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.

 

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Labor, Then Relax. Let God Be Good.

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

“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

Is This Real Life?

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I’m blown away. It seems like time likes to slap me in the face a little bit. It plays cruel tricks. Like bringing some of my friends back only a week before I have to leave. Not ideal timing if you ask me. But I can’t express how grateful I am that it happened, no matter how short of time we’ve had together.

For the past week, Alex, Travis, Michael, Connor, and I have been hanging out nearly every day. It’s been great. But tonight was the greatest.

We spontaneously drove up to Salt Lake. We went to the Cheesecake Factory. We sprinted through an empty City Creek trying to catch the carriage ride. We walked all the way around Temple Square. We met some people who took our picture. We drove all around the winding roads near the University of Utah’s campus. We talked about lots of stuff. We drove up by the Draper Temple. We took the back way home. We stopped and stared at the view. We stuck our heads out of the sunroof, even though it was bitterly cold. We listened to good music. We found the prettiest view around here you could even imagine.  We drove home safely. We hugged goodbye. We spent moments together that I really am never going to forget.

I can’t imagine a more perfect night with better people. I’m so glad that’s how I spent my last night before getting set apart. But I will say, it’s not making it much easier to leave now. Kind of a bittersweet moment.

Love you kids.

Mission stuff will be posted tomorrow.

TTFN.

Is This Real Life?

The First Great Commandment.

Last October’s General Conference was incredibly life changing for many reasons. The obvious one was the lowering of the mission age. But some of the talks were so moving, as usual. The talk given by Jeffrey R. Holland entitled “The First Great Commandment” has stuck with me so distinctly and has changed my life for the better. I get chills when I even just think about this talk, let alone read, listen to, or watch it. It is so powerful.

I really hope you’ll take a few minutes and watch this.

I think it could really change your life.

You can find it here:
The First Great Commandment

The First Great Commandment.

Sunday Night Ponderings.

There’s been a lot on my mind as of late. All sorts of different emotions and all sorts of different things to be thinking about. It feels like sometimes we fail to take the time to just feel certain ways. We so quickly seek to change things and are constantly moving between one emotion to the next, especially when pertaining to negative things. I believe that there is so much potential for healing when we allow ourselves to truly BE a certain way, and FEEL different emotions. There is so much to be learned from experiences and earthly trials and woes, and I think that’s a beautiful thing.

I was talking to some friends tonight about happiness and what it means in this life. I’m not sure how we got to it but I had a very distinct realization that there is something to be said for this earthly life. I realize that the end goal is exaltation and that essentially we are just here to be able to return back to our Father in Heaven, but I actually like earthly life. President Hinckley said “Life is to be enjoyed, not just endured.” I agree with that 100%. But the peculiar thing about me is that I enjoy hard things. I guess “enjoy” is kind of a generous word. But I thrive from overcoming obstacles. I am energized by knowing I can beat a hard time. I enjoy being triumphant through a dark patch.

Along with that, there is so much good in the world. I can’t even believe it. And, since I love making lists, I am going to give you a list of a few things I’ve been loving in my world lately:

-I love the weather. Rain, snow, sunshine. Bring it on. It’s all grand.
-Rachel has a cute family and I love that they include me so much. It’s such a blessing and I don’t think they will ever realize how much it has affected me!
-I know a lot of incredible people. I’m still amazed that there could possibly be more people that are as cool as the ones I currently know. People keep surprising me.
-I am so impressed with Imagine Dragons. I went to the concert on Friday and I am so proud of them for maintaining their standards and being such an example of good in this world, especially in the music industry that can be so corrupt.
-I am leaving on a mission in exactly one month. Yes, it is terrifying. But it is also very exciting and crazy and every other emotion!
-My sisters and dad are so cool and I love hanging out with them.
-My dad is awesome and has lost 20 pounds in like two weeks. Whaaaat?! Eligible bachelor right there. 😉
-I wasn’t feeling well today and like four people came to visit me and brought me food. That is so awesome. People are good.
-I love Easter candy. Mostly Cadbury mini eggs and Reese’s eggs. I don’t even like Reese’s that much, but those little eggs are just so freakin’ good.
-I love the temple. It is such an amazing place. I’m really going to miss it for 18 months.
-Life is crazy and weird and awesome and great.

Love you kids. Thanks for being stellar.

Sunday Night Ponderings.