Saturday, December 24, 2011

Gifts that need Giving

Can I just first say how terrible I am at blogging?.....okay, got that out of the way! On to the main event! I've reflected lately on the Christmases that I spent in the mission field, and I can honestly say they were the most unique and probably most spiritual ones I've ever experienced in my 23 short years. In reality, we are supposed to carry that special spirit with us EVERY DAY, and not just during the holiday season. Not an easy thing to do, but is anything that's worth it supposed to be easy? I have certainly been blessed probably more than I deserve, but this blog isn't going to be about me. If it was, then it would be painfully short. Instead, I would like to share some gifts that I would give to some of my fellow missionaries from our days in the Ohio Cincinnati Mission.

To my esteemed trainer, Elder Nathan Hall: I have two gifts for you. The first is a pie, because everyone likes....oh spilled it. Well maybe some napkins instead. The second is a BLACK Santa Claus, 'cause everyone knows that Santa has always been black and if you think he's white, you're colorblind!

To my Canadian sidekick, Elder Luke Allred: Some better-looking shorts to go with those tights. The Lakers just aren't cutting it for me. You could also use some ties, since you had only a few when we served together.

To Elder's Dillon Durfey and Chad Durling: I honestly don't know what to give you guys, since you already have everything it takes to be cool. And gangster.

To Elder Nathan Scholes: There are many gifts that I would love for you to have, but I'm gonna start with something simple. You need a bigger pillow to kneel on whenever you fall asleep during prayers. You also need to get a totally awesome Coldplay shirt like mine.

To Elder Feleti Mataele: A real gun so you can be a Polynesian hitman. "Children, he has a gun!"

To Elder Eric Ficklin: An AK-47 would complete the ensemble

To Elder Jared Lunquist: I certainly think you could use a healthy does of good luck, for a change. Between exploding bags of peanuts, to kerosene infested rooms that make you gag, to crafty members who pull April Fool's Day pranks, you are due for some sunshine.

To Elder Zach Janiec: That whole piece of land to use at your pleasure for driving golfballs. Oh, and don't let me use your golf clubs under ANY circumstances. Oh yeah, and you need a package that has more than just chips in it.

To Elder Ryan Remington: Some corn that tastes a million times better than that other kind, which isn't for people, as we found out. You also need a better looking cape than that nasty, smelly animal skin. Although, you fly pretty well regardless.

To Elder Frank Parker: Some real shorts, 'cause those just aren't right. And a bodybag to hide the evidence.

To General...I mean, Elder Fred Bittner: know, I think you have everything you need. Not sure that anything I give you could compare to your other possessions.

To Elder Carson Rush: First, you need a shirt that has some kind of logo on it. I mean seriously, that shirt has NOTHING! It's so plain. Second, a rain jacket of some kind so you stay a car wash. And third, a new and improved truck that is "black ice proof."

To Elder Cory Loveland: You could probably use some protection from that angry looking storm cloud...oh, and something to shield your eyes from the "Price Hill Prostitute." Ba-dow!!

And last but not least, to Elder David Kirk: You need a haircut, plenty of "priceless junk," and a port-a-potty. Other than that, you are all set.

In conclusion, despite the "value" of these gifts, the greatest gift that these missionaries gave me, as well as all the rest in the Ohio Cincinnati Mission, was the chance to stand with them in testifying of the Savior Jesus Christ and His restored gospel. Nothing on earth could compare with that knowledge. Merry Christmas to all!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

On the other side, but still there

First off, this is pathetically late. My excuse, however, is that I've spent the last couple weeks thinking about how I would be able to do this justice. I suppose that now is as good a time as any. July 18th was a day that I'd like to erase from my memory, but that's just not possible. It's never a good thing when you get an unexpected call from your mom in the middle of the day, and you can barely understand her because she's crying. To then learn that Brittney Knouf, one of the greatest friends you've ever had---someone who you confided anything and everything to---decided to end her life....well, there isn't anything you can do to prepare yourself to receive such heart-wrenching news. Since it happened, my emotions have never really shown on the outside, but inside has been a different story. And yet, as soon as I got off the phone with my mom, I was overwhelmed by the Spirit prompting me to pray RIGHT THEN. The prayer had nothing to do with me or my needs; it was all about comforting Britt's family and helping them come to understand, in the Lord's time, where their amazing daughter is right now. It was also a prayer of gratitude for the close friendship that we enjoyed, and I was promised at that same time that this friendship was not over. When I went to the temple the following morning, this promise was confirmed by a sweet and peaceful feeling. I won't go into details since it was sacred, plus I can't really describe it in a way that anyone but myself can understand. The Lord works that way with His children; we each have moments and experiences that are personal only to us. Cherish those moments, because they can be some of the most sustaining things to hold onto as you journey through life. Even during my times of mourning and sadness since Britt left this mortal life, that feeling of peace has never left me. I don't think that it ever will. I was devastated that I couldn't attend the funeral, but I have no doubt that those who were there had a memorable experience. Several of them told me so, and I was grateful for that. I don't like seeing those who I care about suffer in any way, but I understand that it's part of life. Still though, it's a wonderful thing when peace and understanding comes to the mind.

I would like now to share the memories and experiences that Brittney and I had, which are really almost too numerous to remember. I don't say that to brag, but rather to show how strong our friendship became. I still remember the first time that I saw Britt; it was in the early-morning seminary class taught by my mom during my sophomore year of high school. She was with Liz Stewart, but I had no idea whether or not she was a member of the Church. That hardly mattered of course, but try telling that to a thick-headed 16 year-old. I assumed that she was a new member of the ward, and by the way she payed attention and followed along with what my mom taught( she even had her own scriptures!!), I felt pretty confident in my short-sighted assumption. Right from the start, Britt impressed me, and I felt that this was someone who I not only wanted to become friends with, but I sensed that I NEEDED to become friends with her. This was pretty new territory for me, since I hadn't done much to that point to go out of my way to befriend girls. I soon found out that Britt was, in fact, not a member of the Church. This brought my level of interest in getting to know her to a higher level. When I initially started getting to know her a little and finding out what she was like, I felt so unsure of myself in terms of my ability to talk to girls, and I told her that. I'll never forget her kind reassurance and understanding; she never laughed at or turned her back on me. The tiniest spark inside me began to burn, and our friendship took off from there.

That school year (2004-05) and the following summer was one of the happiest for the both of us, in many ways. I was there when she was baptized into the Church, with practically our whole seminary class there to support her. Back when MSN Messenger was still popular, we'd talk to each other all the time about anything and everything. I told her that I loved sports and especially basketball, and she said that it was her favorite as well and that she wanted to play with me sometime. And we did, many times; we played basketball under the hot sun, and in the pitch black with only a porch light. We once played in a pouring thunderstorm; we were having too much fun to care. In many ways, that epitomized our friendship; whenever we talked or spent time together, nothing else really mattered. I told her many times, and she said likewise, that I'd be having a really bad least until we got to talk. I remember when she turned 15 and I got her a card and a bag of tootsie pops. I snuck them into her bag at school, and she discovered them while she was sitting in class. She would come and watch me play in Church basketball games. And I'll tell ya what, there are few things that can fire you up to play your best when you know that a girl is there watching you. Man, I'm glad I didn't make a fool of myself. We took LOTS of walks together, practically all over Eugene. I could still go back there today and retrace those steps. That's how precious those memories were. We went to lots of Church dances and spent even more time talking and laughing. I was the prankster at those dances, and my friends always told me to quit messing around and dance with girls. I only ever wanted to dance with Britt, and that's pretty much what I did 99% of the time. I'll never forget how sad she was when I told her that our family would be moving in a few months back to Utah. She didn't believe me at first, but then she came over and saw the "For Sale" sign in our yard. That was a hard move for me as well; I was halfway through high school, had a strong group of friends, a nice house that we had built. Everything seemed to be going well, but it taught me a valuable lesson: There's nothing wrong with feeling a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction, but always be prepared for changes. The move turned out to be the right thing for my family, but this isn't supposed to be about me. Recalculating!

I remember how excited I was when I found out that Brittney would be coming with Liz and Audrey to visit and go with McKenzie to EFY up in Salt Lake. I might have gone too, but I had a BYU basketball camp that same week. Still though, I'll never forget those days that she was there. The picture at the beginning of this blog is from the night that our family went ice-blocking across the street from the Mt. Timpanogos Temple. After a while, I got kind of bored and went to sit down on one the picnic benches (still in the same spot now) and just looked at the lights on the temple. Before I knew it, she was right there beside me. We started talking  about the upcoming week for the both of us, and about what we wanted our futures to be like. A LOT of our conversations were like that. I didn't find out until later that this picture was even taken; Liz had hidden herself behind one of the trees to snap this shot that has become one of my all-time favs. On the Sunday before she and the other girls were going to leave for EFY, I rather nervously approached her and asked if she would like to take a walk after dinner. To my great relief, she said yes. I am not the least bit ashamed to admit that it was on this walk that I held her hand. This was the first time that I'd EVER held any girl's hand, but boy did I sure feel triumphant after that! Anyway, she went off to EFY and had a great time, while I rode that surge of confidence from our walk to a very good week at basketball camp. I'll just say right now that practically any interaction that we had with each other always led me to feel like I was on top of the world. Now honestly, I want those who read this to think: How many people in your lives have made you feel like that? I'd venture to say that the list is pretty exclusive.

We saw each other a few times during the next couple of years whenever my family would visit Eugene, but it would always end on a somewhat disappointing note, knowing that my family would soon return to Utah and we didn't know the next time we'd see each other. Then all of a sudden, I was off on my mission to Cincinnati in the summer of 2008. In my talks with her before I left, she had been feeling pretty low and dealing with a lot of different stresses. She added that it didn't help that I was leaving on a mission because she felt like I was the only person (at least the only guy) who see could really open up to. However, she knew that a mission was the right thing for me to do. I thought about her a few times during those first several months and even sent a couple letters, but I never heard back from her. I was a little bit concerned as to how she might be doing, but of course I couldn't let my mind wander that far from the Lord's work. I had to dive in with both feet, and that's exactly what I did. I was transferred to Hazard, KY in the fall of 2009 and spent the next six months there having many great experiences. Then came a preparation day late that winter; Elder Rush and I made our usual trip to the library to churn out our e-mails to President Robbins and our family. As I opened my inbox, I spotted an e-mail from an address that, sadly, I didn't recognize: What really caught my attention, though, was the subject of the e-mail which read: "Missing you. Hope you get this." To my great shock and excitement, I opened the e-mail and discovered that it was from Brittney! She said that she'd really been struggling with a lot of things lately and really wanted to hear from me. I can assure you that I don't remember ever writing a faster response to ANY e-mail. I also told her my address so that we could start corresponding through snail mail. There's something about written letters that just makes them special. From then until the end of my mission the following summer, we wrote back and forth. She told me that she wanted to get her life back on track, apply to BYU-Idaho, and start working towards a temple marriage. I sent her mission pictures, and she sent me a copy of one of her graduation photos...the same one that was in her funeral program. I had SO many letters to sort through when I got home, and for some reason I couldn't find the ones that she had written me. I finally found them several days ago and read through them. As I read them, I had that same familiar smile that I was always had whenever I talked to or saw her. She was beyond excited when I told her that my family was coming to Eugene the week after I got home from my mission. She kept calling my grandma's house until she finally got a hold of me and practically demanded to know what I was doing. Nothing really important; just trying to recover from post-mission syndrome. I was upstairs when she came over, and I could hear her talking to my mom. Oh, to hear that voice again! I headed down the stairs and just waited for her to turn around and realize I was standing there. As she turned and saw me, the flood of memories we'd had all rushed into my mind. Her hug was so tight, it practically sucked all the wind out of my lungs, but I could have cared less. We went for a walk on the bike path (holding hands again) and I spent practically the whole time talking about my mission. I showed her mission pictures and just watched her feel so much better than she had in a long time. We could have sat on that bench by the Willamette River and talked long into the night. We had another great walk before my family headed back to Utah, and I gave her a list of inspiring scriptures and a whole sand dollar that I'd found at the coast. She told me that I had no idea how much that meant to her. I watched her as she drove away into the Eugene night, feeling very happy inside....I would never see her again in this life.

None of us can avoid hard times or challenges, because that is as much a part of life as getting up every day. We all have to face them and try our best to learn from them. Britt's challenges were not like mine, but the way to overcome them is the same: Trust in the Lord, surround yourself with good, have patience, help others with their challenges, etc. I have no doubt that Brittney was exceptional in many of these areas during her life, but ultimately, she lost confidence in herself. When this happens to any of us, the will to keep going slowly withers away. The day she took her life, my New Testament class was having a lesson about the Atonement and Resurrection. I testify with all the conviction of my soul that the Savior knows perfectly what Brittney felt during her mortal life, and that He rose from the grave!! Because He did this, she WILL be resurrected! She has many lessons to learn in the spirit world, and I hope that she takes the opportunity to learn them. I talked to her the night before she died, and among the things I told her was this:

"I don't fail to see your flaws, but instead I look past them. Everyone has flaws, but I don't define people by their flaws. The things that are great about you are something that I want to surround myself withThe world       these days needs people who embrace the right things because they are right, and who won't change that stance even when things get rough. I can see you smiling, and that is something that motivates me. There's not many people who inspire me like you do, Britt. 
Know that I love and miss you and just want you to be happy. Have a very Happy Sunday!"

That was the very last thing I told her, and I think that some of the peace that I feel is knowing that I was there for her right until the very end. That's all you can really do. As I think about that very last thing I said to her, I am reminded of something Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin once said in conference in a talk entitled, "Sunday Will Come." He shared this:

"President Joseph F. Smith said 'that those from whom we have to part here, we will meet again and see as they are. We will meet the same identical being that we associated with here in the flesh.'
President Spencer W. Kimball amplified this when he said, 'I am sure that if we can imagine ourselves at our very best, physically, mentally, spiritually, that is the way we will come back.'

I think that of all the days since the beginning of this world’s history, that Friday[when the Savior died] was the darkest.
But the doom of that day did not endure.
The despair did not linger because on Sunday, the resurrected Lord burst the bonds of death. He ascended from the grave and appeared gloriously triumphant as the Savior of all mankind.
Each of us will have our own Fridays—those days when the universe itself seems shattered and the shards of our world lie littered about us in pieces. We all will experience those broken times when it seems we can never be put together again. We will all have our Fridays.
But I testify to you in the name of the One who conquered death—Sunday will come. In the darkness of our sorrow, Sunday will come.
No matter our desperation, no matter our grief, Sunday will come. In this life or the next, Sunday will come."

Yes, the way in which Brittney's life ended was tragic and hard to understand in many ways. And yet, her life is to be celebrated and remembered with smiles and not frowns. That is the only way that I have EVER remembered her since I've known her. Oftentimes in life, we will find that we have to go low before the Lord can lift us high. The Savior went below all of us so that we could be eligible to join Him and His Father in the highest degree of glory. In many ways, Britt is more deserving of this than me. How far she goes will depend entirely upon her, and that goes for all of us as well. I feel like I have my own special guardian angel who is watching over me and inspiring me to keep on going and doing my best. That's what Brittney Knouf did for me when she was alive. Yep, she's still that angel even now. God Bless Brittney Nicole Knouf.

Sunday, June 19, 2011


What does it mean to be a disciple? Is it merely someone who, as the root of the word suggests, is disciplined? Or rather, does it imply a continuing commitment to a cause? According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, a disciple is defined as, "One who accepts and assists in spreading the doctrines of another."1 Interestingly enough, this website also informed me that the word "disciple" is currently in the top 40% of words being searched. Therefore, I can conclude that I am certainly not the only one striving to understand what this word means. However, it is not enough merely to know what a certain word means. With understanding comes an expectation of living in accordance with what you know. As James tells us in scripture, "But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves."2 If the Savior simply wanted us to know that He existed, then all purpose for this mortal experience would be unnecessary. There is something more weighing in the balance. Notice again the meaning of "disciple" as defined by Merriam-Webster: "One who accepts and assists in spreading the doctrines of another." In a nutshell, this is our commission as disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ. We first accepted Him as the Savior in our pre-mortal life, and have been commanded to do so again while on earth. Baptism is our first sign to God that we are willing to be disciples. Turning again to the scriptures, and this time to the words of Alma the Elder, we read the following about our obligation: "Yea, and are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in, even until death, that ye may be redeemed of God, and be numbered with those of the first resurrection, that ye may have eternal life."3 Not only do we covenant to follow Him, but to follow Him always. This can be especially difficult in a world that is influencing society more and more to focus on themselves. The world offers many things that are enticing and easy to grab onto. While these things may be convenient and certainly can make our lives much easier at times, the truth is that nothing worth having is easy. The Savior taught us that we must forsake the world, but also introduced the idea that we must forsake ourselves: "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?"4 We must become selfless individuals, meaning that we focus on the needs of others above our own. Being a college student and caught up in all the personal concerns that it brings, I testify of the difficulty of constantly striving to live this principle. However, as with all other things the Lord asks of us, this is not an impossible task. In truth, the quest to become true disciples of Christ is a lifelong one that does not stop even when we pass beyond the veil.

So, what must we do after covenants have been made to ensure that we stay on the path the Lord has marked for us? First and foremost, we must have a burning desire to do the Lord’s will no matter the circumstances. If we have no desire, then it won’t make much difference how well we keep the commandments and fulfill our various Church responsibilities. The Lord’s requirement has been, and always will be, "the heart and a willing mind."5 Anything less than this means that we are withholding a portion of ourselves to give to the Lord. Alma the Younger’s great sermon on planting the seed of testimony deep within our hearts is a preparatory course for those wanting to be true disciples.6 I return to a principle I mentioned earlier about knowledge of the Savior and why that alone is insufficient for a fullness of salvation. One of the greatest disciples of this dispensation, Elder Neal A. Maxwell, explained this concept with a depth and brevity that only he can conjure: "The more we become like Jesus, the more we come to know Him. There may even be, more than we now know, some literalness in His assertion, ‘Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me’ (Matt. 25:40). We lack deep understanding of the implications of that remark of Jesus. As with so many things, He is telling us more than we are now prepared to receive. The Prophet Joseph Smith, writing redemptively to his rebellious brother, said to William, ‘God requires the will of his creatures, to be swallowed up in his will.’ The Prophet Joseph then pled with William to make ‘one tremendous effort … [to] overcome [his] passions, and please God’ (The Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, comp. Dean C. Jesse [1984], 115). Alas, William didn’t do it, just as some of us fail to overcome our passions and thereby fail to please God. We are too busy pleasing ourselves."7

Further, the prophet-king Benjamin taught that, "The natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father."8 Herein, King Benjamin teaches that we must exhibit the qualities of a child; not childish, but childlike. Further, he states that we must also be, "willing to submit to all things which the Lord [sees] fit to inflict upon [us.]" The ability to endure and, at the same time, learn from our trials is one of the most important aspects of a true disciple of Christ. We can’t tell the Savior anything about suffering that He hasn’t already felt. Humility during trials is therefore a necessity. A scripture that always comes to my mind and humbles me when I am experiencing difficult times comes from precious counsel the Lord gave to the Prophet Joseph when he was in the midst of a sore trial while in Liberty Jail. It is this: "The Son of Man hath descended below them all. Art thou greater than he?"9 Our most common response to difficulties is to complain, to wonder what we have done wrong, and most damagingly, to cry to the heavens as if they are somehow responsible for our hard times. In a way, they are. However, it’s not in the way that you are probably thinking. The renowned author and Christian scholar, C.S. Lewis, had this to say about God’s "role" in our trials: "Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of - throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself."10 In the Old Testament, the Lord summarized it this way: "I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people.
 And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the Lord: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more."11 I bear witness that the best way to valiantly testify of the Savior is to become like Him. When we are becoming like the Savior, then we are truly standing as witnesses of Him and of His Father. As we do this, we will come to truly know Him. This next promise in scripture is just one of many that the Lord promises to those who are willing to pursue the course of true discipleship: "Verily, thus saith the Lord: It shall come to pass that every soul who forsaketh his sins and cometh unto me, and calleth on my name, and obeyeth my voice, and keepeth my commandments, shall see my face and know that I am."12 By following these tried and true principles, there will be no trial that that can defeat us, no war against Satan and his angels that we cannot win, and lastly and most beneficial, there is no telling how many of our Father’s children will be influenced by our righteous examples. As the Savior said, "Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven."13 The truest test of our discipleship to the Lord will be in those situations where we are not comfortable, where our beliefs and standards may be compromised. On these occasions, the Lord separates His disciples from the Pharisees. Which side do you currently stand on? What do you need to do to ensure that you will forever remain on the Lord’s side?
I bear my solemn witness that there is nothing the Lord wants more than for us to become as He is; it is only by reaching for this standard that we will one day qualify for the celestial kingdom. Do not be content with simply having a testimony of the Savior and His gospel. Let that testimony change you into who the Lord wants you to be. In the end, the Lord’s will is the only one that really matters. I testify that this Church is the true Church of Jesus Christ on the earth, and every aspect of it is designed to help us become the disciples that the Lord wants and needs us to be. The world is moving in the wrong direction, while the kingdom of God rolls forth and will continue to do so until it fills the whole earth. I challenge each of us to stay off the sidelines and face the world head-on. This is the only way we can grow and realize our potential. I still have much to learn in the area of becoming a true disciple, but I do not regret anything of what I have learned thus far. I promise you that it is worth any sacrifice that you would have to make.


Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Lord Has Not Failed or Forsaken Me...only I can do that

I'm back! OK, so I never really went anywhere. I guess my "well of things to blog about" ran dry. In fact, my last entry was exactly two months ago, so for all you know I could have been wasting these last couple of months doing things like predicting the end of the world....but honestly, who would do a thing like that?! Moving into a more serious mode now, this past weekend was one of the more spiritual that I've had in a while. It's not to say that I've been up to no good or anything like that, but this weekend was special. It started on what was a pretty regular and routine Friday. I only have one class on Friday's, and it doesn't start until 2 p.m. What to do until then? Well, the aforementioned class was having an in-class test, so I needed to study for that. Likewise, I had another test that day for World Foundations in the dreaded Testing Center. (Side note: For you past and current Rexburgites, you know what I'm talking about. For those that don't, it's probably better that it stays that way.) I headed down to the Testing Center shortly after 10 a.m., feeling prepared and ready to get another test out of the way. Nothing special happened while I was there; however, the spiritual part of my weekend kicked off after the test was over. I hadn't gotten maybe 10 feet out of the building when I was suddenly overwhelmed by the presence of the Spirit. And when I say overwhelmed, think of all the water that would burst out of the Hoover Dam. That's how much the Lord flooded me with love and blessings. As is usual with many spiritual experiences, the Spirit caught me completely off-guard. The Lord had words of comfort for a guy who's worried about a few things since he finished his mission nine months ago.

From the time I left on my mission to the present, my family's financial situation, much like many others throughout the country, has not been what you'd call "promising." Thankfully, we've tried to the best of our ability to do what the Lord wants us to do, no matter what our circumstances may be. I have pretty much been supporting myself for these last two semesters because my family is not in a position to help me, as much as I know they want to. The Lord has blessed me with a good, steady job, even though the hours (4-7 a.m.) would probably conquer most people. However, I needed a job in order for me to even stay in school. In fact, one of my driving motivations in getting this job was to save money so that I can return to my mission this summer to see the people that have become a part of me. It's what I want to do more than anything else right now, but it will take focus and hard work for me to do it. I know that the Lord approves of this as well, and that keeps me motivated to reach that goal. It has also been somewhat depressing---even though I know it's necessary---to be given financial aid money by the school and then watch it immediately be handed over entirely to rent. There's also classes, of course, which demand much and often rob you of other things you'd like to do. I hope I don't sound like I'm complaining, because I'm really not trying to; what I'm trying to show is what's been weighing on my mind since the beginning of January. There have been a few times, but not many, where I have felt something of what Joseph Smith must have when he was imprisoned in Liberty Jail. Joseph's words to the Lord on that occasion were, "How long shall thy hand be stayed?" Mine have been something like, "I feel like I'm doing everything you want me to do; when will things get better for me and my family?" Obviously, a very impatient and distrusting response from someone who's been raised to believe exactly the opposite. I don't know the mind and will of the Lord, but He saw fit to withhold a direct and powerful answer from me until this past Friday. The words that came were essentially the same used to respond to Joseph in the jail, only He used my name instead: "Isaac, my son, peace be unto thy soul; thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment. And then, if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high; thou shalt triumph over all thy foes. Thy friends do stand by thee....and they will not turn against thee." As these words were spoken, images of everyone that I've ever cared about (family, friends, leaders, teachers, coaches, mission presidents and companions, the people I taught, the members I met) flooded over my mind. I was overcome with emotion, something that doesn't usually happen to me. In fact, I was so overcome that I kept my head down during the entire walk back up the hill to my apartment because I didn't want anyone to think something was wrong. The tears that came were not ones that you associate with sadness, anger, depression, or similar emotions, but rather of gratitude, rejoicing, and love. I didn't feel deserving of such an experience, but the Lord knew what I needed and when I needed it.

As if I hadn't already been given enough evidence of the Lord's concern for me, that evening my best friend Ben and I attended a Paul Cardall concert. I won't go into details about his life story, but I would encourage you to look up his website and read about him. His life really is a miracle, and the Lord has blessed him with a gift to share with others. If you ever get a chance to hear him, please do yourself a favor and take advantage. During the entire two hour performance, I felt the warmth that can only be associated with the presence of the Spirit. When you have the Spirit, all your cares and other worries fly out the window. Yesterday, Ben and I went to the Rexburg Temple and did baptisms for the dead. It was the first time I had done them since I was in young men's, and so of course those memories were at the forefront of my mind as I sat and waited to do this very selfless work for the Lord's kingdom. I was grateful as I thought about how most of these people I was being baptized for have been waiting hundreds of years for this day to come, while I get impatient when my homework assignments aren't submitting properly on the Internet (another moment for you BYU-I students to relate to). Then today came, and I was privileged to have the opportunity of teaching in priesthood. My topic was Elder Ballard's and Sister Allred's most recent conference talks, both on the topic of service and how it is a mark of a true disciple of Christ. Given my recent moanings and groanings, I was sort of unqualified to teach about such a Christlike attribute. Thankfully, the Spirit was there to pick up the slack. I love getting the opportunity to teach! It's such a rewarding calling, and all of us can do it if we will commit ourselves to understanding the gospel and praying for the ability to teach with the Spirit. Missionaries are not the only ones given this gift; every member in the Church has access to it, but we first have to overcome our doubts and fears. OK, I'm getting into another gospel rant, but it's just so important to me that I often can't help it. So anyway, this pretty much sums up my weekend. It's one that I won't forget, as I feel that the rest of this semester and beyond will be much more rewarding and trouble-free. It probably could have been that way to being with if I just committed myself to it, but thank goodness for the tender mercies of the Lord and His desire to help us, even if we sometimes feel that we are not God's top priority. Let me clear that up right now: You are ALWAYS God's top priority, and that's not going to change. This is Ike, and I'm out!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Parable of the Pearl

Our most recent Sunday School lesson was about the parables in Matthew 13, one of my favorite chapters in the New Testament. It gave me the idea to share one of my favorite parables that I heard on my mission, which was first told by Pres. Packer in the April 2000 General Conference. This may be my shortest blog to date, but I think it has a good message regardless:

A merchant man seeking precious jewels found at last the perfect pearl. He had the finest craftsman carve a superb jewel box and line it with blue velvet. He put his pearl of great price on display so others could share his treasure. He watched as people came to see it. Soon he turned away in sorrow. It was the box they admired, not the pearl. Now I ask a question: What could the box and the pearl represent to you?

Sunday, March 6, 2011


More and more, I am learning that Thanksgiving should not be the only time of year that I share things I am grateful for. Every day is a blessing all by itself, but sometimes I forget that. For a while now, I've been wanting to post a blog using pictures, and this seems like the best time to do it. Here are some things I am grateful for:

I'm grateful for a Divine Redeemer. Where would I be without Him?

How grateful I am for a poor farmboy who had faith that God answers prayers

I'm grateful for a bridge between heaven and earth

I'm grateful for ordinary, but inspired, men who will guide us in these last days

I'm grateful for parents who know what's right and have the patience to put up with me

I'm grateful for a sister who is more unique than she realizes (in a good way)

I'm grateful for Chinese siblings who generate an unbelievable amount of laughs and energy

I'm grateful to have two sides in a family (and Facebook for helping me find these)

I'm grateful for a friend to take daily walks with

I'm grateful for friends who have been there in good times and in bad, and who I can't possibly find room in here to thank on an individual basis....but you deserve my gratitude nonetheless

I'm grateful for coaches and teammates who pushed me and helped me discover my potential

I'm grateful for that name tag and all that it stood for

I'm grateful for Hamilton, OH, where it all began

I'm grateful for Wilmington, OH, where miracles happened

I'm grateful for Hazard, KY, where my shoes got holes but my testimony grew

I'm grateful for Cincinnati, OH, the city I always wanted to visit, but where I never thought I'd be sharing the gospel. What a perfect place to finish my mission!

I'm grateful for those with whom I testified, taught, and learned from

There's no way I can write about gratitude without mentioning the people I taught and served with, both members and investigators. Know that if I had time, I'd put a picture of each of you up here, but then this blog would REALLY be something. Your sacrifices will never be under-appreciated.

Lastly, I'm grateful that I can go to school at a place where the gospel is strong, a temple is close, and the surrounding mountains are awesome!