"High Flight" by John Gillespie MacGee, Jr.

Pilot Officer John G. Magee Jr. (U.S. Air Force photo)

When I was boy growing up in the 1960s and early 1970s, I’d sometimes stay up too late watching television. I’d usually fall asleep during some movie classic, then wake up just as the station was about to sign off.

I remember the clip below, a devotional of sorts, being shown just before the test pattern would appear. The poem has stayed with me over the years. When I found myself quoting part of it to my family just before Christmas, I decided to do some research.

It turns out that John Gillespie Magee, Jr., a World War II Royal Canadian Air Force pilot, wrote the sonnet “High Flight” while training in England in 1941. He died tragically, less than four months later in a mid-air plane crash. He was only 19.

Here is his sonnet:

Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth,
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds, — and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of — Wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air…

Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark or even eagle flew—
And, while with silent lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.

Such sentiments are not commonly expressed these days. Let me know if you remember the film clip from your childhood.

A Family Home Evening Habit

Joseph F. Smith. Courtesy LDS Media Library.

Before we got married, my wife and I made a commitment to each other that we would hold family home evening regularly. We made a point to start holding it before we had children so we would be in the habit when they arrived. Our youngest left home to serve a mission almost two weeks ago. The nest is officially empty. Now what?

We have been married for 35 years, 4 months, and 14 days. But by some miracle, we’ve stayed in the FHE habit. We didn’t hold it every Monday night, but we held it regularly and often. More often than not, we held it weekly.

We had family night tonight, just my wife and me. We sang, “Ring Out, Wild Bells.” We talked about our goals for 2015 and discussed a pro/con list my wife complied about a potential purchase. We closed by reading a few verses from Matthew chapter 2.

Family night has helped us, all of us in our family, stay close to the Spirit of the Lord. When you get together as a family, talk openly about your testimony, study scripture, pray, share spiritual experiences, admit to your failings, offer up your hopes, dreams, aspirations, and disappointments, and allow yourself to be a little vulnerable, it helps form connections and glues your family together.

Joseph F. Smith, together with the First Presidency, issued this statement almost 100 years ago: 

We advise and urge the inauguration of a “Home Evening” throughout the Church, at which time fathers and mothers may gather their boys and girls about them in the home and teach them the word of the Lord. They may thus learn more fully the needs and requirements of their families; at the same time familiarizing themselves and their children more thoroughly with the principles of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This “Home Evening” should be devoted to prayer, singing hymns, songs, instrumental music, scripture-reading, family topics and specific instruction on the principles of the Gospel, and on the ethical problems of life, as well as the duties and obligations of children to parents, the home, the Church, society and the Nation. For the smaller children appropriate recitations, songs, stories and games may be introduced. Light refreshments of such a nature as may be largely prepared in the home might be served.

Formality and stiffness should be studiously avoided, and all the family should participate in the exercises.

These gatherings will furnish opportunities for mutual confidence between parents and children, between brothers and sisters, as well as give opportunity for words of warning, counsel and advice by parents to their boys and girls. They will provide opportunity for the boys and girls to honor father and mother, and to show their appreciation of the blessings of home so that the promise of the Lord to them may be literally fulfilled and their lives be prolonged and made happy. …

If the Saints obey this counsel, we promise that great blessings will result. Love at home and obedience to parents will increase. Faith will be developed in the hearts of the youth of Israel, and they will gain power to combat the evil influences and temptations which beset them” (“Home Evening,” Improvement Era, June 1915, 733–34, as quoted in Presidents of the Church Student Manual, (2012), 94–111).

Joseph F. Smith was a prophet. What he said was completely true. The promised blessings have been realized in our family. It was worth every drop of effort. I am deeply grateful. Finally, as the Savior said, there is an unimpeachable way to learn the truth—live it:

Jesus answered them, and said, My doctrine is not mine, but his that sent me. If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself. (John 7:16–17.)

What Is Marriage’s Worst Enemy?

Courtesy LDS Media Library

What is marriage’s worst enemy, if you could name just one thing? I’ve been thinking about this for several years. I am offering my opinion here, but I think it is the natural man, the proud, lazy, self-enamored, stubborn man or woman.

When you were courting your spouse, didn’t you put on your best self to win him or her over? Weren’t you kind, patient, vulnerable, fun, and full of love? Didn’t you care a little more about your appearance, your manners, your vocabulary? Weren’t you more ready with an apology, more appreciative of the little things, more selective in your activities, more willing to submit to the plans and wishes of your beloved? (That’s not the natural man.)

What happened?

When did courting start to fade and, in some cases, disappear? When did you let the natural man out of his little cage? When did you start to blame, to harbor resentment, to fail to express genuine gratitude, to hurl invectives, to follow your darker impulses? You know what I am talking about, don’t you? Complaining, grousing, mocking, yelling, belittling, lying—the list is long and tiresome.

The natural, grumpy, defensive, self-centered, Gollum-esque attributes don’t belong in your marriage nor in mine. Yes, I know you’re tired, stressed, disappointed, and confused. So am I. Maybe you’re depressed, let down, disillusioned? I’ve been there. Does it give you a logical reason, a right, to lash out and go on the attack? I submit that it does not.

What price will you pay to keep your spouse forever? There is only one price. Everything.

If you are not willing to give everything in that holy exchange, including your natural, indulgent self, for your spouse, do you have the power to keep him or her? I really don’t think so.

The fulfillment of sacred promises made in a marriage ceremony will come after we live those promises, or after we give our very best efforts trying to live them. We all need grace to live them. It takes many tries.

I am not saying you have to endure control or manipulation, emotional, physical, or sexual abuse or criminal behavior or repeated infidelity or decades of relapses to hold your marriage together. You may feel inspired to make great personal sacrifices to keep your relationship intact, but it can’t all be one sided. It takes a partnership.

You can’t save someone who doesn’t want to be saved. We can, like Christ, be judged and attacked emotionally, spiritually, or physically, and suffer it because of our love and longsuffering (see 1 Nephi 19:9). But there is a limit to what you can do for another person. No one on earth can tell you exactly where that limit is. You have to rely on divine guidance to know that.

Keep courting. Be respectful. Be honest but kind. Stop being so defensive. Don’t waste energy defending your opinions. Be open to ways you can be a better wife or husband. Be willing to improve. Recognize sooner when you are wrong. Be supportive of each other. Believe in each other.

You are a partner with God and your spouse. When you are married, you hold a key for your wife or husband that no one else can hold. That key can unlock a happy, rich, sanctified life for a loved one, or it can lock someone out of the life we were all intended to live. You can’t really turn that key and open the door to mutual happiness unless you are willing to subject your natural man to constant discipline and correction.

What price are you willing to pay to keep your spouse? What’s one thing, one habit, one behavior, you can set aside this week to make your marriage a happier one? (I already know what I need to work on this week.)

Restoring What Was Lost

My wife is a very clever shopper. I shouldn’t have been so surprised by several gifts that I got for Christmas this year, but I was. I am also very thankful.

Since the weather turned cold this year, I’ve been missing my father’s dark gray overcoat. I’ve been wearing that coat for 25 years, since he died in 1989. Last year, I forgot my coat and new scarf at Church one Sunday, and when I came back to get them a few days later, they were gone. We searched high and low. I spoke to the Relief Society president and the bishopric. They were never to be seen again.

How could that happen? Well, we live downtown and we have a lot of theft at our church building. One of my past priesthood duties was to patrol the Church parking lot at a certain interval on Sundays to discourage prowlers. I suppose a fast-fingered thief took coat and scarf when an opportunity arose.

We had a special “Christmas morning” for our missionary daughter the Saturday before she entered the MTC. Imagine my surprise when I opened a gift box to find an identical coat—I mean identical—to the one I lost. It is in perfect condition. The only difference is that it is several sizes smaller and so it actually fits me better.

Then on Christmas morning, I opened another gift: a blue Ogio shoulder bag identical to one that was stolen from our rental car in San Francisco in July 2013. Except this one is in better shape than the one I’ve had since 2006, and much cleaner. I also found a new scarf in my Christmas stocking, very similar to the one that was taken.

I am grateful for the restoration of these lost items, but I am even more thankful for the thoughtfulness and sensitivity of my wife. She never ceases to surprise and delight me. I am truly blessed.

5 Helps for Those Who Struggle with Doubt

Courtesy LDS Media Library

I’m constantly hearing about people struggling with doubts in matters of faith. As I have shared several times before on this blog, I believe doubt is okay. It’s not a sin to have doubts, though it can lead to sin. It’s not something that troubles me or that I worry about. I’ve wrestled many doubts to the floor. I am not beholden to them. There is Someone far more reliable to whom you and I are beholden.

Doubt is not a formidable enemy but you have to deal with it, like a dog scratching at your backdoor. You don’t have to let the dog in, but you’ll be happier if you open that backdoor and deal with the dog.

I honestly feel that doubt can be a great blessing. It can awaken you to new information, new experiences, and new learning opportunities, if you don’t let your doubts take you for a ride. I think of doubt as evidence of missing information and neglect. You and I can do something about that. We don’t need to rely on others for conclusions on matters of faith. We can and should make those conclusions ourselves, independently.

There is a remedy found in the words and wisdom of heaven. Let me share a few things I’ve discovered over the years.

I have learned that my doubts come by choice, and if I don’t address them vigorously, they linger like a stench in my subconscious. But when I look at them through the light and lens of the scriptures, such as these words from Moroni, I find peace:

And now, behold, who can stand against the works of the Lord? Who can deny his sayings? Who will rise up against the almighty power of the Lord? Who will despise the works of the Lord? Who will despise the children of Christ? Behold, all ye who are despisers of the works of the Lord, for ye shall wonder and perish. O then despise not, and wonder not, but hearken unto the words of the Lord, and ask the Father in the name of Jesus for what things soever ye shall stand in need. Doubt not, but be believing, and begin as in times of old, and come unto the Lord with all your heart, and work out your own salvation with fear and trembling before him. (Mormon 9:26–27; emphasis added.)

If I believe the Lord, and I do, and if I believe His words, which I do, I am being told in no uncertain terms to “doubt not, but be believing.” I can do that and so can you. The Savior said—and this is one of my favorite verses—to:

Look unto me in every thought; doubt not, fear not. (D&C 6:36; emphasis added.)

There it is again: an imperative, a command, to not doubt or fear, to look to Him in every thought. Here’s one more:

Believe in God; believe that he is, and that he created all things, both in heaven and in earth; believe that he has all wisdom, and all power, both in heaven and in earth; believe that man doth not comprehend all the things which the Lord can comprehend. (Mosiah 4:9.)

I don’t know and understand everything my Creator knows and understands. I know I don’t have all the answers. I don’t have to have them. As far as this life is concerned, all I need is trajectory, not a final destination. If anyone tries to take you to a “destination,” a plateau of knowledge or understanding, don’t believe them: there will always be a ridge above you—higher ground. Keep your feet on solid rock, but keep looking up, beyond where you stand, and keep walking towards higher ground.

It takes patience. Patience is a manifestation of faith. You and I can exercise patience, the virtue that holds things—especially relationships—together. We can exercise faith that the Lord knows what He is doing. Don’t give up so easily: He is trying to give you a place next to Him on His throne (see Revelation 3:21). “In your patience possess ye your souls” (Luke 21:9).

Here are five things that have helped me manage my doubts, things that keep them from scratching a hole in my backdoor. They bring me great peace of mind. Please click on the scripture links below and consider them.

  1. Treasure the word of God, His good counsel and influence for good, treasure it more than the opinions and disdain of men, and it will lead your aright. See Psalms 119:105, 107, Moroni 7:13–14, and Joseph Smith—Matthew 1:37
  2. The Lord has given us a pattern that will help us discern spiritual influences in our lives and where they come from. Follow, heed, and believe in those influences that edify you, strengthen you, that lift you up, that help you feel peaceful and clear-headed, that help you grow, and you’ll find yourself on the right path. See D&C 52:13–19 and D&C 50:23.
  3. Take the Holy Spirit as your guide, not the spirit of men or women who grumble, mock, and belittle, who use control, force, or violence—physical or emotional—to gain undue influence over how you think and feel. (See D&C 45:56–57.) Accordingly, “trust no one to be your teacher nor your minister, except he [she] be a man [woman] of God, walking in his ways and keeping his commandments” (Mosiah 23:14). 
  4. You can deal with doubts and manage them without diving into the cesspool of misgiving and disbelief. When you swim in that stuff, it stinks and its hard to wash off. It’s also hard to not get a few swallows of poison while your dog paddling around in it. Avoid what Paul calls “doubtful disputations” (Romans 14:1) and “turn away from godless chatter and the opposing ideas of what is falsely called knowledge, which some have professed and in so doing have departed from the faith” (NIV 1 Timothy 6:20, 21; emphasis added). See also 1 Timothy 6:3–5, also NIV 1 Timothy 6:3–5.
  5. Never stop searching for light and the fruits of the Spirit. When you only search for darkness, you will find little more than darkness, and you can crumble under its heaping weight. You will be unhappy, rationalize temptations of all kinds, caught in a web of doubt, fear, darkness, and separation. Worse, you will pronounce a prophetic woe on yourself (see Isaiah 5:20). If doubt separates you from the companionship of truly good, honest, and trustworthy people, it cannot and will not be good for you. Seek for the Spirit of God. Seek for “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance” (Galatians 5:22–23) and trust that Spirit that leads you to do good D&C 11:12–13. That Spirit will never lead you astray. 

I know that God is found in light. You will see your steps and the end of your journey more clearly when you walk in that light. “Though now ye see him not, yet [if you are] believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and [will be] full of glory: receiving the end of your faith, even the salvation of your souls” (1 Peter 1:8-9.)

If you follow correct principles, they will never let you down. We may let good principles down, but they will never let us down. 

I’ll close by sharing the verse on our daughter’s missionary plaque:

This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. (1 John 1:5; emphasis added. )

If you are surrounded by those who live and die by their opinions, just remember that God doesn’t have any. He is full of light and truth and in Him is no darkness at all. You can be full of light too. It’s the best and happiest way to live.

You can deal with the pesky pooch. You don’t need to let that dour dog keep scratching at your backdoor. Send him away. And keep your back-porch light on.

Christmas Conference 1977

Newel K. Whitney Story, Kirtland, Ohio. Courtesy LDS Media Library.

It was my first Christmas away from home. Ever. I had been away for almost a year. Though the season was devoid of the usual trappings, it was filled with spiritual meaning.

The Ohio Cleveland Mission had an all-day Christmas Conference on December 29, 1977. At a stake center in Akron, on a Thursday. It was a fun and lively break from the rigors of missionary life.

I remembered recently something that happened that day that I didn’t record in my journal. In the afternoon, the missionaries were invited into the cultural hall to find tables with many boxes on them. Most of the boxes were overflowing with gifts. The families or home wards had been asked to send gifts to the missionaries, and the response was overwhelming. I still can hear the gasps.

Then I found my box. It was different—it had one card in it. It was a nice card, but in contrast to what all the others had received, it didn’t compare. I was embarrassed, but smirked and brushed it off. Having felt “left out” so many times in my young life, I didn’t let it bother me. I didn’t let it put me out. I really didn’t. Now it just makes me smile, in part because something far more memorable and important happened that day. 
That very same day—and I wrote this in my journal—our mission president, Donald Brewer, announced some history in the making: a pair of missionaries would live and serve in Kirtland, Ohio for the first time in over 130 years. A few months later, I found myself serving there and would remain there for the rest of my mission. I lived in the Newel K. Whitney store and went door to door in a town that had never been tracted by Mormon missionaries before. It was one of the most amazing experiences of my life.
This past Wednesday, we dropped our youngest daughter off at the Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah. In three weeks—astoundingly—she will herself be serving in the Ohio Cleveland Mission, in the Kirtland Visitors’ Center, 37 years after I was there.

It’s hard for me to imagine anything more fulfilling or more meaningful. I am deeply grateful that the Lord has brought us here. I wouldn’t trade it, not for a hundred boxes of gifts.

How Well Do You Know Your Christmas Carols?

Courtesy LDS Media LibraryToday in sacrament meeting I was thinking about our Christmas carols and thought it might be fun to put together a little quiz. Give it a shot. This is not a closed-book or closed-browser test.

  1. How many Christmas carols are in the LDS hymnbook (published in 1985)?
  2. When was “Silent Night” written?
  3. Which is the oldest Christmas carol in the LDS hymnbook?
  4. Which is the most recent? 
  5. What is the name of the famous American poet who authored the text of the last carol in the LDS hymnbook (214)? 
  6. Which carol was written in St. George, Utah in 1869?
  7. For which carol did George Frederic Handel write the music?
  8. Is the author of “Once in Royal David’s City” a man or a woman?
  9. Which is a French carol? 
  10. Which carol is your favorite? 

    You’ll find the answers here. How’d you do? If you are brave, tell us your score in a comment.