Monday, December 10, 2012

Hooray, we got our Christmas tree!  We still follow the traditional "every child stand by the tree you want" practice, but it is getting much easier to make a decision since we only have Courtney at home.  She stood by a tree and that's the one we got.  Pretty simple.  Pretty fast.  Pretty fun.  Pretty girl.
 Now it's decorated and waiting for company.  Presents have gradually made their way under the tree since this picture was taken.  I love sitting in the living room with Christmas music, a lit tree, and a good book.  Wow . . . that sounds almost sedentary.
 However, let it be known that I wasn't even given the chance to change my clothes after a good run before we were on the road to get the tree.  At home, we were in the garage taking the tree off the car I noticed that the garage was open, there was a little bit of rain in the driveway, and I was in shorts and not cold.  It felt like I was back in Merced at Christmas time.  Kind of weird.

Anyway, this morning we finally woke up to snow!!  Even if it is only a "dusting" it is still snow.  Merry Christmas.  I love it.

We are so looking forward to Griffin and Ashland's visit towards the end of this week.  As an added bonus  Courtney and I will spend some time with Grandma and Grandpa Hazard when we go to Salt Lake to pick up them up from the airport.  As an added bonus Natalie will come to visit when she comes to pick Tanner up from school.  As an added bonus Jeff, Charlotte, and Courtland will come for Savanah's graduation and stay with us.  As an added bonus, My mom and dad will come spend some time with us while Griff and Ash are here (after Jeff and Charlotte leave).  As an added bonus, Logan and Rachel will come the day before Griff and Ash leave to visit for a day (they are going to Utah to Rachel's mom's for Christmas).  As an added bonus, we (Nancy, Allison, Courtney, and me) will go to Grandma Hill's for Christmas.  It's just bonus after bonus and we are very happy about each one. 

We are finishing up our semester at school and things are going smoothly.  That's about it . . . we are happy about what is happening in each of our children's lives.  It's fun to watch all of them!!

Now, I'm posting a talk I gave yesterday in church, so those of you who are not interested can stop reading.  Have a great day!

The Gift of Charity

At this Christmas time, here’s an idea for people my age, who might have older children living far from home, like I do.

A high counselor in Salt Lake called his son in New York the day before Christmas and says,"I hate to ruin your day, but I have to tell you that your mother and I are getting a divorce; forty-five years of misery is enough."
"Dad, what are you talking about?" the son screams.
"We can't stand the sight of each other any longer," the high councilor says. "We're sick of each other, and I'm sick of talking about this, so you call your sister in Chicago and tell her."
Frantic, the son calls his sister, who explodes on the phone. "Over my dead body," she shouts, "I'll take care of this."
She calls Salt Lake immediately, and screams at her dad, "You are NOT getting a divorce. Don't do a single thing until we get there. I'm calling my brother back, and we'll both be there tomorrow. Until then, don't do a thing, DO YOU HEAR ME?" and she hangs up.
The high councilor hangs up his phone and turns to his wife, who, by the way he is deeply in love with, and says "Okay, they're coming for Christmas and they’re paying their own way."
I love Christmas and the opportunity to celebrate the birth of our Savior.  It’s my favorite time of year.  As most of you, I have many Christmas memories:  One of these is making lists.

Perhaps some of you young people have been asked by your parents to make a Christmas list of the gifts you want.  My parents always asked me to do this. I wasn’t very good at it.  In fact, I usually just copied my brother’s because his list was always long and detailed, and he had good stuff on it. 

Then, the really tough thing for me was that after I made my list, my parents would ask me to pick the one thing on the list that I wanted most.  The “best” gift.  And, it was really, really hard because I wanted all of them.

Well, here’s a question to think about:    The scriptures tell us that there are many gifts of the spirit. (D&C 46:8).

So, what if . . .  we were asked to make a list of gifts we wanted from our Heavenly Father, and then had to pick the one we wanted most, what would it be?  What would I ask for?  What would you ask for?

That’s a great question.  The one thing I’d ask for has changed over time, just like my Christmas list has changed over time.  There are many gifts of the spirit, and I want them all, but if I had to narrow it down to one, what would it be? 

Now hold that thought;

About 20 years ago my list making brother and I traveled from the central valley of California to St. George Utah to run a marathon with a friend.  My wife and 5 month old daughter came to keep us company.  We didn’t have a lot of money and our car reflected that.  It was a well used green Plymouth Valiant.  We couldn’t afford a hotel room either, so we stayed outside St. George in Hurricane, Utah at my sister-in-law’s grandparent’s home.  We got up at 4:00 in the morning to drive to St. George where we were scheduled to board a bus at 5:00 a.m. which would take us to the start of the race. 

Half way between Hurricane and St. George, the lights on the car began to dim. They got dimmer and dimmer until eventually, they went out and the car stopped running.  We coasted to a stop in a turn out on the side of the road.  No cars were passing, and this might be hard for some of you younger people to believe, but we had no cell phones.  To make a long story short, we missed the marathon and spent the day hitch hiking and putting in a new alternator.
So many things in life fail.  My alternator failed on the way to the marathon.  If we’re students, our computers fail when we have a paper that’s due in 5 minutes.  Our dishwashers and other appliances fail when company comes to visit.  Sometimes, our friends and family fail us, or we fail them in little or big ways.  We fail to live up to our potential.  We fail to live up to expectations of others.  Often, we’re too hard on ourselves and feel like we’ve failed at the most important things in life, even if we haven’t. 

Have you ever wished there was something that could always be counted on; especially in our family and other relations?  I have.

Paul teaches in the New Testament and Moroni teaches in the Book of Mormon that there is indeed something that we can always count on, and that is charity. 

Perhaps the gift of the spirit we should consider asking for is charity because, unlike my alternator, it never fails.  Now, I understand that my alternator is a “vain” thing of the world.  Vain means empty or hollow.  In other words, it’s unimportant in the eternal scheme of things.  But, very important if you’re on the side of the road in the dark on your way to a marathon.

Charity, on the other hand, is eternally important.  It is the reason for many of our greatest blessings.  Think about it; why do we have our Heavenly Father’s plan of happiness? Because of love.  Why did the Savior die for us?  Because of love.  Why do we have the atonement?  Because of love.  This is why Moroni tells us to pray with all the energy of our hearts, that we may be filled with this love that we may be like Jesus Christ.  (Mor. 7:47) 

Charity is not something we can get on our own.  It is a great gift and one we should be constantly seeking and asking for.  Once we really have it, consecration becomes easy.

The bible dictionary defines charity as “The highest, noblest, strongest kind of love, not merely affection; the pure love of Christ.  It is never used to denote alms or deeds or benevolence, although it may be a prompting motive.” 

President Monson encourages us with these words, “Charity never faileth.’. . . May it permeate your very souls and find expression in all your thoughts and actions.”  (Thomas S. Monson, “Charity Never Faileth,” Ensign, Nov. 2010, 124-125.)

Here’s an imperfect analogy.  It’s like we are an empty cup.  When we pray to recognize and feel and accept the love of God in our lives, the cup begins to fill.  The more we feel the love of God in our lives the fuller our cup becomes until it begins to overflow.  That overflowing of love, or charity, is manifested in our actions and attitudes towards others. 

Listen to what Nephi says, “He (Heavenly Father) hath filled me with his love, even unto the consuming of my flesh. (2Nph 4:21).

Might I suggest that once we have been “filled” with His love, everything we think and do will be with the purpose of bringing to pass the immortality and eternal life of ourselves and others because that is God’s work and glory. 

We will naturally be non judgmental and more generous with our forgiveness.  We will, of course, be kind and righteously tolerant.  We will see the divine potential in the faces of everyone, including ourselves, and treat all men and women as sons and daughters of God.  We will not take offense and we will love our enemies.  And eventually, there will be no contentions among us.

Recall this message from 4th Nephi:  “And it came to pass that there was no contention in the land (you could replace land with home, family, ward, city, country, world, or whatever), because of the love of God which did dwell in the hearts of the people.”  (4Nph 15)

We all know from the New Testament that “In (our) Father’s house are many mansions: . .  and He has gone to prepare a place for us.” (John 14:2) 

Moroni reflects on this doctrine in the Book of Mormon and writes  “. . . thou has said that thou hast loved the world, even unto the laying down of thy life . . . “
“. . . now I know that this love which thou hast had for the children of men is charity; wherefore, except men shall have charity they cannot inherit that place which thou hast prepared in the mansions of thy Father.”  (Ether 12:33-34)
So, we should strive and pray for the great gift of charity, but we shouldn’t just wait for it to come.  As President Hinckley said, we should get off our knees and go to work.  We can create moments of charity and the Holy Ghost will make clear to us that these moments are good.  As these moments increase, charity will slowly become a part of who we are.

These moments of charity and clarity include simple things like a smile, sitting by a lonely person, saying hi and being friendly, taking time to listen to a friend or family member, saying “I’m sorry”, choosing not to be offended, being silent when criticizing would be easy, being more generous with our forgiveness, saying and thinking kind things about others, and not judging.  These kinds of simple, but important things are not usually printed in the newspapers or seen on the news.

I did, however, read something in a popular magazine that I think ties to charity.  It’s from an advice column and is titled “Gift Guidance.”  Here’s the question:                                                                                      (Reader’s Digest)

 “Our fourth child will be married this summer.  My brother and his family have been invited to the previous three weddings and will be invited to this one as well.  While they’ve often attended, they’ve never sent a gift.  They are not as well off as we are, but they’re far from impoverished.  We’ve given generous wedding presents to his children.  Should we say something in advance?  Is it our role to get involved, or is it between our children and him?”                   Signed In the Middle.

How would you answer?  Here’s the advice:

Dear Middle,
“Your brother and his family apparently believe that their attendance and celebration at your children’s weddings is gift enough.  Assume that the gift is from the heart, keep on giving from your heart, and let this go.  A wedding is a celebration of a family’s cohesion and expansion, not a time to balance accounts.”  End Quote.

I especially like the imagery of balancing accounts.  Some of us spend too much time and energy trying to “balance accounts” and making sure everything is fair.  This is not charitable, and does not improve relationships.

It reminds me of a quote we have hanging in our hallway from President Moeller, our previous Stake President; who said “True Charity begins when we stop keeping score.” 

Our Prophet, President Monson, said something that is long, but so well said that I want to read it exactly as a prophet said it.  Quote: 

“I consider charity – or ‘the pure love of Christ’ – to be the opposite of criticism and judging.  In speaking of charity, I do not at this moment have in mind the relief of the suffering through the giving of our substance.  That, of course, is necessary and proper.  Tonight, however, I have in mind the charity that manifests itself when we are tolerant of others and lenient toward their actions, the kind of charity that forgives, the kind of charity that is patient.
“I have in mind the charity that impels us to be sympathetic, compassionate, and merciful, not only in times of sickness and affliction and distress but also in times of weakness or error on the part of others.

“There is a serious need for the charity that gives attention to those who are unnoticed, hope to those who are discouraged, aid to those who are afflicted.  True charity is love in action.  The need for charity is everywhere.

“Needed is the charity which refuses to find satisfaction in hearing or in repeating the reports of misfortunes that come to others, unless by so doing, the unfortunate one may be benefitted . . .

“Charity is having patience with someone who has let us down.  It is resisting the impulse to become offended easily.  It is accepting weaknesses and shortcomings.  It is accepting people as they truly are.  It is looking beyond physical appearances to attributes that will not dim through time.  It is resisting the impulse to categorize others.

. . . “Life is perfect for none of us.  Rather than being judgmental and critical of each other, may we have the pure love of Christ for our fellow travelers in this journey through life.  May we recognize that each one is doing (his or) her best to deal with the challenges which come (their) way, and may we strive to do our best to help out.  (Thomas S. Monson, “Charity Never Faileth,” Ensign, Nov. 2010, 124-125.)  END QUOTE.
When I was teaching high school in another state, I had the great opportunity to work with lots of kids in real gangs.  I learned from them what charity was and what it was not. 

One young teen was being especially tough on a boy of a different race in class saying things that were blatantly and purposefully disrespectful.  I kept him after class and told him we should respect others just because we’re all human beings.  His response was that the other boy was not human, he and others of his race were animals and had no feelings and were not deserving of his respect or anyone else’s respect.  It hurt to see a young man with such a hard heart and feelings.  It was sad that he could categorize people without even really knowing them.  It was a pure lack of charity.

Marvin J. Ashton said:

"Perhaps the greatest charity comes when we are kind to each other, when we don't judge or categorize someone else, when we simply give each other the benefit of the doubt or remain quiet. (Ensign, May 1992, 18).

A different boy’s friend was shot and killed in front of him.  In retaliation, he was assigned to go to a party and kill a member of the rival gang as a form of retribution.  This was not his thing. He was a “tagger” not a killer.  When he got to the party, he couldn’t do it, but he knew the rules of the street, so, he shot the guy in the leg and ran to the police.  He was arrested, worked through the system, sent to another town, and eventually ended up in my class in an identity protection program. 

One day I asked him why he hadn’t killed the guy, and why he only shot him in the leg. 

He told me how sad he was that his friend had been killed, but that he also felt sad for the guy who killed him because he knew the guy was full of hate and anger.  He said he loved everybody and wanted no part of the revenge act.  He couldn’t feel the hate or the anger, and didn’t want to feel either.  But, he felt trapped, so he did the kindest thing he could think of which was to shoot the guy in the leg.  As a result, he was hunted by the rival gang and had no protection from his own gang. 

He then said to me, Mr. Hazard, why can’t everybody just love everybody?  My awkward response was maybe someday but it’s got to happen one person at a time and we can only worry about changing ourselves.  This is a weird “charity” story, but it was a beginning, and we all have to begin improving and changing from where we are.

President Howard W. Hunter said:  "We need to be kinder with one another, more gentle and forgiving. We need to be slower to anger and more prompt to help. We need to extend the hand of friendship and resist the hand of retribution. In short, we need to love one another with the pure love of Christ, with genuine charity and compassion and, if necessary, shared suffering, for that is the way God loves us....

I assume we all agree that having charity is good.  The question for some of us now is how do we get it, or how do we increase it?

Back to when I was growing up.  In my high school, every summer the seniors took a week long field trip to Baja California to study biology and play along the coast of the Pacific Ocean.  My friends went and I really wanted to go, but I didn’t think we had the money, so I didn’t ask to go.  A few years later, my younger sisters both went.  When I asked my parents about why I didn’t get to go they said, “You never asked to go”. 

So, how do we get the gift of charity?  We ask for it.  If we don’t ask, we won’t get it.

 “. . . pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with  this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ; that ye may become the sons and daughters of God; . . . (Mor. 7:47)

As Christmas approaches, this is my hope and my challenge: that we will spend more time and effort asking our Heavenly Father for the gift of charity. That we will more fully recognize and feel his charity for us, and that we will spread that charity to others.  So that there will be increasingly less, and eventually no contentions in our homes, families, and communities and we will become “perfect even as our Father in Heaven is perfect.”

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