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.

 

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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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Sundays With Shakespeare

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I put together a small book of 52 Shakespeare and scripture quotes, as a weekly spiritual devotional. From the Amazon description: “Each entry has a title based on the theme and a quote from scripture on the same theme, all focused on inspiration, reflection, and self-improvement. 50 footnotes explain difficult wording, and an index for play titles, subjects, and scriptures make this a useful resource for talks and lessons, as well as for personal study.” A perfect Christmas gift! Set some self-improvement goals for 2017 and this can help you.

Text of Simplicity Talk by Elder Lynn G. Robbins, from Area Broadcast

I received a reply from Elder Robbins through his secretary, with the text of his talk and permission to share it. It’s in the link below.

This is one of my favorite messages I’ve ever heard at church, and I hope it spreads far and wide. Even more so, I hope we try to live it.

Simplicity Final

John Stuart Mill on Living Well

I’m getting a lot out of Mill’s autobiography. From the end of chapter 3, wise advice:

I learnt how to obtain the best I could, when I could not obtain everything; instead of being indignant or dispirited because I could not have entirely my own way, to be pleased and encouraged when I could have the smallest part of it; and when even that could not be, to bear with complete equanimity the being overruled altogether. I have found, through life, these acquisitions to be of the greatest possible importance for personal happiness, and they are also a very necessary condition for enabling any one, either as theorist or as practical man, to effect the greatest amount of good compatible with his opportunities.

And near the end of chapter 4 Mill details the casual self-improvement programs he and some friends conducted, mostly as a sort of intense book club. They studied languages, read and discussed serious works, and debated issues. Where are such groups today?

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2011: My Year In Self-Improvement

I set out to check four things off of my bucket list this year.  One proved too arduous for now, and petered out in March.  I finished the other three.

One was seeing every film on AFI’s “100 Years, 100 Movies” list, except the R-rated ones.  Finally finished in July.  More on this next week.

Another was ministering to each of my home teaching families at church every month this year.  I didn’t always have a visit–I can’t control if people open the door or pick up the phone–but in past years I’ve gone months at a time without trying to contact people.  This year, everyone at least got a chance, and a lot of good work did come from it.

But the third thing was by far the coolest.  In fact, I consider it one of the best things I’ve ever done in life.  I surprised my wife with a romantic gesture every week for a year.

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(Don’t) Be Yourself

In an episode of The Simpsons, Lisa tries to warn Homer about becoming obsessed with revenge on an animal, citing Moby Dick as an illustration of such a foolish course of action.  “Oh, Lisa,” Homer breezily corrects her.  “The point of Moby Dick was ‘be yourself.'” 

The joke is based on Homer’s character–a lazy, entitled idiot who swallows whole everything Hollywood feeds him (remember his movie-addled mindset in “Homer Goes to College?”) and, therefore, thinks the world revolves around him.  Homer thinks the point of everything is “be yourself.”

Many a Simpsons episode has poked fun at our tendency to accept ourselves as we are, conveniently declaring that our natural state is good enough.  For example:

  • “Bart’s Inner Child”–After being suckered by a self-help guru, Springfield puts on a feel-good festival which nobody prepared properly because they felt their automatic impulses should be validated, i.e. nobody wanted to work and nobody should judge them for it.  The festival is a chaotic disaster.
  • “Simpsoncalifragilisticexpiala(Annoyed Grunt)cious”–After suffering a nervous breakdown from stress, Marge hires a Mary Poppins-like servant to help the family.  Despite her magical powers and inspirational attitude, the Simpsons persist in dysfunction, until the nanny gives up and tells them just to do what’s natural, suggesting (for instance), sweeping garbage around the house under the rug, because, “It’s the American way!”
  • “Homer’s Enemy”–After a life of suffering, sacrifice, and hard work, the new guy at the power plant can’t believe how successful Homer is despite his total incompetence, which nobody else seems to care about.  At the episode’s end, he goes insane and dies; at his funeral, Homer is childish and oblivious, and everybody laughs with him.  My favorite episode. 

These jokes work for the simple, obvious reason that our culture is awash in the message that we’re entitled to high self esteem, that the American Dream now encompasses self-realization and total, universal acceptance.  Continue reading

Where Are You At In the Endowment?

Even in the fairly brief hour and a half in typically takes, the LDS temple endowment frequently, both explicitly and implicitly, directs participants to identify themselves with–even to integrate themselves into–the narrative of the ceremony. 

As the endowment takes the form of a chronological story–a fully realized dramatization of the plan of salvation–I’ve often tried to benefit from it by pondering where I am at in that story.  Certainly none of us is at the very beginning, nor are we at the very end.  Mortality, by its very nature, lies in the middle. 

So, if the endowment tells the story of each of our individual lives and that story is in a recognizable order, then where in that story do we find ourselves in our lives today? 

Trying to pinpoint a specific, exact moment for this correlation is surely impossible–and probably counterproductive, anyway–but I find that having such a mindset fosters useful self-analysis.  Which aspects of the ceremony–certain covenants given, laws explained, standards taught, characteristics exemplified, degrees of light and truth attained, etc.–could we each say we’ve practiced faithfully, are working diligently on, or have yet to seriously attempt? 

Ultimately, such a course of meditation would lead us to this single, crucial query: How effectively are we following Christ, serving Him and letting His atoning sacrifice be active in our lives? 

The areas where I “see” myself most strongly in the endowment change almost every time I go to the temple, and I hope that means I’m making progress.  It’s good to have a clear vision of the final goal, though!

Summer Self Improvement Report (Or, Where’s Huston Been?)

So, in case nobody noticed, blogging was a wee bit light this summer.  Actually, chances are that nobody did notice, as the light blogging has dropped my daily hit count down to some of its lowest levels ever.  There’s a chance that nobody will ever read this!

So, what gives?  Well, my summer was eaten up by a few things: I put a ton of time into the autobiography of President Monson that I posted a few days ago, I took 18 credits of classes for my job (I wrote a few dozen essays and research papers this summer when I much rather would have been scribbling away here), and, alas, more than a little time and energy was expended in the management of a stressful matter. 

But I also devoted a lot of my summer to the work of self improvement.  After a pretty successful Spring, I started out this three month block with an ambitious list of twelve items to work on.  I finished seven.  Two others were very close–in fact, one of those that carried over to Fall has been finished already and another should be done within a week–two more were in process, and one was just a dumb idea. 

Here’s a report on the seven things I accomplished, in the order they were done:

1. Complete five more New York Times Sunday crossword puzzles.  Check.

2. See five more movies on the AFI list of 100 best American movies.  I saw:

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Spring Self-Improvement Report

Last year, I started breaking down my list of lifetime goals into smaller steps and making those my resolutions.  Instead of just starting at New Year’s, though, I split the calendar up into the three major divisions that my life as a father and teacher naturally fall into: a Spring semester, summer, and a Fall semester.  To keep my summer at a useful three months, I schedule those goals to be done in the three months before I report back to school for the new year, which means that this year my “summer” is defined as May 22-August 24 (even though I still have two weeks left this school year). 

That also means that my Spring semester for self-improvement–January 1 through May 21–just ended.  I had set ten goals for myself to achieve during this time, each correlated to the larger “bucket list,” and it went surprisingly well.  For comparison, out of the ten goals I set for last Fall, I only accomplished…two.  A poor, piddling, puny little two.  This time around, out of these first ten goals for 2010 (including the eight I rolled over from last year), I finished seven.  Not bad. 

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Man Scout Project Update

“Hey Huston,” you say.  “Whatever happened to that project where you were gonna do all the Boy Scout stuff?  Gave up, huh?”

No, but I have neglected it.  As I haven’t mentioned it for three months, I can’t blame you for thinking I’d quit.  I still have half of the second class items to do, but they all deal with outdoors stuff.  Last November, my family and I went out to try a new campground where I was going to knock out the rest of it, but we couldn’t find a good spot, so we went somewhere else, but by then it was too dark and cold to set up.  Long story short, we ended up at Burger King that night and I’ve had the project on hiatus ever since, tentatively waiting out the cold weather. 

Still, there’s plenty I could have done, especially after I read that I could work on second class and first class things at the same time.  The only thing I’ve done in the last few months was requirement 5, “Identify or show evidence of at least ten kinds of wild animals (birds, mammals, reptiles, fish, mollusks) found in your community.”  Using the animal index from Desert USA’s Mojave Desert page, the family and I took turns picking local animal life (mostly bugs) and sharing a few facts about them.  (Note that not all animals on that page refer to this desert.  Elephants?  Ostriches?  Uh…no.)

This delay has set me far back on my original schedule; I should be working on Star requirements by now.  I’ve resolved to finish both second class and first class ranks by the end of May, so I can take a big chunk out of Star over the summer.

Answering Alma’s Questions

For a long time I’ve wanted to go through the 50 questions that Alma put forth in Alma chapter 5 in order to spur people back into spiritual activity, and answer them based on where I’m at in life.  I feel like I’m active and serious in my faith, but I know that I have a long way to go, and a lot of improvments to make both in my “spotlessness from the world” and in my discipleship.  I hope this exercise helps, and I’ve created a starter to-do list at the end based on my answers.  I can see these being good spiritual goals for 2010.  The chart I filled in is found here

I’ll “liken the scriptures” to myself by picturing the current prophet, Thomas S. Monson, asking these questions, in place of the ancient prophet Alma.  When he mentions my ancestors and other prophets, I’ll think of the pioneers and Church history. 

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Verse in Alma 5

Remembering God’s Acts for His People

1.  6 Have you sufficiently retained in remembrance the captivity of your fathers [or the LDS pioneers] ?  Probably not sufficiently.  Learning more about them and doing more to remind myself, more often, of their suffering and sacrifices would surely do me good.
2.  6 Have you sufficiently retained in remembrance God’s mercy and long-suffering towards your fathers?  Again, I’m aware of it, but I could stand to refer to this in my study and prayer more often. 
3.  6 Have you sufficiently retained in remembrance that he has delivered their souls from hell?  Not yet.
4.  8 Were your fathers destroyed?  No.
5.  9 Were the bands of death broken, and the chains of hell which encircled your fathers about, were they loosed?  Yes. 
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Knowing the Essential Logic of the Gospel

6.  10 On what conditions were your fathers saved?  Their faithfulness to the commandments and covenants they’d made. 
7.  10 On what grounds had they to hope for salvation?  The grace and mercy of God, through the power of the Atonement; through His promises about His role in the covenant.
8.  10 What is the cause of your fathers’ being loosed from the bands of death, yea, and also the chains of hell?  A combination of my answers to the last two questions!
9. 11 Did not my father Alma  [or any other modern prophet] believe in the words which were delivered by the mouth of Abinadi [or any earlier modern prophet] Yes, our prophets are definitely role models of faithfulness.
10. 11 Was Abinadi not a holy prophet?  Indeed, prophets are great guides for us.
11. 11 Did Abinadi not speak the words of God?  Yes, he did.
12. 11 Did my father Alma believe them?  Yes, he did.
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Being Personally Converted

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