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Parenting

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This past Thursday I opened the door and found a FedEx box on my doorstep. I brought it inside and was thrilled to find it full of fresh cherries. Thrilled, but not surprised – I knew they were coming.

Last year I made a comment on Facebook about how I think that fresh cherries are even more proof that God loves us. Turns out that one of my Facebook friends/blog readers is a cherry grower in Washington. Not only does Ryan Christensen grow cherries, he has a terrific memory. A year later, he remembered and contacted me to make arrangements for the delivery.

The cherries are delicious, ripe, big and firm – better than the kind we usually can buy at the grocery store. According to Ryan, there is a reason for this. He told me, “I love to get farm fresh big cherries into the hands of people who love them. Truly, the US consumer never sees the best of what we can produce. They all go to Japan, Korea, China, and Australia. The domestic market gets the leftovers.”

This didn’t really surprise me because I knew from my dad’s work in the food industry that the stuff we can get at the grocery store is not nearly the quality of the stuff that gets shipped away, or offered to restaurants.  Quite literally, when it comes to fresh produce, we do get the “leftovers.”

Ryan’s comment that “US consumer never sees the best of what we can produce” got me, and (as I tend to do) I personalized it.

Does my family get the best of what I have to offer?

It is a serious question. I know that when I am at work, or with friends:

  • I do my best to be polite, friendly and kind – even if I have to “fake it ’til I feel it.”
  • I can tolerate all kinds of stupidity from friends, customers and coworkers without ever getting angry or raising my voice.
  • I can patiently listen to friends and clients drone on about nothing without cutting them off or tuning them out.
  • When an employee has something they need to discuss with me, I don’t reluctantly pause what I am doing and glare at them.
  • I don’t leave my junk strewn around the office.
  • I don’t leave my dirty dishes in the sink or used paper plates on the counter.
  • When someone needs help with a problem, I am quick to help resolve it.
  • I use more than mono-syllabic grunts to answer questions.
  • etc.

I can’t say the same thing about my behavior at home.

Why the double standard? Why do the most important people inside my home not deserve equal or superior treatment than the people I deal with outside my home?

It seems backwards. And I’m sure it isn’t just me. I know that there is plenty of behavior that goes on with our loved ones that would never be tolerated in the outside world. Some of it very disrespectful, crass, inappropriate and just plain gross.  Are our spouses and children exempt from the basic respect? Would you belch in a conference room, or leave the bathroom door open at the office?

Does my family see the best side of me, or does the “natural man” kick off his shoes and relax when he walks through the door?

I am sure that some will respond, “But home is where I can let down my guard and be myself and not have to worry about what everyone else is thinking.”

That does make sense – if that version of who we are is the better of the two. But if it isn’t, then isn’t the “domestic market getting the leftovers?”

There are ways I can improve. I still intend on kicking off my shoes and flopping on the bed when I get home some days – it is my house – but I am talking more about my personal interactions with my family. It is an interesting process to spend a few days being aware of the different ways we relate to family vs. non-family.

In some ways, the family wins: Affection, honesty, sacrifice, silliness, spirituality, long-term commitment, etc.

In some ways, the world wins: Respect, patience, promptness, politeness, cleanliness, etc.

I hope that I can pick the best of both worlds, and let my family enjoy the best of what I have to offer, rather than have them live with the leftovers.

“Being a Righteous Husband and Father,”  Howard W. Hunter.

“Hallmarks of a Happy Home,” Thomas S. Monson

President Joseph F. Smith said: “Fathers, if you wish your children to be taught in the principles of the gospel, … if you wish them to be obedient to and united with you, love them! and prove to them that you do love them by your every word or act to them. For your own sake, for the love that should exist between you and your boys—however wayward they might be, … when you speak or talk to them, do it not in anger; do it not harshly, in a condemning spirit. Speak to them kindly; get down and weep with them, if necessary, and get them to shed tears with you if possible. Soften their hearts; get them to feel tenderly towards you. Use no lash and no violence, but approach them with reason, with persuasion and love unfeigned. With this means, if you cannot gain your boys and your girls, there will be no means left in the world by which you can win them to yourselves.” (link)

11

MMM note: As I was looking for a picture of my dad to post, I stumbled upon a Father’s Day talk that I gave to my ward back in 2008 when I was serving as the bishop. I had forgotten about it. I went in and added links, and  took out the stuff that would be specific to particular stewardship or congregation, and put in in a context that I can share with you, my friends. (Pull up a chair, it’s kind of long.) 

President Hinckley told a story in a masterful speech at BYU about “legacy” that you might remember:

“I thought of an experience I had long, long ago. In the summer we lived on a farm. We had a little old tractor. There was a dead tree I wished to pull. I fastened one end of a chain to the tractor and the other end to the tree. As the tractor began to move, the tree shook a little, and then the chain broke.

“I looked at that broken link and wondered how it could have given way. I went to the hardware store and bought a repair link. I put it together again, but it was an awkward and ugly connection. The chain was never, never the same.

“As I sat … pondering these things, I said to myself, ‘Never permit yourself to become a weak link in the chain of your generations.’ It is so important that we pass on without a blemish our inheritance of body and brain and, if you please, faith and virtue untarnished to the generations who will come after us.

“You young men and you young women, most of you will marry and have children. Your children will have children, as will the children who come after them. Life is a great chain of generations that we in the Church believe must be linked together.” (link)

Many of you come from great pioneer heritage. Many of you are actually the first link in a brand new chain of faithfulness. Thinking about legacy, and with it being Father’s Day, I would like to tell you a little about my father, and explain how his life fits in with President Hinckley’s teachings about the great chain of generations.

My father passed away back in 2003. His name was Horton David McBride – named after his great-grandfather Horton David Haight – one of the great early pioneers of the church. Elder Haight actually crossed the plains 14 times, bringing companies of saints to Zion.

On the other line, my father descended from John McBride – one of the victims of the Haun’s Mill massacre in 1838. My dad’s great-grandfather, James McBride was spared from the massacre only because he was sick that day, and did not go to the mill. James McBride went on to cross the plains with a company led by Brigham Young’s brother. James McBride settled what is now the town of Grantsville, Utah, and other parts of Southern Idaho. My father’s mother came through the Asael Smith line: Joseph Smith’s grandfather.

My father was part of a great legacy that stretches back to the very founding of the church, and by virtue of being his son, I share in that legacy.

While of great ancestry, my father was an ordinary guy, worked as an insurance salesman most his career, had hobbies, served in the church and led a pretty quiet life. It wasn’t until a few years before his death that I knew many details about his upbringing. I had thought that he was another link in a chain of strong, righteous generations, but I came to find out that the reality was different – the chain had been broken.

When my father was 5 years old, my grandmother died from complications of childbirth. My grandfather did not handle it well, and instead of pulling closer to his children, he withdrew from them. He found himself a girlfriend and took off – checking in on the kids occasionally, but abdicating his role of father to the older kids in the family. They did their best to run the ranch they lived on. My dad told stories about cooking breakfast for 10 men, carrying bales of hay and riding his horse to get the mail when he was under the age of 10.

When my Dad turned 8 years old, his father was nowhere to be found. One November afternoon a member of the bishopric took my father to the warm springs where the kids liked to swim. They cleared the moss from the surface of the water, and waded into the pond. My father was baptized, then confirmed at water’s edge by a leader that figured it “needed to be done.” Thank goodness for wise and worthy Priesthood leaders.

As a sophomore in High School, my dad found his family spreading out in all directions. His older brothers went to Montana to work with their father, leaving my dad behind in Idaho – effectively homeless. That year he slept at night out on the front porch of a lady named Mrs. Fippin – and he recalled that those Idaho winter nights were pretty cold to be sleeping on the porch.

His junior year he moved to Sandy, Utah (he got there by hitching a ride inside the trunk of a car) and lived with his older brother in what he referred to as a “shack” on what is now 90th South and State street. They would work in the fields during the summer to get by during the school year, and grew tomatoes on their plot of land. Senior year, his brother joined the air force, and my dad lived by himself in the shack – He was proud to tell me that even though he lived alone, he got himself to school everyday, and to church every week.

My Dad was in the Class of 1942. On graduation day, he walked down to the post office after school, and there, waiting for him, was his draft notice. He joined the Navy and reported to boot camp 30 days later. During those 30 days he received the Melchezedek Priesthood, and his patriarchal blessing. His blessing was so short that he did not anticipate ever coming home from the war.

He never talked much about WWII, but did express what a rude awakening it was for a young Mormon farm boy – the coarseness, and vulgarity, the alcohol and promiscuity were all new to him. He was surrounded by it all the time, but chose not to let it become part of his life.

He was stationed as a radio/morse code operator in the South Pacific, at Guadal Canal. When word came down that the war was over he said “There was a lot of shouting and celebrating. Everybody got drunk – except for me.”

He told one story about finding other members of the church:

“I remember one morning I had a call from a navy nurse. She said that she had examined all of the personnel records and that there were only three Mormons out of the hundreds of men stationed on the Island. A hospital ship had come into the harbor and she was on it. She was Mormon, I was another and there was one other sailor. We agreed that the three of us would get together and have a sacrament meeting. We got a jeep and drove out to a hill and we climbed to the top and sat on the ground and had our own sacrament meeting. We had a prayer and then we discussed things about the sacrament. We broke bread and had water, just the three of us. We bore our testimonies to one another. That was the only time while I was overseas that I was able to do anything with others in the church. The nurse and sailor shipped out and I never saw them again.”

Eventually he was discharged and went back home, ending up in Salt Lake City. He worked his way through the University of Utah as a short-order cook at the local Walgreens, getting a degree in Communications. He then did something that wasn’t required, or even commonplace at the time. At age 26 he decided to serve a mission. He was sent to Uruguay in the early ‘50s.

He had previously been told by a high school Spanish teacher that he would never, ever learn Spanish, and that he should give it up. It turned out that the first six months of his mission proved the teacher right. No matter how hard he worked, my Dad could not get the ear for the language. Frustrated and wanting to go home, he counseled with his Mission President, who gave him a blessing of encouragement, and invoked the gift of tongues on my father’s behalf. He emerged from the President’s office fluent in Spanish, and thereafter served an effective mission. Part of the time he served with Richard G Scott as his companion.

After his three years were up, it was off to Provo for a Master’s degree, a wife, and a family. He led a very normal life – went to work, came home, served in the church, built pinewood derbies that never were fast. He loved my mom and cared for her through many health issues. Raised four children, and saw all four of us to the temple and all four of us onto missions. After the youngest was sealed to his wife, I remember my Dad turning to me in the temple and exhaling a sigh of relief that he had been carrying for 32 years. Though never rich to the things of this world, he led a rich, meaningful life. He passed away in 2003 at age 78, and I miss him.

My father had every excuse, reason, environment or circumstance possible to turn his back on the legacy of his ancestors and the gospel – His father had already broken the chain. But instead of clinging to his father’s bad example, my dad re-established the legacy that I enjoy today. He re-forged the chain that I and my children and grandchildren are now part of. I can’t imagine how difficult it must have been, and I owe him greatly.

I know that eventually I will see him again, and I will need to answer to him as to how I have preserved that chain, and if my link in that chain is intact and strong. In addition, I have a Savior who will want to know what I have done with His name as well, and if I have passed a legacy of testimony on to my children.

I know that one day I will make this report to the two most important men in my life. My father and my Savior. I feel a tremendous sense of duty and urgency to do everything I can possibly do to get it right. But I struggle. There are many things I work on constantly, yet still cannot master. As I identify things in my life that could be more refined, or should be stronger, or counsel that I receive from our leaders, I tend to pass that information onto you, my brothers and sisters. (My personal challenges often wind up as blog fodder.)

I know there are some who consider me ultra-orthodox, or too exacting, but at the heart of it, the reason that I push, pull and prod, is that I know that all of us will one day stand before our Savior and tell him of the legacy we have left for our children. We will also answer to those who went before us, and one day we will answer to those generations who will follow behind.

Yes that is pressure. Believe me, I feel it, and I imagine you all do, too.

– And that is OK.

Richard Edgely said: When Alma queried, “Have ye received Christ’s image in your countenances? he was talking about the attributes of true manhood.

Yes, Satan has his man and God has His man, and Satan has his characteristics of manhood and God has His. Satan would present his characteristics as the true measurement of manhood and God’s criteria as weak and wimpy. But one must understand that Satan’s criteria will almost always be the easiest and the wimpiest. Satan’s way takes no courage, no character, no personal strength, and it proves no manhood at all.

A true man does not let Satan lead him down the easy path with his everlasting chains of destruction. A true man is strong enough to withstand the wiles of Satan and humble enough to submit himself to the redemptive powers of the Savior.” (link)

N Eldon Tanner said: Always remember that people are looking to you for leadership and you are influencing the lives of individuals either for good or for bad, which influence will be felt for generations to come.” (link)

Fathers: Every minute of every day we are building the legacy for our children. To do it right requires strength, a willingness to let go of our own desires, and a commitment to be in it for the long haul.

Remember – doing a good job is like shaving…no matter how good you do it today, you’ve still got to do it tomorrow.

Parents, we need to look to our children and commit to do everything we can possibly do to make sure they are sent out of our nests with the strength and testimony. We need to get over ourselves and focus on the Lords’ will for our families, instead of pursuing the decoys that Satan has set up for us in society.

Children, please look to your parents and do all that you possibly can to follow their lead, as they follow the Lord. If you are in a situation where your parents are not leading, I would suggest you to go to them, and with all the love in your heart, ask that they help you work through these difficult times by following the Lord’s counsel. They will respond, because they love you.

This Church is full of goodness. It is full of strength. We are surrounded by families who respond whole-heartedly and unconditionally to the call from the prophet and their leaders; members who serve diligently in their callings; saints who love and protect their families with the power of scripture study, FHE and family prayer. Many have temple recommends, and know how to use them…

Yet I know that there are some of you who do not see yourselves as one of those families, I testify to you that you can be. It is a question of agency and desire. You can be obedient, you can witness the miracles the Lord provides to those willing to seek them out and receive them. Start now. If there is something impeding your progress, seek counsel from your Bishop. The Lord wants you and needs you to be a part of his kingdom.

Elder Joseph B Wirthlin said: The Church is not a place where perfect people gather to say perfect things, or have perfect thoughts, or have perfect feelings. The Church is a place where imperfect people gather to provide encouragement, support, and service to each other as we press on in our journey to return to our Heavenly Father.” (link)

Brothers and Sisters, please use these brief stories of the life of my father to recognize that agency is ours. I am not my father. No matter how strong he was, it benefits me nothing if I choose not to be strong. Conversely, should my father leave a legacy of mediocrity, or weakness, or worldliness, again, I am not my father, and I can use my agency to choose to change the direction, and re-forge the chain. It is time to accept a simple truth: We all must let go of the excuses, justifications and rationalizations that keep us from attaining what the Lord wants us to attain. It is not our parents’ fault, our spouses’ fault, our upbringing, our health, our leaders, our ability, our income or our personalities that hold us back – it is our hearts.

In speaking about change, Elder Dallin Oaks said: The traditions or way of life of a people inevitably include some practices that must be changed by those who wish to qualify for God’s choicest blessings.” (link)

As a father, I desire the choicest blessings for my children, and am trying to give up those things that stand in the way.

As your friend, and fellow journeyman, I desire the choicest blessings for you and your families, that your descendents will not look back on a legacy of mediocrity, but a rich legacy of love, obedience, happiness, prosperity and blessings of the Lord.

Happy Father’s Day!

Other Father’s Day stuff from previous years”

2016: “Rhubarb and Fatherhood

2015: “High Priest Mints and Feeling Very Dad.”

2014: ‘Fathers and Lawnmowers.”

2013: “Keep Peddling.”

2012: “King of the Castle.”

Father’s Day Coupons For Teenagers

The Stripling Warriors’ Missing Fathers

 

6

Bowling

I went bowling yesterday for the 4th consecutive week. after a multi-year absence. My youngest son is now a freshman in High School. Because he is attempting to add some extra activities to his schedule and take release-time Seminary, he is required to take several classes outside of the normal schedule: Either some “A” hours before normal school hours, Summer School (blech) or online courses. He chose to take an online course: Bowling.

Okay, I know online bowling sounds weird, but let me assure you it is not some glorified Wii game – it is actual bowling. He takes tests and completes actual assignments online, but over the course of his course he must bowl 18 games and upload the scoresheets.

(Sorry for the long intro.) Yesterday, we showed up to a relatively empty bowling alley, plunked down money to rent some toxic bowling shoes, and found our lane. We laced up and found some equally toxic bowling balls and got started.

A few minutes into our game, a group of three showed up and took up residence in the lane next to us. It was a young man, with what appeared to be his mother and an older woman – I’m guessing grandma. They turned on their score screen and up came a screen that showed that they were part of a league. Their screen was different from ours – it showed handicaps and other, fancier stuff than ours did.

Then I noticed that they had rolled in with them a giant duffle bag on wheels. The unzipped it and out came the shoes. They had their own bowling shoes! And they looked nice and new and fancy – and they probably even fit right! Ours looked like they have been in rotation since the Great War and should have been quarantined by the CDC.

Next, they took out their bowling balls. THEIR bowling balls.  They were beautiful, as bowling balls go. They had swirls and flecks of bright, neon colors, and did not have the look of vintage cannon balls that we were using. I had my first twinge of jealousy – not because the balls were pretty, but because they probably had them custom-drilled to meet the exact dimensions of their hands.  How cool would that be?

I’ll bet that they didn’t even feel like submerging their hands in boiling water whenever they left a bowling alley. They were obviously the real deal, and we looked like dorks.

My son reminded me that it was my turn, so I quit coveting and got up to bowl. Now mind you, I have bowled now and again during my life, more when I was young. I did take a bowling class at BYU to get a fast PE credit. Since we were graded on improvement, I made sure to begin the class with a left-handed 86, and finish with a right-handed 211.  (I promise I looked and found nothing in the Honor Code about that.)

My bowling technique is very much like my technique in other areas of my life. I just walk up to the line, throw the ball hard, and watch what happens.  Usually, I can get close to where I want to be, and wreak havoc. I don’t have any fancy form, or cool spin action on the ball. I don’t line up weird or have a creative approach. I just walk up in my toxic shoes,  cargo shorts and t-shirt, and at chuck that thing down the lane.

After I threw, I walked back to my chair and watched the Fancy Bowlers. The kid next to me with the fancy shoes and the fancy ball, who was now wearing a fancy bowling glove, lined himself up, stared intently down the lane, and made a swift approach with beautiful form. The ball barely made a sound as it left his gloved grip as the fancy spin he put on the ball caused it to curve directly into….the gutter.

He looked irritated. I was surprised.  He complained to his mom and grandma, and impatiently waited for the ball return. Then he went through his preparation again. THIS time it was definitely not a gutter ball. THIS time he got 3. Three whole pins. He stomped back to the scorer’s chair and plopped down. “I’m just warming up,” he groused.

Next up, Mom. She did pretty much the same thing and got a 7. Grandma? She got two consecutive gutter balls, resulting in a big goose-egg on her scoreboard. But I must admit, the balls looked cool as the fancy colors flashed as they rolled down the gutter.

I know it is wrong, but the whole thing just kind of cracked me up.

I noticed that my son noticed too. Every time I bowled, I would turn around and he would be watching them, instead of me.

By the time they were finished with their first game, none of them had broken 100. There was a lot of complaining, and it didn’t seem like they were having much fun.

Ryan and I, on the other hand, weren’t bowling very well either, but we were enjoying each other’s company and rolling with our lack of skill. After it was all said and done, our scores were a bit better than our fancy neighbors, but my 177 beat them all.

We returned our toxic shoes and paid for our games. It had been a good time. On the way to the car I thought of an old expression, I asked Ryan if he knew it.

“Hey, have you ever heard the expression, “All hat and no cattle?”

“No”

“It’s an old cowboy expression that means that somebody looks like a real cowboy, but, when you get right down to it, they are just show. Big talk, but nothing to back it up.”

“Are you talking about the bowlers next to us?”

“Yep. All hat and no cattle.”

We chuckled and got in the car and headed home.

Later that night…

I was thinking about my encounter with the Fancy Bowlers earlier that day an realized I blew it. Three times. Three strikes. (In bowling lingo, three strikes is called a “turkey” and is a really good thing, but I am mixing my sports metaphors, and in this case we will go with baseball strikes, which are bad. I remain the turkey.)

Strike One: I looked at the Fancy Bowlers and their accoutrements and figured that they must be far superior bowlers than me, and I let it make me feel inferior.

President Benson had me dead to rights on this one: “There is, however, a far more common ailment among us—and that is pride from the bottom looking up. It is manifest in so many ways, such as faultfinding, gossiping, backbiting, murmuring, living beyond our means, envying, coveting, withholding gratitude and praise that might lift another, and being unforgiving and jealous.” (Link)

Then came the Strike Two:

Quick as a wink, I had turned my feelings of inferiority and envy into feelings of superiority and mockery – and I had never even met these people.

C.S. Lewis nailed me on that one, “Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man. … It is the comparison that makes you proud: the pleasure of being above the rest.”  (link)

Then, as I walked to the parking lot with my son, Strike Three:

I taught him to be judgmental and to mock others.

David H. Burton nailed me on that one, “Teaching virtuous traits begins in the home with parents who care and set the example. A good parental example encourages emulation; a poor example gives license to the children to disregard the parents’ teachings and even expand the poor example. A hypocritical example destroys credibility.” (link)

In conclusion, it is apparent to me that I need to work on my bowling game, as does my son, but more importantly, I need to work on my life game, because I am still throwing spiritual gutterballs on a regular basis.

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15

FuneralIt has been an odd way to start a new year. Usually I am busying myself with preparing for the oncoming year by sorting papers, making plans and scheduling, taking down Christmas, and flirting with the idea of eating healthier. This year I spent New Year’s Day traveling to Utah with my EC to a funeral in Utah. There were two funerals here at home as well.

While none of them were for relatives, all three were very touching in their own way. LDS funerals are oddly wonderful. Given what we know, there is an overt sense of hope, which helps sooth the grief. So many friends and family members join that it has the feel of a large family reunion, rather than a somber dirge that is so frequent in most of the world. It is odd to say it, but I enjoyed attending all three.

All three funerals were for men active in the LDS faith. Two of the three had lived long lives, the third had waged a heroic struggle against cancer and left behind a young family. They were at peace. There were lessons of hope as the doctrine of the gospel of Jesus Christ was taught. The ideas of eternal life and families, the resurrection, and the perspective of where mortality fits into God’s plan makes death more acceptable. It was sorrowful, yet joyful. And yes, there were funeral potatoes.

– Yet I would have to be made of stone to tell you that it has not impacted me.

All three funerals were for men who left their wives behind.

(And now I sit here not knowing what to type next without it getting too personal… oh well, here goes.)

I DO NOT want to die first. I don’t want my wife to have to deal with my funeral, my stuff, my business. I don’t want her to have to be alone. That possibility breaks my heart.

Apparently, I am in the minority. I recently read of a poll where they found that 70% of men would prefer to die before their wives. 62% of the women felt the same way. It wasn’t clear if it was because the respondents were being altruistic, or scaredy-cats. Either way, I am in the minority.

The rough part is that women live an average of 5-10 years longer than their husbands, so the odds are stacked against me. I know a lot more widows than widowers. I’ve never heard of President Monson leading a ward of 90 widowed brethren.

What wise point am I looking to make? I don’t have one. But I will share something far too personal for a public blog post: From early on in my marriage, I always had a feeling that my EC would be taken from me prematurely.  If anyone wants to know why I am obsessed – consumed – by being with my sweet wife, there it is. Don’t know why I have felt this way, but I always have. But (happiness) here we are, looking at our 30th anniversary this summer. I have never been so glad to be so wrong.

Because of this unwarranted worry, I have spent the last 30 years trying to be with her all the time. I never get tired of her. I want to be with her 24/7. I know that to some people, the idea of spending every moment with their spouse sounds like the Seventh Circle of Hell, but to me, it is what I covet more than riches, fame or time with the guys or hobbies. So, I try my best to make her feel loved, spoiled and treasured. I screw up, often, but I try and repent quickly and apologize quickly, so as not to waste a day of this life with her. BECAUSE MORTALITY IS FINITE. Yes, my marriage is eternal, but my time exploring this amazing earth life together is not. I want to soak it in, share it and revel in it.

The last of the three funerals was held past Friday. It was for the father of one of my best friends. He had lived a good life of love and service. He was an “Old Oak,” in a world sorely lacking in strength. It was touching and thought provoking as two of his sons spoke.

One of the sons spoke on the topic “Life Lessons my Father Taught Me.” If that doesn’t give you pause for thought…

How would you answer that about your father? Better yet, how would your children answer that about you? What would they have to say at your funeral?

So, for the last two days, I have been wondering: Have I taught my kids what they need to know? My family is in transition, weddings, grand babies, missions, etc. We are 6 weeks away from having only one of five children still at home. The rest are out there making their mark on the world. Have I prepared them?

Which reminds me of an experience I had some years ago: I was having a long conversation with a friend who told me that he did not try and talk about religion with his children. He felt it was too personal – that his kids needed to figure those things out on their own. He was afraid of them feeling influenced, or manipulated. He just felt that he should “love” them, and let them sort out religion for themselves.

I was aghast.

My response was something like this. (No, it doesn’t sound too gentle, because it was between friends.)

“Hold on a second. I know you taught those kids how to brush their teeth, how to kick a soccer ball, how to fix cars, how to do algebra, how to drive a car, and a million other things – because that’s what fathers do. But the single most important thing you can teach them in this life is the one thing you have chosen to go silent on? That makes no sense!

You say you do not want to influence them on matters of spirituality and religion, but did it occur to you that Satan has absolutely zero problem filling that void you leave? They are going to be influenced by somebody – guaranteed. It is absolutely the wrong thing to be silent about. That is not love – that is spiritual neglect.

They need to know what you believe and why. Not only by watching how you live your life. They need to hear the actual words come out of your mouth: Words of testimony, words of truth. The Spirit cannot testify to words and ideas you don’t speak.”

When my rant was over, he responded thoughtfully that he had never really thought of it that way, and he saw the need for some adjusting.

As I wonder how my kids would respond if asked, “What life lessons did you learn from your father?” I can rest assured that they all know exactly where I stand in regards to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Hopefully from both word and deed.

Sure, they have their agency and can choose to follow the path, but I am at peace knowing that they cannot possibly get to heaven and say, “My parents didn’t teach me about that!”

(They also have a thousand blog posts they can pull from, if they haven’t been listening.)

As I have thought through this idea, my mind has turned towards the Book of Mormon. Right before Lehi died, he gathered his sons and posterity together and gave them each blessings and counsel. (2 Nephi 1-4) It is really, good stuff.

Following the tradition of his father, as Nephi’s time was winding down, he also gave some of the most powerful doctrine ever recorded. (2 Nephi 31-33)

There is no life lesson more important that I can help my children understand than those same concepts that Nephi taught to his posterity: The Doctrine of Christ.

So, the next time we are out showing our sons how to throw a curve ball, or teaching our daughters how to tackle a quadratic equation, remember that there is so more to this life, and it is our role to introduce them to it. Because – odds are – they will still be around long after we are gone and they will need to know what we know.

And they might even have to speak at our funerals.

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10

Lawnmower grass

When we moved into our current house, we were excited about the large lawn in the front and the back yards. At the time, a little voice in the back of my head kept saying, “Hey – that is a lot of grass…you sure about this?”

But I quieted the voice by reminding myself that I had four strapping young sons who could help keep it maintained.

About two years later we hired a lawn service. We were just too busy, and we had sports on Saturdays, and it was too hot, and we were our of town a lot, yada, yada, yada. It was really nice to have someone else come and cut the grass, and haul away the trimmings. Even better, I was the Good Guy, and my sons were relieved of that duty.

Then I remembered something: I love my sons.    So I fired the lawn guy.

Since then, we have worked through a variety of ways to help them get the job done. Sometimes it has gone smoothly, sometimes I end up doing it myself, and sometimes the grass just gets a little long.

Through the process of working through this chore with my sons, I noticed a sort of hierarchy of involvement that has wide-ranging application. For example:

1) Fearing the Wrath of Dad

Sometimes, mowing the lawn is a contest of wills. “Dad, can it wait? I’m tired, busy, etc.”

Occasionally this would end with a stern, “You WILL mow the lawn, or suffer the consequences.”

Result? Mission accomplished: The grass got cut. Begrudgingly.

2) Let’s Make a Deal

There were times when we bribed the boys with money, (allowance) or leveraged the chore with something they wanted. It worked most of the time.

Result? Mission accomplished: The grass got cut, and the boys were happy to get their reward. (This system was short-lived however, because we realized that paying the kids to do family chores conflicted with the next possible option.)

3) The Miracle

Every now and again, I would come home to find the grass freshly cut – without my having asked or bribed. These were glorious memories that I will cherish until the day I die. Usually the reason was something as simple and resounding as, “I saw it needed to be done, so I did it.”

Result? Mission accomplished: The grass got cut, I was a happy dad, and so was the voluntary mower.

 

These three examples are not equal. They follow the pattern that is applicable to many things in our lives. Simply stated:

Good – Better – Best.  (One of the all-time great General Conference talks had this title, and was given by Elder Dallin H. Oaks back in 2007.)

In all three examples, the end result was that the grass got cut, so the end result is not in dispute – as far as the grass in concerned. What is in dispute, is which method is of most worth. The motivation behind the act is what makes it more valuable. When this idea is applied to obedience, it might open our eyes to a better way.

Good: Being obedient because we have to. This would include under duress from parents, peer pressure, or guilt. Or fear. Fear of retribution was a great motivator for the children of Israel. You want to mouth off to your parents? Go ahead, but know that they have the all-clear to take you outside the walls of the city and stone you to death.

The Law of Moses was a harsh law, motivated very much living your life in a way to avoid punishment. The Pharisees in Christ’s day had a heyday browbeating the people for disobeying the law. (Yes, that is the first time I have ever typed the word “Heyday”.) Sometimes we find ourselves obeying God’s commandments for the same reason: Fear of reprisal, or negative consequences.

This idea is hinted at when we say, “I can’t do that, I’m Mormon.” (Rather than, “I don’t do that, I’m Mormon.”)

Yet, as any parent who has had to strong-arm their kid into going to church knows: It is better that they be there begrudgingly, rather than not be there at all – because at church, at least there is a chance of a collision with the Spirit.

Better: Being obedient because we get blessed. Now this is where we probably find ourselves most of the time.  Want security? Pay tithing. Want endurance and health? Obey the Word of Wisdom. There are blessings attached to the commandments that can incentive us to obey – willingly.

Is God okay with this approach? Apparently – He is the author of the promised blessings that are attached to the commandments.

“There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated—And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated.” (D&C 130:20-21)

Much like it was with my sons being rewarded for mowing the lawn, if we do what God asks us to do, He will bless us. The hope for blessings is a good motivator for obedience. Even the idea of becoming like God and having eternal families is a obedience/blessing equation.

Obedience and the quest for blessings is much, much better than obedience under duress. Why? Because it is voluntary, and built on faith – not fear of reprisal. The idea of belong blessed for obedience is more than just an idea – it is a law – a law that existed before this world was created. We are most definitely safe seeking blessings for our obedience. But is there something even better…?

Best: Being obedient simply because we love the Lord, and want to please and serve Him.  Christ was short, sweet, and to the point when He taught:

“If ye love me, keep my commandments.” (John 14:15)

Pretty succinct, right? The way we show Christ our love is to keep His commandments.  If we choose not to keep the commandments, we are showing Christ that we do not love Him.

Anytime my kids mow the lawn, clean the house, or stand up and just start doing the dishes without being asked, I see that as a sign of love. I imagine that God probably feels the same way when we are quick to obey – without fear, without leverage, or even without a “what’s in it for me?” mentality.

Obedience driven by blessings, while acceptable, is still self-focused. It is about me, me, me. What do I get out of the deal? Much of our mission in life is to get out of that mindset, and look towards others. Obedience driven by love of Christ is not self-focused – rather It is focused on the Savior, and the “least of these” whom He has asked us to serve.  (Matthew 25:40)

One of the great beauties of obedience born of love is that the blessings that follow still come – even though that is not what we are after. Do we love the Savior enough to follow Him with no expectations? Is our love that pure?

Good – Better – Best.  What is my motivation for obedience? I find that at times I am in all three of these categories. I’m not proud to admit that occasionally I obey out of fear for the chaos that could ensue if I don’t do what I know that I am supposed to do. I also know that I am highly motivated to obey in a quest for blessings – both on earth and in heaven. Laying up treasures? You bet!

Thankfully, I recognize that sometimes my obedience is simply because I know that it is what the Lord wants of me. Being “quick to observe” builds momentum in my life, and I find that the more I focus on pleasing God, and then less I worry about the consequence – good or bad – the easier it is for me to get on with it and do what I need to do.

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PS: I mowed the lawn yesterday. By myself.  One son was at a scout overnighter, the other helping do some service elsewhere.

PPS: Here is a great talk by Elder Bednar that he gave at BYU a few years back: “Quick to Observe.”