Monday, January 18, 2016

Sacrament Meeting Talk given in the 8th ward 01/17/2016

My assignment today is to speak about the Book of Mormon.  I am going to tell you a trivial story and then talk about some outstanding characters to be found in the Book.
When I joined the Marine Corps (about 100 years ago, or so) I spoke with my bishop and he gave me two little books.  One was the Principles of the Gospel.  I was surprised and a little chagrined to see that it contained instructions on how to dedicate a grave.  The Viet Nam war was in full swing at the time, so that hit kind of close to home.  I hoped I would never have occasion to use that instruction while in the service.
The other book was this little Book of Mormon [Serviceman's Edition].  It is designed to fit in a shirt pocket, and I carried it there quite often.  It helped me in one very unexpected way.  While in training, we took two weeks out of boot camp to go to the rifle range.  The rigid discipline we’d experienced up to that point was relaxed a bit and we focused only on learning to use our rifles.  The first week we practiced how to hold the rifle, how to align the sights, and how to squeeze the trigger.  Mostly we practiced the very unusual positions for holding the rifle - positions that stretched muscles we hadn’t known we possessed – positions that hurt to do correctly, but that eventually became easy.   The second week we started actually firing our rifles.  Every day we’d go to the range and we’d fire.  From the most difficult position (standing) we fired at a mere 100 meters, and from the most stable position (laying down) we fired at 500 meters, with various other positions at interveneing ranges.   200, and 300 meters.  Now, I easily hit bullseyes at 500 meters; no worries.  But I had much difficulty at the closer ranges where it was difficult to maintain the position and hold the rifle on target.
We kept track of every shot, including the wind, our settings on the sights, and marking where we thought we thought each shot went.  If we shot perfectly we could get a score of 300.   If you scored 280 or better, you would be rated as an expert rifleman.  If you were under that score, but shot at least 250  you’d be a sharpshooter.  Under that, but at least 220 and you would rated as a marksman, which is where most recruits end up.  Lower than that and you didn’t rate as a rifleman at all and the disgrace was nearly unthinkable.  All of us wanted to be Expert, but as qualification day approached I had settled in to shooting a few points below that mark.  I needed a few more points at the closest ranges to qualify as an Expert rifleman, but it eluded me and I began to put pressure on myself.
The night before qualification, I knelt beside my bunk and prayed.  I was very aware that the Lord had no interest in whether I qualified as an expert, sharpshooter, marksman, or even at all.  But I cared, and I hoped he would care that I cared.
The next morning I put my Book of Mormon in my pocket.  I didn’t have a plan, I was just trying to follow the spirit.
At the range, We didn’t shoot constantly.  We spent part of the time pulling down and putting up the targets of other shooters and marking the holes so they could be scored.  And we spent a lot of time just waiting.  On qualification day we started out with my group waiting.  I pulled out my Book of Mormon while we were waiting and began to read.  I read  -  and forgot about what we were doing.  When I was called to the line, I fired and went back to reading.  When we pulled targets, I marked them and then read while the firing went on.  At the end of the day, I had those few extra points I needed and I qualified as an expert rifleman.   Nice.
I said I was going to tell you a trivial story and this one qualifies as trivial.  There is no eternal significance to whether I got to wear this badge (the Rifle Expert badge) on my uniform.

However,  in my mind this badge is linked to my little Book of Mormon, which I used mainly just when I was in Boot Camp.
The point here is not why I was reading this little book.  It is simply that I was reading it.  The book doesn’t do us any good to have; it doesn't do us any good to have it IN our pocket; or even to hold it – it does us good to open and read it.
What do the prophets and general authorities tell us about the Book of Mormon?    To Read it!

There are many outstanding stories of great men of God in the Book of Mormon.  Nephi’s story is one of great courage to overcome severe obstacles placed in his way by sibling rivalry.  Alma’s story is a case of repentance that is matched only by Paul’s.  Ammon had great physical strength to go with his spiritual strength and he was able to do great things.  Helaman was a great leader of the army as he defended his home and country, and led a group of young men in righteousness.
Probably my favorite story in the Book of Mormon is in the book of Ether.  The Nephites had had the record of the people of Ether for a long time, but were instructed that it was not to be revealed generally until after Christ came.  Moroni gave us a brief account of their origins and it goes back to the Tower of Babel and a man named Jared.  Jared was concerned about his family and friends losing the ability to talk to each other when the languages were confounded.   So he asked his brother to ask the Lord if they could keep their language.  This is the most curious thing in the Book of Mormon.  Jared apparently had faith enough to ask for help, but not directly.   He had his brother ask instead, and his brother had even greater faith than Jared.     The Lord talked to the brother of Jared and he did many important things,  but his name was lost over time.  Only Jared’s name remained.  So, we have this amazing man, who is known only as the Brother of Jared.  But what, really, is so amazing about him?
Under the Lord’s direction they built some curious barges that were totally enclosed so that they could be driven completely under the water during severe storms.  The Brother of Jared asked the Lord how they would get air and was told to make holes that could be opened to let in the air, and stoppered to keep out the water.  The most curious thing about them was that they could be turned upside down and still keep the people safe inside.  I imagine comfort was no part of that trip!
 Then the  brother of Jared asked the Lord to help them so they wouldn’t have to be in darkness.  And the Lord threw it back at him, asking, “What will ye that I should do that ye may have light in your vessels?      For behold, ye cannot have windows, for they will be dashed in pieces; neither shall ye take fire with you, for ye shall not go by the light of fire.” 
This is where it gets interesting.  The Brother of Jared took that as a challenge.  He was not discouraged, and did not take that as a No.  Instead he thought about it, thought some more, and then melted some clear stones out of a rock.  At first this seems unlikely, but today we take fine white sand and melt it down and purify it.  What we call this . . . is  GLASS.

Before we came to Texas, Liz was the stake Primary President and she wanted visual aids for these stones as she taught the children in the wards about the Brother of Jared.  We used to have to go out to Forks, Washington each year for ward conference (You know, Forks, where the Cullens live).   It was so far away, we’d spend the whole weekend out there, and we took the time on our first trip to Forks to walk along the Sol Duc River - looking for stones.  (Kind of like this one, but egg-size.)  We found sixteen nice-sized stones that were a clear, whitish quartz, rounded from being washed down the river.  They were perfect.  Liz used them for her lesson in each ward in the Silverdale Washington stake.   And then we lost them over the years.
The brother of Jared took his stones to the top of a mountain and presented them to the Lord, and said, “I know, O Lord, that thou hast all power, and can do whatsoever thou wilt for the benefit of man; therefore touch these stones, O Lord, with thy finger, and prepare them that they may shine forth in darkness; and they shall shine forth unto us in the vessels which we have prepared, that we may have light while we shall cross the sea.
  This is where it gets interesting.  Notice that he came up with a solution to his problem that only needed help from the Lord?  He thought it through and presented the solution to the Lord.  Of course the solution still needed divine intervention, but he had done his best, and he faithfully expected the Lord to do the rest.  So many times we ask for help, but do not take the time to think for ourselves and do our best.
The Lord did what he asked and the brother of Jared saw his finger as he touched the stones, one by one.  That frightened him because he didn’t  know the Lord really had a finger.   
What the Lord told him next is very revealing.
And the Lord said unto him: Because of thy faith thou hast seen that I shall take upon me flesh and blood; and never has man come before me with such exceeding faith as thou hast; for were it not so ye could not have seen my finger. 
Of course, this was long before Christ came to Earth as a man, and he had no physical body at that time.  So the brother of Jared saw what he WOULD look like.  And since the veil was parted, the brother of Jared saw Christ’s spirit body in its entirety, not just his finger.
Christ told him, “And never have I showed myself unto man whom I have created, for never has man believed in me as thou hast.   Seest thou that ye are created after mine own image? Yea, even all men were created in the beginning after mine own image.
  Behold, this body, which ye now behold, is the body of my spirit; and man have I created after the body of my spirit; and even as I appear unto thee to be in the spirit will I appear unto my people in the flesh.
Of all the men who have had great faith, very few, if any, of them matched the faith of this man whose name was lost.  It is a most-amazing example.  
So we can use his experience as a marker-post for our own progress:  Do we have faith as great as the brother of Jared?  If not, we know we still have work to do, although not everyone will have his gifts.  In D&C 46 we learn that spiritual gifts are not the same for every person:    

11 For all have not every gift given unto them; for there are many gifts, and to every man is given a gift by the Spirit of God.
 12 To some is given one, and to some is given another, that all may be profited thereby.
 13 To some it is given by the Holy Ghost to know that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and that he was crucified for the sins of the world.
 14 To others it is given to believe on their words, that they also might have eternal life if they continue faithful.
Jared and his brother are like that.  The Brother had faith enough to see the Lord’s spiritual body, Jared had faith enough to believe his brother.  Do we have faith as great as Jared’s – enough to ask those with greater faith to intervene for us.  It’s simple enough to ask for help, but pride keeps us from doing it sometimes.  It is an act of faith to ask for help from church leaders.   Something we should do when we need their help.
Do we have faith enough to read the Book of Mormon?  This is getting very basic.  We are told, over and over, to just read it.  Just read.
My testimony is that reading the Book of Mormon does help us.  It will make a difference in our lives.  It will help us become experts with our spiritual gifts, and not merely marksmen.

 And I say this in the name of  .  .  .

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Game camera photos

I bought a cheap, little game camera to put in the woods out where we go.  It doesn't do well with motion (because it's cheap), but it works well enough during daylight hours for what I need.  The trouble is that it's a big file that looses any gain in the file size by not having a fast enough aperture to stop motion.  In the night, very few shots are any good, because the aperture is open so long that moving shots are just a long blur.  Some of the ones where coyotes are running by look like it's 10 feet long with a long glowing line in it where its eye is shining back at the camera.  In any case, Here are the best of the photos I've gotten over the last 6 weeks.  There are scads of night-time photos of possums, armadillos, racoons, skunks, cattle, squirrels, deer, etc., but the following are the ones that excite me.

This is a great shot of a coyote. 

And here is another.  

Feb. 21 was a busy night.  Here is a coyote, looking around for action;  
And then a bobcat is poking around the area a couple of hours later;
          and 40 minutes after that it is eating a small mammal.


This is a nice daytime shot of the bobcat.  Most of the bobcats we see out there are like this one, bigger than a house cat, but not by a huge amount.  However, a couple of times we've seen a big bobcat with bulging muscles, and at least twice this size.  And, of course, I am dying to get a photo of the black panther, which is unknown to science.  We have seen them 3 or 4 times, all in daylight, but never gotten a photo of it.


This an awesome action shot.  For some reason the image is nice and clear even though the coyote was in full gallop and only has one paw on the ground.  My guess is that the snow put so much light into the lense that the camera was able to function with a very fast shutter.


This photo is interesting because the coyote is so big and black.  An old male?   It looks to me like its face is black because of mange, which can be a serious problem in Texas, but mainly when it's hot.  It looks nice and buff, and healthy though, so maybe that's not why it's black.
  

This is a photo from an earlier time when I was using an old camera, trying to find a good spot to put the new camera.  Mostly, I got nothing with this camera location, but this deer came by one foggy morning.  There is my old camping trailer, with a view of its awesome camouflage, custom applied by none other than yours truly.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Sacrament Meeting Talk - 01-18-2015

   I was assigned to speak in the Plano 7th ward back in January.  It was my very first talk outside my own ward, in my capacity as a high councilor.  I prepared ahead of time and had about 35 minutes worth of material.  Well, obviously that was too much, but I enjoyed writing about it.
   When I arrived Bishop Schroeder came up to me and told me he had arranged for a youth speaker and one other adult speaker, as well as a musical number.  However, all those had cancelled.  He advised me to speak for as long as I wanted and he would take up the rest of the time.
     I smiled and told him not worry.  I had enough material to take up all the time.  So I spoke for 35 minutes, or perhaps a little longer.  It was quite well received considering that it was so long.
   He also gave me a copy of the program.  The program had a typo.  It said "Brother Earl Ashurst  -  Stale High Councilor".  I thought it was funny, so I started out saying, "Hello, my name is Earl  Ashurst and I will be your stale high councilor for today - at least according to your program.  I like that (big smile).  I was going to introduce myself as your dry councilor, your minister of somnambulation, but this is much better.
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Side note:  Bishop Schroeder fell ill suddenly a couple of weeks ago, and died two days ago.  He was a nice man.  He was 51 years old, I believe.
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My names is [me] and I am one of the 13 high councilors in the Plano, Stake.  I bring to you the love and concern of the Stake President and his councilors.  They are good men, who have jobs and lives of their own, but they are anxiously concerned about every member of the church in the Plano Stake.  President Wilding tirelessly attends functions of every kind throughout the stake and you have probably seen him pop in at unexpected times.  It is a pleasure to work with such men.
My purpose here today is to continue the theme already presented in this meeting: My assigned topic is Family History.  I intend to share some stories of my experience with it, including my failures.  We can learn from failures, and I’ve made my share.
When I was a young man, about 137 years ago – approximately  -  the church was encouraging everyone to build a 4-generation chart of their family.  My older brother had done one, and I mostly copied his, as any young man with better things to do, would do.  However, I dutifully talked to my grandparents to make sure I had it right.  On my Mother’s side of the family, I found what many other descendants of the pioneers find – that somebody has already done the pedigrees - far back, and well.  I felt there was nothing left for me to do, there.  That is an illusion, but it is how I felt. 
But on my Father’s side of the family it was virgin territory.  He is not LDS and nobody had done anything in the way of genealogy.  That sounded like a bit more fun  - but not enough to actually do anything about it at that time.  I was still a young man, after all.
So I finished high school and went off to BYU.  I served a hitch as a U.S. Marine part way through my college work and came back to BYU as a married student.  I finished up my degree in Zoology and chemistry in December, 1975 and headed off to Arizona for my first job as an agricultural biologist.  At that time, they didn’t pass out diplomas when you finished your degree in December, so when I got a fat letter from the Y in the mail, I thought it would be my diploma.  To my surprise, it was a copy of my transcript and a notice that I needed two more hours of coursework before I could expect a degree.  Any two hours, in any subject would do the trick.
Well, I was disappointed, to say the least.  I was living out in remote NE Arizona about 30 feet from the edge of the Navajo Reservation, and there was no way I was getting back to Provo for a 2 hour class. 
But wait!  There are correspondence classes.  I called BYU and they told me that even correspondence classes would do, as long as the class I chose was a credit class of at least 2 hours.  They sent me a course book and the Religion Department had a class in Genealogical Research that was 2 hours.  It sounded kind of interesting, so I sent in my registration and fee.  My only hangup was that it required a fair amount of time in a genealogy library and I was living in Sanders, AZ which had a permanent population of about 100 and no library, grocery store, theater, or much of anything else.  In fact, it had a post office, a trading post, a high school, and a small LDS chapel – that’s it.  The stake center and the genealogy library were in St. Johns, which was 60 miles south.  There was also a stake center in Gallup, NM, which was 60-some miles to the east, and there might have been another in Holbrook, AZ, which was 60-some miles to the west, although I think their stake center was probably in Snowflake, which 60-some miles further west
So I picked our own stake center and started driving down to St. Johns every Wednesday after work to do my assignments in the genealogy library.  I found that the other patrons were all older women.  I never saw a man there at all.  As you might imagine, they were all interested in what I was doing, which made my natural bashfulness even more intense, and I kept my head down, did my work, and left without saying much.  I am pretty sure I did tell the lady helping me that I was working on a class from BYU. 
Mostly I was retrieving microfilm records from the county courthouse in Paris, Kentucky where my great-grandparents were born and I found many good marriage and death records, which, when combined with census records let me build up my pedigree back to the revolutionary war.  So that was fun. 
I was able to tell my coworkers that I was spending my days off doing research in Paris.  They didn’t believe me, though.
What I could not find was any birth records in Paris, KY, so I was using estimates based on census records for birth dates, and that isn’t very accurate.  That bothered me.  It still does.  I’d like to find better dates.  Later, talking to my grandfather’s brother, I discovered that there was a family cemetery in Paris that had all the dates I needed on the tombstones.  I decided that someday I would go find that cemetery, and I had a strong feeling that I should hurry.
So, I finished my class and graduated from BYU.  About that time, I got a call from the High Priest’s group leader, inviting me to talk about genealogy at a stake meeting of the high priests, down in St. Johns.  I was surprised by that, but I don’t turn down church assignments so I agreed, even though I felt woefully unprepared for it.  I did my best to prepare something, but I was still a rookie in genealogy, after all.  I went, knowing that my talk wasn’t very good.
When I got to the meeting in St. Johns, they had me sit on the stand and the Stake President introduced me, saying that I was in St. Johns working on a doctorate in Genealogy from BYU!  That was a shock!
As I sat there waiting my turn, I debated how to handle this turn of events.  Clearly those ladies at the library had been busy speculating, and the rumor mill had churned up a doozey.  I wasn’t sure what to do, but as I stood up I decided the only thing I could do was set the record straight.  
So I got to my feet and thanked the stake president, but then said I wasn’t working on my doctorate, only a bachelor’s degree.  And my degree wasn’t in genealogy, it was in Zoology.  And I only took one class in genealogy, so I was pretty much a beginner.  I think I also mentioned that I hadn’t seen any of them at the library, which is why the confusion.  I then gave my talk, which I soon realized anew wasn’t really what they expected, needed, nor deserved.  I gave a poor delivery, but I don’t think any of them were paying any attention to me after that, anyway.   It was a long drive back home that night.
So what do we take out of that story?  Clearly the brothers in the church in the St. Johns stake were not anxiously engaged in Family History work at that time.  If they had been, one or more of them might have actually shook my hand and talked to me.  As I’ve grown old in the church, I’ve seen that   that pattern is pretty much the norm.  The genealogy library serves church members but only a few of us actually use it and there are usually more non-LDS patrons than LDS, which is fine with everybody.  Nowadays, genealogy is done more and more on personal computers, at home, and I think that the library may become a thing of the past.  Not yet, but someday.
Well, in Ecclesiastes 3 we read:  To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.”  At that time, 1976, there were only a handful of temples in the world, and those ladies in the libraries were keeping an adequate supply of names available for temple work.  Things are different now.  We have 144 temples operating today and more in the works, bringing the total to 170.  They continue to announce more nearly every conference.  We have a greater need for names, nowadays, and the internet makes genealogy easier and faster.  We continue to generate sufficient names that any time you go to the temple, there are names waiting which need the work done for them.  Everything is speeding up, and we need to be keeping pace with that increase.    All of us.

I keep honeybees as a hobby, and I like to tell people about honeybees.  I harvest several gallons of honey each summer and a few more gallons in the fall, which I mostly give away to my family and a few select friends.  I am fascinated by the way the bees work and what they do.
BUT,  Did you know that there are literally thousands of different kinds of bees in the World?  Thousands!  And   They all make honey.     But we only know about a few of them:  European honeybees, African honeybees, and bumblebees are the only ones known by most people.  Three kinds of bee,    out of the thousands.  Why don’t people know about any of those other kinds of bees?
The answer is very simple.  Bumblebees are big and loud and colorful, so we see them and notice them. 
Honeybees make honey for us, so we know about them. 
   But what about the rest?     Most bees make exactly as much honey as they need to survive.  And no more.  You could open up a leaf-cutter bee cell and get a tiny amount of honey, but you would starve to death trying to get enough to put on single bite of toast.  It’s the same for all the other bees.  They make enough for themselves.
Only the honeybees make enough honey that we can have some.  I build wooden boxes to hold the honeybees, and they are happy to live inside them because I build the box to the size they prefer.  If they don’t like my box, they will fly away and find a better place, but I make my boxes the size they like, so they stay.  When they fill the hive up with honey in the spring, I add another box and when that one is filled, another.  As long as nectar is flowing and they have more room, they will keep making and storing honey.  By the end of the year, they will have made enough for themselves to last through the winter, plus several more boxes of honey that I can have.  Each box yields about 3 gallons of delightful, sweet honey.  It’s a perfect food.  It’s hard work for the bees, and it’s hard work for me to harvest it, but I love doing it.  And the reason we know about, and adore honeybees is that they make more than they have to.  Of all the thousands of kinds of bees in the World, only 3 or 4 kinds make more honey than they have to.
We are like that too.  We can get by doing just enough to survive.  We can do that and be forgotten.       Or we can do more than we have to, and we will be remembered when the Lord calls the roll of his faithful. 
What we are asking you to do is to be involved in some part of the family history work.
The easiest thing to do is indexing.  The stake presidency is asking each of us to spend one hour per month doing indexing.  That is not a big thing.  Many of you are diligent in doing it.   In case you don’t know why we ask this, let me tell you what it is.  Indexing is simply building a file of references, so that other people can find what they are looking for.
I have an old-fashioned index here.  I found this in the courthouse in Paris, KY when I finally got out there.  Somebody had taken the time to go through the wills filed at the courthouse and write down each surname he encountered.
here is the name, Ashurst
In this column are First names and page numbers.
This piece of paper is the result of many long, hard hours of going through those records.  But once I found it, I was able to go straight to the records I wanted instead of having to sift through books and books of old, dusty records.  It was great.  Now that we are doing this via computers, it is much easier.  But, we need to build this kind of index for all the dusty, old books of records people have stored all across the globe.  And that is what indexing is.  We do indexing a little bit at a time, and when we are done,    many, many people can go straight to the record they want to see.  Indexing is pure service.
Greater love hath no man than this, that he index my family’s records so I can find them when I finally get around to doing my geology research.

Now, let me go back and recap.  To get my degree I did some pure research of old records and built up a pedigree of the Ashurst family back to the Revolutionary War.  That was in 1976.  I sent copies of my pedigree to Salt Lake.  I left copies in the Arizona State genealogy library in Phoenix, and later in the courthouse in Paris, Kentucky.  I gave copies to my grandfather’s brother.  Of course, I also gave them to my siblings and my children.  Many, many people have taken that beginning and used it as the basis for their own research.  I constantly find where it has been copied or referenced.  That gives me a great feeling, although I don’t feel like I get much credit.  It only happened because I was negligent in finishing up my degree. 
But remember that I did not find any birth records.   I still needed to find the family cemetery in Paris.

I told you I would tell you about my failures.  I let a lot of years pass without getting to Kentucky.  I worked hard and built a career.  My wife and I raised six wonderful kids and kept them happy and fed and clothed.  But I had this nagging thought in the back of my mind that I should get myself to Kentucky and find that graveyard!
I knew I should make it a priority, but I was living on the West coast, and we had some financial setbacks.  I just couldn’t find the time and money to make that long trip.  Finally, in about 1987 I was working for Ross Perot’s company on a high priority project in New Jersey.  We lived in Washington state at that time, so I was a continent away from home.  I was out there for 3 months straight, working terribly long days, 110-120 hours per week, week after week.  Finally it started to slow down and I had a chance to take a weekend off.  I talked to my wife and we decided that it was time to make that trip to Kentucky.  A trip back to Washington meant so much flying time that we’d only have a half day together anyway.  So, Instead of going home that weekend, I caught a short flight to Kentucky, rented a car, and drove out to Paris.
I parked in front of the courthouse and walked in the door, not really knowing what to do.  I had no idea where the old family farm was located, except that it was near Paris, and I didn’t know how to start.
  Two women were talking behind a circular desk with a sign that said, “Information” so I walked over there.  As I waited for them I noticed a map of Bourbon County on the wall and I was startled when my eye fell on the name:  W. ASHURST!   It was like I got poleaxed!  William Ashurst was my grandfather’s grandfather!  What I was looking at was a copy of an old map dated 1877, and it showed all the names of families living in the rural farms.  It was the key to what I needed!  Now I knew how to proceed.
When the women finished and one of them asked how she could help me, I asked first thing if I could get a copy of that map.  She told me it had been used as the inside cover of a book on architecture and that I could get a copy across the street, which I did soon after.  She also showed me where they kept the old records and let me into a back room where I found a lot of the records I had painstakingly searched on the poor microfilm copies when I was doing my original research on my family.  Actually handling those old, original records was a hoot, but I didn’t find much new.  I confirmed that in Kentucky they didn’t record births.  They just didn’t bother.
I did find some interesting court records such as the Wills I already showed you the index for.  I spent my first day in the courthouse and nearby public library, which had a genalogy section.  The next day (my last), I headed out to find the family farm.
I bought a current map of Bourbon County and laid it next to my new book on Architecture (with the map inside) and pretty quickly got the road located where the ancestral farm was located.  I was on my way, at last.
As I turned onto the Clintonville Pike road where the old farm is located, I noticed a sobering sight.  There was a little triangle of land where several roads came together that was too small for a business, and was obviously used mostly for temporary parking.  In the middle was a big old chestnut tree and under the tree were tombstones.  Hundreds of them, leaning on the tree trunk, and on one another.  Someone told me they were from farms nearby as farmers got tired of plowing around them.  He said there are family graveyards on every piece of ground and most of them are for people nobody knows, so they get plowed under pretty often  When the farmers got tired enough to do something about it they loaded the stones up and piled them there, or hauled them to the dump.  I got a sinking feeling in my stomach.
It took me a while to locate the exact farm where my ancestors had lived.  When I did, I knocked on a farmhouse door and a nice young couple came out.  I confirmed I was in the right place as they looked over my maps.  When I inquired about the family graveyard the man told me that the corporation that currently owned the land had instructed him to remove the gravestones and haul them off.  He said he had pled with them not to do it, but they had insisted and he had taken them to the dump, about a year before.
For eleven years I had had the strong feeling that I should go find that cemetery, but I had waited one year too long!  There is no other way to explain except to say that I failed.  My only hope is that someday I might discover that somebody else recorded the information on the headstones.  So far, I haven’t found a trace.
The couple who lived there did tell me an interesting thing.  They said there was another graveyard just over the hill, away from the road, and they pointed out the track to follow.  I went back there and found a slave graveyard.  At that time, I had no idea such a thing existed, although it is logical.
I knew from census records that my ancestors had been slave owners.  I wasn’t very happy to learn that, but you can’t do anything about what your ancestors did.  You can learn it, but not change it.
I located the graveyard because in the middle of rolling hills of beautiful blue grass farmland there was a grove of tight-packed saplings growing in a square.  That was it – just a square of young trees.  I walked over to the edge of the square and sat down on a log to think.  At first, I thought it was another cemetary where the stones had been hauled away.  But as I sat there I began to see the pattern of it.  There were stones, but they were simple blocks of uncut limestone, unremarkable in every way except that they were laid out in a regular grid.  They were about three feet apart from each other in both directions.  It took me a while to figure out what that meant.  When we bury people, we dig a hole six feet deep and about 2 X 8 feet long, so we can lay them to rest lying down.  With stones 3 feet apart, it meant the slaves were not given the space and/or time to do that.  They dug a hole just large enough for a body that was folded up.  It must have sucked, being a slave.
I wandered through the yard and I found a few stones that had 2 or 3 initials rudely carved into the limestones, but most had no marks that remained.
I actually had a very spiritual experience as I contemplated that slave graveyard.  Those people had some severe trials, but I felt like they had found peace there.  It is a nice location, near the top of the hill with a view across the countryside, not to where most folks live, but across the back country and trees and grasslands.  It was quiet, and nice.
The last thing I found there was in the SE corner, at a low point where it wasn’t visible from very far away.  There were a few modern stones standing upright – 3 or 4 of them.  Most were small-ish, but one stood out above all the rest.  To begin with, it was 5 feet tall, and very ornate, with carvings – which alone would make it stand out in that place.  But the inscription is what made it unique.
J. H. Simonds
Born Nov. 22, 1830
Died  Feb. 8, 1860
(that means it was placed near the beginning of the Civil War when slaves were still in bondage, and  J. H. Simonds was less than 30 years old.)
And then this verse
Why do we mourn departing friends,
Or shake at deaths alarms?
Tis but the voice that Jesus sends,
To call them to his arms.

I’ve always like that verse.  I have no idea who J. H. Simonds was, or even if  J. H. was male or female, although I always think of her as a woman.  It piques my curiosity why such an ostentatious gravestone got to be in such a place, and why J. H. was that well thought of.  There has to be a story, and I wish I knew it.
I am sad to report that  the slave graveyard is also gone, now.  I haven’t been back, but recently I got onto Google Earth and looked at the satellite images of that hillside.  There is an unbroken field there now, so the slaves of the ancestral home are now in the same state as the family who owned them, sleeping in unmarked peace.  But they are not forgotten.  I remember them, and I think of them often.

So, what should you get out of that experience?  Well, obviously, DO NOT put off doing things the spirit tells you to do!  Don’t be like me, having years of strong feelings that I should journey to ancestral home, only to arrive too late to accomplish my main purpose.  Now, I had a great experience on that trip and I am very glad I went!  But I still have no birth dates for my Ashurst ancestors.

Well, we’ve discussed indexing, and genealogical research.  Those are two legs of a 3-legged stool.  But why do we do those things?   My close friend recently said genealogy isn’t doctrine, it’s a hobby.  True, so why does the church encourage us to participate?  The answer is temple work.  We are trying to perform temple ordinances for every person who has lived on Earth.  That is the third leg of the stool.  It is also is a very big slice of pie to swallow at one time.  Too big for me!    Fortunately I don’t have to do it all alone, and neither do you.
Here is an engineering question for you:  How did they dig the Panama Canal?
Answer:  One shovel-full at a time.
True, they had some awesomely big shovels, but they still dug it by moving a shovel-full at a time.  Move enough shovel-fulls and you can bridge a continent.
We don’t have to do all the temple work there is to do.  But if each of us does something, we can perform huge tasks.  We can’t do everything, but each of us can do something.  And that’s what we are asking you to do.
Try out indexing.  It is given in small batches and they are simple to do - Easy; fast; instant gratification.
Try your hand at genealogy.  It is a hobby that is encouraged by the church and can become a fascinating journey into history. 
Or write some history.  Just start writing down what you remember about your parents and grandparents.  I recently did that and got a surprise.  My mother told me that she met my father at a dance.  When I wrote that down and sent to my siblings another version of the story came out.
My father confirms that actually they met when he was washing a car just off main street, and it being a hot day he had his shirt off.  My mother whistled at him!  I was shocked at this turn of events.  My mother whistled at a man?!?  Really?
And take time to come to the temple.  It is a  wonderful place to spend a couple of hours.
God bless you all.  You are wonderful people, and you are doing good works.  Remember that we know about honey bees because they do more than they absolutely have to.  Bee like honeybees.
And I say this, …………………………
 

Sacrament Meeting talk - 03/15/2015



March 15, 2015
I spoke in the Plano 3rd ward today.  The YM/YW just completed a TREK where they pushed handcarts over the north Texas plains on the National Grasslands.  It has been rainy and cold, so the ground was already muddy, and they got hit by a pretty substantial rainstorm on the 2nd day of the Trek. 
There were three youth Speakers who were on the TREK who spoke first, and they used most of the meeting time.  I had prepared the following talk, which would take me about 12.5 minutes.  I had pre-marked some of the stories to leave out if time ran short, but I had to cut out almost all the pioneer stories to make it fit in the remaining time.
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I bring you the love of the Stake Presidency as I speak today on assignment.  My topic today is How our Pioneer Heritage influences our future Pioneering.   My personal heritage is that I am descended from pioneers.
My grandfather grew up in a tiny Utah town, and as a young man worked in his father’s mercantile store.  I was very lucky to see him and my grandmother almost every day, either at our house or theirs.  Grandpa was great about taking me and my cousins with him when he was going to cattle auctions, or out to work on his farm.  During these trips, he loved to tell us stories of his youth, just as I’m doing right now. 
The cool thing about him was that he was the 13th child of his parents, so they were fairly old when he was young.  Most men his age had parents born in Utah, after the trip across the plains to Utah, but both his parents were born in the Nauvoo area. 
I want to tell you about my grandpa and his parents – my great-grandparents.
Grandpa’s  father, my great-grandfather, was 7 years old when the Saints were forced to leave their homes in a bitter-cold morning in February 1847.  He crossed the Mighty Mississippi on the ice when the river froze solid – a very rare occurrence indeed on that wide, strong river.  As a youngster, he probably helped keep watch on the livestock, and he would have been called in to help in the brutally hard work of getting wagons and livestock through the Iowa mud in that wet spring, as they struggled to join the other Saints in Winter Quarters.
All the journals that talk about crossing Iowa mention mud in almost every entry:
·        Bro Smith’s wagon got mired in a mud hole and we had to call on 25 or our brothers to push it through.
·        Bro. Smith’s team of oxen slipped over the bank.  We had to get the yoke off them before we could pull them out, but one of them died of exhaustion and we left it in that hole.  Brother Stevens gave him a milk cow to help pull his wagon.  [My great-great-grandfather Stevens loaned the milk cow to one of the brothers in his company in exchange for a bucket of corn.  When they got to Utah, he didn’t get the cow back.  He never mentioned it, but it was recorded in someone else’s journal.]
·        Brother Wilson was so deep in the mud that he lost his boots and we were unable to find them.  He walked barefoot for 3 miles to camp.  The next morning when he woke, there was a pair of boots just inside the flap of his tent.
Great-Grandpa’s family stayed at Winter Quarters until the very end, raising grain to support that great migration.  They finally joined a company of pioneers to make the journey to Salt lake in 1851, among the very last of the Saints from Nauvoo. 
We sometimes don’t appreciate how long it took to get the Nauvoo Saints to Utah.  A few got there in 1847, more went in 1848, but very few went in 1849 because the way was choked with gold miners joining the California Gold Rush.  More went in 1850, and the last of them in 1851.  So, it was five years total to make the trip.
My great-grand mother was only a couple of months old when they had to leave Nauvoo, and was only 20 months old when they arrived in Utah, so she had no memories of it at all.  Many babies were buried along that trail, but she was one of the lucky ones, and she grew up in a rapidly growing Salt Lake City and was relatively pampered.  Her father was a talented stone carver, and worked on many buildings in Salt Lake, and later on the new statehouse building in Fillmore for that one year when Brigham Young thought the capitol of Deseret ought to be in its geographic center.
Now, back to Great-grandpa.
 Great-grandpa’s family lived for a couple of years in Utah Valley south of Provo, before Brigham Young told them to sell their place and move to Southern Utah to colonize the territory.  They were assigned to Cedar City, but when they arrived in Fillmore, they sent back word that they were needed there due to some troubles with Indians and they received permission to help build in Holden, a tiny little town just north of Fillmore.  The Saints built a log fort in Holden that was essentially a square of small rooms with dirt floors, and very few windows.   
As the family grew, they were able to get a 2nd and then a 3rd room in the fort as other families built better homes, but they stayed in the deteriorating old fort for many years.  When they finally started work on a wood-frame house, his mother moved in as soon as the floors were laid, excited to be up off the dirt at long last.  She gave no thought to the workers building walls and raising ceilings about her.  She would have been happy with a tent as long as it had a wooden floor!
Great-grandpa was about 17 when they arrived in Holden and started looking for a job because he was considered old enough to be his own man at that age.  He had a horse and he got a contract to carry mail between Fillmore and Cedar City – some 60 miles away, making the round trip twice a week.  That contract brought cash into the area, which was in short supply in Utah all the way up to WWII.  He built his mail contract into a freight-hauling business, and built that into three mercantile stores that were still thriving when I was a boy, although he was gone by then.  He met Great-grandma when her family spent that year in Fillmore, and they were sealed in the brand-new Manti temple.  They built their own home in Holden and raised a large family.  While the mode of travel was via stagecoach, their home was a waystop and they often served meals to 20 people or more at a time.
So, my grandfather (their 13th child) grew up in Holden and helped his father.  He drove freight wagons and tended stock, but his older brothers got the best jobs in the stores and he settled into farming and raising calves.  He loved calves.  He’d go to the auctions around Utah to buy and sell them.  He’d buy little calves just weaned from their mothers, and he’d raise them until they were fat and big enough to be sold.  Sometimes I would go to his house and grandma would send me out to the barn, where I’d find him sitting on a feed sack, just talking to his calves.
Both he and my other grandfather told me that at the time they married they owned a team of horses and considered that they were set for life.  A man could always earn a living if he had a good team.  Both of them earned their living in that way for a while (in different states), but after about 10 years tractors became available and the teams disappeared from almost all the farms.

So how does our Pioneer Heritage influence our lives?  I think we have some important life lessons we can understand better by examining their examples.
1.      The LDS people from Nauvoo were all converts to the church, and they made important decisions about their lives when they made the commitment to join the church.  At that time, joining the church meant moving to the frontier.   That pushed their faith into the middle of a lot of other aspects of their lives, including politics, marriage (some spouses weren’t willing to do it), what they did for a living, etc.   It is that fact that makes it so we now have an LDS faith, AND an LDS culture.  Those two things are separate, but we have trouble separating them in our minds.  For example, we men wear a white shirt when fulfilling priesthood responsibilities.  It has nothing to do with our faith – you can’t find any reference to it in scripture, but it is important in LDS culture.  We never even think about it, because our faith and our culture are so closely tied together.
2.      The pioneers made serious sacrifices for their faith. Today, we don’t have to move like they did when we join the church, but we still have to make some difficult life-style commitments like they did,  such as:
a.       Paying Tithing
b.      Giving up habits in violation of the Word of Wisdom
c.       Time.   We attend a huge number of Meetings, etc.  We spend so much time together that we sometimes get accused of being stand-offish.  We don’t mean to be.
d.      We accept LDS cultural roles and mores.
3.      Service.  We are still encouraged to perform service, just like the early saints were.  Service is an act of sacrifice that builds spiritual strength.  The pioneers are great examples of service because they were completely isolated from all other help as they crossed the plains.  They had to help each other or they wouldn’t have made it.
a.       There are two major examples of pioneer companies who got caught in big winter storms while still traveling across the Western Plains.
                                                                                       i.      The Donner party (not an LDS party) got caught by an early snow storm in the Sierra-Nevada mountains.  They were a band of small groups who acted independently – every group for themselves.  Their story is marked by selfishness.  Almost all of them perished, and the few survivors got through only by committing cannibalism.  Their very name is INFAMY!
                                                                                     ii.      The Martin-Willy Handcart company (who were LDS) got caught by an early snow storm in the windswept, high plains between Wyoming and Utah.  They were in worse trouble than the Donner Party because they had nothing with which to build shelters out there.  But they acted as one large group and helped each other in everything.  Many of them perished, too, but most made it through to Salt Lake, and the difference was that the LDS saints helped each other in every thing.  If one of them had any food, then everybody got something to eat.  They were able to reach out to the Saints in Salt Lake who went to extreme lengths to get them home.
4.      The LDS Saints were asked to do extremely difficult things.  I have read about the brother of one of my ancestors who was assigned to relocate seven times after they reached Utah, each time leaving a new-built home behind.  Each time building a new home in a new place where President Young felt the need for a community of Saints.  Great-grandpa’s family only had to relocate once, but even so they left a wooden home to live on a dirt floor.  The early Saints worked hard to build better lives for their children than they had for themselves.  So why did they do that?  It wasn’t that it was comfortable, nor that they themselves prospered so much.  But their faith was great, in part because of the sacrifices they made.
I love reading about the pioneer Saints.  I like reading their daily journals and picking out little details about their travels. 
For example that last Nauvoo party to travel from Winter Quarters to Salt Lake in 1851 had the assignment to pick up any iron scrap they could find along the way.  They arrived in Salt Lake with their wagons full of iron wagonwheel rims, rusty nails, broken braces, and parts from abandoned wagons.  It was junk, but iron and steel were in short supply until smelters could be built, so it was valuable to them.
It is good, and proper for us to remember those people who were pioneers, and what they did to establish the church in the tops of the mountains.  Their lives even impacted our music.  It helps us gird up our loins and thrust in our sickle with all our might in building up the church in Zion.  The World has need of WILLING men, who wear the worker’s seal.    As we put our shoulders to the wheel, we grow in faith, and No toil nor Labor do we fear.  And we, too, sacrifice to become a Zion people.
And, I say this . . .