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Friday, December 30, 2016

BECOMING ONE WITH THE FORCE

BECOMING ONE WITH THE FORCE

With the recent release of the next movie (prequel) in the Star Wars franchise, Rogue One, along with the sudden unexpected death of actress Carrie Fisher, most known for her role as Princess Leia, I have seen many Memes, tributes and discussions about her “becoming one with the force.”




Now I don't have any idea what kind of person Carrie Fisher really was in her off-screen life, but it got me thinking about (as a Star Wars fan myself)“What does it really means to become One with the Force?” – At least in terms of real life application?

Here are some thoughts I came up with:

1. There really is a true "Force" that we can tap into.  But it's not what the Star Wars universe portrays it to be.


The only true source of "force" or power is "The Power of God."  To many who are non-religious such a power may seem as mysterious, science-fiction and foreign of a concept as the force is in the Star wars movies.  But to those who are willing to study its principles and apply them in their lives - It is a real power which truly does flow through us and affects everything around us.  But to learn how to recognize and use that power or force in our lives, we need to understand how it really works.

2. A basic key to understanding that power or force, comes from first realizing who we truly are.


We must recognize that we are first and foremost, children of a loving Heavenly Father.  We are far more than just an organized bunch of cellular clusters passing through a temporary existence.  We are eternal beings, children of God, who are on a temporary mortal journey in which we experience opposition, struggles, setbacks and challenges - which are opportunities for us to learn, grow, and to become through our own choice, more like the Divine Being from which we came.  This knowledge gives us the proper foundation and perspective in which to view the world around us and our place in it in its true frame of mind.

3. Because of that divine heritage, we must face the fact that there may be certain things in our lives which are out of order with the true spiritual nature of our existence.  Inner demons or sins, so to speak, which we must come to recognize and deal with if we are to progress beyond them and become something spiritually greater.


All of us carry some form of sins, imperfections within us.  Perhaps they are a result of our environment, being raised in a broken home, suffering from physical or emotional maladies. But likely most of our problems are the result of clinging to the darkness and sins that are within each of us.  If we truly want to have the power of God in our lives, we must honestly come to recognize it, confront it, and rid it out of our lives.  This can only happen through the process of true, heartfelt, honest and sincere REPENTANCE.

4. To accomplish this task of repentance and change, most of us need the assistance, advice and support of leaders, mentors and friends.




We tend to need that honest, outside guidance and influence to see beyond our own limited perspective and vision.  Speaking of friends - make sure you surround yourself with TRUE FRIENDS and NOT Accomplices.  An accomplice will go with you down the wrong path and may even be cheering you on in a destructive attitude or behavior, which will end up getting you into trouble in the end.

A true friend is someone who will be by your side, watching out for your best interest, and who isn't afraid to tell you what they really think you need to hear, or if your situation truly stinks like an old trash compactor, but will stand by you and help you through even the toughest situations, no matter what, until you can come out through the other side of it alright.



5. Life can be a real struggle and difficult battle.  Sometimes, in the midst of that fight, we need to pause and connect with the power or force from which we draw our strength.


This means that often, at different times of the day or throughout the week, we may need to stop with all the chaos of what is going on, and take the time to get down on our knees, meditate, pray, and regain the needed internal rest and composure that the daily grind and business of life tends to force out of us if we are not careful.

Prayer is one of the most direct means of putting ourselves into contact with God and His power on a regular basis.  This mindfulness and reflective state is so easily and often neglected, but is also the most simple and powerful way to bring the Forces of Good and Light back into our life if we take the time to do it regularly.

6. We must make the effort to get our of our comfort zone and put into practice spiritual teachings and truths we know in our lives.


Making these types of internal changes can be difficult, and indeed they are purposely designed to be difficult, so that they aren't just easy surface observances, but so that they affect deep and permanent changes in who we are and what we are capable of.

One sure thing is that God doesn't want us to be comfortable with where we currently are.   He is always pleased with the progress we make and the righteous path we are trying to walk, but He will also always show us other ways to improve, become closer to Him and His power and force in our lives.  So don't get discouraged if you are constantly able to see further areas of improvement in your life.  Just recognize that it is another opportunity for you to work at becoming more At One with His force in your life.  Accept the challenge, put in the work and consistent effort that is necessary.  The end "Jedi-like" result will always be worth it!

7. You must learn to act in Faith, not out of Fear.  Those who have seen "Rogue One" most likely remember when the blind Chirrut Imwe walks out into the midst of a bunch of Stroomtroopers, with nothing but his stick, while saying, "I fear nothing, for all is as the Force wills it."


Life itself is a walk of faith.  We are all spiritually blind to some degree, or at least go through life, "seeing through a glass darkly."  We must learn to trust in the knowledge that God loves us and has our best interest at heart.  We may not always know why the battles of life are raging around us, or what the ultimate outcome of those struggles will be, but with FAITH and TRUST in Him, we can learn to move forward with confidence and faith into that unknown future, without being limited by fear and doubts.

8. You don't have to be one of a select few of the higher Jedi order (or Priesthood leadership of the Church) in order to draw upon the powers of the Lord to be victorious in life's battles.


The Lord loves each and every one of His children, and will pour out His blessings to everyone who seeks to follow His ways, apply His Grace regularly, and ask for His assistance.  His promise is that He will always provide sufficient for our needs as we strive to become one with His will and purposes, whether we are of the Jedi order or simply an average person who trusts and relies upon Him.

9. There may not be Jedi temples of learning and training, but God has given us something even better - REAL temples of worship where we can go to learn things of a higher order, be endowed with real Power and learn how to better gain access to the forces of light and good that are available to us.


Perhaps the simplest and best way to understand what these temples are all about can be conveyed for the purposes of this post in the following short videos:




Temples are truly places of not only worship, but of learning how to better access the true powers of Heaven and Force for good in our lives.

10.  There is such a thing as a light saber - or at least a saber of light!  Let me explain with the following analogy:

Imagine the game of American football.  Players take the field dressed from head to toe in protective equipment - from the cleats on their feet, specialized padding all over their bodies, and even specially designed helmet on their heads.

Can you imagine being handed the ball during a football game, dressed only in a pair of flip-flops, shorts and a tee-shirt, and having any success of not getting injured while trying to run through a fully organized and suited up defense?!  It would be insane to consider such an attempt.

Yet consider that even when they are fully dressed in protective padding, the best and most successful ball carriers are still going to take some hard hits and devastating tackles through the course of the game.  That's not because they don't have skill, but just because the opposing forces in the game are also very well equipped and trained to stop you.

Now imagine if a skilled, and fully suited running back was headed down the field, but he was not only wearing his protective pads, BUT ALSO CARRYING A LIGHT-SABER!


Carrying such an awesome weapon would not only cause the defenders to hesitate in trying to tackle him, but would also allow the ball carrier to more easily slice and dice his was through whatever the opposition was throwing at him.

Now lets take this analogy into real-life spiritual terms.  We have all heard of "Putting on the Whole Armor of God" as found in Ephesians 6: 10-18.  But notice that in addition to all the pieces of protective armor the Lord is promising to provide us, He is also giving us an Offensive weapon, "The Sword of the Spirit."

This sword of light, or Light-Saber, is a truly magnificent and effective weapon, which if properly used, can help us navigate much more easily through the opposing forces of life.

Consider when the police encounter an armed criminal.  With weapons drawn, they issue the command, "drop your weapon!"  That is because they know that if they can disarm the person, they will be much safer and easier to handle.

The same goes true for us in a sense.  If the adversary can get us to become distracted in how we live, and through sin or neglect, get us to put down the sword of the Spirit, then he has much greater success as gaining control over us in our lives.  We must always be vigilant to live in a way so that the Spirit of God can be with us as a sword of truth and light to help guide us through the forces trying to keep us from reaching the goal line.

In summary, if we truly have the desire in our hearts to "Become One with the Force" or have as our mantra, "I am one with the Force, and the Force is with me."  Then we must live, act and progress in a pattern that allows us to be changed and become one with that Force and power of God, which truly does exist in all around us.

In fact, that relationship of achieving a state of "At-One-Ment" through the atonement is something they also desire to have with us, as the Lord stated in John 17: 21-23 when he prayed:

"That they may be one; as thou Father, are in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us... that they may be one, even as we are one.... I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one..."

MAY WE ALL BECOME ONE WITH THE FORCE, AND MAY THE FORCE BE WITH US, ALWAYS!


Sunday, December 25, 2016

A Father's View of Christmas

A Father's View of Christmas

On this day of Christmas, our thoughts and feelings of gratitude are drawn towards the birth of the babe in Bethlehem, even Jesus Christ, our Lord of Lords and King of Kings, whose humble birth in a meager stable forever changed the world.  And that is where the focus of our worship and gratitude should be guided.

But as a father of three sons myself, I often find myself pondering as Christmas approaches and comes to a completion each year, of what Joseph (or Mary for that matter) must have felt as they traveled along that long, dusty road towards Bethlehem on the days and night before his birth.

Surely, there must have been moments of uncertainty, insecurity, and wonderment as to how they would be able to raise the child who was soon to come to them.  Being able to relate to Joseph (even if perhaps in only some small way), I imagine he too must have felt unready for the task and responsibility of raising a son that was truly not his own.

Although my three children were all born of my own lineage, I also realize that they are sons of a Heavenly Father before they were mine to raise here on earth.

Why would a being of perfect righteousness, omniscience and power entrust the raising of his children to someone as imperfect and fallible as me?

But just like Joseph on those days, that Holy Night, and the weeks and years that followed, I move forward in my parental duties, doing the best I can to provide some meaningful insight to my children that will help them find and develop a meaningful relationship to their real Father.

At Christmas, among all the other things I consider, I also ponder about Joseph and what he experienced, and how he faithfully moved forward in his duties... and the example of how his Son turned out, gives me the motivation and hope that through His Son, my own sons also have a chance of turning out alright as well... despite my fatherly imperfections.

Merry Christmas!!!

Monday, December 19, 2016

CHRISTMAS EVERY DAY – The Bucket List Book

CHRISTMAS EVERY DAY – The Bucket List Book

Okay, so you’ve probably all heard the saying, “If you were on trial for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?”


As we go through this Christmas season, I think we would all recognize that part of what we love about this time of year, is all of the effort and extra lengths we go to in order to recognize and give to others.  These are simple things we may do throughout the year, but which are magnified during this Holiday season when we seem to be filled with a little bit more of a giving and charitable spirit.

I well remember the joy of getting presents as a young boy, and the happiness I felt.  I thought that nothing could be better than receiving all those gifts on Christmas morning.  But as I grew older and began raising children of my own, I realized that I felt much more joy and satisfaction in seeing the delight and excitement in my own children as the opened the gifts I was giving to them.  In truth, the joy of giving is much greater than the joy of receiving.



Why do you think that is?  Why is it that the satisfaction is so much more deep and meaningful in heartfelt giving, rather than receiving?

I think part of the answer lies in that fact, that when we give, we draw closer to the Ultimate Giver of All Good Gifts, even the Lord Jesus Christ, whose miraculous birth, exemplary life, boundless and timeless teachings, and infinite Atonement are the source of all good things of light and truth in our lives.

So as we emulate that same spirit of giving, (not because we are expecting anything in return, but just because we want to show our love to others and how much they mean to us), we come to know and recognize His great gifts to us in more deep and meaningful ways ourselves.

That is part of why I started writing this blog.  Initially, it began as a simple way to share some funny thoughts, stories from my childhood, or ponderings about life.  But as I found myself writing about my life, I began to realize more clearly how the Lord’s hand and guiding and protective influence was woven through everything I had done.  I began to see parallels between what was happening in my life and the grand and eternal truths of His gospel, not only as evidence of His existence, but also in how deeply and personally He cares about each and every one of us.  And as I began to recognize His hand more regularly in these blog postings, I was moved to share more of His message and truths with others… to pass along the gift so to speak.

And I can honestly say, that as I have done so, I have felt a deeper joy and happiness, just like I did when I was focused on the giving of gifts, instead of just receiving them.  That is one of the reasons I have never attached advertisements to my blog site or any of its posts.

Now for the bucket list part… and how does this all tie into Christmas Every Day?  Well, I have been a hobby writer for years now.  Actually I have written at least 5 full novel-length manuscripts, all of which are fictional but have an underlying spiritual or religious theme to them.  Most of them are sitting in various stages of rough draft or revision, with time and lack of attention relegating them to the back-burners of my life for some time now.

But just recently, within the last few weeks, I had the strong and sudden impression and prompting that I needed to review and submit on of my stories for actual publication, and that book is called “The Second Christmas”


So, I digitally dusted it off so to speak, made some review revisions, and then submitted it for publication.  As result, as of Dec. 15th, just 4 days ago, it is now listed and available for purchase on Amazon.com!

It is purposely written as a short novel, to allow its message to be provided at a more affordable cost, as well as to allow a broader scope of readers to experience its story. Whether you are an avid or occasional reader with less time to invest, this "short novel" format was intentional to allow more people the opportunity to experience its message or to be able to share it with others.

As I submitted it and heard back that it was ready for publication and sale, I honestly had no aspirations for making money or to receive any personal notice or recognition.  In fact, purposely didn’t include an author biography or anything like that.  My intent was simply to share the Gift of the message that the story contains, and I got down on my knees and told the Lord so and left it in His hands.

Since then, I have felt prompted to create a Facebook page and do some minor promotion to help spread that message through simple digital and social marketing means.  Again, not for any motivation than to share the message of the story.  And that is why I am writing this blog about it as well.  Not only to say that I can check it of my “Bucket List”, but also to have another means to share the story with others, in hopes that it might benefit for inspire them in some way, as any of my other blog posts may occasionally do.

It is a short story, with a bit of emotion wrapped into it, which follows the fictionally created lives of two actual characters from the Bible, who lived at the time of Jesus.  As the back book cover states:


I hope you will enjoy it yourself as well as want to share its message of Christ's love with others. It is a message not only for Christmas, but applicable for every day of the year.

If you are interested in checking it out, please go to: The Second Christmas by Eric Andreasen


If you are moved by or like the story, then please share it with others and give it a positive rating on the Amazon site - (pass the gift along and share it with others).  For me, it is all about nothing more than sharing the Gift that is Jesus Christ, and all that He has to offer us in the way of Peace, Joy and Happiness in this life, and unimaginable blessings in the life yet to come!

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Faith Precedes the Miracle

Faith Precedes the Miracle

“Today was one of the greatest days of my mission!  I learned a great lesson about the power of prayer and fasting.  We witnessed a Miracle!”
These were the words written in my journal entry dated Sept. 30, 1987, while serving as a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in Los Angeles, California.

(I need to further clarify these remarks and writings today, with the statement that by sharing them, I am absolutely and in no way whatsoever seeking to promote myself of make any claim that I am anything special.  I am sharing these thoughts at the request of my youngest son, Mason, who is currently serving as a missionary for the Church in Wisconsin, and who finds himself in a similar situation as I was all those years ago.  But I feel comfortable sharing them at the same time, because I am more than happy to testify and share the love of God and His absolute power to provide divine miracles in our behalf when it is according to His will)

At the time I wrote these remarks, I was nearing the last few months of my missionary labors, and was serving in a position in the mission offices which were located on the temple ground behind the historic Los Angeles Temple.


As a result of our office assignment, my companion and I lived in the mission home apartments, and our days were usually filled during business hours fulfilling various duties and office tasks, coordinating with other missionaries throughout the mission, assisting the Mission President as he needed, and so forth.  This didn’t leave us much time for actual missionary proselyting, except for a few random evenings and weekends.
Me at my office desk in fall of 1987
Despite this rather non-missionary schedule, we were still assigned to cover 3 local congregations:  The Wilshire Ward (which included Beverly Hills and Bel Air), a small Spanish branch, and the UCLA student ward.

At the end of August, and going into the start of September that year, our mission president, the late Elmo B. Shirts, made a spiritual challenge to all the missionaries throughout the entire mission – That if we would sincerely and prayerfully fast, that we would receive inspiration as to what number of convert baptisms we should set as a goal for the month of September.  And moved upon by the Spirit of the Holy Ghost, and as his authorized servant, he promised us that if we then were strictly diligent to the mission rules, and did everything that we could possibly do to be obedient and faithful, that the Lord would fulfill helping us meet that baptismal goal.

My companion, Elder David Kono and I took that challenge to heart.  We fasted and prayed individually and without discussing it ahead of time, we both felt prompted with the same number to set as our goal for the number of baptisms we would achieve that month.  Considering our limited ability to go out searching for investigators, we truly were at the mercy of the Lord and the local members to provide us contacts of people we could begin teaching.  And although we had previously been blessed with success some occasional people to teach and who had made the spiritual journey to the waters of baptism… the goal we felt prompted to set seemed daunting and almost out of reach.

Nevertheless, being young and full of commitment, and probably because we were just too naïve to realize that logically, our goal was impossible… we moved ahead in faith.  We made our goal a focus of our thoughts and prayers.  We decided to fast each and every Sunday throughout the month, not just for the sake of our goal, but so that we would be inspired to know how to truly help anyone who might be seeking for the truth about the Lord Jesus Christ.  We talked and discussed ways we could be more faithful and diligent in keeping the mission rules, and sought to be as obedient as possible to the guidance and promptings of the Spirit.

As the month progressed, we were blessed to be introduced by some local members, to some wonderful people to add to our teaching pool.  Their hearts were open to the message we had to share, and they began to progress in their desires to know Jesus Christ better.  And remarkably, as the weeks passed by, several of them had entered the waters of baptism and things were lining up perfectly for us to reach our goal.  When a wonderful lady named Denise Knight entered the waters of baptism on Thursday, September 24th, we were just one person away from reaching our goal, and remarkably we had our final investigator scheduled to be baptized just a few days later, on Saturday, the 26th.  We were simply ecstatic!

Then, on Friday evening, as we were talking to the lady who was scheduled to be baptized on Saturday, she informed us that she was suddenly no longer interested in being baptized, and wanted to just take a break from things for a while and asked that we not contact her anymore.

Suddenly, thoughts of meeting our goal were snatched away from us.  With absolutely no one else in our active teaching pool, we were at a loss of what to do.  To be honest, most of Saturday came and went with spiritual justifications rattling around in my head.  “Well, at least we came close.”  “Well, I guess we did what we could, and it just wasn’t meant to be.” …and so forth.

Then, as Saturday evening approached, my companion and I were reading the scriptures and talking together and the thought came to us, “Do you really believe that the God you proclaim to worship and serve is a God of miracles?”  We began discussing all of the miraculous events portrayed in the scriptures, which simply couldn’t be rationally explained away, and came to the conclusion that we had to either believe such things were true and that God really did have power to perform miracles… or that we didn’t believe in such things.

We could have easily rationalized, as so many of us often do, that although we believe in such things… we just don’t believe that happen in our day, or at least not to us personally.  But instead, we came to the faithful conclusion that if God could create worlds and move mountains and part seas… then surely if He desired to do so, He could also provide us the miracle of finding a new investigator with only a few days left in the month, and that person would be ready and prepared to be baptized.
Like I said previously… you can call it being naïve, illogical or whatever you want… but in that moment, in our simple, imperfect, but committed missionary hearts, it was FAITH.  And not a faith in ourselves or that we had actually done anything worthy of thinking we could command God to do anything against His will in our behalf… but unwavering faith in HIM, and His all-powerful ability to provide miracles as He saw fit.

So we dropped to our knees, and began fasting yet again.  Fasting in gratitude for all the blessings He has provided us.  Fasting in praise that we were blessed to be able to serve Him in the capacity of missionaries.  Fasting that His will would be done, and not ours… but that if it was actually His will, that He would perhaps see fit to provide someone who was ready to accept Him and His gospel message.

Journal Entry, Sunday, Sept. 27, 1987 - “Today was one of the most exciting yet stressful days of my mission.  It all began yesterday when we began a special fast so that we could perhaps accomplish our goal of baptisms for this month.  We didn’t give up faith in the Lord, even though it is so late in the month and we had no one ready.  We knew that He would bless us if we remained faithful.”

Later that morning, as we were attending the Sunday School class at the UCLA student ward, the class dismissed and everyone began filtering out of the room.  But there in the back of the room, shifting nervously side to side on her feet, was a girl we had never met before.  My companion and I looked at each other and instantly knew that she was “the one”.

We introduced ourselves and she said her name was Sherri, and before we could even ask her if she was interesting in hearing more about the Church and the gospel of Jesus Christ, she asked us if we could teach her so she could be baptized!

We both just about fell over on the floor in shock, and perhaps I would have, except that the Spirit overcame me and I felt overjoyed with gratitude – gratitude for the love of the Savior in miraculously hearing and answering our fasting and prayers, as well as gratitude for this young woman’s sincere desire to make a commitment to follow Christ by being baptized a member of the Church.

She was eager to learn, so we arranged to meet with her that same afternoon in the company of some other members of the ward congregation.  She soaked everything up like a sponge and informed us that she had a boyfriend who was a member of the Church already, and a returned missionary, who was away attending BYU on a baseball scholarship.  He had given her a Book of Mormon before he left, and she had read it, studied it, and prayed about it and felt she should be baptized as soon as possible.  She was nothing short of the miracle we had been praying for.

She agreed to be baptized that week!  She was so excited she wanted to call her boyfriend to share her good news with him.  He was already a member of the Church, and had served a mission himself, and although he was very happy about her decision, he asked if she would be willing to wait for a few more weeks until October 11th, so that he could come back to California and perform her baptism.  She felt this would be a good idea and so plans were made to that effect.  We were personally heartbroken, but supportive of her desires above our own.  (Obviously we had mentioned nothing to her of our prayerfully set goal or her supposed role in it, as we felt such a thing would be totally inappropriate to discuss with her in her own personal progress).

She left that evening happy about her decision, and we were happy for her, but once again, the miracle seemed to have been snatched from our grasp.  We once again sulked around for a few minutes, with rationalizing statements and “nearly made it” pats on the back… but then once again the question came silently to our minds, “Do you really believe that the God you proclaim to worship and serve is a God of miracles?”

Humbled and chastened by our doubts, we once again talked together and decided that if God miraculously could provide someone in one day, like he had earlier, then why couldn’t He provide someone else who was ready the next day!  Once again we were on our knees and began a new fast yet again, thanking the Lord for His tender mercies by guiding Sherri into our path, and asking and literally completely trusting, that if it was His desire to do so, He could do it again!

We got ready for bed that night, and I finished my journal entry for that day with the following, “I know that the will of the Lord will be done in the end if we have faith and follow his counsel and promptings.  No one could ever convince me that it wasn’t the hand of the Lord that made it all possible.  Who else could do such a great and yet simple thing in the way it all came about.  No one can tell me it was a coincidence, for I know that it was a Godly answer to our sincere prayers and fasting!  I glorify His name for it!  In the end I pray that His will be fulfilled and that it will work out best for all.”

Despite it all, I slept well that night, confident that all would be right.

Monday, September 28th, came and went full of our normal office labors and duties and nothing out of the ordinary happened.  But I still felt calm and assured that all would work out for the best, as we continued our fast throughout that day.  The same was true all throughout Tuesday the 29th, with no new contacts or investigators.  Just a normalcy, but filled with peace and confidence that God’s will, not ours, would be done.

Finally, we come back to the beginning of this story, with the journal entry I began with in this writing.

As we were going about our early morning labors on Wednesday, Sept. 30th, the final day of the month, we received a phone call.  It was Sherri, the girl we had met on Sunday.  (Now you must remember that she knew absolutely nothing about our goal, prayers or fasting).  She said, “I have wrestled with the Spirit all night long!  I don’t know why, but I have become completely convinced that I should not wait even another day, but that it is the Lord’s will that I should be baptized today!  I called my boyfriend and told him what has happened and he told me that if that is what the Lord was telling me, then I should do it.”

Our hearts soared with joy and brimmed over with gratitude to the Lord for His miracle.  We had no idea how it would come, but had fully believed and trusted that if it was His will it would happen, and He delivered!  We spent the rest of the day happily scrambling around to get the necessary interviews completed, the font scheduled and a meeting put together.

At 8:30 that night, just a few hours before the end of the month, I was privileged to enter the waters of baptism with Sherri Nicole Gottlieb, and baptized her.  I still remember as I lifted her out of the water she had the most wonderful smile and such a happy, peaceful look on her face.

Me, Sherri Gottlieb, and my companion Elder David Kono in front of the baptismal font on Sept. 30th, 1987

  Soon after, my companion Elder Kono, confirmed her a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.  IT WAS A MIRACLE!

My journal entry, with which we began at the start, concluded with these words, “I no longer doubt that the Lord can deliver unto us the righteous desires of our hearts if we but have faith!  I give all the glory to Him for bringing this miracle to pass and acknowledge His hand in every good thing I do!  I am grateful for His Spirit which has led and guided me each day and changed my life, little by little, for the better!  I only pray that I can continue to humbly learn and grow and endure to the end!”

Again, I want to say that in sharing this remembrance with you, I am not claiming that my experience was any more unique or special, than any of the countless miracles, both great and small, that God bestows upon His children throughout the world each day.  But I share it as a witness that God indeed truly does love us, and desires to bless us, even through miraculous ways far beyond coincidence or chance!

A true miracle, can never be forced and will never happen because of our own desires.  It will only happen if it is God’s will and if our will is in alignment with His.

In reality, miracles have very little to do with our paltry offerings of faith, and literally everything to do with His love and tender mercies in our behalf, but there is a vital reason why we must have Faith to unlock those miracles in our life – and that is not because He has to prove his power and love to us, but that it is through our Faith in Him that we become convinced of His miraculous love and power in our behalf.  Faith does nothing to change God, who is already perfect in every way, but Faith has the power to change us because of our belief in Him.

And that change in our hearts to trust in Him, His timing, His will and His purposes and not our own, through Faith in Him and His love, is perhaps the greatest miracle of all.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

DIRTY DISHES & A LESSON IN GRATITUDE

DIRTY DISHES & A LESSON IN GRATITUDE

As Thanksgiving approaches, I couldn’t help but reflect back on two elderly women I met while working as a home health physical therapist a few years ago.  These two women from neighboring cities greatly altered my view of what it really means to be grateful for what you have, no matter what your circumstances.

One woman had suffered from years of severe, debilitating arthritis throughout her body, for which she had undergone more joint and spinal surgeries than she could count.  On top of that, she was also suffering from a type of cancer and had just concluded a vicious round of chemotherapy right before I was called in to assist her.  As I reviewed her medical file before going to see her for the first time, I expected to encounter a downtrodden and emotionally spent soul.  But to my shock and amazement, I instead discovered a woman who wore a constant jubilant smile, and literally exuded joy and happiness from her presence.

As I began to visit with her and assess her physical condition, which was every bit as worn down as her medical history indicated it would be, I couldn’t help but finally ask her, “How is it that you are able to stay so happy and positive considering all you have been through and are still suffering?”

Joyful tears came to her eyes, and it took her a moment to compose herself before she answered, motioning to all the family pictures which literally lined the walls of her home, “Just look at all of this family and posterity I have. Some of them I haven’t seen in quite some time because they live far away, and (with a teasing wink in her eye) some I see more often than I would like, but I have been blessed to have all of these wonderful souls be a part of my existence, and because of my faith in Jesus Christ and his great plan of salvation, I know that I will have all of them as a part of my existence through eternity as well.  Isn’t that the most joyous thing you have ever heard?  How could I be sad, knowing that even after all I have been through, that I can have my family and loved ones forever?”

I was deeply humbled by her gratitude for the Lord, and despite all she had suffered, and continued to suffer, that she refused to see anything but the blessings of family and loved ones in her life.  Her vision of faith greatly inspired me and helped me realize how many things I took for granted far too often in my own life.  My visits with her are cherished memories and lessons in optimism.

The second woman also suffered some longstanding debility from a previous stroke, as well as other medical conditions.  When I first met her and entered her house, I could feel a definite spirit to her home.  I couldn’t really define it, but it was palpable.  We visited for a few minutes and while I was providing some treatment with her, I asked about her life, how long she had lived there, and so forth.

She told me that she had 7 children all fairly close together, one of them severely crippled, and then unexpectedly, her husband had passed away, leaving her to raise those 7 children, the oldest of which was 11 and the youngest only about 10 months old.  Less than 6 months later her crippled child also passed away, and she thought she would never recover.  But the night after her child’s funeral she had a very spiritual experience (which is far too personal and sacred to discuss in this informal setting) but she said it forever changed her perspective.

She then told me, “All those tough years that followed, trying to scrape by a living and raise my other remaining 6 children, I went to bed every night and thanked the Lord for dirty laundry and dirty dishes!”

I kind of laughed at this statement, but that was only because I didn’t understand its meaning.  She went on to explain, “I praised the Lord every time I washed dirty dishes because that meant that my children had food to eat that day.  And every time I hand washed the dirty laundry, I thanked the Lord that my children had clothes to wear.  The Lord took care of me, and always provided sufficient for our needs.  We never had much, but we never went without.”

Once again, I was humbled by how often I had taken so many simple things for granted in my life.  This woman had endured through trials I would never know, and yet, had seen only God’s hand blessing her and her family through their meager existence.

What these two women taught me through their joyful, living examples, was what President Russell M. Nelson recently shared in the October 2016 General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, when he said, “Life is filled with detours and dead ends, trials and challenges of every kind. Each of us has likely had times when distress, anguish, and despair almost consumed us.  Yet we are here to have joy…  My dear brothers and sisters, the joy we feel has little to do with the circumstances of our lives and everything to do with the focus of our lives… (Because of) Jesus Christ and His gospel, we can feel joy regardless of what is happening – or not happening – in our lives.  Joy comes from and because of Him.  He is the source of all joy.”

Such words ring as resounding and uplifting truth to our ears, but how often do we hear such wisdom, and fail to apply it in our own lives and circumstances?  What these two women showed me by their living examples, is that true joy and happiness, and deep abiding gratitude, CAN be found and truly experienced as a part of any reality IF we focus on the source of joy in our lives, rather than be distracted by all the trivial matters which otherwise weigh us down and make us feel like victims of our circumstances.

So at this time of Thanksgiving, may we lift our gaze upward, and not just speak the words of thanksgiving for a day, and then revert back to our prior lives, but may our hearts truly feel that gratitude for all of our countless blessings, and our eyes be changed to see all that we truly have to be thankful for!

HAPPY THANKSGIVING!

Sunday, November 20, 2016

PAYDAY & A RAISE

PAYDAY & A RAISE

I remember back many years ago, when as a young, and still fairly new physical therapist, I started a new job.  It just so happened that because of when I started this job, and how that date fell into my employers pay cycle, that I had to work for almost a full month before my first paycheck came.

As a young father with 2 children and my wife expecting our third, going that long between paychecks put more than a bit of a strain on us financially.  That combined with all the stress of trying to learn the new systems, facilities, procedures and responsibilities at my new job, gradually took its toll.  Although I was doing my best to be a good employee and an inspiring therapist to the clients I was working with each day, I have to admit that as the end of that not-yet-paid 4 week cycle came around, I began to wonder if I had made a mistake.  Was I ever going to get paid at all?

When that first payday finally rolled around, my employer called me into his office for an interview.  As he handed me that first check, he thanked me for the good job I had been doing.  He stated that some of the other staff in the facility had mentioned good things about me and were happy I was there.  He also took a few minutes to offer some kind and encouraging suggestions of how I could continue to improve as I became gradually more familiar with everything in the charting and billing systems, and in meeting the insurance requirements but also expressed his confidence in my ability to continue to excel in my performance.

He closed by thanking me for being a part of the therapy team there, and as he stood to shake my hand, he smiled and looked me in the eye and said, “And because you have started out so well and I can tell you are doing your best, even though you’ve just started with us, I also want to pretend like it’s a new job offer and give you a small raise as a token of my appreciation for your efforts, which are so needed in our organization.”

Wow!!!  In just an instant I had gone from a somewhat worn out, frustrated employee, to feeling full of life and rejuvenation!  I went on to work many years at that establishment, and felt a loyalty and commitment to them far beyond any previous place I had ever worked to that point in time.

I happened to reflect on that memory this Sunday afternoon, and I realized that initial employment situation is similar in many ways to my life each week.

Each Monday morning I set out with the intention of being a good person, the best employee I can at work, wanting to be a better husband to my wife and a better father to my children.  I want to be full of kind thoughts, and not be judgmental or frustrated with others around me.  I seek to be kind and helpful to those I come in contact with, and perhaps be a bit quicker to pick up on things without having to learn the hard way.

But alas, each day and week seems to take its toll, and are soon littered with faults, mistakes and frustrations along the way.  No matter how hard I try, I can never quite measure up to the perfection in achieving the goals I have set for myself, and by the time Sunday morning rolls around, I still carry many of the wounds I have inflicted upon myself and others, and sometimes wonder if it was all worth it.

But then a remarkable thing happens when I go to Church.  In our weekly congregational meeting, the simple yet sacred ordinance of the Sacrament is blessed and offered by designated priesthood authorities.

It is a time of personal reflection with my Savior about how the week has gone as I partake of those emblems of His atoning sacrifice.  I ponder on the many faults I still carry in my soul, mixed with the desires I have to be more a Christ like and good person.

And I find it is much like sitting with my old boss at that first meeting.  The Lord, through the tender mercies of His Spirit, offers praise for my feeble efforts, along with suggestions of how I can continue to improve.  His love is present to let me know that He is pleased with my being there as a part of His team, and then, despite my many shortcomings and failures, He offers blessings for my imperfect efforts and He even offers me a spiritual raise by wiping my slate completely clean and letting me start anew once again.  He lets me know that it is worth the effort, to keep trying again in the coming week, and that if I will continue to do my best for Him and those around me that He will always be willing to stay committed to me and always wants to have me as part of His organization.

It may seem like such a small and simple thing, which can be so easily overlooked and forgotten about, much like I had forgotten getting that first paycheck and raise at work all those many years ago.  But if I constantly look forward to that weekly “job performance” review and interview, then the pay is always much more than I deserve, and the spiritual raise always comes, every time, without fail.  And it is available to every single one of us each and every week if we are willing, eager and longingly seek for that spiritual interview and renewal.

In reality, these moments of spiritual cleansing, renewal and raising have so very little to do with the adequacy of our efforts, and literally EVERYTHING to do with His vast love for us and His desire for us to succeed.

But if those are the remarkably generous terms of our employment contract with Him… well, I am willing to keep that job for the rest of my life and the eternities beyond.

Happy Sabbath Everyone!  And I hope we never tire or make commonplace the sacred ordinance of the Sacrament and what that really means to each and every one of us!

Friday, November 11, 2016

Coached for Life

Coached for Life
In the middle of a business meeting today, some comments brought to memory and took me back to my glory days on the football gridiron.  I previously made mention of another important lesson I learned while playing high school football in a different post, The Triumph of Defeat, but this message is about something altogether different.

Today, my message is about my relationship with a man who helped shape my life in countless ways, and who will always be a legend in my mind - My former High School football coach.

Football took me on a journey, to say the least.  When I first started playing grid-kid football in the 4th and 5th grade, I actually played Quarterback and linebacker.
4th Grade, First year playing football

That might come as a surprise to some, but in one game in 5th grade while playing for a team in rural Menan, Idaho, I was the only player to score any points in the entire game… for either team, in what ended up being a 32-0 win.
5th grade football picture (with my dog photobombing)
After moving to the Rexburg area, I played my 6th-8th grade years playing fullback and linebacker.
7th Grade football team - many of these guys played with me all the way through high school

But, as sometimes happens, puberty kicked in, combined with a terrible bout of Bronchitis which rendered me sedentary for several months and caused me to miss my sophomore year due to transitory Asthma. As a result, going into my junior year I found that I had unexpectedly grown myself into an offensive lineman.

Our head coach at Madison High School was Preston Haley, and coincidentally, he was also the offensive and defensive line coach, which meant that during positional drills in practice each day, I spent a good amount of time under his watchful and demanding tutelage.

Each afternoon brought a gauntlet of arduous drills: driving a heavy blocking sled until our legs felt like jello, foot and hand movement coordination exercises, mano-a-mano gladiator blocking battles, and countless other calisthenics which I felt sure Coach Haley had conjured up for us while studying from some ancient medieval torture manuals.

As happens with most teenagers still trying to find out who they actually are and what is really going on in life, I was probably pretty self-centered and overly self-conscious. So whenever Coach Haley called me out for a lackluster effort or a missed blocking assignment, I wondered if perhaps he had it out for me.

During one particular game, while playing a bigger school from a division above our own, I had the assignment as the left guard, to pull around the right end on a designed reverse play. The play worked perfectly, and as I pulled around into the open field with the receiver close behind me running up the sideline, there was only one defender who hadn’t fallen for the fake.  All I had to do was block or interfere with the smaller defensive back enough to allow our speedy receiver to sprint past towards what was a certain touchdown.

But as I planted my cleat in the wet turf to make the block, I slipped a bit and stumbled at the defenders knees, allowing him to recover enough to make the tackle.  As I pushed up from grass, already feeling miserable for missing the block, I looked up at our sideline only a few feet away, and to my horror, was right at the feet of a clearly frustrated Coach Haley!

“You’ve got to make that block!” He bellowed.

To say I was embarrassed would be an understatement.  I felt as if I had let not only the entire team down, but also all of the fans who had come to watch the game.  Luckily, we went on to win that game.  But the next Monday in practice, Coach Haley still remembered.

During positional drills he set up that play and made me run that pulling blocking assignment at least a dozen times in a row until both he and I were convinced that I would never miss that block again.

It was during times like that, as an insecure teenager, that I sometimes wondered why I was playing football.  Why was I subjecting myself to the grueling practices?  Why was it really so important to be able to perform the blocking sequence of “Step. Explode. Drive!” relentlessly over and over again?  When I woke up in the mornings only to discover new bruises and deep aching muscles that I never knew existed, was it really all worth it?

Sometimes I wondered about such things and questioned my commitment during those dog days of practice.  But all of the sweat, blood and tears, along with the tough, demanding and ever-present gaze of Coach Haley lead to one thing… Winning!

During the 4 years from 9th – 12th grade, my class of football athletes only lost one game and won 3 consecutive State Championships.
1984 State Championship Team - (So many good memories with the men in this picture)

Coach Haley demanded intense effort and execution each and every day at practice, and sometimes, as in my case, we didn’t always appreciate it in the heat of the moment.  But when game time came around, and we were dominating our opponents in front of cheering fans in the stands, the thrill and sweet taste of victory swallowed up all the pain of the practice fields.

The timeless lessons about life which Coach Haley invested countless hours ingraining into a scrappy bunch of teenagers have surely rippled out throughout the lives of every young man he interacted with.  What could have easily been mistaken for harsh, judgmental correction, was actually motivated by a desire to instill into a bunch of impressionable adolescents a vastly important lesson… To improve and achieve success, it takes effort… consistent, persistent and refining effort over and over again.  But also the realization that the effort is worth it!

Winning on the football gridiron, at your job, or within the walls of your home with your family all take effort.  Surely we will make mistakes and occasionally “miss an important blocking assignment” along the way.  But that doesn’t mean that you are going to be benched, or that you can’t pick yourself back up, dust yourself off, and try again, and again, and again until you get it right.  It just takes effort and a willingness to receive some coaching, and give it your all.

What Preston Haley helped me realize is that having someone around who cares enough to correct you when you make a mistake is important.  It might feel a bit awkward or uneasy at the time, but most people around us actually want us to succeed and be a winner in life.  So we need to take corrective advice and suggestions from our parents, friends, co-workers, etc… for what they are - An opportunity to improve and become better, so we aren’t doomed to repeat those same mistakes over and over again.

As hard as those embarrassing and challenging moments were in the moment, they helped shape me into the man I am today.  Instead of hating Coach Haley for his “tough love”, we learned from, deeply respected and were willing to walk through fire for him and strive to improve and become better… and that is what made him and us all winners!
Newspaper clipping of us celebrating our State Championship victory
(that's me yelling right behind #32 & #75, my good friends Troy Hastings and Rod Jones, and my future brother-in-law Derek Jensen is #45 on the far left)
And that is the way our relationship may often feel with our Heavenly Father.  Although He has a profound love and compassion for us, He also desires us to improve and become better in every way of life… and sometimes that means asking more of us.  To become more kind and forgiving, even when it is hard.  To have to work, struggle and reach to find the spiritual and temporal answers we seek.  It’s not because He doesn’t want to give us those blessings, but because He wants us to be changed in the process.  And that process takes practice and repetition to ingrain those reactions into the very fiber of our souls, so that when those “game time” moments in life come, we will be able to rise to the occasion and be victorious because of the opportunities He has already provided us to practice those skills in our daily lives.

So here is a shout out to all the amazing “Coaches” in our lives, who care enough to help us become better!  We are ALL worth the effort!
Coach Haley, Myself, and a former teammate, Derek Jensen, who became my brother-in-law at a football game in 2015 in which Coach Haley was honored during the halftime ceremony.  He will always be a legend in my mind!
(His dear wife Mary is standing behind us in the background)