Brazil, take a bow! That's what went through my head when I looked at this photo I just took while in Brazil last week with my wife. This egret was on top of a pole near the Zoological Garden not far from the world's largest soccer stadium in Rio de Janeiro. To me, it symbolizes the grace and beauty I found among the amazing people and landscapes of Brazil. It's a country where almost anything can grow and be nurtured, including the Gospel. The Church is growing rapidly, temples are being built, and many of Brazil's tolerant and warm people are finding the joy that the restored Gospel of Jesus Christ adds to their lives.
Moments later, I stomped my foot and cleared my throat, not too loudly, but enough to send my subject soaring to a new perch. I'm sure that's symbolic of something, too. I was just happy to get the shot. Many creatures are most beautiful when in motion.
I was there for several purposes: primarily to attend my sister's wedding in Taubaté and meet the rich bounty of new family I now have in southern Brazil (real family - such warm, loving people!), but also to spend time with another great friend and his family further north and inland in Brasília (the man is a truly inspiring leader), and more generally to spend some vacation time with my wife. Overall, we spent time in three major regions, Taubaté (including Campos do Jordão) in the São Paulo area, Rio de Janeiro, and Brasília. We loved all three places, including the people, the food, and the scenery. The language also is one of the most beautiful I've heard. I definitely yearn to go back.
Here are some scenes from parts of our trip apart the wedding and family visits (might add those later). Click to enlarge.
A genuine need and a prayer was answered when we ran into LDS missionaries at a bus station in Brasília. This would not have happened if things hadn't "gone wrong" for us earlier that morning, causing us to barely miss one destination in order to surprisingly catch something much more important. This team of four missionaries deeply impressed us - three Brazilians and one North American. Great examples, sweet Christians, and very kind and obedient young men sacrificing their time and money to make the world a better place. They made our little world a lot better that day. Thank you, Elders! We were also happy to receive permission to take them to lunch at a nice shopping mall. A very memorable lunch. Thank you to the parents and to all parents who have sent missionaries to this nation!
The people of Brazil taught us over and over that relationships are what really matter. With that in mind, I was intrigued by the message in the photo below, a scene from a wall in Rio near the soccer stadium. In this wild city of wealth and poverty, of beauty and sorrow, someone has wisely asked, "WHAT IS REAL?"
The illusions of wealth, pleasure, and power will all fade. What will last? What endures? What is actually real? The answers are found in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which teaches the importance of relationships, eternal relationships, rooted in that which is most real and lasting, true charity, the pure love of Jesus Christ, sealed and made eternal, everlastingly real, with the power of His Atonement. Thhis is something we should all ponder.
Do you have what is real? Are your relationships with others ones that can receive the gracious blessings of God and be made to last eternally? Have you sought to have the miraculous gift of charity in your life? We must seek these blessings, and charity in particular, with all our being. Some of Moroni's final words in Moroni chapter 7 in the Book of Mormon remind us of this:
 Wherefore, my beloved brethren, if ye have not charity, ye are nothing, for charity never faileth. Wherefore, cleave unto charity, which is the greatest of all, for all things must fail --
 But charity is the pure love of Christ, and it endureth forever; and whoso is found possessed of it at the last day, it shall be well with him.
 Wherefore, my beloved brethren, pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ; that ye may become the sons of God; that when he shall appear we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is; that we may have this hope; that we may be purified even as he is pure. Amen.
That is the path to help us find what is truly real. Not necessarily truly Rio, but truly real. But Rio sure seemed like heaven (especially now in the midst of Brazil's winter, when one can actually enjoy the beaches without too much unwanted scenery).
Well, I can't wait to go back, especially now that I have a large group of family members and friends who treat me like their long lost son and brother. We have a lot to learn about warm, loving relationships from Brazil. Take a bow, Brazil! (E talvez a Copa do Mundo!)