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Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Yagottawanna and the Chicken Sauce Empire

This morning in church, I was captivated by a talk that was given on a subject most of us would probably be interested in: the legacies we leave behind. The speaker’s message focused on a simple concept that was expounded beautifully during the course of his talk – our ability to influence the world around us. He pointed out that a large part of our daily influence is molded by the thoughts we choose to entertain and the words we choose to speak. Both carry a power that is able to shape our environment in ways that are both positive and negative, depending on what kind of attitude we adopt.

The speaker went on to talk about the results of what our influence will amount to in the world. Long after we are gone, he told us, we will be remembered for the deeds we have done, the words we have spoken, the love we have shared, and the faith we have mustered in times of trial and difficulty. The sum total of our decisions will add up to our legacy – the person we have chosen to become during our lifetime…and our legacy will determine how we are remembered throughout future eons of time.

The remarks caused me to engage in some serious reflection about where I am in my life in comparison to where I want to be. I was reminded that each thought, word, and action we engage – no matter how seemingly insignificant – comes with its own packet of spiritual energy. The energy that we choose to take into our spiritual digestive system has a sort of chemical reaction with our own spiritual make-up, causing us to shift closer to either light or darkness. Like the slowly-increasing arc of a child being pushed on a playground swing, the inner core of our being gains momentum by our minute-to-minute decisions in choosing positive or negative.

As with most of you, there have been times in my life when I have reached a strong forward push toward light and positive vibes. During those times, I have found myself on high spiritual ground, drawn to the fundamentals of happiness. As I reflected on such times and places today, I realized that a large part of my success or failure in attaining such momentum is founded in the ability to control the spiritual and intellectual matter that is being introduced into my mind. The battle seems to be won not only by forsaking blatantly evil influences, but also by forsaking the buzz of the mundane we so often encounter in life.

As the mundane is replaced with the things that matter, I think our hearts lose much of their natural inclinations to pursue destructive influences. Desires take on the shape and character of the “light” being fed into our systems, and making good decisions evolves into a natural and free-flowing process.

Choosing well becomes as simple as being pushed on a playground swing.

When those conditions are present, the law of momentum is working in our favor.

Since desires seem to be the wellspring of all human behavior, the foundation of our legacies are as secure as the energy of our momentum.

Conversely, if we consistently introducing doubt or negative thinking or into our minds, we seem to gravitate toward the source of that negativity and darkness, uncomfortably shunning light a beetle under a patio block. If we allow such a course to continue, our quality of life reflects our dark mind set, and we find ourselves subject to frequent setbacks that otherwise would be an afterthought in our life’s decisions.

A distraction I seem to be experiencing more and more these past few years comes in the form of excessive busy-ness.

As I consider the fast-moving flow of life these days, my thoughts turn to a customer I spoke with in the drive-thru window at a restaurant I was once employed with. While scrambling to find her money, she laughingly complained of the frantic pace of her life.

“Looks like the only time you’re not busy is when you are asleep,” I joked.

She readily agreed.

Then she almost drove off without her soda.

Her plight left me with some interesting food for thought.

With most of us struggling to schedule time for multiple jobs, school, church, family get-togethers, after-school activities, fitness, diet, meal prep, and all of the other things that make up our lives, how can we hope to find time to calm down and recharge our spirits?

Is there a way to weed through our constant activity, turn off the TV for an hour or two, and focus on the things that will bring a sense of lasting peace?

I’m not sure there is any one cure-all answer available to help us avoid all of life’s distractions
A logo on a worn T-shirt I once heard about in a General Conference talk probably provides the best council I know for accomplishing positive change in the midst of turmoil:

“Ya gotta wanna!”

Desire is the wellspring of behavior.

Back at the drive-thru window, I turned away from my frazzled guest and resumed my own busy workday, stocking the shelves and preparing for the dinner rush.

Funny thing, that dinner-rush.

It came in like a lion every night around 5:30 and left like a lamb around 8:00.

Dinner rush was as predictable as March rain.

One of the reasons I was successful in the frantic pace of the drive-thru window is that I learned to use my free time wisely.

When I took over the window at 2:30 every afternoon, I was usually faced with a depleted stockpile of condiments. Lunch rush took its toll on supplies, and it was up to the person that came in at the shift-change to restock before the dinner rush set in.

I unfortunately learned this the hard way.

When I was first assigned to the drive-thru window, I took the few spare moments that were available between cars to take a break and sip from my Sprite.

Before long, dinner rush arrived.

I was left scrambling for supplies in the midst of the evening chaos, wondering why anyone in their right mind would want to work the drive-thru window. Orders were late, customers were aggravated, and managers looked at me with barely concealed annoyance.

It didn’t take long to learn that sipping Sprite was not the best use of my time between cars.

Though I felt entitled to such diversions, the reality of impending consequences propelled me out of my comfort zone into a more productive state of mind.

No matter what time of day it was, there was rarely a break between cars that lasted over 30 seconds, so the few moments available needed to be squeezed of opportunities like fresh lemons over tea. After working the window for several months, I developed an organized system of replenishing the condiment shelves, sometimes handing food out of the window with one hand and stocking with the other.

I found that not all condiments were of equal importance.

Some items fell into the relaxed category of “sort of” necessary.

Some were “very” necessary.

Some caused instant disaster if allowed to run out.

The worst disaster that could occur during a dinner rush was to run out of chicken sauce.

The sauces at our restaurant were a big hit, and the sauce bins on the wall in drive-thru only carried me about a third of the way through a good dinner rush. In order to compensate for this, I had to take time before the rush to build what I called the Chicken Sauce Empire.

The Chicken Sauce Empire was accomplished by stacking dozens of individual chicken sauces together in groups on the prep-counter by the drive-thru register. As the numbers increased, the stacks of sauce began to resemble a miniature city rising up boldly from the drive-thru counter, earning them their lofty nickname. If enough containers were stacked before dinner, the drive-thru cashier could hope for the sauces to withstand the dinner rush, leaving him or her with smiling customers, appreciative managers, and a smooth running operation.

The sauce packets tended to restrict movement on the counter somewhat, but the reward of having them close at hand far outweighed the inconvenience of space reduction.

Many days, I felt like I was fighting an uphill battle to get the Chicken Sauce Empire up by dinner time.

Sometimes I was only able to stack 2 or 3 individual packets before having to switch priorities and serve the next customer at the window. Sometimes a customer asked for lots of sauce with their order, depleting the stockpile I had assembled. Sometimes there were no more boxes of sauce at the front counter, causing me to leave my post at the window for a search of the stockroom.
Sometimes – every now and then – there was a short beak in customers, allowing time for rapid progress.

No matter the circumstances, I somehow succeeded most days in building the Chicken Sauce Empire before 5:00PM.

In the midst of our evening dinner rush, I would sometimes look around at the chaos and wonder how I ever found the time to construct my Empire.

In those moments, the first thing that usually came to mind was a familiar t-shirt logo:

“Ya gotta wanna.”

Desire is the root of human behavior.

It is the first push on the swing of momentum.

As I prepared myself each day to face another evening in the drive-thru window, I thought about how I would try to muster the gotta wanna I needed to build another Chicken Sauce Empire.

When I got to work at 2:00, the swing of momentum would be sitting motionless, waiting for the first push to get it going.

That push never seemed to happen exactly the same way twice.

While I would likely begin the task by utilizing my organized stocking system, time and experience taught me that success is not founded in systems.

Everyone has their own way of doing things.

Chicken Sauce Empires can be short and wide, tall and narrow….and everything in between.

The secret of successful drive-thru service was not something that could be accomplished in a teachable series of steps.

It was (and is) a secret so simple that many brush it under the carpet while searching for more intelligent solutions.

Yet the secret has the power to improve much more than the service at fast food restaurants.

It has the power to improve our quality of life and help us focus on what matters most.

It has the power to improve our legacy.

Ya gotta wanna.

Life seems to be an awful lot like one of those twelve-count chicken nuggets that went out of the drive-thru window at dinner time.

The nuggets are great, but it’s the sauce that brings out the flavor.

The sauces of life come in such little packets you hardly even notice them.

Until dinner rush comes.

That’s when those little packets of sauce sustain you.

That’s when you’re glad you stopped sipping the Sprite and took the time to prepare.

Yes, it was inconvenient.

You can’t really say how you managed to do it.

But somehow it got done…. and now you know what made it happen.

Ya gotta wanna.

That is the secret to building a good Chicken Sauce Empire.
That is the secret to building a good legacy.

It’s the secret to building a great physique in the bodybuilding world, improving your strength as a power lifter, or becoming a bonafide gym beast in a cross-fit group.

A bit of old T-shirt wisdom works every time….with a little help from a wife that hides the remote control and tells me to “get to the gym.”

I don’t think Katherine has ever built a Chicken Sauce Empire, but it seems she has figured out the secret just the same.

Maybe it came to her while she was swinging Matthew on the playground out back.

It just takes a little push.

Ya gotta wanna.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Part-Time Introvert, Full-Time Sunbeam

If you're ever wandering around at a crowded party and are looking for a fun way to kill time between conversations, you might try seeing if you can pick out which of the guests in attendance are the introverts. Actually, it's not much trouble to spot introverted personalities if you can attune yourself to reading body language and are familiar with the telltale signs to watch for.
Here is the definition I came across when I Googled the word introvert:
1. A shy person who tends not to socialize much
2. Someone whose feelings and thoughts are directed inward.
Introverts are the ones who  hang out on the fringes of social gatherings and business meetings, smiling as they listen to the anecdotes and stories of their more outgoing friends and wondering how much longer it will be before they can retreat to the blessed respite of home for recuperation. They are the ones who look like they are more drained than energized at the close of a neighborhood barbecue or local networking event.
The next time you are out for a stroll and decide to plop down next to a stranger on a nearby park bench, you can likely gauge whether or not you are sitting next to an introvert by applying this simple test:
Just smile and spark up a conversation.
Then wait for their reaction.
If they smile broadly, return the greeting with gusto and proceed to tell you their life story, they are probably not a good specimen.
If, on the other hand, they smile, quietly return your greeting, and look back down at their half-read book or return to the solace of their thoughts, you can assume that you have perched yourself next to a card-carrying member of the introvert species.
Many of us tend to feel sorry for people with such a subtle disposition.
Such intentional withdrawal from the stimulation of social connections can make an introvert seem like someone who is missing out on life. To their more extroverted counterparts, introverts might seem withdrawn, fearful, or even downright rude.
As a well-seasoned introvert who has inherited this curious genetic from a long line of like-minded family members, I like to think I have developed a better understanding of what makes an introvert’s internal mechanism tick by taking time over the years (alone on a park bench, of course) to recount some of my own personal experiences in social situations.
Unfortunately, my musings have never helped me come up with a solution to the problem of being an introvert in a largely extroverted society.
In fact, I have come to the conclusion that being an introvert is not really a problem at all.
It’s just a personality quirk.
When I take a moment to consider my own natural disposition, I certainly don’t feel that I have fallen victim to some peculiar curse meted out by an unjust god, nor do not believe that I am a hopelessly selfish person who can’t seem to figure out that it’s not all about me. Rather, I see myself as the beneficiary of a blessing that seems best expressed in the words of one of my favorite poems:
Go placidly amid the noise and the haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible, without surrender,
be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
and listen to others, even the dull and ignorant;
They too have their story.
Avoid loud and aggressive persons;
they are vexatious to the spirit.
Be yourself. Especially do not feign affection.
Neither be cynical about love;
for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment
it is as perennial as the grass.
Beyond a healthy discipline,
Be gentle with yourself.
You are a child of the universe no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here,
and whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.
Therefore, be at peace with God,
Whatever you conceive Him to be.
And whatever your labors and aspirations,
in the noisy confusion of life,
keep peace in your soul.
With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.
Be cheerful.
Strive to be happy.
To me, this poem expresses an emphasis on nurturing the more quiet and reverent aspects of our nature. It’s message meshes well with my innate disposition to be spiritually regenerated in moments when I am seemingly alone with my thoughts.
In order to function effectively (especially in social situations), I have found that I must make time to address what author Thomas Moore calls Care of the Soul. For me, this Care of the Soul is most readily found in times of quiet reflection — while spending a few moments alone with my thoughts and God. Though I try to plan such times of recuperation and revitalizing into the structure of my day, the busyness of everyday life sometimes has a way of thwarting well-intentioned efforts.
Fortunately, there is always a park bench or secluded alcove somewhere nearby to sit and just be still.
If, in the midst of such a moment, I am hailed by one of my more extroverted friends who is bound and determined to initiate a boisterous discussion on world politics, I have learned that it is best to wipe the pained expression off of my face, put on a smile, and try to be accommodating.
Lately, my life has had a bit of a famine in introverted moments.
While it has been difficult to pin down the exact reasons for my difficulty, my spirit has definitely been the worse for this shortage of alone-time. For weeks, I have waited patiently for an opportunity to repent of my neglect and get away for some time by myself.
This past Saturday morning, my patience finally paid off.
I woke up early and was elated when I realized that I had nothing on my schedule.
The house was still and quiet.
Katherine had just gotten out of bed and was studying for a test at her new job.
The kids were still sleeping.
There was no moral or logical circumstance that would prevent me from enjoying a short outing alone.
I got dressed, brushed my teeth, put on a pair of shorts and a t-shirt, and headed for the car.
If my calculations were right, I had about an hour and a half to kill before I would be missed.
Where could I go for a short get-away?
The oceanfront in Virginia Beach was too far away for the time-frame I had in mind.
A visit to Yorktown Beach would probably be rushed as well.
I didn’t really feel like going for a ride on the ferry.
I finally settled for a walk on nearby Duke of Gloucester Street.
The cool air and crystal clear sky would be great for such an outing….and it was accessible in just over ten minutes.
As I got into the car and rode under the thick canopy of trees that lined the edges of John Tyler Highway, I scrolled through the channels on the radio to find a station that mirrored my tranquil frame of mind.
Our family’s mini-van had been hit by a deer the previous week, so we were enjoying a rental van while the Astro was in the shop for repairs. The rental was loaded with gadgets and accessories that were sure to make the transition back into our regular vehicle a difficult move to maneuver. One of the features that would likely be the source of poignant withdrawal pains was the satellite radio. I had fiddled with a satellite radio once in my Dad’s work truck on a previous trip to Atlanta, but had never taken time to really appreciate the selections that was available. In the rental van, there must have been a hundred or more stations to choose from, with DJ’s that specialized in everything from 80’s music to movie themes to sports talk shows.
I could definitely get used to this.
After a few moments of listening to pre-game hype on a sports network, I settled on a station that was called The Coffeehouse.
I smiled at the name.
Since my conversion as a Latter Day Saint years ago, I have had little to do with tea or coffee as part of my morning wake-up call. (Check your health journals….Mormons aren’t the only ones with this particular disposition anymore) Today, however, I determined that the mellow ambiance of the acoustics on The Coffeehouse would set just the right tone for my walk on Duke of Gloucester Street. Maybe I could hold out hope to be excused by the coffee-drinking community and be allowed to sit in on the music session with a Big Gulp full of lemonade.
The mild acoustic music was quietly hypnotic, and, as I arrived at my destination, I was reluctant to leave the Coffeehouse behind.
For just a moment, I entertained the notion of abandoning my plans for a walk. Instead, maybe I could get in few minutes of people-watching in the company of my new friends at the Coffeehouse…all from the controlled climate of the van.
Realizing that time was in short supply, I opened the door.
The cool air and slight breeze helped me forget about XM radio, and I began my walk through Merchant’s Square.
Whatever temperature it was, I hoped it would last the rest of the day.
It was as close to a perfect morning as I could remember.
I left the rows of unlit shops behind and headed into the historic district, noting some of the trees had begun their annual transformation from green to bright red or orange. I thought about a favorite tree that was situated on the corner of Scotland Street and Richmond Road and wondered if its leaves had started to change yet. This particular tree has always been one of the first to display fall foliage, and I look forward each year to seeing the bright red leaves contrasting boldly with the lime-green foliage of the slower trees in the background.
I made a mental note to look for the tree on the way home.
The narrow brick sidewalks lining the sides of Duke of Gloucester were mostly deserted, and the stillness was broken only by an occasional jogger or dog enthusiast out for a morning trip to the canine latrine.
To my left, the Governor’s Palace rested majestically on the horizon like a softly muted oil painting, silently overlooking the mist along the Palace green.
The tall belfry of the Capital building loomed straight ahead, signaling the stopping point of the walk and reflecting the orange glow of the sunlight.
I looked into the sky above the giant Maples and Live Oaks and saw that a rogue cloud was poised to obscure the sun from its perch above the cobblestone streets. The cloud soon succeeded in maneuvering its way to the center of the celestial stage, causing a brief eclipse of the morning sunlight and casting a dreary pall over the street. After a moment, the  sunshine made its way out from behind its hiding place and threw a dazzling array of sharply divided beams streaming through the cloud-cover onto the tops of the trees, draping them in a blanket of golden light.
I continued walking in silence, content to listen for the crunch of occasional rocks grinding between my worn-out tennis-shoe and the brick sidewalk.
Squirrels were busy darting back and forth by the street, scouring the ground for fallen acorns.
Birds chirped the last notes of their summer song, probably envisioning the palm trees and warm ocean breezes that would soon be lighting in.
The sun shook off the remnants of its misty competitor and shone brightly against the seamless blue backdrop.
After ten or fifteen minutes of carefree ambling along the sidewalk, I found myself nearing the old brick wall in front of the Capital.
I slowed my pace to savor the moment, then wended my way around the cul-de-sac and retraced my steps toward Merchant’s Square.
The return trip proved to be just as enjoyable as the eastbound hike had been.
I had recently been hired as an employee in the historic area, so I decided to entertain myself by naming off the colonial buildings as I passed them — without having to worry about the details of the work that would soon be going on inside.
To my right was the Pasteur & Galt Apothecary, a colonial version of today’s CVS.
A few blocks down was Chowning’s Tavern and the adjacent apple-cider stand.
Then there was the old Court House.
Then the Mary Dickinson Shop.
I staved off my mind’s attempts to dredge up Monday morning’s to-do list and the barrage of job-requests that would surely be waiting for me on my audix.
There would be time enough for that on Monday.
This morning was too nice to waste with worry.
As I approached the Palace Green for the second time, I considered extending my stroll to include a trip by the Palace, the Wythe House, and the other buildings that lined the quarter-mile U-turn.
For no reason in particular, I decided against it, and continued on walking toward Merchant’s Square.
I was glad that I did.
When I arrived in the Square, the block was bustling with activity.
In the short time it had taken me to walk the length of Duke of Gloucester Street, the Farmer’s Market (a collection of local merchants who convene on Saturday mornings to pitch bazaar-like tents and showcase everything from fresh vegetables to natural bee honey) had been set up in the Square and was ready for business.
People from all walks of life were streaming into the roped-off segment of shops and restaurants, pilfering through the attractively displayed merchandise and engaging in conversations that ranged from how long the good weather would last to who was going golfing in the afternoon.
I made a tentative round through the myriad of different booths and gazed with a measure of awe at the tantalizing displays of fruits, vegetables, berries, gourds, fresh seafood, organic honey, locally grown peanuts, bison jerky, goat’s-milk soap, and other eclectic fares that were being peddled.
Then I headed back over to a shaded section of benches just in front of the Toymaker.
There, I found a local musician situated between the Toymaker and the Trellis Restaurant who had set up a booth and was transmitting his handiwork over an impressive-looking sound system.
I smiled at the scene and did what any self-respecting introvert would do in such a moment: I found a vacant bench and settled back for a few minutes of people-watching. I noted with satisfaction that there were several other people sitting alone that seemed to be enjoying the scenery in the Square — kindred spirits that just wanted some quiet time with their thoughts.
The music continued to drift out and permeate the busy sidewalks in the proximity of the lively marketplace.
I relaxed and allowed the harmony of the composition to take over for a few moments, feeling completely at ease with myself and the world around me.
The melody was a mixture of rich acoustics laced through with Celtic undertones; a combination that I found both invigorating and relaxing.
I looked back over at the booth and wondered what kind of instrument could create such a resonance of sound. A large stand-up sign inside the tent put my question to rest: the curious-looking device was called a hammered dulcimer. The musician, a hail-fellow-well-met type, appeared to be enjoying himself immensely as he searched his CD’s for another song to play for his small audience. He had a full beard, a pleasant smile, and a hearty laugh that seemed to put those who were in his presence at ease. He clearly enjoyed talking to others about his music, and seemed  delighted when someone would approach his booth to ask questions. His explanations tended to shift the focus of the discussion back to his music rather than to himself and his talent, but he accepted the occasional accolades offered by admiring bystanders with a smile and a measure of grace.
Seeing the musician so thoroughly enjoying himself among the mingling onlookers reminded me of a movie our family used to watch when our daughter Kendall was around three years old. The movie, which was called Barney’s Night before Christmas, was a favorite of Kendall’s, and she counted the days off each year until one of us would pull the DVD case out of our collection so that she could enjoy watching the dinosaur’s holiday escapades.
I know.
We’ll pause here for a second so you can get it out of your system.
There’s not much you can say about the over-sized purple oaf that Katherine and I haven’t already murmured under our breath at one time or another.
That being said, there are dozens of movie and television personalities being thrust at today’s youth who are much worse by way of behavior and example than Barney , so, at the time, we tried to keep our complaints to ourselves. Though Katherine and I privately winced when Kendall insisted on watching Barney’s Night before Christmas three or four times a day during the Christmas season, I think we both secretly enjoyed the holiday mood the movie always set in our home.
My favorite part of the video was when the children got to meet Santa Claus.
The man who was cast as Santa was quite a believable actor.
He exuded a spirit of kindness and benevolence that would be hard to portray had it not been genuine. He seemed to take great pleasure in setting aside his busy schedule for a few moments so that he could show the visiting children how his workshop operated and how each individual toy was made with precision and care. Per a carefully crafted script, every child was made to feel important as he or she was introduced to Mrs. Claus and the staff of elves, and they were all delighted when they were asked to help make a few last-minute toys and sing the Twelve Days of Christmas. One of the children even left the workshop with an early Christmas present as a reward for showing kindness to another in the group.
Watching Santa’s interactions with the excited boys and girls left little doubt in my mind about whether or not he kept his spiritual priorities in good repair….even if only in the realm of fiction.
I guessed I could probably take a few pointers from him.
As I thought about it, I wondered if all of us haven’t had children pulling at our shirtsleeves or pant legs when we were in the middle of working on something we thought was especially important to complete.
Maybe the child was a son or a daughter.
Maybe it was a niece or a nephew.
Maybe it was a friend of the family.
Whoever it was, they may have inadvertently intruded on us while we were in the midst of doing something that we really, really needed to get finished on time.
Something like, say, delivering toys to every boy and girl in the world on Christmas Eve.
How did we respond to that situation?
Since watching Barney’s Night before Christmas, I have wondered how much happier my kids would be if we answered such tugs and pulls in the same manner this fictitious Santa did – with love, patience, and genuine interest.
How much happier would my own life be if I were consistently making choices that demonstrated  such kindness?
As I entertained these questions back on the bench in the Square, I reflected on how much the musician with the hammered dulcimer reminded me of Barney’s St. Nicholas.
The musician was clearly passionate about doing something that richly blessed the lives of others.
He loved making music.
And he really seemed to love being around people.
So he had found a way to successfully combine the two.
If you’re a musician, I guess that’s the whole point of making music – to bring a smile to the face of another.
Reflections like these almost always lead me at some point to wonder about the nature and personality of our Heavenly Father, as I did after the first time I watched the Santa in Barney’s Night before Christmas.
I wondered if He would enjoy explaining the mysteries of the universe to us (assuming we were prepared to receive such knowledge), just like Santa Claus did with the children who visited him at the North Pole. Would He take time to in show us some of the intricacies of His creation with the same measure of enthusiasm that the street musician did in showing the workings of the hammered dulcimer to his fans at the Farmer’s Market ? Would He be able to find time in the midst of governing His universe to even bother with us?
I have always believed that He would.
After all, He’s our father isn’t He?
In 1 John 4:8, we are told that “God is love.”
With this in mind, I have often found myself thinking about the character and personality of Heavenly Father as I have read this passage in 1 Corinthians 4:
Love is patient and kind;
Love is not jealous or boastful;
Love is not arrogant or rude.
Love does not insist on its own way;
Love is not irritable or resentful;
It does not rejoice at wrong,
but rejoices in the right.
Love bears all things, believes all things,
hopes all things, endures all things.
Recently, at a Stake Conference of our church, our Stake President commented on some of the experiences he had while serving a mission for our church over in England. While proselyting among the people there, he noted that many seemed to have a very low opinion of God. According to him, the people seemed to believe that God existed solely to administer harsh reprimands for sin or to point the finger of blame toward those who made mistakes.
To them, God was the great punisher.
“I never understood that,” he said.
Quoting a familiar LDS children’s song, he explained how he had mustered the faith to continue speaking out for Jesus in such a somber-minded place:
“I thought that ‘Jesus wanted me for a sunbeam’” he said, holding in a laugh as he remembered the melody of the Primary song Jesus Wants Me for a Sunbeam. “I’m not kidding…I really believed that.”
I think his point was well-taken by many of us who attended the conference.
How we choose to look at God — what our opinions are of His nature, attributes, and relationship to us as His children — will largely determine what our attitude is toward the world around us.
Do we believe God is kind and forgiving, as is noted in 1 John, or do we believe He is angry and impatient, waiting for an opportunity to punish us when we fail?
There is perhaps no question more relevant to our lives.
As I thought about my own beliefs and opinions concerning God, I turned my attention back toward the musician, who was now totally engrossed in explaining to a couple of people how his hammered dulcimer was constructed.
He was still smiling.
Still seemed to be happy to share his time and show others how he created his music.
Soon, the conversations surrounding the musician began to fizzle out.
The CD player quieted.
The musician put away his previously recorded music and pulled up a chair to sit in front of the hammered dulcimer.
He fretted with a few of the strings for a moment, getting himself comfortable with the tuning.
Then he positioned a small hammer in his hand and began to play.
The activity in the square seemed to settle a little.
The musician’s song started quietly, and progressed upward into a strong, vibrant soundscape.
At length, the music that was bursting from his small vendor’s tent was impossible to ignore, and it began to cast a spell on the people that were mingling in the Square.
The whole atmosphere of the market seemed to change as the strings reverberated with a perfection in harmony that I can’t adequately describe.
Good as they were, the previously showcased CD’s containing decades of work lay idly by, forgotten in the beauty of this new moment.
From my perch on the bench, the individual melodies took on an almost heavenly ambiance, penetrating the depths of my spirit with what seemed like a million bursts of light and inspiration. I have experienced similar flashes of spirituality at various times in my life, but I have generally found such moments to be more noticeable while engaged in more traditional activities like fasting, prayer, or scripture study.
I couldn’t recollect an experience like this happening in the midst of a crowd in Merchant’s Square.
Whether or not the moment had a precedent, I knew enough to recognize the thoughts and feelings that attend the influence of God’s spirit, and I bowed my head in acknowledgement of His presence in the flow of the music.
As I felt the spirit touch my heart, I was convinced that God was pleased with this man’s performance in the Square.
It seemed to me that the well-practiced musician had inadvertently become a vessel for something much larger and more powerful than himself.
The music continued to capture the interest of nearby strollers.
A few more people quietly gathered around the tent, seemingly drawn toward the circle of onlookers by the spirit of the music.
For the moment, we had been transformed into a community of introverts.
There was a hush in the area around the tent that was almost reverent.
The hammered dulcimer and its proprietor  which had elicited mild curiosity just moments ago, suddenly brought to mind a poem I once heard called The Touch of the Master’s Hand.
It was battered and scarred, And the auctioneer thought
it hardly worth his while
To waste his time on the old violin,
but he held it up with a smile.
“What am I bid, good people”, he cried,
“Who starts the bidding for me?”
“One dollar, one dollar, Do I hear two?” “Two dollars, who makes it three?”
“Three dollars once, three dollars twice, going for three,”
But, No, From the room far back a gray bearded man
Came forward and picked up the bow,
Then wiping the dust from the old violin ,
And tightening up the strings,
He played a melody, pure and sweet ,
As sweet as the angel sings.
The music ceased and the auctioneer
With a voice that was quiet and low,
Said “What now am I bid for this old violin?”
As he held it aloft with its’ bow.
“One thousand, one thousand, Do I hear two?”
“Two thousand, Who makes it three?”
“Three thousand once, three thousand twice,
Going and gone”, said he.
The audience cheered, But some of them cried,
“We just don’t understand.”
“What changed its’ worth?” Swift came the reply.
“The Touch of the Masters Hand.”
And many a man with life out of tune
All battered with bourbon and gin
Is auctioned cheap to a thoughtless crowd
Much like that old violin
A mess of pottage, a glass of wine,
A game and he travels on.
He is going once, he is going twice,
He is going and almost gone.
But the Master comes,
And the foolish crowd
never can quite understand,
The worth of a soul
and the change that is wrought
By the Touch of the Masters’ Hand.
As the song finally ended and the onlookers lingered contentedly in the ensuing silence, I said a silent prayer thanking God for such a unexpectedly sublime moment.
For me, something special had happened in the midst of the crowd out in Merchant’s Square
Something totally unplanned and unexpected.
It was the touch of the Master’s hand on my shoulder speaking words that still resonated within:
Peace, be still.
In that moment, He seemed to be everywhere at once.
It was both amazing and surreal…in a quiet and ironically unassuming way.
I wondered if we had gotten a taste of what it would be like to “enter into God’s rest.”
Not as the world giveth, give I unto you.”
Such an unseen occurrence wasn't likely to get much coverage on the local news station, and it probably wouldn't make front page of the morning newspaper or even the Last Word column in the Gazette, but the magic of the moment was nonetheless just as real to me as breathing as I took silent respite in the semicircle of people surrounding the small tent.
I wondered if everyone who was there experienced a measure of this quiet jubilation.
It was hard to tell.
I only know the things I felt inside of my own spirit and saw in the faces of a few of those who stood around me.
Is it possible that the heavens looked with favor on such a small group in such a small place under such ordinary circumstances?
I like to think so.
For me, it’s just part of the joy of believing in something that I already know is there.
I can feel it.
I have faith in it.
I know it.
And I don’t think any of us have to be an introvert to do that.
As I reluctantly left my perch on the bench and headed back toward the rental van and the remnants of the Coffeehouse, I looked one last time around me at the people out in the Square.
The crowd had begun to disperse from the sidewalk in front of the musician’s tent.
A few still lingered, apparently enjoying a rest from their shopping.
The musician moved away from the hammered dulcimer and headed over to his CD collection to look for a suitable song to play over the PA.
Just like that, things were back to normal.
The chaotic bustle picked back up as the morning sun warmed the air.
People were laughing, joking, buying and selling again.
Some just meandered along in the midst of the colorful marketplace, content to pass away the morning socializing among familiar faces.
Yes, it seemed like things were back to normal in the Square ….and that included me.
The spiritual reservoir that I had come to rely on for daily sustenance was full again.
But notwithstanding my gratitude for this unanticipated gift of the spirit, the experience left me with some questions about how and where an introvert fits into the grand scheme of God’s plan.
Is there really a place in God’s service for people who have such an inconveniently quiet personality?
My thoughts return to that definition I Googled online concerning the personality of an introvert:
1. A shy person who tends not to socialize much
2. Someone whose feelings and thoughts are directed inward
How does a low-key personality-type measure up against those who never seem to need a break; who always seem to naturally recharge during the heat of battle; who are energized just by being in the presence of others? I once had a boss who had such an outgoing disposition, and I always marveled at how much she was able to accomplish without showing signs of mental or spiritual drain.
She kind of reminded me of Mrs. Claus.
Or a female version of a certain street musician.
Joseph Smith, the founder of my church, once said something that was interesting to me.
In answer to questions about why he was allowed to participate in recreational activities that, to those observing him, seemed to be beneath the dignity of a prophet of the Lord, he made this comment:
“A prophet is only a prophet when he is acting as such,” he said.
To some people, this answer was confusing.
To me, it was pretty simple.
Not every minute thing a prophet does or says during his lifetime comes as a result of inspiration from the Lord.
For example, when a prophet is speaking under the influence of the Holy Ghost at an assembly of the church, he is acting in his role as a prophet.
When he is choosing what he will have for breakfast or playing with his children outdoors on a Saturday afternoon, he is no longer acting in that role.
Maybe the same principle is true for the people are known as introverts.
“An introvert is only an introvert when he or she is acting as such.”
Something about that idea seemed right.
I felt a measure of comfort.
Some people are just naturally quiet — that will probably never change.
But that’s not all of what being an introvert is about.
The other half is about being inwardly focused.
Maybe introverts are only introverts when their spiritual well has gone dry.
Maybe they are simply expressing a need for some quiet time to gather their thoughts and find peace in their souls so that they actually have something inside that is worth giving. Every ecclesiastical leader that I am aware of endorses setting time aside for pondering, praying, and thinking about the things that matter most to us.
Even Jesus left the crowds behind him from time to time and went into the wilderness to pray.
He knew the secret to spiritual well-being.
It’s a secret that we will one day all come to acknowledge:
All strength comes from the Father.
And the Father speaks in a still, small voice.
He speaks in a voice so quiet that it s hard to recognize if it’s noisy inside of our spirits.
Yet His voice is everywhere….all around.
We stay so busy that we can’t hear Him most of the time.
But He is there, whispering words of comfort when the rogue clouds shadow out the light of the morning sun.
He is just waiting for us to take a morning walk — or whatever else does it for us — to quiet our minds and our hearts so that we can hear Him.
He wants for us to know Him.
He wants for us to trust Him.
He wants for us to know that He is always there for us.
He wants for us to make good choices that will bless our lives and the lives of others.
So He speaks to all of us — to you and to me, to help us on our way.
Sometimes, if the mood is right and the music is good, He will even speak to a few of His children gathered together at the Farmer’s Market in the Square.
Stranger things have happened.
As I walked slowly back through the crowd toward the rental van and the end of my short trip, I reluctantly bid farewell to my part-time introvert friends in the marketplace.
I passed by the last tent and looked up to see if there were any more rogue clouds dotting the sky.
Not a one.
Sometimes, it’s like that.
I wondered absently what I would do with the rest of the morning.
Katherine and the kids would soon be wondering where I had gone.
I had to think about what I would tell them.
It wasn’t likely that I would be able to find words that could capture the spirit I felt on Duke of Gloucester Street.
Maybe it’s supposed to be that way.
Maybe I’d try to write about it sometime.
Or, maybe I could just show Katherine and the kids what I had felt inside by pretending to be Santa for rest of the day.
Not with toys or presents, but with something far more valuable:
I opened the door to the rental van and turned the ignition.

 The Coffeehouse resumed its mellow musical flavor in the front seat.
I put the van in drive and headed out toward the Y-shaped intersection of Confusion Corner.
As I passed by the big tree over on Scotland Street, I peered through the tinted glass to check on the color of the leaves.
Still green.
Maybe I’d try again next week.
I wondered if the folks playing the records at the Coffeehouse took requests this time of morning.
I thought about giving them a call for a song request.
An acoustic, of course.
I couldn’t really put my finger on the reason why, but had the strangest urge to hear a song I hadn’t listened to in quite awhile:
Jesus Wants Me for a Sunbeam.