Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Christ-like Lovingkindness

This past week Jo Anne and I celebrated our 47th wedding anniversary. As we were driving out to Murrieta for a dinner with some of our children and grandchildren she revealed to me what a good life I was having as a quadriplegic on life support. She explained to me how I had no stress in my life – no job to go to or worry about, no house to keep up, no yard or van to maintain, no shopping for outfits to buy and take back, no toilets to clean, no food shopping or wonderful meals to prepare, no Quad to endlessly care for and worry about, and on and on it went. I agreed with her that I really was pretty lucky. She told me that my greatest stress in life was choosing which book to listen to on my special braille Institute audio book player, which TCM movie to watch on TV, or worrying about how pitiful the Dodgers are this year, preparing a good gospel doctrine lesson and being prepared to give a weekly patriarchal blessing. As we drove down the freeway I began to feel sorry for everyone that wasn't paralyzed and on life support! You are all really missing out on something special!

Well, being paralyzed and living on life support certainly does have a big upside as recounted to me by my loving wife. However, the biggest upside is to have been blessed by being married to a woman like Jo Anne, who possesses a character trait in rich abundance that I am striving to incorporate into my own life – and I must admit, not always very successfully.

A couple of weeks ago I was privileged to teach a lesson in Sunday School about the events after the Savior's prayer experience in the Garden of Gethsemane, leading up to, and including the crucifixion. I studied hard, read the scriptural accounts carefully and prayerfully, and even "googled" the words "scourging" and "crucifixion" which led me to many insightful commentaries from a variety of Bible dictionaries regarding these two words. What I read was very graphic and almost too painful for me to contemplate. This Roman form of punishment was degrading and horrific beyond our ability to fully understand I believe. Just think of what Christ went through happening to you or to one of your children and it becomes even more real and painful.

I have been impressed the last couple of weeks, more than at any other time in my life for some reason, with Christ's restraint and desire not to retaliate and just vaporize his antagonists with a blink of the eye which he surely could have done had he chosen to do so.

Just think who the leaders of the Jews, whose hellish desire was to see Jesus crucified, were belittling, mocking, abusing and ultimately exerting sufficient pressure on Pontius Pilate that he succumbed to their evil and unholy desires.

Annas, Caiaphas, arid Herod began the humiliating and degrading procedure that would ultimately climax in HIM being crucified. They slapped HIS face and spit on HIM. They dressed HIM in a purple robe and ridiculed HIM and HE did nothing to retaliate. The Roman soldiers savagely pushed down a crown of thorns on his head, scourged HIM, which often times resulted in death. All of this was but the prelude to the humiliating, degrading, painful and brutal, beyond belief, crucifixion. And who were they doing this to?

HE was Jehovah, the great I Am, the Creator of this world and worlds without number, the Father of heaven and earth, the Messiah, the Redeemer, the Rock, the Lamb of God, the Living Water, Wonderful, Counselor, The Mighty God, the Prince of Peace, and the Only Begotten Son of God the Father in the Flesh!

What kept HIM from striking back? There are undoubtedly many answers to my question but the one that strikes deeply into my heart is from the Book of Mormon. "And the world, because of their iniquity, shall judge him to be a thing of naught; wherefore they scourge him, and he suffereth it; and they smite him, and he suffereth it. Yea, they aspit upon him, and he suffereth it, because of his loving kindness and his long-suffering towards the children of men." [1 Nephi 19:9 (Emphasis added)]

The phrases, "loving kindness," and "long-suffering," are perfect in describing this aspect of Christ's character. I would like to have in greater abundance in my own life the character trait of loving kindness toward others. I am afraid I have a long way to go, but it is one of the desires of my heart to treat others with the same loving kindness Christ showed even toward his enemies. I know it is a lofty goal but as the poet, Robert Browning wrote: "If a man's reach does not exceed his grasp then what is a heaven for?"

I believe it is easy for a person to feel that he has loving kindness for all mankind in general. The true test of our "loving kindness" as well as our "long suffering," it seems to me, is in the relationships we have with our spouses, children, and those with whom we interact in our own little circle of acquaintances on a day to day basis. For me that means Jo Anne, my married daughter Jackie, her husband Nathan,, and their two little girls who currently live with us. It also includes my caregivers, the wheelchair company and its technicians, the company and technicians that service my life support system, various doctors and nurses that I seem to spend more time with than I would like, and a few others as well, like the waiters and waitresses who serve up the gourmet food at Taco Bell, In N Out Burger, Subway, Café Rio, and etc.

Lately when I have been frustrated or irritated and am tempted to think or say something sarcastic, degrading, or mean-spirited because of something some of these "neighbors" (read carefully the parable of the Good Samaritan – Luke 10: 29-37) with whom I interact constantly, have done to me or not done for me, thankfully, of late, there has come into my mind, very vividly, the picture of the Savior being humiliated, degraded, ridiculed, slapped in the face, spit upon, scourged and then crucified, and yet HE did not retaliate in any way.

As I think of HIM and HIS restraint and self-control, I am always embarrassed at my little frustrations and irritations which are like mosquito bites compared to what HE endured. I get embarrassed, bite my tongue and ask the Lord to please forgive me and my "natural man" foolishness.

I believe that Jo Anne possesses the quality of "loving kindness" to a high degree as I have observed the way she treats others including me over almost a half-century now. I hasten to say however, that she is not perfect in this character trait. There have been a few times during 47 years of marriage that her loving kindness has worn thin. She has actually been known to raise her voice when addressing me at times which is hard to understand because I am such a pleasant fellow to be around most of the time. I did kind of understand her little lack of loving kindness a few weeks ago after I had finally been discharged to go home from my extended vacation in the local ICU. I was still hallucinating and having horrible nightmares and I called for Jo Anne's assistance almost every half-hour all through the night. About 5 AM as she came in to help me for what seemed like the umpteenth time, she said, "Is there anything else you don't need done that I can do for you right now?"

It does take a great sense of humor and tons of loving kindness and long-suffering to successfully complete this Telestial Journey to the Promised Land.


Thursday, July 7, 2011

Job Revisited

Recently Jo Anne reviewed with me the funeral arrangements and program she and the family had put together when the doctors' prognosis was that I would not make it. They really did an outstanding job and in some ways I hated to deprive them of participating in such a touching experience. However, I did encourage Jo Anne to file the program away somewhere for future use – hopefully quite some time in the future.

I actually am very embarrassed at all the kind words that have come to me through e-mail and personal visits. I have been called a "miracle man" and "a cat with nine lives" or someone with great faith who is very tough and courageous. Only the Lord and I know the truth of the matter, however. It is only because the Lord wants me here that I am still here. I truly know that he is a God of miracles and I have been the recipient of many of them, over the past 22 years in particular. As it is with your lives, my life is in his hands, and I trust that his will will be done and he will let me come "home" according to his divine timetable and not mine. I am very much at peace with that thought.

I have even had family and friends compare me to Job. I must admit that me being compared to Job is like me being compared as a basketball player to Michael Jordan. We aren't even remotely in the same league or on the same planet regarding basketball acumen.
A while back I was reading D&C 121 for the umpteenth time, as many as you have, and had impressed upon me some words I had never seriously considered before. Joseph was pouring out his heart to the Lord from Liberty Jail regarding the trials and tribulations of the Saints, as well as his own personal afflictions. The well known answer that I have always focused on in my study and in my teaching is: "My son, peace be unto thy soul; thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment; And then, if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high...."[D&C 121: 7-8] Now, that is a profound and comforting answer to prayer, not only to Joseph but to anyone who is undergoing adversity of any kind. However, for years I have glossed over what the Lord told Joseph in the next two verses [9-10]. It was important for Joseph to know that his afflictions were but a "small moment" and if endured well God would exalt him on high, but it was equally important for Joseph to put his suffering in proper perspective. He was told "Thy friends do stand by thee...Thou art not yet as Job..." [9-10]
I think the Lord wanted Joseph to know, or at least remind him, that as bad as things were, that not only would He help him but that his friends and family would be instrumental in supporting and getting him through this difficult time. The thing that must have made Job's suffering particularly galling is that he lost the support of his family and friends. Job, I am sure with aching heart, wrote: "My friends scorned me... My kinsfolk have failed, and my familiar friends have forgotten me... All my inward friends abhorred me: and they whom I loved are turned off against me." [Job 16-19.]
Just think of what Job experienced -- the loss of his wealth, family, and health. That was all extremely difficult for him, more than we could imagine I am sure, but it seems to me, and from the scriptures already cited, that the greatest and most difficult thing to deal with was the loss of the support of his family and friends. His physical suffering was immense, but to lose the support of his "friends" seems to have been almost more than he could bear.
I have had impressed upon my mind that we can get through almost any difficulty in life with the help of the Lord and our friends and family. I suppose we can even survive with just the help of the Lord, but without the help and support of friends it would be so much more difficult. If we were to lose the love and support of family and friends, only then would we have some idea of what Job experienced. Thankfully the words that the Lord spoke to Joseph apply to most of us in dealing with the individual challenges that come our way -- "Thy friends do stand by thee...Thou art not yet as Job..."
And so, please never compare me to Job, or yourselves, or anyone else that seems to be having what we might consider a run of "tough luck."
To me herein lies the genius of the organization of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. A BYU professor by the name of Eugene England wrote an essay I once read entitled "The Church Is As True As the Gospel!" (Please forgive me for sharing this thought with you once again because I know I have used it in at least one previous observation years ago.) This title is not just a clever play on words. Christ established his Church knowing that for the power of the atonement to be fully effective in the lives of all mankind, it would require a Church organization where friends and inspired leaders could help and support one another through the rigors of mortality. I am convinced we simply cannot do it on our own. I am reminded of the significant words that were part of the baptismal covenant that the Nephites took upon themselves at the Waters of Mormon that still apply to us today.
"... and now, as ye are desirous to come into the fold of God, and to be called his people, and are willing to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light; Yea, and are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort...Now I say unto you, if this be the desire of your hearts, what have you against being baptized in the name of the Lord...?" [Mosiah 18:8-10]

I have been blessed to be surrounded by family and friends that have taken to heart and are sterling examples of the baptismal covenant recorded in Mosiah 18. According to the dictionary a friend is "One who is attached to another by affection and esteem; a favored companion." [Merriam-Webster online dictionary] Truthfully, my greatest friend in mortality is Jo Anne. However, the dictionary definition, in my mind and heart, applies to all my family members, and so many other "friends" that have supported me and expressed their love to me in countless ways for many years. Instead of my injury making me cynical regarding life and mankind, it has had just the opposite effect because of the way I have been treated by my "friends."

Most of us will never be rich or famous as defined by the world, but anyone who is surrounded by loving family members and friends is truly rich in the only way that really matters. As hard as life can be at times the Lord's words to Joseph help us to keep things in their proper perspective. "Thy friends do stand by thee...Thou art not yet as Job..." [9-10]