Monday, September 27, 2010

For the Star of County Down

Credit and major gratitude go to Amber Giles for finding this video and showing it to me.  She was my stand partner in the Eisenhower Jr. High School orchestra, and anyone who was in that orchestra with us will no doubt remember Deborah Baker Monday's For the Star of County Down.  Though never official, all of us saw it as a theme of sorts.  We memorized it (several of us more than one part), and through the rest of high school played it together at free moments during our orchestra class.  Even on my mission, on the rare occasion that I would get ahold of a violin, this song is what I played. 

I love this song.  From the very first time I heard it as a twelve-year-old looking up to the school's Concert Orchestra, I have been captivated by it.  When I hear it, I'm transported to another world and another time.  It has been the inspiration behind many of my writings and other creative endeavors. When I just need to feel something, this is the first song I think of.  

But until last week, the only time I could actually hear the particular arrangement I loved was if I played it myself or got with someone from the old orchestra.  I always dreamed of having a recording--and bonus points if the orchestra recorded was of professional quality.  I never thought I'd encounter one.

Well, Amber proved me wrong, and I was so excited to see the link to that YouTube video.  A beloved piece of my past had been recovered--in high quality digital!

But this isn't the end of the story . . . because I went ahead and converted 3:21-4:35 of the above video into a piano arrangement.  Enjoy!

Friday, September 24, 2010

Monkey bridge

Today I had the opportunity to participate in the construction of a monkey bridge.  We used to build these as Boy Scouts, and I was happy to see the tradition still alive in our group of young men.  It's such a simple design, but so much fun:

I've been thinking a lot lately about my years in the Scouting program.  It made one of the single most valuable contributions to my development as a man, and I still use the things I learned as a Boy Scout every day.  I am of a firm belief that enrollment of sons in Boy Scouts--and support in it--is a wise move on the part of any parent.  Especially in a day when the family is under such attack, and the definition of what makes a man is continually manipulated and corrupted, the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) is a critical ally in the war against Satan.  It teaches young men proper preparation, useful skills, moral values, good manners, and healthy habits.  In essence, it teaches young men how to be men. 

And really, that's all I have to say without going into a lengthy montage of the lessons I learned in Boy Scouts and repeating points I've already made.   

So, to really sum this post up, I'm pumped for Friends of Scouting season.  We're kicking off our campaign tomorrow morning with a big breakfast.  I don't know when everyone else is starting, but that monkey bridge is a bridge to the future, so if the Scouts knock on your door, remember they're just looking for friends.  Will you be their friend?

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Super Smash Bros.

While serving in Georgetown, Texas, I befriended a missionary by the name of Elder Buhler.  He was a brilliant pianist, who could come up with his own arrangements of video game music just by hearing it.  He and I spent many hours jamming out together (on our P Days, of course), and I was always impressed because it never seemed like his arms or hands got tired playing so fast.

My favorite of his arrangements was a song from the game Super Smash Bros.  It was a lively, fun song, and I wanted to play it so badly myself that I bought some manuscript paper and enlisted Elder Buhler to write it down.  Unfortunately I was transferred before he could finish.

But one day in my next area, my companion had some business to attend to at the local chapel, and I was left alone in a room with a piano while I waited.  My ear had become more trained to transpose music over the course of my mission, and this being near the end I figured I might have a shot at attempting one of Elder Buhler's songs.  So I tried my favorite.  It took some patience, but before my companion returned I had learned how to play it, and I was so excited.

And I'd like to share it with you, too.  So, here's Elder Buhler's Super Smash Bros.:

Monday, September 20, 2010

Elder Munch

Life has a way of moving on.  It doesn't stop for anyone, and no matter how hard we try to make it slow down, it ends up just catching up to itself again and we wonder what happened.

Life did a lot of moving these past two years.  Many friends are married, and several of those now have children of their own.  People have changed careers or moved up in the jobs they already had, while others are going on missions or graduating from college.

And kids are growing up.

My little brother--y'all have always known him as Matthew Cunningham--has grown up.  He's not a kid anymore.

And yesterday he was ordained an elder.

Elder Cunningham.

That's not me this time.  That's him!

It's like a changing of the guard.  I'm the old one, and now Matthew gets to be Elder Cunningham.

It's weird.  Kind of bittersweet, in a way.  But I can't describe how happy I am for my brother, or what a wonderful experience it was yesterday to participate in his ordination to the Melchizedek Priesthood.  This is such a big step in his life and in our family, and I'm proud of him for making such an important decision.

So, as a tribute to Matthew, I'm pulling out an old classic that has come to be known as The Munch Dance Video.  Enjoy!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

One-month mark

"Your work will not end on the last day of your mission."

Charles L. Cutler

On my mission we had certain milestones to be celebrated.  There was the MTC departure date, the three-month mark, six months, and the year mark.  Eighteen months was also a big day, and then there were the Trunky Papers.  It was much like the celebration of birthdays in the real world.

As far as measurement of time goes, I admit I'm still in that missionary mindset a little.  For instance, I was fully aware this week that Thursday was the end of the most recent six-week transfer cycle.  I even called my last companion in San Antonio to get all the news before anyone got moved.  On Mondays I think of the missionaries enjoying their Preparation Day . . . and I'm still doing my laundry on that day, too.

At heart, I still feel like a missionary.  I'm in a different mission field now, but my work is essentially the same.  My job is still to live the Gospel, be a good example, and find people who are ready to learn about it themselves.  Other stuff has been added to the job description--classes, homework, family responsibilities--but all of it still works together to achieve the same purpose.

And so I must also take note that today is my one-month mark of this mission.  It's kind of surreal; the time passed extremely quickly, but simultaneously, it feels like I've been home forever because of how things are going.  In just a month, I've gotten involved with school, reestablished many social connections (including doing a little bit of dating), been given things to do in my ward, earned a little money, and seen a lot of interesting places.  The Lord has blessed me very openly, and I've reached the majority of the goals I had for my first month home.  Basically, life is back to normal.

But I can never forget my mission in Texas.  I miss it every single day, and still have such precisely detailed dreams about missionary work--lessons, service projects, finding people--that when I wake up I am convinced they actually happened, and saddened when I realize they didn't.

Yet thankfully I have not had to limit such things to my dreams.  One of my first Sundays home, the local missionaries made an uncommon (well, common for Utah) appearance in my ward, and I hurried to corner them at the end of sacrament meeting.  We scheduled a time to meet up during the week, and the elders had a good laugh when they saw me pull out my own missionary planner I had saved from Texas.

Helping the missionaries has been one of my favorite things about being home.  I can't even begin to describe the joy I get from doing the Lord's work, and I'm grateful that there's always something for each one of us to do.

It's been a good month.  Here's to many more in life's great mission field.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Hecho en Mexico

To save money on clothes, I've just been wearing the T-shirts I acquired on my mission.  They're a diverse assortment with logos ranging from the Texas Longhorns to Hill Country Community Ministries, and all typically start at least one conversation during the course of my day.  But none get as much attention (at least from Spanish speakers) as the shirt that bears this emblem:

The initial exchange normally goes something like this:

"I like your shirt!  Did you go to Mexico?"

"Thanks!  I actually got it in Texas."


"Yeah.  That's where I learned Spanish; I was a missionary there for two years."

After that, it's easy to start talking about the Gospel.  It's like someone asking you how your weekend went and you say, "It was great; I went to church!"  That gets people's attention, and often inspires at least one curious question. 

This shirt provided me with two or three missionary opportunities just yesterday.  I think next I want to get a shirt that has the Articles of Faith on it.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010


"The greatest yardstick of success is to see how much your daily walk can be like Christ's--how closely you can walk each moment in his steps."

Ezra Taft Benson

In my New Testament class today we spent our time pondering Luke 2:52.  It contains pretty much the only information we have about the life of Christ between ages 12 and 30:

And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man.

That's it.  I can't tell you how many times I've gone over that verse and only gotten that much out of it.  Thanks to the help of a good teacher, today was my first time really noticing what it actually teaches us.

Luke 2:52 illustrates four ways in which Jesus grew over His adolescent and young adult years: He increased in wisdom--in other words, He grew intellectually; He increased in stature--or, physically; He increased in favor with God--so He also grew spiritually; and finally, He increased in favor with man--meaning, He grew socially.  In so many words, He was balanced:

Someone who is Christlike is also well-rounded.  Such a person will seek learning, take good care of his or her body, associate appropriately with others, and strive for a greater closeness with God.

In contrast, Satan is an extremist.  He'll try to get us to take either too much or too little--never a balanced portion.  If he can throw us off balance, he'll have an easier time making us miserable like he is.  And he'll use anything to do it:

Someone who studies all day and never gets out isn't very balanced.  Same with those who live at the gym, obsessively working toward that "social ideal" that never really comes.  Likewise, something's off when we can't stop texting long enough to read the scriptures.  And what about those who spend more time with their Church callings than with their families?  Not balanced.  Not happy, either.  In moderation, all of these are very good things.  It's important to read good books.  It's important to have a body that feels good.  It's important to stay in contact with friends, and of course it's important to magnify our callings.  But there can be too much of a good thing if we're not careful, and the Adversary is a tricky fellow.

So, here's to balance.  I realized some things today that I can definitely do to achieve more of it.  Actually, there are a lot of things I can do to improve.  But since I had that realization and started applying what I learned, I'm already seeing results.  It feels like I have more time in the day.  I feel lighter.  I feel happier.

And that's why I love Institute.  Every time I go, I hear something that I really need.  It's my favorite part of the day.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Being still

"The world is so noisy.  There are voices everywhere trying to influence us.  We all need time to think.  We need to drown out the clamor and noise and simply be quiet.  We need time to ponder and meditate, and to contemplate the deeper things of life.  We need time to read and to immerse ourselves in the thoughts of great minds.

"Our lives are so busy.  We run from one thing to another.  We wear ourselves out with our studies and our social lives and our pursuit of money.  Please don't misunderstand me: I am not saying that any of these things are wrong or bad.  But we are entitled to spend some time with ourselves.  We need to spend time out in nature where we can think and breathe deeply and feel the earth and listen to the sounds of the ocean or the woods or the mountains." 

Gordon B. Hinckley  (Way to Be!, pp. 103-104)

In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.

Genesis 1:1

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.

He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.

Psalm 23:1-2

O ye mountains high, where the clear blue sky
Arches over the vales of the free,
Where the pure breezes blow and the clear streamlets flow,
How I've longed to your bosom to flee!
O Zion! dear Zion! land of the free,
Now my own mountain home, unto thee I have come;
All my fond hopes are centered in thee.

Hymn #34, O Ye Mountains High

Be still, and know that I am God.

Psalm 46:10

Therefore with joy shall ye draw water out of the wells of salvation.

Isaiah 12:3

And now it came to pass that all this was done in Mormon, yea, by the waters of Mormon, in the forest that was near the waters of Mormon; yea, the place of Mormon, the waters of Mormon, the forest of Mormon, how beautiful are they to the eyes of them who there came to the knowledge of their Redeemer; yea, and how blessed are they, for they shall sing to his praise forever.

Mosiah 18:30

Photos taken Friday, September 10, 2010 at the Mirror Lake area of the Uinta Mountains.  See more pictures from this stillness excursion at

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Scotch tape

So you're doing your math homework, minding your own business when all of a sudden... the hinges snap on your laptop's screen.  You do your best to sit and type carefully so the screen won't keep swinging around everywhere, but it's no use; that screen's not staying.  What do you do?!

The answer, my friends: Scotch tape.

Available add-ons include a second strap for the other side and reinforcement to the original for maximum holding power.  (I got both for an unbeatable price!)

Now I can do my homework in style and comfort.  Thanks, Scotch Tape Man!

Monday, September 6, 2010

Saturday, September 4, 2010

My dog; my friend; my brother

I did some growing up this week.  Those of you keeping up with the news on Facebook might have already heard about my dog.  Those of you who haven't... well, let's talk about it--not for the sake of whining about the bitter things in life, but to point out the Lord's hand working even in difficult times.

I had just turned five years old when we picked our new puppy out of the litter.  He was the only brown one in the bunch, so we named him Browny (and us kids didn't know how to spell back then, but it stuck anyway).  I remember bringing him home that day; we were all so excited.

Browny became part of the family.  He was as much our brother as he was our friend, and he grew up with us.  There are so many memories I could share from the years we spent together.  Browny was just always there, no matter what happened.  I could always go to him for comfort or for friendship... and sometimes he would come to me first, because he knew.  There were many rough times in my life through which he helped me. 

Browny was already a very old dog when I left for my mission two years ago.  I knew he might not be around when I returned, and that was a really hard thing for me to face.  I wanted him to know how much I loved him, and that I wasn't abandoning him.  I wanted to be with him for his final days on the earth, whenever they came.  But I knew what I had to do, and I pressed on.

I wouldn't trade my mission for anything in this world, nor could I adequately describe what it did for me; I'm glad I went, and I would be even if I had never gotten to see my dog again.  But for two years I prayed and prayed that I would get to see him again, and as his health deteriorated I prayed harder.  I remember telling God, "Thy will be done, but Thou knowest mine, and if Thou wilt allow it I will be grateful; nevertheless, I will submit to whatever Thy will may be."

Well, I got what I wanted, but it was a heartbreaking sight when I returned to find a half-dead version of my dog sitting on the deck, unaware of everything but the very surface on which he rested.  On top of arthritis and kidney disease, Browny could no longer see, hear, smell, or vocalize anything.  It was difficult to keep him clean from all the times he would fall into his food dish, and the flies were attracted in great numbers.  I had pleaded for a reunion, and now that it was here my dog didn't even have any idea that I was holding him in my arms.  As far as he knew, probably, I left and never came back.

Every time I saw him after that a piece of me died... but that old dog had held on!  My prayers, if perhaps a bit selfish, had been heard, and I could not forget the goodness of that God who made it possible.  I had asked for nothing more than to see my dog again, to hold him and to tell him I loved him.  And those things could be done even in his abject state.  Be careful what you pray for, my friends.

Well, we couldn't let Browny continue forever in misery... and the time soon came to release him from this frail existence.  We set an appointment with the vet for September 2nd, and in the final days leading up to it my brother and I were enlisted to dig a grave.  I can't even tell you how difficult this was.  Browny sat just ten or fifteen feet away while we dug the hole that would swallow his body once it was finished.  I don't know if he knew what it was for, but I did.  And every so often I would climb out of that grave, chase the flies away, and just hold the dog for a few minutes and whisper love and comfort in his ear.  If I could bottle those moments....

The day of the appointment came too quickly, and it was among the hardest I have ever lived.  Dad, Matthew, and I loaded Browny into the back of the truck, and I think by now he might have had a vague idea of what was going on.  I remember as Dad passed the front gate with Browny in his arms, the dog's paw caught on the post for a second.  It was likely just a coincidental collision, but it hurt to watch because of the appearance it had of a weak attempt to stay. 

This vet was the only doctor Browny ever knew; he had taken good care of him from the time he was a puppy.  The doctor's office was a familiar place to all of us, and he allowed us a few minutes alone with Browny before he began the procedure.  As far as I remember, it was the first time my dad, brother, and I had ever all wept together.  These were our final moments with our beloved dog.  He had been so good to us over the years.  He had a personality of his own, and had given more love than he ever received.  He truly was a Cunningham; and what could we possibly do or say to express our endless appreciation for him? 

Browny seemed a little startled at first when we backed away from the table on which he lay and the vet and the nurse moved up.  But the doctor quickly had him calmed, and rested him in a comfortable position before finally inserting the needle.  We were warned of what we might see or hear when the dog felt the injection.  But the nerve damage was already so extreme that he didn't even feel it!  Browny just laid down his head... and went to sleep.  We watched.  It happened so quickly; in less than a minute, he was gone. 

They wrapped our dog's body gently in an old blanket we had brought.  I had prayed for so long to be able to hold Browny in my arms; and now here I was, carrying his remains so carefully back to the truck, then to the backyard where he always played.  It was such an odd feeling--an empty, sad feeling.  I half expected to see the real Browny leap out from behind a corner and say, "Tada!  I'm right here!  Drop that bag of sand and let's go for a walk!"  Even still I have to look twice sometimes to make sure I'm not actually seeing him.

Before Browny joined our family we had planted seven apple trees in our backyard.  As a puppy he chewed the bark off of all of them, and all died except for one.  That tree grew up strong, and is very big and beautiful now.

We buried Browny underneath the last apple tree.  It was the spot he would have picked.  The hardest thing--after watching him fall asleep--was lowering my dog into the hole he watched us dig, then begin to pour the dirt back over him.  With every shovel-full I wanted so badly to jump in there and snatch the body back up and embrace it one more time.  But there it remained, and there it shall until a better day. 

By my dad's request I gave the graveside prayer.  As a family we prayed together to be comforted, that we might have the strength to move on with our lives.  And as difficult as it was for me to write all of this, I bear witness that the answer to that prayer is already in effect.  The pain is still very real, and I would by lying if I told you I wasn't heartbroken.  But there is peace in our home--even laughter and joy.  I haven't cried since the burial, which is definitely a good thing (even though sometimes I really, really want to).  And we've got some fun plans for this weekend.  We're moving on.  It's not the easiest thing to do, but we're doing it.  I'm not depressed or miserable; the future is as bright as I make it.  God's definitely giving me a ton of help right now to be able to do that, and I know He will yet shower me with many more great and wonderful blessings.

After all this, is there any doubt in my mind that God hears and answers prayers?  Not one bit.  Do I believe in a merciful, just, true God?  With every fiber of my soul.  Browny could have easily passed on a year ago, and I would have missed him.  That didn't happen.  Ours could be the saddest home on the block right now.  It's not.  We are children of a loving Heavenly Father who is interested in us!  What's important to us is important to Him--especially as we strive to bring our will into harmony with His.  He cares about the little things in our lives, because He loves us.  How much more does He care about the major things!  And I am confident that if there is any way we can acheive a true fulness of joy, our Father in Heaven will provide it.  That is His mission, and He is true to it. 

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The factory

I grew up knowing Utah was kind of a different place, but I never realized just how different until my mission to Texas.  It was always interesting to hear what people had to say about my home.  There were typically a few members of the Church who talked about Utah like it was Disneyland, or some other beautiful resort to be visited on vacation.  When asked where I was from, I would always say "Salt Lake," and everyone just knew.  Oddly enough, in some situations it felt like I was saying "Mecca."  Thankfully that was all balanced out by those who would extend condolences over my origin; and even I would jokingly add to my introduction, "I'm from the factory."  I definitely learned to see both sides of the coin, but I love Utah.  For me it's a great place to live, but I also recognize its faults, and that's okay.  We won't get onto that subject here, though.

In two years as a missionary I forgot just how many members of the Church there were here; and my first weekend home it blew my mind to count how many chapels could be seen from one place!  It was so exciting, coming back from a city like San Antonio where you could just name a random stake center and most the members within twenty miles would know exactly which building you were talking about.  Granted, the LDS percentage of the population here has decreased a bit (one thing for which I'm actually grateful, for my own reasons which we also won't get into here), but still--Utah's got a lot of Mormons.

It finally hit me today.  At my appointment the people at the dentist's office welcomed me home from my mission.  The nice lady cleaning my teeth told me about her son's mission, and how they had gone back there after he'd gotten home, and how he was doing work in temples now.  It turns out their bishop knows my mission president!  The dentist shortly came in, and while he worked he talked about his mission, and how one of his companions was doing these days.  It was all very natural--just common stuff to talk about in an office.  (And by the way, my dentist was very pleased with my teeth.  Not bad for going two years without a checkup!  Just thought you all should know that.)

Conveniently, I had another appointment with my rheumatologist almost right after the dentist this afternoon.  We talked about my mission (of course for that kind of doctor visit it was pretty much necessary, so I don't count this one), but then he mentioned his returned-missionary son who had started at BYU.  And I could have sworn he slipped a little bit of testimony in there.

The optometrist has the scriptures on the magazine table in his waiting room.  On the phone with the veterinarian's receptionist yesterday, Dad had a nice chat about the Plan of Salvation.  The men's clothing store gives missionary discounts, and I'm pretty sure that if a cop pulled me over for speeding I'd be let go if I told him I was doing my home teaching.  (Please, nobody try that.) 

I can deny it no longer: I'm far away from my mission.  But I'm not gonna lie; it felt really cool to have all those conversations about Church stuff so naturally today without being the stranger in a shirt and tie.  It's a nice change for me now to go out in public and not feel like I have a huge target on my back.  And it's not just the fact that we share the same culture; it truly makes a difference when you can walk into a business and feel the Spirit there.  I was talking to my dentist, but I knew he was also my brother, and I knew that he knew it, too.  One thing the Lord has given me through the Church is that strong sense of family with everyone around me--and especially the knowledge and ability to act on and validate that relationship.  That's one reason I loved being a full-time missionary so much; there was nothing better than seeing others begin to understand their own place in our Heavenly Father's family.  

Conclusion: it's cool to live in Utah.  Now I only ask that we don't take it for granted, because that's when Utah starts being... well, not cool.  I think we're on to something!
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...