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From here in Copenhagen, Denmark, between 1850 and 1900, nearly 20,000 Danes set out across the ocean. Their final destination was Utah Territory in the western United States. Their purpose was to gather with fellow believers. They were pioneers of faith. Along with thousands more across Scandinavia and tens of thousands from other parts of Europe, they traveled to Liverpool, England, to cross the Atlantic and then make their way by foot, wagon, and handcart to the Salt Lake Valley.
If you’ve ever been to a baseball game, you know that something special happens in the middle of the seventh inning. It’s called the seventh-inning stretch. Reportedly, this tradition began way back in 1910, and baseball loves its traditions. So to this day, right before the home team’s half of the inning, all the fans stand up for a minute or two, often singing a song together. After all, they’ve been sitting in those seats for quite a while now, and it’s nice to get a good stretch in before the last two innings of the game.
As big as this world is, it can sometimes feel crowded. Not crowded with people, but crowded with facts and opinions, with tasks and demands. Sometimes the hectic pace of life doesn’t leave us much time to process the experiences that bombard us. As a result, we can feel trapped—like we’ve been hurried onto a high-speed train before we have time to find out where it’s going.
I am standing today at the World War II memorial at Pointe du Hoc on the northern coast of France. In the early hours of June 6, 1944—better known to us as D-Day—American rangers scaled these 100-foot sheer cliffs. Their mission was to seize German artillery to clear the way for the invasion later that day of the Normandy beaches below. It was a key element of the strategy to liberate Europe after four years of Nazi occupation.
Sometimes we might look at events going on in the world—or in our own lives—and see darkness. It may even seem like the darkness is bound to get worse in the days ahead.
Not long ago, a young couple was on an airplane with their new baby. As the plane prepared for takeoff, the flight attendants gave their usual preflight safety instructions—how to buckle the seat belt, how to find the nearest exit. The father was only half-listening until he heard this instruction about what to do if oxygen levels dropped: “Secure your oxygen mask first, and then assist others.”
This year has been unlike any we can remember—and one we’ll never forget. We’ve been stretched and tested, and in the process, we’ve learned...
Some time ago, a motorist driving along a stretch of highway was intrigued to see three elderly women with large plastic bags, picking up trash along the roadside. The driver knew that highway cleanup was often assigned to fill a community service requirement—usually for those who had debt to pay to society. He smiled as he tried to imagine what these women could possibly have done to deserve this duty.
Addressing the troops before launching the campaign, General Eisenhower said: “The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you. … I have full confidence in your courage, devotion to duty and skill in battle. We will accept nothing less than full Victory!”1 Against all odds, the hard-fought invasion of Normandy was a success, and the course of history was forever altered.
You’ve heard it said that nothing is permanent except change. Perhaps no one understands this principle better that those who go sailing. On land, traveling is relatively simple. You can usually count on the ground to be steady, and the route from point A to point B is often a straight line. But those who sail know that the sea can be unpredictable—smooth as glass one moment and raging billows the next. What’s more, sailors depend on the wind for direction and momentum, but wind does not always blow the way you want it to, and it changes frequently. With this knowledge, the sailors simply adjust their sails. Their course may not be a straight line, but it does finally bring them to their destination.
“In God we trust” is the national motto of the United States of America. Those four words, found on coins and bills, buildings and license plates, remind us of our ultimate source of confidence and security, peace and prosperity. That’s a healthy reminder because our natural habit is to trust ourselves—our own limited views and limited strength. When that fails, as it often does, it’s comforting to know that a loving, trustworthy God neither slumbers nor sleeps as He watches over us.1 That doesn’t mean life will be easy, but we can trust that the future is in God’s hands and will be filled with evidence of His goodness and grace.
A young boy looked up from the bench on the baseball field, hoping to catch his mother’s eye. She was sitting in the bleachers, as she always did, game after game. And he was sitting on the bench, as he always did, game after game. The season was almost over, and he still hadn’t cracked the starting lineup.
Over the past year, many of us have felt a need to call upon heaven’s help more than ever. When the world is in turmoil or in lockdown, when our normal way of life seems to be turned upside down or inside out, we realize, like never before, that our own strength and wisdom are not enough. When we are stunned to see how quickly the world can change, we naturally seek something or Someone reliable and unchanging. In other words, our thoughts have turned more to God. Many who hadn’t prayed much in the past have started, and many who already prayed have found their prayers becoming more fervent and more sincere.
It’s common these days to despair about the lack of courtesy and the increasing hostility in the world. And there is cause for concern: high-profile examples of anger and bitterness can leave us wondering about the state of humanity. We may even feel like withdrawing, despondent and fearful.
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.”
We have talked of some qualities of character associated with men whose names are honorably remembered, and last week recalled the quality of courage. Now for a moment or two we would turn to integrity—a word which urgently suggests itself for consideration. The words associated with it are themselves reassuring: " . . . the quality of being complete. . .. unbroken—unimpaired—moral soundness, purity, honesty, freedom from corrupting influence or practice, strictness in the fulfillment of contracts . . . and in the discharge of trusts."
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?