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Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Needed Repairs and Maintenance

Needed Repairs and Maintenance

            I drove by a place I have passed almost daily for many years now, but which I have often failed to pay attention to.  But this morning as I drove by, it caught my eye, and some simple yet profound thoughts came to me, so I stopped to take some pictures and share them for what they are worth.

            Some beautiful apartments were under construction during the building boom of 2008, when while only partially completed, the bottom fell out of the financial world and resources apparently came to a crashing end, leaving this once potentially attractive and financially productive venture incomplete.  Unable to sustain the project through to completion, the structures have now sat incomplete for the past nine years, with nothing but the wearing forces of weather, migrating birds, and scavenging varmints paying them much attention.  What has happened is rather sad to behold.

            The once sturdy frames and walls now provide only sagging support.

            The once dreamed of furnished interiors sit hollow and filled with debris.

            The views which once may have looked upon manicured lawns and flower beds now behold wanting scenes of overgrown weeds which choke the grounds of color and vitality.

            As sad as the apparent loss of financial investment and property values, what struck me was how these grounds mirror the souls of many individuals who walk among us and with whom we rub shoulders with in our daily lives.  They may be hollow, incomplete and suffering in silence.

           Often, as I do driving by these buildings each day, we hardly tend to cast a glance in their direction or notice their needs.  Instead we often look away to avoid what may otherwise be uncomfortable encounters outside of our structured lives and activities.

            What also dawns upon me is the realization that each and every one of us likely have places in our souls which we have neglected or ignored and which, without the needed attention, have fallen into disrepair and states of decay.  We may want to ignore those darker recesses within ourselves, or in society around us, but the simple fact is this – Unless we put effort into regular maintenance and repair, all things decay and degrade as a natural result.

            We cannot ignore the problems and degrading forces at work in our own lives or in society around us and expect them to somehow get better on their own.  The forces of nature, both physically and spiritually don’t work that way.  Things uncared for will ALWAYS progress from a state of organization into a state of chaos and decline.

            You can have a beautifully painted house, but if the interior walls are infested with mice and it doesn’t have functional plumbing or electricity, then it is pretty hard to live in with any measure of comfort or safety.  Instead, we must perform regular cleaning, maintenance, replace worn out parts with things that are newer and better.  We must dig out the weeds and plant flowers in their place, apply new paint where needed, vacuum and sweep out unwanted accumulations.  In essence, we must pay attention to things.  Especially those things of most importance.

            We often tend to ignore or neglect the “weightier matters” in our lives or the deeper spiritual areas of decay we suffer from.  Perhaps addressing those areas of need pulls us too far out of our comfort zone and will require significant effort to repair and upgrade and we just don’t feel we have the spiritual energy or resources to do it after the daily battles we fight.

            The first reality of the situation is, that in order to improve and progress, we must focus the needed energy and resources into those areas of decay to bring them into repair.  The other reality is, is that it is very difficult to help fill others needs if we are hollow and lacking in our own interior design.  The good news is we don’t have to do it alone, and it is totally worth the effort and investment!

            If we are willing to call upon other experts with the knowledge and skills to help us make those repairs properly, or at least teach us how to make those adjustments and repairs more efficiently, then the process can be much easier.  Family, friends, spiritual advisors and leaders can all help provide needed encouragement and suggestions to begin to overhaul, de-junk and commence the renovations we need.

            And if we really want to get serious about making complete interior and exterior designs to bring us up to our full potential and value, then we need to call in the Master Repairman, the Lord Himself.  He is truly the only one that can help us make more than just cosmetic improvements.  He has the skills, love, understanding and complete devotion and willingness to not just make a few repairs, but tear down the dilapidated parts of our souls and completely reconstruct them into something far grander and of greater worth than we can imagine.

C.S. Lewis put it very well when he said,

            If we can but open ourselves to Him, He will not only surgically cut out and remove those infected and infested parts of our souls, but will replace the worn out parts with major upgrades far beyond our expectations.  And a remarkable thing happens.  Along with those improvements He makes within ourselves, we begin to see how to help others and aspects of society around us with more clarity.

            So let us not ignore the aspects of our lives which need the closest attention, but instead open and embrace the necessary upgrades and all the comforts and benefits they have to offer.  It will perhaps be the greatest investment of time and energy that we can make.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Are you a Builder or a Demolition worker?

Are you a Builder or a Demolition worker?

          This past week, there were a couple of instances which caused me to think about my use of social media.  The first came when a fellow employee of mine, who I am friends with on Facebook, posted about how she was shocked how a simple rather benign post she had made, very quickly evoked several very personal, vitriolic attacks.

          The second was when I noticed some comments on a post from some friends and former co-workers, who were demeaning and joking about the place where I am still employed.  It did shock me a bit.  Now I don’t know all the personal reasons why they might have left employment there, but I was surprised that they talked about the place in a demeaning way.  Certainly no place of employment will ever be perfect – it’s not a vacation – that’s why they call it “Work”.  And I personally have left several previous jobs and moved on to other things for personal reasons, but I don’t remember feeling any animosity to the place I was leaving as it had provided me a means for support and interaction with so many other good people.  And the place where I currently work is a beautiful facility which has blessed the lives of countless people in the area who have benefited from being able to come there and is filled with many employees who are all caring and kind to the clients we are servicing.

          Then in my church meetings today, one of the topics of discussion was about our use of social media for purposes which are either good or bad, time wasting or of usefulness and so forth.  As I sat listening and pondering, several questions and spiritual impressions came to my mind which were not part of the actual sermon.

“Are you a builder or a demolition worker?”

“Are you trying to raise yourself higher by tearing others down around you?  Or are you building stairs upon which you and others can ascend together?”

“Are you tearing down walls and removing roofs to try and expose something you think is hidden inside?  Or are you constructing places of shelter and safety for others to come into from the storms of life?”

Are you a wrecking ball, which in a moment can destroy something or someone, perhaps irreparably, affecting far more than those to whom your comment was aimed?

Or are you a supporting bolster to those who are wavering and need a firm foundation upon which they can regain their footing?”

          These impressions and questions from the Spirit made me pause to think more deeply about my use of social media, which although it feels distant through the technology, is actually far more connected to the lives of others than we might realize.

          I will now offer a sincere apology to anyone and everyone who I may have offended over the years in any attempt to be humorous or funny!  If I have ever said or done anything to hurt you than I am sorry and in need of and striving for repentance in these things!  And certainly, I am sure there is far more work I need to do in my life to improve.

          As these impressions came through my mind and I grabbed a piece of paper to write them down, some scriptures also came to my mind.
          “…Succor the weak, lift up the hands which hang down, and strengthen the feeble knees.” – D&C 81:5.

          The thought then came to me that as we demean or belittle others or attempt to pass judgement upon them, that we are really only exposing our own flawed character traits.  This thought then brought to mind another verse of scripture, in which in vision the prophet saw a great a spacious building, which stood up in the air and had no foundation, which represented “the vain imaginations and pride of the children of men,” and “it was filled with people, both old and young, both male and female… and they were in the attitude of mocking and pointing their fingers towards…” others who were simply trying the best they could to do what was right.  (see 1 Nephi 8:27).

          As I pondered these impressions, I asked myself, “If finding fault in others only exposes the imperfections, gaps and flaws in my own life, then how can I fill those gaps to become better?”

          The quick but gentle reply which came in the reminder of some other verses of scripture found in Moroni 7: 45-48, “And charity suffereth long, and is kind, and envieth not, and is not puffed up, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil, and rejoiceth not in iniquity but rejoiceth in the truth, beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.  Wherefore, my beloved brethren, if ye have not charity, ye are nothing, for charity never faileth. Wherefore, cleave unto charity, which is the greatest of all, for all things must fail— But charity is the pure love of Christ, and it endureth forever; and whoso is found possessed of it at the last day, it shall be well with him.  Wherefore, my beloved brethren, pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ; that ye may become the sons of God; that when he shall appear we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is; that we may have this hope; that we may be purified even as he is pure. Amen.”

          I felt prompted to share these thoughts today, as both a possible means to ask forgiveness if there are any I have ever offended, and perhaps to help all of us consider what role we are playing through social media.  And to think about how we can improve and fill the judgmental gaps and holes in our own lives, not by making others faults bigger, but through filling them with His love and helping others to do the same.

          I am sure we all have a bit of work to do in this department from time to time.

Godspeed everyone!

Thursday, September 14, 2017

A CONNECTION TO THE PAST – AND A REBIRTH (My Unexpected Native Sweat Lodge Experience)

(My Unexpected Native Sweat Lodge Experience)

            It happened rather unexpectedly, and only through what I would refer as a miraculous set of events.  But there I was, along with my wife, on the night of 9-12-17, helping 7 other people construct a Native American sweat lodge under the direction of a Cheyenne Medicine Man, who is also an active member and priesthood holder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, of which I myself am a member.

            What started as some simple social media contact and a few text messages with a relatively new Facebook friend, I suddenly found myself with an invitation to come help and participate in this ancient traditional spiritual ritual which was taking place for the first time (as far as I know) in this local area.

            I actually have some literal Native American blood flowing through my veins.  Through my mother I have ties into the Creek Indian Nation out of Oklahoma.  I have long been proud and interested in this connection, but had never been involved in any such native practice throughout my life.  So the prospect was very intriguing and inviting to me.

            Without wanting to divulge the names of others who may wish to remain anonymous, I will simply say that some very gracious people had offered up their land to conduct the ceremony.  They were friends with this Medicine Man, named Shawn Littlebear, who is from Oklahoma and who was up visiting in this area for some other business.  He is a wonderfully kind and humble man, with deep spiritual roots both in the modern Latter Day Saint religion as well as his native Cheyenne heritage.

            To give a little background, a Sweat Lodge is a hand constructed short domed hut, made from natural materials (usually saplings stripped of their bark), which is traditionally covered with animal hides or heavy blankets to both trap out any sunlight as well as to contain the steam and heat within for the purification rituals which take place inside, which are often referred to as “sweats”.  The sweat is intended as a religious ceremony – it is for prayer and healing, and the ceremony is only to be led by elders who know the language, songs, traditions and safety protocols. Otherwise, the ceremony can be dangerous if done improperly – both physically and spiritually.   As quoted from a Native American website, “With the help of Medicine Men and Women, they could repair the damage done to their spirits, their minds and their bodies. The Sweat Lodge is a place of spiritual refuge and mental and physical healing, a place to get answers and guidance by asking ancestral spiritual entities, the Creator and Mother Earth for the needed wisdom and power.”

            By the time my wife and I arrived after work, some of the basic construction and preparations were already well underway by the others, but we were recruited to help finish some of the frame construction of the hut and some other preparations.

            Within the center of the hut is a dug out hole, which the Medicine Man had carefully prepared beforehand, with stones carefully arranged in a Medicine Wheel pattern with a cross formed in the middle (which can be seen in the center of the photograph below).  The dirt floor of the lodge was also carefully swept clean and leveled as best as possible.

            As mentioned previously, the entire structure must be carefully covered to block out any light with only a small doorway, through which the participants must kneel and crawl to gain access, which is also then covered with a thick blanket door once all are inside.  The door should also be constructed to face Eastward.

            A short distance away from the entrance a special fire is constructed which is lined with specific types of rocks, which are then heated under an intense burning pile of wood to heat them to red-hot temperatures.  Between the fire and the entrance a special mound of earth was formed by the Medicine Man, which he referred to as “the Altar”.  A bag of medicinal herbs consisting of Cedar and Sweet grass was then placed upon the altar and a line drawn in the dirt from there to the opening of the lodge.

            It was very clearly indicated that one should not cross over the line between the altar and the doorway, but that you had to go around the altar and should only enter the doorway and around the inside of the lodge in a clockwise manner.  (I did not take any further photographs as I did not want to interrupt with the ceremony or have any distractions from what the experience would offer).

            After completion, he gave us some instructions about how the ceremony would be performed along with some of the history behind it and what it represented.  I will probably not do it justice with how I try to describe it from my limited memory, but essentially the lodge and all the outer components combined serve to join together all of the basic elements of life: Fire, Water, Earth, Air, Rocks within the lodge as a symbol of the womb in which life is created, or in this case, spiritually recreated.  We were also allowed to bring in small towels and water to drink, but were instructed to leave outside anything that is not natural, such as: watches, ear rings, gold, silver, eye glasses. Etc.…  (I will refrain from going into further details and explanations, but would encourage those interested to seek out the history behind such events or go find a tribal site where you might be invited to participate in a traditional ceremony and education).

            Following the Medicine Man, we each entered and crawled to our respective places inside of the lodge, with one designated member remaining outside as the door keeper and person who would help bring in the heated stones from the fire.  We sat upon small mats upon the dirt away from the pit in the center and there received some further instructions and teachings.  We were told that there would be 4 sessions completed that night, and that if desired participants could leave the lodge between each sessions to stretch, get fresh air, etc…  If we got too hot, we could kneel or crouch down closer to Mother Earth where the temperature would be cooler and ask the earth to heal and provide strength to us.

            After the instruction, 10 rocks were brought to the entrance by the keeper outside and rolled into the central pit.  The door was then closed and sealed, and in the dark, the Medicine Man offered prayer, as described above, while cedar and sweet grass were successively sprinkled upon the heated stones, providing a sweet aroma in the air.  As the prayer and ceremony continued (which details I will not discuss here as to not divulge anything considered sacred or by doing it a significant disservice through my poor, inexperienced explanation), but as it continued he intermittently scooped clean water from a bucket with a ladle and poured it over the hot rocks, steaming the air and inducing the sweat.  I am sure that the traditional methods were modified or added upon somewhat by his Christian and Latter Day Saint religious influences, but I do not feel they detracted at all from the traditional methods, but rather enhanced them… at least for me and my background, as all of us present were members of the Church ourselves.

            4 progressive sessions of this ensued with breaks and further discussion and lessons taught between each one, with each subsequent session including more hot rocks and gradually increased heat and sweating.  During this process, I noticed and experienced several profound things, which is what I would like to discuss.

            Physically, especially for a bigger man like myself, it was somewhat uncomfortable sitting on the ground in the confined space, which when combined with the profound heat made it difficult to relax initially, but I had determined before entering to embrace the entire experience with an open mind and heart, willing to endure any discomforts as a form of “sacrifice” if you want to call it that, in order to reap whatever benefit might be available through the practice.  What I found was that as the heat and sweat began to pour through me, my muscles relaxed and the posture became much more tolerable.  This allowed me to open my mind and heart in silent prayer and meditation as I listened and learned.

            Although it was completely dark within the lodge, I became aware through my other senses how each participant was having their own unique experience and their reactions to it were all different.  Some were very emotional and could be heard softly weeping.  Others were felt to be gently rocking back and forth in rhythmic patterns.  Still others were heard deeply breathing in controlled manner, while others quietly mumbled their own prayers or mantras. I simply tried to hold still and quietly control my breathing and let the experience happen physically, emotionally and spiritually.  I have to admit that it deeply moved me.

            During the initial session or two, I was concentrating more on myself, my own reactions to it all, and caught up in prayer about and thought about myself and what I would experience as I personally tried to open to the physical and spiritual aspect of it all.  I prayed for my own loved ones and family members, including my wife next to me. But as the sessions progressed, my thoughts and prayers also began to extend out to those in the circle around me.  I found myself concerned about their well-being and trials, and praying that they might receive what they had come seeking for in faith.

            Here we were, with others who were practically strangers to my wife and I, yet at the same time, in very different ways, we were joined together as ONE.  Each of us had our own reactions and different levels of spiritual connectedness to the Divine, yet we were all joined together in a common purpose in reaching out for healing, cleansing, renewal and wisdom as to how we could better help others to do the same.  It was very primal and visceral, but also deeply spiritual – and it affected me.

            There were NO tobacco pipes or peyote or any such sensation inducing elements involved whatsoever.  It was simply a stripping away of everything worldly and literally get back down to the basics of existence in a way I had not experienced before.  The sweating involved was not anything like the type of sweat you experience during a workout at the gym or by doing hard yardwork.  I am very familiar with such sensations, and this was something totally different.  It literally felt like a purging from the inside out rather than a force induced reaction from exertion.  It was also different from a normal sauna experience, perhaps because of the very basic connection to the earth and elements around us as well as the spiritual components involved in the experience.  It felt cleansing and lightening in a way I have difficulty describing, and it was very intense and profuse.

            These bouts of physical and spiritual connectedness, interspersed with breaks when the door was opened and the fresh renewing air poured in deeply rejuvenated me.  And after nearly two hours I did emerged a changed man.  I felt lighter and refreshed.  The stars were brighter in the heavens above as if my vision had been cleared.  I felt a bond with others to whom just hours before had been strangers, as well as more connected with both the earth below my bare feet and the Heavens above me and the cool night air swirling around me.  We had all passed through an experience together and woven and unseen thread of commonality among us in some small way because of it.

            Would this experience be something I would recommend to everyone I knew?… I don’t know.  I think it would be something you would have to determine for yourself, and I can imagine that it may be performed differently depending on where you went to experience it and who was offering it.  I would offer some caution and recommend doing your research and talking to others to ensure it was done safely and in a manner appropriate for your religious beliefs.

            Did it have the effect I expected?… No, it actually surpassed that in every way.  I had been expecting something like sitting quietly in the dark and meditating without much interaction, but instead it was a very connecting experience with interaction with those around me as well as I believe others from beyond the veil that I could feel although not see.  And despite the physical darkness of the environment, there was nothing spiritually dark about it at all… it was completely full of spiritual Light.

            After it was all over, we gathered in our hosts home and partook of a very simple and refreshing meal as we conversed about our different experiences and shared our new bonds of friendship.

            Another thing the experience reminded me of, is that although each of us is at very different levels on our own journey, with different ways of reaction and being connected to the divine, we are all on the journey together.  We each have a lot to offer to those around us, and when we are all heading in the same direction, with the same underlying purpose, and are asking for the heavenly help available to us… then there is a profound power that can be tapped into which can enrich us and help us be “Reborn” each day into a new life full of purpose and meaning.

            I know that this form of re-commitment, connection, change and rebirth can occur through many different manners, and is not limited to only a properly guided sweat lodge practice.  I have found very similar and even more powerful experiences in many other circumstances, especially within the temple ordinances of my religion.  But I am grateful for the unique opportunity I had to experience this ancient practice, become more connected with the ways of my Native American ancestors, and feel to be a better man because of it.

“AHO!” – (which is a Cheyenne word for “Amen” which is uttered at the end of a prayer)

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Finding Joy in the Journey

Finding Joy in the Journey

Just recently, my wife and I had the opportunity to head from our home in Southeastern Idaho to visit our oldest son and his wife in Western Oregon. We were very excited to see them again and spend several days visiting the area surrounding where they live.

As we embarked on the roughly fourteen and a half hour journey, we tried to prepare ourselves with plenty of snacks for the road, several uplifting audio books and podcasts and the excitement of seeing some things we had not witnessed before, along with the time we could spend with our children.

The trip was filled with many wonderful experiences including:
Stopping to visit my maternal grandparents’ graves, which I had not been to since their funerals many years ago.

Catching up with my Uncle and Aunt who I hadn’t seen in a long time.

Seeing the kids and playing lots of fun games and having some wonderful visits and life discussions.

Eating at some new places, which along with the road snacks, probably contributed to a significant weight gain during the experience as well.

Getting to know the wonderful town of Bandon, Oregon with its beaches and lighthouses.

Unfortunately some significant forest fires prevented us from visiting several other places we would have loved to go, but all in all the experience was wonderful.  We packed a lot into the days we were there and it was all tremendous fun!

The most depressing part of the trip was facing the long drive home, which when combined with several needed pit stops for both the car and ourselves would take nearly 15 hours.

During this final stage of the journey, my wife and I had just finished listening to some inspiring podcasts and were engaged in some discussion and pondering over the content and how our own lives fit into the things we were considering.  You know, purpose of life stuff and the times in which we live, etc…  All good stuff, but things which stretch you sometimes and make you consider where you are and what things you need to improve on.

It was during this point, when my wife requested to pull off on a short side road to visit a waterfall that was marked alongside of the highway – Sahalie Falls.

It was just a short distance from the road but as soon as we got out of the car and began to walk up the short path, something magical happened.  The trees were a lush and verdant green, and the path was well taken care of and had the feel you were walking into Rivendell from the Lords of the Rings or something of that nature.  The plants and bushes swayed in a gentle, cool breeze and the sounds of wildlife were plentiful as they rang out through the entire area.

The waterfall was only a short distance down the path and when we saw, it literally took our breath away.

It wasn’t the biggest waterfall we had ever seen or visited, not by a long shot, but it was surprising that walking down the trail and seeing it was actually a spiritual experience of a sort.

We had been involved in some good, motivating and uplifting events and discussions, so it caused me to think about what had happened, and why it was such an inspiring experience.  What had changed?

After some consideration while we were there, and in the continued drive which followed, I came to the conclusion that what we had experienced was simple, natural, heaven-sent JOY!

But how could this be?  We had been engaged in many fun and exciting events, spent some time with great company, and had listened to and talked about many wonderful and spiritual things – all of which were very positive and uplifting in their own right, but what we experienced at the waterfall with didn’t involve any logic or thought or effort – it was simple JOY.

It might wound weird to some, but what I believe we experienced was God’s creations – the waterfall itself flowing freely and cascading in effortless patterns; the bushes, trees, flowers swaying in rhythm with the natural breeze around them while reaching outward and upward, in harmony with each other and the unseen air while breathing in and out through their natural processes; the birds, chipmunks and wildlife all scurrying about and singing their songs; the stones in the path grateful to be there in that setting to support the feet of those who walked upon them to behold the scene.

All of these things in their own small and God-given way, were singing and manifesting their praises to the Lord who had created them – and it was palpable – and it had a direct impact on our souls as well.  They weren't concerned about the cares of the world around them. They weren’t involved in higher levels of thought, schedules and timelines or planning.  They were simply fulfilling the measure of their creation and filled with and radiated JOY to be doing so!

Now don’t get me wrong, I fully acknowledge and understand that life isn’t always a peaceful and joyous waterfall setting, and that trials, challenges and growth are part of this journey called mortality.  But the simple lesson I was taught in that setting was that perhaps at times, we need to stop being so concerned about all of the worries and cares of things around us, and instead take some time to simply experience the JOY that can be found in fulfilling the measure of our creation.

“Men are that they might have joy.” – 2 Nephi 2:25

Please don’t take this as a sign that you can just sit around and sing Kumbayah all day and not have to do anything.  That is not at all what I am suggesting.  But what I am suggesting is that we should take time to recognize the JOY that is manifest all around us each and every day.

I truly believe that JOY, light and a life force is truly radiating, penetrating and affecting all living things around us and extends through the expanse of space and time.  You can call it the “Light of Christ”, the “Love of God” or whatever you choose to call it.  But I think if we are not careful we can be completely blind to its influence and uplifting power if we get too distracted and dulled by the worldly influences around us.

Instead, perhaps we can tune into these other frequencies of JOY, not only in nature, but also in the lives of others around us, and YES, perhaps even within ourselves.  Because I believe this positive force of love and joy is there to help us remember The Source of all of that Joy and Love – and to help keep us on the path which leads back into His presence.

May our journey today and always, be filled with this Joy!

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Visitors from Beyond the Veil

Visitors from Beyond the Veil

After the passing of my paternal grandfather, Frank Andreasen in late February 1999, my wife and I decided to move from across town and in with my grandmother, Lauree Andreasen, along with our 3 young children, to help take care of her in her aging condition.  She had experienced several years of medical hardship and wasn’t able to take care of herself.  It was a challenge to move out of our home and into their small basement, but it was a sacrifice we felt prompted to make.  The details of that story could be shared at another time, but what I want to share in this story is what happened on the night of Feb. 8, 2000.

To preface this account, I feel that I should share that my grandparents had always been a part of my life.  In fact, my some of my earliest childhood memories are of walking with my older brother, as a toddler of 2-3 years old, from our house over to my grandparents who had and adjacent lot to ours, entering into their kitchen and being sat up on a bar stool at the kitchen counter and eating sliced apples sprinkled with salt with my grandmother.  But those were younger days which had long faded into the past.

I always felt close to them throughout the years and have many life lessons and experiences with them which shaped my life and helped me learn how to be who I am today.

On this February in 2000, after nearly a year since grandpa had passed away, her health was finally failing rather rapidly.  There were some hospice services involved, which provided some intermittent cares to help her out, but most of the daily responsibility of trying to meet her needs fell upon my angel wife (in addition to trying to care for our 3 children).  She was always tired and emotionally spent when I returned home from work each evening, so on this particular night, I decided to stay upstairs with grandma so my wife could rest.

Grandma hadn’t gotten out of bed hardly at all for the previous 2-3 days, and wasn’t eating much and barely drinking, but as she was on comfort care measures and hospice services, there were no plans to take her to the hospital, but simply let things take their course.  I could tell she wasn’t doing well on this particular evening, so I felt prompted to bring a chair in by her bedside and sit with her throughout the night.

As she lay there dosing fitfully, I sat next to her and held her hand.  She was having trouble breathing and periodically would wake up, in obvious intense discomfort and distress.  She would weakly squeeze my hand and look at me with somewhat pleading eyes, but as a health care professional who worked with elderly patients in a nursing home, I had seen these signs before and knew that there was nothing I could really do to help her as the end drew near.

As she struggled on through the night I hummed hymns to her and prayed silently, but the hours seemed to drag on forever as she struggled in the final physical throws before death would take its toll.  Despite having witnessed such end of life changes in people where I worked, this was my own grandmother, who I knew and loved for all my life, and it was heart wrenching to witness it so closely and firsthand.  I have to admit that a deep sadness descended over me.

As I was silently praying for her to find some relief from her ongoing struggles, I happened to look across the bed where she lay and noticed a picture of her mother, my great grandmother Josie Robinson Hatton.

She had passed away unexpectedly when my grandmother was just a young girl of only a few years old, and so my grandmother hadn’t even really ever known her real mother during her lifetime.  I thought of how wonderful it would be for her to finally meet her mother when she passed away.

As I gazed upon her picture, and these thoughts crossed my mind, a sudden warmth and peace filled the room.  Like a breath of fresh air and life, an unseen light began to grow and fill the dark spaces of the room.  I didn’t see an actual physical light or any personages visible with my mortal eyes, but I could feel the presence of not only her mother, but also my grandfather Frank, as well as several others.  I don’t know how I could tell it was them, but I just knew without a doubt that they were there!

In an instant the despair was gone, and a profound peace came over me and settled upon the room.  My grandmother was still struggling, but now there was suddenly a deep understanding and feeling that all was well and right.  I knew with every fiber of my being in that instant, that the relatively short amount of time my grandmother would continue to struggle was of insignificance, for as soon as she passed through the veil, she would be received into the loving arms of many of her dearest relatives.  Although she had been struggling for many days and hours, I knew that once she passed through the veil, she would never remember those struggles or be affected by such things ever again, for she would be filled with rejoicing in the great plan of happiness of our Father in Heaven.

I had always been taught and known that death was just a passage into the next phase of existence of an eternity beyond, but it was as if in this instant, I was being granted the privilege of experiencing a portion of what that would be like, even though I would still remain alive for many years to come.  The tears of sadness I had experienced only moments before were now replaced with tears of joy and happiness with the peace which flooded through me as unseen heavenly beings filled the room around us.

I sat with her throughout the night, and as the dawn arose, she was still clinging to life by a feeble thread.  The profound intensity of the “gathering” had gradually dissipated, but I knew those heavenly beings were still there, patiently waiting for God’s time table to be fulfilled for my grandmother.  Finally, I left her side as she fell asleep and prepared myself to go to work. My uncle arrived as I was leaving and I told him that I was sure she would soon be passing on, and briefly shared my experience with her.  I called my father in Idaho and informed him that if he wanted to see her again, he should come down that day, and then I left for work.

I received a phone call a few hours later that she had finally passed, but there was no sadness.  I marveled how my perspective of death had been changed with the personal understanding provided by what I had experienced.  Although her passing left a deep hole in my life, I felt happy for her, because I had been granted a brief glimpse into the joy that she was now feeling and would continue to experience throughout the rest of eternity.

She was now back with those she loved and missed, and I counted it a miracle that after 70 years of marriage, she and my grandfather would not be separated for even a single Valentine’s Day!

To all those who have gone on before us, and for those of us still left behind, and to all who may be suffering from the loss of a loved one, I feel impressed to share my witness that our loved ones are always near, and there are never any true partings or farewells, only a changing of visual perception between us, which will someday fade away when we are finally all gathered for our eternal life together in joy and happiness!  Until then, may we honor them in life with our remembrances, and may we be open to receive of their guidance until they too gather around to welcome us finally back “Home” into their loving arms once again.