Friday, July 31, 2009

Rabbit Condominium

How do I get myself into these things?

It all started with an innocent trip to Wally World with my granddaughter. Some folks were standing outside with a box full of bunnies. Well, some were full grown rabbits and one of those looked pregnant. One didn't look too healthy, but hey, the people didn't look too healthy either. The critters were a motley looking bunch. Several colors and variations thereof. My granddaughter was desperate to have one. And after all they were just five dollars each, regardless of the size!

Now little anything is cuter than big anything (with the possible exception of Hillary Clinton) so we opted for two small black ones, hopefully both females. Two, because my granddaughter has a brother. Too, because it appeared that if these folks didn't come up with some cash quick, the bunnies would be dinner by night fall.

I already had a nice wire rabbit cage. Ten bucks and a little rabbit chow and we were in business. Not a bad deal for all the fun the kids have been having.

That is until someone developed visions of more rabbit real estate. Now my plan was to keep the rabbits until fall, whereupon I'd deliver them to my brother-in-law who raises rabbits. A couple of does from a different gene pool might enhance his hutch. Then, come spring, I thought we could pick up a new couple of bunnies to raise next summer. This plan lasted until someone (probably Satan) suggested to the children that said brother-in-law might actually eat their bunnies.

They hired a high priced lobbyist (their Dad) to urge a more winter proof hutch that might facilitate keeping the bunnies all year round and spare them the doom predicted. What the hey, there seemed to be plenty of scrap lumber in my shop, they proposed. As it turns out I'm not all that different than Congress. I haven't finished paying for the last program I started, heck, I haven't even finished the program. Now, I launch on another program to keep the masses at bay, hardly considering the cost. What a politician won't do to garner a few votes from the constituency. What they proposed should be a one day project - two if we painted it. Plus the kids, 7 and 5 would roll up their sleeves and help. Now, two days and five trips to the store later, it's about half finished. And now, I've got to be gone for a couple of days on a foreign affairs junket.

To guarantee my return the kids have had a lawyer (their grandmother) put a workman's lien on the property. So, assuming I return, and assuming I don't run out of money like the Cash for Clunkers Program, we should have pretty good accommodations. The project has two stories, two spacious, insulated nesting boxes, it's handicapped accessible with magnetic door flaps, a ramp from one level to the other, etc. It should really do the trick, but I noticed last night, that there was already talk of an elevator, slide, fireman's pole and big screen TV. There is also talk of more rabbits......

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Gambling with Peoples Lives

A kid at the Detention Center told me last night that there is a bet amongst the staff on whether he'll stick with his program or run. How very inappropriate. He even told me that he was tempted to run for the first time, because he dislikes the person who bets he'll stay and wants to see him lose the wager. So here's a person who believes in him, who potentially could cause his failure.

The young man still, comforted me by reminding me that he is determined to succeed not only in his incarceration experience, but in life; so I don't think he'll run. I just think he's a little bitter that staff would trivialize his situation. I am also disappointed. I thought so much better of these people. I don't know specifically, who the staff members are, but I've held them all in such high regard. It's just probably a foolish indisgression, but it could amount to something far more serious.

It makes matters so much worse that the bet should come to the ears of this young person.

In the mean time, the young man is preparing to teach our Sunday lesson this week! I am eagerly anticipating that event. He is bright, thoughtful and will doubtless teach us something of great value, from the scriptures. His inmates, who haven't previously come to church, are planning to be to this one.

I haven't really mentioned here, how very much I love serving the youth at our local detention center. I spend many hours each week with them. I've been blessed with a heart full of love for them and they reciprocate ten fold. I don't do this by myself. There are several of us. We are called the Vernal 12th Branch. While the Branch has never consisted of more than 13 workers and is now down to 8 we all love the opportunity to serve these wonderful children of God.

We teach them the gospel, help them recover from addiction, play volleyball and other games. We spend hours counseling with them and become fast friends with many. Too often they have experienced very little love in their lives. Yet they are full of love themselves and delight in spending time with a bunch of old fogies to whom they can hardly relate, but from whom they feel the precious, refreshing draft of love for which their souls so deeply thirst.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Book Review - Bachelor Brothers' Bed and Breakfast

Bachelor Brothers' Bed and Breakfast by Bill Richardson is just what I would expect a B&B on an island between Vancouver Island and the Canadian mainland would be; secluded, serene, charming, quaint, comfortable, intelligent and personal.

The Bed and Breakfast is operated by fraternal twins, Hector and Virgil. Compatible, convivial twins, yet different as night and day, the brothers share the story telling load with several of their guests. Thus the story is eclectic as one would expect an old house in a isolated rural place might be. A mix of bookish book reviews, hometown memorabilia, hilarious poetry, odd ball antics and warm hearth side musings, this sweet read was charming from cover to cover.

I have stayed in B&B's around the Northwest and British Columbia. They have a B&B tradition up there. The standards are high for such establishments in the region. All are special delight! If the Bachelor Brothers' Bed and Breakfast were an actual establishment, I'd have been booked to stay there before I laid the book down! I imagine it, in my mind, in a setting like my favorite, San Juan Island; pastoral, peaceful, slow and cozy.

For a Summer when I couldn't go away as I am wont, this was the perfect read. I expect when I get nostalgic for such quiet adventures, I'll likely pick it up and read it again.

I'll leave you with a delightful tidbit:

A Poem by Solomon Solomon, just one of Richardson's carefully crafted, delightful characters:

The Tiger Says Grace

Dear God who cares for tigers,
I have much to thank you for.
My stripes and leafy jungle home,
My throaty purr, my roar.
I thank you for the blazing sun,
And for the cooling shower,
And for the tasty hunter
I'm preparing to devour.
Dear God you have been generous
To send this meaty one,
Encumbered by nearsightedness
And by a faulty gun.
Oh, he was easy prey to stalk!
A most unequal match!
I leapt on him with claws unsheathed
And slew with quick dispatch.
So now he lies before me
With his dim, unseeing eyes,
His face bedecked with nothing
But a look of slight surprise.
And do I feel remorse's pull?
No. Not a guilty tug.
It's better he should be my lunch
Than I should be his rug.
So, God who cares for tigers
And who made us burning bright,
Thank you for your kindness,
I'll sleep happily tonight.

Maybe I won't leave you with this after all. I was in Jones Hole camping by my self for a week. I found lion tracks outside my tent one morning. That night as I was trailing back to camp in the dark, after a satisfying afternoon of fishing, I wondered if I might be ambushed by my unseen feline consort. While I was loathe to be eaten, I did imagine that being slain by a lion merited certain lofty bragging rights upon my arrival in the great beyond. I've always loved an especially good story. I expect I still will - over there.

Now, I'm off to read Dean Koontz's Frankenstein Book Three - Dead and Alive! I've waited for this for a long long time Dean. I'm glad it's right here, right now!

Four Stars

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Too Little Understood: The Law of Stewardship

I read this article from Meridian Magazine and felt it too important to not just send you there.

Larry Barkdull gives some magnificent counsel to all of us. Here is a tidbit:

"Even in a telestial setting, we encounter the concept of stewardship constantly. For example, a business owner will enter into an agreement to hand over the management of his company to a trusted employee, provided the employee gives his best effort, pursues the mission of the company, is committed to increasing the company’s profitability, and is accountable to his employer. In return, the employer pays the employee a fair wage, with which the employee takes care of his family. The employee has no right to divide his attention with another interest, change the purpose of the company, use its resources outside his employer’s desire, or take the profits for himself. We might ask ourselves, If we understand these principles on a telestial level, why can we not apply them to a celestial situation?"

Please take a minute and read the entire article here.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Receiving Personal Revelation

We had an exercise in 12 Steps with the Detention Youth yesterday. An exercise in hearing the voice of God. It was met with a pretty large measure of skepticism. In fact when I asked them if they had ever received a revelation from God, they all said "No, of course not!" Still, I was convinced they had and could, so I went forward by asking a series of questions.

Initially, I asked, "Did Jesus carry a planner?"

They looked around and all agreed. I asked them, "How do you know?"
"Dunno, we just know."
"So how did He get along then?"
"Life came at Him and He responded."

These are kids with very little if any religious background.

"How did He know how to respond."
"He felt it in His heart. Somehow, he just knew what to do."
"Have you ever known what to do?"
"All the time."
"Do you always do what you know you should?"
"Why not?"

And we had a discussion about why Jesus always did what He felt He should and why we do not. One answer was, "We get scared."

"When Jesus felt what He should do or how He should respond to circumstances around Him what would you call that?"
"Information from God."
"Would you call it revelation?"
"What would you call it when you feel what you should do?"
"How about revelation."
"Guess so, but it just makes sense."
"Wouldn't revelation make sense?"
"Does ignoring it make sense?"
"Obviously not (pointing to orange jump suits)."

12 Step recovery is entirely about connecting with God and receiving His help in overcoming our problems and addictions. The AA prayer, "Lord, what would you have me do today? Please give me the strength to do it?" is all about getting personal revelation. Drunks get personal revelation. They have to or they cannot recover. They have to get it every day, every moment and they have to choose to be obedient to those promptings in their hearts. So it is with all of us.

I spent a few moments helping them realize that God is good and kind. I told them a story of a friend in recovery who prayed the AA prayer every day for six years before she felt impressed to pay her tithing and another two before feeling impressed to go to Church. God doesn't expect to us progress from A to Z in one fell swoop. He is kind, good and He knows where we are and what we need today. He is not about to ask us to give what we don't yet have. He is patient, forgiving and loves us. "If we will respond to His answer to that question every day," I told them. "He won't overwhelm us with His answer. He'll give us just the right measure of challenge and strength to help us grow and progress. Plus He will give us the strength to do it! Our parents, teachers, counselors, friends, or enemies might and often do overwhelm us, but God does not."

One little girl came forward after the meeting and shyly requested a set of scriptures. "I came in here convinced I didn't need God in my life. Now I know I can't possibly make it without Him."

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Simple Epiphany

I'm not going to present anything in this essay that's new or different than I've discussed before. I did get an epiphany at church today, though, that shed some light on the topic, at least for me. As always, I write in order to explore my own feelings, to give value and appreciation for revealed truth, to keep a record of my progress and to share my feelings with others.

Kim's been emphasizing simplicity at ARP lately. We have a friend who over analyzes, over compensates, over complicates everything. While addiction recovery is challenging, it is not rocket science. It is simple, at it's fundamentally effective core.

I learned the simple fundamentals as I was making my own beginnings on the road to recovery. Now I find that those fundamental principles apply not only to addiction recovery but to life in general.

Jesus teaches the principle: I can of myself do nothing: as I hear, I judge: and my judgment is just because I seek not mine own will , but the will of the Father which hath sent me. (John 5:30) Is that not powerful? Even Jesus of his own self could do nothing. His strength lay in doing the Father's will. The endowment ceremony in the Temple is clear, unmistakable evidence of this.

We have been taught, and have learned to stand on our own two feet. We think the initiative and direction in our lives must be our own. We think God gives us a rough outline and we need to flesh it out on our own, by ourselves. That was not true of Jesus; why should it be true of us?

"But wait!" we exclaim, "What about Doctrine and Covenants 58: 26-27?" I thought we were supposed to do many good things of our own free will and not have to be commanded in all things. That's true but being commanded and seeking God's will are not the same thing. Being commanded is a driven life. Seeking God's will is a guided life. Choosing a guided life amounts to doing many good things of your own free will. Seeking God's will is the imperative I'm focusing on today.

Early in my recovery I learned to pray a simple, but powerful prayer. "Lord, what would Thou have me do today? Please give me the strength to do it?" All my life my prayers were spent directing God around the heavens and the universe. As if I had the slightest clue what God should be doing. Now I was learning that I should not be seeking to counsel God, but to take counsel from his hand. (Jacob 4:10) The difference in the effectiveness of my prayers was astronomical. The reality of personal revelation, even to one such as I, was astounding. Prayer is all about personal revelation. It is no big deal to think that God could hear us when we pray. The big deal and the key to real prayer has everything to do with us hearing Him. Everything!

We may freely express our desires and as we gain experience with the will of God we may be more likely to anticipate God's will so that our desires are aligned with His will. As Jesus approached Lazarus' tomb he "lifted up his eyes and said, "Father, I thank thee that thou has heard me." (John 11:41) Clearly indicating that his desire had been to raise Lazarus from the dead and that He required God's endorsement before doing so. He sought the will of God, received it, and went forward with confidence, knowing Lazarus' revival was in such accord.

Now, how to apply all of this to my current situation. I'm unemployed and quickly running short of cash. Recently, I've reverted to my old ways. I know what I want - I want a nice high paying job. And, I've resorted to telling God what I want and expecting Him to deliver. Today I realized that I trust God. I know He is predisposed in my favor. I know He knows what's best for me. I know He even knows what my new employment will be. I also know He has work for me to do in the earth and that He is fully capable of opening the way for me to accomplish that work or stewardship. I know that He knows what I must do to arrive where He wants me to be. I know He will provide the resources to adequately fulfill my stewardship. (1 Nephi 3:7) But see, I haven't been asking Him the right questions. I've been telling Him what I want and asking for that. Instead, I should have been asking what He wants and asking directions to that end.

This method worked amazingly well in my recovery from addiction. Why will it not sustain me in every aspect of life? I'm certain it will. I just needed to make that connection, which God helped me do today.

I was so excited to get right home and get these ideas written. But there I go, off on my own again. Upon arriving home, though, I did think to pause and thank Him for this kind enlightenment. During that expression of gratitude, I paused to seek His will. His will was not to sit and write, it was to do the dishes. I was surprised. As it did the dishes I realized that beating Sweetie to the punch would brighten her day in a way that could not occur if I did them later after she had to consort with that mess for a while. It didn't take long, but it was correct in every way.

Also as I did the dishes and pondered the priority it might be, it occurred to me that this is how all of life could go. As I consider all of this a few things come to mind. Did Jesus carry a planner? No way. I'm convinced that He went forth into each new day excited for it's prospects and eager to learn what the Father had for him to accomplish. He may have had intentions, but most likely there were interruptions galore, surprises aplenty and constant opportunity to let the Father direct His paths and teach Him what to say and do. What a relief a life like that would be in my reality. Suddenly, the pressure is off! A guided life of right choices, how exciting. A blessed life of service doing the will of the Father. One of my first reactions was, "But I'll get so tired!" To which my heart responded. "God will direct you to rest, to eat right, to recreate - don't worry about it."
"But there is so much work to do!"
"And God will strengthen you for the work that is yours and direct others to do the work that is not."
"But what if others have expectations that God does not?"
"What if? Who are we trying to please here?"
"Oh, I'm beginning to see."
"Good, you're on the right track."
"But what if God doesn't have anything for me to do?"
"Then do nothing."
"Are you kidding?"
"Well, yes, there is plenty of work for you to do, but there is plenty of joy, and pleasure too!"
"How will I know what He desires?"
"Ask, seek, knock."
"What about the future?"
"You'd rather not know, believe me."
"What must I do then."
"Just what I ask in this moment."
"What about the next moment?"
"Ask again. If you do God's will in each moment, the future will be prepared for you and you will be prepared for it."
"But what if I need an education?"
"Don't you get it? If you need an education, there will be a moment and in that you moment you will ask, and when you ask, God will answer: learn this, and your education will be realized."
"So I don't really need to plan?"
"Not really. God has a plan for you if you seek it."
"But, I thought..."
"You needed to trust in the arm of the flesh?"
"Yes, that's it isn't it. That's what I've been doing. That's why I've been worrying. I've been trusting in the arm of the flesh, haven't I?"
"Of course, it's natural."
"Who say's God has no sense of humor."
"Can I really do this?"
"You did today."
"That wasn't so hard."
"I doesn't have to be."
"What if I slip up?"
"When you slip up, stop, ask, listen, receive, do."
"But won't I need to repent?"
"When you listen, repent will probably be your answer."
"Oh, of course. My answer will always be just what I need to do in that moment."
"No more, no less."
"So simple!"
"So simple."

Saturday, July 25, 2009

A Lovely Trip To Jones Hole


I awoke this morning at four, sick to my stomach and longing for a fix. I was Jonesing. Longing for something to mask the pain for a while. Something to distract me from the fear and doubt.

Loathe to lose what duration of sobriety I've managed to accumulate, I wrote. Writing creates a pause between urges and actions. During that inky pause I can talk some sense to myself, feel some connection with God and offer myself some healthier alternative. These are times of self discovery, peace and revelation. Fortunate to have learned the efficacy of this method, I always turn to it to avoid the crash and burn that would be the inevitable other option.

Life causes pain. We get mistreated. We get hurt. We seek means of coping. It's like getting a broken leg in the wilderness. We splint it as best we can. We scrounge around and obtain something for a crutch and we hobble along hoping to get back to civilization and relief. We see fellow travelers with no crutch, who even hold our need for one in derision. We become disgusted with our need for a crutch so we throw it away. Of course with the next step comes a collapse, more pain, self pity, self disgust. We are falling behind. We must catch up, so we pick up the crutch again and hobble on. We might even seem to catch up. But then, time and again, we think we're better and tossing the crutch discover we just can't get along without it.

Eventually, we give up trying to keep up. There is nothing for it but to stop a while, attend to the wound and let it heal. Surprisingly, someone is willing to stay behind with us, or carry us along carefully enough to let us heal. Then at long last comes the glorious day when, healed, we get up and go forward pain free. No longer needing the crutch, we leave it behind without a thought.

Still, we are in the wilderness of life though. Still there is the threat of more injury. Still, if we let it, fear, can cause us to reach out for the security of that crutch. My leg is no longer broken. But in a fitful sleep I had imagined that it might soon be and I wanted my crutch. I had leaned on it for so long. It had learned to depend on it through so many miles of misery. It wasn't a comfortable old crutch, but it had been reliable. It was always there for me. I longed for my old crutch.

So, I write. I tell myself how glad I am to be free of the crutch. I remind myself how willingly God healed me. Me, an undeserving, rebellious, faithless addict, He healed. I show myself how disgusting that old crutch really was and how far back I'd have to go to get it. I persuade myself that fear must be dispensed with, replaced by love and trust.

Last night at recovery meeting another traveler reported of an enormous personal crisis she'd endured, how she'd overcome through prayer and carried on, rejoicing. She was shown that the larger the obstacle the greater the blessing.

As I wrote, God showed me the multitude of times He's been there for me. The many times He's helped me through. He helped me realize that I own nothing and that I've got to release my strangle hold of stuff. He encouraged me to step bravely into the darkness, trusting that enough would be revealed to keep my footing sure. I suspect if the light were actually cast upon my future I might fear it more than the darkness. "Nevertheless, I know in whom I have trusted..." I feel it in my heart.

This little writing exercise is about putting God back in the driver's seat. It's about sitting comfortably beside Him without wishing I had my own steering wheel, parachute equipped ejection seat, or at the very least, a brake on my side like the Driver's Ed teacher used to have. It's about surrendering my will to His. It's about reminding myself that I trust Him. After all He has never let me down. It's about remembering that my sober life is every bit as miraculous as Peter walking on the water. And about remembering why I and Peter are able to do so. It is about realizing that I'm looking at the wind and the waves instead of at the Master of ocean and earth and skies. It's about trust, love, faith and obedience. It's about knowing why I chose to come here in the first place. It's about the risk and peril, but it's also about freedom to choose. It's about putting fear, doubt and Satan aside. It's about stepping back into the arms of His love.

And so, I remain sober for yet another day.....

Friday, July 24, 2009

The Vietnam Mermorial Wall Visits Vernal Utah

Pioneer Day

I don't have many "pioneer" ancestors. Most of my stock came across the plains on a train.

Pioneers, by definition, break trail for the rest of us. I have read their stories and cannot begin to comprehend their faith, courage and determination. Not to mention their tenacity, resourcefulness, patience and persistence. As I drive around the valleys of the Inter Mountain West and see the little towns they built and observe the order they scratched out of the wilderness, I am utterly amazed.

This is hardscrabble country. Water is scarce. The toil and sacrifice that was applied to build homes, bring water to crops, establish roads, clear fields and build Temples is beyond my comprehension. We ride so easily, so unappreciatively down the roads they paved. In my own valley, I can't cross the canal without marveling at the monumental task it represents. As I kid I floated down it on inner tubes, took a weekly ditch full from it's generous banks to water pasture and garden, and never thought twice about the herculean effort it took the claw it out of the ground.

So it is with everything we enjoy. It came at a cost we cannot comprehend and we so easily take it for granted, hardly imagining the blessings we continue to enjoy at the hands of the Pioneers.

Years ago, in a far away land, I had an experience that forever changed my view of my connection with the Pioneers. It was in the Philippines. I was a traveling Elder just arriving, with my companion, Elder Justessen, on a ferry from Iloilo to the town of Batangas. As we walked out on the main street we saw a most surprising spectacle. Traffic had been stopped and a parade was in progress. It was a little parade; no more than twenty participants. There was a pretty big crowd watching though. I couldn't believe my eyes as I saw a little train of makeshift covered wagons and Mormon pioneers march by. It was the 24th of July! Tears rolled down my face as I gratefully watched these pioneers forge the way for the gospel in this bright new land. Joy filled my heart as I watched these sweet Filipino Saints lay claim to their Pioneer heritage.

No, they had no ancestors who walked across the plains either. But they belong to them just the same, as do we all.

I will always be grateful for the pioneers in my life. They have cleared the way for me in so many ways. Their blood may not flow in my veins, but they carry me on their shoulders and I carry them in my heart.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

And I Thought I Might Run Out of Material

"There's a bat in the house." she said, matter-of-factly. "What?" I answered in alarm!
"There's bat in the house. Nolly carried it in and sat it beside his food dish three days ago."
"Where is it?"
"Dunno. Flew off somewhere."
"And you're just getting around to telling me?"
"Kept forgetting to tell you."

First thought: An excuse to kill the cat!
Second thought: What an amazing woman.
Third thought: I wonder if it'll stink bad enough that we can find and dispose of it.

You need to know that this conversation didn't surprise me. Sweetie is a retired biology teacher. Stuff like this is not so unusual. I once opened the freezer to get an ice cream bar and found a frozen baby hedgehog in a sandwich bag. She didn't kill it, but since it died she thought it ought to be taken to school for show-and-tell or something.

Later we told Katie about the bat. She sort of freaked, but we calmed her down by giving it a name. Sweetie knew Kates found Edward of Twilight to be a bland, innocuous character unworthy of the story's potential, so we gave, posthumously I thought, that moniker to the creature. It worked. Katie somehow was settled by the inference that the bat too, was bland and innocuous. I hoped to help by repeating the name in a British accent, "Eddwudd, Eddwudd, Eddwudd." I put a little rattle in my voice giving it an Elmer Fudd overtone. The gals agreed that Stephanie Meyer's protagonist was about as interesting as Elmer Fudd and so was the bat. Turns out that neither was much of a Vampire either.

More after I get back from helping Kirk pour cement......

Back. Back ache......

As it happens, I haven't been sleeping well lately. Last evening was no exception. I'd caved and had a nap in the afternoon, compounding the problem. I read, 'til I finally got dozy around 12:30 AM. I crawled into bed without disturbing the doziness and conked off.

"Are you awake?"
"I am now."
"Are you too hot? Do you want the swamp cooler turned on?"
"I'm just right. How about you? Too hot?"
"No, I'm fine, just worried about you."

I got up and read some more. Dozy again at about 2:00 I crawled back into bed. I was dreaming about cliff diving at Lake Powell.

"The bat is hanging on the wall in the library."
"Would you please go help him find his way outside?"
"Yes dear."

I look at the clock. It's 2:37.

I ask, "What are you doing up anyway?."
"Too hot, couldn't sleep."

Am I expected to catch the subtle nuances, sleep deprived, in the middle of REM? I secretly wish I could, but I don't complain.

Eddwudd is the cutest little thing you ever saw. Nice rich brown coat of fur. Pleasant features. Rather tidy looking all in all. Sweetie shuts me in the library with him. I shudder momentarily, remembering a time in my youth in the Randlett Gym, shut in the furnace room with Brad and Aloin, two badminton rackets and about 400 bats. But I digress.

Regaining my composure I remove the screen hoping he'll turn on the SONAR and quickly fly out the window. He doesn't. I grab the Pik Stik, with it's pistol grip on one end and thumb and forefinger on the other. With an arm length and a three foot tool I feel pretty safe. I want to be gentle. Eddwudd is a bit put out to have his sleep disturbed by a mechanical hand. I'm sympathetic. Fearing I'll smush him, I can't quite pull him free of his grasp on the stippled wall. He flies across the room; clearly looking to avoid a confrontation. I relax a little. Sweetie passes a bottle through the door. That works and momentarily Eddwudd is a free bat. I wish him well as he flies off into the night. Hope he feels the same way about me. But then, I remember that he's bland and innocuous, so I don't expect a thank you card.

I read some more and achieved dreamland Nirvana around 4:00.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Darwin Stopped By

I have a very dear friend called Darwin. I love him. He reads my blog faithfully and he never comments. I doubt if he ever gets any compensation for the time he spends on my blog. I don't think he comes here for his benefit. He stops in to take my temperature.

Yesterday, after reading about the flooded basement, he hurried right over. Something in excess of 100 miles an hour I should expect. He needed to pay a house call to make certain I was as alright as I claimed to be. He knows me pretty well and is aware of my tendency to exaggerate toward the positive.

When God and life made Darwin, they threw away the mold. He is unique in every way. There isn't an ounce of conformist in his body. Because of this, he's hard to describe. You can hardly use a metaphor to describe an item that is one of a kind. He's crusty on the outside and tender in the middle but so is a croissant. Darwin is nothing like a croissant. His hair is short, neat and tidy except his ear and eyebrow hairs are total chaos. He's a teenager in a gray haired, weather beaten, leathery old body. Yet he possesses the wisdom of a sage. He's a rebel with a cause; also a rare thing these days. How can a blatant nonconformist be the straightest arrow I know?

In my younger years I often said I was in pursuit of the state of Crust. I wanted to become crusty, maybe even salty. Nobody could ever quite understand what I was trying convey in those words. I wanted to be unique, seasoned, confident and authentic. Perhaps if I could have showed them Darwin, they might have understood and helped me achieve such a lofty goal. Somewhere in the middle years I abandoned that quest and became something more like pudding. You don't have to exert yourself to achieve the state of Pudding. Pudding's what happens when you give up on your dreams. Still, life is good, and if it keeps applying the heat as it has lately, I might at least turn out to be Crème brûlée with a bit of thin crust on top.

Were you a fly on the wall here yesterday, you'd think I was Darwin's only and very best friend. His entire attention was focused on me. But you might have been a fly on the wall in a dozen other places yesterday, with a dozen other of his friends, and come to the same conclusion. Darwin's love and compassion, his zest and enthusiasm, his humor and sincerity are renown and enjoyed by hundreds across our little valley.

Anyway, I just wanted to take a second and thank him for his friendship, his kindness and most of all his love. Life is so much better with Darwin in it.

Evidence to the contrary (I watched Darwin grow up and grow old), I have a theory that he's actually one of the Three Nephite's in disguise. What's your theory Darwin?

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

A Flooded Basement

I had bigger plans. I had loftier goals for my day. But the basement flooded. I despise flooded basements. I can take almost anything but a flooded basement. It's like a magic magnifying glass that focuses all darkness into one intense spot of burning bile.

I don't think God or Satan plugged up the drain. It was an accumulation of guck brought to a crisis by an excessive amount of cabbage ground through the garbage disposal. It was, as it always is, a crisis brought on by my own procrastination. A crisis compounded by the neglect of not having the floor tidied up. So I'm not just cleaning up spilled water, but unswept sawdust, unstowed tools, and other detritus that clutter the floor.

Of course, my first thoughts, though, are about who else to blame. Who ground all the cabbage that should have gone into the compost heap. Who left laundry on the floor. This is all miserable enough without having to accept the blame for it.

I've done this often enough that I know it's best to do it alone. While I certainly could use some help, I don't want to have anyone around upon whom to vent my rage. So I grit my teeth, hunker down and hope everyone gives me a wide berth. They don't. I say hurtful things. Now I'm trying to avoid blaming someone else for my lack of emotional control as well.

Standing in water, I plug in the shop vac hoping I get electrocuted so I don't have to face this mess. No, wait, hoping I don't get electrocuted because I don't want to report to the other side in this condition. I want to go out sweet and kindly, not raving like a mad man. I have trouble deciding.

Clearly I hate the mess (and it wasn't so bad this time, because I still haven't managed to replace the carpet since the last time) but I hate the conflict even more. It intensifies the conflict in my heart and soul. I hate being forced to be honest with myself. I hate being forced to admit fault, neglect, procrastination. I hate having to deal with life that comes on any other terms than my own.

For weeks I've been telling myself that I can take life as it comes. "Bring it on!" I say. And then a simple little thing like a flooded basement reminds me that I hardly have the right stuff.

So I numbly settle down to the task at hand, I do the requisite chores, spend the requisite money, put on the knee pads and start running the snake, wondering what I'll find in the dark future of that smelly pipe. And aw, what the heck, might as well, since I'm down here - pray.

Now, a day later, the water's dried up. The stench isn't too bad. The drain's running better than it has for some time. The sun is out and my heart is light. The battle is won. A flooded basement turns out to be a blessing from Heaven and not a curse from Hell. What it turns out to be, after all, is a matter of my own choosing.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Frank McCourt Died Sunday

I consider Angela's Ashes to be one of the great books I've ever read. I suggest that you listen to it rather than read it however. McCourt reads it for you with his authentic Irish accent and his special warmth and humor. Don't miss it.

If you haven't listened to recorded books you are certain to have missed a treat. While books read by others are fine, those read my their authors are special. Some of my favorite author read books are The Bone Setter's Daughter by Amy Tan, Never Have Your Dog Stuffed by Alan Alda, The Measure of a Man by Sidney Poitier and of course Angela's Ashes. All are better listened to than read.

Of those not read by the author, but by someone else, The Number One Ladies Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith is a must!

Book Review - RELENTLESS by Dean Koontz

Pursued by unrelenting, seemingly unstoppable monsters, Cubby, Penny, Milo and Lassie flee for their very lives. It seems there's no place to hide.

Typical of Koontz and yet, as always, fresh and imaginative, the author warmly tells another cold and chilling story. His writing is, at once, light and breezy, tight and suspenseful, deep and insightful, fun and friendly. A few hours with Dean Koontz is always a respite in my busy, ordinary life. I love it.

I spoke the other day of the rare opportunities Josh and I had to celebrate our friendship. I mentioned how we rushed to catch up and frantically tried to drink of the waters of companionship sufficiently to keep us until the next visit. So it is with Dean Koontz. I consider him a trusted friend. It only takes seconds to catch up and then we plunge into another exciting conversation. While we have never met or spoken, it's become as if we know one another's thoughts, anticipate each other's needs, finish each other's sentences. Reading anyone else is like a lecture when compared with the confidential, private chat I get to have with Dean.

All of which, I anticipate with each of his novels, and yet I always come away surprised!

Can't wait for Dead and Alive, the third in Koontz's Frankenstein series, comes out later this month!

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Confessions of an STP

Jenny was released today from her calling as Primary President. She served faithfully for over three years. The Bishop told her that she wouldn't be on vacation for long because she's one of the few who does stuff. In other words she's an STP. You know - Same Ten People? Every Ward has them. They're the ones who are always there, always helping out. They're the ones you call on in a pinch and who can put things back together in a jiffy. STPs don't need prodding and never drop the ball.

Every Ward has them and every Bishop loves them. Who wouldn't? How could the Ward function without them?

I suppose people see me as an STP, certainly my sweetheart does. That makes me a little squeamish because I don't feel entirely comfortable with the concept. You see being an STP is not always what it seems. We easily admire, make use of and count on our STPs and there's the rub.
STPs aren't perfect either. In fact if they are like me, while they appear to be the foundation of the Ward, they can actually be an hindrance to the work.

As an STP I expected perfect performance from those around me. My feelings were often fraught with agravation toward those who couldn't perform to the level of my expectations. I taught myself to expect that they wouldn't and for the most part stopped using them. I was like the woman I knew who couldn't stand the kids in the kitchen. She'd rather do all of the kitchen duties herself, to her satisfaction, than to exercise the effort and patience required to teach her kids much desired kitchen skills. I wasn't building the Kingdom. I was too careful of my own resume'.

As an STP I often felt underappreciated for my efforts and hung around to finish the chores, not because they needed to be done, but rather to collect the receipts due me in the form of accolades. I knew they couldn't get along without me (which was a lie) and felt that no one adequately acknowledged that "fact."

I had myself convinced that the work couldn't go on in our Ward or Stake, without my magnificent efforts. I felt that others including my leaders were often in the way and that left to my own talents and achievements things would run much better than they were. I had no concept of the undeniable fact that God is in this work and that He will accomplish it not only without my help, but inspite of it. I was after all, capable, well trained, motivated and on the job. Too often I had thoughts akin to, "If I were Bishop things would operate better."

What motivated me? I was convinced that I had to earn my way into Heaven and that I was fully capable to doing so, at any cost, against any odds. I had the right stuff.

The irony is, that I might as well have been an antagonistic infiltrator. I didn't understand the Atonement at all. I didn't have charity for those less capable than I. I felt misused and abused. I felt self-righteous, an oxymoron if there ever was one. I thought I was indispensable. I thought I was on the right track.

I'm still not perfect, but I've come to understand a few things since my STP days. First, the church is operated by imperfect individuals who are all in different places on the path to perfection. If God wanted it otherwise He'd operate it Himself with a legion of Angels for his staff. This is not a flaw, problem or "fly in the ointment." It is part of the plan.

I've learned that less than perfect performance, even the occasional failure, are also part of the plan. Often those things teach us and build us and the Kingdom better than the flawless ones do. I once had a wonderful, motivating, well designed plan for a Scout Camp. The plan collapsed into utter disaster and from the ashes God created a miracle of unprecendented magnificence.

I've learned that finess and training cannot compensate for a lack of the Spirit and the presence of God's influence on the work. He has declared He will accomplish His work by means of the weak and humble. Time and again I've seen Him do that very thing. My training, my capacities and ulitimately my pride couldn't even approach the possibilites an humble servant could when simply an instrument in the Lord's hands.

I spent pulpit time scolding and shaming the less perfect and setting myself up as some kind of shining example. For that I am most deeply ashamed and have a heart full of regret. Meanwhile, humble, quiet, patient servants of the Lord carried on in quiet ways to bring about righteousness in our little part of the vinyard. No one would call them STPs I guess, but they touched the hearts of our children, wiped away bitter tears, quietly sustained their leaders, cared for their families, served their neighbors, admitted their weakness, lived the same way in private as they did in public, and patiently waited for me to wise up.

The vast majority of STPs are not like me. I really think that they, like Jenny, get it. To you who are like me, take heart. While you may not be as far up the path as you think you are, you are on the path and God will take you where He needs you to be. He will help you find a reason to be humble and if then, humility is what you choose, you will yet accomplish His work.

I'm grateful for STPs. I hope we always have them. I hope I will be one. I hope there are fewer like me and more like my friends Leon, Marquita, Greg, Kirk, Dorraine, Josh, Toni, Jenny, John, Elva, Arvel, Phylis, Paul, Lori, Randall, Billy, Helen, John, Karl, Paula, Maureen, Kim, Wayne, Terrill, Tonya, Eric, Ann, Tami, Kim, Melissa, Dennis, Jon, Julie, Jim, Beverly, Pat, Rosemary, Mary Lou..... this list goes on and on just in my own Ward and since I haven't attended there for five years there are so many I don't know or have overlooked, for which I sincerely appologize. It isn't the Same Ten People after all maybe its the Same Thirty-nine People, or more.....

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Joshua Robert Graham - September 24, 1970 to July 14, 2009

I just returned from the funeral of my dear friend Josh Graham. So bitter sweet.

Josh was born in Alaska, in a little town called Bethel. He married Toni Richardson from Vernal. I shall ever be grateful she brought him here and that circumstances prevailed that kept them in our Ward and connected with my life.

We were friends from the outset and our friendship grew from there. We often laughed at how frantically we caught up during the rare moments we could catch together. Our duties and lives barely overlapped, so we rarely saw one another. I often dreamed of a time when the overlap would be larger and we had the luxury of lots of companionship.

He served as my Bishop, as I mentioned on Friday, but I was out of the Ward on another assignment all of that time. There was a precious time when he was my Gospel Doctrine teacher. Never, did the gospel come alive as it did in his class. He was brilliant in mind and manner. His view of the gospel was fresh, real, correct and joyful. He shared that with us every week and I relished it openly.

He was more frugal than I, especially early in our friendship, and often lamented that I had all the toys. By that I mean kites, puzzles, and minor amusements. I loved sharing them with him because of the childlike pleasure he had in such things.

His ambition far surpassed my own and was apparent in everything around him. He would purchase blighted houses in our neighborhood and fix them up nicely and sell them. Everything around him was improved by his presence. While there are a myriad of reasons why he wasn't permitted to stay among us and while we'll have a long wait to discover what they are, I have one suspicion. God knows the day and hour of his coming. If Josh had been allowed to tarry the world would have been ready too soon. Josh was a builder. He built homes, hearts, lives and courage. He built opportunity and hope. He built friendship, confidence and love wherever he went.

Josh was a landlord in a time when other property owners were gouging renters at unfair and outrageous prices. A practice that seriously harmed our community. Josh refused to be party to it. Grateful and blessed were the people who were lucky to rent from him. He flourished without taking advantage which afforded a lot of wonderful time with his family as they traveled together. What a blessing that he didn't allow greed to steal those precious times and memories from those he loved the best.

His dear Toni seems utterly bereft. They were as one in their marriage and friendship as any couple I've ever known. I struggle with facing a future with out his companionship, I can't imagine how devastating the loss must be for her. She is, however, Josh's match and will rise to this challenge with courage and conviction. It looks as if half of her is gone and even she might wonder how she can hobble along as half of what once was. She will discover, though, that he's not gone, and that she and he are yet one whole. They didn't get this fine and good alone and she will never be lacking the strength that they are. It won't be the same, but their oneness, will never be sundered, not now or in the eternities.

I have the conviction that some, not all, of the whisperings of the Spirit, I've received since my Father's passing, were spoken by my Dad. I remain a part of his Stewardship and he's fulfilling that assignment faithfully. Josh has not been released as the head of his family either. He will fulfill that stewardship as faithfully now as he did in mortality. Josh's seat will no longer polish the piano bench beside her, nor will his head compress the pillow, but he will be there and she, noble daughter of God and faithful companion to Josh that she is, will feel it.

Will life be easy? Hasn't been so far. But I look forward to seeing what they yet accomplish together, both here and beyond.

These are tender hours of sorrow, grief and pain, but no regrets. Not with Josh, he was perfect.
I'll miss him.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Insufficient Faith?

A dear friend, Josh Graham, passed away this week. His viewing is this evening, funeral tomorrow. He's a young man, with a young family. He'd been our Bishop for the past nine or so months. He was diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia just a week before being called to lead our Ward. His youngest daughter was born a few weeks later.

Another friend is struggling enormously with this; wondering if his faith had been sufficiently strong, might Josh have survived. I have not had the chance to speak with him on the matter, but here's what I'd suggest. Faith has little to do with what we want and everything to do with what we desire.

I guess it is easy to assume that having a desire to save Josh is a good thing and should be the focus of our faith. Most of us have seen this very thing occur. Someone got sick, the Ward fasted and prayed, exercised their faith and the person got better. Have we not noticed that in other cases someone got sick, the Ward fasted and prayed, exercised their faith and he died? Clearly, we don't like to consider cases like the latter. Who wouldn't prefer the former?

Trouble is we commonly don't understand faith, or fasting and prayer either. Our faith should be centered in God, not in Josh's recovery. True faith has little to do with the results and everything to do with the outcome. True faith is in God. I love a little quote from a church video called Finding Faith in Christ, "Faith is knowing that good will come of whatever happens to us."

When we learn to have that kind of faith we can have the kind of experience in life that will exalt us. When we entered into the arrangement that allowed for our mortal experience here on earth we had that kind of faith. In the premortal life we knew the terms and conditions of mortality. We knew it would be fraught with risk. Risk of pain, suffering, loss and sorrow, magnificent experience and incredible, unimaginable joy. We accepted that risk because we trusted God and had complete faith in His Son.

There is nothing wrong with pleading for Josh's life. But faith has to be centered in God's will, trusting Him, entirely, to do what He sees fit. There is no shame in disappointment that God saw fit to take, rather than heal Josh. No shame in sorrow for his passing. No recriminations for mourning this very tragic, heart breaking loss. But faith is manifest in trusting in God and his purposes and not in beating ourselves up because our faith or our fasting wasn't sufficient to twist God's arm in our favor. Fasting is designed to humble us and help us to submit willingly and freely to God's will. Fasting was not designed as a means to manipulate God into doing our will. Sacrifice is not a payment in exchange for a blessing, it is an offering of willingness to be obedient and submissive to the divine will of One wiser than we, who is entirely intent on what is perfectly best for us.

How is it that in the true church, so many of us have such misbegotten notions that we think we can have enough faith so as to force God's hand? Do we not understand God any better than that? How is it that so many of us spend our prayers directing God around the heavens and universe, rather than taking direction from Him? Why can't we see that God is the center of the Universe, not ourselves. I know these notions exist because I've had them myself! How is it?

When God declares in Moses 1:39 "For behold, this is my work and my glory--to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man." He isn't kidding! Faith is accepting Him for His word. God has none other objective in Josh's life than to bring to pass his immortality and eternal life. Josh's death was not a set back, but a step forward in that process. God has the same thing in mind for Toni and the kids too! Exaltation is all He has in mind for them, all. Faith is knowing that, through and through.

Judging our Faith by results is horrendous! There is in this world, among God's people, sufficient faith to move mountains. Perhaps we should include Mountain Moving as an Olympic event! We could keep records and statistics and really have a time of it. Preposterous!

Faith reveals itself in outcomes. In quiet lives that go on in the face of tragedy, knowing that a loving Father in Heaven is at the helm, will do what's best and see us, all, through. We started this life hopeful of a divine outcome, insisting on anything short of that is just settling for comfortable, short-term results.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Little Hole


This week I had the good fortune to meet my first native Inuit. What a fine, amiable, gentleman he is. His name is Curtis. My nephew Corey taught school in Curtis' home village of Nuiksut, Alaska. On the north slope between Barrow and Prudoe Bay, Nuiksut is about as remote as it gets. You might conclude that folks from so far away with such a unique culture would be back woodsy in some way. Not so with Curtis.

I have long admired the Inuit. Curtis kindly taught me that "Eskimo" is pretty much the E word these days. Hearty, independent, friendly, resourceful are all appropriate descriptions for a people who live in one of the harshest environments on the planet. To get an idea of what I mean, you might take a look at an old film recorded in the 1920's called Nanuk of the North.

If you watch the film you'll note that despite unforgiving conditions Nanuk and his family were joyful, optimistic and courageous, not just some of the time, but day in and day out, month after month, year after year. The film depicts Nanuk taking his whole family and a dozen dogs onto the ice for the entire winter. Nanuk had to feed all of those mouths on a daily basis. He also had to provide shelter and move to a new location virtually every day. A life that seems unthinkable to me. This culture and way of life is so utterly foreign to me that it might as well have taken place on another planet.

A few things struck me hard. First, despite what I would consider too hard for existence, they were obviously happy, warm hearted, uncomplaining and joyful. Second as different as their life style was, there remained more similarities, between those people and we people, than differences. An example came as Nanuk was finishing an igloo. The family had gone inside for the shelter. As Nanuk was putting on the finishing touches, his wife came out and a discussion ensued. He seemed a bit put out; she seemed very insistent. Finally, Nanuk shrugged, smiled and set about cutting a block of clear ice which he replaced for a block of snow in the igloo wall. She had wanted a window.

The Inuit place markers across the tundra for direction in a land with few and shifting landmarks. They stack stones in the shape of a man to be their guide to shelter, food and of course home. I learned about Inuksuit (pl) on our trip to Newfoundland. They are a reminder of my need for others to show me the way. We don't get through life on our own. We need the wisdom, experience and pioneering of others to help us along.

Meeting Curtis, was to me, a chance to pay respect to a great people of courage and determination, who know how to live simply and elegantly in a harsh world. The intrusion of the modern cultures into their lives has been tough on the Inuit as is has on most all native cultures. Some have lost their way in a world too fast, cluttered, materialistic and cold. Curtis doesn't seem lost at all. He is marching into a wider wilderness, with the same cheer, courage, optimism and confidence that Nanuk did not so very long ago.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Zion Narrows

We departed from Corey's house at 4:00 AM for what I'll always consider the excursion of a life time, a 16 Mile hike through Zion Narrows! I must admit I had a bit of trepidation attempting this at my age. I'm four days shy of my 59th birthday.

Susan was so kind to shuttle us. We drove to the main Visitor's Center in Zion National Park and dropped off Corey's van. Then up through the tunnels and on to Chamberlain ranch to begin the hike. Susan saw us off and went home the short way, by way of Navajo Lake, driving my Yukon.

We started by fording the creek, the air was 40 degrees, the water, colder. Susan was driving away and fleetingly I thought, "What have I done?" There was no turning back. The first few miles is a pleasant walk down a road within the ranch. Eventually, though the canyon narrows and we were forced to walk in and out of the creek the rest of the way. Early on the going is easy, progress fast and we began to assume that the predicted 12 hours for the journey was for slow pokes, not us.

The scenery was wonderful, the temperature cool and the companionship great! I loved hearing of Corey's passion for geography and teaching. He's found a great niche coaching soccer and is so influential in the lives of the kids he touches. He spoke of his plans for next week, showing his Inuit friend, Curtis, around Utah and Nevada. He's got his days booked solid and I was amazed he could or even would squeeze in an excursion with me. Corey has lots of friends and I found myself suspecting it was so because no single friend could keep up with him. His zest for life, though, is contagious and rubs off on me and everyone else!

Most slot canyons I've been exposed to don't have continuous running water. This one though is the water course of the Virgin river and always has good flow. You have stay out on days when thunderstorms are possible. It is quickly obvious that there are times when the water level is way higher and fatally dangerous. We clambered over occasional log jambs that displayed the enormous power a flash flood can carry. In such a confined space it would be difficult, if not impossible to climb high enough to get out of the way.

There was a wonderful 20' water fall and a convenient detour to bypass it. Ferns of various kinds and lovely Monkey Flower hung from seeps in the walls. At one point the slot is just six or seven feet wide and 2000' deep. We were in the shade much of the time.

The bottom eight miles is quite grueling. In the water 60 percent of the time stumbling over submerged, moss covered cobble rocks, described as walking on underwater bowling balls - for miles. We didn't see another soul for the first eight hours of the journey. After that we encountered several folks who came up from the canyon's mouth. One group of Scouts caught up with us from the rear, though we actually finished before most of them.

I took a pair of hiking sticks which were wonderful in helping keep my balance in the current and over the slippery rocks. It would have been exhausting constantly adjusting my balance and gathering myself up from spills. There were times of wading neck deep through slow spots, but those were refreshing and easy buoyant moments we enjoyed. There were times you could see only a sliver of sky above. I love geology and the formations, patterns and colors of the rock were fantastic. Too bad we almost became jaded at the scenery after so many hours in the canyon. We felt a little pressed for time and spent a bit too much of it hunkered down in the business of moving along the difficult stream bed rather than enjoying the pristine beauty that surrounded us.

We finished fifteen minutes short of the average time of 12 hours. Much less exhausted than we had anticipated. In fact feeling rejuvenated and refreshed by the challenge, the conversation, the break from routine and the companionship of God in His creation. The shuttle ride to the car was sweet, contemplative and still amongst the most spectacular majesty to be found anywhere.

Supper at Alberto's was fine authentic tasting Mexican food. I couldn't believe how Hurricane had grown since I was there years ago.

Thanks Corey, and Susan, for a wonderful day I shall never forget.
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