December 26, 2011

Joseph, chosen to 'father' Jesus

I wanted to talk about Joseph, the father who raised Jesus.  He's often overlooked in the story of the nativity, as if he didn't matter in the story so much.  But he did matter.  Without him, the story may not have played out at all.

Joseph was pivotal because he kept Mary alive.  Remember that because people thought she was breaking a big commandment—not to commit adultery—she was subject to penalties under the Jewish law.  In their culture, she was actually subject to being stoned to death!  Adulterers were stoned!  But Heavenly Father had prepared for this by sending Joseph.  

Because Joseph loved Mary and had already asked for Mary's hand in marriage, he became the one who had the right to stone her.  As her fiancé, he suddenly had the loudest voice in the matter.  After an angel came to Joseph and explained that the child she was expecting was the Son of God and He would come to save the world, Joseph believed Mary.  And Joseph knew he couldn't do anything to hurt her.  In fact, Joseph would do all he could to protect her.  So instead of stoning her, or even just allowing the village to stone her, Joseph claimed the child as his child, bringing the shame upon himself instead.  Now everyone in the village thought he also had committed adultery and looked at him suspiciously too.

Additionally, Joseph then protected Jesus when the angel came and warned them to flee to Egypt because Herod was killing all of the Jewish baby boys.  Joseph was a good father to Jesus and taught him how to be a Carpenter.  It must have been humbling to be Jesus' father!  How would you know what to teach him?  

Joseph was carefully chosen to be the earthly father of Jesus.  What an honor that changed Joseph's life forever!  I'm grateful for good men like Joseph who are ready and willing to do what the Lord asks, even if it makes their lives harder for a while.  They trust in God, perhaps not knowing how it will all turn out.  But Heavenly Father knows the end from the beginning and so these men become part of a great work directed by Heavenly Father! 

Jesus, our Savior and a discussion of Fun...

I was talking to my kids the other day about fun.  We were discussing whether we came to earth to have fun or to have joy.  The scripture that came to mind was the one that says, "men are that they might have joy (not fun.)"  Having fun is great, but we are here for bigger reasons.  We were placed here on earth to make a difference.  We each have a mission to perform on earth.  I considered Jesus' life here on the earth.  Did he have a fun life or a life of joy?

I thought how Christ knew about all of the eras of time and could have easily come today so that he could have fun.  Why would he choose to come in the meridian of time when he would have to work hard to have enough to eat to survive?  There were no soft beds or warm houses; no comfortable cars with air conditioning; no free time for leisure or fun.  There were no boogie boards, no snow skis, no jet skis, and no parasails.  If Christ were thinking of himself only, He might have chosen to come now and have a great time playing and having fun.  But thankfully He wasn't thinking of Himself, He was thinking of us.  He said with the Father, "This is my work and my glory, to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man."  He knew why He would come to the earth and it was to help us.  Sure, He found time for fun when possible.  But the big things happened.  He lived a perfect life with no sin, then He taught everyone His gospel during His ministry, He atoned for our sins, then He conquered death with His resurrection.  He accomplished His purposes in the meridian of time because that time and people would be the only time and people that would crucify their God.  It had to be then and there.   It's not that we can't have fun, but we can't be distracted from our missions by it.  We let fun fill the time while we are doing what we came here to do. I think of Joseph Smith and his trials, but he still had time for fun. 

I'm glad that Mary, Joseph and Jesus all chose to play their parts in the unfolding of the greatest story in all of history.  Any one of them could have said they didn't want any part of this story.  Mary was maligned as a sinner.  Joseph carried that stigma with him when he married Mary and took care of Jesus as his child.  And Jesus suffered so much for us.  They all performed their missions on the earth in spite of the personal cost and made our salvation possible.  It is something that should make us very happy!
There was a world of people depending on Jesus to do what He agreed to do.  There are people who depend on us to do what we came here to do.  So we can look for ways to make a difference in this world and do our best with our trials. 

December 19, 2011

Mary the Mother of our Savior Jesus

I wanted to write about a remarkable woman today.  We praise her every Christmas for the gift she gave us.  She gave us the Son of God.  Mary, the mother of Jesus, had to sacrifice a great deal to bring Him to us.

Mary was a young faithful Jewish girl living in a town named Nazareth, just like so many other girls in her faith.  She had to work hard with her family to have enough to eat each day.  She kept the commandments and obeyed her parents.  And she prayed to Heavenly Father.  Still, it must have shocked her to see an angel and have him speak to her.  

More shocking still would be what he said to her.  After telling her she was highly favored of God, he told her she would have a baby and name him Jesus.  He added that Jesus would called the Son of God, and that he would be given a throne and reign over a kingdom that would have no end.

This revelation would have unsettled Mary.  First, that she would become a mother when she had not yet been married.  And yet she would be the mother to a king! 

Her worries were legitimate.  She was subject to being treated badly, even being stoned to death because of becoming a mother before marriage.  And yet, this baby was the son of God!  Surely God would protect and bless her!  That thought must have given her the faith to go on.  Her response to the angel was quick, although these many thoughts must have swirled in her mind.  She said simply, "Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word."  In the language of the day, she essentially said, "If this is what Heavenly Father wants me to do, I will do it, as I am his willing servant."

Mary lived, but had to live with a bad reputation now.  People probably treated her badly.  You know the rest of the story:  the king announced a tax and that required Joseph to travel to Bethlehem to register with the census and pay his tax.  He took Mary with him.  It was a long journey and she was uncomfortable with her pregnancy.  After days of travel, the time of delivery had come as they came into Bethlehem.  Joseph found a simple stable for her after trying hard to find a room for her anywhere.  All of the inns were full.  

Mary delivered the baby Jesus in the worst of circumstances a new mother could face.  First, she was without her mother, who would have helped her do the work required to deliver a baby.  Second, she was not in a hospital, or even a sanitary home to deliver the baby.  She was in a building that housed animals.  It must have been smelly and filthy by today's standards.  No face masks, no plastic gloves, and no sanitary wipes were around to make the environment sterile.  Mary didn't even have a clean bed to lay in.  Third, she was exhausted from a long journey.  Some say she rode on a donkey, but the bible isn't clear.  She may have walked the whole way!  Even if she rode a donkey, that in itself is exhausting work, perched on an animal as it ambles forward.  If you've ever ridden on a horse for more than a few minutes, you will know how much work it is.  

Jesus came quietly that night in Bethlehem.  Mary must have wondered all the more as they laid him in the feeding trough lined with a shawl, as they didn't want to lay him down on the dirty floor.  By today's standards, they were living like homeless people!  Is this really how it was supposed to all work out?

Yes, it was.  While this was all happening in Bethlehem, in the foothills nearby were shepherds watching their flocks of sheep.  They may have noticed the new star that had appeared in the sky and wondered what it meant.  An angel that told them about the meaning of the star.  A special baby had been born that very night.  He told them that it was a joyful night, as a Savior and King had been born.  He told them where to look and how to recognize Jesus.  As the angel shared this news, the shepherds heard angels in heaven sing hymns of praise.  They hurried to find Jesus just as the angel had described, lying in a manger in Bethlehem.

Mary showed remarkable faith as she did what Heavenly Father asked her to do, and she relied on Heavenly Father to help her fulfill her calling.  She lost her good reputation, her home in Nazareth, and her own dreams to do so.  She went on to care for Jesus, to teach him and to raise him.  The sacrifices she made to 'mother' the Son of God were small in comparison to the honor and privilege it was for her to know Jesus Christ as her son, as only a mother would know Him.

I hope you enjoy this Christmas as a time to celebrate Christ's birth as the tidings of great joy that it really is.  Let's try not to think of our own worries or troubles but to think of God's gift of His son to us.  Know that Heavenly Father is watching over you just as he watched over Mary during Jesus' birth.

December 6, 2011

Dikembe Motumbo knows how persistence pays off

I wanted to tell you about a really great athlete that I admire.  His name is Dikembe Mutombo Mpolondo Mukamba Jean-Jacques Wamutombo.  Most people call him by the first two of his names, Dikembe Mutombo.  He was born in the Congo (formerly known as Zaire) to wealthy parents and expected to get an education.  He excelled in school and enjoyed playing Soccer.  

As he grew taller reaching almost 7 feet tall in high school, his parents urged him to play Basketball.  He tried the sport and in his first practice, landed hard on his chin creating a scar that still shows today.  He hated basketball after this happened!  His parents continued to push him to play basketball, not letting up until he became comfortable in the sport.  Later he would thank them for not letting him quit, for knowing what was best for him.
He joined the Zaire international basketball team after High School.  For two years he played on this team with his brother Ilo and learned the sport better.  When the team toured the United States, he met the coach of Georgetown University in Washington DC.  Georgetown University gave him a scholarship to attend school there.  Dikembe wanted to become a doctor and return to his homeland to help care for his sick countrymen.  
His first year in school was difficult, so difficult that he didn't play basketball at all.  He couldn't speak any English, so his classes were hard.  He focused that first year on learning English.  After that, he began to play for the Georgetown team and the NBA scouts started paying attention to him.  He had grown to 7 feet 2 inches tall by then.  Some were skeptical of his ability to play well, in spite of his height, because by then he was 25 years old.  But Dikembe proved to be a quick learner on the court as well.  Soon he was playing center on the court, blocking shots and making more shots.  He ended up getting his college degree in Linguistics (he now speaks English, French, Spanish, Portuguese and 5 African dialects) and Diplomacy.
He was drafted by the Denver Nuggets, and played for them for several years.  He was named the NBA Defensive player of the Year after just a few years of NBA play.  Over his long career, he played for several teams and retired as the oldest player ever!  This is all really remarkable, but it doesn't tell the whole story.  As hard as Dikembe must have worked to be successful in Linguistics, Diplomacy and at basketball, he had to work harder to help the people of his native Congo.
Dikembe was a successful basketball star and now had money to help the people of his homeland.  He had always felt bad that there were so few resources for people suffering from illness in the Congo.  He said, "When people are poor, that doesn't mean they have to receive poor treatment."  He knew that his hometown of Kinshasa had an old poorly equipped hospital.  He decided to build a new high quality hospital there.
In 1997 he announced his plan.  He needed $29 million to build it, and had contributed $3.5 million of his own money towards building it.  He got some donations, but had a hard time raising enough to build it.  He bought a piece of land and finally had enough money in 2001 to break ground.  
That didn't end his problems.  Breaking and clearing the ground allowed refugees from war to come and begin farming the valuable land.  He had to pay them to leave.  Then, because the government saw that the land wasn't being used, they tried to take it back.  Dikembe had to fight to keep the land.  Finally, after donating a total of $15 million of his own money, workers began to build the new hospital in 2004.  It was finished in 2006 and opened to the public in 2007.  It took him ten years to reach his dream of opening a high quality hospital in his hometown!  Now Africans in the area can come to receive medical treatment at this new facility.  It can accommodate 300 patients with new equipment and supplies.  And collaboration with doctors from America and England ensures that patients receive the best treatment possible.  
Dikembe persisted in his difficulties, overcoming first a disdain for his sport, a language barrier and his advanced age to become a basketball great.  Then he overcame several setbacks in his quest to provide his hometown in Africa with a new medical facility.  He could have given up at any point, but persisted until his dreams for himself and his country came true.
Often our best battles are won with patience and determination.  Does it matter if it take a long time to reach our goals?  No.  As long as we persist until we do reach them.

 “Dikembe Mutombo”  Wikipedia  Web.  5 Dec 2011.
“Dikembe Mutombo—Develops Basketball Skills.” Sports J  Web.  5 Dec 2011.
“Dikembe Mutombo—Growing Up in Africa.”  Sports J  Web.  5 Dec 2011.

December 2, 2011

Marie Curie for a Cure

An anniversary came up this year that we haven't celebrated yet.  It's the Nobel prize that Marie Curie was awarded 100 years ago this year for her discovery of the chemical element Radium.  That's the element behind radiation therapy that has helped many in their battles against cancer.  Since we're still in November, National Chemistry Month, I thought we'd better honor Marie for her great accomplishments.
Marie was born Marie Skladowska in 1867 into a very poor Polish family.  But her parents valued education, both being school teachers.  They made sure she learned as much as she could in school.  But being poor, there was no way that the family could send Marie or her siblings on to college.  Marie's older sister Bronya made a deal with her:  if Marie would help Bronya get through college, Bronya would help Marie.  So Marie took a job as a governess and sent her wages to Bronya, who enrolled in the Sorbonne, the prestigious French college.  By the time Bronya finished her medical degree, Marie was 24 years old.  Bronya now supported Marie in her studies at the Sorbonne.
Marie rented a small attic apartment to attend school in Paris.  In her tiny apartment, it was so cold at night that she piled all of her clothing on top of her bed to stay warm enough to fall asleep.  She spent weekends living at Bronya's home, as Bronya had married a physician.  Marie was from Poland and was now attending a school where French was the language spoken.  Suffering from the cold and having to master a new language didn't dampen her enthusiasm for learning, though.  She wrote, "It was like a new world opened to me, the world of science, which I was at last permitted to know in all liberty."  She was learning from the world's best scientists and that was enough to make her happy!
After finishing her degree in Physics in two years, she turned to Math, obtaining that degree in one year.  She was planning on taking her teachers certification and return to Poland to teach.  But she met a wonderful man named Pierre Curie, a laboratory manager at the nearby School of Industrial Physics and Chemistry.  They found that they had a lot in common.  They married in 1895 and used wedding gifts of money to buy two bicycles so they could take long bike rides together.  He was several years older than she, and had been working on the properties of crystals.  That same year, Pierre submitted his Doctoral thesis which linked magnetism and temperature, which today is known as 'Curie's law.' 
Marie started to look for a subject for her Doctoral studies.  She was fascinated by a new discovery of rays that seemed to come from Uranium.  Antoinne Henri Becquerel had discovered these rays in 1896 and was moving on to other projects.  Marie wanted to find the source of the rays in the ore where the Uranium had been found.  The ore, called 'pitchblende' was expensive, but she obtained enough to get started.  Pierre soon joined her in her research.  Using an 'electrometer' that Pierre and his brother built to measure electrical currents, they began to look for the source of the rays. They soon found that as they removed Bismuth from the pitchblende, the rays increased in intensity.  That meant that there was something else in the ore besides Uranium.  In 1898 they found an element she named 'Polonium' after her homeland of Poland.  A few months later, they found 'Radium,' an element with 300 times stronger rays than Polonium.  She coined the term 'radioactivity' to describe the rays coming off of the elements. 
In order to confirm these new elements, they had to isolate them and get their atomic weights.  They found free slag heaps of ore near a mine in Bohemia, and the mine officials were happy to give heaps of it away.  And they got permission to use an old abandoned shed in the back of the university where Pierre was teaching.  Here they spent days doing hard physical work to remove everything from the ore except Radium.  The shed had only a partial roof and was cold in winter and hot in summer.  It was hard backbreaking work for little Marie.  She'd gather 20 kilos (44 pounds) of ore and put it into a big pot on the ground, add lots of water and bring it to a boil.  She'd stand over it for hours as it boiled, stirring it with a long iron rod as long as she was tall.  (My chemist husband Scott thinks they might have been crystallizing it but wasn't sure.)  Pierre analyzed the compounds they isolated.  At night, when she'd collapse with fatigue, the contents of the shed glowed.  Not only were they working in the shed/lab, but they both were teaching to pay the bills, so they had to divide their time carefully.  And they had a young daughter Irene to care for. 
This crude 'laboratory' was terrible, but apparently it was good enough.  A notable German chemist traveled from Berlin to Paris to see the lab where these amazing discoveries were made.  He wrote, "At my earnest request, I was shown the laboratory where radium had been discovered shortly before.... It was a cross between a stable and a potato shed, and if I had not seen the worktable and items of chemical apparatus, I would have thought that I was been played a practical joke." 
Marie isolated a decigram of pure Radium Chloride, which she analyzed carefully for her Doctoral Thesis in 1903.  She determined that the atomic weight was 225.  The board of reviewers, some of whom would go on to win Nobel prizes themselves, said that what she presented was 'the greatest scientific contributions ever made in a doctoral thesis.'  In 1903, she and her husband Pierre were honored to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics, sharing it with Antoine Henri Becquerel for the discovery and research of radiation. 
They continued to research in their little shed, in spite of the prize money they received.  She was able to quit her teaching job, though.  A few years later in 1906, Pierre died in a tragic accident.  Marie took over Pierre's job teaching at the Sorbonne, now the first female teacher ever to teach there.  She continued to research with radiation, noting its use in seeing the interior of the body.  In 1914, when World War 1 broke out, she created radiation-mobiles that could reach wounded soldiers and detect metal shrapnel in their bodies so it could be surgically removed.
In 1911, Marie Curie was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for the discoveries of Radium and Polonium.  Some chemists believe that her discoveries led to a new epoch in chemistry.  And this was the first time anyone had received  Nobel Prizes in two different disciplines, and now only two have that distinction—she and Linus Paulding, the man who discovered the double helix of DNA. 
Marie Curie's research led directly to the radiation treatments for cancer.  Although she was born poor, she and her sister came up with a plan to combat poverty to get an education.  Although she was born in a country with few opportunities, she moved to one with opportunities and took advantage of them.  And although her lab and equipment were inferior, she discovered two atomic elements now gracing the Periodic Table of Elements.   She did a lot with very little.  And the results of her work has cured millions of people of cancer.
I hope we can all take courage from this amazing woman.  We can do hard things. 

November 22, 2011

Our Ancestors at America's First Thanksgiving

Our ancestors at the first Thanksgiving

I think the first Thanksgiving feast was a great event first because a religious people showed gratitude to God for their blessings.  But also because it showed that two peoples who were very different could help each other and get along.
After the Mayflower landed in the New World in December 1621, sickness claimed more than half of the group.  The Wampanoag tribe of Native Americans lived nearby and could have finished off the weakened survivors.  They were short on supplies too.  Although the Wampanoag had been treated badly by the first groups of settlers who came to their area, they didn't harm the Pilgrims.  Instead they tried to become friends.  After many discussions among the two groups' different leaders, they made a treaty.  This was mutually beneficial.  The settlers gained from the knowledge of the helpful Wampanoag, and it seemed as if they had the better deal.  But the Wampanoag tribe gained by the alliance with the English in their relations with the other Native American tribes.  Feared English weaponry kept any other tribes from attacking the Wampanoag tribe.
After that first year, with the help of the Wampanoag tribe, they had a good harvest.  The Natives knew how to farm the land.  Massachusetts soil was very different from English soil.  The Wampanoag were skilled farmers, fishers, hunters and gathers.  English seeds didn't do well there.  The Wampanoag showed them how to plant native seeds with herring as fertilizer so that they could harvest corn, pumpkin and beans.  They taught the children to look for berries and nuts.  And they showed the men how to hunt for deer, bear and turkey.  Since they didn't have grocery stores, what they harvested and gathered had to keep them alive through the long Massachusetts winter.   This next winter would be much better than their first. 
It was natural for the Pilgrims to want to celebrate.

One settler named Edward Winslow wrote,  

"We set last spring some twenty acres of Indian corn, and sowed some six acres of barley and peas. According to the manner of the Indians we manured our ground with herrings (alewives) which we have in great abundance and take with great ease at our doors. Our corn did prove well, and God be praised, we had a good increase in Indian corn. Our barley did indifferent good, but our peas not worth the gathering. We feared they were too late sown. They came up very well and blossomed, but the sun parched them in the blossom. Our harvest being gotten in, our Governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might, after a special manner, rejoice together, after we had gathered in the fruits of our labors. They four in one day killed as many fowl as with little help besides, served the Company for almost a week, at which time, amongst our recreations, we exercised our arms, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and amongst the rest their great king the Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted. They went out and killed five deer, which they brought in to the Plantation, and bestowed on our Governor, and upon the Captain and others. Although it not always be so plentiful as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want that we often wish you partakers of our plenty. -- We have found the Indians very faithful in their Covenant of Peace with us; very loving and ready to pleasure us. Some of us have been fifty miles into the country by land with them. -- There is now great peace amongst us; and we, for our parts, walk as peaceably and safely in the woods here as in the highways in England. - I never in my life remember a more seasonable year than we have enjoyed." (Mourt)

They all had so much to be grateful for.

We have ancestors who were at the first Thanksgiving.  The Billington family was on the Mayflower, and didn't lose anyone over that first deadly year.  They were the only family untouched by the sickness that claimed so many.  John, Ellen, John Jr and Francis feasted with the Native Americans along with the other colonists.  They had a lot to thank Heavenly Father for.  It's an amazing feeling having this connection with the first Thanksgiving in America.
The Pilgrims were successful at settling this new land because of their alliance with the Wampanoag tribe.  They could have fought over their differences.  But the Native Americans made peace with the newcomers, and both sides worked hard to keep good relations.  Wars with the Native Americans weren't a problem until many years later, when the descendants of these settlers took this peace for granted.
Thanksgiving today, like that first one, gives us ample opportunity to express gratitude for all that Heavenly Father gives us, and it also can remind us that people of all backgrounds can get along and help each other.

Clines, Duane A.  "Part 5:  The First Pilgrim Thanksgiving."  The Pilgrims and Plymouth Colony 1620.  2 Nov 2006. n. page. Web.  23 Nov 2012.

Mourt, G.  Mourt's Relation.  1622: London.  Print.  p. 38

Philbrick, Nathaniel.  "Thanksgiving."  Mayflower.  2006: New York.  Print.  pp.  104-120.

November 14, 2011

Jack Tueller's most important Trumpet solo

I couldn't let Veterans' day go unheralded.  Today I want to write about an amazing Veteran who lives near you.  Jack Tueller of Bountiful Utah saved lives in World War 2 through his faith and his trumpet. 
Jack had a rough beginning, but it introduced him to music.  His Mom died when he was just a little boy; his Dad left the family within that week.  He and his little brother went to live with an aunt who gave Jack a trumpet.  Jack played with the trumpet, eventually learning how to play it masterfully.  Jack said, "I was an unruly child.  Music tamed me."
Famous trumpeter Louis Armstrong heard him play with a band for an event at Yellowstone Park in 1939, telling him, "You sound pretty good for white cats."  Taking the opportunity to learn from Louis, he asked him for advice.  This advice proved to be pivotal in Germany.  "Always play the melody, man. Look at them, see their age group, play their love songs, and you'll carry all the money to the bank."

After attending BYU, marrying another trumpet player and beginning a family, World War 2 broke out.  Jack enlisted and trained with a former crop duster to become a fighter pilot.  He packed up his trumpet and took it with him.  He would play for the men at night to entertain them, and after grueling experiences in battle, comfort them.  In his airplane, Jack provided air support when the Allied invaded Normandy on D-day.  

It was in Germany two weeks after D-day that something singular happened with Jack and his trumpet.  Jack and his group of P-47 fighter pilots were in the German countryside.  A sniper was taking shots at them all day, and into the night.  As evening approached, Jack, now a Captain, wanted to get out his trumpet and calm his men.  But his men asked him not to play.  They were worried that if he did, the sniper would be able to locate him better and he'd be shot.

Jack recalled, "I thought to myself-- that German sniper is as lonely and scared as I am. How can I stop him from firing? So I played that German's love song, 'Lilly Marlene,' made famous in the late '30s by Marlene Dietrich, the famous German actress. And I wailed that trumpet over those apple orchards of Normandy, and he didn't fire."

Not only did the sniper NOT fire, but he turned himself in the next morning.  He asked to see the 'man who played the trumpet.'  When he met him, Jack said, "There was a 19-year-old German, scared and lonesome. He was dressed like a French peasant to cloak his role as a sniper. And, crying, he said, 'I couldn't fire because I thought of my fiancé. I thought of my mother and father,' and he says, 'My role is finished.'  He stuck out his hand, and I shook the hand of the enemy, [But] he was no enemy, because music had soothed the savage beast."

Jack flew 140 missions during World War 2 and his plane was never hit by a single bullet.  Later he fought in the Korean War and the Vietnam War.  He helped on the ground during the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Cold War.  He retired as a Colonel with lots of awards for his valor and bravery.

I think Jack was a great pilot and a good man.  But I think he also was guided and blessed by the Holy Spirit. He was an inspired man.  He lives in Bountiful, Utah and went to BYU for his education.  I think he's a Mormon and he knows how to rely on Heavenly Father's inspiration, even in battles of war.

We can count on Heavenly Father's help in all of our battles.  We just need to live worthy of the gift of the Holy Ghost and ask for Heavenly Father's help in prayer. 

November 8, 2011

18 Year Old Mayor Michael Sessions

I had a hard time choosing the story I wanted to tell this week because we have both Election Day and Veterans Day.  Election day won out after I heard the story of Michael Sessions.
Michael Sessions registered to vote the day after he turned 18.  He had always been interested in his local government, to the point that he used to watch City Council meetings that were televised on TV.  But that wasn't enough.  Seeing the lack of concern most citizens had for government, he wanted to get involved so he could help them want to be more involved.  Over the years, he saw that most of the local 'races' were unopposed, meaning that no one was challenging the incumbents (people already holding those positions) for their jobs in government.  

He wanted to run for mayor of the small town in which he grew up.  But because registering to run occurred several months prior, when he was too young to run, his name wasn't on the ballot.  That didn't stop Michael.  He ran a 'write in' campaign using $700 left over from his summer job, maybe just mowing lawns.  In his campaign, he promised that he would "devote after-school hours to the job [while attending nearby Hillsdale High School during the day] and use his bedroom as his office."  

He had to work hard to be elected.  He knocked on so many doors that he developed Bronchitis, which landed him in the hospital.  But he only had a few months to make his case to the voting public.  He impressed the local fire department enough that they endorsed him.  The fire department first called Hillsdale High School to check on his grades; he had a 3.25 GPA.  

On Election day, he won by two votes.  Several votes were disqualified, but he still had 670 compared to the incumbent 668.  He thinks the two deciding votes were his parents.  One vote that wasn't disqualified read, 'The 18 year old running for mayor.'  Remember that everyone had to write his name 'Michael Sessions' into the ballot to vote for him, not just check a box.  He really had to work hard so people would remember his name (or at least remember he was the 18 year old running.)  

He took the oath of office in November 2005, becoming one of the youngest mayors in United States history.  He had turned 18 in September of that year.  He graduated from Hillsdale High School in 2006 and went on to Hillsdale College, all while he served as mayor.  He earned a stipend of $250 a month for his service and the budget he controlled for the city amounted to about $20 million.  He performed at least ten marriages while serving as Mayor of Hillsdale, Michigan.  After elected, he told people what he was planning on doing, "From 7:50 am to 2:30 pm I'm a student; from 3:00 pm to 6:00 pm, I'm going to be out fulfilling this job as mayor.  If it's not talking with people, it's meeting with the city manager or the director of public safety or the fire chief or the road workers.  I'm going to make sure people see that I'm visible and I care about this town."

This motivated young man did something amazing, and made a difference in the world.  He had determination and courage, just what it took to convince the people of Hillsdale that he'd make the right mayor for their town.  People in his town think he's doing a good job.  One woman, age 70, said, "He's more grown up than most mayors we've had in this town in the past. I voted for him and I would again.  He can eat dinner at my table any time."  He's delivered on his promises too, adding more firemen and working to make City Hall friendlier.  People like him and the work he has done.

Get out and VOTE!  Every vote matters.  What if two people who would have voted for him had stayed home that day?

 To learn more about Michael Sessions, read about him in Wikipedia, and see pg. 135 of How To Raise an American by Myrna Blyth.
Olbermann, Keith, MSNBC, "18 year old mayor taking his new job seriously" Nov 11, 2005, found at
Wilkins, Korie;  Free Press, "Young mayor emerges wiser - Hillsdale's Michael Sessions, 20, beats cancer, recall effort" Oct 15, 2007 found at

November 1, 2011

Daniel Marie Dives for a Cure

November is National Chemistry Month, and 2011 is the International Year of Chemistry.  These are details most people won’t know unless there’s a Chemist in the family.  So I thought today to celebrate, I’d tell you about a really cool chemist I read about.  His name is Daniel Marie.  He was born in Mauritius, an island nation off the southern coast of Africa.  His dad was a home builder and his mom was a home maker.  He was the youngest of 9 kids, and they barely survived.  But as a teenager, he fell in love with science.  He wanted to grow up to study biochemistry, if ‘given the opportunity.’  But feeding the family took precedence.  He had to quit High School for a time to work to help support the family.
He went to school when he could and eventually earned his ‘high school certificate.’  That might be the equivalent of the High School GED or maybe he actually graduated.  He kept working to save enough money to attend the University of Mauritius, where he earned a Bachelor of Science Degree in Chemistry and Environmental Studies.  Earning that degree gave him the opportunity to research the extraction of essential oils from the Eucalyptus plant.  Daniel said that his work began what he called his “fascination with natural products, their chemistry and their medicinal properties.”  Now he was more determined than ever to finish his education. 
He began to study for a doctorate degree and earned a scholarship to help.  Another scholarship gave him the opportunity to study for a year in Scotland at a university there, where he learned how to use expensive instruments they didn’t have in Mauritius.  He had brought some marine sponges from his home in Mauritius, and he analyzed them using these instruments.  What he found fascinated him. 
After his doctorate degree, in 2002 he accepted a Post-doctoral fellowship at a University in Belgium.  Again, he took marine sponges that he collected randomly from a Mauritius lagoon.  He found that some of the extracts from one particular sponge exhibited some anti-cancer properties. 
Today he the principal research scientist at the Mauritius Oceanography Institute (MOI) where he continues to look for bioactive compounds in natural products.  He and his team of two other chemists have collected specimens from over 100 different varieties of sponges from 40 different diving sites in Mauritius.  He runs a small government-funded laboratory in Mauritius, still without the fancy instruments he used in other better-funded labs.  But because of the contacts he made during his training, he collaborates with labs that have better equipment.  Between their lab and their collaborators’ labs, they take the sponges, extract, purify and isolate the chemical compounds that show anti cancer activity, then study them.  Through their combined research, Daniel has found 14 extracts that show ‘significant activity against specific cancer cell lines.’  Now he has made inroads on his main goal, ‘to alleviate the pain of others.’ 
It’s a great arrangement.  Daniel can live (and scuba dive) in his hometown island where his family is, and he can keep researching his passion, ‘the traditional medicinal uses of marine plants and animals.’  Without much future as a poor child in a tiny African island, Daniel made his future great by hard work and determination.  Who knows—maybe he’ll be the one to isolate the cure for cancer!  Wouldn’t that be great?

October 27, 2011

David Robinson Stands Tall

I read about another really amazing athlete when looking up Larry Fitzgerald from last week.  David Robinson is so community minded that there is now an award given monthly to charitable basketball players that is named after him!  
David Robinson was born the son of a military man, so he moved a lot as a kid, and he grew to love serving the country.  He was also very athletic, becoming good at each sport except basketball.  He tried it in Middle school, but didn't do well so he quit.  But he kept growing taller.  When he was a Senior in High School, he was 6 foot 7 inches tall and approached by the coach to join the team.  But he had never played organized Basketball!  He learned quickly and did well, but didn't think he'd go any further in Basketball.  The NBA showed little interest in him too.
He was a smart kid and worked hard in school.  After graduating from High School, he was accepted into the U.S. Naval Academy to study Mathematics.  He played Basketball for them, eventually growing to 7 feet tall while attending college.  He was considered the best player the Academy ever had!  He received all kinds of awards there and the nickname 'The Admiral.'  After graduating, he was drafted into the NFL and chosen by the San Antonion Spurs.  But they would have to wait until he served two years for the Navy as part of his commitment to the Academy.  
The Spurs waited, and although David was tempted to become a free agent and look for a better offer, he stayed with his original draft pick and played with the Spurs.  He played well enough that he earned a spot on the 1992 Olympic Basketball team nicknamed the Dream Team.  He was named one of the best Basketball players of all time by the NBA among so many other awards I won't even try to list them. Basically he was awarded every award that the NBA awards.  
But the big reason I'm impressed with him is because he inspired and helped kids to go to college.  In 1991, his second year playing for the Spurs, he spoke at a middle school in San Antonio.  He urged the 90 kids in attendance to go to college and promised them that if they did, he'd give them each $2000 towards their college funds.  Then he visited the school often, arranged for tutors for the students who needed them, even arranged pool parties.  In 1998 he awarded one third of those students scholarships to college, but surprised them by giving each of them $8000!  One of the kids, Tyrone Darden, said, "It definitely motivated us.  It was not just a guy stopping by for publicity.  Seeing all the great things he did opened my eyes to the impact I could have on my community.  He pushed me to do more with my life just by being a part of it."
Doing the math, that's more than $240 thousand dollars.  That is a lot of money, but much less than he also donated to a school he and his wife founded in San Antonio called 'George Washington Carver Academy.'  They have given more than $11 million to that school.  That's the most any athlete has ever give to one charity.  And that must be what prompted the NBA to name an award after him.  It's the 'NBA Community Assist Award,' now renamed the "David Robinson Placque" with the inscription, "Following the standard set by NBA legend David Robinson who improved the community piece by piece."  
This 7 foot tall man is even taller in character.  He was abundantly blessed with a good mind and an athletic body, but he didn't let the fame these gifts gave him to go to his head.  He is a kind man too, giving to those who need it more.  
He's featured on a website called 'Heroes for' and in an article by Rickie Adams, honored thus.  "His gentle demeanor and genuine sportsmanship are a fresh force in a sport that is often dominated by tattoos, expletives and half-court brawls…  With a seven-foot frame that somehow exudes grace and a heart of pure gold, David Robinson is a true role model in a world of false idols. We salute 'The Admiral' and his steadfast efforts to improve the lives of those in his community who might not have a fighting chance for success without his compassion."


Adams, Rickie.  “David Robinson:  It’s a Beautiful Day in Mr. Robinson’s Neighborhood.” Heroes For Web. 24 Oct 2011.
“David Robinson.”  Wikipedia n. page. Web. 24 Oct 2011.
Doyle, Amanda.  “Class Act.”  Sports Illustrated Kids October 2011:45. Print.

October 17, 2011

Larry Fitzgerald Wears PINK

We had fun this weekend going up to the mountains on Saturday and hiking to a remote waterfall.  The trees are turning colors and the weather was beautiful and clear.  We live in a beautiful world.
Speaking of colorful things…  Today, since October is Breast Cancer Awareness month, I thought I'd tell you about an athlete who isn't afraid to wear pink.  And I'm not talking about a female athlete, it's a GUY!  Larry Fitzgerald of the Arizona Cardinals football team supports cancer research by being a spokesman for the American Cancer Society and wearing pink.
How many guy friends of yours would wear bright pink, completely (even gloves and shoes) out in public?  Larry is a tough and rugged football player.  Was it hard for him to put on all that pink and then have his picture taken for the cover of a popular magazine?
He does it to honor his Mom.  Several years ago his Mom was diagnosed with Breast Cancer.  Larry was in the eighth grade.  He and his dad and brother supported her during her treatment.  She had always been healthy and strong, it was hard for him to see her frail and bald.  She used to tell him, "Larry, you're a football player.  That's what you do, but that's not who you are.  Who you are is represented by what you do off the field."  So he tries to do his part in the community, and he chose breast cancer as his focus.  In 2010, he became a spokesman for the American Cancer Society as part of the NFL's 'A Crucial Catch' campaign.  It encourages women over 40 to get screened for the disease and raises money by selling pink NFL merchandise.  Several players, like Larry, wear the gear at games, then it is auctioned off and the money raised is donated to the cause.    
He said, "I learned a lot about how to treat people from her—principles that help me do the work that I do off the field.  My family did a breast cancer walk every year, even before my mom was diagnosed with it.  It was something already ingrained in me and has become such a huge part of my life.  If I can help someone's mom or sister or grandmother, that's one less family that has to be affected by this disease."
So when you see football players wearing pink gloves or cleats, don't snicker.  They are showing support for the cure.  Larry said, "We play a rough and tough game, but at the end of the day we have women in our lives whom we care about and love dearly who are dealing with this disease."  
He goes further by pledging money based on his personal success in football games in October.  On his website, Larry said, "This weekend marks the beginning of breast cancer awareness month. This year, I'll be donating $10,000 for every touchdown and $1,000 for every reception I have in October - the funds will be donated to organizations working to end breast cancer and to support breast cancer survivors."  (see Oct 2nd post 'In His Own Words')  Let's hope he plays really well in October!
Larry credits his mom for his success in Football.  When he was seven, his dad refused to sign him up to play football.  He didn't want him to get hurt because he was so little.  But his Mom caved in to his begging and signed him up.  When his dad saw that he was having fun and doing well, he started supporting him too.  Now he is a successful wide receiver for the Arizona Cardinals, a team he helped bring to the Super Bowl.  He recently signed an extension of his contract valued at $120 million, making him one of the highest paid players in the NFL.  Clearly he's a great player to merit that kind of pay.  What I like about him is his commitment to helping others too.  Without his mother's illness and influence, would he wear pink in public and give so much of his own money away?  Probably not!


Fitzgerald, Larry as told to Christina M. Tapper.  “From the Heart:  My Mother Lost her Battle with Breast Cancer in 2003 But She Continues to Inspire Me to Help Others.”  Sports Illustrated Kids Oct 2011:32-34.  Print.
­­­Fitzgerald, Larry.  “In My Words.” Web. 17 Oct 2011.