IMG_0092

Honeybees and Sacrifice

 

Mikayla gave an awesome talk in sacrament meeting today, so I thought I’d share it:

Hello brothers and sisters. My topic today is staying true to the faith of our forefathers. I am going to start by talking about honeybees, but not just any honeybees ­ Japanese honeybees. Japanese honeybees spend their days hard at work. They build a home, make honey, and care for their cute little larvae ­ just like us!

The problem arrives when a giant Asian hornet arrives. The hornet scout enters the beehive with plans to spray it with pheremones so that the rest of the giant hornets know where to attack. It only takes a few dozen giant hornets to destroy a hive of 10,000 honeybees.

But the Japanese honeybees have a plan. Once the hornet enters the hive they signal to each other their plan of attack. All at once they swarm the giant hornet, trapping it in a ball of hundreds of honeybees. The hornet’s exoskeleton is too thick for the honeybee stingers to penetrate. So instead they wiggle!

As they vibrate faster and faster the temperature at the center of the ball of bees spikes. They raise the temperature to 117 degrees Fahrenheit because they know that giant hornets can’t withstand that temperature. The hornet is roasted alive by the honeybees and it is never able to escape and the secret of the honeybee hive’s location is protected.

This plan does involve sacrifice. Since Japanese honeybees can only withstand temperatures of 118 degrees Fahrenheit, each attack usually results in a handful of honeybee deaths. Those brave honeybees are willing to sacrifice everything to protect their families.

Our ancestors also were willing to sacrifice everything for their posterity. President Monson tells the story of John and Maria Linford and their children. They left their home in England to travel to Utah. John got sick and died along the way. Before he died his wife asked if he sorry they had left England. He answered, “No, Maria. I am glad we came. I shall not live to reach Salt Lake, but you and the boys will, and I do not regret all we have gone through if our boys can grow up and raise their families in Zion.”

We each know people who have inspired us. Joseph B. Wirthlin states that, “We stand in awe of their resolve and tenacity in holding fast to their convictions despite the obstacles they had to overcome.”

I want each of you to think of someone you really admire. Think of a quality that the person has that you would like to have. Take a few seconds to think of what sacrifices you would be willing to make in order to gain that quality.

I know that we can each be better if we follow the examples of those who have gone before. We should remember their sacrifices and try to be a little better.

IMG_0061

Megalodon Dads

The Megalodon was an amazing predator.  A 60-foot shark with teeth over 7 inches long.  It ruled the seas for 20 million years.  I love collecting Megalodon teeth.  Recently I picked one up that is over four inches long.  It’s not perfect – it has few serrations and part of one side was broken off at some point.

It’s hard to dwell on the imperfections considering how incredible it is to simply look at and to hold in your hand.  I decided to make a stand for it using a fossilized whale vertebra.  I carefully carved out a chunk of the vertebra and set the tooth in it.  It now looks as though the Megalodon lost its tooth while taking a bite out of the whale.  Besides the fact that I think it looks pretty cool, mounting the tooth this way hides the imperfections and helps the viewer to imagine the sheer power the Megalodon had.

As I was working on this mount a few weeks ago I started thinking about fathers and how they are a bit like this tooth.  My dad in particular is pretty amazing.  He would be the first to tell you that he isn’t perfect.  If he’s anything like me, then I’m sure he’s harder on himself than anyone else and has a running list of character flaws he’d like to change.

But since he’s my dad I don’t notice the minor flaws.  To me he’s simply incredible.  Having him as my dad showed me all the wonderful things about him and made it hard to focus on anything else.  As far back as I can remember I’ve always wanted to be just like him.  I remember staying up late on Saturday nights just long enough to listen to the Doctor Who theme song (before falling asleep on the floor) because I wanted to be with my dad.

He spent countless hours helping me with math homework, which I knew I had to learn well since I wanted to be a physicist (like him) when I was in kindergarten.  We geeked out at museums and he showed me the best way to shock people using the plasma globe at the planetarium.

So to all you fathers out there – and to my dad in particular – thank you for being so incredible in the eyes of your children.  I wish you could see yourself the way I see you.  Don’t be so hard on yourselves for not being perfect, just be the epic Megalodon you truly are – and have that second helping of pie, you deserve it!

File_000

Genetic Mom-ifications

DNA is a pretty amazing molecule.  Even though the strands are so tiny that 5,000 of them laying side by side would only be the width of a human hair, DNA contains an incredible amount of information.  It encodes all the information necessary for your body to look and function the way it does.  DNA is such a compact way of storing information that scientists have found a way to create “DNA hard drives” to store digital data.

Besides the vast amount of information stored within DNA, I find it amazing that DNA can survive the vicious daily beating that it receives.  Each day the DNA in each of our cells will be damaged up to one million times – and yet most of that damage is fixed by an amazing cellular repair system that operates without a single conscious thought from us.

Now most of the time we are happy to have an organism’s DNA repaired and kept just the way it is, but sometimes it’s nice to modify it.  Life saving insulin for diabetics used to be extracted from pig pancreas, but it is now produced by genetically modified bacteria.  Until the late 1980’s cheese was made by extracting an enzyme from calf stomachs, but that same enzyme is now mass produced by genetically modified microbes.  Genetically modified Glo-fish are now available at pet stores.  Genetic modifications can be used to add β-carotene to rice, create edible vaccines in bananas, or to reduce the amount of cancer-causing acrylamide in potatoes.

Now I’m not here to talk about whether genetic engineering is a good idea or not, but I think everyone agrees that it is incredible that scientists have the power to make genetic modifications.  And yet, that power is nothing compared to the power that mothers have to change lives.  I guess you could call them genetic mom-ifications [although that sounded way cooler in my head].

Just as our cellular repair systems protect us from damage done to our DNA from everyday life, mothers devote their lives to protecting their families from the destruction rampant in the world today.  Elder Boyd K. Packer once said, “We need women with the gift of discernment who can view the trends in the world and detect those that, however popular, are shallow or dangerous.”

Besides providing protection, mothers are agents for change in the lives of their children, grandchildren and in the world around them.  In 1979, President Spencer W. Kimball said, “Much of the major growth that is coming to the Church in the last days will come because many of the good women of the world … will be drawn to the Church in large numbers. This will happen to the degree that the women of the Church reflect righteousness and articulateness in their lives and to the degree that the women of the Church are seen as distinct and different—in happy ways—from the women of the world.”

Since it is Mother’s Day, I’d like to talk about some of the women who have changed my life forever.  There is no way to discuss all of the ways that they have affected me, so I’ve chosen to focus on some small things that have had important consequences in my life.

Growing up, every year my Grandma Cross would call me on my birthday.  She would always start by singing to me.  As a teenager I would roll my eyes and pretend that it was embarrassing, but to this day I get a little choked up just thinking about it.  The simple fact that she remembered my birthday and took the time to call and talk to me made me feel important.  It still serves as a reminder to me that there are people out there who know my name and care about me as an individual.

When I was serving a mission in South Texas my Grandma Jones found out that my companion’s family wasn’t very supportive of him.  She would send amazing packages that somehow defied the laws of physics by containing more items packed in there than was physically possible.  And every time I’d open one of those boxes I would find that half of the goodies were for my companion.  The first time it happened he couldn’t believe it.  He ended up writing letters to her each week because he was so grateful.

Now my companion and I didn’t always get along, mostly because I was young and foolish [I’ve solved half that problem, as I am no longer quite so young].  At times we would argue.  But after that first package arrived things changed.  When I would get upset and try to start and argument I could see him about to say something back, but he would get a look on his face and then he would suddenly stop.  This would defuse the situation as I found that it was very hard to fight when you are the only person arguing.  It was as though he would look at me and think, “This guy is a dork, but his grandma is so nice that I’m going to treat him with kindness.  Not because he deserves it, but because she does.”  I’ve tried to apply this in my own life.  I’m far from perfect at it, but when I get upset I try to stop and think that even if the person in front of me deserves my anger, would I react differently if their mother or grandmother was standing next to them?  What if their Savior was by their side?  Would I bite my tongue and let go of my anger for His sake?

My mother had an impact on my life daily.  Sometimes it was with things that seemed trivial at the time.  For example, I remember a fourth grade project on volcanoes.  I’m sure you’ve experienced this as a parent – “It’s due tomorrow?!?  Why didn’t you tell me about it earlier.”  On this particular occasion it was bedtime and suddenly I pulled out the paper about the project.  My mom just sighed and we went to work.  I remember that it seemed to take hours.  At one point I went into the bathroom and splashed cold water on my face because I had seen in the movies that that’s what you were supposed to do when you were working on a late night project.  I’m amazed my mom didn’t groan when I came back to the table, no less tired, but with a damp shirt and a confused expression on my face.

I didn’t realize it at the time since I didn’t grasp the fact that my mom had her own life and probably had hundreds of things she would rather do than work on a late night project with me.  But she sat next to me and helped me finish it.  She taught me that life is tough, but that just means you have to buckle down and get to work.  I’ve tried to teach that same lesson to my kids.  Mikayla and Natalia are currently testing for their 1st degree black belts and as part of the test they have to run three miles in 27 minutes.  This is not an easy task, but I know they can do it.  Whenever possible I go out there and run with them, even though before this I don’t think I’ve ever run three miles in my entire life.  I like to think that my presence and support helps them to run faster, even if it’s just to be ahead of me and out of the splash zone in case I throw up.

My lovely wife – the mother of our three children – is an amazing example to me.  She is the funniest person I have ever met and she has helped me to learn that life is easier to cope with when you have a sense of humor.  You wouldn’t know it by looking at her beautiful smiling face now, but our daughter Mikayla was not an easy baby.  In fact she was a bit of a shrieking terror for the first few months of her life.  Generally she would fall asleep screaming and then she would wake up screaming.

I was in my first semester of graduate school, trying to balance a full load of graduate courses, acting as a teaching assistant and doing organometallic research with a very demanding boss.  Lara was trying to recover from a C-section while dealing with a tiny, yet very demanding infant.

We were a mess.  We were both exhausted all the time – physically, emotionally and mentally drained.  I remember one night we were trying to do the bills and neither of us could add two numbers together.  On another night we had finally gotten Mikayla to sleep and we were so excited to finally go to bed ourselves when suddenly she woke up and began to wail.  We both laid in bed for a few seconds before Lara said, “You know, she’s the best baby I’ve ever had.”  We both began to laugh hysterically, which made Mikayla cry even harder, which made us laugh even harder.  I’m sure our neighbors thought we were insane, which we probably were.

We made it through those trying months, thanks in large part to Lara’s sense of humor.  We’ve had some very tough times since then, but my wife has taught me that sometimes your only options are to laugh or cry – and it’s a lot more fun to laugh.

So on this Mother’s Day, thank you to all the mothers who have made such a difference in my life and in the lives of every man, woman and child on this earth.  I echo President Russell M. Nelson’s words, “The culminating act of all creation was the creation of woman!”  Mother’s Day only comes around once a year, but your acts of love, devotion, and sacrifice will be remembered and cherished for all eternity.

 

February 2014 047

Pop Rocks and Quiet Service

I have always loved Pop Rocks.  There’s something magical about the way these unassuming little crystals of candy  suddenly burst into activity in your mouth.  I love the sound and feeling as they pop and the sweet enjoyment of the candy.

My daughter, Natalia, loves bedtime stories.  Each night we read together and it could be anything from a Nancy Drew mystery to “The Elements” by Theo Gray.  Tonight she decided that she’d like to read some poetry.  So we pulled out a book on poetry and read through half a dozen poems and talked a bit about each.

The last one we read was “The House by the Side of the Road” by Sam Walter Foss.  It’s a great poem with a wonderful message.  I remember President Hinckley quoting it several times.  It made me think of Pop Rocks.

Pop Rocks really don’t look like much.  They just sit there – tiny crystals of sugar in a pouch.  But when you need them they suddenly spring to life, releasing miniature explosions of carbon dioxide.  They have so much to give, even though they may not be very flashy.

I hope to be a bit more like Pop Rocks, a bit more of a friend to man.  I have met so many people who lead lives of quiet goodness, never asking for fame or fortune, content to serve without recognition.  They do not judge others, yet they rejoice with them and they mourn with them.  Although they are unassuming in nature, they spring into action when they sense a need.  They explode with power when they see a chance to serve their fellow man.

They inspire me.  I too want to “live in a house by the side of the road — And be a friend to man.”

February 2014 052

To the moon and back…

February 2014 052

The photo above shows some tiny metal shavings attached to picture.  The metal shavings aren’t terribly impressive, but what is amazing is that they were shaved from a small pin that was once part of the Apollo 11 Command Module – the same one that first took men to the moon.  It’s amazing to think where that bit of metal has been.

It makes me think a bit about sharing the gospel.  I know it sounds weird, but hear me out.  The metal shavings don’t look like much, but they are part of something much larger, something that changed human history – a man on the moon!  We each have the opportunity to share the gospel with those around us.  Sometimes we worry that our words and efforts are too small to be noticed or that people won’t take the gospel seriously because our simple words can’t even begin to describe the wonder that we feel inside.  And it’s true that our words can’t fully describe the full majesty of the gospel of Jesus Christ, but that’s okay.

When we share our testimonies of Jesus Christ those who are truly open to hearing His gospel will recognize our words for what they are – small and simple expressions of something so much larger.  They will realize that the message of Christ’s atonement and resurrection truly has changed the history and fate of mankind for all eternity.  And hopefully they will wish to join with us as we spread His word.

image

Moxie

After moving to New England a few years ago we came across a local tradition – Moxie.  Moxie is a type of soda that many residents will admit is an acquired taste.  Now sold in much more modern containers than the bottle shown above, it is a New England tradition.

It was originally called “Moxie Nerve Food” and was marketed as a patent medicine.  The inventor claimed it contained a secret South American plant that could cure paralysis, “softening of the brain” and a host of other ailments.

It was a favorite of President Calvin Coolidge and Ted Williams of the Red Sox.  Through clever advertising the term “moxie” has even entered the English language as a synonym for courage.

I think Moxie is a good example of how traditions evolve and it makes me think about other traditions, both family and cultural traditions.  Sometimes traditions are good and strengthen our families and our lives.  In our family these include things such as family prayer and scripture study.  Some traditions are fun, but aren’t really essential, such as our family’s tradition of always changing into new pajamas before opening our gifts on Christmas Eve.  Other traditions can be harmful, such as the family tradition of getting angry while driving.

Have you taken the time to reflect on which traditions are helping you and which are stunting your spiritual growth?  Just because something has “always been done that way” doesn’t mean it’s the best way to do things.  If it helps, continue it.  If not, then tomorrow is a new day and there is no reason to continue harmful traditions.

February 2014 002

Friends and Snowblowers

I’m not a big fan of snow.  I loved it as a kid, but as an adult when I gaze out on an expanse of snowy whiteness I don’t often appreciate the beauty – instead I groan at the thought of clearing our long driveway.  Luckily we have a great snowblower.

Our family has a bizarre habit of naming everything.  My car is Alfredo, our toaster is Kalashnikov, and our snowblower is Ferguson.  We’ve had Ferguson for about four years now and he is pretty amazing.  No matter how cold and miserable it is outside he revs right up and seems to be excited to get the job done.  While I gripe and moan about the icy wind he just happily tosses the snow as far as he can.

The other day I started him up and began clearing the driveway I was not in the best mood.  It was just one more task to take care of in an already overbooked day.  The wind was howling and blowing snow in my face and I wanted nothing more than to go back inside and hide under an electric blanket.  But Ferguson happily chugged along, clearing the driveway like a pro.  He even has heated handles so that my fingers don’t freeze.

As I finished the job and tucked him away in the garage I thought about how much Ferguson is like a good friend.  We work together and even though he does the lion’s share of the work while I do the lion’s share of the complaining he sticks with me.  He even warms my hands with the flick of a switch.  He doesn’t ask for much, just a tank of gas and a replacement shear pin when I’m not careful and hit a rocky patch.

I’ve had some fabulous friends in my life.  Friends who listen to me murmur and help me see the bright side of life.  Friends who show up and help when I have an overwhelming task rather than just liking my Facebook post.  Friends who take the time to warm my hands and heart even as they lift my burdens.  Friends who forgive when I’m careless and steer us into a rocky patch.

So for all you wonderful friends out there – thank you.  You’ll never fully know how much I appreciate you.  I hope I give you at least a fraction of the love and support you constantly show me.

And Ferguson – thank you as well – although I hope I don’t need your help much more this winter…

*** fulgurite

Petrified Lightning

When lightning strikes sand the extreme temperatures cause the sand to fuse into glass.  The hollow tubes, known as fulgurites, are formed in less than a second, but given that they are made of glass they can last forever.  They are rare and (in my opinion) quite amazing, but I’m lucky enough to have a couple of very small ones.

A few years back when we moved to New England we were in the Chicago O’Hare airport.  My wife was carrying our two week old son and hurting from her recent C-section and I was trying to hurry with our two young daughters while dragging around a whole slew of backpacks, carry-ons, and car seats.  We were trying to catch our connecting flight and were running across the airport as quickly as we could.

It was an incredibly stressful time for all of us.  I remember standing in line waiting for the train to take us to the correct terminal and seeing all the business men and women glaring at us and our tired and not-so-quiet kids.  Not a single one of them offered to help us.

As we climbed off the train and rushed to catch our flight one of our girls started to cry because she was too tired to run anymore.  As I stopped to try to help her a teenage boy came up and offered to help.  I looked at him in surprise and he smiled as I loaded him up with a couple of car seats.  I grabbed my daughter and we ran.  We barely made it.  The stewardess was literally closing the door as we came running up.

I quickly thanked the young man, but it wasn’t until after I got on the plane that I realized that I never learned his name.  Like a lightning bolt he was there and then gone, but the imprint he made on our lives was permanent.  I doubt he even remembers his brief act of service, but I’ll never forget it.  My wife and I still pray for that young man because even if we don’t know his name, I’m positive our Heavenly Father does.

*** trinitite

Trinitite

It was 5:30 am on July 16, 1945.  The desert plains of Alamogordo, New Mexico were quiet until suddenly there was an explosion.  And not just any explosion, but one equivalent to 21,000 tons of TNT.  The 40,000 foot wide mushroom cloud marked the beginning of the nuclear age.

Nicknamed the Trinity Test, the nuclear explosion was so hot that it melted the desert sand into glass.  The fragments above (called Trinitite) are samples of this glass.  They are still dangerous today due to the radioactive isotopes embedded in the glass.

I’ve been thinking about trials recently.  When we talk about trials certain phrases are often used – “refiner’s fire” or “furnace of afflictions.”  In the book of Daniel we come across the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego and their refusal to worship a golden idol set up by King Nebuchadnezzar.  Although they knew that disobeying the king meant facing the consequences – in this case being thrown into a furnace – they chose to obey God.

Their incredible faith was evidenced in these words: “Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand.”  Powerful words when you are facing down the king.  But I think their next words showed that they truly understood faith – “But if not, … we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up.”  They were willing to do what was right, even if God chose not to deliver them from their trials.

We will all be called upon to walk through fiery trials, there is no doubt about that.  The only question is whether we will emerge bearing the toxic remnants of our doubt and sin or whether we will emerge pure and clean.

*** balancing

Finding balance

Growing up I was always fascinated by Balancing Bird toys.  Those little plastic birds seem to defy gravity and balance on the tip of your finger (or nose) despite your every effort to make them wobble and fall off.

I wish finding balance in life was quite so simple and effortless.  I’ve had the chance to do some extra work recently and my wife and I decided I should do it.  Our plan is to use the extra money to build up our savings a bit.  The problem is that I’ve working a lot, probably too much.

Given that it’s a temporary thing, I’m not too worried.  But it’s caused me to really think about how to balance everything in my life – family, work, church responsibilities, and everything else that’s going on in life.  I’m obligated to provide for my family, but at what point does “providing for my family” become “seeking after riches”?  If all of our current temporal needs are met, does anything above that mean that I’m working too much?  If my goal is to save for a rainy day, is there a limit to how much “rain insurance” I really need?

I don’t think there’s a hard and fast answer to these questions.  There are times in our lives when we simply need to work more and there are times when we need to cut back and focus on other aspects of our lives.  My rule of thumb is that if my own spirituality seems to be suffering or if I’m not there when my family needs me to be, then I’m working too much.  My balance is a bit more precarious than that of a Balancing Bird and I do tend to wobble now and then, but I’m grateful for the influence of the Holy Ghost that warns me when I’m leaning too far to one side or the other.