Coping with Tragedy

Coping with tragedy

I started using the Scriptural Index to the Latter-Day Prophets, which is an especially wonderful resource I recommend to everyone. It allows you to see which conference talks have cited certain scriptures. Our ward had an assignment to read to Alma 30 in the Book of Mormon by the end of the year. I am a bit behind  and so I was just now reading Alma 7. I noticed that President Eyring had continually and extensively quoted in his talks from Alma 7 and so decided to look through his related talks. I found a talk from April 1996 that really struck me strongly entitled A Legacy of Testimony

This is the part that stood out to me

“Some of the greatest opportunities to create and transmit a legacy of testimony cannot be planned. Tragedy, loss, and hurt often arrive unanticipated. How we react when we are surprised will tell our families whether what we have taught and testified lies deep in our hearts. Most of us will have taught our children of the power of the Savior to carry us through whatever befalls us. These words are from the Book of Mormon: “And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities” ( Alma 7:12).

When tragedy strikes or even when it looms, our families will have the opportunity to look into our hearts to see whether we know what we said we knew. Our children will watch, feel the Spirit confirm that we lived as we preached, remember that confirmation, and pass the story across the generations.

I have one such story in my legacy. Grandmother Eyring learned from a doctor in his office that she would die of stomach cancer. My father, her oldest son, had driven her there and was waiting for her. He told me that on the way home she said, “Now, Henry, let’s be cheerful. Let’s sing hymns.” They sang “O My Father” (Hymns, no. 292) and “Come, Come, Ye Saints,” where the last verse begins, “And should we die before our journey’s through” (Hymns, no. 30).

I wasn’t there, but I imagine they sang loudly—they didn’t have very melodic voices—with faith and no tears. She spent part of her last months in the home of her oldest child, her daughter. Aunt Camilla told me that Grandma complained only once, and then it was not really a complaint but just to say that it hurt.

Now, there are many people who have been cheerful and brave in the face of death. But it means far more to her family when the person has taught and testified of the power of the Savior to succor, of the sureness of the Resurrection, and of the hope of eternal life. The Spirit confirmed to me that Grandma’s peace and her courage were signs that her testimony was true, and because of that, all was well, all was well.”

Reading this, I reflected on the way that I had dealt with tragedy in my past. When my mother was sick, I made a strong external effort to make her proud of me. I began to get straight A’s and to take the most challenging classes. I took on an absurd amount of extra curricular activities. I worked to turn myself into someone that she could love and respect. Internally, however, I withdrew and made selfish decisions. I spent more time outside of the house and less with her. I am not at all proud of my decisions during that time of pain. It was too hard for me to imagine loosing her and so I lost a lot of precious time that could have been ours. In my actions, I certainly did not live up to the person that I wanted to be.

Likewise, throughout her sickness, we turned to the Psalms for comfort and relief. Our faith in God was strengthened, and on her dying day my mother told me that she still believed strongly. Even though her illness was difficult and painful towards the end, she did not lose sight of her faith. On the other hand, her death did a lot to shatter my faith. It was hard for me to accept that she could have been taken. Externally I was fine. I did not let the loss weaken. I kept up my grades and my work and everything else outside of me. Yet, internally the loss was crippling. I eventually came to believe that God could not exist.

I look back at this loss of faith with terror. I had once begun an essay testifying that because of an instance of divine intervention that helped to save my life, “Others may question their faith in God, but I never had.” Yet, my faith was built on much less firm ground than I’d imagined up to that point. Have things changed today? I like to think that my testimony today is much more sturdy and that I have matured in my understanding of Christ. I like to believe that when the storms come in the future I will be able to bear them and stay true to the faith. I have already found my faith wanting in the past. I keep feeling like I need to prove somehow that this will not happen again, but I suppose that life is the only antidote to that. That’s why we are tasked with “enduring to the end” and not just enduring.

Four Years

Four Years

Yesterday ( December 28th, 2009) was the four year anniversary of my mother’s passing. Today, my mind is more fully turned towards her. I am look at old pictures and filled with nostalgia. Sometimes its hard to believe that its only been four years. it feels like an eternity. In other moments, I feel like no time has passed at all. The feeling of loss never leaves even as life moves on.

Yet, today I am also reveling in the contrast from years past. When I had lost my faith in God as visit to her grave site and the thoughts about her filled me mostly with sorrow. I could only dwell on the missed opportunities and feel pain because I would never see her again. She was gone and only memories could remain. Invariably memory is a process whereby painful and lingering emotions crowd out and suffocate joy and love. Thus, I could not see beyond the last years of sickness and remember the upbeat days.

Since I have come to knowledge of the fullness of the Plan of Salvation, this has changed significantly. I was able a few months ago to be in attendance as a good friend was baptized and confirmed in the name of my mother. I felt the sprit strongly attest to the fact that the work was accepted. I know that I will have the opportunity to hold her again in the highest kingdom of God. How glorious to know that we are destined to spend eternity together.

Even though her memory has been used as a weapon against me so often in the past year, I am today more able to remember all of the incredible moments we had together. I am able to look at pictures of past trips and recall the joy rather than morn the loss. Left and right, I was told that my mother must be ashamed of me for my conversion, but I am able to fully feel the glowing pride. Because I know that she has been cleansed from any of the pain she might have felt. I am able to forgive myself for my failures at the time. I was young and childish and unable to fully handle her suffering in a mature fashion. I have grown immensely since and know that this matters immensely in the eternal scheme of things…

I am so thankful for a God that grants us the opportunity to share eternity and to be redeemed of our mistakes.

Giving It Another Try–A chance to repent

Giving It Another Try- A chance to repent

Something rather unusual that happened recently has gotten me thinking about the ability that human beings have for forgiveness and how incredible that gift truly is. Back in high school, I had a very close friend named Rachel. She and I were best friends and spent an immense amount of time together. I developed a major crush on her though things never panned out in that regard ( I was just starting another relationship). Five years ago, we stopped talking completely because of a major misunderstanding.

Rachel was a newspaper staffer for my high school newspaper. She was covering a victory that I had at a local debate tournament. In doing so, she had asked me for a quote and we spoke. She later asked me to confirm and quote and I was dissatisfied with it and she agreed to change it. The misunderstanding came from the fact that she thought I gave her license to change the quote as she saw fit, and in retrospect I can totally see where she  got the idea from. When the issue came to print the quote that was printed was not something I’d actually said and something I thought made me sound rather silly. I was a bit unhappy about this and mentioned it to my debate coach when we had our next meeting and the article came up. It turned out that my coach had felt that his quote in the article was somewhat innacurate as well. Despite my protestations he decided to tell the newspaper teacher. My friend did not get in trouble but was reprimanded for what happened. She basically refused to talk to me after that point.

I spent months trying to apologize but things only got worse from there. She and my girlfriend were also friends, but they had another misunderstanding between them and also stopped talking. It was a pretty messy split because we had mutual friends. Rachel moved seats and switched classes to get away from me. Her mother was a teacher in the school and got involved making false accusations and creating even more drama.  Ultimately she left our high school and did an accelerated college program which has her already in a Masters program out in California. We had not talked since then. Throughout the whole period, I would periodically send her a Happy Holidays or New Years message through our good mutual friend Chana. Last week, she out of the blue added me on Facebook.  We’ve been briefly talking again, and she and I and my ex-girlfriend and still good friend Sigourney are going to meet up together at the mall tomorrow.

For me, this will be one of the biggest tests of my ability to truly be Christ like in my actions. I can’t even relate how devastated I was by her unwillingness to talk to me. I thought that our friendship at the time was stronger than that. I was hurt by her inability to forgive and to move on. My anger kept me blind for a long time to the real pain and betrayal she must have also felt.

Though I am still shocked by quite how long it has taken to get to this point, I have to realize that the process of forgiveness and repentance works in different ways for different people. It’s wonderful to know that we have an eternity to fully work out this process, and that we have a redeemer eager to grant us forgiveness as soon as we are willing to grant it to others. I don’t know if she has an ulterior motive or if she has just decide that its time. Either way, I need to be at my strongest in order to forgive her fully.

I never thought I’d have an opportunity to forgive or to be forgiven in this instance. I am inspired by the example of the father of the prodigal son. No matter how much time and sorrow is past, he runs and embraces his long lost son. God grant me the strength to be more like that.

I am worried about this encounter because my friend Sigourney is not exactly the type to forgive easily. Quite the opposite, she is the type to bear deep pain and to remember the most negative experiences. Even two years after we are no longer in a relationship, she continues to bring up things that were done in the start ( Over 6 years ago) that hurt her. She tends to dwell on things that hurt her. Maybe this will be a good experience for her as well. I hope she will be able to feel the incredible healing power of forgiveness. I hope that the pain she still feels will not lead to conflict or pain. Perhaps I can be a good example and help out in the process.

Deciding To Serve

Deciding to serve

After I finished watching Schindler’s List the other day, my father asked me what the movie made me feel. He was obviously wondering what it made me feel about Judaism and my conversion. It made me feel a great sense of tragedy at the fact that human beings are capable of such horrific actions. Even though god is able to use such events for good, they are purely evil and should cause us to weep with sorrow. The persecution of the Jews at the hands of Christians has been a horrific example of our failure to live up to the standard of God.

Yet, as I already wrote about in my post on Schindler and Discipleship, the thing the film actually reinforced in me was my need to do more with my talents and energies to help others. Truthfully, more than anything else the film reconfirmed my desire to serve a full time mission. If Schindler were willing and able to bring himself to bankruptcy and to risk his life in order to do good, what kind of a supposed disciple would I be were I unwilling to sacrifice a couple of years and some supposed financial security in order to serve the lord.

I have also been reading Terryl Givens People of Paradox and was again struck by the sacrifices of the pioneers. They were willing to give up so much in order to build up the kingdom. I am not asked to give nearly as much. I know that I would gain as much as I give from the process. I know that I would be able to help others and to make a real difference in the Lord’s kingdom.

What is holding me back?

I still have months to make a final decision and I know that I will be torn back and forth because I am too weak to decide once and for all.

Oscar Schindler and True Discipleship

Oscar Schindler and True Discipleship

I just saw the movie Schindler’s List, I am ashamed to admit, for the first time. I’d seen the first hour but not the rest and I found it to be an incredibly profound film. Of course, having many relatives that had lived through similar experiences, the film resonated with me in many deep ways. Yet, one scene in particular stood out to me towards the end of the film. As I watched it, it made me reflect on what it means to be a true disciple of Jesus Christ.

Right after the end of the war, Schindler whom has saved over 1,000 Jews is given a ring with the Talmudic phrase that says ‘whoever saves one life, saves the world.’  Schindler has gone bankrupt in order to save the lives of ‘his jews.’ Yet, Schindler’s reaction is not joy but absolute horror. Instead of satisfaction at the good that he has done he mourns the fact that he was not able to save more lives.

“I could’ve got more…if I’d just – I don’t know, if I’d just – I could’ve got more.”

His business partner tries to reason with him and to show him that he had saved thousands and that “there will be generations because of what you did.” Yet, Schindler is wrecked with grief at the fact that he did not sell his every possession including his car and his gold pin

“This Pin- Two People. This is Gold. Two more people. He would’ve given me two for it. At least one. He would’ve given me one. One more. One more person. A Person, stern. For this. One more. I could’ve gotten one more person. I didn’t.”

It struck me that this kind of a response is the mark of a true servant of god. Just as the rich man comes to Christ in Matthew 19:20 and asks “what lack I yet,” so to does a true disciple look always to what he/she could have done above and beyond rather than dwell on the glory of one’s accomplishments. Schindler seems to have gathered the true meaning of Christ’s response to the rich man. We must realize that our possessions are nothing compared to the value of a single soul.

I am reminded of D&C 18:15 which reads

“And if it so be that you should labor all your days in crying repentance unto this people, and bring, save it be one soul unto me, how great shall be your joy with him in the kingdom of my father.”

Schindler throughout the brutish and horrific night of the war had come to realize how precious just one soul could be

This scene also made me reflect on the nature of the Last Judgment. Mosiah 3:25 describes how the evil

“are consigned to an awful view of their own guilt and abominations, which doth cause them to shrink from the presence of the Lord into a state of misery and endless torment from whence they can no more return, therefore, they have drunk damnation to their own souls.”

Schindler was not one of these evil individuals by any stretch. He was a hero that had done much to save lives. In horrific circumstances he rose above and beyond what we could expect of any man. Despite his origins as a philanderer, ladies man and partier, Schindler had become a beacon of light. Yet, even such a good man is wrecked with the knowledge of his own deficiencies and failings. The thought that even one extinguished life could have been saved is painful for him to contemplate.

This makes me think about all of my failed opportunities to do good; all of the times where I stayed my hand and should have been more generous. If this is the internal state of man that saved 1,000 lives, I do not want to face myself if I do not dedicate my life in service to the kingdom of god. I can do so much more and I know that.

Law School or a Mission?- Advice Needed

Law School or a Mission?- Advice Needed

Last night, I got my first acceptance letter from one of my major law school choices. It was a thrill to get an acceptance from Georgetown Law. I sent applications to 17 schools and will be hearing back from the rest over the next few weeks. With my pretty good LSAT score ( 173), solid GPA and good mix of extracurricular leadership positions, I am in a competitive position for all of the schools I applied to. The standard path for me would be to begin law school in the fall of 2010. I would likely have to fund school through a mix of scholarships, help from my father and loans.

I am really torn about whether or not this is the right direction for me. I really feel compelled to serve a full-time mission for the LDS church and know this would also be my only good chance to do so. I am already 22 (just turned) and would be unlikely to go and serve a mission after finishing law school considering that I would then be typically looking to be married and looking for a full time job. This seems like the only time in my life where serving a mission could be possible. It is likely that several of my top school choices would allow me to defer for two years in order to serve a mission

As anyone that has read my blog would know, I am a recent convert to the church having been baptized six months ago. I wish I could leave right now for a mission, because that would make the timing significantly easier. Instead, I have to wait until the summer in order to be able to do that. Even though I want to serve, there are several factors against it. My father would be absolutely aghast at the idea of my serving. Nothing would upset him more than having me spend my time doing proselytizing work. As a culturally Jewish individual, he views the idea of missionary work to be among the worst actions humanly possible. My father has been gradually accepting my membership in the church and appreciating how important it is to me. As such, I am worried that serving would turn him away from it even further. On a more selfish reason I am also fairly sure that serving would mean that he would no longer be willing to pay for any part of my education which would be a significant burden. I am also worried about his health and real possibility that he might get sick or worse while I am serving. Likewise, I dealing with all of the usual concerns of a potential missionary compounded by the fact that I’ve not seen most of my relatives for over two years since I was last in Israel and am not pleased about not seeing them for another two.

I wanted to write this post in part because I really want to hear the advice of any readers. Did any of you have to make a similar choice? How did your family react? What do you think? I have a lot to think and pray about over the next several months. Your feedback and commons could be very helpful in my decision.

Schooling my Feelings

One Conference talk that I’ve really been thinking about lately is President Thomas S. Monson’s Priesthood Session Address entitled School Thy Feelings, O My Brother about the terrible dangers of anger.

President Monson is very emphatic in stating that is “not possible to feel the spirit of our Heavenly father when we are angry.” More strikingly, president monsoon quotes 3 Nephi, which describes the spirit of contention as coming from the devil.

I have struggled my whole life with a short temper and a tendency to become angry and frustrated. Part of this stems from a self-centered me centered attitude that coming to understand the gospel of Jesus Christ has really helped me to control.

Growing up my father and I would fight a lot. Our arguments often got so heated that my mother worried that when she passed away we would not be able to get along and would figuratively or literally murder each other.

I have learned the hard way that “Anger, Satan’s tool, is destructive in so many ways.” Several years ago I allowed selfishness and jealousness to severely harm a relationship between my father and a then girlfriend. I don’t think I was mature enough at that point fully appreciate how important the relationship was for him or to accept that he could have feelings for someone other than my mother ( It was about a year after my mother’s death). The three of us argued and clashed so much that she ultimately left.

President Monson’s words were certainly true in this case.

“My brethren, we are all susceptible to those feelings which, if left unchecked, can lead to anger. We experience displeasure or irritation or antagonism, and if we so choose, we lose our temper and become angry with others. Ironically, those others are often members of our own families—the people we really love the most.”

I am thinking about this a lot because I am now in Florida visiting my father and a new girlfriend has just arrived to stay. I just met her briefly for the first time as I write this post. I hope to be able to magnify my priesthood and be an example of a true disciple of God. This week did not get off to the greatest start as my father and I had a pretty big fight about travel plans and the fact that I’d not been to Israel to see my family in two and a half years. I regressed to old selfish habits where I put myself and my own desires ahead of others needs, and got angry when others did not live up to my own expectations.

I pray for the strength to overcome my tendency to anger. I need to more fully appreciate and remember the example of the savior. As he stood in front of Pilate and faced an angry mob screaming for blood he did not cry out in anger or rage. Instead, he urged calm as Peter tried to raise sword against the roman soldiers, and asked his father in heaven to forgive his captives. May I be more fully able on this day to take upon myself the Savior’s admonition “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.”  I need to more fully live up to my desire to be a Christian by being slow to anger and full of love.