Sunday, December 28, 2014

If You Think You Are Beaten, You Are

This short poem is a powerful reminder that our thoughts are the architects of our destiny.

by Walter D. Wintle

If you think you are beaten, you are
If you think you dare not, you don't,
If you like to win, but you think you can't
It is almost certain you won't.

If you think you'll lose, you've lost
For out of the world we find,
Success begins with a fellow's will
It's all in the state of mind.

If you think you are outclassed, you are
You've got to think high to rise,
You've got to be sure of yourself before
You can ever win a prize.

Life's battles don't always go
To the stronger or faster man,
But soon or late the man who wins

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

This Little Girl Just Restored My Faith in Humanity...

This little girl started a dance party at an NYC Subway stop...and it restored my faith in humanity. Watch the video below!

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Do You Have Room for the Savior?

This is one of my favorite Christmas songs. It has a powerful message.

"Do You Have Room" Lyrics

They journeyed far, a weary pair
They sought for shelter from the cold night air
Some place where she could lay her head
Where she could give her babe a quiet bed

Was there no room? No corner there?
In all the town a spot someone could spare?
Was there no soul come to their aid?
A stable bare was where the family stayed.

Do you have room for the Savior?
And do you seek Him anew?
Have you a place for the one who lived and died for you?
Are you as humble as a shepherd boy
Or as wise as men of old?
Would you have come that night?
Would you have sought the light?
Do you have room?

A star arose, a wondrous light
A sign from God -- this was the holy night.
And yet so few would go to see
The babe who came to rescue you and me.

This child divine is now a King;
The gift of life to all the world He brings
And all mankind He saves from doom,
But on that night, for Him, there was no room


Will you come tonight?
Will you seek the light?
Do you have room?

Would you have come that night?

Monday, December 1, 2014

Insecurity: The Greatest Threat to Progress

A Sculpture of Christ by Angela Johnson
Some time ago, I went to a presentation on leadership given by Jonathan Johnson, the President of the More Good Foundation. He made a very strong point when he said that failures in leadership and in organizations all seem to stem from one thing: insecurity.

“The greatest single personnel issues that I have ever faced [within organizations],” said Jonathan, “…have come because of…insecurity. Insecurity fosters emotional responses, selfish ideals [but] if you know who you are, is there a need to be insecure?”

He then discussed, in detail, a talk by Spencer W. Kimball entitled Jesus: The Perfect Leader, from which I pull this awesome quote:
Jesus knew who he was and why he was here on this planet. That meant he could lead from strength rather than from uncertainty or weakness.  
Jesus operated from a base of fixed principles or truths rather than making up the rules as he went along. Thus, his leadership style was not only correct, but also constant. So many secular leaders today are like chameleons; they change their hues and views to fit the situation—which only tends to confuse associates and followers who cannot be certain what course is being pursued. Those who cling to power at the expense of principle often end up doing almost anything to perpetuate their power.
Jon suggested that since we know who we are (children of God) and since we have taken upon ourselves the name of Christ, we should not feel insecure about who we are and what we have been called to do. We should walk forward in faith.

A great presentation on leadership!

Friday, November 28, 2014

So You Want to Publish A Book? Here's How...

"Books Don't Create Movements, Movements Create Books"
Some time ago, I had the incredible opportunity to speak at TEDx in Sarasota, Florida. The title of my talk was "Books Don't Create Movements, Movements Create Books."

In my presentation, I shared some ideas on how to start a movement that will help you achieve your dreams and I even reveal my own childhood dream...

Saturday, November 22, 2014

When Nature Wants A Man - by Angela Morgan

This inspiring poem is a powerful reminder that our obstacles in life are the very things which make us stronger and wiser.
When Nature Wants A Man
by Angela Morgan

When Nature wants to drill a man, 
And thrill a man,
And skill a man.
When Nature wants to mould a man 
To play the noblest part;
When she yearns with all her heart 
To create so great and bold a man 
That all the world shall praise –
Watch her method, watch her ways! 
How she ruthlessly perfects 
Whom she royally elects;
How she hammers him and hurts him, 
And with mighty blows converts him
Into trial shapes of clay which only Nature understands
While his tortured heart is crying and he lifts beseeching hands!
How she bends, but never breaks, 
When his good she undertakes. . . . 
How she uses whom she chooses 
And with every purpose fuses him, 
By every art induces him
To try his splendour out –
Nature knows what she's about.

When Nature wants to take a man, 
And shake a man,
And wake a man;
When Nature wants to make a man 
To do the Future's will;
When she tries with all her skill 
And she yearns with all her soul 
To create him large and whole . . . 
With what cunning she prepares him!
How she goads and never spares him, 
How she whets him, and she frets him, 
And in poverty begets him . . .
How she often disappoints 
Whom she sacredly anoints, 
With what wisdom she will hide him, 
Never minding what betide him 
Though his genius sob with slighting and his pride may not forget!
Bids him struggle harder yet. 
Makes him lonely
So that only 
God's high messages shall reach him, 
So that she may surely teach him 
What the Hierarchy planned. 
Though he may not understand, 
Gives him passions to command. 
How remorselessly she spurs him 
With terrific ardour stirs him
When she poignantly prefers him

When Nature wants to name a man 
And fame a man
And tame a man;
When Nature wants to shame a man 
To do his heavenly best . . .
When she tries the highest test 
That she reckoning may bring
When she wants a god or king! 
How she reins him and restrains him 
So his body scarce contains him 
While she fires him
And inspires him!

Keeps him yearning, ever burning for a tantalizing goal –
Lures and lacerates his soul. 
Sets a challenge for his spirit, 
Draws it higher when he's near it
Makes a jungle, that he clear it; 
Makes a desert that he fear it
And subdue it if he can – 
So doth Nature make a man. 
Then, to test his spirit's wrath 
Hurls a mountain in his path
Puts a bitter choice before him

And relentlessly stands o'er him.
"Climb, or perish I" so she says. . . . 
Watch her purpose, watch her ways!

Nature's plan is wondrous kind 
Could we understand her mind . . . 
Fools are they who call her blind. 
When his feet are torn and bleeding 
Yet his spirit mounts unheeding, 
All his higher powers speeding, 
Blazing newer paths and fine; 
When the force that is Divine
Leaps to challenge every failure and his ardour still is sweet
And love and hope are burning in the presence of defeat . . .

Lo, the crisis! Lo, the shout 
That must call the leader out. 
When the people need salvation 
Doth he come to lead the nation. . . . 
Then doth Nature show her plan 
When the world has found - a MAN!

Saturday, September 20, 2014

The Legend of the Northern Lights

"If you look upward and fight onward, you can conquer the Great Mountain."
I'm not sure if I can take credit for this story because it was given to me in a moment of pure inspiration. I was camping in Arizona, and staring up at the stars with some friends when it suddenly struck me (True story. I have witnesses!).

Using the light of the fire, I sat up and hurriedly wrote it down. I've included it in my book, Your Life Isn't For You, with the sincere hope that it will help guide others forward. I've worked on the video featured below for a long time. If it inspires you, please—as a special favor to me—share it with others.

I am profoundly grateful for Ashley Collett (for creating such amazing illustrations) and for David Tolk (for allowing me to use his beautiful music).

Friday, September 5, 2014

Go To The Limits of Your Longing

Flare up like a flame...

My wife recently showed me this poem. I think its absolutely wonderful. They come from Rainer Maria Rilke's Book of Hours: Love Poems to God

"Go To The Limits of Your Longing" 

God speaks to each of us as he makes us,
then walks with us silently out of the night.

These are the words we dimly hear:

You, sent out beyond your recall,
go to the limits of your longing.
Embody me.

Flare up like a flame
and make big shadows I can move in.

Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.
Just keep going. No feeling is final.
Don't let yourself lose me.

Nearby is the country they call life.
You will know it by its seriousness.

Give me your hand.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Benjamin Franklin Invented "Paying It Forward"

Ben Franklin and "Pay It Forward"
This totally blows my mind, but Benjamin Franklin essentially invented the concept of "paying it forward," as we know it.

In a letter to Benjamin Webb, Franklin wrote this:
"I do not pretend to give such a deed; I only lend it to you. When you [...] meet with another honest Man in similar Distress, you must pay me by lending this Sum to him; enjoining him to discharge the Debt by a like operation, when he shall be able, and shall meet with another opportunity. I hope it may thus go thro' many hands, before it meets with a Knave that will stop its Progress. This is a trick of mine for doing a deal of good with a little money.
Although he was the son of an impoverished candle-maker, Ben grew to become one of the wealthiest men in America—yet he never forgot his roots and constantly strove to better society. He founded America's first hospital, organized the world's first fire department, and dedicated the remaining years of his life to the abolition of slavery. It truly amazes me how prodigiously charitable this man was.

I challenge you to honor Ben's legacy by "paying it forward" today. Do a good service for someone in need—because the world is in desperate need of goodness.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Suicide & The Hope of God's Light

"I realized that it is part of our condition as mortals to sometimes
feel as though we are surrounded by darkness..."

As someone who struggled (and occasionally still struggles) with suicidal thoughts and feelings, this wonderful video hit really close to home. I am so grateful for the people who made it.

"Many of us have wondered if God knows us or if He even exists. Todd was someone who made fun of people who thought God was real, and he wasn’t surprised when he didn’t get an immediate answer to a prayer. But could God be giving us small but obvious answers? And how patient do we need to be to get those answers?"

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Children With Down Syndrome Answer A Mother's Question...

"My baby has Down Syndrome..."

If any of you know about my family life, you'll know that I have a tender spot in my heart for those who have "disabilities."

In this heartwarming video, 15 people with Down syndrome share a message to a future mother. I still have tears in my eyes...

Monday, July 28, 2014

A Touching Story From the American Revolutionary War

The surrender of Cornwallis
In a wonderful speech about American history, David McCullough, author of 1776 and John Adams, shared a powerful story about General George Washington's troops, after they had suffered several heavy defeats:
The next morning a unit from Pennsylvania rode in—militiamen, among whom was a young officer named Charles Willson Peale, the famous painter. He walked among these ragged troops of Washington’s who had made the escape across from New Jersey and wrote about it in his diary. He said he’d never seen such miserable human beings in all his life—starving, exhausted, filthy. One man in particular he thought was just the most wretched human being he had ever laid eyes on. He described how the man’s hair was all matted and how it hung down over his shoulders. The man was naked except for what they called a blanket coat. His feet were wrapped in rags, his face all covered with sores from sickness. Peale was studying him when, all of a sudden, he realized that the man was his own brother. 
I think we should feel that they were all our brothers, those brave 3,000, and remember what they went through, just as Abigail Adams stressed in her letter. And that they didn’t quit!
Truly, our world only expands as we reach out to those who are suffering and struggling.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Frederick Douglass & The Secret Behind Success

Self-Made Men?
In 1895, Frederick Douglass, an escaped slave and abolitionist leader, gave a phenomenal speech titled "Self-Made Men." It it, Douglass shares the secret behind successful men and women:
I am certain that there is nothing good, great or desirable which man can possess in this world, that does not come by some kind of labor of physical or mental, moral or spiritual. A man, at times, gets something for nothing, but it will, in his hands, amount to nothing. What is true in the world of matter, is equally true in the world of the mind. Without culture there can be no growth; without exertion, no acquisition; without friction, no polish; without labor, no knowledge; without action, no progress and without conflict, no victory. A man that lies down a fool at night, hoping that he will waken wise in the morning, will rise up in the morning as he laid down in the evening. … 
From these remarks it will be evident that, allowing only ordinary ability and opportunity, we may explain success mainly by one word and that word is WORK! WORK!! WORK!!! WORK!!!! Not transient and fitful effort, but patient, enduring, honest, unremitting and indefatigable work into which the whole heart is put, and which, in both temporal and spiritual affairs, is the true miracle worker. Everyone may avail himself of this marvelous power, if he will. There is no royal road to perfection. Certainly no one must wait for some kind of friend to put a springing board under his feet, upon which he may easily bound from the first round of their ladder onward and upward to its highest round. If he waits for this, he may wait long, and perhaps forever. He who does not think himself worth saving from poverty and ignorance by his own efforts, will hardly be thought worth the efforts of anybody else. 
The lesson taught at this point by human experience is simply this, that the man who will get up will be helped up; and the man who will not get up will be allowed to stay down.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

God Is A Weaver

While reflecting on my life this past year, I was reminded of this poem. It's a reminder that although we can't always see the full picture of our lives, God is making it into something beautiful.

The Weaver

My life is but a weaving
Between my Lord and me,
I cannot choose the colors
He worketh steadily.

Oftimes He weaveth sorrow,
And I in foolish pride
Forget He sees the upper
And I, the underside.

Not till the loom in silent
And the shuttles cease to fly
Shall God unroll the canvas
And explain the reason why.

The dark threads are as needful
In the Weaver's skillful hand
As the threads of gold and silver
In the pattern He has planned.

- Author Unknown

Friday, July 18, 2014

Ralph Waldo Emerson & the Power of Reading

Ralph Waldo Emerson
I love these words by Ralph Waldo Emerson on the power of reading:
"Consider what you have in the smallest chosen library. A company of the wisest and wittiest men that could be picked out of all civil countries, in a 1000 years, have set in best order the results of their learning and wisdom. The men themselves were hid and inaccessible, solitary, impatient of interruption, fenced by etiquette; but the thought which they did not uncover to their bosom friend is here written out in transparent words to us, the strangers of another age."

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

This Story Will Lead You to Hidden Treasure!

Searching for hidden treasure...
A story is told of a man who sold his home and farm to a small family in order to fund his quest for hidden treasure. After years of looking through cities, deserts, jungles, and miles of wilderness, the treasure-seeker grew old, sick, poor, and utterly discouraged.

Giving into his depression, the old man threw himself into a mighty river, ending both his quest and his life.

Halfway around the world, the family who had bought the land from the treasure-seeker were carefully cultivating it. One day, while digging in the ground, they came across a most peculiar stone. Lifting it into the light they discovered that it was a diamond—one of the largest in the world.

Unbeknownst to him, the treasure-seeker's former home had been built atop a massive deposit of diamonds and precious jewels.

The greatest treasures in life are often "hidden" in our own backyard.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

"Life Is Like A Piano"

I recently stumbled across this quote and I absolutely love it! If anyone knows the original source please let me know.
"Life is like a piano, the white keys represent happiness and the black show sadness. But as you go through life's journey remember that the black keys also create music."

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

It's Easy To Say No To Life

I saw a production of Jean Anouilh's Antigone tonight. I was struck by these words spoken by King Creon:
"It is easy to say no. To say yes, you have to sweat and roll up your sleeves and plunge both hands into life up to the elbows. It is easy to say no, even if saying no means death. All you have to do is to sit still and wait. Wait to go on living; wait to be killed. That is the coward's part."
Saying yes to life is hard work—but it is so rewarding!

Sunday, April 6, 2014

The Seasons of Life | Parker Palmer

Years ago, I was given an article written by Parker Palmer that revolutionized my outlook on life and helped me move forward. The article comes from his book, To Know As We Are Known. I thought you might enjoy reading a few snippets.
Seasons is a wise metaphor for the movement of life, I think. It suggests that life is neither a battlefield nor a game of chance but something infinitely richer, more promising, more real. The notion that our lives are like the eternal cycle of the seasons does not deny the struggle or the joy, the loss of the gain, the darkness or the light, but encourages us to embrace it all—and to find in all of it opportunities for growth. 
Despite all appearances, of course, nature is not dead in winter—it has gone underground to renew itself and prepare for spring. Winter is a time when we are admonished, and even inclined, to do the same for ourselves. 
Until we enter boldly into the fears we most want to avoid, those fears will dominate our lives. But when we walk directly into them—protected from frostbite by the warm garb of friendship or inner discipline or spiritual guidance—we can learn what they have to teach us. Then we discover once again that the cycle of the seasons is trustworthy and life-giving, even in the most dismaying season of all. 
Summer is the season when all the promissory notes of autumn and winter and spring come due, and each year the debts are repaid with compound interest. In summer, it is hard to remember that we had ever doubted the natural process, had ever ceded death the last word, had ever lost faith in the powers of new life. Summer is a reminder that our faith is not nearly as strong as the things we profess to have faith in -- a reminder that for this single season, at least, we might cease our anxious machinations and give ourselves to the abiding and abundant grace of our common life.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

I Want To Be Hans Hubermann

Hans Hubermann and Liesel Meminger
In what is probably the most delicious and heart-breaking book I have ever read, I met a man—a fictional, yet true man—named Hans Hubermann.

If I become a man like Hans Hubermann, I will consider my life a success.

Hans Hubermann, a German living in Nazi-Germany, is the foster father of Liesel Meminger, the main character of The Book Thief. During World War I, Hans' life was saved by a Jew. Because of this, Hans consciously decides to not join the Nazi party. In the book, Hans quietly—yet daringly—resists the hatred of the Nazis while simultaneously offering beautiful acts of kindness.

At one point, a group of Jews are marched are marched through the town:
When they arrived in full, the noise of their feet throbbed on top of the road. Their eyes were enormous in their starving skulls. And the dirt. The dirt was molded to them. Their legs staggered as they were pushed by soldiers’ hands—a few wayward steps of forced running before the slow return to a malnourished walk.
Liesel watches them and describes their condition:
Hunger ate them as they continued forward, some of them watching the ground to avoid the people on the side of the road. Some looked appealingly at those who had come to observe their humiliation, this prelude to their deaths. Others pleaded for someone, anyone, to step forward and catch them in their arms. 
No one did. 
Whether they watched this parade with pride, temerity, or shame, nobody came forward to interrupt it. Not yet.
Then, after a hungry, dying Jew staggers forward, something unbelievable happens:
[Hans] reached into his paint cart and pulled something out. He made his way though the people, onto the road. 
The Jew stood before him, expecting another handful of derision, but he watched with everyone else as Hans Hubermann held his hand out and presented a piece of bread, like magic.
For the past week, I have been haunted by the thought of that scene. I think the actual weight of what he did really hit me today. Hans was not only offering food to someone who was deeply malnourished, but he was offering love to someone who had been deprived of it. Throughout his life, Hans is shown offering life-saving love to those in desperate need.

Our lives are filled with people starved for love—true love. Our offerings to them may seem meager, but they are no less meaningful. Indeed, our offerings of love may make all the difference between life and death.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Turning a Famine Into a Feast

Feast or Famine?
A story is told about a horde of locusts that devastated certain parts of South Africa. The landowners did everything they could to prevent the locusts from eating their crops, but all of their efforts were useless. The feasting of the locusts had completely devastated the land.

Shortly afterwards, the horde of locusts died and their bodies were plowed into the land. And in a twist of absolute irony, the once destructive locusts became the fertilizer for the best crops the farmers ever had.

In like manner, our tragedies—though devastating and destructive—often contain the hidden potential for growth. Just as winter is essential for summer, tragedy is essential to an eventual triumph.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Disturb Us, Lord

Disturb Us, Lord
Sir Francis Drake, an adventurer who accomplished much during his fifty-five years of life, is attributed with writing this poem. His words (along with the adventurous life he led) inspire me to get off my couch and live less comfortably!

Disturb us, Lord, when
We are too pleased with ourselves,
When our dreams have come true
Because we dreamed too little,
When we arrived safely
Because we sailed too close to the shore.

Disturb us, Lord, when
with the abundance of things we possess
We have lost our thirst
For the waters of life;
Having fallen in love with life,
We have ceased to dream of eternity
And in our efforts to build a new earth,
We have allowed our vision
Of the new Heaven to dim.

Disturb us, Lord, to dare more boldly,
To venture on wilder seas
Where storms will show Your mastery;
Where losing sight of land,
We shall find the stars.

We ask you to push back
The horizons of our hopes;
And to push back the future
In strength, courage, hope, and love.

This we ask in the name of our Captain,
Who is Jesus Christ.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Losers Make Excuses; Winners Make Progress

I've been reading a book by Brian Tracy called No Excuses. In it, he makes this amazing point:
Losers make excuses; winners make progress. Now, how can you tell if your favorite excuse is valid or not? It's simple. Look around and ask, "Is there anyone else who has my same excuse who is successful anyway?" 
When you ask this question, if you are honest, you will have to admit that there are thousands and even millions of people who have had it far worse than you have who have gone on to do wonderful things with their lives. And what thousands and millions of others have done, you can do as well—if you try.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

How to Find Hidden Treasure

The Farmer and His Sons
This wonderful little story comes from Aesop's Fables; it tells about the true source of fortune:
A Father, being on the point of death, wished to be sure that his sons would give the same attention to his farm as he himself had given it. He called them to his bedside and said, "My sons, there is a great treasure hid in one of my vineyards." The sons, after his death, took their spades and mattocks and carefully dug over every portion of their land. They found no treasure, but the vines repaid their labor by an extraordinary and superabundant crop.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

The Legend of the Saguaro

The Saguaro Cactus
It is said by some that the Saguaro cactus of the American Southwest are actually the spirits of our ancestors. They stand in the desert as watchful guardians—providing shade and protecting the life-giving water. Their arms point heavenward, as if in supplication to the Creator for the light and moisture which they receive from  Him.

They are living monuments of the past and examples for the future. In our walking through life, they remain steadfast and immoveable. They are a reminder of the influence of our ancestors and that our true strength comes from the Creator.

May we ever look to the Saguaro and remember the steadfastness our ancestors. And may we, like them, reach heavenward for strength from the Creator.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

The New Mother Teresa is...a Man?

His story reminded me of Mother Teresa. I thought he was an internet hoax. No one could possibly be that good. No one could be that kind. No one could be so self-sacrificing.

But he's real. And he's inspiring.

His name is Elder Dobri (or Dobri Dobrev). He's a 99-year-old Bulgarian man who lost most of his hearing in World War II and currently spends his days begging for money.

But here's the most remarkable thing: the money isn't for himself. He gives all of it to orphanages and churches.

I first learned about him through The Meta Picture (the images from his life are inspiring) and then confirmed the story on Snopes.com. He's real—unbelievably real.

I often marvel at individuals who are able to cast off the world and devote their lives to the service of others. Here is one of my favorite quotes from Elder Dobri:

"We have two wills, one from God, the other from the devil. And we are in war in our minds."

 Elder Dobri is definitely winning the war.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Leonardo da Vinci's Love for Life

I've been reading a most fascinating book. It's called Learning from Leonardo by Fritjof Capra. In this book, Capra draws upon his intimate knowledge of Leonardo da Vinci's personal notebooks to demonstrate the sheer genius of da Vinci's scientific achievements.

Truly, in nearly every conceivable field of study, Leonardo da Vinci was a jaw-dropping genius.

As I was reading, my attention was immediately drawn to a quote by da Vinci: "Qui non estima la vita non la merita."
"One who does not respect life does not deserve it."

I've thought a lot about that little quote. I thought about how eight years ago, I was so miserable and depressed. In the days leading up to my suicide attempt, I felt like my life had been completely drained of color. I felt like life was pointless, painful, and demeaning. I didn't respect the life I had been given and I failed to see the abundance of life that surrounded me.

In contrast, Leonardo clearly respected not only his own life, but the lives of others and the abundance of life that surrounded him. Perhaps it was this respect, curiosity, and love for life that made his own life so abundant.

Since recovering from my suicide attempt, I've learned the joy that comes from learning to love life. Food tastes better, hobbies are more enjoyable, the seasons are more beautiful, and my family and friends mean more to me than ever. As I've learned to love life, my life has been more fulfilling.

Life gives more to those who love life.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Does The Scarlet Letter REALLY Represent Adultery?

My favorite book is The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne and it's also my favorite love story.

Oh yes, it's a love story.

The Scarlet Letter is set in 17th Century New England and tells the story of Hester Prynne, a woman that is punished for adultery and forced to wear a scarlet letter 'A'. Hester's adulterous affair had produced a child, and unbeknownst to the townsfolk, the father of that child was Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale.

Hawthorne is a master of symbolism and his book is filled to bursting with wisdom and insight about sin, guilt, and human nature. I read it at least once a year and each time I'm struck by new insights.

Last October, I had a thought occur to me which I had never before considered: does the scarlet letter represent adultery? We know that it represents adultery for Hester's Puritan society, but is that what it means to her?

Think about it: Hester wears the scarlet letter for the rest of her life—until the day she dies. There is only one time—one time—when she removes the scarlet letter. When she has a quiet rendezvous with her lover, Reverend Dimmesdale—Arthur Dimmesdale.

For all of Hawthorne's intellectual prowess, I really don't believe that he simply overlooked the fact that the first name of Hester's love begins with an 'A'. Perhaps this is why Hester was willing to carry the scarlet letter with her for the rest of her life. It was a representation of how she carried Arthur close to her heart.

The the last chapter of the book we find these immortal words: "Be true! Be true! Be true!"

Indeed, in matters of the heart, truth is paramount.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

The Tale of the Fisherman and the Fish

In 1833, Russian author, Alexander Pushkin, wrote a fairy tale about an old fisherman who captures a golden fish.

In exchange for freedom, the golden fish promises the old man that he will grant any of his wishes. The fisherman tells the fish that he does not want anything and immediately sets it free.

When he gets home, he tells his wife what had happened and she gets very angry with him. She reminds her husband about their broken trough and tells him to go back and ask the fish for a new one. When the husband asks for a new trough the golden fish happily grants his request.

Realizing that the golden fish is magic, the wife begins to ask for things without restraint: a new house, a palace, to become a noble lady, to become the ruler of her region, to become the tsarina, and to become the Ruler of the Sea so she could control the golden fish completely.

As her husband asks for each of these items, the sea becomes more and more tempestuous. When the old man asks that his wife be made the Ruler of the Sea, the fish takes away all of her wishes, giving her back her old hut and broken trough.

The moral of the story is this: be grateful for what you are given. Gratitude may grant you a golden fish, but greed will strip you of everything.

Here is a cute little Russian video I found on the fairy tale. The first little section is an introduction to Pushkin's fairy tales.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

C. S. Lewis, "The Silver Chair," and Addiction

Not long ago, I read C. S. Lewis' book The Silver Chair and stumbled across some pretty powerful symbolism: the Green Witch and the Silver Chair are symbols for addiction.

In this chronicle of Narnia, two children—Eustace and Jill—are sent by Aslan to help rescue Rilian, a prince who has been put under the spell of the Green Witch. 

Prince Rilian first encounters the Witch (although he doesn't know it) when she appears in the form of a snake. The snake is described "great, shining, and as green as poison." The snake kills Rilian's mother.

"The Prince took his mother's death very hardly, as well he might," and Rilian frequently rode out into Narnia, seeking to kill the beast and avenge his mother's death. As time goes on, people begin to notice a change in Prince Rilian: "There was a look in his eyes as of a man who has seen visions."

It is later revealed that Prince Rilian had given up his hunt for the snake and was being enchanted by the Green Witch. "She was tall and great, shining, and wrapped in a thin garment as green as poison. And the Prince stared at her like a man out of his wits."

The Witch eventually captures Prince Rilian and puts him under a spell. When Eustace and Jill discover him (in a dark, underground city many miles below the surface of the earth) they describe him as handsome and well-natured, but they also notice that there was "something about his face that didn't seem quite right." Because of the spell, neither the children—nor Rilian—know who he is.

As they talk, Rilian is laughs incessantly, finding even the darkest subjects (like war and death) to be humorous. He then tells the children that his Queen (the Witch), has the power to free him from an enchantment. Said he: "Every night there comes an hour when my mind is most horribly changed, and, after my mind, my body." He then praises the Queen, saying: "Is not that a lady worthy of a man's whole worship?"

Later that evening, Prince Rilian is bound to a silver chair. According to the Queen, Rilian being bound to this silver chair will keep him from hurting himself and others. In reality, the silver chair only reinforces the spell that has been cast on the Narnian Prince.

As he sweats and struggles in the bonds of the chair, Eustace and Jill decide to unbind him. Once free, Prince Rilian "crossed the room in a single bound, seized his own sword...and drew it." He then cleaves the silver chair in two. "The silver gave way before its edge like string, and in a moment a few twisted fragments, shining on the floor, were all that was left. But as the chair broke, there came from it a bright flash, a sound like small thunder, and (for one moment) a loathsome smell."

Prince Rilian then turns to the children and they notice that "the something wrong, whatever it was, had vanished from his face."

The realization that the silver chair could represent addiction fascinated me. My work at the Anasazi Foundation (a wilderness therapy program for struggling youth), and many of my own personal experiences have brought me face to face with the horrors and anguish of addiction. C. S. Lewis did a masterful job in illustrating the journey of an addict in The Silver Chair.
    1. A Difficult Experience - In The Silver Chair, the death of Prince Rilian's mother made him angry and vengeful. These emotions eventually led him to be caught under the spell of the Witch. Generally speaking, most addictions start because of negative life experiences: the death of a loved one, divorce, health problems, economic struggles or other difficulties. 
    2. Self-Medicating - Seeking relief from his anguish, Prince Rilian found beauty in a Witch that eventually put him under her spell. Many addicts start their addiction (to drugs, alcohol, pornography, relationships, et cetera) because it "helps" them escape from their problems. Addictions are almost always prompted as a way to cope with pain.
    3. Darkness and Secrecy - When the Witch captured Prince Rilian, she took him to an underground city deep beneath the surface of the earth. Secrecy is the hallmark of addiction. The addict knows that what they're doing is wrong and they anxiously try to cover it up.
    4. Forgetting Who We Are - This is the most fascinating thing to me: Rilian forgot who he was. He forgot that he was a Prince. When the addict abuses a substance, they're forgetting who they are--they're forgetting their families and friends and who they have the power to become--they're forgetting that they are a child of God.
    5. Darkness Becomes Light - After ten years of being under the spell of the silver chair, Prince Rilian could laugh at the darkness of death and murder. The more time an addict spends in secrecy and darkness, the more they'll find delight in darker themes.
Luckily, there is always way out. Just as Aslan sent Eustace and Jill to find and save Rilian, God also sends people and positive influences our way to help us remember who we are and to help us come out of darkness and into light.

In order to recover from addiction, we first need to admit what we're doing is wrong then reach out and develop meaningful relationships with God and with others. We need to rid ourselves of what is binding us, or holding us back (the silver chairs of our lives) and commit to walk forward into the light.

As we do so, life will become more meaningful as we begin to see it more clearly.

As Prince Rilian said: "For now that I am myself, I can remember that enchanted life, though while I was enchanted I could not remember my true self."

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

The Great Stone Face | Nathaniel Hawthorne

Nathaniel Hawthorne is one of my favorite authors and his book, The Scarlet Letter, is unquestionably my all-time favorite novel.

Hawthorne also had a great talent for writing powerful, symbolic short stories (read Young Goodman Brown—your life will never be the same).

I recently read another of Hawthorne's stories entitled The Great Stone Face. I could write half a dozen blog posts on this single story for it is filled with majestic, yet simplistic symbolism.

The story tells about a young man named Ernest who grows up in a small, rural town (most likely in the state of New Hampshire). High on the cliff of a mountain near the town, formed out of a cluster of rock, was what appeared to be the face of a man.

For countless centuries, this Great Stone Face had overlooked the valley like a titanic guardian.
It was a happy lot for children to grow up to manhood or womanhood with the Great Stone Face before their eyes, for all the features were noble, and the expression was at once grand and sweet, as if it were the glow of a vast, warm heart, that embraced all mankind in its affections, and had room for more. It was an education only to look at it. According to the belief of many people, the valley owed much of its fertility to this benign aspect that was continually beaming over it, illuminating the clouds, and infusing its tenderness into the sunshine.
Local legend claimed that one day, the Great Stone Face would visit the people in the form of a man. When he appeared, the townsfolk would recognize him as the "the greatest and noblest personage of his time."

The boy Ernest longed to meet this noble personage and eagerly anticipated his arrival. In watching and waiting for this personage to appear, Ernest spends much of his time pondering about and learning from the Great Stone Face.
[The townspeople] knew not that the Great Stone Face had become a teacher to [Ernest], and that the sentiment which was expressed in it would enlarge the young man's heart, and fill it with wider and deeper sympathies than other hearts. They knew not that thence would come a better wisdom than could be learned from books, and a better life than could be moulded on the defaced example of other human lives. Neither did Ernest know that the thoughts and affections which came to him so naturally, in the fields and at the fireside, and wherever he communed with himself, were of a higher tone than those which all men shared with him. A simple soul,--simple as when his mother first taught him the old prophecy,--he beheld the marvellous features beaming [down] the valley, and still wondered that their human counterpart was so long in making his appearance.
And the more Ernest ponders the Great Stone Face, the stronger his character became.
Not a day passed by, that the world was not the better because this man, humble as he was, had lived. He never stepped aside from his own path, yet would always reach a blessing to his neighbor. Almost involuntarily too, he had become a preacher. The pure and high simplicity of his thought, which, as one of its manifestations, took shape in the good deeds that dropped silently from his hand, flowed also forth in speech. He uttered truths that wrought upon and moulded the lives of those who heard him. His auditors, it may be, never suspected that Ernest, their own neighbor and familiar friend, was more than an ordinary man; least of all did Ernest himself suspect it; but, inevitably as the murmur of a rivulet, came thoughts out of his mouth that no other human lips had spoken.
As he grows older, Ernest encounters several individuals who are rumored to have the likeness of the Great Stone Face: a merchant, a general, a politician, and poet. Each of them have flaws in their nature that Ernest discerns. Ernest begins to doubt that he will ever see the Great Stone Face personified.

After many years of waiting, the humble Ernest, is asked to deliver one of his sermons at the base of the Great Stone Face.

What followed is a beautiful testament to the fact that we become what we admire:
Ernest began to speak, giving to the people of what was in his heart and mind. His words had power, because they accorded with his thoughts; and his thoughts had reality and depth, because they harmonized with the life which he had always lived. It was not mere breath that this preacher uttered; they were the words of life, because a life of good deeds and holy love was melted into them. Pearls, pure and rich, had been dissolved into this precious draught. The poet, as he listened, felt that the being and character of Ernest were a nobler strain of poetry than he had ever written. His eyes glistening with tears, he gazed reverentially at the venerable man, and said within himself that never was there an aspect so worthy of a prophet and a sage as that mild, sweet, thoughtful countenance, with the glory of white hair diffused about it. At a distance, but distinctly to be seen, high up in the golden light of the setting sun, appeared the Great Stone Face, with hoary mists around it, like the white hairs around the brow of Ernest. Its look of grand beneficence seemed to embrace the world. 
At that moment, in sympathy with a thought which he was about to utter, the face of Ernest assumed a grandeur of expression, so imbued with benevolence, that the poet, by an irresistible impulse, threw his arms aloft and shouted,"Behold! Behold! Ernest is himself the likeness of the Great Stone Face!"

Monday, February 3, 2014

The Step to A New Life

My Anasazi Blanket
As some of you may know, I used to work at the Anasazi Foundation, a wilderness therapy program for at-risk youth. After five years and many memorable experiences, Anasazi had become my home away from home.

When you first begin at Anasazi (either as an employee or as a client) you participate in what is called a "blanket stepping."

Two blankets, one old and one new, are placed upon the earth. A SageWalker sits upon the old blanket and invites the other to sit across from them.

On the old blanket, many sacred things are discussed, among them are the principles of forward and backward walking and an invitation to move forward.

At it's core, walking forward is to make good choices that encourage us to love others and to have a heart at peace. Walking backwards is to make wrong choices that fill us with enmity and encourage a heart at war.

When we symbolically leave things behind on the old blanket, we then step onto the new blanket, symbolic of our step to a new life.

Not long after I left Anasazi, I married my wife, Kim. I've come to realize that my departure from Anasazi has been a symbolic and literal step to a new life. I've learned that part of moving forward is to not only leave behind negative things, but to know when to move on from good things to fulfill greater things.

Shortly before the wedding ceremony, I received a wedding gift from Anasazi.

It was a blanket.

The card that came with the blanket read, in part:
A blanket wraps us in warm protection at our earthly birth, a blanket covers and wraps us throughout our lives. Blankets symbolize many things in life. 
For us, the blanket symbolizes our Belonging Place among our people--tied together to others, belong to them and they to us. 
We give you, Seth and Kimberly, this blanket in love and with great gratitude for all that you are and all you do. You both have special Belonging places because you have wrapped others in love and service. May our Creator bless this your sacred New Beginning you are going to walk together into eternity. 
Love, Anasazi Foundation and the Sanchez Tribe.
To all who are reading this, I invite you to find a new beginning of your own and to walk forward.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Mother Teresa and Spiritual Hunger

"Give yourself fully to God. He will use you to accomplish great things on the condition that you believe much more in His love than in your own weakness." - Mother Teresa

In doing some research about Mother Teresa, I was led to a beautiful speech written by Jeffrey R. Holland. Here is a selection of that talk:
Some time ago I read an essay referring to “metaphysical hunger” in the world. The author was suggesting that the souls of men and women were dying, so to speak, from lack of spiritual nourishment in our time. That phrase, “metaphysical hunger,” came back to me last month when I read the many richly deserved tributes paid to Mother Teresa of Calcutta. One correspondent recalled her saying that as severe and wrenching as physical hunger was in our day—something she spent virtually her entire life trying to alleviate—nevertheless, she believed that the absence of spiritual strength, the paucity of spiritual nutrition, was an even more terrible hunger in the modern world. 
These observations reminded me of the chilling prophecy from the prophet Amos, who said so long ago, 'Behold, the days come, saith the Lord God, that I will send a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord.' 
During the Savior’s Galilean ministry, He chided those who had heard of Him feeding the 5,000 with only five barley loaves and two fishes, and now flocked to Him expecting a free lunch. That food, important as it was, was incidental to the real nourishment He was trying to give them. 
'Your fathers did eat manna in the wilderness, and are dead,' He admonished them. 'I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever.' 
But this was not the meal they had come for, and the record says, 'From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him.' 
In that little story is something of the danger in our day. It is that in our contemporary success and sophistication we too may walk away from the vitally crucial bread of eternal life; we may actually choose to be spiritually malnourished, willfully indulging in a kind of spiritual anorexia. Like those childish Galileans of old, we may turn up our noses when divine sustenance is placed before us. Of course the tragedy then as now is that one day, as the Lord Himself has said, 'In an hour when ye think not the summer shall be past, and the harvest ended,' and we will find that our 'souls [are] not saved.' 
To read the full talk by Jeffrey R. Holland, please click here.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Doubt and Pride

I love the play Cyrano de Bergerac. It's a wonderful love story told in beautiful, passionate prose (and it's also the inspiration for the movie Megamind—another favorite of mine—but this isn't the place for that).

Not long ago, I was reading Cyrano and I came across a rather intriguing line:
This new-born babe, an infant Hercules! Strong enough at birth to strangle those Two serpents – Doubt and Pride.
I thought about that for a while. Two serpents: Doubt and Pride. I love symbolism in Greek Mythology, yet I had never heard these serpents being referred to as Doubt and Pride.

But come to think of it, the serpents of doubt and pride have a close connection with another serpent—the serpent. For it was Satan who appeared to Adam and Eve in the form of a snake, tempting them to eat the fruit of the tree—contrary to the commandment of God.

In tempting them to eat the fruit, he was tempting them to doubt God. Doubting God is only possible when we think that God is wrong and that is the very height of pride: to be believe that we know more than God.

And when you think about it, doubt and pride are the only two things that keep us from Heaven. If we doubt God's commandments, we will not keep them. If we think we know of a better road than His strait and narrow, we will forsake His road in favor of ours.

So Cyrano was right to be amazed at the strength of Hercules. As a babe, he was able to strangle both doubt and pride. The fact that Hercules defeated those two serpents was but a foreshadow of his eventual triumph on Mount Olympus (Heaven).

Monday, January 13, 2014

Enjoy the Present Moment

Every night, my wife and I take turns and spend 15 minutes sharing spiritual thoughts. Our spiritual thoughts don't have to spring from the same sources. Oftentimes, we'll mix it up and draw from a wide variety of sources.

Last night, my wife shared a paragraph from a book that she has been reading. "I love this book!" she said excitedly (yes, we're both nerds). The book is called Fear: Essential Wisdom for Getting Through the Storm by Vietnamese Buddhist Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh. This is the paragraph that Kim shared with me:
We cannot enjoy life if we spend our time and energy worrying about what happened yesterday and what will happen tomorrow. If we're afraid all the time, we miss out on the wonderful fact that we're alive and can be happy right now. In everyday life, we tend to believe that happiness is only possible in the future. We're always looking for the "right" conditions that we don't yet have to make us happy. We ignore what is happening right in front of us. We look for something that will make us feel more solid, more safe, more secure. But we're afraid all the time of what the future will bring—afraid we're lose our jobs, our possessions, the people around us whom we love. So we wait and hope for that magical moment—always sometime in the future—when everything will be as we want it to be. We forget that life is available only in the present moment. The Buddha said, "It is possible to live happily in the present moment. It is the only moment we have."
I've often spent too much time worrying about the future or regretting my past. Not too long ago, I wasted an entire weekend unable to accomplish anything because I was sick with worry over things that may or may not happen. My anxieties about the past and the future prevent me from having an enjoyable present.

Well, I'm tired of it. While it's good to draw from the lessons learned in the past, and plan for the future, thinking about them in excess have rarely produced anything productive. I'm going to try to focus more on the present. The present moment is all that I have and it is wonderful.

If you'd like to learn more about the book, please click here.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Turning Our Problems into Pearls

I've just finished reading Joel Osteen's book Break Out!: Five Keys to Go Beyond Your Barriers and Live an Extraordinary Life. It's a great, inspiring read and I'd recommend it to anyone (Christian or not).

Although I'm not a member of Osteen's Lakewood Church, I'm a big fan. He's a gifted speaker, a talented writer, and a likable guy. He offers some very powerful insights   Towards the end of his book he shared several thoughts about our problems becoming pearls that I really enjoyed.

In the last chapters, Joel shared a pretty keen observation about pearls. He said that pearls are born of an irritation—a problem. Oysters feed on the bottom of the ocean and, occasionally, a grain of sand will get lodged inside the Oyster's mouth. In an attempt to rid itself of the irritation, the Oyster will coat the grain of sand with a secretion (a type of lacquer) and rub it into a beautiful, perfect pearl.

Joel suggested that our problems are sometimes like pearls in embryo. We are given these problems and irritations, but if we endure with patience and faith, we can turn our even biggest irritations into the most beautiful pearls.

I strongly recommend Osteen's book to anyone and you can also watch one of his sermons on developing your "pearls" in the video below (the sermon starts at 2:22).

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Is God the Sun?

Today, I'd like to share a rather profound short story called "The Coffee House of Surat." It was written Leo Tolstoy, a famous Russian author.

In this short story, a collection of various travelers and nationalities converge in a coffee house in Surat, India. Among those gathered is a theologian turned atheist, a heathen slave, a Brahmin, a Jewish broker, and Catholic missionary, a Protestant minister, a Turkish Muslim, and a host of other nationalities and believers.

 After ordering a drink, the atheist looked at his slave and asked him if he believed in God. Without any hesitation, the slave said he believed in God and quickly pulled out a small, wooden idol that he had carried with him since he was a child.

 “There," said he, "that is the God who has guarded me from the day of my birth. Every one in our country worships the fetish tree, from the wood of which this God was made."

It was as though the small wooden idol were a detonator in a place filled with explosives. In a matter of minutes, the once quiet coffee house erupted into a heated debate about the true nature of God, with Catholics arguing with Jews, Protestants arguing with Catholics, and Muslims arguing with Protestants.

At some point during the debate, the believers turned to a Chinaman, and asked for his opinion about the true nature of God. The Chinaman, a student of Confucius, had been quietly listening to the conversation in a corner of the room.

After a thoughtful pause, the Chinaman spoke to them in a calm voice. “Sirs, it seems to me that it is chiefly pride that prevents men agreeing with one another on matters of faith.” He then compared their religious debate to one he had heard earlier.

A man had gone blind after studying and staring at the sun for too long. Because he could no longer see the light, the blind man argued that there was no longer any sun. When the blind man said this to his slave, the slave held up his lamp: “I know what light is. This is my sun.”

At this, a lame man laughed and state that the sun was a ball of fire that came out of the water and hid behind the mountains of their island every day. A fisherman countered the lame man by saying that the sun didn’t hide behind the mountains. It went into the water on the other side of the island.

It wasn’t long before everyone else began to argue about the true nature of the sun. Some claimed the sun was a deity with a life of its own, while others said that it was an orb that rotated around the earth. 

Once he finished relating his experience, the Chinaman offered these words: "The higher a man's conception of God, the better will he know Him. And the better he knows God, the nearer will he draw to Him, imitating His goodness, His mercy, and His love of man. Therefore, let him who sees the sun's whole light filling the world, refrain from blaming or despising the superstitious man, who in his own idol sees one ray of that same light. Let him not despise even the unbeliever who is blind and cannot see the sun at all."