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I grew up surrounded by the natural beauty of Montana where I took full advantage of many outdoor adventures including; driving my car into a lake, nearly drowning on a raging river and getting chased by several wild animals (some of which were the human species). I joined the Navy after high school for the opportunity to see the world, but in the first month of living in a big city, I got mugged TWICE in the very SAME day! I am married to Anya who defected from the former USSR when she was a teenager. We think our 5 kids are pretty much the best we've ever been parents of in our entire life.
Growing up I thought 'churchy' people were just made differently than I was. I had convinced myself that even if there was a God, He wouldn't want anything to do with someone with faults like me. By the age of 25, I began recognizing the consequences of living 'for the moment' and realized there must be greater meaning to life than how I had been living it. One night ignoring my doubts, I decided to earnestly pray. As I started pouring my heart out to God for his forgiveness, the walls I had built over many years began to crumble and the most exquisite feeling of peace and love that I had ever felt washed over me. The experience was indescribable, but I compare it to being reunited with a loving parent that knew my every fear, sorrow, hurt and weakness and yet loved me with an unfathomable amount of love that was seemed to fill me with hope and light. That night after some time I went back to bed knowing without a doubt that God truly exists, knows me personally, and loves all His children perfectly. My life drastically changed overnight. I wanted to live up to the new found potential I saw in myself. I quit smoking, drinking and began making new choices. Through Christ's atonement and teachings, I learned I can draw closer to God and always have a portion of His spirit as a constant companion. It lifts, guides and makes me want to be a better husband, father, and friend than I could ever be on my own.
It took me longer than most in life, but it finally dawned on me that our lives and even our very character is defined by the thousands of small and large choices we make each day. Prior to coming to that understanding, I had always subscribed to the notion that 'you only live once', which led to selfish and careless choices I would later regret. The older I got the more I recognized that the person I wanted to be, wasn't quite who I was becoming. "It’s ironic that choosing what often seems easiest—sin, pleasure, laziness, selfishness—makes our life more difficult in the long run." For me, making the difficult choice to quit alcohol, in many ways, set a foundation that made it easier for me to make many more positive choices for my future; choices that I wouldn't have made or wouldn't have been available to me if I would have kept drinking. Right choices get easier as we see and feel the positive benefits that comes from making them. I hope to instill in my kids the discipline to make right choices, the wisdom to recognize the benefits, and the faith to resist the shouting influences of the world, by seeking the still small voice of God's Spirit that prompts us to do good continually.
Many life changing decisions have come under the inspiration or as a confirmation from the Holy Ghost. I know that might seem strange or foriegn to those who find living by faith a challenge, but the Holy Ghost is very much real! And for me it hasn't just happen over night. Its taken me some trial and error to really start to recognize when I felt the companionship of the Holy Ghost. Often when we aren't repentant, we further ourselves from God and the gift of the Holy Ghost, and even forget just how valuable it is to have as a comforter in our lives. The desire to keep the Holy Ghost with me has been motivation for me to adjust my priorities and let go of bad habbits.
There are many inspiring talks, lessons, hymns and testimonies that uplift and edify our spirits at church. Yet the most significant reason for attending is the weekly sacrament where we remember the Savior's sacrifice for us, and renew our promise to follow his example. On the night before His death on the cross, Jesus Christ gave the sacrament to His Apostles and said, “This do in remembrance of me” True, it only took a moment in prayer to be fully converted and know God lives, yet it takes the rest of my life to seek Him and develop faith and spiritual strength that over time becomes a part of who I am. Over the years since my conversion, I've learned that our faith is like a young plant that needs constant nourishment to grow and thrive. Neglecting prayers and gospel study, or placing worldly things above spiritual things would lead to my faith wilting and eventually it could die all together.
I know that Joseph Smith saw God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ. I know that Joseph was called by God to restore the true church of Jesus Christ to the earth, and was given the correct power and authority to do it. He was persecuted his entire life for telling the truth about what he saw, even until his death at the hands of an angry mob who murdered him... "For I had seen a vision; I knew it, and I knew that God knew it, and I could not deny it, neither dared I do it" (Joseph Smith-History 1:25) You can read in Joseph's own words, his written account of what he both heard and saw by going to this website: http://scriptures.lds.org/js_h/1
Finding out who are ancestors are and the lives they lived is pretty cool! But Love is the central motivation for family history work. Who doesn't cherish their family as one of the most important things to them? Mormon's believe that families are central to our Heavenly Father's plan of happiness which extends long before and long after this life or 'until death do you part'. The knowledge and understanding of what happens when we die, and how my family can be together forever is one of the most cherished blessings I have gained from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. God's plan enables families who live the gospel and receive the necessary ordinances to be together forever with Him. Mormons do family history and genealogy as a part of the salvation of all mankind. When someone dies, their spirits continue living in the post-mortal spirit world and are capable of still making choices. But many of Heavenly Father's children have died without having the opportunity to receive the fullness of the gospel. In His mercy and infinite love, the Lord has prepared a way for them to gain a testimony of the gospel and receive the saving ordinances of the priesthood. Because they no longer have their mortal bodies, church members perform ordinances in their place that can be accepted or rejected by that person. Family history is a lot of fun that anyone can start doing online today! I can say from my experience I feel a greater bond and appreciation in having researched the lives of my great great grandparents before me.
From the beginning, God has always called Prophets to help lead and guide the faithful, and to reveal and testify of Christ and the plan of salvation. They would also record the experiences, history and events of their time so that future generations could become closer to God, and avoid making the same mistakes. The Book of Mormon is just such a resource of truth and a wealth of spiritual knowledge. There have been times when I felt certain passages were written directly to give me direction in my life. I've gained a greater capacity to love others and when faced with many of life's most difficult challenges or obstacles, the words and messages contained within it's pages have been a source of comfort and always helps me to feel closer to my Father in Heaven. The Book of Mormon is a book with a promise written within its pages stating: "that when ye shall receive these things, and ponder it in your hearts... I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost." I have learned for myself that The Book of Mormon is a true account written as another testament of Jesus Christ. Great men of faith throughout the Book of Mormon have borne solemn witness that Jesus Christ is the Creator of the earth, and the Redeemer of mankind. These prophets knew Him, just as Abraham and Moses did. As we read and study their words, we gain a deeper understanding of the Savior’s matchless love, His perfect life and example, and the blessings of His great atoning sacrifice. You can discover for yourself by requesting a free copy to be mailed to you from here: www.mormon.org/free-book-of-mormon And if ye shall believe in Christ ye will believe in these words, for they are the words of Christ, ... and they teach all men that they should do good.” 2 Nephi 33:10
When we pray as a family at night, I feel a stronger bond with each family member. The prayer itself always brings an added measure of peace and comfort for the kids before bedtime. I think it also makes them feel secure as our kids have rarely been afraid at night. Just before the prayer, we have a tradition we call 'buddies'. It started as a fun way to help our younger kids get the wiggles out, but over time, it has stuck because of the laughs and entertainment value we have enjoyed through the years. It's intentionally a little goofy, but basically we let the kids pick something fun we may have learned, saw or experienced that day and everyone reenacts it or imitates funny things that happened. The kids have often surprised us at times with their creativity and someone always ends up giving us all a good laugh. After the prayer there are plenty of hugs and kisses good night. We are as busy as any family, and I've always appreciated Family Prayer time as a great way to end the day making sure I've let everyone know how important they are to me, and that I love them.
The Gospel of Jesus Christ is life changing, and its the greatest gift anyone has ever shared with me. It provides answers to life's great questions and a road map for how to find true, lasting happiness. I have grown closer to God by abiding by its teachings, and my life has been enriched in countless ways. I share my testimony of these things because of the happiness it can also bring into the lives others. This isnt something that is just for me. Our Heavenly Father has a plan for all His children. “He inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness and he denieth none” 2 Nephi 26:33 His plan will allow those who learn of it to live a happier life and eventually to return to God. This life is the time to prepare to meet God. Everything in this life is to give us experience and provide opportunities to make choices. Whatever principle of intelligence and faith we attain in this life, it will rise with us in the resurrection. In return for following Jesus Christ’s way, He promises us many things, two of which are answers to our prayers and rest to our souls... and this is something I want to share with everyone.
Forgiveness and love for our enemies.
Like any relationship we want to develop, the one we have with our Father in Heaven requires constant communication. Not every time I pray does the spirit touch me as strongly as it did on a few occasions when I most needed it, but I do recognize a difference daily prayer has in my life. The scriptures tell us that the devil teaches a man not to pray and is continually enticing us to do evil. Prayer will fortify us against these negative influences. Prayer is one thing I always have no matter where I am or what I'm doing to ask for Heavenly Father's guidance, protection, and spirit. I know whether on my knees or silently to myself, whether I feel like it or not, whether I feel worthy or not, whether I'm in the comfort of my home or on a busy street in the middle of town, that I can call on my Heavenly Father and he WILL hear my prayer, and I will be strengthened and blessed for it.
Hope to me is the faith we have that positive things will come to pass. My greatest hope comes from the knowledge that the Savior broke the bands of death, and even though nothing I can do will ever repay this debt, I can show my gratitude by following his great example. My hope is similar to how Nephi described it in the Book of Mormon: “Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men … , feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life.”
One area we've felt we needed to shield our family is with regards to our choice of entertainment. Because the Spirit of God can't be with us when we watch movies, games, or television that contain nudity, violence, profanity etc, we set a standard for ourselves to watch only G and 'some' PG movies while Mom and Dad watch 'some' PG-13. It was actually about 4 years ago the I made a personal goal to no longer watch the occasional R rated movie. By keeping this commitment over time, I have felt a more frequent companionship of the Holy Ghost and more in tune to receiving inspiration. As a family we've agreed that having God's spirit to comfort and guide us in our daily lives is a privilege and FAR more important than participating in anything that would keep the Spirit from being with us. The Holy Ghost is the third member of the Godhead and is often referred to as the Spirit, the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God, or the Comforter. The Holy Ghost is a gift given to us at baptism and is one of the greatest gifts we can enjoy on earth. As we keep our bodies clean and pure in thought, speech, dress, and action, the Holy Ghost will be with us. Elder LeGrand Richards said: “I would rather have my children and my children’s children enjoy the companionship of the Holy Ghost than any other companionship in this world because if they will heed the promptings of that Spirit, he will lead them into all truth and see them safely back into the presence of their Father in heaven."
The Apostle Peter asked Jesus the question “What manner of persons ought ye to be?” Christ answered him saying "even as I am". The Savior's life, teaching, friendship, and love is the purest example we can set to emulate in our own lives. I have found I am at my happiest when in the service of others, and life is the most rewarding when I'm actively seeking to follow His example. As I strive to follow Christ's teaching I have noticed my life becomes less complicated and more meaningful. Christ said "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." The 13th Article of Faith provides a great description for what it is to follow Christ's example; "We believe in being honest, true, chaste, benevolent, virtuous, and in doing good to all men indeed, we may say that we follow the admonition of Paul—We believe all things, we hope all things, we have endured many things, and hope to be able to endure all things. If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things."