About two months ago I came home.
I’ve been living in Arizona for two years and serving as a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. My missionary service precluded me from regularly posting any content on this website, but I did a considerable amount of writing. Here are a few selections of what I consider to be some of my best work that are small but powerful snapshots into what I learned and experienced.
Living For a Cause
“Engaged in such a cause I do not think that death would have many terrors.” Lying on the floor of Carthage jail in 1844, this was Dan Jones’ reply to Joseph Smith when asked if he was afraid to die.
Dan Jones was prepared to die for a cause he believed in, as were his brothers in the faith who were imprisoned with him—Joseph and Hyrum Smith, John Taylor, and Willard Richards. Three men left Carthage with their lives. Joseph and Hyrum, “the best blood of the nineteenth century” (D&C 135:6), remained as martyrs.
Two decades later, the United States was in the thick of the Civil War. Major clashes did not end with the hopeful turn of the century. The map of the 1900s is dotted with global conflict and revolution. The first half of the century was marked by two world wars, the Russian Revolution, and the rise of widespread social activism. The latter half saw several more military conflicts, the civil rights movement, the threat of communism, and more technological innovation than the world had yet seen.
With any conflict or movement of great import comes a tribe of followers, stalwarts who spend their lives—even until their breath runs out—dedicated to a cause.
William Wilburforce was born in 1759 and spent his life fighting to abolish the slave trade in the British Empire. For eighteen years he served as a Member of Parliament, fighting for the passage of his Abolition Bill to be carried through both Houses. His life was given to the effort of ending tyranny and captivity. Wilburforce died in 1833, mere months before the Slavery Abolition Act was passed. He died for the cause of liberty.
William Tyndale, born in the late fifteenth century, made it his mission to translate the Bible from Latin to English. Despite opposition and threats from religious and political leaders, Tyndale did eventually finish his work of translation and the Bible was put in the hands of the common man. This came at a high price. On October 6, 1536, after a year and a half in prison, Tyndale was strangled and burned at the stake. His final words flew up to heaven, “Lord! open the king of England’s eyes!” He died for the cause of truth.
Moroni, a Nephite prophet in the Book of Mormon, lived a life on the run because of his beliefs. He writes, “I make not myself known to the Lamanites lest they should destroy me. For behold, … they put to death every Nephite that will not deny the Christ. And I, Moroni, will not deny the Christ; wherefore, I wander whithersoever I can for the safety of mine own life” (Moroni 1:1-3). Moroni took with him the written testimonies recorded over the course of nearly a millenium. These gold plates were his one link to the righteousness that once covered ancient America. Moroni succeeded in his call to protect the gold plates and did so until his death. He died for the cause of faith.
Many have died for a cause, but only one has lived for one. Jesus Christ was born the son of a mortal mother and an immortal Father. He lived a life that no one had ever lived. His miracles were unprecedented, his teachings beautifully simple, and his mission unmatched. The climax of his life and wonderful beginning of his mission occurred in the Garden of Gethsemane.
He knelt in a familiar garden of olive trees. It was there that he went frequently to teach and to pray. That night, upon which all mankind hung in the balance, Jesus the Christ paid for the sins and weaknesses of all. He was the olive being harvested in that garden, his precious blood pressed out of him. He endured unimaginable and unquantifiable pain that he did not allow to stop until all was finished on Golgotha’s hill.
Christ experienced what no mortal could have. The pain he felt would have killed anyone less than a god. Every pain, every sickness, every infirm element of the human existence was felt by him. He experienced the carnage of war but was not greeted by death’s sweet sting. He lived through the pain of bullets and the ripping of a broken heart. His soul was wracked with the torment from sin. All this so we do not have to walk our paths alone. He lived for the cause of liberty, truth, and faith.
There have been many heroes throughout history, both publicly known and unsung. Brave men and women have died for just causes. The last verse of the hymn “Battle Hymn of the Republic” poetically describes Christ’s mission.
“In the beauty of the lilies, Christ was born across the sea,
With a glory in his bosom that transfigures you and me.
As he died to make men holy, let us live to make men free,
While God is marching on.”
Christ’s life, though long ago and far away, intimately impacts us all. The glory in his bosom changes hearts. He did die to make men holy, and now he lives to make men free. Let us march on.
You have 20 days left of your one-month free trial of 2018.
If you are not fully satisfied with the year when your trial ends, feel free to return to the 2017 package! You can be who you have always been, stay in your meaninglessly repetitive existence, and avoid personal progression, all for one low price—your future!
At this point in the year the world is split into three types of people: the resolution makers, the resolution breakers, and those who didn’t bother setting goals that they knew they couldn’t keep. The majority of the fitness trackers that were bought with the best of intentions a few weeks ago are now little more than smart watches. Gyms are almost back to normal now after the rush of world beaters who joined on the first of January have slowly but surely stopped coming.
Everyone who told themselves that they were going to write that novel has either settled for a short story or put it off yet another year. And all the people who decided to read more books this year? Netflix and Hulu have had them more engaged in a tale of two streaming services than a Tale of Two Cities.
So what about you? What will be your fate? Will you revert back to default behaviors of comfort and apathy? Have you given up or are you still clawing towards your goal?
Theodore Roosevelt gave this declaration in a speech given in 1899—
“Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to take rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much because they live in the gray twilight that knows no victory nor defeat.”
That gray twilight is a crowded one. You were born for more! As a child of the most powerful Being in existence, you carry with you a Divine identity and a corresponding responsibility to live up to your eternal potential. This is a tall order, one that can’t be achieved alone.
The Savior Jesus Christ said “And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.” (Ether 12:27)
This is not part of a fairy tale. This is not just theology. Jesus Christ is an actual being who lived, died, and lives today. Though you cannot see Him, He cares for you. His promise to eradicate your weakenesses is not a dead one. Through Jesus Christ you can recieve actual strength—strength to endure, to achieve, to create, to believe. Any righteous dream can become a reality through the Savior’s grace.
Time is precious and a terribly expensive things to waste. If you’ve abandoned your goals completely at this point in the year, remember that through Jesus Christ you can begin again and have strength beyond your own. He will reach back if you reach out.
Dare mighty things. Bet on the future by taking the hard road today. And if you taste the bitter while searching for the sweet, so be it. Because what better way is there to live?
In 1995, the film industry was rocked by the release of Toy Story, the first full-length 3D animated movie.
Toy Story follows Woody, a toy cowboy, and several other toys who are all owned and played with by Andy. The toy box is rattled one day when Buzz Lightyear, a flashy new space-ranger toy is given to Andy for his birthday and quickly replaces Woody as the favorite toy.
Not long after Buzz is given to Andy, he is found speaking with Rex, a plastic dinosaur, and Slinky, a slinky dog.
Buzz says, “Say there, Lizard and Stretchy Dog, let me show you something. It looks as though I’ve been accepted into your culture. Your chief, Andy, inscribed his name on me.” Buzz lifts up his foot to reveal Andy’s name written on the bottom of his boot.
Rex replies, “Wow! With permanent ink, too!”
Andy’s favorite toys, Woody, Buzz, and later Jessie, all have his name written on their boots.
In Toy Story 2, Woody gets separated from Andy and found by a toy collector who paints over Andy’s name on Woody’s boot. At this collector’s house, Woody discovers a whole trove of toys themed after himself and for a minute he basks in his own light.
Woody eventually wipes the fresh paint off of his boot to reveal Andy’s name and is reminded that his purpose isn’t to be displayed in a museum, it’s to be played with by Andy.
In Toy Story 3, the toys are mistakenly thrown out when Andy goes to college, finding themselves as Sunnyside Daycare. Despite Woody’s insistence that it was a mistake, the other toys are sure that Andy doesn’t love them anymore.
In a moment of desperation, Woody exclaims, “We wouldn’t even be together if it weren’t for Andy! Look under your boot, Buzz. You, too, Jessie—who’s name is written there?”
Have you checked under your boot?
Who’s name is written there?
“And now, because of the covenant which ye have made ye shall be called the children of Christ, his sons, and his daughters; for behold, this day he hath spiritually begotten you; for ye say that your hearts are changed through faith on his name; therefore, ye are born of him and have become his sons and his daughters.
And under this head ye are made free, and there is no other head whereby ye can be made free. There is no other name given whereby salvation cometh; therefore, I would that ye should take upon you the name of Christ, all you that have entered into the covenant with God that ye should be obedient unto the end of your lives.
And it shall come to pass that whosoever doeth this shall be found at the right hand of God, for he shall know the name by which he is called; for he shall be called by the name of Christ.”
The Real Chosen One
The Chosen One.
It’s a common theme throughout myths and literature, the concept of a hero being sent to free his people.
Anakin Skywalker, a Jedi prophesied of to bring balance to the Force.
Harry Potter, a wizard foretold to defeat the Dark Lord Voldemort.
King Arthur, claiming his kingship by proving to be the only one worthy to free Excalibur from its stone.
Aragorn, the fabled king of Gondor who led his people to victory over Sauron.
Hercules, a demigod with superhuman strength and heroic deeds to match.
The list of heroic figures could go on—and it has!
These stories seem to rhyme. Noticing the distinct pattern in stories throughout history, Joseph Campbell wrote “The Hero with a Thousand Faces” in 1949, detailing the general path that all heroes take.
The tales of heroes and villains are but a shadow of the great storyline of our history. They are familiar because they echo a story that our spirits know.
There was a prophecy and there is a Hero. He came to His people long ago and began the work of deliverance. He rose from death and became more powerful than His enemies could have imagined.
The ending has already been written and the endgame is unfolding as we speak. Our Hero will return—the True King. But until then, a cruel despot rules this world and sits upon a stolen throne. The wicked pretender is undermined by the disciples of the King and he will be unseated only at the King’s return.
The story of Jesus Christ is the greatest tale ever told. His power is not pretend. His majesty is not fiction.
Anakin tried to save Padme from death through evil means.
Harry Potter tried to bring his dead parents back through the resurrection stone.
Aragorn led an army of the undead into battle.
A great commonality among the heroes of myths and literature is the effort to escape, defeat, or avoid death.
The great truth about the story of this world’s history is that Christ did just that—He conquered death. Because of Him, the entire human race will live again.
This great story will never end.
King-men Revolt Against Freemen – Alma Chapter 51
ZARAHEMLA—The beginning of this year was met with peaceful negotiations between the people of Lehi, a city established under Moroni’s expansion campaign five years ago, and the people of Morianton. The peace treaty was a welcome breath of fresh air after a year of conflict that began with a dispute over land ownership and ultimately ended with the Teancum-led Nephite army defeating the forces of Morianton.
The state of Zarahemla is not so optimistic. Many people in Zarahemla and surrounding cities are calling for Pahoran’s resignation after his repeated refusal to entertain petitions calling for alterations to the law. The most vocal participants of this movement are the king-men, who have become disenchanted with the reign of judges established twenty five years ago by King Mosiah and are calling for the reestablishment of a monarchy.
Promised greater positions of power by the loudest voices in the king-men movement, the voices of dissent continue to gain traction, particularly among those of high birth. The rallying cry to maintain the reign of judges is equally as resonant and is being led by the freemen, political activists who have sworn to maintain their rights and the privileges of their religion by a free government.
With tensions rising, a vote is being held in the coming days that will determine the fate of Pahoran’s term as chief judge and whether to maintain the judicial system established by Mosiah.
This is a critical time for a vote of this magnitude to take place. Though Amalickiah hasn’t launched an organized attack for nearly five years, it is a matter of time before the Lamanite king launches another military campaign. The upcoming vote could play into Amalickiah’s plans for attack, as a fractured political system and a divided people will not be able to survive a mobilized assault.
Regardless of the vote, it is clear from the history of this land that prosperous times are dependant on keeping the commandments of the Lord. In King Mosiah’s farewell address he said:
“Yea, remember king Noah, his wickedness and his abominations, and also the wickedness and abominations of his people. Behold what great destruction did come upon them; and also because of their iniquities they were brought into bondage.
“And were it not for the interposition of their all-wise Creator, and this because of their sincere repentance, they must unavoidably remain in bondage until now.
“But behold, he did deliver them because they did humble themselves before him; and because they cried mightily unto him he did deliver them out of bondage; and thus doth the Lord work with his power in all cases among the children of men, extending the arm of mercy towards them that put their trust in him.
“And behold, now I say unto you, ye cannot dethrone an iniquitous king save it be through much contention, and the shedding of much blood.” (King Mosiah, 92 B.C., Mosiah 29:18-21)
There is safety in heeding the words of King Mosiah. As the day of the vote draws nearer, consider carefully the history of our forebears and the promises the Lord has made regarding this land.
I’ve learned that Firehouse Subs is the best place to get a sandwich.
And I’ve learned how to shoot three pointers. My mid-range jump shot has improved a lot, too.
I’ve learned that the secret to growth is a positive community.
I continue to learn that the lessons I was taught in the classroom from Jeff McCauley and in the band room from Steven Hendricks are incredibly relevant in “real life”.
The same should be said for lessons I learned on the Ultimate Frisbee field from Jeff Jewell, Adam Reeves, and Robert Dulabon.
I’ve learned how to play the piano a lot better.
I’ve learned to never go to Taco Bell and to never get the full-size salad at Wendy’s.
I’ve learned that if you ride a bike with no hands when it’s raining, you will crash.
I’ve learned that you really only need an inch of knowledge to make a connection with someone. And it’s good to know a little (or a lot) about geography, art, history, sports, and movies.
I’ve learned that humor and humility are more endearing than hubris.
I’ve learned that compassion and conviction can—and should—coexist. And my mind has been opened because of it.
I’ve learned that sometimes I share what I believe because I know that there is a correlation between a religious population and a productive society. And I want our country to be stronger.
I’ve learned how to be a person and what I want out of life. I know where I want to go and who I want to be.
I’ve learned to love Arizona.
I’ve learned that the most real elements of life are things you can’t see. Strong relationships and unforgettable memories are powerful strands of a meaningful life. Spirituality is reality.
I’ve learned that there’s more to church than reading scriptures, more to baptism than full immersion, and more to this life than just what we see.
I’ve learned that there never was a “simpler time,” there have only been different times. Human behavior has largely stayed the same throughout history. There will always be truth and it will always be opposed.
I’ve learned for myself of the truth of this work. I’ve learned how God answers my prayers and how I answer to Him.
I’ve learned that Jesus Christ lives.
And I’ve learned why the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is His church.
Remembering the Snowstorm Sprints
I woke up and went upstairs. I looked out the window and saw the snow coming down hard in the early morning. I stood by the window for a minute, not sure if I wanted to run through the weather.
My dad was on his way out the door to leave for work and he asked what I was doing. I told him that I was going to go to the field and do a sprinting workout.
He said, “I remember running in the rain. Those are the runs I remember the most.” And with that, he left to go to work.
I couldn’t back out now.
I put on my coat, grabbed my cleats and my bag full of Frisbees, and drove to the field. There were several inches of snow on the ground that covered the dirt track on the field, but I had run around that track dozens of times, so going off of memory wasn’t a problem.
I was off to work, running 400, 100, and 40 yard sprints through the snow. The snow turned to sleet and my reluctance turned to adrenaline. I was in my element in the elements.
My glasses fogged up when I walked back inside and I knew that my dad was right—I would definitely remember that workout.
And I have.
I’ll never forget taking AP Human Geography and AP Environmental Science from Amie Huggins and Valerie Holbrook. They are still the hardest and most rewarding classes I have ever taken. The things I learned in those classes continue to shape the way I see the world and connect with the people I meet.
During my sophomore and junior year I poured my heart out into getting a tech startup off the ground. Most of my waking hours were focused on learning how to build a better business. And thanks to a lot of people who were generous with their time and advice, my friend and I won a high school entrepreneurship competition.
A few months before I left on my mission I managed the social media marketing for CollegeCon. I worked hard and learned about event management and how to reach an online audience. Because of the mentoring and support of Amanda Clark Grow, I played my part and the event was a success.
“I can do hard things.”
We hear it so often that the adage often loses its luster.
It’s true: we can all do hard things.
More importantly, we are MEANT to do hard things. God didn’t put us here to wallow in the mud of mediocrity and settle for something less than perfect.
What you remember most are the things that pushed you to your limits.
The things that made you bleed a little and sweat a lot.
The things that pushed you to cry out for help and search for a second wind.
The things that kept you up late and got you up early.
The things that, when accomplished, make you marvel at our own capacity and the Lord’s uplifting power.
I remember the snowstorm sprints. And the come-from-behind victories. And the hard classes. And the business ventures. And the spiritual battles.
But God isn’t just teaching us how to be better Ultimate Frisbee players or students or businessmen. God is teaching us how to be better people—better fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters.
The human experience we have on this earth is a fleeting one, but it is laced with eternal lessons that will endure the test of time. Principles of hard work, perseverance, innovation, problem solving, and diligence help us grow more spiritually than temporally.
We’re all here to do hard things.
Now let’s get out there and grind.
Elon in Agony
438 days ago, I got a card in the mail.
I still remember where I was when I opened it.
The card was nice, but I couldn’t say what it was about or what it looked like. I don’t remember.
Included with the card was a magazine clipping. One side showed a fragmented map of the world with a report from Yalta, Crimea documenting Vladimir Putin’s monument to Czar Alexander III.
The other side was titled “Musk’s aching loneliness” and was a one-paragraph article about billionaire Elon Musk’s business success and relationship failures.
There was no explanation with the article, no additional information, no acknowledgement that it was even included with the card.
It was chilling to read.
I’ve kept the clipping in my wallet every day since, keeping it as a simple but powerful lesson in priorities. I didn’t know it then, but that day was a turning point for me.
It wasn’t about success for the sake of success anymore.
It wasn’t about hustle for the sake of hustle anymore.
It wasn’t about money for the sake of money anymore.
The following 365 days were life changing. I felt the joys of genuine relationships because I cared about people around me. I allowed myself to have my layers peeled back and my insides examined.
It took working in a blacksmith shop with Bryant L Herrera. It took discovering what real cupcakes tasted like with Ellie and Calvin Bryant. It took sitting around the dinner table with Dominic and Rebecca Bailin’s family. It took being willing to move a stranger’s entire house at the drop of a hat.
It took small and simple things done by genuine people.
I changed as I was able to be the answer to prayers and as I saw my prayers answered through other people.
As my relationships with people around me grew stronger, my relationship with the Savior became more tangible.
This isn’t meant to be a criticism of Elon Musk—his personal life is none of my business. But unfortunately his story is not an isolated one. He’s not the only person who has sacrificed family relationships for material wealth.
Our spirituality is rooted in our connections with the Divine and with the people we interact with on a regular basis. We are meant to teach each other a higher way of living.
When speaking to the Nephites the Savior said:
“Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed?
“For your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things.
“But seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.” (3 Nephi 13:31-33)
If we seek the Kingdom of God we will be hydrated with Living Water, our hunger will be satisfied by the Bread of Life, and we will wear a robe of righteousness.
Christ established a church: God’s Kingdom. He didn’t build meetinghouses, though they play an important role in the Church. He didn’t construct a headquarters building, though today that plays and important role as well.
We are the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—individual followers who are founded on the rock of Jesus Christ, led by His ordained servants, and are partakers of His salvation through priesthood authority.
Seeking the kingdom of God is reaching up to the Lord and reaching out to each other.
It may have taken me nearly two decades to understand the power of genuine relationships and the impact of simple actions, but I will be forever grateful for the people who showed me the way and for the Lord’s guiding hand along the path.