Friday, December 28, 2012

The Duarte Stories: Blood in the Streets

In 1910 a man named Vitoriano Huerta seized the Mexican presidency to the outrage of Pancho Villa, Alvaro Obregon and others, which sparked the Mexican Revolution.  Uneasy laid the head that wore the crown, and fighting ensued for years.  Then one sweltering hot day in June of 1914 the forces of Huerta faced the combined strength of all those who opposed him in the small railroad town of Zacatecas.  It seemed at first that Huerta would win the day in this, the bloodiest and most gruesome battle of the revolution.  And then a strange thing happened.

A colonel under Alvaro Obregon fell wounded in the middle of the battlefield.  A solitary soldier without even enough money to ride a horse, saw his leader fall and at the risk of his own life ran with his donkey into the fray.  Pulling the wounded colonel onto his donkey's back, he sent his only means of travel out of the danger zone.  As the donkey fled, it stomped on this selfless warrior's foot.   Then with bullets flying with wild abandon around him, he knelt on the battlefield and prayed that God would give his side the victory.  He promised that if God gave them the victory of this battle he would take his comrades and make an immediate pilgrimage to the Cathedral of the Virgin de Guadalupe in Mexico City as an expression of gratitude. 

The battle immediately shifted and from that moment the forces of Huerta began to give way.  History records this battle as the turning point of the Mexican Revolution when Huerta failed and his legacy began to fall.  Over 6, 000 men had been massacred in this action and blood ran like rivers in the streets. And the soldier?  True to his word, this soldier informed Obregon of his prayer and the immediate result and the company boarded a train to Mexico City where they gave thanks at the Cathedral of the Virgin.  His name was Jose Vasquez, and he is my great grandfather.  His foot never properly healed and years later when my grandmother was a child of eight years old infection set in and took his life. 

Monday, December 24, 2012

I Know That My Redeemer Lives!

I know for a surety that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, the Messiah, the Savior of the World, the Holy One.  I know for a fact that He lives, that He is our personal Savior and Redeemer and that He has overcome the world.  I know perfectly in a manner that transcends the five senses that God loves us, He knows us, and that He is aware of every moment and aspect of our lives.  I know for a fact that He wants us to be happy and be with Him forever.

I know the Lord Jesus Christ.  I do not merely know of Him; I know Him.  I understand to some degree, doubtless minor to Him but profound by typical standards His perspective, emotions and motivation.  I do not merely know of Him, but I know Him personally myself independent of any other person.  I look upon His pain not as a distant worshiper once a week but as the very personal injury of a dearest Friend.  I weep for His pain almost as though it were my own. 

I witness of the divinity of the Lord Jesus Christ.  I know perfectly that the babe of Bethlehem was and is our Savior, Lord, and rightful King.  My soul joys in Him, yearns toward Him, and worships Him with as much faithfulness as all the strength of my soul, will and love can maintain.  I know for a fact that He loves you and so do I. 

Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 21, 2012

Holiday Social Climbing

I have been reading a masterful book entitled Vanity Fair by Thackeray, which discusses in great measure the art of social climbing and the natural consequences of various personalities and behavior in society.  It has greatly influenced my thinking as we wade through the exceedingly social month of December.  In every handful of people you will find the honest, goodhearted disciples of God; you will also find those who use religion to condemn others until they get their way, and those who worship social climbing for the honors of the world.  It is regarding the last group that I intended to write.

If you are at all like me you can probably point out a few people on your holiday list that you know are not going to respond kindly to gestures of good will.  Their pride and haughtiness often lead them to shun gifts unless they are from the "right" people or from the "right" stores or are something highly in vogue.  You know who I mean - you know people of that description too.  In my Christmas efforts I have already met with one who worships the birth of Christ in that line and know that there is another upcoming.  Upon my presentation of honest, genuine kindness to the first she completely shunned me.  Absolute cold shoulder.  Not surprising.  I expected it.  One may ask "Then why do it?"

That is my ultimate point.  If you want to wisely climb a social ladder you have to step back and look at the entire picture.  I acted as I did in good desires to treat all people as God would see fit.  I didn't do it to be seen of others, but others did in fact see it and also her behavior.  In the long run, who won?  Are most people going to say "how dare Michelle behave so kindly?" Well, some may pity my apparent ignorance but it will not be in harsh judgment.  How many people do you think would see that and say "What a snob (the other girl) is!"  Their littleness does not degrade me; it merely illustrates their spiritual and emotional poverty.  When we are kind to others without reservation we ultimately rise in the opinion of God and all those around us.  When we insist in gratifying our ungrateful pride, we ultimately sink.  Truthfully, I cannot as an honest person help but pity those who employ the holidays for holding to the more shallow things of this world.  Pray for those who knowingly offend you for if they cannot put their pride away during the warmest and kindest portion of the year, how much joy could they possibly have in their lives? 

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Inspired Outside the Box

When I was studying music in my younger years I found myself in a rather bizarre situation.  I only had the opportunity to play piano, which held little charm for me, and the attitude of those in authority around me informed me that the point of my learning to play was to be able to play hymns from a proscribed hymnbook.  This, they wisely declared, was the end and purpose of my education, and by the way, I had to practice those songs they chose and in the manner they dictated.  You may well imagine I didn't learn piano very well.  As an adolescent I blamed myself incessantly, believing that I simply had not the intelligence and would burn in hell as it were for not forcing myself to learn to play as instructed.  I gave up on piano entirely.

Some months ago I came back to the idea and felt an indescribable urge to learn to play.  It had frustrated me that I could not do so.  Again I had people tell me that hymns were the highest and best and only thing I could and ought to play.  I failed.  But then I took the matter to God on my knees.  I told Him that I didn't want to be disrespectful but could not do what I was told I should do in this matter.  I felt His approval of this plan.  I further prayed that He help me learn to play.  Sitting down at the keyboard once again I felt my fingers loosen like never before and I sight read perfectly, albeit rather slowly, a piece by Johann Sebastian Bach.  I never in my wildest dreams would have believed I could had played anything by such a master.  I also have been playing Beethoven, Mozart, and others.  I have high respect for church hymns out of the proscribed green book I have but I don't think anyone in their right mind would argue that musically speaking, they are more inspired than something like Handel's Messiah.  They have a certain use and purpose but they don't encompass everything. 

Sometimes in life I think we expect ourselves or others to follow a certain path with the surety within our own understandings that it is the right one.  But God is not something we can fit into a box.  It is, I feel, of vast and extreme importance to follow the commands of God but the manner in which we do so may be a little unexpected.  Do not be upset if someone you love is not behaving exactly in the manner you see fit.  It may be and probably is, that God has a greater plan in mind than our tiny little comprehensions can conceive.  Never mind our own expectations.  Humbly, carefully, and honestly following God's personal instruction is higher and truthfully, much safer. 

Friday, December 14, 2012

The Art of Venting

I would like to pose a question to my readers and friends.  When is the last time you really, honestly, heard me vent in frustration?  (And here we insert a recording of crickets chirping.)  Yeah.  I don't often do it.  Is that because life has given me not much reason to vent?  Those who know me best definitely know better than that.  Is it because I am just one of those who magically never has to vent?  That definitely isn't it, either.  Then when do I do it? 

I am a realist.  I realize that there is a very limited amount of things human beings can do to soothe my soul when it is angered or frustrated.  Having had life threatening seizures for years that doctors could not fix or lessen, along with other very extreme trials, I have learned that there is much in this world that mortals cannot change and it seems a frustrating waste of time to ask them to make better what is outside their capabilities of altering.  It only makes the people around you frustrated.  But I vent continually to my best friend.  God is my best friend.  I imagine that the angels of heaven roll their eyes a bit when they find me on my knees, and say "There's Michelle at it again."  But who else is capable of changing situations that are too hard for us to bear, or who can build us up to carry the burdens upon our shoulders?  Human beings are wonderful, but God understands each of us perfectly, not only as we are now but as we have been and knows who we will be.  His insight proves far greater and His purpose is always for our own good and happiness.  He has a perspective free of weakness, littleness, and personal agenda.  He seems to me the most logical choice for a friend. 

One may think "But that is disrespectful.  One should be careful in what one says in prayer.  This is God you are talking to."  True.  It's God.  It is the same God who gave us the trials we have and knows how much we can take.  When people upset us, God allowed it, and we have every right in the world to ask "Why?  What now?"  I hold Him personally responsible for everything that happens to me, because I know that nothing good or ill or indifferent could happen to me without His approval and for a purpose.  And when a problem arises, my Best Friend and I get through it together.

Monday, December 10, 2012

God, Why Hast Thou Forsaken Me?

I recently watched an excellent video of a Mormon apostle, Jeffrey R. Holland, in a question and answer session.  One point he made frequently seemed of particular interest to me, and I have long believed it to be an eternal truth.  He said "God will give you what you want, or something better."  Often we feel that God has not answered our prayers, listened to our pleading, and we may in fact feel completely forgotten and forsaken.  We may do all we can to follow the guidance of holy writ, pray, listen to our own consciences and still we feel that God has left us alone and forgotten us.

My friends, I witness that this is not the case.  I know with a perfect surety that God does not forget or forsake any one of us.   I know with a perfect surety that when it seems He has walked away, His attention is just as fixed upon us as it was before - indeed, it may in fact be even more so.  I know with a perfect surety that there is not one human being so insignificant as to be beyond the reach of His almighty love.  I know for a fact that when He allows us to feel that He has forgotten us, He does so deliberately and for our ultimate good.  Remember in the times you feel discouraged, that He sees and loves your potential more perfectly than you do and He knows what you need at every moment to channel that potential and make a greater person of you than you ever dreamed possible. 

May I take a moment and share a personal but not a doctrinally binding belief?  I believe that when God sees fit to let you feel momentarily that you are alone, it is a bitter pill for Him to watch you struggle.   I believe the God of the universe, in His infinite love, tenderness, and compassion upon humankind weeps when He has no choice but to let us feel that way and that nothing but His foreknowledge, love for us and interest in our eternal good would induce Him to ever allow us to feel that He has left us.  So when you feel alone, lift up your head and smile toward heaven, because God is still there, watching over you with all the tenderness of a perfectly loving Parent.  Difficult as it feels, I promise that it will pass, and that the emptiness you feel is a manifestation of His perfect and unending love for you.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Trials During the Christmas Season

I have a confession.  I have been rather remote and remiss of late in many quarters.  Some of the reason is because there is a trial I have been undergoing, coming on gradually for weeks but which came to full fruition now, just weeks before Christmas.  And while I have silently shed tears when alone over this, it does not behoove me to discuss the matter with anyone save God.  It is, in essence, that something on which I have spent the blood, sweat, tears, and prayers of countless hours, weeks, months, and even years attempting to accomplish just came tumbling down in one great crash.  The anguish has certainly been more than I have felt capable of bearing.  One might say, "Oh no!  And right before Christmas!  That makes it worse!"

I must respectfully disagree.  I thank God that this miserable trial came to a head at this of all times of the year.  I am grateful that I have the opportunity to feel in some small measure the pain that others often feel at having difficulties strike at this time.  Perhaps I might be able to use this experience to better understand and thus help them later.  And this is the best time of year to have a massive trial on one's hands.  Why?  When else are we so consumed with the spirit of remembering Jesus Christ, who can heal all wounds?  When else do we have so many opportunities immediately before us to forget our own troubles in the service of others?  When else do we have continually before us the fact that we have a Savior of the world to succor and save us?

I am grateful for this Christmas trial.  I am grateful that the mercy and power of God can melt away the anguish of this frustrating situation.  I am grateful to know that we are all children of God with a loving and omnipotent Heavenly Father at the helm.  Though I do  not know the reasons of this or other trials, I do know that there is one, and in this knowledge comfort replaces pain, gratitude replaces disappointment and happiness overcomes grief.  I witness that there is a Savior, that He is the might Jesus Christ, and that all things can be made right through His infinite atonement for mankind.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Reading Dickens by the Fire

Ah!  Here we are in what many people find the most magical time of the year!  It is a time to reflect and spend our efforts on what is really most important.  Faith, family, and of course, 'tis the season to read Charles Dickens! (Fa la la la, la la la la!)  Anyone who knows me decently knows I am a devout Dickens fan.  I have read every novel his genius penned and have studied his life with the wild passion of one who has found a sparkling gem in the coal dust of ordinary life.   So who was this man I so much admire, the famed author of A Christmas Carol?

We all know about Tiny Tim, but what of tiny Charles?  He lived a rough young life, working long hours under despicable circumstances for his meagre bread while his entire family save himself rotted in the Marshalsea debtor's prison.  This is probably where he got the idea for Tiny Tim's character, because to some extent he saw in it a shadow of himself.  In every book he writes, there is always an orphan or injured child.  He protected them with a pity that inflamed the British people into action.  He fought for the rights of the poor, working man, pitied and aided the fallen woman, and sneered at the selfish, worldly rich.  He believed in the possibility that we could all be one great human family and in the deepest sense of love he had, he showed society its flaws and taught beautiful lessons like the one in Scrooge's adventures in every book he wrote. 

He never discussed his own testimony of Jesus Christ or his own religious views.  He held them very closely, and with good reason.  England was in constant turmoil of religious factions and he didn't want any part in the fight.  His work was influential in society, parliment, and the course of England, and he wanted the flexibility to get things done without being pegged as part of this or that sect.  One of his greatest works, Barnaby Rudge, addresses the fact that it really doesn't matter whether we are Protestant or Catholic; the thing that matters more is that we live the religion of decency and kindness.  He knew and loved the teachings in the New Testament so much that it coursed through his veins and poured into everything he wrote, taught and did.  He wrote other short Christmas works including Cricket on the Hearth and The Chimes, both of which are well worth the reading. 

I hope you enjoy this season and that that it is "the best of times" for you and yours.  "God bless us, every one!"

Monday, December 3, 2012

My Peronal Gift to Jesus

If giving Jesus a heartfelt gift is the essence of Christmas, I actually do carry the spirit of it with me constantly.  It seems a logical thing to me that there is only one thing I can give Him, for He has given me so much and without Him I am nothing.  Many years ago I came to a conclusion of how I ought to feel toward my Savior. 

I know that He suffered and died and the anguish of that knowledge all but paralyzes me.  That One would suffer anything at all in my behalf, let alone pay for all my misdeeds and sins, horrifies me to the fullest degree. I cannot, indeed, stare that idea in the face.  I crumble.  It is too great a gift and I know not how to bear it.  Perhaps I am wrong in this emotion, but it is not that I reject the sacrifice or make light of it, but that I feel it so keenly that it brings me continually to my knees in tears.  So what can anyone possibly give Him in return?

Every day, every hour, I give my all to live as fully according to His commands as I can.  I cannot be perfect, but I would not for all the world or anything beyond make Him suffer more for my sake than was absolutely necessary.  I am far from perfect, but I can answer honestly before God that it isn't for lack of trying.  I stumble, I fall, I sin, I transgress, but I give my all to learn from my experiences and those of others to learn and progress as quickly as possible, pray for guidance continually, and act deliberately in all things by spiritual promptings to save Him as much pain as it is in my pathetic power to save Him.  It isn't something that begins or ends in December, but a philosophy on life that I employ every hour of every day.  Does that sound exhausting?  It is.  But when Jesus was in His agony He didn't say "It is too much.  I won't do anymore."  Have I any right to say otherwise? 

Saturday, December 1, 2012

The Madness We Call Love

I have a wonderful critic named Mark who reads my posts, reviews my photography, listens to my singing et cetera and reports back to me his excellent thoughts on the matter, encouraging me in some aspects and correcting me kindly in others.  Recently he told me that he believes that the idea of romance is one of my favorites.  True.  And there is a reason for my constant interest in this theme, besides the obvious one, which is that it is among the highest emotions humans beings can harbor. 

It is a strange thing to relate but while historically guys have not asked me out on wild dates of a Saturday evening, I have throughout my life almost incessantly found myself with marriage proposals beckoning at my door.   In college I had a father and son mutually decide that they wanted me to live in their home, not as an ordinary harlot as one might expect but as a homemaker, friend, and yes, the rest as well.  They were not attempting to be filthy in their own perspectives; they were both simply of the opinion that this would prove beneficial to their happiness and didn't want to be without me.  Bizarre as this sounds, it is not the most bizarre offer I have had.  This has made me very seriously consider the question: What is love?  Both men likely believed they had found it.

I am a believer in soul mates.  I cannot believe that God is a God of chaos and that partners of an eternal journey can just be randomly thrown together in pure and perfect love.  God is a God of order and certainly there must be order in this most precious of human relationships.  So I would invite you to ask yourself when faced with the idea that you are in love, "how do I know that this is right?" Both father and son in this situation could not have been right, and if there have been a great deal of men thinking I was their soul mate, surely a great deal of men must have been wrong if I do not reciprocate it.  I wish the world would just stop and pray more, placing their own agenda and ideas aside and ask "is this right?  Is this the right thing to pursue and how far ought I to pursue it?"  I truly believe following this course would save most of the broken hearts of the world.

I cannot help but believe that there is a kind of platonic friendship so deep, so powerful, and so moving that human minds have a difficult time comprehending it.  It is a kind of friendship meant for the eternities and finite understandings have no other way to digest the emotion that washes over them so they determine it must be romantic love.  Take time to slow down and turn to God.  If it was meant to be, then at the end of all things it will happen and if not, enjoy what you can learn and appreciate from that person and let God take the reins in the direction He will.   

Friday, November 30, 2012

A Christian and a Star of David

I don't own a crucifix.  I don't wear them either.  But as anyone who has read my posts can tell, I am an absolutely flaming Christian.  I do, however, own and occasionally wear a silver Star of David.  I intend to wear it throughout some of December as a reminder that my first priority should be God and as I teach my children about Hanukah and Christmas.  Has Michelle finally lost her mind?  Hardly.

No offense intended whatsoever to anyone who wears a cross.  That is totally your own worship before God and I honor you for it.  People learn differently and it is okay that we all learn and worship differently.  I learn very differently from most people.  You see, I have always been something of an extreme analytical scholar to a degree that often annoys the people around me.  The fact is that for all the arguments between the two religions, Christianity is a branch of the mother Jewish faith.  Every word in the Bible was written by a Jew.  Jesus Christ Himself was a Jew and in fact likely never wore a crucifix round His neck but as a rabbi probably sometimes wore the six pointed star.  It is not that I would dishonor Jesus or Christianity but that I would honor Him as He is and not as I would make Him.  I believe that we owe gratitude and friendship to those who hold to the religion that came before ours. 

I often hear people upset when others employ the term "Happy Holidays" insisting that we should all instead say "Merry Christmas."  I appreciate a Jewish personal trainer of mine some years ago who spent hours handmaking Christmas presents and wishing all her clients and friends a very hearty "Merry Christmas!"  I wasn't sure how to respond at the time but that example of friendship and kindness has stayed with me and it was that December that I purchased this Star of David necklace.  If we would really remember Jesus Christ, let us remember that contention and argument are not of Him, and that He leaves us free to be kind to and appreciate all people, for we are all children of God.   


Wednesday, November 28, 2012

A Message from Saint Nicholas

  My dear friends in 2012,

How grateful I am that you celebrate in the month of December!  I myself was highly religious from my youth in Patara, Greece, even before the early death of my parents.  The left me with so many blessings, for though they were very wealthy in things of the world, which I inherited as their only child, but from my birth in 270 AD they set an amazing example of Christian service before God took them out of this world.  I wanted to give to others as God had given to me.  I secretly watched for those in need and yes, sometimes placed coins in people's shoes.  I'm not sure how the idea evolved into socks, but whatever you will. 

But though I find myself honored by the tradition and legacy you have made of me, I feel the need to straighten you out on a few points.  I myself wanted to give only out of good will to God and man, and I would direct you to the same source of inspiration.  I find myself horrified at the spectacle so many have made to place me on a pedestal and completely forget the purpose of my generosity.  I didn't do it to gain credit - that is why I did my good deeds in secret!  I wanted people to give thanks to God, and I am tempted to feel almost ashamed before my Maker that so many practically worship me, weak and fallible man that I am, and forget the Lord who has given them so much.

With all humility of spirit, I would ask for a gift from you this year.  Forget about me.  Forget me entirely.  I am more than content to have my name blotted out from the records of history if instead it would be replaced by the name of our Lord, Jesus Christ.  If you will give to others, do it because of the gift God has given you in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.  After my death on December 6, 343 AD my bones were taken apart and placed in two different cities - surely I am not the one deserving of worship.  I am only a man made from the dust and have no power even to keep my physical remains in a common country.  But Jesus Christ - where are His mighty bones?  I beg you to give credit where credit is due.  Remember Him this season.  I did, and I continue to think only of Him and forget myself in whatever service I can render to Him.

God bless you and Merry Christmas!

Nikolaos of Myra

Saturday, November 24, 2012

I Wish You a Calm and Serene December

Some people wish Merry Christmas.  Yes, that will come, I am sure.  But we face a common paradox this last month of the year.  It is supposed to be the happiest, sweetest, most loving time of the year in which we focus on religion in whichever form we see fit.  But here's the inevitable question: How often is December anything much more than a constant, hysterical headache?  I thought so.

When I was young I was often depressed during the family Christmas parties and spent a good amount of time alone in whatever manner I could find.  It was nothing against my family, but when we as a society are so bombarded with demands, invitations, lights and the stress of following traditions that I always felt there was something important missing.  As I matured I realized that what I felt was amiss was that it was difficult to commune with God through all the brash and bright festivities.  When we measure our religious devotion at this time by our zeal not for God but for engagements and singing carols in the streets we rob ourselves of the whole point of Christmas (or whatever celebration we decide to honor).  Truthfully, were it not for my kids who become highly excited for the presents et cetera I would be wholly content to spend the latter part of the month alone in my room on my knees in prayer, reading the four Gospels or quietly rendering anonymous service to others.  It seems more appropriate.

But we live in this loud and boisterous world.  We can't very well spend the whole month in that manner but I would encourage each of us to simplify this year as much as is humanly possible.  Forget the million traditions and do what will bring you and yours closer to God.  If that means forgetting the cookies you usually bake for everyone in the neighborhood or contenting yourself with one string of lights instead of decorating every inch of your home inside and out, then have the courage to defy the status quo.  This year I started making Christmas presents in January and though I am not finished, and some of those around me will have to settle for something store bought it has taken a great deal of stress and strain from the season.  While we may not be able to do that this year, we might think of starting early next year and thus truly keep Christmas in our lives all year round. 

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Praying for Strength During Weight Training

I love to work out!  I love to eat healthy food!  I once read in an Oxygen magazine that everyone works out primarily in order to be sexy.  It proclaimed "Well, maybe there are some nuns out there who don't want to be sexy, but..."  Okay.  Consider me a nun.  That isn't why I work out. 

It is very easy to look around the gym and judge others and oneself.  One can say "Well at least I'm lifting more than her!" or "I can bench press far  more than he can!"  But seriously, it doesn't get anyone anywhere.  It's easy to think "I have to meet my fitness goal" or "I need to look better than I do."  Fitness goals are commendable but that really isn't the point. 

I pray when I go to the gym.  I pray that God will direct me to do what He knows I can do and that He will make of my physique what He needs it to be.  I focus on functionality.  I want to be able to have the physical strength to help others in times of need, be able to help in rescue or reconstruction after natural disasters, or anything else the Lord would want me to do.  After all, He gave me this body in the first place, free and clear from deformity and capable of service to others.  Isn't it fitting that I ought to form and chisel it with His service in mind?

And the result?  I am stronger than I probably appear.  I find it relaxing to twist my form into a pretzel and have become all but oblivious to the cries of the world, which say "You have to look this way or be able to run marathons."  (I cannot run marathons to save my life.  I am a devastatingly talented sprinter, though.)  When you recognize that you are doing the best you can with what God gave you and you are doing it for a deeper purpose than competition or appearance, it frees you from the need of worry, self doubt, pride, competitiveness and the like.  You are your own person and have your own role to play in this world, and no one can make you feel either inferior or proud.   

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Out of the Mouths of Babes

I usually never hide my age.  The only time I skirt the issue is when I am talking to people older than myself and want them to take me seriously.  Then I avoid it like the plague.  I'd rather be taken for what I know and can do than find myself judged by my comparatively few years.  I have had the experience of judging others in this same way twice.  Both people proved wise far beyond their years, and their work remains some of my absolutely lasting favorites. 

The first was in college when I walked into a lecture hall and could only tell the identity of the professor apart from his students by the tell tale dress shirt and tie.  I confess I raised an eyebrow and in my overwhelming pity concluded that the university must have had extreme budget cuts to place this infant, still sucking proverbial Gerber, in front of a class of two hundred.  I determined to defend this poor kid from the attacks that would undoubtedly fall upon him.

And then he opened his mouth.  A lightening bolt could not have shocked me harder than this professor, suddenly a man and a formidable one, who instantly both intimidated his students into oblivion and impressed them with his intellectual prowess.  Within fifteen minutes I knew that the two hundred of us were no match for this literary passion in the human form of Dr. Greg Jackson.  He later wrote a book entitled The Word and Its Witness: The Spiritualization of American Realism, which proved as groundbreaking as it was breathtaking.  You can catch it on but unless you speak fluent professor, don't attempt it without a dictionary at your side.

The second was when the Mormon church appointed a new apostle in the person of David A. Bednar.  A young fellow in his fifties or so took the apostolic position and I sat rather uninspired and swallowed the decision with a grain of salt.  The other apostles were much older.  I tried to stifle yawns and refrain from eye rolling at his appearance. 

God decided I ought to meet him.  I attended a speaking engagement and as I waited for him to make his appearance the thought kept returning "Do not judge this man by his age."  I didn't see him enter the room but when he did the entire congregation immediately and involuntarily hushed.  I have met apostles and prophets before and since but this was altogether different.  Every word he spoke was like pure, unadulterated fire.  He mentioned that he liked to look into people's eyes and see what was in their souls.  When I shook his hand, I took him up on this offer and locked my gaze into his.  I felt my whole being almost melt with fervent heat and literally nearly fell over.  His hand still grasping mine steadied me and I could see in the twinkle of his eyes that he knew exactly what had just hit me with so much power. 

His books, Increase in Learning and Act in Doctrine,  prove profound in the highest degree.  I learned more about teaching in one chapter of the former than in the College of Education and all my teaching experience combined.  Feel free to pick them up at but be aware that these reads may very well turn your life upside down.  He intended that they should. 

Never judge a book by its cover and never judge abilities by age.  Never assume you can do better or know better than someone simply because you have greater years.  Especially never assume that by virtue of age and pride alone, you know better than young children.  They just might surprise you.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Triple Chocolate Decadence

Happy birthday to me!  Actually, it was this weekend, but life has been a whirlwind so I am celebrating it tonight.  And when my children return from school we will be making a triple chocolate decadent cake.  I know a few eyebrows just shot straight up because I never eat anything unhealthy.  But this morning I worked like a slave at the gym and I choose to knowlingly allow something unhealthy past my lips.  And since I am going to do it, I will put my full knowledge of junk food to good use and eat only the best.  Nothing less would prove worthy, since I take such intense care of my health.

It's the same concept with life and particularly in finding a significant other.  Media tells us that we are somehow weird or substandard if we hold to traditionally moral principles.  It tells us that we are wrong if we don't sleep around or engage in other wholly cheapening behavior.  They supplement this by crushing into oblivion the physical self image by proclaiming that in order to be attractive, we have to look a certain way.  But they fail to take one little thing into account.

You are amazing just the way you are.  You are worthy of only the best.  I would encourage my friends out there (and you are all my friends) to be just a little more arrogant.  Just a little more narcissistic.  Just have a bit more self love.  Recognize that you will have the best in a relationship or nothing.  And nothing is okay.  "Nothing" means you have more time to focus on you, what you want out of life, becoming a better person, and doing all those things you want to do without having anyone to hold you back.  Take your time; be wise with your relationships.  And when you engage in a relationship, do it with both eyes open, knowing the consequences beforehand and being prepared to accept them.  You are worth more than to settle for something that ultimately will not satisfy. 

Friday, November 16, 2012

The Real Woman's Rights

"You are the womanliest woman I know!" I told my older sister, Crystal, over an apple gorgonzola salad earlier this week.  We had been discussing a book she was reading and she had expressed her disgust at the idea that the protagonist had very flippantly decided on having an abortion.  The very idea of abortion disgusts her to the point of being unable to even discuss the subject.  She is, in my mind, the very picture of femininity. 

I am not as beautifully feminine by nature.  Perhaps it is because my nearest sibling and cousins are all boys, or perhaps because I didn't automatically feel the desire for motherhood in my elementary years as she did, but I found it much easier to feed into the bizarre gender confusion of our present society.  I have never believed it right, but like many women I know, I didn't initially believe that I could measure up to the daunting task of motherhood and gentle humanity.

But my friends, I know for a fact that the highest measure of a woman's nature is motherhood.  I have learned to love it.  The most glorious thing a woman can do is create not only children but a loving and uplifting home.  We should not be expected to compete with men in the marketplace.  We should have the right to be respected as the creative, passionate, beautiful goddesses we are without feeling like we have to apologize for reaching the height and glory of our creation.  We should have the right to be treated like women, real women, rather than have society and lawmakers assume that we want the right to murder our own children in cold blood.  Real women cannot bear the thought of abortion.  Real women recognize that they should be able to turn to a man for protection, love, admiration and as a familial breadwinner.  And real men ought to be willing, if possible, to fulfill those primarily masculine roles.  I recognize that some would like to pass off these roles as something traditional that the evil western world created.  When I see men regularly carry babies in their bodies for nine months and suffer through labor I will gladly concede the point. 

Ladies, don't be ashamed of the woman God made you.  And men, don't try to downplay women's abilities, assume that women should be the providers, or belittle the most important and vital work they do in their homes.  Instead, I would encourage you to take the mantle of patriarch on your shoulders, behave like real men and let us be real, glorious, women. 

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Hopelessly Romantic

As I look over the social constituents of the day I find a strange and unfortunate prevalent pattern.  While we are a highly sexualized society, we haven't the first clue regarding romance.  And I find that the more sexualized a person or group become they less they understand the concept of love and romance.  Let's take a look at this in two scenarios, shall we?

A woman dresses in a tight, low cut, short skirtted outfit and heads to a bar to find some "fun."  She runs into a man who reeks like week old Budweiser and the next thing she remembers is waking up in the morning.  Oh yeah.  Romantic.  (Claps dripping with sarcasm)  Can't we do better than that?

Here's another one.  A guy walks into a library to pursue his soul wrenching passion of...whatever.  Politics, history, literature, music theory, auto mechanics, sports...whatever.  As he meanders toward his intellectual passion he notices a gorgeous lady in the biography section holding a volume on Ralph Waldo Emerson.  He tries not to stare but keeping her in sight suddenly stands a little taller and struts past her.  He momentarily forgot what brought him to the stacks in the first place.  A minute later, the woman happens to glance up over the top of her book and notices a handsome, intelligent looking guy reading a book on basket weaving.  She notes confusedly that he's holding the book upside down.  He doesn't seem to realize this pertinent fact.  Their eyes meet.  She blushes and tries to look back down at her book but passion has her in its grip and...

...months later they get engaged, then married, devote themselves to each other in body and mind, and live happily ever after. 

My friends, moral decency is hardly outdated.  It's the highest notch in the ladder of romance.  It creates the happily ever after we all want.  So let's all have a little self control and live happily ever after!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The Choice to Truly Live

There lies within each one of us
The choice to truly live,
To learn and grow tremendously,
To strengthen and forgive.

Our world calls to us angrily
"Give up the wasted fight!"
But deep within there shines the truth
That evil's never right.

And though the crowd proves maddening
Insisting we desist
Our course is straight, our aim is sure
And vices we'll resist.

For love proves greater than revenge
And kindness more than hate
Inspires floods of human strength
Unto a better fate.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Obeying God and a Sexy Red Dress

As most people who know me realize, I spend much of my time engaged in prayer.  My mind, for as far back as I can recall, has been engaged in the serious matters of life and in striving for a better world.  I have generally forgotten about clothes, fashion and the like, thinking that it wasn't worth my concern.  Today God turned that around on me.

This morning began in chaos and continued in that vein until my morning was hopelessly unraveled.  Upon much prayer I felt impressed to head to the mall.  A slight  grin threatened at my lips as I thought of a particularly stunning red dress that had beckoned to me earlier.  I had cast the idea aside as something trivial, but as I neared the familiar building of frivolity the idea persisted that I needed to buy it.  I argued.  I reasoned that I could use that money to rescue those in need.  God hit me with a very surprising answer.  It went something like this.

"If I asked you to spend that money on a program to promote moral decency, would you do it?"

My answer was, "of course!"

"There is a greater need right in front of you.  There is a war going on in this world that destroys lives, homes, spirits and turns people from Me.  It is the plague of immodesty and the belief that moral decency is outdated.  I need warriors to fight this.  You have the ability to help prove that modesty can be attractive and exciting.  Go buy that dress and wear it with pride."

I own a new drop dead gorgeous red dress now.  Men are that they might have joy.  Women are that they might have clothes. 

Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Duarte Stories: Dreaming of Smooth Walls

My late grandmother, Catalina Vasquez, moved from her home in Tiunadepa, Mexico to a much poorer village, Turicachi when she was eight years old.  Those of my family who have traveled there know that the homes are rough with floors of dirt or cracked concrete.  The adobe walls have holes in them and even if you spend the night in the finest (and only) hotel in the larger neighboring town, you very much risk freezing in the wintertime.  Here my grandmother grew and learned, and was taught by arrogant inhabitants of that town that she would never have anything better than the home woven straw mat she called her bed. 

But Catalina was a fighter.  She had a dream that one day, she would live in a fine, beautiful house.  It would even have the unthinkable luxury of smooth walls.  No one believed she could do it.  No one supported her hopes and dreams.  When her sister died at 42 leaving her with five extra children to add to her own large brood she found herself in considerable financial distress.  Her older brother kept her from starving and she labored without ceasing until she was able to move her family to a filthy, fly ridden town that bordered the great United States of America.  There she continued to work, cleaning people's homes and coming home sometimes in the dead of night half frozen.  She endured abuse from her clients and sometimes they stiffed her in their payment.  But still she pressed onward.

Making a very long and weary story short, she brought her eight children and her late sister's five children to the United States and settled in a very modest home in southwest Tucson, Arizona.  I am told that the first night she spent there, as she laid beside her husband, she began to weep.  He asked what the matter was and she responded "I am living in a house with smooth walls!" 

My friends, when life gets us down and we feel that things can't get any worse, let's have some perspective.  Reach your hand to your bedroom wall and exclaim with gratitude in your heart, "I am living in a house with smooth walls!"

The Duarte Stories: Full of Blessings

This Sunday as I was directing music for church I found myself overpowered by a certain verse and had to turn my face away for an instant as tears pricked at my eyes and my voice threated to shake.  It was the third verse of the hymn "Count Your Blessings." 

My grandfather, Manuel Isidro Lara Duarte, loved that verse of eternal hope for those poor as to things of this world.  He was an orphan in poverty stricken Turicachi, Mexico and from his earliest years he learned to work hard and do without luxury.  He is remembered for his hardworking nature, honesty, and resourceful attitude.  He provided as best he could for his wife and eight children, and left a legacy that can never die.  Near the end of his life, as he lay languishing in the slow agonizing death of pancreatic cancer, my mother sat by his side as he tried to speak.  He began talking weakly, trying to convey an idea to her.  He said "I am full..." My mother thought he meant he felt full of sickness and tumors.  He continued, "I am full of blessings."  The last time he saw his children together at his bedside he told them with his characteristic fearlessness, "I am not afraid of closing my eyes.  I am afraid of opening them (on Resurrection Day) and finding that one or two of my children didn't make it (to heaven)."  His last act as the exquisite patriarch he was, was to lead his children in singing the aforementioned hymn.  Though his body was failing his voice was strong in passionate leadership as he sang the following hymn in Spanish:

When you look at others with their lands and gold
Think that Christ has promised you His wealth untold.
Count your many blessings, money cannot buy
Your reward in heaven, nor your home on high.
Count your many blessings, name them one by one.
Count your many blessings, see what God hath done. 
Count your blessings, name them one by one. 
Count your many blessings, see what God hath done.


Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Obama Won, But it Isn't Over Yet

I know that many of my more faithful readers will be downcast today, but this is no time for sadness.  It is a time for optimism and resolve.  I have never believed that this was a competition between two men.  It has been for me one small part of the greater fight for moral decency and spiritually uplifting the American people.  Now the real fight begins.  We live in a land that has chosen a party that is ashamed of the name of God, that supports the murder of unborn children and believes in moral anarchy.  Now is the time to arise, be grateful to God that He placed you in a place where you can be of real use, and get to work.

Allow me the use of a concept taught in the Book of Mormon.  It states that the word of God has a greater effect on the hearts of the children of men than even the sword.  Physical brutality will not be powerful enough to turn this nation around, but the power of the word of God can.  So here's the game plan, my friends.  So we live in a nation that allows divorce for absolutely no reason.  Change the minds of the people and no one will use that right without very good reason.  Abortion is allowed.  Soften the hearts of the women and its clinics will fall into disuse.  Granted there are some problems like foreign policy that will be harder for us as private citizens to fix but if we are doing what we can there is a more powerful force with us than the whole of the United States military. 

You may consider that what I outline seems a daunting task.  I never said it would be easy.  But I have seen murderers, rapists, and the like turn their lives around, turn their hearts to God and repent their crimes, and I know it can be done.  So wherever you are, I encourage you to preach in love, with prayer and holding fast to personal revelation from God.  Preach without ceasing from sunrise to sundown.  Preach in the lines in the supermarket, at your children's schools, and in your homes.  And when necessary, use words. 

Monday, November 5, 2012

A Prayer for America

As many of my readers know, I have often prayed for Mitt Romney's success in this unthinkably difficult campaign.  But looking across our great nation as a whole I recognize there is another prayer we need more desperately.  We need to pray for the American people.  Let us pray for them to be wise.  Let us pray for our own people to remember the innocent unborn children whose lives are wrenched away from them in the name of women's rights.  Let us remember how sacred our bodies are and reverence them, treat them sacredly, and bring virtue back to the mainstream social stage of American life.
We do not need a candidate or a president nearly as much as we need to remember the value of work not only for our adults but also our children.  Let us teach our children to work and to find joy in labor.  Let us remember the precious trust we have to protect our allies and defend the country of Israel.  We pray for our enemies who would terrorize us, that they may be softened and realize we have no animosity for them if they will leave us alone.  But if not, we pray for the strength to fight like lions to unravel their plans and bring them to justice, even to the eternal justice of our mighty Creator. 
I pray that we as a people will turn our focus back to the family and forget the shallow, empty constituents of the world that will never render lasting joy.  Let us remember that freedom of religion and freedom of speech, even in front of the president himself, is what has in profound measure made this country the greatest nation on earth.  And let us remember our God, by whatever name we may call Him, and call upon His power to forgive and strengthen the nation that has threatened to forget Him.
Lastly, I sincerely ask your prayers to combine with mine for the devastated state of New Jersey and its surrounding areas.  This poor state has been pounded by a merciless Mother Nature and every day I turn a pained, grief stricken heart toward the east coast and wait on pinpricks to hear the number and if possible, the names of the dead.  I find myself involuntarily holding my breath as I read through the reports of this devastation and continually pray for the safety of those I know in that area and also those I don't.  They are never far from my thoughts.  We love you, our east coast American family!  God bless our nation and let us give Him a viable reason to do so.


Friday, November 2, 2012

I Love Someone with Autism

I often see this slogan on bumper stickers, particularly around my children's school.  Another sticker bears the injunction "Cure Autism Now!"  Truthfully, as a parent of an autistic daughter, the well meaning demand to cure autism immediately saddens me.  Why?  Shouldn't I want my daughter to be a neuro typical?  With all the therapy she undergoes in speech and occupation shouldn't I want her cured?  Not as badly as one might think.

Autism is a gift from God.  It is a mighty gift that we are only now beginning to appreciate.  I find in my daughter a precious kind of innocence in a very dark, immoral world.  She is detached from this world in a powerful way and because she is, she continually reminds people that there is something far greater than the status quo.  No one who gets to know her walks away without coming under her all consuming spell of excitement.  She is excited to be alive, to experience things, to learn and to grow.  And though at six years old she still speaks somewhat like a baby, her intelligence proves beyond impressive.  She will rattle off names and dates in ways that continually twist my mind into knots.  She refers to songs in books of sheet music by their page numbers off the top of her head.  She writes chapter books and is a profoundly expressive reader.  I have never had any doubt that one day she may, if she likes, take over the world. 

So before we shun what makes people different, and sometimes we might be tempted to say, less or impaired, let us remember that their gifts are what make them incredible.  Sometimes rather than trying to "fix" the "problem" we might sit down and consider what amazing truths we can find in this so called "handicapped" person.  Rather than trying to destroy what makes them so special, let us learn from their very different perspective.  Granted, we work very hard on her language, grammar, fine motor skills and the like, but those are mere details compared to the vast amount of passionate intelligence autistic people almost always hold.  And yes, ensuring she can function in a classroom is important and the like, but that is only a surface feature.  Regarding the deeper level of autistic power in my daughter, I would not change a hair on her magnificent head. 

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Urgent! A New Threat Greater Than Hurricane Sandy

We have all turned pained eyes to New Jersey shores this week and I have been no less concerned about the havoc wreaked in New England.  I know that many have friends, family, associates and the like in that region and my prayers have been constantly bent in that direction.  I myself have an interest in someone in Washington D.C., another in Baltimore and another in New Brunswick.  And I know we have been grateful for the labors of everyone involved, not least of all Governor Chris Christie and President Obama.  It has been a necessary break from the maddening election hysteria.

While I am grateful that President Obama was present, I am also reminded that we have a greater threat to our nation than hurricane Sandy.  We have a danger lurking that threatens our existence as a nation and as a people.  We cannot deny the fact that there are groups of living, breathing humans who seek to destroy America as evidenced in our latest attack in Benghazi.  It was an attack that could have been avoided and was managed horrendously by the White House.  And after this devastating attack of hatred, we have heard nothing but excuses and most recently, a deafening silence.   My friends, this is a more terrifying warning than the weather reports that preceded the storm.  Our failure to action and even to openly discuss this situation lends its support to those who murdered our people in cold blood and got away without even the American people knowing the truth behind it, much less bringing the murderers to justice.

We look weak and frightened as a nation in the eyes of this world and terrorists will not hesitate to strike again, and much harder.  They will not fear that we will even slap them on the wrist or so much as take notice.  And while we turn a blind eye, all of us are in potential danger.  It may not be a small attack on a specific person next time.  Next time it could truly be a full ranged brutality on thousands.  President Obama has called on us to push "forward."  But after this protection of terrorists and his own attacks on religious freedom, freedom of speech, financial progression, and moral uprightness where is he leading us? 

Friday, October 26, 2012

Attaining Social Success

I am an avid reader and something of a self proclaimed book nerd.  As a high schooler I spent my Saturday mornings at the library.  Perhaps that is not what the world would call socially powerful, but let me give you some insight into what I have found about succeeding in the social game that I learned whilst in the stacks.  Firstly, any wise book will improve your social life.  It does this on two fronts - following its counsel will enrich your social behavior and the wisdom it renders will safeguard you from irritating naysayers.  Among the books I've read on psychology and the like there are three that top the social climbing list. 

The Analects of Confucius is not a difficult book to read.  It is very dense sometimes but I know of very few books that can match the counsel it gives in how to deal with people, family, and social intercourse.  It's a great handbook to read and then keep on the shelf.   Number two of my absolute favorite social reads is The Art of War.  It is extremely short and an intriguing read and if you apply the military strategy to your interpersonal relationships it is absolutely invaluable.  It takes you through the whole "If the other person does this, then you do that" and it holds up under fire every time.  But the best work ever written in my opinion on how to succeed in the social arena is found in the New Testament, in the book of St. Matthew chapters 5-7 inclusive.  It is the sermon on the mount. 


When I was in high school I spent hours poring over first 11 verses of Matthew 5.  I would choose one scripture and like Ben Franklin, attempt to master it in my daily life.  Then I would do another and another, then go back and work on the ones I'd done before.  This was my constant focus for many years.   Abiding by these ideas takes you from being the persecuted, misunderstood gawky kid that I was and reminds you that you are in control of your life.  It brings you to the point of being the agent to act and not the object to be acted upon and it gives you a balance to take with you in terms of how to treat others.  When someone reviles us and we turn the other cheek, not out of fear but in strength, they cannot help but respect us and place us on a pedestal.  When we let our lights so shine without arrogance or conceit people take tremendous notice and will treat us like something greater than the average person off the street.  When we refuse to fiercely judge our enemies people know they can trust our friendship and our discretion.  If you want to stay in the merry go round of he said she said gossip ridden social world then go ahead and read Self magazine.  If you want to rise above it and hold your own life in the palm of your hand, engrave those three chapters onto your heart.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Spiritual Innocence

I have at times alluded to my all consuming belief that we lived in a more intense spiritual state before our mortal births.  I have always known this more surely than I felt the reality of my present mortal existence.  Here is how I feel much impressed we lived at that time.  And it is this spirituality and innocence we must set as our ultimate goal and destination in this life.  The surest way to happiness is not by engaging in debate, argument or sophistry but in rediscovering the gentle confidence before God we had so long ago.  I wrote an autobiography a few years ago which included the fullness of all my insight, reflections regarding life and the like.  I never intend to unveil it, but this is one of the opening sections.  The book itself is partly in prose and also includes various types of poetry which shift according to the plot, much as music in an opera changes based upon the relative events. 
Once in a state of purity and peace
We stood before the gates of open joy,
Embraced in glory, slept on golden fleece;
In innocence stood every girl and boy.
And love proved sure, our common course
Which hell itself this life could not destroy.
And in our dreams we saw the shooting orbs
Of light that now we know as lofty stars
But then as toys; we harbored no remorse
For lived we then without the fashioned bars
Of emptiness. 

Saturday, October 20, 2012

What if You Could Look into Jesus's Face?

This might be applied not only to God Himself but all who strive to find a better way, a nobler course and higher dream than we generally see in society.  Indeed, I wrote it about a specific mortal person who will remain nameless but found later it applies more or less perfectly to the Savior Himself.  It particularly discusses the concept of our sometimes not accepting people who seem strange to the world simply because they are striving for something higher.

I strain to read the faded words

That splash across his face.

A book of truth unhinderéd

By glory or disgrace

Betoken life of wisdom’s strength

That others failed to see

Because they do not understand

The truth that sets them free.

The darkened world walks blindly on

Ignoring heaven’s light

And spurning him who strives for peace

And seeking greater sight.

Perhaps instead of chiding him

Who often we deride

It might behoove to gaze into

The joy that speaks inside.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Cease Fire on Class Warfare

My family comes from extremely humble roots.  My mother lived in a small, poverty stricken town in Mexico and worked in construction alongside her brothers and father when she came to the States.  My father grew up in poor circumstances in South Carolina.  Little by little we have climbed the financial ladder and I have been very blessed to be able to experience both sides of the coin.  I understand the fear of families who have nothing to eat.  I have helped rescue those who repeatedly went to bed with empty stomachs.  But I have also lived the life of an executive and an entrepaneur.  Both sides are stressful in very different ways.  I currently work as a financial executive in a construction company which affords me a profound view of how things work in the real world.  I recognize if I get lazy on Friday and forget to pay that one check to that one plumbing or framing company, many will have nothing to put on the table that weekend.  Children may go hungry and families will experience a flood of agonized anxiety. 

As stressful as the life of a laborer is, and it is very stressful, it is no less stressful to be an executive and have to have all the answers.  When the recession hit many contractors filed bankrupcy.  Suddenly all our trades depended on our company for their daily bread.  I remember panic striken trades asking when we would build our next custom home.  The owners and I had to hold our heads high, kneel as low before God as possible and reassure everyone that Golden Star Properties would outlast this financial crises.  We knew that if our company went down the framers, painters, electricians, plumbers, tractor drivers, laborers, tile guys, et cetera would be left desolate.  We had to trust God and somehow manage to pull contracts and projects out of thin air when all the other construction companies were falling victim to the circumstances of the time.

We have survived.  Most of our trades have survived.  We have all learned to manage with less.  We have all had to compromise with each other.  We all are part of this project of life together.  We are engaged one with another to create jobs, perform duties and the like to make sure everyone can make it.  We needn't hate each other, blame each other or envy each other.  We cannot.  Let's stand united, understanding that we are all different and have different roles.  And let's put our arms around each others' shoulders like human beings and aid each other like brethren and sisters.  


Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Beauty of Small Government

Thomas Jefferson envisioned an America in which the citizens would pay virtually no federal taxes and would never see the federal government except perhaps in the form of the mail carrier.  He continually preached non pretension, simplicity, and the like.  Granted, there were many issues in human society he could not have foreseen, including the abolition of slavery.  Many people may argue that a large federal government is the only way to really get things done.

Get what things done?  What is more important than spending time with a child?  What is more important than helping a neighbor in need?   What is more important than uplifting and beautifying the world around us, person by person?  We do not need the government for the most important things in life.  A more extensive government means more beaurocracy, more positions for the power hungry, more corruption, and certainly greater expense.  But, one may say, we have good systems within the government such as welfare and food stamps.  I have heard people argue that Jesus Himself was a socialist. 

My friends, the beauty of a small government is that it gives us the freedom, of our own will and volition, to give to others.  It does not demand an equal society; it invites it.  I know several fairly wealthy people who would like to give more to the poor but cannnot afford to give the time and money of their own good desires toward God and man because crippling taxes do not give them enough breathing room to maintain their small businesses.  They live in so much frustration, unsure of what will be taken from them next, that the worry inhibits their reaching out more to the hungry and homeless.  They feel under attack and constantly pressured.  Jesus did not demand, coerce, throw in prison or fine.  He instructed and invited.  God requires a tithe, generally described as 10%, given to Him.  Can a man made governement rightly demand more financial homage than God?  And I truly believe that if more of the so called "wealthy" were left alone they would engage more in giving to the needy.  I know many wealthy people who in continually give to humanitarian causes in money, time, and expertise.  The beauty of small government is the beauty of simplicity itself.  Restore the freedom to more fully look to our smaller communities, our churches, our friendships, and recall that the neighborly human touch is a priceless gem that government can never substitute.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Biden vs. Ryan: An Analysis

It was a historic debate on various counts.  Catholic versus Catholic, the first time a vice presidential challenger tied/bested an incumbent vice president, et cetera.  And since I have not found news articles that express what I think about this particular debate I will just have to supply one. 

Firstly, let's discuss style.  Biden did indeed, as Ryan predicted, come in like a cannonball.  No one doubts that he dominated the debate floor.  But while he may have thought the ends justified the means, his continued impersonation of the Cheshire Cat came across to any mature, intelligent viewer as, as Ryan put it a man "under duress."  Stylistically Ryan took the floor and maintained it with a set expression of resolution that Biden only troubled for a brief, passing moment in the heat of his 83 interruptions.  Ryan came to the floor equipped with a proverbial cookie jar filled to the brim of one liners.  My personal favorite was in response to Biden's attack of the notorious 47% comment made by Governor Romney.  Ryan leaned in closely with a glint in his eye and a confident smile on his lips and reminded the vice president that words don't always come out your mouth the way you intend.  Sparkling.  It was obviously prepared and rehearsed and the final execution was nothing short of glorious.

As to substance, I think it safe to say both held their own.  Ryan surprised everyone with his knowledge of Afghanistan and Biden's performance was stellar in a plethora of ways.  However, Biden's supposed fact checking Ryan led the White House scrambling the next day to back up these new facts Biden had apparently invented.  But that is part of the political game.

I was particularly impressed with both their answers to the question regarding  Catholicism and abortion.  Biden did a fabulous job in pointing out that as a vice president he may hold his own religious beliefs but shall not seek to force others to share them.   Touche.  I appreciate that.  Well put.  And by the way, it was also excellently and eloquently executed.  Ryan made his answer more personal, as requested, and gave an answer that was both religious and political.  He indicated his own belief that life begins with conception and then pivoted to make it clear that abortion would be allowed in cases of rape, incest and life of the mother.  Biden held to his devotion to the country.  Appropriate.  Ryan held to his loyalty to his God.  That's a higher loyalty than to country.  Catholicism has lived long enough to watch empires crumble and countries become obsolete.  Both were good answers but one was absolutely fearless. 

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Cover Girls

As our political opinions become more tensed and it seems our country is split down the middle, may I remind us one very pertinent fact?  We can still all get along.  I asked my beautiful older sister Crystal to help me out this morning in demonstrating that though we can be on completely opposite ends of the spectrum, we can still be bound together in love.  Neither of us are necessarily acting a part.  We are simply being our own individual selves.

My fabulous sister rocked the stage for years as an amazing actress playing everything from Helena in Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream to Buttercup from The Princess Bride.  She is socially fearless, always in vogue and can wrap anyone around her finger, man or woman, except those silly ladies who chose to be intimidated and envious by the extraordinary light she carries with her.  People are immediately attracted by her vivacious, exciting and fun loving spirit.

I'm a completely different type.  I'm the quiet, unpretending, archaic, artless one who drowns in the beauty of classical music and classic literature.  I can't be what I'm not to save my life.  I'm the studious, natural, intellectual one who quietly works toward a good end from behind the scenes.  My interactions with people are usually quiet and eternally soulful.

We worship the same God in completely different ways.  She beautifies everything within her grasp as it draws her spirit upward to an even more beautiful heaven.  I commune with the dust of the earth and the lilies of the field and recognize that this whole world is nothing in comparison to the joy that awaits us.  And yet we get along, perfectly and beautifully, because we both respect and can learn from each other.  My friends, aren't we all brothers and sisters?  Can't we all appreciate the good in each other?  And as none of us have all the answers, can't we recognize that each person, no matter how different, is a valid and cherished child of God?      

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Confessions of a Chocoholic Part II

Now that we know a little of my reformation history, I would like to share with you how I was able to overcome my terrible craving for M&Ms.  Those who are just tuning into my life in the last few years know that I generally never budge from my resolution to avoid unhealthy food.  But why did I take such a drastic turn?  Why didn't I just balance out my life?  The answer is the same one that inspires us all to do hard things and overcome obstacles.  I found myself driven by love.

I honestly never believed I could change my life into a healthier one.  It was beyond my comprehension and I had already consigned myself to being unhealthy forever.  But some years ago I began talking religion to a cousin who had been beloved from my infancy.  Although I never directly nagged him about this, I desperately wanted him to quit drinking.  He was no alcoholic, but in my religious and moral views no alcohol was good alcohol.  He didn't.  I spent a great deal of time on my knees and in deep contemplation on the subject.  I wanted to help not only him but as many people as I could better their lives in that way.  Whilst in prayer the thought came "How can you ask such a sacrifice if you don't personally know how hard it is?"  Little by little I began to realize that God would have me understand how hard it was to give up something I felt I needed but knew was bad for me.  I resolved to give up any and all junk food.  I define junk food as something more damaging to the body than it is good. 

My life changed radically.  Almost immediately my social life altered because people felt strange throwing a party consisting of sugary snacks and inviting me to it.  They knew I would munch only on pretzels and it made them uncomfortable.  I received a great many strange looks and my sister once asked me how long this new fad of mine would last.  People were not generally happy with it.  But despite the cravings and negativity I felt much impressed that this was an experiment I needed.  And if I failed, I had no right to expect anyone else to live a cleaner life.  If I reverted to my former self I was admitting it couldn't be done. 

Today it is a standing law that Michelle doesn't eat anything unhealthy.  My siblings are used to it now though sometimes family members still chide me a bit.  I have had people try to argue with me on this point and rationalize.  I have had many think me crazy.  But I have had more people try to follow my lead than I have had naysayers.  If there is something you feel you can't give up, something in your life you feel is impossible for you to overcome, I assure you it can be done.  It may not be easy, but the best things in life never are. 

Confessions of a Chocoholic

My kitchen smells like sugar and as I wait for my latest concoction to turn blissfully to perfection my mind dreamily drifts to how my social career as a corrupter of healthy diets came into existence.  It is a standing rule in the family in which I was raised that at every familial gathering and holiday I am in charge of bringing a carefully crafted dessert.  They know I have something of a gourmet touch in this arena and won't settle for anything less than the best.  And they know that I know without question what the best requires.  Yet those who know me only on a superficial level know I only eat perfectly healthful food.  How can such a paradox exist?  Well my friends, there are secrets in my past.

I used to eat nothing but exceedingly unhealthy food.  My lunch in high school usually consisted of a couple of Reeses peanut butter cups, a can of Mug root beer and perhaps a bag of chips.  When I really felt like being healthy I opted for greasy pizza slices larger than my head.  And I got away with it.  I have never been more than 135 lbs, even at nine months pregnant.  My body just doesn't respond in ways people can see.  But I could feel it. And one summer night in the hot tub with my chiseled older sister and muscle clad younger cousins I decided that the skinny fat me wasn't what I wanted.  It was like a kind of judgement day for me when what I realized that there was something better and I knew that if these people who shared my genetics, mentally and physically could live better than I had been in that respect, so could I.  It was an incredibly pivotal moment in my physical life.  So I reformed and have never looked back.

But here's my point.  We often think we are beyond hope for something we want.  Particularly I refer to people thinking "I can't go to church and be one of those people.  I have done too much wrong."  My friends, we can always reform.  And as an avid church goer, I can tell you that we need people like you.  Need you.  We need you because you can give us a deep, rich perspective that we otherwise wouldn't have.  Your attendance at church is just as needful for the priest or pastor as it is needful for you.  Those avid church goers can learn amazing things when you share your experiences with them and it will make them better followers of God.  Without my sugary sinful past my family would end up eating the hard as rock cookies we used to have as children or cheap store bought cake and the like.  So go ahead.  Reform your life in whatever way you feel needful and give those around you a splash of passionate joy they never knew they were missing.

Monday, October 1, 2012

How to Win an Amazing Woman

Ah!  It's everyone's favorite topic again - romance!  My earlier post on how to make boys crazy about you is still a favorite and going strong according to my stats.  So let's discuss the other side of the coin.  Brethren, I appreciate all of you who even clicked on this because it illustrates that you aren't interested in a one night stand with a harlot.  Bravo!  Please leave your name and number in the comments so that single women who read this can look you up!

Well then, let's get one thing straight.  For the sake of argument, we will define an amazing woman as someone who is emotionally and spiritually strong, cares about being healthy in her physique, and wants to make the world a better place in some manner or other.  The question she will naturally have in her mind is "What can a guy give me that I don't already have?"  This is a tall order to fill, particularly if she is an independent working girl.  And remember that she will have quite a few admirers so she probably won't be an easy catch.

It's simple really.  Focus on honestly being the person your ideal woman would want.  She isn't going to be interested in a guy who is romantically or sexually selfish- therefore leave pornography and anything like it alone.  Don't hit on women who act or dress immodestly.  It makes you less fit to be what an amazing woman wants.  Women like Prince Charming, not a self absorbed guy who expects her to be a harlot and slave.  Keep learning every day.  Develop your talents.  Volunteer in your community.  And most importantly, never ever be afraid to be yourself.  That is who an amazing woman wants.  You.  She doesn't want to fall in love with an image that will disappear at some point.  She wants you.  Really.  Be confident in the person that God made you and someday I trust you will win an incredible woman who will rightly chatter to all her friends that she caught herself a truly amazing man.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Never Stare Down the Barrel of a Gun

It seems that there are a great many reasons to be hysterical in this society.  We are continually inundated with messages blaring at us in this world.  Two seem to be particularly brash - friendship and sex.  Social media seems to be the thing people are always doing, constantly, every hour of the day.  We know from research that many people get addicted to checking tweets, updates and the like, even to the point of falling into cold sweats and panic attacks if they do not log in within a certain time.  It is also no shock to anyone that we live in a highly sexualized society.  Fifteen years ago I would never have dared to discuss sex on the internet for fear a teenager might hear about it.  Today we find it everywhere.

My point?  When we are obsessed with something, anything, we tend to be less satisfied with it.  We are often not satisfied with our status updates if no one comments or likes it.  We may get into a serious relationship and then become upset if our sex lives do not mirror what porn videos teach us we ought to have.  And because these are the priorities of society at large, it seems more important that we get our way in these arenas. 

People, go take a walk under the clear blue skies.  Read a book.  Close your eyes and listen to beautiful music.  Get to know and fall in love with yourself.  I received an email from a family member whilst in my greater internet seclusion which gave a general update on her family.  I cherished it!  How many times had I seen her online before and casually skimmed over her words?  When we walk away from our obsessions and lessen our barrage of outside noise we are able to better prioritize and recognize what is important and what is not. 

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Social Kung Fu

My brother has studied kung fu and other various types of self defense from the time he was very young.  His other hobby has been analyzing how people react to each other in the social realm and masterminding ways to get others to think him cool.  As his only younger sibling, I was, for better or worse, voluntary or not, the person on whom he practiced his arts.  Among the other aspects of my education I learned a great deal about the need to view life through the eyes of others and to protect my soul against blows, physical or emotional, from the world around me.  Allow me to share some insights. 

The social world can be more painful than being a kung fu punching bag.  A physical blow does not generally take years to heal.  A series of social blows can.  Care to avoid them?  Here we go.  Firstly, if we want to appear well in social intercourse, we must avoid taking incessantly for hours about the same thing.  If you happen to have an obsession employ your journal or as I do, a blog.  People needn't be held captive by ongoing one way conversation but they might enjoy a daily or weekly blog post relating to politics, nuclear warfare, D&D or whatever else you constantly have on your mind.  I would also suggest broadening horizons, ever broadening them, that your mind also may be expansive.  People are often impressed when they know you can discuss a range of topics with passion, but are also open minded enough to accept other viewpoints.  They tend to stand in awe.  Also, if we extend our learning we are not always at hand.  Be at hand for those you serve but remember that in the difficult, unforgiving social world, people also tend to take overly eager people for granted.  Finally and most importantly, fall in love with yourself. 

If you are in love with yourself, you will not commit the sometimes henious crime of trying to fit a certain mold or image.  Be yourself.  Enjoy yourself and enjoy life.  People are most impressed when, to be frank, they see someone so absorbed in their own pursuits but still friendly and kind, that they seem to stand alone and aloof from this world.  Keep your kindness, friendliness, seek to serve others, but also always, always, remember that being your best self is the wisest person to be. 

Monday, September 24, 2012

A Mormon's Idea of Heaven and Hell

I have received many requests to address this topic and indeed it is one that I have often considered conveying within the context of my blog as I have always found it an interesting concept.  Many people believe in one heaven and one hell.  The concept is simple: good people go to heaven and bad are condemned to fire and brimstone.  Easy, right?

However, it seems to me that people are not either white or black.  Generally we find among our human brethren and sisters various shades of grey.  So let's try to decide what should happen to a person who goes to church when they find it convenient and more or less seem to be decent human beings except perhaps on the more entertaining of weekends.  Should they receive the same reward as the greatest of prophets, pastors, teachers and evangelists?  Hmmmm....  Well, then we have to condemn them with Hitler and the like.  Strange decision. Mormonism answers that kind of troubling issue.

Mormons believe that there is more than merely heaven and hell.  There is the highest level of glory which we call the Celestial Kingdom where the valiant go to perfect happiness together with their families and can progress in glory and light.  Then we have the good, upstanding people who were not valiant in their testimony of Jesus and who gain a wonderful glory without their families and without progression.  Then we find liars, murderers, harlots and the like who also achieve a certain measure of glory but far less than those who were generally upright.  Then those who knew what was right, had a solid knowledge of God and Jesus Christ and maliciously decided to fight against righteousness are consigned to reside with Satan. 

So in essence, what you gain from the next life corresponds directly to what you put into your spiritual progression in this one.  Simple concept, and everyone is placed where they are most comfortable.  After all, a person who has fought against righteousness all their lives would be less comfortable in God's presence than they would be with the damned souls in hell.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Haven't We Met Before?

I have alluded to the fact that I believe very much that all people lived in the presence of God before their births.  Indeed, I know it.  I know it more surely than I know I exist in this present mortality.  And if we have all lived before, does it not follow then that we knew many of our present associates before we met here on this temporal earth?  I know I did. 

Again, I was born with this knowledge and there have been those in my family who I have always felt I knew intimately long before I could have met them in this mortal state.  I know that in at least one case the feeling is very much reciprocated.  But let me lay before you an experience I had as a young child.  I was always a very spiritual person and when I was five I remember seeing in my mind's eye the face of a much older man and the impression that I would meet him someday and that I would teach him something he needed desperately.   

Four years ago I arrived at a certain place in my typical pursuits and came face to face with a man old enough to be my father and who I recognized instantly.  I spent two years silently studying him from a distance and am now quietly engaged in subtly teaching him how to let his true colors shine.  Perhaps I knew you.  Perhaps you knew me.  Perhaps we are meeting here at this blog post in order to teach each other something.  Perhaps long ago we knew our present friendship was meant to be.