Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Messiah Bad News/Good News

2008 is our first "A.D." year without an Easter Messiah performance (bad news)...

...but while cleaning out our camcorder to make room for Jake's first grade talent show we found (good news) stealth footage of our 2006 Easter Messiah concert -- just four months after neurosurgery and removal of part of my right brain. It was the first of four concerts (and hopefully counting)...

Saturday, May 24, 2008

My Talk - These Things Shall Give Thee Experience

Hi, folks -

Since you're not here in Texas this weekend, below is the talk I am giving this Sunday. Just grab a picture from my tumor blog (probably not the one in the karate uniform) and pretend you're hearing me speak:

These Things Shall Give Thee Experience

In Doctrine & Covenants section 122 the Lord responds to the prophet Joseph Smith, who is in Liberty Jail. After describing many awful possibilities, the Lord said: “…and above all, if the very jaws of hell shall gape open the mouth wide after thee, know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good.” When I first learned this scripture I wondered how all those terrible things could possibly “give thee experience” and “be for thy good”. Of course, at the time, I was pretty inexperienced with adversity.

Our Heavenly Father designed a great plan of happiness to bring to pass our immortality and eternal lives. And yet this plan of happiness necessarily includes opposition and adversity. When our lives take twists and turns that we don’t expect – or want – we may find ourselves longing for a more predictable and pain-free existence. Something more simple, fair, and controllable.

We must remember that in the premortal existence there was a plan presented, where everything was controlled to ensure a guaranteed outcome. But that plan, presented by Lucifer, was contrary to the will of the Father. It was rejected, and those who supported Lucifer’s plan were cast out. Our existence on this earth is evidence of our willingness to accept the Lord’s way.

The Book of Mormon records Lehi’s counsel to his son Jacob, who had experienced much affliction and sorrow. Lehi taught that in order to accomplish his purposes, the Lord’s plan required an opposition in all things. In order to bring to pass righteousness, the plan allowed for wickedness. In order for us to appreciate joy, we must also be subject to misery.

President Spencer W. Kimball explained this in more detail: “Is there not wisdom in his giving us trials that we might rise above them, responsibilities that we might achieve, work to harden our muscles, sorrows to try our souls? Are we not exposed to temptations to test our strength, sickness that we might learn patience, death that we might be immortalized and glorified?
If all the sick for whom we prayed were healed, if all the righteous were protected and the wicked destroyed, the whole program of the Father would be annulled and the basic principle of the gospel, free agency, would be ended. No man would have to live by faith. If joy and peace and rewards were instantaneously given the doer of good, there could be no evil—all would do good but not because of the rightness of doing good. There would be no test of strength, no development of character, no growth of powers, no free agency, only satanic controls.”

After acknowledging the role of adversity in the Lord’s plan, Father Lehi also taught Jacob, “thou knowest the greatness of God; and he shall consecrate thine afflictions for thy gain.”
The same reassurance was given by the Lord to the persecuted saints in Missouri: “Fear not…All things wherewith you have been afflicted shall work together for your good.”

There are many scriptural examples of how this promise is fulfilled, and I’ll name only a few. The more the Israelites were afflicted by the Egyptians, the more they multiplied and grew. When Alma’s followers were enslaved and threatened, the Lord strengthened them that they could bear up their burdens with ease and submit cheerfully to his will.

Alma the younger described his own repentance process, in which he said that there could be nothing so exquisite and bitter as was his pain and suffering over his sinful state. Yet upon receiving forgiveness he said there was nothing so exquisite and sweet as his joy. His desire from that point forward was to labor without ceasing to bring more souls unto repentance. He taught his sons to rely upon the Lord, testifying, “And I have been supported under trials and troubles of every kind, yea, and in all manner of afflictions…yea, and I do put my trust in him, and he will still deliver me.”

The apostle Paul had what he called "a thorn in the flesh". He prayed for the Lord to take that thorn from him, but instead the Lord replied: "My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness". The prophet Ether received a similar response when the Lord told him, “I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.”

President Ezra Taft Benson explained: “It is not on the pinnacle of success and ease where men and women grow most. It is often down in the valley of heartache and disappointment and reverses where men and women grow into strong characters.”

Ardeth Greene Kapp said that: “This life experience is designed for our growth and progress. Our trials will not be more than we can handle, but they cannot be less if we are to fill the measure of our creation.” This quote always reminds me of the careful silversmith, who oversees the refining process to bring out all of the potential of the silver while protecting it from damage.

Orson F. Whitney said that, “No pain that we suffer, no trial that we experience is wasted. It ministers to our education, to the development of such qualities as patience, faith, fortitude, and humility.

And Elder Neal A. Maxwell put it well by saying, “How can you and I really expect to glide naively through life, as if to say, ‘Lord, give me experience, but not grief, not sorrow, not pain, not opposition, not betrayal, and certainly not to be forsaken. Keep from me, Lord, all those experiences which made Thee what Thou art! Then, let me come and dwell with Thee and fully share Thy joy!’” He also said that “For the faithful, there is short-term tribulation but long-term joy.”

Even the Savior, who walked in perfect obedience, needed to experience adversity in order to fulfill his mission. As Alma wrote, “And he shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; … and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities.” The Savior himself said, “In the world ye shall have tribulation, but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.” President Hunter said that if our lives and our faith are centered upon Jesus Christ and his restored gospel, nothing can ever go permanently wrong.

As the Lord consecrates our afflictions for our gain, I have pondered how I might in turn consecrate my afflictions for the Lord’s purposes, like the apostle Paul, who gloried and took pleasure in infirmities for Christ's sake.

We don’t always get to choose the circumstances in our lives, but we always get to choose what we will do about them. Viktor Frankl was a Holocaust survivor who wrote about the various reactions he witnessed among concentration camp prisoners. He describes “the last of the human freedoms—to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way."

The Book of Mormon also describes the contrasting ways that people responded to adversity. Alma 62:41: “But behold, because of the exceedingly great length of the war between the Nephites and the Lamanites many had become hardened, because of the exceedingly great length of the war; and many were softened because of their afflictions, insomuch that they did humble themselves before God, even in the depth of humility.” We choose whether to allow adversity to be destructive or constructive experiences in our lives.

Elaine Cannon said that “A person who understands that life is schooling is more likely to benefit from adversity than one who expects only happiness in life.” President Kimball said that “Suffering can make saints of people as they learn patience, long-suffering, and self-mastery.”

Many years ago, during a difficult time in my life, I had a visiting teacher who was going through significant adversity of her own. She was a faithful visiting teacher who focused on my needs, and when she closed her visits with prayer, she always prayed that we might both “quickly learn what we need to learn” from the trials we were facing. I have always remembered and appreciated her choice to learn from adversity.

The Savior suffered all that we suffer, so that he could know how to help us. Likewise, we can choose to develop compassion and empathy for others. We can use our experiences to become instruments in the Lord’s hands, to “mourn with those that mourn” and “comfort those that stand in need of comfort.”

We can also choose to develop gratitude, because adversity reveals things that we may otherwise take for granted. As we take notice and acknowledge the blessings in our lives, and the tender mercies that sustain us through our trials, more of them are revealed to us, and we become like the servant of Elisha, whose eyes were finally opened to see the numerous chariots of fire protecting them against the enemy.

We can also choose to submit ourselves to the Lord’s will, and reap the blessings that come from trusting in him. Howard W. Hunter said that “Peace can come to an individual only by an unconditional surrender to him who is the Prince of peace and who has the power to confer peace.”

The Savior said, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth.” He also said, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.” And he said, “Look unto me in every thought; doubt not, fear not.”

In Proverbs we read, “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart, and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways, acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.”

In closing I want to quote President Gordon B.Hinckley at a time that must have been his deepest sorrow. From the funeral program for his wife, his words are as follows:

It isn’t as bad as you sometimes think it is.
It all works out.
Don’t worry.
I say that to myself every morning.
It will all work out.
Put your trust in God, and move forward with faith and confidence in the future.
The Lord will not forsake us.
He will not forsake us.
If we will put our trust in Him,
If we will pray to Him,
If we will live worthy of His blessings,
He will hear our prayers."
Someday we will be free from all of our earthly sorrows, but we will get to retain the experience that we have gained. These experiences will be for our good, making us better prepared to realize our greatest potential and our highest joy and fulfillment as children of our loving Heavenly Father. I bear testimony of this in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Can't die from GBM yet...too busy

CNN asked people to put their brain tumor survivor stories on in response to Senator Kennedy's diagnosis. Here's mine -- check out the cute guy behind me:

The picture is actually a crop from my "graduation" picture taken in March, when I graduated from chemotherapy:

Jared and I are surrounded by (from left):

Nurse Elizabeth (who takes my vitals at check-in, and we always joke about whether to check my blood pressure before or after I get on the scale)

ME with Jared celebrating behind me, and my hands on Nurse Charlie's shoulders (Nurse Charlie is actually named Brenda, but she goes by Charlie. She's the one who administers my chemotherapy.)

Dr. Karen Fink (my amazing miracle-working neuro-oncologist, in the dark suit); and

Nurse practitioner Vanessa (in the white lab coat; she often does my neuro tests, so when I see her I immediately start counting backward from 100 by sevens)

...ah, the fun memories!