Monday, March 30, 2009

Four Blessings from Beth

Over 30 years ago, Beth, her husband, and two daughters moved into a home across the street from ours. Beautiful, smart, witty, and wise, Beth savored life, lived happily, and loved purely. She faced adversity with faith and courage, and she blessed my life by her example.

When cancer destroyed the nerves in her spinal column after the birth of her second daughter, Beth became a paraplegic. During the 27 years that followed, she faced daunting health challenges. She often spent a month or two in the hospital each year, laying on her stomach after surgery. Other times, complications from her illness resulted in weeks of laying patiently while she waited for her body to heal. As I watched Beth endure great suffering, she taught me some secrets of peaceful living. Among them are:

1. Find beauty. When Beth lay in the hospital--too weak to read, visit, or watch t.v.--she observed shadows move across the room. An artist, Beth found beauty in the shading, form, and texture of the shadows. She found beauty on all of God's creations, even ones we may not notice.

2. Learn to laugh. Beth laughed at herself, her condition, and the ironies of life. She loved my children and laughed at their antics. She laughed when we watched videos together in her bedroom, when she talked about her hospital escapades, and when we visited over the phone. Laughter prolonged her life, and lessened her pain.

3. Serve someone. Beth found creative ways to serve others. She taught my older daughter to sew. She tended my younger daughter after school when I worked. She cooked gourmet lunches for her friends, created gorgeous Christmas tree ornaments for her loved ones, and designed an exquisite counted cross-stitch masterpiece for me, which read, "The most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or touched. They must be felt with the heart."

4. See the positive. Beth reminded me that all of us face disabilities of one form or another. Some cannot walk, see, or hear. Others cannot trust God, forgive, or love. Beth said she preferred the former disabilities because she could still live with faith and optimism even though she could not walk. Beth focused on the beauties and blessings of life and overlooked the disappointments and heartaches.

Today Beth's spirit soars. She is walking and running among the angels. I praise God for the blessing of knowing and loving her and for the privilege of being her friend.
© Carol Brown

Friday, March 27, 2009

What a Friend We Have in Jesus

Yesterday I spoke to a large group of troubled youth at a high school. As we discussed addiction recovery steps, which included accessing the help of a Higher Power, one young man said, "I don't believe in God. He just doesn't exist."

I replied, "When you hit rock bottom and have no where else to turn, hopefully you will discover God's power. Recovered addicts say they needed the help of a Higher Power. Some things are just too difficult to do alone."

After the class, I learned that this young man's father killed himself two weeks ago. His mother is consumed with grief, and his uncle, an addict, is the only adult who shows interest in the youth. I saw pain and anger in this youth's eyes as he bragged about his addiction and defied me to convince him that he had a problem. I could teach,respect, and encourage him, but I could not change him. He will need to make that choice.

Sometimes we need a friend to console us. That young man certainly does. Each of us needs someone who truly loves and respects us. "A friend is someone who understands your past, believes in your future, and accepts you just the way you are,” we read.

Friends and family can be a great support, but sometimes no one truly understands our pain. No one, that is, but God, who described Himself as "a man of sorrows acquainted with grief." He knew loneliness, rejection, pain, sadness, and every temptation and suffering known to man. He understands us.

God doesn't go on vacation, put us on hold, or send our requests to voice mail when we need to visit with Him. He immediately hears every word we utter and answers every prayer. He can bring good out of what others intended for evil. He will strengthen, sustain and uphold us as we face adversity. All we need to do is ask for His help.

What a friend we have in Jesus,
all our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry
everything to God in prayer!
O what peace we often forfeit,
O what needless pain we bear,
all because we do not carry
everything to God in prayer.
© Carol Brown

Music and Mood

Tonight my husband and I attended an elementary school concert where our fifth grade grandson performed. The songs included country, pop, gospel, folk,and religious numbers, and each piece was melodic and inspirational. Both the performers and the listeners felt happy and edified from the experience. We gave the children a standing ovation and left with smiles on our faces.

The average American listens to more than 1300 hours of music each day. Music can either inspire or encourage us, enlighten or drag us down. One of my favorite writers, Kahlil Gibran, wrote, “Music is the language of the spirit. It opens the secret of life bringing peace, abolishing strife.”

When I was young, I listened to music without noticing what I was putting into my mind. Now, just as I try to avoid junk food, I try to avoid junk music which hardens my spiritual arteries and dulls my spirit. I seek out music that inspires me and feeds my soul.

Neuro-scientists describe the healing and harmful effects that music can have on the soul. Since music is a right-brain phenomenon, it powerfully influences our mood and our morality. Research has shown that youth and adults are greatly affected by the unfiltered music that enters their mind.

"Life can’t be all bad when for ten dollars you can buy all the Beethoven sonatas and listen to them for ten years," wrote William F. Buckley, Jr. As music becomes more affordable and available, we can find easy access to music that can calm our troubled hearts or that troubles our calm hearts. Today many lyrics are filled with profanity, obscenity, and vulgarity. They invite us to hate and hurt ourselves and others. They tempt us to lose ourselves to drugs, sex, or violence. They tell us that good is bad and bad is good. They lie.

King David, who soothed Saul as he played his lyre, said, "Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all the earth, rejoice, and sing praise." May we take time during our busy lives to listen to music that heals our hearts and makes us whole. Then, with Isaiah, we can exclaim, "Sing, O heavens; and be joyful, O earth; and break forth into singing, O mountains: for the Lord hath comforted his people, and will have mercy upon his afflicted."
© Carol Brown

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

You Are a Child of God

A few months ago I taught a group of children at Church that they are children of God. I reminded them that in Psalm 82 we read, “I have said, Ye are gods; and all of you are children of the most High.” I testified that each person on earth is a divine son or daughter of God.

One young girl asked, “Does that mean people in other countries are children of God, too?” Yes, I replied, glad that she felt safe enough to ask to question. I showed her a picture of Jesus embracing children from various cultures. She appeared surprised and, with childlike faith, smiled in approval.

I testified that “the Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.”

I told the children that in my greatest adversity, I was enfolded in the arms of God’s love and knew that he loved me. I explained that through my greatest trial, I had come to feel God’s perfect love for me. And then I asked, “Do you know that you are a child of God?”

All the children smiled and nodded. They sat a little taller in their seats and beamed joyfully. All but one little boy, a visitor. Sad and forlorn, he looked down at his feet after I asked the question and shook his head.

I wanted to rush over to him, to hold him in my arms and comfort him. I longed to tell him how precious he is, that he is a person of infinite worth. I wanted to tell him that God knows Him personally and by name. I wanted the boy to understand that his Father knows every time he is happy and sad, that God numbers every hair on his head. I tried to explain some of those truths to the children, but time was short and the class ended. The boy shuffled out of the room amid the throng of children and disappeared.

I hope that some day he discovers who He truly is, a beloved child of the Most High, beautifully and wonderfully made. That belief will transform his life. He will stand tall and smile, knowing that he is a person of infinite worth.

May you feel surrounded in the arms of God's love today. May you recognize that you were bought with an unspeakable price, and may the love of God sustain you and comfort you throughout the coming days.
© Carol Brown

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Confronting our Fears

Sometime life can be scary. We get really sick. We are laid off. Our child is terribly hurt. A trusted friend betrays us. We lose a spouse, a parent, a loved one. We feel overwhelmed by temptations, trials, or tribulations.

Although I haven't lost my husband, I have experienced every other trial mentioned above. These adversities have brought me to my knees and taught me how fragile life is and how weak I can be. They have also taught how powerful God is when I trust in Him.

Sometimes it helps to understand what is destroying our peace.

Is it fear of death? To the righteous, “death is swallowed up in victory … victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Is it fear of man? Paul says, "If God is for us, who can be against us?"

Is it fear of the past? Isaiah writes, "Come now, and let us reason together," Says the LORD, "Though your sins are as scarlet, They will be as white as snow."

Is it fear of the future? Paul discovered that Christ can help us through any adversity. "I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me," he testifies.

Is it fear of failure? Jesus taught, "But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you ."

Is it fear of God? Jehovah says, "Sing, O heavens; and be joyful, O earth: and break forth into singing, O mountains: for the LORD hath comforted His people, and will have mercy upon his afflicted. Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? Yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee. Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands."

Consider the words of the hymn, "When Faith Endure": I will not doubt, I will not fear; God's love and strength are always near. His promised gift helps me to find an inner strength and peace of mind. I give the Father willingly my trust, my prayers, humility. His Spirit guides; his love assures that fear departs when faith endures.

God says, "Fear not, I am with thee?" "Look unto me in every thought; doubt not, fear not." He stands at the door and knocks, wanting to comfort us and bless us, wanting to give us peace. All He asks is that we turn our troubles over to Him and trust in Him.

© Carol Brown

The Power of our Thoughts

We are what we think, and the thoughts we choose to entertain determine who we become. It is easy to choose thoughts of criticism, contempt, or contention. These thoughts come naturally to most. Thoughts of civility, compassion, and cheer may require effort, especially when we are weary, weak, or worldly.

A Tibetian Buddist monk was released by the Chinese after years of torture and imprisonment. He met with the Dalai Lama and said, "My greatest concern throughout my captivity was that I would lose my compassion for the Chinese." Because the monk decided to think loving thoughts during years of abuse, he returned to Tibet a peaceful and happy man.

We may want to consider who and what do we think about during the day. How do we think about ourselves and others? What thoughts do we hold onto? What attitudes do we nurture and which do we reject? "As a man (woman, teen, or child) thinketh in his heart, so is he" is a simple, and yet profound, truth.

Three thoughts help when times are tough. We can remember that this, too, shall pass. Some trials are temporary ones. Just as cold winter days eventually moves to sunny spring ones, so the challenges you face today may become blessings tomorrow as you learn patience, tolerance, and love. If our trials are lifelong, we can trust that God, who has suffered all, understands all. He waits to embrace us at the end of our journey and promises that He will wipe away all of our tears. We can also choose an attitude of gratitude. Paul said that although he felt sorrowful, he always rejoiced. Keeping a gratitude journal helps us remember that even amid sorrow, we have been given much.

Peace is a fruit of the Spirit and is available to anyone who seeks to pursue a path of goodness and virtue. Paul said that fruits of the Spirit include “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance." Isaiah said, “The work of righteousness shall be peace; and the effect of righteousness quietness and assurance for ever.”

Although no one is perfect--with the exception of an innocent child---we can find peace as we listen to the voice of the Spirit and turn off the voices that destroy the Spirit. We may want to turn off voices that
• rehearse the mistakes and failings of others.
• encourage us to trust in man rather than God.
• invite us to approve of materialism or immorality.
• denounce mercy, meekness, or faith.
• tell us that we are not divine children of God.
• tempt us to persue pleasure rather than peace.
• ask us to “spend money for that which is of no worth, [and] labor for that which cannot satisfy.”
• entice us to seek a "high" in addictive or self-defeating pursuits.

As we choose our thoughts, we choose the path of life or death, of hope or despair, and of peace or discord. Isaiah promises that God will keep us in perfect peace if we stay our minds on Him. Today, let us choose peace.
© Carol Brown

Friday, March 20, 2009

The Comfort of Mindfulness

God asks us to slow down. "Be still, and know that I am God," he says."Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." Rest from fear, undeserved guilt, and perfectionism. Rest from shame, blame, and bitterness. Rest.

So, how do I find this rest, you may ask? I have a young family, a busy career, or both. I have lots of Church and volunteer responsibilities and many people who need my help. I am sick, suffering, or heavily burdened. I don't have the time.

We live in a fast-paced, stressful world that may seem comfortless. Media bombards us with messages that we should be smarter, slimmer, younger, better-coifed, better-dressed, sexier, and wittier. Size-two women are shown juggling full-time professional careers, motherhood, and multiple friendships with ease. Muscular, tanned men wearing designer clothes are shown seducing women while they manage businesses, solve crimes, and maintain mansions where their beautiful wives and children live. Air-brushed models appear on magazine covers with captions that make promise we can become a supermodel, lose 10 pounds, and snag the mate of our dreams in a week or two. Women and men are objectified in television and movie shows, print media, Internet sites, and store displays. We may wonder if we will ever meet society's expectations for beauty, popularity, fame, or fortune. We may feel less than whole.

Perhaps we can learn to meditate, even it is only a moment or two in the morning before the children wake up or in the evening after they are in bed. Perhaps we can turn off the sounds that distract us from the Spirit--the television, cell phone, Ipod, or CD player--and just breathe deeply and slowly for a few moments. We can still our thoughts and allow our minds to rest. We can picture a loving Father smiling at us, embracing us, holding us. We can hear him say, "Peace, be still."

I studied the practice of mindfulness and meditation last year before I underwent knee surgery. What was supposed to be a three-day recovery stretched into a three-month recovery. During the months that my knee healed enough so that I could walk again, I practiced mindfulness. I breathed, meditated, and rested my weary mind (and knee). I discovered the sweet music of birds singing, the beauty of cloud formations, and the serenity of solitude. It was not always easy to do, but I learned how to do it. But I don't have three months, you say? Do have three minutes, or even one minute, to quiet your mind? Can you find a moment here and there to still your heart?

I know many feel busy, over-worked, and even under-appreciated, but for those who feel that they cannot do one more thing, the practice of mindfulness is a healing one. As we focus on our breathing when we are stressed, angry, or anxious, we can slowly and consciously breathing in and out until we feel more calm. We can remember that we are not our thoughts but that we are a child of God. We can take a worry-break just as we would take a lunch break. If needed, we can schedule in a few minutes at the end of the day to worry. We can choose to remove negative, self-defeating thoughts from our minds and replace them with healing ones. This may require months--or even years--of practice, but we can begin today.

Sometimes we hang on to our burdens when God waits to carry them for us. Mindfulness allows to give our burdens to God. "Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me," Jesus said, "for I am meek and lowly of heart, and you shall find rest unto your souls." Christ promises that He will sustain (feed, hold, carry, comfort, nourish, nurture, assist, befriend, uphold, help, provide for, and defend) us if we cast our burdens (cares, worries, fears, concerns, sorrows, pain, grief, guilt, shame, weariness) on Him, for He has already born them.

We can give our burdens to God, and He will sustain and strengthen us. "Learn of me, and listen to my words; walk in the meekness of my Spirit, and you shall have peace in me," He says. "Be still, and know that I am God. Come to me. Allow Me to comfort you, to make you whole."
© Carol Brown

Thursday, March 19, 2009

I Know that My Redeemer Lives

There are a lot of things that I don't understand. I don't understand why little children are abused, go hungry, and die. I don't understand why some really bad people live with fame, fortune and ease while some really good people suffer every day of their lives. I don't understand why some people die peacefully in their sleep while others languish in nursing homes for years. I don't understand why some mentally ill lose their agency, why some people become so quickly addicted to food,drugs, alcohol while others do not. I don't understand why bad things happen to good people and good things happen to bad people.

I don't understand why some children are born with horrific birth defects, learning, emotional and psychological struggles, or other disabilities. I don't understand why some people suffer unspeakable pain because of illness, rejection, poverty, natural disaster, and crime. I do not understand why some people can be so cruel and others can be so kind.

But I do know one thing: that God lives and that Jesus Christ is my Savior. I know that He knows the meaning of all things even though we do not. When I seek for His help, He silences my fears, calms my troubled heart, and blesses me with His love. Even when I do not understand the meaning of all things, I know that My Redeemer loves, and when I trust in Him even when trust is difficult, I find peace amid sorrow.

How has the Savior brought you peace in times of sorrow?

Peace amid Sorrow

As I reflect on peaceful and sorrowful times in my life, I have discovered that at times I was able to feel both emotions simultaneously. When this occurred, sometimes I had the support of a loving friend, felt the comfort of the Spirit, or experienced happiness through service, meditation, reading scriptures or good books, listening to uplifting music, mindfulness, or the beauties of nature. Other times I just hang on to my faith in Christ with white knuckles, pleading for strength to endure or for the trial to pass.

As I reflect upon the Savior's life, I remember that Jehovah himself retreated to the mountains--sometimes alone and sometimes with His disciples-- when throngs of people pursued Him. I wonder if we take the time to find a quiet place to renew ourselves or if we feel driven to constantly perform or produce. Perhaps we continually draw from our well of service, compassion, or goodness without refilling it with sufficient living water of prayer, meditation, and scripture study.

At times I do not trust in God completely, and peace evades me. Paul reminds us that even amid trials and hardships, we can find peace when we trust in God. "I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty," he wrote. "I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength" (Philippians 4: 11:13).

Just before the Savior left his disciples to suffer in Gethsemane and on the cross, he challenged them to find joy amid afflictions. "In this world you shall have tribulation," he said, "but be of good cheer. I have overcome the world" (see John 16:33). He comforted his friends when we could have easily felt comfortless. Perhaps at times we can do the same.

Like many, I struggle to find peace amid tribulation. As we view a world filled with violence, natural and economic disasters, suffering, inhumanity, and countless other tribulations, we can easily be overcome with fear and worry. And sometimes life can be so unfair. Even God Himself withdrew when Christ anguished on the cross, leaving His Son to cry, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me."

Sometimes we may feel forsaken by God. Our fervant prayers are not answered in ways that we feel best. Friends may forsake us. Family members may ignore us or break our hearts. Clinical depression may darken our days. S. Michael Wilcox said that the Savior did not immediately rescue his disciples who cried out for his help while they faced a stormy night at Galilee. "Carest thou not that we perish," they cried. But it wasn't until the fourth watch, about 3 A.M., that the Savior stilled the storm. Perhaps he wanted his apostles to learn that faith requires patience and perserverance. Perhaps he was teaching that life's problems are not always quickly solved.

So, trusting in God when trust is not easy or convenient may be harder than we would wish. We may need to step out on the waters of fear, our eyes fixed on the Savior, believing that He will carry us along. We may need to hang on through the storms of life until the fourth watch. The scriptures testify that we can do all things--even suffer our Gethsemane trials--when we trust in God who has engraved us on the palms of His hands and who loves us infinitely. "But let all those that put their trust in [God] rejoice," David writes. "Let them ever shout for joy, because thou defendest them: let them also that love thy name be joyful in thee" (Psalm 5:11).
© Carol Brown