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.