Monday, February 10, 2014

My gift card from God

This last month has been rough for us financially. Ben makes very good money between his 2 jobs, but because he works with students, there are certain times - like Christmas, Spring Break, and Summer Vacation - that he just don't get as many hours. Because of that, our paycheck for December, which we received in January, just wouldn't cover everything we needed it to. We were able to figure out how to pay the bills just fine, but there was nothing left over for anything else - like groceries. 

Hmmm...that doesn't exactly work for us, since we are both anti-starving-to-death.

So we did the only thing we could think of to get us through - pray.

We were 3 1/2 weeks away from Ben's next paycheck, and we really had no idea how it was going to work. We had done everything right, including paying tithing and offerings first, because we both know from experience that paying God first is the most important thing to when you can't make ends meet; He tends to make them meet for you. And that's exactly what He did with us.

The first week we came across an ISO add on Facebook from someone close by to us who was searching for a coffee table. Funny, since we happen to have one that we don't have room for that has been leaning against our wall in the spare bedroom - we just never had time to put up the add that we were selling it. We got in contact with the buyer and offered them a selling price. They didn't even try to talk us down, and paid cash for the coffee table. It was just enough money to buy food for a week.

We thought it was a pretty good idea to sell old stuff that we don't use anymore, so we went through the house and picked out everything we figure we can downsize on/do without, and  posted it for sale on several local "online garage sale" facebook pages. We thought, surely, this would be the answer to how we would be able to pay for the groceries for the next 2 weeks. But no one was interested in our kitchen appliances and textbooks (we live in a college town) and other stuff we were getting rid of. So at the end of the week, we had no idea how to make things work again. That Saturday we went to Ben's parent's house to visit (the live about 45 minutes away). Even though they still have their own bills to pay and children at home to feed, they had bags of groceries waiting for us when we got there, and pulled food out of their own cupboards and freezer to send home with us. That was such a huge blessing to us, and they didn't have to do that. On top of that, some friends of ours heard that I had been sick, and a few times during the week different people brought us dinner. There were many small things that happened that allowed us to get through the week without worrying about what we were going to eat.

So that left us at last Thursday trying to figure out what to do to make until the 15th. 9 days to go and we were running low on food again. Realizing that we won't be able to do anything really nice for Valentines Day or our first anniversary (which is 2 days after Valentines Day), I felt even worse about not being able to afford anything other than our bills. I mean, it's our anniversary, I should at least do something nice for it, right? So I decided that I could at least make some cute heart decorations that can double for both valentines and anniversary (I have a feeling those two holidays are going to be combined for us every year =) I guess that's what I get for getting married so close to a holiday).  I have some scrapbooking stuff and stickers and paper from before we got married that was in a box somewhere, I figured I could just do some homemade stuff and that will have do to for this year. We also kept all our greeting cards from our wedding (I have plans to learn to scrapbook...someday) and I figured some of those might have hearts or cute patterns I could cut out and use. I started sorting through them, glancing only at the front of each card to see if it was worth cutting out. About two thirds of the way through the stack, I found the answer to buying groceries for the next week: There was an unused $20 gift card to WalMart tucked in the cards.

Now, we received a lot of gift cards when we got married. It was a good thing too, because Ben was only working one job at the time, and we REALLY couldn't afford anything besides the rent. We lived off of gift cards for the first 2 1/2 months that we were married, and they ran out right as Ben was able to pick up the 2nd job, which allowed us to afford everything we needed. We were so desperate during that time in our lives, and I know that we went through those greeting cards several times to make sure we hadn't missed any gift cards. There is no way that we could have missed one.

But there it was. Right at the time when we just couldn't do anything else to make ends meet, God helped me find it.

Now, I'm not suggesting that God went to WalMart and bought us a gift card and hid it in my old wedding stuff. I do however believe that when we were double and triple checking the stack a year ago that He kept us from finding it, so that it would be there for us when we needed it right now.  I also believe that He inspired me to want to do something nice for Ben even though we don't have money for it, so that I would look through the greeting cards. How can anyone argue that God doesn't care about or notice His children?

I'm reminded of the story in Matthew chapter 6 (and also in Luke 12), when Christ is teaching the people what they should really be focused on. He tells them to think about the lilies that grow in the field, or the birds that fly in the air. God feeds them and takes care of them and makes them beautiful, because He loves His creations. If God gives so much love and attention to flowers and birds, who are temporary and insignificant and little, how much more love and attention and care does He give His children, especially when they have faith in Him? He then says:

 "Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? ...your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness and all these things shall be added unto you."
I know that when we put our trust in God and make it our first priority to serve Him, that He will make it His business to ensure that we are taken care of. When I say "put our trust in God", I mean to do what He says no matter what. Not just to say you believe, but to act on that belief. Actions speak louder than words. On my mission in Argentina I worked with many families who lived day to day - meaning the money they earned that day paid for the food they ate that day, and the next day if they wanted to feed their family, they had to go find a way to work and get paid the same day, or there wouldn't be food. And by food for their families, I don't mean dominoes pizza, or even cold cereal for breakfast - most of them lived off of bread and noodles with a little sauce. Every day.
 It was hard for me to ask these people to trust God by paying their tithing, when they couldn't even afford food. It was hard to ask them not to work on Sundays (4th commandment out of the 10) when they wouldn't be able to feed their families that day if they didn't go to work.  I could see that many of them wanted to do it, wanted to believe that somehow God could make those blessings happen for their family as long as they were obedient, but they just couldn't let themselves trust that God would provide their families with what they needed if they made that sacrifice. I don't blame them. It's hard. I don't think that they didn't have faith, or that they were sinners or that they don't deserve God's blessings. I just wish they could have had enough faith to believe that God keeps His promises, and to be obedient to what He asks, even if that means that for a while you don't know how you're going to feed your family or pay your bills.
Because there were a lot of families who did sacrifice. There were a lot of families that did choose pay tithing, and not work on Sundays, and keep ALL of God's commandments, even though it seemed like they were "giving their grocery money to the church" (as some skeptics call it). They understood that wasn't the case. They trusted God through their actions (not just their words) and returned to Him the portion that He has always asked. And you know what? Every person that I worked with who trusted God enough to do what He asked was blessed with an increase. Some of them found steady jobs, some of them had pay raises, one man who was living off of $250 a month had his retirement check increase to $1000 a month. There is not a single person I can think of who wasn't taken GOOD care of after trusting God enough to sacrifice what they had in order to serve Him. God takes care of His children, and He keeps His promises. He knows exactly what we need, and He is always just waiting for us to trust Him, so that He can "open the windows of heaven" and pour out so many blessings on us that we don't even have enough room to receive them (Malachi 3:10).

I didn't mean for this post to turn into a testimonial about the blessings of paying tithing, but I guess that's what it turned out to be. What I hope that anyone reading this will understand is that God blesses us for obedience to any and all of His commandments. That doesn't make it easy to do, but it means that obedience is worth it.

He always makes it worth it. I promise.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

"Wounded on the Battlefield"

Last year BYU-Idaho released a short video (4 min) called "Wounded on the Battlefield".  The narration for the video is taken from an address given by Kim B. Clark to the student body of the University on January 15, 2008 in the weekly devotional. The video motivates and encourages students to help their roommates who struggle with pornography to get the help they need to overcome the problem.  Since being posted to Youtube, this video has received a lot of national attention, negative national attention. From newspapers, to online opinion articles, to Jay Leno; everyone seems to either disagree with the message of the video or be offended by the metaphor President Clark made between pornography addiction and being wounded in a war. Many are angry that he would draw that parallel because pornography is accepted by society as "normal" and is seemingly harmless, whereas war is a tragedy in which lives are lost and families and nations are torn apart.

I want to explain why comparing pornography addiction to war is a perfect metaphor.

First off, it needs to be understood that while pornography might be considered "normal" because so many people are involved, it is not harmless. I'm going to say that again: Pornography is NOT HARMLESS.

In an article published in 2011 by the US National Library of Medicine, the neurological effects of pornography were discussed as it relates to the chemical, pathological, and anatomical changes it creates in the brain. Through several studies they have concluded that pornography overloads the brain with dopamine and oxytocin (chemicals), to the point that it reduces the amount of certain cells your brain produces. The cells it tells your brain to stop producing? They are the ones that allow you to make strategic/planned/thought out decisions, leaving you only with the cells that produce impulsive decisions. These studies show that the exact same thing happens in the brains of people with addictions to cocaine, methamphetamine, and even eating disorders.

Why is this a problem?

It literally destroys your brain's ability to make rational choices. It takes away your freedom to decide what to do, because it takes away your brain's ability to even produce rational thoughts, let alone act on them. Most people have read the book 1984 for some kind of class in school. I'm pretty sure that if our government was run in the same manner the government in 1984 was run that it would cause a furious revolution. People in general don't like to be controlled. The reason I bring up 1984 is because in this story the government has a department that edits the dictionary to remove words that provoke certain thoughts. The reason? To keep people from even thinking about something that the government doesn't like. They are stopping the ability to produce certain thoughts. If the idea of a government regulating what people as a group are allowed to think is disgusting to us, why is it that allowing pornography to do the same thing on an individual basis is considered "normal" and/or "harmless"?

The same article from the US National Library of Medicine provides a possible answer:

"The sex industry has successfully characterized any objection to pornography as being from the religious/moral perspective; they then dismiss these objections as First Amendment infringements. If pornography addiction is viewed objectively, evidence indicates that it does indeed cause harm in humans"

So why do we accept what the sex industry suggests is legal under the First Amendment so readily, if it is so harmful? It is because the chemicals that pornography produces in the brain (the same ones that overload it to the point of not being able to produce rational thoughts) effect the pleasure/reward center; it makes you feel good immediately - at least, the first few times. Your brain recognizes that this chemical overload is bad for you, and actually fights the ability to be affected by those chemicals.

Did you catch that? Your brain naturally fights/rejects what pornography does to it.

It fights it by limiting the censors that react to pleasure/reward, so that you don't feel as aroused the next time you view pornography. Because the person viewing pornography realizes that they aren't getting as much of a "buzz" with subsequent views, this disappoints them, and they look for harder, more intense porn, thus creating an addiction. The person needs more extreme and even dangerous forms of pornography (most hard porn involves images/video of women being physically harmed) in order to feel aroused by it, and they are now combining and associating arousal with aggression. Sometimes this leads to the person viewing child pornography, or even trying to recreate images/scenes of pornography with real people by forcing them into unwanted sexual acts. This is horrible and illegal.

Obviously not all porn addicts go as far as committing crimes, however, several studies show that pornography addiction can have the following effects (depending on how deeply a person is addicted):
  • Interferes with the ability to "pair bond" (have a functional, healthy relationship with a significant other) 
  • Changes their idea of what a healthy sexual relationship looks like
  • Decreases interest in goal directed activities that are central to survival
  • Those who view child pornography have an 85% correlation to those who participate in/force sexual acts on children
  • Causes the person to consider acts such as sex with animals or violent sex as "common", and are more likely to participate in those acts
  • Induces violent attitudes against women
  • Increases harassing behavior toward women
  • Causes the user to feel less sympathetic towards rape victims
  • Increases the odds that the user itself will commit violent sex crimes, such as rape
All of these studies can be found at the following website, which is a fantastic source for getting the word out about how harmful pornography is:

So, getting back to BYU-Idaho's video which compares pornography to war, there are many reasons why I feel that comparing any addiction to fighting a war is not only an accurate description, but the best way of illustrating the problem.

Addictions (especially pornography) take away the freedom to choose, by literally making it incapable for your brain to think certain thoughts. If you can't think about something, you can't act on it.

War is usually a struggle for power - one country (or group of countries, or group within a country) feels that the other country (or group of countries, or government/other group within that country) is taking away their freedom to choose. This might be through imposing rules/taxes/regulations that keep them in subjection. This renders the people incapable of doing what they choose.

The only difference between war and addiction is that war is fought between two different and separate subjects, and addiction is fought within oneself.  It makes it especially hard to fight the addiction when people tell us that it's "normal", "harmless", "part of growing up", and/or "fun". 

The fight against pornography (or any addiction) = the fight to keep our freedom to choose, to make rational decisions, to think things over before deciding.  That is why I say that the metaphor between war and pornography is perfect. It is a struggle to ensure our freedom to choose.

I also want to address what some people have criticized in the "Wounded on the Battlefield" video as being equal to "Big Brother" from 1984. A lot of people dislike the fact that Kim B. Clark encouraged students to help their roommates/friends by talking to their bishop about the problem. Many have viewed this as "ratting out" or "snitching", and say that it is part of the Mormon effort to control everything it's members do.

Let me ask you something: If you were to find out that your roommate/friend/family member/any person you care about was addicted to cutting themselves, or to cocaine, or to binge drinking, or to purging themselves after eating, or to any kind of action that is physically harmful, would you hesitate to try to help them to get in to see a doctor or counselor? Would you consider yourself a snitch or a tattletale for going with them to the doctors appointment and helping them talk to someone qualified to help them? Would you look down on anyone else for doing the same thing for someone they care about?  I doubt it. If someone encouraged you to help your friend by taking them to a doctor, would you think that the doctor wants to control everything his patients do? Of course not.

Latter-Day Saint (Mormon) bishops, as well as I'm sure many clergy of other faiths, have extensive resources to help people who come to them with problems. They have access to programs, counselors, doctors, and professionals who are specialized in helping people with problems. Problems like addictions, relationship problems, mental health issues, abuse recovery issues, and any other problem you might come up with that you need help with. Bishops can provide financial assistance in case you can't afford to pay these professionals for the help you need on your own. In addition to having access to all of these useful resources, the local bishop knows you personally, and cares about you personally. LDS bishops aren't paid for what they do, their job is completely volunteer. The help they offer is out of love and understanding.

Most importantly, they provide spiritual guidance, which is so important to someone who deals with addictions, mental health issues, relationship problems, etc...because normally these circumstances leave them feeling worthless, inadequate, and like they are a failure to themselves and those they love.  Bishops help them understand that God still loves them, that He understands them, and that He can help them overcome their problems. They encourage finding strength through prayer, reading the scriptures and other spiritual books, attending church, and serving others. They never disclose anything you tell them with anyone else, unless it is to the person they refer you to for help.

I have also heard criticism from those who aren't members of our faith, because they want to know exactly what the bishop is going to do with the person who has the pornography addiction. There is a strong misconception that the bishop is going to give them disciplinary action, or put a bad mark on their membership record because of their addiction, or shun them from the congregation. Let me clear things up for you.

When I talk to the bishop, it isn't because he is going to reprimand me - I have had personal interviews with every bishop I have ever had since I was 8 years old, and I have never been reprimanded.  It isn't because he's going to tell me that I'm a sinner, or that I'm going to hell, or that I'm "unworthy" or that I need to "pay for my sins".  I have never been told any of those things. I go to the bishop because I know that my misbehavior has distanced me from God, and I want to come closer to Him again. I go to the bishop because I know that he will know what scripture story of someone in my same situation might help me, or what hymn from church might give me strength and help me feel God's love for me during that time. I go to the bishop because I understand that he can help me see the right path back to God better than I can see it by myself. He offers advice, and I am free to follow it or reject it. I have never felt anything but love and genuine concern from a bishop in my church.

I know that addictions can be difficult to overcome, especially when the world tells you that there is nothing wrong with it.  I would hope that if you are close to someone who has an addiction problem, any addiction problem, but especially pornography, that you will help them take back control of their life. Help them to get the help that they need. It is possible that God has placed you in that person's life because you are the only one that can get through to them, or help them see how harmful their addiction really is.

I want to add my personal testimony that our loving Creator does not want His children to be slaves to addiction. He wants us to be free to choose for ourselves, which is why He asks us not to participate in behavior or substances that can cause addictions. He knows what is harmful to us and has warned us well in advance what we need to avoid. Please fight for your own freedom to choose by getting to know Him and following His counsels.

If anyone wants to read further about the harmful effects of pornography addiction, or how to overcome it, I have added several links that you might find useful. I also encourage any comments that you have to share, but I ask you to be respectful, and to keep your language clean.

These are religious addresses/talks that speak about how to overcome pornography:

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Getting help, one step at a time

As Ben already said, it's been a hard few weeks for us =)  Fortunately things are getting better, and we appreciate everyone who has helped us and offered love and support.

I have noticed that as I have struggled with my health the last few weeks I have been more and more specific about what I need in my prayers. Sometimes it was just "please help me feel like getting up in the morning". It was really hard at first, because I wanted Him to push the "easy button" for me and make everything better. What I have found is that rather than make everything better for me all at once, He gave me the help I needed in little bits and pieces. Maybe I didn't feel really great in the morning and I didn't feel like I could get up, but He made it snow so that Ben needed help getting out the door earlier so that he could make it to work on time. In getting up to help Ben, I didn't feel that great at first. However, after half an hour of getting going and getting him out the door, I had more energy. So even though I didn't feel great in the morning, God still answered my prayer by giving me a reason to get up.

He also sent people to give me encouragement. Sometimes it was a text, sometimes it was a phone call, sometimes a message on facebook or an email. I don't think most of them ever knew that their "hey how are you" was a much needed pick-me-up. I also received encouragement through music and reading some books we have in our apartment, as well as reading in the scriptures. Every time I felt that something was meant just for me, I could tell that God was placing the right thing at the right time in my life, even though it was something really small. He didn't answer my prayers by fixing everything at once, but rather by fixing little problems one at a time so that I could notice and appreciate each one. It also helped me to see that I'm more capable than I think I am - of course, only with His help. I'm grateful for the strength He gave me to keep going when I didn't feel like I could anymore.

I know that at some point we will all be in a situation where we feel like we just can't keep going. I promise that God is there during those times. He is helping you, even if you don't receive everything you need all at once. It is important to recognize and accept His help even when we would have preferred a different answer. Don't ever stop praying or expressing your needs to Him. He will always be there to care for us.

I was studying faith in my scriptures this week and came across something interesting in the Bible Dictionary.  Many people think that if God is really there, that He will answer them by parting their Red Sea or healing their sickness or moving their mountains, because we always read about those kinds of answers to prayer in the scriptures. In the Bible Dictionary it explains that God had his prophets write about those miraculous events, not as a way of saying "this is how God answers prayers," but rather so that we could come to know the characteristics and attributes of God. In those stories we learn how powerful, perfect, all knowing, just, merciful, and understanding He is.  He wants us to know that He is like that so that we will turn to Him in times of need and so that we will not have any reason to doubt Him. He gave us those examples of what He can do so that we will trust that He knows us and how to best help us.

While He may not move our mountains with a snap of His finger, He does hand us a shovel and say "I'll give you the strength to move it, one scoop at a time". He may not part the sea in front of us, but He will teach us how to build a boat to sail across it, no matter how hard the storms are. He may not heal us of our sicknesses, but He gives us the strength to live a joyous and fulfilling life in spite of them (my parents are perfect examples of this).  I'm so grateful that He knows us and helps us, even if it's just a little bit at a time. I know that we will always receive help if we have the faith to ask for it and act on what He tells us to do.

Lord of the Small, Simple Things

Hello, all!  It has really been a while, and we are sorry.  We have had quite a few trials these past few weeks, though that is no excuse for not writing in our blog.  We hope you will forgive us.

Gauchay and I are part of a choir called "From the Heart".  It is a community choir, basically made up of students from BYU-Idaho, that gets together every semester and does a fireside every Sunday night for about 2 months.  It has been an amazing experience, and if you live in Rexburg, we would definitely invite you to come listen.  It is an amazing experience.

One of the songs that we are doing this semester is called "Lord of the Small Things".  Now I'm not going to lie, when I first read this title I instantly thought of Lord of the Flies.  But, that obviously is not what it's talking about.  It is of course referring to our Savior, Jesus Christ, and how He is Lord over all, even the small things.

In the scriptures we read that "by small and simple things are great things brought to pass; and small means in many instances doth confound the wise." (Alma 37:6).  

This song, coupled with this scripture, has helped me in the past few weeks.  One of the trials we have been through is that Gauchay has been really sick.  So sick that she was basically bedridden for most of the day.  This was obviously hard on both of us for different reasons.  And I definitely needed the Lord's help with small things, such as laundry, food, cleaning, etc.  And it all worked out.  Gauchay has even been blessed to get better and she is back to her usual, perky self.

Too often we only think of God as this Great Being who helps us in our most dire circumstances and is there to help us repent and bring us back to Him.  This is true.  But that is just a part of what He does.  He is Lord over all things.  He will help us with our homework.  He will comfort us when we are feeling down.  He will open our minds to new thoughts and new ideas that we hadn't thought of before.  In essence, whatever thing we ask or need of God, He will do it for us.  He loves us.  We should never think that something we need is not important to God.

I promise you that as you let God become fully invested in your life, even in the small, mundane tasks, you will feel a power in your life that wasn't there before.  The Spirit of God will be more manifest in your lives.  You will feel happier and have more hope.  Most of all, you will feel Heavenly Father's love even more, because you are letting Him into your life, which is what He most wants.

Let us always remember that He is the Lord of the small and the simple, the menial and the mundane, the ordinary and the obsolete.  He is Jesus Christ, the Savior of us all.