A Celebration of Gratitude, Hindu Style

A Celebration of Gratitude, Hindu Style

By Steve Wunderli, FaithCounts.com Contributor

celebration-of-gratitude
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.

Love Requires Faith

Love Requires Faith

By Ariel Szuch, FaithCounts.com Contributor

love requires faith
Valentine’s Day.

Blech.

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.

Finding Meaning in the Mundane

Finding Meaning in the Mundane

By Erin Facer, FaithCounts.com Contributor

mundaneEver 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 facererin@gmail.com

5 Life Lessons from Jackie Kennedy

5 Life Lessons from Jackie Kennedy

By Amy Higley, FaithCounts.com Contributor

jackie-kennedy-01FEED YOUR SPIRIT

“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.

BE PROACTIVE

“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.

Dealing with Loss During the Holidays

Dealing with Loss During the Holidays

By Ariel Szuch, FaithCounts.com Contributor

dealing-with-lossI’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.

Looking forward

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.

Finding Faith Through Doubt

Finding Faith Through Doubt

By Lauren Elkins, FaithCounts.com Contributor

doubt-of-the-century“The doubt of the century.”

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 not.

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.

5 Surprising Ways Running Can Be Your Spiritual Practice

5 Surprising Ways Running Can Be Your Spiritual Practice

By Mike Fitzgerald, FaithCounts.com Contributor

runningA 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.

7 Tips to Make Prayer More Meaningful

7 Tips to Make Prayer More Meaningful

By Camille Ward, FaithCounts.com Contributor

7-ways-prayer
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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.

Yoga and Your Spirit: Finding the Connection

Yoga and Your Spirit: Finding the Connection

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.

yoga

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.

Tired and Stressed? Try This

Tired and Stressed? Try This

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.

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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

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 th.tolman@gmail.com.

5 Things Pope Francis Wants the World to Know

5 Things Pope Francis Wants the World to Know

By S. M. Johnson, FaithCounts.com Contributor

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.

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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.”

Mastering Mindfulness

Mastering Mindfulness

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Chasing Shiny Thoughts

Have you ever been driving, arrived at your destination, and realized that you can’t remember the commute? Have you read a page or two of a book and can’t remember a single word? Like a raccoon drawn to a shiny object, it’s oh-so-easy to chase after shiny thoughts and lose precious moments.

The Conveyor Belt of Thought

Our minds are like a conveyor belt that’s always running. Our thoughts flit enticingly before us on this conveyor belt and we get to choose which ones we pay attention to, and for how long. But a skill that most of us don’t realize that we have is the power to slow down the conveyor belt, or stop it altogether; the practice is called mindfulness, and it’s really good for you.

Your Power Is in the Present

Mindfulness is achieved by focusing on the present. Think about it. When was your life not happening right now? You can’t change the past, and your influence on the future is always determined by what you’re doing in the present. All of your hopes, dreams, and aspirations are entirely dependent on your ability to live powerfully in the present.

Children: The Masters of Mindfulness

When it comes to mindfulness and living in the present, we have a lot to learn from children. Generally speaking, children are oblivious to time and therefore can allow themselves to be fully present, with whatever they’re doing, at any given time. As a result, they’re trusting, happy, and worry free.

As we grow up, becoming distracted, worried, and overwhelmed is commonplace. It’s exciting news to discover that the power to reverse these unproductive behaviors and live joyfully in each moment has been with us all along.

How Do I Do It?

Mindfulness experts advise that beginners pull themselves into the present moment by focusing on the breath—because your breath is always with you in the present. Here are some steps to help you begin practicing mindfulness:

  1. Find a quiet place. If you can carve out a few minutes to sit alone and be mindful, excellent. If not, know that you can practice mindfulness anywhere, in everything you do, simply by being present and allowing yourself to thoughtfully, calmly, and nonjudgmentally, experience each moment with your five senses.
  2. Slow down the conveyor belt. Try to clear your mind and focus on your breathing. Some find it helpful to say words like “Let” on the in-breath, and “Go” on the out-breath. You can close your eyes or focus on something in your surroundings. Use your five senses to observe and experience your surroundings without judgment. What is the temperature? Are there any smells? What can you hear? Notice any physical sensations internally or externally.
  3. Observe your thoughts. When thoughts do pass before your mind, allow yourself to watch them go by as an observer, without judgment. Let them simply be what they are without chasing them or getting emotionally involved. Remember, you are not your thoughts, and it’s healthy to periodically distance yourself from them. As an observer, you’ll be more open to truth and guiding inspiration.
  4. Set your intention. Setting an intention is a powerful way to put your faith into practice. Decide what you want to accomplish. Do you intend to stay positive throughout the day? Watch what you eat? Keep your temper? Finish your entire workout? It could be anything. Decide what you intend to do, say it to yourself, and simultaneously give it to God, or send it out into the universe. For example: I intend to finish the first item on my to-do list.
  5. Engage in the present. When setting your intention, trust that all you have to do is fully engage yourself in the present, and that God, or the universe, will provide everything you need to succeed.

Mindfulness Helps You Live Worry Free

A fascinating fact about worry is that it’s either past or future based—the two time components that are completely out of your control. When you set your positive intention, and exercise faith that God, or the universe has your back, all you have to do is your very best with the moment in front of you. This mindset is freeing and carries with it a whole host of benefits.

Linda Clyde is foremost a wife and a mother of three. You may contact her at colossalthought@gmail.com

5 Ways to Find Fulfillment According to the Dalai Lama

5 Ways to Find Fulfillment According to the Dalai Lama

The Dalai Lama describes himself as a “simple Buddhist monk” yet somehow within his life’s simplicity he has been able to find personal fulfillment and share that fulfillment with others. How can we follow his example?

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1. Believe you can make a difference

“If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito.”

Often in my life the things that made the greatest difference were not big. Someone wrote an encouraging note, dropped off a pint of ice cream, gave a hug. Those who performed these acts will likely never know the difference they made. Yet, the world was made better because of them. Your talents and unique viewpoints are needed. You can make a difference. The trick is figuring out how.

2. Choose positivity

“Human potential is the same for all. Your feeling, ‘I am of no value’, is wrong. Absolutely wrong. You are deceiving yourself. We all have the power of thought – so what are you lacking? If you have willpower, then you can change anything. It is usually said that you are your own master.”

How much power do we believe we have over our own happiness? According to the Dalai Lama we can determine how we view our situations, accomplishments, and attributes. Optimism is a choice. This agentic freedom means that although we can’t control what happens to us, we can control how we react. Circumstances do not determine our happiness. Decide today what kind of day it will be.

3. Face death, celebrate life

“You must ask yourself how is it you want to live your life. We live and we die, this is the truth that we can only face alone. No one can help us, not even the Buddha. So consider carefully, what prevents you from living the way you want to live your life?”

Our modern world with its hospitals, hospice care, and funeral homes separates most of us from death. This protective wall provides a comfortable cocoon of false security. Only through escaping this cocoon and facing the fragility of life can we truly learn to live. In understanding death, each day becomes more precious. Insecurities and inadequacies which previously held us back become trivial. Life is too short to let the small stuff hold us back.

4. Serve others

“Eating, working, and making money are meaningless in themselves. However, even a small act of compassion grants meaning and purpose to our lives.”

Who do you know that is struggling? What can you do to help? Thinking of others rather than our own worries helps us realize how blessed we are and the difference we can make. What is more fulfilling than that?

5. Be patient

“Neither a space station nor an enlightened mind can be realized in a day.”

Discouragement often takes its strongest hold when we are faced with disappointing results to our efforts. Sometime we try so hard, only to have it blow up in our face. However, we do not know how things will develop in the long run. Often what seems like failure one day can be a stepping stone the next. Remember we are running a marathon not a sprint. Things will work out. Keep going!

Erin Facer is a graduate of Brigham Young University and proud southerner. Contact her at facererin@gmail.com.

Stressed? How Faith Can Help

Stressed? How Faith Can Help

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When’s the last time you heard—or perhaps thought—the phrase “I’m so stressed out!” For me, it was my nine-year-old daughter wandering into my office, slumping into a chair and declaring that her concerns about the upcoming school year were overwhelming. Now keep in mind that this was a sunny day during summer vacation, but the worries associated with a new classroom, new teacher, and the possibility of new friendships were taking over what could have been a day spent doing what she enjoyed.

I don’t blame my daughter; she comes from a long line of worriers, mostly on my side of the family (thanks Dad!) But my family isn’t alone. In fact, in 2011 the American Psychological Association declared that chronic stress was becoming a public health crisis.

Do a quick internet search and you’ll find countless studies and news reports detailing who’s feeling stressed and why. Some of the most common “stressors” are fairly consistent: health, finances, jobs and relationships. What’s really dizzying, however, is that being stressed about one or more of these areas actually can make them worse; for instance, worrying about one’s health can take a toll on one’s health.

The reality is that stress and worry are all a part of this thing we call life. But there are a number of ways to lessen its burden—including exercising faith. Here are four reasons why:

1. Faith brings comfort and insight.

Prayer, meditation, readings or focused thought on a higher power can calm our minds and bring comfort to our hearts in times of stress. As part of that process, showing gratitude for what we have been given, expressing our needs and reviewing how we got through previous difficulties can help us feel less alone and provide ideas of how to best move forward.

2. Faith strengthens relationships.

Turning to friends and family members in times of crisis can build positive relationships as we learn to rely on and help each other. We often feel better able to cope knowing there is someone who “has our back.” Even getting out in the community to serve others as a show of faith can help us feel more connected to others and less burdened by our own concerns.

3. Faith brings healing.

Believing our lives have purpose can help us heal from the physical and emotional impacts of stress. Some studies indicate meditation, for example, can lower the risk of heart disease. Forgiving the failings of others or our shortcomings as part of faithful expression also allows us to let go of pain we may still be experiencing.

4. Faith fosters action.

Having faith in what is to come can help drive us to take much-needed steps in our lives. It can spur us to make changes, such as better eating or exercise habits, to improve our physical health. It can encourage us to improve our networking skills or even change jobs when workplace stress is at a zenith. It can even motivate us to slow our frenetic pace place greater emphasis on our families, on showing gratitude or reconnecting with nature.

As for my daughter, a review of her successes in past years, making a list of what she can do to start this year off right, a few hugs and a quick prayer put many of her worries to rest. And while adult problems may be a little harder to solve or take a big longer to work through, the same principles of applying faith to whatever stress you may be experiencing still applies—and yes, a warm hug always helps too.

Three Ways Remembrance Can Change Your Life

Three Ways Remembrance Can Change Your Life

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It seems I forget things all the time. Names go in one ear and out the other—I’ve learned to just swallow my pride and ask for the third time if I have to. Depending on how much I have on my mind, I forget items like my keys, phone, and clothes in the laundry. In those instances, forgetting is often inconvenient (sometimes a LOT inconvenient), but there are other things, if forgotten, that bring greater consequences.

Forgetting (or neglecting) family and friends can lead to damaged relationships and isolation. Forgetting the lessons of the past and where we came from can lead to unnecessary mistakes and the loss of a sense of identity and belonging.

Forgetting the blessings we have can bring a sense of emptiness, discontent, and despair.

The antidote to these things?

Remembrance.

The following are three of the ways remembrance has changed my life.

1. Remembering can bring comfort and closeness with those we love.

My mom passed away from cancer two and a half years ago. Shortly after her passing, I was lying in bed, tears running down my face. How was I going to live the rest of my life without her? The world seemed so empty. Then, into my mind came this thought, as if it were my mother’s voice: “When you’re having a hard time, remember how much I love you.” The remembrance of my mother’s love has sustained me through many more lonely nights. In addition, when I feel alone, I’m often forgetting the support network of people who know and love me. It’s not always easy to reach out for help, but when I do, it’s healing, and I feel a greater sense of connection to the people I love.

Action Item: In moments of difficulty, think of someone who could use a kind word and send them a short text telling them how much they mean to you. Sometimes when I’m struggling, a text is all I have the emotional strength for, but this simple gesture uplifts and connects both people involved.

2. Remembering the past can give us strength to move forward.

I have the tendency to feel sorry for myself at times, particularly in regards to being single and/or not knowing what to do with my life. On one lonely day I was flipping through a family history when I came across the story of my sixth-great grandmother, Mary Fielding. She did many difficult things, much of the time without the support of a husband. After emigrating from England to the United States, she was widowed twice, crossed a thousand miles of prairie with her children, made a new life in a new place, and lived to be over a hundred years old. Strength and inspiration comes from knowing that someone who is part of your heritage pressed forward and overcame difficult obstacles. In moments of weakness, I can reflect on Mary’s story, take a deep breath, and keep moving forward.

Action Item: Find a story from the life of a family member or another person who inspires you. Read it often, especially when you’re feeling discouraged.

3. Remembering our blessings can help us be happy now and have hope for the future.

I used to think that when people said, “Be grateful,” it was just code for, “Stop whining.” I hated that. Over time, I’ve learned that cultivating gratitude isn’t minimizing difficulties and painting a falsely cheerful picture of the world. I’ve found that sometimes the most helpful way for me to practice gratitude is in specific “even though” statements: “Even though I miss my mother horribly right now, I’m grateful for the close relationships I’ve developed with my extended family because of this loss.” That way I acknowledge the pain, but am mindful of the good things that have come in the midst of it and can have faith in good things to come in the future.

Action Item: When you’re feeling negative or critical, flip the switch by saying or writing three “even though” statements with things you’re really, truly grateful for that day.

Remembrance seems simple, but is a principle of real power. As I’ve remembered the people who love me, what I’m grateful for, and lessons from the past, I have hope—the confidence that ultimately, everything is going to be okay.

Ariel Szuch is a word nerd, writer, and compulsive reader who finds purpose in a life of faith.

Mastering Technology to Foster Spiritual Growth

Mastering Technology to Foster Spiritual Growth

By Tyler Smith, Faith Counts Contributor

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I’ve wholeheartedly embraced the role of technology as a tool for spiritual development. For years, I wrote actively about my personal experiences and faith on blogs. I posted multiple times daily on Google+, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. I found ways to use productivity apps for note taking, task management, and goal setting to aid in self-improvement. I downloaded my favorite scriptures and books onto my phone and tablet. I armed myself to the teeth with technology in my quest for personal and spiritual growth, and I was nailing it!

Then, about a year ago, I began to sense that something was wrong. I was “doing all the right things,” but I felt hollow. Despite my efforts to improve and draw nearer to God, I felt I was drifting further and further away. It was a desperate feeling, especially because I couldn’t understand why.

Since then, I believe God has helped me understand how to better seek him. Step by step, He’s guided me along a journey of calibrating my digital desires and bringing them in line with his will for me. I know that if you seek him, He will do the same for you. The hints and steps you receive from him may be different than those I needed to receive, so take these suggestions with a grain of salt. With that in mind, here are a few ways you can use technology to foster spiritual growth.

Unfollow your friends on Facebook

No, don’t unfriend them, just unfollow! I unfollowed every single of one my 600 or so Facebook friends. The result? A completely empty news feed. After a couple of weeks, my compulsion to check subsided, and I felt a restored sense of control over how I spent time using my phone and computer.

Unfollowing your friends lets you keep the benefits of Facebook without the addictive behavior. You can still visit friends’ profiles to see what they’ve been up to and use Facebook Messenger to chat. Pro tip: If you have friends or family whose posts you don’t want to miss, navigate to their profile and choose “Get Notifications.”

I still spend time on Facebook, trust me. It’s just that my mind now feels less scattered and my thoughts are more deliberate. I spend Facebook time purposefully engaging and staying in touch with individual friends. Having personal conversations away from the heated environment of comment sections can be a great way to make yourself a tool in the Lord’s hands to reach out to his children in kindness.

Use Silent Mode

Your phone has a silent mode. Use it! I turn off all notifications when I’m praying, studying, pondering, and getting ready for bed. This heightens my focus and provides uninterrupted time for me to commune with the divine. A beep from my phone is much louder than a subtle communication from God, so I decided to eliminate that possibility in order to make myself more open to receiving inspiration.

Now, if only I were spiritually advanced enough to turn off those notifications during church…

Capture beautiful moments

Use a note-taking app (Evernote, Zoho Notebook, Google Keep, etc.) to jot down strokes of inspiration as soon as you receive them. This has helped me follow through on good deeds that crossed my mind, but that I couldn’t accomplish in that very moment.

Also, put that phone camera to work! Beauty surrounds us in this world, and stopping to appreciate and share that beauty with others can be a real source of spiritual refreshment and growth. For me, taking pictures of beautiful moments has become a way to express my gratitude to God for this beautiful world. You can also share pleasant images you’ve captured with others by messaging them or posting them on social media. Sometimes it’s nice to share an uplifting thought or encouraging word with the image. Here are a few images I’ve captured on my phone in recent weeks.

Technology changes quickly, but God stays the same yesterday, today, and forever. As we seek his voice and draw near to him with purpose, He will help us learn how to use today’s technology to grow, to love, and to serve his children.

Tyler is a graduate of The Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey and works in the language industry as a translation manager. You can contact him at contact@alltyler.com

Trust Your Faith Like You Trust Your Knowledge

Trust Your Faith Like You Trust Your Knowledge

By Daniel West, Faith Counts Contributor

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G.K. Chesterton, an English thinker, once wrote that “When man ceases to worship God he does not worship nothing but worships everything.” When you have a crisis of faith, do not be quick to discount or abandon your beliefs, because if you do you will just be exchanging them for another set of beliefs that may or may not be better.

There are many “gods” that people worship in lieu of Divinity. Some put their faith in scientists who believe that they have all the answers (which isn’t scientific at all) and claim that they have no need for God. Some put their faith in government and, in times of crisis, demand that all their problems be solved by it. Some put their faith in the “gods” of money, sports, celebrity, status, or power. These are only a few examples, but the commonality among all those who clamor for your attention and, yes, faith is this: no matter in whom or what you put in place of your religion, you will not be giving up faith.

No matter what you believe, it’s important to evaluate from time to time why you believe. I like to ask myself the following questions whenever I reflect on my faith:

  1. Do my beliefs make me happy? Do they improve my quality of life?
  2. How did I come to believe the way I do? What faith building experiences have I had?
  3. What could I do to strengthen my faith?
  4. Are others who practice my faith generally good people?
  5. What are the fruits of my faith? Does it help me to make the world a better place?

In general, humans have been asking themselves the same questions throughout recorded history and probably before: where did we come from? Why are we here? Where do we go after we die, if anywhere? I’ll let you in on a secret: nobody has all the answers to those questions. Not scientists, not clerics, not atheists, not Bible study teachers, not talking heads on television. To be sure, God has given us general principles and truths. We have indeed made great strides in science and technology. We still don’t have all the puzzle pieces, though, which is where faith comes in.

We all have doubts from time to time. We all have questions. It’s important to remember that this is normal and expected. I mentioned earlier that a scientist who claimed to have all the answers wouldn’t be a particularly good scientist. The same statement applies to religion. It’s okay to admit that we religious people don’t have all the answers, but we can’t let that invalidate the answers that we do have!

Just as the fact that we don’t yet have a cure for cancer is not a valid reason for giving up penicillin and the MRI, having unanswered questions of faith is no reason to give up religion. In essence, continue in the things you have learned, remember where those things came from, and hang in there!

How to Reach Beyond Your Limits

How to Reach Beyond Your Limits

Every great athlete has had to push through obstacles and reach beyond limits. How do they do it? And how can we reach beyond our own limits in our individual lives?

It takes commitment and effort from the beginning. It takes repetition, balance and strength to keep growing. It takes endurance and confidence when the road becomes rough. It takes resilience and humility to get back up after failure. And ultimately, it takes faith to believe in what once seemed unlikely or impossible. It takes faith in a higher power that will help us rise above the odds and reach our ultimate potential.

The only limits we really have are those that we place on ourselves.
How will you reach higher?