Spoken Word Messages

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During one holiday break, a family decided they would work on an intricate jigsaw puzzle. They hoped this would be a fun opportunity to spend some time together. Their goal was to finish the puzzle before work and school started up again. During the first few days, everyone was all in. Then things started to slow down as they enjoyed other distractions. It looked like they would never accomplish their goal. But the family recommitted, and little by little, they worked on the puzzle until completion. Their motto became: doing something each day is better than doing nothing.

More than three decades ago, the Velvet Revolution brought an end to authoritarian rule in what was then known as Czechoslovakia. This was a revolution unlike most in the world’s history: it was entirely nonviolent, accomplishing its goals primarily through peaceful protests.

If hope had a season of its own, a day on the calendar, it might very well be Easter. No matter what yesterday may have been like, Easter cheerfully says, “Tomorrow will be better.” Even the worst storms eventually pass. Even the coldest winters eventually thaw. Even the longest nights give way to the light of dawn. That is the promise of Easter.

At times, the world seems so big and overwhelming, we may wonder how anything we do can ever make a difference. We might feel this way especially when we see suffering and contention and wish we could do something about it. At such times, it helps to remember the obvious truth that this big world is actually made up of individuals—millions and billions of them, each with a heart and feelings and desires. So often, that which is simple, small, and quiet has the most profound effect on another’s heart.

Common sense is not always common practice. We know we need to be prepared for rainy days in the future, and yet we put it off. We wait, we forget, or we think the stormy weather won’t come any time soon. But then it comes, as it always does—sooner or later, in one way or another, to us all.

Throughout history, when people have faced difficult challenges, we’ve found strength in togetherness, in gathering together. Wars, natural disasters, and health crises have traditionally inspired us to reach out and comfort one another.

In a recent newspaper article, lawyer, and former Major League Baseball commissioner Fay Vincent, now in his 80s, quoted the Book of Common Prayer: “Almighty and most merciful Father . . . We have left undone those things which we ought to have done.” We all have our own list of things we should have done but haven’t yet. Vincent described one on his list—an all-too-common act of omission: “To my great regret,” he wrote, “I left undone the simple act of telling two superb teachers how much they contributed to my early education. Now it is too late.”

On September 7, 1940, German bombers attacked London, England. They attacked again the next day. And the next. Over the following eight months, Londoners did their best to carry on normal lives, knowing that each day, “the odds that someone, somewhere in London would die were 100 percent.” Many of the air raids took place under the cover of darkness, making nightfall especially dreadful. In all, 2 million homes were destroyed, and more than 40,000 civilians were killed. During this frightening time, a young boy was asked what he wanted to be when he grew up. He answered, “Alive.”

A man sat in an airport, waiting for his flight, and reading the news on his phone. He shook his head, frowning, as he scrolled through story after story about all the trouble in the world. If he had glanced up, he would have seen an exhausted mother of two on the bench across from him, trying to quiet her crying baby. The baby’s three-year-old brother, who had been playing with a toy car, gently rested his car on the baby’s lap. “Here,” he said.

According to popular legend, an officer in the Revolutionary War once directed his men to fell some trees and construct a much-needed bridge. As the soldiers struggled mightily with the task, an imposing-looking man rode up and, observing their work, said to the officer, “You don’t have enough men for the job, do you?”

A story from ancient times provides a poignant example of how mercy and justice intersect in our lives and our relationships. A young man named Joseph was hated and mistreated by his brothers. They even contemplated killing him but finally settled on selling him into slavery. For some 20 years, Joseph toiled in Egypt, far from his home and family, with plenty of time to think about what his brothers had done to him.

Ardeth Kapp, now almost 90 years young, has always had a gift for connecting with young people. She knows, for example, that many kids don’t feel comfortable at school. They worry they’re not smart enough or good enough, and she wants to build their confidence and inspire them with a sense of their great potential.

When we meet someone, who has lived a long, healthy life, it’s natural to wonder what he or she did to achieve such longevity. Even the best health practices, however, cannot guarantee the length of our life. And yet there are things we can do to ensure the quality of our life—measured not in terms of luxuries but of virtue, goodness, and honor.

“A free society is a moral achievement,” wrote the late Rabbi Jonathan Sacks in a book published just months before his passing. Freedom does not come from economic policies or political power, he observed. It requires morality, which Rabbi Sacks defined as “a concern for the welfare of others, an active commitment to justice and compassion, a willingness to ask not just what is good for me but what is good for ‘all of us together.’ It is about ‘Us,’ not ‘Me’; about ‘We,’ not ‘I.’”

In our day, finding answers to questions has never been easier. When we have questions, we simply search the internet—which is now as simple as talking to a handheld device—and we expect immediate responses. And we often get them! But how often do we stop to consider if we are asking the right questions of the right sources—and if we are getting the right answers?

Every life needs aspirations—along with goals to help us achieve them. Our goals can be like the banks of a river, guiding the flow of our ambitions. Making plans and striving to accomplish them helps channel our efforts and energies toward the things that matter most to us. 

With a new year on the horizon, it’s traditional to reflect on the year that has passed. And what a year it has been! A global pandemic, natural calamities, social unrest, political turmoil—so many problems and protests, disasters and disagreements have swirled around us. At the same time, we’ve also had moments we will forever cherish. As we look back on 2020, we see good and bad, ups and downs, things we’d like to forget, and things we hope to remember.

I’m standing at Wenceslas Square, in the heart of Prague, near a statue of the Duke of Bohemia, affectionately known as good King Wenceslas. A caring Christian ruler and patron saint of the Czech Republic, Wenceslas has come to represent kindhearted generosity and selfless giving. And because these attributes are at the heart of Christmas, it’s not surprising that good King Wenceslas is also the subject of a beloved Christmas carol.

Some years ago, a group of friends were eating dinner together at Christmastime, bemoaning the busyness of the season. With exasperation and perhaps a little resentment, they spoke of hectic schedules and heavy burdens. After listening patiently, one wise, seasoned woman humbly offered her opinion. “I love Christmas,” she said. “It is the most joyful of all seasons. I love seeing the eyes of little children light up on Christmas morning. I love giving gifts. I love being with my family. We just need to simplify and remember what we are celebrating.”[1]

Sometime after the birth of the Christ child on that first Christmas Day, the baby and His parents were visited by Wise Men from the East. They came to honor the sacred occasion with loving gifts of frankincense, gold, and myrrh. Their kind offering gave rise to a tradition that now seems inseparable from the Christmas season: giving gifts to those we love.

People watch for the first signs of Christmas with great anticipation. Favorite holiday carols fill the air. Colorful, glistening lights illuminate the night sky. And wreaths of holly and ivy appear on doors and storefronts. To many people, traditional symbols like these signal the advent of the Christmas season. But how did these traditions begin?

When we express thanks, we are giving a gift: a gift to ourselves, to others, and to our Maker, the Giver of the blessings of life. And those blessings are all around us if we look for them.

Many of us are searching for ways to feel a little better—physically and emotionally. When aches and pains escalate, we feel thankful for modern medicines that can help restore our health. But there is another kind of treatment that some people are calling free medicine, or “a prescription you can’t fill in a pharmacy”: time spent in nature.

At this solemn site, the Normandy American Cemetery in France, more than 9,300 American soldiers are laid to rest. The architecture here, the exhibits, and the peaceful surroundings are all designed to pay tribute to their sacrifice. Most of the soldiers buried here died during the invasion of Normandy that began on June 6, 1944—better known as D-Day.

Every life is different; the only predictable pattern is that all of us experience a mix of joy and sadness, happiness and heartache—usually occurring unpredictably. No matter how carefully we plan, setbacks—large and small—can disrupt our plans. We settle into a good job, a relationship, a neighborhood, and then life surprises us.

Every once in a while, a series of choices, experiences, and circumstances combine to create a person who seems to stand out, someone we naturally look to as a role model. Russell M. Nelson is one of those uncommon men.

Is there such a thing as a “perfect family”? Obedient children, abundantly patient parents, with endless bliss at home—we fantasize about it, because that’s exactly what it is: a fantasy. In reality we all have struggles, seen or unseen, that pull at the fabric of our family. And that cloth knows both tears and tears as we watch loved ones make choices that break our hearts.

Young people are taught that they can accomplish anything they set their minds to. Where there’s a will, there’s a way. If you can dream it, you can do it. And when we’re young, we believe it. The world seems full of promise and possibilities.

Why is it that so much of life’s profound beauty has roots in heartache and sorrow? There seems to be something about human nature that causes us to reach the highest during our lowest points. We see it when tragedies and disasters strike and people come together to love and help each other in ways they’ve never done before. We see it in sublime art and music, which often enough is inspired by hardship and trial, even as it fills us with solace and joy. 

Several years ago, a team of rescuers helped an older couple evacuate their home after a hurricane. Their house, which the husband had helped build, was flooded. The wife had serious health problems that made their situation more perilous. And yet, they were smiling. One of the rescuers asked how they could stay positive in the midst of this difficult tragedy. The woman answered, “That storm can take my house, it can take my car, it can take my furniture and my pictures, but it can never take my spirit.”[1]