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Posts Tagged ‘faith’

The holidays can bring such joy — families gather together to share specially prepared meals, exchange gifts, and savor the particular magic that seems to permeate the air. Frosty windowpanes frame displays of trees and candles whose lights dance about merrily. The cold makes noses jauntily pink, and hot cocoa and spiced cider warm everyone back up. The scents of cinnamon and pine waft through the air.

Of course, that’s the ideal, what sparkles in our memories of favorite holidays. It’s also possible, with busy lives and the demands of work, kids’ last days of school before the winter break, and just trying to get ready for the expectations of what the holidays should be — grocery shopping, endless treks to the mall to get the toys and gadgets on the kids’ wish lists, getting lights strung around the house — to lose sight of the true meaning of the holidays.

Here are a few ideas for ways to bring back that wonderful feeling that can be the hallmark of this special time of year.

Get ideas from Grandma.

Ask an older member of your family, such as a grandmother or great-uncle, to share a tradition from his or her childhood and incorporate that this year. Grandma may tell you how when she was little she put her shoes outside the front door to have them filled with goodies from Santa Claus, instead of in a stocking next to the fireplace. This might work particularly well if you don’t have a fireplace and the children worry how Santa can get to their stockings without one!

Shake the family tree.

This free land of ours is a melting pot of many countries with their own unique practices surrounding the holidays. Your family may be a mixture of Russian, British and Norwegian, for example. Look up Christmas traditions that are common in Norway, perhaps, and pick one or two to incorporate this year in your celebrations. Christmas Eve dinner there usually features pork or lamb ribs or even cod, according to visitnorway.com, followed by the opening of gifts waiting under the tree. Get a recipe for Norwegian-style ribs and try that as a main course, and do the same for the traditional cookies — goro, krumkaker or berlinekrans.

Plan to volunteer or give back somehow as a family.

Depending on your family’s size and the ages of your children, it may be easy to find some way to give back to your community in some way or it may be a bit more challenging. Little ones won’t have a long attention span or may not be old enough to help out at homeless shelters or places that provide free meals, for instance. But anyone can find some way to serve others. Donating cans or boxes of nonperishable food items is a simple option; children can help Mom pick out vegetables they like and want to share with others. Take a box or bag full to your local food pantry. A more one-on-one way to brighten someone’s day is to visit a nursing home. Share your talents, such as music, or just sit and visit and ask an older person about his or her life. Ask him or her about long-ago traditions or holiday memories, even.

Re-emphasize your faith.

lightOur holidays are based on religious events, after all. Find a way to focus more on “what it really is all about.” Make an advent calendar that takes the whole month of December leading up to Christmas Day to remember miracles Christ performed. I’ve been enjoying the LDS Church’s #lighttheworld initiative this month so far, which gives an idea of something to do service-wise every day of the month leading up to the 25th, based on what Jesus did in his life.

Gift a memory.

It can sometimes be difficult to find just the right gift for a loved one. This year, try “throwing it back” by finding an item that reflects a favorite toy or experience the recipient had as a child. Children of the ‘80s had Atari game systems; try giving him a classic video game set in the form of an app. Maybe your grandma misses the beautiful farmhouse she grew up in; give her a framed photo of it or an ornament that harks back to it. Or try a charm for a bracelet or necklace. Have some fun!

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I believe in what’s now referred to as “traditional” marriage. I strongly believe it should be between a man and a woman. And I believe this because of my faith.

So I am not celebrating today’s Supreme Court ruling.

I realize that many are, and that this is now the law of the land. I respect others’ choices and strong beliefs that go opposite of my own, and I DO NOT HATE them. I have never been unkind to friends and acquaintances or strangers who are homosexual. I do not believe in hate speech. But I do believe I have a right to disagree, respectfully, and not have my personal belief labeled “bigotry” or “hate speech.” I also feel it is now important for me to explain briefly why I believe the way I do.

Contrary to what some may expect, I am not a “traditionalist.” I don’t believe AT ALL that anything should continue just because “that’s the way it’s always been.” Many, many negative behaviors, beliefs, practices and laws have been perpetuated because too many people did not have the courage to change them to what would be better, or just plain right.

I do believe that if something is right, it should be supported. I could make all the arguments about why I believe that changing the definition of marriage is not going to be good for society or for children. But those have been made in many places and I do not need (or have space) to repeat them here. Besides, those are arguments, and there are many arguments that go the opposite way. We could all (and certainly have been) go around in circles, debating and arguing and ramping up the anger. I do not like that idea at all.

I support marriage between a man and a woman because I believe what my church teaches. And here’s where it gets radical: my church doesn’t teach this doctrine because of some references in the Bible or some somewhat vague ideas on what Jesus may have taught about the practice of homosexuality. My church teaches this doctrine because we believe that revelation happens today. I read and learn from the Bible. But The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was founded two centuries ago on a foundation of being the restored church that Jesus founded two millennia ago. That means we have a president who is a prophet, a designation that means all that has meant historically. He has two “assistants,” called counselors, and there is a group of 12 apostles, just as in ancient days. And these people aren’t just “called” apostles and prophets. They truly receive inspiration, revelation, PROPHECY from Jesus Christ. It’s His church, and it’s led by Him. He directs it on the Earth through his mortal leaders.

The LDS Church has made very clear through these people we call prophets and apostles that the doctrine of marriage is an eternal one, that marriage between a man and a woman is not only made for us here in this period of mortal life, but is meant to continue after this life: forever.

The church has also stood behind and continued to promote strongly the document revealed and agreed upon by all these apostles 20 years ago called the Proclamation on the Family. We believe it is an inspired and vital document that proclaims basic truths about the family, about marriage, parents and children, that are now being changed and disputed by others.

My 40-plus years of life have shown me time and again that faith is a crucial part of life. It’s one of the big reasons we are here in this existence of mortality. We lived before and we will live after. Here, now, we are meant to learn faith, to believe in a God we cannot see right now and to cultivate taking things on faith that might not always “make sense.” I have had my faith affirmed time and again, and I hold it dear. It guides my life and has blessed me a great deal. I KNOW things to be true because of my faith.

I know that prophets speak today and have affirmed the importance of marriage in the “traditional” sense. I recognize and respect the beliefs of others that contrast so much with my own; I also recognize that some others, friends I admire greatly, who are even members of my church, have differing opinions on this issue. I have and will continue to hope we can simply agree to disagree on this topic and continue to enjoy our friendships for all the fun reasons we are friends.

I simply ask that my strong beliefs on this topic can be respected and that I will not be called a bigot. I do not know the “whys” of many, many things. I like to search out answers, but sometimes answers cannot be found in this life, or for a long time. So far, I do not know “why” some experience same-sex attraction. Science still has no answers for that. I do know that sometimes we must act on faith, and I ask for respect for my faith. I will respect the law and others who disagree with me. But we can certainly all be civil; we can be kind; we can get along.

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So it’s another Mother’s Day. This year is my 19th as a mom myself, so I’ve become accustomed to my children (and husband) scurrying around trying to figure out how to show me particular love and gratitude on my official day. But this year is the first for me to contemplate the reality of my own daughters becoming mothers: my oldest is getting married in two weeks, and somewhere down the line she will become a mother herself.

I could write a book (well, I have, actually, years ago when my oldest was little and I was just discovering truths more experienced women already knew) about mothering, but today I’ll try to share just a few words about my feelings this day, this week, this month.

I’ve realized even more than before that two opposite truths can coexist perfectly fine, and usually do: I can feel I’m doing an amazing job as a mom and I can feel I’m doing a terrible job as a mom. And while those generally go back and forth, sometimes I can feel both at once. And they’re kind of both true. I’m a person of faith, a Christian, and I believe I’m the daughter of a Heavenly Father and that I have a Savior, Jesus, who taught vital truths for me to follow, set an example, and most importantly suffered and died for my sins and weaknesses and general mortal-ness. So I can feel in that very weak mortal-ness that I’m not doing nearly as well as I’d like to be, being like that perfect example that was set. But if I just try to remember that I’m not expected to be doing great, not expected to be perfect, that the whole point of Jesus atoning was to make up for my huge insufficiencies, I feel a lot better.

This applies so well to the daunting job of mothering. I like to speak to reality, to the challenging, painful, imperfect realities that we all experience day to day. And it’s true that I can lose my temper, that I can get annoyed with my kids, that I can say things I wish I hadn’t and not say or do things I wish I had but just couldn’t summon up the energy to do. I think everyone today is painfully aware of our realities, of the ways we fall short, of the ways we don’t at all seem to fit in the glowy, pink, Hallmark Mother’s Day Mother role. So I’ve seen a lot of friends or others speak to this reality, this feeling that we just simply don’t measure up. And that’s true. We don’t. We’re not perfect, we’re not all the same, in the same Mother mold. Our own mothers weren’t, and we aren’t as mothers ourselves.

But it’s also absolutely true that we were born to be mothers. God created us to be mothers, and He knew we wouldn’t be perfect as people all-around or as mothers, specifically. And He was OK with that. He allowed us to have this experience of motherhood in part so we could become better through the crucible that it is, and that all of us interesting, different, unique souls could rub up against each other in all our roughness and smooth out our edges together. Most importantly, our Heavenly Father didn’t send us to Earth to do smoothing without any help. I firmly believe He is heavily involved in our lives and that if we turn to Him and the Savior, we will be lifted and all the stupid things we do will be made better somehow.

So this Mother’s Day, I honor my mom not because she was perfect or I grew up in the perfect home, but because she was herself and did a great job of it. Her mothering was what I needed. I feel good about my strengths and how I’ve put those to good use day in and day out with my four daughters. When it comes to my many weaknesses, I will try a little harder not just to be better but, even more than that, to remember that I am not expected to be perfect, that God will fill in the holes. I will try to remind my daughters above all that God is aware of them and that they have a Savior, and He will be there with them in everything they do, no matter how imperfectly they do it. I think I’ve done a good job teaching my oldest to turn to her Heavenly Father for help, day in and day out, especially for the times when maybe I wasn’t the best of help as her mom. So today, I feel confident that my daughter, with all her amazing strengths and, yes, her not-strengths, will be a great mom. She’ll struggle, she’ll flail around a bit, but she will be awesome. She’ll have moments of that high when mothering seems truly like a gift from God and her little ones almost like angels, and she’ll have days that are blurry from lack of sleep and dark from feelings of inadequacy.

In short, she’ll feel like mothers everywhere. And I thank God for that.

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Path AppearsI’ve written before about how I wish I could do more to give to others, whether it’s money or time. So many worthy charitable organizations exist to address all kinds of needs, and so many individuals and families need all kinds of things. So I was heartened and inspired by a fantastic book I read last week, A Path Appears: Transforming Lives, Creating Opportunity, by husband-and-wife writers Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. In short, this couple wrote that they often long to give and help those in need around the world but have been unsure of the best ways to help and the best organizations to give to or through. So they’ve “done their research” and created a book that shares what they have learned.

Their conclusions: giving not only benefits others, but it is a source of great satisfaction and fulfillment for those who give. And, even better, just a small donation of time or money really can make an impact, more than we imagine. Then the authors give specific tips on finding a charity to hone in on: 1) “Find an issue that draws you in and research it. … Choose one that speaks to you.” Then do some research yourself to find “ratings, reviews, and critiques” of the charity. 2) “Volunteer, get involved, or do something more than just writing checks.” Use your talents and skills in a place where they will fit and can be “put to good use.” 3) “Use your voice to spread the word or advocate for those who are voiceless.” Kristof and WuDunn write that this step is often overlooked or given short shrift, but it is vital to not only “talk up” what we know and do some “PR” but also to “hold governments — our own and others — accountable for doing their share.”

Not only do they give tips on how best to get involved, but they share a list of “useful organizations” that “do strong work in education, crime and violence prevention, family planning, public health, and quite a bit more.” They emphasize that this isn’t a “screened list” but just groups they have seen personally doing “impressive work.” It’s a few pages long and certainly a nice place to start.

I wrote quite a bit about the book on my book review site, Rated Reads, so you can read more details there. I just can’t say enough about how inspiring this book is. The more of us who get inspired to help and figure out the best ways that we can make a difference, the better for the whole world!

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My kind of PinSeems every time “the holidays” roll around, someone invariably asks me in some setting what kind of traditions we have as a family, their eyes lit up with high expectation. I hate to disappoint, but honestly, I feel like I got nothin’. I’ve heard some great stories from other people and on social media, to be sure, but all I can mumble is something about how we “open presents, eat a family dinner, talk to family members…”. As much as I’d like to, I haven’t gotten around to taking the kids to serve at a soup kitchen, for example, or doing something strikingly meaningful and religiously significant on Christmas Eve. I do believe that Christmas exists for us to remember the Savior of the World, I really do, and I try to follow Christ every day. But do I do a lot with my kids to observe that at the time of his “birthday”? Uh … not really.

Add to that people’s Facebook posts or tweets or Pins on what they do with the Elf on the Shelf every day of December (luckily, that didn’t get popular until my kids were well into growing up, so… phew!), and I just shrug and feel a little boring or deficient.

But here’s the thing: I don’t think my kids are suffering from lack of “notable” story-worthy traditions. They’re well-adjusted, happy, fun, giving, and all-round great girls. They have good memories, as do I from Christmases past. I guess my tradition as a parent is just to do the same things my parents did when I was a kid: shop and wrap presents, fill stockings, bake and cook. And hope not to be woken up way too early December 25th. I remember presents I received, time spent with my parents and grandparents and aunt and uncle and two cousins and two siblings, the music we would listen to, the cookies and pies Grandma made, my mom’s homemade noodles simmered in rich turkey broth to perfection. And my girls will remember pretty much the same things: I make the same meal, the same pies, the same cookies and noodles. And miraculously, my daughters don’t wake up at 4 a.m. (as I remember doing one year, generously keeping to my room until about 6 a.m. before disturbing my sleeping parents) or even 6 a.m.

So life is good. We may not have many cool traditions; we listen to music, hang lights, decorate the tree, put out presents, unwrap them gleefully, stuff ourselves at dinner, even read the Christmas story from the Gospel of Luke. I do absolutely nothing Pin-able. Who cares? Not my girls. And in 20 years or so, they’ll be doing the same boring things I’m doing right now and smiling nostalgically about the boring days of yesteryear. I’m cool with that.

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I’ve been able to attend two really beautiful funerals this year, both for people who were extraordinary, and who had wonderful families. I was struck both times by what a special experience it was to share in the remembrance and celebration of the lives of these people with their loved ones. At both, there were many, many experiences shared, sweet and tender memories and funny ones, recounted with laughter and tears.

But how often do you hear people say they enjoyed attending a funeral? That they looked forward to the funeral, that they cherished the time they took to be there?

Americans (and probably many in modern, Western cultures) are far behind some more “primitive” cultures: we do not appreciate the death process or anything surrounding it; we tread with great trepidation around death; and we don’t honor those who are aging, stepping ever closer to death each day. It’s a serious problem. We have become obsessed with youth, with appearance that speaks of youth, with the notion that all that attends death is blessedly far away from the young. I’ve written at length about the problems our image-consciousness (tied in part to the beauty of youth and unwrinkled, unblemished skin) is causing us as individuals and as a society. I’ve not written much about how it’s separating us from those in our culture who have the most to give and share with the rest of us: their wisdom, their fascinating experiences, their character.

Some cultures truly revere their elders. They hold them in high esteem, treat them with great respect, seek them out, not only include them in decisions but hold them as their highest decision-makers. Their middle-aged citizens and children look up to them and learn from them, seeking to be more like them.

In our culture, ageism is the rule. We hire young workers at the exclusion of older ones. We worry about the capacity for wisdom and clear thought of those who aren’t young any longer. We put them away. We don’t want them as leaders because we are sure they’re “out of touch” with “reality.”

And then there’s death. We fear it. We fear the process leading up to it; we fear what happens when and after we die. There is little of reverence and appreciation for the process, even when someone is able to leave this existence with a minimum of pain or discomfort. We are somewhat conditioned naturally to keep away from dead bodies, and we have very little cause to interact with them. I have had the opportunity, however, a few times in my church to help dress women for burial, and I have found it to be not “gross” or “weird” or “scary” but, instead, a privilege. I have found it to be a sacred experience and a lovely last opportunity to perform a service for women who have meant something to me in my church congregation. But, again, we hear little of this kind of experience and of reverence for those who have died.

One Foot in HeavenI was able to read a lovely book this year written by a hospice nurse about the experiences she’s had helping people and their families as they have passed from this life. In One Foot in Heaven, Heidi Telpner tells readers about “good deaths” and “bad deaths” and reminds us all that we all will one day experience death ourselves, and most of us will have to deal with family members’ or friends’ deaths in some way or another. As much as we may (mostly successfully) manage to evade staring down death during our lives, it is still there. It still happens to us all. And the more we are comfortable with it, the more we and our loved ones can experience “good deaths.” Telpner tells about the poignant experiences she has had getting to know good, interesting people with loving and supportive families and how their deaths have been sweet and calm. She also tells about the people who personally fought death or had family who fought the reality of impending death and made it difficult for them to die peacefully. It’s a fine primer for all of us, to remember that death is inevitable, but how we approach it can make all the difference in how we and our loved ones live — and how we prepare to die.

So I find myself still getting surprised looks from others at times when I mention how grateful I was to attend some really beautiful and inspiring funerals, that I have been blessed to be able to provide a service to a person whose body is being readied to be buried but whose spirit is still living elsewhere (as I believe). I’d love to see this change, to see our culture become more age-friendly and even elder-centric. But I’m not holding my breath: we have a long way to go.

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Humans tend to be pretty divisive. We can be divided between individuals or, it seems even more commonly, between groups. We group ourselves in all kinds of ways, and then we cling to our groups and hiss and claw at other groups (yeah, I have cats). I’ve written about this before, and here I am thinking about it and writing about it again.

I just finished reading, for example, a compelling and fascinating book, The Good Spy by Kai Bird, about Bob Ames, a CIA agent in the 1960s and 1970s who worked tirelessly to build and maintain relationships, even friendships, with key players in the Middle East, some of whom the U.S. would have considered enemies, so he could contribute to peace between some very, very divided groups in the Holy Land and its environs. He did make great contributions to the peace process, and then he was killed in the 1983 bombing of the American embassy in Beirut. The book’s examination of the complex, longstanding issues and conflicts in that area and of the passionate, extremist beliefs and actions of individuals and their groups reminded me just how bad things can get among us very flawed humans. And before anyone thinks, “Well, that’s just one small area,” let me remind them that this small area’s conflicts deeply affect the entire world.

The most recent divisiveness I’ve seen has involved a group I’m a part of, this one my religious group. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has been in the news for some time now, for a variety of reasons, but very recently it has been the focus of discussions about women’s place in the church. A very small group of LDS women felt that women were being marginalized in our church, so they ultimately decided a straightforward way to solve this problem was to ask, then demand, that women in the church be granted the priesthood, which for the church’s whole history has been granted only to men. I do not have the space to discuss the doctrine involved here, but I can only say briefly that my understanding, my study, my experience, my feelings about the topic lead me to conclude that giving the priesthood to women is not the answer to certain problems that may exist (and I word it this way to recognize that some individuals in the church, human as they are, are definitely not perfect — none of us are!! — and have made some poor decisions or behaved in ways they shouldn’t have, thus making some women feel marginalized, and that does need to change).

From what I have read, the leader of this group finally made some choices that were too far out of the boundaries that have been set for and by the LDS Church, and she was excommunicated, or put out of the organization, according to its own rules, well known to its members. It is sad, for many reasons. But from everything I’ve learned over the years, this seemed to have become a necessary action for the church to take. It is not permanent; anyone who is “disciplined” in any way by church leaders is given opportunities and time to resolve their problems and concerns and find their way back, with support and help from these same leaders.

What I have found particularly distressing is the divisiveness this has caused within our church group. Because, the thing is, there are plenty of other groups within this large group, and these groups are now rallied against each other to some degree. Some — again, human and imperfect as they are, somewhere along the long path to being more like Jesus Christ, whom we strive to emulate — have made unkind comments on news stories online or have posted negative things on social media about the issue. Whichever “side” they’re on, their approaches are wrong.

I have many dear friends I admire greatly who disagree with me on this issue and other topics that relate to “groups” within this larger group we all share. I wish we didn’t disagree, but that’s the nature of things: we all have different life experiences and different ways of interpreting and seeing issues. Usually, we can simply remember that each “adversary” is a friend, a fellow human being, a fellow child of God, and treat them with compassion and kindness, even as we respectfully disagree on opinions. And sometimes, yes, sometimes, division will happen and sever people permanently. Jesus himself spoke of this happening. When he sent out his apostles to teach his doctrine, he told them, “I came not to send peace, but a sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household.”

I believe as part of the doctrine of my faith that we are living in a time close to the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. These latter days are ones that will be difficult for everyone, on many, many levels and for many reasons. I do believe we are being “sifted” and “tried,” to see where we stand, as we prepare for Jesus’s return. That’s my belief. I do make judgments about issues and where I stand on them; I cannot stand by and not make a judgment call, a decision, on most topics because Jesus has also said we cannot be lukewarm. We can’t sit on the fence. We have to choose a side, and we must do so as wisely and thoughtfully as possible, weighing things, considering, praying, seeking inspiration for ourselves. My friends and other groups may very well end up on the different side of the fence from me. Strangers I read about may end up on a different side. All I can do is state what I believe and possibly why, and still be kind and compassionate even as I disagree. I do have to judge an issue for myself, but I don’t have to judge a person who disagrees. I don’t have to be mean. I certainly don’t have to be mean and nasty online.

I do not know the future or the details of the big picture. Only God does. In the meantime, I can follow my Savior’s teachings as well as his example, by making choices that are the best ones I know how to make, trusting that we all will someday understand more of the big picture in which these issues fit, and by being loving and compassionate to all, even as I stand firm in my beliefs and decisions. I appreciate and support the statements made in a video by one female church leader:

Those who are struggling for whatever reason should be able to find within our sisterhood a spirit of warmth, inclusion, and love.

Occasionally, some of our brothers and sisters may find themselves away from the fold because of personal choices. Without condoning those choices, it is important to remember the Savior’s message of leaving the ninety and nine safely in the fold and reaching out with love, with kindness, and with compassion to the one. We can demonstrate that compassion by ensuring that our communications with one another are respectful and kind.

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