Faith, Cookies, and Acceptance

Faith, Cookies, and Acceptance

Alain Julian


My brother Alek likes to steal cookies from our church. It can be awkward when it happens. He’s twenty, and not particularly subtle when he does it, and he screams at the top of his lungs when you try to stop him.

When we were deciding which church to go to, we considered whether they were able to accommodate Alek. It couldn’t be that they just have a room dedicated to those with special needs. They also had to have a deep understanding of what people with autism require as well as a servant’s heart for those who are disabled. Basically, we had to make sure he would really be accepted as a part of the community. Luckily, we only had to go to one church before we saw exactly where God wanted us.

This was a blessing, especially in a society that doesn’t always truly understand disabilities like autism. Ignorance has lead to people making insensitive comments about how my brother acts and how we cope with his behaviors in public. While this was and is difficult to witness, thankfully my faith has helped me and my family. And this faith led us to our church — a church that sees my brother for who he is: a child of the Most High, fearfully and wonderfully made in the Image of God. And everyone, whether or not they work with the Special Needs Ministry, loves him in the way that Christ loves him.

My God is a God who comforts the mourning, heals the sick, and lives among those who live on the margins. And my church, as the hands and feet of Jesus Christ, acts the same way. It can still be a little awkward when Alek steals cookies from the hospitality booth, but now the people who work there set some aside for when he comes and visits. This loving acceptance is sweeter than any cookie.

The Power of Service

The Power of Service

Amanda Macdonald


As I gripped the steering wheel, I was all too aware of the lump in my throat and the sweat glazing my palms. My husband of eight months and I just had just packed our entire lives into a rented moving truck and were headed halfway across the country, a few weeks before he started medical school in a city and state new to both of us. I gazed out the window as the dusty, dry, familiar desert of the Great Basin and the craggy peaks of the Rockies gave way to sagebrush fields and eventually the vast golden plains of the Midwest. Finally, we reached the rolling hills of Missouri—our new home. We were excited for our new adventure, but I was all too aware that we had left just about everything and everyone we knew behind.

I knew that people move across the country (and do much harder things) every day, and that I was blessed to have a loving and supportive husband in my new home with me. Still, I was surprised by how homesick, even lonely, I felt.

Strengthened by Loving Service

But as we settled into life in Missouri, I was also surprised by the loving community of people who reached out to my husband and me. We began attending church near where we lived, and our new church family didn’t hesitate to welcome us with open arms. I was overwhelmed with gratitude as new neighbors pitched together to help us unload our moving truck in 95-degree weather and 90% humidity. Other members of our church congregation showed up at our door, peanut butter cookies in hand. A family just as new to the area as we were invited us over for dinner. A recently baptized member of our church, who had children my age, took me in her arms and gave me the kind of hug only a mom can.

Why, I wondered, would so many people who didn’t know us take the time to show us that they cared? I don’t believe that the members of our congregation who showed us such love and support served us because they thought we were overly special. Most of them hadn’t even met us before, and truth be told, were pretty ordinary. But though the people in our new church family were of diverse backgrounds, they had something in common: they were people of faith. They loved God and put their faith into action by serving God’s children—in this case, my husband and me.

Service is Faith in Action

Growing up, I was taught that when you become a member of a faith community, you promise to be there for those who are in need. My church’s scripture teaches that you promise that you “are willing to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light; . . . and are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places” (see Mosiah 18:8–9). The people in my new congregation made these truths real to me by living the promises that they had made to God. They stood as witnesses of His love for us through their small yet oh-so-meaningful acts of service. They lived their faith by serving others.

The Bible teaches “Let he who is the greatest among you be your servant” (see Matthew 23:11). And whether you are Christian, Jewish, Muslim, or of any other religion, I believe this statement holds true. As I reflect on how I was so blessed by the great faith and service of those who reached out when I needed a friend, I am motivated to “pay it forward” by putting my own faith into action. My experience in our new city taught me that service doesn’t have to be some large, momentous act for it to be meaningful. We can serve anyone (whether or not they look, think or believe like us) anytime, anywhere. And that’s the beauty of showing faith by serving others. We don’t have to travel far to find someone in need of our love. We can live our faith by serving anyone around us, in any way we can.

Amanda Seeley Macdonald is a graduate of Brigham Young University, a freelance writer, a bibliophile, and a lover of lemon bars. Contact her at macdonald.amanda@icloud.com.

Confronting Hunger: Faith and Advocacy

Confronting Hunger: Faith and Advocacy

Hannah Robillard

Faith Teaches Us to be grateful
Waking up at 5:00 a.m. may be the usual schedule for a politician, but it certainly isn’t common for this political science student. Nonetheless, I managed to get out of bed and outside to wait for my ride to the local train station, where a 7:30 a.m. train waited to take me and two dozen other college students and staff to D.C. for a two-day public health advocacy trip.

Two weeks before, over a hundred students spent a day learning from NGO leadership, policy makers’ staffers, and community religious leaders regarding efforts they take to mitigate suffering both domestically and internationally because of the global food insecurity crisis. Heading back to my dorm that night, I felt equally disheartened and motivated.

Think of nine people you truly care about. Now, imagine one of those people going to bed at night without having eaten all day. That scenario happens worldwide, and three of those nine people suffer from malnutrition. Next, imagine three children you know under five. Per the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition, if they represented their global counterparts, one of them would be stunted, never having the resources necessary to develop a healthy body.

Christian Connections for International Health (CCIH) taught me these statistics, but they refuse to let those facts overwhelm them. Instead, they partner with 450 individuals and 180 organizations to educate the public, share resources, and advocate for good policies that support their mission.

CCIH was “founded in 1987 to promote international health and wholeness from a Christian perspective,” but they are not the only religiously-motivated charity fighting food insecurity. In fact, Americans of every faith fund one and a half million services and constitute seven and half million volunteers. And forty percent of the largest charities in the U.S. are religiously motivated, which makes it very likely that you and those nine special people you thought of earlier have all been touched by somebody’s love, time, and sacrificial giving at some point in your lives.

Because of my political science background, I felt most comfortable talking to the staff members about the economic benefits provided by public health efforts. After all, preventative efforts can help mitigate major health crises that strain the resources of the United States and other countries.

However, the part of our presentation that resonated the most with me, and apparently with the staffers, was the faith-based encouragement to continue efforts to assist the neediest among us. Connecting material charity efforts to a purpose larger than each individual is incredibly meaningful, both for the giver and the receiver.

My advocacy trip may have occurred in the wood-paneled, air-conditioned offices of the Senate and House Representatives’ offices, but I hope that the result of what I did and what I will do in the future has implications for people whose idea of luxury consists of their children having a nutritious meal and receiving a yearly health check-up. Riding back on the train, surrounded by students and teacher who sacrificially love people half a block or half a world away, I felt hope growing in my heart.

James says, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress” (James 1:27, NIV). If individuals and religious charities work together, millions of disadvantaged people could be assisted. And that’s worth getting up early for.

Why Better Habits Begin with Faith

Why Better Habits Begin with Faith

Linda Clyde

Faith Teaches Us to be grateful

Habits: The Building Materials That Shape Your Life

It’s well known that humans are creatures of habit, but how many of our habits are leading us toward our greatest potential? Whether we realize it or not, every human life is largely the sum of the habits of that individual. Our habits are the building blocks that shape our lives.

Do you love your life? If the answer isn’t a resounding yes, take comfort in knowing that turning things around may be as simple as changing a habit or two. Although, we all know that “simple” isn’t always the word that describes the process of changing an ingrained habit. It can be really hard! But it’s worth the effort.

Turning your life into an experience that you love to wake up to each day, all boils down to observing the daily habits that aren’t serving you well and then making small changes to get you moving in the right direction. American author, John C. Maxwell was spot-on when he said, “You’ll never change your life until you change something you do daily. The secret of your success is found in your daily routine.” Sounds simple, right? It can be if we’re careful to focus on our present efforts vs. the potentially long journey ahead.

Faith: A Key Ingredient for Positive Change

Change requires a leap of faith. The first step to changing your habits is believing that you can. If the thought of change or starting a new habit overwhelms you, start smaller. We can easily trick ourselves into giving up before we even get started because change can be extremely overwhelming. Concentrate on small, manageable changes in habit and celebrate every success. For example, if you never exercise, but know that you should, don’t start with a 5K, go for a short walk instead. If you struggle to keep your temper, take the edge off of your next tirade by counting to 10 first. Healthy habits require discipline, and they’re always rewarded with more personal strength to do even better the next time.

Fitness guru Jillian Michaels said, “It’s not about perfect. It’s about effort. And when you bring that effort every single day, that’s where transformation happens. That’s how change occurs.” Speaking of failure, she also had valuable advice for those who get upset when they fall short. “Part of abandoning the all-or-nothing mentality is allowing yourself room for setbacks. We are bound to have lapses on the road to health and wellness, but it is critical that we learn how to handle small failures positively so that we can minimize their long-term destructive effects. One setback is one setback—it’s not the end of the world, nor is it the end of your journey toward a better you.”

A Writing Exercise

So, where should you start? How do you identify the habits you have that are keeping you from progressing? To find out, try this helpful writing exercise:

Find a quiet place where you won’t be disturbed. Sit down with pen and paper, or if you have an aversion to primitive writing materials, any modern device with word processing capabilities will do. Ask yourself this question: What habits in my life are keeping me from my potential? Think about it. Be honest with yourself, and write down what comes to you.

Tapping into your internal reservoir of wisdom will quickly reveal how much you really know and understand about your habits and how they’re shaping your life. Habits, large and small, affect our daily living in either positive or negative ways. It’s the habits that are holding us back that need our careful scrutiny. It’s the habits that have led us to places we never really wanted to be that we’ve got to tackle first. Once you’ve identified these habits, the next question to ask yourself is the following: In what ways can I change or replace the habits that are keeping me from my potential? Write down what comes to you. There, now you have an action plan. But remember, start small.

The Best Habits

Life is about improvement and growth. Each day, each moment is a new opportunity to do a little better, get a little stronger, and be a little happier. Your habits should be working for you, not against you, and the exciting part is that you have the power and ability to use them right now to mold your life into a joyful experience. It’s all up to you.

A bit of online research revealed that countless others are using the following habits to lead them to more happiness and productivity in their lives. Perhaps developing just one of these habits could have the power to change your life.

  • Wake up early
  • Create and follow a morning and evening routine
  • Meditate or pray daily
  • Express daily gratitude
  • Smile more
  • Eat a healthy breakfast
  • Exercise
  • Procrastinate less
  • Set daily goals and actively work on them
  • Get organized
  • Save and invest
  • Get adequate sleep
  • Keep a journal
  • Read 30 minutes a day
  • Look your best
  • Simplify

After all, “We first make our habits and then our habits make us.” –John Dryden

Linda Clyde is a devoted wife, proud mama, and a lover of uplifting things. A few of her favorite things: lasagna, farm animals, t-shirts and jeans, babies, and notebooks—lots and lots of notebooks.

Faith Teaches Us to Be Grateful

Faith Teaches Us to Be Grateful

Matthew Havertz

Faith Teaches Us to be grateful

I hate the “D” words: Discouragement, disappointment, dissatisfaction, depression. Like all of us, there are moments in my life where I feel stuck in a rut. It’s so easy to become unhappy with where I am or what I have. It’s “the grass is always greener on the other side” mentality.

Things really started to change for me after a religious conference I attended. A leader of my faith said, “Take an inventory of your life and look specifically for the blessings, large and small, you have received” (Thomas S. Monson, “Consider the Blessings”).

After hearing those words, I decided I would start a gratitude journal. In a little spiral notebook, I wrote down at least one thing I was grateful for every night. It started off being easy; I mentioned my family, living in America, and my faith. Soon I had to start getting more creative. As I kept doing it every night, I noticed a huge change in my happiness. I have come to realize that happiness and gratitude go hand in hand for me.

This is not a new concept. Religions around the world have taught us to be grateful for centuries.

In the Tanakh, Jewish scripture, it is written, “Come into His gates with thanksgiving, [into] His courtyards with praise; give thanks to Him, bless His name” (Tehillim 100:4).

In the New Testament, Paul wrote to his fellow Christians, “With thanksgiving let your request be made known unto God” (Philippians 4:6).

The Quran teaches, “God always rewards gratitude and He knows everything” (Quran 4:147).

The Book of Mormon says, “Live in thanksgiving daily for the many mercies and blessings which he doth bestow upon you” (Alma 34:38).

A Buddhist writing says, “Reverence, humility, contentment, gratitude, and the timely hearing of the Dhamma, the teaching of the Buddha — this is the highest blessing” (Maha-mangala Sutta: Blessings).

Believe it or not, scientific studies have even confirmed what religion has been teaching us for so long.

According to the Harvard Health Publications, two psychologists have conducted studies showing the positive effects of gratitude. “In one study, they asked all participants to write a few sentences each week, focusing on particular topics. One group wrote about things they were grateful for that had occurred during the week. A second group wrote about daily irritations or things that had displeased them, and the third wrote about events that had affected them” (Harvey B. Simon, “Giving thanks can make you happier”).

Ten weeks later, the group who wrote about what they were grateful for had much better attitudes, were more optimistic, and they even visited the doctor’s office less often (Harvey B. Simon, “Giving thanks can make you happier”).

If we all lived what our faith taught about gratitude, we would be much happier!

Matthew Havertz loves storytelling and has worked for years in the media industry, specializing in videos and social media. He has a degree in digital media from Weber State University. He blogs his spiritual thoughts at HavertzPonders.blogspot.com.

Islamic Free Health Clinic Helps Residents in Rural Alabama

Islamic Free Health Clinic Helps Residents in Rural Alabama

In rural Alabama, an unlikely story is unfolding. An Islamic free health clinic is helping those who need it most.

The Salam Free Clinic in collaboration with strategic partners, serves as a medical home for the underserved and those who are most vulnerable by providing comprehensive, dependable and affordable quality health care in a caring environment.

Halloween 2017: Celebrating the 500th Anniversary of Martin Luther’s 95 Theses

Halloween 2017: Celebrating the 500th Anniversary of Martin Luther’s 95 Theses

Heather Aslett

%00th Aniversary of Martin Luthers Theses
October 31, 2017 marks the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s courageous act of faith – posting his 95 theses to the door of the Wittenberg Castle Church door. I stand in awe of this great man who lived a spiritual life full of faith in the God of his understanding.

In 1517, the selling and purchasing of “indulgences” was a widely accepted practice. Anyone could purchase an indulgence which would exempt them from punishment for some types of sins. Young Luther who studied law and theology questioned the practice of selling indulgences to pay for sin. In response to this widely accepted practice, he wrote the 95 Theses, which is a document of 95 deep thoughts, questions, and concerns about why selling and purchasing indulgences was a questionable practice.

Theses 44 is one of my favorites which reads, “Because love grows by works of love, man thereby becomes better. Man does not, however, become better by means of indulgences but is merely freed from penalties.” It is a beautiful thought to me that I can become better through love, not just by seeking an escape from a mistake or sin. It is a peaceful and happy way to live. There are 94 additional theses statements, each brimming with truth as well as questions about the practice of selling indulgences, and how to become a better person. Most people will be celebrating the Day of the Dead, and Halloween.

I am happy to celebrate Martin Luther, who through his thoughtful questions about the world around him, left a legacy of living faith that blesses the lives of so many-500 years later. I am honored to celebrate the legacy of this man who opened the door to a religious reformation and whose life was an expression of the faith he had in a higher power.

A Deeper Appreciation of the Sabbath Through Jewish Jubilee Year

A Deeper Appreciation of the Sabbath Through Jewish Jubilee Year

Katie Steed

A Deeper Appreciation of the Sabbath

For most of my life I have been taught to observe a weekly Sabbath day, and more often than not I take that day of rest for granted. In trying to gain a better perspective, I have read about how other faiths than mine observe the Sabbath, and one that I admire most is Judaism.

In Judaism the Sabbath is extremely important, and there are several observances: the Sabbath Day, Sabbath Year, and Jubilee year.

The Sabbath Year occurs every seventh year of Israel’s calendar. While Sabbath days are a time of rest for people and animals, the Sabbath year is a time of rest for the land. No crops are planted or harvested, but any plants and produce that grow on their own may be used.

Jubilee Year happens after every seventh cycle of Sabbatical years, during every 50th year of Israel’s calendar. The word “jubilee” in this case, doesn’t mean a celebration or party. It comes from the Hebrew word yobel, meaning “ram’s horn,” because Jubilee Year began with the sounding of the ram’s horn. During Jubilee Year, not only did the land rest, but all Hebrew slaves were set free, debts were forgiven, and all land was returned to its original owner or owner’s family. The two main ideas of Jubilee Year are that the land belongs to the Lord who determines its proper use, and that God’s people are to be free. Redemption is always possible.

I think the traditions of Jubilee Year are beautiful. I especially love the focus on rest, renewal, and starting over. Life gets hectic and I struggle to practice these principles one day a week, much less a whole year.

Jubilee Year got me thinking about why rest is so important for living things. Rest is necessary for the body to heal itself. Naps are a nice way to get rest, but I also think taking rest by reading a book, working on a relaxing hobby, or any calming activity can heal bodies and minds. Taking time to rest from life is very healthy and leads to a renewal of focus, happiness, and motivation.

In observing a weekly Sabbath, I love the chance not only to rest, but to start each week over and try to be better. I thought about ways I could start over each week, and I decided to take some time each Sabbath to think about how the previous week has gone and come up with simple goals to make the next week better.

Studying Jubilee Year made me think more about the Sabbath than I have in years. I realized what a relief and blessing it is to have one day a week for rest, renewal, and to start over. I feel inspired to take better advantage of my weekly chance to make my life better. The Sabbath is truly a gift from God for our health, sanity, and devotion. I hope to make it a more important part of my life.

Katie Steed is a graphic designer who also loves to write. In her spare time she’s either biking, reading, or traveling.

His Plan Over  My Plan

His Plan Over My Plan

Megan Miller

his plan over my plan
I’m writing this article at a desk surrounded by two calendars, a planner, and a to-do list angrily glaring up at me. I have never been a person that likes to “wing it.” When I’m stressed, I make even more lists to help me organize my rushing and jumbled thoughts. I make plans to help manage stress, but when they fall through or don’t go as planned, I become even more stressed.

We can all relate to this. Besides all of our day-to-day tasks that we plan for, we all have a plan in our heads of how our life should be. We imagine a big white wedding dress, a new car when we graduate, a job that pays well and getting to retire early. I thought for sure I would get married right out of high school and never have a career. This isn’t wrong by any means, in fact, these plans give us hope for the future. Hope that after a bad day we will still have good days ahead. But we aren’t perfect, and our plans fall through. Things change, people change and life is unpredictable. We CAN’T plan the way we wish we could.

But there is someone who can.

There is someone who knows all things and knows us each personally. There is someone who is perfect, and who has a perfect plan for each and every one of us. Why would this perfect being, who knows us each so well, leave us on this earth to plan for ourselves? Why knowing all he knows, would He leave things up to chance?

And the answer is simple. He doesn’t.

We all feel lost, confused and battered at some point in our lives. We all wonder how we can possibly go on from loss, sorrow, heartbreak, and disappointment. we wonder, how in the midst of all the war, terrorism, hatred, and intolerance there could possibly be a plan for us.

In a world that is so unpredictable, we can focus our faith and energy on finding the path that our God has laid out for us. He knows our thoughts, our hopes, and our prayers. He knows what makes us happy and loves us so much, that he would do anything for us to be happy.

But he can’t force His plan on us.

We have to have faith and be constantly seeking guidance and inspiration from God to truly gain understanding about what He would have us do. And sometimes the path isn’t clear. Life is hard. Things change. And we wonder how these events could possibly be for our good and help us. We may not know in this life, but I know with certainty that we will know. We just have to keep trekking. We have to keep walking down the road less traveled and know that our God will never lead us astray in His perfect plan.

Megan Miller is a BYU student with a passion for social media, writing, and her dog. Contact her at meganjomiller@gmail.com.

What I learned from the sacred texts of Buddha

What I learned from the sacred texts of Buddha

Crystalee Beck

from the sacred texts buddha

Approximately 500 years before the birth of Christ, a man named Siddhārtha Gautama was born in ancient India. Upon his death, he left behind a community of followers who had committed to follow his words and renounce worldly pleasures in order to achieve enlightenment. Today, this man, who is also known as the Buddha, is recognized as the founder of Buddhism—the world’s fourth-largest religion.

When the Buddha died, he did not leave his followers without a path to follow. In fact, the Buddha spent the last 45 years of his life traveling extensively, teaching a diverse set of people about the nature of existence and the Middle Way, a path to liberation that avoids the extremes of both sensual indulgence and self-mortification. Upon his death, 500 of the Buddha’s followers were selected to compile the Buddha’s teachings and doctrines.

For the next 500 years, the Buddha’s teachings were transmitted orally, recited and passed on from monk to monk. Eventually, the Buddha’s teachings, called the Dharma, were compiled in written form. Because Buddhist teachings were transmitted across wide swathes of Asia in hundreds of languages, different versions of scriptures in different languages exist within the various sects of Buddhism today.

The basic canon of Buddhist scripture is called the Tripitaka, which literally means three baskets. The three “baskets” of scripture are: 1) the monastic rules for monks and nuns, 2) the teachings and sermons, or sutras, of the Buddha, and 3) special doctrine, which includes scholastic interpretations of the Buddha’s teachings.

Within the second basket of the Tripitaka is a popular and widely read section called the Dhammapada, which offers a broad selection of the Buddha’s teachings in verse form. It is this section of the Buddhist texts that I chose to explore on my own journey to discover more about the Buddhist faith. While the Dhammapada offers meaningful lessons to those schooled in the complexities of Buddhism, it is also simple enough to serve as the perfect introduction to Buddhist philosophy for a novice like me.

As I read the Buddha’s words, I was struck by how much many of the Buddha’s teachings resonated with me and my own Christian faith. I found myself rushing to copy verses that I found particularly inspiring. In reviewing what I had studied, I found two key takeaways:

1. An emphasis on living a moral life. Similar to the Christian Ten Commandments, Buddhism is governed by five basic rules: Don’t kill, don’t steal, don’t commit adultery, don’t lie, and don’t use intoxicating substances. The Dhammapada reminds readers again and again that living a moral life is essential to happiness, and gives tips on how to live morally.

Like a thoroughbred horse touched by the whip, be strenuous, be filled with spiritual yearning. By faith and moral purity, by effort and meditation, by investigation of the truth, by being rich in knowledge and virtue, and by being mindful, destroy this unlimited suffering. (Dhammapada 144)

Speak the truth; yield not to anger; when asked, give even if you only have a little. By these three means can one reach the presence of the gods. (Dhammapada 224)

Good is virtue until life’s end, good is faith that is steadfast, good is the acquisition of wisdom, and good is the avoidance of evil. (Dhammapada 333)

2. Constant admonitions on the value of self-discipline and self-mastery. A core principle of Buddhism is refraining from physical pleasures and cravings in order to achieve the ultimate happiness and freedom from sorrow. While I take great joy in life’s simple pleasures, I’ve also learned that renouncing the things I don’t need (like sugar, for example!) can get me closer to my goals. The Buddha’s words reminded me that while forgoing my desires can be tough, my hard work will insulate me from disappointments:

Though one may conquer a thousand times a thousand men in battle, yet he indeed is the noblest victor who conquers himself. (Dhammapada 103)

By effort and heedfulness, discipline and self-mastery, let the wise one make of himself an island which no flood can overwhelm. (Dhammapada 25)

As with any religious text, it does not suffice for followers of Buddhism to read the words of the Buddha a single time. His teachings, the Dharma, are meant to be returned to time and time again. And so I hope to return to the words of the Buddha as a source of peace and continuing inspiration in my own life.

It is true that each of us must follow our own paths through life. But I see the words of wise teachers like the Buddha and my own Savior as an invitation to trace the well-trodden paths of those who have come before me. I must make my own way—but I don’t have to do it alone.

Crystalee Beck is a writer, speaker, and mamapreneur. She helps women thrive at the intersection of mamahood and entrepreneurship. She’s a seeker of truth and feels alive on mountain trails. Learn more at www.themamaladder.com.

People of Faith Respond to Tragedy in Las Vegas

People of Faith Respond to Tragedy in Las Vegas

Telegram signed by Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin and addressed to Las Vegas Bishop Joseph Anthony Pepe

“Pope Francis sends the assurance of his spiritual closeness to all those affected by this senseless tragedy,” said Parolin.
“He commends the efforts of those police and emergency services personnel, and offers the promise of his prayers for the injured and for all who have died, entrusting them to the merciful love of almighty God.”

Falling and Trying Again

Falling and Trying Again

Madeleine Campbell

returning to faith

Failure isn’t just an inevitable part of life, it’s an essential one. No child gets on a bike and rides down the block on their very first try. Nobody gets through life without scraped knees or wounded souls. We are here to learn, and learning consists of falling and getting back up and falling and getting back up again. As Oliver Goldsmith wrote, “Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.“

I know several variations of that quote, and I believe them all. However, as a fairly anxiety-ridden person, I am all-too-aware that logically knowing failure is important and okay doesn’t eliminate my fear of it.

When I was young, my family went on frequent camping trips to the Valley of Fire State Park near Las Vegas. On one of the trips there, I climbed up a steep section of rock. Halfway up, I found myself on an especially narrow ledge. When I looked down, my youthful spirit of adventure shriveled up. I was suddenly gripped by dizzying, throat-slamming terror. I called to my mom, and told her I couldn’t finish because I was going to fall. She told me that it was alright; if I fell, she’d catch me. I don’t even remember if I fell, jumped down to her, or kept climbing. What mattered most was that I wasn’t scared anymore. I was free to act without the fear of failure.

Another time I attempted a cartwheel outside of the safety of my gymnastics class. I hit a table and nearly broke my nose. I ran home where my mother laid me down, wrapped some ice in a washcloth, and told me it would be alright.

As a kid, the world was full of big, scary things. Yet, when I had someone to fall back on – to catch me if I fell or to comfort me afterward – I was better able and willing to try out the world.

Supportive parenting from heaven

I was diagnosed with a severe anxiety disorder when I was a teenager. That’s when everything became terrifying. Even the very idea of leaving the house filled me with narrow-ledge terror. What if I said the wrong thing and people thought I was stupid? What if I did the wrong thing and they thought I was weird? I was sure people would see all the things I thought were wrong with me. I even dropped out of school. I started therapy and medication, both of which helped. Yet, terror served as a paralytic, and that was something my parents couldn’t protect me from or console away.

One of the most important functions of parenting, when it’s done well, is to help us form our idea of, and model our relationship with, God. Faith in God works like faith in supportive parents. Trusting in a higher power, something greater outside of ourselves, can bring confidence that, unfailingly, as long as we are trying our best to do and be good, we don’t have to be afraid of falling. Either we have someone to catch us or someone to console us.

My relationship with my parents was formed through loving interaction as we spoke and spent time together. I knew who they were, how strong they were. It took years for me to form a similar relationship with God, in similar ways. My faith started to mean something, and to better my life.

Having faith can bring confidence

As adults, breaking bones and skinning knees are seldom the failures we fear.

Sometimes we can’t find confidence in ourselves or our abilities. I finally learned to find confidence in a higher power rather than myself alone. I trusted God and let Him know I was doing my absolute best. So, when I fell, I knew I was falling into His arms. As my faith grew, so did my willingness to risk failure, and my ability to view it as a part of life rather than proof I was somehow flawed.

I’m still scared sometimes. I just moved to a new place, just switched majors. Those were big risks, and either of them could have gone badly. They haven’t so far, and I am supported in knowing God, and that He is there for me. I trust Him with the decisions I make. I trust that no matter how many falls I take, they’re leading me somewhere I want to go.

The Bridge

The Bridge

What would happen if amid conflict we chose to do something unexpected? Sometimes acting on a little faith can turn us into builders of resolutions—of bridges.

Maya Angelou, a well-known civil rights activist, American poetess, and memoirist used her gifts to forge connections, overcome differences, and instigate positive change in the world.

The first step to creating change, is believing that it’s possible.

Creating Your Own Sacred

Creating Your Own Sacred

Marci Monson

returning to faith

I don’t know what it is about snow-covered trees that help me feel peace, but every time I ride the lift at my local ski resort, I pass a certain section of pine trees and suddenly feel still. Unfortunately, the lift eventually gets to the top of the mountain and my mind and energy become refocused on making my way back down.

It’s always something, isn’t it? If I do spiritual study at night, I’m soon cutting down the time I planned to dedicate more and more as my eyes get heavier and heavier. So I switch to mornings. I sit down and start my spiritual practice and suddenly I have an urge to check the weather. I must know the forecast for the day right now! 15 minutes later I’ve checked all of my social media, planned my outfit for the day, and learned absolutely nothing of worth. I know that my days are calmer and more productive when I spend time creating my own sacred space, so why can’t I just shut out the world and spend time taking care of that part of my life?

Here are a few things that I try to do each day to create my own sacred:

1. Recognize that everyone does it differently

How often do we compare our spiritual growth to that of others? I have a friend who described how hard it was for her to feel like church was a sacred experience with two screaming, crying babies hanging on her. She felt like she had failed at church because she wasn’t leaving each week with uplifted feelings or faith-promoting stories. I sometimes look at people who study for hours each day and think I will never reach their spiritual level because I just don’t have that kind of time or patience.

We’re not all alike and the way we find our sacred doesn’t need to be either! Maybe you’re a 5-minute a day kind of person or a fully-immersive experiencer. Figure out how you best access your faith and then do that in any way that works for you. Just make sure you do it!

2. See the sacred everywhere

Sometimes creating your own sacred is as simple as looking for it. If you stop, be still, and look for those faith-promoting moments, they will come to you, even on a ski lift. Then give gratitude and keep looking. If we’re not looking for our sacred, we may never see it.

3. Carve out time and make it a priority

Sometimes it can seem like an impossible feat to find time for peace and quiet in your life when your kids are banging at the door, your roommate won’t turn down her music, or your schedule fills up faster than you can manage. Creating your own sacred may take sacrifice on your part to find a quiet space, a quiet time, a quiet mindset. Make it a priority to find that space each day, stick to it, and eventually turn it into a daily habit.

One of my first true spiritual experiences happened on the same ski resort with my favorite snowy trees. This time it was summer and I was at a conference for teenage youth of my church. We were given time to go out and pray, read, and ponder by ourselves. I climbed into a grouping of trees, sat on a rock, and for the first time in my life, I felt a testament of those things that I believe. I was still.

I wish I could have those types of experiences every day, but instead I have to do my best to create an environment and an opportunity that will help me get as close to my faith as possible.

Fear and Faith

Fear and Faith

Jessica Lamprecht

returning to faith

I was gripped by terror. The sign next to my foot, marking 10 feet of water below me, made me feel like I might die. My brain screamed at me to not jump into the pool, but I didn’t want to be known as the girl who was too scared to jump into the pool at swim class. On the other hand, I didn’t want to repeat my near-death experience of my last jump in the pool. As I stared at the clear water, I remembered that this time, I knew how to swim, so I swallowed my fear and jumped.

And I didn’t drown.

I was ten when I took that first leap of faith and jumped into a pool after my near-death experience when I was 4 years old. Taking that jump after waiting 6 years in fear taught me about the relationship between my fear and my faith which helped me in my decisions throughout my teen and early adult years. I learned that sometimes we have to let our fear motivate us to have faith.

When I figured out my fear motivated me to have faith, it seemed like a contradiction. I always thought the definition of faith was believing and trusting in things we cannot see. Others around me said because I believed I shouldn’t fear. I was under the impression that being filled with fear meant I lacked faith in God and faith in myself.

However, I know now that the relationship between faith and fear is different for me. I can believe and trust while still being afraid. The fear of the unknown and unseen will always be a part of who I am, but I find comfort in my faith because I know even if I am afraid of what might happen next, my faith in God and the people around me is stronger than my fear.

I have learned to always let my faith become stronger than my fear, just like when I jumped into that pool when I was 10. I allowed faith to be stronger than fear each time I moved to new schools and had to be brave enough to make new friends. My faith overcame my fear of what would happen when I left my fragile, broken family to pursue my education. Faith beat my fear when I flew to Mexico City to learn Spanish I was nineteen. Faith conquered fear when I decided to continue college when I only had $4 in my bank account and I didn’t know where more money was going to come from.

Many of my major life decisions started with fear, but having faith gave me the courage to make the jump anyway. And if I had believed the idea that I only had faith if I wasn’t afraid, I’m not sure I would have accomplished anything in my life. I’m grateful every day I let my fear motivate me to have faith.

The next time you are afraid of life decisions set before you, remember that faith in yourself, in God, in people, or in whatever you believe will always overcome fear. Be like my 10-year-old self at the edge of the pool. Remember that you do know how to swim, take a deep breath, and jump.

Why I Returned to Faith

Why I Returned to Faith

Katie Steed

returning to faith

When I was young, I never really thought about faith. I went to church with my family where I was taught scriptures, principles, and ways to live. I never questioned it, but I also never examined my own heart and thoughts to see if I truly believed.

After leaving home for college, my relationship with my faith varied. I went through roller coaster periods of half-hearted indifference, mild commitment, and complete devotion. My faith was largely influenced by people around me and my current situations, but never from my heart.

When I finished college and moved to a new city for my career, I was suddenly faced with challenges I never imagined and surrounded by people who thought differently than me. I had always been taught to turn to faith in situations like these; however, when I tried, I suddenly realized how weak and unfounded my faith was, and how unsure I felt of my beliefs. I felt like my bubble of comfort had not simply popped, but had shattered in a fiery explosion.

With all my new thoughts and experiences, the little faith I had slowly deteriorated. I realized all of the things about my church and its beliefs that I didn’t like, and stopped attending. I never stopped believing in God, but I stopped believing He cared. I started to go my own way, and for awhile I felt free.

I had read and heard many stories where people had somewhat big and miraculous returns to faith, and in the back of my stubborn mind I only wanted to believe again if I had one of those experiences. But my return to faith was simple.

I was driving home one night with conflicted thoughts. I had become very unhappy, and after trying for months to figure out why, I began to wonder if it was because I had abandoned my childhood beliefs. I was thinking about all the things I didn’t like about those beliefs and why I was angry, but then my thoughts turned to the things I loved and missed. Suddenly the thought came into my head, “What do you want to believe?”

Before that question came into my head that night, I had never understood that pursuing my faith and beliefs was a choice. Even though returning to my faith was the more difficult road, I decided to take it. I realized that I wanted to believe the good things about God and my faith more than I believed the negative things.

I don’t think my story is unique. Since faith is a belief in things that aren’t always visible, I believe it’s natural to struggle and even to stray. Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” I’m grateful for my questions and my discomfort with my faith, because they have caused me to continually examine my life and truly decide the path I want to follow. Leaving my faith helped me realize that the only way I can truly believe something is to examine it thoroughly and firmly decide why I believe.

My return to faith has been difficult, and likely will continue to be so, but the difficulties have made my faith so much deeper and more personal. I have discovered greater happiness with my faith than without it, and I believe that is largely because I continue to choose my faith, despite the things I don’t like or don’t understand. Questions will always come, but now I know that those questions can feed my faith instead of diminish it.

Katie Steed is a graphic designer who also loves to write. In her spare time she’s either biking, reading, or traveling.

Film Your Faith Grand Prize Winner 2017

Film Your Faith Grand Prize Winner 2017

The Grand Prize winner of the Film Your Faith Video Contest is . . . “Common Thread” by Simon Rivera!

In response to being awarded the top honors, Simon Rivera of Moseley, Virginia said, “Storytelling through videography allows me to express my creativity in a way that captures emotions and feelings that words alone sometimes fail to convey. The Faith Counts video contest appealed to me because it provided a platform to not only exercise this creativity, but to do so on the subject of faith which is the foundation of my worldview and personal beliefs. Sharing my own unique expression of faith was an exciting opportunity to encourage others in their own walk with God.”

simon rivera
Simon Rivera of Virginia will receive $20,000.

In addition to the Grand Prize, the Honorable Mention winner was also selected!

“Just an Ounce”, by Kurticiah Thompson

The Grand Prize winner received $20,000 for winning the Film Your Faith video contest, and the Honorable Mention winner was awarded $2,500.
The Fan Favorite Winner, announced on August 11th, was awarded a prize of $10,000. Check it out here.

Religious Organizations Respond to Flooding in Texas After Hurricane Harvey

Religious Organizations Respond to Flooding in Texas After Hurricane Harvey

Faith in Action: Religious Organizations Respond to Flooding in Texas After Hurricane Harvey

Islamic Society of Greater Houston

Be Faithful in Small Things

Be Faithful in Small Things

Life can be overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be. Remember, it’s the little things you do each day that can add up to make a big difference—for yourself and others.

Mother Teresa taught by word and deed that personal strength is found by faithfully giving your time and attention to the seemingly small things in life: a compliment, a hug, a smile, or a simple act of kindness.

Learn more about Mother Teresa’s teachings here.

What it Means to be Jewish and ‘Keep Kosher’

What it Means to be Jewish and ‘Keep Kosher’

Zev Palatnik

Raksha

I’m sure you’ve heard the word ‘kosher’ and know it has something to do with Judaism and food. But do you know what it means and how it works day to day? I do, because I ‘keep kosher’ and it’s been an important part of my life and my faith.

There are many Jews who only eat kosher food. Those who are Orthodox, as I am, follow the extensive dietary guidelines set out in the Bible such as: no mixing of meat and milk (so no cheeseburgers); only specific hooved animals may be eaten (no pigs); no shellfish or other non-fish seafood; and generally no birds.

Without getting too detailed, I’ll tell you a little about what it’s like to keep kosher, but first I’ll note here that these and other rules I describe are generally understood and practiced by Orthodox Jews. Not everyone who says they keep kosher follows the same rules. Some people are stricter, some less so and some understand the rules differently. But by and large, each person decides how they practice this and other aspects of Judaism.

The rules of keeping kosher can be complicated, even for those who have been doing so their whole lives. There are a number of organizations with experts who give certifications to products that meet kosher standards. The parent organization where I work, the Orthodox Union, is an authority on kosher and certifies thousands of products. You might notice the symbol on items ranging from M&Ms to frozen pizza.

Raksha

When food shopping, we seek out packaged food with such labels. In America, many products at a typical grocery store are already kosher. And, without getting too technical, there are dozens of kosher certifications with varying degrees of acceptability within the kosher community.

The main exception is meat: to be kosher, meat must be prepared in very specific ways — from slaughter to packaging. That’s why kosher meat is more expensive and not as widely available.

One of the biggest differences in daily life for someone who keeps kosher is dining out. To eat at a restaurant, it needs to have a kosher certification. The vast majority of restaurants in the United States aren’t kosher certified, in part because a kosher certificate adds to the operational cost. This makes going to restaurants very impractical and a rare occurrence: In Washington, D.C., where I work, there is one kosher restaurant. And as of last year, D.C. now has a kosher food truck that travels around the downtown area. A few miles away in Maryland, which has a more concentrated Jewish population, there are a handful of kosher restaurants.

If the need arises to attend a business lunch or go to a non-kosher restaurant, many Jews who keep kosher plan ahead and eat prepared food beforehand and then order a simple salad or other non-cooked items. It’s much easier to eat out in places such as the New York City area. As home to nine percent of the country’s Jews, there are countless kosher restaurants and delis in various parts of town.

Keeping kosher also has a significant effect on travel. As a kid, during family vacations, I recall times when a connecting flight was canceled and the airline offered food vouchers. While other people used them to eat at a restaurant, my family went to the store and bought a lot of packaged cookies and bananas. Keeping kosher when traveling in a foreign country that doesn’t have a significant Jewish population (as is the case in most countries), can be quite difficult.

The situations I’ve mentioned are just a few examples of what it means to keep kosher. In reality, keeping kosher affects just about all realms of life: it can influence the jobs people take, where one goes on vacation and even where to live.

Ultimately, keeping kosher isn’t just about food. Rather, it’s a daily reminder of our faith.

To learn more about kosher, visit the Orthodox Union’s article “What is Kosher?”

Zev Palatnik is a legislative fellow for the Washington, D.C.-based Orthodox Union Advocacy Center, the non-partisan public policy arm of the Orthodox Union — the nation’s largest Orthodox Jewish umbrella organization.