Monday, January 31, 2011

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Golden Rule: still golden!

But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;

That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.

For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same?

Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.

Jesus Christ, as recorded in Matthew 5:44-46, 7:12

I was referred to the following story today by a friend from my mission.  It was one of those stories that completely made my day and warmed my heart as soon as I read it (definitely feeling some fruits of the Spirit there).  I'm sure the Lord would be pleased with this man for the compassion he showed one New York teenager.  From NPR:

March 28, 2008

Julio Diaz has a daily routine. Every night, the 31-year-old social worker ends his hour-long subway commute to the Bronx one stop early, just so he can eat at his favorite diner.

But one night last month, as Diaz stepped off the No. 6 train and onto a nearly empty platform, his evening took an unexpected turn.

He was walking toward the stairs when a teenage boy approached and pulled out a knife.

"He wants my money, so I just gave him my wallet and told him, 'Here you go,'" Diaz says.

As the teen began to walk away, Diaz told him, "Hey, wait a minute. You forgot something. If you're going to be robbing people for the rest of the night, you might as well take my coat to keep you warm."

The would-be robber looked at his would-be victim, "like what's going on here?" Diaz says. "He asked me, 'Why are you doing this?'"

Diaz replied: "If you're willing to risk your freedom for a few dollars, then I guess you must really need the money. I mean, all I wanted to do was get dinner and if you really want to join me ... hey, you're more than welcome.

"You know, I just felt maybe he really needs help," Diaz says.

Diaz says he and the teen went into the diner and sat in a booth.

"The manager comes by, the dishwashers come by, the waiters come by to say hi," Diaz says. "The kid was like, 'You know everybody here. Do you own this place?'"

"No, I just eat here a lot," Diaz says he told the teen. "He says, 'But you're even nice to the dishwasher.'"

Diaz replied, "Well, haven't you been taught you should be nice to everybody?"

"Yea, but I didn't think people actually behaved that way," the teen said.

Diaz asked him what he wanted out of life. "He just had almost a sad face," Diaz says.

The teen couldn't answer Diaz — or he didn't want to.

When the bill arrived, Diaz told the teen, "Look, I guess you're going to have to pay for this bill 'cause you have my money and I can't pay for this. So if you give me my wallet back, I'll gladly treat you."

The teen "didn't even think about it" and returned the wallet, Diaz says. "I gave him $20 ... I figure maybe it'll help him. I don't know."

Diaz says he asked for something in return — the teen's knife — "and he gave it to me."

Afterward, when Diaz told his mother what happened, she said, "You're the type of kid that if someone asked you for the time, you gave them your watch."

"I figure, you know, if you treat people right, you can only hope that they treat you right. It's as simple as it gets in this complicated world."

Monday, January 24, 2011

Real life: the most epic thing there is

Two news stories today.  If I did such a segment on this blog, these guys would be my "epic people of the week."

First, from The Huffington Post (special thanks to Natasha for the tip):

Batman. Spiderman. The Green Hornet. And now, Phoenix Jones.

By day, he may be your average Joe. By night, however, one Seattle, Wash. man assumes a philanthropic persona to lend a helping, albeit gloved, hand.

KIRO reported that Phoenix Jones, unknown by any other name, stopped an in-progress grand theft auto recently by chasing away the perpetrator.

The would-be victim, who asked to be referred to as "Dan," couldn't believe his eyes.  "From the right, this guy comes dashing in, wearing this skin-tight rubber, black and gold suit, and starts chasing him away."

Phoenix Jones is no stranger to danger. He said he has been patrolling the streets for the past nine months, keeping what he feels to be evil at bay. One adversary managed to stab him in the past, but he said most of his enemies flee at the sight of him.

. . .

"I don't condone people walking around on the street with masks. Everyone on my team either has a military background or a mixed martial arts background, and we're well aware of what it costs to do what we do."

Yes, he has a team.

With names like "Catastrophe," "Thunder 88" and even "No Name," they are a part of the Rain City Superhero Movement, a group of nine disguised defenders dedicated to ridding the city of crime.

Next, from KSL:

Video Courtesy of

TV and video games can't beat actually doing stuff!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Well, if imperfect Nephi can make it....

Behold, my soul delighteth in the things of the Lord; and my heart pondereth continually upon the things which I have seen and heard.

Nevertheless, notwithstanding the great goodness of the Lord, in showing me his great and marvelous works, my heart exclaimeth: O wretched man that I am! Yea, my heart sorroweth because of my flesh; my soul grieveth because of mine iniquities.

I am encompassed about, because of the temptations and the sins which do so easily beset me.

And when I desire to rejoice, my heart groaneth because of my sins; nevertheless, I know in whom I have trusted.

My God hath been my support; he hath led me through mine afflictions in the wilderness; and he hath preserved me upon the waters of the great deep.

He hath filled me with his love, even unto the consuming of my flesh.

He hath confounded mine enemies, unto the causing of them to quake before me.

Behold, he hath heard my cry by day, and he hath given me knowledge by visions in the night-time.

And by day have I waxed bold in mighty prayer before him; yea, my voice have I sent up on high; and angels came down and ministered unto me.

And upon the wings of his Spirit hath my body been carried away upon exceedingly high mountains. And mine eyes have beheld great things, yea, even too great for man; therefore I was bidden that I should not write them.

O then, if I have seen so great things, if the Lord in his condescension unto the children of men hath visited men in so much mercy
, why should my heart weep and my soul linger in the valley of sorrow, and my flesh waste away, and my strength slacken, because of mine afflictions?

And why should I yield to sin, because of my flesh? Yea, why should I give way to temptations, that the evil one have place in my heart to destroy my peace and afflict my soul? Why am I angry because of mine enemy?

Awake, my soul! No longer droop in sin. Rejoice, O my heart, and give place no more for the enemy of my soul.

Do not anger again because of mine enemies. Do not slacken my strength because of mine afflictions.

Rejoice, O my heart, and cry unto the Lord, and say: O Lord, I will praise thee forever; yea, my soul will rejoice in thee, my God, and the rock of my salvation.

O Lord, wilt thou redeem my soul? Wilt thou deliver me out of the hands of mine enemies? Wilt thou make me that I may shake at the appearance of sin?

May the gates of hell be shut continually before me, because that my heart is broken and my spirit is contrite! O Lord, wilt thou not shut the gates of thy righteousness before me, that I may walk in the path of the low valley, that I may be strict in the plain road!

O Lord, wilt thou encircle me around in the robe of thy righteousness! O Lord, wilt thou make a way for mine escape before mine enemies! Wilt thou make my path straight before me! Wilt thou not place a stumbling block in my way—but that thou wouldst clear my way before me, and hedge not up my way, but the ways of mine enemy.

O Lord, I have trusted in thee, and I will trust in thee forever. I will not put my trust in the arm of flesh; for I know that cursed is he that putteth his trust in the arm of flesh. Yea, cursed is he that putteth his trust in man or maketh flesh his arm.

Yea, I know that God will give liberally to him that asketh. Yea, my God will give me, if I ask not amiss; therefore I will lift up my voice unto thee; yea, I will cry unto thee, my God, the rock of my righteousness. Behold, my voice shall forever ascend up unto thee, my rock and mine everlasting God. Amen.

2 Nephi 4:16-35

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Past Blast: Graded on humanity

From Based on a True Story, Thursday, January 18, 2007: 

Anyway, I eventually went to humanities. Today was my last time in that class; I'm glad, even though the class totally rocked. This time we all got into groups and evaluated each other's portfolios, grading our peers not on the work they've done, but on how human they are. I snuck a peek at my friends' papers, and they all gave me an A . . . I guess they think I'm pretty dang human, or something. :-P

Ms. Parrish also told us to write her a letter stating which grade we felt we deserved. Once again, this was based on our insight into our own humanity rather than actual work we'd done, but I still asked for a C or a D because I really didn't do any work until the end of the semester when I was failing. I know I'll pass, though; the portfolio is worth three hundred points, and Parrish promised all of us we would pass if we did it. ^_^

Friday, January 14, 2011

The Lord of the Metal Gear

A little something for the gamers and the Tolkien fans:

Sunday, January 9, 2011

The "reset" button: back to Texas, and back again

It's been a delightful couple of weeks, wrapping up the holidays and enjoying pleasant weather and company.  For those who didn't know, after Christmas I took my family back to my mission field to share with them a few of the relationships and locales that came to mean so much to me over the two years I spent there.  In many ways, it felt very much like coming home, and I'm grateful to have had such a choice experience with my family. 

Of course, no matter how much I wanted to, it would have been impossible to make two years' worth of introductions in just a little over a week.  I also quickly realized that I was no longer part of a team of college-aged guys whose job was getting to know people; thus, to best fit the needs of my current traveling companions, it wasn't practical to cram my days full of appointments with people I wanted to see (as I had been accustomed to doing as a missionary).  Because of these and other factors, I didn't really say much online about this vacation.  I love all my friends in Texas so much, and would have been very hurt myself if by not visiting someone I had hurt their feelings.  It was best to keep the trip a secret in order to avoid building hopes that would fall to disappointment. 

With that said, I do want to talk about the experience, but I'm going to stay away from writing a travel log (not out of secrecy here, but because it won't mean the same thing to most readers as it would to me).  Instead, I thought it might be more fun to talk about some thoughts I've had about this trip.  Here we go!

As I first flew into San Antonio back in 2008, I had no idea what was under me.  I couldn't make sense of any of the buildings or roads or hills.  I hadn't yet met my mission president or any of my companions.  For that matter, I hadn't met any of the friends who would eventually shape my mission, and for the next several weeks I would be completely lost in my new surroundings.  All I knew was that I was flying over my mission field.  That was a most unique, exciting feeling--one for which I had waited my whole life--and I couldn't restrain myself from sharing it with the passengers around me.

That same ecstasy returned as once again I approached San Antonio at the close of 2010.  But this time, I was coming home.  I knew where I was and where everything else was, and I could feel it pulsing through me as we got closer and closer to the ground.  Those hills down there I knew as the Hill Country.  And that's Lake Medina!  That means we just flew over Boerne. . . .  Yep, we must have.  I see Six Flags.  And there's where I-10 meets the 1604!  South of that is UTSA, west is Helotes. . . .

I was doing that all the way to the airport.

Indeed, it was the first family vacation I could remember where we didn't make heavy use of maps.  I felt like a local, and thoroughly enjoyed training my family in such things as ordering a barbecue plate and how to correctly pronounce words like "Bexar," "Menchaca," and "Nacogdoches."

End of December, start of January.  And I'm going out in shorts and flip-flops.  In this list of thoughts I will occasionally refer to a "reset" button.  This trip was one of those in several different ways, one of which being in climate.  On the plane back home I looked out the window, saw snow, and thought, What the heck?!

One of the funnest things for me about this trip was the element of surprise and the reactions I got from it.  I just kinda snuck in, putting one of my old mission nicknames ("Elder Sly Pig") to good use.  For example, as I emerged from the car when we arrived at church on Sunday, a sister in the ward who I waved to waved back and called, "Hi, Elders!"  And she kept walking.  (Bear in mind that I served for six months in this particular ward, and was only transferred out of there in May; under those conditions I suppose people might still have been used to seeing me.)  As she entered the foyer, I could hear--just as the doors closed--her husband saying, "Isn't that Elder Cunningham?"

Then that door opened again (quite quickly) as we approached, and that was the first of many very happy reunions that would take place that Sunday.

And I do hope the Lord will forgive me for deceiving a missionary.  I needed to find out what time the ward met for sacrament meeting, but didn't want anyone to know I was coming.  So I called the elders!  It was Elder Roland who answered--an elder I had been really close to during the last months of my mission--so to keep him off my trail, I put on a believable act: I pretended to be some random visitor seeing relatives in town, with no idea what I was doing for church on Sunday.  And this poor missionary totally bought it!  I even asked for directions to the chapel.  He sounded pretty excited.

Well, that Sunday happened to be fast and testimony meeting, and Elder Roland went with his companion to bear testimony.  And as he sat up there waiting for his turn, I could pinpoint the exact moment when he finally noticed me quietly blending in near the middle of the congregation.  I wish I could have taken a picture of his face when that happened!  It was one of the most priceless moments of the trip.

These are some of the elders that spotted me when I dropped by the mission office unannounced.

As a missionary, transfers were a natural and uncomfortable part of life.  They were hard, mostly because it meant saying goodbye to people with whom we'd grown close.  If I had time before I moved, I might call a few families to see if I could stop by for a few minutes to say goodbye.  Those were almost always the most difficult visits to make.

But I went back to those same places last week.  And when I had the time, I'd call a family up and see if I could stop by for a few minutes . . . to say hello.  We had already said goodbye once before, so it would never have to happen again.  From now on, every visit would be a hello visit.  

And when you think about it, that's just a small taste of what we're going to experience in the next life.  Pretty sweet!

During the last months of my mission, one of the worries I had about going home was the fact that I now had two separate lives: mission and home.  I knew that that just wouldn't work, and that eventually I would have to bring the two together into one.  This thought came with images like hangouts where high school friends and old mission companions would all be present.  And that was something really cool to think about.  But there was also the worry that bringing my two lives together like that would be a monumental undertaking with the potential of rejection (kinda like a failed organ transplant, or something).

I was very pleased, then, that when my family was introduced to those people we did get to see, it was like they'd all known each other for years!  Everyone just clicked so well, and now I'm enjoying the sweet confusion that happens when I'm sitting at home and one of my family members starts talking about someone I knew on my mission as if that person lived right next door.  Sometimes I have to double check my memory to make sure the names I hear aren't actually in our own ward here in Utah!

It is remarkable, indeed, that the Gospel of Jesus Christ has such a way of bringing people together.  No matter who we met, no matter the background, all of us had at least one very big thing in common, and there were no strangers.  It's the same reason I feel as much at home in a chapel a thousand miles away as I do my own.  It's the same reason why I could be across the world and still be able to call on local members of the Church if I need help (or just a friend).  And it's the same reason why I don't need to worry about bringing my mission life and my home life together, because both are built on the same foundation.

Well, this post has gotten long enough, so let's take a break and come back in a couple days.  After all, how do you devour something as big as Texas?  One bite at a time!

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