— MuslimsForPeace (@muslimsforpeace) March 22, 2017
Our thoughts and prayers are with all those affected by the incident in Westminster this afternoon.
— Catholic Church (@catholicEW) March 22, 2017
— Knights of Columbus (@KofC) March 22, 2017
Reports via mainstream media are confirming that our colleague who was stabbed in the attack at Westminster today has died. Please pray. pic.twitter.com/FdflohjDXf
— Christian Police (@ChristianPolice) March 22, 2017
Brothers & sisters, join me in prayer! Pray for comfort and peace to the victims and families affected in the U.K. incident. #PrayForLondon
— T.D. Jakes (@BishopJakes) March 22, 2017
Our prayers are with all of London following today's terror attack. We send our condolences to those affected & continue to pray for peace.
— The URJ (@URJorg) March 22, 2017
Praying with a heavy heart for all of those impacted by the attacks in London today. Praying for peace on earth and God's love and mercy. pic.twitter.com/fw1vwlm2fP
— Jay W. Taylor, J.D. (@ChaplainTaylor) March 22, 2017
Please pray for those wounded & for the families of those killed in the attack outside the UK Parliament today.
— Franklin Graham (@Franklin_Graham) March 22, 2017
Prayers of the Jewish community are with the families of the victims of today's attack at #Westminster & with our brave security services
— Chief Rabbi Mirvis (@chiefrabbi) March 22, 2017
Louis Zamperini was a person of faith, even though he lost his way at times. When I read his amazing story and watched the movie Unbroken—about how he faced trauma, PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and alcoholism—I could relate. And, like Zamperini, faith has played an important role in my sobriety, and my life. However, Louis’ life was definitely more dramatic than mine has been.
Louis became an Olympic track star and then a military officer in World War II. His plane was shot down, and he survived for 47 days on a life raft in the middle of the ocean. Then, he was captured by the Japanese and tortured as a prisoner of war.
HOPE AGAINST HOPE
“To hope against all hope” means we hope for something even though it is impossible to see how it could happen. When Louis and his comrade had been adrift in the raft for several days without water, there was no rain in sight. Yet, against all hope, he prayed and promised God he’d commit his life to Him if He’d send rain. The next morning, there was a huge downpour. The very definition of faith means to believe in that which we cannot see.
TRIALS CAN DEEPEN OUR FAITH
Zamperini endured many difficult trials. We tend to think that life would be great if we didn’t have to deal with trouble and pain—if everything could just be easy. Yet, if that were the case, we wouldn’t be able to learn and grow in faith. I have often wished I didn’t have to go through the trials I have faced. Yet, I have to admit, I am so grateful for the strength and increased faith I have gained because of my challenges. “No pain, no gain” applies to faith.
FAITH REQUIRES PATIENCE
Only three men survived the plane crash, and only two lived 47 days at sea. It was Zamperini’s faith and persistence that helped pull them through. However, at some point during the two years he was a prisoner of war and frequently beaten by a guard called “the Bird”, he lost faith. He questioned how a loving God could let such things happen. After returning to the United States and getting married, he still felt like God had been “toying” with him. He began drinking heavily and got angry whenever his wife went to church. Four more years passed before Louis returned to church where he remembered the promise he had made to God before it rained. Then he went home and emptied out all the liquor bottles in his cabinet. He never had another drink. Even though it took years, Louis still managed to find faith again and it helped him overcome.
FORGIVENESS INCREASES LIGHT
For years after the war, Louis longed to hunt down the Bird to get revenge. With divine help, he finally found freedom from his prison of hatred. When he learned of the Bird’s death, “something shifted sweetly inside of him. It was forgiveness, beautiful and effortless and complete. For Louie Zamperini, the war was finally over.”* For me, it has been important to realize that my hatred for those who committed serious sins against me was only hurting myself. And forgiving them didn’t mean they were being “let off the hook.” It meant that I was being released from the strongest emotions that held me bound to them—vengeance and hatred. It takes time for us to heal and reach a place of forgiveness. When we do, we often find those dark places in our heart and mind can finally be illuminated by divine light.
*Hillenbrand, Laura. Unbroken. New York, New York: Random House, 2010, p. 386.
Laurie Campbell is a copywriter for advertising, as well as a volunteer counselor with a masters in mental health counseling. She finds photography and nature go hand-in-hand, increasing spirituality and love for God’s pretty amazing creations.
You experience relationships every day. We’ve never met, but right now, you are relating with me as you create an opinion about my writing. Our lives are surrounded by relationships and they have a powerful impact on us.
By increasing your mindfulness, you can make your relationships, the important and the passing ones, positive experiences, and you can strengthen your faith: in yourself; in others; and in your relationships.
Through meditation, you increase your mindfulness. You probably know some of the benefits of this such as a stronger immune system, stress reduction, and better management of anxiety. But did you know it also helps you to increase your empathy and improve your satisfaction with relationships?
Here are three relationship benefits gained through meditation:
1. Learn to be mindful of how your thoughts and actions affect your relationships.
Think of a recent, important conversation with a close relationships (such as a spouse or close friend). Do you feel like you were mindful during the conversation or did emotions run high? Here are some mindfulness guidelines to help with your crucial conversations:
- Come to the conversation with faith in a positive outcome
- Focus on being present and open
- Stay engaged and don’t shut down
- If you feel you are disengaging, use coping strategies such as deep breathing
- If you feel you are being judgmental, of yourself or the other person, stop
- Express empathy for the other person’s different opinion
- If you feel uncomfortable, that’s okay: it’s normal
- Be aware of the other person’s discomfort and offer them support
- Recognize your shared vulnerability
2. Improve your sense of self-worth and stop looking to others for validation. Mindfulness helps you to love and have faith in yourself. In fact, it creates a physiological difference in your brain: you can see a decreased activation of the areas of the brain associated with rumination, according to Biological Psychology. Have you experienced a downward spiral of negative self-talk? We can be our own worst critics! When you shut that down, you love and have faith in yourself. In turn, you won’t need to depend on others for that love and validation, which places unfair expectations and strain on your relationships.
3. Manage your own emotions better so you don’t react as much to others’ actions or words. Meditation also helps change your brain for the better in regards to managing your emotions. A study using fMRI showed that participants who did a short mindfulness intervention were better able to regulate their emotions in response to negative stimuli. The study found that it didn’t need to be extensive periods of mindfulness or meditation, nor did the participants need to be meditation experts to see a difference.
About a year ago, I attempted to make meditation a daily habit.However, when I sat down to do it, I felt a tangible feeling of dread. I thought meditation was supposed to help me with anxiety, but it seemed to exacerbate it!
At the time, I wanted meditation to be an instant cure all. And, I wanted it to somehow work its magic on an infant with difficult sleep habits. As I was trying to meditate, I felt on edge, waiting for the baby to cry.
It took me a long time before I learned consistency. Today, I am slowly learning to be more mindful, but I have learned to notice when I put up emotional barriers blocking other people. When I take the time to meditate (I don’t do it every day, still), I like to use a visualization of a person close to me. As I focus my thoughts on them, I picture a light shining within them that grows and grows. Little, by little, I am learning to see that light in each of my relationships and help it to grow.
I’ve also learned that by strengthing my faith through meditation, I am more satisfied, committed, and invested in my relationships. Over time, I’ve reaped incredible benefits! Have you?
Lauren Elkins is a writer, former IT industry expert, and a mom, with a lot of faith in herself, her family, and God.
An Enduring Story of Faith
Nearly 2,500 years ago, in the middle of two million square miles of the Persian Empire, in the city of Shushan, there lived an orphan, a beautiful Jewish girl named Hadassah, though she is better known by her Persian name, Esther.
Esther’s story of faith and courage happened thousands of years ago, but it lives on today because people are still inspired by her faith and courage.
As the Bible story goes, Ahasuerus, the king of Persia became angry with his wife Vashti for disobedience. He began looking for a new wife from the young virgins of his empire. Esther was brought before him and he liked what he saw. Soon she was chosen to replace Vashti as queen.
At the time, Esther had been raised by her cousin Mordecai, and even after she became queen, he was never far away. He counseled her as often as he could and in the beginning advised her to hide her Jewish identity.
King Ahasuerus appointed an evil man named Haman to the highest position at court and decreed that everyone should bow down to him. Whenever Esther’s cousin Mordecai was in Haman’s presence he refused to show him this respect. Haman resented Mordecai and abused his position of power by sending forth a decree to exterminate the Jews.
Mordecai went to Esther and pleaded with her to approach the king to save their people. Doing so would put her life at risk, but Mordecai believed that God had made her queen so she could save her people. Esther decided that she would go to the king for help, but before doing so, she fasted for three days and told Mordecai to ask their people to do the same.
When the time was right, she did risk her life to approach the king and shared Haman’s evil plans to annihilate her people. The king flew into a rage and sent Haman to be hung on the very gallows the vizier had built to hang Mordecai.
Esther’s Legacy of Faith Lives On
Every year, Jewish people celebrate Esther’s story of faith and courage on a holiday known as Purim. The word “Purim” means “lots” in ancient Persian, because it’s believed that Haman cast lots to choose which day he would massacre the Jews.
Today the holiday is celebrated by exchanging gifts of food, donating to the poor, eating a celebratory meal, public recitations of the entire scroll of Esther, drinking wine, and by wearing masks and costumes.
This annual celebration is an example of the power of a single story of faith to affect millions of people and live on for generations.
Without Action, Faith Is Just a Word
Most of us won’t be asked to risk our lives to save a nation, but our simple acts of faith can inspire and empower others. Even if your story isn’t passed down for 2,500 years, it can be impactful for your loved ones and your posterity—especially if you write it down.
It takes humility and optimism to believe that everything will work out. But more often, like in Esther’s story, it takes action to ensure that it does. Our faith may have the power to move mountains, but if we don’t act on it, we’ll never know what’s possible.
Stories of faith can be found in all cultures, religions, and places. Seeking them out and passing them on promotes courage in the face of adversity, and empowers the human spirit.
Linda Clyde is a believer—because she’s convinced it’s way better than being a doubter. One of her favorite things to do is spread optimism and hope with the power of words.
I’m a trauma queen. My therapist says I’ve been through a greater variety of trauma than anyone she’s ever worked with. Jokingly, I “brag” about it. In reality, I’m surprised I’m still alive. And, miraculously—with heaven’s help—my past is becoming the strongest part of my present and the brightest part of my future. It is in this same spirit that I’m celebrating Holi this year, for the first time.
Holi is an ancient Hindu holiday celebrated mostly in India and Nepal. It starts the night of the full moon just before spring—this year starting March 12th. People gather round a Holika bonfire that symbolizes the burning away of the bad and the victory of good. It’s a time to let go of the past, to forgive and forget. The following day, people gather together and celebrate by “coloring” each other. Brightly colored water and colored powders are thrown on each other until everyone’s drenched in color. It marks the beginning of spring. A time of peace and harmony. A fresh start.
We each have things from our past that can interfere with the present. Whether they’re mild or severe, we’re prone to collect them and the negative emotions attached. Like when someone has said or done something hurtful. Or, when we’ve done something embarrassing or hurtful to someone else. The more upsetting the event, the more likely we are to remember. And, the more the emotions can make us feel worse, over and over again.
So, using a fire to symbolize the burning away of the bad and the victory of good can be healing. Fire is often used to purify, cleanse, and change. In nature, fire makes room for new vegetation to grow and the resulting ashes provide nutrients. So, as a Holika fire symbolically burns away emotions from the past that weigh heavy, it can make room for new growth. Allowing for a celebration where we can enjoy the present.
A few years ago, I was in a group therapy discussion where we were working through difficult issues from the past. The instructor had us write down, on a piece of heavy paper, those memories that kept coming up and troubling us. Then, we went outside, walked off by ourselves, and each burned the list. The paper was thick, so it burned rather slowly. I watched as each troubling emotion was consumed, disappearing into the sky as smoke and falling to the earth as ashes. I was making room for new growth and providing important nutrients for that growth to take place.
I’m looking forward to my first Holika fire. And, the next day, where I can welcome a colorful new season of life.
Laurie Campbell can be found, on the first night of Holi, watching past burdens turn to smoke and ashes. Her celebration of spring the next day will likely be a “Westernized version” where she’ll enjoy Peeps of all colors.
Novelist, poet, and civil rights activist, Maya Angelou is famed for many things, including her unflinching honesty. Not only did Angelou write about fighting a daily battle against racism, but also her rape at eight years old. The trauma of rape and the fear that her testimony had caused the perpetrator’s murder left Angelou mute for the next five years.
If anyone had the right to wallow in self-pity, Angelou did. Yet she is rarely remembered for the abuses she endured. Instead, she showed incredible faith in herself and in the future. Today, Angelou is remembered for her strong spirit, joie de vivre, and for daily demonstrating the importance of self-empowerment.
Here is some of her advice on self-empowerment:
Step 1: Refuse to be a Victim
“Self-pity in its early stage is as snug as a feather mattress. Only when it hardens does it become uncomfortable.”
“A wise woman wishes to be no one’s enemy; a wise woman refuses to be anyone’s victim.”
While you may find temporary relief in self-victimization, self-pity is not a place you want to stay for long. This is the time to have your cry, take a few deep breaths, and then resolve not to let your past dictate your future.
Step 2: Forgive
“It’s one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself, to forgive. Forgive everybody.”
Forgiving is usually a long and difficult process, but in the end you are the one left with a lighter heart and brighter future. Have faith that sacrificing your grudge will lead you to the kind of healing and freedom you seek.
Step 3: Reject Defeat
“We may encounter many defeats but we must not be defeated.”
“If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.”
“I can be changed by what happens to me. But I refuse to be reduced by it.”
Life will throw everything it has at you—that doesn’t mean you can’t throw a few things back. Hold your head high, throw your shoulders back, dig your heels in, and make up your mind to come out the winner. You have the ability to emerge from life’s storms a stronger, better person than you were before, but it’s going to take equal measures of faith and gumption on your part.
Step 4: Create Your Own Happiness
“My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.”
“Determine to live your life with flair and laughter.”
Life has an abundance of both woe and wonder, but what we find is what we look for. Have the courage to create happiness for yourself.
Angelou was never one to take a back seat in life. Despite her trials, she declared, “You may trod me in the very dirt, but still, like dust, I’ll rise.”
Even when life seemed impossible, Maya Angelou had the faith to create a better future for herself. She showed us that we have the power to rise beyond tragedy and hurt. Life was meant to be enjoyed, and like Angelou, we should allow nothing to hold us back.
Camille Ward is a student of English Education at BYU. She loves to spend time with her family and is not to be trusted with a budget in bookstores or bakeries.
Some 18 years ago I was filming life in a village about twenty kilometers inland of the Bay of Bengal. It sounds romantic, and it was…except for dysentery. We were with a small humanitarian group who had been petitioned by one of the village elders to make the trek from America to his tiny village of Vuudi Mudi. We tagged along to film. Little did we know about rural India: the bad roads, the lack of transportation, no infrastructure, no health care, mud everywhere.
We were greeted by a roadway into the village lined with painted white stones. A banner hung on poles welcoming us, and there were strings of flower petals everywhere. We were the first Americans to visit the village in nearly 50 years. The bus stopped at the center of the village, a small Hindu temple that was not much more than a concrete pergola. All 400 villagers gathered to see us. Their joy and fascination were overwhelming. There was dancing and music on makeshift instruments and everybody wanted to hug us. It lasted deep into the night: the women in layered, flowing colors of bright saris, little kids in cloth shorts or skirts, brass ankle bracelets that kept rhythm with drums and 3-stringed instruments and a cacophony of dented bells, brass horns and rhythm sticks. The night was clear. Coconut trees seemed to bend in on us. We were exhausted. They begged us to share some music of our own. We promised we would have a number ready for the next night and collapsed on the cement floor of a tiny hut. We woke to 30 or more children smiling at us through the window. It was cold. The sun was glowing through the damp haze. It was like waking up in the middle of a 3rd grade classroom. I quickly became attached to one boy in particular. We nicknamed him Coconut because his head was shaved due to lice. He had a deformed hand from falling in the fire as an infant. But his smile could light up the Ganges at night.
Our task was to film daily life: coconut harvesting, fabric dyeing, traveling vendors weighed down with baskets or brass. Our film crew of three bought a whole stock of bananas for breakfast. The vendor kept shaking his head at his good fortune. Coconut led the way, wrangling the other kids and proudly carrying our gear. We tried to pay him but he wouldn’t take so much as a banana. It was his honor to help, he told us.
As soon as the sun began to drop, villagers began gathering at the temple to hear the Americans perform. We had a guitar with a crooked neck and four strings. It was probably the first live performance of Beetles songs in a Hindu temple since the Fab Four visited the Maharishi. We sang the three songs we knew over and over while the kids laughed and danced.
Two days later we were walking the twenty kilometers to the Bay of Bengal for a huge Hindu celebration. Thousands of people thronged the streets. In the early morning it was a river of color, a procession that made its way to a courtyard to picnic and wait for their turn to walk through the temple, light incense, drop flower petals in reflecting pools and thank the gods for their good fortune. These were people who lived two seasons a year; the harvesting season where they worked long days, and the monsoon season, where they waited out the rains in dreary grayness. Their faith was remarkable. Even though they often had to rebuild their homes when the monsoons ended, they had faith that when the storms lifted, the gods would smile on them once again. And so they made the pilgrimage each year to express their gratitude. Most people lingered for days, sleeping around fires and visiting friends from other villages. I sat with a group of children who were listening to one of the village elders tell stories. Through a translator I got bits and pieces of one of the tales, the story of Dhaka Sietma. For many families, the trek takes days. They often travel at night if it is too hot during the day. Children grow nervous about being left behind and falling asleep in the dark. The elder was explaining what happens to such children. Before morning, Dhaka Sietma, a kind of goddess of lost children, collects all of the sleeping children along the roadside and places them by the warm fire of their families.
The morning we left the village, we found Coconut in the same place we found him every morning—curled up on the cold ground outside our hut, his legs pulled up close to his body and tucked under his ragged shirt to keep warm, waiting to carry camera gear. He insisted on serving us and we could do nothing about it. He would never come inside the hut, never take a sweatshirt or a blanket or even a woven mat in the cool evenings. We had even offered to buy him a bottle of Fanta from a roadside shack, a treat I’m sure he’d never had. His service to us was a great blessing he told us, and refused the drink. I have also come to suspect that he didn’t want to elevate himself above the other children in any way. His faith was all he needed–the assurance that whatever the seasons brought, all would be well. No social promotion could replace that. His gratitude, humility, and willingness to serve were the manifestations of that faith.
Abraham Lincoln is remembered as a man of honesty, courage, and kindness. What was he like when it came to religion? Was he a man of faith too?
Lincoln grew up in a Baptist family, but he was a skeptic, and though he later attended Protestant church services with his wife and children, he never joined any church. While his exact beliefs remain a bit of a mystery, Lincoln was often clear about his faith in a loving God who watches over His children.
The following messages, in Lincoln’s own words, teach us why looking to God should be as important to us today as it was to him then.
Don’t forget God.
On March 30, 1863, President Lincoln proclaimed a national day of prayer and fasting to be held the next month. He explained:
“We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of Heaven; we have been preserved these many years in peace and prosperity; we have grown in numbers, wealth and power as no other nation has ever grown. But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which has preserved us in peace and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us, and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. …It behooves us, then, to humble ourselves before the offended power, to confess our national sins and to pray for clemency and forgiveness.”
Trust in His timing.
In the midst of the Civil War, Lincoln responded to a letter from Elizah P. Guerney, thanking her for her kind words and prayers.
“The purposes of the Almighty are perfect, and must prevail, though we erring mortals may fail to accurately perceive them in advance. We hoped for a happy termination of this terrible war long before this; but God knows best, and has ruled otherwise. We shall yet acknowledge His wisdom and our own error therein. Meanwhile, we must work earnestly in the best light He gives us, trusting that so working still conduces to the great ends He ordains. Surely He intends some great good to follow this mighty convulsion, which no mortal could make, and no mortal could stay.”
Pray to Him for guidance and peace.
Before the battle of Gettysburg, Lincoln hadn’t been worried. General Daniel E. Sickles, a participant in the battle, asked Lincoln why that was. He replied:
“Well, I will tell you how it was. In the pinch of your campaign up there, when everybody seemed panic-stricken and nobody could tell what was going to happen, oppressed by the gravity of our affairs, I went to my room one day and locked the door and got down on my knees before Almighty God and prayed to him mightily for victory at Gettysburg. I told Him that this war was His, and our cause His cause, but we could not stand another Fredericksburg or Chancellorsville. … And after that, I don’t know how it was, and I cannot explain it, soon a sweet comfort crept into my soul. The feeling came that God had taken the whole business into His own hands, and that things would go right at Gettysburg, and that is why I had no fears about you.”
Read His word.
Lincoln is said to have read the Bible regularly. His thoughts on its teachings are simple and strong.
“In regard to this Great Book, I have but to say, it is the best gift God has given to man. All the good the Savior gave to the world was communicated through this book. But for it we could not know right from wrong. All things most desirable for man’s welfare, here and hereafter, are to be found portrayed in it.”
Lincoln learned these principles over a lifetime of challenges, failures, and successes. What have your experiences taught you bout faith?
As a single person, I often have that visceral reaction to said holiday in February. Sometimes I wonder why I react that way. Sure, it’s often a reminder of what I don’t have, the gratuitous PDA, the boxes of chocolate with mystery centers that no one actually likes, the crushed expectations, and so on. But if I’m honest, sometimes it’s the idea of a relationship itself that triggers the rejection response.
You see, I hate risk. I don’t like roller coasters because of the out-of-control feeling. I don’t even like the game Risk because I hate staking my success on shaky odds. CERTAINTY. That’s what I’m about. But lots of things in life aren’t certain, and relationships are one of them. Frankly, as much as I say I feel lonely sometimes, when it comes down to it, being alone feels easier—or at least safer—than letting someone in. Granted, in dating relationships there are measures to keep yourself safe from physical and emotional abuse, but in any relationship there will ALWAYS be risk that you cannot control, and it’s that inherent risk in a relationship that makes me shy away.
Thus, I’ve come to realize that love—relationship—connection—requires faith in a few ways.
1. Faith in the value of connection.
The Bible defines faith as “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1, KJV), “substance” meaning the “reality,” “the material part” (King James Dictionary). So faith is the concrete action that aligns with a belief in something greater than self. Faith in a relationship context is being willing to step into a place of uncertainty, because it’s in that space that a relationship has the opportunity to grow. Connection is the purpose of our existence, and we must risk pain with the belief that caring for someone is worthwhile, no matter the outcome. That belief helps us have the courage to step into that place of uncertainty.
In one of the first conversations of a recent relationship, I was fighting the tidal wave of fear that made me want to run for the hills when the thought came, “You can’t learn what you need to learn by yourself.” I can’t figure things out on my own and then step into the perfect relationship—it doesn’t work that way. We cultivate connection by moving forward in relationships with people and working on issues that come up in the process.
2. Faith in the power of my process.
I told the boy I liked him…and then immediately panicked. I can’t do this. I need more time. How do I know if I can trust him? The uncertainty and vulnerability of that first step was almost too much for me to handle. In those panicky moments I had to get curious about why I was reacting that way, and it led me to recognize the source as some deep-seated pain that I’ve been sitting on for a long time. I was grateful for loving friends that talked me out of running away and helped me feel my way through the pain to address the core issue. Getting at the root of those problems that block connection requires faith that facing the pain will get you where you want to be.
3. Faith in constant sources.
The ability to exercise faith is certainly influenced by the character of the person in whom you place your faith. I find that my faith in God, He who never turns away, gives me the foundation I need to be able to exercise my faith in relationships with other people. The strength of my relationship with Him determines how much I am able to stay open and vulnerable to other people, because if I base my worth and security off my inherent worth as His child, I can weather the storms of relationships with less perfect beings.
And so I move forward. I’m still scared sometimes, but if I value connection, believe that my process will work, and trust in a higher power, then this is what I have to do. If I want my life to be rich and full of meaning, I have to take a chance on people, because it’s only then that I can experience the exquisite sweetness of connection that comes from two people taking a chance on each other.
Ariel Szuch is a word nerd, writer, and compulsive reader who finds purpose in a life of faith.
I am a child of the desert and a lover of trees. I grew up with figs and pomegranates and acres and acres of citrus groves in my backyard. These trees bloomed in early spring and bore fruit all winter. I played in the secret shade of their green leaves all year long.
Then I moved to a place where winter was a gray crusty thing that often overstayed her welcome, where everything froze, and everything died, and there were plenty of days when it hurt my face to go outside. There was no secret green shade in this winter.
Nearing the end of my first winter there, I was convinced I had made a terrible mistake by moving to this frozen wasteland. And then I saw a maple tree bloom. It took me by surprise, in the still-cold air of early spring. Bright green buds unfurled, the sun shining behind them lighting them up like green stained glass. Next, leaves grew—huge—the size of dinner plates. In the heat of summer, I found shade.
Today, Jews celebrate Tu BiSh’vat, sometimes called Jewish Arbor Day or New Year of the Trees. It’s a time to plant trees, reflect on the lessons they teach, and connect to generations before and after.
I have planted over twenty trees since moving. It’s a wonder to me every year, after enduring winter, to watch the trees reawaken.
In that time, my heart has been broken. Shattered really, and more than once, hasn’t yours? Griefs, disappointments and betrayals are part of being human. No one is spared.
Sometimes after so much hurt, we walk around numb, frozen, guarding our hearts against future fractures. We push through, carry on with the business of life, steel ourselves, because we must. After all, so many rely on our strength to get things done. The world does not stop turning for our sorrows, so we bind ourselves up, compose ourselves, and do what we must to meet the unrelenting expectations.
Tu BiSh’vat is for all of us. On this day, we remember how even solid ground thaws year after year. We remember that no matter how dark or cold the winter, buds swell, tender shoots appear, leaves unfurl with complete faith in another growing season. Tu BiSh’vat reminds us that we can open our hearts again, with faith that the light will seep in, and we can soften, thaw, regenerate—and grow. Click here to learn more about Tu BiSh’vat.
Rachel Coleman is a writer, designer, and believer. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org
Until recently, my experience with meditation was that time at the end of a fitness class in college when “meditate” was code for “doze for a few minutes before you get up and run to your next class.” I had heard about some of meditation’s benefits but never really tried it, so when asked to write about it, I said, “Thanks, but no thanks” on account of zero practical experience.
“Why don’t you try it for a week and then write about it?” came the reply.
In its basic definition, meditation is the practice of training the mind to be focused and calm. However, as even a simple Google search on the topic will tell you, there are a dizzying number of ways to do that. I felt overwhelmed by all the information about posture, breathing, different kinds of practices, and so on. Finally I decided that the best approach was the same one used for getting used to cold water—just jump in.
So I did. Each day for seven days I looked up a video or audio recording that guided me through some form of meditation that would help me in an area where I was struggling that day. I did several meditations from Self-Compassion.org, yoga for meditation, mindfulness and anxiety meditations, and tai chi, and I found that my mental focus was the best when I did some form of movement (yoga or tai chi) followed by some kind of audio.
As I went through the week, I gained a few insights on the practice of meditation:
1. Meditation is about practicing present awareness and exercising self-compassion along the way. I tend to be hard on myself in general, which extends to getting off track and distracted during meditation. Sometimes I feel like keeping hold of my focus and staying in the present is like trying to hold a wriggling fish in your bare hands—the tighter you hold on, the more it slips through your fingers. On Day 1 (and a couple days afterward) I lost the battle and dozed off. However, meditation is called a practice for a reason; being present and focused is a learning process. In several of the guided meditations I did, the audio talked about how if your mind wanders, you just bring it gently back to the point of focus. No shaming self-judgment—just acknowledging that you’re learning and moving forward. It was healthy for me to practice some intentional self-compassion.
2. Meditation is about taking time for self-care. I struggle with this. Even though I just have me to take care of at this point in my life, I tend to disregard my own needs as less important than others. At one point a friend told me, “No one cares about your feelings except you!” What she meant was that I have to care for myself—my physical, spiritual, and emotional needs—because I am the one who is responsible for them. It’s not about putting my needs above everyone else’s, but honoring my needs as valid and my part in getting them met. Meditation helped me tune into myself physically and emotionally, and I could better see how to take care of myself and what help I needed from others.
3. Meditation is about setting the stage for truth to come—truth about ourselves, our lives, and our faith. By cultivating that present awareness in body and mind, tuning into myself physically and emotionally, I put myself in a state to receive truth. In several days over the course of the week I would start the meditation feeling agitated and by the end was able to get at the root of what was bothering me. Sometimes that truth was hard to face, but coming to terms with it was the way to move forward.
My meditation practice is still fledgling, but I’m grateful for what I learned over the course of the week and have incorporated aspects of meditation into my life since then. It has helped me focus at work and navigate stress in my personal life. Pausing for even a few moments to breathe and care for myself in high-emotion situations has made a world of difference for my overall wellbeing and peace of mind.
Ariel Szuch is a word nerd, writer, and compulsive reader who finds purpose in a life of faith.
A Kindness Experiment
During my late teenage years I found myself working one of the checkout counters at a local department store during the holidays. It was a boring job, and one that required me to interact with a lot of people each day. Most of the people that passed through my line were mothers with young children. These moms were often harried and preoccupied as they juggled their children and went through the process of making their purchases.
The children on the other hand were doing what kids do. They were soaking up their environment. They were busy observing people and things—including me. While their parents rarely made eye contact with me, the children almost always did. I found myself engaging in a little experiment to pass the time. When I would catch a kid sizing me up, I would return the eye contact and give them a brief smile. There were a few shy ones that would hide behind their mothers, but most would instinctively smile back. It was fun, and it taught me a few things. First, that a simple smile is powerful, and second, that even small children recognize and respond to kindness—it’s contagious.
The Universal Language
Remember the last time you were deliberately kind to someone, or had someone do something nice for you? The times when we’ve been the recipient of kindness, or shown kindness to others are both powerful and memorable. It’s a universal language—one that even babies and dogs understand.
Kindness fosters love, mutual respect, and creates an atmosphere of openness and honesty in relationships. It increases our receptivity to others, and we’re even more likely to listen to the counsel and opinions of those who treat us well. It works the other way too. If you want someone’s respect, or are hoping that they’ll listen to you, add an extra dose of kindness to your interaction with them.
The Kindling for Faith
Have you ever considered how kindness is connected to faith? Even a little kindness, directed anywhere, is kindling that can start the fire of belief—in each other, in ourselves, and in humanity. When we’re kind to one another, it’s easier to have faith that the world is a good place to be. When we notice God’s kindness toward us, it builds our faith in Him, and if you’re a believer in karma, you’ll have faith that by showing kindness to others, it will always return to you.
All acts of kindness are a joy to witness and experience. They lift everyone, even those who are only watching. They help us to feel safe and comfortable in this wonderful world that we share.
When I Lift You, I Lift Me Too
Kindness is its own reward. It’s a well-known fact that when we choose to be kind that it gives us a boost too. It’s just one more reason to look for those daily opportunities to be nice, and here’s the good news—these opportunities are everywhere.
Just like dropping a pebble in water causes a ripple effect, acts of kindness ripple outward in a contagious wave of love. So get creative, share your smile, lend a hand, and be generous. The smallest acts of kindness—even a brief smile at a child—can start a loving ripple in this world.
Linda Clyde is foremost a wife and a mother of three. She is currently employed as a writer for the LDS Church. You may contact her at email@example.com
As a child, I was dedicated to the show “Adventures from the Book of Virtues.” One episode focused on diligence and showed Michelangelo’s determination in all the works of art he created, especially his paintings in the Sistine Chapel. Over the years, I came to admire his other works of art like the statue David and the Pietà. His masterpieces are evidence of how great he was and how great we can become as well. We can make our own lives masterful works of art by following 5 lessons we learn from Michelangelo.
1. “I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.”
Michelangelo saw things as they could become; not as they were. Though he started with slab of marble or stone, he chose to see more than that. He chose to see potential and you can do the same. You can find beauty and holiness all around you: in people, in nature, in everything, if you but choose to.
2. “The true work of art is but a shadow of the divine perfection.”
Michelangelo gave credit to God for his talents, and in each piece he crafted he showed his love for divinity. Have a heart of gratitude towards God and be humbled for the talents He has given to you. Use your gifts to bless the world, that His light may be reflected in you.
3. “Lord, grant that I may always desire more than I can accomplish.”
Ask God for help. Pray. Even if you just need to pray for a greater desire to love, serve, or work harder; He will help you. Ask and then do. Take leaps of faith big and small. Life is busy but find a little bit of time to be better– smile at a stranger, call an old friend, etc. He will help you to accomplish all that He needs you to do.
4. “The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short; but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark.”
Don’t settle. Don’t take the easy way out. Aim higher and reach further. You are destined for greatness. Believe in that. As you set your goals, don’t be afraid to fail because through the failures you will find knowledge. You will find the way to success. But do not be less than you are.
5. “Genius is eternal patience.”
Masterpieces take time. Be patient. Don’t get angry with yourself or give up when things go wrong. Wait. Stop. Take time and refresh. Be patient with yourself and with others. Accomplishments come over time and with hard work. Keep going.
I was 14 years old the first time I went to Hawaii. Part of that dream vacation involved a trip to Pearl Harbor, where I read the names of the attack victims, watched a film detailing the history, and saw photos of Hawaii taken on the day that has lived in infamy.
It was a poignant moment for me as an American as I tried to imagine what that day must have been like. But it was also an uncomfortable moment, because I was surrounded by dozens of Japanese tourists who watched the same film, saw the same photos and read the same names I did. I wondered what the experience was like for them; I wondered what it was like to confront this part of our past from the other side.
Thirteen years later, I experienced a little of what those Japanese tourists must have been feeling.
My husband and I took our two daughters to the library in our Texas town. The children’s story time room contained an impressive display for Martin Luther King, Jr., Day. The display included a video recounting the history of civil rights in the U.S. and powerful photos of civil rights demonstrators, one of which included a police dog attacking a black man in Birmingham.
“How do we teach our kids about this?” I whispered to my husband. But instead of his voice, I heard a child near me ask his dad a question:
“A dog is attacking him, Dad? But he’s not even doing anything.”
The boy was African-American, probably not much older than my oldest daughter. His dad was also looking at the photo, though with perhaps more emotion.
“That’s right,” he said. Because what else could he say?
For the first time since our arrival at the library, I really looked at the other families in the room. I discovered that everyone else was African-American; that my family and I were the only white people there. And I understood a little bit about those Japanese tourists.
I recognized the negative history that existed between the races in our country. But I also understood how far we’d come, how little animosity remained in that room, and how blissfully unaware my children were that there was any difference between them and the black children at all.
My parents were far removed from the civil rights movement of the 1960s. They were farm kids living in Idaho, a thousand miles away from that police dog in Birmingham. I’m not even sure if a single black person lived in their entire county. I know that no matter how much I read or learn, I will never really understand what the photos on those walls meant to the families that surrounded me. But I can try to imagine.
Another young mom approached my daughters and I as we watched the film. She talked to my oldest daughter, who was wearing a light blue princess dress-up.
“Are you Elsa?” she asked. My daughter, always the shy one, looked away and wouldn’t answer.
“She is,” I smiled. “She’s being shy.”
“We know all about Elsa,” she said. “My son — even though he’s a boy — sings ‘Let it Go’ all day long.”
And there we were, two young moms with children who loved the same Disney movie, chatting about our lives that were more similar than they were different. Her son did a silly dance move and made my girl laugh. We learned that our children were similar ages and both loved to watch “Bubble Guppies.” We talked while in the background Dr. King’s voice on the film said “I have a dream that one day … little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.”
While we still have a very long way to go, I saw a little piece of Dr. King’s dream come true that day. In the children’s room of a public library in Texas, white families and black families metaphorically joined hands as sisters and brothers. We were on our way to moving forward together with faith in the future.
Breanna is the author of two books, the mother of three children, and a frequent contributor to several faith-based magazines and blogs. She blogs about her faith, her family, and her favorite things at www.breannaolaveson.com.
Ever wished you could speed through certain phases of your life? As a kid, I often imagined this possibility. I pictured using a gigantic TV remote to fast forward through the parts of life that were boring, stressful, frightening or mundane and skip ahead to “the good stuff.” Looking back, I’m grateful I didn’t have access to such a remote. My life would have consisted entirely of Christmas mornings and birthday parties; there is so much I would have missed!
Although now I can admit that wielding a gigantic TV remote might not be the best way to approach life, I sometimes catch myself drooling over the exciting lives depicted on social media or in movies, forgetting the fact that these are merely highlight reels, lives that have been distilled into a thick concentration of thrill.
It’s not real life.
Real life is made up of brushing your teeth, running late for work, and washing dishes over and over again. Real life is t-ball practices, long grocery lines and sitting at a desk from nine to five. Much of real life can be pretty monotonous. But in spending all our time wishing and waiting for the thrills and trying to evade the monotony, we attempt to fast forward through real life and begin to view the daily grind with contempt. Faith, however, provides a better perspective. With faith we find meaning in and even celebrate the humdrum of daily living.
Ironically faith, or belief in the unseen, is all about vision. Faith allows us to “see” what normally goes unnoticed. In this case, faith can help us see inglorious monotony with gratitude.
Stop Taking Life for Granted
A few years ago my family took a trip to France. While visiting a small town outside Paris, we drove past a beautiful but non-famous chateau. I was in awe. Looking around, however, I realized that no one on the streets seemed to care. They were all busy carrying their groceries, listening to their iPods, and considering their unpaid bills. For those who lived in the town, this was just another monotonous day. Incredulous, I began shouting, “You live next to a castle! Don’t you care? You’re missing it!”
I wonder if God ever feels the same way about us. Are we seeing life’s chateau? Or are we missing it?
Develop an Alternative Perspective on Growth
Sometimes things feel monotonous because we cannot see progress. We seem to be metaphorically punching a wall over and over without noticeable effect. Perhaps it’s our perspective that needs an update. A change in perspective allows us to recognize that even if the wall is not coming down, our arms are getting stronger.
See How Far You’ve Come
Even grand adventures like swimming the English Channel or hiking Mount Kilimanjaro require repetitive steps. We call this diligence, persistence and tenacity. Grand vistas and epic photo ops are exciting because they are the culmination of previous perseverance. Faith reminds us that each forward step matters. There is a majestic vista ahead of us.
By choosing to view our lives through the lens of faith, we can choose to believe that our small, simple, albeit mundane, actions matter. Rather than distract ourselves from life’s monotony, we can remember that each moment is a gift, given by God for a reason. There is always something to learn, appreciate, work at and celebrate. Why would we want to skip to the good stuff? It’s all good stuff!
Erin Facer is a graduate of Brigham Young University and proud southerner. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org
“Faith tells me that no matter what lies ahead of me — God is already there.” — Unknown
Even when sitting still, I feel like I live in a perpetual whirlwind of chaos. On particularly stressful days I find myself pulling my coat tighter and tighter, as if it were the only thing holding me together. I’m not just bad at mindfulness, I’m downright terrible at it.
Sounds like I could use some time in mindful meditation, right? But that would take even more time out of my day.
Maybe that’s the point. Time out.
I’ve begun to realize that I’ve been thinking about mindfulness all wrong. Mindful meditation isn’t about putting another item on the schedule, but about taking things off. All of us need a time out at some point. Meditation allows us to step out of life to practice…for life.
We arrive to life in a shocking explosion of cold and noise and pain. No crash course. No manual. We’re expected to wing it from day one. And it just keeps getting crazier. Yet when the opportunity actually comes along to practice for this circus we call life, we pass it by because we’re too busy. But life, like any other skill, requires a mastering of the basics: The ballerina’s first position, the bassist’s scales, the ball player’s swing. And a brain’s mindset.
Mindful meditation isn’t the goal. It’s the practice. Our goal is a mindful life.
When meditating, we focus on the sensations of the present, allowing distracting thoughts to come and go without judgment. By practicing the skills we need to make the most of life we learn to experience life intentionally and observe and accept change without fear. Hopefully we emerge to find ourselves more content, peaceful, and ready to face life.
Of course, none of these things are useful if we dive back in with the same attitude we had before meditation. We have to learn to apply mindfulness to our life as a whole.
Worry is the opposite of mindfulness. All of us have fruitless worries that clutter up our lives. They pull us into the future, prevent us from engaging with the present, and manage to be exhausting without actually accomplishing anything besides making us unhappy.
In an effort to live more mindfully, I’ve begun my week by listing 5 concerns that I am consciously choosing NOT to worry about:
- Finding a new apartment next year.
- Finding gifts for my friends’ unborn children (who aren’t due until July…).
- If people think I’m lazy because I need naps.
- If the weather will keep me from getting to work this week.
- Whether or not I’m ever going to get married.
Okay. That list was kind of hard. But also very relieving. While some of my worries made me feel silly or vulnerable, writing them out helped me remember that most of them aren’t even in my control. They’re real worries, but they interfere with living a happy life. This week, instead of stressing over those things, I’ve been enjoying where I am now. So far it’s felt great.
What about you? What 5 worries are you going to reject? Share in the comments below or on social media, using #faithcounts.
Camille Ward is a student of English Education at BYU. She loves to spend time with her family and is not to be trusted with a budget in bookstores or bakeries.
Mother Teresa was a woman of intense faith who fervently believed the world could be a better place, drop by drop, person by person. She dedicated her life to succoring and empowering the disenfranchised, and taught us, through her actions, to cultivate and live an attitude of faith.
It’s almost time for Christmas. You’ve sent your holiday cards, baked delicious treats, decorated the house and checked off every item on your shopping list — after all, the spirit of Christmas is the spirit of giving.
Generosity is central to the holiday season, and nothing says “Christmas spirit” like choosing the perfect gift for someone you love. But some of the best gifts you can give aren’t under any Christmas tree. They’re free, they won’t wear out, and they only get better with time. When you give these gifts to family, friends and strangers all year long, you’ll always get more than you give. This year, give these five gifts to everyone you meet.
It’s often said that gratitude turns what we have into enough. Maybe it’s a good thing that in the United States, Thanksgiving comes shortly before Christmas. When we take time to reflect on the wonderful things we have, and when we are truly grateful for those blessings, we feel more content and positive.
This holiday season and all year long, cultivate an attitude of gratitude. Be grateful for the gifts you receive, and count your blessings every day. Express gratitude to those who help you. Showing others gratitude will increase love and strengthen relationships.
Buying someone the latest technology is great, but sometimes the best thing you can give another person is your forgiveness. When we forgive, we heal. Others heal. We let go of a weight that brings us down, and we rebuild bridges that were previously burned.
Forgiveness may be one of the most valuable gifts we can give, but it can also be one of the most difficult. If it helps, pray for assistance. When you genuinely seek to let go of anger and hurt, forgiveness is possible. And it is liberating.
People from all over the world speak the same language — love. This year, give everyone around you more of it. Give your family a little more of your time. Pay attention to how others are feeling and offer extra kindness to those around you.
This gift can even extend to people you don’t know. Treat your mail carrier, your waitress and your grocery store clerk with extra attention and kindness. When you spread that kind of joy around, you can’t help but feel a little more joy yourself.
It’s stylish to be cynical, but you don’t have to be. While many people seem to take pleasure in leaving negative reviews online, being critical of others and being generally pessimistic, you can do better. This year, give everyone around you the gift of someone positive to be around.
Try it: when you’re tempted to complain, say something positive instead. Look for the good in someone who upsets you. Thank others for offering you service instead of pointing out how they could have done it better. Being positive and happy is contagious and is the perfect gift to give this year.
We often think faith is something we have in God or in the future, and that is certainly true. But this year, you can give the gift of a different kind of faith: faith in those around you.
Everyone has plans and ambitions, but courage can be difficult to find. Let a friend or family member know that you believe in him or her. Encourage those you meet to pursue their dreams, and offer help and guidance as appropriate. Having faith in the potential of others — especially when they might not believe in their own potential — is among the greatest gifts you can give.
Breanna is the author of two books, the mother of three children, and a frequent contributor to several faith-based magazines and blogs. She blogs about her faith, her family, and her favorite things at www.breannaolaveson.com.