Sunday, July 13, 2008

There is a God

Much has happened in my life since I last wrote in my blog, almost six months ago. Things got worse before they got better, and I simply did not want to whine about my lot in life, so I shut down my blogging. I had a number of job interviews, I flew all over the country, then one after another they dissolved without any offers. What was wrong with me? Why couldn't I attract the kind of employer I desired? I was getting desperate and would have taken anything, but nothing came. It was time to learn even more humility. I needed to let go of my past failures in corporate America and the frustrations that were eating me up--it took some more time and reflection.

Over the Memorial Day weekend I went with friends on a 3 day camping trip to Havasupai, down inside the Grand Canyon. This is a magical place of living waters. It requires a 12 mile hike in and out, but it can be savored along the way, and I had a marvelous time. The aquamarine water is clear and brisk, springing from a deep underground aquifer that leaks out the canyon wall and flows down in pools and waterfalls on its way to the Colorado river. It was a time to get away from it all, to be with dear friends and feel close to my Heavenly Father. While I was there I felt like everything was going to work out and be okay; despite my fears, I just needed to continue to have faith in the Lord.

The hike out the canyon was the most daunting part of the trip. We elected to begin in the late afternoon, once the shadows were in the canyon, and hoped to be out by dark. The radiant golden light of the western sun lit up the high layers of white sandstone, casting warm light below that was soaked up by the red and ochre tones of the stone layers around me. I thought of hymns and hummed the melodies as I marched up the dry creek bed towards the waiting switchbacks that rise steeply up the canyon wall at the trailhead. It wasn't going to be fun, but there was no other way out. After two thirds of the way my feet began to hurt with hotspots, I had used up most of my water, and everyone else I was hiking out with were way ahead of me. I didn't like the idea of being the old slow poke and making others wait for me, but I was doing my best and that was all I could do.

After hiking about ten miles, with the two most difficult miles yet to go at the shoulder of the rim, I paused to rest. I prayed to my Heavenly Father for help--I needed Him to lift me up and give me confidence that I could do this. . . before the darkness settled in! I started up the switchbacks and felt as though charged with new energy and joy for being there, even though it was tough and challenging. I paused at every other switchback and waited a minute to catch my breath and for my heart rate to slow down, enjoying the view and splendor of the last rays of sunlight. When I was almost to the top, the sun made its final glint of glory before dipping below the far rim of the canyon. At that moment, I raised both my hands up in the air, feeling such gratitude for the blessing of being there. And since I was all by myself, I felt inspired to proclaim out loud to the rocks below me: "There is a God!" After looking at the expanse of space and sky beyond me, I felt again to repeat and magnify the thought: "There is a God in the Heavens!!" But I could not stop the prompting of the Spirit speaking to my mind, so again I spoke out loud: "There is a God in the Heavens who loves me!!!" Then I knew what I wanted to say next, without any prompting, "There is a God in the Heavens who loves me, and I love Him."

I reached the top feeling great, so alive and thankful for making it, and my son-in-law was cheering me on for the last few hundred steps. Surely there is analogy here with our mortal journey, is there not?

When I returned home from Havasupai I had an email waiting for me from a man I've known for years, asking if I were still available for employment. This person owns a food company in Oregon, and he was hoping I might be interested in his company. I flew out the next week for a job interview, and what he really wanted to know about me was where I saw my life's priorities and values, a personal question that almost blew me away. I responded frankly--my family, my career, my faith. I have since joined his company, and I am responsible for new product innovation, which is just exactly what I want to do. My new home is now in Oregon, which actually is my old home, since I was born and raised in Oregon and left 30 years ago... so this is a home-coming that goes beyond my longing hopes to a dream come true. I am simply thrilled with the new job, and credit my 8 month ordeal to the Lord's knowledge of where I could end up and holding out for me when I might have caved in.

Truly, there is a God in the Heavens who loves me, and I love him.

P.S. Just in case you're wondering, the Gecko will always remain a part of me and this blog. Anyways, I don't particularly want to morph into a salamander or a banana slug, even if they are more prevalent here in the great Pacific Northwest.

Saturday, February 9, 2008


Recently, John G-W posted his feelings upon having his laptop stolen at a bus station: "I have lived into the awareness that, as important a possession as it was to me, it was, like all possessions, still just an accessory."

This statement brought a flood of recognition to me, because over the last 4 months I have learned the reality of 'doing without.' I had become comfortably accustomed to the privileged life of adequate compensation, and based so much of my consumption of material goods on wants rather than needs. It is surprising how little you can actually get by on when cold hard reality slaps you in the face. When you no longer have income flowing in, you are forced into a scarcity mentality that is much more critical about what needs and wants really are. Literally, the buck stops here.

It has been pretty humbling to accept that we could not get through this alone, that we were not financially prepared or self-sufficient enough to handle this ongoing crisis of unemployment in meeting our living expenses. We never anticipated it would take this long for companies to make a hiring decision, because in the past we had moved from one company to another with relative ease. We quickly used up the meager severance and our savings in a couple month's mortgage payments, and then thanks to my wife's sister and my brother, were able to cover another couple month's mortgage payments and winter semester tuition for a daughter. And yes, we've been living on our food storage, but so much more is required. Unemployment benefits only pay out about 20% of our previous take-home pay. The loving concern and generosity of our Bishop has relieved us from so much stress and worry. Church welfare has helped with the utility companies and provided fresh food for our table, and we have been able to volunteer in a couple different venues to give back ourselves.

At Christmas we received several anonymous notes on the door with money and gift cards to the local supermarket. We learned more than how good it is to give--we learned how to receive. We had a poignant and grateful celebration of the poor baby born in a stable--mostly with good food, a few small gifts and most importantly, each other to hold on to while singing the carols and bearing our love and testimony one to another.

We approached this month of February and another $2000 mortgage payment with no idea what to do next. Our Bishop said not to worry. How could we possibly take any more from the sacred funds of the saint's welfare offerings? We cried and contemplated about what to do next. We've tried for the last couple months to sell a car, but with little response. This month we began praying in real earnest for help. And I just kept lowering the car's price by $200 every few days until it was a real deal. So Thursday I signed over the title of my little red car named "Ruby" to a very nice woman named Deepika. She and five other foreign nationals from India are on a teaching assignment in a local high school because of a shortage of math and science teachers in the USA. Deepika has a PhD in Science and has been a principal of a school in India. Her colleagues are also well educated, bright, gentle and engaging. Again I was reminded of how much I actually have, as we walked into their rented house with only two mismatched office chairs in the entire first floor. They spoke of missing their families back home in India and how different the culture is here in America and how difficult it is teaching teenagers with no desire to learn in a vacuum of classroom discipline. I realized how meager they had it, to be separated from so much with only a few other people struggling together for mutual support. I humbly felt gratitude for my many blessings of family, friends and church that cements my life together in all the right and familiar ways.

Yesterday morning I went to the Mesa Temple, to thank the Lord for my many blessings and to petition for guidance in the interviews ahead. Tomorrow I leave for an interview in New Hampshire. There are developing opportunities in Pennsylvania and California. As I sat pondering in the Celestial Room, with eastern light streaming in through the tall windows of the beautiful room, I received a calm assurance not to worry, that all would be well and that I should choose a job that would best deliver on what I wanted to accomplish in the remainder of my career. I reached for a copy of the Bible, and it opened to Joshua 24, where the prophet exhorts,
"And I have given you a land for which ye did not labour, and cities which ye built not, and ye dwell in them; of the vineyards and oliveyards which ye planted not do ye eat. Now therefore fear the Lord, and serve him in sincerity and in truth: and put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the flood, and in Egypt; and serve ye the Lord."
I confess that I have served the gods of 'Accessories' more than I previously cared to admit. How much do we really need, after it is all said and done, and our excess is truly stripped away? What is really important? It is our family, our faith, our determination to do what is right. The Lord has demonstrated this to me in the past few months. I feel as though I have gained a wisdom that would not have come in any other way. When we move, it will have to be to a more spartan lifestyle. We cannot sell our home at present because we are $30,000 upside down on the value of it, so we're leaving it for our married children to live in while they finish a graduate degree at ASU for another 18 months. Hopefully the housing market will recover and we can recoup our equity at that time. We will need to move into a low cost rented apartment to manage our combined housing expense, and we'll leave most of our belongings in the Arizona house. But it's only stuff, just accessories, that we leave behind. We carry with us larger hearts, full of desire to give back to our God whom we know is aware of all the earth and blesses those who love Him.

Back in the celestial room of the temple, I witnessed even more. I sat in a plush chair, surrounded by fine things drenched in chandelier light, and watched the beautiful people dressed in white move in their family groups to hug one another, smile with joy and rejoice in being in the Lord's house. There were a couple young men with a pink tags pinned to white shirts embracing proud parents wiping tears from their eyes. There was a lovely young bride to be with an earnest young man at her side and family clustered all around, waiting for their sealing session to begin. I myself had felt the warmth as proxy for my great great great grandfather, William Bowie, whose grandson and my great grandfather, John Bowie Ferguson, immigrated from Scotland to the new frontier of Nebraska territory in the 1870's. These men I am confident to meet someday. They are not accessories to my life; they are part of my life.

I reached again to the Bible on my lap and felt the Spirit's prompting to turn to Proverbs. Which chapter? Eight. So I opened to the chapter eight and began to read:
"Unto you, O men, I call; and my voice is to the sons of man. O ye simple, understand wisdom: and ye fools, be ye of an understanding heart. Hear, for I will speak of excellent things; and the opening of my lips shall be right things. For my mouth shall speak truth; and wickedness is an abomination to my lips. All the words of my mouth are in righteousness; there is nothing froward or perverse in them. They are all plain to him that understandeth, and right to them that find knowledge. Receive my instruction, and not silver; and knowledge rather than choice gold. For wisdom is better than rubies; and all the things that may be desired are not to be compared to it."

I will miss my little car, Ruby. But the transaction has been for the sake of wisdom, and I feel the Lord has spoken to me in astonishingly clear terms. He has granted me an understanding heart. I hope to always retain the wisdom of these months of struggle. I have been led through my barren wilderness of sorting through the accessories of life to realize more deeply that which is beyond price: my loving wife and loving children, who in turn love what is right and are striving to be their best. It is not the car, the furniture, the house, the whatever. I love this church, the safety net it has been to my soul and family. And I love the Lord, for I know he first loved me.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Goodbye, Pres. Hinckley

I will miss you Pres. Hinckley, for all your wonderful words and inspiring leadership, your warm and familiar humor. How can I thank you for such a life of devoted service? Only by expressing in some public way my love and gratitude for your life so well lived. I am confident you are now with your beloved companion, and I hope you feel satisfied by all your mortal contributions.

Pres. Hinckley, I can't think of another filling the void that now exists by your parting, but I know each church president finds a niche and the Lord works with those individual talents and sensitivities. The Lord will bring about his work, and as you have said, we all have a part in it, large or small, if we so desire.

Pres. Hinckley, I will return often to your writings, to find inspiration to 'Stand a little taller' and 'be a little better', day by day. I will try and recall in moments of temptation your clarion call to shun pornography and all that is debasing of the human spirit. I will follow your example of focusing on the positive and reaching out to others, as the best way of overcoming my own weaknesses.

Pres. Hinckley, thank you for your unfailing testimony. I shall always fondly think of you whenever I sing your hymn text (#135):

I know that my Redeemer lives,
Triumphant Savior, Son of God,
Victorious over pain and death,
My King, my Leader, and my Lord.

He lives, my one sure rock of faith,
The one bright hope of men on earth,
The beacon to a better way,
The light beyond the veil of death.

Oh, give me thy sweet Spirit still,
The peace that comes alone from thee,
The faith to walk the lonely road
That leads to thine eternity.

And Pres. Hinckley, may I add a fourth verse, just for you?

You dear, dear man for whom we'll miss,
The loving words and gentle smile,
'Go forth with faith,' to eternal bliss--
Our parting's but a little while.

God bless us all to 'Stand For Something.'
Thank you, Pres. Hinckley for showing me the good way.

Your friend and brother,

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Release Me

I feel bad I've been so quiet lately. It's been hard to want to sit down and write anything. With nothing really happening in my job search, I have little motivation to share no-news, and even less desire to bitch and moan over my predicament. Not much else seems to matter except where the next buck is going to come from for the mortgage payment, or trying to stay focused on interviews and keeping new applications going out. Granted, I've had several good triggers to write about over the past month with the holidays and all, but with kids home from BYU for two weeks, I was cautious to be too involved or open with the family computer, so I basically ignored the urge to blog. I hope everyone had warm holidays and I wish us all an even better new year.

But this last Sunday things unexpectedly changed, and now I've got another reason to write. No, I don't have a new job, I'm not moving, but the sky fell for me a little bit. Maybe I should have kept my mouth shut. I told my Bishop a while back that he should start looking for my replacement in the Young Men President calling I've held for the last couple years. Yet I was unprepared emotionally for being released, especially with the justification that he was inspired to call someone else. (So you mean, the Lord doesn't want me to do this any more?) Well actually, I know his intentions were to relieve pressure on me for decisions ahead, but I'll miss the leadership opportunities. However, I'll stay on as an advisor to the Priest's Quorum. So I was a little surprised at myself, that I had such a hard time during Sacrament meeting, getting all choked up through most the hymns. My feelings were right there on the surface, and my wife just squeezed my hand and somehow we mumbled the words together in a mixture of gratitude and pain. I don't want to go. I don't want to lose my boys, these wonderful young men I've grown to love, as they grow up and prepare for missions and life ahead. Even though this is just a baby step of separation, I know it's coming and it's really tough.

I had prepared a lesson, which I also managed to deliver 'raw' on emotion. Basically, I was calling them out for not listening to my lesson two weeks ago, for taking the scriptures for granted, and just sliding by with their faith. It needed to be said, whether or not I was leaving. I dramatically read them the entire chapter of 2 Nephi 32, exhorting them to pray always and seek the spirit. You should read this out loud to yourself sometime; it is powerful. They will probably go a long while before they have another priesthood lesson as tearful or impassioned! And all this was in front of the new YM Pres! Can I show my face ever again? Yeah, I guess so. The young men were quiet and much more in tune to what I was saying this week; I hope they felt the same spirit I was feeling and trying so hard to show them. I thank God for including the young men in my journey at this time in my life. He is wise beyond words, and He has been there for me in my reaching.