Friday, November 29, 2013

All of Me

Elder George E Patterson, Missionary in Texas 1938

There are some really bright people in the Church.  My dad is one to whom I look as one of those.  Today is the 96th anniversary of his birth.  I just read a talk given at BYU by John, Welch, the editor of BYU Studies, among many other impressive credentials.  He poses the question:  How can (do) we love God with all our minds?  I won’t summarize what he said, but you can read it here.

Elder Maxwell often commented on the need to give our whole selves to the Lord.  Sometimes it seems hard to do that, for I wonder if God will take as good care of me as I will.  I see evidence all around me of situations where I think I could do a better job of things.  But my vision is limited and my experience is very limited.  As Paul said, we see through a glass darkly, even with modern revelation and living prophets.  At some point it becomes necessary to walk by faith, not by sight.  That is true for every one of us, no matter how bright or dull our comprehensive skills might be.  So the hard part is to let it go and trust God, even when it might seem dangerous or potentially uncomfortable to do so.  

I am reading the Book of Mormon again.  In doing so I am rediscovering the beauty and power of the book.  President Romney taught the power of the Book of Mormon in many of his talks, but the one I remember best is the one he gave at the sesquicentennial conference in April 1980.  Others, including President Benson, have quoted that talk on many occasions as inspired counsel to read from the Book of Mormon every day.  It has taken me a long time to really learn that message.  That is a sad confession, but in another sense, it is a day of rejoicing.  I often think of the Book of Mormon.  Every day I have lessons pop up in my mind of things I learn from the stories and discourses in the Book of Mormon.  I have participated in classes at the LDS Institute at the University of Washington and at the College of Southern Idaho, almost non-stop since 1973.  Even during the years when we were in the military in Louisiana or Alaska I was involved in teaching Sunday school lessons or priesthood lessons, or even teaching home study seminary lessons that involved the Book of Mormon.  I have been greatly benefitted by participation in those activities as my testimony and knowledge have grown.  But I have not been 100% committed to reading from the Book of Mormon every day.

When our kids were young we tried to have scripture reading in the morning.  At some point I decided it would be better to back off a little than be guilty of injuring one of my kids.  So we became inconsistent in our practice.  We held family prayer every morning and every evening, but daily scripture reading was sporadic.  One of our more productive efforts was to read the headings of each chapter, just to get a view of the story line.  

I have thought many times about why we were only partially successful in our commitment and achievement of daily scripture reading.  I have also been hard on my family and harder on myself because we were not perfect in these attempts.  It is finally dawning on me that what we are after is a final product, and the method or the path to that product is good or not good depending on the success of attaining the product.  This pragmatic approach is valid.  As I look at how we determine if we achieve our goal of returning to God, the success or failure of the effort is simply defined by the final product.  That is the beauty of the doctrine of repentance, and it is the greatest product of the Atonement.  

Jesus came to open the door and invite us to come through it.  As missionaries our purpose is “to invite others...” in the same sense that Jesus invites us.  He set the example and defined the path that leads to the desired product.  There are no counterfeit products that will supplant the real one.  There is no fake salvation, although that is precisely what Satan wants us to think.  There is the real, true product, or there is nothing.  Defining the measure of success in those terms is a little stark and unyielding, but it is real.  Is the reality of the Path and the  Rod of Iron actually so unyielding or unbending?  Yes, for there is truly no other name or way but through Jesus Christ.

So the only thing left to be determined is whether I am the kind or type of person who can enter and dwell in the presence of God.  That presents an interesting challenge, too.  Elder Oaks spoke on Becoming in October 2000.  The take-away for me from that inspired presentation defines the purpose of this life a little differently than what I grew up with.  The sectarian Christians out there often accuse the Mormons of trying to earn our way into heaven through an accumulation of good deeds, which they see as contrary to Paul’s declaration that we are saved by grace.  Nephi also said we are saved by grace, following or in spite of all we can do, but some of our friends do not want to read the Book of Mormon to find the exciting and mind-expanding treasures that are there.  

This life, then, has two purposes relating to this discussion.  First we are here to demonstrate who and what we really are.  We do that by being obedient or rebellious.  We do that by our actions.  We are judged by what we do more than what we say, although our words and thoughts have tremendous effect on what we do.  But the doing is not what it is about, except that what we do demonstrates what and who we really are.

Which brings us to the second purpose, namely to become what we need to become if we are to achieve our goal of eternal or endless, or Eternal or Godly, joy.  It is still about what we really are, but we can change what we really are into something above that level by doing the things that will bring us to that level, and in the process, will change our very nature.  That is the beauty and strength of the Atonement.  In the end, this second purpose is what it is all about.  

We need to be here in mortality long enough to become what God wants us to become, not to just be what we are.  Thus I get tremendous hope from a comment made by Elder Oaks in another conference talk on Resurrection, in April 2000.  He said, “In our eternal journey, the resurrection is the mighty milepost that signifies the end of mortality and the beginning of immortality.”  I interpret this to mean that mortality ends with the resurrection.  Mortality is a term that refers to our probationary state, the time when we will have opportunity to make the changes and corrections through obedience and repentance that need to be made, in order to become what God really wants and hopes for us to become.  It is a state of being, a state of existence, a real condition.  When we have had enough opportunity to demonstrate our true nature, the real person inside, who we really are, then we will be judged and go off to the place prepared for such persons.  God in his mercy and grace will delay that day of judgement until we have had ample opportunity to become and to demonstrate that level of being.

In the the pre-Earth life where we were engaged in a conflict with Satan and those who chose to follow him, we made a preliminary declaration of who we would follow and who we wanted to be like.  That we have mortal bodies of flesh and bone, and blood, indicates that we chose to follow Jesus. Led by Michael and numerous other valiant sons and daughters of God, we demonstrated varying levels of commitment, and that we accepted the plan presented by The Father, championed and to be enacted by The Son.  What was the minimal level of commitment  that put us in one camp or the other?  Are all those who chose to follow Lucifer on the same level of rebellion?  What was the minimal standard of choice and action that denied them a chance to later change their minds?  On the other hand, what was the minimal commitment we made in order to be among the ones who avoided being cast out with Satan.  Those spirit children of God had to do something, or avoid doing something, that defined their future opportunities.  To me it is still a matter of demonstrating the real nature and character of the person within.  Those who rejected Satan would be blessed with a body.  But the real question was still to be answered by how we kept our second estate, or our second test.

I am trying to be like Jesus.  I am trying to become like him.  I love him and want to be with him, with the mortals I have come to know and love who are part of my close circle of friends and family.  I am thankful for the opportunity to remain here long enough to change my character and demonstrate that the change is total and everlasting.  I am motivated every day by many things, but the one that probably teaches me the most is what little Lois Cook said.  Lois was born with a heart defect that for whatever reason was not repaired, so she was always a little blue and was sickly and weak.  She had a powerful spirit, though, and was remarkable in her wisdom.  One day she was struggling to breathe and her mother, a dear family friend whom we affectionately referred to as “Aunt Lucille”, one of those saintly people who will be in the Celestial Kingdom and with whom I want to be forever, said to her, “Lois, my little darling, I wish there was something I could do to ease your pain and make it better for you.”

Lois was only about 5 at the time, and she died just a couple of years later.  Lois smiled at Aunt Lucille and said, “Mother, if Heavenly Father wants me to be this way, I’ll just be this way.”  Aunt Lucille told me that story, and there were tears in her eyes as she did.  There are tears in my eyes every time I think about it, too.  That is what I want to be like.  I want to be that faithful and patient and loving.  I want to be that obedient.  I want to be in that state of being.  God help us all to become like that.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Family Visitors

It seems like another lifetime ago that we were going to Nevis with instructions that we should have our family come and visit us there.  Fortunately President Smartt rescued us from that instruction and told us that we could come to St Thomas for a visit from our kids.  So we arrived on St Thomas on November 11, Kendra's birthday and one day before our one-year mark. 

We had the typical LIAT delays in getting here, but we made it.  The sisters picked us up and brought us to our apartment.  They took us to the grocery store and we decided to try to find our way home.  We made it with only four phone calls to the sisters asking for directions.  I think the best way to learn our way around is to try to do it on our own.  The next day we spent an extra hour getting lost and found, but now we know our way around pretty well.  The sisters even had a family for us to teach a lesson to, which we loved doing.

On Wednesday Kendra and Ryan arrived.  It was late at night for us, but was it ever exciting to see them come into the baggage area!  It seems that we have been gone from home for ever.  We made our way home, with a couple of wrong turns, and finally got to bed about midnight, which is only 9 pm for them.  

Thursday was decompression day.  We got a late start and then wandered our way to Magen's Bay Beach, just down the hill from our apartment.  It is one of the most favored beaches in the world, and now we know why.  
There is little wave action, just lots of soft sand, no flies or mosquitoes, picnic tables, rest rooms, showers, and lots of ocean.  
After a nice day we returned to the apartment for the afternoon nap.  Sounds like a tough life, I know.
Friday we loaded on the car barge to St John, another of the US Virgin Islands. Most of that island is a Virgin Islands National Park, thanks to a big donation by JD Rockefeller.  
We spent our time at Trunk Bay, the most photographed beach of the Caribbean (or so they say).  
This one has medium waves crashing in on the beach, so it was fun to go out and bob up and down. 
The ocean sure is salty, and the salt sure does sting my eyes and nose.  

Fun nevertheless.  
After the beach we returned to St Thomas and went to dinner at the Shipwreck Tavern.  Then home and to bed.
Saturday we were up early and on the ferry to Tortola.  
They have a new boat since we last rode this route, and it is really nice, quiet, and smooth.  We found a rental car and drove to the apartment where we lived when we were there.  The couple there moved out last week and there is no couple to take their place yet.  The sisters there had the key.  It was fun to be there again.  
We soon changed into our swim suits and went to Baptism Bay for swim and snorkel.  
Kendra and Ryan had a good time paddling around.  

They saw a couple of rays, fish, sea fans, and lots of other stuff.  Then we returned to the apartment to shower and rest.  Dinner at Pussers in town finished the evening.

Sunday was exciting as we met with the Tortola Branch again.  
Those sweet folks hold big bleachers in our hearts and we enjoyed hugs and handshakes.  
The branch is growing.  

The chapel now has curtains on the windows, after 9 years of asking the area FM people for some help. 
Anyway, we were privileged to be present for the setting apart of Kendrew as a missionary.  He leaves Tuesday for the MTC in Dominican Republic and then he will serve in the DR, speaking Spanish.  He will be a great missionary.  Kendrew is one of the young men we helped prepare to become an elder and then went through the temple prep class, along with two other young men who also have their calls.  The small Tortola Branch now has 7 full-time missionaries out!  That is more than some stakes in Puerto Rico.  The area FM people still think they don't deserve a better place to meet, but I have already said all I need to say about that.

The ferry trip back to St Thomas was nice, followed by a comfortable evening visiting with our kids.  They packed up their bags and we all hit the sack.

Today we took Kendra and Ryan to the airport for their return to Utah. 

They are probably almost home by now.  This all went by too fast, which I am sure is a harbinger of what our next few months will be like.  In just three weeks we will go to the mission office for some training, then we will become the mission apartment and vehicle supervisors.  That could be exciting since we will be working in Puerto Rico where Spanish is the language du jour.  Stay tuned.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Guy Fawkes

Somebody outside just lit a firecracker, which reminds me that today is Guy Fawkes Day.  In 1605 he tried, with some other rebels, to blow up Parliament.  They wanted to have a Catholic on the throne.  He was discovered, persuaded to confess his guilt, and was sentenced to be hanged, but he jumped from the scaffold and broke his neck.  Since then all the British Commonwealth countries celebrate Guy Fawkes Day with fireworks and the burning in effigy of a figure representing Guy Fawkes.

One of my favorite bumper stickers in Rhodesia back in 1967 said

Guy Fawkes, Please Try Again

Monday, November 4, 2013

God's Love

I was reading the story of Alma and Amulek and their encounter with Zeezrom.  The thought came to me forcefully that God really loved Zeezrom.  I have never thought of that story in that way, but this time that is what I learned. 

Three weeks ago I was cleaning the windows at the church when a fellow came through the gate looking like he wanted to talk.  He said his name is Collinx and he is from Nigeria.  He is on St Kitts to attend one of the medical schools here.  He appears to be a little older than many of the foreign students we have seen here.  He has the typical musical African accent, soft voice with points on the end of some of his words.  He said he does not start school until next year and came early to see if he could find a job.  He wanted to help us clean the church, but we were just finishing.  I told him to come on Sunday and perhaps some of the local members could help him with his questions.  He said he did not want to be paid to work on the church because that was working for God.

Collinx came to church the next day and had his questions answered. He is on a student visa so he is not permitted to work at all.  If he does, he might be sent back home.  But he stayed for Sunday school and priesthood meeting.  I visited with him after the meeting.  He wanted to come back.

Collinx did not come the next Sunday, which I must admit was not surprising.  We don’t like to get our hopes unrealistically elevated.  But yesterday he was there again.  He missed sacrament meeting because he has to walk quite a ways to the building, but he attended the Gospel Principles class where I was filling as the teacher because the branch mission leader didn’t show up, again.  The lesson was on The Fall and how it fits in with the doctrine of The Atonement.  Maybe it was a good lesson and maybe it was a title confusing, but I felt that I had everyone’s attention and we read a lot from 2 Nephi 2.  

After Sunday school we went outside under the mango tree for our priesthood meeting.  We had two not-yet-members and more who are recent converts, including Suresh.  The discussion was about home teaching. Suresh spoke up strongly for the need to act in ways that show our love for Jesus, as Jesus shows his love for us.  For a new member he is really moving forward.  It was a good discussion.  Then at the end of the class Collinx indicated that he would like to add something.  He was raised Catholic in Nigeria but during his university studies he became Pentecostal.  He could not find his church here, but now he is interested in learning more about us.  He said he feels something different here and he wants to come back.

I asked Collinx if he has a Book of Mormon.  He wanted to know if that was something that Muhammad wrote.  He is not Muslim, but there are many Nigerians who are and they do not get along well with the Christians.  I told him that the Book of Mormon is a record of God’s dealings with a different group of people in America, and that it teaches about Jesus Christ, his doctrine, and his visit to these other people.  I went to the truck to get a copy of the Book.  I wrote a brief testimony inside it, addressed to My Friend Collinx, and signed it, Love, Elder Patterson.  He accepted the book very graciously and showed in his words and his face that he appreciated the gift and that he would honor it.

But there is more.  Last week Gaye and I went to the station to fuel up the truck.  As we were sitting there I heard a rap on my window, and there was Collinx, smiling at me.  I put the window down and he warmly greeted me.  I told him I had missed him at church and he said he would try to come this Sunday (which was yesterday).  So yesterday he came because he felt that we had been put in the same place so he would meet me and be invited to come to church.

I believe God knows each of us, and I believe God intersects our lives in real ways.  I am a little hesitant to accept everything that takes place as an active expression of God’s will.  However, by their fruits ye shall know them.  Maybe I don’t have enough faith to accept all the ways God intervenes in my life, and in the lives of others.  Maybe we were really brought together at the station because God loves Collinx and wants to bless him.  I am sure that the result is true, I am not so sure about the cause.  However, my faith is growing stronger.  I don’t need folk lore to help me gain a stronger testimony.  In fact, those stories have the opposite effect on me.  We are put here in this mortal situation so we can learn from our experiences to discern good from evil.   

Is God in control?  Does everything that happens occur because God wants it that way?  He notices the fall of every sparrow, but does God make every sparrow’s fall take place?  Now we are getting into some of the questions that I have had to put in my box and place on the shelf.  But is God in control?  And if God is not in control, then who or what is?  Is it just random?  Is it sometimes random and sometimes orderly?  I don’t know, but I do believe that the order of things in the universe is according to God’s will.  

If God is not in control, then it really does not matter who or what is in control.  I really believe Satan wants to be in control, because he is the one who wants to act upon us, not let us act.  We are here to act, not to be acted upon, so Satan is not a good master.  I choose to believe that God is in control, even when it might not appear to be the case.  I believe that God cares about each of us.  He knows our needs and he knows what we need to learn.  Furthermore, he knows what we need to go through to learn those lessons.  So do I have the courage to say with President Kimball:  Give me this mountain?  I pray every day for the faith to endure to the end, faithfully.