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Wednesday, June 25, 2014

God’s Perfect Timing and His Refining Love

God’s Perfect Timing and His Refining Love
            Isn’t it interesting how, despite our good intentions and often very inspired decisions, things seldom turn out the way ‘WE’ expect them to.  I believe this is evidence not only of God’s infinite love for us, but also His perfect timing.
            To illustrate this point, I want to relate just one of many instances in my life where this truth was profoundly evidenced.  The year was 1999, and my wife and 3 young sons were living in the lovely little town of Springville, Utah.  Life had been going great in the previous years, after my graduation from Physical Therapy school in 1994.  I had a good job, we had purchased our first little house

 into which we poured our effort, sweat and love to fix up and make it a home.

And after driving old-broken-down-beaters for most of my lifetime, I had finally purchased a brand new pick-up truck!  I felt blessed and very comfortable in our situation.
            But God loves us, and because He loves us, he realizes that when we feel comfortable, we also often fail to make the personal progress He desires of us as His children.  He most often works through real life situations, however, to teach us the lessons that we so desperately need to learn.
            The first lesson came in the employment and finance department.  The government suddenly decided to drastically change the insurance reimbursement rates for rehabilitation and the next thing I knew, I was sitting across a desk from my employer.
            “The good news is, you still have a job.” He began. (Yes, that’s always good news, but doesn’t ever seem to bode well for what is to follow) “The bad news is, with the insurance changes we will have to reduce your salary by about $6,000 a year.” (Super Gut Punch to the Budget Plan!!!)
            Suddenly, I was working just as hard or harder than before, because they did have to lay off several other therapy assistants, but was making much less than what our expenses could handle.  Young and inexperienced, I made some critical mistakes.  Firstly, my pride made me hold onto my shiny new pick-up truck that I could no longer afford the monthly payments on.  To make up the difference I began using some credit cards to make the differences and then use other credit cards to pay those off and as you can imagine a bad cycle began to spiral downward.
            As my financial despair mounted, I listened to a speech by Gordon B. Hinckley, then President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, in which he advised church members to get out of debt and prepare for the pending financial storms which would come in the years ahead.
           I prayed to know how I could do this, and humbly decided my beloved truck had to go. With my pride tucked between my legs, I ditched my truck and once again purchased an old beater car to get by with.  It was a start, but the financial damage hard already been done and the debt interest rates still buried my income.
            To top that off, my beloved grandfather who lived across town passed away in Feb. of 1999.  He was a dear friend to me, and had been a source of wisdom, love, support and wise advice throughout my life. 
But his passing opened up an unexpected blessing for us.  My remaining grandmother could not take care of herself, and as we considered the situation, the strong impression came to both my wife and I that we should move in with her and help take care of her and their home.  This would allow us to sell our own home, pay down all our debts and make a new start of things.  A sweet comfortable feeling accompanied these thoughts and we knew it was the Lord’s will for us to make this move, which we did in the late spring.
            I counted my blessings and thanked the Lord for opening the way before us to get out of debt as well as serve my grandma’s needs.  But once again, things didn’t work out as “I” had planned them to.
            Month after month, our house across town would not sell.  I spent countless weeks in prayer and fasting that it would sell and allow us to begin moving forward financially… but Nothing Happened!  I could not begin to realize why this would be after I had felt so confident that the Lord has inspired us to move in with my grandmother.
            In despair, the weeks turned into months.  All the while I was still working harder at my job for the reduced pay, struggling to just make the minimum payments on our debts, and now I was taking care of two houses, with two yards to mow and upkeep, etc…           I’ll have to admit that I felt more than a little depressed as to why things didn’t seem to be falling into place, despite my good intentions, prayers and heavenward petitions.   The only thing I could do was to keep moving forward with faith as best I could, trusting in the Lord despite not understanding His will in our situation.
            This went on for about 10 agonizing months, without a single offer on our cute little home across town.  To say it tried my faith would be an understatement!  I remember actually hoping that when Y2K came, the financial markets and computers would all collapse and somehow alleviate our situation.

            Our time with grandma had its challenges as well, but also brought many sweet memories and moments which could have never been captured otherwise.

Finally, In February 2000, she passed away just a few weeks shy of a year since my grandfather had died.  After 70 years of marriage, they didn’t even have to spend a Valentine’s Day apart from each other!  I was with grandma through the night she failed and passed away, and that was a profound spiritual experience which is far too sacred and private to share in a public forum such as this, but it was filled with peace and love.

            With Grandma now gone, we moved back into our own house again across town and were back to square one again.  Then something totally unexpected happened!
            Out of the blue I received a phone call from an old friend of mine, who was now living up in my home town of Rexburg, Idaho.  He and the company he was associated with offered me a job with a management role, with a much better salary than I was making at the time.  It would also allow us to be closer to my family and my wife’s grandparents.
            I accepted the offer, gave a 30 day notice at my current employer and we put our house back on the market to sale, but this time without the assistance of a real estate agent.  We just put a sign up in our front yard that said “For Sale by Owner”.

            In the back of my mind I fearfully worried that we would again be unable to sell it, and we would end up in Idaho, but now with 2 house payments.
            But a surprising thing happened!  Our house sold within 2 weeks of listing it and everything fell perfectly into place, allowing us to move to Idaho without any complications!
            As I look back on the situation, I am both grateful and humbled at God’s grace and mercy toward my family.  I am appreciative to realize that, despite how much “I”thought I had everything figured out that would be best for us, He knew better what was to come.  I am grateful that He cared enough about our situation to NOT answer my prayers the way I wanted them to be answered.
            If we had sold our house when we moved in with Grandma, then we she had passed away, we most likely would have just purchased a new home soon thereafter.  If that had happened, then I would have been tied up in that new contract and would not have been able to accept the much better job in Idaho which has blessed our family with many other wonderful opportunities over these past 14 years.
            The Lord knew that it was the right thing to do to move in with Grandma and take care of her.  But he also knew that there were far better things He had in store for us after that.  So He loved us enough to make us wait for the blessings.  This process resulted in a great lesson on being smarter with our finances, as well as an expanded lesson in faith and patience in the Lord’s timing.
            Despite how much we “think” that “we” have things in this life figured out, and “think” that “we” know what would be best for us, I have come to realize through this and many other experiences, that God definitely knows best!  He loves us and wants to guide us and bless us, and also wants us to learn and grow and develop into something better along the way.  If we are willing to patiently submit to His will, we can all come to better realize, that His ways are always right, His timing is always perfect, and His refining love is endless in our behalf!

Sunday, June 1, 2014

What is the Purpose of Religion?

What is the Purpose of Religion?

          I had a small experience this past week that roused some questions in my mind about, what is the purpose of religion and in essence, what is the purpose of life.  It might come as a shock that these questions were brought about in response to someone broken down on the side of the road, but that’s how it happened.

          It should come as no big surprise to anyone who has read any of my previous blogs, that I am a Christian, and a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormon).  Well, this past Tuesday evening I was driving from my home into the town of Rexburg about 14 miles away for a church training meeting, when about a mile out of town I spotted a vehicle stopped at the side of the road, with the hood up.

          With the heavy flow or traffic for that time of evening, I passed the car and pulled over to the side of the road in front of them to see if I could help.  Leaving my own vehicle I walked back to the car with Montana license plates and found an upset African American lady, in a very nice dress, behind the wheel.

          “It looks like your night isn’t going according to your plans.” I offered to lighten the mood.  “Is there anything I can do to help?”

          She expressed her relief that I had stopped and stated, “Of all the cars that have passed me by over the past 20 or so minutes, only you and one other person have stopped and offered to help.”
          I asked her what she thought was wrong and she answered that she thought she had just run out of gas before being able to make it into town. She said the other man and his wife who had stopped by earlier had gone to get some for her, but she had been waiting for 15 minutes or so since they had left her.  I was the only other person to stop in that time.

          I asked what she had come down from Montana into Idaho for.  She stated that she had come down to speak at the Jehovah Witness’ Kingdom Hall that night.

          Just then the other middle aged man and his wife returned from town and pulled up behind her.  He was a Hispanic man and by the stickers on his truck I figured he was certainly a Catholic by religion.  He had driven into town, purchased a gas can, filled it at the station and returned to help.  We put the gas into her car, all the while as the Hispanic man refused her offers for any kind of reimbursement for his cost or efforts.

          We made sure her car got started and wished her well on her talk at her church.  The Hispanic man then thanked me for stopping to help (although I really hadn’t done anything) and then smiled and went on his way.

          As I got back into my own car and finished traveling to my own church meeting (now behind schedule and late), I couldn’t help but humbled and moved by the thoughts that came over me.  In those few moments a Mormon, a Jehovah’s Witness and a Catholic had intermingled on the side of a road, as a host of other people passed by on their own way.   And it made me wonder, what is the purpose of Religion, specifically Christianity but it could be any religion?

          Rexburg, Idaho is a predominantly, but not exclusively, Mormon community and in a way it saddened me that with all the people traveling by in the 30 minutes or more this woman had been broken down on the side of the road, that the only man who offered any real service or assistance was a Catholic.

          Now don’t get me wrong!  I am not saying anything against Catholics, Jehovah’s Witness’ or any other religion, or touting my own by what I am talking about here.  What I am talking about is that people of so many different religions, including my own, claim to be Christian, but probably fail to understand what that really means.

          We are all members of our various religious organizations and believe in Jesus Christ as our Savior and Redeemer… but the question is, what effect does that have on us and what is the meaning of it?

          Is our religion or church membership just a social organization to help us feel good about ourselves, or so that we can check our Sunday attendance off our “feel good” list each weekend, or does it actually affect some kind of change in us?

          One thing I know is that on that day, with everyone driving by (of what religious backgrounds I do not know) the one man who showed true Christian compassion, service and Christ-like behavior was a Catholic Hispanic man.

          Now that’s not to say that if we don’t stop to help everyone along our path that we are a bad person or not religious; in fact far from it.  Life demands us to make choices and we do have to work, provide for our own support and take care of personal needs and demands.  But what I talking about is the question of whether our religion actually changes us into something better than we are or were before?

          In my humble opinion, if a religion doesn’t inspire you to actually change your behavior on an ongoing basis into something more kind, loving, caring and willing to serve others… then either it isn’t much of a religion or you aren’t getting out of it what you should.

          The purpose of life is not to see “What’s in it for me?” or to see how many things we can acquire or how much wealth, fame or recognition we can receive.  Each and every one of us will have to leave all that behind when we die and pass on into the next realm beyond mortality.

          No, the purpose of life, which was created by God our loving Heavenly Father and His Son Jesus Christ, is to create an experience where we can learn (by our own practice and through our own agency) how to become like them.  And if our religion isn’t inspiring that kind of change and behavior in us, as individuals, then we may want to question what is the purpose of religion in our lives.

          As for me, as I thoughtfully proceeded to my church meeting that night, and over the several days since then, have been left to ponder the question and come to the realization, that everything good that has ever happened in my life and any measure of good I have achieved as a person I can directly relate to the gospel of Jesus Christ and my membership in my church.

          I am far from reaching the spiritual progress and goals for which I am striving, but thanks to Jesus Christ, there is a path before me and He has shown the way.  He is the way the truth and the life.  And I am grateful for a Jehovah’s Witness, a Catholic and everyone else from all walks of life who I meet each day for reminding me of it.