Tuesday, December 28, 2010

"Things of my Soul?"

   For the past several months, this blog has existed under my name, Elder Barnett. But, I have failed to post a single post. Fortunately, my companion, Elder Blackburn, has been very diligent in posting frequently. However, as of a week and a half ago, Elder Blackburn flew home to Utah, after finishing his two year mission. So, here I am, without Elder Blackburn to cover for me, and a desire to share something new, something fresh. 
    I've done a lot of pondering on the title, "Things of my Soul." First of all, the phrase comes from a passage in The Book of Mormon. Here, a prophet named Nephi writes that his father, Lehi, has just died. I do not know what Nephi was feeling at that point in time. Having never had an immediate family member pass away, I can only imagine how he felt. I would imagine that he was thinking about what was going to happen in the future. He was probably a bit lost without the anchor that his father was to. He may have been thinking about life after death, his own faith, and the things that his father taught him. I think, most of all, he was pondering on what was most precious to him, because he then writes this key phrase: "Upon these [records] I write the things of my soul."

     So, with that introduction, this blog will contain thoughts about what is most precious to me. It will show what makes up my identity, and my soul. There are many things that make up my character, from experiences to people, from the scriptures to personal answers to prayer. These things are what bring me joy, happiness, and peace in life. I love to share that with others. And, that's just what I want to do with this blog.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

'Twas The Night Before Transfers

'Twas the night before transfers, when all through the zone
Not an elder was stirring, not even by phone;
The white shirts were hung in the closets with care,
In hopes that each elder would get to stay there;
The planners were nestled all snug in their vests,
While visions of baptisms danced in their heads;
Elder Barnett in his trench coat, and I in my cap,
Had just settled down for a long winter's tract,

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Pie Heaven?

My sister and I had a favorite joke about pie, that was more of an inside joke than anything else.  A comedian named Jack Handey once said: “When you die, if you get a choice between going to regular heaven or pie heaven, choose pie heaven. It might be a trick, but if it's not, mmmmmmmm, boy.”  My sister could never remember the joke.  All she could ever remember was that it had something to do with pie heaven, and that it was funny.  So pie has become a symbol of humor in my family, simply becuase of her forgetting a bad joke.

The other day, my companion and I had a experience that I think is hilarious.  It relates to pie.  Elder Barnett wanted to buy a pumpkin pie for thanksgiving.  I suggested we wait until after thanksgiving because someone may give us a pumpkin pie, and we could never eat TWO pies.  He agreed.  Unfortunately, we didn't get a pumpkin pie.  Instead, we were given two apple pies and a cherry pie.  Determined to get a pumpkin pie,  Elder Barnett grabbed one, as soon as we entered the grocery store the following Monday.  It wasn't until we got home that he realized that he had grabbed a sweet potato pie, instead of a pumpkin pie.  Defeated, he gave up on pie and simply ate pumpkin bread instead.  He still topped it with whipped cream though.

Now we have a whole lot of pie, which brings me back to the point I made before: Mmmmmmmm, boy. Pie heaven!

(P.S.  As a missionary, I don't feel comfortable posting this without adding the disclaimer that there is no scriptural evidence that there is such a thing as pie heaven, only in a symbolic sense in our fridge :)

-Elder Blackburn

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

How The Book of Mormon Has Blessed My Life.

"The Book of Mormon is a volume of holy scripture comparable to the Bible.  It is a record of God's dealings with the ancient inhabitants of the Americas and contains, as does the Bible, the fullness of the everlasting gospel."-the introduction to the Book of Mormon
 Ah!  The Book of Mormon is the best book ever!   And that is saying a lot because I love to read.  In my reading of the Book of Mormon, I try to learn as much as I can about how to be better.  I have found that we need to approach the scriptures with questions in mind.  Although it can be interesting, I kind of shy away from thinking about the "un-known" principles like "the body temperature of translated beings."  Instead, I am always trying to be an expert on people:  What influences them to be prideful?  What motivates them to sacrifice?  What causes them to forget their blessings?  And then, I try to apply what I learn to myself, and help those that I love. 

With these questions in mind, I have found that the best way to learn about people is to learn about God.  What is His purpose?  What influences His decisions to give or withhold blessings?  Why does He expect this or that?  How does He make decisions?  That is where the Book of Mormon is invaluable.  I can read the first hand accounts of the people in ancient America and their experiences with God and His gospel.   I can learn from their successes and from their failures.  Over and over again, I determine that the more we trust and follow God, the more our own natures will become similar to His.  We can adopt His way of thinking as our own.

-Elder Blackburn

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The City of Reading

Taken July 4th, 2010
Every city has a landmark, whether it is a building, a striking environmental feature, a spot of historical or emotional significance, or almost any other reason....  Well, I would like to introduce you to another landmark, that is famous to Reading, Pennsylvania:  the Pagoda!   Reading, Pennsylvania is a very old city, and most commonly known for its famous railroad everyone gets to ride in the game Monopoly.  The cool thing about the Pagoda, is that it is a Japanese style structure on the hillside of a historic American city.  It is also lit up at night for the world to see.

Well, some of you may be asking, So what?  What is the significance of a large, striking building set up on a hill that is all lit up at night?  Well, that is one thing that I love about the Temple.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

For the Lovers of Lists...

Thanksgiving is getting closer, and I thought that it would be appropriate to share an example of how gratitude has effected me in my life.  My sister's name is Brenda, and when she got home from her mission in Toronto, Canada she started a notebook called "things I love."  It started with just 23 things, for her age, but then it grew and grew as she added the lists of friends, families, and even acquaintances.  It became obvious that the more you think about the things you love, and the things you are grateful for, the more you are reminded of the "little things" that really count.  It has become a tradition, for me and my sister, to include in every letter and email that we send to each other, 3 things we are grateful for, and anyone who wants to, can add their 3 things too!
  • I am grateful for full moons
  • I am grateful for memories of playing in haystacks at Grandpa's farm
  • I am grateful for those days that we actually DO find that needle in the haystack. (which doesn't happen all that frequently.  Any of the other missionaries who knows me will agree that I loose stuff.  A lot.  I have probably lost a dozen umbrellas in the last two years, but that is another story completely...)
 I couldn't resist putting in this video made by the church too.  It's great, and is a classic example of being grateful for the little things!
-Elder Blackburn

Monday, November 8, 2010

The Scariest Halloween Story Ever!

We are teaching a man here in Reading, PA who told us the other day about what happened to him Halloween night, and I just have to share it with everyone else!

We had a lesson with him at 6:00 pm at the church, and afterward he requested that we drop him off at his workplace instead of taking him home. He had figured that he would be able to catch a ride home with one of his friends. Unfortunately, when his employers saw him waiting around for his friend they required him to work the shift. He had tried hiding in the bathroom, but they had already punched his time card. He ended up working until 3 a.m.

After that unexpected shift, he had to find his own way home in the middle of the night. He ended up trecking home, a 10 mile trip down the highway. He had the choice whether to walk down through the city, or walk down the river, saving him a mile or two. He took the river trail, and the lights from the free way caused his shadow to constantly move back and forth. He always felt that someone would jump out at anytime to attack him. It took him and hour and a half to walk home, but he eventually got home safe. I can't imagine the anxiety of doing that in the middle of the night, especially on Halloween! I know he was praying for protection, and it is a miracle that he got home safe and sound.

-Elder Blackburn

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Chalk Drawings!

Here is Elder Darley.  If you can't tell, he loves to draw, and he decided to use his talent in missionary work! His mom is a pretty good artist too, so he had some good training.  He found a parking lot that wasn't being used... (at least that is what he said.  It looks pretty busy to me...)  and did a chalk drawing of the plan of salvation.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

When Life is a Downward Spiral...

Sometimes life feels like this video.  You know it is going down hill, and it is going to be a long hike back to the top.  But, instead of stopping, we just keep on going.  Closing our eyes to the consequences of where we are headed, wherever that may be.  Now of course, the reason I didn't stop running down the stairs was because I wanted to visually capture how tall the tower was that we had visited in Reading Pennsylvania.

However, in life, it feels like there are those things that keep us from stopping, and turning around, from repenting, and returning back to the clearer vision that comes from higher ground.   Sometimes it is fear of how difficult the trek will be.  Perhaps it is pride.  Sometimes it is just the momentum we pick up as we get used to a destructive activity or lifestyle.  I know that for me, Satan convinces me to believe that I can turn around after one more step, after one more level.  He promises me great pleasure and ease "if only I go a little farther."  Unfortunately, I just end up at rock bottom, out of breath, hope, and sometimes desire. 

The miracle of the whole thing, is that Jesus Christ is real, and his power to change us is always accessible.  We have never fallen too far, too often, or too hard.  I've experienced his healing power again this week, and I am back on top.  Yes, the power or repentance is real!
-Elder Blackburn

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Quick, Easy and "Cheap as Dirt" trip to Egypt!

I really like this picture.  I was driving down the road and saw that there was a town called Egypt, Pennsylvania and I had to get a picture.  I got much more than I bargained for, and there are many many elements of this picture that I enjoy and I think relate to the gospel:

1)  There are always temptations trying to get us to turn off from our destination, and many times they say "it will only be a small detour.  1 mile here or 1 mile there."

2)  There are warning signs of what may lie down each road.  One will lead to a world of flowers (strange women) and the other to a world of cars and houses (materialism).  If we take the detour, other temptations will only get stronger and closer.

3) God has his own sign from the spirit urging us to "Keep off the Shoulder" or in other words, to "Stick on the Path"

4) One of the signs is broken... I'm not quite sure what this one could mean... but it just makes the picture that much better.

Life is a road trip, and God has laid out our roadsigns through his Spirit, scriptures, and modern-day prophets.  However, Satan has also laid out his signs meant to distract and delay our progress.  Luckily we continued on our way, despite how luring it was to go to Egypt.
-Elder Blackburn

Friday, October 22, 2010

Addiction Recovery Program

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has a program built around helping individuals recovery from addiction.  Properly named, it is the "Addiction Recovery Program" or ARP for short.  It is very effective, and is very similar to the Alcoholic's Anonymous 12 step program.  I was very impressed with its deep application of the atonement. I feel like it can and should be used by everyone, inside and outside the church, because we all have addictions and habits, in one form or another.  It is really just a program built to help us repent.  I liked the program so much, that I wrote a song that puts the steps in order:

Honesty, Hope, and Trust in God to Bless.
Discern the Truth, and Then I must Confess

A Change of Heart, Will Spark Humility,
To Seek Forgiveness, For Others and for Me.

Restitution, I will Find a Way.
And I'll Improve, by Accounting Every Day.

Personal Revelation, I Can See,
That Service Guarantees Recovery.

In order to get the full effect though, you need to sing it to the hymn:  The Wintry Day, Descending to Its Close # 37

Actually, the only way you can get the FULL effect is if I sing it, and we haven't figured out how to record it and put in on the blog....  But it is prettty sweet...  I guess you can hear it if you come to one of the sessions! Every Sunday at 6:00 P.M. at the Reading chapel! (3344 Reading Crest Ave.
Reading , PA   19605)  See you there!

-Elder Blackburn

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

"This is worse than waiting for Christmas!"

Elder Blackburn here.  My dad just had a fun experience yesterday, one of those once-in-a-lifetime opportunities.  He got to experience zero gravity by getting on a jet along with a other school teachers in Utah. I didn't get to hear much about it, simply from the fact that I live across the country, but I can just imagine how he felt.  I loved the story that the news reporter gave with it, because it quoted someone saying "This is worse than waiting for Christmas,"  which I can just imagine coming strait from my dad.   I love my dad, and one of the things that sets him apart from others is what happens when he gets excited.  You can just see it in his eyes, and it is just like a little kid during Christmas.   The enthusiasm of the anticipated, and the joy of the rewards of patience.  For my dad, his joy has always been a simple and pure excitement for things that he loves.

In this world of greed, I have found that those who are able to love and yet be selfless, are few and far between.  I have never in my life, seen my dad fall into the trap of letting his desires override his considerations for others.  He rarely does things for himself, but is always seeking for the happiness for his family.  The times I have seen him most excited have been when he was simply eager to bless us.  And so, when I think of my dad saying "This is worse than waiting for Christmas," I don't think of his anticipation to receive a gift, I think of his anticipation to give one to his children, because that is always what made him most excited.  I love my Dad
-Elder Blackburn

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Online Missionaries!?!

Hello Everyone! I am Elder Blackburn, and I am companions with Elder Barnett.  We always go 2 by 2, and we have been together since September 28th or so.  Elder Barnett has graciously allowed me to join in on his blog and share some of my stories and experiences.   It has been a cool experience watching the online world take off, and realizing how many missionaries there are who have a part in it.  I saw this site and was just blown away!   But perhaps the most miraculous experience was "running into" Elder Sabin. 6 months ago,  I was in Coatesville, Pennsylvania. I had been serving my mission there for only 1 week when my companion and I got a text message showing that there was someone in the area who was interested in learning more about the restored gospel.  This man had been online, and had started chatting with an Elder Sabin, after visiting www.mormon.org.  Over a very short period of time, this man came to know for himself that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints was true, and wanted to come to church.  Elder Sabin sent his information to us, and we promptly went to see him.  To this very day, he continues to study and learn and is preparing for baptism.  I remember being so excited to learn that people were being found and taught online.  I never would have guessed that I would actually get an opportunity to have similar experiences of my own.
-Elder Blackburn

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Track Practice

I was thinking today about a principle that I was taught years ago my a friend, Kyle.  As a youth Kyle's father was a track coach at a Jr High School a few towns away from his home.  He and his friends decided to join their own track track team at their local school, in response to the gentle encouragement of his father.

When he went to practice his first day, he saw a circle cut into a grass field.  His coach explained that this circle was the size of a normal track, and that he had measured it out so that they could practice at their school instead of traveling each practice to the nearest track at the local high school.  Kyle and his friends decided to run together a relay, and timed their very first practice race.  Their coach was excited to see that their times were very good, and he expressed very energetically that he had just witnessed a bunch of naturals join his team.

As Kyle returned home each night of practice, his father was equally impressed and encouraging, for the times recorded by his son and his friends were already getting close to surpassing the times of his own team.  And soon they were.  As their first real race got closer, Kyle and his friends were confident that they would win, and they were, fueled by their excitement.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Thoughts about P-day

I am here in Reading, Pennsylvania.  It is quite the place. I love it.  I am always inspired by good people everywhere trying to make a difference in each others lives.  My companion, Elder Barnett and I are getting to know some fantastic people, and having fun on the way.  On our preparation day, we get to spend a few hours to do some cleaning and washing and shopping and stuff like that, and I was thinking about how it relates to our own lives.  How often do we clean up our act.  How often do we open up those dark, cobwebbed corners and let in some fresh air.  How often do we go through the cleansing experience of repenting and cleaning up the scum that has accumulated from all our poor choices, many of which were choices of simple negligence?

Let us all take the time, and sometimes, courage, to re-evaluate our lives and restore the natural beauty our character should have.  After all, we are all children of God.

-Elder Blackburn