Monday, October 3, 2016

My students give me hope

This semester my class is filled with actual college age kids.  Normally I have a least a few older people and it hasn’t been uncommon for a third of the class to be over 30 years old.  It has been a little different not having people with a lot of life experience to help me by asking questions and relating principles to their current or former work.  But it is pretty fun trying to reach a completely young group.

The first day I played a Ted Talk for them because I wanted them to start the semester thinking positively and this talk is great at teaching us how to push ourselves to act braver than we think we are.  Amy Cuddy is the presenter and she starts by talking about body language and how it affects what we do and how we act.  The link is below, the 20:55 are well worth your time to watch.

On our last day of class that first week I asked the class to take a couple minutes over the weekend to watch any Ted Talk they wanted.  I challenged them to give up 15 minutes of video game time to improve their minds.  Monday morning, I gave them all a piece of paper and asked for a description of the talk they watched.  One of my quietest kids in the class watch the following video about a firefighter.

Mark Bezos, “A life lesson from a volunteer firefighter,” is a great video that shows the power of small acts to affect people’s lives.  This one is about six minutes long, and also well worth your six minutes. 

Naturally I showed the talk to the class and challenged them to take a couple minutes over this last weekend and make a difference in someone’s life.  There were 30 kids in class to hear the challenge.  Today 25 turned in a paper describing what they had done. TWENTY-FIVE!!!  If this challenge had been given to a religious group or a service organization 25 would be a good number but this is an intro level microeconomics class with kids from 17 to 20 years old.  TWENTY-FIVE!! I was stunned, then I read them and almost cried.

A couple of excerpts:

“Yesterday at work I saw a homeless man with his dog in the shade near my work.  I bought him a water and a muffin and took his dog a cup of treats.  We sat and just talked for a half hour after my shift.  The best part was he offered me some of his muffin.  Some people truly inspire me.”

“My dad passed away in 2014, and his birthday is still a really hard day for my mom.  She always tells me stories about him – like how they picked elderberries on their honeymoon.  Son on his birthday (Saturday) I went up to Icicle Creek and brought her home a bag full of elderberries and my dad’s favorite candy from the Candy Factory in Cashmere.  She said it was the easiest that day has been since he passed away.”

“I showed by girlfriend, who has a hard time with anxiety and speaking up, the Ted Talk we watched in class to help her speak up and build confidence.  She ended up spending over an hour on Ted Talks.”

“Invited a girl at my school who is lonely to lunch and a girl’s day.”

From a young man, “My mother was not feeling well because she’s taking a new prescription and she had to take care of both my nieces (9 months and 2 years).  She was so tired from the medicine I decided to help her and take care of them for two nights so she can sleep well.  I hope this counts.”

“I saw my 6th grade teacher at the soccer game on Friday so I went up and said hi.  I told him how much I appreciated him and what he did for me in his class.  He was surprised that a teenager would come up and say those things.”

“I was driving to my mom’s house and I saw an older lady putting some boxes in a storage room.  I stopped and helped her carry the boxes in the storage.”

“I helped my dad’s girlfriend by volunteering to watch her 5 and 8-year-old daughters while she was doing errands so she didn’t have to drag them along.”

I was impressed with both the quantity and the quality of the efforts.  They restored by faith in mankind. 

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Zoey has graduated! and Happy Birthday Z!

Last week we went to Rexburg to celebrate Zoey’s graduation from BYU-I.  We got there on Sunday and got to spend a couple days just hanging out with Zoey and Reece as we waited for graduation.  Throughout our time with them I just kept marveling at who she has become.

Graduation was on Wednesday and Thursday was her birthday.  During the week she had to study for finals, take the finals, prepare for graduation and entertain us.    She was so amazingly calm and prepared to take it all on.  Previously, I would have expected her to be a bit of a basket case but she was in total control of the situation.  On top of all that, one of the little girls in her primary class had a birthday on Tuesday so she took time to make cookies and had us all walked down to her house to sing Happy Birthday.

I have been trying all week to write this post about her and I just can’t get it right.  I can’t adequately put into words how she has grown over the last couple years.  Zoey has always been this ball of emotion and energy that would bounce around this world like one of those super balls, ping-ponging around like chaos in physical form.  It appears my little Squirrel on Red Bull has gotten off the juice and found a focus. 

I am very proud of her for so many things but right this moment two things stand out.  I am proud that she stuck it out in school and earned her degree, and has a plan to continue on with her education.  She didn’t always want to be in school nor could she always see the reason she needed to be there but she trusted in the answers she received and pressed forward.  

I am also very proud of the relationship she is building with Reece.  It is amazing to me how being around the right people can affect change in us.  He is this great calming influence on her because she trusts him completely.  Without reservation she knows that his only concern is her welfare.  She reciprocates this love with her dedication to him.

One of the really cool things that happened before they got married was a talk Zoey had with Reece’s mother.  In essence Mary told her, “I have raised Reece to be a good man.  It is now your responsibility to support him and encourage him to continue to grow.”  I think that scared her a little but she has accepted that responsibility and is trying to become the best partner in this relationship that she can be.  I like the partnership, I think they are great and are going to do great things together.

It has been fun to watch those two start their married life learning how to love and support each other.  They have done a great job of making a plan and getting to work.  They have learned to adjust and find a way, they don’t give up when they find a flaw in their plan, they just adjust and keep moving.

Sunday at church one of the speakers talked about persevering through difficulties and tests.  He told a story about playing basketball in high school and going to the free throw line with no time on the clock and a chance to win the game.  He talked about how he remembered all the training and practice he had done in preparation for that moment.  His first shot went in to tie the game but he missed the second, they went into overtime but his team eventually lost.  He talked about how missing that second shot and then losing the game affected him, he struggled to keep on playing the game he loved.

If you know Zoey or have read my other posts about her you will know that she has had her fair share of successes but those successes have always come after she has persevered through difficulties.  I don’t mean that she has been picked on or her life has been one long stream of trials and problems, it is just that there always comes a point where things are hard and she has to consciously decide “this is worth it.”  

So last week Zoey had a birthday.  Happy Birthday!  She also officially graduated from BYU-Idaho.  Congratulations!  During her time in Rexburg she discovered the life she wants and the partner she wants to share it with.  Together they have graduated from being individuals to being one and have learned that it is “worth it” to put someone else first.  Even greater Congratulations!

I love you Zoey Bell Bown!

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Lilly B’ Squilly

Today is my beautifully wonderful daughter Lilly’s birthday.  Happy Birthday Lilly B’ Squilly!!  I love you!!

Lillavie Christian Leonard and I had a pretty rough start.  When she was born she really didn’t like me much, okay she didn’t like me at all.  It wasn’t really personal because she didn’t like any male.  We kind of got to a point that I could hold her as long as she could see or hear Susan.  One night Susan wanted to go somewhere and leave Lilly with me.  Susan gave her to me but stood there and talked to me so Lilly could see and hear her, eventually Susan slipped into another room but kept talking and after a few minutes she escaped out the back door.  After a couple minutes of quiet Lilly realized we had tried to pull one over on her and she let me have it.  She howled for a couple hours until Susan finally got home.

When she was a couple months old and still wouldn’t have much to do with me I went on a short hunting trip with a couple friends.  I came home with a beard and my whole world changed.  She immediately loved me, seriously, as soon as she saw me it was like everything was right with the world.  She would sit with me, she would snuggle with me and even give me smooches.  Life was good.  I kept the beard until she was in her twenties and it was a pretty hard day for all my daughters when I had to shave it off.

I swear as a little girl she was only clean on Sunday mornings.  She was constantly into things and trying to keep up with Tyson, AJ, Jordan and Quinn, and playing in the dirt.  Thank heavens for Danielle or I’m not sure she would have ever known what being a girl is like. 

Lilly was a dancer from a very early age.  She danced with a great group of friends her age.  One night when they were tiny, they were dancing at half-time of a basketball game out at the college and the crowd was loud and just loved the girls.  You could just see it on those girl’s faces, this was the greatest thing on earth, dancing in front of a crowd and getting that kind of reaction from them.  Dancing gave her some great experiences.  She danced in front of huge audiences at professional and major college basketball games, she danced at Qwest Field, Key Arena and the McCarthy Center.  She won several State Championships and a couple National Championships.  She danced at Universal Studios and Disneyland.

At one point she decided she needed to add soccer to her repertoire.  The problem with that was her size, she was never big for her age.  She didn’t have to tuck her jersey into her socks but it helped keep her from tripping.  What she lacked in physical size she tried to make up in heart and self-belief, limited size but unlimited pluck.  As she got to be about 8 or 9 the size difference became pretty marked.  Her soccer nemesis was Alexis who literally was two of Lilly.  Lil came up to just above Alexis’ belt.  Lilly weighed 60 lbs. after dinner but Alexis was at least 140.  Lilly wasn’t intimidated and she would go right after Alexis every game, luckily she bounced.  The coach would try to tell her to stay away but she wouldn’t and consequently she spent a lot of time on the ground.  I remember her asking the coach to play goalie one day and he told her she would get killed, she wasn’t happy.  Ultimately she made the right choice in giving up soccer for dance.

My Lilly has had opportunities to do many things and has really been pretty accomplished in almost everything she has endeavored to do.  She is wonderful with people, very loving and patient, neither Susan nor I can figure out where she got those traits but she has them.  She is adventurous and is willing to serve you in any capacity you might need.

In her early teens she got the moniker “Church nerd” among our extended family.  Instead of being offended or loosening her personal behavior, she embraced it until it just faded away.  We read scriptures every morning and she steadfastly refused to even read the word “hell” so she earned that nickname.  But when, as a senior in high school, she was asked to speak in Stake Conference she stood tall and proud to declare her love for and testimony of Christ.

Megan and I are total people watchers, it is kind of a hobby.  As I get older it has become one of my most favorite things just to watch my children and see who they have become.  I love, love, love watching my little Lilly be Mom.  Like everything else she has done, she is totally committed and gives her all every day.  Her daughter Lillavie is totally blessed to have my girl as her mother.  She is just so good at it, it seems totally natural to her.

This year the mutual theme comes from 2 Nephi 31:20 which starts, “Wherefore, ye must press forward a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men.”  Every time I read or hear this verse I think of Lilly, it perfectly describes her.  She is totally steadfast in her desire and effort to follow the Savior.  You can tell by the way she acts with and reacts to people that she loves her Father In Heaven and all his children, she may be mad at you or maybe she doesn’t like you much, but she loves you and stands ready to help you when you need it.

A perfect brightness of hope is a wonderfully complete description of Lilly’s soul.  I don’t think I have ever known anyone who more consistently exudes a brightness of hope.  Don’t get me wrong, she has had bad days, she has had terrible struggles and heartache but she has never been willing to let go of her brightness or hope.  Even in the darkest, most difficult times her attitude has been “this is terrible right now but it will get better and it won’t always be hard.”  I have stood in awe of her strength and willingness to get beyond struggles.

Since the day I grew my beard Lilly has loved and supported me.  I used to tell my kids every day that I loved them, one day after I told her, in a little disgusted 12 year old voice she told me I didn’t have to tell her that every day.  It didn’t stop me and it didn’t stop her from letting me know she loves me.  It is a wonderful thing to be proud of your children but it is a whole other level of wonderful to look up to them.

I love you my Lilly B’ Squilly! 

All about the joy

The other day I was sitting at my computer doing something that seemed sort of important at the time when my Susan came in holding a water bottle in front of her.  She asked me the strangest question, she asked if that water bottle brought me joy.  What?  No, of course that stupid bottle didn’t bring me joy.  She told me that if it didn’t bring me joy it would make a hasty exit from our house.

I turned around and just looked at her.  She explained that she had been working in the kitchen all afternoon eliminating things that didn’t bring her joy.  That is exactly what she said, “if it doesn’t bring me joy, it goes.”  Sweet, I’m glad you found a new hobby but leave my stuff alone.

This little thought that she planted in my mind, “if it doesn’t bring me joy, it goes,” just kept rolling around in my brain all week.  It just wouldn’t leave me alone, like the worst kind of ear worm.  Everything I did or saw caused me to think, does this bring me joy?

One day for no apparent reason, Tessa came over and gave me a hug and told me she loved me.  That brought me joy.  Tessa stays.

I couldn’t sleep one night and I ended up with a guitar in my hands.  I haven’t been playing much these last couple years but dang if the time I spent playing that night didn’t bring me some joy.  The guitar stays.

We have a huge Sycamore tree in our front yard that drops stuff in the yard all year.  Seriously, it is either always shedding either leaves, dingle balls or bark.  This week it has been sluffing bark like a goose molting in late spring.  The tree does not bring joy.  Sorry tree, but…

I went to the grocery store at lunch but when I tried to check out all the stations were had lines and were moving sooo slow!  The checkers called and called over the intercom for someone to come help but no one did.  Finally, as people started to get frustrated and murmur, a woman showed up and opened a new station, I headed over as quickly as I could but a woman beat me to the front of the line.  She had a cart half full of junk, ugh!  Just as my mind started with the joy ear worm and I decided I would live even if I had to wait a few more minutes, she turned to me and asked if I wanted to go ahead of her.  What?  A random act of kindness?  That brought me some joy and I bet she felt pretty good too.

We get so caught up in being in a hurry and being busy that we live life like a competition.  Just like me, when I saw the woman at the grocery store getting ready to open a check-out station, I was hell bent on being the first in line.  Getting myself back to the office as fast as possible was much more important than anything any of these other people had going on.  I gave no consideration for anyone else, my only focus was getting through with my business first regardless of anyone else’s situation.  Trust me, I found no joy in that attitude.  But I act like this all the time, why?  If it doesn’t bring me joy, what then is the point?  What I was doing that day at work wasn’t really bringing me joy either so why was I in such a hurry to get back to it?

It seems to me like we have so much negative in our world right now.  Everything seems to be in dispute and we live looking for a fight.  Most of us have something that puts us in a minority of some sort whether it be race, religion, education, political ideology, sexual orientation or whatever.  We all have something that we feel some portion of society looks down upon or undervalues so we are prepared to defend ourselves and will fight at the feeblest hint of a slight.  We carry these self-inflicted burdens on our shoulders constantly that naturally wear us out and our fuses become very short.  Any spark instantly becomes an explosion.  We view the world through lenses of pessimistic expectation.  Where is the joy in that? 

Sunday came and I was still thinking about this joy thing.  We sang “We Thank Thee O God for a Prophet” and I found an answer about joy. 

We thank thee O God for a prophet, to guide us in these latter days.
We thank Thee for sending the gospel to lighten our minds with its rays.
We thank Thee for every blessing bestowed by Thy bounteous hand.
We feel it a pleasure to serve thee and love to obey Thy command.

When dark clouds of trouble hand o’er us and threaten our peace to destroy,
There is hope smiling brightly before us and we know that deliverance is nigh.
We doubt not the Lord nor His goodness, we’ve proved him in days that are past.

We’ll sing of His goodness and mercy.  We’ll praise Him by day and by night.
Rejoice in His glorious gospel, and bask in His life-giving light.
Thus on to eternal perfection, the honest and faithful will go.

I have a Father in Heaven who loves me.  He sent his son to save me from myself.  Though there may be dark clouds of trouble hanging o’er us and our peace is threatened daily, there is hope smiling brightly before us, I just have to remember that.  The gospel of Jesus Christ brings me joy, it stays.

If I can train myself to not get all caught up in the craziness that we live in, and focus on what He has given me, I will no longer mind standing in line at the grocery store for an extra minute or two and I will feel joy much more often.

BTW, because she taught me this about joy, and so many other things through the years, Susan brings me joy.  She stays too.

Monday, August 31, 2015

A Lesson on Prayer

Yesterday my son-in-law, Breck, sent a message on our family group text telling us that throughout their stake conference and a home-teaching visit they kept hearing the recurring theme of our need for daily scripture study and prayer.  To me this was great timing as I had been thinking about these same things.  My kids heard those things a million times while growing up but I have been much more reserved about that encouragement since they have been adults.  Shame on me.  I took advantage of Breck’s text and invited all of my children to join me in reading the entire Book of Mormon before we meet at Christmas.  We extend that same invitation to any of you who read this blog post.  If you don’t have a copy of the Book of Mormon just leave a comment and I will get one to you.

I started my reading today and quickly got to one of my favorite scriptures, 1 NE 3:1 “Andi it came to pass that I, Nephi, returned from speaking with the Lord, to the tent of my father.”  I love the imagery in that tiny little verse.  “Speaking with the Lord”, isn’t that just amazing?  So much more meaningful than “saying my prayers.”

That customary phrase, “say your prayers,” is very dissatisfying to me personally.  I understand it is just the way we talk about prayer and remind each other of the importance of prayer but to me it conjures up an image of reciting a speech or a poem, and prayer should be so much more for us.  I know my Heavenly Father wants to hear from me but I am just as sure that as he watches me go through this life making mistakes here and there, He has a few things to tell me as well.  In Nephi’s simple expression, “speaking with the Lord” as opposed to “speaking to the Lord,” he gives us the key to developing a personal relationship with our Heavenly Father.  We have to listen for his guidance.

We are promised over and over again in the scriptures that if we will knock, He will answer.  You would not even think about walking up to a friend’s door to ask a favor, knock once and then turn around and go home.  You would wait for them to answer the door so you could enjoy the purpose of your visit.  In our relationship with our God, how often do we ask for help then close our prayer and go about our business without giving time for an answer? 

Time is such a valuable commodity to us and it can be hard to find a quiet time and place to pour out our hearts to Heavenly Father.  While we should make an effort for these extended moments of prayer we do not have to wait for them to plead for help.  Nephi tells us that his father prayed as he went forth doing his normal tasks (1Ne 1:5-7).  It is a great lesson to us that we don’t have to wait for a secluded place and a perfectly quiet time to approach him, Heavenly Father is all access, all the time.  We just need to remember to listen too.

I am very grateful to know I have a Heavenly Father who loves me and stands ready to help me with whatever I may need.  I am very thankful for the opportunities I have had to learn of Him and for His patience as I try to draw close to Him.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

3 Things

When I drive I normally listen to audiobooks but the other day I had several things on my mind and was not concentrating on the book so I turned on the radio.  Almost immediately a song came on that completely captured my attention though I had never heard it.  It is called "3 Things" and it was written and sung by Jason Mraz.

"There are three things I do when my life falls apart
Number one I cry my eyes out and I dry up my heart
Not until I do this will my new life start
 So that's the first thing that I do when my life falls apart
The second thing I do is I close both of my eyes
And say my thank you's to each and every moment of my life
I go where I know the love is and let it fill me up inside
Gathering new strength from sorrow
I'm glad to feel alive.
And things are looking up
I know above the clouds the sun is shining
Things are looking up
Love is still the answer I'm relying on
Three little things
Things are looking up
Well the third thing that I do now when my world caves in
Is I pause, I take a breath and bow and I let the chapter end
I design my future bright not by where my life has been

 And I try try try try, try again
Yes I try try try try, try again
Things are looking up
I know beyond the dark the sun is rising
Things are looking up
I know above the clouds the sun is shining
Things are looking up

 Ooh, love is still the answer I'm relying on
Three little things
Three little things"

What a great message!  When life hits us hard we think we have two choices, either quit or move on but in reality there is not option to quit.  Life keeps happening and our only choice is how we move on.  Do I wallow in my misery or do I get up and make a better plan?

I know above the clouds the sun is shining,  Things are looking up!

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Today was a great day!

Today really was a great day, unfortunately I just figured that out.  Until about 8:00 tonight I thought I’d had an irritating day.  Everywhere I went there was someone complaining or whining.  Seriously, all day long.  From about 3:00 on I was planning this blogpost so I could air my own grievances about all this negativity and how we need to get rid of it.

I stepped into the shower and something hit me squarely in the ego.  I was no different than those who were bugging me, I was every bit as negative as they were.  That would not do.  So I started at the beginning of the day and found a couple things that were pretty good.

First, I woke up.  Major blessing there.  Second, I was able to get out of bed without falling on my face.  Last night I worked out long and hard, well long and hard for an old fat person, and I expected to be pretty sore.  Not too bad.

Then I got to go teach my class at the college.  I got on a good roll this morning and stuffed those poor young brains with so much amazing economic knowledge they just OD’d.  Seriously about 40 minutes in they were starting to get glassy-eyed.  I tried to slow down but it was just better to send them packing.  Tomorrow I get to do it again.  Blessings.

After teaching I got to go to my real job.  What a positive thing that is.  I have a job that I like (except the people swearing at me part), I like the people I work with, I like our customers and I like my company.  Not many people can say that, so another blessing.

I drove all over the Basin today and didn’t get hit, shot at or flipped off.  I didn’t even get a ticket.  Those are all good things too.

All afternoon my phone was buzzing as my family carried on a conversation on the family group text.  How great is this technology?  It lets us keep in near constant contact.  I think it is a great blessing that my family likes each other and wants to talk to each other.  Blessings.

On my way home from work I had the thought that I have not gotten Susan flowers in way too long so I stopped and got her a batch.  What a blessing, first to have a wife like her, and second to have the money to buy her a simple gift of flowers.  I know that doesn’t seem like much but I see it as a huge blessing.  We have so much extreme poverty in the world and it is easy to see that my circumstances are pretty dang good.  Blessings.

The best things happened when I got home.  My wife was still talking to me (huge blessing), she even gave me a smooch.  It is beyond words the blessing of having such a person love you.  She told me if I sat down I could hold our beautiful granddaughter while she made me some dinner.  How positive is that?  Nothing in this world can be bad enough that holding a child doesn’t make you feel better.  I am blessed to have someone who wants to share my life with me, not everyone has that blessing.

When I was a kid I used to babysit for this young family up the street.  I remember the mom telling me they used to have family prayer every morning.  One morning it was the 3 year-old Gardy’s turn to pray and during the prayer he thanked Heavenly Father for the beautiful day.  After the prayer the mom asked him what he was thinking, it was raining and gloomy out.  Gardy told her that you can’t judge a day by its weather.  I guess I shouldn’t judge a day by others’ negativity either.