Insects in Amber

The past couple of days the kids and I have been cutting up pieces of amber.  And just in case my wife is reading: No, I did not use your good knives (this time).

It’s a fabulous little hobby.  The amber is rough and dirty, so you have no idea what’s inside until you start cutting into it.  Then suddenly you see ants and pine needles and all kinds of amazing things.  And they’re all perfectly preserved inside the amber.  Imagine Christmas morning, except that you have to use sharp cutting tools to open your gifts and most of them are empty except for the ones that have bugs in them.  Okay, it’s really nothing like Christmas at all, but I still think it’s fun.

Anyway, sometimes I stop to think about how the bugs got inside.  I imagine a happy little fly seeing a drop of resin on the branch of a pine tree.  It looks kind of interesting and worth checking out.  The fly lands next to the drop and takes a closer look.

After a few minutes it decides to stick a leg in, just to test it out.  The resin is sticky and the fly can’t easily pull its leg out.  Since it has five other legs that are all free, the fly doesn’t think it’s  a big deal.  But the resin continues to flow from the tree and soon it envelops the fly’s other legs and then its wings and body.  The fly has lost its freedom and is now trapped forever.

Aren’t we sometimes like that poor fly?  We see something that looks interesting and we’re tempted to take a closer look.  We test it out and dabble just a little.  We find that it’s hard to get away from the sin, but we don’t think it’s a big deal because it’s not affecting any other aspects of our lives.  But, just like the fly, we fail to realize that sins don’t like to stay put.  They grow and spread until they damage every part of our souls.  We lose our freedom and find it’s almost impossible to pull ourselves out of the quagmire we’ve so foolishly entered.

There is an old saying:

Plant a thought and reap a word;
plant a word and reap an action;
plant an action and reap a habit;
plant a habit and reap a character;
plant a character and reap a destiny.

The most frightening part about all of this is that we are not only choosing our own destiny, but many times the destiny of our family members as well.  I still remember cutting into a block of amber and finding about half a dozen ants all clustered together.  I could almost see the ants as the first one was trapped and then the second and the third… each ant seeing but not recognizing the danger that was slowly but surely dooming their entire family.

Martian Fathers

Sitting on my shelf I have a piece of Mars.  It’s a tiny piece, only a few milligrams, but still it’s a chunk of Mars.  When I hold it in my hands I am literally holding a piece of another planet.  It blows my mind.

The first question people ask when I show it to them is “how did you get a piece of Mars?”  Well, a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…  Okay, it wasn’t in a galaxy far, far away, it was in our galaxy.  In fact, it was on the planet next door, a planet called Mars.

Now Mars is a pretty amazing place.  The skies look like butterscotch candy and when the sun rises it has a bluish tint.  Imagine climbing a volcano twice the size of Mount Everest or looking into a Grand Canyon that would stretch across the entire United States.  The best part is that you could explore the landscape while jumping almost three times higher than you could on earth.

As you are enjoying the amazing Martian scenery suddenly a gigantic meteorite comes streaking through the sky and plummets to the ground.  The resulting explosion blasts huge chunks of rock into the air and creates a huge impact crater almost 60 miles across.  Most of those rocks blasted into the air fall back to the surface, but a few of them are traveling more than five times faster than a rifle bullet and escape the gravitational pull of Mars.

Those rocks hurtle out into the cold darkness of space, scattering as they go.  One of those rocks continues to travel through space until it feels the pull of gravity.  It veers towards a nice green and blue planet called earth. It heads towards earth traveling more than twenty thousand miles per hour.  Suddenly it hits the atmosphere and compresses the air molecules ahead of it.  This heats the air which in turn heats the meteoroid.  It gets red hot and begins to disintegrate.

The outer layer melts and vaporizes, exposing the next layer of rock.  This layer, too, melts away and the process continues.  Layer after layer is stripped away until finally the meteoroid is near the surface of the earth.  The last layer of melted rock cools into a thin glassy fusion crust.  Suddenly the meteorite hits the ground and there lies buried on a strange new world.

Years later someone comes along and finds the meteorite.  But how do they know it’s from Mars?  Well, scientists test the minute traces of gas trapped within the meteorite.  In this case the composition doesn’t match that of earth’s atmosphere, but exactly matches the composition of the atmosphere on Mars, which we know about thanks to the Viking landers back in 1976.  That’s how we know that certain meteorites originally came from Mars.

That’s a pretty amazing story, but what does it have to do with fathers?  Well, first let me tell you a bit about my father.  I am blessed to have a most excellent dad.  He’s funny and brilliant and my whole life I’ve wanted to be just like him.  I remember in kindergarten the teacher asking us what we wanted to be.  Most kids wanted to be firefighters or doctors, but not me.  I wanted to be a physicist, just like my dad.  He would talk to me and laugh with me, help me with my homework and take me camping.  One of my fondest memories is when he taught me binary.  It was absolutely wonderful because it was just me and him, sitting there one evening talking about something that we both found fascinating.

Now I’m a dad.  Just like that tiny meteorite, I have traveled far, far away from my place of birth.  As I’ve traveled through the atmosphere of life I’ve been burned and scarred, cracked and chipped.  And to be honest, sometimes I feel small and insignificant and so very lost.  I absolutely love my three children, but I’ll admit it, most of the time I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing.

I strive every day to be a good dad.  I try to provide for my family’s needs, temporal, emotional and spiritual, but in order to thrive in the world today I know that my kids are going to need a lot of help.  Sometimes I lie awake at night and wish I could be so much more than I am.

But then I think of that tiny meteorite.  It may just look like a speck of rock to the rest of the world, but it’s amazing to me because I know where it’s from and I know the amazing journey that it has taken to get where it is today.  I don’t judge it by its imperfections and scars, I treat it as something special.

Fatherhood is the same way.  My dad isn’t perfect, but he is always there for me and that is what has made all the difference in my life.  When I doubt myself I look inside and see many of the same traits and qualities within me that I see in my father.  They may not be as developed, but they are there.  Just as I’ve inherited many of the physical attributes of my father, I’ve inherited many of his other attributes.  It’s going to take me a lifetime, but I still want to grow up and be like my dad.  I know it’s not going to be easy, but I know it’s possible because I am his son.  To disparage myself is to disparage him.

Now some of you might be thinking, “that’s great for you, but I don’t have a great dad.”  Unfortunately, this world is full of lousy dads.  Sometimes they are abusive and sometimes they aren’t present at all.  But no matter what kind of earthly father you have, we all share the same Heavenly Father.

He is wonderful and He is perfect.  He has watched over every single moment of your life.  He loves you even when you turn your back on Him.  And you have inherited some of His divine attributes.  You may be so very far away from your heavenly home and you may feel lost and insignificant, but if you could see inside of yourself you would see a piece of Him shining through.  Those attributes that you admire so greatly in Him are inside of you as well.  They must be developed, of course.  And it will take a lifetime, but you can grow up to be like your Dad.  Remember that to disparage yourself is to disparage Him.

So, to my earthly father as well as my Heavenly Father, thank you.  Thank you for the chance to be like you and thank you for all the help along the way, I desperately need it.

Shredded Money

Everyone is looking for a quick and easy way to make a few bucks.  If you believe the internet you can be making thousands of dollars  week while sitting at home eating nachos, but in the real world money is a bit more difficult to come by.  A while back someone gave me $150 for free.  Before you get too excited, it looked like this:

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This is what happens to money after it has been around to long.  It becomes worn and damaged and so the government shreds it.  Whenever I show this bag of money to kids they start to think of ways to glue it all back together so that they can spend it.  But it doesn’t work that way.  Each piece is a real piece of a bill, but there is no way to put it all back together.  So does that mean that the pieces are worthless?  No.

Because they are from a real bill, the pieces can be used to identify a true bill.  Imagine it this way.  What if you had never seen a $100 dollar bill before.  You knew it was very valuable, but you had no idea what it looked like.  But you had a piece of a $100 bill.  It’s small, but you know it is genuine.

Now imagine that someone comes along  with a piece of paper and says, “This is a $100 bill.”  Should you spend your time working to earn that piece of paper?  Well, you should probably find out if it’s real first.  So you compare it to the piece that you have in your possession.  Is it made of the same paper?  Is the ink the same?  Can you match up any words or images?  If not, the bill must not be genuine and you shouldn’t waste your time striving to obtain it.

Now let’s imagine that someone else comes along and offers you what they claim is a genuine $100 bill.  They are willing to share it with you, but you’ll have to work and sacrifice in order to obtain it.  It doesn’t look the way you thought it would, but the paper matches the piece you have and so does the ink.  In fact you can see the exact spot that your fragment aligns with the $100 bill.  Now that you can see that it is genuine, you now it is worth sacrificing in order to obtain it.  You are not asked to give up the fragment you have, but instead are offered a way to have the entire $100 bill.

This is like the gospel of Jesus Christ.  The gospel was on the earth in its fullness, but after the death of the apostles the earth fell into apostacy and the fullness was taken away.  But there were still bits of “doctrinal debris” (to paraphrase Elder Neal A. Maxwell) – little pieces of truth.

People have bits and pieces of the gospel.  Maybe one person knows deep in their heart that infant baptism is wrong or that the true church must have apostles and prophets.  If we are content with only the small piece of truth we have, then we will never have a fullness.  But if we are searching for the true gospel of Jesus Christ, we will use the small bits of truth to identify the true church.  When the gospel is shared with us, we will carefully examine it and make sure that it matches with the small bits of truth we already have.  We will realize that we are not asked to give up the truth we have, but are invited to obtain the whole truth.  It’s not easy, we will have to work and strive and sacrifice, but I know it is worth the effort.

Jumping Beans

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A while back I bought some Mexican jumping beans for my kids.  They were definitely for my kids, not me… uh, anyway.  I think these are the coolest things.  They aren’t really beans at all, but are the seed pods from a type of shrub.

A small moth lays an egg in the seed pod and when the egg hatches the larva eats the inside of the seed until it’s hollow.  Then it attaches itself to the inside of the seed and makes a nice little home.

If the seed pod gets too hot, the larva inside will twitch and makes the seed hop.  The purpose of this is to move the seed away from the heat, which would dehydrate and damage the larva.  If the larva can stay away from danger long enough it will eventually change into a moth, crawl out through a small hole in the seed pod and fly away.

This seems a lot like each of us.  We are each born with the light of Christ within us.  It guides us in our decisions between right and wrong, happiness and misery, eternal life or damnation.  When we find ourselves in a situation that will damage us spiritually, the light of Christ makes us squirm a bit and hopefully help us to hop out of the situation.  Of course, we are free to fight against that guidance and remain in a situation that will eventually destroy us.

But if we continue to follow that light, we will be guided to more light and more truth.  We will be able to fully develop and become the amazing creature that God wants us to become.