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.

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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).

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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.

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(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.

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.