Revolutionizing Your Dates

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The young women organization leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints encouraged young women in the church in 2010, “Become the kind of person you would like to date.” The same goes to all the guys out there. Through my dating history and by talking with others, I’ve found various traits that stand out to both genders.

1.       Say “Yes.”

I feel that in our society it has gotten easy for us to say “No” when someone bravely asks us out on a date. Think of the courage it takes for that individual to ask you out and how crushed they would be if you said “No.” Unless that person asking you out is a creepy stalker, convicted felon, Neo-Nazi, or rapist, go out with them! One date isn’t going to kill you. Even if the date doesn’t go well, there’s a chance for you to network with your date’s friends and maybe find someone you’d really enjoy going out with. Give people a chance and get to know them before you turn them down.

Elder Dallin H. Oaks, said, ““If we are to persuade young men to ask for dates more frequently, we must establish a mutual expectation that to go on a date is not to imply a continuing commitment. … Young women, if you turn down a date, be kind. Otherwise you may crush a nervous and shy questioner and destroy him as a potential dater, and that could hurt some other sister.”

 

2.       Cancelling Is A No-Go.

Another custom I have noticed is some dates that say “Yes” will cancel shortly before the date with something they had “totally forgotten about.” That’s bad manners! If you honestly do have to cancel, offer an alternative date for the future. If you don’t offer any exceptions, the other person will assume that you aren’t interested and that you’re just trying to get out of a date with them. Unless you have a true emergency, don’t cancel. It’s just plain rude!

3.       Be You.

Although you want to show your best self on a date, don’t be afraid to be yourself. Your date wants to see the real you and not a mask. Make an effort to have fun with your date no matter what the activity is.

I once asked a girl out on a dinner date. I didn’t have a car at the time and it was in the middle of winter in Rexburg, Idaho. All of the sidewalks were coated in ice and the temperature wasn’t the best either. Yet my date was willing to walk with me across town while hanging onto my arm to prevent her from slipping. We talked and laughed the whole way over to the buffet in town. The date was quick but memorable. I could tell she was being her genuine self and was making an effort not to let the weather stop her from having a good time.

 

4.       Control Your Emotions.

Just from talking with friends of both genders, I know that emotional stability is critical to a successful relationship. Although it can be tough at times, control your emotions. Do not overload on your date with all that is wrong in your life. True, we each have our bad days, but don’t be the one who always has a “problem” and is emotionally needy. This is exhausting physically, emotionally for both involved.

A website called, “Science of Relationships” did a survey where participants were asked to list in importance what were their top twenty most sought for personality traits in a partner and emotional stability was in the top ten for both genders. To learn more about the results see this link: http://www.scienceofrelationships.com/home/2012/4/19/the-top-20-most-desired-personality-traits-in-a-future-spous.html

 

5.       Listen!

This is an important quality to have! I’ve been on dates where I’ve maybe said four words while I listened to my date talk the entire time. Each of us has the desire to be heard. Listen to what your date has to say rather than thinking of the next thing to say. Be willing to listen and take turns. An article titled “10 Ways To Ruin a First Date” said, “Refrain from overwhelming the conversation. Talking just to fill the silence is not a way to prevent a date from going bad. It is a way to ensure that the date will be ruined.” http://relationships.answers.com/dating-tips/10-ways-to-ruin-a-first-date

6.       Don’t be critical.

No one enjoys being around a pessimist or critic. Want to make your date not like you? Criticize them often and you’ll do just that. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said, “In a dating and courtship relationship, I would not have you spend five minutes with someone who belittles you, who is constantly critical of you, who is cruel at your expense and may even call it humor.”

7.       Treat Your Date Like Gold

Everyone wants to feel important and special. The best dates are those where you feel uplifted after your dating experience and not “second” in importance.

I once asked out a girl who I found very attractive and was surprised she’d say yes to someone like me. I was extremely humbled. Throughout the date, she’d ask me questions about myself, was polite, and was just such an all around sweetheart! I later learned she had been feeling sick all day, yet didn’t cancel and made the date one to remember. I could be myself around her without any worries. I was just blown away by how kind she was. President Gordon B. Hinckley said, “A girl has the same obligation to show good manners as a boy. She should appreciate the efforts he goes to and thank him. She should talk to him and help him have a nice time. She should never be texting others during a date. She should never ‘ditch’ him to go do something with others during the date. She should make every effort to be pleasant and talkative.”

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These seven traits are just scratching the service of revolutionizing your dating experiences. Men and women, let’s step up our game when it comes to dating! Let’s make sure that we’re courteous and kind, even if we aren’t interested in a long-term relationship. By doing so, we will be a date to remember!

Dreams

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“Dream as if you’ll live forever, live as if you’ll die today.” — James Dean, American movie actor

Throughout my life, I have worked with people whose dreams have been crushed or have lost hope to pursue them because of their circumstances. I feel that any honorable dream is worth fighting for and that it can be accomplished if we keep trying.

One dream I have had is to be able to provide for my family in a bad economy. I am sure this dream is one that many of you share. I have met people who didn’t take advantage of educational opportunities and are now in positions where they cannot provide for themselves. When I was walking around a run-down trailer park in Georgia years ago, I promised myself that I would do whatever it took to get a good education and to be a provider for my family. I have learned in my college years that that can be a sacrifice because sometimes it requires postponing activities with friends and other recreational pursuits in order to get good grades in school. Such dreams, I feel, are worth of making sacrifices for.

Sometimes dreams take a while to accomplish—even a lifetime. We may run into obstacles and disappointments. We may wonder, “How can I ever acheive this goal? It seems like I keep on running into obstacles and I’m doomed to failure.”

History is filled with a myriad of examples of individuals who have gone through opposition to help change the world! Patience can be hard to grasp when a dream seems impossible, but when we reach the finish line we realize it was well worth the price.

Our own peers may tell us that the chances of our dreams succeeding are slim. I’d like to reference a brief example of two dreams I accomplished recently and will share more about them in future posts. For all of my life there have been two goals on my bucket list.  The chances of both of them being realized were slim but I still wanted to give it a try. The first one was to talk to a Holocaust survivor. One night on Facebook, I posted on my status, asking my friends if they knew of any Holocaust survivors. A friend of mine from church referred me to an incredible Holocaust survivor, Stephen Nasser. I was shocked when he allowed me, a complete stranger, to come into his home and interview him about his experiences. I will publish the incredible lessons I learned from Stephen Nasser in future posts. My second bucket list goal was to interview someone who personally knew Anne Frank. Anne Frank has been a role model of mine ever since I can remember. After lots of searching and e-mailing, I was presented with two amazing opportunities. Buddy Elias, Anne Frank’s only surviving relative, has agreed to be interviewed by me via e-mail. I am also waiting to hear back from Anne Frank’s best friend, Hanneli Goslar, as well.

Make a list of dreams you’ve always wanted to accomplish and start working towards them. This week was my country’s Independence Day which allows the freedom to pursue worthy goals. Take advantage of all the opportunities that are placed before you. Work each day towards your dreams as if each day was your last. When you look back, you will see, like I do, that no dream is impossible!

Standing Alone

President Thomas S. Monson, the leader of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, said, “May we ever be courageous and prepared to stand for what we believe, and if we must stand alone in the process, may we do so courageously, strengthened by the knowledge that in reality we are never alone when we stand with our Father in Heaven.” In our day, each of us is faced with many forces that seek to stop us from reaching our full potential and distancing ourselves from God, our Eternal Father. There will be times in our lives where we will have to stand up for the beliefs and morals that we know are right. At times, we may be the only ones doing so. During such situations, we may feel alone in our convictions, but in reality, those who watch us will look up to us and be inspired to change.

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Me in the rain forest close to Belize City with my relatives shortly before we went cave tubing.

In mid-December of 2006, I was in Belize City touring the port’s marketplace with my immediate family and cousins. We had just enjoyed an adventurous day of zip-lining through a rainforest and riding on tubes through caves. We were looking for souvenirs to purchase before we headed back to our cruise ship. Those who have been to such marketplaces are familiar with the persistence and aggressiveness of vendors. It is not uncommon to have vendors grab you by the arm and drag you into their shop, showcasing every item they have to sell. I was walking with my cousin through the Belize City port marketplace when a vendor grabbed my cousin by the arm and took him into his shop. I thought, “Well, there he goes” and I kept on walking. I was soon approached by a local. He was skinny, had a rich accent, and black dreadlocks. He asked me, “Hey, would you like a smoke?” I declined saying, “No thanks. I don’t smoke.” The man stopped and looked at me stunned. “You don’t drink either or do drugs?” inquired the man. “No” I replied. The man’s face broke into a big smile and he raised his arms towards the sky yelling, “Man, that is so freaking cool! Good for you!”

As many of you are aware, I am a religious person and am picky with the individuals I choose to spend time with. Without naming anyone, I would like to share a powerful experience I had where I was the only one standing up for my beliefs in a group of friends. I was riding home with a group of church friends one day with a new member of the church named Marquis* (name has been changed) who used to be an ex-Blood gang member. We learned that Marquis was a DJ in town and recorded his own music. As members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, we are encouraged to listen and watch wholesome entertainment while shunning everything else that is the exact opposite. Marquis started playing a song that was sexually explicit and dehumanizing. As I looked around the car, I was heartbroken to see my friends crying with laughter at the song and not saying anything to stop it. I was furious and not sure what to do. In the past, I had fought with them several times about other behaviors that were against church standards and I was mocked for it. They ignored me. I believe that was one of the reasons I didn’t say anything on that car ride. When we were dropped off, I got out of the car not saying anything to anyone. I couldn’t talk to these friends I lived with. I had lost all respect for them. We had just gotten back to our apartment when our phone rang. One of my friends picked it up and talked with Marquis. When the call finished, one of my friends approached me in my room where I was still fuming. “Zachary,” said my friend solemnly standing in the doorway, “that was Marquis. He is really sad. He noticed how you got out of the car upset. He was calling to apologize to you that you had to hear such music and he feels bad that you were exposed to it. He thinks highly of you and says he’s sorry.” I noticed a change in my friends after this incident. As the years progressed, I watched them become amazing members in the church and obedient to its standards. Today they are all righteous fathers and have families of their own. They have my respect for changing in increments after that day. At the time, I was the youngest in that group. I am not sharing this story in anger against these dear friends of mine but to show that one, even the most inexperienced in a group, has the power to change lives with the power of God.

I know many of you can relate to such situations. I have seen in my own life how standing up for one’s standards can change the hearts of gang members, drug dealers, and even members of your own church. Think of all you can do. I am still learning today of standing up for one’s beliefs, especially when you are alone. It’s easy to walk away but it’s another to tell the group you are with that what they are doing is wrong. That takes true courage. Don’t participate in unholy activities that you know are wrong. Walk away! If possible, warn those around you of the consequences of their actions. I understand this is not always possible in some situations. But what is always possible is the image you make for yourself in standing up for what you believe in. Stand up for what you know is right in your own life! You won’t be alone when you do so.

Paw Prints On The Heart

Last night, I was driving home after spending time with friends, and started thinking about what constitutes a true friend. I thought through my life of all the true friends I have had and what I could learn from each of them. One such friend that came to my mind last night was my old dog, Snoopy. My family and I adopted Snoopy from an animal shelter in 1999 and named him after Charlie Brown’s dog in the comic strip. I learned many lessons from him on what constitutes a true friend.

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One evening in 1999, I was jumping on the trampoline in the backyard. Somehow, I leapt off the trampoline and twisted my right foot when landing on the cement patio. As I laid there on the patio crying, I tried to get the attention of my parents but they were unable to hear me. Less than ten seconds after my fall, there was Snoopy, quietly walking to me from the back of the patio. He started licking me as if he were saying, “Zach, it is okay. I am right here. I’m not leaving you.” Snoopy sat right next to me, quietly watching over me. After a few minutes, I got up and limped back inside. Snoopy even escorted me to the sliding glass door to make sure I got in safely.

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In all the time we had Snoopy I never saw or heard of him hurting anyone. He loved being around people and hated being left out of the fun. Snoopy was incredibly patient–especially on walks. As we walked, I enjoyed talking with my neighbors. Sometimes these conversations lasted up to two hours. Snoopy would patiently lay on the sidewalk and not tug on the leash while I listened to talkative neighbors. One of the last times I spent time with him was in April of 2009. My girlfriend at the time had flown in to see me before I left for the South for two years to do my voluntary mission service and we went on a long walk together with Snoopy. Snoopy didn’t mind how long the duration was and was fine with taking breaks when we sat down to catch our breath.

I was living in South Carolina in July of 2009 when I got a card from my mom informing me of Snoopy’s death. He had been energetic and happy all the way to the end and had died peacefully in our backyard. Even though Snoopy is gone, he continues to inspire me today.

As I drove on the freeway, thinking of Snoopy, it got me thinking of what kind of a friend I am and what types of friends I should seek to be with. I personally feel that true friends are those that are constantly there for you constantly and love you for who you are. They never tear you down but seek to build you up. They never betray you or abandon you when you need them most. There is much more to write than one paragraph as to what defines a true friend, but think about the people you spend time with. Are they true friends? Lastly, are you a true friend to them?

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An unknown author said, “Many people will walk in and out of your life, but only true friends will leave footprints in your heart.” Snoopy left paw prints on my heart before he died. I will never forget him and look forward to seeing him in heaven again one day. I hope each one of us can be unforgettable friends like my dog, Snoopy. Let’s continue Snoopy’s work and be the type of friend he was to everyone!

The Jade Necklace

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I was cleaning my room last week when I came across a necklace with a bead and a piece of jade attached to it. As I held it in my hand, I wondered, “What in the world is this doing here? Where did I get it?”

As I stared at this necklace, the memory finally hit me.

It was May of 2011.

I was sitting on a Delta Airlines flight at the Atlanta Georgia Airport. The final passengers were just boarding. It was an exciting time for me as I had just finished my two-year voluntary missionary service for my church in Georgia and South Carolina. I had not seen my family in two years.

As passengers boarded, I noticed some of them glance at my missionary nametag. I was used to people looking at my nametag with curiosity or displeasure. I was also used to people avoiding me because most knew missionaries would try to convert or talk about their church. I love talking about my church but I also know when it is time to back off. Unfortunately, some people would make hasty judgments about the nametag I was wearing due to lies about the church and wouldn’t bother getting to know me.

But a passenger on board saw past that. A middle aged woman with short brown hair who I’ll name Heather, sat next to me. I struck up a conversation with her. I learned that she had similar Christian values. For the entire flight to Las Vegas, we talked. We talked about multiple topics–family, religion, and the lowering of morals in our country. I explained to Heather how I was a volunteer missionary for my church and how I’d be seeing my family for the first time in two years that afternoon. I was shocked when Heather, someone I had just barely met, squealed in joy and exclaimed, “That is so exciting!” She started asking me questions about my family and what my future plans were. She told me, “You must be going crazy right now on this flight.”

Our flight landed in Las Vegas and we walked to baggage claim together still talking. We were just approaching the monorail in the airport when I spotted a risqué billboard outside. I immediately looked at the ground and joked, “They didn’t have those in Georgia.” Heather laughed and said, “Good for you.”

When we got off the monorail, Heather started digging through her bag. “I want to give you something,” she said. She took out a necklace with a bead and piece of jade attached to it. On the flight, we had talked about her many travels around the world. Smiling, she said, “I got this in the Sea of China and would like you to have it.” As Heather placed it in the palm of my hand, she told me, “I want to give this to you because you are special. You are a really good guy and you are going to change the world. I can tell.” I was extremely flattered and thanked her. I carefully put the necklace in my suit pocket.

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We were just down the hallway from the escalators leading to baggage claim when Heather exclaimed, “Goodness, what are you still doing here? You have a family to reunite with. How come you aren’t running? Don’t worry about me. I can manage. GO, GO, GO!” With that, I was soon running full speed in my suit, suitcase in tow. Less than a minute later, there was my family at the bottom of the escalator, happily waiting for me. As I hugged everyone, I caught a glimpse of Heather walking past. She gave me a big smile. That was the last time I saw her.

When I unearthed this necklace I was having conflicting thoughts. At the time, I’d been treated poorly by some people and feeling down on myself. I came across that necklace and remembered that random passenger. The memory instantly made me feel better about myself and reminded me of my full potential. Who would have thought a simple jade necklace could bring such peace at such a time? I wish I’d caught Heather’s actual name so I could personally thank her.

What on earth does a jade necklace have to do with you? Remember the potential your actions can have on others, even years beyond that interaction. You don’t have to give out gifts on flights but you can, in one way or another, give a gift of caring and love.

Miracles In A Twister

A Scottish novelist named James Barrie said, “God gave us memory so that we might have roses in December.” Recently, memories I haven’t thought of for a time have come back after following the news on the devastating tornado in Moore, Oklahoma. My heart and prayers go out to those who have been affected by this traumatizing event. Although I have never witnessed a mile wide tornado ripping apart the city I live in, I have been exposed to smaller tornadoes in my own life. I would like to share briefly what I experienced during two such storms and the miracles I saw during them. 
 
Swainsboro, Georgia—January 24, 2010
 
My Life Spared: I was working with a fellow volunteer missionary at the time named Richard Genck and we were told by residents in the area to be back at our apartment before 5pm. 5pm was the scheduled time for the storm to hit. Richard and I stopped to visit the Cruz family who we were good friends with. The storm came a bit sooner than expected. Before long the sky darkened, the wind picked up, and a downpour began. The tornado siren outside began to wail. I opened the screen door to check for a tornado but couldn’t see anything. When the rain died down, Mrs. Cruz and I ran onto the front lawn. Above us we could see a menacing, misty gray cloud and drooping down from it was a funnel cloud. The wind started to blow suddenly and pushed the cloud away from us. It is difficult to describe the feelings I felt watching that menacing cloud blown away. I personally feel it was an act of providence that did that.
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Me with the amazing Cruz family shortly before I was sent to Savannah, Georgia. At the time, the photographer was making goofy faces at me and I had trouble making a normal smile. 
 
Charity Is Not Dead: When the storm died down for a time, Mrs. Cruz and her teenage daughter Elizabeth drove us home in their pickup truck. Although they didn’t have much money, they didn’t want me and Richard biking home across town in this storm. We loaded our bikes in the back and they got us home before the worst of the storm hit. 
 
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Due to the possibility of the storm shattering the windows behind us that evening, Richard and I decided to plan our upcoming day behind the round table we used for meals. We also decided to take this professional photo while we planned as well. 
 
Prayer Works: A tornado watch was in effect till 1am that night. We went to bed around 10:30am. Everything seemed normal outside and I thought the worst had past. I wrote in my journal the following day what happened that night, “I slept till around 11:15pm when the tornado siren started up again down the street. We both woke up and listened. The wind started to pick up and grow stronger. I felt we should say a prayer. We both knelt down in our dark bedroom, as the siren blared and the wind picked up. I said the prayer and it was probably one of the most sincere ones I’ve ever said in my life.” That night we learned nearly four tornadoes nearly touched down in Swainsboro yet were unable to form. We woke up several more times in the middle of the night from the sirens and the howling wind. God was really watching out for us that night.
 
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The morning after. 
 
Grateful For A Blue Sky: The next morning I wrote, “When we woke up all of the clouds were gone. We could see the blue sky again and it was sunny which seemed surreal from the night before. Swainsboro has been untouched from the storm. I don’t see any damage from the storm. Right now it’s sunny, clear skies, and a beautiful cool breeze.” Ever since that night, I’ve been always appreciative of clear blue skies. It’s hard to write down the hope and peace I felt walking onto the apartment porch after such a night. I guess we don’t truly appreciate something till we see the possibility of us losing it.
 
Milledgeville, Georgia—March 26, 2011
 
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Church Warning: This time I was in an apartment situated on a tall grassy hill overlooking a forest on the outskirts of Milledgeville. I had just gotten back from Warner Robbins with two other volunteer missionaries and we were observing the developing storm clouds before biking into town. There was no tornado warning system installed in our area. I soon overheard a nearby Protestant Church loudly ringing its bells. At first, I wondered if I had missed a religious holiday on my calendar but I soon realized a courageous church member was warning people in the area of the impending storm.
 
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The calm before the storm.
 
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Optimism: Me and one of the volunteer missionaries were getting a bit nervous watching the storm develop. We weren’t quite sure where to go if a tornado did develop since there was no cellar and plus, we were on a hill. The other, Forrest Ross, could see this and decided to lighten up the gloomy situation while keeping a lookout. I remember Forrest jokingly suggesting we hide with our attractive female neighbor downstairs. When I took the following picture above, I heard Forrest gasp and run into the living room. Following him, I came across an unusual site. He had gotten a small bag and was unsuccessfully trying to fit in it. He exclaimed, “Elder Lee, I’ve got to fit in this bag and escape from that tornado outside!” It took us both awhile to stop laughing. Thankfully, no tornado developed.
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I am by no means saying I can entirely relate to what all of those poor people in Oklahoma just went through. But I can relate to the terror one feels listening to the wind begin to rattle your apartment and seeing a funnel cloud in the sky. I had kept these memories in the back of my mind until I heard of this disaster. The memories came back but also the lessons I learned during some of the most terrifying moments in my life. It is possible to find miracles, even in the middle of a tornado. Let us all pray that Oklahoma sees many at this time and that all of those affected will be able to get back up on their feet quickly. 

A Small Kindness

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A Chinese Proverb says, “Do not forget small kindnesses and do not remember small faults.” I would like to share one unforgettable act of kindness that happened to me on May 26, 2007 at a graveyard overlooking the small dusty towns of Hurricane and Toquerville, Utah.

 

I was at the funeral of my baby cousin who had died before birth. Her death had shaken our entire family, especially me. I was, and still am, very close to all of my younger relatives in my large extended family. I love playing with them and just hearing about all that is going on in their lives.

 

At the time, I just couldn’t understand how I had been blessed with already seventeen years of life and my cousin hadn’t even received one day. I was close with her parents, my aunt and uncle, and felt terrible for them.

 

I was standing off to the right of the large group that had congregated in front of my cousin’s casket. My Dad was asked to officiate and lead the funeral. As the funeral began, I noticed my six-year-old cousin, Autumn, standing next to me. She must have sensed how much I was hurting inside. She stood close to me and took my hand into hers. What may have seemed a small insignificant act to her at the time was a monumental act of “kindness” I still remember today.

 

Eventually, I was able to sort through those difficult emotions. I still don’t understand why some of us leave this life sooner but I do know that God doesn’t take us before our time. I also know that one day we will see our loved ones again and that death is not a goodbye.

 

My cousin Autumn was only six and made a difference in my life as I stood next to the gravesite of our baby cousin. Think of all you can do to help those around you. You don’t have to save their home from burning down (although I would encourage you to do that if the opportunity presents itself) but find a small act of kindness you can do for someone every day. I can assure you that it most likely will not soon be forgotten 🙂

Overcoming Islamophobia

A few days following the Boston Marathon attacks a friend of mine posted a link to an article on Facebook. In the article it talked about various Muslims that had been attacked physically and verbally due to prejudice resulting from the Boston Marathon bombings. At the top of the article was a picture of a Muslim family posing at the Boston Aquarium. The father was smiling holding a baby while his wife leaned in close to him touching his arm beaming. They seemed like such a happy and golden family. The wife in this particular picture had been cussed out and called a terrorist as she took a walk with a friend. I wondered how could anyone in their right mind could go up to any woman and use such verbally abusive language against her. Thus, I began my journey to discover just how real Muslim prejudice is in our society and also to clear up my own misconceptions about that faith.

I don’t claim to be an expert on such a sensitive and controversial topic. Like you, I am appalled at what took place in Boston just two weeks ago and all murderous attacks throughout history. Just because you’re Muslim doesn’t mean you have automatically become a terrorist. In fact, just from talking with devout members of the Muslim faith the exact opposite is encouraged.

I talked with a Muslim teenage girl via Facebook named Hanane Mg in Chelghoum Laïd, Mila, Algeria who shared with me the story of a famous Egyptian Muslim scholar named Sheikh Shaarawi. He had a conversation one day with a radical Muslim man who believed it was okay to blow up an Egyptian night club. Sheikh Shaarawi asked the man, “What is the first mission of Satan?” The man replied, “To enter people to hell fire.” Sheikh Shaarawi then responded, “Then you are Satan. You kill people who do bad things to enter them to hell fire. Islam has never been about terrorism and killing non-Muslims. Islam is to invite those non-Muslims to repent to God and give them a chance to enter to paradise.” Hanane told me, “Muslims are never perfect like no human is. Everybody do mistakes whatever it is his religion, nationality, or color. We all do mistakes.”

I talked with a woman named Rahma Yassin who converted from Christianity to the Muslim faith several years ago in the United States. Her brother disowned her for converting. Yassin currently lives in Cairo, Egypt with her husband. She said, “I have no idea why any righteous Muslim would participate in such attacks on innocent people. The Qur’an clearly tells us that to kill one innocent is as if you killed all of mankind. I would not want that weight on my shoulders when I face Allah and I feel that any Muslim who truly believes in Allah and the Qur’an and is capable of critical thinking would not do such a heinous act as terrorism.”

Yet, because of two Muslim brothers from Kyrgyzstan more prejudice against Muslims or “Islamophobia” has increased here in the United States.

Islamophobia, according to Dictionary.com, is “Hatred or fear of Muslims or of their politics or culture.” It’s a phobia that has increased ever since the September 11th terrorist attacks in New York and Washington D.C.

I was at Sam’s Club shopping with my Mom two weeks ago. We were getting treats for a video game party I was hosting at home for members of my church congregation. I saw two Muslim families at the store. The two families I could see were anxious and were doing their best to avoid contact with anyone in the store, probably out of fear of any retaliation linked to the Boston Marathon bombings that had happened just four days earlier. I was in the Sam’s Club book section glossing over various books when a Muslim man from one of the families started looking at books. I commented to him, “I am having so much trouble deciding what book to get.” He was taken off guard and at first, I could see he wasn’t sure what to say. His face then broke into a smile and he said, “Yeah, me too.” I am guessing this poor man wasn’t used to Americans treating him nicely that week because of his faith. I told him to have a great day. He wished me the same and had the biggest smile. It made me wonder how many locals in Las Vegas had told him to have a great day. That man helped inspire me to do this post.

I don’t blame this Muslim man for being so scared to talk to a Caucasian such as myself. Muslims in recent years have been persecuted for their beliefs all over the world. Many have endured hardship of all kinds to loss of work, verbal abuse, injuries of all kinds, and sadly, for some, even losing their own lives. Islamophobia is real in our society and is occurring still all over the world.

Samyia Ahmed, a Muslim convert from Ireland, has endured discrimination firsthand for her faith. “I face daily abuse,” said Ahmed, “I have been physically abused and spat on.” Ahmed is careful bringing up her faith when applying for work. She has been refused work and told by potential employers that having her would be “bad for our image.” Ahmed travels often for her job. The airport is no different. “I travel a lot due to my work and at airports I am always searched thoroughly even when the scanner doesn’t go off,” said Ahmed. Her children also get bullied at their school. The bullying got so intense for her eldest son that he could not go outside their home for a whole year simply because he was Muslim. Noor Fah in the state of Illinois in the United States faced discrimination at her job at Taco Bell. Also a convert to the Muslim faith, Fah was disowned by her father for converting. In the Muslim faith, women are required to wear a veil or a “hijab” for modesty and as a commandment of God. Fah was not allowed to wear her hijab at Taco Bell while at work or even eating there. Defiant, Fah continued to wear it. One day, her employers changed her work schedule while she was out of town. Oblivious, Fah missed work and was subsequently fired. Despite this illegal action, Fah is still optimistic. “I’m better off,” said Fah.

So, what does Islamophobia have to do with you? Perhaps, you have this phobia like I did for a time. Recently, I have strived to learn more about the Middle East and the people in it. I have read books about what it’s like to live in that part of the world. I have talked with several Muslims and asked them difficult questions to clear up misconceptions I have. The Muslims I have talked to I have found weren’t defensive. They were willing to tell me all about their faith, send me links, and welcomed the opportunity to answer my questions. One even sent me the whole PDF version of the Qu’ran to my e-mail inbox in pure Arabic. They even called me, “Brother” even though we had never met face to face. I would like to thank Mrs. Heba Samy for helping me get these interviews. Without these interviews, most of my misconceptions would still be there and this post would have likely not been published.

I encourage you to learn of people you may not understand or even be intimidated by. You can never know how someone is until you ask them. Atticus Finch, the courageous lawyer in To Kill A Mockingbird who stood up for an innocent African American man framed for raping a white girl, said to his daughter Scout, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view . . . until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.” Don’t allow your definition of a race or faith of people to be determined by the foolish actions of just a few. Learn of them and you will be surprised what you will find. Perhaps you will make a few new friends in the process like I did when researching for this post.

ImageThis photo was taken by Sarah Dziria in Medina, Saudi Arabia at the “Mosque of the Prophet” which is the second holiest sight of the Muslim faith.

Gratitude in the Worst Of Times

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On a clear night in mid-December of 2005, I was walking on the lifeboat deck of the MS Legend of the Seas as it sailed through the Caribbean Sea. Every night on the ship, I enjoyed just walking around especially on the lifeboat deck. There I could see the never ending dark ocean, the glow of the moon off the sea, millions of stars illuminating the sky, and waves cresting away from the ship. I was leaning against the railing enjoying the view when I came to realize I wasn’t alone. Standing right behind me stood an Indonesian crew member close to the two sliding glass doors leading into the ship. He appeared to be deep in thought and enjoying the view just as much as I was. I struck up a conversation with him. I learned that the year before his village in Indonesia had been completely destroyed from the tsunami that took the lives of 230,000 people on December 26, 2004. He had been working on the MS Legend of the Seas when the tsunami struck. His family was in the village when the tsunami hit. I asked him, “Were they okay?” “Yes,” he said smiling, “they ran up the hill away from the tsunami.” The crew member went on, “We lost our home and all of our possessions from the tsunami. But I have my family still. That is all that matters.”

In March of 2011, I was visiting a Bahamian family as a volunteer missionary. The family consisted of a middle aged couple and two baby girls. As I walked in, I was stunned at what I saw. Dinner was just about to be served. The entrée this family was having for dinner was a small Banquet spaghetti and meatballs TV dinner. I watched the wife set it carefully on the table and split it up with her two baby girls. The father didn’t join them. On top of food shortages, this family faced a terrifying fact. Due to their inability to pay off their housing bills, they were to be evicted in just a few short days and thrown onto the streets. I quietly watched the Mother and her two baby girls have this meager meal. I looked at the father. You could see the weight of life upon him and how bad he felt watching his family. I asked the father, “How are you doing?” The father said, “You know, it’s been tough Elder Lee. We will be thrown out in a few days. We hardly have any food or clothes to supply ourselves with. I honestly don’t know what’s going to happen to us.” The father was quiet for a time and then said with tears dripping down his face, “But you know Elder Lee we are the richest people on earth.” As he regained control of his emotions he said, “We have God who is constantly watching over us. We have His holy scriptures. I still have my family. We may be poor in material things but I think we are millionaires. With God, the scriptures, and family what else do we need?”

Anthony Robbins, an American advisor to leaders, said, “When you are grateful fear disappears and abundance appears.” Life is not perfect for all of us. Each of us has things that we want but may never receive. It may be hard to look up seeing all that we don’t have and feel we are the poorest people on earth. Think of all that you have in your life and what you can be grateful for today.

Finding The Good In A Disaster

Sergeant Schultz, the bumbling German sergeant in the comic TV series, “Hogan’s Heroes” said, “Out of every disaster, some good things come if you look for them.” In light of recent events in Boston, I have felt the urge to do a post on this topic. I am not trying to make light of this horrific disaster. Like you, I have been worried for the safety of my Boston friends. My heart and prayers go out to those that have been affected by this cowardly, inhumane event. I have seen the graphic photos of blood soaked sidewalks and videos of the explosion enveloping the finish line. This tragedy has rocked the nation. It will take us all time to recover from this event, especially those directly affected by it in the city of Boston. But out of wars, genocides, terrorist attacks, and disasters, there are incredible stories that are found. I feel that through disasters, the best is brought out in people. I have seen this already with the attack in Boston. I was amazed at how heroes jumped into action at the Boston marathon explosion. Watching a video, as smoke shot up into the sky, I watched policemen, soldiers, and even marathon runners race over to the scene of the explosion to help in anyway possible. They didn’t seem to care about their own personal safety, but of the well-being of those around them. That, in itself, is the good I have seen come from this disaster.

In tragedy it can be difficult to find the good resulting from an event that took the lives of many innocent people away. Here are twelve good deeds that emerged from some of the world’s deadliest disasters. If you would like to learn more about these incredible stories, just click on the link. At times when gallantry may seem nonexistent, do know that there are heroes all around you.

1. Boston Marathon Hero. Joe Andruzzi, an Ex-NFL player for the New England Patriots, was at the Boston Marathon when the explosion ripped through spectators at the finish line and decided not to stand by.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Ll4RBKPg9k

2. A Lifelong Friend. Ian Holbourn, an Oxford professor, was on the ship RMS Lusitania when it was torpedoed by a German submarine in 1915 and helped save the life of a 12-year-old girl named Alvis Dolphin. She became his lifelong friend following the disaster.

http://www.rmslusitania.info/people/second-cabin/ian-holbourn/

3. A Savior In Nanking. During the Rape of Nanking in 1937, a German businessman named John Rabe helped save the lives of 200,000 Chinese civilians from horrible deaths at the hands of Japanese soldiers.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Rabe

4. The Romeo and Juliet of Sarajevo. Rather than find medical help for herself, Admira Ismić stayed with her boyfriend, Boško Brkić, after they had both been shot as they were trying to escape the war in Sarajevo, Bosnia, via the Vrbanja bridge.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Romeo_and_Juliet_in_Sarajevo

5. An A+ Elementary School Teacher. Victoria Soto was a first grade elementary teacher at Sandy Hook Elementary School when Adam Lanza began shooting and stopped him from claiming more victims.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vicki_Soto

Powerful interview with Vicki Soto’s best friend: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8SM7iZ6UgoY

6. True Love. When a shooter began killing moviegoers at the midnight showing of The Dark Knight Rises in Aurora, Colorado, three boyfriends acted as human shields for their girlfriends.

http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/aurora-shooting-died-bullets-sweeties-article-1.1119395

Heroes from Aurora: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J8ah7BjyJS8

7. An Icy Swim. When Air Florida Flight 90 crashed into the frozen Potomac River in 1982, Lenny Skutnik, seeing a female survivor struggling for life in the water, dove in and pulled her to shore, saving her life.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lenny_Skutnik

Go to 5:15 of this video link to see the rescue: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eXSQ9YGQvOI

8. The Best Hotel Staff. When armed terrorists stormed the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel in Mumbai, India in 2008, the hotel staff showed just how much they valued their customers.

http://hbr.org/2011/12/the-ordinary-heroes-of-the-taj/ar/1

Brief video on tribute to hotel staff members: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sBtUmv6XkYo

9. Faith In Front of A Gun. Cassie Bernall was a student at Columbine High School when two gunman entered the school in 1999 and began murdering school faculty. When approached by them, they told Cassie that if she denied her faith in God she would live.

http://www.cassierenebernall.org/

10. Hotel Rwanda. During the Rwandan genocide, hotel owner, Paul Rusesabagina, used his hotel to save the lives of 1,268 refugees from certain death.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_Rusesabagina

11. A Lifesaving List. Oskar Schindler, an aspiring German entreprenuer, helped save the lives of over 1,000 Jews in Poland by adding them to a list of “essential workers” for his business during the Holocaust.

http://oskarschindler.com/

12. Helping Hands. After Hurricane Sandy totaled the East Coast, thousands of members from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, including several of my university friends, helped with the clean up.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jHSkiEeLpTk

There are millions of stories like these out there from all ages of history. What are some you have found?