Friday, December 27, 2013

My Story, Elizabeth Smart with Chris Stewart

Ok. Reading this back to back with Malala's book was crazy. Although I didn't time when the books would come from being on hold at the library that's how it went. This book was a crazy page turner. I finished it in 2 days, mostly because I didn't feel I could live her ordeal in any more time than was necessary. While hard to read, I decided that if Elizabeth needed to write about it, then people needed to read about it. I remember hearing the chilling news about a young Salt Lake girl being kidnapped from her home. And I can tell you exactly where I was when I heard the joyous news that she had been found! I remember praying for her, after her abduction, during her time missing (even when statistics said she was likely dead), and even more insistently when she was returned that the events would not traumatize her or haunt her for the rest of her life. What happened to her could be rated Explicit. It was not enjoyable to read. But like I said, if she needed it out there, it needs to be read. And the lessons in it are amazing.

This, like the story of Louis Zamperini in "Unbroken" can leave you in no other state than one of deepest humility and gratitude with a determination to be more grateful for everything you have, to show your love to those you love more often, and to be more forgiving instead of vengeful. Which I think is needed today in a world where one of the most watched television series is "Revenge" (yes, I watch it...but it's really in hope that they pain the road to revenge as one that the main character should never have pursued and how it stole her life and happiness when she could have just let go and lived a happier life).

If you don't know the story of Elizabeth Smart, you are either too young to remember when it all happened 10-11 years ago or maybe you lived in a cave at the time. But just a recap; 14 year old Elizabeth was kidnapped in the middle of the night from her bed where she shared a room with her younger sister. She was kept prisoner for 9 months. Her captor, Brian David Mitchell, one of the most evil men to walk this earth, a master manipulator pretending to be delusional, "married" himself to her and subject her to sexual abuse on a daily basis, forced her to view the hardest core pornography and his own personal "demonstrations" forced drug and alcohol consumption, subject her to neglect of starvation, no water, and very little regard to hygiene for anyone. His wife, Wanda Barzee, was accomplice to this as she never tried to protect Elizabeth and had some previous wicked acts to her name as well. And worse, he tried to take over her mind with fear and succeeded enough to make her feel like she couldn't even reveal herself to a police officer for threat of her and her entire family's life.

It is nothing short of an absolute miracle that Elizabeth never overdosed on a drug, got alcohol poisoning, died of thirst or starvation, got pregnant, or accidentally addicted to any substance. Beyond that, it is nothing short of a miracle that she never developed any of the horrendous physical ailments that come from malnutrition and physical exertion, or heat exhaustion/stroke. That she was able to keep her mind about her and never fall to the Stockholm Syndrome or any psychotic episodes as a result of her being abused. She completely overcame. Little rays of light and hope during her ordeal and wisdom coming after she was returned, along with her faith in God and her religious convictions have been her healing path. Following are some of my favorite quotes or stories.

While being forced to hike up the hill where Mitchell had his camp.
"I was so confused and so afraid. I don't understand! I did what you [God] have asked me! This can't be what you wanted! And it certainly wasn't. I know that now. Being taken captive was not part of some great, eternal plan. But the confusion was overwhelming. My mind tumbled in sheer terror: This doesn't make any sense! I've never done anything wrong! And though it would take awhile, the answers to my confusion eventually settled in my mind. I don't think what happened to me was something that God intended. He surely would not have wished the anguish and torment that I was about to go through upon anyone, especially upon a child. But since that time I have learned an important lesson. Yes, God can make some good come from evil. But even He, in all His majesty, won't make the evil go away. Men are free. He won't control them. There is wickedness in this world. Which left me with this: When faced with pain and evil, we have to make a choice. We can choose to be taken by the evil. Or we can try to embrace the good."page 10 -11

Sometimes we look for a "reason" behind evil acts. The person must be crazy. They must have some sort of psychotic issues or mental illnesses. We resist the idea that someone could consciously and rationally choose to be evil. But it's out there. I guess it's because we find the idea that someone would do this without any other explanation so repulsive that we shy away from it. But we can't do that in this case. As Elizabeth said:
"I also knew that, as time went by, he slipped deeper and deeper into his caricature of a prophet. But none of it was real. Brain David Mitchell is not insane. THe professional analysis is clear. He is a manipulative, antisocial, and narcissistic pedophile. He is not clinically psychotic or delusional. He is just an evil man." The religious thing was a convenient way to manipulate the situation and people around him. He is simply an evil man. Nothing else do it. And as repulsive as it is, it needs to be recognized. There is no justifying away his actions. He knew what he was doing, he knew the possible consequences of his actions. But he carried them out anyway. And had no remorse. Going as far as to faking seizures in the courtroom to prolong things or to prove that he somehow still had ultimate control over things. Narcissism at its finest.

On pages 131-132 she recounts a story of a miracle of a pioneer girl whose feet would leave bloody footprints in the snow because her shoes had worn out and found a pair of brand new shoes her size in some bushes and the only explanation was a miracle. After going several days without water, she awoke in the middle of the night for no reason. Both captors were asleep and when she looked around she found a yellow cup filled the the brim with clean, cold water. There was no way her captors would have shared if they had found water, the nearest source of water was a grueling hike down and then back up, and by the time they got it back was never super cold and tasted like the plastic jugs used to haul it up.  "Where did the water come from? I have no explanation other than the water came from God. I know we didn't have a drop of water in the camp.....Why did God do it? How did it happen? What was God trying to say? Would I have died without the water? Certainly not. As thirsty as I felt, and as terrible as it was, I was not teetering on the edge of a life-or-death situation. And I was not alone. Mitchell and Barzee needed water too. Mitchell wasn't going to stay up on the mountain and let us all die of thirst. Eventually he would have had to go down to the stream. So why did God send me the water? Because He loved me. And He wanted me to know. He wanted me to know that He was still near. He wanted me to know that He controlled the Earth and all the heavens, that all things were in His hands. And if He could move mountains, then he could do this thing for me. To Him it was a small thing-a terribly easy thing to do-but for me it was as powerful as if He had parted the sea. This experience reminded me once again that God had not deserted me. He was aware of my suffering and loneliness. And that assurance gave me hope. It helped me to keep my faith and gave me the strength that I needed to go on."

I think about all the times I get mad and decide to blame God for not helping me when it's so obviously in His power. If I were in Elizabeth's shoes, I'm not sure I would have accepted the miracle so graciously. I might have been thankful for an instant and then think sarcastically, "Great, He can conjure up a cup of cold water for me but He can't manage to help me escape or be rescued. Nice." And for that, I feel quite ashamed. I need to do some changing in perspective.....

Some advice her mother gave to her shortly after she was returned home on pages 285-286
"Elizabeth, what this man has done is terrible. There aren't any words that are strong enough to describe how wicked and evil he is! He has taken nine months of your life that you will never get back again. But the best punishment you could ever give him is to be happy. To move forward with your life. To do exactly what you want. Because yes, this will probably go to trial and some kind of sentencing will be given to him and that wicked woman. But even if that's true, you may never feel like justice has been served or that true restitution has been made. But you don't need to worry about that. At the end of the day, God is our ultimate judge. He will make up to you every pain and loss that you have suffered. And if it turns out that these wicked people are not punished here on Earth, it doesn't matter. His punishments are just. You don't ever have to worry. You don't ever have to even thick about them again. You be happy, Elizabeth. Just be happy. If you go and feel sorry for yourself, or if you swell on what has happened, if you hold on to your pain, that is allowing him to steal more of your life away. So don't you do that! Don't you let him! There is no way that he deserves that. Not one more second of your life. You keep every second for yourself. You keep them and be happy. God will take care of the rest."God bless her mother for those inspired words of wisdom!

And finally this gem from Elizabeth on page 303
"When we are faced with a challenge, it is very easy to be mad or upset. But when we have passed our great test, we are then given opportunities to reach out to other people. We are able to effect change in a way that otherwise we wouldn't have been able to.

May God bless you and your family always, Elizabeth Smart, and smile on your marriage and the family you have created and will expand in the coming years.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

I Am Malala, The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and was Shot by the Taliban, Malala Yousafzai with Christina Lamb

I saw this book when I went to buy a Christmas gift for my sister. I knew I had to read it. But as finances are tight, it had to come from the library! Luckily they anticipated a high demand and bought 17 copies and then another shipment and I got a copy fairly quickly. Knowing I'd only have 3 weeks to read it (as books on hold by other patrons cannot be renewed) I dove into it.

WOW. I learned SO much history of Pakistan! There were names that I grew up learning about, since I was born in 81, and starting in the 7th grade in 1994 I had classes in which I needed to be aware of world events. Benazir Bhutto was a common name. Pakistan a nation constantly at war, the Sunni's and Shiaas a guaranteed answer in a quiz at least every other day in my Social Studies class. Although I can tell you, that at 13 I didn't understand nearly as well as I can now the complexities of the issues. I think I can barely wrap my head around them now!

This book is very well written and while it contains harsh facts, nothing is over dramatized or sensationalized. It is very mater of fact. And things that are not meant to be offensive are treated as such-an attitude of "this is not seen as offensive, this is just the way things are where we live", so as not to cause any outrage at local customs which do not demean in anyway, but Western Culture may perceive them as such. I would let my 8 year old read this book.

Malala is such a fortunate girl to be born to a father who loves and respects his daughter as much as his sons. In a culture where only sons are celebrated, her father insisted that his daughter be treated with as much celebration as any other. This is a very rare thing and I believe it put her in a position to stand up for what she knew was right. She knew so much inner workings of the politics at such a young age-because she was never shooed away from the conversations even if she didn't take part. I don't think we give young people enough credit. They see the world in a much more black and white sense and I believe this allows them the ability to truly see right and wrong as if it's plain as day, whereas adults will tend to bend the light to make things right in their eyes and justify actions as a means to an end. Which is technically NOT right. Malala started speaking out with a pen name when she was 11. She knew how important education was. How spoiled we are in America where a vast majority complain about going to school. Who just don't care at all. Where we live in a country which tells the kids "You don't have an option to fail, you WILL go to school and you WILL pass." Instead of healthy competition and pride in getting high marks as Malala did, always determined to get 1st place. Now, I've seen that backfire too, kids putting too much stress on themselves to come in first in a class of over 500 students. But that is not the point, the point is that Malala wanted to learn. She LOVED to learn. She KNEW the power in knowledge. She still does! She tries her best every single day because it is the right thing to do. She knows that education is not only a basic right, but a PRIVILEGE. Gosh I'd like to hit every kid over the head with this book and ask them, "Do you have ANY idea what you have? Did you know that in a tiny village in Pakistan called Swat, girls SNUCK to school, knowing any minute they could be killed just for going to school and they went ANWAY? EVERY day?" That Pakistan is a place where schools are bombed regularly and have shootings and the government does very little or nothing to apprehend the perpetrators. And what about women's rights? The US has come such a long way in women's rights, and all some can do is complain about what we don't yet have. Sure, maybe some things need improving, but couldn't EVERYTHING be improved? At least we can wear what we want, study what we want, apply for any job we want, come and go as we please with whomever we please without fear of being brutally physically punished or even killed-sometimes even by family for honor, and have people not bat an eye once.

We who live in free countries are blessed. And I think we would do well to acknowledge how blessed we are. In our abundance. And even though funds are tight enough I can't justify buying a book for $26 plus tax, I can feed my family a wide variety of healthy foods every day and keep us warm and clean and entertained. Gosh. I feel so spoiled. And there's nothing inherently wrong with having all these things, as long as we're grateful for them. Be grateful to whomever or whatever you want. For me, I'm grateful to God as I see Him as the granter of all things. But if that's not for you, you can be grateful to all your teachers and and people who helped you in the job you have, your hard work that provides these things, or whatever!

I also learned more about Islam from a non-Taliban perspective. I know that's all we see from Islam these days. We don't see the peaceful aspect of it, the side that teaches to be tolerant. But there are extremists in every religion. You know the one sect of Christianity, (Baptists?) who have been known to protest soldier's funerals? We don't judge all of Christianity based on that one extremist group, we call them crazies and write them off as NOT being Christian. And another Christian sect, the Fundamentalist Mormons. As a Mormon, I don't want everyone judging my religion based on the break off group Fundamentalist group who treats its women almost as bad as the Taliban as far as rights and privileges, because MY religion values women so much they put women in leadership roles around the world! So it was really nice to have Malala tell what the Quaran says. She says no where does it tell them to kill. No where does it tell that girls cannot go to school, that the opposite is stated that God wants them to have knowledge. Now I'm curious about the Quaran and feel that I need to read it for myself in order to truly understand Islam. And while I am firmly Christian in that I believe Jesus Christ is my Savior, I think there are many, many similarities and that Islam has a lot of the same stories-Jonah and the Whale (in the Quran his name is Yunus, but he is in the belly of whale just like Jonah) and Maryam is the mother of Jesus in the Quaran, but they believe that Jesus was not the Son of God, as he was the son of Maryam (Mary). So there are enough similarities that pique my curiosity. And then I can say "I've read the Quaran, I know it doesn't teach what those crazy Taliban guys say it does!"

I'll leave with sharing some of my favorite quotes from the book:

In giving advice to a friend, Malala's father states: "Don't accept good things from bad people." (This is one reason why I don't want my government giving people EVERYTHING that's good (education, food, health care, etc) because while there are good, honest people in government, there are many who are corrupt and dishonest and I don't trust them as a whole.)

"Education is educations. We should learn everything and then choose which path to follow. Education is neither Eastern nor Western, it is human." Malala said this in response to the Taliban saying that education for girls was Western and against Islam and they were being taught corrupt things.

"Sometimes I think it's easier to be a Twilight vampire than a girl in Swat."-Moniba, Malala's best friend. This comment really shows the difficulties of a young girl growing up in Swat overtaken by the Taliban. Before the Taliban, the difficulty was in getting people to understand the importance of their girls' learning, even beyond their marrying age. And good headway was being made. But then you go throw in this religious movement of extremists who brainwash the people into thinking they cannot be saved if they allow this thing, it was like a few steps forward and a thousand steps back.

“There seemed to be so many things about which people were fighting. If Christians, Hindus or Jews are really our enemies, as so many say, why are we Muslims fighting with each other? Our people have become misguided. They think their greatest concern is defending Islam and are being led astray by those like the Taliban who deliberately misinterpret the Quran. We should focus on practical issues. We have so many people in our country who are illiterate. And many women have no education at all. We live in a place where schools are blown up. We have no reliable electricity supply. Not a single day passes without the killing of at least one Pakistani.” 223

“It was hard to visit that place [the tomb of the first leader of Pakistan, Jinnah] 

“Then they told me about the call [threats] from home and that they were taking the threats seriously. I don’t know why, but hearing I was being targeted did not worry me. It seemed to me that everyone knows they will die one day. My feeling was nobody can stop death; it doesn’t matter if it comes from a Talib or cancer. So I should do whatever I want to do. Maybe we should stop our campaigning, Jani, and go into hibernation for a time. Said my father. How can we do that? I replied. You were the one who said if we believe in something greater than our lives, then our voices will only multiply even if we are dead. We can’t disown our campaign!” 224-225
and read those speeches without thinking that Jinnah would be very disappointed in Pakistan. He would probably say that this was not the country he had wanted. He wished us to be independent, to be tolerant, to be kind to each other. He wanted everyone to be free whatever their beliefs.” 222 Malala was 15 I think when she had that thought. 

I've said before, we underestimate our youth. When we expect them to be incapable of greatness and that being a teen is a time to goof off, be rebellious, sleep around and party, that's what they are going to do. But if we expect them to be loving, compassionate, mindful of others, NOT being selfish and NOT being self indulgent, I believe they will rise to the occasion. There are many examples of kids who are not partying or sleeping around or doing other rebellious teen labeled activities. We just have to expect great things from them. And if we do, I think we will find a million more Malala's who are bigger than themselves. And want to make this world a better place. Malala's father could have been cynical and say you're just one person, and a girl at that. No one in our country will listen to a girl. You are only one, you can do nothing. But he didn't. I think that too many of us tell ourselves that we're just one, we can't do anything about it. And we pass that down to our kids. But one person CAN make a difference for good. You just have to be brave enough to do it.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Percy Jackson and the Last Olympian, Rick Riordan

The last Percy Jackson in this group of books. I am aware there are more, which I'm looking forward to reading. These are just fun books. Like Gregor the Overlander, the Prophesies have multiple interpretations and the reality is not always obvious. True friendship, family loyalty, selflessness are all qualities our heroes show in this installment. Plus now that everyone is getting older (15-16 for Percy and Annabeth) relationships are also blossoming. I also like the theme of how a little appreciation and recognition can go a long way. This war was fed by the fact that the minor gods got little attention and that the demigods had little to no contact with their godly parent; some went completely unclaimed (which would be the worst feeling if one of your parents, and you KNEW it was a deity, was not claiming you as a child). I am currently reading "I Am Malala" about the 15 year old girl who stood up for education in Pakistan and was shot at point blank range in the head and survived. She mentioned that her people loved their shoes, but did not respect the cobbler, they love their fine scarfs but did not acknowledge the weaver or pay respect to the craftsman. And because of this, that under appreciated group joined their enemy and made the enemy (Taliban) VERY strong. And that is REAL LIFE in VERY RECENT history. So in this fictional representation of Greek Gods, Minor Gods and Demigods, has a VERY real applicable lesson to be learned. And Percy seems to get it. That's all he wants is for everyone to receive recognition, no matter how minor, and that knowing your parentage is a valuable thing too and will add to family loyalty to fight against evil as a collective force instead of letting the evil force feed on those feelings of inadequacy and say that THEY would be a better family for you than your real family.

So let that be a lesson to you (and I am about halfway through "Malala" so that review will be coming soon). Don't look down on people as if their profession is "below you" because EVERYONE deserves our gratitude for what they do. The trash collectors? If we didn't have them, we'd have rubbish piles polluting our neighborhoods and smelling up our cities. The plumbers? Without them, many of us would be at a loss when sewage backs up and our homes would smell like squalor far longer than necessary. Even though we know it's their job and they're getting paid to do it (maybe not as much as YOU would need to be paid to do it as well!), but that doesn't mean that we can't or shouldn't show our appreciation. We're building a house. We're VERY appreciative of our builder, and we know we're paying him for it, and that could be evidence enough of our appreciation, but it's not enough when we've been through this process. We show gratitude by praising his work and craftsmanship because quite frankly, it IS AMAZING and freaking AWESOME what he can do! And we don't show gratitude because we think it's the right thing to do or because we feel obligated, we do so because we FELL appreciation and the only way to portray it is to SAY or DO something so the appreciation is known. So if someone were to make something to wear, and you buy it directly from them, you can praise the craftsmanship, you can tell everyone who made it and bring the person more business and build their reputation as an excellent craftsman. Like in the Princess and the Frog. Even though black people were still not on par with white people economically, Lottie's dad praises Tiana's mom as the "best seamstress" in the area and proves it by always commissioning her to make Lottie far more dresses than she needs or deserves. But it kind of broke the ethnic barrier, I thought, for him to treat her as the best seamstress and not "the black woman who can sew what my daughter wants for cheap" you know? It's all in the attitude. When people don't feel appreciated, they tend to get negative and look for ways to be known-you know how you learn about little kids, ANY attention is better than NO attention, even if it's NEGATIVE attention in the form of yelling, disciplining, punishing? And conflict inevitable rises up. So hopefully the young people today who are reading Percy Jackson will be able to feel that conflict and to help avoid it by showing friendship and gratitude to those around them.