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Popular culture and media sometimes portray fathers as either unnecessary or incompetent, and yes, there are bad fathers who are unworthy of the name. But let’s not forget, most fathers give their all for their families. Most do their best to be there for their kids, to set good examples and show their children how to be responsible adults. Most fathers try to teach their children goodness and truth. They provide for, protect, and love their families—and then love them some more.
Just as no child is perfect, no father is perfect. We all hope to be remembered more for our strengths than our shortcomings. As days become years and fathers grow older, we might consider showing more compassion, forgiveness, and appreciation. Choose to remember the good moments, the happy times. Hold on to the memories that can sustain us in loss or heartache and can give us hope as we struggle to leave our own legacy of love.
A middle-aged woman recently experienced the loss of her father. In most ways, he was a very ordinary man. His professional pursuits were varied and not necessarily noteworthy. He lived a simple life, but he provided for his family and stayed true to his wife and children until the end. Upon his passing, his daughter reflected on his life and realized that his greatest gift to her was a feeling of pure love, and she was only now beginning to understand what a precious gift that was. When she was a girl, he sang her to sleep. When she was a teenager, he told her she was beautiful, and she believed him. As a grown woman, she still wanted to please him, and whenever he smiled at her, she couldn’t help but smile back. She knew that he loved her, and quite frankly, she did not need to know much else.
Each dad is unique; each has his own way of expressing love. But love is what all good fathers—all true fathers—have in common, and love is what will live on in the hearts of their children forever.
We live in a world where awards seem to be freely given and freely received. In fact, sometimes the award becomes such a strong incentive for good work and behavior that it overshadows the more subtle rewards that might be enjoyed along the way.
Especially with today’s youth, awards are often larger-than-life motivations. Children work busily to complete their household chores with the hopes that it will earn them a special treat from their parents. Meanwhile the satisfaction of a clean home goes unnoticed. Teenagers bring home a stellar report card but can’t recall what they learned about at school that day. In their pursuit of good grades, they’ve somehow missed the thrill of gaining and applying knowledge.
Perhaps we unintentionally reinforce this attitude by expressing love or approval with expensive gifts, when little children are often quite pleased with the packaging—or even just the visit. We may deprive our young people of the most enduring rewards if we fail to teach them that goodness is its own reward. We feel good when we are doing good.
Indeed, the means can be just as fulfilling as the end if our motivations for achieving personal goals are not just the awards that dangle in front of us. We make more lasting progress and feel more contented when we learn to enjoy not only the reward but also the path that leads to it. Some young people long to graduate or secure a high-paying job, only to find that their “dream” is not as gratifying as they thought it would be. “What comes next?” or “Is this all there is?” may be their unspoken feeling.
Nature is often a theater for some of our most meaningful experiences. Many of us can tell of a time when we have been comforted, inspired, or awed while basking in the majesty of the beauties of the earth. The settings vary—from sunrise to sunset, from sea to desert, from valley to lofty mountain peaks—but the feelings are universal. Communion with nature does something to our souls.
One who had such an experience chose to record what he felt, and his words have been recited and sung for nearly 150 years. The story is told of Folliott S. Pierpoint, who took a walk one day in late spring in the beautiful countryside near his home in Bath, England. Awestruck and inspired by what he saw, he sat down and wrote “For the Beauty of the Earth,”1 which captured for all time a heartfelt expression of gratitude and praise:
For the beauty of the earth,
For the beauty of the skies,
For the love which from our birth
Over and around us lies,
Lord of all, to thee we raise
This our hymn of grateful praise.2
Not only did he thank God for His magnificent creations, but other verses express thanks for family, friends, and many other cherished blessings. Indeed, if we open our hearts, we will see that our lives are filled with nature’s heavenly gifts.
Life is a series of turning points. Some are gradual and almost imperceptible, except in hindsight. Others are abrupt and jarring. But either way, the longer we live, the more we realize that life is not a straight line—it’s full of pivotal moments that redirect and refocus our lives.
Graduating from school, starting a new job, or moving to a different community are changes that we prepare for and even look forward to. Major life events, like getting married and starting a family, can invite growth and learning in a way that nothing else can. Even unexpected turning points, disappointments and heartaches, can—in time—enlarge our joys and deepen our affections.
A man battling a grave medical diagnosis learned that such turning points can also be filled with tender mercies. In his turmoil, he was reminded of the love of family and friends; in his agony, he felt more profoundly the need for heaven’s help and the presence of divinity in his life; in his worry, he found and felt a deep reservoir of hope and an inner core of strength. His battle is far from over, but he has already learned some personal lessons that, he says, will forever stay with him. Yes, his health took a turn for the worse, but his illness has also served as a turning point in his life and in the lives of his loved ones.
Striving to be of service is the best way to lead a truly meaningful life. None of us walks alone—we follow trails blazed by those who went before, and countless others will come after us. When we take the time to make the journey a little easier for future travelers, we build bridges that span generations.
Tennessee writer Will Allen Dromgoole understood this timeless truth. Will Allen was born in 1860, had a hard life, but became well-known for her numerous poems, essays, and books—many about the mountains and valleys of her beloved Tennessee. Perhaps she’s remembered best today for her poem “The Bridge Builder,” which speaks of the responsibilities we owe to our descendants yet to come.
An old man, going a lone highway,
Came, at the evening, cold and gray,
To a chasm, vast, and deep, and wide,
Through which was flowing a sullen tide.
The old man crossed in the twilight dim;
The sullen stream had no fears for him;
But he turned, when safe on the other side,
And built a bridge to span the tide.
“Old man,” said a fellow pilgrim, near,
“You are wasting strength with building here;
Your journey will end with the ending day;
You never again must pass this way;
You have crossed the chasm, deep and wide,—
Why build you the bridge at the eventide?”
The builder lifted his old gray head:
“Good friend, in the path I have come,” he said,
“There followeth after me to-day
A youth, whose feet must pass this way.
Flowers speak to our souls. Instinctively, children pick them; sweethearts give and receive them; poets write about them; and with much anticipation, everyone waits for them to bloom. Somehow they tell of love, of beauty, and of hope in a way that nothing else does.
In every culture, in every corner of the world, flowers are the most beautiful of plants. They are symbols alive with meaning. In some settings they are peace offerings; in others, they are tokens of love; at various times in various places, they serve as souvenirs, memorials, and tributes. They tell stories, convey feelings, and bring people together.
Every year in early summer, residents of a small city wait for wild poppies to bloom on the nearby foothills. For as long as the old-timers can remember, the poppies have decorated their hillside with radiant splashes of red and orange. Children go with parents and grandparents—who remember going with their parents—to see the poppies. They tell their young ones about war-torn times when poppies became symbols of remembrance and peace. Somehow the poppies are more than pretty flowers; they are emblems of continuity, evidence of life’s goodness and promise.
Lady Bird Johnson, wife of former U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson, is often remembered for her love of flowers. Roadsides across the country are beautiful today because of her efforts to plant wildflowers along highways. Mrs. Johnson liked to say, “Where flowers bloom, so does hope.”
In the comfort and security of our lives, we sometimes forget the debt we owe to those who left behind their own comfort and security and paid the ultimate price that we might live free.
When the United States entered World War I, David Endicott Putnam was a freshman at Harvard University. Too young to enlist in the fledgling American aviation corps, he traveled to France, where he served with distinction as a pilot. A year later, he joined the Americans as a flight commander of the 139th squadron.
One of the most highly decorated Allied pilots of the war, David was credited with bringing down as many as 20 enemy aircraft. In letters to his mother, he wrote: “Combat after combat comes my way, and without boasting I’ll say that I generally meet them head on. . . . ‘You nearly lost little David’ again this morning. . . . A miracle saved me. . . . This I will say, that if I go, I will die fighting.”
On September 13, 1918, David noticed several enemy planes pursuing an Allied biplane. He attacked, and he saved the biplane, but he was unable to save himself. He was shot through the heart and perished.
In a letter he had left for his mother in the event of his death, David said: “There is no question about the hereafter of men who give themselves in such a cause. If I am called upon to make it, I shall go with a grin of satisfaction and a smile.”1
A family gathers for dinner, and the father announces a new rule of etiquette: “No texting at the table.” Two teenagers sigh and reluctantly set aside their cell phones. Such a rule was not needed just a few years ago, but we live in a different world now. A steady stream of information swirls around us, not only from television, movies, and magazines but also from hundreds of computerized gadgets, some small enough to fit in our pocket.
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed—and sometimes as outdated as a computer purchased last year. Many despair at ever catching up with the current technology, never mind what’s coming in the future.
But chasing technology is not the best way to embrace the future—or the present. Plentiful information is good, but epiphanies of wisdom, original ideas, and communion with the divine are most likely to come during moments of quiet calm. Without them, we become like mice in a maze, constantly racing back and forth for the next piece of cheese.
Pianist and composer Reid Nibley learned about the value of simplicity while writing the hymn “I Know My Father Lives.” The music came to him quickly, but, he said, “I thought it was too simple, so I began working on it. It became more and more complicated and less and less spontaneous. After two weeks of struggling with it, I began to erase all the excess notes, and soon it emerged in its original form.” Of the finished product he said, “It is the most worthwhile thing I have ever done.”1 Its simplicity is its beauty.
Mother Teresa, known the world over for her great compassion, was once asked what she considered the most significant honor she had ever received. There were many to choose from, including the Nobel Peace Prize. But she surprised her questioner when she replied, “The title of Mother.”1
No two mothers are alike, but they share common purpose, whether they are mothering their own or stepping in, like Mother Teresa, with just the right touch or tutoring for someone they love. Mothers aren’t perfect; indeed, they readily admit they are learning on the job—one that calls for wisdom, sacrifice, patience, love, and the willingness to lift others’ burdens as well as their own.
Jane James was a mother who in 1856 journeyed with her family in a handcart company across a vast wilderness. Early blizzards created desperate conditions, but Jane did not let her family become desperate.
Something deep within us wants to connect with those who went before us: our parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, and other family members. When we know who they are—their life stories, their triumphs and failures, their strengths and weaknesses—we gain a better sense of who we are. In a sense, their stories become our stories. We not only learn from them, we feel strengthened and inspired by their lives and experiences. We may even find ourselves thinking, “If they could do difficult things, so can I.”
But what if we never knew our ancestors? What if their stories were never recorded? How can we begin to reconnect with past generations? Start with those who are still living. Talk with them. Listen to their stories and write down their thoughts, feelings, and memories. What you learn might lead to information about more distant ancestors. If nothing else, you can record your own story.
One teenage girl wanted to know more about her grandmother, so over the course of several months she sat down with her, asked questions, and recorded her grandmother’s answers. Those answers taught her, made her laugh, and deepened her love for her grandma. She then sent out copies of their conversations to her extended family. They all felt they had received a great treasure, and each learned something new about Grandma.
Ella Wheeler Wilcox probably wrote from personal experience when she said:
One great truth in life I’ve found, . . .
The only folks we really wound
Are those we love the best.1
It seems ironic, but it is true that by a careless word or a thoughtless or selfish act we do the most harm to those who are most precious to us. And if we don’t do something to correct the problem, our most valued relationships can be permanently damaged.
The key to repairing much of the hurt can be summed up in two words: “I’m sorry.” It takes a wise and strong person to say these words, and it may be hard to do, but a renewal of love and friendship are worth it. Life is too short and friendships are too few to waste time fighting or holding a grudge when an apology will set things right.
One man who thought he had been offended by some of his friends reacted to his hurt feelings by spreading lies about his former companions and even putting their lives in danger. Later, when he was finally able to recognize how much he had lost and how he wanted to rebuild those friendships, he wrote to them saying, “I have done wrong and I am sorry.” Quick to forgive, his friends responded, “Come on, dear brother, . . . for friends at first, are friends again at last.”2
Perhaps no two words can do more good than “I’m sorry.” They can overcome anger and mend the broken heart. An apology, when followed by sincere effort, can bring peace and put derailed relationships back on track. Even if we think we aren’t at fault, if we apologize for whatever we might have done to contribute to the hurt, “friends at first” can be “friends again at last.”
“Humility is the realization that not everything that happens in life is all about you,” said Rabbi Harold Kushner. “True humility, grounded in a view of life that has taught us to keep in mind that we are not the only ones hurting, would have us think, All right, . . . things like this have happened to lots of people and they got over it. I’ll hurt but I’ll get over it too. Life is a chain of good days and bad days. I’ve just had a bad day, so there ought to be good days ahead.”1
Difficulties and disappointments come to us all. Some things happen because of our own actions and attitudes—the choices we make. Other things that happen to us are outside of our control—the result of chance, biology, or other people’s choices. Humility is accepting responsibility for some things in our lives and knowing that some things are beyond our control. The challenge is to recognize the difference, be grateful for the opportunity to learn and gain wisdom, and go forward with faith. Humility is not weak resignation, but a combination of resolve and acceptance that comes of experience.
Without this kind of humility we come to resent those who appear to be happy, healthy, and prosperous. Without humility we see others as competitors for a limited supply of good fortune and goodwill. Without humility we feel self-pity, even bitterness, for the inevitable bad days and hard knocks that come our way.
A world-renowned anthropologist who spent several years among the natives of the upper Amazon in South America once described leading a rapid march through the jungle to the nearest settlement. The group pushed through the undergrowth for two days with great success, but the third morning, rather than preparing to start, the natives, it was reported, were “sitting on their haunches, looking very solemn.” No one was moving. “They are waiting,” the chief explained to the explorer. “They cannot move farther until their souls have caught up with their bodies.”1
The natives understood the importance of spiritual renewal.
Nature too seems to follow this principle. After a vigorous summer of life, growth, and activity, winter finds nature at rest. By spring she is refreshed, ready to display her buds, blossoms, fields of growth, and bursting streams. Every spring testifies to the promise of renewed life, and the entire cycle serves as a reminder that life is eternal.
In our jam-packed work weeks and over-programmed lives, many struggle to find time for spiritual renewal. We all know there’s more to life than endless streams of busyness, but we need to pause, think, watch, and listen to give our souls time to find it. In fact, the “more” we’re searching for is most often found when there is less pressure, less cost, even less structure.
Home can be the most inviting place we know: the cozy place where we love, the warm place where we rest, the happy place where we laugh, the comforting place where we learn, the welcoming place where we know we really belong. In so many ways, home is more a feeling than a place.
When we eventually leave the home of our childhood to make a home of our own, we usually model it after the home we left. Of course, we make a few adjustments. We improve upon weaknesses and build upon strengths; sometimes we have to remodel completely. But more often, the home we build resembles the one we knew. Even if the floor plan and the furnishings differ, we try to re-create the love and tenderness, the mercy and sweet forgiving.
Few stories reflect these characteristics of home better than the story of a son who, anxious to leave home, claimed his inheritance from his father and wasted it on “riotous living.” Destitute, he finally “came to himself” and journeyed home to a forgiving father, who embraced him with open arms.
When his older brother, who had dutifully stayed home, protested his brother’s special treatment, his father gently reminded him: “Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine. It was meet that we should make merry, and be glad: for this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found.” In a sense, the older son also had wandered from home, losing his awareness of his father’s love: not in a far country but in the fog of selfishness and resentment. (See Luke 15:11–32.)
Anyone who has lived a few years has learned that life can change in an instant. One day all seems well and good, and then, the next day—the next instant—the whole world can change.
Not long ago a family lived through one of those moments. A mother was driving in a snowstorm when another car, unable to stop, crashed into her car head on. Fortunately, everyone was fine, protected by air bags and seat belts. But for that moment, in that instant, they saw in a very dramatic way how precious and fragile life really is. Mingled with the fear and relief, mixed with tears and shock, were deep prayers of gratitude and expressions of love and concern. Cars can be repaired or replaced, but the effect on our lives is much deeper. Even small events can leave our lives forever altered in an instant.
So how can we live with faith and courage amid such uncertainty and instability? A wise man who was asked a similar question explained that he tries to take advantage of each day as if the world will end tomorrow. “But,” he said, “I am still planting cherry trees!”1
A medical journal recently reported something that probably all of us have experienced: happiness is contagious. Tracking more than 4,700 people as part of a 20-year study, researchers found that “people pass on their good cheer [to others,] even to total strangers.”1 “Happiness is like a stampede,” a professor at Harvard and one of the study’s authors said. “Whether you’re happy depends not just on your own actions and behaviors and thoughts, but on those of people you don’t even know.”2
Indeed, happiness can be surprisingly easy to spread. When we’re feeling good about life, we naturally radiate cheerfulness. Our positive outlook rubs off on others. A smile, a nod, a simple word of greeting or gratitude to those around us can change both our outlook and theirs. In fact, it can change someone’s entire day.
Think of the amazing power we each have to share happiness and brighten someone’s life. Some days we’re more able to give good cheer, and other days we may be the recipients. Give and take—that’s what makes happiness so contagious and so powerful.
Of course, the opposite is probably also true. If we’re feeling down, if we’re negative about life, that must surely rub off on others. It takes courage and strength to choose to extend happiness and cordiality when we don’t much feel like it—and we all have days like that. At the same time, it takes simple, kindhearted openness to receive good cheer from others.
Throughout our lives we interact with many people who form their own opinions about us. But at the end of the day, we are alone with ourselves, deciding who we really are and who we really want to be. No matter our circumstances, we can choose to live honorably and compassionately—or not. We can choose to change and become a better person—or not. In a sense, each of us is our own best critic. And despite our blind spots, we know more about ourselves than anyone else. When we open our hearts in sincerity and truth, we see strengths and weaknesses, areas of accomplishment and areas that need work. And that’s life: trying to improve, progressing and growing, learning and becoming all that we are capable of becoming. Instead of avoiding the truth about ourselves, let’s look ourselves “straight in the eye” as the well-known “people’s poet,” Edgar A. Guest, wrote almost a century ago:
I have to live with myself, and so
I want to be fit for myself to know;
I want to be able as days go by
Always to look myself straight in the eye;
I don’t want to stand with the setting sun
And hate myself for the things I’ve done.
I don’t want to keep on a closet shelf
A lot of secrets about myself,
And fool myself as I come and go
Into thinking that nobody else will know
The kind of man I really am;
I don’t want to dress myself up in sham.
I want to go out with my head erect,
I want to deserve all men’s respect;
But here in the struggle for fame and pelf,
I want to be able to like myself.
I don’t want to think as I come and go
That I’m bluster and bluff and empty show.
Henry J. Kaiser was a problem solver. Born to a German shoemaker in upstate New York, he eventually became the father of American shipbuilding. Along the way, he learned to see a problem not as a roadblock but as a chance to learn something or to create a new way of doing things. “Problems,” he said, “are only opportunities in work clothes.”1
Henry Kaiser had an opportunity to demonstrate the truth of this saying early in his career when the construction company he was working for unexpectedly went out of business. Where others would see only a problem, Henry saw an opportunity—he decided to take on one of his former company’s unfulfilled contracts himself. He finished the project ahead of schedule, and before long the Henry J. Kaiser Company was born.2
From there he created companies that paved roads, manufactured steel, and built houses. Throughout these many ventures, Henry J. Kaiser continued to see in every challenge a chance to move forward and find a better way.
Life is full of problems. Opposition is not only unavoidable, it’s essential. Without opposition, without problems big and small to test our resolve and stimulate our thinking, we would accomplish very little. Muscles do not grow without resistance, and neither do people.
Men and women often do their best when faced with what seems at first to be an overwhelming problem. So much good, so many great discoveries and new ideas have come from efforts to overcome problems that stood in the way of worthy goals.
Deep contentment can come from choosing not to spend money that we don’t have. At first that seems obvious, but in a day when slick marketing campaigns entice us to define ourselves by what we purchase, it’s easy to see how people fall into the trap of “buy now, pay later.” Purchasing and consuming may bring a temporary thrill, but living within our means—even when it requires making do with what we have or doing without what we think we want—is soul-satisfying. No credit card limit or low-interest loan can buy that feeling.
Appreciating what we have and not coveting more is a key to such happiness. All too common is the story of a man who “had a good home and a good family, and plenty to take care of his needs and the needs of his family. But he became consumed by a yearning for yet greater riches. . . . One thing led to another, until when a drop in the economy occurred, he found himself in a trap from which he could not extricate himself.”1
If only he had been content with what he once had. If only he had recalled the ancient counsel: “The love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have . . . pierced themselves through with many sorrows.”2 Indeed, it is difficult to feel lasting peace when we are in bondage to debt.
In some ways, previous generations seemed to understand this remarkably well. Perhaps because some hard lessons forced our ancestors to be more careful with their resources, they were less likely to confuse their “wants” so easily with their “needs.” Now it seems that yesterday’s wants have become today’s needs.
At some time in our lives, every one of us has been wounded by the actions or words of another. Those wounds can leave us brokenhearted, resentful, angry, and perhaps revengeful. To forgive such mistakes—or even intentional wrongdoing—is one of the hardest things we will ever do. But it can also lead to the sweetest joy we will ever experience.
Years ago, the media reported the story of an elderly man who disclosed at his brother’s funeral that for years the two had been estranged, their lives filled with bitterness and loneliness. Though they lived together in a small, one-room cabin in rural western New York, a quarrel had turned them against each other, and in their anger they divided the room in half with a line of chalk. Neither one crossed the line or spoke a word to the other since that day. It had been 62 years.1
Every relationship—between family members, neighbors, and friends—is made up of imperfect people, ourselves included. Slights and misunderstandings are inevitable. When we hold on to our anger, we may think we’re exacting justice from our offender, but in reality we are punishing ourselves. When we forgive, we aren’t minimizing the injury—we’re allowing it to heal. When we admit our own errors and seek forgiveness ourselves, we aren’t excusing the errors others may have made—we’re simply opening the door to compassion and peace.
Abraham Lincoln believed that music can restore the soul. And during the turbulent years of his presidency, his soul often needed restoring. He regularly attended concerts, operas, and musical theater, seeking comfort and inspiration.
A Civil War music scholar noted that President Lincoln “would not always listen to what was being played or even be conscious of it, for much of the time he would be too preoccupied—or distracted—by matters ever pressing for attention. Yet there would be times when he would hear and would listen, times when he would be deeply thrilled and deeply moved, times when he could relax and be soothed by the familiar tunes, times when he would make requests for particular pieces, times when he would compliment the players, times when he would be sustained, and times when he would be brought to tears.”1
Thankfully, none of us has to face Abraham Lincoln’s daunting pressures and challenges. Our times are different, our challenges unique. But we all have our own reasons to need the strength and renewal that good music can offer—whether we’re trying to break a bad habit, mend a relationship, raise a family, or just find personal peace. One of Lincoln’s favorite hymns, written by Anne Steele 100 years before the Civil War, illustrates well how inspired music can restore “a calm and thankful heart” to anyone who is seeking peace:
Father, whate’er of earthly bliss
Thy sovereign will denies,
Accepted at Thy throne, let this
My humble prayer, arise:
Give me a calm and thankful heart,
From every murmur free;
The blessing of Thy grace impart,
And make me live to Thee.
Let the sweet hope that Thou art mine
My life and death attend,
Thy presence through my journey shine,
And crown my journey’s end.
A long time ago, unknown artists came up with words and a melody that resound in our hearts today:
He’s got the whole world in His hands. . . .
He’s got the wind and the rain in His hands. . . .
He’s got the little bitty baby in His hands. . . .
He’s got you and me, brother, in His hands. . . .
He’s got you and me, sister, in His hands. . . .
He’s got everybody here in His hands. . . .
He’s got the whole world in His hands.
This simple song has since made its way into classrooms, on concert stages, and around campfires across the world. Its message of a loving Creator showing tender concern for His creations is comforting and encouraging in these days of uncertainty—just as it was in those uncertain days when it was first written.
“He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands” reflects the rich tradition of powerful and poignant artistic expressions called spirituals. Composed mostly during the 19th century by African Americans, they sing of great hope for a coming day of peace and rest. Even though most of the songwriters were oppressed and held captive at the time, their songs almost universally expressed a buoyant belief in the liberty of the soul.
An elderly woman was once asked the secret of her long, successful marriage. She said that when she first got married, she decided to make a list of 10 of her husband’s bad habits and promised to overlook them. When pressed about what those 10 habits were, she admitted, “I never got around to making that list.” But whenever her husband did something that made her angry, she’d just say, “Lucky for him—that one is on the list!”1
From great leaders to everyday folks, people through the ages have used humor to cope with life’s ups and downs. They’ve learned that being lighthearted can help them keep problems in perspective and take setbacks in stride. By laughing even at themselves, they help others see that we’re all prone to make mistakes now and then.
Looking at life with a smile also draws others to us who appreciate our cheery outlook. Laughter is contagious, and sharing it over mutual predicaments brings us closer to one another and makes the load lighter to bear.
For years scientists have told us that laughter is wonderful medicine. It reduces stress, lowers blood pressure, improves brain function, and boosts our immune system. But it’s also great medicine for the soul.
The best part is that unlike some types of medical treatment, a sense of humor is absolutely free and available to everyone. Each of us was born with it—within weeks of birth, infants begin to smile, and within months they laugh out loud.2
Society today is plagued by some deceptive practices of politicians, business leaders, the media, educators, and even law enforcement. Social schemes, shams, and fraud are rampant. We find ourselves wondering, “Whom can we trust?”
But maybe an even better question is “Are we worthy of the trust of others?”
Recently an executive of an international company shared an experience he had in Uganda. He and some of his associates were helping construct a facility for needy children. The team was short on handsaws, so he and a friend dashed to a nearby hardware store to purchase more tools. These men were foreigners—mazungu is the word the Ugandans use—and since foreigners are unfamiliar with local prices, overcharging a mazungu was common practice.
The store owner, a woman in her early 50s, approached the men and in broken English said, “I see with my eyes a mazungu, but in my heart, that’s not what I see.” She saw men who needed some tools, and she sold them at a fair price.1
This experience in the aisle of a hardware store had a lot to do with trust, not just buying saws. It illustrates how we can reverse the lack of trust around us. Like the Ugandan store owner, we can have the moral courage to do what’s right no matter what is convenient or accepted. We can be scrupulously honest and fair so that our word means something. We can resolve to do our duty so that others can count on us. We can be polite and decent. And we can be patient, because developing or restoring trust takes time and often forgiveness.
Each of us has our own talents, our own abilities, and our own challenges. Sometimes it’s tempting to want to trade places with others, but it’s probably not wise. One family tries to remember this simple truth with a wall hanging, cross-stitched with a piece of Grandma’s wisdom: “If all of our problems were hung on a line, you’d take yours and I’d take mine.”
Sorting out problems, however, is not quite as simple as sorting laundry. If our problems really were hung on a line, we might be surprised how similar they are. The truth is, we’re more alike than we are different. We all worry about our families and finances; we’re concerned about our health and well-being. Regardless of our differences, we all want to love and be loved.
So rather than wishing we were in our neighbors’ shoes, maybe we should look for opportunities to walk alongside them. Along the way, we might offer to carry some of our neighbors’ burdens. They may even want to do the same for us. We all have so much we could share with each other. We have a commonality, a camaraderie that comes of our shared humanity. Each one of us is connected to others; we depend on each other; we need each other.
Paraphrasing the great poet John Donne, the lyrics of a popular song put it this way:
No man is an island;
No man stands alone.
Each man’s joy is joy to me;
Each man’s grief is my own.
We need one another,
So I will defend
Each man as my brother,
Each man as my friend.1
Among life’s greatest blessings is the opportunity for second chances. A disobedient child says to his mother, “I promise I’ll do better next time” and “Can I try again?” We’ve probably all felt that way from time to time—we fall short, and we long for another chance, a fresh start, a new beginning. And while justice and fairness always have their claim, mercy and second chances also have their place.
The theme of second chances is as old as time and abundant in literature and history. We’re familiar with the story of the prodigal son who came home again; or the reluctant prophet Jonah, who got a second chance to overcome his fears. And we all have personal and family stories of making mistakes but then trying anew.
Another story of second chances is the novel Silas Marner, by George Eliot. Because of a false accusation and a friend’s betrayal, Silas becomes a recluse and miser, his heart “a locked casket,”1 whose only concern is his work and his hoard of money. When his precious gold is stolen, the loss drives Silas into a deeper gloom.
Then along comes a little girl, an orphan he names Eppie, who presents Silas with a chance at redemption, another life, a new hope for happiness. When Silas’s thoughts turn to little Eppie’s care and keeping, when his heart opens to her, he finds love and release from his bitterness and depression. Silas may have lost his gold, but he finds true joy in a golden-haired girl who gives him a reason for living, a second chance at life.
Life is busy, but it’s good to take a moment occasionally to make sure it’s busy for the right reasons.
Sometimes we may feel like a juggler trying to keep so many things aloft that he’s in constant danger of dropping all of them. With so many pressures and demands competing for our time and attention, we may feel overwhelmed from time to time, inadequate to the task, as it seems that everything is about to come crashing down.
How can we keep juggling life’s demands and maintain a sense of balance in our lives? It may help to remember a secret that every juggler knows: you don’t have to catch the balls that are going up, just the balls that are coming down.
In other words, focus on the things that need the most attention, each in its appropriate time. For example, where does work fit into a balanced life? Where do family and fun fit in? Some live for their work, at the expense of everything else. Work is important and even gratifying, but in the words of a familiar phrase, “No one ever dies saying, ‘I wish I’d spent more time at the office.’”
Some live for fun and pleasure. But in time, the heart yearns for something more meaningful and satisfying. There must be more to life.
As one writer said, “Live a balanced life—learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work every day some.”1 We need time to laugh and reflect, give and receive, love and be loved—all things in their time and season.
When things go bad, can we really start over? When life takes a turn for the worse, can we actually begin again with hope that things will get better? After losing much of his life savings due to someone else’s mismanagement, one man said, “Starting over was tough, but if we didn’t try, we would have been hurt twice—once by our loss and once by our own giving up.”
Each of us is bound to lose now and then, and once in a while we may want to quit. But even the worst setbacks can be opportunities to make a new beginning.
A small boy, playing a rough-and-tumble schoolyard game, was frequently knocked to the ground. Each time, he picked himself up, dusted himself off, and rejoined the game. When asked why he didn’t just quit, he declared, “Quit? I’m here to play the game!”
The New Year is a perfect time for starting over. This is a special time when we can decide to get back up when we’ve been knocked down. We can find renewed courage to keep going. We may need to forgive someone who has offended us or forgive ourselves for mistakes we’ve made. Perhaps we need help learning to do things differently so we aren’t knocked down again—but we can always move forward.
On Christmas Eve 1822, Catherine Elizabeth Moore was preparing food for the poor and discovered that she was short one turkey. It turned out to be a fortunate mistake, because as her husband rode in his carriage to the butcher’s, the bells jingling on his team of horses inspired him to pen a whimsical Christmas poem for his children. After dinner that night, Clement Clarke Moore presented to the family what has become a treasure to us all: “’Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house….” And as he read, his children were enchanted.1
Since that day, this classic has appeared in countless newspapers and almanacs; it has been recited, illustrated, and performed around the world. Most important, countless youngsters have cozied up on the lap of a parent or grandparent and read of a “miniature sleigh and eight tiny reindeer.”
Clement Moore was a prominent theologian, a professor of classics, and the author of the leading Hebrew dictionary of the time. But that Christmas Eve, he wasn’t writing for publication or praise. This poem about a jolly old elf, sugarplums, and carefully hung stockings was for his family. Perhaps his inspiration came from his love for his small audience. Perhaps it was his way of showing his children what a gift of the heart looks and feels like.
And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed.
And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city.
And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem…
To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.
And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.
And she brought forth her first-born son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.1
And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.
And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.
And the angel said unto them, Fear not, for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.
For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.
And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,
“Do You Hear What I Hear?” is one of the most beloved songs of the Christmas season. The story of this simple plea for peace begins, ironically, during World War II in war-torn France. Noel Regney was a young French musician who risked his life as a soldier in the French underground. The darkness and terror of those fearful years haunted him the rest of his life.
After the war, he moved to the United States, where he found work composing jingles and music for TV. One day in a hotel dining room, Noel saw a beautiful woman playing the piano. Although he spoke little English and she spoke no French, he introduced himself to Gloria Shayne. Within a month they married.
In the years that followed, the tensions of the Cold War grew, and Noel’s mind was often drawn back to the terrible days he had spent in combat. He wondered if the world would ever see peace.
Noel’s thoughts turned to the very first Christmas—a sacred time of peace and promise. As he reflected, the lyrics of a song came to him. When he and his wife collaborated, it was usually Noel who wrote music for Gloria’s words, but this time he handed the lyrics to his wife and asked if she would set them to music. Thus was born the beautiful Christmas carol, “Do You Hear What I Hear?”
During this busy time of year, we may find ourselves searching for the stillness of the first Christmas night. In search of that precious gift so silently given, we take small and sincere steps that can lead to a place of peace. With yearning hearts we travel to the little town of Bethlehem.
One family felt so removed from Bethlehem’s peace that they decided to start a new family tradition: During the first week of December they made a cardboard manger for their living room, and next to the manger they placed a container of straw. Each time one of the children was especially kind or helpful, the family put a piece of straw in the manger. Whenever anyone unselfishly did something for someone else, they put another piece of straw in the manger. Before long, straw filled the manger. But even better than that, peace filled their home. Bethlehem’s promise did not seem so far away.
On Christmas Eve, the family turned down all the lights, except for one handheld lantern, and gathered in a bedroom. By the light of their lantern, they “traveled” to their homemade manger in the living room, where, in the quiet of the night, they sang carols and expressed their love. Bathed in the warmth of that peaceful moment, the children went calmly and quietly to bed.1
A few years ago, two researchers conducted what they called the Research Project on Gratitude and Thankfulness. They found through science what most of us know intuitively: gratitude makes people happy.
For the study, several hundred people were divided into three groups and asked to keep diaries. The first group listed the day’s events in their diaries, the second group recorded any unpleasant experiences they had during the day, and the last group made a daily list of things they were grateful for.
The researchers found that the simple act of taking time each day to count your blessings makes a person more enthusiastic, determined, optimistic, and energetic. Those who expressed gratitude experienced less depression and stress, exercised more regularly, and made more progress toward personal goals. Researchers even noted a relationship between feeling grateful and feeling loved, and they observed how gratitude inspires acts of kindness and compassion.1
Remarkable, isn’t it? All this from daily gratitude and thanksgiving.
Of course, the best way to discover the benefits of gratitude is not by observing them in an academic study but by experiencing the miracle for ourselves: When we daily count our blessings, we feel better about life, even in the midst of adversity; we garner a strength of character and largeness of soul that will help us through hard times; and we see life as basically good, despite its challenges and heartaches.
We live in trying times. People are losing their jobs, their savings, even their homes. Others face personal tragedies of various kinds. Even if you aren’t currently facing tough times, you probably know someone who’s there right now. What do we need to bounce back, to cope with such adversity and uncertainties? We need each other.
Perhaps you have a friend who stepped into your life at just the right time and shared your burden. Legendary singer Ray Charles benefited from the sensitivity of such a friend.
When Ray was five, his little brother fell in a washtub and drowned when Ray was unable to save him. Months later, Ray began to slowly lose his eyesight, eventually becoming completely blind. But at age 15 came the most devastating tragedy—the unexpected death of his beloved mother. Young Ray soon sunk into deep depression.
He later recounted: “There was an old lady in town we called Ma Beck. She was the kind of lady that—well, everybody in town used to say that if there was a heaven, she was certainly going to be there when she passed. . . . This elderly woman saw the trauma I was going through. So she took me aside one day and said, ‘Son, you know that I knew your mama. And I know how she tried to raise you. And I know she always taught you to carry on.’”
“That episode with Ma Beck,” Ray said, “shook me out of my depression. It really started me on my way. After that I told myself that I must do what my mom would have expected me to do.”
Etched on the U.S. Navy Seabee Memorial in Arlington, Virginia, are words that resonate with every member of the military—past and present:
“With willing hearts and skillful hands,
The difficult we do at once;
The impossible takes a bit longer
“With compassion for others
We build—we fight
For peace with freedom”
As a nation, we commemorate a special day of appreciation for veterans, the brave men and women who have willingly dedicated their lives to their country and the freedoms it represents. Over 50 years ago, United States President Dwight D. Eisenhower, himself a veteran of two world wars, issued this proclamation:
“I … do hereby call upon all of our citizens to observe Thursday, November 11, 1954, as Veterans Day. On that day let us solemnly remember the sacrifices of all those who fought so valiantly, on the seas, in the air, and on foreign shores, to preserve our heritage of freedom, and let us reconsecrate ourselves to the task of promoting an enduring peace so that their efforts shall not have been in vain.”1
For those who love freedom and country, for those who respect sacrifice and service in behalf of the common good, each day is a day to remember those who have donned the uniform and served their country.
Warren Buffet is one of the world’s richest men, but he doesn’t measure success by how much money he has accumulated. Now in his late 70s, Buffet lives frugally considering his great wealth and has pledged to give most of his fortune to charity. He seeks no buildings or monuments to his name. He has said:
“I know people who have a lot of money, and they get testimonial dinners and hospital wings named after them. But the truth is that nobody in the world loves them. When you get to my age, you’ll measure your success in life by how many of the people you want to have love you actually do love you. That’s the ultimate test of how you’ve lived your life.”
Of course we want to live in the present, but good can also come from looking ahead—for each of us, the day will come when we leave loved ones behind with only thoughts and feelings, memories of our lives. What will others think and feel when our time comes? What will be our legacy? Most of us will never have a wing of the hospital bear our name, but no matter our worldly wealth, we all have loved ones who carry our name in their heart. As Warren Buffet said, that’s the ultimate test of a life well lived.
Life is filled with unexpected blessings. Often they come in the form of rewarding opportunities or wonderful experiences. But many times our most cherished blessings come from adversity that inspires personal growth.
Not long before former White House press secretary Tony Snow died of cancer at age 53, he told reporters he was “a very lucky guy.”1 “Blessings arrive in unexpected packages,” he explained, “in my case, cancer.” He went on to say that those with potentially fatal diseases “shouldn’t spend too much time trying to answer the why questions: Why me? Why must people suffer? Why can’t someone else get sick? We can’t answer such things.” Instead, he suggested, focus on how “your quandary has drawn you closer to God, closer to those you love, closer to the issues that matter.”2
Indeed, once we get past the unanswered questions, we might be surprised to find that our hardship has led to a blessing we’ve long sought. For Joseph of Egypt in ancient times, a famine became an unexpected blessing. Without it, his brothers, who had sold him into slavery and staged his death, would have never come to Egypt seeking food, and they never would have had opportunity to repair their wrong. The famine reunited Joseph with his family.
Truly, it takes faith and courage to see life’s challenges as blessings, especially when they can be so difficult—and so unexpected. Who could ever be fully prepared for a life-threatening illness? a job loss? a natural disaster? And yet all of these hardships can become turning points: opportunities to learn, to love more deeply, to develop greater kindness and patience, to forgive and cast aside old grudges or resentments.
Can you recall a time when someone treated you with particular kindness? Maybe it was a stranger, smiling as he held a door for you, or someone who sincerely asked how you were doing, or a person who was patient with you during one of life’s rough days.
Genuine respect is not easy to find, and it surprises us when we encounter it. Today it seems civility is waning, as people push and shove, bark and shout, replacing etiquette with attitude. We are so unaccustomed to the respectful language of eras past that old movies and old letters often seem stilted and old-fashioned.
We can’t turn the clock back and live again in a time when respect was expected, but we can try to stem the tide of rudeness and disrespect, simply by being polite and respectful. Even small acts cause a ripple effect that can inspire others, because those who receive courtesy are more likely to extend it.
It may be something as simple as complimenting someone for a job well done. It may be listening to someone who is down-and-out, granting him the same dignity we would give someone of high social rank. It may be extending extra patience to the elderly, to the disabled, and to children. Whatever the act is, it works best if we try to see others as their Creator sees them: as people of value, people with immense potential, regardless of their current station in life.
An ideal place to start is in our homes, where we can strive to hold back the rudeness of the world and through our example teach our families a better way.
A BBC poll once asked British readers about their favorite poem. The winner was “If” by Rudyard Kipling, the youngest person to ever receive the Nobel Prize in literature. Though he was only 30 when he wrote it, Kipling’s masterpiece is an eloquent description of true success and contains some of the best advice a parent could give a child.
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:
If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on!”
Of all that we could give to others, nothing is so meaningful, even essential, as love.
A young man began to understand this while doing service at an orphanage far away from home. The young man, along with a corps of volunteers, worked hard to raise money and provide the orphans with a playground, mattresses, shoes, and food.
When he arrived at the orphanage to deliver the donations, the children beamed with excitement. They were grateful for the generous gifts, but the young man could see that more than anything, the little orphans wanted to be loved. And they didn’t wait for an invitation. They ran to him, sat on his lap, and lifted his arms over their shoulders—they literally put his arms around them, showing him how much they wanted to be hugged. The young man couldn’t help but realize that of all the gifts he’s been given, of all the gifts he could give away, nothing compares with love.
In time and with experience we can discover the truth that the more we love others, the more love we have to share. Learning to love is life’s greatest labor and deepest joy. C. S. Lewis advised: “Do not waste time bothering whether you ‘love’ your neighbour; act as if you did. As soon as we do this we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him.”1
In other words, we don’t need to measure love as if it were in short supply. We need not reserve our love only for those we’re comfortable with or those who have shown love to us. Be generous with your love, and you’ll never run out of it. Love regenerates itself—it grows by giving.
In today’s world of mass production, handmade items are more meaningful than ever. Beyond being well-crafted, original workmanship, they can be manifestations of love, personal evidence of our care and concern.
Think how heartwarming original drawings and less-than-perfect handwriting on a homemade card can be. Smell rolls fresh out of the oven, rather than in packages that preserve their shelf life; feel the warmth of a quilt that’s been pieced together one square at a time, hour after hour, day by day; touch the smooth finish on a handmade toy car—and you feel a connection with the person who made it. In every stitch, in every cut, in every shaping of such handiwork, is a little bit of its creator.
A newly married woman found extra meaning in a handmade wedding gift, a blanket that had been crocheted by her elderly friend. Fingering the loops of yarn, the bride counted 108 blue and white squares and smiled at the thought of her friend resting the blanket across her feeble knees as she crocheted. The blanket was more than a warm covering to the young woman; it was a tangible reminder of her friend’s love.
Every great endeavor starts small, sometimes as little more than a dream.
Lucy Maud Montgomery was raised on Canada’s beautiful Prince Edward Island and loved the sights and sounds of nature. From an early age she had a vivid imagination and a burning desire to be a writer. A biographer said, “She was very much an individual, with strong opinions, even stronger emotions, and a heart full of hopes and dreams that sustained her through a lifetime of disappointments and hardships.”1
For many years she had tried to publish her poems and stories, receiving one rejection after another. She finally sold a few, saw her name in print, and that kept her going—reading and writing, learning more about writing, and then writing some more.
Writing was hard work, and rejection was not easy. She said, “People envy me these bits of success and say, ‘It’s well to be you,’ and so on. I smile cynically when I hear them. They do not realize how many disappointments come to one success. They see only the successes and think all must be smooth travelling.”2
One of Maud’s fondest dreams was to publish a story about an imaginative orphan girl named Anne Shirley. Numerous publishers rejected the manuscript. Discouraged, she packed it into a hatbox and stuffed it in a closet. A year later, Maud was housecleaning when she came across the hatbox and reread her old novel. She decided that it wasn’t bad, after all. So after making some revisions, she sent it out again. This time a publisher accepted it.
Anne of Green Gables was published more than a hundred years ago and continues to be among the world’s most beloved books. Maud Montgomery would go on to publish scores of novels, stories, and poems. But it all began with her big dream while living on a small island.
Who doesn’t want to be successful? Who doesn’t want to achieve in their field and find fame, fortune, or power? This kind of success is about achieving measurable results. But there’s another kind of success that is not so measurable—the success of being significant in someone else’s life.
American swimmer Michael Phelps has won more gold medals than any Olympic athlete in history. By so many measures, he is successful. But his experience with Kristin Koch, a 12-year-old girl with Down syndrome, was in some ways more significant than his victories—both for him and for Kristin.
Shortly after the 2004 Summer Olympics, Michael spent a day with Kristin and her family. The chance to swim with an Olympic gold medalist was a dream come true for Kristin, but equally significant was the influence Kristin had on him. He later recounted that seeing Kristin swim with so much joy and enthusiasm changed his perspective. Kristin helped him rediscover his love for swimming and reminded him to swim for the love of the sport.
All of us yearn to make a difference, to live a life measured by more than what we hang on the walls, what we stuff in safe deposit boxes or park in the garage. Think about those who have been significant to you. Perhaps, like Kristin, they exuded a simple love for life when you had lost that spark, or maybe they found the right words to say at just the right moment. Perhaps they were simply at your side when you needed someone.
We don’t know exactly who wrote the words or music to “How Firm a Foundation,” one of the most beloved hymns of the past 200 years, but we do know that its message of hope in the present and faith in the future is both timely and timeless.
During the American Civil War, people on both sides of the conflict sang this hymn. It was a favorite of American presidents Andrew Jackson and Theodore Roosevelt. Robert E. Lee requested that it be sung at his funeral. Who knows how many people, past and present, have taken comfort from these vigorous words:
In every condition—in sickness, in health,
In poverty’s vale or abounding in wealth,
At home or abroad, on the land or the sea—
As thy days may demand, . . . so thy succor shall be.
Fear not, I am with thee; oh, be not dismayed,
For I am thy God and will still give thee aid.
I’ll strengthen thee, help thee, and cause thee to stand,
Upheld by my righteous, . . . omnipotent hand.
Truly, a firm foundation can reassure us as we deal with the difficulties of life. In a world where personal fortunes and physical health can change in a moment, it’s good to remember the moral foundation that can help us stay standing amid life’s instabilities. When we build our lives on principles that stand the test of time, we find strength. We feel hope. History has shown us how building on a firm foundation can see us through difficulties and help us find purpose in life.
Much of the work in this world is done by those who had good reasons to give up, but didn’t.
Michelangelo ascended a scaffold 68 feet high and worked day after day, from first light until dark, painting the 343 figures and 10,000 square feet that would make of the Sistine Chapel an enduring world masterpiece. His arms and neck ached after four years of reaching and stretching and craning his head. His eyes blurred from dripping paint. By the time he was finished he was “exhausted, emaciated, [and] prematurely old.”1 But he endured.
In 1775, when the British army marched on Concord and Lexington, Massachusetts farmer Samuel Whittemore was close to 80 years old. But to him, that was no reason not to get involved. So he packed up a rifle, two pistols, and a saber and joined the fight. Although he was wounded 14 times, Samuel survived and lived another 18 years. He endured.
When Marie Curie’s husband died suddenly in an accident, she was devastated. But instead of becoming paralyzed by her sorrow, she devoted herself to her work—the study of radioactive elements. Later in life, Marie suffered the painful effects of her exposure to radiation, but still she continued. Twice she was awarded the Nobel Prize for physics. She endured.
A beloved fairy tale tells the story of an emperor who loved fine clothing. One day, two tailors appeared claiming they could make clothing so beautiful and delicate it would be invisible to all except those with refined tastes. The emperor was naturally intrigued and, although the price was extravagant, he commissioned the tailors to make such clothing for him.
At last when the task was complete, the tailors presented the invisible clothing to the emperor. They raved about the colors, they exulted in the exquisite textures, and they gushed about how perfectly it fit—well aware all along that there was no fabric, no clothing; it was all a hoax. But they knew that no one would dare speak out and risk being branded as unrefined. The emperor himself played the charade through to its end and marched around proudly wearing nothing but his underwear.
We may think we could never fall for something like that, yet sometimes people believe things that have about as much substance as the emperor’s clothes. Some things are false no matter how many people believe them, while others are true whether we believe them or not. Even if we firmly believe that the earth is flat, it remains a sphere. Even if others question the value of integrity, honesty is still the best policy. And it is always true that pure love softens hatred and that kindness towards others fosters kindness in others.
The city park was humming with activity—businesspeople were hurrying to their lunch breaks, and shoppers were briskly walking by with their packages. A mother with a stroller was rushing back to her parking meter, when her young child called to her to wait. Exasperated, she stopped, and the child pointed up to the trees. “Listen,” he said.
Baby birds were chirping from several nests as brightly feathered parents darted in to feed them. It was a magical moment of song and color, nature unfolding one of its glorious images just above their heads. But it took a young child to notice it.
How often do we rush through our lives, stacking our appointments back to back, and miss the simple joys that surround us all?
It could be the echo of laughter from a playground, the sway of a tree in the breeze, or even the gleam of a polished pair of shoes. Simple joys are everywhere—all we have to do is take a moment to find them.
Appreciation for simple things is a direct path to happiness. Look around in your own home—a picture on the wall, a cherished book, a clean countertop, a vase of flowers. Gratitude for these little touches can lighten our step and bring a smile to our faces.
By slowing down, by savoring all the senses, and by deliberately searching for the good, we can find dozens of simple pleasures that lift our spirits and remind us how blessed we are. Problems and trials will not disappear, but they will no longer dominate if we choose to look up at the branches, where magic happens, instead of below, where humdrum living can distract us.
Rebroadcast of #4071 due to listener request
Maltbie Babcock of Syracuse, New York, probably could have had any job he wanted. He was a brilliant scholar, an outstanding athlete, a dynamic leader, and a gifted musician. Some thought he was the most talented student Syracuse University had ever seen.
Choosing to bless others with his gifts, Babcock became a pastor. He began his ministry in the picturesque Great Lakes region of western New York. Though he loved his job, it could never seem to keep him indoors on a beautiful day. Besides, he felt that it was in nature that he could best commune with God. “Telling his secretary, ‘I’m going out to see my Father’s world,’ he would run or hike a couple of miles into the countryside where he’d lose himself in nature.”Babcock expressed his feelings about life, nature, and deity in beautiful poetry, including a verse he called “This Is My Father’s World.”
When he was 42 years old, he left for an overseas pilgrimage and died suddenly from a bacterial fever. His grief-stricken wife, Catherine, honored his memory by collecting his writings and publishing many of them. A close friend, Franklin L. Sheppard, arranged a tune to go with “This Is My Father’s World,” which is now a well-known hymn. Babcock never lived to hear his poem performed as a hymn, but his love for God—enhanced by his love of nature—lives on through this song.
Just as we better appreciate a song by becoming acquainted with its author, we better appreciate the beautiful world in which we live by coming to know its Creator. In Babcock’s beloved words:
After half a century of entertaining audiences around the world, the Osmond family are well known for their musical talent and showmanship. Less well known, however, is the story of how they got their start.
It all began in the 1950s, when four of George and Olive Osmond’s sons started singing to raise money to buy hearing aids for their two deaf older brothers. They were good, and people noticed. They performed at Disneyland and then on The Andy Williams Show in the early 1960s, and the rest, as they say, is history. Over the next 50 years, the singing Osmond family just kept singing, delighting audiences of all ages around the world and recording 51 gold records along the way—truly remarkable in a business where many stars shine brilliantly for a time, then dim and fade away.
The Osmonds have achieved something more important than stardom. They have kept their family strong. As they continue to entertain us, their love and support for each other show us true family solidarity. The eight sons and one daughter of George and Olive Osmond, along with their scores of grandchildren and great-grandchildren, are an enduring testament to the power of unity, the strength of faith, and the security of love in a family.
We’ve all heard the saying that “when the going gets tough, the tough get going.” And the truth is, sometimes the best way to get through a trial is simply to keep going. Choosing not to become emotionally or spiritually stuck actually helps us summon the strength we need to move forward with life.
No one knows this better than pioneers who blaze new trails. Whether making their way across fields of discovery, over rocky ridges of prejudice, or through mountains of misunderstanding, pioneers make better trails for those who follow by forging ahead, even when the way seems impossible. Today we recognize such pioneers who have made our world a better place.
More than 150 years ago, a band of brave pioneers walked more than 1,000 miles to find a place of peace in the Rocky Mountains. Faith was the fuel that drove the covered wagons and the handcarts across a barren landscape. Remarkable are the stories of their courage and unflagging determination as they toiled across the seemingly endless western prairie.
Agnes Caldwell, only nine years of age at the time, never forgot how it felt to walk so far. Later in life she recounted: “I can yet close my eyes and see everything in panoramic precision before me—the ceaseless walking, walking, ever to remain in my memory.”1 The strength she gained at a young age from enduring to the trail’s end served her well for the rest of her long life.
For centuries, people have separated each other by setting up barriers and boundaries—the divisions we call “us” and “them.” In our interconnected society, we interact almost daily with people whose heritage, religion, skin color, gender, language, or choices are different from ours. The challenge lies in how we treat each other when we have little in common except our humanity.
Small children seem to be especially good at this. When you smile at a child, she smiles back. When you make a face, she giggles. When you wave good-bye, she waves too. Barriers disappear in this simple, satisfying exchange. Perhaps children haven’t yet learned to see those barriers. Or maybe they see more clearly what’s really important.
Anne Frank, a child herself and a victim of persecution because of her heritage, wrote that “we’re all searching for happiness; we’re all leading lives that are different and yet the same.”1
“I still believe,” she observed, “in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart.”2
Accepting one another—no matter our differences—is a measure of our character and our hearts. Acceptance is not about changing “us” or “them”; it’s about a friendly gesture, a smile, an appreciation for interesting company or new ideas. It is learning to accept others despite mistakes, weaknesses, or bad choices and still loving them for who they are. Acceptance comes more easily when we are at peace, confident of our own place, our beliefs and direction.
2 The Diary of a Young Girl, 332.
3 In Gerry Avant, “Church President to Be Sustained in Solemn Assembly,” Church News, April 5, 2008, 4.
When we sing “songs of the land,” we celebrate the great diversity and unique contributions of peoples from all corners of the world. Music of the common man is everyone’s music; it comes from the heart and inspires audiences both young and old. In traditional hymns and folk tunes we can hear the voices of everyday people—and maybe even find our own voice.
Over a century ago, the poet Walt Whitman praised the laboring people of the land using the metaphor of music. He wrote of the sweeping strains and pulsating rhythms of a mighty nation at work and at play. “I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear,” Whitman proclaimed. He acknowledged mechanics, carpenters, masons, shoemakers, woodcutters, mothers, “each singing what belongs to him or her and to none else, ... singing with open mouths their strong melodious songs.”1
We all sing unique songs. We each make contributions that only we can make. Listen to any one of millions of voices, and you will hear the “varied carols” that Walt Whitman heard. You will hear the glorious sound of personal achievement in harmony with the common good. You will hear sweet sounds of hope, of possibility, of longing for good things to come. And you will hear in those words and melodies deep feelings of the heart.
The symbols of our freedom—the flags, statues, uniforms, anthems, and other emblems of our inspiring history—are not just relics of ancient heroism. They continue to inspire us today, keeping the promise of freedom alive for present and future generations.
Nearly 200 years ago Francis Scott Key wrote words that became America’s national anthem. All through the night, enemy war ships bombarded Baltimore’s Fort McHenry. But by “dawn’s early light,”1 Francis Scott Key saw his country’s flag still flying proudly. We feel that same pride when this anthem brings stadiums full of people to their feet in grateful remembrance of their liberty.
Our souls are likewise stirred when we see symbols like the Liberty Bell. Thousands wait in line, day after day, to view the now-silent bell near Independence Hall in Philadelphia. Its inscription still resounds in our hearts: “Proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof.”2
The Statue of Liberty is another symbol that rallies our resolve for freedom. Its torch kindles hope in people from all nations who are welcomed by the words engraved in its pedestal:
“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”3
In a tragic accident, a young man was suddenly paralyzed from the neck down. Later, from his wheelchair, he observed with optimism, “My life changed in an instant. All of a sudden it seemed like everything was different. Since then, I’ve learned that change happens to everyone. It’s how we handle it that counts.”
Not all change comes as quickly or dramatically as it did for this young man, but change does come to us all. Be it sudden or gradual, change is inevitable.
For some it may be a layoff that makes a job change necessary. Children grow up and go off on their own, and a home that was once a busy hub of family activity becomes a quiet and sometimes lonely place. Loved ones pass away, and those left behind must learn to do without their cherished companionship. Coping with change can be a real challenge. But the young man was right—“it’s how we handle it that counts.”
If we dwell too long on the past when change occurs, we place the future in jeopardy. We should treasure our memories and speak fondly of past good times, but as one wise man put it, we shouldn’t let “yesterday hold tomorrow hostage.” 1
Change can provide opportunities for learning and personal growth. It forces us to look at things in a new and perhaps better way. In coping with change, we can find strengths and abilities we never knew we had. And the support we feel from things that have not changed—like family or friends or faith—becomes even more valuable to us.
Most fathers will tell you that becoming a father changes everything. You feel more love, more gratitude, more responsibility, and more desire to do right and be an example to your child. It’s a job that may seem daunting at times. One father said: “I thought I never wanted to be a father. A child seemed to be a series of limitations and responsibilities that offered no reward. But when I experienced the perfection of fatherhood, the rest of the world remade itself before my eyes.”
Fatherhood, of course, is not easy or without heartache and worry. The wise father continues: “This is not to say that becoming a father automatically makes you a good father. Fatherhood, like marriage, is a constant struggle against your limitations and self-interests. But the urge to be a perfect father is there, because your child is a perfect gift.”1 Fatherhood has the potential to make you better than you are: more patient and kind, more loving and forgiving, more tender and strong.
For every father, there are those rare, precious moments of inexpressible joy when your daughter writes you a note that says, “Dad, thanks for all you’ve done” or your son says that he loves you, that he’s proud to be your son. And then there are days when you feel like a failure, days when you feel like giving up. But you don’t. You stay with it, you hope and pray for strength, and you trust that if you do your best things will work out.
When troubles, heartaches, and disappointments weigh us down, how we cherish the companionship of friends who lift us up. Their patience and good cheer, even in the most stressful situations, can help us see beyond threatening clouds to clearer skies on the horizon.
An incident in the life of Amos Bronson Alcott, educator and father of famed author Louisa May Alcott, illustrates the positive influence we can have on each other. The Alcott family finances were meager, and expectations were placed on Mr. Alcott to replenish the coffers with his winter lecture series. When he returned home one cold night, the family circled around him close to the fire. A hush fell on the gathering as daughter May asked the question weighing on all their minds and hearts: “Father, did they pay you?”
Mr. Alcott opened his pocketbook, slowly pulled out a one-dollar bill, and laid it on the table. “Another year I will do better,” he said. There was silence. And then Mrs. Alcott threw her arms around her husband’s bent shoulders and said stoutly, “I call that doing very well.”1
Mrs. Alcott understood how to master disappointment. She chose to be encouraging and optimistic instead of critical, bitter, or resentful. Without minimizing the problem, she kept the family’s focus on what really matters. She couldn’t make the family’s troubles go away, but she could contribute positively to the situation by lifting the burden from her husband with her patience and confidence. The Alcotts still had a difficult winter ahead, but they also had the strength and courage to face it together.
A young woman decided to plant a flower bed, determined to make it lush and overflowing. She planted numerous seedlings side by side until the bed was full. But instead of thriving, her garden died. If she had given her seedlings room to grow at their own rate, eventually they would have filled her garden with glorious flowers. But because she was not willing to wait for her plants, she lost their potential.
How often we try to rush our own growth—and the growth of those around us—instead of letting time bring the desired results. Too quickly we get discouraged, forgetting to take the long view, forgetting that all of us are works in progress. As our own worst critics, we sometimes give up on ourselves just as we reach the brink of progress.
Patience is essential if we are to enjoy the best life has to offer: happy marriages, fulfilling careers, developed talents, peace and contentment. Without patience, we rip open the bud, forever robbed of a blooming flower. Without patience, we fail to forgive and deny ourselves loving relationships. Without patience, we cannot conquer our own weaknesses and wind up avoiding anything we can’t do easily or quickly.
Patience is the loving restraint with which we watch a child try a new task—and try again. Patience with others is a form of charity, a loving willingness to wait. When we show faith that improvement will come, children and loved ones blossom with hope. Patience is giving power to others, letting them grow at their own pace.
When we choose to hold back a hasty judgment or pause before reacting, we step into a calmer sphere of peace and contentment. Our stress levels drop; our joy levels rise. And everyone around us feels the warmth of acceptance that allows growth to occur.
Life is a great teacher. The longer we live, the more we realize how much we’ve yet to learn. Perhaps that’s why so many memorial services include renditions of John Newton’s beloved song “Amazing Grace.” The words reverberate in our souls: “I once . . . was blind and now I see.”
Hasn’t life taught us all, at some time, that we were wrong? Who, through life experience and the process of maturity, hasn’t had his or her eyes opened?
This happened quite literally to one little girl who insisted that she did not need glasses. “I can see!” she protested. And she could, but not as well as she would when fitted with her first pair of glasses. Slowly, carefully, she rested the glasses on her nose and opened her eyes to a whole new world. She saw details she’d never seen before: the veins on leaves, the pockmarks in brick, the pointed grass blades that before were blurred. Now that she could truly see, she rejoiced in her newfound vision!
And so can we. Instead of resisting life’s lessons, we can begin to see with new eyes. John Newton knew what it was like to be once blind. Early in his career, he was a slave trader; later he became a clergyman and eventually an influential abolitionist who regretted his spiritual blindness of days past. Even though it took years for Newton to see things correctly, he resolved to help others recognize such blindness of heart. He wrote, “We think we know a great deal, because we are ignorant of what remains to be learnt.”1
Sometimes the most important work we do is never attributed to us, and often it is our anonymous efforts that do the most good. So it was for the unknown authors of folk music. Passed down by oral tradition, their musical treasures ring with authenticity and passion. In many cases, both authorship and origin have been lost to the ages; yet such anonymous songs often have the greatest appeal.
Perhaps because they are not tied to a specific time or person, folk songs express thoughts and feelings that transcend generations, enriching lives for centuries.
One type of folk music is the venerable folk hymn, which was made up of simple, familiar tunes that “everybody could sing and . . . words that spoke from the heart . . . in the language of the common man.”1 People love this traditional music of the heart because it resounds with their culture, their beliefs, and the feelings they hold most dear.
One scholar has observed that these unknown composers of the past considered their “noble musical heritage” to be “their most loved and treasured possession,” which they reverently laid “on the altar of their worship.” “There is a strong probability,” he says, “that this practice has continued unbroken for at least thirteen centuries.”2
No matter where life takes us, a mother’s love and guidance can help us become secure, compassionate, and contributing individuals. Few if any mothers feel they measure up to that accolade. Yet their love and influence are undeniable. And that’s why we honor them. A mother’s love can be so powerful that it can influence a child, a family, a community, and even a nation.
Elizabeth Angela Marguerite Bowes-Lyon is a good example. By title, she was the Queen Consort, wife of King George VI and mother of today’s Queen Elizabeth. Her royal position could have made her aloof and out-of-touch with the people. But history says otherwise. For good reason, the Brits endearingly called her the Queen Mum.
During the Second World War, England faced relentless aerial bombing; even Buckingham Palace was hit in the raids. Officials urged the queen to flee to Canada, but she refused to leave the land and people she loved. She became the symbol of the British fighting spirit, inspiring her subjects to courage and optimism.
The queen willingly sacrificed along with her people. She participated in food rationing, used space heaters to conserve fuel, and allowed only one bare bulb to light each room at Windsor Castle. She frequently visited bombed-out areas, offering hope to those whose lives were buried in rubble.
At a recent magic show, the audience gasped in disbelief at the illusions the magician so skillfully presented. More than just pulling a rabbit out of a hat, he seemed to conjure up out of midair doves, flowers, and even people—and then make them disappear again. The audience could hardly believe their eyes. At the end of the show, one observer commented, “You know it’s not really happening, but it sure looks real.”
Things aren’t always what they seem—in magic shows and in people. True character is often disguised, as people are made to appear authentic even when they are not. Great amounts of time and money are spent in manufacturing a good reputation, even when there may not be a good character to match it.
With great insight, Abraham Lincoln said: “Character is like a tree and reputation like its shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing.”1 Our lives are more peaceful and secure when we learn to pay less attention to the shadows and focus on “the real thing.”
Authenticity is essential in human relationships. Anyone can profess love, but it will never mean as much or be so sweet as sincere, heartfelt affection. Fair-weather friends are easy to find, but a genuine friend who can be counted on to remain true is a treasure worth searching for. No self-serving show of compassion will ever equal authentic goodness.
We live in a competitive culture. Most of the time it takes the form of harmless fun—we enjoy sporting events, board games, and other contests that pit one against another. But when a competitive spirit invades our daily lives and our relationships with others, it can lead to feelings of jealousy, resentment, and self-doubt.
Those who have found true peace have learned to step off the merry-go-round of competition. It’s not easy—quick fixes seldom work. But there are a few things we can do, a few truths we can remember, that can make a difference in our life and in our heart.
Not long ago, a learned professor needed to have some plumbing work done in his home. He was amazed at how much the plumber knew about pipes—and how little he, with all his academic training, knew about the subject. No one knows everything about every topic; it’s not possible—or even necessary, if we’re willing to work with instead of against each other. We each have areas of strength and expertise. Search for yours, and then build on them.
Be committed to lifelong learning. Instead of competing with others, learn from them, appreciate them. You can always expand your knowledge, develop a skill, and share a talent. This can open your heart to others and create a sense of humility, as you learn that everyone you meet can teach you something you didn’t know.
When we’re tempted to compare ourselves to others, it helps to remember that we never know the whole story of anyone’s life. All we can do is love, be patient, and be kind. We’re all in this together, and we need each other.
Nancy was eight years old when a teacher looked at her drawing and spoke six words Nancy would never forget: “You’re not very talented, are you?”
The words not only embarrassed her, they burrowed inside her, creating a firm resolve never to make a fool of herself by attempting to draw or paint again.
It took more than five decades for Nancy to outgrow this image of herself as a clumsy, artless, and uncreative person. Today Nancy knows something she wishes she could have understood when she was eight: the reason we create is not for the praise of others but because we love something so much we want to see it exist.
That’s what creative people do. They bring to life things that didn’t exist before.
Creativity is one of the great, mysterious hungers we all have as mortal souls, and there are as many ways to express this divine drive as there are people who feel it. Some of the most creative people in the world never pick up a paintbrush, sit down at a piano, or fill a page with words. Yet because of them, the world is filled with scented gardens, warm quilts, and loving relationships. Sometimes the most important thing we create is as simple as a smile.
Many of us have something we’ve always wanted to try to do but never quite got around to it—perhaps because we lacked the confidence, or maybe because we were afraid we would fail. The good news is this: when we set aside our fears and begin to create, we make not only our lives but our world more meaningful and more wonderful.
An elderly man sat in his easy chair carefully cradling a book. Magazines and newspapers lay on the table in front of him. “My books are like friends to me,” he said. “I share so many memories with the old ones, and I enjoy learning from the new ones. And there is always so much to learn!” This from a man for whom learning had been a constant practice for the better part of a century.
Some feel they have outgrown their chance to learn. “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks,” goes the saying, but that seems not to be true. Many older people are still reaping a rich harvest of knowledge. Lifelong learning is no longer a luxury for just a few of us but something that all can pursue.
To consume a good book, to digest a report of current events, to savor the words of great thinkers past and present is to feed the soul and nourish the heart. We are never too old for such a feast.
And learning is found not just in books. People and places are great sources of new information and experience. We can ask questions and enjoy discussions with friends and family members, learning from their points of view. We can visit a local museum to hear the story of a historic landmark or inquire at a public library about any topic we choose. Or we can visit the Internet, where a world of information is right at our fingertips.
Sometimes peace comes in the most unexpected ways. A long time ago, when the ancient Israelites were battling the Philistines in the valley of Elah, peace must have seemed impossible. Each day for 40 days, the Philistines’ nine-and-a-half-foot giant, Goliath, wearing a helmet of brass and heavy armor, challenged the Israelites to fight, but the Israelites were afraid to take any action, immobilized with fear.1 Surrender and slavery to the Philistines seemed to be the only hope for peace.
But young David showed them another way. He assured King Saul, “Let no man’s heart fail because of [Goliath]; thy servant will go and fight.”2 David, a mere boy, refused the king’s armor and sword and refused to believe that he would be defeated. Instead, he carried the slingshot he used to defend his father’s sheep and, with great confidence born of faith, faced the giant. The rest is history. He was victorious, and his people at last had peace.
We all face giants of other forms that can fill us with fear—giants that might make peace seem out of reach for a time. Perhaps we need to have an important conversation that we’ve been putting off; perhaps we need to seek forgiveness from someone we love. Maybe we need to seek medical attention, overcome a personal weakness, or pay a mounting debt. It may be tempting to do as the Israelites did and cower in fear on the other side of the hill. But how much peace did they have there?
In the early years of the Revolutionary War, things did not look good for the fledgling American navy. In a period of three months, they had lost seven ships, including their two largest. In the midst of the gloom, however, was a shining light: Captain John Barry.
He was so successful with his first military command that he was promoted to captain a frigate still under construction. While waiting, he volunteered to serve in the army during a bitterly cold winter. But his frigate was never completed, leaving Barry a captain without a ship.
Meanwhile, enemy transports were sailing unchallenged along the Delaware River resupplying their forces. Not content to wait for another ship to command, Captain Barry proposed a daring plan—to take a few of the rowboats from some of the larger ships, mount small cannons in their bows, and challenge the enemy transports.
Many thought the idea of outfitting what they called “washtubs” and sending them against armed ships was foolish. But Barry felt confident he could do it, and he was right.
Because Barry’s boats were small, they were able to escape enemy fire. The cannons on the rowboats hit their mark, and Captain Barry’s brave little fleet forced three British ships to surrender.
By the end of the war, Barry had captured more than 20 ships. As a consequence of his bravery and leadership, he was later named chief naval commander and is widely recognized as the father of the American navy.
It’s easy to become discouraged when the storms of life bring misfortune or distress. But Captain John Barry knew that adversity often opens the door of opportunity. He recognized it, acted on it, and, as a result, became a national hero.
The coming of spring is a change we anticipate and welcome. After a cold winter, we rejoice in longer days and warmer temperatures. And as the snow begins to melt, we watch for splashes of color and for those first brave blossoms. But perhaps it’s more than good weather we’re looking forward to—it’s the abundance of new life and new hope offered in spring.
Somehow, the hope of spring can make it easier to believe in unseen realities. Yet even in spring we may grapple with discouragement, despair, or anguish of soul. Like Job of old, we may sincerely wonder, “If a man die, shall he live again?”1 At such times, when we need new hope, when we yearn for the nurture of charity, we might find seedlings of faith in our own souls.
Almost in an instant, the trials of life can strip away the superficial and help us discover who we really are and what we really believe. C. S. Lewis said:
“You never know how much you really believe anything until its truth or falsehood becomes a matter of life and death to you. It is easy to say you believe a rope to be strong and sound as long as you are merely using it to cord a box. But suppose you had to hang by that rope over a precipice. Wouldn’t you then first discover how much you really trusted it? . . . Only a real risk tests the reality of a belief.”2
In every family, each generation passes stories and traditions to the next. The knowledge and experiences that are transmitted in this way become a family’s collective memory. It not only is a history of who they have been but also a constitution of who they are and a road map for what they can become. If families don’t continue to pass along these memories, stories, knowledge, and skills, they become lost to the next generation.
Much of what is worth remembering is simple and prosaic, not dramatic and spectacular. Who would ever want to forget the family vacations filled with mishaps and adventures? or the many experiences of rearing a family—with all its joys and heartache? What about a skill learned at the hand of a grandfather? a poem learned in the lap of a mother? These family connections are more vital to a family’s identity than the more obvious physical traits they may share.
We may think we’ll never forget the tender moments, the funny times, and the poignant exchanges that stir our souls. But memory can fade.
Today, with the marvels of modern technology, it’s easier than ever to preserve and share such memories. It still takes effort and desire, but in a matter of minutes we can create a lasting record of the past and present, send it on to others, and keep the memories alive.
One act of kindness often leads to another—and another. Recently a man was waiting for his order in a drive-through lane when the driver behind him, impatient and in a rush, began to honk and holler at the man to hurry up. The man at the drive-through window could have reacted with anger or spite, and from there who knows how this confrontation might have escalated.
Instead, the man chose to respond with what must have been unexpected kindness. He gave the employee at the drive-through window money to pay the bill for the man in line behind him.
When the impatient driver learned that the customer in front of him had paid for his order, he in turn decided to pay for the order of the next customer in line. The result was a chain of goodwill that continued throughout the day. Some thought it was a joke, all were greatly surprised, and most reacted in kind—paying for the orders of those behind them. And it all started because one customer decided to respond with kindness.
Each day we have opportunities to choose kindness. Rather than reacting in anger, taking offense, or returning animosity, we can decide to send out goodwill. In the face of hostility, we can try to be helpful. Instead of becoming bitter, we can strive to do better. As we think of others and respond with kindness, something magical happens, something that blesses both the giver and receiver.
We live in a day of remarkable communication tools. New technologies allow us to connect with people anywhere in the world. Yet the irony is that many of us feel cut off, disconnected from other people, even the people who matter most to us. Too often we use modern conveniences to make our lives busier instead of better; somehow we become more distant from, not closer to, those we love.
If we sometimes feel isolated, there is much we can do to bridge the gap. We could take a moment to write a note, send an e-mail, make a phone call, or just stop to chat. We run the risk of becoming strangers in our neighborhoods or even our homes if we don’t seek out opportunities for personal connection.
One man noted that in his busy office, it seemed that no one ever stopped to visit. Dozens of co-workers shared a building but didn’t share anything else. Yes, work needs to be done, and time is precious. But when he took just a brief but authentic moment to say hello, to ask, to get an update, he noticed a big difference in the office and in his heart.
Perhaps we need to rethink the notion that a moment spent connecting is a waste of time. On the contrary, it can be one of the richest aspects of life.
On the first day of December 1955, a prim, middle-aged woman riding a bus home from work made a decision that would shake the country. Rosa Parks, a black seamstress who was tired after a long day’s work, refused to give up her seat on the bus so a white man could sit down. As a result, she was arrested and jailed. This act of civil disobedience triggered a series of events considered now to be the beginning of the American civil rights movement.
Martin Luther King Jr. said of Rosa Parks’s resolve: “It was an individual expression of a timeless longing for human dignity and freedom. . . . She was anchored to that seat [on the bus] by the accumulated indignities of days gone and the boundless aspirations of generations yet unborn. She was a victim of both the forces of history and the forces of destiny.”1
Her resolute decision in behalf of dignity and freedom began to tear down the walls of bigotry. Years later, Rosa Parks would be awarded the two highest civilian awards in the United States: the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal. She would be called the mother of the modern-day civil rights movement.
Part of her success in advancing human rights was found in the quiet strength of her character. Rosa Parks refused to become bitter or vengeful when she was denied justice; instead she believed that “a heart filled with love could conquer anything,” even prejudice.2
One of the most popular courses taught at Harvard University is a class called “Positive Psychology.” In essence, the professor teaches how to find joy in living. One semester more than 800 students enrolled.1 What does it say about our society that we must teach “finding joy” at the highest levels of academia?
Many myths and misconceptions swirl about how and where to find joy. For so many, it is elusive. Some think that joy comes from money or material possessions, so they conclude that adding more of them will surely bring increased joy. Or we may think we can only have joy if our relationships are always stable and our careers are always successful.
But real joy does not depend on our social status or our bank account, and it can even be found in times of turmoil and disappointment. Joy springs from our attitude and outlook. It comes from simple gestures, like making time for family members or friends, clearing up a misunderstanding, expressing gratitude for the efforts of others, celebrating their successes, or taking time to listen to their worries.
This kind of joy is available not only during times of peace, when all is going well, but also when we face challenges, heartache, or pain. In fact, that’s when joy does its greatest service—it brings balance and peace to the harshness and stresses of everyday living. It lifts our sights and settles our souls.
One of the best gifts parents can give their children is to love each other. When children notice that their parents like being together, when they observe an enduring affection between Mom and Dad, it gives them a deep sense of security.
Mother Teresa, leader of the Missionaries of Charity, remembered the glee she felt as a child when she watched her mother anticipate the arrival of her father. In her own words, Mother Teresa recounts: “[My mother] used to move very fast to get ready to meet my father. At that time, we didn’t understand, we used to smile, we used to laugh and we used to tease her. But now I remember what a tremendous, delicate love she had for him.”
Even though many years had passed, Mother Teresa still cherished the memory of her mother’s love for her father and wondered how such love could be felt by more families today. She continued: “Today we have no time. The father and the mother are so busy. . . . That’s why . . . I always say: Family first. If you are not there, how will your love grow for one another?”1
No wonder some of literature’s most famous metaphors compare love with flowers. Love can be both strong and delicate. At times, love can endure extreme conditions, and yet, even in favorable circumstances, it can wither and die when not properly nourished.
In the same way, when parents take time to love each other, to nourish their relationship, their love grows. And because the rest of the family draws strength from that relationship, their children’s love—for them and for others—grows too.
The recent passing at age 97 of President Gordon B. Hinckley moves us to pay tribute to his remarkable life and leadership. We respectfully refer to him as “President” because for nearly 13 years he served as President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We lovingly call him “friend” because of his extraordinary supervision of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir for so many decades.
No one has loved this Choir more; few have had a greater influence upon it. President Hinckley has overseen the Choir since 1971. He has been its champion and visionary leader for over three decades. But more than that, he has been our beloved associate and dear friend.
His accomplishments are too numerous to mention. His love of family, friends, and all people around the world will inspire generations yet unborn. His legacy of faith and service will continue to stand as a beacon to follow.
With an outstretched hand and a big heart he traveled the world, inspiring everyone to greater good, testifying of God’s love for all people. He raised his voice in condemning evil. He encouraged us to stand a little taller, be a little better, and go forward with faith. He taught, “There is no obstacle too great, no challenge too difficult, if we have faith.”1
President Hinckley’s strength of character, devotion to truth, and optimistic outlook comfort our souls even as we mourn his passing. “If [he] had a personal motto it was, in his own words: ‘Things will work out. If you keep trying and praying and working, things will work out. They always do. If you want to die at an early age, dwell on the negative. Accentuate the positive, and you’ll be around for a while.’ ”2
In the middle of a cold winter it’s difficult to believe that summer’s warmth will ever come. Likewise, when we’re in the midst of heartache, when our difficulties seem to outweigh our joys, it’s easy to lose hope for today and wonder about tomorrow.
It’s natural to doubt, to wonder about that which we cannot see or prove to be true. But as the well-known English poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson, urged:
Nothing worthy proving can be proven,
Nor yet disproven: wherefore thou be wise,
Cleave ever to the sunnier side of doubt.1
It takes a leap of faith to cleave to the sunnier side of doubt. We live in a day when some disparage belief; a day when doubt and cynicism are sometimes valued above conviction. But when we choose to hope despite our doubts, when we decide to trust in spite of questions, we begin to feel power in the present and faith in the future. The sunnier side of doubt leads us to see the world through a lens of trust and confidence. It helps us to discover a higher power and higher purpose in life.
Everlasting things like love, truth, and faith are real and good—not because they are visible or tangible, but because they speak to our hearts and they can be depended on to stand the test of time. They have been tried in the furnace of skepticism and doubt and have come out strong.
So while summer’s warmth seems distant during the winters of our lives, we can hope and trust that it will surely come, things will work out, and life will go on—everlastingly.
I will not doubt, I will not fear;
God’s love and strength are always near.
His promised gift helps me to find
The immortal words of Oscar Hammerstein inspire us today with their truth:
My heart will be blessed
With the sound of music. 1
From the popular tunes we enjoy, to sacred hymns, holiday music, and patriotic songs of every nation, we are a world of music lovers. Hearing even just a few strains of a song from our youth seems to transport us to another time and place. Music evokes memories, lifts spirits, and inspires good deeds.
No one can deny the immense power in music. Yet if you look at its components, from a stirring masterpiece to a simple jingle, all music is made from variations on just a few notes. Throughout history, composers have used seemingly infinite combinations of a limited set of sounds to soothe a crying infant, to express romantic love, to rally troops, to honor heroes, to worship, and to express the feelings of the heart. What a miracle it is that so much power can come from something so simple.
We are not so different from those notes ourselves. Individually we may seem ordinary, but each of us contributes uniquely to the groups we join and the causes we support. To leave out any one of us would be like denying a composer the use of one note.
At the scene of a disastrous house fire, a television news journalist interviewed a woman who had lost her home and all her belongings. “How are you doing?” he asked. She responded, “Well, everything is gone, but we’re OK. No one was hurt. We still have our family, and that’s what really matters.”
Of course, there was sorrow at the loss of treasured possessions, but this woman was still able to feel gratitude for what remained. She knew that material things come and go, but the people around us, the intangibles of life, matter most.
Deep down, we all know that. But sometimes our property and possessions get more of our attention than they deserve. Because material things are widely advertised and promoted, we tend to pursue them with zeal; because friends and family members are forgiving and loyal, we sometimes take them for granted.
We are right to be thankful for the comforts and conveniences that surround us, but it’s good to remember that with the spark from a match, a rush of wind, or a torrent of water, all of those familiar things can be taken away in a moment. Despite the grief that victims of disasters feel, they often realize that the material things they have lost are far less important to them than they ever knew. As one observer put it, “Things are just things.”1
New beginnings are all around us. They come as the beginning of new days, weeks, months, or even years. With them come opportunities to improve our lives, master a skill, or pursue a dream.
Sometimes, though, the dream dissolves or slips out of our reach—often because of forces beyond our control. We’ve all been there. Those who are faint-hearted falter and wait for another season or a seemingly better hour. And then there are those who, undeterred, take one step and then another as they move forward with their lives.
Take John Bushman for example. He was a settler in the late 1800s who put down roots in a desolate part of the northern Arizona desert. Water was scarce, irrigation a necessity. Bushman and a handful of others built a dam by dragging rocks, broken branches, and stumps from the hillsides, hoping to channel a small stream into a makeshift reservoir.
But the dam never held. Year after year they built the dam, and each time it failed. One day, after another disappointing collapse, Bushman wrote in his journal: “Dam washed out again. We are not discouraged.”
Those lines tell us much about the strength and vision of John Bushman and his neighbors. They did not give up. They mustered patience, courage, and sheer grit to build and rebuild in that barren land.
We learn from their experience that goals and dreams are not always measured in outcomes but often in attitudes. We gain a lot from beginning and then having to push on by beginning again.
In 1741, swimming in debt and out of favor as a composer, George Frideric Handel accepted a commission for a benefit concert in Dublin, Ireland. On August 22 the 56-year-old sequestered himself in his London home and began to compose music to biblical texts heralding the life of Jesus Christ. Just 23 days later he completed the 260-page oratorio. He titled this extraordinary outpouring of inspiration Messiah. Without question, this brilliant masterpiece has thrilled and inspired listeners from Handel’s time to our own.
But Handel’s work has done more than just please the ear. Its premier performance in Dublin on April 13, 1742, raised 400 pounds and freed 142 men from debtor’s prison. Before long, the charity sponsors began asking the ladies to refrain from wearing hoop skirts to performances in order to make room for more patrons and raise more money for the poor.
In the final few years of his life, Handel conducted charity concerts of Messiah for the London Foundling Hospital, a much-needed home for abandoned infants and children. The thousands raised for charity led one 18th-century biographer to state, “This great work has been heard in all parts of the kingdom with increasing reverence and delight; it has fed the hungry, clothed the naked, fostered the orphan.”1
Bethlehem seems so far away from much of the world. A relatively small town, not much different from other communities near Jerusalem, Bethlehem is a fairly quiet place. Although it was the family home of the ancient King David, Bethlehem might largely be forgotten to the world today had it not been the birthplace of another King. On a starry night two thousand years ago, a baby was born, and neither Bethlehem nor the rest of the world would ever be the same.
As we think of that silent, holy night, we yearn for the serenity of Bethlehem. So much of our life today is noisy, confusing, and busy. But to some extent, it must have been that way two millennia ago as well. People had families, businesses, and commitments to keep. Yet for one still and shining moment, the world stopped, a star shone, a choir of angels sang, and heaven came to earth. Christmas invites us to hear again the sweet sounds of love and feel the quiet assurances of peace that once settled on the little town of Bethlehem.
Perhaps we need to separate ourselves from the clatter of crowds and the hustle of hectic lives and be still. Pause for a moment. Ponder the wonders we celebrate. Consider the extraordinary gift of life that was given to each of us that day. Remember how joy came to the world, and believe that life has meaning and can be so good.
No matter where we live, our hearts can draw near to Bethlehem and to the newborn babe who brought good tidings of great joy to the whole world.
“O Holy Night” is one of the most beloved Christmas carols of our time. But most people have never heard the curious story of how it came to be.
In 1847 a parish priest of a small French village asked a local amateur poet, Placide Cappeau, to write a poem for Christmas Mass. Cappeau was known more for attending to business than for attending church, but he felt honored by the request and agreed.
Once he was finished, Cappeau felt his poem was more of a song, and so he contacted an accomplished Parisian composer, Adolphe Adam, who agreed to write music for it.
A few years later, in the United States, the carol was discovered by John Dwight, editor of Dwight’s Journal of Music, who translated the lyrics into English.
These three personalities—writer, composer, and translator—make up an interesting trio. The writer, Placide Cappeau, turned out to be more interested in politics than religion. Adolphe Adam, the composer of this classic among Christian carols, was of Jewish ancestry. And John Dwight, the translator, was a Unitarian minister who, seized by panic attacks whenever he spoke in public, had turned to music to express his devotion. Together these three very different people created a masterpiece that has thrilled and inspired millions.
When Placide Cappeau penned the words of his poem, he tried to imagine what it must have been like to be present on that holy night of Jesus’s birth. As he did, the words flowed.1
Christmas excitement is so much a part of being a child. Who doesn’t remember counting down the days, eagerly anticipating the big event, asking, “When will Christmas be here?” To parents, the calendar seems to move faster and faster; the years speed by, and last Christmas seems but a few months ago. But the excitement, the joy of the season, can brighten grown-up hearts too. As the poet said:
“At Christmas play and make good cheer,
For Christmas comes but once a year.”1
And while that’s true, Christmas is a season we can carry with us always. We keep the spirit of the season throughout the year when we’re more concerned with what we can give than what we get. We continue the joy of the season when we savor the simple delight, the abundant happiness, the exquisite contentment that can radiate in our homes and hearts as Christmas comes.
These timeless words, spoken on this broadcast more than 50 years ago, still capture what the season is about:
“As Christmas comes, let it be a time that lights the eyes of children and puts laughter on their lips. Let it be a time for lifting the lives of those who live in loneliness; let it be a time for calling our families together, for feeling a nearness to those who are near to us, and a nearness also to those who are absent. Let it be a time of prayers for peace, for the preservation of free principles, and for the protection of those who are far from us. Let it be a time for re-examining ourselves, and for dedicating our lives to the values that endure.
The greatest story ever told needs no embellishment. It occupies little more than a page of holy writ. It begins with the mundane duty of paying taxes. It continues with a journey that was not unusual for the time. The plot thickens when no room can be found in the inn. And it ends with some of the most glorious pronouncements ever heard: “good tidings of great joy,” “peace on earth,” and “good will toward men.”
How could something so wonderful happen with such little adornment? No decorations were necessary. No one needed to wear fancy clothing or prepare special foods. No glittering tinsel lit up the manger; one bright star in the heavens was more than enough.
Perhaps the reason the simple story of the first Christmas inspires us is because everyone acted out of love: Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, the wise men, and especially the newborn babe. No imitations, no substitutions, nothing less than real love came to earth that night.
Ever since, we’ve remembered and retold the Christmas story countless times. Each in our own way, we try to re-create the wonder of it all. Sometimes our efforts seem to fall short of the feeling we had hoped for. At such moments, perhaps we need to ask ourselves why we do the things we do.
The psalms are hymns of praise to God written in poetic style. Their authors lived thousands of years ago in a culture that would be unfamiliar to many modern readers. Some of the psalms were meant to be sung, but we can only guess at the music and meter that once accompanied them.
Yet there’s something about the psalms that speaks to the heart and transcends time and culture. Their messages have inspired gifted musicians throughout the world to set them to their own music, and as a result the psalms have a larger audience today than ever before. What is it that makes these ancient poems such an inexhaustible source of inspiration?
Perhaps it’s the range of emotions they so eloquently express. Some are psalms of rejoicing and gladness; others are poignant prayers for relief from suffering. Some express reverent awe for God’s creations; others express comforting reassurance of His love.
Choirs today sing the psalms because these themes are universal.
Even if we’ve never seen a flock of sheep, somehow we all can relate to
these words from the 23rd Psalm: “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not
want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside
the still waters” (vv. 1–2). In our own way, we, like the psalmist,
must “walk through the valley of the shadow of death,” but we can say
with him, “I will fear no evil: for [the Lord is] with me” (v. 4).
Maybe our world today isn’t so different from the world of the psalmist
who wrote these beautiful words.
In September 1620 a determined band of British citizens filed down worn stone stairs to board the Mayflower, moored in Plymouth harbor. The ship set sail from England carrying 102 men, women, and children, along with their hopes, their convictions, and their dreams. Crossing the Atlantic, beset by autumn storms, took 66 days and claimed two lives.
They intended to plant a colony in Virginia, but storms drove them north and landed them at Cape Cod. Two hundred years later, famed orator Daniel Webster described their situation with these words: “A new existence awaited them here; and when they saw these shores, rough, cold, barbarous, and barren, as then they were, they beheld their country.” 1 Undeterred, they made a home of those rough shores and laid the foundation for a grateful nation.
The words of William Wordsworth remind us of their great legacy:
Well worthy to be magnified are they
Who, with sad hearts, of friends and country took
A last farewell, their loved abodes forsook,
And hallowed ground in which their fathers lay;
Then to the new-found World explored their way. . . .
Men they were who could not bend;
Blest Pilgrims, surely, as they took for guide
A will by sovereign Conscience sanctified. 2
Every year at Thanksgiving we honor the Pilgrims; but more than that, we learn from them. “By contemplating their example and studying their character,” Webster suggested, “[we] mingle our own existence with theirs.” 3
Inscribed on the coat of arms of the United States Military Academy at West Point is the motto “Duty, Honor, Country.” These three words burn in the heart of every dedicated member of the armed forces—and of those at home who support them.
Duty is the effort required of every man or woman who desires to live under the banner of a nation or in the embrace of a community. According to General Robert E. Lee, “duty is the sublimest word in our language.” “Do your duty in all things,” said General Lee. “You cannot do more. You should never wish to do less.”1
Honor is the virtue that causes men and women to live up to their duty. It produces the strength to carry on, even when the demands of duty are hard to bear. Honor is the cornerstone of courage, the foundation of discipline, and the wellspring of commitment.
Country is a word that reaches deeply into our hearts. Country is home and family. Country is dreams and opportunities. Country is hope and peace and security, a source of pride and patriotism, and a tear in the eye at the sight of a waving flag.
There are few causes worthy of the sacrifice of peace, few issues that can justify a man fighting his fellowman. But history teaches that when such causes arise, great is the obligation to rely on the sacred notions of duty, honor, and country. We join in a chorus of thanks for those who have sacrificed for their country in times of need—and for those who stand ready to do so today.
A perennial question echoes down the centuries: Whence happiness? It doesn’t take long to realize what doesn’t make people happy—wealth, possessions, prestige, and intelligence. We all know people with very little of what the world might value who seem to be quite happy. And we see apparently successful people who are miserable. Happiness seems elusive to some, like a butterfly, always out of reach, forever for somebody else. Yet it’s what we long for more than anything in the world.
A wise religious leader said: “Happiness is not given to us in a package that we can just open up and consume. Nobody is ever happy 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Rather than thinking in terms of a day, we perhaps need to snatch happiness in little pieces, learning to recognize the elements of happiness and then treasuring them while they last.”1
So what are the elements of happiness that we can treasure? They’re available to everyone: a strong commitment to family, friendship, spirituality, and the sense that life has meaning beyond the here-and-now. Hope is essential—the belief that tomorrow will come and will be better—as is gratitude for the small, simple things that lighten the soul. And although there may be those whose natural disposition tends to be happy, happiness can be learned.
We can determine to look for happiness in little pieces: a beautiful vista that reminds us of the splendor of creation; the unbridled joy and laughter of children; accomplishing a worthwhile task, learning something, or developing a new skill; the deep satisfaction of extending ourselves to others in love and kindness.
More than a hundred years ago, the popular American poet Ella Wheeler Wilcox published poetry filled with simple eloquence and uncommon wisdom. She was born in 1850 near the American frontier, far from the intellectual establishment of the day. But she had a knack for expressing memorably the truth and beauty she saw in life.
A commentator notes that the first poems she submitted for publication were rejected, “and with that proverbial insight and inspiration which editors and publishers fancy they possess, she was calmly advised to give up her idea of becoming a poet.”1 Fortunately, Ella disagreed, and now her published poems number in the hundreds. One of them, titled “Worth While,” expresses the strength of character she showed when she refused to “give up her idea of becoming a poet”:
It is easy enough to be pleasant,
When life flows by like a song,
But the man worth while is one who will smile,
When everything goes dead wrong.
For the test of the heart is trouble,
And it always comes with the years,
And the smile that is worth the praises of earth,
Is the smile that shines through tears.
It is easy enough to be prudent,
When nothing tempts you to stray,
When without or within no voice of sin
Is luring your soul away;
But it's only a negative virtue
Until it is tried by fire,
And the life that is worth the honor on earth,
Is the one that resists desire.
Over 150 years ago, Johannes Brahms began work on his masterpiece, A German Requiem. It premiered in Bremen, Germany, in 1868, one month before Brahms’s 35th birthday, and it was very well received. One reviewer exclaimed: “What we have heard today is a great and beautiful work, deep and intense in feeling, ideal and lofty in conception. Yes, one may well call it an epoch-making work!”1
Of course, epoch-making works do not come easily. And though our praise of such achievements is sincere, we rarely appreciate fully the events and the emotions that produce them.
Brahms composed the Requiem while mourning the death of his mother and the death of his friend and mentor Robert Schumann. These losses grieved Brahms deeply and may have inspired his work. As one commentator explained: “Brahms wrote his Requiem to bless those left living in the world, not the dead. The work aspires to comfort those who mourn. And it has done that through the generations since it was first sung in Bremen.”2
Acclaimed conductor Robert Shaw said of the Brahms Requiem: “Though it was his longest work and acknowledged as very pivotal to his growing renown, he himself was not really satisfied with the title of German Requiem, saying that it referred solely to the language in which it was written. He would now prefer, he said, a ‘human’ Requiem, for he was writing in exploration of a universal human experience.”3
The fact that this masterpiece continues to comfort and inspire today is evidence that Brahms achieved his goal.
Lord, help me to understand that my
Life on earth must have an end,
That I must depart.
Blessed are they that mourn,
For they shall have comfort—
They that sow in tears shall reap in joy.
Yea, I will comfort you,
As one whom his own mother comforts.
For years an attentive woman had tended her rose garden, carefully pruning and maintaining her plants exactly the way her family had done for generations. Once a flower faded, she snipped it off just above a five-leaf cluster. All good gardeners knew this rule.
And then she was surprised to learn that this rule, like so many other scientific facts, had been updated. The new truth was that it didn’t matter where you snipped the stem; the rose would bloom again regardless. How could something she had believed all her life be replaced so suddenly?
But secular knowledge is like that. It is always subject to new, sometimes contradicting discoveries. One day we have nine planets, and the next day we have eight. One day fish is bad for you, and the next day it’s a wonder food.
The only truths that never change come from a higher source than human intellect: Love is the greatest healer. Kindness is never wasted. Faith can indeed work miracles. Forgiving others brings rest to the soul. Patience yields a harvest. Families are important. Prayer works. We can safely trust that new scientific discoveries will never make these most important facts outdated. Experience teaches that these universal truths will stand the test of time.
The longer we live, the more we see old customs and knowledge fall away, replaced by the latest expert advice. Instead of regretting the loss of old traditions, we can learn to see what the rose gardener saw—that every bloom is a fresh reminder that some things really are eternal and unchanging.
Very often, the greatest truths are taught simply. Principles that have the power to resonate in our hearts for generations need no embellishment. And while we never completely forget correct principles, we need reminders along the way.
One universal truth, taught simply and clearly, was given in a parable some 2,000 years ago. It came in answer to the question, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus’s response was not a complicated theological discourse or list of instructions but a simple story, concluding with the counsel, “Go, and do thou likewise” (Luke 10:37).
A man was beaten, robbed, and left for dead on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho. Two travelers passed him by. Perhaps they averted their glances, justified their neglect, and didn’t look back. But another stranger saw the wounded man and stopped to help. He did more than offer encouraging words; “when he saw him, he had compassion on him, and went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him” (Luke 10:33–34).
The parable of the good Samaritan still shapes our understanding of compassion and goodwill today. We are all neighbors, all in need of help and kindness. Every day we meet wounded travelers, close to home or abroad, as we watch human tragedies unfold and natural disasters strike. Are these our neighbors? We see events near and far that shake our souls and prompt us to ask, “How can I help?” We witness heartache and disruption, and we resolve to open our hearts to others and “go, and do” as the Samaritan did, as we travel our own road to Jericho—down the street and around the world.
In today’s high-speed society, the time-honored virtue of patience is in short supply. We expect patience in others—sometimes impatiently—but we often deny ourselves the serenity, steadiness, and balance that patience could bring to our own up-and-down lives.
As the story of Helen Keller shows, patience is not shoulder-shrugging indifference but rather action that calls upon the very strength of the soul. A severe illness in infancy left Helen deaf and blind—and rather unruly. When she was six, her parents hired 20-year-old Anne Sullivan, herself partially blind, to work with the restless child.
One evening after Helen’s out-of-control display at dinner—eating off the plates of others and even off the floor—Anne locked the two of them in the dining room and patiently taught etiquette. “I gave her a spoon,” Anne wrote, “which she threw on the floor. I forced her out of the chair and made her pick it up. . . . Then we had another tussle over folding her napkin.” 1 Hours later when the two emerged, Anne reportedly announced, “She folded her napkin.”
Eventually, Helen learned to read, write, and speak. In 1904 she graduated with honors from Radcliffe College, her long-time tutor Anne having patiently spelled out lectures into her palms.
Our perseverance may never be tried quite so dramatically, but we all face situations that require patience—with ourselves, with our neighbors, with our family. Are we gracious and compassionate when others make mistakes? When our dreams collide with our limitations, do resilience and a little humor accompany our efforts?
Our greatest blessings and deepest joys always come from helping others, from opening our hearts to someone in need. Service is evidence of our love, but it can also be its catalyst. While it’s true that we serve those we love, it is equally true that we love those we serve.
A young man who often helped babysit and care for his younger sister recalled how close he felt to her during those years when she needed him. As they both grew older, though, they went through a time when they weren’t getting along so well.
Then one day, after playing soccer in the sweltering heat, he was just about to cool off with a cup of ice-cold juice when he noticed that his sister was hot too and had nothing to drink. So he gave her his drink. In that selfless moment, he felt a renewal of his love for her.1
In similar manner, an elderly man watched his wife of many decades slowly going blind. She could no longer see well enough to paint her own fingernails. Without being asked, he began to paint her fingernails for her. He knew that she could see her fingernails when she held them close to her eyes, at just the right angle, and they made her smile. He liked to see her happy, so he kept painting her nails for more than five years before she passed away.
The wise observation of human behavior is a trademark of the Chinese culture, its history and people. For more than 3,000 years of recorded history, the Chinese have shared great wisdom through beloved folktales and proverbs.
One Chinese folktale recounts the misfortune of a poor man who was so hungry that he stole a pear. He ate the pear as quickly as possible, but not before he was arrested and put in jail. Behind bars, the man finished eating the pear, all the way down to the last seed, which he carefully saved.
Days and months passed while the man awaited his trial. At last, he devised a plan. He asked the guard if he could present the emperor with a rare gift. The guard consented, and the man offered his pear seed to the emperor. The poor man said that it would produce pears made of pure gold, but only if the one who planted it had never lied, cheated, or stolen anything. The seed was of no use to him, a common thief, but perhaps the emperor could plant it.
His majesty thought for a minute and declined. The poor man then offered the seed to the prime minister, who likewise had his conscience pricked and refused to plant the seed. Next he offered it to the commander of the royal army, the chief magistrate, the chief warden—all the way down to the lowest page in the emperor’s court. No one would plant the seed because no one had a completely clear conscience. They now saw the poor man in a new light and decided to set him free.¹
The story is told of an inquisitive widow in 17th-century England who lived next to a man she considered quite eccentric. Each day her neighbor would sit outside in the heat of the sun and, for hours at a time, blow soap bubbles through a clay pipe, staring at them until they popped.
One day, the woman received a visit from a Fellow of the Royal Society, England’s renowned academy of science. When she described this bizarre behavior, her visitor asked if he could get a better look at the man she described as a poor lunatic.
“That poor lunatic,” he said, “is none other than the great Sir Isaac Newton, who is studying the refraction of light upon thin plates—a phenomenon beautifully exhibited upon the surface of common soap bubbles.”¹
It’s easy to find fault in others. But when we do, we may be revealing more about ourselves than those we criticize. The famed psychologist Carl Jung wrote, “Everything that is unconscious in ourselves we discover in our neighbour, and we treat him accordingly.”² In other words, sometimes our hasty judgment of others stems from the worst that is in us rather than what we assume is the worst in them.
We may think we know a hundred bad things about someone. But there may be one thing about him or her that we don’t know—something that, if we truly understood it, could completely change our perspective.
We are shaped and tempered by our exposure to nature and wildlife—by the opportunity to rub shoulders with the trees. As Wallace Stegner, Pulitzer Prize–winning writer of the American West, put it, “We all need something to take the shrillness out of us.”¹
Considering the shrillness of our modern society, how grateful we should be that national parks dot the land. When we get caught up in self-important deadlines and schedules, the pinnacles of Bryce Canyon, the wildlife of the Everglades, or the depths of the Grand Canyon can enlarge our perspective and invite us to contemplate our true place in the universe, and the consistency of Yellowstone’s Old Faithful can teach us that alarm clocks aren’t the only way to measure time.
Every once in a while, we need to see the raw courage of a flower pushing through a boulder. We need to see the elegant cactus in Saguaro National Park confirming that life can thrive in the hardest of conditions. We need places set apart where we can witness for ourselves that some things are most beautiful without our interference. And sometimes we need to see with our own eyes how many stars there really are in the night sky—without competition from the city lights.
The tranquil vistas of the Great Smoky Mountains, the pristine beaches of Cape Cod, and the backwoods of the Appalachian Trail—to name just a few—remind us to check our pace and take time to be awe-inspired.
The well-known words of Sam Walter Foss, written more than a hundred years ago, inspire us with their simple eloquence:
Let me live in my house by the side of the road
Where the race of men go by—
They are good, they are bad, they are weak, they are strong,
Wise, foolish—so am I.
Then why should I sit in the scorner’s seat
Or hurl the cynic’s ban?—
Let me live in my house by the side of the road
We’re all more alike than we are different. We want happiness and health, well-being for our loved ones, contentment, and a sense of security in an insecure world. Whatever differences we may have are minor in comparison. And yet sometimes we let these differences get between us and justify disrespect. All human beings deserve respect. As we interact with each other, we can disagree without being disagreeable.
Most often, we teach respect by example. A woman recalls how her father, many decades ago, sincerely prayed each night for the leader of the country, even though that leader came from a different political party. Sometimes their family agreed with the president’s actions, and sometimes they didn’t. Regardless, they prayed for him. And now, as a grandmother, she teaches her grandchildren to do the same.
Respect is not something we reserve for people we like, people who share our outlook, or people who like us. We respect each other because we exist together on this earth, and we need each other’s consideration and civility to make our world a safe and happy place. Indeed, civility and decency are the hallmarks of a civilized people.
Respect is born as we value each individual soul, and its influence can spread quickly. Think of how you feel when others show deference to you and your way of thinking. You are more inclined to show them the same regard. Then, as you introduce the spirit of respect in other interactions, that spirit extends to countless others.
When we associate with people who look past differences and into the hearts of other human beings, we hold on to the memory of such noble souls for generations. Even if their sphere of influence is only as wide as their family and community, they contribute to the well-being of the whole human family by respecting others, one person at a time.
In her endearing novel Pride and Prejudice, beloved author Jane Austen writes of a fictional clergyman, “Mr. Collins is a conceited, pompous, narrow-minded, silly man,” with “a very good opinion of himself.” For all his pretensions to piety, Mr. Collins does nothing in the novel to bless or help others; rather, he takes every opportunity to belittle those of a lower social standing, and he advises the father of a wayward daughter to “throw off your unworthy child from your affection for ever, and leave her to reap the fruits of her own heinous offence.” 1
Such overblown self-righteousness reminds us that those who really are good and who do the most good for others do so quietly. They don’t wear their goodness like a medal and call attention to their acts of charity or even bravery. In fact they usually prefer anonymity, content to let gratitude in the hearts of others be the only monument to their service.
Mother Teresa, who spent her life serving the poorest of the poor and doing good to all she met, felt no need to promote herself. When praised for her work, she said, “I’m just a little pencil in [God’s] hand.”2 She believed that “there should be less talk” and more action. “Take a broom and clean someone’s house,” she taught. “That says enough.”3
With so much to worry about these days, it’s easy to feel distressed. In addition to our personal difficulties and disappointments, we read the headlines and hear news reports about suffering and sorrow throughout the world, and sometimes we wonder if everything will be all right.
Because the world’s problems receive such wide publication in this day of mass communication, it may seem as if our generation has more than its share. The truth is, however, that trouble is not new. Those who went before us had to face problems that, though different from ours, were just as challenging. And knowing that so many from generations past saw their way out of difficulty and apprehension, we too can hold on to the hope that things will get better.
Thousands of years ago, the Psalmist gave assurance that still brings comfort today: “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.” ¹That message of positive expectation, of faith in the future, is a most comforting and universal hope. Tomorrow always comes, and with it, the chance for improvement, recovery, and renewal. But our hope, if it is to have any depth or meaning, must rest on something greater than ourselves.
More than a hundred years ago, German composer Johannes Brahms set to music the words of 17th-century poet Paul Fleming: “Let Nothing Ever Grieve Thee.” The message both reminds and inspires us to look to the divine source of hope and there find reassurance, comfort, and peace.
Ancient proverbs remind us that “wisdom is better than rubies” (Proverbs 8:11) and that “wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom” (Proverbs 4:7). Wisdom tells us when to act and when to wait, when to indulge and when to hold back, when to speak and when to remain silent.
Wisdom is not easily or cheaply acquired, though. It takes time and experience to become wise—and often that means making mistakes along the way. A loving father once said to his child, “My son, you will go out into the world, and every once in a while you will stub your toe and fall down; but for goodness’ sake, do not stub your toe twice in the same place.”
We all have our share of stumbles, and this gives us abundant opportunities to gain wisdom. We respect the wise because they always seem to make good choices, but even wise people aren’t immune from occasional follies. Yet because they yearn for knowledge and discernment, they turn their errors into good sense and good judgment.
Wisdom is not just an abstraction. It is born in the daily details of life’s experiences. And if we are willing, it will lead us to truth and to improved lives.
Of course, making mistakes is not the only way to get wisdom. We can also seek out and learn from wise men and women who have gone before. Either way, the key ingredient in our search for wisdom is a teachable heart.
All through life, we work toward goals, and when we achieve them, we often discover that we’re not done yet. The progress we’ve made helps us realize that we have other mountains to climb: more work to do, more learning to pursue, more love to give, more of our own character to refine.
Few people have understood this concept as well as the early pioneer settlers of the American West. In their journals we feel their growing pains as they walk mile after mile of their long and arduous trek. Their hope and faith in a promised valley of peace helped them endure hunger, disease, and discomfort of every kind. But minutes after finally arriving and unloading their wagons, they must have realized that their journey wasn’t really over. The wilderness would have to be tamed. Houses would have to be built. Seeds must be planted, and even if all went well, it might be years before they actually tasted the full fruit of their labors.
How often have we stood at such a crossroads in our life, realizing that the point toward which we traveled was only a way station for further growth and progress? Maybe we thought our troubles would be over once we graduated from high school or college, once we got married, when we found a new job, or when we paid off the mortgage and the kids were grown. After meeting those goals, though, we saw vistas of growth and opportunity that we didn’t know were there before. And we faced a decision: we could become complacent and linger in our present state of accomplishment, or like the pioneers, we could plow forward with faith, break the soil with new resolve, and plant seeds of progress.
Milestones are best marked by moving forward with our lives, understanding that the journey’s end is really just the beginning of another kind of journey.
Mention a song by George and Ira Gershwin, and folks start humming and tapping their toes. These two talented brothers left a singular imprint on American music, from Broadway to Hollywood, George composing the music and Ira writing the lyrics. In the process, they elevated American music to new heights of artistic merit. You would expect that they had been trained at acclaimed musical conservatories or were great protégés of celebrated teachers.
Actually, their upbringing was much humbler than that. They were born in New York City near the turn of the 20th century to poor Russian immigrants. Their father changed jobs nearly 30 times by Ira’s 18th birthday; the family moved up and down Manhattan just as often. Perhaps their famous refrain “I got plenty of nothin’, and nothin’s plenty for me” was autobiographical.1
So much of who we are and what we have are gifts from those who have gone before us. Our forebears planted seeds that bear bounteous fruit for our generation, and the fruits of selfless sowing are apparent all around us. An inspiring example of this can be found here in the great state of Ohio, longtime home of John Chapman, better known as Johnny Appleseed.
Some 200 years ago, Johnny Appleseed walked these hills and valleys, exploring the new territory and planting apple trees. In Ashland, Ohio, a memorial describes him as “an eccentric pauper-philanthropist who followed the advancing fringe of civilization. . . . Barefooted and in rags, this kindly man carried appleseeds from the cider presses of Pennsylvania and planted them in small spots he cleared throughout Ohio. So was begun Ohio’s great apple industry.”¹
Johnny Appleseed was known for his benevolence, his kind-heartedness to animals and all peoples, his love of nature, and his leadership in conservation efforts. A deeply religious person, he lived simply, followed the Golden Rule, and made friends wherever he went. He committed his life to a mission greater than himself. Yes, there are tall tales and myths about the man, but his real-life legacy lives on. The stories about his goodness and generosity have endeared him to the whole country and made him an American legend.
A popular children’s story tells of a little girl named Mary who loses her parents to an epidemic illness. Orphaned and lonely, she is sent to live with her uncle, who is somewhat ill-equipped to care for a grieving child.
One day the little girl decides to explore her new surroundings. In the process she discovers a long-unopened door in a high wall behind a tangle of overgrown plants. Mustering her strength and courage, she opens the door and finds behind it an untended but beautiful garden—a secret garden.
All gardens offer a refuge from the bustle of noisy streets and the hardness of steel and brick. In a garden we can dig in the life-giving soil, linger in the sunlight, sample sweet fragrances, and witness the law of the harvest in action.
In 1955 Richard L. Evans, the announcer and writer of the Spoken Word for more than four decades, dedicated a book of his messages with these words: “To Alice and our four sons, who have helped to make life sweetly cherished, always—and forever.”¹ Richard L. Evans was known throughout the world not only as a broadcaster and writer but also as a church leader and president of the exceptional community-service organization Rotary International. He truly spent his life going about doing good.
Through it all, he always remembered something that too many people never come to realize—that his most valued contribution, his most important commitment, was to his family. Over 50 years ago on this broadcast, he said:
“Much of life is made up of things we think we will one day do: of things we postpone, of things we set aside, of things we leave too late. And one of the things we could best determine to do this day, would be for fathers and sons (and daughters) to draw a little nearer, to come a little closer—to take a little more time for a closer kind of companionship with those who mean the most.
“Too many of us wait too long for the cherished times together, for the intimate outings, for the quiet hours of an evening, for the fuller talking out of personal problems with the close confidence of an understanding heart. It is not so much the sending; it is not so much the preaching of the precepts; it is not altogether, even, the providing—but the going with, the doing with, the being with that brings a closer kind of kinship.”²
Our world is beautiful because it is full of life. One of the great lessons of creation is that life, though it seems fleeting at times, is still worth creating. Flower gardens bursting with color, oceans crowded with fish, and towering trees heavy with fruit stand as monuments to the dynamic beauty of life in all its forms. But life’s most beautiful creations are not in flowerbeds and tree branches but in human hearts. And the same spirit of reverence for life that typifies nature can also beautify the landscape of our lives.
In 1905 Dr. Albert Schweitzer, a religious leader and organist in Germany, gave up his pulpit to become a physician, though he never stopped teaching. With full purpose of heart, he moved to Africa and spent decades there operating a hospital for the poorest of the world’s poor. He described his work with a simple phrase: “Reverence for life.”
In a tribute to Dr. Schweitzer, one writer said, “If Schweitzer had done nothing in his life other than to accept the pain of these people [of Africa] as his own, he would have achieved moral eminence.”¹
He was awarded the 1952 Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts, but to Dr. Schweitzer, “reverence for life” was not a medical or humanitarian accomplishment but simply an expression of the rich goodness that comes from the soul. “Just as white light consists of colored rays,” he said, “so Reverence for Life contains…love, kindliness, sympathy, empathy, peacefulness, power to forgive.”²
Are not these virtues the true beauties in the garden of life? And they exist within all of us, though too often we allow them to become dormant.
Have you ever wondered why the city boy can’t sleep in the country and the country boy can’t sleep in the city? Or why a mother can sleep through the sounds of traffic, arguing neighbors, and barking dogs, but if her baby coughs, she’s instantly alert?
There’s actually a simple explanation. Our brain has the amazing ability to sort and prioritize. It screens out many of the normal, everyday sensations that commonly surround us and makes us aware of things we need to pay attention to.
If we were to concentrate on everything happening around us all the time, it could make us crazy. The way the wind blows against our skin, the tickle in our throats, the beating of our hearts, the colors, the sounds, and smells that surround us—there are simply too many things to think about all the time. Our marvelous brain screens out the ordinary and common, allowing us to focus on those things that are unusual or important.
But while this is wonderful in some ways, it causes difficulties in others. Those things we see a lot tend to become increasingly easy to ignore. And sometimes, the things we tend to ignore are the things that need our attention the most.
Are our friends and families so familiar that we sometimes take them for granted? Does it have to take losing someone we love to make us realize how much they meant to us all along?
Most of us have attended a funeral, a wreath-laying ceremony, or a graveside service and heard the solemn music of “Taps.” This tune, created on the battlefield of the Civil War, has sounded officially over soldiers’ graves since 1891. When played at dusk, these 24 notes signal “lights out” at the end of day. But when played during daylight, “Taps” carries the sobering message—a soldier has fallen.
Many of us remember the single bugler who paid the nation’s final tribute to President John F. Kennedy at Arlington National Cemetery in 1963. Seldom has the stirring melody had a larger audience than on that day. But that same tune has filled the air for small families clustered on a windy hillside around the grave of a young private and for aging veterans gathered to say good-bye to a wartime buddy. “Taps” is the dignified tribute played for fallen soldiers of every war and every rank, for the famous and the unknown. It humbly reassures the mourning families of these soldiers that the nation mourns with them.
“We cannot listen to Taps without our souls stirring,” Air Force Chaplain Edward Brogan has said. “Its plaintive notes are a prayer in music—of hope, of peace, of grief, of rest.” ¹This simple but noble melody expresses, in a way only music can, these deepest of human emotions as we honor our fallen heroes.
The story of Elijah is thousands of years old. Artists, poets, and composers have long been fascinated with his remarkable life. The prophet Elijah sealed the heavens from rain and was fed by ravens, then by a widow whose barrel of meal was never empty again. On other occasions, he divided the Jordan River and called down fire from heaven to ignite wood drenched with water. In the end, he ascended into heaven in a chariot of fire.
On the other hand, when we demonstrate strength of character and become more resolute, choosing wisely, we take responsibility for our choices and begin to recognize purpose in our life. We may not be able to call down fire from heaven, but we can seek divine guidance. As we do, we’ll feel good about right decisions and uneasy about wrong ones. But first, we must decide.
More than two decades ago, a young woman soon to graduate from college and get married reflected on her life and was filled with gratitude for the goodness and example of her mother. After praying for divine assistance to express in words her love and appreciation, Mary Rita Schilke Korzan wrote a poem titled “When You Thought I Wasn’t Looking” and dedicated it to her mother. Years later she was surprised to find the poem in a book with the words “author unknown.” Mary eventually unraveled the mystery of lost authorship, driven by a desire that those who read the poem would know the person who inspired it—her mother.
When you thought I wasn’t looking
You hung my first painting on the refrigerator
And I wanted to paint another.
When you thought I wasn’t looking
You fed a stray cat
And I thought it was good to be kind to animals.
When you thought I wasn’t looking
You baked a birthday cake just for me
And I knew that little things were special things.
When you thought I wasn’t looking
You said a prayer
And I believed there was a God that I could always talk to.
When you thought I wasn’t looking
You kissed me good-night
And I felt loved.
When you thought I wasn’t looking
I saw tears come from your eyes
And I learned that sometimes things hurt—
But that it's alright to cry.
When you thought I wasn’t looking
And it made me want to look that pretty too.
When you thought I wasn’t looking
And I wanted to be everything I could be.
When you thought I wasn’t looking—
I looked . . .
And wanted to say thanks
For all those things you did
We’re all familiar with the fable of the tortoise and the hare. The hare boasted that he could easily beat the plodding tortoise in a race. After jumping out to a comfortable lead, the hare took a nap midway through the contest. When he awoke, he found that the slow and steady tortoise beat him to the finish line.
We see this simple story played out in the race of life. Some shoot out the gate, hard-driving and fast-moving down the life course. Others are late bloomers and don’t find their way right off. Most of us are somewhere in between. We steadily move forward with faith and hope, with the courage to believe that things will work out in the end.
Somewhere along the way, we learn that life is not a competition. We don’t need to beat anybody else; we’re content as long as we surpass our own best efforts, continuing to learn and grow and progress. We know we must endure to the end, but that is not a burden that weighs us down and takes the joy out of life. Instead, enduring gives purpose and meaning to our most mundane tasks.
For 74 years, ever since she was a teenager, a woman in a small town has been keeping the country store. Now she is 92 years young and still helping people. Her eyesight dimming, she has to get close to the cash register to ring up a sale, but customers keep coming. And she keeps getting out of bed and going to work. She may use a walker now, but she’s grateful she can still walk. Of her perseverance, she simply says, “I keep going.”¹
As seasons change, we often reorganize our homes, clear out clutter, and start fresh. We donate outgrown clothing and toys, books and furniture we no longer need, and items that simply collect dust. Afterward, our homes look larger and brighter, and our souls feel invigorated.
But sometimes our minds and hearts need a good housecleaning just as much as our homes do. We need a chance to rid ourselves of unhealthy habits, negative attitudes, or useless excuses. For years some of us cling to grudges and misunderstandings as if they were priceless treasures, when really they’re cluttering our lives.
Many of the discouraging messages we heard earlier in life are still hanging in our closets like worn-out clothing and need to be tossed. Old offenses need to be swept out too, and while we’re at it, let’s get rid of the unkind gossip we’ve heard, the snap judgments we’ve made, and the less-than-loving thoughts we’ve had about others. Just as a fresh coat of paint and a colorful new rug can revive a dreary room, so also can a patient, understanding attitude toward others bring a fresh perspective and add new life to our relationships with others.
We all benefit from a spotless, organized home; just imagine how we’d benefit from a clean mind, unsoiled by the memories of unhappy times long past. Deep cleaning is never easy, but remember that while your kitchen floor and your carpet may have spots you can’t remove, there are no permanent stains on the soul. The effort is worth it, because homes, like lives, tend to stay cleaner longer once we’ve felt the exhilaration of a good spring cleaning.
The world-renowned Tabernacle organ is an engineering marvel and an artistic masterpiece. The Organ Historical Society recognized it as “an instrument of exceptional historic merit,” and it has an exceptional history.
Pioneer organ builder Joseph Ridges grew up in England, across the street from an organ factory. Fascinated by the mechanics of such marvelous instruments, Ridges became an organ builder. He worked night and day on the first organ he built while living in Australia. Not long after it was completed, he disassembled it, packaged the parts in soldered tin shipping cases, and sailed with it to California.
In the spring of 1857, 12 wagons pulled by 14 mule teams carried the organ to the Salt Lake Valley to an old adobe tabernacle. Then, as the new Tabernacle was being built, Brigham Young asked Ridges to build a larger organ to accompany the Choir. Three hundred miles from Salt Lake City, Ridges and his crew found straight, knot-free pinewood, without pitch or gum, to use for the pipes. To make wood glue, they boiled cowhides in kettles they set up on the city streets, and they used calf skins to create the bellows. For the other items they needed, they traveled to Boston with $900—all the money the Church could spare.1
Early in his youth, George Washington wrote down a list of what he considered the rules of civility. The first suggested that “every action done in company [of other people] ought to be with some sign of respect to those that are present.”¹ Young George Washington learned the importance of acting with courtesy toward others.
That was more than 200 years ago. Today, common courtesy seems less common, and some people take kindness as a sign of weakness. But the reality has not changed—courtesy is as important as courage. It represents the best part of being human.
Courtesy is kindness come alive. It is shown most often in little things: the driver who slows so that other cars can merge, the person who stands on a crowded bus to give a seat to one who needs it more, the customer who says a sincere “thank you” to a helpful clerk. Through courtesy we give expression to kindness by showing respect, making someone’s life a little easier, or brightening someone’s day. Of a courteous man it was said, “Yesterday was dark and rainy, but [he] passed [by] and the sun shone.”²
Spring always comes. No matter how dark and cold the winter, the light and life of spring bring newness of hope. If a tree, so stark and bare, can give birth to beautiful pink blossoms; if grass, so yellow and brittle, can transform into lush, green lawn; if a bulb so forgotten and buried can shoot through the dirt, find life-giving sunlight, and give rise to a bright red tulip, then we can hope.
One year an eight-year-old boy discovered the miracle of it all. He was helping his mom plant flower bulbs, something he’d done many times before, but somehow he had never really stopped to think about it. This year, he fingered the bulbs that were to be planted in disbelief. They were so unsightly and unpromising, they might as well have been rocks. How could it be possible? Would these lifeless lumps really turn into brilliant flowers?
And then, of course, in time, they did. After a long winter, spring came, as it always does, and the bulbs they had buried came back to life as beautiful daffodils and tulips. Not just once, but every year they came back, sometimes even stronger than before. The boy was awestruck.
Truly, it is miraculous.
These words penned by Isaac Watts in the 18th century still comfort the weary soul today. Who has not wandered from wisdom’s path? Who has not felt the need for mercy? Paraphrased from the beloved 23rd Psalm, the hymn reassures that the Good Shepherd is ever mindful of His sheep: “He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness.”
The message is not that bad things will never happen to us, but rather that we will not have to face bad things alone.
Even in dark hours, the Good Shepherd knows His sheep and the path they trod. And the sheep know the Good Shepherd. They trust Him. They’ve felt His gentle touch. They’ve heard His loving voice. They know His loyal and unchangeable heart. They know that when danger comes, He will not desert them. He will stand with them and defend them. 
The Greek philosopher Epictetus said, “He is a wise man who does not grieve for the things he has not, but rejoices for those which he has.”¹ When we achieve this kind of contentment, it is truly ours, because it comes from within us, independent of our circumstances.
An old Jewish folktale tells of a man who lived in a small house with six children, his parents, his in-laws, and four grandchildren. The noise, clutter, and confusion finally got the best of him and he went to his rabbi pleading for advice.
The rabbi told him to bring chickens into his house. This, of course, only made matters worse. When the man came back for more advice, the rabbi instructed him to bring in sheep, goats, cats, dogs, ducks, and a donkey.
Finally, the man returned to the rabbi barely holding onto his sanity. He had done what the rabbi had asked, but now everything was worse—much worse.
This time the rabbi told him to remove the animals. Once he did, he could not believe the order and serenity he felt inside his little house. He was, at last, content.
His house was still crowded—filled with the same noise, clutter, and confusion he had complained about before. But while the chaos surrounding him remained, the chaos inside him was gone.
Anyone who is determined can find hundreds of reasons to be miserable. It isn’t hard to find chaos in our lives. But aren’t there just as many wonderful reasons to be content?
The famous artist Norman Rockwell painted hundreds of magazine covers during his lifetime. But he didn’t just paint life, he lived it. He knew success and failure, joy and sorrow—just as we all do.
Early in his career, he learned to keep trying, even when he didn’t feel like he could. Once, when the Saturday Evening Post rejected a cover illustration he had painted, he felt like giving up. But he remembered something he read in a book: “If you fall on your face, don’t lie there and moan, get up.”
So he did just that. He went directly to the barbershop, climbed into a chair, and said to the barber, “Give me everything you’ve got.” After a shave, a haircut, a shoeshine, and whatever else was offered, he rose from the chair a new man. He walked briskly, chin up and chest out, to the offices of another magazine, where he sold the painting. The next morning he started a new cover for the Saturday Evening Post.¹
He would go on to paint more than 300 covers for the Post, each portraying commonplace life and lasting values. He told stories with his brush and paint that have influenced generations. His painting of daily life could bring a tear, a smile, and a comforting reassurance that we all have common hopes, dreams, and experiences.
Norman Rockwell’s autobiography ends with these words:
“I get up early every morning. I’m at work by eight. . . . I realized a long time ago that I’ll never be as good as Rembrandt.
“I think my work is improving. I start each picture with the same high hopes, and if I never seem able to fulfill them I still try my darnedest.
“. . . Somebody once asked Picasso, ‘Of all the pictures you’ve done, which is your favorite?’ ‘The next one,’ he replied.”²
Life is a continuing series of transitions. We grow from babies to children to adolescents to adults, and we look back at pivotal moments that set the course of our lives. Sometimes we call those moments “rites of passage”—memorable experiences that nudge us into another stage of growth and development and leave us forever changed.
For example, our first day of school officially marks the end of early childhood. We get on the school bus for the first time, and we come home a little older and wiser. Years later, we go to our first dance. We dress up; we learn our steps; we practice asking someone to dance—and then somehow we muster the courage to do it. We’re never quite the same after that.
All of the “firsts” that lead to adulthood help shape us into the adults we become. Some of those firsts are painful, like not making a team or getting turned down by someone we like. Some firsts are joyful, like our first job or our first kiss.
Then, as we get older, we relive these landmark moments with our children and grandchildren, and they become a new series of landmarks in our lives. Part of being a mother is getting a lump in your throat on the day your son graduates from high school. The same thing happens to a father when he gives his “little girl” away on her wedding day, and to a grandmother when her first grandchild moves across the country to “follow her dream.”
We all know it’s difficult to feel very good about life when we don’t feel physically well, and we know that exercise will increase our stamina and strength. But sometimes we’re hesitant to begin. Maybe we think we are not athletic enough, strong enough, or young enough. Maybe we’re afraid of our own limitations.
In reality, though, even a little more attention to physical well-being can enrich our lives. Some level of physical activity, whatever our circumstances allow, may be just what we need.
Of course, we all have different capacities and interests, and exercise can take many forms. Find something you can do—something you enjoy doing.
A simple walk can clear your mind and open your eyes to the beauties of nature. Planting flowers, raking leaves, and sweeping the front porch can all be forms of exercise. Playing tag with children is good for the soul; laughing with friends is good for the heart; even walking out to get the mail can refresh the body and boost the spirit. Do your best to move your body, and you will be surprised how much you strengthen your soul at the same time.
The poet William Wordsworth, who was known for his long walks, wrote:
While on I walked, a comfort seemed to touch
A heart that had not been disconsolate:
Strength came where weakness was not known to be,
At least not felt; and restoration came
Like an intruder knocking at the door
Of unacknowledged weariness.¹
People grow up; they change. We must never stop believing in the capacity of every individual to change and improve.
At his high school reunion, a man reconnected with people he hadn’t seen for three decades. At first, he viewed his classmates the same as they were 30 years ago. But he soon discovered life hadimproved nearly every one. Some who’d been vain and brash decades ago were nowgracious and composed. Some who’d been shy and retiring in high school were now more confident.
While a few still clung to vestiges of adolescent vanity, most came togetheron cordialcommon ground. Age and experience had softened and enlarged their hearts. Thirty years ofjoy and heartache, success and failure, growth and development had taught themto appreciate others—and themselves—in new ways.
Over a lifetime, most people change for the better. How often do we hear of a stubborn or irresponsible teenager who is now a family man with teenagers of his own? We’ve all known rowdy, restless youngsters who grew up to be competent, contributing members of their community. Maybe we think of our own immature past and feel grateful when others appreciate us for who we are, rather than remembering who we were.
Indeed, we all change—and we all can continue to change. As we strive to improve our own lives, may we patiently allow those around us to do the same. May our lives and relationships be enriched as life’s lessons help us all change for the better.
The pages of our nation’s history are filled with stories of great people who faced conditions of depravation, financial ruin, severe sorrow and suffering—even death—yet pressed on for the greater good of the country.
Martha Washington had such strength of character.
In the winter of 1778 she arrived at Valley Forge to a rabble of desperate soldiers wrapped in thin blankets, starving, freezing, and disheartened. She organized the wives of officers to feed, clothe, nourish, encourage, and pray with the soldiers.
This was not her first or last foray to the battlefield. Throughout the Revolutionary War, she would join her husband, General George Washington, for winter encampments from Massachusetts to Pennsylvania, where she continued to strengthen and encourage this unlikely, rag-tag army that went on to defeat the greatest military force in the world. They called this diminutive, five-foot, soft-spoken heroine “Lady Washington.” Years later, as she faced the unrelenting demands of public life, she wrote to a friend, “I am still determined to be cheerful and happy, in whatever situation I may be; for I have . . . learned from experience that the greater part of our happiness or misery depends upon our dispositions, and not upon our circumstances.”¹
This was wise counsel for those early patriots, and it is wise counsel for us today.
“How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.” So begins the tender expression of poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning. She then describes the depth of her devotion: “I love thee to the level of everyday’s most quiet need.”¹
Such love is not expressed only in a nice card or a special gift. The greatest love poems are written in the book of daily, selfless sacrifice with the pen of thoughtfulness and the ink of kindness. How loving are those who give of their time and forget personal comfort in order to care for another.
Love usually isn’t mysterious—it always deepens as we open our hearts to another, as we are thoughtful and considerate. Many couples, newly married, wonder how their young love could ever become any stronger. They soon learn that the more they serve one another, the more they give of themselves, the greater grows their love. The seeds of true love, planted in romance, grow and blossom as we serve each other. This kind of love then bears the fruit of pure and wholesome joy, and our love yields a bountiful increase.
Those we love cannot question our devotion when they receive our loving service. A man who had a hard time telling his wife he loved her demonstrated that love as he cared for her through several years of illness. When he finally spoke of his love, she responded, “I know you love me. You have taken such good care of me.”
Life is good. Despite the hardships and heartaches of life, we can find joy in everyday living. The more we look for life’s simple blessings, the more we hope and the more we rise above the disheartening strains and sorrows of life.
Life is good because of everyday moments that bring a smile or warm the heart: the flight of a bird, the melting of an icicle, the smell of bread in the toaster, the toothless smile of a child. A few months ago, a family was driving down the road, busily chatting and laughing along the way. The father asked his unusually quiet seven-year-old son, “Jacob, what are you doing back there?” Jacob enthusiastically responded from the backseat, “I’m just living life!” And that was good enough.
We can find goodness in life, if we’ll look for it. Take notice of the love and laughter of family and friends, the kindness of strangers, the beauties in nature, the special moments that bring peaceful reassurance that God is watching over us and everything will be all right.
The longer we live, the more we become aware of the sorrows and sufferings of life—and, ironically, the more we can become aware of life’s beauties and blessings.
Sometimes, it takes courage to believe that life is good. We can begin with something as easy as knowing that the sun will rise and winter will turn to spring. From there we can trust that good will triumph over evil, that kind and decent people far outnumber those who are not, that losses truly can give way to gains. We can hope and pray for the sweet assurance, the quiet confidence that comes to those who trust in God and do their best each day to go forward with life. We can choose to believe that life, no matter its difficulties, really is good.
Joe Fairbanks grew up in a family of nine children. Money was tight, and, like many in similar circumstances, he wore mostly hand-me-downs.
But Joe was different from other children. He was born with Down syndrome, and as a result he had trouble with language. He often felt frustrated as he struggled to communicate.
When Joe was 23, his mother needed to travel to the Philippines for work, and she took Joe with her. Before they left, she bought her son some new clothing for the trip. Oh, how he loved shopping for clothes. He tried on each outfit, asking over and over again, “How do I look?”
A little while after their arrival in the Philippines, heavy rains caused mudslides that covered villages, schools, and homes. Newspapers carried stories about the devastation and loss of life. On the front page of one was a stark photograph of a man holding a dead child in his arms.
Joe stared at the image for a long time, his face etched with profound sorrow. Later, he came to the lobby of the hotel where they were staying dressed in his old clothes. At his side was a large plastic bag.
When his mother opened the bag, she discovered it contained all of the new items of clothing that they had bought for the trip.
His mother took him to the front desk of the hotel, where Joe's desire to help created some attention. A small crowd gathered as they realized what Joe wanted to do.
“Me give my clothes,” he said.
Nearly every eye swelled with tears. The hotel clerks took the clothing and promised to get it to those in need.
In that moment, Joe spoke a language more perfect and eloquent than any other in the world. He spoke a language that is native to every race and culture. It binds hearts, overcomes barriers, and transforms lives. The language Joe spoke best of all was the language of love.
Sometimes we think we can’t help, give, or do because we can’t help, give, or do perfectly. Maybe we think our house isn’t clean enough to invite someone inside, or we can’t cook well enough to have someone over for dinner. Such feelings of inadequacy can become crippling. Not only do they keep us from nurturing loving relationships, they also keep us from recognizing and receiving blessings.
The story is told of an elderly Chinese woman who walked to the well each day with two large pots hung on the ends of a pole she rested across her back. One pot always delivered a full pot of water to her home; the other pot had a crack in it. It dripped water the whole way home, and the most it ever brought to the woman was half a pot of water. When asked why she continued to use the cracked pot, she pointed to the trail of flowers that grew along the path. Years ago, when she first discovered the crack, she planted flower seeds alongside the path where the pot dripped. Before long, she began to enjoy fresh flowers all the way home. The cracked pot, though imperfect, was as valuable to the old woman as the pot without flaws.
Across an ocean, there is a cemetery built for Allied soldiers who died in World War II. It includes a memorial with an inscription that captures the sentiment of those who fought: “For your tomorrow we gave our today.”
Similar words adorn a monument at Arlington National Cemetery, where others of our brave soldiers are laid to rest:
The love of freedom and country inspires men and women to proudly
don military uniforms and put their lives on the line. Brave soldiers
representing every region, race, and religion of our diverse melting
pot willingly sacrifice for their country. They all know the risk, but
they do not let their fear overcome their mission. As former Illinois
governor Adlai Stevenson once said, “[Those] who have offered their
lives for their country know that patriotism is not the fear of
something; it is the love of something.”
In 1938 the U.S. Congress passed a bill that each November 11 should be “dedicated to the cause of world peace and . . . thereafter celebrated and known as ‘Armistice Day.’ ” In 1954, when the name was changed to Veterans Day, President Dwight Eisenhower, himself a veteran, called on citizens to observe the day by remembering the sacrifices of all war veterans and to rededicate ourselves as a nation “to the task of promoting an enduring peace.”
Winston Churchill, known for his bulldog tenacity and stirring oratory, is regarded as one of Britain’s greatest heroes and statesmen. But despite his achievements in the affairs of nations, Churchill’s more personal interactions showed signs of the strains of his heavy responsibilities.
In those desperate days of World War II, Churchill’s wife, Clementine, wrote him this loving reproof: “My Darling,” her note began, “I hope you will forgive me if I tell you something I feel you ought to know. One of the men in your entourage (a devoted friend) has been to me and told me that there is a danger of your being generally disliked by your colleagues and subordinates because of your rough, sarcastic and overbearing manner.”
She continued: “I must confess that I have noticed a deterioration in your manner; and you are not as kind as you used to be. . . . I cannot bear that those who serve the Country and yourself should not love you as well as admire and respect you—Besides, you won't get the best results by irascibility and rudeness.” She signed her letter, “your loving devoted and watchful Clemmie.”
Though the consequences are less dramatic, we, like Winston Churchill, are called upon daily to balance pressures and people. How successful are we? Do we set aside selfish instincts to favor the needs of others? Do we lead with love and kindness rather than coercion and criticism? Despite the daily pressures we face, trust, courtesy, and good manners can be a consistent part of the simple routines of our lives.
Great beauty is often forged in the crucible of affliction. If we look ahead with the eye of faith and never lose hope, we can emerge triumphant over even the most difficult trials.
Examples of this abound in the inspiring African American spiritual. Sung by slaves, spirituals provided hope and eased the weariness and burden of daily tasks. Above all, they were an expression of spiritual devotion and a heartfelt yearning for freedom from bondage.
The biblical themes of the spiritual often carried a hidden message of hope and trust in God. Lyrics about the Exodus, for example, were a metaphor for eventual victory over oppression. The promised land or home represented freedom from slavery; the River Jordan was a code name for the Ohio River, which stood between the slaves and free country to the north; and swing low, sweet chariot referred to the Underground Railroad. Tales of God’s deliverance in Old Testament times gave the slaves hope that He would deliver them too.
The authors of early spirituals are unknown. Their songs were spontaneous and unwritten, flowing from heavy but hopeful hearts. After the Civil War, African American musicians began to compose arrangements of these songs, and today they are a beloved part of the world’s musical repertoire. The legacy of the African American spiritual is more than musical; it is one of hope and promise.
More than seven decades ago, the editor of American Magazine received a letter from an ambitious young man asking, “Why should I be honest?” It’s a question that continues to echo down the generations. In a world that glorifies the pursuit of personal gain, why care about honesty and integrity?
American Magazine asked its readers to send their responses to the young man’s question, and the letters poured in by the thousands. Among them was a poem by Dale Wimbrow titled “The Guy in the Glass.” The magazine published the poem, and since then it has become a beloved expression of the inner virtue that guides men and women of honor.
When you get what you want in your struggle for pelf,
And the world makes you King for a day,
Then go to the mirror and look at yourself,
And see what that guy has to say.
For it isn’t your Father, or Mother, or Wife,
Who judgment upon you must pass.
The feller whose verdict counts most in your life
Is the guy staring back from the glass.
He’s the feller to please, never mind all the rest,
For he’s with you clear up to the end,
And you’ve passed your most dangerous, difficult test
If the guy in the glass is your friend.
You may be like Jack Horner and “chisel” a plum,
And think you’re a wonderful guy,
But the man in the glass says you’re only a bum
If you can’t look him straight in the eye.
What is a song? We may think of it as a pleasant combination of beautiful voices and music. But is it more than that? If we listen carefully, we can hear a special kind of music from unexpected sources—the everyday sounds of home, the natural sounds of the earth, or a simple expression of kindness.
A young man who had been away for a very long time came back to his boyhood home. As he climbed the porch stairs, he noticed the familiar creak of the second stair from the bottom, and he heard the happy voices of his loved ones inside. It was music to his ears. “I felt,” he recalled, “like the house and my family were singing a wonderful chorus of welcome home!”
To a mother, the cry of her newborn baby is a song. It soon becomes so familiar that she can recognize it instantly and hear in it the unspoken lyrics of her baby’s needs. And what is a song to a child but the sweet, calming voice of a mother or the expressions of approval and encouragement from a father.
In nature, the chirping of a bird is called a song. Even animals of the sea are said to be singing when they vocalize to one another. The leaves of the trees sing as they gently rustle in the autumn breeze. To one who loves nature, the sounds of the earth are a song.
What is a song to God? Perhaps it is any good deed done by one of His children. With each kind word that eases another’s burden, in all the goodness of our lives, we sing praises to our Father in heaven.
What is a song? In the true sense of the word, a song can be heard in anything that lifts and blesses our lives. So listen, and hear the sweet music of life all around.
A woman who had made some serious mistakes confided to a friend, “My life feels like an unfinished book. It had a good beginning. But now I wonder how it will all turn out in the end.”
Her friend offered this insight: “A life story isn’t told in one chapter. And a book isn’t finished until the last page. If we can learn from the mistakes of the past and do a little better, then we can write the next chapter better than the last.”
Life is a work in progress. There may be paragraphs or whole chapters that we’d like to revise. But we cannot edit the past. Today is the day we must write our story. Thankfully, we don’t have to write it alone.
There is One who knows our life story from the end to the beginning. He knows how it will turn out. He knows where we’ve already been. And He knows where we still need to go. He is our Heavenly Father, the great Author of life. If we will let Him, He will guide us to the happy ending which all of us hope for.
Benjamin Franklin offered this insight when he wrote his own epitaph:
"[Here lies] the body of Benjamin Franklin, . . . (like the cover of an old book, its contents torn out and stripped of its lettering and guilding) . . . ; but the work shall not be lost, for it will . . . appear once more in a new and more elegant edition, revised and corrected by the Author."
Hope is born of knowing we are not alone, with no one to watch over us. As the Psalmist assured: “He that keepeth thee . . . shall neither slumber nor sleep. The Lord is thy keeper.”¹ How wonderfully reassuring it is to know that God, the Father of our souls, is in His heaven, watching over His children.
Think of the comfort small children find in knowing they are being watched over by their parents. They get the courage to climb all the way to the top of the playground ladder when they look over their shoulder and see Mom and Dad watching. At a school program, they stand a little taller after they sort through a crowd of faces and finally see the ones they love. And at home, as they snuggle into bed, they seem to fall asleep more peacefully when they hear the soft voices and tiptoes of their parents down the hall.
A young woman remembers being afraid as a child to go outside in the dark of early morning to care for her dog. But when her mother said that she would watch out the window, somehow the darkness was not so thick and the task not so daunting. She could do what she thought she couldn’t because she knew her mom would be watching.
On the bookshelf of many a reader and romantic sit the novels of Jane Austen, celebrated British author. She died in 1817 at age 41 after facing months of ill health with remarkable faith and optimism. Her grave lies beneath the worn stone floor of the massive medieval cathedral in Winchester, England. Carved in stone is a tribute to this accomplished writer who devoted her life to much more than writing. The words read:
Jane Austen’s gift for writing made her famous, but her family remembered her simpler gifts—her friendship, her personal strength, her goodness and kindness. Other graves lie nearby, with tributes telling of one person’s accomplishment in battle and another’s great contributions to society. But Jane Austen’s uses words like benevolence, sweetness, and warmest love to memorialize a woman who nurtured those close to her, prized their contributions, and was a trusted and treasured friend.
Compassion for others is vital to our well-being. To feel for others, to “walk in their shoes,” and to help when help is needed is the source of true happiness in life. The more we nurture such compassion, the more generosity of spirit we feel. Though we may doubt our own abilities, if we are watchful we’ll find that we can all help others in our own way.
Few stories illustrate this so well as Aesop’s tale of the lion and the mouse. You know the story. When a mouse accidentally wakes a sleeping lion, the lion threatens to eat him. But the mouse pleads for his life, promising that someday he will return the kindness and help the lion. The great lion scoffs at the idea that a little mouse could help him but, nonetheless, lets the mouse go.
Some time later, the lion gets caught in a net. He tugs and pulls with all his might to free himself, but the ropes are too strong. The mouse hears the lion’s loud roar and comes running. He starts gnawing at the ropes with his sharp teeth and finally sets the humbled and grateful lion free.
This fable brings to life the importance of doing what we can to bless others, even if our abilities seem insignificant to some—even ourselves.
The well-known poet Emily Dickinson wrote:
A parable is told about a merchant who searched the world for precious jewels and finally found the perfect pearl. He hired a craftsman to make a special box for the pearl so he could display it. The craftsman made an exquisite jewelry box with blue velvet lining, but much to the merchant’s dismay, people did not recognize the value of the pearl. They paid more attention to the box than to the pearl inside it.
The box in this parable could be compared to a house and the pearl to the people inside it. Do we sometimes pay more attention to our homes—the walls, windows, and furnishings—than to the people who live there? After all, what makes a house into a home are the loved ones inside it.
Not long ago, a seven-year-old boy returned to the house from which his grandmother had recently moved. He had been to “Grandma’s house” more times than he could count. He loved to play there, begged to go there, and always felt safe and loved there. But when he walked inside the empty house and saw that Grandma really had moved, he shook his head and said, “It’s no fun here anymore.” It wasn’t the house he loved; it was the loving grandma who had lived there.
Have you heard the story about Jason McElwain, the water boy and manager of a high school basketball team in Rochester, New York? It’s so remarkable that one is tempted to begin it with the words, “Once upon a time.”
Jason was born with autism and didn’t speak until he was five years old. He loved basketball and tried out for his high school team but never made the cut. So he volunteered to assist the coach as team manager. His enthusiasm and passion made him a favorite with the players and the hometown crowd.
Then, before the final game of Jason’s senior year, the coach handed the young man a uniform. And, with four minutes remaining in the contest, he called Jason’s name and told him to check into the game.
The crowd cheered as Jason stepped onto the court. He missed his first two shots, but then something magical happened. Jason put up a three-point shot, and it went in. So did his next. And the next. When the final buzzer sounded, Jason had made seven shots, six of them from three-point range. The crowd went wild and rushed onto the court as Jason’s teammates lifted the unlikely hero onto their shoulders.
Jason’s story inspired many people that night and thousands since. There’s something deep within us that loves to cheer for those who defy the odds and achieve the heroic. Perhaps it is because when we see the hidden potential in others, we get a glimpse of what lies within ourselves. Perhaps, like Jason McElwain, all we need is the opportunity to show it.
Our willingness to experience failure and make mistakes affects our ability to succeed. If we stand on the sidelines without trying, we may escape the heartache of defeat, but we’ll never know the joy of accomplishment. If we’re willing to stumble and sometimes even fall, we’ll learn, grow, and become strong.
One hundred and forty years ago, Theodore Roosevelt was a frail, nearsighted child, tormented by near-fatal asthma attacks. As a teenager, he worked to overcome his ill health through rigorous exercise, weight-lifting, and boxing. When he was in his 20s, his wife and mother passed away on the same day, leaving him heartbroken. After college he entered politics, winning and losing elections over the next decades.
Through it all, he maintained a zest for life. He went on to become the youngest person ever to serve as president of the United States; he won the Nobel Peace Prize; and today, his image is carved on the massive granite of South Dakota’s Black Hills.
Although Theodore Roosevelt’s life may be larger than ours, like each of us he was no stranger to life’s ups and downs. We all make mistakes; we all face setbacks and experience our share of sorrow. But somehow, someway, we can decide not to give up. Every failure can lead to success, as long as we keep trying.
Every once in a long while, someone pens a poem that captures the hearts of a generation and then lives forever. John Gillespie Magee Jr. was one such uncommon poet. Early in World War II, 18-year-old John Magee enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force. He progressed quickly and soon became a pilot officer. One day, while testing a new high-altitude plane at 30,000 feet, Officer Magee was awestruck by what he saw and felt. Upon landing, he put his experience to words in the immortal poem “High Flight,” which he wrote on the back of a letter to his parents.
A few months later, in December of
1941, Magee was killed during a routine training flight over England’s
countryside. His sonnet became the official poem of the British and
Canadian Air Force and a favorite of the U.S. Air Force. In 1986
President Ronald Reagan quoted from it when he spoke to the nation
after the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger. The
stirring words, written by a young pilot during the dark days of World
War II, lift us to new heights and open to our view a glorious,
Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I've climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
of sun-split clouds,—and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of—wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov'ring there,
I've chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air. . . .
Up, up the long, delirious burning blue
I've topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark nor ever eagle flew—
And, while with silent lifting mind I've trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.
For each of us, life has its share of pleasure and sorrow. Most of us prefer the pleasure, but we also need the wisdom, patience, and understanding that sorrow offers.
Robert Browning Hamilton expressed it well in his poem “Along the Road”:
I walked a mile with Pleasure;
She chattered all the way,
But left me none the wiser
For all she had to say.
I walked a mile with Sorrow
And ne'er a word said she;
But oh, the things I learned from her
When Sorrow walked with me!
The poet’s daughter, Virginia Hamilton Adair, was very young when she first read this poem. “It had a Mother Goose simplicity to it,” she remembered. “A perfect little lyric with . . . meaning that would reveal itself to me later.”At the time, however, she wondered how one can learn anything from sorrow.
Virginia Hamilton Adair, herself a poet, eventually walked along her own road with Pleasure and Sorrow. For many years she enjoyed a loving marriage, a happy family, and a successful career; then she had to deal with her husband’s suicide and a bout with glaucoma that finally left her blind. But she continued to write poetry even as she lost her eyesight and at the age of 83 attained considerable celebrity with her first book of poetry, Ants on the Melon. She passed away in 2004 at the age of 91, wiser and more sensitive because of what she had experienced.
There is a spirit that limits and shrivels the human soul whenever it remains unchallenged and unchecked. For want of better words, perhaps it could be called “the spirit of getting by”—of doing as little as possible, of giving as little as possible, of working as little as possible.
With young people in school it is sometimes evident in an attitude of cutting corners and simply slipping through: making a minimum of effort; studying as little as possible to acquire credit for the course; being satisfied with the lowest possible passing mark without reaching out for the further knowledge that could be had with a little extra effort. Young people often seem to suppose that there will be enough time in the future for all that ought to be done, and that it is smart for the present simply to get by. And sometimes very late they learn that the length of this life is limited—though sometimes they may not see it until they are looking sharply down the short side of life.
But it isn’t only among young people that this spirit has spread. . . . While the spirit of getting by . . . may sometimes seem smart and popular and approved, there is a law which says that the benefits and blessings are dependent upon performance. . . . He who shows a reluctant, unwilling nature, he who refuses to grow as much as he could, or learn as much as he could, or work as well as he should, whatever he may be doing to others, he is first of all cheating himself.
In Lloyd D. Newell, comp., Messages from Music and the Spoken Word (2003), 94–95.
A thousand horses were entered in the show, and oh, how they could jump. The open-jumper class was the most anticipated event of the competition, and only the finest horses competed.
But as the proud thoroughbreds paraded by, a hush fell over the crowd followed by laughter, for among the high-stepping aristocratic horses was what looked like an ordinary, gray farm horse with the ordinary name of "Snowman." Was this a joke? How could a big-boned plow horse be allowed into the tournament?
But after three days of competition, the gray gelding stood, head high and defiant, a banner draped over his back proclaiming him "champion."
Snowman loved to jump, and he continued to win and win, eventually being inducted into the show-jumping hall of fame.
With all of his success, most people never realized that when Snowman was young he was unwanted and unloved; he had been abused and put to hard labor. The horse had been so mistreated that when his original owner put him up for auction, only one man expressed interest—the manager of a plant that processed animals into dog food.
And that's where Snowman was headed, until a young riding master noticed something special in the horse's eyes and took a chance on him.
No matter where we have been, no matter how old, ordinary, discouraged, or defeated we feel, there is something of Snowman within each of us. Who knows what we are capable of? Who knows what wonderful surprises are yet in store for us if we take inspiration from the story of an old plow horse who, in spite of hardship and struggle, and though plain on the outside, showed that there lies in the heart of even the most ordinary of creatures a hidden spark of greatness.
Life is a journey. Very often, the most difficult journeys bring the greatest growth—and ultimately, the most joy.
Today we remember an epic journey that began 150 years ago when several thousand handcart pioneers trudged more than a thousand miles, pushing and pulling wooden handcarts across the plains and over the Rocky Mountains to the Salt Lake Valley. They were gathering to what was, for them, a promised land of peace, a place of refuge. Many had little concept of the rigors of travel before them, but they walked willingly and steadfastly, with faith in every footstep. Each day the trek took them farther from civilization. The nights grew colder, the water at each river crossing grew more frigid, and storm clouds lowered around them.
One of those handcart pioneers said of his experience, "[I] traveled one of the hardest journeys across the plains by handcart, nearly worked to death, starved to death, and froze to death."1 They all suffered, and many died, but during the journey their faith grew stronger. The trek west became a proving ground for their convictions. They recognized the hand of Providence in their lives and came to know that their sufferings were not in vain.
The grit, determination, resilience, and faith of these pioneers are stirring reminders to all of us who face hardship on our journey. Their song of faith—written on that trail of suffering, but also of joy—still inspires us today:
Come, come, ye Saints, no toil nor labor fear;
But with joy wend your way.
Though hard to you this journey may appear,
Grace shall be as your day.
'Tis better far for us to strive
Our useless cares from us to drive;
Do this, and joy your hearts will swell—
All is well! All is well!2
1 In Carol Cornwall Madsen, Journey to Zion: Voices from the Mormon Trail (1997), 667.
2 "Come, Come, Ye Saints," Hymns, no. 30.
The story is told of a man who was busily working to install a new roof on his home. Suddenly he slipped and began to slide down the steep roof toward the edge. In desperation he cried out to heaven, "Save me and I'll serve Thee all my days!" Just then his pants caught on a nail and his slide was stopped. "Never mind," he mumbled, "I'm OK now."
So often we recognize our vulnerability in times of peril and are quick to call out for divine help to save us from danger. Then, when all appears well again, we may feel less dependent on heaven's help and more sure of our own strength and ability. Too soon our attitude becomes, "Never mind; I'm OK now."
How much better it would be to recognize, even in the good times, the kindness and care that are constantly given by loving Providence. How much more faithful it would be to express our heartfelt thanks and live for needed blessings even when things are going well. The peace we seek in troubled times may come more quickly if we have been acknowledging its Source all along.
The truth is, divine intervention is not a rare event that occurs only in response to emergencies and desperate pleadings. Rather, it can be a frequent experience that blesses us in days of plenty as well as in times of want. As a beautiful hymn reminds us, we need those blessings "every hour, in joy or pain."1
May our lives be filled with grateful supplication, so that we are not strangers to the One upon whom we call for help.
1 "I Need Thee Every Hour," Hymns, no. 98.
We all have our share of trials and tribulations, our share of joy and happiness. During the trying times, it's easy to forget the joyful times. Life can certainly be hard, but it can also be full of hope and possibility if we keep trying, look for the good, and accentuate the positive. Look around you with a willing heart and open mind. You'll find that although there are discouraging days and occasional setbacks, given time and patience and perseverance, things work out—as Edgar A. Guest reminded us so long ago:
Because it rains when we wish it wouldn't,
Because men do what they often shouldn't,
Because crops fail, and plans go wrong—
Some of us grumble all day long.
But somehow, in spite of the care and doubt,
It seems at the last that things work out.
Because we lose where we hoped to gain,
Because we suffer a little pain,
Because we must work when we'd like to play—
Some of us whimper along life's way.
But somehow, as day always follows the night,
Most of our troubles work out all right.
Because we cannot forever smile,
Because we must trudge in the dust awhile,
Because we think that the way is long—
Some of us whimper that life's all wrong.
But somehow we live and our sky grows bright,
And everything seems to work out all right.
So bend to your trouble and meet your care,
For the clouds must break, and the sky grow fair.
Let the rain come down, as it must and will,
But keep on working and hoping still.
For in spite of the grumblers who stand about,
Somehow, it seems, all things work out.1
1 "Things Work Out," Collected Verse of Edgar A. Guest (1934), 574.
In the summer of 1776, a small group of men from all walks of life—lawyers, merchants, farmers, doctors, and ministers—stepped forward one by one to sign their names to the Declaration of Independence. There was no fanfare, no trumpets, but the event was sobering if not ceremonious. Fully aware of the risk—treason against the crown was punished with death by hanging—these men pledged their lives to the sacred cause of liberty. Sixty-year-old Stephen Hopkins, a delegate from Rhode Island, declared with a shaking pen, "My hand trembles, but my heart does not."1
These men paid a heavy price for their valor. One of the signers, Abraham Clark, a representative from New Jersey, had two sons serving in the revolutionary army. They had been captured by the British and were subjected to severe brutality because of their father's position. Clark was offered his sons' lives if he would renounce the rebellion and support the King of England. With resolve matched only by his personal anguish, he refused. His commitment to freedom still resonates more than 200 years later. Not many observers gave the new nation much chance of survival. But it did survive. And it flourished.
The Founding Fathers would be proud of America today. They would see a people who are strong, decent, and good-hearted, who demonstrate the truth of George Washington's statement early in the revolution, when the outcome was still in doubt: "Perseverance and spirit have done wonders in all ages."2 Year after year as we celebrate the birth of this nation, we declare that independence is much more than a document under glass. We add our names to the list of those who have shaped America, who say with pride and pleasure, "This is my country."
1 In David McCullough, John Adams (2001), 138.
2 In David McCullough, 1776 (2005), 41.
Think of what a better place the world would be if we always asked ourselves, "Would I like someone to do to me what I am doing to them?" This simple standard, commonly known as the Golden Rule, is endorsed by religious traditions around the world. Each has its own way of saying it, but they all teach essentially the same thing: treat others the way you would like to be treated. What a simple but vital ideal!
A wealthy nobleman once asked Confucius for advice on dealing with peasants who were stealing from him. Confucius told him, "If you yourself, Sir, were not on the take, no one would be trying to steal from you."1 In other words, the peasants felt the need to steal because the nobleman was requiring too much of them and was not distributing his wealth fairly. If only the nobleman had treated the peasants the way he would like to be treated, they would be friends instead of thieves.
The Golden Rule endures because it applies just as well in our modern lives as it did among gentry and peasants. How different a business transaction might be if we treated a client or vendor the way we would like to be treated. How much more peaceful our homes might be if we spoke the way we would like family members to speak to us. What a feeling of safety and trust would fill our neighborhoods if we truly lived by the Golden Rule.
When one person treats another well, the recipient of that kindness feels inclined to do the same to others. And on it goes. The goodwill can ripple endlessly, touching one life and then another and another for good.
1 In Russell Freedman, Confucius (2002), 20.
The story is told of a father who overheard his son praying, "Dear God, make me the kind of man my daddy is." Later that night, the father prayed, "Dear God, make me the kind of man my son needs me to be."
Good fathering is hard work, the most important kind of work men can do. Yet studies have shown that the average father spends less than 30 minutes a week talking with his children.1 So many good and worthwhile things call out for time and attention. But what could be more worthwhile than nurturing a relationship with a child?
What kind of man do children need their fathers to be? Most children need less of what a father's money can buy and more of his time. They need his consistent presence. Fathers can help to foster creativity and self-worth, moral standards and social skills, awareness of the world and the confidence to achieve worthy goals. Good fathers combine strength with humility, great expectations with caring concern. They encourage independence and industry, yet they're gentle enough to cry, laugh, and walk hand-in-hand with a child.
This kind of fathering is best done over the course of countless one-on-one moments, accumulated over many years. If we could only gaze into the future, we would see how precious such moments are, how quickly they pass. It seems that only yesterday a teenager was a toddler, a graduate was a first grader, a new father was a child.
Soon the seasons pass,
Like the rivers and their rapid flow;
But loving fathers
Always reap the love they freely sow.
The years come and go;
But in the heart of every good father,
A child remains so
Dear: once a hand, always a heart to hold.
1 See Mary Pipher, The Shelter of Each Other: Rebuilding Our Families (1996), 231.
Shortly after being named America's poet laureate, Robert Pinsky launched a campaign to identify the nation's favorite poem. Thousands of poetry lovers sent in nominations, and Robert Frost's reflective poem "The Road Not Taken" emerged as the clear favorite. The well-known lines speak of life's pivotal choices:
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could.
Robert Frost, a teacher, farmer, and poet, faced such a crossroads early in his career. Largely ignored in American literary circles, he sold his New Hampshire farm and moved to England hoping to find a forum for his poetry. That choice "made all the difference," and his career as a poet took off. He returned to New England, and in the years that followed he received four Pulitzer Prizes and lectured at the most distinguished universities, even though he had no college degree. He became the voice of the common man, his plain-spoken verses articulating our deepest hopes and everyday experiences.
Don't we all stand at the head of divergent roads at various times in our lives? Consider your own personal journey. How has your life been shaped by the roads you have taken? "Way leads on to way," Frost reminds us, and we can't go back and start again, but we can face each new crossroads with the benefit of past experience and refined expectations. We can choose the path that will take us where we want to go.
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.1
1 The Poetry of Robert Frost, ed. Edward Connery Lathem (1969), 105.
Long ago, a small group of men were riding out a rough storm on the Sea of Galilee. Fearing for their lives, they awakened their sleeping Master and implored, "Master, carest thou not that we perish?" Seeing their fear and hearing their plea, He calmed the tempest with the gentle command, "Peace, be still." 1
Nearly two millennia later, in the mid-1800s, a young man named William Whiting was caught in another furious storm while sailing on the Mediterranean. A spiritually minded person, he felt keenly his dependence on the protecting powers of heaven in the midst of the merciless wind and waves. Later, thinking of that frightening experience, he wrote these inspiring words:
Almighty Father, strong to save,
Whose arm hath bound the restless wave,
Who bidd'st the mighty ocean deep
Its own appointed limits keep:
O hear us when we cry to Thee
For those in peril on the sea.
These words of supplication were set to music in 1861 by John Dykes and became known as the "Navy Hymn." It was the favorite hymn of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and was sung at his funeral. It was played by the Navy Band in 1963 as the body of President John F. Kennedy was brought into the U.S. Capitol to lie in state. Today it is often heard at the funerals of veteran seafarers and is sung each week following worship services at the U.S. Naval Academy.2
This stirring hymn has special meaning for the storm-tossed sailor and for all of us when we face the storms of life. It reminds us that we can find peace when our thoughts are raised to the Master of heaven and earth with the heartfelt prayer, "O hear us when we cry to Thee."
1 See Mark 4:36–41.
2 See "‘Eternal Father, Strong to Save': The Navy Hymn," www.history. navy.mil/faqs/faq53-1.htm.
Has it occurred to you that our forebears did not live in the past? Pulitzer-Prize winning historian David McCullough has pointed out that the great men and women of history "lived in the present just as we do. The difference was it was their present, not ours. And just as we don't know how things are going to turn out for us, they didn't either." This is part of what makes their remarkable achievements so inspiring.
McCullough continued: "We have to know who we were if we're to know who we are and where we're headed. This is essential. We have to value what our forebears—[including] our own parents and grandparents—did for us, or . . . it can slip away."1
We have each inherited treasures from the past: treasures of experience, of knowledge, of courageous acts, and of freedom. More than ever before, history is readily available, but if we don't explore it, it is worthless to us—much like buried treasure that remains buried.
History becomes valuable as it is studied and shared. A good place to start is a cemetery. Visit one and look at the gravestones for young and old from all walks of life. Read the monuments to soldiers and fallen heroes; think about what we have today because of their sacrifice. Take note of dates and begin piecing together life stories. Every monument is a piece of history. We can casually glance and move on, or we can pause to reflect, remember, and learn.
As our hearts turn to our forebears—both in and outside our family tree—we grow ever more grateful for them and their contributions. We see how their lives shaped ours, and we become more determined to make the most of our portion of the present as they did so honorably with theirs.
1 "Knowing History and Knowing Who We Are," www.hillsdale.edu/imprimis/2005/April. Quoted by permission from Imprimis, the national speech digest of Hillsdale College, www.hillsdale.edu.
"Reverence is more than just quietly sitting."1 It is "profound respect mingled with love."2 Reverence is an attitude of awe, honor, appreciation, and deference to the holy. It is reflected in the way we talk and think, the way we treat others, the way we regard sacred things.
Reverent people know that such an attitude brings feelings of peace, spiritual uplift, and closeness to the Divine. These feelings cannot be forced, but we can invite them.
This truth was illustrated well when two little girls, active and full of life, visited the butterfly house at a zoo. Laughing and giggling, they jumped and grasped at the butterflies, but no matter how hard they tried, they could not seem to catch one.
Their teacher told the girls to dip their hands in a nearby pool of water and sit very still with their hands cupped in front of them. The girls watched as the colorful butterflies danced gracefully in the trees. Finally, ever so slowly, a butterfly fluttered toward them and landed on one of the girls' fingers. While the butterfly sipped the water on her finger, the teacher explained to the awestruck girls, "You don't catch a butterfly. You let it come to you."3
Reverent feelings come when we quietly ponder and pray, when we respect other people and appreciate all of creation. Reverent thoughts fill our minds when we are grateful and loving. And then, in time, reverence becomes a constant, enduring part of our lives.
A wise religious leader observed: "Reverence is not a somber, temporary behavior. . . . True reverence involves happiness, as well as love, respect, gratitude, and godly fear. It is a virtue that should be part of our way of life."4 Indeed, reverence is more than quietly sitting. Reverence is acknowledging the hand of God every day of our lives.
1 "Reverence Is Love," Children's Songbook, 31.
2 David O. McKay, "Reverence," Improvement Era, July 1962, 508.
3 See Marilyn Wood, "To Catch a Butterfly," Friend, May 2001, 21–22.
4 Spencer W. Kimball, The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, ed. Edward L. Kimball (1982), 223–24.
For more than 300 years, the people of England have celebrated "Mothering Sunday." Originally a religious holiday, it was also a day when servants were allowed to miss work and spend time with their mothers.
In Ethiopia, a Mother's Day celebration can last for two or three days. When the rainy season ends, sometime in October or November, children travel to visit their mothers and sing songs honoring their family and tribe.
People from Sweden to South Africa and from Malaysia to Mexico—each in their own way and at different times of the year—celebrate a day devoted to honoring mothers. All over the world, motherhood is love.
Mother is the one who encourages us to believe that dreams can come true and who inspires us, in spite of our doubts and fears, to believe in ourselves and do our best. When we succeed, she is the first to say, "I knew you could do it." A mother is a teammate, coach, and cheerleader.
Hers is the comforting hand that caresses our fevered brows. It is in her arms that we seek consolation when our hearts are breaking. She is the one who, long into the night, waits for our safe return.
Today we honor all those who love and nurture and sacrifice in this way, whether or not they have been blessed with children of their own. Whenever we celebrate motherhood, we celebrate all that is finest in the human spirit.
Love is the most powerful force in the universe. Love blesses both giver and receiver and resounds in hearts forever.
It's true that we're all born with differing interests and capacities, strengths and weaknesses. But one thing we all need is to receive and give love. We need it in order to grow into the kind of people we're capable of becoming—more loving, more courageous, more loyal. All virtues have their root in love.
A father of modest means who has now passed on left little of the world's possessions behind, but he left a legacy of love that his family still cherishes. A mother who often feels inadequate, worrying that there's so much she cannot do well, knows she can nurture with love—which is, after all, the most important gift she can give. Children remember warmly and clearly those loving moments long after they leave the home. Truly, we never forget love.
This old world, which has seen much of sorrow and suffering, much of tribulation and difficulty, needs love. It's so simple, so essential—and although it's common sense, it's often not common practice. We can each do our part by filling our little corner of the world with love. We can join in the song:
"In the evening of my life I shall look to the sunset,
At the moment in my life when the night is due.
And the question I shall ask only I can answer:
Was I strong and brave and true,
Did I fill the world with love my whole life through?" 1
1 Leslie Bricusse, "Fill the World with Love."
Announcer: "The dawning of a brighter day"-these words were sung by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir on July 15, 1929, during the first broadcast of a new program originating from Temple Square in Salt Lake City. It was a program destined to make broadcasting history. Today, nearly 77 years later, we celebrate a remarkable landmark in this historic program-the 4,000th continuous network broadcast of Music and the Spoken Word.
I'm Jerold Ottley, former music director of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. During my 25-year tenure with the Choir, we frequently broadcast Music and the Spoken Word from various locations around the world. Even when the Choir was on tour, this broadcast was continued without interruption. One of my favorite memories is the Choir's performance in the exquisite Philharmonia Hall in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg). There, in what's considered to be his artistic home, we sang the music of the renowned Russian composer, Sergey Rachmaninoff.
I'm Mac Christensen, president of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. One of the secrets of the success of this remarkable program is the fact that all of the members of the Choir and Orchestra are volunteers-and come from all walks of life. This army of volunteers who make up the Choir and Orchestra of today represents thousands of musicians throughout nearly eight decades who have brought you Music and the Spoken Word.
I'm Charles Osgood, a former guest, composer, and long-time friend of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. How we have relied on the Choir these many years to lift our spirits and point us to good in the world. When they sing a song like the stirring ballad "You'll Never Walk Alone," we each seem to find the courage to "walk on."
I'm John Longhurst, Tabernacle organist since 1977. From the very first broadcast, the organ has been a signature element of the sound of the Choir and of this program. Today Richard Elliott re-creates the organ solo featured on that very first broadcast of 1929, a transcription of the "Pilgrim's Chorus" from Richard Wagner's opera Tannhäuser.
What a remarkable thing it is that the Tabernacle Choir has been on the air continuously since that summer day in 1929. There is nothing to equal it in all the history of network broadcasting. This longevity is well deserved because of the high quality of the Choir's performances. With each passing year Music and the Spoken Word has grown ever better. May all that has occurred in the past be but prelude to an even greater future.
It is a great pleasure to join you to celebrate the Mormon Tabernacle Choir's 4,000th weekly broadcast. It's the longest-running program in radio history. Every week since 1929, the Choir has broadcast Music and the Spoken Word across the nation. And I congratulate you on reaching this milestone. The Mormon Tabernacle Choir has many distinguished accomplishments throughout its history. You performed for presidents going back to William Howard Taft. You performed at six presidential inaugurals, including my own. President Ronald Reagan once called your group "America's Choir." In 2003 I was honored to present you with the nation's highest award for artistic achievement, the National Medal for the Arts. You have brought music and inspiration to generations of Americans, and I wish you continued success in the future. And now I am honored to announce your next performance: "Come, Come, Ye Saints."
Announcer: Through the years Music and the Spoken Word has endured in a changing world. It has adapted to new technologies, but it has tried to remain true to its mission: to present inspirational music and a message that lifts spirits, steadies hearts, and brings people closer to the Divine.
All of us associated with the broadcast today acknowledge those who went before us, those who made the broadcast what it is. And we express our gratitude for the honor and blessing of being a part of this program and being a small part of your life. And so, as we have done for 4,000 broadcasts, we say anew: Again we leave you from within the shadows of the everlasting hills. May peace be with you … this day and always.
Nearly every day we see portrayed in the media innocent children suffering the violence of war, the ravages of nature, and the pain of disability. We see little ones wide-eyed with fear or glassy-eyed from hunger, clinging to desperate parents or crying alone. The world can be so cruel to those who deserve kindness the most.
But the faith of children is not easily shaken, so they pray to a loving God, who is aware of the trouble they face. He hears their prayers over the blast of a car bomb and above the din of street fighting. Whether they are kneeling in supplication or pleading silently in their hearts, children seem to know intuitively that God will hear them. There is no disability, no man-made uproar, no natural disaster that can hinder the heartfelt plea of a child.
The answer to such prayers comes in the form of humble hope. Like the first hint of dawn following a long night, there comes the sweet assurance that things will be better, that all is not lost, that the future holds a promise of peace and joy. The darkness of conflict can give way to a brilliant gleam of trust in the victory of good over evil and right over wrong.
This hope must find a place in the heart of each of our precious children. Whatever their station in life, despite the troubles that surround them, they need to believe that somewhere there is room for them to grow and to feel the love of Divine Providence. Surely somewhere we can find a place—a place of safety, a place of peace, a place of love for each child who prays for hope.
In the early spring of 1912, students crowded into a Harvard classroom for the final lecture of renowned philosopher and poet George Santayana. Near the end of his remarks, the students hanging on his every word, Professor Santayana glanced out the window. His eyes caught sight of a forsythia blossoming in a patch of lingering snow. At once, he quit speaking, picked up his gloves, hat, and walking stick, and strode to the door. He turned to the startled assembly and said calmly, "I shall not be able to finish that sentence. I have just discovered that I have an appointment with April."1
He left his books, his associates, and the hallowed halls of scholarship and walked outside into the garden.
What was it about spring that drew him? Was it the beauty? The contrast of white snow and bright golden petals? Did this philosopher see lessons for the soul in the plant's ability to tolerate harsh conditions and city life? Or did he find hope and inspiration in springtime's promise of new life after the long, lonesome winter?
Santayana later wrote, "I like to walk about amidst the beautiful things that adorn the world."2 If we are willing to drop what we are doing and truly see these beauties, we too can be renewed by spring's wonders flowering around us. The diversity of color in the landscape can paint a picture of remarkable splendor, but too often we simply pass by, and it all becomes merely a backdrop to our busy lives.
If we could just take a moment today, whether it's rainy or sunny, windy or still, to walk amidst the grandeur we call nature—all of us should have "an appointment with April" and, hopefully, keep and hold those precious moments close to our hearts.
1 Clifton Fadiman, ed., The Little, Brown Book of Anecdotes (1985), 487.
2 In John Bartlett, comp., Familiar Quotations, 16th ed. (1992), 588.
The good shepherd has long been a symbol of God's love and watchful care. The shepherd knows his sheep and calls each one by name. The sheep are defenseless against the wolves of the desert. They need constant care. So night and day, the shepherd protects his sheep and guides them to green pastures and still waters.1
Several years ago, a man traveling in a North African desert came upon a roadside accident. The king's automobile had struck a young lamb, and an old shepherd, with his small flock, listened as the driver explained how he could be compensated. By law, a shepherd whose sheep had been injured by the king's vehicle could receive 100 times the value of the sheep. However, the same law dictated that the injured sheep must be slain and its meat divided among the people.
The traveler watched as the shepherd rejected the offer, carefully picked up the injured lamb, wrapped it in his flowing robe, and walked away. He led his flock back into the desert, gently stroking the little lamb and repeating its name, over and over.
Amazed, the traveler wondered why the shepherd had refused the money. The reason is clear: because he loves his sheep.
Just as the shepherd nurtures and protects his flock, so the Lord will watch over us, guide us, and shelter us from danger.
The Lord my pasture will prepare
And feed me with a shepherd's care.
His presence will my want supply
And guard me with a watchful eye.
My noonday walks he will attend
And all my silent midnight hours defend.3
1 See Psalm 23.
2 See John R. Lasater, in Conference Report, Apr. 1988, 86–87; or Ensign, May 1988, 74.
3 "The Lord My Pasture Will Prepare," Hymns, no. 109.
When all is well and life is good, we tend to forget those who have made our present comforts possible: the teachers, parents, ancestors, and others who've sacrificed in our behalf. We drive on roads we didn't build, or we eat food we didn't grow—we all enjoy benefits and blessing that have come from the work of others. How often do we pause to acknowledge this? Do we sometimes enjoy the peace without remembering the peacemakers? Do we seize opportunities without giving thought to those who provided them?
We appreciate our blessings more deeply when we choose to remember those who have made these blessings possible. How fully can we appreciate a beautiful performance of music without considering the hours, even years, of practice behind it? How sincerely can we enjoy the gifts of nature—the starlit skies, the flowering fields, the panoramic sunsets—without remembering the God of creation?
Before the children of Israel entered the promised land, Moses reviewed with them the laws and blessings they had been given while in the wilderness. He understood that their prosperity in the land would only be as good as their memory of how they got there: the guidance they received, the lessons they learned, the daily sustenance they were given. Moses counseled, "Take heed to thyself, and keep thy soul diligently, lest thou forget the things which thine eyes have seen, and lest they depart from thy heart all the days of thy life."1
If the Giver of all good is always close to our hearts, our lives will be enriched by the reverent memory and acknowledgment of our every blessing.
1 Deuteronomy 4:9.
The life of beloved poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow is proof that good can come from sorrow and difficulty. He received great honors for his many successes, but—like all of us—he also knew his share of heartbreak and grief, including the tragic death of his wife.
From the losses he suffered, however, Longfellow gained insight and strength that found voice in his poems. Longfellow's poetry lives on today not only for its rhyme and rhythm but because it expresses courage and optimism, even in the face of disappointment.
In his poem "Loss and Gain" Longfellow writes of regret, of longing, of the wisdom born of humility, and of the hope that can come when we have faith in the future.
When I compare
What I have lost with what I have gained,
What I have missed with what attained,
Little room do I find for pride.
I am aware
How many days have been idly spent;
How like an arrow the good intent
Has fallen short or been turned aside.
But who shall dare
To measure loss and gain in this wise?
Defeat may be victory in disguise;
The lowest ebb is the turn of the tide.1
Life is full of wins and losses. But no loss will be in vain if we do our best to learn from it and then forge ahead with all the courage and optimism we can muster. We'll often find that life's inevitable stumbling blocks can become our greatest stepping stones.
1 The Complete Poetical Works of Longfellow (1893), 359.
How we choose to spend our time says a lot about us. It's true that sometimes we don't have any say over how our minutes, hours, and days are spent. No one really chooses to wait in long grocery lines, catch the flu, or get stuck in traffic. But what we do with the time we have reflects our commitments, interests, and values.
A beloved hymn reminds us:
Time flies on wings of lightning;
We cannot call it back.
It comes, then passes forward
Along its onward track.
But suppose you were allowed to "call back" a day or even an hour and relive that small portion of your life. What would you do differently? Would you spend more time with children? with grandparents? with neighbors and friends? Would you take the opportunity to apologize? to forgive? or simply to listen?
When we think back on our lives, most of us don't wish we had watched more television or held more grudges. In the same way, possessions, power, and prestige are all but forgotten when life comes to an end. But things of the heart endure and even grow sweeter with time's passage. Opportunities to help, to love, to learn, and to cultivate relationships are among life's greatest gifts. Since we all have some life left to live, let's pause to consider whether we're spending our time on things that matter the most.
Then should we not endeavor
Each day some point to gain,
That we may here be useful
And ev'ry wrong disdain?1
1 "Improve the Shining Moments," Hymns, no. 226
How we treat others says much about who we really are. Civility, mercy, sacrifice, and integrity hold our society together. Yet such qualities often seem in short supply. Too often, arrogance and indifference isolate us from one another and harden our hearts.
So taught Fiorello LaGuardia, mayor of New York City at the time of the Great Depression. One winter day as he presided at police court, an officer brought in a shabbily dressed man charged with stealing a loaf of bread. The defendant explained tearfully that his family was starving.
"I have got to punish you," LaGuardia stated. "I can do nothing but sentence you for breaking the law. The fine will be 10 dollars."
But as he spoke, the mayor reached into his pocket: "Here's the 10 dollars to pay your fine." Then, looking around the courtroom, he continued, "I'm going to fine everybody here 50 cents for living in a town where a man has to steal bread to eat." He ordered the bailiff to collect from everyone and give the money to the defendant.
The stunned man left the courtroom with $47.50—not much by today's standards, but the mayor was not just asking for money; he was asking for compassion and encouragement for one of God's children.1
That's something we can all give. We can lift and bless with a smile, a handshake, a compliment, or kindness. We can be generous with our time, treat others like they matter, be sensitive to their feelings and their needs. In doing this, we do more than alleviate the suffering of a single soul—we help bring greater unity to our society.
1 See Clifton Fadiman, ed., The Little Brown Book of Anecdotes, ed. [name of editor or compiler] (1985), 339.
We all have moments in life that can change us forever. Somehow we're never quite the same after certain experiences. And more often than not, such pivotal moments can be relatively simple and small.
In the late 19th century, a young American of Scottish descent traveled to Scotland to live and work for a number of years. The work was difficult, the hours long, the discouragements frequent. During his time in Scotland, far away from his beloved home and family, he had occasion to spend a day touring the magnificent Stirling Castle in the countryside near Glasgow.
Later that evening, he happened to notice an inscription chiseled in the stone arch over the front door of a house: "What E'er Thou Art, Act Well Thy Part." The message penetrated the young man's heart. Invigorated and renewed, he determined to "act well his part." 1
He later returned to America and went on to become a great leader, revered by all who knew him. His discovery of an old Scottish proverb was a turning point in his life. The simple message, "What E'er Thou Art, Act Well Thy Part," became his personal motto. He never forgot its challenge to always do his best, whatever the task.
We all have such pivotal moments, if we just recognize them. They often come unexpectedly, when we're struggling or discouraged, when we need them most. We suddenly notice something we haven't seen before. It sparks a new insight that inspires us and motivates us. We discover a new resolve to do better and to be better. We change forever in that moment. And for the rest of our lives we look back to that moment for strength and inspiration.
1 See Francis M. Gibbons, David O. McKay: Apostle to the World, Prophet of God (1986), 44–45.
Since the revival of the Olympic Games in 1896, thousands of athletes have dreamed about representing their country and becoming Olympic champions.
During the 1912 games, a new horse-and-rider event called dressage was introduced. It was a competition in which only commissioned military officers—all of them men—were allowed to compete. It stayed that way for 40 years, until the 1952 games in Helsinki, Finland, where, for the first time, the event was opened to all.
During that competition, the world became captivated with a woman rider from Denmark, Lis Hartel. In a sport dominated by men, Lis stunned the crowd with a magnificent performance and was awarded the silver medal.
But there is more to the story. At the awards ceremony, when Lis Hartel's name was announced, the gold-medal winner stepped down from the medals platform to help her climb the steps to her place on the podium. Lis was unable to climb them herself because eight years earlier she had contracted polio and had been paralyzed from the waist down.
When her condition was first diagnosed, most believed that her riding days were over, but Lis refused to abandon her dream, no matter how impossible it seemed. After years of rehabilitation, she regained enough muscle control to ride a horse. She began to train. And eventually her determination led her to the medals platform in Helsinki.
The Olympic motto is Citius, Altius, Fortius: Swifter, Higher, Stronger. But for most of us, the great challenges of life do not require that we sprint faster or jump higher than someone else.
The example of Lis Hartel reminds us that the greatest champions are those who never stop believing in their worthy dreams no matter how great the obstacles that confront them.
Perhaps there is no better definition of a champion.
People who travel to foreign lands usually go hoping to see exotic scenery and famous places. They thrill at the wonderful new sights, sounds, and smells. But if they are perceptive and sensitive, they also grow to understand other peoples in other cultures. They realize, as the poet Maya Angelou said, that "all people cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die. . . . If we try to understand each other, we may even become friends."
Not everyone can be a world traveler, but we can all learn to appreciate others. We can avail ourselves of books, documentaries, and music that help us learn about and respect other cultures. Better yet, we can get to know people of various backgrounds in our own neighborhoods.
Reaching out to other cultures, and learning all we can about them, is a path to peace. When we identify with the hearts of people around the world, we are far less likely to make rash assumptions about them, far less likely to embrace stereotypes.
Recently, a group of women from various backgrounds attended an interfaith women's luncheon. They soon discovered that their religious differences paled in comparison to the things they had in common. All of the women were striving to raise good families, improve as individuals, and be good neighbors. And, as one Hindu woman said with a chuckle, "We all want to understand our husbands."
If peace is ever to come to this world, it will come because we realize that we are all brothers and sisters, fellow citizens of the same planet. We may wear different clothing and eat different foods, but every one of us hopes, dreams, and struggles against adversity. Every one of us wants to be loved and wants to make a difference in the world. These basic similarities far outshine our differences and give us hope that we can live together in peace.
Everyone wants to love, and everyone wants to be loved. From our earliest years, we look for love. Some people travel far and wide in search of it, and others may not know love when they've found it.
In days past, children left little paper hearts or small boxes of candy on the doorsteps of friends. Sometimes the children would ring the doorbell and run. Usually they included a note that read, "I love you."
Yet even at a young age, children seem to understand that "love is more than a paper heart. Love is of the very essence of life," as a wise religious leader once taught. "Love is the security for which children weep, the yearning of youth, the adhesive that binds marriage, and the lubricant that prevents devastating friction in the home; it is the peace of old age, the sunlight of hope shining through death.
". . . Love, like faith, is a gift of God."1
But love has many counterfeits. If we're not careful, we may mistake love for one of its impersonators. True love is never manipulative, domineering, or selfish. It doesn't require loyalty tests or paybacks.
Real love is freely given. It liberates and empowers. It enlarges the heart and makes room for others. Love withholds judgment and is patient. Love manifests itself in kindness, respect, and compassion. Love overlooks differences and extends mercy. Love is an abundant, generous feeling that changes the way we see the world, the way we live in the world.
Those who have received genuine love, and those who have given it, know that it is truly God's greatest gift to His children.
1 Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley , 317.
Parents often tell their children that life isn't fair. The harshness of this reality is somehow softened when it comes from loving parents. It's usually not until children become adults that they realize how right their parents were and how painful some of life's injustices can be. Life really can be unfair. But that doesn't mean that life can't be good.
Some of the happiest people are those who endure more than their share of injustices. How is this possible? Perhaps it's because they stop competing with those around them; they simply do their best with what they have. They look forward instead of backward and stop thinking about what could have been. They understand that "why me?" questions can't really be answered here and now, so they don't ask them. They've felt deeply of life's sorrows, so they actively look for and cultivate the joys. And somewhere deep in their hearts, they know they can trust in a loving God who is perfectly merciful and ultimately fair.
Recently, some children were playing a board game, and one of the players was disappointed with the cards he'd been dealt. Everyone else seemed to have good cards, but he got most of the bad ones. As the game went on, instead of complaining, he decided to bring some humor into the game. The mood lightened, and before long the children agreed: "The game is a lot more fun if we don't keep score."
And so is life. When we stop keeping score, when we stop itemizing slights and holding on to grievances, we start recognizing blessings. We realize that life may not be fair, but it can be good—in fact, better than we ever thought possible.
Saying good-bye has never been easy—especially when we have concerns about where loved ones are going or how long they'll be gone. But knowing that good-bye is really a pronouncement of the blessing "God be with you" can make the separation more bearable.
The word good-bye was formed from the longer phrase "God be with you" during the 16th century. For all who seek to bless family, friends, and associates with divine help, this unsaid meaning of good-bye can remain the same—go with a prayer for heaven's blessing from those who care.
When the former president of Howard University, Jeremiah Rankin, learned the history of the word good-bye, he wrote the hymn "God Be with You."2 It soon became a favorite of congregations everywhere and has been sung at many heartfelt farewells over the decades.
For example, at the end of World War II, a Christian missionary prepared to leave New Guinea after serving there for eight years. She had been imprisoned during the war, her husband had died, and she was now returning home a 28-year-old widow without a single possession. She wondered if her mission had been worthwhile and struggled with feelings of bitterness. As the boat set sail, she heard Indonesian voices singing, "God be with you till we meet again." The words sank deep into her heart and set in motion a healing of her soul.2
Such loving farewells comfort those who leave as well as those who stay behind. For many years at the conclusion of this broadcast we have sung to our live audiences—and today we sing to each of you—"God be with you till we meet again."
1 See Robert J. Morgan, Then Sings My Soul: 150 of the World's Greatest Hymn Stories (2003), 205.
2 See Morgan, Then Sings My Soul, 205.
We've all heard the expressions "Bless your heart" and "All the best" and so many others. With these words we extend good wishes to those around us. Such expressions are like a prayer calling down heaven's blessings upon those we care about. And we all need blessings.
There are those who may say that these are meaningless clichés. But when someone offers to another a heartfelt wish for a blessing, it is never trite, never tired or inappropriate.
Expressing the sincere hope that one will be blessed and watched over is a practice as old as time. For example, centuries ago the Lord gave to Moses a blessing that he was to impart upon his people. Its words have been recited by ministers of various faiths for generations, and they have been set to music and sung by choirs around the world. The supplication is for the Lord to watch over His children, to pour out His promised blessings upon true followers, to give peace. The words are:
The Lord bless you, and keep you:
The Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious unto you:
The Lord lift up the light of his countenance upon you, and give you peace.1
In our day, many families have a simple expression of blessing that has become a beloved tradition. Every night as they retire to bed, they express to one another the same hope, the same desire: "Sweet dreams." For them, it's just another way of saying, "The Lord bless you and keep you until morning." We all hope that our loved ones will be blessed, will be protected, will have peace and joy in their hearts and homes.
1 See Numbers 6:24–26
"Did you think to pray?" This simple question from a 19th-century hymn reminds us to offer thanks and seek divine guidance, comfort, and peace each day. Is there anyone who does not need such divine intervention?
"Oh, how praying rests the weary," the familiar hymn continues. "Prayer will change the night to day."1 These are powerful promises in our challenging world. Each of us faces situations we cannot handle alone, problems we cannot solve alone, weaknesses we cannot overcome alone.
Abraham Lincoln, wearied by the division of our nation at the time of the Civil War, humbly spoke these words: "I have been driven many times to my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go. My own wisdom, and that of all around me, seemed insufficient for the day."2
Prayer can be our lifeline. When tragedy strikes a community, citizens gather in churches, synagogues, mosques, and homes to pray and draw strength from God. Family prayer brings parents and children together. One 15-year-old whose turn it was to say the family prayer paused and looked from one face to another. He then asked quietly, "Does anyone need anything?" What an immeasurable gift we give when we pray in behalf of another.
Humble prayer can prompt in us a desire to be better—to be a little kinder, more generous with others, more patient and forgiving. Whether spoken aloud or carried silently in our souls, each sincere prayer reaches to heaven. It draws down from heaven the strength to press on, the ability to see beyond today, and the willingness to trust God's answers and His will in our behalf.
"So, when life gets dark and dreary, don't forget to pray."3
1. Mary A. Pepper Kidder, "Did You Think to Pray?"
2. In The New Dictionary of Thoughts: A Cyclopedia of Quotations, comp. Tryon Edwards, rev. ed. (1959), 540.
3. Mary A. Pepper Kidder, "Did You Think to Pray?"
At the beginning of each new year we feel a sense of renewal and a chance to start over. We put more energy into accomplishing some of the things we have been putting off. We call this a time of resolution.
Resolutions are promises to ourselves. Unfortunately, sometimes even our most heartfelt resolutions go unfulfilled. But this need not be so. Maybe we just need a little more patience.
On May 12, 2005, Ed Viesturs stood on the snowy summit of a towering Himalayan mountain peak. It was one of the happiest days of his life. After 16 years of diligent preparation, failed attempts, and hard work, he had successfully climbed all of the world's mountains above 26,000 feet high, including Mt. Everest. Perseverance had seen him through extreme physical and emotional challenges and allowed him to realize his dream.
This remarkable accomplishment is a vivid reminder that some resolutions take many years to complete. Resolutions of enduring value usually require patient determination and are realized one step at a time.
Our challenges may not be made of rock and snow, but like the mountain climber, we can carefully plan out a route to our chosen peak of achievement and then work our way to the summit by putting one foot in front of the other. As we continue in our resolve, our reward will be a gratifying view from the heights of our potential.
And when we become discouraged along the way, we can pause to catch our breath and then dig deep within ourselves to find the determination to move ahead. Even the highest obstacles will yield to the power of dedicated resolution.
Rebroadcast of program #3974 "Dreams of Courage"
"Good tidings of great joy"1 is the message of Christmas. Whenever we love and serve, whenever we forget ourselves and lift others, we feel that joy. "Real joy comes not from ease or riches or from the praise of men, but from doing something worthwhile."2 Real joy is the blessed reward of selfless living.
Over a thousand years ago, the good King Wenceslas of Bohemia felt the joy of helping others. Taught by his grandmother that faith should be put into action, King Wenceslas became known for his kind and generous care of the poor. He found great joy in sharing his bounty. Legend recounts that one cold December night, the king looked out his window to see a man searching for firewood. The king decided to leave the warmth of his castle to comfort the man and his poor family. He and his page traveled through deep drifts of snow and wind carrying wood for the family's dying fire and food for their scant table.
When the page, exhausted and chilled in the extreme weather, felt he could go no further, the good king reassured him:
Mark my footsteps, my good page, tread thou in them boldly,
Thou shalt find the winter's rage, freeze thy blood less coldly.3
Walking in his master's footsteps, the page was able to finish the journey and find joy in serving the needy family.
And so it goes for each of us. As we walk in the Master's footsteps, as we bring good tidings to those around us, we feel the great joy of Christmas, the lasting joy that warms our hearts—and the hearts of those we serve—the whole year through.
1. Luke 2:10.
2. Wilfred T. Grenfell, in The Treasure Chest, ed. Charles L. Wallis (1965), 153.
3. John Mason Neale, "Good King Wenceslas," in Jean Richardson, Stephen's Feast (1991), inside front cover.
Of all the stories associated with Christmas, the story of the Wise Men is among the most intriguing, mostly because we really don't know that much about them. Who were these Wise Men? How did they know what the new star signified? Had they read ancient prophecies foretelling the signs of Jesus's birth? Or did angels announce it to them as they had to the lowly shepherds?
Whatever the source of their knowledge, "when they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy,"1 and they were willing to follow that star far from the comforts of home.
Their complete story is told in only 12 verses in the Bible, and then the Wise Men disappear.
We are left to wonder about these strangers who seemed to have understood Jesus's holy mission, perhaps better than many of His own countrymen. Their gifts for the Christ child may suggest that they knew He was to be more than just another earthly king, for their gifts had both monetary value and symbolic meaning. And so it was—gold, the metal of kings, proclaimed Jesus the King of Kings. Frankincense, burned on the temple altar as a symbol of prayers ascending to God, suggested Jesus was a link between heaven and earth. And myrrh, an ointment used for embalming, was perhaps a poignant foreshadowing of His death and burial.
Though much of their story still remains a mystery, what we do know about the Wise Men must win our admiration and increase our appreciation for the King they came to worship. We learn from them that the birth of Christ holds significance beyond Bethlehem and that to find and worship the King of Kings is still the noblest pursuit for wise men and women throughout the world.
1 Matthew 2:10
And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed.
And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city.
And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem…
To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.
And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.
And she brought forth her first-born son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.
And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.
And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.
And the angel said unto them, Fear not, for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.
For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.
And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,
Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.
1 Luke 2:1, 3-14
Long ago, in the dusty village of Bethlehem, a new life came into the world—a world that would be changed forever. On that silent night more than two thousand years ago, the light of a new star shone on the fields, the walkways, and stables of Bethlehem. Not everyone knew or recognized this radiant fulfillment of ancient prophecy. But then, as well as now, those who truly looked heavenward, were led to the Light of the World.
And they found him in Bethlehem. Once the birthplace of King David, Bethlehem was no longer home to royalty, and by all worldly standards, it was humble. And yet, the King of Kings was born there.
So, Mary, "great with child,"1 and Joseph, traveled 90 long, uncomfortable miles from Nazareth to their ancestral home of Bethlehem where they were to be taxed. By the time they arrived, there was no room for them in the inns. So, in a stable for animals, Mary "brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger."2 Emmanuel, meaning "God with us,"3 was born in what would otherwise be considered an insignificant Judean town. But Bethlehem in Hebrew means "house of bread", and so Jesus came as the Bread of Life to a hungry world. He came as Living Water to quench the thirst of all honest seekers. He came to lift souls and spread joy, as the Prince of Peace. And today, as then, he reigns in the hearts of all who truly know Him.
The life and love, mercy and hope brought into the world by the babe of Bethlehem will live forever.
1 Luke 2:5
2 Luke 2:7
3 Matthew 1:23
We don't miss what we've never known. But when people or things are an important part of our lives, we miss them dearly when they're no longer with us. Yet, all too often, we take them for granted until they are taken away. For example, we often don't appreciate health until we lose it; food, until it's scarce; safety, unless it's in doubt; peace, until it's threatened.
Ironically, that which we most prize is often what we most take for granted: the love of home and family, liberty and harmony, health and happiness. We often don't even think about the many commonplace but precious blessings in our lives, like the air around us. Think for a moment of harvest and home, of warm memories and loving associations, of meaningful work and wholesome leisure, of the beauties of nature and the wonders of living. Even our heartaches can become, in time, a source of gratitude and wisdom.
Some five decades ago on this broadcast, Richard L. Evans expressed a universal theme of thanksgiving: "Whether we think we have much or little, we have cause to give thanks for everything that is ours—for the food we eat, for friends and freedom, for the warmth we feel from the sun, for the companionship of people, for the leaves that fall and again come forth, for the rain that filters through the soil, for the beauty and providence of the earth—for the very air we breathe; for the very life we live."i
All good things are gifts from a loving God. Wait not until such rich blessings go away to appreciate them more fully.
i The Everlasting Things (1957), 33–34.
In 1893 Katharine Lee Bates, an English professor from Massachusetts, visited the Colorado Rockies. Her stay included an expedition, in a prairie wagon, to the 14,000-foot summit of Pike's Peak. From that towering mountaintop, "the wonder of America," with its "sea-like expanse,"1 spread before her. Returning to the hotel, she penned the words to "America the Beautiful" as they poured from her heart. For more than a century, this anthem has stirred the citizens of this nation as a fitting tribute to the beauty of our land.
Today, purple mountains still rise in majesty, and amber waves of grain continue to fill the breadbasket of our nation.2 Look at the striking contrasts all around us. The shimmering Great Salt Lake, a remnant of prehistoric Lake Bonneville, now circles Antelope Island, tinged in hues of purple and red as it meets the western, azure sky. A few hours' drive in any direction reveals landscapes of stunning red rock canyons, steaming geysers and waterfalls, snowcapped peaks, lush forests, and valleys richly carpeted with flowers. God has indeed shed His grace on our soil.3
This is a land of vistas both spectacular and serene, fertile and barren, inviting and remote. From "sea to shining sea,"4 from the pine-trimmed inlets of New England to the badlands of the Dakotas, from the rocky beaches of Oregon to the bayous of the Mississippi Delta are sights and scenes that lift our hearts and enrich our souls.
It may be that we have more expressions about "home" than anything else. We've all heard "home is where the heart is," "there's no place like home," and "home sweet home"—simple sayings that ring with truth and bear repeating.
The hallmark of a happy home is not its size or location, but what goes on inside its walls. Small homes can be filled to overflowing with joy and contentment, and homes on "the other side of the tracks" can be grounded in goodness and decency. No matter the landscape, the path to home is always paved with love and kindness. And no matter how far we travel, we always come back—even if only in our memories—to such happy homes.
Many decades ago, Edgar A. Guest explained why in a poem titled "The Path to Home":
There's the mother at the doorway, and the children at the gate,
And the little parlor windows with the curtains white and straight.
There are shaggy asters blooming in the bed that lines the fence,
And the simplest of the blossoms seems of mighty consequence.
Oh, there isn't any mansion underneath God's starry dome
That can rest a weary pilgrim like the little place called home.
Men have sought for gold and silver; men have dreamed at night of fame;
In the heat of youth they've struggled for achievement's honored name;
But the selfish crowns are tinsel, and their shining jewels paste,
And the wine of pomp and glory soon grows bitter to the taste.
For there's never any laughter howsoever far you roam,
Like the laughter of the loved ones in the happiness of home.
In 1940, as the thunder and lightning of armed conflict erupted across Europe, Winston Churchill stood at the head of a nation faced with the horrible reality of a calamitous war. "I have nothing to offer," he told his countrymen, "but blood, toil, tears and sweat."i
In spite of the arduous road, Churchill was firm in his resolve. "We shall go on to the end," he declared. "We shall never surrender."ii
He urged his people to "so bear [themselves] that, if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, ‘This was their finest hour.' "iii
Churchill's courage and optimism bolstered the confidence of his countrymen. "These are not dark days," he told them. "These are great days—the greatest days our country has ever lived."iv
In our day we sometimes find ourselves overwhelmed by fear, worry, and distress. We each must face our share of life's hazards and sorrows. During our own hours of darkness, the unfailing voice of this lion of England can give us the strength to "never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never." v
Even if our days seem dark, we can make them our greatest days because of how we choose to face them. In the end, it may be our courage during our own times of crisis and trial that causes others to say of us, "This was their finest hour."
i "Blood, Toil, Tears and Sweat," first speech as prime minister, House of Commons, May 13, 1940, in Never Give In! The Best of Winston Churchill's Speeches, sel. Winston S. Churchill (2003), 206.
ii "Wars Are Not Won by Evacuations," House of Commons, June 4, 1940, in Never Give In! 218.
iii "This Was Their Finest Hour," House of Commons, June 18, 1940, in Never Give In! 229.
iv "Never Give In!" Harrow School, October 29, 1941, in Never Give In! 308.
v Winston Churchill, "Never Give In!" in Never Give In! 307.
Sometimes it takes courage to believe. When we mourn the loss of a loved one, when hopes vanish or dreams dissolve, whenever hearts deeply ache, it takes more than willpower to keep going. It takes faith to believe that life has meaning beyond the present pain. It requires humble submission to a greater good and abiding trust that someday wrongs will be righted.
At first, when a loss shocks our souls, we may feel as if the wind were knocked out of us. We're never quite the same, but we go on. In the course of time, the loss we endure starts to give newness to life. We notice the way a toddler giggles. We listen more intently to a bird's song. The change of seasons comforts us. We remember details about our lives before the loss, and we cherish the memories.
In the classic novel Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, the strong-willed older sister Jo mourns the untimely death of her younger sister Beth. She consoles herself:
My great loss becomes my gain.
For the touch of grief will render
My wild nature more serene,
Give to life new aspirations—
A new trust in the unseen.1
Jo's faith, having been tested, carves depth into her soul that was not realized until she lost her sister. She becomes more patient, more disciplined, more motivated to use her writing talent, more trusting in God's will.
The same is true for us. When we have the courage to hold on to faith, pain and grief can give us wisdom and a greater capacity to love. They can bestow quiet confidence in divine purposes and a deeper appreciation for life.
1 (1932), 403.
The great Irish tenor Ronan Tynan inspires audiences around the world with his abundant musical gifts. We admire his singing and performing, but just as impressive is his life story. Ronan was born with a lower-limb disability. Then, when he was 20 years old, both of his legs were amputated below the knee following a car accident. But that didn't stop him. Determined to be an outstanding athlete, he won multiple gold medals in the Paralympics and set 14 world records. All the while he studied to become a physician and, for a decade, practiced medicine, specializing in sports injuries. Describing himself as "a late bloomer,"1 he didn't start vocal training until his early 30s.
Certainly life didn't turn out as Ronan had planned. It rarely does for any of us. What we achieve depends not so much on talent as tenacity, not so much on gifts as grit. Whatever our stories are, we all have challenges and setbacks. We all have opportunities to overcome difficulties, to go forward with faith, to choose to turn stumbling blocks into stepping stones.
Ronan Tynan credits his parents with giving him the confidence to do what was in his heart. He says: "It all stems from the foundation . . . you've been given as a child. I was very lucky, I started out with two great people, a father and a mother who wanted the best for me."2 He has lived by his mother's counsel: "Put courage in your dreams, Ronan, and leave the rest to the Man Above, and then you will carve your footprints in the sand."3
From the timeless tale of the puppet brought to life comes the classic ballad “When You Wish upon a Star.” The little wooden Pinocchio, painstakingly carved by Gepetto, wished to be a real boy. He could move his arms and legs, he could sing and dance, but to achieve his ultimate dream he had to become truthful, courageous, and unselfish. He had to develop strength of character.
Though a fantasy originally written more than a century ago, the story has application for each one of us. As Pinocchio learned when he succumbed to the temptations and amusements all around him, entertainment in our “feel-good world” can dull our senses and distract us from noble purposes. Sometimes we feel like Pinocchio did in the belly of the whale—we too face overwhelming problems at work, at home, and in relationships that can consume our lives. With courage and ingenuity, Pinocchio overcame his follies and obstacles and proved himself worthy of his goal, and so can we.
Developing real character is the noblest pursuit of life. No matter who you are—a puppet or a wood carver, an adult or a child—the fact is, acquiring truth, courage, and unselfishness are lifelong quests that require might, commitment, and consistency. Such quests call for pure hearts to match our lofty dreams.
Pinocchio’s journey from a puppet to a real boy reminds us of the inherent potential and goodness within each of us. If we wish it with all our hearts, we, like Pinocchio, can become our best and true selves.
One of the great opportunities in life is to gain a variety of experiences. It is important that we fill our days with a balance of meaningful events and activities that will stretch our minds and strengthen our relationships. Even everyday duties can provide a chance for us to improve our skills and share our love.
Each experience adds a new dimension in the development of our character. Just like a multi-faceted jewel, we are polished here and refined there until we are complete. The end result of a life lived in this way is a balanced personality, well-rounded and whole.
Too much of any one thing makes that balance harder to achieve. Too much work, and the playful part of our nature may go undeveloped. Too much play, and important work may be left undone. Too much focus on material things, and we find ourselves lacking in spiritual sensitivity. In life, variety and balance can be just as important as talent and expertise.
Audiences have long been thrilled by the amazing balancing act of the tightrope walker. Perched alone and far above the ground, the brave performer carefully maneuvers the high wire, armed with nothing but a simple balancing pole. Shifting with the demands of gravity, the pole helps the entertainer keep his balance until he has safely completed his walk over the wire.
Like a tightrope walker with a pole, we can shift our activities, vary our experiences, and keep ourselves balanced on the path of life. Then, when our days are finished, our living will have been complete.
It’s one thing to write a song about rejoicing when all is well and the future looks bright. It’s quite another to sing of rejoicing while enduring violence and persecution—as did William W. Phelps in Missouri in 1833. He wrote “Now Let Us Rejoice” against a backdrop of “defeat, frustration, homelessness, suffering, privation, [and] hunger.”1
At a time when others may have had difficulty finding any good at all, William W. Phelps declared, “Good tidings are sounding to us and each nation.”2 Like William Phelps and so many others, we too can refuse to be defeated by our circumstances. Even in the worst of times, we can look with faith to the future; we can hold on to the hope of a coming day of peace and joy.
Indeed, the trials we endure can be the very reason we recognize the good around us. Most often our sorrows make possible our rejoicings. If we never experience sadness, we never can know happiness. If we never feel pain, we cannot know relief. If we never face heartache, we cannot know a fullness of joy.
In a heart furrowed by sorrow and suffering, seeds of faith can grow into spiritual maturity. As Isaiah taught so long ago, the Lord will help us through the hard times: “When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned. . . . Fear not: for I am with thee.”3 Knowing this gives us reason to rejoice. If we patiently look to the Lord for succor and strength, “the hour of redemption will come.”4
1. George D. Pyper, in Karen Lynn Davidson, Our Latter-day Hymns: The Stories and the Messages (1988), 32.
2. “Now Let Us Rejoice,” Hymns, no.3.
3. Isaiah 43:2, 5.
4. “Now Let Us Rejoice”; italics added.
Throughout history, men and women have drawn strength from stepping away from the crowd to quietly commune with their Maker. Isaac of old "went out to meditate in the field at the eventide,"1 as did David2 and Jesus3 and so many others in the scriptures. In more recent history, the story is told of General Charles Gordon, who, during a wartime campaign in Africa, began each day in private meditation. Every morning while he pondered and prayed, a white handkerchief lay outside his tent door, signaling to his troops that he was not to be disturbed. No matter the emergency, General Gordon knew he could better meet the challenges of the day if he took time to meditate.4
Some may think meditation is a waste of time. Perhaps they're too busy or too tired or too set in their ways. It may not be easy to justify a time for sitting still and thinking deeply. But as suggested in Proverbs, there is wisdom in pondering "the path of thy feet."5 Rather than aimlessly hurrying through life, stop to consider where you've been and where you want to be. Stop to ask yourself questions that don't have ready answers. Pause to consider why you feel the way you do.
Something about closing ourselves off from worldly distractions and really pondering gives us some perspective and helps us feel better about life. When we look heavenward for guidance, our problems become less troublesome, our worries less taxing, and our heartaches less overwhelming. The more sincerely we meditate, the more inner strength we receive. Our convictions deepen, our lives become more purposeful, and our love is more abiding when we take time to meditate.
1. Genesis 24:63.
2. See Psalm 143:5.
3. See Matthew 14:23.
4. See Gordon B. Hinckley, Discourses of President Gordon B. Hinckley, 2 vols. (2005), 1:269.
5. Proverbs 4:26.
During the first half of the past century, Edgar A. Guest became well-known as the "people's poet." Celebrated for his homespun, sentimental verse, he penned some 10,000 poems during his life, which were syndicated in hundreds of newspapers across the country and reprinted in several books, such as A Heap O' Livin' and Just Folks. One of his most popular poems, "It Couldn't Be Done," reflects his optimistic outlook on life:
Somebody said that it couldn't be done,
But he with a chuckle replied
That "maybe it couldn't," but he would be one
Who wouldn't say so till he'd tried.
So he buckled right in with the trace of a grin
On his face. If he worried he hid it.
He started to sing as he tackled the thing
That couldn't be done, and he did it.
Somebody scoffed: "Oh, you'll never do that;
At least no one ever has done it";
But he took off his coat and he took off his hat,
And the first thing we knew he'd begun it.
With a lift of his chin and a bit of a grin,
Without any doubting or quiddit,
He started to sing as he tackled the thing
That couldn't be done, and he did it.
There are thousands to tell you it cannot be done,
There are thousands to prophesy failure;
There are thousands to point out to you, one by one,
The dangers that wait to assail you.
But just buckle in with a bit of a grin,
just take off your coat and go to it;
Just start to sing as you tackle the thing
That "cannot be done," and you'll do it.
–"It Couldn't Be Done," by Edgar Albert Guest (1881–1959)
John F. Kennedy reminded us nearly half a century ago, "A nation reveals itself not only by the men it produces but also by the men it honors, the men it remembers."1
Most of us honor and remember those close to us who have made an imprint on our lives. Who heads the list of those you admire? Ask a young boy, and he will probably mention his dad or granddad. His admiration reflects not the positions they held in society but the attention they gave him, like time spent together at a fishing hole or on a ball field, sitting on the porch, or even cleaning the garage. We hold in our hearts those special moments long after they are gone, and our memories speak volumes about the men and women who stand by us day after day.
Some may label these men and women as common. But is anyone really common? Regardless of our stations in life, we all must be brave and have courage, most often with little acclaim. We strive to honor our commitments and our standards; to face the challenges of making a living; to accept losses, loneliness, and disappointment. At the same time we attempt to help others facing the same challenges. Society is better because each of us has a unique goodness in us, ready to come forth in times of need.
Put simply, we honor men and women who fight the fires of life—their own and those of others. In remembering them, we honor the best in all of us. If such heroes can be called "common" men and women, then we stand in very good company.
1 Remarks given at the dedication of the Robert Frost Library, Amherst College, Amherst, Massachusetts, October 26, 1963. Available at www.jfklibrary.org/j102663.htm.
"Is there no balm in Gilead . . . ?"1 asked the prophet Jeremiah. Anciently, an ointment known for its power to heal and soothe came from Gilead, near the Jordan River. Made from the gum of a tree, the balm was in high demand as a trade commodity at the time. Today we talk of the symbolic power of the balm of Gilead to "make the wounded whole."2
Recently, a wise physician told his patient, "There is no cure for what you have, but there is healing." The physician understood that sometimes the healing we need does not come from medical treatment. Healing of the soul comes from unselfish concern for others, from integrity and goodness, from repentance and forgiveness. Every time we reach past personal concerns to encourage and lift others, we can experience a healing of the heart. When we feel anguish or animosity, we can find healing by letting go of anger and blame. When we feel troubled and afraid, we can find peace in the words of scriptures and hymns. When we feel like we can't face another day, we can find courage in sweet assurances and the quiet confidence of family and friends.
Humility and meekness are the balm of Gilead. Kindness and empathy are healing ointments. Sincere prayer and meditation soothe the worried soul. Even the beauties of nature can lift our spirits and help us look to a higher source for healing.
The Lord's promise is sure: "I have heard thy prayer, I have seen thy tears: behold, I will heal thee."3
1. Jeremiah 8:22.
2. In Boyd K. Packer, in Conference Report, Oct. 1987, 17; or Ensign, Nov. 1987, 16.
3. 2 Kings 20:5.
On a recent flight during rainy weather, a young boy looked out the window as the airplane rose through the clouds, then beyond, into the calm, blue skies of a sunny day. Turning to his father, he shared his new discovery: "If you go up high enough, it's always sunny."
How true. Above the clouds, the sun is bright and the sky crystal clear. But we occasionally forget the sunshine above as we bundle up against the storms here below. On the ground it sometimes feels as if there's no end to life's buffeting winds, brooding clouds, and chilling rain. Do we forget that there is a brighter future ahead, a higher purpose, a loving God who cares about us? When we focus so intently upon the storms, we lose hope and trust that sunny days will ever return.
No one lives life without trials and setbacks. But even during our personal storms, divine light is always there above the clouds to give us inner peace, reassurance, and strength to learn and grow from our trials and to become better people.
Let us remember, as we climb up through the storm clouds of life, that our problems, like the weather, will in time pass. A rest from the winds of adversity is sure to come. We can find comfort in the certainty that above the storm, sunlight and peace await.
Some of us might think that if we just had more education, more social connections or financial opportunities, we could really be something. But often the quality that makes all the difference is nothing more than perseverance, or steadfastness, even in the face of opposition. We know it as "hanging in there" and "sticking with it."
Examples abound. For instance, Thomas Edison is recognized as a brilliant inventor, but among his most valuable raw materials was his willpower. The story is told of how Edison conducted more than 10,000 experiments before inventing the incandescent lamp. Plodding along night and day over many years, he learned from his "failures." It is said that he described the events prior to his breakthrough as 10,000 discoveries of how electricity did not work. He turned his failures into discoveries only because he was willing to keep trying.
Believing in our strengths and not being discouraged by our setbacks will keep us going over the long haul. Such tenacity and dedication have application everywhere in our lives: parents who don't give up on a wayward child or on each other, teachers and leaders who nurture greatness in seemingly ordinary people, friends and family who believe that patience and kindness are always better than force and fury.
True, we might not revolutionize the world with remarkable inventions, but we can bless our posterity with an example of perseverance, an attitude of devotion to principle. We might not achieve prominence in the eyes of the world, but we can conquer the inner self by persevering in worthy causes.