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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A Glittering Little Mystery

My Wife by Robert Louis Stevenson

Trusty, dusky, vivid, true,
With eyes of gold and bramble-dew,
Steel true and blade straight
The great Artificer made my mate.

Honor, anger, valor, fire,
A love that life could never tire,
Death quench, or evil stir,
The mighty Master gave to her.

Teacher, tender comrade, wife,
A fellow-farer true through life,
Heart-whole and soul-free,
The August Father gave to me.

What is it about us that longs to be loved? We mortals are not designed to do well in mortality alone, so we depend on others to treat us kindly on our journey towards God and heaven.

Think, for a moment, about the faith it took for us to come to this mortal sphere packaged in an infant state. Helpless, dependent on our parents to meet our every need. We had to trust that someone would feed us, clothe us, sooth us and smile when they saw us. That first experience with love shapes us into much of who we are and how we view others. How grateful we should feel towards parents who, however imperfectly, worked at meeting our needs as infants and through childhood.

As our lives progress we experience life in relation to other people. Friendship, jealousy, competition, bullies, acquaintances, professionals. People become the way we learn and grow as they touch us in gentle or selfish ways. These people color our view of love.

Whatever our beginning, whatever the path our education in love takes, we can learn from the tutoring hand of man if we turn to God for understanding. It is possible to learn from the good as well as evil, kindness as contrasted with selfishness. We are in the process of creating an adult that is capable of giving and receiving love. We are essential in the creation of our character and in the way we view the world and our place in that world.

Do the words of Robert Lewis Stephenson stir you like they do me? They seem to challenge me to become a woman of strength and purpose, a loyal and tireless partner to the man I chose to marry and build a life with.

I fell in love with someone I had been friends with for years and over time that beginning has been proven to be a great strength. It seems logical that love should be built like a pyramid. The base of the pyramid can be called friendship, the ascending layers built of elements such as time, understanding, respect, patience, and restraint.

At the top of the pyramid is a glittering little mystery called romance. Upheld and supported by the layers and layers of strengths beneath it. And we determine the strength or weakness of the foundation upon which we build. After we build the foundation we attain the true pinnacle called romance or true love.

Are we willing to pay the price for the glittering little mystery? Go read the poem again and I am sure you will decide it is would be worth whatever it cost to have someone think those kinds of thoughts about you!

Unto The Least Of These

Photo courtesy of flickr.com/grendelkhan
Photo courtesy of flickr.com/grendelkhan

“Good morning”, said a woman as she walked up to a man sitting on a bench across the street from the White House. The man slowly looked up. His first thought was that she wanted to make fun of him, like so many others had done before “Leave me alone,” he growled. To his amazement, the woman continued standing.

She was smiling, “Are you hungry?” she asked.

“No,” he answered sarcastically. “I’ve just come from dining with the president. Now go away.”

The woman’s smile became even broader. Suddenly the man felt a gentle hand under his arm. “What are you doing, lady?” the man asked angrily. “I said to leave me alone.

Just then a policeman came up. “Is there any problem, ma’am?” he asked..

“No problem here, officer,” the woman answered. “I’m just trying to get this man to his feet. Will you help me?”

The officer scratched his head. “That’s old Jack. He’s been a fixture around here for a couple of years. What do you want with him?”

“See that cafeteria over there?” she asked. “I’m going to get him something to eat and get him out of the cold for awhile.”

“Are you crazy, lady?” the homeless man resisted. “I don’t want to go in there!” Then he felt strong hands grab his other arm and lift him up. “Let me go, officer. I didn’t do anything.”

“This is a good deal for you, Jack” the officer answered. “Don’t blow it..”

Finally, and with some difficulty, the woman and the police officer got Jack into the cafeteria and sat him at a table in a remote corner. It was the middle of the morning, so most of the breakfast crowd had already left and the lunch bunch had not yet arrived.

The manager strode across the cafeteria and stood by his table. “What’s going on here, officer?” he asked. “What is all this, is this man in trouble?”

“This lady brought this man in here to be fed,” the policeman answered.

“Not in here!” the manager replied angrily. “Having a person like that here is bad for business.”

Old Jack smiled a toothless grin. “See, lady. I told you so. Now if you’ll let me go. I didn’t want to come here in the first place.”

The woman turned to the cafeteria manager and smiled… “Sir, are you familiar with Eddy and Associates, the banking firm down the street?”

“Of course I am,” the manager answered impatiently. “They hold their weekly meetings in one of my banquet rooms.”

“And do you make a goodly amount of money providing food at these weekly meetings?”

“What business is that of yours?”

“I, sir, am Penelope Eddy, president and CEO of the company.”

“Oh.”

The woman smiled again. “I thought that might make a difference.” She glanced at the cop who was busy stifling a giggle. “Would you like to join us in a cup of coffee and a meal, officer?”

“No thanks, ma’am,” the officer replied. “I’m on duty.”

“Then, perhaps, a cup of coffee to go?”

“Yes, ma’am. That would be very nice.”

The cafeteria manager turned on his heel, “I’ll get your coffee for you right away, officer.”

The officer watched him walk away. “You certainly put him in his place,” he said.

“That was not my intent. Believe it or not, I have a reason for all this.”

She sat down at the table across from her amazed dinner guest. She stared at him intently. “Jack, do you remember me?”

Old Jack searched her face with his old, rheumy eyes. “I think so – I mean you do look familiar.”

“I’m a little older perhaps,” she said. “Maybe I’ve even filled out more than in my younger days when you worked here, and I came through that very door, cold and hungry.”

“Ma’am?” the officer said questioningly. He couldn’t believe that such a woman could ever have been hungry.

“I was just out of college,” the woman began. “I had come to the city looking for a job, but I couldn’t find anything. Finally I was down to my last few cents and had been kicked out of my apartment. I walked the streets for days. It was February and I was cold and nearly starving. I saw this place and walked in on the off-chance that I could get something to eat.”

Jack lit up with a smile. “Now I remember,” he said, “I was behind the serving counter. You came up and asked me if you could work for something to eat. I said that it was against company policy.”

“I know,” the woman continued. “Then you made me the biggest roast beef sandwich that I had ever seen, gave me a cup of coffee, and told me to go over to a corner table and enjoy it. I was afraid that you would get into trouble. Then, when I looked over and saw you put the price of my food in the cash register, I knew then that everything would be all right.”

“So you started your own business?” Old Jack said.

“I got a job that very afternoon. I worked my way up. Eventually I started my business that, with the help of God, prospered.” She opened her purse and pulled out a business card. “When you are finished here, I want you to pay a visit to a Mr. Lyons. He’s the personnel director of my company. I’ll go talk to him now and I’m certain he’ll find something for you to do around the office.” She smiled. “I think he might even find the funds to give you a little advance so that you can buy some clothes and get a place to live until you get on your feet. If you ever need anything, my door is always open to you.”

There were tears in the old man’s eyes. “How can I ever thank you?” he said.

“Don’t thank me,” the woman answered. “To God goes the glory. Thank Jesus. He led me to you.”

Outside the cafeteria, the officer and the woman paused at the entrance before going their separate ways.

“Thank you for all your help, officer,” she said.

“On the contrary, Ms. Eddy,” he answered. “Thank you. I saw a miracle today, something that I will never forget.”

I ask you this, ‘have miracles ceased? or has the day of miracles ceased?” (Moro. 7:27, 35.)

“I say unto you, Nay; neither have angels ceased to minister unto the children of men nor will they, so long as time shall last, or the earth shall stand, or there shall be one man upon the face thereof to be saved.” (Moro. 7:29, 36.)

And we can act as God’s hands, His eyes, His heart in watching and loving those people who stand in need of our succor. We just need to open our eyes.

 

The Mom Business

Photo courtesy of flickr.com/urs/ula dee
Photo courtesy of flickr.com/urs/ula dee

Mitt and my marriage has always been a partnership: His job was putting money in the bank; I was a full-time mother. Being Mom was my job: I cooked every meal, I was the taxi service for five active boys, I cleaned the house. Baseball season was especially tough on our dinner routine; we ate a lot of boy-friendly meals, a lot of spaghetti, tacos, and chicken fajitas. Food has always been the glue in our family; after all, our meals were one of the rare times when we could all be together.

InThisTogetherjacketWhile I felt completely fulfilled personally, I also knew that there were some who judged women who had chosen my path. Mitt was at Harvard Business School, surrounded by type-A personalities chasing success, while I was a stay- at-home mother during the day and attending Harvard extension at night. Mitt and I got married young, but I promised my father I would graduate from college. I knew that those who judged my choices had different priorities from mine; that their happiness came from following a different path. Most important, I knew Mitt completely understood I was working just as hard as he was, but in a different way, and that he valued my contribution to our family. It wasn’t just lip service. In every way, he truly considered me as an equal partner.

I so wanted to speak out for other stay-at-home moms, but I just didn’t know how to do that. I got that opportunity in the mid-1970s, when the Harvard Business School invited Mitt and me to join several other people speaking about our career choices. Career choices? I had never actually seen it that way. I understood why Mitt had been invited. He was on the path to great success. He was a relatively young vice president of a respected management consulting firm. Only a few years earlier he had sat in that same auditorium as a student and could offer some valuable real-world advice. But me? I had spent those same years changing diapers, burping babies, and making sure our kids got to school on time.

At the time we were asked to speak, we were living near Cambridge, where the feminist movement was in full bloom and motherhood was going out of fashion. There were many people in academia who believed the role of stay-at-home mother, my job, was no longer a viable option for young women. While I had agreed to speak, I didn’t have the slightest idea what I was going to say. I would be speaking to students at one of the best business schools in the world, and I knew for certain they weren’t spending so many thousands of dollars on tuition so that, one day, they could drive a station wagon and watchSesame Street. Years later, Mitt would describe me as “chief family officer.” That was clever, but it certainly wasn’t a title that these people were pursuing.

As the day of my speech got closer, rather than being anxious, I became more resolute. Rather than preparing my speech, I decided to be bold; I was going to speak from my heart and talk about the profession I had chosen. Somehow I had to justify the fact that while so many of my contemporaries were shattering the glass ceiling, I was home scraping Marshmallow Fluff off our boys. As I sat on that stage next to Mitt, watching students stroll into the auditorium, I honestly expected to be booed.

I was the last person scheduled to speak. As the five people who spoke before me explained how and why they had chosen their high-paying occupations, I didn’t move. When Mitt finished, the audience applauded politely. Then it was my turn.

“I could have done a lot of different things,” I began. “But I didn’t. Instead I became a wife and a mother.” I turned and pointed at Mitt. “And, by the way, my job’s more important than his, because what I’m doing lasts a lot longer than what he’s doing.” I channeled all my energy into that speech. I hadn’t realized just how long I’d been waiting to say these things, and they flowed out of me.

Being a wife and a mother is a complex and physically challenging job, I said. Not only that, it’s a lot more difficult than an office job, because it consumes twenty-four hours of every day with no time off. Once I got rolling I didn’t hold back. Every child is unique, I continued. Every child is his or her own person, with needs and wants, and no handbook could possibly provide all the information and advice I needed to be a doctor and a nurse, a psychologist, a teacher and a speech therapist, a consultant, a coach, a caregiver, sometimes a boss, and always a friend. I spoke for about ten minutes, which might have been the longest I had ever spoken to an audience.

Finally I concluded: “Mitt and I both know how important his job is. He’s the provider, and it’s challenging and he’s good at it, but we both know that our most important job is raising our kids, and that a lot of that responsibility is mine. And I am fortunate to have a partner that values me as much as Mitt does.”

My goal hadn’t been to change anybody’s mind about their own future; I just wanted a little more respect for women who had made the same choice I had. And whether the audience at Harvard liked it not, I had finally gotten to say it.

As I gathered up my note cards, the applause began— and it grew into a standing ovation. I wasn’t used to anything like that, and I probably turned a little bit red. Yet I couldn’t spend too much time basking in the recognition — I had to pick up one of our boys to take him to a basketball game and then go home to get dinner ready.


From IN THIS TOGETHER: My Story by Ann Romney. Copyright © 2015 by the author and reprinted by permission

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.

The Cool Aunt Knows This:

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

I tried, but I couldn’t improve on this list!

How to Be The Cool Aunt:

1. Buy them their first pair of cowboy boots and they will love you forever!

2. When you go on vacation, send them a postcard.

3. Take them to sporting events. Let them order nachos, candy, and a coke.

4. Sit at the kid’s table during the holidays.

5. And talk to them like they are adults.

6. Tell them all the cool stories about their mom or dad.

7. Take the girls for manis and pedis.

8. Give them gifts that are just a smidge above their age. (Just a smidge, you want your siblings to speak to you at Christmas!)

9. When Thanksgiving gets boring, take them to a movie or better yet, play Just Dance with them.

10. Take them trick-or-treating, while dressed up.

11. Pick them up from school unannounced (with parents permission, of course!) and take them to Sonic for a cherry limeade.

12. Intervene when grandma tries to buy them matching outfits.

13. Give them your old purses and costume jewelry to play with.

14. Bring them cool gifts back when you go on vacation.

15. Text them or call them just because.

16. Refrain (and encourage other family members to do the same) from posting on their social media.

17. But keep up with their social media.

18. Offer to help hide the body of the boy/girl who broke their heart.

19. Not really hide the body, but let them know you’ve got their back.

20. Let them talk to you about things they could never talk to their parents about.

21. Let them sit on the front row at the movies.

22. Take them to the drive-in. Take lots of snacks and let them dive in.

23. When it snows, play outside with them.

24. Let them listen to the radio station they want to listen to. Sing along with them at the top of your voice and dance!

25. Take them to get ice cream as often as you can.

26. Love them.

Understanding or Not

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

I grew up reading The Washington Post and was just barely 11 when the Pentagon Papers were published and the fall of President Nixon began. In an article written this last June the son of  Daniel Ellsberg, Michael Ellsberg, wrote a stunning essay about finally understanding his parents. You can find the article here. It gives me hope as a parent and a child, and convinces me that compassion is rarely misplaced.

A huge piece of my emotional puzzle fell into place last week. For years, I had a story in my mind that my dad did not pay much attention to me when I was growing up. There was a lot of evidence I could marshal in support of this story. After he released the Pentagon Papers to many newspapers, including this one, in 1971, he devoted himself full-time to activism. By the time I came around, in 1977, he was immersed in the global movement for nuclear disarmament. He was often away for long stretches of time, and we didn’t spend a lot of time together during my childhood.

One of my clearest memories as a boy was waiting for dad to walk through the door after a long trip, off saving the world. He would always bring me a stuffed animal, which made me ecstatic. I was proud of what I saw as his heroism. And I was proud to have the greatest stuffed animal collection of any of my friends. Yet there was a bittersweetness to this delight: Why did I have so many of them?

Over the years, I had come to my own peace with his choices about where his focus went. As an adult, I greatly respect the work he did throughout my childhood. Even then, though I only had a child’s understanding of it, I had the sense he was up to big and important things. I was proud of daddy. But as a young boy, I longed for time with and attention from him as well.

At lunch with my father last week, he shared information with me that changed my understanding of that time. My parents have been married almost 45 years, and from my vantage point, it has always looked like a happy marriage.

At that lunch, he told me that, despite loving each other deeply, they had a very challenging marriage for about the first 15 years of my life. They managed to keep this hidden from me. He said there were times when he just couldn’t take any more of the challenges, and was ready to leave.

But he stayed, because he just couldn’t bear hurting me by leaving. He had already divorced once in his life, with two children, and he didn’t want to cause that pain again. They went on, after that period, to have decades more of a wonderful marriage, and they’re still happily married today.

I started crying when he told me this. It just blew my mind and my heart open that a man would stay in a difficult marriage for 15 years in large part to avoid my suffering. That’s more than twice as long as my six-year relationship with my ex-wife — and most of our marriage was quite happy, until the end. I could not believe the generosity of his heart. All my stories about him not caring, or not being there for me, instantly vanished in one conversation.

It got me thinking about the stories and interpretations we come up with and fix upon as adults, often based on emotional reactions we have as young children, based on not knowing the full story.

I say this not to shame anyone for divorcing with children. (As a divorcee myself, that would be rather lame of me, wouldn’t it?) Though I don’t have children, it is clear to me that sometimes divorce can be the most compassionate and loving act for children as well as parents.

Rather, I say this to share that, often our parents express their love in ways we didn’t realize when we were children. I am flabbergasted at the dedication and sacrifice my father showed to avoid my suffering. I cannot imagine enduring 15 years of a difficult marriage. I feel a bit silly at the stories I created about him in my head.

At the same meal, my father apologized for not being more present during my boyhood. He even said that, looking back, he felt he hadn’t been a great father to me. Even a day earlier, I would have relished this apology and recognition. Finally, that thing I had longed for out loud during so many therapy sessions!

But after hearing of my father’s stubborn resolve to keep in the marriage for my sake, suddenly his apology felt unnecessary — and his sense of failing as father felt like an insult to his caring heart.

As I assured him that his apology was unnecessary, I listed all the ways he had been a great father. It was the first time I had made such a list in my mind, let alone shared it with him.

I went on to tell him:

Dad, there is no way I’d be able to take the creative risks I take now, as an artist and entrepreneur, without your example of standing up for what you believe in, and speaking truth no matter what the consequences. I wade into some very controversial territories in my work, and I wouldn’t have been able to do that without your example. I always come back to my own moral compass in deciding what to put out in the public, and I learned that from you. I also learned how to open my heart, from you and mom together. That is the greatest thing you could have taught me. I hope you never, ever feel bad about the way you raised me. You were the perfect father for me to become who I am today. I will always be grateful.

True Love

Photo courtesy of flickr.com/Frass 333
Photo courtesy of flickr.com/Frass 333

What is love? This….

Without safety ropes, harnesses, or climbing gear of any kind, two brothers—Jimmy, age 14, and John, age 19 attempted to scale a sheer canyon wall in Snow Canyon State Park in southern Utah. Near the top of their laborious climb, they discovered that a protruding ledge denied them their final few feet of ascent. They could not get over it, but neither could they now retreat from it. They were stranded. After careful maneuvering, John found enough footing to boost his younger brother to safety on top of the ledge. But there was no way to lift himself. The more he strained to find finger or foot leverage, the more his muscles began to cramp. Panic started to sweep over him, and he began to fear for his life.

Unable to hold on much longer, John decided his only option was to try to jump vertically in an effort to grab the top of the overhanging ledge. If successful, he might, by his considerable arm strength, pull himself to safety.

In his own words, he said:

“Prior to my jump I told Jimmy to go search for a tree branch strong enough to extend down to me, although I knew there was nothing of the kind on this rocky summit. It was only a desperate ruse. If my jump failed, the least I could do was make certain my little brother did not see me falling to my death.

“Giving him enough time to be out of sight, I said my last prayer—that I wanted my family to know I loved them and that Jimmy could make it home safely on his own—then I leapt. There was enough adrenaline in my spring that the jump extended my arms above the ledge almost to my elbows. But as I slapped my hands down on the surface, I felt nothing but loose sand on flat stone. I can still remember the gritty sensation of hanging there with nothing to hold on to—no lip, no ridge, nothing to grab or grasp. I felt my fingers begin to recede slowly over the sandy surface. I knew my life was over.

“But then suddenly, like a lightning strike in a summer storm, two hands shot out from somewhere above the edge of the cliff, grabbing my wrists with a strength and determination that belied their size. My faithful little brother had not gone looking for any fictitious tree branch. Guessing exactly what I was planning to do, he had never moved an inch. He had simply waited—silently, almost breathlessly—knowing full well I would be foolish enough to try to make that jump. When I did, he grabbed me, held me, and refused to let me fall. Those strong brotherly arms saved my life that day as I dangled helplessly above what would surely have been certain death.”

Is there someone who needs your arms to hold onto? Someone who needs your friendship and acceptance? We have the power to show forth the love of our Savior and by so doing save them as surely as the young boy in the story of the rock climbers saved his older brother. We have the power to give unselfishly to those we love like the older brother did.

The power of true love is limitless and eternal.

Saving Marriage

Photo courtesy of flickr.com/LollyKnit
Photo courtesy of flickr.com/LollyKnit

Marriage, like parenting, has to be experienced to be understood. Most people default to preparing for the wedding since it is a once in a lifetime celebration, and hope for the best afterward.

How should we prepare for marriage? Is it possible to prepare?

I have found that when both parties come to marriage with an understanding that it will take work to succeed, it helps.

When both are poised to both forgive and repent of weaknesses and mistakes, love can flourish.

When the couple leans on God and His understanding and patience, their faith in God can support the marriage until they have roots deep enough to feed the marriage as well.

In any case, we can plead for the guidance of the spirit of the Lord to forgive wrongs, overcome faults and to strengthen relationships. Over and over and over, until weak things become strong and we find ourselves more in love than when we began our journey together.

Unselfishness, commitment and faith are the bedrock principles solid enough to support the structure of a great marriage. No matter how you begin the adventure of marriage, returning to these principles again and again will bear the fruit of happiness and love.

Take Yourself Out Of The Fight

Photo courtesy of flickr.com/kmichiels
Photo courtesy of flickr.com/kmichiels

Imagine you married a great guy and spent half of your life together. You have traveled the world and made a family. Your kids are safe and loved and taught. You have done New York and camped in the Rockies, taken the kids to Disneyland and the gulf. You have a great marriage. Sure there are issues but everyone deals with those, your marriage is solid. You never imagine, not in your wildest dreams, that your husband would tell you that he never loved you, that he was moving out, that the kids will be fine, he is sure they want him to be happy.

A sucker punch, no doubt about it.

When this happened to my friend she did something remarkable, she decided not to believe him. And her decision changed everything.

What came to her in the moment was an image of a child throwing a temper tantrum. The child is in the middle of a melt down and tries to hit his mother. But the mother decides not to hit back, instead, she ducks. Then goes about her business as if the tantrum isn’t happening. She doesn’t take the tantrum personally because it has little or nothing to do with her. Brilliant?!?

She knew her husband was not a child and he was not throwing a temper tantrum, he was lost in the grip of a grown up size meltdown but she decided to respond by not buying his decision. For her, and for him, it worked.

It would have been easier to let him walk away, or to beg him to stay, but she told him she would give him the summer to work it all out. Somehow, she recognized that her husband was hurting but realized, as well, that the problem was not hers to solve. She decided to get out of his way.

She understood that she was not at the root of his problem – he was. If he could turn his problem into a fight between them they would all lose.

On good days, she found the high road. Ignored his anger and merciless jabs. On bad days, she raged at him, but only in her heart. And she somehow found the strength to stand firm. Instead of issuing ultimatums, yelling, crying or begging, she gave him options. She and the children created a summer to remember and invited him to share it with them.

He became unreliable and disappeared at times. Her heart grieved for her children. You can bet she wanted to sit him down and persuade him to stay. To love her. To fight for what they had created. But she didn’t do that. Something within helped her to hang on, to exercise patience and unconditional love.

She made lunch and watched the kids play in the sprinklers. Put on a movie and popped popcorn. Kept his place set at the table and loved him from afar. And gradually, by the end of the summer, he began investing in the family again. He fixed the lawn mower and painted the front door. He came back. All the way back.

He is amazed that she had the grace and strength to do what she did that horrible summer. Their children have a family because she was strong enough to see that it was not about her. She knows that she had help, that something within her knew what to do and then remembered why she was doing the hard thing.

Somehow, she did the right thing that summer and saved something precious, their family.

A Sweet Love Letter

Love letter from Johnny Cash

 

I listened to two widows this week and their views on marriage and life and love. They did not say what I thought they would say or feel what I thought they would feel.

I wonder if they realize that they are still creating their relationship with their spouse? It is still under construction. It was clear to me that a little kindness and generosity goes a long way in any relationship but especially a marriage.

Our thoughts lead to words and our words lead straight to deeds. The place to head off trouble then is when we first think the thought.

Minute by minute we are the creators of our lives, our relationships and our happiness depends, to a great extent, on our thoughts.

I wish you might be the writer of a love letter that can be held up as an example of clarity and kindness.

I wish you might be the kind of spouse that causes tender feelings in your beloved.

I wish that we all might become perfectly loved and perfectly lovable.

That we might see our beloved as heaven views them, is the wish of my heart this day.

 

The Beautiful Thing About Perspective

Photo courtesy of flickr.com/gags9999
Photo courtesy of flickr.com/gags9999

As anyone over thirty knows, we are either in a crisis, coming out of a crisis or headed for a crisis. Right? Most of life seems to consist of juggling stress and moments of happiness usually seem to happen when we figure out how to take our mind off ourselves for just a minute and focus on something eternal, something outside our own problems and conflicts.

One Sunday afternoon we attended a church that was not our own and while you can find great truth in any church meeting, these were hard. It looked like a fashion show to me and the parking lot was filled with expensive cars. The church was in a wealthy area and everything seemed just a little too shallow for me to feel comfortable. It was probably just me, but that is what I saw and I was glad to get home and make lunch for the kids.

Later that afternoon my husband was asked to help conduct a church service at the children’s hospital. He said that the room was a stark, utilitarian room with a few rows of metal folding chairs. The pulpit was a temporary thing set on a folding table. The people filed in slowly and with great difficulty, some in wheelchairs, some holding onto IV poles. Some patients were too sick to attend but their family came dressed in whatever they had worn to the hospital, anxious to be fed by the spirit and then get back to being with their family.

The prayers offered were humble and pleading. The music was tenderly sung. The speakers were anxious to offer solace and peace. It seemed that the Lord was there with them.

He told me later how incredibly rich the spirit was in that little, woe-begotten meeting. And we both wondered who the Lord would truly consider blessed? The wealthy, healthy congregation, or the sick and afflicted souls? It was obvious to me that day.

When sore trials come upon us, that is when we learn the great lessons of life. Two of the greatest lessons I have learned I thought I would share with you today.

The first is the lesson of asking for help. It is hard to be someone who needs instead of the one who gives. But the beautiful thing is that after you finally admit to yourself and others that you can’t do it alone, you discovered that life is far more beautiful—and endurable. True strength is admitting we don’t have enough. Enough time or energy. Enough strength or health. Enough… And it isn’t usually friends or family I call on, it is the Lord I look to for what I need.

The second great lesson I have learned is the beauty of changing our vantage point, our perspective. Looking at a canvas up close, we can see all the gritty details, even the flaws. When we’re in the middle of tough times, it is very easy to focus on minutia and miss the beauty of the big picture.

Getting some distance and perspective allows us to see the bigger picture in which all harsh strokes and flaws are lost in the larger, grander story. That change of perspective will alter our experience, even in the midst of pain or grief.

There is no better way to gain perspective than immersing ourselves in the scriptures.

So, don’t be afraid of being weak, of needing help and when things look bleak don’t forget to seek higher ground. A change in perspective.

Why God Made Moms

Photo courtesy of flickr.com/Gabriela Pinto
Photo courtesy of flickr.com/Gabriela Pinto

WHY GOD MADE MOMS

Answers given by 2nd grade school children to the following questions:
Why did God make mothers?
1. She’s the only one who knows where the scotch tape is.
2. Mostly to clean the house.
3. To help us out of there when we were getting born.
How did God make mothers?
1. He used dirt, just like for the rest of us.
2. Magic plus super powers and a lot of stirring.
3. God made my mom just the same like he made me. He just used bigger parts.
What ingredients are mothers made of?
1. God makes mothers out of clouds and angel hair and everything nice in the world and one dab of mean.
2. They had to get their start from men’s bones. Then they mostly use string, I think.
Why did God give you your mother and not some other mom?
1. We’re related.
2. God knew she likes me a lot more than other people’s mom like me.
What kind of a little girl was your mom?
1. My mom has always been my mom and none of that other stuff.
2. I don’t know because I wasn’t there, but my guess would be pretty bossy.
3. They say she used to be nice.
What did mom need to know about dad before she married him?
1. His last name.
2. She had to know his background. Like is he a crook? Does he get drunk on beer?
3. Does he make at least $800 a year? Did he say NO to drugs and YES to chores?
Why did your mom marry your dad?
1. My dad makes the best spaghetti in the world. And my mom eats a lot.
2. She got too old to do anything else with him.
3. My grandma says that mom didn’t have her thinking cap on.
Who’s the boss at your house?
1. Mom doesn’t want to be boss, but she has to because dad’s such a goof ball.
2. Mom. You can tell by room inspection. She sees the stuff under the bed.
3. I guess mom is, but only because she has a lot more to do than dad.
What’s the difference between moms and dads?
1. Moms work at work and work at home and dads just go to work at work.
2. Moms know how to talk to teachers without scaring them.
3. Dads are taller and stronger, but moms have all the real power cause that’s who you got to ask if you want to sleep over at your friends.
4. Moms have magic, they make you feel better without medicine.
What does your mom do in her spare time?
1. Mothers don’t do spare time.
2. To hear her tell it, she pays bills all day long.
What would it take to make your mom perfect?
1. On the inside she’s already perfect. Outside, I think some kind of plastic surgery.
2. Diet. You know, her hair. I’d diet, maybe blue.
If you could change one thing about your mom, what would it be?
1. She has this weird thing about me keeping my room clean. I’d get rid of that.
2. I’d make my mom smarter. Then she would know it was my sister who did it not me.
3. I would like for her to get rid of those invisible eyes on the back of her head.
I don’t have a clue who wrote this, but I love the innocence and straightforward thinking of children! Enjoy.

The Question That Will Change Your Life

 

Photo courtesy of flickr.com/a moment of tenderness
Photo courtesy of flickr.com/a moment of tenderness

How strong are the relationships you are building? Are you using high quality materials to build the relationships that matter the most? How much time do you spend on the construction of those relationships? If the words you use, the thoughts you think and the actions you take are the building materials of those relationships, are you using the finest materials or shoddy junk?

I recently read an article by Richard Paul Evans, an author. As you read this, notice that God did not take sides in the conflict. He did reveal to them the tools needed to fix something that was very broken.

My oldest daughter, Jenna, recently said to me, “My greatest fear as a child was that you and mom would get divorced. Then, when I was twelve, I decided that you fought so much that maybe it would be better if you did.” Then she added with a smile. “I’m glad you guys figured things out.”

For years my wife Keri and I struggled. Looking back, I’m not exactly sure what initially drew us together, but our personalities didn’t quite match up. And the longer we were married the more extreme the differences seemed. Encountering “fame and fortune” didn’t make our marriage any easier. In fact, it exacerbated our problems. The tension between us got so bad that going out on book tour became a relief, though it seems we always paid for it on re-entry. Our fighting became so constant that it was difficult to even imagine a peaceful relationship. We became perpetually defensive, building emotional fortresses around our hearts. We were on the edge of divorce and more than once we discussed it.

I was on book tour when things came to a head. We had just had another big fight on the phone and Keri had hung up on me. I was alone and lonely, frustrated and angry. I had reached my limit. That’s when I turned to God. Or turned on God. I don’t know if you could call it prayer–maybe shouting at God isn’t prayer, maybe it is–but whatever I was engaged in I’ll never forget it. I was standing in the shower of the Buckhead, Atlanta Ritz-Carlton yelling at God that marriage was wrong and I couldn’t do it anymore. As much as I hated the idea of divorce, the pain of being together was just too much. I was also confused. I couldn’t figure out why marriage with Keri was so hard. Deep down I knew that Keri was a good person. And I was a good person. So why couldn’t we get along? Why had I married someone so different than me? Why wouldn’t she change?

Finally, hoarse and broken, I sat down in the shower and began to cry. In the depths of my despair powerful inspiration came to me. You can’t change her, Rick. You can only change yourself. At that moment I began to pray. If I can’t change her, God, then change me. I prayed late into the night. I prayed the next day on the flight home. I prayed as I walked in the door to a cold wife who barely even acknowledged me. That night, as we lay in our bed, inches from each other yet miles apart, the inspiration came. I knew what I had to do.

 The next morning I rolled over in bed next to Keri and asked, “How can I make your day better?”

Keri looked at me angrily. “What?”

“How can I make your day better?”

“You can’t,” she said. “Why are you asking that?”

“Because I mean it,” I said. “I just want to know what I can do to make your day better.”

She looked at me cynically. “You want to do something? Go clean the kitchen.”

She likely expected me to get mad. Instead I just nodded. “Okay.” I got up and cleaned the kitchen.

The next day I asked the same thing. “What can I do to make your day better?”

Her eyes narrowed. “Clean the garage.”

I took a deep breath. I already had a busy day and I knew she had made the request in spite. I was tempted to blow up at her. Instead I said, “Okay.” I got up and for the next two hours cleaned the garage. Keri wasn’t sure what to think.

The next morning came. “What can I do to make your day better?”

“Nothing!” she said. “You can’t do anything. Please stop saying that.”

“I’m sorry,” I said. “But I can’t. I made a commitment to myself. What can I do to make your day better?”

“Why are you doing this?”

“Because I care about you,” I said. “And our marriage.”

The next morning I asked again. And the next. And the next. Then, during the second week, a miracle occurred. As I asked the question Keri’s eyes welled up with tears. Then she broke down crying. When she could speak she said, “Please stop asking me that. You’re not the problem. I am. I’m hard to live with. I don’t know why you stay with me.”

I gently lifted her chin until she was looking in my eyes. “It’s because I love you,” I said. “What can I do to make your day better?”

“I should be asking you that.”

“You should,” I said. “But not now. Right now, I need to be the change. You need to know how much you mean to me.”

She put her head against my chest. “I’m sorry I’ve been so mean.”

“I love you,” I said.

“I love you,” she replied.

“What can I do to make your day better?”

She looked at me sweetly. “Can we maybe just spend some time together?”

I smiled. “I’d like that.”

I continued asking for more than a month. And things did change. The fighting stopped. Then Keri began asking, “What do you need from me? How can I be a better wife?”

The walls between us fell. We began having meaningful discussions on what we wanted from life and how we could make each other happier. No, we didn’t solve all our problems. I can’t even say that we never fought again. But the nature of our fights changed. Not only were they becoming more and more rare, they lacked the energy they’d once had. We’d deprived them of oxygen. We just didn’t have it in us to hurt each other anymore.

Keri and I have now been married for more than thirty years. I not only love my wife, I like her. I like being with her. I crave her. I need her. Many of our differences have become strengths and the others don’t really matter. We’ve learned how to take care of each other and, more importantly, we’ve gained the desire to do so.

Marriage is hard. But so is parenthood and keeping fit and writing books and everything else important and worthwhile in my life. To have a partner in life is a remarkable gift. I’ve also learned that the institution of marriage can help heal us of our most unlovable parts. And we all have unlovable parts.

Through time I’ve learned that our experience was an illustration of a much larger lesson about marriage. The question everyone in a committed relationship should ask their significant other is, “What can I do to make your life better?” That is love. Romance novels (and I’ve written a few) are all about desire and happily-ever-after, but happily-ever-after doesn’t come from desire–at least not the kind portrayed in most pulp romances. Real love is not to desire a person, but to truly desire their happiness–sometimes, even, at the expense of our own happiness. Real love is not to make another person a carbon copy of one’s self. It is to expand our own capabilities of tolerance and caring, to actively seek another’s well being. All else is simply a charade of self-interest.

I’m not saying that what happened to Keri and me will work for everyone. I’m not even claiming that all marriages should be saved. But for me, I am incredibly grateful for the inspiration that came to me that day so long ago. I’m grateful that my family is still intact and that I still have my wife, my best friend, in bed next to me when I wake in the morning. And I’m grateful that even now, decades later, every now and then, one of us will still roll over and say, “What can I do to make your day better.” Being on either side of that question is something worth waking up for. 

In my mind’s eye I can see the effect this simple question could have, if asked and acted upon, on this earth we inhabit together.

I can feel the amount of love increase.

I can imagine happiness and gratitude begin to grow.

I can feel broken begin to heal and hopelessness dissipate as darkness flees before the morning rays of the sun.

I am asking all within the reach of my voice to ask this question today, ‘how I can make your day better?’

I’m headed downstairs now and it feels like the beginning of something very much like joy!

Gold Medal Parents

Photo courtesy of flickr.com/Dani Alvar
Photo courtesy of flickr.com/Dani Alvar

If I am remembering right, Art Linkletter once did a show for ‘Kids Say The Darndest Things’ , the set up was a fake talent agency calling kids into the studio to audition. But, instead of filming the children, he had the camera trained on their mothers. I am sure the kids were adorable but the love on their mother’s face was priceless, intense and personal.

In the video below you will find parenthood distilled, loves essence compressed into two minutes of raw truth. There is no explaining motherhood or fatherhood. There are no words capable of conveying the enormity of what happens to normal, everyday people when they become parents. But this comes close.

What we sacrifice for our children brings us happiness.

How can that kind of love really exist? I don’t know everything, but I do know that this love is the best part of us.

I hope that watching this video will intensify the love you feel for your children and rekindle appreciation for your parents. I thank God that there is love this pure still on the earth. Pass it on.

 

Be All You Can Be

Photo courtesy of flickr.com/Rayani Melo
Photo courtesy of flickr.com/Rayani Melo

I am thinking of four powerful words. Powerful in a way that can bring destruction to a relationship if not corrected. These words will keep you lonely and apart from the very people who want to love and support you. These words can destroy relationships and limit happiness.

These four little words are, ‘I’m not that bad’. At first glance they don’t seem that significant, but spoken in the context of a marriage or family they symbolize an unwillingness to give, a resistance to committing. Spoken or unspoken, this idea spells a slow and painful death of what could be.

When we embrace these words we are allowing thoughts that paralyze change.  Of course, we are not that bad, but I am pretty sure that doesn’t mean that we can not be better. We cannot control what anyone else in your life does, we can and must work on ourselves.

When tempted to believe that we are not as bad as someone else I encourage you to ask yourself the following question. ‘Am I being the best person I can be?’ If you can ask that honestly and curiously, then I have hope that your relationships will thrive and flourish. That people who want to love you will be able to overlook shortcomings and weaknesses because they will recognize in you an effort to change.

This is a question I am working on asking myself. A question that shifts my focus away from the failings I see in others and helps me be a better wife and mother and friend. Is it hard to understand that when our family sees us working hard to be a better person they become, in response, more patient with our imperfections?

There are some experiences that change your life forever and although we might look to the ‘biggies’ of birth, marriage and death as life changing, I have found some of the most far-reaching learning moments happen in small and simple struggles.

Our second daughter came with a specific set of strengths and weaknesses and the one that rubbed me wrong in every way blossomed when she turned three. She became a whiner. It. Drove. Me. Crazy!

My reaction, at first, was to demand that she stop and when that didn’t work I fell into matching her whine for whine until we were both miserable. I was young. I was learning. I grew so much from this experience that I am grateful to God for sending this child to me.

I was driven to my knees. I didn’t want to feel so helpless in the face of a normal childish behavior and while supplicating God I realized that I was the adult. Michelle was reacting to me in a way that made sense to her. Her struggles with me were her way of communicating with her mother.

I realized that the three-year old child was reacting to her environment and I couldn’t expect Michelle to change unless I changed first.

Have you ever felt the universe shift? Have you ever felt like your eyes had been opened and something that had been there all along was suddenly visible to you?

I have never seen things the same again. In every relationship, in every situation, I have the power – all by myself – to change everything.

It is a powerful concept and it helps eliminate a lot of the negative, helpless thinking we waste time on when we are unhappy with someone or something.

I am here to remind us all that simple things can have profound impact. How much better would our lives and relationships be if we quit expecting everyone else to change?  What if we worked to be better people for those we love? How much growth could we experience if we were willing to question our thinking?

The question of the day, then, is officially acknowledged to be ‘Am I being the best person I can be?’

I can promise you this. The people who love you will notice a difference and the gift you are giving them will bring you both a happiness that has a chance of becoming eternal, unchanging and forever. Amen.

We Are His Hands

Photo courtesy of flickr.com/Donnie Nunley
Photo courtesy of flickr.com/Donnie Nunley

A story is told that during the bombing of a city in World War II, a large statue of Jesus Christ was severely damaged. When the townspeople found the statue among the rubble, they mourned because it had been a beloved symbol of their faith and of God’s presence in their lives.

Experts were able to repair most of the statue, but its hands had been damaged so severely that they could not be restored. Some suggested that they hire a sculptor to make new hands, but others wanted to leave it as it was—a permanent reminder of the tragedy of war. Ultimately, the statue remained without hands. However, the people of the city added on the base of the statue of Jesus Christ a sign with these words: ‘You are my hands.’

We are called to be the hands of Christ, and not only His hands but His heart and eyes and lips as well.

We are His hands when we embrace, uplift, give, comfort and serve.

An old Jewish legend tells of two brothers, Abram and Zimri, who owned a field and worked it together. They agreed to divide both the labor and the harvest equally. One night as the harvest came to a close, Zimri could not sleep, for it didn’t seem right that Abram, who had a wife and seven sons to feed, should receive only half of the harvest, while he, with only himself to support, had so much.

So Zimri dressed and quietly went into the field, where he took a third of his harvest and put it in his brother’s pile. He then returned to his bed, satisfied that he had done the right thing.

Meanwhile, Abram could not sleep either. He thought of his poor brother, Zimri, who was all alone and had no sons to help him with the work. It did not seem right that Zimri, who worked so hard by himself, should get only half of the harvest. Surely this was not pleasing to God. And so Abram quietly went to the fields, where he took a third of his harvest and placed it in the pile of his beloved brother.

The next morning, the brothers went to the field and were both astonished that the piles still looked to be the same size. That night both brothers slipped out of their houses to repeat their efforts of the previous night. But this time they discovered each other, and when they did, they wept and embraced. Neither could speak, for their hearts were overcome with love and gratitude. 

Real love requires action. There can be no true love if we do not act on it!

We can love as Christ loves. It is a lofty goal but we can reach for it, with God’s help and guidance. Without this love for God and our fellowmen we are only a the form of a disciple, a shadow and  without substance.

I call on you and on myself, to be Christ’s hands this day and for a lifetime. It only takes a shift of focus, a new way of seeing this world. We can still hold our babies, but we will hold them with a pure and refining tenderness. We can still minister to our husbands or wives but we will do it with a giving heart. We can still enjoy most of what the world has to offer, but we will do it with new eyes and a watchful perspective.

When you look at your hands today, I hope that you will see them as instruments to be used in God’s holy service.

A Worthy Battle Scar

Photo courtesy of flickr.com/Matthias Ripp
Photo courtesy of flickr.com/Matthias Ripp

There is a story that touches me and creates within me the desire to help lift the earth. It goes like this.

‘I boarded a train in Osaka for Yokohama and a ship that would take me home (from Japan after the war). It was a very chilly night. The railroad station, what there was left of it,was very cold. Starving children were sleeping in the corners. That was common sight in Japan in those days. The fortunate ones had newspaper or a few old rags to fend off the cold.

On that train, I slept restlessly. The berths were too short anyway. In the bleak, chilly hours of the dawn, the train stopped at a station along the way. I heard a tapping on the window and raised the blind. There on the platform stood a little boy tapping on the window with a tin can. I knew he was an orphan and a beggar; the tin can was the symbol of their suffering. Sometimes they carried a spoon as well, as if to say, “I am hungry; feed me.”

He might have been six or seven years old. His little body was thin with starvation. He had on a thin, ragged shirt-like kimono, nothing else. His head was shingled with scabs. His one jaw was swollen—perhaps from an abscessed tooth. Around his head he had tied a filthy rag with a knot on top of his head—a pathetic gesture of treatment.

When I saw him and he saw that I was awake, he waved his can. He was begging. In pity, I thought, “How can I help him?” Then I remembered. had money, Japanese money. I quickly groped for my clothing and found some yen notes in my pocket. I tried to open the window. But it was stuck. I slipped on my trousers and hurried to the end of the car. He stood outside expectantly. As I pushed at the resistant door, the train pulled away from the station. Through the dirty windows I could see him, holding that rusty tin can, with the dirty rag around his swollen jaw.

There I stood, an officer from a conquering army, heading home to family and a future. There I stood, half-dressed, clutching some money which he had seen but which I could not get to him. I wanted to help him, but couldn’t. The only comfort I draw is that I did want to help him.

That was thirty-eight years ago, but I can see him as clearly as if it were yesterday.

Perhaps I was scarred by that experience. If so, it is a battle scar, a worthy one, for which I bear no shame.’ 

Can you hear the voice of the Lord saying to each of us just as He said to Peter, “Feed my lambs. Feed my sheep. Feed my sheep?

There are times when I hear people disbelieve in God because they look around them and see the almost unbearable suffering that is everywhere. Blame falls on God because they feel like He allows the suffering, the most cynical wonder if He enjoys watching us suffer.

But, what if God is waiting to see what we will do about it? What if we are to give of ourselves to lift the poor and poor in spirit?

Every prophet has instructed us that we are to feed the poor, that we are to love each other as we love ourselves, that we are to do away with contention and anger. That we are to choose God and love each other.

Think of all the ills of society that would be done away with if we lived those two commandments! If we choose God, we choose to keep His commandments. If we love each other, well, that would take care of everything else.

This is our earth, it has become what we have created. We have no one to blame but the collective us for the appalling conditions we accept and allow. And while we have pockets of goodness, even greatness among us, no one will dispute that there is too much suffering for anyone to be content with things as they are.

Do you remember the fall of the Berlin Wall? One day the people of Berlin decided to tear it down.  That thought, that act, ended the separation of Germany. Can it possibly be that simple? I don’t know, but it might be.

So I am asking, what can you do to aid in the creation of mercy, of love, of kindness, today? And remember, if we can’t help everyone, right this minute, we can help someone.

The full story told above is recorded here.

 

The Quest to Become Remarkable

Photo courtesy of flickr.com/jason train
Photo courtesy of flickr.com/jason train

Once upon a time there was an all-wise and enormously wealthy king, as his child grew the king knew that merely bestowing his wealth was not enough.  His child had not yet developed the needed wisdom and stature to manage the inheritance. The gift would most likely be wasted.

The king called his child to him and said:

“All that I have I desire to give you—not only my wealth, but also my position and standing. That which I have I can easily give you, but that which I am you must obtain for yourself. You will qualify for your inheritance by learning what I have learned and by living as I have lived. I will give you the laws and principles by which I have acquired my wisdom and stature. Follow my example, mastering as I have mastered, and you will become as I am, and all that I have will be yours.” (quoted from this talk)

Famous, not really.

Impressive, not quite it.

Noteworthy, closer.

Illustrious, what does that even mean??

Exalted, outstanding, distinguished, wanted…

Remarkable, that is what we all long to be.

I believe that we recognize shadows or echoes of our former life here on this earth. Living with God, as His children, we seek to replicate the splendor and love we knew so intimately there. Replacing the heft of glory with a feather weight imitation that cannot satisfy and does not last.

The answer to our desire to re-create heaven’s glory is becoming someone who can return to live with God again.

How do we become someone who can inherit all that our father, the king, desires to give us?

The answer to that question will come as you read from God’s words and listen to the whispering of His spirit.  In other words, you will have to ask Him yourself. I can only tell you that He is waiting for you to ask.

What are you waiting for? Now is the perfect time to begin.

Three Things He Learned When His Plane Crashed

Photo courtesy of flickr.com/John Dalton

There are some experiences that change everything and some almost universal truths that come from those moments. The first thing I learned when our son died was that it all changes in an instant.

I used to dream about finding him in time to change the outcome, all I needed was one instant to change everything. That didn’t happen but because of his death I no longer want to postpone anything in life.

If you have experienced a life changing moment you will recognize that your regrets center on the time wasted on things that did not matter. What does matter? Your family. Your husband or wife, your kids. In the TED talk below, this man described it as ‘eliminating negative energy’, he no longer tries to be right but rather makes a conscious effort to be happy.

He also found that the prospect of dying was not scary but it was sad. He only wish for one thing, seeing his kids grow up.

If I could help you see into the future and come back, to live differently, I would ask you the following questions.

How would you change?

What would you get done?

How would you change your relationships?

Are you being the best parent you can be?

Are you being the best spouse you can be?

I believe that we are capable of learning from each other. As you think about the questions I have asked, if you make the effort to really focus on answering them, you can learn the lessons I learned the hard way from my heartache instead of your own.

It is possible, but the emotional effects of coming close to death is something that this man will never forget. Circumstances took him to the edge of life and then let him contemplate leaving this earth for a moment before pulling him back to safety.

What a gift!

I ask you to read listen to this short talk and then close your eyes and picture yourself walking out of your house, knowing that you will never return.

What would you say? What would you think? What would you feel? What would you do?

It could happen to any of us, at any moment. Let’s make a pact to live, as much as is possible, with the end in mind.

Are you in?

Perfectionism is the Enemy

Photo courtesy of flickr.com/irish train
Photo courtesy of flickr.com/irish train

Perfectionism is the enemy, the voice of your oppressor, the whisper of your fear.

Perfectionism is your enemy! It will keep you small and afraid, it is an obstacle that comes between you and true greatness.

Perfectionism is a rigid, putrid form of idealism. Conceived in hopelessness and born into a nonsensical world.

Perfectionism is a personal standard, attitude, or philosophy that demands perfection and rejects anything less.

Perfectionism is exhausting and futile, and it doesn’t produce even the smallest glimmer of happiness.

The delight of hard work, I get. The joy of a job well done, I have experienced. The satisfaction of completing a task, I understand. The allure of perfectionism, I have banned.

We are all creative, for we are all children of God who is the ultimate creator and that trait is within us. Sometimes it is deeply buried but it is there.

So, we need to quit wiping down our counter-tops and get out the mixer and make cookies. We need to turn up our music, sit at the computer and write that crappy first draft. We need to get out the paints and ignore the dust. We need to sit at the piano and sing to our husband. We need to consider letting our little Einstein write code on the bedroom wall. We need to value creation more than we value sterile cleanliness.

I refuse to clean alone anymore and do you know that my kids and I can clean up a weekends worth of clutter and grime in 20 minutes? The power of cooperation and delegation combined with the incentive of dessert or a movie work wonders on all of us.

I used to do it all myself and I would wear myself out just keeping up. Creation is fueled by happiness, by relaxation and love. When you are empty, that is when you get stuck or blocked.

I think that men get this more quickly than women, generally. Or maybe we have just pinned too many perfect things to be content with real life.

Let’s get off the perfectionism train already!

What we need are a few more messes, a bit more chaos, a whole lot more creation. And when you come to my house, help me stop apologizing for the mess by asking me how my book is coming along! I will love you forever if you give me that gift.

What Should I Tell The Kids About Santa?

Photo courtesy of flickr.com/Erica...M
Photo courtesy of flickr.com/Erica…M

I don’t generally lie to my children but for the sake of childhood excitement and sweet dreams I fudge when they ask me if Santa is real. When our oldest kids were little I didn’t over think it at all, I was just plain excited to bring happiness and love to their lives. As the years rolled on I did wonder if we were doing the right thing. I remember reading in the scriptures this:  For I say unto you that whatsoever is good cometh from God, and whatsoever is evil cometh from the devil.

This insight helped me realize that the way we do Santa is the key.

At our house the kids spend a lot of time making treats to give to Santa. They love to make their best cookies for him. They pick out the biggest carrots to leave for the reindeer and this year they are excited to make tiny little donuts out of Cheerios, vanilla glaze and sprinkles for the elves. They always leave Santa a note to thank him for coming and usually Santa writes a little something back to them.

At our house the stockings just mark the spot where Santa arranges the gifts and he leaves a little gift or two. A favorite candy bar or a box of the child’s favorite cereal. Once he brought them each their own box of band-aids!

It isn’t so much what he brings, just the fact that he comes to our house! There’s so little magic in our everyday lives and I believe that believing in Santa can color the Christmas season with magic for both parents and children.

At our house our children are never threatened into good behavior using Santa, he is only a symbol of love and sweetness.

At our house any list a child might send to Santa is for a sibling rather than him or her self.

At our house we try to teach our children to be appreciative and grateful.

At our house we allow the children to experience the joy of giving to others, as well as being a thankful and polite recipient.

And when it is obvious that the child has become too old to believe in Santa I tell them something like this:

Dear Lucy,

Thank you for your letter. You asked a very good question: “Are you Santa?”

I know you’ve wanted the answer to this question for a long time, and I’ve had to give it careful thought to know just what to say.

The answer is no. I am not Santa. There is no one Santa.

I am the person who fills your stockings with presents, though. I also choose and wrap the presents under the tree, the same way my mom did for me, and the same way her mom did for her. (And yes, Daddy helps, too.)

I imagine you will someday do this for your children, and I know you will love seeing them run down the Christmas magic stairs on Christmas morning. You will love seeing them sit under the tree, their small faces lit with Christmas lights.

This won’t make you Santa, though.

Santa is bigger than any person, and his work has gone on longer than any of us have lived. What he does is simple, but it is powerful. He teaches children how to have belief in something they can’t see or touch.

It’s a big job, and it’s an important one. Throughout your life, you will need this capacity to believe: in yourself, in your friends, in your talents, and in your family. You’ll also need to believe in things you can’t measure or even hold in your hand. Here, I am talking about love, that great power that will light your life from the inside out, even during its darkest, coldest moments.

Santa is a teacher, and I have been his student, and now you know the secret of how he gets down all those chimneys on Christmas Eve: he has help from all the people whose hearts he’s filled with joy.

With full hearts, people like Daddy and me take our turns helping Santa do a job that would otherwise be impossible.

So, no, I am not Santa. Santa is love and magic and hope and happiness. I’m on his team, and now you are, too.

I love you and I always will.

Mama

I am one that thinks a belief in Santa can be a good experience for both child and parent, if there is careful consideration of the whole experience and an emphasis on the real reason for the season, with Santa and gifts as a secondary, magic making part of the whole.

And if Santa is one of my readers, we have been extra good this year!

 

A Truly Sublime Christmas Story

For my mother, an early birthday gift. I think it is safe to say that the best gift we could give her is the elusive and cliché, world peace. This is what I want for Christmas, what we all want, deep down in the best part of our soul. We could give it to the One whose birthday we are remembering, but we can only give it to Him together. Are you in?

A letter going up for auction soon, written by the soldier that began talking to the German’s from the trenches describes how the Christmas truce happened. Here is a portion of the letter and you can find a great article here that has pictures of the letter and regimental pictures. Lance Corporal Willie Loasby was killed just weeks after writing the letter home to his mother.

The best among us are taken too often, home to heaven and their reward.

‘On Thursday afternoon day before Xmas we stood shouting at the Germans in English (we can speak no German).

‘They answered by calling us English Pigs and something a bit worse, well things went on like that for some time and matters improved and we asked them if they thought their people were in London.

‘This happened in the section of trench I was in charge of between myself and a couple of men of my section. The Germans only being 40 yards away and we being nearer than at any other part of the line around here.

‘Well the fellow next to me asked the German to stand right up, saying he would not shoot. The German did, then I asked him to come out of the trench and meet one of us half way and talk.

‘He hesitated, but I assured him we would not shoot, if his fellows would not and to prove we meant it we stepped out of the trench and walked across towards them, all eyes were now watching this (the fellow I have just mentioned took our last loaf of bread the only one we had between about 10 of us, and gave it to the German, biting a bit off at the same time to let him know we had not poisoned it.

‘Well everyone was now clapping both British and German and the Germans also shouted ‘Brave English’.

I walked across to my man and shook hands, I asked him how he liked it. ‘Terrible, I wish I was back in Germany (in Good English!).

‘I said, are you losing many men. He said ‘yes & could I make arrangements with my officer commanding to have Xmas day and Boxing to bury their dead and not firing. I said I would ask for him.

‘I wanted a souvenir so I took my knife out of my pocket and he let me cut a button from his coat. I could only give him a few dirty old biscuits from my pocket…on Xmas day I called up my friend the German and we met again halfway.

‘Now out steps a German officer and comes up to me. The officer says, after shaking hands and in Good English ‘Are you all English in front there and no French’. I answered, ‘All English, no French.’ He replied, ‘I thought so’, then said ‘Ten Frenchman don’t make an Englishman’. I thought: ‘Compliments’.

‘He weighed me up and down, gave me six cigars, some chocolate, shook hands again and turned about, went back to his trench. The other chap gave me a knife as a souvenir.

‘I said jokingly if he would play us a game of football. He said ‘yes’ then I got called in again and we were soon banging away at them again.

‘But what makes it so strange to me is on each side of us they were still fighting and an officer who ordered his men to fire volleys into them when they were asking to speak had his head blown off a few hours afterwards.

‘Of course we have had to forget all about that now we are at each others’ throats again…’

I find myself thinking about the force of personality that caused this truce to occur and how his mother must have missed him through all the years of her life. Did he leave a sweetheart? Brother and sister? How I long for peace.

At this season, when we celebrate the Prince of Peace, let us do our part to bring a greater measure of peace to this footstool of God.

In A Bleak Midwinter

Photo courtesy of flickr.com/BLnordik
Photo courtesy of flickr.com/BLnordik

I am not into poetry but I do love beautiful language. When an author uses precise, lovely language to reveal the truth it softens and strengthens my soul. I wanted to share poem with you and then a song.

Prepare for the experience of bathing in the spirit of God, the spirit of Christmas.

In A Bleak Midwinter

In the bleak mid-winter
Frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron,
Water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow,
Snow on snow,
In the bleak mid-winter
Long ago.

Our God, Heaven cannot hold Him
Nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away
When He comes to reign:
In the bleak mid-winter
A stable-place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty,
Jesus Christ.

Angels and archangels
May have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim
Thronged the air –
But only His mother
In her maiden bliss
Worshipped the Beloved
With a kiss.

What can I give Him,
Poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd
I would bring a lamb;
If I were a wise man
I would do my part;
Yet what I can, I give Him –
Give my heart.

The words resonate with my soul but the music lifts each word into the sublime.

I know many of us believe that our Savior was born in the spring and not in the bleak midwinter, but I acknowledge that the world stood in desperate need of the supernal sacrifice of God.

The cold and bleakness of winter perfectly symbolizes our condition before the Lord came into the world, offering us hope and salvation! I have listened to many renditions of this song, this rendition with Renee Fleming and Rufus Wainwright has reached perfection.

If you could see how Renee smiles when she sings the name of Jesus Christ you would recognize that love is there in the singing. Rufus sang this song to his mother, at her request, the Christmas before she passed away. I am sure that experience lifts his emotional response as the music soars from his heart.

If I could sing, this would be my song. Every time I listen to this song I do offer the Lord my heart. My prayer is that He will take my heart, my life, and count me worthy to be His friend.

Duty, Honor and Country

But when I think of his patience in adversity of his courage under fire and of his modesty in victory, I am filled with an emotion of admiration I cannot put into words. He belongs to history as furnishing one of the greatest examples of successful patriotism. He belongs to posterity as the instructor of future generations in the principles of liberty and freedom. He belongs to the present, to us, by his virtues and by his achievements.

Always for them: Duty, honor, country. Always their blood, and sweat, and tears, as we sought the way and the light and the truth. And 20 years after, on the other side of the globe, again the filth of murky foxholes, the stench of ghostly trenches, the slime of dripping dugouts, those boiling suns of relentless heat, those torrential rains of devastating storms, the loneliness and utter desolation of jungle trails, the bitterness of long separation from those they loved and cherished, the deadly pestilence of tropical disease, the horror of stricken areas of war.

This does not mean that you are warmonger. On the contrary, the soldier above all other people prays for peace, for he must suffer and bear the deepest wounds and scars of war. But always in our ears ring the ominous words of Plato, that wisest of all philosophers: ‘Only the dead have seen the end of war.’

We must look at the men and women that have been in battle with compassion and love. They have seen and been a part of horrors and destruction that now make up a part of who they are and they did it because they were asked to do it by the collective us.

Let us pray for peace and practice peace in our sphere of influence. We know that our day is a day of war and commotion but we do not have to embrace it ourselves.

At this season, let us remember the Prince of Peace and vow to prosper, or allow, peace to flourish in our corner of the earth.

 

The above is excerpted from an address given by General of the Army Douglas MacArthur to the cadets of the U.S. Military Academy on 12 May 1962. The entire speech may be found here

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All I Want For Christmas is Authenticity

Photo courtesy of flickr.com/akshay
Photo courtesy of flickr.com/akshay

‘My daughter is a musically talented young woman. For many years I felt that this talent would not be developed unless I loomed over her at the piano and insistently supervised her practice like a Simon Legree. One day, sometime in her early teens, I realized that my attitude, probably once useful, was now visibly affecting our relationship. Torn between a fear that she would not fully develop a God-given talent and the reality of an increasingly strained relationship over that very issue, I did what I had seen my mother do when faced with a serious challenge. I sequestered myself in my secret place and poured out my soul in prayer, seeking the only wisdom that could help me keep that communication open — the kind of wisdom and help that comes from the tongues of angels. Upon arising from my knees, I knew what action I must take.

‘Because it was just three days before Christmas, I gave to Mary as a personal gift an apron from which I had conspicuously cut the apron strings. There was a tiny pocket on the apron in which I tucked a note. It read: ‘Dear Mary, I’m sorry for the conflict I have caused by acting like a federal marshal at the piano. I must have looked foolish there — just you and me and my six-shooters. Forgive me. You are becoming a young woman in your own right. I have only worried that you would not feel as fully confident and fulfilled as a woman if you left your talent unfinished. I love you. Mom.’

‘Later that day she sought me out, and in a quiet corner of our home, she said: ‘Mother, I know you want what is best for me, and I have known that all my life. But if I’m ever going to play the piano well, I’m the one who has to do the practicing, not you!’ Then she threw her arms around me and with tears in her eyes she said, ‘I’ve been wondering how to teach you that — and somehow you figured it out on your own.’ Now, by her own choice, she has gone on to even more disciplined musical development. And I am always nearby to encourage her.

‘As Mary and I reminisced about this experience a few years later, she confided in me that my willingness to say, “I’m sorry, I’ve made a mistake, please forgive me’ gave to her a great sense of self-worth because it said to her that she was worthy enough for a parental apology, that sometimes children can be right.’

This story come from a talk given by Pat Holland and you can read the full text here, I would encourage you to read it. She raised good children even while combating self-doubt and uncertainty, in spite of parenting under the influence of all those turbulent feelings.

She continues: ‘We all come into the world crying—and a little bit wobbly. For parents to take a newborn infant, who is then only a bundle of potentialities, and love and guide and develop that child until a fully functional human being emerges is the grandest miracle of science, and the greatest of all arts.

When the Lord created parents, he created something breathtakingly close to what he is. We who have borne children innately know that this is the highest of callings, the holiest of assignments—and that is why the slightest failure can cause us crippling despair.

Even with our best intentions and our most heartfelt efforts, some of us find our children not turning out the way we’d like. They are sometimes very difficult to communicate with. They might be struggling in school or emotionally distressed or openly rebellious or painfully shy. There are lots of reasons why they may still be wobbling a bit.’

If I may inject my opinion here, I would say that good parenting has little to do with technique or adhering to some or another doctrine. I have seen wonderful children emerge from homes enamored with sports as well as those who love music. Great people have been raised in large, intact families and homes presided over by single mothers. The secret, I believe, is authenticity.

It is impossible to fool a child.

They see how we look at them and they know if we really see them or if our eyes are looking at them while thinking about a million other things. They can tell if it is love that shines from our eyes or something less than that.

If we can approach parenthood with humility and a single-minded love for our kids, they will know our interest in their welfare is real. You can’t fake it. It isn’t possible.

And if you feel that your own, meager, supply of love isn’t quite enough to fill up your starving child, lean upon One whose love is endless. One whose love is as deep as the ocean and fills the immensity of space. God can fill your heart with love for your child.

And why wouldn’t He? They were His children long before He lent them to us.

Two Huge Words

What would your ‘thank you’ project look like?

How awesome would it be to gather all those who have impacted our lives in one room?

The first step is to let yourself feel gratitude for the people in your life, as imperfect as we all are. The next step is to express appreciation and love. Feeling gratitude isn’t enough, let someone know you are grateful for them.

Let your ‘thank you’ change someones life today!

Is Mercy Even Possible?

Photo courtesy of flickr.com/Sean Molin
Photo courtesy of flickr.com/Sean Molin

I once listened to a talk given by Boyd K. Packer called Balm of Gilead. In it he tells a profound story I have never forgotten. The story was related to him by an old friend, a man whom he knew well and trusted.

‘On one occasion, he gave me a lesson for my life from an experience in his own. Although I thought I had known him, he told me things about his life I would not have supposed.

He grew up in a little community with a desire to make something of himself. He struggled to get an education.

He married his sweetheart, and presently everything was just right. He was well employed, with a bright future. They were deeply in love, and she was expecting their first child.

The night the baby was to be born, there were complications. The only doctor was somewhere in the countryside tending to the sick.

After many hours of labor, the condition of the mother-to-be became desperate.

Finally the doctor was located. In the emergency, he acted quickly and soon had things in order. The baby was born and the crisis, it appeared, was over.

Some days later, the young mother died from the very infection that the doctor had been treating at another home that night.

John’s world was shattered. Everything was not right now; everything was all wrong. He had lost his wife. He had no way to tend both the baby and his work.

As the weeks wore on, his grief festered. “That doctor should not be allowed to practice,” he would say. “He brought that infection to my wife. If he had been careful, she would be alive today.”

He thought of little else, and in his bitterness, he became threatening. Today, no doubt, he would have been pressed by many others to file a malpractice suit. And there are lawyers who would see in his pitiable condition only one ingredient—money!

But that was another day, and one night a knock came at his door. A little girl said simply, “Daddy wants you to come over. He wants to talk to you.”

A grieving, heartbroken young man went to see his spiritual leader. This spiritual shepherd had been watching his flock and had something to say to him.

The counsel from that wise servant was simply, “John, leave it alone. Nothing you do about it will bring her back. Anything you do will make it worse. John, leave it alone.”

My friend told me then that this had been his trial—his Gethsemane. How could he leave it alone? Right was right! A terrible wrong had been committed and somebody must pay for it. It was a clear case.

But he struggled in agony to get hold of himself. And finally, he determined that whatever else the issues were, he should be obedient.

Obedience is powerful spiritual medicine. It comes close to being a cure-all.

He determined to follow the counsel of that wise spiritual leader. He would leave it alone.

Then he told me, “I was an old man before I understood! It was not until I was an old man that I could finally see a poor country doctor—overworked, underpaid, run ragged from patient to patient, with little medicine, no hospital, few instruments, struggling to save lives, and succeeding for the most part.

“He had come in a moment of crisis, when two lives hung in the balance, and had acted without delay.

“I was an old man,” he repeated, “before I finally understood! I would have ruined my life,” he said, “and the lives of others.”

Many times he had thanked the Lord on his knees for a wise spiritual leader who counseled simply, “John, leave it alone.”

And that is the counsel I bring again to you. If you have a festering grudge, if you are involved in an acrimonious dispute, “Behold what the scripture says ‘man shall not smite, neither shall he judge; for judgment is mine, saith the Lord, and vengeance is mine also, and I will repay’ (Morm. 8:20).

If you need a transfusion of spiritual strength, then just ask for it. We call that prayer. Prayer is powerful spiritual medicine. The instructions for its use are found in the scriptures.’

In a world of accusations and unfriendliness, it is easy to gather and cast stones. But before we do so, let us remember the words of the One who is our Master and model: “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone.”

Brothers and sisters, let us put down our stones.

Let us be kind.

Let us forgive.

Let us talk peacefully with each other.

Let the love of God fill our hearts.

Let us do good unto all men.

The Savior promised: “Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over. … For with the same measure that you use it shall be measured to you again.”

Mercy is possible but it is HARD. Don’t think it will be easy but as with every difficult task in our lives the Lord makes it possible. Cast your burden at His feet and someday you will see the majesty in what has been created by your willingness to be obedient.

What Are We Teaching Our Children About Christ This Christmas?

Photo courtesy of flickr.com/Waiting for the Word
Photo courtesy of Flickr.com/Waiting for the Word

There is a gentle Austrian carol that calls to mind the mother of our Savior watching over him while he sleeps and reminds us of all the beauty, majesty and love that is the story of the first Christmas.

Did Mary rest while Jesus slept or did she watch over him as mother’s often do?

Did she feel the majesty of who he was and what he came to do?

All children are certified miracles, sent to our arms straight from God’s presence. They testify of God and goodness and are our chance to shine, to love and serve.

As we begin this Christmas season I hope that love will abound, that it will spill over and reach all who need to feel tenderness and mercy.

I hope that we will remember to teach our children exactly what that first Christmas means, by our words and by our example. Children don’t need harried parents, checking boxes and cramming Christmas ‘to do’ lists down their throats. Keeping it simple and keeping it focused on what is most important will bring the spirit of our Savior to our celebration of the season.

My list of things to do this Christmas include teaching my children, again, about promise of a Savior and the events surrounding His birth. Listening to and singing songs that invite the true spirit of Christ into our home. Filling our home with the smells of Christmas and sharing our creations with those who might be lonely and forgotten at this time of the year. Helping our children think of others while buying and wrapping a few gifts for each member of the family. Keep it simple and joyful and foster unselfishness.

We have our children make lists of things that their siblings might want instead of making the list for themselves. I am always surprised at how excited they all get about bringing happiness to each other.

We are extremely careful about what music we listen to. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with ‘Jingle Bell Rock’ but I hope to use music to create memories that include the reverence we should feel about the Lord and His birth.

I want the spirit to be rich in our home.

We also do one fun thing a day, it doesn’t matter what it is. Sledding, setting up the tree, baking, wrapping, crafts, building a fire, reading, hot chocolate, looking at lights. The possibilities are endless and I am careful to keep it simple and focused on Christ, not the production Christmas can become if we aren’t deliberate.

We always give a gift to the Savior for Christmas. We have fed the missionaries, spent time with someone in prison, taught the gospel, read the New Testament, written a soldier far away from home, made a gingerbread house to give away. Always simple. Once it was just a promise to Him to take care of and teach our new baby, born right after Christmas.

If we aim at the right things the hectic, distracting activities will fall away from our celebrations naturally and without effort. Aim straight at the Savior and the love of others, not just our love of our children but teaching them to love and give and worship.

When our aim is true the rest will follow.

This song captures the spirit of everything I hope for at this season of joy and gladness!

 

Still, still, still,
Let baby sleep its fill.
Maria sings a lullaby sweet
And lays her true heart at your feet
Still, still, still,
Let baby sleep its fill.

Sleep, sleep, sleep,
My precious baby sleep.
The Angels are all music making
By the Manger jubilation
Sleep, sleep, sleep,
My precious baby sleep.

Rise, rise, rise,
All Adam’s children rise.
O, kneel at the feet of Jesus now,
Our sins to atone he did vow.
Rise, rise, rise,
All Adam’s children rise.

We, we, we,
We all implore Thee:
Open for us heaven’s gate
Let your kingdom be our fate.
We, we, we,
We all implore Thee.

Thanksgiving: Giving Thanks To God

Photo courtesy of flickr.com/Peter Miller
Photo courtesy of flickr.com/Peter Miller

After British General Cornwallis surrendered at Yorktown, Congress proclaimed a Day of Thanksgiving, October 11, 1782. The declaration read in part,

‘It being the indispensable duty of all nations to offer up their supplications to Almighty God, the United States in Congress assembled do hereby recommend it to the inhabitants of these states in general, to observe the last Thursday of November next, as a Day of Solemn Thanksgiving to God for all his mercies.’

Massachusetts Governor John Hancock proclaimed a Day of Thanksgiving, November 8, 1783.

‘The Citizens of these United States have every Reason for Praise and Gratitude to the God of their salvation. I do appoint the 11th day of December next to be religiously observed as a Day of Thanksgiving and Prayer, that all the people may then assemble to celebrate. That we also offer up fervent supplications, to cause pure Religion and Virtue to flourish and to fill the world with His glory.’

When the U.S. Congress passed the First Amendment, it requested President George Washington issue a National Day of Thanksgiving. He did so on October 3, 1789.

‘Whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me to recommend to the People of the United States a Day of Public Thanksgiving and Prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.

Now, therefore, I do recommend Thursday, the 26th day of November to be devoted by the People of these United States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be.

That we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble Thanks for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government particularly the national one now lately instituted, for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed and to promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue.’

Many years have passed since the first days of thanksgiving and prayer. I am concerned that we have forgotten just how much we need the tender mercy of God.

Can we make this day a true day of thanksgiving and gratitude? Enjoy a day spent with family AND remember the reason we are gathered together. Rededicate ourselves to the ideals and morals that made us a great nation, willingly placing ourselves ‘under God’ and His laws and precepts.

I ask our Father in Heaven to pour out His blessings upon us, as a people and as a nation. And that we might remember to give thanks to Him and mercy to each other. Amen.

THE Best Baby Shower Gift Ever – Bar None!

Photo courtesy of flickr.com/Maria Panayiotou
Photo courtesy of flickr.com/Maria Panayiotou

When I walk through the baby isles in any department store I practically swoon over the wealth of choice. Dresses and onsies and warm knit sleepers. Flannel blankets, bottles and the shoes, the shoes!

When I was having children the baby gifts I bought for others were dream driven, lace and frills prevailed. But gradually I became more and more practical, a huge box of diapers and the tallest stack of paper plates I could find is what I finally settled on as the standard gift.

That practicality held until we were expecting our first grandchild and now I can’t seem to keep my hands off of the most frilly dresses and the smallest jeans imaginable. And that includes buying shoes that no one in their right mind will ever use!

Recently though I was invited to a shower and someone definitely hit a home run with a gift that cost a total of $9.63 and has the potential to define how the parents view the next 20 years.

You could tell that the gift was heavy, the mother to be handled it carefully and her face was puzzled as she opened it and pulled out a jar of pennies.

The woman who brought the gift hastily explained, ‘In the jar is a penny for every week you will raise your child.’ She said. ‘You take out a penny every Sunday, it will be a reminder of the time you have left to raise them before they go out on their own.’

I now have a new traditional baby gift and I can’t help but wish I had known about this a bit earlier! Watching the level of pennies in the jar week by week would have been a dramatic visual reminder of passing time.

Ask a mother of teenage children and you will hear the same report. ‘It goes so quickly’, each one will say. ‘Treasure every minute,’ is another thought we older mothers will try to impress upon new parents. My thought is that the days go slow but the years fly by.

So, if you weren’t fortunate enough to have been given a jar of 963 pennies when your baby was born, rush out and make a jar for yourself. And as you take out the requisite number of pennies representing the weeks of your child’s life, remember to first of all feel gratitude for them and secondly, feel the responsibility you have to them. To teach them. To love them. To guide them towards everything that is good.

Brilliant!

Photo courtesy of flickr.com/Jeffrey
Photo courtesy of flickr.com/Jeffrey

What the Plains of Morocco Teach Us About The Good Shepherd

Photo courtesy of flickr.com/ Joonas Plaan
Photo courtesy of flickr.com/ Joonas Plaan

‘Some years ago, it was my privilege to visit the country of Morocco as part of an official United States government delegation. As part of that visit, we were invited to travel some distance into the desert to visit some ruins. Five large black limousines moved across the beautiful Moroccan countryside at considerable speed. I was riding in the third limousine, which had lagged some distance behind the second. As we topped the brow of a hill, we noticed that the limousine in front of us had pulled off to the side of the road. As we drew nearer, I sensed that an accident had occurred and suggested to my driver that we stop. The scene before us has remained with me for these many years.

An old shepherd, in the long, flowing robes of the Savior’s day, was standing near the limousine in conversation with the driver. Nearby, I noted a small flock of sheep numbering not more than fifteen or twenty. An accident had occurred. The king’s vehicle had struck and injured one of the sheep belonging to the old shepherd. The driver of the vehicle was explaining to him the law of the land. Because the king’s vehicle had injured one of the sheep belonging to the old shepherd, he was now entitled to one hundred times its value at maturity. However, under the same law, the injured sheep must be slain and the meat divided among the people. My interpreter hastily added, “But the old shepherd will not accept the money. They never do.”

Startled, I asked him why. And he added, “Because of the love he has for each of his sheep.” It was then that I noticed the old shepherd reach down, lift the injured lamb in his arms, and place it in a large pouch on the front of his robe. He kept stroking its head, repeating the same word over and over again. When I asked the meaning of the word, I was informed, “Oh, he is calling it by name. All of his sheep have a name, for he is their shepherd, and the good shepherds know each one of their sheep by name.”

It was as my driver predicted. The money was refused, and the old shepherd with his small flock of sheep, with the injured one tucked safely in the pouch on his robe, disappeared into the beautiful deserts of Morocco.

Photo courtesy of flickr.com/James Tissot
Photo courtesy of flickr.com/James Tissot

As we continued our journey toward the ruins, my interpreter shared with me more of the traditions and practices of the shepherds of that land. Each evening at sundown, for example, the shepherds bring their small flocks of sheep to a common enclosure where they are secured against the wolves that roam the deserts of Morocco. A single shepherd then is employed to guard the gate until morning. Then the shepherds come to the enclosure one by one, enter therein, and call forth their sheep—by name. The sheep will not hearken unto the voice of a stranger but will leave the enclosure only in the care of their true shepherd, confident and secure because the shepherd knows their names and they know his voice.’ (James Lassiter, April 1988)

Understanding the character of our Savior is important, vital in fact. But understanding the humble, trusting nature of the lamb is just as critical when we contemplate the kind of  relationship we want to have with our Lord.

What we bring to the relationship defines its import.

Are we willing to rest in the bosom of the Lord?

Are we willing to trust the good Shepherd?

Are we willing to listen to Him when He calls to us?

Think about that for a moment. If we learn anything at all from the scriptures it is the focus God has on us as individuals.

Are we allowing ourselves to be the needy, lowly lamb?

Just for today can we turn our thoughts to the Shepherd?

I challenge you to open the scriptures and read until your soul has been filled. Until you feel your relationship with Christ strengthen. Until you can feel Him calling to you.

He is waiting for you and longs to be your Shepherd-day by day, hour by hour, moment by precious moment.

And if you feel inclined to share what happens I would love to hear your story!

The Art of Friendship

Photo courtesy of flickr.com/Ron Agullar
Photo courtesy of flickr.com/Ron Agullar

There are some experiences that teach over and over, and one of the most significant of these occurred when I was a young mother with a six month old baby. I was sitting in the back of church, near the door so I could step out if Jody got too noisy.

An older mother came in late and sat down next to me, her hair was bright orange. When I say orange, I mean that it could never be mistaken for red or auburn. It was pure, orange concentrate.

Her dress was certainly a 3x and was black with salad plate size orange and red flowers.

Her baby was huge, had bright red hair and an angry rash all over his face.

I can still remember moving away from this woman, if not physically then certainly in every other possible way.

Near the end of the lesson the teacher gave us an assignment to talk to the person sitting next to us. I panicked and with great reluctance I turned and stumbling for something to say I asked her how old her baby was.

She was not only a flamboyant dresser but an exuberant soul as well and she more than carried the conversation once we began. Her baby was loved, adored actually. She didn’t bore me with tales of her health problems, all that sad information came later, after we had become friends.

From this experience I made a mental list of rules of friendship:

  • Never make a lasting judgement about someone by looking at them. We can’t help our instinctive thoughts but the outside of someone tells you almost nothing about the real core of a person. The well dressed pretty woman who looks like the mean ‘popular girl’ might be your future best friend. Or that larger than life red-headed stranger might be someone you can trust with your life. You just can’t know until you give them a chance. When my first impressions start to get in the way of me being kind to someone I don’t know, I have learned to make an immediate effort to talk to them. To put my snap judgements quickly behind me by getting to know the person.
  • Everyone needs a friend. The president’s son, the snobby new girl, the senator, as well as the shy or just quiet person, the artist, it doesn’t matter who they are. We all thrive on acceptance and an invitation of friendship.
  • In every social situation, there is someone who needs you. Someone who needs a friend. Someone who needs kindness. I like to take a minute and watch the room before jumping in and becoming a part of it, I find that I learn a lot by observing people.
  • Be kind. While we are limited by time and place in determining the number of close friends we can have, we can be kind to everyone.
  • Never, under any circumstances, betray your friendship through gossip or petty behavior. Being a friend is a sacred trust and we must rise to the responsiblity of it. There are some things that should never be said. Some things that should never be thought. And some things that should never be done.
  • There is a vast difference between being a friend and being an acquaintance.
  • Most of my friends are very different from me. We disagree about things and we can even irritate each other. But friendship allows for differences, in fact, it embraces those differences!

I have had to learn these lessons over and over and each time I do I am grateful for the reminder.

Friendship is designed to civilize the world, and if developed would cause wars and contentions to cease. It would cause men to become brothers instead of remaining strangers.

We should consider our closest friendships as hallowed ground. Made sacred because of love given by choice.

Friend should be a title of honor, not a passing relationship, enshrined in our hearts and sealed by the gift of time. I think we should pledge to use the word carefully. To avoid diluting it by using it to name relationships that are less than the ideal. And I believe that and honest, true friendship can be something that lift and purify the earth.

The love that you feel from a friend that is real
Is more powerful than anything on earth.
For it lifts and it grows and it strengthens and flows
It’s what allows the soul to feel just what they’re worth.

I Am A Child Of God?

Photo courtesy of flickr.com/Chelsea Stirlen
Photo courtesy of flickr.com/Chelsea Stirlen

Do you remember how you felt when your children were born? It is not only an earthly, physical experience. It is an intensely spiritual event. Holding a newborn resonates with the echoes of another world. Reminding us of this truth: I am a child of God!

All little Mormon children sing this song, over and over. We hope that the message will penetrate deep into their hearts and remind them of the truth we all hold close. The words of the song go like this:

I am a child of God and He has sent me here.

Has given me an earthly home, with parents kind and dear.

Lead me, guide me, walk beside me. Help me find the way.

Teach me all that I must do, to live with Him someday.

Gladys Knight sings a grown up version of the song for you today. Her voice is a gift and listening to her sing out this simple truth will light up your day. I promise.

It is sweet and humbling to remember who we are, for just a moment. Then back to the business of life, but with a difference. If you are a child of God, then who are all these other people orbiting around us? Who is the bad driver to our left? Who is the grumpy neighbor down the street that yells at our kids? Who is the prickly spouse or that challenging child living down the hall?

If we are children of God, then each of us has infinite potential. If I am not living up to my potential at the moment, please be patient. I will wake up tomorrow and try again. And even if my performance seems like failure to everyone around me, know that God can work miracles. Pray for me and have faith that God doesn’t give up on any of us just because we are frail and weak.

I am a child of God!

What E’er Thou Art, Act Well Thy Part

Photo courtesy of flickr.com/Saint Petersburg Orthodox
Photo courtesy of flickr.com/Saint Petersburg Orthodox

I had the opportunity to sit in church last week for an hour-long program performed solely by a children’s choir. I watched two little girls turn in their chairs to face each other completely ignoring the audience and the chorister, talking intently to each other.  We all watched a little boy chew on his tie for most of the program. He looked at us while we watched him, interested in anything but the director. The children dressed in their Sunday best, ready to perform, ranging in age from 3 to 12.

Near the end of the performance they sang a hymn, the little ones were tiring and the song was demanding. During the third and fourth verses I felt as much as heard the pianist, the chorister and two or three of the older children carry the rest of the choir. The pianist intensified her playing.  The chorister sharpened her focus on the children. The girls that knew the song perfectly sang with a confidence that pulled the rest of the children along with them.

The children that weren’t sure of the tune or the words were quick to hear and follow their lead.

I thought about that experience on the drive home and was reminded of a time we had hiked into some mountains out west. We had stopped on an overlook and as we were gazing over the valley below a small herd of horses topped a rise, running full-out. The lead horse was white and had a long mane that streamed out behind him. The herd followed the lead horse perfectly, his slightest change in direction pulled the whole group along as if on a string, they moved as a group even at full speed!

I am reminded how much we depend on each other in times of doubt or uncertainty. I am inclined to listen to and follow those that sing or run or act with knowledge that they are going the right way. And I appreciate those who are willing to step up in challenging situations and be the leader that rallies us to do what is right.

I remember going to a movie once with a group, the film was utter trash. We all sat there with our popcorn and our ticket stubs until one of the boys leaned forward in his seat and looked down the row at each of us. When he had our attention he stood and we followed him out of the theatre. Each of us had felt the same, and it took little to get us to do what was right, but it did take someone who was certain to act and pull the rest of us along with him.

At birth we were given a priceless gift, called by some ‘the light of Christ’. By others it is called ‘conscience’. We know right from wrong. Fundamental standards of right and wrong are amazingly similar throughout the world. The light that helps us to know right from wrong has been given to each of us, dispensed from our Father in heaven, to help us find our way back to His kingdom.

Knowing what is right is the easy part. Having the courage to do what is right, that is where we can all use help now and then.

To those of my readers that have influence or pull in this world, I am asking you to use it to bring those of us that waver with you. When you are strong, other’s will follow and when you are weak perhaps someone you have lent strength to will step up and take their turn.

We all thank you for not wavering. Thank you for lending us the strength of your surety. I hope that someday you will be able to look at the path behind you and see the people you have influenced for good. I know you will say that you are only following our Savior and I thank God that there are those that have the ability to follow, for you are leaders to the rest of us!

What e’er thou art, act well thy part!

Comfort For Our Grief This Day

Stephen - so sorry to say goodbye
Stephen – so sorry to say goodbye

I am occasionally troubled by nightmares, usually a variation of dreams about our little boy in a coffin, but after finding this story I find it easier to push the image away and look forward instead to the day he will be restored to us.   The following is my summary of an experience recorded by Zeke Johnson.

“I was breaking farm ground in San Juan County Utah, making a home in Blanding.  The whole area was covered with scrubby desert trees and sagebrush. Working to clear the ground, my little boy Roy was with me to help plant the corn. I’d plow a row, he would plant the furrow with corn and I’d cover it and plow again. While plowing I discovered the remains of ancient buildings.

As I was plowing I noticed that my plow had turned out the skeleton of a small child,

the skull and backbone were visible but most of the bones had decayed. I stopped plowing immediately and turned and looked back. As I was looking at that little skeleton, and to my great surprise, I saw the bones begin to wiggle and begin to change positions and to take on a different color and within a minute a beautiful little skeleton had formed on the earth. It was perfect.

Next I saw the inner parts of the natural body coming in,  the entrails, heart, lungs, etc. I saw flesh coming on and I saw the skin come on the body when the inner parts of the body were complete. A beautiful head of hair adorned the top of the head and in about a half-minute after the hair was on the head, a beautiful crystal decoration appeared in the hair which was perfectly combed and parted on one side. In about half a minute after the hair was on the head, the child stood up on her feet. As she got up a beautiful robe came down over her left shoulder and I saw it was a girl, about 5 to 7 years old.

She looked at me and I looked at her, and for a quarter of a minute we just looked at each other smiling. Then in my ambition to get hold of her, I said, ‘Oh you beautiful child.’ I reached out as if I would embrace her and she disappeared.

I just stood and wondered and thought for a few minutes.  I couldn’t tell the story to anyone, because it was so mysterious to me. Why should I be witness to such a miraculous experience? I didn’t know the features of a human being enough to accidentally plow that little body out and imagine what happened.  I wondered and worried about this experience for years.   Why was I allowed to see it, a common man like me – uneducated as I was. Why was I allowed to see such a marvelous manifestation of God’s powers? One day as I was walking along with my hoe on my shoulder, something said, ‘Stop under the shade of the tree for a few minutes and rest.’  As I stopped in the shade understanding was finally given to me:

When the child was buried in my field it was either in time of war or it was during wintertime when the ground was frozen, and they had no tools to dig a deep grave.  If it were during time of war they couldn’t possibly take time to dig a deep grave. They just cared for the little body as they could under the circumstances. I could hear the sorrowing mother worry about her daughter buried in such a little shallow grave.  She knew that  the first beast that came along would smell her body, dig her up and scatter her to the four winds.

A man in their company, a minister of God promised the mother saying,  ‘Calm your sorrows, for when her body is disturbed or uncovered, the Lord will call her up and she will live.’

Since that time I have taken great comfort, great cheer, consolation and satisfaction with praise in my heart and soul, until I haven’t the words to express it, that it was I that uncovered that little body and saw that resurrection.”

I look forward to the day our sorrow will be replaced in full measure by the joy of reuniting again with those we have loved and lost.  Until then, I will nurture faith and push away fear.

My family is mourning the death of our son, brother, nephew, uncle, grandson and friend this day and we will miss him until we are reunited again. Hopefully, this story will help us all remember the sweetness he brought to our lives instead of the way he left us. Too many angels watching over us!

Sincerely Yours

Photo courtesy of flickr.com/Stephen Dunn
Photo courtesy of flickr.com/Stephen Dunn

It wasn’t so long ago that most families did not possess a dryer, they washed the dirty laundry and then hung it out on lines in the yard to dry. I remember my grandmother remarking one day that she had the whitest whites in the neighborhood, a point of pride for her!

I also remember looking around me at one point during a chaotic, messy day and thinking that if my grandmother knocked on my door, right this minute, I would hide the kids and ignore the doorbell. I tried, I had standards of cleanliness ingrained in me but I couldn’t keep up and it showed.

One of my favorite stories from Pres. Thomas Monson speaks to this issue.

‘A young couple, Lisa and John, moved into a new neighborhood. One morning while they were eating breakfast, Lisa looked out the window and watched her next-door neighbor hanging out her wash.

“That laundry’s not clean!” Lisa exclaimed. “Our neighbor doesn’t know how to get her laundry clean!”

John looked on but remained silent.

Every time her neighbor would hang her wash to dry, Lisa would make the same comments.

A few weeks later Lisa was surprised to glance out her window and see a nice, clean wash hanging in her neighbor’s yard. She said to her husband, “Look, John—she’s finally learned how to wash correctly! I wonder how she did it.”

John replied, “Well, dear, I have the answer for you. You’ll be interested to know that I got up early this morning and washed our windows!”’

If we were telling the story about John instead of Lisa, we might have listened in on a conversation about the car the neighbor drives or the toys parking in the neighbor’s driveway.

Today, let’s ask ourselves how we view each other and in particular, are we looking at our friends through a window which needs cleaning?

‘Said the Savior, “Judge not.” He continued, “Why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?” Or, to paraphrase, why beholdest thou what you think is dirty laundry at your neighbor’s house but considerest not the soiled window in your own house?’

If our goal is to become like Jesus Christ, to become what God alone sees we have the capacity to become, we will need to lift our eyes from the confines of our limited mortal view of things. Spending even a passing thought comparing ourselves to someone else is a waste. Instead, we need to be studying the character and nature of Christ and pleading for His help in looking at the world through His eyes. Seeing ourselves and others through His filters.

Yes, His robes are white. They gleam above the brightness of the sun. But they were (and are, I’m afraid) washed in the blood of the Lamb. Washed clean, from our sins, not His!

Someday we will look back on our petty competition and mourn opportunities lost. Moments we could have shown love and gentleness towards someone who needed help.

I have to confess that one of the most exhausting things in life is being insincere. And if you are weary perhaps it is time to stop looking at friendships through the window of a dirty world and instead, consider the people around you in the light of eternal perspective.

That limited perspective is why the Lord pleads with us to pray for the gift of charity, the gift of loving like God does. It is a gift that we are incapable of producing ourselves. It is a feeling that can only be dispensed by God.

So, today will you take a moment to bow your head? Look away from the world and the competition that rages here and ask your Father for a glimpse of His love for us, His children? Those who have had a taste of that love gladly spend the rest of their days seeking to share it with everyone around them. It is a gift worth seeking.

What a rest that will be! Shedding pride, shedding hypocrisy, embracing the warmth of acceptance and love. If we seek this together we might be a part of lifting the world to a better, sweeter place.

Ready? Get set! Go!

Gandhi in St. Louis?

Dr. Arun Gandhi in St. Louis
Dr. Arun Gandhi in St. Louis

One of the most influential men ever born was Mohandas K. Gandhi. A man who felt so riddled with weaknesses and beset by pride that he effected a great change in his own nature and through that struggle for change, set an example for the whole earth. He saw the ‘big picture’. He used his influence to bring change for the poor and helpless. He lived humbly and died a martyr.

In the spring of 2000 his grandson, Dr. Arun Gandhi, spoke at BYU on the subject of peace. He told a story that has become a part of who I am and caused me to become a better mother, a better friend. You may read the whole speech here. Here is Dr. Gandhi’s story.

“The last story that I want to share with you happened to me when I was 16 years old. We were back in South Africa and living on the Phoenix Ashram that Grandfather had created, which was 18 miles outside the city of Durban in the midst of sugarcane plantations. Our nearest neighbors were two miles away from us. Any time my two sisters and I got an opportunity to go to town and visit friends or see a movie, we would grab the chance and go. One Saturday my father had to go to town to attend a conference, and he didn’t feel like driving, so he asked me if I would drive him into town and bring him back in the evening. I jumped at the opportunity. Since I was going into town, my mom gave me a list of groceries she needed, and on the way into town, my dad told me that there were many small chores that had been pending for a long time, like getting the car serviced and the oil changed.

When I left my father at the conference venue, he said, “At 5 o’clock in the evening, I will wait for you outside this auditorium. Come here and pick me up, and we’ll go home together.”

I said, “Fine.” I rushed off and I did all my chores as quickly as possible–I bought the groceries, I left the car in the garage with instructions to do whatever was necessary–and I went straight to the nearest movie theater. In those days, being a 16-year-old, I was extremely interested in cowboy movies. John Wayne used to be my favorite actor, and I got so engrossed in a John Wayne double feature that I didn’t realize the passage of time. The movie ended at 5:30, and I came out and ran to the garage and rushed to where Dad was waiting for me. It was almost 6 o’clock when I reached there, and he was anxious and pacing up and down wondering what had happened to me. The first question he asked me was, “Why are you late?”

Instead of telling him the truth, I lied to him, and I said, “The car wasn’t ready; I had to wait for the car,” not realizing that he had already called the garage.

When he caught me in the lie, he said, “There’s something wrong in the way I brought you up that didn’t give you the confidence to tell me the truth, that made you feel you had to lie to me. I’ve got to find out where I went wrong with you, and to do that,” he said, “I’m going to walk home–18 miles. I’m not coming with you in the car.” There was absolutely nothing I could do to make him change his mind.

It was after 6 o’clock in the evening when he started walking. Much of those 18 miles were through sugarcane plantations–dirt roads, no lights, it was late in the night–and I couldn’t leave him and go away. For five and a half hours I crawled along in the car behind Father, watching him go through all this pain and agony for a stupid lie. I decided there and then that I was never going to lie again.

I think of that episode often. It’s almost 50 years since the event, and every time I talk about it or think about it I still get goose bumps. Now, that is the power of nonviolent action. It’s a lasting thing. It’s a change we bring through love, not a change we bring through fear. Anything that is brought by fear doesn’t last. But anything that is done by love lasts forever.”

I am telling this story today because Gandhi’s grandson visited St. Louis on Saturday to attend a fundraiser and rally in Clayton. I found out he was coming only by chance and decided to attend the rally and hear him speak.

It was a glorious day, clear and chill. Police cars lined the streets respectfully, without menace. Children danced to music blasting over loudspeakers. We found a place to the side of the stage, a little out of the way of the main crowd and as the dignitaries assembled to begin I looked over my shoulder and Dr. Gandhi was there, standing quietly by us.

Of course, he is just a man. But his presence helps us to remember just what his grandfather did with his life, what Gandhi gave his life for. That peace might prevail. That love might conquer. That injustice might be done away. Hearing him speak also helped me to reconsider how and what I am teaching my children, something we should all be deliberate about from time to time. It was a day I will always remember!

 

At the Heart of the Matter is the All Important Why

Photo courtesy of flickr.com/Follow the White Bunny
Photo courtesy of flickr.com/Follow the White Bunny

When I was young it was television and magazines that started the stampede towards idealizing the female experience, the movement next made the leap to beautiful design websites, blogs and Pinterest. In the relentless search for the creation of ‘the perfect life’, women are tossed to and fro with happiness just out of reach.

We hear a lot of clamoring for us to lower our expectations. We blame each other for setting unattainable standards and we long to return to a simpler somewhere. A place we can actually obtain satisfaction and peace and happiness, instead of chasing an ever elusive ideal. In an article by Erin Loechner on her blog called ‘Design for Mankind’, Erin sums it all up:

‘Instead of giving up and lowering our expectations let’s try something else. I don’t think the goal should be to throw in the towel, snap photos of our messes and call it authenticity. I don’t want to encourage lesser versions of ourselves, just as much as I don’t want to encourage perfect, Stepfordized shells of ourselves. The why is always more important than the what. So what if – instead of lowering the expectations – we shifted them?  What if – instead of focusing on the outward actions or decisions or standards – we focused on our hearts?

Deliver the homemade, organic, free-range, gluten-free paleo braised chicken if it means you are loving your neighbor.
Drop off KFC if it means you are loving your neighbor.

Run a marathon if it means you are honoring your mother.
Sit on the couch and watch Lifetime if it means you are honoring your mother.

Send your kids to public school if it means you are providing for your family.
Homeschool your kids if it means you are providing for your family.

Organize your home if it means you are using your talents.
Make a mess if it means you are using your talents.

Create a beautifully crafted tablescape if it brings joy to your home.
Eat from paper plates and plastic flatware if it brings joy to your home.”

The danger we face, if we don’t stop the frantic search for the ideal, is that we spend all our time looking at the ideal and less and less time actually giving of ourselves and allowing our imperfect love to bless and heal each other.  It is time we stop apologizing for our whats and start embracing our whys.

I have an exceptionally wonderful friend that makes huge block quilts and gives them to people she loves, celebrating any occasion, consoling any hurt. They are soft and warm and smell like wildflowers.

I remember the day this friend discovered Pinterest and was no longer satisfied with her quilts. Slammed with hundreds of better, prettier quilts she was paralyzed by the perfection so publicly on display. Her innocent joy in the making and giving of her quilts was smothered by ‘reality’ and the world was left noticeably colder as a result.

And then the clamor started rumbling, her friends complained that their quilts were wearing thin. They needed something to wrap the new baby in, or a quilt for the back of the couch, a new cub scout wanted one to take on his first camp out. They clamored for her simple, bold quilts and wrapped each other in love and appreciation.

The world is a better place because of both the women who begged her to keep on giving and my friend that put aside the picture perfect, smothering ideal and sewed.

I am just glad that no one takes pictures of the meals I make. The only evidence I have that anyone enjoyed dinner are a few hugs and pans that look like they might have been licked clean! Let’s lift our eyes from off the computer or phone and re-engage with the people we strive to love!

Debunking the Hoax of Self-Esteem

Photo courtesy of flickr.com/jaime
Photo courtesy of flickr.com/jaime

I love words!  I can remember how happy I felt whenever my kids mispronounced certain words because they had learned the meaning by reading rather than in conversation.  Melancholy was one of them.  Our daughter Jody mangled it several times before I realized what she was trying to say.

There are some words like ‘mother’ or ‘book’ that are universally understood. We don’t need to make any great effort when using them. Other words require more discipline when using them to communicate. Words such as faith, prayer and God, all need to be fleshed out if we truly want to be understood when using them.

So, in an effort to foster clear, exceptional communication I thought I should write about how I feel about the concept of self-esteem.

It is a given, in our society, that self-esteem is an essential building block of all relationships, including how we treat ourselves. And while I agree with the premise, I object to the word ‘self-esteem’.  I would rather call it ‘self or personal worth’.

I think what I would like to change is the concept of ‘self’.

Let’s start at the very beginning…

If, as a child, you had been taught that you are literally a child of God.

If you had felt, from infancy, the pure, unconditional love that originates from God and flows through parents, siblings and friends.

If you had been able to absorb the significance of your relationship with our Father in heaven and His pure and abiding love.

You would have a foundation upon which a proper self-esteem or self-worth can be built.

Instead, we are loved imperfectly, by imperfect parents.  We are counseled to improve ourselves, to build ourselves, which usually ends up causing us to focus on the ME.  It seems so logical, that self-esteem is all about me, but that is a lie. It is a distraction that ends up diverting our attention from what is most important to a distortion that will keep us from finding true, lasting happiness.

True self-esteem or self-worth is to be found when we realize the great love and esteem God has for us, even in our unworthy and imperfect condition.

When we realize how much we are loved, that love rubs off in our feelings for ourselves and for those around us, for all of God’s children.

It ends up being God’s esteem for us that causes us to value ourselves, to love ourselves and contributes to a healthy desire to grow and improve and become more and more like Him.

So, in order to foster love and self-esteem, I am setting you off on a search today, a quest for an understanding of the love God feels for you.  I think you know what you need to do, if not you can read more about how I would direct you here and here.

I hope you have an adventure of a lifetime!

At One and At Rest

Photo courtesy of flickr.com/Iko
Photo courtesy of flickr.com/Iko

My message today is intended for everyone, but it is directed in a special way to those who are alone or feel alone or abandoned. I have felt strongly as I studied for this post, that there is someone who needs this message and I pray that I will be able to deliver to you what the Lord has delivered to me throughout this week.

The word Atonement describes the setting “at one” of those who have been estranged and denotes the reconciliation of man to God. I want you to think and answer this in your own heart.  What is the cause of our estrangement from God?  Sin is the cause of the estrangement, and therefore the purpose of atonement is to correct or overcome the consequences of sin.  Sin is lawlessness.  It is a refusal on men’s part to submit to the law of God.  In a word, sin is selfishness.  Sin is not just other people’s disobedience; it is not just our husband, or our children or our neighbors who get it wrong.  We all sin, most of us daily. President Kimball said once that he loved to smell cigarette smoke in the chapel because it meant that someone was trying.  Then he said, if all our sins stunk like cigarettes we would have a very stinky chapel.  We all have great need to be set at one with Christ and ultimately with our Father and I have come to know that they are not the ones that need to move and change.  It is us that need to make the changes in our thoughts, words and deeds to bring us closer to being one with them.

Now, I hope that you can indulge me in this; will you close your eyes for me?  I want you to picture in your mind’s eye our Savior, Jesus Christ.  What does he look like?  Can you see his eyes?  His look?  His hands?  His robe?  Now I want you to answer two questions for me, the first is, how much can you feel his love?  Can you feel it?  The second is how much do you think the Savior knows?  Is there anything he does not know?  This is a being that knew when Mormon was compiling the book of Mormon that  (more…)

A Person’s a Person, No Matter How Small

Photo courtesy of flickr.com/Amanda Tipton
Photo courtesy of flickr.com/Amanda Tipton

Today I want to talk about pregnancy and infant loss, a heavy subject and one I am concerned about.  I think it is time we decide, once and for all, that a pregnancy is a baby.  It is time to break the silence surrounding the death of babies and children.

A pregnancy is hope and dreams and love.  A pregnancy is creation and potential.  A pregnancy changes a woman, a family, in exponential ways.  It is a soul changing, life changing, relationship changing process and should be acknowledged as such.

Many of you know that our oldest child died when he was two, we had three boys that were still-born and a miscarriage, also a  (more…)

Creating Happiness

Photo courtesy of flickr.com/Christian Yves Ocampo
Photo courtesy of flickr.com/Christian Yves Ocampo

Did you know that happiness is a choice?  It is easy to think that beauty, popularity, wealth or other circumstances will cause happiness but I am here to witness that happiness is an inward choice not an event-driven state.  My son works at the charter side of our airport and has watched as celebrities and some of the wealthiest American’s come through his facility, he even gets to park their very cool cars.  He gets to see for himself that people are people and what gives us our distinctive characters are our choices, not our circumstances. Kindness, thoughtfulness, humility, friendliness and happiness are what we choose or not, and depend completely on what we want from the moment.

So, would you like to be happy?

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Til Death Do Us Part? No Way!

Photo courtesy of flickr.com/Garry Wilmore
Photo courtesy of flickr.com/Garry Wilmore

Do you remember how it felt when you first fell in love?  Absolutely twitterpated, head over heels, sure he hung the moon kind of love? I remember feeling breathless and slightly nauseous at the same time, I think it must have been nerves.  I can still remember that wild, giddy love turning into a steady, rock solid, we will always be together kind of love.  It was way better than the first rush of emotion and I felt like I had waited all my life for him.

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Down For The Count?

Photo courtesy of flickr.com/brett jordan
Photo courtesy of flickr.com/brett jordan

During one of his most publicized boxing matches, boxer Muhammad Ali was knocked down and the attending referee began the countdown. This countdown was half way to a knockout when Ali struggled to his feet and proceeded to beat the stuffing out of his opponent.  Ali won the match.

Later, in an interview with the commentator Howard Cosell, Ali was asked what was it that enabled him to get up off the floor of the ring.

Ali considered for a moment, then said, ‘I just realized that the ground was no place for a champion!’

We were born on this earth to become champions not to grovel down on the ground among the muck and swill.  Champions, as the Lord reckons, are not the fastest or the strongest, the smartest or the richest but those who strive without giving up and those who lift others.  True champions, noble champions are the meek and kind, the honest and those who know how to love.

In the boxing ring only one of the fighters comes away a winner, but in life that is not so.  We were each sent here to prevail, to conquer, to become a champion.  How do we find the path to glory?  I submit that we will find it when we search the word of God and it will be illuminated when we spend our time in service to others.  When we figure out how to converse with God we will come through the challenges of life with honor and valor and humility.

 

The Choice to Reach Outside Our Grief

Photo courtesy of flickr.com/Chris Walts
Photo courtesy of flickr.com/Chris Walts

Each day we make thousands of decisions.  We weigh each choice with a personally designed set of values and each choice reveals clues about our character and goals.

One of the defining factors in each choice we make is the decision to focus inward or to look beyond ourselves. Which is a fancy way of defining ourselves as predominately selfish or unselfish.

I have become a people watcher and it is clear to me that while each of us comes with a preset, default focus on self, there are a few of us that have learned to shift that view and have found a unique type of contentment in considering others. (more…)

God is Filled with an Infinite Love for You

Photo courtesy of flickr.com/Heather Katsoulis
Photo courtesy of flickr.com/Heather Katsoulis

A friend shared this article with me and something about his words struck a cord within me.  I am quoting Dieter F. Uchtdorf.

‘Think of the purest love you can imagine. Now multiply that love by an infinite amount—that is the measure of God’s love for you.

(more…)