November 22, 2011

Extra! Extra!

There is a story about a newspaper writer, at about the turn of the century, who was asked “What would be the most important news the world could receive?” The writer thought and thought about the question, as have I. 
One might think, in this day and age, that bold headlines declaring “Peace in the Middle East!” might be the most important news. Perhaps, it would be excited TV newscasters all shouting fantastic reports of a cure for cancer. Or even the internet filled with announcements about the end of world hunger. Imagine such great news! After contemplating the question, interviewing many people, and reading all he could in an effort to find an answer the writer came to a simple yet profound conclusion.
While traveling, we arrived at a very quiet, modest and humble destination. In the beautiful irony in which the heavens often seem to operate I found the grand and sublime answer for myself to that important question. In the most humble of places occurred the greatest event in the history of the earth.
He is not here: for he is risen.” the angel gently announced the greatest news the world could ever receive.  
As we begin the wonderful Holiday season to celebrate the birth of the Savior I reflect on the message of Gordon B. Hinckley when he said “There would be no Christmas if there had not been Easter. The babe Jesus of Bethlehem would be but another baby without the redeeming Christ of Gethsemane and Calvary, and the triumphant fact of the resurrection.”
And so, that writer a century ago, finally printed his answer “To know that Jesus Christ lives today would be the most important news the world could ever receive.”
How thankful I am for that news! The moment I stepped foot on this sacred ground my spirit was overwhelmed with awe and wonder. Tears filled my eyes. We arrived early on the Sabbath morning before any other tourists had arrived. I sat reverently and quietly at the tomb and tears fell freely as I read of the Savior’s resurrection in each of the four Gospels. 
My spirit, in that moment, felt closer to my Savior.  I, in really, my completely inadequate way, had a very small glimpse of the grand meaning of the Atonement. I cannot comprehend it all. It is so vast in its reach and yet so beautifully personal and intimate. I, unimportant me, felt the Savior by my side, that peaceful morning at the Garden Tomb, in Jerusalem. And I am eternally grateful to know the most important news there is to know in all the world. 

November 15, 2011

Echoes in Israel

One of the most meaningful stops on our trip was Israel. I don’t think words can quite describe how I felt about going to this very Holy Land. History begins here, and just about every significant religious and historical event to take place throughout the history of the world has occurred here! It is the only place on the planet where three continents come together: Asia, Africa and Europe, making it, quite literally, the center of the earth.  Because of this, it has been significant, valuable, and important to every ruler, kingdom and people who have ever existed.
By reading and studying the Old Testament over my life I have come to love this place, these people, and their history. Echoes of their extraordinary lives gently fills this Holy Land.
It was an honor to walk in the dirt, the very same dirt that the ancient prophets walked in. I thought of the dynamic and miraculous Elijah, the humble and suffering Jeremiah, and the epic and visionary Isaiah. My spirit felt close to their spirits as I felt feel the warm Middle Eastern breeze against my face and the coolness of the sand between my toes. I was overcome as I walked the streets of old Jerusalem. Echoes of powerful and grand kings like David and Solomon seemed to fill the walkways. 
The old, yet majestic, stone walls towered above me and the Psalms of David softly sang in my heart “I will love thee, O Lord, my strength. The Lord is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer; my God, my strength in whom I will trust; my buckler, and the horn of my salvation, and my high tower.”(Psalms 18)
As I thoughtfully strolled down the pathways and stopped to look at the many vendors selling beautiful scarves and jewelry I couldn’t help but reflect on the wonderful women of the Bible whose radiance shines over ions of time. 
My heart was filled with love and admiration for the young, beautiful and courageous queen Esther and for the strong, loving and loyal Ruth. And my heart, in a heavenly and miraculous way, felt connected to their hearts.

As I have diligently studied the Old Testament with its exciting stories, dramatic characters, miraculous events, and incredible prophecies and promises I have come to more fully realize the Lord is in charge of every detail of His Plan! He is a God of miracles. He is a God of amazing signs and wonders! And He makes sure that His purposes come to pass. He loves His children and blesses them when they are righteous. But he is also a “jealous God” and punishes His children when they are wicked. The beautiful thing is - after the punishment, of course, always, always comes the love and the promise of forgiveness! Although He may punish He never abandons. I absolutely LOVE how He takes care of His covenant people. 
He strengthens, redeems and delivers them. He protects, guides and prospers them. If we can just apply the powerful lessons from the Old Testament into our own lives we will know that if God did these things for ancient Israel and for Moses, Elijah, Gideon, Daniel, etc… then He can and will do the same for us! IF we honor our covenants with Him. How I love, love, love these people, this place and the Old Testament. It is a mighty testament of the extraordinary, phenomenal Power of God.

November 09, 2011

Look at the Books!

Before we begin taking photographs of our families we enjoy visiting with them first. Each family, even the most humble and poor, always have some sort of refreshment or drink that they generously share with us. This has provided us with some tasty and interesting food items.  For example dim sum in Hong Kong, rice deserts in Malaysia, cake & hot chocolate in Germany, baklava in Israel, Humus in Egypt and even fermented horse milk in Mongolia.
As we enjoy our treats with each family we share with them our goals and vision for this company. We explain what we would like to do as we take photographs with them. And we take the opportunity to show them our book. It never ceases to amaze me how they love our books! Country after country, family after family… the children love the books!
We show them the different pages “And we will have a book all about shapes.” The children grin ear to ear and look at the shapes.
“We will have a book all about animals.” The children giggle and get excited about different animals.
“We will have books all about children around the world – just like you.” They thoughtfully look through all the pages learning about other children.
Children in Egypt are fascinated by the children in Japan and Mongolia. The children in Israel are fascinated by the children in America and Germany. And on it goes. They love seeing children just like themselves living in faraway places. They begin to realize that, although other children live in quite different circumstances, they are very much the same.
This is exactly what we want to teach and share with the world through our books. It is exciting to see it happening a little bit at a time already! 

November 08, 2011

Prayers in Zambia

Kenya and Zambia were probably the two most difficult countries for me. Perhaps, because I had now been away from my family and home for over 50 days, but I believe they are just plain tough countries! Tough places to live which makes for strong people. And we met some amazing, strong people at a sweet, little school in Zambia.
One of my favorite stops was the Ding Dong School in Lusaka. It was a small, humble school filled with beautiful children.  It was painted a bright, cheerful blue and had a nice yard in front. The children wore very modest but mostly matching uniforms. The school administrator, Webster, was a remarkable man. His strength, enthusiasm and diligence was inspiring!

The highlight of the visit was when the children sang for us. As I watched them my heart was overwhelmed. Tears filled my eyes. Not because I felt sorry for them. I did not. They would not want me to. They were happy. They were proud of their school. They are strong! They were thrilled to give us a grand tour, sing and perform for us. But I was overcome with feelings of gratitude for the blessings I have – for the blessings my children have. My children get to attend a school with computers, TV’s, desks and a library filled with more books then they could ever read! My children get to take music lessons and play sports. My son gets to play basketball at BYU. Why? Why are we so blessed? 
I don’t know all the answers. I don’t know if the answers matter or make a difference. What I do believe matters, and I believe this with all my heart, is whether or not we make a difference. What do we do with the blessings we have been given? And so, I was so very thankful to be there with these beautiful children for a day.
They finished their little performance with a prayer. One darling girl led the other students “I will say what Jesus say.” The students repeated “I will say what Jesus say!” She went on “I will do what Jesus do.” They repeated “I will do what Jesus do!” That’s what it’s all about!  It doesn’t matter where we live. What matters is we do our best to do the right thing. This truth was powerfully confirmed to my heart that day.
That is why I do my best to find opportunities to do Humanitarian work. I want to do what Jesus wants me to do. I want to help children. I want to help others. I want to, in my own small way, make a difference in the world. 
We are so blessed. God watches over His children wherever they are. I end this Blog with the words of the children in Zambia “Thank you Lord for everything!”

November 07, 2011

My Daddy

I love Fathers! Harold B. Lee once said to fathers "The most important work you will ever do will be the work you do within the walls of your own home." I'm thankful to be surrounded by men who follow this counsel. While traveling around the world we met some pretty great fathers. All were hard working, honest, good men. Many of these fathers work with their hands; they till the earth, herd the cattle, chop the wood. And many of them have their children working right beside them. It is comforting to know that there are good men everywhere doing their best to raise their children. Here are a few of my favorite fathers: some nearby and some faraway.

My Daddy

by Kristen R. Sweeney ©2011

Daddy is big. Daddy is strong.
His arms can hold me all day long.
Daddy can fix things. Daddy can cook.
At nighttime Daddy can read me a book.
Daddy helps me and works all day.
But sometimes daddy likes to play.
Daddy loves me and big brother.
Daddy loves baby and my mother.
Daddy is good. Daddy is smart.
My daddy has a great big heart.

November 04, 2011

A Mother's Love

We met so many beautiful and wonderful Mothers around the world. This is just a simple little poem I wrote with photos of some of my favorite moms... Some from far away and some close to home. I love them all.

A Mother’s Love
By: Kristen Rhead Sweeney ©2011

Mommies kiss and mommies hug
You know their love is true
With kind words and soft sounds
They whisper “I love you”
Gentle arms hold us tight
They never let us go
They watch us, oh, so carefully
As we learn and grow
 They teach us how to walk and read
They help us learn to run
 They read us bedtime stories
And play so we have fun
 Some moms are big and some are brown
And some have skin of gold
 Some have shiny hair of black
And some are sweet and old
 A mother’s touch is soft and kind
Their love they always share
 When mother holds you in her arms
You know how much she cares

October 29, 2011

Locks of Love

I love Paris! It boasts itself as the most romantic city in the world. One would be hard pressed to challenge its claim.. I discovered a spot that manifested couples declarations of love in a vibrant and brilliant way. On the Ponte de l’Archeveche’, a bridge  which crosses the Seine from Notre-Dame Cathedral, thousands of padlocks attached to its railings create a brightly colored mosaic that glimmers in the sunlight.
Lovers from around the world have come to add their testimony of true love, engraving their initials on the padlocks, in a glitzy plethora of styles, fastening it to the railings, and then tossing the keys into the Seine in declaration of undying love. 
The locks, the bridge, all of Paris are beautiful. Paris is, as Woody Allen said, “drop dead gorgeous!” But I found myself unable to fully enjoy this romantic city without my true love, Doug. I needed a lock of my own to clasp to the railing symbolizing that my heart belongs to him. 
Every romantic scene; every tree lined boulevard, every cafĂ© filled with couples sharing a cappuccino, every captivating cathedral, every cobblestone road, every beautifully bare-breasted sculpture, every magical glowing light at night somehow lost some of its magic for me because I didn’t have my true love. I missed him!
True Love: what every heart desires, what every soul needs. And I was missing mine. How thankful I am that he is home waiting for me. How thankful I am that he fills my heart and completes my soul. And my heart is locked forever with his.