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As many of you know, I have been lucky enough over the past decade to study in-depth my grandfather's World War II unit, the 11th Airborne Division. Grandpa was a paratrooper in the famous 511th Parachute Infantry Regiment which formed at Camp Toccoa, Georgia, in the spring of 1942, then went on to train at Fort Benning, Camp Mackall, Camp Polk, Camp Stoneman then sailed to the Pacific Theater for additional training on New Guinea before being committed to combat on Leyte in late 1944 and Luzon for most of 1945.
I have had the great honor to interview and befriend many of the last living troopers from the 11th Airborne and I can tell you that they are (rightly) proud of having served their country in such a distinguished unit. To listen to these incredible men, now advanced in years, tell the stories of war from their youth, is humbling. That is why I have been working so hard to share their history on the regimental website www.511pir.com and it is the main motivation behind my latest book, WHEN ANGELS FALL: FROM TOCCOA TO TOKYO, THE 511TH PARACHUTE INFANTRY REGIMENT IN WORLD WAR II, available on Amazon (in print and Kindle) or wherever military history books are sold.
Recently, after binging a bit on The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saint's Book of Mormon videos, I decided to begin reading the Book of Mormon again with a fresh set of eyes. Like many of you, I have read through the Book of Mormon countless times, and while I had been reading towards the end of the book of Alma, something in Nephi's story called me back to those beloved words, "I, Nephi, having been born of goodly parents..."
But as I was reading through Nephi's account, it wasn't his experiences that stuck out to me, at least not this time. It was his father's.
I think I've been guilty of seeing Lehi as kind of a background character that played an important part of the story, but was overshadowed by the brilliant light of Nephi's faith, obedience, patience, humility and strength. Oh, how wrong I was.
I never noticed it in any of my previous readings of the Book of Mormon, but Lehi was the Joseph Smith of his day (and the Nephite's dispensation). Let me explain that statement by analyzing just a few of the many similarities between Father Lehi and Brother Joseph. And when you finish this article, don't hesitate to message me with your thoughts about what I wrote. These comparisons have helped me understand both Lehi and Joseph to a greater degree and I am curious to see what you, dear reader, have to say.
Several years ago my friends and I enjoyed an unforgettable 7-day cruise down to the Mexican Riviera. While not my first (or last) cruise, we had loads of fun onboard during the journey south to our first port of call, Puerto Vallarta. The weather was perfect as we toured the city's sites and my friends were impressed with my handle of the Spanish language due to my two-year mission to Honduras and Belize a few years earlier.
After everyone had purchased their desired souvenirs and knick-knacks we made our way back to the ship where we discovered some ominous news. When I turned on my cabin's TV, I noticed that the yellow spinning circle with wings to the northwest of us had turned red. The former tropical storm now had an official name as a hurricane. Even worse, it was tracking in nearly direct-east which meant that it would hit Cabo San Lucas the same day we were scheduled to be in port there.
That evening, conversations around the ship, especially in the dining areas, understandably focused on the storm's new status. The more worried (i.e. high-strung) onboard wondered what would happen if the storm did hit us while in port. What if there were dangerously high-winds or hail or water spouts or tsunami's or zombies or the apocalypse itself occurred?! I'm sure wills were double-checked, final letters home written and last meals devoured (or maybe that was just their normal cruising appetites).
Ok, maybe it wasn't that bad, but some people onboard were making it sound that bad. I admit I tried to stifle some grins as I heard some of the worries voiced aloud as we walked around the ship. Maybe it was because I had already been through two hurricanes (albeit on shore), one tornado (also on shore), three earthquakes + aftershocks, several tropical storms, and so on, but I wasn't really that worried. I knew just how strong cruiseships were made to be and how rigorous the safety guidelines are, but there was also one factor that all the worried cruisers ready to send out an S.O.S. were forgetting.
As I sat eating my breakfast the next morning, the familiar chime was overhead on the ship's Public Address system and the calm, reassuring voice of our captain explained the situation and reminded us of just how strong the ship was. He then went on to say that while our previously planned itinerary was going to be adjusted to avoid the storm, it was for our good and that we should all enjoy our time in Mazatlan that day.
I could see the relieved looks on faces around the Lido Deck and that day I was reminded of a very important lesson that would do us all well to remember at this unsettled time in the world:
When facing a storm, look to the captain.
2,000 years ago another group of water-bound travelers found themselves in a similar situation, although their small fishing boats were hand-made and the storm they faced came upon them so suddenly that there was no avoiding it. In Mark 4:37 we read, "And there arose a great storm of wind, and the waves beat into the ship, so that it was now full."
Among the disciples of Jesus, those now battling so fiercely to keep the water-laden ships afloat, were several experienced fishermen whom the Lord had called and ordained to become "fishers of men" (Mathew 4:18-22). But the humble apostles were neither searching for men nor fish, but rather for a way to survive the raging tempest.
As Elder Howard W. Hunter once explained, "The Sea of Galilee is quite low, about 680 feet below sea level, and the heat becomes quite great. The hills surrounding the water rise up very sharply and to considerable height. The cold air rushing down from the hills meets the warm air rising from the lake in such a way that sudden and temporarily violent storms can occur on the surface of that inland sea."
It was in the middle of such a storm that Jesus and his apostles found themselves, yet while his disciples labored with all their skill and strength to keep from drowning, their master was asleep on the ship's stern (Mark 4:38). That they loved him there is no question, but the stress of the situation must have been wearing on them. After all, the storm had been lashing their small ships for likely several hours. Whether all the disciples were with Jesus in the same ship or spread throughout the group is irrelevant, yet the author in me has always tried to imagine the battered disciples discussing the storm, then wondering among themselves how the Master could sleep through it all!
When I look at the current state of the world, I wonder how many of us feel like we are in "a great storm of wind, and...waves..." which are beating "into (our) ship, so that it (is) now full."
With all the economic uncertainties, the physical distresses, the fears of illness especially from COVID-19 ("the Coronavirus"), the amount of jobs lost, the worries about food and medicines, the continued wars between countries and factions, the wide gulfs between political beliefs, the increased strains of parents who are trying to be provider and educator, the heartaches of those who have lost loved ones, the daily reports of earthquakes and hurricanes and fires and murders and so on, well... Does anyone else feel like they are battling to keep their ship afloat in the middle of the storm?
And perhaps, just perhaps, we may find moments where we wonder if the Lord is asleep, if he is too busy caring for others to care for us? Maybe the wind is rising, the rain is falling and the waves of anxiety or fear are crashing against the hull of our hope and faith. As we feel the heavy weight of loss or fear, maybe we, like the apostles of old, seek the Lord, crying out in our anguish through prayer, "Master, carest thou not that (I) perish?" (Mark 4:38).
I think most of us have been through enough in life to know the answer to that question. We have experienced the agony of divorce or the heartache of heartbreak. We have cried more tears than we can count (but He can) over fears, sorrows and losses. We have clung to our faith like those disciples clung to the sides of the boat. We have labored with all our might to make it through the storms we have encountered along the voyage of life with enough long nights spent wondering if we really can survive the tempest.
We have reached for God through prayer, fasting, service to others, scripture study, temple worship, journaling, and simply stretching our minds to find him.
And every time, in His own due time, the Lord stands and with his mighty hand declares, "Peace, be still. And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm." In this, our personal stories reflect the truths of the disciples' accounts, in that He had control over the storm the entire time.
And it may not be in this lifetime that we will fully understand why our trials and adversities and troubles came into our lives, but the Lord will still lovingly ask us the same thing: "Why are ye so fearful? how is it that ye have no faith?"
Perhaps His mighty command was not just to the sea, but rather directed towards the sailors, and to us: "Peace, be still."
Most of us who believe in God have no doubt that this story is true, the Jesus Christ did indeed calm the storm on the Sea of Galilee.
The real trick is to believe He can do the same for us.
After their parents died of tuberculosis, Mary Ann Baker-Godfrey de Friez (1822-1902), her sister and her brother continued to live together in Chicago, IL until her brother contracted the same disease. Mary Ann and her sister used what little money they had to send their brother to Florida in the hopes that the climate would ease his condition, but while his health initially improved, unfortunately their brother soon followed their parents in death.
Having spent all their money in sending him to Florida for recovery, the sisters lacked the funds and the health to travel south for the funeral nor bring their brother's body home for burial.
Mary Ann was heartbroken. She cried out in her own anguish, "God does not care for me or mine. This particular manifestation of what they call ‘divine providence’ is unworthy of a God of love. I have always tried to believe on Christ and give the Master a consecrated life, but this is more than I can bear. What have I done to deserve this? What have I left undone that God should wreak His vengeance upon me in this way?”
When I look at how many in the world today are cursing God for their losses or raising their first towards the Heaven in displeasure with the way their lives are going, I wonder how many could repeat Mary Ann's words verbatim.
But God had not forsaken the Bakers. As He does in our lives, the same Master who calmed the Sea of Galilee sent daily blessings to calm the troubled seas in Mary Ann's heart. She later wrote, "I became wickedly rebellious at this dispensation of divine providence. I said in my heart that God did not care for me or mine. But the Master’s own voice stilled the tempest in my unsanctified heart, and brought it to the calm of a deeper faith and a more perfect trust."
Though she had faced the storm, Mary Ann knew as I knew when facing the hurricane in Mexico, that when storms arise, look to the captain of the ship.
And because she was willing to look to the Captain of our Souls, Mary Ann later penned the magnificent hymn, "Master, the Tempest is Raging."
Though her heart had grown fearful and bitter with her brother's loss, this faithful woman wrote with with a grateful and changed heart:
Master, the terror is over.
The elements sweetly rest.
Earth’s sun in the calm lake is mirrored,
And heaven’s within my breast.
Linger, Oh, blessed Redeemer!
Leave me alone no more,
And with joy I shall make the blest harbor
And rest on the blissful shore.
I do not know what tempest you are facing in your life at this time. Maybe it is the loss of a job or some illness or perhaps you are feeling overwhelmed by loneliness or the demands of life or the pains of perceived inadequacies.
If you feel the waves of sorrow, fear, pain or even sin crashing against the hulls of your soul, may you remember the words of the Savior who said, "In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world." (John 16:33.) He has the power to calm both the storm, and the sailor.
If you are craving peace for your storm-filled life, hold fast to the Lord's words when he said, "Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you." (John 14:27.)
Even if you feel your life, or faith, is too broken, remember that the resurrected Lord's first words to his disciples were, “Peace be unto you.” (John 20:19.)
Peace. Be of good cheer. I feel that those five words are exactly what the world needs right now. We need to remember that "the Lord is God" (Joshua 22:34) and that "even the wind and the sea obey him..." (Mark 4:41). And while he was speaking of Rome's naval power, Cicero spoke an eternally comforting truth when he said, "He who commands the sea has command of everything.”
My beloved friends, no matter what storms come your way, "Be still and know that (He is) God....The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge."
As Mary Ann Baker wrote, "Whether the wrath of the storm-tossed sea or demons or men or whatever it be, no waters can swallow the ship where lies the Master of ocean and earth and skies. They all shall sweetly obey [his] will. Peace, be still!"
As part of this year's emphasis on personal and family home study of the Savior's life, this week's lesson stems from Matthew 13 as outlined in the Come, Follow Me manual published by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
While reading this morning about the Parable of the Sower, I was taken back by the insights that came into my mind relating to this parable and the powerful demographic within The Church referred to as "Midsingles." While we midsingles may joke among ourselves that we are the "misfits", "cast off toys" or even "Rejects", all of which are 100% untrue, what IS true is that while single, Latter-day Midsingles carry tremendous potential for good. The amount of service provided by this group around the world is astounding, as are the depths of the lessons and testimonies shared on Sundays and in private conversation as midsingles seek to "(go) about doing good" as disciples of Jesus Christ. They are faithful friends, devoted mothers and fathers, hard workers, and at the end of the day, dedicated members of the Lord's restored church, even if plenty of midsingles battle weaknesses, fears, insecurities and yes, gasp, even sin.
That is why when I was reading in Matthew 13 today and the thoughts started pouring in about how it relates to dating in today's crazy world, I wanted to jot down the things I learned. While I always recommend grabbing your scriptures to mark down anything that stands out as you read on, more important is to mark down the thoughts that come to you from the Spirit in the process.
I'm hoping the graph below will help me share the impressions that I felt and will be easy to follow along:
74 years ago a chilly December rain fell in the mountains of Leyte, an island in the South Pacific that most of us would be hard-pressed to find on a map, but for the paratroopers of America's 511th Parachute Infantry Regiment, Leyte had become a place of hellish reality.
The year was 1944 and the world was full of a war that threatened the "peace on earth, goodwill towards men" of all mankind. The most basic freedoms of every man, woman and child, even the right to life, was on the line and the 511th had been formed to fight against the forces of oppression and darkness.
Most of the paratroopers were young, between 18-21. One "man" in my grandfather's D Company, was seventeen-year-old Pfc. Billy Pettit who lied about his age in order to enlist and serve his country. Nicknamed "Billy the Kid" by his comrades, Billy's face and eyes now held the same grim look of his brothers in arms who had shared in the horrors of fighting the Japanese in close quarters day after day for weeks on end.
Sitting on a hill overlooking Ormoc Bay on Leyte's west coast, D Company's CO Captain Stephen E. Cavanaugh (pictured right) surveyed his men, primarily those in 1st Platoon under 1st Lieutenant Andrew Carrico III.
The 32 men of 1st Platoon were tired. They had started hiking from Dulag into Leyte's interior on November 23 and fought their way straight up the mountains' 4,400-feet heights and then down the other side towards Ormoc Bay. Along the way they endured torrential rains every day, constant Bonzai attacks from the enemy at night and vicious battles in the jungles nearly every step of the way. Nicknamed "The Angels", the 511th's paratroopers were being asked to do what other regular Army units had attempted to do: eliminate the Japanese supply line that ran through the mountain ridges.
They were now on Day 38 of their successful-yet-costly mountain and jungle campaign. Many men in D Company were now suffering from malaria or dengue fever (or both) and the fevers and digestive problems only added their misery. Their once trim and fit bodies were covered in jungle ulcers and most had lost over twenty pounds or more due to their inability to resupply in the mountains. Just over two weeks earlier, after having nothing to eat for seven days, D Company had eaten a dog with a few camotes they had managed to dig up in a nearby field.
Nearby, Lieutenant Carrico (pictured right) was tending to 1st Platoon. The day before, Carrico, with Cavanaugh traveling behind, had led 1st Platoon in a final assault on a hill near where they now sat in a mango grove. Lieutenant Carrico's 31 men had charged up the hill and eliminated more than 300 of the enemy who had been stubbornly holding the entire 11th Airborne back from reaching Ormoc Bay. The Americans were sick, angry at losing so many friends to the enemy, and more than ready to end their time on this God-forsaken island.
As D Company's Pfc. William L. Dubes noted, "It was a nightmare."
Growing up in Oklahoma I was lucky to be exposed to both the histories and the teachings of the area's Native American/Indigenous People's cultures and beliefs. From a personal and a religious standpoint I have always found great insight in the stories and teachings that have been passed down through the centuries within both the tribes, the nations and the individual families of these groups. The symbolism found in the lessons taught through storytelling can be strengthening, guiding, comforting, encouraging, humbling and more.
One of my favorite stories that teaches us about maintaining proper perspective and attitude involves The Eagle and The Field Mouse.
The Field Mouse went throughout its day, running to and fro with rapid speed, always looking for a crumb here, a morsel there. The mouse strained with its ears to hear of any danger, its heart often racing with fear about all the bad things that could happen. He complained frequently about running into obstacles that had to be scurried around or burrowed under. Life, for the mouse, felt desperate, challenge-filled, a daily-struggle for basic sustenance and at the end of the day the poor mouse believed that the Creator had made him for suffering and strife.
The Eagle, on the other hand, spent his days soaring majestically through the clouds. His elevated height allowed him a greater perspective on his surroundings which provided him more opportunities to both progress and to avoid the problems that the field mouse so frequently cried against. When a sharp gust appeared out of nowhere The Eagle rode the drafts and used them to rise higher in the sky. His sharp eyes looked at all the Creator had made for him and he spent hours each day studying the beautiful mountains, the green trees, the brightly colored flowers, the flowing streams and lakes and the vast meadows.
We all have times in our lives when we plead for the Lord to heal our pains, hurts and struggles. I know I have and after thinking of Jesus Christ's mortal ministry, I thought, "If only I was there, THEN I could be healed." I felt the same inclinations when I read of the Savior's many miracles performed among the Nephites after his resurrection. As a young teenager, I was saddened when that miracle did not come. When the tears came, when the prayers were desperately given, when the long days or dark nights came, I wondered WHY? Why was I not deserving of such a healing? Why could I not obtain the divine assistance I so badly needed?
In May of 2018, nearly twenty years after the battles with anxiety began, I was pondering 3 Nephi 17 during a Sacrament meeting, something I had many other times in my life. But on this day, things were different. As I imagined being there that day when the Resurrected Lord invited those who were afflicted to come forward, instead of receiving a full healing, I clearly saw His face as he smiled at me. I understood that he knew ME. He knew why I had come forward, what blessing I was seeking, and why I felt I needed it. And even though he knew infinitely more than I did about my own eternal journey, he did not belittle my petition or my desires.
But the blessing I received was not one of complete healing. No, as Christ laid his hands upon my head, his blessing was one of strength; he specifically blessed me with the strength I needed to not just endure my trials, but to overcome them every day. It was a gift of courage, peace, strength, capacity and power beyond my own.
And then I realized those blessings are exactly the same promises given to each of us every day. Because of the infinite power of the Savior's Atonement, because of his grace and mercy and ability to enable and empower us, we can have those very blessings whenever we need them. We do not need to have the Savior lay his hands on our heads as he did for the Nephites in 3 Nephi 17 or the many he healed in the Holy Land.
No, through prayer, fasting, Priesthood blessings and study and faith, we can receive the very same blessing I felt the Savior enlighten me with during my ponderings.
As Br. Brad Wilcox testifies, "Grace works."
With the PyeongChang, South Korea XXII Olympic Winter Games, or the 22nd Winter Olympics, upon us, the world is eagerly anticipating watching their favorite sports and over 3,600 Olympic and Paralympic athletes compete on the global stage as they strive to win gold in 182 events in 15 winter sport disciplines.
But why should they have all the fun?
The Games remind us of all the good that we can do in this world when we follow our dreams. I think the Olympics are so loved because they speak to the inner child we all carry in our hearts, that part of ourselves that still believes, still hopes and still dreams. And the Games, along with the inspirational example of our athletes, invite us to let our inner child go play, go dream, go hope and go live an amazing life without fear, insecurities or regrets.
To that end, I put together this 2018 Olympics Bingo card so you and your friends and family can have fun as you watch, laugh, cry, sigh, gasp and cheer! Just right-click on the image below and print to enjoy!
With the recent passing of Thomas S. Monson, the president and prophet for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, much focus has been placed on the succession system set up by the Lord for his church which involves the dissolving of the current First Presidency and the authority of the church being retained by the Quorum of the Twelve. In a short time, these brethren will gather in humble prayer and fasting to know Heaven's will for who will lead the church as president and prophet.
That said, even as we shed tears of gratitude and sorrow for President Monson's passing, there is comfort and security in knowing that the Lord has set up his church to continue rolling forward as a stone cut out of the mountains without hands. I can remember serving as a young missionary on the island of Ambergris Caye, Belize, when 9/11 occurred. While the world, and my beloved country of America, was thrown into chaos, there came a soft peace to my heart and I heard the Spirit whisper, "Look to the prophet. He will guide you forward." At the time it was President Gordon B. Hinckley who guided the church under the Lord's direction and when he passed from this life it was President Thomas S. Monson. And soon we will have another president who it will be our privilege and opportunity to look to for such guidance, instruction, and encouragement.
WHO fills that office is not as important as the fact that the office exists to be filled. The Lord will call whom He will and He will have prepared this great servant for such responsibility for his entire mortal life. It is up to us, then, to support and sustain this man as the one whom the Lord has called as prophet, seer and revelator.
But what does that really mean?
They say that when the student is ready, the master will appear. Well, I am by no means a master; rather, I still feel like the perpetual student who is doing his best to study for one quiz only to find that life has another one prepared for him!
That said, I've been doing a lot of thinking lately. Maybe too much; I have been known to over-analyze and even trip myself up by thinking too much for my own good.
But I do that. My patriarchal blessing says I have a "keen, alert mind" which is sometimes both a blessing and a curse. And recently, because of my own station in the dating world, I have had to really take a look at myself in the mirror. Some good, long, hard looks. And I haven't always liked what I've seen. It can be empowering, yet a little embarrassing when you notice just how full of the "natural man" you may be. While sometimes the best things for us are those that bring about the toughest changes, they are still hard to make and I am humbly striving to make them the best that I can in order to make the most of this life and a recent opportunity that Heavenly Father brought into my life.
That said, here are three general observations that I have had lately about some common struggles that the midsingles community has seen or currently wrestles with. We often hold to the belief that God will bring the right person into our life; that is a good exercise in faith, but we may actually be preventing this occurrence through our own behaviors, beliefs, expectations and self-preserving patterns.
I do not mean to sound judgmental here because in reality I have had to deal with all three to some extent in my own heart and life. What I am writing is to both help and strengthen myself and also to perhaps help you take a look at some mental habits, patterns, expectations or fears that are holding you back.
Several years ago I was a member of a young single adult ward that was known across the United States as "The 90210 Ward" and "The Fashion Show." I remember my first few weeks in the ward, I would sit in the chapel before Sacrament and watch my brothers and sisters walk in as if they were headed to Fashion Week in Milan. Suits that cost $1,000 or more, outfits that must have been carefully cultivated to match both style and body type. While I wasn't exactly a starving student, I couldn't believe how much money was spent on clothes by these amazing men and women in their desire to stand out from the crowd. Yes, it is part of the dating ritual, to look your best to catch the eye and appear healthy, successful, stylish and even sexy. Shoes that cost more than some people make in a week, handbags that cost several day's worth of pay and enough jewelry to make Mr. T proud.