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The Heart of Life

The Heart of Life: December 2010

Tuesday, December 28, 2010


I always cringe a little bit when people use the word "season" when talking about Christmas.  It never seems like quite the right word to describe the month of December.

The word season implies that while there is a time appointed for something to be appropriate, there is also a time for the same characteristics to be inappropriate.  For example, the season autumn includes bright orange, yellow, and red leaves, cooling temperatures, and football.  The rest of the year does not and should not include those indications of that season.

When combining the word season with any of the so-called Christmas seasons (the season of giving, the season of love, the season of good will toward men), it likewise suggests that although during December it is appropriate to be more giving, more loving, and to think more about Christ, the rest of the year these things are unnecessary because they are out of season.

Great things have been done by good people during Christmas time.  Nevertheless, I feel the greatest acts of kindness are those seemingly insignificant good deeds that are performed on a daily basis not because it is "in season", but because these people maintain the true spirit of Christmas in their hearts year-round.  Man should need no season to be helpful, caring, and generous.  Man need not wait around for the right season to be forgiving, humble, and patient.

But please excuse my cyncism, for when it all boils down I need Christmas.  I need to be reminded of Christ, for far too easily do I forget to think about His birth, His life, His atoning sacrifice, and His resurrection.  Although I require several seasons to remember Him, He does not need a season to remember me.  He knows my name and He loves me notwithstanding my imperfections.

The most beautiful thing about Christ's Atonement is that it does not apply to just one season.  It was not simply an event that occurred over the space of several hours and then was over.  The Atonement is not seasonal; it is eternal.  Through the Atonement of Jesus Christ a power was released on earth and in heaven that is more powerful than even time.  This power is what made it possible for Christ to experience the pain and sorrow of every human that ever had and ever would live on the earth.  Christ's Atonement is a constant and ongoing act even today.

Before my birth, the Atonement granted me the freedom to choose how I would live.  Although a sad concept, the Atonement allows me to be as imperfect as I desire.  From the day I was born until the day I die, the Atonement of Christ has and will uphold me and sustain me even during the darkest of days.  And then after I die His Atonement will make it possible for me to overcome the overwhelming debt of sin I have will have accumulated throughout my life.  The Atonement encompasses every stage and season of my existence.

In Ecclesiastes chapter 3 it says, "To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven."  It then outlines all of the earthly seasons and times to which we as humans are subject to.  Then in verse 14 it says, "...whatsoever God doeth, it shall be for ever: nothing can be put to it, nor any thing taken from it..."  The works of God and of Christ are not seasonal.  They roll on continually, and nothing we as humans do could possibly add to or take away from Their glory.  In our world of inconsistency and change, the power of God and the Atonement of Christ will always be a constant no matter what the season.


Saturday, December 18, 2010


On January 9th, 2007 Joshua Bell, a world-famous violinist, held a concert in Boston.  Seats were about $100 a pop, and the concert sold out.  Three days later the virtuoso violinist entered the Washington D.C. Metro station wearing jeans and a t-shirt holding his Stradivari violin.  He had agreed to be part of a social experiment organized by the Washington Post.  The Washington Post wondered if average people would recognize beauty in an unexpected place.

For 45 minutes Joshua Bell stood next to a trash can in the busy station and played a difficult Bach piece, Schubert's "Ave Maria" and several other numbers.  In the 45 minutes he played, a little over 1,000 people walked by, but only six people stopped briefly to watch the violinist.  Twenty people threw a combined total of 32 dollars and 17 cents into the case used to house the 3.5 million dollar violin.  No one applauded when he finished playing; the notes echoing through the station were soon overcome by the silent bustling of people hurrying to their destinations.  Only one woman recognized him--she'd attended one of his concerts several weeks earlier--and she approached him when he had finished.

It was a chilling answer to the Washington Post's question.

If I was rushing to a class and came across Joshua Bell playing some incredible concerto would I stop?  I don't think I would.  If I was in no hurry to get anywhere and heard him would I stop?  I don't know.  I like to think I would, but I can't be sure.  I do notice beauty, but only when it is convenient for me to notice it.

When it's convenient, I notice beauty in the skies.

When it's convenient, I notice beauty in my back yard.

When it's convenient, I notice beauty in lands far from my home.

When it's convenient, I notice beauty in places other people forget to look.

When it's convenient, I notice beauty in the details.

When it's convenient, I notice beauty in unexpected places.

When it's convenient, I notice the beauty in belonging to something bigger than myself.

Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, "Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us or we find it not."  Beauty isn't simply sensory.  Beauty is connected to a much deeper emotion.  Beauty changes you; it leaves you wanting more, whether it's convenient or not.


Friday, December 10, 2010

Turning Stones

A few years ago I read the book Turning Stones by Marc Parent for one of my social work classes.  It is an awesome book if you are big into child welfare, but is a bit disturbing otherwise.  In this book Parent relates his experiences as a child protective service worker in New York City.  He and a partner go into homes that are severely distressed and decide if the children need to be taken into state custody immediately.

After a particularly chilling case in which one child actually dies, Parent tells a story about a group of nuns.  As a gift, a parish sent all their nuns on a sightseeing road trip across the country on a bus. After several days, the sisters began to notice that at every stop Sister Clara would go off by herself, find a stone, and turn it over. At first it was just small stones, but as the trip progressed, the stones she chose became larger and larger.

Eventually one of the other nuns voiced her concern. Sister Clara was quite feeble and she was worried Sister Clara would get hurt. The other nuns agreed, and so they asked Sister Clara why she felt the need to turn these stones at each stop.

This was Sister Clara’s reply, “I turn a stone so that the place is different because I have been there.”

For perhaps centuries, the earth had held each of those stones in the same place and the same way. And when she turned them, she did, “...something in that moment that no other man or woman that ever lived or died, no matter how great or powerful—no president, no king or ruler, no order of government or unruly mob—something that no person and no thing on the entire planet could ever do at that exact point in time…”

After hearing why Sister Clara did this, all of the nuns began to turn stones of their own, and by the end of the trip all of the nuns were working together to turn over the biggest, most impossible boulder they could find.  Parent remarks, “…at the very core of it, there’s no difference between turning a stone and splitting the earth in half.  At the very core of it, there is no such thing as a small change, there is only change. It is an event that either happens or doesn’t and therefore can’t be measured as a size but only as an occurrence."

Parent then explains that over time he had fallen into discouragement because he could not entirely fix the lives of the children and families he visited.  He was disappointed that he did not have the ability to split the earth in two in order to prevent the death of that child.  But he then realized that his job was not to flip mountains upside down.  His job was to flip over a small stone.  His job was to be there for the family and to make even a minute difference in a child's life simply because he had been in his or her home.

Each of us has been blessed with special gifts and abilities, and each of us contributes something to the world that no one else can duplicate. While we may not be able to change the entire world, and we may not have the ability to split the earth in two, it’s ok.  It really doesn’t matter that we may never get the opportunity to change the world. The small part of the world each of us occupies will be different just because we were in it.

Turn every little stone that you come across. Make a place different because you have been there. Change the way you live in the world, and live in a way that will better the world you live in.  As you turn those stones, your efforts will be noticed, as Sister Clara’s were. Your example will make those around you want to turn stones of their own. And who knows, maybe you will change the world.


Thursday, December 2, 2010


In a previous post I talked a little bit about sacrifice.  What I failed to address is the danger of settling.  Sometimes there is a fine line between sacrificing and settling.  In both something is surrendered.  Both can involve giving up resources or privileges.  With sacrifice, this surrender is for a greater cause; it is a rallying call for a better way of life.  Sacrifice is never demeaning and never compromises self-worth. Settling, however, usually also involves the surrender of values.  With settling, this surrender might be performed simply because the person believes he or she does not deserve better.  Settling is never uplifting and never empowering.  Settling is admitting defeat before a worthy battle is ever fought.  Settling is giving up.

I went to high school with a girl whom I will call Mara.  Mara was quiet--almost painfully shy--but she had good friends and seemed to be happy.  During her senior year she began to date a boy, and not long after graduating from high school she and this boy planned to get married.  Shortly after getting engaged Mara wrote a note on facebook describing how he had proposed, what their plans were, etc.  In this note she mentioned more than once her surprise in how everything was turning out.  She said she never would have thought she'd get married.  Essentially, she implied that she believed she would never get another opportunity to get married and thus was happy to snatch up this opportunity.

Mara's parents had several concerns when it came to this boy.  They saw more than one red flag.  But Mara was not swayed.  She married him anyway.  Not long after their wedding, problems began to surface.  Mara's husband was controlling and abusive.  He isolated her from the world.  Her facebook profile disappeared and contact with her family was limited.  Her parents attempted to intervene and get her out of the marriage.  At first Mara was willing, but then she changed her mind and insisted on staying with him.  The last I heard, Mara had fled with her husband to Mexico.  I'm not sure if her family has heard much from her since.

I'm certainly not an expert, but I think Mara married this boy because she believed that she could not do better.  I think she hung on to her unhealthy marriage because she believed it was all she deserved.  I think she felt like she couldn't leave him because she'd lost the hope that anybody could truly love and accept her.  I think she felt that wrestling the ghosts of her marriage on a daily basis was less frightening than trying to run away from them.  Regardless of her reasoning, Mara surrendered a lot of things she once valued--her family, friends, religion, and education.  She settled.

Although I have ideas on what might motivate a person to settle, I am at a complete loss as to what causes this change of thinking.  At what point does surrendering even your own soul become a feasible option?

Several weeks ago I spent some time in a kindergarten classroom teaching about body safety.  The curriculum emphasizes that each child know that he or she is special, and thus several times throughout my presentations I ask the children to raise their hands if they are special.  Each time I asked, all the children eagerly raised their hands except for two boys.  The other children murmured the boys' names as if to encourage them to raise their hands as well, but the two boys still refused.  I attempted to make eye contact with the boy closest to me and emphatically exclaimed, "You! Are! Special!"  He looked at his feet shyly.  He wouldn't even offer a smile.

This concerns me.  I pray that their teacher noted their reactions.  I pray that she finds a way to make them believe they really are special.  Gone unchallenged, a child's belief that he or she is not special could have devastating results.  That belief alone may very well be the one thing that makes settling so appealing.

Whatever your life situation is right now, always remember this:  YOU ARE SPECIAL.  You always have been and you always will be.  Never forget it.  And never settle on something that makes you feel anything less than special.  You can sacrifice all you own and all the privileges you hold dear, but never ever surrender your values.  Fight with all your might to keep your precious soul intact, even if it means fighting until the day you die.

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