Sting Rays and Misinformation

I recently had to take a trip to Long Island, NY for a few days and so we decided to make a family vacation of it.  As part of the trip we decided to visit the aquarium.  The girls loved the sting ray touch tank, but my son was a bit nervous about it.  He sat back and watched, but refused to pet the sting rays.  I kept asking him why he was so nervous, but he wouldn’t tell me.  So instead he just watched while we all had a great time petting the sting rays.  Luckily the sting ray tank was right in the middle of the aquarium, so we passed it a few times as we went to all the exhibits.  Finally he decided to test it out and tried petting one of the sting rays.  Although he was nervous, he loved it and spent the next five or ten minutes petting as many as possible.

Given that he is normally rather adventurous, I was confused at his nervousness.  It wasn’t until we came to the exhibit with the electric eel that things started to make sense.  As we watched the electric eel he said, “Wait, this is the one that shocks you?  I thought the sting rays did that.”  During the ensuing conversation I found out that he had thought that sting rays had the ability to electro-shock their prey.  He was convinced that if he put his hands into the touch tank that they would shock him.  Once his fears were put to rest he loved the sting rays even more.  On a side note, I never did figure why he was so willing to let the rest of his family run the risk of getting electrocuted by the “electric sting rays”…

I saw this same type of fear and misinformation many times while serving as a full-time missionary for the LDS Church.  We would start chatting with someone only to have them suddenly become very nervous and ask us to leave.  Most of the time they never told us why they were so upset, but every now and then someone would tell us that they had heard that Mormons [insert random rumor here].  It could be anything from concerns that we have horns or that we believe that women will be eternally pregnant after this life.

I was always very happy when someone would tell us why they afraid.  It gave us a chance to talk about truth – and that’s what the gospel of Jesus Christ is all about.  He was no stranger to rumors – people often criticized him or claimed he was possessed.  But he welcomed the chance to talk to anyone and everyone and then invited them to find out if what he taught was true – “If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.”

I invite you to do the same.  Bring your concerns and questions and find out for yourself.  As I told my son at the aquarium, don’t stand on the sidelines watching when you could be so happy with us.

Puzzle Balls and Prayer

One of the great things about living in New England is the never-ending list of awesome museums nearby.  My family and I love the Peabody Essex Museum with its amazing art and cultural displays.  My favorite display contains and intricately carved Chinese puzzle ball – a series of concentric spheres carved from stone.

After seeing it for the first time I had to go online and get one for myself.  It’s much smaller and less intricate than the one in the museum, but it’s a lot of fun to look at the carved spheres and imagine the amount of skill and patience it would take to carve them, one inside the other.

On a completely separate note (which may or may not tie in later), my family and I set a goal last year to read the entire Book of Mormon.  We finished on Christmas Day.  We had a lot of special moments throughout the year, but the one that hit me the hardest was when we read Moroni 8:3.  In a letter to his son Mormon says, “I am mindful of you always in my prayers, continually praying unto God the Father in the name of his Holy Child, Jesus, that he, through his infinite goodness and grace, will keep you through the endurance of faith on his name to the end.”

It’s a beautiful verse and one that I’ve read many times before.  The difference this time was that we were reading from a copy of the Book of Mormon that was owned by my grandmother.  Next to the verse, in her elegant cursive handwriting, was my name and a date – 9/29/00.

I was serving as a full-time missionary in McAllen, Texas on that date.  It amazed me that even with all of the other things going on in my grandmother’s life she was thinking of me and kept me in her prayers.

Just like the puzzle ball, my grandma’s love and kindness had so many layers.  As a missionary I could always count on her wonderful letters and her fabulous care packages.  My mouth still waters at the thought of her banana chocolate chip cookies.  She was always thinking of me, the missionaries I was working with, and the families we were teaching.  But at the core of it all were her constant prayers for me.

I’m certainly not perfect, but her example inspires me to be a little better each day.

Nuclear Reactions

I collect a lot of weird stuff, but even I have to admit that the spinthariscope might be one of the strangest.  It’s brilliant in its simplicity.  A tiny piece of radioactive thorium sits inside of a chamber.  When an atom of thorium radioactively decays it shoots out an alpha particle which hits a zinc sulfide screen.  This causes the screen to fluoresce for a split second.  The flash is brief, but bright enough for the human eye to see as long as you are in the right conditions.  You see, in order to watch this incredible light show you must be in a pitch black room for about 15 minutes in order to let your eyes adjust.  But believe me, it is definitely worth the wait.  There are thousands of thorium atoms decaying at any moment, leading to an incredible fireworks show.  Besides the amazing fact that you are literally watching the results of individual atoms decay, it’s also quite beautiful.  And don’t worry, modern spinthariscopes have been specially designed to be safe.

As we enter the Christmas season it’s easy to get caught up in a whirlwind of materialism and an ever-increasing number of events.  It seems like every day and night is filled with a non-stop marathon of activities.  It has become increasingly difficult to slow down and enjoy the season.  But I believe that it has become increasingly important to do exactly that.

In the case of the spinthariscope, slowing down and enjoying the moment rewards the viewer with a scene of incredible beauty – as though a thousand fireflies were dancing before you.  But what exactly should we be watching for in this Christmas season?  How about watching for tiny acts of kindness.

Let me give you an example, when I was just a kid I suffered a pretty serious back injury.  As part of my recovery I was put on bed rest.  I have a seven-year old boy and I can’t imagine trying to keep him still.  Anyway, as you can probably imagine this was a really difficult time for me.  During one of my hardest times my Uncle Scott showed up with a surprise gift – an awesome remote-controlled car.

I loved that car.  It had huge off-road tires and I could drive it over anything that got in its path.  Even though I was stuck on the couch the car could go all over the living room, dining room and kitchen.  If I was lucky I could even drive it into one of the bedrooms at the end of the hall, but since I couldn’t see into the rooms it was tricky to navigate it back.  Everyone wanted to play with the car and I it helped drag me away from my feelings of self pity.

A few weeks ago my Uncle Scott came to town and we had the chance to go out to dinner with him.  I didn’t bring up the RC car and I’m sure he wouldn’t remember it if I did.  It was just a tiny act for him, but it was an amazing act of service for me and I will always be grateful for it.

Our lives are filled with these tiny acts of kindness, sometimes performed by us and oftentimes performed by others.  But as we slow down and allow our eyes to adjust we are better able to observe these acts – and they can fill our lives with wonder.

The Armor of God

Recently we had a great family home evening activity.  My son was the one who came up with the idea.  He was really excited to dress up in some Roman armor so he decided that we should have a lesson on putting on the whole armor of God (Ephesians 6:11-17).

We gathered the family and as I read each verse of scripture he would point to the piece of armor.  Then he would tell everyone how that piece of armor would protect you in battle.  My favorite part was when he told us how important it was to gird up your loins “to protect your giblets.”

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One thing that struck me was how seriously he took the topic (as you can see in the photo above).  He really wanted to share his thoughts with the family and wanted everyone to pay attention.  Before his lesson we spent quite a bit of time trying to get the armor to fit just right on his small body.  I really began to think about how he couldn’t do this alone.  He wanted to wear the armor, but he needed me as his parent to help him to put it on.

I loved his lesson.  He taught me how important it is to wear the armor of God at all times because if you aren’t wearing it, that’s the moment the enemy will attack.  I took his lesson to heart and decided to wear the Roman armor to work a week or two later for Halloween  🙂

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But infinitely more importantly, we’ve been trying as a family to put on the whole armor of God and wear it at all times.

Astronauts and Family Time

As a kid one of my favorite activities was to visit the local planetarium.  Not only did they have the greatest activities and star shows, they also had astronaut ice cream – that dehydrated block of tasty goodness.  I remember wanting to be an astronaut just so that I could eat that tasty treat while floating around in space.  I remember as a teenager I once turned down a free pair of box seat tickets to a Utah Jazz playoff game because I didn’t want to miss the members-only preview of the new laser show at the planetarium.

Looking back I see that as much as I enjoyed the planetarium, it was really just a great excuse to spend time with my family.  My parents were always great about spending family time as well as one-on-one time with each of us kids.  Now that I’m a parent my wife and I try to do the same thing.

Sometimes our activities are silly, like putting on swim suits and playing out in the summer rain, and sometimes they are a bit more serious, like yesterday when I took my son to help stack wood with a group of young men.  It doesn’t seem to matter what we do, my kids just love spending time together.

A few weeks ago my youngest daughter and I decided to hang out together.  She has been doing a great job at school as well as at home, so we decided to do something special – ice cream.  And not just any ice cream, we decided to conquer the Dog  Dish Challenge at our local ice cream parlor.  Imagine a huge metal dog dish with 10 scoops of ice cream and 5 toppings, covered in whipped cream.  It took us almost an hour, and it was a bit painful, but we did it.  I think the happy memories we made were worth the extra pounds I’ve added on – but next time I’m going to stick with the less-filling astronaut ice cream.

Choosing Your Path

As a kid, I loved Choose Your Own Adventure books.  I loved the idea that not only could I read the story, but I could affect the story by the choices I made.  I used to carefully place bookmarks whenever there was a fork in the story so that I could go back and take each path.  I always wanted to know what would have happened if I had made a different choice.

Recently I had the amazing opportunity to spend a month in Florence, Italy teaching a study abroad course.  My family was able to join me and we had an incredible time.  There was so much art, history, and science to experience… not to mention so much gelato to eat.

During our last week we came across an engraved paving stone with the words, “Every step I have taken in my life has led me here, now.”  That phrase has stuck with me.  It seems that far too often in my life I have become stuck in the “What if…” loop.  I second guess various decisions in my life and wonder what would have happened if I had taken a different path.  It’s the same mentality I had as a child reading Choose Your Own Adventure books, but life doesn’t allow you the luxury of flipping back a few pages just to find out what would have happened.

After seeing those words engraved in stone, I have tried to look at life a little differently.  I regret mistakes I have made and people I have hurt, but when it comes to general life decisions I am trying to look forward, rather than behind.  I have a wonderful life with so much to be thankful for.  Each choice I have made has truly brought me to this point in life – and for that I am grateful.

So rather than thinking about what might have been, I am trying to focus on what is to come.

Four-Leaf Clovers

We’ve had a bit of a drought here in New England.  There has been a lot of worry among farmers as well as the fear that wells will go dry.  One (and probably the only one) benefit has been that I haven’t had to mow the lawn much this summer.

I hate mowing the lawn.  It’s hot, dirty, frustrating work – especially given our yard’s ability to grow rocks at a tremendous rate.  The other day I decided that it was finally time to mow the lawn again.  It was a poor choice of a day (95 degree Fahrenheit heat) and I had postponed it too long, so the mower kept getting gummed up with all the long grass.

About halfway through the torture my daughter came out with a glass of water for me.  I gratefully sat myself down on one of the many rocks in our yard and guzzled the water.  As I was catching my breath I looked down and saw what appeared to be a four-leaf clover.  I picked it and handed it to my daughter – who was very excited and took some photos (as you can see above).

I don’t believe it has brought us a rash of good luck (especially since I don’t think it’s a clover, but actually an Oxalis), but it was definitely an exciting moment for my daughter.  It made me think that sometimes we miss out on joyful moments because we are simply too busy.  Perhaps we should slow down a bit and show a little more gratitude for the amazing blessings our Father in Heaven sends us each day.  Yesterday I came across a great video encouraging us to do just that.

On a random side note, I remember being about my daughter’s age and coming across a five-leaf clover.  I excitedly picked it up and shouted to my dad, “If a four-leaf clover gives you good luck, what does a five-leaf clover give you?”  Jokingly he replied, “Cancer.”  I guess it’s a good thing I dropped that clover  🙂

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.

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…

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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.