(last sunday I gave my farewell talk in church)
I don’t know if God knew that in order to get a point across to me he would have to do it through animals, or if I just have a lot of memories with animals because of all the pets I have had, or if animals are just one of the things that I always seem to pay attention to. Whatever the reason, it is clear that there have been a lot of experiences in my life that have strengthened my testimony that have included animals.
I am leaving in a few weeks to go on a mission where I will teach people all about the Book of Mormon and the savior Jesus Christ.
I was asked to talk today about the Book of Mormon and how it helps me in daily life including how it has helped me gain a testimony of the Savior; although the Book of Mormon has done that for me, my testimony seems to have been built more by lessons learned from life so I think that today I would rather talk about birds.
What I have learned from birds and how that has been proof to me that the Book of Mormon is true and that Jesus is the Christ.
I have had several pet birds in my life. Max was my favorite. Max was a starling that fell out of his nest at the fair grounds. He was too small to survive on his own so I took him home and made him a house in a plastic storage bin with a heating lamp clamped onto the side. He was a good pet and a lot of fun.
After days of blending up soggy dog food with apple sauce, and boiled eggs to feed him every two hours; after digging up my mom’s flower bed to teach him how to catch and eat bugs and worms; after tying a string around his foot so that he couldn’t fly away at the cabin; after letting him roost in the tree in the back yard so that the hateful house cat couldn’t get him once he learned that he could fly; after he came back less and less often when I called him, the day finally came when I called Max and he didn’t come back at all.
He had grown up enough and he was ready to fly away.
While a string around their foot works well for wild birds like max, normal pet birds are kept from escaping by having their wings clipped. By clipping certain feathers that are important in flight, the birds are no longer able to fly. At least they are no longer able to fly very well or very far. There are many different ways that you can clip a birds wings, but the result is always the same: the bird is unable to reach its full potential.
Poet Maya Angelou wrote a poem titled “I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings”.
the final few stanzas go as follows:
The free bird thinks of another breeze
and the trade winds soft through the sighing trees
and the fat worms waiting on a dawn-bright lawn
and he names the sky his own.
But a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams
his shadow shouts on a nightmare scream
his wings are clipped and his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing
The caged bird sings
with a fearful trill
of things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill
for the caged bird
sings of freedom.
Like the caged bird in this poem, with clipped wings and tied feet, there are often times in our life when we might want to also let out a fearfull trill or a frustrated note. We understand that we were meant for more and we long to reach our full potential.
I have on my i-pod a playlist that I like to listen to while I run because I have gotten to know the songs and I can rely on them to give me the energy and motivation that I need to get through whatever obstacle I might currently be dealing with: hills, hunger, boredom.
They seem to remind me why I am doing what I am doing and that it is in fact going to be worth it in the end, even if I’m questioning my decision mid-commitment.
One song in particular on this play list always seems to stick out to me and give me that extra push I am looking for no matter how sore my legs are or how badly I just want to be done and home.
The line that I love the most from this song is: “empty the pack and watch your wings grow back”.
What I like best about this line is the use of the word “back”.
This reminds me that I’ve had fully functional wings in the past and that for whatever reason, I’ve let life clip them; I’ve become the caged bird and found myself in an unfavorable situation and unable to reach my full potential. Hearing this line always helps me keep things in perspective and keep a better outlook on life.
One run in particular I remember struggling with the final uphill stretch back to my house. I think I must have listened to this song at least 4 or 5 times to get me through. The second time through it occurred to me that I could hit ‘repeat’ as many times as I wanted and I would always get what I needed from the lyrics. I further realized that, obviously, this happens because that is the way the song was recorded so each time I listen to it I will hear the same message and be able to apply it to whatever I am currently going through. It was declared finished, put onto an album, and released to the world.
By the end of the 3rd time, I realized that this same thing happens every time we read the Book of Mormon because that too was recorded a certain way, declared finished, printed, bound, and released to the world .
Just like the songs I listen to while I run will always help me find the strength to get home, each time I read the Book of Mormon I know that I can also find the strength to get home.
How grateful I am for the Book of Mormon in my life and for the strength that I can draw from it each day. The book of Mormon complements the bible and continues to teach us about the savior Jesus Christ. It helps us strengthen our testimonies of the savior and allows us to come unto Christ and be perfected by his atoning sacrifice and mercy.
I have always liked what section 122 of the Doctrine and covenants says because it reminds me that things could be a lot worse:
In verse 7 we read:
7 And if thou shouldst be cast into the apit, or into the hands of murderers, and the sentence of death passed upon thee; if thou be cast into the bdeep; if the billowing surge conspire against thee; if fierce winds become thine enemy; if the heavens gather blackness, and all the elements combine to chedge up the way; and above all, if the very jaws of dhell shall gape open the mouth wide after thee, know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee eexperience, and shall be for thy good.
Looking back over the past few years, I think that the worst thing that has happened to me was probably finding out that my favorite Jonas Brother’s song was a cover. So yeah, it could be a lot worse.
Even if it gets worse this verse reminds us that everything that happens is for our good. Everything that happens is giving us experience.
The next verse reminds us that
8 The aSon of Man hath bdescended below them all.
And then asks us
Art thou greater than he?
We are taught in the Book of Mormon that anything the Lord asks us to do, the Lord will also provide a way for it to be accomplished.
We are never asked to deal with more than we are able to bear.
In First Nephi Chapter 1, Verse 20 nephi says: “I Nephi will show unto you that the tender mercies of the Lord are over all whom he hath chosen because of their faith to make them mighty even unto the power of deliverance”.
This message is strong and to the point, and as we read the Book of Mormon we see that it is also true. Christ has already paid the price, God has told us what we need to do, and by prayer and the power we can draw from studying the Book of Mormon we can carefully navigate through this life and get back home
Another lesson that I have learned from birds is that of hope and faith and their ability to see us through hard times.
Noah is a wonderful example of faithful obedience to the Lord. He built the arc, gathered the animals, and was prepared when the flood came.
After the rain stopped and the skies cleared, Noah sent out a dove. The first time the Dove came back with nothing to show. Eventually though, as the water levels lowered, the dove brought back an olive twig, and finally didn’t return at all. Noah knew that this meant the water was gone and that it was safe to start a new life in a new place. He had obeyed the Lord and the Lord blessed him.
Earlier this summer I was down town one day and trapped in my thoughts. I was trying to sort through how you go about getting ready for a mission, how I was ever going to find a new job for just a few months, and how I was going to figure out everything that I needed to get done before I left my home and my family for 18 months to go serve.
I was so caught up in thought that I almost missed it, but there it was:
A pigeon carrying a stick in its beak.
Although far less glamorous than the sight Noah must have seen, my thoughts immediately went to him and his situation and the hope that he received from his bird.
Somehow, this humble replica somehow carried the same message to me and I knew that everything would be all right in the end and that everything would work out. The water levels would go down, the sun would come out, and I too would be safe to start a new life in a new place.
Michelangelo once said that a true and pure sculpture is one that is cut from a block, not cast or molded. This form of sculpture is known as subtractive sculpture and is done by taking a block of raw material and carving away bits and pieces until you were left with the desired outcome.
Everything that the final product needs is there from the beginning and nothing has to be added. All that needs to be done is removing the unneeded bulk, and then a little bit of refining.
Michelangelo explained his sculpting as the process of releasing a figure from the block of marble that imprisoned it. He said he could look at a block of marble and see the figure within. He could see all of the beauty and power and potential from the start, and all he had to do was remove the unneeded bits and pieces so that the rest of the world could see the figure as he did.
It is said that when he worked on his sculptures he would enter a trance like state and that his focus could not be broken. He would work with such intensity and such devotion that he often sent pieces of marble larger than his fingers flying across his studio.
Michelangelo took upon him the task of showing the world what he saw in each piece of raw material and worked hard until he had accomplished his goal. The end result was always beautiful, always perfect, and always a masterpiece.
Just like Michelangelo was able to see the potential in a raw piece of material, The Lord is able to see the potential in us—even in our roughest and most raw state.
I am excited for the opportunity to serve a mission and the chance to teach people about the Book of Mormon every day for 18 months. I hope that I am able to help the Lord in refining some of his children into what he sees them as so that they can stand before man and be seen the way He sees them.
Who Knows? Maybe I will even be able to chip off some of my own excess marble in the process.
Although there are a lot of things I don’t know, I do know that the Book of Mormon is true, that Joseph Smith truly talked to God and that through him the true church was restored to the earth.
I do know that that the only way to stay on track in life is to read the BOM, pray about it, and apply what we learn to our lives.
And finally, I do know that no matter what, your wings can always grow back.