Refiner’s Fire

Liberty Jail was the darkest period of Joseph Smith’s life. In that cramped cellar, he was tormented by Satan and news of the persecuted saints: homes burned, men slaughtered defending their families, and women raped. He cried out to God in a written prayer, a part of which we have recorded in D&C 121 with those famous words “O God, where art thou?” And the Lord responds “My son, peace be unto thy soul; thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment.”

In moments of anguish, I also turn to pen and paper for prayerful solace. Such was my experience as a missionary in Central America — I lamented the wickedness of my leaders and the evils they were encouraging to baptise more people: bribery, deception, and fear tactics. Women were commanded to marry their abusive boyfriends to “repent of their fornication”, couples were bribed with all-expenses-paid marriages, starving families were accused of stealing from God by not paying tithing, and some missionaries preached baptism as guaranteed salvation with no commitments to God or church.

I refused to have any part in these shinanegans, and my righteousness was met with anger. I was hauled before the zone several times and publicly shamed for my lack of performance: “If you’re not baptising, you must not have the spirit. If you don’t have the spirit, you must be engaging in sin. Confess your sins, Elder! You are responsible to God for the souls you are failing to baptise, and you will suffer in Hell with them if you continue this course.”

I didn’t beleive a word they said to me. I knew I was following the spirit. Even so, I felt wounded and the pressure I faced seemed unbearable. My only comfort came from God, who I spoke with through my journal. I wrote several pages a day, pouring out my soul to Him and writing the impressions He sent to my heart. I felt His love with every word, and it gave me strength to press on despite the agony heaped upon me by my peers. Some days I felt I couldn’t take another step, and would rather be struck dead than spend another minute on the earth. Satan is real, and he nearly overpowered me.

Despite being the most miserable period of my life, I grew closer to God in ways I never imagined. I was forced to dig deep inside myself and discover what I was made of, and the kind of man I wanted to be. I had visions of my future and the beautiful relationship I would have with my wife and children; visions of serving my community and helping the needy; visions of receiving God into my home and being sealed to Him. The Lord helped me understand that my trials were preparing me for these blessings. I was in the refiner’s fire to be strengthened for the times ahead.

It’s that lesson I carry with me still — that when I struggle and Satan is fighting to stop my progress, I pray to God and he grants me revelation: I learn who I truly am, and that I have the strength to combat darkness. He grants me an eternal perspective to see my pain as progress, and raises me to a greater understanding. He teaches me His mysteries, and grants me visions. He visits me in dreams and pierces my heart with wisdom.

I trade my darkness and He gives me light.

Kindness Worth $100

I once asked God “why do you love me?” As I pondered this, He reminded me of the parable of The Sheep and the Goats (Matt 25:31-46). What were the defining actions of those who were loved by God and welcomed into His kingdom? Christ responds “For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.”

There are times when I’ve wondered “am I loving enough?” It’s a two-pronged question. “Am I doing enough to serve my fellow man?” and “Shouldn’t I feel love more deeply than I do?” Fortunately, Christ has also answered these in his parable of The Good Samaritan (Luke 10:29-37). If you notice, there’s no enduring relationship between the traveler from Samaria and the beaten Jew — the Samaritan just happens to cross paths with this poor man, and decides to show simple kindness by dressing his wounds and paying for a night’s lodging. Seeing that the Jew has been properly helped, the Samaritan carries on with his journey.

What would you say was the total expense of this kindness? $20 for a first-aid kit? $30 for a few meals? $50 for a night at a cheap motel? I should think for those who can afford it, we can spare $100 to help a suffering soul in need. It’s not like we encounter such occasions often — perhaps once every few months or fewer. And remember, God doesn’t expect us to form relationships with every stranger we help. Don’t think you need to feel some overwhelming sense of love or compassion. It’s a simple test: Will you stop to help a beaten man lying in the road? Or will you allow work and other obligations to take priority, like the priest and the Levite?

Is your kindness worth $100?

The Good Life – Part 1

What do I envision as “the good life”? That’s a hard question. In a perfect world, I suppose I would describe it as such:

The sunrise peaks through my window, casting it’s warm glow across my bed. I awaken to the sound of birds chirping as they snap seeds from the feeder outside. As my senses become more alert, I feel my wife resting comfortably against me under the blankets. I open my eyes and there she is, still sound asleep, the love of my life. I wonder what she’s dreaming about.

I snuggle her tighter, wrapping my arm around her waist. She instinctively pulls me in, humming with satisfaction. I want to lay with her forever, feeling the curves of her body pressed against mine, her soft breasts rising and falling with every breath, her skin like silk, and her eyes — I hope they open soon.

I hold her until she stirs. Her legs straighten, and she rolls over to face me. “Good morning, my love” I whisper. Her eyes open and my heart skips a beat. “Good morning indeed” she cooes, patting her hand between my legs. She giggles as I jolt from the unexpected sensation and smirk at her inuendo.”Let’s make it a great day” she grins. “Great days start with great breakfasts” I retort, sliding my hand between her legs, “and I think you’d make a wonderful appetizer.” We both burst with laughter.

……….

After untangling ourselves from the sheets, she heads to the shower while I begin making breakfast. I hear her singing and remember all the reasons I married her — and all the reasons I love her even more today. She charms me like a Siren and strengthens me like a Valkyrie. It’s never ceases to awe me that she is mine completely — and heaven knows that I am entirely hers. She is my wise and beautiful Queen, and I am her powerful King.

A few thumps from upstairs and I know the kids are awake. Sure enough, they come tumbling down the stairs and rush to see what dad’s making in the kitchen. “What are we doing for school today, dad?” one of them asks. “After you kids finish your chores, mom will teach Algebra and I’ll cover events leading up to the American Revolution” I replied. “Is there going to be a reading assignment?” they whined. “You know there always is, and there’ll be a quiz on it tomorrow” I stated firmly. “But if you do well, we’ll play a reinactment” said a voice. Mother entered the kitchen, brushing her damp hair as she beamed at her children. They cheered with excitement, and began arguing over who would play George Washington.

After a family prayer to begin the day, I kiss my wife and kids before heading off to work the fields. There’s weeding and watering to be done, and some soil samples I need to analyze for pH and nutrient balance. I also need to repair one of the dining room chairs, so I visit the workshop for an hour. My eldest son joins me to learn some basic carpentry. He’s of age now, and I can trust him with power tools. I show him how the algebra his Mother teaches applies in measuring and cutting wood.

Mother helps the others harvest the orchard and collect eggs and milk from the farm animals (answering the littlest’s question of why milk only comes from “girl cows”). Afterwards, it’s time to practice their musical instruments. Today’s song is Yankee Doodle and Mother helps them understand its significance during the American Revolution. By early afternoon, we’re all back together for lunch and it’s time for school.

……….

To be continued.

Dreams

When God gives me dreams, they are vidid and memorable, imparting strong messages to me as I experience them. I’ve had very few over the course of my life, right up until last year when I began my spiritual studies. Nowadays, they happen frequently.

I have many dreams: some regarding the LDS Church, and others about Jesus and my spiritual progress. God has confirmed to me that I’m following the correct path. In our conversations, I’ve pleaded to enter His presence. I want to know him personally, have my memory restored, and serve him with all my heart, might, mind, and strength.

These are His words: “It isn’t time yet. Study and prepare yourself and one day, your day will come.”

The Lord will reveal himself to me in His own time, and in His own way. I have his assurance.

Worship

How do I worship God? Can I praise his omnicience, omnipotence, or omnipresence? Even what little I can comprehend of these infinite attributes, can I adequately testify? Having no recollection of His glory or creations, how can I sing of His majesty with a fullness of heart? My attempts so far feel vain and foolish.

D&C 88:6-13

I feel closest to God when I am alone in nature — I hear the rustling leaves of the trees, and feel the fresh breeze on my face — those ancient emotions stirring within. I yearn to soar like a bird and share my song with the other creatures, and we together, renew the spirit of our verdant paradise. Yet even this is but a drop in the cosmic ocean.

I hope to one day join the choir of angels and praise God as the being I know and love, fully recognizing his influence in my life and leading me through progression. Even so, there is a far greater way of worshiping God: patterning my life according to the Savior’s example.

Thoughtful Meditation

It’s time I spoke from the heart. It’s been far too long . . . but what should I say?

If you could enter my soul . . . as though setting foot into a wobbly canoe . . . will you trust me to keep you balanced? Then let me paddle you through my lake of memories. I will guide you through the unknown. Strengthen yourself . . . there are sandbars that must be crossed.

Dear reader, we are but humble travelers in this vast cosmos. See the countless stars and imagine the worlds we’ve forgotten; the lives hidden inside us, whispering familiar truths and feelings — how a fragrant rose melts our hearts, or when a fiery sunset leaves us breathless — ancient energy reborn.

As I write these words, I listen to Chinese Traditional Music and feel myself spirited away to a distant garden — a dance of dragonflies, a reflective pool, the cool grass between my toes — and suddenly it’s real. Have I been here before?

We imagine differently. We dream differently.

Could it be that we are simply “remembering”?