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Unexpected Second Chances: A Rare Blessing

We live in a supremely harsh, judgmental, and unforgiving society. Mess up and you’re out. Don’t expect a second chance. It’s over. (Unless you’re well-connected or have a lot of money).

But oh, how the human spirit can rise phoenix-like from the dust on those rare occasions when some kind, wise soul has enough confidence in you to give you another shot at success.

In the fall of 1974, I was taking Economics 111 at Brigham Young University. I found it impossible to make sense of concepts that seemed completely illogical to me. By November I was struggling just to avoid getting a D in the class. My best hope was to end up with a C or C-.

Then a minor miracle occurred. During the week of Thanksgiving our instructor made an inspiring announcement. He said that he wouldn’t give any of us a lower grade than what we were to achieve on the final exam in December. He warned, however, that the final exam would not be easy.

I was at once inspired. I immediately cancelled my plans to go home to California for Thanksgiving. Instead, I stayed at BYU and spent most of the following four days rereading the economics text from the very beginning. I reviewed all the past assignments. I reworked all the problems that I didn’t understand.

Parenthetically, I should say that my friend, Dan Rampton, took pity on me and invited me to have Thanksgiving Dinner at his parent’s home in Bountiful, Utah. Dan’s uncle, Calvin Rampton, then-governor of Utah, was there with his wife and family—but that’s another story. And so I didn’t miss out on having a wonderful Thanksgiving experience. But I did work hard the rest of that four-day weekend.

And my hard work paid off. Three weeks later I got an A on the final exam.

As promised, the instructor awarded me an A in the class. Just this morning I reviewed my old BYU transcripts. It still gives me a lift to remember how that second chance inspired me 41 years ago.

Nothing is more inspiring than when life hands you a second chance. We should follow our great examplar. No one is more forgiving than the Savior. Jesus is all about second chances. In fact, he admonished us to forgive not just once or twice—but seventy-times-seven times.

So, if there’s someone in your life that you have felt to judge and write-off, try giving that person at least one more chance. You may be amazed at the results

#     #     #

Orem, Utah—8 February 2015—©2015 Daniel Kemper Lubben

How to Become a Successful
21st Century Factotum

Last evening Minda and I watched a very enjoyable video of the Paris Opera performing Rossini’s Barber of Seville. Figaro the barber declares himself to be the city’s ‘factotum’. And, sure enough, the plot wouldn’t have moved forward except for his wily skills.

Though I once knew what ‘factotum’ meant, I had to look up afresh. A factotum is a person who has very broad responsibilities and activities, someone who is a jack-of-all-trades, or a servant who’s expected to do anything and everything he’s told to do.

Minda said, “Ruby is a factotum.” Yes, our 46-month old granddaughter Ruby seems, like the barber Figaro, to have supreme confidence that she can accomplish anything and everything she choose to take on.*

Modern life seems to force all of us into being factotums to one degree or another. Think of all the skills a person needs just to exist in this modern world. We need to know how use complex electronic communication devices, do enough accounting to file accurate tax returns while navigating a tax system fraught with innumerable and nearly-unintelligible requirements, operate vehicles while piloting them through complex roadway infrastructures in heavy traffic and often at uncomfortably high speeds or navigate complex public transit systems, keep ourselves healthy by sorting out what foods are healthful rather than detrimental and learning how to prepare them, keeping our surroundings clean and organized in a dirty and messy world, obtain knowledge and skills and credentials that will allow us to labor for monetary gain so as to be able to ‘make a living’ for ourselves and our families.

Our lives are complex in ways completely unimaginable to our ancestors who lived just a few generations back.

How do we manage all this demanding activity without failing miserably?

Whether we choose so or not, we need to take on the factotum’s burden. This fact is true in spite of the simplistic advice we often hear that a highly successful person learns to focus his or her energies on developing and marketing just one skill. Not so. Not in our hectic and highly demanding world.

Here are just a few things a successful 21st Century Factotum must do.

(1) Have a value system whereby we can determine what is really important and of lasting value in life.

(2) Chart a course that will help us be true to those values. In other words, we must know where we want to go and have a plan that will take us there.

(3) Develop wide interests. We need to be aware of all kinds of things. We must learn how to employ all sorts of elements available to us and how to use all the various circumstances we may find ourselves in—and use all these things to bring about more sense, truth, beauty, goodness, and love into this world.

(4) Learn to work harmoniously within our families and other supportive social structures to achieve worthwhile ends.

(5) Be flexible and resilient.

(6) Maintain a sense of balance, proportion, and humor.

(7) Seek out divine guidance and companionship.

I have neither the wisdom nor the time to elaborate on the above list. I’ll comment on just two of the points above.

Regarding humor, I recall the words of Marjorie Pay Hinckley who said, ““The only way to get through life is to laugh your way through it. You either have to laugh or cry. I prefer to laugh. Crying gives me a headache.” Figaro, the self-proclaimed factotum in Rossini’s The Barber of Seville has a very buoyant albeit zany sense of humor. Without that, he’d not have been the successful factotum that he was.

And regarding the seventh point above, there’s no way to safely and successfully navigate this world without divine guidance. Seek out the companionship of the Holy Ghost. Do everything you can to keep that companionship with you at all times. When faced with a crucial decisions—as each of us is multiple times every day—we can gain much by relying on these words written by the prophet Nephi some 600 years B.C.

“…if ye will enter in by the way, and receive the Holy Ghost, it will show unto you all things what ye should do.” (2 Nephi 32:5)

#     #     #

*Bugs Bunny was also famous for his combination of supreme confidence and buoyant humor typified by Figaro. Watch him here as he performs Figaro in The Rabbit of Seville.

NOTE: The clip linked to in the above text is of Russian baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky singing Figaro's part in a performance with the Orchestre symphonique de Montreal. If you didn't take the time to watch that 5-minute clip, please go back and do so. It's a real treat...and a lesson in what kind of exuberant, good-humored confidence we should all want to be our own. Here's the link again.

Orem, Utah—1 February 2015—©2015 Daniel Kemper Lubben

One Life, Two Deaths

In 1967, the fifth James Bond movie was released. It carried the catchy title, You Only Live Twice. This was a clever title, because, as everyone knows, you only live once. Even though fictional spies like James Bond or Jason Bourne may figuratively or metaphorically live multiple lives, in reality each of us has only once chance at mortal life.

Restored gospel truths tell us that we lived at least two different lives before we were born—as unembodied intelligences and then as spirit children of divine parents...and that after this life, we’ll live as spirits once again until we become resurrected in immortal bodies. So in total, we live at least five lives in our eternal quest to become more and more like our divine parents. But mortality is a one-time experience. Thank goodness for that!

Joseph Smith (1805-1844), the prophet of the restoration, taught that intelligences are eternal. They may pass through various phases. They can learn, develop, and grow. But intelligences are not created out of nothing—and they can never cease to exist.

As already stated, though as intelligences we are eternal, as mortals we must die. The very meaning of mortality is that of a life that is temporal— or temporary. It doesn’t last forever. In fact, for some this life is very short. In every case, sooner or later, we all must pass through physical death.

And—whether we realize it or not—most of us are already subject to a second death. The second death is spiritual death. And it is very real.

What is death?

Death is nothing more than a separation. Both the physical death and the spiritual death are separations, though of different sorts.

Physical death is a separation of your spirit from your physical body. From the beginning, it was God's plan that we pass through a temporary, mortal existence so that we gain by experience the knowledge of the differences between good and evil. Only in mortality can we experience pain, sickness, weakness, aging, and all the other dark aspects of existence. In the realms of God it is impossible to experience these horrible, negative things. Only in this life will we experience the death of our physical bodies.

Thanks to the experiences we undergo in this life, we will be more like God in the next life. We will have acquired first-hand knowledge of the differences between good and evil, joy and misery, pleasure and pain, health and sickness, life and death, immortality and mortality, loyalty and betrayal, and all other opposites. It is good that this life is temporary.

Spiritual death is a separation of our spirits from God. In this life we have the ability to sin…that is, to break the commandments of God. We thereby become unclean and unworthy and unable to enjoy communion with God. Unclean things are not fit to be in the presence of God. Unclean sons and daughters have great difficulty in communicating with their heavenly parents…of receiving thoughts and feelings that God wants to communicate to us.

All of us who are old enough* to be accountable for our sins become subject to the second (or spiritual) death.

The Need for a Redeemer

God was not willing to let us become forever subject to death. He therefore provided a plan for our salvation as well as a Redeemer.

Christ—who was the son of the mortal, Mary, and the son of God, our Immortal Father—is that Redeemer.

Through his Atonement, Christ paid unconditionally to redeem us from the effects of mortal death. “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.” (1 Corinthians 15:22)

Also through his Atonement, Christ paid conditionally to redeem us from the effects of our sins. The necessary conditions are that we exercise faith in Christ and his Atonement, repent, and receive a valid baptism (either in this life or by proxy in the next life). As we do these things we can begin to overcome the effects of spiritual death.

Choose Life

The Atonement of Christ enables resurrection, or in other words the rejoining of our spirits with our bodies. Our bodies then become perfect, glorious, and immortal.

The Atonement of Christ also enables reconciliation between God and each of his children.

Whereas the resurrection is guaranteed, a joyful reconciliation and reunion with God is not. We should therefore use our time in mortality to do everything we can to help activate the effects of Christ’s Atonement in our lives. By degrees we begin to overcome the second death as we learn to commune with God.

Some of the things we should do include praying, studying the scriptures and other words of inspired wisdom, controlling our thoughts and desires, seeking out the true prophets of God and following their counsel, and learning to love and serve our fellow beings.

Though we won’t ever completely overcome the effects of spiritual death while in this mortal existence, we can do much to put ourselves back in communication with God. It is through God’s love and mercy as typified and as made manifest in the great sacrifice of his son, Jesus Christ, that we have access to the things of Heaven.

Each day there are little things we do that will lift us above the mundane, help us have glimpses of Heaven, and let our spirits soar. Each day, we can choose to strive to overcome the spiritual death. We can choose to really be alive.

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*NOTE: I don’t think little children suffer spiritual death. Though they are physically removed from God while living on this earth they aren’t susceptible to the effects of sin. The Book of Mormon says “little children are alive in Christ”. (See Moroni, chapter 8.) They are without guilt. When they die they are completely worthy to return back into God's presence. The second death has no effect upon them.

Orem, Utah—25 January 2015—©2015 Daniel Kemper Lubben

Prayer and a Clogged Bathtub Drain

Over the last three weeks I’ve wasted about two liters of “Instant Power, Heavy Duty Drain Opener” that I bought at WalMart. Though the same product seemed to help Minda’s bathtub drain properly, it didn’t help unclog my bathtub drain one bit. By last weekend I was standing in nearly two inches of water by the time I finished showering.

So last Sunday morning as I was taking my shower I finally resorted to praying about the problem. I asked, “What should I do to unclog my drain? If the ‘heavy duty’ product doesn’t work, I don’t think Drano or Liquid Plumber will work. I'd rather not spend money I don't have on hiring a plumber. What should I do?.”

The answer to my prayer was immediate. “Try using the toilet plunger.” I listened.

So right after I had stepped out of the bathtub and dried off—and while the bathtub still had about 1½ inches of water in it—I put a toilet plunger over the drain and gave it a quick jab.

Voilà. The drain was instantly unclogged. It didn’t cost me a dime.
A more handy person might have thought of using a toilet plunger without requesting divine guidance. I'm not that bright. Thank goodness, God is willing to listen to the prayers of self-acknowledged fools.

Wouldn’t it be nice if all prayers were answered so immediately? The answers to some prayers come after a lifetime, but often we receive ‘tender mercies’ instantaneously—and without much effort or formality on our part.
There I was in a completely informal and, you might say, unholy setting. I hadn’t prayed out loud or on my knees. I certainly hadn’t fasted over the problem. I wasn’t dressed in my Sunday best. In fact, I was completely naked and all wet. And still my prayer was heard. Such a deal!

Prayer works. I highly recommend it.

#     #     #

Orem, Utah—17 January 2015—©2015 Daniel Kemper Lubben

An Answer to Prayer on the FM Radio

When I was a little kid, my mother often had us say prayers when she tucked us into bed. Once their children were in bed for the night, Mom and Dad played music on the phonograph in the living room. I can still remember some of the old songs they played back in the 1950s…songs like Everybody Loves Redhead, Vaya Con Dios, and Tumbling Tumbleweed. Though Dad liked Dixieland jazz, he wouldn’t play that kind of music at night because it wouldn’t help us kids fall asleep. Once in a while my parents played a record of Strauss Waltzes. I especially liked The Blue Danube and Tales of Vienna Woods.

One evening after prayers, I lay in bed enjoying Johann Strauss II’s Tales of Vienna Woods. I was so caught up in beauty of this music that I said a prayer of thanks for it. I even went so far as to suggest to God that he might enjoy listening to it with me. I invited him to listen to it with me. And he did. As that piece of music continued to play I felt a sweet and powerful spirit. That incident convinced me that God is real, that he loves beauty, and that sometimes he answers prayers in remarkable ways.

Some fifty years later, after my son, Steven, committed suicide on 2 January 2009, I found life very difficult. For the next year-and-a-half the days often seemed especially dark, difficult, and lonely. Things got especially hard once again as the one-year anniversary of Steven’s death approached. By Thanksgiving of that year I feared that the Christmas holidays were feel like a deep, dark pit. Though Christmas of 2009 turned out to be a memorable and joyous day, normal daily life continued to be a struggle.

On 29 December 2010, I counseled with my stake president, President Dave Edwards of the Council Bluffs, Iowa Stake. I told him how I still struggled to get through each day and how real happiness seemed allusive and far off. President Edwards counseled me never to leave the house in the morning without first having a devotional. He told me to spend some time early each morning studying in the scriptures and afterward praying and meditating in a meaningful way. He suggested that I might even use music as part of my devotional. The object my devotionals was to help me draw closer to my Father in Heaven and feel his spirit. He said I should try to keep this spirit with me throughout the day.

Starting the very next day, I began getting up at 4:30 every morning. In my prayers I asked that I would feel more passion in my relationship with the divine. I decided that on weekdays I would listen to a classical music radio station as I drove the 17 miles to work. If the music made me feel closer to God, I’d continue to listen to it—but if it didn’t, I’d turn it off and continue my devotional on my own.

Because the Winter Quarters Temple was less than 1½ miles from my work, I stopped there every morning before proceeding to work. I’d then walk around the temple grounds alone in the cold and dark for about 10 minutes as I continued my devotional.

One morning in January or February of 2010, as I was just pulling onto the Kennedy Freeway and heading north from my home in Bellevue to my place of employment in north Omaha, the radio began playing a medley of rousing Russian tunes by a group called Quartetto Gellato. The music evoked in me a sense of joyful and passionate closeness to God.

A few minutes after that piece of music concluded I parked my car in the deserted parking lot of the Mormon Trail Center. It was about 6:10 a.m. I walked across the street, through the gate in the stately wrought iron fence surrounding the temple, and onto the temple grounds. As usual, it was cold and dark. As always, I was all alone—but I didn’t feel lonely. As I walked and meditated on the temple grounds, I thought back to the incident that I had had as a child while listening to Tales of Vienna Woods. It was so much like what I had just experienced in my car. I felt very happy. As I meditated I asked God, “Do you remember that time when I was a little kid and I invited you to enjoy Tales of Vienna Woods with me?” Of course, I knew he would remember. I’m sure God never forgets anything…except our sins when we repent...that’s his promise, anyway, and we know he doesn't lie.

A few minutes later I walked to my car. I started it up. Though the radio was still turned on, there were three or four seconds of silence before music began to play. And as it began, I was completely dumbfounded. I recognized the opening notes of Strauss’s Tales of Vienna Woods.

Of course, it’s not a miracle that a classical radio station would play Strauss’s Tales of Vienna Woods. But I take it as nothing less than a miraculous response to my prayer that that very song would start up at that exact moment.

It was nothing less than a profound and remarkable manifestation of God’s love—his love for me, personally.

God is our Father in Heaven. He is keenly aware of each of us every minute of every day. He knows of our struggles. He feels our pain. His heart beats in sympathy with our sufferings and strivings. He delights to bring us beautiful and joyous moments. He wants us to be like Him. And he answers our prayers.

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Orem, Utah—10 January 2015—©2015 Daniel Kemper Lubben

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