26 November 2015

Thank You

Thank you.

Two simple words, when spoken simply and offered sincerely, are an expression of gratitude that can be balm to the soul. It is an expression that can launch so much good. Think about how you feel when someone offers a sincere 'thank you' for something that you've done. You're spurned on to do more of the same. Doing more good is never a bad thing.

Today, the United States celebrates Thanksgiving. Now a day more celebrated for its excess (food, pre-Christmas sales, drunken family fights that can only be solved by the power of She Who Must Be Obeyed, Adele - click here for the proof), at its arguably forgotten core, this is a day of gratitude. It is a day to pause, reflect (go ahead, count your blessings!), and to give thanks for what we have. Even if you think the things for which you can be grateful are meager, the fact is that you are so much better off than so many others in this world.

When you consider the meaning of gratitude, it is not only being thankful, but it also embodies being ready to return a kindness shown to you. Demonstrating that gratitude can be as simple as those two little words: thank you. It is an act of kindness. Those acts need not be grandiose. A smile at the elderly woman in the grocery store who is writing a check (rather than a sneer and the burning urge to display a middle finger). Declaring a ceasefire in your Twitter war with our nation's long-suffering national passenger rail provider. Offering to help the lady who has somehow managed to lug 34 carry-on bags onto the plane find places for her crap in the overhead bin, instead of wishing a pox on her. So those examples may be things I need to work on, allegedly, but you get my drift.

Be ready to return a kindness. On those opportunities, Ralph Waldo Emerson said,

You cannot do a kindness too soon,
for you never know how soon it will be too late.

Say thank you today. Say it every day. May your Thanksgiving table be surrounded in gratitude. Even if it winds up looking something like this, there is still much for which to be grateful:

Happy Thanksgiving!

23 November 2015

The Enforcer?

Post-mission career choice?
It appears from the picture that we got from TMFKATB in this week's letter that he has been regaling the good people who reside behind the Zion Curtain of his life growing up on the mean streets of Chicago, or the Greatest City in the United States. Per his letter, a member of the Church in his area bought him this gem of a Chicago PD knock off shirt.

I think I should clear up a few things about TMFKATB's "mean streets" experience. Here we go:

Those "mean streets"? Yeah, those were in Naperville, or Naperthrill, or the Dirty 630. The mean factor? Terrifying! It was embodied in the irate pearl-wearing, Volvo wagon-driving hausfrau upset about not getting covered parking in the downtown garage, thus exposing her to the elements while walking to the Ann Taylor store. And tough? You bet! Some of those kids had to ride the bus, the bus!, to high school up until the day they got their driver's license. It's a miracle that any of them made it out alive...

But made it out alive he did and he's telling tales as he serves. This week's letter talked a bit about the service opportunities he and his companions have had in the run-up to Thanksgiving. They spent a bit of time prepping turkeys and meals for distribution. It helped him to see again the needs that exist in the world and to feel the reward of selfless service. He also talked about being introduced to a former gang banger. Hearing that man's stories no doubt put TMFKATB's Dirty 630 experiences into stark relief. But what he found in this man was a good soul and a powerful lesson in not judging a book by its cover. There is good to be found in all of us was his subtle reminder.

It's a good reminder as we enter the Thanksgiving week. We should be grateful for the good in the world. It's there, even if it takes some digging to get to it. There is good out there. It's a blessing for which I'm grateful. I'm grateful for my Chicago cop wanna-be son and for what he teaches me every week.

22 November 2015

Where Do I Register, Mr. Trump?

Lady Liberty weeps
While I've tried to avoid politicizing things in the Den, there are times when my take on politics/current events has found some place here. This is going to be one of those (longer) posts, so for those of you who have not liked my take on things political in previous posts, move along - nothing to see here (as a card carrying member of a religious faith known for its conservative majority, being a moderate or even left-leaning is akin to being the Anti-Christ; not supporting Mitt Romney in 2012? 'Oh the humanity!').

Since the mass murders in Paris on November 13th by ISIS terrorists, U.S. presidential candidates have wasted no time in taking (or not) a position on how America can best protect itself against a similar attack.  Megalomaniac and everyone's favorite xenophobe Donald Trump wasted no time in bloviating his rational, well thought out, and humane position (because that's how everything he says is positioned, right?):

Establishing a national registry for all Muslims living in the United States

Wait...what? Read that again and let what that means sink in.

In one savage blast of hot air, Trump has legitimized bigotry and hatred on a national scale. The last I checked, bigotry and hatred were not included in the list of principles upon which this nation was founded. If I missed that chapter in my high school US History course, would someone please let me know. 

The thought of a national registry for any group should send shudders of fear through the collective soul of our nation. The Nazis began registering Jews in western Europe in the 1930's. Property was seized, Stars of David were sewn into people's clothing, books were burned, and when all was said and done, six million, that is six million Jews, Eastern Europeans, gays, POWs, and other 'undesirable' non-Aryans were horrifically slaughtered. In spite of that abominable history, in what is staggeringly unthinkable, plenty of Americans don't seem to have an issue with Trump's declaration. 

Well, I do. So does the Rabbi Joshua Stanton. In a piece for the Huffington Post, Rabbi Stanton says to Trump, "...if you do intend to target Muslims in in a national registry (or worse), please register me too." I echo Rabbi Stanton's rallying cry. This madness cannot be allowed to stand. So, Mr. Trump, I ask you, where do I register? I will not stand by as my Muslim brothers and sisters are made targets of your xenophobic madness.

Although it has been more than one hundred and seventy seven years since it happened, members of my own faith were under an extermination order issued by the governor of Missouri. Make no mistake, this was not an effort to rid their homes of pests. This was government-endorsed murder. In order to survive, those early members of the Church fled Missouri, eventually settling, albeit temporarily, in Illinois, before they once again fled their country before murderous mobs. These people were blamed for all manner of chicanery and only saw survival in the solace of the uncharted territory of the United States. They were unwelcome in their own country, fall guys for things totally outside of their control.

In the wake of Paris, Syrian refugees have become the fall guy for those attacks, for which they had no control. Governors of several states have declared these refugees as unwelcome. With those actions, we are betraying the very words of Emma Lazarus' poem, "The New Colossus," that have adorned the Statue of Liberty since 1903:

"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

Are there any exceptions in that second stanza? I don't read any that says, "...except for those of you who are willing to risk your lives and see your children drown in an attempt to flee a murderous regime." We cannot turn our backs on these people. I absolutely endorse doing everything in our power to turn back those who would destroy us. But how can we turn our back on those who have been "tempest-tost?" The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum recently said the following in a statement on the xenophobic reaction to the Syrian refugee crisis:

"While recognizing that security concerns must be fully addressed,
we should not turn our backs on the thousands of refugees."

When we visited the Museum last Christmas, at the end of the tour, there was an absolutely searing exhibit of photographs from the Syrian refugee crisis. If you'd seen it, you'd be asking Mr. Trump where you could register in order to stand with your Muslim brothers and sisters. I'd ask if Trump has seen it but since the Museum does not bear his name nor offer a branding opportunity for him, I don't think he'll be dropping by any time soon.

16 November 2015

A quick hello

So apparently he's learned
to use a jackhammer
Some Mondays bring lengthy letters from TMFKATB and ample time to 'chat' back and forth. Other weeks are akin to an email version of a drive-by. Today, friends, was a drive-by. His letter was fairly brief - a quick hello - and not especially detail rich, but he assured us all is well. That said, he sent a couple of pictures, including the one posted here. The other was of his companion working the same jackhammer. He provided zero context, but I take a couple of things away from it:

- He only has limited time on his P-Day, or day off, and I can't expect a "War and Peace" tome on the week that was.

- His mission continues to give him opportunities to serve and learn things he would never have learned living under my roof, like working a jackhammer. It's no secret I am no handyman and power tools are pretty much any kind are my mortal enemy. I mean I am a forty nine year old man who lives in abject fear of the day that I actually have to use my generator (I know I've said a lot of bad things, which you deserved, about you, Mother Nature, but please, by all that's holy, take it easy on us this upcoming winter!). That I have not taught my only son to use a jackhammer should come as a surprise to none of you. But here he is, gutting someone's patio as a part of a service opportunity. The kid's picked up a new skill!

I'll take the 'quick hello' letters, the out-of-context pictures, and the ongoing realization that he's learning and progressing. As a father, I would be selfish to ask for a whole lot more.

15 November 2015

Ce ne est pas une tragédie

It's not a tragedy. It is cold-blooded mass murder.
This past Friday afternoon, as I raced to Philadelphia's 30th Street Station to catch an earlier train back to the 'Stan (which, in a shock to absolutely no one who has ever been subjected to Damntrak, was inexplicably delayed by more than 90 minutes shortly before its scheduled arrival), my Blackberry message light began gyrating like a Kardashian when any one of them catches even the slightest whiff of cash. Clearly, something unpleasant was afoot.

Message after message was pouring in from multiple sources about serious mayhem breaking out in Paris. Within minutes, those messages were followed by internal requests for tracking impacted employees. It was "GO TIME" for me and my team. Of course, being on the train whose wifi service is more of a casual suggestion than an actual functioning thing, I spent the next four and half fours trying to run reports when the wireless felt like working and trying to stay on top of the never ending messages racing through my Blackberry. Dread filled my mind as I thought about my friends who call Paris home. I thought about my last few trips to Paris, which have been some of the best I've had and I was deeply saddened. 'Not again,' is the refrain that kept repeating in my mind.

There was one thought that kept putting itself front and center in my thoughts as it was clear this was an act of cowardice terrorism:

"Ce ne est pas une tragédie."
"This is not a tragedy."

But more than 120 people were murdered senselessly, you say. How can you not call this a tragedy, you ask? By definition, the word tragedy means a lamentable, dreadful or fatal event. The massacre in Paris certainly meets the definition of a tragedy. It was, and is, so much more.

It is an outrageous act of cold-blooded mass murder.
It is cowardice in the name of God.
Can we please call a time out on invoking the name of God to justify, oh I don't know, murder?
It is blasphemy on an epic scale.
Where in the Qu'ran does mass murder get a pass? That would be no where. And this just isn't about the Qu'ran. While I'm no televangelist scriptorian nor do I play one on TV, I know my way, albeit just a little, around the Bible, and the last I checked, no where within its august pages do I find a ringing endorsement for mass murder on any scale.
It is a travesty, a perversion, of all that is still good in this world.

It is an act of war by a decentralized and, arguably, faceless army driven by ideology and it is terrifying. How do you "bomb the s$%#" out of an ideology? Still waiting, waiting, waiting for a cogent answer on that one, Mr. Trump but thanks, Donald, for keeping it classy as you always do. Ahem...

I'm afraid we are in this for the long haul. This will not be an easily won battle. I fear that we will see more of what we experienced this week in Paris and just a few days earlier in the streets of Beirut. We'll have to band together as we did in the days after 9/11 or as we have with the people of Paris in the last 24 hours. This must be our cause, our fight. We are human beings. We are better than this.

"Terrorism is contempt for human dignity." ~ Kjell Magne Bondevik

Me on the streets of Paris

Aujourd'hui, je suis français 
Today I am French

Je suis pour la paix
I am for peace

11 November 2015

Thank You, Veterans

Today marks the observance of Veterans Day in the United States. While it marks the end of World War I on November 11, 1918, this day is one in which we pause to honor those who have served in the U.S. military. When you think about what the U.S. has become in its short 229 years of existence, an enormous debt of gratitude is owed its military veterans.

It was an arguably ragtag army that fought to create this nation. It was a military of brothers tragically fighting brothers that held this nation together during the Civil War. It was the Greatest Generation that preserved the country during World War II. It is the hundreds and thousands of those who serve across all branches of the U.S. military today to preserve our freedom whom we should thank.

Without those freedoms, where would we be? Think about it.

We would not be in an insane uproar over a coffee store's decision to take the most sacred symbols of Christianity (Santa, snowflakes, and sleds which as we all know are the true symbols of Christ's birth) off of their holiday throw-away cups.

We would not have a hateful megalomaniac and a little more than slightly off kilter neurosurgeon leading the Republican presidential clown car race for the presidential nomination.

And, we would not have America's most reprehensible family, the Kardashians and their ilk, were it not for these freedoms. But we also have a most cherished freedom - the freedom to turn the grossness that is the Family K off. Some days, that is the greatest freedom of all.

We are not a perfect nation. But we are nation of staunch defenders of the freedoms that make us who we are. We would not be that were it not for those who have defended those rights and freedoms since the idea of becoming an independent nation was born.

Thank a veteran today. They deserve it this day and every day.

09 November 2015

Making it work

Bike / All around hauler
 This week's letter from TMFKATB was yet another one that made me grateful for the wisdom possessed by a twenty year old. It often outstrips the wisdom that I think I have. I have to keep reminding myself that just because you are older, doesn't necessarily mean you are wiser.

He was pretty excited about the simple success of loading a week's worth of groceries onto a basket in a bike. The fact that the haul got from the grocery store to the apartment all in one piece was worthy of celebration. He was pretty excited to make it work.

The haul

There was that excitement but there was also perspective in his letter. He mentioned that they were the targets of a lot of yelling this week and he seemed to take it in stride. He tried to invoke the familiar refrain of "What would Jesus do?" and he did what he felt prompted to do and that was to express love. This is a kid who loves his fellow man for who they are. He sees people as brothers and sisters, not as labels or stereotypes. He sees the good.

I needed that little dose of wisdom and that reminder to see and find the good. I've been challenged to find the good in the last few days and it's not been easy. But I'm going to take a lesson from my son and find a way to make it work. And I'd do well to remember to see the good, too.

08 November 2015


When the "Hoarders" television series first aired, I saw the first few episodes and watched with my jaw agape, wondering how things could get that out of control in anyone's life. It wasn't long before I stopped watching because it doesn't take too many rat/cat/bird carcass discovery scenes before you get bored (more of a pathetic commentary on our media consumption and expectations than anything else, isn't it?) and off you go, never really giving the mental illness that is often associated with hoarding or its impact any further thought.

While I ran into a few hoarders during my missionary service thirty years ago and a couple of others since then, I hadn't given hoarding much thought until yesterday. Along with some friends from church, I spent a chunk of my day yesterday on a community service project (non-court ordered, by the way) that involved hauling nearly 100 bags of leaves, raked by kids from the local high school, from the yards of those that aren't able to do so to a farm for composting purposes. After playing a couple versions of real-life "Frogger" after a few leaf bags flew out of the back of the truck, it was off to our final assignment of the day - hauling refuse (let's be honest and call it what it was - junk, straight up junk) from a woman's home. Before we got there, we'd been told that there was a pile in front of the home, ready to go be scooped up and taken to our town's Transfer Station (aka dump - remember we live under the icy fist of Martha Stewart so apparently you can't use the word 'dump'). When we got there, we found that there were multiple piles and that the home was nearly indistinguishable from the piles. We literally did not know where to begin and there was no asking the homeowner. All we were told of her was that she was widowed and terribly hard of hearing and would not come to the door. So we tore into the largest pile, separating metal from wood from plastic from just garbage in hopes of making a little difference for the homeowner. Looking behind the pile, we found a 1966-ish Cadillac El Dorado convertible marooned in the earth with trees growing all around it. It was amazing and heartbreaking all at once. Staring at the heap of junk in the yard and the rusting hulk of that old car, I wondered aloud, "How does it get this bad for someone?" I wondered where was this woman's family. Where were her friends? Wasn't there someone in her life to say, 'Please let me help you.' There was work to be done and I had to stop asking questions and so I got back to tossing junk into the back of the truck. Although I had stopped asking the questions aloud while at the site, I haven't stopped asking them in my head.

I don't have the answers to those questions. I'm not a mental health professional, nor do I play one on TV, so I won't presume to try and answer the profound mental / medical issues at play here. I know that family dynamics can be a DefCon 5 / lit fuse on a powder keg situation in even the most perfect of families (P.S. there is no such thing), but how can you let a family member descend into such a level of despair? You can't. You just can't. While I have no idea how things can get so bad in someone's life that hoarding is the answer, I hope I can be a person who is there to say, "Please let me help you. Let me be your friend." I hope I can be that guy.

I've also been thinking a lot about my friends over the course of the last few days. I'm grateful for each of my friends and for what you've added to my life. Our lives, beliefs, and who we are, in many cases, could not be more different but I wouldn't want it any other way. I am better for it. I hope I've given back to you in some small way as well and that I'll be able to keep doing that.

Life can be stormy. In some cases, a person may find refuge from those storms in something extreme, like hoarding. Others are able to find comfort with family and friends. I'm happy to be that port in a storm for my family and friends. And I know you'd do the same for me. Thank you.

04 November 2015


Grand, indeed.
With the arrival of our granddaughter, Jane, nearly three weeks ago, we upped the grandchild count to two. Those are not gross Duggar freakshow family numbers, but for the stunningly patient and mighty fine SML and I, two is pretty much perfection right now.

I was able to spend this past weekend with my grandchildren, my daughter and son-in-law, and as an added bonus, CAL came down. With TMFKATB just minutes away in his assigned area of missionary service, it was the closest thing to a perfect virtual family reunion that we've had for awhile. If I had to sum up the weekend in one word, it would be this: JOY.

It started as I drove down the I15, my heart swelling with joy, knowing my son was nearby, serving God and the Spanish speaking people that he has grown to love with all his heart.

The joy overflowed when I got further behind the Zion Curtain and held these two in my arms:
Holding Jane, this beautiful blend of her mother (my daughter) and my son-in-law, was awe-inspiring and life affirming. As the Boy Awesome climbed up (it was more like an assault, if I'm being honest - this kid is ALL boy) on me so we could get the picture above, my joy was complete.

Being grandfathered, unlike the unwatchable Fox series of the same name (seriously, it's hideous - Stamos' best work was on 'Full House' - and I literally just threw up in my mouth as I wrote those words), is pretty much the best thing ever. Having the Boy Awesome use me as his personal tackling dummy for the entire weekend was great. Taking him on a Grandpa/Grandson only trip to my alma mater, BYU, so we could get him a "Go Cougars!" shirt was awesome. Learning that he insisted that his sister wear a BYU shirt the day after we left made me smile from ear to ear. Here's the proof:
Never too early to be a Cougar fan!
While we were on campus, I ran into several kids from our days in Chicago. It was great to see the Boy Awesome interact with them. He particularly liked playing football in front of the Wilkinson Center with this guy (he's an elementary ed major and is going to be an amazing teacher - read more about his exploits here):
Barely got them to stop tossing the
ball to get this picture
There was also a bit of joy because it was Halloween and Grandpa got to walk around with the Boy Awesome with his dad as he worked the neighborhood in pursuit of the usual Halloween treats.
The Cowboy - the horse lasted about
half a house.

With his buddy, Captain America

Negotiating a trade with the Man in the
Yellow Hat from his favorite books,
"Curious George"

The Cowboy and the Pumpkin
Suffice to say, it was a delightful night. I suspect my smile matched the big ones carved into the pumpkins throughout the Awesomes' neighborhood. I smiled broadly later that night as I watched my daughter and her son-in-law negotiate bedtime with a two year old who was determined NOT to go to bed. As I listened to them talk to their boy, I was transported back to my own mostly futile attempts at negotiating with my three children when they were that age. These kids are a lot more skilled than I, I can tell you that.

It's fair to say I am a HUGE fan of this grandfather thing. There's a little less pressure being a grandfather, but like a father, I know I've always got to be my best self with my grandchildren. I've got to be there for them. I've got to be the grandfather talked about in this quote:

To a small child, the perfect granddad is unafraid of big dogs
and fierce storms but absolutely terrified of the word boo.
~ Robert Brault

So, to my grandchildren I say bring on the boo! Grandpa's ready to be scared

02 November 2015

Pretty darn close

Dueling Painters
For the last nineteen days, the stunningly patient and mighty fine SML has been burrowed up behind the Zion Curtain welcoming our new granddaughter to the world. I joined her this past Friday and we had a wonderful time (more on that in another post). One of the odd things about visiting our family who have settled behind the Zion Curtain is that it puts us minutes, literally minutes, away from TMFKATB. It's just odd to be that pretty darn close and to not see him. The first time we were in Utah after he was reassigned there, I cried like a little girl when I saw the name of the city he was serving in on an offramp sign on the I15. It wasn't much better the next couple of times, until this visit. I saw that same sign as I drove and it brought a smile to my face because I was so aware of the happiness he's feeling as he serves, learns, and grows. For those Den readers who don't know, missionary contact with their families is limited to Christmas and Mother's Day calls and weekly letters, so if you happen to be where your missionary is serving, it's not like you run on over and say, 'Hola!' 

This week's letter reflected that ongoing happiness, growth, and learning. He described a week of ups  and downs, but if I'm being honest, it was pretty hard, even reading between the lines, to find the downs. He talked about some of the challenges with some of the people that they have been teaching but he wrote of seeing the progress that was coming from those challenges. He seems to be learning how to connect with people from all over the Spanish-speaking world too. He was pretty pumped to be working with an Argentine couple. The home-cooked Argentine meal he had and loved with them seemed to only endear him further. It made him happy.

As we drove to the airport and passed that infamous offramp sign early this morning, the stunningly patient and mighty fine SML and I talked about being so close, so pretty darn close, to TMFKATB. Neither of us had felt tempted to try and run into him. Frankly, it wouldn't be fair to him. These two years are his to grow, develop, and focus. These two years are what he has committed to God. They are not our two years, so it makes being pretty darn close more than good enough for now.