Tuesday, January 25, 2011

"Feeling" Through the Veil

I have learned that death can be a very spiritual experience. Some cultures mourn the passing of loved ones as a permanent loss, and as a tragedy. Many do not have hope for a happy life after this one.

I have had two experiences in particular where the death of a loved one was a highly spiritual experience. The first was the passing of my father on December 31, 2005. He had battled Alzheimer’s for some time. My mother called me that morning and asked if I could be with her while he passed away. I left work, drove the three hours to her home, and sat with her. I got there in the early afternoon. Earlier in the day, a home health nurse had told my mom that Dad’s body had just shut down, and that his breathing was pretty much a subconscious action that soon would stop on its own. It finally did at about 11:15 PM.

What was interesting was the feeling Mom and I had as Dad slipped quietly away. There was an overwhelming peace, as if all was right with Dad. Also, I felt that the room was crowded. Although I could only see the three of us, I could feel the presence of angels. The veil that separates our earth life from Heaven felt very thin that night. I sensed that the angels were there to escort Dad home to his Heavenly Father. He had lived a great life, and he was not alone as he slipped into immortality. The veil was thin that night, and I could feel the love of God from the other side.

A few years before this was the passing of my own infant son, Grant Alexander Carpenter. We found out early in the pregnancy that there were serious complications. He was diagnosed with Trisomy 18, also known as Edwards Syndrome. Right after he was born on January 18, 2000, my father-in-law, the doctor (who was LDS), and I, took Grant in our arms right there in the labor and delivery room, and gave him a name and blessing. I felt impressed to tell him that he had come to Earth simply to receive his physical body, and I commended him back into the care of his Father in Heaven. Not long after this beautiful experience, he quietly passed away while I was holding him in my arms.

Again, the veil was thin. The room was large, yet it felt crowded, literally as if there was standing room only. But there were only five of us in this big room. I could sense the presence of angels, waiting to take Grant home with them. And again, I could feel the perfect love of the Savior in that room. Whenever people hear about Grant, they naturally want to express their condolences over the loss of my son. But I do not consider him lost. I consider him safe… safe in the Kingdom of God, safe from the travail of mortality. I hope he is there helping to plead my miserable case on my behalf. I don’t want condolences. My experience with Grant was perhaps the greatest spiritual experience of my life, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

I know that death is frightening for most people. My only concern is being prepared. Beyond that, I have no fear, only a lot of hope and anxiousness for what lies ahead. I have literally felt the love that comes from the other side of the veil. It is sweet and desirable, perhaps just like the love of God that Lehi described as he ate the fruit in his dream.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Leadership, the Lord's Way

Over twenty years ago I learned a lesson about leadership. It has stuck with me all this time, and is as vivid today as when I first heard it. My boss, Bill Seabrooke, a good Christian man of another faith, told me one day, "Rick, I work for you. You don't work for me. I'm here to make sure you have all the tools and resources you need to get the job done."

I was impressed. It's sort of a pet peeve of mine when I hear someone referring to their subordinates and saying "He works for me...." The self-importance implicit in that statement has always irritated me. And in many cases, I have found, it isn't even true.

When we see traditional organizational charts in corporate America, we see the people who manufacture or sell the products - those who are actually producing the income - at the 'bottom' of the chart, as if their position is of lesser importance. Just take away the production and sales people - those who are 'at the bottom', and see how profitable the company is!

I later learned that the philosophy my boss embraced was found in the Bible:

"But Jesus called them unto him, and said, Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them.

But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister;

And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant:

Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many." (Matthew 20:25-28).

The more I thought about this, the more I realized that this is the way the Church is organized. We have a prophet, and apostles, and others who are called of God to serve the rest of the world. We do not serve them. They serve us. How do they serve us? By teaching us the word and will of the Lord, by helping us have the resources we need to work out our salvation, teach our families, and receive the saving ordinances. They make these things possible, and available, for us. We don't do one thing for President Monson's personal benefit, when you really think about it. We don't pay him a salary, or a fat Wall Street bonus (although I'd argue that he deserves it as much as anyone else). We don't provide him a private jet. We don't fund lavish vacations for him or the other general authorities. Many people don't know of the great financial sacrifices some of these leaders have made to serve the Lord with all their heart, soul and mind, for the rest of their lives. They work for us, quite literally. This is the Savior's way, and He set the example. We don't 'work' for Him. He works for us (see Moses 1:39).

Following this example, how great it is to be in the service of the Lord, working 'for' the families who need us to be there, as examples, teachers and leaders, as loving ministers and servants, in any way we can.

Serving Others with Quality

I remember one day, about 20 years ago, when my car broke down in the middle of a busy road. My home teacher, Randy Reynolds, came and helped me tow the car back to my house. Then, after we were done assessing the needed repairs, he said, "I need to make an appointment to come home teach your family."

I was at a loss for words. What do you call the 'rescue effort' you just did? Isn't seeing to the temporal needs of your families, especially in urgent situations, considered good home teaching? Perhaps, but he didn't want to stop there. He wanted to give my family a spiritual lesson. Towing the car home wasn't enough for him. Randy was a faithful home teacher, coming every month with a lesson prepared. This was in addition to the acts of service he performed.

What I learned from Randy is what being generous in our service is all about.

"Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom. For with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again." (Luke 6:38).

I particularly like this scripture, because I know how to bake bread, and I understand the details of what the Savior meant. When you measure a cup of flour as part of a recipe, you don't "press down" the flour, or sift it, or shake it together. That would change the volume of flour and ruin the recipe. And you skim off the top of the cup so the measurement is precise.

But my home teacher, following the Savior's example, gave generously... pressed down, shaken together, and running over. And as the scripture states, with the same generosity he gave, it shall be given to him. I hope to always follow the example of Randy Reynolds, one of the best home teachers ever.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

The Armor of God – Finding Strength in Prayer and Scripture Study

I have found that in my own life, there is a difference in my spiritual strength depending on when I choose to read the scriptures and say my prayers. It is easy to forget, in our busy lives, to say a prayer or read the scriptures in the morning before we leave home. Yet I find that I need that strength in my life.

“Ere you left your room this morning,

Did you think to pray?

In the name of Christ, our Savior,

Did you sue for loving favor,

As a shield today?”

(Hymn #140)

I believe there is great strength given to our young men and women, who, despite the sacrifices of sleep, comfort and social opportunities the night before, attend early morning seminary before school. They pray and receive spiritual strength before taking on the peer pressure and other temptations and distractions of the day.

“Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.

For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.

Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.

Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness;

And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace;

Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked.

And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God:

Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints….” (Ephesians 6:11-18).

Whenever I read this passage, I think of actually going into battle. Does it make sense to put on our armor before we have fought the day’s battles, or after? How foolish is even the thought of going into battle without our armor in place, knowing it is readily available to us?

In like manner, our daily lives are battles against an adversary who seeks our destruction. The war waged by Lucifer against us is a much more important battle than any earthly military conflict. The stakes are infinitely higher. We cannot afford to lose this war. Knowing what is at risk, shouldn’t we want to use the greatest defenses available to us? And what greater defense is there than our faith in God, and the resources He has given us? With God on our side, even the weakest of earthly souls can defeat our spiritual enemy.

It is important that we read the scriptures and pray every day. The Lord has made promises to those who will follow this counsel. But I also believe that we all can benefit from studying the scriptures and praying at the beginning of our day. This way, we are giving ourselves the spiritual strength we will need before the temptations and trials come our way. In this sense, we are putting on the armor of God before going into battle against Satan.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Pride and Contention

When the Savior visited the people in the Americas shortly after His resurrection, one of the very first commandments He gave them was to avoid contention. After instructing his disciples on the mode of baptism, he said,

And there shall be no disputations among you, as there have hitherto been; neither shall there be disputations among you concerning the points of my doctrine, as there have hitherto been.

For verily, verily I say unto you, he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another.

Behold, this is not my doctrine, to stir up the hearts of men with anger, one against another; but this is my doctrine, that such things should be done away. 3 Nephi 11:28-30.

Contention seems to stem from selfishness, one person exerting their will on another. Although it typically takes two to contend, I believe there is usually one party who is the instigator. To try to force one’s will on another is an act of pride.

“Only by pride cometh contention….” Proverbs 13:10.

The Book of Mormon is a thousand-year cycle of people struggling with ongoing pride and contention. For a few years, they prospered and were happy. Then followed pride and contention, which ultimately proved their final destruction. It happened to the Nephites and the Jaredites. The Lamanites degenerated into wickedness and murder because of their lust for conquest… pride. I believe that the Book of Mormon is as much a guide of what not to do – succumb to pride and contention - as it is a testament of Jesus Christ.

Arguments start from one person trying to push their views on another. The desire to ‘make’ another see our point of view can be attributed to pride. It is entirely possible to share our opinions and feelings without any pressure, and let others choose for themselves how they accept them. But when argument ensues, we are trying to control their choice. Why is our position superior? Could it be pride?

If the Savior of the world treated the issue of contention with the level of priority that he did – mentioning it before all other commandments or problems – how much priority should we give it in our lives?

This topic is of particular interest to me at this time. I just celebrated my first Christmas without my children. They had a good Christmas… I bought them nice presents… but it was without me. I missed them.

I believe it was this pride and contention that destroyed my marriage of 28 years. I tried to avoid that contention, but could not always escape it. Sometimes it was my own fault, and I think I have learned from those experiences. I offer this glimpse into a difficult part of my life in the hope that you will be able to avoid the same unhappiness in yours.