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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)