Monday, December 29, 2008

A rare white Christmas in western Oregon

We arrived at our Christmas vacation destination in western Oregon just in time for the biggest snowstorm the region has seen in recent memory. Over a foot of snow fell the weekend before Christmas, causing church to be canceled. My father-in-law received permission to administer the Sacrament here at his home, so we had a nice little church meeting with 18 members of my wife's family. That's bigger than some branches I remember from the mission.

Since we're up on a hill out in the country, the only way to get out for a while was with 4-wheel-drive and chains. There's been a lot of "Rock Band 2" and pinochle playing going on to pass the time. I also found "The Life of Heber C. Kimball" on my in-laws' shelf of old Church books and was happy to get the chance to start reading it. This biography was written by Orson F. Whitney and contains a lot of church history, especially relating to the spread of the Gospel in Great Britain.

Today my wife and I are off to the Oregon coast to celebrate 5 years of happy marriage! Thanks to parents, in-laws, and grandparents who have been such a great example in this regard.

We wish anyone reading this post a Happy New Year!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Lending with a conscience pays off

The Sun carries a story about one Southern California mortgage lending company who is actually experiencing success lately. Mike Douglass and Gary Martell, Jr. have been dealing in home loans together for years. Instead of making a money-grab selling subprime mortgages, they stuck to more conventional packages such as FHA loans. Says Martell, "In lending, you have to have a conscience to do this."

Although their more conservative lending strategy took more work, Martell and Douglass still have their money, and their competitors who sold subprime mortages are all gone. Furthermore, because housing prices have dropped, more people are looking into the capped FHA loans and business is good.

The lending with a conscience is literally paying off.

Read the full story

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Winter comes to Southern California

We get a few good storms like this every year. The snow level was down to 2000 feet last night and in the valley we got drenched with rain. Here in Smogtown it feels very cleansing.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Do Mormons celebrate Christmas?

The official name of the "Mormon Church" is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Mormons believe in Jesus Christ and celebrate Christmas in recognition of Jesus' birth. Like many other Christians, we also feel that Christmas is a good time to remember Jesus' life and atonement for us.

Mormon families that I've experienced Christmas with tend to read the nativity story in Luke 2 on Christmas Eve or Christmas day. I also like to read the Book of Mormon chapter 3 Nephi 1, which describes what happened in the Americas at the time of Christ's birth.

There's no special religious service that Mormons attend on Christmas Eve or Christmas day, unless one of those days falls on a Sunday. In that case Sacrament Meeting is held as usual, perhaps with a few special musical numbers added to the service. If Christmas day is a Sunday, there are usually no other church meetings held besides Sacrament Meeting so that members can spend time with their families.

Mormons also participate in secular Christmas traditions such as exchanging presents, talking about Santa Claus, lighting fireworks (if you live in Latin America), etc. However, church leaders frequently urge members to remember the spiritual side of Christmas ahead of the secular traditions.

The first Sunday of December the First Presidency of the Church holds a special Christmas devotional in Salt Lake. The music is superb, with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and the Orchestra at Temple Square performing several numbers. You can find out more about how to watch the devotional here.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Favorite Joseph B. Wirthlin talk: Lessons Learned in the Journey of Life

Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin, an Apostle in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, passed away on Monday night at the age of 91. I gained a special respect for Elder Wirthlin in the early days of my two-year mission for the church when I found this talk Lessons Learned in the Journey of Life.

At that point, two years in the mission was starting to look like a really long time. The work wasn't as easy as I had expected. When I read Elder Wirthlin's experience, I realized I wasn't the only missionary who had ever felt that way. Elder Wirthlin's assignment was the Austrian/German mission in 1936. He describes how he felt in his first area, alone, with Hitler mounting armies just across the border:

"I remember those days well. I don’t suppose there has been a time in my life when I felt more discouraged, more lost. The mission was a difficult one; no one seemed to have time for me or the message I brought. I wondered if there would ever be enough members in that city to make a ward.

"Six weeks I was alone. Six weeks I waited for a companion. Six weeks I wondered about what I might be doing had I stayed in Salt Lake City and continued my studies."

As often happens to dedicated missionaries, things eventually got brighter for Elder Wirthlin and he received a companion to work with. That year at Christmas, they visited the village of Oberndorf, where the hymn "Silent Night" was written. On the return walk home they discussed goals for how they wanted to live their lives after the mission:

"As we walked, my companion and I talked of our hopes and dreams. We talked of our goals and what we wanted to have happen in our lives. The more we talked, the more serious we became about achieving the things we talked about. As we walked under the light of a full moon, we both made serious resolutions.

"I committed that night that I would not waste my time. I would renew my efforts to serve the Lord. I made up my mind that I would magnify any callings I received in the Lord’s kingdom."

Elder Wirthlin then shares five points that he has learned for living a happy and successful life:
  • Have faith in Heavenly Father
  • Set righteous goals
  • Work to accomplish your goals
  • Magnify your callings
  • Enjoy the journey

Elder Wirthlin realized the effect these points had on his life when he traveled to Salzburg many years later to organize a stake of the church and as he walked with his wife on the same road back from Oberndorf.

"The resolutions I made on that holy night in Oberndorf, Austria, have been a guiding force throughout my life. Although I still have much to learn and to accomplish, I’ve done my best to have faith in God; I’ve done my best to focus on the things that are important in life; I’ve done my best to work hard at righteous tasks; I’ve done my best to magnify the callings I’ve received in the Church; and I’ve done my best to enjoy the journey.

"May you do the same as you create of your lives something worthy of your divine heritage."