Change of Heart with Mikayla

Mikayla was asked to give a talk a few weeks ago in Sacrament Meeting.  It was an awesome talk, so I’ve decided to share it with y’all:

My topic today is “Change of Heart.” But I will also be speaking about alchemy.

Alchemy is the “medieval forerunner of chemistry, based on the supposed transformation of matter. It was concerned particularly with attempts to convert base metals into gold or to find a universal elixir.” (From Google Dictionary.) Alchemist thought that all metals were compounds, made deep within the Earth out of different amounts of sulfur and mercury. Before I go any further, I need everyone to know that they were wrong about this principle. The metal that they thought were compounds are actually elements. The alchemists wanted to artificially create these elements.

The term “chrysopoeia” means to change something into gold. A chrysopoeian, someone who turns stuff into gold, would add all of the right elements to an alembic, an egg-shaped vessel that distills and refines the materials, then melt the mixture, and then keep the mixture at the proper temperature for a very long time. That is the recipe for the philosopher’s stone. But what were the proper ingredients for the philosopher’s stone? No one knows.

Alchemy eventually went out of style in the 16th century, though a few people were practicing underground. It eventually died out in the 18th century. Fast forward to 1980. A chemist by the name of Glenn Seaborg turned a small amount of bismuth into gold with the help of a particle accelerator. Seaborg removed protons and neutrons and managed to change several thousand atoms into gold. Several thousand atoms isn’t all that much, not enough to see with the naked eye, but it was enough to prove that alchemists were pursuing a realistic goal. Seaborg had an element named after him, seaborgium, while he was alive, which is not a very common practice, though he had a nobel prize.

You may be wondering, why aren’t we using these techniques to make lots of gold and also, what on this good planet does this have to do with the gospel? Well, you see, the process of making the gold costs more than the actual gold, so you’re losing money making the gold, and that is why we don’t just make gold. Alchemy does relate to the gospel. At first, and for a long, long time, alchemists tried to change the elements into gold. They weren’t successful. Seaborg looked to a higher power, nuclear power to help him change an element into gold. He was successful. Do you see where I’m going with this? We aren’t able to change our hearts on our own. We need a higher power, God, to help us. In Alma 5:6-12 it says:

6 And now behold, I say unto you, my brethren, you that belong to this church, have you sufficiently retained in remembrance the captivity of your fathers? Yea, and have you sufficiently retained in remembrance his mercy and long-suffering towards them? And moreover, have ye sufficiently retained in remembrance that he has delivered their souls from hell?

7 Behold, he changed their hearts; yea, he awakened them out of a deep sleep, and they awoke unto God. Behold, they were in the midst of darkness; nevertheless, their souls were illuminated by the light of the everlasting word; yea, they were encircled about by the bands of death, and the chains of hell, and an everlasting destruction did await them.

8 And now I ask of you, my brethren, were they destroyed? Behold, I say unto you, Nay, they were not.

9 And again I ask, were the bands of death broken, and the chains of hell which encircled them about, were they loosed? I say unto you, Yea, they were loosed, and their souls did expand, and they did sing redeeming love. And I say unto you that they are saved.

10 And now I ask of you on what conditions are they saved? Yea, what grounds had they to hope for salvation? What is the cause of their being loosed from the bands of death, yea, and also the chains of hell?

11 Behold, I can tell you—did not my father Alma believe in the words which were delivered by the mouth of Abinadi? And was he not a holy prophet? Did he not speak the words of God, and my father Alma believe them?

12 And according to his faith there was a mighty change wrought in his heart. Behold I say unto you that this is all true.”

This means that through a change of heart, we can be saved. 

 

Creating a MANual

We’re coming up on the 2nd annual Man Camp (see here for a post from last year).  As part of this awesome event, we’re considering putting together a MANual – basically a book of life skills on how to be a true man.  Some of these pages will be more temporal in nature (like changing a tire or choosing a major in college), but most will be focused on gospel aspects of true manhood.

Here is the first installment.  The pages will be written by a variety of different people.  If you have ideas for topics or if you are interested in putting a page together, feel free to contact me.

Enjoy!

MANual – Using Object Lessons

Christmas and Talkie Tapes

This small ribbon of plastic is known as a Talkie Tape.  It has tiny ridges and grooves that cause vibrations when you run your fingernail along it.  It’s a bit like an old phonograph cylinder.  The best part is that it only works if you bite one end of the ribbon between your teeth while running your fingernail along the grooves.  The result is that you hear a voice inside your head say, “Merry Christmas.”  The message is only heard in your own head as the vibrations echo through the bones in your jaw.

To me it really represents that Christmas is a personal thing.  Different things bring the Christmas spirit into the heart of each individual.  For some it’s the lights and decorations and putting up the tree.  For others it’s the joy of secretly blessing the lives of others.  Some love the sight of a quiet snowfall or watching their favorite Christmas movie.

This principle was shown to me very clearly on a Christmas Eve in 2000.  I was a missionary in McAllen, Texas.  It was Sunday and I was at church.  During one of the Christmas hymns I noticed that the elderly woman sitting next to me didn’t have a hymn book, so I offered her mine.  She replied, “Brother, I don’t know how to read, so I just listen.”

As we sang Silent Night I watched as tears silently traced lines down her cheeks.  I could see her filled with the joy of Christmas.

On this beautiful Christmas morning I pray that all of us may be filled with the joy of Christmas – the joy that comes from remembering the perfect love of our Father in Heaven as He sent His Son.  A matchless gift that for each and every one of us.

 

Envy and Verrocchio

Last year my family and I were able to spend some time in Florence, Italy while I taught a study abroad course.  Every day we were able to see amazing works of art.  I enjoyed the stories behind the art almost as much as the art itself.

One of my favorite stories is regarding the painting, Baptism of Christ, by Andrea del Verrocchio and his young pupil, Leonardo da Vinci.  According to artist-historian Vasari, the story goes that Verrocchio had his pupil Leonardo complete parts of the background as well as the outer angel.  After seeing Leonardo’s skill Verrocchio was overwhelmed.  At that moment he decided to give up painting forever.  If such a young student could already outshine his master, then he would no longer spend his time painting.

IMG_0804

I can’t help but feel for Verrocchio.  He must have been frustrated and felt jealous of his young student.  He had spent his whole life studying the art of painting and along comes a young man with such incredible talent.  It would be easy to resort to jealousy and throw your hands up in despair.  It’s sad that we only have a few surviving works by Verrocchio.  He obviously had amazing talent and I’m sure we would all enjoy seeing more from him.  But instead he chose to give in to envy.  He must have loved painting and yet he chose to give it up simply because someone else was better than he.

Envy never builds up, it only tears down.  Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said it best “envy is a mistake that just keeps on giving. Obviously we suffer a little when some misfortune befalls us, but envy requires us to suffer all good fortune that befalls everyone we know! What a bright prospect that is—downing another quart of pickle juice every time anyone around you has a happy moment!”

Envy is certainly another of the universal sins.  No matter how much we have, it never seems enough if the person next to us has more.  Whenever I begin to envy others I stop and think of poor Verrocchio.

 

Archery with Mikayla

Mikayla was asked to give a talk today in Sacrament Meeting about how Girls’ Camp helped her to grow closer to Jesus Christ.  It was an awesome talk, so I’ve decided to share it with y’all:

My favorite thing to do at Girls’ Camp was archery.  I spent almost all my free time at the archery range.  Here are five lessons that I learned and how they relate to the gospel.

Lesson #1: Pick your target and aim.  

You’re going to hit what you aim at, so aim wisely.  

In this life, we’ve got plenty of things to aim at, like material items, wealth, popularity, a good job, etc.  They aren’t necessarily bad things, but our ultimate goal in this life is Celestial glory with Jesus Christ.  Make sure you’re always aiming at it.

Lesson #2: Have a good stance.

If you don’t have a good, solid stance your shot is most likely going to miss.

In this life you can have a good stance on multiple solid foundations, like good parents and high moral standards.  The best foundation to stand on is the rock of our Redeemer.  Helaman 5:12 illustrates this:

And now, my sons, remember, remember that it is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your foundation; that when the devil shall send forth his mighty winds, yea, his shafts in the whirlwind, yea, when all his hail and his mighty storm shall beat upon you, it shall have no power over you to drag you down to the gulf of misery and endless wo, because of the rock upon which ye are built, which is a sure foundation, a foundation whereon if men build they cannot fall.

Lesson #3: Focus.  Close your non-dominant eye to help.

If you don’t focus on your target and you get distracted you won’t make your shot and you will most likely end up shooting at whatever you were looking at.

In this life if you get distracted by the things of the world you will miss your goal.

Lesson #4: Grip your bow properly.

If you don’t grip your bow properly you might end up getting hurt.  If your arm is too close to the string, the string will hit your arm and it hurts.  It really hurts.

In this life you aim at Celestial glory, but your spiritual bow (all your choices) are what get you there.  If you mishandle your spiritual bow, you will miss your goal.

Lesson #5: If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.

In archery if you don’t get a bull’s eye, you adjust your shot.  You can adjust your shot by adjusting your footing, your hold on your bow or your aim.  One minor adjustment can earn you a bull’s eye.

In this life, if you can’t seem to get it right, you can always change how you’re doing it.  Plus, if you make a mistake you can always use the Atonement.  Jesus Christ will help you.  He wants to help you.  

Blacksmithing

I recently returned from “Man Camp” – two days of amazing experiences with a group of about 25 youth and some adult leaders.  We went up into New Hampshire, far away from quality cell phone reception, and discussed what it truly means to be a man.  The idea was based off a talk by Elder D. Todd Christofferson called “Let Us Be Men.”

As leaders we put together workshops about dating, getting a job, and cooking for yourself as well as how to prepare to be a missionary, a husband, and a father.  We all had some pretty amazing experiences.

The highlight of the camp (for me, at least) was the blacksmithing workshop.  We were able to heat pieces of iron in a furnace until they were red hot.  Then we were able to hammer them into knives (blunt knives, but knives nonetheless).

IMG_1263

As we were doing this I had the chance to help 6-8 young men with the process before trying it myself.  It’s hot and noisy work.  The hammer that seems so easy to hold starts to feel like a million pounds after you’ve been swinging it for a few minutes.  Sparks are flying everywhere and if the person holding the iron loses their grip and drops it, the grass below bursts into flames.

Of course this was only a simple demonstration of blacksmithing, but it gave all of us an idea of how important it is to start with quality metal if you want to create something that will stand the test of time.  We learned that it takes time and a lot of effort to craft something that you can be proud of.  We learned the care that has to be taken to protect yourself and others.

As we worked I kept thinking about the times that I have been that piece of iron – thrust into the furnace and then struck time and time again.  Most of the time I have no idea what the Lord is trying to craft me into, but I appreciate the time and effort He must be expending to do so.

 

Treasures and Testimony

My kids and I recently built a safe.  It’s not exactly the most secure safe, given that it’s made of wood, but it was a lot of fun to build.  The kit gave clear instructions and allowed us to put it together in just a few hours.

The best part about it was that it gave me a look into how a combination lock works.  A combination lock is one of those amazing devices that everyone has used, but that most people don’t really think about.  In the case of our lock we have three tumblers, each with a notch in one specific part of the wheel.  Only when all three tumblers are perfectly aligned does the lock disengage and allow you to open the door.

IMG_2639

(In this photo the safe is empty as we hadn’t yet filled it with assorted candy treasure)

Once we had built the safe my kids immediately tried to open it.  Considering that they didn’t know the combination you can probably imagine their frustration.  Even after I had given them the combination they weren’t able to open it immediately.  I had to explain that you had to turn the dial counterclockwise several times before stopping at the first number and then turn it clockwise past the second number before stopping on the second number…. and so forth.  Any junior high kid who has struggled with their locker door knows how frustrating it can be to try to learn how to use a combination lock.

I tried to explain how the tumblers worked and why the lock has to be operated a certain way, but eventually I just had to show my kids that it works by simply showing them how to do it.

This got me thinking about how this is similar to testimony.  As I teach my children about gospel principles, such as faith and prayer – I sometimes get bogged down in over-explaining things.  It’s important for them to understand the principles, but it’s so much more powerful for them to see the principles in action.  Once they know that the principle works they are better able to focus on how it works.  Instead of talking about how service blesses our lives and the lives of others, it’s much better to show them service in action.  Once they try it for themselves they begin to build their own testimony about the principle.

I guess that’s why the Savior always invited to act rather than simply asking his followers to listen.  “Come follow me” rather than “Sit still while I talk to you about the gospel.”

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.