On apricots, bathrooms, and legacies

[Today my friend texted me, “Have you had your fill of apricots yet?” That reminded me of something I wrote four years ago on another blog, and I before I rush off to pick some, then later rush off to the bathroom, I wanted to republish it here.]

This is no ordinary bag of apricots.

It’s a legacy, a reminder of those who are no longer here, or leaving soon.

Apricots are the perfect fruit. In my mind, Eve hands Adam an apricot. She has a whole fig leaf apron full of them. And raspberries jammed in a pocket. (But that’s another story. And no, I’m not sure where Eve would have a pocket.)

I didn’t like apricots until I was about 11 or 12 years old. My oldest sister Judy, married with her own family, came to our house to pick apricots off of our tree during one of the rare years it produced. She taught me how their texture is firmer than peaches, less messy, and more subtle in flavor. And that flavor, when snatched from a tree on a hot August afternoon, was fantastic. She was right—I discovered I loved apricots as I picked them with her. Suddenly, she stopped.

“How many have you eaten?” she asked me.

“About 5 or 6,” I told her.

“Well, stop,” she said as she popped another in her mouth.

Hypocrite, I thought. “Why?”

“Because these will make you the best of friends with the toilet around this time tomorrow.” She swallowed down another one.

“How many have you had?”

“Probably 20,” she said nonchalantly. “I’ve already cleared my calendar for tomorrow afternoon. I’ll hate myself then, but for now? Heavenly!”

She later confessed that on the drive home, she had to put the bucket of apricots in the back of her van, out of her reach. The next day she lived in the bathroom while her husband laughed at her.

“But it was worth it!” Judy insisted when I next saw her. “Fresh and free apricots come only a few weeks of the year, and some years, not at all. Eat them while you can.”

Each year my mother and I watched our apricot tree, cheering at the popcorn-like blossoms and hoping for a good crop. Then, two years out of three, a frost killed the blossoms.

But when we had mild springs? One year we had a huge crop, and came home one day to see little orange bits all over the road in front of our house. Perplexed, we looked up on the hill where our apricot tree stood and saw that half of it was lying on the ground, the weight of so much fruit breaking it. Little apricots had rolled down the hill and became a mushy mess all over the road. Neighbors came to help clean up the mess, my mother made jam for two straight days. At the end, she cursed the little things for being so darned plentiful that year—and Judy and I ate far too many again.

My sister and mom, in 2007, clearly wishing they were eating apricots.

Yesterday, a neighbor wrote on Facebook how sick she was of making apricot jam, and I thought about my mom. She’s now 85 and fading slowly away. In hospice care, she doesn’t open her eyes, she doesn’t speak, and now she no longer eats. [UPDATE: My mother passed away in January of 2014.] She won’t taste apricots or make jam this year.

I moved away to the east coast some years ago, saw apricots for sale occasionally at the grocery stores for exorbitant prices, and remembered free Utah apricots. Then we moved back to Utah in 2007 and occasionally got an apricot or two, and loved them.

But there are still apricots, brought to me by a dear friend, in a bag [the same friend who texted me today–Allison doesn’t forget]. 

I don’t have Judy, either. She won her first round with cancer, but it came back more angry for a second bout, and nearly three years ago [seven, now], Judy passed away.

We don’t have that tree anymore, either. We sold the house, and the tree, a few years ago.

069

My mom, four years ago, briefly holding her youngest grandchild. She passed away in 2014.

Yesterday, I taught my 4-year-old [now 9-year-old] how to love apricots. After her fifth one I said, “We shouldn’t have any more. Too many will make you need to go to the bathroom a lot tomorrow.”

She nodded in agreement, but about ten minutes later came to me with another apricot for me to open and pit. “Just one more,” she promised. “The last one.”

I smiled and took one more as well.

Then ate about twenty-five more.

Today I’ve spent a lot of time in the bathroom.

IMG_0870

Judy and me, in 2007. No apricots in sight, but I’ll eat extra for her today, in 2016. And likely regret it again.

And I swear I’ve heard Judy laughing at me and saying, But they’re worth it, aren’t they?

[Today, I told my nine-year-old that the apricots were ready again, and she eagerly asked, “When can we go get them?” If you’ll need me tomorrow, I’ll be in the bathroom. I have to eat enough for not only myself, but my mom and Judy as well. Someone has to do it.]

“I don’t believe this!” Peto threw his arms in the air and clomped around the garden. “For moons I’ve been trying to understand the meaning of the peach pits, and here you tell me they’re only for growing more peaches? For crying out loud!” he exclaimed as he started for the road. “The pits are only for getting more peaches—”

Unless,” and once again Yung’s quiet calm voice cut through Peto’s complaining and pierced his heart, “unless the Creator wanted you to get something more out of them.” ~Book 4, The Falcon in the Barn

Does this look like failure to you?

Failure comes in many shapes and forms. Like this, for instance:

IMG_0802

 

Horrifying, right? Last Christmas I tried to make stuffed Chewbaccas for my family. In the past I’ve successfully made Totoros and Tribbles and Adipose, but last year? Not only once, but twice I failed to make anything not terrifying.

(Seriously, my four-year-old took a startled step back when I showed them to him. He made me hide them in the closet, where I found them again as I was reorganizing recently.)

I had carefully planned these Chewbaccas, bought the perfect furry fabric, drew up the patterns, cut and stitched, but when it came to stuffing them, bizarreness ensued.

I’ve been thinking a lot about failure, how it gets us to places where we didn’t expect to be. I love what J. K. Rowling, author of Harry Potter, has said about failure:

 . . . Why do I talk about the benefits of failure? Simply because failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena I believed I truly belonged. I was set free, because my greatest fear had been realised, and I was still alive, and I still had a daughter whom I adored, and I had an old typewriter and a big idea. And so rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.

My botched Chewbaccas aren’t on the same level of disappointment as Ms. Rowling’s early career, but I’ve encountered failures myself, some quite epic, which I don’t feel the need to reveal here. But Rowling’s words are profound when she remarks that succeeding in one arena would have meant she wouldn’t have arrived where she really needed to be.

Think back to when you were in high school, or college: what dreams did you have? Are you anywhere near where you expected to be?

I’m not. I’m miles away.

And I’m glad of that.

To my high school self, who and where I am now would have been seen as a disappointment. But looking back, I realize that my younger self failed to see where I really should be, what I needed to accomplish.

Failure, to one person, may be a raving success to another. I’m grateful for maturity and wisdom that have helped me see that I don’t want certain “successes,” and that what seems like “failure” can actually be a profound achievement. It merely depends on our situations in life, our perspective, and what we think is important.

I’m reminded of the story of a successful scientist who created life-saving medical devices. When asked about his upbringing, he told the story of his impoverished parents, and how they encouraged him to get more than the 8th grade education they had. Someone commented that it must have been difficult to be raised by such failures. But the scientist was startled by that comment, and replied that his parents had been the greatest successes he’d ever known. Thrust into their difficult circumstances, they still raised confident, ambitious children who accomplished marvelous things. Had life been easier, he surmised, their family likely would have been very average. Their earlier “failures” paved the way for their children’s accomplishments.

Not every failure is a later success, though. And sometimes, success morphs into failure, like these recipes.

How did such dishes of terror and texture come to be? (Click here and here to see even more recipes just like Grandma used to make, if you dare.)
Realize that these combinations went through some kind of review or committee, that several people had to experiment, taste, and decide, “Yes, these are the winners! Photograph and publish them!”

Which goes to prove that even a group of people with power and authority can make horribly wrong judgments.

We now see these recipes and shudder with thoughts of, “What were they thinking?!”

Why was this considered a success back then, and an utter failure a few decades later? What set of circumstances led people with the same taste buds as us to believe that mayonnaise improves every dish, that Jell-O can be considered a salad with the right veggies thrown in, and that SPAM is edible?

For that matter, what raving “successes” do we consider now will be regarded as dismal failures in the future?

But, likewise, what catastrophes are we experiencing now will be later seen as the beginnings of marvelous triumphs?

Perhaps the message here is, don’t discount your failures too quickly. Don’t harp on yourself too much for the disappointments you encounter, or even cause. Who knows, they just may be getting you on the road to victory.

Unless it involves Jell-O, mayo, SPAM, or disfigured Chewbaccas. Sometimes, a failure is a failure.

But maybe not always.

Halloween’s coming up.

Whereas my Chewies failed as Christmas gifts, they’ll likely be fantastic as Halloween decorations.

Maybe it’s just all about timing.

     “Colonel Shin,” Captain Thorne started, “if they’re incapable of making intelligent choices—”
     “They can’t learn to make those choices if they aren’t given the opportunity, Thorne,” Perrin told him. “Give them the opportunity to learn.”
     “And fail?”
     “Failure is part of learning, Captain. It’s not to be shunned—it’s to be embraced and learned from. Would you really want someone making all your decisions for you?”
                                         ~Book Four: The Falcon in the Barn

One good reason for having kids

I have little time to write a full post today, with SLC Comic Con rapidly coming up. I’m making 200 signs and 300 clocks to sell in just one month (with products from my Etsy shop), and I’m slightly hyperventilating because I’m only half done, I have no packaging or booth advertising ordered, and as a newbie I’m terrified to my core. (Panic attack will commence in 5 . . . 4 . . . 3 . . . )

Still, I took a moment the other day to spend some important time with my 8-year-old. A couple of weeks ago, her beloved scooter betrayed her, dumping her over the handlebars onto the sidewalk, breaking both bones in her arm just above her wrist. It’s been rough as I’ve had to help bathe and dress each day, and she hasn’t been able to play in pools or splashpads as she wants to. Knowing she needs some tenderness and concern as she heals, I smiled as she came up to me the other day with a Sharpie marker and displayed her cast. I knew what was coming.

sign your name on my cast

Because if you can’t mess with your own kids, what’s the point of having them?

(It’s a joke, folks. Relax. She didn’t cry about it that long.)

 

The parable of the protesting preschooler (or, when God drags us kicking and screaming)

protesting preschoolers

He was sleeping happily on the couch when we hoisting him upright and informed him, “It’s time to go. Get up!”

If you’ve never roused a four-year-old from a late-afternoon nap, you have no idea of the battle which ensues.

He did not want to go, and he demonstrated that by shouting and flailing. Hiding under his blanket didn’t help (he was amazed that we could find him so easily), and when he started kicking, I decided he didn’t need to wear shoes anyway.

“I don’t want to go!” he wailed, but his 16-year-old brother took that as a challenge and flung him over his shoulder like a sack of flour.

Pummeling his big brother’s back, my littlest boy bellowed all the way to the van where he was dropped, shoved into his seat, and belted in before he could escape.

The shouting and protesting continued as we drove for twenty minutes to our destination, all of us trying to ignore his yelling as well as someone can ignore a horde of stinging wasps.

His shouts continued as we piled out of the van, and we received many looks of curiosity and amusement—and probably some disapproval—as we hauled out our protesting son and got in line behind the two hundred or so already ahead of us.

“I . . . do . . . not . . . want . . . to . . . do . . . this!” He was nearly dry-heaving now, and I ignored everyone’s stares around us as I held my objecting preschooler.

Not soon enough, the gates opened, the crowd before us piled in, and we followed, with angry boy still held tightly in my arms.

He quieted as he saw the scene before him, remembering that we did this last year, remembering that it wasn’t as awful as he thought.

He saw the piles of free pizzas—his favorite.

He saw the swimming pools—reserved for all of us who participated in the summer reading program set up by our local library.

He saw the water slides—and I could feel his rigid body go soft.

He wanted this.

But he wasn’t about to show that. Not yet. After all of his protestations, his pride couldn’t let him surrender so quickly.

So we sat down at a picnic table as the other kids and parents rushed into the water. He watched with both longing and resentment in his eyes.

My husband leaned over to me and whispered, “Go wade in the kiddie pool. I bet he’ll follow.”

So I announced my intentions to our son, then strode over to the pool. My feet had barely touched the water when he was by my side, dancing in excitement.

“So you want to go in?” I queried.

“YES!” he cried. Forgotten was his early protests, maybe forgotten was his twenty-minute temper tantrum, certainly forgotten was his pride as he began to strip, right there, to get out of his pants and underwear.

Discreetly I brought him back to our table where we covered him with a towel and put on his swimsuit. Then he ran—even though we shouted to only walk—back to the kiddie pool.

No amount of water could have wiped the smile off his face as he played and splashed and pretended to swim. We went down the big water slides together, and with joy he climbed out of the landing pool and raced back to the pool—the deep one, though—and jumped right in.

Dad followed, because our four-year-old can’t swim, and even though he bobbed under the water a couple of times until Dad could rescue him, he was still smiling as he coughed and spluttered to clear his lungs.

Pizza was eaten, the boy was nearly drowned a few more times, and a good time was had by all.

At the end of the evening when the sun went down and the winds came up, he was eager to be wrapped up in a towel and brought back home to a warm bath.

“So,” I started casually as I washed the chlorine off of him that night, “are you glad you went to the pool with us?”

He grinned.

“Even though you were screaming and crying that you didn’t want to?”

He laughed. Oh, that was so three hours ago!

I was about to be smug that I was right all along—he would enjoy it—until I felt God tapping me on the shoulder, as He occasionally does, to point out something He knows I’ll bite my tongue about later.

How many times has God placed before me a situation that I didn’t want because it would yank me out of my warm, soft spot?

How often has He dragged me away, kicking and screaming, to a new adventure?

How often has He patiently ignored my protests, even when I was utterly ridiculous in my complaints?

How often did He sit next to me, long-suffering, as I surveyed the scene before me, knowing that I’d want it, but that my pride wouldn’t yet let me admit it?

How often has He gently led me to the water, waiting for me to finally give up and jump in with both feet?

How often has He chuckled as I bounded and cheered and flopped and laughed with joy at my new situation that I was so sure I did not want?

And, perhaps most importantly, how long until I quit instantly whining to God whenever He thrusts me into a new situation that I will eventually love?

I’m afraid my pride won’t allow me to answer that just yet.

“There’s another plan for you, my boy. You’ve changed your path before, now do it again.” 

~Book 3, The Mansions of Idumea

Four reasons why change is the best, crappiest thing that can happen to you.

I hate and love change.

Sometimes change is most welcome: when you finally get a new job; when you finally move into that better place, and when that baby finally decides to be born. There are times when change is desired, sought after, even prayed and begged for.
The change that cancer is in remission.
The change that you are no longer in debt.
The change that you get to throw away your “fat” clothes.

But change is also a nasty beast. When life is floating merrily along, change is the white water rapids which you didn’t expect to throw everyone out of the boat.
Chronic illness.
Loss of job and/or house.
Death.

It’s when God whispers, “Plot Twist” in your ear, and you know nothing will ever, ever be quite the same again. And often, it’s a huge battle in our minds to decide if this latest plot twist is a good one or not.

But change has to happen, for these terrible, marvelous reasons:

1. It’d be horrible for things to stay the same. Don’t believe me? Think about this: What if your baby really did stay little forever? Never learning to speak, or walk, or play? After a while, you’d grow annoyed, even dissatisfied with this creature who does nothing but leaches off of you, year after year, whining and crying and demanding you carry it around. While it’s sad to see our little one outgrow those newborn clothes, it’s also thrilling to hear their first laughs, see them figure out how to toddle, and watch their personalities grow.

We don’t really want things to stay the same. We’re excited when that baby is old enough to catch a ball, when we can take him camping, or to the movies. While one stage quietly fades away, a new, even better stage takes its place. Progress is exciting.

2. We’re not mean to be stable. It’s the one thing in life most of us crave—stability. Maybe we crave it because it’s so elusive. I cringe whenever I read articles about money management and budgeting, because our income is rarely the same each month. And our family life is always changing; kids never have the same schedules year to year, and someone is always doing something new, somewhere else, with someone else. They go to different schools, go to college or the army, and find significant others, once again changing the dynamics of our family.

And thank goodness. Because, honestly, I find I get bored with predictability. While we crave stability, I think a lot of us also crave adventure. That’s why we go on vacations, take up new hobbies, write books, take classes, take on new challenges. We need to be shaken up every now and then. Snow globes aren’t interesting until after they’ve been tumbled around.

life as a snow globe

3. What would we miss if we didn’t change? Years ago we built our dream house, with a huge yard, and plans that we’d stay there forever. It’d be where our grandkids came to visit us.

Four short years later, we lost that home and had to move two thousand miles away. I was bitter that we lost our dream.

After two more moves, we settled in rural Virginia, and our kids had adventures we never could have had otherwise. We traveled and learned and had a great time.

Not long ago we had the opportunity to drive by our old “dream house.” I was startled to hear myself say out loud, “I’m so glad we didn’t stay here.”

Because staying would have been terrible . . . for me. I realized then, as I looked at our old house, who I would have been had we never left. I would have been narrow-minded, fearful, and quite prideful, I’m ashamed to admit, had I stayed in my small town, with my small ideas, and with my small ambitions. I needed to change, in order to help my nine children who have so many different challenges. Our change changed everything, and I liked who I had become because I was forced to change.

4. The only way to grow is through change. And I’m not just talking about our children. I’m talking about us—adults. We’re not done improving simply because we hit a certain age, although some may think we are.

I once met a woman who lived in the same house she was born in. She never traveled out of her little town, except occasionally down to the “big city” ninety miles away, which she found a terrifying place. She married and raised her family and lived to be quite aged, all staying in the same neighborhood, and only occasionally crossing the state line to visit a grandson in another rural community.

At first, I envied her. She had a place that was home. At the time, we were moving around a lot, and all I wanted was a place to consider a permanent home.

But I was struck by a strange sense of stagnancy. Of dullness. Of fear. Of entrapment as I chatted with her. She’d never seen the ocean. The “distant” states of Colorado and California were evil and horrible places. When she heard of all the states we’d lived in, she literally pulled back, almost as if she feared I was contagious. She promptly turned to the person next to her—a long-time neighbor—and started up a new, safer, more predictable conversation.

I didn’t feel as nearly as contaminated as my acquaintance thought I was. Moving to new states, starting new jobs, beginning new projects are—initially—terrifying, but eventually invigorating. I think about how much I’ve changed over the years, and I like what I’ve picked up along the way.

This poor, dear woman, however, never felt she could leave. Her great-grandparents settled the area as pioneers, and she felt duty-bound to stay where they had landed.

I always wondered if it ever occurred to her that her ancestors once started somewhere else, and made a lot of changes in their lives to get where they finally ended? That perhaps they appreciated the changes they experienced, and maybe were sad that she never encountered any?

The purpose of life is growth through change, and that thought is simultaneously terrifying and thrilling.

Last month I was harvesting berries in our yard which, after eight years of work, is nearly exactly the way we want it. Our neighborhood is wonderful, the valley picturesque. We’re conveniently situated to all our children and the colleges they want to attend, and we love where we live . . .
Then God whispered into my ear those two words which terrify and thrill me: PLOT TWIST.

“No!” I nearly cried out. We’ve finally got some stability! Predictability! . . . Wait.

Have I become complacent? Narrow-minded? Or, even worse, stagnant?

Within a handful of short days, my husband was recruited, interviewed, and invited to take his dream job . . . thousands of miles away.

Change, coming again. I handled it in the most mature manner possible: I wept every day for three weeks.

Then God started trickling into my mind the reminders I listed above, knowing that while I’d “kick against the pricks” for a while, eventually I’d become intrigued. He patiently ignored my protestations, just like I do when I pat my children on the head as they whine about something they don’t want to do, but later will realize they really wanted all the time.

God’s smirking at me right now—yes, He does smirk. Because He also knows just how much I love a good plot twist.

But usually not while I’m in the very long middle of it, where I can’t see the outcome. While we’re trying to figure out if this change is temporary or permanent, who will join Dad and when, do we rent our old house, keep it, or sell it, then what will we move into, once we finally join Dad in several months . . .

Change.
I hate it.
I love it.
Right now, however, I just hate it. Mostly. (I have to confess, the coast of Maine is intriguing . . .)

Stay tuned. Plots change every day.

Crud and hallelujah.

Eventually Mahrree whispered, “I never wanted to leave this house . . . Every good memory is in this house.”

The woman answered just as softly. “And you take every good memory with you. Your life isn’t the house. Your life is your family. Things don’t matter. People do.”
Book 4, The Falcon in the Barn

(And thanks to eBookDaily, who today just featured me! Ebookdaily125)

If you don’t like “their game,” then for everyone’s sake, just leave it!

Be constructive, not destructive

Today I’m going to tell you the secret to everlasting happiness: you don’t have to respond to everything that flashes your way, especially if it’s “not your game.”

Do you remember this rule from your childhood: “If you don’t like our rules, then you don’t have to play”?

Now, that may sound harsh—and it was usually uttered in a nasty tone whenever I heard it in elementary school—but nevertheless, the principle has some merit.

We tend to think that all ideas, actions, and behaviors should reflect everything we believe, and if someone is contrary in any way, we call foul, or are “shocked,” or “offended”.

But here’s something to consider: the world wasn’t made for you. Or for me. Or for any specific individual. It was made for all of us, and at times, we’re going to step on each other’s toes.

When that happens, don’t throw a fit, don’t get angry, don’t criticize—just move your toes.

For example, I follow a lot of Facebook groups, a few which I probably shouldn’t. One is a group of southern women who are romance writers. I don’t write romance, and I don’t live in the south. I know I’m not fully “one of them,” and I can’t play by all of their rules.

Not long ago they had a discussion about “What’s your favorite coffee for editing?”

I don’t drink coffee.

But I didn’t go on and comment about that. I didn’t say anything. I followed the thread for all of five seconds before realizing that everything I know about coffee comes from watching “Frasier” on Netflix.

Instead of announcing I couldn’t play because they were breaking my “personal rules,” or announcing haughtily that I felt left out, I did something astonishing:

I just moved on.

No judgment, no statements of “I don’t think this is appropriate,” no nothing. Just moved on. (Same thing when they had a discussion about wine, and I realized, once again, that all I know about wine comes from “Frasier.” This Mormon girl can say “chardonnay,” but I haven’t the slightest idea as to what it refers.)

I followed that group later again, when they had a discussion about drafting timelines. That was a game I could play and learn from.

I do the same thing with blogs I follow. Not all of them conform to my “personal rules” of what’s appropriate and what isn’t.

For instance, one collective blog filled with excellent insights on character and plot development references a lot of shows and movies I know nothing about, nor would ever watch. (Everything I know about “Game of Thrones” I’ve learned from these bloggers.) Quite often their language becomes coarse, even vulgar. Sometimes their descriptions are rougher than my tender eyes want to witness.

But I’ve never commented about those so-called offenses. I’ve never complained.

Because this is their game. Their rules. If I want to play, I’ll play. Otherwise I sit on the sidelines and wait for the moment when I feel it’s safe to jump in.

It would be highly inappropriate of me to comment that I occasionally find them going too far, or citing too many R-rated works, because this game isn’t for me. It’s theirs. I asked to join, because when these guys nail it, they really nail it, and I appreciate their candor and insights.

They let me be part of their game on the assumption that I’d let them play their game their way. So I do.

I could always leave them, if I find their game no longer fit my needs. I’ve quit following many blogs and Facebook groups for that reason.

And when I do leave, I do so quietly. I make no fuss. I don’t proclaim in a loud and angry post why I’m leaving the group. I don’t lambaste the blog owner, or the members of the group, or say anything at all . . . because it’s not my game. It’s theirs.

I simply tap the “unfollow” button, or the “unsubscribe” button, and go find something else that works for me.

(Yes, I’m boasting here about my elevated attitudes, because guess what? This my blog, and I get to set my rules. If you don’t want to play this game today, you may move on as well.)

I’ve walked out of performances, I’ve left gatherings early, I’ve even quit a job once because “their game” just wasn’t working for me. I never drew attention to myself, just slipped quietly out the door in search of a game whose rules fit my attitudes better.

And, unsurprisingly, I’ve found myself far happier as a result. It’s exhausting to pretend you’re one thing when you’re another, or to try to force yourself into a group where you really don’t belong.

There comes a time to be honest with yourself and those around you, to recognize that you’re playing their game wrong, and that you should go in search of a game more fitting to your needs.

How did I learn this? From a very brave woman. She grew up with my husband, married a very nice man, had several children, then everything fell apart. Her husband developed a mental illness for which he refused treatment, and after several years of anguish and violence, she divorced him. I know this only from personal conversations, because she didn’t deride or complain or advertise her pain online.

She simply, quietly, changed her status and last name when the divorce occurred, and moved on to begin her own game.

A few months later, she decided that there were too many hard memories for her in the LDS/Mormon church, and she and her children left it. Again, she did so quietly, without any fuss or public exclamations about doing so, nor did she deride those who choose to stay with it. The only way I knew they had found a new church was that she began posting sermon snippets from her new preacher, and advertising for their retreats and youth groups. She found a game that was more suited to how she wants to play this life.

There is no railing about her past, no criticisms of the groups and extended family that she left–she and her children just moved on.

So here’s my challenge: if you don’t feel comfortable with a situation—be it on Facebook or Twitter or any other social media platform, walk away from it. Don’t waste your time complaining, or antagonizing, or even dispensing what you perceive may be your very righteous judgment.

Just walk away.

This goes for larger issues, too. I’m astonished with many people who are angry at a political organization, or a religious group, or a long-time set of friends, or a difficult job, or painful family, and want to leave . . . yet never do.

Instead, they sit and harp and make everyone else around them miserable, intent on dragging everyone down with them, when they could instead get up and leave and find a group more in line with their philosophies.

To those who won’t make that clean break, but insist on venting like a self-centered teenager that the world’s not exactly as they want it, here’s my plea: Don’t waste everyone’s time getting mad at those playing the game you no longer like.

Go find your own game! Make it, if you must!

There are MILLIONS out there–go get one!

Create your own group, or blog, or even your own political/religious/grassroots movement!
Do something constructive, instead of going back to the same old stuff you don’t like, and being destructive there.

Be constructive, not destructive

Who knows—maybe you’ll change the world with your new game.

At least you’ll no longer be unfairly burdening those whose games you no longer care for.

 

Why would normally sane people take teenagers out into the wilderness of Wyoming to walk for 18 miles?

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My husband and I just returned from rough camping for three days and two nights with a bunch of teenagers, and it’s called “Trek.”

We weren’t the only ones, either, to take on this insanity.

While Dave and I were responsible for eight teenagers, 13-17 years old, three other married couples from our ward (or congregation) accompanied us with their groups of eight kids (our two teenagers among them), along with nine other groups from our stake (about the size of a diocese).  We were “Pa” and “Ma” and they are our trek “kids.” All total, there were nearly 500 of us on this adventure.

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The Hyrum 12th Ward Trekkers

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Dave and my trek “kids,” before our “family” got too dusty and dirty.

At 6 am on Thursday, nearly 400 of us piled into ancient school buses with dubious safety features (about 100 followed in chase vehicles with our gear and food), drove for 6 hours on uncomfortable seats with no A/C, and spent the weekend pretending to be 19th century pioneers.

Yes, that means wearing dresses, aprons, and bonnets for girls. Because not all of our participants can sew, I made eight skirts, seven bonnets, seven aprons, and one relatively authentic pioneer shirt for my cute husband. The boys wore suspenders, long-sleeve shirts, long pants, no jeans, and bandannas. (But modern shoes, thank goodness.)

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Dave and I and two of our “real” kids. (The males in our family do know how to smile. Just not for cameras.)

Why would we go to so much effort, and drive for so long, just to walk around in the wilds of Wyoming?

Because our teenagers deserved it.

Not to suffer—which they did, but only mildly. But to discover incredible, amazing things about themselves.

Now I know I recently wrote about why the most dangerous words are “I deserve,” but here’s one thing all people everywhere deserve: perspective.

We all also deserve to discover a few things about ourselves. For instance . . .

Our teenagers deserve to discover their strength. Our kids are typical: they love their electronics, their games, their music, their cars . . . and they had none of those on trek. No, not even cell phones. (There really isn’t coverage out there, anyway.)

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See any cell phone towers?

All of this means that our teenagers were, overall, soft. (So were most of us adults, to be fair.) While we’ve been trying to prepare these kids since March for this adventure—encouraging them to go walking, and even taking them out ourselves—I think only a handful were fully prepared for the experience.

The second day of trek required 10 miles of hiking (later, we learned it was actually 12, but the senior citizen missionaries leading us initially said only 10, so that they kids didn’t lose heart). The terrain was varied and beautiful, but dusty and difficult, especially pulling and pushing a 19th century handcart through the sand.

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(Knowing how much I love epic-looking clouds, God generously provided some for our photos.)

The kids grew tired, despite the water and Powerade and Jolly Ranchers and hoagie sandwiches and bags of Milano cookies. (No, we didn’t eat like pioneers—that’s for sure.)

But they persevered. We “Trek Parents” were always by their sides to encourage and help, but we didn’t need to do much because the kids helped each other. They told stories. They made up song lyrics. They cheered when boys tried to sneak off subtly into the bushes to relieve themselves, and returned victorious from watering the shrubs despite threats to sensitive body parts from mosquitoes.

When one of our trek sons developed the most epic nosebleed ever, and the EMT and nurse who accompanied our group of one hundred finally got the bleeding stopped, they recommended that he ride for a time, seeing how pale he was.

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Our kids hastily made room in the handcart, helped in their “brother” get in, then, without any complaint about the added weight, cheerfully pulled him to the river where we crossed, pioneer-like, three times in the rushing water, pulling their brother.

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Our teens deserve to discover their strength, and their compassion, and their fortitude.

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Trek isn’t some exercise in futility—walking in enormous circles without running water or bathrooms. (And the porta-potties were few and far between. At one point, I took matters into my own hands by holding up a tarp and letting girls hide in front of me to relieve themselves on the Oregon trail. Quite literally on the trail. That’s why we brought lots of flushable wipes with us.)

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The disparity of porty potties. We taught the men they were allowed to water the bushes. Leave the potties to those of us wrestling with skirts, aprons, and bloomers.

Trek is an exercise in perspective, which our teenagers deserve to understand.

It think few people realize this, but over half a million people used the Oregon/California/Mormon Trail over a span of 25 years—from 1843 to 1869. The trail was so well-used that the original wagon ruts are still quite visible, nearly 150 years after the last wagons used them.

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These are the actual wagon ruts, from 150 years ago, caused by 500,000 pioneers. The distance, astonishing. The vista, immense. The trees and water, non-existent.

Among the 500,000 who trekked west were 60,000 Mormons, fleeing the persecution and mobs of Missouri and Illinois. In fact, they frequently trekked on the other side of the rivers, away from other pioneers who still saw them as targets for persecution and theft. The Mormons figured no one would bother them in the wild west (part of which eventually became Utah), so they took to wagons, and later handcarts, to get there. Most traveled safely, with their mortality rates similar to that of the rest of the country.

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Except for two groups of poor immigrants from England, Sweden, and Denmark. They arrived in America with very little money, had to build handcarts, and got a late start from Iowa City (now Omaha, Nebraska). The Martin handcart company had 665 immigrants, the Willie company around 500. They didn’t leave until August, when they should have been arriving in Salt Lake City, 930 miles away. (You can read more in detail about these companies here.)

Wyoming weather is unpredictable, and 1856 was brutal. In early October, snowstorms hit the beleaguered handcart companies, covering the poorly-dressed and running-out-of-food immigrants with over a foot of snow. It was impossible for them to progress, and they’d been crossing rivers with chunks of ice floating in it. Freezing, without proper clothing or shoes, and surviving on only half a cup of flour a day, the handcart companies were doomed. One group, the Martin Company, eventually took shelter in a cove which protected them from the Wyoming winds, but not the snows.

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Martin’s Cove, Wyoming

It was here that we first took our teenagers, and explained to them that it was sacred and hallowed ground, for not only did the handcart pioneers take shelter there, over 50 died and were buried in unmarked graves. President Gordon B. Hinckley also stated some years ago that the Savior walked there, making it akin to a temple.

Here the Martin Company waited for rescue parties, which Brigham Young had sent from Salt Lake City, over 350 miles away. Sixteen supply wagons and many healthy men headed out immediately, but traveling by wagon on unimproved roads with snows flying meant their progress would also be hampered. (Eventually 250 wagon teams were dispatched.) Many of these rescuers also suffered from hunger, illness, and exposure because they went to help.

When they found the Martin Handcart company, the immigrants were beyond frail, many of them dying, and couldn’t cross another freezing river to get to the cove for shelter. About 15 men, most of them young men and older teens—like those we had brought with us last week—carried the several hundred people across the waist-high river, over and over again, all day long in the bitter cold and snow. Miraculously, all of the young men rescuers survived, although they suffered from the effects of their heroic deeds for the rest of their lives.

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One of three statues commemorating the rescuers who carried pioneers through the icy rivers to the shelter of Martin’s Cove.

This was what our teenagers deserve to see and learn; to recognize their own strength, to see what others had done. Some of our kids had ancestors who were among the immigrants or the rescuers. As they walked the three miles of the cove, they did so in silence. Imagine that—over a hundred teenagers, hiking quietly recognizing the strength and faith of those who had gone before, and the willingness of other teenagers to sacrifice to save others. They deserve to learn reverence.

Our teens also deserve to discover they can do hard things. That evening we drove on our buses an hour west to where the Willie handcart company was discovered by the rescuers. What took us only an hour to drive took the rescuers several days to accomplish in snow and wagons. Here we camped, ate far better than the pioneers did (taco salad and pudding cups, anyone?) and spent the next day hiking that 12 miles I mentioned earlier.

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At one point in our trek, all of the men and boys were sent on ahead, recreating the fact that many of the pioneers were women who traveled alone with their children. The men were gone because many had been recruited to join the Mormon Battalion; other men had died along the way, giving their last rations to their wives and children. Still other men went on ahead to prepare the way for their families to follow.

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Preparing for the “Women’s Pull” and watching our men and boys walk away.

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On the other side of the valley, the boys were taught for a few minutes about their responsibilities to their families, God, and community, while on our side the girls were taught about their strength and ability to do hard things.

Then the girls and Mas pushed the handcarts, by ourselves, ¾ of a mile to where the Pas and boys were waiting and watching. They weren’t allowed to come help, but just observe as we struggled through the sand to get the carts up the hill.

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One of my older (real) sons, who did trek four years ago, said that was the hardest moment—seeing the girls struggle and knowing that he couldn’t help.

However, another recreation we did was that of a Danish wife whose husband became too ill to continue. He told her to go on without him, but she dragged him into the cart and hauled him herself for two weeks until he improved.

On our trek, we had a Ma and Pa act that out, with us at the top of a hill watching as the small wife half a mile away struggled to heave her very tall husband into the cart, then start pulling it all by herself. Even though it wasn’t “real,” still I couldn’t take any more pictures because I was too teary-eyed, watching my friend try to get her husband up that sandy hill.

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After a minute, one of our leaders said, “Any of the young men here want to go help?”

They did, four of them, eagerly jogging down the hillside to rush to her aid and help her push and pull her husband to the top of the hill. I have no pictures of it, because it was a sacred moment. None of us need photos to remember that.

Our teens deserve to discover that there’s nothing more important than family. Ten miles into that hike, our group paused at Willie’s Meadow, where the handcart company of 500 finally had to stop, out of food and facing too deep of snows. The rescuers found them, too, and got them over Rocky Ridge, 16 miles away to where the supply wagons had stopped, unable to go farther. After that ridge, another 13 people died, and after they were buried, two of the men who buried them also died.

It was in the meadow, where the kids were told about the Willie company, that we handed each teenager a letter, written some weeks ago by their parents. One hundred teens then went off on their own to sit in silence and read their letters, and spend a few minutes writing in their journals.

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All of Dave’s and my trek “kids.”

Again, complete silence. Dave and I quietly took pictures, and felt that even our whispering was too loud as we watched our trek kids, our own two teenagers, and about 90 more read, contemplate, and even meditate in an area of complete peace and tranquility.

That evening our ward group—about 50 of us—sat around a campfire and talked about our impressions of the two days, of what we learned.

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Teenager after teenager stood up and expressed their thoughts, talked about their love for their families, their ancestors, and those who were there that day helping them to learn.

That night the sky was astonishing—no moon, no light pollution, and no clouds meant that our kids could stare up into a sky crowded with stars and the Milky Way, and feel the universe come down and touch them. Even after such an exhausting and long day, no one wanted to go to their tents just yet. And so Dave and I stood with our eight adopted trek kids, after our “family” prayer and a group hug (which was more of a scrum), and gazed at the heavens which gazed back at us.

Finally, at midnight, we sent them off to bed, reminding them we had camp to take down in the morning, and visit Rock Creek to see where the rescue wagons had been, before the long drive home.

At Rock Creek, where the 15 of the Willie Company had died, we saw their burial area, and sat down on wooden planks for a devotional. That’s when the storm came, an isolated thunder shower, dumping cold rain and even hail upon us as our stake president tried to talk to us about the sacrifices and faith of the pioneers.

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We see the storm coming, and realized that we packed in another vehicle all of our jackets and ponchos. There was nothing we could do but wait to be hit.

We shivered. We froze. And, because it was before our lunch of more sandwiches, grapes, and even soda and more Milano cookies (there’s a Pepperidge Farm factory in our valley–lucky us), we were hungry.

For ten minutes we experienced a tiny fraction what the pioneers did, and it was utterly miserable. One of our leaders said that he had prayed we would have the weather we needed. Apparently, we needed to feel a little bit of discomfort in our very comfortable lives.

After the storm passed, we were able to take shelter in those buses which seemed to be as luxurious as a hotel. (Ok, not quite, but you see where I’m going with this.)

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Even though the school buses were miserable, they were far better and much faster than wagons, or handcarts.

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Exhausted fellow Mas and Pas, trying to sleep.

 

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(Wait–this means I’m the only responsible adult awake on the bus?!)

It’s now been a few days since we’ve returned, and I’ve finally got all the laundry washed and put away, the tents swept out, the Dutch ovens reseasoned, and the many supplies we gathered and purchased stowed away. The mosquito bites are healing, and last night I saw all of my trek daughters again, along with several of their mothers.

Would they say that trek was “fun”? Parts of it definitely were, especially for my 17-year-old daughter who was the only one who took a bath for three days, because the swift current of the Sweetwater River pulled her under briefly.

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But “fun” wasn’t the point. Over and over the parents of my kids said, “She said it was the best experience of her life,” and “He even broke down as he said how great it was,” and “She said it was a lot harder than she expected, which meant it was even better than we hoped for,” and “It changed him.”

So why did we drag these kids in pioneer gear out to the wilderness and walk them near to death (or so some claimed)?

Because they deserved it. Everyone did.

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(Pa Mercer wore the right boots, but not the right socks, which left him with many blisters. However, riding on the handcart proved more uncomfortable than walking, so his ride lasted about 50 yards. He bailed out when he saw the first major dip in the trail coming, to the relief of our kids.)

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(And I deserve to see my #6 child smile.)

The most dangerous words are “I deserve.”

The worst decisions I’ve ever made can be traced back to my believing that I “deserved” something.

No good action follows the declaration that we “deserve” something. I know the internet is awash in memes that declare we all deserve better, and should bend all efforts to attaining what we so desperately want and feel we should have, but such focus on the self leads to very dangerous, wholly self-interested thinking.

Whoa–let me get out of the way first before I’m mowed over . . .

We use the words “I deserve” to prove why we should have a benefit, and why possibly someone else shouldn’t. Why we should be given an endowment, an entitlement, first dibs, or even that perfect parking space.

We justify indulging ourselves in a multitude of ways—from spending too much and eating too much and pampering too often—all on the basis of our “deserving” it.

We say “I deserve” to prove that we shouldn’t be inconvenienced, or mistreated, or insulted, or hurt.

But other people can be. They’re not as worthy as us. They don’t deserve what we get.

“Well, that’s a little different . . .”

We claim “I deserve” when we aim to promote ourselves, even at the risk of demoting someone else. When we demand preferential treatment, ahead of everyone else. The inconsequential, the tender, the innocent, even the guilty and the important “deserve” to be trampled in our rush to get what we “deserve.”

I deserve” means no one better get in my way, or tell me anything other than I’m the most special creature ever created, even though seven billion people also inhabit this earth, along with a trillion other living organisms. We think, for some inexplicable reason, that the world owes us something.

We tell ourselves “I deserve” to justify our greed, our selfishness, our childishness, and our often vain ambitions. 

‘Ms. Clinton, some have suggested that you aren’t healthy enough or are too old to pursue the presidency. Do you have a comment on that?’. I knew I had crossed a line for her right away. She snapped back, ‘It’s my turn. I’ve done my time, and I deserve it.

Think about what happens when people think “I deserve”: They believe they can justify any behavior, tweak any law, get away with any indiscretion, or rationalize any sin because they “deserve” to.

The word itself suggests the opposite of serve: de-serve.

But no one deserves anything, especially not pain, especially not anger, especially not suffering.

I do, however, tell my children that everyone deserves kindness; but that’s because I expect them to give kindness, not demand it from anyone else.

Does anyone else hear a toddler in their head, screaming, “Gimme gimme gimme!”

Be very, very wary anytime someone says, “I deserve.” Nothing unselfish follows such a declaration.

And be even more wary when you begin to think this way for yourself.

I deserve

“Tonight,” Perrin said, “I decided the most harmful sentences begin with, ‘I deserve.’” Book 4, The Falcon in the Barn    

I hate guns, but there’s something I hate even more (A pacifist’s confession)

I hate guns.

They terrify me. They kill, indiscriminately, even in the hands of the most skilled and trained users.

I hate their shape, their noise, and the smell of the cleaning agents.

My neighborhood is filled with gun-lovers. Hunters, cops, concealed-weapon holders—I’m surrounded by them. I wish I knew who stored loaded handguns in their houses, because I wouldn’t let my kids play there. All of that frightens me, to no end.

Many of my extended family are gun-nuts. They own arsenals. They’re gunsmiths. Bullets are stockpiled as plentifully as toilet paper is stock piled in my house.

Even my husband owns guns. I require that they remain dismantled, and stored in various parts of the house, because I hate them.

There are far too many accidental shootings and deaths. I don’t want anyone to come running to my aid, wielding a firearm, because I fear they’d shoot an innocent bystander in my behalf.

I’ve never shot a gun, but all of my kids have. My son is in the military, and two of his brothers intend to follow him. I’ve handled our family guns a couple of times, only by wrapping an old towel around them. I distrust weapons of all kinds.

You may choose to be offended by this, but I also tend to distrust gun enthusiasts. Some strike me as insecure bullies, hiding behind their weapons in a childish display of bravado and strength. Look at me! Look at the size of my caliber! There’s definitely something Freudian, and something cowardly, about those who feel their many guns give them power.

I’m a bit of a pacifist, if you hadn’t noticed. I crave peace.

I’m struck by the calm countenances I see in those who eschew violence: Ghandi, the Dalai Lama, and many others who would rather take a hit rather than deliver one. My father, who taught me to hate guns, was the most peaceful man I ever knew.

Yet, there’s something that terrifies me even more than guns: those who want to disarm my family and neighbors, while still remaining armed themselves

I prefer “The Office’s” version of a Mexican standoff: no guns.

It’s the clichéd Mexican standoff: no one dares to drop their weapon, because it’ll leave them vulnerable. I have to confess, those are the scenes in movies I hate the most. I can’t see any peaceful resolution, and you just know someone’s gonna get hit, probably when they’re walking away.

It’s that hypocrisy that makes me nervous.

It’s the same hypocrisy that I see in the elite of America: those with the money and the power and the influence. Those who make laws and entertainment and products we don’t think we can live without.

Those who are trying, at all costs, to take away from us so that they can have more.

You know who I’m talking about, so I won’t name names, but here’s a brief rundown of what they do:

  • They push for Common Core in the public schools, while sending their children to private schools which don’t follow those standards.
  • They insist on sharing the wealth, but just not theirs, because they still maintain mansions, expensive cars, and designer clothing.
  • They cry about climate change, yet pick up their conservation awards via private jets and gas-guzzling SUVs.
  • They won’t carry guns, but their bodyguards do.
  • They want to disarm America, but not those in their circles of influence.

A hypocrite is the kind of politician who would cut down a redwood tree, then mount the stump and make a speech for conservation. ~Adelai E. Stevensen

It’s the same pattern we’ve seen in history, time and time again. America may not have an aristocracy like there was in the French Revolution, but . . . No, wait. We do. They’re based in Hollywood and Washington, D.C.

How difficult it is to avoid having a special standard for oneself. ~C. S. Lewis

These are very dangerous, very powerful people. For many years I’ve tried to give them the benefit of the doubt. So often I’ve defended those who want more gun restriction and laws, not because I agree with their politics (I don’t, at all) but because I sincerely believe that peace can’t happen when so many options for violence surround us.

I thought the elite of America felt that way as well.

But they duped me.

A hypocrite despises those whom he deceives, but has no respect for himself. He would make a dupe of himself too, if he could. ~William Hazlitt

They’re not interested in peace, for everyone. They’re interested only in control, for themselves. You can’t achieve that control if those below you are afforded any power.

My very peaceful father grew up during WWII, in very violent Nazi Germany. His father, a civilian, went nowhere without his sidearm (contrary to popular memes, Hitler did not disarm all of Germany; only the Jews). My parents, both later citizens of America, frequently commented how naive Americans were, how overly trusting we are of those in power, and how little we understand of the horrors of a totalitarian regime.

“This is what politics is about, right? We help the people discover the threat to their security, then we provide them with a solution. Granted, we create the threat that sends them scurrying to us for help . . .” ~Book 4: The Falcon in the Barn

This is why, no matter how much I personally hate guns, I reluctantly, begrudgingly, miserably agree that taking away all of the guns out of the hands of the public will be more disastrous than the bouts of violence we have now.

“Politicians care only about two kinds of people: those who bring them wealth and power, and those who threaten to take it away.” ~Book 3: The Mansions of Idumea

politicians and power

To the elite of America, I promise that this lowly, inconsequential, middle-aged mother of nine who will never willingly touch a firearm will, once again, support your calls for increased gun legislation and even disarmament, on one condition:

Put down your guns first.

But we all know that’s not going to happen.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ll do what I usually do during a scene of a Mexican standoff: run to my bedroom and hide in the closet until it’s all over.

I’ll likely be there for a very long time.

(~Book 5, Safety Assured Leaving East of Medicetti, is now available at Amazon and Smashwords and here)

Are you going to let the latest tragedy make you harder, or softer?

It’s happened yet again. Another horrific event/accident/terrorism incident, and in the comments of the articles and in social media we see blaming of the victim: If only they’d watched their child better, or If only they hadn’t been at that place at that time, or If only they’d been more careful, less stupid.

If only they’d been better. Like me.

I’ll admit these thoughts have occasionally hurtled through my brain when I’ve read about the latest tragedies, trying to think frantically how I would have avoided it, how I wouldn’t have let such a horrific thing happen to those I love, or to myself.

As if my placing blame on the victim will somehow ensure I’m never such a victim.

But that’s not how it works.

Everyone—even, and especially, the most innocent—can be a victim.

It’s high time we stop piling inappropriate guilt on to those who desperately need our empathy and help.

Admit it—we’ve all done things that we’ve been eternally relieved had no lasting consequences. Perhaps it’s involved our children. I’ll admit that I’ve accidentally left a child at a store/gas station, had a non-swimming child fall into a pool, and also into a lake. (In my case, this was all the same child, and I know the angels have been running full speed to ensure she’s made it to age 17.)

We’ve all had moments of distraction when driving, and nearly caused—or perhaps did cause—an accident. (I’ve been the victim of that.)

We’ve all had moments of pain and distress or anger where we’ve said something inappropriate, or set off a series of events we regret, perhaps for the rest of our lives. (I won’t go into details of when I did that. Let’s just say there’s a list.)

It’s because we’re human, and while the Savior’s statement of “He that is without sin, let him first cast a stone” was meant to humble the Pharisees who wanted to condemn an adulterous woman, I also see this phrase as a comforting reminder: We all screw up. None of us are without sin.

However, that’s not what scares us the most about tragedies. What scares us to our core is that even those utterly innocent of any wrong-doing can suffer in horrific ways.

What shocks us is that we can be very good people, and still have very bad things happen to us. No matter how much we try to blame and shame that, it doesn’t change the truth: all of us can become a victim.

For example, it’s easy to blame lung cancer patients for their misery. “Smoking causes cancer,” is something we all know. But did you know that 10-15% of all lung cancer occurs in people who have never smoked?

Sometimes, bad things just happen.

Or take the story of Michelle Williams, a pregnant mom riding in a car with her family, who was struck and killed, along with two of her children and her unborn baby, by a teenaged drunk driver. What did she do wrong to deserve that tragedy? Nothing.

That’s what really terrifies us: becoming an innocent victim.

And that’s where the real test begins: How do we react when we are innocent victims, or when we see others become victims?

This entire life is one long test: of our attitudes, our criticism, our compassion, our hearts. Every day, every moment, every event large or small, is designed to see what kind of person we’re becoming.

Sometimes, the tragedy strikes us personally. That’s the most heart-ripping moments of our lives. How we respond is the real test.

Michelle Williams, the expecting mom who died, left behind a husband and additional children. How Chris Williams responded to the deaths is nothing less than astonishing: He forgave, that very night, the teenager who killed his family. Interestingly, when Chris Williams was a teenager, a boy darted out in front of his car, and was killed by Chris. He knew what it felt like to be on the other side of the tragedy, helping to cause it. He forgave, because he needed and received forgiveness himself.

But more frequently, we’re bystanders to the tragedy, and with the internet, we’re afforded a gory front-row view to everything that happens in the world.

Perhaps here is the bigger challenge: how do we regard the suffering of others, especially when we’re presented with it every day?

It’s easy to grow cynical. “Oh, another shooting. Well, nothing good happens in a bar at 2 am anyway. Big surprise.”

It’s also easy to say, “They deserved that. What did that family think would happen to them, living in Syria?”

And it’s supremely easy to proclaim, “I’d never let my kids wander off, or be snatched out of my firm grip by a measly old alligator.”

Because it’s so much harder to accept that such a fate could hit us too. We like to cling to the idea that we’re special, we’re above pain. Nothing awful should–or would dare–happen to us.

But hardening ourselves to the suffering of others isn’t the answer. Becoming callous and finger-pointers, especially when we point at the victims, doesn’t save us; it condemns us.

I love these words from an ancient king named Benjamin, in 124 BC:

 “Succor those that stand in need of your succor . . . Perhaps thou shalt say: The man has brought upon himself this misery; therefore I will stay my hand . . . for his punishments are just—

“But I say unto you, O man, whosoever doeth this the same hath great cause to repent . .  For behold, are we not all beggars? Do we not all depend upon the same Being, even God . . .?”

Why don’t we show a charitable heart and attitude to those who suffer? Perhaps we’re afraid of becoming soft, of feeling too much for them, or of being dragged into their misery.

But I think feeling empathy for those who suffer, and even stepping up to help when we can, does far more for us than remaining callous. When we grieve with the victims, we process our own fears, and become more attuned to those around us. We become more Godlike. The ancient prophet Enoch saw God weeping over the children of the world. “Wherefore should not the heavens weep, seeing these shall suffer?”

I remember when the Sandy Hook elementary shootings occurred in 2012, where 20 children were gunned down. When I went to drop off my daughter to school, I saw many parents giving their kids extra hugs as they left, because none of us know when the last time may be the very last time.

That’s the attitude we need to take in the wake of every tragedy: Rather than blaming the victims (and yes, even in the Sandy Hook shooting I saw plenty of fingers pointing at the innocent) we instead need to cherish who and what we still have.

There are many theories and beliefs as to why bad things happen, but perhaps this is the easiest to grasp: To remind us to never take anything or anyone for granted.

With every scene of horror and terror, we can be reminded, daily, of how precious life is. How everyone deserves our love and attention, every day. How we can’t afford to hold on to pettiness, to self-righteousness, to old anger and wounds, because the purpose of this life isn’t to make us harder.

The purpose of this life is to make us soft. 

make us soft

“And you think being soft is a bad thing? Oh, no. Softness is vital. Softness is life. The Creator Himself is soft. No greater compliment could be given to you.”

~Book 5, Safety Assured Leaving East of Medicetti. Now available at Amazon and Smashwords and here