Ask Me Anything

February 27, 2015

A friend asked if I would do a Reddit “Ask Me Anything,” so I agreed to do it on Wednesday, March 4 at 9 pm Eastern (8 Central, 7 Mountain, 6 Pacific). I’ve never done anything like this before, but I think it will be fun. I was asked to provide a short biography:

I am an author and blogger. My blog, Runtu’s Rincón, has won several awards for LDS commentary and humor, as well as attracting a small group of Mormon stalkers, who consider me “the most dangerous kind of anti-Mormon there is,” though I’m not anti-Mormon at all.

I grew up in Southern California, attended BYU, and served an LDS mission in Bolivia. I’ve worked for more than 20 years as a technical writer and editor, and I spent two years working at the Church Office Building in Salt Lake City. I don’t have too many juicy stories–a few, though–other than getting lost in the tunnels once and, on finding my way out, tripping over then-prophet Howard W. Hunter’s wheelchair.

I was invited to join an LDS-themed email list back in 1995, and eventually I became a bit of an amateur apologist, posting on a couple of listserv and message boards. In 2005, I took a break from message boards, and in the process had a crisis of faith. I returned to the boards as an experiment, posting with the same style and interests but from an unbelieving perspective. Within a year, I was banned from the FAIR board, and a poster sent an email around to all my friends claiming I was mentally ill and possibly a sexual predator.

Needless to say, I have generated a lot of anger by posting my thoughts about Mormonism. At one point, a commenter said he had a loaded shotgun, and the shells in it had my name on them. I try to have a sense of humor about that kind of thing, but eventually my wife received anonymous emails threatening violence if she didn’t “put a stop” to my writing. Since that time, things have calmed down considerably, probably because I’ve mellowed, in part.

In 2011, I published Heaven Up Here, a sort of blow-by-blow account of my time as a Mormon missionary in Bolivia, which won a Brodie Award for best book-length memoir. I tried to write the book as I experienced things as a young missionary, not as a middle-aged man looking back. I’ve been really happy that the book has been well-received by believers and unbelievers alike. I think it’s just a great story, but then I’m biased.

These days I don’t write as much as I like, as I’m busy with life and my family in Northern Virginia.

http://www.reddit.com/r/exmormon/comments/2xbaix/another_fantastic_rmormon_ama_this_time_with_john/


Subway in the Sky

January 16, 2015

I stumbled across this wonderful little video from the New York Times about Bolivia’s new “teleférico,” which is a tram suspended from cables, such as those you’d see in a ski resort.

Bolivia’s Subway in the Sky

This makes me happy for a number of reasons. First of all, it’s a brilliant solution to a difficult transportation problem. La Paz, the executive and legislative capital of Bolivia, lies in a relatively narrow and steeply sided canyon in the Andes at an elevation of just under 12,000 feet above sea level downtown. In the following photo, looking northwest from downtown, you can see how the city rises up the sides of the canyon.

As the city grew, it spread up the sides of the canyon and onto the vast, flat plain (called the “altiplano,” or high plain) that stretches between two ranges of the Andes from the Salar de Uyuni in the south to beyond Lake Titicaca in the north.

More than a million people live in what is now the city of “El Alto,” which is at an altitude of 13,600 feet. Many residents commute to work in La Paz, and the only way to travel in the past was by road. As you can see in the following photo, the sides of the canyon are so steep that cars can get into many neighborhoods only through winding switchback roads.

There is one main highway, the autopista, that connects downtown La Paz with El Alto, and commuters can take buses or taxis, usually after waiting in a long line.

Most large cities have subways or streetcars, but the geography of La Paz makes them impractical, if not impossible. So, how are you supposed to get people up and down a steep, 1,500-foot mountainside? The teleférico is an absolutely brilliant solution. I certainly wouldn’t have thought of it, but it reminds me of the power of not limiting ourselves to conventional ideas and solutions.

The video also makes me happy because it reminds me of a city I love and once called home. I can almost feel the cold, dry wind, the piercing sunshine, the dusty, crowded streets, and the spectacular views of Illimani and the other Andean peaks. There were even a few shots of the main market in 16 de Julio, a few blocks from where I lived.

But what I love most is the ordinary Bolivians in the video. I love the way they drop their vowels and don’t roll their r’s. I love how the one woman refers to the city as “la olla” (cooking pot) and the way she says “dentran” to mean “come into” the city. I love the handmade earrings, the hats, the knitted mantas and heavy pollera skirts. But most of all I love the warmth and goodness of the people, which comes through even in a short video. They are proud of their city and their country, as they should be. Bolivians are wonderful, lovely people, and I have been blessed to know them and live among them.

I really need to go back there someday.

I also found this Bolivian news report:


More missionaries going home?

July 25, 2014

Interesting article from Russell Arben Fox (his writing is always thoughtful and well-written, so I highly recommend him):

Are More Missionaries Returning Early?

I have no idea if more missionaries are coming home early or not, as I’m not really plugged into the culture anymore. My nephew is on a mission in Europe and has not suffered from any of the issues Fox mentions; of course, he left at age 19. I have a few friends and acquaintances with sons on missions, and I haven’t heard anything from them that would suggest higher numbers of missionaries going home early, but for this discussion, it doesn’t really matter. (I should note that my wife and I have good friends whose daughters returned early from their missions for reasons similar to those Fox describes, but he’s specifically talking about young men, so I’ll stick with that.)

When the church announced the change in age, my first thought was that the church must have seen increasing numbers of young men abandoning mission plans in the year or so between high school graduation and reaching age 19. That was just a guess, as I have no evidence, not even anecdotal, to support that initial impression. But it stands to reason that the cultural pressure to serve a mission combined with living under their parents’ supervision would increase the odds that a boy would choose to serve a mission. I have said before that I thought the numbers of young men leaving on missions would spike the first couple of years after the change and then fall back to a number that is still higher than it was before the change; the main increase will be in young women deciding to serve.

Not long after the announcement, my parents visited us, and they mentioned that one of the young men from their ward in California was heading out on a mission within weeks of high school graduation, and this got them talking about the age change. (I should mention that my mother is a very devout member of the LDS church, and my father is perhaps less an orthodox believer than most members, but he is nevertheless a believer.)

Both of my parents said that they thought their bishop had acted irresponsibly in approving this boy for a mission, as he was quite immature and very dependent on his parents for emotional and financial support. They also said they thought that boys needed that year away from home to, in my dad’s words, “figure out how to live as an independent adult.” Without that year, they said, boys would be unprepared for missionary life. (To be fair, they tend to see LDS missions through the lens of my missionary experience in Bolivia, which of course is not the norm.) They predicted that a lot of these unprepared missionaries would return home early for the same types of reasons Fox mentions. I was probably too shocked at their opinions to really say much, so I don’t think I did.

I’m not sure what to believe about this. I look back on my own life and wonder if the 18 months I had between high school graduation (I was 17 at the time) and the MTC made much of a difference in my preparation. I think the main benefit of that time was that I learned to take care of myself and my responsibilities without being able to depend on anyone else. I couldn’t leave my laundry for my mom to wash, and no one was there to remind me to do my homework. I was responsible for myself. That said, my parents were paying my school and living expenses, so I just had to learn to live within the budget I had, though I knew I could count on them if I had a financial emergency.

These were important lessons for me, as on my mission I was equally responsible for taking care of my responsibilities as a missionary and my personal needs. I remember early on realizing that my companion and I were alone in a small town in the altiplano, and the only time we had any contact with other missionaries was at our weekly zone meetings. We had no phone or any other way of being contacted, unless the zone leaders decided to take the bus out to our town and visit us in person. I thought at the time that we could have done whatever we wanted, and no one would know. We could have faked our numbers (hours worked, discussions taught, and so on), and no one would have been the wiser. I thought it said something about me and my companion that we didn’t do anything like that. We worked hard, and we were disciplined, even when no one was watching.

Would I have done the same had I not had that 18th-month interval? Probably. So, as Fox mentions, it’s not sin, financial reasons, or disobedience that I learned to avoid during that period. I’m left to wonder if being on my own got the homesickness and the inability to handle stress out of the way before I served my mission. I don’t know, honestly. I had companions who had not had a year away from home before their missions, and they didn’t seem much different from me.

The other possibility, it seems to me, is that the numbers of kids coming home early is higher simply because the number of missionaries going out is higher. Only the church’s Missionary Department knows whether the rate of early returns is higher or not. I’ll simply say that I agree with my parents that a year of “adulthood,” such as it is, is almost always beneficial for a young man (or young woman) before committing to something as stressful as a mission, and the current practice probably does mean that boys are going out who are not prepared to live on their own, let alone deal with the stress of a mission.

I am happy to hear that these kids are coming home without the social stigma that was attached to leaving early when I was a missionary. Fox describes it pretty well:

Still, I suppose I can’t quite shake the attitude which shaped my own understanding of being a missionary as I grew up in the 70s and 80s, that understanding basically being summed up as “Come home honorably or come home in a coffin.” (I don’t remember every being told that in exactly those words, but I do recall my mother telling me quite straightforwardly that she wouldn’t acknowledge any son of hers returning early, since of course such a person would have to be an imposter–her real children would never give up.)

My parents never said anything like that to me, and I knew that my parents would have supported me had I come home early for any reason; in fact, my father was quite shocked when I decided to extend my 18-month mission to 24 months. When I called home to ask for their support, he said, “Why would you want to do something like that?” So, it wouldn’t have been bad for me among my family members, but I understood that, socially speaking, it would have been much worse to come home from a mission early than it would have been not to serve a mission in the first place. I will simply echo Fox in saying that if this new acceptance is a trend, I’m delighted. The last thing these kids need is to feel bad about recognizing that they weren’t a “good fit,” as Fox puts it. Perhaps this more accepting attitude means that a lot of members understand that many younger boys aren’t ready for missions and shouldn’t be judged harshly for it.

It will be interesting to see what Fox’s readers report about what they see in their wards and stakes.


Elder Grolsch

June 9, 2014

Some of you may have noticed that I have received some comments from my MTC companion, whom I refer to in my book as Elder Grolsch. I don’t have any way to contact him, so I thought I’d just write my response here where he can see it.

Dear “Elder Grolsch,”

I was so happy to see your comments on my blog, as I don’t think I’ve seen you since we met for lunch at BYU some 28 years ago. I apologize if I treated you at all harshly in my book, but I was really trying to write the book as I experienced it, and the young kid that was me struggled with you and the situation we were in. Obviously, I can be a real dick and was often so with you and throughout my mission. I’m sorry for not trying harder to get along.

Looking back on it, I think we were both just in an impossible and stressful position. I’ve thought about you a lot and wonder if you were trying so hard to “go the extra mile” because you were struggling with whether you really believed in what we were doing. At the end of the mission, you told me you weren’t sure you believed in the church, and in the MTC I knew you were trying really hard to have that kind of “spiritual experience” that would give you the testimony you felt you needed. I feel like I did you a disservice because I was so concerned about acting the part of a missionary myself that I didn’t listen to you and didn’t pay much attention to what you needed as a person, not just as a missionary. I’m sorry for that and hope you can forgive me.

If I remember right, you told me that you had been under a lot of pressure from your parents and family to serve a mission, and as I’m nearing 50, I can understand how hard that must have been, especially if you weren’t sure it was the right thing to do. I never felt that overt pressure from my family, though it had been pounded into me from a young age that I had been “preserved” from death for a special mission for the Lord. That puts its own kind of pressure on a young man, and I really took that to heart.

It’s funny how those were only 2 years out of the 49 that have made up my life so far, and yet so much of who I am comes from that experience. My mission has affected my major in college, my career choices, and my choice of spouse. Do you find that the missionary experience contributed a lot to your adult life, even though you walked away from the church soon after we came home? I would imagine so, but I’m just curious.

As far as me being a money-sucking scab, that’s fair enough as far as it goes. I work for a company that does IT work for the federal government, but I like what I do. I’m good at it, and in my own small way I think I contribute to some good things the government does. But no, my career will not have any lasting effects when I’m dead and gone. I’m hoping my book will stick around, even though its sphere of influence is pretty small indeed. Sooner or later I’ll write something I’m as proud of as I am of my book.

Anyway, I hope life has been good to you so far. I again apologize for not being much of a companion to you and hope you can forgive me.

Take care,

John


Skinny Little Boys

March 18, 2014

Saturday night I was up late doing some work on my laptop, and I noticed someone had tagged me in a few photos on Facebook. It was a friend from my missionary days whom I hadn’t talked to in at least a year, but I looked to see what he had posted. There were two photos of a group of us, maybe 15 missionaries or so, at a birthday party for a welfare missionary, who at the time was my wife’s companion. Before then, my wife and I had discovered only two photos that we had in which we both appeared, but now I have two more. Granted, we’re standing behind the opposite ends of a long sectional couch, but still, there she is, and there I am. The third photo shows a busload of missionaries heading up to the ski resort at Mount Chacaltaya, Bolivia, a few weeks before I arrived in Bolivia. (Global warming has, unfortunately, melted away the glacier, and the ski resort is no more.) On the right side of the photo, toward the front, sits my lovely wife dressed as I have never seen her: she’s wearing a fedora and some black Ray Ban sunglasses (it’s now one of my favorite photos of her).

My friend (I’ll call him “Rob”) was online, so we ended up chatting for quite a while. He’s from Southern California, about 10 miles east of where I grew up, though we didn’t know each other before our missions. I had remembered that he ended up in Bolivia sort of accidentally. He was part of a group of missionaries who had been called to serve in Brazil and had learned Portuguese in the Missionary Training Center. For some reason, they were unable to get visas to Brazil before leaving the MTC, so they were sent to Texas to work temporarily while they waited. After several weeks, it became obvious they weren’t going to get their visas, so for whatever reason, they were sent to Bolivia. Not only were they going to a country they didn’t know anything about, but they also had not been taught the language, so it was a huge shock and adjustment to end up there. Needless to say, Bolivia is much poorer than Brazil.

Rob reminded me that he had converted to the LDS church when he was a teenager, and his family had not been pleased or supportive with his decision. He also mentioned that his mother had cried when she saw how thin (emaciated, really) he was when he came home. When I arrived in Bolivia, I was assigned to Villa Adela, a government housing development on the south side of the El Alto airport. Rob was just finishing his mission, and his area, Rio Seco, was just across the runway on the north side. I liked him instantly, and it was great to have someone from the same place I had grown up to whom I could relate. We had been to the same places, gone to the same dances, and shared a lot that you would expect to share with someone who grew up so close.

By the time Rob went home, I had lost 31 pounds as a result of intestinal parasites. I weighed 114 pounds. My wife always says that I was a “skinny little boy” back when we first met, and she is right. The photo at the birthday party shows me at about my lowest weight, and I look genuinely awful. But Rob looks much worse, almost skeletal, in those photos. I don’t wonder that his mother wept at the sight of him.

Knowing Rob was going home, I asked him to take some things home for me (slides, photo prints, and a few small souvenirs). He said he would drop them by my parents’ house, for which I was truly grateful. He ended up driving to my parents’ house and spending a few hours talking with them, telling them about where I was and what I was doing, showing them photos and slides, and telling them what they could expect from my time in Bolivia. To this day I am extremely grateful that he took the time to do that for me, but that’s the kind of man he is. (I note in my book that he also told my parents I was very ill, even though in my letters I had been telling them I was fine. My father was not pleased that I had lied, to say the least.) I had not spoken to Rob again until we reconnected on Facebook a few years ago.

Some time ago Rob came out as a gay man and joined the ranks of the “less active” in the LDS church, and he is now happily married. He told me that the bishop and the missionaries occasionally come by, and he’s always cordial but is never sure what to say. He said he felt lucky that he hadn’t grown up in the church like I had because he didn’t have family pressure and disapproval when he walked away from Mormonism.

As we were talking about the photos, he said, “I look at those photos and see so much love.” He went on to say that, because we were so far from home, in such difficult living conditions, and among a people who really didn’t want us there, we supported each other and stuck together. We were family, and we loved each other. Like me, Rob has mixed emotions about his mission, but we both recognize that deep love and bond among those of us who served together in Bolivia. The photos on Facebook elicited comments from people I hadn’t heard from or seen in years, and yet the bond was still there, and it was easy to reconnect with those people I have loved since then.

As we chatted, we agreed that neither of us regrets our missions, as much of who we are now came out of that experience. I’ve said before that my mission taught me a great many things, not least of all that I am much stronger and more resilient than I ever imagined. But as Rob and I talked, I realized that much of the strength I discovered in Bolivia I borrowed from people who loved and supported me. Yes, I learned to stand on my own and find inner strength, but I also learned to lean on others when I wasn’t strong enough–which was most of the time.

I am convinced that, whatever we think we have accomplished in this life, it is the human connections, the love, that matters. Most people who meet someone like Rob or me will never know anything about the time we spent together in a windy, cold, and barren plain among the mountains of Bolivia. But I will never forget. And I will always remember the kindness of good people like him.


I don’t need to listen. I’m right.

March 10, 2014

Yesterday I had a Facebook exchange with an old friend about the political situation in Ukraine. I shared my political convictions and values and applied them to the situation as I saw it. My friend was adamantly opposed to my take on things, and I reacted more harshly (and snarkily) than was warranted. From there, the conversation devolved into my friend saying I was self-righteous and ignorant. Needless to say, it was not a positive exchange, and when I realized that my next responses might possibly contain profanity and insults, I stopped responding.

This morning, however, I read the following post from my friend Seth Payne–who coincidentally also completely disagreed with my opinions on Ukraine–and it made me think about yesterday’s exchange and my behavior.

Advice for LDS Missionaries

It was a good reminder for me that, when challenged, even in a very personal way, it’s best to listen to what other people are saying, take time to investigate what they’re saying, and learn from the disagreement, no matter whether you agree with their position or not.

One thing I have learned over the years is that when people express their opinions to you, they are usually sincere. I particularly liked this section of Seth’s essay:

When you hear something unfamiliar or perhaps even something that conflicts with what a seminary or Sunday School teacher may have taught you take the time to ask questions rather than assume what is being stated is incorrect or false. Always remember that as a missionary you have not been trained as a Mormon historian or sociologist. You have been encouraged to be a representative of Christ and part being that representative is displaying humility. Unless you have been accosted by one of those General Conference protesters it is usually best to assume that a person with a different viewpoint or information you may not be familiar with is not out to attack you or your faith. Just as you want people to treat you with respect and give you a fair hearing, so to should you be willing to hear and discuss different ideas without accusing others of unstated motives.

I am often guilty of assigning motivations to others, particularly when I think other people are being unkind or unfair, but I think it’s the lack of humility that is the problem for me. It is pride that drives me often to believe that I am unassailably right and my “opponent” is wrong. When I am directly contradicted, I often tend not to listen but instead react defensively and sometimes with hostility. And, sad to say, I often come across as self-righteous.

Seth reminds me of a better approach:

You are going to be asked difficult and unfamiliar questions. Be prepared to be surprised. Learning and being challenged is one of the great things about being a young LDS missionary. Take full advantage of this unique opportunity.

Yes, a mission is a unique opportunity, but the rest of our lives we are going to be faced with difficult and unfamiliar questions, and life often presents us with surprises, sometimes devastating ones. You would think someone my age would have figured out how to deal with differing ideas, perspectives, and beliefs, but maybe I am still learning.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Jerry Seinfeld once described relationships as being like fish swimming upstream: the moment you stop working at it, you’re left with a dead fish. Learning is like that, too: once you stop learning and growing and changing, you are just waiting to die.

If life involves constant learning and growing, then obviously we have to acknowledge we don’t know everything. I’m not sure why that is such a hard thing for many of us to admit, especially for me. Here’s Seth again:

You shouldn’t expect yourself to know the answer to every doctoral or historical question. When you don’t know something or when something is unfamiliar it is always best to acknowledge your ignorance but promise to follow-up once you have had a chance to look into the question. Talk to other missionaries and your mission president. Ask questions in your letters home. Commit yourself to learn and view each unfamiliar question as an opportunity for growth.

Those around you will respect your humility and honesty.

I am grateful to those who offer to help me learn and grow, though I am sometimes too stubborn to accept their help. It’s much easier to try to find backup and support from others for my point of view than it is to simply acknowledge that I don’t know everything. There are only a few people I know who adamantly disagree with me but whom I know I can trust when I ask questions or want to learn. Generally speaking, these people have shown me their good intentions and kindness, and I know they aren’t trying to attack or hurt me. Of course, it takes much more confidence to be willing to learn from people I don’t trust, and sad to say, I don’t have that kind of confidence most of the time.

Finally, Seth reminds me of what matters:

Christians are not to be judged solely by their words but rather, by the love they show for others (see the entire Book of John ). People will always be more impressed by your example than by your words. Be kind and generous. Always look for opportunities to serve those around you. Allow others to see how the Gospel of Jesus Christ has worked for good in your life.

Your mission is an opportunity for tremendous spiritual growth. As you look back on your mission experiences it will be those moments of kindness (both given and received) as well as the service rendered to others that you will remember most. If you are anything like me you will remember the “bible bashing” sessions or arguments but they will all run together as ultimately unimportant. You will, however, remember those whom you served and those who served you in great detail and with fondness.

That is absolutely true. What we remember is love, service, kindness to each other, not disagreements, not fights, not who “won.” The only “Bible Bash” I was ever involved in on my mission occurred about 3 weeks after I arrived in Bolivia, and I remember it only because I learned so much from my companion. The man we were visiting was stubborn, sharp with his words, and completely certain that he was on God’s side and we were in the devil’s employ. I got very defensive and upset, having never been raked across the coals like that about my beliefs. My companion, on the other hand, just smiled, listened, asked a few questions, and then suggested we bear our testimonies and leave. “He was a funny little man,” was all my companion said about it afterward.

I’m not sure why I let that lesson from my mission fade away and picked up the “bashing” club in the last few years. Maybe I needed to be right, to come out on top, because I felt I had been spectacularly, humiliatingly wrong in the past. Or, most likely, it was just pride.

Looking back on my days as an amateur Mormon apologist, what I remember is the friendships I have made. Once, for example, I reached out to someone who was as hostile and disrespectful to Mormonism as anyone I had ever met, and as we came to understand each other, we became fast friends and still are today. At the same time I met my friend Ray, who has called me everything from a Nazi to worse and has been as critical of me as an ex-Mormon as he was when I was a believer. I love Ray like a brother and always will; that’s what I remember, not our disagreements and sometimes hurtful comments to each other. I cherish the friendship, and I’m ashamed of the unkind things I’ve said to him.

Yes, I understand that there are people who genuinely wish me ill, but they come and go. They aren’t important, and it’s not worth my time to argue with them or get defensive. But as Seth reminded me, I can learn from them if I am patient, humble, and kind.

I’m working on it. (And I apologize, Hellmut.)


Unabashedly Positive

February 11, 2014

I’ve been reflecting on something a critic of mine said in the comments here. He wondered when the last time was that I posted something “unabashedly positive” about the LDS church. I don’t keep score, and I don’t feel like I need to say something positive just for the sake of being positive. But he got me thinking about the positive things I took from Mormonism (and no, I don’t discount the costs of these positive things). Here are some thoughts.

The church of my youth seemed more like a community, in some ways like a large, supportive family than it did for most of my adult life. The things I remember aren’t sacrament meetings but how people came together to create things that, if not “great,” strove for greatness. Our chapel in my hometown was built with a lot of hard work from local members. The paintings in the foyers on either side of the chapel were done by ward members, both talented artists; to this day, when I read the accounts of Lehi’s dream, I picture the painting in the north foyer. Behind the choir seats was a large abstract mosaic stretching from the ceiling meant to represent the light of truth descending from the heavens. My mother tells me that ward members wept when the church was renovated and the art and mosaic removed.

We came together for such things as road shows, a one-act play competition (my first attempt at acting), and a huge dance festival held at the Rose Bowl. But we did things together that were completely unrelated to religion. Each summer 15 or 20 families from the ward reserved campsites together at a state park in Malibu, and we spent the entire week surfing, playing, and enjoying each other’s company. Our Scoutmaster took us on 50- and 100-mile backpacking trips through the Sierras each summer. And we came together for unhappy times, too, such as the terrible mudslides that destroyed several homes in our ward boundaries and took the life of a ward member, one of my mother’s closest friends.

It was the church that helped me overcome my shyness and fear of public speaking. By the time I served my mission, I was comfortable speaking, even at a moment’s notice, and that led me to excel in speech and debate in high school. There were two of us Mormon boys on the debate team, both of us doing Lincoln-Douglas debate, and once our teacher/coach noticed we were both wearing BYU shirts. She asked if we were Mormons, and we said we were. “That explains a lot,” she said. She said that we were both polite, well-intentioned young men who were always helping our team-mates.

During my senior year in high school, our Young Men leader and I worked together to plan a “super activity” trip to Hawaii. We organized the young men and worked hard for a year to earn enough money to do what we had planned and a little more. That accomplishment gave me a lot of self-confidence that I hadn’t previously had.

My mission taught me that I was capable of doing and enduring more than I had thought possible. Living in Bolivia put what I took for granted into perspective, and every time I feel myself getting too interested in material wealth, I remember Bolivia and check myself. And of course, I met my wonderful wife during those two years.

I used to say that Mormonism didn’t mean you no longer had problems, but it provided a framework for dealing with them. That part of it was a mixed bag for me, but I believe my faith got me through a lot of heartache and upheaval in my life. For a time, my wife and I drove 70 miles each way to the Houston Temple once a week. The temple wasn’t that memorable, but the time we spent together talking strengthened our love and friendship at a time when it would have been easy to get so caught up with kids and work and church callings that we forgot to make time for each other.

I know, none of these things are exclusive to Mormonism, but then, I was a Mormon, so they were benefits to me. But I’m glad someone reminded me of these things. Thanks.


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