Tuesday, August 31, 2010

There's a Chill in the Air

I'm still in my shirt sleeves on my morning walk; but it feels like it won't be long before jacket weather.  We're coming up on my favorite season.  I have always loved the fall.  September especially.  The food is always best this time of year.  Fresh tomatoes, peaches, corn on the cob, pears, apples, air, abound.  It all tastes so good and inviting.  It tastes like success.  It tastes like God is good.  It tastes like pay day.  The fruit of our labors offering satisfaction and yet so full of humility because we're utterly dependent upon God for the harvest.  It is the time I'm most reminded of his love for us.  He didn't have to make the first frost tip the balance of sugar in a Golden Delicious apple to make it so luscious and sweet; but He did.  He didn't have to make the flavor of a fresh peach blend so well with the sweet smooth quality of cream.  He did have to, but it seems clear that He wanted to make our sojourn here a pleasant one.

I live in a desert.  Here we don't take rain for granted.  We manage the water carefully and count it an enormous blessing.  We've been through drought years and we've seem miraculous crops, when we expected none.  We grow wonderful hay in the most awful looking soil and bow in gratitude that something grows in this harsh and barren landscape.  We have sufficient for our needs; not only thanks to generous Providence but also to the foresight and industry of our fore-bearers.  Men and women who scraped out the canals, built the dams and developed the systems that enable us to have water for the entire growing season in a land that is lucky to get 10 inches of rainfall in a year.  This is a land of hopes and dreams and most of all faith.  Faith that for yet another year there will be crops to sustain us.  We never take that for granted.  We can't.  It's like standing on the ridge of a steep roof.  So much depends on balance.

I love September too because school begins again.  I always reset my calendar and my goals and dreams at this time of year rather than the first of January.  This time of year I am excited that I truly had a clean slate and so much to look forward to.  January was always so dreary and bogged down beneath snow and darkness and unfulfilled dreams from September.  This was the time of year that we received the bounty of last year's efforts and it seemed to be the right time to commence the challenges of next year.  It was the time of new clothes, empty notebooks, new ideas, new friends, and ever present bounty.  This is the time of results.  What better time to anticipate the next round of them.

Another important transition begins for me in September.  This is the end of the survival mode of living.  We've about got things tucked away for the winter.  Food in the pantry, so to speak.  Now commences   the more contemplative, restorative portion of the year.  The time to sit and read by the fire.  The time to mend the equipment and the bruises and bumps of a tough year.  Time to let the horses go unshod and fatten up on what's popping up in the hay field after the last cutting.  Time to learn, to plan, to dream, to relax, to indulge and to appreciate.

I think it is no wonder that the more prosperous societies have long been in the northern climes where the seasons change.  Perhaps it is because we had to be industrious to survive.  Likely so.  Don't think though, that the refreshing changes the seasons bring have a lot to do with keeping us motivated and looking forward. I've noticed that I'm seldom looking back as the seasons change.  This time of year I'm looking forward to cooler weather.  Toward the end of Fall I'm looking forward to long quiet evenings to enjoy reading and conversation.  By the end of Winter I can barely wait for flowers and greenery.  As summer approaches I'm longing for less wind and more steady weather and a chance to get outside and sweat a little.  Never am I looking back wishing for more of what I've just had.

When we lived in Southern California, I never had such sensations.  The weather didn't seem to change.  The sky was always the color of dirty dish water and temperature hardly varied.  It was so boring to have nothing startlingly different to look forward to.  I'll take a nasty bitter cold blizzard or a sultry hot swelter, or a week of tree bending wind, or an unexpected cold snap in early September over monotony any day.

I've been known to walk into the Bureau of Indian Affairs and ask for the weather chief.  When asked, "why," to explain that I just needed to thank someone for another wonderfully long and beautiful Indian Summer.  We get those quite regularly around here and I just want to thank the BIA for doing such a tremendous job!  Still, at the end of Indian Summer there is nothing quite so thrilling as that first snow fall.  You know, the one with the great big flakes that drift so slowly down you can ask them about the wife and kids before they melt on your tongue.  But I digress.  No point in missing fall for looking on to winter.

I'm going out to crunch some walnuts on the road and hit a fruit stand or two.  That'll do for today.  Tomorrow it will be corn on the cob from Brad's.  In a couple of weeks it'll be the smell of walnut leaves as I rake.  So much to enjoy.  So much to look forward to.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Utah Book Bloggers' Summer Social

I had a great time at the Utah Book Bloggers' Summer Social.  It was held along the Jordan River in Sandy on Saturday evening.  More details can be found at It's All About Books!.

I had intended to go with Booklogged, my Sweetie, but her mother is awfully ill and she elected to say by her side.  Sweetie insisted that I go though and I'm all about pleasing Sweetie.  I owe her big time and any progress toward paying the enormous debt I owe her, is a privilege.

I'm new to this scene and arrived totally unacquainted with the group.  That didn't last long.  Everyone was so kind and friendly.  I quickly relaxed and had a great time.  It helps to have a common interest, though ordinarily, the books I read were utterly un-heard-of in this crowd.  The gender and generation gaps are very obvious.  Thankfully, a few husbands turned up or I'd have felt like a fox in a hen house.  It was good for me to meet some very fine authors, who surprisingly, are ordinary folks like you and me!

Thanks Suey and Natasha for a great time!  I hope to be there again next time!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Book Review - Pelagie, The Return to Acadie by Antonine Maillet

Three years ago Sweetie and I found ourselves in Cheticamp, Nova Scotia at dinner time.  We stopped at Restaurant Acadien for dinner.  Cheticamp claims to be the heart of L'Acadie or in English, Acadia.  The food had a home cooked, family style nature to it and was wholesome and simple.  Attached to the restaurant was a cute gift shop with lots of locally created crafts and trinkets.  We like to learn more about the local culture through books and found Pelagie on a shelf there.  The idea is to enhance the enjoyment of our trip by returning there in local literature upon our arrival home.

L'Acadie covered much of the Maritime Provinces of Canada and some of New England.  The French first sent settlers to the area in 1604.  England and France skirmished and negotiated over the area several times.  In the summer of 1755 at the out break of the French and Indian war, an American extension of the Seven Years War between France and England, the British claimed control of Acadia and violently uprooted and deported the Acadians who refused to swear an oath of allegiance to the King of England.  They were scattered abroad from Boston to Louisiana and around the Caribbean basin.  Those who gathered in the bayous of Louisiana became what are now known as the Cajuns, a corrupted form of the word Acadians.

Widow of the Great Disruption (what they called the time of deportation) Pelagie LeBlanc and her children, who'd wound up in Georgia, scratched up a cart and six oxen and after 15 years in exile; determined to go home.  They set out in 1770 and crossed the continent South to North over the course of the next ten years.  You will surely notice that it was the same ten years as the American Revolution.  This little marvel chronicles the hardship, travail, joy and triumph of that epic journey.  The journey became more than a long trip home, it became about the preservation of a people, a history and a culture.

Pelagie, The Return to Acadie was originally written in French and was the first foreign novel to receive France's highest literary honor, the Prix Goncourt.  I would love to have been able to read it in French.  The English translation by Philip Stratford is masterful, though and did wonderful justice to the original.

The Acadians were mostly illiterate at the time and so many of the stories of the Great Disruption have been passed down in legend and tale.  The book was written in that style.  Written as though an old storyteller was sharing it with company around the hearth.  As the story is told, the audience, interjects their vocalized comments, contrary versions and exclamations.  The book is written as the collective voice of modern Acadie as if gathered to recite again the wonderful story of the woman who climbed the continent gathering Acadians as she went.  Pelagie-the-cart she is called, accompanied by Belonie the chinwagging centenarian storyteller.  The voice in the book is Louis-a-Belonie-a-Belonie-a-Thaddee-a-Belonie-le-Vieus Mailett, great grandson of the old chinwagger himself, whose mission was to follow the footsteps of his storytelling predecessors.  Also in attendance is Pelagie-the-Grouch, daughter of Pelagie-a-Madeleine-a-Pelagie-the-Cart.  Each has something to say about the ancestor whose name they bear.  Actually, a little more than something.  And of course the audience consists of descendants of other characters who have their own traditional two bits to toss in.

At first I didn't understand the style and found it difficult to read.  I persisted though, 'on account of because' it was such a captivating story.  Well before the half-way point though, I had caught on and really enjoyed being part of the group, often interjecting an exclamation of my own!

Read this book!  It is an absolute delight.  My heart is warmed toward L'Acadie and I can barely wait to go spend more time with her unique and beautiful people.  Merci'!

Five enthusiastic stars!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Missing the Fountain at the Rexall Drug

As a young High School student I worked at Ashton's Department Store.  I took my breaks on the corner at the Uintah Rexall Drug.  Oh how I wish I could still stop in there for a bit to eat.  Marion Swain operated the fountain and fixed the finest food.  If I stopped by for a morning break I almost always had a sweet roll and a glass of milk.  This was not just any sweet roll.  They were made in Ashton's bakery by Twila and Dolly and were wonderful.  Marion took those and made them out of this world!  She'd take the bonnet off a nice sticky stack of them, select the biggest one for me and toss it on the grill.  Then with a Wooster paint brush she'd slather it with melted butter and let it warm and get crispy and caramelized around the edges.  She'd place it on a plate with a fork and serve it with tall glass of whole milk.  I'd probably weight 400 pounds if she were still there serving up that delicacy.

For lunch I always had her salad plate.  A dinner plate loaded with equal portions of cottage cheese, tuna-macaroni salad, the best* potato salad in the world, and green salad with a few cello-wrapped saltines.  Oh my goodness was it good stuff.  This evening I finished off a batch of tuna macaroni salad with some cottage cheese and wished I had the rest to round out my meal.  It was homemade, wholesome and just plain good food.  I had it every lunch there for two years.

My afternoon break was just as consistent.  I had a root-beer float with scooped, real ice-cream.  You can't make a good root-beer float with soft ice-cream.  It just doesn't melt right, nor seem as creamy and delicious.

Marion was like a grandmother to me.  I ate at her table more often than I did at home.  I loved to visit with her.  While she cooked or did the dishes.  She had dish pan hands, her hair tied up in a net and a resolute determination to do her job well.  I always sat there by myself, usually during off hours when the crowds weren't there.  People came and went I'm sure but all I remember was Marion.  That is until one fateful day.

I was in this very marching band.  It had a little more class in those days.  The Drum Major is my good friend Keith.  You can see both Ashton's and the Uintah Rexall Drug in this photo.  Also Bobbie's Dress Shop where Sweetie worked.
I had quit Ashton's and was working as a surveyor.  One day I happened to be in town in the early afternoon and, for old time's sake, stopped in to see Marion.  The place was hopping and the only stool was right next to a pretty girl I was remotely acquainted with.  We had a good visit over our meals.  I have no idea what she had, but of course I had the salad plate.  Marion gave me a wink of approval as I sat beside someone she obviously approved of.  As we parted I paid for the young lady's meal, which she graciously accepted as she has thousands of times since.  She became my sweetheart, my wife and the love of my life.  And *her mother's potato salad is even better than Marion Swain's.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Welcome Home Whitey!

Today I'm re-embarking on a wonderful adventure that began three years ago.  My neighbor and friend Whitey has Alzheimer's.  Shortly after I retired from UPS and upon our return from Newfoundland, Betty began calling occasionally to have me help with Whitey.  He'd slip out of his recliner and onto the floor and she'd need help getting him back up - things like that.  By December, I was over there four or five times a day.  He was losing his ability to walk and poor Betty was beside herself trying to give him the loving care she hoped to.

Any wife would have a hard time deciding his care was beyond her capacity; and so it was with Betty.  We shed a lot of tears and Betty struggled with such a conflicting decision.  Most Alzheimer's patients don't last as long as Whitey has.  The 2 1/2 years he was in the Care Center were fraught with seizures and other difficulties, but those have ceased and his care has become simpler as he is not at risk of injury as he's utterly unable to change positions, even in bed.  A couple of months ago, another woman in a similar situation suggested that Betty might now be able to bring her husband home.  She resisted.  But the notion began to grow and blossom into a possibility.  Betty was certain that she couldn't do it alone.

As we've compared notes; on the day that I felt inspired to quit seeking employment and stay home to write, Betty felt impressed to ask me to assist her with bringing her husband home and in his daily care.  She didn't feel she could ask me though, not knowing what I was up to.  A few days later, Betty and I bumped into one another at the Walking Park and walked a few loops together.  As we conversed I told her of my plans and of the huge leap of faith I was making as I knew it could be many months before I realized any revenue from writing.  Her own issues suddenly clarified and she dared ask.  Having already assisted with Whitey a lot and being blessed with such a disposition as I have; it was easy to say, "Yes!"  Betty will help me with a little income, though I won't be accepting nearly what she offered.  I don't consider this a job, but an opportunity to serve.  So, I calculated what would be just sufficient for my needs and intend to accept nothing more.  I couldn't bear to profit from Betty's misfortune.  Of course she will save a large amount of money as the Care Center is very expensive.

Anyway, we brought Whitey home today.  Several of his Priesthood brethren turned out for the occasion.  Betty had asked for a couple of guys to help me lift him up the steps and into the house.  Eight men showed up!  It was a quiet celebration of sorts as we welcomed him home.  A couple of sweet ladies from the Care Center, who'd accompanied him home were also there to bid him goodbye.  You could tell they loved him and would indeed miss him.  Thank Heaven for the Care Center and the good people who love and care for so many who need to be there.  Thank Heaven for the Care Center Branch who serve their spiritual needs during their stay.

Now to the task at hand.  I'll still be writing most of the time.  But every few hours I'll run over and help where I'm needed.  Periodically, I'll be spelling Betty while she goes to the Temple, to a bridal shower or out to lunch with friends.  I'm thrilled to be able to help.  These are wonderful people for whom I have great love and respect.  If I can play a tiny part in improving the quality of their lives together, it will be the joy of a lifetime.

Sweetie and I will be doing our share of commiserating as she's currently the primary caregiver for her own ailing mother.  We both have remarked that these days of service and love are priceless beyond measure.

The other night Betty took a son and his family to dinner with Whitey and the Rest Home.  They ate pizza while he had his pureed dinner.  As they were leaving, Betty gave him a kiss and Whitey, who has only spoken gibberish for years said, "You're a wonderful woman."  What a blessed, tender mercy.  I believe that Whitey's spirit is still conscious, even though his mind is completely confused.  I believe that one day we will know, that his spirit was able to use that poor decrepit body to convey his love to his devoted wife.

I am certain that I will count myself fortunate to have witnessed the eternal bond of love and friendship that persists through deepening trials in the lives of these fine Saints.


Yesterday I spoke in Church on the topic of Trusting God.  The Spirit attended in abundance and we rejoiced at a marvelous opportunity to learn.  Our attention was focused on the fact that God will direct our lives if we will seek His guidance and be willing to obey His instructions.

I have been impressed with the Alcoholics Anonymous 11th Step Prayer, "Lord, what would Thou have me do today?  Please give me the strength to do it?"  These words are the focus of my prayers.  Of course I spend a lot of time in gratitude in my prayers as well.  There are other requests.  Requests for things I have no direct influence over.  Still these words are the most productive words in any prayer.  I have found that my prayers get answered a lot more quickly and effectively if I ask Father what I should be doing, rather than if I spend my prayers telling Him what He should be doing.

If it troubles you that my prayer comes from AA, then you might be more at ease with this:
Paul, en route to Damascus to persecute the Saints, saw a light from heaven and heard the voice of the Lord. Then Paul asked a simple eight-word question--and the persistent asking of the same question changed his life. "Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?" (Acts 9:6). The persistent asking of that same question can also change your life. There is no greater question that you can ask in this world. "Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?" I challenge you to make that the uppermost question in your life.  (Ezra Taft Benson)

The more completely I focus my attention on that great quest, the happier and more productive I become.  The other neat thing I've discovered as I attempted to implement President Benson's advice is that God never asks me to give anything I haven't got.  He most certainly stretches me.  Certainly, he pushes me out of my comfort zone on occasion.  Never, though, doesn't He make requests of things I am not prepared to deliver.

Best of all, I've learned, like Nephi, that God always provides a way for us to keep His commandments.  Even the little daily ones.

So, why is this bit about repenting?  Because, yesterday when I got home from Church and Sweetie had gone to her Mother's and Katie had gone off to her Singles Ward.  I asked that question. "What would Thou have me do today Lord?  I got my answer; I was to take some extra peaches around to the ladies I home teach and to a couple of friends.  I didn't do it though.  Instead I went and took a nap.  I could have done both, but I napped too long and by the end of the day felt quite hollow and unfulfilled.  I asked forgiveness as I closed the day in prayer and committed to do better today.

I had the best morning going around to see Paul and Phylis, Billie, Lynne and Norma.  Each blessed my life with good cheer and sweet conversation.  To think I might have enjoyed that yesterday and had today to do something else.  It is a good reminder to keep on my toes.  Essentially, God told me yesterday to go out and have a pleasant, uplifting, fulfilling Sabbath afternoon, but I was too lazy to be so blessed.  What a lesson.  What a life!

Saturday, August 21, 2010

What a World!

The little kids and I were up early this morning to go to the Farmer's Market.  My tomatoes haven't done well this year and I've a hankering for BLT's this evening.  Apparently nobody's tomatoes have done very well.  Booth after booth had squash that looked wonderful.  Only one had a few pretty puny tomatoes.  The seller affirmed that it had been a very tough summer for tomatoes.  I bought her out of her ripest ones.

Megan stopped by a booth where a fellow was selling hand carved walking sticks.  He also had a couple of little wooden outhouses on display.  He handed Megs a quarter and suggested she put it in the slot at the top of the outhouse.  I assumed it was meant to be a bank.  When she dropped the quarter there was aloud pop and the outhouse fell to pieces.  Jeff was pretty sure she'd ruined it, but Megan wasn't fooled.  She knew it was a prank and she got a pretty big kick out of it.

My friend Lee had a booth of Artisan Bread.  I bought a yummy looking loaf of Parmesan encrusted goodness.  I love this means of free expression.  Anyone can show up there and peddle their wares.  It interests me to see who's good at what.

One fellow was selling eggs and freshly slaughtered chickens.  I wished I had fewer eggs in the fridge.  Fresh eggs are so good.  Megan wants to raise chickens.  Jeff thinks the rabbits are enough.  I agree with Jeff.

There were a few booths of hand crafted trinkets and jewelery.

A young couple were selling Grand Junction peaches that were wonderful and fresh.  I bought a box.  While I'm seriously trying to lose weight, once a year I have to binge on peaches and cream for a couple of days.  I'll get my fill this evening and maybe tomorrow and then I'll look forward to August for another full year.  I like the notion of restraint.  If I had peaches and cream often they wouldn't mean nearly so much to me.  Plus the gluttony would not only dull my senses but destroy my health.  One precious indulgence in peaches and cream a year makes them seem like heaven.  The same goes for bacon.  Though, even at it's best bacon seems more terrestrial than celestial.  But hey, I like earth a lot!  I just expect to like heaven better.

So, a pleasant morning staking our claim to a quieter simpler, more down to earth way of exchanging things gives way to the computer and another note.  As I sit down to write though, I'm interrupted by an alert that my friend and cousin Steve is on line.  I open Oovoo and up he pops, live on my screen.  Steve's living in Connecticut, two time zones away; but for now we're sitting in the same room.  Both of us have books for a back drop.  How fitting.  What a miracle!  We sit in our own quiet homes and visit face to face as if we were across the desk from one another.  He's just got back from a long bike ride and as we share our mornings we get as sense of why the prophets longed to live in our day.  We joke and laugh, update our histories, and move along, knowing we're not that far apart after all.

It's been a rather startling morning.  So simple, yet so grand.  So ordinary, while being so miraculous.  How is it that we could be so very blessed.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Doctor, Doctor

I took Mom to the hospital this morning for a scheduled procedure.  She's become so tiny and frail.  At eighty-eight she's still an amazingly resilient and resolute person.  I am clearly just her ride.  She's fully in charge of everything else.

I leave her in the lobby while I run over to her doctor's office for some papers.  Arriving there too early I sit down next to Max.  I haven't seen him for years.  He's grown older and slower.  We've both grown past the old religious confrontations that don't seem to matter so much any more.  We chat for a few minutes about growing up in Jensen and him losing his dad at age eight.  The nurse calls him in to the examination room and he looks pretty old as his eighty year old frame, still large, but stooped marches resolutely through the door.

My papers in hand I head back down the hall to the hospital proper.  There I encounter Leonard and Nell. Leonard is just learning to maneuver a wheel chair.  Nell hasn't changed much, but Leonard looks much older and drawn.  His robust good cheer hasn't changed a bit though.  A more engaged, encouraging, delightful man, I've never known.  I'm clearly a peripheral friend.  We belong to different churches, circles, age groups, everything; yet Leonard always makes me feel like I'm his best friend.  He wants to know what I'm doing these days and I tell him I'm writing a book.  He encourages me on that too, but we're both in a hurry to appointments and so we have to move on.

In the radiology lobby and while Mom has her treatment, I find Cindy and her mother-in-law.  I saw them on a visit to another doctor yesterday.  Cindy's husband Jim and I are good friends.  We sold camp trailers together.  He's a baptist preacher and I've attended his tiny congregation.  Yesterday, when I met Jim's mother I made some smart remark about tough women who could put up with a character like Jim.  His mom seemed pretty offended that I would say anything disparaging about her perfectly darling son.  (Jim's 60 years old.)  Today I decide I'd better make it up to her so I mention that Jim is a good friend for whom I bear deep respect.  She replies, "You can't pull the wool over my eyes.  I raised him and believe me, he's no angel."  She got me both times.  Something I'd expect from Jim.

Then Cindy pipes up with a open raucous laugh.  "You know," she says, "I was supposed to be picking him up right now from a Colonectomy."  She obviously meant Colonoscopy.  "But he got here all prepped this morning, only to discover that his appointment was for next week!"  She laughs and laughs.  "You know how well he listens - with his mouth."  I'm thinking poor Jim, now he has to go through all that prep and nasty gut cleansing treatment - all over again.  Cindy says, "He's had a good practice run."  "More like practice runs,"  I amend.  Now I'm laughing, holding my ribs.

Jim's mother gets back from her x-ray.  Jim is clearly her son.  Both of them full of spit and vinegar.  As they leave I tell Cindy to tell Jim I said, "Drink your barium like a man!"

I wonder if I'm due for my next Colonoscopy.  I think I'll wait until I'm having a period of severe sleep deprivation.

As mom and I emerge into the hall.  Joanne and her mom appear, coming the other way.  Two sweet little ladies pause to commiserate about how and where they are and why.  Both are near 90 and considerably smaller and slower than they once were.  The genuine good cheer they exchange is so pleasant and uplifting.  I don't know how well the two of them know each other.  They've lived in opposite ends of town.   Still they belong to a pretty exclusive sisterhood by now; and just a glance or two exchanges tokens of membership that affirm they're still here and get each other.

Leonard is waiting by the front door.  He wants an autographed copy of my book.  I explain that its a long way from completion.  "What's it about?" he asks.  "Growing up around here," I tell him.  "I've changed the names to protect the guilty."  "Thanks!" he sighs.  "I couldn't find any innocents," I explain as we shake hands.

"Now be sure I get an autographed copy!" Leonard insists with a smile.

He'll probably be gone before I ever go to press, but who can argue with optimism.

How we're going to miss these octogenarians when they've moved on.  We miss their predecessors too;  those who died in their sixties and or seventies.  But these, these enduring few are such beacons, such talismans of an era of more certitude; such anchors to life's ship.  I fear we'll go adrift without them.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Worth of a Soul

Bishop Deets, from 5th Ward stopped by today to ask if I'd speak in their Sacrament Meeting on Sunday.  I was delighted to say, "Yes."  He wants me to address the topic "The Worth of a Soul."  He, being aware that I'd just been released from the Detention Center Branch, thought I might relate the subject to my recent experience. How easy and sweet is that!

Last night I went to the Center to conduct a couple of 12 Step groups.  It was so gratifying to hear the kids rejoice that, though I would no longer be coming to church, I'd still be doing Addiction Recovery with them.  It doesn't seem logical that a bunch of problem teens would have any affinity for an old duffer like me.  Most of the time they don't seem very intent on working the steps, or even quitting their substance abuse, for that matter.

I do think I know why they come to the meetings though.  I think they feel the love of their Savior when they're there.  I think it feels good and while most of the time they don't have a clue as to why it feels good they keep coming back for that feeling.  I wouldn't mind if they felt my love too, but I need to work harder at pointing out that its the love of the Savior that so satisfies and fulfills there effort to attend.

Sunday at 5th Ward, I think the main thing I want to express is that the Savior truly does love even the wicked ones and that their souls are indeed precious to Him.

Another thing that the kids respond warmly to is acceptance.  They live in a world in which there is little about them that appears acceptable.  No body accepts them as they are.  Everyone wants to change them in some way.  They feel that everyone with whom they associate wants to change them.  Parents want them to get good grades and do their chores.  Teachers want them to behave and do their homework.  Police want them to conform to society's rules.  Peers want them to take risks, dress like the group and break rules.  Detention staff want them to present honor and respect.  No where do they find anyone who accepts them just as they are.  That is until they come to 12 Steps.  Everything I do there is to help them make changes, but never to I hold change up as a measure of their worth and desirability as my friends.  I love them right where they are, doing exactly what they're presently doing.

While it is true that nothing would make be happier than to see them happy and productive and forgiven; I am completely patient with the process.  God will confound them without my help.  Life and its circumstances will beat up on them plenty.  I don't need to do any of that.  This is no secret to them.  I give them complete liberty to make mistakes and poor choices.  I let them know that those choices make no difference to me, except that I'll shed some tears for their pain.  I also let them know that poor choices and unacceptable behavior always lead to misery and then I remind them that when they finally get tired of being miserable, I'll still be around willing to help them find their way to happiness.  I put the burden and responsibility on their shoulders, where it belongs.

I believe that this approach cultivates and softens their hearts and prepares their soil for the seeds I may plant.  If on the other hand I try to manipulate, shame, scold or pressure them, the soil of their hearts will be hardened and nothing fruitful will grow.  We understand this when we think about ourselves, but tend to operate differently when dealing with others.  Who wouldn't rather grow in an atmosphere of freedom, love and acceptance instead of one fraught with conditions and disapproval.  I'm talking about teenagers here.  Obviously, we need to exercise some control over little children.  But, by the time they hit the teen years we ought to have taught them to make their own appropriate choices and prepared them to make them on their own.  Prepared or not, the will be making their own choices.  Universally, the kids at the Detention Center have not been given that kind of guidance and preparation. Most are being raised by parents who haven't learned how to choose happiness themselves, is it any wonder they've failed to so teach their children.

With or without appropriate guidance, God loves them.  He will let them make their choices and he will afflict and chasten them until they're tired of their misery.  Then, if they seek to change, He will facilitate that blessing in their lives.

Now, some will die before this happens.  Occasionally, a youth in detention will ask, "But what if I die before I manage to change?"  I always tell them, "You'll probably land in hell, but I'll be right beside you and we'll work the steps together over there."  Dr. John Lund says, "Hell is just God's Alternative High School."  I believe that.  Hide and watch.  We're going to lead these kids to their Savior sooner or later and I intend to be available to them every step of the way.  Once I am doing this work in Spirit Prison, if I am permitted to tarry, I want to accompany the last person in hell into paradise.  Their souls are that precious to me.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Serving Cheerfully

Yesterday was first day back in my home Ward after attending church at the Detention Center every week for the past six years.  I was really looking forward to worshiping with old friends and my own family.  Somehow, there was more disappointment than pleasure.

I have said over the past six years that I loved worshiping in the more intimate setting of the youth correctional facility to which I had been assigned.  "It's the gospel without the culture," I'd explain.  Nobody seemed to understand what I was talking about.  Behind those locked doors there was little that resembled the typical church meetings and traditions that I'd spent a lifetime growing familiar with.  There was no chapel or cultural hall.  Prayers didn't have the same wrote, repetitive familiarity that we've all come to expect.  Nobody got reminded to do their Home Teaching, or scolded for not behaving in class.  There was no talk of the most recent Scout camp or the scores in the Church ball tournament over the weekend.  Instead of asking about this boy who'd just gone on a mission or that one who was just leaving; we spoke of this one who'd just gone to rehab and that one who'd just come back.

There was talk of Jesus Christ and faith and forgiveness.  There was talk of love and understanding and compassion for one another.  There was talk of sin and confusion.  There was candid confession and deep humility.  The gospel was there in rich abundance and it, rather than the cultural appendages that have become attached to the gospel, was the focus of every meeting.  Questions in class applied to real life, ever present problems instead of the hypotheticals we skirt around in Gospel Doctrine Class.  In Gospel Doctrine principles are treated in 3rd Person so often.  Like, "I have a friend who...."  Or, "what would happen if...?"  That is if we even dare to get that deep into real, actually problems with living.

Not so in Detention.  Where questions are like, "I have done this horrible thing for which I am very sorry.  Is there any possibility of forgiveness for me?"  Or, "What must I do to become free of this tendency I have to get angry, or seek revenge, or use drugs..."  It was so disappointing to sit in class in my home ward and pretend we were perfect and that the lesson had no practical application to our lives.  No one would dare say, "I have a problem understanding how to control my thoughts."  Or, "I've tried and tried to do what's right and I still can't quit sinning.  How will I ever make it to Heaven?"  And if they did, no one else would likely dare come out and say, "When I was lost and trying to fix myself, my frustration grew until I finally turned my problem over to the Savior."  That is a degree of candor and honesty that is not only refreshing, but productive; and which seems to be seriously lacking.

The culture of the church seems to have set us all up to be pretending to be better than we are.  I think that is destructive.  I personally, through all of my sinful addictive ways took the notion from everyone's "good example" that I was somehow inferior, in that I could not muster the self control and perfection that seemed second nature to most other active members.  I'm old and experienced enough now to realize that everyone has weakness, a God given gift, but most are going to great lengths to conceal it.  Looking back I realize I did the same thing.  Would it not be more productive and helpful to others to confess our weakness and describe how the Savior, applied His redeeming blood to help us recover from the damaging bonds of sin?  Growing up, I never once heard anyone except Alma the Younger make such a claim.  Surely there are others who could have given me a more contemporary example of how to apply the Atonement to my life.  He just wasn't willing to do it.

Another distressing thing I noticed at church yesterday was a startling lack of apparent joy.  Most of those to whom I was exposed seemed to be going through the motions like a bunch of Zombies.  We who served at the Detention Center did so with exuberance and good cheer.  Serving in the Kingdom is fun!  Yet it appears that so many see it as a necessary drudgery with must be endured to the bitter end.  Holy Cow!  What a shock to come back to such a dreary, dutiful, drag.  I wonder if I was ever like that.  I think I must have been.  Back when I thought I had to achieve heaven on my own merits, it was burdensome and hard.  And since I knew I wasn't living righteously, I carried the added burden of doubt.  Doubt that despite my dutiful, reliable efforts, I wasn't going to make it anyway.

What joy it is to discover that Jesus is the way, that I will make it on His merits not my own, if I will but trust Him, have faith in Him, repent of my sins and serve Him with all my heart.  Understanding that, having experienced that, knowing He is assisting me with the stewardship He's given; I can do nothing but rejoice at the opportunity to share what I've been given!  In that light, His burden is indeed light and full of joy and good cheer.  It is fun to serve Him.  I is fun to see the Spirit work in the hearts and minds of good people who so desperately know their need for a Savior.  It is fun to spread the fun!

I remember when Paul Justice came home from his mission.  He was exuberant and cheerful all the time.  I want to be like Paul and rejoice in the blessings and opportunities of the gospel.  I hope its contagious!  And that I can spread it like wildfire among my fellow Saints.  It breaks my heart to see them so drearily burdened with the very thing that could bring them the greatest joy and satisfaction.

Part of the problem may be our tendency toward piety.  We think the gospel is a somber, serious thing.  Did President Hinckley make it look like that?  The gospel is good news, after all, why don't we celebrate it with joy.  I took my nephew Ryan through the Provo Temple for his endowments.  He was so excited he was giving high fives to the Temple workers.  Sensing his unrestrained joy and receiving those marvelous blessings, many seemed to take Ryan's good cheer and pass it on.  There was no call for irreverence and there was none, but it was a time to experience fully embraced joy!

Now, I don't want anyone faking it.  Artificial smiles will not conceal pretended joy.  If you're in my ward and you're not happily serving, I'd like to know it, so we can deal with it.  Let's all quit faking it at church and start lifting each other out the morass of despair and discouragement.  Lets start treating the gospel like the GOOD NEWS that it truly is!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Dogs and Cats

You can see that scheming, diabolical look in their eyes.
At least this way Kristi can see that I haven't killed them yet.

We're sitting our daughter's dogs for four days. (Wish they would sit, or obey any other command for that matter.)  We do this because we love our daughter.  They are a pair of Dachshunds.  They've taken over our lives.  It is a takeover of the hostile variety.

We're fortunate that it is cool weather and that Mosquito Abatement has the bugs under control.  For the sake of the rugs we've been able to leave the patio door ajar so they can come and go as they please.  "As they please" being the operative phrase.  So far they've been pleased to go outside.  Remind me to wear shoes on the lawn for a few days.  We've placed pads around the house just in case, but past experience has shown that the dogs think the pads indicate where not to go.

Weenie dog's would only qualify for remedial obedience school as they are most certainly learning impaired.  Essentially, they're cats that bark.  You probably already know that I harbor no affection for cats either.  We love our other daughter and so we are the proud owners to two creatures of that ilk.  The only good thing about the dogs is that it's been three days since we laid eyes on the cats.  I don't know how they're faring in exile, but then I don't really care either.  I couldn't possibly be so fortunate as to have cats that would consider this sufficient an insult as to warrant moving out.

Have you ever noticed that pet owners think their pets are their children, until they have children.  Then reality sets in and their pets lose their anthropomorphic status and become just ordinary dogs and cats.  This must be quite a shock to a pet.  They must miss their former status.  Whereas before they were honored guests at Petsmart whose employees referred to their owners as their parents; where their food was gourmet; now they get generic chow from IFA, get fat, neglected and for once, actually need the pet shrink that was once their second best friend.  No more play dates with the poodle down the street.  No more grooming at the beauty parlor.  Goodbye to manicured claws, hello to dingle-berries.  No more pampering kennels when the folks are out of town; just extra big bowls of chow and water and abandonment in the back yard.

I, for one never kept pets before the kids arrived.  That was duty the kids pressed me into as they grew.  "I'll feed him, I promise!" we heard to the accompaniment of batted eye-lids and a pouty "pleeeeease."  The feeding lasted a day and any interest in the actual pet faded in a week.  Pets, with the noted exception gerbils last a lot longer than a week.  Gerbils have babies in about a week and then begin cannibalistic rituals that quickly render the $60.00 Habitrail you bought into yard sale fodder.

We have a cat that has looked to be at death's door for years now.  He's really let himself go.  He doesn't groom himself any more.  His fur is a mess.  He seems depressed all the time.  I can't understand why he doesn't spend more time in traffic.  We've had him for 15 years!  He looks insulted all the time.  He probably hasn't forgiven us for the last time the dogs took over the house.  At one time I thought I'd let him into my lap for what some TV show billed as some soothing companionship.  I'd never felt soothed by a pet in my life.  Thinking perhaps I hadn't done my part I gave it a try.  When I finished I had to go take a shower to get rid of the little puffs of stray fur that kept following me around, clinging to eyebrows, tickling in ears, getting suddenly drawn up a nostril or something.  I couldn't quit sneezing and have steered clear ever since.

The other cat insists on weaving through my legs.  This has resulted in a kick every couple of hours for the past six years.  I can only conclude that cats love to get kicked and have learned that leg weaving is the way to bring that about.  Works every time.

As I sit here listening to little claws clattering over the Pergo, I wonder who in their right mind would do this to themselves?  Is there a diabolical Alpha Dog somewhere who really is anthropomorphic?  Has he taken over the media and spread the propaganda that pet ownership is somehow soothing, somehow therapeutic?  Has he brainwashed us into thinking that having your big toe mistaken for a squeaky toy is somehow appealing?

Humans of the world, rise up.  Put a stop to this madness!  Stop spending billions on pet food, meds and accessories!  Stop replacing shredded furniture and stinky rugs.  Stop, just for a minute, and think how soothing it would be to sleep an entire night without barking dogs or bellyaching cats wanting to come in or go out or both.  Put a stop to the indignity of having your crotch sniffed by every dog you encounter or having the butt of every cat flounced in your face.  How have we let these self serving creatures gain such hold on us.  Rise up and put them in their place, back in the barn.  Where is the SPCH when we need them!

Friday, August 13, 2010

Book Review - Change Your Questions Change Your Life by Wendy Watson Nelson

There's an old Chinese proverb that says, "When the student is ready the teacher will come."  I was so ready for this book.  Wendy Watson Nelson is every whit the brilliant, inspired teacher her husband Russell M. Nelson is.

I have long been aware that if I don't ask the right questions, I'm not going to get the right answers.  Understanding that principle in generalities helped some, but Sister Nelson has helped me bring much more specificity to my questions; resulting in much more specific and useful answers.

I have drifted away from self help books over the years.  I find them too success oriented.  They seem to all have money and power and independence as their central themes.  Even Stephen R. Covey, who preaches interdependence eventually caused me to abandon ship because his boat lists toward taking control of our lives.  I didn't get where I am by taking control, by enslaving myself to a planner.  I got here by giving control to God and letting Him, not lofty goals, direct my life.

Change your Questions Change your Life is all about communing with God.  It is about discovering your mission in life.  It is about receiving revelation, motivation, purpose and power from God.  It is not about what I can obtain, but rather about what I can give.

Wendy Nelson's book ranks (outside the scriptures of course) in my top ten books ever read.  It is up there with The Three Deceivers, My Grandfather's Blessings, The Peacegiver, He did Deliver Me from Bondage  and Believing Christ.  It is beautifully bound, pleasantly laid out and made to engender expansive growth rather than restrictive regimentation.  I came away thinking of possibilities rather than limitations.  I came away with a active, more constant, companionship with the Holy Ghost; whose role it is, to lead me to "the truth of all things."  This is a work book. Take the time to do the work; it is so worth the effort.

Five Stars

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Look Who's Expecting A Visit From The Tooth Fairy

Wishing On A Shooting Star

Jeff was over yesterday afternoon.  He had this notion that we ought to go midnight kite flying.  He thought it would be great fun to suspend a glow stick from a kite and "fool people into thinking it was a UFO!"  Sounded good to me.  It being August and as I was aware that the Perseid Meteor shower takes place in August decided to look it up.  As luck would have it, their peak performance was scheduled for that very night!

We decided to kill two birds with one stone.  Mom approved the outing and Megan was invited to come along.  I also called Steve, a night sky enthusiast friend and brother-in-law of mine.  We stocked the car with goodies, sleeping bags and ground pads and at eight o'clock, headed for the mountain.

There's a large sloping meadow above Grasshopper Flat on Taylor Mountain that made a perfect observatory.

We arrived just after sunset and eagle-eyed Jeff discovered the fingernail moon just about to set as well.
There was a wildfire in the west that turned the horizon to a deep red brown.  Through the binoculars the moon seemed ethereal and mysterious.  We all thrilled to have seen it, so thin and tall against the distant mountains.

There were clouds most of the day, but they were dissipating as the heat of the day cooled away.  At one point the sky above was brilliant with stars, but a light misty rain showered on us out of nowhere. 

We had such a great time, munching cookies, while lying in our warm bags and gazing at the majestic sky.

I suspended a glow stick from a broad delta kite I have.  I chose it because it can sail on a breath.  Trouble is, there wasn't even a breath of wind and we failed to get it launched.  You can only watch shooting stars when they're shooting and you can only fly kites when there is wind.

I told them all the story of Katie and I taking her butterfly kite to the park.  As we walked to our destination we passed a very elderly Chinese fellow sitting on a bench.  As we approached he remarked, "Beautiful kite."

It was beautiful in the shape of a butterfly.  Her sister had given it to Katie for her birthday.

"Thank you!"  I replied thinking he must be a masterful kite flier as kites are common in Asia.

"That kite not fly." he certified in a rather authoritative statement.  I expected him to call me Grasshopper, but he didn't.  Thinking I might truly benefit from the wisdom of a master, I asked, "Why not?"

"No wind."

It was funny at the time, but thinking back, there is wisdom.  We need to seize our opportunities when we have them.  Which is why we're on the mountain tonight instead of next week.

After dark, Jeff drifted right off to peaceful dreams of Alderaan and higher adventures than this, in galaxies far far away.  Megan was more determined and stuck it out until she'd seen a shooting star upon which to make her wish; before also wandering off to slumber-land.  When a coyote began to howl, she stirred seeking assurance, but soon was gone to visit the imaginations of her own dreams.

This left Steve and I to watch and muse and wonder to our heart's content.  We didn't head for home until after midnight.  The meteors were few, but not disappointing.  Most carved long slow arcs across the brilliant sky.  They put on quite a show as we mused about why they shot in various directions, and why these are long lived while others we've seen are brief little flashes.

We always bring binoculars, but I don't use them much.  The immensity of space and the multitude of stars is more than I can take in, even with the naked eye.  On the mountain, it becomes more difficult to make out the constellations as they're obscured by the visibility of so many more sparkling points of distant light. The milky way is so brilliant it looks like a cloud.  I begin to hum John Denver's Rocky Mountain High.  It isn't exactly "raining fire in the sky" this time, but there are fireworks and they are worth staying up, climbing up, to see.

Sleepy heads, still in their bags, are buckled into seat belts for a satisfying ride home.  Home is visible much of the way.  A pleasing cluster of welcoming lights spreading across our quiet valley, stars above and stars below, both beckoning me home.  I guess I'll go down for the time being, resting assured that up remains a distant certainty.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Behind the Glines Church

For years, Sweetie has had an afternoon ritual that we've all come to wonder about.  For a long time all we knew was that she went some where to eat lunch and read.  I think it began with a desire to get some sunshine to alleviate the encroachment of Seasonal Affective Disorder.  She had a lamp that would help deal with the long dark winter months, but nothing beats real sunshine.

Earlier this Summer when unemployment rendered me available during her lunch ritual, she graciously invited me to participate.  I had always assumed that another of her motivations for this practice was solitude.  Her midday practice began back when the house was rather full and chaotic.  I was humbled to be invited to participate in this private, personal realm into which I had never expected to peer.

Sweetie is a principal stock holder in McDonald's Corporation; or so I've always teased.  When she taught school, a swing through McDonald's drive-thru was the foundation of every work day.  I was always amazed that she could get her books and breakfast in the door, secured with a pass key, up the stairs, down the hall and through a locked classroom door, without ever setting anything down or spilling something.  She has always been more coordinated than I, but this was pure athletic grace!

Now, her ritual has migrated to lunch at McDonald's.  I don't like McDonald's all that much so I pack a lunch. I usually make a chicken, Gouda, spinach and pesto sandwich on whole wheat bread, accompanied by a few carrots and grapes or something.  I fancy it to be reminiscent of a sandwich I once had at a sidewalk cafe in Friday Harbor.  We grab our current novels and climb into the Yukon.  Its a little different than usual.  I always drive everywhere.  On our ll,080 mile trip to Newfoundland and back, I drove every mile.  But on these occasions Sweetie drives.  She likes the interaction with her friends at McDonald's and she likes to lean her book on the steering wheel.  This is an accommodation I'm completely comfortable with.  I've had to learn to keep my reading to myself and am not permitted to use either cup holder, but aside from those few parameters I'm completely welcome.

It is just a few blocks from our house to McDonald's which I've always considered a blessing.  We pull into the drive-thru and she begins her order.  "I'd like a Three Piece Chicken Selects meal, medium..."  At which point she is typically interrupted with a smiling voice continuing the order, "...with a Large Diet Coke, Apple Dippers instead of Fries and Sweet and Sour Sauce for the dip!  If your order is correct on the screen that will be $5.36 at the first window."  Giggles all around.  She has done this for so long she's become an institution.  They recognize the car and voice and since she never varies in her request it's just a foregone conclusion.  They treat her like she's the CEO, except they're not timid as they might be if their Big Kahuna showed up.  There's always a little chat with Melissa (a friend and former student) and some pleasantries with other familiar faces.  These people are like family.  She greets them every day and they count the passage of time by her daily smile.

As we head for the Glines Church I think of all the hours we've spent in this wonderful ride.  The Yukon has now carried us 101,325 glorious miles.  It has taken us as far as Victoria, BC in the Northwest, Cape Spear and L'Anse aux Meadows in the Northeast, and Dallas, Texas in the South.  Every glorious mile has been precious to us and each moment back in the car is reminiscent of those glorious journeys.  You know how biting into a crisp tart apple can return you to so many autumns and apple dunking contests, and Halloween pranks, and jars with caterpillars spinning cocoons, and new boxes or crayons, and jumping in piles of colored leaves?  That's what climbing into the Yukon does for us, only its, forest framed seascapes, and fresh blackberries, and audio books, and the hum of ferry propellers, and High Teas in splendid places that come to mind.

Behind the Glines Church on West Highway Forty are Green Ash trees that have been shading the parking lot since I was a boy.  The building shields the place from the hum of traffic and the grass beneath the trees lends a cool inviting air.  We don't get out of the car.  We just kick back for a quiet moment, leisurely eat or lunch and let our novels take us wherever they will.  Too poor to travel much these days, these are our daily mini-vacations.  I wouldn't trade them for all the world.  In a very real way they are giving us the world.

We are not the only ones who've made this discovery.  Not far from the hustle and bustle, this quiet retreat invites visitors every day.  We are seldom the only wayside occupants of this serene, convenient spot.  The guys who mow the church lawns, lunch here too.  Other's who've swung through the various nearby fast food joints stop here to eat before heading back to work or return to their day's journey.  Some get out and sit at the picnic table beneath a tree, most, like us, remain in the car.  Yesterday, Sweetie stopped to commiserate with another fellow reader, wanting to know what great book she was missing now.

The drive home affords time to share tidbits from the books we're reading; which we always delight in.  We share quotes and insights and learn together.

I used to wonder why Sweetie performed this ritual.  I couldn't see how sitting in the car could be better than just sitting home and reading.  Now, I get it.  It is a vacation.  Small and short though it may be, it is fresh and exciting every day!  I hope we never stop these priceless, rejuvenating moments together, except to go on those real, long vacations that stock the stores of our imaginations and fuel the batteries of these more constant and sustainable ones.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Movie Review - Inception

Sweetie took me to the movies last night.  Most of the time we'd rather stay home and watch them from Netflix, but this time we made the much more expensive choice and went out.  It was certainly worth it!

I've not kept a list of my favorite movies and wish I had.  This one ranks near the very top!  It is clean, clever, imaginative, cerebral, and followable.  The concept let the movie be set in several different environs and circumstances and kept you on the edge of your seat the entire time.  The acting was exceptional, the plot was brilliant, the special effects were outstanding and the cinematography top notch.

Director Christopher Nolan did his job with finesse.  Often you find a director that has a profound vision for his story, but rare is the director that can actually put his imagination on the film.  Too often the creativity doesn't translate to the audience in a seamless, credible, understandable way.  Not so with this ambitious effort.  It was majestic in it's depth, breadth and scope.  Bravo!

Leonardo DiCaprio carried the movie supported magnificently by a fresh, varied and interesting cast.  I loved it and expect to love it again very soon!  I'm not sure I want to go back without a totem though.  Again, BRAVO!  

Five enthusiastic Stars!

Monday, August 9, 2010

Book Review - Change of Heart by Jodi Picoult

Jodi Picoult is reported to be a master at addressing current and complicated issues.  In Change of Heart addresses issues surrounding Capital Punishment.  Reports are correct.  She looked at the issue from more sides that I ever imagined.  It is a complex problem.  Of course Picoult exaggerated the complexity by plowing every conceivable issue into one single case.  Doing so it became a bit far fetched.  I can handle far fetched.  I like Sci-Fi/ Fantasy.

I loved the way each chapter was written from the perspective of a different character in the story.  The flow was smooth and seamless, but the varying perspectives made it seem much more intimate.  I like hearing the characters speak in first person rather than from the perspective of a fly on the wall.  The only character not to have a first person voice was the main character.  His story and point of view remained quite mysterious throughout and kept an air of uncertainty which kept my curiosity piqued.

While the topic of the book was Capital Punishment the theme was the heart.  Every metaphorical and literal representation of the human heart was woven artfully and subtly into the fabric of the story.  Not once did the thematic representation of the heart bear a flashing arrow to point them out, yet they were not to be overlooked either.  I think that is masterful.

Part and parcel with the retribution of Capital Punishment lies the question of Redemption.  This too, is examined from several angles.  While Picoult seemed to come to some conclusions about the acceptability of of the death penalty, she seems utterly lost regarding the nature and means of redemption.  That examination of course, wasn't researched thoroughly enough, for she never found the truth of the Redeemer.  Failing to make that discovery, she was left without a plausible conclusion; just as is the case with every religious tradition she examined.

I like reading it, for it was interesting and well written throughout.  Despite some crude language it was coarse at all.  I'll give it three stars.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Goodbye Vernal 12th Branch

After six glorious years serving in the Branch Presidency at the Vernal 12th Branch serving the Split Mountain Youth Center, I was released today.  Actually it was six years, one month and seven days.

The Detention Center has been my spiritual home all of that time.  It is where I worshiped, played, loved and rejoiced.  I partook of the Sacrament there each week in a quiet, intimate meeting that rarely had over six people in attendance.  It is where I met some of the finest servants of the Lord I've ever known.  Four of those years I was Branch President and hadn't a worry in the world about assignments being carried out with love and care.  I would like to thank, Greg, Tamara, Nick, Harley, Jose', Garth, Marie, Carl, Andrea, Berk, Barbara, Dan, Charlene, Don, Raeann, Darwin, Carolee, Curg, Arvid, Les, Julie, Gary, Karen and most of all my companion Dixon for all the wonderful service, lessons and experiences that made our time together there such a joy.  I would like to thank the amazing, professional and loving Center Staff for the wonderful way in which they supported us and for the magnificent and compassionate way in which they serve the precious youth placed in their charge.

I wish I could list the hundreds of precious, terrific, delightful youth who crossed our paths over the course of 73 months.  Every one was a unique child of God.  So easy to love.  So respectful and kind.  We had so much fun laughing together and grew so strong through our tears.

How can I ever adequately express my gratitude to my Heavenly Father for the priceless opportunity it has been to serve there.  I had hoped I'd never be released, but I guess all good things must come to an end.  Those who've been called to take my place are finer servants than I and I take comfort in the knowledge that God's Kingdom is run by inspiration and that these fine stewards will take our little Branch to great new heights.

The blessings I've received and the lessons I've learn from these incredibly gifted youth are far beyond what I deserve.  I am forever changed for having had this blessed experience.

I have the blessing of being able to remain as the facilitator of the 12 Step program, which takes away much of the pain as I'll still get to spend a couple of hours a week serving my fine young friends.

As for the rest of my future; I'll be able to worship once again with my own family.  I'll be able to experience a real Ward for the first time in six years.  I absolutely can not wait to discover what the Lord has in store for me next.  What ever it is I know I will find unspeakable joy, just being in His service.  A privilege I hope I may always have.  If I have leaned anything, serving in the Detention Center it is that God truly loves, even a wretch like me.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

The Top-Most Height

This morning's email contained this quote:

Those who, relying upon themselves only, not looking for assistance to anyone besides themselves, it is they who will reach the top-most height.
-- Buddha
Hog wash!  Those who know me know I've studied Buddhism extensively and have learned much from it.  But I don't think Buddha was very enlightened when he made this statement.  Perhaps he, like Yertle the Turtle, had climbed high enough to convince himself there was nothing higher; but he was pitifully mistaken.   Let me repeat, as this quote stands it is utter hogwash!

You might cite examples of rich tycoons who've made it to the top of their game by themselves by stepping on and climbing over everyone and everything that stood in their way.  And they may actually be rich and sit in lofty towers of pride and accomplishment, but these have fallen way short of the top-most height.

The top-most height bears no similarity to the ivory towers of materialism, or the halls of fame of the popular world, or the majestic castles of the politically powerful, or the lofty cathedrals of the sectarianism.

The top-most height is not reachable by a single individual alone.  It is completely unattainable by relying upon one's self.  There is zero competition in the process of experiencing the top-most height.  It is a group project and "all who run may win the prize."  Neither is the top-most height an exclusive vantage point granted to only a few.  It will not be lonely at the top.

So what has this to do with old friends?

Last night I spent some quality time with an old friend.  Our friendship spans 46 years of mortality.  We both would agree that it spanned eons prior to mortality.  It is one of those friendships that can withstand weeks, even months of busily operating in completely separate circles; yet can be taken up immediately, right where we left off.  Our lives have wobbled to and fro, near and far, up and down; but through it all has been a thread, a theme, of lifting, reaching, inspiring one another to loftier heights.  Should I ever reach the top-most height it will be because of this dear friend and a multitude of others.  Each of these friends has pointed me toward reliance upon the greatest old friend of all.

That friend is my elder Brother, Jesus Christ.  If I reach the top-most height it will be upon His merits not my own.  There is no other way.  He is the way.

That is what I always found lacking in Buddhism.  It lacks a Redeemer.  It lacks a way to cross from flawed and filthy humanity to heavenly majestic purity.  It cannot be done alone; even if we were given an infinite number of lifetimes to attempt it.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Glorious Morning

I was up before dawn this morning and, having enjoyed my devotions, went for a walk.  The sunrise this morning was spectacular!  So breath taking in fact, that I wanted to run from door to door in the neighborhood waking everybody up so they wouldn't miss it.  It was one of those heavenly scenes that make you wonder if this is the day.  Is this the moment of Christ's glorious return?  Will He appear in such a magnificent sunrise?

I knew my daughter and grandkids were up in time and headed out to participate in a Kid's Triathlon in Roosevelt.  They would be traveling west at that moment and I prayed that they might turn around a behold the brilliant grandeur of the morning sky.  How thankful I was that we weren't snuggled under the covers, but rather, out here beholding the handiwork of God.

I have a funeral to attend today and later a fireside to address.  I spent my walk contemplating what the Lord would have be express to the bereaved and what He might have me offer as counsel to the Youth of Maeser 1st Ward.  My mind turned to the end of the world.  Will I be here to see it?  Or, will I like Aunt Vera have my own mortal end come before then.  Over the course of my life I've had a number of people ask if it was the end of the world.  After every earth quake or typhoon we experienced in the Philippines, people would approach and ask if we thought it was the end of the world.  After 9/11, the same thing.  After Presidents Clinton and Bush and Obama were elected, the same thing.  Is this the end of the world?  Some times I've been tempted to say, "I hope so."

What some of us fear others of us eagerly anticipate.  I suspect the world has some significant time left, but do we?  Aunt Vera's end of the world came just the other day.  Mine might be tomorrow.  Yours might be thirty years from now.  If we are prepared for it, it may come at any time.

Then it occurred to me that the Second Coming can come any time as well.  We don't have to wait for the end of the world.  We don't even have to wait for death.  The Second Coming happened for Joseph Smith  190 years ago.  For multitudes of others, much more recently than that.  I think of Elder Bruce R. McConkie's wonderful testimony:

"I am one of his witnesses, and in a coming day I shall feel the nail marks in his hands and in his feet and shall wet his feet with my tears.

But I shall not know any better then than I know now that he is God’s Almighty Son, that he is our Savior and Redeemer, and that salvation comes in and through his atoning blood and in no other way."
I can remember watching another sunrise with some anxiety about the pending arrival of the Lord.  Today was different.  Today He was already leading me, guiding me and walking beside me.  And I realized, with joy, that I no longer need to dread that blessed day.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Sitting On Josh's Bench

I stopped by Josh's grave this morning while out for my bike ride.  As you can see, his headstone is a bench.  That is so like he and Toni, always wanting to be of service.  Even in death, Josh invites us to sit a spell and rest our weary bones.  He lived an exemplary life of service.  There is no doubt he is still serving diligently on the other side of the veil.  There is much labor to be performed over there as well and I am certain that he is anxiously engaged in that service.

While I sat ruminating on that bench and watched the sun rising in the east.  I considered my place in the magnificence of creation.  All of this, earth and breath and inspiration come as liberal and beneficial gifts.  None of it belongs to me, I am just granted stewardship over some of it.  Suddenly, I realized that I've been given a great gift, that of being able to write full time.  At the same grateful moment, I realized that this gift is not a possession, but a stewardship.  I, in a remarkable way, have been given time.  Time to focus on what is most important.  Time that is not encumbered by worldly obligation or confined by worldly rules.  I'm exhilarated by this discovery.  Emancipated by it.

On the one hand I have a huge obligation of trust given to me.  I suddenly have a lot of time at my discretion  which I must not waste.  On the other, though, I am liberated by my freedom from ownership.  I don't own this Blog, God does.  I don't own my home, God does.  I don't own my future, God does.  While I am free to decide what I'll do with these gifts, I have no control over how long I'll have them, what will come of them, or how they might or might not yield further blessings.  Based upon the Parable of the Talents, I am obligated to magnify or increase my stewardship for Him, not for myself.  But, the portion the Master offers me in return is entirely at his discretion. I love this because it frees me to receive inspiration and liberates me from the worries of reward, remuneration or reciprocation.

I can do this because I trust Him.  He giveth and He taketh away, He is blessed in either case and so am I.

I don't have to think about doing what I do to draw dollars or to draw patronage.  I can just focus on doing it for Him.  Whether He meets my needs through my readers, or through advertisers, or by some other unfathomable means is entirely up to Him.  That is wonderful, because then I can focus on impressing Him with my efforts rather than impressing you, or someone else.  I believe He is the one who put me up to this.  I have yet to entirely discover why or how it pleases Him to put me to this task and perhaps I never will.  But I don't have to worry about that either

So, from here on in I'm not going to copyright anything I write here.  You are free to pass it on if it impresses you.  You are free to quote it, teach from it, share it, even publish it.  It doesn't belong to me.  I haven't earned it.  I haven't created it.  It is a gift.  One I am willing to share.  Please don't mistake my intent for altruism it is not.  To be altruistic I'd have to have something to give.  Rather, I'd call it consecration.  My willingness to share what I've been given.  A subtle but completely life changing distinction.  These things I write do not belong to me and never did.  I only hope to make use of them as The Owner intends.  I am incredibly weak and have a lot of work to do before I'll do justice to this task, but you may expect that I will earnestly be about it.

When I first began to write full time I determined that it would be a full time job and that, though I was home, I'd be unavailable for anything else from 8 to 5 every work day.  I would have to keep my nose to the grind stone if I were to support my family by this means.  My epiphany on Josh's bench this morning changed that.  Writing isn't the only task to which I've been entrusted.  The Master called me to another assignment this afternoon.  One of greater and more pressing importance.  Had my writing been about money, I'd have had a difficult time switching gears, adjusting priorities.  Money is about me.  It's about reward.  Its about feeling deserving, like I'd somehow merited more gifts because I had been given these.  It's like sitting under the Christmas tree and thinking that the mere act opening a present entitled me to another, and another...  But, today I concluded that its not about money.  Its about using God's gifts under His direction and for His purposes rather than my own.  So I gladly put down my writing instruments and exchanged them for a vacuum cleaner for the afternoon.  Would that every muscle that contracts in my body did so in the Service of He who gave that gift.  That every breath I breathe could do the same.  But I can't even succeed in attempting that distant goal without the benefit of His grace.

Did you notice the little box on Josh's bench?  It has an inscription on it, a quote from Isaiah:
Trust in the Lord with all thine heart and lean not unto thine own understanding.
I've been trying to do that today.  I've been trying to make that the theme and content of my life.  I have a long way to go, but at least I've started on that journey.

Thank you Josh and Toni, for a fine example of trust and for nice spot to sit and think about it.  This day you've served me well.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Flowers on Main Street and Troubled Families

My morning stroll took me along Main Street this morning. The flowers were so beautiful. Our little town in renown for it's summer petunias which grow in planters the full length of Main Street and then some. I love them! They put such a welcoming face on our community. They show us for who we are. Their presence and freshness every year represent dedication to our values and commitment to our standards. They welcome residents and visitors alike to our special part of the world.

Sweetie and I have traveled extensively across the US and Canada and have never seen anything to rival this. We've driven down a lot of main streets in cities much more affluent that ours and never seen Vernal's equal. Many have more natural beauty, more magnificent architecture, more appealing attractions than Vernal, Utah, but none of them put out the welcome mat like we do. I think everyone reads that message loud and clear as they witness the floral abundance that is our greeting card.

As I walked today I had to resolve an issue in my mind. I struggled with it. I prayed about it. And I feel I got my answer. You see, I've complained about the flowers on Main Street. While I love them, I've been concerned about another issue, whose priority exceeds the need for our floral show piece.

Last year, due to severe budget constrictions, The State of Utah discontinued funding for the local Shelter and Receiving Center. This facility had been located in, but not part of, the youth detention facility where I have been a volunteer for the past seven years. During the years the Shelter was open I volunteered there as well. There I found young people who were being lovingly cared for after their parents had been arrested. There were others who were struggling with a foster care situation and needed a breather from that new, stressful and unfamiliar environment. There were kids who'd had a blow up with their own folks and both child and parent needed a "time out" and some counselling. These kids weren't criminals. They and their parents just needed some help. The Shelter provided that help in a safe, loving and productive environment.

Now, we have no Shelter in our Uintah Basin Communities. The need remains acute, but the service is gone. Too many of these sweet children are now winding up in Detention where they don't belong. Officials and parents, foster parents and others, too often, have no other recourse. They can't be left to run, unsupervised, unparented, alone.

As I prayed this morning I was struggling with this issue. Every time I see the flowers on Main Street I am reminded of these precious children, who, through no fault of their own, have been neglected, left untended, or have even been uprooted. My prayer was answered in a note on Facebook. A good friend called my attention to a local Pepsi Refresh Project candidate. My friend Joslin Batty and some others from the local youth corrections facility have proposed the creation of a Shelter and are in the running for $250,000.00 gift from Pepsi to help establish that dream. Here is their video:
I am so pleased to make this discovery and so thrilled to have the chance to lend them my encouragement. Their efforts and this timely discovery are truly an answer to my prayers. Please help with this worthy project by going to Pepsi Refresh and voting for this dream, so it can become a reality!

I have watched Joslin and Patrick and Teri and many others and know of their deep love and concern for these wonderful children. Won't you please get behind them and help them help those is such desperate need?

As I said, I love the flowers on Main Street. I hope we never neglect them. I love our children even more and hope we don't neglect them either. They are too precious to be ignored. I hope and pray they are given their Pepsi grant. But, make no mistake, while $250K will take them a long way toward their goal, it won't be an on going resource. I've never quite understood why Juvenile Justice and the Detention Center are State agencies, while the Jail is operated by the County. I'm sure it wont be easy for our cash strapped communities to allocate the much need resources that will be required to sustain the Shelter. I'm sure it will be a temptation for them to say, that's somebody else's responsibility. Well, nobody else is stepping up to the plate. So, I am calling upon our City, County, religious and civic leaders as well as philanthropists and corporations to stand up and take hold of this most pressing need. These are our children, they belong to our community. Let's help them to bloom where they are planted!

The Flowers On Main Street represent how we are.  The Children In Our Homes reflect how we are.  Let's not let the flowers be a mere facade concealing a lie.
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