I Believe in America

American flag, on a tall pole, animated by a strong breeze.

I love my country and I honor her today. I am grateful to be an American.

The miracle of America was the triumph of individual rights over the rights of the state. This was a revolutionary idea, an experiment that had not been tried to this degree in the history of the world, that gave dignity to the individual and asserted rights and freedoms and the gift to pursue life, liberty, and happiness.

Some of these rights were enshrined in the Declaration of Independence, which was accepted by the Continental Congress 245 years ago today. Representatives of the citizens of the then thirteen colonies united their voices and pens to create and sign one of the most important documents in the history of the world.

If you haven’t recently read the Declaration of Independence, you can do so here or listen to Max McLean read it here. It will only take 10 minutes and will be worth every second you invest. I listened to it with tears today.

We are striving for “a more perfect union,” as we always have and always will, but we are far from the ideal. Yes, we see corruption in our elected officials, in endless and unjustified wars, in corporations, in the medical-pharmaceutical industrial complex, and in churches, but the heart of America—”We the People”—remain fixed on Lincoln’s promise of a government “of the people, by the people, for the people.”

I pledge my allegiance to our amazing country because of the God-given principles upon which we as citizens rest. May God bless this and every country in the world that we may flourish and enjoy the blessings of true freedom until Christ’s return.

Saved by the Gift of Tongues

Goose berries on the vine. Canva.com

I recently found this story from the life of Jane Grover Stewart (1830–1873):

“As an instance in which the gift of tongues proved of decided practical value, we transcribe the follow incident, which occurred near Council Bluffs, [Iowa] in the history of a girl of seventeen . . . from her journal [about 1847]:

‘One morning we thought we would go and gather gooseberries. Father Tanner (as we familiarly called the good, patriarchal Elder Nathan Tanner) harnessed a span of horses to a light wagon, and, with two sisters by the name of Lyman, his little granddaughter and me started out.

‘When we reached the woods, we told the old gentleman to go to a house in sight and rest himself while we picked the berries. It was not long before the little girl and I strayed some distance from the rest, when suddenly we heard shouts. The little girl thought it was her grandfather and was about to answer, but I restrained her, thinking it might be Indians.

‘We walked forward until well within sight of Father Tanner when we saw he was running his team around. We thought nothing strange at first, but as we approached, we saw Indians gathering around the wagon whooping and yelling as others came and joined them. We got into the wagon to start when four of the Indians took hold of the wagon wheels to stop the wagon and the other two held the horses by the bits and another came to take me out of the wagon.

‘I then began to be afraid as well as vexed and asked Father Tanner to let me get out of the wagon and run for assistance. He said, “No poor child. It is too late.”

‘I told him they should not take me alive. His face was as white as a sheet. The Indians had commenced to strip him—had taken his watch and handkerchief—and while stripping him were trying to pull me out of the wagon. I began silently to appeal to my Heavenly Father. While praying and struggling, the Spirit of the Almighty fell upon me and I arose with great power; and no tongue can tell my feelings. I was happy as I could be.

‘A few moments before, I saw worse than death staring me in the face, and now my hand was raised by the power of God, and I talked to those Indians in their own language. They let go of the horses and wagon and all stood in front of me while I talked to them by the power of God. They bowed their heads and answered ‘Yes’ in a way that made me know what they meant.

‘The little girl and Father Tanner looked on in speechless amazement. I realized our situation; their calculation was to kill Father Tanner, burn the wagon, and take us women prisoners. This was plainly shown me. When I stopped talking, they shook hands with all three of us and returned all they had taken from Father Tanner who gave them back the handkerchief and I gave them berries and crackers. By this time the other two women came up and we hastened home.

‘The Lord gave me a portion of the interpretation of what I had said, which was as follows:

I suppose you Indian warriors think you are going to kill us? Don’t you know the Great Spirit is watching you and knows everything in your heart? We have come out here to gather some of our Father’s fruit. We have not come to injure you and if you harm us or injure one hair of our heads, the Great Spirit shall smite you to the earth and you shall not have power to breathe another breath.

We have been driven from our homes and so have you; we have come out here to do you good and not to injure you. We are the Lord’s people and so are you; but you must cease your murders and wickedness. The Lord is displeased with it and will not prosper you if you continue in it. You think you own all this land, this timber, this water, all the horses: Why you do not own one thing on earth, not even the air you breathe—it all belongs to the Great Spirit.

(Edward William Tullige, The Women of Mormondom [New York; Tullige and Crandall, 1877], 475–477.)

Let the Shadows Fall behind You

Boy holding stuffed rabbit with a frightening shadow behind him. From Canva.com.

Doubt is a normal thing. Like the common cold, just about everyone comes down with it from time to time. We all come face-to-face with shadows and have a chance to decide what we are going to do about it. Facing a dark night of the soul is not easy.

I had to face a dark night of the soul before I ever joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I’ll call it my pre-faith crisis. At 17, the bright light of the gospel showed up in my life, but my parents were violently opposed to it. I was so excited about it I could hardly contain myself, but my parents, especially my father, were apoplectic. They piled books and pamphlets in my lap that were, shall I say, less than complimentary of the Prophet Joseph, Brigham Young, the Book of Mormon, polygamy, the Mountain Meadows Massacre . . . you get the idea.

I read that material with an open mind. I wasn’t afraid of it or particularly shocked. I literally knew nothing about Mormonism before that time. As I sorted through the criticism, negativity, grumbling, and accusations that shouted from those pages, I was also reading the Book of Mormon and the New Testament, feeling the warm presence of the Holy Spirit, hearing the voice of the Lord come to my heart, and experiencing miracles daily.

Even at that young age, I could discern the dissonant voices who spoke against the truth and the light that shined from scripture and from the lives and examples of my Latter-Day Saint friends. The contrast was crisp and beautiful. It brought everything into focus. I could choose the path of light or the path of darkness.

I also knew that God was not in the dark and that I wouldn’t find Him there for “that which doth not edify is not of God, and is darkness” (Doctrine and Covenants 50:23). I also came to know that He will reach into the dark to pull you out, if you turn to Him.

Darkness versus Light

And what do I mean by dark? I mean criticism, mockery, sarcasm, blame, belittling, bitterness, disrespect, and contention. If any of these attributes are present in conversation or in something you’re reading, darkness is also present.

I made a simple commitment that unforgettable autumn, before I was baptized, to look to God and follow the light. In answer to my prayers, the Lord said to my spirit, “No one really knows what happened to Joseph Smith. I do. Do you believe Me?” That was over 40 years ago. I’ve been weak at times and have made many mistakes, but I have stayed true to that prompting from God.

It’s the best decision I’ve ever made. It hasn’t always been easy, to be sure. I’ve certainly had dark days—dark weeks and months—but I’ve hung on.

And I have always received clear answers, eventually, to whatever question I’ve asked. This promise works: “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you” (Matthew 7:7).

I learned to not rely on the “arm of flesh” for my answers (see 2 Nephi 4:34). We’ve been counseled to “ask of God” who promises to give answers “to all men liberally.” He won’t rebuke us or treat us poorly for asking. He will simply give answers to us, if we ask sincerely and patiently (see James 1:5).

“Doubt Not”

I want to share a verse that is very powerful to me. It’s short. So short, I memorized it during the first few months I was a member of the Church. It’s still one of my favorites:

Look unto me in every thought; doubt not, fear not. (Doctrine and Covenants 6:36.)

Let’s talk about these ten words for a moment. This is the voice of Jesus Christ, pleading with you and me to look to Him in every thought; He is also commanding us (He’s using the imperative voice according to English grammar) to not doubt or fear.

Doubt not, but be believing, and begin as in times of old, and come unto the Lord with all your heart. . . . (Mormon 9:27.)

Yes, we will all struggle with doubt from time to time, but it doesn’t have to be our constant companion. We can do something about it.

A Rattlesnake in Your Sleeping Bag

Look at it this way. If a rattlesnake crawls into your sleeping bag, are you going to let it stay there? Are you going to stay there? I think not. You would put as much cleverness and energy into resolving doubt that you would put into getting away from that rattlesnake. It’s wise to move slowly in such a case, but by all means, it’s best to move.

No one is obligated to doubt. No one is forced to doubt. It is ultimately a choice. Like an addiction, it might be a hard habit to break. If we trust the wisdom of the world or our own wisdom above God’s, our doubts will bite with venom.

Unchecked, they’ll eventually infest our thoughts. We might wake up one morning doubting everything. Hearts will be troubled, if not embittered, and our outlook will be dark and at times contentious. These are signs that the rattlesnake is near or has already bitten you. But you don’t have to stay loyal to that snake. You can turn away from the serpent at any time.

I remember years ago hearing a friend quote the wise advice of his grandmother.

Don’t let the devil get into the car with you because pretty soon, he’s going to want to drive.

You don’t have to let doubt take the wheel; you don’t even have to let it get into your car.

You can turn your back on doubt and turn your whole heart to God, if you wish. Turn your whole heart to His light and the shadows will lose their strength. Trust that light and follow it. Don’t wait for complete and perfect answers before you choose to follow the light. Those answers will come after you choose to walk in the light. As you walk in the light and toward the light, the shadows always fall behind you.

And now, verily, verily, I say unto thee, put your trust in that Spirit which leadeth to do good—yea, to do justly, to walk humbly, to judge righteously; and this is my Spirit. Verily, verily, I say unto you, I will impart unto you of my Spirit, which shall enlighten your mind, which shall fill your soul with joy. (Doctrine and Covenants 11:12–13.)

We’re here to walk by faith, not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7). If you turn toward the light, “thine ears shall hear a word behind thee, saying, This is the way, walk ye in it” (Isaiah 30:21). You’ll know what to do. You’ll have peace in your heart. You’ll get your clear answers. Temptations will lose power. You won’t have to cling to your misunderstanding. You’ll find it easier to keep the commandments that have troubled you.

Have not I [the Lord] commanded thee? Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest. (Joshua 1:9.)

We in our times haven’t been asked to cross the plains of the American West, but we’ve been asked to cross the plains of doubt. We can do it. Of course we can. I know we can.

Make doubt your servant; don’t let it become your master. Let doubt be your acquaintance, but don’t invite it over for Christmas dinner.

Let me close with these words about the fruits of the Spirit and righteous living. I love the way Galatians 5:22–23 reads in The Message:

But what happens when we live God’s way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard—things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely.

We’ll know who is walking in the light by their fruits (see Matthew 7:15–20)—that is, in the long run, they’ll produce joy instead of bitterness, unity not separation, love not disdain or hatred. Let His light lead you to the good fruit. He will not fail you if you put your trust in Him (see Mosiah 7:33).

And you’ll get that rattlesnake to find someplace else to curl up.

(First published as “When Doubt Crawls into Your Sleeping Bag” on October 24, 2016.)

How Can You Feel Hatred?

Sitting dog surrounded by flowers by a lake at sunset. Canva.com

How can you feel hatred
without being angry?

How can you be angry
without placing blame?

How can you place blame
without passing judgment?

How can you pass judgment
without being deceived?

How can you be deceived
without yielding to pride?

On the other hand . . .

How can you offer love
without also being patient?

How can you offer patience
without showing kindness?

How can you show kindness
without feeling empathy?

How can you feel empathy
without having compassion?

How can you have compassion
without being gracious?

How can you be gracious
without being humble?

How can you humble
with yielding your will
to God?

Michael James Fitzgerald

My COVID-19 Story

COVID-19 spiky virus. Canva.com

I got COVID-19 in mid-March 2020. I haven’t mentioned it here before, but I keep thinking I should, so here I am. Maybe my story will prompt others to tell theirs.

It’s evident that I don’t have a spunky immune system. I eat a lot of vegetables and handfuls of supplements. I try to exercise regularly but I haven’t felt up to running or other exercise in last few months.

If you’ve had COVID, has it taken you a while to recover? I’m struggling. I don’t have “long COVID” but probably a cocktail of illness, old and new.

Diagnosis

So you’d expect I would have had a tough case of COVID, but I didn’t. To me, it was really like a bad cold. My fever and cough were slight. I was off work about a week and a half, but I was still able to keep up with my work email every day. Compared to some of the viruses I’ve wrestled with over the last five years, this one was on the light side. I feel blessed.

I thought I had COVID, but I needed a test to prove it. I have one of those apps where you can see a doctor online. I had to wait for several hours, but in the end (near midnight), the nurse practitioner didn’t think I had it. The following week, I went to the my regular doctor, but my symptoms were all but gone, so the nurse practitioner there didn’t believe me either.

On a follow up visit, I begged for an antibody test which my doctor finally approved. Within a few days, I got my diagnosis not from the doctor’s office but from a Salt Lake county contract tracer.

I called my doctor to give her the news. We can all use occasional moments of vindication.

Recovery

I recovered fairly well at first, but my running times were way off. I only ran two 5Ks in 2020, and my times were slow. Since last fall, fatigue has completely dominated my life. I don’t know if the fatigue is residual from COVID-19, or if I’m suffering from other maladies too—a cumulative effect. It’s been a trial of faith when you try so many things to feel better and nothing seems to work very well. Except sunlight.

In any case, I wasn’t well this winter, at least not until we started to get more sunlight in May. Since my big yellow friend arrived, time outside with natural doses of vitamin D have seemed to help and now I have a few semi-normal days each week, but I am still not out of the woods.

Masks

While wearing a mask has been a bother (I get nauseated after about 30 minutes), I caught the fewest viruses last winter than in recent memory. Working from home and not riding public transportation may have contributed to a healthier season for me too. So in spite of the negative press on masks, I think they have helped me. I’ll wear them on the train next winter, COVID or no COVID.

That said, I never have had to wear a mask for longer than an hour or so. I feel bad for those that have to wear them all day, every day, at school or work. I especially feel bad for the kids.

Vaccines

I am not against vaccines, but I’m cautious about them. Sometimes they seem to do more harm than good. I have taken plenty of vaccines in the past, but when your toxic load is high like mine, you have to weigh risks.

First off, since I have had the disease, shouldn’t I have immunity. Some doubt that immunity from COVID will last, but a study from the Washington University School of Medicine (also see this article in Nature) indicates that those antibodies could last a lifetime. Isn’t natural immunity better than a vaccine? Why would a medical professional go against the history of medicine to try to get me to take the vaccine?

I try to do my homework on issues. I like facts more than theories even though theories can be fun. I do my best to listen to both sides of an argument, though it’s tough to listen to propaganda (from both sides). In a word, I try to not be an ideologue.

I also try to tune into motives. I’m constantly analyzing motives. I constantly ask myself why a person, particularly a public person, takes a certain stance on an issue. Will they or their political posture profit from their stance, or do they genuinely care about people? Are they telling the truth? Why or why not? You can’t judge a person fully, but you owe it to yourself to use your best judgment to discern what their motives likely are.

There are a lot of things about COVID vaccines that concern me (that’s an understatement), but I’ll only mention one here.

When I use MedAlerts to query the Vaccine Adverse Effects Reporting System (VAERS) database, as of May 14, 2021, there have been 4,021 deaths due to COVID-19 vaccines. That caught my attention. And an older Harvard study reports that less than 1 percent of vaccine adverse effects are reported (see page 5). That is something to really think about, especially if you go to the trouble of doing the actual math.

Have you heard about these vaccine-related deaths on the news? I’d guess you haven’t. Is this information suppressed? If so, why? Who profits from suppressed information? I don’t feel guilty for asking these questions, but I make some people uncomfortable when I ask them because it goes against the standard narrative.

All I’ve offered are facts and questions. I have always bucked the standard narrative since I was a child.

What’s Next?

The overall cost of COVID-19, personally, has been more than I bargained for. The cost to the world has been catastrophic. I don’t know what the new normal will be for me or for our nation or world, but I comfort myself by recognizing that I have no idea what normal is anymore and that my eyes have been opened.

I don’t believe everything I hear, but I weigh most everything I hear. So I won’t be surprised if the origins of COVID-19 are more sinister than any of us have imagined. I hope I’m wrong, but I don’t think I am.

Whatever the case, I trust God. He is ultimately in charge. He has definitely gotten my attention over the last year. I am more careful about my thoughts, words, and actions. I ramble prayers day and night. I want to stay connected to Him and to the many good people in my life. And I have every reason to be confident in the future because I know God is listening and is with me.

Near-death Experience Aftereffects

Clouds, sky, and sun. From Canva.com

I recently discovered the following lists of near-death experience aftereffects based on the research of P.M.H. Atwater. They also seem to hold true for those who have had deep or remarkable spiritual experiences, but that’s just my opinion. These lists were developed from more than 3,000 adult research sessions plus 277 with children.

I’ve adapted and formatted the lists (original format). They come from Atwater’s book Beyond the Light. I think the aftereffects are fascinating.

Psychological Aftereffects of Near-death States

Most Common (between 80 to 99%)

  • loss of the fear of death
  • more spiritual/less religious
  • more generous and charitable
  • handle stress easier
  • philosophical
  • more open and accepting of the new and different
  • disregard for time and schedules
  • regard things as new even when they’re not (boredom levels decrease)
  • form expansive concepts of love while at the same time challenged to initiate and maintain satisfying relationships
  • become psychic/intuitive
  • know things (closer connection to Deity/God, prayerful)
  • deal with bouts of depression
  • less competitive

Quite Common (50 to 79%)

  • displays of psychic phenomena
  • vivid dreams and visions
  • “inner child” issues exaggerated
  • convinced of life purpose/mission
  • rejection of previous limitations/norms
  • episodes of future knowing common
  • more detached and objective (dissociation)
  • “merge” easily (absorption)
  • hunger for knowledge
  • difficulty communicating and with language
  • can go through deep periods of depression and feelings of alienation from others
  • synchronicity commonplace
  • more or less sexual
  • less desire for possessions and money
  • service oriented
  • healing ability
  • attract animals
  • good with plants
  • aware of invisible energy fields/auras
  • preference for open doors and open windows/shades
  • drawn to crystals
  • laugh more
  • adults: lighter afterwards
  • children: wiser, more serious, bonding to parents lessens