Sunday, December 21, 2008

O Little Town of Bethlehem

Christmas is my favorite holiday. I love the feeling of the season. I love the music, which I confess to listening to whenever I need an uplift no matter what month. I love The Savior Jesus Christ and the chance the season gives us to reflect on Him.

One of my favorite Christmas memories occurred in early April. Unusual for a Christmas memory I know, but that was the time that I was able to actually go to Bethlehem.

It is a lovely little city, and is very touristy. It was rather crowded and the line to get in to see the stable where Christ was possibly born and laid in a manger was long. But, I enjoyed it quite a bit. Like I said it was touristy and they had several shops that catered to the Christian visitors. I took the opportunity to purchase a baby blanket in one of those shops. I will tell you more about that in a bit. But, I enjoyed the city and had some sweet memories of seeing what an actual stable must have looked like at the time, a cave really.

But, the memory that sticks with me the most is the experience we had the night before. My classmates and I went to a field that overlooks the city of Bethlehem. It is called Shepherd’s Field. As a clear night fell we sang Christmas songs and listened to the Christmas story. I gazed out over the city and could just imagine a new star. In fact maybe my heart actually did see it. Whenever I hear the Christmas story or Christmas songs I find my mind and heart going back there. It is a lovely memory that words just don’t do justice for. There was not a new star that night, but there was a new light in my heart and it has stayed with me. Jesus Christ the Savior of the World is the source of that light.

Now about that baby blanket. I made the decision to give it to my parents. We have a tradition in our Church that newborns are given a blessing usually by their father’s. I gave the blanket to my parents with the express purpose that each one of their grandchildren could receive that blessing wrapped in a baby blanket from Bethlehem. I have been able to attend some but not all of my nieces and nephews blessings. But, there is a part of me that is always there. It is like they get wrapped in a special embrace from Aunt Sarah.

It’s just a blanket. But, it has been made special, made holy by the little beautiful souls it embraces.

Bethlehem is just a city. The stable was just a cave. The manger was just a manger. But, it was made holy by the little beautiful soul that it embraced that sacred holy day. Christ is the reason for all goodness. He makes places and things and all of us holy, sacred and beautiful. Let His light continue to guide you, me and all of us to His love, healing, forgiveness and life. Our gift to Him is our hearts.
Merry Christmas and God Bless

Friday, December 19, 2008

Holding the Center

The phrase "the center cannot hold" is one I have repeated to quite a few people lately, in reference to the division of opinions in this country. I knew the quote was from someone famous but I confess I first heard it on Kim Possible. Great show!

Anyway I finally looked it up, it is from a poem by William Butler Yeats entitled "The Second Coming." He wrote it in relation to the devastation that was World War I. For him at that time it must have felt like the world was coming apart and maybe even coming to an end.

Now, I don't think things are as bad for us as they must have looked for Yeats but it does feel like there is a battle of ideology going on between Conservatives and Liberals, the right and the left.

I picture it like a massive tug of war, with each side pulling mightily. If the center does not hold we all fall down. The more we keep cutting at each other, it is like taking swipes at the rope and making it easier for the center to snap. Now I could go into all sorts of analogies with this, but my viewpoint as of this moment is that we all need to take a deep breath and knock off all of the attacking.
I truly believe that the vast majorities of Americans love this country and want what is best for all of us. We just have different ideas of how to go about it. On both sides we need to acknowledge the good intentions.

I'm not delusional enough to think there are not some who do wish harm to America and it's people. But, there is so much goodness in the nation. The more that we can recognize and engender goodness the less effect these harm doers can have.
I also firmly believe that Conservative values are going to be the principles that best guide this nation. But, one of my personal values is to value other people, their perspectives and ideas.

Another line from Yeats poem "The best lack all conviction while the worst are full of passionate intensity." Let's not go there. State your views be who you are, and respect one another's point of view. For the center to hold the best need to take strength in each other from all sides. Stand up for what is good, and reach out to others in the process. We all want this nation to continue to succeed.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Responsibility, a Gift

Several years ago I worked as a Behavioral Health Technician at a substance abuse treatment facility. It was and still is my honor to have worked in that environment. The individuals I worked with were in what I called "the trenches of repentance." They were people that were trying to change their lives. There was one day in particular that it struck me how I was getting the blessing of knowing them without the mask of drugs and alcohol, and they were beautiful.

The vast majority of those individuals had gone through very difficult situations and suffering. I was able to lead a lot of group discussions. One of my favorite ones was a discussion on faith. I would ask the group two questions that always got similar answers whenever the discussion on faith came up. The first question I asked was "Does God have the ability to take away all of your suffering?" The answer was always a resounding yes. The second question I asked was "Then why doesn't He?" The responses to this question were invariably along the lines of "so that we can learn." or "so that He can help us to be better people." or "so, we can get something good out of something bad."

These groups understood that God will make something good out of us and our trials, and that a necessary part of that is facing up to our responsibilities, facing the consequences. Repentance is an amazing gift it brings us back in line with God and restores us to integrity with Him. But, God in His wisdom allows us to face consequences good and not so good so that we can grow, and so that He can make us better if we let Him. Mercy and Justice are both gifts, and part of that is responsibility. God is perfect and His wisdom provides a pattern for us to follow.

It seems like in this country we face a crisis of not wanting to take responsibility. From things as simple as fast food, where we don't take responsibility for making our own meals (I fully confess to doing this quite a bit), to things as serious as abortion. It seems to plague the nation’s conscious. This is one of my big beefs with the whole bailout process. The best answer for these companies is to let it play out. I don't want people to lose their jobs. But, it seems that throwing money at the businesses and at Wall Street has not made a dent.

I think something good can come out of all of this, but the process of responsibility must be trusted. It's a gift. We can get through an economic crisis. We have gotten through worse and the country has become better for it. We trust in God, and we will be better as we trust in His process.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

A Servant's Heart

In an interview that aired on December 9th on CTV Governor Palin responded to the question about her political future and possible run at the presidency in 2012:

"Some days politics makes me roll my eyes and say 'I don't know if politics are in my future.' and it's certainly not the be all, end all for me personally.
If there are platforms, opportunities for me to be able to effect positive change in people's lives, whether that's political or another venue I will embrace that.
But, I don't know if its going to be in politics or running for president in '12."

This has quickly become my favorite quote from the Governor. This is one of the reasons that I admire her. She is somebody who has that servant's heart. She wants to serve the people. She wants to do that in whatever way she can. What will her future be? Who knows, but I think it is pretty clear that whatever she does she will be successful because she will be doing it for the right reason. We ought to all follow that kind of example.

I'm someone who likes to work with people and hopefully help them. I love my job as a mental health therapist. One of my core principles is that everyone has a story and everyone has a voice, and we all deserve to be heard. Another core principle I have is that my most basic relationship with my clients, and with everybody is that I am their sister. So, the question I ask myself is what can I do in my life that will be the most beneficial for my brothers and sisters?

I am so blessed to know so many good people who have taught me these kinds of principles.

This nation is full of goodness because it is full of good people. "Let us be excellent to each other." to quote a movie.

Thanks to all the good people in my life. God Bless.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Winning the Silver

I like sports, especially the Olympics. So, I will write about some sport topic from time to time.

Do you remember Lindsey Jacobellis? She was a U.S. snowboarder in the snowboard cross event, competing in the 2006 Torino Olympics. In the gold medal race she held a substantial lead as most of her competitors had fallen. On the last jump she reached out and grabbed her board. This moment of excitement caused her to fall. Watching that race I remember jumping out of my seat and yelling at the T.V. "get up! get up!" She did get up, but had already been passed by another competitor. Lindsey won the silver. Boy did sports commentators have a field day with this. They were all talking about the importance of not show boating, and making sure all the kids learned that lesson. Lindsey was really derided. I thought she actually handled the after-effects with quite a lot of class. But, I became frustrated because I felt like they were all missing the bigger lesson. To me the lesson was that every last one of us makes mistakes. But, its what we do afterwards that is more important. Lindsey got back up, and she claimed her prize. She won, I repeat, WON the silver medal. I wish we could all draw on that, we ought to listen to that voice that says "get up! get up!" after we fall.

Did you know that the refinement process for silver is actually much more strenuous than it is for gold? Watching silver medalists has reminded me of this. So, often you win the silver medal by losing the gold medal match. That can be pretty heart breaking. But, I always appreciate it when the silver medalists are gracious, like the U.S. women's soccer team in the 2000 Sidney games. They were very bummed when they lost the gold medal match in overtime, but they were also incredibly gracious. There are a ton of really great examples.

My favorite silver medalists of all time was Matt Ghaffari in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. He was born in Iran, but had become a U.S. citizen. He was a young man who loved his country dearly and so much wanted to win the gold for the USA. In the 130 kg final of Greco-Roman wrestling he was matched up against Alexander Karelin of Russia. Karelin was amazing and Matt lost a tough match. On the medal stand Matt just sobbed. When asked later why he was so emotional he talked about how when he saw the flag it broke his heart that he wasn't hearing his own national anthem.
A few days later the infamous Olympic bombing occurred. Matt Ghaffari went to the hospital to visit the injured. He took his silver medal with him and let the victims hold and wear his medal while he spoke with them and encouraged them. He turned a heart breaking experience into a service, and you could see the joy on his face as he served the people. I was and still am very touched by that.

Sometimes we come up short and win the silver. But, sometimes that victory can mean more than winning the gold especially if you let yourself come out better for it.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

To Compassion

One of my favorite life experiences is the semester that I spent in Jerusalem in 1997. I could go on and on, and have done so to family and friends, about the great times I had there.

Some of my favorite experiences were cultural ones. I loved walking around the city and seeing what life was like there. The Open Air Market was a fun place to go. I had never seen fish so fresh that their gills were still working. That was the place I bought the Kipba's for my father and brothers. There was some really great food there that we wanted to try. When we asked how much it would cost for just one piece of food rather than a bag full, the vendor kindly and/or smartly just gave it to us.

My classmates and I frequented Ben Yahuda street. On one of the corners there was a Kosher pizza shop. I remember it because my friends and I had a conversation about how good a Kosher pizza would be considering that you don't mix cheese and meat. Right around the corner was a jewelry shop. I still wear the ring I got there, with my name engraved in Hebrew.

Our campus was minutes away by foot from Hebrew University. That was a fun place to go also. There were of course alot of college aged people there and it was great to interact with them. I still sometimes wear my Hebrew University shirt.

They are great memories among many others. But, they are accompanied by other memories I had after returning to the United States.

Words cannot fully describe how I felt when I learned that the Open Air Market had been bombed. It was a feeling of shock and sadness. I knew the place and remembered the feel of it, the sights, sounds and even smells. That was the first time I had seen a place I had a strong connection to violently attacked.

Then Ben Yahuda street was bombed. I watched the news again with that sense of shock. They talked about a pizza shop next to a jewelry shop that had been at the center of the attack. The faces of the shop owners were in my mind.

Later I was glued to the T.V. again as Hebrew University was bombed and kept wondering aloud with a sense of numb disbelief "how could they attack a school?"
I did not feel terror, I felt an enourmous weight of sadness and reality.

I despise terrorism with a passion. I've witnessed its destructive power over places and people that I care about deeply. When I see terrorism strike other places, those memories come flooding back, along with those same feelings of despising terrorism and that heavy weight of sadness.

But, there is another set of feelings that also come, compassion and empathy. My heart goes out to those who suffer.

There is a sign just outside the entrance to The Garden Tomb in Jerusalem. It says "Pray for the Peace of Jerusalem." I do. I also pray for Mumbai. I pray for the peace and consoling of all those who suffer at the hands of the great evil of terrorism.

I pray that those who suffer will feel that they are not just in God's hands but in His arms. He can take horrible events and make us better people out of it. He gave me the gift of compassion. For that I am forever grateful, and try to pass it on.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

On Being Part Native

Let me just say this right from the start. I do not claim to be Native American. I don't know what it is truly like to grow up Native. But, my Grandmother was Native. She passed away when I was quite young. My memories of her are pretty vague. I cannot ever recall her talking about being Native American.

Several years ago I was in Phoenix Arizona completing my Master's degree in Counseling. I was given the opportunity to be a practicum student at an organization called Native American Connections, a substance abuse treatment facility.
I cannot hardly begin to tell what a blessing it was for me. I ended up being formally hired by the company so, I spent a couple of years with them.

It was a blessing for several reasons, one of which was the connection to my own heritage. It was not something I brought up much, being part Native. However, when it did come up people would jokingly ask "which part your big toe?"

As I said having a Native American Grandmother does not automatically make me a Native, or give me some special understanding. But, I'll never forget how it felt to hear the drums for the first time. It went straight to my heart, and I felt connected to Grandma in a way I never had before.

The Native American culture is incredibly diverse. I think the average American tends to lump the groups together. But, one of my favorite activities working there was to hear the cultural presentations. It was fun to learn about the different tribal histories and traditions. But, it was also fun to see how interested the group members were in each other's cultures.

I got to be a group leader often, which I loved. I also got to be the co-leader occasionally, just being there to support and back up the leader. One of my most memorable groups was a video presentation concerning the relocation of Native children into boarding schools. The presentation focused on the lasting effects of this forced re-location, including their parenting styles. Following the video a slightly heated discussion started. That is understandable, this was not exactly the United States' best moment. I was the co-leader, and content to let the leader take charge. However, she turned to me in an attempt to diffuse the situation, and asked what I thought of the video from a "white perspective." I was not usually at a complete loss for words in group, but I sure was then. The entire video I was thinking of Grandma. She was one of those kids taken from her home on the Turtle Mountain Reservation in North Dakota and put into a boarding school in Oregon. There she was punished for speaking any language other than English. She did not speak English when she first arrived. I actually know very little else about her experience there. But, watching that video I thought about how that experience influenced the way she raised my father, and then in turn how he raised me. My "white perspective" was just a little bit skewed. I actually just played the no comment card on that occasion, but the experience sunk into my heart.

We are a collection of ours and our ancestors experiences. It is so important to understand that about ourselves and about the other's around us. I hope that Conservatives continue to value and grow in their understanding of minority populations in the nation. It is imperative that we give voice to any person who holds the same Conservative ideals regardless of their background.

I was privileged to hear so many life stories. Many of those stories were sad and difficult not to become emotional hearing. In fact a lot of times it felt like my heart broke. But, I also heard about and saw experiences of redemption that touched my heart.

One of those great things about Americans is that we can heal. That was such a beautiful thing to witness, and to feel in my own heart.

I'm so grateful to have had those experiences. Somewhere along the line it came up again that I was part Native, and was asked "which part your big toe?" Given the experiences I had had, and the ways in which my soul was moved, I was kind of surprised but not really when I replied automatically, "no, my heart."

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Of Fallen Kings and Redefining Humanity

I'm one of those religious people who tries to learn from the Scriptures and apply it to today. Weird huh? So, let's talk about a Scripture story.

David. You remember him, good guy. He took out Goliath with a sling and a stone. He was anointed by a prophet of God to be the king over the United Tribes of Israel. Usually when you think of David you think of his defeat of the giant. But, I also think alot can be learned from his downfall.

What did David do that caused his downfall? Most people would cite his adulterous relationship with Bathsheba. Reading about the circumstances that led to that sin one can certainly see several things David could have done differently. For heavens sake if you see the woman bathing, have some decency and get off the roof. But, I digress. David committed adultery. But, I believe that there is a pathway back into the good graces of God. It is called repentance. David could have chosen to own up to his sin and start on the pathway to true and cleansing repentance.

But, David did something worse. Bathsheba ended up pregnant. David tried to cover it up unsuccessfully. He then essentially resorted to murder. He had Bathsheba's husband Uriah strategically placed in battle so that he would be killed during the fight. And that shall we say is the rest of the story. David resorted to having an innocent person killed, so he would not have to take responsibility for his previous actions. This destroyed him. He suffered the consequences of it for the rest of his life.

I submit that this story has quite to do with one of the great social ills of our age, the accepted and defended practice of abortion. Abortion as it is practiced now is the killing of an innocent being in order to avoid the consequence and responsibility of previous actions.

If and when we do get rid of the practice I believe that 150 years later society will look back at the practice with the same repugnancy and disgust that we look back on slavery now.

Why bring up slavery? Well, I see some similarities. Those who continued to promote this evil practice rationalized it in several ways. One of the particularly eye-opening ways was in the redefinition of humanity. A slave was considered 1/3 of a person. Basically slaves were not viewed as a viable human being so they could be treated however anyone would like. That is completely offensive and disgusting, but it was a social reality.

Pro-choice activists refer to babies in the womb as fetuses, not viable humans. This provides rationale for their being treated in whatever way a person chooses. It provides for a person to rationalize denying a tiny human life in order to, as David did, absolve themselves of responsibility for previous actions.

Many pro-choice activists tout the necessity for abortion for health reasons or in response to rape and incest. I agree abortion may be an appropriate choice in those circumstances. However, looking at the majority of the excuses of abortion medical necessity and rape or incest are an exceedingly small percentage. No, the vast majority do as David they try to escape consequences and responsibility. However, just as it did with David those actions stay with a person for the rest of their life.

I've heard the argument before asking if pro-lifers would be willing to take responsibility for all the children of unwanted pregnancies. That is such an ignorant argument. One who brings that up is completely ignoring how many parents there are who desperately want to adopt. These "unwanted" children are anything but.

In my work as a counselor this has been something I have unfortunately come across. The pain of an abortion procedure is not merely physical, the emotional ramifications are large and lasting.

There is no rationale or justification that can be abided in the matter. Choose life. The consequences of that choice? peace and good conscious.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

What's Great About America

I'm a counselor. It is pretty great work. I enjoy it a great deal. One of the things that mental health professionals are sometimes asked to do is diagnose individuals with mental health disorders. That has never been one of my favorite parts. I really don't like labeling much.

But, there is a shift towards more positive psychology now days. I was intrigued with the Character Strengths and Virtues (CSV) assessment that came out a couple of years ago. It is used to help clients first identify their strengths and positive attributes. The client and counselor then can work together to identify how those strengths can be used to overcome the difficulties they are facing. It's brilliant!

Watching elections get negative is frustrating for me. No one likes to see the candidate they support get slammed by the other campaign and the media. I confess, somewhat sheepishly, that for a moment during this last election, I wanted to move to Guatamala or some place. But I said to myself, "Self, America has so much goodness, so many great people, and great American values."

I propose a campaign that focuses on "What's Great About America!" Get stories from every single state highlighting the strengths and virtues of this country. The virtues identified in the CSV assessment are wisdom/knowledge, courage, humanity, justice, temperance, and transcendence. Then within each virtue are any number of strengths.

Having identified America's strengths the campaign could then focus on using those strengths to work on overcoming problems. Wouldn't that be a breath of fresh air? I would love to see the goodness of America broadcast, shouted out. Remember you cannot strengthen the weak by weakening the strong. Instead use those American muscles to strengthen the nation all around. There is so much greatness. Let's put it to work.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Touching the Monuments

Veteran's day is coming up. I have some personal thoughts on our Veterans.

Some of the best lines of our patriotic hymns are not in the 1st or best known verses. When I sing the National Anthem I often slip into singing my favorite verse. . .

O thus be it ever when free men shall stand
Between their loved homes and the wars desolation
Blessed with victory and peace may the heav'n rescued land
Praise the power that has made and preserved us a nation
And if conquer we must, when our cause it is just
And this be our motto in God is our trust
And the Star Spangled Banner forever shall wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave

See what I mean? Pretty stiring and very meaningful.

It has not been my priviledge yet to go to Washington D.C. and visit the monuments there. When I do get there though one of my first stops will be the Vietnam Memorial Wall. I get emotional even thinking about it. My father served in the Air Force in Vietnam. It is not something he talks about much except to tell us the fun ghost stories. But, I know his service to his country is one of the things he cherishes most. I honor him and all the brave men and women who have served, are currently serving, or will ever serve.

Dad has not been to D.C. either as far as I know. But, thankfully there is a Moving Wall memorial. It is an exact replica of the Vietnam Memorial Wall only smaller and able to travel. My mom convinced my dad to go, though he did not want his kids to be there. We of course respected that. I asked my mom later if dad had touched it. She confirmed that he had. Isn't it interesting that we feel the need to touch the monuments. Veterans in particular will touch them. There is something validating about having something tangible. It gives the memories a place. It lets your mind know that the memories you had are real.

I got to visit the Moving Wall also. Like I said I get emotional even thinking about our soldiers. So, I did not make much of an effort to not cry. But, I knew I needed to touch it, to touch those precious names. It made them and their sacrifices more real for me.

As I walked away from that sacred spot I thought of a verse from America The Beautiful

O Beautiful for Heroes proved in liberating strife
Who more than self their country loved
And mercy more than life

As I pondered these incredibly significant words, I thought of how well those same words describe the Savior Jesus Christ. I am one of those people who believe that every good thing testifies of Him. The men and women who freely serve, their willingness to sacrifice their own lives for our freedom, they testify of Christ, because they are like Him. They are the best this nation has to offer and we should always honor them.

Be sure to thank our veterans this week.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The Veiled Revolution

In the 1900's the movement for equality for women was present not just in the United States but all over the world. Women's rights were being promoted. It was a fantastic movement, and I am incredibly grateful for it.

In The Middle East the women's rights movement included removing the veils (the hijab) that are part of Muslim custom. Many women began to dress in western culture style.

Eventually women in some Middle East nations started participating in government. This was an image which the governments enjoyed, appearing to comply more with western norms.

Then came the 1980's and something strange happened. Women started putting the veil back on. Even women in government were putting the veils back on. Why? They had been given the freedom to choose and they chose to live their religion as they understood it. Nobody was forcing them to, they just did.

This upset some of the male government officials. After all they wanted to show the world that their countries were westernizing. But, the women insisted and stood up for their rights to live their religion.

I love this story. I think a similar thing is happening in the United States. There is a huge movement among women who are conservative. The movement is not just to be conservative but to be so openly.

The introduction of Sarah Palin on the national scene showed some very interesting things. I make no secret that I am a huge supporter of the Governor, even prior to her being chosen as V.P. nominee. It was common for people to either love her or hate her, there did not seem to be a whole lot of middle ground.

Who loved her? Well, she awakened several sleeping giants, one of which is conservative women. Elizabeth Hasselback the famously lone conservative voice on The View said that before Sarah Palin she would have women who after the show would privately confess that they agreed with her. After the Governor's introduction those conservative audience members began to be more vocal and cheering her on from the audience.

Sarah Palin is deeply conservative and so pro-life she actually lived what she preached. She is religious. Like her or not you have to admit she withstood the seemingly never-ending attacks with grace and strength.

Why did people hate her? She did not fit the liberal definition of feminism. Here was a woman who given the right to choose, chose to be conservative. She chose life. She also chose to serve.

The day she was announced as the nominee one of my first thoughts was "now my future daughters, will have someone to look up to." She believes the same things I do about religion and conservatism. There are certainly some points we don't agree on. But, for the most part she represents me.

The feminism that came out of the 60's and 70's was one highly concentrated on equal rights, but also abortion. In fact the pro-choice movement became definitive for feminism. How then could someone be a feminist and be pro-life? Sarah Palin shows us how.

The 60's and 70's generation of feminists don't really get us conservatives. But, more and more women are choosing life, are choosing faith and are choosing to stand up and serve.

It's a peaceful revolution but it is alive and well. I'm proud to be counted among the conservative women's movement.

Introducing Me

Hey there,

My name is Sarah Emily Jordan. I am a conservative independent woman. My conservative values stem from a strong sense of the importance of religion, life, family and patriotism. My independent streak comes from life experiences. I have voted both Republican and Democrat, though I confess to leaning more Republican.
During this recent election I started writing a lot of stuff down, and decided to start a blog with it. I would love to hear other people's thoughts. I would ask for respect to be shown in language and tolerance.

God Bless