It had been a difficult two months since my husband and I moved from Salt Lake City to Boston for graduate school. Although we had saved meticulously, our expenses were twice what we anticipated. We also found out that my four-month pregnancy was considered extremely high risk, and the doctors called me in every week for blood tests and extensive procedures. Chances were high that I would have to deliver prematurely or risk serious health consequences.
While my husband put in long hours for an accelerated graduate degree, I remained unemployed despite a strong resume and numerous applications for positions. We were living in one of the top-five most expensive cities in the nation and had to make do with only my meager freelance salary.
Things were beginning to look up, though. We were adjusting to our hectic schedule and making do with cheap pasta and potato dinners. We were relishing the joyous details of our lives—like a warm cup of tea on a New England autumn evening.
Then I received news that my oldest brother had taken his own life, one week before his birthday and two weeks before Thanksgiving. Nobody in my family knew the extent of his mental and physical illness because he had resisted our efforts to reach out. His passing shook my family to its core, especially my parents. The whirlwind of his funeral left us in shocked grief, and we knew that the pathway to healing would be long and arduous.
With the holiday of thankfulness approaching, I had no idea how I could face the heavy burdens of my personal and professional life without caving. However, as I began to take stock of my life, I also felt a deeper sense of gratitude to and connection with God. Because I was desperate for comfort and relief, I could more easily recognize God’s hand guiding my life. This expanded my vision from focusing on everything that was going wrong to recognizing how much God was sustaining me in small but significant ways.
Here’s what I learned:
1. Be grateful for poverty. Making the cents stretch helped to feel grateful for the smallest blessings that I had taken for granted before. Desperate for a treat of some kind, my husband and I went to the grocery store one night and found hot chocolate on the discount shelves. We savored every sip. Being strapped for cash also gave us the chance to benefit from the kindness and generosity of others.
2. Be grateful for health. When I found out that my pregnancy could be life-threatening, I began to treasure every moment. I no longer took my breath or my heartbeat for granted. Every time I went to the doctor and came away with a clean blood test, I would listen to the rhythm of my heartbeat all the way home from the hospital. I was so grateful just to be alive and to have another day with the people I loved most.
3. Be grateful for learning. Although I couldn’t find full-time work, my freelance work allowed me to expand my perspective and increase my initiative. I had to work harder to earn projects that would provide for my family, and I was forced to develop expertise in unfamiliar situations. When I looked back on this work experience, I was amazed at how much I had grown professionally.
4. Be grateful for friends and family. As difficult as my brother’s death was, my family took it as a signal to draw closer together and express love and appreciation for one another. We learned that it is always worth it to show love, even when it can be hard.
5. Be grateful for God. Although God allowed me to carry these burdens, He never left me comfortless. He showed up in the details—whether in a much needed paycheck, through a generous family member, or in quiet moments of grief or serenity. God makes it possible for us to have peace, even in the darkest times. And that truly is a blessing that deserves our deepest gratitude.
5 Ways to Share Your Faith
At Home with a Higher Power: What Nature Can Tell Us about God
Skateboards and Faith: Finding Balance on the Board and in Life
The holidays are all about giving thanks and sharing—sharing a plate of cookies with a neighbor, sharing your home for a turkey dinner and even sharing your faith with those around you. Sharing what you believe with your friends, neighbors and even family can often feel awkward. After all, you don’t want to preach, just share what’s important to you. Here are five ways to share your faith more easily this holiday season.
1. Let people know what you are thankful for
Whether it’s during a football game or around the dinner table, find opportunities to share what you are thankful for. Tell your loved ones how grateful you are to have them and for everything they do for you. Being thankful is not only an outward expression of faith, but it will also help you be more aware of the blessings in your life.
2. Share inspirational and faith-related stories on social media
Use your social media influence to share your beliefs by “reposting” faith-related stories or even tweeting about your own faith experiences. You can also use social media to express what you are grateful for and to inspire others to do the same. Keep these short and personal to you. Don’t tell others what they need to feel or know, just share your own experiences.
3. Invite friends and family to attend worship services with you
Inviting your loved ones to your worship events may seem intimidating, but if there is a special musical event or holiday worship service coming up then that could be the perfect time. Make sure they feel comfortable attending and make it clear that you are inviting them so they can enjoy uplifting activities during the holidays, not to convince them to follow your faith.
4. Display your faith through your actions
One of the best ways to share your beliefs is through your actions. When you are kind and caring to others, everyone can feel and see your inner faith. Look for big and small service activities to set a good example for your friends and family. Suggesting and then organizing a trip with friends to the local food bank, shelter, park clean-up, etc. is a great way to share the feelings true service brings.
5. Ask your loved ones about their beliefs
The best way to get comfortable with sharing your faith with friends and family is to ask about their faith first. You can better understand people when you understand their beliefs. By learning about your loved ones’ faith you will be able to find some things you may have in common and you will be able to talk more openly about faith in the future.
Sharing what you believe is not always easy but you can have a great influence on others when you do. “The more we share, the more we have.” –Leonard Nimoy
Finding Peace in Every Moment
Have Faith in the Little Things
Faith Can Help You Soar: What Four Great Authors Have to Say About It
Photo Credit: Tim Robbins / Offset.com
With the Fourth of July this weekend, we wanted to share some of our favorite quotes from past U.S. presidents and leaders on freedom, faith, and believing we can become better than we are now.
Which quote is your favorite? Tell us in the comments.
“Where liberty dwells, there is my country.” – Benjamin Franklin
“Always bear in mind that your own resolution to succeed is more important than any other one thing.” – Abraham Lincoln
“This, then, is the state of the union: free and restless, growing and full of hope. So it was in the beginning. So it shall always be, while God is willing, and we are strong enough to keep the faith.” – Lyndon B. Johnson
“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.” – John Quincy Adams
“We must dare to be great; and we must realize that greatness is the fruit of toil and sacrifice and high courage.” – Theodore Roosevelt
“America was not built on fear. America was built on courage, on imagination and an unbeatable determination to do the job at hand.” – Harry S. Truman
“Life is never easy. There is work to be done and obligations to be met — obligations to truth, to justice, and to liberty.” – John F. Kennedy
“Freedom is the open window through which pours the sunlight of the human spirit and human dignity.” – Herbert Hoover
Freedom has its life in the hearts, the actions, the spirit of men and so it must be daily earned and refreshed – else like a flower cut from its life-giving roots, it will wither and die. – Dwight D. Eisenhower
“In the truest sense, freedom cannot be bestowed; it must be achieved.” – Franklin D. Roosevelt
“Our greatest happiness does not depend on the condition of life in which chance has placed us, but is always the result of a good conscience, good health, occupation and freedom in all just pursuits.” – Thomas Jefferson
U.S. Presidents: In Good Faith
Tap Into the Transformative Power of Music
Skateboards and Faith: Finding Balance on the Board and in Life
Last week we asked you to complete the sentence, “My mom has strengthened my faith by…” We loved reading through all of your responses. Don’t forget to wish your mom “Happy Mother’s Day” and thank her for helping you become the person you are today.
Jill – My mom always asks us, “Have you prayed about it?” when we share something we’re struggling to understand or overcome. The tone here is critical, hers is always one of love and wanting us to find answers as well as building confidence in us. Such a humble and good woman.
Katie M. – ALWAYS reminding me who I am and what I have the wonderful potential to become. She’s always there for me.
Rae Jean S. – She’s strengthened my faith cause she’s ALWAYS been strong with her faith and has never wavered in front of me and my brothers and sisters. She’s been such a great example for us to follow! Even when my father died in 2010, she’s stayed strong. In fact, she’s been so much more determined to do what is right. She’s amazing and I love her!
Kay Lee E. – Staying true to the church and always teaching us about the gospel and the things that are right. :)
Katie H. – Teaching me how to pray!
Vichhaka – Enduring child abuse, surviving genocide, and loving her children unconditionally.
Anissa T. – My mom has strengthened me by telling me to give whatever I am going through to God. My mom has been my rock because I am doing chemotherapy because I had stage four colon cancer, but they got it all so to keep it from coming back I am doing six months of treatment, two treatments a month. My mom has been there for every treatment and telling me I can do it because I am a fighter. This is how my mom strengthens me with the help of the Lord.
Kira H. – Taking me to church since birth!
Juanita T. – By EXAMPLE, by showing her faith and love in God!
Zaneta F. – My mom is a fighter and she’s strong. She taught us to be respectful, strong, to have dignity and integrity. Also to understand that WE ARE JUST AS GOOD AS OTHERS.
Briley S. – Everything and trusting in the Lord.
Kimberly L. – Taking me to church every Sunday.
B-Smoove BC – Always being there for me and raising me to be close to God.
Moody Blues Alaska – Never leaving me and not [being] upset with me.
Cara V. – Always reminding me two wrongs do not make a right. She also repeatedly said, “you don’t answer for what the other person does, just what you do.”
Carol R. – Living her life for the Lord. Trusting him in all things. Everything she taught us was prefaced with, “the Bible says.” She was amazing!
Trish S. – Being with me for about 6 months during my illness!! She is sooooooo AMAZING!!! GOD has Blessed her with determination!! SHE GIVES ME GREAT REASONS TO BE FAITHFUL!! SHE IS A STRONG WOMAN STILL @ ALMOST 70!!! I LOVE YOU MOM!!!!!
Amy H. – Mum took all 8 of her rebellious kids to church and encouraged and stood by an inactive husband for 11 years, with no support. She never gave up.
Rodney B. – Living her Faith!!
Sue K. – Living her faith each and every day.
Cindy L. – My mom & I went to church & Sunday school when I was in grade school. My mother also helped with vacation bible school every summer. She was a very loving, giving, & helpful person.
Monique H. – Being the strongest woman I know to survive 3 deaths of the closest people to her heart and still keeping the rest of us together….love u soooo much.
Jacqueline R. – Teaching me that JESUS LOVES ME NO MATTER WHAT!
Rocio C. – Introducing me to my hope, my Love, my Savior Jesus Christ.
Avril G. – She always said I must trust God first. To be truthful, honest, kind and be respectful of others. Love each other.
Tomika A. – Teaching me the word of God at home and taking me to church!
Trina W. – Being a strong woman no matter what life throws at her she made it!
Tim M. – Her example.
Gloria S. – By watching her life in good times and bad and how she always told me just pray and put your faith in the Lord, he will see you through!
Alisha M. – She raised all 7 of her children in church and always said, “when all else fails, pray.”
Carol A. – Living her faith.
Gloria M. – Being strong amidst many surgeries, broken bones, men that didn’t treat her well, fighting to stay alive, knowing that GOD still has a purpose for her life! She is an inspiration to me and I Love her with All my Heart.
Diann E. – Teaching me to treat all people the way you want to be treated because you don’t know who are God’s Angels.
Wanda S. – Going to church every single week, through even the hardest times. Oh, and daily living what she believes…..
Polly E. – Teaching us from the start about Jesus Christ and praying with us kids. She taught us never to blame God when things aren’t going good or when tragedy strikes. She taught us to pray and trust he who loves us.
Melinda B. – Living her faith.
Travis M. – Teaching me the word of God and raising me up to believe in Christ, the burial and resurrection of his son.
Patricia B. – My mother was a Christian and loved her family the way Jesus loved. She took us to church and encouraged us to live for Jesus. Love you mom for teaching me God’s ways.
Tamala J. – Always being a good mother, keeping a roof over my head, giving me lights to see, and keeping me from [being] around jealous[y], envy, and evil people.
Donna G. – Bringing us up to have morals, to have respect, not only for ourselves, but for others. By having these things instilled in us while growing up, our faith was strengthened accordingly. I cannot count the blessings I have had during my lifetime. I am truly grateful.
Joe T. – Being! If you knew my momma, you would say “enough said!”
Kayla J. – Teaching me to pray to our kind loving Father in Heaven.
Robert R. – In every way – even after death!!! I remember all she taught me!!
Deborah J. – By being strong.
Judith W. – She always called on the Lord.
Patsie B. – She taught me patience, and to be strong in faith; that you may not see it NOW, but God is working it out. So true!
Kathy O. – Following her faith with conviction and grace!!
Ann R. – Living [her faith] and encouraging it for me.
Dorothy A. – Teaching and loving me.
Jessica H. – By showing me her [faith].
Leanna D. – Acting out a strong relationship with the Lord daily ????
Tanya P. – Reminding me to count my blessings in the midst of struggles and showing me how to find peace in the midst.
How has YOUR mom helped strengthen your faith? Tell us in the comments!
As the Jewish college student organization Hillel International explains on hillel.org, “Passover is the most celebrated Jewish holiday throughout the world, commemorating the Israelites’ exodus from a life of slavery in Egypt to freedom. On the first two nights of Passover, many Jews hold a seder (literally ‘order’), consisting of a series of readings and rituals, and we retell the Passover story. The seder is an annual Jewish ritual in which groups of people—families, friends, communities, and even groups of strangers—gather for a time of reflective conversation about freedom.”
The seder encompasses 15 steps laid out plainly in the Haggadah, the text read during the ceremonial meal.
Despite the seeming meticulousness of the steps, within the text modern Jews find room for improvisation, discussion and adaptation. And though the ritual varies by both geography and time period, themes of freedom, gratitude and faith permeate.
T.K. Stark, a 30-year-old Jew living in Salt Lake City, UT, says his experience with the seder may be different from the more Orthodox interpretations, but the focus and feelings it evokes are universal.
While they follow the order of the seder he says they modify it a little. “We have a shorter version,” he laughs.
This sort of personalization is built into the structure of the Haggadah, says Josh Lipman, in his last year of college at the University of Utah. “Every traditional seder has its own spin.” The point isn’t just to follow the rote steps but to “use the Haggadah as a basis for conversation. Following it is in essence to stray from it,“ he adds.
Despite alterations, the emphasis remains the same: the deliverance of the Israelite slaves and its modern day parallels. These parallels can be made with broad strokes, “really anywhere that you feel or someone at the table feels empowered to start a conversation,” Lipman says.
Stark has participated in seder discussions ranging from overcoming personal bondage to societal issues like human trafficking.
For Lipman, the adaptability of the text helps bolster his belief. “The seder in many ways encapsulates what Judaism is about—in critical thinking and asking hard questions and not necessarily finding the answer. And for me that’s really important.”
The ritual as found in the Haggadah goes back centuries, but the seder as followed in Biblical times varied in marked ways, all centered around the historical Jews’ most sacred space.
Were you to find yourself roaming the streets of Jerusalem on the first day of Passover around the first century C.E., you may be drawn in with crowds pushing towards the centerpiece of city and faith—the temple. Faithful Jews from all across Israel streamed into the Holy City carrying an unblemished lamb to offer God. The sacrificial offerings were slaughtered en masse by priests and lay Jews alike in the Outer Alter while men and women gathered in the grand courtyard to worship and celebrate amidst joyful sounds of prayer and song. The whole city was alight with a “feeling of sacred joy,” says Maeera Shreiber, Chair of the Cross Cultural Jewish Studies Initiative at the University of Utah.
Only after the completion of the main festival were the offerings taken to homes and smaller communities. You’d still find matzot (unleavened bread) and bitter herbs and hear of the miracles of the deliverance from Egypt, you’d still sip wine and munch on the sacrificial lamb and avoid leavened bread, but it would not follow the stricter rigors or full symbolism of the modern worship.
The change has its roots in 70 C.E. After a rebellion and a lengthy siege, Jews watched as Roman legions set their priceless temple ablaze and dismantled it brick by brick. “A lot of what happened in Judaism is trauma of the loss of the temple,” Shreiber says. ”The big question is how are we going to go forward in the wake of this loss that was the pulse of our identity?” Some might have guessed it would have shattered the religion, but the Jews adapted. The rabbis shifted the focus away from temple ritual and over the next centuries worked to formalize belief, tradition and symbology, including writing scripts like those found in the Haggadah.
The modern seder may not take place in a holy temple, but it has been adapted and expanded to, as Shreiber says, “make it a lived experience.”
Seder2015.org: Passover recipes from some of our favorite chefs
At Your Service: The Heart of Passover
St. Patrick’s Day has come to be known for many as a time to wear green clothing, to feast on corned beef and cabbage, and to put green food coloring in practically everything. But what and who are we celebrating? Who was the man—the Saint—that inspired St. Patrick’s Day?
Although St. Patrick is Ireland’s patron saint, he wasn’t even Irish. Accounts vary but he was born somewhere in the British Isles, around the 4th century, to Roman parents. His given name was Maewyn Succat.
As a teen, Patrick was captured by pirates, taken to Ireland and sold as a slave to herd and tend sheep. During his six years of captivity, Patrick turned to God and became deeply devoted to Christianity. At the age of 20, Patrick had a dream from God telling him to leave Ireland by going to the coast where he would find a ship waiting to sail to Britain. Acting on his dream, Patrick ran away from his master and travelled 200 miles to a port where he convinced some sailors to let him board their ship. He was finally able to make his way back to Britain where he was reunited with his family.
After returning to Britain, Patrick went to France where he studied and entered the priesthood, and adopted the name Patrick. In another dream Patrick saw the children of Pagan Ireland reaching out their hands to him. He became increasingly determined to return to Ireland to free the Irish from their pagan ways by converting them to Christianity.
Patrick returned to Ireland and spent the next 40 years preaching, converting, and abolishing paganism. He and his disciples are responsible for converting all of Ireland to Christianity.
After years of living in poverty and enduring much suffering, St. Patrick died on March 17 at Saul, Downpatrick, where he had built the first church in Ireland.
St. Patrick has never been formally canonized by a Pope, but many Christian churches declare that he is a Saint in Heaven.
Test your St. Patrick’s Day knowledge with this quiz:
Today is Ash Wednesday, a day that marks the beginning of Lent, a Christian season of humility leading up to Easter.
When you pass some of your Christian neighbors on the street, you may notice that they are wearing an outward symbol of their faith — a cross of ashes drawn on their forehead.
So what exactly is Ash Wednesday and why is it significant to Christians around the world? Here are three things you need to know.
What is Ash Wednesday?
Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent, a time for penance and fasting. During the Lenten season, people resolve to do better and to be better. The days of Lent are meant to reflect Christ’s forty-day fast and resistance to temptation in the wilderness. Christians today voluntarily surrender something — a favorite food item, or maybe a not-so-great habit — as a small token of suffering in recognition of Christ’s suffering for mankind.
Ash Wednesday is also the day after Shrove Tuesday, a day meant for penitence in preparation for Lent, but which has now become a popular, secular day known as Mardis Gras, or “Fat Tuesday” — a sort of feast-before-the-fast celebration.
The last week of Lent is called Holy Week. These holy days represent important events in Christ’s life leading up to his death on Good Friday. Christians celebrate Christ’s resurrection on Easter Sunday, an event that gives them great hope. On Palm Sunday, one week before Easter, Christians remember when Jesus of Nazareth entered Jerusalem and crowds gave him a kingly welcome. This reminds believers how fleeting earthly honors can be.
Why do people wear ashes?
At the Ash Wednesday service, the priest draws a cross on believers’ foreheads while he recites the words, “Thou art dust and unto dust thou shalt return.” This is called the imposition of ashes.
The ashes are actually from palm branches that were saved from the previous year’s Palm Sunday service.
The ash mark reminds believers of a solemn truth: Life is temporary, and everyone will eventually face death. Such a serious day draws people around the world to reflect on this truth.
How do people find faith as they acknowledge one of the starkest truths of human existence?
Lent is meant to be a dark time, but people endure the deprivation because they have hope in the resurrection. Christians find hope in Christ’s example — his life, ministry, and death.
This faith is a deep source of comfort, and Ash Wednesday uniquely highlights how people can find light in the darkness.
What do the leaders of the United States have to say about faith?
No matter their individual religious persuasions, the 44 presidents of the United States have tried in good faith to serve the American people. Many of these men have expressed their views on the importance of faith. Today we’re taking a look back at some of their remarkable words.
“I have often expressed my sentiments, that every man, conducting himself as a good citizen, and being accountable to God alone for his religious opinions, ought to be protected in worshipping the Deity according to the dictates of his own conscience.”
To the General Committee, Representing the United Baptist Churches in Virginia, May, 1789
“But I must submit all my hopes and fears to an overruling Providence, in which unfashionable as the faith may be, I firmly believe.”
Letter to Abigail Adams, July 3, 1776
“I trust that the whole course of my life has proved me a sincere friend to religious as well as civil liberty.”
To the Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church at New London, Connecticut, February 4, 1809
“Nevertheless, amid the greatest difficulties of my Administration, when I could not see any other resort, I would place my whole reliance on God, knowing that all would go well, and that He would decide for the right.”
Remarks to Baltimore Presbyterian Synod, October 24, 1863
John F. Kennedy
“We cannot depend solely on our material wealth, on our military might, or on an intellectual skill or physical courage to see us safely through the seas that we must sail in the months and years to come. Along with all of these we need faith. We need the faith which our first settlers crossed the sea to carve out a state in the wilderness.”
Remarks at the 11th Annual Presidential Prayer Breakfast, February 7, 1963
“If we ever forget that we are a nation under one God, then we will be a nation gone under.”
Remarks at an Ecumenical Prayer Breakfast in Dallas, Texas, August 23, 1984
“We are Christians and Jews, Muslims and Hindus, Buddhists and Sikhs, atheists and agnostics. Our religious diversity enriches our cultural fabric.”
A Proclamation on Religious Freedom Day, 2014
Learn about the religious affiliations of all 44 presidents here.
Which quote is your favorite? Tell us in the comments.
When the calendar flips to December and the temperatures dive, there’s nothing like cozying up by the fireplace with a favorite book or a fun movie. Whatever holiday you’re celebrating this month, it’s a perfect time to reflect on hope, joy, goodwill, and faith. We’re all nestled in at Faith Counts headquarters doing just that, sipping cocoa and compiling a list of our favorite movie quotes about belief.
So come in from the cold, pass the popcorn, and let us know in the comments what movies we missed.
“Seeing isn’t believing, believing is seeing.”
“Faith is believing when common sense tells you not to.”
“If you can’t believe, if you can’t accept anything on faith, then you’re doomed for a life dominated by doubt.”
“The thing about trains…it doesn’t matter where they’re going. What matters is deciding to get on.”
“Every time a bell rings, an angel gets its wings.”
Thank you to those who leave their homes to protect ours.