Recognizing the spirit, lessons from a cell phone

Have you ever really considered the typical cell phone user?

It’s quite entertaining, cell phones are just funny.  Everybody’s got to have one (I’ve got 5… no really).  And you take it with you wherever you go, because, well, someone might have to talk to you. 

First, there’s the heart stopping power of “the cell phone ring”.  I’m convinced there’s some chemical reaction that happens in our brains when a cell phone rings.  People can recognize a cell phone ringing from a mile away. You can be in the middle of grand central station, someone’s cell phone will go off and immediately everyone’s heads will turn, and everybody thinks the same thought…”somebody better get that”.  

And all you hear about these days are cell phones; plans, rates, minutes, coverage, new phones, etc.  A new phone will come out, and I’ll literally think “I’ve got to go get it!  I could get better reception!  I could get better battery life!  People will be able to get a hold of me better!”  I could be cooler.  It’s insanity.

And it’s all about reception these days, reception and coverage.  Have you ever been driving down the road when someone calls you?  First, you have that unmistakable feeling of being important.  And if you have a flip phone you feel extra cool as you open it crisply with the well practiced flip of your thumb. 

But have you ever picked up the phone and realized you can only hear two or three words a sentence?  You’ve got a bad reception! 

I don’t know about you, but in instances like that, I’ve actually panicked.  I mean… what if I miss something!

So what’s the first thing that you do?  You take your eyes off the road to see how many bars you have.  Now this is a scary moment.  Not because you’re concerned you might crash as you take your eyes off the road, no, it’s because in that critical 2-3 seconds while you’re looking at your phone the person on the other end just might say something that you’ll miss.  You end up doing this funny little jerk-motion to see how quickly you can look, then get the phone back to your ear.

So you take the risk and look at your phone, and realize you’ve only got one bar.  There’s something strange that takes place when you realize you only have one bar.  It’s like an autoimmune response of the body.  Immediately those chemicals flow from your brain and you begin frantically searching for any way possible to improve reception!

In times like this I’ve found myself suddenly accelerating, somehow trying to get out of this “dead zone” as fast as possible.  Yes, call me an idiot, I’ve even found myself changing lanes!  Somehow thinking “you know, maybe if I move 10 feet in THIS direction suddenly it’ll get better”!

But even if you’re not in your car, you still find this autoimmune response active.  You see people ducking and weaving their heads, hurrying out into the open, all the time repeating “can you hear me now!?!”

The bottom line is this…we spend a lot of time worrying about our cell phones, worrying about coverage and reception, wondering how many bars we have.  But how often are we even considering our spiritual reception?  We’ve got these finely tuned autoimmune responses that detect and react when our phones go choppy, but we’re not nearly as sensitive and quick to react when we lose connection with the Holy Ghost.

Otherwise we’d hear people walking around saying “can you feel me now?”

With a cell phone, there are simply places where the signal from the towers just won’t penetrate.  Similarly with the spirit we go places, or find ourselves in situations or conversations where our spiritual reception drops, or where the spirit just can’t get through.  How crucial it is to be as sensitive to that dropped connection with the spirit, but it’s just not something we’ve “dialed” in to.  It’s somehow less real.

I hear people asking each other strange questions like “how many bars do you get in the delta center?”, like it’s some sort of universally understood trivia game, and people will know.  “How many bars do you get in up at Snowbird?” or even more specific, “You know that stretch of freeway on I-215 East side southbound, by the airport?  How many bars do you get there?”  People can answer that.

We need to be equally adept at knowing and recognizing the instances of the spirit in our lives; equally concerned when those instances become infrequent; and equally sensitive to feeling when that spiritual reception drops.  We need to ask ourselves, with much more regularity with regards to our spiritual sensitivity…”how many ‘bars’ do I have right now?”

So how DO you acquire this spiritual sensitivity?  How do you increase your familiarity with the spirit, and become agile in getting it back when it leaves?

Frequent Use

One method, I’d say, has a lot to do with frequency.

I travel a bit, and it never ceases to humor me, how often people will talk on their cell phones.  It’s not uncommon when I’ll hear people walking into the airport on their phones saying “Okay, I just got to the airport, I’m ‘gonna go get checked in”.  Then, moments later, they’re back on the phone “okay, I just got through security”. Then later “my plane just arrived, we’re boarding now”.  Then “Okay, we just landed, I’m going to go get my luggage”, and then yet again when they finally get out to passenger pickup.

Is an airport experience really so entertaining that people WANT a blow by blow report?  I don’t think so, I’ve BEEN to the airport.  I think it’s simply because we can.  You know, in the “good ‘ol days” you used to simply send your itinerary to whoever was going to pick you up, they’d check to see if your flight was on time, and somehow, magically, when you walked out of the airport there they were!  How in the world did they do that?

You see people in meetings, in school, on vacations, everywhere on their cell phones, and when they’re not talking on it they’re “text messaging”. 

Have you ever tried text messaging, it’s one of the most inefficient methods of communication, and designed terribly.  We took a 12 button phone keypad and turned it into a 62 button keyboard.  It takes 5 minutes to write one sentence, and yet we do it!  We’ll undergo tremendous pain just to make sure we’re communicating.

How has this happened?  Somehow the cell phone has made communication real, tangible, immediate, and convenient. 

I actually think that if Heavenly Father got a cell phone, we’d talk to him more.

I can just see kids in school, with their cell phones out text messaging….”H-e-a-v-e-n-l-y  F-a-t-h-e-r,…t-a-k-i-n-g    t-e-s-t…  d-i-d-n-‘-t   s-t-u-d-y …..NEED HELP!

Of course he could set us all up on the “Family Plan”, there’d be no such thing as “weekend” or “rollover” minutes.  I can see the ad now…

Heavenly Mobile
Best coverage available
Pray as you go

With heavenly mobile you get more spirit in more places.

But why does it take a cell phone?  Does it somehow become more “real” for us to have an actual device in our hands…”This is how I talk to my Father.”  Why doesn’t prayer suffice?

It does, the only thing a cell phone has going for it, is that we use it all the time.  I guarantee that if you begin to pray with as much regularity as you talk on the phone, you’ll find yourself much more capable at discerning the spirit.  Its companionship will much more constant and durable.  And its departure will become much more easily recognizable. This is the key.  If you want to boost your ability to recognize the departure of the spirit, increase the regularity of when you feel it, so that when it leaves, you can literally feel it leave. 

Keeping your phone charged

Certainly we can increase the regularity with which we do the big things, like attend the temple, but what’s most important is the day to day things, reading scriptures, saying prayers, having family night (our kids are RELYING on us to make sure they feel the spirit), and other more common, but daily events that keep us spiritually charged (which I talk more about here, and here).

If you want to use your cell phone, you have to keep it charged.  You plug it in.  I’ve seen the terrified look on people’s faces when they go to use their cell phone, because they need it, and they find they forgot to charge it.

We’ve all been there, we go scrambling to find someone with a similar phone who may have a charger.  They’ve built these little “charger stations” in airports and other places now where those who forgot to charge their phone can pay to get a quick boost.  You can buy all kinds of “charger accessories” now, where you can charge it in your car, on the go, you can buy extra batteries, and so forth.

How much more terrifying is it to find ourselves in a situation where we desperately need the guidance of the spirit, but we find that because we’ve not invested the small daily time to pray and study the scriptures, we’ve lost its companionship?  We were not spiritually charged.

Reception – based on location.

One more way to help ensure your ability to recognize the spirit, and be sensitive to its presence, is by focusing on your location.

We’ve talked about cell phone users walking around trying to find somewhere with better reception, rushing into open areas, ducking around corners, trying to find someplace with a clear reception.

In the church we have a phrase for that…”Stand ye in holy places”. 

Certainly it’s not always feasible to literally stand in holy places, but we can also make our own holy places by sanctifying where we are with righteous works.  You can make your bedroom a holy place by making it a sanctuary of the spirit.  A place where you study and pray:  a place where you listen and learn.

By standing in Holy Places, you’re guaranteed a powerful reception, and the more regularity with which you put yourself in places like this, the more stark the difference will be when you suddenly find yourself without.  What’s more, by knowing the moment of it’s departure, you can more quickly identify what caused it to leave, and it’s far easier to retrieve right then, than hours later, days later, weeks later, or years later.

No busy signal

God lives, our Savior lives, the Holy Ghost is real, and the three of them work constantly for our benefit.  They’re always available.  You’ll never get a busy signal if you reach out to them.  We’ve been given the gift of the spirit and the companionship of the Holy Ghost as a solid testimony of the love of God and his never ending interest in our eternal welfare.

It’s crucial for us learn to recognize the spirit, to understand the way it works, and to give adequate urgency to maintaining his companionship.  Our capacity to recognize the spirit and tune ourselves to its promptings is one of the most important keys to spiritual success in this life.


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A lesson from on high

Well, at least it was a lesson from UP high… it hit me as I was flying home from a business trip to Oklahoma City.  I don’t know how many times I’ve flown to Oklahoma or other places in the past several years without thinking this thought, but this time as I stared out the window and across the vast expanse of land spreading out before me, I realized how detached it all seems from up so high.  As if it’s just so much paint on a canvas.But as I really focused in on a given area, and started to imagine myself standing there on the ground, surrounded by those trees, or on one of those streets, with houses on either side, then suddenly the picture could come to life in my mind, I could mentally associate with how it would “feel” to be there.  I could “internalize” it.

The first thought that came to me, was how remarkable it is that God is able to comprehend all things, at a very personal level.  With God, there is no distance generated apathy.  It’s not objectified.  It’s all personal; he connects, relates, understands, empathizes, and cares about it all (he’s Omnicaring).

He’s somehow able to process all things, at all times, in all places.  His Omniscience is that part of the Character of god that I find the most difficult to imagine.  I suppose it’s made possible through the Light of Christ, and the Holy Ghost, the influence and presence of which pervade all.

I was reminded of one of my favorite New Testament scriptures – Romans 8:39

“Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus, our Lord.”


God is Omnicaring

There are many “Omni’s” that we hear about in describing the character of God:  Omnipotence, omniscience, omnipresence.  The one that’s missing is that he is omnicaring.

It means he cares about everything… not just the big things, everything.  In the vast cosmos of his creations, worlds without number – greater than the sands of the sea, yet he knows when a sparrow falls, and even that “the very hairs of your head are all numbered” (Matt: 10:29-30).

I’d say that leaves little room for doubt whether or not he’s interested in the detail of our lives. 

Sometimes it’s easy for us to fall into the thought that God isn’t always interested, that he’s somehow “too busy”, or “preoccupied” with other matters of weightier significance than some small thing facing you, right now.

But he says “Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands; thy walls are continually before me” (1 Nephi 21:16).

He cares.  Large or small, if it’s an obstacle you face, it there’s a “wall” before you, however small… he cares. 

Do you find any scriptures that read “pray when something big faces you”?  No, you read “pray always“.  There are hundreds of scriptures with those exact words.  We’re told to pray over our fields, our flocks, our herds, and to “counsel with the Lord in ALL thy doings” (Alma 37:37).

Why?  It’s simple – he cares.


Proving the Book of Mormon

First, I’ll say that no matter how much effort you invest into proving the Book of Mormon to be true, whether through research, archeology, or discussion and debate, there’s only one way to REALLY know, and that’s through a confirmation of the Holy Ghost.  That kind of confirmation comes subsequent to sincere supplication, inquiring of the Lord directly of its truthfulness (Moroni 10:3-5 | James 1:5), for whereas “facts” and “evidence” is always subject to dispute, a divine testimony is inarguable to him that receives it.

Still, there’s a certain amount of entertainment value in discovering evidence of the remarkable events described in the Book of Mormon, and certainly an increased validity to the Book of Mormon itself, along with Joseph Smith, who found, translated, and died for it.

Such a discovery came to light recently, as reported by the Nephi Project, whose mission it is “to discover Book of Mormon archaeological sites relating to Nephi’s writing” (from their website).

On February 3rd, 2008, an iron ore mine was discovered in Nasca Peru.  That might seem trivial, but it just so happens that this particular mine is believed to be at least 2,000 years old, placing it squarely within the timeframe the Book of Mormon places the Nephites and the Lamenites at that same time.  Historically, critics of the Book of Mormon have used the lack of such a discovery to dispute the validity of the Book of Mormon.

From the Nephi Project’s recent newsletter:

“The discovery is gratifying to George Potter, since his new book (which will be available in the fall of 2008) proposes that Nasca was the possible site of the Book of Mormon’s city of Bountiful.”

You can read about the discovery here.

Still, it surprises me how much dispute there is about the Book of Mormon, not because there are some bits of evidence here and there that it was true, but because if someone really wanted to know, all they’d have to do is read it and ask, with sincerity and faith. 

It’s my testimony that the Book of Mormon is true.  I know it with complete certainty.  Not through any physical evidence or extensive archeological research, but simply because I asked.  And that testimony is galvanized daily as I to study its teachings and can be yours by doing the same.


I have a dream

 Tonight I came home from work, pulled into the driveway, and burst into the house with my typical loud and obnoxious “HELLOOOO MY FAMILYYYY” greeting.  That’s always followed by a stampede of 5 pairs of little feet, rushing to hug Daddy first (my favorite part of the day).

Then, of course, is a chaotic rush of everyone trying to tell me about their day first.  Each person tries so hard to patiently wait their turn, but occasionally just bursts out like some sort of water balloon filled too tightly – it cracks me up.

But today, after the novelty of my arrival wore off, dinner was done, and dishes were cleaned, I sat down on the couch with my 8 year old and asked him to show me his report card and other school work.

He proudly opened up his school folder to a yellow sheet of paper and said “Dad, first I want to show you this, I thought of you when I wrote this, let me read it to you…. And don’t read ahead!”

Here is what he wrote:

I have a dream

“I have a dream that I will be a good father when I grow up.  And that my kids will like me as a father.  Because I want to have fun with them so they won’t be unhappy.  I will take them out to the theaters to watch shows and go by them ice cream.  I’ll take them to bed on my shoulders, and tuck them in every night.”

What a way to top off a day.  And Tyson, I have the same dream, now and for eternity.


President Hinckley’s funeral – saying goodbye to my prophet

Wow, what an event.  I’m so glad I went.  It was so inspiring.  I’ve wanted to post just a few highlights and my thoughts on them…

First of all, I loved the image of hard work that Sister Pearce, his Daughter, painted about the prophet.  She said that when his wife died, he mourned deeply, then put on his shoes and went to work.  When he was diagnosed with cancer, he mourned the loss of his good health (having been so healthy all of his life), but then he put on his shoes, and went to work.  He was 97, and every morning, he put on his shoes and went to work.  He served the Lord for half of a century, tirelessly “doing his best”.  He served as apostle, seer, and revelator for nearly 50 years.  He bore the burden of the entire church as prophet for 13 years.  Almost one third of all members baptized today were baptized while he was president.  He built 75 new temples, and never tired.  Every day, he just put on his shoes, and went to work.

That was one of the legacies he left behind, that notion of hard work in the face of hardship, despite age and fatigue, he was a strong, non-complaining, hard worker. 

When I was in college I memorized a poem that I feel encapsulates President Hinckley:

Be Strong
by Maltbie Davenport Babcock

Be strong, we are not here to play, to dream, to drift,
we have hard work to do, and loads to lift,
sun not the struggle, face it, ‘tis God’s gift.

Be strong, say not the days are evil, who’s to blame
and fold the hands of acquiesce – o shame!
Stand up, speak out, and boldly in God’s name.

Be strong, it matters not how deep entrenched the wrong,
how hard the battle goes, the day how long,
faint not, fight on, tomorrow comes the song.

Sometimes I reflect on how much more diligent I can be at following in those footsteps.  Often we find ourselves complaining, paralyzed by fear, drugged by nostalgia, hindered by doubt, wallowing in laziness, or focusing on the negative, when what we really need to do, is just put on our shoes, and go to work. 

I loved hearing about the explosion of text messages across latter day saint youth, prompting them to wear their Sunday best to school the next morning, in tribute.  That kind of spontaneous unity across such a wide array of people, and over such a short period of time is inspiring and awesome.

I loved the story of President Hinckley walking into the room full of general authorities dressed in their dark, suits and saying “You all look like a bunch of penguins”, or the myriad other stories about his lightening sense of humor.  I love seeing that humor and sobriety can safely coexist.  That one bearing such burdens can look through it all and smile, and joke, and lighten the burdens of those around him, even though they pale in comparison to those weighing down upon himself.

The quote:  “Here and there, now and then, the Lord makes a giant out of men”.

And finally, after a beautiful, entertaining, and profound tribute to our prophet, the heart-felt feeling of our next prophet, President Monson, calling him by his first name – “Gordon, God be with you till we meet again”.


Funeral for a prophet

Tomorrow morning I’ve got tickets to go to President Hinckley’s funeral.  Saying I’m excited is probably the wrong way to describe it, but it’s something like that.  With how much he was loved, I think the ceremony is bound to be touching and inspiring, and I’m fortunate to be able to be there.  The news today was saying that there are expected to be some 150,000 people coming to Temple Square to join the ceremony in any way they can, and today there were simply swarms of people, families, gathered around in unfathomably long lines, all waiting to get in to the viewing.

I personally find it inspiring that so many people would take time out of their day to pay tribute to the Prophet we all loved so much.

On that note, today my bishop forwarded to me a tribute from CNN talk show host Glenn Beck, where he paid a touching tribute to the prophet on live TV (click here to watch it).

I was so impressed that he would have the courage to speak out, to voice his opinion, and to make himself heard on something he thought was timely and important.  I think too often we don’t do that, we keep things to ourselves (often because we’re afraid of causing offense), and the world would likely be a better place if we all spoke out a little more.  (See my blog post on “why I keep this blog” for more thoughts on that…)

I’ll post my thoughts on the funeral tomorrow, and pay my own public tribute to such a fantastic soul.