Friday, July 31, 2015

The Garden of Friendship

Like my grandfather and my father, I am a gardener. I have fond memories of working with my grandfather in his garden as I was growing up.  My grandfather was my hero.  As a child I idolized him and looked up to him as the most important figure in my life.  In so many ways I strove to be like him.  

As an adult I maintain his love of gardening.  I go out after work and ‘play’ in my garden.  I work the soil.  I weed.  I pick the fruits and vegetables.  I try to find new ways to keep pests from it, without killing beneficial insects.  I worry about it.  I pray it grows.  As crazy as it sounds I touch my plants gently and talk with them.  Ultimately, I glean happiness from the harvest of my labors.  

Now, why don’t I do that with all my friendships?  I need to start treating my friendships like I do my garden.  As I see it, there are only two things we take with us from this earth: our knowledge/memories, and our relationships with others.  I love my plants, but the time and effort I put into them shouldn’t overshadow what I give to my friendships and relationships.   

friendships, like plants have basic needs.  When those needs are met they survive.  But survival is not the same as flourishing or thriving.  Living in the desert gives a new appreciation to plants surviving versus plants thriving.  If you throw enough water at the plant it will likely survive, but in its survival, you will see a lot of weakness and stunted growth.  

In order to make a plant flourish - especially a non-native plant in the desert - it takes a lot of work and care.  You must first prepare the soil.   The soil might need to be different depending on the plant.  for a cactus the soil should be very different than for garden vegetables.  I need to make sure the soil is fertilized and then well watered.  As the seedlings sprout, I watch them like a hawk - literally - I don’t want predators destroying the young and very weak plant. As the plant grows and becomes more mature, it takes less time and effort, but just the same there is effort involved.  If you want it to flourish you need to continue to provide correct amounts of water, fertilizer, sun and shade. Too much or too little of anything will cause weakness in the plant.

So what are some ways I have found to help a friendship thrive?

Communication is one.   Make an effort to communicate with more than just the occasional message.  And when communicating, make an effort to engage in the conversation with that person.  Too many times we are with someone but in communication with our mobile devices than the person we are with at that moment. I know if someone is more interested in what social media says than what I am saying when I am sitting across from them, it feels like they don’t really want to be with me.

Honesty and openness in who you are in a friendship is paramount.  Sometimes, when you are getting to know each other, it may seem scary to be honest.  Of course it is important to use tact, but setting your expectations and boundaries in a healthy manner is very important.  My new favorite phrase is, ‘I’d rather have someone hate me for who I am than love me for who I’m not’.  I feel that we mask our true selves from those whom we consider friends and then too often we feel our true selves can never be revealed because they know the ‘other’ person we are.  Some might say this is being vulnerable.

Allow them to make mistakes and/or do things differently than you do.  Just like a plant that may grow in a way that you don’t like, so our friends may do something that we don’t like.  Just because they don’t do things the way we would do them doesn’t make them wrong, or need to result in your unfriending them.  True friendship deserves to have allowances for the other’s ways.  

Let’s start out friendships with honesty and healthy vulnerability. Let’s make communication sincere.  Don’t be afraid to be who you are around them.  Those who are truly your friends will cherish you for who you are!  This is what makes relationships thrive!


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Thursday, July 16, 2015

The Sum of It All....A Real Man

I have the wonderful opportunity to work closely with a lot of men.  In the process of learning a lot about them and the struggles they have in life, I have observed and learned how personally we take our struggles, and how we let our imperfections keep us from growing. 

Let me explain.  All the men I deal with are men of great character and strength.  I am often humbled by the burdens they carry, but most often I am astounded by the amazing men they are: Strong, compassionate, determined men who want to do what is right.  They are men who lift up others around them and are examples of goodness and righteous behavior.  They are men I want to be like.   What is the catch?  In all their goodness, often all they can see is their struggle.  All they see is weakness and it blurs the total vision of who they are. 

I will describe this in a way that will hopefully make better sense.  I learn about these men and how good they are.  I see the light of Christ in their eyes and feel the strength of their spirits, and yet they beat themselves up over weaknesses they have.  In the case of weaknesses that would be considered a sin, I do not want to diminish the challenge of sin.   All sin is wrong and needs to be worked on and taken away from our character, but often we allow the sin to dictate who we are.  If allowed, that sin becomes the whole of who we are, and not just a small component included in everything good that we are.  For example,  if a man has a problem with moral sin, like masturbation, in his eyes it is overwhelming and totally weighs him down.  He bases his whole person on that problem.  It is a problem and one that must be overcome, but in view of the total picture of who he is, it is small in comparison.  Once again I am not trying to diminish or justify sin,  I am just trying to put it into perspective.

The problem comes when we listen to the adversary whispers that we are worthless or nothing.  Especially after we sin, he tells us we are worthless and might as well give in.  So we give up and sin again, and so he whispers again and again.  It is hard to get out of the circle of his whispers when we only focus on the sin and our weakness.  He makes it seem impossible, and he makes us feel like we are without hope or that we will never overcome and rise above the sin.  He is the master at clouding our vision and not allowing us to see the complete picture of who we really are.

Who are we really?  We are Sons of God with unlimited potential and divine potential; men of great value and strength.  We are strong men who love and care for others, and keep so many other commandments.  We are men that God loves and honors because of our efforts to do good.  Really, in the big picture of who we are, some of the things we struggle with are small and of little consequence.  They can be easily overcome when we focus on who we really are and not who Satan wants us to believe we are. 

Yes it is hard to deal with the shame of sin.  But the vast majority of the shame comes because Satan wants to bring us down to his level.  The Savior’s way is not to fill us with shame.  His way for us is love and understanding and hope.  He understands we will sin, and has provided a way to overcome the sin.  But lets be realistic; the need for the atonement would be of no value if we were perfect. The only way to become perfect is when we allow the atonement to cleanse our sins.  The atonement has the power to lift us up and  make us better; to give us the power to resist sin and see the value of who we are even when we are struggling with weakness.  Satan's power drags us down.  When we feel  like we are nothing; when we beat ourselves up constantly, who's plan are we following?  Satan's plan.  

We should absolutely be concerned about our weaknesses and struggles.  We need to work on overcoming and becoming more Christlike.  However, if all we do is dwell on the sin and not on who we really are, we will never overcome and rise to the potential of who we really can be. 

In summary, a Real Man is one who recognizes his weakness and is anxiously engaged in overcoming them.  But a Real Man also sees his total worth is the Lord’s eyes and as he sees this, it gives him courage and strength to be better.  

Let’s focus on the divine nature each of us possesses and not focus on our own sins and those of others.  Do we see in the everyone’s eyes the precious spirit of God that dwells there?  Life is a challenge and as we look at the whole person and not just the sin, we can and will see greatness in others and ourselves.

I struggle everyday with weaknesses and faults, but as I ponder and pray I realize that the things I struggle with are a small part of who I really am.  That knowledge gives me the strength to ignore the constant whisperings of Satan telling me I am worthless.   No matter my struggles,  I am a Son of God with unlimited potential and value.  We all are.


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Wednesday, July 8, 2015

A Man's Character Vs. His Outward Appearance

I love when It’s peach season because I love peaches.  The other day I had one that was from a local source.  It looked amazing.  I thought, ‘now that is going to be a good peach’.  I bit into it with all the expectations of having a great peach, and it was NOT!  It was dry and mealy.  It had little flavor.  I was disappointed.  Here I had this peach that by all outward appearances should have been a great peach.  But the insides were awful.  Some of the best peaches I’ve eaten were not that glamorous on the outside, but the fruit was amazing!

In ancient Israel, when the prophet Samuel was struggling to find a king to replace Saul, the Lord answered him saying,  ‘For the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart.’ 1 Samuel, 16:7

Now to juxtapose the sacred with the secular: Jack Black is one of my favorite comic actors.   He starred in a Movie called ‘Shallow Hal’ back in 2001.  While this was about his relationship with women, the same principle applies with any relationship including men's relationships.  In the movie he was only interested in outwardly attractive women and was disparaging of those he deemed unattractive.  In a turn of events, he had the opportunity to see others as they would look if their inside appearance were their outward appearance.  Beautiful women were ugly, while those who were not as outwardly attractive appeared beautiful to him. Of course the outcome is that he fell in love with a woman who was an amazing person on the inside, but could be considered less attractive on the outside.  In the course of the movie, he learned the lesson that we can’t judge a person by how they look on the outside.

It breaks my heart to think of the times that I may have passed up what could have been a meaningful relationship or friendship in my life because I cared too much about the outward appearance of someone, instead of taking the time to look into their heart and find out the real person inside.

We live in a world obsessed with the superficial.  Media has told us that as long as a person looks good they are good.  Our politicians have to be television ready and polished at all times. We are overly critical of appearance.  Comments like, ‘ That person should be ashamed to be on TV.  They can’t speak at all.’ or ‘Wow! he really let himself go.  Isn’t he embarrassed at how much weight he’s gained?’, only perpetuate our passion for the ‘perfect’ image.  

And it’s not just our media, it bleeds into our home life as well.  We can’t be happy with simple countertops.  We deserve - no, we NEED - the best marble countertops and stainless steel appliances - afterall, how could you live without them?  We can’t be happy if our backyard isn’t perfectly landscaped and our house doesn’t look like it came out of a magazine the day after we buy it.  We obsess about the kind of car someone drives or what their children look like.

I think as a culture we have lost sight of what is important.  We place emphasis on things that don’t matter and make those things, which have little meaning, of critical urgency.  And in doing so, we have missed out on human relations.  The outwardly beautiful are praised and showered with accolades while the plain are left in the dust; even if those who are outwardly plain have a much better character than those who are considered beautiful.  

I was talking with a person who is several years younger than me about a politician.  The young man was enamored with this politician’s command for language and how energetic and handsome he was.  He would say, ‘He is such a good speaker! How could I not vote for him?’.  I asked the young man, ‘But do you know anything of his work ethic?  What about his policies or background in leadership? Has he done anything to prove he will be a good leader?’.  The young man looked perplexed as if I were speaking a foreign language; as if he couldn’t understand that anything but the politicians looks and oratorical prowess could matter.  

God, however, looks at the inside of a person.  God knows our spirits and hearts.  Just because a person can’t speak well doesn’t make them an idiot.  They just have a problem speaking.   Someone may not be what we consider attractive physically, but they may be the most generous and loving person you could ever meet.  I have met men who say they are vain and only want to be around other good-looking people/men.  While I can’t blame them for wanting to be around good-looking men, how many wonderful relationships are we passing up because we are concerned too much with the outside?

As I get older, relationships mean more to me than appearances.  Perhaps this is where aging has an advantage.  I feel I am better able to look beyond the physical traits of a person and see the inside.  As I let more and more people into my circle without regard to their appearance, I find I learn so much more.  I gain greater love as well.  

Let’s not let a good relationship be sacrificed because we are too vain to allow someone in.  We need to seek out the friendship of other men who are going to lift us up and be true friends and good influences in our lives.  This should be regardless of their outward appearance.  We need to remember to look at them as God looks at them - their inward appearance.  


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Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Marriage Ordained of God

I love this photo.  It tells a great story.  I love how the Savior is surrounded by men.  I love the feeling of love that is between them, and how you can feel the Savior's love for them.  I appreciate the show of affection between the men and to those closest to the Savior.  I think this painting shows just how men can love each other, and how that love can be in harmony with the Savior and his teachings.  To me, he is the greatest example of all things and any time I have a question of what should be done, all I have to do is look to him and his life to know the answer.  There is no doubt in my mind of his love for other men and his compassion for men, no matter what they are struggling with.  I know he understands any and all trials and has compassion for what each of us struggles with.  I also know he set the perfect example and desires we follow his teachings, regardless of how hard it may be or what the world may say.  He has stated, "I am the light and the life."   He never justifies sin or moving from the path he declared for any reason.  

This past year has been one of learning and growth for me as I have opened my heart and have come to understand more and more about the struggles men have in our society.  I have learned to be more open and accepting of things that I do not often understand.  If we personally don't understand or have not dealt with that certain trial others are having, too often we can be judgmental and show a lack understanding for what others are going through.  Just because someone is struggling with something I cannot comprehend, it does not lessen the burden they carry.  In today's world we need to be more understanding and Christlike in our judgements.  Having said that there is a great difference in showing love and blindly accepting things.  We must be careful how we deal with differences.  We cannot for one moment lower our standards or accept the world's standards simply because they tell us we have to.  We can be loving and understanding, but that does not mean we have to lower our standards or change our beliefs.  we must ever remain strong and faithful and focused on what we believe: No, what we know is right. 

 I remember a great sermon years ago by a great man.   The sermon was called "The Absolute Truth", the jist of the sermon was how there are certain truths, and just because man says something different, that  does not change and cannot change "Absolute Truths".   For many years it was taught the world was flat,  now matter how many thought it was flat, it did not change.  In the article they compared a watch that was found.  It was found far away from where it was made, but that fact did not change the fact of where it was really made.  That is how it is today.  There are Absolute Truths, and no matter how badly or how many want them to change, they will not.  

Marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God,  that truth will never change.  Can two men get married, yes they can, but that union will not be ordained of God, no matter how much man or the law of the land states it to be.  God's ways are not always easy to understand, but when we follow them we receive the blessings.  Can two men that get married be happy?  They probably can, but that does not make it right in God's eyes.   

I personally believe that two men  or two women can really deeply love each other.  What a wonderful thing.  But even more wonderful is when two men or two women can love each other and keep it within the boundaries God has established and condoned.   I by no means want to judge someone for loving someone else and desiring to express that love by a commitment of marriage.  Agency is a great gift that God has given, but I am deeply touched by men and women who have those same desires and choose to do the hard thing; follow the teachings of the Savior. It is easy to follow the teachings and ways of man.  The true test come when we follow God's teachings, even at great personal sacrifice and discomfort.  

Christ is our perfect example in all things.  He wants us to be loving and kind and accepting of everyone,  but we cannot confuse acceptance with that of changing our standards of things we know to be Absolute Truths.  We can hold fast to the truth and still be loving and understanding of trials others are experiencing.  

I personally know men who struggle deeply with Same Gender Attraction.  I am touched and amazed at how they, with great difficulty and personal sacrifice choose to follow the Savior.  I admire their personal courage and commitment in doing what they know is right, even when with all their hearts they want to do differently.  I love them and when I am around them I feel the Savior's love for them.

One of the greatest things the Savior has taught by his example is that the Human heart has the unlimited power to love. There are no borders or boundaries on how many or how deeply we can love others.  Man puts restrictions and rules that are not in harmony to His teachings.  The only rule he gives is to "keep my commandments", in this there is safety and peace.  Laws may change, man's opinion may change,  but the Absolute Truth is that God's teachings do not change and when we follow Him and keep His commandments, no matter how hard they may seem, we are blessed and live in peace and happiness.

I love this picture. I want to be like Him in all I do, especially in how I understand others and respond to the burdens they carry.   


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