How to “Light the World” This Christmas Season

“I hate Christmas.” Over the years I am not proud to say I have found myself mumbling this statement more than once during the crazy month of December. I have let the busyness of this wonderful season get the best of me. I have let worldly cares take me away from what we truly celebrate at Christmas, the miraculous birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ.

A new Christmas season is upon us and my hope is to never utter the statement above again. I am grateful that I will have help this year in remembering and keeping Jesus Christ as the focus of my celebrations.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is encouraging all of us to “Light the World” by focusing each day on following the example of Jesus Christ.

The Savior is “the light of the world” (John 8:12) and He has told us that “Ye are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14). The world is crazy sometimes but we have the opportunity to be a light to others and to show that doing what Jesus did brings peace and joy into our lives.

Each day during December we are invited to focus on something Jesus did and to share our light with others.

It’s simple.

The easiest way to get started is to go here to print the 25-day advent calendar with the theme and ideas for each day.  You can also find more details as well as a daily video at mormon.org.

 

25-days-2I have printed this advent calendar out and put it on the fridge so my family will be reminded of our focus for each day.

Thomas S. Monson, President of the LDS church, has said:

As we follow the example of the Savior and live as He lived and as He taught, that light will burn within us and will light the way for others.

I hope you and your family will join in sharing His light during this Christmas season.

We’ll be posting about our experiences on the Feeling God’s Love Facebook page, so come join us there and share what you are doing, too.

 

What does God expect from mothers and fathers?

There are a lot of things God wants from mothers and fathers, but today I want to share six principles of Christ-centered parenting that have meant the most to me:

1. Appreciate each family member’s unique divine gifts
One of the reasons I know there’s a God is that I can see glimpses of divinity somewhere in the personality of each person I meet. This is especially true of my children. I have never met a little girl who can give a bigger, more heartfelt hug than Charlotte. I have never met someone with a more perfect balance of obedience and creativity than Madelyn. I have never met a 2 year old with more interest in construction equipment than Parker. The more I get to know someone — anyone — the more I am amazed at the totally unique gifts and attributes they possess.

When it comes to being good mothers and fathers, I believe God wants us to really know each member of our family. We need to know what our children are good at and what they will struggle with. We also need to know ourselves — what are we really good at (and need to be sure to pass on to our children), and where do we struggle (and need to find other ways to make sure our children learn those values)?

If you look closely, there’s a beautiful truth here: there are no perfect parents in the general sense, but with a little effort you can be the perfect parent for your child by getting to know his/her needs and interacting with them accordingly.

2. Practice patience and forbearance
Fortunately, God doesn’t show us everything we’re doing wrong all at once. If He did, we’d be overwhelmed to the point of giving up. Instead, he’s extremely patient with us and doesn’t show us our weakness until we’re ready to improve. In like manner, parents should strive to teach their children “line upon line.” Parents who are impatient with or overly critical of their children risk damaging their confidence & self esteem (younger children) and creating rebellion (older children). This is much easier said than done and we all fall short, but I believe God wants us to be extremely patient with our kids.

As a practical strategy for guiding children, my wife and I have found success using something Linda & Richard Eyre call the “5 facet review.” Basically, we dedicate one date night each month to reviewing each of our children spiritually, emotionally, physically, mentally and socially. As we conduct our review, we divide up “homework” assignments, such as “Parker is struggling with feeling loved. Your job is to do one thing with JUST him each week this month.” This helps us to focus on supporting and building our kids up one “brick” at a time.

3. Lead by example
In a recent re-reading of the New Testament, I was struck by just how much service Christ did. He of course taught some powerful sermons along the way, but his life was literally full of service to others. I find this particularly interesting because Alma 7:13 points out “The Spirit knoweth all things; nevertheless the Son of God suffereth according to the flesh” In other words, Christ could have learned about everything we were going through via the Spirit, but he chose instead to “roll up his sleeves” so to speak and live among us in order to actually experience it.

Likewise, parenting is a contact sport. It’s not about theories and thoughts. It’s not about ideas and instructions. It’s about literally getting in there and working with our kids to show them love and nurturing. It’s about late nights, early mornings, messes, kissing owies, shedding tears and sharing joys. I believe that God expects us to lead by example, modeling good behavior in all things for our children.

4. Practice open communication
I have learned that there are 5 levels of communication, ranging from level 1 (very topical — the weather, sports, news, etc.) to level 5, which is where we share our deepest and innermost feelings, hopes and fears. In my experience, too many of our family interactions happen at levels 1-3 and not enough happen at levels 4-5. We assume that our loved ones know how we feel about them, but we should never assume. We should tell them. When we hold back sharing feelings of vulnerability, we miss out on an opportunity to grow closer. It takes a lot of practice, especially for men who have often been socialized to keep their feelings to themselves, but the rewards are immense.

One of my favorite times to express these kinds of feelings is during family prayer. When Christ prayed among the Nephites, they recorded that “no one can conceive of the joy which filled our souls at the time we heard him pray for us unto the Father.” (3 Nephi 17:17) In like manner, we can do a lot of good for our relationships by praying for our families aloud in their presence.

Another great time for marital communication is during what my wife and I call our “weekly tactical.” Each Sunday night, we sit down to discuss the general state of our family, our marriage, our involvement in the community and our week ahead. During this process, we make specific plans to help move us towards our goals.

5. Pace yourself
Mosiah 27:27 teaches “it is not requisite that a man should run faster than he has strength.” Leading our families is a marathon, not a sprint, and in a marathon it’s essential to pace yourself and seek appropriate sources of fuel. As I study the life of the Savior, I notice that he frequently took little breaks to meditate and be with his father. I believe this is what he meant when he said “He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit.” (John 15:5) When we seek to maintain our spiritual health, we plug ourselves into the very power that will sustain us through the monumental effort of leading our families.

I have found too though that it isn’t just about spiritual learning. Parenting books, seminars and even just good conversations with our spouse or role model can inspire us and give us the strength to carry on. We need to not be too hard about ourselves when we make mistakes. Learning to be good parents is part of the process for us, too, and God is in control of the outcomes.

6. Lead in partnership with God
As a parent, it’s really easy to give in to the temptation to believe that I have to do it all myself. “If I don’t raise these kids right, who will? If I mess them up, it will be totally my fault.” This kind of thinking can be discouraging, but it’s simply not true. Yes, God gave us these kids to raise, but he doesn’t expect us to do entirely it by ourselves. For me, an essential part of leading our families in the Lord’s way is to learn which part of the parenting job is ours and which part is the Lord’s.

One of my favorite parenting scriptures is found in Moses 1:39, which reads “For behold, this is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.” In this scripture, we learn that God is full-time, completely consumed in raising His children. It’s not a side project. It’s not something he throws in after a long day of creating galaxies. It’s literally the entire object of his efforts, and he’s extremely good at it. So the next time you feel inadequate as a parent, just remember that the ruler of the Universe — the same guy who created the solar system and parted the red sea — is on your side.

A little introspection..
How are you doing? As a mother or father, what does God expect of you? Here are a few questions for us to consider together:

  • What are the faults & flaws that I am ignoring in myself that will hurt my ability to lead by example?
  • What strengths do I have that I need to be sure to pass on to my family?
  • Do I truly know each family member? How can I get to know them better? How can I adjust my behavior according to their needs?
  • How can I discipline my children in a way that maximizes the likelihood of that discipline being received?
  • What things will the future version of me thank the present version of me for having done with regard to my family?
  • Do I take time for myself to meditate, pray, learn and develop as a family leader?
  • Am I sharing the responsibility of leading a family with God? Am I trying to do it all myself, or on the other extreme, am I dumping it all on him?
  • Do I fully trust Him to do the part that corresponds to Him?

I believe that leading our families is one of the most important things we’ll ever do. Families are of utmost importance in God’s plan for his children. I believe we’re doing better than we think we’re doing, but if we’ve failed to lead our families the way we should have in the past, then let’s start today. It’s never too late for the Atonement of Christ to have effect in our lives. The Spirit will guide us to success if we seek it.  

Finding Peace and Hope After an Accident

Recently, I was in an accident that resulted in a crush injury to my left lower leg.  I was admitted to the hospital and had to have an emergency surgery for compartment syndrome to release the pressure building in my leg in order to save it.

I consider myself a fairly active, somewhat fit person—not as much as some but more than others.  I think the human body is AMAZING!  I enjoy being active and seeing what my body can do.  

Would I Ever Be the Same?

That being said as I lay in the emergency room I was starting to panic, even through all the pain meds.  X-rays were taken, but nothing was broken.  Still, I had extreme pain and pressure in my leg.  Trying to lay it off the hospital bed was excruciating.  

I was given pain medication around the clock, and I was diagnosed with compartment syndrome.   This means there is too much pressure in the muscle compartments of the leg and the pressure starts to crush the nerve and destroy tissue.

An emergency surgery was happening.  I wanted to yell out, “WHAT, this can’t be happening!”  I had never had surgery in my 44 years.  The only other time I was in the hospital was when my children were born and that was a wonderful, joyful experience.  (Well maybe not wonderful and joyful, but it had a wonderful outcome.)  This experience was not like that.  I had already received a priesthood blessing but another one was given to me before surgery.   

A New Reality

I woke up that evening in my hospital room with my left leg completely swollen and bandaged from knee to ankle.  To me this was devastating. Not only was I unable to get around on my own, but the pain, while not as bad as before the surgery, was still there.  I had no motivation to move, but I was craving being able to get up and see what I could do.  And when I say see what I could do I mean see if I could stand next to my bed.  The next step was walking the ten feet to the bathroom.   

The morning after surgery I was able to stand and walk with a walker. It was still painful at this point, but I was determined to be up on my feet.  My day was filled with nurses, family and friends visiting and food.  Meal times were a pleasant distraction for me.  

A resident came to check on my wound and to change the dressing.  I was apprehensive to say the least.  It was strange to see myself in this way.  It was a bit of an out of body experience.  I couldn’t imagine how my leg was ever going to be the same.  I thought for sure this was the end of life as I knew it.  I know that sounds pretty dramatic, but that’s what I thought.  

Facing Fear

My days were filled with distractions, but at night, it was dark and still with only the beeping of the monitor and the distant sound of the nurse’s station.   I couldn’t sleep for more than a few hours in the hospital.  If it wasn’t the nurses coming in to check vitals, it was the IV monitor going off or having to go to the bathroom (which was a lot because of the IV.)

This is when I doubted.  This is when all my fears came to the surface and I felt really alone.   This time I couldn’t talk my way out, and I was scared. I was scared that I would never be the same or do the same things and that my whole life was changing, and I couldn’t do anything about it.  

A Plea for Help

I said out loud three simple words, “PLEASE HELP ME.”  That was it; it was not a formal prayer but more of a plea.  It was then I felt an overwhelming sense of peace wash over me.  I didn’t know how this trial of mine was going to turn out.  I just knew I was at peace with whatever was to happen, and I could handle it.  My worries and concerns had not changed, but I was comforted.   

Finding Peace

In John 14:27 it says:

Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.  

He was there; he was aware of me when I needed Him.  

I don’t understand all the workings of the gospel but I know this: when we are at our darkest and most lonely place all we need to do is ask for Him and we can feel His love and comfort.  Christ’s Atonement is not only for our sins but also for our suffering.  

He will be there for us when we need him no matter what stage or place in our lives we may be in.  

 

The Value of Struggle

I want to talk to the rising generation. We live in a constantly changing world; one that can be difficult to keep up with. With change comes struggle and adaptation. This can be painful for those already set in their ways, but those who embrace change know how much better life can be when you become familiar with and take advantage of what is available.

A basic definition of struggle is to strive to achieve or attain something in the face of difficulty or resistance. We all struggle with something.

Struggle helps inspire change

I recently heard a story about a young man who was living away from home and working in sales. After doing this for a while, he began to feel unfulfilled and wasn’t sure that this was the right career path he should take. One hot summer day it all came crashing down. There had to be some way to release all of these negative feelings. He got in his older model car, which happened to have a superb heater in it, cranked it up and started driving home. He immediately started sweating profusely and his suit was drenched in no time. The negative feelings started to leave. He got home, cut his suit up into pieces and flushed them down the toilet. The next day, he applied for a job at a local radio station and was immediately turned away. Day after day for about a month, he kept coming back and asking about a job there. Finally, they offered him an entry level position. Shortly thereafter, the host of one of the shows was fired and the young man was immediately promoted. Several years later, he is now successfully hosting his own show with literally millions of listeners each day.

Think for a minute about how the young man in the story must feel today. Do you think he takes for granted where he is, considering where he’s been? Of course not. Real appreciation comes out of the struggle. He earned his way to the top. Sure, he had help along the way, but his success was not just handed to him.

I don’t know the heart of the young man or if he realizes the plan God has for him. It is my personal belief that God has a plan for all of us; generally and individually. He truly cares about our happiness and has allowed us to experience mortal life in order to learn through our struggles.

Part of the Plan

In the Book of Mormon, Another Testament of Jesus Christ, the Prophet Lehi speaks about the necessity of learning by experience while speaking to his son Jacob:
“For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things. If not so, my firstborn in the wilderness, righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor bad. Wherefore, all things must needs be a compound in one; wherefore, if it should be one body it must needs remain as dead, having no life neither death, nor corruption nor incorruption, happiness nor misery, neither sense nor insensibility.” (2 Nephi 2:11)

I believe an important part of God’s great plan of happiness for us all is dealing with personal weakness and imperfections. I can honestly say at this point in my life that I am grateful for these things. I wouldn’t be where I am today without learning from my mistakes.

The Lord spoke to the Prophet Moroni in the Book of Mormon about this:
“And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.” (Ether 12:27)

Lehi’s son Nephi taught:
“For behold, thus saith the Lord God: I will give unto the children of men line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little; and blessed are those who hearken unto my precepts, and lend an ear unto my counsel, for they shall learn wisdom; for unto him that receiveth I will give more; and from them that shall say, We have enough, from them shall be taken away even that which they have.” (2 Nephi 28:30)

I still struggle and I’m still young, so I know there’s a lot left to learn. However, I find comfort in knowing that as I try to follow God’s plan for me and allow him to shape me through my experiences, I will grow. I will appreciate more. The more I learn, the more I realize how much I don’t know!

How has struggle and opposition helped you to draw closer to God?

Listening to the Spirit

Listening to the Spirit

The last time I watched Disney’s version of Pinocchio, I found it incredibly thought provoking. The Blue Fairy promised the puppet Pinocchio he could become a real boy if he proved himself brave, truthful and unselfish. To help him in this quest, she assigned Jiminy Cricket to be his conscience. This conscience was meant to help him navigate and make wise choices on his journey to become a real boy. As Pinocchio chose not to listen to his conscience, several dire consequences occurred. Of course, the storyline is resolved when Pinocchio listens to his conscience and receives some magical assistance from the Blue Fairy.

Thankfully, in addition to a conscience, God has provided us with his Spirit to help us. Other terms for the Spirit include the Holy Spirit, the Holy Ghost or the Comforter. The Holy Ghost provides us assurances and certainty from God that extend beyond our conscience or natural senses.

Functions of the Holy Ghost

The Spirit has many important functions. He can guide our decisions and protect us from harm as we listen to his voice. Jesus Christ taught that he would send the “Spirit of truth” to dwell within us and that he would not leave us comfortless (John 14:16-18). The Holy Ghost can help us feel peace during difficult times and can teach us all things (John 14:26) The Spirit bears witness of Jesus Christ and our Father in Heaven (2 Ne. 31:18). He can help us know the “truth of all things” (Moroni 10:5) as we seek knowledge.

Personal Experience

About two years ago, the beautiful Gilbert Arizona Temple was completed. The temple was then open to anyone who wanted to tour it and see what a Mormon temple looked like on the inside. Members of my faith were encouraged to invite friends and neighbors to attend this rare open house before it was officially dedicated as a House of the Lord. As I considered who I should invite to attend the open house, the voice of the Spirit simply said, “Just get Emily there.” The answer was clear. My top priority was to invite my sister to attend the temple open house with me.

Finally, on one of the last days to tour the temple, my sister agreed to go with me with slight hesitation. I felt calm and assured that I had listened to the Spirit, but I did not foresee how the experience would influence her. Two months later, Emily expressed that she felt something in the Gilbert Temple that night. Strong feelings of joy and peace led her to make several positive changes in her life. The Holy Ghost had touched her heart and spoken to her. It guided her to find faith in Jesus Christ and come to an understanding of his love for her. As Emily listened to the Spirit, she found peace, assurance and knowledge that God knows and loves her personally. That knowledge led her to lasting light and happiness in her life.

Conclusion

I am grateful for the influence of the Spirit that touched my sister’s life. Because of the Spirit, we can all feel the love of the Savior and Heavenly Father. The Spirit brings peace and comfort in times of sadness and confusion and guidance when we lack the answers on our own. My life is impacted by the Spirit on a daily basis, and because of that influence, I know God will never leave me alone or comfortless.

How has the Holy Ghost influenced your life?