Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Seeing with the Heart

Thirty years ago a gentle, retiring man named Stan moved from Seattle to our desert city. About 50 years old, he married a shy young woman, and they moved into a small apartment. With few job skills, Stan struggled to find work but eventually secured employment as a street sweeper. He worked hard at his job but seemed exhausted after he returned home each evening.

Then, the persecution began. Neighbors complained that Stan wasn’t ambitious enough, that he needed to find a better-paying job. His wife told her friends and family that she disliked her husband because his job was so menial. Even some church members joined in the persecution, belittling Stan publicly and privately.

One day Stan purchased a revolver and shot himself while lying on his bed.

Before the funeral, I spoke to his brother and sister, who told me than Stan was a veteran of the Korean War. His Army boots wore deep wounds into Stan’s misshapen feet, and his feet were easily injured. The undertaker told them that Stan had open, bloody wounds on both of his feet.

A speaker at the funeral said that Stan regularly visited residents in a nursing home. He played his harmonica for them and befriended the lonely. They said Stan made a difference as he served the sick and the dying. As they described Stan’s compassion and goodness, I wished that I had taken the time to get to know him, to understand him, to love him. He could have taught me so much.

It’s so easy to misjudge others. We sometimes assume that others don’t meet our expectations., that they aren’t doing enough, accomplishing enough, aren’t good enough. We may look at the outward appearance and fail to see the heart—a heart filled with beauty, longing, and sometimes great pain. Helen Keller said, “The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched--they must be felt with the heart.”

The Little Prince is one of my favorite books. Written by Antoine de Saint Exupery at the beginning of this century, it describes the path to wisdom and enlightenment. The author writes, "It is only with the heart that one can see; what is essential is invisible to the eye."

I try to judge less and love more since Stan’s death. Sometimes I do fairly well; other times I fail miserably, but I’ve discovered that as I accept and love others, I feel much better about myself as well. Karma, casting your bread upon the water, the Golden Rule—however, we see the world, it is true that the love we share returns to us, sometimes in unexpected and surprising ways.

© Carol Brown

Sunday, June 28, 2009

The Human Touch

Recently, I visited my relative whose mental illness is so severe that she was placed in our state mental hospital. She is angry, confused, and paranoid of almost everyone and everything. I prayed for wisdom, not knowing how to comfort her, and the thought came, "Rub her back."

I asked if she would like a back rub, and she responded, "Oh, that would feel so wonderful." As I massaged her back, she relaxed and the burdens of her illness, despair, and psychosis were eased. When I left, she appeared more happy and peaceful.

While visiting a dear friend who was recuperating from major cancer surgery, I wondered what I could do to ease her pain and anguish. Tubes, scars, and monitors encased her body, and the only unwounded spot was her face and head.

"Would you like a head massage?" I asked. She nodded, and as I rubbed her scalp and forehead, I noticed the tension lift from her body. That small act seemed to make a big difference for her.

When my father was dying, a neighbor appeared regularly to shave my dad. This barber's gentle touch eased my dad's suffering and was such a priceless gift. I doubt this many ever realized the impact his kindness had on my dad.

When my husband and I volunteered in a retirement branch, we were hugged at least ten times each time we went there by the old folks. That loving connection meant so much and bonded us to these elderly saints, who lived with such serenity amid suffering. While our intention as to bless others, we discovered that these frail souls blessed our lives ours more with their smiles, hugs, loving notes, and kind words.

Hugging our children and grandchildren, high-fiving a teen, caressing the check of the dying can be such a blessing. Appropriate human touch can bless the lives of those we serve. It can create peace amid sorrow.

© Carol Brown

Friday, June 26, 2009

About Storms and Flowers

During the past weeks in our desert city, we've seen a lot of rain. The stormy weather had produced a plethora of flowers which are lingering from spring into summer. As we hunger for sunnier days, we are surrounded by a fragrant array of roses, lilies and violets.

Sometimes we face the tempests and storms in life which can appear so unexpectedly. Storms can either strengthen or destroy us. If we hang on, trust in God, and allow Him to strengthen us, storms make us stronger. Then, after the storm comes the calm. Some day the Lord will return and heal this troubled world. He waits to comfort every broken heart. As we face great challenges and sorrows, He will sustain us as we seek His help.

Now, amid the calm which follows another desert storm, we are surrounded by more flowers that we've ever seen. When we endure adversity well, we learn compassion, patience, and mercy. As God's perfect love enfolds us, life is beautiful.
© Carol Brown

Seek First to Understand

A few years ago as a form of penance, I volunteered for our local Rape Recovery Center, teaching students at the juvenile detention center and at alternative high schools. Since I knew a number of the students were either rape survivors or perpetrators, it was a daunting challenge to give hope to the abused while also convincing the perpetrators that rape is a criminal, cruel behavior.

My co-presenter, a therapist named Ken, developed amazing rapport with the youth, easing gently into the discussions. He asked a number of open-ended questions and respected everyone who participated. The class presentations were frank, gritty, and honest. Our students were street smart and savvy and, with the exception of a group of young men in the JDC whom I taught without Ken, were unabashed.

I will never forget a tough group of gangsters that we taught. One heavily-tattooed youth--about 17-years old--was unimpressed when we told him that if a woman says "no," it is rape. He discussed in fairly graphic terms his own views about rape, which revealed that he not only condoned rape but that he had been a willing participant in one.

Ken listened politely and didn't flinch as the youth bragged about his exploits. Ken continued on with the discussion and then, as we were finishing our presentation, he talked about the pain and suffering that rape survivors experience. We both described the physical and psychological trauma of rape victims and told the youth that often the pain continues for years.

Then suddenly the rapist's eyes lit up. He got it. He said, "I made a mistake. I shouldn't have done it, but I thought she wanted it. Now I know better."

I realized that if Ken had confronted the youth right after he made his bold pro-rape comment, the gangster would have tuned us out. Because he felt validated and respected, he was willing to listen and learn. And he did.

That teaching experience changed my life. I am a better teacher, listener and friend. Stephen Covey's principle of seeking first to understand before seeking to be understood is a powerful one. It strengthens relationships and invites peace.

Think about how different our families, neighborhoods, and countries would be if every person worked to truly understand his neighbor. Imagine how our communities would be transformed if people listened compassionately before they spoke. Picture a world in which everyone cared about their neighbors--even the ones that are really hard to love--and respected them.

The Savior was a perfect example of this principle. He broke bread with the sinners, the sick, and the disenfranchised. He lectured the Pharisees about their self-righteous, judgmental actions, calling them "whitened selpechres." He is the perfect example of justice, mercy, and empathy.

It is so easy to make rash judgments, to condemn others, but peace on earth and peaceful living begins with consciously choosing compassion. As we try to look beyond outward appearances to see the hearts of others, we will discover that each person--even those who have made terrible choices--is a child of God. And that attitude makes all the difference.

© Carol Brown

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Stop Being So Hard on Yourself

I spent a good portion of my life as a perfectionist. I don't know if I was subconciously trying to keep up with my older sister who graduated first in her medical class or if I am naturally anxious and driven, but my obsession to be the best at everything nearly killed me.

Please, I repeat please, do not attempt to do this at home.

I wanted the immaculate house, the stellar grades, the flawless life. By forty, or so, I was so tired I could hardly function. I couldn't sleep, eat, or live well. I was an absolute wreck.

Our culture preaches perfectionism. Teachers encourage us to get superior grades so that we can earn scholarships. Home improvement channels convince many that they must have the latest kitchen, bathroom, or landscape design. Magazines celebrate physical perfection, fame, and wealth. It's enough to make a person crazy!

Think about the thoughts you hear running around in your head: "Should have," "could have," "must," "have to," "would have." The list of self-berating thoughts goes on and on and on. We over-schedule, over-work, and over-do, and find ourselves emotionally and physically spent.

So if you find you're being a little too hard on yourself, here are a few suggestions to make your life more peaceful:

Schedule some time for self-renewal. Take the time to pray, meditate, and enjoy the beauties of nature. Give yourself permission to just be. God does not expect us to run faster than we can walk, and too many of us are trying to do that. Slow down. Smell the roses. Listen to the birds singing. Just be.

Manage your time. Eliminate unnecessary activities that are draining your spirit. Do your children have to be enrolled in five activities after school? Do you have to do everything asked of you? Can you say "no" to a few unessential things so you can say "yes" to more fun, rewarding activities?

Celebrate your humanity. Pat yourself on the back when you make a mistake and say, "Wow, I'm human! Isn't it wonderful that I'm alive!" During the day replace negative self-talk with positive affirmations. You might say to yourself, "I am peaceful, loving, and calm person," or "I am a precious child of God," or "I am beautifully and wonderfully made." Repeat these affirmations frequently throughout the day. Write them down and put them in often-viewed places. Include healing words, music, and media in your surroundings.

Have more fun. I used to feel that all my work had to be finished before I could play. Since I was raising four very active children, I worked too much and played too little. Take a break and enjoy life. Take a walk, go bowling, read a good book, play with a child. Life flies by and suddenly our knees quit working and our backs wear out. Treasure each day that God has given you and find ways to glorify Him as you celebrate life.

In your journal, list your strengths, your talents, and your blessings. Underneath the list, write in bold letters, "I am an amazing person. God loves me just the way I am." Read your lists whenever your are feeling unworthy, unloved, and inadequate. Remember, no one in the entire universe is just like you--with your unique gifts, personality, and skills. God invites you to enjoy everyday life--starting today.

© Carol Brown

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Tender Mercies

This last week has been hard. I had surgery at the same time my husband scheduled to carpet our entire house. It was not a fun week. When I needed to be resting, I was trying to move stuff around and hurt my knee--again.

But now that most of the work is over and my knee is starting to feel a bit better, I'm thinking about the tender mercies that have happened. My husband's back, shoulder, and foot have not hurt him--amazing! Lately, he has a lot of issues with those parts of his body, and it's nothing short of a miracle that he's not in excruciating pain.

And our children and their spouses have come to our rescue every time we've needed help. What a blessing! We've known our share of heartache in our family--much more than we ever imagined--but our children have been so kind to rescue us from a furniture-moving nightmare.

Whenever little miracles like this occur, I like to call them tender mercies. A friend shows up at just the right time. Sometime calls when you feel overwhelmed with life. Someone comes to help you just when you needed him. (And your husband's health issues resolve so that he can do some herculean work.) These aren't coincidences.

So tonight amid some tears of gratitude I thank God for watching over us--even when we have created our own mini-crisis of sorts.

When I was caring for my dying mother, one of her home health nurses told me that her mother loved monarch butterflies. She and her mom had a "thing" about these beautiful creatures. They admired them and talked about them. A lot.

She said right after her mother died, a huge monarch butterfly flew in front of the window and hovered there for longer than most butterflies ever hover. The nurse told me she knew it was her mother's way of saying "I love you" and "I'm okay."

God shows His love to us in many ways. A glorious world with its myriad creations. The kindness of strangers. And tender mercies--however and whenever they appear. Thank God for His goodness and for his unexpected--and often undeserved--tender mercies.

© Carol Brown

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Be the Change You Wish to See in the World

Through his peaceful and courageous works, Mahatma Gandhi brought freedom and self-governance to the people of India. Because of his powerful example, he inspired his country's leaders to give greater human rights for women, to the untouchables, and to people of diverse religious beliefs. One person can make such a big difference in the world.

Most of us would be surprised at the positive impact we can have--and are having-- in the lives of others. Mothers, fathers, and those who care for children can influence generations. Teachers can transform the lives of children and youth. Community volunteers can reduce crime, make communities safer for children and families, and enhance the quality of life.

So many simple acts have made such a big difference in my life. After my eighth-grade English teacher mentioned that I was an exceptional writer, I decided to pursue a writing and teacher career. When I was beside myself with grief because my daughter had been terribly abused, a friend stopped by and hugged me. Her simple comment of "I love you, and "I'm here for you" made an unbearable burden bearable. When I was caring for my dying mother, friends brought over simple meals which seemed like manna from heaven.

You don't have to be a Gandhi or a Mother Teresa to change in the world. One comment you make can impact a life for the good. One small act of kindness can heal a broken heart. One prayer can comfort a wounded soul.

Miracles begin with loving kindness. So be the change you wish to see in the world and notice the small and great blessings that appear. As we live with peace and compassion, we become a powerful force for good.

© Carol Brown

Monday, June 22, 2009

Loving Ourselves

For every narcissist, there are a hundreds of people who do not truly love themselves. Some belittle and berate themselves for things they would not condemn in another. At times some of my close friends--and I--have not loved ourselves well. This attitude can lead to depression, disallusion, or discouragement. It can destroy feelings of self-worth and serenity.

So how do we gain--and maintain--a healthy love for ourselves? How we do learn to love ourselves so that we can find peace amid the sorrows and adversities of life? I would suggest three attitudes are critical.

First, accept the fact that God really does love you. He is love. He loves you when you are good and bad, when you make mistakes and when you don't, when you're strong and weak. He loves you just the way you are at this very moment.

Consider Paul's testimony: "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?....For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord."

If you do not feel God's love in your life right now, ask Him to reveal it to you. Ask Him to help you understand how much He truly loves you. Then spend some quiet moments with Him and allow Him to fill your heart with His infinite love. This may take time. If you are deeply wounded, it may not happen overnight. But with time, you will feel of His love for you--and of His love for all of His creations.

Next, allow God's love to move through you to others. We feel God's love as we allow Him to use us as an instrument of His love. If you are completely exhausted, you may reflect His love by simply smiling at someone. Or praying for a stranger that you pass. Or speaking a kind word. Simple acts can intensify the love that we feel from God.

Finally, allow people to love you. When we're hurting and feeling unloved, it's easy to wrap ourselves in a tight little box and refuse to let others into our lives. Sometimes we need to take time out from unessential activities. We need to take a break and rest. But we also need to allow loving people into our lives. If we don't, we enter into a spiral of isolation and despair.

I had learned these truths for myself when I have felt unworthy of love and believed I could not love myself. I have discovered that we can love God because He first loved us. And as we love Him and feel of His love for us, we find peace amid sorrow. We may feel overwhelmed at times by life's vicissitudes, but we can still trust in one thing: that God love us. And that makes all the difference.

Peace Thieves

What steals your peace? What prevents us from experiencing the joy and happiness that God intended us to have? Here are a few of my ideas. I'd love to hear yours.

-setting our hearts on the riches of the world
-comparing ourselves to others
-obsessing over problems, imperfections, or persecution
-spending more than we earn
-coveting more than we have
-contending about politics, religion, or any other subject
-turning away from God and His infinite love
-loving fame, wealth, prestige, or power more than we love God.

How do we stop their thieves from destroying our peace? We place God as the center of our lives. We love the Lord with all of our heart, might, mind, and strength. We give our lives to Him and seek to live as He would have us live. We turn away from pride, greed, and vanity and turn toward love, kindness, and goodness. As we place our trust in God, He gives us power to resist the daily attacks of Satan, who wants to make us as miserable as he is.

God asked Gideon to take a few faithful men and defeat a mighty enemy. The Lord promised Gideon that He would be with Him and that Gideon would defeat the enemy as if he were one man. And Gideon did.

After the victory, Gideon built an altar to the Lord and called it Jehovah-Shalom, meaning God is my peace. May God be our peace today and always.

© Carol Brown

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Confronting the Enemy

We are in a war, my friends. A war against evil. The enemy, Satan, uses every tactic imaginable to destroy our peace. Here are a few weapons God has given us to defeat him.

Satan says, "You are worthless." God says, "I have said, Ye are gods; and all of you are children of the most High."

Satan says, "No one loves you." God says, "Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not."

Satan says, "Life is too hard. Give up." God says, "[You] can do all things through Christ which strengthens[you]."

Satan says, "No one understands you." God says, "Surely Christ]hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows."

Satan says, "You can never be forgiven." God says, "Come now, and let us reason together: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow."

Satan says, "God has forgotten you." God says, "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; thy walls are continually before me."

Satan says, "You're all alone." God says, "Even to your old age, I am He, and even to gray hairs I will carry you! I have made, and I will bear; Even I will carry, and will deliver you."

God has given us power to defeat the enemy. The Word, even Jesus Christ, is more powerful that any evil we may face. And his word as recorded in scripture provides us with the tools to confront and overcome Satan. As we feast upon His perfect love for us, we can face the Devourer with confidence, knowing that with God, all things are possible.

© Carol Brown

Creating a Peaceful Life

The thoughts that we choose are critical to our peace. We live is a culture that tends to destroy peace, so we need to carefully decide which thoughts we hold in our hearts. Consider which attitudes are most prevalent in our daily thinking.

Are we content with the gifts God has given us or are we dissatisfied with what we have or are? Do we compare ourselves to others--especially air-brushed magazine images? Do we feel the grass is greener in another's skin, house, or neighborhood?

Some of the happiest people in the world are those who have no media exposure and who find joy in family, community, and nature. Those who visit impoverished people in Africa are amazed at the happiness they observe among those who have so little.

Do we reverence God and His creations--including ourselves and others? As we take the time to observe the beauty around us, our spirits are lifted. Liv's blog (http://oneyearofbeauty.blogspot.com/) portrays the glory of everyday things and inspires me. As we are more aware of the wonders of nature that surround us, we experience greater serenity.

Enthusiasm makes such a difference in determining our peace of mind. Are we excited to be alive, to share the laughter of a child, to see a flower bloom? Do we celebrate our talents and the talents of others? Have we discovered the amazing abilities of every person we meet--including ourselves?

Holding thoughts of contentment, reverence, enthusiasm in our hearts creates peace of mind. What thoughts can you eliminate that may be destroying your peace? What thoughts can you choose today that will create serenity and joy?

© Carol Brown

Saturday, June 20, 2009

The Path to Peace

God knows that life will be difficult for us, yet he wants us to find peace amid the sorrow. As Jesus was about to be crucified, He told His disciples, "These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world." So what Had he told His disciples that would bring them peace?

After washing their feet and administering the sacrament to them, He told them to not allow their hearts to be troubled. He promised them that there were many mansions in His Father's house and that He was preparing a place for them.

He told them that if they prayed in faith, He would answer their prayers. He challenged them to believe in Him as they believe in the Father. He proclaimed, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No man cometh to the Father but by me."

He said that those who truly love Him will keep His commandments. He promised his followers that He would give them the Comforter, or the Holy Ghost, to teach them all things. He told them that He was leaving them His peace and asked them not to worry or be afraid.

He urged his followers to love others as He loves us. He challenged them, "Ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full." He prayed that they would be one with He as He was with the Father.

Love, obedience, prayer, faith, Spirit, trust, seeking peace. He gave us the path to peace. Our challenge now is to walk in that path.

© Carol Brown

Sowing and Reaping

I've spent a good portion of my life helping others. Service brings me joy, a sense of purpose, a natural high! I loved caring for my mom during the 31 years she was a widow. Calling her daily, helping her maintain her house and yard, celebrating holidays with her, and taking her out to lunch or on errands was a privilege. I miss her terribly!

Now I am in the position of needing service. My knee is shot, and I can't do yard work or housework like I once could. My children volunteered to help with some heavy-duty yard work this spring, and it has been so hard to accept help! I want to do everything myself. I feel frustrated and sad that I'm not an independent as I'd like to be but also deeply grateful for children who serve willingly when they see a need.

I now realize how difficult it was for my mom to watch me working hard to serve her, even though the work seemed so fun and rewarding at the time. I feel her angst as she saw my husband and I do heavy labor in her behalf. I hope she realized that it was such an honor to serve her. I hope my children feel the same.

Sometime service can be very hard, as I described in my last post about helping my mentally ill relative. But often it is really fun. Volunteering is a classroom, teaching high school students for the Rape Recovery Center, teaching children in our church, taking in a meal to a sick neighbor, visiting an elderly widow, calling a lonely friend, caring for a sick child. These acts require effort, but have brought me great joy.

I've discovered that as we serve others, our own trials seems smaller. As we connect with others and ease their suffering, our own burdens seem lighter. Thanks to all who have lifted my burdens throughout my life, and thanks to those who have allowed me to lift theirs. Service is a path to peace. We walk in the Savior's footsteps as we seek to love and serve others.

© Carol Brown

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Walking in Another's Shoes

Right now I am trying to help a relative who suffers with schizo-affective disorder, bipolar, and PTSD. She is desperately ill and is hard to love at times. During the past two years since she stopped taking her medications, she has done some aweful things. During her psychotic episodes, she's left her car in the middle of a freeway because she thought the motor would attack her. She's thrown away all of her food, thinking it's contaminated, and she's discarded all her family photos, treasures, most of her clothes, dishes, and other belongings. Usually caring and compassionate, she has been aggressive and hostile. I've sought help for her in every possible way, but professionals felt she did not meet the criteria for in-house treatment.

We've all heard the saying, "Before you criticize a man, walk a mile in his moccasins." So many around us carry sorrows that we cannot see. In your neighborhood, there are people suffering with schizophrenia, bipolar illness, anxiety and depression. Others struggle with physical health, financial, or relationship problems. A few are being abused.

When my husband served as a church leader of a group of 800 people for five years, the phone seemed to ring almost constantly. Some people who outwardly appeared fine were carrying heavy burdens. Others who seemed perfect were battling huge demons. I learned that things are seldom as they appear.

So next time you find yourself envying someone who has a "perfect" life or rejecting someone who seems very "imperfect," ask God to help you see beyond the outward appearance. No one is perfect. Each of us at times carries burdens that can be difficult to bear. Many of these burdens are not easily observed.

A kind word. A smile. A friendly gesture. A thank you note. A phone call. Little actions can do so much to ease the burdens of another.

Today my relative's therapist called to tell me my relative is finally getting the help she needs. She will receive long-term in-house care until she is hopefully feeling better. Praise God that someone finally recognized her suffering and has made arrangements to help her.

Paul said, "Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ." May God bless all those who struggle with unbearable, often unrecognizable burdens. And may He give us with the wisdom and strength to help one another bear those heavy loads.

© Carol Brown

This Too Shall Pass

It has been raining in our desert town daily--for weeks. This is atypical for June. We miss the sunshine, but the flowers are thriving, grass is green, and water bills are low. Although we miss sunny spring days, we are blessed with water after many years of drought. Our reservoirs are full.

Life includes storms and sunny seasons. For some, one storm seems to follow another. Others' days are bright with few interruptions of darkness. Many experience some days of storm and sun and other days that seem partly cloudly.

While flying, I am amazed that we can fly above cloudy skies until we reach the bright, clear horizon. Although fierce storms may darken our days, the sun shines beyond our view.

The Son is the Light and Life of the world. Either He will calm the storms we face or give us strength to endure them. We promises that He will never leave us or forsake us.

Abraham Lincoln said, "An Eastern monarch once charged his wise men to invent him a sentence, to be ever in view, and which should be true and appropriate in all times and situations. They presented him the words: 'And this, too, shall pass away.' How much it expresses! How chastening in the hour of pride! How consoling in the depths of affliction!"

Although all the storms of life may not calm until the Son returns, we can trust that He will eventually wipe away all of our tears. Our trials will some day ease. As we trust in God and give our hearts to Him, we will eventually enjoy eternity with our Heavenly King. What glorious news!

© Carol Brown

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Secret to Peace of Mind

We search for peace of mind in so many places. Some seek it through shopping, eating, or numbing themselves with drugs or alcohol. Others hope that continual travel, work, or parties will comfort them.

Paul says that Jesus himself is our peace. What blessed assurance we have in knowing that there is One who can mend our broken hearts, comfort our troubled souls, and ease our sorrowing spirits! God alone has the power to give us peace of mind in a world filled with tribulation and suffering.

So how do we find peace in Jesus? We first learn of Him by reading His words and seeking to live as He lived. We trust that He keeps His promises. He said, "Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid."

Life provides us with opportunities to trust in God: When we lose a job or experience a financial reversal. When a loved one dies. When we feel too sick, tired, or weak to carry on. When a friend or family member betrays us. When we feel no one understands our pain.

Minnie Haskins wrote, "And I said to the one who stood at the gate of the year, 'Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.' And he replied, 'Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the hand of God. That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.'"

I've experienced enough adversity to know that God does understand our pain. As we seek for His help, He will comfort us. As we trust in Him, He will guide our steps and lead us safely home. With Paul, I proclaim, "Thanks be to God for his unspeakable gift."

© Carol Brown

Sunday, June 14, 2009

The Power of Prayer

A few years ago while strolling through the mall, I met a family of refugees from Hurricane Katrina. They had just arrived in our state and were housed with other survivors in an old army barracks. The family consisted of the mother, Antoinette, and her two daughters and two grandchildren. I invited the family to lunch, and they described their harrowing rescue and survival.

Before storm waters poured into their home on August 29, 2005, Antoinette knew her family was a grave danger. She prayed earnestly, asking God what she should do and was inspired to pack formula, diapers, and blankets for the babies, all of their birth certificates and medical records, food for her children, and a change of clothes. She quickly gathered these items and moved her family to the top rooms of her home. When water flooded the lower rooms of their home, she prayed for a speedy rescue.

Rescuers arrived and left them on an interstate highway, where they stayed until they were transported to the Louisiana Superdome. Antoinette kept her little family alive with the food and formula she had packed, since it took several days before supplies arrived. She prayed that her family would be protected from harm as they watched people around them collapsing from dehydration and exhaustion and others being molested. She also prayed that her family would be taken to a safe place.

Eventually, help arrived. Antoinette and her family were escorted to a plane, but they did not know their destination. When they were landing, the pilot announced that they were in Utah. When Antoinette and her children entered Camp Williams and saw the thousands of volunteers waiting for them with food, clothing, bedding, and kindness, she knew her prayers had been answered.

My family decided to "adopt" Antoinette and her family. We found two apartments for them in a safe neighborhood, bought suitcases for them, and helped them get settled. Although church and community groups provided some furniture and kitchen supplies for them, they needed transportation to grocery and department stores to stock up on food, housewares, and bedding. Our friends joined with us to provide them with additional furniture and kitchen supplies that the refugees needed.

Antoinette and her children--who had lost everything but that which really matters--thanked God for their safe arrival in a desert place that offered them safety and shelter. As I helped the girls enroll in school and navigate the bus system, I was impressed by their their courage, family values, and faith. They told me harrowing accounts of gang violence in their neighborhood in New Orleans and described police corruption which made living in their beloved city so difficult. Although they miss their beautiful southern home, they decided to start a new life in the west.

Antoinette taught me that even in our darkest moments, prayers are heard and answered. Through God's amazing grace, she and her family survived one of the worst storms in American history and started a new life in a place that they now call home.

© Carol Brown

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Laughter Is the Best Medicine

Today my 13-year old granddaughter, Katie, was playing with her 6-month old sister, Chloe. A simple peek-a-boo game elicted belly laughs from Chloe. All of us in the car were laughing as we listened to Chloe squeal and giggle with delight.

Scientists and philosophers both know that one of the fastest ways to find peace amid sorrow is to laugh. Laughter is healing, therapeutic, and enlivening. Scientists have discovered that mirthful laughter released two healing hormones: beta-endorphins, which elevate mood, and human growth hormone, which strengthens the immune system. Laughter also decreases three harmful stress hormones: cortisol, epinephrine, and dopac.

Norman Cousins, who was diagnosed with a severe auto-immune disease in the 1970's, decided to fight his disease with laughter. He watched lots of funny movies and hilarious television shows and eventually his disease went into remission. He wrote a book about his experience, Anatomy of an Illness: A Patient's Perspective, which became a best seller and started a new field of medical research and care, known as integrative medicine.

In the Koran, we read, "He deserves Paradise who makes his companions laugh." King Solomon knew the the value of laughter. Almost three thousand years ago, he wrote, "A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones." Nietzche said, “Perhaps I know best why it is man alone who laughs; he alone suffers so deeply that he had to invent laughter.”

Mirthful laughter--which is pure and peaceable--brings joy to the one who is laughing and to those who share in the laughter. Laughter eases grief, mends broken hearts, and binds up wounded souls. Bob Newhart said, "Laughter gives us distance. It allows us to step back from an event, deal with it and then move on."

Today take a few minutes and enjoy a laugh or two.

© Carol Brown

Monday, June 8, 2009

Random Acts of Kindness

Two years ago my husband was rushed by ambulance from a cruise ship to a hospital in Maui. Our cruise ship doctor assured us we would leave the ER before the ship left, but Ken was instead admitted to the hospital for surgery. Our ship left that evening,and on the ship was all of our luggage.

At midnight, a nurse told me I would have to leave because hospital policy did not allow visitors to stay overnight. Housekeepers in the ER had thrown away my husband's shirt and shoes. My cell phone was dying, my husband, Ken, was in a morphine-induced daze, and I was exhausted. I had called every hotel in the area, but all rooms were filled with south-island residents and tourists who were without power because a major storm had hit the island.

A hospital worker overheard my plight and called the hotels near his home in Keihe, a town in the southern part of Maui. A room was available, and he offered to drive me to the hotel after his shift. I gratefully accepted his offer, ignoring everything I had learned as a Rape Recovery Center volunteer. When the burly Polynesian dropped me off at the hotel, he refused any gas money and wished me well. After collapsing into bed, I thanked God for the compassion of a stranger.

The next day, I took a cab to the hospital, where my husband was scheduled for surgery at 6 p.m. The hospital didn't have a cafeteria, and I needed to recharge my cell phone, find a place to stay for the night, and buy Ken a pair of shoes, a shirt and some toiletries. As I filled out forms in the hospital admittance office, a volunteer overheard me talking to the clerk.

The elderly volunteer, Bill, said, "Ma'am, I don't mean to interfere, but it sounds like you could use some help. I can drive you to the mall, find a place that will charge your cell phone, take you to get some food, and find you a place for you to stay if you'd like."

I could have kissed the man's feet.

After talking to the hospital social worker, Bill secured a small apartment for me near the hospital for fifty dollars, drove me to the mall, where I bought Ken some shoes, and found a place that recharged my cell phone free of charge. We stopped by a Subway sandwich place, where I bought a turkey sandwich.

Ken's roommate and his family also befriended us. A world-class extreme surfer, Brett Lickle, had suffered a huge gash in his leg after a wipeout on an 80-foot ocean wave. Brett's wife gave me a muumuu and some toiletries and brought Ken a tee-shirt. We became friends with Brett, his family and friends, including Laird Hamilton, a world-famous surfer.

Ken's surgery didn't start until 8 p.m., and he left the recovery room about midnight. After the surgery, I hugged the doctor, Dr. Patrick Hamilton, who had blessed our lives with his expertise and graciousness. Dr. Hamilton has lasered Ken's huge kidney stone, which had caused Ken's such excruciating pain. He told me that Ken would be released the following day and would probably not feel well enough to fly home.

That night I walked to my apartment and again collapsed into bed, thanking God for the kindness of strangers. The next afternoon before Ken was discharged from the hospital, I booked a hotel room in Oahu and a flight to that island. Bill, a retired pilot, appeared and offered to drive us to a pharmacy and to the airport. He secured a wheelchair for Ken at the airport and gave us advice about maneuvering through the airport. Saying "thank you" seemed inadequate for all that he had done for us, and he refused the money we offered him.

I believe God does watch over us, but He often works through our random--or not so random--acts of kindness. John Wesley said, ""Do all the good you can. By all the means you can. In all the ways you can. In all the places you can. At all the times you can. To all the people you can. As long as ever you can."

Our small act of services can create miracles in the life of another. They can help someone find peace amid suffering. Perhaps some small thing you do today can make a big difference in the life of someone else.

© Carol Brown

Monday, June 1, 2009

Never Alone

We live in a fast-paced world. We hurry to work, appointments, and errands. Airports, freeways, and buses are crowded with people rushing to and from places. In the process, it is easy to lose track of our friends, neighbors, and family. And it is easy to feel forgotten.

As I visit my elderly friends and those who struggle with health issues, they comment that loneliness is one of their most daunting challenges. As we lose our sense of community, some become more isolated and desolate. Mother Teresa said, "Loneliness and the feeling of being unwanted is the most terrible poverty."

Years ago my friend, Arline, lost her husband in combat in Viet Nam. Arline lived far from her home and was devastated by her husband's death. She and her husband had been married for two months. A member of Arline's church left her family for three days and stayed with Arline until her parents arrived. This kind woman held Arlene at night when the darkness felt unbearable and consoled Arlene during the day when she was paralyzed with grief.

Not all of us have such an angelic neighbor, nor are we always as compassionate when we see someone in need. When I cared for my mother during her declining years, I discovered these words of Isaiah and read them to her often: "Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you."

Although we may not have a person who carries us through our grief, we always have One who will. Isaiah said: "In all their distress he too was distressed, and the angel of his presence saved them. In his love and mercy he redeemed them; he lifted them up and carried them all the days of old."

Last week we purchased these piece of Greg Olsen art and hung it in our entryway. It reminds me that we are never alone, that the Savior waits to lift us and carry us as we reach out to Him. It shows His unwavering love and ability to strengthen us when we feel most vulnerable and alone.

M. Louise Haskins wrote, "And I said to the one who stood at the gate of the year, 'Give me a light that I may tread safely into the Unknown.' And he replied, 'Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the hand of God. That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.'"

May we find peace amid sorrow as we remember that we are never alone and that God will sustain, lift, and redeem us as we trust in Him.

© Carol Brown