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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!"
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."
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 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?
Having grown up in, around and immersed in sports since I was a little kid, The Finish Line has always been a big part of my life. Whether it was when I raced Junior Dragsters on the Bonneville Salt Flats and at the old Bonneville Speedway or racing bobsleds for over twenty years, racing towards that goal required extreme focus, quick reflexes, an agile mind and so much more.
Kind of like life, right?
As a keynote and motivational speaker I often compare our life's journey to a bobsled ride. There are thrilling rushes, frustrating setbacks, times of courage and moments of fear. Sometimes you hear the voice of the cheering crowds and others you worry that your big mistake is out there for all to see. Some races you win and some you lose, but you learn from both outcomes.
But at the end of the day, win or lose, and I emphasize this when speaking to youth groups and sports teams, you always, always shake your opponents hand and thank them for the game, because without them, there can be no competition.
I'm currently working on a few keynote speeches that I have to give this Summer and as i was writing about this very topic, I had a strange though: will I shake the Devil's hand once I cross the eternal finish line?
Now, I know what you're thinking: "He's the bad guy, the villain. He's tried to ruin your life and tempt you and lead you astray. He is full of hate and malice and loves to see you miserable. Why would you EVER shake his hand?"
Because he is going to help me reach the finish line in an even better state than I could on my own. Follow me on this.
Having written two books now with a third on it's way, I am intimately familiar with that wonderful demon of creative souls everywhere: writer's block.
Oh yes, one day you are cranking out pages and pages of good stuff and the next....blank. Blank mind, blank screen, blank page. You're stuck and the more you try to force something out of the stuckedness the more stuck you become. Stuckity-stuck-stuck in Stuckville. I can just imagine Brian Reagan saying that, by the way.
But being "stuck" isn't just a mental state; sometimes it is a state of being stuck financially, romantically, spiritually, physically, etc.
I think we've all had times in our lives when the road seems closed, the Heavens shut, the way barred and the horizon darkened. We look at the seemingly-never ending path leading up the mountainside and we wonder how do we get passed the obstacles currently in our way. Whether those obstacles be fears, disappointments, heartaches, adversities, loneliness, or what appears to be a complete lack of viable options, our journey seems to be halted and we silently (or verbally...sometimes loudly) ask as Joseph Smith did in Liberty Jail, "Oh God, where art thou?" (D&C 121:1).
I don't think you or I are the first to ever ask that question (nor was Joseph). I wonder if Adam struggled when Cain killed Abel or if Jacob, or Israel, cried out when his sons brought in the "lost" Joseph's coat of many colors . I'm sure that Job did when all those awful calamities came crashing into his life. The scriptures are full of countless stories from the lives of God's greatest who faced what must have at the time looked like impossible odds at the time. When the weight of your current trials gets to heavy and you drop to your knees to plead for Heaven's intervention, take comfort in the fact that millions of souls have sought such help throughout the millennia.
One morning while eating breakfast (because over breakfast or in the shower are when the best ideas come to mind) I had a thought that stopped me in my tracks. It was a question that we all think we know the answer to, but the truth is I'm not so sure that we really do. And the more I thought about it, the stronger the significance of the question became.
Here it goes: what is God's job?
Now, I don't mean the whole creating worlds, organizing universes, forming stars, and so on. We know all that and those are the typical Sunday School answers that most people can recite in their sleep. But that's not personal to me, that's galactic management. No, what I wanted to know as I finished off my orange juice was, "What is God's job in regards to my life and my eternal salvation?"
With all the recent excitement about the upcoming Payson, UT LDS Temple Open House (which looks amazing, by the way), I can't help but think back to a small, yet testimony-building experience I had in March of 2009 during the Draper, UT LDS Temple Open House.
My Elder's Quorum was asked to provide some bodies to help with "security" on a particular evening for about five hours. Being young, fit and otherwise un-engaged (literally, unfortunately) I volunteered and found myself tasked with watching an area just inside the north-east temple doors. Not that there was much to do besides pass out water bottles, answer questions and otherwise help provide a friendly atmosphere for the Open House guests. As security gigs go, a temple Open House is pretty low-key.
After the final group made its way through the temple, we began to usher out the remaining guests and then had to complete a walk through of the entire temple to make sure everyone was out before we turned off the lights and locked all the doors. This was a wonderful opportunity for me and the other volunteers to wander the sacred and hallowed (even if un-dedicated yet) halls of this beautiful building. Anyone who has been or served in that temple can testify of the breath-taking art, the peaceful decor, the hope-filling lighting (best way I can think to describe that) and the strengthening peace found within its walls.
Last Sunday while teaching my Sunday School class to ten amazing 16-17 year old teens, we discussed the importance of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and a deep conversion to his gospel with a unshakable testimony of his restored church. I know that this seems like a no-brainer for many of us, but over the past few weeks as I have been watching the news (once a journalist, always a journalist) I have felt a deep concern for Christians everywhere.
There are Lamanites in the land once more.
For those of you who may not be familiar with this moniker, the Lamanites were an main demographic found within the Book of Mormon, a volume of ancient scripture written by prophets who lived on the American continent (Mayan archaeologists could rightly call it "The Mormon's Codex". For the major portion of this work the Lamanites were violently opposed to the followers of Christ, known as Nephites, and filled with a hatred for Christianity that I see is deeply mirrored in the recent campaigns by the radically militant Islamic State (I'll use IS from now on) in the Middle East. And to any NSA analysts reading this because I'm writing about IS (quite negatively, mind you), please not that this article is all my own opinion and not any official stance for the organizations I work with. But if you would like to know more about what us "Mormons" believe, please visit Mormon.org.
This past week we celebrated Easter, or Holy Week, and remembered the life, death and glorious resurrection of our Lord, Jesus Christ. It was wonderful to see so many people sharing their faith, their gratitude and their devotion on social media while simultaneously declaring their determination to follow the Lord and keep his teachings in their lives.
Sadly, somewhere within a matter of ten minutes to ten hours, those same people broke a commandment that they fail to keep every single day.
Whoa. I know, right? How judgmental of me to say such a thing, but I'm betting you break this commandment just as often. And now you want to reach through the screen and slap me across the face. That's ok; if I wasn't struggling with this same commandment this whole post would be a hypocritical pile of buffalo chips that the pioneers would have burned for fuel as they crossed the plains. But to prove that my words are not just smoke drifting away in cyberspace, I'll show you just how right I am. Yup, I went there....but for a good cause.
Several years ago a dear friend, Jonelle, surprised me with an autographed print of Greg Olsen's "O Jerusalem" painting. This majestic piece captures the quiet strength, even the eternal strength of the Savior's character, not to mention the beautiful scenery of the Holy Land countryside (and no, Mr. Olsen isn't paying me to say all that).
But if you look closely, you can see something else on Christ's face. In my youth I almost wondered if it was defeat (after all, he knew his betrayal and crucifixion were near). But now that I'm older I understand the look in Jesus' eyes was something else entirely; it was acceptance. The hint of sorry in his eyes stems from the acceptance that so many people in Jerusalem would not listen to the message of peace and salvation that he desired so deeply to give them.
And as we look forward to this Easter season, I can't help but wonder if that same hint of sorrow still exists in the resurrected Savior's heart.
As I sit here looking out my office window at a beautiful Salt Lake City, Utah blue sky I can't help but smile. Life is such a marvelous and wonderful gift, and every day that we are alive is a new chance to create a powerful future. As we say in my non-profit organization, The Athlete Outreach Project, "there is always hope."
Yet even as I smile, I cannot help but sigh at the tragedies and darkness that fills this world. As a former journalist I know only too well the number of wars and conflicts that rage around the globe. I just spoke at a suicide prevention event and often study the statistics surrounding those struggling with mental illness. I have participated in countless cancer research fundraisers and visited cancer patients in the hospital on several occasions. I have seen marriages fall apart due to infidelity, abuse or just plain apathy. I have seen lives destroyed through the use of drugs or other addictive substances. I have visited with youth incarcerated for foolish choices and helped save at least one life from ending through an eating disorder.
Even as I write this I'm mentally reviewing the tough circumstances that so many in my own life face. I have one friend who survived a potentially fatal car accident only to have her ex-husband force her and her daughters out of their old home and onto the streets. I have another friend who just got out of the hospital after some major surgeries. I could go on and on and so could you, and that doesn't even include all the struggles we have in our own lives.
As a dear friend of mine reminded me this week, "We all get tired, we all get discouraged, and we all have days where we want to give up. But we can't. Life is too amazing. And we are not alone in it."
Growing up in Oklahoma, America’s Midwest, I saw firsthand the results of Mother Nature’s terrible might when tornadoes touched down. Entire neighborhoods were leveled, swathes of landscape flattened and lives were upended. Even as a child, while I lived in fear of these awesome and powerful monstrosities, I could appreciate the way their power was formed…by air.
Because, when you think about it, what are tornadoes but collections of air that rushes forth?
Over the past few months I have listened to dear friends tell me of the tornadoes in their lives. These tornadoes have leveled their confidence, flattened their joys and upended their hearts. But these tornadoes have not been like those I saw in Oklahoma; no, the tornadoes they spoke of were the words and actions of those around them who used the air that rushed forth from their mouths to hurt, to judge, to criticize, to gossip and to belittle.