My dear brothers and sisters, my grandfather was one of those inspiring paratroopers who put his life on the line for others without regard to his own safety (the arrow is pointing to him in the photo). As many of you know, he was a hero to me and his loss this year tugged at my heartstrings. I do miss him, although I am grateful for the knowledge that now he can watch over me both as a literal angel and an 11th Airborne Angel.
As I think about what he and his comrades went through in the South Pacific, I am in awe of their bravery, honor and respect for those they were fighting for.
And yet, that phrase "It's Christmas" always stops me in my tracks when I read Grandpa's story. I think of the stark contrast between what they needed to do for duty and what Christmas means. They were far from home in a strange land, a brutal land where every step could have been their last. While they were fighting for a cause they believed in, surrounded by brothers in arms, yet there must have been a deep sense of longing for home, for family, for the joys and peace that Christmas calls for.
My grandfather and his fellow paratroopers were some of the best of the best, yet they were all subject to heartaches, fears, loneliness and yes, were daily exposed to the ultimate sacrifice, the loss of this gift of life. And when I look around me, I see many of my brothers and sisters who share a similar longing in their hearts. A longing for connection, for family, for loved ones gathered around the fireplace or the tree or even a tiny basement apartment table.
It IS Christmas, but there are those around us who are praying for comfort, for peace, for a measure of joy and relief from the hurts of their bodies, hearts and minds. Those who are unexpectedly single parents or lack the children they pray will come to share in the excitement of Christmas morning. Those who have an empty chair at the table and too much space in the bed where loving arms should be.
We as LDS midsingles have been blessed to join the Lord's restored church and to enjoy many of the promises and truths of the Gospel. And yet, we, too, as mortal beings are vulnerable to hurts, to fears, to wounds of the heart and spirit that can, if not healed, lead to a darkening of the spark for life.
My friends, it IS Christmas and I believe that we all have within us the power to effect a Christmas miracle.
As many of you know I have been less than secret about my own battles with anxiety and depression. Despite publishing two books, competing in and coaching in the sport of bobsled, speaking across the nation, etc., as I mentioned above none of us are immune to the trials of this life. So much so that yes, there was one night where I told God that if He didn't give me a reason to live, I was going to end my life.
And I believe that right now, someone reading this is contemplating the same thing. Maybe it is someone you know. Maybe it is someone I know. And their soul is so unbelievably precious, their eyes so incredibly miraculous, their mind so breath-takingly intelligent and their talents so world-changingly unique that the reason we celebrate Christmas, even Jesus Christ, came to this earth to save them.
My grandfather left his home, his family, his job, his complete lifestyle behind and went halfway around the world to save others. Yet the Lord, in his great condescension, came down to this earth to save us all. That means that He came down to save our friend who is silently hurting, our sibling who is struggling, our neighbor who is lonely or our child who is afraid.
Sariah Simmons, ever inspired by the Spirit as she is about the mid singles community, felt a deep prompting that we as singles need to do something. And I agree. This time of the year can be extremely difficult for those who have no family to celebrate with or who have no children to play Santa for. The mistletoe hangs unused, the dinner is set for one (or one less), the tree has a few less presents and the romantic Christmas songs grate rather than sooth.
That is why we are asking you to take part in what I believe to be a Heaven-sent (or at least Heaven-supported) campaign this month to #PhoneaFriend. Don't text, don't email, don't instant message, pick up the phone (like we ever put them down) and CALL. Let them hear your voice. Say hello with a smile. Pray for the pure love of Christ to flow through you and into the heart of the person you are calling. And if you can, get together. Invite them to participate in some activity with you or to visit. Hug them. The reassuring embrace can cure many of life's aches.
It is said that when a movement MOVES it is not because of the leaders but the members. So please feel free to make this YOUR movement and your own personalized message. We are just barely organizing, but know it's important to share a message this holiday season about suicide awareness and need your help.
We Are His Hands
President Dieter F. Uchdorf recently recounted a story that I have loved since I first heard it as a teenager. He said:
"A story is told that during the bombing of a city in World War II, a large statue of Jesus Christ was severely damaged. When the townspeople found the statue among the rubble, they mourned because it had been a beloved symbol of their faith and of God’s presence in their lives.
"Experts were able to repair most of the statue, but its hands had been damaged so severely that they could not be restored. Some suggested that they hire a sculptor to make new hands, but others wanted to leave it as it was—a permanent reminder of the tragedy of war. Ultimately, the statue remained without hands. However, the people of the city added on the base of the statue of Jesus Christ a sign with these words: 'You are my hands.'"
You are my hands. As LDS midsingles we have by default covenanted "to be called his people, and are willing to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light;...Yea, and are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort,..." (Mosiah 18:8-9). There are so many around us that are carrying such heavy burdens, whose mourning while secret is not silent and who stand in need of great comforting.
So what do we look for? How do we recognize the less-than-apparent warning signs that someone in our life is in need of rescue, of lifting, or help?
The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention provides the following:
The Risk is Real, the Need is Abundant
"Social isolation has been shown to be a larger predictor of suicide than any other factor. 'the sense of social belonging and inclusion, the love, care, and concern that can flow (or not flow) from social ties. Well integrated groups…enjoy stable, durable, and cohesive ties. Individuals in such groups are supported in their lives, particularly during times of personal crises, thereby reducing their vulnerability to suicide.'”
Therefore while the holidays don't necessarily increase overall suicide rates, they have been shown to increase depression for individuals not being socially fulfilled. Social isolation is one of the biggest predictors of depression, especially during the holidays. And it is one the issues many singles, especially those single for a prolonged time or divorced report experiencing during the holidays.
"Single people, in this theory, are susceptible to what Durkheim called 'egoistic suicide,' which results from low levels of social integration. 'Anomic suicide' can be triggered by too little social regulation or 'a sudden and unexpected change in a person’s social standing, for example, a shift from being married to being divorced or widowed.'"
The National Institute for Healthcare Research indicates that #divorced people are three times as likely to commit suicide as people who are married. The Institute says that divorce now ranks as the number one factor linked with suicide rates in major U.S. cities, ranking above all other physical, financial, and psychological factors. Divorced men being the highest rate only because women attempt 3x as often but don't complete it.
Social interactions are at the heart of the factors listed above. It concludes then that if social isolation and disruption of social interactions are culprits for suicide that social connection and feeling of belonging are the answer. Again, not everyone has family to celebrate this year or even children to enjoy the spirit of the season with. Some ache for interaction, for the connection that fuels us as human beings.
That is why a dear group of friends, who have suffered the loss of a friend who was single to suicide are starting the movement #PhoneAFriend. And we cannot do it without you. Pray for guidance and seek to be sensitive to the whisperings of the Spirit. I was someone that NO ONE worried about, yet I was a mere heartbeat away from taking my own life. Do NOT assume that because someone is smiling when you are together that they are not crying in agony when they are alone. That goes for men and women.
And brethren, let me offer you a very strong word of caution: do NOT bury your feelings behind a mask of stoic socially accepted masks. That is a disservice to your own spirit and is actually one of the most dangerous moves that men make. It leads to deeper feelings of isolation and loneliness. Please, have the courage to open up.
As LDS midsingles we have tremendous power to reach out, to lift, to salve and to save. As we do so, I cannot think of a greater gift that we could give the Savior this holiday season than to love the lonely, befriend the isolated, heal a wounded heart and bring a smile to eyes that have shed too many tears.
Through this I believe we will be living Paul's words when he said, "For God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labour of love, which ye have shewed toward his name, in that ye have ministered to the saints, and do minister." (Hebrews 6:10).
And I cannot think of a greater miracle than this: to share love, to feel love, to be love.