40 For 40

In less than three weeks, I’ll turn 40. While many people dread that milestone, I’m looking forward to it! And I want to do something special to celebrate this coming year.

Since my late 20’s, I’ve kept a bucket list and a list of things that bring me joy. After more than a decade, I only regret that I spend so little time engaged with the things on either. With that in mind, I made a combined and condensed list of goals for growth and fun. I’m going to do these 40 things during the year of November 2, 2017-November 1, 2018. You may notice that each goal has something in common.

  1. Read the Book of Mormon cover to cover every 40 days
  2. Do some family history or temple work 40 times
  3. Read 40 articles about the Bible
  4. Talk to 40 people about the Book of Mormon
  5. Study 40 General Conference talks
  6. Make 40 positive contacts with students’ parents
  7. Track my meals and nutrition for 40 straight days
  8. No soda for 40 straight days
  9. No fast food for 40 straight days
  10. No sugary treats for 40 straight days
  11. No social media for 40 straight days
  12. No Netflix for 40 straight days
  13. Don’t buy anything unnecessary for 40 straight days
  14. Drink 40 oz. of water a day for 40 straight days
  15. Run ten miles 40 different times
  16. Do sit ups for 40 straight days
  17. Do 40 pushups in a set
  18. Take 40 relaxing baths
  19. Ride my bike to work 40 times
  20. Learn 40 new Portuguese words each month
  21. Sketch 40 new drawings
  22. Study 40 paintings
  23. Read 40 great books
  24. Listen to 40 new symphonies
  25. Listen to 40 new jazz and blues classics
  26. Listen to 40 great albums from my teenage years
  27. Learn 40 new chess moves
  28. Eat at 40 new places
  29. Do 40 acts of service
  30. Watch 40 classic Simpsons episodes
  31. Watch 40 episodes of The Twilight Zone
  32. Read Calvin & Hobbes comics every day for 40 days
  33. Pray every morning for 40 straight days
  34. Pray every evening for 40 straight days
  35. Give my wife 40 back rubs
  36. Watch 40 classic films with my children
  37. Do 40 fun activities with my children
  38. Don’t say anything negative about anyone for 40 straight days
  39. Write 40 poems
  40. Write in my journal 40 times
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General Conference and Choosing the Bigger Life

Late last year, I was preparing for 2017’s New Year’s resolutions. As I surveyed where I was and where I wanted to be, I knew that I wanted to simply get more out of life. I was already happy and satisfied, but I just wanted even more: more happiness, more goals reached, more great experiences, more memories, more health, more spiritual feeling, more deep and rich living with all the wonderful people around me. I decided to approach the new year with a private new motto: “Choose the bigger life.”

This means that whenever I had any choice or opportunity–even in mundane daily activities–I would do whatever would lead to those things, no matter if it took time or energy I didn’t have or want to give. That would lead to the bigger life. And I’ve tried to center my life in the Church more than ever because, more than anything else, that vehicle leads to all of the things I want–it’s our Heavenly Father’s gift to us for realizing the abundant life.

This isn’t the kind of resolution that one keeps “starting right NOW.” It’s a process, and like all such processes, your vision of it grows as you practice. I’ve done a lot more with life this year, but I also realize just how much farther I can and will go.

Nearly twenty years ago, I was sitting in the celestial room of the temple. I didn’t have any particular question or issue on my mind; I was just thinking about my life. In one of the clearest spiritual manifestations I’ve ever had, a concrete idea came into my mind, in a character different from my usual internal monologue. It wasn’t a voice, distinctly, just an outside feeling coming in, and it used a phrase that was pretty common at the time. “It’s time to kick it up a notch,” the thought said. I knew what it meant and have tried to live up to it.

As with this year’s new motto, it’s been a gradual process of fits and starts. Still, it’s made a difference. I really have had a bigger life this year.

What does any of this have to do with General Conference? After all of these talks, I really want to recommit and do even better and even more. I’ve been feeling very tired, stressed, and run down lately. But not now. Now I’m excited, and I want to crystalize that motivation and direct it to the most important things. I want to choose the even bigger life.

Going forward into the final third of 2017, I still have the motto from that resolution in mind. The teachings and stories of General Conference have added fuel to that fire. Looking back on the finished life of Elder Hales, the winding down life of President Monson, and the examples from the life of President Nelson shared by himself and by Elder Andersen have all shown me anew the way to live exactly the kind of passionate, productive life that leads to the biggest life of all, eternal life.

Let’s do this thing.

 

Reviewed and Recommended: F. Paul Wilson’s Nightworld

7957849I recently had such a great reading experience! So many of the books I read are deep, or classics, or deep classics–this time I just wanted something fun. Because of that, I spent a few days in a row staying up late so I could keep reading. That hasn’t happened in a while.

Nightworld is the final book in a series that begins with Wilson’s classic The Keep. (Yes, I skipped to the end of a series just so I could get to the gripping, white-knuckled conclusion. Fight me.) Like all great horror novels, the plot is as elemental as any dark fairy tale: a powerful evil entity is making each day on Earth shorter than the one before, and at night hungry creatures come out of the ground to ravage the world. Each night is longer than the one before, and each night brings larger and more aggressive monsters. Soon, the world will be kept in permanent night, ruled by this demon and his army of monster minions. And only a small rag-tag band of human heroes can come together to stop him.

Pretty awesome. Wilson delivers. Why isn’t there a movie of this? Tons of fun. Highly recommended.

 

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.

*****

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.

*****

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

light

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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