How failing to climb Timpanogos turned into a metaphor for the Second Coming of Christ (it works, I promise.)

Meet my nemesis for the past 43 years: Mt. Timpanogos, in Utah County, Utah.

It’s massive, gorgeous, and has no idea that I’ve felt it mocking me since I was 9 years old.

That was when my dad—born and raised in Germany and loving all its mountains–finally relented to take me on his yearly hike. For years, every August, he’d leave before dawn with a group of neighbors and teenagers from our church, and guide them on a 13.5 mile hike, with a 4,800 foot elevation gain, ending at an elevation of 11,749 feet and fantastic views of Utah Valley below.

I always wanted to be part of it, and when I was nine, Dad agreed.

He shouldn’t have.

For as excited as I was, I spent the first five hours complaining and whining about the switchbacks and steepness, but did pause to admire the waterfalls my father loved. He’d tell me kindly to enjoy the views and conserve my oxygen by not talking.

Once we reached Emerald Lake, aptly named for its deep blue-green water, I was too exhausted to continue up the last steep stretch to the summit. Nauseated and dizzy, I confessed it was all too much for me. My dear, gentle father merely nodded, then squatted. “Get on my back,” he said.

Now, understand this: He was in his mid-40s then, did this hike only once a year, and wasn’t in the greatest shape himself, although he liked to pretend he was. Yet he didn’t hesitate to carry me along dangerous scree fields and narrow trails, to the summit of Timp. I remember him sweating, although the temperature was only in the 50s with a steady breeze. But he maintained a steady pace for another 1,300 feet up, depositing me at the summit.

I’ve never forgotten that view, his immense service, and the fact that I couldn’t make that last, hard stretch on my own.

Ever since, I’ve sworn to myself I would summit that mountain without assistance.

To sum up, I’ve never scaled it again because of motherhood, living outside of Utah, and simply knowing I’d never make it.

Just last summer I found a journal entry my dad wrote about that ill-fated attempt. Always a little ashamed that I begged so much to go, only to fail my dad at the end, I was astonished to read his account: he felt immense guilt for taking me, for seeing me “suffer at Emerald Lake with clear signs of altitude sickness.”

Altitude sickness?

He wrote that he prayed earnestly that I wouldn’t get worse, and knowing that he was responsible for the other dozen people in our group, carried me the rest of the way, also praying the last hour that his footing would be sure, that I would be ok.

That shifted 43 years of guilt and filled me with renewed gratitude and sympathy for my sweet dad, who did the climb for the last time in his 70s (which took him and an even older cousin visiting from Germany about 12 hours round trip).

Next month I move away from Utah for the third time, this time to Florida. I don’t know when, if ever, I’ll move back.

I’m now 52 years old and last week realized that if ever I was going to tackle that mountain, it had to be NOW. Never mind training or practicing (I always had lists in my head of what I’d do to prepare for it). Time was running out. Work circumstances mean that my husband and sons have already moved to Florida, while I remain here with my teenage daughter for another month, couch surfing with relatives and friends.

But last Tuesday morning she was to leave early for a day camp, and I realized I had no other obligations after I dropped her off, so . . .

Why not hike Timp?

When else would it ever happen?

I could take it slow—that’s what I read about high altitude sickness: taking lots of breaks helps. I didn’t need to summit. I really just wanted to see Emerald Lake again. I have only vague memories of it, and included it in my books as a “glacial lake.” But I wanted to be there, just to show my dad—and me—that I can do it. Dad died a few years ago, but he’d still know.

Honestly, though, I’m not in the greatest of shape. I’m overweight, but I have great endurance. I’d just have to walk steadily upward, for about 3,500 feet, for 7 miles, over 4-6 hours’ time. Easy.

(If you’re not yet seeing how naïve I was just a couple of days ago, keep reading.)

That was my thinking as I packed a backpack with protein bars, gluten free rolls, dried apple rings, two Vitamin Water bottles, a plain water bottle, and a 32 oz water bottle. I also packed a jacket, bandaids, first aid kit, toilet paper, wipes, and plastic baggies, because I’m a mom and I go everywhere prepared for a minor emergency.

My husband, 3,000 miles away, was concerned.

“But I’ll go slow,” I promised him, “Besides, Timp is a hugely popular hike. The websites even say to get there before dawn because you can’t get a parking place.”

My husband had one condition: “No matter where you are, by 12:30, start heading down. I know it’s faster going down, but you shouldn’t be up there, alone, that long.”

“I won’t be alone!” I reminded him. “There will be dozens of people passing me every hour.”

But when I got to the parking lot at Aspen Grove at 8: 15 am, was startled to see it so . . . empty.

“Weird,” I murmured as I got my pack and put on my jacket. It was 45 degrees even though it was a sunny morning on June 9.

The more astute of you already know why the parking lot wasn’t full with hikers. You noticed it on the first photo I posted. But I wouldn’t see it for another few hours.

I put on my hat, took two aspirin to stave off the migraines I always get when I’ve been in the sun, said a prayer of gratitude that my knees felt great, my chronic back and hip problems were absent (I’m telling you, I’m really NOT in the best of shape), then ended the prayer with what I’d been saying for the past five days: “Dear Father, if at any time I’m about to do something beyond my abilities, make it clear to me. Thank you for the opportunity to say good-bye to the mountains before going to Florida, and please keep me from doing something dumb.”

I end a lot of prayers like that.

I headed out on the peaceful, quiet trail, dutifully signed in at the hiker’s register with what time I arrived and what my destination was, and took a photo of the map of the trail, then began.

And became winded about half a mile later when the path began a very slight climb.

Did I mention that I’m asthmatic? But never got it diagnosed properly so I don’t have an inhaler?

Also that I have a tachycardiac heart that likes to suddenly jump up for no reason and stay at 120 bpm, even when I’m sitting?

I needed motivation, already, so I put in my earbuds and let the heroic trailer music of Audiomachine, Two Steps from Hell, and Satou Naoki propel me.

When I hit the first waterfall, I was feeling confident. Stopping frequently to take pictures of scenery and wildflowers gave me time to slow down my breathing and heart.

Occasionally I wondered why I hadn’t seen ANYONE else on the trail, but that thought would pass quickly, because I had a perpetual smile on my face.

It’s rare for me to have a day where NO ONE needed me—none of my nine kids, or grandkids, or high school students I teach, or anyone. It was a day just for me, all alone.

Some people are afraid of solitude. I embrace it.

Besides, when no one else is on the trail, you can sing out loud with “Moana” and no one will glance at you with pity.

It was an hour before I heard something behind me: “May I pass?”

I looked back in time to see a man jogging—yes, JOGGING!—up the trail behind me, in only thin shorts and a t-shirt, with a water bottle in one hand. He was as agile as a mountain goat, and my jaw dropped to realize he was at least in his 60s.

I stepped aside, astonished as he continued jogging up the steep terrain which had me gasping and stopping every 100 feet. (I’d already taken off my jacket, sweating too much with it on, appreciating the cool breezes when they came, the temperature in the 60s by then.)

And, I’ll admit, I was very humbled by Grandpa Runner.

For about 15 seconds. Then I realized he must be one of those Iron Man runners and that this was not typical “hiking Timp” behavior. I didn’t have to be like him. I just had to be me.

And I went back to singing (gasping) along with “Moana.” (“So . . . <wheeze> shiny!” <wheeze>)

Another half hour passed with me stopping frequently, panting, crawling up rocks, sitting under pine trees, waiting for my breathing and heart to calm down again, listening to music and soaking in the sheer audacity of those giant peaks. I noticed that nearly every time I started again, I was only a dozen paces away from a flattened area, or a waterfall I could hear but not see. In other words, I almost gave up a little too soon, but was always rewarded for continuing on.

But it was hard. Really hard, especially with no one to push or encourage me. Why was I insisting on this? No one would know or care if I gave up.

Weirdly, experiences with childbirthing came to mind, times I had to endure because I no other choice. As I struggled over a twist in the trail requiring climbing up rocks and my backpack felt like 50 pounds, I remember my last delivery where for hours my unborn son and I battled each other for life, and I felt my own start to slip away. But we obviously made it. So could I, again.

It was at the end of that second hour, and probably another 1400 feet in elevation, that I saw the next two people on the trail, coming down, which meant they started much earlier that morning than I had.

And they were OLDER STILL!

What was this, Geriatric Day on Timp?!

This couple was at least in their 70s, but in great shape. Slender and sprightly, they both had hiking poles and boots with spikes, and were startled to see me.

“How far are you planning to go?” they asked.

Something about their question prompted my own. “How far do you think I can make it?”

They shook their heads. “Only to the second snow field,” they said sadly.

“The what?”

They pointed up the mountain side, to the snow patches that looked only a few inches deep a few thousand feet lower, but now I realized must have been several feet deep.

Suddenly I saw it, what some of you likely saw immediately: the trail was buried under snow and ice. The treacherous switch backs between fields of loose shale and rock was layered with slick, slushy snow.

That was the reason no one else was hiking that day.

THAT’S why my dad always went in August, not early June.

Suddenly I understood I wouldn’t make it to Emerald Lake. I could see where it was, and it was literally impossible to reach.

That filled me with both disappointment and relief. I wouldn’t have to try to make it all the way on my own.

And once again, the mountain defeated me, just by being itself.

The elderly couple advised me to be careful, that they expected to see me down at the bottom “soon.” “Even that jogger couldn’t get across the second snow field,” they told me, and a few minutes later I saw him come back down, still at a clipped pace as I caught my breath once again under a pine tree.

The second snow field was now my goal.

Eventually I reached a point where I could see where the steep set of switchbacks were supposed to be, buried. For the first time that morning I was filled with concern.

I was alone on that mountain at that elevation, and going too far would be DUMB.

I came to the first snow field, proven to be accessible by senior citizens, and marveled how they went across. The slope was noticeable, the snow—probably still a foot deep—was melty and slushy and very slick. Hunched over, I ventured across, keeping my feet at sharp angles for traction (have I mentioned that I wore only well-broken in tennis shoes, with no tread?), and plodded across the 40 feet with only a little sliding.

I felt something, for just a brief moment, and it wasn’t until I reached the other side that I identified it: fear.

I rarely feel fear. Oh, not that I’m super brave. I’ve got buckets of anxiety to spare. But fear isn’t in my daily repertoire of emotions.

Except for right then. Maybe this was God, keeping me from doing something dumb.

Enormously relieved, and ignoring the fact that I’d have to go back the same way, I headed for my final destination: Second Snow Field. It’ll never show up on any map, but it will forever be my New Goal which I reached proudly about 15 minutes later.

I paused to evaluate the challenge, a little disappointed that such a narrow patch thwarted those older and fitter than me, then realized why the others turned back. It wasn’t far across, as you can see, but very, very steep, even with boots with cleats and hiking poles. And take a look at the snow fields beyond. Even worse.

Should one slip, it’s quite a slide down, maybe a couple hundred feet, and at the bottom is a pile of flat, sharp rocks which would continue your slide for another 50 feet until you hit the trees. There’s no easy way out of that, and I didn’t fancy the idea of a helicopter lowering my broken, scraped-up body a rope.

And there was no sign of any members of AARP coming up the trail.

Still I sat there for a moment, looking critically beyond the field to where the trail was supposed to be, momentarily annoyed that my goal was seemingly so close (it really wasn’t) and that I’d come so far (again, not really–maybe only four miles and 2,000 feet in elevation; my blue dot of progress looked even sadder on Google maps).

And that’s the second time I felt it—fear. Only this time, the feeling stayed, boring deep into my soul, along with the words that going on would be “foolish, possibly fatal, and worse—wholly unnecessary.”

(Red squiggles on the photo below indicates the likely path I would have made struggling on the switchbacks.)

I sighed, then backtracked a few feet to a wide ledge where I decided was a perfect spot for my lunch. I sat down in the deeply awesome stillness, alone in the vastness, feeling to my left peace and joy, and to my right, intensely sinister fear.

(The parking lot is to the left of my shoe.)

And weirdly I found my thoughts filled with my ancestors, Germany, and WWII.

I’ve researched a lot about the War which plays such a big part of my ancestry. And I have wondered if my relatives could have done anything more against Hitler.

But as I looked again at the rugged, snow-covered slopes, a new understanding came to me: my ancestors had done all they could, gone as far as was possible.

My maternal great grandfather had been coerced by the Nazis to join their party and lend credibility to their cause, and he rebuffed their advances, finally embarrassing them away to leave him in relative peace.

My paternal grandfather was threatened at least twice at gun point by Nazis trying to extort money from him, and he talked his way out of every conflict.

But there were no stories of outright defiance or hiding of Jews (although my mom’s family knew of a few Jews who weren’t taken, but forgotten by the Nazis, and no one in their city ever turned them in. Those Jews survived the war.).

And as I stared at the treacherous slopes, I understood that their trying to do more would have been “foolish, possibly fatal, and wholly unnecessary.” As if they single-handedly could have stopped the Nazi war machine. Sheesh.

Sobered, and feeling foreboding ahead–physically and metaphorically–I leaned back against the rock and closed my eyes for a 15-minute nap to let my tired, wobbly legs become stable again.

And spent 15 minutes smacking giant ants who must have just emerged from hibernation and decided I was good enough for lunch.

I finally said farewell to the mountain which suddenly seemed threatening, and started down.

This time the first snow field filled me with stabs of fear until I got across it.

About 15 minutes later I came across a hiker, and I was not surprised at all to realize he was another senior citizen. He was also well-prepared, and asked me how far I made it. Then he asked, “Do you have a spare water bottle?” Not long before, he encountered a couple of 17-year-olds, wearing shorts, tank tops, and with only bottle of water, already empty. “This is their first hike,” he told me, rolling his eyes, “and they think they’re going to summit. Ha!”

A few minutes later I found the clueless kids, leaning against a tree and panting. I smiled and said, “So you’re the teenagers who think they’re going to climb this today yet know nothing about hiking?”

They sighed. “Met that old guy, huh?”

“Yep. And he’s right.” I handed them my spare water bottle which they eagerly, happily accepted.

“Can we make it to the saddle?” they innocently asked, showing me the spot on their map on the phone.

I looked them up and down critically, now that I was an expert since I’ve spent two hours more on the mountain than they have. “Nope, not without boots, spikes, jeans, and poles. And not even then.” I pointed out a snow field, explained how it was slick, showed them the scree fields, explained how shale is sharp and unstable, then said, “I don’t want to see you on the 10 pm news, being rescued by helicopter. The saddle? See that area on the mountain, wholly covered by snow?”

They nodded soberly.

“It’s impossible, guys. Go to the first snowfield, then call it a day and head back down.”

They looked at me as if I was there to kill their joy, but I saw in both of their eyes secret gratitude that they didn’t have to try to go any further than a mile or more.

I continued on my way down, surprised at my stamina, thrilled with how fast the descent was (I never needed my trailer music) and in about an hour and a half, I was at the bottom, having never met any other hikers.

And it was over, just like that.

I think the time went so quickly because my mind, which connects everything in metaphors, realized that much that day is symbolic of the Last Days.

Russell M. Nelson, prophet for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said in April 2020 that the return of the Savior was coming, and that “It is our charge—it is our privilege—to help prepare the world for that day.”

We need to prepare ourselves first in order to help the world. My five hours on the mountain taught me this (and I can see why Moses, Enoch, Nephi, and others learned so well from God on mountains):

  • First, the Last Days are coming, sooner than many may expect. We keep thinking we’ll have time later to prepare, but we’ll quickly discover time is running out. I did my hike earlier than I expected, and was not as ready as I wanted to be. But I did as much as I could, and that was enough.
    We have to hike anyway when the time comes.
  • It will be a lot harder than we expect, with greater problems than imagined. I underestimated the mountain, and I had to dig deep into my memory for times I had endured and continued to keep me motivated. Remember that up until now, you’ve survived 100% of problems thrown your way. Make a mental list today of what you’ve overcome, so you can remember when you feel you’ll never succeed again.
  • Take time to pause and rest, but NEVER leave the path. Few of us would be able to run up that mountain, nor is that expected. There will be times we sit in frustration and exhaustion to catch our breath, but never take a foot off that trail! Never leave the covenant path.
    Just get moving again once you’re able again.
  • There will be fewer on this journey with us than we imagine. For whatever reasons, a lot of people won’t see the need or desire to deal with what’s coming.
  • Interestingly, a lot of older folks will be. I speak to many my age (50s) and older, and 9 out of 10 of us are prepping, bracing, watching, waiting.
    But with younger generations, it seems to be about 1 out of 10. In my very narrow observations, they don’t see it or want to see it. (Maybe you witness better ratios? I’d love to hear what you’ve noticed.)
  • And those few younger ones who are trying to brave the “coming mountain/challenge” are ill-prepared. We have to help them with whatever we have.
    But, like the parable of the Ten Virgins, we can’t give so much that we no longer have anything. Had I made it to Emerald Lake, I know my water supply would have been gone, and I would have had nothing to share with the teenagers I met.
    We need to be teaching younger generations what we already know, not just send them out with their phones and hope they’ll do ok.
  • We have to know how far we can reasonably go. Just as I realized my ancestors couldn’t go any further in their efforts to fight fascism in Germany—efforts which would have been foolish, potentially fatal, and unnecessary—so too may be some of our desires to help in these Last Days. We may want to “conquer the mountain,” but it would destroy us instead, and the mountain wouldn’t even notice. But our families and friends would.
  • The “secret combinations” of darkness that are in power now will be impossible to take down, nor do we need to. Not that Timp is a secret combination, but it’s a massive entity that didn’t even notice my presence. That wasn’t the hill I wanted to die on, metaphorically or literally.
    This is God’s fight, and He asks us to help here and there, rescue as we can, but it’s not our job to stop what has been prophesied. (See Revelation and Ezra for explanations of how Babylon will destroy itself.)
    The best we can do is get out of the way of Babylon and help those we find trying to escape it. That’s hugely comforting and doable.

In the end, I didn’t “conquer the mountain.”

Nor, more importantly, did it conquer me.

I simply walked away from it, satisfied with what I could accomplish and glad that I still had strength for the rest of the day.

It’s no longer my nemesis. I felt strangely indifferent to it as I drove away. Maybe it’s because I have more vital tasks ahead of me, and I can let this prideful one go.

Maybe. (My dad was in his 70s when he last climbed it after all. Surely I’ll be in better shape in 20 years.)

Merry Christmas, and watch out for the New Year

Merry Christmas, friends!

I had so hoped that today I could give you a full download of book 1 in one chapter-separated audio file, and a lot of Book 2 chapters as an audio book.

However, at Thanksgiving we were visited by the stomach flu bug, which a week later was followed by COVID. Both my husband and I were felled at the same time, nearly within the same hour. There were COVID outbreaks at both of our jobs, before and after we became ill, and at our son’s part-time job (he brought us home the stomach flu first).

For 10 days we were knocked down, hard.

Blessedly, our college-age son was well enough to get drive-thru dinners for his siblings, and our teenage daughter who had no symptoms could go through self-checkout lines and get us supplies of Gatorade and soup (shout-out to Progresso and Campbells Chunky soups for being so easy and making us feel like we were swallowing down bowls of vitamins).

We’ve also been enormously blessed to have understanding bosses who cared more for our well-being than the fact that we were missing over a week of work.

But most of all, I’m grateful for specific blessings of health. One Saturday, five days sick, I crashed, hard. My tachycardia heart couldn’t calibrate itself, and I felt a fatigue I’ve never experienced before. I worried that this might be “it.” But I also knew it wasn’t “it”. I know there is more that I need to do in this life. And since 99.7% of people recover (with few ever needing hospitalization), why should I not think I could?

I asked my husband to pray for me, specifically requesting that I begin to get over this. He did, promising that I “would begin to reclaim my life, day by day.” The next day, I was well enough to get down to the couch. The next day, I was stronger still.

By the next Saturday, one week later, I felt so healthy that I scrubbed all of the bathrooms, rearranged my closet (my “recording studio”), tossed out three bags of purged junk, and made dinner AND dessert. Two days after that, I walked my regular three-mile circuit, pulled by a puppy I’m babysitting, with no problems.

Prayer works.

In fact, it’s really the only thing that does.

I still have bronchitis which visits me yearly, but even that is waning, so hopefully soon I’ll have enough voice and fewer coughing fits that I can get back to recording Book 2 very soon.

I feel reborn in a strange way. Everything about my body feels different somehow, similar to as after having a baby. The body has to “find” itself again and reclaim what it used to be. I’ve heard others recovering from COVID mention the same thing. (And not all of it is bad–I see advantages to not having a sense of smell: my house has never smelled cleaner! Anyone have stinky diapers they need changed? I can do that, no problem.)

But already I know I won’t go back to what I was. Nor do I want to. I feel God pushing me on to different planes. I did a lot of thinking when I was feverish and exhausted (not much else you can do except watch reruns of “The Crown”).

Much was taught to me during those two weeks, and I’m looking into ideas and meditations that I haven’t before, finding great strength and insight I haven’t expected. (And I also have all these lovely natural immunities; bodies are strong and resilient.)

Nothing’s the same, anywhere.

Friends, if you haven’t felt that the world is different yet, you have to, or you’ll be surprised in very unpleasant ways.

Two years ago, this COVID threat began to rise in Wuhan, China. But that wasn’t all. More came with it, much that we couldn’t yet see, but it’s been impressed upon me for the past two years that the world is changing, and will continue to change. I believe much of that will be revealed in the next year.

There’s no going back to “normal.”

Why would the “Administrators” give back power once they’ve taken so much hold of it? Not without a battle, not without some kind of catastrophic collapse of power. That will be coming, I feel it in my gut and in my mind.

I haven’t seen one country in the world relinquish any of the additional control it’s illegally seized since this all began. Trust me–none ever will peacefully.

When I wrote Book 6 Flight of the Wounded Falcon where Young Pere travels to Edge and finds a strange, unpredictable place, it nearly broke my heart to do that to Edge, a village I’d grown to love.

But a strange impression came over me as I drafted those pages: Our world would also, in a few years, become as strange and unpredictable. It would become unrecognizable. And it has. Frankly, I didn’t think it’d happen for many more years—I wanted to be older and wiser when everything started to go weirdly downhill. But it’s happening now.

Nothing in the next few years will be anything that we’re used to. All we can do is hold on and listen to the promptings of the Spirit, which may tell you to do something different than it tells me, because we are all on different paths.

Most of all, we need to have compassion for each other, love for those whose paths are different, and choose to cling to each other, and not let the sharp divisiveness that is trying to pit city against city, family against family, parent against child. It’s been prophesied, but it doesn’t have to happen to you or me.

Isaiah, Jeremiah, John the Revelator and others saw our day. And honestly, they saw terrible, strange things. But we can get through these years if we choose to love despite everything, choose to support instead of tear down, and choose to hear Him, who I promise is coming, sooner than we realize.

It’s time to build Zion, beginning in our own hearts.

All my love and hope for you this coming year. We’ll need all that we can get.

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.

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.