What Child Is This?

“For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6)

Music “What Child Is This?” by David Tolk – www.DavidTolk.com

Paintings by Howard Lyon – www.HowardLyon.com

He Has Come For Us – NEW Music Video by Nicole Sheahan

I am so proud of my friend, Nicole Sheahan. She just released her first professional music video (her first not-so-professional music video was edited by me…)

Nicole is a dedicated soul, filled with powerful and inspiring faith in God. Whether you’re buried in work, lost a loved one, or just aren’t feeling the Christmas Spirit, I hope this song points you to the true meaning of Christmas.

My Mother is Prometheus

I think the key to moving forward in life is helping others to move forward.

Figuratively speaking, when we overcome obstacles and challenges, we are given a gift of illumination. We have a greater understanding that comes from experience. The hope is that, upon gaining this illumination and experience, we’ll then go back and share it with others.

In my book, Your Life Isn’t For You, I wrote about one of the oldest examples of this process.

According to Greek mythology, there was a Titan—a Greek god—by the name of Prometheus. It is said that Prometheus not only created humans, but also saved them.

For during that time, men and women lacked the one thing that could make them as powerful as the gods:


Prometheus, the Greek God.

Prometheus, the Greek God.

Without fire, men and women were helpless and hopeless. They were unable to pierce the darkness of night, stay warm, create tools, cook their food, or build weapons to fight wild beasts and monsters. During the day, they wandered in the cold, wet mud, and at night they huddled together in caves for want of warmth.

Looking upon the creation of his hands, Prometheus took pity on the humans and resolved to bring them fire.

In the dead of night, Prometheus took a portion of the eternal fires from Mount Olympus, and left his heavenly home to bless humankind with this light.

After showing fire to men and women, he taught them how to build it on their own and use it to their advantage. Excited by this new power, humans began to build fires and tools of their own. In a very real way, Prometheus had started a kind of fire that could never be extinguished. And for the rest of time, mankind would honor and revere Prometheus, the giver of life and light.

That story makes me think of questions: Who has given you light? And have you given light to someone else?

Someone who has given me light in my own darkness is my mother.

But before I get into that, let me tell you something about my name. Whenever I write my name, I use the full version—and a lot of people make fun of me because of it. In fact, some friends in Florida have taken to calling my wife “Kim Adam Smith.” And it would amaze you how many people email me, thinking my name is ‘Adam’ or ‘Adams.’

But I’m okay with that, because my mother gave me my name. And here’s why: ‘Adams’ is my mother’s maiden name. Giving that name to me was her way of naming me after my grandfather, Boyd Adams.

Now there’s a reason I’m telling you all of this. After I tried to take my life, my mother didn’t quite know how to respond—no one did. Really, what do you say? What do you say to someone who is that deep in darkness?

"Truthseeker" by Howard Lyon

“Truthseeker” by Howard Lyon

But here’s what my mother did: She gave me hope. She told me to keep moving forward, because she believed that one day my story would inspire others and that my name would be known through my writing. I didn’t believe it, but she did.

And she told me every day.

And as the years went by, I slowly began to believe that maybe—just maybe—my story might be able to help someone. So I started putting my full name on everything.

About two years ago, I finally felt comfortable sharing the story of my suicide attempt, and I published it on my blog. It was read by a lot of people, and I got some really wonderful email responses from it.

About six months ago, I was contacted by a producer from the media department in the LDS Church. They wanted to make a video on suicide prevention, and they asked if I would be willing to share my story on camera. My first reaction was to say no, but my wife was very encouraging. As a result, the video was published a month ago, and has had over 500,000 views across all of their channels. In the video, they showed a screenshot of my blog—which puts my full name on public display.

Mormon Messages Suicide Prevention

I don’t care about my name being known. I don’t. I would much rather be behind the camera than in front of it. But seeing my name in that video was a confirmation of my mother’s belief in me—that there is hope—that there can be a purpose to our struggles.

My mother gave me life, and she also gave me light. Before that light, I was dead to the world—wandering in darkness, without a purpose. She gave me a purpose and a reason to live. Her encouragement has created a light inside of me that leads me forward.

Each of you posses the power to do the same for others—give them light. You may not think much of this ability, but to rescue a soul from darkness is god-like.

I don’t know you, and I don’t know your situation. I don’t know your challenges, and I don’t know your fears. But I know that there is hope. I know that each of us has a purpose and that our struggles teach us what that purpose is.

I love stories and literature. I love how they can inspire us to move forward. I know that someday your story will inspire someone else. So please, keep moving forward.

Literature Can Heal the Soul

“Time and time again I have learned that while medicines can heal the body, literature and inspired words can heal the soul.” -Seth Adam Smith

For me, reading and writing have been the most powerful tools to help me move forward. I love literature and historical stories and what they can teach us about life. Time and time again, I have learned that, while medicines can heal the body, inspirational words can heal the soul. Inspired words are like guideposts or constellations that lead us home.

There is an ancient Japanese legend that tells of a sacred mountain surrounded by a jungle. This mountain was sacred because it was the place where the community would bring the elders to die. This was done in honor and reverence for the people’s parents; it was their way of turning over their loved ones to the gods.

One day, a young man was carrying his elderly father to the top of the mountain. His father was very sick and frail. Yet, as they climbed, the old man would reach out and grab handfuls of branches and leaves from the nearby trees, and drop them on the ground.

About halfway up the mountain, the young man stopped and asked his father why he was dropping branches and leaves on the ground. Tears streamed down the old man’s face as he replied, “Son, I want you to find your way home.”

I think great stories and literature are like branches on our path. Our wise ancestors (or those who have gone before us) have left these stories for us so that we could find our way home—so that we could move forward.

Winston Churchill’s Battle With Depression

My guide through life has always been Sir Winston Churchill (1874–1965), the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom during World War II. His active and steadfast resistance to Adolf Hitler, along with his vehement refusal to even consider defeat, helped inspire his nation to victory against Nazi Germany. His strength of character and his determination to never give up—even in the most dire circumstances—has made him one of the greatest leaders the world has ever known.

Standing next to the statue of Winston Churchill in Parliament Square, London.

Standing next to the statue of Winston Churchill in Parliament Square, London.

But Churchill was also a very funny man.

As some of you are aware, Winston Churchill and President Roosevelt were actually very good friends. Once, while Churchill was staying at the White House, President Roosevelt decided to stop by Churchill’s room. The Prime Minister, who had just finished taking a bath, was pacing back and forth in his room—completely naked. When Roosevelt rolled into the room and saw Churchill in the buff, Churchill calmly replied, “You see, Mr. President, I have nothing to hide from you.” [Source: TIME]

But there was something that Churchill did hide from the world—he struggled with what he called “the black dog” of depression. Researchers and biographers have since diagnosed him as someone who struggled with major episodes of depression.

Of Churchill’s battle with depression, psychiatrist Anthony Storr said this: “Only a man who knew what it was to discern a gleam of hope in a hopeless situation, whose courage was beyond reason, and whose aggressive spirit burned at its fiercest when he was hemmed in and surrounded by enemies, could have given emotional reality to the words of defiance which rallied and sustained us [during World War II].” [Source: NAMI]

The full weight of Europe on his shoulders. He was, in many respects, a lone man standing against the full onslaught of Adolf Hitler—one of the most evil men in history. In studying Churchill’s life—his victories and defeats, along with his emotional obstacles and personal challenges—I am perpetually amazed by his indomitable will to fight his way forward.

In a speech delivered to the House of Commons on June 4, 1940, Churchill rallied his beleaguered nation with these words:

“We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.”

Consider the context of these words. Not only was Churchill leading the charge against Nazi Germany, he was simultaneously leading a personal charge against his own depression.

With this in mind, the following phrase (one of his most famous quotes) is given even more power and meaning:

“Never give in—never, never, never, never, in nothing great or small, large or petty, never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.”

While writing about depression, I have felt discouraged many times. The process of creating books and blog posts about it has caused many different thoughts, feelings, and experiences to resurface. Some of these have been good, but most of them have been very difficult to recall. I am often confronted with feelings of despondency, depression, and insecurity. After all, I begin to think who am I? Who am I that the world should care what I have to say?

But in these moments of self-doubt, I have often looked at a photograph in my office of Winston Churchill. He doesn’t look back at me. Instead, he looks forward, into some distant horizon—as if to say, “Never give in. Keep moving forward.”

Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill in Morocco.

Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill in Morocco.

Speaking of photographs, this photograph of Churchill and Roosevelt is one of my favorites—it speaks volumes about these two men. Please consider this incredible irony: Here are two leaders faced with tremendous challenges. One of them struggles with the darkness of depression; the other is bound to a wheelchair. Had they grown up in Nazi Germany, Hitler would have had both men exterminated for their imperfections. And yet, these two men—these two imperfect people—moved forward, and together, they defeated a darkness which had swept across Europe.

Never give in. Keep moving forward.

The Refiner’s Fire

The refiner’s fire is not a comfortable place to be. It involves intense heat and repeated hammering. But it is in the refiner’s fire that we are purified and prepared to meet God.

Kim experienced the refiner’s fire in a way she never expected. She had always wanted a large family. Her first son wasn’t even two when he was diagnosed with a brain tumor that claimed his life. Her daughter was diagnosed with bone cancer. She lost her husband and another son to cancer.

In her refiner’s fire, she “began to think maybe I couldn’t do this. Maybe I wasn’t strong enough. Maybe I might fail. But the Lord wasn’t going to allow me to fail. I know that’s not unique to me. He does that for everybody.” She learned that the Savior does provide what you need to face tragedies with faith and confidence.

She emerged from her fire with a great deal of joy and a desire to use what she has learned to help others. “The greater our sorrow is, the greater our capacity to feel joy.”

Losing loved ones is never easy, but she was surprised. “I feel a great deal of tenderness towards my Savior because He really is so sweet. He really does provide what you need.”

The Tragic Story Behind St. Basil’s Cathedral

In Moscow, Russia, at the far end of Red Square, stands the iconic and beautiful St. Basil’s Cathedral. Once a church, this unrivaled structure was not built by a saint—nor was it originally made to memorialize any Christian virtues.

It’s construction was ordered by the Tsar, Ivan Grasni, otherwise known as Ivan the Terrible and it was to commemorate his victories in war.

Ivan the Terrible was an iron-fisted ruler whose brutal legacy has haunted Russian history and politics. Given to paranoia and fits of rage, Ivan conquered nations and killed thousands—even his own son.

But just outside the Kremlin walls there was one man whom Ivan feared—a peasant by the name of Basil.

Those who knew Basil considered him a prophet. He saw things which others could not and did things which others would not. In heat of the summer and in the cold winter, Basil would walk the streets with little clothing, giving whatever he had to those in need. In sharp contrast to the murderous, opulent tsar behind the Kremlin wall, Basil lived humbly and nurtured life.

On numerous occasions, Basil openly rebuked the Tsar, calling him to repentance. Racked with guilt—Ivan would send gifts to the prophetic peasant, hoping to appease him. But Basil would simply give the gifts away.

As the story goes, Basil gave Ivan a piece of uncooked meat during Lent. The Tsar, claiming to be a devout Orthodox Christian, refused the gift. Animal products of any kind were and are prohibited during the Orthodox Great Lent. Basil responded by asking the Tsar why he chose to follow the canon of Lent while he continued to spill the blood of Christians. Basil told Ivan that his murderous actions would doom him to hell if he did not repent. [Source: Russian Life]

Time passed, and Ivan continued to wage costly wars while Basil gave what little he had to a precious few. Ivan became more hated and infamous, while Basil became more loved and venerated.

When Basil died, Ivan was `overcome with grief and did something that no one expected. He left the Kremlin walls and carried the peasant’s coffin to the Cathedral where they buried him. The humble heart of a peasant had melted the heart of a tyrant.

They then nick-named the building St. Basil’s Cathedral—in honor of the peasant prophet.

The Forgotten Words of Jacob Marley

One of my all-time favorite books is A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens. I didn’t always like it. In fact, when I was much younger, I pretty much hated it. I felt like it was over-commercialized and overused during Christmas.

A few years ago, while listening to an audio rendition of the book, I heard something that I felt like I had never heard before. The passage comes from that pivotal moment when Ebenezer Scrooge meets the ghost of his former business partner, Jacob Marley. Marley, now a chained and tormented soul, is lamenting the opportunities he lost to serve mankind. This is what happens next:

“But you were always a good man of business, Jacob,” faltered Scrooge, who now began to apply this to himself.

“Business!” cried the Ghost, wringing its hands again. “Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were, all, my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!…Why did I walk through crowds of fellow-beings with my eyes turned down, and never raise them to that blessed Star which led the Wise Men to a poor abode! Were there no poor homes to which its light would have conducted me!”

Marley's Ghost

Marley’s Ghost

Throughout my life, I have seen countless film and stage adaptations of this very scene. But that was the first time I had ever truly felt Jacob Marley’s words. As someone who is deeply introverted, that passage seemed to completely revolutionize my outlook on the world and my place in it. It made me see just how much I had been like Jacob Marley; that I, too, had walked “through crowds of fellow-beings with my eyes turned down.” I realized that the weight of my selfishness was one of my own making.

I was suddenly filled with a desire to move outside of myself, and make mankind my business.

To help me remember what I had felt, I searched online for an image of Jacob Marley that matched his message—an image of the sadness and regret in his eyes, an image of him inviting me to consider my ways and consider my business. I wanted to print this image out and hang it up in a place where I would see Marley often and remember the words that he had said.

But after hours of searching online, most of the images I found were either laughable or grotesque. There was no real image that matched Marley’s message of repentance.

My inability to find an inviting image of a humbled Marley led me to this realization:

I had never truly heard Marley’s message because it had always been drowned out by excessive, showy theatrics; lights, fog machines, heavy chains, and loud noises. Because of an overemphasis on the ghostly and ghastly, Marley’s message had been lost to me.

Not long ago, I shared these thoughts with Angela Johnson, an accomplished sculptor and a dear friend. I told her how I wished there could be an image of Jacob Marley that invited viewers to make mankind their business.

Two days later, Angela sent me an email with the subject header “Meet Jacob Marley.”

Imagine my surprise when, after opening the email, I saw—for the first time—the REAL Jacob Marley.

A clay sculpture of Jacob Marley, shown at different angles.

A clay sculpture of Jacob Marley, shown at different angles.

Angela had created a Jacob Marley door knocker, with the linens around his head serving as the knocker.

Overcome by emotion, I called Angela. I think I even managed to get out a few words before the tears started to roll down my cheeks. I couldn’t help but think of how beautifully symbolic the whole thing was. Here I wanted a sculpture of Jacob Marley to remind me that people are to be my business, and my friend literally made it her business to create that sculpture.

Within two weeks Angela had the sculpture cast in bronze and the real Jacob Marley was immortalized.

I am grateful to share this image of the REAL Jacob Marley—and the message it speaks without saying a word—with you.

Jacob Marley door knocker.

Jacob Marley door knocker.

My TEDx Talk – Books Don’t Create Movements…

Last month, I had the incredible opportunity to speak at TEDx in Sarasota, Florida. The title of my talk was “Books Don’t Create Movements, Movements Create Books.”

In my presentation, I shared some ideas on how to start a movement that will help you achieve your dreams (and I even reveal my own childhood dream…)

I am deeply grateful for the love and support of my wife, Kim, and for the support of everyone at Berrett-Koehler Publishers. In particular, I’d like to thank Jeevan Sivasubramaniam, my mentor and friend. If I accomplish anything good in my writing it is because of your encouragement.

Please watch the video and submit any comments or questions below. I will be writing a follow-up (with some behind-the-scenes info) for Monday’s post.