The Music of the Gospel

Photo courtesy of flickr.com/dancing
Photo courtesy of flickr.com/dancing

Years ago I listened to a radio interview of a young doctor who worked in a hospital in the Navajo Nation. He told of an experience he had one night when an old Native American man with long braided hair came into the emergency room. The young doctor took his clipboard, approached the man, and said, “How can I help you?” The old man looked straight ahead and said nothing. The doctor, feeling somewhat impatient, tried again. “I cannot help you if you don’t speak to me,” he said. “Tell me why you have come to the hospital.”

The old man then looked at him and said, “Do you dance?” As the young doctor pondered the strange question, it occurred to him that perhaps his patient was a tribal medicine man who, according to ancient tribal customs, sought to heal the sick through song and dance rather than through prescribing medication.

“No,” said the doctor, “I don’t dance. Do you dance?” The old man nodded yes. Then the doctor asked, “Could you teach me to dance?”

The old man’s response has for many years caused me much reflection. “I can teach you to dance,” he said, “but you have to hear the music.”

Sometimes in our homes, we successfully teach the dance steps but are not as successful in helping our family members to hear the music. And as the old medicine man well knew, it is hard to dance without music. Dancing without music is awkward and unfulfilling—even embarrassing. Have you ever tried it?

In section 8 of the Doctrine and Covenants, the Lord taught Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery, “Yea, behold, I will tell you in your mind and in your heart, by the Holy Ghost, which shall come upon you and which shall dwell in your heart”. We learn the dance steps with our minds, but we hear the music with our hearts. The dance steps of the gospel are the things we do; the music of the gospel is the joyful spiritual feeling that comes from the Holy Ghost. It brings a change of heart and is the source of all righteous desires. The dance steps require discipline, but the joy of the dance will be experienced only when we come to hear the music.

There are those who ridicule members of the Church for the things we do. That is understandable. Those who dance often appear strange or awkward or, to use a scriptural term, “peculiar” (1 Peter 2:9) to those who cannot hear the music. Have you ever stopped your car at a stoplight next to a car where the driver was dancing and singing at the top of his lungs—but you couldn’t hear a sound because your windows were rolled up? Didn’t he look a little peculiar? If our children learn the dance steps without learning to hear and to feel the beautiful music of the gospel, they will over time become uncomfortable with the dance and will either quit dancing or, almost as bad, keep dancing only because of the pressure they feel from others who are dancing around them.

The challenge for all of us who seek to teach the gospel is to expand the curriculum beyond just the dance steps. Our children’s happiness depends on their ability to hear and love the beautiful music of the gospel. How do we do it?

First, we must keep our own lives attuned to the correct spiritual frequency. Back in the olden days, before the digital age, we found our favorite radio station by carefully turning the radio dial until it lined up perfectly with the station’s frequency. As we approached the number, we could hear only static. But when we finally made the precise alignment, our favorite music could be heard clearly. In our lives, we have to align with the correct frequency in order to hear the music of the Spirit.

When we receive the gift of the Holy Ghost after baptism, we are filled with the heavenly music that accompanies conversion. Our hearts are changed, and we “have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually” (Mosiah 5:2). But the Spirit will not endure unkindness or pride or envy. If we lose that delicate influence in our lives, the rich harmonies of the gospel can quickly become dissonant and can ultimately be silenced. Alma asked the poignant question: “If ye have felt to sing the song of redeeming love, I would ask, can ye feel so now?” (Alma 5:26).

Parents, if our lives are out of tune with the music of the gospel, we need to tune them up. As President Thomas S. Monson taught us last October, we must ponder the path of our feet (see “Ponder the Path of Thy Feet,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2014, 86–88). We know how to do it. We must walk the same path that we walked when we first heard the heavenly strains of gospel music. We exercise faith in Christ, repent, and take the sacrament; we feel more strongly the influence of the Holy Ghost; and the music of the gospel begins to play again in our lives.

Second, when we can hear the music ourselves, we must try our best to perform it in our homes. It is not something that can be forced or compelled. “No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood”—or by virtue of being the dad or the mom or the biggest or the loudest—“only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, … by love unfeigned; [and] by kindness” (D&C 121:41–42).

Why would these attributes lead to increasing power and influence in a home? Because they are the attributes that invite the Spirit of the Holy Ghost. They are the attributes that tune our hearts to the music of the gospel. When they are present, the dance steps will be performed more naturally and joyfully by all of the dancers in the family, without the need for threats or intimidation or compulsion.

When our children are little, we can sing them the lullaby of love unfeigned, and when they are obstinate and refuse to go to sleep at night, we might need to sing the lullaby of long-suffering. When they are teenagers, we can tune out the cacophony of arguments and threats and, instead, perform the beautiful music of persuasion—and perhaps sing the second verse of the lullaby of long-suffering. Parents can perform in perfect harmony the tandem attributes of gentleness and meekness. We can invite our children to sing along with us in unison as we practice kindness toward a neighbor who is in need.

It won’t come all at once. As every accomplished musician knows, it takes diligent practice to perform beautiful music. If early efforts at making music seem dissonant and discordant, remember that dissonance cannot be corrected by criticism. Dissonance in the home is like darkness in a room. It does little good to scold the darkness. We must displace the darkness by introducing light.

So if the basses in your family choir are too loud and overbearing, or if the string section in your family orchestra is a little too shrill or a little bit sharp, or if those impetuous piccolos are out of tune or out of control, be patient. If you’re not hearing the music of the gospel in your home, please remember these two words: keep practicing. With God’s help, the day will come when the music of the gospel will fill your home with unspeakable joy.

Even when performed well, the music will not solve all of our problems. There will still be crescendos and decrescendos in our lives, staccatos and legatos. Such is the nature of life on planet earth.

But when we add music to the dance steps, the sometimes complicated rhythms of marriage and family life tend to move toward a harmonious balance. Even our most difficult challenges will add rich plaintive tones and moving motifs. The doctrines of the priesthood will begin to distill upon our souls as the dews from heaven. The Holy Ghost will be our constant companion, and our scepter—a clear reference to power and influence—will be an unchanging scepter of righteousness and truth. And our dominion will be an everlasting dominion. And without compulsory means it will flow unto us forever and ever (see D&C 121:45–46).

Word Power

Photo courtesy of fickr.com/Caro Wallis
Photo courtesy of fickr.com/Caro Wallis

I am convinced that we are placed here on earth, engaged in a journey towards character. A high adventure. A swashbuckling story. We begin our story at different points, in comparison to others and we move at differing speeds. Some of us walk confidently in the right direction while others huddle fearfully near the beginning of the road. Others walk backwards and believe they are not.

For me, the path we travel is one that changes us from selfish, self-centered creatures into angels that consider and value others. I use the word angels deliberately, for that is exactly who I think they are.

If we learn nothing else from our life in mortality, this lesson, this shift in perspective, makes it worth all the effort God puts into sustaining us out on this beautiful globe hanging ever so precariously in the heavens.

For those of you who have made the heart-wrenching shift from looking at everything through the lens of ‘self’, to seeing the impact of life on others, bravo! For those of us who catch glimpses of it all but have a hard time making the change, keep working at it and praying for heaven’s help.

If you want to see for yourself the impact we have on each other, here is a simple yet profound example. The power of words combined with the beauty of an unselfish soul, what comes of it will have majesty and the effects will live on forever.

My favorite quote from the video, ‘Hate is a learned behavior, love is natural.’

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The Greatest Decision

Photo courtesy of flickr.com/Flood G.
Photo courtesy of flickr.com/Flood G.

Benjamin Landart was 15 years old in 1888. He was an accomplished violinist and living on a farm in northern Utah with his mother and seven brothers and sisters was sometimes a challenge to Benjamin, as he never had enough time to play his violin. Occasionally his mother would lock up the violin until he had his farm chores done.

In 1892 Benjamin traveled to Salt Lake to audition for the territorial orchestra. It was a dream come true, the conductor told Benjamin he was the most accomplished violinist he had heard west of Denver. He was asked to report to Denver for rehearsals in the fall.

A week after Benjamin received the good news, however, his bishop called him into his office and asked if he couldn’t put off playing with the orchestra for a couple of years. He reminded Benjamin that there was something he owed the Lord and he asked Benjamin to accept a mission call.

Giving up his chance to play in the orchestra would be hard, but he also knew what his decision should be. He told the bishop that if there were any way to raise the money, he would accept the call.

When Benjamin told his mother about the call she was overjoyed. His father had always wanted to serve a mission but had died before he had the opportunity. His mother talked of selling some of their land, but Benjamin wouldn’t hear of it and decided to finance his mission by selling his precious violin.

On March 23, 1893, Benjamin wrote in his journal: “I awoke this morning and took my violin from its case. All day long I played the music I love. In the evening when the light grew dim and I could see to play no longer, I placed the instrument in its case. It will be enough. Tomorrow I leave for my mission.”

Forty-five years later, Benjamin wrote this powerful statement in his journal: “The greatest decision I ever made in my life was to give up something I dearly loved to the God I loved even more. He has never forgotten me for it.”

Each of us will be given the chance to make a decision like this. Abraham chose God over the life of his son. Daniel chose prayer over the commands of his king. Paul chose Christ and truth over dearly held traditions.

Will we recognize the significance of the moment as we choose? Will we have the courage to leave behind what we love, for something that proclaims our love for God?

“Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal:

“But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal:

“For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”

The Still, Small Voice

Photo courtesy of flickr.com/Miguel Vieira
Photo courtesy of flickr.com/Miguel Vieira

We have been promised heaven’s help as we travel on the path of life. ‘God shall give unto you knowledge by his Holy Spirit, yea, by the unspeakable gift of the Holy Ghost.’ We are not alone.

I don’t know if stories mean as much to you as they do to me but if you teach me something by telling me a story I hang on to it. This is a story about listening.

Pinnacles National Park is just outside of San Jose, California. The mountainous area is a popular place for camping and hiking. But that hot summer afternoon no one was there except me, my wife and four children. It was as if the rest of the world was quiet and still; like all the elements – earth, water, metal, wood and fire – were balanced and singing in silent harmony.

My family, on the other hand, was loud and active. We were celebrating my daughter Sabreena’s last few days at home before she left for college. She was 18, happy and dressed like the rest of us – t-shirt, shorts, flip-flops. None of us had water or a flashlight as we walked along the hiking path leading to the park’s most famous cave.

As we left the bright clearing of the picnic area into the cool shade of the ancient oaks, California condors, a kind of vulture, soared above us. I remember the sound of my children’s laughter bouncing off the trees and rocks as they raced ahead, my wife chasing after them.

And then Sabreena vanished.

A scream and the sounds of rock falling into space.

My baby girl, my eldest daughter, had somehow slipped into a talus cave, an opening between two giant boulders. Each boulder was as tall as a 10-storey building!

With my wife and other children out of sight and no longer within earshot, it was just me and my daughter and the gnawing anxiety that what was happening was about to get much, much worse.

Sabreena was sobbing and begging that I not leave her. Pebbles and gravel rolled out from under her. I never heard one of those rocks hit the cave floor.

If Sabreena fell, how far would she fall?

I anchored my feet and body so I could pull her up with all my might. I’m a strong guy and pulling my 110-lb daughter to safety was not going to be a problem.

“If you pull her, she will fall.”

A crystal clear voice from within guided me to choose peaceful intuition over brute-force instinct.

“If you pull her, she will fall.

Let Sabreena find her footing.”

Imagine your most joyful moment, best meditation, prettiest sunset. Now imagine feeling those positive emotions while watching your child dangle from a cliff’s edge. Seems wrong, doesn’t it? Yet in the moment my daughter needed me most – she needed me to save her life – I was fully present and peaceful.

I knew that if Sabreena fell, I would fall with her. There was no way my daughter was going to fall from that height alone.

Crawling along that jagged ledge with vultures above me and Sabreena’s whimpered cries below me, I was in the most peaceful place I could ever imagine. Dying—or living—didn’t matter; I could accept whatever happened. From that pure peaceful place came the wisdom to act effectively and without panic.

I reached down, Sabreena grabbed my arm and started regaining her footing. She was literally walking up the side of the boulder.

Every time I was tempted to rush the process and pull her up, my inner voice warned, “This looks like the way, but it is not the way.”

“If you pull her, she will fall.”

After what seemed like an eternity, Sabreena was safe and above ground.

“I almost died down there, didn’t I?” she asked in a quiet, startled voice.

A day that started out as a celebration of Sabreena’s new life at college ended as a near-death experience for both of us.

What could have been a tragic and brutal accident was in fact a blessing that continues to enrich and shape my life. My relationship with my daughter was transformed; today we both know what unconditional love feels like.

The indescribable peace of pure surrender, pure acceptance has stayed with me.

Most of my readers will be thinking, ‘I could never do that’, but I assure you that you can, you will, respond when the spirit speaks to you. We can practice, we can wonder, but in the moment it will be crystal clear and you will not hesitate.

It will be your story.

 

 

Delta Flight 15

Photo courtesy of flickr.com/Cliff

The general ‘goodness’ of the people sometimes surprises me. It isn’t that I expect people to be self-absorbed or thoughtless, but the best part of each of us is unique and so it is manifest differently by each one of God’s children. That is one of the reasons I had so many children, each one of them is like a jewel. And as a one of a kind gem we are treasured as much for our flaws as well as our brilliance and luster.

This story captures a moment when a group of ordinary people decided to live up to the potential of our race.

And the moment lives on.

On the morning of Tuesday, September 11, we were about 5 hours out of Frankfurt, flying over the North Atlantic. All of a sudden the curtains parted and I was told to go to the cockpit, immediately, to see the captain.

As soon as I got there I noticed that the crew had that “All Business” look on their faces. The captain handed me a printed message. It was from Delta’s main office in Atlanta and simply read, “All airways over the Continental United States are closed to commercial air traffic. Land ASAP at the nearest airport. Advise your destination.”

While the flight crew prepared the airplane for landing, another message arrived from Atlanta telling us about some terrorist activity in the New York area. A few minutes later word came in about the hijackings. Forty minutes later, we landed in Gander. Local time at Gander was 12:30 PM …. that’s 11:00 AM EST.

There were already about 20 other airplanes on the ground from all over the world that had taken this detour on their way to the US.

The Canadian Government was in charge of our situation and no one was allowed to get off the aircraft. No one on the ground was allowed to come near any of the aircraft. Only airport police would come around periodically, look us over and go on to the next airplane.

In the next hour or so more planes landed and Gander ended up with 53 airplanes from all over the world, 27 of which were US commercial jets. Meanwhile, bits of news started to come in over the aircraft radio and for the first time we learned that airplanes were flown into the World Trade Center in New York and into the Pentagon in DC. At 6 PM, Gander airport told us that our turn to deplane would be 11 am the next morning.

About 10:30 on the morning of the 12th a convoy of school buses showed up. We got off the plane and were taken to the terminal where we went through Immigration and Customs and then had to register with the Red Cross.

We learned from the Red Cross that the town of Gander has a population of 10,400 people and they had about 10,500 passengers to take care of from all the airplanes that were forced into Gander!

Gander and all the surrounding communities had closed all high schools, meeting halls, lodges, and any other large gathering places. They converted all these facilities to mass lodging areas for all the stranded travelers. Some had cots set up, some had mats with sleeping bags and pillows setup.

Our 218 passengers ended up in a town called Lewisporte, about 45 kilometers from Gander where they were put up in a high school. Families were kept together. All the elderly passengers were taken to private homes.

Phone calls and emails to the U.S. and around the world were available to everyone once a day. During the day, passengers were offered “Excursion” trips. Some people went on boat cruises of the lakes and harbors. Some went for hikes in the local forests. Local bakeries stayed open to make fresh bread for the guests.

Food was prepared by all the residents and brought to the schools. People were driven to restaurants of their choice and offered wonderful meals. Everyone was given tokens for local laundry mats to wash their clothes, since luggage was still on the aircraft.

In other words, every single need was met for those stranded travelers.

Finally, when they were told that U.S. airports had reopened, they were delivered to the airport right on time and without a single passenger missing or late. The local Red Cross had all the information about the whereabouts of each passenger and knew which plane they needed to be on and when all the planes were leaving. They coordinated everything beautifully.

It was absolutely incredible.

When passengers came on board, it was like they had been on a cruise. Everyone knew each other by name. They were swapping stories of their stay, impressing each other with who had the better time.

Our flight back to Atlanta looked like a chartered party flight. The crew just stayed out of their way. It was mind-boggling. Passengers had totally bonded and were calling each other by their first names, exchanging phone numbers, addresses, and email addresses.

One of our passengers approached me and asked if he could make an announcement over the PA system. We never, ever allow that. But this time was different. I said “of course” and handed him the mike. He picked up the PA and reminded everyone about what they had just gone through in the last few days.

He reminded them of the hospitality they had received at the hands of total strangers. He continued by saying that he would like to do something in return for the good folks of Lewisporte.

“He said he was going to set up a Trust Fund under the name of DELTA 15 (our flight number). The purpose of the trust fund is to provide college scholarships for the high school students of Lewisporte.

He asked for donations of any amount from his fellow travelers. When the paper with donations got back to us with the amounts, names, phone numbers and addresses, the total was for more than $14,000!

“The gentleman, a MD from Virginia , promised to match the donations and to start the administrative work on the scholarship. He also said that he would forward this proposal to Delta Corporate and ask them to donate as well. As I write this account, the trust fund is at more than $1.5 million and has assisted 134 students in college education.

For me, the beauty of this story is in the way each one of the people involved did their part. The people of Gander served the stranded travelers. The people who were diverted to Gander accepted their help with humility and gratitude.

Part of life is figuring out the balance between giving of ourselves and taking care of ourselves. In a world filled with selfishness, I am grateful to know that there are occasions we forget about ourselves and focus on others who need us.

Best Line Ever ‘She is Off Waterskiing Today’

Amanda is my niece and she was only two when they found a tumor in her leg. This is how they saved her life.
This is the first in a series of video stories about Amanda Merrell done by children’s miracle network.  The network supports children’s hospitals in all 50 states and each province of Canada.  Amanda is the face of their fundraising efforts supported through the videos and in-person appearances.  This is the first and I thought I would share with you all.
Amanda hasn’t even seen it yet.   She is off waterskiing today.

It Gets Better

Photo courtesy of flickr.com/Mark Zilberman
Photo courtesy of flickr.com/Mark Zilberman

Dear Sir in the cemetery,

I saw you last Sunday.

I was driving home from a church in the northern part of Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley.

You were visiting a different kind of church. Wearing a dark suit, you stood at the foot of what appeared to be a fresh grave in a quiet, sunny cemetery. You looked younger than me, but your face and posture breathed experience.

You were alone.

I admit that my heart suggested I slam on the brakes and approach you. But my mind argued otherwise. Yes, I did pull into the cemetery’s side entrance, but I observed from a safe distance and did not leave my car.

As I sat, I reminisced about my own graveside visits to those I’ve loved and lost. And I lingered on three words heaven has whispered to me over and over again.

It gets better.

Obviously, I do not know the circumstances of your loss, your relationship or your grief. You might have been there to mourn a mother who lived to 82, a brother who perished at 52 or a wife who passed at 32.

Or, perhaps most tragically, a toddler taken at just 2.

As an adult, you probably already know that the grief for every kind of death is distinct, like crayons in a box that are all the same size and shape, but when streaked across the paper are unique.

But perhaps in the postscript of a funeral, you don’t yet know that those three words are as real as the pain you feel.

It gets better.

I’m almost certain people who’ve been there surround you on all sides. Maybe not living the exact same shades of grief, but they’ve likely lost someone they loved more than anyone or anything. When you wonder about tomorrow, you wonder if they believe in those three words, too.

If my assumptions are correct and your own loss is recent, the grief might feel like a bright billboard that no matter where you turn or how fast you drive, is always right in front of you. It seems inescapable. Even when you close your eyes, even when you dream, your personalized shade of sadness finds you.

That’s part of the plan. Though today it may sound out of tune, grief is good. It means they lived, it means you loved, it means they left behind a piece of their soul inside yours.

Many years ago I invited one of my brothers to visit my father’s grave with me. Unlike the grave you watered with tears last week, our dad’s has seen only rain and sprinklers for a long time. My brother smiled and reminded me what I already knew. “He’s not there.”

I realized that day that for my brother, it got better. And, eventually, it got better for me, too. We miss him, of course, but our grief has turned into brighter shades of memories: the cheesy T-shirts, the bad jokes and a thousand lessons learned.

During this Holy Week, the days that lead to the victory of Easter morning, I’m reminded again of the many visits to gravesites that tugged at my heartstrings. I remember how cemeteries can be peaceful, healing settings and I don’t regret a single second spent there.

I also remember the billboard I couldn’t escape. I recall the pain that waited for me each morning like uncomfortable shoes at the side of my bed.

Perhaps like you, I wondered if the sun would ever rise again.

In time, I learned the most foundational and fundamental truth of eternal life.

The sun will rise again, because the Son rose.

Friends come and go, families grow, relationships end and 101 hearts are broken and healed every second of every day. But this Easter truth is constant.

He is Risen.

Just like Mary who sat outside an empty tomb, the graves we visit are simply symbols. The only life there is our own. The ones we mourn, the one you miss, is not there.

No, they’re not yet risen. But they will be!

Because he was.

And even though I don’t know you, because he is risen, I know these other three words are also true.

It gets better.

Life Rules For Dudes

Photo courtesy of flickr.com/David Goehring
Photo courtesy of flickr.com/David Goehring

Stumbled across this list from an old high school year book. These words of wisdom were written by a retiring teacher, in a section of the year book dedicated to life rules. Pretty classy advice.

1.) There are plenty of ways to enter a pool. The stairs is not one of them.

2.) Never cancel dinner plans by text message.

3.) Don’t knock it ‘til you try it.

4.) If a street performer makes you stop walking, you owe him a buck.

5.) Always use ‘we’ when referring to your home team or your government.

6.) When entrusted with a secret, keep it.

7.) Don’t underestimate free throws in a game of HORSE.

8.) Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.

9.) Don’t dumb it down.

10.) You only get one chance to notice a new haircut.

11.) If you’re staying more than one night, unpack.

12.) Never park in front of a bar.

13.) Expect the seat in front of you to recline. Prepare accordingly.

14.) Keep a picture of your first fish, first car, and first girlfriend.

15.) Hold your heroes to a high standard.

16.) A suntan is earned, not bought.

17.) Never lie to your doctor.

18.) All guns are loaded.

19.) Don’t mention sunburns. Believe me, they know.

20.) The best way to show thanks is to wear it. Even if it’s only once.

21.) Take a vacation from your cell phone, internet, and TV once a year.

22.) Don’t fill up on bread, no matter how good.

23.) A handshake beats an autograph.

24.) Don’t linger in the doorway. In or out.

25.) If you choose to go in drag, don’t sell yourself short.

26.) If you want to know what makes you unique, sit for a caricature.

27.) Never get your hair cut the day of a special event.

28.) Be mindful of what comes between you and the Earth. Always buy good shoes, tires, and sheets.

29.) Never eat lunch at your desk if you can avoid it.

30.) When you’re with new friends, don’t just talk about old friends.

31.) Eat lunch with the new kids.

32.) When traveling, keep your wits about you.

33.) It’s never too late for an apology.

34.) Don’t pose with booze.

35.) If you have the right of way, take it.

36.) You don’t get to choose your own nickname.

37.) When you marry someone, remember you marry their entire family.

38.) Never push someone off a dock.

39.) Under no circumstances should you ask a woman if she’s pregnant.

40.) It’s not enough to be proud of your ancestry; live up to it.

41.) Don’t make a scene.

42.) When giving a thank you speech, short and sweet is best.

43.) Know when to ignore the camera.

44.) Never gloat.

45.) Invest in good luggage.

46.) Make time for your mom on your birthday. It’s her special day, too.

47.) When opening presents, no one likes a good guesser.

48.) Sympathy is a crutch, never fake a limp.

49.) Give credit. Take blame.

50.) Suck it up every now and again.

51.) Never be the last one in the pool.

52.) Don’t stare.

53.) Address everyone that carries a firearm professionally.

54.) Stand up to bullies. You’ll only have to do it once.

55.) If you’ve made your point, stop talking.

56.) Admit it when you’re wrong.

57.) If you offer to help don’t quit until the job is done.

58.) Look people in the eye when you thank them.

59.) Thank the bus driver.

60.) Never answer the phone at the dinner table.

61.) Forgive yourself for your mistakes.

62.) Know at least one good joke.

63.) Don’t boo. Even the ref is somebody’s son.

64.) Know how to cook one good meal.

65.) Learn to drive a stick shift.

66.) Be cool to younger kids. Reputations are built over a lifetime.

67.) It’s okay to go to the movies by yourself.

68.) Dance with your mother/father.

69.) Don’t lose your cool. Especially at work.

70.) Always thank the host.

71.) If you don’t understand, ask before it’s too late.

72.) Know the size of your girlfriend’s clothes.

73.) There is nothing wrong with a plain t-shirt.

74.) Be a good listener. Don’t just wait for your turn to talk.

75.) Keep your word.

76.) In college, always sit in the front. You’ll stand out immediately.

77.) Carry your mother’s bags. She carried you for nine months.

78.) Be patient with airport security. They’re just doing their jobs.

79.) Don’t be the talker in a movie.

80.) The opposite sex likes people who shower.

81.) You are what you do, not what you say.

82.) Learn to change a tire.

83.) Be kind. Everyone has a hard fight ahead of them.

84.) An hour with grandparents is time well spent. Ask for advice when you need it.

85.) Don’t litter.

86.) If you have a sister, get to know her boyfriend. Your opinion is important.

87.) You won’t always be the strongest or the fastest. But you can be the toughest.

88.) Never call someone before 9am or after 9pm.

89.) Buy the orange properties in Monopoly.

90.) Make the little things count.

91.) Always dress well for work.

92.) Tip well.

93.) You’re never too old to need your mom.

94.) Always hold the door open for a lady.

95.) Know the words to your national anthem.

96.) Your dance moves might not be the best, but I promise making a fool of yourself is more fun then sitting on the bench alone.

97.) Smile at strangers.

98.) Make goals.

99.) Being old is not dictated by your bedtime.

100.) If you have to fight, punch first and punch hard.

The Art of Being On Time

Photo courtesy of flickr.com/Carol Von Canon
Photo courtesy of flickr.com/Carol Von Canon

My grandfather was a stickler about being on time. Once when visiting them for the summer we all woke up late on a Sunday morning and everyone was frantically trying to get ready for church. We were just passing the point of no return – the point at which we couldn’t possibly be on time – when my grandfather made the announcement that he was not going to church if we were late.

My father shooed us into the waiting car in spite of all the hair brushing that still needed to be done and we tore out of the driveway behind my grandfathers car. That made an impression on me and his example helped make showing up on time a priority.

When our first child was born I had to re-adjust everything to keep timeliness as an important part of my life with kids. And then adjust again and again and again. If I hadn’t already decided that being on time was important it would have been easy to let it slip.

Now, I am not holding this up as the most important of the virtues, but I do think that showing up on time is a politeness to others. And it has to be a priority to happen.

Greg Savage, posted this no-holds-barred post about the importance of showing up on time. It may offend some, but take a breath and think about it for a minute. Think about it as a way to be thoughtful of others.

Here goes!

This post may offend some readers. But only because it’s going to cut close to the bone for many.

I don’t care if I sound old-fashioned, because actually it’s nothing to do with ‘fashion’ or ‘generation’. It’s got everything to do with basic good manners and respect for other people.

So here goes… How did it get to be “OK” for people to be late for everything?

Because as far as I am concerned, it’s not OK.

In recent years it seems that a meeting set to start at 9 am, for some people means in the general vicinity of any time which starts with the numeral ‘9’. Like 9.30 for example.

People drift in at 9.10 or 9.20, or even later. And they smile warmly at the waiting group, as they unwrap their bacon sandwich, apparently totally unconcerned that others have been there since five to nine, prepared and ready to start.

10 people kept waiting in a meeting for 20 minutes, while some selfish pratt who idles his way via the coffee shop, is actually 20 minutes times 10, which is 200 minutes wasted – while you keep us waiting because you did not catch the earlier bus. That is over 3 hours wasted. By you! How much has that cost the business? Shall I send you an invoice?

And an arrangement to meet someone for a business meeting at a coffee shop at 3 pm, more often than not means at 3.10 you get a text saying ‘I am five minutes away’ which inevitably means 10 minutes, and so you wait for 15 or 20 minutes, kicking your heels in frustration.

And often these ‘latecomers’ are people who have requested the meeting in the first place, are asking for your help, or are selling something. Fat chance, mate!

And it’s not only business.

Why do people, invited for a dinner party at 7.30, think its cool to arrive at 8.30? It’s rude. It’s inconsiderate. And it’s selfish, as I witnessed in a coffee shop near my home one weekend. Three “ladies who lunch” (a species not confined to, but heavily represented on, the lower North Shore of Sydney) were chatting loudly at the table next to me. One inquired what time the ‘drinks do’ was that night. The reply for all the world to hear was ‘Oh 7.30, but we won’t get there till 9 because by then it will have warmed up and all the interesting people will have arrived’. Nice. Imagine if everyone took that view. Cocktail parties would start at 3 am eventually.

Or a dinner at a restaurant where I was meeting two other couples. My wife was away, so I was flying solo. I arrived at two minutes to eight for an eight o’clock booking. At 8.20, I was into my second glass of Pinot and at half-past I got a text saying ‘on the way’. We finally were all seated at 8.45. There were not even attempted excuses from either of the two couples, who seemed oblivious to the fact I might actually have got there at the agreed time. Meanwhile I had put a huge dent in the bottle of Pinot, and was ready to go home.

And it is not that we lead ‘busy lives’. That’s a given, we all do, and it’s a cop out to use that as an excuse. It’s simply that some people no longer even pretend that they think your time is as important as theirs. And technology makes it worse. It seems texting or emailing that you are late somehow means you are no longer late.

Rubbish.

You are rude. And inconsiderate.

And I act on it, too. My dentist kept me waiting 50 minutes not long ago. She has done it for years and years. But enough! I walked out, past a literally open-mouthed receptionist who had never seen a patient act on their frustration, only to get a frantic call from the dentist herself as I got into my car.

Sure she was “busy”, another patient took longer than she expected, blah blah.

But hold on, I am busy too! I would not keep her waiting 45 minutes if she came to see me as a candidate. And yet I am HER customer. I told her I have been coming to you for 15 years but don’t take me for granted. See fewer patients in a day if you have to, but see me on time or close to it. She has never kept me waiting again.

Me? Am I ever late? Sure, sometimes. That’s inevitable even with the best intentions. But I never plan to be late. I never ‘let time slide’ because my stuff is more important than yours.

I am not talking about the odd occasion of lateness. I am talking about people who are routinely late. In fact, never on time. You know who I am talking about!

And certainly I consider serial lateness a character flaw which I take into account when working out who to promote, who to hire and who to count among my real friends.

It’s that important.

A Workout for the Brain

Photo courtesy of flickr.com/Anonymous Account
Photo courtesy of flickr.com/Anonymous Account

It has been my experience that the best solutions for problems tend to be simple. Simple equates to elegant, workable and effective. Not always, but generally. That said, when I read this article about depression and sadness it struck a cord within me and I knew I had to share it. Can something this simple work? I have no doubt.

I have been treating patients for almost 15 years, and one of the most successful exercises I use is so simple I am still struck by how effective it is.

The difficult part of this therapy is not doing the activity. It is making yourself believe that enough to put forth the effort to do it.

Often when I give this assignment to patients, they come back for two or three weeks afterward, still not having tried it. It seems too simple.  But once they are convinced of the benefits of shifting their attention and thinking and understand how thoughts relate to brain function, they are more willing to try this simple bedtime ritual.

So what is the exercise?

  • Keep a pad of paper next to your bed and every night before you go to sleep, write down three things you liked about yourself that day.
  • In the morning, read the list before you get out of bed.
  • Do this everyday for 30 days.

These don’t have to be big things, they can be simple, such as I like that I held the door for my co-worker, or I like that I didn’t lose my temper in traffic today, or I like that I am making the effort to try this exercise even if I’m not sure it will work.

For someone who is depressed, this activity feels like a lot of effort. Why?  Essentially, people with depression generally spend a good deal of time thinking about what they don’t like about themselves—and they have a hard time stopping.

The more time you spend thinking about something, the stronger it becomes in your mental space—and the easier it becomes to access. The more you think of something, the more it primes your brain to keep looking for similar things in your environment, it actually causes you to distort information in a way that matches up with your dominant thoughts.

Someone with depression who goes to a party might get ten compliments, but if one of the comments mentions his ‘interesting’ shirt it can cause the patient to fixate on the ambiguous comment and turn it into a stream of thinking like this: I wonder what was wrong with my shirt, I probably looked silly in it, I bet they all thought I looked like an idiot. What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I ever get anything right? This is so humiliating. The rest of the compliments have long been forgotten.

So how does the exercise help?

This simple exercise builds the strength to disengage from negative thoughts. It helps you redirect attention to positive aspects of yourself; and retrains what your brain pays attention to.

As you do this, you not only start to become aware of more of your positive attributes, they become more available to you as you interpret events around you. Compliments become something you can hear and accept because they are more consistent with how you think of yourself. You start to interpret events in a less critical way. As you continue identifying what you like about yourself it will elevate your sense of self-worth and eventually, change how you see those around you as well.

But remember: Just as there is no physical benefit from understanding how to use a treadmill, there is no benefit in understanding how the exercise works. The benefit comes from actually doing the work.

A Record of Your Life in 52 Weeks

Photo courtesy of flickr.com/theunquietlibrarian
Photo courtesy of flickr.com/theunquietlibrarian

We all have a story to tell, the story of our life. All that we have experienced, all that we have learned and everyone we have loved – the knowledge we have gained will be lost if we don’t leave some sort of record.

But, we are not all writers and we do not all have the time (or inclination) to craft a story to share.  What if you could write your story in a methodical way, over the course of a year?

Someone has come up with 52 great questions that will, when answered, be a comprehensive and interesting, record of your life.

Each week for a year, answer one of these questions. Write a little, write a lot. Don’t worry about how much you write, just write something. The questions do not need to be answered in any particular order.

Come with me on a year-long writing journey. Your children and grand-children will know you. It will be a valuable legacy and a gift that will bind you to them.

I am starting this project on June 1st, why don’t you come along with me? I have made a promise to my grand-children that I will spend an hour every Sunday afternoon making a record of my life and hope that they will be able to learn from my experiences. That they will see who their grandmother was and improve on what I have begun.

What is your full name? Explain why your parents gave you that name.
When and where were you born? Describe your home, your neighborhood, and the town you grew up in.
What memories do you have of your father (his name, birth date, birthplace, parents, etc.)?
What memories do you have of your mother (her name, birth date, birthplace, parents, etc.)?
What kind of work did your parents do (farmer, salesman, manager, seamstress, nurse, stay-at-home mom, professional, laborer, and so on)?
Have any of your family members died? If so, explain what they died from and what you remember of their death; the circumstances of their death.
What kind of hardships or tragedies did your family experience while you were growing up?
Are there any obvious or unusual genetic traits that run in your family line?
What are the names of your brothers and sisters? Describe traits and memories that stand out in your mind about each of your siblings.
What are some of your family traditions that you remember?
Did your family have special ways of celebrating specific holidays?
Share some memories of your grandparents.
Did your grandparents live close by? If so, describe how they were involved in your life. If they lived far away share some memories of visiting them or of them traveling to visit you.
Who were your aunts and uncles? Write about any of your aunts or uncles who really stand out in your mind. Give some details about them (names, personalities, events that you remember doing with them, and so on).
Where did you go to school? Give some details about what was school like for you and some of your memorable experiences.
What were your favorite subjects in school? Explain why.
What subjects did you like the least? Explain why.
Who were some of your friends in school? Explain what your friends were like and what they are doing today if you know that.
If you went to college or a vocational school, what school did you attend? Describe what memories you have of those years and what subjects you studied.
What do you see as your greatest strengths?
What were some of the challenges you have had to deal with in your life?
What medical issues have you had to deal with throughout your life?
Was religion an important for you and your family? If so, explain what religion your family practiced and what it meant to you. Explain if it is or is not an important part of your life today.
What foods do you like and dislike? Describe any food allergies you or other family members had.
Were there two or three food dishes your mother or father made that were especially memorable?
How did you meet your spouse?
What was your courtship like? Describe your marriage day.
Share some stories about your spouse.
How many children do you have? List their names and share a few memories about each one.
Describe some of the major community, national, and world events you lived through. How did these events change your life?
What are some of your life philosophies or life views that you would share with others?
What are some of the personal values that are very important to you? Share some examples of what have you done and what are you doing now to teach these values to your children, grandchildren and others.
List at least five people who have had a memorable influence on your life. What did they do that had such an influence on you?
What are 20 things about yourself that make you uniquely you.
What are 50 things that you are grateful for.
What is your philosophy on money.
If you could spend a day with any famous person in the world, who would it be, and what would you do during your day with him or her?
What scares you?
What makes you stop and go “Wow!”?
What are some of the things you enjoy doing in your leisure time?
If you could go back in time and spend an hour visiting with yourself at age 15, what would you tell your younger self?
What are some of your talents? Explain how you discovered them and what you have done to cultivate and improve them. Describe how your talents have they affected your life.
What did you do for a career? Explain how you chose that career.
What were some of the jobs you had throughout your life and what were some of the memorable experiences you had with these jobs?
What are 5 significant events or experiences in your life, and explain what effects they have had on you.
What are some of the life lessons that you have learned and would like to pass on to your descendants?
In how many places have you lived during your lifetime? Provide a brief description of each place you’ve lived, why you lived there, and why you moved.
If someone gave you $10,000 and told you that you could NOT give it to any of your friends, family members or use it for yourself, what would you do with it?
If you could go back in time and do things over again, what would you change?
When all is said and done, what do you want to be remembered for? Write about what you are doing now to create a legacy worthy of remembering.
If you were to leave 5 different bits of advice for your future posterity, what would they be?
Have you traveled to any place outside of your home country? If so, explain the reasons for your trip(s) and what memorable things happened on some of those trips.
If a newspaper wanted to do a story about you, what would the story be about?
What were some of the popular fads you experienced during your life?
How did you spend your summers?
What were some of your more memorable vacations?
Did you ever have pets? If so, tell us about them.
List 20 things you think the world would be better off without.

This is Life Eternal

Photo coutesy of flickr.com/dutchbaby
Photo coutesy of flickr.com/dutchbaby

 

Most of us tend to define life in terms of our mortal, physical bodies. However, when we stop and think about it shouldn’t life really be seen in a big picture kind of way? Our spirits, our souls, existed before we were born and are an eternal creation. We will continue to live even after our bodies have died.

Audrey Curtis, a urogynecological surgeon, explains why she believes.

“When you ask people about the most amazing or memorable experience they’ve had in life, many will point to the birth of a child. Regardless of culture or religion, birth is universally a magical, spiritual experience.

As a urogynecological surgeon, I have seen the entry into life many times. It is a feeling like nothing else. But I also continue to see women through all phases of their lives. I’ve seen many through their pregnancies, through a time they’ve lost a child, or through a time later in life when they’ve lost a spouse. It’s the inevitable course of life.

Sometimes, too, I have the responsibility to deliver a message about them—that this is it. It’s a diagnosis that will mean the end of their life. And you know what? People don’t start talking about how “I never went to Europe” or “I didn’t get to buy the bigger house.”

They talk about experiences that are fairly universal: personal setbacks, hard things in their lives, changes they didn’t necessarily want. But there’s also a flip side, things that bring joy: a trip with a spouse, a week spent with grandchildren, a grown child’s success. Those are the things that light up people the most. Invariably, when my patients are faced with their own impending death, they talk about a relationship with someone they love.

When I share the belief that “one day, you will be able to see those people again, and it will be an incredibly joyful reunion,” there are only a handful of people who don’t accept that. I think there is a universal human desire to hope. I think it’s part of our divine makeup that we feel there’s something more.

It seems to me that during that moment when someone is passing, a door opens for just a brief moment for that person to go, and we who remain can sense a connection with something greater. I find that many people experience a sense of hope along with the loss.

It’s my profession to bring life into this world and prolong it while we are here. But when a treatment is not successful, when the medicine is not working, the only thing I have left to give is my voice of encouragement. Some physicians I know choose to disengage with patients, I suppose because it is difficult to come to grips with death and pain. But having perspective on the purpose of this life helps me. When someone gets a bad diagnosis, it is all part of the plan. Death is necessary, but it is not the end.

I have no doubt about where I’m going after life. And I feel comfort that when we die, yes, we’ll be saying good-bye to some for a short time, but we’ll also be saying hello again to others. I will be returning to people who I will be thrilled to see again. This life is simply part of a journey, and that journey doesn’t end.”

It is so hard sometimes to miss those who have preceded us in death and I wonder if they miss us as much as we miss them. Or are they watching over us and rooting for us as we navigate this obstacle course called life.

My belief in the reality of heaven and understanding that Dale is still a part of my life helps me to be brave in the face of danger or heartache, helps me to remember who I am and why I am here and ultimately, helps me to be the best person know how to be.

This life will seem like a small moment someday, when we have fought a good fight and finished our course. Shall we not go on in so great a cause? Just for today, let us live as if this were our last day on the earth. With joy, forgiveness and peace.

The Fallacy of Being the Perfect Mother

Photo courtesy of flickr.com/Michael Zeising
Photo courtesy of flickr.com/Michael Zeising

We all come to motherhood with an ideal in our minds, determined we will walk a certain path in a very particular way. Many of us have decide to improve on our childhood, we know what we don’t want to do. Others of us have this specific ideal we are certain we can reach, we want to raise the bar of motherhood, so to speak. I am not advocating mediocrity and I do believe we should have high ideals to strive for, but some of what we think is best is just a load of bunk.

Most of you know that our son died when he was two and, as you can imagine, it changed most of what I believe about motherhood. Looking into the abyss truly can change your perspective, and this experience changed mine. Reflecting back on Dale’s life the weeks and months after his death taught me what it was that I missed. What I would change and what I would keep just the same. I’m not saying that I never get caught up in crazy, useless kid drama, but it was easier to take a step back occasionally and reflect on what is most important – and easier to pitch some things out of my life forever.

I love this mother’s perspective and I hope that my younger friends will be able to see something that will help you as you parse the needs of your children, the needs of your husband and realize that you have needs as well. A list of things she is not going to do anymore!

1. Bathe the kids every day. Children, unless they’ve been rolling in the mud, do not need a bath every day. In the summer I rinse off sand, sweat and sunscreen pretty much daily, but in the winter it just makes their skin dry and rashy. Twice-a-week baths are fine and save me the soggy wrestling match that is washing a screaming toddler and preschooler.

Aside from Ann: I loved bathing my little ones, we have an old house and so the tub is huge enough to fit several children and the water can get deep enough to have fun. I have spent many evenings supervising my kids as they play in the tub. However, when I had Peter I had to stop. I just didn’t have the ability to do it all anymore and I was blessed to realize it early and not beat myself up because I had to change things up!

2. Do an elaborate bedtime routine. Literally everyone told us we needed to do a bedtime routine. Bath, infant massage, dim lights while nursing — this was bad enough and clocked in at about an hour. Now, with our 4-year-old, more rituals have crept in, like: 1) sing a song; 2) read three books; 3) listen to Freight Train Boogie; 4) dance; 5) play a game he and daddy made up, called “crashies,” in which I always get injured; 6) a good-night “wrestle” with his brother; 7) tooth-brushing; 8) a game called “burrito” in which he is rolled in a blanket, then unrolled like Cleopatra at Caesar’s feet; 9) prayers; 10) a dozen good-night hugs and kisses in a specific order and if we mess up we have to start over; 11) one more drink of water; 12) one more pee; 13) one more drink of water.

The bedtime routine starts at 3:45. In the interest of recapturing those hours, I’m eliminating all but tooth-brushing and prayers, which, mumbled at high speed while inching towards the cocktail cabinet, are more true to my Episcopalian faith anyway.

Another aside: Our bedtime routine could have been crazy. My ears actually hurt as bedtime approached! I tried to love each one just a bit before sending them off to bed and we were always trying to make sure that we had family prayer, but seriously, how could I possibly supervise even just the teeth brushing of so many children? Our best routine became putting the little ones down early and the rest of us spending a quiet, peaceful evening being grateful for our alone time. We were all tiptoeing around the house, closing doors quietly, hoping to keep them asleep. The thing is, my kids were always so extraordinarily happy to see me the next morning, they loved me and I loved them. Something was working!

3. Buy organic. I’ve spent the last five years standing in the fruit aisle debating whether to spend $2 for an organic apple or 50 cents for a regular one, and then, confused, I buy no apple at all. I am just not going to worry about it anymore. It’s better that they eat fruits and vegetables than not, and we can’t spend $200 a week on apples.

Aside: I bring home the best food I can find, prepare it the best I can, pray over it with as much faith as I can muster and leave the rest up to God. This is not something I give my life to.

4. Force my kids to eat vegetables. With my first child, we forced him to eat a certain number of bites of his dinner to get dessert. This resulted in bargains and negotiations and debates over exactly how much food on the fork counted as a “bite.” (It was a little like arguing how many angels can fit on the head of a pin.) By the time my second arrived, we started following Ellyn Satter’s division of responsibility, which makes meals a lot more peaceful. I mean, mostly. My son sat down at the table the other night, looked at what I’d made, and said, “This looks like an old head.” So yeah, it’s not all wine and roses, but at least I’m not squabbling about whether gently touching your tongue to a piece of broccoli counts as a bite.

One more aside: Meal time should be sweet, not time to go to war with a two-year-old, who will win eventually if you turn it into a fight. I do try to make our meals delicious and when the little one watches dad reaching first for the asparagus they want some of whatever that is. If I am going to serve something the kids might not particularly love I make rolls so they can try the grown up dinner but have something to fill up on if they don’t love it yet. I do not feed them junk just to get them to eat something though – it is a balancing act!

5. Be eternally patient. I try so, so hard to control my temper. But sometimes, one child is repeatedly pressing the “Oh Susannah” button on his music machine, the phone is ringing and I can’t find it, the oatmeal is burning, and the other child is experimenting with asking questions in a barely audible voice. (Remember the scene in The Office when Michael Scott negotiates for a raise by speaking very softly? This is what my son is doing.) And then sometimes I lose my temper. But the thing is — it’s not good for children to have infinitely patient, saintly mothers, because the world is not infinitely patient and saintly. Normal people lose their mind at too much loud-noise stimulus and burgeoning stove fires and a child requesting a cheese stick without moving his lips. It’s good for kids to recognize the incipient stages of someone losing their temper. This will serve them well in the world.

One more opinion: Yes! Be the mom.

6. Have a perfectly clean house. A friend recently said, “I wish I had known that motherhood is really just becoming a cleaning lady.” And it’s true. I clean the kitchen four times a day. I scrape things off the floor with my fingernails. I pick up so many little balled-up socks. But now — partly because I hate to clean, and partly because I think kids, especially boys, shouldn’t think that someone is always going to pick up after them — I’ve started a gentle insistence that they put their clothes in the hamper with no intermediate stop on the floor, that they return their bath toys to the basket, and that they help out with weekly dusting and vacuuming. It would be quicker to do it myself, and the house isn’t especially clean, but I hate feeling like a martyr. I’d rather have a slightly dirty house than be a servant, and eventually they’ll learn that small daily efforts are better for housekeeping than quarterly fumigations.

Most important aside: My husband once asked me if I wanted grandchildren, he said that our daughters shouldn’t feel like motherhood is the equivalent of slavery, but is a creative, enjoyable way to live! I like to have my house clean once a day. Not ‘you can eat off the floor’ clean, but picked up and neat, once a day. I love having company because that becomes our excuse to go a little deeper, but spotlessly clean is impossible if you are going to have a real family. And you do want your children to have fond memories of home, don’t you? They don’t get all the fuss about cleanliness and making everyone miserable isn’t worth the admiration of your neighbors. If you can keep this one in perspective you will be doing well.

7. Spend all weekend with my kids. The No. 1 thing I miss about singledom is time alone at home, to non-productively putter. So we’re starting a half-day-off policy; like the servants in Downton Abbey, we each get from 8 a.m. to noon, once a week, with no kids, work, or chores responsibilities. The other parent takes the kids out of the house. I am going to put spare change in the change jar and corral all my hair elastics and stack random pieces of paper on my desk. It’s going to be glorious.

To sum up: Happiness is contagious and striving for joy is what we are here on this earth to do. Freeing ourselves from the bonds of unreal expectations and impossible goals can be a defining moment in life. It might come down to making a whole new ‘to do’ list. Make sure you include all the things you love, things that bring you happiness and peace.

Choosing Our Ancestors

My kids are related to some really cool people. One of our family branches connects with Abraham Lincoln, and one line goes straight back through to the royalty of the Scots. We can claim German peasants, English Lords, southern gentlemen and western adventurers. Even ancestors that met and tangled with Mexican bandits and an inventor who invented the television.

While it might feel good to claim these people as our own, I hesitate to focus on their accomplishments. The question is, ‘what have they to do with us?’ Instead of working so hard to enjoy the reflected and distant warmth of our ancestors undertakings, we need to realize that we have nothing to do with them, no part in their achievements.  I can, realistically, be proud of my child if I didn’t ruin him or her, but our ancestors are the sole possessors of their glory and we need to work at making our own.

And work, as well, at not ruining our own children.

I submit that, at least in one context, we can choose our ancestors. There is a term for this in anthropology and that is ‘mythical ancestors’. We can create spiritual and mental ancestors, they are not our literal, biological ancestors, but they can be terribly important.

I am talking about the models that we, as humans, choose to work from.  That we choose to look up to and emulate and follow.

It is impossible to imagine anyone choosing Hitler as an ancestor, for example. Or Judas. The people we choose to look up to, to follow, reveal exactly what our dreams are, and every one of us lives and dies by our dreams.

So, our ancestry isn’t only a function of genealogy. We can’t choose our genetic ancestors, but we can choose and construct our own intellectual and creative family. An ideological lineage.

We can create a type of spiritual and intellectual parenting for ourselves. I made a note once of a phrase I loved, without writing down the source, ‘we are constantly creating our own cultural star-dust.’

So, who are our hero’s?

Who do you look up to?

At the end of your life, what do you want to have become?

Mother? Father? Saint? Artist? Cook? Super Hero? Friend? Prophet? Famous? Profound? Fun?

Can you make a list of people to include in your cultural and spiritual lineage? My list includes Abraham and Sarah, Mary, the mother of Christ, Adam and Eve, Joseph, Stephen the martyr, Marjorie Hinckley, Mother Teresa and some men and women I wouldn’t want to embarrass if I included them in such a public space.

As for me, I desire to be among women who value motherhood, kindness and humility. I hope to be included with women who figured out how to lift others. At the end, I want to be worthy to be called ‘friend’ by my Savior.

Let’s get busy considering, recording our lineage. And then spending a life time making it our own.

Stories We Tell Ourselves

Photo courtesy of flickr.com/zeze57
Photo courtesy of flickr.com/zeze57

The stories that we tell ourselves, whether they be true or a complete fabrication, are our reality. The stories we believe shape our lives to such an extent that they become our reality. Our thoughts, our words, our actions have their foundation in what we believe, in the stories we tell ourselves. William James understood this and he observed: “My experience is what I agree to attend to. Only those items which I notice shape my mind.”

That is why siblings can spring from the same home, and yet have widely differing experiences in that home, with the same parents, breathing the same air. So, what we tell ourselves matters. In fact, it is critical.

Storytellers of all types, including journalists, songwriters, bloggers, TED speakers and everyone in between who has a point of view and an audience, whatever its size, help create the stories of how the world works. Storytellers, the best of them, empower us and help us see how the world can be better.

If you need another way of thinking about it, storytellers help us navigate between the ideal and plain old reality. They assist us when they keep the right balance, the juggling of criticism and hope.

That is how can a writer like William Faulkner, who grew up in a brothel and witnessed a version of humanity at its most depraved, managed to have faith in the goodness of the human spirit. In his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, he insisted that the duty of a writer, of a storyteller is “to help man endure by lifting his heart.”

Other storytellers believe that “writers do not merely reflect and interpret life, they inform and shape life” that the role of the writer is “to lift people up, not lower them down.” (E.B. White)

Yes, people sometimes do horrible things, and we can analyse those evil people and try to understand why they are that way. But, in reality, evil only wins if we mistake it for the norm. There is so much more goodness than evil in the world. And to nurture goodness, all we have to do is ‘remind one another of it, show up for it, and refuse to leave.’

I read a book once that told several stories and recounted them from several different participants in the conflict. Once I realized that it was the same story I had to stop reading and begin thinking. How could the villain in one story become the long-suffering saint from another perspective? How could both perspectives be true?

I do believe that truth stands independent and the search for truth is a noble pursuit. For me, as I have searched for truth and goodness, I have had to ask for help. I have only been able to recognize truth when my eyes have been opened to see it.

My goal for today is to look for the truth in my life and to tell myself stories that build faith in God, love of family and understanding of what is best in mankind. To make the world a better place by the stories that I tell myself and, ultimately, others.

As Many As I Love…

Photo courtesy of flickr.com/Ádám Tomkó
Photo courtesy of flickr.com/Ádám Tomkó

God has high expectations of us, His children. He wants us to live in such a way that we might have joy. The commandments are not a so much a list of ‘do’s and don’t’s’, but a way to become what our Father in heaven knows we can become.

Much of modern Christianity does not believe that God would dare to make actual demands on us, the believers. Seeing Him instead as playing the role of Santa – in dispensing wishes – or a benevolent therapist who helps us feel good about ourselves no matter what we do or say or think. A God that, as one author wrote, ‘that makes no pretense at changing lives’.

In contrast to this view of God, I would like to remind my readers of a few scriptures we would do well to remember. Hebrews 12:6 it says “For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth.” And in Ephesians 4:13 it says that the Lord will correct us “unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.”

Though we never seek correction we ought to rejoice that God considers us worthy of His effort to correct and teach.

President Hugh B. Brown, told of a personal experience he had with the chastening hand of God. He told of purchasing a rundown farm in Canada many years ago. As he went about cleaning up and repairing his property, he came across a currant bush that had grown over six feet high and was yielding no berries, so he pruned it back drastically, leaving only small stumps. Then he saw a drop like a tear on the top of each of these little stumps, as if the currant bush were crying, and thought he heard it say:

“How could you do this to me? I was making such wonderful growth. … And now you have cut me down. Every plant in the garden will look down on me. … How could you do this to me? I thought you were the gardener here.”

President Brown replied, “Look, little currant bush, I am the gardener here, and I know what I want you to be. I didn’t intend you to be a fruit tree or a shade tree. I want you to be a currant bush, and someday, little currant bush, when you are laden with fruit, you are going to say, ‘Thank you, Mr. Gardener, for loving me enough to cut me down.’”

Years later, President Brown was a field officer in the Canadian Army serving in England. When a superior officer became a battle casualty, President Brown was in line to be promoted to general, and he was summoned to London. But even though he was fully qualified for the promotion, it was denied him because he was a Mormon. The commanding general said in essence, “You deserve the appointment, but I cannot give it to you.” What President Brown had spent 10 years hoping, praying, and preparing for slipped through his fingers in that moment because of blatant discrimination. Continuing his story, President Brown remembered:

“I got on the train and started back … with a broken heart, with bitterness in my soul. … When I got to my tent, … I threw my cap on the cot. I clenched my fists, and I shook them at heaven. I said, ‘How could you do this to me, God? I have done everything I could do to measure up. There is nothing that I could have done—that I should have done—that I haven’t done. How could you do this to me?’ I was as bitter as gall.

“And then I heard a voice, and I recognized the tone of this voice. It was my own voice, and the voice said, ‘I am the gardener here. I know what I want you to do.’ The bitterness went out of my soul, and I fell on my knees by the cot to ask forgiveness for my ungratefulness. …

“… And now, almost 50 years later, I look up to [God] and say, ‘Thank you, Mr. Gardener, for cutting me down, for loving me enough.’”

Many times, it does take the passing of time for us to appreciate the significance of God’s tutoring hand in our lives, for us to quit resenting how our life turned out and see the fulfillment of the promise God made to stand by our side through this experience we call life.

I know that many of the choicest lessons I have learned have come by way of suffering and terrible tragedy, and if I could do it all over again I would not avoid those tutoring experiences.

As we spend our hours this day, may we contemplate our immense worth to God. May we seek to please our Maker and seek also to bring joy and love to each other.

Take Courage From Ed Freeman

Photo courtesy of flickr.com/Steve Crane
Photo courtesy of flickr.com/Steve Crane

Imagine you are a 19-year-old kid. You are critically wounded and dying in the jungle somewhere in the Central Highlands of Viet Nam. It’s November 11, 1967.

Your unit is outnumbered 8-1 and the enemy fire is so intense from 100 yards away, that your commanding officer has ordered the MedEvac helicopters to stop coming in. You are lying there, listening to the enemy machine guns and you know you’re not getting out.

Your family is half way around the world, 12,000 miles away, and you’ll never see them again. As the world starts to fade in and out, you know this is the day.

Then, over the machine gun noise, you faintly hear the sound of a helicopter. You look up to see a Huey coming in. But, it doesn’t seem real because there are no MedEvac markings are on the bird.

Captain Ed Freeman is coming in for you. He’s not MedEvac so it’s not his job, but he heard the radio call and decided he’s flying his Huey down into the machine gun fire anyway. Even after the MedEvacs were ordered not to come. He’s coming anyway.

He drops in and sits there in the machine gun fire, as they load 3 of you at a time on board. He flies you up and out through the gunfire to the doctors and nurses and safety. And, he keeps coming back, 13 more times. Until all the wounded were out.

No one knew until the mission was over that the Captain had been hit 4 times in the legs and left arm. He took 29 of you and your buddies out that day. Some would not have made it without the Captain and his Huey.

Medal of Honor Recipient, Captain Ed Freeman, United States Army Pilot, died at the age of 80, in Boise, Idaho, August 20, 2008.

Some people only see right and wrong, good and bad, selfish and unselfish. Those people can be hard for the rest of us to live with, because that clarity of vision cannot be turned on and off at will.

As I read the story of the courage of Ed Freeman, I feel inclined to thank God for people who are willing to sacrifice to do what is right.

Shouldn’t it be that easy for all of us?

We know what is right, I am convinced that we always know. I think that sometimes it is over thinking that causes us to be sacred and selfish.

I pray for the strength to know what to do and the courage to do it, regardless of the consequences and the difficulty of the task. And I thank those around me who are such great examples of this particular trait.

The Management of Time

Photo courtesy of flickr.com/Moyan Brenn
Photo courtesy of flickr.com/Moyan Brenn

I recently heard from an old friend and in the course of our conversation he shared something he considered to be one of the choicest learning experiences of his life.  The lesson was provided by his youngest son. Returning home from a long day’s work, this father made sure to greet his son with the words, “I want you to know how much I love you.”

The son was disappointed with the message and was quick to reply, “I don’t want you to love me, I just want you to play football with me.” While the message of love was real, those of us looking for love are watching for the fruits of the supposed love rather than the easy declaration of it.

The world is filled with too many of us who are inclined to indicate our love with an announcement, instead of showing our love by our actions.

You may have heard of an interview conducted with Dr. Tom Dooley before he died of leukemia.  This fine doctor had spent the early years of his medical career in Indonesia, when he could have been home making a lot of money in a private practice instead.

The reporter was curious about his decision to service to the poor instead of enriching himself, saying, ‘Dr. Dooley, you are living on borrowed time, yet your contributions to humanity seem to take no account of the trials you personally are called upon to bear.’

‘Yes,’ Dr. Dooley replied, ‘I am living on borrowed time. So are you; so is every man who walks this earth. I may live to be as old as you are now; I may not live to see my next birthday. This does not matter. What really counts is what I do in terms of human good with the days, the weeks, the months or the years allotted to me by my creator.’

We have all known people like this. People who serve others regardless of their individual circumstances. One of my all time favorite stories tells of a woman who set an example of selflessness for everyone who knew her. I did not know her personally but I see echoes of her character in the women I love the most.

She fed the poor, comforted the weak and gave of herself relentlessly her whole life. As she grew older, her husband was the only witness that her finest hours were yet to come. The day came that they were shocked with an announcement that she had contracted a terminal disease. Her life expectancy could only be another six months to a year. She accepted this decision with a faith and courage her husband never expect to see equaled. As the doctor made this announcement, she turned to her husband and said with all the faith and peace that she could muster, “Don’t tell anyone about this. I don’t want it to change our way of life or have anyone treat us differently.” Her life was then filled with physical hardship. It seemed to only make her more sensitive to the physical needs of others. Her empathy for her fellowmen increased, for now she had a greater appreciation for their need.

Three serious operations followed in very short order. There were only a few who knew about them and they were sworn to secrecy. Her pattern of life in the hospital was always the same. With careful planning, she would attend church on Sunday, the operation would be performed early Monday morning. By Tuesday, she was trying to get out of bed. By Wednesday she would be up moving around, trying to regain her physical strength. Thursday would find her helping the nurses assist others who were in the hospital. Friday she would spend trying to convince the doctor that she was ready to go home. By Saturday morning the doctor would give up in despair and discharge her. Sunday she would be back in church looking radiant. No one would ever suspect that she had just gone through major surgery. After the meeting her husband would rush down from the pulpit to take her home so she could rest. And as he would get close to her he would hear her say to someone else in need, “Now don’t worry about a thing. I’ll have dinner ready for you and at your home on Thursday night.”

Are you privileged to know someone like this?

Do you strive to be like this?

How rare it is to find a truly unselfish person, and what joy they bring to their loved ones!

Are you feeling up to trying a little harder today? To practicing the art of giving?

Let’s wear ourselves out in the service of others today and rest tonight with the knowledge we brought comfort to those the Savior would serve if He was here today.

The Art of Listening

Photo courtesy of flickr.com/jacquelinetinney
Photo courtesy of flickr.com/jacquelinetinney

I can remember the day I realized that most of the people around me were starved for someone to listen to them. I was taking a summer semester and studying with a group on the lawn outside of the library. We were talking about politics and everyone was spilling over with opinions.

I grew up outside of D.C. and had lots of thoughts, lots of stories and lots of ideas about the subject but found it impossible to break into the conversation. Every one of us was so anxious to talk that there was no one to listen. It was an uncomfortable afternoon and thinking about it over the next few days I figured out a lot of what I know about the art of listening.

We crave being heard, being listened to, being understood.

Listening is a force for good, a creative, giving, tangible thing.

I discovered the joy of listening, both for myself and the happiness and healing it can bring to others.

There is an art to listening.

  • When someone else is speaking, don’t think about what you are going to say once they are done. Direct your efforts toward listening.
  • When you think they are done talking, ask them a couple of questions instead of taking over.
  • Look at them.
  • There is a difference between hearing and listening, they actually use different parts of your brain, listen!
  • Put your phone down.
  • Until you get the hang of it, employ the 70/30 rule. Listen 70 percent of the time and share 30 percent of the time.

As a caution, I think we should all remember that faking it doesn’t work. People are tuned in and will eventually detect the false notes that tattle on your motives.

I am listening on the wind right now and I can faintly hear some of you protesting, ‘what about me? I need someone to listen to me. I am desperate for a friend!’

My answer, your need is real. We all have a craving for connection, a drive to have people around us that understand and care. Can I remind you that the Savior is the perfect listener?  He is never too busy, never distracted and never gets bored listening to your complaints or sorrows or joys.

The comfort and direction I have received at the hands of the Lord fills me up to the brim and makes it possible for me to give and give and then give some more.

So, are you ready to practice the sublime art of listening today? Remember, practice does indeed make perfect!

 

 

Eating Humble Pie

Photo courtesy of flickr.com/Kathryn Denman
Photo courtesy of flickr.com/Kathryn Denman

I resonate to the statement that ‘the first test of a truly great man is his humility. I do not mean, by humility, doubt of his own power. Really great men have a curious feeling that greatness is not in them, but through them.  And they see something divine in every other man, and are endlessly, foolishly, incredibly merciful.’ (Author, John Ruskin)

Humility is not a mental groveling about our unworthiness.  We are the children of God and the glory of His creation.

The Lord taught that we are to become humble, as a little child, if we want to enter into the kingdom of God.

When our daughter Tracy was three or so I snapped at her. It was nothing she did, but I was overburdened that day and I took out my frustration on an innocent bystander.

Tracy looked at me, one of those looks you can’t hide from. I felt defensive and justified for a moment and then, too late, I repented. But Tracy had already run off to her sister for comfort.

I turned to fold laundry or change a baby or one of the endless tasks that had overwhelmed me that day, sorry about snapping, but unable to muster the courage to go to my daughter and make it right.

I remember looking up and seeing Tracy peeking around the doorway. If I could capture that moment for you, it would be her eyes that asked if I was alright, if I had forgiven her, if I wanted to hold her again. Her attitude was one of perfect, peaceful, humility.

She didn’t try to convince me that I was wrong, all she wanted was to get back to the love and trust, back to my arms.

I held her a lot that day, and shed many tears of regret while I held her close.

Later, I would keep that moment as an ideal in a world that does not understand the power of humility.

True humility is recognition of our relationship to God, our Father.  When we sense our complete dependence upon God, it profoundly affects our daily lives.  When we forget our relationship to God – that is when we begin to trust our own wisdom, follow our own path, abuse our freedom, and ignore our blessings. That is when we are lifted up in pride.

We are promised, “If men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.”  [Ether 12:27]

The antidote for pride is humility; meekness; submissiveness. . . . Let us choose to be humble.  We can choose to humble ourselves by conquering enmity toward our brothers and sisters, esteeming them as ourselves, and lifting them as high or higher than we are. . . . We can choose to humble ourselves by receiving counsel and chastisement. . . . We can choose to humble ourselves by forgiving those who have offended us. . . . We can choose to humble ourselves by rendering selfless service. . . . We can choose to humble ourselves by confessing and forsaking our sins and being born of God. . . . We can choose to humble ourselves by loving God, submitting our will to His, and putting Him first in our lives.‘ –Ezra Taft Benson, Ensign, May 1989, pp. 6-7

‘Pride is the switch that turns off priesthood power.  Humility is a switch that turns it on. Humility does not mean convincing ourselves that we are worthless, meaningless, or of little value.  Nor does it mean denying or withholding the talents God has given us.  We don’t discover humility by thinking less of ourselves; we discover humility by thinking less about ourselves.  It comes as we go about our work with an attitude of serving God and our fellow-man.’ Dieter F. Uchtdorf, October 2010 General Conference

To be humble is to recognize our dependence on the Lord. To understand that we have a real need for His constant help and support.

Humility is knowing that our talents and abilities are gifts, bestowed by God.

A humble soul is not weak, timid or fearful, rather those who are humble know where their true strength lies. We can be both humble and without fear. We can be humble and filled with courage.

I am constantly struck by two qualities all people who possess the serenity of pure humility seem to have.

First, regardless of their position or status, their humility leads to submissiveness – not to the world – but to God’s will.

And second, in spite of the difficulties of life, they possess gratitude for blessings and they acknowledge goodness.

Humility and gratitude are the foundation of happiness.

When I need to manufacture or create humility I remember the day that a little girl showed me the way. For this and all my children have taught me, I am truly thankful.

The Flight of Your Life

Photo courtesy of flickr.com/Jolts
Photo courtesy of flickr.com/Jolts

My father was a professional pilot and was well-respected for his ability to fly many different types of planes. On one occasion, a friend of his from California asked him if he would fly his newly built plane back from the East for him. I was elated that he wanted me to be his copilot.

It was on the second day of our flight that my father started to feel the fatigue of the trip. My dad had been giving me flying lessons for quite a while. He decided that I could navigate the plane while he slept for a few minutes. As a wise parent, and one knowing the dangers involved, he gave me some instructions which were plain and easy to understand. He pointed the way I should fly the plane. He said that I should never vary from that path. Off in the horizon was my goal, a big rugged mountain. In addition, he showed me compass and map bearings and even pointed out Omni beacons which aided pilots when they flew at night or in stormy weather. Then before going to sleep, he reassured me that if anything should happen he would be nearby so I wasn’t to hesitate to wake him.

I was elated to be trusted by my Father! My eyes were constantly scanning the horizon for other planes and evaluating the instruments of the cockpit. About 30 minutes had gone by, and my father still slept. I felt so sure of my ability to navigate the plane that I decided not to wake him. The mountain that he gave me as a goal had long since passed. I then discovered a roadway some 10,000 feet below. The road appeared to be going in the right direction so I decided to follow it.

This was fine for a little while, but then I became bored with following the road and decided to do some experimenting. I began by turning the plane from side to side, then moving the rudder back and forth causing the tail of the plane to go from side to side. I was completely engrossed in my experimenting when I began to realize that I did not know where I was or in which direction I should be going. I was anxious to get back on the proper course and feared being caught in my mistake. I tried to use the map and compass but could not find my bearings because of my lack of knowledge of that area. I tried to recollect my father’s instructions, but I couldn’t remember them.

Then I was confronted with another problem. Seemingly out of nowhere two United States Air Force jet fighters flew up and positioned themselves on either side of me. The predicament I was in now was so desperate it caused me to lay aside my guilt and embarrassment and I quickly woke my father. He took immediate control of the plane, quickly got our bearings and guided the plane back to the proper course. He told me that I had been flying over a restricted zone, the site of an underground test launch area for missiles. The jets had been sent up to check us and escort us out of the area.

When I first read this story I was shocked at the amount of trust this father placed in his young son and then, as I thought of the symbolism of the event it began to dawn on me how well it equated with the type of trust our Father in heaven places in each one of us. We have been launched into life, into a body and with a family to guide and protect us.

Sometimes we find that we have already flown past familiar landmarks and are in need of finding another goal to aim for. Sometimes we experiment with the controls, trying to figure out how everything works. Sometimes we find ourselves entering restricted zones and in need of a course correction. Then there are times we need our Father’s guidance and help, to rescue us from foolish or willful decisions.

What is the best decision we can make when we find ourselves off course?

We need to quickly wake our Father if we don’t know the way! Forget embarrassment. Get over feeling weak. Count on God’s love. And do what needs to be done.

We all need a little help from time to time!

Putting Our Burdens Down

Photo courtesy of flickr.com/wlemanux
Photo courtesy of flickr.com/wlemanux

My boys grin at each other when I tell them it is time to put the baby down. The thought of me as an assassin is a radical shift in perspective for them and they love it. What if I were to convince you that it is time to put your burdens down? That it is time to rest?

I can hear you say, ‘I can’t do that!’ How would anything ever get done? Who will carry them if I just abandon them? Just take a deep breath and listen for a minute while I tell you a story.

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away….well not really, instead will you imagine a professor pacing around a classroom, lets say it is an amphitheater. The lights are dimmed. While she is speaking to her students she approaches a table in the center of the floor picks up a glass of water and raises it towards the students.

Everyone expects to be asked the ‘half empty or half full’ question. Instead, she inquires: ‘How heavy is this glass of water?’

Students call out answers and when she replies she tells them that the absolute weight doesn’t matter.

Instead, it depends on how long you hold it. If you were to hold it for a minute, it would not be a problem. If you held it for an hour, your arm would ache. For a day and your arm would feel numb and paralyzed. In each case, the weight of the glass doesn’t change, but the longer you hold it, the heavier it becomes.

Stresses and worries in life are like that glass of water. Think about them for a while and nothing happens. Think about them a bit longer and you begin to hurt. If you think about them all day long, you will feel paralyzed and incapable of doing anything.

It’s important to remember to let go of your stresses. Just put the glass down!

Alright, you say, but how do I put it down?

The secret is to realize that your greatest weapon against stress and anxiety is the ability we have to choose. We choose what we will think, we choose one thought over another. We can lay our burdens on the Lord, give our worries and anxieties to Him, and rest in the peace of God.

If we will do this, choose our thoughts carefully and give our worries to God, we will be more able to deal with the vicissitudes and trials of life. For we will not feel alone.

Should we make my children’s day and put this baby down?

We Are Enough!

Photo courtesy of flickr.com/Hartwig HKD
Photo courtesy of flickr.com/Hartwig HKD

I do not enjoy looking into the mirror. I walk around believing that I am me, instead when I do catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror I wonder who that stranger is. Is it my mother? My grandmother? My sister? I look like a grandmother and there is nothing inside of me that feels old or grandmother-ish.

Don’t get me wrong, I think my mother is beautiful. And not just to her children. My friends used to tell me I was lucky to have a pretty, kind mother. But that is her, not me!

I remember asking my 80-year-old grandmother one spring day how old she felt. She took a while to answer me. I could see her mind going over things and finally she figured out that she felt like she was about 12.

I feel older than my grandmother and come in at about 20.

It is humbling to watch myself grow older. I don’t mind the wisdom and experience but the wrinkles and gray hair, it is a reality check to realize that if I am lucky enough to live for a while I will become my grandmother.

I have decided over the past couple of years that there are several ways I could play this thing called ‘aging’.

I could fight it with exercise and face lifts and dying my hair.

I can try to keep it at bay by eating right and living well.

I can ignore it and continue to dress and act like a punk kid.

I can work at being the ‘cute’ mom, which for me would mean a complete personality change!

I have decided to make a play for staying healthy, moving over and acknowledging that my generation is moving on out of the spotlight. It is time for me to embrace being 54 (for a few more months at least).  My 10-year-old daughter has an older mother and sometimes I catch her looking at me intently and when I look at her quizzically she tells me that I am beautiful. She just doesn’t know any better!

Anyway, I wouldn’t go back. Wouldn’t trade all the things I have learned for the chance to experience youth again. Instead I find myself thinking about the young me with tenderness and compassion, almost like she is a different person entirely. And I find myself thinking about the day I will rise in the resurrection with a perfected and whole body, never to die or age or be afflicted with illness again.

And I will be young and probably be enamored by mirrors for a while, just getting used to feeling like myself again. In the video below, women are confronted with a mirror that gives them valuable feedback. I wish we could do something like this for each other, but until then it will give you something to think about.

Charity Isn’t Just a Tax Deduction

Photo courtesy of flickr.com/alexanderromero
Photo courtesy of flickr.com/alexanderromero

The best and most clear indicator that we are progressing spiritually and coming unto Christ is the way we treat other people.

Mother Teresa was once asked by a reporter how she chose who to help with so many needing so much, she replied, ‘Never worry about numbers. Help one person at a time and always start with the person nearest you.’

The scope of human suffering is daunting, there is so much to do that you and I might be tempted to be paralyzed into inaction. But helping those closest to us, that I can do!

Sometimes language matters and we have come to consider the word ‘charity’ as something that means giving money to an organization that helps the poor. Instead, as the Lord meant it, it should mean love. The kind of love that gives. The kind of love that shares and is concerned about others. It is the kind of love that becomes a call to action.

We find the best definition of the word ‘charity’ in the scriptures:

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. Moroni 7.47

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 1 Corinthians 13:4-7

Imagine what could happen in today’s world—or in our own families, or neighborhoods—if each of us would vow to cherish, watch over, and comfort one another. Imagine the possibilities!

‘We think sometimes that poverty is only found with the hungry, naked and homeless. The poverty of being unwanted, unloved and uncared for is the greatest poverty. We must start in our own homes to remedy this kind of poverty.’ Another quote from Mother Teresa.

Be someone who nurtures and builds. Be someone who has an understanding and a forgiving heart, who looks for the best in people instead of seeing our friend’s weaknesses. Can we leave people better than we find them? Can we be fair with our competitors? Can we lend a hand to those who are frightened, lonely, or burdened?

If we could look into each other’s hearts instead of reading their actions, we might learn to understand the unique challenges each of us face. If we could manage that I think we would treat each other much more gently, and with more love, patience, tolerance, and care.

Elder Marvin J. Ashton once said: ‘Perhaps the greatest charity comes when we are kind to each other, when we don’t judge or categorize someone else, when we simply give each other the benefit of the doubt or remain quiet. Charity is accepting someone’s differences, weaknesses, and shortcomings; having patience with someone who has let us down; or resisting the impulse to become offended when someone doesn’t handle something the way we might have hoped. Charity is refusing to take advantage of another’s weakness and being willing to forgive someone who has hurt us. Charity is expecting the best of each other.’

Are you willing to open your eyes this week? Open your eyes and heart to see those around you that need the charity that only love can provide. And in giving it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over. In other words, give and you will receive the better part.