“If you cut people off from what nourishes them spiritually, something in them dies.”
Sometimes we may find ourselves feeling like we don’t need religion or spiritual influences in our lives. When that happens, we lose perspective and a sense of purpose that guides much of what we do. Life moves quickly and every day more things can happen to make us feel afraid or out of control. We can stay centered by reading scripture, praying, and serving other people.
MORE THAN MEETS THE EYE
“Even though people may be well-known, they hold in their hearts the emotions of a simple person for the moments that are the most important of those we know on earth: birth, marriage and death.”
Even though some of Jackie’s life appeared to be gilded, her marriage to John F. Kennedy wasn’t perfect, and her family faced several health challenges. We may only see superficial and light-hearted posts of endless perfect moments on Pinterest and Instagram, but behind these posts we often find people experiencing similar insecurities as us. Pictures or tweets don’t tell the full story. We can’t truly see into a person’s heart.
LIFT YOURSELF UP
“One must not let oneself be overwhelmed by sadness.”
After ten years of marriage, Jackie was left a widow with two children. She lost her husband and one son in a three-month time span. Although our losses might not be the same, we all experience devastation. It is perfectly justified to be overcome by feelings of grief and pain as a result, but we shouldn’t let our circumstances rob us of all future happiness. We need to remember happiness is often something we have to choose. If we can’t be in charge of our situations, we can at least be in charge of ourselves. We can try to focus on what we can control going forward. Jackie said seeing the world through her children’s eyes helped restore her faith in her family.
“We should all do something to right the wrongs that we see and not just complain about them.”
Only talking about problems is not the same as working toward solving them. As First Lady, Jackie was effective at presenting alternatives to issues that concerned her. We need to find reasons to be positive, steps we can take, or habits that we can change. Anyone can criticize, but those who offer solutions become leaders. We should be anxiously engaged in good causes. When we see wrongdoings, we can set about fixing them to improve lives.
MAKE A DIFFERENCE
“One [person] can make a difference and every[one] should try.”
News headlines make it seem like only wealthy, prominent people and heads of companies are capable of making big changes in the world, leading us to sometimes forget the power of people like you and me. Things rarely change when we think others are the ones responsible. We tend to underestimate the change we can bring about. When we hold ourselves accountable for our part and everybody works together, situations begin to improve. Even if we can only give a small amount of time or training or money or food or love, our efforts affect many circles and cause chain reactions. When we see someone pay it forward, it’s easy to follow their example.
It’s Christmastime, and while the holiday music plays you and I are hanging wreaths, lights, tinsel, and stockings—but why? What makes tinsel a Christmas tradition? Who first thought wreaths represented the season?
The stories behind some Christmas symbols are easy to guess, but others could surprise you.
An Orange in Your Stocking
Do you usually find fruit in the toe of your stocking on Christmas morning? This tradition dates back to the day of the real Saint Nicholas. Born in present-day Turkey, Saint Nicholas was a bishop who inherited a fortune that he used to help others in need.
In one story of his service, Saint Nicholas learned of a poor man who had three daughters. With no money to offer as dowries, the man feared his daughters could never get married. In the night, Saint Nicholas visited the house and tossed three sacks of gold down the chimney. Some of the gold landed in the girls’ stockings, which were hanging by the fire to dry. The oranges we give today symbolize the gold that was left by Saint Nicholas.
Boughs of Holly
With its bright red berries and green leaves, holly is a beautiful sight, but it’s sharp to the touch. To Christians, the sharp-toothed edges of the holly leaf are symbolic of the crown of thorns placed on Jesus Christ’s head before he was hung on the cross. The red berries are a reminder of the blood Jesus shed.
Tinsel on the Tree
Whether or not you are a fan of tinsel, you will likely agree that it’s better than the alternative in this legend. It tells of a poor family and their first Christmas tree. When Christmas Eve came, they still could not afford to decorate the tree. They went to bed with heavy hearts, and as they slept, spiders covered the tree in webs. Before the family woke, Father Christmas kindly turned the spider webs into silver, and by morning the poor family found it dazzling in the sunlight. The tinsel we hang on our trees is a symbol of that Christmas gift.
Both the shape and material of this holiday symbol hold significant meaning. Evergreen plants retain their green leaves or needles, regardless of the weather. They symbolize the life, light, and hope that continually shine—even in the dead of winter. The circular wreaths we shape them into are symbolic of God, who has no beginning and no end.
This plant’s connection to Christmas began in 16th-century Mexico. The story says that a child with no money was searching for a gift to bring to the church on Christmas Eve. She gathered weeds from the side of the road and placed them on the altar. Immediately, crimson flowers blossomed from the weeds. The star shape of the flower symbolizes the Star of Bethlehem, while its red color represents Jesus Christ’s sacrifice.
What is your favorite Christmas symbol, and what does it mean to you?
“The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched – they must be felt with the heart.”
1. When Helen Keller was just nineteen months old, she developed an illness that resulted in both blindness and deafness. As Helen grew into a young girl, she and her family became increasingly frustrated with her inability to communicate. She learned to recognize her family members by touching their facial features, their clothing, or by detecting the scent of their perfume. Not knowing what to do, Helen’s parents consulted Alexander Graham Bell, who worked with the deaf. He suggested they hire a young woman by the name of Anne Sullivan as Helen’s teacher and mentor. This decision changed Helen’s life forever.
“Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved.”
2. After establishing what would become a lifelong friendship, Anne began to teach Helen the alphabet by finger spelling the sign language letters into the palm of Helen’s hand. The most challenging lesson was to help Helen make the connection between a word and a concept. The world-changing breakthrough happened when Anne pumped well water into one of Helen’s hands while finger spelling the word water onto her other one. At that moment, Helen understood that a word represented a concept or a thing. Soon, Helen began recognizing the letter combinations and this lit a fire within her soul. From that point on, Anne had helped Helen develop a relentless desire to learn. With Anne’s help Helen soon learned how to read Braille, write, and even started trying to speak. With her newfound love for learning, Helen began to have a strong desire to attend college. Although she experienced many trials and hardships along the way, she didn’t allow her physical challenges to set her back from dreaming big and then acting on those dreams.
“It’s a terrible thing to see and have no vision.”
3. If anyone realized the importance of having a vision for your life, it was Helen Keller. One of her many accomplishments includes being the first deaf and blind person to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree. Helen did not see her limitations as an excuse not to pursue her dreams. Many people go through their lives with perfect vision, but fail to have a clear vision as to where they want to go and who they want to become. Helen did not let her literal lack of vision stop her from having big dreams. Where many people would have used Helen’s disabilities as a setback and would be focused solely on surviving, Helen was focused on thriving.
“Faith is the strength by which a shattered world shall emerge into the light.”
4. Helen knew perfectly that without faith she would not have the strength to overcome her hardships. She learned to grapple with trials both big and small and learned the importance of looking forward to the future with faith and optimism. She recognized that without the faith that Anne Sullivan had in her, she would not have been able to become the accomplished person that she was. Similarly, if Helen did not have faith of her own that fueled her to believe in the beauty of her dreams, then she would have continued to live in darkness. She was diligent in sharing this faith with the world because she desperately wanted others to walk in the light she walked in as well.
“What I am looking for is not out there, it is in me.”
5. Many people spend their entire lives chasing the next “big thing” thinking that some thing or person out there is going to make them happy and bring them fulfillment. Helen recognized early on that happiness was not found, but rather created. Happiness and confidence were attributes she championed from within, not things she would magically find one day if she searched long and hard enough. She was an author, speaker, and activist with a spirit of determination that served as an advocate for people with disabilities for generations to come. Helen triumphed over adversity and dedicated her life to helping others. Her legacy and beautiful spirit will never be forgotten.
Audrey Denison is a young professional working and living in Washington, D.C. Contact her at email@example.com
I’m going into my third Christmas after my mother’s passing from cancer. Sometimes I ask myself if I really know how to “deal with” these things called loss and grief very well. If “dealing with” loss during the holiday season means coping with my grief in a healthy, proactive way, the answer to that question sometimes is, “Yes,” but often is, “Not really.”
I’m grateful for the principles I’ve learned in the last three years from friends, family members, and helping professionals about living with grief and loss, especially during the holidays. I’ve come to realize that putting these principles into effect is a practice—a daily effort over time that has peaks and valleys, but ultimately moves upward.
Principle 1: It isn’t possible to shut out grief during the holidays. You have to make a place for it.
I feel like articles like this tend to promote band-aid solutions to “feel better” during difficult times. The truth is, the pain of separation from those we love will never go away during this life, and sometimes it just hurts. I’ve realized that over the past few years I’ve often run away from my pain or tried to shut it out. However, stifled pain doesn’t go away—it just builds up until it comes out, often at inconvenient times and places.
One of the best pieces of counsel I received from a friend whose father passed away was to create space for grief. Build time into your life to go to that place where you allow yourself to feel that pain, and it won’t pop up and surprise you as much. This can take the form of counseling appointments, rituals like a special candlelight vigil, or an evening in to write about your feelings. Creating this space is always important, but especially at high-emotion times such as the holidays.
Principle 2: Be willing to be present with circumstances as they are and create new traditions.
Tied up in grief is pain of separation and pain of unmet expectations. The separation I can’t control, but I can adjust my expectations of how holidays should go based on my present circumstances.
My kind stepmom and I recently had a conversation about allowing things to be as they are instead of clinging to expectations of how things used to be. I went home for Thanksgiving this year and had a much better experience. I let go of some of my expectations that things would be the same as they were before my mom’s passing as well as my assumption that my family should take the initiative in making sure I had a good time.
For Christmas, my goal is to create new traditions for myself to honor my mother and help myself have a positive experience. My friend who lost her dad said that her family always hangs a special ornament in her father’s honor on Christmas Eve. That idea rang true to me—instead of holding our pain inside, we honor the past while making our loved ones a part of our holiday celebrations moving forward.
Principle 3: Be kind to yourself and reach out for support from those you trust.
During the holidays, some days are going to be painful—perhaps for the rest of my life. Some days I do well, writing about my feelings and reaching out to friends for support, and some days I binge-watch Jane Austen movies and cry in my room. I’m learning how to honor my grief as part of my story without letting my pain drive everything I do. I’m practicing, and my process is okay. Having a friend who can hold space for me without judging, whom I can reach out to day or night, has been invaluable in my healing process, and for anyone going through a similar situation I would wish the same.
So how will the holidays go this year for me? Sometimes when people ask me how I’m doing after a particularly emotionally trying episode, I say, “I’m good.” And I mean it. Growing, refining processes are not always fun and often painful, but they are good. They make me kinder, softer, and more compassionate to others and to myself. They give me the opportunity to come to know myself and come to know God. For me as a Christian, that is what Christmas is all about—hope in Christ and His power to overcome all things.
Ariel Szuch is a word nerd, writer, and compulsive reader who finds purpose in a life of faith.
According to Winston Churchill, “The truth is incontrovertible. Malice may attack it, ignorance may deride it, but in the end, there it is.”
What is truth, and what makes it so valuable?
Webster’s dictionary defines “truth” as “the state of being,” “reality,” or “fidelity to an original or to a standard.” In contrast, “false” means “misleading,” “based on mistaken ideas” and “inconsistent with the facts.”
The struggle to define truth is the product of differing experiences, limitations of human speech, and different interpretations or perspectives. Consider the story of the six blind men and the elephant, a traditional Indian tale:
Six blind men were each invited to touch an elephant so that they might each understand what it was. The first man touched the flexible trunk and declared, “it’s a snake!” Another, feeling the sturdy leg declared “no, it’s a pillar!” Each one in turn felt a part of the elephant, believing they had discovered a wall in the solid body, a rope in the tail, a spear in a sharp tusk, and a fan in the heavy, flapping ears. Each man did his best to deduct the truth, but still lacked the complete idea. So were the blind men telling the truth? It was the truth as they understood it, yet those with sight knew that the elephant was none of the things the blind men described. Despite seeing eyes, our own wrestle to uncover truth functions similarly today.
There are multiple schools of thought where truth is concerned, and they don’t often agree. Some of these philosophies’ definitions include the following:
1: Truth is what is agreed upon by the majority. False. Everyone may agree that it is perfectly safe to jump off a 50 foot building, but that won’t change the outcome. So while it may be wise to learn from others, it is also important to remember that while a majority rule may suggest proximity to truth, it doesn’t create it.
2. Truth is what each person knows or believes as an individual. False. Our beliefs color everything we see. Like the story of the elephant, people can come to different conclusions about the same idea because they interpret them through their own experiences. Just because someone isn’t lying doesn’t mean that they have the whole truth. I might find a rope where you find a snake, but the elephant will still be an elephant.
3. Truth does not exist beyond human thought. False. This statement suggests that there is no “right” or “wrong” way to do something. Which is great if you are finger-painting, but not if you are a participant in a murder trial. Instead, I believe that things exist that I have never seen nor will I ever see—my inability to comprehend these things does not prevent them from existing. If we believe reality exists beyond human thought, then so does truth.
4. There is such a thing as an absolute truth: True. The pursuit of truth is similar to scientists’ attempts to reach a temperature of absolute zero. Absolute zero is measured at 0 Kelvin, or -459.67 F (-273.15 C), when no more heat energy exists. Scientists have gotten very close to absolute zero, but they have never reached it. Similarly, I believe that while our personal experiences make absolute truth impossible to attain by men, it still exists. As humans seek to get as close as they can, they reap benefits of increased clarity and wisdom.
5. Truth is independent of men or human thought: True. Unlike men, truth is not affected by the passage of time. Truth is unchanging, holding to a standard that we cannot comprehend. That does not mean that it does not exist. While no man may have the full truth, I believe that someone out there does. God. In fact, I believe that truth is an essential aspect of his divinity. Even if we can’t reach truth, we still benefit from seeking after it—for as we come closer to truth, we come closer to God.
When the Archbishop of Canterbury asked, “Is there a God? Where is God?”, the media frenzied on his doubts and labeled them with the phrase above. You can’t have doubts and lead a church!
That’s the feeling about doubt.
For example, James 1:6 reads, “But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind.”
In your mind, does doubt keep company with fear and unbelief, three possible stumbling blocks for faith? If you or I had doubts, we must be in a dark place, spiritually.
Really? Must we?
If Archbishop Justin Welby has a doubt, has he lost his faith?
I believe that faith depends on, even demands, that we experience doubts.
In the hours leading up to the crucifixion of Jesus, Peter was asked about Jesus three times and three times, he denied knowing Him. After the third denial, Jesus “turned, and looked upon Peter,” as recorded in Luke 22:61.
He turned. He looked.
I’ve pictured this story in my mind. I’ve imagined the fear felt by the mortal man, Peter. I’ve imagined the darkness and violence of that night.
I’ve pictured how Jesus must have looked back at Peter. I pictured an expression of abandonment, disappointment, sadness, or maybe even disgust.
Perhaps I read it all wrong.
“And the Lord turned, and looked upon Peter.”
That’s it. That’s all that Luke wrote. There’s no sensationalized account of what transpired.
Only a few hours prior, Jesus had knelt in the Garden of Gethsemane. He had suffered. He had bled from the pain. He took the sins of the world upon himself. Now He would know. Now He could succor.
Maybe instead, with His look, he told Peter, “I now know.” Could his eyes have been filled with love and empathy? He looked back at the man Peter, at the doubtful Peter, and perhaps His eyes were filled with understanding.
Perhaps he remembered. Perhaps He recalled a time when He had grabbed Peter’s hand as he sank into the Sea of Galilee. “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”
He now understood Peter’s doubts. He now understood Peter’s fear. He now understood Peter’s faith! Peter stepped out of the boat. He walked on stormy waters. He felt doubt. He began to sink.
The power of doubt comes in how we choose to respond.
The boat was certain to Peter, a vessel built to float. Jesus was a man standing on the waters of a stormy sea. If Peter had given in to his doubt, let it overwhelm him and drive him back to what he knew for certain, he would have turned back towards the boat.
Instead, Peter reached out and called for Jesus.
Some may think it’s blasphemy to have doubts in your faith. Some may think you are transgressing to question the authenticity of your beliefs.
But, an attitude of certainty may lead to an attitude of self-righteous intolerance, dogmatism, and fundamentalism.
Embracing doubt can lead to deeper understanding through a process that strengthens faith. Flannery O’Connor, an American writer and essayist, described this:
“I think there is no suffering greater than what is caused by the doubts of those who want to believe. I know what torment this is, but I can only see it, in myself anyway, as the process by which faith is deepened. A faith that just accepts is a child’s faith… [People] think faith is a big electric blanket, when of course it is the cross. It is much harder to believe than not to believe.”
“Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.”
Like the biblical father who said those words, Peter’s actions said the same: Jesus called; Peter stepped out; winds howled; Peter began to sink.
It was Peter’s doubt and unbelief that enabled him to grasp firmly to his faith.
Through doubt, I take on the necessary exploration of my beliefs.
I challenge those beliefs.
It is from personal doubt and unbelief that I then build the bedrock of my faith.
Lauren Elkins is a professional writer, former IT industry expert, and a mom. She also writes a personal blog and maintains a website at laurenelkins.com.
As a result of Hurricane Matthew pummeling Haiti, the Caribbean, and the Southeastern United States, millions were helpless to power up and many lived without light, and the ability to carry on the basic tasks of daily home and business life. Power lines on the coast were torn or aflame, hit by fallen trees and wind-sparked transmitters. And we, brothers and sisters of those caught in Matthew’s wake, have been affected deeply by the devastating impact— physically, emotionally, and spiritually—of those hit by the category three-four hurricane.
As I’ve thought about Hurricane Matthew, I’ve thought about power outages in our own, everyday lives. Times when the lights go out. When things don’t seem to add up spiritually, and our faith-light dims. Maybe the storm that strikes seems to knock out the light altogether, and we face some sense of complete and utter darkness. We feel alone. Or afraid. Or abandoned. Most of us don’t like dark. At least not dark around the clock. We crave light. We need both a power source and a light source.
I remember camping one night in the mountains. We settled into the trailer and I snuggled under the covers. The sun was down. I could see absolutely nothing. It was pitch black inside the camper. I mean pitch black. I could almost feel the darkness. I blinked, and blinked again. Surely there was a sliver of light within my view’s circumference, a tiny bit of city light cast into the trailer. But no. Nothing. Finally, I couldn’t bear it. I had to find some satisfying spark of light. I jumped out of bed and groped my way to the door. I looked around. Nothing. And then I glanced upward. I saw the glimmer of a few distant stars in a clear dark sky. Ah, a bit of light. I basked in what it meant to be under the influence of a starlit sky. I should have slept there, but I didn’t. Instead, I returned to the trailer, grabbed a flashlight, turned it on—tucking it under the covers—and slept peacefully through the night. I remember that night, the night when the dark was just too dark.
Are there times in your life when you have felt spiritually numb or powerless, some midnight hour of fear or worry or loneliness? Where you looked for the light of relief but couldn’t yet find the stars? Perhaps you discovered a loved one’s sickness or addiction, or you were betrayed by one you thought your confidante and friend. Maybe you faced enemies you could not conquer alone. Or you felt powerless over your own circumstances. Has there been a time when you felt you underwent a spiritual power outage? A night when the dark was just too dark?
I remember the story of one man, a fellow warrior, who did. His name was Jehosophat, and he was surrounded by armies he could not have defeated alone. He faced a long, dark night. He knew, though, that there was a Higher Power to whom He could turn. And he did. He identified the problem and he asked for help. He said,
“We have no might against this great company that cometh against us; neither know we what to do: but our eyes are upon [you].”
He didn’t know how to execute and he didn’t want to execute. So he asked. He then did as he felt directed to do—he went down to the brook—and left the rest in the hands of his Higher Power. And he and his people were delivered. The light had overturned the dark.
Sometimes we feel we have no power except to seek the power of the universe, the power that is accessible to those who believe it’s there. There is no problem that our Higher Power is not aware of or does not know how to solve. Then we discern the direction that comes to us as we listen mindfully. Those words or impressions come as packets of spiritual power. It may be to trust a promise; it may be “to go down to our own brooks”—nearby places where God wants to do a work or help us resolve our issue. It may be to set boundaries between us and the approaching darkness. It may be to stand still and wait for further instruction. These impressions are a lamp and a light for our feet and show us where to go. And as we follow those, God does the rest.
That’s the kind of power that is accessible through our faith. It’s the kind that turns on the light. It comes as we ask for it, like Jehosophat did, and as we follow through with what we receive in response. We are refined, and a brighter glory shines than before.
We can all turn on that switch to that spiritual power. Even when we can’t do anything else. We can act and not be acted upon, even when we feel powerless. We can turn to our Higher Power. And faith will light the way.
Faith counts. It provides power beyond our own. Power to extend our natural abilities, to overcome weakness, to triumph in trial, to become better and more useful, to prepare solutions around us, to give us hope, peace, assurance, comfort and direction on otherwise dark and helpless nights. We can conquer. We can triumph. We can overcome. But not alone.
How have you accessed that power in time of spiritual outage?
A few years ago, three wake-up calls got my attention. My brother died of cancer, and I was reminded of how important it is to honor and care for our bodies. Not long after that, an acquaintance announced on Facebook that he had walked a mile on his treadmill, in just over an hour—quite a feat considering he was paralyzed with lupus. Then I discovered that a friend in his 70s, who moved like a man half his age, was running four full marathons a year.
These experiences taught me that I wasn’t doing enough to respect my body. I knew it was time to make some changes. I’d admired runners from a distance, but I was afraid to ask my body to pay in sweat. Deep down, I had the ability to run, and I knew it would be great adventure for me, so why wasn’t I doing it?
After thinking about all this for many months, one winter morning, I pulled on an old pair of gray sweatpants, laced up my athletic shoes, and forced myself into the biting January air. I only ran about a mile that day—by sheer force of will. But it felt good afterward and I wanted to do it again.
Running has become part of the natural rhythm of my life. I ran two half marathons this year, besting my time each race. I’ve shed 20 pounds and kept them off for several years. I’ve picked up a lot of obvious health benefits from running and I’ve also gained some not-so-obvious spiritual benefits. Here are five things I’ve learned from running that have helped me go deeper spiritually.
1. Running Helps Me Believe in Myself
Why not have faith in yourself? I’m not talking about being arrogant or self-centered, but holding a straight-out belief that you can expect better things out of yourself. I’ve been dancing with a dodgy disease for over a decade, so when I first got started, running a competitive race seemed only remotely possible. But I’ve run 11 races since I started running again. I’m staring that disease down every day, challenging it with faith in myself and in the resilience of my body. And it’s working.
2. Running Helps Me Believe in Something Bigger Than Myself
Left to its own devices, your body will always want the shortcut. Unchecked it will lunge at corner-store junk food, fling itself on the couch, watch mindless television for hours, glut on weekend-long video games, or plead for something worse. But you are more than your body. There is something infinite inside of you that longs to express itself. Turn off the greed gland and you’ll be able to reach for something higher.
3. Running Heals Me
After a few weeks of getting on my feet and peeling the mattress off my back, my body chemistry changed. My body longed to get out and run and started reminding me to do that often. It liked my lower blood pressure, the lost pounds, and the regular endorphin high. And when I really listened to it, my body steered me toward real food, not the imitation stuff. I’ve started to heal and it feels good.
4. Running Amps Up My Meditation
Lots of runners like to listen to music when they run, but I rarely do. I’ve found my thinking is more clear when I’m running than at any other time, and I’m more open to new ways of looking at the world. I listen to my body and to my inner self. I sort through problems and discover solutions. Almost without fail, I come back home with a feeling of peace and a better sense of balance and well-being.
5. Running Inspires Me to Worship
I’ve gotten in the habit of offering a lot of thanks when I’m running. As I take in the beauty of the world and the miracle of the human body, I can’t hold back the sincere, overwhelming sense of gratitude I have for God’s gifts. Running time is a time I feel connected my Higher Power. With new spring in my feet, I feel a oneness with heaven. It’s helped me come face-to-face with who I really am, and the better I know my true self, the closer I feel to God.
Running, to me, is more of a spiritual practice than a physical one. It has taken me places I didn’t think I could ever go again. It’s a path of peace I won’t be stepping off soon.
Michael Fitzgerald is a husband and lover of all things outdoors. You can reach him at www.michaeljamesfitzgerald.com.
Bad things happen to good people. Despite all our faith and prayers, things still go wrong. This last week alone one of my neighbors broke a leg, one pinched a nerve in their neck, and another’s barn burned down just when the hay was in. They were all good people. And misfortune found them just the same. But why?
One of my favorite quotes comes from an episode of the British sci-fi series Doctor Who, when the beloved time-traveler and his companion, Amy, meet the artist Vincent Van Gogh. Although Amy hopes that their love and support would be enough for Van Gogh to overcome his depression, they return to the future to find that the now beloved genius still led a broken life which ended in suicide. Yet the Doctor comforts Amy, telling her, “Every life is a pile of good things and bad things. The good things don’t always soften the bad things, but vice versa, the bad things don’t necessarily spoil the good things or make them unimportant. And we definitely added to his pile of good things.”
This statement struck me the first time I heard it. No matter what I or anyone else does, bad things still happen. Natural disasters don’t pick and choose who is good or bad. A failing economy is as likely to affect a kind person as it is a cruel one. However, these things don’t make life any less of a miracle or God any less real. Sometimes disaster is brought on by our own mistakes. Sometimes it comes as part of the course of life. These trials don’t mean that God doesn’t care or doesn’t exist. I believe they must have another purpose.
Perhaps one of those reasons is so that we can learn to add to the pile of good things. The pile of bad things may seem monumental, but that only makes the pile of good things that much more important. Someone who has felt terrible pain will feel joy all the more sweetly when the time comes. Each day we add small pieces to our piles, seemingly insignificant drops in the ocean as we notice the small blessings that God has brought into our lives—be it through a bouquet of sunflowers or a starry night. There are also those moments when we can add to someone else’s pile of good things at the same time, and our faith will magnify those drops. When the bad times come, and they will come, we can remember the ocean of blessings God has given us.
It is true, bad things happen to good people. It is also true that good things happen to good people; the bad things in life don’t necessarily spoil them or make them unimportant. So if you are in the midst of a trial, don’t give up. Don’t let the pain tarnish the pile of good things in your life. You will find that there was more good than you realized.
Camille Ward is a student of English Education at BYU. She loves to spend time with her family and is not to be trusted in bookstores or bakeries.
The first sign of fall isn’t an early sunset or the changing leaves…it’s the return of pumpkin spice lattes. In fact, it’s the return of pumpkin spiced anything! From scented candles to new Pinterest recipes you can easily find pumpkin sprinkled throughout hundreds of goodies, but did you know the pumpkin actually has some pretty deep meaning? Here are three things to remember while chowing down on your next pumpkin scone!
The Squash of Abundance
Remember scanning the pumpkin patch looking for the biggest pumpkin you could find? Well the bigger is literally the better, since the pumpkin represents abundance and prosperity! The whole pumpkin represents the world we live in now, and is literally filled with blessings waiting to be granted. Each seed represents an opportunity available to you in this life, and with an average pumpkin having about 500 seeds you can literally count your blessings!
Instead of tossing out your pumpkin seeds after carving a ghoulish face, go ahead and count them up! A fun activity with the family could even include assigning a blessing to a seed and watching how big your pile grows! Sometimes we get caught up in our newest problem that we don’t recognize granted blessings and answered prayers.
I Dreamed a Dream
Along with representing blessings, pumpkin seeds also represent your dreams! Whether that’s a dream for your future or one crafted while getting a good night’s rest, each seed represents a possibility.
Have you ever dreamt about a pumpkin seed? When appearing in a dream the seeds are believed to be deeply connected to your spirit or soul, providing reassurance for a decision or goal you are pursuing. To dream of a whole pumpkin is to symbolize openness to new possibilities and encourage you to try new things!
If you’ve recently dreamt of either a pumpkin or its seeds, take a moment to reflect on its meaning. Our dreams often reflect our deep inner thoughts, which can unearth emotions we didn’t recognize before. Are you about to take a leap of faith? Have you recently made a big decision, but have begun second guessing? Trust your gut, and follow your faith.
I Heard It on the Pumpkin Vine
This one may sound obvious, but the vine of the pumpkin ties directly into friendship and connection. The pumpkin receives all its nutrients from the ground through the vine, and is a connection to the world from which it grows.
Much like the pumpkin, we gain our social and spiritual “nutrients” through the “vine” of friendship. Making a connection with another person is how we grow as individuals, find deeper meaning in our lives, and stay healthy and strong. Without a strong connection to others we begin to shrivel up and lose our connection to the world we live in.
From a spiritual sense, a weak “vine” or connection to our beliefs can weaken our faith and leave us lost. By strengthening our connection with our own spirituality we can better connect with the world around us and help others find their way.
As a writer, believer, and chronic Pinterest fail-er, Maddy believes that everyone has a unique message to share with the world, and enjoys finding new ways to strengthen her faith through different perspectives.
Nelson Mandela was South Africa’s first black president, an anti-Apartheid icon, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, and though he wasn’t extremely public about his Christianity, a man of great faith.
Mandela, fiercely devoted to unity in his country and among his people, avoided divisive speech, at least later in his life. In general, that included religious discourse. However, his Christian beliefs were evident in the way he lived his life and in many of his statements on forgiveness, love, equality and optimism.
Here are six statements from Nelson Mandela that affirm the power of faith to overcome fear, prejudice and hate. (For more great quotes from Nelson Mandela and background on some of those listed below, visit https://www.nelsonmandela.org/content/page/selected-quotes)
1. “Difficulties break some men but make others. No axe is sharp enough to cut the soul of a sinner who keeps on trying, one armed with the hope that he will rise even in the end.” (From a letter to Winnie Mandela, written from the prison on Robben Island, 1 Feb. 1975)
The imagery of a triumphant “sinner who keeps on trying” with “hope that he will rise even in the end” is a decidedly Christian ideal with application to all people — especially those facing adversity.
2. “A fundamental concern for others in our individual and community lives would go a long way in making the world the better place we so passionately dreamt of.” (Spoken in Kliptown, Soweto, South Africa, 12 July 2008)
Mandela’s acute observation of the power of selflessness is reminiscent of the biblical ideal to “love thy neighbour as thyself” (Matthew 22:39).
3. “No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”
Mandela’s message of equality, love and tolerance reflects the faithful belief that God is no respecter of persons.
4. “You have to have been in an apartheid prison in South Africa to appreciate the further importance of the church. They tried to isolate us completely from the outside. Our relatives could see us only once every six months. The link was religious organisations, Christians, Muslims, Hindus and members of the Jewish faith. They were the faithful who inspired us. The WCC’s support exemplified in the most concrete way the contribution that religion made to our liberation.” (Address to the 8th Assembly of the World Council of Churches, Harare, Zimbabwe, 1998)
In this statement, Mandela recognized the positive influence of faithful people from all over the world and their effect on him personally.
5. “The Good News borne by our risen Messiah who chose not one race, who chose not one country, who chose not one language, who chose not one tribe, who chose all of humankind!” (Address to the Zionist Christian Church’s Easter Conferences, 1994.)
Like many Africans, Mandela had faith in Jesus Christ that sustained him through difficult times. He also looked to Christ as an example of unconditional love and as a proponent of equality.
6. “The Church was as concerned with this world as the next: I saw that virtually all of the achievements of Africans seemed to have come about through the missionary work of the Church.” (From his autobiography, “The Long Walk to Freedom,” on his experiences with Christianity early in life)
People of faith, regardless of specific religious beliefs and practices, are generally concerned with the welfare of their fellow beings all over the world. Mandela recognized the good in these faithful people and praised them for their efforts.
Breanna is the author of one book, the mother of two daughters, 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.
It takes faith to have children. Ours was best described as naive faith when we were first married. The kind you have when your imagination has not yet been tainted by tragedy or trial and you believe everything will be perfect.
Photo courtesy of Stephen Wunderli
And so we had children. No worries, we’ll raise them on Peter Rabbit and baseball, teach them about God and kindness and love them to the moon and back. Our first came, beautiful as expected. But at two years old we discovered she had cancer in her left eye. Our faith was tried and tempered. She lost her eye, but not her strong spirit. OK, so God really does love us, we realized. The next two had the usual childhood illnesses. Faith returned in full, yet a little more mature. The next little guy was born with Spina Bifida. Now our faith was put to the test. After 17 operations we realized that yes, God still does love us. He loves us enough to entrust us with a child who is not perfect. We had our family, and we had an increase in faith.
Check and check.
I was anxious to get my passing grade in life. I remember thinking I had completed the test, but it was just beginning. Faith, we would learn, is intertwined threads reaching from faraway people and places to bind us together in the tapestry of God’s creations and intentions. I didn’t know then how much my life was about to change…but I saw the signs. Literally.
I was out on my regular morning run and on the marquee of the local Unitarian Church it read: “Never put a period where God intends a comma.”
A few days later, when the house was quiet, my wife was looking at me from her reading chair. It’s that look I learned to recognize: we need to talk. I took a deep breath and waited. “I don’t think our family is complete,” she said. “I’ve been having these feelings…I think we should adopt.” The one thing we had learned to do was trust prayer as a way to get direction, even if I jogged past the answer every morning.
When you have biological children, you have faith in each other, faith in the doctors, faith in God. When you adopt a child, those threads of faith go out searching to connect with the faith of the right adoption agency, the right birth mother, more doctors, legal entities, social workers…your faith is that others will have faith so that the child God intends for your family makes it into your home.
How could all those moving pieces possibly work in our favor? Of course: by faith. Our packet, with all our family photos, was completed and circulated to expectant mothers who had found the courage to go full-term and give their child up for adoption. Some were teenage moms. Some were women who couldn’t seem to fight their way out of the overwhelming circumstances of drugs, unemployment, lack of family support. They sent us their packets as well, openly pouring their hearts out. I was humbled by their faith that God had a place for the child they were carrying; and despite their situations, miracles would happen. We spent weeks looking at mother profiles and praying. We asked our friends and family to pray for us. But nothing seemed to come together.
And that’s when my wife had a dream. “I saw our baby,” she announced in the middle of the night. A few days later a profile of one of the mothers came in with a sweet letter: “…when I saw your photos, I knew I was carrying this baby for you.” The mother went on to explain that the pregnancy was a mistake; that she knew from the beginning the child belonged to somebody else and she was only a vehicle. She believed God had planted these feelings in her heart and she trusted them.
A week later we were on a plane to Atlanta. The baby was on its way and would be staying with a cradle-care mother for ten days until the baby could travel. I flew on the coat tails of my wife’s faith. She had seen our baby in a dream and felt like this mother was going to deliver her. The baby was born while we were in flight. We spent a day with the agency getting all the paperwork settled, and went off to meet Lynn, the cradle-care mother. It was Lynn’s faith that touched us most—she believed every child she cared for was guided by God to the right family. In her early-sixties, her children raised, Lynn was sitting in the congregation of her Baptist church one Sunday. The Pastor announced that the local hospital needed cradle-care mothers to take care of newborns the first ten days of their life before they were adopted. “I knew it was my calling,” Lynn told us. “It just hit me that this was something God wanted me to be a part of.” Since then, she has taken in over 60 babies, and sends each a birthday card every year reminding them of the special feelings she witnessed when baby met parents for the first time. She softly ushered us into the nursery of her home. My wife gasped, then wept. “This is the child I saw in my dream.”
Insert comma here.
Four years later, another child came to us through adoption. A child born in trials and neglect whose grandmother had faith enough to take custody of the two-year-old and pray nightly for five months until she found us. Faith. It has no limits, is no respecter of persons, waits patiently for us to unfold it. Our family may be complete but our faith grows every day by portions shared with us by those who got us here.
Photo courtesy of Stephen Wunderli
Life is an exercise in faith, and sometimes we ride on the currents of faith that swirl around us, knowing that God is in charge of us, our families and all those whom we love.
Do you ever realize, getting into bed, that you can’t remember what you prayed for two seconds ago? This happens to me with an unfortunate frequency. I want my prayers to be both regular and meaningful, but I struggle to figure out what works for me. I don’t want my only earnest prayers to be in times of hardship. As time has gone on, however, I’ve picked up a few tips to help me make my prayers more meaningful.
Pray out loud: I don’t usually remember to pray out loud, but it makes a big difference when I do. Studies show that talking out loud often helps people focus and remember what they were thinking about. If it helps me learn, why can’t the same principle help me pray? I have discovered that when I pray vocally, my prayers are more focused, and I feel like I’m talking to God directly.
Sit comfortably: As a teenager, I started praying cross-legged to spare my bad knees. It made a huge difference in my prayers. Maybe that’s blasphemous, but I hope not, because it really helps me focus. When I kneel to pray my body is ready to jump up like a runner at the starting block; I want to move on to the next thing on my schedule. By sitting down in a more permanent position I tell my body that I’m in for a good conversation—no need to hurry. I imagine I am talking to God the way I would talk to a friend who is right there in front of me. Sitting comfortably lets me feel closer to God, have deeper conversations with Him, and take the time to really ponder as I wait for his answers.
Make a list: When each day seems busier than the one before, it is easy to forget what we wanted to pray about. You might say a quick prayer in the car, but forget about it when you pray that evening. Keeping a sticky note for prayers (or an electronic equivalent) can help you remember what happened that day and what you want to discuss with God.
Pray for those you love: Sometimes I choose a person to pray for specifically. This not only gives my prayer more direction, but it helps me love that person better and know how I can help them. If you aren’t sure who to pray for, ask God. He knows far better who is in need of your love and attention.
Pray for those you need to love: Some people are harder to love than others. I know God loves all His children, but that doesn’t mean all of them make it easy. I frequently pray for my eight-year-olds from Sunday school by name. Not only do they benefit from the extra prayers, but I have an opportunity to learn more about them and to love them more—even when some of them drive me up the wall. These prayers make me a better teacher, but they have also made me a loving one.
Give thanks: God has blessed us with far more than we can name. It doesn’t hurt us or Him to show that we notice His hand in our life. By showing gratitude we can nurture a more positive attitude while improving our relationship with God.
Find a quiet space: When I was a freshman in college, my roommate liked to spend her evenings blasting rock music. These circumstances made it difficult for me to pray, let alone receive inspiration. I was too uncomfortable to ask her to turn it down temporarily, let alone pray in front of her. My solution: the furnace room. Every night I sat on a bucket in the furnace room and poured out my heart to God. The situation may have been a bit odd, but I found the peace and privacy I needed to connect with Him.
What helps one person pray may not help another. If you are struggling to make your prayers more meaningful, keep trying. Even better, ask God what you need to do to have that relationship with Him. He is there. When you ask, He will answer.
Camille Ward is a student of English Education at BYU. She loves to spend time with her family and is not to be trusted in bookstores or bakeries.
The following is the experience of Jennifer Sousa from Spokane Valley, Washington.
Love is an action word, so it only makes sense that one of the best ways to show love to our own bodies is through movement. For me, that means yoga. Yes, I am talking about the weirdo hippie exercises your neighbor has been raving about, and for good reason. Yoga is more than a few poses done in slow motion; it’s allowing movements to bridge a connection between your body and your mind. It’s about realizing that it’s okay to slow down in a way that not only feels great, but also brings health and wellness.
Our heart was the first organ to spring to life, and gave a blueprint to create the rest or our bodies. Your fingers, your lungs, and even that extra roll of fat (gotta love it) is a miracle that’s manifested with every beat of our hearts. With everything we put that little muscle through, it deserves a break a couple times a week. Just like sleep, yoga lowers the heart rate and allows it the sooth, except we’re awake to feel the sensation and reap the benefits in the moment. And when we’re allowing our hearts to rest while opening up our bodies through different yoga positions, we’re also opening up our spirits to instruction, guidance, and reassurance from a higher power.
How on earth do you get instruction, guidance, and reassurance from a higher power while trying (as gracefully as possible) to maneuver a strange yoga pose? It’s all about not judging the pose. It’s actually about not judging at all. Yoga is a timeout from all of that. It’s a timeout from measuring up, looking down, or thinking sideways. Instead, it’s a moment to relish in all the blessings you’ve been granted over the course of a week, month, or even years. It’s not about comparing your house to your neighbor’s; it’s about the fact that you have a place to live. It’s not about comparing your kids to someone else’s; it’s about the fact that you have brought more little people into the world. Yoga, like faith, is about gratitude, and that’s where the bridge starts to build.
When we have the intention to move and the intention to be grateful, we can be unstoppable forces for God. Our bodies learn to break physical barriers while our minds tear down the barriers of a worldly perspective. With deliberate and raw devotion to your body and your mind, God will recognize your actions not only as an intentional call to Him, but will reply with deliberate answers to your burning questions, and that is where the connection between your body and spirit is formed.
For those of you just starting out, give yourself a break. You don’t have to bend like the person next to you, and it’s okay if your yoga pants rip (it happens). Most importantly, don’t go to one session and expect to know how to do every pose while simultaneously solving all your problems. Like scripture study, yoga takes practice in order to get something out of it, both physically and spiritually. So keep going, test out new instructors, and finally learn how turn love into action.
As a writer, believer, and chronic Pinterest fail-er, Maddy believes that everyone has a unique message to share with the world, and enjoys finding new ways to strengthen her faith through different perspectives.
What is it with us and stress these days? It feels like with our speed-of-light, have-to-have-everything-figured-out-and-checked-off culture today, there’s hardly time to breath, let alone regroup and be calm. Images flash across screens, projecting perfection, and we feel compelled to comply. We overschedule and impose impossible standards on ourselves, all while cruising social media to make sure we’re doing it just right.
And that doesn’t even begin to touch the deeper life questions of dating, marriage, family, schooling, jobs and job losses, deaths, and broken relationships. It all adds up to very real, sometimes debilitating, stress. I, for one, feel stressed just thinking about all the things that stress us out.
The real issue, then, becomes not just recognizing that we’re stressed but knowing what to do about it when it comes. If you’re like me, you probably don’t like to feel stressed out. Sure, some stress is good, if it motivates us to get moving and get things done. But too much stress isn’t good for us. Listen to this explanation of all the harm stress can do to a brain.
How stress affects your brain – Madhumita Murgia / via TED-Ed
I’ve seen my share of stress over the years. Back when I was younger, I might have fooled myself into believing that a big bowl of ice cream solved the problem. But the older I’ve grown, the more I’ve come to depend on two specific types of exercise to battle stress.
Exercise Your Body
The first is any form of physical exercise. Not very specific? It doesn’t have to be. It’s less about what you’re doing and more about just doing it. You can do anything from taking a walk to joining a team to trying a class at the gym. You could even go it solo with a workout on a dvd or gaming console. The sky’s the limit, and I’ve tried them all. My current exercise of choice is a dance class. There’s nothing like an hour of hip hop, house, and Latin dancing to keep the stress at bay.
And if you think you’re too tired, too old, or just don’t have the time for exercise, think again. Physical exercise actually increases your energy level, impacts your body in ways that make you feel younger, and overall just makes you happy with the extra boost of endorphins you get. So even on your busiest days, it’s worth it to squeeze in a little physical exercise to let go of stress.
Exercise Your Faith
But physical exercise isn’t enough. If I really want to keep my stress in proper perspective, I have to exercise a good amount of faith as well. What does that mean, exactly? For me, it means I have trust that everything is going to work out. You can call it optimism or hope or belief in a higher power that is directing your path. But on the darkest days, when things feel really stressful, faith can be a guiding light that will see you through to calmer days. And it can be found through meditation, prayer, scripture study, or talking with other faith-minded friends.
Recently my daughter and I had a conversation about happy endings. Someone told her that the happy ending is misguided because it’s not real life. But we decided, as we talked, that believing in the happy ending is what keeps us going through all the stressful conflicts along the way. We are believers in the happy ending. That’s what it means to exercise faith. It’s a belief that even when we feel stressed out, if we exercise faith, we can achieve our happy ending. It’s what keeps us going.
Keeping the Two Together For me, the combination of the two has always been key. While I love a good workout and can’t go very long without one, physical exercise alone won’t keep my stress in check. But when I couple a good sweat with a healthy dose of faith, I know that everything will work out and I can take a deep breath and relax.
Tiffany Tolman is a graduate of BYU, a busy mom of four awesome kids, and a wife of one incredible husband. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A ginormous crowd of young people packed into a field this summer to hear the headlining act at the world’s biggest festival. But this wasn’t Coachella or South by Southwest—and the headliner, about to take the stage, wasn’t a band. This was World Youth Day, an event held every three years by the Catholic Church. More than three million faithful had traveled from far reaches to hear Pope Francis speak to them.
His Holiness, who has proven extremely popular on social media not just among Catholics, had much to say to the young folks of the world from his podium in a village near Kraków, Poland. He exhorted. He got real. He took selfies with admirers and then told us all to get off our duffs and do some good.
For those who missed his remarks, here is a small sampler.
Don’t Tune Out—Reach Out
Say no the “sedative of worrying only about yourself and your own comfort,” Pope Francis told the crowd. Referencing the conflict in Syria, he warned against becoming desensitized to the struggles and suffering of others. Instead of tuning out their stories, try reaching out a helping hand:
“[Some] of us come from countries that may be at ‘peace,’ free of war and conflict, where most of the terrible things occurring in our world are simply a story on the evening news…. Some situations seem distant until in some way we touch them. We don’t appreciate certain things because we only see them on the screen of a cell phone or a computer. But when we come into contact with life, with people’s lives, not just images on a screen, something powerful happens. We feel the need to get involved.”
Get Off the Couch and Out of Your Comfort Zone
Too often people mistake comfort and convenience for happiness, Pope Francis said. But fulfillment can’t be found in between sofa cushions:
“[We] think that in order to be happy all we need is a good sofa…. A sofa that promises us hours of comfort so we can escape to the world of video games and spend all kinds of time in front of a computer screen.… Dear young people, we didn’t come into this work to “vegetate”, to take it easy, to make our lives a comfortable sofa to fall asleep on. No, we came for another reason: to leave a mark…. Following Jesus demands a good dose of courage, a readiness to trade in the sofa for a pair of walking shoes and to set out on new and uncharted paths.”
Happiness Is in What You Give, Not in What You Get
True joy doesn’t come from owning the latest blockbuster phone or the latest designer shoes. Rather than focusing on what you can get, focus more on what you can give, Pope Francis urged—and on the unique contributions you can make to humanity. People shouldn’t confuse “happiness with consumption” or “we end up paying a high price indeed: we lose our freedom.”
“God counts on you for what you are, not for what you possess…. In his eyes the clothes you wear or the kind of cell phone you use are of absolutely no concern.”
Build Bridges, Not Walls
It’s easy to fixate on the things that divide rather than look for ways to unite, but Pope Francis urged youth to resist that impulse:
People try to make us believe that being closed in on ourselves is the best way to keep safe from harm. Today, we adults need you to teach us how to live in diversity, in dialogue, to experience multiculturalism not as a threat but an opportunity. Have the courage to teach us that it is easier to build bridges than walls! Together we ask that you challenge us to take the path of fraternity.
You Matter, No Matter Your Shortcomings
“No one is insignificant,” Pope Francis told the crowd in his closing remarks. Though you may at times feel spiritually small or unworthy, you can find comfort and faith in knowing that divinity is always rooting for you:
“We are God’s beloved children, always…. [T]o live glumly, to be negative, means not to recognize our deepest identity….. God loves us the way we are, and no sin, fault or mistake of ours makes him change his mind…. The fact is, he loves us even more than we love ourselves. He believes in us even more than we believe in ourselves. He is always ‘cheering us on’; he is our biggest fan.”