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Friday, December 13, 2013

MAX & THE MEANING OF CHRISTMAS



MAX & THE MEANING OF CHRISTMAS
          Many years ago on a cold winter day, I stepped out of the back door of our house to trudge through the snow and bitter cold to go and get something from our old shed on the back edge of our property.   As I stepped past our dog house just outside the back steps, a large unknown dog jumped out of the meager shelter and shot right between my legs!  I don’t know who was more startled me, or the stray dog, but at least one of us had to change his shorts!
          After calming the unexpected cardiac arrest, I watched the dog run out into the bitter cold and crawl under our old dilapidated pick-up truck near the shed and figured I would never see him again.  But a few days later nearly the same thing happened again!  There was this skinny starving hound dog hiding out in our dog house, trying to find some measure of warmth from the freezing winter chill.
          My wife took pity on the poor dog and put out some bowls of warm water and dog food on the back steps.  And such began our family’s association with the dog we would come to call “Max”.  He was a breed called a “Treeing Walker Coonhound”.

          After several days of feeding and giving him fresh water every time it would freeze solid, our family began trying to approach him.  But every time anyone got near him he would run away in panic and fear.  It was sad.  It became obvious that somebody had abused him and he was nervous and afraid of everything all the time.
          I’m going to skip ahead in this story for a moment and then will come back to this tentative canine companionship towards the end.
          Max was hilarious as he gradually adjusted to our company.  Once my wife tried leaving the back door open and so he could feel the warmth inside, and she placed his food dish just a little ways into the back room of the house.  As we stood far away and watched him through the open door, he tentatively came up the steps, but stopped his feet at the threshold.  He leaned in as far as could, neck stretched out like an ostrich, until he could finally grab the edge of the food dish in his mouth and then quickly drug it outside to consume his meal!
          Eventually, after nearly 3 months of living out in the cold, he adapted and became a part of our family. It was an amazing transformation to watch, as his paranoia would cause him to hide in the corner of the room...

          gradually changed through the warmth and love of our family into a dog that was at peace and happiness and learned to live life to its fullest.

          There was nothing more sweet than watching him run with our boys on a hike with his tail wagging in ecstasy…

          Or snuggle with them or our other dog as they lay on the floor.



  He was a beautiful animal and shared many adventures with us throughout the coming years that followed.




          You might notice another small scruffy dog in some of these pictures I am posting.  That dog’s name was “Shala”.  She was cute as a button, but her name was short from the Biblical verse in Isaiah 8:1, “Maher-Shalal-hash-baz”, which means, “Destruction is imminent.”

  And believe me; she lived up to the name!  But she is another story altogether which I won’t get into today!
          With Max, I think it was because of the emotional journey that he went through (along with us) from that of being neglected and abused, to realize the peace, love and happiness that life can provide, that we grew so close and attached to him.  I do not believe it was by chance that he was led into our yard and became a part of our existence.

          When he suddenly passed away a few years later, he left a deep hole in our lives that has never been completely filled with the passing of time or other canine companions. 

          Our solace comes in knowing that he now runs forever free from his psychological demons in his new divine abode.  I for one believe that loving dogs like Max, all go to Heaven!
          In fact, even as I am writing this blog and scanning through his old pictures it is with mixed tears of both joy and sadness.  His emotional journey has changed me and our family, and has given us a different insight into abuse in its many forms which is rampant among society today, as well as the truly healing power of Love when it is given and received unconditionally.

          But now I would like to revert back to an earlier part of the story, which conveys the main message I want to share with you today.
          It was back in those first tenuous days as Max hunkered around our back yard in fear and ran away in terror every time we stepped outside. There was one moment when I watched him through the window from inside the warmth of my home and I remember thinking, “If only I could become a dog like him for a short period of time… then perhaps I could convince him that I am his friend, and convince him to come into the warmth and love we have to offer him where we dwell.”
          As these thoughts ran through my mind on that snowy December day, the Spirit touched my heart and brought a startling truth and understanding, “That is why the Savior did it!  That is why he descended from His heavenly abode and came down among us!  That is why a divine God and Creator would condescend from His throne on high and be born in a lowly stable!”

          Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ came down so that He could be like us, and show us the way, and try to convince us of the reality of the love and warmth we can share with Him if we will but follow Him, and come unto Him... So that we can be transformed by the power of His love and dwell in the peace and happiness He has to offer all of us!

          That is why we celebrate the babe born in Bethlehem and call Him our King, Wonderful, Counselor, The Mighty God, The Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace!  THAT IS THE TRUE MEANING OF CHRISTMAS!!!
          Thank you Max, for helping teach me and all of us that profound and eternal message!
video

MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Living Beyond Our Control



BEYOND OUR CONTROL

Ski Wipe-outs and Speed Limits



          Okay, so it’s now officially December, the Thanksgiving Holiday has past and the Christmas season will soon be upon us, and I've finally gotten in to the Christmas spirit.

In typical South East Idaho fashion, winter then made its entrance with a vengeance!       I awoke early Tuesday morning to two different sounds: 1. My bladder screaming at me that it was time to get out of bed or pay the consequences.  2. The snow plow rumbling down the street in the early morning darkness.  I arose and answered call number one, and then took this snap shot of the 12" of snow piled up in my front yard since I had gone to bed the previous night!


          So with old man winter now fully engaged in the holiday season, I thought it would be a good time to share a skiing story of mine that involves an epic crash with near disastrous consequences, and how my foolish actions changed skiing at Grand Targhee resort for everyone for years to come.

          Now it’s no surprise that I’m a pretty big guy at 6’3” and over 250lbs (although we won’t discuss how much over!) so when you strap something on my feet that makes me slide and point me down a steep and slippery incline gravity has a pretty significant effect.  Add to these laws of physics the fact that I didn’t start skiing until my late 30’s you get a pretty unpredictable combination that may result in a few registers on the Richter scale.

          During my life prior to skiing, I had often heard people use the phrase, “things have gone all ski-wampus”, in sentences when things had gone awry.  I didn’t really understand what that meant until one of my first big skiing crashes when I got up afterwards and saw my skis, poles, hat and even a glove strewn about me haphazardly in the snow.  “Oh, so that’s what ski-wampus means!”

          I was probably only into my second year of skiing and my family had a season pass at Grand Targhee.  On this particular day, two of my brothers, Dirk and Carl and I had taken a “boys day out” on the mountain together and I was easily the least experienced one of the group.

          I have never liked the really big mountains and black diamond slopes kind of thing, and in fact there is one run at the top of Targhee that is called Sitting Bull, after the old Indian chief.  But when I was first coaxed into going up to give it a try, I looked down into the foggy abyss below me which seemed to drop off into infinity and I realized why it was really called Sitting Bull, because I sat down on the edge of the slope and thought, “Bull crap if I’m going down that thing!”

          So my brothers, who were more advanced skiers, humored me on that particular trip and we stayed on the smaller “kids” hill called the Shoshone.  It’s actually an excellent learning hill with many fun, short runs through different terrain that was just perfect for me. The trouble was that after some good easy warm up runs, my brothers got a little bored and soon a little competition began amongst us.

          My younger brother Carl figured out that if we split up at a juncture near the top of this mountain, there were 3 different runs which were about the same distance, and if we split up at the same time we could all race down to the bottom.  Of course I got smoked the first several times we tried this little rivalry, but I was feeling pretty confident in myself on my skis that particular day.  So the next race, I threw caution to the wind and instead of swishing back and forth in my normal conservative speed controlled serpentines,  I came out of my little turn through the trees and leaned forward into an aggressive crouch against the front of my boots and bombed down the slope before me.

          I couldn’t see where my younger brother was off through the trees to my right, but I was determined to beat him to the bottom of the hill and be in the lead when I reached the final left hand turn which funneled into a narrow track that led to the bottom of the lift.

          Unfortunately, my competitive juices drown out the universal law of physics, F=ma, or Force = mass x acceleration.  Considering my mass and the acceleration, when I reached the bottom of the hill and that sharp left turn, there was a substantial amount of force involved!

          As I leaned into the turn, the pressure on my right leg was too much for my second hand ski equipment and my boot popped out of the binding.  The problem was, all of my mass and acceleration were still applying their full force upon that right leg, so my ski boot slammed down into the snow and my leg served as a pole vault which spun me around and launched me out into space.

          It’s an amazing thing how clear your mind can become in a situation like that and how much information you can think about in a few nano-seconds of time!  As I was flying headfirst and back downward looking up into the sky I somehow had time to think, “Oh no! There are all these trees down the side of this hill and I am flying head first into them!  I don’t have a helmet!  I hope I don’t break my neck or shatter my skull!  I could possibly end up dead or with permanent paralyzing injuries!  How could I be this stupid!  I love my wife and kids!  Will I ever see them again?  Please help me in my stupidity Lord!”

          I know it might seem crazy or impossible, but these thoughts actually flooded through my mind in that brief moment between catapulting skyward and entering a small grove of aspen trees which stretched down the hillside beneath me.

          To help you realize what was going on, I will share a few picture below to illustrate.  I took these pictures the following summer when we went back to the ski resort, to the actual spot where these incidents occurred.

          Flying upside down and head first, my head miraculously passed between two narrowly spaced trees and the top of both shoulders slammed into the trunks with enough force that it completely knocked the wind out of me.


Yes these are the actual trees that my head passed through without crushing my skull!
          My feet flew up above my head and my ski boots and one remaining ski bounced off the tree at least twelve feet up above ground level.  We know this height was accurate by the big hunk of bark which my brothers noticed torn out of the tree a few minutes later when they found me.

          What happened next was kind of a blur, but I still had enough force and momentum that after bouncing off that first tree, I flew cartwheeling another 20-30 feet down the hillside while ping-ponging through a series of more trees.  I was like a helpless massive rag doll being pummeled on all sides by giant baseball bats.

          As I came to rest at the bottom of the hill, I found myself half buried in the powdery snow looking up into the sky.  My first recognition was that I was alive, and gratitude overcame me!  Then I realized that I couldn’t breathe because the wind had been knocked out of me and I started to panic, wondering if I had broken my neck!  I wiggled my fingers and then my toes… I could move!  I was again overcome with gratitude that I was not paralyzed!  Finally, I was able to take in a gasping breath of air and roll over onto my side and sit up.

          At that point I heard my brothers up at the top of the hill through the trees talking to each other.  One of them was asking “Where did he go?  I thought he was ahead of us this time?”  The other replied, “I don’t know, the last I saw he was making a turn down by the trees.”

          I then let out a groan as the effects of my bludgeoning through the trees finally settled in throughout my body.  My brothers, like true brothers, laughed when they saw me and all my equipment strewn out down along the hillside amongst the trees.  Then they asked if I was alright.

          It was nothing short of a miracle!  Other than getting the wind knocked out of me and some residual muscle soreness, I had suffered no broken bones or other injuries whatsoever.  My brothers and I were amazed as we surveyed the scene and considered what had happened and how life-threatening serious that situation could have been.  One brother even commented that “angels must have parted those trees” and guided my body through them, because there’s no other way I could have come out uninjured.  The mercy of God had truly been extended to me in my stupidity.

          Needless to say, that ended our racing escapades for the day and I was a much more conservative skier from that point forward.  When my family and I returned to ski there again less than a week later, I took my wife to where the accident had happened and was surprised to see a Speed Limit 5 mph sign posted on the trees in the exact location where my crash occurred,

          I felt a mixture of embarrassment, but also a little bit of pride in knowing that my actions had changed the rules of the ski resort and perhaps would protect others from the same stupid mistake I had made. (Of course I don’t really know for sure if it was my accident that resulted in the posting of the speed limit sign… but I will take credit for it anyway).

          As I ponder back on that experience, I am still extremely humbled and grateful that I am still alive and with my family, that I can walk and think and move and live my life as a normal human being!  I realized that while I thought I was just trying to have some fun, I had failed to realize where the boundaries of my control were, and the result could have been disastrous.

          On that day, it was as if those trees stood there as sentinels to warn me, “If you get out of control and go off the designated path, the road ahead will be much more difficult and painful and you will suffer some consequences.”

          And that’s how it is with God’s commandments.

 Some may think that the Commandments are restrictions of our freedom and agency to do whatever we want, but they really stand as markers to show us the safer route to follow if we will but heed them and follow the Lord’s designated path to safety and happiness.


          If we decide to just do our own thing and don’t pay attention to those guide posts and markers, then the result is not that we break the commandments, but that we break ourselves against them.  The rules and laws of God are unchangeable guardrails which show us how to avoid the dangerous cliffs and pitfalls of life which lead to pain, sorrow, broken hearts and broken lives.

          Of course, like me on the ski hill that day, we all make mistakes which cause our lives to spin out of control at times.  We can make our own silly choices, but we cannot control the consequences of those actions.  But luckily for us, our Lord and Savior and loving Heavenly Father are merciful to us.  I know that they protected me from more serious harm on the mountain that day, and I also know that they lovingly try to protect us from harm when we make mistakes.  Their patient and caring call after we have fallen is to beckon us to rise up, come back up to higher ground, and once again place our feet upon the designated path they have laid before us which leads to safety and happiness.

          It’s not about restricting our agency or freedom.  Once I had gone off the designated path, I lost control of my situation and had absolutely no power to make any decisions about what happened to me as I careened and banged my way through the trees below me.  I had absolutely no freedom or agency at that point, but was under the complete control of the foolishness of my actions.  I had failed to recognize where my limitations were and was instantly beyond any sense of control of my life.

          Like the speed limit sign posted in those trees, our loving Heavenly Father and Savior Jesus Christ have given us commandments to place spiritual warning signs and guardrails along the trail of life to clearly mark the safest path if we will but see them, recognize them and stay within their guiding influence.

          May we all take better heed of those warning signs and guideposts as we run this race of life that is before us, and be grateful for the patient, caring guidance and loving protection we are given each and every day!
          As far as me and skiing... with advancing age and failing knees, I've now decided to stick to snowshoes instead!


Thursday, November 21, 2013

THE SUPERHERO WITHIN US



          A few weeks ago, my awesome wife and I were out on a dinner and movie date, which was especially fantastic because: 1. I was with my awesome wife, and 2. because we went to see the movie “THOR: The Dark World!”
           Maybe it’s just because of my Viking ancestry and genetics, which hold deep within me a hidden urge to do battle against evil foes, but I loved the movie, and it got me to thinking about why I (and probably most of us by looking at the box office totals) love Superhero movies and stories so much.  I mean, who hasn’t ever dreamed about being able to fly, punch through walls, and basically being indestructible while saving the world from the forces of evil?

          Okay, so enough about me being the body stunt-double for Superman in the Man of Steel movie, Back to my story!
          I’m sure that all of us, even if we are pretty nice guys and gals, would have to admit there’s also a part within us, that when we get cut off in traffic, get frustrated or upset at a jerk of a co-worker, or any other annoyance would love to unleash our inner-hulk and just SMASH stuff into oblivion!

          Fortunately for ourselves and society, we are all pretty good at keeping the big green guy hidden in the deep recesses of our soul most of the time.  But just so you can get it out of your system, I will include a link to the video below.

But I think that rather than just smashing stuff, the reason we are drawn to the pull of these heroic characters is found within their moniker, “Super Hero”.  There is something about them that is bigger and better than just an average person going through life, something “Super” and “Heroic.”  These characters all have inner weaknesses and flaws which they are trying to overcome, but hidden within them is something much greater, which is such a force for so much good if they can just tap into it.
          Despite what we might think, the idea of having super powers affects our behavior more than we realize.  I remember reading a report on a study last year (which unfortunately I cannot find the link to now), wherein the participants in the study were instructed to play a virtual computerized game.  In both scenarios, the participants were flying around a large virtual city trying to rescue people by finding and providing them with medication or other items they needed to survive.  In one of the two scenarios, the study participants were flying around performing these tasks in a helicopter.  In the second scenario the participants had the actual ability to fly themselves (like superman) to perform the same tasks.  What was interesting was that in every case, when the participants had the super gift of flight, they were much more attentive and quick to respond to the needs of the virtual scenarios in the game and complete them in a faster time period to save more people.  Whereas when they were flying about in a helicopter at the same speed, there was a slower response time and they were less engaged and attentive to the tasks.  It was as if there was a partial detachment when they were in the helicopter, but when they had the power within themselves to fly, there was a greater sense of personal responsibility attached to helping others.
          So why is it that we have this subconscious affinity to want to be Superheroes or have increased abilities to perform?  I think it is because we can all find some personal relationship to a hero.  Let’s take Spiderman for example.
          He’s just a nerdy student, struggling to fit in and trying to work a regular job to support himself, while at the same time somehow using his little available free time to swing into higher heights,

and despite the incredible odds against him, is able to get the girl of his dreams and save the world in the end.

          We all have our personal struggles in trying to fit in, find the inner confidence we are searching for, find the hidden strength and wisdom to conquer our weaknesses.  But I think it goes even deeper than that.
          There is a wonderful line in the movie “Avengers” which I am sure you are all familiar with, where one of my favorite heroes, Captain America is about to join in a fight with some very powerful “god-like” beings.  Another character is trying to convince him that he is too small for the task and should sit the fight out.  His response is truly inspired as you will remember in the clip below:

          That line which reveals where Captain America gets his true strength, resolve and courage from, “There’s only one God, Ma’am” is where I believe the key to this whole superhero phenomenon comes from.
          Hidden within each of us, trapped behind the mundane routines of working, school, eating, sleeping and the drudgery of life… Is a truly divine and powerful being!  Though the business of life sometimes clouds our realization and understanding of this fact, the “more than human/super” being within us relates to these fictitious heroes and calls out to us that we all have the potential to be more than what we are in everyday life.  There is more of the god-like Thor within us than we realize.
          The truth is that we are all godly offspring and children of a loving Heavenly Father, the one true God which Captain America was talking about.  If we will turn to Him, we can find that hidden super courage, faith, strength and commitment to overcome any challenge in life and become a force for good in the world which is far more wide-reaching that we know.
          How can I make such a claim?  Because I already have the proof and example of this fact in the greatest and most powerful being and hero to ever walk this planet, the Savior Jesus Christ.  Without any monetary or political power, His example of righteousness, commitment to obedience, love, service and sacrifice have literally changed the world and shaped nations!  He showed us what true power really is, what is actually achievable and how many lives can be affected for good throughout time and eternity.
          His call to “Come, follow me” is more than just an invitation to be better people, but also helps us realize that if we are willing to nurture the divine spark within us as sons and daughters of God, that He can lift us and help us become something much more heroic and super than we are!
          So go ahead and enjoy those superhero movies and stories, where the characters battle impossible odds and dig deep to find the strength, courage and resolve to continue on and conquer.  But as you do, don’t forget to see yourself as that same champion on the screen, for if God is on your side, there is more of a superhero within you than you realize!