Our Way of Life

When I write about my church, it’s usually to analyze some aspect of belief or to defend it from critics. But today I just want to celebrate the beauty and joy of the kind of life practiced in the Mormon church.

For months now I’ve often looked back from the end of a day and thought of just how amazing it was. It’s crazy how many days make me laugh and smile and think, how many days have a little bit of me helping someone else and someone else helping me, how many days see me witnessing and participating in the best and hardest moments in an ever growing number of lives. This isn’t meant to say that any other way of life is worse than this or bad at all; this post is for me to simply say that the practice of Mormon discipleship is a truly wonderful way to live.

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For numerous specific anecdotes of exactly what I’m talking about in the daily lives of ordinary Latter-day Saints, please check out the series of posts tagged “on the sweetness of Mormon life” over at the excellent Junior Ganymede blog. Dip into any of those slices of homemade gourmet living and you’ll find your heart filled with a rich light.

The most recent entry:

An old cowboy bears his testimony. he is being released from the bishopric. It is his 3rd bishopric. He cries when he speaks. He say’s he’ll miss the friendship. His successor is a dirt contractor who “grew up rough.”

The first speaker says he’d been working at the temple a few days back. The Temple President came and pulled him from his duties. Unusual. “We need help in the baptistry.” There was only a father and son. Also unusual. They ran a session of baptisms for the dead and then confirmations for the dead, with just the Temple President and the speaker and the father and the son. Very unusual. The father was fighting back tears.

After, the Temple President explained. The son had turned 12 that weekend. A day or two later, the man received his 7-day notice that he was ordered to Afghanistan for one year. The temple had made special arrangements so he could do his son’s 1st baptisms for the dead.

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Or you could refer to this summary from the end of Rod Dreher’s The Benedict Option for a remarkable parallel to the kind of life I have in mind:

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Three Little Graves

gravesLast Memorial Day, my family and I were in a cemetery in Utah. I like cemeteries–they tend to be clean and quiet, and one can find clues about scores of great lives hinted at on the markers these thousands of strangers left behind.

On that particular weekend, all the markers that indicated that the deceased was a veteran were decorated with small flags, which made that visit even better.

But I stopped cold at this site and didn’t know what to feel besides sorrow. I had to take this picture.

The poor Krueger couple had three children, all of whom died in infancy. I can’t imagine a heartbreak like that.

And looking around that or any other cemetery, who knows how many more tragedies lie there, silently sleeping after a lifetime of toil and travail?

And those tragedies are part of lives that must have also had amazing triumphs, moments of sublime transcendence, all completely unknown to me, one visitor at random many years later.

Things like this keep me humble and grateful. It’s good to wrestle with the infinite size and scope of human life.

But let’s say a prayer for the lost Kruegers of the world. There is room in our hearts to have sympathy for the dead.

 

My Favorite Light

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On the way to take my wife to see a movie tonight, we waited at a red light and I had to get a quick shot of this impending sunset. It’s not a great picture, and it’s far from a gorgeous sunset, for that matter, but this is actually a good example of my favorite kind of light: the kind that streaks across the sky and creates sharp silhouettes.

There are lots of small mountains to the west of Las Vegas, but they usually appear to be just a drab, uniform row of jagged rocks. But, at the right time of day, at the right time of the year, the sun sets at an angle just right for sending its rays through the gaps between them, reminding us that they’re actually layered silently and dozens of miles apart.

In the picture above, starting in the middle and looking left, there are four distinct mountains visible, each highlighted by a unique brilliance of sideways light; a different quality of sunlight slides down diagonally through the spaces separating them.

Light shows us the size of the empty space that was invisible before, while giving each of the pieces of mountain stacked side by side over there its own personality.

Strategies For Reading and Relationships

In relationships, never give up on people. Stick it out, make it work.

In reading…just the opposite. A book should always be a perfect ten. If your connection to a book ever cools off, feel free to kick it to the curb and find another one. Plenty of fish in the sea, plenty of books in the library. Life is short and you deserve the best.

Just don’t get these two ideas confused. Your life will be fun for others to watch, but frustrating for you.

My Great-Great-Grandparents In Bohemian National Cemetery

My mother’s father’s father’s parents are the biggest mystery in my genealogical research. Apparently minority immigrants with hardly any records, I know almost nothing about them. They’re the big dead end in my family tree.

Last week saw a bit of a breakthrough, though.

Scrutinizing the husband’s death certificate yet again, I noticed that it listed the place of burial–Bohemian National Cemetery. I searched findagrave.com, but nothing was there. I found a web site for the cemetery itself, but it didn’t have anything useful.

However, it’s an important ethnic landmark from the 19th century, still much beloved by the community. There’s a volunteer society that cares for it, and their web site had contact information. I emailed and asked if they had any pictures of graves, or records of what’s on the markers.

A very kind person replied and said no, but that they would go out and visit the graves personally and see what’s there. A few days later, I got another email with the photos below, including the notes that translate the Czech text on the tombstones.

Now I know their birthdays, and because of where they’re buried, I know more about where exactly they came from. And I can see their beautiful resting place. That’s a lot of progress, and I’m grateful to the wonderful stranger who made it possible.

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My 3 Time Management Questions

Time management is tricky, but when the daily decisions about my time are grounded in values, I get the most out of each day. I’ve learned to ask myself three questions about life’s decisions, big or small, and when I act on the answers, I never regret it.

1. Does it pass the Bus Test?

When I have options to choose from and I’m flummoxed as to which way to go, I ask myself, “If I were to get hit by a bus tomorrow, which option would I regret NOT doing as my life flashes before my eyes?” Then I go for the one that I’d want to remember in that final moment.

I suppose it would also work by asking what memory you want to have when you’re 100 years old.

2. Is this the very best thing I could be doing right now?

Sometimes life has clear-cut times and places that are set aside and better than any alternative. Any Sunday morning at 11:00 AM, for example, the very best place I could be is in church. Rarely could anything outrank that. (I did make my family miss church seven years ago, for example, to attend my brother’s wedding, an even high priority.)

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Coaching Youth Baseball

This week was the end of the youth baseball season in my stake at church. I volunteered as a coach this year, like last year, and I’d love to keep doing this every year forever.

Spending one night a week out there helping 4th and 5th graders hold and swing a bat correctly is a pure joy. I sure see results a lot faster there than in the classroom! The kids from church are great fun to be around–kids this age always seem excited about everything, and they really give it their all.

The snack stand at our field has nachos with pretty much unlimited jalapeños for $1.50, and they serve Shasta root beer and Orange Crush. Good times.

Cheering these kids on–and cheering on the other team, too–just seems like a great way to spend a bit of my Thursday nights. Here’s just one more page in an epic about a life I love.

Oh, and the stake sports committee gave me this candy as a thank you. So, bonus!

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My Dad Taught Me How To Saturday

Do you know how to Saturday? I do. Not long ago I realized that I have a routine and that I learned it by watching my dad when I was a kid.

On an average Saturday morning, my dad would do some home improvement project, or work on a car, or do some activity with the family, or some other active work.

On Saturday afternoon, he would watch John Wayne movies or sports (golf or bowling or whatever was on), and then take a nap on the floor with this giant pillow he had.

I must have internalized the same pattern; I always try to make my own Saturdays fit the same basic mold. Saturday morning is for hard work. Saturday afternoon is for resting.

Of course there are plenty of exceptions, and a great day often looks nothing like that. But when it does happen, I always feel like I’m living “correctly.”

Once again, thanks, Dad.

Twin Lakes Memories: Dr. Greggs

This is the second in an occasional series of memories about my elementary school in the 1980’s. The first post is here.

My first post in this series was about a beloved principal. This second one is about a terrifying teacher.

Dr. Greggs taught third grade, and she is without a doubt the person whom I’ve been more scared of than any other in my life.

First of all, she insisted, always sternly, that we address her as “Doctor.” I’ve wondered since then just what drives a woman to demand such recognition from eight-year-olds. It’s like in the Austin Powers movies, when Dr. Evil corrects people who call him Mister: “I didn’t go to an evil university for ten years to be called Mr. Evil.”

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Jogging Again

Three weeks ago, I started running again, after about three or four months of inactivity. I’d wanted to get back in the habit for a while, but hesitated because I didn’t want to go through the pain.

Indeed, the first few runs were miserable, just huffing and puffing and hurting. But that awkward adjustment was necessary, and worth it. You have to power through the pain of building up rewards before you can enjoy them. Exercise yields yet another life lesson.

The best thing I’ve gotten out of this is remembering just how therapeutic jogging is, especially at night–the evenings this time of year are simply gorgeous around here; everything’s perfect for an end-of-night run. A couple of times in the last couple of weeks, I’ve come home from a long day of work, so achy and exhausted that I just had to go out running for a while. After a half hour around the streets and trails by Sandstone Ridge Park, I felt much better.

Even when it doesn’t feel good to be running again, it feels great to be running again.

 

Two Nice Student Notes

One class recently finished a unit on Romanticism. After a couple of days on Transcendentalism, I sent them out into our quad to take notes on as much “nature” as they could find there, with directions to imitate the style of Thoreau. The last section of the notes focused on drawing life lessons from these observations, like Thoreau did in Walden.

One girl turned in her notes with this awesome little addendum at the end. Clearly, she got the point. I drew the smiley face.

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Another girl turned hers in with this attachment:

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