Welcome! I am Samuel Young, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This website, previously a blog about my experiences as a missionary, is about my post-mission life. If you have questions about anything, feel free to ask me! You can send me a Facebook message or leave a comment. The things that I write or post here are my own views and are not authorized or official statements of the Church. Make it a wonderful day!

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Becoming As a Little Child

In the last few months, I've become a Sunbeam teacher in my church. What that means is that I'm in charge of teaching and watching over the three-year-olds for two hours so that their parents can attend Sunday School and other Church meetings. It has been an amazing experience, a roller-coaster ride at times, and has made me really think about what little children mean.

When I was on my mission, I was on exchanges once with our zone leaders. The zone leaders covered a young single adult ward, and they had a dinner appointment that night with a family I didn't know. When we got there, the whole time there was this very friendly six-year-old girl named Katie who would come up to us and ask us questions and tell us how her day at school was and show us her stuffed animal and so on. At first it was a little annoying (you could see her dad with a tired look on his face sighing as he hopelessly tried to stop her from "harassing" us), but slowly the persistent, impetuous annoyance turned into something different.

At another time, Elder Camerone* and I were visiting a new family who had just moved into our ward. While we were sharing a spiritual thought and asking if they knew anyone we could teach, their little three-year-old walked in, laden with toy cooking utensils and necklaces that she wanted us missionaries to hold so she could play some sort of game. At one point, Elder Camerone jokingly said, "She wants to play make believe? Her entire world is make believe!"

At yet another time, I was in the car with a family that had a little three-year-old boy that was known for being rowdy and hard to manage. I'm pretty convinced his mother is an angel for dealing with him, his younger sister, and being pregnant with another one on the way. It was near Halloween, and Dad points out, "Cameron, look at that pumpkin. It has hearts for eyes!"

And Cameron says, "That means he loves somebody!"

Mom says, "Who does he love, Cameron?"

After thinking for a few seconds, Cameron says proudly, "All of the other pumpkins!"

I have no idea exactly what raising kids is like. I've never been married and I've never had a kid myself. But I'm starting to get an idea of the joy they bring, and that it is worth the labor and headaches and frustrations. Something's changed over the last few years, and I know that I really want to be a dad someday and have kids of my own. I want to be their best friend and their ally, their Superman, the guy who scares off the robbers at night, the one who tells good bedtime stories and who makes time to be there for them, and so on. A tall order for sure, but not a problem with God's help.

I sometimes wonder what the multitudes were thinking when Jesus told them they had to become as a little child to enter the kingdom of Heaven.

Some of them might have been thinking, "That child?! Those little brats? What qualities of a puking child qualify someone to make it to Heaven? Why not someone educated, certified?"

Then again, the Savior doesn't slap us for trying to take a few baby steps and failing. He only asks that we try again. He doesn't lambaste us for the dirty diapers we leave Him to clean up -- He just asks that we try harder not to make those messes in the future. He understands that our prayers are often filled with the mindless drama and complaints arising from our very limited and presentist perspective of life -- in fact, He wants us to pray about those mundane details.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that as I grow up, I more and more enjoy being a child of God, and I want to give that to my own children. Kids are amazing, and I hope our societies and governments realize the importance of families because children have so much to teach us. As I learn more about how to raise children, I come to feel how much God loves me and those around me -- not because I deserve it but because I am His child. Kids are amazing because they remind us of our own identity, especially when other people, philosophies, governments, or media try to redefine it.

When I see myself and other people as children of God, it's very liberating. I don't have to berate myself for judging them or focus on their faults. I don't have to be ruled by social norms that define ingroups and outgroups, nor do I have to be part of them. De facto inclusion in God's family at all times is not restrictive to me; it is the one thing that connects me with other people when so many forces want me to push them away. It truly is the only connection that survives all divisions of race, color, intellect, economics, politics, and spatial geography. And I'm grateful I never have to lose that.

* Names have been changed.

Friday, January 15, 2016

What makes you a mother or father? [Part 1]

I grew up in a pretty average family—I have a mom and a dad and a sister and a brother. We each had our share of family challenges, and overall I think we’ve turned out okay. Not everyone is as lucky, and many of my friends don’t have a father living in their home. Others have a father, but he doesn’t love them or care for them.

When I started serving my mission, I was assigned a trainer—another missionary who had enough experience and trust to show someone new the ropes. My trainer, Elder Alderman,1 was from southern Utah and was a lot different than I was. We didn’t share a lot of the same interests. But he loved me and helped me learn how to be a Christlike missionary.

Sometimes, elders and sisters refer to their trainers as “dad” or “mom,” respectively. Though these terms are slang and not encouraged, they made me think about what really makes a father a father. I’ve believe that the term “mother” or “father” is more a functional term than it is descriptive of a biological relationship.

Like my trainer, parents have some of the the same responsibilities of a missionary trainer. My parents were here to train me how to be successful in the world, specifically by teaching me about Jesus Christ and how to follow Him. They are responsible to provide for my needs and ultimately want me to grow so that I can provide for myself and my children.

Similarly, I am here to love my children and help them come to know that God loves them too. Sometimes that happens quickly, and more often it takes some time. Ultimately, part of my measure of success as a parent will be the kind of people my grandchildren and great-grandchildren turn out to be.

Fortunately, we can show love and care to all children, whether or not we are their birth father or mother. There are many men and women who remarried after a marriage ended in death or divorce and cared for their spouse’s children as if they were their own. Conversely, becoming someone’s biological parent does not automatically grant you the qualities that make you a successful parent.

Similarly, many married couples who are not able to have children despair that they will never be parents. But they are able to provide love and care to nieces, nephews, those they babysit, and others.2 In a lot of ways, Elder Alderman was more a father to me than many biological fathers I’ve seen.

Our modern scriptures give us one of the most succinct definitions of a parent’s purpose:
“And again, inasmuch as parents have children in Zion, or in any of her stakes which are organized, that teach them not to understand the doctrine of repentance, faith in Christ the Son of the living God, and of baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of the hands, when eight years old, the sin be upon the heads of the parents” (D&C 68:25).
I think following this simple scripture as a governing guideline can be simpler than the mountains of parenting guidebooks available today.

1. Name has been changed.
2. Of course, this does not excuse married couples who are able to have children from bearing and raising children.