Sunday, December 29, 2013

10 Uplifting Quotes For the Depressed Heart

Here are a few of my favorite quotes to read when I'm depressed or going through hard times. Please feel free to add your own inspiring quotes in the comments section. Let's make a list of all the best quotes so we can help anyone that's struggling with depression.

Also, the video below is rather inspiring. I thought you might like it. :)

1. "Getting better from depression demands a lifelong commitment. I’ve made that commitment for my life’s sake and for the sake of those who love me." —Susan Polis Schutz

2. "A pearl is a beautiful thing that is produced by an injured life. It is the tear [that results] from the injury of the oyster. The treasure of our being in this world is also produced by an injured life. If we had not been wounded, if we had not been injured, then we will not produce the pearl." —Stephan Hoeller

3. "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."—Helen Keller

4. "A positive attitude gives you power over your circumstances instead of your circumstances having power over you." —Joyce Meyer

5. "Keep yourself busy if you want to avoid depression. For me, inactivity is the enemy.” —Matt Lucas

6. "Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy." —Thich Nhat Hanh

7. "Maybe you have to know the darkness before you can appreciate the light." —Madeleine L'Engle

8. "Good humor is a tonic for mind and body. It is the best antidote for anxiety and depression. It is a business asset. It attracts and keep friends. It lightens human burdens. It is the direct route to serenity and contentment." —Greenville Kleisser

9. "There are far, far better things ahead than anything we leave behind." —C. S. Lewis

10. "The greatest degree of inner tranquility comes from the development of love and compassion. The more we care for the happiness of others, the greater is our own sense of well-being." —Tenzin Gyatso

Friday, December 27, 2013

Make Retreat Impossible - Burn Your Ships!

A few years ago, a friend of mine sent this poem to me. I haven't been able to find its source, but its meaning is profound.

The speaker is telling his audience—presumably an army—to burn their ship, giving them no hope of retreat. It's do or die. The only hope of returning home is through victory.

When we have goals, we must, in a sense, "burn our ships" and make our retreat impossible.

Burn the fleet by thrice,
in this dark night we stand or we fall,
we are kings now, or nothing at all.
Check your armour, light up the torch,
touch the flame to the sail before you head to the shore
and we will burn the fleet.
We can never go home, it's on to victory or underground
burn the fleet, we'll be hero's or ghosts,
but we won't be turned around.
The old flag will burn with the sail
and a new one won't fly if we fail.
But the fire continues to rise and it shows
not a hint of any fear in our eyes.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

You Are the Trip I Did Not Take

You Are The Trip I Did Not Take

You are the trip I did not take;
You are the pearls I could not buy;
You are my blue Italian lake;
You are my piece of foreign sky.
“You are my Honolulu moon;
you are the book I did not write;
You are my heart’s unuttered tune;
You are a candle in my night.
You are the flower beneath the snow,
In my dark sky a bit of blue,
Answering Disappointment’s blow
With “I am happy! I have you!”

Anne Campbell
When my sister Jaimie read that poem she wrote this: “Too often in life we think about what we don’t have or have not done—instead of what we have.  We think that in order to be satisfied and feel pure joy we need to travel the world, run faster and further than anyone else, and do more than anyone you know.  This is simply not true. Happiness comes from knowing love.”

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The First Christmas Homily of Pope Francis | Full Text

Pope Francis
Below is the FULL text of Pope Francis' first Christmas Homily. Beautiful. Simply beautiful.

“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light” (Is 9:1).
This prophecy of Isaiah never ceases to touch us, especially when we hear it proclaimed in the liturgy of Christmas night. This is not simply an emotional or sentimental matter. It moves us because it states the deep reality of what we are: a people who walk, and all around us – and within us as well – there is darkness and light. In this night, as the spirit of darkness enfolds the world, there takes place anew the event which always amazes and surprises us: the people who walk see a great light. A light which makes us reflect on this mystery: the mystery of walking and seeing.
Walking: this verb makes us reflect on the course of history, that long journey which is the history of salvation, starting with Abraham, our father in faith, whom the Lord called one day to set out, to go forth from his country toward the land which he would show him. From that time on, our identity as believers has been that of a people making its pilgrim way toward the promised land. This history has always been accompanied by the Lord! He is ever faithful to his covenant and to his promises. “God is light, and in him there is no darkness at all” (1 Jn 1:5). Yet on the part of the people there are times of both light and darkness, fidelity and infidelity, obedience, and rebellion; times of being a pilgrim people and times of being a people adrift.
In our personal history too, there are both bright and dark moments, lights and shadows. If we love God and our brothers and sisters, we walk in the light; but if our heart is closed, if we are dominated by pride, deceit, self-seeking, then darkness falls within us and around us. “Whoever hates his brother – writes the Apostle John – is in the darkness; he walks in the darkness, and does not know the way to go, because the darkness has blinded his eyes” (1 Jn 2:11).
On this night, like a burst of brilliant light, there rings out the proclamation of the Apostle: “God’s grace has been revealed, and it has made salvation possible for the whole human race” (Tit 2:11).
The grace which was revealed in our world is Jesus, born of the Virgin Mary, true man and true God. He has entered our history; he has shared our journey. He came to free us from darkness and to grant us light. In him was revealed the grace, the mercy, and the tender love of the Father: Jesus is Love incarnate. He is not simply a teacher of wisdom, he is not an ideal for which we strive while knowing that we are hopelessly distant from it. He is the meaning of life and history, who has pitched his tent in our midst.
The shepherds were the first to see this “tent”, to receive the news of Jesus’s birth. They were the first because they were among the last, the outcast. And they were the first because they were awake, keeping watch in the night, guarding their flocks.
Together with them, let us pause before the Child, let us pause in silence. Together with them, let us thank the Lord for having given Jesus to us, and with them let us raise from the depths of our hearts the praises of his fidelity: We bless you, Lord God most high, who lowered yourself for our sake. You are immense, and you made yourself small; you are rich and you made yourself poor; you are all-powerful and you made yourself vulnerable.

On this night let us share the joy of the Gospel: God loves us, he so loves us that he gave us his Son to be our brother, to be light in our darkness.
To us the Lord repeats: “Do not be afraid!” (Luke 2:10). And I too repeat: Do not be afraid! Our Father is patient, he loves us, he gives us Jesus to guide us on the way which leads to the promised land. Jesus is the light who brightens the darkness. He is our peace. Amen.

Monday, December 23, 2013

"In Thy Dark Streets Shineth"

“Yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting light; the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.”

Franklin D. Roosevelt speaks to a crowd on Christmas. Behind
him stands Sir Winston Churchill.
If you must know, Sir Winston Churchill is one of my heroes. In fact, I'd say that he's pretty darn near the top of my list.

Not far down on that same list you'll find FDR, the American President that led the country through the Great Depression and through the darker days of World War II. Neither of these men were perfect, but they certainly had many admirable qualities—not the least of which was the ability to inspire men and women during the darkest of times.

In December of 1941, during the heat of the second World War, Winston Churchill traveled to the United States at great risk to his personal safety. After lighting the White House Christmas tree, the two leaders spoke to the crowd that had gathered.
“Our strongest weapon in this terrible war,” said President Roosevelt, “is our conviction of the dignity and brotherhood of all, which Christmas signifies. Against enemies who would preach and practice hate, we set our faith in human love and in God’s love and care for us and for all people everywhere.” 
When President Roosevelt had finished, Winston Churchill rose to speak. “This is a strange Christmas Eve,” said the Prime Minister. “Almost the whole world is locked in deadly struggle, and with the most terrible weapons science can devise, the nations advance upon one another. Here in the midst of war, raging over the lands and the seas, creeping nearer to our hearts and homes, here, amid all the tumult, we have tonight the peace of the spirit in each cottage home and in every generous human heart. Therefore, we may cast aside this night the cares and dangers which beset us, and make an evening of happiness in a world of storm. Here for one night only each home should be a brightly lighted island of happiness and peace.”

Monday, December 16, 2013

I Thank God for Unanswered Prayers

Garth Brooks
I've heard it said that if you want to make God laugh, just tell Him your plans. Personally, I think I've made God laugh so many times that, for a time, I completely gave up planning and just set my boat adrift. 

I've had a lot of unanswered prayers in my life, but I think my biggest one matches the words (almost verbatim) of Garth Brook's immortal song "Unanswered Prayers." While thinking about the lyrics to this song today, I couldn't help but think about my wife, "and then and there I thanked the good Lord for the gifts in my life."

Unanswered Prayers

Just the other night at a hometown football game
My wife and I ran into my old high school flame
And as I introduced them the past came back to me
And I couldn't help but think of the way things used to be

She was the one that I'd wanted for all times
And each night I'd spend prayin' that God would make her mine
And if he'd only grant me this wish I wished back then
I'd never ask for anything again

Sometimes I thank God for unanswered prayers
Remember when you're talkin' to the man upstairs
That just because he doesn't answer doesn't mean he don't care
Some of God's greatest gifts are unanswered prayers

She wasn't quite the angel that I remembered in my dreams
And I could tell that time had changed me
In her eyes too it seemed
We tried to talk about the old days
There wasn't much we could recall
I guess the Lord knows what he's doin' after all

And as she walked away and I looked at my wife
And then and there I thanked the good Lord
For the gifts in my life

Sometimes I thank God for unanswered prayers
Remember when you're talkin' to the man upstairs
That just because he may not answer doesn't mean he don't care
Some of God's greatest gifts are unanswered

Some of God's greatest gifts are all too often unanswered...
Some of God's greatest gifts are unanswered prayers

Sunday, December 15, 2013

How A Lie Can Destroy a Life

Fyodor Dostoevsky is one of my favorite authors. I recently finished re-reading one of his short stories entitled, "The Dream of a Ridiculous Man."

In the story, a man who is contemplating suicide falls asleep and dreams that he is taken to another world. The inhabitants of this world live in an idllic or sinless state (much like Eden) and he lives with them for many years, amazed at their utopian society.

One day, the narrator accidentally teaches the inhabitants how to lie, introducing sin into their society. The narrator then watches as their paradise disintegrates. I thought that several paragraphs from the story were particularly interesting:
They began to struggle for separation, for isolation, for individuality, for mine and thine. They began to talk in different languages. They became acquainted with sorrow and loved sorrow; they thirsted for suffering, and said that truth could only be attained through suffering. Then science appeared. As they became wicked they began talking of brotherhood and humanitarianism, and understood those ideas. As they became criminal, they invented justice and drew up whole legal codes in order to observe it, and to ensure their being kept, set up a guillotine. They hardly remembered what they had lost, in fact refused to believe that they had ever been happy and innocent. They even laughed at the possibility o this happiness in the past, and called it a dream. They could not even imagine it in definite form and shape, but, strange and wonderful to relate, though they lost all faith in their past happiness and called it a legend, they so longed to be happy and innocent once more that they succumbed to this desire like children, made an idol of it, set up temples and worshipped their own idea, their own desire; though at the same time they fully believed that it was unattainable and could not be realized, yet they bowed down to it and adored it with tears! 
...everyone began to love himself better than anyone else, and indeed they could not do otherwise.  All became so jealous of the rights of their own personality that they did their very utmost to curtail and destroy them in others, and made that the chief thing in their lives.  Slavery followed, even voluntary slavery; the weak eagerly submitted to the strong, on condition that the latter aided them to subdue the still weaker. 
After witnessing these scenes of destruction the narrator then offered his solution:
The chief thing is to love others like yourself, that's the chief thing, and that's everything; nothing else is wanted - you will find out at once how to arrange it all.  And yet it's an old truth which has been told and retold a billion times - but it has not formed part of our lives! 
And you gotta love the voice of Jeremy Irons reading this part of the story!

Saturday, December 14, 2013

10 Inspiring Leap-of-Faith Quotes!

I took a gigantic leap of faith today—one that I've been considering for a while. I've been extremely apprehensive about the whole thing. The choice has essentially been between 1) total security and 2) the possibility of achieving my dreams. Just the possibility, mind you. Absolutely zero guarantees.

As I was debating these two choices, I read several quotes online that inspired me to take the leap. Here are ten of my favorites (and wish me luck on the leap—no guarantees, but a whole lot of adventure!)

"There is only one way to avoid criticism: do nothing, say nothing, and be nothing." (Aristotle)

"I always did something I was a little not ready to do. I think that’s how you grow. When there’s that moment of ‘Wow, I’m not really sure I can do this,’ and you push through those moments, that’s when you have a breakthrough." (Marissa Mayer)

"Do the one thing you think you cannot do. Fail at it. Try again. Do better the second time. The only people who never tumble are those who never mount the high wire. This is your moment. Own it." (Oprah Winfrey)

"If you don’t build your dream, someone else will hire you to help them build theirs." (Dhirubhai Ambani)

"It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might have well not have lived at all, in which case you have failed by default." (J.K. Rowling)

"Always go with your passions. Never ask yourself if it’s realistic or not." (Deepak Chopra)

"You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life." (Steve Jobs)

"When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be." (Lao Tzu)

"And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom." (Anais Nin)

"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do, so throw off the bowlines, sail away from safe harbor, catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore, Dream, Discover." (Mark Twain)

Monday, December 9, 2013

Hatred is a Lie

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
Here's a little quote that will twist your brain around. But in a good way! :)
"But let us not forget that violence does not live alone and is not capable of living alone: it is necessarily interwoven with falsehood. Between them lies the most intimate, the deepest of natural bonds. Violence finds its only refuge in falsehood, falsehood its only support in violence. Any man who has once acclaimed violence as his method must inexorably choose falsehood as his principle. At its birth violence acts openly and even with pride. But no sooner does it become strong, firmly established, than it senses the rarefaction of the air around it and it cannot continue to exist without descending into a fog of lies, clothing them in sweet talk. It does not always, not necessarily, openly throttle the throat, more often it demands from its subjects only an oath of allegiance to falsehood, only complicity in falsehood." (Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn)

Saturday, December 7, 2013

A REAL Love Poem

I present to you one of the sweetest love poems ever written. It's sweet because it's real.

Love Poem
by John Frederick Nims (1913-1999)

My clumsiest dear, whose hands shipwreck vases,
At whose quick touch all glasses chip and ring,
Whose palms are bulls in china, burs in linen,
And have no cunning with any soft thing

Except all ill-at-ease fidgeting people:
The refugee uncertain at the door
You make at home; deftly you steady
The drunk clambering on his undulant floor.

Unpredictable dear, the taxi drivers’ terror,
Shrinking from far headlights pale as a dime
Yet leaping before apopleptic streetcars—
Misfit in any space. And never on time.

A wrench in clocks and the solar system. Only
With words and people and love you move at ease;
In traffic of wit expertly maneuver
And keep us, all devotion, at your knees.

Forgetting your coffee spreading on our flannel,
Your lipstick grinning on our coat,
So gaily in love’s unbreakable heaven
Our souls on glory of spilt bourbon float.

Be with me, darling, early and late. Smash glasses—
I will study wry music for your sake.
For should your hands drop white and empty
All the toys of the world would break.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Tuesdays With Morrie and The Little Wave

Tuesdays with Morrie
I just finished listening to Tuesdays With Morrie. It's a great book and I highly recommend it. It really puts your life into perspective. 

Towards the end of the book, as Morrie is getting ever so close to death, he shares a short story about a little wave. I thought it was interesting because it illustrates how we are all part of a much larger scheme of life.
“Okay. The story is about a little wave, bobbing along in the ocean, having a grand old time. He's enjoying the wind and the fresh air-until he notices the other waves in front of him, crashing against the shore. "My God, this is terrible," the wave says. "Look what's going to happen to me!"  
Then along comes another wave. It sees the first wave, looking grim, and it says to him, "Why do you look so sad?" 
The first wave says, "You don't understand! We're all going to crash! All of us waves are going to be nothing! Isn't it terrible?" 
The second wave says, "No, you don't understand. You're not a wave, you're part of the ocean.”

Thursday, December 5, 2013

The Business of Jacob Marley

Jacob Marley
As Christmas is rapidly approaching, I thought I'd post what I believe to be the best passage from that immortal classic.

In this scene, Jacob Marley is visiting Ebenezer Scrooge and is lamenting the opportunities he lost to serve mankind. Scrooge replies:
"But you were always a good man of business, Jacob," faltered Scrooge, who now began to apply this to himself. 
"Business!" cried the Ghost, wringing its hands again.  "Mankind was my business.  The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were, all, my business.  The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!" 
It held up its chain at arm's length, as if that were the cause of all its unavailing grief, and flung it heavily upon the ground again. 
"At this time of the rolling year," the spectre said "I suffer most.  Why did I walk through crowds of fellow-beings with my eyes turned down, and never raise them to that blessed Star which led the Wise Men to a poor abode!  Were there no poor homes to which its light would have conducted me!"

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

It's Official: My Book Will Be Published!

I'm so very excited to officially announce that my book has been accepted by Berrett-Koehler Publishers and will be published next year!!

Click here to learn more about it!

One of my favorite Ben Franklin quotes!

Monday, December 2, 2013

Is it Good Luck or is it Bad Luck? | A Fable

The Way of the Peaceful Warrior, by Dan Millman
This short fable from The Way of the Peaceful Warrior, by Dan Millman, really makes me think. Can the things that happen to us really be considered good or bad? You decide...

An old man and his son worked a small farm, with only one horse to pull the plow.

One day, the horse ran away.

“How terrible,” sympathized the neighbors. “What bad luck.”

“Good luck? Bad luck? Who knows?” answered the old man.  

A week later, the horse returned form the mountains, leading five wild mares into the barn.

“What wonderful luck!” said the neighbors. 

“Who knows whether it is bad luck or good luck,” the farmer replied. 

The next day, the son, trying to tame one of the horses, fell and broke his leg. 

“How terrible. What bad luck!” 

“Bad luck? Good luck?” 

The army came to all the farms to take the young men for war. The farmer’s son was of no use to them, so he was spared. 

“Good? Bad?” 

Sunday, December 1, 2013

The Light of a Narnian Lamppost

"It will not go out of my mind that if we pass this post and lantern, either we shall find strange adventures or else some great changes of our fortunes."
― Lucy Pevensie

Rates are reasonable.
I love the feel of December, don't you? Perhaps we call it "the most wonderful time of the year" because it's a time when most of us feel more like children. Christmas has this magical ability to bring back nostalgic memories of bygone days while simultaneously generating newer, warmer memories. It's like a cup of hot chocolate for the heart!

One of my favorite memories of Christmas is when, at the age of seven, I opened my stocking to find a cartoon version of The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe.

Although the cartoon was poorly done, my seven-year-old self couldn't get enough of it! Every Christmas, I would watch it over and over again. There was just something in the story of which I couldn't get enough (mostly, I just wanted to find the land of Narnia for myself—adventures that I detailed in this blog post).

Many years later, I found solace in the words of C. S. Lewis, author of the Chronicles of Narnia and numerous works of non-fiction.

At the time, I was wading through a very difficult time and my mind had been overcome with an almost tangible darkness. The light-hearted, yet deeply profound and comforting writings of C. S. Lewis were like a lamppost to my soul—something that led me out of the darkness and placed me among caring friends.

In this, I've often felt that the light of that literary lamppost was akin to the light of God, leading me out of myself to reach upward and walk forward among others.

I love this exchange from The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. In this scene, Eustace has just experienced a remarkable transformation of character because Aslan helped him change (replace the word 'Aslan' with 'God').
“I think you've seen Aslan," said Edmund. 
"Aslan!" said Eustace. "I've heard that name mentioned several times since we joined the Dawn Treader. And I felt - I don't know what - I hated it. But I was hating everything then. And by the way, I'd like to apologise. I'm afraid I've been pretty beastly." 
"That's all right," said Edmund. "Between ourselves, you haven't been as bad as I was on my first trip to Narnia. You were only an ass, but I was a traitor." 
"Well, don't tell me about it, then," said Eustace. "But who is Aslan? Do you know him?" 
"Well - he knows me," said Edmund. "He is the great Lion, the son of the Emperor-beyond-the-Sea, who saved me and saved Narnia. We've all seen him. Lucy sees him most often. And it may be Aslan's country we are sailing to.”
And on some level, perhaps we're all journeying to Aslan's country—a land of light, no doubt. :)

A picture from the cartoon I watched as a kid. Mr. Tumnus is one dope devil with a fro!

Saturday, November 30, 2013

To Hunger for Revenge

The Count of Monte Cristo, my favorite movie. :)
A friend of mine (who is also a counselor) once told me that "humans, crave revenge. To us, it's almost a sensual, pleasurable thing. A movie or a book is not satisfying to us unless the villain 'gets what he deserves.'"

I've pondered what he said for a while now. I believe it's true. Some of the coolest movies are the movies in which the villain receives the most poetic/dramatic death (right now, I'm picturing the final fight from the movie Gladiator—that guy had it coming!).

Without question or dispute, my favorite movie is The Count of Monte Cristo (I'm sorry, but the movie sooo much better than the book. Believe me, I read the UNABRIDGED version. I know what I'm talking about!!).

I was watching the movie today as I finished remodeling our living room. In it, Edmund Dantes spends almost sixteen years plotting revenge against the people that betrayed him.

As his hunger for revenge ravenously consumes him, he loses his sense of the sweetness of life and nearly loses the woman he loves.

To hunger for revenge revenge is to be filled with poison. When we hate another human being we personify the very things we say we hate in others. On top of that, the cycle of revenge will never end until someone forgives. Truly, the philosophy of "an eye for an eye" really does make the whole world blind.

In conclusion, I thoroughly enjoy this quote from James Allen: "Whatever others may say of you, whatever they may do to you, do not return hatred with hatred. Hatred is so small and poor, so blind and wretched. Love is so great and rich, so far-seeing and blissful."

Friday, November 29, 2013

Transforming Depression Into a Blessing

In his book, The Road Less Travelled, psychiatrist M. Scott Peck explained how even our heaviest burdens (including mental illness) can become our greatest blessings. All we need to do is accept our condition and undertake the necessary steps to heal ourselves.
… these painful, and unwanted symptoms of mental illness, are manifestations of grace, the products of a ‘powerful force originating outside of consciousness which nurtures our spiritual growth.’ As is common with grace, most reject this gift and do not heed the message. They do this in a variety of ways, all of which represent an attempt to avoid the responsibility for their illness. Usually, in many subtle ways, they will blame the world outside them – uncaring relatives, false friends, greedy corporations, a sick society, and even fate – for their condition. Only those few, who accept responsibility for their symptoms, heed the message of their unconscious and accept its grace. 
The relationship between grace and mental illness is beautifully embodied in the great Greek myth of Orestes and the Furies. Orestes was the grandson of Atreus, a man who had viciously attempted to prove himself more powerful than the gods. Because of his crime against them, the gods punished Atreus by placing a curse upon all his descendants. As part of the enactment of this curse upon the House of Atreus, Orestes’ mother, Clytemnestra, murdered his father and her husband, Agamemnon. This crime in turn brought down the curse upon Orestes’ head, because by the Greek code of honour, the son was obliged above all else, to slay his father’s murderer. Yet the greatest sin a Greek could commit was the sin of matricide. Orestes agonised over his dilemma. Finally, he did what he seemingly had to do and killed his mother. For this sin, the gods then punished Orestes by visiting upon him the Furies, three ghastly harpies who could be seen and heard only by him and who tormented him night and day with their cackling criticism and frightening appearance. 
Pursued wherever he went by the Furies, Orestes wandered about the land seeking to atone for his crime. After many years of lonely reflection and self-abrogation, Orestes requested the gods to relieve him of the curse on the House of Atreus, stating his belief that he had succeeded in atoning for the murder of his mother. The gods held a trial. Speaking in Orestes’ defence, Apollo argued that he had engineered the whole situation that had placed Orestes in the position in which he had no choice but to kill his mother, and therefore Orestes really could not be held responsible. At this point Orestes jumped up and contradicted his own defender, stating, “It was I, not Apollo, that murdered my mother!” The gods were amazed. Never before had a member of the House of Atreus assumed such total responsibility for himself and not blamed the gods. Eventually, the gods decided the trial in Orestes’ favour, and transformed the Furies into the Euminides, loving spirits who through their wise counsel enabled Orestes to obtain continuing good fortune. 
The meaning of this myth is not obscure. The Euminides are also referred to as ‘the bearers of grace’. The hallucinatory Furies represent the private hell of mental illness. However, Orestes did not blame his family, nor the gods or fate, as he well might have. Instead, he accepted his condition as one of his own making and undertook the effort to heal it, and through this healing process of his own effort, the very things that had caused him agony became the things that brought him wisdom.
As someone who struggles with depression, I am keenly aware of how difficult it has been to "accept [my] condition as one of [my] own making" and undertake the effort of healing.

But I can also attest to a marvelous, inexplicable source of power that has come to me as a result of accepting full responsibility for my condition. The day I stopped running away from pain and blaming other things for my problems is the same day I was given strength to face my demons.

In consonance with these sentiments, I want to share one of my favorite quotes by Robert Louis Stevenson: "You cannot run away from a weakness; you must some time fight it out or perish; and if that be so, why not now, and where you stand?"

Thursday, November 28, 2013

George Washington's Thanksgiving Proclamation

George Washington
The followingThanksgiving proclamation was made by President George Washington on Oct. 3, 1789. What are your thoughts about it? Are we keeping or missing the true intent of Thanksgiving?

Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor; and

Whereas both Houses of Congress have, by their joint committee, requested me "to recommend to the people of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness":

Now, therefore, I do recommend and assign Thursday, the 26th day of November next, to be devoted by the people of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the Beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country previous to their becoming a nation; for the signal and manifold mercies and the favorable interpositions of His providence in the course and conclusion of the late war; for the great degree of tranquillity, union, and plenty which we have since enjoyed; for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national one now lately instituted; for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and, in general, for the great and various favors which He has been pleased to confer upon us.

And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations, and beseech Him to pardon our national and other transgressions; to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually; to render our national government a blessing to all the people by constantly being a government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed; to protect and guide all sovereigns and nations (especially such as have shown kindness to us), and to bless them with good governments, peace, and concord; to promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and us; and, generally, to grant unto all mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as He alone knows to be best.

Given under my hand, at the city of New York, the 3d day of October, AD 1789, —George Washington

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

What If God Was One of Us?

For some reason, I've been thinking a lot about a short story by Leo Tolstoy. It's called "Where Love is, There God is Also." It's one of my favorites. I'd summarize it for you, but perhaps it would be better if I just let you watch it?

I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

What Causes Depression?

As someone who suffers from depression, I was intrigued by M. Scott Peck's description of depression in The Road Less Traveled. According to him, depression is sometimes what we experience as we are giving up our "old self."
“Since mentally healthy human beings must grow, and since giving up or loss of the old self is an integral part of the process of mental and spiritual growth, depression is a normal and basically healthy phenomenon. It becomes abnormal or unhealthy only when something interferes with the giving-up process, with the result that the depression is prolonged and cannot be resolved by completion of the process.” (Wisdom from The Road Less Traveled, 2001).
I just read that today, but I can see where it makes sense. Part of growing up means letting go of the old and accepting the new. The times when I have been the most depressed have been the times when I have tried to hold on to the past—but the past cannot be held. As a result of my inability to recapture what is lost, I become depressed.

Fascinating, fascinating thought.

Monday, November 25, 2013

What Is Love, Love?

Baby don't hurt me. Don't hurt me. No more.

A good friend of mine recently recommended that I read "The Road Less Traveled" by M. Scott Peck. So I started listening to it today while at work (my job facilitates my addiction to audiobooks). I gotta admit, it's a pretty amazing book.

While I could certainly talk about a number of things he mentions, I really enjoyed some of his comments on love. Here are a few of my favorite quotations:
“Love is the will to extend one's self for the purpose of nurturing one's own or another's spiritual growth... Love is as love does. Love is an act of will -- namely, both an intention and an action. Will also implies choice. We do not have to love. We choose to love.” 
“Genuine love is volitional rather than emotional. The person who truely loves does so because of a decision to love. This person has made a commitment to be loving whether or not the loving feeling is present. ...Conversely, it is not only possible but necessary for a loving person to avoid acting on feelings of love.” 
“Love is the free exercise of choice. Two people love each other only when they are quite capable of living without each other but choose to live with each other.”

Sunday, November 24, 2013

A Simple Way to Influence Others (Without Controlling Them)

The Wind and The Sun
Today, I heard this wonderful little tale from Aesop's Fables. It's a short story that teaches a profound principle.
THE NORTH WIND and the Sun disputed as to which was the most powerful, and agreed that he should be declared the victor who could first strip a wayfaring man of his clothes.  The North Wind first tried his power and blew with all his might, but the keener his blasts, the closer the Traveler wrapped his cloak around him, until at last, resigning all hope of victory, the Wind called upon the Sun to see what he could do.  The Sun suddenly shone out with all his warmth.  The Traveler no sooner felt his genial rays than he took off one garment after another, and at last, fairly overcome with heat, undressed and bathed in a stream that lay in his path.  
The moral of the story? Persuasion is better than force.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Overwhelmed by Mercy in The Brothers Karamazov

Dostoyevsky—the original hipster.
Today, after two years of starting and stopping, I finally finished what has to be the most dreadfully boring, insanity-inducing, mind-numbingly painful audio recording of The Brothers Karamazov—ever created.

Having a deep appreciation for all things Dostoevsky, I purchased this Satan-inspired recording, hoping to finally read and understand this classic.

Shortly after I started listening to it, I realized that I had made a horrible, unalterable mistake. Had this unabridged audio recording persisted for another hour, I am certain that I would have skewered my eardrums with a nail. Alas, compared to the narrator's voice, a nail would have been a sweet mercy.

Be that as it may, I did manage to glean a few good things from Dostoyevsky's Magnum Opus. One of my favorite parts comes from Fetyukovich, Dmitri's lawyer.

In defense of the accused Dmitri, Fetyukovich asks the jury to acquit Dmitri, even if they think he's guilty. His reasoning made me think about how we are all, in a sense, guilty and accused. In one way or another, we are all in desperate need of mercy and love. Imagine yourself in Dmitri's position, as someone who is being judged by others. Imagine if those people responded like this:
"There are souls that in their narrowness blame the whole world. But overwhelm such a soul with mercy, give it love, and it will curse what it has done, for there are so many germs of good in it. The soul will expand and behold how merciful God is, and how beautiful and just people are. He will be horrified, he will be overwhelmed with repentance and the countless debt he must henceforth repay."
That quote made me feel a little more forgiving towards my sadistic narrator.

...just a little, mind you.

The Brothers Karamazov
Book XII - A Judicial Error, Chapter 13 - An Adulterer of Thought.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Charles Dickens and The Power of Encouragement

Charles Dickens
I've always been impressed by the power of encouragement—by using our words to inspire someone to believe in themselves.

About a year ago, while driving from San Francisco to Utah, I finished listening to How to Win Friends and Influence People. In that book, Dale Carnegie shares this touching story:
"In the early nineteenth century, a young man in London aspired to be a writer. But everything seemed to be against him. He had never been able to attend school more than four years. His father had been flung in jail because he couldn't pay his debts, and this young man often knew the pangs of hunger. Finally, he got a job pasting labels on bottles of blacking in a rat-infested warehouse, and he slept at night in a dismal attic room with two other boys - guttersnipes from the slums of London. He had so little confidence in his ability to write that he sneaked out and mailed his first manuscript in the dead of night so nobody would laugh at him. Story after story was refused. Finally the great day came when one was accepted. True, he wasn't paid a shilling for it, but one editor had praised him. One editor had given him recognition. He was so thrilled that he wandered aimlessly around the streets with tears rolling down his cheeks. 
"The praise, the recognition, that he received through getting one story in print, changed his whole life, for if it hadn't been for that encouragement, he might have spent his entire life working in rat-infested factories. You may have heard of that boy. His name was Charles Dickens."  
Think of how many millions of people have been inspired by Charles Dickens....but also think about the one person who inspired Charles Dickens.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

A Beautiful Love Quote by Charles Dickens

A painting of my wife, created by Howard Lyon www.HowardLyon.com
My favorite quote on love comes from Great Expectations, by Charles Dickens. I shared it with my wife shortly before we were married.
"You are part of my existence, part of myself. You have been in every line I have ever read...You have been in every prospect I have ever seen since - on the river, on the sails of the ships, on the marshes, in the clouds, in the light, in the darkness, in the wind, in the woods, in the sea, in the streets. You have been the embodiment of every graceful fancy that my mind has ever become acquainted with. The stones of which the strongest London buildings are made, are not more real, or more impossible to be displaced by your hands, than your presence and influence have been to me, there and everywhere, and will be."

Monday, November 4, 2013

Welcome to The Alaskan Muse!

Hello! Hello! And welcome to The Alaskan Muse (moose, muse, get it?): a blog of my literal, literary adventures. Oh, don't give me that face! C'mon, it'll be fun!

Here I will be posting daily selections from literary classics coupled with my insights (because you can totally put those two side-by-side, right?).

So check back every day, I promise it'll be epic. See, here's an epic picture of me standing in Alaska and staring off into the distance. What more epic proof could you ask for?

Epic Alaska!

Thursday, October 31, 2013

13 SCARY Stories for Halloween

Edgar just hopes the bird doesn't poop.
In honor of Halloween (the greatest holiday ever invented), I thought I'd present a list of some of thirteen classic scary, short stories. I hope you don't mind that all of my choices come from American Literature. It's not because I'm intentionally favoring American Literature (which I am), but it's because I believe America that successfully co-opted Halloween with Pumpkins, Edgar Allan Poe, and Hershey's chocolate.
  1. "A Rose for Emily" by William Faulkner
  2. "The Black Cat" by Edgar Allan Poe
  3. "Rip Van Winkle" by Washington Irving 
  4. "Young Goodman Brown" by Nathaniel Hawthorne
  5. "The Golden Arm" by Mark Twain
  6. "Hop-Frog" by Edgar Allan Poe
  7. "The Minister's Black Veil" by Nathaniel Hawthorne 
  8. "The Tell-Tale Heart" by Edgar Allan Poe
  9. "The Lottery" by Shirley Jackson
  10. "A Cask of Amontillado" by Edgar Allan Poe
  11. "Where are You Going, Where Have You Been?" by Joyce Carol Oats
  12. "The Raven" by Edgar Allan Poe
  13. "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" by Washington Irving
But if you're looking for a good, American novel to read—one that will subtly frighten you with hellfire and damnation until you repent—I recommend "The Scarlet Letter." It's quite literally my favorite book. 

Here's some music that will talk your ears into talking your eyes into reading the book.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

The 12 Days of Halloween - Day I

Autumn in Utah, DGF
Halloween is, without question, my favorite holiday.

"Why is that?" you may ask.

Well, perhaps it has something to do with the fact that I was raised in Alaska then later transplanted to the continental US. This radical change in geography made me suddenly aware of something that my two-season Alaskan homeland had denied me my whole life:


Yes, Autumn! That glorious season of beautiful leaves, pumpkin pies, sweaters, scary stories, apple cider, and the smells of harvest (news flash, Edward Pola and George Wyle: Christmas is NOT the most wonderful time of the year—AUTUMN is! You can take your commercialized Yule Tide and stuff it in a pumpkin)!

The introduction of Autumn into my childhood was as though Mother Nature herself had come to me and said: 
"Here, Seth, I really want you to enjoy this season. It has a wide variety of unique colors, tastes, and emotions. Most people get about 90 Autumns in their lives. You've missed about ten of those to make you more fully appreciate your remaining 80. Go, partake of the season. Drink some cider and eat some pumpkin pie. But be careful. If you eat too much pumpkin pie I don't know if you're going to live until you're 90."
(Naturally, she said all of this in a motherly, sweet, ethereal, earthy voice. Mother Nature is cool that way). And I heard and obeyed!

"Coraline" by Neil Gaiman
But now, almost twenty years later, I find myself even farther from my Alaskan homeland. It is a strange place, known to the locals as "Florida." Vastly different from the upper 48.

One of the differences (much to my chagrin) is the complete absence of Autumn. Whose decision was it to banish happiness from Florida?

To make up for the biggest mistake since Cain killed Abel, I've decided to invoke the spirit of Autumn by celebrating the Twelve Days of Halloween.

Unfortunately, there is no codified way of celebrating the Twelve Days of Halloween, so I will just have to make it up as I go along. Which I'm okay with doing, because I've been making up life ever since I was born.

SO! On the first day of Halloween, Sethie will eat candy corn and peanuts (put them together, its amazing!) and watch Coraline, a creepy awesome claymation movie based on the book by Neil Gaiman (a fantastic writer).

Which brings me to another point! A few years ago, Neil Gaiman started a fantastic Halloween tradition called "All Hallows Read." I strongly recommend it to everyone:

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Is Your Life Better Than Napoleon's?

I am always moved by these words written by Robert G. Ingersoll, an American political leader and orator. Deeply profound.
A little while ago I stood by the grave of Napoleon, a magnificient tomb of gilt and gold, fit almost for a dead deity, and gazed upon the sarcophagus of black Egyptian marble where rests at last the ashes of the restless man. I leaned over the balustrade and thought about the career of the greatest soldier of the modern world. 
I saw him walking upon the banks of the Seine contemplating suicide; I saw him at Toulon; I saw him putting down the mob in the streets of Paris; I saw him at the head of the army of Italy; I saw him crossing the bridge at Lodi with the tricolor in his hand; I saw him in Egypt in the shadows of the pyramids; I saw him conquer the Alps and mingle the eagle of France with the eagles of the crags. I saw him at Marengo, at Ulm and Austerlitz. I saw him in Russia, where the infantry of the snow and the cavalry of the wild blast scattered his legions like winter's withered leaves. I saw him at Leipsic in defeat and disaster, driven by a million bayonets back upon Paris, clutched like a wild beast, banished to Elba. I saw him escape and retake an Empire by the force of his genius. I saw him upon the frightful field of Waterloo, when chance and fate combined to wreck the fortunes of their former king. And I saw him at St. Helena, with his hands crossed behind him, gazing out upon the sad and solemn sea. 
I thought of the orphans and widows he had made; of the tears that had been shed for his glory and of the only woman who had ever loved him pushed from his heart by the cold hand of ambition. 
And I said I would rather have been a French peasant and worn wooden shoes. I would rather have lived in a hut with a vine growing over the door and the grapes growing purple in the kisses of the autumn sun. I would rather have been that poor peasant with my loving wife by my side, knitting as the day died out of the sky, with my children upon my knee and their arms about me. I would rather have been that man and gone down to the tongueless silence of the dreamless dust than to have been that imperial impersonation of force and murder known as Napoleon the Great. 
And so I would ten thousand times.

Napoleon's Tomb

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Photographed For A Temple Mural

Being photographed by Howard Lyon
On 18 April, Kim and I had the AMAZING opportunity of being photographed.

Now, some of you might not be thrilled at the prospect of being photographed, but that's probably because you haven't been photographed under the proper conditions.

Here are the proper conditions:

1. You must be photographed by a professional artist.

2. Those photographs must be used for a Temple mural.

Well, whaddaya know?! Kim and I met both of those qualifications last Thursday!

A few months ago, I found out that my friend, Howard Lyon, was asked by the Church to do the murals for the Gilbert, Arizona Temple. He asked me if Kim and I were interested in being photographed for one of those murals.

I believe my answer came out in stutters.

So Kim and I planned a work trip around the photo shoot drove out to Arizona last Wednesday and posed for The Sermon on the Mount.

How cool is that?!?

During the shoot, Howard said something that I think is worth repeating. Said he: "In this photo, you're listening to Christ speak. Remember, not everyone at that time knew he was the Savior. If it was undeniable that he was the Savior, then he wouldn't have been crucified. In everything we do, Christ wants us to exercise faith."

I thought that was very profound. Even for the people who walked with Christ, faith was still a challenge. Faith is hard. Faith is work. And God will always require us to exercise our faith.

Anyway, Howard and Shari (his wife) both told Kim that she was a perfect model; not only is she a very relaxed on camera (she's a talented actress), but she also has some very Middle-Eastern facial features. When I asked how I did, they chuckled and said: "You're Seth."

I don't know if I should be delighted or offended...

In any case, thank you Howard and Shari! You're wonderful people and I'm glad we're friends (even if we can't remember how we met)!

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Does the Love of God Matter?

Maya Angelou

While driving home, I heard this wonderful quote from Maya Angelou, a Civil Rights' activist overcame many difficult experiences. I thought I would share it with you.
"One day the teacher, Frederick Wilkerson, asked me to read to him. I was 24, very erudite, very worldly. He asked that I read from Lessons in Truth, a section which ended with these words: "God loves me." I read the piece and closed the book, and the teacher said, "Read it again." I pointedly opened the book, and I sarcastically read, "God loves me." He said, "Again." After about the seventh repetition I began to sense that there might be truth in the statement, that there was a possibility that God really did love me. Me, Maya Angelou. I suddenly began to cry at the grandness of it all. I knew that if God loved me, then I could do wonderful things, I could try great things, learn anything, achieve anything. For what could stand against me with God, since one person, any person with God, constitutes the majority? 
"That knowledge humbles me, melts my bones, closes my ears, and makes my teeth rock loosely in their gums. And it also liberates me. I am a big bird winging over high mountains, down into serene valleys. I am ripples of waves on silver seas. I'm a spring leaf trembling in anticipation."
(Wouldn't Take Nothing for My Journey Now, 1993)

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Finding Family at A Russian-American Wedding

Jake and Galena
Today I had the honor of attending the beautiful wedding ceremony of my Russian friend, Galena, to her American husband, Jake.

The word 'beautiful' doesn't do it justice. It was a moment of pure grace and rapture—a spiritually transformative event.

The wedding ceremony took place in the Salt Lake Temple and was officiated by Elder Paul B. Pieper, a humble, spiritual giant.

As fate would have it, I sat next to Brother and Sister Sessions, a couple that served in my exact same mission (Vladivostok, Russia) at the exact same time as me. As soon as I sat down next to them, Sister Sessions did a double take and said: "Smith!" I did my best to hide the emotion as I responded to their questions. I was touched that after all these years, they had remembered the quiet Elder who had left the mission a year early.

Shortly after I took my seat, Jake and Galena entered entered the room—what a lovely couple!—and the ceremony began. Tears sprang to my eyes as Elder Pieper spoke the words of the ceremony first in Russian, then in English. As I watched Galena, my dear friend of nearly ten years, be sealed to her husband for time and all eternity, I was overcome with a feeling of intense gratitude. The sealing power is real, and it is wholesome, good, and pure. I am grateful that knowledge and power of sealing relationships together for time and all eternity was restored through the Prophet Joseph Smith.

Parley P. Pratt said it best when he wrote:
"It was Joseph Smith who taught me how to prize the endearing relationships of father and mother, husband and wife; of brother and sister, son and daughter. It was from him that I learned that the wife of my bosom might be secured to me for time and all eternity; and that the refined sympathies and affections which endeared us to each other emanated from the fountain of divine eternal love. . . . I had loved before, but I knew not why. But now I loved—with a pureness—an intensity of elevated, exalted feeling" (Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt, ed. Parley P. Pratt Jr. (1938), 259–60; paragraph divisions altered).
Through the power of this restored knowledge, two very different people had been sealed together in marriage for time and all eternity. Despite any cultural differences, they were now a family.

Furthermore, through the power of this restored knowledge, I had been blessed to serve in a remote corner of Russia, and had come to know the goodness and greatness of the Russian people. Despite our cultural differences, I now recognize them as part of my family. What a beautiful, rapturous thing. Sitting in that sealing room, my heart was filled with a strong desire to bring the blessings of the gospel (and the temple) to each and every one of the Russian people. If, for no other reason, than to help us all see each other as family.

So here's to you on your wedding day, Galena—Моя дорогая сестра (My dear sister).