Thursday, June 23, 2016

When Jesus Said, "Love Your Neighbor"

When Jesus said, "Love you neighbor," he knew your neighbor would act, look, believe, and love differently than you do. That's the whole point. 

Love should have no boundaries, even when we disagree with others' choices, opinions, beliefs, actions, etc. 

We can't say we love everyone if we regularly speak in strident, aggressive, attacking words and tones - if we constantly talk in us vs. them language - if we wouldn't sit down with them over a meal or go on a double date or put our arms around them - if we refuse to respect them and their differing opinions - if we ridicule and criticize and assume stupidity - if we won't shut up and simply listen with a heart that is trying to understand. 

Want to show your Christ-like love - or develop such love? Seek out someone you naturally would shun and get to know them well enough to gain a friend - not by changing them but by really getting to know and respect amd accept them for who they are.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Learning to Hit the Curve Balls

Life is interesting, with opposition in all things.

Much of my life can be encapsulated as learning to hit the curve balls. As I have said in the past, the grandiose dreams of my adolescence and early adulthood lie shattered on the floor around me - but the mosaic we have created from the shards is beautiful and glorious to behold.

I have hit the curve balls adequately thus far, I believe - but I would like a fastball right down the middle this time, if that would provide the ultimate result that would be best.

Perhaps, however, fastballs right down the middle aren't what I need. Perhaps a steady diet of curve balls is my destiny. If so, I am okay with that - as long as what they produce continues to be wonderful and visible in retrospect, as is the case thus far.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Be a Light Others Want to Understand

We do not draw people to Christ by loudly discrediting what they believe, by telling them how wrong they are and how right we are, but by showing them a light that is so lovely that they want with all their hearts to know the source of it.  
- Madeleine L'Engle 

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Don't Avoid Life's Scars

"Maybe life isn't about avoiding the bruises. Maybe it's about collecting the scars to prove we showed up."
I came across the quote above today and immediately thought of the temple. Overall, I can say I enjoy serving in the temple greatly, but I recognize that there are bruises and scars for many who attend. 
My favorite aspect of the endowment is that you don't have to say or do anything from memory. Even if you forget everything completely, there always is someone to help you complete the play and enter the presence of the Lord. If you start and stay, you succeed. Every.Time.No.Exceptions. 
I admire those who collect scars and continue to show up, whether that is in the temple or any other aspect of life. I admire them more than they generally know, and I want to say that clearly and directly to so many of you whom I am blessed to call friends. 
God bless you for your perseverance as you collect your scars.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

A Tribute to My Wife during a Difficult Time for Her

I posted this originally a few years ago, and I came across it again today, while looking for something else.

The past three weeks have been hard on my wife, and I felt like I should share, once again, my gratitude for the amazing woman she is and the grace that brought us together so long ago.

We met – unplanned, unanticipated, unbidden – no idea what lay ahead. 

16 and 15 – too young and immature, right?  

Quick connection – recognized more instantly by me than her.

That piano bench, just a glance – future recognition of endless past.

Two years to dance, two years not so, then twenty-six years more –

College, children, heartache, joy – peace throughout it all. 

Where she starts – where I end – what is her – what me?

Looking forward toward unknown, enough simply to be.   

We Never Said Good-Bye

The program lasted twelve days; I dreaded its end for eleven days and twenty-three hours.  

We didn’t touch the entire two weeks.  We talked.  Oh, how we talked – hour after hour, minute upon minute, inseparable, the focus of whispered questions and gossip – sharing dreams for the future and experiences from the past.  She told me about her frustrations, her family, past crushes, a former boyfriend; I listened a lot and spoke a bit, content to be with her and moved by her.  I missed the dance – my only chance to hold her.  

We walked, side-by-side, still not touching, not talking about why we were going where we were going.  We ignored it – not intentionally, but completely, nonetheless. 
Her dad was waiting when we arrived.  I said hello, introduced myself, shook hands, exchanged brief small talk. He said they needed to leave to stay on schedule.  They walked away. So did I, not wanting to see her disappear. 
I learned later she turned and looked back.  I wasn’t there. She realized at that moment she really did love me. 
Thirty years and six children later, while writing about that moment, I suddenly realize we never said good-bye.  

We never said good-bye.  

The moment I dreaded never arrived. 
I will share this with her when I return home tonight and touch her for the hundred millionth time.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Star Wars and Church Membership: Balance and Opposition

There is an interesting element of the Star Wars theology, if you will, that parallels one of my favorite verses in the Book of Mormon - and constitutes a non-doctrinal reason I am as active as I am (completely, including being a temple worker and coordinator). Interestingly, both the Star Wars element and the Book of Mormon verse tend to be simplified by most fans / members with whom I have spoken.

In Star Wars, there is a dark side and a light side - and there are subtle points when it is clear that the duality within each person is central to "balancing the force". In a real way, without the dark side there would be no true light side - and the light side eventually would become the dark side.

There is a Book of Mormon verse that says there has to be opposition in all things, but few people consider that enough to realize the implications of that all-encompassing wording. "All" things includes each person - and it also includes the LDS Church (and every other religion) itself. There MUST NEEDS be opposition in the LDS Church.

I stay, in one way, to provide balance to the LDS force - to provide opposition in all things - to keep my people diverse. However, I try to do so in a way that truly constitutes a balance - moderation - unity despite difference - charity - etc. I am NOT trying to be the one true voice that corrects and contradicts and, in the ideal end, converts and, in practical terms, silences opposing views; I am not convinced I understand everything well enough to be confident I am right and others are wrong in many cases, and I don't want my view to become the new, exclusive orthodoxy.

I just know balance and opposition in all things are harmed when I (and every other individual) is absent and/or silent - so I stay partly to help others feel comfortable expressing their own views, as well, even when I disagree with them.

Monday, December 14, 2015

My Sacrament Meeting Talk on the Meaning of Christmas

I spoke yesterday on the meaning of Christmas. 

I started by sharing my daughter's quote after attending the temple for the first time: 

We spend so much time building the kingdom of God that we forget to establish Zion.

I then said that the meaning of Christmas depends greatly on how we view the Kingdom of God. I asked everyone to close their eyes and picture a kingdom. Then I asked them how they would describe what they saw in their mind's eye. I asked them if there were large castles, clean and bright streets, smiling and happy and well-fed people, etc. Nearly all of them smiled and nodded in agreement. Then I said: 

So, when we think of the Kingdom of God, we usually picture a Disney movie - but that is radically different than what we see in the New Testament about Jesus, of Nazareth, his own life and the followers he gathered around him during his ministry.

I told them I believe we miss the real meaning of Christmas if we don't focus on and understand Jesus' early life, his ministry and whom he focused on teaching. The following is a simple outline of how I addressed that misunderstanding: 

1) "The whole need not a physician, but the sick." 

2) Mary was unmarried when she became pregnant. Without Joseph's acceptance and support, her baby probably would have been raised in abject poverty - and it is likely he either would have been discarded as trash, literally, to die or sold into slavery, as was the custom in that time and culture for babies born without available support. 

3) When he was a young child (probably 1-2 years old), his parents took him and fled a terrorist attack in his homeland, seeking refuge in the strongest opposition to the Roman Empire - Egypt. We have no idea in the Bible how many others in that area learned what Herod had decreed and was doing and fled with Joseph and Mary - but it is reasonable to believe there were many. 

4) When he started his ministry, he taught in the synagogues, but his followers were mostly the poor, the sick, the sinners, the publicans, the outcast, the rejected - "the least of these". In a very real way, he served those like himself in his earliest years. 

I told them that I see the meaning of Christmas as the message that every person on this earth, including those whom others can't love and accept and serve, is of equal worth in the eyes of God, with equal potential - and that we will not honor the true meaning of Christmas if our congregations and dreams resemble a Disney movie more than the people whom Jesus served in his ministry. I asked them to think of persons and people whom they naturally tend to judge and avoid - and to reach out, somehow, in their busy lives, to those specific people. After all, he said: 

Inasmuch as you have done it unto the least of these, you have done it unto me.

The following are two posts that were the foundation of my talk: 

"Thoughts on the Meaning of the Birth of Jesus" (Brad - By Common Consent) 

"It Is Finished: Death on Easter Sunday" 

Thursday, November 26, 2015

A Tribute to My Mother (and Father) on Her Passing

My mom passed away on Monday. It was completely unexpected, and nobody knows exactly why it happened. She had said recently that she wanted to be with Dad again, and we choose to believe her sincere wish was granted. 

On this day of thanksgiving, I am most grateful at this moment for parents who loved me - truly loved the unique person I was - and allowed me to be different - and treasured me for that difference.

I am grateful for six children who allowed me to try to emulate my parents' loving acceptance - even when their unique differences occasionally challenged my determination to do so.

I am grateful to have been raised with the idea that families are forever, literally. I don't know why I was and am blessed to be a part of such a wonderfully unique family, but I thank God for it. My parents were ordinary heroes, and I will treasure my association with them forever.

I am thankful, deeply, that my mother has been allowed to receive her fondest desire - to be with my father again. God bless you, Mom and Dad. Save a place for all of us. 

I wrote her obituary yesterday and share it here for my children to be able to remember their heritage: 

Nora Jane Westover DeGraw, of Ada, OK, passed from this mortal life to the next on November 23, 2015 of natural causes incident to age.  She was 75 years old.  

Nora was born on October 28, 1940 in Joseph City, Arizona to Lloyd Westover and Laura Hudson.  She was the fifth of six children.  She attended school in Santaquin and Payson, Utah, graduating from Payson High School.  She married her sweetheart, Curtis Lamar DeGraw, on March 29, 1961 in the Salt Lake City LDS temple.  Together, they raised eight children (losing one daughter to a stillbirth) in a home full of love and the gospel of Jesus Christ, later serving as a missionary couple in South Carolina. 

Prior to their marriage, Nora worked as a secretary on the staff of David O. McKay, President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. After their marriage, she dedicated her life to raising their children, returning to part-time work as a secretary at the Santaquin Elementary School after their youngest child started school. Her typing and shorthand skills were legendary. She lived most of her life in Santaquin, Utah – with a few years near the beginning of her marriage in Salt Lake City and the last five years in Ada, OK, living near a son and daughter and their families. 

Nora was a naturally spiritual person, whose smile lit up the world around her and whose tears were harder on her children than any punishment. She was small in stature, but she had the largest heart possible. She was known by all as one of the kindest, sweetest, most gentle people on this earth; nobody ever heard her raise her voice in anger or frustration, and she was never known to criticize others. Her optimistic, loving, accepting personality was a beacon to her family, their eventual spouses, her extended family and friends, and everyone with whom she associated. She loved her family, her religion, her friends, music (an accomplished pianist), reading (especially next to the heating vent under the kitchen desk during the winter in her Santaquin home), getting to know, appreciate and love others, and, most of all, her husband – her eternal companion.  She loved him truly, deeply and exclusively.  They were married for 52 years and were a testament to the power of complete love and fidelity.  Her greatest wish after his passing two years ago was to be with him once more, but she was willing to wait on the Lord’s timing for that glorious reunion.

At this time of thanksgiving, her family is grateful to have been a central part of her life. We miss her, but we are thankful that God saw fit to answer the prayer of one of His elect daughters and allow her to join Curtis, their daughter, Lorna Sue, and all of her departed relatives and friends. We can see our father greeting her on the other side of the veil, then waiting patiently, with a loving grin, as she greeted and hugged every person she ever knew and loved. Truly, we come from a long line of love, and we honor our parents for the incredible examples of Christ-like love they gave us.

Nora is survived by three siblings, eight children, thirty-six grandchildren and eighteen great-grandchildren.  She was preceded in death by her parents, two siblings, a daughter and a grandchild. 

As was the case when Curtis passed away, his family asks that each person who knew and loved Nora renew an individual commitment to love and serve others – that all who wish to honor her do so by accepting and internalizing the Savior’s words:

“As I have loved you, love one another.” 
She would prefer to be honored by what we do, how we live, and who we become more than by anything we might say.  In particular, she would want everyone to fill their homes with smiles and good music – the universal languages of love.