Beauty for Ashes

Angela Johnson's sculpture of the woman with an issue of blood.

Angela Johnson’s sculpture of the woman with an issue of blood.

At the beginning of his ministry, Jesus read from the scriptures, saying: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted…to set at liberty them that are bruised.” (Luke 4:22)

In the book of Isaiah, a similar scripture finishes with: “…to appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness.” (Isaiah 61:3)

I believe in these scriptures with all of my heart.

In 2006, my chronic depression, which I had struggled with for years, had finally broken me. I had tried everything to fix my problems, but whatever I touched seemed to wither and rot. Darkness overwhelmed me like a tidal wave, destroying all of my hopes and dreams, and seemingly suffocating me in the process. Unable to see my way forward, I decided to end my life.

Miraculously, however, my family rescued me from my suicide attempt. But I still wasn’t grateful to be alive. Instead, I looked over my life and saw only the devastation caused by my depression. It seemed that all of my hopes for life had turned to cold, colorless ash.

In the hospital, I had a hard time seeing how things could get better—how I could be whole again. Not only was I still struggling with what felt like impenetrable depression, but I had also attempted to take my life. My whole neighborhood had seen the ambulance, my family had to pay for an expensive visit to the ER, and everyone I knew would look at me differently.

What I saw in myself was a broken mess; a life of complete failure.

But the love of my family was stronger than I could’ve imagined; it was like a light in my darkness, which pointed me toward a greater light—God.

A painting of the woman with an issue of blood by Howard Lyon.

The woman with an issue of blood by Howard Lyon.

In absolute humility, I took the broken pieces of my life to Him, and asked for His help. In many ways, I felt akin to the woman with “an issue of blood” mentioned in the New Testament. She had visited countless doctors and spent “all her living,” but just couldn’t be healed (Luke 8:43). In faith and desperation, she followed the Savior through a crowd, “touched the border of his garment,” and was made whole through her faith. (Luke 8:48)

I want to pause here and say something about faith. Faith asks us to do everything we can do, and then ask God to do what we cannot. Before the Savior raised Lazarus from the dead, He waited for everyone to do what they could do. Martha came to Jesus and told Him that Lazarus had died (John 11:21), He had the family lead Him to the grave (John 11:34), He asked the family to remove the stone which covered the grave (John 11:29), and then He raised Lazarus from the dead (John 11:43). Even after the miracle, Jesus asked those around help Lazarus by removing his bandages (John 11:44).

Certainly, Jesus had the power to do all of those things himself. He knew that Lazarus was dead, He knew where to go, He could’ve easily removed the gravestone, and He could’ve removed the bandages Himself as well—but He asked others to do what they could, and then He did what they could not.

In a similar way, we are asked to exercise our own faith by doing things that are within our power. For example, if we are suffering, we must seek help from friends and family, visit doctors or counselors, and prayerfully utilize all of our available options. As we do these things in faith, we are asking God to perform a miracle.

I have seen, through experiences too numerous and too sacred to share, God take the ashes of my life and miraculously turn them into something beautiful. I have marveled at His power to touch something broken, and not only make it whole, but better than it ever was before.

In a way that is almost unbelievable to me, I have seen God take my experiences with depression and turn them into something beautiful.

Truth be told, I never intended my blog to become what it is today. It started out as a way for me to learn about blogging and promote the videos I had been making. I’ve always wanted to write fiction, not personal stories from my own life. But on a few occasions, I’ve felt a strong “spiritual nudge” to write or talk about my experiences with depression and suicide. Introverted as I am, I’m always very hesitant to share my thoughts and feelings on such a sensitive subject—so whenever I do so, it is because I’m following those spiritual nudges.

A few months ago, my brother Sean and I were interviewed for a video on suicide prevention. I don’t like being in front of the camera unless it’s something fun or funny—and talking about depression and suicide are neither of those things, so this was a very hard thing for me to agree to.

"Lost and Found" by Greg Olsen

“Lost and Found” by Greg Olsen

The video shares the story of my suicide attempt, and tells how my brother’s love and support helped bring me back. The response to this video has been remarkable and overwhelming. Both my Facebook fanpage and my personal page have been filled with positive, uplifting comments and heartfelt messages. I have received text messages and phone calls from people telling me that the video is helping them (or someone they know) feel hopeful about the future.

I honestly can’t take credit for that video. I shared my story, yes. But the story is really about how my brother rescued me from the darkness of depression and helped me to move forward. And when I say ‘brother,’ I don’t just mean my brother Sean.

This video is a testament to me of how our elder brother, the Savior, can turn the ashes of our lives into something truly beautiful.

I hope that it helps you move forward with faith in your own life.

I offer my heartfelt gratitude to Quinn Orr for inviting me to take part in this video, and for working so hard to provide resources to those who are still struggling. I also want to thank Al Fox Carraway for her friendship during the whole process. My self doubt might’ve gotten the better of me had it not been for her encouragement.

And, as always, I’m profoundly grateful for the love and support of my wife, whose friendship lights the way through my ongoing battles with depression.

Depression—A Battle Too Big to Fight Alone

A few months ago, my brother and I were asked to take part in a Mormon Message about suicide prevention. I hope that it is helpful to you. If someone you know is struggling with depression or suicidal thoughts, please continue to place your arm of love around them. Believe me, a seemingly small and simple act of love can change someone’s entire life.

From the video description: There is no easy solution for helping someone who has thoughts about ending their life. But there are some things we can do to reach out to them.

The most common sources of pain for someone having suicidal thoughts are feeling disconnected from other people, feeling like they’re a burden to others or that people would be better off without them. Coupled with the hopeless thoughts that things aren’t going to change, suicidal thoughts become risky.

For some, like Seth Adam Smith, the right words spoken by another can change a life. Seth’s depression caused him to attempt suicide. He was miraculously saved, and when he awoke, his older brother’s words changed everything. “You know, Seth,” his older brother said, “I almost lost my little brother. … I don’t think I’m going to go anywhere for a while.”

While it may seem too simple, sometimes words of comfort, support, and love can be life-changing for someone who doesn’t feel needed.

Sometimes those suffering with depression and suicidal thoughts don’t even need words. They just need someone to sit with them. They need someone to be there for them. They need to feel loved and valued.

Elder M. Russell Ballard counsels us not to judge, but to reach out. “It doesn’t mean you’re going to be able to heal people, … but we can have an impact in guiding people to some of the resources out there.” He reminds us that we can be one of those resources. “There is nothing more powerful than the arm of love that can be put around those who are struggling.”

Forget About Feelings, Real Love Is A Deliberate Choice

Love Is A Choice

Love is a choice.

My wife and I have known each other since high school, but didn’t date until much later. We had only dated a couple of weeks before we realized that we were madly in love and wanted to get married.

I was all for it! I even suggested a spontaneous, immediate wedding in Vegas. (Seriously.) Kim, however, was a bit more practical about the whole thing. She wanted to take time to plan it all out.

I felt deflated. “We’re so different,” I said. “You like to plan, while I like to be spontaneous.”

Kim’s eyes widened. “I can be spontaneous!” she said, hurriedly. “I can totally be spontaneous. You just have to tell me in advance when you want to be spontaneous, and I will write it down in my planner…”

I gave her a strange look. She was totally serious! Clearly, Kim did not understand the meaning of spontaneity.

Funny as it may seem, the more I think about this conversation the more I’ve come to realize that planning to love someone—or choosing to love someone—is actually one of the most beautiful things about love.

I’ve heard it said that real love is an unconditional commitment to an imperfect person.

It’s true.

When all the butterflies have fluttered away and your wedding day becomes a distant memory, you will discover that you’ve married someone who is just as imperfect as you. And they, in turn, will come to learn that you have problems, insecurities, struggles, quirks—and body odor—just as real as theirs!

Then you will realize that real love isn’t just a euphoric, spontaneous feeling—it’s a deliberate choice—a plan to love each other for better and worse, for richer and poorer, in sickness and in health. Of course, you don’t choose who you’re attracted to, but you definitely choose who you fall in love with and (more importantly) who you stay in love with.

Our society places a lot of emphasis on feelings. We are taught that we should always follow our feelings and do whatever makes us happy. But feelings are very fickle and fleeting. Real love, on the other hand, is like the north star in the storms of life; it is constant, sure, and true. Whenever we’re lost and confused we can find strength in the love that we have chosen.

Besides, life already offers us plenty of spontaneity: rejection, job loss, heartache, disappointment, despair, illness, and a host of other problems. We simply can’t abandon ship every time we encounter a storm in our marriage. Real love is about weathering the storms of life together.

Grandma and Grandpa Adams.

Grandma and Grandpa Adams.

When my grandma was in her fifties, she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, a degenerative disease that disrupts the body’s ability to communicate with its nervous system. Within a few short years, Grandma had lost the ability to walk and was confined to a wheelchair. Grandpa, who was then the chief of police, retired two years earlier than planned in order to take care of Grandma. He helped her do everything—from getting around the house and visiting the doctor, to helping her take her medicine and bathe.

In speaking about my grandma, Grandpa once told my mom, “It hurts me to see her like this. You know, when I got married I thought that everything would be smooth sailing. I never imagined that I would have to help her change her catheter every day. But I do it and I don’t mind it—because I love her.”

Love is so much more than some random, euphoric feeling. And real love isn’t always fluffy, cute, and cuddly. More often than not, real love has its sleeves rolled up, dirt and grime smeared on its arms, and sweat dripping down its forehead. Real love asks us to do hard things—to forgive one another, to support each other’s dreams, to comfort in times of grief, or to care for family. Real love isn’t easy—and it’s nothing like the wedding day—but it’s far more meaningful and wonderful.

I recently came across this wonderful quote: “No one falls in love by choice, it is by chance. No one stays in love by chance, it is by work. And no one falls out of love by chance, it is by choice.”

Whenever my wife and I run into a problem in our marriage we do our best to choose love. While we’re certainly not perfect, the love we share today is more real and more wonderful than anything we had ever anticipated.

So, whatever spontaneous storm may come our way I plan on loving my wife.

If you truly love someone (and they truly love you), commit to that love and plan on it being hard work.

But also plan on it being the most rewarding work of your life.

Religious Russia vs. Atheist America?

Red Square

In 2008, I was teaching English in Moscow, Russia. After one of my classes, a middle-aged Russian woman lingered behind and we started talking about some of the differences between Russia and America.

Quite unexpectedly, she asked me my opinion as to why America was so wealthy and successful. I was caught off guard by her question and I mumbled some bumper-sticker sentiments about “hard work” and “freedom.”

“I think it’s religion,” she said simply.

Truthfully, I was shocked that she said that (after all, we were in a Russian school building). I furrowed my brow and asked her what she meant.

“Look at all those countries,” she said, gesturing to the large map behind me. “The most successful countries are the countries that practice religion. Especially,” she added, thoughtfully. “The Protestant religions.”

After another half hour or so, we finished our conversation and left the building. But in the years since then, I have thought a lot about what she said.

While I don’t believe that “religious” people are blessed with visible, measurable levels of wealth and success, I do believe that religion—when used properly—is a powerful force for good. Religion can refine our character and teach us timeless truths about life, love, and community.

It’s interesting to me that many Russians—after enduring seventy years of state-enforced atheism—seem to recognize the value of religion. In an column for the Los Angeles Times, Cal Thomas wrote this:

What could be more ironic? Americans are doing what they can to wipe out religion from public schools, while Russians are doing what they can to revive religion in their public schools. Having been without religious freedom for most of [the twentieth] century, Russians apparently see the value of what they lost. Their country having been established on the principles of religious values and expression, Americans flirt with paganism, unaware of what it is like to live in an anti-religious nation. It appears the Russians have learned something from us. It also appears we have learned nothing from them.

But what do you think? Do you think that people (and countries) become more successful if they practice religion? Do you think America’s success is based on its religious heritage? Please leave a comment below, I’d love to know your thoughts!

Awesome/Terrifying News!

Webinar Facebook

So, I’m an introvert.

And if you know me really well, then you’ll know that I prefer gardening over socializing, and writing over speaking.

On top of that, I would much rather be behind the camera than in front of it.

With that in mind, my publisher—Berrett-Koehler Publishers—is hosting an “Ask Me Anything” webinar on Tuesday, October 7th at 6:30 pm PST / 9:30 pm EST.

I’m already sweating bullets…

It’s a free event and I’ve heard a rumor that you might win a free copy of my book if you register HERE >>

I’m absolutely, totally terrified to do this (honestly, you’d think I were going skydiving or something!) but it should be tons of fun (in hindsight) and I’d love to finally “meet” all of you!

Again, it’s totally FREE and you can register right here >>

I hope to see you there!

Ask Me Anything?

Ask Me Anything?

13 Scary Books for Halloween

An illustration of Rip Van Winkle, by Ashley Smith Collet

Halloween (and the season surrounding it) is my favorite time of the year—and good books only make it better!

Have you heard of All Hallow’s Read? It’s a wonderful Halloween tradition started by Neil Gaiman (author of The Graveyard Book, Stardust, and Coraline). The point of the tradition is to recommend/give a scary book to a friend during the Halloween season.

And so, in honor of this tradition, here are thirteen of my favorite scary books. I hope you enjoy them!

  1. Wait Till Hellen Comes by Mary Downing Hahn – Although intended for young readers, this is a genuinely spooky book with a great ending. I would recommend it to anyone.
  2. The Black Cauldron by Lloyd Alexander – One of my top ten, all-time favorite books. While it’s not exactly a “Halloween book,” it’s a very suspenseful adventure book featuring a trio of witches that help the main character (and the reader) learn some pretty important lessons about life.
  3. The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman – In this award-winning book, Neil Gaiman (who is a spectacular storyteller) tells of a boy who is raised in a graveyard by ghosts and werewolves. A delightful read—an excellent twist on The Jungle Book.
  4. Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark by Alvin Schwartz – Do you remember reading this book in elementary school? It’s a collection of scary, popular folklore. The grotesque ink illustrations alone are enough to give you nightmares.
  5. Rip Van Winkle by Washington Irving – The classic short story about a man, Rip, who is magically enchanted to sleep for twenty years. There are times I envy him.
  6. Revenge of the Witch by Joseph Delaney – If you’re looking for something a little darker (and by “little,” I mean “a lot,”) then try the first book in Delaney’s “Last Apprentice” series. With an assortment of witches, ghosts, blood, and bones, this book is sure to keep you up at night.
  7. A Rose For Emily by William Faulkner – The ending of this little story will make your toes curl.
  8. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J. K. Rowling – This book feels like the most Halloween-y of the Harry Potter series, wouldn’t you agree?
  9. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley – If you want to read some classic Halloween literature with deep insight into human nature, then look no further than Frankenstein.
  10. Coraline by Neil Gaiman – A young girl discovers a hidden door that takes her to her “other mother.” Another deliciously creepy book by Neil Gaiman!
  11. The Silver Chair by C. S. Lewis – This book from the Chronicles of Narnia is PACKED with powerful lessons about addiction and seeing things as they really are. Plus, Puddleglum! :D
  12. The Cask of Amontillado by Edgar Allan Poe – Poe seems to be a treasure trove of all things creepy. This short story (especially if you listen to an audio rendition) will make your hairs stand on end.
  13. The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving – My favorite “scary” story. I absolutely love colonial America and the legend of the Headless Horseman (I have a sticker of him on the back of my laptop)!

But what about you? What are YOUR favorite scary stores/books? Please write them in the comments below!

Life Is Like A Garden

“Both abundance and lack [of abundance] exist simultaneously in our lives, as parallel realities. It is always our conscious choice which secret garden we will tend … when we choose not to focus on what is missing from our lives but are grateful for the abundance that’s present—love, health, family, friends, work, the joys of nature, and personal pursuits that bring us [happiness]—the wasteland of illusion falls away and we experience heaven on earth.” – Sarah Ban Breathnach

The Garden of Life

The Garden of Life

Gardening is one of my favorite hobbies.

I suppose I’m drawn to it because its a great place for an introvert like me to hide—but I also feel like gardens offer a treasure trove of symbolic lessons about life.

For example, if we understand the laws of nature and how to care for plant life, we can create and cultivate gardens that are overflowing with an abundance of fruits, vegetables, and sweet-smelling flowers. In like manner, if we understand the laws of life, then we can use those laws to our advantage and create and cultivate a life that is overflowing with an abundance of life and purpose.

Earth-bound as we are, our lives seem to follow a pattern of growth that is similar to plants and trees; we move from the isolation of a seed (the self-centeredness of of childhood) to a veritable tree of life (an individual who lives and gives their life for their families and their communities). If our garden is well planted, we have food to share with others.

Comparing our lives to gardens doesn’t deny the fact that life is filled with toil, sweat, and pain, nor does it deny the fact that our lives are often subject to elements completely outside of our control (seasons of growth and abundance, seasons of death and decay, storms, disease, weather). But it also affirms the idea that you have the power to cultivate your life.

I have seen shriveled and weedy gardens in the humid Northwest and have marveled at lush, green gardens in the arid desert of the Southwest. I have seen countryfolk let acres of pristine land fall into disrepair and have seen city-dwellers build spectacular rooftop gardens.

Oftentimes, the richness within the gardens of our lives is less dependent upon what nature (or circumstance) does to it, and more dependent on we do it.

I think one of my favorite lessons I’ve learned from gardening is that all life is dependent upon the lives of others. Plants and gardens simply don’t exist on their own, they require the shared elements of life. No plant can live for itself—it lives because of others and it lives to give life to others.

In a similar way, our lives are not purely for our own will and pleasure. We live because of others and we live to give to others. When we deviate from that and try to live life purely for ourselves, our world withers and our relationships rot. To live for ourselves is to live like a cancer; always taking life but never giving it to others. 

Consider this: the saddest and most difficult times in our lives are the times when human connections are damaged or lost. We often feel depressed when we are misunderstood, hurt, or separated from others. During these times of loneliness, we may feel as though we are experiencing a winter in our souls.

On the other hand, the summers in our lives are the joyful times we share with others. People—with all of the richness and uniqueness of their own lives—are what make our lives vibrant and full. Because our joy in life is inextricably connected to the degree in which we love and embrace others.

This blog post was inspired by my book, Your Life Isn’t For You—order a copy on today!

Are You A Prometheus?


Prometheus – The Greek God

Has a Prometheus ever given you fire?

According to Greek mythology, the Titan Prometheus created man out of clay and taught them to walk uprightly as the Gods. But at that time, the Gods considered man to be an animal; men were creatures without the gift of fire, which made their earth a cold, dark, and harsh place.

In time, Prometheus learned to love mankind and wanted to help them move forward. Because of this love, Prometheus disobeyed the command of Zeus and stole fire from Mount Olympus. He then descended to earth and taught mankind how to build fires. With this gift, mankind could cook their food, build tools, stay warm—and perhaps most importantly—they could have light in the darkness. Some even say that Prometheus lingered and taught man the ways of godliness: organization, medicine, science, writing, mathematics, and agriculture.

In a jealous rage, Zeus punished Prometheus for eternity, banishing him from Mount Olympus forever.

But in spite of Zeus’s fury, mankind was never the same. The gift of fire—or the gift of light—gave them power to become as the gods.

Now I ask again, has a Prometheus ever given you fire? Has someone given you the gift of light when your world was cold, harsh, and dark?

I believe that at various points in our lives we all experience moments of Promethean fire. For whatever reason we may feel as though we are wandering in darkness—lost and afraid. But then someone comes who, because of love, gives us light. And with this light we are able to continue moving forward.

If you have identified someone in your life who has been as Prometheus—someone who gave you light during a period of darkness—I encourage you to reach out and thank them.

And then I encourage you to be as Prometheus—to give the gift of light to others. Because at some point, all of us struggle to move forward and all of us need the light of a Prometheus.

This blogpost was inspired from a section of the book Your Life Isn’t For You, now available on!