8/50 - April 7, 2021: Little Baldy Loop: 7.0 mi, 3,056 ft. I did this hike with the Hike The Wasatch group from Facebook. It was a great route and fun time getting to know that group.
Sunday, May 30, 2021
Sunday, November 29, 2020
Talk in Highland 26th Ward Sacrament Meeting on 11/29/2020
Intro: Peace is always available to us through the gospel.
About five years ago I came to acknowledge that I was pretty seriously depressed. I won’t go into details, but even though things seemed fine in my life on the outside, I could find very little joy in life and faced emotional pain greater than I thought possible. As this came on and grew I thought that if I just served, prayed or studied hard enough I could feel the spirit and I would feel better. I wanted to do my part and have God make me feel better. But as I did those things I didn’t feel better, at least not most of the time.
During all of this I might have asked, what about the promise that “if we are righteous we will prosper in the land?” I know that all of you have experienced your own moments of pain: sickness, financial setbacks, losing loved ones, seeing friends or family turn away from the gospel, etc… In those moments we feel very, very far from prospering in the land. Of course, we know in our heads that this promise only holds in general, say over our whole lifetime, or over many people and over generations. But some of you are struggling and it may seem that all of your blessings are being reserved for the next life. I have some small idea what that feels like.
While I don’t have a formula to make sure that you always “prosper in the land,” there is a similar promise that we are given that does hold in almost every moment in life. In D&C 59:23, we read, “…he who doeth the works of righteousness shall receive his reward, even peace in this world, and eternal life in the world to come.” I believe that we can expect and can find a measure of peace even in this troubled world and in the midst of difficult trials through the gospel plan.
Peace from the Atonement in the Midst of our Shortcomings
So how do we access that peace? What do we have to do? What if you are struggling with some huge problem such as I just mentioned. Or what if you have an area in which you have tried to change to beat some sin or addiction or weakness and have slipped back and messed up over and over and over again. If you feel that then you are not alone. How can we have peace in the midst of that?
I think this is explained well in a story that Brad Wilcox tells of counseling with a BYU student who was struggling to do all that she felt she needed to do, and be all that she was expected to be, to the point that she just wanted to give up.
She said, “I know I need to do my best and then Jesus does the rest, but I can’t even do my best.”
She then went on to tell (Brad Wilcox) all the things she should be doing because she’s a Mormon that she wasn’t doing.
She continued, “I know that I have to do my part and then Jesus makes up the difference and fills the gap that stands between my part and perfection. But who fills the gap that stands between where I am now and my part?”
She then went on to tell (Brad) all the things that she shouldn’t be doing because she’s a Mormon, but she was doing them anyway.
I think we all have or eventually will feel that sense of inadequacy. I’ve found that it often isn’t very comforting to know that Jesus makes up the difference between my best efforts and perfection, because I have no idea what my best efforts are anyway, and even if I did I rarely seem to be able to give them. To help this girl understand, Brad took out a piece of paper and drew two dots. One at the top representing where God is, or perfection, and one at the bottom representing where we are. The gap between is all the sin and mistakes we have to overcome to be like him. Continuing the story, he asked the girl to draw a line between our part and God’s part,
(Brad Wilcox) then said, “Go ahead. Draw the line. How much is our part? How much is Christ’s part?”
She went right to the center of the page and began to draw a line. Then, considering what we had been speaking about, she went to the bottom of the page and drew a line just above the bottom dot.
(Brad Wilcox) said, “Wrong.”
She said, “I knew it was higher. I should have just drawn it, because I knew it.”
(He) said, “No. The truth is, there is no line. Jesus filled the whole space. He paid our debt in full. He didn’t pay it all except for a few coins. He paid it all. It is finished.”
I really like that thought. Christ’s atonement didn’t fill part of the gap, he paid ALL OF THE DEBT. There is nothing left for you to pay, no minimum that you have to meet. No matter how many times you mess up, and no matter how dark your sins, He has paid them. Whatever you are feeling guilty about, he paid for that already.
Given the culture that we’ve grown up in, we tend to resist this idea. We think, there must be some catch, something that is required of us, something that we have to do. So what is it?
In 3rd Nephi we read about the earthquakes and fires and destruction that accompanied the death of Jesus Christ. After they were over the people sat in the darkness and mourned their losses, they heard the voice of the Lord. That voice told them of Christ’s sacrifice and began to explain what it meant to them. It said,
19 And ye shall offer up unto me no more the shedding of blood; yea, your sacrifices and your burnt offerings shall be done away, for I will accept none of your sacrifices and your burnt offerings. (In other words, those sacrifices that you were making that you thought were to pay for your sins, you can stop them now. They were never really enough to pay for your sins anyway, but were just symbols. I want something different. ------ The scripture then continues to explain what this is.)
20 And ye shall offer for a sacrifice unto me a broken heart and a contrite spirit. And whoso cometh unto me with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, him will I baptize with fire and with the Holy Ghost...
The way this makes sense to me is to say that the plan of grace really comes down to your heart. Is your heart pointed towards Christ? One nice thing about this teaching is that you can change the direction of your heart in an instant, and be reconciled with God and on the right path. Then peace can begin to be yours in that instant, because you know that you are taking a step towards Him. There is no list of things you first have to do. The debt is paid, and now you are a debtor to Him. It sounds so easy, right?
But this is a two-edged sword. If we were hoping that we could meet some minimum requirement and get grace, then now that won’t work. We can’t cram the night before, the way we would for a school assignment. We can’t get there by doing things on a checklist, because we might do those things with our hearts still pointed the wrong direction. There isn’t a faceless, nameless agency holding our debt. It is now held by a person who paid it personally and knows us, knows all the struggles and baggage we have to overcome, but also knows what we are capable of as well as we do. Will we turn to him and offer him “a broken heart and a contrite spirit?”
So what about works? We spend 90% of our time in church talking about works – don’t they matter too? And if so, how? I don’t have all of the answers, but for one, I know that in my life sometimes the best way to get my heart pointed in the right direction, is to move my feet in that direction! We’ve all had the experience of not wanting to go to a church activity, or on a ministering visit, but we do it anyway and come home grateful and blessed, more in tune with the Lord. We may think that those blessings come because of something we did, but maybe the more important thing is that the action just helped us to get our heart pointed in the right direction.
As I have tried to turn my heart to God, if I am honest I have to admit that part of me still really does want to follow the world and not Christ. There is a lot of good in me, but part of me still wants to continue in certain sins. When I read that a “heart can be changed, so that it has no more desire to do evil” I just feel more guilty because mine has not yet changed. I’m 44 years old, shouldn’t I be done struggling with _____ (fill in your favorite sins) by now? What am I doing wrong?
So how does this relate to the story that I shared about my depression. In the past 5 years I have made some significant strides towards recovery. I am coming to understand that feeling good is something that I need to do for myself and not expect God to do. One thing I think of as a sort of landmark on my path to recovery, was a time when I heard a choir sing “I Feel my Savior’s Love” at a stake conference. For several years, rather than help me to feel better, that song made me more depressed because I wanted to feel His love, I was trying to do all the things I was supposed to, but time and time again the spirit did not come to make me feel better. I was still not “prospering in the land.” I was focused on an outcome and not the direction of my heart. During that stake conference though, a different line stood out to me. It was, “He knows I will follow Him, give all my life to Him.” I realized that this one line was true and through all of my ups and downs it always had been. I wanted to follow Him. I wanted to follow His plan, even if I kept making mistakes or couldn’t figure out how to live some important parts of it or couldn’t even find the desire to live some parts of it. In a way it was realizing that I could choose in any moment to turn my heart to Christ, and that He would be there ready to receive what I could give. That has brought a measure of peace that is available in any moment, even if happiness isn’t always within reach.
Turning our hearts to God is a real rollercoaster. Sometimes today’s best effort ends up being worse than yesterday’s. Sometimes we forget and don’t really give much effort at all. But, through all of that we can know that each effort, each attempt to turn to Him is worth something. That brings a measure of peace, no matter what the outcome. And, slowly, over the course of, say, a year, or a decade, I can see myself growing closer to Christ, I can see the ways he has helped me to do and be more, and I can begin to believe that with the Savior's help it will be enough. Our best efforts will always be enough, but more importantly, since we never really can give our best efforts, our imperfect efforts are also enough. He has already paid the price for ALL of our sins. All we have to do now is to keep trying to turn our hearts to God.
When Christ was resurrected, we read in Mark 16:9 that the first person that he appeared to was Mary Magdalene, a woman who was a former sinner, from whom he had cast out seven devils. Why her? Women held very little power in Jewish society back then, so perhaps this was to make a point about the worth of souls. Perhaps, but I wonder if there was just something special about this former sinner. Perhaps the unique struggles she had, and the repentance that followed had made her heart more prepared, more receptive to the Savior. Speaking of a different sinner in Luke 7:47 Christ said, “…to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little.” But “…Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much.”I know that the Savior is real. He is really there. You are one of His precious children, with the potential to do GREAT things. He believes in you, and He is still reaching out to you no matter what you have done or how low you have fallen.
Sunday, September 27, 2020
With this post I am committing myself to set a goal to hike 50 peaks before I turn 50. It may sound like cheating, but I've decided to do this retroactively just a bit. I want my first peak to be Rigi in Switzerland. That is the hike that made me re-discover how much I love hiking. I was just starting to acknowledge that I was struggling with depression, and so while on a business trip, rather than just hang out in my hotel and work, I got out and did something. I climbed 4000 feet in 6 hours and the exercise and beauty of the surroundings made me feel happier than I had in quite a while. I started to believe that when I was down, I could do things to find some joy or happiness. Lately I start my hikes in much better shape emotionally than I was for that one, but I still enjoy the challenge and the beauty of nature.
And, as long as I'm going back in time a little, I'm claiming Mt. Agassiz in the Uintas as #2, which I hiked with Andrew in 2019. That one was just way too good to not be on the list.
1/50 - Sept. 21, 2016: Rigi, Switzerland
2/50 - Aug. 23, 2019: Mt Agassiz, Uintas, Utah
4/50 - Sept. 11, 2020: Mahogony Mountain, North Peak, 4.5 mi, 3,779 ft, American Fork Canyon, UT
Sunday, August 30, 2020
Today started out as bad day. I woke up worrying about things to do, and then was faced with various other problems that I don't have solutions to. My mind was caught in a loop considering all of the problems that I have, all of the dead ends trying to find solutions to them, and I was just feeling pretty hopeless and miserable. It wasn't my darkest morning, but definitely not a good one.
In the midst of this, there was a strong temptation to just go along with my usual routine. That would have required spending time with people and making small talk and pretending everything is fine, doing things that I sometimes enjoy, but that I probably wouldn't enjoy this morning. I wasn't doing too terribly bad. I could have made it through the day. Heck, that is what I usually do and how I got to where I am.
Somehow I recognized that this wasn't going to work today, and that I'd be better off doing something else that might make me feel better. I enjoy hiking; that has become one of my go to pick-me-up activities. But it was a Sunday morning, I didn't have a lot of time, and none of the trails nearby sounded exciting. The only one that called to me at all was 30 minutes drive and would take at least an hour. No, I wasn't going to do that. I'd just fake it through the day again.
But then, somehow against the prospect of faking it and slogging through the day, I made a choice to do something different. Before I knew it I was in my car on the way to the trail head. I put some music on the radio. I spent some time trying to come to grips with my problems and sort out my feelings, but I didn't make much progress. However, I wasn't too far down the road before things started looking up. This windy road to the trail was so fun to drive in my little car. I thought, "Maybe I should just forget the hike and drive." A while later I got to the trail head and decided to at least get out and check out the trail. I started walking/jogging along and the trail didn't disappoint. It started to feel good to be out, to be sweating, to be jogging down this trail when others just walk. I tried a little branch off of the trail, to see if I could reach a nearby peak. That didn't go to well, so I found my way back to the trail. I don't know when it happened, but on the way back down I saw this view of ferns growing chest-high among the aspen trees. It was at that point that I realized that I felt truly, sincerely happy. I wasn't faking it, I felt good. I could see the beauty around me and actually feel it, not just pretend to or say to others that it was nice when I didn't really mean it.
You know what is strange about this, all of the problems that had been bugging me in the morning were still there. None of that had changed. Those problems would be there for me again when I got back home. I may never find solutions to some of them, or at least may have to settle with making a choice between two poor options. But as I came down the trail I felt better. I was doing what I could to make my life as good as I could, within the constraints that I had. And there were amazing, beautiful things to enjoy and be grateful for.
This is a lesson that has been repeated to me many times as I've struggled to overcome my depression. It is also something that Jody Moore teaches frequently (and explains so very well - check out her podcast if you're interested, especially this episode). We think that our feelings are a product of our circumstances, but they are not. Our feelings come from our thoughts, and with some learning and a lot of practice we can change our thoughts and feel better even though our circumstances haven't changed.
As you read this, you may be thinking, "I hate hiking, that would never work for me." If you're thinking that, congratulations - that is awesome that you already know what you like and don't like! It has taken me a while to get to that point, and even start to figure out what I even liked (I mean besides all of those things that I couldn't have, and which I would dwell on and feel miserable about not having). At this point I've found a few things I can go to, and I'm working on discovering more. For you those things may be totally different. For me so far the key has been to discover what choices I have the power to make that can help me to feel even just a little better. And then when I want to feel better, to look for something different that I can choose.
Friday, July 17, 2020
Oh how I wish there were politicians I could vote for who saw crime in this way, rather than simply parroting slogans like "tough on crime" or "defund police". It also makes me think differently about what roles I can have to improve safety.
Thank you to all of you who are police officers and who already see your role in the community as more than just one who gives out punishments.
Sunday, November 17, 2019
"But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him."
The part of this verse that struck me recently is the last part - that to come to God we have to believe that he will reward those that seek him. We have to believe in His goodness and love for us and His desire to bless us abundantly. The problem is, this can be really hard to do when hard times come, and we pray for relief but don't seem to receive any.
In your darkest times, how do you hope that God will reward you when you come to Him? How can we help others when they don’t see this? What would you say to someone who was struggling to believe that blessings (and better times) would come?
Richard G. Scott made some comments in May 1996 that have resonated with me in this regard. (from "Finding Joy in Life," May 1996 Ensign, https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/ensign/1996/05/finding-joy-in-life?lang=eng )
He gave this talk about one year after the death of his wife Janine.
Sadness, disappointment, and severe challenge are events in life, not life itself. I do not minimize how hard some of these events are. They can extend over a long period of time, but they should not be allowed to become the confining center of everything you do.
Learn from inspiring individuals who have made peace with their challenges and live with joy amid adversity. A lovely woman with an aggressive terminal disease consistently found joy in life. She understood the plan of happiness, had received the temple ordinances, and was doing her best to qualify for the promised blessings. Her personal journal records: “It is a beautiful fall day. I picked up the mail and sat down on the swing. I was so happy and content in the warm sun, the sweet smell of nature and the trees around me. I just sat and gloried in the fact that I am still alive on this beautiful earth. … The Lord is so good to me. How I thank him that I am still here and feeling so good. I am soooooo happy I just want to shout and dance through this beautiful house as the sun streams into the big windows. I love being alive.”
Simple, rejuvenating experiences surround us. They can be safety valves to keep the tension down and the spirit up. Don’t concentrate on what you don’t have or have lost. The Lord promised the obedient to share all that He possesses with them. You may temporarily lack here, but in the next life, if you prove yourself worthy by living valiantly, a fullness will be your blessing.
Find the compensatory blessings in your life when, in the wisdom of the Lord, He deprives you of something you very much want. To the sightless or hearing impaired, He sharpens the other senses. To the ill, He gives patience, understanding, and increased appreciation for others’ kindness. With the loss of a dear one, He deepens the bonds of love, enriches memories, and kindles hope in a future reunion. You will discover compensatory blessings when you willingly accept the will of the Lord and exercise faith in Him.