We know both temporal and spiritual preparedness are essential to being truly self-reliant. We also know everything is spiritual to our Heavenly Father. How do we become spiritually prepared for what may lie head? We become a true follower of Jesus Christ.
President Nelson taught: “It becomes a rather simple formula: If you want to be happy, keep the commandments.” (“Eternal Laws: From Scrabble to the Commandments” video)
Several years ago, I had the opportunity to speak with a man who had travelled from Houston Texas to Louisiana to participate with helping hands in the clean-up following a hurricane. The group worked all day alongside a man who lived in the area. As the end of the day came, the group asked this man how his house had fared during the disaster. He replied he was fine, and he didn’t need any help. The group continued to insist they wanted to help him and his family as he was helping others. He finally relented and took them to see his home. It had been completely destroyed.
As the groups stood observing the destruction, one member of the group commented as they looked at broken bottles of peaches and other food storage lying on the ground, “well, your food storage didn’t do you much good”. This good brother replied, “the Lord didn’t tell me I would eat it he only told me to do it”. He had lived the commandment and was spiritually prepared. He understood his family had been protected and that was the greatest gift. He also understood the commandment to love one another as he spent time mucking out other people’s homes while his stood destroyed.
“One of the easiest ways to identify a true follower of Jesus Christ is how compassionately that person treats other people.” (President Russel M. Nelson Peacemakers Needed April 2023)
Those of you who have followed my emergency preparedness articles here at Meridian Magazine know of my involvement in the last four years with Operation Christmas Ornaments. This organization was created after speaking with hundreds of disaster survivors who expressed sadness over losing their Christmas ornaments when they lost their homes. In 2022 over 20,000 handmade ornaments were collected and distributed to 1600 families in Colorado, survivors of the Marshall fire, and in Kentucky, and Tennessee to those who lost their homes to tornadoes. You may think a handmade ornament from someone you have never met who lives hundreds or thousands of miles away may not mean much. You would be wrong.
“Brothers and sisters, we can literally change the world—one person and one interaction at a time”. (Russel M. Nelson Peacemakers Needed April 2023)
Let me share with you some of the comments and interactions we had with the survivors receiving ornaments.
One of the most poignant moments for me was watching survivors embrace each other after not seeing their neighbors for a year. The survivors of the Marshall fire in Colorado had not yet been able to move back into rebuilt homes. The joy they experienced just seeing each other again was amazing. These interactions were made possible because they were there to pick up those simple handmade ornaments.
One family shared, “Thank you so much for the beautiful ornaments. They will help to fill the void of the sentimental items we have lost. We especially appreciate the ornaments made by children!”
Another, “It means so very much. We appreciate the effort and time everyone took to make this happen. The outpouring of love and support has really helped.”
Yet another,” We will forever be grateful for this gift. You will be in our hearts and prayers forever”.
Again, “Thank you so much! This is amazing and incredible”.
One more,“Thank you for your incredible generosity. Your thoughtfulness and kindness is beyond what I could have imagined. It has been so easy to be gracious in the face of all this care and compassion. If I can give back I will”.
”Dear Santa’s elves, we had collected ornaments from places we had traveled to. This will fill a hole we have. It will be nice to hang these ornaments on our tree. Thank you for your help in our healing process”.
And, “Thank you for the ornaments, they are beautiful. I know now God has not forgotten me”.
We received dozens of notes, and I could go on and on but I just want to share a few more that came from children. These made me cry as I reflected on the loss these children had suffered, losing every toy, every school art project, their favorite blankie, everything.
“Me and my family love these ornaments we look forward to putting them on our tree they are going to bring us lots of magic!” As you can tell this is from a young child who has not quite grasped punctuation.
“Thank you for the ornaments they make me happy! I think you should get extra presents this year for this. My name is Brooke and I am seven years old.”
“Dear nice people, thank you for all the ornaments. I’m very thankful for every single one of them. Now you know for sure you will be on the nice list. Emily age 8”
“Now ye may suppose that this is foolishness in me; but behold I say unto you, that by small and simple things are great things brought to pass; and small means in many instances doth confound the wise.” (Alma 37: 6)
We can see how this small act has brought joy and hope to our Father’s children who are suffering but how does that bring us closer to Christ?
One family of seven reported spending hours together making ornaments and sharing their feelings. For those with children and grandchildren we understand teaching moments often occur when we are engaged in conversation while working together. As we serve, the spirit is present and those moments present themselves to share our testimonies and strengthen ourselves and our children.
One woman shared that she gathered her neighbors and family members to create together. She told us she had never been close to a certain family member but after working together making ornaments they were best friends.
Another woman reached out to ask for our prayers. She had just mailed her ornaments to our coordinator in Kentucky when she received a call telling her that her only son had passed away. She recognized the spirit in members of our group and knew she could reach out for help.
One message this week was simple but powerful. “Doing this helped me too.”
If we want to be spiritually prepared for the challenges ahead and to become true followers of Christ, we must have charity. “Charity is the spiritual gift that helps us to cast off the natural man, who is selfish, defensive, prideful, and jealous. Charity is the principal characteristic of a true follower of Jesus Christ”. (President Russel M. Nelson Peacemakers Needed April 2023)
In the April general conference, President Bonnie H. Cordon told the story of her father counseling her to never give up the opportunity to testify of Christ. While Operation Christmas Ornaments has no official connection to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter -day Saints we received many ornaments that testified of Christ. There were ornaments that came from many states and people of different religious backgrounds that depicted the nativity or included a scripture. We requested all ornaments be packaged individually with a short message and many of those messages included phrases such as, “With love from the young women of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” or “Created just for you by the New Braunfels, Texas First Ward of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints”. We received messages like those from many Wards and Stakes bearing testimony of Christ in a small but powerful way. These messages were recognized by survivors as testimonies of Christ. One woman commented to me as she read the message, “Your church does so much good”.
By small and simple things great things truly do come to pass for ourselves and for those we serve.
“By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” John 13:35
President Russell M. Nelson explained: “Saints can be happy under every circumstance. We can feel joy even while having a bad day, a bad week, or even a bad year! … The joy we feel has little to do with the circumstances of our lives and everything to do with the focus of our lives. When the focus of our lives is on Jesus Christ and His gospel, we can feel joy regardless of what is happening—or not happening—in our lives.” (Joy and Spiritual Survival October 2016)
As we prepare temporally, remember to also prepare spiritually. Both will be needed when challenges come.
If you would like to serve disaster survivors, please visit Operation Christmas Ornaments on Facebook or on my blog at Totallyready.com