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.

 

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?

“And He Has Sent Me Here”

After the birth of my fourth baby, I braced myself for a new, crazy life. With four children under the age of six, I knew that life was going to be hectic; however, I was unprepared for some of the challenges that came my way.

When my youngest was about a month old, I noticed that I was having frequent, unbidden thoughts that caused me great anxiety. These thoughts were affecting my ability to be positive and happy. Some days, the anxiety consumed me so much that I had a hard time thinking about anything else. I struggled to keep up with my various responsibilities, I lost patience with my kids too easily, and I felt hopeless.

One of the feelings I have experienced most often is fear — fear of the world around me, which was seemingly spiraling into deeper and deeper turmoil; fear of terrible things happening to myself or my loved ones; fear of never being able to achieve my goals and dreams, for one reason or another. The thoughts of these fears coming to fruition made me unbearably sad, and sometimes extremely panicked. At times it was difficult to think about the future or feel any sort of hope, because I would immediately think “But what if…?” My mind was becoming trained to think that happiness was never coming.

With the support of my husband, I visited a mental health counselor to try to get some of these feelings sorted out. The counselor was very helpful and supportive, and immediately recognized my symptoms as signs of postpartum anxiety and postpartum OCD. While the diagnosis was somewhat frightening, it was also somewhat relieving to finally have a name for my feelings — a label to put on an existence that was previously mysterious.

At the height of this trial, life went on. I had four young children to care for — feed, bathe, clothe, take to the doctor, and clean up after. The commonplace routines could not stop. It was one of those commonplace routines, however, that ended up giving me a major boost, right when I needed it.

I was putting my two-year-old son to sleep. It had been a difficult day, full of fearful thoughts and a generally troubled mind. When I asked my little boy what bedtime song he wanted, he requested “I Am a Child of God,” which is a song the children at our church sing very often. I began to sing,

 

“I am a child of God,

And He has sent me here…”

 

I froze. Many different phrases of this song, in their beautiful simplicity, had struck me before, but this was the first time this particular phrase really jumped out at me.

“He has sent me here.”

This world that I felt so afraid of? God sent me here. I believed that, and I had believed it from my childhood. And yet, if I really did believe that, how could I be so afraid all the time? Why was I afraid of this place that my loving, all-knowing Heavenly Father had sent me to? Maybe, just maybe, I didn’t need to be.

The peaceful feeling I had when I sang those words that night made it difficult for me to finish the rest of the song without quite a few tears. But as I have thought more about this phrase and what it means for my life — for all our lives — I have come up with a few ideas that have helped me battle my anxious thoughts.

 

1) There is a plan for my life.

God didn’t send me here without a purpose. Why would he? Why would he make us, his children, face life’s challenges for no reason? I believe that as loving Father, God sent me here because He has a plan for me. He wants me to learn, grow, and become better. Any challenge I face has that ultimate purpose.

2) God is at the helm.

I didn’t end up here by chance. God deliberately sent me here. He sent me to this time and to this place. He knows what He is doing. If bad things happen, it is because God knows that they need to happen in order for us to reach our full potential. He does not direct or inspire wickedness, but he does allow it to happen, and He has taught us how to persevere through it and in spite of it.

3) Earth is the best place for God’s plan to be carried out.

I was sent here, to Earth. This place, and its people, will help me to achieve God’s purposes. The bad things that may happen here will not stop His plan from being carried out. As long as I don’t let them, they will also not outweigh the tremendous happiness and joy that I can experience here.

 

It is not easy to remember these things in the midst of an anxiety attack — when my mind is racing and my heart is pounding and I feel like the world as I know it is ending. But the more I reflect on these truths during my good moments, the more they become a part of me, and the more power I give them to push away my anxiety and my fears.

I’m still facing my mental health challenges, but I have faith that God wants to help me overcome them and help me grow because of them. I have faith that God wants me to find help: He wants me to visit all the counselors I need to visit, to take the right medications if necessary, to care for my body and my mind in ways that will lead to happiness and peace. He wants me to be healed.

The fact is — I know that God is there. He is real. I know that He loves me. I know that I am one of His precious children. And I know that He sent me here. Knowing these things has given me strength and solace throughout my life, and I have faith that this knowledge will continue to help me through this trial, and through all my trials to come.

Dealing with stress & overwhelm

Dealing with stress & overwhelm has been a constant part of my adult life. As far as I can tell, almost everyone deals with this issue on some level, so today I want to talk about it.

I’m talking about mental exhaustion — like when you’ve been studying for hours and feel like you can’t fit one more thing into your brain. Or when you’ve just made so many decisions in a day and had so many demands on your time that you can’t seem to get your brain to keep working.

I’m talking about physical exhaustion — like when you were up with kids all night, then you had to get up early in order to get all of your work done before the day ran out. Then you stayed up late working on some project, and you had to do it all again the next day, the day after that, and for the seventeen weeks that followed.

I’m talking about emotional exhaustion — like when you had to help a friend or family member through an intense issue while trying to simultaneously keep your own insecurity, fear and self-doubt in check.

If it were just one or two of these issues, you could probably deal with it. Heck, you could probably handle four or five. But what about those times when you’ve had to deal with like.. twenty of them? At the same time? And when they keep popping up day after day, week after week, it kinda starts to get to you… you know?

For the faithful and conscientious, I don’t think stress and overwhelm are inescapable. However, I do believe we can get better at minimizing and managing it. Here’s the “recipe” I follow any time I feel these feelings starting to set in:

1. Take care of yourself. Get a grip.
It’s a little counterintuitive, but my FIRST step when I realize I’m feeling overwhelmed is to take care of myself. I’ve just learned that when I’m in that dark place I’m no good to anyone. By trying to force myself to “plow through”, I usually end up doing more damage than good to myself and others. So I like to take at least a small step back — take a power nap, get some exercise, leave work early.. whatever it takes. For more serious bouts, I may need to take a 3-day weekend or plan a fun (but simple!) outing with my family. One thing that never fails to rejuvenate me is to work on my relationship with God. That means reading the scriptures, praying, performing some quiet Christian service, singing a hymn or meditating.

As in all things, our example here is the Savior. In reading about His ministry lately, I was impressed as I noticed how often he rested. Surely if anyone was busy it was Jesus — he had a lot to accomplish in just 3 years. But even so, even He was careful to build in periods of rest and renewal. Another thing that impressed me was how he never felt sorry for himself. Even in the very act of being crucified, he looked outward at his mother and performed service by asking his disciples to care for her after he was gone.

2. Set inspired priorities (with patience!)
One of my favorite quotes is from Anne Morrow Lindbergh who said “My life cannot implement in action the demands of all the people to whom my heart responds.” There are a lot of worthy places to spend our time! But there’s a basic math problem that results when you add up all of the time it would take to do it and compare it to the number of hours in a day. Like it or not, we HAVE to prioritize, and that means saying “no” to certain things.

Once I’ve got my mind right (#1), I go to work somewhat ruthlessly to set some priorities. I carefully look at each “role” or “responsibility” in my life and decide what needs to be scaled back, changed, delegated or outright dropped. When I’m done, I take a look at the total time needed to accomplish everything and if it’s still more than I have hours in the day, I go back and cut again. The goal here is to cut my schedule down to “I could handle this pretty sustainably forever” rather than “I could only get all of this done if I had a really good day, super human strength and nothing went wrong.”

In the scriptures, the Lord taught us “Do not run faster or labor more than you have strength and means provided.” Similarly, Elder Neal A. Maxwell taught, “Unwisely, we often write checks against our time accounts as we never would dare do, comparably, against our bank accounts. Sometimes we make so many commitments that they become like the vines in the allegory of Jacob, threatening to “overcome the roots,” including the “roots” of family relationships, friendships, and relationships with God.”

3. Re-set expectations
Once you’ve made the tough decisions (#2), it’s time to implement them. Start with the most pressing/biggest cuts and work your way down. What I’ve found at step #3 is that it’s pretty much never as bad as you would think. People don’t depend on us as much as we think they do. I think in many cases they’ve already been watching us and expecting the news, so bringing it up just opens up an opportunity to collaborate on a solution.

4. Ask for help
If God had wanted you to get through life alone, he would’ve put you on an earth all by yourself. What seems hard to you is easy to someone else, so let them share your burden! It can be hard to ask, but just think about how you feel when someone really needs your help — willing, right? For each of the remaining tasks/responsibilities on your plate after #2, ask yourself “who do I know that would be awesome at solving this problem?” then enlist their help.

As you think about who to ask for help, don’t forget Heavenly Father. He’s the ruler and creator of the entire universe. His knowledge, wisdom and power span from eternity to eternity — and he’s your dad! There is literally nothing you can do that will make him stop loving you, but he will not come into your life until you ask him to. Say a heartfelt prayer, then watch for His hand in your life.

5. Be diligent
Once you’ve taken care of your own mental health, set priorities, re-set expectations and asked for help, it’s time to take a breath, square your shoulders and go to work. Rather than bursting onto the scene, I recommend taking a “shifted gear” approach — slower perhaps, but also stronger. As you begin each day, focus on keeping your head down and accomplishing as much as you can, as opposed to worrying about whether it was “enough” or thinking about everything else that needs to be done.

Conclusion
I’ve been following this “prescription” for a couple of years now, and while I would never say that my stress and overwhelm has gone away, it has definitely helped. When I’m in that dark place, it always feels like there’s nothing that will work, but when I force myself to start down these steps, the clouds invariably start to clear.

What do you do to deal with stress and overwhelm?

The Two Choices You Can Make During a Trial

I’m always amazed by people who have experienced really difficult things in life. I am inspired when they tell their life-altering story and end with phrases like, “I wouldn’t change anything.” “I’m grateful for my challenges.” “I wouldn’t go back.”

I’ve heard these phrases from people who were in an accident and are now paralyzed, from someone who was burned in a plane crash, from parents who have faced horrific tragedies and lost loved ones and many others.

How long does it take them to be able to say these things, to accept what has happened and to move on? In the past I have wondered if I would be able to feel the same way about the hard things in my life.

Two Choices

Recently, I was reading the Book of Mormon during my daily scripture study. I had been reading for days about wars going on between the Nephites and the Lamanites. Then I read this verse:

But behold, because of the exceedingly great length of the war between the Nephites and the Lamanites many had become hardened, because of the exceedingly great length of the war; and many were softened because of their afflictions, insomuch that they did humble themselves before God, even in the depth of humility. (emphasis added)

I was struck that the people had all endured the same trials dealing with war, but one group chose to “become hardened” by the adversity and the other group “were softened” to be humble, turn towards God and let the trials make them better.

Was I Hardened or Softened?

This verse impacted me because a new year had just started and I was reflecting on the previous year, which had been filled with a lot of hard things in my own life.

My husband and I had just ended our first year running a new business. Although the business was moving in the right direction, things had not taken off as quickly as we had hoped initially. I could count on one hand the number of days my husband had taken off from work during the year. I was worn out from my own work in the business, running our household, parenting almost on my own and feeling financial pressure to make everything work.

I was so ready to put the year behind me and move on, but as I read I realized that just like the people I was reading about in the scriptures, I had a choice to make about how my trials were going to affect me. I could be softened or I could be hardened. This scripture was saying to me that I needed to embrace the challenges I had faced and instead of forgetting them, I needed to let them do the work of God in me. I needed to let the challenges soften me.

Seeing the Good Things

My perspective shifted. I started to focus on all of the good things that had come from the difficulties I had faced in the previous year.

Our marriage was stronger because we were communicating better than we ever had. We were living out a decade’s long dream of running a business together.  We had maintained our health despite the long hours and stress. Our children were learning about hard work and perseverance. Many good things had definitely happened in our life because of the hard things we were enduring.

I Wouldn’t Go Back

I can now look back on the trial of starting a business and other challenges I have faced in my life and honestly say I wouldn’t change anything, including the mistakes.

Helen Keller summed this thought up beautifully when she said:

Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved.

My experiences have shaped me and made me who I am. The hard things I have been through have made the good things in my life all the better.

How have the hard things in your life softened you? How do you keep from being hardened? I would love to know your thoughts on this.