Labor, Then Relax. Let God Be Good.

I was driving through a winding road in Landisville, PA on my way to the LDS Chapel early on a Sunday. The tall, beautiful, green trees were inches from the dark asphalt that was drying off from the night’s light showers. Rays of morning sunshine peeked through the leaves. I turned a few corners, passed a few houses, and saw a sign at one of the many churches along the way. It said “Relax. Let God be GOOD.” Now, those church marquis signs can’t necessarily be considered doctrine. After all, there was one near my apartment that said “Take your sin to the altar and drop it like it’s hot.” But, I trusted the five-word-sermon: “Relax. Let God be Good.”

Well, that’s what I thought it said. Upon double take, I realized it actually read “Relax. Let God be God.” Still good.  However, the split-second mix-up was very impactful for me in the long run.

We are moving to Los Angeles on Saturday. To say that I’m nervous/excited/stressed/ready/not ready/busy/exhausted/stressed/excited/stressed…. Would be an understatement. Now more than I ever, I can use my split-second-mix-up-five-word-sermon: RELAX. Let God be Good.

I truly believe this is one of the most important things that we can remember in this life. God IS good. He is light. He is truth. He is good.

Or, as Elder Jeffrey R. Holland says in his address entitled “Laborers in the Vineyard,” “So be kind, and be grateful that God is kind.”

We know that the Savior taught most frequently through parables. The blessing of this, to me, comes from the fact that so much interpretation and inspiration can be squeezed from every story.

In the parable of the laborers in the vineyard, Christ details the story of a householder who starts early in the day hiring help to work in his vineyard. He hired a few people , and then returned every few hours hiring more as the urgency of the harvest increased. Then, in the eleventh hour, the householder returned a final time to enlist his last group of laborers. Only an hour after his last round of hires, the householder gathered all of his laborers to receive their wages and – much to their surprise – they all received the same amount.

At this point in the parable, many of you probably feel like I do. If I were in that situation, I would not be thrilled. I would certainly feel like I’d been slighted if I were working all day only to receive the same wage as the latecomer. But, no matter how many times I argued my mom on the injustices of bedtimes or candy limits or “why we MUST stay up past 9:00 to watch the newest Disney Channel Original Movie,” my version of “fair” against a parent’s version of “fair” just simply didn’t hold up. And in the case of the laborers in the vineyard, I would certainly feel justified in seeking sympathy over the unfairness of the situation.

However, Elder Holland gives light to this perspective.

“If there is any sympathy to be generated, it should at least initially be for the men not chosen who also had mouths to feed and backs to clothe. Luck never seemed to be with some of them. With each visit of the steward throughout the day, they always saw someone else chosen. But just at day’s close, the householder returns a surprising fifth time with a remarkable eleventh-hour offer! These last and most discouraged of laborers, hearing only that they will be treated fairly, accept work without even knowing the wage, knowing that anything will be better than nothing, which is what they have had so far. Then as they gather for their payment, they are stunned to receive the same as all the others! How awestruck they must have been and how very, very grateful! Surely never had such compassion been seen in all their working days.”

There will be times in our lives when we feel heavy. We will go through things that will be gut-wrenching and just down-right awful. It is part of mortality. And, sometimes, we will feel that we labor all day long with sweat on our brow, only to see that our neighbors, colleagues, acquaintances seem happy to be in their respective situations, which can at times be frustrating. I have been in this position before. I have felt the grief that comes from envy.

Regarding envy, Elder Holland says this:

“Obviously we suffer a little when some misfortune befalls us, but envy requires us to suffer all good fortune that befalls everyone we know! What a bright prospect that is – downing another quart of pickle juice every time anyone around you has a happy moment!”

Fortunately, there is One who has paid the price for our redemption – no matter the circumstance and especially no matter the circumstance of our fellow brothers and sisters. We are not being graded in this life on a curve – another’s performance in no way affects our ability to receive eternal life.

“The formula of faith is to hold on, work on, see it through, and let the distress of earlier hours –real or imagined—fall away in the abundance of the final reward.”

If nothing else, the story of the laborers in the vineyard embodies my precious little five word sermon. When, at the face of adversity and frustration, you find yourself bitter because of your own misfortune in comparison to the seeming fortune of others, I encourage you to remember those few, simple words: Relax! Let God be Good!

Now, there are a few ways to look at this. We can both take the opportunity to relax as we see God being good for others (and this is truly an important principle). Or, we can also step back and realize that God may have been good for us all along. Gaining this perspective in the midst of dark trials can save us.

A few years ago I found myself in one of these dark trials. At the time I felt like all I knew was stress and anxiety because of the situation playing out in my life. It was all out of my control, and I was just trying to hold on to the reins without getting bucked off. Perhaps many of you have felt this way at different times in your life.

Some nights, I would kneel down to pray and all I could think of to pray for in the peak my exhaustion was that I was grateful to have my own bed to sleep in that night. During this chapter of my life I returned many times to my comfort scripture, in Doctrine and Covenants 121 –

“My son, peace be unto thy soul. Thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment; and then if thou endure it well, God shalt exalt thee on high; thou shalt triumph over all thy foes. Thy friends do stand by thee, and they shall hail thee again with warm hearts and friendly hands.”

I wondered when my small moment would come to an end. I’d allowed myself to feel that pain and suffering for a few months, but I realized one day how much I’d been strengthened by the Savior. Of course, hindsight was 20/20, and though I wasn’t completely out of the trial, I could see that I’d been buoyed up through the Atonement of Jesus Christ and, likely, through faithful prayers of those closest to me. It was at that time that I felt immense gratitude for the fact that I had not come to the householder as a laborer until late in the evening and was yet still receiving all of the joy and happiness that was offered to others who came earlier in the day. It was then that I was able to Relax, and let God be GOOD.

No matter how your pain has come, please know that you are not too far gone to receive the redeeming love of our God.

“However late you think you are, however many chances you think you have missed, however many mistakes you feel you have made or talents you think you don’t have, or however far from home and family and God you feel you have traveled, I testify that you have not traveled beyond the reach of divine love. It is not possible for you to sink lower than the infinite light of Christ’s Atonement shines.”

I believe this so strongly. There are so many people near and dear to me that have found themselves in circumstances of grief because of their own poor choices. Surely at times they felt that they were beyond the reach of God’s love and forgiveness. But, we have a Savior! And He is filled with goodness and hope and love for us.

“He is despised and rejected of men. A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. Surely, He hath born our griefs and carried our sorrows. Yet we did esteem Him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgressions. He was bruised for our iniquities. The chastisement of our peace was upon him. And with his stripes, we are healed.”

The sacrifice of the Savior of the World is the most amazing thing that we can turn to in times where we may feel we are too far gone from the Grace of God. Jesus Christ is the householder who, in our eleventh hour, comes and beckons to us and invites us to labor and receive all the blessings of eternal life.

The beautiful gift of the Atonement that Jesus Christ has given us is best understood within the context that He truly knows us individually. He may be like our brother who we see every day, or at this stage in our lives might be like an old friend we haven’t seen in quite some time, but when we are reunited there is safety and familiarity that comforts us to our core.

My favorite story that depicts this relationship comes from a work called “Bible Manners and Customs” by George M. Mackie. It says:

“By day and by night the shepherd is always with his sheep… This was necessary on account of the exposed nature of the land, and the presence of danger from wild animals and robbers. One of the most familiar and beautiful sights of the East is that of the shepherd leading his sheep to the pasture…. He depends upon the sheep to follow, and they in turn expect him never to leave them…
“…As he is always with them, and so deeply interested in them, the shepherd comes to know his sheep very intimately…. One day a missionary, meeting a shepherd on one of the wildest parts of the Lebanon, asked him various questions about his sheep, and among others if he counted them every night. On answering that he did not, he was asked how he knew if they were all there or not. His reply was, ‘Master, if you were to put a cloth over my eyes, and bring me any sheep and only let me put my hands on its face, I could tell in a moment if it was mine or not.’”

No matter our efforts throughout the day in a vineyard, no matter the circumstances that may have befallen us, no matter the doubts or questions or concerns we may have, the Savior knows us. He has paid the price for our sins, our shortcomings, and our sorrows. Jesus Christ drank the bitter cup so that you and I would not have to. And He did this all so that he could stand by our side, shoulder our burdens, and sweetly reassure us: Relax. Let God be Good.

I have said for a long time that even if this Church wasn’t the true Church and the Gospel wasn’t the true Gospel – which, don’t get me wrong, I believe it to be true with all that I am – but even if it wasn’t, this is the happiest way to live. There is more joy and more peace found in the Gospel of Jesus Christ than is comprehensible anywhere else. The Savior said, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.” He will not leave you comfortless.

To friends, family, acquaintances, and strangers: keep pushing forward in the strength of Christ. When you feel like you do not have the strength of your own, lean on the Savior. He is waiting there already to catch you. Let the space between where you are and where you want to be inspire you, not scare you. We are all on this journey together. Let Church and the temple be a hospital and a refuge for your weary souls. And for those that may not feel burdened now, I encourage you to offer your strength to those with hands that hang down.

Together, we are stronger. Together we can labor and rejoice when our brothers and sisters choose to join the fold and commit themselves to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This is where they will receive their full reward of eternal life.

 

Labor, Then Relax. Let God Be Good.

High School Jounals and Keepsakes

I am so grateful that I kept journals in my youth. I am not as grateful for the lack of journal keeping in my young adult life.

Tonight, I was sorting through boxes of old stuff from my high school bedroom. My mom has kept boxes in her basement since I graduated high school and I haven’t seen them since then. It’s been nearly seven years, and going through the different papers and photos felt as familiar as though I’d been in high school last week.

I found my journals from the age of 13. I couldn’t help but read the heartfelt, funny entries. I literally laughed and cried as my eyes passed over this time capsule of emotions. It’s almost hard to comprehend how real those life events are to me still, even after all these years. It is difficult to understand how all of the experiences I had have woven together into the tapestry of my life.

In many ways, growing older has spoiled my sense of wonder. I’m skeptical and cynical at a lot of things. Even the thought of writing on a blog – something I used to do simply for the fun of it – feels like it should be strategic and SEO oriented because, why else write a blog?

I guess it’s safe to say that I probably have no readers on this blog at this point, so maybe it’s time to get in the habit again. Josh and I are moving to California in a few weeks for the next unknown amount of years – three at the very minimum! We have a whole life a head of us! And I have a lifetime of new journals to fill and blog posts to publish.

Here’s the future. Here’s to saying “goodbye” to old memories in old journals for now and  “hello” to new adventures.

High School Jounals and Keepsakes

Changes Beyond Belief

To say that my neglect for this blog has been abysmal would be a great, great understatement.

I have realized that in the past, having a blog has been something I’ve really enjoyed. The reason for that? I’m not quite sure. It’s not like I ever had some booming success with my blog. I didn’t have much interaction, other than an occasional comment here and there. In high school it was a venue for me to share funny stories, post pictures, and scribe some vague, angsty thoughts that brewed from hormones and high school.

Since I began college, it hasn’t been as consistent, and I almost feel I’ve given into an idea that what I’m writing isn’t marketable. Who really cares what I’m saying? What is  my niche? Isn’t this just like all of the other zoobie blogs that is relatively unimpressive and unoriginal?

Maybe. But, I guess those aren’t the reasons I blogged for in the past, and I may have lost sight of that.

Even though in school it’s awful and stressful and time consuming, writing is something I actually enjoy. I have lists and lists of things that I could do better in my writing when it comes to research papers and press releases. However, Having a space where I can just express ideas, tell stories, and record experiences is healthy and helpful for me.

There’ll be typos. Fragmented sentences for sure. But, considering the thought to start blogging again has prompted my mind consistently for the past few months, I guess I’ll give in.

 

To the two people (if that) that may stumble across this, WELCOME. This is a safe place.

 

Changes Beyond Belief

I’m Way Bad At Titles.

There are simply some emotions that are indescribable in simply words. I can give a scenario to paint an image in one’s mind. That may help someone reading these words to put themselves into that picture. They imagine what they would feel if they were there. The actual feelings are too difficult to describe. And I kind of like it that way. It keeps them precious and, if you will, sacred. Emotions are eternal. But there’s something about a rainy evening. Something about listening to music that provokes memories and creates new ones. Something about returning home after an intellectual conversation with your mind still racing. Something about the hours of the night. Something about a new summer season with longer daylight hours and starrier skies. Something about friendships new and old. Something about adventuring through life one chaotic day at a time. I don’t understand even the smallest bit of life. But what I do know is that I am so grateful for the things I have in my life personally. I got really lucky to be given the experiences and people and challenges that I have. Sometimes I almost feel like I’m stealing more blessings than I deserve! I guess that’s just the grace of a loving Creator. He will always compensate beyond what we deserve. He will always make the pain and suffering worth it. He will always be aware of our needs. He will always love us, and that will be reflective in the intricacies of our lives as they unfold. My heart is full. That is the bottom line.

I’m Way Bad At Titles.

“But the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God, and there shall no torment touch them.”

Today I had to give a speech of commemoration in my public speaking class.

I decided to speak about the opportunity I had to visit the concentration camp in Dachau, Germany nearly four years ago. I thought I’d share my speech on here and hope that it reminds someone–as it reminded me–to be little more conscious and aware of the difference that each of us makes upon each other, and the love and compassion we can show to others.

We shuffled to the gate—a group of foreigners with a foreign perspective. The mid-July sun was sweltering—and angled in such a way that forced my eyes to battle to find the words “Arbeit Macht Frei,” cast into the iron gate that I would soon realize had constrained unconsenting casualties and shackled sore souls in a feud based upon falsehoods. “Arbeit Macht Frei” or “Work will set you free,” was the first of a repulsive repertoire of lies that had been served alongside unjustice and mistreatment at the very first of the World War II Nazi concentration camps in Dachau, Germany.

Our young group of American teenagers continued through the camp, naïve to the reality that what we were about to experience would age our characters significantly. Our eyes poured over statistics and photographs. We stood in solemn silence as memorials and statues became etched into our hearts and molded into our minds’ memories. These mementos paid tribute to the fallen victims of racism in its most intense form. Men, women, mothers, fathers, children, friends. These precious lives had been taken in a shamefully disgraceful way, but my overflowing heart took comfort in knowing that there would be no shame upon the countenances of these broken souls when grace would one day make them whole.

In that chilling concentration camp were traces of feelings and numbness, growth and defeat, tears, sweat, blood, dirt. Not only were those things experienced by myself and my somber schoolmates, but they had been experienced by thousands before and would be by thousands to come. One particular monument encompassed my emotions as it read, “May the example of those who were exterminated here….because they resisted Nazism… help to unite the living for the defense of peace and freedom and in respect for their fellow men.”

My shoes crossed over dirt paths and I thought of the thousands of bare and tattered feet that had stumbled across those same places. A group of teenagers bustled past me and I overheard their German dialect. Some were irreverent. Others observant. But, overall, their demeanor did not show the same grave ambiance that resonated from that of a contrasting group. In the distance was a group of teenagers of darker ethnicity. They were carrying an Israeli flag and a sizeable floral wreath as they quietly moved on toward another memorial in the courtyard.

All of the emotions and thoughts I had been having halted for a moment as my subconscious placed me in the experience of each of these starkly different companies. What an antithesis of experiences these two groups of students were having. It was something I couldn’t comprehend, nor imagine.

The Israeli students, the German youth, the Nazis who had traipsed the hallowed grounds, the Jews whose lives had be taken, my fellow classmates, the foreign tourists—all unique backgrounds and circumstances, but with a simple truth to bind us commonly. Each had their own battles of anguish and strife that beat down upon fatigued spirits. Some were visible. Others suppressed. But the history of the war and the accounts of individuals continues and lives on so that each may come to empathize with their fellowmen and, “Live for the defense of [their] peace and freedom.”

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“But the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God, and there shall no torment touch them.”

Musings From McKann

There have been so many different things that have been on my mind in the past few months.

Of course, there’s going to be somewhat of a transition coming home from a mission. But, if I’m being perfectly honest, I don’t really feel like it was hard at ALL to come home. I wasn’t awkward (any more than I just already was as a person anyway). I wasn’t freaked out by the real world. I didn’t just always want to do church stuff. I didn’t keep waking up at 6:30 am and going to bed by 10:30 pm. I just didn’t have a hard time returning back to “normal” life.

There’s probably a few reasons for this. But the two that have been the most prominent to me are that, first of all, I’ve never had a hard time with transitions. I couldn’t really tell you why that is. It’s just never been a hard thing. Change is constant, and it is inevitable. So why not enjoy it? And, second of all, I just knew that eventually, my mission would end. And whether that would be a great thing, a horrible thing, or somewhere in between… it was a fact. I accepted that fact the second that I accepted the idea that I would serve.

But, in the midst of all this “not-so-difficult-transition” period, I have had so many wonderful moments of reflection and pensiveness. I feel that one of the great blessings that came from serving a mission and dedicating such an extended period of time to any one activity (let alone such a great a work as sharing the Gospel), is that it seems as though my mind has just gained a greater capacity. It really seems like I’ve been able to think about things more clearly, and with broader perspective than ever before.

Some thoughts, for example:

>>We really don’t understand our potential a lot of the time. I have thought so much about this! We are literally sons and daughters of an omniscient being; an Almighty God. How phenomenal! Do we really believe that? Do we really understand that we have divine DNA? I think that there are moments where we understand this. For me, I feel that when I have total clarity in my mind about a specific subject or issue that I’ve been pondering. It’s almost like I feel like I can see something from beginning to end in a spiritual sense. I don’t necessarily know all the details in the situation, but I can feel peace about it and I understand my role in a situation. There is so much power when we understand our divine heritage.

>>In general, we have expectations for what we want. We have these “ideals” that we’ve set in place of how we want to be treated, or what we want to happen in our lives. But because of a number of different influences (self doubt, culture, social pressures, etc.), we don’t act in harmony with what those desires are. A simple example? Everyone likes to feel loved and appreciated. But for some reason it is seen as awkward or “too forward” when we tell people things we admire about them. I have had so many times where I have debated giving someone a sincere compliment because I didn’t want it to be taken the wrong way. Another example is similar but one that I’ve thought about a lot. Think about just about everyone you know who has criteria for marriage that’s anything similar to “I want to marry my best friend.” I’m sure we’ve all heard someone say this. In fact, I think this is something that most of us say ourselves! But then, when it comes down to it, we won’t date our best friends. Instead we play silly mind games that make dating difficult and discouraging. What stops us from dating our best friends? Social pressures and culture, mostly. And that can be really unfortunate, I think.

>>God answers small prayers. Seriously! That’s one of those things you kind of just have to test out. But I had the simplest experience the other day. I asked Heavenly Father for something that I even classified to Him as “silly.” It was a sincere request, but it felt silly even asking for it. In the clearest, most deliberate way, that simple,”silly” prayer was answered.

>>This world is such a beautiful one and we are so blessed to live on earth. Even the fact that we have oxygen to breathe is a miracle in and of itself. But I’ve spent some time up in the mountains skiing recently, and even if the snow conditions are less than ideal for skiing, I find myself sitting on the lift just in awe and the majesty that is all around me–the divinely handcrafted beauty that I get to intake just because. The beauties of nature aren’t really a necessity for our salvation. But they are definitely a consistent reminder to me of my Supreme Creator and His magnificence.

>>I love people. So much. I think if I could just take weeks and weeks to talk with individuals and learn more about them and what makes them tick, I would never get bored. There have been a few people recently that I’ve been blessed to get to know more personally. And like anything else, the more I know, the less I realize I know. I learn more details about their lives and what makes them who they are… and then, undoubtedly, I leave those conversations with a thirst and a desire to ask more questions and intake more information. And, quite honestly, I think that comes from really caring about those people. People are amazingly fascinating. When you find those people that you just want to learn more and more about, hold onto them for a little while. They aren’t commonplace.

>>I am so blessed. I really am. I think about that on a daily basis.

… And I honestly don’t know where that was all going too much, other than the fact that I haven’t written in a while. And I’ve had some thoughts. And I haven’t put them into formulated sentences.

I guess to sum things up, the past three months have been an adventure. I sometimes wonder if I ever served a mission because it feels like I’ve been home for a LIFETIME. I’ve learned and grown immensely in such a short time–something I definitely did not anticipate before making it home.

Life is so good, folks. Remember that. And more importantly, BELIEVE IT.

Musings From McKann

A Big Week of Firsts

There comes a time in every recent returned missionary’s life where they have to face a lot of realities. One of which is that they literally have nothing in order as far as the world goes. There’s this rosy perception in your last few weeks as a missionary that somehow you’ll come home and all of your carnal affairs will be in order.

… Wrong.

So, because I’ve just now started to get my life somewhat in order, I’ve had a lot of first experiences with certain things.

1. Bought my first Mac.
Granted, that’s not a necessity. Other computers suffice, hopefully. I’ve purchased a computer in the past. But it had terrible issues and was so unreliable that I decided to play it safe and go with a MacBook Pro and I am so very pleased with my decision. #hatersgonnahate

2. Bought my first CAR.
So.. That’s a bigger one in all honesty. I was kind of just flyin’ solo down here in good ‘ole P. Town for a while. Honestly it was really difficult for me to feel a loss of a sense of freedom. You’d think anything would feel free after being bound under specific and intense rules and regulations while a missionary. But I found it to be quite frustrating to have the opportunity to have freedom but no means to do so. Anyway, say hello to my first car!

2005 Volkswagen Jetta. 5 Speed Manual Transmission. Never been in an accident. Super cute.

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3. Today, I went to Shoots with my Nana. (Actually just quick shoutout to Nana. She is the best. Today she took me to get my haircut from my favorite hair stylist, Bethany. She took me to lunch. Then she insisted we go get our nails done. And, even though that’s not super my thing, I was super thankful for her pampering me. Aaaaanyyyywwwaayyyyyy). We were ordering our food and “Hot Garlic Chicken” sounded really good to me. But what was that? A little icon indicating that it was, in fact, “spicy?” … Did I dare? What if I just hated my whole meal after that? What if it was painful to eat? What if I walked out with burning red lips and an upset stomach?

… But GARLIC CHICKEN. It sounded so good.

So, for the first time in my entire life, I intentionally ordered something spicy from a menu in a restaurant.

Big deal people. Really big deal.

A few other less significant firsts for your enjoyment: first time being caught up in my Twitter feed in two weeks, first time missing my Doctrine and Covenants homework because of an intense group project, first time seeing The Count of Monte Cristo musical (actually it was everyone’s first time because it was the world premiere at BYU!), first time hearing this great band called Bear’s Den (look up “Above the Clouds of Pompeii” … thank you Josh Rasmussen), first time seeing a handful of people I haven’t seen since I got back… And many more.

It’s pretty neat that I can just have a whole slew of first time experiences in one week, isn’t it? Man. There’s a heck of a lot to look forward to in this life. So here’s cheers to firsts!

A Big Week of Firsts