Sunday, August 29, 2021

Want to get to know me?

In case you are interested in getting to know the writer of this blog a little better, here is a little Q&A:

What do you like to do in your free time?

A few years ago I rediscovered my love for hiking, and these days I head to the mountains any time I have free time.  I also enjoy downhill skiing (actually, anything with the word ski in it), mountain biking (I don't really enjoy riding on the road), golf, tennis and card games.

What is your favorite book?

I think my favorite book is the "Beyonders" series by Brandon Mull.  I absolutely love the characters (Ferrin, Drake, Rachel, ...) but what I love most about this is the way it makes me think about faith and doubt.  How do we decide who to believe in the midst of uncertainty? How do we react when that faith seems to be leading us to a terrible end?

What is your favorite flavor of ice cream?

I haven't met very many ice creams that I didn't like, but my favorite ice cream is actually a frozen custard: Culvers Mint Oreo is my favorite, and Oreo Overload or Heath Bar are probably close seconds.

What is your favorite movie?

 I think my favorite movie is "Life is Beautiful," but only if you watch it in Italian with English subtitles -the experience is so unique and it has a great message.  But I also love anything Star Wars, the Marvel movies, just about any action movie and more Rom-Com than I should confess to :).

Sunday, May 30, 2021

50 Peaks by Age 50 Part 2 - 8/50 - 19/50

 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.

9/50 - May 29, 2021: Maple Mountain: 8.7 mi, 3,881 ft.  Andrew and I started at about 8AM and the front of Y-mountain was in shade until we got up past the top of the Y.  This was a beautiful hike. We both commented that we couldn't believe what nice places (trees, wildflowers, etc...) were just a few miles above Provo.

If you do decide to hike this one, follow the AllTrails map closely near the top.  We followed a parallel track that was MUCH harder picking our way through bushes and things.

10-13/50 - June 11, 2021: Big Cottonwood Lake/Peak Loop, UT: 8.0 mi, 2,569 ft.  This was a beautiful Friday night activity that hit a ton of lakes and peaks in a short distance.  It felt like cheating to hit so many mountains in such a short time, but each had a unique view and was worth it in its own right.  10.) Sunset Peak, 10,670 ft, 11.) Mt Tuscarora, 10601 ft, 12.) Mt. Wolverine, 10762 ft, 13.) Patsy Marley Peak, 10525 ft.


15-16/50 - June 23, 2021: Rose Knob Peak & Unnamed Peak, Lake Tahoe, CA: 6.7 mi, 1,964 ft.  The main goal with this hike was to get views of my favorite lake on the planet, but while I was at it I decided to hit one extra peak on the way down.  It just seemed to need some love even though it didn't have a fancy name.

17-19/50 - July 5, 2021: Mt Timpanogos Main Peak, South Peak, and an unnamed peak in between that also needed love:  (5.8+11.6) mi, (3,315 + 2,610) ft (Day 1 + Day 2).  I did this in two days, so I could hike when the light was best and the temperatures were more reasonable.  I hiked to Emerald Lake in the evening on 7/4 (carrying a pack, which I felt climbing 3,300 ft!) and then the next day I climbed three peaks, slide down the glacier, then retrieved my pack and hiked back.  There were way too many amazing photos to post them all.  This is a popular hike and now I see why!

Behind me in this photo you can see the Timp South peak (left) and the unnamed peak (right)

Sunday, November 29, 2020

Finding Peace Through Christ

Finding Peace Through Christ

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.

(You may notice that this talk is very similar to the one I gave a year ago in my previous ward.  I posted it again because I feel it has improved over the past year, and now I like this version better.)

Sunday, September 27, 2020

50 Peaks by Age 50 - Part 1 - 1/50-7/50

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

For the last segment we skirted this lake and then climbed Mt Agassiz, which you can see in the distance on the far left.

3/50 - Aug. 24, 2020: Sugarloaf Peak (11,123 ft), Alta, Utah, 5.0 mi, 1,801 ft.

4/50 - Sept. 11, 2020: Mahogony Mountain, North Peak, 4.5 mi, 3,779 ft, American Fork Canyon, UT

5/50 - October 9, 2020: Y Mountain (8567 ft)/ Rock Canyon Loop, Provo, UT, 10.8 mi, 3,972 ft.

5.5, 6 and 7/50 - October 31, 2020: Lake Hardy Trial to Big Horn Peak, 13.5 mi, 6,460 ft.  (The trail was listed as 10.9 mi, 5,344 ft, but I did a little extra.)  I started pre-dawn so I could seen the sun rise on the trail.
Peak 5.5 was the First Hamongog, 7100 ft (picture on the right is from the top). I took the time to find the peak on the map, and it had some great fall color but wasn't much of a peak.

First views of Big Horn in the distance (on the right).  I had complete solitude on this hike. Here is proof that I was the first hiker on the trail since the first snow storm a week ago. The only tracks belong to a coyote or something.  On the way down there was one other set of boots and some dog prints, so someone was following me but I never saw them.

Andrew introduced me to the life straw water bottle.  Now I can stop at little streams like this and fill it and drink from them with no worries.
Lake Hardy was frozen about 1" thick and was a stunning place for a break in the sun.

Big Horn (Peak #7) is on the left here and Peak #6 (on the right) doesn't have a name as far as I know, and while it lives in the shadow of Big Horn Peak, it was a great little peak and it deserves some love as well.  I've decided to name it Matt's Peak #1.  Below is the view from the top of Peak #6.  You can see Big Horn on the far left and far right (360 degree view).