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.”

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.

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.

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…

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

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.

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.

Columbo

The Columbo inhaler is a nice example of quack medicine from the 1920’s.  It’s named for Christopher Columbus (rather than everyone’s favorite trenchcoat-wearing detective).  I’m not sure what Columbus has to do with medicine, but there you have it.  The inhaler gives specific directions on how to use it – one end is for inhaling through the mouth while the other is for nasal use.  It mentions that the inhaler protects against coughs, asthma, colds, and a host of other respiratory problems.  One thing is rather conspicuously absent from the instructions – the actual contents of the inhaler.

When I first received this bit of historical quackery, the first thing my kids said was “Try it out!”  I explained that I had no idea what it contained and so there was no way I was taking that into my lungs because there’s no easy way to get it out again.

This got me thinking about the various environments we place ourselves in and what we decide to admit into our minds.  In an average week I visit a bunch of places – work, home, church, the karate dojo, my kids’ schools, the grocery store – the list goes on and on.  Everywhere I go I hear conversations, some of which are uplifting and wholesome and some of which contain mostly four-letter words.

Those conversations have an impact.  The brain is remarkable at remembering all kinds of information and this can be a double-edged sword.  Sometimes during quiet moments I recall funny things my kids said, a bit of science trivia I heard in a podcast, or a scripture someone quoted during a Sunday school lesson.  On the other hand, sometimes my brain brings up an off-color joke I heard from a coworker or the provocative lyrics from a song on the radio.

We naturally protect our lungs from questionable substances, but we should also guard our minds from that which is unwholesome and demeaning.  Once it’s in there it is generally there to stay.

Neotame Happiness

I haven’t posted in a while, mainly because summer is is a bit chaotic at our home.  We try to spend as much time as we can together as a family before school starts up again.  But now that we’re back in the swing of daily life I’ll hopefully be posting a bit more frequently.

The bottle in the picture above contains Neotame.  This is the sweetest substance known to man.  It’s about 10,000 times sweeter than sugar.  It’s a bit hard to imagine how sweet that actually is, so let me illustrate.  A 4.5 gram pile of Neotame (that’s about the mass of a nickel), would have the same sweetness as 100 pounds of sugar.  That’s incredible!  The bottle I have is 2% Neotame dissolved in water.  Even though it’s only 2% Neotame, one drop of it is the same sweetness as a teaspoon of sugar.

Our family recently returned from a vacation where we visited my parents and siblings and their families along with some great friends.  We only get to see everyone about once every two years, so this was a very special trip.  It was so nice to see everyone and meet all the babies that have been born since we were last there.  I can’t imagine anything sweeter and more joyous than being reunited with them after so long apart.

It got me thinking about the promises of the gospel.  The idea that we can be together forever with those we love is one of the most beautiful promises imaginable.  The joy that we’ll feel when we are reunited again with loved ones – and never to be separated again – is beyond description.  The joy my family and I felt seeing our loved ones while on vacation is as sweet as sugar, but eternal life with our Father in Heaven and our generations of loved ones will be a bit like Neotame – sweetness beyond imagining.

Making an Impact

If you dig deep enough anywhere on the planet you’ll eventually hit a thin layer of clay called the K-T boundary (a few pieces of which are shown the in the photo).  This band was laid down about 66 million years ago and marks the end of the Mesozoic Era.  It has been found at over 100 different locations on earth.

So how did a layer of sediment end up covering the entire planet, including the oceans?  The answer is Chicxulub.

You may not know the name, but Chicxulub had a huge impact on the planet earth (pun intended).  Chicxulub was an asteroid about 6 miles wide that impacted the Yucatan Peninsula.  It hit with the force of a billion atomic bombs.  It triggered firestorms that raged across the planet and tsunamis that were thousands of feet high.  The dust that it ejected into the atmosphere (which later became the K-T boundary) would have blocked sunlight for years.  And since the asteroid hit a bed of gypsum, this caused massive amounts of sulfur trioxide to enter the atmosphere.  Once it the atmosphere the sulfur trioxide reacted with water to become sulfuric acid – triggering acid rain storms that blanketed the planet.

There are few things more powerful than Chixulub, but one of those things happens to be my dad.

He may not be famous, but the impact that he has had on my life cannot be measured.  Since before my birth he has loved me unconditionally.  From my earliest years I have tried to mimic him.  I remember snuggling up to him as a very young child and trying to make my breathing perfectly mirror his.  I worked hard in school because I wanted to be as smart as he is and I always knew that no matter how tricky my homework was it always seemed so easy to him.  Even my goofy sense of humor is my dad’s fault.

Chicxulub was a major force of destruction while my dad has done nothing but build me up.  But they do have one thing in common: Chicxulub happened to contain extremely high levels of iridium, the rarest of all the precious metals (about 12 times rarer than gold).  It also happens to be the most corrosion-resistant metal on the planet.  So when you are digging and eventually hit the K-T boundary you can be sure that it contains iridium.

Oftentimes I feel like a complete mess and pretty clueless as a dad, but I know that if I dig deep enough I’ll find that layer of iridium – and I’ll know that it came from my dad.