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.
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.
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.
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 email@example.com
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.
“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.
“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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.”
Known for being one of the most outspoken women in the White House, Eleanor Roosevelt impacted history by being involved in humanitarian efforts throughout her life. Though she was the wife of the 32nd President of the United States, Eleanor was a leader in her own right.
Many people are aware of Eleanor’s influence as a politician, an activist, a diplomat. But what can Eleanor—a shy child who later served as a United Nations spokeswoman—teach us about faith, optimism and ourselves?
1. Remember Your Worth
“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent”
Eleanor, a tall young woman, dreaded the thought of standing out in the crowd when she was a teenager. But, she influentially taught and lived the concept that no matter what others say, they can’t make us feel inferior unless we allow it.
Growing up, this quote was taped to my bedroom mirror—a constant reminder that we are in control of our thoughts and feelings, regardless of outside opinions.
2. Follow Your Dreams
“The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams”
An advocate for human rights, Eleanor gave press conferences and spoke out for children’s and women’s issues. Though she was criticized for her active role in public policy, she became a leader for civil rights in later years.
If you believe in your dreams, you can do marvelous things with your future.
3. Find Joy in Nature
“Perhaps nature is our best assurance of immortality.”
Eleanor believed that “nature had more to give, from the healing point of view, than any human being.”
Whether you believe in God or not, nature begs us to believe in a higher power. When you need time to think, to ponder, or to meditate, try finding your own favorite spot in nature.
4. Live Courageously
“You have to accept whatever comes and the only important thing is that you meet it with courage and with the best that you have to give.”
Sometimes things in life happen because of our own choices. And sometimes things happen as a result of others’ choices. Whether the consequences are good or bad, our only choice is to accept what comes our way. If you are discouraged or intimidated by a challenge, remember to give it the best that you have to give.
5. Do the Impossible
“You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’ You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”
Have you ever been faced with a trial that you thought you could not face? Later, were you able to look back and see the strength, courage and confidence you gained by enduring that trial? Perhaps your trial hasn’t ended. In any situation, you gain strength by reminding yourself that you have lived through hard times, and you will manage to overcome the next difficulties that come your way.
Whether Eleanor was busy leading as the First Lady, actively pushing for equality, or serving as American Spokesperson in the United Nations, she was a true example of strength, courage and determination.
Cheri Peacock Hendricks is a graduate of SUU. You can find her running on trails or baking in the kitchen.
I am a contracted US Army ROTC Cadet, which means that I am in training to one day trade in the black dot of the Cadet’s rank for the gold bar of the 2nd Lieutenant’s. This past spring, I stepped off of a bus and onto the hot, dusty ground of a major Army camp built on rolling hills and ringed by mountains. It was hot, there wasn’t any cloud cover to speak of, the terrain was rough, and our area of operation was vast: perfect for a land navigation (orienteering) course, which is where this story starts.
Since the Army is the primary land force of the military, its Soldiers should to be able to, you know, get around on land. Since we can’t always depend on GPS, everyone needs to have a basic knowledge of how to work with a map, a compass and a protractor. I was partnered with a less-experienced Cadet, and we were tasked with finding a handful of coordinate points, which were marked by metal poles with dog tags hanging from them, scattered among perhaps a couple hundred other points.
We consulted our map, developed a route plan, and off we went, carrying our map, compass, protractor, water, tactical vests and 50-pound rucksacks. We were having trouble finding our first point, and my partner was tired, so I left all the gear with her while I ran to inspect a metal pole some 200 meters away that we thought might be it. It was still the wrong one, so we decided to backtrack to our last known point. After we had shouldered our rucksacks and left the area, I asked my partner for the compass so we could check our bearing, and I heard five little words that nobody ever wants to hear:
“I thought you had it.”
I didn’t. Regular military folks often call those in ROTC “cadidiots,” which definitely applied here. We had failed to attach our compass to our tactical vests as we were trained to do which, In Army circles, is called “dummy-cording,” because it’s intended to prevent dummies like us from losing their compasses. Now, instead of looking for a two-and-a-half foot pole, we were looking for a small, green compass in a sweeping field of similarly-colored tall grass. After a fruitless search, we headed back to the starting point and told one of our leaders what had happened. He told us that if we didn’t find our compass, the Army would charge us hundreds of dollars, so we’d better give it our best shot. He gave us another compass, telling us that we should use it to get back to where we lost it. As a man of faith, I was praying silently in my head throughout all this. I knew that God wasn’t just going to drop the compass out of the sky and into my hand, so we had to go back over our map and our route in order to have any shot of finding the thing.
For some reason, I wasn’t overly worried, but I probably should have been: We were looking for a 5 cm x 7.5 cm green object in the middle of a huge, greenish field: the proverbial needle-in-a-haystack. We navigated back to the area where we had lost the compass, which took some time, but we found our lost compass after a careful search. We didn’t have enough time to find all of the rest of the points, but neither of us cared. We’d found the most difficult point in the whole course, and we no longer owed Uncle Sam 200 bucks.
I thanked God over and over again for His help, because I knew that things wouldn’t have worked out the way they did without him. It’s true, we used our knowledge of land navigation to make up for our previous carelessness, but I am thoroughly convinced that without combining it with faith we would have failed miserably. Along similar lines, I hope to strengthen both my faith and my land navigation skills in the future, because they certainly went hand-in-hand that day.