation.

Joseph Smith, while a prisoner in the Liberty Jail pleaded, "O God, where are thou? And where is the pavilion that covereth thy hiding place?... Remember thy suffering saints, O our God: and thy servants will rejoice in thy name forever." (D&C 121:1,6). In reply the Lord comforted Joseph: "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" (D&C 121:7-8). What comfort comes from Him who descended below all and rose triumphant from the grave, victorious over death! The prophet Joseph Smith and his wife Emma experienced the loss of multiple children. Surely their grief was intense as they buried their little children amid the turmoil of the Restoration. Joseph said, "The Lord takes many away even in infancy, that they may escape the envy of man, and the sorrows and evils of this present world; they were too pure, too lovely, to live on the earth; therefore, if rightly considered, instead of mourning we have reason to rejoice as they are delivered from evil, and we shall soon have them again" (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, pp. 196-197).

Link to part 4 of this essay.

11 March 2009

Lessons from Death, Part 4

Following the death of my granny but before her husband - my grandpa - died, I had a dream about her. I share this personal experience because of the symbolism of it and because it strengthened my testimony of the reality of life after death. That's my purpose in posting this series about lessons I've learned from death - to share my testimony that this life is not the end; there is life after death. Some dreams are just dreams but I think some are very meaningful and some are inspired, even visions. This dream falls into the meaningful, symbolic category.

In my dream my family members were all sitting in an LDS chapel up in the choir seats. My aunts and uncles were there too - it was our whole extended family. We were all sitting there talking quietly when Granny walked in. She still appeared old but she looked well, like she did before her dementia. She sat down and started talking with various family members - she was the same Granny we all knew. She didn't stay long. When she stood up to walk out she grabbed Tanner's hand (he just appeared by her side - Tanner is my cousin who died back in 1995) and the two of them exited through the chapel doors. That was the end of the dream. It was really nice to see Granny as Granny again. I thought this dream was wonderfully symbolic of Granny leaving our family who are all still living and going to be with those who have already passed on to the other side. She simply walked through a door to a different phase of existence.

The Savior did not just suffer for our sins, He atoned for our sorrows and sufferings. Once again a quote by Alan Paton is enlightening: "I have never thought that a Christian would be free of suffering.... For our Lord suffered. And I come to believe that he suffered, not to save us from suffering, but to teach us how to bear suffering. For he knew that there is no life without suffering."

The prophet Alma taught how the Savior's atonement helps us overcome death and sin and sorrow and sickness: "And [the Savior] shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people. And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities" (Alma 7:11-12). The Savior suffered in part so that He would fully understand our sufferings. This means, as Alma said, that He knows how to heal our wounds; the Great Physician will apply His balm of Gilead and the salve of salvation.

Link to part 3 of this essay.

09 March 2009

The Publicity Dilemma - LDS Church Statement

Please read the excellent statement issued by the LDS Church regarding misrepresentations and trivialization of our sacred beliefs and practices. The link is in the title of this post or here.

Lessons from Death, Part 3

The next 4 deaths I experienced were not as sudden but they were still painful. My grandfather John died after a quick fight with cancer just a few days before my oldest daughter was born in 2004. Just last year, within 1.5 months of each other, my other 3 grandparents died after extended fights with various dementias. At the beginning of May 2008 my family and I attended the funeral of my grandmother Beverly. Her spirit slipped out of her mortal frame into the eternal realm and her body was laid in the ground. Her passing was not unexpected but the pain of separation for us was acute. Then just about one month later my grandmother Maxine passed away. Her death was also not unexpected but again, the pain of separation was acute. Shortly after her death, her husband, my grandfather Wallace, followed her into the eternal worlds.

At times such as these our minds often turn to eternal matters as we experience these emotions of sadness and grief. These events were sad because they involved separation from loved ones; they were events signaling the end of mortal life. However, through the blessings of the temple, these separations are only temporary. My grandparents merely passed from one stage of their existence into another through the door of death. This door appears ominous and heavy to us but it leads from a world of despair and darkness into one of light and love. While there is sorrow on our part, there can be joy knowing that they are reunited with other loved ones who have gone on before. We, as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, are also strengthened by the knowledge that at some point in the future we will all be reunited as families.

One thing that got me through all of these hard times is a sure knowledge of the resurrection. I have faith in the Savior and in life after death. Death is part of life - it happens to all - but that fact rarely assuages our grief. Death that occurs early in life usually seems tragic while death in late life rarely seems tragic. With a broader perspective, whether or not a death is truly tragic depends more on the type of life lived rather than the length of life lived. However in reality, when we lose loved ones we still feel the intense pain of separation regardless of the goodness of a person's life. I believe we should grieve. However, at some point the pain we feel can be replaced by joy. It may take a long time; we may never fully move beyond the pain in this life but tasting that bitterness will help us appreciate the sweetness that comes when we are reunited with our lost loved ones in the life to come.

Link to part 2 of this essay.

07 March 2009

Lessons from Death, Part 2

When I was 15 the cousin I was closest to - in age and in friendship - took his own life. I spent a lot of time with Tanner over the years. He attended scouts with me because his ward didn't have a very active scouting program. I spent countless hours and days playing with him on campouts, sleep-overs, reunions, and other activities. I even copied his Eagle Scout project. During the summer of 1995 I had planned on spending 3 weeks as a member of the Geronimo Scout Camp staff. I spent 3 weeks the previous year as a member of the staff of the camp; I had a great time. 1995 was different. I didn't enjoy my time there. After only a few days I was miserable. The scout troop from my ward was up there that week (as was my father) so I decided to leave early and go home with them - two weeks early. I quickly learned why I needed to be home; I believe my discomfort and misery were meant to help me be home when I needed to be home.

The night I came home, a Saturday, one of my sisters woke me up in the middle of the night to say that my cousin Tanner had hung himself. I'm normally groggy when I wake up but I was wide awake then; I was in a bit of shock. I walked into the front room and lied down on the couch. I don't know if I cried very much then. I actually don't think I ever really cried much about Tanner's death. I don't know why, I'm normally quite emotional about things (and it is worse the older I get). It is likely that his death was accidental - that he really didn't mean to kill himself; he may have just been playing what he thought was a game. It was a dangerous game and he died. His parents and sister were devastated; I don't know if I've ever seen anyone suffer as much as Tanner's mother, my aunt, did. I've missed Tanner over these years but I know that I'll see him again in the life to come. He made a choice and he died but there is great hope for Tanner. That's one of the beauties of the gospel - it provides hope.

A year or two after Tanner died a young man in my ward shot himself. While I had never been a good friend of his, we were in scouting together and went to church and school together (he was a year younger than me). He lived just down the street from me. Following Max's death we had ward and stake youth meetings where we talked about his death and suicide in general. One of the only Priest quorum lessons I explicitly remember was taught by his father (he was our young men's president) following Max's death. He talked about coming home from church and finding his son dead. He spoke of how Max's choice put him on a much more difficult road to eternal life than it otherwise would have been. Through the sadness, Max's father expressed hope for his son. I'll never forget that lesson. It was a moving and a powerful experience.

The next death of a friend occurred when I was serving as an LDS missionary. One of my freshman roommates at BYU (and also a friend from high school) was killed when a truck hit the taxi he was in. Eric was serving as a missionary in Argentina at the time. He, like Evan, was a person who had a brightness in him. I found about his death in a letter from my parents. My companion and I had spent the morning tracting without success. It was a warm but cloudy April morning in Seattle. The gray skies always made all the greens and other colors appear so much more intense. The spring day was lovely with apple and cherry blossoms floating gently down from the sky like a light snow. When we walked through the blossoms on the ground, they swirled around our shoes like hundreds of delicate butterflies trying to take flight. It was one of the most serene and beautiful sights I have ever seen. We walked along tree-lined roads near the coast of the Puget Sound - up and down the steep hills sharing a message of hope and restoration but no one was listening; no one was interested. They were very kind to us though. I thought it ironic that so much rejection of our message occurred on such a beautiful day. To add to the drama, I was bitten on my right thigh by a dog as my companion and I walked up a driveway. It wasn't a large bite but I was bleeding and my pants had a small tear in them. We finished tracting the area 45 minutes later then walked home so I could get cleaned up.

All the way home I kept thinking, "How can this day get any worse? I bet I could be hit by a car or something on my walk home. That would be worse." Sometimes it helps me feel better if I imagine worse things happening. Then I realize my life isn't so bad. I spent the whole way home wondering how my day could get worse; it got worse. I opened the letter from my parents only to read that my friend Eric had been killed in an accident. I was shocked. I was speechless. I was heart-broken. I sobbed for 5 minutes. However, during this time all I could think about is how Heavenly Father must have felt as He watched His beloved Son suffer and then be killed in a most gruesome manner. I prayed for the comfort of Eric's family; I prayed for my own comfort. Then suddenly, after those 5 minutes, the pain was gone. My sorrow was intense but brief. I was still sad but there was no pain. I knew Eric died doing the Lord's work and was now in a much brighter world still doing the Lord's work. As a side note, not coincidentally, my companion at the time also had a friend killed in an accident while he was serving a mission. He was able to understand what I was going through. The Lord understands our needs and places other people in our lives to help fill those needs.

Not too long after I got home from my mission - the following summer, in fact - I found out that my friend Donald, who also was one of my roommates my freshman year at BYU, had been killed in a farming accident. Once again, I was shocked. Donald was very personable. He was so interested in other people - in meeting them and getting to know them. As a freshman in college, many of the people he wanted to get to know were girls, but he was very good with people in general. He was fun to be around. He was also a good person. Two of my freshman year roommates were dead; they both died in tragic accidents. I hoped the trend did not continue.

Link to part 1 of this post.

05 March 2009

Lessons from Death, Part 1

Not very long ago, a family I know lost their not-quite-two-year-old son Evan when he drowned. This little boy was always so bright-eyed and cheerful at church. A line in one of the most moving and powerful novels ever written - Cry, The Beloved Country by Alan Paton - reminds me of Evan. The story is about a black African pastor whose son kills the son of a wealthy white landowner (who lives nearby). The story is one of suffering but also redemption. In the touching scene where the umfundisi (pastor) told the other man, "It was my son that killed your son" a subsequent conversation ensues. During that conversation, Mr. Jarvis, the wealthy landowner, reflected on the times in the past that he rode past the umfundisi's church. He then asked if the umfundisi had ever seen - years ago - his young son ride by the church.

"Jarvis listened to the sounds in the house. Then he spoke very quietly. Perhaps, you saw the boy also, he said. He too used to ride past Ndotsheni. On a red horse with a white face. And he carried wooden guns, here in his belt, as small boys do.... I remember, umnumzana. There was a brightness in him. Yes, yes said Jarvis, there was a brightness in him." I took this detour because that last line reminds me of Evan. There was a brightness in him. Every time I saw him walking down the hallway at church, I saw that brightness. That brightness has faded from this life but it is not forever lost. That brightness only glows with more intensity in the next life - waiting to illuminate his family when they are reunited once again.

Rob Gardner used a poem written by his grandmother in his musical production Joseph Smith, the Prophet. It is some of the thoughts of a mother who lost a child - the Prophet Joseph and his wife Emma lost many children to death. While Rob Gardner did not edit it for the musical in order to preserve its integrity, I will take the liberty of editing it so that it fits more with Evan's death and all children who are lost so young.

"The wind through the cypress made them sway
And rolled the clouds back that winter day
The sun shone through long enough to say
Your baby was here, but cannot stay.
For there are more important things to do
And [he] must add a gleam to heaven's hue
To help brighten the pathway for one and all
For through the darkness, great men fall.
This little spirit so pleasant and fair
Returned to the ones who were waiting there.
And when I walk out in the night divine
I know one of the stars that shine is mine.
[He] came to the earth just for a while
[Just] long enough to see [him] smile
For this little [child] we loved so much
Was just too precious for a mother's touch."

As a parent of little children, I've been especially touched by this whole experience of Evan's death. Even so, I can't really understand the grief the family has gone and is going through. The loss I've experienced in my life has been far different than the loss of a child, so it pales in comparison. But all deaths of friends or family members can be very difficult experiences.

03 March 2009

The Armor of God and Spiritual Clothing, Part 3

"The sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God" (Eph. 6:17). A sword is not armor but Paul included it because without an offensive weapon, even the most heavily armored person can fall. It is difficult to withstand attacks without being able to deliver your own, whether in offense or defense. The sword represents the Spirit and the word of God. The Lord stated in the latter-days, "Behold, I am God; give heed unto my word, which is quick and powerful, sharper than a two-edged sword, to the dividing asunder of both joints and marrow; therefore give heed unto my words" (D&C 6:2; 11:2; 12:2; 14:2). A key addendum to this verse is also found in the Doctrine and Covenants: "Open ye your ears and hearken to the voice of the Lord your God, whose word is quick and powerful, sharper than a two-edged sword, to the dividing asunder of the joints and marrow, soul and spirit; and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart" (D&C 33:1; emphasis added). Thus, the sword of the Spirit helps us discern the thoughts and intents of others. There are numerous examples of this in the Book of Mormon. One such example is Alma and Amulek. They understood and confounded Zeezrom with the Spirit and the word of God. The Savior always understood what the Pharisees and scribes were thinking; He knew their intents. This is why the Spirit is a weapon; through the Spirit we can reveal falsehoods in others and defend our testimonies against their attacks. We can expose their intents and confound them with the word of God. The truth pierces the soul and severs lies. The Spirit acts as a powerful testifying force, cutting to the heart of those with ears to hear.

Throughout the scriptures we find other "spiritual clothing." Isaiah mentioned a couple articles of clothing in chapter 61: "I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for he hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, he hath covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decketh himself with ornaments, and as a bride adorneth herself with her jewels" (Isa. 61:10; emphasis added). We should wear garments of salvation, clothing that is pure, clean, and worthy of and representative of the covenants we make with God. Latter-day accounts of Heavenly visitors often include descriptions of the visitors wearing bright white robes (e.g., JS-H 1:31). As Isaiah stated, the robes represent and reflect righteousness. Isaiah also stated that our scarlet sins can be white as snow (Isa. 1:18) through repentance and through the redeeming blood of Christ. The whiteness of the robes represents purity, holiness, and righteousness. The great Book of Mormon teacher Jacob taught about the Final Judgment: "We shall have a perfect knowledge of all our guilt, and our uncleanness, and our nakedness; and the righteous shall have a perfect knowledge of their enjoyment, and their righteousness, being clothed with purity, yea, even with the robe of righteousness" (2 Ne. 9:14).

Now returning to the Isaiah verse quoted before, I think it is significant that Isaiah compared putting on the robe to a bridegroom and bride preparing themselves for marriage. All the ornamentation that we need, all that is truly precious, is a robe of righteousness. This is especially true in context of the numerous scriptures in the Book of Mormon where the wicked were known for wearing and being so enthralled with "fine-twined linens" (see 1 Ne. 13:7-8; Alma 4:6). What is it about clothing and wickedness? It's not the clothing per se, it's the pride that people have in wearing nicer clothes than others. It's possible to be righteous and wear beautiful clothing (see Alma 1:29) just like it's possible to be righteous and wealthy. However, pride and selfishness so readily follow such blessings. It's like Tevye in the musical Fiddler on the Roof who sings "If I were a rich man." While meant to be somewhat humorous, he wants to be rich so he wouldn't have to work hard, could see his wife strutting around like a peacock putting on airs, and have others see him spend so much time with the Rabbi and other learned men. There is a difference between the humble followers of Christ putting on their robes of righteousness and garments of salvation and the worldly wicked in the great and spacious building arraying themselves as peacocks in their gaudy garments of wickedness.

I pray that we will decide to wear spiritual clothing worthy of who we are as children of God. We should protect ourselves with the armor of God and join the fight against sin.

Link to part 2 of this essay.

01 March 2009

The Armor of God and Spiritual Clothing, Part 2

Have "your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace" (Eph. 6:15). Elsewhere the Lord has said, "If ye are prepared, ye shall not fear" (D&C 38:30). As we prepare ourselves spiritually, physically, mentally, and emotionally we can better withstand temptations and other things that would lead us away from doing that which is right. When we are prepared we are able to go where and when the Lord will have us go. With what are we prepared? The gospel of peace. It brings peace to our lives and we can use our feet to spread that peace to others as so many LDS missionaries can attest.

"Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked" (Eph. 6:16). In battles, the Roman shield was of key importance. It served to protect most of the body while allowing the legionnaire the attack his enemy. The soldier moved his shield around to ward off blows and even attack the enemy, if necessary. If the armies were farther apart, such as at the beginning of a battle, then small groups of legionaries would often make a testudo, or tortoise, formation in order to protect themselves from arrows. The legionaries in front or on the edges crouched behind their shields, blocking attacks from front. Those behind or in the middle held their shields over their heads and the heads of those in front. This formation was slow but very strong and could withstand serious firepower from the arrows of enemy archers. In general, soldiers could withstand more and stronger attacks as a group than they could individually. Why did Paul say that the shield of faith was most important? Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ is the first principle of the gospel. It is the foundation of the gospel; all other things build upon it. Faith is a shield; it can protect us from onslaughts by the Adversary. It also is stronger when combined with the faith of others - we stand stronger together than we do alone, which is one reason it's important to attend church and be an involved part of a ward.

"Take the helmet of salvation" (Eph. 6:17). Helmets protect the head and brain. Head injuries are usually very serious with the highest rates of fatalities and disability of any injury. The brain controls everything we do. What should we be doing with our brain, how do we protect it? The next verse provides the answer: "Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints" (Eph. 6:18). We should pray always. We should pray not just for ourselves but also for others. Prayer is our method of communication with our Heavenly Father. Through prayer and the spirit and the grace of God we are led to salvation. If we pray for strength and greater faith (which we should) we should always remain humble and ever-reliant on the Lord. As C.S. Lewis once said: "Meanwhile, little people like you and me, if our prayers are sometimes granted, beyond all hope and probability, had better not draw hasty conclusions to our own advantage. If we were stronger, we might be less tenderly treated. If we were braver, we might be sent, with far less help, to defend far more desperate posts in the great battle." (Source). However, as we are faithful, wearing our helmets of salvation, the Lord will be with us just as He was with David facing Goliath or Joshua and his army facing Jericho. When we keep the goals of salvation and exaltation in mind, we do not let anything distract us from doing what is right. With a helmet of salvation we keep our thoughts pure and Christ-centered. Those who are faithful will, in the next life, replace their helmet of salvation with a crown of knowledge (Prov. 14:18), righteousness (D&C 29:13), glory, honor, immortality, and eternal life (D&C 75:5).

Link to the 1st part of this post.
Image source.


Blog Widget by LinkWithin