I plan to provide a detailed health update later this week, but (spoiler alert) A) lack major breaking news on this front and, B) have wanted for some time to attempt to share some thoughts on the role of belief and faith in my life and in "The Project". I share what I can knowing that:
- Words are limited in their ability to convey meaning...
- Some who read this might be surprised....good! now you know me better
- Not all will agree
- Some will passionately disagree
- Our (your and my) learning is not yet complete
The beauty of trying to do this via blog is that, unless you comment, I have no idea who has read a post...you can choose to comment or remain anonymous for whatever reason. :)
First, my personal working definitions (subject to change):
- Hopes: those things we desire to be true
- Beliefs: those things we assume to be true
- Truths: those things that are facts no matter what we believe
- Faith: the personal gift / ability / power to act on truth(s) which we have not yet received of full knowledge of ourselves
- Knowledge: our awareness / understanding of truth
During the Project, we've found our education accelerated in unforeseen ways. Though physical/symptomatic change has been gradual, spiritually and emotionally-speaking, the entire world shifted the day of my diagnosis and appeared suddenly and significantly more real, intense, and filled with BIG/scary questions and BIG/scary opportunities for good. Amy and I had known what it was like to be "exposed to the elements" before, but, compared with our new Project, never for so long that we couldn't soon be distracted from the intensity of the experience. With sustained intensity has come knowledge. This knowledge has come in circular degrees as we've implicitly tested and adjusted our beliefs, exercised faith by acting on those beliefs we've found to be true, and continually resubmitted our newly expanded and faith-proven beliefs to the adjustment process. In this period of intensity, I honestly feel many more 'things' have progressed from hope to belief to knowledge than any previous / comparative time-period. Here are a few things I've begun to say I "know":
God exists, knows and loves us individually, and will teach us:
Looking back, I can not say clearly when I first believed in God's existence, but I can now name countless experiences that I feel are direct experiences with God which have galvanized this belief into knowledge. These experiences have been convincing because they have differed in FEELING from any other experiences in my life--distinctly deeper, more mind-expanding, more fulfilling, more desirable, and clearer. In addition to the feeling that accompanies them, unlike other experiences, these experiences never conflict/disagree, always bring peace, and have a way of shedding light and understanding on other areas of life. These experiences typically happen only when I am living up to the knowledge I've previously learned and are so specifically fit to my needs and circumstances at the time, that I am left no option but to believe they are custom built to my individual progress. The frequency of these experiences increases dramatically as I not only live up to and act on my knowledge, but TRUST that God is in control, that I don't need to fear, and that more knowledge will come in the appropriate time...timing heavily influenced or preceded by my readiness to receive that knowledge.
The most frequent activity during which I've had these experiences is during my personal search of scripture...particularly the Book of Mormon. I invite all I know to add this book to your own search for knowledge/truth--to read it with an open heart, comparing it with other things you know spiritually to be true, and thereby test its goodness/truth for yourself. I'm happy to provide a copy if you want one.
Some of God's greatest lessons come only through hardship or suffering: As mentioned above, the path of our education during the Project has been unforeseeable from the start. This was true of no part more so than the start itself...I personally thought I was more prepared than I turned out to be. Jeffrey Holland, quoting C.S. Lewis' words about facing his wife's illness and death, came as close to expressing my experience as anyone I've read:
". . . I had been warned—[indeed,] I had warned myself. . . . [I knew]we were. . . promised sufferings. . . . [That was] part of the program. We were even told, "Blessed are they that mourn," and I accepted it. I've got nothing that I hadn't [agreed to]. . . . [So] if my house. . . collapsed at one blow, that is because it was a house of cards. The faith which "took these things into account" was not[an adequate] faith. . . . If I had really cared, as I thought I did[care], about the sorrows of [others in this] world, [then] I should not have been so overwhelmed when my own sorrow came. . . . I thought I trusted the rope until it mattered. . . . [And when it indeed mattered, I found that it wasn't strong enough.]. . . You will never discover how serious it [is] until the stakes are raised horribly high; [and God has a way of raising the stakes] . . . [sometimes] only suffering [can] do [that]."
Some of you were with us in those first few days of the Project, and saw and felt the shock we experienced right along with us. I'll never forget day two when family watched the kids and Amy and I spent the most broken day of my life so far--we could do nothing but sit and hold each other. Following that day, due to a combination of our beliefs, the nature of my diagnosis, and that specific time of our lives, we had no option but to begin to rely on our faith--ACTING on truths we didn't yet have a complete knowledge of. Our experience since that day has continued to be unforeseeable, but has been, in most ways, richer than before. Life is best when we live and act on what we know to be true no matter how scary it seems.
Trusting God and giving up fear is a hard--maybe the hardest--thing:
Though I've had these experiences, I continue to struggle with "entrusting" certain things to God. Again, I'll rely on Holland quoting Lewis:
"You never know how much you really believe anything, until its truth or falsehood becomes a matter of life and death to you. It is easy to say you believe a rope to be strong and sound as long as you are merely using it to [tie] a box. But suppose you had to hang by that rope over a precipice. Wouldn't you then first discover how much you really trusted it? . . . Only a real risk tests the reality of a belief. . . Your [view of] . . . eternal life. . . will not be [very] serious if nothing much [is at] stake."
For me, the hardest thing to entrust to God's care has been Amy and the kids' happiness if I were to leave this life. I feel silly and embarrassed even typing that given how imperfectly I've delivered their happiness while here, but no fear has been harder for me to deal with than my family's loneliness or suffering in or due to my imagined absence. In considering this I've realized that our greatest fears often exist in the midst of or even despite our greatest knowledge to the contrary: I know God exists and loves me and my family. I know that he knows all things. I know he has all power to take or give my life. I know that hardship can be a great blessing. So why do I fear that too much will be asked or taken? I believe SOME of this fear comes not from mistrusting God, but from mistrusting myself--that I've somehow allowed my own weakness to influence my interpretation of my experiences with God. I am working on this.
We are more closely connected than we may recognize:
Just this past week, I thought of and texted a dear friend for the first time in 5 months. His response was immediate:
"Strange, very strange! I was thinking about you and Amy in the middle of the night. Then 7 hours later you reach out with a text. I'd like to talk. Call at your convenience."
He and I spoke shortly thereafter and quickly agreed that this was not surprising at all since both of us have had many of these experiences, some even more dramatic, that leave little room for doubt that we share unseen connections with each other. I'm not sure whether we are directly connected, or whether we're being put in contact by some type of spiritual 'switchboard', but I have been amazed (especially during our Project) at the perfection of these connections in both content and timing. We've run into medical, financial, employment, service, or other dead-ends only to have old friends or even perfect strangers appear suddenly with a solution MUCH better than any we'd imagined. A dramatic example of this was our family's experience in 2012. My February 16 journal entry reads:
"We have made plans to take a temporary leave from Microsoft and to spend up to 6 months on the North Shore of Oahu. The goal of this plan is to follow a path that we feel has been opened before us, and to dedicate time to healing and family. We've had a tremendous outpouring of love and support from our friends here in Seattle. Final details about housing, cars, Microsoft, and BYUH volunteering have not been completed and are somewhat stressful...While Amy and I have both felt strong confirmation that the plan is acceptable to the Lord, I have failed to distance myself completely from doubts and fears that I will somehow lead my family astray. I pray that the Lord will guide and direct me to overcome my fear and to follow him in faith."
My June 25 entry reads:
"With the help of our adopted family in Seattle, we packed up our house and moved to Oahu on February 24th. Moving to paradise was not as easy for us as one might think--we love our Seattle family, knew only a few acquaintances in Hawaii, we'd found no renters for our Seattle home, and our Hawaii rental plans fell through three days prior to departure. As we decided to move forward, we were soon overwhelmed with 'tender mercies' as new friends, old friends, relatives of old friends, and old friends of old friends 'suddenly' appeared in our path and rented our home, opened their home to us, gave us their rental home and car, and found us a more permanent place to stay during our family retreat/adventure. Faith, followed by chaos, precedes the miracle."
We still wonder about God's timing. Why do the connections and experiences flow so effortlessly and clearly at times, while not at others? I am confident that God knows and that these experiences increase as we exercise faith.
I am humbled by and grateful for my knowledge of God's nature, infantile though it may be. I believe that all other knowledge is subject to and dependent on this and pray that I might know Him perfectly.
Thanks for reading.