This is not a public journal. There is no theme, agenda, or overall purpose. I need a reason to write and it needs to be well informed. I consider myself an expert in only one subject, my own thoughts. I am reflecting my experiences onto the internet because this seems to make them more beautiful to me, especially when they are idealized and inaccurate. This is not a mirror for me to see myself looking back, nor is it a mirror that reflects a detailed image of myself to others. This page is but a jumble of letters, words, and ideas that will be interpreted differently for each person, including myself. There are no mirrors because these thoughts are directionless, inaccurate, and fuzzy; a vague, splotchy reflection of McKinley.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

A Time To Illuminate

"Recall the new star that announced the birth at Bethlehem? It was in its precise orbit long before it so shone. We are likewise placed in human orbits to illuminate."
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Neil A. Maxwell

This weekend I experienced a miracleAs with most miracles, you probably would need to see it to believe it. 

Katelyn, Ridge, and I went to City Creek, Gateway, and Temple Square on Saturday. After a few hours of roaming and enjoying our time together we decided it was time to head back to our car. 

We approached the crosswalk and as the numbers counted down "6, 5, 4, 3" and we started to run. When we got to the corner we decided to wait until the next light since we weren't really in a hurry. After a short wait, the walking signal reappeared and we crossed the street casually as the familiar, timed chirp of the crosswalk accompanied us. We were carried away in a pointless conversation speculating the origin of jay walking when the miracle happened. 

It wasn't a paraplegic who jumped out of their wheelchair and walked for the first time. No mountains moved. No lives were saved. In fact, nothing unexpected happened at all.

I miraculously ran into an old friend. 

We could have left earlier. We could have decided not to go, or delayed our trip downtown. We could have stayed longer and walked through one more store. We could have walked slower or faster. We could have rushed to cross the street. We could have taken a different route to the parking lot. My friend could have decided not to go out or he also could have walked down a different street. 

Our hundreds of small decisions allowed two independent creatures in perpendicular, uncoordinated motion to cross paths. 

It took precise timing in order for us to experience that miracle. Precise timing that began long before the moment of our illumination.

Of seven billion people on this Earth, there is a small handful of people that are in your orbit daily. You wake up and make hundreds of small decisions which affect every interaction you will have that day. If you consider the odds, every connection you make with another person is miraculous.

Can you allow yourself to be illuminated by every individual who miraculously crosses your path? 

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Shooting Through a Sky of Fallen Stars

"We are travelers on a cosmic journey, stardust, swirling and dancing in the eddies and whirlpools of infinity. Life is eternal. We have stopped for a moment to encounter each other, to meet, to love, to share. This is a precious moment. It is a little parenthesis in eternity."

Paulo Coelho - The Alchemist

When a large piece of space-matter comes into contact with the Earth's atmosphere there is a streak of light that flashes in the night sky. The matter burns as it falls and from below we see a trail of dissolving, blazing, burning mass above us. As the mass disintegrates its remnants are spread through the sky in a dark and delicate descent. It's former life as a glorious flying rock has been forgotten as it has transformed into nothing more than dust. That flying piece of space-matter did not cease to exist, it simply changed form. It changed from a large piece of celestial brightness to invisible, falling dust. 

Today, on May 8th, I will be married. The most beautiful girl in the world, both inside and out, has agreed to be a permanent part of my eternal life. I met Katelyn Jones in Moab on June 8th, 2013. There weren't any immediate sparks and our conversation was very brief. It wasn't until I kept running into her between June and August that I finally got the guts to ask her on a date.

On our first date we spent a late August night talking and watching the Perseid Meteor Shower. This was a perfect beginning to what has become the story of Katelyn and McKinley Withers.

There were hundreds of meteors that August night. Any person could have seen some of them if they were out watching. No two people saw the same show. Katelyn and I saw some meteors together when we pointed our fingers into the night sky asking, "did you see that!?" But the burning collision with the Earth's atmosphere was so fast that one of us often missed it. By the time Katelyn or I had searched through the scattered stars at the tip of the other's finger the celestial matter had already dissolved.

When a star falls we see a burning mix of mortality and immortality, a twisting collision of the celestial and the gravity-bound. We are all fallen stars. We all have celestial, eternal, everlasting potential which has been dissolved into mortal weakness.

In the story of McKinley and Katelyn Withers there have been times where we have been exposed to each other in our most fallen, mortal, and imperfect states. I anticipate many more of these times in the future. This does not concern me. I've realized that it is in those very moments of greatest weakness that we have seen the brightest flares of celestial light. In those moments of vivid imperfection we have dug the deepest into our true eternal character to forgive, to love, to dream, and to look forward not backward. Our constant collision with mortality is inseparably connected to immortality.

We also call this celestial collision a shooting star. These two names tell two different stories. A falling star is weakness, the eternal falling into the mortal. Yet a shooting star is hope. The eternal shining through the mortal. A shooting star is a dream and a wish.

We are all kept alive by dreams and wishes. We are all shooting stars.  A Master Creator knows our potential and wishes that we will reach it. We are, in a sense, an eternal wish. This creator wishes for us to be happy. He wishes for us to become perfected through the mercy of the gospel of Jesus Christ. He wishes this because He knew us when we were stars. He knew us before we collided with this Earth's atmosphere and turned into specs of dust that are constantly pulled towards the Earth. He knew us before we were gravity-bound and fallen.

He sees all of us fallen stars and waits for our collisions with his celestial sky. He wants to see us as shooting stars dancing through the infinity.

A shooting stars in His sky is a moment. Sometimes they come and go just as quickly as a meteor dissolves in the Earth's atmosphere. So fast that we might exclaim "did you see that?!" only to find it had already dissolved. It is so fast that we often forget what we've seen only a few minutes, days, or years later. Too many of us have forgotten these moments. A shootings star is a moment when we reach above our mortality. We get a glimpse of celestial light. It is when we, a gravity-bound and fallen star, feel like we can jump into the infinity and escape our mortal weakness. This is when we have collided with his sky. Then, our creator points his finger in the sky and says "did you see that?" and makes a wish.

In my relationship with Katelyn I have felt my creator is watching His sky of fallen stars. There have been moments when we have shot through his sky, reaching above our mortal weakness, and he has made a wish. There have been moments that I've seen a beautiful glimpse of Katelyn's eternal potential, and there have been moments that she has seen mine.

Today we have collided with the celestial sky. We have reached above this gravity-bound weakness. We have promised love, forgiveness, kindness, selflessness, and a willingness to always move forward.

Now, just as we were able to sit side by side talking and watching the meteor shower on our first date, we will be side by side forever. We will watch for all of the flashing, burning, bright collisions with immortality that are to come. We will do our best not to miss these opportunities to see celestial brightness in ourselves, our lives, and in others. One of us will point and say "did you see that?!" and we will search through the sky of fallen stars under the other's finger and see a shining glimpse of eternity.

Today Katelyn and McKinley are shooting through a sky of fallen stars. We are more than just dust and weakness; we are stardust, dancing and swirling in the eddies and whirlpools of infinity. Life is, in fact, eternal, and this moment, May 8th, 2014, is but a little parenthesis in eternity.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Humility, Gratitude, and the Danger of Expectation

"We must learn to reawaken and keep ourselves awake, not by mechanical aids, but by an infinite expectation of the dawn, which does not forsake us in our soundest sleep. I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestionable ability of man to elevate his life by a conscious endeavor. It is something to be able to paint a particular picture, or to carve a statue, and so to make a few objects beautiful; but it is far more glorious to carve and paint the very atmosphere and medium through which we look, which morally we can do. To affect the quality of the day, that is the highest of arts."
Henry David Thoreau, Walden

A few weeks ago a friend of mine called me from college. She had just moved to a new city, chosen a new major, and was trying to make new friends. This is an unsettling (and exciting) experience for anyone. She began to tell me about her frustrations. Needless to say, she was having a hard time. I noticed that the word "should" was used in almost every sentence. "I should be more social." "I should feel better about my major." "I should be dating more." "I should be married." Though these are not direct quotes from my friend, they represent the daily, detrimental thoughts and habits of many people: to compare ourselves to others and think first of what we "should" be.

Too often we look at everyone else's life, make an irrational assumption that everything is so much better for them, and then tell ourselves why we should be more like them. An expectation is created from a false assumption and the reality of our beautiful life remains unappreciated. Under these circumstances we make the mistake of focusing on what we should be instead of truly acknowledging what we are. We must first accurately see who we are. Then, we can make plans for who we will become. All the while, "should" is irrelevant.

"Should" is irrelevant because it is present-tense. It means that we wish the present were different. This is a very problematic point of view. These thoughts rob us of the ability to appreciate ourselves and our situation in that moment. Should expresses an expectation for the present and presupposes that it cannot be met. "Should" is an unfulfilled expectation and can only represent feelings of disappointment in the present.

Gratitude (or appreciation) and expectation cannot coexist. To expect can never be to appreciate. To appreciate can never be to expect. They are mutually exclusive. The moment we expect something to be different we cease to appreciate it for what it is. In order to be truly grateful and appreciative we must disregard expectations. In order to appreciate ourselves we must become truly humble.

Humility is acknowledging the full truth of who we are. That includes strengths and weaknesses. Often, people with an exaggerated sense of self-worth are told that they need to be more humble. However, there are many with a diminished sense of self-worth that also need to be humble. If you are not truthfully acknowledging your strengths as well as your weaknesses you are not yet humble.
We cannot be defined by what we aren't. How can measuring what you haven’t yet done or what you haven't yet become tell you anything about what you are now? What do you really see in yourself? Do you completely acknowledge the whole of who you are? Are you avoiding comparisons to others that taint your self-worth?

Thoreau's quote at the top of the page is about changing the "medium through which we look." Though we may not be able to change what we look at, we can always change what we see. When you look in the mirror you can feel tall enough, smart enough, spiritual enough, and beautiful enough. If your first thought is about what should change or what you "should be, " then you are not humble. You are not grateful, you are unappreciative.  If this is the case, you have not yet acknowledged the full truth of who you are. You are distracted by an expectation for the present that cannot be met. You have let "should" stand in the way of seeing your greatness.

A mirror will never accurately depict your greatness. If a mirror were a true reflection of the self then we would all be much taller, much more beautiful, more sure, and more intelligent. It's important to see your reflection without mirrors, because it is much more accurate.

Friday, August 30, 2013

The Earth is Crammed With Heaven

"The Earth is crammed with heaven, and every common bush afire with God; but only he who sees, takes off his shoes. The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries."
-Elizabeth Barrett Browning

If you believe in God, you believe in a creator. A being so intelligent that He was able to organize this Earth. An Earth in which every piece is beyond any one person's understanding. People spend their entire lives becoming an expert on one piece of this creation and they still have unanswered questions. If you believe in God, you believe in a being that intelligent. 

Why then, do the believers often question God's ability to make their life beautiful? If he can create a world as complex as this, then why do we hesitate to put our trust in him? Why do we wonder why something happened? Why do we wonder when something different will come? Why do we think that our expectations and plans must always be fulfilled according to our own will? Why do we question a being that intelligent? 

He created this universe, do you believe He can make something of you?

If you believe in God, you also believe in love. A being with infinite love for you and every other child he has placed on the Earth. A being that longs to see you (and everyone else) progress and be fully and completely happy. A being that loves you and lets you struggle just enough to progress eternally. He lets you struggle just enough to help you reach complete, full happiness.

Why then, do the believers often question God's ability to make their life beautiful? If he loves us infinitely, why do we hesitate to put our trust in him?  Why don't we trust a being that has infinite love and understanding? Why do we put ourselves first and other last? Why don't we let ourselves be evidence of his love? Why don't we let his love work within us? Why don't we work to become beings with infinite love for ourselves and all others, like Him?

These may seem like accusations, but all of us need to continually remind ourselves what our beliefs actually mean. When you believe in God you believe in a whole lot more than a guy in a cloud waiting to curse every non-believer. I believe that God isn't waiting to curse anybody, but finding every possible way to love and bless us. I believe that he is giving us unique experiences that can help us progress if we choose to learn from them. As a master teacher, he will push us as hard as we are willing to go. He will help us progress and reach true, everlasting happiness through every experience because he loves us; because he loves us infinitely.

The Earth is CRAMMED, jam-packed, full, and tearing-at-the-seams, with heaven. Every common, ordinary, boring, plain bush is afire with God. But only he that sees, takes off his shoes. What do you see in this Earth? Is your life crammed with heaven? I can promise you that it is, but only if you are willing to see it will you take off your shoes in gratitude for the sacred glory that has been made evident in your life. 

If you believe in God, then come and see this Earth for what it really is. See the meaning behind your beliefs. Every common experience is afire with God: but only if you see it. What are you allowing to block yourself from this beautiful sight? 

Whatever it is, train yourself to see this beautiful Earth, because once you do, you will take off your shoes as you recognize that your life is heaven. 

Sunday, August 11, 2013

One Step Enough, For Me

This is a picture of a Cairn in the Uinta Mountains; I took it on my way up King’s Peak this weekend.

Cairns are found along many different types of trails to mark where to go. As I’ve climbed a number of mountains this summer I’ve seen thousands of different Cairns along many trails. All have guided me to the peak.

As does every college student, graduate, and aspiring adult, I have wondered what my path is, and what direction I should head. I’ve made a lot of decisions over the past year that I’ve felt right about, but most of those decisions only led me to other decisions. Then my complete plan (which I had felt good about) was quickly overthrown. With each decision I felt “this is my destiny, this is the right thing.” Obviously, each of those things weren’t my "destiny." But really, when I look back, each decision was right enough to get me to the next decision.

Hikers rely on Cairns to guide them up mountains they haven’t been to. The Cairns are usually spread apart just enough that you can only see the next one from where you stand. You must go to one Cairn to get to the next.

Too often I’ve wanted to see the view from the top instead of just looking for the next Cairn in my life. It can be frustrating not to know exactly where the Cairns are taking me, but I know that the top is worth it. I just need to take the next step without knowing exactly where it will lead. I have to remind myself that forward is always the right direction. If a decision was enough to move me to a point where I can only see the next Cairn, then it was the right decision.

Life isn’t about discovering some hidden personal meaning; it’s about making meaning out of what you have and what you can see in front of you. You can’t see the view from the top, so make where you stand meaningful and just look for the next Cairn to take you one more step forward. It will guide you to a beautiful place; that I can promise.  

Here is the view from the top, but that Cairn in the picture only led me to the next Cairn. I had no idea exactly how I would end up at the top. It was step by step that I arrived at my destination. 

“I do not ask to see the distant scene, one step enough, for me.”

Lead, Kindly Light

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Truly Valuing Life as a Single Adult

Too often we fall into the trap of seeing our experiences as all-or-nothing. We might believe that if something doesn’t fulfill our full expectations of what it should have been, could have been, or what other people tell us it is was supposed to be; then it was worthless and shouldn’t have happened. This type of thinking causes a sobering devaluation of life’s greatest experiences.

We owe it to ourselves to value our experiences (since they are ALL a part of our unique and once-lived life). Thus, there is a desperate need to eliminate all-or-nothing thinking patterns. If something was bad or difficult it does not mean it was worthless.

Sure this is cliché advice, it’s advice that we give each other all the time. Despite our understanding of this concept in the abstract, I still see all-or-nothing thinking permeate our singles culture and damage our ability to appreciate our experiences. Each of the topics listed below are suggestions aimed at helping us truly value each other and the uniqueness of our lives. Most of these thoughts are specific to Mormons, but they can still apply to any person’s life. Regardless of your religion, I hope you will eliminate all-or-nothing thinking in your beautiful life.

*     *     *

Success In Dating/Relationships CANNOT Be How You Measure Meaning

I was an RA during most of my time at BYU. There were times that I questioned that decision because my social life wasn’t typical. Most people react when they find out I was an RA by saying something like, “I could never do that, how was the dating?” Honestly, it was no better or worse than any other time I’ve been single. But when I think about the relationships I formed with those in my building it was one of the most valuable experiences I had at BYU. The value of that experience does not depend on how the dating was.

If you made beautiful friendships with people you would have never met otherwise, wasn’t that valuable enough?      

Your YSA Ward is NOT only for dating. You should not believe that if you aren’t dating someone or wouldn’t date someone in your ward then you are wasting your time there. Did you ever think about what you can contribute instead of what you think you should receive? God needs good singles too: try serving instead of whining about the fact that you don’t walk into a sacrament meeting full of marriage-crazy models every week.

If you were able to serve a member of your singles ward while there, wasn’t that valuable enough?

Institute is NOT only for dating. As I attended an institute class at great sacrifice a while back I had the thought “why am I doing this? I’m not going on any dates because of it. There are no girls in my class and it’s taking lot so time...(you guys know the thought pattern).” Then a powerful question filled my mind. “Are you here to find her, or are you here to find me?” It was as if Christ himself was asking me this subtle, soul-searching question. Be at institute for what institute is really for, if it was only for dating it could just as well be a dance club.

If you came closer to God and understood the Savior’s role in your life, wasn’t that valuable enough?

*     *     * 

Spending Time With People You Don’t Marry (or wouldn’t marry) is NOT a Waste of Time

I hate the word “interest.” It seems so callous to ask, “Are you interested in her?” This common phrase mistakenly causes us to only value people we would like to date. These are humans, not products in a market. These are sons and daughters of God. Every person deserves our interest, regardless of our sexual/romantic pursuits. Our time is not wasted if it is spent showing interest in people that we don’t date, everyone needs people that care about them and I would hope we don’t only care to get to know people we are attracted to or want to date.  

If you met someone and started a new friendship, wasn’t that valuable enough?

If you gave your time to someone who needed to feel cared about, wasn’t that valuable enough?

Your relationships that don’t work out were not a waste of time, even if it was a lot of time you invested in it. I’ve had a fair share of girls tell me “I don’t want you to waste your time.” Considering failed relationships as a waste of time would completely undervalue everything gained from getting to know those people.

If you learned about love, yourself, and how that can work with another person: wasn’t that valuable enough?

           *     *     *

Missions Are NEVER a Bad Thing

In the eternal time frame a year-and-a-half or two years is nothing. If the entire universe revolved around you and nobody else mattered it would be devastating when someone you were in love with left for a year or two. I hear guys complain about girls that went on missions instead of marrying them. So God, the all-knowing and all-loving being has put what you believed to be “your” marriage on hold. If he really is all knowing and all loving, he’s probably got something amazing ahead for you. You should thank him for the growth you experienced by dating someone that puts the Savior first.

A person you love has chosen to serve God and lives will change because of their sacrifice, isn’t that valuable enough?

*     *     *

NEVER Feel Under-Qualified For Someone Else

If you didn’t go on a mission or complete your mission you ARE datable. My father didn’t serve a mission and I will fight you (with words, not fists) if you believe he didn’t deserve to marry my mother. He has been an excellent father. Although other character traits should be considered when dating, a mission alone measures absolutely nothing. No person’s goodness should be measured by a few years.

If you’ve already been through a marriage and are now single for any reason, you ARE datable. If you’ve been married you have experience in a long-term relationship; that will be a good thing to a person with the right attitude.

If you have a “rough” past you can still date/marry someone that doesn’t share those experiences. To deny someone because of a previous lifestyle or previous mistakes is to deny the power of Christ and the atonement. Then, the greater problem lies with you. We must accept people where they are spiritually and let go of where they’ve been.

All of us are made whole through the atonement, which makes us all valuable regardless of how broken our past may be. You are valuable enough.

*     *     * 

When DOESN'T Matter

This takes explaining, because, truthfully, timing is everything. But we often forget that our lives are a part of an eternal clock. There is no right or wrong time for eternal things. Your life doesn’t need to be anything like anybody else’s, especially regarding "when" things happen. If you are single until 50 or get married at 19 it doesn’t matter. If you serve a mission at 19 or 25 it doesn’t matter. Your unique experiences qualify you for unique contributions. Only if you look through the lens of “my life was supposed to be perfect like (insert person you envy here)” will you undervalue the unique timing of your life’s experiences. There is no expiration date on eternal things. Value the ones you have now and don’t worry about when something was “supposed to” or “should” happen.

Consider an analogy of the movement of the planets around the sun; they are in constant motion that is perfectly timed. Some people are like Mercury, the years go fast: by 30 they have 4 kids, a master’s degree, and served a mission. But some of us are like Pluto, still making our way around the sun years after our peers. Does it matter that Mercury made it around already? Does that change the fact that Pluto too will make it around the sun? All the planets have a unique atmosphere because of their distance from the sun. Pluto’s unique experiences qualify it for very different things. Consider what your unique speed has given you and forget what others at different speeds have.

If certain experiences take longer than expected and you were able to gain experience and perspective that aids you throughout your eternal life, isn’t that valuable enough?

*     *     *

Every Life Has Value BECAUSE it is Unique

To think about what we “deserve” is to devalue what we have. In thinking about what we deserve we make the mistake of wanting what somebody else has, to deserve is to compare. To be truly grateful we must forget what we think we deserve. We should ignore the “should haves” and “wish I would (or wouldn’t) haves.”  We all have a lifetime of experiences unique to us. We must never see our experiences as “bad” simply because they weren’t exactly how we wanted them or were different from those around us. You are valuable, even if you are like Pluto slowly making your way around the sun with an exceptionally unique and beautiful life.

The reason something is beautiful or valuable is because it is unique. Diamonds have value because each one is different. Your experiences are remarkably different from everyone else’s. Isn’t that valuable enough?

Sunday, June 16, 2013

A Phrase I Love

There are some phrases that are universally good to hear like, “I love you,” or “you look really good today.” Although these examples are generally positive they have a different meaning for each person depending on their experiences.

The phrase that I have realized I most like to hear isn’t always, universally positive. But, based on my experiences, it is one of the highest compliments anyone can give me. I am one of the lucky people who are proud when they hear this phrase.

Whenever somebody says, “you are a lot like your dad,” I feel taller and stronger, like the withers of a horse.

Whenever somebody says, “you are a lot like your dad,” I feel more caring and sensitive to the needs of people I barely know.

Whenever somebody says, “you are a lot like your dad,” I feel capable of working tirelessly to make everything I touch better than it was when I found it.

Whenever somebody says, “you are a lot like your dad,” I feel like I know how to fix anything whether that’s a person, situation, or household item.

Whenever somebody says, “you are a lot like your dad,” I feel grateful for the blood that is in my veins. B positive is my blood type and it’s definitely inherited.

Whenever somebody says, “you are a lot like your dad,” I can tell that they too see it as a compliment. They often say it with a reminder of what it means to be like McKell Withers.

Whenever somebody says, “you are a lot like your dad,” I feel like I understand what’s most important in life, that I’m not concerned with frivolous and unnecessary things.

Whenever somebody says, “you are a lot like your dad,” I feel like I have the capacity to be a perfect father (and grandfather). The kind that plays catch, teaches important lessons, wrestles occasionally, gives advice, and loves unconditionally.

Whenever somebody says, “you are a lot like your dad,” I thank them; because there are few phrases that I like to hear more than that. To be anything like McKell is to be great.

Thanks Dad for everything you’ve taught me, most of it has been taught by humble example. I love you.