A Mission Miracle

Kirtland Temple
Courtesy LDS Media Library

Our daughter received her mission call on Wednesday, September 24. She waited until the next day, Thursday, to open it at her sister’s home in Provo. She asked me to take the envelope—her “big white baby” as she called it—to work that day so she wouldn’t be tempted to open it.

She was called to the Ohio Cleveland Mission and will be serving in the Kirtland Visitor’s Center. Here’s why that’s significant to me. I served in the Ohio Cleveland Mission (1977–79), and I spent the last eight months of my mission in Kirtland (May 1978–January 1979).

When I was there, I lived in the Newel K. Whitney store which was not yet owned by the Church. It was amazing to live in the same building where Joseph and Emma lived, where Joseph Smith III was born, where the school of the prophets was held. The store was in miraculous preservation. In just a few years, that building will be 200 years old.

Now my daughter will give tours there—38 years later. It’s more than fulfilling. It’s amazing.

God is good. He knows us. He likes to tell us in gentle ways, “I care.” He really does.

How Relationships Erode

Courtesy LDS Media Library

I’ve thought about this for years. I’ve seen relationships fall apart. I’ve also seen them hold together. Here’s what I think is behind the erosion of a lot of relationships. Relaxing standards.

When you’re courting, your standards are high. Your behavior is the best it’s ever been. You hold your tongue. You’re polite and generous. You’re energetic and respectful.

Then you get married. You are playing house with a real spouse! You are Ken and Barbie. It’s an adventure. You are ridiculous together. Every day is a day of discovery.

Then things start to trend down. You are tired. You have school or work or both at the same time. Then children come—those little energy sucking cuties. Callings require hours away from home. You come home exhausted and grumped out. You lower your standards.

You don’t watch your words closely. Things fly out of your mouth and cut your spouse like a knife. You’re disrespectful and sometimes downright mean. Some days, you’re so tired, you ignore personal hygiene and you stink. You burp and have gas without apology. You let your wife open her own doors. You sleep longer than you should. You hide out in your room to read. You watch too much schmaltzy television and drink too much diet Coke. You have 47 reasons why you don’t exercise or eat right. You cherish bad habits and defend them. You lazily, unconsciously, and predictably lower your standards.

You sing a song that goes like this (my apologies to Veggie Tales):

We are the Mormons who don’t do anything,
We are grumpy and forget to pray,
And when you ask us to do anything,
We just tell you,
“Call the Relief Society President.” 

And then you wonder, “What’s wrong with my wife?” Or you murmur, “My husband is a slob.” You complain to your friends about your spousal unit and circle the drain. Your relationships suffer or may feel doomed.

Wake up! Start with you. Yeah, you. Set your sites high again. Be a gentleman. Act like a lady. Turn off the electronic vampires. Open a car door for someone. Buy flowers. Say, “Excuse me.” Stop drinking 64-ounce sodas. Take a shower regularly. Keep your mouth closed and listen. If you need to burp, handle it as if you were at a job interview or sitting in sacrament meeting. Ask for forgiveness. Stop defending and justifying your actions and think about how you can make your spouse feel more loved and needed and appreciated. Start working out every other day. Clean up after yourself. Set time limits. Raise your standards. Do something better than you’ve been doing it.

If you want things to get better, you have to get better. —Kirk Duncan 

Stop blaming and shaming and raging. Start acting on your best instincts. We all depend on grace—the grace of God and the grace of our better halves—to get through life. Show Those in heaven and those on earth that you appreciate them, that your are willing to change, that your are willing to set aside lazy habits and do things better. It will make a huge difference in your relationships.

You don’t have to be perfect. You just have to be better.

Yes, you can expect unconditional love no matter your condition. But people might actually want to be with you if you are more kind, dignified, tasteful, respectful, disciplined, energetic, hopeful, and helpful.

Don’t ever say, “That’s just the way I am.” You are far better than that, far greater than you imagine. Your potential is infinite, your possibilities, endless. I’m serious.

If you want things to change, you have to change. Just take one step up.

Today is a great day to start.

Comparison of Gospel Accounts of the Second Coming of Christ

This document available on Slideshare compares the accounts of the Second Coming of Christ given in Matthew 24, Mark 13, Luke 21, and Joseph Smith–Matthew 1. From the account in Joseph Smith–Matthew, it is evident that some events leading up to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. will be repeated in the latter days.

Protect the Queen!

Queen Cristi and King Mike

Over the last three days, Cristi and I attended a marriage class and had a lot of fun. It had a royalty theme. It was a little beyond my comfort zone which is probably a good thing. I’ve learned that my comfort zone is not equal to my growth zone.

One random theme: the leader would yell out the question, “Kings, what do we do!” Then we men would jump wildly to our feet and scream at the top of our lungs, “Protect the queen!”

After observing this fervent, boyish behavior, my wife grabbed my arm several times and said, “Oh! I just love that!” Then she’d kiss me like it was the coolest thing she’d ever seen me do.

Really? After 35 years of marriage, I am just now figuring this warrior-prince thing out? 

I’ve always known that my wife likes to feel secure and protected but I did not know that she loves feverish displays of masculine energy in her cause.

Actually, we have been talking about this for a few months—reinventing violence, that is. Not violence in the destructive, harmful sense, but constructive violence, if there is such a thing. Wait, there is. Think of Jesus overturning the tables of the money changers in the temple (see Matthew 21:12–13) or captain Moroni championing the the cause of freedom (see Alma 46:13–23).

Think of standing up to your full stature in the fearless defense of truth. Think of defending your home from intrusion, not from burglars and kidnappers, but from spiritual wolves in every form. Over the past few days, I’ve realized that 150 years ago, I might have stood against wolves and bears and rattlesnakes and hostiles to protect my family. Now I must defend them against the unseen enemies that enter our homes—domiciles and bodies—over invisible airwaves, through thoughts, and dark emotions. The battlefield has changed but the war is just as real and the stakes are as high as they’ve ever been.

If I stand for freedom, I stand against sin, the doorway to separation and slavery. If I stand against sin, I must stand against evil in all it’s forms—inane social media, cheap-shot television, immodesty, pornography, spiritual neglect, doubt, faithlessness, disobedience, sarcasm, ingratitude, disrespect, disloyalty—the full spectrum is enemy to all I hold dear.

I protect my wife and loved ones, not just through physical means but spiritual. Prayer and fasting and sacrifice and repentance and faith and relentless work and providing a living and holding the line. Standing up for what is right and true and standing tall against “the prince of the power of the air” (see Ephesians 2:2).

Is not God a protector? If I am not a protector, whose son am I?

Cristi will be seeing more feverish displays of masculine energy in the near future. I now know she loves it. 

P.S. Those swords were heavy! I really want one now.

How Men Save Women

Courtesy LDS Media Library

Yesterday, I was headed home for lunch when I came upon an unexpected scene. I was the third or fourth person to arrive. A young woman had collapsed at the street corner. A man in running clothes was kneeling beside her, his right arm cradling her head from the concrete. His arm was covered with blood as was her face. He was speaking gently to her, though at first she looked unconscious. He seemed to be pleading with her to wake up, to come back.

I cannot erase the scene from my mind. It was not the blood. It was the tenderness of a stranger.

In my last post, I talked about how women save men. Now I want to talk about how men save women. It goes both ways you know. It has to.

Nevertheless neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord. For as the woman is of the man, even so is the man also by the woman; but all things of God. (1 Corinthians 11:11–12.)

First, I want to talk about how my wife saves me every day. She doesn’t have to try. All she has to do is be who she is — wise and insightful, caring, thoughtful, compassionate, kind, and patient. Obedient. Nurturing and ministering. Loving. Committed. And funny. Hilarious, really. And beautiful.

We have been married for 35 years and it just keeps getting better and better.

When we see each other after work, we hold each other and kiss each other like we were newlyweds. Our constant displays of affection used to embarrass our children, but not so much now that they are older.

My wife needs me and I need her. Yes, if she suddenly died, I know I could survive and live on. I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about what that would be like. From a practical, earthly point of view, I could limp along. But I need her, like the day needs the sun. If I lost her, I don’t know if I could remarry.

When we met, I was 17 and she was 15. We were married four years later, after my mission. I knew if I hadn’t gone on a mission and served faithfully there, she never would have been interested in me. That’s certainly not why I went on a mission but it’s one reason I’m glad I did.

My wife is the reason I get up in the morning and try again. We never stop talking, talking, talking. We sit close in church meetings, often holding hands. There is nothing I’d rather do than spend time with her. She is my sunlight.

And this is how I save her. I love and cherish her more than anything in this world, and I prove it to her, imperfectly, every day. I do things for her. Not things that she can’t do but things that she doesn’t want to do. She doesn’t have to be everything and do everything, because we are partners. She can rely on me to be prayerful, honest, forgiving, and kind. I will make the phone calls she doesn’t want to make. She knows she can ask for a priesthood blessing any hour of the day. God’s priesthood is hers for the asking. I love to serve her. I love that she needs me and wants me.

These ideas may seem old fashioned to some readers. They certainly are old fashioned. But they lead to old-fashioned happiness—the kind that lasts. 

Yes, we have the best things life has to offer. We don’t have as much money as we once had or as much as we’d like. We are not sure how we are going to afford to serve a mission together quite yet. We are together, not only physically, but mentally and spiritually. We complete each other. We’ll figure it out.

I think this is how the Lord meant things to be for couples. I know it doesn’t always work this way, but does that mean it shouldn’t work out this way? In spite of my failures and sins, I strive for the ideal, for what heaven looks like and what I know it will be.

Even though we have done well in love, it doesn’t mean that life and love aren’t fragile. I am aware everyday that foolish choices, by either of us, could lead to disaster. But what holds us together is the commandments. They kept us safe before we were married and gave us a sturdy foundation. They have never failed us and they never will. We may fail them, but they cannot fail us.

The other day, my wife signed us up for an art class, an evening class at the local high school. Together we will draw and paint and mold and explore. It will be yet another adventure. They never end.

Back to the tender scene at the street corner. An ambulance and a fire truck came. The girl awakened and, when I left, she seemed okay. But what about the man with the blood on his arm? What about him? Did he finish his run? Could he? I don’t know. But what I do know is that for a few minutes early one Monday afternoon, he tenderly held and protected a stranger. He did what came naturally to him.

I wish I could be more like him. I wish all men would be more like him.

Shortly before our last baby was born, we went into see the nurse midwife, Stephanie. I was feeling a little down about how useless I would feel to my wife in the delivery room. I told Stephanie how I felt and she said something that changed my life.

“Imagine how she would feel if you were not there.”

Being there, just really being there, counts for a lot in life. It makes a huge difference in the lives of others. You can save someone just by being you.

P.S. A friend of mine wrote an inspiring and thought-provoking piece on the divine nature of men. I’ve never seen or heard it explained quite like she does. I highly recommend reading it.

Is a Wife a Helpmeet or a Savior?

Courtesy LDS Media Library

I ran a race Saturday morning and as I neared the finish line, I was surprised to see my wife standing just off the course, ready to take a picture. I had shown up alone before six to pick up my race packet and I thought I’d be by myself that morning—getting up early is definitely not my wife’s favorite thing to do—but there she was in living color. When I ran a little further, there was our youngest daughter yelling, “Daddy!”

Do I need to tell you how it made me feel to see them there? I finished my race much stronger than I expected.

My wife has always motivated me to be my best self. I have some wonderful, lifelong male friends whom I love and admire, but nothing can compare to the powerful influence of an authentic woman on a man. Yes, I really believe this. Here’s a case in point.

I recently read a post from And So I Fight entitled “A True Christmas,” a story of reconciliation between the author Cherae and her husband Brandon. They had been alienated for some weeks when Brandon’s struggles with pornography and infidelity came to light. Here’s an example of what I’m talking about: 

We opened Christmas presents and ate some lunch and then Brandon and I headed to my parents study to talk. I asked him what his thoughts and hopes were between us. He told me he knew that our family would be together and that things were going to work out. Tears started streaming down my face as I gently nodded my head and silently agreed with him. I then felt impressed to tell him that I will be there waiting for him when he is clean. I’ve never seen him shed so many tears. I told him of my pleadings with my Heavenly Father and what the answers to those pleadings were. He continued to cry. In that moment I was again so greatly reassured by my Father in Heaven that everything would work out and that WE would be okay. I hugged him. I didn’t plan it, and it caught both of us off guard but it was the most full of love hug I had ever experienced with him to that point in our lives. We continued to openly talk about our future together, felt the spirit confirm all that we had discussed, and shed many more tears. The Christmas I had dreaded and feared the most turned out to be the best Christmas I had ever experienced. (Emphasis mine.)

Cherae’s promise—”I will be waiting for him when he is clean”—well, that captures it for me, particularly her vision of and patient belief in her husband’s potential. It’s what makes a man explode with purpose. It gives him a reason to do and a reason to be.

I don’t know of any greater or more motivating force for a man than the tender, against-all-odds love of his wife. There is simply nothing to compare to it. It’s a force that holds couples and families together. I believe in this way a wife is like our Savior and in a sense, she is a savior to her husband.

A bold assertion to be sure but there is some strong evidence to support it. To find that evidence, we have to go a ways back—to Genesis 2:18 to be exact.

And the Lord God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him.

The phrase “help meet for him” is translated from the Hebrew ezer kenegdo (כְּנֶגְדּֽוֹ׃ עֵ֖זֶר) but biblical scholar R. David Freeman claims that this and similar translations of this phrase are incorrect:

I believe the customary translation of these two words, despite its near universal adoption, is wrong. That is not what the words are intended to convey. They should be translated instead to mean approximately “a power equal to man.” That is, when God concluded that he would create another creature so that man would not be alone, he decided to make “a power equal to him,” someone whose strength was equal to man’s. Woman was not intended to be merely man’s helper. She was to be instead his partner. (“Woman, a Power Equal to Man,” Biblical Archaeology Review, 09:01 Jan/Feb 1983, 56–58.)

According to Freedman, the word ezer originally meant “to rescue” and a similar form meant “to be strong.”  Eventually, these two phonemes (sounds) were combined into one grapheme (a unit of written language) that over time was interpreted simply as help. But something got lost in that translation. He goes on to say that the word ezer occurs 21 times in the Hebrew Bible, and of those, it is translated eight times as savior.

The root of the word kenegdo means “equal.” Freedman would prefer that the phrase be translated “a power or strength equal to him.” I love that.

Recently I heard a man explain that he was about to leave the Church and his wife out of frustration with himself and his habits, but when his wife told him, “I can’t imagine my life without you,” those words and the genuine love they conveyed stopped him in his tracks. He relented. That couple is still together, happily married and strengthening each other in the gospel.

Elder Richard G. Scott of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles had not thought much about going on a mission until he met Jeanene Watkins. She told him one evening, “When I marry, it will be in the temple to a returned missionary.” That changed his plans. He soon after left on a mission to Uruguay. Jeanene went on a mission too while he was gone and two weeks after Elder Scott returned home, they were married in the Manti Temple.

It’s the light of a righteous woman’s being, a magnetic force that draws a man away from self-doom. It sharpens and transforms him. It saves him.

Maybe you think I’m taking the point too far. I don’t dare take it as far as I’d like.

I’m not trying to say that saving men is a woman’s sole purpose. I am not saying that it’s a woman’s “role.” Heavens no. I can hardly figure out my own role let alone anyone else’s. Actually, I hope pulling a man back from the fire is something women never have to do. But I do believe that they have a power to influence men in miraculous ways, if they choose to or if they need to. And they often do.

If you are a wife whose husband is grappling with addiction or transgression, know this: what he really wants more than anything is your tenderness and your gentle reassurance, especially if he has fallen. He wants you to respect him, even if he doesn’t deserve it. He wants you to see his potential and to believe in him, even though he can’t see it himself. In his heart, he knows you can see what he can’t. Show him what you see and what you hope for. Show him the way. Hang on for dear life. Don’t give up if there is any chance of reconciliation. I am not saying that you should trust him when he still can’t trust himself, but hold up your desire to trust him again. It will motivate him like nothing else.

You are not the cause of his mistakes. Those are his choices. But there is nothing on earth that can influence him more to come back to you than your tenderness. From the depths of his soul, he wants the real, pure you. Let it shine.

He doesn’t have anything else to hold onto except his weakened faith and you. You just might save him. And that, I believe, is one thing God created you for.

You can’t help anyone who doesn’t want help. No one can. But if you will be ready like Cherae to take him back when he is clean, you just might be the miracle he is hoping for. It’s worth a shot. You might just save a man from hell. You might save a generation.