Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Blackstrap Molasses

Wednesday, August 30, 2006 Observation:

A number of months ago the doctors did some blood work on me and discovered that I was running a little anemic.  There was no apparent cause so they suggested I go on iron pills to build up my blood.  I don't do well on iron pills because of some side effects I would rather not mention.  About that time Jo Anne's sister Judy was also having a problem being anemic and her doctor had recommended 2 tablespoons of blackstrap molasses each morning.  She said it had done her a world of good and that I should try it.  I frankly admit I am not into health food healings and was very skeptical, but then the lyrics of a song from my youth suddenly came into my mind.  It was sung by Jane Wyman, Jimmy Duranty, Danny Kaye, and Groucho Marx.  I am sure you will be grateful beyond measure to receive the lyrics to the great old song "The Blackstrap Molasses".

Black strap molasses and wheat germ bread
Makes you live so long you wish you were dead
Add some yogurt and you'll be well fed
With black strap molasses and the wheat germ bread
As wonderful and impressive as those lyrics are I was still a little bit leery about blackstrap molasses so I went to the Internet and discovered that blackstrap molasses comes from sugar cane, but from what is commonly known as the "third boiling".  The "first boiling", or "first molasses", has a high sugar content because comparatively little sugar has been extracted from the juice.  "Second molasses" is created from a "second boiling" and sugar extraction. The third boiling of the sugar syrup gives blackstrap molasses. The majority of sucrose from the original juice has been crystallized by now and the blackstrap molasses contains significant amounts of vitamins and minerals. Blackstrap molasses is a source of calcium, magnesium, and iron. One tablespoon provides up to 20 percent of the daily value of each of those nutrients. Blackstrap is often sold as a health supplement..." [Wikipedia Encyclopedia]

Guess what?  I tried it and it works!  My blood count went up dramatically, the anemia disappeared, and who knows, maybe I'll live till I wish I were dead!
You are probably thinking -- "Poor old Jack has finally lost it!  Can you believe an observation about blackstrap molasses?" 

Actually, it was a statement made by Elder L. Tom Perry that I heard while listening to BYU TV the other day that started me ruminating about blackstrap molasses.  I cannot remember the audience he was addressing, but it seemed to be a BYU student devotional.  He said he felt that one of the sad characteristics of our society is that so many of us are suffering from "mental malnutrition".  The thought then came to me that perhaps another way of saying it is that we are in so many cases "spiritually anemic".  We partake too frequently and too much of only the "first boiling", "first molasses" that is shoveled into us by the media -- too much sugar and empty calories!  And then I remembered Elder Holland cautioning us that we are feeding our people from the pulpit, in the classroom, and even our children at home, too many "Theological Twinkies".  Twinkies just won't do it for the body or the spirit -- it's that "first boiling" -- too full of sugar! I thought that the "spiritual blackstrap molasses" we need each day is contained in the Scriptures.  The Scriptures are the "third boiling", "third molasses"; the inspired, concentrated distillation of truth, prophecy, wisdom, and teachings of the ages that if ingested constantly and consistently will eliminate "mental malnutrition" and "spiritual anemia" as nothing else can.  It actually even tastes better than a Twinkie.
Nobody ever said it better than Book of Mormon Jacob: "Wherefore, do not spend money for that which is of no worth, nor your labor for that which cannot satisfy... and come unto the Holy One of Israel, and feast upon that which perisheth not, neither can be corrupted..." [2 Nephi 9:51]


Friday, August 18, 2006

Camp Sheanee

Friday, August 18, 2006 Observation:

Back in the seventies -- some of us can remember that far back -- I was a full-time Institute teacher/director in Southern California.  In those long-ago days we signed a nine-month contract with CES (Church Education System) and were basically unemployed from June through the end of August.  Many of us did a variety of creative things to try to bring in some income during that three-month period.

Along with several other Institute teachers, I spent several summers working at a day camp as a counselor.  Each of us was assigned an old Volkswagen van, and each summer morning we would drive through the beautiful streets of San Marino, picking up little rich kids that we would then entertain all day long.  When we were doing this, San Marino had the highest per capita income of any community its size in the United States.  For those of you who don't know, San Marino is adjacent to Pasadena.  The kid's parents had gone to the same Summer Camp -- Camp Sheanee, an Indian name for "Summer People" -- when they were young.  I'm sure they paid an arm and a leg to have their children entertained all summer, and because of it they did expect their children to be entertained! 

Camp Sheanee was a concept more than a place.  We used many venues each day: public parks, an archery range, a horseback riding stable, a very large swimming pool at the back of a very large home in Pasadena, etc. The owner of Camp Sheanee, earning the bulk of his yearly income during that three-month period, was anxious that the little rich kids have a great experience each time they came to camp. I thought what he had us do at the end of each day was pretty savvy.  Our final activity of the day took place at the swimming pool.  After the kids were dressed and ready to be delivered to their mansions, we would have them sit in a circle around us and begin to review all of the great activities they had just participated in, as well as how much fun they had all had.  When they were dropped off at home a few minutes later, and a mother asked them about the day, they were well-prepared to give a glowing report about their experience at Camp Sheanee.  If they had fun, in the eyes of the kids and their parents, Camp Sheanee was a great success. 

Through the years I have frequently thought how different Camp Sheanee is compared to the program our Heavenly Father has designed for us during our lives in mortality, which is a little bit like an extended day camp.  I think it's OK with Him if we have a Camp Sheanee experience from time to time, but I doubt He measures His success by how much fun we have in mortality.  At the end of the day I don't think his first question to us will be, "Did you have a good time?"  So many of us however, much of the time, have a "Camp Sheanee" mindset regarding life.

I'm sure many of you have had the experience of reading a passage of Scripture a number of times without thinking too much about it, and then on another reading have it leap off the page at you.  This happened to me several months ago as I was reading Doctrine & Covenants 24:8 for who knows how many times.  "Be patient in afflictions, for thou shalt have many; but endure them, for, lo, I am with thee, even unto the end of thy days." Of course, the Lord was directing his words to Joseph Smith, who was a very young man at the time.  It was not really a "happy" prophecy regarding his future, but as it turned out it was very true.  The thing that leaped off the page at me this time around is the Lord's words about Joseph's impending afflictions: "... but endure them..." He didn't commiserate with Joseph and tell him how sorry he was that he would have many afflictions and that He was sorry they wouldn't be much "fun", He simply told him to be patient and to endure them!  He didn't seem to be very concerned that Joseph have a Camp Sheanee experience.  It was like He was saying to Joseph, "Your life is going to be pretty tough but "buck up ", "gird up your loins "; you will get through this and I will tell you why: "... for, lo, I am with thee unto the end of thy days!" Joseph needed to know that he would be able to get through any difficulty or affliction that life would bring his way because the Lord would be with him always.  Later in life Joseph was taught that "even if the very jaws of hell gaped open wide after him" that all of these things would give him experience and be for his good.  [Doctrine & Covenants 122] However, they would only be for his good, if through his afflictions, he patiently sought the Lord, experienced His power and love in his life and in doing so came to know Him better.

We have been counseled to "liken" or "apply" the Scriptures to our own individual circumstances.  I believe what the Lord told Joseph about being patient in afflictions because he would have many, probably applies to all of us.  As afflictions come to us, and they will be different for each individual, the Lord is not lacking in empathy, pity, or sympathy, but with great wisdom He simply says "... endure them..."

I feel too often as parents we want our children to be happy, and feel that happiness comes through enrolling them in a perpetual Camp Sheanee experience.  Are we successful as parents if our children are only happy?  I believe we could learn a great deal about parenting from the counsel the Lord gave Joseph so many years ago.


Tuesday, August 8, 2006

Small and Simple Things

Tuesday, August 8, 2006 Observation:

"Now ye may suppose that this is foolishness in me; but behold I say unto you, that by small and simple things are great things brought to pass..." [Alma 37:6] [emphasis added]

One evening my life support system failed and I had a very close brush with death.  At the time, believe it or not, I was very unemotional about what had happened, and just enjoyed being alive to be able to eat an ice cream sandwich with Jo Anne after the harrowing experience was finally over.  The next morning however, as I was lying in bed and pondering what had happened the night before, there flashed into my mind something I had experienced just two days before I almost entered the Spirit World. 

It was a simple little thing really, but as I thought of it the tears began to flow.  Our grandson, Trevor, is on a summer league basketball team for 9 and 10-year-olds, coached by his dad, Rich.  It was during the heat wave, and the temperature was in triple digits even in Orange County.  Jo Anne and I had gone to his game the week before, but because of the triple digit heat that Saturday as well, we were forced to leave the gym just after the game began because there was no air-conditioning, and it was just stifling inside.  In my condition I don't do really well in hot weather.  Again this Saturday, the gym was without air-conditioning, but by sitting in the open doorway there was enough of a breeze that I was able to endure the heat.  Trevor played a great game.  I tell him he plays like a Steve Nash with a good haircut.  For a 10-year-old he is a remarkable ball handler and passer and also plays good defense.  His team won the game and it was a happy moment for him, his teammates, his family, and his grandma and grandpa.  I was so happy I was able to endure the heat and see the game.

Anyway, as I was lying in bed, this was the experience that came into my mind and caused the emotional meltdown.  Had we not gone to the game, and had I not been able to endure the heat, and had I indeed gone into the Spirit World the following Monday evening, that simple, sweet, little experience with Trevor and Rich would never have been a part of my mortal memory.  For some reason that experience triggered many other "small and simple" memories of "small and simple things" that, when added together over a lifetime, determine who we are, as well as the relationships we have with God and with others.

The first six months of my mission to Central America I had a recurring nightmare almost every night; I would awake frightened, and in a cold sweat.  The nightmare was that I had rejected the call to serve a mission issued to me by my bishop.  However, the real nightmare was because I had rejected the call, I never would have known my fellow missionaries, the wonderful, humble Mayan Indians I was working with, nor my mission president and his wonderful wife.  The nightmare was that I would have lived my entire life without even knowing what I had missed; there would have been no mortal memory created.  Accepting a mission call may seem like a "small and simple thing", and yet for me anyway, those 2 1/2 years have influenced, more than I could ever say, the subsequent 40 plus years I have been permitted to live.

There are some things in life that we only have the opportunity of doing once, and then they are gone -- never to be repeated.  Thirty-six years ago at the funeral of my dad in Ely, Nevada, I saw coming in the door of the chapel two men from my Elder's quorum.  They had started driving early in the morning from Ogden, Utah to get to Ely in time for the funeral.  Ely is about 300 miles from Ogden.  Things were so hectic I didn't even get to talk to them because they had to leave immediately to drive the 300 miles back to Ogden, but 36 years later that memory is as vivid as though it had happened yesterday.  My dad, as most people, only had one funeral, and those two guys were there.  What did that communicate to me?  You can only imagine.

A funeral, a sealing in the temple, and a wedding reception, for example, are once in a lifetime events.  We may be tempted to not go -- to not show up -- because life is busy and hectic.  However, by just being there we communicate love, caring, and a valuable relationship is strengthened.  What happens if we don't go?  Nothing! And if we miss too many of these special events to which we have been invited, our memories and relationships with others will also be nothing.  A thank you note, an expression of appreciation, a visit to a longtime friend one has not seen for ages, an act of selfless service, attending a child's important activity, create memories, strengthen relationships, and enlarge our souls.

Last Sunday I taught in our gospel doctrine class the story of the prophet Elisha and Naaman, the captain of the Syrian armies who had leprosy.  Naaman came to Elisha seeking to be healed from this dreaded disease.  You know the story well, how Elisha told Naaman, through a servant, to go bathe seven times in the River Jordan and he would be healed.  Naaman, was offended because the prophet asked him to do such a simple and small thing.  He couldn't believe that bathing in the River Jordan would heal him of his leprosy.  Surely some other great thing must be done in his behalf to overcome this disease.  Finally, persuaded by his servants, he bathed in the River seven times and was totally healed from an incurable disease.  I asked my class what would have happened if Naaman had not bathed in the River Jordan?  Their answer was, "Nothing!" And that is absolutely the truth.  By refusing to do a small and simple thing Naaman would have lived out his life in pain, sorrow, suffering, and misery, knowing nothing of Jehovah and his power.  He would never have known the joy of being healed, nor would he have come to know that "Jehovah was the God".  By following the simple counsel of the prophet, great blessings came to him as they do to us, as we do the "small and simple things" asked of us in our generation.

"Small and simple things", done or not done, added together, ultimately become the sum total of who we are.  Having personal private prayer twice each day for example, for over 60 years will add up to spiritual power that can come to us in no other way.  A dedicated and consistent reading of the scriptures each day will bring power into our lives that will enable us to deal better with life's challenges.  The prophets have always asked us to do "small and simple things" which if done can "bring great things to pass".

How grateful I am for the mortal memories of "small and simple things" that have occurred in my lifetime.  Even the basketball game of a 10-year-old grandson -- small and simple as it may appear -- is not to be lightly overlooked.