John Powell, My Wife’s Pioneer Ancestor

Today is Pioneer Day, the anniversary of when the first Mormon pioneer company arrived in the Salt Lake Vally in 1847.

We went to watch the fireworks in our town last night. They were an awesome sight, but on our way home, my wife said, “What do fireworks have to do with the pioneers?” I had wondered the same thing myself. I think that sometimes the way we celebrate an event can distract us from the meaning of that event.

To me, when I think of the pioneers who came to the “shadow of the everlasting hills,” I am struck that they were so full of faith, so determined to reach the place where they could gather with like-minded, faithful saints. They gave up homes and riches, family and friends to be here, right here where I live, to transform a desert with their toil and industry and perseverance. Some failed to hold fast in their journey, but the vast majority of those who crossed the plains did not fail, and left an incredible legacy of faith.

This morning, I would like to honor a pioneer ancestor of my wife, John Powell. He crossed the plains with his wife Sarah Elizabeth Harris and their six children in the first handcart company in 1856, the Edmund Ellsworth Company.

John and his wife and family lived in Wales where they were converted to the gospel. John was quite ill but received a blessing from the missionaries wherein he was promised that he would travel to the Salt Lake Valley with his family and would there use his skills as a stonecutter to work on the Salt Lake temple.

John did cross the Atlantic and the plains, arriving in the valley on September 26, 1856, and was privileged to work on the temple. However, he died just 13 days later on October 9, 1856.

Was his journey to the West in vain? Did he travel all that distance just to die and leave his family fatherless? No, in his journey, in his life and in the timing of his death, he fulfilled prophecy. He had a vision of faith, of what he was to accomplish in his life, and he fulfilled it, though the price was very dear.

I am amazed at his faith and the faith of his family. I am amazed at his endurance and sacrifice and perseverance. I thank God for his example. I want to be like him. I want to honor the pioneers by not just admiring their faith, but emulating it. This is the heritage I want to pass on to my children and grandchildren, the heritage and ideals expressed in the hymn They the Builders of the Nation:

They, the builders of the nation,
Blazing trails along the way;
Stepping-stones for generations
Were their deeds of ev’ry day.
Building new and firm foundations,
Pushing on the wild frontier,
Forging onward, ever onward,
Blessed, honored Pioneer!

Service ever was their watchcry;
Love became their guiding star;
Courage, their unfailing beacon,
Radiating near and far.
Ev’ry day some burden lifted,
Ev’ry day some heart to cheer,
Ev’ry day some hope the brighter,
Blessed, honored Pioneer!

As an ensign to the nation,
They unfurled the flag of truth,
Pillar, guide, and inspiration
To the hosts of waiting youth.
Honor, praise, and veneration
To the founders we revere!
List our song of adoration,
Blessed, honored Pioneer!

I know our pioneer ancestors were not perfect. I know they had weaknesses, just like we do. But in spite of any weaknesses or flaws they might have had, they stuck with it and succeeded in their overall mission. To me, their faith and goodness shines brighter than anything else.

I believe this is our charge, this is our heritage, to find the best and the highest in others and to follow it. I want to follow the faithful pioneers.

Never, Never, Never Give Up

I started writing a Young Adult novel in April 2008. I worked on it sporadically for several years until I found a way to flesh out the first and second drafts last year. I have worked on it every day this year except Sundays. Last night, I finally sent the first two chapters to a little group of reviewers, and I can’t tell you how good that felt after such a long gestation period.

This is the second novel I have written. I wrote another one in 1992, but I gave up on it, too soon. After writing it over a period of many months, I decided I didn’t like it and I gave up. 

I have written a number of books. I probably have more confidence in my current novel than in any other book I have written. The reason why is I have confidence in mathematics, that is, with the process I am following, it is mathematically impossible to fail. I really believe that.

And what is the process? It’s simple. It’s not giving up. No matter what, you just don’t give up, not on the good things.

Some things are worth giving up, and should be given up, quickly. The sooner the better. I think and do things that I should have given up a long time ago. But there are some that you and I should never, ever give up on.

Never stop believing in God and never stop believing in yourself. Never stop hoping for a better life, a better world, and going to work to make your life what you want it to be.

Never give up on the people you love. You may not be able to be with them or live with them because of their bad choices or yours, but never give up on them.

Never give up on the beautiful dreams God has planted in your heart. He put them there for a reason. You may not be able to, hope against hope, imagine how He will fulfill your dreams, but He will. Be patient. Where agency is involved, especially the agency of others, you must be patient.  And you must be patient with yourself.

Every day I work on my novel, it keeps getting better and better. Even if all the reviewers who are reading it now give it a thumbs down, it wouldn’t matter, I’ll keep working on it until it matches the vision God has planted in my mind and my heart. It might not feel that great if my readers don’t like it in its current form, but I will persist until I succeed. That is the way the math works. You work out the problem. Then you calculate. Recalculate. Recalculate. Keep doing that until you get the result you envision.

Apply this math to any worthwhile goal, and you will achieve it. Just don’t give up and you will succeed in anything worthwhile you pursue.

P.S. For those of you who are curious, the novel is a fantasy set in the modern West. A 15-year-old girl is forced to flee Chicago and seek refuge on her grandfather’s ranch in Nevada where she discovers that she can do things she never imagined—like drive a 3/4 ton pickup, break an unbreakable horse, talk to rattlesnakes, falcons and coyotes, and heal everything she touches. 

The Thing I Miss Most about Being Bishop

I was released as bishop over seven months ago. In some ways, the experience of being a bishop seems like it happened a long time ago; in other ways, it seems like it was just yesterday that I would be getting ready to head out to bishopric meeting at this very hour on a Sunday morning. Now I am just sitting on my bed writing this blog.

One thing that has not changed (and you may have heard me say this already) is that I still think about ward members every day. I wonder about their struggles and triumphs. I worry about their health. I wonder if they are overcoming their personal challenges. It seems that the Lord’s Spirit still keeps me mindful of them. I still care a great deal and wonder what I, a rank and file ward member, can do for them now that I don’t have the priesthood keys, the mantle a bishop.

Something that happened to me daily when I was bishop was that I would receive revelation about ward members—not revelation for them, but revelation about them. There is a difference.

I wouldn’t receive a revelation that someone should go to school at a certain college in a different state, marry their old high school sweetheart, go on a mission to Bolivia, or do anything like that. (I think a prophet can receive revelation like that, though you don’t hear about that much, except calls to serve missions.) I did however receive many spiritual insights about why a person was feeling and acting a certain way and what I could do and say to help and encourage them.

Often I was prompted to make a phone call or to pay a visit to a home and ask them to come in for a visit. Sometimes I felt inspired to share the insight I received and sometimes the Spirit restrained me. The majority of people I shared these revelations with received the spiritual messages eagerly, often with tears. I knew where those promptings came from and so did they, and we enjoyed sweet communion together in the presence of the Lord and His Spirit.

I think this is thing I miss the most.

A few did not receive such revelations well. A few rebuffed me. Not many, but a few. That was sad and it still is. But I am not ashamed to have said what I said, though I still feel embarrassed by the tears I shed in their presence.

I still feel insight come to me about people—probably because I still care about them—but it is different. I don’t have the opportunity or place to share it, nor, without priesthood keys, do such impressions have the same bearing as they once did. But those feelings and insights and impressions have not left me. I did not expect this.

Now I must be satisfied with foyer friendships and handshakes in the hall. With most ward members, this is the connection I have with them. That’s all I’ve got, though in the not so distant past, I was in their homes, I presided at their blessings and baptisms and ordinations and funerals. I went to the temple to plead before the Lord for them. I prayed with them and wept with them.

I think this is the hardest thing about being released as a bishop.

Forgiveness and the Scoutmaster

Last week I attended a devotional. One of the speakers shared this story from her personal circle of experience.

A Scoutmaster named Spark took his troop snowcaving—building a snow cave and camping in it. They had a wonderful time and all the boys returned home little worse for the wear.

But one of the Scout’s mothers was outraged. She stormed over to the Brother Spark’s home and demanded an explanation of how the he could expose her son to the dangers of the elements, putting her boy’s life in danger.

The Scoutmaster did his best to explain why he chose the activity, but the mother would have nothing of it. She told the bishopric that the man should be released from Scouting and excommunicated from the Church. Of course, the bishop didn’t proceed on that recommendation. The woman would not talk to the Scoutmaster for many years.

Several years down the road, however, the woman’s son entered military service and was on maneuvers in Korea. He had to camp in the snow. He wrote home to tell his mother how grateful he was for his experience in Scouting and how snowcaving as a boy had helped him survive the snow in Korea. He said that while other soldiers were suffering from frostbite and exposure, what he had learned in Scouting had saved him from a lot of suffering. He told his mother that she owed Brother Spark an apology.

Letter in hand, the woman walked over to Brother Spark’s home and asked his forgiveness. Of course he granted it (or already had) and the years of a strained relationship were healed.

When we judge and condemn another, when we withhold our forgiveness, we give the enemy of our souls power over us. He uses ignorance to drive a wedge between people. Whenever we get angry, we can count on the fact that we are missing information and that the father of lies will take advantage of that gap to create contention and anger and misery.

Forgiveness it seems is more of a blessing to the offended than to the offender. It is not in our power to right all wrongs because we cannot control (nor would we want to control) the agency of others. But if we let go of our pride, in spite of what anyone else has done or not done, we can possess our souls in patience (Luke 21:19) instead of letting a dark spirit possess them.

Forgiveness is faith in action. It requires great trust in the Lord and great patience. Forgiveness opens the door to the prison of our mind and sets us free.

Why I Still Believe in America

I believe in the principles upon which this nation was founded, namely that her people have the right to—

“Assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature’s God entitle them…That all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness…And [that] for the support of [these rights], with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we [may] mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.” (The Declaration of Independence.)

I still believe in America, in spite of her flaws. I believe in her people, many of whom are honest and good. I believe in her form of government, even though it is embroiled in conflict and burdened by debt.

I believe that God created this land, the very ground under our feet, and that He has inspired and will inspire honest though imperfect men and women to establish this nation.

We have committed many errors, individually and collectively, morally and politically, but He will still accept us as a nation if we recognize that:

“This is a choice land, and whatsoever nation shall possess it shall be free from bondage, and from captivity, and from all other nations under heaven, if they will but serve the God of the land, who is Jesus Christ…” (Ether 2:12.)

I say “God bless America” but at the same time, I know that God does not and will not bless evil deeds and intentions. I pray that He will plant in our hearts, in both the faithful and the faithless, a desire to do good to all, to turn from pride and conflict, to unite against all forms of tyranny, of mind, body or spirit, but especially the tyranny of false ideals and self-centeredness.

America, I believe in you.

A Date Six Months in the Making

Last Friday I finally pulled it off.

In the fall, we visited Squaw Peak lookout which has an amazing view of Utah Valley. When we were up there, I had an idea for a date. I thought of bringing our bistro table and chairs up there and adding a little romantic spice to an evening.

I didn’t tell my wife what we were doing or where we were going on Friday. She had a lot of questions and a big smile on her face. I had to fend her off and disassemble the table so I could hide it and the chairs (and everything else—plates, napkins, tablecloth, goblets, candle) in the trunk.

We stopped at a local health food store and while she stayed in the car, I got a bottle of pear juice, some multi-grain crackers, and two raw desserts.

As we drove up Squaw Peak road, of course my wife figure out where we were going. But she was still surprised by what I pulled out of the trunk.

When I set everything up, I realized I had forgotten the forks. I left them on the kitchen table. Rats.

Well, my wife wasn’t disappointed that I had forgotten the utensils. We managed. We had a great time. We stayed for about an hour, until the sun was well below the horizon. We talked and laughed and enjoyed each other’s company.

Our 32nd anniversary will be next month. We are still deeply in love. We have had a difficult life, especially recently, but we have each other. Our finances and health are not fully intact, but our relationship is and I’d rather have that intact than the other two, so I am grateful for the nature of our trials. They are more bearable when you have a loving, faithful and understanding companion.

We our figuring our how to get back on our feet financially and health-wise. We are doing it together and that’s the best way.

The Death of Masculinity (Part 1)

Some days, I think masculinity is dying. It certainly is misunderstood, perhaps most by we men ourselves. Over my lifetime, I have seen good examples of masculinity at it’s best, and more examples of it at its worst.

I have a point of view on this that I feel prompted to share. I know I don’t have it all right. But maybe someone will benefit from reading this. I hope so.

This is my opinion. It is not the result of scientific research. It is the result of a lot of observation and soul searching.

I’ll start out by telling you what I don’t think masculinity is.

The other day, I was in a public place and overheard a man talking to his wife on his phone. He was, well, commanding. He was telling his wife exactly what to do—with their children, and where she exactly was to meet him. It made me feel a little sick to my stomach.

Granted, every relationship has different dynamics. I never heard her talk to him. Maybe they yammer back and forth at each other like that all the time. Maybe the wife likes him to totally take charge. I don’t know. I don’t mean to judge the man or his invisible wife. I don’t know enough to judge them (and I never will). But I can make an observation.

I love the insight found in Alma 38:12:

Use boldness, but not overbearance; and also see that ye bridle all your passions, that ye may be filled with love…

I think masculinity should be bold but not overbearing. I think masculinity keeps its passion under control for the benefit of others which makes love possible, makes it grow. I believe (but do not know) that the man on the phone was being overbearing. Overbearannce, to me, shows disrespect and unkindness and selfishness. I hope that was not the case with the man on the phone, but it might have been. If so, I am sad for his wife. I am sad for all wives, women, and children who are treated this way by men. I believe it is a false masculinity.

To me, Christ is the ultimate example of true masculinity, which I think is a godly character trait. Bold yet tender. Kind but fearless. Determined yet willing to submit to the will of His Father. Obedient without being self-righteous. Full of integrity yet uncondemning. These are a few of the characteristics that I see as masculinity at its finest.

Both men and women have both masculine and feminine traits, though the former is predominant in men and the latter in women. I am attracted to femininity. I grew up in a cowboy culture, and over the years I ran into cowgirls who had traded in their femininity. I am not talking about women who ride and rope and adopt the cowboy way of life. I am talking about women who adopt a false masculinity and who are vulgar and mean and rough and rude. False masculinity is a self-deception, whether adopted by men or women.

But there is another aspect of this I want to talk about.

I think masculinity is dying because of what I observe in the traits of a lot of young men. Not all, but some. Maybe too many. They are not bold in their relationships with women. They don’t ask girls on dates. They wait for the girl to initiate “the relationship.” They don’t risk putting themselves out there. They don’t pursue girls.

Girls don’t like this. Just ask an unmarried woman in her mid-twenties. Then be prepared to listen to the answer. These sentiments are all but universal. I have talked to many teenage girls and young adult women. Most of them have similar complaints to the ones I outlined in the previous paragraph.

Girls like masculinity. They are attracted to it. I am talking about true masculinity as a reflection of a commitment to Christ. They are wondering what happened to it. I don’t know. I don’t know what to tell them. I wish I knew.

Some of you single men reading this have been hurt, deeply hurt, and it is hard for you to get back into the dating mode after the pain. I am not talking about you. I have experienced that kind of hurt. It makes you gun shy. I understand.

Maybe the younger generation hasn’t seen enough good examples of how to be masculine. Maybe our older generation has let them down. I don’t know. I am looking for answers. I want to hear your opinions. I want to get my head around this issue.

If you don’t see any evidence of what I am talking about, please speak up and give me hope. If you disagree with what I have said, let us all hear from you. If you agree, I want to hear from you, too.

In closing this post, I want to say that I am deeply grateful for my two sons-in-law who I think both are great examples of true masculinity. Thank you. I love you. Our daughters are in good hands.

To be continued…

(See Part 2, Part 3, Part 4.)