Religion

#Lighttheworld

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints released a new video called The Christ Child: A Nativity.

Take a break from your Hallmark movies and Christmas shopping because it’s worth watching.

Since I learned a few new things from this new depiction of the Nativity story, I decided to post a blog about it in case someone else can learn something new too.

A few things I loved:

  • Mary, Joseph and all the people in the story are shown as real human beings — flesh and blood people that really had these sacred experiences. The video shows their humanity. It helps us remember that the Nativity story is not a fictionalized holiday tale but something that actually happened and changed the world.
  • Mary and Joseph did not travel alone on a donkey to Bethlehem like most depictions show. They traveled in a caravan of other people and animals.
  • The actors speak in Aramaic, the language of the day, which makes it more authentic. (The only downside is I don’t speak or understand Aramaic but I could imagine their tender conversations.)
  • Mary and Joseph went to Bethlehem to pay their taxes. They planned to stay with Joseph’s family but because so many other people were also there to pay their taxes, it was very crowded.
  • Bethlehem was built on a hillside full of caves and people often built their homes in front of the caves and used the caves for their animals and hay. When Mary went into labor, they were led to the cave behind the home where they were staying so they would have privacy.
  • One of my favorite parts is that it shows men, women, and children following the star to see the baby Jesus. Sheepherding was a family business in Israel so families traveled together to see the Christ child. I loved seeing the women gathered around the Christ child.
  • Christ was not a baby when the wise man arrived to worship him; he was a toddler. I love the visual of the wise men bowing to this little child, knowing who He was and what his gift would be to the world.
  • I loved being reminded of the meaning of the gifts the wise men presented to Jesus. The gift of gold sparkled like the gold used in the temple — the house of God — and it was a symbol of kings. Christ, of course, was the King of Kings.
  • Frankincense was a tree resin gathered in south Arabia and it was given because it provided a fragrance like that used in the temple.
  • Myrrh also was a tree resin and it was used in the temple to anoint and consecrate the High Priest. Christ was the High Priest that brought eternal light, life and God’s presence from heaven to earth.

The Church has been encouraging us to Light the World this Christmas season with small acts of kindness.

We’re having fun trying to do some of them — along with following through on our own ideas!

If you need some ideas on how to light the world, go here. It’s not too late.

Light someone’s world this Christmas season. You might light up your own world while you’re at it.

Religion

Thank you, President Nelson

In our Church’s semi-annual general conference in October, our prophet President Russell M. Nelson issued a challenge to the women of the Church.

President Nelson

He asked us to read The Book of Mormon before January 1st and to prayerfully study it with full purpose of heart. He also asked us to mark each verse that speaks of or refers to Christ.

I took on this challenge and it was one of the best experiences of my life. And, guess what? Christ is mentioned on almost every page. I nearly marked every verse in the book.

I finished reading it December 6th while still in the Outer Banks of North Carolina. I wrote in my journal: “After I finished the Book of Mormon, I held it in my hands for a few minutes, not quite ready to set it down and walk away. I developed a new relationship with it. It occupied so much of my time here, and became my beach hobby, my past time. My goal was to finish it before going home.

“When I closed the book, I kept it close for a while, feeling its power, sweetness and goodness. It felt like Christmas to me — like holding the Christ child in a soft-backed little blue book that an ancient prophet named Mormon compiled.

“It felt like Christmas spirit all typed up, bound and published for me to savor, treasure and relish. It felt like a fire on a cold night, a soft handkerchief wiping away a tear, a hug from God saying, ‘It’s all going to be okay — whatever you’ve been through, whatever you’re going through and whatever is ahead of you, it’s all going to be okay.'”

I took a few minutes to write my feelings in the back of the book, and then I put it down on a table and just stared at it. Without it in my hands, I instantly felt lonelier somehow — filled, inspired and deeply joyful, but like my time with it was over too soon.

I discovered Christ on nearly every page — thousands of times in hundreds of ways. His many titles explain his many roles and purposes. The verbs associated with him explain his power in our lives.

While reading, I started to write a list of all the verbs associated with Christ, but the list became too long.

Some of them included in just the first few chapters tell so much about the character of Christ.

He loved, he went forth, he healed, he cast out unclean spirits, he was lifted up upon the cross and slain, he descended out of heaven, he came down and showed himself, he covenanted, he visited, he saved, he took away stumbling blocks, he grieved, he gave strength, he showed his power, he ministered, he protected, he delivered. The list goes on and on.

If you had asked me to explain the Book of Mormon before meeting this challenge, I would have said something like… it is a book about an ancient civilization, and a man named Lehi and his family and how they left Jerusalem and went into the wilderness; and how some of the family remained righteous and some were wicked… It is about how Christ visited them and taught them his gospel.

That description seems so inadequate and even convoluted to me now. After marking every reference to Christ, now I would say simply the book is about Jesus Christ.

I would agree with our first prophet, Joseph Smith, that, “The Book of Mormon is the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion, and a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book.”

I am grateful for the prophet’s challenge, for the opportunity to power through the Book of Mormon within a couple months, focusing on Jesus Christ, his life and teachings. It made for one of the sweetest Christmases of my life, and left me with a new love of the book that has defined my religion since its publication in 1830.

Thank you, President Nelson for issuing an inspired challenge and for the fulfillment of the blessings you promised would follow. You promised that “changes, even miracles would begin to happen.”

I think the change and the miracle I have experienced is knowing Christ in a different, better way; understanding his gospel on a deeper level, and seeing that the power of the Book of Mormon lies in the fact that it is a book that is ALL about Jesus Christ.

I wonder what this new, bold prophet will challenge us next. He told us to buckle up for more to come, “Eat your vitamin pills. Get some rest. It’s going to be exciting,” he said.

I can’t wait. If the blessings are anything like the ones I felt from accepting his Book of Mormon challenge, there are more good things to come under the leadership of this energetic 94-year old prophet.

If you’d like a copy of the book, let me know or request one here.

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.