Friends, Religion, Uncategorized

Silent Night, Holy Night

Last night we went with friends to a Christmas sing-along at Wolf Trap, where we sat outside on the lawn, bundled in blankets and coats to sing Christmas carols with thousands of other people who came to kick off the holiday season.

lawn

With all the bad news of the world swirling around us, it was a gift to be in a peaceful place with a massive group of kind, generous people singing songs of joy.

At the end of the evening, “The President’s Own” United States Marine Band led us in singing Silent Night by candlelight.

While violence and fear have been pressing down on us, for a couple hours on a Saturday evening, peace and comfort reigned as a crowd of strangers huddled together in groups of families and friends holding candles in the dark sang about a silent, holy night when all was calm and bright.

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I was reminded again today that despite the horrific news and worldly strife, we can find peace when we seek it.

wolf trap

A dear friend, Ann, gave me a beautiful and precious book by Charles Dickens called “The Life of Our Lord” written for his children during the years 1846 to 1849.

This was a personal book that Dickens never wanted published. It was meant as a tender gift for his children to teach them about his love of Jesus Christ.

book

His great, great grandson, Gerald Charles Dickens finally decided it needed to be shared with the world in 1934 because it shares his grandfather’s faith, “which was simple and deeply held. And, “Above all else, it tells of his relationship with his family — my family,” he said.

If I I were to write something of singular importance to my family, it too would have to be based on my belief in the reality and power of our true Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ.

Charles Dickens wrote to his children, “I am anxious that that you should know something about the history of Jesus Christ.

“For everybody ought to know about him.

“No one ever lived who was so good, so kind, so gentle, and so sorry for all people who did wrong, or were in any way ill or miserable…”

Dickens recounts Christ’s birth, life, miracles, parables, death, resurrection and ultimate hope He embodies and stresses what seems to matter most to him.

While explaining Christ’s miracles, he said, “I wish you would remember that word, [miracle] because I shall use it again, and I would like you to know that it means something which is very wonderful and which could not be done without God’s leave and assistance.”

“For God had given Jesus Christ the power to do such wonders; and He did them that people might know He was not a common man, and might believe what He taught them and also believe that God had sent Him. And, people, hearing this, and hearing that He cured the sick, did begin to believe in Him; and great crowds followed Him in the streets and on the roads, wherever He went.”

He told his children how Christ chose disciples from among the poor so that he could show that “Heaven was made for them as well as for the rich, and that God makes no difference between those who wear good clothes and those who go barefoot and in rags. The most miserable, the most ugly, deformed, wretched creatures that live, will be bright Angels in Heaven if they are good here on earth.”

Never forget this when you are grown up,” he urged them.

Never be proud or unkind, my dears, to any poor man, woman, or child. If they are bad, think they would have been better if they had had kind friends, and good homes, and had been better taught. So, always try to make them better by kind persuading words; and always try to teach them and relieve them if you can. And when people speak ill of the poor and the miserable, think how Jesus Christ went among them, and taught them, and thought them worthy of His care. And always pity them yourselves, and think as well of them as you can.”

Let us never forget,” he wrote, “what the poor widow did.” In other words, give all you can even if it means you have to sacrifice something for yourself.

Remember! — It is Christianity TO DO GOOD, always — even to those who do evil to us.”

As we enjoy the Christmas season, I hope as we can follow Dickens’ personal pleas to his family to Never Forget and Remember Jesus Christ — our true gift .

 

 

Community, Religion

Please Don’t De-friend Me

I’m sitting on a plane sending a few birthday messages to my friends when it occurs to me that I’ve been blowing up Facebook with my “Day to Serve” life lately.

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I hope my friends haven’t hid me from their timelines like I’ve wanted to hide my friend Erin from mine.

You see, Erin is so obsessed with MASNsports  photography contest that she posts about a thousand Nats pictures a second. Her one-track posting habits have earned her a lot of grief from her friends, including me.

But, as I looked at my own “Day to Serve” Facebook posts, I realized I should button my sassy lip about Erin’s baseball posts.

I’m an obsessed, one-topic poster too.

Let me try to explain myself…

I am a regional coordinator for Day to Serve. So, early in the beginning of each year, we start holding early morning conference calls to plan this annual service event. Since it’s geographically huge, covering Virginia, D.C., Maryland, and  West Virginia., and we want it to keep growing within this region, it takes over a big chunk of my life, like baseball takes over Erin’s.

The Governors of these states and the mayor of Washington, D.C. appoint staff members to represent them on this committee, and since the LDS Church is a major Day to Serve partner, and I serve as an LDS public affairs director for the DC/Virginia area, I help with everything from news media to interfaith and government partnerships.

The primary focus of our service is on feeding the hungry and improving our communities. We started out with one day a year but grew to a two-week time period to allow more groups to participate, including our friends of the Jewish faith who have a Saturday Sabbath/Shabbat and many Jewish holidays in September.

Can you tell I am trying to justify being a frequent one-topic Facebook poster?

I get so immersed in Day to Serve that I get “share” happy.

A great photo of Bryce Harper with a reminder to buy Nats tickets? Share that baby! A newspaper story about going to the Town of Herndon to promote Day to Serve? Gotta post that! A Feed the Need event in Crystal City? People should know about that!

I wish I could say it might end soon, but we’re starting the most intense time of Day to Serve now because hundreds of service events are going to be happening over the next few weeks and as the results pour in, I won’t be able to help myself.

Please don’t de-friend me for this.

Just patiently understand that it will soon end.

But, in the meantime, try to share the joy with me, and let me brag just a little…

Thanks Julie Fred for the photos
Thanks Julie Fred for the photos

This year, I’ve been particularly proud of our Virginia team for:

  • Getting the Washington Nationals as a Day to Serve partner and having them sponsor two games with part of the proceeds going to Capital Area Food Bank to feed the hungry
  • Getting 500 LDS missionaries to attend the game which helped spike the Nats food donations. After all what do missionaries do anyway? Serve!
  • Getting a Day to Serve proclamation issued by Governor Bob McDonnell
  • Getting Day to Serve resolutions passed in every regional government organization in the Commonwealth of Virginia, resulting in local government jurisdictions following suit and getting their towns, cities, and counties to support Day to Serve. We even saw how one mayor’s leadership in a small Virginia town brought a divided town together under the banner of service.council
  • The Virginia Department of Transportation is encouraging all the participants in the Adopt-A-Highway program to do their clean-up projects during the Day to Serve time frame, adding hundreds of more projects to our effort.
  • Getting the Capital Area Boy Scouts on board with great clean-up projects and a new Day to Serve patchbadge

Of course there are more, but a blog can only be so long.

So far, there are about 500 service events listed on the daytoserve.org website, and many more will start popping up in the next two weeks. The results are so astounding that I’ll have to share that.

You see, when millions of people in a huge region of the United States decide to work together to help each other, it’s news. It’s Facebook-worthy. It begs to be shared, promoted, and posted.

And, I confess I have an ulterior motive: I want you to join us.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N8fR-i-gQFA

Do something over the next two weeks to help someone else. Drop off some food at a food pantry. Send in a check to your local food bank. Fill an extra bag of groceries at the store and remember people who are hungry need quality food. Donate some non-perishable protein like peanut butter.

And, did you know it’s extremely difficult for needy families to afford diapers? People rarely think to give baby supplies.

Go to daytoserve.org and find out how you can be part of this growing movement.

Then, go ahead, share it on Facebook!

You know I will.

 

Religion, Uncategorized

Remembering What You’d Rather Forget

A few months ago, I attended a Jewish Holocaust Observance at the Jewish Community Center of Northern Virginia.

I listened to Leo Bretholz, a 92-year-old Holocaust survivor from Baltimore, tell about how he escaped by jumping out of the window of a train heading for Auschwitz.

.youtube.com/watch?v=wvqAITl9ILQ

Leo Bretholz
Leo Bretholz (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

He is a group of 100 survivors who visit Maryland’s public schools every year.

“I look at the students and wonder if they believe me. It is so inconceivable…but, I cannot forget what happened.”

He gives about 40 talks every year about the Holocaust.

“Do I get tired of it?” He asked. “Yes! But, I have to keep doing it to remember.”

Not only does he want the world to remember the Holocaust, he needs to remind himself “that evil didn’t win.”

Twenty members of his family were killed, including his mom and sisters.

When he was a little boy, his world changed overnight.

When he approached his best friend at school to say hello, his friend spat in his face because suddenly he hated Jews.

When he told his mom about what had happened at school, she said, “Wash your face and forget about it. He didn’t kill you.”

After all these years, there is still disbelief in his voice and sorrow in his eyes.

He goes to the Holocaust Museum and looks at the display of shoes of Holocaust victims and wonders if any of them belonged to his mother or his sisters.

At this same event, former Virginia Governor and U.S. Senator George Allen, spoke about his mother, Henrietta Lumbroso Allen.

Just before her death, she shared the Jewish heritage she had kept secret all of her life.

She was so afraid of discrimination that she never told anybody — not even her children — about her life as a Jew in Tunisia, North Africa.

As the generation of Holocaust survivors dwindle, there was a kind of urgent yearning and sad plea hanging in the room of survivors and families of survivors, begging the world not to forget.

After the program, I visited with some of the survivors and their families.

I thanked a beautiful, graying woman for her tender remarks and she looked into my eyes with a sorrow that made me want to cry and said, “I’m just so worried that after I die and the others of my generation die, people will forget. We can never forget! Promise me, you won’t forget.”

As much as we would like to wipe our minds of such horrors, we shouldn’t.

Remembering keeps the fight against discrimination alive. It keeps freedom at the forefront.

Last week I attended an Inter-religious Prayer Gathering for Religious Freedom at the Saint Thomas More Cathedral in Arlington.

interfaith3 interfaith2 interfaith 1

I savored the spirit of unity that was there as Catholics, Buddhists, Mormons, Anglicans, Lutherans, Hindus and Muslims prayed and sang “America the Beautiful” together.

Together, we offered thanks for the gift of freedom and prayed for an end to persecution and discrimination on the basis of religion throughout the world.

interfaith4I couldn’t help but remember Leo Bretholz, the Holocaust survivor, the beautiful graying woman, and others that asked us to never forget.

To Leo and the others, I remember!

I hope this reminder will spur others on to remember too.

All our freedoms come at a cost.

And, that is something we can never forget.

Religion

Ready for a Sweet Weekend

 

 

Imagine spending eight to 10 hours of this beautiful spring weekend parked on the couch listening to about 30 religious speeches.

 

 

 

That’s how millions of Mormons will be spending this April weekend – glued to the television, listening to the radio or taking advantage of satellite and Internet broadcasts from Salt Lake City where more than 100,000 people will be watching it live.

 

 

 

 

 

 

View of Conference Center spire taken from sou...
View of Conference Center spire taken from south of the Center on North Temple St., Salt Lake City (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

We call this General Conference. And, we’ve been doing this twice a year since 1831 – every October and every April for all those years.

 

 

 

LDS-Mormon-general-conference-info-graphic-apr-2013_Infographic

 

 

 

It’s a Mormon ritual and we love it. We happily, even excitedly, tune in to be taught and uplifted by the leaders of our church.

 

 

 

While growing up in Utah, I remember listening to General Conference on the car radio or watching it on our local CBS News affiliate station.

 

 

 

It sounds like drudgery, doesn’t it? Listening to one speaker after another for hours on end during two of the most beautiful weekends of the year?

 

 

 

Typically, the first weekends of October and April are beautiful, and most people want to be outside enjoying the weather.

 

 

 

Not us Mormons.

 

 

 

No, we turn on our televisions, set the DVR in case we miss something, pull out journals, pens and paper for serious note taking, settle in for each two-hour session, and soak it up like other people who are outside soaking up the bright spring sun.

 

 

 

It’s crazy, isn’t it? But, General Conference is a staple in our religious culture.

 

 

 

Silly fools that we are, we live for it. I think we spiritually thirst for it like nomads thirsty for water in the desert.

 

 

 

But, why, what do we get out of it?

 

 

 

For starters, spiritual sustenance and manna, hope, courage, strength, faith, knowledge, revelation, wisdom, peace, comfort, insight, love, compassion, understanding, a sense of belonging and well-being, and motivation.

 

 

 

What I like most is the feeling that pours into our homes as we watch it.  I imagine it’s how an infant feels while being cradled by a loving parent singing a soft, melodic lullaby – safe, protected, and nurtured.

 

 

 

So, while it sounds crazy, we love conference weekends. It’s like church, but better because we can wear pajamas if we want.

 

 

 

Although I rarely do because my Great Aunt Anna would scold me good for being so slovenly during Conference. She sat up straight in her old rocking chair, dressed in her finest Sunday clothing and didn’t miss a word that was spoken. She loved and reverenced those prophets and apostles so much that she wouldn’t even consider not wearing her finest clothes around them, even if they were just on TV.

 

 

 

While I won’t be dressed in my finest clothes, I will be taking in every word, just like my sweet Aunt Anna. And you know what? I’ll be sad when it’s over. When the Tabernacle Choir sings the last hymn and the closing prayer is said on Sunday evening, I’ll feel like it all went by too fast, and I’ll want to run around my house and gather up all the sweetness that distilled on my home over the weekend and savor it until October when I can experience it all over again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Change, Family, Religion

Rising After a Fall

 

Today as I left my house to go for a walk in the woods, I noticed the tiny buds on our magnolia tree and a few blossoms.

 

Spring is trying to happen, I thought, as I walked down the driveway, bundled in my fleece jacket and gloves.

 

As I walked along the trail, I saw a robin perched on a limb, its bright color a beautiful contrast to the brown, leafless trees.

Sure sign of Spring - Robin - Bird
Sure sign of Spring – Robin – Bird (Photo credit: blmiers2)

Spring will come, I thought. After every long, cold winter, spring always comes.

 

It just always seems to take a little longer than we think it should.

 

Like life, so like life.

 

Change, improvement, second chances, sun on our path, light emerging out of darkness — it all comes.

 

It just takes more time than we want.

 

Like my unemployed friend whose full-time job is finding a job.

 

The wait is killing him.

 

“I keep being told to be patient. But, patience doesn’t pay the bills,” he says.

 

True. Waiting can be the hardest part.

Easter Eggs
Easter Eggs (Photo credit: .imelda)

On the eve of Easter, I think of those who watched the Savior die on a cross.

 

I can’t fathom the grief, sorrow, and pain they felt watching Him be crucified.

 

That unbearable Friday when He died; that Saturday in the tomb.

 

Those days had to be excruciating for those who loved and worshipped Him.

 

But, then, miraculously, on Sunday, he rose.

 

Like the long-awaited spring, He appeared, giving the world the priceless gift of hope.

Garden with some tulips and narcissus
Garden with some tulips and narcissus (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As I walked along the trail, I thought of all the people I know who have made miraculous comebacks.

 

My brother, so addicted to drugs, we lost hope in him. Drugs enslaved him, and stole the man we knew and loved.

 

We couldn’t see a road back.

 

But, day by difficult and long day, he overcame addictions.

 

He rose after a long, steady fall. And continues to rise every day to fight his battle and reclaim his life.

 

My other brother, diagnosed with vascular disease, and then bitten by a brown recluse spider, lost his leg.

 

An avid boater, fisherman, hunter, brick mason, and handyman, he was suddenly housebound in a wheelchair, unable to walk.

 

He lost his way; thinking his so-called life as an amputee  was no life at all.

 

He felt aimless and without purpose.

 

Until he discovered he was still a dad, a husband, a brother, a son, an uncle, a friend, and that even without a leg, he could love them all fiercely and deeply.

 

He could help the sister through cancer, the brother through addictions, the daughters trying to create their own independent lives, the nephew trying to raise four small children.

 

While his life is not the one he planned or ever envisioned — and neither is his amazing wife’s — they too rise every morning, greet the day with gratitude, and fully live the lives they’ve been given.

 

I nearly cried as I walked this morning, thinking of one beautiful example after another of the people I love who rise after a fall.

 

That is the real meaning of Easter, isn’t it?

 

Just when you think spring will never come, you see a Robin on the grass to remind you that winter is on its way out.

 

Just when you think the phone will never ring with a job offer, it does.

 

Just when you think you or someone else can never recover, you do.

 

Change happens, people make comebacks, life gets better.

Easter is a good reminder of that truth.

 

Community, From the News, Religion, Uncategorized

Overwhelmed by the Goodness of Others

Last Friday, President Scott Wheatley, our church’s leader over the area from Vienna to Herndon, Virginia and everything in between, wondered what we could do as a community to help the Hurricane Sandy victims in New York and New Jersey.

President Scott Wheatley with Sharon Bulova, Chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors

He contacted Kevin Calderwood, a church member from Reston who is now serving as a mission president in the New York South Mission of the church, overseeing 200 LDS missionaries. President Calderwood quickly responded and said the people there needed warm clothing, blankets and coats.

We sent out the word last Saturday that these good people needed our help.

I sent an email out to my neighbors, and other members of our congregations in this Northern Virginia area did the same. We also invited some of our church members in surrounding areas to join us by bringing clothing items and gift cards in $25 increments to help our missionaries buy food because they have depleted their own funds eating out. They can’t get back to their own homes for meals and they are spending all their waking hours hauling furniture out of homes and helping people one house at a time.

Local bishops announced an “Emergency Gifts of the Heart” donation event to be held at one of our buildings the next day. One couple in Frederick, Maryland immediately left the church, rallied their neighbors and joined other church members, packing up vans, trucks and a long trailer they towed to Oakton, Virginia because they felt the urgency of the call to help.

On Monday afternoon, the day before the election, when I showed up at the donation site, Stuart and Trina Neel, who organize a similar non-emergency “Gifts of the Heart” event like this twice a year, were busy putting up signs to direct cars through an efficient drive-thru where donors could drive up, drop off their donations and exit the parking lot. Our church members know this drill extremely well after participating in it for at least the last 10 years. In fact, Kevin Calderwood, the NY South mission president, is the church leader who really built up this event in the area all those years ago.

Hunter Daines drops off another bag of donations

Little did he know then that the giving model he perfected would be the same one that would benefit him and those he serves so many years later when faced with perhaps the most challenging assignment in his life as the leader in an area hit by the “storm of the century.”

Slowly the volunteers came. They picked up yellow “Helping Hands” vests, went to their posts and the work began. Volunteers then started coming in hoards and didn’t stop all night. The cars lined up from the drive-up and drop-off area, out the parking lot and down Hunter Mill Road. And the line never let up all night long.

Vehicles stuffed from floor to ceiling continued to be unloaded by teenagers who used their day off from school to gladly help. They rushed the items into the gymnasium where a woman from Rockville had positioned her wheelchair for the evening to direct the teenagers where to put their bags of donations.

Then, hundreds of volunteers hurriedly grabbed bags, tore them open and began the massive sorting.  When stacks of clothing became too high, they piled them neatly below the tables — infants, boys, girls, young women, young men, men and women. We saw boxes full of brand new towels, brand new coats. Families came together and every child had a job to do. The biggest challenge of the night was tracking down enough boxes for all the donations.

Becky Probst from Reston walked into the church and asked Trina what she could do to help. “Do you have a van?” she asked. “I have a van,” Becky said. “Then go find boxes — as many and as fast as you can.” Becky left and wondered where she could go that hadn’t all ready been cleaned out of boxes by other volunteers. Finally, she pulled her car over to the side of the road and said a prayer. “Help me find boxes,” she pled.  The name of a man she’d worked with on a different project years before popped into her head, and that led her to another man who owned a moving company. She emailed him and he responded promptly asking,”How many do you need and when?” Without hesitation, he offered all the boxes we needed AND trucks, and drivers.

In one night, we filled five 26-foot trucks with not an inch to spare and still had boxes we would send up later with another church’s load later in the week. We collected over $45,000 in $25 gift cards, had 400 or more volunteers receiving, sorting, boxing, loading, about 2,500 boxes, 10,000 diapers and over 100 bags of summer clothing we donated to the MS Foundation locally.

Channel 9 and Channel 7 news reporters joined us along with Sharon Bulova, Chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. Everyone was astounded at what we were able to do in 48 hours.

http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=10151186707268192

I put a collection bin on my porch and every time I returned home from an errand, I found more clothing. The bin overflowed, filled up my porch and the sidewalk leading up to the porch. The charitable goodness of my neighbors overwhelmed me. And, by far, the most frequent comment I heard was, “Thank you for giving me an opportunity to help!”

This is just one of my carloads

We had no idea what our community could do in a weekend but when motivated purely by love and a desire to help others, we learned they could do miracles.

When the five-truck caravan arrived in New York and the back doors were opened, I hope the people there felt the love behind every jacket, pair of pants and warm quilt.

And you know what the second most often asked question was?

“What else can I do?”

I got emails from people wanting to take time off work to drive up and help. One was from a church leader in Mount Vernon that said, “I have people chomping at the bit to get up there and help! Just send me the word when it’s time and they’ll be off.”

For now, it’s hard for the rescue workers to accommodate extra people. They can’t feed and house more bodies with an infrastructure so badly ruined, but soon they will have need for manpower, and I have no doubt those calls for help will be answered swiftly and generously.

One of our church leaders was once asked how we get members of the church to do so much service. He wanted to know how we get young men to postpone college for two years while they serve missions and why older couples leave their grandchildren and aging parents to serve humanitarian missions. How do you get people to do so much?

The simple answer was this: We ask.

I’ve seen the same thing in good people everywhere over the last week.

To everyone who helped with this emergency service event, thank you.

It’s amazing how much good we can do in the world when we just respond to a simple call for help even if it’s as small as a $25 gift card, a coat, or a warm pair of mittens for a cold set of hands.

I’m overwhelmed by the goodness around me.

Community, From the News, Religion

Day to Serve and The Snowball Effect

Last January, I received a new church public affairs assignment.

One of our first decisions was to encourage the members of our church to dedicate a day to serve.

We explored the various needs in our communities.

After reviewing some startling hunger statistics, we decided to focus on the needs of those who are considered “food insecure.”

One in four Americans don’t know where their next meal will come from.

11.8 percent of people  in Virginia, one in six people in Maryland, a surprising 27.4 percent in the nation’s capital, 

and 21 percent of children in West Virginia live in families that cannot afford food

We reached out to the Governors of Virginia, Maryland, and West Virginia and the Mayor of Washington, D.C. and asked for their support.

They eagerly jumped on board.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aoIXrRRRikE&feature=plcp

They issued proclamations declaring September 29 as a regional Day to Serve.

They reached out to their community faith groups and asked them to join us by organizing and/or participating in service projects to benefit the hungry.

Governor O’Malley in Maryland set a high bar by sending out letters to over 30 faith groups who all wanted to help.

We have held weekly meetings with our planning committee, which includes representatives from our church and representatives from the Governors’ and Mayor’s offices.

Each week, there is more to report.

More people are catching the vision.

More people want to help.

In West Virginia, all the football games played this Saturday will include food drives.

In Virginia, there are soccer games, 5K races, grocery store food drives, clean-up activities and more.

In D.C., there are “pack the pantry” projects to benefit the Capital Area Food Bank.

In Maryland, there are activities to clean up the environment and restore the health of the Chesapeake Bay, and feed the hungry.

Enthusiasm is building for what will be a historic, unprecedented regional day to serve.

We set up a website at daytoserve.org and asked every organization sponsoring a service activity to add a pin to a google map.

If you go to the site, you’ll see a packed map, full of activities in this wide swath of the country, all designed to feed the hungry or serve the community.

In fact, we maxed out the number of pins allowed on a google map.

We are now in the process of redesigning it to accommodate all the projects that haven’t made it on the map yet.

Every day the snow ball gets bigger with more activities, more donations, and more people gearing up to serve.

If you’re not sure, how to help, go to the website, click on a pin in your community and show up.

Everybody is welcome and everybody is needed.