There are no coincidences, especially when trying to track down your mother’s childhood home in Poland

I hadn’t realized it’s been so long since I’ve last posted. I’ve been deep in a new project which won’t let me go, and has been nagging at me since I was a teenager.

My mother’s early life has always been a mystery. She spoke of parts of it, but not the details, because they were too raw. I’ve met only one of her family members, a cousin, back in the 1980s when I was a teenager and he was visiting from Germany, but no one else.

I’ve never had the pleasure of driving by a house and hearing her say, “And that’s where I grew up.”

My mom, about 12 years old

Because my mother, Yvonne Neufeldt Strebel, grew up in a part of Germany which is now Poland. She lost her parents before her first birthday and was adopted by her grandparents.

And then World War Two happened, and essentially destroyed her childhood. By the time she was 17 her uncle and two cousins, along with many friends, were forced to fight for Germany and were killed; another two cousins were held as prisoners of war, one in America and the other in Siberia; another uncle and a male cousin, age 16, were abducted by the Russians in 1945 as forced labor and never returned; her aunt and a female cousin, age 11, were forcibly removed from their home by the Poles in 1945 and put in a labor camp for six months, on starvation rations.

That’s when my mom escaped to the west, all her belongings in a backpack, with some family friends. As a refugee renting a bedroom from some acquaintances, she was starved by the French in Ettlingen for several months.

She never went home to Neisse, Germany, which was 80% destroyed by the time the war ended in May 1945.

My mom’s hometown of Neisse, Germany, at the end of the war.

As you can imagine, she didn’t have as many happy memories as a lot of teenagers do. She shared what fun times she did have, before everything went rapidly downhill. The rest were stories she told only a couple of times.

And much of what she lived through permeated into me as well. I’ve been both equally disturbed and fascinated by the horrors my mom experienced, and have felt compelled since a child to understand it.

Decades ago my mom told me to try to write and publish her story, and she gave me journals and stories to help. But details have been lacking, and her reticence to relive her miserable years has left me with huge gaps. (She passed away a few years ago.)

Finally this summer I’ve decided to tackle this project which has sat on my shoulders since I was 17 years old. Calling siblings for photos and gathering bins of papers has shown we have little more than a few dozen photos and some old postcards from her childhood, but it was more than I expected.

Using FamilySearch I found someone willing to translate her grandfather’s 10 postcards to her, a couple which were very revealing. These are the only words we have of the man who so loved and cared for her, who she last saw as a 17-year-old. He died only four years after she escaped to the west. He never was able to leave Germany, now Poland.

Beautiful cursive, but impossible for this American to decipher. A generous and anonymous helper has been translating these for me, and even figured out the address: Marienstrasse No. 4

But digging for details about where her cousins and aunt and uncles were taken, along with the destruction of her city, now Nysa, Poland, have meant hours and hours of research. (And I’ve discovered how brilliant Google Translate is, because my German is horrible, and my Polish is non-existent.)

So I finally got smart, and using Google Translate, wrote an email to a librarian in Nysa, Poland asking where I might find details about the city during 1945 and specifically what dates it was bombed by the Red Army. I know my mom’s second house in Neuland had been obliterated by the war.

The Nysa librarian wrote back yesterday politely saying it was too bad I didn’t have addresses—

But wait! I do have addresses! From the postcards that had just been translated last month!

I sent her back, “The first house my mom lived in was Marienstrasse 4.”

Her response was swift, coming in less than half an hour, although by her Poland time her shift was nearly over and she should be heading home.

And her response left my chin on the floor: “I live in Marienstrasse 5!”

This random librarian, in a city of 43,000, lives NEXT DOOR to where my mom spent her first 12 years of life. WHAT ARE THE ODDS!?

I stared, astonished at her response, as I imagine she stared at my email that the home I’m looking for is the apartment building that’s literally attached to hers.

Then she sent me a photo—this one which she found in a book—of how the building looked in the 1920s. The same time my great-grandfather Emil Neufeldt would have bought it. The previous owners were the Rudolfs–they owned a store on the ground floor–and their two sons would in a few years marry Emil’s two daughters.

The caption of the photo reads “Block 4 and 5: Marienstrasse (about 1921/1922)”

I wrote earlier that I’d never had the pleasure of seeing the house where my mom grew up, but there before me was the house where she grew up, where her aunts grew up, where their future husbands used to live with their parents—the family house, as it looked.

I stared at that photo which I received yesterday morning for several minutes, knowing that the first floor was a store the uncles’ parents used to own, that the second floor contained two large apartments which my mom’s grandparents turned into one to accommodate when their other grandchildren came to visit and play with their cousin Yvonne.

This morning, the librarian wrote to me again: “Before work I took pictures of Marienstrasse for you. Here’s what it looks like today.”

And for the first time in my life, I got to “drive” by the family home of where my mom grew up.

UPDATE: The librarian did more research and realized that the house ACROSS the street was my mom’s, and it looks more like what she had described. It was NOT destroyed in the war, amazingly! [She emailed me again this morning, June 9, with the clarification. Sounds like she was so excited by the coincidence that she jumped the gun a little.]

This doesn’t seem to have been destroyed by bombing, miraculously. Photo taken June 9, 2021
The sidewalks where my mom, her grandparents, her aunts and uncles and cousins walked in the 1920s-1930s-1940s. Photo taken June 8, 2021
Morning on the street of where my mom used to live, Photo taken June 8, 2021

I was initially staggered by the coincidence, then immediately remembered there are no coincidences.

I’ve often heard that searching out your family’s history is a great blessing, and that your ancestors want you to find them. I never quite believed it until I connected with a random woman thousands of miles away who lives next door [actually ACROSS the street] to where my mom grew up.

My immense thanks to Basia Tkaczuk, my new librarian friend whose last name I’ll never be able to pronounce.

“You can still choose to be cynical and see only coincidences. But I choose to see miracles. And I’d much rather live in a world full of miracles than in one filled with random chances.” ~Book 5, Safety Assured Leaving East of Medicetti

Worst tactic in the battle: canceling and silencing your enemies

Strategically, it’s a bad idea to silence the “emotional” and “illogical” rather than to let it rant. I personally want—no, need—to know what everything thinks, no matter what extreme side they’re on. (I sit in “the middle” so everyone is “extreme” to me.)

“Cancelling” those who you disagree with on Twitter, Facebook, etc. is a dangerous tactic; you’ve lost your insights on what the “opposition” is plotting next.

As a high school teacher, I can assure you that ejecting an angry student from class doesn’t always humble their behavior. Exclusion doesn’t always make them want to reform to become part of “the group.” Exclusion instead often makes them stronger in their oppositional behavior. They become even more “rebellious” to prove their point.

Ignoring those who think differently than you is akin to those in a war refusing intel about movements of their enemy. “Oh, they’re about to invade by crossing our river? Ooh, I don’t like that! That’s not what I want to hear!”

Ignorance leads to irrational decisions. Knowing the next moves of the opposition is crucial to winning your battle and then the war.

Unless you’re afraid their strategy is better than yours.

Unless you’re afraid your battle isn’t based on a wholly solid, noble premise.
Even then, if the enemy is calling out your weaknesses, wouldn’t you want to know that? To turn them into strengths?

Unless the “emotional and illogical” are telling you a truth you don’t know how to counter, a truth that demonstrates the fallibility of your position.

And you’re desperate to create an alternative “truth” that gives you what you want, despite the heavy casualties that will undoubtedly follow.

“Silencing” and “canceling” only suggest that you’re afraid your opponents are right.

However . . .

Zion allows for all ideas of thought. Zion doesn’t force, or coerce, or censor. Zion allows for debate and discourse and even disagreement—civil disagreement. And still people can be of “one mind and one heart” without agreeing on every detail. (I look at my own family; I still love and work with them, even though some may be Star Wars geeks and others are devoted to The Lord of the Rings.)

It’s time to stop silencing other and start Building Zion. #buildzion

Moving from good to great (or, “How I console myself about being middle-aged”)

An appointment in Salt Lake City yesterday allowed me time to check on my most favorite building in the world—the Salt Lake Temple. As you can see, it’s in the middle of what I’ve labeled as a long, slow surgery. One year in, and three more to go, the Salt Lake Temple’s foundation is being fortified to make it strong enough to withstand a massive earthquake.

(And I keep thinking, “Once it’s completed and rededicated, everyone brace yourselves—that 8.0 is finally going to hit Salt Lake City.)

Walking around it filled with me nostalgia and a little sadness. As a child I lived just a few blocks away, and visiting the grounds was a monthly occurrence. Even as I grew older and moved around the country, returning to SLC always meant at least driving around Temple Square, just to check on my temple (my husband and I were married there) and to make sure “home” was still secure. For as often as we’ve moved, Temple Square has always remained my “home” base. All other life radiates out from it, for me.

Yesterday, though, there was no “life” there. The temple has been gutted to make room for major and essential renovations. Yesterday I saw only a shell of stone being worked on, the operation occurring in and around and below it. Its soul and light are temporarily gone, like a spirit leaving a body during a delicate surgery, hovering above the “doctors” and observing until it’s safe to go back in. While it’s hard to see the temple in this fragile state, it’s also encouraging.

I admit I’d love to climb that scaffolding and see what’s happening inside!

The 5.7 earthquake last March knocked down part of the Angel Moroni statue and a few finials on the top of the temple, demonstrating even greater the need to strengthen it. (Renovation had begun in earnest just a couple of months earlier.) Age has taken its toll on the Salt Lake Temple, and while its “body” been very good in the past, it’s now time to make it greater.

The message wasn’t lost on me. I was in Salt Lake City seeing a specialist because my own body has been crumbling a little on the edges. Solidly in middle age, I hadn’t realized how my own systems have been slowing down and requiring some major overhauls to strengthen my foundations for the coming years.

As I’ve heard many other people say, I’ve recently taken inventory of where I am physically and mentally, and have discovered that while things were good in the past, they’re not so much anymore. The little tremblings from this past COVID-19 year has revealed that I’m not as sturdy as I assumed I was. Not only is it time to strengthen my body and mind, but to also move beyond “good” to “great.” I feel pressing on me, as I’ve heard many of you say as well, that “something” is coming in the future, that the ease we’ve been experiencing is coming to an end, that as for Joseph in Egypt, the years of plenty are coming to a close, and years of . . . “something” are around the corner.

I want to be ready for that, shored up and better than ever, just like the Salt Lake Temple. I’ve heard people complain about some of the changes occurring to ready it for refurbishing. Pioneer-era frescoes are being photographed then likely sacrificed as walls are removed, and many other traditions that have been there since the late 1800s are being set aside to accommodate three times as many patrons when the temple reopens in 2024.

Likewise I’m finding, as are many of you, that I need to remove some ideas and practices that have been part of me, set them aside to make room for that which is greater.

In some ways, it’s as if it’s gone back in time again.

I think we forget that in this sea of life we don’t drift to a certain harbor and then stay there for the next several decades, moored at dock, content to be where we are. That’s when the barnacles and rot begin to set in. Instead, we’re to learn what we can at that destination, then take on new supplies and set sail again, and again, and again.

When we see a familiar, solid landmark like the Salt Lake Temple being reworked from top to bottom, I think people balk at such a drastic surgery because they fear they, too, need a similar restructuring. I know I haven’t been thrilled to see what’s needed to make me become better, but as time goes on, I’m becoming more intrigued by the possibilities of what I can do in the future.

I took heart when I came across a few groups of moms/grandmas with little boys looking through the large acrylic windows down on the sights below. With the enthusiasm only little boys can express, they said to me, “Lady! Look at the trucks! And there’s tractors! They’re making the temple! Watch! It’s so awesome!”

I chatted and laughed with them as jack hammers suddenly started up, or massive drills pulled up and shed loads of soil, and we guessed which truck would back up next out of the narrow entrances and exits where, years ago as a child, I used to walk around the beautiful gardens with my mom and dad.

Some flower beds remain, eager for spring and visitors. I felt they wanted their picture taken, to prove they’re still growing strong.

My parents are now gone, and most of the gardens are gone as well, as is the light that used to be in the temple, but only temporarily. The light and spirit of the temple will return, as will everything else, I have no doubt.

In the meantime, something good is now making way for something greater.

The little boys’ joy in watching the construction was contagious, and I thought of my own internal and external construction I need to be about, to get me ready for the next stretch, whatever that may be.

It’s going to be a lot of work, but I realize that in the end, it’s going to be, in their words, “so awesome!”  

Striving for something great is another way to Build Zion. Let’s not wait for a better time, because this is it.

Instead of condemning, let’s try compassion

“You know why they ‘canceled’ Dr. Seuss? He cheated on his wife when she was dying of cancer!”

That outburst in the middle of my lecture made me pause in my explanation of why we won’t “cancel” authors in my high school literature class, but instead try to learn from their times and issues.

We’re next going to read Shakespeare’s “Taming of the Shrew,” and I was making a case that people who cry “Sexist!” about Shakespeare don’t understand his time period or his circumstances. In many ways, Shakespeare was progressive in his approach and treatment of women at his time (which could have been a reflection of a strong female queen in England).

I was explaining that nearly all of literature is a reflection of the history around it, so if we understand the history, we consequently understand—and further appreciate—the literature.

But first we had to get past Dr. Seuss, and this is what I plan to present to tomorrow’s class, now that I’ve had time to do a little research.

First, his publisher hasn’t ‘canceled’ all of Dr. Seuss, just six books which some perceive have negative racial undertones. Again, understanding the history of the time when the books were written (one as early as the 1930s) would clarify what was happening in the illustrations. What a marvelous learning opportunity we could have here, instead of an “erasing of history” which I fear is occurring. And when we erase, we forget, then commit the same mistakes all over again.

Second, Theodore Geisel wasn’t ‘canceled’ because of his behavior in the late 1960s. Frankly, no one cares about that (and an entire argument could be made about if they should or shouldn’t).

So what about his affair, which, after the death of his wife, turned into his second marriage?
I don’t know—I’m not privy to those details, and it’s no one’s business, either.

But for argument’s sake, let’s consider: was he remorseful about his behavior?
Back in the 1960s, we didn’t have support groups for grieving men, cancer victims, etc. People were often just left on their own to figure out how to cope, which meant, they didn’t very well. I personally know of a few situations where men found comfort in the arms of another woman when their wives were suffering. (And those “other women” weren’t entirely innocent themselves, so let’s not solely blame men here.) As a society, we’ve learned how to help those who are grieving and suffering, and in the past 50 years a whole system of supports has been put in place to help, and rightly so. People who are grieving have many more options now.

But what about Seuss? Did he regret his behavior, then or later? Did he go through some kind of repentance process? I don’t know, nor do I need to know.

Because I choose to “Think the Best Story.”

Some years ago author Orson Scott Card wrote an essay suggesting that every time we feel to judge harshly and condemn someone, that we “Think the Best Story” about them instead.

For example, the person who cut you off on the freeway really isn’t the inconsiderate, arrogant jerk you assume they are.
Maybe they just received terrible news—they’ve lost a job, or someone has been in a serious accident and they’re rushing to the hospital, or they’ve been told their cancer has returned and is incurable.
Maybe instead of a being a horrible person they’re merely distracted by disaster, and accidentally cut you off.

(I once cut off someone because I had a child projectile vomiting in the seat behind me as I drove, and it’s pretty hard to concentrate in a situation like that. I sure would have appreciated some compassion right about then.)

“Thinking the Best Story” acknowledges that we don’t have the whole situation, and instead of condemning, we instead try compassion. I think in 99.9% of potentially “offensive” situations, if we understood the point of view of the perpetrator, we’d rush to help them, not cancel them.

I think of the example of Robert Downey, Jr. and his support of Johnny Depp. When others have canceled Depp because of reports of spouse abuse (which reports are dubious, depending upon the source), Downey has come to his aid. Why? Because years ago, “Iron Man” was in and out of prisons and rehab with a drug addiction for about five years. But he wasn’t canceled then, he was helped. And one of those who helped him revive his career was Johnny Depp. Now, Downey is returning the favor, helping a friend who has been knocked down because he’s filled with compassion, not condemnation.

None of us should be seen or remembered for only our worst moments. To reduce Dr. Seuss to only as “that guy who cheated on his dying wife and drew a few ‘bad’ pictures” is unfair and inaccurate, ignoring the decades of good and even great things he did, wiping them all out for one year of stupidity.
We’ve all had stupid moments that we pray others will forgive us for.
If you haven’t had moments of stupidity, you will. Oh, you will. (I’ve had quite a few that I’ve tried to forget.)

What if we remembered Saul in the New Testament only as “that guy who persecuted and put to death the followers of Jesus Christ”? That would ‘cancel’ all the greatness he accomplished when he turned his life completely around and became Christianity’s greatest advocate of the first century. The reverse was so total that even his name was changed to Paul, and he was ultimately tried and put to death for his valiancy. To focus narrowly on his earlier mistakes is to misjudge him completely.

Paul was a little bit more than just that “guy who persecuted Christians for a while.”

This “think the best story” attitude can be applied to just about everyone who is facing cancelation. Some historical and current public figures did commit mistakes. That’s called “being human.” Should they be defined by those mistakes, especially when looking at a full life in total of marvelous and excellent successes which quite often benefitted the entire country? Of course not.

Should your life be judged so narrowly? Of course not.

But to accuse Abraham Lincoln for not doing enough to help the Native Americans–after he freed the slaves and lost his life because of it–is disingenuous. And to cancel Mark Twain, again, for Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, again, because of the use of the N word, ignores that historically the N word didn’t have the connotations it has now, and worse, negates the fact the Slave Jim and Huck are the only respectable characters in the entire book.

Perhaps it’s because Jim and Huck are purposely rebelling against the constraints of their society–and prove themselves to be the most humane and honest people in the South–is precisely why the book under the “cancel” curse once more. After all, it’s the rebels who push against the pressure of culture who are actually right.

There are others who are being canceled because some purposely misread and misjudge their opinions or beliefs. Some people fear any ideas which contradict their own, and feel the only recourse is to destroy that which challenges.

I wrote some years ago about misjudging and taking offense, and still my favorite quote from Aristotle is, “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”

I worry that we, as a society as a whole, do not believe that anymore.

Still, I’ve noticed something about myself when I choose compassion over condemnation: I’m a happier person. I feel more empathy, more concern, more love for others—even those I don’t agree with—when I assume “the BEST story” about them.

I choose to still like Dr. Seuss’s books, I still watch Johnny Depp and Robert Downey Jr. movies, and I still “think the best stories” about people because doing so makes me a better person. I still choose to have faith in everyone else, too.

Because nature will teach its own geography lessons

I never realized how much I’d love living near a lake. It’s moodier than the ocean, probably because Utah Lake is so shallow–only 20 feet–it has no depth to anchor it. Today it’s a grouch gray-green, maybe because a storm is coming. Geography is fascinating.

That was supposed to be my post, and my thoughts, this morning as I stepped off the asphalt trail and headed through the beach area to get closer to the lake. I’ve taken detours from my walk many times before, to get closer to the ice sheets on the edges of the lake or watch the waves, and to take photos like this:

This was just four days ago, when the marsh, muddy ground was still frozen solid. See? I do know where to walk . . .

After I took that top photo of the lake and its gray/green color, but not liking the angle, I stepped backward a little for a better shot.

That’s when I got another lesson in geography—about mud. The last few times I’d been out here, it was 20 degrees Fahrenheit, and the ground was frozen.

This morning it was 38 degrees, and no longer frozen.

I literally heard the earth say, SQUELCH.

And suddenly my leg sank into the soft, cold mud, all the way to the knee.
I’m proud of myself that I didn’t swear, but only shouted, “Oh NO!”

Then I realized I could laugh or cry, so I laughed.
Then the other leg went down.

That time I yelled, “Oh, SHIFT!” Seriously, I really try hard not to swear.

Smartly, I shoved my new phone/camera into my coat pocket, then started to pull out my first leg. It came, but naturally left my walking shoe deep down below, with mud slowly closing over it.

“Oh NO!” More laughter, and great relief that no one else was around to see my mistakes.

I gingerly reached down into the hole and extracted the filthy blob that was my shoe as the earth burped another SQUELCH. I laid on the mud a little to reduce my weight on my remaining entombed foot, and pulled that out at an angle, fortunately with the shoe still on.

And then I had to get up. I crawled carefully to reedy ground, away from the mud, and stood up. No more squelches. Triumph!

Except I was encased in cold mud from my knees down, and about a quarter mile away from home.

Still laughing, and murmuring, “Oh, no. Oh, no,” I made my way back to the asphalt trail, about 100 yards through muck and reeds.

Halfway there I realized I could put my muddy shoe back on my muddy sock.

Cringing in embarrassment, I headed home, grateful that the gloomy day had kept away the usual traffic of walkers on the Jordan River trail. As I turned into my neighborhood, blessedly no one was on their way to school or work. They’d all left the hour previous.

Then I perked up. Today, Thursday, was one of the days everyone in my house leaves for work and school! I could go home, clean up, and no one would know how silly I was to forget that mud defrosts.

Before my front porch I paused to take this picture:

I wish you could smell this photo. It’s . . . unforgettable.

Then I kicked off my shoes and rinsed off the thick mud at the spigot outside.

I quickly made my way to the laundry room, and as I peeled off my jeans—and remembered that Utah Lake mud has a uniquely stinky stench—I thought, “No one will ever know what I mess I just made.”

As I swept up the clumps of mud I left behind, I thought, “But why not confess my mistakes? I thought today’s insight would be the moodiness of the lake, but really, it’s how quickly a situation can turn, right?”

As I shoved my pants, socks, and shoes in the washer, set it to heavy duty, and said, “Why yes, washer, I DO want the ‘heavy soils’ setting, thank you,” I realized I could share my ignominy.

But why? I wondered as I took my second shower of the morning (and it wasn’t even 8:40 yet). Why not just hastily remove all evidence and pretend nothing happened?

“Because I know what happened,” I murmured, as I lathered up my feet and legs a second time with the best smelling Bath and Body Works soap I have, because Utah Lake mud is REALLY stinky.

“And not just because by the time everyone comes home this afternoon, the smell still might be lingering. Because it’s important to realize that plans can go awry, missteps can cause great havoc, and you can laugh and recover anyway.”

Immensely grateful that I didn’t have a 9am class this morning, I lotioned up with another Bath and Body Works scent, but to little avail.

(Even as I type this, I keep smelling rotting lake mud, mixed with “Frosted Cranberry.” Work harder, Frosted Cranberry! Harder! By the way, this isn’t a scent that Bath and Body Works should attempt in the future: Muddy Frosted Cranberry.)

Now, less than an hour after my missteps and forgetfulness that the ground was no longer frozen, I’m cleaned up, dressed, and with my hair fixed and my online class ready. The washer is still chugging away, as it will be all morning because my coat and gloves are next for Heavy Duty treatment. I’ve recovered, except for the smell.

And you know what? I still love living next to a grumpy, gorgeous lake. I’m going to head back out again tomorrow morning to see what mood it’s in, and I’ll probably step off the trail again. But this time I’ll wear my hiking boots which are harder for mud to suck off.

(Really, I have no idea what I was supposed to learn today. Seems like I’m learning nothing. Take what you want from that.)

The world cancels you; Zion forgives you

Zion allows for mistakes, for changes of hearts, for new understanding.
Zion promotes growth.

The world, however, doesn’t tolerate your past, or your “old” heart, or your immature understanding.
The world promotes “cancel culture.”

Zion believes in forgiveness and second chances, and third chances, and fiftieth chances.
The world wants to banish you. One strike and you’re out. Erased even, if possible.

The problem with this harsh judgment is that not even the world can live up to its unrealistic judgments. So it changes the standards, again and again, to meet their behaviors, but not to accommodate those who suddenly find themselves judged by yet a new standard which didn’t exist a decade ago, or even a week ago.

I don’t think they’ve recently consulted Matthew 7:2.

For with what ajudgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what bmeasure ye mete, it shall be cmeasured to you again.

Zion’s standard never changes: a people living with one heart, one mind, sharing all they have, caring for each other, and–most importantly–forgiving each other when they fail.

That’s Christ’s way. He suffered for all of us to give us second chances. And third chances. And even a thousand chances. As long as we keep trying, He keeps forgiving us.

Christ will never cancel us.

Let’s build Zion so He can live among us and teach us how to be more like Him. #BuildZion

Leave the world and find your purpose; Ask Him

“Leaving the world” means setting aside all of that which distracts us from focusing on God. For some that sounds dreary and dull (what, just reading scriptures and singing hymns?). They believe the world is exciting and vibrant.

But consider that maybe we have that reversed.

Focusing on the world is exhausting. The world is hounding you with so many unnecessary expectations and demands.

You may find yourself:

  • fixated with fashion or physical appearance;
  • preoccupied with the look of a house and yard;
  • needing to be seen as “successful,” especially on social media, in your business and personal life;
  • driven to possess the next best thing either in technology, or vehicles, or housing, or vacations;
  • consumed with a desire to be popular and recognized as part of the “right” group.

That’s exhausting. And it’s dreary and dull, trying to keep up with the world’s changing trends.

Keeping the world “happy” is as tedious as reasoning with a toddler having a tantrum. What they want changes frequently, and they’re never satisfied for long.

Now think about what your life would be like without that pressure to impress the world.

Really think about it: no demands, no expectations, no guilt or shame for not being “good enough yet,” and no fretting about what someone will think—

Doesn’t that make you feel like it’s the first day of summer vacation when you’re in high school? Remember that feeling? No more assignments, no more demands, no more busy work to earn a label of “success” or “failure.” (I realize that as a high school teacher I’m condemning myself here a little, but teachers probably rejoice at the end of the school year more than students do.)

Instead, you feel that release, that sudden joy and lightness of realizing you get to do what you feel you should.  Explore, work, play, sleep—you can just enjoy the world.

That’s what God wants for us. Focusing on Him is summer vacation, while being obsessed with the world is the third week of a gray, cold February with no holidays in sight.

Ask Him what “summer vacation” and focusing on Him looks like for you. It will be different for everyone. For me, this month, it’s focusing on my family, writing new books, studying ideas I’ve always wanted to, and preparing for the future. Next month may be different. And I eagerly look forward to it.

Building Zion is all about finding your purpose and leaving the world behind. You won’t miss the world, and what’s more, the world will not miss you. (Because it doesn’t care about you and it never has.)

There’s always another option, such as building Zion.

You don’t have to align with one political group or another.
There is always another option.

We can leave it all.
We can choose to separate ourselves from the world.
It’s time to Build Zion.

For over forty years, every since I was a child and my father told me about Enoch and Zion, that it “fled” but would return–and that we could help build it here on earth again–I’ve been slightly obsessed with the idea. So much so that I wrote a nine-volume book series about it. (And am now working on a prequel series–I just can’t leave it alone.)

I think it’s finally time to leave the world and actively look for ways to build Zion, and I’m open to your suggestions and ideas on how to do so.
First, I believe we need to pull ourselves out of these current conflicts, especially here in America:

  • Choose not be sucked in by any political party’s contention (and it is a choice to step away).
  • Stay objective and out of all fights. (Peace is gone, and we can’t “force” it back with violence.)
  • Turn off the news and unfollow all those who incite anger and who choose to be willfully ignorant, on all sides.
  • Choose instead to feel compassion for everyone, in every situation. (It’s much easier to do that when you’re not watching them say and behave in ungodly ways.)
  • Cultivate a charitable heart, so that we can be “one” with others. Pray to God to soften your heart towards everyone. (He will. He’s done it for me many, many times, because I’m a slow learner.)

18 And the Lord called his people aZion, because they were of bone heart and one mind, and dwelt in righteousness;

Moses 7:18

Tell me how you cultivate peace in your heart in these times. Let’s figure out how to start building Zion now.

He can fix everything; do your part, and He’ll make up all the rest (.01% vs. 99.9%)

Recently I had an incident that left me feeling misunderstood, chastised, and utterly stupid. For days it’s been hanging over me, leaving me with zero motivation.

Yesterday morning I feebly prayed, “Dear Lord, sorry I’m so stupid. Please help me function through this day. Amen.”

Then I spent the morning and afternoon doing what I felt least like doing: conferencing online with my high school students on their last major paper. But I acted as their encouraging cheerleader, and halfway through the day I was feeling a little lighter.

That evening I went with my teenage daughter to see “some Christmas lights,” (I didn’t know exactly what we’d be seeing) and was overwhelmed by millions of lights on a one-mile path that meandered through a statue garden about the life of Jesus Christ.
And I felt lighter still.

That night I reluctantly joined a brief online meeting with women in our church, and left it later than expected after laughing about babies and books and having made a new friend.
And I felt lighter still.

Before going to sleep I was skimming one of my books to find forgotten details (I’m finally drafting the prequel series about the Great War and Lek and Lorixania–woot!) when I ran across these words from Perrin in Book 4: “Only the Creator knew him well enough to fix him. It was the Creator who gave him the strength he needed . . . It was the Creator who won that battle and turned the momentum of the war—not him.”

I remembered my pathetic prayer that morning, and realized that God was fixing me.

He had set before me exactly what I needed: reminders of how much I love teaching; time with my daughter in a beautiful place; connections with a new friend.

The incident from earlier which has weighed me down hasn’t been erased, and I still feel stupid (because that’s a common theme in my head, and yes, I know I need to work on it—I have been for fifty years and I feel stupid about that . . . can you see a pattern?).

But I am also a Daughter of the Creator, who loves me and guides me, and if I do my part—especially when I don’t want to—He lifts me beyond my stupidity and lets me continue onward, once again, with hope.

If He’ll do that for a slow-learning goober like me, He’ll surely do that for you, too.

(And no, I don’t have a date for when the first prequel book will come out, it’s all in the drafting stage right now. But so far I’ve got Terryp just about to enter the ruins in the east, General Lek Shin having to trek north with his sergeant Barnos Zenos to quell violence, and Guide Pax arguing with King Querul about who really is the cause of that violence.
The characters are coming alive more each day, and gloriously are starting to tell me their stories, just as Perrin and Mahrree and Shem told me theirs. Only 20,000 words in, and I think it’ll be at least two new books in the future–we’ll see. So fun to be back in their world again, and I can’t wait to get all of their stories right to share with you! Have an amazing Christmas, in spite of everything!)

Merry Christmas Images, Pics, Photos | Xmas Pictures 2019 ...

We’re now being punished not for crimes, but for merely words and ideas

When I first drafted those words above, probably back in 2010 for what eventually became book 5, I really didn’t think we’d get to this position in our own world. At least not for another 30 or 40 years, and only once I was senile enough to not notice.

But ten short years later I’m reading daily about how people, groups, and movements are “canceled” because of their opinions.

Political commenters are calling for those on the sides “opposite” of them to be punished after this election.

Leaders are threateningly suggesting that those who vote against them will regret their decisions in the future.

Friends and family are attacking each other on public forums, calling each other “sheeple,” or “oppressors” and, in once case, reported a family member to the police on false charges in vengeance for a slight on social media.

We haven’t reached the level of laws against ideas yet, but considering how rapidly we’ve run into this state of chaotic accusations and offenses, I can’t imagine it’s too far off. I remember my parents telling me stories about having to be careful about what their families said in Nazi Germany, because they were never sure who was listening in and who would turn them in.

I never imagined we’d forget so much of that horrific history that we choose to repeat it, but here we are.

We’ve long ceased being a republic; we’re well on our way to a dictatorial leadership of some kind. And such leadership can exist safely only when its enemies have been silenced.

I’m slowly learning to stay out of these fights. No one’s opinions will change because we tell them they’re wrong, just as we won’t suddenly agree with those who accuse us of ignorance.

The only thing we can do right now is rise above the mudslinging, the anger, the fury. I keep thinking of Legolas in the first “Lord of the Rings” movie, walking on top of the snow drifts that his companions struggle to slog through. We have to stay above it, or it will drown us.

Go through the storms, but don’t be slowed down by them. (Also helps if you’re as light as an elf, but hey, we can’t all be nearly perfect.)

Because more and more, I’m feeling that a different future awaits those of us who try to remain kind, calm, and compassionate. More and more I’m not only hoping and praying, but also looking forward to a place that lets us live in peacefully even with those we may disagree with, without any threat or retribution.

It’s coming. We need to make sure our hearts are ready to receive it. If we will be one, we will be His, and safely with Him.

Choices, always choices here. This isn’t the world, you know. We’ll never tell you what to do, or what to think, or what to believe. We offer what we have and show you what we feel is true, but then we let you make your choice. Whatever you choose, whatever you choose.

~Safety Assured Leaving East of Medicetti, Book 5; Forest at the Edge