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Sunday, October 30, 2016

Enveloped and Embraced

Enveloped and Embraced

A few days ago, I happened to have a few days off work, and because of some car trouble, we weren’t able to make a long road trip to visit some of our kids for the weekend.  But after a long hard day of doing some much needed fall clean-up work in the yard, my wife came up with the brilliant idea that at least we could take a shorter trip to a nearby Hot Springs for a relaxing time together.

It was cool and rainy, and after a long, hard day of yard work the prior day, a warm soak in a mineral hot springs seemed just like the ticket to recovery.  It was still early in the morning when we arrived, and it wasn’t very crowded yet, so I decided to just find a remote area of one of the soaking pools to just relax and meditate for a few minutes.

As I closed my eyes, and tried to clear my mind of my worries, it soon became apparent that there was more noise and distractions than I had anticipated:  The pattering of the rain on the canopy above me, and on the open water nearby, splashes and conversations of other visitors in other areas of the pools, cars and semi-trucks rumbling by on the highway nearby, and countless other interferences were still bombarding my senses.  I momentarily felt myself wishing I just had the place all to myself for a period of time.

In this temporary state of diversion, while focusing on trying to block out everything around me, the profound thought suddenly hit me, that despite all of these commotions, I had almost neglected to realize that I was still completely surrounded by the warm, enveloping embrace of the hot springs.

Taking a moment to instead concentrate on how wonderfully those mineral waters felt, I quickly felt the tension and stress begin to leave me.  And when I opened my eyes, instead of seeing or noticing all of the distractions, I noticed how peaceful my surrounding actually were:  The steam rising gently upward through the cool downfall of rain, the beautiful landscaping of the rocks and bushes around me.

The mountain hillsides rising upward with a full display of fall colors.

And most importantly, my wonderful wife was right there beside me to enjoy the experience with me!

In this life, ALL of it is part of the experience.  There are countless interruptions, noises and the rainy days of life that threaten to distract and disrupt us from the plans we may have for ourselves.  And if we focus solely on those things, then we will come to think that our experience is one of only frustration.

But through all of these experiences, if we pause to notice it, there is actually the constant, warm and loving embrace of Heaven, which literally surrounds us at all times.

It is simply just always there whether we recognize it or not.  But when we shift our perspective to focus upon that enveloping embrace, we begin instead to see the beauty of all that surrounds us.

And that perspective and realization makes all the difference in what we experience!

“Wherever we are in life, there are times when all of us have challenges and struggles. Although they are different for each, they are common to all.  …Heavenly Father loves you—each of you. That love never changes. It is not influenced by your appearance, by your possessions, or by the amount of money you have in your bank account. It is not changed by your talents and abilities. It is simply there. It is there for you when you are sad or happy, discouraged or hopeful. God’s love is there for you whether or not you feel you deserve love. It is simply always there.” – President Thomas S. Monson

Thursday, October 13, 2016

The Progression of Reality

The Progression of Reality

I felt prompted today to write of and experience I had in the Rexburg, Idaho temple sometime in the fall of 2015.

As I usually try to do, I had been preparing myself throughout the day prior to attending, so as to invite the Spirit prayerfully into my heart and be open to learn and be instructed during my time in the temple.  I also arrived early before the session, so I could have time to sit in the chapel area and pray and prepare myself before the session started.

As myself and the other patrons were eventually led by the officiators into the first room, representing the world in which we now live, I found myself seated next to a young man who appeared to be in his early to mid-20s, most likely a college student from BYU-Idaho.  He was trim, with blond hair and glasses, but I noticed almost immediately that he was chewing some bubble gum.  As the lights dimmed and the movie presentation began, he began to chew on his gum more vigorously, and also began quietly, but consistently blowing small bubbles of gum, then pull the bubble of gum back into his mouth with a muffled “pop” and then begin earnestly chewing and repeating the process over again.  As the session progressed, he also began to nervously bounce his foot up and down, first one leg, then another.

I have to admit, that I was quite distracted throughout the session, and as our time in the first room progressed, I found myself getting annoyed, frustrated and focused upon him rather than paying attention to what was being taught.  But I didn’t say anything, not wanting to add to any of the distraction for the other patrons, but in my heart I was passing judgment on his behaviors as being inappropriate for the environment of the temple.  After all, his behaviors were detracting and preventing me from having the temple experience I was personally seeking after.

As the ordinance progressed the time approached for us to move to the next room, and while walking into the brighter and lighter space, I determined that I was going to try to quit paying attention to the young man, and instead try to more fully focus on the ordinance itself.  After all, I had been preparing myself all day to come to the temple, not only to do some ordinance work for one of my ancestors, but to also be instructed by the Lord with what He wanted me to learn that day.  The young man sat next to me, and his behaviors still continued, but I was more successful in feeling the Spirit as I blocked out much of the distraction and focused on the sacredness of the experience and looking forward to progressing towards what was still to come.

Later, once in the Celestial room, representative of passing into Heaven, I breathed a sigh of relief and finally put all of my previous thoughts and frustrations aside and spent a few moments in prayer, asking the Lord to open my eyes and help me be open to anything He might want to teach me.  After a few moments I felt prompted to open my eyes.

As I looked up, I almost instantly noticed the fidgeting young man seated a short way across the room.  His eyes were closed, his feet planted on the floor evenly in front of him, his back upright but his head bowed.  His hands were placed out on top of his thighs but struggled to stay still as they grasped and then released the fabric of his pants.  But it was the agony on his face that struck me the most.  His features were contorted in frustration, and as my eyes and heart were suddenly opened by the Spirit, I realized how hard he was fighting just to try to stay still and pray… but his body would not let him do so.

My heart instantly became changed as I realized for the first time, that this young man must suffer from some type of disorder that made it almost impossible for him to hold still.  I considered that with such a condition, what a monumental effort of faith it must take to have to force yourself to sit in one place for nearly two hours of an endowment session.  Now, having endured through it all, he simply wanted to find a few moments of relief in the Celestial room, and be able to pray in peace and stillness to his Heavenly Father… but it was a bitter fight against his fidgeting flesh to do so.

My heart reach out towards this young man and up towards heaven in his behalf.  Now, rather than judgement, I had a glimpse of understanding and my soul welled up instead with compassion and pleading for him that he could find a least a few moments of the stillness and peace he so desperately sought after in this holy place.

Looking around the room, I quickly noticed other patrons in prayer and contemplation.  One man sat off in the corner, bent forward with his elbows upon his knees and his hands clasped earnestly together.  His brow was knit with concern and his mouth silently opened and closed in a fervent and heartfelt prayer that only Heaven could hear.  I pondered over who he might be praying for with such energy and conviction, perhaps a wayward prodigal child?  Or maybe a loved one suffering from a significant health condition?  Perhaps a wife who was struggling with her testimony?  I did not know, but it was evident that his emotions were of such depth that certainly a loving Heavenly Father could not help but hear and understand the feelings of this man’s soul.

With my eyes opened in such a manner, I realized that all the patrons in the room were quietly facing their own personal situations, seeking for answers, peace and comfort that could not be found in the world outside.  But in faith, they were all here with me.  I closed my eyes and the nature of my prayer changed, not to seeking that the Lord would answer my own selfish, personal prayers and petitions, but that He would accept some small measure of my faith and instead grant the struggling souls of those around me with the desires that they were righteously seeking for.

Suddenly, the Spirit shifted my focus from the others back to myself, and I realized that what I had come seeking in my own journey to the temple had been provided and answered all along.  I had come to seek for the further light and understanding that the Lord wanted me to know… and it had been granted.

In the Telestial environment, representative of the world in which we live, I had been easily distracted by the things around me, and was quick to pass judgement and lose focus on the things of greater importance.  My eyes and understanding were veiled to some degree and with my attention diverted away from the Lord, I had passed through much of the experience missing what was being taught by ordinance itself.  I was too concerned and judgmental about others, who seemed to be interfering with what I thought should be happening for my own benefit.

As I shifting my focus more towards the Lord and less on the temporal distractions around me, I was led into a room of more light and taught about a higher degree of consecration and commitment to do God’s will, and those things which had bothered me before were of far less importance to what I was experiencing previously.

Finally, advancing to a Celestial environment, my eyes were finally opened and I was allowed to see things more as they really are.  My attention was shifted not away from those around me, but instead I was directed to look back upon them, but with eyes that now saw and understood more from God’s perspective.  Rather than judgement, I was moved with compassion and sought for their welfare rather than my own selfish desires… and by having that shift in focus, I finally received and was taught through the Spirit, the great and profound lesson the Lord wanted to teach me, and what I needed to come and find that day for myself.

I realize from this experience, that the goal in life, and part of the purpose of the temple, is to not only teach us about the great blessings which are waiting to be claimed after we pass through the veil of mortality and into the heavens beyond, but is instead to teach us how to see with progressively more light.  In that revealing light we can focus more intently upon the Lord, become less distracted and frustrated by those around us, and  be able to see things… right here and right now in our present living situation… from a more heavenly vantage point.  In doing so, we are able to see others and life around us more in the way the Savior sees them, and shift our focus away from our own personal desires, instead to doing the will of the Father and lifting, praying for and helping those around us through their own struggles and challenges.

With this higher form of living and seeing and serving, I believe we don’t have to wait to pass through the veil to the other side, but instead will invite more of Heaven into our own hearts each and every day along the way.

As C.S. Lewis wrote: “Earth, I think, will not be found by anyone to be in the end a very distinct place. I think earth, if chosen instead of Heaven, will turn out to have been, all along, only a region in hell:  and earth, if put second to Heaven, to have been from the beginning a part of Heaven itself.”