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Wednesday, May 17, 2017

God’s Sense of Humor

God’s Sense of Humor

          I believe the Lord must have a sense of Humor.  Unfortunately, we probably tend to incorrectly think of Him as being totally serious ALL the time.  But think about it for a moment – He is the Creator of ALL things.  He is Perfect and Complete.  Wouldn’t that mean that He also is full of Joy, Happiness, and even the creator of laughter?

          Now I’m not talking about boisterous, raucous laughter you might hear from a bunch of drunkards who have lost their inhibition.  I’m talking about someone who enjoys things, smiles, and yes, even laughs appropriately along the way.

          Let me share a recent experience with you to demonstrate this point.  The other day I was taking my dogs for a run.

          I was tired after a long day, so I loaded them in the back of our mini-van and drove a short ways out of town to drop them off on the side of a country road, where I then let the van idle down the road at a slow pace while the dogs run alongside or behind and enjoy themselves.

          Our two dogs have completely different personalities.  Abby is quiet and super well mannered, while Missy on the other hand, is an attention seeking diva with a tendency to whine and beg for things.

          Missy is a short, old, Bassett Hound, now approaching 13-14 years old, but is still in pretty remarkable shape for a dog that age.  Like most Basset Hounds she has way to much skin and ears big enough to fly if she had the power to flap them like wings.

          She is rather comical to look at and mixed with her personality you can’t help but either laugh at her or be a bit frustrated.

          While Abby can easily jump up into the back cargo space on her own, Missy needs help just loading up into the van.  She can get her front paws up onto the bumper, but then I have to hook my foot under her rear haunches and give her a boost the rest of the way up.  After doing so, she usually either ignores the assistance she received or wheels around or gives a look of pride as if she had made the leap to higher ground on her own.

          During the drive for the few minutes it takes to get out of town, she usually begins to whine and then quickly transforms that into an all-out hound dog bawling bark of excitement that seems as if it will blow out the windows.  She just can’t contain herself in expressing either her boredom feeling trapped in her situation or excited beyond all belief in expectation of what is coming.

          After arriving and getting dropped off to begin their run, Missy quickly begins in excitement, but within a matter of moments becomes distracted by some smell off in the weeds.  Her journey is one of starting and stopping, constant distractions and examinations of insignificant clumps of brush.  And, if she thinks she has found something noteworthy, she then immediately marks it as her own before resuming the journey down the road.

          To keep the trip from taking all day, I often have to pause, honk the horn to get her attention (if her brain hasn’t been shut off completely by what her nose is smelling) and encourage her to follow along where I am leading the way.  If I just keep going and she loses sight of the van, she just gets disheartened and stops… sits…. and waits until someone comes back eventually to find her.

          On this particular trip the other day, I was in a bit of a hurry for some reason, and I quickly found myself becoming irritated at the lagging, sagging hound dog.  After yet another pause of doggy distraction, I honked the horn to get her attention and muttered under my breath, something to the effect, “Come on you slacker, can’t you just pay attention and keep moving forward?”

          Almost immediately the clear impression came into my mind, “You are like Missy.”  This was accompanied by what I could only explained as an unseen smile.  I know that sounds funny to say, but that phrase, “You are like Missy” didn’t come with any sense of judgement or condemnation, but rather with a divine smile attached and an unheard chuckle.  It was as if in my moment of frustration with my hound dog, the Lord had a little laugh as he tried to show me how my life and actions are often like those of my floppy dog.

          I couldn’t help but smile and laugh myself at the thought and comical comparison the Lord had shared with me, and as I thought about His prompting, several humorous links became clear to my mind.

          Often, when I am struggling to reach higher spiritual ground, my feeble efforts only serve to get my front paws off the ground, while the gravity of my mortal frailties keeps me stranded at a lower level.  I guess you could say that I am spiritually gravity challenged.  It is only with a spiritual lift or kick in the pants from the Lord that I am able to make the actual ascension to any greater level of progress.  Alas, far too often, I probably then tend to pat myself on the back and act, like my hound dog, either ungrateful for the help, or thinking I have done it all on my own.  (These thoughts came with that “wink” and “nod” smile of recognition and understanding).

          Like my old hound dog, I also am probably prone to get a bit too excited at times, when something of sincere interest in on the horizon.  I may be a bit too vocal about it in my excitement and anticipation, which may be irritating to those around me during those episodes leading up to whatever it may be.  At other times I may grumble or express frustration because I feel trapped in a situation I am uncomfortable with, rather than just be grateful He is taking me on a ride to some as yet unseen destination.

          Like my wandering dog, I too, often become easily distracted from the course the Lord would want me to run. I often start spiritual things with a burst of initial excitement, but the straight and narrow path is easy to drift off of if we stop to smell and check out the subtle enticements placed by the adversary to lure us away from our progress.  Like my marking hound, I sometimes want to claim the things of this world as my own (even if in my own mind).

          When I thought about that, and how we can’t really take anything with us, it brought another smile, as the Lord showed me that such attempts to cling to the material things of this world are about as foolish as my dog peeing on a random weed and thinking that somehow she then owned it as her own. (Wink and nod with a divine smile).

          Fortunately, the Lord who drives each of our vehicles of life, lovingly and patiently honks the horn to regain our attention from time to time and calls us back onto the path of progress.  Rather than grow impatient with our faults and failures to stay focused, as I was doing that day, He cheers us on in our efforts and applauds and praises us with each further advancement we make.

          As I mentioned, these thoughts and impressions came with an unheard, but recognized heavenly laugh and smile.  And because of it, I couldn’t help but smile and laugh about it myself.  It was a very joyous and lifting form of learning and teaching.

          So what does this all mean?  I think what this taught me is that we may have a false perception of who God really is and what He is really like.  I think the adversary plants these false concepts of an unfeeling, stiff and always serious God, who is distant and difficult to please.  When in reality, He is a loving Father, who is full of happiness and constant joy.  A being who not only intimately cares about us, but also laughs at our silly foibles from time to time, and smiles with satisfaction and encouragement at our little successes – which He actually helps us to accomplish in the first place.

          If all this seems like a foreign concept to you or appears to fly in the face of your religious logic, then think of a caring parent with their little toddler child.  As that toddler is learning to walk, the steps are teetering and unsteady.  The loving parent helps them to rise to their feet and steadies them until they can begin to let go and try stepping on their own.

         The toddler’s falls and tumbles aren’t greeted with anger or condescension.  Just the opposite!  That parent cheers every unsteady step, and encourages them to try again.  And again.  And again.  Because He knows that with each practice and repetition comes experience and growth – which eventually lead to being able to walk with more confidence on their own.

          These tenuous first steps eventually progress to sure and steady strides, which later progress to running.  All these under the watchful eyes of a loving parent who waits with open arms for those running legs to carry them back into His loving parental embrace.

          I believe our Heavenly Father, who is perfect in every way, is not any different.  He is the creator of laughter and joy and EVERYTHING good, positive and uplifting!  He is quick to forgive, eager to assist and encourage us and patient with the knowledge of all things from beginning to end.  And with that perfect knowledge He also has a sense of humor about our little struggles as he sees them with the foresight of how it can and will all work together for our good in the end.

          Don’t take these thoughts the wrong way either. I not at all suggesting that our lives are a joke to Him.  It is an eternally significant journey with far lasting ramifications when the time of judgment finally arrives.  Sometimes that means He needs to be serious with us when we have made significant mistakes.  But even those moments are ruled by love and encouraging understanding and uplifting hope in us and our ability to succeed if we will but turn to Him. I also believe that those moments of seriousness are likely far outweighed by the joy, happiness and smiles of approval at our toddler-like attempts.

          Now, by suggesting this sense of humor and His loving manner of encouragement, I am not suggesting that we should be casual in our worship of Him.  Just the opposite!  Understanding and recognizing Him in His true nature, actually serves to make us love and worship Him all the more and deepens our relationship with Him!

          We are all a bit like my dog Missy in more ways than we might like to realize.  And fortunately, the Lord is willing to remind us of that with an encouraging divine wink and a nod and His perfect smile and laughter.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Unexpected Change of Course

Unexpected Change of Course

Just a week or so ago, I left work with the intent of running a quick errand across town before heading home to share dinner with my awesome wife.  But as I traveled down the road I felt would be best to quickly complete my task in the way I wanted, I came to a railroad crossing.

Now I have crossed these tracks an infinite number of times over the years I have lived in this area, and never once have I encountered a train passing through during any of the times I have passed them over.  But on this day, just as I approached, the signal lights began flashing and the rails came down.  Not only did a long train slowly pass through at its snail-like inner-city speed, but it actually came to a complete stop with the final car of the train parked right across the road in front of me.

In a short amount of time a significant amount of cars piled up on the road behind me.  Very quickly many of those drivers lost patience and whipped their cars around to find another possible route to wherever they were going.  But I felt a mixture of both stubbornness and patience (if the two emotions can exist together at the same time).  Patience in that I felt I really wasn’t in a super big hurry to get where I wanted to be, and yet a stubbornness that I wasn’t going to let the train deter me from where and how I wanted to get there.

10 minutes went by, and no movement from the train whatsoever.

I began to reason to myself, “Well, surely as soon as I turn around the train will move away and then I will feel foolish for having given up and lost patience right before the way I desired opened up before me.”  But eventually, after about 15 minutes, reason won out and I decided that perhaps someone was trying to tell me that I should go a different direction after all.

I began to ponder upon these events as I drove away, and wondered how many times unseen hands direct our paths, perhaps averting us from potential danger without our ever even knowing it.  “Am I grateful for such tender mercies beyond my comprehension or do I grow impatient because I didn’t get my way?”

I also wondered how many times I had wasted precious moments and opportunities of my life by waiting stubbornly for “my way” to come to pass.  Thinking that by just willing things to be, it would surely happen.  “In those stubborn times I try to impose my will above God’s will for me, do I miss priceless opportunities that were waiting to be claimed if I had been willing to go another path?”

Let me give a recent example of what I’m talking about:

Last week I was conducting some employee interviews with some of my co-workers.  Most of these interviews were scheduled for about 15 minutes in length to discuss some pertinent work-related issues for each employee.  But on this day, my discussion with one particular co-worker ended up being about 45 minutes in length.  The interesting thing was that the conversation ranged from not just work related issues, but also covered how basic, decent human relations mattered, and how our perspective can change our lives not only at work, but in our families and with those we love.  It was a wonderful, uplifting conversation (at least for me) and although it spilled over into both of our lunch break time, I left feeling it had been truly beneficial for both of us.

After leaving that prolonged interview, I left to run grab a quick bite to eat in the short amount of time I had left.  Now usually, during my lunch break, I drive to a quiet location not far from work, where I can have some precious moments of peace and solitude to ponder, read from a good book I always keep in my car, or something else relaxing and rejuvenating.  This personal, uninterrupted time is very sacred and important to me.

On this particular day, despite the fact that I had little lunch time left, I felt I should swing into a local gas station and grab a quick drink to take with me.  Upon entering the convenience store, I ran into a woman from my ward, who is good friends with my wife.  Her and her husband had just recently returned from out of state, where they had been consoling their children whose young son had passed away unexpectedly in the night.  It was the second grandchild lost in this small family, and the tragedy struck deeply to all those involved.

Instead of my plan to grab a quick drink and retreat off into my moments of solitude, I spent nearly 15 minutes conversing with this wonderful woman as she expressed the still raw emotions of what their family was going through.  I offered what pitiful words of comfort I could, but mostly just mourned with her, and shed tears for that brief period of time.  As we were about to part ways, she shared a simple but powerful testimony with me about the eternal nature of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and how that gave her strength to keep going on.  I am not sure if anything I had to say affected her in any way, other than offering my heartfelt condolences at their loss, but her inner strength and testimony affected me deeply.

What I learned that day, is that sometimes we have goals in our life, or in just a simple part of a normal day.  We want to go somewhere and get something done that we think is important.  And we want to do it when and how we want it to be done.

But those railroad markers sometimes come down, and our lives are directed along a different route than what we initially desired.  Sometimes we may never know the reason why, and other times the reasons become very clear in wonderful and deeply moving ways that we are so glad we got to experience them.

That day at the train tracks allowed me to realize that I should remember to just be grateful for the journey, no matter where that road takes me.  In the end, I still got where I most wanted to go.

I got to see some different sites along a different route than I normally might have taken.

And I still made it home to share a wonderful evening with my beautiful wife.

Life is a wonderful and sometimes very unpredictable journey.  I guess one of the blessings comes in learning to be grateful for all the variety of sorrow, joy, richness and growth we experience along the way.  And that hopefully we can learn to be grateful for those unseen hands of the Almighty Crossing Guard who helps us along that path of learning which eventually leads back to Him.