Spoken Word Messages

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We all have our share of difficulty and tragedy in life. Some of us, in fact, seem to have more than our share. And then there are people who somehow, against all odds, survive multiple seemingly impossible situations.

You don’t have to be a sailor or even a swimmer to know what it feels like to be thrown overboard into a stormy sea and struggle to keep your head above water. Life can feel that way sometimes. Fear and uncertainty crash and swirl all around us, and we feel that all we can do is hold on for dear life—if we could only find something to hold onto. To make matters worse, sometimes people and organizations we once trusted let us down. And so we wonder, where can we turn for peace? Where can we find safety and solace to our souls? Whom can we really trust?

As we get older, we tend to look at ourselves, others, and the world around us quite differently than when we were younger. Hopefully, we’ve learned a few things, gained wisdom and friendships along the way, and done our part to contribute to the world. Sometimes we become more interested in things that before didn’t capture our attention.

In what is perhaps the most famous museum in the world, the Louvre in Paris, France, there stands an 18-foot-tall statue estimated to be over 2,000 years old. It was discovered by an amateur archeologist in 1863, lying in pieces in the sand on the Greek island of Samothrace. Now it stands, steadfast and strong, among the Louvre’s most celebrated works of art and quite possibly one of the world’s most recognizable sculptures.

Here in Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic in the heart of Europe, beautiful and historic sites are at nearly every turn. The German writer Goethe once called this city “the most precious stone in the … crown of the world.”

Some time ago, Clarence Thomas, an associate justice on the United States Supreme Court, dedicated a new chapel on a college campus in Michigan. In his dedicatory address, he quoted the architect of the chapel: “When you enter a church, it is as if you are entering through a gateway from the profane toward the sacred.” Justice Thomas’s plea was that the chapel be more than just an impressive building. “Let it be a place,” he said, “where people enter the presence of a majestic God. Let it be a house of worship, of prayer, of meditation, and of celebration before God. Let it be a haven of rest for the weary, a place of healing for the wounded, a place of comfort for the grieving, and a source of hope for the despairing and forgotten.”

Most of us know what it’s like to be interviewed for a job, hoping our answers to questions impress a potential employer. Some of us have even been on the other side of the desk—asking the questions, trying to identify the right person to hire.

So many fictional love stories follow a familiar pattern—and yet we never get tired of hearing it. Boy meets girl. Friendship blossoms into romance. Adversity is overcome, and the couple marries.

Most of the time, life is pretty wonderful. The world around us is filled with beauty. We are surrounded by people who care about us. And we wonder how life could be any better.

What does it mean to have a genuine friend? We may have many acquaintances, and we can be friendly to all of them, but true friendship is more than that. It requires more from us, and it gives us more in return.

How does a group of individuals, all with different backgrounds and different perspectives on life, become a united community? Well-known author and newspaper columnist David Brooks believes that the answer lies in how we see each other. “That’s what a community is,” he says, “a bunch of people looking after each other. A bunch of people seeing each other, and seeing each other deeply. Taking the time to really enter into relationships with each other and to depend upon one another. … That’s the glue that’s holding us together.”1

Many decades ago, author and clergyman Henry van Dyke wrote a classic tale about a wise man named Artaban from the mountains of Persia. He said of Artaban, “All through his life he was trying to do the best that he could. It was not perfect. But there are some kinds of failure that are better than success.”1

In a film based on H. G. Wells’s classic novel The Time Machine, one of the main characters comments: “We all have our time machines, don’t we? Those that take us back are memories, and those that carry us forward are dreams.”1

“Write it on your heart that every day is the best day in the year,” wrote Ralph Waldo Emerson.1 At first, that may seem like an overstatement. But while some days are clearly better than others, every day deserves at least the chance to be the best day of the year. That’s good to remember as we look forward to another year of “best days”—every day is worth living, and every day holds promise and possibility.

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....

AND it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed....

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.

A drop of water may seem rather ordinary and unimpressive. And yet when very small amounts of water are dropped steadily, over extended periods of time, the results can be quite spectacular. Think, for example, of Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico, Mammoth Cave in Kentucky, or the Reed Flute Cave in China, to name only a few. It’s amazing how often water does its remarkable work one drop at a time—giving life to a plant, turning a field green, invigorating parched soil, filling a river or lake, and yes, carving into solid rock. Over time, small drops of water can make a big difference.

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.

Most sports fans love to follow the scores and stats, the wins and losses. But if sports were only about numbers and rankings, they probably wouldn’t fascinate us the way they do. No, behind the scores and jerseys are people we come to care about and inspirational stories that teach us important life lessons.

As children, we are told, “Don’t talk to strangers.” That’s an important safety tip during childhood. But as adults, interacting with people we don’t know is a regular part of life. In fact, depending on the circumstances, there can be some valuable benefits to talking to strangers.

The number of good causes in the world, the diversity of needs to meet, far exceed our abilities to give, even for the most generous among us. And there’s wisdom in the warning against taking on too many obligations. We can’t say yes to everyone in need.

It’s natural to be concerned about our own needs, our own well-being. Virtually every living thing has self-defense and self-preservation instincts. But then, we aren’t meant to be like other living things, and we are guided by something much higher than instincts.

When we look at an acorn, we see more than an acorn. We know its potential to become a mighty oak tree and start producing acorns itself. It doesn’t bother us that this process can take decades or that growth is slow, almost imperceptible. We know that an acorn is not meant to remain an acorn.

We all have gifts and talents that can make a positive difference in the world. Everyone excels at something, though it’s easier to notice excellence in others than in ourselves. But there’s one thing we can all be good at: kindness. When the world spreads ugliness, we can spread a little beauty. In the face of anger and hatred, we can offer gentleness and love.

Despite the difficulties that come with getting older, we all hope we live long enough to experience them. But we also hope, of course, to find plenty of peace and comfort as well. According to one expert who has written about happiness in the retirement years, two key attributes are essential—in old age or any season of life: a good sense of humor and a willingness to forgive.1

We all know the law of the harvest: the fact that we tend to reap what we sow. And yet even when we sow carefully, we don’t always reap what we expected to.

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.