IN the World

This post is an extension of remarks I offered in a recent sacrament meeting.  The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints does not have paid clergy or preachers.  Rather, each week different members of the ward (congregation) are asked to speak on a specific subject.  I was recently given this opportunity with the prompt “How can we be in the world but not of the world?”

I feel that we frequently focus on the end of that phrase- not OF the world.  Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf, succinctly and eloquently taught us how to do this:

“We will have to stay calm under peer pressure, not be impressed by popular trends or false prophets, disregard the ridicule of the ungodly, resist the temptations of the evil one, and overcome our own laziness.”

This is so important especially in our day where so many lines are being blurred and crossed, however, I think we sometimes pay too little attention to the beginning of that phrase where we are asked to be IN the world.

While this exact admonition is not found word for word in the scriptures, the idea is certainly there and similar commands are made both anciently and in modern times.

In Matthew 5 we read:
14 Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid.

15 Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house.

16 Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.

Additionally, Elder Quentin L. Cook said:

“We cannot avoid the world. A cloistered existence is not the answer. In a positive sense, our contribution to the world is part of our challenge and is essential if we are to develop our talents.”

We are not to be cloistered, or under a bushel.  We need to be on a candlestick and contributing.

Why is that important?

President Russell M. Nelson taught:

“True disciples of Jesus Christ are willing to stand out, speak up, and be different from the people of the world.”

I don’t know about you, but I would like to be counted as a true disciple.

President Spencer W. Kimball offered these thoughts:

“Much of the major growth that is coming to the Church in the last days will come because many of the good women of the world will be drawn to the Church in large numbers. This will happen to the degree that the women of the Church reflect righteousness and articulateness in their lives and to the degree that the women of the Church are seen as distinct and different—in happy ways—from the women of the world.”

While that was specifically directed towards the women of the church, it does not take the men off the hook.  Missionary work is driven forward as we are different, and articulate.  As we stand out and speak up, and as we are a light.

How then can we appropriately be IN the world to be this light?

We can:

Be Involved

Be Inclusive

Be Informed

Be Inspirational

 

Where do we do these things?  Sister Neill F. Marriott taught that we carry a circle of influence with us wherever we go.  I want to discuss 3 circles in which we can carry a significant influence.

 

First in our communities.

Do you know your neighbors?  Are you involved in their lives to any degree?  Do you include them in yours?  My uncle once said that the garage door opener was a destructive force in neighborhoods.  And it’s kinda true, we never have to talk to our neighbors because we don’t have to spend time in our front yards unlocking our doors and it feels awkward to just ring our neighbors’ doorbells for no reason.  Which is why I love Halloween…I get to ring my neighbor’s doorbell, they give my kid candy, and then we chat for a second.

Other Holidays are a great opportunity to connect- I used to make plans to carol to our neighbors at Christmas, but to the dismay of my high school dreams of eternal duets, my husband doesn’t like singing in public, my kids don’t sing on command, and it’s a little less cute for me to sit there and solo on the porch.  Also, we always get overbooked and sick right around Christmas.  So the last 2 years I scrapped the Christmas caroling idea and now we take treats to our neighbors for Valentine’s day.  They love it.  We have an older, wheelchair bound gentleman down the street and he loves our visit.  This last year we met a new neighbor on Valentine’s day, she was actually crying when she opened the door because she was going to have to put down her dog the next day.  I followed up with flowers a few days later to make sure she was doing ok, but I would have had no idea what was going on if I hadn’t taken her a Valentine treat.  Find a reason to knock on your neighbors’ doors periodically, and spend some time outside- in your yard or out for a walk so you have opportunities to meet and talk to your neighbors.

Additionally, the Church Handbook of Instruction states:

Members are also urged to be actively engaged in worthy causes to improve their communities and make them wholesome places in which to live and rear families.

This will depend greatly on your season of life and time availability, but find ways to serve whether on a regular and scheduled basis, or simply donating goods.  There are many opportunities to serve refugees in our community depending on your time and resource availability you could set up an apartment for an incoming family, make and drop off a meal for their first night in the country, stock them up with groceries- you can even do a clicklist and someone else can pick it up if you have the money but not the time, or you can simply donate goods as you declutter your home.  You may be involved on the PTA, or HOA.  Join a club or sports team.  I’m part of a community choir, I’m the only active member of the church in the group- which is completely opposite of any other choir I’ve ever been a part of, but I’ve had many opportunities to answer questions, and share experiences with other members of the choir.

Get in the world by being involved and inclusive in your community.  Avoid being of the world by being offish.

 

The next sphere I want to talk about bridges both locally and nationally.  And since we’re already discussing one taboo topic- religion- let’s just go ahead and discuss politics while we’re at it.

Again from the handbook:

“As citizens, Church members are encouraged to participate in political and governmental affairs, including involvement in the political party of their choice.

Members are encouraged to register to vote, to study issues and candidates carefully, and to vote for individuals whom they believe will act with integrity and sound judgment. Latter-day Saints have a special obligation to seek out, vote for, and uphold leaders who are honest, good, and wise.”

In the last Presidential election, which as you might remember was a little heated to say the least, and an incredibly close call in the end, 45% of adults in the US did not vote.  Please don’t be part of that 45%!  We just had an election about 2 weeks ago…did you vote?  We have another one coming up in about 2 months, will you vote in that one?  And more importantly, will you be an informed voter?

Getting informed is time consuming and can be frustrating as it can be difficult to find unbiased information but it’s SO important.  Take a look a multiple sources, including looking into the other side of the argument.  It may or may not change your opinion, but it will certainly help you make a more informed decision.  It will also help you engage in more civil and constructive discussions on the topic.

We also need to decide what principles will guide our decisions and stick to them.  May I suggest that one of these guiding principles would be to follow the prophet, even, and especially when he may say something that goes against our typical political line of thinking.

Earlier this year I posted something from President Nelson that went against the grain of a certain line of political thought.  The topic and political side are unimportant, but I want to share an exchange that occurred with another member of the church that I knew from my mission.

She responded:
“I’m alarmed that the prophet would make such a [leftist or rightist] and non-sensical comment.”  She went on about her thoughts on the topic then concluded with: “Why do people… now apparently including our prophet!, think that laws impact people’s choices at all??? Utterly ridiculous”

I was a bit shocked that a fellow active member of the church would speak out so derisively of our prophet.  Even to go so far as to call him ridiculous.  But, while this example was extreme, I had noticed multiple examples of a similar attitude when the church made an official statement that went against someone’s political leanings.

I responded to her with these thoughts:

“I don’t think of this as a [leftist or rightist] view. I think that the Prophet is the center, and sometimes the right aligns to center, and sometimes the left aligns to center.

I think the most important thing is to look introspectively and make sure that we are aligning our political views, the policies we support, and our general behavior with God and His teachings rather than trying to make Him and His teachings fit into our political views.”

With the recent statement on the Medical Marijuana bill in Utah, a friend and fellow blogger published an amazing article on this exact same subject of following the prophet.  I highly recommend reading the post, but here is a quote I stole from it by Elder Neal A Maxwell from 1978:

“Discipleship includes good citizenship; and in this connection, if you are careful students of the statements of the modern prophets, you will have noticed that with rare exceptions—especially when the First Presidency has spoken out—the concerns expressed have been over moral issues, not issues between political parties. … But make no mistake about it, brothers and sisters; in the months and years ahead, events will require of each member that he or she decide whether or not he or she will follow the First Presidency. Members will find it more difficult to halt longer between two opinions (see 1 Kings 18:21).

President Marion G. Romney said, many years ago, that he had “never hesitated to follow the counsel of the Authorities of the Church even though it crossed my social, professional, or political life” (CR, April 1941, p. 123). This is a hard doctrine, but it is a particularly vital doctrine in a society which is becoming more wicked. In short, brothers and sisters, not being ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ includes not being ashamed of the prophets of Jesus Christ.”

Please be IN the world by being involved and informed politically but avoid becoming OF the world by putting party above Prophets.

 

The last sphere of influence I will discuss today is our potential global influence via the world wide web.

Social media is a two edged sword, on the one hand it can turn into a major time suck which can take us away from real relationships and higher priorities as well as turning into a war of words and tumult of opinions.  On the other hand, it offers a convenient way to keep in contact with friends, family, and associates and gives us the opportunity to share goodness on a large scale.

 

Elder David A. Bednar, in his address that began the #sharegoodness campaign, taught the importance of our online presence:

“The Lord is hastening His work, and it is no coincidence that these powerful communication innovations and inventions are occurring in the dispensation of the fulness of times. Social media channels are global tools that can personally and positively impact large numbers of individuals and families. And I believe the time has come for us as disciples of Christ to use these inspired tools appropriately and more effectively to testify of God the Eternal Father, His plan of happiness for His children, and His Son, Jesus Christ, as the Savior of the world; to proclaim the reality of the Restoration of the gospel in the latter days; and to accomplish the Lord’s work.”

Sharing goodness isn’t just about always sharing church related material.  I feel it’s more about HOW we share than specifically WHAT we share, and should certainly extend to how we share our opinions on secular matters such as politics, current events, and really any issues that are argued on the internet.

He offered these guidelines to help us as we post on social media:

Be Authentic and Consistent and Seek to Edify and Uplift

“Our messages should be truthful, honest, and accurate.  We should not exaggerate, embellish, or pretend to be someone or something we are not.”

Last year I posted an “end of year review” detailing some of the fun things we had done throughout the year.  We had gone on several trips, etc.  After I posted it, I just didn’t feel well, authentic.  The post made it seem like 2017 was this beautiful fairy tale year.  When in fact, 2017 was a really hard year.  I was struggling with post partum depression, we had 3 ER visits, found mold- hence the ER visits, and my car basically exploded.  Yes, it had a lot of fun moments as well, but I realized in only sharing the fun, I failed to share the goodness.  I failed to share how we had learned and grown and the miracles we had seen despite the challenges.  So I wrote a blog post end of year review to be more authentic and accurate.

From Elder Bednar:

“Our content should be trustworthy and constructive. And anonymity on the Internet is not a license to be inauthentic.”

“We and our messages should seek to edify and uplift rather than to argue, debate, condemn, or belittle.”

Before you post something, make sure it comes from a trustworthy place.  Unfortunately, many entities put together posts and click bait articles that are not entirely true (or just outright lies) and specifically intended to stir contention.  Before you share stop and check that it is true, and then think about how it is worded, will it be informative and potentially inspirational, or will it primarily come off as judgmental and offensive?  A good guide can be to ask yourself if you would say it or share it if the person you disagree with was standing right next to you.  Name calling or insinuating that the other side is stupid is by no means constructive, it merely tears down and creates a bigger divide.  It is possible to disagree without being disagreeable.

Consider the example I gave earlier of my friends’ response to what I posted from Pres. Nelson.  She used words like non-sensical and ridiculous to describe our prophet, even if it wasn’t the prophet, but someone else I held in high respect it would still be rude.  She also insinuated my stupidity which immediately put me on the defensive.  Perhaps a better way to have worded her post could have been:

While I respect our prophet and your opinion on this issue, I am confused by this statement.  The church often emphasizes the need for personal responsibility, and I’m concerned that more laws would not change behavior.

That would have gotten her same point across without being offensive.  You can and should boldly share your opinions, but you ought to do it pleasantly. Because…

“Authenticity is strengthened through consistency. The gospel messages you share will be accepted more readily if your Christlike example is evident in the ongoing pattern of your posts.”

If your other posts and comments do not follow His example and demonstrate His love, then people will not be keen to listen when you share a message that is specifically gospel related.

Elder Bednar went on to say:

“Brothers and sisters, share the gospel with genuine love and concern for others. Be courageous and bold but not overbearing in sustaining and defending our beliefs, and avoid contention. As disciples our purpose should be to use social media channels as a means of projecting the light and truth of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ into a world that increasingly is dark and confused.”

Let’s be in the world wide web by being inspirational but not of the world by being offensive.

In closing I want you to consider the many temples we have in the world.  While we have temples in many areas that are primarily known for their high Latter-day Saint populations, we also have temples in places like New York City and Las Vegas which are certainly more well known for their worldliness.  Temples are here IN the world, but are certainly not of it.

Sis. Marriott shared this insight:

“Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?” We too as [children] of God have been placed all around the world, like temples, and we each have our own unique look and outward design, like temples. We also have a spiritual light within us, like temples.

We have our own roles on the earth.  Each is influential. Each role will have moral power as we reflect gospel truths and temple covenants in our lives.”

I invite you to consider how you can individually be more IN the world by being involved, inclusive, informed, and inspirational then having the integrity to not become OF the world.

Christ-Centered Easter Countdown

You may have seen my Thanksgiving and Christmas Circle activity posts in the past.  I meant to get one together for Valentine’s Day, but then my grandma died in mid January, and while it was very peaceful, funeral arrangements and travel made life a little crazy for a few weeks so unfortunately we didn’t get around to much for Valentine’s Day.  In case you haven’t seen the other holiday activities posts, a little background- this idea came out of a prompting that I needed to be more deliberate in my parenting and in teaching my children the true meaning of Christmas and Easter, and to bring purpose to each holiday we celebrate.  With little to know effort on my part my kids will learn about the Easter Bunny and get an unhealthy amount of candy, but to teach them about Christ’s death and resurrection will take deliberate effort on my part.

I do 24 activities because then I can re-use the same muffin tins as my “advent” calendar for each holiday, with Easter coming pretty early this year, that means that we are starting on March 9th.  Also my kids are 18 months and 3 so this is very targeted to toddler/preschool, but would be easily adapted for older kids.  I’ve also provided links when I have used someone else’s idea and those links have tons of activities that work for older kids.

I took several ideas from the Friend magazine, but decided not to go in the exact order they did just because some activities worked better with our family schedule on different days, and I did not include the coloring activity because it’s a little more coloring than my kids could handle.  But, if you’re kids are more in the 5 and up range it would be a perfect and simple activity already put together for you.

For the most part I do these activities during the day and they are super short, however, if an activity is listed as being part of Family Home Evening that means it will be a little more extended and with the whole family.

Here’s the activity list:

  1.  Friend activity #3-Jesus said, “I thirst.” Jesus felt pain and was terribly thirsty. He understands whenever you feel sick or tired or hurt. Jesus wants us to help others who are ill or tired. What can you do to help someone in your family who isn’t feeling well or is very tired?
    Make a card for a friend who has been sick
  2. Washing feet- we will do this with my foot spa, but last year we just did it in the tub, We show a picture of Jesus washing the feet of the Apostles and then we wash each other’s feet.
  3. Make Resurrection Rolls
  4. Family Home Evening- Friend Jr. Life of Jesus Christ Sequencing activity.  I will put each picture in an egg and make it an egg hunt and then sequence and talk about each part of Christ’s life.
  5. Friend activity #5– Jesus said, “Behold thy mother!”  Before he died, Jesus asked one of His disciples to take care of Mary, His mother. What can you do to show love for a family member today?
    Do a craft for a family member.
  6. Easter Movie Night, we will probably watch To This End Was I Born, and one of the VeggieTales Easter shows.
  7. Friend activity #4– Jesus said, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”  When Jesus felt alone, He prayed and told Heavenly Father about His sad feelings. You can pray too! Try talking to Heavenly Father today like you would to a best friend.
    Review how to say prayers.
  8. Jesus is the Light of the world.  Use trick candles on cupcakes, as the kids blow them out and they re-light explain that even though they tried to put out Jesus light, his light did not go away.  (Got this from The Joy Journey, scroll down, it’s one of the last activities, this is also a great resource for ideas!)
  9. Jesus loves our Family- Cousin Easter Egg hunt at grandparents’ house
  10. Jesus started the sacrament- take the sacrament at church
  11. Jesus is the Lamb of God- make a lamb craft with cotton balls.
  12. Easter Sequencing Activity– this one focuses just on Christ’s death and Resurrection- the other one I’m using covers His whole life.
  13. Family Home Evening- Friend Activity #6– “To day shalt thou be with me in paradise.” This is what Jesus told another man who was about to die. Because of Jesus, death is not the end! We will all go to the spirit world and then be resurrected someday. Who has died that you look forward to seeing again?
    Do the Resurrection glove activity (put your hand inside a glove and explain that your spirit is like your hand and your body is like the glove, take the glove off and explain that when you die your body stays on the earth but your spirit goes to Paradise and waits until the Resurrection when they will come back together.)  We’ve done this before and it helped my son a lot with understanding my Grandma’s passing.
  14. Jesus rode in to Jerusalem on a donkey- go to a petting zoo with a donkey
  15. Resurrection Eggs for toddlers (if you have older kids and just search Resurrection eggs there’s a lot of resources that are more age appropriate, I was just so excited to find this one that is so simple for my littles)
  16. Jesus prayed in a garden and after his Resurrection he visited Mary in a garden- visit the Botanical Garden
  17. Palm Sunday- make hand print Palm fronds out of construction paper
  18. He is Risen cut and paste
  19. Make an “Easter Garden” in a pot with some little plants, a rock for the tomb, etc.  Mine will be much simpler than the one in the link, but it gives a good idea for reference.
  20. Family Home Evening- Friend Activity #7–  “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” Jesus forgave those who hurt Him. We should forgive other people too. Is there someone you can forgive?
    We’re going to focus on forgiving between siblings.  They’ve reached that age where they are seriously bugging each other on a regular basis.
  21. Friend Activity #2– Jesus said, “It is finished.” Even though what Jesus was doing was really hard and hurt a lot, He didn’t give up. He kept on doing the right thing because He loves us and He loves Heavenly Father. Sometimes we might feel like giving up, but we can choose to keep trying. What’s something hard that you have done lately?
  22. Attend the Easter Pageant at the Mesa Temple.  Non-Arizonans might be able to find a local church that does a Passion play.
  23. Jesus continued His church by calling a Prophet.  Read about President Nelson in the Friend and watch General Conference.
  24. Easter Day- Friend Activity #1–  Jesus said, “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.” Jesus knew that He would see His Heavenly Father again after He died. Because of the Atonement of Jesus Christ, we can also live with our Heavenly Parents someday! What’s something you can do today to follow Jesus?

As far as Easter baskets go, again if you search there are so many good ideas for Christ-centered baskets, from actual Christ-centered items to adorable printables with scripture related sayings to go with candies and toys.  I like to keep it really simple, and know that we’ll get candy and little toys from other sources, so we will probably get an Easter related book and an Easter related movie and call it good.

Happy Easter everyone!  I hope this helps you brainstorm some good ideas for your family as your prepare to celebrate this beautiful holiday.

Audiobooks: So that talking to myself isn’t my only adult interaction of the day

I love having the opportunity to be home with my kids.  We do our best to get out of the house, have play dates, go to museums, etc.  They require a lot of brain power sometimes, especially when figuring out discipline.  But it’s a different kind of brain power than I used while working and going to school.  They are a little less intellectually stimulating.

I see women, especially stay at home moms, commenting regularly on the internet about feeling like they are losing themselves.  Me too.  I’ve been there, still there sometimes.  I mean we all love our kids, and for many of us the staying home thing is a CHOICE we made.  But if you’re not careful, kids and basic child and home care can suck the life out of you.

As I mentioned in my birth stories post, I started suffering from depression while I was pregnant with my second.  I then faced a very traumatic birth experience which left me with Post Traumatic Stress on top of PPD and a predisposition to anxiety.  When I say a predisposition to anxiety I mean that when I am at my typical baseline I can cope fine without the help of medication, certain situations and circumstances can put me over the edge, but overall I’m fine and functional.  That wasn’t the case during the pregnancy or after.  I ended up being treated with medication after, which I am so glad I did, but I also didn’t want to be on it forever.

I found a really great primary care doctor who wanted to help me with my goals, we set up a plan for me to take the meds for 6 months and in the meantime work on building up my ability to cope so that I could wean off the meds and be fine.

So she asked me what I could do for ME, something that had nothing to do with kids or home or even my husband, just ME.  I was pretty stumped.  I sing in a community choir once a week, which is awesome and a great outlet, but it’s once a week.  She wanted me to figure something out daily.  She asked me what I used to do before kids that was for me….uh…..this shouldn’t be that hard to think of, but I mean back then everything was for me because I didn’t have kids.  So that was my homework assignment, to take some time to figure something out that could be just for ME.

I did some soul searching.  I mean whatever it was going to be it couldn’t really take up much time because then you have to find babysitters which can end up just adding extra stress and anxiety because then you have to find someone that’s available and hope that you aren’t causing them extra stress, and do you pay them or trade because too much of both would just add more stress and then there’s the financial commitment of going to something like Yoga which is everyone’s first idea of what you should do if you struggle with anxiety, but I’m not flexible so yoga might just be frustrating and add to my anxiety anyway…. and now you probably feel anxious as well as you realize how much my brain over thinks and can’t just do something for me.

So needless to say, yoga was out.  I started thinking about what I felt like I was missing that I used to have.  The two things that came to me were intellectual stimulation and frequent adult interaction.  I have awesome friends, but we’re not together all day like you are with coworkers.

Then the little light bulb went off in my brain.  When I have light bulb moments all the crazy racing thoughts calm down.  For me, that’s how I know that the Spirit is telling me something, the storm of thoughts calms down and I can think clearly through a plan.  Audiobooks that little voice said.  They take no extra time away from my family so I don’t have to worry about babysitters or the mom guilt of leaving them.  I can listen to them while I drive which also fixed the annoyance I was starting to feel at every song on the radio (I think I got old, I can’t stand what the kids are listening to these days).  I can listen while I do housework which makes housework more fun because I try not to think of it as chore time as much as audiobook time.  I pick books that are intellectually stimulating and there’s an adult voice talking at me.  So it doesn’t remove my need for actual adult interaction, but it’s way better than the little voices on Umi Zoomi and Bubble Guppies (although of the kids shows out there I do find these ones less annoying).

Pause- why not just actually read?  For me I struggle with taking the time to sit down and read when there are so many things I feel like I should be getting done.  Also, nothing puts me to sleep faster than reading.  In high school my mom legit read the entirety of Jane Eyre out loud to me because when I sat down to read it within ten minutes I would be asleep.  This also might sound silly, but holding a book hurts my neck and arms- pathetic right, like I should probably do some arm exercises so I can hold the weight of a book up.  Finally, you can’t read and drive so it would cut out a significant amount of my “reading” time.

I’ve been listening to books basically constantly now since January and I’m loving it.  It’s been a great way to use my phone as a tool instead of a trap.  I’ve been very inspired by a lot of the books and also feel like I can have more meaningful conversations.  I was struggling a lot when people asked what I was up to in life, well….kids.  And again, I love my kids and I will tell people about my kids, but now I also have something for ME to add in to conversations.

Side note- I was able to successfully get off my meds a few months ago.  Now, I’m not suggesting that audiobooks are a CURE for depression and anxiety.  But for me, finding something that is fun, stimulating, and focused solely on my interests instead of the interests of my family has helped me feel like me again which in turn has helped me be a better mom and wife.  You’ve gotta take care of yourself before you can really take care of others.

So without much further ado…what have I been listening to and how I access them?  Here comes some unsponsored reviews.

First off, how I access them.  I primarily use the app Overdrive, but also sometimes use Audible.

Overdrive:

Pros:  It’s FREE!!!  You sign in to your library using your library card and then you can access a bunch of audiobooks (or e-books if that’s your thing).

Cons:  It’s free…which means that there are frequently wait lists for more popular books.  Once a book is checked out you have 2 weeks before it disappears on you (but hey, you never have to worry about late fees).  I’ve run into issues before where I’ve been on a few wait lists and suddenly 2 books are checked out to me at the same time, I think if you are watching your place in the lineup and you realize that might happen you can let someone go ahead of you in line, but I don’t pay enough attention and haven’t tried it, so then I have 2 books to finish in only 2 weeks.  You’re also limited to what they have available, you can suggest books for them to buy, but you are left to them to decide if they will or not and on their timetable.

Audible:

Pros: Lots more books, no time constraints because you own it.

Cons: Not free.  Audiobooks can be a little pricey but you can subscribe and then use credits to buy books typically at a discount (except some books cost less than a credit is worth to buy them outright).

I use Overdrive most of the time because I enjoy free, but periodically we subscribe to Audible for a month or 2 to get credits and my husband and I buy a few books at a time.  We have very different book interests so we share an account, but for the most part don’t share books, every now and then we find something for a road trip that we both find interesting.

Now for some book reviews!

I am Malala by Christina Lamb, Malala Yousafzai, and Patricia McCormick:  I kinda feel like this should be mandatory reading for our country right now.  This really helped me understand what has been going on in the Middle East.  It also helped me learn so much more about different groups within the Islamic faith.  I felt empowered as a woman and an educator, I felt my heart grow and develop greater charity, and I felt sad that so many people judge Muslims based on a such a small group of extremists.  If you only read one book from my list, make it this one.

My Story by Elizabeth Smart: very inspiring and well presented.  It’ll make you think twice about leaving windows open or picking up a hitch hiker.  She is very honest and straightforward about what happened to her without being uncomfortably graphic.

Heaven is Here by Stephanie Nielsen: this is about the LDS blogger who was in a plane crash and burned over 80% of her body.  This was really powerful.  I loved how real and open she was about the struggles, both physical and emotional, that she went through in her healing process.  It was really inspiring.

Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand: Holy Cow!  This is the story of Louis Zamperini an Olympic track star turned second lieutenant in the Army Air Corps during World War II.  He survived 47 days floating on a raft (which is a crazy enough story as it is) only to then be captured and spend the next 3 years in various Japanese prisoner of war camps, only to have to come home and figure out how on earth to piece a life back together.  His story is a beautiful example of endurance, love, and faith.  I learned a lot of things about the Pacific Theater that I didn’t know previously.  I feel like the main focus in my schooling about World War II was on the European Theater, which is really important to know and understand, and there’s only so much time that can be devoted to it, but it was really interesting to learn more about what was going on on the other side of the world.

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr: Another World War II story, this one is a work of fiction.  This is book is beautiful.  He is really able to paint an amazing picture with words.  The book jumps back and forth following a blind French girl and a German orphan whose talent with radios lands him a high ranking place in the German army.  The story is very touching and really makes you think through difficult topics.  I loved every minute of it.

Animal Farm by George Orwell:  Not sure how I got through High School and then college without ever reading this, but I did.  So glad I finally took the chance to read it.  It’s pretty short.  I listened to it on the way to and from Tucson in a single day.  It’s scary how much it reminded me of our present political situations.

The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo:  Some really awesome ideas, and I’m trying to implement things.  Mostly I wish I could afford to have her come over and fix my house because I’m not sure how I would ever find large enough blocks of time to do it on my own.  A lot of the ideas sounded amazing if you live by yourself, but living with a husband and children a lot of things didn’t feel super practical.  So, unfortunately it didn’t completely change my life like I hoped, but I do get rid of stuff and have found some better ways to keep things organized.  I also really liked her thought that we should say thank you to our possessions for what they do for us but once they are no longer serving a purpose it is time to put them to rest.

Rising Strong and Daring Greatly by Brene Brown: These were life changing.  I can’t say enough about how much I love Brene Brown, her work, her ideas, and her delivery.  I feel like we’re kindred spirits.  She explains her ideas using stories and personal experiences.  If you need help with parenting, leadership, marriage, or just general being a good person then her writing is for you.  I am excited to keep reading more of her stuff in the future.

The Power of Now by Ekhart Tolle: Mind blown- which might have been the point.  There were a lot of things I wholeheartedly agreed with, a lot of things I am still attempting to process, and some things I outright disagreed with.  Which is probably the mark of a good book because it really made me think.  Except his whole point was to stop thinking so hard, so I’m still not really sure how I felt about it.

Beautiful Bodies by Kimberly Rae Miller:  I loved this book.  I felt like in many ways she was writing my story of struggling with body image issues since an all too young age.  It made me cry, made me laugh, made me angry, and left me feeling empowered.  I could go on and on about this topic, but that probably needs to be its own post at some point.  Warning, there is a little bit of adult language and subject matter.  But seriously if you have ever struggled with body image or know someone who does, or you want to help prevent body image issues in your children then this book is for you.

Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly: I saw the movie first.  The movie was very compelling, interesting, and entertaining, but also stretched the truth a lot and added in story elements that aren’t in the book.  I’m assuming they did this to make it more interesting, because unfortunately while the book has a very interesting topic, I didn’t find the presentation very interesting.  I’m still glad I gave it a listen because I think it is really important to bring out the “Hidden Figures” of history across the board.

Magnolia Story by Chip Gaines, Joanna Gaines, and Mark Dagostino: This one I actually physically read, crazy right!  I had the opportunity to go visit Waco back in February and wanted to read it before I went so a beautiful friend loaned me her copy.  I couldn’t put it down.  They are some really inspiring people.  In fact, this book is part of what gave me the kick to get serious about getting this blog started (it still took me a few months after I finished the book, but here we are so obviously it worked).  I feel like Joanna and I have a lot in common with big dreams, but when she would share those dreams with Chip he would make them a reality.  While I’m still not as willing to take as many risks as Chip takes, in fact if my husband did half the things Chip did/does I would have pretty regular and major freak outs, but it really inspired me to realize that I did need to stop just dreaming, take some risks, and just get moving on things.

Past General Conferences:  These I listen to through the Gospel Library App, not Overdrive or Audible.  This is may be the best of both worlds because they are free and I can listen at my leisure.  Twice a year the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints holds a worldwide General Conference in which the General leaders address us on pertinent topics effecting us in these times.  In many ways its a great opportunity to consider how the scriptures of old apply to us in modern times.  I started listening “backwards” starting with the most recent and then I’m moving backwards through the conferences.  I’m back to 2013.  I’m really enjoying re-listening, there’s been several talks that I had forgotten about that maybe didn’t apply to me in great deal at the time that are really hitting me now.  While this definitely doesn’t replace sitting down and studying, it’s a great way to get a little bit of inspiration in during the day.  And General Conference is coming up again next week!  You can stream it and watch from home or find a meetinghouse near you.

 

Thanks for reading!  I hope you’ve found some ideas for “me time” whether that’s going to be books or not, and if it is books, then I hope you give some of these a gander.

What have you been reading lately???  I’m always looking for more!

 

 

 

Kindness and Charity- Part 2- Barriers

In part one I discussed background and definitions for kindness and charity.  If you didn’t read that one, first off you should, but if you’re still not convinced to click and give it a quick perusal, essentially charity is a deep and powerful love for mankind.  The kind of love that would motivate you to do anything to help another person.  Kindness is how we express our feelings of charity.

This post will deal primarily with some of the barriers I feel that many of us face that either prevent us from developing or diminish our feelings of charity.  Part 3 will share some ways to break down the barriers.

As I talk about some of these barriers you might realize that you’ve done some of these things.  My intention is not to call out anyone individually as these are things I have observed generally and in many cases struggle with as well.  So please don’t feel like I think you’re a bad person if you struggle with these barriers, just take the opportunity to look introspectively and consider if there might be some ways you could improve.  (The correct answer is that all of us can improve in all of these areas!).

With out much further ado (although I do enjoy further ado), the barriers:

ASSUMING SINISTER MOTIVES

We all do this from time to time, sometimes in very simple ways.  We assume that someone did something specifically to bother us, or that they are a jerk, etc.  But I see this most often in regards to political positions.  We assume that the other side of the issue is evil, lazy, hateful, and in general the spawn of Satan.

Let me give an example.  Trigger warning, controversial subject about to be discussed!

Welfare.

Chances are a lot of you just got in the mood to be defensive about your position and why the other side is wrong, and evil, etc.  I see this all the time.  A person with conservative leanings expresses an opinion that contradicts the current welfare system.  Immediately it is assumed that they HATE poor people!  They don’t understand what it’s like.  Etc. Etc. Etc.

On the flip side someone says something in favor of the current welfare system and the other side assumes they’re just lazy, they aren’t even trying, etc. etc. etc.

Stop!  Take a step back.  Don’t assume sinister motives.

So I fall in the camp of having concerns with the way the welfare system is run currently.  If you accuse me of hating poor people I might smack you (except that wouldn’t be very charitable so I won’t!).  It’s quite the opposite actually.  I don’t say this to toot my own horn, or do my alms before men, but you should know before you accuse me of hating poor people that my family donates a decent portion of our income to the poor, I regularly hand food or water bottles to pan handlers on the street, I recently helped in a service project to make “plarn” (plastic yarn) that gets crocheted into sleeping mats for the homeless, and last week I took dinner to a refugee family arriving from Cuba.  I spent a good amount of time on my mission serving and teaching people in the ghetto and spent my first year and a half of teaching in a Title I school.  So yep, you got me, the reason I disagree with how the welfare system is run because I HATE poor people.  Quite the opposite actually, I have qualms with it because I love the people being served by these programs but have unfortunately witnessed generational problems and even oppression that are the unintended consequences of the system and simply feel that there might be a better way to serve them.

Are there people that disagree with welfare that can be hateful and need a charity check? Oh most definitely.

Flip side.  As I mentioned above I have had the opportunity to associate with a lot of people with financial struggles.  By and large they are not lazy.  They are trying their best.  They need help.  And those that I know that support the welfare system in its current state simply want to help them.

Are there some that are lazy or wasteful?  Uh, yeah, a few.

Now we could argue and debate until we’re blue in the face about the merits of both sides.  But that’s not my point here.  My point is that when we stop assuming the other side has sinister motives and instead attempt to understand their position and feel charity, maybe just maybe, we could have a civil discourse and actually kindly solve some problems.

But also, do take a look at your motivation for your positions, and ask yourself, “What if love [was my] only motive?”

 

VIEWING PEOPLE AS “OTHERS” INSTEAD OF AS “BROTHERS”

Another barrier to charity that I see is that we label people in other groups instead of viewing them as human beings, children of God- literally our brothers and sisters in the human family.  It’s easy to speak disdainfully of groups: Democrats, Republicans, Christians, Jews, Muslims, Atheists, Whites, Blacks, Mexicans, Illegals, Gays, Pro-lifers, Pro-choicers, Feminists, the Wealthy, the Poor, the “others”.  When we view people as “others” instead of “brothers” we have a tendency to dehumanize them, we say things about groups that we probably wouldn’t say about individuals.  We make assumptions, pass judgment, and turn them into the enemy.  We start to hate them.  But we don’t really know who “they” are.

They are individuals, complex human beings, our brothers and sisters.

Here’s another pretty controversial topic to illustrate this point:

Police brutality, the BLM movement, etc.

People have been killed by police officers.  I’ve seen a lot of lies, damn lies, and statistics about the numbers.  Some people throw out the argument that it’s being blown out of proportion because more white people are actually killed each year than black people, but then there are fewer black people than white people in America so what’s the actual percentage.  And we go around and we fight and we lay blame on the “others.”  It’s their fault!  Insert whichever antecedent for “their” that you want.

What if when one of these horribly unfortunate stories comes up on the news we stopped for a moment and grieved for our brothers.  A human life was lost, and whatever circumstances lead up to it, that’s sad, and we ought to mourn for our brothers, the one that we lost and the ones closely involved that will now go through the grieving process of the one lost.  After we’ve taken a moment to mourn, then we can calmly begin to discuss what everyone as part of the human family can do to prevent future tragedies whether that’s police training, body cameras, better outreach programs in struggling neighborhoods, better education, or whatever other ideas can be thought of.  Then when someone has a different idea than you do, see above, don’t assume sinister motives, try looking at them as your brother.

I have 2 biological brothers.  Do we agree on everything?  Heavens no!  Do they drive me crazy sometimes?  Most definitely!  Sometimes I tell them things straight up when I think they’ve made a less awesome decision, and things are definitely more peaceful when we don’t live under the same roof.  But they’re my brothers, and I love them.  I hurt when they hurt, I feel joy in their accomplishments, I worry for them, I cheer them on and support them.  And all of that comes ahead of any disagreements on lifestyle choices, political views, religious convictions, or plain brotherly annoyance.

If we could start looking at “others” as our “brothers,” maybe we could love them despite the differences, we could stop entrenching against each other, and we could start working together.  We could develop feelings of charity and show them kindness.

 

MISUNDERSTANDINGS AND THE RESULTING FEAR

There’s an unfortunate amount of misinformation, fake news, and outright lies that are generated and perpetuated (much faster thanks to the invention of something we like to call the “interwebs”).  One of my favorite examples of the perpetuation of ridiculous information is that my grandfather, while serving an LDS mission in the late 1940’s in the central United States, was approached by a stranger and asked if they could see the scars on his head from where his horns were removed.  This person had been told that all Mormons were born with horns.  For the record, we are not born with horns, we are just normal people, ok maybe normal is a stretch, but we are in fact human beings lacking in the horn department.

But imagine for a moment the fear that could result from this misinformation.  There is a natural trepidation that comes with the unknown, but if you add on top of it frightening misinformation about the unknown that will result in outright fear.  If I thought someone was walking around that might have horns I might become overly defensive which at the least could lead to blocking out otherwise nice people, or worst case scenario, in many cases this type of unfounded fear from misinformation has lead to violence.

On a much more serious note, the spreading of misinformation and outright lies about the Jews is what allowed a nation, which I’m sure for the most part was actually full of very wonderful and loving people, to commit, support, or at least stand by and allow the atrocities performed during the Holocaust.  It took some very evil people in power, with some evil henchmen, to convince a lot of neutral people to be afraid, and next thing you know, they aren’t so neutral.

This problem was not isolated to the early 1900s.  In fact, in some ways it might be getting worse because of the internet.  Fear mongering as click bait runs rampant.  Fake news, or at least assumptions without facts are made constantly (and you know what they say about assume).

I see this most often currently in regards to Muslims.  The picture that has been painted of Muslims for Americans for years has been very negative and in most respects completely wrong.  Do they have customs, traditions, and beliefs that differ greatly from most common American customs, traditions, and beliefs? Yes.  Has there been oppression of women in certain areas?  Yes.  Are there some extremists that have done and continue to do some very evil things with the guise of being for Islam?  Yes- but they are few and far between.

I recently read I Am Malala about a teenage girl from Pakistan who was an activist for education and was shot in the head by the Taliban.  The book is wonderful, I learned so much from it, but my biggest take away wasn’t something that was explicitly discussed in the book.

I feel like the general public views Muslims as a little more cohesive than they actually are.  If you consider Judaism, there are several sects that follow “the Law” with varying degrees of orthodoxy from those that live in small communes and keep kosher exactly, to groups that live their daily lives in a similar manner to the mainstream but still hold to traditions and holidays.  The rabbis may bicker among themselves what is correct, but they are all Jews.  Same with Christians.  There are so many different sects of Christianity, following the same basic core beliefs, and yet practicing it and interpreting it so many different ways.  There are some groups that follow a very rigid set of laws, and others that take a more “anything goes” approach as long as you accept Jesus.  While the groups bicker and sometimes try to define other groups out of Christianity, they are all Christians.

But Muslims, without knowing much about what they believe, I fear that the picture most Americans have in their head is that all women are forced to wear burkas and can’t leave their house alone, and all men are blood thirsty jihadists.  That is so far from being the truth.  Within Islam there are also many groups with varied approaches to how they practice.  Malala, and particularly her father, are very devout in their faith, and yet less traditional than the picture that has been painted in the minds of most Americans.

It made me begin to realize that many people are judging all Muslims off of misinformation and the fear of a small group of extremists.  I would prefer not to be judged as a Christian off of the actions of the Westboro Baptists, so don’t judge Muslims, who are by and large very peaceful, off of the actions of an extremist group.

The moral of the story- learn and research from credible sources before you jump to fear as your conclusion.  Think and fact check before sharing something that might contain misinformation.  Don’t let misinformation and the resulting fear allow you to stand back and allow atrocities to happen to others.

Don’t let barriers get in the way of developing charity and demonstrating kindness for ALL of God’s children.

_________

Coming soon- Part 3- Breaking Down the Barriers

 

 

Kindness and Charity- Part 1- Definitions

I have the wonderful opportunity of being a teacher for the Relief Society in my ward (that’s the women’s group in our congregation if you are not familiar with LDS lingo).  I love preparing lessons and presenting them to the women and would like to share these thoughts with a bigger audience.  I’m creating a category for my lessons.  While these obviously are written primarily with an LDS audience in mind, I will do my best to make the points as generally accessible and understood as possible.  They will also go much more in depth than what I present on Sundays.

The lessons I teach come from recent General Conference addresses.  Our local leadership selects the talks that they feel are most important for us to focus on at a local level.  A few months ago they selected Kindness, Charity, and Love by President Thomas S. Monson.

We believe that President Monson is a latter-day prophet.  Essentially the same as Noah or Moses in ancient times.  We believe that God has chosen him to be his mouthpiece to the world.  If you have read this specific message you will notice that it is rather short, I printed it out and it fit on one page.  These addresses are typically longer, but as President Monson is growing old his physical stamina to deliver an extended message is waning.  To me, that means, that anything he is using his limited energy to say must be pretty important for us to pay attention to and apply in our lives.

President Monson begins by quoting from the Book of Mormon Moroni 7:44-47:

“And if a man be meek and lowly in heart, and confesses by the power of the Holy Ghost that Jesus is the Christ, he must needs have charity; for if he have not charity he is nothing; wherefore he must needs have charity.

“And charity suffereth long, and is kind, and envieth not, and is not puffed up, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked. …

“Wherefore, my beloved brethren, if ye have not charity, ye are nothing, for charity never faileth. Wherefore, cleave unto charity, which is the greatest of all, for all things must fail—

“But charity is the pure love of Christ, and it endureth forever; and whoso is found possessed of it at the last day, it shall be well with him.”

I love these thoughts on charity.  First that without it we are NOTHING.  It doesn’t matter what else we aspire to or attain in this life, if we don’t develop charity, and if the things we attain aren’t products of our charity, then we have accomplished nothing.

Now consider that charity never fails and that it is the pure love of Christ.  What exactly does the “pure love of Christ” mean?  For those that come from a non-Christian background, please don’t feel like I’m forcing Jesus on you, but for the purposes of understanding how I define this word, consider the following.

We believe that Christ led a perfect life, that he was completely without sin or mistakes.  At the end of his life we believe that he chose to die for all of us so that we could overcome our sins and mistakes.  This entailed him feeling all of our guilt.

My little boy is 3 and starting to understand when he does something wrong or hurts somebody (sometimes at least).  Recently he was playing at the children’s museum and ran straight into a girl and knocked her down and made her cry.  I yelled out, “Be careful!” right as I saw the collision about to occur.  She was not hurt badly, probably more shocked than anything, but she cried and ran to her mom.  My little guy came to me trying to hold back tears feeling bad that he had hurt her.  His poor little face was so sad because he’s still so innocent but felt the guilt of his actions.  So imagine someone that has been completely innocent their whole life suddenly feeling EVERYONE’S guilt.  And not just the little things like accidentally running into someone, the bad and ugly decisions of our lives, he suddenly felt them.  And then it didn’t stop there.  We learn in Alma 7:11-12 that he also took on ALL of our pain, afflictions, temptations, sicknesses, and infirmities.  We talk about walking a mile in someone’s shoes.  He walked more than a mile, he walked it all so he can truly love us.  He knows our pain perfectly and therefore can love us perfectly.  And then it didn’t stop there.  He then allowed himself to be mocked, and whipped, and spat upon, falsely accused, and finally killed in the gruesome manner of crucifixion.  He could have stopped it at anytime, but he chose to continue so he could overcome death for us.  But, how, how could anyone do that.  The answer is that charity never fails.  If he had done it with any other motive than love he would not have been able to endure it all.

That’s what I mean then when I refer to charity, or the pure love of Christ, it’s love strong enough, tested enough, and understanding enough to be willing to sacrifice everything for others no matter what, no strings attached.  It’s a feeling of love deep down inside us that must become a guiding force in our lives.

Once we can begin to develop that feeling for others, it manifests itself through our actions in kindness.  President Monson quotes another apostle and his dear friend Elder Joseph B Wirthlin:

“Kindness is the essence of a celestial life. Kindness is how a Christlike person treats others. Kindness should permeate all of our words and actions at work, at school, at church, and especially in our homes.

“Jesus, our Savior, was the epitome of kindness and compassion.”

The scriptures are full of stories and examples of the kindness our Savior expressed to others from large things like weeping with his sisters and then raising Lazarus from the dead, showing compassion to the woman taken in adultery, to smaller acts like turning water into wine for the marriage feast.  He went about doing good and being kind to everyone, regardless of their status, culture, or lifestyle, and no matter how complex or simple the need.  We may not be able to solve every problem as miraculously as he did, but no matter what we CAN be kind.

_________

Stay tuned- next post will deal with barriers we face that prevent us from feeling charity and expressing kindness