Sunday, September 28, 2014

The Ever Enlarging Circle of Love

This essay is in response to a concept that we should  practice coming "at one" with others.  It is not meant to limit the over-arching, eternal enabling power of Christ's atonement, but to find places in our lives where we learn to be unified and "at one" with others.

There was a moment on my mission when I realized that my family was not just the Robert and Julia family, nor the family that extended back to some unknown beginning.  My family included the Chinese—not just those I worked with and knew, but all Chinese.  I felt deeply connected to all of them.  I saw greatness and destructiveness in their culture.  I saw tenderness and abrasiveness in their homes.  They were a people I came to know, love and feel deeply connected to.  They had become my people.

I believed that because of my missionary experience and ability to speak Mandarin Chinese,  God would certainly use me to bless his people in China or Taiwan, or Singapore or anywhere exotic where at least one of the main languages was Mandarin.  With excitement I would sing, “I Will Go Where You Want Me to Go,” eager to find out where and when I would go. I, with Mark, would be an instrument in God’s hand to change the world. 

In fact, Mark and I had an opportunity to go to China for a year after Mark graduated from Law School.  It would be the beginning of our life of being an instrument of God, I assumed. For me, more out of habit than true faith, we prayed about it.  Surprisingly, Mark and I both got the same answer:  For now, our service was in our apartment, raising children, serving in our wards and being good neighbors.  Not exotic.  Not easy.  Not thrilling.  Not prideful.

Through those nearly 30 years of staying home to serve, we have been humbled by some of the difficulties of parenting, the reality of people in our ward’s burdens and the blatant unfairness of life.  Somehow, by being completely committed to family and church (not just the gospel), we have had incredible experiences of love, service, support and faith within a very limited geographic sphere.

Two months ago, when I was in the throes of preparing for two sons’ weddings and receptions, my husband came home and asked who I knew who could go to the bishop’s storehouse for Steve and Chuck.  Steve had just had surgery on his foot and was out of a job and Chuck was his mentally handicapped brother he cared for.  At first I tried to figure out who could go before I realized that I could go.  Begrudgingly, I drove 45 minutes to the storehouse, spent at least 30 minutes there and then 45 minutes back to the small upstairs apartment these friends lived in.  They were not of my faith or my heritage.   During that two hour period, I felt like a martyr:  I had so much on my plate and here I was giving up time to serve someone else.  I felt privileged and righteous. After arriving at their apartment, I started to carry the bags up the stairs, when both Steve and Chuck hobbled down to help me.  Steve was in tears of gratitude, shaking his head repeating, “I wish I didn’t have to make you do this for us.”  As I went into their tiny apartment, their lime-green refrigerator was opened.  Inside was one thing.  A yellow box of baking soda.    All of the sudden my feelings changed profoundly.  I started blinking as I talked with Steve.

Everything came into perspective for just that one moment.  The responsibilities of two weddings, receptions, luncheons, travels and humanity all boiled down to a core issue.  Relationships.  I was not just part of the Blair family, or all my extended family, or even the Chinese world.  I was part of all of humanity.  Everyone was my responsibility and no one was exempt.  

I went home and walked around my beautiful home, seeing pictures of my children from childhood to marriage and wondering about the time I had spent home instead of out serving humanity, and I felt at peace.  By not going abroad, I had remained focused on family.  By remaining actively engaged in my church, I had been able to connect with people from around the world, help drive a dying woman to her doctor’s appointments, talk with a depressed mother whose daughter tragically died, welcome a suicidal friend into my home for a night as she felt abandoned by her family, go on walks with a woman whose husband had been unfaithful to her a second time, and talk with a young mother dealing with anxiety.  Each of these experiences connected me with others in a unifying, atoning way.

There are times I’ve wondered if I have limited my family’s experience by not going abroad.   Perhaps.  But I have also enlarged their experience by fully engaging in church--by finding the world close to us but unknown to us—in drug-ridden neighborhoods, at rest homes where the widows repeated weekly what they said the week before, in apartments that were so unsanitary that I felt compelled to take a bath after returning home, and with families who are struggling with mental illnesses within.  Each time I’ve truly opened my heart to listen to another, I have felt unity—a sense of coming at-one with others and it has enlarged my soul.

When our chorister leads “I’ll Go Where You Want Me To Go, Dear Lord,” I smile and sing instead, “I’ll stay where you want me to stay, dear lord.”  To me, the place of service is radically unimportant.  The heart and action of selfless service, regardless of place or faith, is divine.  For me, coming “at-one” with others starts with committed engagement in humanity, in taking time to listen thoroughly, in letting go of judgment like a helium balloon and allowing it to be dealt with by heaven.  It is freeing.

But living at-one with others is a temporary state for me.  I’m not able to stay in tuned, connected, unified and loving most of the time.  But the few moments of true, open-hearted connections with a child, husband, neighbor or stranger is worth continued effort.  It is what true religion ultimately is about.  It is practicing atonement.

Lately I've had a new experience, that of my sons marrying into other families, and becoming theirs’, not just ours.  In awe, I have talked with Brian, David and Josh’s in-laws and found them open to goodness, committed to family and willing to enlarge their love.  What has been utterly surprising to me is how easily it has been to love them, to feel that they are not just part of my sons’ lives, but mine too.  They add dimension, goodness, breadth and depth to our family.  As our circles of influence, being influenced and loving and being love enlarges and connects eternally,   I stand in awe.  The atonement is not just about sharing grief and pain, but also sharing joy and rejoicings.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Helping Loved Ones: Insights from A River Runs Through It

Thursday evening found us (Matt and James) deep in discussion in the warmth of the family condo. James had just finished watching A River Runs Through It, purportedly to give a previously thought of dumb movie a second chance. Months earlier, David Sabey, James’s new brother-in-law, had brought up the movie in conversation, when James automatically went off about how dumb and pointless the movie was. All he could remember was a guy getting sunburned naked and a bunch of random fishing. James had seen the movie on a scout trip with a bunch of immature friends who remembered nothing but a random string of unrelated events with a “river running through it”. Their deepest analysis consisted of sarcastically repeating the question, “A river runs through what?” and a friend answering, “It runs through it, whatever it is.” Their deepest wonder was in how the movie hadn’t ruined the career of Brad Pitt. David, unoffended, responded that he had actually really enjoyed the movie. James was left dumbfounded. Upon watching the movie for the second time, James learned from Matt that the movie was an absolute favorite of his older brother Josh, and that was why he and David were both familiar with it. That is a long way of saying that two previously separate families, eventually brought together, in an unforeseen way, two young men in meaningful, soul-searching discussion. 

The point that we would like to focus on here is best introduced by the following conversation (which language we do not endorse) between the two brothers, as they attempted to go fishing with a friend’s brother:

 Paul: Couldn't you find him?
Norman: The hell with him.
Paul: Well, I thought we were supposed to help him.
Norman: How the hell do you help that son of a bitch?
Paul: By taking him fishing.
Norman: He doesn't like fishing. He doesn't like Montana and he sure as hell doesn't like me.
Paul: Well, maybe what he likes is somebody trying to help him.

 For Paul, who suffered with addictions and was normally rebellious, this is one of those moments where he shined. He himself needed help but wouldn’t accept, and here he revealed that a person hard to help, even if no one can really help them, wants deeply to feel the love that is communicated when someone at least tries to help. It is hard to help people – to really help people. Sure, bringing cookies over to someone who is struggling may lift their spirits for a moment, but the problem hasn’t gone away and they are left with a plateful of unhealthy comfort food. We realized that it is hard to truly help people, since meaningful change comes from within. Furthermore, can we ever really accurately empathize with others? And if not, how could we ever know how to help them? We had both experienced times when people had tried to help us, but the help was unhelpful, fleeting, or even counter-productive. Regardless of all this, the action of trying to help does not go unnoticed. We feel sincere concern, and we know we are loved.

In A River Runs Through It, we learn through the experience of the McLean family, that love is powerful. The divisive individual problems that threaten to tear at their family are rendered powerless. Not because the problems were all solved, but because a common love, as simple as fly-fishing, welcomed them all back home and together.

As the beloved film regretfully comes to its close, the now aged brother, Norman, stands once again fishing on the same river – that treasured river that united them through everything. Norman is the last of them, and the sun is setting. Pensively he speaks these words, “each one of us here today will at one time in our lives look upon a loved one who is in need and ask the same question: We are willing to help, Lord, but what, if anything, is needed? For it is true we can seldom help those closest to us. Either we don't know what part of ourselves to give or, more often than not, the part we have to give is not wanted. And so it is those we live with and should know who elude us. But we can still love them - we can love completely without complete understanding." Or, stated symbolically, “eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it.”

Monday, September 22, 2014

The Hope of God's Light

The Mormon Channel sent me this video, a true story of a man seeking to understand God.  It touched me.  Each of us has a unique experience on this earth finding our way.  Through the struggle, God is there working with us and giving us "line upon a little, there a little" according to our needs and our ability to accept and act upon His will.  He is active even when we may or may not recognize His workings for what they are.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

C.S. Lewis Book Review

Heaven is Perspective

Is heaven something we achieve or is it something we learn? Is heaven somewhere we go or is it something we come to see?

I am indebted to Matt Sabey for setting me up with this book which I have truly enjoyed. It is a quick read, brimming with fresh, meaningful content.

I have been wanting to write a book review about it; however, I don't want to expose the whole book, since that would be lame! I want you to read the book! Therefore, I will break with the typical procedure for writing a book review and will limit myself to only discussing one concept contained in the book, as I interpret it.

A large portion of the story, the main character is meeting with an angel discussing the nature of heaven. The main character considers hell both a literal place, as well as the state of earth and after-earth (purgatory), especially in comparison with the glory of heaven.

The angel suggests a different way of looking at it: He declares that the soul who is in heaven, or a state of heavenliness, will look back on the time spent on earth and purgatory and will consider it all as heaven. The pain of the past is swallowed up in the glory of heaven, knowing that it was only through that pain that he or she could arrive at where they are. They will feel as though they have always been in heaven. Likewise, to the soul who rejects heaven and continues to live in rebellion, it will seem that they have always been in hell. This leads me to believe that heaven is simpler than we sometimes imagine. It is simply perspective: Seeing adversity, even tragic trials, as purposeful stepping stones to a greater state, will cause the person to feel in heaven. Seeing sin as weakness that can be overcome and taken away, curriculum of life, will also cause the person to feel in heaven. Thus, heaven can be considered one great continuum where we may always exist. 

The catch is that we need not feel we are in heaven every moment. Even those (sometimes us) who seem to be terribly lost, may come back and that lostness will be meaningful to them, making the joy of being found even greater. It will be heaven to them, looking back.

As the angel says, observing some rebellious souls, "I have seen that kind converted...those that hate goodness are sometimes nearer than those that know nothing at all about it and think they have it already." He continues, "No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find. To those who knock it is opened." 

Therefore, if we feel we are in hell, there is always the hope that one day (and maybe special days along the way), in great joy, we will look back upon our experiences and know that we were never parted from heaven - that heaven was and is always there, hidden to human eyes, revealed to heavenly eyes. 

Anyways, those are just some thoughts. I don't really know. Good book. 
What do YOU think?

Blogger Dude

This is my first attempt to blog. Is it working?? Am I now an official blogger?? What do I write, how do I contribute, what is this all about?  These are just a few of my questions that I have with regards to this new and ever changing world of computer communication, sharing and living. The world is a more complex place than I knew growing up. I try to keep current and thus relevant in an ever forward moving computer based world. My daughter texted me yesterday to get advice about which new computer to buy. It must mean that my opinion about the computer world still carries some weight to her. My son asked me how to show a slide show he made on a screen at the scout Court of Honor. It must mean that my opinion on computer related matters is still relevant. I guess that counts for something at my age.

With regard to families and the merging of families as witnessed with the Sabey Messina marriage we are all a fusion of many different families. All of us are a fusion of God's children. We are all a part of one  another, all a part of His plan to teach us to be like Him, all working together to return to where we came from, all a part of each other's growth, happiness and success. A wise friend  told me years ago "We are all a lot more alike than we are different." So true. We each live to love another who is not from our immediately family. My wife Deanna grew up totally different from me on a rural farm but similar in everything that's important to this city boy. We have had a great life together and with our children. Our children are now repeating our life's experience. I still learn everyday even at my age. An example of strength that came to me from our merging families through marriage were  some inspired words  my new son-in-law's father taught me about life. Things I have heard all my life but never put together like this. The  3 principles he learned through trials in his life are the following. 

1.) Believe in gospel promises. 
2.) Embrace the curriculum.  
3.) Allow agency to work. 

So true. So simple. 

So marriage is great in so many ways. From Son- in-laws and their families to pomp and ceremony to moving forward to embracing the curriculum of life. It's all good. I can learn to blog and share my thoughts and feelings and maybe even help someone or get help and support  from someone else. 

I guess now I'll push the button that says "done" and see if it works. I guess that's how life is when you are on the launch pad of learning. Push the start button, dive into the learning, see what happens. If it works great! If not try again or try something new. Just don't ever stop trying, don't ever stop getting up when you fall, don't ever stop testing the limits of your ability for you may just succeed after you try long enough and when you do succeed you can help pull the others up who follow you. 


Mike Messina. 

Discovering Passion (Why I Write Children's Books)

 When family and friends find out that I write and illustrate children’s books they frequently ask how I got into it, often suggesting that it must surely have grown out of some lifelong dream. As much as I would like to confirm that inspiring explanation, I must admit that it wasn’t like that at all.

The truth is that making children’s books came upon me rather suddenly and inexplicably. True, my whole life I’ve drawn and written poetry abundantly, and creating things has always been of highest fulfillment to me. Perhaps the books are the natural conjoining of these long-existing passions. Predictably, therefore, the creation of these books has been a treasure to me – a life source to my spirit.

I guess it all started when I had an idea for a storyline based on the hilarious true experiences of my younger brother. I created a character for the story and began writing. I had no idea what I was doing… or what I was starting.

The books evolved from there. Each subsequent book was better than the last – I began to find my style and niche.

Often I’m asked, “What is the lesson taught in your books. What is your theme or moral?” Again, I find myself unable to confirm their expectations that my books are intentionally designed to teach lessons to children. Actually, I’ve always seen that approach as a betrayal of my friends, the kids, to tell a story with a hidden agenda for indoctrinating them. Rather, the stories come to me and I write what I imagine. The stories are meant to be fun and entertaining. The interesting thing is that my own morals and beliefs naturally show through in my writing. It is how I view the world. So I suppose there are themes and messages, but they are subtler, originating from the most sincere part of my heart.

Many times, it wasn’t until after the book was written that I discovered the meaning it contained. As I recognized this, I realized how the books could benefit all with heart-warming, hopeful, and inspiring messages. Thus, a hope has been born in me that each book will inspire not only the child, but also, and possibly more importantly, the parent who reads it to them. In this way, I’ve come to believe confidently that these are more than average children’s books, but something much more – something magical.
All that being said, one of the most fulfilling part of this is interacting with the kids in school readings. We have a blast watching Marker Kid videos, coloring, making up our own character like Ethan the Earth (totally dictated by the children, only drawn by me}, and of course reading the books.  The best thing is seeing the creative characters created by the kids themselves. That makes me happy.

Monday, September 15, 2014

The Dawn will Break Brightly

I put together this quote and picture – the picture being of the pioneers entering the Salt Lake Valley after months of toiling westward, and the quote being from Elder Jeffrey R. Holland’s talk, “Like a Broken Vessel”, about Major Depressive Disorder. (

When the darkness around me seems impenetrable and never-ending, I feel that God is distant – that he has forsaken me.

This quote assures me that we can trust in the Lord, knowing that he has not forsaken us, though he may feel distant. He loves us and plans to lead us out of our sorrows into the breaking dawn, eventually.

And who knows but that those dark times were and are for our good. As the scripture says, “If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father who is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?” (Matthew 7:11).

The child of righteous desire may receive for reward most bitter trial.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

The Salvation of Pain

Hi all, I’m James Messina, brother of Danielle Sabey. We have all been invited to contribute to the posts on this blog so here I go with my first blog post. Wish me luck!

Today in stake conference (a large church meeting) I was reminded of a favorite talk of mine and so I thought that I would just share some of the reasons why I enjoy it so much.

The talk is one by Loren C. Dunn

He starts with an analogy of two trees in his backyard. One was planted close to a rich and frequent water source and so became a beautiful tree in that protected environment. The other tree was far from a consistent water source. It was exposed to the elements in a harsher way. It was forced to send its roots deep into the ground to obtain sufficient nutrients to survive. It was a large tree, though gnarly and tough. Here's my mental image of the situation:

One day, a great storm passed through, full of intense wind. The storm uprooted the tree that was close to the water source. Its roots were shallow, never having had to seek too far for water and nutrients. The second tree withstood the storm. It’s deep roots and firm constitution caused it to remain strong through the storm.

In reference to the tree that was planted in a more challenging environment, and therefore survived the storm, he says, “In the lives of each of us come these trials—trials of all kinds which shake us to the very core and cause us to explore to the very depths our ability to hang on…I see in many people this same kind of beauty. Adversity and trial have driven the roots of faith and testimony deep in order to tap the reservoir of spiritual strength that comes from such experiences. By nature they know how to stand and fight and hang on.”

I find this very meaningful. Especially since the trials in my life have caused me such pain and anguish, that I’ve often been lead to the mindset that I was better off before and that somehow I was being punished for no reason to suffer. Like a tree, I felt that I was growing better before I was moved to the harsh environment. I have been bitter and angry.

Actually, though, the trials in our lives are fantastic blessings! They are a blessing of sublime love from our Father in Heaven. For it is ONLY through difficulty and adversity that we obtain firm spirituality and conversion, thus being able to experience deeper and lasting joy. We don’t typically bring trials upon ourselves but God ordains and sends certain trials to us. All we have to do is remain faithful amidst the trial. Then, when the storm comes, we will be prepared. God prepares us.

I know that we all experience great trials in our lives that “shake us to the very core,” and for that I have great empathy. I only hope that we can find some peace as we realize that it is ONLY through those very trials that we deepen what we know and who we are. Every trial we receive is necessary for our salvation.