Have you ever been in a terrible storm, the kind that really gave you a scare?
We had traveled almost an hour by boat, very early in the morning, to a remote beach on beautiful Lake Mead. We had enjoyed a great day of fun on the lake and it was nearing mid afternoon. I looked to the south and saw some traces of black clouds brewing on the far distant horizon. This was a familiar sight to me as I had spent many summer vacations on Lake Mead, Nevada, the largest man made body of water in the western hemisphere. Through my experience I learned that storms would typically come from the south. It took a trained eye, but I learned to spot the warning signs. We continued to enjoy the day as the kids played, enjoying the water. 30 minutes, maybe an hour went by all the while I was looking over my shoulder privately keeping my eyes on the gathering clouds. Finally, I told Susan, “We better get out of here, I think we have a storm coming.”
We quickly took the shade tarps down and packed the boat with our gear. We got the kids in their seats with life jackets securely fastened. We pushed off and headed west for the marina, aiming directly into what would be a terrible incoming storm. The incoming clouds were dark and the wind was beginning to blow. Our boat could be described as a very low freeboard ski boat. Freeboard is the vertical measurement between the boat’s water line and the top of a boat’s hull. In short, this boat was not made for made for storms. However, it did have a large powerful outboard motor that would do upwards of 50+ MPH on the water. For water travel that is very fast.
I kept thinking, could we get to the marina in time, before the full force of the storm hit us? In the marina I knew we would find safety and refuge.
As we traveled west, the intensity of the storm was increasing. The force of the rain was pelting against my face as we raced across the water. If not for my sun glasses to protect my eyes, I would not have been able to see. Here I was with my family in this low profile boat in the middle of a huge body of water in the middle of an incoming terrible storm. A good friend of mine was following us on a jet ski trying to find calmer water in the wake of our boat. Aaron, my second son, and only 7 years old at the time, was holding onto him on the back of the jet ski. His small arms could barely reach around his waist. I could see him struggling to hang on in my frequent glances. I was worried he might fall off in our haste to the marina.
The rain was coming down harder and harder. The wind began to blow and now the swells were reaching greater heights, probably over 4-5 feet. Walls of water were coming over the bow of the boat and into our laps. I had to slow the boat way down. The bilge was on high and having a hard time keeping up. Susan, sitting in the passenger seat was holding tightly onto Annie who was about 7-8 months old. Adam, 9 and Austin 4, were struggling to stay rooted in their seats as a result of the pounding waves. I remember them looking at me for reassurance as if to say, “Dad, are we going to be okay?”
I began to wonder if we would make it. I was worried that one of these large waves would roll over the back of our boat and instantly sink us. I had seen this happen before to other boaters. I did my best to time the waves traversing the swells from front to back working to keep the boat alive in such a tempest. It was exhausting, but I knew I needed to do my best to keep the boat afloat.
My focus was to make it to the marina. In the marina there would be safety, a place of refuge. The marina was positioned in a protected cove. A large barrier was stretched laterally at its entrance. An arrangement of huge old earth mover, tactor-type tires were lashed together with heavy cables extending several hundred feet in either direction. This barrier served to protect the marina from heavy storms and to provide a safe refuge for boaters and needed services.
We continued to fight the storm and pounding swells with every ounce of attention and resolve. Slowly we made our progress and finally arrived at the marina’s entrance. Exhausted and with a sigh of relief, I pulled back on the throttle as we reached calmer water. I looked back to see if my young son, Aaron and Jim were fine on the jet ski. They had managed to stay in our wake through most of the trip, easing the storm’s threat. We all looked at each other with a grateful gaze. All was well!
We made it to the marina that day…but Mother Nature had gotten my attention!
I have learned that often the best experience is bad experience. Isn’t it interesting how trauma can sometimes be our best teacher? I have had years to think of this experience and have learned many things from that day. As families, there are cultural threats all around us. These storms can threaten not only our physical well-being, but our spiritual progress toward our heavenly home. The adversary will do all he can to distract us from what’s truly important. He is the great and ultimate disruptor. No matter where we look, the world seems to be in commotion. It may appears at times that our very culture is conspiring against us.
Much of our environment is flooded with salacious programing, inappropriate music, suggestive images and a constant drumming of discouraging voices. Good is called evil and evil, good. The absence of intellectual honesty in our political dialogue is shocking. Many of the public institutions and financial establishments we have looked to for confidence have lost their footing in recent years. The need for moral leadership and clarity in our world is ever present. Amidst this environment, where can families find refuge?
Be assured that our homes can be that refuge from the threatening storms and tumults that seem to swirl around us.
We can protect our families and find safety, but it will take some diligent effort and focus on our part. You can change the trajectory of your family for good, but you must exercise your parental agency. Over 20 years later, with all of our children now married and raising families of their own, I have learned much about how our families can be a refuge from the storm.
Let’s look at the word “REFUGE” and learn how. A refuge means a shelter or protection from danger or distress. It denotes a stronghold which protects by its strength or any place inaccessible to an enemy.
How can we make our homes a refuge?
Let’s break down the word R.E.F.U.G.E. as a guide.
R – Routines: Consider the wonderful spiritual routines we have been taught and encouraged to implement in our homes. Family Home Evening, family prayer and family scripture study are just a few. The blessings that can come from these habits can be so rewarding. I grew up with these spiritual habits as a child. I am forever grateful for diligent parents who set aside their own selfish desires to teach us in these settings the important truths of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
The big question is, “Are you doing these things?” So many families know they should be engaged in these routines, but they neglect them each day only to spend years later struggling with wayward youth. They later wondering why they don’t seem to have the same penchant for spiritual things as they do. The time is now to heed modern prophets and add uplifting spiritual routines in the home. This is not a guarantee, as children have their agency, but put the odds in your favor and heed inspired counsel.
Regarding family prayer, President Gordon B. Hinckley said, “Can we make our homes more beautiful? Yes, through addressing ourselves as families to the Source of all true beauty. Can we strengthen society and make it a better place in which to live? Yes, by strengthening the virtue of our family life through kneeling together and supplicating the Almighty in the name of his Beloved Son.” The Blessings of Family Prayer, Feb 1991, Ensign.
E – Edification: Edification means to construct, to build up morally or in faith or to improve spiritually. I once asked my 10 year-old son, “Aaron, Do you know that I love you?” He responded with a big grin, “Well, Dad you’ve told me five times today!” This has become a funny story that typifies the principle of love and edification in our home. Your children should not wonder of your love for them. Tell them often!
When our kids were little we worked for a home that was graced with Christ-like love and encouragement at every turn. We deployed the infamous Red Plate that was routinely placed at the dinner table of the child who had a particular great achievement or win that day. It could have been a great score on a math quiz, an outstanding performance on the ball field, a difficult decision turned bright or a word of praise retold from a confidential source. This was a time for them to shine and to feel a part of a loving, supportive, caring and safe environment.
F – Faith: Faith in Jesus Christ is the first principle of the gospel. Some of the most important lessons take time to bear fruit. Some things have a very long tail. Unfortunately, our fast paced life has brought an expectation of immediacy. We plant a fruit tree and expect a harvest right away and yet an apple tree takes 2-5 years to bear fruit, a pear tree 4-6 years and a cherry tree 5-7 years. Patience and looking with an eye of faith in our homes is illustrative here. It will all work out, just have faith.
Lehi and his family were successful in their efforts as they applied the principles of faith and diligence. It was difficult, but a pattern and formula was laid before them to follow. Throughout their journey, as they were obedient and demonstrated their faith, the Liahona directed them accordingly. We must cultivate the same principles in our homes. Overtime, as we are faithful, we will find that our efforts will take root. We will often not know the timing of the harvest, but it will occur. Of this I am certain.
U – Unity: As husbands and wives, we must be on the same page. We must communicate with each other regarding a desire and willingness to have a home of refuge. Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf in his Nov 2008 General Conference talk, “Lift Where You Stand”, referenced an experience told by Elder Boyd K. Packer, then the President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Elder Packer once attended an ox pulling contest, where he drew out an analogy. He said of the experience: “A wooden sledge was weighted with cement blocks: ten thousand pounds or five tons. The object was for the oxen to move the sledge three feet. I noticed a well-matched pair of very large, brindled, blue-gray animals … [the] big blue oxen of seasons past.”
In speaking about the result of the contest, he said: “Teams were eliminated one by one. … The big blue oxen didn’t even place! A small, nondescript pair of animals, not very well matched for size, moved the sledge all three times.”
He was then given an explanation to the surprising outcome: “The big blues were larger and stronger and better matched for size than the other team. But the little oxen had better teamwork and coordination. They hit the yoke together. Both animals jerked forward at exactly the same time and the force moved the load” (“Equally Yoked Together,” Boyd K. Packer, Apr. 3, 1975)
Leading a family in righteousness in today’s world is a formidable challenge. Parental unity is paramount to optimal leadership in the home. Work to pull together and you will strengthen your home as a refuge. If you find yourself as a single parent, seek another trusted individual who can support you in this effort. Home Teachers or other priesthood leaders can be a great source of support.
G – Gospel Centered: Resolve to have a gospel centered home where true doctrines are taught and understood. Remember the profound quote of Elder Boyd K. Packer. “True doctrine understood changes attitudes and behaviors.” As we understand more deeply the doctrines of Christ, our behaviors become more closely aligned with His. Who cannot feel the eternal pull of the following penetrating doctrinal phrases: “I am a Child of God,” “Families are Eternal,” “My Body is a Temple,” and “Christ is my Savior.” These simple doctrines and so many others, once understood, elevate our thoughts and actions to higher ground. So much pain and struggle can be averted if we will teach doctrines in the home and apply them consistently.
E – Excellence: Let’s not apologize for having high standards of excellence. Let’s not be afraid to challenge and invite our children to greatness. They are a royal generation, saved for this time. They will rise to the occasion and so can we as their parents. If there were ever a time to teach our children to do hard things, it is now!
Getting a perfect score on a seminary quiz is no longer sufficient. This may be a good start, but learning for one’s self the truthfulness of gospel is essential to surviving in a filthy world. Our children must know the doctrines in their hearts, not just in their heads. Cultivating and facilitating spiritual experiences in the home is essential to changing hearts. As parents, the responsibility is ours. A gospel centered home where spiritual routines are practiced, faith is demonstrated and true doctrines are taught, can provide an environment where hearts are turned toward Christ. A striving attitude of excellence strengthens our strongholds and reinforces our homes as a refuge.
My experience on Lake Mead many years ago taught me a lesson of the power of refuge and safety amidst the storms of life. Our homes can be a refuge, but it will be because we exercised our parental agency to make them so. Our choices and decisions matter. Our experience in this life is not a dress rehearsal. Time can slip away so quickly. Before you know it, your children will have grown up and moved away. If you find yourself needing to make a course correction, do so now. The precious moments in a child’s life are finite, so move forward with faith. Consider the implementation these wonderful principles. They can help make your home a R.E.F.U.G.E. from the storm.