Sunday, April 22, 2018

Faith and the Placebo Effect

Instead of sitting in Elder's Quorum and Sunday School this morning, I'm at home with a sick daughter. In an hour or so, my wife will trade me places and I'll go attend Sacrament meeting with the other kids.

I got thinking about a discussion I had recently about the Placebo Effect. Some of you will know what it is. Basically, it's something scientists have noticed when studying medicines and treatments, or when trying out new ones. To see if a medicine will work, the researchers will often give one group of people the actual medicine to try, and another group will get a non-medicine, a "placebo". Something totally inert that we know won't have any effect (at times, they'll even use plain ol' sugar, hence the name, a "Sugar Pill"). Then we measure the difference between the two groups to see how well the medicine works.

One set of medications is real, the other is just full of cornstarch and nasty smelling stuff to convince you it's real

Interestingly enough, taking something that isn't supposed to work, often does have some benefit. The placebo often gives people a medical benefit. For whatever reasons, placebos work. Maybe it's mental, maybe it's emotional, maybe a mix of things. So if the placebo gives a benefit 10% of the time, and the medicine gives a benefit 80% of the time, we can get a good idea whether we should use that medicine or not. Or, perhaps the placebo will give a 10% reduction in symptoms all the time, but the medicine will give a 70% reduction all the time. For some things the placebo effect can be as effective as the best drugs we have for it! That's a lot for something that's not supposed to work.

That means, that when we THINK something will work, often it makes enough changes within our body and thus our life that it actually DOES work. The power of the mind is amazing. It's so sensitive to actually believing in the medicine that researchers often times won't even let the doctors giving the medicine know which is the real medicine and which isn't, or else the doctor might give some hesitancy, some clue, some subtle discouragement to the medication that will turn off the patient from believing in it. This is called a "Single Blind" study.

And to make sure that there's no hints about which medicine is real coming from the researchers, they will often prevent themselves from knowing which is which until after the study is over. This is called a "Double Blind" study and is the safest way we have in science of knowing whether something works or not: When NO ONE involved in the experiment knows which is the real medicine or not until after it's over, then we know for sure there were no hints or nuances that might have tipped the doctor or the patient into believing a medicine will work or not.

That's how powerful the placebo effect is. When we BELIEVE it works, sometimes, it actually does. Not always, and almost never the majority of the time, but enough that we can measure it consistently and have to watch out for it messing with our studies.

"I know it sounds like a cat poster, but it's true"
As a doctor who loves science and research, I have to consider this in my own life. For example, I am prone to tension headaches. Over the years, I've figured out many of the triggers for it, and I've learned many ways to get rid of them or halt them quickly when I feel them starting. Sometimes, they get the best of me and I'm having to reach for a few capsules of Ibuprofen. Depending on the food in my stomach and what kind of activity I'm doing, I can expect the muscles in my head and neck to relax and the headache to go away in about an hour.

Sometimes, though —maybe one in ten times— my headache will go away immediately. Within seconds or minutes of swallowing the capsule I'll get relief, too fast for the effect to come from the actual medicine. On very rare occasions, the headache will start to lessen even as I make up my mind to take it, before I've even taken it! My brain and my body KNOW what is coming and will trigger things inside of me to lessen the tension even without the Ibuprofen! Yes, the placebo effect is powerful.

So, how does this affect my faith? I've listened to enough life coaches, attended enough motivational speeches and lectures, and read enough books to know that BELIEVING something will happen, often makes it happen, whether it's real or not. If I want to believe the world is flat, I will find evidence helping me believe it, until I've read enough evidence and spent enough time studying it that nothing will ever convince me otherwise. If I want to believe Mormons are bad people and the LDS church is a corrupt institution, I can find enough material to convince me of that as well. And if I want to believe that God is real, Joseph Smith was a prophet, and the Book of Mormon is an accurate historical document, I can find enough material to convince me of that as well. And in my own world, I would be right because I would have all the evidence I needed to KNOW whatever it is I was determined to KNOW.

I have all the evidence I need to know that this guy....... would be fun at parties
The funny thing about the decisions we make in life, is that they are just about ALL made on our emotions first, then we use "logic" and "reasoning" to back it up or rationalize our decisions. It's been studied enough times, that I'm personally convinced that this is the case, even though I would love to believe that I am much too smart for that. Some emotional experience drives my decision making process, then I use my smarts and intelligence to prove to others I made the right call.

Knowing all this, how do I know when I'm really making a sound decision, then? How do I know that I believe the Gospel for the RIGHT reasons, whatever those are? What even ARE the right reasons for believing in something? I'm not going to answer that for you, it'll be different for each of you. For some of you, believing because your family believes will be enough. Believing because you see that it makes you a better person could be enough. Believing because you see that it has helped the lives of your community could be enough. Believing because you trust or trusted the person who taught it to you could be enough. Those are all wonderful reasons for believing the gospel. That is faith. We have seen the fruits of the gospel and want hope to see those same truths lift us up as well.

Those have been good enough reasons for me in the past to even say "I KNOW". Because I did Know. I had been taught by people I trusted. By people who's lives were made better. By family and friends and community. The church is a school and a support group. We are taught through curriculums from experts on the subject, and we share with each other what has worked for each of us in our individual lives. What we KNOW about the gospel, we learned from people we love and trust.

None of us were baptized knowing how to deal with a difficult employee, or live with discouraging health problems, or with a perfect knowledge how to deal with anxious and ill-tempered neighbors. Many people don't even know how to be nice to their own selves! "Love one another" doesn't have many details how to carry itself out. Church is one of many places where we can learn those important skills and apply them to the commandment to "Love your neighbor as you love yourself." We learn from rich and wealthy business people, we learn from mild and timid kids. We learn from hardened blue-collar workers. We learn from the overwhelmed mother. We learn from PhDs and apprentices alike. It is truly a place where lions and lambs dwell together. Where "babes" can play with "asps" and not be bitten.
Is it just me, or is it the wolf that looks frightened? Good thing there's a fence to hold back that vicious lamb!
We have a goal-post, a standard, a flag that we are trying to reach. It is known as "The Savior". And as we learn the strategies of playing this game on this field, we apply those strategies to help us get to the end zone, to the goal. So that wherever we are in this field, however far apart our team is spread across it's uneven terrain, we have the same end point.

And now, how do I REALLY KNOW that my endpoint is the right one? How do I know I'm going in the right direction, playing for the right team, and working towards the right goal? How do we know we haven't just deluded ourselves, or that our families aren't wrong? How do we know how to stand up to accusations of "false hopes" and "self-righteous fantasies?" How do we know a miracle is real and not just hopeful dreams ignoring the reality that may have caused it?

We keep learning. We learn to judge between truth and error. We advance ourselves in wisdom and intelligence. We seek for words of wisdom only out of "the best books." We work to get a personal experience with God Himself. We read that he has allowed others to see him or speak with him. We read of those who've had unmistakable experiences with heaven. And then we work towards and pray for those kinds of experiences for ourselves. Or at least enough faith and evidence to keep us believing until we do get an undeniable experience we are seeking. And even then, if you've had an undeniable experience, don't be surprised if the weathering and beating of Life on Earth dulls that experience for you, but hold onto the memory as best as you can until it is renewed somehow. Just because a mountain is worn down by the wind and rain, doesn't deny the forces that put it there in the first place.

Eternity is a seagull wearing down this mountain by sharpening it's beak on it once every thousand years...??

What about all those others around the world, absolutely convinced as much as we are that their religion and faith are correct? I would say this, "If they are on a good path that will eventually lead back to the Savior in their own way, God would have no problem telling them so, right?" So of course they are going to continue doing the good things they are doing, and we should encourage that! If God tells us that what we are doing is right, then you should keep doing it! Just be careful. Just because God tells us that one thing we are doing is good, doesn't mean ALL the things we are doing are good, too. If you feel good at your other church, then that's great! Keep going and learning. Keep improving, because you and the rest of us, all need improving. If you subscribe to your faith and God tells you that He is There with you, believe it! Then do your best to live up to it.

If you find yourself wondering, "Is all this religion stuff, just a placebo? Couldn't I get the same or better benefits by trying other things?" Perhaps you could, it may be your place in life to try it out and see. Maybe it'll be your place in life to learn a few things the hard way and come back and report to us how it went! I do have a spoiler for you: This is all of our place. We are all having to learn by mistakes, by trying to do things our own way, or by consciously abandoning what we knew was right, to find out for ourselves. We are all doing this in different ways, so if you ever feel uncomfortable going to church because you don't feel like you fit in, I'm here to tell you that most people don't feel like they fit in. They are at church because they are trying to fit in.

What on earth is wrong with those GRAY apples?! That's just weird.
If you don't feel like what I just said applies to you, then I will promise you, the inability to see your mistakes and the damage being caused by them is your challenge. Or, one of them.

If faith in God is just a placebo medication, it is the original medication that all other medications were made to imitate. It's foolish to abandon the faith of your parents without abandoning everything that their faith also taught them, and their parents, and their parents, and their parents' parents about decency and civility and kindness and love, and most importantly about hope for the future.

I have known God in a way better than I know my wife, or my parents or my children. I have heard him speak inside of my heart and mind and show me things that no one else could show me. I have had a taste of the reality outside of reality. A few times even. All while completely sober and clear-headed. This life is a hazy dream compared to it. The next life will be crystal clear in the same way that a clean window looks compared to murky pond-water.

This gospel is true. The Book of Mormon is correct and true. God himself has told me it is. The Savior and his atonement are real, you can be forgiven for your mistakes. God has also told me this himself. I invite you to run after him and try to learn these things for yourself. Don't be afraid to use something that is working for you. Just find ways to keep learning and growing.

There's more ways to learn than from books... but you'll need to know all of these to pass the Final Exam!

Saturday, December 23, 2017

A quick case Why EVERYONE should Celebrate the story of Christ's Birth

I'll try to make this quick, it IS Christmas Eve-Eve after all and I should be helping my wife get ready for the next few days.

We haven't heard too much in the past few years about Political Correctedness and the wishing of "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas," though the effects of such discussions are still lingering.

One of my favorite things about this season is wishing Merry Christmas to my patients, to the cashiers at the grocery stores, to anyone I interact with. Some definitely get caught off-guard and will stammer out a "Thank you" or "Happy Holidays" or something like that. Perhaps, a "You too!" after an awkward pause. Most return an enthusiastic, "Merry Christmas to you!" in return, and I love it.

There's the sharing of brotherly love right there. The well-wishing to a near stranger. The hope for altruistic goodness to happen to another person. And not just the hope for "goodness" by itself, but for an enjoyable holiday too, hopefully surrounded by friends, family, or loved ones, all sharing their love with each other.

And in addition to the goodness, the sharing of love, and an enjoyable day off, it is linked to the hope of a goodness that will happen to all of us, forever and ever.

How so? And why do I care what atheists think of Christ and the true meaning of Christmas?

Folklore, traditions, Christmas symbols like trees and lights and stockings aside, Christmas is the time to celebrate the birth of a Christ, of the Messiah, the Savior of the World. The birth of a shamed woman who became pregnant before she got married, her new husband and her baby running for the live's into exile into another country for many years. A family so poor and alone, and crowded out, at the time of birth that they hunkered down into a dirty stinky barn, among the smelly animals, and likely the accompanying flies, surrounded by animal urine and feces, to give birth and put the newborn baby in a feed-trough. This event was marked in history by those who were there as being signaled by mysterious astronomic events, bright stars, glorious angels and heavenly choirs, and a pack of basically homeless, unbathed, uneducated, ignorant shepherds coming to give their approval of the baby. Sometime later, some wealthy elitists dropped by and basically awarded the family a lottery's worth of winnings in special gifts.

This baby then grows up somewhat respectably and starts preaching to anyone that'll listen that he was born to save the world, that he was literally God's gift to mankind, and believes it himself so much that he pokes the bear and gets killed by it, professing the entire time that it's going exactly as planned.

What kind of story is this?

It is the story of hope and ideals.

One of my favorite quotes of all time is this one:

Ideals are like stars; you will not succeed in touching them with your hands. But like the seafaring man on the desert of waters, you choose them as your guides, and following them you will reach your destiny."--Carl Schurz

Even if you don't believe in God, I propose a few good reasons to aim for a God, like a sailor aims for stars.

To believers, God represents the ultimate in Goodness. The ultimate in Love. God is Love and Christ is LOVE embodied here on earth. Their message was one of Love. And while love entails correction, disciplining, and leaving one alone to grow for themselves and experience individuality in all its painful wonder, it also embodies unity of individuals, growth through correction, and the gain of control over our surroundings through discipline.

If we sail by the wrong star, one that's close but not quite, or if we use a compass that is off by a few degrees, we may get near our ultimate destination, but we will ultimately miss it, and we may miss it by a lot.

When we set up our ideal as a God who embodies Love, it sets the course of our life on the correct path. When we envision a God who is self-sacrificing, who preaches unity of purpose among diversity of experience, who encourages gratitude, who commands us to look for positivity in all our experiences, who gives us reasons to Hope when darkness is all around us, we set our lives in alignment like iron filings align with the poles of a magnet, like electrons align with a current, like cars cooperating to get through traffic, like fibers in a cloth, and filaments or rods inside concrete. We become the source of all that's strong about humanity.

Atheists and biologists will tell you this is evolution, genetics, and biology. Nature. And they are right. It is Nature. It is a perfect nature. God is the God of Nature. Nature as we understand it exists because of the Fatherly God as we understand him. He gave us a home where we fit in and belong, that is as welcoming to us as anything could be. And he wants us to become like him. Nature wants us to improve, to evolve, to get better, to survive. Most of us with properly functioning minds have an innate drive to do so. We HOPE to become better. And that HOPE keeps us going.

When all seems dark, lost, and destroyed, hope is what stirs us to try again, to rebuild, and to find our way. Like a light shining in the darkness. Like a perfect blue marble drifting through space. Like a homeless man, born in a poop-filled barn teaching us of what we can become like, we learn to Hope for better things through the story of Christ.

This Hope is everything that every Life-Coach from Zig Ziglar to Tony Robbins is telling us. To not quit. To keep trying. To keep our course aligned with that star, with that compass, with that ideal, despite whatever storms, obstacles, darkness, fog, waves, hurricanes, mountains, ravines, enemies, or the like get in our way.

So, right at the beginning of every long, dark, barren, cold, lifeless winter, we light extra lights, we invite ever-green trees into our home. We share stories of charitable old men who faced storms to give presents. And we stress ourselves out making meals and buying gifts to share with our loved ones and neighbors, and those less fortunate than ourselves. All to stir up that hope. To kindle that fire that will keep us going through the new year. To renew our purpose for trying.

To teach us to Love each other. We should ALL encourage the celebration of Christmas, in all its splendour and glory. I'm glad that so many of us do.

Merry Christmas.

Pictures and Images via Wikipedia
By Jeff Weese - Flickr: Nativity, CC BY 2.0,

Sunday, August 27, 2017

How to Survive Life When You Decide To Question Everything

A couple years ago I started working my way through the Crash Course Philosophy videos, to stay refreshed with some of the stuff I learned in High School and College. There's plenty of new stuff in 'em, too. All in all, lots of good stuff around and they're very well done.

But this one stirred up some thoughts as I watched it this afternoon with my little girls, just some family entertainment at the Lassen Home.

I won't deny having innumerable moments of local doubt (where you question or are skeptical of some isolated experience) and even moments of Global Doubt (where you question EVERYTHING you've ever been taught or experienced)

While I understand the value of Descartes's contributions to philosophy and modern thinking, I have a lot of issues with it. Understanding that one false belief can contaminate or rot other ideas and beliefs, the same way that a bad apple can ruin the other apples nearby, Descartes rationalized that he had to abandon everything he was taught and then examine each idea one at a time and put each "apple" back into his basket once he determined it was a good one. 

I have an idea! Let's dump all these out, cuz some of them MIGHT be bad!

His foundational belief, the one thought that saved him from a severe existential crisis was the realization that because he had the ability to Doubt, he must be real, or there must be something REAL about his consciousness. So he reasoned, "I think, therefore I am." (This hearkens back to the ancient Jewish idea that God is the GREAT "I AM", or the Self-Aware one).

Not gonna, lie. If a glowing bush talked to me, I'd probably listen

I have a problem with this, because thinking, or self-awareness, isn't proof of reality, or vindication that you are not some made up entity in someone else's dream or virtual reality. What is a "thought" after all? It's a complicated series of chemical reactions inside of a brain. Not proof of a soul. Thought itself can take the form of complicated musings on philosophy all the way down to a protein latching onto a valuable amino acid in the immediate environment of a bacterial cell. At what point is that chemical reaction to the environment "Self Awareness"?? Where's the magic dividing line? If we made one, it'd be arbitrary, out of convenience, self-aggrandizement (or deprecation), or random chance.

This is your brain on...scanners
Unfortunately, everything in that spectrum is in the possibility of being an "illusion" or false belief. Now, in Descartes time, such knowledge of neurobiology wasn't as robust as it is today, so we'll give him a pass...this time. That still doesn't change the fact that THINKING doesn't make us EXIST anymore than anything else.
While C&H taught me a great deal about deep thinking, and philosophy as a little kid, looking back, Bill Watterson is REALLY pessimistic. 
So what do we make of all this? Believe that everything has the possibility to NOT be anything more than some dream within a dream? Yup. So does that mean NOTHING matters? Of course not. Everything matters. Do we dump out all of our collective knowledge onto the ground, sort through it, and pick it back up? No. Haven't you ever noticed that dumping apples all over the ground, just to sort through the moldy ones, only bruises all the rest and further speeds the rotting of otherwise perfectly good apples? And if an apple is found with a large bruise, or mold on one side, do we throw the whole thing out? Not if you need to save all the apple you can! Get rid of the rotten parts, cut them out, and use up the rest of that perfectly plump Gala.

Similarly with our beliefs. Finding a rotten side to one, doesn't mean the whole was bad, only that you probably let that belief sit, unexamined or unchecked, for too long in the corner of your mind, or the produce drawer of your life-outlook. It wasn't always bad, you just let it go bad. And there's still goodness to it and usability in it. Scrap the rotten section, throw it back on your compost heap, and use it to regrow another apple just like it!

I'm gonna use these rotten ideas to regrow the same ones, cuz that's who I am. Not much changed about me just because I found a bad idea and threw away all the rest with it, in fact, I might be WORSE off
Getting back to our own existentialism. Do we really exist? Of course. If we perceive it, it exists. It is REAL to us. And of course, our reality is ALWAYS in flux. Reality, from our limited view, is the extent of our knowledge and perception. So, keep learning, keep growing, and keep changing your reality. Find ways to match your reality with your past and current experiences, they both hold value. Find ways that your reality matches up with others. And when your reality differs from the next person you meet, see if you can figure out WHY they differ. HOW they differ doesn't matter quite as much as WHY they do. Anti-fascists and White Supremacists both have a reality that's quite different from the rest of us, and WHY they are is pretty similar for each: they have stuck inside their head that the people belonging to that OTHER group all are the same, or all have an extreme philosophy and they are ALL dangerous and violent. Most of us can see that none of those ideas are true, in our reality, which is part of the reality held by most people. A majority opinion doesn't make it true, but it makes it more practical to live by and often makes life easier, unfortunately.

So, don't go dumping out everything you ever learned, bruising a bunch of your life on the way, throwing away perfectly good ideas because they were too close to some other bad idea, or just because you found some mold on a couple ideas. Just understand that you, like everyone else, will stumble across some of them inside yourself as you go through life, and address them as they surface. No biggie.

But that's just my thoughts.

I don't claim expertise in many things, let alone formal philosophy. Though even the few experts I've met aren't really very good at it either, but they sure can drop names like a Kardashian on a talk show

Monday, May 8, 2017

A Funny Thing Happened On my Way to Losing my Testimony

Not much.

That's the truth. Nothing. Let me tell you about it:

In earlier posts I've talked about my testimony and how I gained it. I was raised in the LDS Church, had regular and often moments as a teenager where I felt the Holy Ghost —felt God communicating with me, heart-to-heart— but nothing real concrete. Then, as a missionary, I had a moment while reading the Book of Mormon looking for references to the Savior, that was an unmistakable experience of overwhelming joy and celestial burning, like a taste or a sniff of what Eternal Life would be like. Like my soul was on fire, blue fire, searing God's brand onto my spirit.

Yeah, this is how it felt, no joke. Best way to describe it.

I continued to have experiences with the Spirit and the Holy Ghost, but my intellectual mind could and would find ways to rationalize them as, "Maybes". Maybe I felt that, maybe I didn't. Again, nothing concrete, but worth noting all the same.

When life got hard and huge, huge struggles pulled and tugged at my testimony, testing my intellect, my optimism, my hope, my determination, all those "maybe" experiences would fall away, unable to withstand the storms. If my testimony, my determination and faithfulness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ were founded only on those things, I don't think I could have lasted. In fact, I know I wouldn't have lasted.

But that one experience as a missionary always stuck with me. I could not get away from that, no matter what I tried (and there were definitely times that I tried to get away from it) It held me down like a string to a kite, or an anchor for a ship. A flag pole to the flag. It keep me centered no matter which direction the storm blew from, and it blew from all directions. It was a direct witness of the Savior Jesus Christ, and it grounded me when life fell apart and kept me grounded when my house kept getting torn down.

That tiny line is the only thing keeping that kite up in the air, no matter how are the wind blows

Like Helaman 5:12 (my favorite scripture, by the way), I had a foundation built on Christ and nothing could shake me from it.

How long do you think that lighthouse has been standing up against such storms?

Then, most of the storms passed, and while the wind still blows, it's not like the hurricanes I was dealing with before.

For the past few years, I've been working on and writing a book about humanity, biology, and self-improvement. My goal is to reach out mostly to those who are no longer religious, or don't want to be. It's not an attempt to convert anyone in any way, and simply offers to help everyone see how much we have in common with each other and how we are all "in this" together and offer ways and insights to how anyone can become a better person, from wherever they are in life with provable scientific studies and simple natural observations.

In researching for the book and supplementing my knowledge of anatomy, biology, and hormones, one day, my brain received an unexpected idea. It was a possible explanation for what happened to me that day as a missionary, and it was purely biological, hormonal, and natural, and it fit pretty well. In other words, maybe my experience wasn't spiritual but was a strong hormonal response to some emotions I had that I felt were being fulfilled by my beliefs. A nice, strong, shot of dopamine and oxytocin from the hope that the Gospel, the scriptures, and my life choices all gave to me in that moment.


Well, that's kind of interesting. So what was I going to do now? The one spiritual, otherworldly, anchor that I'd depended on for so long wasn't holding up as strong as it did before. I wasn't ready to dismiss it outright, because the truth is, I don't know if what I felt was more biological or more spiritual, it could be either. And the funny thing was, it didn't change how I felt about the church at all. If what I felt had been spiritual, than, heck yes I was gonna hang on.

And if it wasn't... well, I had plenty of other experiences with the church that have validated all the hope and energy I've put into it. It's not a perfect church and it doesn't claim to be. It claims to be God's Church that he is letting us build up, and it claims to have the most truth of any on the planet. And in my wide studies and experiences, both those claims hold up. The good it has done ENORMOUSLY outweighs any of the mistakes it's leaders may or may not have made (depending on your faith, perspective, or both). And the principles and ideas it teaches can heal the world, if we apply them correctly, and that takes practice and experience. God is willing to let us figure a lot of those things out with time, patience, and even through trial and error.

I've had so many positive experiences, and so many times that my faith has been fulfilled, so many times when my trust in God was well-founded and even rewarded, that nothing changed. When I received that idea, that notion, about my testimony's foundation, that seemed to weaken it, my feelings to and determination for keeping the faith, didn't change. That surprised me, quite a bit.

So, while I no longer feel such a solid anchor to a singular experience that I used to, that experience did such a great job keeping me grounded for so long, I'm not ready to dismiss it at the sign of a "possible" explanation from biology. I've set down enough other anchors and ties that I hope I'll be safe for a long while, yet, and I'm thankful to God for giving me those anchors.

The slack is off that line momentarily, but I'm guessing the storms and wind will pick up again. Perhaps I'll depend on that experience again. Even if I'm not going to put so much weight on it, that doesn't mean it's not strong enough to handle it, nor that it was poorly founded to begin with. Faced with the alternatives out there, I'll cling to it and the other anchors I have like the lifelines they are with a death grip that no one on this planet can shake me from.

Like the thousands of balloons lifting Mr. Fredrickson's house in the movie, "UP", losing a few doesn't change much, nor does it mean I should abandon the rest, and if I protect them from the damage that others try to impose, I should be able to stay aloft for quite a while and even add to them with more time and experience and investment.

Like so many in our church, this is what our testimonies are founded on. More little experiences than we can count, all lifting together to do the impossible.
Now, did I really, actually lose my testimony? Not really, but I did lose the sure foundation I'd been standing on for the past 15 years, and realized, I still have plenty of solid ground to stand on around me. I'm realizing that God will change the ground we're standing on. Sometimes he'll let us wash it away, sometimes he won't grant us the sure footing we want, or even need, and sometimes he'll change it around on us. He's got a plan, and while I don't understand it all, nor think it's fair all the time, I trust Him. 

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Sacrifice, Norse Mythology, and Economics

Etymology, is the study of words and where they came from and how they were formed. The internet is so amazing, because in about 3 minutes, I was able to find out where the word Sacrifice originated and what it meant to our ancestors who first invented and used the word. 

In my own life, when I thought of the word “Sacrifice” I always thought of just “giving something up because God commanded it”. “Well, God says so, so I have to do it!” "It’s a commandment." "Sacrifice is hard, and if it wasn’t hard it wouldn’t be a sacrifice." The word always brought up associations of drudgery and pain and suffering. Unpleasantness.

This is what I found out by looking up the etymology of Sacrifice. Sacrifice, from the ancient pre-Latin (as in, the old old Indo-Europeans, like, the tribes who lived in southern-central Europe used the word “Sacer,” to make Holy, or...more accurately…. To make a treaty. IE, to pay the price for help. To offer something to get something in return. Doing business. Paying a fee in exchange for a good or service. Paying the price to belong to a community or group.

Mind blown.

Understanding where this root word comes from set off a few light bulbs. Ohhhhhhhh, God doesn’t ever just “command” something just to make us do it, just to test our obedience. He asks for a Sacrifice in return for his blessings, his protections, his gifts.

Abraham didn’t offer Isaac as a sacrifice just because God commanded it. He offered Isaac, because he knew and trusted that God would find some way to bless him in return, or to continue blessing him. Abraham had been blessed by God and had learned to trust him, and now when God asked Abraham for his most loved “possession” (for lack of a better word), his Son, he had to have trusted that God would make it up to him somehow. And we know that Abraham did trust God, and that God DID make it up to him.

Let’s see if this new understanding of “sacrifice” holds up other places: Ancient Israel, or even before that, Adam, Sacrificing their livestock, their expensive, labor-intensive animals to God. Adam told the angel, in response to why he was offering the sacrifice, “I know not, save the Lord commanded it.” Now, why would Adam do what God commanded, if he didn’t trust that God had already made it up to him or would make it up to him in the future? That’s not explicitly stated, but we can infer that Adam trusted God. If a complete stranger walks up to us on the street and says, “Give me your car.” We don’t give it to them. It’s worth too much and is too important to our daily work to just give it away.

But if a stranger walked up to us at the car dealership and said, “I’ll give you…$50,000 for your car,” we’d probably take it, unless it’s a car as awesome as my 1996 Subaru Legacy with fading paint, cracked windshield, non-functional headlight and 250,000 miles on the odometer. Just four more years and that things gonna be considered a “classic” and it’s value will automatically SKYROCKET, I just know it! Especially since Utah isn’t going to require Safety Inspections on it after the New Year! Now, if only I can get it to pass Safety next month, so I can drive it until January…...

Back to sacrifices: What about the Savior’s Great and Infinite Sacrifice? What was he giving up? He was giving up his life as he had agreed with Heavenly Father and with all of us in the Grand Council. He paid a greater price through physical and emotional pain and suffering than we’ll ever understand. What did he gain in return? What was the other half of the “treaty”? His Godhood. His Eternal Salvation, and also the keys and abilities to give us….ours. Woa. Amazing. What is your Eternal Life worth? I don’t know if we’ll ever truly understand until we’ve got it, but knowing Heavenly Father, I’m sure we will understand it someday when we have the capacity to. Like, “You’ll understand when you’re older.”

In my search for the original meaning of “sacrifice” one of the meanings it gave for “sacer”, also meant, “to make Holy”. But Holy is some word that modern humans attached to Sacer to help us understand it. Turns out Holy came northern Europe, and is rooted to the word “Hal” H-A-L, as in Hallowed, or things like “Halls” or “Coverings” or “Safe Places”. The kinds of places where ancient tribal or nomadic people took shelter from storms and wild animals, to gather together as a community.

What is God, to us? Holy. What is the Temple to us? Holy. What about our Familes, our Homes? Holy. Literally, the Halls where we seek shelter and safety.

I just finished reading this really cool book about Norse Mythology. Something that features REALLY REALLY prominently in Norse Mythology are “Halls”. Ancient vikings, they didn’t have much for architecture. Each Village built Halls as gathering places, where they dined, ate, slept, counselled, met, partied, danced, and just about everything else. Communal rooms that were multi-functional to gather and protect themselves from the outside world. Odin had a great Hall. Their giant enemies had halls. The dead were gathered together in Halls, like Valhalla. To them, Halls, were, Holy, literally. The two words basically meant the same thing. Safety and protection. So fitting.

So when we Sacrifice something, we are entering a treaty, to make something Holy, or Protected. We may not always realize it, but our sacrifices, are —in effect— buying protection from God.

What do we need Safety and protection from? The world, the universe, chaos, destruction, entropy, Satan, the Adversary. All of these things. Do we know how dangerous the world and the universe can be? Not always. We learn more and more as we get older and older.
I’m sure there were members of each village who chose to leave the safety and protection of their halls, either out of a need to grow, or out of a dislike and discomfort of being around their communities, feeling out of place. I'll talk about that more in a bit.
It sounds a little funny to think like we can “purchase” protection, or blessings from God, and truthfully, sacrificing what he asks of us is not quite the same thing, but it’s not too far off. He gives a killer deal. One we don’t really deserve. Like that story of the little girl who sees a new bike in the store but doesn’t have the money to pay for it. She goes home and works her tail off to earn money for the bike, but after spending all her energy on it, she goes to her Dad to show how much she’s proudly earned and finds that she is ridiculously short on the amount needed for it. He knows how hard she’s worked and makes her a deal, a “treaty” of sorts. If she gives him what she has worked so hard to accomplish, if she “sacrifices” her money to him, he will make up the difference and buy the bike for her. She happily agrees to this and gets to ride her new bike home, both sides fulfilling their sides of the treaty. Both sacrificing for the other.

Often, we can’t see the other side of the sacrifice. We won’t be able to see the good that will come from the price we pay. We can’t see what good our payment does for others, and that’s okay. We live in a world where we can’t always pay back a service that was done to us. We can’t make up a sacrifice back to the person who did good for us. We live in a world where “Pay It Forward” is the norm. I can’t build my own home but others can. I can fix teeth and get people healthier, when they can’t do it for themselves. And most of time,we won’t be in a situation where we can trade homes for dentistry. The person who needs their teeth fixed, can fix someone else’s car, who can make someone else’s clothes, for someone who can design office buildings, for someone else who understands law, for someone else who needs help with a business contract, for…. someone who can fix teeth? We are all paying it forward. Isn’t that cool?

How do we keep track of all this service and sacrifice that we are doing for everyone else? For all the good we do for others? How do we make sure everyone’s “treaties” are being kept? It would get too complicated, so we use things like “money”. I think of money as a way to keep track of the services and sacrifices we do for others. Some of us will be able to accumulate extra money, through our skills, hard work, abilities, and very often just good fortune and luck and blessing from God. We accumulate a service debt. Others have been served so much that they have accumulated more wealth than they need, or they’ve become so good and efficient at serving others that they can keep doing it without thought of anything in return. They, then, should take advantage of that and serve others all the more.
Think of those who are able to save for retirement and then, of their own money and time, go serve full-time missions, or in temples, or just go serve others and give back and pay forward and sacrifice for other people, some of the sacrifices that others have made for them.

Think of working, as a service. We serve our employers, we serve our customers, our clients, our patients. We are doing something for them that they cannot do for themselves. But since we can’t serve forever and ever without others serving us, we get paid in money. We’ve made a sacrifice of time, energy, expertise, or knowledge. So that we can make sure to properly receive the sacrifices of others in a fair way, we are paid for our efforts. Then we can honestly and fairly ask others to sacrifice for us the things we cannot do for ourselves.

Personally, I protect others by finding and providing ways to get them out of pain, to improve their ability to eat and stay healthy, and by improving their confidence or reducing embarrassment so they feel comfortable around others. I’m a dentist. It’s not always a glamorous job, and not always a job that others…..envy, but I gotta be honest, I love it. I get to meet thousands and thousands of strangers, and in the process of trying to convince them to let me do something for them that they don’t want me to do that would be good for them, I have gained and learned a lot more social skills than I gained from childhood or than came naturally.

I feel really lucky to get to do what I do, and I’m not even seeing financial benefit from it yet, having to take care of some tremendous other expenses (student loans, cough, cough). I think dentistry is so amazing, and there’s so much more cool stuff that I’m not even doing yet that I hope to learn someday. The education I received to get here has been incredibly valuable. Learning about science and anatomy and physiology and DNA, and how atoms and molecules and sunlight and food bring life. It’s soooooo cool! And then learning about human fears and anxieties and addictions and other compensating behaviors. And through the awful, stressful struggle of trying to start my own business pretty much from scratch and making all sorts of blunders along the way, I’ve learned a great deal more about finance and economics and business and customer service, and entrepreneurship.

By the way, I saw an article the other day that summed it up nicely, the headline was. “Entrepreneurship is Service, How are You Serving Others?!” The idea is, if you serve others, you’ll be served in return. So, while I’m not receiving the temporal benefits I was looking for in my career choice, the blessings I have received from the sacrifices I’ve made are irreplaceable.

Now, very often, very, very, often, we are not dealt with life fairly, we’ve made sacrifices that we can’t be compensated for, or we receive blessings that we didn’t earn or deserve. In those very abundant cases (they are all over the place), we sometimes just have to give freely and generously, and others of us have to receive generously and freely. We share through fast offerings, through charity, through missionary funds, through donations. It’s a great way to level out the uneven playing field of this planet Earth, of this mixed up crazy mortal life. Unfortunately, we tend to think of these charitable moments as the only sacrifices we make.

What do we get out of being charitable and generous? What’s the other half of the treaty? Why do we do it? We do it for the love of our God, for our Heavenly Father. We do it to fulfill his commandments and earn his blessings and love in return. We do it to be loving to others. I’m not going to pretend to know the motives for each of you for why we are loving to others in every unique instance. The bottom line is that sacrificing, of investing some portion of ourselves to others, is hard, it’s difficult. We are doing it in the hope that we’ll be alright for doing so, or that it’ll get made up to us somehow, or, in the confidence that we have already been blessed and prospered a great deal and now get to share with others what we’ve been given. Whatever it is, giving up something that is attached to us, takes mental and emotional effort, and causes us discomfort somewhere.

I remember reading some cutesy story once upon a time, back when those endlessly forwarded emails is how we shared stuff with each other. Remember those? Before Facebook and even before Myspace, we shared cat pictures and inspirational thoughts with each other by getting an email from that one aunt who forwarded it to every single person she had in her email account. The worst were those chain emails, you know, the electric version of the old snail mail chain letters, where if you pass this inspirational story or scripture to 20 people in 30 minutes, you’ll get blessed with an unexpected gift, but if you don’t then something bad will happen? Ugh. One of those emails I got, told of a woman who lived alone in a little one room shack, surrounded by trees, and a little stream out back where she got her water, who lived a very simple but pleasant life, and had almost no possessions. When asked what she would do if she won the lottery, she thoughtlessly replied, “Oh, I would give it to the poor!” She obviously didn’t feel burdened in any way and felt she was blessed beyond what she deserves.

Our ability to sacrifice for others has less to do with what we physically own, and more with how we compare ourselves to others. We can see the wealthy who are generous, or the stingey poor. Or the flip side, you can have the poor widow who casts her only coin into the Temple Treasury in Jerusalem, and the arrogant wealthy who care for others in word only. Being poor or wealthy does not make us better or worse than anyone else. Not one bit. Nor does our status in society have anything to do with our generosity and love for others.

All can sacrifice, and fortunately, most of us do. Some of us will only be in a ward for a short time, maybe a few months, and still accept the sacrifice of a calling in Nursery or Primary where there’s a pretty solid chance they won’t get to know many other people at church for the limited time they live there. Or the sacrifice of a Bishop or Relief Society President who spends hours and hours and hours of their valuable personal time listening to the worries and troubles and heartaches of their fellow members, in the hope of offering comfort and support.

We don’t use currency in the church to keep track of our sacrifices and services. We put our trust into the hands of others. We put faith into our fellow members and to God to make it up to us, or to repay forward the sacrifices and services others have made in our behalf. We trust that by caring for the young children at church with love and dedication, others will care for ours someday, or maybe we’re past that age, and we are caring for others children, so that those parents can go serve in other ways. We have benefitted from the kind listening ear of our ward leaders in the past and are now paying it forward by helping others now.

In the temple we specifically covenant to sacrifice our time, talents, and efforts to build up the kingdom of God and the church. What’s the treaty we are entering? The covenant? We give of ourselves to the Church, to build it up. Do we benefit from a well run and fully functioning ward or branch? Absolutely! Does God bless us for it! You bet, and often he blesses those who serve and sacrifice, so that they can serve and sacrifice even more in the future. I’m not sure, but I’m guessing that President Monson and the Full time General Authorities and Presidents of the church are the kind of men and women who aren’t just willing to sacrifice and serve, but ENJOY it and can see the value that has been added to their lives by others and are eager to perform the same value for those they get to serve now.

Sometimes we get short-sighted. We fail to see how blessed we are, or what we need to invest of ourselves to earn more blessings. What causes this spiritual near-sightedness? Sometimes it is sin, sometimes it is just the mists of this world. Sometimes it is just the environment or conditions we were born into. Sometimes the cares and stresses of the world are more than we know how to handle at this point in our lives. Sometimes we are held back, either unknowingly by ourselves, or by God himself and that limitation can be so frustrating that our minds are turned inward onto our plight. I think this has to be good practice for Godhood, because someday, when we are like God and have been blessed with all that He has, we may have to solve ALL the problems we encounter, even and especially when they’re hard or nearly impossible. He does give us challenges so that we can learn to solve problems creatively and lovingly and we the help of others. In my experience I would say that that ability to solve problems creatively and lovingly and with the help of others is one of, if not the most important and valuable skill in the universe. Have you seen how DNA works and carries on all life on this planet in such an amazing and beautiful way, almost entirely on its own with just plain ol’ normal physics and chemistry? I know Brother Crane could tell you. Talk about creative. And why would God do such a thing? To serve us, to give us this garden planet floating through a universe of chaos and destruction where we can live in relative safety and peace and learn and practice to be like him.

I have a young friend in California, who’s not making some great choices right now. In fact he hasn’t been making very good choices for a long time, but now they’re bubbling up so far on the surface that it’s causing enough grief at home that he may not be able to live at home much longer. From what I can see over the distance of two large states, is that he doesn’t feel comfortable at home. He doesn’t feel like he can measure up. He doesn’t know how to achieve the beautiful, peaceful, life that his older siblings and parents have achieved. He can see the superficial surface decisions to make, but he cannot see the deeper decisions that have to be made inside yourself to achieve those things. And those things conflict with his personal desires so much that he is not willing to pay the price or make the sacrifice to gain that protection. He can’t or won’t abide by the rules of the home and so is slowly losing his right to be at home. And he’s a smart kid. He’s very bright, but some part of his mind cannot see the social impacts of his decisions.

Most of us don’t need many rules because our brain can calculate and figure out those unspoken rules, the unwritten costs we have to pay to belong to a group of loving people, but my young friend, his brain is not working in those ways and hasn’t grown enough to learn those things. (having watched him growing up, my personal opinion as to why this has occurred to the amount of video games and electronic entertainment he indulged in from a very young age.) It’s gone on so long, that now he is completely uncomfortable and feels out of place when he is at home. He is so lonely in his situation that he’s resorting to substances and drugs and the kinds of friends who’ll provide those substances to him to drown out those feelings of loneliness. Of course this is pulling him further away from his loving family and the protection of the halls of his childhood home. The interesting thing about this and why, though I disagree with his decisions, I can understand them a lot, is that our childhoods were very, very similar, even in regards to the amount of video games we played and the types of homes we grew up in, as well as personality and temperament. 

A big difference is that I grew up in the middle of 8 kids, while he, has been effectively, an only child with lots of grown-ups and parents in his life. I was pressured by the social group (my siblings) I was surrounded by to learn at least some basics of diplomacy and difficult cooperation, while he did not have such a benefit. So, have I been blessed more than I deserved in that regard? I think so. Of course there are a great many other factors besides siblings and video games that have led him and I into other paths. Right now, it will be up to him and the Holy Ghost to change the direction his life is taking.

In that Norse mythology book I read, the story of Loki is extremely similar. The cleverest and smartest of the gods is eventually cast out of the hall of the gods for his mischief and the destruction he brings onto the other gods out of his jealousy and selfishness. Does this sound a bit like the story of Lucifer in our own beliefs about the premortal life? I thought so. They were both able to work hard and invest their efforts into the things they wanted, so “sacrifice” in general, wasn’t the issue. But what do we need to sacrifice to avoid their fates? We need to sacrifice for the benefit of others, not just ourselves. Just as God gives us the better end of the deal in his treaties and covenants with us, we need to give others the better end of the deal in our dealings with others. The Savior confirmed this idea when he said,

"But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also. And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain. Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away. Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven."

So, when we sacrifice ourselves for the benefit of others what do we get out of such a “treaty” or “exchange”? We get to be the Children of our Father in Heaven. He has made a treaty with us, and if we make the appropriate sacrifices, pay the appropriate fees by way of obedience, we get to return to live with God in his glorious halls in Heaven and join with all the others in our family who are also willing to do so.

I encourage you all to make the sacrifices God expects of us and do so in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Reset Your Life?

I did computer support for the College of Fine Arts at BYU for four years while I was in college. In my crew were 4-6 other students who would sit in an office 1, 2, or 3 of us at a time waiting for faculty or lab TA's to call us up with some problem with their computer. We'd head over to their office and fix whatever it was that was wrong with their computer. Most of the time it was a simple thing, installing printers, or software, or setting up a new laptop. Once in a while we'd get something more problematic like a virus outbreak, or hardware failure. Many times the problems fixed themselves by the time we showed up, and way too often, the problem was just a computer that had simply been on too long and was so bogged down by open software, unfinished tasks, and used up memory issues, the bugs from countless updates, and other quirks that things had just gotten a little haywire and nothing seemed to be working right.

The best solution in these instances was to usually just restart the computer, let it wipe its slate clean, reset all of it's functions, and just start over. 

Image result for restart computer meme
Yeah, none of us had any real training. We were all just professional tinkerers.
The other day, my cell phone fell off my lap as I stood up from a chair and it fell smack onto a tile floor, face down. It'd actually been a pretty resilient phone and had survived several drops onto the ground like this one. But when I picked it up, a nice spider-web of cracks covered most of the screen, making it unusable. Doh. I considered replacing the screen, but reviews for the products and processes for doing that weren't real satisfactory, phones were never quite back to original. I'd done it before and experienced the same thing. It wasn't a very expensive phone, fortunately, so after careful consideration and shopping around some more, I ordered a new one of the same kind.

I found an old phone that I reactivated and am using in the mean time. I'd been having issues with that phone before I moved on and now, using it again is reminding me why I ditched it over a year ago. It's slow, doesn't work or respond the way it used to, even after going through resets and wiping it clean. Trying to use that phone again is fine for now, but just not smooth, and there's lots of hiccups.

Like getting a new computer or having to wipe off a virus, starting over on such a personal device is tedious and time consuming. Reloading all your apps, photos, music, preferences and settings, is obnoxious. First-world problems, right?

“ first world problem
Like moving homes, its a great time to reassess what do you really need. What's MOST important? It's a great time to de-clutter part of your life and start fresh clean over again.

When I was a young missionary, studying the gospel really deep and taking time every morning to figure out what the scriptures really meant, and there was a passage that I had a hard time understanding. In the middle of an argument between the lawyer Zeezrom and Alma and Amulek (who are essentially on trial for preaching false doctrine) a discussion pops up about the Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Alma 12:

24 And we see that death comes upon mankind, yea, the death which has been spoken of by Amulek, which is the temporal death; nevertheless there was a space granted unto man in which he might repent; therefore this life became a probationary state; a time to prepare to meet God; a time to prepare for that endless state which has been spoken of by us, which is after the resurrection of the dead.
25 Now, if it had not been for the plan of redemption, which was laid from the foundation of the world, there could have been no resurrection of the dead; but there was a plan of redemption laid, which shall bring to pass the resurrection of the dead, of which has been spoken.
26 And now behold, if it were possible that our first parents could have gone forth and partaken of the tree of life they would have been forever miserable, having no preparatory state; and thus the plan of redemption would have been frustrated, and the word of God would have been void, taking none effect.
For the longest time it seemed out of place and a bit weird. Why this off-topic discussion about trees in the Garden of Eden when they were talking about the resurrection. I mean, I get that this life is a preparatory state, but why would it have been so wrong for Adam and Eve to live forever? Isn't that what repentance and the atonement is for?

Later, with experience and age, I came to understand that this life piles lots of haywire stuff on us. Things we can't resolve, substances that harm us, injuries that stick around, relationships that have soured. Our bodies and our minds become old and tired from the clutter Our bodies and our spirits can't let go of all the baggage we accumulate. Even with the help of the Atonement and daily and weekly repentance, we still accumulate stuff that we don't know how to deal with. We become worn out.

Someone shared this blog post about repentance and understanding. In it the author describes meeting an older member of the church who hadn't been to church in a few decades, her body visibly showing the effects of poor choices, probably only some of which were intentional. Her guilt and shame and embarrassment had gotten the best of her. She refused to come to church and confront her mistakes and her past actions because she was convinced she was just too far gone.

This life is a practice life. It is a chance for us to make mistakes and learn. When I was in dental school, there was an obsession with perfection. The faculty demanded it, and the students broke themselves trying to live up to it. I felt much of this pressure, but I also tried to have fun with it. When I stuck around the practice clinic after hours, trying to perfect my drilling technique on overly soft plastic teeth that showed every. single. mistake. sometimes, it was a nice break to just have fun and carve up a tooth into some funny creative shape or design. What kind of little monster could I turn this tooth into? How well could I write words with this high-speed-drill?

The dreaded "MOD: Mesial, Occlusal, Distal" We called it the "Mother Of Death" in school. Don't  the other teeth!
I remember one lab exercise where we got to use fancy pressure machinery and test how well our fillings stuck to the surface of a tooth with our fancy etches and bonding agents and curing lights. Most students were competing to get the strongest bond strength, using nothing more than the same instructions everyone else was using, fighting for prominence over tenths of MPa's (unit of measure of strength). For whatever reason, I wanted to see what kinds of mistakes would make the bond fail. I knew in the real world I wouldn't be able to test these things out on a live patient, better to figure it out in a lab setting where the results didn't matter so much. I wouldn't etch it quite as long, or not dry the surface quite as much. What about not curing the filling with my blue light quite as long, or too long? What made a difference and what didn't? I definitely didn't win any high-fives from class-mates for having awesome bond strengths, but I learned the limits of what worked and didn't and why. Without just taking a professor's word (which I learned were often...not wrong...but not quite right, either).

We came to this Earth to practice. To get a test run at having a physical body made of concrete matter that could manipulate and control the elements around it, with conscious decisions. Our supernatural spirit has been given this minute and extremely fragile connection with the physical universe and we have been given this lab setting to see what it can do, how to control it, and how to take care of it. We have been given some realm and freedom to abuse it in the process.

To compensate, God has allowed for a Savior and the Atonement which will one day give us a RESET on everything, if we want it.

I've always loved this quote by CS Lewis:

“I know all about the despair of overcoming chronic temptations. It is not serious provided self-offended petulance, annoyance at breaking records, impatience et cetera doesn’t get the upper hand. No amountof falls will really undo us if we keep on picking ourselves up each time. We shall of course be very muddy and tattered children by the time we reach home. But the bathrooms are all ready, the towels put out, and the clean clothes are in the airing cupboard. The only fatal thing is to lose one’s temper and give it up. It is when we notice the dirt that God is most present to us: it is the very sign of his presence.”
January 20, 1942
– C.S. Lewis, in a letter to Mary Neylan, 
President Hinckley tells the story of a vision Joseph F Smith had while he was a young missionary in the Hawaiian Islands. In the vision, Joseph finds a wash room and cleans himself off, and puts on a new set of clean clothing. Then this:

Then I rushed to what appeared to be a great opening, or door. I knocked and the door opened, and the man who stood there was the Prophet Joseph Smith. He looked at me a little reprovingly, and the first words he said: ‘Joseph, you are late.’ Yet I took confidence and [replied]:
“‘Yes, but I am clean—I am clean!’
If Adam and Eve had transgressed the way they did, and then eaten of the fruit of the Tree of Life, it would have caused them to have lived forever, stuck in their sins. There is something inherent and connected between this mortal, imperfect life, and the bodies we have with it. If we cannot shed this body through death at some point, we will have to carry the weight of our life with us for eternity. But God has promised us a new body. A perfect, celestialized body, that cannot be tainted or stained.

We know that in this enormous universe of ours, life is extremely precious and rare. How much more rare is the gift of a physical body that is impervious to the chaotic effects and entropy of the universe?

We get a GRAND RESET on our life, if we choose it, and a chance to begin again, having tested so many wonderful things in this laboratory, called Earth.

Image result for reset button
Yes please
Now, as a disclaimer, I'm not and would never recommend making choices that we KNOW will harm our body and make this life harder than it already is, nor would I ever recommend someone ending their life intentionally in the hope of shedding the despair we pick up here. Part of the lesson we need to learn here is the proper role of life and it's preciousness and awesomeness and respect it accordingly. How could God trust us with an Eternal Life, if we desire to hurt other life for selfish pleasure? But that also said, our bodies are incredibly hard to control and they do a lot of things on their own that our spirits are consciously aware of, but that we don't choose. Learning to keep control of a wild horse is one challenge. Learning to get and keep control over a wild body is another. Let's not judge each other on how well someone else is doing when we are clinging on for dear life ourselves.

My patriarchal blessing basically says I'm gonna live to be old, I tell everyone I'm gonna aim for 120, and if I only make it to 100, I'll still be good. That kind of goal has shifted what I'm focusing on in life, for sure, and how I'm living it now, knowing I'll have to live with myself and others for many more decades.

I will longingly look forward to the day when I can be free of the sorrows and cares of this world and work on my own and help others with their Eternal Progress and growth, but I live with much less fear, knowing that the destruction I cause to myself and others despite my best efforts, will one day be wiped clean and made right. I can move forward motivated by love for others and myself, and less out of fear or worry. I encourage you all to do the same.

Image result for eagle nebula
There's more stars and planets being made in this "little" nebula of unorganized matter than we can count. How cool is that?