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.