Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Promote Peace

I just returned from a trip to South Carolina, and the people I met there impressed me. Whether I was in an elevator, restaurant, meeting, or tourist site, the locals were friendly, polite, and kind. They smiled often, spoke warmly, and lived hospitably. One stranger sitting next to me in church even hugged me when I stood up after the meeting. I felt loved and cherished there.

I don’t know how or when South Carolinians started a tradition of graciousness, but it’s worth emulating. Perhaps we could smile more, express appreciation more readily, or say a kind word to someone. Repeated small acts of kindness create a culture of humanity.

In South Carolina courtesy was contagious. I observed that the more friendly people were, the more friendly others became. Tourists and locals alike waved and nodded at one another. Total strangers greeted one another with warmth and respect.

My cousins, Hal and Bev, volunteered for four years in two countries, Samoa and the Ukraine. They delivered humanitarian supplies to hospitals and medical clinics, worked in the schools (my cousin, Hal, is a former superintendent of schools), and organized church activities. They loved the people in both countries, but commented that the Polynesian hospitality felt like pure love. The Samoans willingly shared all they had with family and strangers alike. They gave and received freely and laughed often. They lived happily.

The Ukraine people were generally kind and gracious as well. However, years of living in a Communist dictatorship left some feeling disenfranchised and fearful of others. Some lived in fear and isolation. Hal said, “I loved both cultures but wished I could bottle the Polynesian love and give it to the people of the Ukraine. It would be so healing for them.”

We create the culture in our homes. We can be isolating and critical or warm and welcoming. We can also influence the culture in our neighborhoods, churches, and communities. After becoming an unexpected community activist, I discovered that one person can make a big difference even in a large city. We can set a tone of decency, courtesy, and humanity in our communities by the laws we pass, the ordinances we sustain, and the people we elect. We can make a difference.

I like the song, “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.” Today, let peace begin with you. Do something that promotes peace. Take a plate of cookies or some fresh fruit to a shut-in. Call a neighbor. Make a pot of soup for someone who is ill.

I just finished cooking some homemade chicken noodle soup for a neighbor who’s had double knee replacements. I don’t know how much the family will enjoy the meal, but I hope they feel the love.

© Carol Brown

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Focusing on the Positive

Christian Larson believed that each of us has tremendous power to create a peaceful life. Almost one hundred years ago, he wrote some thoughts that have been entitledthe “Optimist’s Creed.” Caregivers have used these words to comfort people in hospitals and medical settings. Coaches have inspired their team members with Larson's words. This creed was adopted as the Creed of the Optimists International in 1922, and it inspires us to look on the bright side of life and to see the beauty in everyday life. Perhaps a thought or two from his creed will inspire you to find more joy in the journey.

Promise yourself
To be so strong that nothing can disturb your peace of mind.
To talk health, happiness, and prosperity to every person you meet.
To make all your friends feel that there is something worthwhile in them.
To look at the sunny side of everything and make your optimism come true.
To think only of the best, to work only for the best and to expect only the best.
To be just as enthusiastic about the success of others as you are about your own.
To forget the mistakes of the past and press on to the greater achievements of the future.
To wear a cheerful expression at all times and give a smile to every living creature you meet.
To give so much time to improving yourself that you have no time to criticize others.
To be too large for worry, too noble for anger, too strong for fear, and too happy to permit the presence of trouble.
To think well of yourself and to proclaim this fact to the world, not in loud word, but in great deeds.
To live in the faith that the whole world is on your side, so long as you are true to the best that is in you
--Christian D. Larson quoted from Science of Mind 71 (June ,1998): 50.

Today, as we seek to live in the moment and love life, we can choose happiness and peace.

© Carol Brown

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Take a Vacation

There are many ways to take a vacation, and some of them to do not involve travel. My mother was too ill to travel, but she would visualize her perfect vacation, staying in a seaside home (she’d never seen the ocean), touring the Holy Land, or walking along a tropical isle. She returned from her visualized vacations refreshed and renewed.

Even in our everyday lives, we can vacation. We can notice new sights, take a new route to work or on errands, and celebrate the beauties of nature around us. If we pay close attention, we will see amazing sights in the sky, the trees, and the clouds. And it’s all free!

A ride on a bus through your town or city can be a real treat. Spend an hour or two on a week-end seeing the sites with tourist-inspired eyes. Visit a museum. Take a nature walk. Visit a historic area. See the beauty around you.

If you are on a trip, whether it is for work or pleasure, try to enjoy the moment. Take the time to observe varied foliage, the sights and sounds that may be unique to the area, and the people you meet. Ask someone for a recommendation of their favorite local sight. We’re in North Carolina on business right now, and our waitress suggested we visit the old historic main street in Concord. It wasn’t in any tourist guide, but that trip has been the highlight of our visit so far.

You may consider trying to occasionally schedule an afternoon for yourself. Take a long bath, read a good book, or get a massage. Many of us need to slow down and do something kind for ourselves occasionally. It is easy to burn out when we frantically serve others without taking time to nurture ourselves.

Meditating is an excellent way to take a refreshing break. Close your eyes. Break deeply and slowly for a few minutes. Picture a beautiful scene and then imagine yourself hearing the sounds, savoring the fragrances, and walking amid that soothing retreat. Focus your attention on your breathing and then return slowly to reality.

We all need to take an occasional break. For young mothers, that can be challenging, but when your children nap, give yourself permission to rest, relax, and rejuvenate as well. If your children don’t nap, insist on a quiet time each day when they read or play quietly in them rooms and you have a moment for yourself. In this fast-paced world, we all need to take time to enjoy everyday living. Sometimes we have to write ourselves into our busy schedules—even if it is just for a moment or two.

© Carol Brown

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

If I had to live my life over again

Sometimes we procrastinate achieving our dreams until it is too late. Even though it didn’t seem logical at the time (some of my children were still at home and we didn’t have a lot of money), I’m so glad my husband and I went to Israel while both my knees were working well. We hiked Masada, walked miles through Old Jerusalem, and trekked around the Sea of Galilee with abandon. Today, although I’d love to visit Israel again, I wouldn’t be able to walk the miles and climb the hills I previously did with such ease.

Because my dad and mom both became critically ill when I was growing up (my dad died of cancer when I was a teen), I learned early that life is fragile and uncertain. I also realized that some things—especially material stuff—doesn’t matter nearly as much as relationships and memories.

Although I’m not that old, I realize more than ever that all we can really take with us after we die are our love for God and others (including ourselves), our memories, and our attitudes. Our youth disappears, and when we pass away, we leave every single one of our possessions behind, King Tut and Emperor Qin included.

So today, make a good memory. Call a friend. Do something new. Pick a flower (if you can find one that hasn’t frozen.) Celebrate life. Like Erma Bombeck wrote, “If I had to live my life over again….I would have burned the pink candle sculpted like a rose before it melted.”

If I Had to Live My Life Over Again

I'd dare to make more mistakes next time.
I'd relax, I would limber up.
I would be sillier than I have been this trip.
I would take fewer things seriously.
I would take more chances.

I would climb more mountains and swim more rivers.
I would eat more ice cream and less beans.
I would perhaps have more actual troubles,
but I'd have fewer imaginary ones.

You see, I'm one of those people who live
sensibly and sanely hour after hour,
day after day.

Oh, I've had my moments,
And if I had it to do over again,
I'd have more of them.
In fact, I'd try to have nothing else.
Just moments, one after another,
Instead of living so many years ahead of each day.

I've been one of those people who never goes anywhere
without a thermometer, a hot water bottle, a raincoat
and a parachute.
If I had to do it again, I would travel lighter than I have.

If I had my life to live over,
I would start barefoot earlier in the spring
and stay that way later in the fall.
I would go to more dances.
I would ride more merry-go-rounds.
I would pick more daisies.
---attributed to Nadine Stairs, an 85-year-old Kentucky woman

Without hanging onto guilt or second-guessing everything you’ve ever done, what things would you change if you could live your life over again?

I would have spent a lot more time playing with my children and less time cleaning house. I would have said “no” to more stressful stuff and “yes” a lot more to fulfilling activities and family fun. I would have tried to impress people less (most aren’t noticing how amazing your clothes/clean house/accomplishments are anyway) and love others more unconditionally. I would have been kinder to myself and others.

© Carol Brown

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Looking for the Silver Lining

My friend Suzanne is a born optimist. She can find blessings when many see only obstacles. I stayed with her the day she had a hip replacement and amid her pain, she joked with aides, thanked every nurse and doctor profusely, smiled and laughed, and made everyone’s day happier. Her favorite symbol is a yellow smiley face.

Today I spoke with Suzanne on the phone. She’s had two hips replaced now, has broken both of her femur bones and now has plates and screws in them, and she’s still smiling. Some of us may not be naturally optimistic like Suzanne, but we can still train ourselves to find peace amid sorrow. Job did that. Everything was taken from him. His children died, his friends mocked him, his wife ridiculed him, he suffered terribly and lost all of his possessions, yet He proclaimed, “I know that my Redeemer lives and that in the end he will stand upon the earth. And, after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God.”

Consider a few situations that some face. Notice how they can either focus on the blessing or the burden.

I feel so lonely. No one calls or visits me. I’m so grateful I have the time to visit those who are lonely, sick, or shut-in. It’s such a blessing to have the time to reach out to those needing my love. I’m thankful God has given me the time to develop my talents and serve others.

People have hurt and disappointed me. I can’t trust anyone. All of us make mistakes, but most people are trying their best to live good lives. Since I want people to love me with all my flaws, I can choose to love others with all of their failings as well. When others disappoint me, I can always trust God because He knows and loves me perfectly. He is my Rock, my true Friend, and my Redeemer.

My life lacks purpose and meaning. I feel my life is insignificant. God is no respecter of persons. He loves each of us perfectly and powerfully. My life has great purpose because I am a child of God. As I trust in Him, He will use me as His instrument to accomplishment His great work. Nothing that I do is insignificant, for God accomplishes his great work by small and simple means.

Satan has attacked my in every one of these areas this week. I’ve felt tired and sad because of my son’s illness, and I’ve found myself slipping into some negative thinking patterns. Many of us struggle to maintain a close walk with God and to constantly feel His love for us. Even cheerful Suzanne needs to be reminded at times of her great worth. Since we’re close friends, we call each other often, and we cheer each other up when we’re feeling down. This week she’s my cheerleader. Sometimes, I have been hers.

Today may you feel God’s perfect love for you. May you be enfolded in the arms of His love during your darkest hours, and may you remember that our Redeemer does live.

© Carol Brown

Sunday, October 18, 2009

This too will pass

My youngest son was born with a weak immune system and was very ill for the first eight years of his life. Suddenly, he became stronger and was able to attend school, graduate, and attend the university. Now he is an adult, and he has been very ill for over 4 ½ months now. After CT scans, myriads of doctor and specialist visits, tests, and medications, he is still sick. We feel very frustrated because doctors do not know yet know what is causing his illness. Since he is a young man and has been married for only a year, I feel concerned that we will lose his job, that he will not get well, that his marriage will weaken, and that he will become progressively sicker.

Since I find it easy to worry and lose sleep when my children suffer, I find it difficult at times to keep my faith strong and to not dissolve into a frazzled mess when I see my loved ones in pain. Sometimes I’m stronger than others, but here are a few things that keep me from falling apart right now.

I know God loves my son and that He cares deeply for Him. Although not every sick person is healed, I know that God will heal my son if it is His will, and if it is not, I know He is watching over Him. If a sparrow does not fall without God knowing and if God counts every hair of our heads, I know he is aware that my son is very sick and needs help. I continue to pray for a miracle, trusting that God knows what is best for my son.

I remind myself that this, too, shall pass. I try to remind myself often that in the eternal scheme of things, life is a brief snippet in time. Although suffering to us seems to drag on endlessly, it will eventually end. God promises that He will wipe away all of our tears when we return to Him. I like to cling onto that promise at times like this.

I try to cast my cares upon the Lord through prayer. That doesn’t mean I don’t spent lots of time researching my son’s condition online nor does it mean that I don’t still have times of worry and sorrow, but prayer keeps me sane. Since my husband travels extensively and since all of my extended family have passed away, I lean heavily on the Lord for support during trying times. I know He loves me even when I do not understand all things.

Thanks for reading my blog, and please understand if I don’t write as much right now. Family matters take precedence. And, please, if you have a spare moment, please sent up a prayer or two for my son, David. I believe strongly in the power of prayer and would appreciate yours right now in behalf of my son.

If you want me to pray for you or your family member, please let me know in your comments.

© Carol Brown

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Tapesty

My friend, Ford, was diagnosed with stage four colon cancer ten years ago. He was given a few months to live, but has survived for ten years. Today he and his wife learned that recent chemotherapy treatments have failed to stop the tumors that are growing in his pelvis and lungs. After enduring multiple surgeries, rounds of radiation and chemotherapy, and years of suffering, Ford and Dianne now face the hard reality that Ford’s options for being physically healed are running out.

So what do Ford and Dianne do after hearing this terrible news? They walk over to my home, knock on my door, and sing “happy birthday” to me. They bring me a card, homemade raspberry jam, and their priceless gift of love. Amid their unspeakable sorrow, they bring me joy and love.

Dianne recently wrote a book about the experiences of the past ten years. It’s entitled “Each Day Is a Blessing,” and I can’t wait to read it when it is published. Dianne keeps a journal, and she referred to it as she recounted the grief, despair, miracles, joys, and learning experiences that have filled the past ten years of her life. She talks about how prayer, laughter, faith, a positive attitude, and patience have helped her through the tough times. She writes, “Find joy in the simple and beautiful pleasures of life: a glorious sunrise, a breathtaking sunset, a rainbow, God’s creatures in all their varieties, the different seasons of the year, the list goes on and on! These are the things that just make my heart want to burst with happiness. When I experience one of these moments, I say, ‘Now this is living!’”

Imagine your life as a tapestry. From the back side of the tapestry, you see God weaving in a brown thread here, a beige thread there, then a grey thread, and suddenly a blue one. Because you are looking underneath the weaving, you can’t understand why God is choosing to change the colors and the yarns. Then you see a knot, a tangle, a frayed edge, and you think, “God doesn’t know what He’s doing. He is making a mess of life."

Eventually, you see the tapestry of your life from the top. You view a magnificent work of art with every thread woven perfectly in placed. You realize that during those times that you thought your life was a mess, God was making a masterpiece. You see that with each stitch and with each piece of yarn, God was weaving a beautiful work of art.

After their valiant and courageous battle with cancer, Ford and Dianne are learning a final lesson: acceptance. They realize the life does not always work out as we would choose. They know that although God sees the big picture, we do not.

Dianne says, “I have learned that God is the One in charge of Ford’s life. I don’t have a say in the Lord’s decision, so to accept whatever He feels is best for Ford, I need to be on the same page and not fight against His will. After all, I want what is best for my sweetheart too! This is the toughest lesson for me to learn, and I’m still working on it."

When we place our lives in God’s hands, none of our threads of experience are useless. God weaves our suffering, sorrows, and joy and love into a glorious creation. As we surrender to His will, He will make masterpieces of our lives. As we give our hearts to God, we allow Him to transform us from sinners to saints. We allow Him to make us whole.

© Carol Brown

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Stop Blaming Others

Khadijah Williams grew up homeless in Los Angeles. She and her mother moved from shelter to shelter, sometimes sleeping on the streets at night if the shelter was full. She was surrounded by prostitutes, drug users, and criminals. Moving from school to school, some years she missed weeks—and even months—of schooling while her mother searched for housing.

In third grade, Khadijah made a decision that changed her life. She decided to study hard, learn everything she could, and excel in school. She decided that her circumstances would not determine her destiny.

When she started her junior year of high school, Khadijah realized that she could no longer continue moving constantly and succeed in school. She got up at 4 a.m., caught a city bus in Las Angeles, and attended high school, returning to the shelter late at night after she finished her homework. She graduated from high school with high honors and received full scholarships to many prestigious universities. She is now enrolled as a freshman at Harvard, where she plans to study law.

Khadijah Williams does not blame her mother for her challenging childhood. She is grateful that her mom never used drugs, did not smoke or drink, and that her mom encouraged her pursuit of academic excellence. She does not feel anger towards her mother because she was unwilling or unable to provide her children with a stable, comfortable home.

It’s easy to blame others for our self-defeating choices. We may think, “Since that guy cut me off in traffic, he made me lose my temper.” “Since my mom (or dad) was an imperfect parent, they caused me to make bad choices.” “Since my boss/neighbor/friend/family member said or did something that I don't like, they forced me speak/act/live in anger/bitterness/fear.”

The truth is this: no one can force you to become something that you do not want to be. We are free to choose love, peace and compassion or we can choose hate, fear, and apathy. The choice is ours and ours alone.

In his book Man’s Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl, a concentration camp survivor, states, “ Everything can be taken from a man or a woman but one thing: the last of human freedoms, to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way.”He also states, “When we are no longer able to change a situation--we are challenged to change ourselves.”

Taking responsibility for our lives, emotions, and actions can be both freeing and terrifying. When we can no longer blame anyone for our thoughts, words, and actions, we become powerful masters of our own lives. Regardless of our circumstances, childhood, and challenges, we are free to create lives of beauty, goodness, and happiness. For some, this may feel frightening, since they can no longer use others as their scapegoat for their self-defeating choices or bad behavior.

Some of the most miserable people I know blame others for their choices. “If I hadn’t been so poor growing up, I wouldn’t be addicted to shopping,” one woman says. “If my dad hadn’t been so abusive, I wouldn’t be filled with so much anger and bitterness,” a man states. “If my mom hadn’t been so strict, I wouldn’t be drinking and rebelling right now,” a woman explains.

One of the most critical choices we can make is to decide to live responsibly. Since each of us has amazing talents, gifts, and abilities, we have the innate potential to become powerful forces for good in the world. We cannot fulfill our unique mission in life if we are consumed with bitterness, blame, and anger. As we free ourselves from these negative emotions, we can live peacefully in the moment and find joy in the journey.

© Carol Brown

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Blessings of Change

Life constantly transforms itself. Seasons come and go. Animals are born, mature, and die. Amid the constancy of God’s infinite love, we are always changing.

God allows His children the opportunity to change from sin-based to spiritually-based living. He gives us the gift of choice—to choose to become more or less like Him by the thoughts we select, the words we speak, and the actions we repeat. He gives us the tools for our journey: prayer, the Spirit, his words, and our own divine nature.

Consider the many miracles the Savior performed. He turned rebels into righteous followers, transformed prostitutes into pure disciples, and changed weak, sinful men and women into courageous, faithful leaders. Peter, who rejected the Savior, eventually led the Church. Paul, who ordered the stoning of Christ’s followers, became one of Jesus' most ardent apostles. Mary Magdalene and the Samaritan women who met Jesus at the well both knew the transformative power of the Savior’s powerful love. When we surrender our lives to God, He makes sinners into saints.

How do we change from sinner to saint? We give our hearts to God and allow Him to work His mighty miracles in our lives. When we do so, He promises, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you. I will remove your stubborn hearts and give you obedient hearts.” Paul taught, “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.”

I have seen God take troubled teens and turn them into powerful Church leaders. I have watched Him transform fearful, timid women and men into bold teachers of truth. I have felt Him working in my own life—helping me to become more patient, kind, and gentle. The lessons have often been painful and difficult, but God allows me to learn, even when I am not always the most able or willing student.

When my husband led our Church congregation of 800 souls, a woman rebelled from everything that she knew to be true. She engaged in adulterous relationships, breaking the hearts of her husband, children, and family. Eventually, she divorced her husband and invited into her home a man who was already married. My husband counseled with this woman and her lover, and after several years, the couple decided to give their hearts to God. They experienced godly sorrow for their actions and eventually turned from sin to virtue.

Today they are among the most selfless, compassionate people I know. They devote their energy and their means to blessings the lives of others. They have new hearts and have become new creatures in Christ. Once despised by them, my husband is now loved and honored by this couple, who have even asked him to speak at their funerals.

Because we are created in the image of God, He longs to help us become more like Him. He will guide us day by day, step by step in paths of peace. He will teach us how to find joy amid sorrow as we seek to walk in His footsteps.

God has given us the power to choose—to choose Him or to choose something else. He promises He will eventually bless us with everything that He has if we give our hearts to Him. He gives us so much and asks for so little.

© Carol Brown

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Healing the Brokenhearted

I learned at an early age that life is very difficult. Losing my father to cancer when I was a teen, I discovered that no one is immune from suffering. Throughout my life, I’ve been inspired by those who endure great trials with grace and faith.

When I was a young mother, my close friend and neighbor, Sheri, delivered a baby girl who had severe congenital problems. The baby had a cleft palate, club feet, malformed eyes, and a brain with only the brain stem that functioned. Doctors told Sheri that her baby, whom she named Hope, had days to live, but tiny Hope lived for several months.

As I saw Sheri holding her tiny baby, I felt overwhelmed with grief, knowing that she would soon part with her fragile angel. Sheri had a strong faith in Jesus Christ and knew that her baby, whose time on earth was short, would be resurrected and that she would see her again. Sheri inspired me as she endured the heartbreaking loss of her infant with grace and faith.

Life can be very difficult. Many suffer terribly. Children are sometimes abused in horrific and unspeakable ways. Some homes, communities, and countries are oppressed by some who choose brutality and cruelty. Although some escape major suffering, most of us will know some tragedy during our lives. Some of us will experience times of great sorrow.

Sometimes we feel brokenhearted. Reasons that we experience intense sorrow vary. Sometimes we experience loss, broken dreams, or betrayal. We may have lost a home, a job, a friend, or a loved one. We may find that mental or physical illness threatens to destroy our independence, self-esteem, or peace of mind. Sin in its multitude of disguises may ensnare us with guilt, self-loathing, or addiction.

One of my favorite descriptions of the Savior’s mission is when he tells us he came to “to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners.” I believe the Savior binds up our broken hearts and free is from the captivity of sin and sorrow in three ways.

First, He understands our pain. “Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

Isn’t it comforting to know that God empathizes with our pain because He has already experienced it? That is so comforting! When we talk to Him, He listens perfectly and understands completely.

Next, we know that suffering is temporary but permanent peace is possible because of Christ’s infinite sacrifice. Because Christ conquered death, we will all rise again. We can trust that this, too, will pass. We read, “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable. But now is Christ risen from the dead…even so in Christ shall all be made alive."

Finally, Christ heals us. He waits to forgive our sins. He longs to bind up our broken hearts. He lives to free us from the bondage of fear, anger, bitterness, or addiction. Isaiah teaches:

Surely he took up our infirmities
and carried our sorrows
yet we considered him stricken by God,
smitten by him, and afflicted....
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was upon him,
and by his wounds we are healed.

I have learned that Christ does heal our wounded hearts. Sometimes we have to still our hearts enough to allow the healing to begin. Often, healing takes time, faith, and patience. Some healing may not occur in this life but in the next—but it will come, according to God’s will and His timetable.

This has been a difficult year for me. One of my adult children has made choices that have broken my heart, but I know God loves that child and that He will bind up my broken heart—and my child’s—if we will trust in Him. This blog, which I wrote to help others, is now helping me. That is part of Christ’s mission, for as we seek to bless others, He blesses us. As we give, so we receive. Thanks for reading the blog and commenting. What I started as a means of serving others has become my solace as well.

© Carol Brown