Sunday, April 24, 2011

His Hands

Shortly after I first arrived in the mission field in January 1999, the mission office, using technology much more rudimentary than that to which we are acclimated today, put together a 6-minute video presentation. Set to a recording of Kenneth Cope's "His Hands," the touching slide show was a collection of paintings of the Savior, each image providing an appropriate visual for the song lyrics.

As a missionary full of enthusiasm and spirit, I fell in love with the video immediately, along with the rest of my fellow 140 elders and sisters serving in Tokyo. We used the video to help investigators feel the spirit. We used it to help ward members feel the spirit. We watched it on preparation day to help ourselves feel the spirit! The music and lyrics combined with the images of our beloved Christ all worked together in a marvelous way that uplifted anybody who had eyes to see and ears to hear.

I remember still the day when Elder Tamanaha and I were riding our bikes out to do some tracting. I was singing "His Hands" in my head. We stopped at a red light, and Tama-chan turned to me and commented on what a great song it was. Yes, I had been singing out loud. Luckily we were biking through fields for most of the way.

Ah, to be a tenderfoot, idealistic green bean missionary, invincible, hopeful, unaware of so much in the world, able to cope with anything because of an "I can do anything if I have the Spirit!" attitude. That's how I was! And I accomplished a lot. I learned Japanese quite easily, I was always very optimistic, which helped aid my capabilities and God-given talents. I was going to serve the best mission ever, come home, marry within a year or two, teach at the MTC while studying education at Brigham Young University, have lots of kids, and eventually get hired by the Church Education System to be a full time seminary teacher.

Ah, His Hands. "Though I'm not yet as I would be // He has shown me how I could be // I will make my hands like those from Galilee." That was my theme song.

Reality hit.

I served an adequate mission. I worked extremely hard, but spent my energy mostly spinning my wheels. I was quite the "Law of Moses" kind of missionary, in that the rulebook dictated my actions and reactions, instead of allowing the spirit to rule my heart. I came home to freshly-divorced parents. My siblings and I all experienced trauma and hurt. One almost-bright spot was that I was nearly offered a job by the MTC. Yet as I was not accepted by BYU, the job went to somebody else. My dream of working for CES was dwindling. I pressed forward in my university studies at the University of Utah, but continued to run into money problems. It took me years of stop-and-go, part-time/full-time student work before I was able to work my way through college and get my degree in international studies.

I married at age 28, five years after my self-imposed deadline, to the second girl to whom I had gotten engaged. I had secured a job with a software company, where my talents and ideas were valued, and I was doing okay at supporting myself and my wife. Our son, Liam, joined us in 2009.

Wow. 2009. And now 2011. It has been twelve years since I sat in the chapel adjacent to the Tokyo South Mission home in Kichijoji, Tokyo, in the dark, surrounded by missionaries and looking up at a video screen playing a sweet slide show, uplifting all of our spirits, making us feel invincible.

I have spent a lot of time in the dark in these intervening 12 years. Hurt, mostly. Hard on myself. Perfectionists do not do well in the gospel until they are able to reconcile the fact that it is not behavior that warrants God's love, but rather relationship. And since all of our relationship is "child of God," we all warrant His love. But I dare you to try to behave your way into Heaven, and then mess up along the way. You will beat yourself so much that you become jaded, bitter, and eventually masochistic. You feel unworthy all of the time. Everything you do--or fail to do--becomes yet another club with which to beat yourself over the head. All of this because--well, because why?

Because: I did not have a sufficient understanding of, or faith in the Atonement of Jesus Christ.

I recalled recently a story that a wonderful Institute teacher told once to our class. Brother S. Michael Wilcox, I hope I do this story some justice in this retelling. I think I recall that this was a daydream or a pondering that Brother Wilcox had. In any case, as you read it, you will see that it was a personal revelation to help Brother Wilcox, and through the retelling of it, he has helped many others. The story is about himself, and it goes something like this:

"A great man died and went to Heaven. He was always a great man, but in his own eyes, he was not a great man. He did his best, but was like the rest of us, and made mistakes along the way. He was hard on himself, which indeed proved to be his most enduring sin.

"As he approached heaven, he saw a desk and a chair, and it looked something like the set of the Tonight Show. The Savior sat behind the desk, and asked the man if he would please be seated as they perform an interview. The Savior asked the man questions like 'how was your relationship with your wife?' and 'how was your relationship with your children,' and so forth. For each question asked, the man, who was in reality a great man, could have answered confidently and at length of the great relationship he and his wife enjoyed. The same for his children, and the same for his neighbors and fellow man. Instead, this great man would state things like, 'Well, my wife and I loved each other very much. We had a loving relationship.' He then proceeded to make an accounting of all the times when he and his bride had argued, or a time when he put her down, or hurt her feelings. For each question asked of him, the great man would say something slightly positive, followed by a laundry list of the rotten things he had done.

"The Savior looked at him, puzzled and said 'Mike, I don't remember those things. I do not have any memory of you doing any of that!' 'But I did them, Savior, I did them all!' 'Mike,' Christ lovingly replied, 'I am the Lord, and even I do not remember you doing those things.' Before the man could protest again, the Lord said, 'Mike, let's take a look on the monitor to see exactly what happened.'

"Now remember, they are on the set of the Tonight Show, so a television monitor rose up out of the ground. The man was going to show the Savior that all of those arguments with his wife did actually happen, and that he did actually yell at his children. Not even the Lord would be able to refute the video evidence, and yes, then the Lord would remember all of those rotten things he did.

"The screen powered up and the monitor turned on. There, for them both to see, was a single image. What the man saw, however, was not a moving image of him losing his temper or failing in one of the million ways he claimed to have failed. What the man saw as he sat there with his Savior was a moving image of Jesus Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane suffering for his sins.

"Weeping now, the man turned to his Lord in awesome wonder and gratitude. 'Mike, I do not remember you doing any of what you described to me. No, Mike--I did them. You repented, and they became mine. I did them. Now repent of this last sin: stop being so hard on yourself. Forgive yourself.'"

So what about "His Hands"? Today is Easter Sunday. President Gordon B. Hinckley has said many times that the three most hope-filled words in the English language when spoken together are "He is risen." I just watched another video on YouTube set to the music of "His Hands." The slide show is now video clips taken from church movies. It's much slicker than its 1999 predecessor. The spirit is the same, and even stronger. I have grown much since then. I have many ways in which to mature. I listened to the words and music. I observed the moving images and hearkened back to the 19 year-old me. I felt that I would like to give some loving advice to Elder Brady about the future. "Hope is real!"

Twelve years later, I have been through a lot. But I have been so very blessed. My bride and baby are more than I had ever hoped for. They love me, and I love them. I am in an environment where love is freely expressed--it is my duty to receive it as it is given.

My Savior Jesus Christ rose from the grave. He is risen! He was resurrected, and so has my hope. Hope is real! Christ was not resurrected to the same body that his spirit previously occupied, but into a new and perfect body. He was not sent back to square one, physically. No, my hope hasn't been reset. It's not "back to the drawing board," but rather my hope is founded on the maturity, knowledge and testimony that I have acquired along the way. What has reset, though, is my attitude toward myself--yes, my very ability to love myself.

Everybody: Happiest of Easters to you all. Hope is real!

Especial thanks to my wife Chelsie, our son Liam, my parents, Chelsie's parents, all of our siblings and family members, Bishop Howard and his family, and Bishop Nielson and his family. We love you all!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Sunny days

Sunny day #1- We went to the zoo with some friends.

Liam liked to crawl around like the animals.

And then, Liam was so sleepy for the car ride home.

Sunny day #2- We ate lunch on the deck. I noticed after uploading these pictures that Liam's lunch is color coordinated... cheese sandwich in an orange and green bowl, orange fork, green sippy with orange juice. That's cute.

Sunny day #3- (actually I think this is the same day as #2 just later) We went to the park. Liam was so sleepy because he hadn't napped yet. (It was about 2:00 in the afternoon. We had just finished playing outside on the deck, actually. Mike came out of the office and said he was done with work and wanted to know if we wanted to go play at the park. We decided that we better go before putting Liam down for a nap because A. Mike had to work that night and B. the sunshine is a fleeting thing around here. It may have disappeared before too long.) So, we tortured Liam by making him go to the park in the sunshine and play on toys and swings and slides. :)

Would you like to see my pea plants?

How about Liam's Easter basket? (I need to get some buttons for the bunny's eyes and I also have a few surprises that I'll show you later. I made these little fabric baskets, though, that I thought would work for Easter baskets. They're little and cute and I plan to reuse them to organize toys or something in Liam's room.)

The end.